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|A Promise Kept|
This story contains violence and fairly ambiguous description of gore.
Shrapnel was flying everywhere. The fields were consumed with flame, and the earth was churned up from the seven days of war that we had suffered. It had all happened so fast, it was all such a blur in our memories...we almost didn't know what we were fighting for anymore.
From my position in the trenches Toph had created for us, I could see the love of my life, Aang, on the front lines. His eyes and tattoos were aglow with the power and fury of the Avatar State, but even his superior gift could not easily vanquish our enemy.
To my right, Suki, Ty Lee and the other Kyoshi Warriors were attempting to hold their ground before three komodo-rhinos. To my left, Toph, Haru and other Earthbenders were doing their best to hold off a unit of advancing enemy troops dressed in black.
I was in the trenches, fighting as best I could whilst healing the wounded. My brother, Sokka, would bring injured soldiers to me whenever someone could protect his journey to the trenches. In the beginning, he just had to guide a limping warrior; now there were few who were conscious, and all their wounds were so severe that they were forced to be carried. Looking back at the line of the wounded, my heart sank. There were so many.
As far as my brother, he seemed to be faring pretty well in this battle. I couldn't focus too much of my attention on his welfare; I was too worried about Aang. No matter how many times he told me not to be concerned, I couldn't shake away my fears. I had already lost him once in the catacombs of Ba Sing Se. I couldn't lose him again...he meant too much to me.
I tore my gaze away from Aang when I heard my brother's call. He was back yet again, this time carrying a limp figure who I knew well. Fear gripped me; had the enemy really grown strong enough to break our most elite forces?
"Zuko...bring him quickly!" I cried.
Sokka slid down the edge of the trench as carefully as he could, trying not to jostle the Fire Lord, who was bleeding.
Gently, he rested Zuko's head on one of the rags I had been using for pillows. Before he had even stood, I pushed his hands out of the way, my healing water already bent onto my hands.
"They're pushing us back considerably. I might not have to walk as far to you anymore. The wounded will just be falling right into the trenches," said Sokka, crouching on the other side of Zuko.
"It's been seven days! Aren't they ever tired?" I moaned.
Sokka inhaled sharply and clutched his ribs. Distracted, I looked up at my older brother and for the first time in the week of war, I truly looked at the damage that he had received. The sight I saw made me gasp.
I scarcely recognized the boy I grew up with anymore. His tunic was dirty and torn. One whole sleeve had been burnt off, revealing a horrifically burned arm. His face was scratched and bruised, his boots were charred, and blood was soaking his right leg. Now his hand was pressed on his stomach, where three nasty gashes were given from an eelhound.
"Where's your armor?" I asked quietly.
"It was too heavy. I couldn't breathe with it on."
"Sokka..." I whispered, "You—..."
"I'm fine Katara. Zuko needs you more than I do right now," he said sharply, cutting me off.
I was reluctant to let him leave, but my brother is stubborn. Before I could say another word, he was out of the trench. I shook my head and tended to Zuko's injuries, trying desperately to retain some shred of hope.
Within the hour, my trench infirmary had doubled its population. Sokka's prediction had been correct; the battle was raging almost directly over my head. If there was any good news to be had, it was that Aang was still going strong. His Avatar State hadn't wavered at all, and he had wiped out much of the enemy's equipment.
If only the same could be said for the rest.
All of my friends were now lying in the trenches. Suffering. Dying. Only Sokka, Aang and Toph remained standing. Dark as it was, I found myself guessing which one I would see in the trenches first. Judging by the high-pitched screams and clangs of metal, my guess went to Toph. I sat in despair and sadness, with all my hope diminished, pressing my healing hands on my friend's injuries to no avail. What a fate for me...to die in a trench among those I couldn't save.
I hadn't seen Sokka for over an hour, and I began to worry. Aang was in clear view, and Toph's agonized screams couldn't be missed. I desperately wanted to go out and help them, but I couldn't bear the thought of leaving the dying behind. I was the only healer in our ranks. Without me, they wouldn't stand a chance. Well...they barely stood a chance anyway, but the least I could do was ease their passing. We had already lost Suki the last time Sokka came to me, but I didn't have the guts to inform him of her passing.
Sokka...where was he? I hated to think what he would look like now after having run around on that bad leg for an hour.
"Katara, look out!"
In answer to my question, I saw Sokka running towards the trench. Before I could call out to him, three warriors dressed in black leaped down in front of me. They were faster than the wind...I barely had time to create a waterwhip when they bore down on me, slapping me back against the wall of the trench. One of them thrust his sword towards me, but I rolled away seconds before I was skewered. Still, there were too many. Three against one? I didn't stand a chance. Not now. I was too tired.
They struck at me again and again and again, each time forcing me to back up closer to the wounded. My Waterbending didn't seem to work against them. The water just evaporated as soon as it came near their black-armored bodies. The largest of the three had a great metal club, and with one swing he sent me flying into the earthen trench wall with a sickening thud. The wind was knocked out of me, and I felt as if my ribs were broken. Through tearing eyes I could see them approaching me. I was done for.
I was shaken out of my daze by my brother's scream. I had never heard his voice like that. It was harsh and deep and wrought with fury. He leaped down into the trench, landing heavily on his legs in front of me. When his bad leg came in contact with the ground, I saw new blood pour out of his wound, but he did not buckle. In his hands were two enemy swords, and he wielded them with inhuman prowess. Before I could blink, two of the soldiers were collapsed on the ground. The swords had been knocked from Sokka's hands, and he reached for his Space Sword that was strapped to his back.
I pushed myself to a standing position and tried to come out and fight, but Sokka held his arm out to stop me, keeping me trapped behind his back. Enemy soldiers were pouring into the trench now, and all of them were advancing towards us. I could see sweat trickling down Sokka's face. Blood was gushing out of his body at a horrible rate, and I could not believe he was still standing. But his pale face was set with determination. I tried again to push away his arm, but somehow he held it so stiff that it was like trying to break steel.
"Sokka, what are you doing?" I shouted, clutching his arm.
"I'm keeping my promise to Dad," he whispered.
Too late. I could say nothing more. The warriors were upon us. There were so many...it seemed like hundreds of them, yet somehow Sokka never let them touch me. I tried to push past him to help, but he always forced me back. The enemy pressed on us so hard that I was squeezed against the wall, hardly able to breathe, with Sokka's blood-soaked back keeping me safe. While I know he must have fought for only a few minutes, it felt to me like hours. Tears were streaming down my face as I felt blow after blow strike my brother. How he was still standing...I will never know. I felt Sokka's arm grow weak for the first time, and his body slumped against mine. He still fought, but the black warriors were seconds away from destroying us both. I couldn't even think, I was so afraid.
That's when he came. Aang.
The Avatar swooped down upon the enemy and, with a devastating blast, obliterated the opposing forces with terrifying flames. I closed my eyes against the heat and the light, and when I opened them again, it was not just Aang who I saw, but all the Avatars. Hundreds of men and women stood behind the love of my life, connected to him and themselves with hands on shoulders. But then, as quickly as they came, they were gone, and only Aang stood before me.
I felt something hot and wet drip onto my hand, and I gasped in horror. Sokka was collapsed in front of me, crumpled in a puddle of blood and sweat. Crouching, I picked up his head and laid it against my shoulder, inspecting his injuries. I burst into tears more violent than I have ever cried when I saw that I was too late to heal him. He had been thrust with swords and spears till I could barely see unscathed skin, and a thick, barbed spearhead was still embedded in his ribs. His breath came in shallow, strained gasps and was interrupted by coughs of blood.
"No...no..." was all I could whisper.
"I promised Dad I would protect you," Sokka whispered hoarsely.
I tried to affirm to him that he did protect me...he did...but I doubt it was audible amidst my shuddering sobs.
"Where's Suki?" he gasped, his dying voice barely perceptible.
I forced myself to calm my sobs, and a smile spread on my face.
"You'll see her soon."
Sokka closed his eyes, a half smile alighting on his battered face. His final exhale was so soft I didn't feel or hear it. I only knew he was gone when his fingers finally released the hilt of his Space Sword. His hand fell limply into the muddy trench, and his body grew heavy in my arms as his spirit left him.
I wept inconsolably, cradling Sokka's body in my arms. He was gone. He died protecting me. At first I felt anger at myself. Why didn't I try harder to help him? It was all my fault...But then I realized: he had died at peace.
He had kept his promise.
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