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|Home Away From Home|
28-Home Away From Home
Sorry this took so long guys. I would have even had it out days sooner except for the holiday getting in my way. ^^" The below has a few interesting notes; for one, the fanon characters...they're going to have an impact in the chapters to come. And perhaps, even longer than that...we shall see?
Objects... (of interest?)
:Sokka's various carvings. (He's been carving in canon for awhile. :) Winter Solstice as well as Northern Air Temple)
:A beautiful fountain.
:Streets of water
Waking in mid-air had left her feeling a little dizzy and lightheaded, but a heavy yawn allowed her to blink the sleep away from her eyes. A biting cold stung her face as she lifted herself from one hand to gaze curiously about her. The sky had darkened; a deep blue creeping over the vast ocean as far as she could see.
Aang sat at the back of the saddle, gazing behind them silently. Sitting upright, she rubbed her eyes before resting her gloved hands on her lap. "Hey."
Glancing behind him, Aang stared at her glumly and gave her a little nod. "Morning Katara. Well, sort of."
"Morning sleepy-head." Sokka called from Appa's head. "About time you got up. So what've we got for food? I haven't eaten since we left and I'm so hungry I could eat Appa."
They all shook as Appa bellowed furiously, leaving Sokka to loose a quick shout and fall against the bison's furry neck. "Easy! It was just an expression! I'm not really going to eat you!"
"You tell him boy." Aang quipped sharply. She blinked in surprise and glanced back to Aang, his words, and expression, a mix of playful yet stern.
"Let me see." Katara crawled across the saddle to sit beside Aang, reaching into their saddlebags to dig into their belongings. While she rooted in their supplies, she absently questioned Aang. "So how far have we traveled? Are we going to reach the Northern Water Tribe soon?"
"It's better you not ask that yet." Oh great. This is going to be a long, long flight... Her mind turned back to a familiar journey. What was it; over a week ago we went to the Fire Nation? Just like that, but without the Fire Navy. She sighed, seizing a bag of dried jerky to crawl to the front of the saddle and toss it to her brother.
Aang scooted away and pressed his back into the side of the saddle. "We're going to have to stop at some point to let Appa eat something too guys." He reminded, reaching over the edge to pat his bison's furry side.
Hours later, Sokka took his turn to rest while Aang switched to lead Appa. The moon had risen in the dark sky, shining down beautifully on the trio racing beneath the veil of night. She laid silently in the saddle, her blue eyes flitting from one glowing star to another. She had grown so bored of the silence she had resorted to counting the stars in the sky.
One hundred thirteen...or was it twelve? I think I already counted that one. She closed her eyes in disgust, thumping the back of her head against the saddle. Oh whatever. There are hundreds of them. Her mind ached with desire to do something else to add some level of interest to this otherwise drab night.
Rolling to her knees she climbed over the saddle's edge, crawling down to leave a snoring Sokka and join Aang's side. As she inched closer beside him, she noticed he was sitting perfectly still, with his eyes closed, bobbing his head up and down gently. Oh gosh... She slapped her forehead, shaking her head dismally. He fell asleep leading Appa.
"Aang." She singly stated, but he didn't show any notice to her words. She sighed, considering poking him, but his eyes slipped open as he swiftly turned to her.
"Hey uh, yeah. What's up Katara?" He rushed out quickly, providing a sudden flash of a smile.
"I'll take that." Nabbing the reigns from his hand, she gave them a pull to put them in her control. Should I tell him to go get some sleep? Probably...but...gosh, I don't want to be alone. "So, are you excited?"
"Um, sure. I'm excited." He blinked, arching a brow to her curiously. "About what?"
She wanted a better conversation than this, but kept her disappointment from her expression. He's just tired...that's all... "For reaching the Northern Water Tribe! We're finally going to learn from a real master. Isn't that amazing?"
"Oh that, right. Sure it is." He turned to gaze ahead into the darkness, his words low and quiet. "Can't wait to do more training."
What...? She eyed him perplexedly for only a moment, as his words hardly sounded like he meant them. Oh, this is because of Jeong Jeong isn't it? "I'm sure whatever our teacher takes us through will help us to learn to bend properly. This time you can train with me too, it'll be fun!"
"Yeah... I am looking forward to it though." He leaned back, resting off of his palms to gaze into ahead while a restful smile crept over him. "From what I've seen of waterbending it's fun."
"Better than firebending?" She grinned wryly. I like where this is going.
"Definitely better than firebending." He wholeheartedly responded without a moment's hesitation.
She beamed a joyous smile, laughing softly as she patted his arm. "I can't wait; this is going to be so much fun!" Allowing her pleasure to die down a little, she reminded herself of the sleep still lingering in his eyes. "Thanks Aang. Go get some rest for now."
Some hours later, her head was beginning to nod as well. To keep herself alert, she pulled out Aang's map and spread it across Appa's head, narrowing down where they should be according to how long they had been flying.
Nooo...I shouldn't have done this. She planted her face flat into the map, groaning similarly to Appa. Not even half-way there... "Enough sleeping on the job, I'll take over." She snapped her head up as her brother slipped down Appa's neck to land beside her.
"I wasn't sleeping..." She mused with objection.
He spotted the map she had fallen atop of and smiled, sitting up. "Ah, been looking at that. You do know we're probably not going to go straight there, right?"
Please don't be a downer. "What do you mean?"
"We're not using any instruments to guide ourselves, no recent map or a star chart for example. If we were in one of dad's boats I'm sure we'd have all we needed to get there. As it is, we'll just have to stay high and rely on our eyes. It's not like the map is telling us we're going in the right direction."
She planted her face into the map yet again.
The first sight of ice had lifted Katara's spirits, but only momentarily when she realized they were still far from the Northern Water Tribe. This was like a teaser of what was to come, mocking her for the need to be patient. That was now nearly five hours ago, leaving her breathing softly at the front of the saddle in attempt to control her mood.
"One shiny boomerang in my hand; one shiny boomerang!" Sokka sang on from Appa's head. How much longer...will he keep this up? "Give it a spin, it comes back again. I've still got one shiny boomerang in my hand!"
"Sokka..." She mumbled from the saddle with disdain in her tone.
"One shiny boomerang in my hand-" He continued with boredom yet humor, heedless to her addressing him.
"Please..." She continued, slightly louder as she implored him to cease. He moved on to the second verse as she cut in again. "I had hoped you'd stop somewhere along the first ten times."
He turned back to lift his blue eyes to her, filled to the brim with dullness. "You got anything better to do?"
No. She laid her chin atop her mitts, honing her eyes sourly upon her brother. "Anything but that please."
"Fine." He quipped, turning back to stare ahead of them. Oh thank you. I don't know how much more of that I could take. "I spy with my little eye..." Oh spirits... "Something blue."
I am not even starting that. She knotted her eyebrows firmly, her expression screaming the monotony weighing her down. "Uh...the sky?" Aang questioned curiously, lifting his head to peer over the saddle's edge to the young warrior. No Aang, no...please don't encourage him!
"Nope. But that was a good guess." Sokka returned whimsically. Her head drooped forward, loosing an aggravated sigh into her coat's sleeves. I hate you so much right now. She closed her eyes and exhaled softly, attempting to cool off. No, no I don't...but...ugh.
"Alright! I got it then." Aang responded, cracking a grin as he revealed the answer. "The ocean."
"Also wrong, but again a good guess." Sokka posed with an uplifted index finger, though not glancing back to the young airbender.
"Sokka." Katara retorted plainly. "Everything is blue around us except the clouds! The sky, the ocean, the ice..."
"Ice! You got it!" Sokka shouted with absolution. Ugh! I played along! She slammed her forehead to the rim of the saddle roughly, wrapping her arms around the top of her head. "Now I see something gray!" He continued. She couldn't help it; her last nerve was quickly breaking as tension mounted in her forehead, breathing much more heavily.
"That would be a cloud, Sokka." Aang replied, but this time much more dejectedly. Please stop humoring him. Please? Please...?
"That was a very good guess. Now I see something white." Appa. Duh. She lifted her head and dropped it quickly, banging it against the saddle, then she repeated this again, followed by yet another time.
Aang replied much more glumly this time around. "No thanks..." Oh thank you Aang. Maybe he'll shut up now.
Throughout their journey they had joked together, ate together, stopped to feed Appa – which was quite the unique task, ending in simply dropping the melons into the ocean in front of the starving beast. All of them had taken turns sleeping and just in general travel together. Now, however, their companionship had slowly begun to dwindle. Not one of them spoke a word as each of the trio grew further frustrated.
The second night since they had left had came and went. Katara had been hopeful that in the morning they would see signs of the snowy terrain, if even far away on the horizon. But to her sorrow, nothing but the blue of the sea greeted her. It was torture.
Could it be the map's fault? It is age old...maybe they didn't design it right... She mused, sitting with her legs crossed flat in the middle of the saddle. Her eyes had been locked in a dead scowl straight ahead for some thirty minutes now. Or could it be our fault? Maybe one of us turned Appa a little...Aang did fall asleep at the reigns.
Thirty minutes of further silence found her lying on her stomach, her chin resting on her gloves. She had nearly given up searching for the tribe, and it didn't help their vision any now that they were almost level with the ocean, as Appa seemed to be physically drained.
She groaned heavily, staring blankly into the leather sidewall of the saddle. "Katara?" Her brother, leaning against the saddlebags, questioned plainly. "Are you alright?" She slowly drifted her attention out the corner of her eye closest to him. Don't you dare mess with me right now. "You sound like a dying tiger-seal."
Aang chuckled from atop his bison's head. She twisted her lip into a cold frown, returning her scorn to the leather saddle beneath her to bury her face into it and draw her hood over her head. "Or you could just pout." He continued relentlessly.
She outright ignored him; letting silence fill the air for another five or ten minutes. Flick. Her eyes snapped open to the darkness beneath her hood. Flick. Her eyebrows stiffened, crossing downward. What is that...?
She turned ever so slightly, just enough to peer out from beneath her hood toward her brother – the obvious source of this noise. Flick. He was carving something again as a chip of wood sailed into the air. Ugh. She hid her face into the saddle again.
Unable to help herself, her eyes remained plastered wide open, glaring at nothingness as her frustration grew with each move that Sokka made. Why is that bothering me so much? He's just carving. I mean – Flick – She winced. Just please make it stop. Nothing but him for hours is killing me. Flick! She groaned quietly as her gut twisted, her legs writhing behind her to free pent up aggravation.
Flick. She broke. Tossing her hood back she heaved her upper body into the air. "Would you knock it off already!?" She bellowed suddenly. This act alone offered her some level of relief, enough to realize Sokka had completely frozen to stare at her with his knife dangling just above his carving. He appeared to be terribly confused.
Ugh... She closed her eyes, embarrassed at her behavior. Sinking down to her elbows she turned away from him before uttering much more quietly. "Sorry...um, never mind."
"You really don't do well with boredom." Sokka posed with sarcastic humor.
Please just leave me alone. "I don't know - that was just getting on my nerves. I'm sorry, go ahead." She exhaled sadly, sinking her head into her hands, elbows braced off the bottom of the saddle. I just want this to be over.
Water, water everywhere; but nobody to teach me to bend it. She mused, gliding her hand toward the ocean Appa was nearly touching. A small series of ripples raced after the bison, being teased to give chase by Katara's bending. She wasn't truly paying attention to this, simply doing it out of boredom. After minutes of staring at nothing but water with crags of ice sporadically reaching for the skies, she laid to her stomach miserably.
Bracing her chin into her gloves, she watched sourly as spikes of ice continued to pass the saddle slowly. "I'm not one to complain..." Her brother began. She didn't even bother to turn her eyes his direction. "But can't Appa fly any higher?"
Appa groaned in response, dipping just enough for her to hear the splash of water as his feet brushed against the ocean. Day three... "I have an idea..." Aang's voice called out gruffly as he stood at the front of the saddle. "Why don't we all get on your back and you can fly us to the North Pole!" He jabbed an accusational finger toward the warrior.
Somebody else is in a bad mood. She mused, affording a momentary glance to the disgruntled expression of the young Air Nomad. "I'd love to." Sokka retorted sarcastically, hiking up to his knees to jab his thumb toward his backside, waving it mockingly toward both of them. "Climb on everyone. Sokka's ready for take-off!" Lovely.Momo squalled at Sokka's excitement, bounding across the saddle to leap atop his back. She lowered her arms, waving them in gesture to cool their jets as she glanced first to Aang, then her brother. "Look, we're all just a little tired and cranky because we've been flying for two days straight."
"And for what?" Sokka exclaimed, spinning back to drop to the saddle. "We can't even find the Northern Water Tribe. There's nothing up here." Why do you have to be right? She dropped her head to the saddle, flattening her arms ahead of her ruefully. Day four here we come.
A heavy splash sounded, as if a large whale-dolphin had leapt into the air before falling back into the ocean. Um, what was that? She lifted her head perplexedly, just in time to spot an enormous spike of ice race from the ocean and into the air toward them. Whoa!
Aang's scream filled the cold air as she swiftly threw herself forward to seize the saddle's edge. Sokka fell in beside her, each suddenly crying out as she fought to keep from being thrown from the saddle. What's happening!? Why does these things always happen to us?!
Thump! A heavy jolt threw her forward, though her grip remained firm as she hovered mid-air helplessly above the saddle. Make...it...stop! The sky swirled and spun furiously, leaving her straining to maintain grip before coming to an abrupt halt when Appa crashed onto the ocean. Her stomach slammed into the leather saddle roughly, leaving her shaking in panic.
Rising slowly upon shaky knees, she noticed small wooden skiffs sailing in to surround them, each bearing nearly eight individuals all clad in blue coats. No...no way! Yes! Yeees! "They're waterbenders! We found the Water Tribe!!"
"Don't you mean, they found us?" Sokka posed. She quickly noticed he had stood with his boomerang in full display, eyeballing their assailants with certain distrust.
"Sokka put that away! Now!" She hurriedly hissed, attempting to keep her voice low to not draw attention.
"Only after they explain themselves for attacking us." He tightened his hold on his sharpened weapon, drifting his gaze across the boats as they came to a halt. Angling his body toward a certain skiff closer to Appa's head, he nodded toward it. "There. He's in charge."
"How do you know?" She whispered, turning to face the older man.
"Trust me." I'll trust you better if you put that weapon away!
"What is your purpose for coming to the Northern Water Tribe; and what is this flying bison? They were believed to be extinct!" The old man called out, stepping to the front of his skiff to demand attention.
Okay, maybe he is. She turned toward him, walking to the front of the saddle. "This is Appa, my lifelong companion." Aang returned politely, stepping to the front of Appa's head. "We're headed to the North Pole to learn waterbending. Looks like we found it!" He stated humorously.
"No, really?" Sokka muttered beneath his breath. Hush!
"You don't look like a waterbender." The old man added skeptically, crossing his arms to lock eyes on the young boy. "Why should we believe you? And even if I did, these are dire times. We are not interested in offering aid that will put our tribe in danger."
"But he's the Avatar!" Katara broke in, swinging her right arm down toward Aang. "Aang has already mastered airbending, now he has to learn waterbending! He couldn't do that at the South Pole because the Fire Nation has taken all of our benders."
"The Avatar?" The man dropped his arms to his side, straightening perplexedly as the some forty-seven other individuals present all gasped and murmured. "Hmm..." He turned his head aside and tapped his finger to beads in his hanging, dark gray hair at the side of his head. Oh come on! What's wrong with you? She widened her eyes in wonder. We're from the same tribe, and Aang is the Avatar! You have to let us in!
"That would explain your colors." The man returned, locking eyes on the young Air Nomad. "But you must understand I cannot simply take you at your word. Show me proof, airbend."
"Sure thing." Aang quipped cheerfully. She could tell from his tone he was enjoying this. Aang slipped his foot back, and with a sudden spin he thrust his arm toward the man. The ocean danced as a blast of air struck its surface, racing toward the small skiff to toss the older man's solid gray hair in the wind.
The man stood perfectly still, though his eyes widened in stark disbelief. "Well creeping snowcrab-lizards...you really are the Avatar." His light blue eyes lifted, honing upon her as she smiled in response. Yes, he is. Now let us in please? "And you say you're from the Southern Water Tribe?"
Sokka stepped beside her, slipping his boomerang away finally. "Yes, we are. I'm Sokka." He addressed, raising a hand toward Katara. "And this is Katara, my sister. Our father is Hakoda, Chief of the Southern Water Tribe."
The man's jaw gaped wide, staring in astonishment to the trio before swallowing back his surprise. "The Avatar, Prince and Princess of our sister tribe; on our doorstep? This is a great honor after all these years..." The man placed his palm to his chest, bowing deeply to the three of them. All forty-seven others present followed suit upon this reaction.
Oh, my... Katara's eyes bulged, slowly pivoting her head to gaze at the waterbenders honoring them. Really, we aren't Prince or Princess of anything. Our tribe's in shambles...if you can even call it a tribe... She swallowed, but smiled nonetheless. "I am the head of our tribe's navy; it would be my pleasure to escort you as our guests to the gates of our city."
"Yes, please!" She exclaimed hastily, bracing her gloves together with heightening excitement. Following this, the man sent one of his scouts ahead to alert the tribe of their new guests.
Appa drifted lazily amidst the surrounding skiffs. She was now beside herself with joy, sitting at the front of the saddle with high anticipation for the new world waiting to unfold before her very eyes. Her dreams, her wishes and the very being of what she was were all about to be realized.
Had it not been for this, she would have scolded Sokka for pulling his boomerang in threat against their hosts. One boomerang, dozens of waterbenders...you're a little outmatched there brother. She smirked, but let the thought pass away.
It hadn't been all that long before the tall, ice walls of the Northern Water Tribe came into view. Aang leapt to his feet and thrust his hand forward, pointing as he exclaimed excitedly. "There it is!"
A moment of awe overcame her, gazing with forlorn love at the might and wonder of her culture. The still, crystalline waters led to an expansive wall of perfectly smooth ice, serving as the gate to the city. This wall alone was immense beyond imagination, more than twenty times her height, and it donned the beauty of the Water Tribe symbol within its center. At either of this gate's sides the a higher wall of sheer ice continued, at least four times the gate's size.
"The Northern Water Tribe..." She wistfully muttered with an air of affectionate pride.
"We're finally here..." Sokka added with wonder behind her. She slowly lowered her arms to her sides; unable to find words to express the wonder overcoming her. It was peace. It was bliss. It was love.
Approaching the walls, she tilted her head back and gazed as high as she could see. It seemed as if the towering walls could stretch straight to the Spirit World. As they drew closer, the ice of the solid, immense gate cracked and gave way, slipping into the ocean to form an arched tunnel. Unbelievable. This is...how it should be. How we should be. My people...
She laid her hands on the edge of the saddle, turning her head to lay a smile upon the leader of the tribal navy with pleasure. He smiled at her in turn, raising his arms to usher them into the tunnel, into the Water Tribe.
Exiting the tunnel's farther side, the ice rose behind them and sealed tightly back into place, untouched. They were pinned within a small room of tall ice walls, but she felt right at home as she lifted her eyes to the tribe's citizens lining the tops of the walls all around her. In unison, each swung their arms upright, dropping their arms down toward her a moment afterward.
Multiple sections of the ice wall began to melt, pouring melted water down to lift the water level. They can waterbend too! Dozens on the boats, the benders here...they're everywhere! She beamed joyously, lowering her eyes to Aang as Appa began to rise with the flow of water. And soon we will too. "I can't believe how many waterbenders live up here."
He twisted his head halfway toward her, joyfully returning her statement. "We'll find a master to teach us no problem!"
The immense wall of ice ahead of them finished its descent into the water, leaving a small number of waterbenders standing on simple slabs of ice evenly spaced through the channel. Just beyond them two wooden skiffs lay in wait, waterbenders standing at the ready as one man bowed low. "Welcome to the Northern Water Tribe. Please follow me to your home, provided for as long you wish to stay in our company."
"We get a home?!" Try as she may, she couldn't hide her excitement as she leapt against the front of the saddle, bracing off her hands to gape merrily at their host.
A hand fell on her shoulder. "Just play it cool, Katara." Her brother added, lowering his hand to step back with a smile. "We're going to be here for awhile, since Aang has to master waterbending."
Her smile only broadened. Fine by me. That gives me plenty of time to do the same! Appa had resumed drifting after the skiff down the canal. An expansive plateau of ice stretched across either side of the water. A row of ice totems lined each side of this channel, as well as still more tribe members, some of which were mounted upon buffalo yaks.
The tribe was strong. Her people were strong. Her pride, likewise, had grown immeasurably strong. These are my people... She couldn't be any prouder to be Water Tribe than this very moment. And yet, the next moment proved she could. Her eyes beheld their destination at the end of the canal, the city of ice itself, bent into the very cleft of the continent's high icy cliff-side.
She gasped; taking in the chill of the air as her fingers nearly tingled with her racing heart. Numerous buildings of pure ice filled the city, behind yet another stretching wall. At the center, pressed up against the cliff, a tiered citadel stood proudly with homes teeming below it. The entire city held a certain crystalline shine to it, partly thanks to the sun lighting the smooth surfaces of the tribe.
I'm in love. She convulsed with silent laughter, clutching her gut as tears momentarily stung the corner of her eyes. "This place is huge." Sokka muttered softly from the back of the saddle. "Wow."
"Yeah...isn't it wonderful?" Our tribe is still standing strong. This is our culture at its finest...
"Hopefully they still have warrior training. I mean, they can't have just replaced everyone who can't bend with waterbenders..."
"I guess." She turned back to lay her glistening blue eyes upon her brother. "Don't get bent out of shape if they don't though. We're here for Aang to learn waterbending."
"And you." Sokka muttered plainly, arching an eyebrow. "You seem to keep pretending to neglect that."
She scoffed, turning back to the tribe itself. "With all these benders here, why not? Why shouldn't I? It would be stupid to pass up that opportunity!"
"Yeah, yeah. I know. Not what I meant, but it doesn't matter anyway. I just hope I can get in a few lessons while here myself." So you want to benefit from this too. See? Where's the harm? "After all, like you said, why not?" He teased in return.
"Exactly." She wholeheartedly responded, turning to give him a strong nod of approval.
Passing through the inner walls was quite the similar experience to the outer walls, only on a smaller scale. She was still astonished at how many benders were present even here, lining the canal with skiffs, standing on the walls' edges, walking the streets – this was bender bliss!
Entering the city was no less awe-inspiring than viewing it from afar. The water canals were akin to streets. Skiffs and elegant gondolas roamed the frigid waters, each guided by benders. Tall buildings lined the icy streets beside the water, some of which held staircases of ice leading down into the stream itself. The canal they were following dead ended into another channel, and at this intersection, an expansive waterfall continuously flowed, nearly two or three times as wide as Appa was long, counting his tail and head.
Seated at the front of the saddle with her legs stretched out beside her, her mouth hung agape at the numerous faces suddenly pouring into the icy sidewalks beside the water streets, upon rooftops and bridged archways over the water. I can't believe there are so many people! This tribe is full of life! And they're all here to see us? And me? ...wow.
She spotted Aang eating this attention for dinner as well. The young boy on Appa's head turned left and right, waving eagerly at his spectators. Haha! Her white teeth beamed in full display, overflowing with excitement as they approached an archway, passing beside a fountain at their left. Her eyes widened in surprise. A fountain!? She slapped her gloves to the edge of the saddle, turning to eye it incredulously.
How did they...how is it? Wow! The water sprang from below, shooting up at the center to fold out like a gentle mushroom and cascade back into the waiting basin. "This place is beautiful..."
"Yeah...she is..." Sokka wistfully stated. Huh? She turned to the back of the saddle, but Sokka had apparently slipped out of it to stand on Appa's tail, gazing behind them. What are you staring...oh. She lifted her eyes to a gondola leaving the other direction. In it, an elegant young lady with tall white hair sat patiently.
No way... Her eyes bulged out of their sockets. Sokka? Are you, seriously? You? Her? Oh my gosh. Oh. My. Gosh. Her toothy smile only broadened as she buried her mouth into her hands to stifle a hard giggle. As he turned back to the saddle, his expression was one of dumbstruck love. Her stifled giggle broke free, dropping her hands to her stomach. "See something you like?" She chortled.
"I'm good." Sokka nonchalantly retorted, climbing slowly back up Appa's tail. "Just scoping things out, that's all. Y'know; gotta be aware of my surroundings and all."
"Scoping things out." Katara repeated as she couldn't help but break out a hard laugh. "Yeah, I saw that. Nice scoping there."
"Oh hush..." He dejectedly retorted, climbing over the saddlebags with full crimson coating his cheeks. You're even blushing! She turned away from him and bent slightly over in laughter. Opening her eyes again, she noticed Aang staring at her in confusion and gave him a shake of her head. I'll tell you later Aang.
Climbing a staircase of ice, they left Appa in the care of the Water Tribe to feed, bathe and provide shelter for him as they were led into the residential quarters below the citadel. Thick, cloth drapes pulled away from open windows as heads popped out to gaze at the passersby. I can't believe this place looks so...so...civilized. So full of life, like a real city.
Their guide halted at the first bridge they came to, extending his arm toward it as he stepped away. "Follow that path to your right. You will come to a flight of steps that will lead to the next level, where your home resides. You should also find Shila awaiting your arrival as well."
"Shila? Who's that?" Sokka posed as the trio halted for a moment.
"She is the lead attendant for the citadel as well as the Northern Council, led by Chief Arnook, so she has come to extend to you our welcome."
Reaching the top of the stairs left them no confusion where their new home was. A lady in a light blue coat stood beside a fountain, waving them forward. I guess that's Shila. She smiled joyously and followed after Aang while her brother kept pace beside her.
Approaching the woman, she couldn't see very much of her – the coat proved to be full length, even with a large, white fur hood over her head to conceal her hair. The lady's face, however, seemed to suggest she was in either her upper twenties or lower thirties, still holding onto her youth. The most distinguishable feature however, Katara smiled at.
Hanging just at the right of Shila's face, attached to her fur hood, hung an elegant blue tassel with several beads preceding it, stretching as far down as her chest. Wow. Northern Water Tribe fashion...beautiful. "Welcome, children! You must be the Avatar, Prince and Princess of the Southern Water Tribe. It has been ages since we've had such an honor." She called out in a melodious tone as they drew near.
"Not really...please, don't call us Prince and Princess..." Katara dismissively suggested with a nervous smile. "Sokka and Katara are just fine. The Fire Nation has hit our tribe pretty hard, there's not really all that much left to call it a tribe...certainly nothing as wonderful as here."
Sokka crossed his arms beside his sister, a subtle scowl crossing over him as he hummed in response. "Oh; my apologies. I will pass word along to ensure you are properly addressed in the future." Shila uttered swiftly, placing her brown gloved hand before her lips. "We have not had opportunity to come by much information for a long time."
Washing away the sudden mood, she slipped her hand down and pressed them together ahead of her chest. "Right this way! We have prepared quarters for you while you stay with us. As our brother and sister you are more than welcome to it." She twisted to her left, nearly dance-stepping swiftly across the smooth ice flooring around the corner of a nearby building.
She smiled. Something about Shila's friendly, polite aura helped her feel right at home. Following after the lady, she stood at the entry to the building and held its thick brown cloth back for the trio to pass through.
The ice inside was stepped, lowering to a large floor covered with soft white fur. Four large basins held candles to light the room's interior, but for now the sunlight was sufficient with the window's drapes pulled back. Her eyebrows lifted, cheeks tugging in a knowing, homesick smile. Home.
Aang cleared his throat, standing by the doorway and staring down to the flooring of fur at the bottom level. Shila stepped in behind them, followed by a small group of Water Tribe attendants carrying their belongings from Appa's saddle. "Your presence is requested for a welcoming ceremony just outside of the citadel tonight, dinner will be provided. It should begin just after nine o'clock tonight, moon-up."
"Of course we'll be there!" Katara turned back excitedly.
"You can count me in." Sokka readily agreed. Aang smiled in agreement, but let their words carry for him.
An hour later, each lay haplessly in their ice hut with a smile, absorbing a much-needed time of relaxation. Appa had reportedly been taken ahead to the citadel where he was being groomed. "It feels like it's been forever since we've been home." Katara murmured aloud.
"Yeah. What's it been, a month? A month and a half? Two? I've lost track of time." Her brother idly returned.
"You've lost track of time?" Aang rolled to his side, locking eyes on the young warrior. "I'm not even sure when my birthday should be any more!"
"Yeah..." Katara mused. "That is pretty awkward." Aang rolled to his back again, clasping his arms above his stomach. Silence crept into the room for a minute. "I miss Gran Gran."
"I do too." Sokka thoughtfully added.
"We left the tribe in very poor shape...do you think they're okay?" She turned her head, setting her ocean blue eyes on her brother as if he should have the answer. Despite always worrying for him and mocking him, she admired him and his opinions. Mostly when they were what she wanted to hear, of course.
"I'm sure they're alright." With his arms beneath his head, he glanced left to her reassuringly. "When we left, Zuko came after us. Nobody else bothered them I'm sure, so they probably have everything pulled back together by now." She breathed softly, closing her eyes and gripping her gloved fingers together. Thanks Sokka.
The time had come for their gathering. Ascending the first flight of steps, they found themselves on an icy plateau. Directly ahead of her lay the citadel, each side of the path marked by tall totems of ice that spanned the distance. Two pools of water decorated this level, one off either side of the path. Directly ahead of her awaited the citadel, and her future.
The citadel was massive, as was her awe while they approached the towering seven-story building perched at the top of an immensely wide flight of stairs. The stairs were indeed so wide they could comfortably support over twenty people walking side by side. Flowing water surrounded the icy plateau the citadel rested upon, running over in finely spaced waterfalls all along its edge.
She felt water everywhere – below her very feet, ahead of her, behind her, within the ice totems and the pools. Her very essence thrived on the presence of her element teeming with activity all around her. It was dark out, but the rushing of the waterfalls filled the air and the multiple levels of the citadel were aglow with light. This is so exciting...
As they approached the second flight of stairs that led to the citadel itself, a dark-haired man approached them. "If I remember my wife's descriptions correctly, you are the Avatar and his friends, correct?"
"That's us." Aang responded instantly. His wife? Shila I guess.
"My name is Haskal. It is an honor to make your acquaintance." He placed his palm to his chest, bowing singly before stepping aside. "The ceremony shall be held in the outer steppe tonight. Please come with me. You are to sit with the Northern Council."
"Speaking of that..." Katara began as they resumed their pace, veering off of the path to their right. "The Southern Tribe has only recently formed one before my dad left. Its purpose was for war, what's this one for?"
"Anything and everything." Haskal quipped with a brief laugh. "But really, it consists of the most respected family's elders. Their main purpose was to create a selective set of individuals who comprehend the best interests of our tribe, in order to offer advice and discussion for our Chief."
Sokka crossed his arms, arching a brow with a smirk. "You mean the Chief can't make those calls himself?" Sokka!
Haskal spun around, walking backwards as he shook his head at the young warrior. "Ah no; no. All they do is offer advice. They may disapprove of an action but they cannot counter anything Chief Arnook would decide."
They were led up a small flight of steps where they were seated, facing the citadel. Directly in front of her however, stood a massive fountain that spouted water which cascaded upon three levels of the fountain with elegance, before reaching its massive pool at the bottom. At either side of her stood tall, three-tiered ice structures filled with people seated at each tier with a long-running shelf of ice before them. Ahead of her, in the center of this stadium, an immense pool of steaming water rested, surrounded by a tiled floor.
She blinked in disbelief, staring at the water as if she were making this up. Is that water bubbling? It looks like it's piping hot, but how? People were still arriving as she sat between her brother and Aang patiently for the ceremony to begin. Haskal had taken leave once he had led them to their position, returning to join his wife among the ice seating.
Five individuals crept toward the water at the center, stopping as one knelt to test it with his hand. Standing; each assumed a waterbending form and stretched their arms wide, bringing them down to bear on the water below. No way. Steam billowed into the air for a moment before settling once again when they ceased their art. They just... "Wow." Aang mumbled.
"Hey Katara; why can't you do that?" Sokka mused aloud. "Think of all the hot meals we could have had..."
She didn't respond, too beside herself with joy, amazement and wild anticipation for the coming days. They can heat water...not just make it ice! I had no idea I could do that! "Aang, Katara and Sokka I presume?" She turned her flabbergasted gaze up beside her to meet a black-haired, aged individual smiling down to her.
"That's right." She responded, giving him a nod.
"I am Chief Arnook. The ceremony is about to begin, at which I will address the three of you. Do you have any special words you would like to say?"
"Nah, we're good." Sokka answered for the three of them.
"Very well." His eyes fell to Aang, clasping his hands together with a warm smile. "And I heard the Avatar is seeking to learn waterbending from us? If you wish to arrange lessons, speak with Master Pakku after the ceremony is over. I am sure he would be grateful to have you as his student."
Don't forget about me... "Sure thing! But my friend would also like to learn waterbending while here too."
"I don't see the harm in that. Be sure to bring that up with Pakku." YES!
"Hey, speaking of lessons...do you guys have any warrior training I can get in on?" Sokka posed swiftly.
"My, you've only just arrived and you're already signing up for a full load. Our people should do well to learn from your example." Arnook clasped his hands together, tipping his head toward her brother in response. Tch...learn from his example? That's rich; it should be the other way around. She glanced to Sokka, who donned a rather prideful smirk at receiving such praise. "When I lead Aang to Pakku, I shall send your instructor to have a word with you as well."
The Chief turned ahead of them, extending one arm to point toward a stage at the farther side. Immediately a deep, rumbling beat echoed into the skies as tribe members began systematically beating hollowed drums larger than themselves. This soothed her like a warm melody, vibrating deep within her stomach. After this, he lowered himself to sit beside Aang at the center of this ice platform with a low table of ice running the platform's length just ahead of them. Three more council elder's approached the stage, taking their place beside their Chief as tribal attendants climbed the steps, laying oblong plates with finely dressed sushi, bread rolls and a small side of seaweed salad before them, with a warm broth for a drink. The aroma was tantalizing.
"Oh hey." Aang muttered, grinning broadly at his plate. "This Water Tribe food looks pretty good."
She turned to him and lifted her eyebrows, a smile tugging at her lips. What were you expecting? Momo seemed to be getting anxious, what with the drum beats vibrating through the air. Aang reached out, seizing the lemur as he raced by chattering madly, and pulled him gently back into his lap with both arms. "Ssh, it's okay Momo." She only smiled further, turning toward the festivities with earnest joy.
That's when she heard Appa roar, followed by a small series of screams. Uh oh. Glancing left, she saw Sokka grinning like a madman as four Water Tribe attendants ran from a large plate of seaweed they had placed before the bison. She joined her brother with a large smirk. Poor people...Appa's not going to hurt you.
Her brother suddenly beat on her leg, vigorously addressing her under his breath. "Katara...Katara!" What, what?! She turned to him with her eyes wide, confused, before following his shocked expression to see four attendants carrying an enormous crab toward the boiling water below. "Do you see that?!"
"Wow. I can't remember the last time we had a giant crab...and that one looks even bigger!" The four people, two at either side of the crab, were dwarfed by its size, being only as large as one of its legs. They followed this be lowering the immense crab into the steaming water, a loud hiss and screen of vapor rising into the air.
"It was back when dad was with us." Sokka mused thoughtfully.
Following a moment of silence, disregarding the drums of course, Aang idly added to himself. "I hope it isn't alive..."
"I don't think it was Aang." She whispered back. Eh; maybe I shouldn't add because it didn't struggle. She turned away from him and arched her eyebrows, knowing he didn't like that already. Turning back, she smiled supportively. "Don't worry about it Aang. It's not feeling anything." After all...there are a lot of people here that have to eat...
Chief Arnook climbed to his feet, raising his arms toward the dark skies overhead as the drums ceased their beat. "Tonight we celebrate the arrival of our brother and sister from the Southern Tribe." She bubbled over with joy at Arnook's words, turning forward to face the audience gathered at each seating. I can't believe this is happening...
"And they have brought with them someone very special." She turned back to Arnook, grinning as he spoke of her friend. "Someone who many of us believed disappeared from the world until now..." He lowered his hands, extending his arms toward Aang as a small chorus of cheers and applause lifted. She joined, clapping her gloves together as Aang waved for his fans.
"We also celebrate my daughter's sixteenth birthday-" He began, stepping aside to sway his arms behind him toward the young woman approaching them. She glanced back, catching sight of the girl with tall, white hair approaching them. "Princess Yue, is now of marrying age!"
"Thank you Father." Her soft, harmonious voice returned before addressing the gathering. "May the great ocean and moon spirits watch over us during these troubled times!"
Arnook lifted his arm forward, raising his voice. "Now, Master Pakku and his students will perform." Perform? She laid eyes on her future master with glee, watching as his two students beside him mimicked his every movement, lifting three sizable orbs of water to the air.
Waterbending...as an art! She turned to Aang excitedly, relaying her wonder through her eyes. That's us! We're going to learn that! That's our teacher! He returned her excitement with a joyous smile, locking eyes with her before both turned to clap for their host along with the rest of the tribe. His students quickly brought the large globules of water together into one giant stream, simultaneously sharing the bending to wrap this stream over, around, behind and encircling each of them.
"Hi there; Sokka – Southern Water Tribe." She heard Sokka state coolly. Uh... Glancing to her brother, he had propped himself off the table with one elbow, smiling like an idiot toward Yue who had seated herself beside him.
"Very nice to meet you." Her sweet, soft voice returned in answer.
Quickly his expression switched to nervous contemplation, turning away from her to stare aimlessly toward the dark skies. "So...uh..." She smirked, seizing sushi to take a bite out of amusement. This ought to be good. Real good. "You're a Princess? Huh?!" Rich! She silently chuckled, feeling the laugh in her gut as she swallowed hard. "Y'know, back in my tribe, I'm kinda like a Prince myself."Wow! She broke out with a surprised laugh, turning to her brother with a sly expression. "Prince of what?" Man does he pump his own chest! She slipped the rest of the sushi into her mouth idly.
"A lot of things!" He quipped back sharply, leaning toward her to scowl cruelly into her eyes. Oh is that how it is? She stared blankly in reply for his suppressed anger toward her. "Do you mind? I'm trying to have a conversation here." She can't really be buying this. I've never seen him do this before! But as you wish, my Prince.
"My apologies, Prince Sokka!" She teased; crossing her arm before her stomach to bow low to the royalty she was forced to live with.
He turned away, resuming his speech with his crush. "So it looks like I'm gonna be in town for awhile..." She sat up, looking ahead as she pondered this over. He's crushing on the Princess of all people, and pumping up our bleak status to be on her level. If he even gets anywhere with her, I give it a day. "I'm thinkin' maybe we could..." His voice heightened, questioning her with clearly rising fear. "Do an activity together?"
She closed her eyes sharply, unable to help but smirk. I don't know who's more entertaining; you or Pakku. "Do an activity...?" Yue questioned with playful curiosity.
Yep...you're more entertaining. He seemed to have eaten his own boot, suddenly reaching for and shoving two bread rolls in his mouth to silence his idiocy, only managing to choke himself and cough lightly.
She leaned his direction, a playful smirk dancing on her lips as she waggled her eyebrow at him. "Very smooth." She jested quietly; ensuring only he caught her words. He said nothing, simply staring at her with a sullen frown, breathing heavily. Okay; time for a girl's touch. She leaned forward, propping her elbows off the table to turn to Yue. "So you're sixteen? I guess that is the marrying age here as well. Right?"
"That's right." She nodded in response.
"This is Aang, he's twelve." She dropped her hand to his shoulder as he smiled up to her. "I'm Katara, fourteen, and my brother Sokka is the oldest among us. He's fifteen." She lifted a humorous smile to him, absolutely gloating in his dumbstruck state as she dropped her gloved hand to his shoulder.
"Even though he brags about his status, he's as humble as any Prince can be. He listens genuinely to his friends' concerns and doesn't ever assert his authority over them forcefully." She lied, clearly remembering he had attempted to declare himself leader. By now he was absolutely scowling crossly at her, his eyes ready to burn holes through her head.
Yue giggled softly, taking a piece of sushi in her grip to snack on. "You sound like a wonderful Prince." Sokka cleared his throat, shaking Katara's hand from his shoulder with a glare that demanded she leave him alone.
"Katara!" Aang nudged her side suddenly. Stunned, she turned to him perplexedly as he pointed in front of her. Just then, Pakku and his students shattered a large spike of ice, swirling the broken pieces like a mini tornado just above the trio. Spirits save me...that's amazing! "That's amazing!" He stated the very moment she thought it. She grinned like an idiot at them sharing a mind.
In the middle of enjoying the spirit-sent cooked crab given to her, Aang gently tapped her arm. Turning to set her eyes upon him, he lifted his eyes of gray to her apologetically. "Can I have your plate of appetizers?"
Oh...right... Her eyebrows lifted, staring at him with sympathy as she slid the oblong plate closer to him. "Of course Aang. Sorry about the food...my people are used to eating things like this. I think it helps since we live in the cold. That and we don't exactly get much opportunity to grow things..."
"Thanks." He took the plate between his hands, smiling down to it as he spoke softly. "Actually, other than the meat this food is great. As long as I can have Water Tribe sides like this I'll be happy."
She smiled, though as she returned to her dinner she noticed Sokka wasn't acting quite normal. She watched him more closely for a moment, curiously. Quite unlike himself, he was eating slowly and carefully to ensure he made no mess with each bite. Her smile grew into a smirk. Should I call him out on this in front of Yue? Hm...oh the possibilities... However, she let him go this time, especially considering Yue stood up. "Goodnight and welcome to the Northern Water Tribe. It was very nice meeting you all."
"Yes, it was..." Katara smirked at her brother's words. You might want to say something else. "Uh...yes, it was nice. Very nice too." He hesitated; clearly his nerves were rattled before sobering up his thoughts to speak his next line suavely, turning his head back to lift his blue eyes to hers. "The pleasure was all mine."
Katara burst out a chuckle, stifling it in one hand as she eyeballed her brother. Don't you mean, 'ours'? Where did this side of you even come from? "Goodnight, Princess Yue." Yue simply grinned at the Water Tribe warrior, her light cheeks holding a gentle pink flush as she turned and walked away.
Katara turned back to the table, staring blankly ahead to nothing in particular, in astonishment. She likes him. Sokka sighed, turning back to drop his arms to the table, proceeding to poke his food haplessly. I can't believe that worked. She really likes him and apparently he's too blind to see it. "Would you come with me, Avatar Aang?" She glanced to her right just as Aang rose to his feet.
"I'll be right back, Katara." He turned after the Chief, following him down the steps of ice to the floor below. She smiled uncontrollably as her heart raced, turning down to the last of her dinner anxiously. Master Pakku. She poked at her food, too beside herself to consider eating it. I like the sound of that. Master.
While she busied herself with anticipation for her new Master, she barely noticed a young man climb the steps steadily before she heard his smooth voice. "Sokka, yes?"
"Uh...the one and only." Sokka quipped playfully, dropping an arm to the ice table as he glanced up to the young man with long, flowing brown hair. "What can I do ya for?"
"It's more like what can I do for you." He returned with a subtle laugh, dropping to cross his legs before the opposite end of the table. He turned his brilliant blue eyes to Katara, simply staring at her with a warm smile as he gave her a nod, returning his attention to her brother. "My Chief told me you were looking into joining warrior lessons."
"Oh! Oh right, that!" Katara chuckled at her brother, shaking her head. Girls make him forget about being a warrior? Congratulations Sokka, you're in love. My own brother... "Uh...yeah, so you're my instructor? When can I get started?"
"Ah, no – I'm Tivek, just a fellow student, not the teacher. He had already left so that's why I'm here. Anyway, the next class is tomorrow at just before noon. Our next class is at the armory, just below the outer steppe."
"I'll be there." Sokka quipped, before straightening his back to stare perplexedly at the man. "Just where is 'there', exactly?"
"Oh, just follow the staircase down and hang a right. This whole level is the outer steppe, where the waterbenders train." Katara's attention spiked, turning to the young man with sudden interest. Well now I know where my training will be. "Our teacher is Haskal. He can be as sharp as ice so don't take what he says too personally. Outside of class he's as gentle as a koala-otter."
"I'll keep that in mind, see you there Tivek. Don't feel too bad if I school you in how to be a warrior." Her brother playfully jested. She rolled her eyes, tipping her head forward to rest it against her fingertips. Always so headstrong. Just because he taught a bunch of five to eight year olds he thinks he knows it all.
Tivek lifted a brow and provided a humorous chuckle. "I'll be sure to tell everyone. It was an honor meeting you Sokka, and...?" He turned to her inquisitively.
"Katara." She nodded. "Don't hurt my brother too much, please." She gazed out the corner of her eyes to her brother.
"I'll try to not let him hurt himself." Oh, nice! She smirked as Tivek rose to his feet and gave her a nod, smoothing out his dark blue tribal coat. "Goodnight Sokka, Katara."
"Would you stop making fun of me?" Sokka uttered under his breath as Tivek left. Her lips twisted into a playful grin, eyes aglow with humor. You make it too easy.
It wasn't but minutes later that Aang returned alone, dropping to sit beside her. Katara kept her eyes trained on him, smiling goofily while waiting for him to speak, absolutely dying with impatience. "Well, I tried to get us a little time to rest after what we've been through, but Master Pakku seems a little, well...rude."
Okay...time off? Why? Let's just get started! She leaned away, lifting a brow curiously. "What do you mean, rude?"
He shrugged in response. "He said if we wanted a day to rest then we should go to a tropical island. Our first class is tomorrow at sun-rise and not any later. Sorry."
"Sorry?" She questioned with an upturned eyebrow. "That's great!" Without even realizing it, she bounced for joy and pounded her palms together with wondrous excitement. "Tomorrow! After all this time, tomorrow! I can't wait!!"
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Props to Ianbernard for helping make this wonderful chapter template with images! (he created the images)
The Boy in the Iceberg