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The Book of Primal Illusion



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Chapter 3: Selenic Bargain

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Chapter 5: The Right-Turned Conch

One of the many skills Katara acquired while serving as resident healer in the Southern Water Tribe over the past few years was how to be up, dressed, and on her feet before she was even awake. Now was one of those times. Laying in bed and giving a relieved sigh and drifting to sleep abruptly became walking along one of the wide corridors of the palace.

"What..." She was sure she was slurring. "What's going on, exactly?"

"Firelord Zuko -" The guard paused for a moment, and Katara's heart leaped to strangle her in her throat, throbbing painfully before he continued with a joyful tone. "He's awake! You're truly a miracle-worker, Master Katara," the guard gushed. "He actually told us to let you sleep in but Captain Deshi thought it best to inform you."

"Well, uh... thank you for that." Her head was swimming. Maybe Zuko hadn't lost that fierce and diehard drive quite as much as she suspected. "What time is it, exactly?"

"Half past noon, Master Katara, ma'am."

Even as she rubbed her eyes, she nodded. Right when the sun was at its highest... maybe she had done more good last night than she realized. Katara was about to say something more when, abruptly, a colorful streak ran up to her shrieking, aimed right for her knees.

It was only due to the guard and a conveniently placed pillar that Katara didn't land completely flat on her back. As it was she still had to contend with the happily squealing Princess. "THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU!" The chant became a dizzy blur of shrieking as Mei Lien clutched Katara's knees so hard it hurt. "Thank you, thank you, thank you-uu-uuu!"

Huffing and puffing, her nursemaid was hurrying around the corner. "Princess Mei Lien! That is NOT dignified court behavior!"

Katara laughed a little. "Woah, hey, just slow down a little bit, all right?"

The girl sprung away, jumping up and down on tiptoe, making the delicate beads hanging off her headdress become tangled. "Daddy's all better! I guess not ALL better, but he's better! I did just like you said and I've been good and I talked to him this morning and it worked!" She was squealing, her amber eyes wide and bright. "Mister Sokka was right! I knew you could fix him!" It was only a few seconds of respite before Mei Lien flung herself at Katara again, happy tears rolling down her fat cheeks.

"I'm sure he needs to rest more, but - I'm also sure he'll be completely fine," Katara soothed, picking up Mei Lien. The girl promptly took this as an invitation to give her a more proper, near-strangling hug, and Katara weakly offered the princess out to her nursemaid. "That being good thing still applies, okay?" Katara had been expecting a pout, but Mei Lien simply nodded enthusiastically.

"...and part of being good means going to your lessons," her nursemaid chided, taking the Princess from Katara while mouthing 'I'm so sorry!' and looking chagrined. Katara hoped that her smile communicated well enough that it wasn't a problem. "After you're done, I'm sure the Firelord will read you a story..."

"D'you think I can make him read t'me about the turtle-ducks lots? To make up for when he's been sleeping?"

"I don't quite know, Princess. I'm afraid you'll just have to ask him yourself..."

Katara chuckled and shook her head, and the guard offered her a sympathetic shrug and looked as if he was about to apologise profusely before Katara waved it away. "I guess Zuko really must be feeling better. ...His rooms are this way, right?"

"Yes they are, Master Katara, I'll escort you the rest of the way. If there's anything else you need..."

By the time she had made her way down the hall she was smiling. The air of relief in the palace was nearly visible and it was very easy to get caught up in it. Gingerly, she pushed the door open, expecting to find Zuko sitting in bed reading missives from Fire Nation officials. She certainly did not expect to find him standing (somewhat shakily) in front of the largest window in his room, shirtless and barefoot but hair back in a loose topknot that held his crown, gracefully bending into another stretch.

"Zuko! What do you think you're doing!" Katara hissed furiously. "You should be in bed! Resting! Not -"

He turned his head just enough to grin lightly at her over his shoulder. "It's good to see you too, Katara." His voice was still rough, and she could tell he was still weak, but the deepness it had gained made a quick blush rush over her cheeks. The fact that a blush even dared to share itself, however momentarily, just made Katara even more irritated. "They're just stretches, I'll be fine."

Katara threw her hands up in the air, barely restraining herself from making an undignified strangled screa of frustration. "You will NOT be fine! Do you KNOW how bad off you've been the past few days?"

"And I'm not anymore. Besides, after being in bed for so long..." He leaned forward in a half-lunge with a grunt, and Katara huffed. "I'll go back to resting in a bit."

"No, you'll go back to resting NOW," she said peevishly. "You're not strong enough to be doing this, and you know it."

"I seem to be doing just fine, thanks -" Katara cut him off by leaning in and giving one stabbing poke to his shoulder. He hadn't seen it coming, and it threw off his shaky balance so thoroughly that he fell to the ground in an awkward pile of limbs that was thoroughly undignified. Although he tried to shake it off, he was obviously dizzied, shaking his head and looking slightly crosseyed. "...Okay. Point taken. Though there were probably kinder ways to prove that point," he teased lightly.

"None of them as funny or as dramatic, though." She reached out to help him up, and even then he still struggled to his feet. "You need to rest. And I mean it. Whatever poison they used is something incredibly specific. Aang and Sokka are out looking for the antidote, if it even still exists, but I definitely don't need you up all day undoing the work I spent all night doing..."

Zuko nodded, looking properly chagrined, and he put a hand to his forehead. "All right, all right. I'll rest after one more thing."

"No, you're going to rest NOW, not after one more thing," Katara snapped peevishly. "I don't care if it's your favourite stretch, Zuko, I'm serious..." But he didn't pay much attention to her, instead smoothly going into a familiar stance. Even with his body aching and rebellious as it was, the movements were still fluid and graceful out of practice. Katara didn't actually realize what he was going to do until it was too late for her to actually do anything. "DON'T -!"

What normally would have been a pleasantly large fireball extending from his fist had been reduced to a tiny lick of flame. More importantly, Zuko immediately cried out in pain as if someone had punched him had in the gut. His legs crumpled underneath him and he fell forward, hair sweeping into his face, even the crown dislodged from his topknot to roll on the floor.

Katara scrambled to kneel beside him. For a few brief and terrifying seconds he didn't seem to even be breathing when she called his name, but eventually his lips did part to give a weak splutter. The whiplash of emotions from relief to terror to relief once more nearly made Katara break down into tears, but she settled for a shaky sigh. The guards had already rushed to help her, which was a relief, because Zuko was out cold once more. Under her direction, they lifted him back up onto the bed; she noted how one picked up his crown with worried reverence and put it back into place.

There was nothing more for it than to go back to work. Katara had to admit that it made things much easier to have a retinue of servants flitting about her, ready and willing for commands. A basin of fresh, clean water was easy enough, even given to her in a gleaming ceremonial bowl lined in gold and looking as if it had captured some drippings of the sun itself. Tea even came accompanied with several fortifying sandwiches. But even with all the servants nervously flitting around her, there was only so much they could do. Katara still had to be the one to start undoing the damage Zuko had unwittingly caused to himself.

She shook out her hair, sighing, before reaching over to the bowl and letting a few long ribbons of water snake around her fingertips. "When you wake up," she grumbled, "I swear, I'm punching you in the arm. ...or something."

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A parhelion is a wide group of visual phenomena that include things like sun-dogs. A specific and rare type of parhelion is known as a false sunrise.

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