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|An Avatar's Duty|
9-An Avatar's Duty
An Avatar's Duty is the first chapter of A:TLA - Book 1 Episode 7., and draws its main scenes from
Investigating the remains of a forest fire, Aang discovers his purpose as Avatar is broader than he had first realized. His duty is to the physical world, but it is also to maintaining balance between their world and the spirit realm.
Old memories return to haunt Katara with greater strength than ever before, heightened by her time completely alone. Aang's eyes open to the duties he must perform during this chapter, realizing and accepting the weight of responsibility.
The Old Wanderer, now named Oren, gets a bit of life breathed into him in this episode, I added more detail to him than was previously designed for his character.
When creating this chapter; I spoke withregarding some of the time she is completely alone. Appa Rocks gave the suggestion of a dream, and while I figured she used to have similar dreams to below in the past, I found that suggestion to be absolutely perfect and fitting for that scene. Thanks, Appa Rocks!
"I thought we'd never get away from there." Sokka stated idly as Appa lifted his heavy body into the air.
Aang twisted his head back to the saddle with a huge grin plastered across his face. "Well I had fun! That place was great."
Katara rolled her eyes, but smiled nonetheless. "You're just happy because you got to ride another animal this morning." She stated, referring to his joyride on an Ostrich Horse that had lasted longer than anticipated.
Appa moaned loudly as he settled mid-air, ceasing his ascent. Aang leaned forward and ran his hand over Appa's large white head. "Don't worry buddy, you're always number one for me!" He stated playfully, earning a softer bellow from his companion.
"Yeah-yeah. We still could have left earlier than noon." Sokka leaned back against the front of the saddle, crossing his arms as he glared to his right across the forestry.
Great, he's still upset. Katara frowned to her brother, as she pulled herself up to her knees and laid her hands upon her lap. "Sokka, are you still mad at me? You've been acting all bent out of shape all morning."
"What? Oh; no, no-no." Sokka jerkily shook a hand in front of her as she shook his head. "Well, yes." He smirked haughtily at his sister as her eyes fell to a glare. Get to the point. She fumed to herself. "I can't believe I never got a fair rematch with that earthbender." Sokka resettled into the saddle as he huffed.
At this Katara rolled her eyes at her brothers' pride and turned away from him, throwing herself on her stomach in the middle of the saddle. He really is a meathead. I didn't get through to him at all.
Nearly an hour of silence passed by, disregarding the mild disgruntled comment from Sokka concerning the cheater Captain Chu. He had also been carving something, she had no idea what he was trying to make though, as it resembled a wooden shoe to her.
Katara idly alternated her legs back and forth into the air above her, smiling over the side of Appa's saddle at the clear blue skies. Slowly drawing in a deep breath of warm air, she smiled pleasantly at the calm of their quiet flight.
She had witnessed a victory against the Fire Nation just the day before, and had even seen the proud might of the Earth Kingdom reuniting with fervor, and she was with the Avatar. This war is going to end, I just know it. She thought merrily as her blue eyes explored the horizon.
A cry of a hawk below caught her attention. Glancing slightly over the saddle's edge she stared carelessly at the tops of clouds. A month ago, I would never have guessed I would be staring at the top of a cloud. She chuckled softly, glancing halfway to Sokka as he lifted an eyebrow at her random laugh.
This didn't bother her. Undeterred, she returned her attention to the clouds below, resting her head between the palms of her two hands as she crossed her legs above her. "Those clouds look so soft, don't they?" She posed her open curiosity to her brother. "Like you could just jump down, and you'd land in a big soft cottony heap."
Why did I just ask him that? She pondered, prepared for a sarcastic remark as she dropped an arm to the saddle. "Maybe you should give it a try." Sokka smirked to his sister as she turned to give him a cold stare.
Her smile faded to dumbfounded scorn. "You're hilarious." Serves me right for asking him.
"I'll try it!" Aang blurted out of the blue from Appa's head, leaping upright. Huh? She glanced sideways to Aang, just in time to watch him bolt out of sight with his staff in hand, laughing maniacally.
Did he just...? She pulled herself forward, wrapping her fingers over the leather saddle's edge to gaze down after Aang. Her brother slipped up beside her, popping his head over the saddle in turn.
Poof. Aang disappeared in that soft cottony heap she had just mentioned. She lifted a brow and gazed after him in confusion. He knows what he's doing. Clack! The sound of Aang's staff snapping shut drew her attention.
She bent back behind her, gazing over her shoulder as Aang fell squarely into the saddle with as huge a smile as when he had left. She stared idly at him as small streams of water flowed into the saddle off of his wet clothing. "Turns out clouds are made of water." He mildly added, setting his staff down as he thrust his fist into an open palm.
A circular gust of wind exuded from his fist, hurling water off his body in all directions. Momo, who had been perched on the saddle bags, arched back from the sudden gale. Katara didn't even budge as the wind whipped about her hair. She had grown used to his airbending, as he seemed to enjoy using it frequently. Poor Momo however had just popped out of Aang's air dryer and looked quite puffy.
She glanced forward, spotting something dark out of the corner of her eye. "Hey, what is that?" She steadily climbed to her feet, walking past her brother to the front of the saddle.
As she leaned forward against the saddle, laying her hands on its edge, her brother and Aang leaned in beside her, gazing to the blackened land amidst a forest. "It's like a scar..." Her brother contemplated aloud.
Aang commented quietly beside Katara. "I'm going to take Appa down." He climbed over the saddle, as Katara watched him curiously. Again, a total flip of mood. He sounded so sad, why? I wish I could understand how his mind worked.
"There's nothing down there Aang. Why would you want to do that?" Sokka questioned, raising a hand out in explanation.
"I have to see this for myself." He added with finality, setting himself down upon Appa's head. Taking the reins in his hands, he gave them a soft shake as he tugged to his left. "Let's go boy." Appa bellowed aloud in agreement as he swayed downwards.
As Appa descended for the blackened landscape, Katara's brow knotted with concern. The three of them were quiet, barely speaking a word as the smell of charred wood filled the air. "The forest was burned..." Katara muttered softly. Aang stood atop Appa's head just as he touched ground, and leapt off to the soot below.
"What happened..." Sokka jumped from the saddle, kicking up a pile of black ash as he landed.
Following after him, Katara waved her hand before her face to fight the rising soot. "Hey, be more careful..."
Glancing back to Appa, she saw Momo pawing the black soot by Appa's head. Appa leaned his nose down and drew a sniff, sucking the ash into his nostrils. This startled him and he jerked back, before snorting out a heavy gust of air, spreading black dust up in a cloud.
This place is awful. She thought as she edged away from Appa, stopping to observe the landscape. Short, black stumps rose from the ground mixed with half-standing charred tree remains. All around them was a sea of white, grey and black ash, no simple dirt to be found. Her frown tightened. This was disastrous.
"Listen, it's so quiet..." Sokka commented as he walked away from Katara. Aang had already distanced himself from the two, standing between fallen burned logs. "...there's no life anywhere."
All the while, she kept her eyes on Aang. He seemed so distant, so sad. "Aang?" She softly called after him. "Are you okay?"
"Fire Nation!" Sokka suddenly changed the mood, shouting outright from her left. Aang didn't respond to her, or to Sokka. He continued to stand motionless amidst the black remains of the land with his back to them, his head drooped before him. "Those evil savages make me sick! They have no respect for–"
Katara lifted her forefinger to her lips, turning to Sokka. "Ssh."
Lowering his voice, he continued in quiet protest. "What, I'm not allowed to be angry?" Sokka waved his arms out before settling his palms on his hips. You're making this worse...let me handle this. She turned and pointed to Aang.
Aang dropped to his knees, letting out an audible sigh as a small black cloud of soot filled the air around him. She raised her eyebrows, watching him curiously. He scooped up a handful of the black earth, letting its remains drift between his fingers. "Why would anyone do this...how could I let this happen?"
He's blaming himself? ...why? "Aang, you didn't let this happen." She steadily approached him, giving a slow wave of her hand as she stated this. "It has nothing to do with you." Finishing, she stopped closer to him, and clasped her hands together before her.
"Yes it does!" He contested, settling down with his legs split upon the ground. "It's the Avatar's job to protect nature." He hunched forward, dropping his chin into his hands. "But I don't know how to do my job."
He's taking responsibility... She admired him all the more for this. How can I cheer him up? "That's why we're going to the North Pole..." She allowed herself to smile slightly. "To find you a teacher."
"Yeah; a waterbending teacher." Her smile faded at his crisp reply. He glanced momentarily over his shoulder to her, before returning his solemn gaze to the terrain before him. "But there's no one who can teach me how to be the Avatar. Monk Gyatso said that Avatar Roku would help me."
Say what? "The Avatar before you?" Sokka questioned in disbelief. Katara glanced to her brother as he stepped forward, swinging his arms out in gesture. "He died over a hundred years ago. How are you supposed to talk to him?"
She glanced back to Aang as Momo bounded past her and into Aang's lap, cooing at the emotions swelling around him. "I don't know..." He muttered, beginning to stroke his small lemur.
"Aang..." Katara re-attempted to cheer him, bringing a soft smile to her features as she singly stepped forward through the ash. "I believe in you, you will find a way for your past life to help you, I know it."
He didn't answer. He sighed and hunched over, startling Momo to leap off of his lap and sit upright beside him. The small lemur gazed up into Aang's mournful face with its large green eyes. Sokka broke Katara's attention from Aang as he addressed her. "Great, here we go again with this nonsense. I can't imagine why you believe that stuff. Besides, this past life stuff can't be true if this Gyatso guy told Aang he would speak to him; you know? Seeing as he would have been dead and all at the time."
Her face contorted as she shot Sokka a sharp scowl. "Sokka, it's true." She waved her left arm out towards her brother as she continued. "Maybe it has to do with something like, oh I don't know, he's the Avatar?"
"Whatever." He shrugged and dropped to his knees in the ash. "If you ask me this reminds me of the bedtime stories Gran Gran used to tell us."
"Not helping." Aang called out, breaking the two's argument as he kept his back to them.
She turned her apologetic deep blue eyes to the back of Aang's head. "Sorry..."
Some time had passed. Katara had paced the landscape once so far, circling Appa for any sign of life or semblance of growth. Spotting Aang once again, still downcast where he had been for the last several minutes, she sighed. Seriously, how long will he be upset and sit in the ashes?
Kneeling by the edge of the burnt woodlands, she ran her finger idly through the ash. Her blue eyes alighted as she ran her finger across a bumpy surface, pulling a small cluster of acorns into view.
Really? She stared in surprise as her lips curled into a smile. Sifting beneath the ash, she stumbled across several more acorns sparsely located by the ash-stained hemline of her dress. Perfect. Maybe this will work. She smiled pleasantly as she gathered up a few acorns, turning to approach her downcast friend.
"Hey Aang. Are you ready to be cheered up?" She slipped her hands behind her as she stated playfully.
"No." He idly commented, not even glancing back to her.
Expected as much. She pulled her hand forward, pinching an acorn between her forefinger and thumb. With a swift swing, it soared through the air and pelted the side of his bald head. "Ow!" He jerked back in surprise, placing his hand where he had been struck. "Hey! How is that cheering me up?" He stared at her with heightened curiosity.
She smiled mischievously to Aang, playfully tossing a second out of three acorns up into the air above her right palm nonchalantly. A short distance off, Sokka, who still sat where he had dropped earlier, began to chuckle beneath his breath. "Cheered me up!" He sarcastically exclaimed toward Aang.
Keep your mouth shut. If you upset him again right now, I swear I'll... She drew back and hurled the second acorn. "Ow!" Sokka shouted in surprise as the acorn struck his skull. "Yeah, I probably deserved that." He muttered dejectedly, laying a single gloved hand on the side of his face.
Turning back to Aang, Katara smiled and slowly approached him as she held out her last remaining acorn. "These acorns are everywhere Aang." Her blue gown draped over her knee as she knelt to the ash, reaching eye-level with Aang. "That means the forest will grow back!"
Aang seemed to be contemplating her words, glancing from the acorn up to her soft blue eyes. She slid the acorn forward, clutching it between her fingertips as she held it up. "Every one of these will be a tall oak tree some day." Taking Aang's hand in hers, she pulled it forward and set the acorn into his palm. "And all the birds and animals that lived here will come back." She cupped both her hands around his, and closed his palm around the acorn.
Aang held the acorn firmly within his grasp. Then suddenly, a smile crossed his lips as he gleamed up to her. "Thanks Katara."
She smiled pleasantly as her eyes softened. He really is taking being the Avatar seriously. I'm proud of you. A distant, repetitive crunching of ash beneath a cane caught her ears. Just as it did, she spotted a discolored green and brown figure behind her view of Aang. She gasped in surprise, whipping her head away from the young airbender to gaze at the stranger.
Katara and Aang leapt upright, a small flurry of ash settling near their feet. "Hey!" Sokka interjected, rising to his feet between his friends and this old man. "Who are you?" A ragged brown cloak draped over his shoulders, but beneath this he wore a simple faded green Earth Kingdom garb.
Katara held her hands tightly locked together before her, eyeing this man in curiosity. What is this old guy doing all the way out here? The man didn't even glance to Sokka; instead his aged eyes were fixated on Aang as he continued to plod along with his wooden cane. "When I saw the flying bison, I thought it was impossible!" He reached Aang and halted, raising his free hand to point directly at him. "But, those markings...are you the Avatar, child?"
Aang twisted away, gazing over his shoulder to Katara inquisitively. He wants my approval! She couldn't help but grow excited at the thought. She saw nothing wrong with telling this old man, he seemed nice enough. She gave Aang a permissive nod. Aang took the opportunity and turned back to the old man, returning the nod he had just received from Katara.
"My village desperately needs your help!" He called out, reaching up and closing his hand tightly.
"Okay..." Aang stated doubtfully. "What's going on?"
"Please, you must come with me, I'll tell you once we arrive." The old man turned slowly, pressing his cane down as he shambled forward.
"Hold on." Sokka pressed his hands to his hips, refusing to budge. "You still haven't said who you are, or where you're taking us."
"Forgive me, but we are in grave need of help, I did not mean to skip formalities." The man did not stop walking however; glancing to his left to reply to Sokka as he passed by. "My name is Oren, and my people live in a small settlement nearby, Senlin Village. It's not but just over the hill, I came as soon as I spotted your bison."
"We're going to help, Sokka." Katara muttered in finality to her brother as she followed after the man, just a step behind Aang.
"A little information never hurt anybody." Sokka shrugged to his sister, before falling in behind her.
Being led just over the hill, they left the charred lands behind. Appa followed a short pace behind the four, while Momo circled overhead, occasionally settling in nearby branches to watch them. "So..." Aang posed, approaching the quiet old man. "What happened back there? Why is the forest burned down?"
"I've only heard a tale of what happened. A Fire Nation force attempted to take to the forest to assail the nearby Earth Kingdom base by surprise. It hasn't been but only three days ago...or was it four...forgive me, too much has happened and I've missed much sleep these last few days. The military engaged them, stopping their advance." The old man clicked his cane harder into the firm soil as they followed the trail between wholesome trees. "It was a terrible battle. Even from our village we could feel and hear the destruction."
"Did anyone get hurt?" Katara worriedly inquired. If anyone did, she hoped it was only the heartless villains from the cruel Fire Nation.
"Yes." Oren stated solemnly, though he did not add any more. The weight he placed into the single word shown he was uncomfortable continuing that conversation. Sensing the old man's increased emotional weight, she did not press the issue.
Minutes passed as the three continued their walk, before Sokka broke the uncomfortable silence. "Whoa..."
She immediately witnessed what had surprised her brother. Just ahead stood thin stone walls, broken boards and frames of buildings lay just within. "What...what happened?" She cautiously glanced up to Oren with mournful eyes. "Did the firebenders hit here too?"
He did not answer for a moment, until the four had drawn closer to the walls. "No. Come, I will tell all of you once we are inside."
The streets of the small village proved to resemble a horror story. Gaping holes stood in buildings to their left and right; planks of wood lay strewn idly in the dusty streets, and small portions of the outer wall had been fully chipped away. Not a soul stood nearby, only the four individuals and Momo overhead.
Katara shuddered, but remained quiet. Fire Nation. It just has to be. She felt the fear of war that had dissipated not long ago re-entering her as they followed the man resolutely to a large, undamaged building at the back of the village.
Climbing a small rise of wooden steps, she crossed a wooden deck and through open double-doors. She could only make out shadows of numerous people throughout the room as her eyes adjusted to the change in lighting. "This young person – is the Avatar." Oren had halted a step ahead of them, and waved a hand peacefully toward Aang.
She caught sight of one finely clothed individual turn to them. Her eyes adjusted, spotting the brown top-knot this man's hair was bound up in. He approached readily, halting in front of Aang with his palms together. "So the rumors of your return are true." He bowed his head nobly before the young Avatar. "It is the greatest honor of a lifetime to be in your presence."
Aang had returned the man's respectful bow. "Nice to meet you too." He didn't seem fazed by the man's respect, however. Katara's lips immediately lifted into a smile. Now that is how he should act. She adored the reaction, it had been much more appropriate than at Kyoshi Island. A moment of awkward silence loomed, prompting Aang to continue. "So...is there anything I can help you with?"
"I'm not sure." The man downheartedly replied, turning away from the Avatar.
Oren knocked his cane to the wood boards, stepping up beside the apparent leader he implored for his understanding. "Our village is in crisis! He's our only hope." The brown-haired man looked forward, shutting his eyes as he approved with a mere nod. "For the last few days, at sunset, a spirit monster comes and attacks our village. He is Hei Bai...the black and white spirit."
"Why is it attacking you?" Sokka openly questioned. Katara couldn't help but find herself curious as well.
The leader paced past the three for the door, resting his hand on the wooden doorframe. "We do not know! But each of the last three nights, he has abducted one of our own. We are especially fearful because the winter solstice draws near."
What does that have to do with anything? She pondered, voicing her question politely. "What happens then?" Her hands found themselves crossing before her again, holding one another in simple habit.
"As the solstice approaches..." Oren took a single shuffling step forward, sliding his cane with him. "The natural world and the Spirit World grow closer and closer, until the line between them is blurred completely."
The leader glanced over his shoulder from the doorway, completing the warning of what Katara had questioned. "Hei Bai is already causing devastation and destruction." He returned his gaze toward the sunset in fear. "Once the solstice is here, there is no telling what will happen!"
"So...what do you want me to do exactly?" Katara frowned at Aang's words. Obviously...stop this?
"Who better to resolve a crisis between our world, and the Spirit World, than the Avatar himself! You are the great bridge between man and spirit." Katara nodded at Oren's explanation, she had heard this story from her Gran Gran many times.
"Riight... that's me." Aang seemed to jeer in Oren's face, skepticism coating his every word of his duty.
For only a moment, Katara's jaw dropped. But...but...you're the Avatar, you should already know this. I certainly don't! She leaned forward to Aang, whispering quietly for his attention. "Hey great bridge guy..." Gaining his attention, she pointed towards a nearby window away from the group. "Can I talk to you over here for a second?"
Having left, Sokka teamed up in tailing along as well. She waited with her hands on the windowsill only a moment, before turning to face Aang. "Aang, you seem a little unsure about all this." She stated the most obvious, jumping straight to the point.
"Yeah, that might be because I don't know anything at all about the Spirit World." No way. She shared an empty stare with her brother, before returning her attention to the airbender. Aang obviously caught the line of thought and replied defensively. "It's not like there's someone to teach me this stuff!"
"So..." She continued, hoping he had some guess as to his next course of action. "Can you help these people?"
"I have to try, don't I?" He hung his head momentarily, before smiling up to her with hope lingering in his eyes. "Maybe whatever I have to do will just, come to me." As he finished, Momo suddenly leapt atop his shoulder, surprising him temporarily.
Oh Aang. She smiled. You'll figure it out, I know you will. "I think you can do it Aang."
"Yeah..." Her brother continued light-heartedly. "We're all going to get eaten by a spirit monster."
"Thanks, Katara." Aang outright ignored Sokka, just as she did, apart from her giving a sidelong glare to him.
"It is almost sunset now." The village leader broke into their conversation, approaching the three. "We still have warm soup sitting out; have some before it is time." The man extended his arm towards the back of the room; a small table with rickety wooden chairs surrounded it. Katara smiled in surprise, having only just realized she was hungry.
"You know you don't always have to be such a downer Sokka." She stated as kindheartedly as she could muster. "Aang is trying his hardest to do what is right."
"Yeah well, you ask me, you're being far too supportive of him." Sokka slurped up a mouthful of noodles, swallowing them whole. "He doesn't have half a clue what he's doing, how can he do Avatar stuff like that?"
Her eyebrows strained upwards, softening her eyes defensively. "Well...like he said; maybe it will just come to him."
"What's that?" Sokka shrugged in reply. "An idea, or a spirit monster that wants to eat us all for dinner?" Sokka retorted quickly as he waved his spoon out at her, before returning to his bowl.
She didn't say anything. Her eyes fell to her empty bowl of soup, staring wistfully into it. How could he say that? He's just...just...so rude to Aang. Unless... "Sokka." She stated assertively, shifting her attention to take his. "You're only doing this because you're still mad at me, aren't you?"
"Well you haven't exactly been the nicest sister to me lately." Sokka exclaimed after a brief moment of quiet. Following this he fell silent, dropping his spoon into the bowl. He's not finishing his food? She knew he really was upset at this. "I don't know why you always have to put me down, and praise Aang. I mean, so he's the Avatar...what am I, pig rooster? Aang can't handle everything on his own you know."
She blinked in shock. He's saying I compare him to Aang? What's his problem?! "Well, it isn't like you've been the best of brothers lately either." She scowled as she quickly shot back. "And don't put words in my mouth. You bring this on yourself."
The sudden thrum of a wooden cane beating the floorboards broke their argument. "Sorry to disturb you two." Oren began, remaining a foot from the table. "We took care of your belongings, and your bison is resting behind the village. He should be safe there."
"Thanks." No, really, thanks. She was glad for the interruption, and immediately stood to leave the table.
However as she passed by Oren, his old clammy hand firmly clasped her upper arm. She jerked back in sudden shock at the old man just grabbing her like this, and turned her wide sapphire eyes upon him in silent wonder. "Wait, where are you going?"
"...just to pack up, you finished cleaning our spare clothes and blankets. I was just going to fold them and put them away."
"Not now; it's too dangerous." His voice weakened as his hollow eyes gazed deeply down to her. Thumping his cane to the wood, he shifted away from her and gazed out the open door of the town hall. There, Aang had been conversing with the leader of the battered town for some while. "It is time, any minute the Hei Bai spirit may arrive. We must remain in shelter."
She gazed onward, watching as Aang was ushered out of the building. Okay...this is it. Sokka passed her, heading directly for the nearby window as she followed a step behind. "Hello...spirit?" They heard Aang shyly call out as his small figure passed down the open street of dirt before them. He held his staff defensively ahead of him as his stature shrank to the distance. "Can you hear me? This is the Avatar speaking. I'm...here, to try to help stuff?" Wow. If this Avatar stuff should just come to him, I hope it comes faster. She honestly found herself wondering.
"This isn't right." Sokka spoke out for all to hear. "We can't sit here and cower while Aang waits for some monster to show up."
"If anyone can save us, he can." Oren declared as he stepped closer to the window behind the two siblings.
"He still shouldn't have to face this alone!" Sokka shot back as he leaned atop the windowsill.
Well...he is supportive of Aang. She let out a soft sight as she stood back next to him, watching the last glimpses of sunlight fade from the sky. She heard Aang talking to himself, but he was too far away to discern his words. Suddenly, he whipped his staff into a violent twirl, ending by abruptly slamming one end into the ground. Then, nonchalantly he turned and began heading back. What on earth is he doing?
Katara felt her blood drain when a black and white creature with two legs and four arms, which it used as legs, came into view. "Hei Bai..." Oren whispered, as the creature the size of a building stepped over the wall, looming over Aang as he approached.
He'll be okay...he'll be okay... She exhaled softly and stepped up beside Sokka. Aang seemed to bow in greetings to the creature, but then she quietly screamed for just a moment as Hei Bai bellowed, emitting a blinding white light that enveloped Aang's small stature as he dropped his staff to the ground in shock.
Its cry echoed throughout the village as it lifted its immense body upon its hind legs and roared into the night sky, sending shivers through her body from the tremors. She leaned away from the window, squinting against the blinding light emitting from the spirits' mouth. "Whoa..." Sokka stood dumbstruck by the windowsill, his eyes reflecting white brilliance as he eyed the beast.
The next moments rushed by as a blur. Hei Bai literally phased in and out of existence, leaping through the village as it ripped apart buildings and ignored Aang's pleading request to pay attention.
The village leader voiced his doubts for Aang's performance. "The Avatar's methods are..." Katara jerked away from the window as a pile of shattered wood bashed off of the wall. "Unusual."
"It doesn't seem too interested in what he's saying." Sokka pointed out hesitantly. No, really? Just have faith Sokka. He'll manage, unless you think you can take him. "Maybe we should go help him." Bad idea.
"No!" Oren reached out in protest. "Only the Avatar stands a chance against the Hei Bai."
Don't you go doing anything stupid brother... "Aang will figure out the right thing to do Sokka." She smiled pleasantly, attempting to reassure herself against her own doubts that he would succeed. Sokka only grunted in disgust at his sisters' words of comfort.
Aang leapt atop the building just in front of them, and continued imploring for attention. She couldn't understand half of what he said, until he shouted above the destruction. "I command you to turn around now!"
The creature didn't take kindly to the command. She heard a loud thrash as it backhanded him, sending him sailing into the air to slam into the roof of a nearby building. Oh no! Aang! Her eyes widened as he slid down the side, falling to the street below.
"That's it, he needs help!" Sokka shouted as he leapt for the door.
"Sokka, wait!" She cried aloud reaching after her brother. But he didn't bat an eye at her and thrust the double doors open. No, no! What do you think you're doing!
She found herself unaware that her feet carried her after her brother, until the village leader's hand grasped her shoulder and held her back. "It's not safe!"
"Hei Bai, over here!" Her brother shouted, disappearing around the corner; following after where Aang had run to. She pulled against the man's hand as her last glimpse of her brother left her.
"No, no!" Katara cried out after she lost sight of Sokka. "Let go of me!" She jerked free of the man's hand and bolted into the street after her brother. Rounding the corner, she witnessed Hei Bai's black hand, as large as a person, snatch Sokka right off of the ground and whip back, disappearing into the forest.
She ran as fast as she could to the wall, only able to helplessly watch as Aang leapt to the air on his glider and sail after Hei Bai, giving chase to save her captured brother. "Sokka!" She cried out loudly, stopping just by the postern gate.
Momentarily, she simply stared in silence at an empty, silent forest trail. The crunch of dirt in the street drew her attention back to the gathering crowd of townsfolk that now surrounded her. Offering them only one glance, she turned back to the forest. What just happened...? Her heart grew heavy as her eyelids fell, a lost frown overtaking her.
No one spoke a word. An ominous silence filled the night air as the crowd kept their eyes on her. She felt horrible, being the center of attention like this. She was alone, yet surrounded. Please leave. She shut her eyes and held still, wishing the crowd to simply disappear.
Minutes passed. Some of the crowd left, some had attempted to console her from a comfortable distance, and yet others remained silent and simply observed. Her eyes, downcast as they were, caught glimpse of a shiny object lying a few feet from her. Boomerang... Her eyebrows knotted as sudden realization creased her forehead tightly.
Ignoring the crowd entirely, she headed directly for her brother's keepsake, his boomerang, his identity. Kneeling, her hand clasped its cold steel, lifting it from the still soil. Standing once again, she took a few brisk steps to distance herself from the others, before collapsing to her knees to gaze somberly after her brother.
Many hours had passed, only remnants of moonlight cut through the thick darkness that shrouded the desolate village. The moon had already passed through the sky and was out of sight. And yet Katara still sat by the village's postern gate, watching for the faintest of movement from the forest's shadowy trails. A crisp chill had settled in the night air, though it was nothing like the South Pole's harsh climate. Still, she found that her fingers slightly ached from the beginnings of numbness. Her arms rested atop her knees, pulled up against her chest in attempt for comfort and warmth.
Will they come back? She pondered in silence. I can't believe my last words to my brother were me putting him down. Why...if I never see him again... For just a moment, she found a tear forming in her eye. I lost mom's necklace...now I lose Sokka, and get a new keepsake... She clutched his boomerang tighter into her grip between her chest and her knees.
"Katara, snap out of it." She spoke out loud, shaking her head to clear her thoughts. They'll both be fine. Aang will come back and he will come back with Sokka. She forced a smile to her lips, but this was in vain. It faded after simply a moments' peace.
Over the songs of the crickets of the night, a soft, repetitive thump of Oren's cane sounded behind her. She paid him no mind at first, likely the old man making his way to her forlorn figure would offer some form of encouragement. "I'm sure they'll be back." He spoke calmly.
"I know." She replied softly, unmoving.
"You should get some rest." The old man added kindly, draping his own old ragged cloak around her shoulder.
"Everything's gonna be okay." She agreed once again to his prior statement, but mostly for her own ears and heart to hear. Clutching the sides of his cloak, she pulled it tighter as she fought off another sudden tear. Stop it, stop it. They're fine, they have to be. She dropped from her stiff position, turning toward Oren as she set Sokka's boomerang down beside her, dropping her knees to the soil.
"Your brother is in good hands. I would be shocked if the Avatar returned without him!" Oren knelt down beside her, but she didn't lift her eyes to meet his. Instead, a gleam of light broke through her closed eyelids as he continued. "The sun is rising." He added, pressing his palm against her shoulder. This drew her attention, glancing up into his comforting eyes. "Perhaps he will return soon." The two shared a simple glance to the sun as it crawled into the sky, greeting the new day.
"I'm sure he will." She added, returning her gaze to the ground.
"May this old man share his grief with you?" He questioned openly.
This took her attention. She sat up and stared at him, marginally nodding in reply.
"You asked earlier if any were injured in the great battle that scarred our land." He began his tale, with weight behind each word. "Yes, many were. It was a most grievous occasion. A lady captain, I believe her name was Sia Re, led survivors and carried those who lost their lives to this village after the battle. Among those lost, my wife and I found our son." He shut his eyes, hesitating in silence.
Katara's eyes weakened. That's awful! But...why is he telling me this...this is so not helping me. Her lips fell to a solid frown as she averted her attention to the ground again. "I'm sorry."
Oren nodded, but carried straight to his next point. "The very next night was the first of Hei Bai's attacks. In the midst of slumber, it destroyed our home. With one black hand, it seized my wife out from beside me in bed, and carried her off." He glanced down the trail where she had been staring.
Katara's stomach turned a knot, tightening her grip on Sokka's boomerang as she slid it up under her leg. She honestly had no idea what to say. Oren didn't seem to seek any comfort, as he continued straight on. "I had lost hope, but seeing the Avatar arrive has given me reason to believe I may have the chance to meet her once again."
And I'm hoping for Aang to return too. "Aang will do what's right." She replied quietly.
"Forgive this old man for sharing you his pain." He smiled meekly, patting her shoulder. "I wished to share that even against all our grief, hold fast to hope, and the future will improve." His joints creaked as he hoisted his body up to his feet once again, clacking his cane to the ground beside her. "Come inside and get some rest."
Katara hung her head, and turned away from Oren. "Thank you for the cloak." She drew it closer around her, leaning against the edge of the stone wall beside her. Oren seemed to accept this as an answer, and simply left her to her solitude. The repetitious cane thumping softly against the hard soil of the street dissipated into the village's small streets behind her.
Soft white of mounds of snow filled Katara's vision as the little girl clapped her hands together merrily. "Hair loopies!" She shouted as her mom's radiant laughter filled the air.
"Yes dear, hair loopies, that's what they're called. Now hold still so I can finish okay?" Kya appealed as she finished tying back Katara's hair loopy. "You look like a little angel." She stated adoringly to her daughter.
Katara giggled as her mother dug her fingers into the back of her neck. "Mom, stop it! That tickles!" But then, all feeling stopped, and the soft white of the surrounding snow faded to a subtle blue. "Mom?" She turned around to see her, but saw Sokka standing in front of her with a dim lantern, gazing intently away from her.
Her eyes welled up with anxiety. Sokka looked absolutely mortified, heartbroken. She turned to see what he was staring at. Just ahead of them in the distance, with no water or sky, her vision faded to only a handful of Water Tribe ships as they departed. Dad. Don't leave me! She could feel her words echo in her mind, unable to express them in actual speech. Dad...
Darkness took over as she lost sight of their sails. In her heart she felt a void as black as the darkness that engulfed her vision, her father had left her. But then, beside her, she saw Sokka. She allowed herself the faintest of smiles, trying to cheer herself. But just as she did, immense dark fingers wrapped around his screaming body as he disappeared. She did not see him be carried off, but rather simply disappear from sight. "Sokka!" She cried out as she reached to nothingness.
To her left, she heard a voice. It was Aang's. "Katara? Katara, I lost him." She turned to see Aang, but he appeared dithered and completely blue, bearing no likeness to natural colors.
"Aang?" She could only watch in confusion as he faded from sight, leaving behind a blue mist that faded to black.
In his place, she stood staring at what appeared to be a dark brown tent. Confused, she cautiously stepped forward and reached. Slipping the cloth back, she stepped into the small opening. A warm, heavy gust of wind overtook her, before all went black. Just in front of her, she saw her mother sitting upon her knees in tears.
"Mom?" She called out, only to realize her voice sounded very much like that of a little child as it hadn't dawned on her before.
Then, a face she hadn't seen through the darkness suddenly came into view. This face had no body, and when she saw it, it completely filled her vision. Scornful, detailed brown eyes glared down to her as if she were nothing. Her ears rang shrilly as words echoed in her mind loudly. "Get out of here!"
Katara's blue eyes thrust fully open as she heard an immense bellow overpower her ears. Glancing to her left, she stared at a face more than twice the size she was. Appa stood right in front of her, watching her intently. Just a dream. He looks scared too.
"It's okay Appa." She reached out and patted his immense, firm black nose. "Don't worry. I'm sure they're on their way back." She rose to her feet, turned and headed into the village, beckoning Appa to follow. "I bet they even found you a bunch of moon peaches, for a treat!"
Having stepped into the village, she leaned into Appa's side, against his soft white fur. Idly, she ran her hand down his side repetitively. Not again. I thought I was rid of those dreams... She sighed, realizing she had gripped Appa a little too tightly with her left hand. He shook slightly, breaking his fur from her grasp. "Sorry boy."
And now Sokka's in them. Her forehead knotted with the thought. Mom, dad, Sokka... why is this happening to me... "Appa, you miss them too, right boy?" His large furry head twisted slightly towards her, as he let out a soft, low groan. "I thought so. How about we go and look for them?"
He shook himself, then lowered slightly and let out a vigorous bellow. "That's the spirit."
She spent the remaining hours of daylight atop Appa's head, scouring the landscape of forestry and burnt lands for any sign of her brother or Aang in vain.
"It's no use, Appa. I don't see them anywhere." Katara finally admitted, having grown tired of soaring the skies while observing below. "Our best hope is to go back to the village and wait." Appa moaned sadly at her decision, but altered his path and made for Senlin Village.
"Thanks again for helping with all our stuff." Katara spoke meekly, staring into an empty dish. "And for dinner."
"When your friends return, they can have a warm meal as well." Oren smiled to her from across the table.
"Yeah." Katara sighed, sliding her chair back across the wooden floor. "I couldn't find them anywhere. And night is coming, so is Hei Bai." Her thumbs idly circled one another as a thought danced through her mind and out her mouth. "What is it like...you know; the spirit realm."
"I do not know." Sliding his chair back, his cane thrummed the floor as he rose upright. "When the Avatar returns those who are lost to us, perhaps then I can tell you." He smiled to her, having shared this encouragement.
"Yeah. When he returns." She stood and headed straight for the door, followed by Oren a slow pace behind.
"You mustn't be outside." The village leader warned her sternly, already standing beside the door. "The sun is fading; Hei Bai will be here any moment."
She ignored him, figuring he would complain anyway. At least he's genuinely concerned. She reached for the door. Just as she attempted to push, both of the double doors swung open. The leader and Oren stood at either side holding the door for her. "Thanks..." She smiled meekly, stepping to the edge of the wooden porch.
Golden hues of fading light lit the desolate town with wonder. But all around her, she saw nothing. No life, no sound, nothing. Her hope began to fade much quicker than it had all day. Maybe they aren't coming back...then what? What will I do...go home to Gran Gran? I just couldn't...
She dipped her head, clasping her hands before her as if holding her emotions between her palms. An unshakable frown creased her lips. This was it, Hei Bai would come shortly and Aang was nowhere to be found. A long, racing shadow broke the sun's last rays. Quickly she chanced a glimpse of what may have caused this, and spotted the figure of Aang gripping his glider as he soared into view.
Aang! She leapt for joy, quite literally as she landed on the dirt below the porch. In the next moment, he sailed in just above the ground, and mid-air snapped his air kite shut and landed softly on his feet. "You're back!" She shouted cheerfully, leaping against him and throwing her arms around his head.
Momo apparently wanted some attention as well, as he wrapped around Aang's shoulder and gazed up into his gray eyes. Aang stood still, smiling in surprise at Katara before she finally pulled away. "Where's Sokka?" Please, please... She forced a smile, as if she truly already knew the answer.
Aang didn't appear the least bit content with her question. His eyes slipped shut as he hung his head in sorrow. "I'm not sure."
No... Instantly her façade of happiness shattered. A handful of tears streaked down her cheeks without hesitation. Sokka... Her stomach convulsed a moment, before she wrenched back control of her fear. Reaching up she quickly swept away the tears, settling back down. "You'll figure this out." Her lip quivered marginally, but her words were sincere.
A low groan filled the air as the last gleams of sunlight faded from view. Night crept forward. Aang lifted his gray eyes to meet hers. "Katara, go back inside. Let me handle this." He slid his staff forward through the dirt, straightening himself. "Promise me you won't come outside. Don't get involved..."
She nodded briskly in reply. "I won't. Be careful Aang." Turning, she hurriedly sped up the wooden steps and through the open doors. Oren and the leader closed them behind her, latching them tight.
She stood by the open window similarly to the night before, patiently awaiting the beast's arrival. Aang strolled down the dark street, stopping occasionally beside the crumbled walls of the entrance.
Oren and the village leader stood at either side of her, all three watching to see how the Avatar would fare this time. Aang turned and slowly began to pace back toward the town hall. He looks like he's gave up that it's even coming... Her eyebrows lifted with worry. If it had, there would be no hope for ever seeing her brother again.
The house to Aang's side exploded outward in an instant, broken sideboards and support beams tossed into the air as Hei Bai came into view, shattering its roof in a single violent up-hand swing. Its familiar echoing roar left her ears ringing as she clutched her ears and ducked her head in shock.
She heard Aang shout in sudden terror. Her eyes opened wide as she leapt for the windowsill, watching helplessly as Aang thrust an air sphere around him to deflect the many wood planks pelting at his body. "Aang, what are you doing? Run!" She shouted above the destruction filling the air, leaning out the window desperately. It's going to kill you Aang!
The monster's roar ceased, turning toward her as she stood just inside the window. The creature phased out of sight, becoming a black and white blur as it lunged for the town hall. Not even a second later, its enormous head filled her sight, larger than even the double doors. Her blood ran thin as her muscles failed to carry her body away. Petrified, Katara's mouth fell open as she eyed the beast, Hei Bai, for what may be her last living moment.
The short, yellow-orange airbender came into view just overtop of Hei Bai, temporarily coming to a drifting halt just at the creature's head. She finally drew a breath, watching as Aang laid his hand on its forehead and a soft white light illuminated. What...what is he doing? It could eat him, he's too close... She feverishly pondered, before seeing him drop to the wooden porch just in front of her.
Shadows receded to the glaring light as Hei Bai let out a follow-up roar, yet it didn't seem to carry the fear that it had a moment prior. She straightened up, listening intently as Aang began conversing with the spirit.
"You're the spirit of this forest! Now I understand." He looked up to the creature, as his voice filled with pity. "You're upset and angry because your home was burned down." He paused, softening his speech. "When I saw the forest had burned, I was sad and upset. But my friend gave me hope that the forest would grow back!" Aang lifted something she couldn't see to the creature, and then set it down on the deck, backing away.
What is that? She watched curiously as Hei Bai clawed the deck with its immense fingers, lifting the gift Aang had provided for it. Is that an acorn? She blinked, remembering giving him one earlier. Hei Bai turned, transforming into a panda on the spot. Katara leapt around Oren, bolting for the door. More villagers likewise headed for the door as she stepped out into the open behind Aang, watching as the panda bear disappeared beyond the village's exit.
Just as it passed out of sight, a thick gathering of bamboo sprouted high into the air. Huh? Human hands reached out of the bamboo shoots, shoving back the trees as bodies came into view. At the lead, Sokka stepped into the street. Y–Yes! "Sokka!" She was the first to shout in excitement. She leapt off the porch and darted past Aang, running straight into Sokka's arms as they embraced one another.
Pulling back, Sokka gave her an inquisitive, disturbed stare. "What happened?"
"You were trapped in the Spirit World for twenty-four hours. How are you feeling?" She calmly replied, dropping her arms to her side.
Sokka's expression spoke of inner turmoil, as he gripped his arms ahead of him and shambled off toward the town hall. "Like I seriously need to use the bathroom!" Katara drew her eyebrows back in surprise, stiffening as she watched her embarrassing brother hobble past the villagers.
Aang laughed loudly for a moment, drawing everyone's attention. "Don't take too long in there Sokka! You'll miss your own welcome home party!"
"At this point, this will be my party!" He shouted back before disappearing into the building. The crowd all shared sudden laughter, embarrassing Katara into hiding her face behind her hands.
Minutes later, she smiled pleasantly to herself watching Oren and his wife. The two shared a long, silent embrace. Words had no need to explain to the two how they felt, having lived for so long together they both already knew. "That's his wife. He lost her the first day of Hei Bai's attacks." She muttered quietly.
"Oh." Aang responded, standing beside Katara. He simply stared with a straight face at the two, holding his staff upright against the ground beside him. "Yeah, I heard him say that."
"You should be proud of yourself." She added nonchalantly.
He allowed himself a smile, turning slightly towards Katara by his side. "Thanks."
For some reason, I think there's more on his mind. She pondered thoughtfully, sensing that he didn't entirely agree. "Is something wrong?"
His eyes drifted away from her as he tipped his head forward. "I just did what was right, as the Avatar. There's still so much I have to learn."
Sokka came out of the double doors, heading straightway at a steady pace for Aang and his sister. Katara reached out and patted Aang's back supportively. "You're doing a great job Aang. Just don't give up hope; I'm sure the rest will come to you too." Suddenly it just dawned on her. How did Aang hear Oren say that...?
Reaching the group, Sokka began to speak but was cut off by the village leader behind him. "Thank you, Avatar." Katara stood straight and gave him her attention as Sokka stopped beside them. A small crowd, including Oren and his wife, had gathered beside the leader, who had his hands neatly held before him. "If only there were a way to repay you for what you have done." She smiled kindly at the man's generosity, clasping her hands tightly at her front.
"You could give us supplies." Sokka paused momentarily. What?! She lifted an eyebrow at her brother. "...and some money." He declared in reply.
You're back from the Spirit World, and already you're back to being rude? "Sokka!" A scowl crossed her as she leaned against him and hauled her elbow up and into his chest, shoving him back.
"What? We need stuff!" He shot back in exasperation, steadying himself against his sister's assault. Katara straightened up between Aang and her brother, turning her head back to the elder yet keeping her eyes locked in a sharp glare in her brothers' direction, crossing her arms in disgust.
The village leader seemed to appreciate Sokka's honesty, as he placed a fist into his open palm and bowed forward. "It would be an honor, to help you prepare for your journey." At this he turned and paced away, apparently on his way to do just that.
With the situation diffused, Katara returned her attention to Aang with a broad smile returning to her. Her last words with him still struck her dumb. He really should be so proud; this village is safe now because of him! She took his shoulder in her hand, turning him toward her. "I'm so proud of you Aang. You figured out what to do all on your own!"
"Actually..." He lifted his eyes to meet hers. Something about him turning this down unnerved her, breaking her smile away. "I did have a little help. And there's something else..." Finishing, he broke their stare, turning for the ground.
Instead of continuing, Aang simply remained still as if in a stupor. "What is it?" Sokka was the first to inquire.
Aang snapped out of his position, turning to face Sokka as he lifted his arms in sudden exclamation. "I need to talk to Roku. And I think I found a way to contact his spirit."
Wow! "That's great!" She shouted, leaning forward in immense surprise.
"Creepy..." Oh don't you put him down now, he got you back! Her lips pressed together fiercely as her eyebrows bunched up against her forehead in frustration. She turned to cast a silencing stare to him, but he kept on. "But great."
"There's a temple on a crescent shaped island." Aang continued. "And if I go there on the solstice, I'll be able to speak with him."
An island? The solstice? So there's only one chance at this? "But the solstice is tomorrow!" She exclaimed.
"Yeah." Aang hesitated, turning his head away. "And there's one more problem." Readying himself, he glanced back to the two siblings and spoke clearly. "The island is in the Fire Nation."
What?! Katara's forehead fully knotted as her eyebrows shot up, clenching her teeth in mild terror. No, no. There has to be another way.
"Okay, never mind. What you need from him isn't that important, is it? You're the Avatar, figure some other way out. I mean seriously, what's one island got that another doesn't?" Sokka retorted, waving his hand out in dismissal. "The Fire Nation is out."
She didn't like the brashness her brother gave Aang, however she couldn't find it within herself to disagree with him either. "Actually, I think it might be that important." Aang addressed Sokka directly. "I was given a vision while in the Spirit World of a fiery comet; I have to speak with Roku about it. I just know it's important."
Sokka sighed. "Always some flashy Avatar thing with you, isn't it?" He brushed by Aang, heading for the town hall. "Flying, dreams, visions, past lives, one hundred twelve years old by age twelve...you name it." He waved his hand out by his side in gesture, climbing the steps to the porch. "Whatever. I'm sleeping here tonight."
After Aang and Sokka had eaten a small dinner, the three found themselves lying on soft mattresses in the back of the town hall. Aang had already fallen asleep, more than worn out from being so active in the last twenty-four hours and beyond, giving himself no time for rest.
Katara lay on her back on a bed near to Sokka. They hadn't said all too much, other than idle discussion of Oren and how kind he had been to her. "Sokka." She abruptly stated.
"What is it?" His tone carried his curiosity, showing he knew she had something major on her mind.
"I'm sorry." Her words were soft and low. She held her hands clasped above her stomach, staring idly to the wooden rafters overhead.
Momentary silence filled the room until she released a deep breath she'd drawn in. "You were right. I may have been too harsh on you lately. But, what I said at General Fong's Base, I was serious."
"Gee, thanks." He sarcastically taunted back for her final statement.
"No, not like that. It was because, well..." She stopped, wondering how best to say what she felt. "Today scared me."
"Nice, but yesterday you didn't know about today." He was quiet for a moment, before quickly responding with a creepy tone. "...or did you?"
"No, no. What I meant was, well." She dropped her hands, rolling over to her side to gaze over the headrest to her brother as he did the same. "I don't want to lose you."
His eyebrows fell, staring at her in what she could guess as mild disbelief. "Okay, this is getting sappy." He joked, flopping back to the bed on his back. "Goodnight sis, see you in the morning."
She let out a sigh. Well, I told him. I can't believe I did. Though, I guess it went about as I could have expected...he just never listens. "Goodnight Sokka." Still, she couldn't help but smile. Her brother's presence helped her feel balanced. She dropped her head to the pillow, cupping her hands just ahead of her face. Allowing her eyelids to lazily drift shut, she passed into a soft, welcome slumber.
Props to Ianbernard for helping make this wonderful chapter template with images! (he created the images)
The Boy in the Iceberg
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