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Decemeber 17, 2013
Katara's eyes snapped open as she gasped for breath. The jellyfish spirit had removed its tentacle from her forehead. She realized that she was sweating and shaking, and that she still had tears in her eyes. Katara was no longer in her Water Tribe gear, but in a Fire Nation dress. She looked around, and saw that she was in a white space with Aang and Sokka, who also had tentacles on their foreheads, which were removed.
"What just happened?" Sokka demanded, "Could someone explain to me, what just happened?"
"Give it a moment," The jellyfish told him, "Sometimes when a dream is so vivid, it can be disorienting when you wake up."
Eventually, Katara and the others remembered. Aang had felt that something was calling to him, and Katara and Sokka followed. They eventually came to a ruin, where the spirit appeared. It called itself Aiyu, a dream spirit, and offered its assistance to help Aang defeat the Fire Lord and end the war. Sokka, although he had never been too friendly when it came to spirits, thought any help given was worth it. However, Aiyu told Team Avatar that they first had to pass a test, to prove if they were worthy, which was when it placed its tentacles on the kids' foreheads, and brought them to a world where a firebender named Hikoda was raised alongside Katara and Sokka, with no memory of what really happened or the future.
"Okay, I'll say it again. WHAT JUST HAPPENED?"
"That was the test. To see how you would act if a firebender had been born to your tribe, and how you would treat him. And although the Avatar there passed with flying colours, you two, however, failed."
Team Avatar stared at the spirit, which constantly closed and opened its eye while speaking.
"And what was that supposed to prove?" Sokka asked.
"It was a test of your virtue, a test of your compassion and understanding, to see whether you would show an innocent person whose only crime was to resemble your enemy with kindness and friendship, rather than fear and hatred, especially if that person was a member of your own family. There is no sin worse in this world than prejudice, for all other sins spring from it; to hate, to fear, to regard yourself as superior, that they are inferior to you, to inflict insult or injury, to shun, to isolate, even to falsely accuse or steal, or worse. All can be spawned from this emotion, this one way of thinking.
"Well, I told you that if you had passed the test, that I would assist you in the war, which depended on all of you passing, and since you haven't-"
"But wait a minute, you said that Aang passed with flying colours!" Katara pointed out, "It's Aang who's got to fight the Fire Lord, don't punish him because of us!"
"You are his allies. You share in his glories, in his triumphs. Should you win the war, the fate of the world will belong to you as well as him. And if you can't deal fairly with those innocent who are members of your own tribe-"
Aiyu moved closer to Katara and Sokka.
"How could you possibly deal justly with those who are guilty?"
Aiyu held up some of his tentacles, and uncoiled them, revealing balls of light.
"All over the world, I see the hate that has this war has created."
From the balls, Team Avatar could see visions and hear voices, many of which sounded familiar.
"Only he could stop the ruthless firebenders."
"Those evil savages make me sick!"
"What are you doing in our woods, you leech?"
"No! I hate you!"
"They're destructive and dangerous."
"Those two are firebenders!"
"Spreading war and violence and hatred is in your blood!"
"What could you possibly do for a country of depraved little fire monsters?"
"It's like these people are just born bad."
"They threw me in prison to rot, along with my brothers and sisters. They deserve the same."
"It's a stupid element."
"Mind if I watch you two jerks do your jerkbending?"
"Oh come on now!" Sokka protested, "You used me like five times already!"
"Even strangers, strangers who end up helping people," Aiyu showed them a vision of Zuko fighting a bunch of thugs in a small town, "End up getting cast out regardless of the good they've done."
They later see Zuko being driven out of the town after saving it.
"I was like you once. I too once thought that the Fire Nation was evil, that all they brought was destruction and pain, but then I came across the Avatar, who showed me that not all Fire Nation are evil, nor is any nation good or evil, that all are capable of both."
"Wait, when did I do that?" Aang asked.
Aiyu's eye turned to look at him.
"In one of your past lives."
"Oh, right, of course."
"Yes. And throughout all the centuries, all the different bodies and personalities you've had, you are still as pure of heart as you were when I met you a thousand years ago. The same however cannot be said for your friends."
It turned its eye back to the Water Tribe siblings.
"Sokka, you allowed fear and paranoia to cloud your judgement, seeing enemies where there were none."
Sokka almost gulped.
"Katara, although you initially showed kindness in the end your anger and hatred overcame your compassion."
Katara closed her eyes as she touched her necklace. Aiyu close its eye and opened it again.
"You two are not worthy of my help."
"But that wasn't fair!" Aang shouted at the jellyfish spirit, "That wasn't a fair test! You can't judge people for what they may have done in the past, what about everything they've done since then?"
"You have an impartial mind, and a strong sense of justice, Avatar," Aiyu replied, "It is what I admire most about you. But I have failed to see anything similar in these two."
Aiyu closed his eye a little longer this time.
"This world is too full of hate. I wanted to help this world, but it's beyond saving from me, and so, I depart."
Aiyu started to float away.
"Well go ahead!" Sokka shouted, "We don't need you! Or any spirit help for that matter! We'll defeat the Fire Lord on our own!"
"I sincerely hope that you do. For if there is any hope for this world, it is you, Avatar Aang. You had the most to lose to the Fire Nation, yet you remain uncorrupted by the war."
Aiyu showed a few more visions.
"I have friends all over the world, even in the Fire Nation."
"He was one of the best friends I ever had, and he was from the Fire Nation."
"Do you think we could have been friends?"
"When you face him, forgive him."
"No, that's wrong. Anyone's capable of great good and great evil. Everyone, even the Fire Lord and the Fire Nation, have to be treated like they're worth giving a chance."
Everyone looked up at Aiyu.
"End the war, Avatar. End the hate."
Aiyu vanished in a flash. Team Avatar found themselves back in the ruin. They reflected over what they had just experienced.
"Hey they're coming back!"
Toph pointed to Aang, Katara and Sokka heading their way.
"Where have you guys been?" Suki asked.
The trio didn't answer.
"Jeez, who died?" Toph asked.
Everyone looked at her.
"I'm just asking because judging from your silence and the way you've been walking, you're acting like you all lost a dear friend or something."
"Yeah, well, something like that."
Toph looked surprised as Suki sat up.
"So this spirit had you relive your childhood inserting a firebender growing up with you?" Suki clarified, "That must have been – well - different."
"All his life," Katara was saying, "all he ever wanted was to be accepted, to be treated as part of the family. He never did anything to us, he only ever helped us and we treated him like monsters!"
"Hey now, I wouldn't go that far!" Sokka protested, "But yeah, we were pretty much jerks."
"You were right to hate us, Aang," Katara told him as she buried her face into her clutched legs, "We were horrible."
"Hey, that wasn't me!" Aang tried to assure her, waving his hand, "That was an alternate version of me that never got to know the real you!"
"Yeah!" said Toph, "And aren't you two forgetting something important? He never existed! It wasn't real!"
"Toph, it felt real," Katara told her, "It still feels like he died only moments ago."
"EXCEPT HE DIDN'T!" Toph emphasized, "He never died because he was never born. He never grew up with you, none of it actually happened! I mean it's not like you guys actually treated someone like that!"
"Yes I did."
Everyone looked at Sokka.
"I did treat someone like that. Exactly like that."
He looked at Aang.
"Remember when we first met? How I acted around you? I even had you banished just like Hikoda."
"Sokka, that was a long time ago!" Aang told him.
"You banished the Avatar?" Suki asked.
"I didn't know who he was!" Sokka quickly protested, "He was just this kid who came out of this iceberg and he set a flare off and he distracted the other warriors and he destroyed my watchtower and - and - and - and -"
Sokka sighed as he hung his head in shame.
"That spirit had me pinned all right. The paranoid guy who sees enemies where there aren't any."
"Sokka you were like that," Aang reminded him, "but you changed. Even after banishing me, you were willing to rescue me, remember?"
"I don't care what Aiyu said, you, both of you, have shown in the past that you're not like other people, like Jet or Hama, who are so consumed by hatred that they're willing to hurt innocent people, just for being associated with the Fire Nation! Remember when you protected that old man (He said to Sokka)? Or when you stood up to Hama over what she was doing to that town (He said to Katara)? Time and time again, you've both shown that you're willing to help people, regardless of who they are, and don't anyone tell you otherwise, not even some reality warping jellyfish spirit!"
Katara and Sokka thought about what Aang said.
"Yeah," Sokka replied, "I guess you're right."
"Yeah," said Katara.
"Of course!" said Toph.
"Yeah!" Suki added.
Toph yawned as she stretched out her arms.
"Well, I'm going to bed," she said, "It's been a long day!"
Everyone agreed, departing.
"I'm actually scared about dreaming tonight," Aang confessed.
"By the way, Katara," Sokka told his sister "That really hurt!"
"You know! When you waterbended me in the face!"
It took Katara a moment to realize what her brother was talking about.
"Sokka, that was years ago! When we were kids! And it never actually happened!"
"Yeah well it still hurt," complained Sokka, rubbing his cheek.
"Wow," remarked Toph, "Talk about phantom pain."
Everyone laughed. Although he felt a little better about himself, Sokka couldn't help but wonder if he would have been so compassionate if that old man was a fire bender.
Katara, was sitting on a cliff, looking over at the sea. No matter what Aang said, she could not forget that look he gave the tribe when he left with Hikoda. She had never seen such a look of hatred on his face, and the fact that it was directed at her, from someone she loved and cared about so much, just made if ever the more unsettling. She thought back to Hikoda. A memory of them running across the landscape appeared, following by a snow fight, penguin sledding, and making a snow man, with all of them laughing.
"Hikoda? Do you think that, one day - we'll get married?"
"This is going to be our best sculpture ever!"
"DON'T TOUCH ME!"
Tears started to form in Katara's eyes again. It wasn't real, she kept telling herself. It never happened. You never had a bending friend in the Tribe that you hurt. But the more she denied these false memories, the stronger and clearer they felt.
"I wish a flood would just come and wipe you all off the face of the Earth so that you'll never hurt anyone ever again!"
"Hikoda, I didn't mean it. I'm - I'm-"
Katara buried her face in her hands as she broke down in tears. That was probably the worst of it. And the most pathetic.
She never got to say how sorry she was.
The last image that came to mind was him looking at her as he disappeared in the fire.
Katara looked up. She turned around. Zuko was standing a few feet away from her.
"What do you want, Zuko?"
"Nothing. Is everything alright?"
"Yes. I'm fine."
She looked back at the horizon.
"I just need to be alone for a while."
Zuko placed his hand on Katara's shoulder.
"Is there anything I can do-"
"DON'T TOUCH ME!" Katara snapped, knocking his hand off.
For a moment they looked at each other.
"Forget it!" Zuko threw his hands up in the air, "I thought we were passed that, but I guess I was-"
"What did you just say?"
"I said forget me caring if you're okay!"
Katara looked at Zuko, noticing that he was the same age as Hikoda was.
"Forget it!" Hikoda threw up his arms and walked away.
"This isn't fair!" Zuko told Katara.
"This isn't fair!" Hikoda shouted at her.
"What can I do to make it up to you?" Zuko asked her.
"What will it take for you to stop hating me?" Hikoda asked.
"You could bring my mother back!" Katara told Zuko.
"Bring my mother back from the dead!" She had shouted at Hikoda.
"Spreading war and violence and hatred is in your blood!" Katara accused Zuko.
"Do you people feel sorry? Do you even care? About the lives you destroy? About the people you hurt?"
Katara thought back to what Aiyu said.
"Your anger and hatred overcame your compassion."
Katara ran to Zuko, and threw her arms around him.
"Er, Katara?" said Zuko, taken aback at this.
"I'm sorry!" She sobbed, hugging him tightly, "I'm sorry for how I treated you! I'm sorry for everything! I'm so, so sorry!"
Zuko looked quite alarmed, as if a pythonaconda had wrapped itself around him and threatened to squeeze the life out of him.
"Er, it's okay, Katara," Zuko replied uncertainly, patting Katara on the shoulder, "Really!"
Everyone else ran to where they were.
"Katara! What happened? Is everything all - what did you do?" Sokka accused Zuko. "Nothing!" Zuko protested, "I just told her to forget me coming in to check on her and she burst into tears. Hey! Katara! It's fine! I'm sorry I snapped!" He continued to try his best at comforting the wailing Katara.
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