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|Prologue, Part 2|
Co-writer Who Has Yet To Make An Account
December 11, 2009
Prologue, Part 2 is the second installment of.
Inside the Fire Nation Capital City
"You have to!"
"But why!? Why does it have to be just me? Why can't it be all of us? Can't we just-"
"It has to be you, Sokka! You're her brother, she'll take it best from you, and you know it! So stop being so difficult!"
"You think I'm just being difficult, Zuko!? How am I supposed to tell Katara that her husband was just murdered? Have any bright ideas? If you do, I'd love to hear them!"
"She's probably scared to death!" Zuko practically shouted, ignoring Sokka's question. "First..." He paused reluctantly. "First Mai is killed, and now Aang! Who's next?"
"Stupid, don't say that!" Sokka retorted. "We're not helpless, you know."
"I didn't say you were," Zuko growled through clenched teeth.
"You're acting like it."
Toph turned her sightless eyes away from the two men beside her, trying to block out the sound of their pointless arguing. Goodness, she was angry. At them, at Katara, at herself...
But what could they do about it now? Stupid Aang, who had just needed to go watch people rebuild some rundown old air temple. Stupid Katara, telling her husband that he could go on his pointless little vacation, sending him off with a smile. And now Aang was gone, and all these two idiots could do was sit here and bicker like a couple of babies!
Toph stiffened at the sound of paper being crushed in Zuko's fingers as he clenched his hands into tight fists. That damn intelligence report...
The Avatar's body was found this morning on the northern Fire Nation shore. A small wound had been inflicted on the back of his neck...
It all made Toph very, very angry. Yet, she kept her mouth shut and glared at nothing.
"I can't. I just can't."
Sokka sounded desperate, almost terrified. As much as Toph hated to admit it, she could sympathize. Sokka had had the misfortune of witnessing Katara's most intense form of grieving firsthand many years before. No one who knew what she could be like would be insane enough to willingly deliver the piece of news that would break her heart.
"You must." Zuko asserted, his voice betraying his frustration.
"Why can't you?" Sokka shot back.
Toph had to literally restrain herself from leaping at Zuko and clawing his eyes out. She understood the position he was in. Really, she did. But he was seriously wrong if he thought that it gave him the right to be such an insensitive jerk.
"Darn it, Sokka," Toph said exasperatedly, before Zuko could make things worse. "Just do it. Katara's your little sister. If anything, she might take this a little better if she hears it from you."
Sokka glared at her briefly, then turned his gaze toward the huge house that had, just days ago, been shared by his sister and brother-in-law. Toph could guess what he was thinking.
How would she react?
Then, suddenly, Sokka shook his head and stepped boldly up to the front door, interrupting Toph's musings. His disposition was confident as he raised a hand to the doorknob, but Toph could sense the nervous trembling of his fingers. Slowly, he cleared his throat and pushed the door open, stepping quickly over the threshold. As soon as he was inside, the door swung closed again.
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence. Zuko fidgeted apprehensively, as though hoping that Toph would do something to ease the stress of their wait. Toph pointedly ignored his presence, focusing instead on the movement inside the house. If Zuko wanted to be an annoying jerk, that was his problem.
He's not the only one suffering, even if he thinks he has the right to be more upset than us, she thought bitterly. After all, Aang was my first friend...
She did not want to continue thinking. As it turned out, she did not have to.
A loud crash sounded suddenly to Toph's left, making her jump and swear under her breath. Beside her, she felt a flurry of motion as Zuko rushed toward the site of the noise. Toph was momentarily confused, but upon further inspection, she realized just what had collided with the wall behind them.
Sokka stood up shakily, breathing hard. With his right hand, he grasped Zuko's arm tightly for support. Though she could not see them, Toph knew that his blue eyes were wide and fearful.
"You go handle it, Zuko," he gasped. "I am not going back in there."
He shook his head wildly. Toph flinched back as something wet splashed across her cheek. She reached up slowly, wiping the liquid from her face. Water...?
Apparently, Katara had not taken the news well at all.
"Maybe we should come back later," Zuko suggested. Though Toph was not listening intently to his words, she could hear the hopeful plea in his voice. "She probably needs some time..."
Drawing in a deep breath to calm herself, Toph turned abruptly to face the house. Slowly, she moved toward the door through which Sokka had just been thrown.
"You don't know anything," she hissed.
Sokka and Zuko exchanged a confused glance, both opening their mouths as if to say something. Neither, however, knew quite how to reply. Without giving them a chance to give her some stupid, meaningless response, Toph stepped over the threshold, leaving the two men in stunned silence.
In the House
Katara was not difficult to find.
Toph nearly tripped over her where she knelt just inside the front door, her eyes wide with countless emotions - disbelief, pain, sorrow, anger.
Oh great, Toph thought. Feelings... Shoot. What the heck am I doing here, anyway? Really, after telling Sokka and Zuko off like that, I can't just come in here and not know what to do! Alright then. I guess I just have to be gentle and... understanding? Darn it.
Katara's outburst tore Toph from her thoughts. For a moment, she was confused. Sure, Sokka might have acted a bit too quickly... But, really! He had only meant to comfort her.
"Um..." Toph began uncertainly.
"Sokka!" Katara repeated, her voice coming in ragged gasps. "Is he alright? Is he hurt!?"
"Oh!" Toph exclaimed in realization. "No, no! He's absolutely fine. Just a bit wet, that's all."
Katara did not reply, but the abnormally fast-paced breathing calmed to a more rational rate. Toph shifted her weight nervously from one foot to the other. Well, this was awkward... She had absolutely no idea what to say next.
Well, she reasoned. At least Katara isn't going to die of hyperventilation. Probably... Yeah, that's it! Optimistic, Toph, be optimistic.
The minutes passed slowly with no exchange between the two. By this point, Toph was beginning to consider leaving Katara to sort herself out alone.
I could just try to slip out the door without her noticing, Toph wondered silently. Would that be rude?
However, she did not have a chance to put her thoughts into action. Katara spoke, and her voice no longer contained the panic and raw emotion that it had just minutes before. Rather, she sounded eerily calm, as though the feelings she had expressed had never existed.
"Well," she began, clearing her throat. "I... I think I hear Kya crying. I should go check to see what's wrong."
Before Toph had a chance to reply, Katara was on her feet and moving briskly toward the stairs. She swept up in the direction of her youngest child's bedroom, looking slightly ruffled but dignified nonetheless.
Stunned by the sudden change, Toph hustled up the stairs behind Katara. Now that she mentioned it, Toph did hear something coming from the upstairs rooms. Well, it made sense, she supposed. Katara's newborn daughter was bound to need close to constant supervision for a while.
That's gonna be hard on Katara, Toph thought. Looking after a baby and a toddler all by herself at a time like this... Thank goodness I'm not a mom.
Katara was standing beside Kya's crib, a half-smile on her face. Her eyes were still wet with tears. It was as though she wanted to cry, but, at the same time, she didn't want anyone else to know what she was feeling.
Kya cooed happily, oblivious to all that had gone on today. Toph envied that innocent little laugh. At least she would never have to miss Aang. But how would Gyatso take the news that his father was never coming home...?
"You know who she is, don't you?"
Katara's question was sudden, but not unexpected. Toph had known that, sooner or later, Katara would confront her about this knowledge. Lately, she had spent much of her time wondering what to say about what she had heard...
"Then you understand why no one else can know," Katara pressed, still with an unusual air of calm about her.
Toph considered this. Yes, she knew what would happen if anyone else found out about this. And, besides, it wasn't any of her business in the first place. Whether she liked it or not, it was not her place to say anything.
"Yes," Toph replied simply.
Katara exhaled sharply, as if in relief. Her eyes, however, did not betray her thoughts.
"Thank you, Toph," she whispered, closing her eyes.
She looked exhausted, as though she had just now realized the full weight of the burden that had been placed upon her. Toph felt a prick of sympathy in her heart. She managed to plaster a small smile across her face, if only to reassure her friend.
"It'll be okay, Katara. You'll see.
- This was the final prologue chapter. The next installment will be written under Book 1: Deceit.
- This chapter contains many clues to future events in the story.
For the collective works of the author, go here.