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|Tears in the Water|
July 12, 2015
Fear, it can hold us captive, bind our limbs like marionettes whose strings have been tied together, or make them dance. Sometimes we can fight it, and sometimes we cannot. We just never know when we will reach that one fear that will undo us, or how it will do so.
Sokka adjusted the strap on his sword and surveyed the lush vegetation around him. He looked at the two other men making up their small group. Their leader, Jess, was a tall Fire Nation man who lived in the area and was an expert on this specific and extremely dense jungle.
"Are you sure that Azula has been seen in this area?" He looked around at a small creature jumping from one branch to another. "This seems rather far from where she vanished, how'd she even get here?"
The man crossed his arms. "Those are the reports we have been getting from the locals. Actually, I am quite offended that the Avatar is not here or anyone who can bend. I didn't expect the comic relief to come."
Sokka frowned. "Well, sorry, but they all have more important things to do besides chase false leads on the Fire Lord's lost sister, and I'm not the comic relief."
The group came to a clearing that had a big house on the opposite side of the clearing. It was made of stone and loomed over them like a tomb over a grave. Centered above the door was an insignia of three sirens swimming in a circle. Jess shook his head.
"I kinda wondered whether this thing would show up," he muttered before climbing the steps to the door.
Sokka gulped. "What do you mean, show up? It's a building! They don't just show up!"
The other man chuckled. "This manor is not always here, it's rumored to be filled with ghosts and sirens, tragic spirits lost and angry taken captive by those vixens of song. Just remember, buddy, you smell vanilla, run, those she-demons are rumored to bathe in the stuff to cover the smell of blood."
Sokka looked at Jess and gulped. "Do you think Azula's in there hiding out?"
Jess nodded. "It's a good bet. Let's go, it will be nightfall in five hours, and I don't want to be here when that happens. That's when the ghosts come out."
Sokka bit his lip. "Ghosts? You mean like spirits, right?"
Jess snorted. "No, Water Tribesmen, we mean ghosts, human souls not at rest." He smirked. "Not turning chicken, are we?"
Sokka's nostrils flared. "No!" He walked up to the door. "I'm a warrior of the Southern Water Tribe! I'm not afraid of anything, including some *gulp* ghosts!"
The inside was like a royal castle made of cold stone and dust. Beautiful women immortalized on canvas and nailed to walls sat leering at them, their eyes mismatched, with one glowing bright gold and the other depending on their nationality. They were quite diverse, as all four nations seemed represented in framed visages of women. There even seemed to be a few airbenders.
Jess gave a low whistle. "Got to give whoever built this credit, if they were going for creepy, they got it." He gently hit Sokka on the arm with his fist. "You okay there? You're looking almost as white as me."
Sokka gave a faint chuckle. "Yeah, fine. So I guess we'll check this old, dusty, creepy manor out room by room together? In our somewhat large group?"
Jess laughed. "If we do that, we'll be here late into the night! We'll just have to split up and go through it on our own. It's just a house, nothing's going to jump out and scare you."
"Except for the ghosts!" the other man whispered as he and Jess walked further into the house, leaving Sokka alone in the front hall.
Sokka gulped, he was not a fan of the supernatural, not a fan of spirits on the whole, but ghosts, ghosts terrified him. Not just the concept of them once being living human beings now turned to vengeful dust demons, but also the idea that they weren't at rest; every time he thought of ghosts, he thought of his mother. What if she was still lingering in their village, stuck in limbo, trapped? He could do nothing, and that scared him most of all.
Sokka took a big breath and let it out before starting to climb the stairs. As he explored the dusty second floor, he would catch things in the corner of his eye, a curtain by a closed window swaying, a globe slowly starting to spin, a shadow with no owner. Sokka shivered and moved from room to room looking for any sign of Azula or life.
After the eleventh room, a new thought occurred to Sokka. What if he was too late for her too? It wasn't like he loved Azula or even remotely liked her, but the idea of failing to save her suddenly struck a chord. He would fail to save another woman, and what if this time she was stuck, too? Like Yue, dead but not gone. Sokka felt numb as he thought about the ghost of Azula wondering these halls, trapped and angry.
From down the hall, he heard a woman's laughter. It sounded an awful lot like Azula's. Sokka raced down the hall, his feet kicking up dust and the faint smell of vanilla. A lock of ebony hair disappeared into another room, and Sokka followed. He found the room empty, with no other doors to escape. More distressing were the golden rays of sun streaming through the windows.
"It's almost sunset!" Sokka yelled, turning to go find the others. He stopped dead in his tracks. There, carved on the wall, was a message that hadn't been there before.
FALL TO FEAR AND JOIN US, STAND STRONG AND LEAVE US BEHIND. YOU CAN'T SAVE HER.
Sokka's heart rate started to do double time as he ran back down the hall to the stairs. He took the flight two at a time and landed hard on the marble floor below.
"JESS! EEZIM! THE SUN IS SETTING, WE NEED TO GO!" Sokka lowered his hands and waited for a response that never came. He sighed and started to look for the other men. As he walked in the same direction that he last saw the two, he began to hear things, voices.
You'll fail again!
Save yourself the trouble and join us now!
You can't do it! You'll fail again!
She's not going to make it!
He felt a hand on his shoulder, a warm breeze on his ear that was attached to a woman's voice. She's already gone. Come join us! Come and stay.
Sokka bolted from the hall to another room and slipped on something wet. He let out a silent shriek as he looked at the hand he had used to catch himself. It was red, blood red. He heard women laughing and then the agonized scream of Azula echoing from another room. Sokka darted out of the room and made a break for where he heard the scream but found himself standing in the front hall. The doors were closed tight, and even though he wanted to save Azula, he also just wanted to run.
He could smell nothing but vanilla as the voices took shape and surrounded him. They taunted him, telling him he would fail again, and that Azula was here in the manor somewhere just waiting for him to save her. A beautiful woman with a glowing gold eye made of mist floated up to him and wrapped her shadowy arms around him. With a wave of her hand she made the door swing open.
"Go, run and leave her, let her die like mommy, like Yue," she whispered.
"Help!" screamed a girl from the second floor.
Sokka turned to see Azula running from one room to another. His heart was suddenly trying to beat its way out of his chest; he could save her, she was here and alive! He grasped his sword and sliced the misty woman in two. He bound up the stairs and followed where he had seen her. She disappeared through another door and ran up another flight of stairs into the attic. He could see the full moon through the holes in the roof, lighting the rotting wooden beams below.
"Azula!" he called out, stepping from one rotting board to another.
"Sokka, stop!" cried a voice he hadn't heard for a long time. "You can't save her!"
Sokka turned to see Yue floating in the moonlight. "Yue! I can save her! She's here, and I can save her!"
"No, you can't. Sokka, she's not here, leave this house! Don't let fear consume you, leave!"
"No, Yue! I've seen her, she's here! Let me save her! I couldn't save you! I couldn't save my mother! Let me save her! I'm begging you!" Sokka felt tears form in the corners of his eyes. He couldn't turn away. It was like strings were controlling his movements, and fear had a death grip on those strings. "I have to do this!"
"No! Don't! The forces in this house are using your fear against you! You're so afraid to let another woman die, you'll go mad or die yourself if you don't let your fear go and walk away! Azula is not here, I'm begging you, Sokka, leave!"
Sokka looked at Yue and took a step toward her, but Azula's voice called out to him.
"SOKKA! HELP ME! I'M GOING TO DIE IF YOU DON'T HELP ME!"
Sokka looked at Yue. "I'm sorry, but I just can't chance it." He ran back down the stairs. He could only think of saving Azula, it was like a mania that was all-consuming. He could hear her voice growing closer and closer as she ran, he couldn't help but smile. This time he was not going to be too late, he was going to save her. He was going to-
Yue hung her head as a grinning siren floated into the room.
"We win again," she chuckled.
Yue sighed, still looking at her feet. "Where is he? You won, but let me take him away. Don't add him to your collection too."
The siren shrugged. "Most of the time I wouldn't tell, but since you're the Moon Spirit, and I love irony, he's in the garden in the back with her, actually. Take him and leave."
Yue stood on the edge of the fountain wall and looked down into the dark water, her moonlight reflecting off the metal of Sokka's sword and the silver ring on Azula's finger. The siren floated just behind Yue.
"I've always wondered what the moon fears, care to illuminate me?"
Yue bit her lip. "I was always afraid that water would harm those I loved the most." She stepped into the deep water as the siren laughed. Even under water Yue could cry as she cradled Sokka's spirit close. She had lied to the siren. Her greatest fear was that he would be stuck like her, and now it was so.
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