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|The Charade Part 2 - The Beast|
March 12th, 2011
And finally, it snowed...
The overcast sky finally released its delicate cargo, after days of waiting. The beautiful, tender flakes danced their way down from the sky and landed on the beast's thick fur, its hairs swaying to and fro in the cold breeze. Mother and child were locked in a tight embrace. Their sobbing was the only sound to break the silence of the icy tundra. White spread uninterrupted as far as the eye could see, marred only by the stony hill and two puddles of red.
Nothing in the way the day had begun could have given anyone any clue of how it would finally end.
Mom and Baby
It was the middle of winter in the South Pole. As usual, child woke up Mom at daybreak, jumping on her and giggling. Mom, who was still groggy but also undeniably happy, tossed around beneath the furs to hug and kiss her baby girl. She was four already, but still a bit small for her age, not unlike her father. Anyhow, she was her baby...
They got up, washed and made their prayers to Tui and La, the Ocean and Moon Spirits. If father was going to be away so often, she felt entitled to raise her in the ways of her people, even if he was not a Water Tribesman. Afterwards, they went outside to practice their waterbending forms. Baby was not a bender, but she wanted to do whatever she saw Mom do. Also, she was every bit as stubborn as Mom was, so there was no point in denying her the bonding experience. Besides, it did wonders for her discipline and focus. This was a special child, she knew it. So long as Dad had to remain on the frontlines, it was up to her to make this girl into someone great. They bowed respectfully to each other as they finished their session.
After breakfast, the rest of the morning was dedicated to the usual tasks and chores: cleaning the house, dusting the pelts, and shopping for food at the market. Things were different in the South Pole after the Northern builders had helped plan and rebuild the city. They saw less of Grandpa, since he had more responsibilities now, but he always made it a point of being home early for dinner. He had quit fighting three years ago, having almost lost his life in a scuffle with the Black Lotus. He was still a very active man, but his back never fully recovered from all the years of guerrilla warfare. Mom would do a session every other week to make sure he wouldn't end up throwing it out completely.
Mom had been practicing calligraphy with Baby for quite a while, and noticed that Grandpa was late. She had forgotten about the City Council Meeting, which would have normally required her presence. However, she and her husband had agreed that she would remain uninvolved in extraneous affairs and stay hidden with Baby until she turned at least five. They did not think extensive travels would suit any child younger than that. They had LuTen and Ursa for reference – they were seven now, but before they turned at least five, traveling with them had been a nightmare...
Mom was uneasy. Father had not been for a visit in over two months. A letter had come in yesterday - the Earth King was forcing him to stay at Gaoling against his will. He explained to the Earth Kingdom generals that the Black Lotus was not one to announce its attacks – there must have been some sort of misunderstanding. He was sure he was not needed there – Toph would be able to handle pretty much everything with the aid of the generals. He made it a point to visit every two to three weeks, since the child was small and needed attention. Earthbenders, however, are known to be the most stubborn of creatures, so the soldiers would not budge.
Look Ma – No hands!
Katara felt lonely. Aang had been away for too long, and not having Hakoda in time for dinner made the hollow feeling worse. She decided to set out for the City Hall to take dinner to Grandpa. On the way, Sora asked to take a detour to see the penguins.
"No Sora, it's getting late and we need to get this food to Grandpa before it gets cold".
"But Mom, It'll be just a minute, pleeeeaaasseee!!!!"
Mom rolled her eyes "Okay, but no sledding!"
No more than 10 minutes after the exchange, Sora was laughing her head off, sledding down the hill at breakneck speed.
"SORA!" Mom was furious. "Sora get BACK HERE THIS INSTANT!"
Mom had to run down the hill. Sora had sprained her ankle. Mom tried to hold her, nurse, scold and heal her all at the same time.
"There, there..." Katara rocked Sora, who now sobbed softly after her Mom had healed her ankle. Katara set the child down and started to get up to collect her belongings and make it uphill. Then she heard the growl...
She slowly stood up and turned towards the sound. The snow leopard was circling her, treading softly and slowly on the surrounding snow. He was about 15 feet away, eyes glaring and teeth showing. Without a flinch, she bended the snow on the ground next to her into water and covered her arms.
"Mom – I'm scared"
Katara reassured her without taking her eyes off the beast. "Stay very still, sweetie. I will handle this." The beast roared and Katara took her fighting stance. It had been too long since her last fight, but her instincts were still there – unfazed. The leopard jumped and Katara sent a lash of cold water against its face. The animal was confused, but the momentum was too great and it crashed into Katara, sending her to the ground.
Katara quickly got up, but was unable to put any distance between the cat and herself. The animal was furious and slashed its claws against Katara's right thigh. The wound was deep and the pain sharp. She fell on her knees. Sora screamed and the animal turned towards her, Katara quickly built and ice dome to encase her daughter. The beast tried breaking it to no avail, so it returned its attention to Katara. She had bent a large amount of snow into water and made a powerful jet that sent the beast flying away some 20 feet.
Katara decided her only chance was to grab Sora and try to do a sliding run uphill. She melted the dome, sent the water to the leopard, encasing its legs into ice, grabbed the child and started building her slide. However, she had underestimated the animal's strength. The cat had broken free of the ice and had started running after her. He pounced from behind, sending her and Sora face down into the snow. Katara was clutching Sora against her chest. The cat slashed her back now. She was trapped, bleeding profusely and since she was focused on protecting Sora, her hands were unable to bend. She began crying tears of rage and frustration.
Suddenly, a fierce gust of wind broke in from the North. The beast flew into the air a good thirty feet before landing on its side and letting out a sharp howl of pain. Numbed by the blow, it got up slowly. The snow around him quickly melted and refroze again. Its four paws were now encased in a huge block of ice. The cat fought fiercely to break free, but to no avail. His tattoos and eyes still glowing, the Avatar stood facing the beast, with his back to his family. He turned to see his wife cut and bleeding and his baby scared to death. He turned to the beast once again. The hungry animal growled and roared, but was unable to break free this time.
A father's rage
Tengu began assisting Katara and the child, gently lifting Katara from her face-down position and retrieving Sora from underneath her, allowing her to breathe normally again. Aang jogged towards Katara and Sora and knelt beside them. The search and rescue party they had organized began to arrive slowly.
Aang immediately began crying, instantly becoming all apologies:
"I'm sorry, Honey, I'm so sorry – I should have been here earlier...You'll see that..."
Distracted by his distraught family, Aang had forgotten to leave the cats' paws frozen. The beast trampled over him, seeking to end what he had begun earlier. After a brief instant of numbness, Aang saw the leopard a mere five feet in front of him, again slashing and tearing at his family. Enraged and desperate, Aang did a fast sweeping motion with his hands. The animal dropped dead instantly – Aang had bent all air out of its lungs, causing them to collapse on the spot.
The rescue party immediately began heaving the immense cat, revealing an unconscious Tengu, his back slashed and torn by the beast, keeping his family safe. Aang could not help cry...
The healers hastily set to repair all of the victims' flesh wounds. As soon as she was able to move again, Katara hugged her child and her husband, weeping frantically. After holding and comforting his wife for a minute, he left them with Hakoda and went to where Tengu lay, surrounded by the healers. Aang knelt beside him.
"Come on, buddy, speak to me. Come on, open your eyes..."
Tengu slowly opened his eyes, and gently pulled Aang towards him.
"Keep them dear – forever." he whispered.
Aang kissed his friend's forehead, got up and blew his whistle. When Appa came, he mounted his family and had him take them to the hut.
"Aang, are you not coming?" Katara asked.
"I need to stay behind and pick up the cat's body."
Katara asked, "Aang, what are you doing?"
He glanced at the leopard and said, "We're eating meat tonight..."
A message is sent
That night the people feasted on the roasted cat – in absolute silence. Aang ate his fill with an expressionless face. He gagged every now and then, not accustomed to the texture and the flavor of meat. However, no one dared make fun of the Avatar ... He was sending a message. It was a message to friend and foe. It was a message to the living and the dead. He had been left alone once – he would not allow it to happen again.
Later that night, Katara woke up looking for her husband. He was not in bed, and he was not in the living room. Peeking outside the front window, she could make Aang's silhouette crisply defined against the snow in the moonlight. She put on her coat and went out to him. Tengu was standing guard next to the hut's entrance and bowed slightly. Katara's eyes welled up with tears, as she stretched her hand to caress his face. He closed his eyes and bowed again. He still wore the Mark of the Trusted that she had painted on his forehead that night during dinner.
Katara then walked over to her husband and hugged from behind. He was feverish, sick to his stomach. The meat was taking its toll on his unaccustomed body. He shook violently, but refused to lie down, or throw up, or be healed...
He looked at Katara with an intense expression. "No one. Nothing. Ever."
She nodded, ever so slightly.
"Do you understand me, Katara?"
She nodded once again, and hugged him tighter.
They all went inside. It was still snowing.
- I first wrote and shared the initial versions of this chapter in April 2010. I've been waiting to publish it ever since. Enjoy and review.
- Yes, we wanted to scratch Aang eating the cat at first, but it conveyed a powerful message so it stayed.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Honor Thy Father Chapters|
| Hope Against Hope - A Change of Pace - Tainted Sanctuary - A New Home - Recovered - Empowered - When In Doubt - The Hunt - Full Moon - Reckonings - Sora
The Love of the Daughter - The Wasted Warrior, Part 1: Cycles- The Wasted Warrior, Part 2: Regrets- Daddy - The Charade, Part 1: The Shadow - The Charade Part 2: The Beast - The Charade, Part 3: The Fool - The Breakthrough - Redemption, Part 1: Dejection - Redemption, Part 2: Dominion