|More from FrodoTheHutt||Positive||None|
|The Legend of Ji Tian|
The travelers stretched their limbs within the confines of Appa’s saddle. The day was advancing. There had been no break since they had left the Fire Nation Palace and now everyone aboard was starting to feel the effects of confinement, some more so than others. Mai, who had never been at all accustomed to long periods of flight on the back of the giant bison was fidgeting the most whereas Aang and Katara were still dozing comfortably at the rear. The matter was hardly a choice, however, as solid land had disappeared some time ago and Appa now soared over what looked like endless ocean. There was nothing but shades of blue above or below them.
Zuko surveyed the terrain with keen eyes from over Lu Ten’s shoulders. The overwhelming excitement of flying so large an animal had long since worn off and now the toddler was giving his task all his determination and focus. The Firelord was pleased with his son; this ability to so effectively concentrate at such a young age was a very promising sign indeed. He allowed himself a brief flicker of pride as he continued looking about for some island to land on for a rest.
“Sokka,” He called back to the group on the saddle. “What’s the map say about this area?” Zuko craned his neck for a brief glance back at Sokka and Suki, who had unfurled a map and had it lain out in front of them. The Water Tribe warrior was scratching his chin thoughtfully with the handle of his sword as he examined the document.
“According to this we should be coming up on that scatter of islands I mentioned earlier anytime now.” He replied. “We’ve been flying northeast since we left the Palace so the Cong and Luro Island chains should be practically right under us.”
“That is if avoiding that swarm of sea-snappers didn’t alter our course.” Suki put in.
“That barely changed our direction for a minute.” Sokka countered. “And Appa doesn’t get lost that easy. At most it added five more minutes of travel time.” He studied the map a bit more closely before shaking his head. “No we would have had to drastically alter our course, there’s no way.” Mai yawned loudly.
“I don’t care if it’s Ember Island or the South Pole,” She stated. “I just want to find somewhere where I can lie down and stretch out without my feet coming into contact with bison fur.” Appa groaned loudly at this remark.
“Lu Ten go back and sit with your mother, I think I’d better take the reins now.” Zuko’s command caused everyone who was awake in the saddle to look up. The Firelord had turned and placed his son safely within the confines of the saddle. Ahead sinister black clouds had formed a wall against the otherwise bright sky. From where they were seated all watched as lightning forked and flickered underneath the imposing shroud.
“What’s going on?” Toph asked. “Why is everybody suddenly on edge?”
“A storm.” Sokka stated.
“A big one.” Added Zuko. “We can’t go through that. Everyone look around, find me somewhere to put us down now!” Heads turned over the side as each and every person did their best to look for a spot of darkness that contrasted the glittering surface of the ocean. Toph, of course, simply sat against the wall of the saddle and waited, grabbing Lu Ten to keep an eye on him. After a couple of moments Zuko jerked on Appa’s reins, turning the sky bison more eastward. The murky envelope of the storm was growing larger in front of them. Now distant smashes of thunder and crashes of waves could be heard. The Firelord felt himself begin to sweat. They were too far out now to turn back, he doubted whether or not Appa had left it in him to reach the mainland. The bison was older; he needed to rest more. This was getting bad.
“Maybe we should wake up Aang?” Toph suggested. “He and Katara could try and bend us a bubble and we could fly through.”
“Maybe…but I’m willing to bet visibility is pretty terrible in there.” Zuko acknowledged, watching the storm. “Even if they did create an effective bubble, we still probably couldn’t find land…and keeping a bubble like that going would require a lot of energy.”
“He right, we should keep looking and try to circle the storm if we have to.” Sokka commented.
“But what happens if we can’t find land?” Suki asked.
“We’ll find land!” Sokka shut her down. “We just have to keep looking for it. The map tells us there are islands all over the place around here. One of them has to show up eventually.” From where he was sleeping Aang’s eyes fluttered and he mumbled some incoherent syllables. Then though, still in a haze, he merely turned over so that his face was buried against Katara and fell back into slumber. “Look what you’re doing!” Sokka hissed at Suki. “You nearly woke the poor guy up! You know how long it’s been since I’ve seen him sleeping like that? We’re not in mortal peril yet, so keep your head!”
“I’m sorry…” Suki stammered. “I didn’t mean to…I just wasn’t thinking –”
“No, you weren’t!” Sokka finished for her, still whispering in a low voice. “So how about you stop trying ineffectively to use your brain and more effectively to use your eyes!” He blurted out this last part.
“Sokka! That’s enough!” Zuko called from the front. The young Water Tribe warrior shot him a look, the Firelord returned the stare. Only then did Sokka’s eyes widen with realization of how he’d been acting. Hastily he turned back to Suki. The Kyoshi warrior had tears falling down her cheeks.
“Suki…” Sokka began. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean…” Toph punched him angrily in the arm.
“Why don’t you ever think before opening your mouth?” She scolded. The warrior was speechless. Suddenly Lu Ten, looking over the edge from Toph’s lap, began to wiggle excitedly.
Pointing he shouted: “Land! Land!” Zuko darted his face earthward. Sure enough a fairly large island was just now emerging into view. Looking lush and tropical, it pierced toward the sky with a single jagged mountain peak, exhibiting a definite volcanic history. However what was most eye-catching and most pleasing by far was the appearance of a fairly large settlement built on the lower slopes of the mountain. The Firelord smiled.
“Everyone hang on.” He shouted. “We’re landing!”
“Aang!” The airbender looked up from where he was sleeping on the saddle, standing in front of him was a figure in ghostly ethereal light. Blinking, he was surprised to realize it was someone he knew very well.
“Avatar Kuruk?” He asked, baffled in complete surprise.
“You cannot stay here kid. It’s not safe.” The past Avatar’s face was grim.
“What? I don’t understand?” Aang managed to get out; he was still so confused.
“You cannot stay here!” Kuruk persisted. “You have to get out!”
“Aang, we’ve landed, it’s time to get out.” Katara’s voice snapped the Avatar back to reality. He lurched forward and was on his haunches before he was even aware of where he really was. Almost instantaneously features of the land blurred into focus. He saw that he alone was left on top of Appa. Everyone else had dismounted on was standing on what appeared to be cobblestones. Looking around Aang saw that they were in some kind of fenced-in lot near a long wooden house. The building was resembled a stretched hut built up several feet from the ground and supported by a crisscrossing frame of beams.
Outside the lot the cobblestones continued on to form a busy street. Komodo rhinos pulling wagons laden with produce, meat or other goods rambled back and forth along with a multitude of people. Judging from their dress they were Fire Nation commoners. There were no elaborate patterns, no rich, expensive materials; the people wore simple cloth and what appeared to be stone shoes. Many more houses and huts of various sizes bordered the road which intercepted another and another, each one branching off in its own direction, all as densely populated. After taking all this in the Avatar refocused his attention to the figures standing directly before him.
“Where are we?” He asked.
“Salamander Island.” Sokka replied. “It’s in the middle of the Luro chain, about one days flight away from Ember.”
“A storm forced us down.” Zuko added. “Thought it best if we let it pass before moving on. Accommodations have already been secured; we’ll be staying at the very best inn this place has to offer.”
“Where’s that?” Aang asked, throwing looks around in every which way.
“Where’s what?” Came a harsh, old husky voice from the entrance of the lot. The Avatar looked over to see an old, wrinkled figure of a man hunched over and giving him a stern eye. The man’s skin was so folded with age it was almost impossible to distinguish his mouth from another layer of skin. He was completely bald with glasses, though the Avatar noticed that they lacked lenses. In fact as he watched the figure reached up and rubbed his eyes through the holes. Despite his bent frame, the man still gave off strength. He was old, his body crippling, but he was not weak. “You mean to tell me that those young eyes of yours can’t see the best hotel on this whole great isle when you’re right flaming next to it?”
Aang blinked and looked over at the long hut. “You mean that’s it?” He asked incredulously.
“That’s it? Why you young stuck up vagabond, when I was your age I would have settled for a tree with thick leaves! Now you kids these days, you want everything don’t you? My hotel’s not good enough for you is it?” The old man waggled a finger, causing the skin on it to shake. The airbender wondered for a second whether it might fall off.
“I’m sorry?” He guessed in reply, still very much out of it and simply not knowing what to make of this old man yelling at him. To his surprise the layers of skin lifted up in a half crescent, forming what looked like a toothless smile. The old man started rasping out fits of laughter.
“Well don’t be cause that ain’t the hotel, well least anyways not for you people folks. It’s a stable for your animals, I provide them fresh hay and shelter to sleep under every night.” The old man continued laughing. “Call me Flake, everyone around here does. I run the Gorgon Inn up the mountain. I don’t know if it’s the best place that the Firelord and the Avatar have ever stayed at, but I’ll do my best to make you all comfortable.” Aang felt himself blink in surprise. “What?” Flake went on. “Didn’t think I knew who you were? By the spirits boy you have an big blue arrow on your head!” At this Katara snickered. Aang looked up sheepishly before leaping down from Appa.
“All right well let’s get going.” Flake said, gesturing out onto the street. “Best get you up and settled in before this storm hits, especially if it’s as bad as you say.” He ambled out into the street with the others following close at his heels. Aang found Katara’s hand and grabbed it.
“Did you sleep well?” She whispered. He smiled at her.
“Fairly…” Came his answer. He still couldn’t shake the last few seconds from his head. What had Kuruk of all people been doing in his dream? In front of them, Flake was carrying on to anyone to who would listen.
“Not surprised we’re getting a big storm tonight of all nights. Nope not surprised one bit. Ji Tian wouldn’t let this year go by, why would she? She’s never let us off the hook for it, never. Every year we either get a storm or a sickness or an eruption or somebody gets killed or something. Terrible thing we did though, can’t blame anyone for holding a grudge over it, especially a spirit.”
“Who’s Ji Tian?” Toph asked, her voice full of curiosity.
“We read about her in school.” Zuko cut in. Then, turning to Mai he asked: “Wasn’t she supposed to be some type of enchantress or something? The people thought she was a witch?” His wife shrugged.
“Aye…she’s our deepest sin on Salamander Island.” Flake answered. “All men do evil at some point in their lives, but this was so evil that to this day we haven’t been completely forgiven for it.”
“What happened?” Suki was leaning her head forward to make sure she didn’t miss a word. Everyone was listening; Sokka had even raised an eyebrow. Flake seemed to be aware of his audience and was taking a certain relish in their captivity. His feet clattered over the cobblestones in silence for a few seconds before he went on.
“Well, many years back…back when this island was first being settled, there was a very wealthy family who was appointed governors of the place by the Firelord. Well they had a daughter see named Ji Tian whom everyone wanted to marry, not just cause she was beautiful neither. Though I have heard it said that she was such a sight to look upon that she would make some men speechless.” Aang’s eyes widened slightly upon hearing this. The woman who had given him the warning…could it be?
“There were other benefits too.” Flake was going on. “Like whoever earned her hand in marriage would become the next governor, and since Salamander Island was shaping up to be the next big thing this would be quite an honor then wouldn’t it. So loads of folks tried, from prosperous man to peasant, they all came…and all were rejected. She didn’t want nothing to do with any of them it seemed. Ha! Why most of the time they would come calling and she wouldn’t even be home! Every morning at sunrise she’d set off into the forest, and most of the time she wouldn’t come back till just before sunset.”
“So folks started talking see…naturally asking the big question: where does she go everyday?” The old man cleared his throat. “Well everyone knew of the spirit of the forest, there were already stories of him being told throughout the village. A giant salamander of some kind he was supposed to be. Some said he would manipulate people, play tricks on them. Why it was even a popular wives’ tale at the time that he would lure young children to their doom by drowning them in the rivers.” Flake turned a corner and started his slow ascent uphill with everyone following very closely behind.
“Now people were wondering…what if he’d played a trick on her? What if she was chosen to be his next victim? So, for her own safety of course, they assigned somebody to follow her into the forest one day. Just a regular townsperson like – well not like you but like me anyway. So he follows her see, way deep into the forest they go. To a part hardly anybody’s ever been to. And he loses sight of her for a second in the thicket, gets his shirt caught on a branch. But soon enough he breaks free and comes out of it and what does he see? There’s Ji Tian dancing upon the surface of the water with the spirit himself! Now the spirit of course sees the villager and vanishes but Ji Tian, she don’t sink! She just keeps standing there on the water as if it were as still as these cobblestones.” He stamped the ground for emphasis.
“This villager runs back to town with the news and naturally within minutes the place is a mob. Nobody can fathom how she did it, unless of course she was part spirit herself! Or maybe all spirit! Anyway, despite the governor’s pleading the people jail and lock up Ji Tian the moment she sets foot outside the forest. They put her on trial and start saying crazy things about her, most of them completely made up. People claim that she’s as bad as the forest spirit and has been putting spells on all the men in the village and that’s why they want her so bad. Course the jealous women were behind this one and the men who didn’t want to get in trouble with their wives well…they went along with it to. Now the whole thing just spirals from there. It really gets botched up! See they all decide that Ji Tian is dangerous and a threat to everyone in the village, especially the children so they offer her a choice: recant or be burned alive as a witch!” As he said this Flake took a road that lead off the main path and up more so along the mountain.
“Poor Ji Tian, she didn’t repent. Claimed she’d never done a thing wrong to the town and that it was them who were making the mistake. That, as you can imagine, did not go over too well. So they gathered the wood, built a pyre on the beach and burned her…and as they did they quickly realized the mistake they had made.” Flake paused and turned around. “See she loved that spirit, she had fallen so in love with it that the two were one in the same. That is how she was able to stand on water. As she burned, the salamander came forward and spoke to the people. It said: ‘As you have taken innocent life, so shall it be taken from you. For as many hairs that there are on her head, you will suffer as many misfortunes!’ And as it spoke those words an extraordinary thing happened to Ji Tian’s hair, it turned –”
“Gold…” Aang finished. Flake was silent for a moment, and then began to slowly nod his head.
“Aye,” He confirmed. “Gold. She lifted up, her clothes they were all the color of flame and fire. The rope that bound her to the pyre slipped off and fell and she just…vanished. But we on this island all know what happened next. A horrible plague hit, wherein every family lost a child. And Ji Tian? Folks saw her occasionally walking the beach, or dancing within the forest, or playing in a river and they knew…they knew that she had become the spirit of the island. So we built her a shrine on the beach and begged for forgiveness and for the most part we’ve gotten it. Except for one day out of the year it seems, the day they burned her, that day horrible misfortune still plagues this poor island.” He stopped and exhaled a deep breath. “So, who wants some tea when we reach the inn?”
Gorgon Inn turned out to be a warm looking building built into a rocky outcropping in the side of the mountain. Like every other structure they’d seen so far, it was made of wood and maintained off the ground by a layer of support beams. However a stone chimney protruded from the roof and light seeped out of every window. It was like a small beacon of refuge on the mountain, a good spot for an inn.
It took minutes for Flake to adequately settle everyone into their surroundings upon entry. They were split up into five rooms: Zuko’s family took one, Aang and Katara another and Sokka, Suki and Toph each got their own. Once he’d showed them all in, Flake called everybody back out into the hall to make a brief message.
“All right folks, I hope you all find your new lodgings at least bearable for the next twenty-four hours.” He croaked in a lighthearted tone. “In a couple of hours a bell will ring for dinner, expect another one tomorrow morning at breakfast time too. The lanterns will be lit all night so feel free to move around, door’s also always open so you can venture out onto the island.” He threw a glance out the window. “Sky is getting darker though so I don’t know how much I’d advise that one. Apart from that, treat this place as your home.” He turned to shuffle off toward the stairs that lead back down to the lobby. Halfway back however, something seemed to go off in his head and he raised a hand and turned around. “Oh yeah and there was one more thing too: the upstairs. It’s not dangerous really or nothing up there, just a lot of storage space and some of it might not be entirely child friendly. Though if you do need anything, odds are it’s up there so just use caution. Okay! See you folks at dinner!” and with that he turned and hobbled off down the staircase. There was a moment or two of silence as everyone simply watched the old bent figure’s shadow disappear before turning to one another.
“So what’s the plan before dinner?” Toph asked nonchalantly. “Anybody want to do anything cause I really don’t want to just sit in my room waiting for a bell.”
“I’m going down to the beach to look for the shrine to Ji Tian.” Aang answered back almost instantly.
“That sounds kind of cool, mind if I come with?” Sokka inquired, taking a step out of his doorway. The airbender put up a hand.
“I think it best if I went alone. I think I might have met this spirit before…and I want to see if I can get her to speak to me again.” He explained in a decisive manner. Sokka nodded and stepped back.
“Well if you’re going to the beach, maybe I’ll head into town, you never know what you’ll find there.” Suki put in.
“That sounds like a plan to me.” Zuko agreed. “You two want to come along?” He had turned back into his room to look at his wife and son.
“Wander aimlessly through some market street hoping to find something to do while waiting to get rained on? No thanks. I’ll stay here.” Mai said dryly as she sprawled out on her bed. Lu Ten on the other hand was more than happy to accompany his father.
“I think I’ll stay here with Mai.” Katara added, as they were getting ready to leave. Her husband turned to look at her.
“Sure, is everything okay?” He asked in a concerned voice. She smiled at him.
“Yeah fine. My feet are just a little sore from walking today. Uphill isn’t my strongest area right now.” She took a seat and relaxed a little. “Let all you carefree souls go. The mothers will stay behind and worry.” She exchanged a small grin with Mai.
“All right,” Aang remarked. Bending down he kissed his wife before turning to go. “I’ll be back shortly.”
“I’ll be here waiting.” She replied.
A little while later Suki, Toph, Zuko and Lu Ten were milling their way through the crowded street. The young toddler was tugging at his father’s arm but the Firelord did not allow him to stray too far. As they progressed from shop to shop people hurled deals and various offers at them left and right. Most people moved aside and let them pass, but one person put a hard shoulder into Toph, who of course shot it right back, sending the man flying to the ground.
“Hey!” He growled. He sprang to his feet and drew a small dagger. “Watch where you’re going!” Toph smirked and held up two fingers. She took the blade in between them and casually bent it.
“Step aside.” She stated before continuing to walk on by. Zuko smirked while Suki and Lu Ten laughed. Toph herself allowed a tiny smile of satisfaction to cross her lips. The man simply stood there wide-eyed. His mouth was open but no coherent words escaped through it. With a meek effort, he drew out of the way. They continued walking.
“Nicely done Toph.” Suki complimented. “Bet he didn’t think he was pulling a knife on the world’s only metalbending master.” The blind earthbender spit on the ground off to the side.
“Whatever.” She responded offhandedly.
“Auntie Toph was amazing!” Lu Ten cried.
“Yeah? You liked that Little Spark?” Toph asked mischievously. “Never let anyone push you around. I’m sure your parents are teaching you that.”
“We’re also teaching him not to abuse his power and only use it as a last resort.” Zuko commented. Toph shrugged.
“Hey don’t let me stop you on that. But he pushed, I simply pushed back.” They continued walking along, listening to the din of the crowd all around them. Eventually Suki sighed.
“I wish Sokka had decided to come with us.” She said, almost reluctantly. Zuko bit his lip, unsure of what to say.
“Hey if he wants to go fishing, let him.” Toph replied. “I should think you’d be grateful after the way he acted earlier.”
“Yeah…” Suki whispered aloud, more to herself than to anyone. Again silence reclaimed the group. At that moment a woman rode past atop a two-headed ostrich-phant. Lu Ten began to point.
“Daddy, can we go over there! Please! I want to see the birdie!” Zuko turned, following his son’s gaze.
“All right.” He allowed. “If that’s what you want.” Glancing at the other two he asked: “You two want to come?”
“Sure.” Suki mumbled. “Why not?” She made to follow. Toph, on the other hand, kept right on walking.
“No thanks.” She called. “You guys go head, I’ve got something else I want to take care of. Catch up with you later?” She asked, stopping her progress.
“Okay.” The Firelord acknowledged. “Meet you at the town square in one hour.”
“I’ll be there.” The blind earthbender replied as she vanished into the crowd.
Mai and Katara were sitting together in the Inn’s lounge. Aside from Flake, who was way over on the other side of the room, they were the only two souls present. Both women were laid back relaxing, though the Firelady looked considerably more relaxed than the pregnant waterbender. Mai was holding a book open in front of her though was really only half reading it. Katara was simply tilting her head back and allowing her eyes to close. This was relaxation; this was what she needed.
“I wonder if they found anything worthwhile in town?” Mai asked aloud, more as a conversation starter than an actual question.
“Probably.” Katara answered back. “This seems like an interesting place. I’m surprised I didn’t see more tourists on our way up here.”
“Ember Island pretty much zaps all our major island tourism.” Mai replied. “It seems every century has it’s own really popular island resort that dominates the others. This time around it’s Ember.” She sighed and looked back down at her book. “Personally I can’t wait till we get there. It’s been forever since I’ve had a good cool refreshing glass of chimmeyberry juice.”
“What’s that?” Katara inquired.
“Only the closest thing in the world to liquid bliss.” Mai replied. “Every time I drink it it’s like all of my problems and cares just…wash away in its sweet nectar.” She sighed again. “Oh what I wouldn’t give for a glass right now.”
“I think we have some.” Came Flake’s voice from over in the corner. The two women looked up, startled. “Sorry.” The old man apologized. “Couldn’t help but overhear. I’m sure I have at least one bottle up in storage on the third floor. I’d be much obliged to go and fetch it for you if…well if I didn’t have all this supper to prepare in the kitchen in a few minutes.”
“Are you sure it’s up there?” Katara asked.
“Pretty sure.” Flake responded. “Scratching his head. “Back top shelf if my mind hasn’t completely failed me. You’re welcome to it if you want.” The two women looked at each other.
“I’ll go get us some.” Mai suggested.
“No let me go.” Katara cut her off. “You can at least sit and be comfortable, I can’t even really do that right now. You sit here and wait and I’ll be right back.” With an effort she hoisted herself up from her seat. “Won’t be more than a minute.” She stated before heading for the stairs.
Down on the docks Sokka had tied a line to the hilt of his sword and was casting it out half-heartedly. As soon as he was content with it he sat back and sighed, watching the waves as they collided against the shore. Everything was gray around him and within. As he looked up at the dark, cloud-filled sky, he found himself wishing he could see the moon. That at least, always gave a little comfort. He found himself starting to drift off when approaching footsteps surprised him back to reality. Spinning around he came face to face with Toph, who settled herself down next to him and blew the hair out from in front of her eyes.
“What’s going on with you Sokka?” She asked at length. “Why have you been so on edge around Suki? You know she doesn’t deserve the harsh treatment you’ve been giving her.” The Water Tribe warrior didn’t respond. “You know I once really cared about somebody…” Toph went on. “But they didn’t return the feeling. It wasn’t that he hated me or anything, he just only saw me as a friend and I had to learn to live with that.” She rubbed the bracelet of space-earth that fit snuggly around her arm.
“He loved someone else. And she loved him back. And they were happy, and I think they thought that their lives were just going to be happy forever simply because they loved each other.” The blind earthbender picked up a small rock that had found it’s way onto the dock and hurled it out to sea. It skipped several times before sinking beneath the waves. “But things don’t always work out that simple. Sometimes more work is needed and sometimes there are setbacks. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t meant to be, it just means the two people need to try harder. Things can still turn out happy, especially if they both still love each other.” She turned and grabbed Sokka’s face, fixing his blue eyes directly into her vacant ones. “Suki still loves you.” She hammered each word like nails into wood.
Sokka’s eyes filled with tears. “I know.” He said finally. “And I’m trying…I just can’t ever seem to say the right thing around her anymore.” Toph nodded in silence.
“Try starting with how you feel.” She stated finally. Then she stood and turned to go. Sokka let her take a few steps before saying:
“Toph!” He stood up. She turned back to face him. “Thank you…” He muttered with effort. The blind earthbender seemed to then start shaking as she said nothing but continued to walk away. Sokka could not see this but tears were running down her cheeks and silently she sobbed. All the while her hand rubbed the bracelet of space-earth.
Aang stood standing in front of her statue. It was her! The woman from his vision, the one who delivered the warning. Furthermore this was that very same beach. He recognized every detail of it; the only difference was this onyx-crafted statue that stood where she had. What was going on here? He didn’t have a guess. All he knew is that they would have to leave as soon as possible. He remembered all too well the horrifying images of the vision and the dire words spoken to him. He just wished he knew exactly what the danger was. Was the spirit of Ji Tian going to be angry with him for coming? Well it hadn’t exactly been his choice; he had been asleep when they’d landed, had he been flying this never would have happened.
“Help me!” He pleaded to the statue. “I am sorry, I did not wish to come here against your will. You must believe that. Please, allow my friends and I safe stay and safe passage from your island o great spirit.” He held out a hand and touched the statue. “Please…” he whispered.
As his hand touched the statue he felt a rush as his mind sharpened. Within the snap of one second he felt his consciousness ascend into the realm of the spirits and standing before him he was not at all surprised to see, not the statue, but Ji Tian herself in all her radiant glory. Her eyes were downcast and full of sorrow as she fixed them on the airbender.
“Avatar…” She whispered. “Why did you come here? Why didn’t you listen?”
“I’m sorry.” He breathed. “I didn’t mean to…it was an accident.” He knelt down before her. “Please spare my friends.” He implored. “Only punish me for this transgression.” The spirit tilted her head in confusion.
“Avatar Aang…” Her voice hummed softly in his ear. “It was never me you had to fear from this place. I was simply looking out for the ones you loved.” He looked up at her in confusion. The atmosphere suddenly grew very cold. “He has been stalking you for some time Avatar, waiting…waiting for the person you cared about to be in a very powerful spiritual area. An area like this island. You’ve felt it haven’t you? How close the two worlds come to merging within these shores. Here he can get her easily. He just needed to wait until you left her alone…which you have.” Aang felt his blood run cold.
“Who?” He demanded sharply, fear evident all over his face. “Who is after Katara?” Ji Tian frowned and a single drop fell from her eye to the sand.
“Avatar Aang I am so sorry.” She whispered.
“WHO?” Screamed the airbender, almost completely losing control. The spirit woman looked him dead in the eye.
“You’ve met him before.” She stated finally, then, as she spoke the next words, the Avatar felt his heart freeze. “Koh: The Face Stealer.” Aang’s eyes widened.
“No!” He mouthed, repeating it over and over again. Ji Tian was sobbing.
“I am so sorry.” She repeated. “It is already too late.”
“NO!” Aang bellowed. He retched himself from the Spirit World. Alighting on the beach his eyes and tattoos glowed and with speed never before witnessed he burst off toward the hotel. Splintering trees and boulders alike he rocketed up the mountain. Within less than ten seconds he crashed through the doors of the hotel and into the main area. Mai and Flake leapt in shock.
“Now hang on now, what do you think you are doing?” Flake screamed but Aang didn’t listen. His eyes darted violently around the room.
“Where is Katara?” He bellowed, his voice echoing all the past Avatars.
“Upstairs.” Mai stammered. “Has something happened?” He didn’t bother to answer her. Launching himself upward Aang smashed through the ceiling, stopping briefly to check in his room before he lurched onto the third floor. Various objects scattered and shattered upon his violent entry.
“Katara!” Aang called. “Katara!” a faint clicking noise crossed his ears; suddenly he remembered where he’d heard it before. On the beach, and in Koh’s lair. “Katara!” He yelled again. Like a mad dog he tore rows of odds and ends aside. He looked everywhere until finally…there, behind a shelf he saw a foot sticking out. Crackling like lightning Aang shot to the fallen figure of his wife, who’s front lay facing away from him. Aang already felt tears rolling down his cheeks. This wasn’t possible; it was a horrible nightmare. It had to be! With shaking hands he reached up and turned his wife’s body over so that it faced him, just as Mai and Flake burst onto the scene.
The Firelady threw a hand to her mouth in horror and the innkeeper looked away. But Aang simply stared at the nothing that had once been his wife’s beautiful face. As he stared he felt something snap deep within him, like a dam breaking. He also felt an icy hollow shell pierce into his chest. He felt all his as he lifted his face to the sky and, power crackling from his eyes, screamed into the heavens.
For the collective works of the author, go here.