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|Pain Beyond Pain|
Chapter 2 – Pain Beyond Pain
Words of Avatar Roku:
There is pain.
And then there is pain beyond pain.
Pain on its own is a sudden surge, a quick blow that leaves a throbbing ache, or a drawn-out agony that leaves an ache nonetheless.
It is quick, fleeting, and is easily mended.
But pain beyond pain is a savage strike that lasts only an instant, and at the same time. . .
It lasts an eternity.
It is this pain beyond pain that I felt when my closest friend betrayed my trust.
And it is this pain beyond pain that SHE felt...that THEY felt.
Ba Sing Se, courtyard...
Katara bolted, panic swooping in her heart with black intention. Frantic footsteps revealed that Toph and Sokka were right behind her.
"No..."Katara found herself whispering. "No, no, no..."Tears were already streaming down her face in erratic streaks, and sobs caught in her chest with painful hitches.
Stumbling down the stairs, she sprinted to where Aang was lying. Throwing herself to the pavement, she grabbed Aang's face in both of her hands. He was already deathly white. Blood was pooled around him in a sickening pattern.
Lips trembling, Katara frantically tried to get a response from Aang.
"Aang!" she yelled desperatly. "Aang, you listen to me right now!"
This isn't happening...it can't be.
Suddenly, Katara caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. She raised her hands to react when a column of rock erupted from the earth a few feet away from where Katara was crouched. A sharp tap and clatter followed. Toph had successfully saved her from another deadly arrow.
Katara reluctantly jumped to her feet, trying to banish her sense of despair. She stood protectively over Aang, sickly aware of his blood swirling around her feet in crimson waves. Mixed with the rainwater, they made unearthly shapes and streaks. The three stood together, Toph waiting in her stance, Sokka turning his head back and forth, searching for movement. His blade gleamed in the humid air.
Then, Katara caught sight of something running across a rooftop. Glowering in pure rage, she made a slashing cut through the air with her arm.
Almost instantly, the man was thrown from the roof by a huge arm of water summoned from Katara. He landed at her feet.
Toph slammed a foot to the ground. Stone burst out on either side of the man, trapping his arms and forcing him to stand.
He squirmed and kicked, frustration etched on his face. Let me go!" he spat. "Doesn't matter, there are more of us less than five minutes away!" Gritting his teeth, his eyes flickered to Aang. "Besides, the Avatar won't be—"
He was squarely interrupted by Toph, who stepped forward and sent a spike of earth towards the assassin, throwing him against the wall and knocking him unconscious.
Katara was back on the ground, desperately inspecting the arrow. Blood was everywhere, and it was making her sick. Aang...no. You can't leave.
Sokka, who was inspecting the weapons that covered the man's back, clenched his jaw when he saw the savage arrows. "Katara," he called, "The arrows...they're barbed...impossible to remove." He angrily snapped the arrow in his hands into two pieces.
Suddenly, Toph bent down and felt the ground. "Katara!" she yelled. "We have to get Aang inside. I feel them coming." She then stood up and rushed to Katara's side.
Sniffing, Katara nodded, and then jerked into action.
"I'll carry him." She stated. Toph turned her head toward Katara in speculation. Katara glared back, eyes flashing. "Just trust me."
Toph reluctantly backed off. She knew that Katara wouldn't let anybody interfere when it came to Aang's well being. Instead, she stood a few feet away and waited in urgency.
Katara, well aware of danger, gently and cautiously slid her hands under Aang, one at his shoulders and one at his knees. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. Sokka watched intently as water rushed toward Katara and collected around the bottom of Aang's body.
Katara commanded the water to lift, pulling Aang with it. Though the water helped, strain was placed heavily on her arms as well. Grinding her teeth, she forced herself to pull as hard as her body would allow. Aang was lifted off the ground quickly, and slid into her arms.
For just a second, Katara stood in the rain as grief panged at her insides. She knew why it was hurting her so badly. Standing with a lifeless Aang in her arms reminded her forcefully of the Crystal Catacombs. It reminded her of the way he writhed when the lightning entered his body...and the way she was so terrified when she saw the wound it inflicted.
Eyes stinging, Katara began walking to the door. "You stay with me." She whispered to him. "Don't leave me here alone." Choked up, she pressed her lips to Aang's forehead. Feeling how cold he was, she quickened her pace until she entered the house. Glancing around, she hastened to a wooden table in the middle of the room and placed him on the hard surface as gently as she could.
He groaned as she pulled her arms out from under him, and Katara could have fainted with relief.
"Aang?" she asked, voice cracking. No response.
Shaking her head, she began work on the arrow as tears flowed down her face. I...I WON'T lose him...I won't...not again...
A Savior Once.
Crystal Catacombs of Old Ba Sing Se...
The crystals surrounding Aang were glowing with an intense light. Katara knew why. She could tell that the soldiers around her were starting to get nervous, and many were backing away. Suddenly, a wave of energy burst from the enclosure, and the crystals were opened at the mouth.
Katara stood by in awe as Aang rose from the ground. His eyes and tattoos were glowing in pure power, and he had the slight frown on his face that foretold destruction.
Katara was so relieved. She even began to smile as his body rose higher and higher, and knew that he could defeat the Dai Li and Azula. She was so happy for him, happy that he had learned to control entrance to the Avatar State. She knew what it meant to him.
Her relief was shattered when she caught sight of something behind Aang, and could not react before a lightning bolt was shot with deadly accuracy at him. Katara's smile was gone, and she stared in terror as Aang's small frame jerked and writhed with the pain of the electricity pulsing through his veins. Finally, it stopped.
And Aang began to fall.
Katara could have screamed, but she didn't. Instead, she felt grief rise within her and she bent to the ground.
If he falls...
Water swirled around her as she gathered her strength, and she rode forward on a massive wave.
Then I will be there to catch him.
She was moving as fast as she could, and time seemed to slow as Aang fell...down, down, down...
But she had done it.
She caught him just as he was about to hit the stone floor.
Numb, she stared down at his face, which was as lifeless as rock. Tears pooled in her blue eyes, falling on the frame of the Avatar. She felt helpless and scared. The power she felt only moments before was completely drained. She could see Zuko and Azula approaching her slowly.
A surge of flame lit up the catacombs as Iroh jumped between them.
She barely heard the words he spoke.
"You've got to get out of here! I'll hold them off as long as I can!" Iroh ducked to avoid chunks of earth that flew towards him, fists blazing as he returned fire.
Using the last of her power, Katara summoned a spiral of water to carry herself and Aang up a waterfall and into the night.
Appa was just above the hole, and she landed on his head, still holding Aang. She sat with her eyes closed, holding his head against her shoulder. Grief and numbness were still controlling her, but she knew she had to try something. Holding her breath, she turned Aang over to inspect his back.
She almost passed out.
She could see Sokka, Toph, and the Earth King staring at the wound in horror. And indeed, it was horrible. A gaping hole sat in the center of Aang's back. Multiple gashes and cuts revealed many veins and bloodlines that had been sliced through.
Katara forced down a surge of nausea as she inspected the wound.
By the spirits... she thought. Wait!
She remembered the spirit oasis water that hung around her neck. Fumbling with anxiety, she pulled it out. Summoning the water out of the little vial, she didn't even know what to do.
So she guessed. And hoped.
Focusing, she made it spin, and it began to glow with a ghostly light. Shaking, she lowered it to the hole in his back. It was absorbed instantly and the glowing grew brighter. Holding her breath, Katara desperately hoped it had worked.
But the glowing ceased and Aang was still. Losing hope, Katara pulled Aang to her and began to sob. She felt utterly lost. A thousand thoughts were running through her mind at once.
What is going to happen to the war? How will we win? How will I live without him?
But, she suddenly felt Aang shudder, and a small groan escaped his lips.
Gasping, Katara pulled him out to face her.
His eyes were barely open, but he was awake! Overcome with relief, she again pulled Aang into a gentle hug.
He was too weak to lift his arms, but she knew that he was happy to be with her.
A Savior Now.
Ba Sing Se, inside the Avatar's home...
Katara smiled at that part of the memory. He had been so dazed, but he had recognized her. He had given her a smile of encouragement. Now, she looked back, and realized that he had looked at her with love as well. I saved him there...I WILL do the same here. Aang's words drifted into her head, a phrase he had said so many moons ago.
"I wasn't there when the Fire Nation attacked my people. I'm going to make a difference this time."
Steeling herself, another thought entered.
I was helpless when the Fire Nation took my mother. I'm going to make a difference this time.
She had an idea. She drew a knife from her belt and carefully cut Aang's shirt off of him so she wouldn't disturb the arrow. Blood was splattered across his skin. Ignoring this, Katara placed one hand on the shaft of the arrow and one on Aang's chest. Closing her eyes, she focused intensely.
Carefully, she bent the blood surrounding the arrow, pulling it away from the arrowhead to stop the bleeding. At the same time, she bent the blood in the surrounding muscle and tissue, pulling the flesh away from the barbs. Katara began to pull the arrow shaft up from his chest ever so slightly.She began to sweat. This was taking a lot of energy. She knew that she had to hurry.
Suddenly, Aang screamed. His back arched, and his right arm flailed. Katara jumped.
"Katara!" he screamed, and his eyes flew open. Tears poured from them.
Katara was scared to death. Lifting her hand off his chest, she grabbed his flying hand. "Shhh...Aang, it's alright...come on, look at me..."Letting her hand off the shaft, she placed it on the side of his face and turned him toward her. "Aang!" she stated firmly. "It's me...I'm safe, I'm alright."
Slowly, Aang stopped screaming, and his eyes eventually focused on Katara. "Katara..."he whispered. "It hurts...badly." His gray eyes were bloodshot.
Katara tried to hold her tears back, to be strong for him. "Aang, you have to listen to me. I am removing the arrow...I'm trying to get rid of the hurt." She squeezed his hand. "Stay still, okay?" she began to let go of his face and hand, but Aang caught one of her hands.
"Don't let go." He whispered, and stared straight into her eyes. Gazing back, Katara nodded. "Just stay with me, Aang. I won't let you go."
Aang laid his head back on the table and closed his eyes. She could see his jaw clenching.
With a sigh, she returned to her task. She again placed one hand on the shaft. Closing her eyes, she began to control his blood again. Lightly, she pulled on the arrow.
Aang's hand clenched.
She continued this process until she could see the barbs of the arrow. As soon as she could see them fully, she pulled back sharply, and the arrow was removed.
Aang's entire body jolted and she could see the agony on his face. He gritted his teeth and bit back the overwhelming pain, desperately trying to keep from screaming again.
Katara worked fast. She brought blood to the surface of the wound and hardened it, scabbing over to stop the bleeding. Exhaling heavily, she almost collapsed on the table, she was so exhausted. Aang was panting extremely hard, and he was pale as a ghost.
But he's alive...!
As relief flowed through her, Katara leaned over and kissed him. When she pulled back, Aang was staring at her.
"What?" asked Katara.
Wincing, Aang answered in a hoarse voice, "I'm trying to figure out how many times you have saved my life." He reached up and brushed a stray strand of hair out of her face.
Katara smiled at him, and was about to answer, but was distracted. She had heard yelling. Looking out the window, she realized that Fire Nation rebels were here, and she hadn't realized for how long.
Toph and Sokka were putting up a brilliant fight.
She watched as they fought off the rebels, Sokka deflecting their attacks with supreme grace and Toph manipulating the earth with equal mastery, but they were overwhelmed and were losing ground. They need help. Now.
"Aang," she said, "I'm going to help Toph and Sokka. Stay here." She threw the arrow aside and ran for the door.
"Katara!" Aang called.
Katara turned with her hand on the door.
Aang watched her with his placid eyes. "Come back to me. Promise."
Katara smiled wearily.
"I promise, Aang."
She turned and whipped out the door.
Spirit of Fire
Aang lay on the table in exhaustion. He felt dizzy and tired, and his vision was blurred at times. His thoughts dwelled on Katara.
If it weren't for her, I would still be trapped in that iceberg... he thought. The world would have ended in fire at the hands of Ozai...there would be nothing left...we wouldn't be together. She might very well be dead, along with everyone else.
His vision blurred again and he closed his eyes, thinking of how many times she had saved him.
The iceberg, of course...the desert..the Crystal Catacombs...and just now. He winced as another bout of pain burrowed into his chest.She's as much of a savior of this world as I am. And she's so strong...I love--
His thought was abruptly interrupted as a shrill sound filled his ears, and his head snapped to look at the door.
Katara screamed, closely followed by Sokka's cry of, "KATARA!"
Immediately, Aang tried to get up, but was forced down when a vicious rush of vertigo hindered him. Breathing deeply, he tried again. He just managed to get to his feet, but wobbled like a bowl of jello.
No... He thought desperatly, his mind racing. No, Katara, stay strong...you can't...
He didn't care that he was hurt; all he knew was that his love was in trouble.
He finally stumbled to the door and threw it open. Outside was terrible. At least twenty rebels were shouting and assaulting his friends, but all of them stopped when they caught sight of Aang.
She was there.
Aang could see Katara...she was lying on the ground. There was blood on her face, and a red burn was running up her entire arm and onto her neck.
She wasn't moving.
You monsters...how could you...
Aang closed his eyes and began to tremble. Not with weakness. Not with exhaustion.
Not with pain.
But with pain beyond pain. Anguish so deep that he could not comprehend it.
Stepping outside, he didn't feel his wound. He didn't feel anything. He didn't move. He stood there, breathing, and his breath came out in puffs of steam. The rain streaked down his face, covering his tears.
"I promise, Aang..."
Without warning, he roared, and the voices of a thousand Avatars joined his, reverberating through the walls surrounding the courtyard. Aang's arms were thrown back in fury, and a torrent of flame lit up the night sky.
He felt a presence rise up within his mind, blotting out his senses and superheating his blood.
The Avatar Spirit of Fire, an inferno of burning rage, threatened to overwhelm him. He did not fight it, did not even attempt to resist.
He let it consume him.
When he looked down, he was glowing. He turned to the Fire Nation rebels, glaring in pure hatred.
"You took Katara, my life, from me. AND NOW, I WILL TAKE YOURS."
Aang raised his arms, and was no longer in control.
As always, be sure to check out the rest of the series, more chapters coming!
For the collective works of the author, go here.