Avatar: The Cycle's End...

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Wed Jul 04, 2012 3:22 am

Chapter Four: "A World Without Zuko"

Even at the fast pace that the eel hounds could keep, the road back seemed to take an eternity, as if somehow their steps were slowed by the heavy burden that they carried. Lu Ten knew that it was part in his head, and part that his cousin had rode them roughly to get there. To get there to save him. Lu Ten looked at the ground whizzing beneath them as he closed his eyes. It would be a few more miles until he would have to give the news to his father and his aunt. He was dreading it more than anything he had ever dreaded doing before, including attacking Zhao. He had no idea what to say, but he knew that he couldn't say it in the hawk that he stopped to send once they had found a safe place. No, this was news that he had to deliver to them in person, but there was nothing that he could really do to soften to blow, to even explain it all to them.

He couldn't even conceive of it in his mind. The plan of attack had been nearly perfect. Lu Ten had left a letter with his men in case something went wrong to ask for help from his uncle. Then, with Sokka and two others, Lu Ten had snuck into the tent and murdered the man in his sleep, or he thought. Instead, Zhao wasn't sleeping in his official tent, as if he knew that someone would be coming to try to kill him. When they had come out of it, they had been ambushed, and Sokka and himself were captured. The water tribe member had been as tight lipped as Lu Ten had, but the fourth member of their strike unit had lost his head after the third had been tortured to death in front of him. He'd betrayed the rebels, and died for his trouble. Lu Ten still wasn't sure what their losses were, but it didn't matter. Sokka and he had gotten captured, and Zhao had used them as bait for a bigger prize, sensing that he would at the very least get the blood bender in the bargain, despite Sokka's and Lu Ten's denial about it.

And Zuko was dead because of it.

Lu Ten glanced back as he did so often to make sure the wrapped body was still there on the back of the hound. Sokka had been adverse to the idea of them going back for it, after all, he had been used to plenty of his people dying without a proper burial. But Lu Ten couldn't let Zuko's body be disgraced like that. Not after what he had given. Gui, Shen and Ping had been eager to volunteer, as had Katara, and eventually they all wound up going to retrieve it, to wrap it in blankets, and strap it to the back of the eel hound like some sort of twisted luggage. It was horrific, and yet Lu Ten just didn't know what else he could do. For once the right thing, the thing that he was supposed to do seemed so very unclear. He had always been certain, always been confident. He had lost troops before. But this one was different. This was his brother, the person who still called him family after he lost everything. The person who would have died for him. The person who DID die for him.

Lu Ten looked at the other eel hounds and saw Ping's grim face, his hand coming up to rub across his eyes lightly to try to push the tears back. Once they had gotten to safety Gui had broken down, apologizing to Katara, to Lu Ten, to everyone it seemed. Zuko's plan had been to give himself over in return for a pair of hostages if it came to that, to use himself as a bargaining chip and threaten his own death if it meant saving the lives of others. But none of his team had known Zuko's endgame. Lu Ten had to wonder if it had been Zuko's plan all along or something that he had come up with in the heartbeats between minutes as he had stood there, altering his plans in order to make certain that they would have as much of a chance to escape as they could, rather than leaving it to chance, and leaving himself in Zhao's hands to be tortured. Lu Ten wondered if he himself could have been that brave in a situation like that, but he would never actually know.

When they had apologized, Lu Ten had offered them forgiveness, trying to give them some means of not blaming themselves for it, but as they rode in silence he could see that they did, Ping especially. Zuko's sacrifice had come at a cost higher than his life, and yet he must have known it at the time, he must have known what it would do to everyone. Lu Ten could almost hear Zuko's gravelly voice rebuking him that they were at least alive enough to feel such remorse. Lu Ten knew that he should be grateful to feel such remorse, and yet all he could feel was pain, anger, and the lurking dread of having to tell his uncle about what had happened. By the time that they managed to get to the field outside Ba Sing Se, it was evening. Lu Ten felt his blood freeze as he saw his uncle waiting with food and supplies, and with his aunt whose eyes were clearly searching for her son.

As they stopped Lu Ten found himself lingering in the saddle for a long moment, before slowly letting himself slide from the eel hound. The ground felt weird beneath his feet. He hadn't taken a step before he felt his father's arms around him, squeezing him tightly in a hug that he didn't return. Normally this would have felt wonderful, it had been so long since he saw his dad and aunt Ursa. But right now he could feel himself trying to blink back tears as his father hugged him tighter and seemed to be confused as to why it was that Lu Ten wasn't hugging him back. Lu Ten watched him pull back and look into his eyes, a worried look on his face as he looked around. Behind him, Lu Ten could see his aunt's face turn to a look of horror as she realized, but dared not ask the question that Iroh was about to.

"Where is Zuko?" Iroh said softly.

"I..." Lu Ten closed his eyes tightly and felt the tears starting to fall. "He's..."

Say it Lu Ten, for the love of the fucking spirits just say it.

"He's dead." Lu Ten managed to croak out.

"No... no. No no no..." Ursa stammered as she went to the body, and before Lu Ten could stop her unwrapped the body to look at it. It was burned beyond recognition. The face that had once been her son was now just a lump of charred flesh that looked as his scar had, what flesh was left. Lu Ten looked away from it as he heard Ursa give the most horrified scream of agony he had ever heard. It sounded as if someone had just slowly torn out her heart from her chest while she was still alive and echoed along the hills as she descended into a series of violent sobs as she gripped the body, undoing the lashings from the beast and pulling it off onto the ground as she cradled it in her arms.

Iroh just stared. "I do not understand. Where is Prince Zuko?" He asked again.

Lu Ten clenched his eyes closed as he tried to control his breathing. "We were captured and... he traded himself for us and then." Lu Ten swallowed back the lump in his throat. "He killed Zhao, and saved us... I'm so sorry." The last few words were whispered, and as he uttered them he heard the sound of his father falling to his knees in front of him. "Dad...?" Lu Ten asked, but Iroh wouldn't make eye contact with him, he just stared off at Zuko's body in shock, and at that moment all the pieces fell into place for Lu Ten. The message that he had sent asking for help had arrived with his father, and being that it was his son, he had been the one who sent Zuko to him. He had been the one who sent him the blasting powder.

Lu Ten didn't know what to say. Slowly, he guided the others to doing what needed to be done, getting heavy logs from the nearby woods, piling them up slowly in a funeral pyre for Zuko. According to beliefs that went back before written time, those who were true of spirit would become fire after their deaths, and as the fire blazed against the sky their soul would lift in a spark towards the sky to make a new star. It was said that the stars in the sky were the honorable fire nation members of old, the brighter the star, the more honorable they had been.

When the sun had set and the pyre was ready, Lu Ten asked his father to speak, but the old man simply shook his head. Ursa had to be pulled away from the body, still crying over the loss of her son. Lu Ten said the words as best he could remember them. It was typically a duty done by the priests of old, but there were no clergy that were nearby, and the body needed to be burned as soon as possible, lest Zuko's spirit be tied to the earth forever. When he had finished reciting the ceremony, he closed his eyes, and then bent a stream of fire around the base of the pyre, watching it catch fire and consume Zuko's body, turning it into fire itself. He watched as the sparks rose up in the night sky. He wondered which of them really held his spirit, and if he would notice an extra bright star in the sky the next night...

Lu Ten's head snapped up as he looked over the papers scattered over his desk, and shook his head. He knew well enough why he was dreaming of Zuko's death. It had been a year to the day since his cousin had given his life for his own. Lu Ten had felt guilty when he had realized the anniversary was coming up, and the fact that it had been months since he had reflected on the memories of when Zuko had been alive. Zuko's absence though, was something that was constantly felt, even now. Lu Ten had gotten used to the idea that Zuko was gone, but the pain still seemed in many ways fresh, and so he didn't think of it very often, only when he had to, only when something forced him to. Thankfully Lu Ten had a stack of papers that was constantly on his desk, from all over the world it seemed, and there seemed to be no time to answer them all.

It was a testament to how very hard Iroh had worked at his job, answering all of these, keeping track of them all. Lu Ten had never realized there was so much to it until it had been forced on him. His father hadn't spoken a word since that day, in an entire year. At first it had taken effort to even get the General to eat, to even move about and live. In time he had grown to doing it on his own, cooking every now and again even. But the white lotus had been neglected. Each of the old masters had come to pay their respects when they had found out, and declined the responsibilities to take Iroh's place, each of them telling Lu Ten that he should fill in for Iroh until he was ready once again. Lu Ten wished that he could share in their optimism about Iroh's recovery, but after so long it seemed... impossible.

Thank the spirits for his aunt, who had taken over running the Jasmine Dragon empire. At first she had been like Iroh, but when presented with something to do she had been grateful to take on the task, throwing herself into it too much. Lu Ten supposed that working herself that hard was her way of trying to prevent the thoughts of what happened that day from entering her mind. Thankfully, even though she wasn't as deft at it as Iroh had been, she made up for it in sheer effort that she was willing to put into the job, and after the first few months the tea business was thriving as well as it ever had been. It was just lucky that Iroh had shown her his tricks when he had been running the tea shop originally, Lu Ten supposed.

Toph Beifong had been as distraught over the loss of her fiance as anyone else, and had bawled for days on end before finally allowing her guards to take her back to live with her family in Gaoling. Months later, Lu Ten had been forced to have an uncomfortable discussion with her parents after she'd apparently run away, saying that she wanted to see the world the way that she and her fiance had planned, and that the fact that he had treated her like she wasn't an invalid had proven that someone could do it, and that they should have all along. Toph had never come back to Ba Sing Se as far as Lu Ten was aware, however, and he'd allowed them to search the guest rooms to prove it before they'd made a snide comment about Zuko's insolence, and Lu Ten in his anger had forced them to leave on the spot.

Lu Ten sighed as he looked over the reports again on his desk. One from Ping about the rebels making guerrilla strikes against fire nation caravans that were coming across the lands, and how he wanted to reach out the water tribes for fresh recruits. Another complaining about a recent rise in pirate activity off the northeast coast of the earth kingdom. Still another claiming that fire nation troops were just going into the swamplands to the south of Ba Sing Se never to be heard from again. A report that the sky bison thought extinct were seen flying in the skies around one of the abandoned air temples. A slew of new reports about people claiming to be Zuko. Some of them even Zuko reincarnated. Lu Ten felt bad for them, as the Earth Kingdom didn't treat those openly in support of the Fire Nation well.

And the Fire Nation was a whole matter altogether. After Ozai had learned of Zuko's demise, he had rounded up most of the troops who had been there and had them publicly executed in the main square for treason against the throne, the reasoning behind which had never been actually explained. Lu Ten supposed it was out of some twisted love for his son that he had lost if such a thing were believable. Still, there had been several people who had fled to the Fire Nation claiming to have some relation to Zuko who had been executed as well for their own stupidity.

Lu Ten sighed as he picked up one letter that claimed that Zuko was being held captive in a Dai Li prison outside of Ba Sing Se. In the beginning they had tracked down some of these leads at the behest of Ping, who still felt responsible for what had happened, but all of them had turned out to be dead ends or fools wanting to make a name for themselves. Ping, on the other hand, had in Lu Ten's absence, made a fair and capable leader of the rebels . Thankfully, though they had been scattered in the initial attack, most of the rebels had actually survived Zhao's attempt at massacring them. Even so, morale was down, and though the Fire Nation had experienced a less than ideal recruitment for the same mission that most of the troops that had been on had been killed, either by rebels or by Ozai himself, eventually they had drafted enough men to start making a campaign for the Northern water Tribes again. Ping was sabotaging it as best he could, but if nothing was done eventually what they had sought to avert before would eventually become a reality again.

After days of mulling it over, eventually Lu Ten had made his way North, leaving the messages in Ursa's hands as well as some of the other lieutenants of the White Lotus to deal with. Ultimately, he couldn't ask anyone to go but himself, and while he was certain that Master Pakku would likely support the request for aid, it would be uncouth for him to simply send a letter and expect that they would pour aid on the rebels. No, this would need to be a personal appeal that he made to the head of the Northern Water tribe, for the sake of his people. He would need to go there himself to make it happen though, this was not something that he could simply leave to chance.

Boarding the first trading vessel bound for the Nothern water tribe after he arrived at one of the small towns on the coast, Lu Ten made his way along with a few others in order to talk with the Water Tribe about what had happened. Gui and Shen had both volunteered, as had Jet, surprisingly enough, which made Lu Ten wonder if his warning to Katara had been in vain, though Gui and Shen had assured him in private that it wasn't the case. Ping, unfortunately, given his status needed to stay with the troops, lest they be leaderless while they fought off the fire nation, but, given that it had been a year since Zuko's passing it felt somehow right that almost all of them were meeting up again, somehow.

By the time they got there, however, Lu Ten was almost regretting his choice as he wore a poofy coat that he'd brought with him. He'd known it was cold in the north, but he hadn't been aware it would be THIS fucking cold. How the hell did anyone manage to live like this. More importantly, how did anyone take a leak in this damned city without getting frostbite on their nether regions? Lu Ten forced himself to stop shivering as he walked down the ramp off of the trading vessel and walked past some leery looking people in the Northern water tribe, noting that there were already people running to talk to people in charge about the arrival of strangers that weren't traders amongst their people.

Lu Ten had let Master Pakku know that he was planning an envoy, but yet, Master Pakku was the first to admit that he was not in control of his nation, that he couldn't guarantee a thing. Would the water tribe welcome them with open arms? Or would this be a repeat of what they had seen in Ba Sing Se? Had the lack of attacks from the Fire Nation over the past year made the water tribe grow complacent and forget the precarious position they were in?

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Wed Jul 04, 2012 5:38 pm

His golden eyes were filled with sadness and a little bit of fear, but above all of that, they were determined and decided. That was when Katara realized what he was about to do, and as he took his stance, she tried to stop him, but she was held down, made immobile by people for whom she’d begun to feel friendship. How could they do this to her? How could they let this happen to him! He was their leader, and they were just letting him die!

Finally, they let her go, and she ran, but every step brought her to softer earth until eventually, the ground sucked her into its darkest depths like quicksand that would never release her, but when she reached the bottom, the darkness began to make way to daylight, and she could see the Outer Wall of Ba Sing Se. A small hint of fear was with her, Long Feng’s death threat still sharp in her mind. However, she wasn’t entering the city. Instead, she was outside with her brother, Lu Ten, Gui, Shen, Ping, Jet, Iroh, Toph, and Ursa. Their grief was a permeable thing, settling around them like an itchy blanket. The flames of Zuko’s funeral pyre still burned, but the flames were dying down now.

An uncomfortable numbness had settled over Katara, but it was only half formed. It was there enough to insure her tears stopped, but agony still gripped her like a rat-viper, unwilling to even loosen its grip. Ursa hovered over her. “This is your fault. If you had just died with the rest of your people, my son would still be alive.”

I tried to stop him… The words wouldn’t come, and the world melted away to the echoes of voices, blaming the waterbender for Zuko’s fate, for her failure to save his life.

The sun was higher in the sky now when the world finally changed. Iroh, Toph, and Ursa were gone, leaving the others to talk. “Are you sure you want to go back? You’re always welcome here.” Lu Ten said softly, the grief still clear in his voice.

“There’s no place for me here, not any more. My place is in the Northern Water Tribe. Sokka and have to go back and tell them what happened anyway, to let them know that… that they’re safe for now.” Her voice cracked, but she held in the onslaught of tears threatening to overwhelm her.

“I’ll go with you.” Jet announced, making Katara tense.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Jet.” She responded softly. “It’s nothing like the Earth Kingdom. It’s all ice and snow, and the culture is completely different. Sokka and I are only welcome there because we’re refugees from the North’s sister tribe. You wouldn’t exactly be welcomed with open arms, and I don’t think you could be happy in the climate.”

Jet’s face darkened. “It can’t be that bad. You live there.”

“I grew up in that sort of environment. I’m used to it. You look cold right now, in the middle of the day, and if I had any more layers on, I’d be sweating enough to create a water whip.”

“She’s got a point, buddy.” Sokka interjected. “You would be miserable, and you’d probably become a Jetsicle in about a day.” He was the only one who laughed at his stupid joke, but it sounded hollow. He hadn’t known Zuko the way the rest of them did, but he understood that he was only standing here today because a life had been traded for it.

“We’ll escort you through the mountains. There are some coastal villages up there that can take you home.” Ping’s words were comforting. She was glad to know that she and Sokka weren’t going to be abandoned by them just because their Commander had passed.

“Take the eel hounds.” Lu Ten offered. “They’ll be the safest going through that terrain, and they’ll be the fastest in case you meet any signs of trouble.”

“Thank you.” Katara said, her words seeming to go on forever, before disappearing into eternity. They gathered on top of the eel hounds, and the creatures leapt high into the air, flying all the way to a port village, but when they arrived, flames began to shoot them down. When they landed, Katara was in the hills. Everyone had disappeared except for Zuko and Admiral Zhao.

Zuko’s eyes looked at her before an explosion of fire consumed him. “This is your fault… You didn’t protect him…” Ursa’s voice echoed through her mind…

Katara awoke with a start, jerking into a sitting position. She sniffled, realizing that she’d been crying, and as her furs fell away from her, the air caught the sweat beading on her flesh, chilling her. Her jaw clenched. She’d thought these nightmares were over. They’d come to her every night for months, steadily growing worse and more distorted until they simply… stopped. She’d had almost seven months of freedom from them, but now they were back.

This dream had been distorted in some ways. Ursa hadn’t verbally blamed her, but the look in her eyes told Katara what the woman’s voice would not. The waterbender had spoken to Zuko’s mother when Toph had left with Iroh to go back into the city. Ursa stayed by the pyre, watching her son’s ashes. The waterbender had apologized for everything, stating that the former Fire Lady could in no way blame the Tribeswoman more than she blamed herself. Then she told her everything.

“Why are you telling me this?” Ursa had asked her.

“Because you should know. I cared about your son, and I want you to know that I wasn’t just using him, that I genuinely wanted to be with him.”

Ursa didn’t look at her, watching the embers of the fire die down before gazing into the sky as if searching for something. Katara didn’t know what the woman sought, but as a breeze passed over them, both women closed their eyes, as if taking it for a sign that Zuko’s spirit was still with them despite his body having been stolen. Ursa had left after that, going back to the Upper Ring of Ba Sing Se while the others spoke about their plans. Lu Ten would stay behind while Ping took over leadership of the rebels. Katara and Sokka were to go home, led to a seaside village by Ping, Gui, Shen, and Jet.

From there, they’d parted ways, maybe forever, and a small crew took Katara and Sokka to the Northern Water Tribe. While the Earth Kingdom crew was there, they decided to set up a regular trading route which hadn’t happened in almost a decade because of the Fire Nation. At first, the trade wasn’t regular, and it was only about once a month, but after the scarcity of Fire Nation ships was noted in those waters, trade became a lot more regular.

Other things began to change, too. The siblings explained to Chief Arnook and Master Pakku a condensed version of all that had happened to them in the Earth Kingdom. She told them that the Earth King would never help them because he wasn’t the ruler of his own people. Sokka told them about Admiral Zhao and the plan that had failed, and they both explained Zuko’s sacrifice. Katara told them about his bloodline, so they could understand just how much it meant that he’d given his life for Sokka’s. At first, the Chief didn’t want to believe that someone from the Fire Nation, the heir to its throne, no less, had given his life. They thought it must be some form of trickery, but she explained everything she’d learned about his past and Lu Ten’s past, and Pakku seemed willing to accept it all. The Chief eventually accepted it as well, after several minutes of explanation.

The changes weren’t immediate, but people slowly began to stop treating Sokka and Katara like pariahs. It probably helped that Sokka ended his affair with Princess Yue. The waterbender could see the pain in his eyes when he did it, and she knew that he really loved the woman, but it was time to grow up, to become a man, to not waste his life with a woman who could never truly be with him. Then, a couple of months after their return, Master Pakku received a report that the surviving soldiers from Zhao’s fleet had been executed by the Fire Lord, and that no one wanted to reprise Zhao’s role as the leader of the attack against the Water Tribe.

That piece of information was what really began to turn the minds of those in the North. They began to realize that Katara and Sokka weren’t mere refugees from the South, trying to usurp their culture. They were actively doing things to preserve the Northern Water Tribe, so what did it hurt that a few changes here and there were made? Katara was proof that women were strong and could do some real good. Sokka was no less brave and strong. Parents became more willing to allow their daughters to learn fighting, and even some of their sons learned healing techniques though for some reason, fewer men wanted to learn to heal than women wanted to learn to fight.

Hama was permitted to begin teaching, but Katara warned her to avoid bloodbending. Hama revealed that she’d only taught Katara because she knew the girl would understand and because she was also from the South Pole. The Northerners could never understand the necessity of such an art, so the old woman would refuse to teach it to them. The younger waterbender didn’t mention that she now realized what a horrible thing bloodbending truly was and wouldn’t be using it herself because she didn’t want cause any tension between them. Even though Hama was allowed to teach, her students were only the women who decided to fight while Master Pakku continued to teach the men. Katara had already mastered all that both teachers had taught her, so she had no need to continue studying under them, but she was permitted to sit in on classes and divulge information she had learned and help teach both the men and women as a sort of assistant Master to Hama, Pakku, and Yugoda – the latter of whom taught only healing.

Gran Gran and Master Pakku began taking a greater interest in Katara’s romantic life, and as offers for marriage from families began to stack up, the pressure to marry became that much greater. Even Sokka was feeling the pressure as more and more women were offered to him as wives. After another night of going over the offers received with Gran Gran, the waterbender had had enough.

“Just because a bunch of people suddenly see me as an okay option for a wife doesn’t mean my mind has changed about arranged marriages. I’ll marry for love and for nothing else!” Katara’s anger was clear in her voice and in her face. She was sick of her grandmother badgering her. Of everyone, Gran Gran should have been the one to understand. After all, the woman had left the Northern Tribe to escape their stupid customs.

“Katara,” the old woman began, “I know how you feel; trust me, I do. However, there is nowhere for you to go to escape this culture the way there was for me. This is the only Water Tribe left, and even though many changes are being made to accommodate the Southern traditions, this is one thing that will not change for generations. Many of these men being offered are good, strong men. They will give you a wonderful marriage, and they will respect you. I would not allow any man who could not respect you as you are to be a choice.”

“I understand what you’re saying, Gran Gran, but the facts are that this has to be my choice and their choice, not the choice of our families. I have to be in love, and I’m not in love with anyone here.” Katara played with the fur lining the sleeve of her parka.

“Did you love him?” Gran Gran said after a moment of silence. Katara’s eyes widened and she looked up at her grandmother.

“Love who?” She asked.

“The firebender boy, the one who died to save his cousin and your brother.”

Katara looked away from her grandmother though she was surprised that the old woman seemed so accepting of it. Her voice hadn’t been angry or accusing. “I don’t know.” She said honestly. “I believe that I could have, though, if there’d been more time to be with him and to know him better. I cared about him a lot.”

“So you didn’t become husband and wife?” Gran Gran asked softly.

Katara shook her head. “No.” She didn’t want to talk about Zuko. Remembering was too painful. She’d failed him and his family. She’d failed her mission. If she’d just stayed in the North Pole, he would still be alive. He could have been happy with Toph, and even though Katara never would have known him, having him alive and a part of the world was more important than that. Now, because of her, he was gone… forever. Kanna patted her granddaughter’s knee and stood, leaving the girl alone. That had been the last they’d spoken of arranged marriages.

The best part of all of this was that her leaving had given Hanu a chance to realize that he’d only wanted Katara as a novelty. He spent more time with his wife, and she had had their child nine months after Katara returned from the Earth Kingdom.

The waterbender moved her hands over a particularly nasty gash in a man’s leg. The healing hut was warm enough that she wasn’t wearing her parka, and the man had rolled his pants above his knee while she worked. “I told you not to mess with the ox goats, Wi. They’re dangerous during mating season.”

He hung his head. “I know, I just-”

“You just thought you would try to prove how much of a man you are for the fiftieth time? How many times do they have to nearly kill you before you’ll get the hint that they are not going to go down easily? If you’re hunting for sport, you need to stop. If you’re hunting for food, take others with you. They’re too big for one man alone.” Katara chastised him as his flesh stitched itself back together. “If you come back to me again with wounds from them, don’t expect me to heal them. Waterbending can’t heal stupidity, and I’m not going to heal the afflictions of your mental disorder.”

He laughed at that, and Katara smiled. “All right. Fine. I hear you.” Wi said in defeat.

A woman entered the healing hut while Wi rolled down his pants. “Katara, Chief Arnook and Master Pakku request you in the Chief’s Palace. Your brother will also be there.”

Katara threw on her parka and pulled on her gloves. The air outside the huts was cold, but she was protected from the wind by the layout of the city’s buildings. The waterbender climbed the steps quickly, knowing better than to keep a meeting waiting, especially when her family was involved. Was everything okay? Worry filled her.

However, when she stepped inside the slightly warmer area of the palace, and all eyes turned toward her, her eyes widened. Four sets of very familiar eyes looked her way: two sets of green, one set of brown, and one set of gold. Sokka was already waiting inside, and she hurried across the expanse toward the four familiar faces. Sadness welled in her upon seeing them, but she sucked it down, instead choosing to be happy over the fact that she was seeing these four again. “What are you guys doing here?” She asked excitedly, pulling Gui and Shen into a hug. She’d long ago forgiven them for their part in Zuko’s death even if she couldn’t quite forgive herself for doing nothing. She turned to Jet and embraced him, too. He may have been a cad, but it had been a whole year, and she still counted him as a friend from long ago. She then turned to Lu Ten and gave him a hug of equal excitement. She may have only known him for a couple of days at most, but he was a good guy. He was Zuko’s family, and he’d fought side-by-side with her brother. That was enough for her.

“Where’s Ping?” She asked, her face falling. Was he still alive?

“Don’t worry. He’s safe.” Shen said.

“He’s the leader of the rebels now, so he’s off with them.” Gui added, filling Katara with relief. She had no doubts that he was a fantastic leader.

“This is all very touching, but if you’re all done with your happy reunion hugs, I’d like to find out why our friends are here.” Sokka said, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Right!” Katara took a seat next to her brother, pulling her hood down from her head and looking at the four expectantly.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Thu Jul 05, 2012 1:15 am

Lu Ten blinked as there wasn't a single person waiting for them as they came in the gates of the kingdom. There were rather surly looking guards staring at them. Their faces had been clearly weathered by fighting in the snow and intense cold. As cold as it was here, this place was about as close to some sort of eternal punishment as Lu Ten could possibly imagine. Not to mention, as he looked out across the people that were gathered there, they were all... covered. How in the hell were you supposed to find yourself a woman with nice curves when everyone was under about ten layers of clothing in order to stay warm. Lu Ten wondered grimly how often someone unwrapped their new wife to find out that she was not at all how they had actually imagined she would be under all that clothing. It was a rather disturbing thought to say the least.

"I thought you said they were going to expect us..." Gui hissed out slightly through his teeth as they all seemed to be rather interested in the fact that there were four fair skinned people who were obviously foreigners coming to visit them. With as warm of a welcome as this one, Lu Ten had a fairly good idea why. Combine that with the fact that this place wasn't exactly either a viable travel route or the sort of place that anyone other than a water tribesman would want to vacation and you had a perfect storm for people who were looking at them just the way that all of them were now. Children were pointing, and Lu Ten tried to put on his 'I'm too friendly to be killed' face towards the people that were looking at him and whispering to themselves all at once.

"They were suppoooosed to..." Lu Ten muttered through his teeth in a sing song fashion back to Gui. Well, hopefully it wouldn't take long for the runners to get the appropriate people to come see who they were. They couldn't do it fast enough for him either, it felt like his soul was slowly dying the more that he stood out in the open in this frigid cold. It astounded him how so many layers of clothing could be penetrated by anything, much less a swift cold breeze. Maybe that was why his great grandfather had killed all the airbenders really, because they all had threatened to send some sort of icy breeze like this to the fire nation. It seemed almost like a valid cause for war to Lu Ten. He knew better than to even bend to heat up his own body though, not when a people that had been persecuted by his people all their lives were staring at him as if they were considering tossing him back into the ocean and forcing him to swim home.

"Oh. You're here." Came the flat voice of Master Pakku as he looked down at them from one of the higher walkways. His face was somewhat twisted in a look of habitual disdain, to the point where Lu Ten was fairly certain that the man's face had actually stuck that way from him doing it as a child and all the healers in their kingdom couldn't actually find a way to undo it. It would certainly explain the man's disposition when it came to all of Lu Ten's dealings with him. Lu Ten forced his brightest smile at Master Pakku, who seemed to get an even more sour look on his face as he processed it. Master Pakku sighed and descended the stairs slowly, calmly, as if he had all of the time in the world and the four people down below weren't actually freezing to death. Lu Ten tried not to grit his teeth at the man or the cold as he debated which he hated more. "I wasn't sure when to expect you."

"We said we'd be on the first ship out..." Lu Ten said as the four of them began to follow Master Pakku, and then stopped as the man whirled on him.

"Yes, I recall that. It's also what you said about a shipment of tea that you were going to send me several months ago. I just had assumed that travel time from Ba Sing Se to here was significantly longer than I remembered it." Master Pakku growled out, narrowing his eyes at Lu Ten, who put on his cheery smile once again, trying to resist the urge to comment.

"Better late than never?" he finally came up with, and motioned Gui to come forward with a small box of tea leaves. It was originally something he had been saving for the trip back, but you never knew when it was that you might need to make due with rum on the way home instead and let an irate water bending master have your tea instead. Lu Ten sighed a little as Master Pakku snatched it away, seeming somewhat pacified for the time being. This was going to be a horrifically long trip here, he could tell already. As Lu Ten passed the water tribe members he watched them looking back at him. Now that Master Pakku was leading them through the city, their apprehension had melted away and they were left with the same sort of curiosity that most small towns had whenever newcomers came through. Though this was quite a bit bigger than a small town.

As Lu Ten entered the palace he blinked as he looked at the ice, tapping it lightly. "Uhm... is this going to hold?" He asked Master Pakku, who turned again and raised a brow at him as if he didn't understand. "Well, I mean it's all ice... you would think that enough bodies in here would cause it to melt-" Lu Ten blinked as Master Pakku snorted and started to walk away again. "Alright, I'm hoping that's a no..." Lu Ten muttered as he slowly stepped his way inside of the palace, grimacing a little as he looked at it to see if he could catch it cracking anywhere. How the hell could these people not build their houses out of stone, or wood, or something fucking normal instead of just... ice.

Lu Ten was lead into a room where he was introduced to Chief Arnook. He smiled as he spotted Sokka smiling at him from the corner, his arms crossed. Lu Ten introduced himself, and then blinked as he was introduced to Yue. Okay, so that was how you could tell if someone was hot under all of those layers of clothing. Lu Ten gave her a broad smile until he blinked a little and frowned. "Wait, did you say your name was Yue?" he said, glancing back at Sokka in the corner, whose eyes had gotten about as big as saucers as he stood there, seemingly petrified of what Lu Ten might say next.

"Yes, why, do you know of me?"

Yeah, you're the chick Sokka was banging like a battering ram.... Lu Ten thought, and then got a weird look on his face. "No, uhm, I'm sorry, I think I was thinking of someone else. A princess.... Yumi." Lu Ten said.

"I've never heard of a Princess Yumi..." Yue said, tilting her head.

"Well, yeah. she's... not well known outside of the Earth Kingdom." Lu Ten blurted out, breathing a sigh as Yue smiled back at him, seeming content with that answer. Jesus she was beautiful. Lu Ten could see why Sokka had been proud about hitting that. If he hadn't been a bro's before ho's sort of guy, he would have probably found a way to ask Yue later if she was in the mood for something 'hot'. It wasn't the time to be thinking of that sort of stuff though, not when he was supposed to be having a serious meeting with the Chief of the Water Tribe. Damn though. Just... damn. Lu Ten reached behind himself as if he was trying to scratch his back, and instead gave Sokka a clear thumbs up. He would definitely have to congratulate him later on his achievement.

When Katara came into the room, Lu Ten couldn't help but smile. In many ways he considered her a relative, as if she and Zuko had gotten married. He didn't have the heart to ask her what had happened between herself and Zuko. He knew that there had been some speculation amongst the men, but with Zuko gone, all hypothesizing on what might have been had been pushed to the wayside out of respect for the dead. When Katara hugged him he gripped her back and hugged her tight as he might have a sister. There were days when he thought that in a way she was Zuko's legacy living on somehow, but most days he realized that it was just that he was trying to look for some way that Zuko survived... in any sense of the word.

Sokka wanted them to get on with it, probably afraid that Lu Ten would say something about Yue again, and the Fire bender couldn't help but smirk a little at the idea of that one himself before remembering what he was here for. Taking a few steps towards a table, he slowly pulled out a map and unfolded it, showing the most up to date map of the earth that he possibly could. Then he slowly pointed to the point on the map close to where he had rescued Katara with Zuko a year ago. It was almost directly south of the northern water tribe.

"This is where Zhao's forces were stationed a year ago. I'm sure that you received word of the execution of Zhao's men after his failure here. " Lu Ten couldn't even mention Zuko's sacrifice, even now. Swallowing, he continued. "Over the past year, they've been working to reestablish a harbor here for their ships to dock. Fortunately for us, the more recent ships that the Fire Nation has sent with supplies up north have been hit heavily by pirates and they haven't managed to get their planned dock built here."

Lu Ten sighed. "Unfortunately, our sources inside of the Fire Nation have mentioned that the Fire Lord instead has planned to do things the slower way, and send his men across land instead of trying to sail there. He'll either take Gaipan here, or potentially even try to sail in close to the great divide and create an outpost near the serpents pass. Ba Sing Se has demonstrated fully that they won't get involved unless the Fire Nation actually sets foot in their walls. If Ozai realizes this, then there's nothing to stop him from setting up and outpost right here..." he pointed at a point in the bay, " and using that as a staging ground to send troops up North."

"I'm not sure what this really has to do with us." Came a snotty reply from someone who had introduced himself earlier as Hahn. Sokka had been right, this guy was a serious tool.

"Chief Arnook, I have a band of rebels, but they are no army. I need men to come join the fight. If we don't stop Ozai from building those docks where Zhao had them before, he's going to be right on your doorstep again, and I guarantee this time even without an Admiral they will fight to the man in order to try to take the Northern Water Tribes. Given what Ozai did to the last bunch that failed, they really have nothing to lose."

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Thu Jul 05, 2012 4:13 pm

Being around them all was bittersweet. Flashes of memories kept moving through her mind of their time together a year ago, and subsequently, she was constantly reminded of Zuko’s death. When Lu Ten produced a map and pointed toward a specific location, she recognized it as being near where she and the other Water Tribe members had been captured the year previously, when she’d first met Zuko and the rebels. Her eyes moved from the map to Lu Ten’s face as he spoke, and she thought she could see the sadness there as he also recalled, but he did a good job of trying to contain it.

Her gaze returned to the map. Who would have thought that pirates, people only out for their own gain, could have been such an instrumental help to the Water Tribes? Of course, there had been a couple of occasions when trade ships from the Earth Kingdom had been hit on their way to the North Pole, but that hadn’t happened more than a couple of times in the last year, and it hadn’t happened at all in the last six months.

When Lu Ten mentioned Gaipan, she looked at Jet. The scowl on his face was clear, and she remembered that this was near where he’d said he’d formed the Freedom Fighters before the Fire Nation had completely wiped them out by burning down most of the forest where they lived.

She remembered years ago when Great Gran Inoa had come home the Earth King looking more aged than ever after trying to battle the out of control fire that had been caused by Fire Nation soldiers. They hadn’t even tried to contain it. They’d just set the trees on fire and left. It had been hard work to stop the flames because they’d been raging for a couple of days before she’d even heard of it, and by that time, almost the entire forest had been burning and creeping toward the villages near it. The old woman had been furious with the Fire Nation, that they could just destroy nature in such a way, and she’d been even more furious to learn that a bunch of children had been intentionally murdered in the process. That had been the point, killing the children who lived wild in the trees.

As Jet had told her the story of what had happened to his Freedom Fighters, she’d connected the dots, and she’d felt grateful to the rebels for having saved at least a few of them. She wondered if her great grandmother had ever learned of that part, and if she hadn’t known, did she know it now? Would she have approved of her affections for the Fire Nation prince upon learning of all of the good that he’d done in the world, or would she have only seen his bloodlines? Katara had a feeling that her grandmother, being the Avatar, would not have disapproved upon meeting Zuko for herself. After all, she’d seen the good in the Dragon of the West, and she’d respected the man even while she had to fight against him. Now, he wasn’t even on the Fire Nation’s side.

Katara wanted to ask how Iroh was doing, how Ursa was doing, too, but now wasn’t the time. Her eyes followed Lu Ten’s finger as he pointed to the various locations where Fire Nation troops could be stationed. From those points, it would only be a matter of sailing up river into the ocean and going straight to the North Pole. Pirates wouldn’t expect that as much as they’d come to expect that the Navy would go around the Earth Kingdom. The way would be almost completely clear.

“I don’t see what this has to do with us.” Hahn said. Katara glared at him. Was he stupid? Lu Ten had just said that they would be heading North if they weren’t stopped. In moments like these, the waterbender truly felt badly for Yue, but in the end, she’d made the choice to marry this guy. As Iroh had informed her a year ago, everyone had choices to make, but they liked to pretend that social constructs forced them into things so they wouldn’t have to blame themselves. Yue believed it was her duty to go through with the marriage to this man, but then she had had an affair with Sokka which made Katara feel like the woman was a hypocrite. Of course, she’d married Hahn before the Southern refugees had arrived, but that didn’t excuse her behavior or Sokka’s.

Lu Ten seemed to ignore Hahn’s outburst and continued speaking directly to Chief Arnook. If it was perceived as an insult, Katara would defend her friend. However, everyone seemed keen to ignore that Hahn was an idiot which only brought a scowl to the man’s face.

“Even if you’re right,” Chief Arnook began, “if the Fire Nation attacks, we cannot afford to be divided. All of our warriors will be needed right here.”

“Our waterbenders would be useless if they weren’t constantly in range of a water source, anyway.” Hahn added, causing Katara’s eyes to shoot daggers at him. His pompous voice was grating to her, and his words even more so.

“That’s not true. If Hama was allowed to teach the men, they would know how to defend themselves even if there isn’t an obvious water source. I can pull water from the air itself if I have to do it, but you’ve all been so stuck on the idea that you’ll never have to leave the North Pole that you won’t even bother to learn the techniques that could save lives in other lands. Ipo can vouch for one of the techniques in particular. He tried it in battle once, but it didn’t work out that well because he didn’t really know how to do it; he just saw me do it and tried it. Hama can teach the forms and the stances and the theory, and they can use it in the Earth Kingdom.”

“There’s no way to practice something like that here, and the idea of a woman teaching men is ridiculous.” Hahn countered with his nose in the air, causing Katara’s frustration to grow at his sexism and stupidity.

“Quiet, Boy.” Pakku said, causing the man’s face to redden. “You don’t know the first thing about waterbending. All they need to know is the form and the ideas behind it, and it’s possible. Ipo told me about the battle when you all traveled to Ba Sing Se. He said that more than just Tamo would have been killed if you hadn’t known those techniques. I hadn’t realized that Hama knew such techniques.” Even as he relented, he looked sour at the idea of the old woman encroaching on his territory, but that woman was his wife’s best friend, so while he’d held out this long, he had to relent eventually. Kanna could be very persuasive.

Chief Arnook seemed to take all of this into his mind, mulling it over carefully. It was one thing Katara respected about the Chief; he never seemed to rush into conclusions without considering the various angles. “I won’t send men who aren’t willing to go, but I’d be willing to spare seventy-five warriors and waterbenders, combined. I would feel safer with most of our warriors here, where they’ll be needed most.”

Seventy-five men wasn’t a lot to fight a fleet of Fire Nation soldiers, and Katara knew it. Chief Arnook knew it, too, but he wasn’t willing to come close to dividing his troops too much. If push came to shove and the Fire Nation attacked anyway, they needed as many people as possible to protect the homeland.

Her gaze moved over the map, searching the Earth Kingdom. There was an idea forming at the back of her mind, trying hard to come to focus but continuing to be just illusive enough that she couldn’t fully form it.

“There!” Katara exclaimed, her finger resting on a point labeled “Foggy Swamp.” Everyone looked at her strangely, but she wasn’t deterred. “There’s a tribe there of waterbenders. At least, that’s what I was told.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Hahn said. “Don’t you think we’d know about them if there was another Water Tribe, and why would they set up anywhere other than one of the poles?”

Katara wanted to punch his stupid, smug face. He was getting on her last nerve, and every time he opened his mouth, nothing helpful or useful emerged. “Maybe because we never have a reason to go there. There’s plenty of water in swamps, Hahn. Didn’t you pay attention to any of your lessons about geography? Anyway, I was asked not to talk about this tribe because they’re supposed to be sort of… well… weird… Hama met them once, and she said they’re nothing like us. Even their bending style is supposed to be different from ours. She said they’re reclusive, but they understand the importance of keeping the world balanced. I think they would be willing to help us if we appeal to them.”

“Like when you tried to appeal to the Earth King?” Hahn scoffed, and Katara clenched her fists furiously, causing a decorative pot made of ice to shatter nearby, spilling liquid water from it, as she glared at him. If she was a firebender, her eyes alone could have set him aflame; there was so much rage in her gaze. She didn’t want him of all people to remind her of that time when failure after failure had happened, leading up to the failure to save Zuko from himself, even if it meant that Zhao had been taken out and the plan to destroy the Northern Tribe put on hiatus while they recuperated from the losses.

“Hahn, contain your words, or you will no longer be welcome in this council.” Chief Arnook ordered sternly, and the pompous son-in-law crossed his arms over his chest with a bitter scoff. Pakku placed his hand on his step-granddaughter’s shoulder, and she looked down at her fists in her lap, trying to calm her fury.

Katara had faced contention from Hahn ever since Chief Arnook had allowed her into many of the councils concerning the fate of the Tribe, and she was sick of him. He was supposed to be pretty useful most of the time in these councils, but Katara had never seen it. Perhaps his sexism prevented him from ever agreeing with a word the waterbender ever said, regardless of how he truly felt on the matter. He believed strongly in the idea that women were beneath men, that they should only be at home, taking care of their families. Yue was always in these councils, but she never spoke, never added anything unless directly asked which happened to be a very rare occurrence. Katara believed her role was simply to gain knowledge that would help her raise future sons to be good leaders, potential Chieftains. The waterbender refused to play the role of the submissive, quiet woman.

“This is different.” She said, her voice calmer. “These are our distant cousins. They’re waterbenders, too. If they came to us, we would help them. There’s a chance they’ll help us, too. This isn’t just about the Water Tribes, though. This is about the world, and Hama said these people care about their homeland just as much as we care about ours. If the Fire Nation succeeds in wiping out the Northern Tribe, nothing will stop them from conquering all corners of the Earth Kingdom, including the Swamp. I doubt they’ll have the same kind of political issues as Ba Sing Se. I think we have a chance this time.”

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Thu Jul 05, 2012 11:50 pm

Lu Ten's glare at Hahn could have killed him had he the ability as the little fuck dared to pose the question about whether or not anything from this had anything to do with them at all. Lu Ten knew that Sokka had said he was stupid, but Lu Ten had figured that part of it was due to jealousy on his part. Clearly now, if anything, Sokka had been kind with his interpretation of the man. Bringing idiocy to a new level was not something that Lu Ten usually thought about Water Tribe members. For as little as he knew about them, they had weathered constant attacks from the Fire Nation for years. When Hahn opened his mouth, Lu Ten had to wonder if the boy had just been in hiding that entire time, or if he was the luckiest person on the planet because it appeared that he didn't have the common sense in order to keep himself alive. Then again, with the way that he was talking maybe it was just that he was too chickenshit to actually get into a real battle with anyone. Lu Ten's eyes flickered to Chief Arnook, but the chief seemed too engrossed in the map.

Chief Arnook's words though caused Lu Ten to frown slightly. Perhaps the stupidity of Hahn wasn't the only thing that he needed to be worried about. His golden eyes flickered to Katara to non verbally ask her if they were actually being serious about this. He knew they were, and yet at the same time their stupidity was... amazing. Lu Ten gritted his teeth as they mulled it over. Surely the last great leader that the Water Tribe people had here would see the need on taking things onto the offensive with this one. The man had seen wars, Lu Ten could see it in the man's eyes. Yet at the same time, their peace might have made them complacent, weak. For those of the Fire Nation who had almost constant drive it was not the sort of thing that really needed to be worried about, but having heard about the Earth King, Lu Ten was beginning to see a disturbing trend. The Fire Nation had already destroyed the Air Benders who were far to detached from the cares of this world. Had the other kingdoms not learned a damned thing from all of this.

He could see Katara looking at him as Chief Arnook suggested seventy five men in order to try to hold off what would likely be the fully trained Fire Nation army moving their way through their lands. There was no doubt about what Lu Ten was thinking. It wasn't nearly enough men. Ozai would be sending hundreds if not thousands of men. Lu Ten had been hoping for double what the Chief was offering him, and that was simply as a stop gap. He didn't need a ton of men, not to harass the Fire Nation. He would take a page out of the Pirate's book, destroy supplies and run. But there were still losses, even with that strategy. There would be people who would defect, people who would die. They would pay for their kingdom's safety in blood, it just would be far less blood than if they let the Fire Nation get a foothold on their front doorstep. Once the docks were created, the Fire Nation could start building ships at the harbor, and use it to keep the pirates at bay, neutralizing their strategy.

Lu Ten could have kissed Katara when she mentioned the Foggy Swamp. All he'd heard about the place was to avoid it like the plague, but if there were really water benders there, then it might be the exact thing that they needed. Not to mention if he could get them advanced notice about all of this, then perhaps they could make strikes without leaving far from their swamp, which would make it easier to convince them. Of course, Hahn didn't seem to be able keep his thoughts to himself. Lu Ten marveled at the misogynistic nature of his next comment, and looked at Pakku, and then over at Yue. She really was with someone who just didn't think that women were good enough to teach water bending? Something told Lu Ten that Katara could wipe the floor with the little shit in a heartbeat, but for the time being Lu Ten remained quiet. Katara was arguing his case for him, as was Master Pakku. Best to leave them to come up with the answers themselves then lead them by the nose to the fact that none of this was feasible.

Lu Ten's face darkened Hahn had the gall to mention the trip to see the Earth King. It was a year past, but the wound was still fresh. Thoughts of him keeping his cool started to flow out the window as he looked on at the men, his body warming to the point where he no longer felt the chill in the air. His glance was at Hahn now, practically daring the man to speak again. He could see Hahn staring back at him defiantly, his face flushed from being rebuked by the chief. He clearly still had issues with this plan that Katara was laying out, and Lu Ten could see him glance to Katara now and again as his face twisted a little in anger that she seemed to have better ideas than him. Lu Ten was hoping to the spirits that Hahn might make a move that would constitute something threatening so that he could pound the little shit into a fine paste, as undiplomatic as it would be to do such a thing. Lu Ten could feel his temper reaching critical mass as Katara was trying to smooth things over.

Finally Hahn couldn't keep the silence any more. "I don't see why they would help the rebels, I don't even see why we need to help them ei-"

"Shut your damned mouth." Lu Ten growled with a dark venom, and all eyes turned towards him. This probably wasn't the best town for a firebender to be threatening in, but Lu Ten was just done. Hahn flushed and took a step forward, not even uttering a syllable before Lu Ten bellowed at him. "I SAID, SHUT. YOUR. DAMNED. MOUTH." Hahn looked questioningly to Chief Arnook as he reached for his weapon, but given the glare that Lu Ten was giving him seemed to think better of it. Lu Ten gave Arnook the same glare which caused the man's eyes to widen, clearly he hadn't expected the leader of the rebels to have treated him in such a manner. He was clearly used to being respected, and while it didn't make good politics for Lu Ten to give him a verbal slap in the face, it was clearly something that needed to be done, or else they all were going to die.

"I hope you all have enjoyed the past year. It's been a nice perfect storm of peace for you all. Hell, the last 4 years have. The Fire Nation destroyed the avatar, destroyed your brothers and sisters while you sat on your ass. And it took them time to sail back, regroup, and then send a fleet up here to do the same thing to you. And do you know what stopped them? My cousin, giving his life. For what? A people too damned stupid to know how to even save themselves when someone comes to point out the obvious to them?" He could see scowls on the faces of the leaders of the water tribe and he scowled right back. "Let me spell it out for you since you seem to be too dense to get it. When they build a docks here, they will be able to fortify, and it's a few days sailing from the harbor to your shores. I hope you're all ready for daily attacks on your shores because they will be daily, and they simply will not stop. EVER." Lu Ten snarled.

Lu Ten pulled off a glove and slammed it down on the Northern water tribe on the map. "And here is what will happen to your precious home right after that." he growled, lifting his hand from the map, the paper smoldering where he'd touched it before it outright burst into flames in front of them until Master Pakku bent some snow in order to douse it, looking at Lu Ten as if he had lost his mind.

"I've lead people that have bled and died in order to try to stop the Fire Nation from wiping this place out, while you all have sat back and enjoyed the fruits of it. Enjoyed the safety my cousin's life bought you. No more." Lu Ten said, glancing back at the members of his group who were looking, like everyone else in the room, shocked and in awe of what it was that Lu Ten was doing. "One hundred and twenty five men, Chief Arnook. You can get them from your own people, you can get them from the swamp, I don't really care where the fuck you get them from, but you will get them, or I let this place burn." Lu Ten said, starting to turn, before looking at Hahn, "And keep this shit out of your war councils too. He's going to get a lot of your people killed someday, but I'm not about to let him do the same to mine."

With that he turned and stormed out of the Chief's chambers, Master Pakku hot on his heels. "What the hell are you doing?" Master Pakku growled. "The day I would need to lecture a Fire National on speaking out of turn." he shook his head. "Your father would be ashamed."

Lu Ten whirled at him and glared. "Last I checked, there were a whole lot of people here, but my father wasn't one of them. You want to save this place, get your leader in line and get him to pull his fucking head out of his ass, or we're done. That's not an idle threat." Master Pakku's eyes widened. Clearly he'd thought that this was some sort of show on Lu Ten's part, a game to play to get the Chief to produce more men. It wasn't, Lu Ten didn't want anything bad to happen to Katara or her nation, but the writing was on the wall. If they couldn't realize it, then they weren't worth the men who would die to save them.

Growling and with his people reluctantly jogging to catch up to him, Lu Ten stalked back down the way he'd come towards the boats. He'd rather sleep on the vessel then sleep in this city of fools tonight.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Fri Jul 06, 2012 2:12 am

Katara’s blue eyes widened into saucers when Lu Ten told Hahn to shut his mouth. It was something she’d wanted to say to him on multiple occasions over the years, but she’d never said anything, fearing that she would be forever barred from councils due to the fragile nature of the meager acceptance that had allowed her into these meetings in the first place. Instead, she’d always countered him with thought and with intelligence and mostly calmness. She’d felt it had earned her more respect than if she’d simply yelled at the warrior and called him names.

However, she couldn’t help but to feel a sense of joy when Lu Ten told him to shut up… that is… until she saw the look on Lu Ten’s face. It evaporated in the heat of his fury. She saw Hahn rise and try to puff himself up to intimidate the firebender, and as Lu Ten yelled again, she saw the Tribesman grab his weapon as he looked to his father-in-law for approval. Arnook didn’t grant it, but Hahn backed down on his own anyway. Katara thought that was wise. Sokka had told her about some of the stuff he’d seen the Captain do, and Hahn would have been hard pressed to hold his own in battle for more than half a minute against the firebender if he was lucky.

Pain seared through Katara at the venom in Lu Ten’s words as he lectured them, at the memories they recalled to her mind. She felt ashamed in that moment because, by association, he was chastising her, too. She’d tried so hard to make changes in this place, and they were happening, albeit slowly. Women were training for war now, too, and that would increase the number of those who could protect this place, but it still wasn’t enough. She thought Lu Ten’s plan was sound, but she was disappointed that her people were so reluctant to go through with it. Still, these were her people, her family, her Tribe now that her original tribe had been destroyed. She wouldn’t stand up for their stupidity, but she would stand up for their lives.

The map erupted into flames at Lu Ten’s movement, but Master Pakku put it out, and Lu Ten stormed out of the palace with Pakku on his heels and Gui, Shen, and Jet following behind them.

“What an idiot.” Hahn scoffed, folding his arms over his chest.

“Leave, Hahn. I have some things to discuss with Katara and Sokka.” Chief Arnook said.

“But he disrespected us. You can’t let that firebender tell you what to do.” Hahn countered.

“I said leave. Take Yue with you.” Arnook repeated with finality. His voice never seemed to rise above speaking level, but the tone was clear. The man glared at Katara and Sokka for a second before storming from the palace. Yue looked saddened by her father’s command, but she promptly followed, obeying without dissent.

Arnook turned to the siblings. “Your friend has disrespected me and our people.” He said softly.

“Maybe, but you guys did sort of insult him first. Seventy-five men? Really? That’s like saying you don’t take this seriously at all.” Sokka said. “You have to think of this from a tactical standpoint. Lu Ten’s right. They’re going to wipe this place out just like they wiped out the South Pole if we don’t do something to stop them.”

“Our terrain protects us better, and Sozin’s Comet is a long time away. Fire Nation soldiers haven’t been able to set foot on our shores for almost fifty years. Still, if the harbor is built, I want our people here, protecting us rather than scattered and divided.”

Master Pakku reentered the room, taking his seat next to the Chief as they continued their conversation. He seemed happy to simply listen to them without interjecting anything.

“That’s the point, though.” Katara insisted. “If the harbor is built, this culture is going to be destroyed. Even we can’t stand up to daily attacks against our homeland. That’s why we have to strike now, before it’s too late. I know our fighting style dictates waiting and turning our enemies’ offense against them, but I don’t think that’s the right move here. We need to be the ones to strike first this time.”

“We aren’t a vast civilization filled with millions of people, Katara. We can’t spare as many men as he’s asking us to give. We would have too few defending our home if we send that many men away.”

Sokka leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest. “You don’t need men to protect you. You’ve got women training to fight at this very moment, and my sister is a great example of what women can do. With men and women fighting side by side, you’ll still have more than enough people to fight at home while giving enough to the effort to stop the harbors from being built.”

“Our father had half the warriors you have here, and he would have been more than willing to help stop the harbors himself if he could have.” Katara added softly.

“Your father was a good man and a brave warrior, but he and I are different with different responsibilities.” Arnook said, but there wasn’t anger in his voice.

“So, we don’t look to you for cultural and military support in times of need, and you don’t settle feuds among your people or defend them from invaders, either?” Sokka asked somewhat sarcastically.

Chief Arnook showed signs of scowling but instead shook his head, a small smile on his face. “Okay. I’ll give one hundred men to the cause, but everyone else stays here. I want you both to go to the Foggy Swamp to find the remaining twenty-five.”

“Why does this sound like you’re just trying to get rid of us?” Sokka asked with a raised brow.

“It’s like you said: I have to keep the peace in my nation. You two have a terrible habit of disrupting that.” The look he gave to Sokka made Katara’s eyes widen. Was he referring to Sokka’s having had an affair with his daughter? She supposed she shouldn’t be too surprised considering the fact that everyone else in the Tribe seemed away of it, but it was so strange to have the man even allude something like that now that it was over after having kept completely silent while it was happening. Then again, this was also the first time she’d ever seen Sokka in a council. While Katara had assumed it was simply because Lu Ten and Sokka knew each other, she was beginning to suspect there were other motivations behind it.

“We’ll be happy to go. I’ve been really curious about the Foggy Swamp Tribe ever since Hama told me about them, even if it wasn’t much.” Katara said quickly, trying to divert Arnook’s attention from her brother.

“Your grandmother won’t be happy about the two of you heading away from home again, but she’ll understand. You two make us proud.” Master Pakku said, offering one of very few compliments to his step-grandchildren. The man almost never offered praise, but when he did, it truly meant something.

“You should go tell your friends. Hopefully they’ll spare some rebels to escort you to the Swamp since we’re sparing one hundred men to help their group.” The Chief said. This was extremely reminiscent of when Zuko had decided that she and Sokka should split up as a show of good faith a year ago, and he’d escorted her himself to Ba Sing Se with some rebels who had been less than pleased with the arrangement. Would he still be alive if she hadn’t insisted on completing a mission that had been doomed from the start? She didn’t know, but she couldn’t help the guilt that rose within her at the thought that his death had been her fault even if it had ultimately been Zuko’s choice.

“Thank you, Chief Arnook.” Katara said.

“They returned to their ships.” Master Pakku said as the siblings rose and left the palace.

Katara and Sokka headed toward the ship and boarded without preamble or permission. They were all clustered in the depths of the ship where they were better protected from the cold climate. Jet looked up as they entered. “Well, did your Chief pull his head out of his ass?” He asked, his tone reminding her a little too much of Hahn, but she stuffed the thought down, looking at Lu Ten.

“He’s willing to give one hundred men. He thinks we can find the rest in the Foggy Swamp. Sokka and I are going to find them, and we were hoping that we get some rebels to go with us. Chief Arnook hopes that because he’s lending you so many men, you could lend us a couple in return.”

“We’ll go.” Gui volunteered, slinging his arm over Shen’s shoulders. Shen grinned and nodded his agreement at the idea of helping Katara again, but his face turned sheepish as he looked at the Captain.

“That is, if Lu Ten can spare the two of us?”

“Make that three.” Jet added, volunteering himself to go.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Fri Jul 06, 2012 11:33 pm

Lu Ten looked up quietly as he saw Katara and Sokka entering the boat. He and his men were all either in hammocks in the crew quarters, or leaning up against the edge of the boat as it rocked lightly. Gui was hovering a rock in his hands that he had taken with him on the trip. Lu Ten had thought it was somewhat weird that they brought something so useless, but when he had asked the earth benders about it, they admitted that they kept it as a sort of connection between themselves and the earth. It was something that Lu Ten hadn't considered. He himself could easily create fire if he needed to feel some sort of connection with his own element and even if he couldn't, fire was so necessary for light that it was a given almost everywhere, even on a boat. The idea that he might somehow be cut off from his element for days at a time while they sailed was enough to give him the shivers and completely understand why the two of them took turns bending it in order to feel like they were still connected.

It was hard not to resist the urge to roll his eyes at Jet when he asked if Chief Arnook had pulled his head out of his ass. Being confrontational with Arnook had been something to get his point across, but Lu Ten wouldn't hold it over Katara's or Sokka's heads. Spirits knew that he didn't know what he would have done if he hadn't been branded a traitor by Ozai. Even Zuko had been branded an outcast rather than turning on his father on his own. Could he really expect the two water tribesmen to so easily go against the words of what was probably the only real leader that they had left? Lu Ten crossed his arms and suppressed a sigh though as he waited for their answer. As much as he didn't blame them, if they were here to lecture him the way that Master Pakku had, he wasn't about to just sit there and take it. He was more than a little fed up with the situation. Not with his two friends, but the political landscape of the whole thing. Too many minefields and too much bullshit. It was times like this that he was glad he wasn't in line to the throne any longer.

Lu Ten did raise his eyebrows at the hundred men that Arnook was willing to give him. That in itself was something of a surprise. It wasn't enough, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was still something. Lu Ten didn't know exactly how he felt about the fact that the rest were somehow supposed to come from the Foggy Swamp. True, Katara had vouched for the idea of there being people there who might help, and he believed her. But then the last time that she had claimed that she would be able to get help from another nation, it had separated Zuko from him, and ultimately contributed to his death. Lu Ten still felt that the blame rested solely on his own shoulders, but the similarities between this trip and the last one all of them had decided to go on seemed far too similar for him to feel completely comfortable with. Still, it was there only chance, it seemed like. Chief Arnook it seemed would rather listen to the council of his moronic relation than actually take a risk in order to accomplish something that would save his lands. He was just hopeful that Katara wasn't wrong about this tribe willing to help them.

As the pair of his people volunteered without so much as asking him what he thought, he crossed his arms a little tighter across his chest as he looked at them all, waiting for it to dawn on them that they might actually want to ask their leader before they went out on some crazy mission down south again. He could see Gui and Shen giving him quizzical looks as he waited, staring back at them, nodding his head very lightly as if to somehow coax that spark of realization out of their minds, finally clearing his throat a little to give them a hint.

"Oh! I mean, if it's alright with you..." Gui said sheepishly, the rest of them scratching their heads lightly, except Jet, who was too stupid to really know what was best for him. Lu Ten sighed lightly as he rubbed the sides of his nose, realizing that he would be needing to send a few letters to Ba Sing Se to let them know what the hell was going on.

"Alright, count me in..." Lu Ten said with a sigh, his eyes rolling lightly as Gui, Shen and Sokka all gave a cheer at the news. Jet was rolling his eyes a little while Katara it seemed was happy, but reserved. Lu Ten wondered if he reminded her at all of Zuko, or if she still thought about what it was that Zuko might be doing if he was alive. There was plenty of time to ask her of course, to talk about what all had happened over the past year with her as they sailed down the coast. It would be far quicker to travel by boat the way there than it would be to go across the land, unless Lu Ten could dig up some more eel hounds on short notice, which he was still amazed that his uncle had been somehow able to do. No, they would need to sail down, find this tribe and get their support and then... well, either back to Ba Sing Se or the Water tribe in order to coordinate things.

"I guess we're staying here tonight." Lu Ten offered, giving Katara a smile. After a meal and talking a little bit about old times, Sokka asked Katara to get them some furs for their shelters. It seemed a terrible idea to sleep on top of snow in any situation, but Lu Ten supposed there was nothing to be done about it. After Katara had gone though, Sokka turned towards them all, a completely serious look in his eyes, looking back and forth suspiciously, as if to try to discern both if there was anyone actually listening to him, or if the people that were there were relevant of the information that he was about to pass on. He motioned them in and they leaned forward slowly.

"Alright, check it out. Here's the deal." Sokka said softly. "Chicks wearing the necklaces are either engaged or married, you want to stay away from them. Pretty much anyone else is free game, if they're willing. If you happen to, well, y'know..." Sokka pantomimed a huge stomach on himself and all of the guys gave him horrified looks, "It's on you. Pretty much that means marriage time, regardless of where you're at though." Sokka said with a shrug, and then grinned. "I guess you could say, it's when the fat lady sings! eh? Eh?"

No one laughed.

Jet however paused, and then his eyes grew wide. "Wait, does that mean that Katara is-"

"No! That's a family heirloom." Sokka said, then noted the relieved look on Jet's face and scowled slightly, reaching for his club. "If you so much as lay a finger on my sister though, I'm-"

"Relax, Sokka. No one is stupid enough to hit on Katara. Not even Jet" Lu Ten offered, for extra emphasis, narrowing his eyes at Jet, who gave him a look that betrayed that he didn't really give a fuck what anyone else thought. Thankfully Katara probably would sleep with hopefully anyone BUT Jet at this point, but he still didn't want to have to choose between Sokka and Jet, primarily because he might feel a little bad about tossing the poofy haired fighter overboard in the frigid northern oceans.

Before Lu Ten even realized what they were doing, they had all broken off their separate ways in search of... entertainment. He knew that Jet was either going to hit on Katara or try to have another one night stand, something told Lu Ten that Gui and Shen though were just out to flirt. He wasn't sure that they would even know what to do with a willing water tribe girl if they found one. As he walked along the walls though he listened keenly as he saw Gui down below talking to some girls, unable to resist his own curiosity.

"You know ladies, I can make the earth move for you... literally."

Lu Ten rolled his eyes as a chorus of girly giggles came up from down below. Yeah, no worrying about those two getting lucky tonight at all. Lu Ten, on the other hand, found himself more preoccupied with thoughts of what they were going to be doing a few nights from now once they got down in the south. He didn't know anything about the Foggy Swamp tribe, hopefully Katara did, however, though the way that she spoke of it, it sounded more like she just heard OF them, not where or how to find them, much less get them to agree that they would actually help out the war effort. If this failed, Lu Ten didn't know what he would do. Could he really carry out on his threat to just abandon an entire people to genocide, even if it was the smart play in all of this?

The Firebender felt himself so lost in his thoughts that he didn't even notice the hand that was gripping at him until it was already on him, and he blinked, his reactions kicking in before his common sense did, twisting her arm as he spun her around against the edge of the wall to face him, her pale blue eyes widened in shock at what he was doing. Lu Ten at least had the common sense to immediately let her go, taking a step back and holding his hands up in as non threatening a manner as he could muster.

"Princess Yue, I am so completely sorry." Lu Ten offered lightly. "I guess I've just always been a bit... jumpy." Sleeping with one eye open constantly did have it's disadvantages.

"It's alright. I shouldn't have startled you." the Princess offered politely.

Lu Ten couldn't help but have his eyebrows shoot skyward. "No, it's not alright. I had no right to do that to you, and I'm sorry." His golden eyes found hers, and she looked away quietly, causing him to sigh softly, looking up at the sky, giving Yue a chance to collect her thoughts. She had to have come here for some reason, he just didn't know what reason it could possibly be.

"I wanted to apologize, for earlier. For what Hahn said." Yue said finally.

The look on Lu Ten's face said exactly what he did, a moment before. "You have to be kidding me," he groaned out. "You have nothing to apologize for." Lu Ten said firmly, noting the way that she glanced at him and then looked away once again.

"He was rude to you, and I know you just want what is best for my people. I appreciate that, even if he doesn't." Yue offered lightly.

"Thank you, but that still doesn't mean you have anything to apologize for, Princess Yue." Lu Ten said firmly. "You weren't the one who said any of those things, in fact, he doesn't even known you're here, does he?" Lu Ten said, raising an eyebrow as the princess turned away from him. "He's the one who should be apologizing, not you." Lu Ten said, walking to the edge next to her. "I gotta give it to you though, you have a lot of strength."

Yue looked at him, confused. "I don't understand what you mean."

"Staying here for your people with someone who treats you as if you're not their equal. For all the evil that my home country has spread throughout the world, at least they don't treat women like they're too stupid to do the same sorts of things that men can do. We have female soldiers, females who are in the army. It's not perfect, but, there are a lot of women I know who would have beaten the stuffing out of your husband for saying the stuff he said in that room." Lu Ten offered lightly. "I honestly don't think I could do it, stay with someone like that, even if it was to try to save my people."

Princes Yue stared at him. "What am I supposed to do then?!" she said, with surprising force that made Lu Ten nearly fall off his seat on the edge of the walkway. "I..."

Lu Ten shook his head lightly, and frowned. "I'm not going to lie, it's not an easy problem to solve. Sometimes though, you have to do what you think is right, even if no one else does." He offered, seeing her staring out into the distance. The last thing he wanted was to get caught out here though by her husband, god only knows what the little shit would do at that point. "Are you going to be alright getting back home?" Lu Ten offered.

"Yes, I'll be fine. Thank you, again, for what you're doing, Lu Ten." Yue said softly.

"Yeah..." Lu Ten said softly to himself, nodding as he turned away, wondering what it was exactly that he was doing right now.

The crisp air on the way back to where he was staying gave him time to think more about the situation. For all the man was good in a fight, Lu Ten had to admit that he was a little disappointed in Sokka. Not that he had the exact best track record with females, but the water tribesman seemed like he really cared about Yue, and yet... if he had really cared about her, why was she still here in all of this? Had Sokka tried to talk her out of it and failed to, or had the idea that she might be better off in a life outside of her homeland even occurred to him? Would he do anything if Lu Ten mentioned it to him?

Groaning a little, Lu Ten clasped his hands behind his neck and stretched lightly. He needed to get to sleep, it was a long day ahead of them for the next week and he should enjoy the sleep on solid ground while he could before the week of rocking back and forth came...

Join date : 2009-10-03

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Sat Jul 07, 2012 8:55 pm

Katara felt relief wash over her when Lu Ten consented to the four of them traveling to the Foggy Swamp. She smiled, but she restrained herself from giving a cheer like Sokka and the earthbenders did. After all, she wasn’t oblivious to the parallels between this trip and the last one she’d taken. However, she had faith that it wouldn’t end the same way, and she would do everything in her power to make sure of that.

They all left the boat, heading toward the house in which Katara and Sokka lived with Gran Gran and Pakku. As a couple of unmarried adults, it was frowned upon for the siblings to live in their own homes. Thankfully, this house consisted of four interconnected huts that served as rooms and a main area where daily activities like eating and socializing took place. Gran Gran had food ready for them, and Sokka and Katara helped serve it while Pakku filled the plate given to him, paying no mind to duties considered to be the role of women to fill. He’d once tried to order Sokka to stop helping with kitchen duties, but Gran Gran had set him straight, and the old man had stopped trying to push the Northern culture onto his family.

The elderly couple seemed content to simply watch and listen as the younger people chatted and laughed. When dinner was over, Pakku stood, announcing that he had things to do. Gran Gran cleared the area of the dishes, and Sokka and Katara began their mission to ready their guests’ huts for them. “I hope you guys don’t mind that you’ll be staying in the huts rather than the ship, but it really will be more comfortable and a lot warmer. We built them for visitors once trade became more common. They’re really nice.” Katara said with a smile before leaving with Gran Gran to gather the furs while Sokka led the men to their huts.

By the time Katara and Gran Gran arrived with the furs, the guys had already left to enjoy themselves. It was a beautiful night. As the women spread the furs onto the floors and filled the lamps with oil, Kanna began to speak. “They seem like a nice group of boys.” Her voice was soft. Katara had already introduced them as the ones with whom she and Sokka had traveled in the Earth Kingdom.

“Yeah. They really are. They make a great team, too. I’m really lucky that they’re going to be the ones traveling to the Swamp with Sokka and me.” Katara responded. There was a moment of pause before Gran Gran spoke again.

“I’m not sure about that tall one, though. He seems like a capable warrior, but Pakku and I don’t like the way he leers at you.”

Katara tensed and looked at her grandmother, shocked. “Jet doesn’t- He’s leering at me?” Oh crap… This was like Ba Sing Se all over again. He said he wouldn’t wait for her, so why was he even here? She’d figured that Lu Ten had asked him along, but now she wasn’t so sure. “You two don’t have to worry about him. I can take care of myself, and Sokka will fend off any guy that comes within twenty feet of me with more than a platonic look in his eye.”

Gran Gran chuckled a little. “Yes. I suppose so.” They finished their work and left the huts, the old woman heading home while Katara headed toward Hama’s home. However, halfway there, Jet slid up to her side.

“Hey.” He said smoothly, and she stopped walking.

“Hi.” She returned. “I figured you and the guys would be off doing ‘manly’ things like conquering the hearts of the prettiest Water Tribe women.”

“I thought that’s what I was doing, now.” Jet replied with a suave grin, causing Katara’s smile to fade, and she took a small step away from him.

“Jet, nothing has changed.”

He frowned at her. “It’s been a year, Katara, and a lot has changed. It was just a joke, though. I’m sorry if I upset you with it.”

Katara shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. I guess you guys being here just brings back a lot of memories.”

They stood there, silently for a moment as her words hung on the frigid are. She could see the slight tremble in Jet’s form as he weathered the cold.

“Why do you wear that necklace?” He finally asked, catching her off guard with the change of subject. “Sokka said women who are engaged or married wear them, but you’ve worn yours as long as I’ve known you. Are you trying to make men think you’re married so they’ll stay away?”

Her gloved fingers moved to the pendant at her throat. “No. I mean, it wouldn’t work for that purpose anyway. Most people know who I am. This used to belong to my mother, and it’s all I have left of her, of the Southern Water Tribe. Before it was my mom’s, it belonged to my Gran Gran, the one you met. It’s a part of my family’s history.” Her hand dropped to her side. “Anyway, I need to talk to Hama about the Foggy Swamp Tribe. You should go enjoy yourself. There’s a lot of interest in you guys; people who aren’t here for trade are rare.”

He leaned down and hugged her tightly, lingering perhaps a little too long. “It’s good to see you, Katara.” She patted his back before pulling away.

“You, too. Have a good night.”

They parted ways, and she was finally able to go to Hama’s house to speak to her about the Foggy Swamp.

The next day, it was time to leave. They had their supplies gathered and stored in the ship, enough for the group and the crew to last them a while. Katara and Sokka knew how to work a ship, and even though this was an Earth Kingdom design, it wasn’t hard to find the similarities between it and the normal Water Tribe boats. Helping to sail it would keep them busy for the week which was appreciated.

On the first day out, it occurred to Katara that she still hadn’t inquired about Lu Ten’s family, and she felt a pang of guilt at that, so she went below to find him while the other conversed on the deck. She found him by himself, and she rapped lightly at the doorframe before entering the room.

“I haven’t gotten a chance to really talk to you since you got here.” Katara began, feeling a little awkward as she realized she’d never really gotten a chance to talk to him, just one-on-one, even when she’d first met him. “I was just wondering how your family has been. It’s been a year, and we haven’t really sent letters or anything. How’s the tea business, too?” She added as an afterthought, hoping that something as mundane as tea would be a little lighter conversation than family.

"That's pretty standard, isn't it?" Lu Ten shot back at her with a light smile. He could tell by the look on her face that she was surprised he had been thinking something along the same lines that she had. The two of them had never really spoken, because there wasn't really much to say. Lu Ten had offered her all the information on Zuko she needed, and having talked with his men she'd been a good ally as far as he was concerned. Good enough that of all the people that Zuko thought to restrain, she was the one that he picked. The leader in Lu Ten hadn't missed that little detail or the fact that she'd kissed him, and they all had speculated about whether or not Katara had been with Zuko. Hell, even when Lu Ten had casually mentioned Katara and Zuko to Jet he'd prickled up like an enraged boarcupine, which pretty much said everything right there.

He had expected details on the mission, questions that she might have had for him, but what he hadn't expected was what came out of her mouth next, asking about family. She would see him almost flinch at that, the way that Zuko had when she'd touched his scar for the first time, and his golden eyes looked away. She would see that her comment about tea didn't make things any easier. For one it was under the guise of tea that Zuko had destroyed himself, and for another, it brought up the current situation Lu Ten was in. What the hell did she want him to say to her right about now? That it was all fine? No, she wanted the truth, probably without much sugar, sort of the way that Zuko would have wanted it. "Tea is good... but it's hard without my father." Lu Ten said softly, frowning a little as he looked at the deck.

When he glanced up again he could see the sadness in Katara's eyes, too much sadness. "No, no, he's not... dead. But he hasn't said a word since..." Lu Ten trailed off slowly. They had never really talked about Zuko's death. It had just been that taboo subject that no one particularly wanted to broach. Katara had made for her home as fast as she could, and Lu Ten couldn't exactly talk about it with Ursa. Iroh, on the other hand, he couldn't talk about anything with. "I mean, he's doing better but... I heard about the note that he had given Zuko. Knowing my father, I think he probably told Zuko to do what it took to get me home." Lu Ten said softly, and shook his head. This wasn't worth talking about, and it was just going to make him upset the more that he went into Zuko's past. His cousin was gone; it was time to let it all... go.

"Anyway, Aunt Ursa's running the tea shop like she'd been born in it, and spirits help anyone who tries to give her any backtalk about her tea..." Lu Ten said with a light smile. "So, yeah, I'm kind of stuck doing the family tea thing, running the distributing side of things while Ursa deals with the shop itself. Ping is in charge of the rebels now. I think they miss the days when I was there to be more lax with them." Lu Ten said, feeling awkward silence starting to set in and wanting something to really fill it in.

"How's life back home?" he said, trying to give her something to talk about.

Katara hadn’t expected his reaction when she asked about his family. Maybe she thought that after a year, things wouldn’t be so hard, but the fact that he physically flinched didn’t bode well. Neither did the fact that he broke eye contact. When he mentioned that the tea business was good but difficult without Iroh, her eyes widened, and she felt a powerful sadness fill her. Iroh had been an old man, after all, and losing someone for whom you cared could age a person drastically. Even so, Gran Gran seemed a lot older than Lu Ten’s father, and she’d lost almost everyone except for Katara and Sokka; she was still alive and kicking. Would Zuko’s death have really caused Iroh’s as well?

However, her pessimism wasn’t well founded, and Lu Ten must have realized that her thoughts had strayed to the worst, so he rectified the situation. Iroh was alive, just… not quite… there anymore. “He couldn’t have known what it would come to, how Zuko would interpret his words.” Katara said softly. She’d read that note, but she hadn’t realized that Iroh had been the one to deliver it to Zuko. She’d figured they’d spoken about how to get to the rebels and not much else. The waterbender wished for the millionth time that she could have spoken to Zuko before they’d left, that maybe some random thing she’d said could have stopped him from dying, but what would she have said? What could she have said?

Katara smiled when he mentioned Ursa and her affinity for running the Jasmine Dragon. “She’s a strong, intelligent woman. I’m not surprised that she’s doing so well with the shop. I’m sure Ping makes a great leader, too. I imagine that even while they long for more relaxed days, the rebels are probably still grateful to have someone like him heading the group.”

Silence fluttered over them, and she felt like she should fill it with something, but what? Her lips parted, as if just anything could spew forth to fill the void, but she heard Lu Ten speak first. “It’s… different.” She replied when he asked about her home life. “A couple of months after Sokka and I got back, we received word about what the Fire Lord did to Zhao’s troops and the difficulties they were having in finding replacements for the siege on our homeland, and suddenly, everyone started treating us differently, like we were heroes.” The last word was spoken bitterly. “People who didn’t even consider us worth speaking to suddenly started sending marriage requests about us to our grandparents, as if we were suddenly fit to be a real part of their society instead of a couple of people they just tolerated.

“The only good thing that came out of it was that Chief Arnook and Master Pakku started allowing Hama to teach fighting styles in waterbending to the women who were suddenly interested in it.” While Katara hated the fact that after four years of trying to encourage women to learn to fight they had only done so after they perceived that she’d done something amazing to save their Tribe, she couldn’t deny the milestone that had been reached when women actively began to train in fighting styles. She didn’t want to be looked up to for something she had just stood aside and allowed to happen. “Other than that, things are going well.”

She paused. “Speaking of things going well, I’m pretty sure that Sokka convinced Arnook and Pakku to allow Hama to train men most of the techniques she taught me.” Everything but bloodbending… She didn’t say. “Also, I would be willing to bet the Chief isn’t going to allow Hahn into the councils held about the effort to prevent the harbors from being built, so that’s a win. After you left, he made Hahn and Yue leave before talking to Sokka and me about your plan.”

Katara paused for a moment before deciding how to approach the next topic. “So, I talked to Hama last night about when she went to the Foggy Swamp. She told me that we’ll need a guide if we don’t want to get lost. She also told me that we should be wary; she’s not sure that everything is still the same since so many decades have passed, but the time she went there, they were very protective over the land, and if we do anything they perceive as a threat, they may try to kill us.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “Basically, as long as we’re respectful to the Swamp, they should be fine with us.”

"Hey, you guys left the safety of the Northern Water Tribe even after the last one had been destroyed to try to make a bid to save a place where people don't even respect you. Sounds pretty heroic to me." Lu Ten said with a wry smile, and a shrug. He knew what she had meant though, that she hadn't come back with the Earth Kingdom's Navy, that she hadn't beaten Zhao herself. That everything had gotten fucked up along the way. In Lu Ten's eyes though, that didn't make her any less worth admiring. She'd done a brave thing in her actions and what she'd attempted to do. Yeah, it hadn't worked out, but on the other hand, that was just a part of life. Any time you tried almost anything for the first time it usually wound up blowing up in your face. And from what he'd been told about what happened from his men, there was no way to even realize that Long Feng had been in charge of everything. He must have been working from the shadows all along to keep his seat of power there.

"Ah, you're part of the 'in' crowd now. That's the good part of being a rebel full time, I suppose." Lu Ten said softly. "You don't actually have to worry about the niceties of being popular with the ladies. If you find someone you like, it's usually only as you're passing through a town or something. Not a lot of time hanging out in one place worrying that you might suddenly get popular with the marrying crowd." Lu Ten said, chuckling softly. "I'll be Sokka loved that though." He'd been with Sokka enough that they'd gotten to talking about several different subjects. The frigidity of the hot Water Tribe chicks to him was something that seemed to have come up rather frequently the last time that they'd talked.

Lu Ten frowned a little. He probably should just leave it alone, but he really couldn't, it just bugged him. "What the hell is the deal with that, anyway?" Lu Ten asked bluntly, looking at Katara. "I mean, far be it for me to call anyone else's nation ass backwards, but I mean... really?" Lu Ten said, raising his eyebrows. "An entire tribe of people, and all the women just happily do the cooking and cleaning thinking that only men can fight?" he said. "I can't even imagine what that would be like..."

Azula in an apron.

Lu Ten tried to banish the evil thought out of his head but it just wouldn't go. "Okay, I guess I can imagine it and it sounds horrifying." Lu Ten corrected, suppressing a shiver. "I just don't get it. I mean, yeah, I understand wanting to be a part of your heritage, I guess. But if my heritage told me I was a second class citizen and the best I could hope for was to be married to someone awesome..." Lu Ten frowned lightly, "I dunno. I guess everyone has their own reasons for doing things... never mind..." he said, scratching his head as he looked away. This wasn't his fight, and it certainly wasn't one he could win. As much as he was sad that Zuko was dead, Lu Ten was glad his cousin hadn't been here to see this. He probably would have made a bigger deal of it all than even Lu Ten managed to. Of course Iroh would have been there to smooth things over too...

"Hahn can go eat a dick." Lu Ten said bluntly. "I meant what I said to Chief Arnook about him. One day he's going to get a shit ton of people killed, and ironically it probably won't be him as much as the little bastard deserves it." Hahn was a subject of annoyance for Lu Ten, but he wasn't about to go into detail about his talk with Yue, given that Sokka might flip his lid over it, the last thing that Lu Ten wanted on this little trip.

"Yeaaaaaah...." Lu Ten said when Katara mentioned a guide. "No offense, I'm not going to go in fists blazing or anything, but I've been quite a few places in this great wide world of ours, and usually when people treat you with respect it's not because you've respected their land so much as you haven't been an ass. If these people haven't come out of the swamp in... well, forever, then it's probably because they don't like outsiders. I'm betting whether or not we respect the swamp isn't going to sway them towards our cause alone..."

“I don’t consider that exactly heroic. I was just trying to save the last remnants of my culture. Even if it’s not exactly like the Southern Tribe, it has similarities. It’s the only home Sokka and I have left. We couldn’t just let it… disappear.” Not like the last one. Katara had never actually laid eyes on the South Pole after its destruction, but from what Bato and Sokka had described, it was now a wasteland where even animals couldn’t survive. She didn’t know if she would be strong enough to ever go back there.

Katara grinned. “I don’t really have to worry about being popular with the ladies, either.” She teased, but her smile faded when Lu Ten mentioned Sokka’s potential for loving the idea that so many people suddenly wanted to marry him. “He pretends to be excited about it, like he’s suddenly become a ladies’ man, but he hasn’t accepted any of the offers from families trying to set him up with their daughters. I think, like me, he doesn’t want to marry someone he doesn’t at least have strong feelings for. Pakku told us that for every marriage arrangement we reject, we’re insulting the suitors and their families, but I’d rather inadvertently insult someone’s pride than force myself into bed with someone I don’t love.”

Katara shook her head with a bit of a scoff when Lu Ten mentioned his distaste for the sexual inequality of her current homeland’s culture. “No, I’m on your side with that one. It was never like that in the Southern Tribe. I mean, sure, men were the only Chiefs, but women served regularly and actively on my father’s councils, and men and women worked together to do things. We were also allowed to train to be warriors all we wanted. It was so different in the North when I first got there, but I’ve been working for five years to change things. It’s only in the last year that I’ve made any real progress. I mean, a year after I first got there, I got Master Pakku to train me in Northern Fighting styles, and I got a seat on the council… Well, some of them anyway. However, my brazenness also got me practically shunned. If not for the fact that Pakku married my grandmother, Sokka and I probably would have had it a lot worse.”

She sighed softly. “I think that women don’t really know any better there, and neither do the men. They don’t see that they can make changes to something that they’ve lived believing all of their lives. They have this idea that men need to be physically strong to be manly, and women have to remain delicate and demur to be feminine, and it’s absolutely ridiculous. If Zuko hadn’t…” She stopped, her jaw clenching for a moment. It was still hard to talk about this, even now, knowing that she hadn’t done everything within her power to stop him from dying. “If he hadn’t defeated Zhao and made it so the Water Tribe wasn’t as threatened any more, women still wouldn’t be fighting, and men wouldn’t learn to heal, but because I just happened to be there, women are only now seeing that change is possible, that they don’t have to be homebodies if they don’t want to be.”

Her eyes met his. “Don’t get me wrong. I can cook and clean and keep a home just as well as I can fight, but so can Sokka, and that’s what I’m trying to help the Northern Tribe see. If they can really understand that, I think everyone would be a lot happier. People wouldn’t be shut down for wanting to do things that aren’t quite what society says their roles have to be just because they were born a specific sex. I’m not going to give up on them just because they hate me for trying to shake things up. I mean… okay… Yeah, I’ll give up on Hahn because he’s too stupid to learn anything useful, but there’s potential for most of the others. It’s just… slow going…”

Katara couldn’t help but openly laugh when Lu Ten said that Hahn could eat a dick. “Hahn just can’t handle change, and he can’t handle being outshined by anyone – male or, especially, female. He started a fight once with Sokka, even threw the first punch, but Sokka threw the last, and while he was pretty bruised up, Hahn actually had to go to the healing huts for his trouble. He’s worthless. I have no clue why Chief Arnook thought he would be the best man for his daughter, but it’s not my place to question the Chief’s motives when it comes to his own family.”

The waterbender mulled over his words for a moment. “Maybe not, but the idea of losing their homeland may encourage them to help us. Plus, the Polar Water Tribes are supposed to be related to them distantly, right? Maybe they’ll see us as cousins. Hama said the only reason they didn’t kill her when she met them was because they realized she was a waterbender. I’m a waterbender, too, so maybe they’ll be more willing to hear us out? I’m not expecting anything simple. I don’t think I’ll tell them, ‘Hey, the Fire Nation is coming for you as soon as they’re done with us, so you’ve gotta join the fight,’ and expect them to just… give us their warriors. I’m not stupid enough to believe that things just come easily anymore.” Not after everything that happened last year… “Even so, I have a good feeling about this. It’ll take work, but I think we’ll be successful.”

“Katara,” Sokka poked his head into the room. “stop hitting on Lu Ten. It’s chow time.”

“I’m not hitting on him, Sokka. We’re discussing what to do to get into the Swamp.”

“Whatever.” He said with a nonchalant shrug. “You can continue talking about it with the rest of us over dinner. Let’s go.” He disappeared as she and Lu Ten stood.

“Thanks again for coming with us. It means a lot.” Katara said before they left to go eat with the others. It would be a long journey, but having good friends with her meant it wouldn’t be a terrible one.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Sun Jul 08, 2012 3:35 am

Chapter Five: "Illusions"

The trip went rather smoothly, all things considered. They traveled a little closer to the shore line than Lu Ten would have liked, but the captain assured them that the larger vessels that traveled out too far would be a red flag to any pirates in the area. Lu Ten frowned at that news, but he supposed that it made sense. He couldn't really expect that the pirates would discriminate too heavily between a fire nation ship carrying a bunch of supplies and a ship that was carrying supplies for trade as well. Each day Lu Ten went out and scanned the horizon to see if he could see any of them, but there was never anything to be seen, just waves crashing upon the rocks and the empty sea out in front of them.

Later on it wasn't pirates that Lu Ten was looking for, but the fire nation as they passed within range of where the seas were once heavily controlled by the Fire Nation. It seemed as if the Fire Nation was more preoccupied with the north for the time being, however, and they stayed far closer to the shore of the Earth Kingdom, but Lu Ten knew that just to the west of them the Fire Nation lay in waiting. If Ozai had any clue that a vessel carried the leader of the resistance against him, he would probably send half his fleet out here to wipe him out and any ships around them that might be questionable. Subtlety wasn't exactly his uncle's strong suit when it came to matters like these. They would likely recognize the two from the water tribe by their skin tone as well and have them taken. No, if he saw a Fire Nation ship they would either need to take it out, or it would be game over.

Still, despite his fretting about it, the trip went uneventfully save for the fact that Jet seemed the most cordial he'd ever seen to a woman in all of his life, and Gui and Shen whined more and more the days that went on with them being able to see the shore line but not actually feel it out there against their feet. By the time that they actually arrived at the smaller town of Payoh. Lu Ten wished that they could have gone northeast to Omashu in order to pay a visit to King Bumi, an old friend, but unfortunately a visit to the King would need to wait. It was comforting to think of the fact that the old man was still within distance of them to be able to provide backup if it came right down to it though.

Payoh wasn't a grand village, in fact there weren't actually any docks to it, and the gang was forced to take a few long boats out to shore while the ship docked in deeper waters. It was there that Lu Ten bid farewell to the ship's captain, wishing him safe journeys. It would have been nice had they been able to stay there and wait for them, but on the other hand they would be sitting ducks if the Fire Nation happened upon them and they didn't have the wind direction to escape. Better that they keep moving for their own safety. Lu Ten and his group would get transportation in Omashu if it came right down to it. Well, that, or god forbid, catch a ship in Chin Village. It was nestled fairly nicely against the shore line, the only problem was that most of their residents were horrifically annoying. Lu Ten would gladly sit through some of Bumi's tales that he had heard a thousand times about knowing the avatar rather than have to go down to chin village again. Once had been more than enough.

As they approached the small town, Lu Ten found himself scratching his head a little as he looked at it all. Clearly tourism wasn't on their list of highlights here. On the other hand, they had clearly recently had an influx of money coming their way. There were larger inns that seemed newer, as well as a bar that seemed like it had been renovated recently. As they entered, Lu Ten looked around, leery that he might find a brigade of Fire Nation troops that had deployed here, but the whole town seemed relatively quiet. In the distance from the town square he could see clearly the line against the horizon where the Foggy Swamp began, feeling a chill run down his spine as he looked at it. There was something that just didn't feel quite... right to him about that place, even from a distance. Lu Ten crossed his arms and rubbed them, looking to see if the others felt the same way.

Jet was too busy staring at Katara, and Gui and Shen hadn't been able to keep quiet since they landed about how good it finally felt to be back on solid earth once again, and how they needed to figure out how to make a boat that was made of stone float across the water. Lu Ten didn't bother to steal that particular fantasy away from them. Instead he shook his head and went up to someone who he saw walking to his carriage with a bag of feed. The man raised a brow as Lu Ten approached, and Lu Ten raised his own back at the man. Clearly they were used to being a little bit more cautious around here. "Hey, I thought I saw some Fire Nation ships out on the horizon today... you don't think they're headed here, do you?" Lu Ten asked the main, raising his brows lightly.

The man snorted and then spit. "I doubt it. They were here a week ago, give or take. Blew a bunch of money on shore leave, and then headed in to die." He said, thumbing his way towards the swamp.

Lu Ten felt the same shiver radiate down his spine a little at the man's words, but nodded. "Yeah, I guess I'm just a little nervous about it. My hometown was attacked when I was little." He said with a smile, and blinked as the man started to go back about his business. Clearly this wasn't a 'ask questions' sort of town. "Hey, sorry to bug you again, where would I go for some information in this town?" he asked, watching as the man slowly turned around and looked at him as if he was some annoying gnat that would just not go away.

"You want the Golden Catgator." The man said, pointing at the bar that Lu Ten had been eye-ing previously. Then he stared at Lu Ten as if to demand if Lu Ten was going to ask him anything else before he could go on his way.

"Thanks..." Lu Ten said with a shaky smile as the man spat again and went back to loading up his cart. As they approached it, it seemed like any other bar that Lu Ten had been in. At least in the low rent parts of town. There were parts of it that were nice, new, though in places there were quite a few places where the new wood had just replaced the old. Lu Ten had to wonder if part of the renovations weren't due to the fact that the Fire Nation had likely did a fair amount of destruction the last time they stayed here. Any time when you had that many troops in a particular area with a leader that wasn't watching them carefully, it was a recipe for disaster.

Motioning for his people to sit at a table Lu Ten went up to the bar and leaned against it, slapping a few coins on the table which the bar tender looked at wearily. Yeah, this place had definitely dealt with Fire Nation recently by the way that they were reacting to him. "I was hoping that you might know where I could find a guide in this town."

"Not for where you're goin." The bartender said simply, and went back to drying some glasses.

Lu Ten raised an eyebrow. "And where am I going?"

The man snorted. "The swamp. In the past three years I haven't had a single stranger ask me about a guide that wasn't going there. Do yourself a favor son, and just go home." The bartender said, looking at Lu Ten as he put some more coins on the table. "You really that stupid? Yaomo's the one you want. It's the house down at the end of the way, the one with no one around it. Keep your coin, too, Yaomo will be likely taking every last piece you have, and I frankly don't want money from dead people in my purse..." the man said, looking at him.

"Doesn't Yaomo mean 'demon' in the old tongue?" Lu Ten asked, incredulously. Why would anyone name their child that?

The bartender snorted again. "Yup. Got a saying round here, that people are usually given better names than they deserve. Yaomo's no exception to that rule." The bartender said sarcastically, shaking his head.

"Thanks for the advice..." Lu Ten said as he turned back towards his group.

As they started to walk out, the bartender called after them. "Might want to send in the girl to do your negotiatin if you don't want to lose your shirt. Just a piece of friendly advice..." the man said. Lu Ten could see on Jet's face that he wasn't thrilled with that idea at all. As they headed out of the bar, they scouted out an inn to spend the night if they needed to, and then headed towards the house that was on the edge of town. It was clear that some people had once upon a time lived near it, but had left their houses for some reason or another. Finally he got to the house that was mentioned. In the front there was a simple sign that mentioned fortune telling, but that was it. No other marker on who lived here or why.

The grass was all dead in front of the house though, as were the bushes around the place, as if nothing living wanted to grow around this particular shop. For some reason it evoked the same emotion in Lu Ten that the swamp did. "What's the play?" he asked, looking at Katara. "I'd prefer to go in myself, but from the way that the bar tender made it sound there's no telling if this guy is going to take us there if we don't butter him up first. You want to take first stab at it, or should we all go in at the same time, Katara?" Lu Ten asked, looking to her.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Mon Jul 09, 2012 2:44 am

The trip went relatively smoothly. Katara and Sokka always had something to do, some way to help on the ship, and she was completely surrounded by her natural element. The waterbender truly felt badly for Gui and Shen who were obviously suffering through the week that they were traveling. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be completely cut off from one’s element, unable to do a thing to protect oneself or to feel close to something that was a part of one’s nature. With Hama’s instruction, she’d learned that she could never truly be separated from water because where there was life, water existed. The only time she’d ever come close was when she’d been chained wrists and ankles in a metal caravan, waiting to be delivered to a monster.

Lu Ten and Jet seemed to be doing okay on the ship, but it probably helped that Lu Ten could simply create his own element from his own energy, and Jet had his hook swords, so he was fine. In fact, he was maybe a little too fine. What had happened over the last year? Every now and then, she saw his signature smirk, but it was never directed at her, and he was nicer to her than she’d ever remembered. He was also patient which was even stranger. He’d shown patience with her during their travels, but he hadn’t been able to maintain it for long. He already seemed to be lasting longer, or maybe in a few days, he would just snap? Maybe she really had just gotten through to him that night in Ba Sing Se when he’d kissed her, and she’d told him not to wait for her. Maybe he wasn’t after her anymore?

Finally, they arrived, and as they rowed toward shore – with a little waterbending help from Katara to speed things along – she could see the town coming upon them. They pulled their boats onto the sand, away from the water and made their way toward the square. The waterbender saw Lu Ten looking into the distance and found her gaze moving there as well. The Swamp was… ominous looking, and she could see the haze of moisture that clung around it, making it obvious why that place was called “Foggy.”

“That place looks creepy.” Sokka hissed to her.

“Maybe,” She responded to her brother, “but it’s the only hope we have right now.”

She waited behind with the others while Lu Ten spoke with a man who clearly looked displeased to be talking to a stranger, and she was glad that the five of them hadn’t gone with him; they could have overwhelmed the man, and then they wouldn’t have gotten any information at all. The only down side was that she couldn’t hear a word they were saying. However, she could see them just fine as the man motioned toward a building that had a sign depicting a yellow creature of some sort that she’d never seen or heard of. The writing said, “The Golden Catgator.” Lu Ten motioned for them to follow, and the six made their way to the bar.

This place was sort of seedy. It looked okay in some parts, but others looked old, worn, and stained. The group sat at a table at Lu Ten’s behest and watched while he approached the bartender. She could hear them as they discussed a guide, and she felt a small chill at the bartender’s words, or rather, in what he didn’t quite say. The Captain thanked the man, and the group started to head out, but as they reached the door, the man called to them, telling them to send in Katara if they didn’t want to pay with everything they had. Her eyes widened and she looked to Lu Ten. What was that supposed to mean? She wasn’t going to sleep with some guy just to keep their purses heavier. Then again, she could just go for less… obvious ways, use her feminine charms and such without actually going further than she’d feel comfortable. It’d worked on Jet once upon a time when she’d been trying to get information out of him, so maybe it would work on this Yaomo character.

Katara’s gaze moved from empty home to empty home, the neglect of the buildings quite obvious. Honestly, when they reached the last one, she wasn’t one hundred percent certain that it was habitated, either, but there was a sign on the door that said something along the lines of fortune telling. She didn’t need her fortune told; she needed a guide. How would this guy actually help them?

“I’ll go alone at first.” She said to Lu Ten when he asked.

“What?” Jet said, clearly unhappy with the idea.

Sokka stepped forward, putting his hand on his sister’s shoulder. “I’m not letting you go in there without someone else with you. What if this dude is a crazy rapist or something? I’m not giving you as an offering just so we can save a bit of coin.”

Katara rolled her eyes. “Sokka, I can take care of myself.” She patted her water skins. “I’m armed, and you’ve seen me kick how many butts by now, men who are supposed to be the best warriors and waterbenders in the Tribe? I’ve even kicked your butt. I’ll be fine.”

“This is different, and you know it. This place isn’t much bigger than a hut. If he gets a hold of you, and it would be easy in a place that size, you’re going to lose unless he’s some scrawny wimp, but I don’t think that’s the case considering how that bartender described him.”

“So now you believe in demons?” Katara asked sarcastically.

“No, that’s stupid, but I also know that people don’t abandon their homes just because a fortune teller calling himself a demon moves nearby.” Sokka countered.

“Look, we need a guide, and we’re going to need to have some money left over for the trip out of here. I’m a master waterbender, Sokka. I can fight for myself, but I also have two earthbenders, a firebender, and two capable warriors who will be more than willing to rush in and save the day if anything seems like it’s not going perfectly. Relax, okay? If you hear anything out of place or if I scream, I know you guys will have my back.”

Sokka let go of his sister, folding his arms over his chest. “Fine. Just be careful.”

The waterbender turned away from the group, taking a deep, steadying breath, and pushed through the door of the building. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. It had been dusk outside, but inside, it was more like night with candles lit around the room, casting deep, flickering shadows. There were skulls and clay masks adorning the walls, and various odds and ends of a questionable nature scattered along the shelves haphazardly. She noted that there were some strange dolls that didn’t look like they were meant for the enjoyment of children all around the place, too. A chill wound its way around her spine, but she took another step inside. “Hello?” She called through the room. “Is anyone here?”

"A cute one." Came the voice in a thick accent. And at that point Katara would realize he was sitting right in front of her, it was just that he had remained so eerily still that in the dim light she hadn't caught any movement that might indicate that he was actually alive. His back was towards her at this point, but there was a table in between them. Tactically that meant that she had a fair chance of being able to get away if he lunged at her. "Go on now; sit down, petit. Don' let ol' Yaomo scare you..." He said. Each one of his words was rich, elegant, the accent he spoke with seeming almost soothing the way that he spoke. There was a deepness to it, but it wasn't gravelly instead seeming to be sultry, almost mysterious. "Not very often we get a cute one in here, not wit' de sort of traffic I been seein' lately..." he murmured, half to himself, and changing the fact that he was no longer referring to himself in the third person, but also at the same time clearly talking about himself.

When Katara sat down and her eyes adjusted better to the dim light she would see the skulls of small animals staring down at her, each one of them seeming to stare completely at her in the seat that she was in. There were bottles of eerie fluid, mostly behind Katara. Several of them looked like they contained some form of blood in them. Others looked like they had roots, hair, feathers, a cornucopia of different animal parts that could be used for something. But what it was that the Demon actually used them for remained a mystery. Still, it would evoke a sensation of question about her own safety in this place. Was she really safe here with this demon, or would he try to trick her somehow? Clearly all of these animals once had been alive, but the real question was how it was that they died?

"Standard fee for fortune telling is two gold, Chére. Not a very high price to pay, but d'en, not too many people put much faith in their future round d'ese parts anyway, n'est-ce pas?" On the table she would see a small bowl that was clearly for putting her money in for the fee for his fortune telling, as well as a much larger bowl, the nature of which was completely uncertain. "Come now, sweet young t'ing like you though... don' seem like you got a lot to be scared about by destiny, non? Bettin’ Yaomo see all of de t'ings you been hopin’ for just around de corner..."

Katara jerked when she heard his voice, her heart hammering in her chest, and her fingers moved to the stoppers of her water skins. Her eyes peered around, trying to find the source until she suddenly realized from whence it came. How had she not seen him there before, right in front of her? He was so still that he hardly looked alive, more like a living statue of sorts. In the dim light, she could hardly even see the rise and fall of his back.

Despite the strangeness of this place and the fact that he hadn’t turned toward her, Katara found herself obeying his words, relaxing a little – but not completely – as she moved to take a seat on the pillow across the table from him. “How would you know I’m cute?” She asked coyly. “You haven’t even turned to look at me once.” She sat on her knees, finding it to be less comfortable but also a better position if she needed to quickly get to her feet. Her eyes moved around to the assortment of skulls that decorated the room, but even while she observed her surroundings, she always made sure she was aware of the man in front of her, Yaomo. As nice as his voice sounded, she couldn’t let it wash over her, couldn’t truly let her guard down. This man was too sketchy, this place too eerie.

However, as she took in his words, the idea of knowing her future was extremely tempting. What sorts of things did she have to look forward to? Then again, what if she didn’t have anything toward which to look with hope? What if he foretold her death, her Tribe’s destruction? The temptation suddenly waned. In a brighter world, she would have loved to know what sort of life she could live, but in this one, there was too much uncertainty, too much chance that she could die.

“Actually, you’re only partially right. I don’t fear my destiny, but I don’t want my fortune told, not with the world the way it is now. I’d like to learn what my future holds on my own terms. I was just hoping you could tell me where to find a good guide.”

"Yaomo knows." Was the only thing that he said in response to her quip about whether she was cute or not. Like everything else here there seemed to be almost something more to it, but what it meant, also like things in this place, seemed strange, mysterious, accessible only through a haze of fog that she couldn't quite seem to get out of her head or in front of her vision. When she mentioned that she was looking for a guide she would hear him snort very lightly at the idea of such a thing. Clearly, like Lu Ten's inquiries into the matter, there weren't many who actually came looking for a guide in these sorts of parts, and thusly she had revealed quite a bit of information about who she was and what she might be looking for. Rather than comment on it, however, the man in front of her simply remained still, that eerie stillness that made him seem almost like a living doll in the dim light there, that was until she caught his movement his arm raising as he gestured with two fingers towards the donation bowl. Clearly she wasn't getting out of this without paying something.

As the coins clinked down in the bowl, he tilted his head, and she would hear a soft chuckle. "Water Tribe. You a long way from home, Chére." He said with a chuckle, seeming to ponder the implications of what she was in the context of what it was that she wanted. Then slowly he reached over and grabbed a couple of things. With a swift motion he tossed something into the fire in front of him and the fire suddenly roared to life, changing from its normal shade to a deep purple shade that seemed to give the already eerie hut an even creepier atmosphere. Katara would be able to see the jars more clearly now, and note a particularly horrifying jar of eyes, half of which seemed to be looking at her from the top shelf of his odds and ends.

"No guide be silly enough to go with you without seein' your fate, Cherie, not even Yaomo." he commented then, and she looked at him she would see that what had been hidden in the shadows before was something surprisingly handsome. He was muscled to perfection, and not even the slightest bit more. There were plenty of brutes in the Earth Kingdom that were more muscular than he, to the point where they seemed walls of meat and little else. Every inch of the man in front of her though spoke to the fact that he was strong and yet lithe as well. Slowly he turned around to face her, scooting neatly, and she would see that his face was just as amazing as the rest of him. He had stubble that covered his features faintly, giving an air of ruggedness to him, but the rest of him looked decidedly full of youth and beauty.

This was the sort of man that painters would do artwork based off of, that women would swoon for on sight, the sort of man that other men might follow as their leader or want to be around. There was something about him that just oozed charisma, and yet Katara would notice then as she looked at his face again that his eyes were not open. Was he blind? Was that what a man like this was doing hidden away in a simple hut instead of out there in the world. Whatever the reason, Yaomo seemed a little more preoccupied by what he was doing at the moment, which was taking the bowl in front of him along with a bag of something that he opened and poured into his hand, shaking it around lightly.

"Bones..." he said as if to answer her unspoken question."Most people talk 'bout spirits as if d'ey have no bearing on de living. Others still seem to think that just prayin' to them helps you, like d'ey an old friend you can just borrow money from... or even d'at they're all good. D'ey would really shit d'emselves if they knew 'bout Koh..." Yaomo said, laughin' softly to himself at his own joke as he shook the bones in his hand again. "Bones... somet'in that survives even death. Serious energy in them, which is why people bury 'em. But d'ey forgot why... forgot the old reasons why they lock secrets away. D'at's the key to them... secrets, and hoodoo."

He threw the bones in the bowl, which rattled around and spun around the bowl, all coming neatly to rest right in front of Yaomo, who tilted his head as frown touched his features, his fingertips reaching out to touch them lightly, leading to the impression again that he was blind. "Now d'at can' be right..." Yaomo said, grabbed the bones again in his hand and cast them into the bowl in a different way, again, all of them spinning across the bowl and coming to rest in front of him. They seemed to have landed the same way, only in a slightly different assortment. But the way that they landed all seemed eerily, similar. Yaomo's scowl deepened at that moment.

"Bad news, Chére..." he said shaking his head, and then suddenly he opened his eyes.

Even in the darkness, those eyes were jarring enough to inspire a gasp from even the strongest willed soul. There were no whites to them at all. Instead where the whites should be there was nothing but a stark black, as dark as the night itself. And instead of any colored eyes that Katara had ever seen before, the irises themselves were the color of fresh blood, as if they happened to be bleeding. In the light they seemed almost to glow in front of her as he looked at her, seeming to stare right into the heart of her soul with those damned eyes as he looked at her.

"You be cursed."

This guy was more than a little creepy; that much was obvious to Katara. He was mysterious, but there was something threatening about him despite the fact that he had hardly moved at all since she’d arrived in his shop. Perhaps it was just because she was so on guard, and this shop itself seemed so… wrong. In the polar Water Tribes, they decorated with things like furs, and they made things from animal bones and such, but this was… different. There wasn’t the same elegance that the Polar Tribes exhibited; this was… rougher, rawer than that to which she was accustomed.

He seemed to remain still for a long time after she told him her intentions, and she braced herself for the time when he might turn and lunge at her. However, that didn’t happen. Instead, he gestured toward the payment bowl, and she sighed, digging into her pack for her coin purse. She didn’t remove it, not wanting him to know how much money she did or didn’t have. That would have been stupid, especially after hearing that this guy had a tendency toward overcharging. Instead, she grabbed a few coins that would be about the equivalent of two gold pieces and tossed them into the bowl. The Water Tribes didn’t have access to gold, instead choosing to make their currency from other metals, but there were apparently a lot of places that would still take it. Money is money... She’d once been told.

He moved again, and she had no clue what he was doing, but suddenly, the flames in the hearth that had been so small before flared angrily, and the colour changed to a deep purple that simultaneously brought the room into a clearer light and disfigured them with its strange hue so that she could hardly understand what she was seeing. Slowly, it seemed, her eyes began to adjust to the strange cast all around her, and she her heart beat a little faster.

It seemed as if a jar of eyes peered at her accusingly, but of what were they accusing her of doing? The empty sockets of fleshless skulls glared at her from all around. What would Sokka say in this situation? ’They’re not actually looking at you, Katara. He just set all of this up to make him seem scarier than he really is, so you’ll trust that he really is some mystical guy who can see the future or something. It’s just a gimmick.’ Yeah… He was probably right. That’s all this was. There was a perfectly reasonable explanation to all of this.

Then he spoke of reading her future, even if only for himself, and she nodded. What could she do? Her eyes moved over him in the distorted light, and she could see what she’d missed before. The man was extremely well muscled, and she could see that just through the black shirt he wore. If his muscles had been just a little bit larger, it would have been too much, but he seemed to walk that perfect line between well built and too built. Her odds of escaping if he managed to catch her if he attacked seemed slimmer and slimmer. Then again, she was smaller, she could likely move faster than someone with so much muscle. She could get away, or at the very least, she could get some kind of signal to her group if she couldn’t escape.

Then he turned, and her eyes widened. The man didn’t just have a body on him; he had a strong, well defined face to match. They definitely didn’t make them like this in the Water Tribes – at least not in the Polar ones. She wondered what the others would think of this man. It was probably a good thing that she was the only woman in the group. She wouldn’t have to worry about the guys getting sidetracked from their ultimate goal.

The only strange thing left was that his eyes remained closed. He seemed to know exactly where everything was even without sight. She wondered if he had some sort of ability like Toph Beifong. While she wasn’t one hundred percent certain about the girl, she knew that the woman knew where she was going and where things seemed to be placed, even without her vision to help her. It was almost like a psychic sense, but Sokka, of course, hadn’t believed a word of it.

Katara looked at him questioningly when he poured a bag of something into his hand. The items clicked together strangely as he shook them lightly, but it was too difficult to say what they were… until he told her. The waterbender believed in the spirits. She knew her patron spirits as the Moon and the Ocean, but she believed others existed, too. While she’d never met them, she felt they were always with her. However, she was also aware that they were not at her beck and call, that they were their own entities, far stronger and superior to herself, so she prayed to them for guidance and for strength, but she never asked them to change fate for her, no matter how badly she wished they could.

Then he explained the use of bones, and she felt confused. Once something was dead, it had no life to it, right? The Water Tribes sent their dead out to sea while the Earth Kingdom buried their loved ones, and the Fire Nation burned them on a pyre. Still, nothing that she’d ever heard had led her to believe that bones could contain any sort of energy. Having had people die in the middle of healing sessions, she could attest to the fact that once they were dead, there was no longer any energy to direct… or was there? Was it faint enough that she simply couldn’t access it? If she tried hard enough, maybe during a full moon, could she bring someone back to life by commanding her or his energy? No, that was ridiculous. Once a person’s spirit had left their body, there was no turning back. People could remain in comas, but there would be no awakening for them. She’d only heard of one spiritless person coming to life, and that was because the Moon had offered the Princess of the Northern Water Tribe some of its essence, some of its own spirit. Humans could not command such power, could they? Could Katara have saved Zuko if she’d known these things?

Her thoughts had taken a darker turn, and she shook her head, clearing them away. She couldn’t afford to think like that, not now, not ever. That was how she’d gotten involved in bloodbending, and that was a part of herself that she could never touch again. Yaomo tossed the bones into the bowl, swiveling them around before peering into its depths. “Now d’at can’t be right…” She leaned forward, looking into the bowl as if she could actually read what they had to say, but it was just a strange jumble to her. He shook the bowl again, and while they landed a little differently, the bones looked pretty much the same. Did her destiny really speak through a bunch of bones? Could it?

Katara looked up at his face, her brows cinched together as he spoke of bad news. Then he opened his eyes, and horror filled her. She jerked back a little in surprise, her breath catching in her throat. How could anyone’s eyes actually look like that? Perhaps his name truly was fitting. Was he from the Spirit World, simply pretending to be human? Why would any spirit do such a thing? What would Sokka say about this now? What could he say? No science of which she was aware could explain this.

Her heart beat even harder when he said she was cursed, but she composed herself, closed her eyes, and straightened her back. “What do you mean, cursed? I mean, a lot of bad stuff has happened in my life, but bad things happen to everyone. How am I cursed, and why of all of the people in the world would it be me? How does one even become cursed? Do you think I was born this way, or did someone happen to think, ‘I really don’t like that girl? How about I make her life miserable?’” She stared at him, at his strange, terrifying eyes, trying to understand, but even while she asked her questions, her voice shook a little. Could it be true? There really hadn’t been any evidence to suggest he was really a fortuneteller. Sokka would say that he was just trying to swindle Katara, that the man was a fraud. Still, looking into his gaze, she found herself wondering if maybe he wasn’t the real deal.

"Not as pretty as de rest of me, I know..." Yaomo said with a smile as she jerked back a bit. His smile was wonderful though, the sort of smile that put a woman at ease without any effort. Really if his eyes were any different he could have stolen anyone's heart without them realizing. As it was though, his eyes were jarring, yet at the same time they were almost hypnotic. So foreign seeming from usual, it was almost not hard to stare into the depths of them like looking into the night sky. He watched as the usual reaction happened to Katara, the look of shock followed by the slow acceptance in her mind that he was really there in front of her. Usually that was enough to inspire someone, especially a woman, to make a B-line for the door, when he gave them their fortune and revealed his eyes to them. The shame of it all really was that he wasn't actually lying to Katara when he told her what the bones said.

What he hadn't expected was a shotgun round of questions that was going to be directed in his general direction. Katara would see his eyebrows rise higher and higher with each round of questions that she fired at him, his soft lips parting to answer one before she asked him another one and another one. Yaomo wasn't actually sure at some points if she was talking to him more than she was to herself. Had her hands been on the table he would have touched her to try to offer her some comfort, but as it was her hands were close to her sides, and given her reaction to his eyes, it wasn't exactly the time to be reaching across the table to try to touch her more. She was like a spooked ostrich horse at this point; he would actually need to avoid sudden movements with her around. As she finally stopped asking him questions he took a look at the bones again.

"Born d'at way." he muttered lightly as he tilted his head and poked lightly at one of the bones, tipping it over as if to make sure that it actually could be tipped over and there wasn't something wrong with it. Given that even the bones were never 100% accurate, he had been shocked to watch them roll twice in the same way. He gave a sigh of relief when he saw that they could be in fact tipped over. With this one, he wasn't sure that they wouldn't stick to the bowl like glue at this point, given the bad aura she was giving off. "Bones talkin' 'bout lots of things... a destiny that you were robbed of... a new one carved for you. Powerful bloodlines..." he muttered to himself as he studied the formation of the bones. "Too much power. Power enough to change fate, change de world. Not meant for nobody, but it's d'ere in you, Chére..."

He frowned a little. "An’ of course you be wantin' one jus' like you... one who can change fate. Two of you came together and..." he shook his head sadly. "Hard to tell what that much power can do, like the swing of a sword, could change everyt'ing but... can also kill. You two came together, and one was lost." Yaomo sighed a little and rubbed his eyes. "Might be for the best, might not... no way of sayin'. Power itself ain't a bad t'ing, Cherie... but without control... like a strong punch without anything to guide it..." He said, noting the fact that she clearly was a water bender. That or the thirstiest woman that he had ever met in his entire life.

"Hard to say much more. Could ask ol' Wan Shi Tong, but d'at be like tryin' to fix a blemish on your face by cuttin' it off with a sword d'ere. Might work, but usually a bad idea..." He gave her his smile again. "There are t'ings you can do for it, but nothin' you can do to fix it. Heard a blessin' in Ba Sing Se once, 'may you live in uninterestin' times', that sorta t'ing ain't never gonna happen for you, Chére. Not for a long, long time. Maybe never. Hard to say. D'ere are things you can do, charms and whatnot." he said with a light shrug, and then took his bowl and emptied it out into her hands.

"Yaomo ain't in the business of givin' refunds, but I ain't usually in de business of givin' pretty ladies no bad news either..." He said softly. "You take care now..."

Katara’s face flushed in embarrassment. What was wrong with her? Just because a person had a physical characteristic that was nowhere near what was exactly normal, it didn’t mean they weren’t human, and it didn’t mean they should be treated differently. “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to react that way. I was just… surprised.” Still, this was quite a beautiful man. She’d never met anyone who looked quite on par with him, strange eyes or not. In fact, she didn’t know it was humanly possible to be born that attractive, so how could she not have imagined he must be a Spirit in human form?

She frowned as he described what the bones told him. Katara had been born cursed with too much power inside her, and she’d been robbed of a specific destiny, but a new one had taken its place. What did that mean? She was about to ask when he began talking about her love life, that she would want someone with as much power inside him as she had in hers. Then he said that they had come together already, and her eyes widened. Her lips parted to ask who, but then he said that one had been lost, and the blow was like a battering ram to her gut, and she felt tears start to well in her eyes. The pain was so intense, as if a year hadn’t passed, as if she had only lost him an hour ago. Zuko…

The waterbender could understand his noting her strong bloodlines. After all, her great-grandmother had been the Avatar, and her father had come from a long line of Chieftains, but what about Zuko? Yaomo said that she’d want one like her. Did his royal Fire Nation bloodlines mean that he had just as much power? Maybe. After all, not every Avatar had had children as far as people were aware, but the last few Fire Lords had been ruthless and powerful. They simply happened to use their power for misdeeds while Zuko had used his for good. He’d rightfully beaten her in a sparring match even while showing restraint so as not to actually burn her. Perhaps he had been even more powerful than she had been, but she would never truly know because he was dead, and it had been her fault because she was cursed, because she hadn’t done everything in her power to stop him.

Katara took a shaky breath and closed her eyes, willing away her unshed tears. She couldn’t dwell so heavily on the past, not now, not when she had a mission to accomplish. Her fingertips brushed the pendent at her throat, and she began to calm. “I don’t know who Wan Shi Tong is, but I already have the only charm I’ll ever need.” She said softly, opening her sapphire eyes and looking hard at him, examining his face. “I don’t feel as powerful as your bones claim, but as long as I’m alive, I will do good deeds with what power I do possess.” Like Zuko did…

She watched as he grabbed his coin bowl, but she was surprised when he leaned over the table and dumped her money back into her hands. Her eyes questioned him, perplexed – especially because of what she’d heard from the bartender about Yaomo’s tendency to overcharge. Then he explained, and her head bowed. He wasn’t really a bad guy, she supposed. He could have charged her extra for divulging so much information, but instead, he was returning her coins. That sent another chill over her spine despite the heat the fire offered. No fortuneteller who was lying to her about her fate would refund her money.

Then he… dismissed her. “Wait, what!” Her hands slammed into the table. “Are you kidding me? I didn’t even want to know my fortune, but you insisted on knowing in order to guide us through the Swamp! Now, you won’t take us? Come on.” She growled. “Maybe I am cursed, but there are five other people in my party who aren’t, so maybe it cancels out my doomed future. An entire civilization is counting on my succeeding in what I came to do, and if you’re too afraid to do it, then at least direct me to someone who can. Please?” She reached her hand across the table to grip the back of his. “I have to do this, but I can’t do it without someone who knows the way.”

"Only t'ing waiting for you in de swamp is death, Chére." He said, looking down at her hand, and placed his other one on top of it. It was surprisingly soft to the touch, given how often he probably needed to stress his body in order to maintain the physique that he did. He let his fingertips linger there briefly, caressing them across the top of her hand as he smiled at her lightly. "Not many t'ings in this world d'at Yaomo care about, but it be somet'in of a shame to see someone so beautiful run off to her death like that, non?" He said, looking at her. It was, of course, one way to take care of the destiny that she had been given, he supposed, but certainly not the one that he would choose. His crimson eyes stared into her own, searching them faintly. He could see it in there, strong resolution, the power to cut through the fog of inaction that might plague others. It was truly a frightening power to behold there, so strong a will. Suddenly he found himself wondering about voodoo. He had never practiced it on one who was so strong before... what would it do to her?

No, he couldn't actually think that way. Voodoo was a terrible thing to do to a lady, especially a pretty one. Yaomo wasn't that sort of man, thankfully. Though he did have to wonder what might happen. He could see the resolution in her eyes and he pulled away from her then, standing up to look into the fire behind them, the eerie purple flames that were sparking there. "Let me put it another way... Yaomo lead in plenty of de fire nation troops before... d'ey pay well enough, but ain't exactly the sort you feel bad about when somet'in happens, y'know? None of d'em come out. Not one." Yaomo glanced over his shoulder at her. "You got a strong destiny, Chére, but even wit' de destiny you got, Yaomo wouldn't be wanting' to go into the swamp with it. No tellin' what happen there. Normal people have strange things happen to them in the swamp... you... I don' even want to think 'bout it."

"No..." Yaomo reiterated. Motioning to the door. "Go on now... for I change my mind 'bout d'at fortune tellin' discount I gave you..."

At first, she thought he meant he’d seen her death in the bones, but as she looked into his strange eyes as he caressed the back of her hand, she wasn’t so sure. Then he pulled away, and she released a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. The atmosphere of this room was making her heady, and as he turned away from her, toward the fire, she shook her head to clear it.

He explained to her why he wouldn’t take her into the Swamp, and she closed her eyes tightly against his words. It didn’t matter that the Fire Nation hadn’t come back out. They were evil bastards who had no regard for life – human or otherwise. Why shouldn’t they have died in there? Katara was just trying to save her people, and she respected life. Those with her were also on the side of good; they would be fine, too. Why wouldn’t he just go with them? He was acting like it was because of her, because of what she was, who she was.

Maybe that was the key to all of this. Katara tossed the coins onto the table at his threat to recollect his fee. “I don’t care about the money. I care about getting into the Swamp, about saving the Northern Tribe from a similar fate as my first home.” She stood and moved around the table to his side, placing her hand against his arm. She hadn’t realized he’d be so tall. Jet was probably the tallest person she knew, and this guy was at least a couple of inches taller than the hook-sword wielder. His arm was also a lot stronger than she’d imagined. Maybe being this close to him wasn’t such a great idea?

If he gets a hold of you… …you’re going to lose… Sokka’s voice echoed through her brain, but it was too late to back out now. She needed his help, and she would get it. “Please, Yaomo. We need your help. I need your help. I can’t lose the only home I have left.” Her eyes were on his, pleading with him, the sadness and desperation in them clear. She slid her hand up his bicep to his broad shoulder, squeezing it gently. Holy crap this man was built. “You have no idea how grateful I would be if you would guide me.” This was dirty, even for her, but she didn’t let it show on her face. She needed his help, and he obviously wasn’t responding to her strength, so maybe he’d respond to her weakness. The bartender had recommended she butter him up a little bit, right? Maybe there was some logic to this method, as uncomfortable as it made her. From what she’d seen of him this far, he didn’t want women to be harmed, so why would he do it now? It wouldn’t make sense, so she played on this idea, hoping she wasn’t wrong.

Yaomo looked less comfortable the more that she talked. He wasn't ignorant to the goings on of the world around him; he was just agnostic to them. Had he not been, Wan Shi Tong probably would never have let him leave the library. It wasn't that he didn't think that the Fire Nation was a bunch of bastards, because he truly did, but on the other hand, they were the ones with the power, too. He'd been to Ba Sing Se; he'd seen what the Dai Li did to its people. He'd sat at campfires with the Fire Nation troops and listened to them talk about their wives and kids back home. He'd heard tales of women who had run away from the Water Tribes because of the way that they were treated there. Was the Fire Nation a force for good? No... but there wasn't a lot of telling what might happen if the war turned around and suddenly the Earth Kingdom or the Water Tribes had a sudden influx of populace. It was easy to be the good one when you weren't the one with the power to be truly evil.

But saving a people... that was another matter altogether. This girl was clearly scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to finding hope in some place, especially if she thought going in to the swamp would somehow help her people. She was probably keen on asking the waterbenders there for help. A fat lot of good that would do her. Yaomo hadn't ever heard of them leaving the swamp for anything. Had he not done it himself, he might have thought that their whole bloodline couldn't actually leave that accursed place. Then again, who was he to talk about leaving, when even after traveling the world he had still somehow been drawn back to this place? Spirits, Hoodoo... there was something about this place that was undeniably home, as much as he hated to admit it.

Yaomo watched the look of surprise on her face as she squeezed his bicep and it barely gave way at all for her touch, his eyebrows rising in slight amusement. Especially as she told him that he had no idea how grateful she would be if he guided her. A wry smirk touched his lips at that, and he chuckled at her. "Non, petit; Yaomo knows exactly how grateful you gonna be. Not exactly as much as I want it either..." he said, shaking his head at her. This girl was going to be a world of trouble; he could tell already. "Two hundred gold pieces is the standard fare. I take you to the edge of the lands owned by 'the Others' and no farther. D'ey don't exactly care much for Yaomo, and the feelin’ is somewhat mutual. Here's for hopin’ you fare better..." Yaomo said with a sigh.

As Katara started to turn around, excited, he paused. "And... I want a kiss. Jus' one is all, and your friends outside don' gotta know, Chére. Take it or leave it."

Katara’s cheeks turned rosy when he mentioned that he knew she’d be grateful but not quite as grateful as he’d want. Crap… So he saw right through her, but at least he wouldn’t be going into this expecting her to sleep with him for his help. That would have been an awkward conversation once he’d completed his end of the bargain.

Katara’s face broke into a smile when he spoke his terms. Two hundred gold pieces shouldn’t be that hard, right? She didn’t have all of it, but she could pay most of it, and hopefully she could borrow the rest from Lu Ten. She’d pay back every cent to him, but this was going to work! The Others must be the Foggy Swamp Tribe! Even if they didn’t quite get along, his getting them most of the way there was all they really needed. As long as he could point them in the right direction for the rest of the way, there wasn’t a problem. The waterbender would somehow convince the Others that she and her group weren’t their foes, that they were allies, and they would get the Tribe’s help!

“Thank you so much! This is fantastic!” She turned around to go tell her group, but his words stopped her dead in her tracks. Her smile faded. A kiss? Her heart hammered in her chest. That was more than she’d entered this hut to do. Using feminine wiles and maybe touching his arm was one thing, but a kiss was… too intimate. Sure, she’d used a kiss in the past to get what she’d wanted, to win, but that was different. She wasn’t sure anymore that it had just been to win a sparring match. Zuko had been the last one she’d kissed, and that had been a year ago. Now, he was dead because of her. Who was to say that her curse couldn’t rub off on someone else? What if it had been her curse that had gotten him killed?

No. Yaomo seemed too keen to kiss her to think that her curse would affect him. He seemed knowledgeable about this sort of thing, but he also seemed like a survivor, someone that wouldn’t put his own life on the line for something as silly as a kiss. She was determined to get into this Swamp, and she couldn’t let something like this deter her. If he wanted two hundred gold pieces and a kiss, then he would get both. As he’d said, she could take it, or she could leave it, and if she wanted to save her people, she would take it.

“Okay, but we’re not telling them.” Katara said. They would never let her live it down if they found out, especially not after the fact that she’d kissed both Zuko and Jet last year during their travels together. She took a breath to steady the shaking in her hands as her heart pounded out of control in her chest. She turned toward him. It was only a kiss. It wasn’t like she was fighting for her life. If she could be a waterbending master, she could give a man a simple kiss. Something told her he wasn’t going to be satisfied with a quick shot to the cheek, but maybe a simple peck on the lips would be sufficient. She took a step toward him, closer than she exactly wanted to be at this point, especially not with how her hands were shaking.

Katara leaned closer. Any second now, their lips would meet. Yep… There she went… She could do this, right? She hesitated. What if they kissed, and he decided she’d been so terrible that he no longer wanted to be their guide and she couldn’t save her people? Her heart beat even faster, adrenaline swarming through her veins as buzzard wasps stung her insides. She had only kissed three guys before him, and two of them had only been a one-time occurrence. She wasn’t exactly the most skilled, and for a guy who looked like he did – regardless of how strange his eyes were – she was certain he had to get a lot of practice. What if-

Yaomo’s lips captured hers before she could start to move back, away from him. His lips were soft as they moved against hers, and she felt his hand on her cheek, caressing her skin. Thoughts swept away from her mind at his touch. His skin was warm, but it wasn’t hot, it didn’t sear into her flesh as she returned the kiss despite her earlier worries, and the buzzard wasps turned to sooty copper fritillaries. When he finally pulled away, she realized she’d forgotten to breath, and as she sucked air into her lungs, her cheeks turned crimson as reality hit her hard along with a massive amount of guilt. Her eyes flickered to his face, detecting a hint of an amused smirk before she looked away from him. “Um… So… You should probably meet the others.” She said nervously. “We’ll get you your gold, and then we can prepare to leave.” She took a few stabilizing breaths, willing her heart to calm its erratic beating as she turned away from him and headed toward the door.

Kathryn Lacey
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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Mon Jul 09, 2012 10:06 pm

"Do you think we should go in there and get her?" Jet growled a little, clearly antsy and looking for some action. Lu Ten did his best not to sigh. It seemed that every minute on the dot Jet would ask the question, as if he were counting the seconds in his head or something. True, Katara was in there longer than Lu Ten had expected her to be as well, but that didn't actually mean anything. Maybe they were talking, maybe she was pleading her case. It would be hard to have her really get attacked without some form of struggle being heard. Unless of course he somehow killed her instantly, but even then they would hear something, the body hitting the ground, her screaming out something... they would at least hear... something. The fact that they didn't meant that she was probably alive. Lu Ten planned on giving her a few more minutes before he ran in the place and kicked the door down, but from the look in Jet's eyes it was clear that if Lu Ten had shouted 'go' to the man that he would have charged the door.

Just as Lu Ten noticed Jet about to ask AGAIN, the door swung open, and Katara came out. Was she blushing? Lu Ten felt himself frown a little as he saw what looked to be a guilty face as she blushed like that. Had she somehow misunderstood Lu Ten's intentions when it came to what she needed to do in there? Yeah, he'd expected that she might flirt with the guy... but had something else happened in there? In some ways he still thought that Katara belonged to Zuko, and he could feel the heat of his body temperature rising at the idea that some sleazeball would actually try to do something with his sister in law. Well, whoever it was that was going to come through that door was sure to get a piece of Lu Ten's mind when he came out. Lu Ten wasn't sure what went on in there, but if this guy just thought that he was the sort of guy who coul-....

"Whew, night breeze be feelin' better than Yaomo thought..." the man said as he walked out and in a swift motion with one hand peeled off his shirt to reveal ab muscles that looked like they had been chiseled in place there by an Earth Bending artist. Lu Ten blinked a little at the seemingly flawless figure the man revealed in the fading light, which looked as if it was devoid not only of any scars but of any blemishes whatsoever. His eyes flittered to Katara who looked to be blushing even deeper now that the man had taken off his shirt. Well, he hadn't had it on before so nothing probably happened, though Lu Ten was a lot less worried about this man having forced himself on Katara given the way that he looked. He probably didn't have to force himself on damned near any woman within a hundred miles of here at least.

"Oh... shit..." Lu Ten heard Gui or Shen say, he wasn't sure which because he was actually still looking at the newcomer. It was sort of like some twisted disaster that he couldn't look away from, though Lu Ten was fairly certain that most people wouldn't actually consider the man in front of them a disaster in any sense of the word. Well, unless of course you were somehow trying to look attractive while standing next to the man. Something told Lu Ten that any parties that this guy was invited to, he wasn't invited by other guys, at least not willingly. Lu Ten's eyes glanced to Jet who was looking particularly sour as he looked at the man who was standing next to Katara.

"Are you OK, Katara?" Jet said, drawing his hook swords as if he expected some sort of fight. Lu Ten clenched the muscles in his jaw, expecting the man in front of them to take offense at it, but instead the man just smiled broadly, as if Jet's action wasn't even really worth noticing at all. Lu Ten listened as Katara affirmed the fact that she was alright, and watched as Jet reluctantly sheathed his swords again, looking even more sour than he had a moment ago if such a thing were possible. The new guy, however, looked positively bemused by it.

"Those look a little light..." Yaomo said, motioning to Jet's swords. Jet's face practically turned red at the comment.

"And what exactly do you use?" Jet shot back crossly. Lu Ten was half expecting the man to flex his impressive biceps at Jet in response, but instead he stepped in his cabin again and came out with a long looking staff that was nearly as tall as he was. Lu Ten wasn't familiar with the wood, but it had been finished several times and still had dents and dings out of it from use. Jet looked less than impressed by it. "Pffft. Staffs. Where I come from those are what little kids train with before they get real weapons."

"Care to show Yaomo how it's done?" the red eyed man said as he tossed his staff at Jet. When Jet caught it with his hands his eyes widened in shock and he pitched forward, stumbling a few feet and nearly falling flat on his face as he made a face as he lifted the staff back up to chest height. Yaomo smiled at him. "Steel core inside... might be a little heavy for you after all..." He said, Jet's scowl getting even darker as the shirtless man claimed his weapon from the fighter who was now glaring daggers at the man's back.

"Yaomo." the newcomer introduced himself to Lu Ten, who shook his hand lightly. "I'll let de lady fill you in on de terms. We leave at first light." the man said, and then turned back to Katara, approaching her and getting uncomfortably close for probably everyone but Yaomo. "You have a good night now, Chere." he said with a smile his hand coming up as if he might touch Kataras cheek, but at the last moment he raised it up further to run through his flawless looking hair. Damn, maybe Lu Ten would have to ask him what the hell he put in it...

"Why can't we just leave now?" Jet said, clearly wanting to win some sort of argument with this man.

Yaomo only chuckled as he headed back inside of his hut. "You spend a night in de inn, d'en you see."

Eight... long... terrible hours later, Lu Ten tried to suppress a yawn as he stood outside Yaomo's house with the others there. He could see similar looks on everyone else's faces as they got up that morning. It was a bit hard to sleep, after all, when you heard blood curdling screams coming from the woods throughout the night. Lu Ten had thought to wake someone up to see what was going on, but there hadn't been another soul awake when he'd gone looking, only the darkness permeating the woods from which the horrific screams emanated. They were perhaps the most unnerving thing that Lu Ten had ever heard in his entire life. Mainly because of the inconsistency of them. Whenever he thought that he might drift off another scream came, and silence for a bit, then another terrible scream. Sometimes they would occur in a chorus one after the other as if a slew of people were being tortured in a chorus.

Yaomo came out looking both like he just woke up, and at the same time like he had stepped right out of a woman's fantasy all at the same time. Lu Ten reflected it was probably for the best that there were hardly any women around in the open, or else he might have been forced to hear giddy screams like he had when a pack of schoolgirls had caught Zuko practicing outside of a small town once. Then again, with the way Yaomo looked Lu Ten couldn't imagine that he hadn't already been with whomever he wanted to be with already. Today though the man was dressed in a long light looking brown coat that stretched almost to his ankles and made him look even taller and more imposing. Beneath he wore a similar tight dark shirt to the one he had yesterday along with a pair of matching pants. What was noticeable was how high his boots were.

"Planning on going hiking in the mountains?" Jet grumbled between yawns.

"Non, just not a big fan of swamp water in de boots." Yaomo said back as he grinned at Jet, who growled and crossed his arms. With his bo staff strapped to his back Yaomo lead them into the swamp, his voice taking a less amused tone as he spoke to them in the swamp. "Rule one of bein in de Foggy Swamp. No fires, no cutting down trees or hurtin de plants. Spirits don't like it very much. Ondin like it even less..." Yaomo said.

"What's an Ondin?" Lu Ten found himself asking.

Yaomo chuckled. "Two types of people in de swamp. Nomads n' Ondin. Chere mentioned you be lookin for help. You might get it from some Nomads, but d'ey ain't exactly easy to find, and not organized. You maybe get one or two to help you, but if you're lookin for real help, Ondin be de only ones organized enough to provide it, not d'at I'm encouragin de idea..."

Jet snorted. "Oh yeah? And what's rule two of the swamp, tough guy?"

Yaomo chuckled back at him. "Avoid de Ondin. Once we get in d'ere territory, you on your own. They know me an' don't fancy me much."

"Gee, I wonder why." Jet growled.

Yaomo seemed to ignore the insult as he brushed aside some vines, showing them how to step through them without breaking them. "Rule three... you see somethin in de swamp you keep moving how you were movin before. Swamp show you t'ings, and not all d'em good. Powerful spirits live here, don' much like people stayin here for too long. Ondin know how to accept the visions without dyin, most other people don't."

Lu Ten paused as Yaomo started to go on, watching as a cute looking little white bird landed in front of him, and he smiled lightly as he approached it. "Hey here little fella... I gotta admit you're kinda not what I expected to be in the swamp." Lu Ten got close enough that he could reach out and stroke the bird's plumage if he wanted. Lu Ten leaned in slowly till he was at eye level with the bird and smiled. "How's a pretty little bird like you decide to live in a place like thi-"

The gut wrenching horrific scream that the bird unleashed blew Lu Ten's hair back and caused him to jump back and fall on his ass as the bird fluttered off. Lu Ten could feel the bumps on his skin from heel to toe. So much for sleeping any time soon, even if he was sleepy. At least it managed to explain what the fuck he'd been hearing last night.

As the others turned to have a good chuckle at Lu Ten's expense, the water bender would feel it. There was no describing what it really was. It felt like a pull, like something that was tugging at the edges of her soul, tempting her to follow it's call. There was something there in the darkness, something that was calling to her. She would see the branches to the side of the group almost seem to slowly open for her as a way through, beckoning her to come follow the sensation. There was a dark truth to learn beyond those branches, but she would only have a moment to decide if she could live without the knowledge of it...

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:00 am

Katara felt the blast of cool air touch her face as she opened the door, her limbs still feeling a little shaky, but she was steadily calming them and her erratic heartbeat. Still, she couldn’t get that damnable flush from her cheeks, feeling the heat of them more clearly as the air passed over them. It had been stifling in that house.

She felt Yaomo step up behind her, and she moved out of the doorway, her head turning toward him just in time to see him pull off his shirt. Her face flushed even hotter at the sight of his washboard abdominal muscles and that well defined chest plate of his. Katara was suddenly reminded of a year ago, when she’d been preparing for a friendly sparring match, and he’d removed his shirt. Zuko had been really well built with well defined muscles, too, but he hadn’t been quite this chiseled. Even so, the waterbender turned her head away, guilt taking over her entire being for one second of suffocating pain before it passed enough that she could breathe again.

It had been a part of the deal. She’d had to kiss Yaomo if she wanted him to guide them through the Foggy Swamp. They couldn’t just dive into those trees head first and hope for the best, so this man was their only hope. Still, she hadn’t had to enjoy the kiss so much. She hadn’t enjoyed it much more than being able to appreciate Jet’s skills when he’d kissed her, so why hadn’t she been able to give a detached regard for Yaomo’s skills? Katara knew that Zuko was dead and that it was stupid of her to feel guilty, like she had somehow betrayed his trust when she’d kissed Yaomo, but some part of her still felt like it wasn’t over, like they were just about to start something amazing together. He was gone, and even though she knew it, a part of her had a hard time fully accepting it; a part of her just couldn’t move on from it, so when she and Yaomo had kissed, and she’d actually… liked it, it had filled her with a sense of guilt that was nearly overwhelming. However, she choked it down, and she could feel the heat in her face cooling.

“This is Lu Ten, Sokka, Jet, Gui, and Shen.” She said to Yaomo, motioning toward each person as she said his name.

Katara’s eyes moved to Jet as his question about her health she looked at him. His hook swords were out, and he’d taken a fighting stance. “Yes. I’m fine, Jet. Why wouldn’t I be? It’s like I told Sokka. I can handle myself.” He seemed to relax a little, and he put his swords away, but he looked really unhappy, and she couldn’t imagine that he’d have been so worried about her that seeing her there, standing in perfectly good health, that it would still affect him so negatively.

When Yaomo told Jet that his swords looked a little light, Katara’s eyes widened, and understanding hit her with Jet’s reply. Maybe Jet wasn’t upset that she may have been hurt. He was upset because this guy was ten million times better looking than him. Were they really going to have a pissing contest, right now, right here? She rolled her eyes when Yaomo asked if Jet wanted to show him how to use his own weapon. Were they serious? They weren’t exactly being subtle about their macho competition.

Then he tossed the staff to Jet with so much ease that the thinner man’s reaction completely caught her off guard. As he fell forward, she instinctively took a step forward, as if she could really catch him, but she realized that wouldn’t be possible and stopped. Maybe he deserved this a little though she had to admit she felt bad for him. He didn’t actually fall, anyway. He’d managed to catch himself after a couple of stumbles.

As he told them that they would leave at first light and turned toward Katara, her heart began hammering away again. It was fine when his attention had been focused on other things or other people, but now his haunting eyes had moved toward her, getting so close she could practically feel the warmth of his body as he towered over her. She felt the heat rise to her cheeks again as his hand lifted, as if he would touch her. Part of her almost wanted him to do just that, but another part of her screamed its guilt so loudly at her that she almost took a step away from him. However, he didn’t touch her, instead running his fingers through his perfect brown hair. She exhaled slowly, relief flooding her as he told her to have a good night. “You, too.” She said softly as he went back inside.

Katara rejoined her group, and they began walking back toward the main part of the town. “How did you get him to guide us?” Sokka asked, eyeing his sister suspiciously.

“I promised him two hundred gold.” She lied smoothly. Now that he was gone, it was a lot easier to keep her face its natural tan without the scarlet searing her cheeks.

“That’s a lot of money.” Gui observed.

“Yeah, well, his price was higher, but we negotiated.” She responded, not even batting an eyelash. It probably helped that this was sort of true, just not in the way she was implying it to her friends.

Sokka shrugged, seeming to accept this at face value. “All right. As long as he didn’t try to get you out of your pants or something, I’ll take it.”

“Yeah right. Like I’d just jump out of my clothes because he’s hot.” Katara rolled her eyes. The others looked at her accusingly. Katara glared at Shen when he gave her the look that screamed, ‘you’re a man eater.’ It was one she recalled from a year ago when they’d been in Ba Sing Se. “Okay, right, like you guys can pretend that he wasn’t a good looking guy. It doesn’t mean I’m going to try to do anything with him or let him try anything with me. I’m not here to find a mate. I’m here to find the Swamp Tribe and get help for our mission.” She sighed when they continued to stare at her silently, accusingly, and she felt her guilt fill her again. It was just one kiss. Nothing would come of it, and she would just focus on her mission.

That night had been awful, and it had made her unhappy about the fact that they’d be traveling into the Swamp the next day. The screams of who knew what kept her awake all night. All in all, she probably didn’t even sleep one third of the night. How could she when it sounded like people were being tortured at random the entire time? What if people really were being tortured in there? What if those were the screams of the Fire Nation soldiers about whom Yaomo had spoken to her when he’d tried to discourage her from entering it? Chills rode up her arms when she was coherent enough to think about the implications of those wails. How could anyone live in a town so close to such a forsaken place?

A while later, she found herself with her group, yawning as she tried to will energy into her body. When Yaomo emerged from his home, Katara felt extremely jealous that he looked so well rested, but simultaneously, she felt a little warmer at having seen him looking so… attractive. Stop it, Katara… She chastised herself and looked away from him. Then he was leading them into its depths. As they stepped over the threshold that separated the swamp from the rest of the world, the waterbender felt a sense of unease fill her. Her head lifted toward Yaomo as he described the two tribes of the Foggy Swamp. She hadn’t realized that there would be more than one, and that they wouldn’t just stick to one place collectively the way the Polar Tribes did. Jet, as usually, was acting prissily toward the man.

“Really, Jet?” She hissed at him. “Are you trying to get him to just abandon us in here? Stop being an ass. I don’t exactly want to get lost and subsequently die as a result of your rudeness. You can continue your little man-challenge once we’re clear of this place.” He glared at her for a moment before his face softened, as if he realized who he was seeing for the first time.

The group paused for a moment while Yaomo began to explain something to them, but Katara found it suddenly difficult to listen to anyone. Something was… different… Maybe she was just tired, but she suddenly felt as if she was being filled to the brim with a yearning sensation, one that beckoned her. It seemed to pull at her, to beg her to come to it, but what was it? It seemed to fill her with water, consuming her, and transforming her into liquid that would run its course along a river path. She could feel herself moving, but that didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was that she go toward whatever called her, flow freely with the invitation to follow, the tugging at her soul that said she should go, move toward it. Nothing else was of any consequence at that moment.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Tue Jul 10, 2012 1:10 am

The forest seemed eager to open up for her, the branches seeming to part on their own as she stepped, drawing her forward, pulling her deeper inside of it's folds. She could feel herself slip away, but none of it really mattered in this place. There was no time here, there was no pain here, there was no death here. There was only the soft beating of her heart inside of her chest and the unending belief that everything would be alright. And yet at the same time, she could feel the edge, the sensation that she needed to let herself follow deeper into the heart of darkness. It was already dark in the swamp where she had been, but with each step, she could feel it getting darker around her, pulling her into the shadows with each step that she took. Footfalls echoed along into endless time and space as she moved deeper into the seemingly endless trail.

As she pressed deeper she would hear the soft hum of crickets throughout the woods around her, the multitude of them like a gentle thrum, a pulse to this place. Around her to the left and right she would see flowers that grew nearby, iridescent and breathtakingly beautiful. The glow of their petals seemed to light up this dark place like stars, large stars that you could reach out and touch if you wanted to, glowing around her in a dizzying fashion. She would feel herself spinning slowly, looking around at them as the sound of laughter echoed in her ears... her own laughter seeming to reverberate oddly in this place. There wasn't any reason to have a moment of pain or doubt here. She could just rest here forever if she wanted to. Yes, there was no cause to be alarmed at all in this space where she was, it would be so easy to rest...

Yet somewhere out there, below the deep thrum of the crickets she would hear something nagging at her attention, a voice that was calling to her. The flowers around her seemed to brighten slowly along with the hum of the insects here. It was so hard to look away from them and pay attention to the voice that was calling out her name somewhere. That voice didn't matter though, it was trying to pull her away from this place, trying to pull her away from the place that she could finally be rid of all of the weight that was on her shoulders.

It was strange to think about it, how much guilt she carried with her, the burden that was placed upon her. Only now, when none of it mattered could she truly appreciate how bad she had been made to feel by the world, how awful it had been to be forced to get up each day, to smile for her brother who only seemed to care about banging some princess that he could never truly have. How horrific it had been to have to be judged by a people that were too stupid to realize the things that she had gone through, who would never accept her. It had all been so pointless, so dragging. But here there was none of that weight, none of that doubt. Sokka would be happy on his own somewhere, she was sure of it. He might even wind up with Yue somehow, drawn to him by the fact that he had lost a sister here.

The water tribe would mourn her loss, but it really was the answer to their problems as well. They would be rallied by the fact that they had lost their own, the would defend their homeland, unify with the rebel forces and work to take back the Fire Nation capitol. Once again, balance would be restored to the land, all of her friends would be happy once again. Ursa and Iroh would be able to go back home. There would be nothing but happiness and joy if she remained lost here, stranded here for all time. And of course, the happiest of all would be her, never having to face that weight of existence, never having to face that pain of being torn from this place.

But still, there was something that was calling her, and it was getting louder, it was trying to pull her away from all of this. She would hear a soft hiss near her ear and watch as blue scales like the purest ocean flowed across her vision, twisting and undulating as the dragon made it's way across her sight, swinging down around her legs, circling them before it came up to shoulder height, whispering in her ear slowly as it spoke to her without moving it's lips, the sound of it sweet in her ear, so very tempting, so very easy to follow.

"Do not listen to the other voice, Katara... I can show you the way to happiness... come with me..." The dragon whispered to her, spinning past her, untangling from her as it flowed in front of her, bobbing side to side, up and down in her vision, always seeming to be in her vision. She would feel herself begin to run after it, wanting to catch it, knowing that if she could touch it again she would be happy. No matter how fast she ran she would still see it seeming to pull away from her, her top speed couldn't make her catch it. She could feel her heart slamming into her chest as her breath seemed to be hard to get at this point, but it didn't matter, all that mattered was to follow the blue dragon, to let it carry her into the deep heart of this forest where she could finally, for once be free.

Ahead of her the dragon turned to look at her, the end in sight. "Run Katara... do not let anything stop you..." the dragon growled out softly, it's eyes seeming to beckon her to move faster, to not let anything stop her in this world. She would feel her eyes close as she started to run faster, push herself harder and harder. Just a few more steps and she would finally be free.

Something wrapped around her waist and stopped her momentum. It's voice, detached from the world she was in yelled at her. She would hear it growl as she fought it, trying to get towards the dragon, trying to get towards happiness. Slowly as she struggled it pushed her back a little and slipped itself between her and the dragon, her firsts slamming down against hardened muscles wrapped in soft cloth as it stood between her, an unrelenting wall of meat and flesh that somehow pushed itself between her and her goal no matter how she twisted or turned.

"NON! LOOK AT ME CHERE!" The words snapped her out of everything, and Yaomo stood there in front of her, his guard up in case she decided to try to hit him again, which it was clear that she had been doing. His crimson eyes narrowed lightly at her, seeming to judge her as if to try to see if she was back in her right mind once again. She would see that for the first time Yaomo actually looked winded by something, his brow was beaded with sweat. Annoyingly though, the exertion that he had put in seemed to only make him more attractive as he looked behind himself, and shook his head lightly. "Yaomo tell you d'is be dangerous, Chere... Yaomo tell you d'at you have a dangerous aura 'bout you... d'at you can't listen to de swamp... Good spirits here, BAD spirits here... but all d'em powerful, Katara. All d'em real powerful..."

Yaomo stepped to the side, and grabbed a rock, pointing to the ground in front of her. It looked like a small patch of desert right there before her, seemingly harmless. But when Yaomo tossed the rock what looked to be harmless sand rippled, like a lake, and the stone sunk into it as if it were free falling, the ripples seeming to clear much faster than normal water as the rock was gone in an eye-blink. Yaomo sighed. "Quicksand, Chere. Not de sorta stuff that you want to be takin a dip in. Few more steps and Yaomo might not of been able to save you..." he gave her a light grin as he stared out into the darkness. "Bad part of de swamp, shoulda known you be wandering into it like a moth to flame..."

He started to say something else, but his words seemed to fade out then as she saw something across the pit of quicksand. A figure slowly emerged from the shadows, stepping slowly, precisely along the path that she could not get to. His back to her as he walked away from her, she would see his long coat in a shade of pitch black flow outward. Beneath the bottom of it she would see fine polished black leather boots that had been well worn. His black outfit matched almost flawlessly his dark hair, which hung down around his shoulders lightly. As she watched him she would watch him pause in midstep, then slowly pull his foot back as he seemed to be listening for something, almost sensing her.

In a fluid motion his head snapped to the side. An all too familiar golden eye seemed to bore into her in a way that it never had. There was ice in it, cold malevolence that filled her with dread, and yet at the same time she would have to fight the feeling of recognition as Zuko stared at her, the unmarred part of his face the only thing she could see. The blue dragon slid from the corner of her vision then, looping around his feet to slowly wind around him possessively. He touched it lightly, caressing it as an afterthought, but his eye was on her, staring into her own.

Yaomo's hand roughly shook her. She would see concern in his face, outright fear as he looked behind himself. There was nothing there, no Zuko, no dragon. They both were gone without a trace or a sound, too fast to have been real. "We goin now... Yaomo goin have to carry you, or you actually goin' to listen d'is time?"

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Tue Jul 10, 2012 1:12 pm

Sokka laughed voraciously as that tiny little bird screamed murder into Lu Ten’s face. He even slapped his knee, and the others laughed merrily around him. Wiping tears of glee from his eyes, the Water Tribe warrior looked around, a frown suddenly taking over his features as his mirth faded. “Where’s my sister?” He suddenly asked, her head swiveling around the area, searching for her before he looked to the others. They all looked just as perplexed as he did; well, almost all of them. Yaomo’s brow seemed to set, and he rushed into the trees, telling them all to stay put as he faded out of sight into the fog.

Katara could feel the pull filling her, tantalizing her with the idea of pure happiness, a world without cares, without sorrow. It was all so close, but with every step, it pulled away from her, telling her she had to come closer, that she wasn’t quite there. Just a little farther…

From far away, she could hear another voice, trying to summon her back to a world where all she knew was pain and rage and tedium, where nothing she did ever mattered, where she could only cause pain and destruction. Everyone would be better off without her, the kind, liquid voice whispered to her. All she had to do was hurry, to run toward peace, to take it for herself.

Katara could see it now, the body to the voice. She’d only seen dragons in paintings before now, but it was clear to her in crystal clear definition, more detailed and more beautiful than any animal she’d ever seen in her life. Its voice washed over her, willing her to follow it, and it flew away so quickly that she had to sprint for all she was worth and even faster still. Somehow, it didn’t seem to affect her, running as hard as she was. The waterbender couldn’t feel the strain; she knew only her goal, her destination, her ultimate purpose, and that was to get to where the blue dragon led her. If only she could just… reach out and touch it… it would bring her to her destination.

It was so close. She could see the dragon waiting for her just ahead, promises of peace and happiness and… something more than what she had in another time, another place. Katara screamed and struggled and kicked, trying to get away, trying to reclaim her position in this new, beautiful world where nothing hurt anymore. All this creature was doing was pulling her back somewhere she couldn’t handle, somewhere she could never go. Then it pulled her back a little, forcing her to lose ground, and it put itself between her and her goal. She fought harder, trying to squirm from the grasp of this thing that was coiled around her, holding her too tightly, trying to force her back into the agony of a world that didn’t want her.


The words bored into her mind, and suddenly, she recognized him, his face, his black eyes. Yaomo stood in front of her, holding her tightly in place while she breathed heavily from the struggle. She’d been fighting him, fighting against him. Katara felt weakness fill her limbs from the strain she’d put her body through, and when he stepped aside after making sure she wasn’t just going to try to bolt, she nearly stumbled but somehow caught herself. The waterbender watched while he demonstrated the death she would have had if he hadn’t caught her.

Movement caught her eye, and the sounds around her became muted as she watched. It was a man, tall, though not as tall as some she’d met. His hair was black and long, hanging around his shoulders. Katara wanted to reach out and touch it, to touch him as a strange feeling filled her. “Zuko…” She whispered as the man’s head turned quickly to peer at her. The beautiful golden eye that peered at her was angry, and she knew why. She hadn’t come to him. This had been the goal; he had been waiting for her, and she hadn’t come to him. Tears filled her eyes as she suddenly needed to get to him, to make him happy with her, to see his smile, not his anger, but as she was about to take a step, strong hands gripped her shoulders and shook her.

Katara’s hand dropped to her side, realizing she’d been reaching for Zuko. Only now, as she looked at the concern, the fear in Yaomo’s strange eyes, she realized it hadn’t been him at all. She looked back to where Zuko had been, but now he was gone. Her eyes moved to the quicksand, and she took a step back. No. This couldn’t have been Zuko. He had died to make sure that they could live, that she could live without the massacre that Admiral Zhao had planned. She put her hands over her face as sorrow filled her, and she felt wetness on her cheeks. She hadn’t realized she’d been crying, but now it seemed to come in full force, tearing at her. Even knowing it wasn’t actually Zuko didn’t help because she’d seen him in perfect detail the way he’d been before his death, only his hair was a little longer, and the look in his eyes was one she’d never before seen in such force, not even after she’d used her bloodbending on him.

When her sobs seemed to calm, she heard Yaomo’s voice calling to her, not so distantly this time. "We goin’ now... Yaomo goin’ have to carry you, or you actually goin' to listen d'is time?"

“No. I can walk.” She said, her voice hoarse, still filled with sorrow.

You see somethin’ in de swamp you keep moving how you were movin’ before. Swamp show you t'ings, and not all d'em good… She’d hardly heard him when Yaomo had said this earlier, but now it came back to her in full force, and she felt… awful. She’d almost thrown away her life for a vision of something that couldn’t have possibly been real. Zuko was dead, and his sacrifice meant life for others. She’d almost killed herself, and what would that have accomplished? It wouldn’t have done anything to help anyone; it would have been meaningless.

“Oh, thank goodness!” Sokka called out, rushing toward his sister as she and Yaomo came back into sight. The Water Tribesman hugged Katara tightly before pulling back, grabbing her shoulders, and looking her into the eye. “What were you thinking? You can’t just go wandering around a place like this!”

Katara looked away from him, from his accusations, as if merely blocking them out would make them go away. “What did you see?” The question caught her by surprise, and she looked at Shen who had asked the question.

“Nothing.” She lied. “I just got separated from you guys, and I got turned around. Yaomo found me.” Her eyes moved to their Swamp guide to see if he would call her out on her lie, but he didn’t say anything. Then her eyes moved to Lu Ten. What would he have said if she’d revealed the truth, that she thought she’d seen Zuko waiting for her, calling to her? Would her having seen his cousin hurt him as much as actually having seen the ghost had hurt her? She didn’t know, but there was no point in telling him. Nothing good could come of it.

“Let’s just go.” She said. “We have a mission to accomplish.”

Yaomo stopped suddenly, causing the others to do the same. He pulled a map from his coat and handed it to Katara who unrolled it. He pointed to a spot on the map. “D'is be as far as Yaomo be goin’. Through d'em trees and I be creatin’ more trouble for you d'en help. Where you be wantin’ to go is... 'ere.” He touched another part of the map. The waterbender looked at him. “You gonna be okay, Chére?” He asked.

“Yes. I’ll be fine.” She replied. “Thank you… for everything.” She said, touching his arm lightly. She wasn’t just grateful for his guiding them through the Swamp but also for his having saved her from a misguided death out here.

“Anyt'in’ for you, Chére.” He answered with a soft smile, this time actually being bold enough to reach up to touch her face lightly, brushing his thumb across her cheek before turning to the others. Jet glared daggers at him, but Katara’s face had turned red, and she wasn’t looking at the rest of her group. "Remember what Yaomo taught you, neh? Don' trust de swamp." He said, and then turned from them, waving behind him as he took a few steps away from them, seeming almost to meld into the darkness of the swamp itself as if he too were a spirit from the nether realms.

“We should rest here.” Katara said. “We’ve been traveling for hours, and if I’m going to face these people, I want to be as well rested as possible.”

Katara leaned against her brother’s back, weariness settling over her like a heavy blanket. Because of what had happened earlier, Sokka had gone into his overprotective brother mode, and he wouldn’t let her out of his sight. He’d even threatened to tie their arms together to make sure she didn’t get lost again, but the waterbender had quickly vetoed that. If they needed to fight for whatever reason, being tied together would make that a frustrating endeavor.

However, he had compromised by remaining at her side or behind her at all times, and when they rested, they put their backs together. If she tried to move away, he would feel it and stop her. It was a sound idea in her book. After what had happened, she was terrified that the Swamp would call to her again with its intoxicating promises and visions of what she could have if she truly wanted it.

The day’s weariness flooded over her. Hours of walking combined with the terror and sorrow the Swamp had stabbed into her had taken its toll. It probably didn’t help that she’d hardly slept the night before, but thankfully, after a full day of hearing those strange birds screeching their torturous song, she’d figured out how to block it out, and sleep finally claimed her.

He was there, waiting for her, and as she approached, he turned and smiled. The expression lit his golden eyes the way she remembered, and she felt warmth spread through her heart. “Zuko…” She whispered happily. He lifted his arms, reaching for her, and she ran toward him. However, his smile soon faded as she got near, and she felt something coil tightly around her, stopping her in her tracks just before their hands touched.

Her eyes gazed down in horror as the thick body of the blue dragon wound around her torso, pinning her arms to her sides. She looked back up at Zuko, but his back was to her now, and the world had changed. It was as if the darkness of his clothing had sucked all of the colour and lights from world, leaving only him in his black cloak, his hair too long from what she remembered only a moment ago. Then he turned toward her, his yellow eye suddenly so malicious in the way it glared at her that fear nearly stopped her heart. With a hiss, the blue dragon tugged hard at her, down, into the ground…

Katara was awake in an instant, a scream ejecting from her throat as she realized that it hadn’t been a dream. The blue dragon was really taking her away. “Katara!” Sokka yelled, catching her by her top, but the fabric tore with another fierce tug of the dragon, and she was pulled away from her group, into the darkness of the Swamp.

She could feel her clothing tearing as she was dragged across tree roots, pain searing through her with each bump, but she fought against the dragon. Her heart was beating fiercely, and she finally saw and understood that she wasn’t being dragged away by the dragon but by vines that had wrapped around her. She struggled to readjust her arms under the constricting grip of the vines, and she managed to dislodge the stopper of a water skin to send the water slicing through the vines. Yaomo had warned them not to hurt the plants, but her life was far more important right now than some stupid vines that were trying to kill her. She could have left them in peace if they’d left her to herself. They came at her again and again, and each time she slices through them, cutting them to pieces before they could take her again.

Katara cried out as a stinging sensation struck her throat, and her fingers moved to it, feeling something there. With a wince, she tugged at it, dislodging it and looked at it with eyes that were steadily losing focus. It was a needle of some kind with feathers attached to the part she held. Dizziness settled over her as she looked at it, and she fell to her knees in shallow water. Her breathing became heavy as she tried to make sense of what was happening, but she couldn’t keep herself upright, and she fell onto her back. Blackness descended upon her as grinning skulls hovered over her body.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Wed Jul 11, 2012 3:15 am

Yaomo looked over his shoulder as Katara started to walk away, seeing the dragon spirit there, undulating slowly as it looked at him. Yaomo wasn't sure if it was truly a dragon, as anyone who knew of Koh could attest to, spirits could change their appearance. Of course, most spirits delighted in mimicking the form of another person or creature, whereas Koh demanded a uniqueness to his appearance that involved snatching someone's looks for himself. Yaomo himself had laid eyes on Koh once, but the creature had not noticed him, and Yaomo hadn't been stupid enough to try to change that. Indeed, once he had learned that's where Koh was, Yaomo had made certain never to return to that area again. There were things in the spirit world that you expressly just left alone if you didn't want to die an early death, and Koh was fairly close to the top of the list.

After the glance, Yaomo looked away as if he didn't see the spirit. In this place, it was important not to let spirits know that you could communicate with them. Some of them were benevolent, some were malevolent, and some just longed for the one thing that they no longer had... life. If the spirits knew that you could see them, the ones who desperately wanted to feel some form of connection with the mortal plane would harass you to no end, and would get frustrated when you no longer wished to speak with them. While in a controlled environment like his hut, this could be an easy thing to deal with, in the swamp, the spirits powers were magnified. There was something both sacred and terrible about this place that not only seemed to magnify their powers but also attract larger, nastier spirits. Indeed, there were some nights that Yaomo woke up from a dream of Koh residing in this place of power to try to magnify his grip on the world... those dreams never ended very happily.

When he got back to the group he kept Katara's secret. No one needed to know about what all happened to her out in the swamp. He could see that Lu Ten was a little suspicious about the whole affair though. After all, Katara seemed to have a good head on her shoulders. Not very like her to just go wandering off and get separated from the group like someone who was more ditsy might actually do. Still, Yaomo wouldn't say a damned thing about what he had seen, not even to Katara unless she asked, and certainly not in this place. Yaomo sighed a little as they started walking again, making his way through the brush lightly as he hopped on a log and guided them across it, pointing out the catgators that were swimming in the distance. "They more bark d'en bite, but try to avoid 'em so you don't get bit neither..." Yaomo said with a smile.

"Now, before we get split up..." Yaomo said, figuring that the group needed to have the danger of this place reiterated. "Don' go wandering off. Not even if you see de person you want to be with most in the world. There be good spirits here, an' d'ere be bad ones..."

"How do you tell the difference?" Shen asked.

Yaomo chuckled grimly. "You don', mon ami. Good spirits might make you feel happy inside, give you comfort n' courage. Bad spirits might terrify you. Or good spirits might show you somet'in awful, try to warn you away from somethin in the future. Bad spirits might show you somethin happy, try to shake you off a path to happiness in the mortal world. Some spirits might show you things just cause d'ey tryin to talk to you an' don' know any other way to. Can't tell one way or de other what visions mean in d'is place. What a spirits' true intentions are? Not even Yaomo knows." Yaomo said with a light shrug. "Some claim to, but it's a whole mess a wax you don' want to get involved in... decipherin spirit messages. Think on it too long and it's liable to make you insane."

"Scientifically speaking, it's more likely that it's caused by swamp gas and people's longings for the ones they care about than anything else." Sokka chimed in skeptically. "I know I've never seen anything that would make me believe otherwise."

Yaomo looked at him and grinned. "Hope it stays d'at way." he said.

"You know it's a bad thing when you feel less safe when the giant muscle-y guy with demon eyes leaves." Lu Ten muttered lightly as he watched Yaomo walk away from him and the rest of the gang. He heard Shen half chuckle at his joke, but Gui seemed pretty grim. Jet of course was just mad that Katara had run off and Yaomo had found her, and had seemed extra upset that Yaomo had touched her face before he'd left. Lu Ten sighed a little, it seemed like it was the Zuko thing all over again. It was annoying what Yaomo had said about the spirits in this place. He would have liked to have seen Zuko again, to have known that it was his cousin that he was seeing in the spirit world. To ask if he was OK, if he happened to be... alright.

As he put up the tent, Lu Ten frowned a little as he thought he saw something on the corner of his vision. He jerked his head to the side, expecting to see another screeching bird, some form of lizard, or something from the flora there that was rustling there, but there wasn't anything. Lu Ten could feel prickles down his spine as he paused and looked at everyone else. They were all setting up their tents, seeming to go about their nightly tasks as if none of them had seen a single thing. It must have been in his head, or like Sokka had been telling them since Yaomo left, some trick of the swamp gas around them.

When it came time to sleep, Lu Ten was grateful for it. This whole place gave him the creeps, and yet at same time, if he managed to sleep his time in the swamp would be over all that much more quickly. As he heard the screeching birds in the distance, Lu Ten sighed a little. Something told him that no matter how much he actually wanted to, there would be no possible way that he was actually going to get any slee-...

"It's bad... isn't it." She whispered to him, and offered him a smile. Her smile was so lovely that it had always made him feel... fluttery. To see it there, tinged with the horrific pain that she must have been going through at that moment was gut wrenching. Even more so that he was holding his very reason for living in his hands, and he couldn't think of a damned thing to say to her. In front of his troops, when he was barking out orders on their raids of the Water Tribe villages, it was easy to say things to her, tell her to do this or do that. It was easy to say things to all of his men. But off the field, talking to them seemed so easy to do still, while talking to her seemed...

"N-no... It's not bad at all, the healers will be here soon, we'll get you patched up and you'll be back out on the field in no time, lieutenant." he whispered. The rock that he felt in his throat felt like it was the size of a mountain there as his golden eyes looked down at her.

She smiled that beautiful, pain tinged smile at him again. "You're a shitty liar, sir. I don't get..." she spasmed in pain, "I don't get how you can be so smooth around everyone else, the guy everyone wants to be, and yet be so klutzy around me, Captain..." She paused, and then shook her head slowly. "No, Lu Ten. It's such a beautiful name... goddamned shame that I have to call you Captain all the time."


"Mei Ling, please... I want you to say my name."

Lu Ten felt his blood freeze. She looked at him with those dark, gorgeous eyes of hers that seemed to draw everything in at once and he swallowed roughly again. He knew what would happen when he spoke those words, he knew what it was that she was waiting for. Lu Ten clenched his eyes closed, and then forced them open again, and forced the words from his mouth. "Mei Ling... I... what were you even doing here?" He asked simply.

"Saw... a water tribe family, the other day, kissing as the battle went on, they didn't even seem to care..." she whispered softly, "Can't wait for the end of the battle... the battle doesn't have an end. Things will never be normal and..." She shook her head and coughed. Lu Ten winced at it, the blade that was still lodged in her stomach remaining still was all that was keeping her alive, and yet, even so, she was still losing life, dripping it onto the thick blankets in his tent as it gushed through his hands.

"Mei Ling..."

Her fingertip, wet with her own blood touched his lip as she looked at him, and offered him a twisted smile. "It's better, like this. Better it's me. I love you... so much." She rasped out.

"No, no it's not... it shouldn't be you, I should've... I-..." Lu Ten paused, and saw the glassy sheen on her eyes. She was dead. "I love you... too... I always did I just didn't know how..." Lu Ten hung his head. There was no point in words any more. She'd been the woman that had been at his side forever, the person in this army he trusted above all others. It had always seemed like getting involved with her would cause so many problems, open up so much disaster and yet now she was...

"Traitor! He's in there! I saw him stab her..." Lu Ten blinked as his own men came in and grabbed him by the arms. He was covered in blood.

Weisheng pointed a finger at him, the look on his face hurt and ashamed. "Look, it's his own damned sword he put into her... he's gone insane." Weisheng blurted as he pointed to the blade. Lu Ten's blood ran like ice as he looked down at the blade that was buried into Mei Ling's gut. It was his own sword. The same sword that he'd given Weisheng tonight to sharpen. Lu Ten saw the smile creep at the corners of the footsoldier's mouth and he let out a battle cry as the ice in his blood burned hotter than fire as he lunged at the fighter, only to have his own men hold him down. "You see, he's gone mad, isn't that right, Captain... Captain..."

"Captain..." the voice was soft in his ear, at first Lu Ten thought it might be Katara, but when he opened his eyes, he saw her there, kneeling over him. She was not as he had dreamed of her as, instead she was in her Fire Nation soldier's uniform, as clean and neat pressed as she always kept it. Instead of her hair up as she always had, however, it was down, flowing across her shoulders the way that Lu Ten only saw after she had bathed, or if she had been called from her bedroll before she had a chance to prepare in the morning. It looked lovely like that, and he felt his breath still in his chest as she offered him a little smile, blinking at him with those chocolate eyes.

"Captain..." she whispered again.

"Mei Ling...?" He croaked, cautiously, wiping tears he had shed in his sleep away as he sat up. She smiled at him lightly, but when he reached to touch her she vanished from his fingertips.

"You can't, Captain. It wouldn't be how you remembered it, anyway..." the voice whispered softly behind him, causing him to spin. "I have to tell you something important, Captain, it's about Zuko..." She whispered softly as she reached out to caress his cheek, stopping just an inch away from touching him.

"No, Mei Ling, I loved you back then... I... still..." Lu Ten frowned as she shook her head lightly at him, and then he frowned. "Zuko...?"

"Zuko is alive, Lu Ten." She said softly, her face looking serious. "But he is lost... you need to help him, find him. He's at-"

Katara's scream ruptured the night and Lu Ten burst out of his tent without a moment of hesitation, just in time to see Katara fly past him. His hand flew out to strike, but he paused and grimaced as it did so. If he blasted whatever it was that had her with fire, he could just as easily hurt her too, beyond what she could heal herself. Instead he dashed after the vine, plowing through a field of roots as he growled and tried to keep up, only to watch her slip further and further away until she was gone into the woods.

"DAMMIT!" Lu Ten snarled as he kept running, the others catching up with him as he got out of breath. After he'd lost sight of her there was no way to track where she had gone, it was like the woods had just swallowed her up whole. When he looked at his tent again, there was no trace of Mei Ling there, and he growled out as he shoved his tent over in pure rage. If he'd listened to Yaomo, paid more attention to his surroundings, Katara would probably still be here. The spirits had come to distract him, taking on a familiar form and he'd just... let them.

Throwing on some clothes, The trip back to Yaomo's place had been quicker than Lu Ten had expected it to be, given how long that it had taken them to get there. By the end though they were panting, out of breath as Lu Ten gasped, squeezing his chest lightly as he sucked in air. All of them were worried about Katara, but none of them had the first clue on how to get her out of the swamp when it was filled with spirits knew what. Lu Ten was a fair tracker when it came to people outside of haunted swamps, but it seemed like inside of it, all bets were off. Something told the Firebender that if the swamp hadn't actually wanted them to leave they probably wouldn't have been able to get out to find Yaomo so easily.

When he answered his door, Lu Ten saw the man's eyes flow over their entire number, then swear in a language Lu Ten didn't actually understand as he pulled on his coat and slid his bo staff into the holster on his back as he started running for the treeline without another word. Spirits he was fast! Lu Ten groaned as he kept pace with him for probably a hundred yards or so before the man outran him. It was another hundred before the man looked back, growling a little as he came back and jogged lightly with the rest of the group as they made their way into the swamp. When they got inside Lu Ten couldn't help but feel like the swamp had changed since they had been there, making it hard to tell where the hell they had actually come from.

Yaomo seemed to know the way, and at first Lu Ten marveled at his tracking skills before realizing that it was most likely just the same way he'd lead them the last time he had guided them through the woods. Yaomo kept a brutal pace, often disappearing ahead of them only to appear back a moment later, looking at them as with a crazed look in his eye that seemed to speak to the fact that he wished that he could search without them, that they were only slowing him down in this place. Lu Ten frowned a little, wondering if his dream hadn't in some way mirrored unspoken words that Yaomo had on his mind right now. The idea that he would never be able to speak them caused Lu Ten's stomach to twist.

When they got to the campsite, Lu Ten lead them in the way where Katara had vanished, mentioning that something had dragged her. Yaomo seemed to pause at that, but only for a moment as he lead them into the heart of where they had been headed before. He was headed into Ondin territory, Lu Ten realized, with a blink. What gold had not managed to be able to purchase, the threat to Katara's safety easily bought, though their guide seemed to move slower than before, each step seemingly chosen with caution as he looked around. Finally, he slowed his pace a little and leaned in to whisper to Lu Ten as they moved.

"You jus' goin have to trust Yaomo on d'is one..." he whispered, and then gave Lu Ten a grim smile before he stepped to the side of the path and seemingly vanished from sight. The others looked a little shaken by it, but Lu Ten beckoned them to keep going.

"Let's get a move on guys, and keep quiet... I don't like this place..." Lu Ten growled. Yaomo had left for a reason, of course, the only question was, what reason was it, and would it mean that they were walking into some sort of trap...

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Gadreille on Thu Jul 12, 2012 9:37 pm

A figure swiftly crawled down a tree from the shadows of the canopy above. Two others followed, each rested in a cradle of vines that carried them safely to swamp bottom. The three strangers were eerily similar in appearance. They all had black, tattered skirts and vests thatched from wood which covered their dark brown bodies. Wraps protected their legs, but their feet remained bare. They each had their own assortment of jewelry fashioned from bone or metal. Perhaps the most bizarre attribute was the paint that covered their bodies. Black rings encircled their thighs and upper arms, stripes marred their torso and chin. The brightest feature was the half skull painted over each face to conceal their identity. Tightly woven braids moved upward on their skulls, only to cascade over the other side in a tangle of tiny curls. The only difference of the women that could be accounted for from afar was the number of feathers that protruded from their hair. Two women had one feather, and the last one had three.

It was this woman who removed a wooden flute from her mouth and tucked it into the folds of her leg wrap, smiling as Katara sank into the water. Just before her face went under, she caught Katara in one hand, and the dart that Katara had been holding in the other. Darts were not easy to make, and she could reuse it. Safely tucking the dart into the flute, she thrust Katara over her shoulders. This woman was not very tall, but she had thick bones and enough muscle to make good use of them. She motioned to her sisters, who stood idly by.

“Ene, make su’e dey do not find ey trail. Sangi, let Mahda know we captured dere woman. I will be bringing her sho’tly.”

The two women nodded, and disappeared into the foliage above as quickly as they appeared. The woman tilted Katara further onto her back to free one arm, stepped onto a flat piece of wood and then waved her arm back and forth until she began to surf across the swamp water.

By the time she reached Mahda’s boat, the sun was high in the sky. Ene had already returned, merely giving a nod to let her superior know that the men had not successfully followed them. She nodded back, and then stepped off her driftwood and onto Mahda’s boat.

It was a simple structure. Its foundation was dead logs that had been bound together by old vines. Atop was a hut with but one door and one window. It was far more spacious within than it seemed on the outside, however. Once inside, she unceremoniously dumped Katara on the floor.

“Dis was dere woman, Mahda.” She said.

“I see,” croaked an old voice. Mahda was dressed much in the style of the rest of the women, though her chest was wrapped in fine cloth instead of warrior’s plate. She had many more bracelets and piercings, and her tight curls were long since wrapped into dreads that now spun with silver lining. Her face was painted completely black, with a full skull in white, unlike the half skulls seen on the other women. Her skin was darker than the other, from age. “Tank you, Ajani.”

Ajani bowed. “My pleasuh.”

Mahda unstoppered a bottle and held it to Katara’s mouth, pouring the contents of it in. Katara coughed violently and spewed most of it out on the floor, rolling over and catching her breath while simultaneously trying to soak in her surroundings. Before she could move any further, Ajani caught Katara’s arms behind her and held them tight, thrusting her knee into Katara’s back and aiming her face toward Mahda.

Mahda didn’t even blink at the violent gesture. She merely looked Katara in the eye and said, “Who ah you, and wat ah you doin’ heah?”

Katara’s mind was blank, but she suddenly felt something trickling into her mouth too quickly, and she breathed it entered her lungs. Wide awake now, she began coughing so violently that her chest hurt, but as her fit began to calm and her breathing became easier, she looked around, and jerked back until she felt her arms tugged tightly behind her back with a strength she couldn’t physically match. Then she looked up and saw a skull grinning at her. She suppressed a scream only to realize it was only makeup, face paint, like the war paint of the Southern Water Tribe. Well, at least she knew the warriors of her home had probably been effective at scaring the crap out of their enemies even if they had all lost in the end.

The accent of the woman speaking to her was reminiscent of Yaomo’s, but there were differences. This old woman’s was thicker, for instance, less defined by the common tongue of the outside world. In fact, it was thick enough that it took her a moment to realize what this painted woman was asking. “My name is Katara. I’m here on behalf of the Northern Water Tribe. I was told there are waterbenders like me living here, and-”

“You ah lying to me.” The old woman said, and she felt her arms tugged back tighter, more painfully.

“No. I’m not. If you let me go, I can show you. I don’t wear this many water skins just to keep hydrated.” Katara said, realizing too late that she was being snarkier than she should have been, considering her situation.

“Many fi’ebendahs try an’ trick Mahda, tell me dey bend de watah only to bu’n us wit’ de flame when we let go o’ dey a’ms. What makes you any diffe’nt?” The woman asked accusingly.

“I’m telling the truth, but no one can bend without moving, so if you don’t let me go, I can’t give you that proof, can I?” Sweat beaded on Katara’s brow and matted her hair to her skin. Why was it so hot in the Swamp? There was so much water that it should have been cooler, right?

Her sapphire eyes looked at Mahda, willing her to believe her prisoner. Hama had warned her to be on her guard but to respect the Ondin, but she hadn’t explained how she’d gotten out of a situation like this except by showing that she studied the same art as them. The old woman looked behind Katara, to the one restraining her and nodded. She felt her captor release her arms. “Ow!” Katara growled when she felt a sharp prick in her skin.

The person moved to face Katara, showing her a needle with the Northern Tribeswoman’s blood on the tip. “You ‘ave one minut’ to p’ove you ah what you say. Aftah dat, de poisun wheel take you.” Her heart nearly stopped from that information alone, but she stood and unstoppered one of her water skins without hesitation. Was it just her imagination, or did she already feel weaker and dizzy from the poison? With a slow, graceful movement, Katara pulled a stream of water from the skin, winding it through the air in a simple swirl before replacing it back into its container.

She felt even dizzier than a second ago. “Can I have the antidote now that you know I’m honest?”

“No.” Mahda said simply, and Katara felt panic coursing through her veins in the form of imminent death.

“But I proved I’m a waterbender! I didn’t come all of this way and almost die ten minutes into the Swamp just to get this far and die now!” She was getting pissed, but even more than that, she was afraid. Yaomo had been right. She never should have come here. Now she was a dead woman. Her hand moved to her head as her eyes began to shut. She felt so tired. NO! She couldn’t just fall into the sleep this poison caused. She would fight it! If only it was nighttime and a full moon. Maybe she could have used bloodbending to get it out of her system!

“Dey ain’ no antidote.” She heard the younger warrior say, but that certainly didn’t help Katara feel better.

“So it was your intention all along to just kill me in the most amusing way possible?” She asked incredulously.

“No. Dey ain’ no antidote ‘cause dat ain’ poisun. Ees jus’ a small dose of wat knocked you out befo’. Eet’ll weah off soon enough.” Mahda reassured her. “I do not lie when I say ees been tried befo’. I needed to be su’e.”

“Thank the Spirits.” Katara whispered, more to herself than to anyone else. She wasn’t ready to die, but what was in her system still had her feeling a little unsteady, so she sat down, leaning against a wall of the hut. These people had a pretty sick sense of humor, and she just needed to clear her head a little more before she spoke. “Anyway, as I was saying. I’m Katara of the Southern Water Tribe, here on behalf of the Northern Water Tribe. I came here to talk to your tribe, to get help for my people.”

Mahda leaned forward. “Ah. I ‘ave met one from you’ tribe befo’. I’us but a gu’l when Hama came to us.” Mahda noticed a very subtle twitch in Katara’s face. She glanced at Ajani, and then returned her gaze back to Katara. “Ah, I see you know he’ as well. A sto’y fo’ annudah time. Tell me. Why ezactly ah you he’e? What ees de help which you ah asking fo’?”

Katara then told Mahda of the rebellion, the harbor being built by the fire nation, the warriors of the Northern tribe who volunteered for battle, and Lu Ten’s struggle to find enough manpower to destroy that harbor. She tried her best to keep it concise but with enough detail that Mahda would not have to ask too many questions. And she didn’t. She was uncomfortably silent through the entire ordeal. When Katara finished, she stood silently, though inside she was screaming Well? Are you going to help or not?

Finally, Mahda shook her head. “We do not leave deh Swamp.”

“What?” Katara retorted. “What do you mean you don’t leave?”

Mahda put her hands on her folded knees, and slowly inhaled. "All of de wo'ld is one wo'king oganeesm. De swamp is de last place in de wo'ld dat remains untuhched by 'uman 'ands...Eet 'olds all of de elements togeter, wo'king togeter in 'amany. A fo'est is strong, cohnected. But people take de trees. Foul de water. Dey do not tink to pray for these spirits' souls. Do not tink to pay for what dey have taken. And de spirit of de fo'est grows weak. But not here. Eet remains strong, and we, de Ondeen, protect eet from those who treaten."

It was so much information, and there were so many questions Katara wanted to ask. She probably could have focused on convincing Mahda to let her warriors leave, but instead she blurted out, “You take from the swamp! This boat and those clothes and the poison you used, it’s all taken! How can you say that you don’t?”

Mahda calmly responded, "We build dees bots from de trees who have already passed from this realm. We use de water witin de plants in defence of dis land, and de plants fo'give us for dis treachery. We pray fo' de aneemals whose lives we must take in odah to su’vive. We waste not of deese gifts de swamp gives us. And we fear not if de swamp must take back from us."

"What do you mean, take back?" Katara asked.

"Deat' is everywhere. De swamp takes from us as we take from he. Eet is de cycol." Mahda closed her eyes.

Katara realized that she wasn’t getting anything from this but a lecture. “Please,” she started again. “I…I understand that you want to protect this land. Your land. But if you let the fire nation build this harbor, very soon there will not be a swamp for you to protect. If the Fire Lord destroys everything around you, and you are the last people on earth safe from him, he will still come crashing down on you and destroy everything. Please understand, we need you to protect the rest of this earth. Even if it is weak, it isn’t yet gone. And you said so yourself, everything is connected. If the rest of the world burns, there won’t be a world for the swamp to reside on!”

Mahda finally opened her eyes again. She was not looking at Katara, but Ajani. “Leave us,” she commanded.

“But Mahda, you mus’ be –“

“Ajani. Leave us.”

Ajani flinched at the order, but did as instructed. Katara was left alone with the Swamp Witch.

“What do you know of Hama’s time he’e?” Mahda asked Katara.

Katara was taken aback from the question. “Not much…only that I should be respectful of you, and this land, and she spent some time among you before she finally left.”

“She was baneeshed. De order in ‘er ‘eart was pe’manently broken. She revealed to us a bending technique unnatural to dis world.” Katara turned a shade lighter, and Mahda nodded. “I see you know of wat I speak. Bloodbending.”

“What does this have to do with my asking you for help?” Katara wasn’t sure of the connection, but it wasn’t a topic she wanted to discuss with Mahda. She was getting into dangerous territory. If Hama was banished because she was a bloodbender, then there was no way Mahda would help her if she knew the truth…if she knew Katara was one as well.

“You ah asking me to ‘elp save de wo'ld. To ‘elp you bring balance once again. I cannot deny dat de wo’ld ‘as changed. Wit eve’y gene’ation it seems dat deh outside pushes in fu’dah. De nomads speak of de co’uption of de fi’e nasion. I am not blind to dis.

“I see you’ soul trou you’ ayes, Kata’a o’ de Soute’n Wata Tribe. I see de cracks fo’ming in you’ ‘eart. You ah a bloodbendah. A treache’y beyond any ‘ealing ‘ands. Destructive, unblalanced, unnatu’al. I see you fea’ it. You fea’ de power. You fea’ my jodgment.

You should. De powa you ‘old is viewed among my people as a disgrace!”

Katara bent her head, tears forming in her eyes. She had come here for nothing. She had failed, again. Even worse, the woman before her was clearly disgusted by her. Would she be lucky enough to be banished, as Hama was? Katara wasn’t so hopeful.

“But, I ‘ave advice fo’ you. If you will leesen.”

Katara’s head whipped up. “Yes…of course I will listen.”

“You seek to find ohdah in de wo’ld. To balance de destrucion dat pou’s out of de fi’e nasion. Know dis: You wheel neva find de balance which you seek if you do not find balance in you’ own ‘eart. You are a blodbendah. You cannot take back dis evil. But you can pray for de fo’giveness of de spirits whom you ‘ave wronged. Seek balance. Fo’give yo’self. Accept yo’self. To complete a task, it does not matta wat one believes in…only dat he believes in it. Do dis, o’ you will fail, Katara.

“I will discuss you’ plea wit de ottahs.”

Even though Ajani had been the one physically messing with Katara, the waterbender found a chill creeping up her spine when Mahda ordered the woman to leave. Normally, people didn’t like witnesses for unpleasant acts, and though these people were strange, they were still human. Was this going to be the point when Mahda decided the waterbender’s time on this world had ended? She didn’t know how powerful the old woman was, but with that weird drug creeping through her system, making her groggy, the girl wasn’t going to be as capable a warrior as usual.

However, she was surprised though not pleasantly so. Katara’s head bowed, and she thought she would cry, but she didn’t let the tears fall as the old woman talked about the taint of bloodbending on her soul, in her heart, and she realized that her mission this year was as futile as the one in Ba Sing Se last year. Hopefully, it wouldn’t end in tragedy as the last one had. Then again, if Mahda was so opposed to Katara’s abilities, what would stop her from cutting her down right here and now?

Again, the waterbender was surprised when instead of offering her death, she was offered a lesson. “Yes… Of course I will listen.” She said eagerly, always one to choose to learn what lessons she could from whomever offered them – especially when it was in lieu of death.

Her eyes widened in shock as the old woman spoke of finding balance within herself before any good could come of it. It was reminiscent of what Yaomo had told her when he’d read her fortune.

Power itself ain't a bad t'ing, Cherie... but without control... like a strong punch without anything to guide it...

“Seek balance. Fo’give yo’self. Accept yo’self.” Katara heard Mahda telling her. Learn control. Don’t hide what you know, what you are. Become one with it rather than allowing it to fester. It all became so clear. She had so much control over every other aspect of her bending, of her power, but this one thing… Bloodbending never occurred to her except in her darkest moments, and now she’d been told twice in three days that if she didn’t learn to control it, it would consume her. She feared that kind of power because the one time she’d used it freely, without restraint, it had nearly taken over her completely, had nearly destroyed the core of whom she was. Katara couldn’t let that happen. There had to be a way to use bloodbending for good, like when she’d considered it for getting poison out of her veins. Could she turn something so dark into a beacon of light? Could she use it for good instead of for evil?

Yes… She told herself. I can, and I will. I will find a way to own this without shame… She had to find a way… She just… had to…

“I will discuss you’ plea wit de ottahs.” Katara stood to her feet, a little unsteadily - but strong now that whatever had been on that needle was fading - at Mahda’s words, a smile on her lips.

“Thank you. I appreciate it.” The waterbender said with a respectful bow before leaving the hut. She tugged at her tattered clothing as she went. The cloth smelled swampy, and it had been tainted with mud. There were also tears in the clothing where she’d been dragged across the ground and one prominent hole in her shoulder where Sokka’s grip had torn the cloth.

“Yo’ need somet’ing else to wear.” She heard Ajani’s voice and looked up at the woman. That skull painted on the woman’s face was still really unnerving, but she thought she could get used to it. All she had to do was liken it to the Southern war paint to which she was accustomed though human skulls were a lot different from live wolves.

“Yeah. I suppose I do, but my pack is with my group. I don’t want them to worry about me. Is anyone bringing them here?” Katara asked.

“Not weetout Mahda’s command. She talk to de ottahs; den we see. Come. I geev you somet’ing to wear.”

Ajani took Katara across a rope ladder that attached Mahda’s boat to another. She then walked out on a small dock attached to the second boat that was anchored to land. She led Katara through the trees, beckoning her to follow as she grabbed onto a group of vines that hung down from above. Ajani lifted herself up along the tree, using the water in the vines to push her upward. Looking back, she noticed Katara was still on the ground. She’s a watabendah, but she is no plant bendah, Ajani thought. She motioned her hand downward, and the second set of vines swung Katara upward into the canopy.

There they landed on a simple wooden balcony that held up a rough wooden structure. It was completely concealed from below by the tops of the shorter trees, but yet still concealed from above by the older trees that reached far beyond.

“Do you live here?” Katara asked.

“I live all ova de swamp,” Ajani responded. “De boats ah always moving. Dese structures ah all over, hidden from de view of strangahs. Only plantbendahs can find de’e way up he’e. My things ah he’e right now, so I may have some privacy.”

Katara looked around at the simple structure, noticing that it definitely didn’t have a home-like feel to it, the way Mahda’s boat had. There were no decorations, few personal belongings, and nothing that resembled permanent furniture. “You don’t have your own boat?” Katara questioned.

“No. I stay wit Mahda sometime, but a boat has not been granted to me yet. He’e.” Ajani handed Katara a pile of green cloth. “Keep it. ‘S too small fo’ me anyway.”

Katara held up the cloth to find two separate pieces. One was a green off the sleeve top that wasn’t much more covering than her undershirt. The skirt a similar green, and was nearly as long as her current dress, except for the sides were both slit all the way up to the thigh.

There was no malevolence to the vines tugging at her now, swinging her up into the canopy. They weren’t as tight, for one, and for another, she knew this was no blue dragon dragging her to her death. What she saw was incredible. Trees contained wooden structures, buildings of sorts. It sort of reminded her of how Jet had described his hideout for the Freedom Fighters.

She listened attentively as Ajani explained how she lived in answer to Katara’s question about it. If the Ondin lived all over the Swamp, weren’t they technically nomadic like the group that was actually called the Nomads? Then again, Yaomo had described the Nomads as being more scattered, less organized. Perhaps that was the main difference. Living in the treetops as well as the boats was incredibly cool, but it seemed a little unfair that only plantbenders could access them. What about the non-benders?

Katara held up the clothing Ajani had given to her. This was… not what she had expected for herself. She’d thought they would give her something that actually covered her up, not something that was hardly more than underwear. Then again, seeing what they actually wore themselves, she shouldn’t have been surprised. She was on their turf, so she should wear their clothing, right? It wasn’t like people in the North Pole expected travelers to come in nothing more than vests and short trousers, right? It was probably what was suited best to this heat in this environment.

Still… “Do you have anything a little… I don’t know… Something that covers my torso a little more?” Katara asked, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Even if it didn’t fully cover her stomach, that wouldn’t matter as long as it covered her sides and her back and maybe if the slit was a little lower to cover the upper halves of her thighs a little better. It wasn’t that she was a prude. She wouldn’t care about being in her underwear around her family or her Tribe because a lot of people knew about her scar and they didn’t have to ask about how she got it, but no one in her party except for Sokka knew about the giant blemish on her body. What would they think about it? She would have to be wearing this when she reunited with her group. What would they say? Maybe Sokka would defend her, show the guys he had one, too, one even worse all over his back? Maybe they wouldn’t judge hers so badly, but she really couldn’t be sure about it.

Ajani looked at her own wooden breastplate, that only covered a few inches more than the cloth she handed Katara. “Eh…no. Ah…sorry.”

Katara gulped and undressed to her underthings. She didn’t bother asking Ajani to look away; for a couple of reasons, it was rude to order someone around in their own – well it wasn’t a house, but general place of residence, and she got the feeling that Ajani wouldn’t comply anyway. However, the main reason was that Ajani was a woman. Katara had seen other women naked, and it just… wasn’t that big of a deal to her. She seemed utterly confused by Katara’s request. However, Katara was relieved when Ajani sat on the floor and began rifling through her things, rather than just standing and watching Katara undress. Woman or not, this person was still a stranger.

When Katara finished, she crossed one arm over her stomach to hold the other arm. Ajani looked to her and nodded. “Wat you so shy fo’?” She asked.

“Shy? I’m not shy. I just have this scar… No one but my brother has seen it.” Katara grimaced and turned to reveal the large scar that trailed from her back to her thigh.

Ajani sucked in. “Ooh, das a bad one. But I seen wo’se, too. We weah ou’ sca’s proudly he’e.” Ajani turned and revealed a slice that went across her inner thigh. It wasn’t nearly as large as Katara’s, but it was obvious that the wound had been a very serious one. “Got a bit too close one day,” Ajani brushed it off with a laugh.

Ajani cheerfully changed the subject. “So you must o’ seen Yaomo befo’ you came he’e. Su’ely he saw you’ sca’s? Ah, I miss having dat boy around sometimes.”

“What?” It was more information that Katara could handle. She tried to sort out the facts in her head. “Yeah, I saw Yaomo, he led us here. But I, we, no; he just was our guide. I didn’t show him my scar; I don’t show anyone my scar. You were in a relationship with Yaomo?” Katara blurted out.

Almost at the same time, Ajani blurted out, “You did not sleep with Yaomo? O’ wat, you keep yo’ clothes on?”

Katara put her hand to her temple. “No. I don’t just sleep around. In the southern water tribe, when you become intimate with someone, you remain with that person for life. It’s sort of a marriage.”

Ajani’s jaw literally dropped. “You tied down to one man???”

“No…I’m not tied down to anyone, yet.”

It was Ajani’s turn to put her hand to her forehead. “How do you…wat happeens when you…Wat if…” She put her hands out in front of her and took a short breath. “Nevamind. Le’s jus’ get you to you’ men. Well, obveeously not you’ men, but…” Ajani just shook her head.

“I know it’s hard to understand. But my brother and I are the last of our people, and I want to uphold my culture in any way I can. A lot of people I have met have several partners before they settle down, or have an affair or two after they are married. It’s just a cultural difference.” Katara reassured that she meant no judgment.

“I don’ even know wat you mean,” Ajani admitted. “We don’ settle down he’e.”

“I don’t mean become sedentary,” Katara corrected. “I mean choosing one partner for life.”

“Oh." Ajani shrugged. "We don’ do dat he’e eedah.”

Katara sighed as she began changing. She had to rewrap her underwear so that it wouldn’t show beneath this new clothing, but that was the good thing about wearing a couple of pieces of cloth that had no true form until one decided how to wear it. Normally, she wore it up, over her shoulders, but that wouldn’t do this time, so she rewrapped it into one piece that simply circled her chest. Thankfully, the skirt portion was more accommodating to her usual style of bottoms, but she did have to wrap the pieces about her thighs to be shorter. She felt extremely self-conscious, and she spread her hair over her back to cover most of the scar there. There was nothing to do for the portion on her side and thigh, though.

She folded her torn, muddy clothing into a neat pile, and Ajani informed her that there would be men to mend the holes and clean the stains which baffled Katara. Sokka could sort of sew… badly… but he still knew the basic idea behind it, but she’d been in the North too long. Men simply didn’t do the sewing or the cleaning, ever. It was kind of cool to hear that they did that sort of thing here, but she wondered at the wording of Ajani’s sentence. Were men the only ones who did that sort of thing, or was she over thinking it?

Eventually, though, Ajani asked her about her nervousness, and it started a whole conversation she had never realized she’d be getting into. Thankfully, she wasn’t asked how she got the scar. Reliving that with a stranger wasn’t exactly something she wanted to do. However, Ajani then showed Katara her own scar on her inner thigh, and her eyes widened. The healer in her knew what a slice to the inner thigh could do because it happened to the hunters on occasion. If the artery was hit, they would usually bleed out before they could get anywhere near a healer. That was another reason why learning things the men knew was important in the waterbender’s mind. If healers could go hunting with the men, there would be fewer casualties overall.

Ajani’ s automatic assumption that Katara had slept with Yaomo had the young woman blushing. She remembered his kissing her, the way his hand had caressed her cheek before she’d gone back to the village. No, she hadn’t slept with him and had no intention of doing so, no matter how beautiful he was. Clearly, he’d slept with Ajani, though, and she felt the smallest twinge of jealousy before she forced logic to overcome emotion.

Katara laughed a little at the look on the other woman’s face. It was strange seeing an expression like that with the way her war paint was.

The cultural differences here were… huge… Katara had never been anywhere that didn’t embrace marriage. Sure, she’d heard about divorce and things in the Earth Kingdom, but even in the Fire Nation people got married from what she’d heard. Ajani was telling her now that in the Swamp, they slept with each other, but they didn’t ever get married or choose a mate. It was so strange, and she hoped she wouldn’t be expected to sleep with the men here.

Katara didn’t want to seem rude or judgmental, and she tried to make that clear. It was just so different from her culture, even from Northern traditions. Still, she was really interested in learning more about this, and her earlier question came to mind. “So, you said men sew here. Is it… just the men, or do women do it, too?”

“Eve’yone can sew he’e,” Ajani replied. “But…de men ah better at it. I’m know I’m not as patient as de men are wit it. I can stitch up a wound well enough doh!” She smiled. “Anyway, dey don’t have as many responsibilities, so dey get to practice de art mo’e offen.”

“Anyway, we can get dese fixed up fo’ you, but if you want a good job it will take a while. I’ll take ‘em to Jho. He’s one of de best.” Ajani stood and left the hut, walking out to the balcony once again. She grabbed a vine tangle and handed it to Katara again. It would be much faster to get to Jho if Katara could plantbend…but perhaps, if Katara was agile enough, she could help her cross the swamp canopy.

“Jho is in a hut like dis one,” Ajani explained. “Is easiest if we cross de canopy, but I swing from vine to vine. If I move de vines, do you tink you could reach out and grab de next one when I say so?”

Katara nodded, and so Ajani grabbed the same vine as Katara. It lifted them both off the ground, higher than Katara had been before. She wondered why they were going up instead of over, but she soon figured out why. The vine suddenly ceased its venture upward, and they fell down again, down and down until the vine lost all of its slack, and then it swung forward. It was much faster than Katara anticipated, but when Ajani yelled “Now!” Katara reached out for the next vine with one hand, and then quickly two. Ajani’s hand was just above hers on the vine, and the next vine swung forward much like the second portion of the last ride. They continued this, over and over, sometimes swinging to the side or being lifted over a tree branch, until they landed on another balcony.

“ ‘Ey Ajani, wat you been up to?” A man’s voice rang out, an older man walking out to greet them.

“You know, Jho, scared some folks, swung some vines. De usual.” Ajani said matter-of-factly.

“Heheh, yeea I know how’t is. Whatchu got he’re?” He motioned to Katara.

“Mahda’s guest. Would you patch up her clothes fo’ me?”

“Ooh, you done a fine job tea’ing this up! Yeea, I’ll do it.”

“You da best, Jho,” Ajani smiled.

“Yeea, I know. Get on outta he’e and tell you mudda I say Hi.” Jho waved goodbye as Ajani took Katara back the way they had come.

It was fascinating to Katara that men would be considered better at sewing than women overall. It had been the opposite in the Water Tribes, and in the North, it was odd if a man could sew at all. “You guys have to stitch wounds? I thought there were waterbenders here. Don’t some of them at least use healing techniques?” She asked. She’d never had to sew a wound in her life, being a master healer, especially one who had been taught by the Avatar herself and Yugoda – the best in the Northern Tribe. With all of the healers in the polar tribes, it was completely unnecessary for anyone to have to stitch a wound.

It was also incredibly strange that women had more responsibilities that had nothing to do with keeping a home. In the South, men and women both had duties that pertained to fighting and housekeeping, but women had a tendency to make the choice to stay home rather than become warriors while Katara couldn’t think of a single man who hadn’t been a fighter. In the North, women just couldn’t fight… until recently, and they had to stay home while the men went off to battle or did the hunting. This Ondin Tribe was a bit of a mystery to Katara, but this tribe had it completely backwards. It was exciting to see women empowered as they were, but it took some getting used to.

When they got to the point where Ajani asked if she thought she could follow the command to grab a vine in a timely manner, Katara nodded. She was pretty quick on the draw, being a waterbender who had been in several battles, who had trained for most of her life. This would be a little different, but it would be an interesting exercise. However, it wasn’t at all how she’d expected it to be. She could feel her heart getting a little fluttery the higher they went, and she definitely was not accustomed to being this high above the ground. She doubted she would come out of a fall from this height without some major damage.

Then, her heart stopped and her stomach leapt into her throat when she began the freefall that made her feel like she was about to experience just how badly things could get when she hit the ground. She gripped the vine so hard that her knuckles were white, and she almost lost her grip when it became taut, the jerking sensation startling her more than the fall itself. However, it then began to swing forward, and at Ajani’s command, Katara grasped the next one, and the next one. It became easier the more she did it, the Ondin warrior’s timing impeccable. It became a flow of a sort, one that the waterbender could easily go with once she let go of her hesitations.

Plantbending was unlike anything she’d ever seen in her life. In the icy tundras of the poles, plants weren’t exactly common… or existing at all, so there had never been any need to use this. Hama had showed her how to take the water from plants when she was in strange lands, but bending the water in a plant without taking the water from it was fascinating and seemed so useful. Her hunger for knowledge, especially regarding waterbending, made her want to learn this technique, too, even if she never got the chance to use it. Simply knowing it would be enough, like when Hama had taught her the other styles. Katara couldn’t have known that she’d ever use something like pulling water from plants because she never thought she’d leave the North Pole after arriving there, but clearly, it had helped enormously. Perhaps this could, too.

Finally, they landed on a hut, Katara’s boots landing a little harder than she would have liked, but having never done a landing like that before, she was just glad she stuck it without falling. She smiled at the old man when he motioned toward her. After Ajani announced that she was Mahda’s ‘guest’ (which was amusing considering she certainly hadn’t been brought here as one), Katara stepped forward, bowing respectfully. “My name is Katara.”

When she straightened, he looked at her a little strangely before simply grunting, “Jho.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She responded, and he just nodded at her. She supposed he just wasn’t used to outsiders because he seemed merry enough with Ajani. Finally, after the man took Katara’s clothing to mend, the two women left the same way they came. She landed a little lighter this time, her boots not making quite as much noise on the platforms.

“I’ve never met any plantbenders before. It seems like an incredible technique. Maybe you could teach me sometime, and in return, I could teach you some techniques from the other Water Tribes?” She offered. “We work with a lot of snow and ice. Maybe I could show you how to change the water between liquid and solid and how to work with it once it’s frozen? Unless of course you guys already know how to do that.” Training was good. It kept her mind off the idea that her brother and the rest of her group were maybe lost in the Swamp somewhere. However, she had faith that if they were fine with Katara, they wouldn’t let anything happen to her companions. Still, it was a little nerve-racking, waiting to learn what was going to happen.

“We can use wata to ‘heal, but very few of us ‘ave mastered dis art,” Ajani explained. “When dis ‘appened, I was alone. I was young. I did not know de tings I know now. I stitched it up and crawled ‘ome, after dispatching my enemy. I ‘ave learned much more since den.”

“I ‘ave never ‘eard of being able to freeze de wata. Show me?” Ajani asked. Katara complied, pulling a bit of water from her waterskin and freezing it into a ball of ice, before melting again and putting it back. Ajani looked on in amazement.

Ajani looked away from Katara after she asked if they could trade waterbending techniques. In the swamp, learning bending happened in a very strict manner, and only certain women reached the master level. Few of the men did, and all of them who did so lived among the nomads. While the Ondin were welcoming to the nomads, they viewed them as guests rather than Ondin, even if they were born among the Ondin. To give Katara lessons would be breaking the life of secrecy and seclusion that had been in place for generations. However, the idea of learning to freeze water was tantalizing.

Ajani shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe I could teach you one o’ two tings,” she said. “I am not supposed to, but…I don’ see de harm…” Ajani led Katara down the tree to the swamp ground below.

“’ave you eva watched an eart’bendah?” Ajani asked.

Katara nodded.

“De’e stance is strong. Solid. Cohnected wit de eart’. Our ancestors used de stances of an eart’bendah and translated dem into watabending. To move someting dat is cohnected to de ground, you too must be cohnected. But I don’t mean de eart’ in a literal sense. Feel de life around you. De plants ah directly tied to de ground on which you stand.” Ajani spread her feet and placed her hands outward. “De trick is to take dis solidity and melt it into a flow. Don’t forget dat de plant is a living ting. You can only move it de way it wants to move. You must study de plant life around you. If you try to move someting de wrong way, it may snap and break. Den you’ channel is ruined.

“Eventually, you will be able to feel dis cohnection witout ‘aving you’ feet on de ground. You wheel sense de wata in de plant and understand its cohnection, its sou’ce. You will memorize de motions of de plant. Den it is easy.”

Katara took a stance like Ajani. “Straiten you’ back. Good. Now wave you’ hand like dis – no, turn it dis way – yes. Ball you’ ottah hand in a fist. Rooted. Good. Sway de first hand. Move you’ to’so now. Yes. Do it again. No, you’ trying to fo’ce de plant from de outside. You ‘ave to be one wit dah plant. Feel its sou’ce. Cohnect. No, you ah steel trying to wo’k from de outside in. You can’t do it dat way. Try again.” Ajani sighed, and stood. “Kata’a, you ah ‘olding back. Don’t ‘old it back. You ‘ave to be strong, o’ de plant will not budge.”

Katara took a breath, and tried to do as Ajani said. Instead of the plant lifting, the water ripped out of the vine, leaving it shriveled and brown. Katara dropped the water and put her hands to her mouth. “I’m so sorry, I was trying to be forceful, like you said, and…”

Ajani walked over to the vine, muttered something that Katara couldn’t hear, and then broke the vine off where the brown turned to green. “De swamp will fo’give. De vine will live. You must try again. You understand de fo’ce. Now, remembah you’ ah a watabendah. Take de fo’ce and make it flow. Control dat fo’ce. Contain it in de shape of de plant. De’e is no room for ehh. Remembah de cohnection. Cohnection, Fo’ce, Control. Feel dem entwine, as de vine ci’cles de tree. Feel dem wo’king togetah as de mind, de body, de soul. Do it again.”

On Katara’s fourth try, the vine lifted upward gently before falling back down.

Katara felt a little bad when Ajani said that plantbending wasn’t something she was really allowed to teach. However, when the other woman said she didn’t see the harm in it, a smile lit the polar waterbender’s lips. It seemed like this was an opportunity to learn every style in existence as far as waterbending went. This was a really momentous thing. A waterbender could be considered a true master after merely excelling in one style, but Katara had mastered three styles already (Southern, Northern, and Hama’s unique style which didn’t really have a name), and now she would begin training with a fourth. Glee bubbled within her, but she forced herself to become composed. Just because she had mastered other styles, it didn’t mean she would master this one, but even just knowing it was a gift.

She watched as Ajani took a stance after asking about earthbending styles. Katara had acknowledged that she had seen earthbenders, for Gui and Shen were masters of that art, and she’d fought by their sides and she’d sparred with them. Her eyes took in every movement of the Swamp waterbender, and she mimicked the same stance. She had always taken direction well, adapting to whatever corrections her masters had bestowed upon her. Her back straightened, and she balled one of her hands into a fist while her other one waved one way – no, the other way – as Ajani instructed, trying the movement once more without trying to actually waterbend.

She wanted to be careful. Both Hama and Yaomo had warned Katara that harming the Swamp would result in terrible things, and she didn’t want that to happen, so practicing the movement before actually attempting anything was important. It was how she’d learned the forms Hama had taught her.

There was a vine right in front of her, and she closed her eyes for a moment, feeling its water, its life. She could feel water flowing from a distance if she concentrated, and she had noticed how she could feel the water flowing through plants as well. Now was no exception. Sapphire eyes opened, and she moved, concentrating on moving the vine in front of her, but it didn’t budge. She took a quick breath, trying to feel this plant’s essence, its water, as Ajani instructed. The vine wobbled a little, but the movement was so slight that it could hardly be seen.

I have to be forceful... Don’t hold back… She told herself, reiterating the Swamp warrior’s words. She took a deep breath. Be patient… Let it flow… As soon as she moved, she realized her mistake, and she heard the tearing as the water left the vine, leaving behind a shriveled husk. Horror filled her, and her eyes widened as she looked as Ajani. “I’m so sorry, I was trying to be forceful, like you said, and…”

When Ajani muttered under her breath as she approached the vine, Katara feared that she was muttering a curse on the polar waterbender, but the mood felt… off for something like that. Still, she couldn’t hear the words, and she had no way of knowing what Ajani spoke or what its meaning was. However, when she turned back toward her, there was no anger in her eyes, and she spoke of the Swamp forgiving her. Part of her wanted to believe it possible, but it had tried to kill her once. Would it hesitate to do so again now that she’d actually harmed it? No… Yaomo had believed it was a spirit, not the Swamp itself that had tried to guide Katara to her death. Now that she was with Ajani, that ominous feeling had faded to some extent. The Swamp felt alive, but it didn’t feel malicious or dark to her any more.

Katara closed her eyes, meditating for a moment on Ajani’s words. Connection… Control… Force… Let them flow… Let your mind and body connect with the body of this plant… Keep its shape as you keep your own… Her eyes flew open and she felt a twinge of fear. She realized why she had a difficult time moving the vine… She was thinking like a waterbender alone when she needed to think like a bloodbender. During the full moon, she could feel the water flowing through living creatures – animals and humans alike – and she knew she could control it. Never had she accidentally torn the blood from another’s body; she’d never even considered it an option. With this vine, she could think no differently.

Power itself ain't a bad t'ing, Cherie...

You wheel neva find de balance which you seek if you do not find balance in you’ own ‘eart.

The waterbender calmed her fears, taking a rooted stance, she allowed her movements to guide her qi into the vine, feeling the pulse of her energy entwining with the water within it. She did not force it to bend to her will but flowed with it. She could feel it lift, but the feeling wasn’t familiar enough to her, and it quickly fell back to the soft earth of the Swamp. A grin broke out onto her face as her eyes opened. “That was amazing! I did it! Did you see?” She felt a little like an enthusiastic child, bending her first puff of snow.

She tried a few more times, the vine moving a little more with each attempt. Mastery didn’t come in a day, she knew, so she was content with her progress however little it may have seemed to be. The waterbender turned to Ajani, bowing respectfully to her new teacher. “Thank you. I am grateful for your lessons.”

Then she pulled a small stream of water from her water skin, freezing it into a small orb and moving it through the air between her hands. “I grew up where the land is all ice and snow, so it was easy for me to know what ice should be like. You live in a Swamp where I imagine you never see anything like ice or snow. It’s so warm here that it may be difficult to imagine ice, so I want you to hold this.” She placed the frozen sphere into the warrior’s hands. “Don’t let it sit in one spot too long, or it will hurt you, but I want you to feel it, to know it in a solid state because if you don’t know what you’re creating, it will be a lot harder to attempt it.”

She pulled another stream of water from her pouch and allowed it to flow in its liquid state. “When I first started learning to create ice, my great-grandmother told me it was in the breath. In the South Pole, when you breathe, it freezes in the air because our breath is moist and warm, but the climate is much colder. You have to imagine that your energy is the cold, and your will commands it. It radiates outward from you to take over the liquid, to force it to become solid. Your breath is simply a way of directing that energy as you will it.” Katara hovered the stream of water above one of her hands, taking a small stance. Her palm faced the liquid, and she breathed slowly outward, her breath crystallizing in the warm air as it made its trajectory toward the stream above her hand. The stream crackled and popped as it cooled and hardened from the outside in. “To change it back to a liquid state, you imagine the opposite, that your energy is warm.” She breathed outward, but this time, her hand pushed downward, toward the ground instead of forward. The ice liquefied from the top down.

Katara bent the ice from Ajani’s hands into liquid and added it to the stream, taking a step to the side as she directed the stream in front of the plantbender. “Now you try. Your stance will flow; it won’t be like the earthbending stance you had before, but your feet won’t move. Direct your breath and your palms toward the liquid, imagining your energy as cold as that ice you were holding.” She watched the other woman take the stance and do the movement. Unlike with earthbending, there was a little more leeway to waterbending stances. They didn’t have to be perfect so much as they had to be comfortable and able to move with the situation, the flow. She felt the air around the stream of water grow colder, but it wasn’t cold enough, and the liquid kept its form.

“That’s really close. You’re doing good! Here, let’s try something.” Katara moved to Ajani’s side, holding the stream in place even as she changed her stance to fit the creation of ice. “I want you to feel the air around me. It has to be colder than you’re making it if you want the water to harden.” She built her energy, slowly moving through the stances, projecting her breath and hands forward. The stream shrunk into ice.

“Did you feel it? I know it may not be a comfortable chill for you, but your energy has to be as cold as this stream of ice for it to work.” She brought the ice-stream toward them. “Instead of touching it, try feeling the air around it. You can feel the cold radiate off the ice as the hotter air tries to battle against it. You have the power to win the battle for one side or the other, but you have to decide where to direct your energies and how. Unlike with plantbending, you don't become one with the water; you have to command it, control it, force it into the shape you want it to be. In the Swamp, it’s easier to liquefy water because that’s the state it wants to be. In the North and South Poles, it’s easier to make it ice or snow. But we’re in the Swamp, and we want ice, so we have to impose our will over the water. It will relent with the right circumstances.”

She turned the water back into liquid and hovered it before the other woman as she tried again. Katara could see the woman’s breath collect ice crystals, and a thin sheet of ice collected over the outside of the stream, but it shattered and broke away as the liquid inside writhed. Katara smiled. “That was so amazing! You got that so quickly! Now, you just need to concentrate on pushing the cold through the entirety of the water and not just the outside.” Katara was an encouraging teacher because she felt that students learned best under a positive environment. She’d learned her teaching ways through her great-grandmother, but as a waterbender, she’d had to adapt to Master Pakku’s more abrasive teachings, to go with the flow of the teaching styles. Hama had had a little bit of both sides to her, and Yugoda had been the kind of teacher the Avatar had been.

Ajani and Katara practiced the two techniques for a few hours. The Southerner was extremely pleased with how easily the vine had begun to move under her direction, and by the end, she had managed to move the vine in various ways at various speeds. Ajani had also accomplished the feat of freezing a full stream of water into a block of ice.

Katara looked toward the Ondin warrior as she suddenly paused, stopping her training and looked up. “What is it?” She asked. There weren’t any sounds but the chirping of a bird that was clearly not one of the tortured screeching variety.

“Mahda is sohmanning us. It is time fo’ he’ to pass jodgment.”

Her stomach flipped a little. This was the turning point. This would decide the fate of her Tribe and the future of the world as a whole. If the North failed to keep itself a stronghold, the Fire Nation would begin encroaching on the Earth Kingdom and on the Swamp where the last Water Tribe of the Earth would be.

Ajani felt a thrill of excitement during the exchange of waterbending techniques. She had always walked the border of the rules of the Ondin…always felt a thrill pushing the limits of the boundaries imposed upon her by her people. However, she’d never had the courage to fully break them, to turn them away completely. Becoming a leader of the Ondin and protecting the swamp was her responsibility. It was what she’d told Yaomo all those years ago, when he tried to convince her to leave along with him. It was the hardest decision she ever made. The outside world, and of course Yaomo himself, were both extraordinarily tempting. But she was young, and frightened, mostly of her mother’s disappointment. Ajani still wondered if she’d made the right decision.

But when she held that ice in her hands, felt a sensation unlike she had ever felt before, she longed to experience the outside world. A few of the eldest had said that Mahda’s bloodline had been a straying one. The only reason they were still in power was that it was also an extraordinarily strong one. Ajani and all her direct maternal ancestors had an unrelenting bond with the swamp. They could speak to it like one spoke to a person sitting next to them. The spirits who roamed had no sway over their hearts. However, Mahda had said so herself, the world was changing. Ajani felt like they needed to adapt; she felt that holding the Ondin’s ways as they were was trying to hold a lone tree against a hurricane. Even if they succeeded, what was the point when all the other trees were crushed?

When Ajani turned the water into ice, true ice, she laughed out loud. Of course the streak of ice fell and shattered into a million pieces, but she had done it just the same! While it was nothing like plantbending, she realized that she needed to learn the properties of water in this strange and solid state. She had never known water could take on any more. She wondered if a waterbender could make water extremely cold, could they boil it unto steam, like a fire does? It was a question for another time. Ajani again focused on her training.

Ajani never dared ask what Mahda had spoken to Katara about. That would have been an insubordination. She was dying to know what it was her mother did not want her to hear. Or perhaps it was something private of Katara’s information. Either way, Ajani hoped that when the council spoke to Katara, Mahda would let Ajani witness it. Ajani did not have high hopes for their response. But, her mom had been wild too once. She had felt the call for change. Ajani just hoped…

There was an unnatural chirping in the distance. To a stranger’s ears, it sounded like a bird. But no bird sang a song such as this, and Ajani knew it to be the council. She led Katara not back to Mahda’s boat, but even further into the swamp until they found a large tree. This tree was not the center, but was the closest meditation point. It was here that the two girls found seven women sitting on the raised roots of the tree. Ajani brought Katara to them, not daring to step onto the root, but rather coming down on one knee with her elbow resting on it, her head bowed. She glanced at Katara, who quickly did the same.

“Ajani,” she heard her mother call out. “Please take your seat on de council.” Ajani released a breath she had not known she was holding. She would be witness to the decision, even if she was not a part of making it. She would have to earn several more feathers before earning a right to debate on the council.

“Kata’a o’ de Sout’ern Wata Tribe,” Mahda’s voice rang out, “You ‘ave com he’e with a great plea. You wish us to aid you in de destruction of a Fi’e Nasion Ha’bor. Dis Ha’bor, you fea’, could be de ve’y destruction of you’ people, and watabending as you know it.

“I, and every vote on dis council, deny you ou’ aid.”

Ajani’s shoulders slumped. She could see Katara struggling with the same immense disappointment. It seemed that Katara was about to say something, she could see the words starting to form on her mouth. However, something was wrong. Ajani saw that her mother was no longer looking at Katara, but herself. Mahda stared at Ajani, and Ajani dared not look away. Had her mother found out about her teaching Katara plantbending? Were they going to end her? Could Ajani let them do this to a person who she was quickly regarding as friend?

Ajani composed herself, and willed the swamp to tell Katara to be silent, and on the ready. At this, Mahda smiled. It was not a happy smile, nor a sinister one. It was the smile one gave when saying goodbye. It was a smile of sadness, and love. Ajani did not understand.

“Howevah,” Mahda continued, looking back to Katara, “We do not object to you asking anyone else of de tribe. We of de council are rooted in de swamp. Ottahs of de Ondin may feel dat dey may su’vive dis uprooting. We undahstand de impo’tance of you’ mission. But please undahstand de impo’tance of dis dat we grant you. Anyone who agrees to go wit you wheel fo’ever lose de’e position among de Ondin. Dey will lose de’e home, de’e place in dis wo’ld. Undahstand dat dis is de price dey wheel pay to help you.”

Aside from her constant worry about her brother and the others, Katara felt happy, as if she had been accepted by the Swamp, as if everything would end up okay. Her brother and the others would be fine. Sure, they were probably worrying like crazy about her, but if the Swamp had lost its maliciousness toward her, then it wouldn’t threaten her friends, right? As long as Sokka didn’t decide to take his revenge on the plant life, she thought everything could be all right with him.

Training a new art gave her a way to keep her mind from the worry over her group. It gave her something on which to focus so she wouldn’t dwell on what decision Mahda was going to make for her cause as well. Everything was going to be okay. Everything would work out beautifully. Katara focused on her vine, lifting it from the ground and moving it to and fro. She could tell that Ajani was excited about the ice, too. It had probably been something that no one had ever really experienced here before, not with the heat, so being able to create something new like that must be as exhilarating as being able to plantbend was for her.

Then there was a bird song, and Ajani said it was time to go back to Mahda. Katara’s heart hammered in her chest, but it was a relief. It had taken hours for this decision to go through, so that probably meant that they’d decided in her favor, right? She wasn’t one hundred percent certain about it, but it was encouraging that it hadn’t only taken a few minutes.

When they made it to the area where the council was seated, she saw Ajani bow. After a glance from the Ondin warrior, Katara did the same. She stayed where she was as the woman climbed onto a tree root and faced the Southern waterbender. Because she wasn’t certain if she should right herself or remain bowing, she stayed in her position, head down respectfully. Then it came, the moment when everything would come to light, when she would know if her people would be saved or if they would be destroyed like the Southern Tribe. She waited anxiously, and her patience was rewarded with… denialrejection

Katara’s head jerked up to look at the women on the council, her gaze moving between each pair of eyes. This couldn’t be happening. Everything was supposed to look up from here! It was supposed to work out… How could they just stand by and let the last Polar Water Tribe be destroyed? Was it her fault, because she was a bloodbender? Were they so disgusted that they felt that it was justified if she was destroyed with her people? Her lips parted to speak, but a sharp look from the warrior kept her voice silent.

Instead, she waited, wondering why she wasn’t merely being dismissed. Had they decided that they not only wouldn’t help her but also that they could not allow Katara and her party to leave? That seemed strange to her, considering how she’d gotten along with one of the daughters of the Ondin. She had so much that she could teach these people if they would be willing to accept it. She didn’t have to teach them things that defied their nature or their beliefs, but things like icebending were extremely useful. Why would they destroy her? She hadn’t done anything to try to hurt them, after all.

Then it came, and for a second, Katara wasn’t sure she understood the words. So the council themselves would not go, but she could take others with her? Then the hardest blow came. She could ask the Ondin, but they could reject her, and if they chose to help, they would be cast from their tribe forever. Her eyes widened, and it was difficult for her to feel pleasure about knowing that she could get help when it meant that the people who did help her would lose their homes. The waterbender knew how terrible it was to lose one’s home, the only life one knew, but she hadn’t had a choice in the matter. If she was Ondin, would she forsake her home to help save the world, to be a part of the bigger picture? She honestly didn’t know, but she had to try even if her guilt would increase with each person who accepted.

No… You can’t think of it like that, Katara. These people would be making the choice to go with you. While you’re the one asking, it’s still their decision. You aren’t forcing them, and if they don’t believe in the cause, they won’t go. They wouldn’t be forsaking their home; they’ll be saving it…

Katara stood and bowed respectfully. “Thank you for granting me even that much.”

The old woman turned toward her daughter. “Ajani. Please lead de rest o' Kata'a's group he'e.”

Then the two women were dismissed, and Katara followed Ajani away from the council. When they were out of sight and out of earshot, the waterbender pulled the plantbender aside. “Look, I know this is probably a lot to ask, but I’ve seen you at work. You’re a fast learner and already an excellent waterbender. We could use you to destroy the harbors. I know it’s a lot to ask, especially considering the fact that you would have to leave your tribe forever, so I’m not expecting an answer right now. Just know that if you come, you’ll always have a place in my tribe if you ever decide that you want to live in colder climates. If you don’t want to leave, I’ll understand. I’m not going to try to force or coerce anyone into this decision because it can’t be made for a reason like that. If people come with me, they have to want to do it because they believe in the cause. I’m not going to take anyone who isn’t one hundred percent certain that it’s what they want.”

She knew it would take time for the people of this tribe to accept her plea for help if they did at all, but she wasn’t going to go without at least trying to get the aid she needed to save her people and prevent the Fire Nation from taking over the rest of the world. Hopefully, Lu Ten wouldn’t abandon them if they couldn’t come up with the other twenty-five men needed, but if the Ondin couldn’t produce them, Katara would do everything it took to change Chief Arnook’s mind.

Two women dressed and painted in a similar way to Ajani approached them. They obviously looked to the other woman as their leader, and Ajani instructed them to go with Katara to the others, to introduce her to them so she could talk to them about her mission. They complied. “Thank you.” Katara said to Ajani as they parted ways, one to go recover five men lost in the Swamp and the other to find warriors to destroy some harbors.
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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Tue Jul 17, 2012 8:20 pm

Ajani found the rest of Katara’s group well within the Ondin boundary. This fact on its own was quite surprising, for the five men were without a guide. There was a pain in her chest, but she pushed it away. She refused to acknowledge the disappointment she felt, not seeing Yaomo among them. Ah well, anuddah time, she thought. She wasn't sure that there would be another time, but it was a comforting thought.

Ajani crawled across the higher limbs of the canopy until she was directly above the group. Crawling through the tangle of branches and vines, she worked her way to the lower parts of the canopy, until she was shrouded by nothing but thin layer of leaves. She peered over her cover, watching the men move forward. Yaomo wasn’t here, but there was no reason she couldn’t have a bit of fun. Besides, she wanted to see what each of them could do. No point dropping in on someone who might potentially attack you, without having learned at first what they are fully capable of.

She studied each face, moving along the branches above their heads while she watched them press forward. Pretty Face Boy. Fluffy Hair Boy. Worried Face Boy. Serious Scowl Boy. Pony Tail Boy. She studied their faces, their body type, their body language, their clothes, their weapons. She tried to commit each one to memory. One of them glanced in her direction, causing her to pull back abruptly behind a trunk. Ponytail boy’s got good sense and a good ass, she admired.

The trail that they had been following came very suddenly to a halt, where the vines became so entwined that they were taut and impassible. If Yaomo were there, he’d have known that there’s a weak point under an uplifted root where the vines are actually all loose, but these men did not know this. Here was where she decided to test them.

She dropped her vines very suddenly on the tall one with hooked swords, Fluffy Hair Boy, tangling him against his own weapons and hoisting him high into the air. The scream he let out almost made her giggle, but he was not her focus. The tangled man screamed at his comrades to get him down, and she watched to see how they would react, and hopefully find out what skills each man possessed before introducing herself.

Yaomo was gone. Which probably didn't mean great things. Lu Ten wasn't exactly sure what was going on, but the idea that this was just simply the swamp itself trying to lure them away seemed less and less likely. A glance at Sokka told him the same was being thought by the water tribesman. Then again, Sokka had been the most critical of the idea that the swamp had actually been out to attack them from the beginning. Lu Ten's eyes narrowed around him. It felt somewhat comforting to know that Yaomo was out there, if the man could truly be trusted. No, he couldn't actually think that way, if Katara had trusted the man it would have to be good enough for the rest of them. If the mysterious dark eyed man was in on this he could just as easily have gotten them in their sleep the night that Katara had been taken. Something told Lu Ten that Yaomo wasn't the sort to leave survivors if he wanted them dead, either. Not to mention he had saved Katara from something else in the swamp. Yaomo being a traitor didn't make sense.

Softly, Lu Ten started to whistle, three particular tones. He watched as one by one his men straightened, just faintly, but enough to let him know that they still knew what the three tones meant. They walked in silence, calmly stepping forward. The air was deathly quiet, it seemed, as if the birds sensed the tension that all the men felt. Lu Ten narrowed his eyes slightly as he looked at an impassable wall on the trail, and felt his blood run cold at that particular moment. If he was waiting for a time to attack someone, he would wait until there was a point where they couldn't actually flee. It would be exactly like this, and it would involve something swift and decisive. Lu Ten slowly glanced over his shoulder, looking for things to come out of the shadows at him. Smash them up against the vines, make a swift and decisive blow and cut the head off of the snake. That was the way of the Fire Nation.

Instead he watched as Jet shot up, gripped by vines that jerked him up. He gave a less than manly scream at it, but while it normally would have been hilarious, Lu Ten was thinking of the possibilities. In a heartbeat he had considered all he knew about the situation. They weren't attacking in force, but they were attacking with vines. If Lu Ten thought of them like people instead of vines, then they would be scouts. Scouts were critically important on the battle field, but at the same time they were expendable. It was a horrific truth, especially if you happened to be a scout yourself, but at the same time it was a necessary one to realize. You sent forward things you could afford to lose, and you made a gamble on the play. Test the strength of the enemy, see what it was before you made another move. There were plenty of times a scout viewing an enemies full power would change the course of a battle if a scout made it back alive.

On the other hand, if you knew you were being watched and let the scout report something back that was untrue, you could have an advantage. There wasn't any sense in playing all of their cards at once, on the other hand, Lu Ten was tired of being screwed with in this damned swamp. His people were looking to him in that moment. If this person was really trying to test their defenses, they would likely be targeting him next. Typical army tactic, go for the generals first, hoping that their loss would demoralize or confuse the rest of the troops. It would work well even in small groups of men. Thankfully his men knew what to do on instinct even without him barking orders at them, but maybe having them go after him was just what he needed. That was of course assuming that he was right about the swamp not being after them itself.

Lu Ten pulled a sword from its scabbard. He wasn't nearly as well versed in them as Zuko had been, but on the other hand he did know how to handle himself with one, his father had insisted upon that. Know how to handle yourself without your bending, as it would be invaluable if you happened to be able not to bend, or if you were in a situation where you didn't want to be seen bending. If Lu Ten lashed out with a fireball now, he could likely cause them to charge him before he was ready for it, or get himself killed before he could do any good. Given the number of fire nation troops that had gone missing in this swamp, something told him that no one was going to react very kindly once he started lighting this place up. But spirits help the swamp itself if it was the trees themselves that were attacking him, he'd light this whole forest up before he'd become plant food. He'd been respectful enough going in, but enough was enough.

"Sokka, get him down." Sokka nodded and threw up his boomerang which arched across and cut through the vines holding Jet, leading to a flurry of swearing as he started to fall down. Over it, Lu Ten called out. "Gui, let's give 'em a Omashu Firework..." The earth bender nodded and stomped his foot on the path. A rock along it shot up into the air and then exploded apart, tiny rocks flying in every direction at high speed as Lu Ten scanned the tree line for movement. Even a tiny rock hitting you at a good sized speed was painful, and hopefully peppering the trees would at least cause one of their attackers to show themselves.

Ajani was surprised when Pony Tail Boy let fly a weapon that sliced through the vines that held her prisoner. She waited until Fluffy Hair Boy nearly hit the floor, and then caught his foot and jerked him upward with a single vine. Using another vine, she grabbed the ankle of Pony Tail Boy and flung him upward. His body flew in a perfect arch before landing in the water a short distance beyond.

Ajani attempted to wrap up Pretty Face Boy with a flurry of vines, but Worried Face Boy – Or was it Serious Scowl Boy? She was having trouble telling them apart – earth bended a series of tiny sharp rocks in every direction. Ajani abandoned her attack and defensively lifted the branch of the tree in front of her to take the brunt of the flying rock. Still, she felt a few slice at her legs. She reached her hand out and gave a mental thank you to the tree.

She reached out and shook the leaves in several different locations. It might have been too late, they may have already found her, but perhaps it would make them think there were several people and not just one. At this time she realized that Fluffy Hair Boy had escaped her trap, and that Pony Tail Boy had returned to the fight. Now, Ajani let fly a horde of vine ends, each man being attacked with several vines moving in a violent whipping movement. In truth, it wasn’t all that damaging, but rather a distraction as she let another vine slither up behind them.

In this trick, she managed to secure two of the men. The vines pulled them up into the trees, tight against a trunk. The other three had figured out her plan and stayed a step ahead of the advancing vines. However, they were too busy defending themselves to help their bound comrades.

Well, things were certainly going to shit. Lu Ten watched as Sokka cut Jet free just to have another vine grab him and hoist him up in the air just as Gui sent a shower of rocks in every direction. Lu Ten watched the tree line and saw Shen doing the same as he looked for some sort of opening, something to attack. There was a reason why sending a shower of arrows down on your enemies camp wasn't considered a proper form of warfare. There was also a reason why it was damned effective at killing your enemy too. As a vine came towards him he hacked it, only to watch two more take it's place, while Lu Ten spun around and hacked the two only to watch more come. He wished that he had bothered with the swords the way that Zuko had, it would have been helpful to have two of them right about now and be able to cover yourself in a constant twirl of spinning blades.

When the trees rustled Shen fired a flurry of heavy rocks at where it had come from, gritting his teeth as he did so, only to watch as vines grabbed Gui and jerked him upright, binding him high into a tree and severing his connection from the ground. The rocks sailed through the trees and apparently did nothing. Lu Ten snarled a little as he cut through another couple of vines that were coming his way. Maybe he'd been wrong, maybe it was the forest itself that was attacking him. If that was the case he was certainly going to give whatever tree that took him something that it wouldn't forget. He could feel his temper rising as the attacks persisted, his body heat starting to rise along with it. Fire benders weren't well known for their ability to control their tempers, and Lu Ten was getting damned sick of this forest around him attacking him.

Still, he managed to keep things in check as a vine snapped around his sword arm, gripping it and tugging him. With his free hand he gripped at the vine, pulling roughly back on it enough that he could arc his sword down to snap through it. Jet had managed to free himself and had half cut Sokka free, his actions very much like Lu Ten would have expected Zuko's to have been, spinning his hook swords around himself to cut vines while he tried to get his team mate free. Even so, the fighter's energy wasn't endless, neither was Lu Ten's. There would be a point at which he managed to run out of energy. Still, something told him to hold off, Yaomo was out there, after all... still, if that red eyed playboy didn't do something soon, Lu Ten was going to burn down this whole forest in order to smoke out whoever or whatever was attacking them.

Yaomo breathed a sigh of relief a little as he managed to put a tree in between himself and the others as soon as the rocks started pelting out of the sky. Luckily he had traveled enough that he knew what they most likely meant by an 'Omashu' Firework. The city of Omashu didn't really have fireworks, but given the way that Yaomo had observed the rock going straight up it wasn't too hard to discern what the firework part of it all would be. Yaomo had managed to get behind a tree before getting nailed with anything, but it was still close. He supposed that he couldn't exactly blame them for attacking all of the woods around them, given that they were plant bending against them. A fairly typical Ondin strategy, which more than likely meant that the Ondin had a hold of Katara and not something less savory like the swamp itself.

Not that the Ondin were saints by any stretch of the imagination. No, Yewande had taught Yaomo just how dark a person's spirit could be, and how easy it was for one to frolick under the mask of being in 'balance', just so that you could do whatever it was that you wanted to when the rest weren't looking. Follow the societal norms, attend the rituals, regurgitate the holy words, and no one would even bat an eyelash at you. You believed like they did, after all, why would they even think to accuse one of their own? No, they would be looking at the person who didn't speak the holy words perfectly, someone who didn't attend the rituals, someone who was different from them. When it came right down to it, it didn't matter how innocent you were if you seemed like you were different. They would rather cling to a demon that spoke like them than a foreign baby.

Yaomo let it go though, the annoyance and anger in his heart. He'd left that along with the Ondin, along with their ways. It hadn't been a hard decision. He'd never plant bended in his entire life, the only skill that Yewande had taught him was the voodoo, and that certainly wasn't something that the rest of the Ondin would accept in him. With Yewande dead, and in the way that she died he'd needed to leave to go see the world. He really didn't expect that he would be joined, and he hadn't been, not even when he'd asked. What did he expect? That someone would care for him beyond what the tribe said was right? It was wrong to focus your love on one person per the council... yet at the same time it meant that no one would ever really be the only person for you. That when you reached out to the one person that you cared about above all of them, asking them to trust you, to go with you...

... they would say no.

As Yaomo leapt up into a tree he finally saw her, and his eyes rolled lightly. Just one, just Ajani alone bending the plants, causing a headache for those that were trying to fight her off on the ground below. Yaomo snuck around, out of eyesight from her. He'd always been exceptional at games of stealth, though given that he had spent most of his life isolated from the rest of the tribe because of his eyes and what the others thought it meant, few had really been able to appreciate it. Still, even if Ajani would have spotted him normally, she had her mind on her toys that she was dealing with right now, the group of men that she was wrapping up in her vines. Knowing the Ondin, Yaomo placed a fairly good guess that she had already ordered them in the order with which she wanted them the most.

When he emerged from the shadows behind her, she was still in the throes of bending, and Yaomo came up quietly behind her, lightly pressing the butt of his bo staff into her back, watching her stiffen and her vines fall at the sensation. She would know well enough that even though the end of the staff wasn't sharp, it could be spun from this position easily to break her collar bone or her leg at the speeds that Yaomo could swing it. Not that he would though. Yaomo had never really been the sort to hurt a lady, especially a pretty one.

"I'm t'inkin d'at be enough, Chere..." he said to Ajani. "You had your fun, now how 'bout lettin' d'em down and showin us to de one you took..."

Ajani took a sharp inhale, arching her back against the pressure of what she knew was a long staff. Her heart pounded with pleasant surprise, but she tried to suppress that emotion as quickly as it flooded her. She lowered her hands, letting the vines down, making sure the people who were trapped within them landed softly on the ground. She shouldn’t have been surprised. For one, she should have been more aware of her surroundings. For another, she should have known it would have been impossible for those knuckleheads below to make it this far on their own.

“Yaomo,” she said sweetly, turning around from her squatted position faced away from him, to a kneeling one toward him. She gently wrapped her fingers on the staff, pushing it lightly to the side. “I was hoping you might come prod me wit a stick, but I did not ezpect it to be dis one. We’e you been?”

“T’ink you know de difference between Yaomo and de staff. I be bigger.” Yaomo smiled, but even so, his face had always been a difficult one to read. Was that amusement? Or anger? He sighed, tilting his bow staff in the opposite direction she had pushed, the direction that he best focused his momentum during a fight. He reiterated his suggestion. “Where is she, Ajani?” He asked.

She sighed, and stood. “Kata’a to’d me she not had a piece of Yaomo. I see dat she was wrong. She caught a piece of you’ ‘eart already. Yaomo, you always did let you’ ‘eart break too easy.”

Now she saw anger in his face. “Kata’a is fine. She is wit de rest of my people, convincing dem to go fight wit her on dis ‘a’bor mission.”

At this, he arched a brow. “Don’ suppose she convinced you, Ajani.” He said. She could feel the accusation reverberate through her body.

Ajani flinched, and looked away. “Why don’t you introduce me to de knockle’eads?” She suggested, pointing her thumb over her shoulder down at the group of five below.

There hadn't been a right answer for her to give. The best she could have hoped for there was to admit that she had no intentions of going with Katara and remain consistent. The fact that she said nothing made him wonder. He didn't particularly want to think about what it meant that she would let someone like Katara convince her when he hadn't been able to. But then, he'd never really been the best at judging what he meant to a woman. Some women would snuggle up to you, offer you everything in the world and be the first ones to stab you in the back. Others would treat you like you were nothing to them, like your very life was less important than whether or not their house plants wilted, but if you left them it would shatter them inside. The unfortunate mess of it all was that there was no telling one of those women from the other.

Ajani seemed keen to play it off as if it didn't matter, but Yaomo's crimson eyes stared into her back lightly as she went down to meet the others, pausing just a moment before he followed after her, watching her as well as the woods around him. He'd like to have said it was just a precaution, and that it wasn't because he didn't trust Ajani any longer. But time changed everyone, and she'd made her choice, the tribe over him a long time ago. No telling what that had done to her over the years. For all Yaomo knew she could have become just as bad as Yewande by now. Something inside him wanted to believe that it was impossible for Ajani to change so much that she would turn into something like... Yewande had been... but then as the old woman had reminded him she had once been a young thing, innocent and naive to the workings of the world.

As they went around to meet the rest of the crew Yaomo watched as most of them were cutting vines off of each other, a staple for having been attacked by the Ondin. Yaomo smiled a little, grimly as he looked at them, returning his staff to its holster on his back as he looked around, waiting for them to collect themselves. Lu Ten was the first to do so, but he was also the most cautious of the bunch, lingering back a little and making sure that his men got free rather than to come up and introduce himself right off the bat. Probably might be afraid he could do something to give away his nationality as well. It was a fair strategy, given how many of his kind had died here in the woods. Yaomo didn't want to be forced to explain about it, and would be curious how it was that Katara brought it up, if she even did. Given that he was a single defector, maybe it wasn't an issue.

The earthbender that had called himself 'Shen' was the first one to come up, looking a bit too much like a moth to flame for Yaomo's liking. He didn't seem like he even had the excuse of being turned on by the woman, it was just that he seemed horrifically curious, something that would probably get him in a lot of trouble later on in life. Learning of Koh the face stealer and then seeing him was enough to make Yaomo realize that there was only so far curiousity could take you safely in this world, and a lot of places that it could take you that weren't safe whatsoever. Shen still seemed to have the piece of mind to wait to introduce himself though his green eyes were curiously studying Ajani as he looked at her, seeming not to know whether or not he should be afraid of her or just ask her a million questions at this moment.

When the others arrived, Yaomo motioned to Ajani. "D'is be de one causin you all de trouble, mes amis. She a member of de Ondin tribe, goes by Ajani. Seem like she jus' trying to have fun more d'en anything else, regardless of how wise or not it might be..." Yaomo said, casting a critical eye on Ajani as he looked to the other ones. "Lu Ten..." he said, pointing to the leader of their group, though he was clear not to mention that he was the leader. Given the political structure of the Ondin tribe, they probably assumed that Katara was in charge and Yaomo was more than happy to let them assume that. "Sokka, Shen, Gui... an..." Yaomo gestured towards Jet, then scratched the back of his head. "Uhm..." he frowned slightly.

"Jet." the fighter growled.

"Yeah, d'at's it. Jet." Yaomo said with a wide grin, watching the expressions on the faces of the others. Lu Ten seemed the most aloof of the bunch, his yellow eyes scanning the tree line. Given that he was their leader it didn't particularly surprise Yaomo that he was paranoid about there being others. Probably wondered if he could trust Yaomo as well. Gui and Shen seemed to be the most talkative in their introductions, while at the same time Sokka and Jet held back a little bit. Yaomo could see though the way that their eyes wandered Ajani's form. He imagined that she probably was at least a little happy about that. She'd always been the sort to find new men strangely fascinating.

"Not to be interruptin, but..." he said, interrupting the earth Benders. "Don' you think it best we be gettin on?" he said to Ajani. He'd feel better once he'd gotten Katara and gotten out of this swamp. Guiding people in here that you actually cared about was surprisingly more stressful than just leading in the fire nation inside to die at the jungle's leisure.

Ajani gave Yaomo a pout at his mention of her not being wise, but that was soon replaced with a radiant smile as she was introduced to Katara’s group. Pretty Face Boy, Lu Ten. He seemed…strangely hesitant. It didn’t seem like a man with a face like that could be shy, but, perhaps he was. Either that, or perhaps he was still angry with Ajani. Either way, there was more that met the eye with this one, she knew. It was…intriguing. Pony tail Boy, Sokka. His weapon style was fascinating, and from what little she had learned of his personality, he seemed like a person she could get along with well. But something about him was troubling her, something she was supposed to remember. He was…too familiar. To easily could she fall by his side, and match him in a battle of sarcasm and wit. He was like…Katara! This was her brother! Warning bells went off in her head. This was the guy with the “settle down with one girl” culture. She didn’t want to insult him, so she reminded herself not to be her usual flirtatious self around him. She should always be polite and proper.

Serious Scowl Boy…Gui. Or wait, was it Shen? The earthbending twins looked the same to her. They were the friendliest to her, and she appreciated it. However, she could see in their faces youthful naivety. Fluffy Hair Boy, Jet. He never even stopped scowling when being introduced, and refused to shake her hand. Something about him put Ajani off. She sensed a roughness about him, a stark anger. They seemed to have incompatible personalities. It would be best to avoid him entirely.

All of this Ajani calculated in the moments upon meeting them. She knew that she could be wrong in her assessment. But however unwise she was in some aspects, she did tend to be a good judge of character. She was a carefree spirit, not a naïve one.

“Is a pleasuh to meet all of you. I should apologize fo’ attacking you. I meant no ‘arm by it. I just wanted to get to know you bettah. No bettah way to find out about someone den in a fight, eh?. Next time I get to know you mo'e, I promise to be on de same side o’ de fight.”

Yaomo suggested they press on, which surprised Ajani. He rarely went this far into their territory, and he’d never been back among her people since he left…not that she knew, anyway. Why go now? Did he care for Katara that much already? Or…perhaps he didn’t trust Ajani. She supposed she could not blame him for this.

“O’ course,” she agreed with him, much to the disappointment of one of the earthbenders, who had been in the middle of a question for her. “If you all wheel follow me, I wheel take you to Kata’a and de Ondin.” She then looked at the earthbender. Gui, o' Shen? Eart'bendahs all look da same to me. "We can talk along de way," she said to him.

Despite her first impression of him, Jet was the only one who seemed to nod and accept that fighting was actually the best way to get to know someone. He seemed rather surprised when he looked around for signs of other agreement and there simply weren't any... at all. Gui and Shen were polite enough not to say anything, and seemed to look away quietly when Jet looked at them as well as the Ondin tribeswoman did. Shen bit his lip lightly and scratched the back of his head, kicking a rock on the ground. Sokka and Lu Ten, on the other hand, both had looks upon their faces that clearly were asking if Ajani was actually serious, and it was Sokka who actually spoke first, scratching his chin. "I... actually find that I'm usually pretty good with getting to know someone by just talking to them, myself..." he said slowly, looking at Lu Ten.

"Or... if it's a girl, a nice dinner..." Lu Ten offered.

"Some nice music..." Sokka said in agreement.

"Some candles..." Lu Ten said with a shrug.

"Anyway... it's uh, nice to meet you Ajani." Sokka asked, his brow furrowing as he seemed to be noticing the way that Ajani was reacting to him, but it was impossible to tell. Yaomo, who was watching it all, knew only one thing, and that was that he wanted to leave. Much how a good thief was like a bad lover in these sorts of situations, in... out... and you were done. Unfortunately, it seemed like the group, having learned that Katara was most likely alright, were relaxing a bit around Ajani, all except Lu Ten, and the fighter who Yaomo had already forgotten the name of. He seemed to have a scowl permanently embedded on his face though except when he was trying to discreetly stare at Katara's ass.

Once they finally started to get on the move, Shen seemed to be almost attached at the hip to Ajani, asking her about her paint, whether it was worn all the time or on special occasions when they hunted, what it was like growing up in a swamp. If they believed that the spirits were stronger here, pointing out the way that Yaomo had lectured them on the way into the swamp the first time before he'd let them go on their own. Yaomo was surprised how little Ajani seemed to mind the questions, however. Yaomo himself could have answered them, but personally it was somewhat annoying just listening to the flurry of questions that Shen was leveling at the newcomer, much less having to answer them himself. Figuring that it was best to blend in with the crowd as much as he was able, Yaomo let himself hang back a bit, near Lu Ten.

"You're sure we can trust her?" Lu Ten asked in a soft voice that Ajani couldn't possibly hear over the clamor of Shen's questioning of her. There was a serious look in his eye that Yaomo recognized. The fire bender had never actually looked at Katara romantically, but she was someone whose safety was important to him. It was the sort of look that Sokka had when he looked at Katara, Yaomo realized. But that didn't make much sense, given that she was from the water tribe and he the fire nation. Yaomo had to wonder what sort of bond had joined the pair of them that would be strong enough that their leader would think of her like a sister to him. Still, it wasn't exactly Yaomo's place to ask.

"Think so. More you live, the more you learn that certainties don't exist, non?" Yaomo said with a smile that Lu Ten didn't return. "Still, I t'ink it more likely d'at the Ondin be lyin to her than her be lyin to us." Yaomo offered, scratching his chin a little as he thought about it. She had let him down in the past, but she also had been true to herself when she did it. There was no reason to believe that she wouldn't be honest with him now. Yaomo blinked a little as he realized that Shen had actually exhausted his line of questioning. Though, sadly, it had opened up the silence for Sokka to start talking about his philosophical inconsistencies with Spirits existing at all, much less in the swamp.

"I'm just saying, Ajani, that scientifically speaking, there's no valid reproducible evidence that any spirits actually exist. Many people have tried to call on them for observation by the masses and failed. And if this place really did have spirits, why wouldn't we be able to see them, or why wouldn't they mark their territory the way that normal creatures do? Supposedly they're our forms in the next world, but they only appear randomly when we least suspect anything. What all of this sounds like to me is just a bunch of swamp gaaaaaaa-"

Sokka's voice cracked slightly when he stumbled forward over a root and fell roughly into a small lake of muddy water. Growling, he stood up, shaking the water off of him as he looked at his clothes.

"Uh... Sokka, you got an elbow leech." Lu Ten said lightly.

"Oh fuck! Where?!" Sokka blurted out as he spun around several times trying to see if he could see the leech. There was an awkward silence from the group.

Lu Ten groaned. "Think about it, Sokka..."

Sokka shuddered and pulled the elbow leech off of his elbow roughly and tossed it into the swamp, shuddering as he looked at the mark that it had left there on his arm. Yaomo frowned a little, but he supposed it was important to tell him.

"You... might want to check for leeches, other places. Sometimes d'ey don' just go for the elbow, if you know what I mean..." Yaomo offered, watching as Sokka paled suddenly, and started tearing off his clothes... all of his clothes.

"Oh god, what if there's one on Big Boomerang!" Sokka wailed as he tore off his bottoms. Yaomo watched as Ajani's eyes remained focused on Sokka's groin while all of the rest of the group save for him looked away in horrific disgust. It wasn't anything that Yaomo hadn't actually seen before, though in his opinion calling it 'big' was probably something that Sokka did just to make himself feel better.

"Dude... spirits." Lu Ten growled as he shielded his eyes. "Really? In front of everyone?"

"Whew... I had to know, man..." Sokka said as he redressed, and they started going. Unlike before there seemed to be a long pause and silence as Sokka looked down, watching the vines more carefully this time, and everyone else tried to figure out a good way to change the subject from Sokka's junk. Finally, Lu Ten drew in a breath, and sighed.

"Alright, I gotta know... why 'Big Boomerang'?" Lu Ten asked bluntly.

Sokka paused, and scratched his chin. "Well, I mean, it fits into my hand, and it's the only thing that I spend more time polis-"

"AAAND I'm sorry I asked." Lu Ten said with a groan as he rubbed the sides of his nose. Yaomo couldn't help but smirk at the exchange, though at the same time, he too was anxious to get to the village.

Ajani looked at Lu Ten. “Dinnah and candles, eh?” She said.

Sokka coughed. “And music…”

Ajani looked at Sokka and muttered something between Hmm and Ahh before turning away.

Luckily, Yaomo interrupted with a request to get a move on, and from that point on she was too distracted by Gui – No, Shen, it was Shen – to get into any more awkward situations. She hadn’t known a person could talk so much. He seemed legitimately interested in her and her people, so she tried to answer his questions as honestly and completely as possible.

One of the first questions he asked was about her paint. “It depends on de situation,” she admitted. “It is to be wo’n when fighting, hunting, and du’ing rituals. Som’times, if a battle is long, it can be wo’n for weeks. Som’times a day.”

When he asked about her growing up in the swamp, she had to think on it for a while before she could answer. “De swamp is ‘ome…it is ‘ard to ezplain what it was like growing up, because I do not tink I know how diffe’ent it was he’e den elsewhere. I nevah been outside de swamp. Dat would be a better question for Yaomo.”

She turned and looked at him, but he was in conversation with Lu Ten. Before she could mention to Shen that he might ask Yaomo of it later, he’d already asked her another question, this time about the spirits in the swamp. “We, de Ondin, fight to protect de spirit of de swamp. Howevah, ottah spirits find refuge he’e. We ah cohnected wit de land he’e, and so we can speak to dem. Ovah de gene’ations we have com to an agreement. We continue to protect dem if dey leave us be. Dis protection is not offered to eve’yone. It is why it is impo’tant that we distinguish who ah welcom he’e and who ah not. Now dat you ah guests, I do not fo’see the spirits troubling you any longah. Of cou’se, spirits ah spirits…only dey can keep de’e promise, not I.” Shen and she talked a bit more about how her people were connected with the swamp, a way of life that he admitted to not hearing much about outside of the boundaries of the Ondin.

The last topic was a big one, and eventually Shen quieted down, obviously mulling over the information he had gained. Ajani enjoyed the silence, but it was short lived. Sokka was suddenly right there next to her, questioning her about the existence of spirits. Partway through his lecture she said “I did not know de’e existence was in question…” but he kept on going. She tried to listen, but he was honestly confusing her. She was trying to find a way to leave the conversation when he suddenly plunged face first into the water.

When Lu Ten told Sokka he had an elbow leech, Ajani let out a giggle. But after Yaomo mentioned that he might have elbow leeches elsewhere, Ajani cracked up laughing. There was a nice show while Sokka checked his goods, and Ajani laughed through the whole thing, sad that such an entertaining man would limit himself to one woman for his entire life. She laughed and laughed until she caught Yaomo glaring at her, and then she abruptly shut up…well, a giggle or two escaped, but she did her best to keep it in.

Lu Ten’s question reminded Ajani that she had one of her own. “Boomerang? Is dat wat you used to cut down fluff – Jet?”

“It sure is,” Sokka responded with a proud smile, and he whipped out his boomerang, the weapon version of the name.

Ajani admired the weaponry. It was made of metal, an element that was rare to the swamp. However, it was a ranged weapon, and that was quite common among the Ondin. “May I try it?”

“Aah, sure, I guess. It’s pretty tough. You may want to try and fling it with both hands first. Make sure you –“ Sokka ducked as the boomerang flew past his head and up into the air.

“Well, that was a good throw, but it takes practice to get it to come –“ Sokka shut his mouth as he saw the boomerang arch and come flying back toward them. He reached out and caught it, robbing Ajani of the chance to catch it. She clapped and smiled.

Sokka frowned at her. “You know, if you are soo good at handling a boomerang, you could – “

Ajani dropped her smile. “Lu Ten is calling me,” she said, and quickly walked up beside Lu Ten, leaving Sokka behind.

Lu Ten smirked a little as Ajani seemed to fixate on what he said, even more so when Sokka attempted to chime in only to the sound of silence around him as if he wasn't there. Ouch. Yaomo almost cringed at it, though it was too funny really to do anything but smile. He did notice that Lu Ten seemed to relax a little around Ajani as she asked the question, though it was impossible for the red eyed scoundrel to tell if it was an act or simply that he was feeling more comfortable around the woman. Yaomo would give Lu Ten one thing, he could be a hard read when he wanted to be. "I haven't had many complaints about it in the past..." Lu Ten answered Ajani with a little bit of a smile. Yaomo could notice the Ondin woman's eyes on the firebender. How typically Ajani to go after the hottest one first.

Yaomo did have to admit that he was surprised by how much Ajani revealed about her tribe, and it made him relax quite a bit. If they were willing to be that open and honest, with men nonetheless, then it was probably a good sign for how Katara had managed to do convincing the Ondin to work with her on all of this. He hadn't truly distrusted Ajani before, but having corrolary evidence made him feel even better about it. Though the warning that he gave Lu Ten was still fresh in his mind. Ajani might think that everything was fine and good, but Yaomo was a living testament to how the Ondin could lie to you, make you think one thing and then completely do something else altogether with your good intentions. No, that wasn't exactly fair, it wasn't the Ondin... it was just... people.

The guide stiffened a little as she mentioned that something would be a better question for him, though when he glanced at Shen the conflict in his eyes on which one of them to question more vanished as he started to ask Ajani other questions. It seemed that it was better to go for the one that he would have the least amount of time to ask questions, rather than Yaomo, who he probably presumed he could ask questions of later. It was for the best though as far as Yaomo was concerned. The past, specifically his childhood wasn't exactly a pleasant topic. Of course, having refused him, Ajani only knew the good parts of that particular story, the darker parts were, well...

Yaomo's eyes focused on Ajani when she brought up the spirits. Personally, he thought it was a rather naive view on the spirits, though it was one that most of the Ondin shared. Seemed to him that they were praying to the wind. When the wind was with them it was because their prayers were answered, and when the wind was against them it was just a freak accident of nature. Likewise, the spirits that taunted them were always rogue spirits, not the ones that were a part of their so called 'bargain'. Since Yaomo had learned how to see past the veils into the spirit realm, however, he hadn't had a chance to verify with any particular spirit that there truly was a bargain from their perspective. Again, spirits were things that you just didn't talk to, as far as he was concerned.

Sokka, of course, was skeptical of it. Yaomo appreciated his fascination with knowledge, on the other hand, it was amusing to watch how violently Sokka struggled to fit the world into his own view of it. It seemed like the water tribesman would more than willingly call a boarcupine a catgator if it not being true somehow violated the science of what he believed in, regardless of how silly it seemed to be. In a strange way he envied the man for his conviction, and for how simple it must make things to him. On the other hand, Yaomo wondered what would happen if Sokka was ever able to see the true world instead of what he just expected of it. Would he be able to handle such a thing, or would the lack of scientific explanation simply shatter his mind?

As Sokka made a fool of himself, Yaomo heard Ajani laugh, and there was an odd sense of nostalgia there. He hadn't actually heard her natural laughter in quite some time, and it reminded him of what little happiness his childhood had been filled with. Those days, of course, were long since gone, and best forgotten, but there was an odd melancholy note to it that seemed to drudge up memories that Yaomo hadn't allowed himself to examine in longer than he could remember. Sokka seemed to take far longer than he should covering himself up, though it seemed to be more horrific for his fellow teammates than it was for anyone here who actually knew the swamp. Yaomo just shook his head.

The boomerang was somewhat fascinating to him as well. While Yaomo had traveled the earth kingdom, he hadn't really gone for the water tribes as they were at the time violently under the siege of the Fire Nation. While it was a shame, at the same time Yaomo was too shrewd to get involved in a war, especially one that he didn't see a side worth fighting for in. As he thought of it though his mind lingered back to Katara. What would he do if she asked him to go to war with her? Would she be worth fighting for? Could he really trust that when push came to shove she wouldn't break things off, the way that Ajani had? Could he really even handle her destiny?

Yaomo watched in silence as the boomerang flew, and frowned as he saw it arch and come back. It seemed like a rather sub standard weapon in Yaomo's opinion. The way that it arched around, if the original shot was deflected then it simply would bounce away and you would be without a weapon. On the other hand, if you knew what it did, all you would have to do was adjust your position from what it had been to avoid it coming back and hitting you in the back of the head. It seemed a better weapon for fooling animals than really being effective in battle, though Yaomo was open minded enough to accept the fact that an initial demonstration probably didn't fully represent it's potential.

When Ajani skirted around back to Lu Ten Yaomo suppressed a smile, though he found it interesting that she gravitated to the least talkative of the bunch, even if he was probably the best looking. Yaomo kept quiet, listening to what the pair of them were saying, still somewhat curious about how the leader of their little group was going to play this one off.

"I don't actually remember calling for you." Lu Ten said with a hint of a smile at the woman, raising a brow. "You sure that pact with the spirits hasn't been broken?" he joked a little as he glanced forward.

”Nevah su’e anymore, not wit all you ruffians running around de swamp, causing chaos,” Ajani replied, but it was lighthearted, with a smile.

“Did Kata’a convince you all to follow her?” Ajani asked him.

"To be fair," Lu Ten said with a smirk, "I'm pretty sure that they started it first."

Yaomo had to wonder about the man, if he had some sort of connection with the other realms himself. While not like Katara's, Yaomo could still sense a powerful aura about the man. He was certainly a major player in all of this, though what his ultimate role would be, the red eyed fighter couldn't begin to imagine. This sort of thing wasn't exactly uncommon though, as he had mentioned to Katara. Powerful destinies attracted one another, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. If two people shared a common goal they could do wondrous things, however, if they were at odds the clash of the two of them would be unpleasant. Hanging around someone with an aura like that could be a gamble. Great risk for even greater rewards if you believed in what it was that they happened to be fighting for.

Lu Ten smiled at Ajani's next question. "Oh, something like that..."

A smile tugged at the corners of Yaomo's mouth as he watched Lu Ten. He was good at keeping his secrets. It probably meant that he was a fairly decent Pai Sho player when it came right down to it. Yaomo wondered if he would ever have a chance to play a game with the man, as it seemed like it could be an educational experience, all around. Still, something told Yaomo that with as much battle experience as Lu Ten had seen, he was probably a mean Pai Sho player when it came right down to it. That, or his continued survival was luck, though Yaomo's observations suggested otherwise.

"I think the real question is, is she going to be able to convince enough people to go with her..." Lu Ten mused, half to Ajani and half seemingly to himself.

Lu Ten spoke to Ajani the way Mahda spoke to her. She didn’t understand what he was alluding to and she felt like it was purposefully done. She felt as though she wouldn't understand even if it was explained to her. It was much like when a parent answers a child’s question without having actually answered it. Ajani was a straightforward person. When she spoke with someone, it was the honest truth. People to whom she could not share her secrets, she just did not speak to. It wasn’t until Katara was accepted by Mahda that Ajani even bothered trying to have a conversation with the woman. She was glad to have done so.

“De’e is mo’e dat meets de eye wit you, I can tell,” Ajani mused. “I don’ know wat. I don’ know dat I’ll eva know, o’ even undahstand if you explained it to me.”

Lu Ten looked at her, but said nothing. His face revealed no glimpse as to whether what she said was true. Everyone hides something, Ajani reminded herself. Even she, being honest and outspoken as she was, had a few secrets buried deep down. Perhaps she did not even know what they were.

“A bit o’ advice fo’ you. You ah worried dat Katara will not convince us to go fight he’ battle. You’ battle. A person senses wit’holding. I could sense it wit Katara, doh it was not in info’mation but in bending. But it does not mattah. If you do not come to us baring all; we will feah you’ secrets and continue hiding, as we have always done.”

Ajani leaned in, putting a hand on Lu Ten’s shoulder. “I not even decided yet. But I tell you someting. You convince me to go, I can guarantee at least ‘alf of de nombah you asked fo’. And if you convince Yaomo…he get you dat ottah ‘alf easy.”

She leaned away again, taking her hand off of Lu Ten's shoulder. "Plus, tings tend to get fun when you bare it all." Her eyes twinkled a bit.

Yaomo watched at the way that Ajani was perplexed by Lu Ten. He didn't know that he could really blame her, after all, all of these people were in some ways unexpected to him. Especially Katara, the girl was a puzzle in a mystery fraught with danger, and yet there was something about her that was oddly... attractive in a way that he couldn't describe, not even to himself. There was certainly something there from his side of things, though with the way that she had reacted to his kiss before, Yaomo was pretty sure that she didn't actually feel the same. It was a shame, after all, but despite what Ajani thought of him, he was much more guarded with his heart than he used to be. Still was able to play it all off with a smile though, and it seemed that keeping that mask on was enough to fool someone who used to know him. Hopefully it would fool all the others as well.

If Ajani thought that her speech was going to get Lu Ten to suddenly open up to her, she was wrong. Instead, the firebender seemed to smile even broader at her prodding for information. Given how likely it was that girls would flock to a man of mystery, Yaomo wasn't exactly surprised at the man's smile, though, he wasn't sure that Ajani would play into his hands that easily. He shook his head lightly and raised an eyebrow at her. "I'll give you a bit of advice back, then. Anyone who tells you that they're telling you absolutely everything is either lying or trying to sell you something." Lu Ten said with a shake of his head. "Everyone keeps secrets, they might be as big as a mountain or as simple as not saying what you really think of something that someone thinks is awesome, but we all have 'em."

"I think Yaomo's decision is out of my control." The yellow eyed man said, glancing back at Yaomo as he raised a brow. That revelation came as something of a surprise, and made Yaomo wonder exactly how much Lu Ten had been reading in to what he'd done, what his actions had been. Still, with a game face that would have made most gamblers weep with envy, Yaomo simply smiled at Lu Ten's glance, then looked onward, before glancing back at the man who seemed to be whispering something at Ajani, though Yaomo could make out the gist of it by reading his lips.

"I guess I'll just have to find a... different way to convince you." the man whispered to her and offered her a light mysterious wink at that, which Yaomo had to force his eyes not to roll at.

Clearing his throat, he interrupted the pair as he pointed to the boats that were in the water in the distance. He knew there were guards watching them from a hidden spot even now, and he was sure he was unwanted, but he wanted to see Katara more than he feared the guards, at least for the moment. "We're here, Ajani." Yaomo said softly, "Now, why don' you get Katara for us?" he asked, not particularly wanting to be here any longer than he had to be... bad memories here...

“Touché,” Ajani shrugged at Lu Ten’s advice. What he said was true, but it was still…disappointing. Katara seemed much more upfront and open about herself with Ajani then Lu Ten seemed to be. She wondered if it was just the connection of waterbenders that lent to their ease of trust. Perhaps he did not agree with what Katara was trying to do. Perhaps he thought the Ondin were not the right people to ask for help. In that, he wouldn’t be wrong either. Katara had come here on not much more but wishful thinking…and yet she managed to somehow capture the sympathy of Mahda herself. What had she said to Mahda, anyway?

At Lu Ten’s mention of Yaomo, she stole a glance backward at him. He merely smiled, not at her but just a general smile to hide any evidence of his decision on the matter. She felt disappointment again. She wished she could talk to Yaomo about it. Wondered if he was thinking of going, the same way she was. Wondered how in the world she could possibly ask him to go with her…knowing that she declined the very same request some years ago.

She was surprised out of her brooding with a whisper in the ear from Lu Ten. Utter confusion swept over her for a moment. She had been thinking that his allusiveness had been because of her. She had just assumed that he wanted nothing to do with the Ondin, and was just here at Katara’s fancy. Most guarded people shut all of their doors. But the confusion was wiped away with excitement, and she smiled and forgot about most of her worries that had been plaguing her moments ago. Something tugged at the back of her mind, but she’d address that later.

“Hmm. How persuasive ah you?” She asked with a devilish grin, but before Lu Ten could respond, Yaomo interrupted.

“In a rush ah we, Yaomo?” Even as she said it, she put her hand on the ground and Listened for Katara. After finding the general location, she stood and let out a loud whistle. It was soon replied to by another in the distance. “All right. I’ll go get you’ girl.” She said, to no one man in particular, and then lifted herself into the canopy above.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Wed Jul 18, 2012 2:57 am

“I’m Ene and dis is Sangi.” The shorter of the two women said. They were dressed and painted almost exactly like Ajani had been, but she noticed they each only had one feather protruding from their tight curls while Ajani had three. Did it signify something, or was it simply a matter of how one preferred to decorate oneself, the way different hairstyles in the Water Tribe were dictated simply by personal preference?

“It’s great to meet you, too. I appreciate your escorting me around the Tribe so I can speak with them. Where do we start?”

“Wit de women. You don’t ask de men fi’st, o’ you weell cause offense.” Sangi answered, and they led her toward a boat. A woman resided within it, and she sat at a table, watching a young man a little younger than Shen sewing something. She didn’t wear war paint, and her attire was closer to what Katara currently wore. Her brown eyes narrowed a little at Katara when the three women entered, but she didn’t object when they took seats in front of her on the wooden floor.

“Lamai, dis is Kata’a. She comes to talk to ou’ people.” Ene introduced them.

Katara then proceeded to gently ease her way into this by explaining how she’d come to be among the Ondin and her purpose there. She explained the mission and the importance of it – not just for the Northern Water Tribe but for the world, for the Foggy Swamp Tribes as well. Then she explained to her, very carefully, what Mahda had said, that people could join the mission, but they would no longer be Ondin. Then she reiterated the importance of the mission, finishing with the fact that she only wanted those with her who fully believed in her cause.

Lamai scoffed and leaned back against the wall of her boat. “Who else goin’? You not just havin’ Ondin fight you’ battles, yeah?”

“Of course not!” Katara defended herself. “We have one hundred men from the Northern Water Tribe and a whole army of rebels from the Earth Kingdom.”

The woman’s brow rose. “Men? You havin’ a bunch of men fight? Mo’e men dan women?”

Katara shook her head. “I don’t know. Maybe there will be more men, but what does that matter? Men are just as capable as women in battle. I’ve fought side-by-side with many men.”

“I don’t be takin’ no demands f’om men. Women lead betta.” Lamai spat.

Katara contained her frustration. When she’d spoken to Ajani, she’d gotten the sense that men weren’t held in as high esteem as women, but she hadn’t realized it was this bad. Maybe Ajani just wasn’t as consumed by this as other women here seemed to be. “In a mission like this, there will be different groups doing different things. I’m sure women will lead some of them. There are women among the rebels, and I’m a woman from the Northern Tribe. Men aren’t the supreme rulers. They aren’t the only ones in command.

“You ‘ealize you be askin’ me to leave my home fo’eve’, to maybe die in a st’ange land, fa’ f’om de Spirit o’ de Swamp?” The woman asked.

“Yes, but it’s no more than I’ve been asked to do myself. I wouldn’t ask anyone to do something if I wasn’t willing to do it, too.” Katara responded.

“You know not’ing about dis. You ain’t nevah had to leave you’ home fo’ good, to nevah retu’n!” Lamai spat at her.

Katara could feel her anger building, but she kept it in check. “Yes, I do. I was born in the Southern Tribe, and I fought the Fire Nation to preserve it, but they destroyed my home and all but five of my people, but I didn’t get away unscathed. I have this to remind me of my failure to protect my home.” She turned a little and gestured toward the massive scar marring her flesh.

“The South Pole is now a wasteland where even animals can’t live, so there’s no way for me to ever return home. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Spirits have also abandoned it. Now, the Fire Nation is trying to do the same to the North Pole, and they won’t stop until the entire world is destroyed by their flames. The only hope the Northern Tribe has now is the destruction of those harbors because the Fire Lord seems hell bent on taking out the Water Tribes first. Maybe that’s why so many Fire Nation soldiers have been coming into the Swamp. Maybe they know that waterbenders live here, and they want to destroy your people, too, just like they did mine, and just like they will the North Pole. The Earth Kingdom will fall, too, if we don’t do something, anything we can.”

Lamia didn’t seem impressed, and Katara thought for sure that asking this woman had been a waste of time. “I weell tink about dis, and you weell ‘ave my answer by de end o’ de day.” She said, surprising the polar waterbender.

“Thank you.” Katara said, and the three women left.

Each request was much the same with her explaining things to them, them asking similar questions, and her repeating the answers. Many outright told her they would not go, but several told her they would at least consider her offer carefully. Only three people told her immediately they would go, but while Katara didn’t discourage them, she encouraged them to give it more thought before their ultimate decision, reiterating the fact that she didn’t want decisions to be made hastily.

“No. I know dis is what I be wantin’.” The man, Pallab, told her resolutely. “I be wantin’ to leave fo’ some time, now, but nevah had no good escuse. Dis be what I want. Dis be my callin’, what I be waitin’ fo’.”

“Thank you. I appreciate it.” Katara said sincerely.

She heard footsteps on the wooden planks of the treetop structure, and she turned to see Ajani enter. Katara moved quickly to her feet, her eyes wide and worry entering her mind even while relief came, too. It was too difficult to read Ajani’s face with her war paint. “Are they… are they here? Are they okay?” She asked.

“Dey he’e. Come. I take you to dem.” Katara followed Ajani out of the tree house and grabbed the vine the plantbender offered to her. They swung quickly down to the ground where she saw her group waiting for her. Immediately, she rushed toward them, throwing her arms around her brother.

“I’m so glad you’re all safe! I was so worried!” She pulled away and touched Lu Ten’s arm then looked to the others. That’s when she noticed Yaomo was among them. She was about to speak when Sokka interrupted her.

You were worried?” He asked incredulously. “While you were here with the Ondin playing dress up, we were freaking out that some crazy people were cooking you on a spit! We watched you get dragged away by plants, Katara! It’s not like you just waltzed away like the first time you disappeared in the Swamp.”

“I wasn’t playing dress up! Getting dragged away like that tore up my clothes, so they gave me new ones which, by the way, are way more practical for this heat! I was still worried about you guys! I couldn’t just leave! They thought I was here to hurt them at first, and I had to take the time to convince them that I was on their side. Then I had to try and convince these people to join our mission while Ajani went to get you. It’s not like I’ve been living it up and having picnics with them!” Her fury was rising, and she badly wanted to punch her brother, but her relief that he was safe overpowered the anger he instilled within her. She took a breath and looked to Yaomo.

“Did you change your mind and come back to help us?” She asked, her voice a lot softer, the tone a lot kinder than she’d shown her brother.

“No. We went back to get him.” Gui spoke up before Yaomo could say anything.

“We knew we wouldn’t be able to find you on our own, so we high-tailed it back to his hut, and he led us back through the Swamp, into Ondin territory.” Shen finished.

Katara’s eyes widened and she looked at Yaomo’s face. Had he really risked coming into Ondin territory after having been so adamant about never passing over that threshold all for her sake? Why would he do that? There wouldn’t have been time to negotiate a price, would there have been? From the looks on the others’ faces – namely Jet’s – they hadn’t had to pay him. She smiled softly at him. “Thank you.”

Then she noticed that the others all had her eyes on her, but not on her face. Their eyes were staring straight at the scar that ran over her back, along her side, and onto her outer thigh. Being among the Ondin had made her forget that her group had never seen it before, that she’d always been fully covered among them. Now, she felt distinctly uncomfortable, and she could feel her face redden a little as she tried to nonchalantly sweep her hair over the scar on her back before positioning her arm in front of the marred flesh of her side and thigh though her arm simply wasn’t wide enough to cover it. Shen’s lips parted, and before anything could be done, his words sprang from his mouth. “How did you get that?” He asked, his voice filled with awe.

Sokka looked at Katara as if noticing for the first time that she hadn’t covered her scar, then he narrowed his eyes at Shen. “I… um… Sozin’s Comet.” She said simply, not wanting to go into further detail but knowing that would be sufficient because all of them knew what had happened to the South Pole, and they all knew that’s where she and Sokka had been raised.

“How do you move so easily with it? It’s huge.” Shen asked, and she saw Gui elbow him hard in the ribs, letting him know he was getting out of line, and the younger earthbender looked at her sheepishly. “Sorry.”

“Psh!” Sokka’s voice sounded. “You think hers is bad? Take a look at this!” With that, he pulled off his tunic and turned his back toward the others. His entire back was covered in tight, red, mutilated flesh of burn scars. From the front, one never would expect that he’d have scarring of any kind, and she could understand why Shen would be perplexed by how easily they seemed to move with the amount of flesh that had been damaged on both of them. Somehow, Sokka’s revealing his scar seemed to take away some of the shock… or at least the awkward discomfort that went along with that surprise. The group’s eyes widened, and Shen spoke. “Okay, seriously… How are you guys not basically cripples with all of that scarring. Isn’t it hard to move?”

“Nah. Not now. A combination of daily sessions with the Northern Tribe’s best healers and the most painful stretches you can imagine helped a lot.” He spoke so nonchalantly that it sounded more like he was talking about how he’d scraped his knee rather than having been brutally injured by firebenders.

“Wait… I’ve seen Katara heal burns. They’re just… gone when she’s done, so why do you guys have scars like that?” Jet piped up.

“Probably because Katara healed your guys’ little sissy burns.” He turned toward his sister. “No offense. I mean, Katara’s a great healer, but severe burns like ours would take days to heal even if a healer got to them right away, but ours didn’t get attended to by waterbending healers for a week or so. We had to rely mostly on herbal healers until Katara got enough strength and mobility back to start working her magic.” He shrugged like it was no big deal. Even so, she didn’t want to talk about this. It brought up too many memories of that time, of her failure, of her weakness. She could tell by the look in his eyes that for all his laid back demeanor about it, he didn’t really want to go into it, either, but he was just doing it to eliminate the curiosity surrounding the scars so that they wouldn’t be such a sought-after subject later.

“Anyway,” Sokka changed the subject before Shen could ask any more questions, and he tossed Katara’s pack to her. “Here. You forgot this when our hosts so graciously dragged you here.” She caught it and slung it over her back while he stuffed his tunic into his own. It really was hot here, so she wasn’t surprised that he would rather go shirtless, but she suspected he was doing it for her benefit, too.

She noticed his eyes travel over Ajani’s shoulder toward some of the women who had left their boats to peer at the strangers in their territory. He flexed his arms at them, smiling. Okay, maybe it wasn’t solely to keep attention off of her scar so much as to impress the ladies. There had been a time when he would have been flexing muscles that were hardly there, but in the last three years, he’d started to bulk up a little. He definitely wasn’t as muscular as Yaomo – who was? – and he was smaller than Lu Ten, too, but he was a little more muscular than Jet. Sokka was no longer the lanky guy who stared at imaginary muscles any time he passed his reflection. These days, he actually had a little bit of something to flex.

“I must leave you now. I must speak wit de Swamp. I will be back by de time de moon rises.” Ajani spoke. Katara suspected she hadn’t wanted to interrupt the reunion with her group, but now she had things to do. Was she going to speak to the Swamp about joining the mission? She was eager to know the woman’s answer, but she could wait for it just like she had to wait for everyone else to tell her their decisions.

“See you later, then.” Katara said.

“So,” Sokka asked when Ajani had left them, “How many of these guys did you convince to come with us?”

“Um…” Katara said hesitantly. “Three, maybe. There may be more, but most of the people I spoke to either won’t do it or have to think about it.”

“Seriously? What’s their deal? Do they want to die or something?” Jet said incredulously.

“No, of course not!” Katara defended them. “If they go with us, they’ll lose a place among the Ondin forever. It’s a lot to think about and consider. Try showing some empathy, Jet. It’s easy to leave when your home is destroyed because you don’t have a choice. For those who consider joining us, they know their home is still here, but they won’t be able to return. It’s a tough choice to make. There’s no turning back once they make it. Regardless, we need to leave tomorrow morning. We’re their guests now, but I don’t want to overstay my welcome.”

Katara turned to Yaomo. “Will you stay with us? If we can’t get enough Ondin to join, we’ll need someone to help us find the Nomads. Technically, we could probably have Ondin lead us to them, but from what I’ve been hearing while talking to these people… they really don’t respect the Nomads very much, and I think it would be a lot better if we have someone who knows the Swamp but isn’t necessarily Ondin.” That, and she felt a lot safer knowing Yaomo was there with them. After he’d saved her from a slow death in quicksand, she felt a lot more relaxed with him there. She felt… safe and protected. It was true that while she was among the Ondin, she didn’t feel that same sense of unease that she’d felt when she’d been traveling here, but that didn’t mean much. Who was to say it wasn’t simply because she was in their territory, and they were somehow immune to the wrath of the spirits? As soon as she left, would they try to hurt her again?

Katara hated the idea of being a damsel in distress who needed rescuing because she was fully capable of taking care of herself against most enemies, but… the Spirits… That was a different matter entirely. That pull to follow… to obey the whispers calling to her to follow the way to pure happiness, to a place where pain didn’t exist, to free herself from the chains of sadness and despair. She understood now that the price of freedom was death, that there was no other way to escape a life of pain. However, she also understood that life shouldn’t simply be thrown away. It was precious, and if left to her own devices in the Swamp, she would be all too willing to submit to the soothing calls of joy and peace, especially knowing that she could be reunited with those she’d lost – even if she knew they wouldn’t want her to go that way.

So yes. Yaomo made her feel a lot safer in this place, and from Lu Ten’s words the first time their guide had left them, he felt a lot more secure with the red-eyed man among them, too.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Gadreille on Wed Jul 18, 2012 10:03 pm

Ajani’s destination was the deepest part of the swamp. At the very center of the swamp grew a very large tree, the oldest part of the swamp in existence. The spirit of the swamp was clearest in this location. It was a sacred place for the Ondin. Even the nomads revered it, though they practiced their reverence in a different sort of way. Ajani approached the large tree, setting herself on her knees in shallow water at the edge of its root. She bowed her head forward, resting it on her hands, and her hands on the tree root itself. She spoke aloud.

“It is I, Ajani of de Ondin. I know you know of me. I know you know of my weaknesses. All my life, you is all I have evah known…and all my life, I have craved knowing elsewhe'e. You ah my home, my life, my duty and my love. My ‘eart is torn. I want to do wat is right in you’ eyes, but de times ah changing. I feel as doh wat I am supposed to do to protect you involves de greatast treachery: leaving you. Like a muddah who lets he' baby sail away from devastation, I find myself stuck between wanting to forevah be at you’ side and fight ‘til my deat’, as I was tought to be; o’ abandoning you dat you may su’vive. ‘Ave I blinded myself to de trut’ dat I may relieve myself of my duties? O’ do I know wat is right beyond even deh Council? Is it dey who I feah, and not you? Please, Spirit, tell me wat I must do.”

Immediately, the sensation of the swamp spirit filled her. Her eyes flew open, but she saw nothing. There was blackness all around. At the same time, her heart filled with love. It was so full that it might explode. She felt…comforted with this love even surrounded by the darkness of the void beyond. The fear of the blindness battled against the love, the contradicting emotions leaving her lost and confused. Then, the sensation went away, and her vision returned. The tree lay before her, no movement but a slow breeze that gently pushed the branches toward the east.

“…I do not undahstand…” She said aloud, but she knew it was for naught. The swamp had told her what she needed to know. It was her fault for not understanding it.

“What brings the Ondin here?” A voice rang out from above, and Ajani jerked back upward. Sitting high on the roots was Huu, an elderly nomad that she had once been very close to, as a girl. She hadn’t seen him for many moon cycles. “I didn’t see any of the boats nearby,” he commented.

“I com’ alone,” she said to him, standing once more. “I needed to speak wit de swamp.”

“And did you?” He asked.

“Yes, I did.” Ajani responded. She could hear the disappointment in her own voice.

“The swamp tell you something you are unhappy with?” Huu asked, patting the root next to him as an invitation to sit. Among the Ondin it was forbidden by anyone but the highest of authority to set foot on The Tree. Huu’s power was worthy of that status, even if he was not a part of them. She hesitated, and then gently stepped forward. She half expected the tree to lean down and smack her off, but nothing happened. She climbed up and sat cross legged facing him, as he was her.

“I am unhappy wit myself,” Ajani admitted, and decided to explain the entire situation to Huu. He listened quietly, saying nothing as she described the strangers, Mahda’s response, Katara’s quest, and Ajani’s own indecision. When she finally finished, he leaned forward.

“It is your alliance to your people that holds you back, Ajani. If the swamp did not want you to leave, it would not let you. Nor would it let you return. I have done so many times.” He paused for a second, and then continued. “Human alliances are only an illusion. We are all connected, even if most folk don’t act like it. It doesn’t matter where or what or who you are. We are connected, and nothing will stop you from being connected to this place, this spirit.”

“How can you say it is an illusion when I feel it wit my own ‘eart?” Ajani cried, slamming her hand to her chest.

Huu ignored her frustration. “You choose which emotions control you, Ajani. Illusions are an experience, like everything else. But they can be overcome, just like anything else.

“Do you not choose to pretend that the emotions you feel of leaving aren't there? Do you not choose to hide yourself from these emotions, so that you can continue to serve the Ondin as you have always been taught to do? How can that be seen as anything but an illusion? Ajani.” He rested his hand on hers.

“I have known you for a long time. I’ve seen the spirit in you since you were a small girl. Trust your own heart, and don’t let the nuances of people distract you from your purpose. The swamp only gave you a glimpse of an answer. It is up to you to see it whole and done.”

When Huu spoke, it was as if he channeled the universe into a few short words. So much understanding flooded in her that at first she could not sort it out. She thought for a moment, willing her heart to calm as she arranged the information in her head. In a few moments, she nodded.

“I do not yet undahstand my pu’pose,” she said, “But I undahstand dat I will nevah know it if I remain he’e.”

Huu smiled.

Instead of going directly to Katara, Ajani wandered throughout the Ondin to speak with them privately. Many had already made the decision to stay, a few were undecided, and a couple had already made their decision to leave. She did her best to convince the few undecided toward Katara’s cause, and left those who had made their decision to their own devices. However, in these conversations, a few tears were shed, as one side realized that this would be the last time that their sister, Ajani, would be among them. Of these conversations, one of the hardest was Ene. She and Sangi had been Ajani’s companions for most of her life. Sangi had yet to reveal her decision, but Ene found she was too rooted to leave.

“I wish I could ask you to stay, Ajani,” Ene said as she clasped Ajani’s shoulders. “But I’ve known a long time dat dis day may come. I did not know it would be undah deese circumstances doh. I wish…I wish only dat you’d run off fo’ love o’ adventure instead o’ wah. I will miss you so. I will pray to de spirits for you’ protection. He’e.” Ene handed Ajani a bone knife, very simple in design. There was a hole in the hilt that had a few beads tied to it. “May it protect you in darkness.”

“Ene, tank you. I will treasuh you always.”

The last person she needed to visit was Mahda. Ajani stood on the ground just beyond Mahda’s boat and looked toward it. This was the last thing she must do. Once she told Mahda, it would be final. There would be no going back, no changing her mind.

Ajani stepped forward.

Inside Mahda’s boat, Mahda was sitting where she usually was, the same way as when Ajani had brought Katara in to her a day before.

“Mahda, I –“

“I know why you ah he’e, child. De’e is not’ing to be said.” Mahda turned her head away.

“But, Mahda, I –“

Mahda put her hand up. “NO! I will not he’e it. I cannot. My ‘eart can’t beah it!”

Ajani fell to her knees, wrapping her arms around her mother. “ Oh, Muddah,” Ajani cried, “I want to be by you’ side fo’evah. But den my ‘eart would break.”

Ajani expected Mahda to push her away, but instead the elder woman wrapped her arms tightly around Ajani, and held her close. She rocked her and cried, “I only wish I was as strong as you, Ajani, dat I may follow you and always be by you’ side,” she whispered, and Ajani’s heart swelled. It was then that she truly knew. She had to go.

Ajani meant to find Katara, to tell her in person that she was going to go to the harbor, but she stayed by her mother’s side instead. They stayed together until the sun set, spending the few precious moments they had together as mother and daughter of the Ondin before Ajani would be lost to them forever. When the blue sky turned to yellow, and started turning grey, Mahda finally rose. They walked out of the boat together, stepping onto two separate pieces of driftwood as they surfed to the sacred council shore together. Then, Mahda took a large horn and blew into it, three long notes that could be heard for miles around.

Slowly, the Ondin gathered. At first, it was a trickle, and then more began pouring out of the trees, coming by boat, by driftwood, by vine. Some even swam. It was dark by the time everyone was there, and fires were lit so everyone could see. Ajani looked around, and spotted Katara and the men in the distance. Yaomo was with them. Ajani’s hands got clammy.

Mahda climbed up the tree and faced the crowd. “Welcome, children of de swamp! Most of you already know why it is you have been sommoned.

“A strangah came to us in great need. She is de last watahbendah of he' kind, and fights to protect watahbendahs elsewhe’e. She comes to us only in a great moment of desperation.

I gave he’ you’ eahs, so dat you my children, my bruddahs and my sistahs, may hold he’ fate, and de fate o’ he’ people, in you’ own ‘ands and you’ own ‘earts.

“Doh’s of you who accept dis request, please step forward.”

The crowd seemed to tighten as Ajani stepped forward, almost as if to hold her back. Indeed, sisters cried out, lovers sighed, elders wept. Ajani felt her soul tearing away from her as she stepped out beyond them, her back faced to them. She dared not turn around, though she glanced side to side. Seventeen of Ajani’s brothers and sisters stepped forward. She noticed that Sangi was not among them. Her heart sank.

Of the seventeen that stepped forward, eleven were men. Nine of the entire group had one feather. Eight had two. Ajani was the only one who had earned three feathers to adorn her head.

The seven council women, and an additional ten members of the Ondin, stepped forward to face the seventeen that separated from the crowd. In a line, the two groups faced one another.

“Kneel,” Mahda commanded, she facing Ajani as she spoke. Ajani and the sixteen others knelt.

“Wash away de mask so dat we may look upon ou’ daughters and sons one last time,” Mahda ordered. Each council member held a bowl of water and rag, and they wiped away the black and white paint. Ajani tried not to grimace as Mahda scrubbed at her face. She was gentle, and yet Ajani could feel the force behind her movements. When Mahda was finished, Ajani felt bare.

“Remove you’ armo’ so dat we may feel you’ ‘eart beat openly, one last time,” and Ajani unclasped her wooden thatched breastplate. The other sixteen did the same. Ajani felt little shame in having nothing to cover her bosom. All the other men and women were bare chested. It didn’t matter. The worst was yet to come.

Then each of the council members leaned forward. Mahda took a bone pin from Ajani’s hair and began loosening her braids. She stared at the ground, feeling a sense of humiliation wash over her. She was to be Ondin no more. She belonged no where.

Lastly, Mahda removed the three feathers from Ajani’s hair. “We, de Ondin, want you to know dat you will always be welcome as a guest in ou’ home,” Mahda said as she threw the feathers into the bowl of muddied water, the same one that was used to wash away her paint. The feeling of nakedness overcame her, and she thrust her hands to her face. No paint. No braids. No feathers. No home.

“Weep for our lost children,” Mahda cried, and the audience howled. The sound tore at Ajani’s heart. It felt as though it lasted a year, though it was only a short moment before it died down once again.

“Now rise, strangers,” Mahda commanded, and Ajani complied. Mahda handed her an outfit much like the one Ajani had given Katara. It was nomad clothing, used rarely among the Ondin. Ajani and the others dressed.

“Today, we mourn our loss." Mahda said solemnly to the crowd. She motioned for the seventeen to turn around, which they did.

But tonight, we celebrate ou’ guests!”

The audience cheered.
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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Fri Jul 20, 2012 1:26 pm

Katara’s eyes were on Yaomo’s as she asked him to stay with them. They were so strange with black covering what should have been white and with red irises at the center, but she wasn’t afraid of them or of him anymore. It was only a couple of days ago that she’d met him, that she’d entered his shop and had been wary and fearful of him. Even though it was only a short time ago, it felt like half a lifetime had passed, like it had happened to someone else and not to her, that someone else had thought he was a Spirit from another realm who had formed a human body among the living. When had she even begun to feel differently about him? Was it when he had stopped her from stepping into that quicksand? He’d looked winded, and sweat had beaded on his brow, as if he’d been trying extremely hard to catch up to her, to keep her from destroying herself.

Had that really been when she’d begun to relax around him, or had it been sooner, in his hut? His voice was like a deep melody, soothing and seductive, and even when he gave dire news, it sounded less terrible than it could from any other lips. She’d pegged him as a good man, one who cared about others, but his demand for a kiss as part of his payment should have set off major warning bells in her mind. For some reason, it hadn’t. Was it because of her own reaction to it? His kiss had awakened parts of her that had been dormant for so long, and when he’d pulled away, she’d wanted more until she’d come to her senses and had tried desperately to shut down those feelings.

Katara could feel heat rising to her cheeks at the memory, and she lowered her eyes, turning her head away while she tried hard to calm heart rate and dissipate the flush that coloured her face. She hoped that if anyone saw, they would mistake it for disappointment, for Yaomo had yet to speak, and that could easily be taken as a sign that he would not go with them to seek the Nomads. The disappointment she actually began to feel surprised her. Was she disappointed because she thought they would need him to get some of the Nomads to fill the numbers they needed, or was she disappointed because it would mean she wouldn’t see Yaomo again?

“Don' know. I'll t'ink about it, Chére.” He said, and her head jerked up in surprise. She’d expected him to decline, to say he’d be going home tonight before it got too dark. At the very least, she’d thought he would ask for more payment which she wouldn’t have been beyond doing considering all she’d done for them so far. Instead, he only said he’d consider the option. Katara couldn’t read the expression on his face to know clearly if he wanted to go and was just hesitant or if he didn’t want to go at all but was only thinking about it for her sake. The world doesn’t revolve around you, Katara… It wouldn’t be for your sake if he stayed… She admonished herself. If he stayed without payment, it was probably just because Yaomo had begun to feel the stirrings of friendship toward all of them and wanted to help them because of that, right? Honestly, Katara felt already that he could be counted as a friend, and she trusted him.

“That’s all I can expect.” She said, a small smile on her face.

Over the next few hours, the group mingled with the rest of the Ondin Tribe. While many were wary of strangers, she’d spoken to most of these people. They knew her story, knew why she was here, but this was the first time they were meeting the others in her group. The guys flirted openly with the women, namely the ones who weren’t decorated with war paint. The women flirted just as obviously right back at the guys, but she noticed that many of the women bee-lined straight toward Yaomo. From the way several of them spoke to him, she wondered if they’d already been with him in the past? Ajani had expressed that she missed him sometimes, indicating that they’d been together, but she’d never responded to the question about whether or not they’d been in a relationship. Katara assumed it was just physical because Ajani had told her that they didn’t marry, didn’t stick with one person. Why bother having an exclusive relationship with no intentions of remaining with that one person?

Yaomo flirted back just as easily with these women, and she turned away from him, feeling the stirrings of jealousy begin to tickle her insides. This was stupid. Of course he flirted with all of the women. He was a good looking guy, and he was relaxed. A guy who wasn’t comfortable with women wouldn’t have asked her to kiss him the first time they met. Katara crossed her arms over her chest, and smothered those feelings. He was just a friend… an extremely attractive friend. Maybe more of an acquaintance… After all, she didn’t know if she’d be seeing him again after tonight because even though he was sticking around now, it didn’t mean that he wouldn’t end up deciding to just go home. Maybe there just wasn’t enough time to get home before dark right now.

Katara rolled her eyes as Sokka showed the women his array of weaponry, seeming most proud of his trusty boomerang. He was extremely skillful with the airborne weapon, having been practicing with it almost his entire life. The blade on the end made it an effective weapon with the right person, but in unskilled hands, it was all but useless, little more than a toy. Sokka said it was all about math, but Katara had never been able to use that thing properly. It never went where she wanted it to go, and even though she’d gotten it to come back to her a couple of times, it never really made it right back to her, instead flying off to one or the other side, out of her reach unless she moved to catch it. She preferred her waterbending to any other weapons skill, anyway.

Gui and Shen flirted in their own awkward kind of way as well, but she noticed that Jet wasn’t flirting as much as she would have expected. Instead, he stayed close to her, ignoring those around them in favor of maintaining a conversation with Katara. Any time he said something a little too forward, she deflected it by either ignoring it or making light of it. She wasn’t going to lead him on. Katara wasn’t stupid. It was still fairly obvious to her that he hoped something would happen between them, but she didn’t want to be with him. She’d noticed how possessive he’d gotten since Yaomo had entered the picture, and that was Jet’s main problem. He was still trying to own her, to control her. She would never be an equal in his eyes no matter how good a warrior she’d proven herself to be. She knew that Jet would always try to manipulate her into doing what he desired, never giving a thought to what she may want. It was better to just keep him barred at friendship and never allow a single moment like the one in Ba Sing Se where he’d made her feel vulnerable enough that he’d successfully gotten a kiss from her. Katara wished he would just give up already.

A few hours later, a hush seemed to fall over everyone as a horn called in the distance, and Katara and her party followed as the Ondin left. They climbed into boats to travel to their destination. When they arrived, she recognized this place as the area where she’d been told that while the council members themselves would not leave, the polar waterbender was free to ask any others for aid. Her group stood off to the side, a little in the distance so as not to disturb those who were actually among the tribe.

As Mahda spoke, Katara understood the purpose of this gathering. She would now learn who was coming with them and who would stay in the Swamp. Her heart beat faster. Would there be enough? The old woman called forward those who would leave, and Ajani was the first to step forward. She could feel the sadness that splashed over the crowd like a wave. Then more stepped forward, men and women alike though the number of men was a lot larger, and she wasn’t surprised by it.

Katara hardly dared to breathe as a ritualistic cleansing took place. She could see the war paint coating the rags used, and soon, seventeen bare backs faced the crowd. The waterbender felt her stomach clench as sadness filled her. She could see the pain in Ajani’s demeanor, the sorrow, and it was echoed through the entirety of the tribe. They were losing seventeen warriors, seventeen loved ones today. Had they ever lost such a large group before?

“At least they can come back as guests.” Gui whispered, but that only made Katara feel worse. How would she feel if she was welcome to the only home she’d ever known as a stranger, a guest? She was a guest now, and they treated her differently. They would do the same to those leaving for war as well if they ever returned. These seventeen people were now homeless, and Katara had been the catalyst for that. Tears welled in her eyes as the crowd howled its agony, and a single drop streaked her cheek. They’d made their choice, but she couldn’t fight the guilt that filled her, knowing that if it hadn’t been for her, these people would still have a home, a place where they were welcomed and accepted.

Then the ceremony was over. Those who had stepped forward looked like completely different people. Even with the sadness in Ajani’s eyes, Katara could see that beneath the frightening war paint, the woman was truly beautiful. It was like looking at a completely different person.

The tribes people began to scatter, and Katara’s group resumed their positions in the boats, but instead of taking them back to the main area where the village was, they were taken to another location, deep in the swamp. Katara could hear the drum beats before she could see even the flame of the bonfire. There was a natural clearing of a sort. As they neared, she could smell the scents of food cooking, and her stomach growled. She’d had a long day with nothing to eat, and she only now realized she was practically starving. “Oh, thank goodness. Meat!” Sokka exclaimed, clutching his stomach. The others seemed quite happy with the idea of eating, too. Had they been so worried about her that they hadn’t eaten anything?

They left the boat, and scurried toward the food that was cooking on spits and on skewers. They were each handed a skewer that had various kinds of food, some fruits, vegetables, meats, and giant insects. Katara paled a little at the insects, for they were fully formed without having been skinned or anything. Sokka hesitated around the insects, too, but in the end, his hunger won out over his hesitations, and he chomped down on one. “It’s kind of… crunchy… Not bad.”

She shook her head. “Here. Have mine, then.” She said as she handed him the bugs from her skewer. He took them happily and ate them. Gui, Jet, and Shen all seemed fine with the insects, too, but having lived in places where insects couldn’t even survive, she had no qualms with denying herself such a delicacy. Instead, she happily consumed the exotic fruits and vegetables as well as the strange meats. Then drinks were passed around, and Sokka threw back his in one gulp, making a face at the bitter taste as it seared its way into his stomach. “Whoo! That is strong!”

Katara looked at the drink in her hand, smelling it. It wasn’t exactly pleasant smelling, but it wasn’t foul smelling either. She moved the cup to her lips only to have it torn from her hands. “What do you think you’re doing?” Sokka chastised her.

“Um… I was about to take a drink. What do you think you’re doing?”

“You don’t need to be drinking this stuff. You’re too young. Stick to water.” He responded.

Excuse me?” Katara asked incredulously. “I’m too young? I’m only a year younger than you, and you’ve been drinking since you were sixteen.”

“Exactly, and you haven’t which means you won’t have a tolerance to it like I do.” He downed her drink in one gulp. “I don’t want my baby sister to have strange dudes or any dudes, for that matter, taking advantage of her in a drunken state.” Sokka narrowed his eyes pointedly at Yaomo and Jet when he spoke.

“Oh? And whose going to keep my big brother from being taken advantage of in his drunken state? I’ve seen you when you’re smashed, and the women here are the dominant ones. You don’t stand a chance.” Katara teased.

“Psh… Yeah right. I’m too manly for these women. Just ask Ajani. She’s been ignoring me all day while she flirts with Pretty Boy Lu Ten.” Sokka said, flexing his muscles before biting into some meat.

“Maybe she just didn’t like what she saw, Sokka.” Lu Ten countered with a smile, and Katara’s brother paled a little.

“What did she see?” She asked curiously.

“Oh, nothing big. Sokka just showed us all his junk earlier.” Gui said bringing laughter from the group at the insult.

“Wait… What?” Katara asked, her eyes wide. “Why would you show that to everyone?”

“I was checking for leeches, okay? A man’s got to be thorough.” Sokka defended himself before mumbling grumpily in a hushed tone, “Nothing big… I’ll show you nothing big…”

“Right.” Katara said, rolling her eyes. Jet handed her another drink, but Sokka was too busy sulking into his food to notice.

“Bottoms up.” Jet said, clinking his wooden cup against hers. He downed it in one swallow, but Katara tipped the contents into her mouth, and her unpracticed throat wasn’t able to just swallow it all at once. Instead, she had to do it in steps before she’d consumed it all. Oh, it was foul. It tasted horrible, and she couldn’t help the face she made when the aftertaste hit her.

“Katara! Stop that!” Sokka yelled at her while the guys laughed at her reaction.

“Too late now.” She gasped. The warmth hit her stomach, and while the taste made her question why the guys would even want to drink, that pleasant feeling in her gut made it a little clearer.

"Take d'is, Chére." Yaomo said and handed her another cup.

“Seriously? Stop giving her drinks, guys!” Sokka said. Gui handed the Water Tribesman another cup which he downed.

"Don' be like d'at, Sokka. It jus' water. Helps wit' de drunkenness and de mornin after." Yaomo said, and Katara took the cup, thanking him, and drank the water in it.

“You know what also helps?” Sokka asked. “Not drinking - which you shouldn’t be doing at all, Katara.”

A few minutes after they’d finished eating, Katara could feel some energy returning to her that she hadn’t realized she’d lost. Jet had kept her well supplied with drinks, and after each one, she drank as much water, but she could feel the alcohol moving through her, warming her belly and loosening the stiffness in her body. The heavy drums filled her, reminding her a little of home though the drumming style of different. Her boots tapped to the beat, and she watched as several members of the Ondin Tribe danced. Their movements were strange and fascinating and beautiful to the waterbender. There was so much high energy, and so many of them danced in such a way that it appeared as if their bones were made of some kind of soft, moldable stuff instead of hard, unbendable material. She didn’t think she’d ever be able to move like that, but she still found enjoyment in watching the high energy twists and bending and thrusts. It was simultaneously innocent and somehow sexual in nature, and the rest of the group seemed just as transfixed by the movements.

Her attention moved away from the dancers when she saw Ajani come toward them. She looked to be in better spirits than she’d been during the ceremony. Katara wasn’t sure if it was because she’d put on a mask to hide her sorrow or if she was genuinely happier.

“Come dance wit’ me.” Ajani said, holding out her hand.

Katara paled a little. “I don’t know…” Her fingers twirled through one of her dark curls. “I don’t know if I can move like that.”

“I see you ovah he’e tappin’ you’ feet. You want to dance, so we dance. I teach you.” Ajani countered, and Katara took the woman’s hand and hoisted herself to her feet. She could hear Gui and Shen cheering at her as she moved away from them, closer to the giant bonfire at the center of the clearing.

“Now, you watch me.” Ajani said, and she began to move slowly, so Katara could easily see what she did. She tried to mimic the hip swishing that her friend did, but her body felt too stiff, like it just couldn’t be forced to move in such a complicated way. Her bones were too hard for this.

“No, no. You bend you’ body like you bend de watah. He’e.” Ajani placed her hands on Katara hips and guided them the way they would need to move even while her own hips did the same. She thought she could sense it. Bend like water… Allow the music to flow…

Her hips moved a little more freely though her torso moved with it. Still, it was a step in the right direction. She felt Ajani’s hands move to her waist. “Just de hips.” And she put a bit of pressure on Katara’s middle so she wouldn’t move it. She could feel her hips moving without so much upper body work, and a grin spread over her lips.

“Okay! I think I got it!” She pulled back from Ajani and sashayed her hips to the beat, feeling her confidence gain as she got the hang of it. Then the plantbender showed her some other moves, ones that involved quick leg work and spins. These were easier because she didn’t have to pretend her bones didn’t exist, and they were reminiscent of the polar tribal dancing in some ways – just more detailed and complex due to the lack of layers restraining one’s movements.

Katara could hear cheering coming from her group again as she flowed with the music, with the intense drum beats. It was as if her very blood beat in time with the music, and she had no choice but to obey its call. They danced like that through several songs, and at the end of the final one, the polar waterbender was laughing and breathing heavily. Sweat glistened on her skin, but the heat didn’t matter. The world felt like a beautiful place where only wonderful things happened, where only wonderful people lived.

The slowly made their way back to the group, and Ajani asked in a hushed tone, “Dat handsome one dat you call Lu Ten, is he f’om you’ t’ibe?”

Katara’s eyes moved toward Lu Ten, and she grinned, understanding the Ondin warrior’s meaning. “Nope. Just Sokka and me.”

“Oh, tank de Spirits!” The other woman called out, and she took a seat next to the firebender when they approached the group.

Jet handed Katara another drink, and she took it, sipping it slowly. It didn’t seem to taste as bad as she’d first recalled, or perhaps she’d just gotten used to the flavor. “So, who’s going to dance with me now that Ajani is out? I’m not nearly done!”

Gui and Shen laughed and shook their heads. “We’re too stiff. Earthbenders and all that.” Gui explained.

Her eyes moved to Jet. “Not nearly drunk enough. Come back after I’ve pounded back thirty more of these.” Katara sighed and looked at Lu Ten only to change her mind. He would be preoccupied with Ajani at this point. She turned to her brother.

“No way. It’s not manly.” He said, flexing his biceps before downing two more drinks at the same time. She rolled her eyes and smiled, turning toward Yaomo.

“Will you dance with me?” She asked hopefully, pleading with him with her eyes. Her smile broadened when he stood up, shedding his long coat and his shirt. She felt her breath catch a little when she caught sight of his muscles in the flickering firelight, but she quickly composed herself.

“Less wet blankets after a rainy day on a campground," The dark eyed man said, shaking his head and then smiling broadly at Katara. "Come Chére, let's show d'em what d'ey missin'.” Her skin pebbled when he slipped a hand around her waist, his skin feeling cool on her heated flesh. He led the way toward the bonfire again, and he began to move to the drum beats. This song was a little slower than the crazy beats she’d danced with Ajani, and the slower melody enabled Yaomo to keep close contact with her as he moved. She could feel his hard muscles against her legs and with each movement that brought her body pressing against hers. Her heart beat quickly as if she was still dancing to those intense drums from earlier, but by all rights, she should have been calming down. His presence, so close to her, sent sooty copper fritillaries coursing through her torso and lower still as he danced sensually with her. Katara’s own hips moved as Ajani had taught her.

Her head tilted back a little as they moved sinuously together, and she peered into his eyes. They were still so strange, yet they were so magnetizing, as if she could stare into them forever. The intensity she saw in his gaze sent heat through her core, and she realized that she wanted to feel his lips against hers again, the way they’d kissed when she’d first met him. The music seemed to grow around them, to quicken in time with her heart as she leaned forward until it suddenly ceased being the slow, rhythmic sounds and became a fast paced beat. Katara pulled away from him, spinning in time with the new beat, away from the heat of his body, the hardness of his muscles, but a coy smile had settled on her lips as she danced.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Fri Jul 20, 2012 9:48 pm

Yaomo took a look at the scar that Katara bore. A part of him was envious and yet at the same time he was fairly meticulous about healing himself so that his skin was unmarred. It was something that had been drilled into him before he had even realized what it was that he was doing. The healing hoodoo, it was like the dark voodoo, only different of course. He had learned the healing spells before he had learned that he could do voodoo, before Yewande had become obsessed with it, learning it in secret, never telling the others the dark bargains that she had made with spirits in order to get such powers. She had tried to lead Yaomo to believe that he, too, would need it, that it was something that could only be done under the light of the full moon, but she had been wrong, Yaomo hadn't sold his soul to get that power... or perhaps he had already lost it by the time he had learned how to harness it.

"You got de Fi'a Nashun blood in you. You muddah raped by yo faddah, wicked boy. When you come out you tear you way outta d'at woman. D'at be why you be cursed wit' de eyes... killer eyes and ain't not'ing make d'em go away now." The Ondin typically used vines for grabbing people, breaking their stability in fighting, tossing people too and fro. There were tons of common uses for what vines could actually do. Yewande instead had focused on the things that vines could do that the Ondin did not. Rough, coarse, they made the perfect whips to snap against flesh. With light enough force she could simply leave welts across the skin. If she focused them a different way, the wet vines would easily slash flesh like a hot knife as they cracked. Yaomo couldn't even remember what it was that he had done the first time she had introduced him to 'the fury of the swamp' as she called it, but he did remember what she had done, at least until he had passed out from the agony.

When he had woken up, there was no mark of it, not a trace that anything had been done. But no dream had memories like that, so powerful that he had vomited until his insides were empty when he'd first woken up and seen Yewande sleeping there, as innocently as she ever had been. He remembered slipping from the hut at that point, running towards the matrons house. He had woken her up in the early hours of the morning, tried to tell her what had been done. Mahda had looked at him as if he were crazy when he told her what she had done, but the skin had been healed there. He could feel her suspicious eyes gazing at him and his unusual eyes. He could practically see the nervousness there as she looked at him, as well as the disgust as she stared into his eyes. It had been there back when just his irises were red, before Yewande had made the rest of them black, but he could see it now.

Mahda had dragged him back to Yewande by wrapping him in a vine, and told the woman everything that he had told her. Yewande's face hadn't even flinched an inch when she had been told about what Yaomo had said about her, only to softly frown, and to ask Mahda if she could think of any reason why the boy would tell such a lie. The two of them had talked about him like he wasn't there, like he was a pet that couldn't understand them. Mahda had thanked Yewande for taking him into her hut. It was an oddity, of course, a woman, an older one at that, taking on a child solely for her own. Most of the other children were raised by the entire tribe. But when he had been born with red irises, the product of a Fire Nation soldier's violation of one of their own, they had seen it as a sign. Cursed by the spirits. Yewande, shrewd as she was, saw it as an opportunity to have a child of her own, all her own.

She had told him that after Mahda had left, as her old hands wailed into his face until it and her knuckles were bruised and bloody. As he lay on the ground he remembered her, healing him, telling him that he was hers, only hers. Only she had the patience to deal with a demon child, the spawn of evil. She had healed him again, and this time he had been conscious for it. It was soothing, at yet at the same time, it caused his stomach to nearly wretch to have her hands touching him at all, especially to heal him. When she had taught him the healing hoodoo he had been the best student that she had ever seen to it, practicing it until his hands were practically trembling, breaking only to find more materials to work with. Mulch of one leaf chewed into paste, spread over the area, then the whole thing submerged in water with a hand pressed to it, focusing on the flow of life inside of the person.

Yes, he had learned it so diligently so that she would never have to touch him again to heal him. Alas, if only it had been that easy. No, Yewande's demands of him had gotten harsher with each day that had gone by. Once he started to become a man it was she who taught him to stress his form to create the body that he currently had, forcing him to exercise until he could feel his muscles tear and then healing him and forcing more out of him. His agility, as well, was something that he had because of her, because of her training sending vines shooting towards him like spears, forcing him to dodge them or be impaled by them. When they left deep gashes in his side those too she healed. At night, when she slept was the only time he could truly get away, and had lead to his amorous nature. The women that patrolled, seeing him all alone had been too eager to show him some fun things to do with his free time in the dark.

When Katara had asked him about staying he had been startled a bit, and he could see in her eyes that she had noticed. "Just a little tired is all, Chére..." he said to her, and gave her his brilliant smile, watching as she, like everyone else bought it without a moment of hesitation. That was something else Yewande had taught him, to put on a good show. There wasn't anything that could slip out through, not after he'd been stupid enough to tell Mahda, not that the matron had ever asked him again if it was true. No, she had only come to ask Yewande if she had managed to keep her child under control and had been amazed at how well Yewande had managed to keep him in line. Yewande had just smiled and said it was her little secret, and that was all that was ever said about it. Yaomo had learned to become and excellent liar over the years. Not even Ajani knew a thing about him, about what had happened. It was something that he had planned to tell her once they had left the swamp...

...But in life you didn't always get the things that you wanted, or that came easily. Yaomo was happy though that Katara seemed to accept his answer that they would see. He certainly had no ties to this damned swamp, that was for sure. He knew it well enough, knew the spirits that dwelled in it, but the idea that the swamp itself was alive, that it had a spirit seemed horrific to him. To know that there was a spirit that was supposed to be all around them, that would protect all of them and yet had allowed Yewande to do the things that she did... No, he couldn't stomach the idea that their so called great spirit actually had anything to do with the rest of the spirits that dwelt in the swamp.

Yaomo had avoided their ceremony, instead finding somewhere else to be, anywhere else to be. He didn't want anything to do with Mahda, or even to see her face, though his hopes were dashed when he saw her at the celebration that they were having. With Yewande dead, there was nothing keeping the mask on when he saw the matron, and he let his usual calm demeanor slip from his face for just a moment, the smile fading away as he looked at the woman with a dark look of utter hatred. For that one moment he looked all the monster that she had always feared that he was, and he had expected her to look at him with contempt, but instead she looked as if he had wounded something deep inside of her and had looked away, as if she were ashamed.

The moment aside, it was simple enough to compartmentalize his feelings about being here and instead himself settle into the festivities as if he were just another stranger here. He saw some of the girls smile at him, and he winked back at them. The tribes hadn't known, but there were a few that had snuck out to see him once they had found out he had returned to the swamp. While the women here were in control, and liked to be, there were desires that revolved around being submissive, a particular fantasy that a group of men raised to believe that they were biologically inferior because they could not bear children simply just weren't that good at providing. Yaomo, on the other hand, was good at sensing what another wanted, especially in bed, which made him a rare and precious commodity.

Yaomo blinked as he noticed Katara downing some alcohol, and he closed his eyes lightly, handing her some water to drink. Sadly, dealing with hangovers had been something that he'd had to learn how to deal with on his own, and it had been a rather painful process. He couldn't help but smirk a little as Sokka tried to play big brother to his sister when Yaomo offered her the drink. Clearly, the man wasn't really thinking it through, given that at the rate he was going he would be drunk as well. Swamp liquor was quite a bit stronger than most of the stuff outside of it, unless you were a connoisseur of such things.

It didn't escape Yaomo's notice that it was Jet who offered Katara the alcohol. And while the rest of them were celebrating merrily, Yaomo took enough of a drink from his own cup to give him a pleasant buzz, but not to get outright drunk at all, making sure to drink plenty of water, staying far on the sober side of drinking. He simply just didn't trust letting himself getting drunk with Jet about. Something told Yaomo that Jet would be all too happy to let a drunken Katara come back inside of his tent and do whatever it was that she wanted to do.

Yaomo was more than happy to let Katara go learn to dance from Ajani, though while he watched her he also noticed the poufy haired fighter was watching Katara as well. When the water bender had finally gotten the hang of it, Yaomo was surprised when Jet actually turned her down. Something had told him that the man would be more than willing to make an ass out of himself if it meant somehow impressing the water bender, but Yaomo had been wrong. The dark eyed man would have liked to have believed that it wasn't all he had been wrong about, but something told him that he should still keep his guard up around the hook sword wielder, especially where Katara was concerned.

He was more than happy to accept her dance invitation himself, and was surprised that none of the others actually wanted to join in. They seemed to think that it was a huge thing, but dancing was an integral part of learning how to fight, moving your body this way or that to avoid being struck. Learning how to slide along someone to get past them. Of course, it was easy for him to say since he had learned how to do all the things flawlessly as a teenager to avoid the anger of Yewande. Yaomo tried not to smirk slightly as he caught the jealous glares of some of the other women when they saw that Katara had been the first one to drag him out to dance, and especially dance close to him so sensually.

When the music pace picked up again he was more than happy to move towards her flawlessly, letting her lead the proverbial chase as it were, watching some of the huntresses fanning themselves at the idea of him chasing them around seemed to invoke. It had honestly been some time since he had learned these dances, and he was surprised at how well the muscles remembered each step of them. "You be makin d'em all envious, Chére..." he said to her over the music, "you get close to me again, you might start a riot..." he winked at her then as the pair of them continued to dance.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Gadreille on Sat Jul 21, 2012 7:17 pm

Ajani watched Katara and Yaomo dance with admiration in her eyes. They moved so well together, following the dance of her people, yet with an exoticness that they brought from the outside world. With a smile, she wondered if they’d find themselves hitched in the morning. If anyone here would convince Katara to crawl into a bed with them, it would be Yaomo. In the back of her mind, she felt a quiet sadness. There had been a time when she was the one Yaomo would dance with. But she was too fond of both of them to not let her happiness for them overpower the sadness of past times. She’d lost her chance. Perhaps if she had thought to consult the swamp all those years ago, when he’d asked her away, she’d have realized that was what she was meant to do. Or perhaps the swamp was holding onto her for this moment, so that she could meet Katara, and Sokka, and Jet and Gui and Shen and…Lu Ten.

Ajani accepted a drink from Lu Ten with a smile. Normally she’d have just said “Let’s go,” and dragged him up to one of the tree lofts, but she was unfamiliar with the customs of outsiders. She knew that he was at least not one of Katara’s people, and so likely didn’t have the sex equals marriage belief. However, she wanted to at least try to go by the customs of outsiders. She just…wasn’t quite sure what it was.

Talking. Talking seems to be a good place to start. She took a breath and asked, “So, Lu Ten….whe’e ah you from?”

“Omashu,” he replied curtly. She couldn’t quite figure out what it was, but it didn’t seem to be the right way to go. The light in his eyes diminished a little. Ajani bit her lip but continued.

“Omashu fi’ewo’k…” She said with a laugh. Wat’s a fi’ewo’k?” There. His eyes lit up again. He began to describe these great explosions that happen high into the air, leaving vibrant colors raining down from the sky. It truly sounded amazing.

“I hope I may see deese fi’ewo’k when I finally leave,” she said dreamily.

“I see you didn’t need much persuading,” he said with a grin.

Ajani yanked her mind out of dream mode and stared at Lu Ten. Perhaps it was easier than she thought. She let herself blush and responded, “I did not need, it, I suppose. I always wanted t’ see de wo’ld. You and Kata’a just given me a good ezcuse to finally do it.”

“Well, I appreciate that. As a matter of fact, I would –“ Lu Ten was interrupted by a very loud “HE-LLO, there,” as Sokka admired a beautiful woman who sat down beside him. It was Nila, Ajani noted, who matched Sokka for height and probably strength. She thought of warning Nila about the consequences of bedding Sokka, but instead of getting up to do it, she just laughed and took another drink.

Katara and Yaomo joined them once more, and drinks were past around. Ajani excused herself to get some food. “Want anything?” She said to Lu Ten, who was in the middle of a terribly naughty joke, but he just shook his head and continued with it until the rest of them roared with laughter. She noticed Jet talking to Katara, and used this moment to get Yaomo’s attention. She looked straight at him and nodded her head toward the food table. He looked slightly annoyed, but rose to meet her.

He met her with that gorgeous smile of his. He shrugged his shoulders a bit and said, “What, Ajani, you want –“

Ajani interrupted his smooth talking by jabbing her index finger at his nose while simultaneously saying, “You bettah take ca’e o’ Kata’a,” she lectured, repoking his nose with each word. He pushed her hand away and glared at her.

“Don’ talk to me like I be d’at one,” Yaomo said, motioning to Jet. “Besides, t’ings be a little to early for d’at, non? Sometimes a dance is just a dance. Somet’in tell me de water bender ain’t so… free… as all of us.”

“I just sayin’. Take ca’e o’ dat girl. She a strong one, but dis be unfamiliar te’itory.”

“I know” he said with a sigh. It sounded more like he was appeasing her than anything.

“Good,” She wasn’t used to having to look out for someone, and she wasn’t sure what more she could do. Her head spun lightly and she forgot about her worries once again. She smiled at Yaomo and grabbed her food, returning once again to Lu Ten’s side.

Not long after they returned to the group, Jet took off into the trees. Ajani raised an eyebrow but got distracted when Sokka announced in front of everyone that he and Nila were going to bed one another. Again Ajani felt a pang of regret for not warning Nila of the consequences. But if it wasn’t her, it’d be some other poor girl and who knows? Nila might be one of those gals who prefer one lover.

The night was definitely changing. Yaomo and Katara started to leave once again, and she caught Yaomo’s eye one last time, putting two fingers towards her eyes and then pointing them back at him, a signed version of “I’m watching you.” He just rolled his eyes and let Katara lead him away. Almost simultaneously, two Ondin girls set down beside Gui and Shen. She could have laughed at how excited those boys were at the attention. They’d have more surprises yet.

Soon Lu Ten’s attention was solely on her. His face was so beautiful, she longed to see the body that matched it. “Ca’e to dance?” She asked him.

Lu Ten eyed the dancers wearily and instead leaned in and spoke in a hushed tone to Ajani, “Uh… how about a walk instead?”

Ajani smiled and linked her arm in with his. They wandered away from the fires, the music, the friends, the distractions. Ajani’s entire body tingled with anticipation. She looked up at him, his golden eyes barely visible in the darkness. Mere seconds after their eyes locked, he swiftly leaned, pushing his lips against hers.

The movement caught her off guard, and she dizzily took a couple of steps back. He followed her back until she found herself pinned between him and a tree. Ajani placed her hands on his face, parting her lips and urging him for a deeper kiss. Satisfied with that, her hands wandered to his belt line, where she untucked his shirt and moved her hands upward. While kissing, her hands explored his back, his shoulders, his chest and stomach…eventually wandering down to his butt. She pushed him in toward her and they both sighed at the intimate contact.

Ajani moved to kiss his neck while his hands were doing their own exploration. She marveled at how hot he was. It wasn’t his looks, but the temperature of his skin. Within moments it was as if he was on fire, and his heat began to make her sweat. Without really thinking she blew on his neck, the icy breath that Katara had taught her. Who knew how useful that would be?

He paused his kissing, and laughed. “Too hot for you?” he said. She saw the fire in his eyes.

“Too cold fo’ you?” She responded with her devilish grin. His hands left their wandering and held her face.

“Just right, I think,” He smiled, and she kissed him on the lips again.

They were suddenly interrupted by a shower of crude whistles and hollers. She peeked over his shoulder to see a group of the Ondin walking merrily by, all cheering Ajani on. Lu Ten turned away from her, and at first she thought he was embarrassed, but he just waved at them, striking a pose. They all laughed, one girl shouting, “I wouldn’ mind keeping dat one handy!” and Ajani rolled her eyes.

“Come on,” she said, and pulled his hand as she wandered further away from the party. She stopped at a tree and whistled upward toward the shrouded tree loft that she knew was there. There was no response, and she hurriedly reached for a vine.

Ajani motioned for Lu Ten to grab on, but he shook his hands. “Any ah…other way to get up there?”

“Ah, I see. You good to bed me but you still don’ trust me. Is ok, Mystery Boy. I don’ know I trust you eiddah.” She smiled.

“I think you only have yourself to blame for my poor previous experiences with vines…” Lu Ten shot back with a wide smile.

Ajani let the vine carry her up to the loft. When at the top, she kicked off the rope ladder reserved for non benders, then laid on the balcony with her head peeking over the side to watch him climb up.

When he finally got to the top, she grabbed him by the shirt and dragged him to the palette on the floor. Rather, she dragged him out of his shirt and then to the palette on the floor. What she saw was what her hands already felt. A good strong man, a warrior’s body. She meant to ask him what weapon he used, remembering how awkward he looked wielding a sword. A question for another time, she reminded herself as she climbed on top of him, looking forward very much to finish what he’d started.

Ajani lay on her side facing away from Lu Ten, who was on his back with his arms propping up his head. She stretched her body, which was tingling from the drinks as much as from the pleasurable encounter with the man who lay next to her. She sat up and looked out of the hut. It was very late into the night, but still a few hours before dawn. She looked back at Lu Ten, not bothering to cover herself as he admired her body. She leaned over and kissed him, gently this time, and he returned it with a smile. Then she stood and began dressing.

Lu Ten said nothing as she put her clothes back on. In fact, she wouldn’t have even known he was awake if she didn’t look over and see him looking back at her. She wasn’t sure if she was insulting him by leaving, but there was only one man who she ever felt comfortable falling asleep next to. She hoped that he was keeping Katara warm this night.

“Goodbye, Lu Ten,” she whispered to him as she summoned a vine to her hand.

“Goodnight, Ajani,” He said. She turned to leave.

“Ajani?” He asked, and she turned back to see that he’d propped himself up on one elbow.



Ajani smiled. “My pleasuh,” she said with a grin, and stepped off the balcony.
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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Sat Jul 21, 2012 9:49 pm

They had drums in the Polar Water Tribes made of the skins of animals, and some were skilled enough to play much of the intense, high energy music she was hearing now, but the styles were different from those of the Swamp. Even so, just as the music could fill her so wholly in her homeland, it filled her now. Perhaps it was all of the mysticism of the Foggy Swamp, but she felt consumed by the music, as if it alone controlled her body while he mind simply relaxed and allowed it to happen. It probably helped that the musicians were skilled at transitioning from one song to another without stopping for even a short break for many of the songs. The alcohol running through her veins was probably partially to blame, too.

All that existed for her in this bright, happy moment was the music and her body moving around Yaomo’s. He was such an exquisite dancer. They didn’t have moves like this in the Water Tribes. Dancing there focused more around clapping, feet stomping, and twirling, nothing like the hip swiveling, boneless movements of the Ondin. She relished in these new dance movements, allowing her waterbending training to guide her into the complex motions that Ajani had taught to her earlier. It felt so wonderful to raise her arms above her head and dance around him like a planet orbiting the sun, but what was better was that he didn’t simply stand there and take it.

Every now and then, he’d get close enough that she could glide her fingertips over his arms or his torso, feeling the rock hard muscles as they tensed and relaxed with each motion he made. Any time his hands touched her, she could feel her heart thump erratically against her rib cage, and her nerves would tingle pleasantly. The heat at her core refused to dissipate completely, but she found she could cool it slightly when she moved away from him. However, she didn’t want to be too far away from him for long, and she reveled in the moments when their dancing brought them closer together.

Katara was surprised when his observation brought the rest of the world crashing back around them. Sapphire eyes swept over the people around them, and she could see many of the women watching intently as Yaomo moved, and every so often, she could feel their glares moving their way. No, not their way. They glared at her, for she was their competition, and as such, she stood in the way of their goal. Her eyes peered at her group, and she could see Ajani and Lu Ten having what seemed to be a pleasant conversation while Sokka flirted with an Ondin woman who had appeared at his side. Gui and Shen were happy to chat with the others while they consumed their drinks. Her skin crawled when she realized that Jet wasn’t enjoying the pleasantries, so intent was he to stare with venomous eyes at the dancing pair. She blinked, and when her lids parted, that look in his eyes was gone, replaced with a relaxed smile as he looked at her. Had she just imagined the vehemence in his eyes?

It didn’t matter. This was a celebration. She was happy! Katara’s observation was soon forgotten as she looked into Yaomo’s gaze. “Let them riot!” She called to him cheerily over the music and moved nearer to him, her hands slipping over his shoulders as she danced close to him, pressing her body against his. “I’m not the damsel in distress the Swamp would have had you believe. I can take care of myself and protect you from the mobs at the same time.” She winked back at him. “Though honestly, I’m a little surprised that they didn’t riot when you left the Tribe in the first place to try to keep you here with them. Then again,” She began, leaning closer to him as she danced, “maybe that’s the appeal, that you don’t just follow the Tribal rules, that you left. Maybe now you’re a precious commodity, and they don’t like seeing an outsider with you.” The music stopped and she slowly pulled away from him. The musicians began trading places with fresh ones, perhaps so they, too, could enjoy the festivities and not remain the entertainment.

Katara took Yaomo’s hand and led the way back to the group. “Let’s get some water.” She could have left him there by the bonfire to continue dancing while she got some water, but that would have been like giving him an open invitation to dance with any one of those women who had eyed him longingly. It was selfish, she knew, but she didn’t want to share him with anyone tonight. The revelation surprised her, but she simply went with it, not stopping to think about the implications. She grabbed a cup, handing a second one to Yaomo, and poured the water into her mouth, feeling it soothe her parched throat. She refilled it, blowing gently on it so the liquid frosted over but never solidified. The cool water felt fantastic going through her overheated body. “You guys don’t know what you’re missing!” Katara exclaimed happily.

“I’m not mishing anything.” Sokka said, his words slurring. “I gots my new friend here to keep me en’ertained.” The Ondin woman sitting next to Sokka chuckled and bumped his shoulder with hers. Then he slung his arm over her shoulders and took a drink with his free hand. Gui and Shen laughed and each drank some more from their own cups. “You Ondin sure know how to party!” Gui said merrily.

She felt a hand grasp her wrist and tug her down. She laughed as she fell onto her bottom next to Jet. He handed her a drink, and he clicked his cup against hers before they both downed them in one gulp. Now that she’d had several of these, it had become easier to just gulp it down. She hardly noticed the warmth spreading through her already heated body. Jet leaned in close to Katara, his lips near her ear. “I could show you some even better entertainment.” He whispered. “I could show you what you’ve been missing... in private.”

Katara frowned a little at his words, the meaning clear to her, but her smile resumed its position on her lips. She turned toward him, her voice hushed. “Oh? And how do you suppose we’ll get that alone time?” Her voice was coy, teasing.

She saw, from the corner of her eye, that relaxed smirk make its way over his lips. “I could go set up my tent, and you can get a feel for it when it’s pitched.” The bad double entendre was so clear that Sokka would have thought it was hilarious if he’d heard it but only if it had been directed at anyone other than his sister.

“Better make sure it’s pitched properly. I wouldn’t want it to collapse.” Katara responded, smirking at him.

“Oh, there are no worries about that. Meet me in twenty minutes.” Jet said quietly before standing and removing himself from the group.

“What wash that all about?” Sokka asked when Jet left. He was trying to stare down his sister intimidatingly, but in his drunken stupor, he couldn’t maintain the look.

“Oh, nothing.” She said innocently. “Just getting him off my back for a while.” She replied to her brother’s query, prompting a laugh from him.

She thought she heard Shen whisper the word “man-eater” to Gui, and the two chuckled about it.

“Tha’s my sister!” He slurred proudly before the woman next to him whispered into his ear. He grinned. “Welp, time for me to go teash my lady friend how to handle a boomerang.” They stood and walked away – Sokka leaning heavily on the Ondin woman – as Katara shook her head. She didn’t approve of the fact that he was just going to go sleep with some woman, especially one he didn’t know, but tonight was too wonderful to worry about her brother’s decisions. In life, people made their own choices, and he would have to live with his.

Katara moved to her feet, feeling a little light headed and dizzy for a couple of seconds before she composed herself. “I guess I stood up a little too fast.” She laughed and took Yaomo’s hand again. As she led him back to the bonfire, she saw two Ondin women take places beside Gui and Shen who welcomed them eagerly. She looked at Yaomo and saw him roll his eyes back at Ajani, but when she looked at her new friend, the woman was already resuming her conversation with Lu Ten. Whatever it had been about, it didn’t seem to matter much, nothing more than some lighthearted teasing maybe.

The music was fast paced and energetic, but as they danced through it, it slowed once more, and she moved closer to him, dancing just as alluringly as the first time, but if she thought this would only beguile him, she was wrong. He was better at this game, and his movements sent heat rushing through her body like a molten river, emptying into her center. Her mind felt a little foggy, as if his presence disabled any ability for her to think clearly, and she found her hands moving over his glistening muscles as if of their own accord, independent of a brain that hadn’t quite formulated the plan to make such a move, but even while her fingers caressed his physique, her eyes were locked on his face. “I’m glad you’re here.” Katara said softly, her lips moving before her brain could think things through. That was okay, though. She wasn’t ashamed of her words. She was glad he was here, glad to feel him near her and to know he was looking out for her in case the Swamp decided she wasn’t quite as welcome as she felt now. It was true that she was a skilled waterbending master, a fantastic fighter, but that sort of thing didn’t work against the Spirits. While she believed in the Spirits and prayed to them, she didn’t even pretend to understand much about them, but Yaomo seemed to be much better versed in these matters, so she felt safe with him.

Her eyes trailed back to where her group sat, but she only saw Gui and Shen with the two women who seemed to be enjoying the earthbenders’ company almost as much as the earthbenders’ were enjoying the presence of the women. Katara chuckled as she realized that Ajani and Lu Ten were probably off somewhere, doing their own thing. Ajani had seemed quite focused on the idea that Lu Ten didn’t hold to the same culture as Katara and her brother.

Her blue eyes made their way to Yaomo’s face, her smile dissipating, her gaze turning momentarily serious. Maybe Sokka had the right idea. Maybe, just for tonight, it didn’t matter how a person kept their company or who that company was. As long as one was happy to be with said company, everything would be okay. Katara leaned against Yaomo, her torso molding to his even while her hips continued their sinuous movements with his hands resting gently on them. The music, slow and steady, pulsed through her veins, filling her with longing and desire. He’d wanted to kiss her once, and the fervor in his eyes – if she was reading them correctly – told her that he still wanted her. Her fingertips moved over the stubble along his jaw before she leaned up and pressed her lips to his.

Without worries filling her to the brim, without the inhibitions of life swirling through her mind and body, the kiss was almost like an electrical charge that released through her, and she welcomed the feeling. His hand moved to her cheek, and she pulled reluctantly away, remembering where they were, that they weren’t alone.

Yaomo knows exactly how grateful you gonna be. Not exactly as much as I want it either...

The memory whispered through her mind. She leaned up, pulling him down a little closer to meet her partway since she wasn’t nearly as tall as him. Her lips rested near his ear, brushing gently against the lobe. “Come with me.” Her voice was soft and sultry, her warm breath curling over his skin. When she separated herself from him and looked into his eyes, she could see the surprise, or maybe confusion, written there, but instead of hesitating, she took his hand in hers and led him away from the clearing and into the trees, her body moving to the music all the while. She could still hear the music, but it became more distant, and the warmth from the fire dissipated, but that was okay because Katara knew that Yaomo could keep her warm. Already, fire ran through her blood. She was nervous, but that wouldn’t stop her tonight.

The waterbender stumbled a little, but she felt Yaomo grip her hand tightly before she fell, righting her but pulling her back against him. Katara laughed and turned abruptly to lean up and kiss his lips again as she pulled him behind a large swamp tree. Her back pressed against the mossy bark as she tugged him closer. Her heart pounded beneath her breast, and her hands trembled, but she didn’t stop. Her lips moved against his, drinking in the sweet sensations of his touch, his masculine scent, the way her body conformed to his. She could feel his hands on her waist, and when his touch passed over her scar – though she couldn’t feel it, she knew where his hand had moved – her heart seemed to stop for a moment, and she forgot to breathe, but he didn’t seem disturbed by the mutilated flesh, and a small, relieved sigh was exhaled. How could she have ever thought that anyone worthwhile would be disgusted by something so unimportant? Katara kissed him more eagerly, her fingers entwining in his soft hair. She could feel her breath quickening with her pulsing heart. Her lips trailed over the coarse stubble along his jaw, moving to his ear.

“Maybe I can show you the kind of gratitude you’ll want.” She whispered, her hands slinking from his hair, over his shoulders and down his abdomen. She wanted this, and while she wasn’t afraid of him, she couldn’t know what to expect despite having been educated on the subject. It didn’t help that he was clearly experienced in this while she was going into it without anything more than what she’d heard about it. The nervousness flooded her as her quivering hands touched the ties securing his pants.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Sun Jul 22, 2012 1:10 am

At first it was a little hard to forget the past of it all and let himself move as freely as he once might have. There was so much baggage here, in the swamp, amongst these people that it was hard to just... let things go. But he did, and within moments he wasn't simply acting like he was having fun with Katara, he was actually having fun with her. Then again, the company was part of what made it so easy, after all. Yaomo found himself focusing on the woman and letting everything else drown out. It was weird, especially for him. Yaomo wasn't the trustworthy sort, he was the person who usually could tell you where each exit was, and the best plan for escape from any situation, along with how many women happened to be looking at him at a given moment. Right now, Yaomo couldn't tell even how many people were even here, or where escape happened to lie.

The thought of it caused a brief panic inside of him, but he let it melt away and instead refocused himself on the dance, on Katara. He smiled as she teased him, her fingers gliding across his muscles easily, and he watched her reaction as they did. It was intentional, of course, the way that she touched him, though what he wasn't certain of was whether or not it was an invitation or that she happened to be trying to just test the waters. Women were surprisingly tricky in that regard, there was no telling what one of them might surprise you with. On the other hand, if you were flexible and able to go with the flow, there was a certain respect that they would have for you regardless. Going into something with an expectation of getting something out of it was a huge turn off for most of the women that Yaomo knew.

Yaomo in turn would touch her back, testing the waters himself, watching her face flush slightly as his fingertips grazed across her bare skin. They were faint touches, of course, innocent ones, though at an Ondin party there were likely some people in the shadows who were probably quite a bit more hot and heavy than most of the parties that Katara had been to. Simply doing things in front of others wasn't exactly the way of the Ondin, but on the other hand, subtlety wasn't their way either. Yaomo hadn't gotten so popular with the women who wanted a good time because of a lack of gossiping. Which was probably why most of them were looking at Katara in the way that they happened to be when he pointed it out to her. The look on her face told him that he might have been better off not bringing it up, but on the other hand, he wanted her to at least feel special.

Rather than that, however, she seemed to feel ambivalent, which was almost as good, he supposed. A smile came to his lips as he winked at one of the ladies who was glaring at his dance partner and brought his gaze to Katara just as she started to sway her hips towards him, sliding her hands around his shoulders as they danced close and sensually. He smiled a little as she mentioned that she wasn't the simple damsel in distress the swamp had lead him to believe. Though, he hadn't actually considered her such. She just had a powerful destiny, and it manifested itself in the things that she did, the way that she pulled people along with her in the wake of it like a great tide. He didn't contradict her though, he liked seeing Katara this way, free from the unspoken burden that seemed to sometimes show in her eyes, and from the pressures of trying to find people to join her cause.

It was a testament to his ability to lie that he didn't so much as let his lips falter as she speculated on why it was that no one had actually bothered to speak up when he had left. It was a sore subject when he thought about it, the fact that Ajani hadn't left with him. Even more so that she was willing to leave with Katara now. He didn't know what he had actually expected though. From the others, however, he knew all too well. Yaomo was amazing in bed, a sexy dangerous thing that like candle held a strange fascination for them, because they knew that it wouldn't burn them. But you didn't actually love the flame of a candle, for whatever fascination that it might hold. They would never have stuck up for him, they never would have defended him. Most of them visited him in secret even now, and far more did it back in the days when he called himself an Ondin. He had many lovers, but maybe a couple who would have even admitted to it in conversation.

Still, with a liar's charm and appeal he didn't so much as bat an eyelash as he shrugged as if he had no idea one way or another if they should have asked him to stay. Better that way than get into the mess of it all, there was no point in letting things get too messy when there was so much fun to be had without it. He was all too happy to join Katara in getting some water, however, and was glad that she did it, given that she was likely going to be dehydrated from the dancing itself, not counting the alcohol that she'd been drinking. When she called out though, Yaomo resisted an urge to wince for the women that she taunted. Nothing like rubbing salt in the wound. Still, it was pretty funny, now that he thought about it, certainly not hard to smile about that one.

When Yaomo watched Jet tug Katara down to sit next to him, his smile broadened lightly, and he saw Jet glance at him suspiciously, as if the fighter could sense that Jet was about one move away from being introduced to what his bo staff could actually do to a human skull when wielded with malice. Still, Yaomo wasn't the violent type. He would let it play out, for the most part. Yaomo walked past the fighter as he talked in hushed tones, and Yaomo seemed to stumble slightly, catching himself on Jet's shoulder. "Sorry bout d'at..." he said as the fighter glared at him then continued talking to Katara. Inviting her somewhere, it sounded like. Yaomo, stepped into the shadows for a moment, pulling out a small doll from his pocket, taking some of the strands of hair he'd swiped from Jet without his noticing, twisting them slowly around the neck of the doll, narrowing his eyes at it for a moment before he tucked it back into his pocket. Now he could feel a little better about the fighter, and his ability to be... controlled.

Yaomo was back before Katara noticed he was missing, chuckling a little as he watched her struggle to stand up. Ajani seemed to be enjoying Lu Ten's company, and knowing Ajani he would soon be enjoying hers. It was funny to watch the group all get swarmed by the women. Yaomo wondered if some of them had a clue what they happened to be in store for, given that most of the women that were on them happened to expect things... well, their way. He wasn't about to disturb any of their delusions on that, though.

When they got back to dancing, Yaomo noticed how much more Katara touched him, and he blinked a little in surprise, but as usual went with it. He didn't touch her much more than he had before, instead letting her touch him how she wanted to. Though it was her comment, simple and sweet, that she happened to be glad that he was here that almost made him miss a step. Suddenly he could hear Ajani's voice accusingly asking him if this was how someone who was relaxed and playing it cool reacted to a girl who had said something that one friend might say to another. He found himself swallowing all the same though, and wondered if there was something in the air that was suddenly making this place seem a lot... hotter than it normally did.

He watched her look away at that point, and then look at him with a suspicious look in her eye. He knew what that look was for, it was the look that a woman got right before she was about to do something that she really wanted to do. Usually most of the Ondin women had it in their eyes the first time that he saw them, which was usually a handful of seconds before their clothing hit the floor. In Katara's case, however, it was right before she stumbled, letting him catch her only to surprise him with a kiss that he hadn't expected. She was, it seemed, full of surprises, this one. Yaomo inhaled slowly into the kiss before letting himself reciprocate it.

The kiss that he had given her before, despite Katara's reaction to it, had been rather conservative for the dark eyed rogue. When she kissed him with fervor, he found himself letting himself melt into it and truly kissing her back, his lips moving against her own slowly as his hands reached up and entangled in her hair, pulling it slightly to hold her against him in the kiss before dragging down her back then, letting them slide across her scar. He felt her pause when he touched it, but then relax as he caressed her. The message it seemed, came across loud and clear, he didn't care about it, he knew that she did, but it didn't make her any less beautiful to him.

Behind the tree, Yaomo kissed her more passionately, letting the heat of his kisses rise with the swelling of his muscled chest against her. Yaomo knew he'd controlled himself and yet he felt drunk against her lips, letting out a slow groan against them as he broke from them. He could already feel himself ready for her, ready to claim her, and he watched her reaction as she felt it pressing against her. When she leaned up and slowly whispered to him words that were unmistakeable, his crimson eyes rolled back into his head lightly as a low shudder ran through him.

He swallowed as he felt her tugging at his pants, unlacing them with shaking fingers. Even in the dim light it was pretty clear that there was something worth seeing in them for Katara, and Yaomo bit his lip faintly as she finished unlacing his pants, pausing as she took a breath and then gripped the edge of his waistband, slowly starting to tug it towards her.

Yaomo's hand caught hers when she had tugged it halfway open, touching it softly. He swallowed lightly as his body groaned at him to just let what might happen... happen, but he didn't. "Non, Chere. Desole..." He watched the confidence start to fade from Katara's face as he rejected her, but before it could manifest itself he pressed himself to her again, pushing her back against the tree with the strength of his kiss, sliding his cheek along hers as he went to whisper heatedly in her ear. "Don' go thinkin d'at I don' want it, Katara... you got no idea how hard d'is is..." He coughed a little at his own pun, but decided to ignore it and get to what he meant to say.

"I want you, Chere... but not because you got a load of alcohol upstairs makin' t'ings easier. 'Sides, you liable not to remember t'ings tomorrow... an your first time wit' me?" Slowly his hand pressed to her stomach and trailed along her waistband lightly, letting her feel some of the temptation that she had given to him just a moment ago, "you gonna want to remember it all..." He grinned slowly and gave her another test kiss, lighter this time to see if she still wanted his lips even if she couldn't have the rest of him, or if he had happened to ruin the moment with his personal rules.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Mon Jul 23, 2012 5:01 pm

Katara’s skin tingled anywhere it met with Yaomo’s. His skin felt hot even against her already superheated flesh, but it wasn’t unpleasant. When he’d previously kissed her, it had felt… nice… even if she’d had a hard time allowing herself to think about it too much. However, this time, it was like he was almost a different person but there were still aspects that were the same. The waterbender could feel his hunger fueling her own, but while he his movements were strong and purposeful, his touch was still gentle. He wouldn’t hurt her or force her into anything if she didn’t want it. There were things she did want, though, and her fingertips pressed into his skin as he held her to him with a strong grip in her hair, sending electricity shooting through her body.

She felt dizzy with his presence, but his lips kept her grounded. As his hands slid over her warm flesh, she rolled her pelvis against his and felt it. A charge shot into her core at the proof that he wanted her just as badly as she wanted him. Even so, she was taken by surprise, and her eyes widened a little as she looked into his eyes. The passion she saw in them sent tremors through her body, and she leaned against him, whispering that she could show him her gratitude and rolling her hips against his again for emphasis. She could feel the shivers rolling through his muscles at her words, and she took it as an invitation.

It seemed the lower her hands roamed over his physique, the more nervous she became. As her fingers touched the ties at his waistband, she kissed him again, gaining more confidence as her fingers released the knot. She disentangled the strands from one another and broke the kiss to take a breath. Katara felt more confident, but this was still a big step for her. Sapphire eyes moved lower, the boldness surprising her but not causing any hesitation. She could see the shape of him, and she slowly pulled at the waistband of his pants, loosening them. A spark shot through her as her knuckles brushed against silky flesh, but then his hands gripped hers, gently, but pulled her fingers away from his pants, away from him. Her eyes flickered to his face as he spoke, denying her, and she could feel her confidence fade as the rejection began to sink into her. She’d misunderstood him. He didn’t want-

His lips pressed against hers once more, cutting off any thought of his rejection of her, and her back pressed harder into the tree as he pushed against her. She felt his stubble glide roughly over her cheek as his lips neared her ear. His breath curled over her skin in heavy breaths as he spoke to her, his voice magnetizing, soothing even while it sent pleasurable shivers over her spine. She sighed softly, flesh pebbling when his hand grazed low over her flat stomach, right at the waistline of her skirt. Katara wanted him badly, and she was so ready for him, but he’d already denied her. The waterbender tried hard to cage the animal need within her, to pull it back from the surface. Even drunk as she was, as selfish as she wanted to be, she wanted to respect his wishes, even if it seemed impossible to not remember her first time, especially a night with him.

“I trust you.” She murmured softly just before his lips met hers once more. It was light, his touch gentle, and she could feel herself responding to it, enjoying the feel of him. Her fingertips moved softly over his skin, feeling each muscle. Her hands moved up his arms to his broad shoulders, finally resting at the nape of his neck where her fingers curled lazily through his hair.

It felt good just to be near him, to feel him with her, wanting her like she wanted him. The heat hadn’t left her body, and as they kissed she could feel herself getting warmer again. Her fingers tangled deeper into his hair, and she kissed him more passionately. A low moan bubbled in throat as her hips rolled against him, sending fire shooting through her body. “Yaomo…” She whispered breathlessly against his lips. Katara felt his hands grip her tightly but not painfully, squeezing as if he was trying to steady himself.

Then she remembered his words and she broke the kiss, tilting her head forward to lean her forehead against his while she tried to catch her breath. “I’m sorry. I know we aren’t going to…” She apologized softly. How could she have so easily forgotten what he’d said to her only moments earlier? Or had it been longer? How long had they been behind this tree? She found she had no sense of the passage of time. How did he even have this effect on her? Even as each question whispered through her mind, they were whisked away just as quickly. They weren’t important; she just had to keep herself under control. That base need filled her, but she held it back while it scratched just beneath the surface. There were other ways to enjoy a person’s company. They didn’t have to have sex no matter how badly her body craved him. Of course, at the moment, she couldn’t think of anything. Katara didn’t feel like dancing anymore; the thought of being with him in front of women who were just going to glare at her wasn’t an appealing prospect.

Even so, she now understood why she’d received the glares. If just being near him could have this effect on her, what would it be like if she actually learned what it was like to go all the way with him?

“You gonna be de death of me, Chére.” She heard him say softly, his voice husky.

Katara buried her face against his chest her hands moving to his back, and her skin suddenly feeling cold as her mind absorbed his words. “I hope not.” She said, her voice hardly loud enough for her to hear, let alone anyone else. She couldn’t be the cause of anyone else’s death; she couldn’t bear it. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly against the onslaught of painful memories his words had brought to the forefront of her mind. Behind her eyelids, explosions tore the world apart, brightening the world only to leave it dark and cold when it burned out. She clung to Yaomo like a lifeline as she remembered Zuko’s face right before he’d sacrificed himself for the rest of them, and she saw the malice in his gaze as he looked at her from across the quicksand. Then it was gone, sent back into the abyss, hidden by the fog of alcohol that settled more pleasantly over her mind before her thoughts emptied completely.

“You okay, Chére?” Yaomo asked her, peering into her face.

“Yeah. I’m just a little dizzy is all.” She answered, pulling away from him a little. “I think I’m kind of tired, too.”

“All right. You had enough fun for tonight. Let’s get you to sleep.” He said softly and took her by the hand to lead her to the campsite.

She could feel herself coming to consciousness, but her mind was still hazy. Her skin was warm, but whatever she lay against was hot. It felt familiar, and she snuggled closer to it, sighing Zuko’s name contentedly. All of it had just been a nightmare mixed with moments of strange dreams, every convoluted facet of it. She’d only imagined he’d died, but in reality, he was right here with her. Katara’s eyes slowly opened, and she smiled to herself upon seeing the fair skin of her lover, but as she moved her arm a little, her muscles tensed and her mind began to clear. This wasn’t right. How had she gotten here? Worst of all… this wasn’t Zuko. His skin colour and body heat may have been the same, but the shape was all wrong, and her heart pounded rapidly as she slowly, carefully lifted her head to look upon the face of… Lu Ten. Zuko was dead…

She jerked away from Lu Ten’s sleeping form, feeling her head begin to ache, and she looked around the tent, his tent. What had happened last night? It certainly hadn’t been a dream, but everything was so fuzzy from that time period. She remembered drinking and dancing and… her stomach filled with sooty copper fritillaries as she remembered kissing Yaomo, but how had she gotten here? If anything, shouldn’t she have been with Yaomo if her foggy memories were any indication? She looked down at herself, realizing she was in her underwear, and it wasn’t exactly tightly secured any more. As she rewrapped the fabric, she looked at Lu Ten. He wasn’t wearing anything except for a blanket that only covered one of his legs and part of his pelvis, leaving the outline of… certain things all too clear. Her heart beat even faster, reverberating through her skull as if her body had sent the Spirits to club her brain repeatedly.

Had she?.. Had he?.. Had they had sex? Katara wished to the Spirits that she could turn back time and keep herself from accepting any of those drinks from Jet. How was she supposed to know what had happened if she couldn’t conjure the proper memories? Her breathing was heavy as panic set into her. Lu Ten was more like a brother to her than anything else. She’d been attracted to his cousin, sure, but not to him. Had alcohol really made her lose that kind of judgment? What if she’d thought he was Zuko? He had the same colouring and the same body heat... No, there was no way. Zuko had looked almost nothing like the Captain otherwise.

But shouldn’t she feel differently, emotionally or physically? She ran her eyes over her body worriedly. She felt the same as always with the exception of the headache that was steadily growing worse. Shouldn’t she be in pain? She’d heard that when a woman experienced her first time, there was some soreness to be expected, but she felt the same as she did every day. Had they been lying to her, or had she simply remained chaste? Maybe she was the exception to the rule?

Katara had to find her clothing. Her eyes scanned the tent while her fingers tightened her underclothes, but her pack and her water skins were nowhere to be seen. Were they still at the clearing where the group had been gathered last night, right where she’d left them? If she couldn’t wear her own clothing, she would wear the clothing Ajani had given to her. Where was it? Her eyes scanned the tent, searching for the green fabric pieces. How had they even come off, and how had the knots securing her underwear become loose anyway? There were so many holes in her recollections that she was afraid something really had happened regardless of the lack of any signs of it. She spotted a bit of green beneath the blanket, and she tugged at it only to realize that it was trapped beneath Lu Ten’s body.

The waterbender held her breath as the firebender stirred. What was she going to do? As she watched his eyes slowly open, she realized there was nothing to do. She froze, her face red with embarrassment and her heart pounding in her skull. Maybe if she was still enough, he wouldn’t notice her and would instead just close his eyes again and go back to sleep. She could live without clothing long enough to find her pack. After all, she was still technically covered.

Luck was not on her side. His eyes passed over her, and just as it seemed as if he would simply go back to sleep, his lids peeled back into his sockets with surprise and he shot into a sitting position so quickly that she winced and jerked backward lest he accidentally head-butt her. Unfortunately, the action caused the blanket covering his goods to move, revealing all to her. She quickly turned her head away, raising her palm to block her view of him. “What are you doing here?” He asked suspiciously as he quickly pulled the blanket over his body to cover himself.

“I-I don’t know!” She stammered. “I just woke up. The only things I remember from last night are drinking and dancing and… I don’t remember how I got here.” Why hadn’t she just listened to Sokka and left the alcohol alone? “Why are you naked?” She asked, the panic rising in her throat. “You didn’t… I mean… We wouldn’t have… Please tell me that you remember last night and that nothing happened.”

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Thu Jul 26, 2012 1:33 am

Lu Ten felt a small pang of regret touch him when he had watched Ajani go. Not because he regretted sleeping with her, it had been good, fun. But there was always something that seemed to come after the rush, that moment when it was all over when the calm of the night settled over him and seemed to sink in that he felt completely... lost. It wasn't because Ajani left, either. Most often times the women didn't want to leave at all, and the fact that she had was surprisingly refreshing. No, even if they were there next to him he would still feel like something was missing. Perhaps that's what made it so easy for him to leave them, to "Go off and save the world" as they so often put it. Lu Ten wasn't the sort to lie to women, to give them the idea that there was something more to what it was that was going to happen between them.

Even so, there were a surprising number that while easy going the night before, they would simply switch to something else the next day, as if they mysteriously had forgotten everything he'd told them just the night before. They would cling to him, ask him to stay, ask him to settle down with them. He would suddenly be the best that they ever had, the only thing that they would ever need. Well... he could believe the first part of it, anyway. But they would tell him anything to get him to stay with them. And yet even then, he felt the distance between the two of them, as if there just wasn't anything... there. It was painful in a way, that something that he just couldn't identify that wasn't there. Lu Ten figured that it must somehow be love... but having never been with anyone that he really loved, well... he wasn't sure. Maybe he was just destined to be alone.

As he lay there in the darkness, finally he shook his head and pulled himself up. Moving from the tree loft he went back towards the party, past it, admiring the dancers once again before moving to the area where they had agreed they would set up their tents for the night. It was a marvel that he could set up his tent being as drunk as he was, but somehow he managed to do it, and rather well, he had to admit, though maybe it was just the booze making it look better than it was. As he finished setting up the tent he heard some girls calling from behind him, one of them with long dark hair giving him a beautiful smile. He smiled back at them and they gave another coo of pleasure as he stood up.

He couldn't remember what they said to him, but it was something inviting, and he took the invitation, and the drink from them, feeling the world start to spin a little as it hit his senses. True, he had been with Ajani that night, but their whole tribe had been pretty open with the idea that none of them were really tied down to one another, that it was about living in the moment, taking who you wanted. Lu Ten found that despite the actions earlier in the evening, he was more than willing to be taken a second time. All he could remember was looking at the smile of the girl with the long dark hair and wondering how much better she might look with her clothes completely peeled from her body...

The rest of it had been some drunken blur of the dark haired woman riding him and dreams of strange things that he couldn't quite describe. Katara was being dragged away from them by a giant blue dragon that breathed fire so hot that Lu Ten couldn't bend it, and then she'd been lost forever. It melded into a dream of him burying Mei Ling in the ground, the rage that he had felt at the time. There were tears in his eyes as he felt something tugging at him, something that was pulling him slowly away from her. He remembered trying to fight it, trying to stay with Mei Ling even though he felt the world shuddering around him and slowly fading to a white light that was eroding everything. All he wanted to do was just lay there with Mei Ling and stay there next to her, to close his eyes and let time take him slowly into the earth to be with her...

Who the fuck is waking me up so fucking early... Lu Ten thought to himself, thinking to reach up to rub the tear from his eye. Fuck... just... eyes being dry from sleep, or something if they ask. I hope that they don't ask, all I really want to do is go back to sleep. Who the.... oh, it's just Katara in her underwear trying to get her clothes from underneath me. If I pretend to go to sleep she'll-..... wait... Lu Ten's eyes shot open as cold dawning horror came stabbing into his chest like an ice pick, and his eyes got about as wide as they had ever gotten as he looked at her, and shot up, looking at her as her own eyes widened and she glanced down, causing his eyes to trail down as well.

Fuck, she saw it! Lu Ten thought as he grabbed the blanket and covered himself quickly. On the plus side, she didn't scream, so clearly age has only primed this fine wine- wait... now is not the time to be thinking about that. What is Katara doing in my tent? What... oh spirits, the girl with the dark hair. I don't remember her face. I don't remember her face! Could it have been.... ohhh shit. This is not happening, I did not just sleep with the girl who is practically my sister in law... Fuck.... fuck.... FUUUUUUUCK. Lu Ten forced a smile there as he looked at her, looking around slowly in the tent as he tried to clear his head and think of something to say.

"What are you doing here?" he finally asked her, only to hear her say she didn't know. Fuck, calm down Lu Ten. Just because... things are a little bit sticky down there, and you... pretty much banged some chick last night with long dark hair like Kataras.... doesn't mean that it WAS Katara. It could have been anyone... sure, Katara woke up half naked next to you but... Lu Ten's eyes widened as Katara started to speak. Shit, she's thinking what I'm thinking. There's no reason why she would be here naked, with me naked... we were both drunk... OK, think Lu Ten, what would dad say in a situation like this? "Sometimes the fat catterpillar can grow to be a beautiful butterfly." No... that makes no sense, and she might think I'm calling her fat. Shit, what do I say in a situation like this? I have no idea. God... Jet is going to be pissy about this FOREVER. No... focus, Lu Ten, focus.

"You know... we were both really drunk last night, and... I mean, if you think about it, if neither of us remember anything happening, it's... almost... like nothing ever happened!" Fuck, that even sounded stupid in my head. Come on, dad would know something to say in this situation. "Y'know... sometimes the fall you take can be the start... of a new... journey..." Lu Ten narrowed his eyes at her when he said that to see if she was going to buy it. From the looks of things she wasn't buying it at all. "What I mean to say is... these things... do happen... clearly... because they happened, and... I..."

The sound of laughter from outside the tent nearly made him jump as he wrapped the blanket around his waist like a towel and opened the door flap, seeing Yaomo leaning up against a tree right outside of his tent, a devious smile on the guides face as he looked at the pair of them. Lu Ten's eyes narrowed. Had he set something like this up, just to try to somehow make fun of the two of them? No... Yaomo wouldn't do something like that... it just seemed so... strange. Why the hell was he actually laughing at them?

"Sorry, mes amis. D'is be too funny to keep quiet, even for Yaomo." The crimson eyed man said with a smile. "Katara be drunker d'en all get out las' night, so I took 'er to de tents. She said d'is one be hers and climbed inside. Not till a few minutes later d'at I hear you both snorin away like catgators after a big meal..." Yaomo said with a chuckle. "Tried to wake Katara but she was dead sleepin by d'en. Figured no harm in lettin her stay..." Yaomo shrugged seemingly innocently.

Had it not been such a relief that he'd not slept with Katara, Lu Ten probably would have been noticeably more upset.

Just as he was about to give the damnable black eyed guide a piece of his mind though, he heard as someone ran up, and spoke to Yaomo in a cheery tone just outside the tents. "Oh Yaomo, d'ere be someone lookin for you over yondah!" Lu Ten stuck his head out of his tent just in time to watch as the taller man was walking away waving to the pair of them as he went off to talk to whoever the hell had summoned him.

Grumbling, Lu Ten shook his head. "I'm really going to be glad once we're out of this swamp..."

Yaomo groaned a little as he twisted his back slightly until he felt it pleasantly pop back into a state where it was manageable again. It wasn't that he was adverse to sleeping against trees to watch out for someone else, but it simply had been a while since he'd done it, a long while actually. When wandering the world he'd expected that it would be a desolate wasteland, but people were surprisingly rampant across the globe. True, there were times that you could be alone to yourself, but there were also a surprising amount of towns to be seen. Walk long enough in one direction and you usually were able to find one of them. Dangerous parts were the deserts though, where there was nothing around for miles but buzzard wasps and sand.

Fortunately for him he'd been more then willing to listen to the advice of others before going there, and had brought plenty of water, more than enough, which was part of why he'd not managed to die when he'd stayed for a week inside of the great library beneath the sand. He never talked about that place though, as the spirit who ruled over it, at least in the texts about him that Yaomo had read, was not exactly the most pleasant of creatures when aggravated, and he had demanded both a token of knowledge as well as a vow that what had been learned there was solely for the sake of learning and not to conquer another. Luckily for Yaomo, he'd not had anyone to fight. True, the fire nation was a threat, but it wasn't really his fight. The Ondin had let him leave so he bore them no ill will. Wan Shi Tong had seemed suspicious of it, but had eventually trusted him. Having learned what he had about the spirit world, Yaomo hadn't been about to break his trust, either.

In more recent months, though, Yaomo had come back to this place, settled down for a life of being a guide and telling fortunes, and had honestly gotten quite used to a bed in one place. It was nice, after all, but made his staying up to watch over Katara somewhat jarring the morning after. Stifling a yawn, he went to the edge of the trees where he had been summoned to by one of the girls who had giggled the whole time doing it. He wasn't sure what was wanted or expected of him, just that someone had needed to talk to him. If he hadn't known better he would have expected Mahda, but from the look she'd given him last night, it was clear that what had been between them was not over.

Sighing, Yaomo looked around, and waited...

Ajani peeked out from behind a tree and stole a glance at Yaomo. There he stood, his fair skin glistening in the morning sunlight, eyes dark pools against it. His eyes had never bothered her, though the darkness that had taken over them had been a surprise to her. She pulled back behind the tree, and took a deep breath. She’d never felt this way before. She was scared. No…scared wasn’t the right word. She was absolutely terrified.

Exhaling, she came out from behind the tree, smiling sheepishly at Yaomo as she approached him. Was that annoyance on his face? Or surprise? Ajani cursed herself for being unable to tell. He was one man that she couldn’t read. Was he that good, or did he just fluster her that much?

“Yaomo…” She started, but she wasn’t quite sure how to broach the subject. She knew what she had to do. Whether it had been a mistake to not go with him the first time, or divine intervention, she didn’t know. But if she let that decision keep her from telling him how she really felt…how she was certain that what she felt for him was unique…she’d never forgive herself.

“What you be wantin’, Ajani?” He asked her.

Ajani pushed her hair out of her face, and took another breath.

“I…want to know if you ah coming wit us.” She said, tilting her head down and rubbing the back of her neck as she did so.

He started to answer, but she interrupted him. “Wait. I not being honest wit you. I want to know if you wheel come wit me. I know how it mus’ seem to you, I know wat answer I deese’ve. Bot…I’d be a fool not to ask you.” She looked up into his eyes. Those dark eyes. Unreadable. Anger, or admiration?

Yaomo's eyes widened a little in surprise as he saw Ajani of all people come from around the tree. She looked unduly nervous, even for her. He'd known her well enough to know the look on her face when there was something that she wanted to say that she wasn't sure if other people would like. What did she want to admit to him? That she had slept with Lu Ten? That much wasn't a shock given that people had caught her nearly in the act of it. There really wasn't anything for her to feel bad about. And then she told him, and everything... changed.

Yaomo looked at her, his dark eyes staring deeply into hers. When he wanted to, he had an unnerving stare, probably due to his eyes. It was hard to meet his gaze when he looked at someone like that, and yet his mask was still a mask of unemotion, carefully crafted, carefully maintained. There were so many things running through his mind now... so many things that he could do. The person that hid himself from everything, wanted to just brush it off with a joke, to tell her something about the irony of this particular situation. It would be so simple to end with a joke and a casual goodbye. It would be the path of least resistance, the path that he usually liked to take.

He took in a breath to make the joke, but it choked in his throat. It wouldn't come out, his lips wouldn't form into that telltale smile that he always got, they wouldn't simply brush this off with a joke. He tried... he tried to just let things... go. And yet, now, with her, all he could feel was that he was leaving this place all over again, that the taint that had driven him from this place was back again. He hated that sensation, he hated being here, and really all he wanted to do was go back to Katara and dance and somehow forget that he had ever let himself be tricked into coming here.

She would see it then, the briefest flicker of his mask fading. Behind it there was anger and pain like she had never seen on his face. He closed his eyes, as if to shut out the windows to his soul there, but there was still the look of disgust. "Guess Lu Ten wasn't quite as good as you expected, eh?" Yaomo muttered, the icy words falling from his lips as he turned away from her, taking a step away from her, unable to even look at her at this point, she would only see his back as he stared into the distance and growled softly.

"You have no right." He shook his head lightly. "Not to ask me that. You ain't got no right." The words were stronger the second time he uttered them, and he took another step from her. "You didn't have one before last night wit' him, but you definitely ain' got one now. Goodbye Ajani."

Ajani thought the silence was unbearable until Yaomo actually spoke. Once those words came out, she would have done anything to bring the silence back again. The face that hid away everything melted into anger. Anger that she had created. There had been a time when he dropped his mask and shown her love. What would she give for that Yaomo to come back! Ajani dropped her head as he said goodbye. She knew what she had done. She knew that some hurts go too deep. Some mistakes are irreparable no matter how hard one tries. Sometimes the best thing to do is….to let go.

But Ajani rarely did the best thing, when it came to him.

“Wait!” She cried, grabbing his hand as he turned away. She dropped to one knee, as was customary among her people when showing extreme respect. It would mean nothing to him of course, but it was the only action she had to take. She looked up at him, just a glance, and saw the disgust creeping over his face. Ajani dropped her head again. She was sure it was a great sacrifice on his part not to yank his hand away and push her aside. How could she explain to him how blind she was? How she wanted to...to try again for what he had offered? How could she admit to him her fears that she might fail? She was no Katara. She was Ajani.

“You ah right, Yaomo. I don’t hav’ any right. I was not de’e when you needed me. I am sorry for dis.” Her apology was genuine. There was no excuse or reason that she could give to him to explain her actions. It simply wasn't logical. What frustrated her most about the entire situation was that she was disgusted with herself. She didn't feel she could stand proud anymore. She was an empty shell of regret. Yaomo was only a part of that regret, but it was a large part. Her gaze had pointed downward this whole time, but now she dared to face him again. His face was covered again, masked from her. She remained down on her knee, but let his hand fall away from her. She felt that she’d lost this fight. All there was left to do was apologize, and try to explain herself. If she could.

“You loved me den, Yaomo. I am da same as I eva’ was. I jus’….you see now dat I was not de woman you tought you loved. But I always loved you. I know dat I did not show it well. But would you ‘ave loved me if I was anyting else?

I know I don’ ‘ave a right. But I’ave been a fool not to tell you dat... I love you. I know I do. I did not undahstand it den. Didn't tink I was capable o' feelin' love." Ajani let out a short, mirthless laugh. "I see I was wrong. Now at least, when you walk away, you might feel we’e even in you’ ‘eart. Even if dis is all I can grant you…Well. Den it is wort’ da pain.”

Yaomo paused as he felt her grip his hand. It would be easy to tear away from her at that point, tug his hand from her and leave her on the ground and walk away. It was only his reluctance to hurt women that actually made him pause. He stood there as she gripped him, listening to what she said, still not turning around to look at her, leaving her to look at his back as he stayed there, staring into the distance. It was easier that way, and she wouldn't see his face growing angrier with each word that she said to him. She'd been merrily banging away at someone less than 12 hours ago and she was coming to him and confessing her love to him? Did she have any idea how insulting all of this was? His hand tightened and shook within hers, but the way that he pulled it from her was surprisingly gentle, the way that he had always touched her.

"I didn' love you, Ajani. I loved de person I t'ought you were. Took me a lot of searchin to find out d'ere's a difference." Yaomo said softly, bowing his head lightly. He knew that his words would hurt her, and despite the fact that he didn't love her, he didn't actually want to hurt her. Being needlessly cruel to someone just wasn't who he was. How ironic that someone who had known so much hatred simply couldn't... understand it. It simply didn't compute. Hurting her wouldn't solve anything, it wouldn't make him feel better. Killing Yewande hadn't made the anger go away, it hadn't erased the nightmares. Harming another only just served to memorialize an unpleasant experience. And yet at the same time the words needed to be said.

"An' you don' even know what love is yet." He said, letting the words settle for a moment. "You say de words like a child tryin to get a toy, Chere. You see what you want, and you t'ink if you say it d'en you get what you want." Yaomo sighed. "Love be a bit more complicated d'en all o' d'at. D'ere ain' nothin between us, Chere. Not'in more d'en what you had with Lu Ten last night, an' you foolin yourself to t'ink otherwise. I don' want to be even. No one deserves d'at pain." Yaomo said softly and then moved from her, stepping behind a tree, a seemingly innocent enough move but Ajani would know well enough to know that if she went looking behind that tree Yaomo wouldn't be there, seeming to have vanished as easily as an escape artist.

The air was sticky against him, even in the night as he ran. It was the dead of the summer as he ran through the vines. He could remember pushing through them, his eyes already adjusted to the dark around him. He knew where it was that he was, exactly how many steps it would be to the edge of the jungle, where the outsiders dwelt, those disconnected from the great circle dwelt. Or so they said anyway. He'd spied on them several times, watched them. They were just like him, just like the Ondin in so many ways. But they also had bonds that the Ondin did not. He watched as parents protected their children, told them that they loved them, snatched them up before they got to the edge of the swamp lands and scolded them for getting too close to the dangers there.

Right now he was more worried about the fact that he was late. He had been watching Ajani again, when she hadn't been looking. It was becoming something of a problem... a strange one to think about. Any other Ondin would have been able to watch her with impunity, as long as he listened to the other women, listened to the elders. But he wasn't supposed to be watching anyone like that. If Yewande found out, he had no idea what she would do, but it wouldn't be good. Ever since he had started to lay with the women, she had acted differently, as if she'd known, small hints of smiles here and again. No, he would keep his visits to Ajani as a secret, even without Yewande, he was some demon eyed freak, and she was destined to be a part of the council, elevated above him.

As he came out into the clearing, he panted a little for as fast as he'd been running and then calmed himself. It wouldn't do any good to seem like he had been rushing here, he should have been here early, after all, not just on time. Still, as he saw the moon slowly rising up in it's full grandure in the sky, he breathed out a sigh of relief. He had gotten here with a few moments to spare, Yewande couldn't fault him much for that. She might slap him hard enough to rattle his teeth again, but she wouldn't beat him truly for it... he wouldn't have to feel the sickening sensation of her touching him in order to heal his wounds so that his skin would be perfect... everything had to be... perfect.

Yaomo looked around nervously as he noted that Yewande wasn't coming out of the shadows to chastize him. It was odd, she was always early, so much so that it often behooved him to leave as early as he could to meet her. Of course, if he left too early she would claim that he was slacking on other things that she had given him to do, or that he didn't have enough work to do. Either one of them would more than likely involve some sort of physical punishment. For Yewande not to be here was strange... it gave Yaomo shivers despite the thick heat that was bearing down on him. His dark eyes looked around until he saw it, the old woman moving through the swamp with someone else...

"You here, boy. Yewande was worried she gon' have to punish you, specially aftah bringin you a present like d'is one." The old woman said, walking out of the darkness into the light. Yaomo frowned as he watched the woman come forth. The way that she moved was odd, wobbling from side to side like a bird, or as if her legs were disjointed and broken. He could see as her green eyes hit the moonlight that she was petrified beyond words. He could see her jaw flexing as if to scream, but no sound came out, nothing happened when she stared at him with those pleading eyes, seeming to want him to do something, anything to get her out of this situation. Yaomo felt his stomach lurch as he realized what it was, watching as her body seemed to half float down to a log, her legs wrenching open which caused a muffled scream to come from her clenched lips.

"What... is d'is? Why you controllin her wit' de voodoo?" Yaomo said, feeling numb as he looked at the situation.

Yewande shook her head. "Chil' ain't got no respect fah his muddah. I raise him ta be a smart boy an he still talk back ta Yewande." Her face which had been somewhat happy started to turn towards it's sneer that she usually got before she beat him, he could see the dangerous gleam of anger in her eyes stirring there. "So, tell me what wrong with her, Yaomo. She look jus' like de ones I catch you starin at. I know you know what ta do wit' a pretty one Yaomo, I hear what d'ey say 'bout you. You t'ink you can hide it from Yewande but she knows..."

"She ain't ondin, she ain't even nomad... she's an outsider. Why are you brining her here?" Yaomo asked, trying to calm the pang in his stomach as he saw Yewande smile.

"Yewande knew you get to d'is age eventually, chil'. You get too old for teachin, but ol' enough for oddah t'ings. You gonna make anudda red eyed boy for Yewande to raise, bettah d'en you even. No mistakes d'is time."

Yaomo's face twisted in horror as he took a step back. "But d'at ain't what she want. It ain't what I want..."

"You forget you place, boy. You forget what happen when you don' listen to Yewande. " The old woman growled at him. Yaomo felt his fingertips reaching into his pocket around a small doll in his pocket, taking another step from her, but the woman was now coming forward. Yaomo felt himself trip over a vine and fall down in front of her as she seemed to tower over him, larger than life. "I do all d'ese t'ings for you, stupid boy, raise you when d'ey just want to leave you to die. An' you still too stupid to listen to Yewande. D'ese mistakes not happen wit' de second child."

Another child, to be beaten, to be punished. To be an outcast. To hate himself and not know why. To feel scared, alone. To never be a part of his so called family. To learn a religion that never would save him, never would stop the horrible things that happened to him day in and day out. To be forced to accept the fact that the spirit of this godforsaken place either didn't exist or worse, hated him so much that it simply let these things happen to him. Another child who would have it rubbed in their face that they were a product of rape, that they were born out of hatred instead of something more.

"NO!" Yaomo bellowed. "No... no more. You kill me for I let you do d'at to someone else..." He stood up violently, his fists clenching as he looked at her, only to feel himself slammed to his knees by her voodoo.

"Stupid boy... you t'ink Yewande can't control you just as easy? Maybe d'is de wrong girl for all of d'is. Maybe we get d'at Ajani girl you be lustin after all de time, see if you a bit more willin when de voodoo be on her." Yewande's lips twisted into a smile that she got when she sensed she had caused him pain, usually after beating him or when he had used to cry.

Yaomo stared at the ground for a moment as his fingertips tightened over the fetish in his hands and then gripped it as he focused. He heard Yewande gasp as she tried to move, but couldn't any longer, as Yaomo twisted her arms back behind her. Now the look of satisfaction melted away into outright malice as she screamed at him. "You t'ink you can use your powers agains' ME, demon?!"

Yaomo felt her power slam into him, but as his rage radiated through him, he felt her force on him start to wane, and he glared at her with his dark eyes. "You ain't as powerful as you t'ink, Yewande. You teach me too well, and your dark spirits you pray to like me better. Guess it must be de 'demon' in me." Yaomo growled as he watched the old woman's eyes widen. A satisfied smirk of power settled over his features as he leaned in towards her. "I'm done wit' dis place, and wit' you, crone... I leave tonight wit' de woman I love... an I ain' never lookin back..." Yaomo growled. In the distance he barely noticed as the earth kingdom woman realized she could move again and dashed off into the jungle night.

Instead of the look of defeat he longed to see there, however, Yewande's smile only grew. "Stupid boy. You t'ink she leave her family for you? You t'ink she loves you? Take away d'ose muscles, d'at agility, prowess... all de t'ings Yewande beat into your worthless hide, and you nothin. Nothin but a piece of worthless shit d'at no one look at twice. All d'ey love about you, Yewande give you..." Yaomo could watch her struggling against his control, and he tightened his grip on her form with his voodoo. "All you are... is because... of... ME!" Her eyes widened at that last moment and Yaomo could feel her force on his fingertips, trying to get him to drop the doll...

But as she stuggled suddenly her eyes went wide, and Yaomo blinked as she gurgled, releasing her from the voodoo, watching as the old woman grabbed her chest for a moment, convulsing and thrashing like a fish out of the water before suddenly just... stopping. Yaomo had seen the elders pass enough times to know what it looked like.

Fear slammed into him like another form of voodoo. When they caught him, they would find out, and kill him for this. He had to go, he had to get Ajani, take her and leave this place for good. As he ran through the woods, however, Yewande's words kept echoing in his head over and over again. Without her training, without the muscles she'd forced on him... the smooth manners she'd beaten into him... what was it Ajani really loved about him?

No, when it all came down to it, she would go with him. She loved him... he knew she did...

Yaomo paused as he realized that he was passing that clearing, that clearing he'd rushed from so many years ago. He wasn't sure if they'd ever found Yewande's body or just assumed she had been eaten by something. He didn't even know why it was that they didn't go after him now. Perhaps Mahda figured that it was over, that she owed him something for her years of silence... his freedom. Or perhaps she just had thought that he had run after finding the only woman who would ever take care of him in their tribe dead. He didn't really know any more, and he didn't care much either. He didn't want to deal with the Ondin council, not any longer. If he didn't see them after today ever again he probably would be happy.

As he made his way back to the camp where the group was packing up, he looked to Katara, running his hand through his hair and making sure his mask of cool indifference was on as he looked at her as if nothing had happened, as if Ajani had never asked him to meet... as if he hadn't been thinking about how he'd left this damnable place.

"We ready to go d'en?"

Join date : 2009-10-03

Posts : 144
Age : 1516
Location : On a mountain somewhere

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Thu Jul 26, 2012 5:21 pm

Katara felt like a white hamster trapped in a corner, unable to escape the danger lurking before her. Lu Ten looked as panicked as she felt, but she could see a mask trying to cover his feelings with a cool smile. Even while the smile moved over his lips, it never reached his eyes, never really covered that shock and horror upon seeing her in his tent.

Katara wrapped her arms around her stomach like she was going to be sick when he said that if they couldn’t remember anything happening, it was as good as if it never happened at all. She felt horror and panic starting to encompass her entire being. It didn’t work like that, not in a situation like this. Then his next words came from his mouth as if he knew what she was thinking. A new journey… What if she’d gotten pregnant with his child last night and she wouldn’t even know for sure for a couple of months? What would she do? Lu Ten was definitely not the settling down kind of guy from all Sokka had told her and all that she’d witnessed on this new journey with him, and she didn’t want to have to settle down with him, either. It wasn’t that he was a bad guy or anything; there just wasn’t anything between them romantically, and being forced to marry because of a child – no matter how special and wonderful that child would be, and no matter how much she would love that child – was not something she was looking forward to. A relationship based on something like that couldn’t even begin to be healthy or happy.

“Shouldn’t I feel different or something? I mean, I don’t exactly have anything to compare this to. How do the girls you actually remember sleeping with usually feel the morning after?” The panic was clear in her voice, and it felt like a vine strangling her, making it impossible to breathe easily. “Do you feel any differently?”

Then he went on to say that these things happened, as if struggling to find the right words to comfort her, to keep her panic from consuming her until nothing was left. In the middle of his trying to explain, she heard laughter coming from just outside the tent, and she paled. Who was out there? Had they heard her talking to Lu Ten? What if they told her brother?

Lu Ten whisked open the tent flaps to see Yaomo sitting outside, propped against a tree. She paled, realizing how awful it must look. She actually remembered kissing him fairly clearly, but to wake up in another man’s tent… She must seem like she was easy, available to any takers. Then she heard the red-eyed man start to explain why this was all so amusing to him. Relief flooded her, tearing away the vines of panic that had constricted around her. Thank the Spirits! She thought to herself.

Katara’s virginity was still intact, and she wouldn’t be having any unexpected pregnancies coming her way, forcing an unwanted marriage. Then their guide was gone, whisked away by someone needing to speak to him. “I’m never drinking ever again. I don’t know how you guys can find enjoyment in this. If you ever again see me with anything alcoholic, I want you to be a lot more adamant about my not drinking than Sokka was last night. While you’re at it, if it’s Jet trying to supply me with them, feel free to just kill him for me if I don’t kill him today myself once my skull stops feeling like it’s going to split open.” She wrapped the green fabric – now free of Lu Ten’s weight – around herself, dressing quickly and pulling on her boots.

They left Lu Ten’s tent in time to see a woman leave Sokka’s, screaming at him while tears streamed down her face. She was clearly upset with him, and she followed her out of the tent, trying to calm her down. He looked like he was in a lot of pain, and Katara thought it was probably just from a hangover until she saw a bruise swelling on the side of his face. “Maybe I take you’ life ‘ight now, den I break de bond dat way.” She yelled, causing Sokka to pale.

“Look, just give me a minute to talk to my sister, and we’ll get this all straightened out. Killing me won’t be necessary.” Sokka said, trying to appease her.

“Yeah. You do dat an’ you do eet quick o’ I make su’e you hu’tin’ mo’e dan you is now!” The woman growled at him between sniffles. Sokka rubbed the side of his face that had the forming bruise. He turned toward Katara and stormed forward, but when he got within a few paces of her, his face changed from anger to confusion to horror as his eyes traveled from Katara to Lu Ten. “Did you two-“

“No!” Katara said quickly. “We didn’t do anything together.” Her brother eyed them both suspiciously.

“You know,” Lu Ten began, “I don’t think they’re supposed to react like that the morning after.” The firebender motioned toward the upset woman, and Sokka glared at him, but the distraction worked well enough to get him back on his original track. He grabbed Katara’s arm.

“I need to talk to you.” He growled between gritted teeth as he dragged her away from everyone else, away from the campsite altogether. “What the hell is wrong with you?” He yelled at her.

“What are you talking about?” She said, rubbing her temples as his yelling had caused her head to ring like a bell.

“You can’t just go around telling everyone we meet that having sex means we’re married to the person we’re having sex with!”

“I only told Ajani. Besides, why does it matter? It’s our culture, Sokka; stop freaking out.”

“No, it’s not. The Southern Water Tribe is gone, Katara, and any cultural ties we had to it are gone, too. There’s no point in trying to stick with rules for a group of people who are all wiped out. Do you really think that two people are going to be able to make those things suddenly come back to life? The Northern Water Tribe is our home now, and if we’re going to follow any cultural rules, it should be those ones!” He was yelling, and his words cut her like knives, but she wouldn’t back down. Her anger was rising.

“Oh, really? Then why did you immediately start sleeping with a married woman when we got there? Why haven’t you let Gran Gran and Pakku set you up in an arranged marriage? Furthermore, do you really think it’s okay the way women are treated there, like they’re not fit enough or strong enough to be just as good at something as the men? Their culture isn’t ours, and we should stick to what we were raised to believe.”

He rubbed his forehead. “I said if we’re going to follow cultural norms, Katara, not that we were actually doing it. I don’t adhere to any social rules that people try to put on me if I don’t agree with them, and that includes the ones from an extinct tribe.”

“It’s not extinct! We’re still alive and so are Bato and Hama and Gran Gran!” She said defensively.

“Gran Gran is originally from the Northern Tribe anyway! Hama is as ancient as she is, too, and Bato is still so messed up from what happened to his family that he probably isn’t going to ever recover and start making a life for himself again. You and I are the only young ones left, anyway, and I don’t think this is really about following the cultures we were raised in! I think it’s because you can never just let anything go!” He stabbed his finger painfully against her chest. “You’re afraid that if you stop trying to adhere to these things that it means everything is just gone, and I was willing to play along and let you have your fantasy, but you have to face it, Katara! Our real home is gone, and we have to make our way however we can! I’m sure that another reason you want to stick so badly to the sex-is-marriage bullshit is because of that guy from a year ago. As much as I hate the idea of your ever having sex, I think you’re using it to keep yourself from moving on! If you find another guy, it means Zuko’s really dead, and you can never get him back after that, so you just build your stupid little wall and pretend that you’re just adhering to a dead culture in the hopes that no one notices the truth, but I do because I’m your brother! You can’t save yourself for a dead man, Katara!”

Katara hit him then, right in center of his chest, as hard as she could so he stumbled backwards from the blow, the pain making him grimace. “Shut up!” She screamed at him, tears streaming down her face. “You’re such an asshole!” His brows knit together, but his anger had faded as if he’d just realized exactly how badly his words had stung her. He stepped toward her, trying to hug her, to comfort her, but she shoved him away.

“Look, I’m sorry, Katara. I’m just upset because this girl is freaking out and she hit me and threatened to kill me if that’s what it took to break the marriage. Plus, my head feels like one of their pet catgators is chomping on it repeatedly in the most painful way possible. I didn’t mean it. I was just lashing out.” Sokka said softly, trying to soothe her.

She looked at him and nodded, but the words had already been spoken, they already existed in the open, and she didn’t believe that he hadn’t meant it. She wiped away her tears and fanned her face, trying to cool down her skin so that it wouldn’t be red or puffy from her crying. “Go deal with this. Maybe you can make up some sort of fake divorce ritual to break up your fake marriage or something so she doesn’t kill you.”

“You’re a genius, little sister!” Sokka said, his face brightening before he hugged her. His gaze turned serious once more. “Look, I really am sorry.”

“I know. Just go deal with her before she comes after you.”

Sokka left her there to collect herself. Her stomach was tight with pain, and her head felt ready to burst with every beat of her heart. Katara loved her brother, but he could be a total asshole sometimes. What if he was right? What if she was hiding behind dead social norms to try to hold onto things that were as corporeal as swamp gas? Sticking to those traditions wouldn’t bring her family back, and it wouldn’t bring Zuko back, either. The only problem with moving on was that she didn’t know how. Her fingers caressed the pendant at her throat, glad that it hadn’t gotten lost last night. How did people stop dwelling on the past and start looking toward the future?

Katara left the trees and came back to the campsite in time to hear Gui say solemnly, “Now, break the sacred bone as a symbol of broken ties.” Sokka and the Ondin woman each grasped one side of a thin bone and snapped it in half. “You are now two separate people once more.” Gui turned toward the camp. “You are all witnessed to the breaking of the marriage bond, and you see that this is done!”

“T’ank de Spirits!” The woman shouted to the treetops and hurried away from Sokka.

“Yeah, I had fun, too!” He shouted sarcastically after her while the other guys laughed at him.

“Hey, Katara…” Shen came up to her. “Do you know how to heal hangovers?”

“Nope. It’s not like healing regular wounds. It’s focused in the brain, and there’s way too much energy zapping around up there. The people who taught me healing told me it’s extremely dangerous to try. I could end up making you into a vegetable if I mess around with your brain. I think you’re better off powering through your hangover, don’t you?”

Shen paled a little before mumbling and starting to slink away. “Yeah... I think I’ll be okay. I’ll just drink some water or something.”

Katara hadn’t been quite as honest with Shen as she normally was. While it was definitely dangerous to go messing with the energies inside a person’s brain, she could do it. Maybe the entire hangover wouldn’t be relieved, but she could lessen it. However, she felt that every one of them – including herself – deserved whatever hangover they got, and the best way to get the guys off her back about healing their poor, aching heads was to tell a small lie that was based in some truth to keep them from nagging her all day.

Katara went back to the clearing where everyone had danced and eaten and gotten drunk. Her pack was right where she’d left it. She slung the full water skins over her shoulders before securing her back in place as well, and she headed back to the campsite to help the others prepare to leave. She saw Lu Ten taking down his tent, and she paused. His tent looked a lot like the one Zuko used to use, and she remembered how Yaomo had said she’d told him it was hers. Water Tribe tents looked nothing like these. Gui and Shen just made their tents out of earth. She looked toward Jet’s tent. It looked similar, but its design and colour were a bit different. No, Lu Ten’s definitely looked like Zuko’s had, and it worried her. Maybe Sokka was right. Maybe she really just couldn’t move on… and she needed to… This wasn’t healthy.

Jet approached her. “Hey, I just wanted to apologize for last night.”

Katara looked at him, confused though a sudden fear crept through her. Had something happened that she couldn’t remember? “For what?” She asked innocently.

“For giving you all of those drinks.” He replied.

“What was your reason for trying to get me drunk, anyway?” Her tone was tinged with suspicion, and his face reddened.

“It wasn’t like that! It was a party. I just thought you’d want to have some fun while we hung out with everyone, and it’s obvious you’d never been drunk before. I thought it would be funny.”

“So you weren’t trying to get me drunk so I’d be easier to manipulate into your tent?” She asked, eyeing him darkly.

“No. I’m being serious. I never intended for that. I like my women sober when I’m with them. Obviously it didn’t stop you from waking up in someone else’s tent, though. What happened?” Jet asked, glaring at Lu Ten even as he spoke to the Waterbender.

“Nothing happened! We were only sleeping and not in the way everyone is assuming. Besides, even if I had, it’s not like it would be any of your business.”

“You’re right.” He said, putting his hands up submissively. “You’re right. It’s none of my business who you sleep with or who you sleep with. I just wanted to apologize for getting you so drunk.” Katara was surprised when he just walked away, with no other words to say, no condemnations, no fighting. With how he’d been acting before they arrived in Ondin territory, Katara had thought he was getting possessive again, that he was a bomb who could explode at any given, but he was surprising her. Had the past year really tempered him, or was this a new ploy of his? For now, she would just let it go.

They ate the food some of the former-Ondin men had cooked a meal for them, and they drank copious amounts of water in the hopes that hydrating themselves would ease the pounding in their skulls. It did a little bit, but her head still ached as she helped Sokka take down his tent and pack it away. As she was finishing with that, Yaomo approached her.

“We ready to go d’en?” He asked, and she looked up at him, surprised, but a smile broke over her lips.

“You’re coming with us to talk to the Nomads?” She asked brightly, clearly pleased with this turn of events. He nodded. “That’s great!” She looked around the campsite. All of the Ondin had gathered around the group, and all tents were packed. Everyone looked ready.

“All right! We’re going to talk to the Nomads.” Katara announced to everyone, in case there were some who weren’t aware of the plan.

They left the Ondin territory, making their way carefully through the Swamp. Katara was steeled to ignore any calls that may beckon to her. Thankfully, nothing tried to summon her, to show her things she couldn’t bear to see or to try to kill her. Perhaps it was because she was in such a large group. Maybe the Swamp Spirits knew that she would be stopped by any one of the twenty-four people traveling with her, and thus knew better than to even attempt it. Whatever the case, she was grateful for the Spirits’ silence.

The Ondin people had spread out, many of them moving through the Swamp as if they were Spirits themselves, darting in and out of sight with a grace the outsiders couldn’t muster. Katara and her group stayed close to Yaomo, for he had been their guide previously, and there was no reason why he wouldn’t be now. After a quarter of a day of travel, they heard someone yelling.

“Whoo ee! Would ya’ look ‘t that, Tho! Ain’t never seen so many Ondin leavin’ the Tribe afore. Whatchyous people doin’ leavin’ in a big ol’ group like that and with them outsiders, too?” Katara spotted an extremely slender man standing on a skiff with a shorter, stockier man sitting behind him.

The Polar Water Tribeswoman stepped forward, toward the skiff holding the two. She could see two more skiffs, two men each, flanking the first. “Actually, we’re here to see you.”

“You wanna join the Nomads, do ya?” The stockier man who’d been addressed as Tho asked.

“No, actually, we were hoping some of the Nomads would join us. Would it be possible to talk to your leader?” Katara responded.

“Ain’t got no leader, but we c’n bring you where we be sit’iated fer now.” He sent a bird call through the air that sounded nothing like the screeching birds she’d heard in this Swamp. She heard it echoed through various parts of the swamp from different voice. “Gotta call ‘em altogether.”

“So lemme get this here straight. There are waterbenders up North ‘n’ the F’re Nation be intent on destroyin’ ‘em all, an’ you be needin’ our help to fight ‘em off?” Tho asked.

“That’s right.” Sokka said, chomping on a giant insect that had been cooked for him.

“Didn’t know there was waterbenders anywhere but here. Got a nice swamp there, do ya?” Tho asked.

“Actually, it’s all ice and snow.” Katara corrected him. All of the Nomads gathered around them seemed dumbfounded.

“Sheesh… No wonder you left.” Tho replied. “Don’t know why you tryin’ to save a place like that. Sounds awful.”

“No kidding.” Katara heard Gui grumble and she shot a glare at him.

“Well, the people there like it, and they’re all going to die if we don’t destroy the harbors the Fire Nation is building. Not to mention the fact that as soon as the Northern Water Tribe is wiped out, they’ll start moving through the Earth Kingdom, destroying everything, including this swamp. The North is going to send one hundred men, there are eighteen people from the Ondin tribe, a large group of Earth Kingdom rebels, and we just need at least seven more people to join the fight to insure we have enough people to get this done.”

“That ya’ll got so many Ondin people t’ join ya’ is a miracle in and of i’self. Mus’ mean this here is a real important mission then. I think I’ll go ahead and go with ya’ll.” The skinny man whose name was Due said.

“I’ll be goin’, too. Cain’t let ya’ go off by yerself now, Due.” Tho announced.

An older voice rose above the group, his voice shaky with age, but as soon as Katara saw him, she knew he wasn’t weak. “I’ll be goin’ with you lot, too.”

Two women also volunteered. There was silence from the rest for a moment. “Ain’t nobody else gonna come with us?” Due asked the small crowd. “We only be needin’ ‘bout two more.”

“I’ll go.” Another woman stepped forward.

“Me, too.” A man who looked like he could be her younger brother put a hand on her shoulder.

Tho turned to the outsiders. “All right. Ya’ll got yer seven. We be leavin’ firs’ thing in the mornin’. Tonight, we’ll be eatin’ a big ol’ feast.”

“More partying?” Shen moaned, gripping his skull which clearly still ached from last night’s drinking.

“Ain’t no cause fer celebratin’, boy. Just be wantin’ some good cooked food afore we gotta git travelin’ all over the place. Ain’t no sense in drinkin’ a bunch only to have ta be walkin’ all next day with a head growlin’ like a angry catgator.” Tho said as if Shen was being foolish. He coloured a little and looked down at his hands.

That night, there was plenty of food. It was slightly different in flavor to the Ondin food, but it used similar materials. Katara still avoided the giant bugs. This time, when it was time to sleep, she slept alone in her own tent, and the next morning, they all prepared to leave. The waterbender changed into her regular clothing. It was warmer, but they were going to leave the Swamp today, and she wanted her own gear. She watched as the former Ondin people donned the armor of the Nomads once she’d packed all of her things away. Then, she went to Yaomo. He stood and looked at her, and she threw her arms around him in an embrace. She felt his arms slide around her, and her cheeks blushed at the contact. She’d only intended for it to be a hug between friends, but now that she felt his body pressed against hers, she couldn’t help the fritillaries that swarmed her stomach, and she couldn’t stop the memories of his lips on hers from coming to the forefront of her mind. She pulled gently away from him, but he caught one of her hands before she could completely break the contact. Was she still blushing? Why did her skin feel so warm? It was just a friendly hug, and his holding her hand like this was just a friendly gesture, right?

“I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for us… and for me. It meant a lot to me that you stuck around even though I know you would have rather been anywhere else but in the Ondin territory though I have no idea why.” After all, those women had really seemed to want him there, and he had seemed welcome enough. Was it just the fact that men weren’t as equal as women? It would make sense in a way, but at the same time, that seemed like it wasn’t really reason enough to just leave. After all, Katara hadn’t just given up when she’d gone to the North Pole. She’d fought for equal rights for herself and other women, and it had paid off. He could have done the same. He was strong and intelligent, and his good looks didn’t seem to hinder him at all, either. Maybe it was just that simple. Not everyone fought for rights. Some just left for places where they already existed. “Thank you.”

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Sat Jul 28, 2012 12:14 am

"It's a lot more fun if you don't mind finding out you did stupid shit..." Lu Ten offered with a shrug. He was going to bring up drinking in moderation when Sokka's apparent wife starting screaming. Of course, Lu Ten didn't actually know it at the moment. That didn't stop the snarky comment that came from him that earned him a glare from Sokka, however, and Lu Ten couldn't help but give a broad grin at the water tribesman's reaction. Lu Ten had no idea about that particular custom of theirs, however. Sokka hadn't talked about it at all when the two of them had been together, instead he'd just mentioned all the hot girls that swooned over him up in the Northern Water Tribe. Come to think of it, Lu Ten hadn't actually seen any of those girls when he went up to visit... that seemed more than a little bit suspicious in itself.

He did hope to god that Sokka would actually believe him about Katara. Banging a friend's sister was kind of off limits. Well, okay, there had been a few times when the girl had been hot enough to cause Lu Ten to break said rules, but most of the time he was good enough about them. And banging his cousin's girl... well that was completely off limits, drunk or not. Thinking of Zuko brought a pang of sadness to Lu Ten as he waved to the girls that happened to be wandering by, and he shook his head lightly as he let his mind wander. What would Zuko say in a place like this? What if he'd been the one dancing with Katara last night? Would he and Katara be married by now? Would they have kids? It was mind blowing to think about and at the same time very sad.

Lu Ten shook his head trying to think of something else. Which was thankfully supplied by the fact that the woman was opening up rather loudly about how she and Sokka had been married. Lu Ten scratched his chin, trying to think about it. How all had that actually happened last night? He would have remembered some form of wedding ceremony, someone officiating it. He'd been a bit drunk, but he'd not been THAT drunk. Which of course left the lingering question as to what the hell it was that the woman happened to be talking about. Lu Ten of course had no idea what it was that would actually be the cause of all of this, not until he listened a little bit more to the woman's explanation on what had happened. Oh... no...

"Wait... so... let me get this straight. You're supposed to be married to every chick you bang." Lu Ten said, looking at Sokka who was trying to figure out how exactly it was he was going to do this whole divorce ceremony. "Y'know, I don't think any culture on the earth justifies polygamy any more these days, Sokka." Lu Ten said with a grin, counting on his hands out loud the number of women that by his calculations Sokka was married to given what he'd told them in his war stories over the camp fires when they had been plotting out how to infiltrate Zhao's camp. Lu Ten was glad that this moment of brevity was lightening his mood though, it would have been a shame to spend this whole day in a funk.

"Look dude, why don't you just... break this bone. Call it a sacred bone." Lu Ten offered with a smile.

"Sacred bone, really?" Sokka said with a skeptical look.

"Hey, from what you were saying the other day, you're pretty used to handling your sacred bone." Lu Ten said with a broad smile, which only deepened Sokka's frown as the fighter snatched the bone from him and stalked off, going off to talk to rope Gui into the scheme. It was probably in his best interests, too, because Lu Ten wouldn't have let him off with a ceremony that didn't completely embarass him in front of the Ondin as well as everyone else. "Try not to bury that sacred bone in her... again!" Lu Ten called out to Sokka who made a rude gesture that the fire bender was fairly certain was the water tribe equivalent of telling someone to fuck off.

Yaomo nodded quietly as Katara asked him if his words meant that he was coming with them to the Nomads. It was against his better judgement to stay in this swamp longer than he had to, on the other hand, it would make him feel better to know that Katara was out of this swamp once and for all, especially the way that he'd seen the spirits react to her. Thankfully they seemed to be silent, though he saw a few here or there wandering around them to look at them, especially all of the Ondin that happened to be leaving. Perhaps they could sense somehow that these people were leaving their homes, and the spirits around them for a while. Though something told Yaomo it was just another spectacle to them, like he might react watching a butterfly land somewhere. A point of interest but nothing worth caring about.

Yaomo couldn't help but close his eyes and sigh as he heard the Nomads calling out to him. He hadn't seen many of them in years, and while he knew they were friendly, they weren't exactly... well... high class. They would have more than happily let Yaomo stay with them once he'd left the Ondin, however. He'd met them on his flight from the swamp lands, heard them talk about their life. On the other hand, looking at the way they lived was enough to make certain that the smile that had been on his face when he'd talked to them had been a lie. He couldn't imagine living like they did. The Ondin were one thing, and while Yaomo himself had learned to live off of the land, the Nomads were just... special in their own way. Perhaps it came from their philosophy of just... eating everything.

As Katara was talking to them, Yaomo kept his distance, a move that was justified when one of them came up to him, narrowing her eyes at him. "Ya'll sure do look far-miliar for an outsider, y'all sure we ain't met before?"

"Positive." Yaomo said flatly.

She scratched her chin, at least the first one of them, as there were several, and Yaomo looked around for some excuse, any to take off in a random direction. "Ah, well, I remember this one little feller, red eyes like a demon. Yewande done tried to fix 'im, or so she said... poor little guy. All she did was manage to take the black in the center and just... make it go... everywhere..." the Nomad said with a frown. "I wonder what ever happened to that little feller. Sure was a clumsy little git as a kid."

"Don' know." Yaomo muttered as he wandered away, leaving the woman to muse softly, and he breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing he wanted to do here was meet up with old friends and discuss his past, especially around a ton of Ondin who might ask questions about it that he didn't want to answer. Yaomo avoided the feast for the most part that night, the cuisine of large bugs didn't exactly make him regret it either. The night was more relaxing than the last, partially because he didn't have to watch Katara and partially because he was finally away from the Ondin council. While they were ex Ondin with him, something about being around all of them, especially Mahda didn't make him comfortable.

As he prepared to leave the next morning, he turned to look at Katara who was standing before him. As he opened his mouth to ask her what it was that she was giving him her look for, she threw her arms around him and hugged him tight. Yaomo looked down for a moment, feeling the warmth spread through him as his arms wrapped around her lightly, possessively. Here, with her where she was, he knew the idea that he had been toying with was something that he would have to tell her, but before he could, she started to speak, and his dark eyes watched her intently as she spoke to him, his eyes looking away slightly as she mentioned that she knew he didn't want to be there. It was a bit more complicated than all of that, but telling her... well, Ajani hadn't exactly left things open for trusting someone else, and even she didn't know the whole truth. What would Katara say when she knew?

"I been t'inkin, Chere." Yaomo said finally as he pulled back slightly. "Your brother said a lot of t'ings on de way to get you. D'at you come from de south, an' what happened to them down there. And about you bein worried about your destiny." Yaomo frowned softly. "You don't gotta do this. I know you want to, but... given all you lost, maybe it's time to t'ink about you, Chere. What you want. I know d'at you want to save everyone, and evert'in, but... it gotta be asked, when you destroy d'is port, is d'at really gonna stop de Fire nation, or just hold 'em off for a bit?" Yaomo said with raised brows.

"I know you want to change de world, Chere, but maybe it's time to t'ink about how you could be happy in the world you be in." he scratched the back of his head as he sighed. It didn't feel like this was coming out right. "Dunno what happened de other night, maybe just you and de drinks, but... seemed like, for a few moments d'ere, like you be happy wit' me. Don' know if d'at still be true, or if it ever was, but... maybe it somet'in to think about, Chere... instead of fighting an endless battle you stay with me... set down some roots... live a normal life for a change. It ain't as bad as it sounds..." Yaomo offered, his eyebrows raising as his dark eyes looked into hers, trying to determine what her answer would be before she gave it.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Sat Jul 28, 2012 2:01 am

Katara swallowed hard after she thanked Yaomo for helping them, for staying with them even when he would have rather been back in his hut telling fortunes and the like. Her eyes moved to his hand, his fingers curled gently around hers but just tightly enough to get her attention, to keep it there until she would try to remove it. How could someone with so much raw, physical power visually present in his body have a touch so light, so sweet?

Then he began to speak, and cerulean eyes moved to his scarlet ones. When he mentioned that Sokka had told him about what had happened to the South Pole, her face fell a little, darkening into sadness. However, her expression quickly turned to confusion as he continued to speak. Of course she had to do this. What else would she do if not this? “Even if all it does is hold them off for a while, it’s better than doing nothing and just letting them take over. Every little bit of damage done against them helps us.”

Then he continued, and even though his next words brought back her confusion, a small inkling of understanding began to steadily creep its way through her mind, only to be brought to the forefront of her thoughts when he reminded her about how they’d been the night she’d been drunk, dancing with him, laughing with him, kissing him. Her cheeks flushed a deeper red than his irises as she remembered, but she could feel sadness welling within her as he continued to speak. She saw a vulnerability in his eyes, heard it in his words, that she’d never imagined he possessed. He was… offering himself to her, a place to stay by his side, a way to forget the pains and injustices of the world and just… live for once instead of merely surviving and fighting.

You can’t save yourself for a dead man, Katara… Sokka’s words roamed through her head, decidedly less angry than when he’d actually uttered them yesterday. Could she just stay here? Well, not here in the Foggy Swamp, for it was far too dangerous for her, but with him, outside of it. Would she be happy? Could she be happy with him? Katara knew she’d misjudged Yaomo. She’d originally thought he was just a man who overcharged for his services and was loose with women, but he’d shown her a different side of himself these past few days. He had protective instincts, and he felt things, wanted things just like anyone else. Now, he was offering to settle down with her, to only be with her as she could be with him.

Heard a blessin' in Ba Sing Se once, 'may you live in uninterestin' times', that sorta t'ing ain't never gonna happen for you, Chére. Not for a long, long time. Maybe never… Those were his words that echoed through her mind next, and she knew she couldn’t, no matter how seductive the idea of staying with him here was. Staying in one place wasn’t in the bones.

Katara knew she was going to hurt him. He was opening himself to her, risking his emotional happiness to ask her to stay, to ask her to take a chance on him, and she couldn’t accept it. She filled with sadness. This wasn’t the same as when she continuously turned down Jet’s advances. He was never really vulnerable with her because he didn’t want her for herself so much as for what she possessed, what he wanted to possess. He wasn’t genuine with her the way she sense her guide was being, so it was ten million times harder to have to speak the words to him that she was about to utter.

“I can’t.” Her chest clenched painfully as she forced the words to be exhaled from her chest. She felt him start to pull his hand away, but she clutched it tightly, keeping it there. “It’s not because of you. Honestly, the idea of just staying somewhere, of not having to fight all of the time, to not have to worry and look over my shoulder constantly is such a wonderful dream, and I think I could be happy with you if the circumstances were right, but they’re not. We’re in the middle of a war. I could never forgive myself if I stood aside and allowed the world to crumble while I watched.

“I will never turn my back on people who need me; I just can’t do it, and right now the world needs me. I’ve already failed to save people, people I love and care about, on so many occasions that sometimes thinking about it makes it hard to breathe. If I don’t continue to fight as hard as I can, as long as I still have even a single breath left in me, it will make the deaths that have already occurred meaningless. Why should I live when they died if I do nothing to help people in need? Even if I fail sometimes and other times only accomplish a little, it’s better than not trying at all and failing by default. You said it yourself, Yaomo, peace isn’t in my future, not yet, maybe not ever.

“Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll become a catalyst – whether directly or indirectly – for the demise of the Fire Lord and as a result, the end of war. Then no one would ever have to worry about the Fire Nation destroying the world ever again. The world could be a brighter place, and children in it could actually have a future… even if none of them are my children.” She looked away from his gaze then, looking at the way she now clutched his hand in hers, afraid that if her grasp loosened even a little, he would slip away forever.

“I’m sorry I can’t stay with you, Yaomo.” She said softly, but Katara’s gaze moved back to his face, a thought occurring to her. “But… maybe you could come with us.” Her cheeks burned even hotter. Had she really just uttered those words? “Not that… I mean… It would only be if you wanted to come. I wouldn’t think you were selfish if you wanted to remain here. Not everyone wants to fight a battle, especially when our side is considered the losing one. I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to coerce you into this. It’s your decision to make. I just… thought…” She looked away from him again, slowly releasing her grip on his hand. What did she think?

Why was she asking him to go with them? Sure, he was asking her to stay now, but he’d only known her for a few days, and he’d only seen her as a normal person. He’d seen her destiny, sure, but that didn’t really mean he knew anything about her past. Would he still feel the same about her if he knew what kind of person she was, that she was a bloodbender, a killer no less? Mahda had seemed distinctly repulsed by the knowledge that Katara was a bloodbender, and Yaomo had been raised among the Ondin. Just because he’d left, it didn’t mean he didn’t still carry some common beliefs with him.

She wasn’t just the compassionate, determined, slightly naïve person he must see. There was darkness in her, and regret, and guilt and anger that could never truly be washed away. Would he be repulsed by these things if he witnessed them in her? Furthermore, would he ever be able to replace the place within her where Zuko had dwelt, full of so much promise only to be ripped away in an act of sacrifice? Could anyone? Shouldn’t she at least try rather than doing nothing and automatically failing? Was this even the right time to be thinking about such things, with war destroying the world, nipping at their heels?

Katara’s gaze returned to his face, and her hand moved gently to his arm. “Anyway, just think about it. You don’t have to answer me now. I know it’s not a decision a person can or should make hastily.”

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Sat Jul 28, 2012 8:05 pm

Yaomo could see it in her eyes there, before she even said a word to him. He knew that she wouldn't be going with him. There was that silent sense of betrayal in her eyes. Not because she was actually betraying him, of course, but because she felt like she was. Yaomo wasn't foolish. This wasn't like with Ajani, someone who knew him, someone that he had known for years. There was so much to tell her, but at the same time there was just no time in order to do it. Nothing would actually come of him talking to her about the darkness of his past after having known her for days. Dumping that on her and expecting her to make something of it would be a setup for disappointment. The best he could really hope for was some form of understanding, but even then he knew that it was a stretch. How could someone really overlook the death of an old woman, even if she had been evil?

He opened his mouth to say something, to let her know that it was alright, that she didn't have to outright deny him. Having just come from doing it himself, he knew that it was hard. Even with Ajani it had been hard. There hadn't been anything pleasant about it. When he'd imagined it before, he had to admit he'd envisioned some sort of catharsis involved with it, that there would be some sort of sensation that would finally give it all closure. But there wasn't, there was never a sense of closure, only of moving onward. Such was the nature of life, he had come to learn. There wasn't anything that Katara could say right now that would likely make either one of them feel any better about the situation, so he wanted to spare her the need to struggle with the words. But at the same time, before he actually said something she did.

He listened to her, nodding along the way. He had understood her reasons, even before she had given them. He had known what he was asking wasn't the sort of thing that she would be used to. The battle had, in many ways, become her life. Yaomo had never really understood something like that. While he had been tortured by a madwoman growing up, the rest of his life had been rather peaceful. He had always dreamnt of stability, a place to simply let things go, let everything that he had been forced to keep in perfect order just fall... apart, and maintain some form of peace. It seemed like Katara was of the opposite side of things, or at least, she had something worth fighting for. Yaomo wondered what it must be like to have something that you felt so strongly about that it was worth dying for, something that was worth sacrificing everything for.

He could understand it, but he had never known it.

Yaomo's eyes widened quite a bit as she asked him to go with her. She of course then nearly retracted it, it seemed, but the heart of it was there unspoken and laid out before him. She wanted him to come with her. He could feel the warmth in his chest at that as he looked into her blue eyes, and felt for a moment the torment that he must have put on her in that situation. Could he really do the same thing that he'd asked her to do, if it meant staying with her? Sacrifice where he was in life and try to do something... different? It wouldn't be an easy road, that much was certain, but on the other hand, was anything in life really that easy? Yaomo felt like he was on the precipice of something monumental. The crossroads in his life. The last time that he had come to these he had no regrets about what he chose... would he this time around? To choose a carefree life meant never seeing where it was things went with her.

Softly, he nodded at her closing thoughts, blinking. "I t'ink it over, Chere. Go wit' you at least until you get on d'at boat." He said with something of a coy smile as he reached out to brush her cheek, but nothing more. It was a simple, soft gesture, even if it wasn't the one that he wanted. But what he wanted to do right now seemed too heavy for this moment, and he had a lot to think about. Something told him though, a life with Katara in it was never going to be boring, even if it wasn't the carefree one that he imagined.

Lu Ten blinked a little as he watched the body language between Katara and Yaomo. From the agitation that he could see on Sokka's face, her brother had seen it too. There was something there between the two of them, something that was more than friendship. Lu Ten felt a pang of guilt at that, a part of him almost feeling like he should say something, try to defend Zuko in all of this. Yet at the same time, Zuko was dead. Could he really expect Katara to wait around forever, growing into a spinster who remembered his cousin the way that he had been, proud and brave? The pair of them had barely been together the week before Zuko had died. In all honesty, she had known Yaomo longer, nearly. But there was something about it that made him sad to think about... something lost that could never truly be regained ever again.

As they headed out of the marshes of the swamp together, finally, Lu Ten breathed a sigh of relief. The swamp had been an interesting place, but it had felt like if he stayed there any longer he was going to start fashioning himself a leaf pair of undergarments and a hat to match. Given all of the political oddities in that place, he was wondering if there was something about the swamp that just made a person go crazy if they stayed in it too long. Every now and again he half looked back to the Nomads to see if they would suddenly blink as if coming out of a dream and realize that something had happened to them a long time ago, but it never seemed to happen. Every now and again Lu Ten was fairly certain he caught Yaomo giving the Nomads the same glance, as if he was worried about what might happen to them as well.

Once they were on their second day out of the woods, Lu Ten blinked, and then smiled as he caught what he had been hoping to see, a small flag with an emblem sewn upon it, representing the resistance. It was a simple design, one that Zuko had come up with, that simply had the air nomads crest with the earth kingdom crest in the middle and the water tribe crest on the other side. There had been some question on whether or not they should include the fire nation crest along with the others, but given that they were mostly recruiting from a pool of people from the earth kingdom, it seemed like a poor idea. Better not to advertise their heritage when they were forsaking it, after all.

But rather than the backup, it was the person leading them that was a surprise.

"Ping!" Gui shouted and waved as he recognized the man coming forward, bow unceremoniously slung on his back as he strode forward. The pair of earth benders rushed forward to see their friend, while Lu Ten hung back. But even Jet had a smile on his normally grim features as they greeted their old friend. Ping's smile was broad, though somewhat reserved, as the man always tended to be.

"Aren't you supposed to be, y'know, off leading the troops?" Lu Ten ribbed Ping lightly with raised eyebrows.

Ping only smiled and shook his head. "My mentor told me that a leader cannot be everywhere at once, so the people he leads should be able and ready to lead themselves at all times, in order to let the leader move to where he is most needed."

Lu Ten gave a mock roll of his eyes. "And you think here is that place?" He asked, crossing his arms.

"Actually," Ping said with a smile, "the troops I've lead down here are going to help your recruits start setting up the resistance points from the south on up. I was just hoping to catch a ride back to the Northern Water Tribe so that I could be closer to the front lines when all of this starts to go down." Ping paused, and smiled at Katara and the others. "Of course, seeing old friends did have something to do with it..."

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

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