I know, I know my updates are effing sporadic. But its 2020 and it's playing havoc. Luckily though, things seem to be picking up, writing wise and I was able to churn a chapter out for you all. Also, since it is my birth week, I intended to update my stories this week. So, look forward to an update from Sleepless in Ba Sing Se as well. I have also updated one-shots from Save Me and one from My Country.
This and the next chapter are Katara's flashback. In these two chapters you will start to understand a lot more about how and when Katara had her affairs, how she met Haru. How her relationship with Aang developed, how she learned blood bending and how she ended up with the mission
As usual, please R&R.
Soft white pellets of snow trickled down on the tiny settlement while the children played a game of skip. Some distance away, the men were taking apart the carcass of their latest hunt, that of a pigmymoose, while the women sat mending a fishing net.
"This moose will last a few days, but we have to work on our stock," Muri said, carefully slicing through the tendons to keep the pelt intact.
"We haven't had a good catch of fish as yet," Bato said, pulling out the intestine. "The Earth Kingdom trade delegation should be here soon. That would give us some relief."
"Yes, but if we don't have enough fish to trade with, will they give us grains to last the winter?" Kuma asked.
"They will," Hakoda said, cutting the meat into chunks. "I know the man leading the delegation. Tyro. He is a good, fair man. He will take care of us."
"But why will he?" Bato pressed.
Whatever Hakoda wanted to say in response, was cut off by a loud squeal from the kids.
"Dad!" Sokka screamed. "Katara is being weird!"
Several adults looked up to find Katara holding up her hands to chest level, eyes widened and mouth agape. About a foot away from her hands, a ball of water was suspended in mid-air. A gasp ran through the group and the ball of water splashed down on the ground.
"Katara!" Kya dropped the net and rushed to hug the scared child while Hakoda scooped an equally terrified Sokka into his arms, uncaring of the blood in his hands.
"She's not being weird, Sokka. That is just Water Bending. It is a big part of our culture. That is why we are called the Water Tribe."
Meanwhile, Kya walked over to Sokka and Hakoda, carrying five-year old Katara in her lap. Settling down next to her husband, she pecked the foreheads of both her children. "Sokka, did dad tell you what that was?"
"Water Bending," six-year-old Sokka replied, jutting his lower lip out. "Magic."
Kya chuckled. "No honey, it's not magic. It's part of our culture."
"Then why have I never seen it before?" Sokka said, crossing his arms in a huff.
Hakoda exchanged a glance with Bato, who gave a small nod. At that, the family moved from the communal gathering and into the igloo where they lived. Once in, Hakoda signaled for his children to sit on the pelts facing him. Kya settled down between Katara and Sokka, draping her arms around both of them. Hakda cleared his throat and began his explanation.
"Do you both know about the war that is going on?" Hakoda asked.
"Yes," Katara said, nodding. "I heard Elder Kang say that the Fire Nation is destroying everything."
"They are," Kya said. "There is no point in hiding the truth, so we are going to be as honest as we can. Even before the war began, our tribe has been fighting with the Southern Raiders. They have pretty much broken us. Since the last Water Bender was taken eight years ago, they have come to our shores three times. They bring death and destruction with them. And we are not strong enough to fight back."
Sokka's eyes widened. "Will they be coming for Katara?"
"Possibly," Hakoda said, looking straight at both his children's eyes.
"This is bad," Katara said with trembling lips. "I don't want to die."
"And you won't," Kya said firmly. "No one is dying in this family. But now, both of you need to be prepared. You may have to go deep inland and hide in some cave, should things come to that."
"But why do they want us dead?" Sokka said in evident confusion. "Katara can't do anything to them. She's a child!"
"She's a child today," Hakoda said. "But one day, she will grow up to be a strong and powerful Water Bender. And you, Sokka, will be a powerful warrior. Together, the two of you will be unbeatable, right?"
"Yes we will!" The two kids chorused, pumping their fists in the air.
Three months later, family experienced the darkest day of their lives.
Five-year-old Katara did not know what was happening, but she was scared. All around her, people were screaming. There was smoke everywhere and someone somewhere was crying. Katara hid her face in her mother's parka, trembling.
"Koalaotter," her mom said urgently, "Where are your dad and brother?"
"They're outside," Katara said.
"Go. Get them. Now."
"But Mommy –"
Scared as she was, Katara was glad to have a direction. She turned to leave, startled to just notice the three men who were in the igloo, crowding it.
"Run little whore," one of them said. "Run before we decide to include you in our fun."
Katara ran on the snow, slipping a couple of times. By the time she reached her father, he was engaged in a fierce battle with a large man. She wanted to call him, but Sokka pulled her back.
"Stay away! You'll get hurt," Sokka screamed.
"But mom! There are three men in our house!"
Her father had heard her words, stabbed the man he had been fighting, and ran towards their home, unaware that disaster had already stuck. The sight that met them was seared in her nightmares forever. Her mother lay on the ground, dead. She had been stripped naked, her breasts chopped off, and blood streaming from between her legs, coloring the snow a deep crimson. It was only much later that Katara understood what the raiders had done to her.
The midnight sun was shining down in full glory, making the snow shimmer. Four fishing boats were moored on the shore, with a group engaged in unloading the boats. Survival in the Water Tribes required contribution from every member of the tribe. Some men were atop the boats, unloading the haul. The women were engaged in sorting and stacking the catch, making sure that the fishes were kept from spoiling. The children were busy with the nets, picking out the knots, shells and cockles that were entangled in web. All of a sudden, a surprised yelp cut through the chatter, making people look up.
"Look!" Timir screamed, pointing in the distance.
At first, Katara could not be certain what she was looking at. Something was sailing over the waves, cruising as though they owned the ocean. As the figure moved closer, more and more people , murmuring amidst themselves. Almost twenty minutes after the figure was first spotted, Katara realized, with considerable awe, what they were all looking at. An old woman was standing atop a wooden raft, her white hair flowing behind her, as she soared over the waves.
"How is she doing that?" Mooga, a boy little older than Sokka, asked.
"Water Bending," Katara replied, her blue eyes widened.
Mooga's head whipped to look at her, "What? How do you know?"
Katara shrugged, "I just… know."
It was a while before the old woman landed on the shore, but her name had gone around the crowd like a whispered mantra. Hama. Hama. Hama. For Katara, it was as though she was seeing light for the first time in her life. By and by, the raft touched the shore and the woman hopped off.
"I'm back," she wheezed, then promptly dropped on the snow and passed out.
Later that night, the children lay in the crook of Hakoda's arms, each lost in their own thoughts.
"Dad," Katara said suddenly. "Who is Hama?"
"She was the last Water Bender of the Southern Water Tribe, before you."
"Why was she not here?" Sokka asked. "Where did she come from?"
"She was taken a prisoner by the Fire Nation ten years ago," Hakoda replied.
"Why are there no other Water Benders here?" Sokka asked. "Why are Hama and Katara the only ones?"
Hakoda sighed, wondering what he could tell his children. "For the world, the war started eight years ago, when Fire Lord Azulon lay siege on the Air Temples. For us, though, the war has been going on for much longer. We have been involved in various skirmishes with a troop of Fire Nation called the Southern Raiders. It all started when one of our fishing boats crashed into their ship, killing a crew member. No one came to our aid, saying that it was not between two nations but a local, territorial fight. We were never too strong with our defenses and that cost us. Over and over, they would come and target our Water Benders. We didn't have many to begin with, but once Hama was taken, there was no one left."
"Why are we so weak compared to the North?" Katara asked.
"We are a much smaller tribe," Hakoda answered, not sure how else to explain.
"If I learn Water Bending, will the Fire Nation kill me like mom?"
"No, honey," Hakoda said, struggling and failing to keep his voice steady. "I won't let the Fire Nation touch you."
"Me neither," Sokka said.
"You want to learn Water Bending from Hama?"
Getting Hama to train Katara was easier said than done. Her stint at the Fire Nation prison had changed her as a person. The woman Hakoda remembered had been friendly, kind, and likeable, even if she was slightly inappropriate at times. Hama had been married to Sumak when she was sixteen. Her happiness, however, had been short lived as two months after their wedding, Sumak had fallen through a patch of thin ice during a hunt and later succumbed to hypothermia. Since then, Hama lived alone in the igloo, turning down several proposals, focusing all her energies on improving her skills as a Water Bender. She had been a little under fifty when the Southern Raiders kidnapped her. The woman that had landed on the shore ten years later, was someone Hakoda did not recognize. Quiet, aloof, cantankerous and rude, with eyes that were downright wild, she was nothing like the woman that had been taken from her home.
When Hakoda had approached her the first time with the request to take Katara as her student, Hama had chased him out of her igloo by shooting icicles after him. His status as the tribe chief meant nothing to the woman. She was simply not interested.
"Not interested?" Seven-year-old Katara said with a scowl. "What does she mean by not interested?"
"Usually that means she does not want to do something," Sokka supplied helpfully, lying sprawled on the bear pelt in their igloo.
Katara scowled and kicked his foot. "Shut up. Meanie," she turned to look at Hakoda and said, "I'm going to talk to her."
"Katara," Sokka said sitting up. "She's scary."
"She is also the only one who can teach me Water Bending. So, yes, I am going to pester her till she teaches me."
Her mind made up, Katara threw her parka on and marched to Hama's igloo. Being a Water Bender, and perhaps motivated by Hakoda's visit, Hama had sealed hers from all ends, with no visible entry or exit. Katara stood outside the igloo and raised her voice slightly, "Hama! Please open the door. I want to talk."
"Hama! Open the door."
Nothing. The seven-year-old girl stood there, calling on the Master Water Bender over and over again. Even as the minutes turned to hours, and the midnight sun shone brighter and brighter, the girl stood her ground. Hakoda tried, several times, to pull his daughter back inside, but the girl stood firm, calling for Hama over and over again. Nothing would deter her from her pursuit of a teacher.
"Hama!" Katara screamed. From his position next to his daughter, Hakoda could see the veins in her throat pop up from all the screaming.
"Katara, please, let's go. It's getting cold."
"I won't," she said, not taking her eyes off the closed door. "She has to listen to me. Hama!"
"No dad, you go inside. I will stay here."
"Go dad. I am fine. She will open a door."
Just like it had been with Kya, he could never say no to Katara when he knew that she was right. With a sigh, he withdrew and stood some ways behind her. When had his little Koala Otter had grown up so much? She was just seven years old, yet at that moment, she was showing the determination and grit of a person so much older than her. Over the next two hours, Katara screamed herself hoarse, but Hama's door stayed resolutely closed. Finally, exhaustion made the little girl step away. Hours turned to days and Katara would continue to stand in front of the igloo, and scream till she was hoarse. More and more people gathered to watch as day after day the child would scream for the old woman to pay heed. Day after day she would be ignored. Finally, at the end of the sixth day, just when Hakoda was about to put his foot down saying enough was enough, the igloo's wall crumbled and the old woman hobbled out.
"What?" she screamed in a scratchy voice. "You screech like a penguinseal."
"Teach me Water Bending," Katara spoke in a squeaky, broken voice.
"No," Hama replied.
"No?" Katara cocked her head to the side in evident confusion. "Why?"
Hama gave a scoff and said, "I don't need to explain anything. You asked a question and I gave an answer."
"Hama," Hakoda interjected. "This is not really fair, is it? Katara is the only Water Bender other than you who is left in South Pole. If you don't teach her, the Southern Water Bending will die. Please, Hama. You cannot let our culture die like this!"
Saying so, Hama turned around and began to march back into the igloo when Katara gave a yell. "No! You will not!"
Before anyone could understand what was happening, Hama's body pitched forward and fell face first on the snow. Silence fell like a pall on the gathered crowd as with a groan, the old woman sat up. Hakoda's eyes widened upon spotting that one of her legs was encased in ice. With the flick of her hand, Hama freed her leg and looked at Katara.
"You did this." It was not a question.
"Yes," Katara said, tilting her chin up in defiance.
"Where did you learn that?" Hama's voice was colder than the winds of the tundra.
"I figured it out myself."
Hama's eyebrows climbed high as she sat up straighter. "You learned how to change snow to ice all by yourself?"
"What's your name?"
"How old are you?"
Without a word, Hama lifted up a ball of snow and flung it at Katara, stopping inches away from her face. "Change that to water."
Katara raised her gloved hands and held on to the snowball. Her tongue peeked out from within her lips as she concentrated on her task. For a few seconds, nothing happened. Then, just as Hakoda felt hope flickering out in him, the snowball turned into liquid and splashed on the ground. Hama gave a loud, slightly maniacal cackle and said, "Come tomorrow. Lessons start at dawn."
Water Bending lessons were easy and tough at the same time. To Katara, control over her element came as naturally as breathing. She mastered the basic moves at a speed that surprised everyone, including Hama. The problem was not with the craft. The problem lay with the one teaching the said craft to her. Hama was tough to please. No matter how hard Katara tried, Hama would never give her a smidgen of praise. Or even a nod of encouragement. All Katara got was a new, even tougher assignment. In fact, it was exactly two years, seven months and thirteen days since Hama had accepted Katara as a student that a compliment passed the wizened lips.
The task that had been assigned to Katara that day required her to pull moisture out of the air and turn them into missiles. Easier said than done, especially since Hama refused to show it more than once.
"Water is in the air," Hama's voice rang like a whip. "Feel it! Pull it. Bend it to your will."
"I'm trying!" Katara replied through gritted teeth. "Can you just show it once more?"
Hama shook her head, "No! You're in the South Pole. You have water all around and you cannot do this? Doesn't that mean you have reached your peak, Last Water Bender?"
Katara closed her eyes and huffed. "I am only nine! How old were you when you did this?"
"I figured this out myself. While I was in Fire Nation, where the air is dry. Where there is barely any water vapor. This was the difference between life and death. So you can either be a little girl and cry about it, or be a Water Bender and actually do it."
Katara huffed and closed her eyes. Water. She was supposed to sense the water in the air, but how was she supposed to do that when water was all that was around her. As snow, as ice, as igloos and as the ocean she could sense some way off. How was she supposed to separate one water source from the other and pull at the separated source?
Think Katara. Feel. She told herself. This could be the difference between life and death.
Water was all round her. Katara frowned and began separating the types of water. She could feel the difference in the weight of ice and snow. She could feel the pulse of the ocean waves. But she was not sure where the ocean ended and where snow began. Not could she distinguish the water vapor that was apparently 'swirling' in the air.
Where is it? Where is the water vapor?
In the air. Sense the air. Feel it.
Cold, cold wind was tickling the tiny bits of skin that was exposed under the layers of fur and clothes. Katara took a deep breath and tuned out all the other sources of water.
Focus on the wind. Be the wind.
Once she found them, Katara could not believe she had not seen it before. Swirling in the air around her were millions of tiny, invisible particles of water. Taking a deep breath, Katara wove her hand through the air, collecting as many water particles as she could and froze them on her fingertips. With a flick of her wrist, she shot the sharpened icy missiles through the air and lodged them on the wall of a nearby igloo.
"Good job!" Hama whispered. Perhaps she did not intend for Katara to hear those words, but the girl heard it anyway. Katara let out the breath that she was holding and smiled. Suddenly, Water Bending was not so tough anymore.
"The Avatar?" Katara said, "You were not kidding."
"No, see," Aang picked up a few pebbles from the shore and shuffled them in his hand. Then he spun them around, forming a ring of stones between his hands.
"That's so cool," Katara said, giggling.
Aang turned a shade of pink as he said, "You think it's cool?"
"Bending is cool, isn't it?" Katara said, grinning.
Aang let go of the pebbles and sat on the snow, "Are you really a Water Bending Master already?"
Katara sat facing Aang and said, "Of the Southern Style, yes. I want to learn the Northern Style."
"But how old are you? You can't be much older than me," Aang protested.
"I'm fourteen," Katara said grinning. "I became a master last year. But you became an Air Bending Master by ten, right?"
"Yeah, but my case is different," Aang replied with a shrug.
Katara's brows knit together, "Why? Because you're a boy?"
"What does that have to do with anything?" Aang said, looking genuinely confused. "I was about to say, it's because I was surrounded by Air Benders, and that I am the Avatar. Which means I have my past selves to guide me. That does give me an advantage, right?"
Katara cocked her head, not sure of what to make of that. All her life she had heard about things that boys were better at. She did not know why but the assumption that she was weak just by the virtue of being a girl was something that had begun to bother her. Despite being the only two Water Benders, Hama and Katara were not allowed to go for hunts. They could and would go fishing, but hunting was solely reserved for men. Hama would sometimes grumble but mostly stay quiet. Katara, however, could not help but feel left out. Sokka had been twelve since he had started to contribute to hunts, but even after becoming a Master Water Bender at thirteen, Katara's skills were used for healing and fishing. Not for combat or for hunting, and that was something that had begun to weigh on her. Granted, she had not really had a chance to fight because the Southern Raiders had stopped coming to their shores. Why, no one was certain, but if rumors were to be believed, the Captain of the fleet had become severely injured and had to quit his position. After which, the Fire Lord had repositioned the fleet. Katara suspected that if the Southern Raiders did end up on their shores, she would be asked to hide in the caves and not allowed to fight. The fact that there was a boy out there who did not think that he had an advantage over her just because he was male was a refreshing change.
With a small smile, she turned to Aang and said, "Thanks Aang. That was… exactly what I needed to hear."
Aang's grin only widened at the words.