A/N: This is a story I have been wanting to write for a while and I'm just coming off a writing hiatus that lasted multiple years, so forgive me if things start off a bit rough.
First chapter! So this story is inspired by a collection of (mostly) songs by Florence + The Machine. The inspiration for this chapter is 'Drumming Song', from the 2009 album 'Lungs'. I would highly recommend listening to this song both because it's awesome and because I was listening to it when I wrote this chapter (:
Please let me know what you think! Reviewers are my favorite people in the whole world!
Disclaimer: I do not own any part of Avatar: The Last Airbender or any of the songs I include as inspiration!
Chapter 1: Drumming
As I move my feet towards your body,
I can hear this beat, it fills my head up
And gets louder and louder
The boy was very strange. So different from people in the South Pole with his bald head, light clothes, and carefree attitude. There was a certain sorrow that so often hid behind the smiles of the Southern Water Tribe peoples; a hint of the trauma that they had harbored for generations. Aang seemed almost too jovial compared to the people she had known and grown up with. He was so different. Not to mention his giant bison that they were currently sitting on, wading through the icy waters. Katara wondered how he had gotten stuck in the ice and how he was still alive. He himself, however, seemed to be more interested in focusing on anything but that.
Since he had first opened his mouth to introduce himself, it was like Aang had hardly stopped talking. He had just finished regaling her brother with tales of penguin sledding when he was younger – and how he came to the South Pole to do it again – when he pulled out a map of the four Kingdoms that he had marked up with all of the places he wanted to go. Katara looked over the map, covered in scribbles and drawings, trying to ascertain what some of the images represented, when she realized Aang was talking to her.
"Will you guys go penguin sledding with me?"
"Aang, this is really cool that you have all these plans," Sokka was already saying, "But we have responsibilities to the tribe. We can't just go off with you to slide down hills of ice and snow on penguins. I have to go hunting and Katara still needs to fix my other pair of pants."
Aang looked to Katara, hopeful. "I think we should go back to the village and get you some food," She laughed, ignoring Sokka's insistence that she mend his pants, "you must be hungry… and cold."
They arrived at the village quicker than either Katara or Sokka had expected; Appa, the flying bison, was apparently a good swimmer as well. Aang spoke pleasantly with Gran Gran, but Katara noticed a glimmer of something in her eye. Suspicion, perhaps? Then her features turned solemn.
"Aang," The old woman started, placing a gloved hand on his shoulder, "I don't know how to tell you this… but… no one has seen an airbender in 100 years."
Aang gave her a funny look, "Well, that's just because they all live at the air temples." He explained, like she might not know what an airbender is.
Gran Gran sighed, and Katara caught Sokka's eye. The expression on her brother's face was a mix of confusion, sympathy, and bewilderment; she realized her face must read the same. How could he not know about the Air Nomad genocide? When they first met, Katara had just taken it for granted that he was an airbender; she had never left the South Pole, she figured it was entirely possible that some airbenders might have survived. Bringing up the massacre of his people wasn't exactly how she wanted to introduce herself. Now, though, she realized that blissful twinkle in his eye was due to ignorance. Did he truly not know about the war? Where had he been all this time? In that iceberg?
"100 years ago," Gran Gran continued, carefully picking her words. "The Fire Nation attacked the air temples, hoping to kill the Avatar…" Katara noticed Gran Gran examining Aang's expression. "For the Avatar is the world's only hope in stopping the tyranny of the Fire Nation. Since the attack, no one has seen an airbender."
There was a long pause as the airbender glanced around the interior of the tent. His mouth opened then closed again, as if he had something to say, but didn't know what it was. When he finally spoke, his voice was shaky and child-like, "Do you… do you think they are all dead?"
Gran Gran squeezed Aang's shoulder, "I cannot say for sure. It has been many years since I last left the South Pole."
Aang nodded meekly and thanked her. Keeping his gaze on the ground, he slipped out of the tent into the night. Katara followed; worried by the pained expression on Aang's face. He sat cross-legged just outside of the tent, staring up at the clustered band of stars that stretched across the night sky. Silently, she sat down next to him, not daring to look at him yet.
"Katara," He said at length.
She turned to look at him just in time to see a glistening tear leave the corner of his eye and run down his cheek. Those big, innocent gray eyes that previously held such joy, were now filled with consternation and fear. Katara's heart dropped and she wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him into a tight embrace.
Aang sniffled into her shoulder and mumbled, "I... I have to go. I have to see the temple… for myself."
She squeezed his shoulders harder and her voice came out soft and quiet, "I understand."
As Sokka helped Aang ready Appa, she and Gran Gran wrapped up some food for the young airbender to take with him. They worked in silence, but Katara could sense that there was something Gran Gran wasn't saying – something that had occurred to her in that conversation with Aang. She could feel the old woman's eyes on her while she wrapped seaweed around some boiled sea prunes, but whenever she looked up, those tired blue eyes would flick to the ground.
They waved Aang off as he mounted Appa and flew out over the dark sea, disappearing among the stars into the night sky.
"It has been almost 5 years, Prince Zuko. You have seen what this war has done, the scars it has left on the other nations. The airbenders are all gone, the temples are destroyed."
"The war is not my concern now, Uncle. When I eventually take my throne, I will end it. But first, I must find the Avatar."
"Prince Zuko, I admire your drive but… we have been here twice before. The temples are decimated. The islands are deserted. Why do you insist on returning?" The old man placed a steaming cup of tea in his nephew's hand.
"Yes, the temples are destroyed, but the Avatar is out there somewhere. If he was hiding in a populated area, someone would have found him by now."
"And what if he isn't out there? Both your father and grandfather spent years searching for any sign of him to no avail."
The young prince wheeled around to face the retired general, fury blazing in his eyes, "He is out there, Uncle. He has to be… and I'm going to find him." He returned his gaze to the ancient temple in the distance, partially obscured by clouds. When he spoke again, his tone was cold and devoid of emotion. "Tell the crew to prepare."
Iroh sighed, dropping his gaze to the sea below, "As you wish, my nephew." Then he sipped his tea and left.
Zuko frowned, his Uncle's words echoing in his mind: what if he isn't out there?
The Avatar had to be out there. Zuko's honor and his crown depended on it. Everything depended on it. He clenched his fists and the tea cup shattered in his hand. Paying no heed to the stinging burn of the hot tea on his palm, the prince flung away the offending beverage and recollected himself with a heavy exhale. He couldn't allow himself to even consider the possibility that the Avatar was out of his reach, for then, there would truly be nothing left.
The Southern Air Temple seemed unchanged since his last visit a year ago. Wind blew through the empty rooms and halls, a groaning echo that gave a ghastly aura to the dilapidated structure. Zuko strode through the temple with his Uncle on his heels, sipping ginseng tea. It wasn't until they turned a corner, that he realized someone else had been there recently.
The large door at the end of the open hallway had been closed during his last visits and, despite his best efforts, he could not get it open; it required airbending. But now, the door was gone and a faint blue light shone into the hallway.
Zuko's breath caught in his throat as he approached. Through the open threshold, he could make out the stony silhouettes, thousands of statues lining the walls of the circular room, their eyes glowing.
"Uncle." He turned to find Iroh behind him, the old man's expression a mixture of wonder and astonishment as he stared into the room. Something strange nestled into Zuko's chest then. It a warm notion, the fire that he had spent years keeping alive was suddenly blazing.
"It can't be..." Iroh mumbled. Though, Zuko detected an air of disquietude in his uncle's tone.
"It's him. It's the Avatar. It has to be," A smile tugged at his lips; a feeling he had nearly forgotten. Was it happiness? Hope?
A sound traveled through the hall on the wind, an unfamiliar noise. It was a deep groan, like the bellowing of a large animal. He ran to the opening at the end of the hallway, just in time to see a huge furry creature take flight from a ledge below. On the creature's back was a saddle and, from this distance, Zuko could make out a figure clothed in yellow and orange.
It's him… It's the Avatar.
"Get back to the ship, now!"
When Sokka came to tell her that he had just spotted the flying bison on the horizon, Katara's heart jumped. It was Aang. He was coming back. She had been sewing up a hole in her brother's pants, but tossed them aside to run out to the waterfront.
Two weeks had passed since the airbender's departure and life in the village had returned to normalcy. The days were steadily growing longer and she began sneaking out early in the mornings to practice her waterbending – an activity that had been limited to the summer months after the time she got lost in the winter darkness during a snowstorm. She had started to wonder if they would ever see the strange bald boy again. It hadn't crossed her mind that he would return so forlorn, and she felt foolish for assuming otherwise.
Aang sat before her, his head in his hands, as he described what he found at the temple.
"Your grandmother was right, Katara. There was no one left."
"Aang, I'm… I'm so sorry."
"I wanted to go check the other temples but… I'm afraid of what I'll find. I… I don't think I could handle it on my own." After a long pause, his voice broke, "I think I'm the-… the last of my kind."
"Oh, Aang," Katara leaned over to hug him, rubbing his back as tears flowed down his cheeks. He was just a kid – a kid who had lost everything and found out a hundred years late. Her heart ached for him as tears prickled the corner of her eyes as well.
"I came back here because… well, I don't know where else to go. I was trapped in that iceberg for way longer than I thought... Everyone else I know is… gone. All my friends are dead and… I'm- I'm all alone." He sobbed into his hands.
"I can't imagine how that must feel, Aang," Katara said, still rubbing his back. She pulled at his shoulder, lifting his head, "But hey, you're not alone... I'm your friend and I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere."
The airbender looked up at her and sniffled again as he forced the corners of his lips to turn up into a solemn smile.
"Well… I actually was planning on going somewhere, but you can come with me if you want." She gave him a light nudge, "Penguin sledding?"
His face lit up, even as the tears were still pouring from his eyes. "Really?"
"Yeah, do you want to come?"
The young airbender didn't respond, though, the hug he gave her – which was more like a tackle as they rolled backwards into the snow – said everything. And when she looked back at him laughing, that glimmer of joy had returned to his eyes.
They had just finished their second run when Sokka came over the ridge, calling her name. He jumped up and down, waving his arms frantically, pointing to the sea; Something was going on.
As they climbed up the ridge to meet him, Katara saw it: black smoke on the horizon. Memories suddenly flooded her mind; iron steamboats pulling up to the icy shore, burning tents, people screaming, the look her mother gave her.
Katara, everything will be fine. Go find your father.
Reflexively, she grasped at her neck for the blue necklace, clinging onto the pendant as though her sanity depended on it.
"Why?" She finally asked her brother, "Why are they here? What more can they take?"
Sokka's gaze shifted to the airbender, who was staring blankly out to sea.
"Aang. When you were at the air temple, did you see anyone else?"
"Well…" The young airbender replied, reaching up to scratch the back of his neck, "When I was leaving, I did see a big metal ship… and I heard shouting from the temple."
Her brother's jaw hit the floor, incredulous, "And you lead them here?!"
Aang held up his hands, as if he expected Sokka to strike him, "I didn't- I didn't think they were following me! I didn't mean to!"
Sokka glared at the boy, a stern intensity in his eyes that Katara hadn't seen before.
"Do you know what this means? There are no warriors left here, they're all gone with the Southern fleet. There is no one here to protect the village but me."
Aang bit his lip and Katara tried not to let it bother her that her brother seemingly forgot that she was there to protect the village too.
"I'm sorry, Sokka. I didn't know." Aang bowed his head under her brother's glare. "But, I can help protect the vill-"
"Leave," The older boy said, his tone as cold as the ice below their feet. "Now!"
"Sokka, don't-" Katara tried to say, but her brother was not having it.
"Katara, get back to the village." He interjected, but continued glaring down at Aang.
"Katara. Go now. You need to get the women and children inside. We have to prepare."
She made a frustrated noise and stormed down the ridge towards the village, glancing over her shoulder one last time to look at the airbender. His head was still bowed and he didn't see her.
"There's a village up ahead, they must be hiding him. I know he's here." Zuko declared, pacing back and forth in the bridge. After all these years, he had finally found the Avatar. By this point tomorrow he would be heading back to the Fire Nation. In two weeks he would be bringing the Avatar to his spiteful father. His honor would be restored, his position as crown prince regained.
"Prince Zuko," The old general mumbled from behind him, "This village... I believe it is only women and children. The Navy has been tracking the Southern Water Fleet near the Earth Kingdom shores, they are a small force, but it is all that is left of the southern rebellion."
"I don't care about the women and children, Uncle. I'm only here for the Avatar. If they don't have any warriors, they will give him up without resistance."
"These people, Zuko… they have suffered a great deal at the hands of the Fire Nation-"
"I know this, Uncle!" He snapped, whirling around and striding up to the old man. "The whole world has suffered, I see that now! But I need to capture the Avatar and I won't let these peasants get in the way! They will give up the Avatar if they know what's best for them," Zuko turned again to pace across the bridge. "And if they don't, they will be easy to defeat."
This silenced his uncle, who humbly lowered his head and returned to his tea.
Katara rushed into the bustling village frantically searching for Gran Gran, but the old woman was nowhere to be found. She cursed and started giving instructions to the women.
"Gather all the children and take them up the hill," She pointed, "We need to get them out of the village." Some of the women nodded and started herding the children towards the sloping snow. "Everyone else, hide in here," She gestured to the large tent at the far end of the village.
"What is happening, mommy?"
"Where are we going?"
"I want to stay with you! Don't leave me."
A few children started crying and Katara frowned as she tried to quiet the memories that rushed to the forefront her mind; she had only been young when Fire Nation ships had last pulled up to their shores. Biting her lip, she made a vow to herself: nothing like that would happen again, this time would be different.
In the corner of her eye, she noticed the barrel that contained the village's cooking water beside one of the tents. She ran over to the barrel and pulled the top off.
This time, she would do something.
Zuko gathered three of his toughest looking men to join him; this didn't require a large force. If his Uncle was right, a few intimidating men would do the trick. From the looks of the village, it was merely a handful of animal skin tents and a few cookfires – hardly a village at all.
After donning his light armor, Zuko motioned to his Uncle Iroh and the three soldiers. They followed him down into the hull of the boat, preparing to enter the village. He steeled himself for what was to come. Could this be it? After all these years, had he finally found the Avatar?
"Katara! What are you doing out here?" Her brother grasped at her shoulder, steering her towards one of the tents in the back of the village.
"I'm preparing!" She shot back, still annoyed at his insistence that she join the other women. Katara didn't want to feel helpless, waiting quietly in a tent to find out the fate of her village. The lone Fire Nation ship was quickly approaching, a massive iron vessel with sharp edges, spewing soot into the clear blue sky above. It was just as she remembered.
"Get back to the tent with the other women. Hurry!"
"I can help, Sokka! You can't fight off the firebenders alone."
"Katara, we've talked about this before," He grumbled, running a hand over his face. "You have your duties to the tribe and I have mine."
"And my duties are what, to mend your pants? To skin seals? To make dinner? I can't just sit back and watch you face the Fire Nation alone - that's crazy!"
"This is a war, Katara. It's not a place for women. What if you died? It would crush dad and I that we couldn't protect you! So, help me out here and protect yourself, protect the other women - if it comes down to that. But I won't let you throw yourself into the frontlines." His tone was stern and she knew there was no changing his mind.
Frustrated, she turned back to him. "Where's Aang?"
"He left, Katara. He's gone. I sent him back to his bison."
"He brought them here. Whether he meant to or not doesn't matter. We have to deal with the consequences."
"This is crazy, Sokka! How do you expect to fight off a ship of Fire Nation soldiers alone?"
"I don't know," He breathed, "But I'm going to do my duty and protect the tribe with everything I have."
It dawned on her then; her brother was prepared to die defending the village. He was expecting to die in this confrontation and he had already made peace with that.
"Have you seen Gran Gran?"
"No, I couldn't find her."
"Ok, well... I'm sure she'll be fine. Maybe she went with the children."
Katara doubted this but said nothing.
"Anyways, get back to the tent with the other women!"
"Hurry, Katara! They're here!"
She grumbled and followed Sokka's instructions, crossing the village to the tent that housed the other women. Annoyed by her brother's insistence that she was incapable of helping, she disobeyed his order and resigned to standing in the background; If something went wrong, she wanted to be ready to help. If Sokka could muster up the courage to fight, so could she. Katara refused to lose another family member to the Fire Nation, not when she was right there. Not again.
The crunching noise as the ship made contact with the icy shores filled the hull, an awful echoing sound that reverberated around them. Iroh cringed visibly, but Zuko was stone. He was ready.
The bow of the ship gave a metallic shriek as it opened and a blinding white light filled Zuko's vision, but he walked forward with the gait of royalty, his three soldiers behind him. As soon as the village was in view, something came flying towards him. Zuko lifted his arm and effortlessly blocked the projectile with his bracer. Annoyance came over him; who would dare attack?
When the iron bow hit the snow, he saw a teenage boy with a painted face – who was perhaps at an age with him – rushing up the ramp with a weapon raised above his head, screaming some kind of peasant war-cry. When the water tribe boy was just out of arm's reach, Zuko kicked above his head, connecting with his wrist, causing him to drop the weapon. Zuko's next kick hit the other boy in the face, knocking him off the ramp into a pile of snow.
Otherwise, the village seemed empty.
A girl in a long parka stood on the other side of the cluster of tents, her startlingly blue eyes wide with fear as she took a step back. Inside the tent next to her, some other women peered out of the tent flap. Zuko scowled.
"Where are you hiding him?" He yelled, in a commanding tone, "I know he's here."
After a moment of silence, the girl who stood across the village looked around frowning and shouted back, "I don't know what you're talking about."
"The Avatar!" He roared, stepping forwards. He was losing his patience. "Come out of those tents, or I will be forced to burn this pathetic village to the ground!"
At this, he heard yelling from behind and prepared to defend another meager attack from the boy with the painted face. He saw the boy approaching in his peripheral vision and lowered his center of gravity, leaning into the oncoming attack. Shoulder down, Zuko used the other boy's momentum to throw him bodily into the air. When he landed, Zuko shot a blast of fire at him, which he narrowly avoided by rolling to the side.
This was getting on Zuko's nerves; If this peasant boy kept attacking him, his plan to strike fear into the hearts of the villagers would surely fail. He had wanted to avoid burning anyone, but it might have to come to that after all.
The peasant boy grabbed a bone spear and rushed at him again, yelling. Zuko growled, breaking the point of the spear with his bracer and grabbed it out of the boy's hands. He jabbed him with it, knocking him over backwards again into the pile of snow, before breaking the spear over his knee and tossing the bone remnants at his feet. This peasant left him no choice.
Zuko ignited fire in his palms, forming the flames into daggers, and stepped towards the peasant boy.
"No!" A female voice echoed through the village.
Then water splashed over him, smothering the flames in his hands. He scowled, wiping the water from his eyes. The girl who had stood on the other side of the village was running towards him, pulling water out of a barrel in between them.
"A waterbender," Zuko thought aloud. He had heard that there were no longer waterbenders in the south. A smirk played at his lips; perhaps this trip would yield more success than he had expected. Admiral Zhao had claimed in his first campaign that he was responsible for finally eliminating the dwindling population of waterbenders in the south. And Zuko reveled in the notion of the Admiral's failure.
"Leave this village!" She yelled, hurling the water at him.
With a punch in the air, he sent forth a blast of fire that instantly evaporated the stream of water coming towards him. Then with a kick he sent another blast in the girl's direction. For a moment, he saw fear flicker in her eyes as she stumbled, but it quickly transformed into a fierce determination. Pulling water from the barrel, she turned to avoid the flames and sent another splash at him.
Zuko's smirk deepened as he avoided her attack; perhaps this would be interesting after all.
Katara watched as the bow of the iron ship dropped, smashing Sokka's makeshift snow wall that he built around the village. Before she could see anyone coming down the ramp, Sokka threw his boomerang. An arm came up to block the weapon, sending it careening off into what remained of the snow wall. Then she saw them: heavily armored Fire Nation troops, descending the ramp into their village.
Her heart was racing; how were they going to defend themselves against armored soldiers? The man in front, she then realized, didn't appear to be a man at all, but a teenager – perhaps Sokka's age. A large red scar, which looked so vibrant in contrast with his pale skin, covered a quarter of his face from the inner corner of his left eye all the way back to his left ear. His left eye appeared to be permanently narrowed, giving his scowl additional emphasis. She bit her lip.
Sokka rushed up the ramp towards him, yelling like he always did when he trained. The scarred soldier swiftly brought up his foot, knocking Sokka's weapon away, then on the backswing, kicked her brother in the face. Katara winced as Sokka went flying into the snow pile, following his boomerang. Then the scarred soldier's gaze met hers, his smoldering amber eyes narrowing as hers widened. Suddenly, she was scared.
His raspy voice broke the silence that had only been previously punctuated by Sokka's war-cries, "Where are you hiding him? I know he's here."
Unbidden, Katara's voice came rumbling out of her throat, "I don't know what you're talking about!"
"The Avatar!" The scarred soldier growled back. "Come out of those tents, or I will be forced to burn this pathetic village to the ground!"
Katara watched as Sokka found his feet again and rushed towards the soldier. Her lip found its way back between her teeth, fearing for her brother. She dropped into a fighting stance, but didn't move; she was paralyzed with fear like an Arctic Yak surrounded by hunters.
Sokka went flying over the soldier, narrowly avoiding a blast of fire upon landing. Katara's eyes widened at the flames; more memories surfaced – ones that she had actively repressed many years ago. Her mother's screams, her seared flesh, and the smell. A fog clouded her mind and she felt suddenly dizzy. Her heart was pounding in her ears, like it had migrated from her chest to where her brain was supposed to be.
Katara looked up to see the scarred soldier form blades of fire in his hands and step towards Sokka. Her heart was drumming in her ears now, filling her head with noise. She couldn't hear, she couldn't think above the clangor. Before she knew it, her feet were moving under her; she was running towards the soldier. The drumming in her head was getting louder and louder as she approached. Katara didn't hear herself shout 'No!' as she pulled water from the barrel she had left open, throwing it with all of her strength at the firebender.
The water splashed over the soldier, extinguishing the flames in his hands. He scowled, wiping the liquid from his eyes, then met her gaze. With not a moment to waste, she pulled more water from the barrel, still rushing towards him.
His scowl turned to a smirk and his voice was a sharp rasp, sending shivers up her spine, "A waterbender."
She gritted her teeth. Now that she had given herself away, there was no turning back. She hurled the water at him, yelling "Leave this village!"
He shot a blast of fire from his fist, blocking the water, as it sizzled and evaporated into the frigid air. Then he turned on her and, with a kick, sent a blaze in her direction. As the flames approached, she started to scramble backwards, feeling the oncoming heat, and her fear returned, washing over her. Her eyes widened and, for a moment, her mother's face filled her vision. Suddenly, the drumming in her head got unbearably loud and all she could see was Sokka, pulling himself once more from the pile of snow. She remembered her vow and turned to avoid the blast, simultaneously pulling more water from the barrel. She spun, using her momentum to propel the water towards her enemy. This time, he wasn't able to block and could only avoid her attack.
Katara bit her lip and narrowed her eyes; she could do this. She had to.
The firebender was still smirking as he dodged her attack, his golden eyes burning into her. But she wasn't afraid as she had been before, she was angry. She shot another blast of water towards him and yelled "I told you to leave!"
Stepping towards her with a wicked glint in his eyes, he chuckled darkly as he blocked her water. "You are nowhere near good enough to hold me off," He snarled, his tone dripping with poison. He shot fire towards her and she lost her balance, stumbling backwards. Her eyes widened as the firebender continued his approach.
"You should try blocking," He smirked, conjuring another blast of fire.
Her brows knit; was he mocking her? Surely he could see that she was untrained - self-trained at best. As much as his attitude angered her, he had a point. This time, when the fire approached, she stood her ground and summoned some snow up from below to block the flames.
"Better," The firebender muttered, "But you need to practice your footwork. A still target is an easy target." He shot another fiery blast towards her lower left side and she stepped back to avoid it. Punching into the air, he shot flames to her lower right side, forcing her to step back again. She pulled up more water from the barrel, preparing to block his next attack. With a high kick, he sent a curving surge of fire towards her face, which she blocked, much to her relief. Maintaining his momentum, he dropped down into a spinning kick at ground-level.
Katara managed to jump in time, just barely avoiding the fire rushing towards her feet, but the fur lining at the bottom of her parka caught. She rushed to pat out the flames licking at her clothing.
A cruel laugh escaped the firebender's smirking lips and she realized he was toying with her. Rage boiled up in her and she scrambled to come up with a plan.
The waterbender was indeed quite intriguing, Zuko admitted to himself. She obviously had never received any training, but there was a fierceness about her – a raw determination in those icy blue eyes – and strength. Despite her clear lack of formal training, she had a pretty good grasp on the basics and was able to translate the momentum of her body into her bending. He couldn't deny that she was also pleasing to look upon; a doe-eyed beauty with flawless tanned skin.
He hadn't exactly meant to toy with her as he did. He had started this little exercise with the hope of teaching her a thing or two – to make things more interesting – and, to his surprise, she seemed to be picking up his lessons pretty quickly. She was blocking now and moving her feet, using the space.
Though, at some point soon, he realized, this little training session would have to end. When he took down the only bender, and finally subdued the screaming peasant boy, the villagers would have no choice but to hand over the Avatar. He smirked again. Training time was over.
Stepping to the side, Katara gathered the water that had pooled near his feet and shot it just slightly to his left, forcing him to step right to avoid it. As she continued moving to her left, gathering the water up again, she noticed that the drumming in her ears had subsided. She sent the water towards his left again, but he sensed it coming and stepped farther to his right. He responded with another blast of flames that she backed away from. When they were close enough to the wall, she scrambled backwards again, dodging his next attack.
"Are you scared of me?" He snarled through his smirking lips.
At his taunt, Katara snarled back, bearing her teeth. She stepped forward, sliding her foot out, and brought her arms down, bringing an undamaged section of Sokka's snow wall down with them. The snow crashed into the firebender, knocking him over and burying him. She tried her best to press the snow down on him, to hold him there in place. In the corner of her eye, she saw the other Fire Nation soldiers step forward, preparing to help, but they stopped when the snow pile exploded with flame. The firebender rose from the puddling snow, his scarred face twisted into a sinister expression, amber-gold eyes on fire.
"This little training session is over." He growled at her, his tone low and cruel.
She moved to gather more water, in preparation to block his next attack, but suddenly he was right in front of her, invading her personal space. The drumming in her head was back, louder than before. Her heart was racing; she couldn't block at this distance. His hot breath tickled her cheek and she moved to step backwards. Her gaze met his, eyes widening at their proximity – he was so close – and the corner of his lip turned up into another smirk. He brought his arm around in a curving motion, palm facing upwards. She gasped, but didn't have time to do much else. The outside of his palm connected with her temple and everything went black.
Zuko watched the girl collapse in front of him, reaching out and catching her arm to dampen her landing, then turned back to his soldiers who were all watching in silence. The peasant boy had freed himself from the snow pile and was rushing towards him again, indignant.
"Stop!" A child's voice sounded through the village. "I'll go with you. But you must promise to leave this village alone!"
Zuko turned at the sound and saw him: an airbender, dressed in yellow and orange, arrow tattoos covering his limbs and forehead. An airbender? Could this boy be the Avatar? But he was so young. Wasn't the Avatar supposed to be over 100 years old?
"Who are you?" Zuko asked, cursing the hesitancy in his tone.
The boy looked right at him and stated calmly, "I'm the Avatar. And the last airbender."
Shifu Hotman, back at it again!
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