Title: The Hunter and The Prey
Category: Avatar: Last Airbender
Rating: T (PG-13) for now, but if I have to up it to M (or R) I will.
Disclaimer: I do not own any part of this series. However, the fanfiction written, the plot contained and any original characters I write I do own.
Chapter 1: Caught
Katara sighed as she slowly slipped into the hot springs, a bit of water bubbling over the edge as she sank in up to her shoulders. It had been a tiring week to say the least. Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation had kept them busy running from him and his soldiers. It seemed like every time Katara, Sokka, and Aang were able to sit down on solid ground, build a campfire, sleep, and give Appa a rest from all the flying they had been doing, Prince Zuko and his army were right around the corner, waiting for them. They'd had a couple of narrow scrapes and had almost been captured several times.
They had flown for two straight days before Appa was about to give out from lack of sleep. They decided to touch down on one of the larger of the numerous islands dotting the ocean underneath them, one with a perfect natural hot spring great for easing tired muscles. The island they'd stopped at was bigger than most of the tiny rocks poking out from the water, but it did not have any human settlements. Large enough to put off a whole-island search from the Fire Benders if they found the group (it would take several days to search an island of this size), but small enough that nobody else had thought to live here.
Katara had claimed a hot bath first, much to the annoyance of Sokka, her older brother. Aang had been okay with it. He was an all-around nice kid, and put up with anything Katara dished out. She knew she could be extremely mean and jealous of Aang's abilities sometimes, and she tried to keep her envy and whining in check. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't.
Before she'd completely jumped into the bath, she'd made sure Sokka kept on eye on the surrounding area.
"I want you to keep watch, okay?" She asked him, gathering her extra robe.
"What for? There's no one else on this tiny island except for us and Aang!" He said, rolling his eyes.
"Exactly." She gave him a look and disappeared behind a tree to undress.
"You're scared of Aang looking? He's 12 years old, for crying out loud. I bet he hasn't even hit puberty yet." Sokka continued to whine, scuffing his foot in the dirt around the tree, but Katara knew it was just an act, and he would watch out for her. He was her big brother, after all.
"Well, you never know. Plus, every time we've stopped for a rest this past week, the FireBenders have caught up with us."
Sokka had to agree his sister was right. "Fine. I'll watch." He turned around, crossing his arms over his chest as she slipped into the hot springs.
"And don't you dare look either."
"Sick." He muttered, brushing some dirt off his boomerang. "Like you have anything to show anyways."
Katara decided to let the comment slide and focused on enjoying her well-deserved bath.
A half hour later she was out and it was Sokka's turn. He said he didn't need anybody to watch out for him, since he was so big and tough and manly, Katara walked back to the beach where Aang had already set up camp.
"Is Appa okay?" She asked Aang, who was sitting by the fire, adding more sticks to it.
"Yeah. He just needs a little rest."
"Well hopefully we'll be able to stay here for the whole night."
Aang looked up and scanned the surroundings again with his large, clear eyes. "Well I haven't seen any other activity here other than us, so maybe we're farther ahead of the Fire Benders than we thought."
Katara shrugged and rolled out her sleeping bag. It would be good to sleep on something solid, instead of something alive and moving and flying hundreds of feet above the ground for a change. "I'm going to turn in early, okay?"
"'Kay" was the simple answer from Aang.
Later Katara heard her brother coming back from the hot springs and ask Aang if he wanted a turn. Aang left for his bath, and she heard Sokka settle on the ground next to her.
Katara didn't know when Aang came back, because next time she awoke the moon was high in the black sky and everything was quiet except for the occasional snore from Sokka and shifting in sleep from Aang or MoMo.
She soon learned why she woke up, as her bladder began to protest loudly. Quickly shrugging on her large blue Eskimo-style coat, she decided to dart into the trees for some quick relief before coming back and snuggling into her warm sleeping bag again. It wasn't a cold night, just slightly chilly.
Katara stopped at the first tree, but on second thought, decided to go on further into the forest. She didn't want the two boys waking up tomorrow morning and discovering the remains of her nightly trip, and she was too tired to properly dig a hole and bury her remains with her bare hands.
She quickly ran further into the forest before picking a nice spot a bit further than the hot springs to do her business.
As soon as she was done, she turned around to walk back to their campsite, but a light in the distance caught her eyes. This was strange. Before landing, all three had checked the island from overhead for sites of human settlement. Nothing had showed.
It couldn't be… no. Katara felt a wave of fear and disappointment wash over her. It must be the Fire Benders! And Appa hadn't even rested properly yet. How could they get away this time?
Before panicking, she followed the light closer to the source, or sources. She didn't want to make an undue fuss by waking up the boys if it was only a reflection off a small stream or something. The walk was a bit longer than she had thought, the dark of the night confusing her distance perception. It took upwards of fifteen minutes to reach a good vantage point. By the time she had gotten close enough to find out that yes, the lights were from fire torches, she was panting and tired and unfocused.
Suddenly she tripped over a tree root, crashing down hard on her elbows and let out a cry of pain ("SHIT!") before she clapped a hand over her mouth and cursed again. She scrambled around quickly, knowing she'd alerted the enemy but wishing against all odds that they hadn't heard.
Sudden shouts and gestures and flickering of torchlight let the Water Bender know her wish had not been granted.
She untangled her foot from the roots, and leaping up from the ground, took off at a dead run for the campsite. She could hear them crashing through the underbrush behind her, but couldn't tell whether they were gaining on her or losing her. She hoped it was the second one.
"Get her!" Ordered a familiar-sounding voice, filled with demand and arrogance and a bit of frustration.
The soldiers chasing her (was Prince Zuko with them too?) had been sailing on a ship all day, and were fully rested. Katara, on the other hand, had been traipsing about in the woods for awhile. She was tired and knew she couldn't keep up her speed for long.
Halfway to their campsite, she realized that she was leading the Fire Benders right towards what they wanted: The Avatar. She was putting Aang and Sokka in direct danger. She started to make an immediate right toward an unknown part of the island, before realizing that if she made a sudden turn, the men chasing her would start to suspect that something had lain in her original path. Instead, she made gradual twists and turns until they were running well out of the direction of where the camp lay. She could feel the hunters slowly gaining on her, the prey.
After ten minutes of solid running, she was starting to stumble and cough hard, but pushed herself to keep going. Aside from running, she had no other substantial plan. Hiding? Unless she found a nice cave and could get there before the Fire Benders saw her, there was no escape.
Hacking and panting, she broke free from the woods and realized she was on the beach again. She stopped, twisting from side to side, and knew she couldn't go back in the forest, for the Fire Benders were there and would catch her.
Stupid, she thought, you're a water bender. Go IN to the water! She dashed in, splashing up to her waist in the icy cold water, and turned back around to face her enemies.
A whole group of them, at least a dozen men, crashed out of the forest not 5 seconds after her and with Prince Zuko in their lead.
"Well, well, well. Look what I've caught myself tonight." His intense gold eyes stared out from his scarred face and bore into her. Katara was determined not to break the eye contact first and show weakness, but after mere seconds (but what felt like a year) she couldn't take it any more and averted her eyes to stare at the waves lapping at the feet Fire Nation's Prince.
"You think your precious water will save you?" He smirked and laughed, before cutting off suddenly and glaring at her again, a sudden change that was frightening. "Let's see what you can do." He started to wade slowly into the water, closing in on her.
Katara focused on her trembling hands and sent a water-whip, the strongest she could summon at the advancing Prince. He evaporated it with a huge blast of heat from his hands and a look of concentration on his face. The power from the fire was so hot Katara felt the heat of it brush by her face.
On the edge of panic, Katara scanned the beach and noticed the guards were spread out in a line on the water's edge, preventing her from getting back on land. She was trapped. It had seemed like such a fine idea at the time, hiding in the sanctuary of water, her element, but she had not taken into account her weakened state. She was completely exhausted. If she could only get the guards out of her way. They could run faster on land than she could run or swim in water.
Weakly she raised her hands and tried to push and pull the water into a large wave that hopefully would tumble the guards over. It built up to an impressive height, and the guards began to back away cautiously. Prince Zuko turned and saw what was happening, and quickly turned back to face Katara and sent two large blasts on either side of her head. At the last moment, Katara lost the wave she'd built up in a flash of panic when she dodged the fire, and the wave crashed down until it became nothing again.
"It's getting late, and it's time to finish this." Prince Zuko summoned a large ball of fire between his two hands and unleashed it at Katara.
Using the last of her energy, she cried out and reflexively flung up a shield of ocean water before the attack. Prince Zuko was surprised, but not to be defeated. He continued, sending a continuous stream of fire at the wall, knowing Katara had to weaken sometime.
And she did. Slowly she felt her energy draining away, eaten up as the wall of water started to evaporate and lose it's height. She strained, trying to hold on, even thought she knew it was the end and she was cornered.
Katara cried out and the wall of water broke, as the fire hit her left hand and she screamed in pain, losing her balance and falling into the ocean water. She choked before stumbling back up in the waist-high water, cradling her arm as flashes of red hot pain shot through it.
Katara knew she'd lost. She was utterly exhausted, in pain, and defeated. She fell back into the water as a curtain of black over took her sight and the last thing she saw was the triumphant smile on Prince Zuko's face.
Seeing her fall back, the Fire Bender Prince waded quickly out to her and picked her up before she could drown in her own element, slinging the unconscious girl over his shoulder before wading back to his troops at the water's edge.
"We're done here for tonight. I'll take her back to the ship." He said tersely. "However, if she's here, it means the Avatar and her brother are also on the island. Search for them and don't stop until you find them."
"But Lord, this place is much too big to do a thorough search without taking more than a week to search the whole island!" One man, the captain of this group, raised the question.
"I don't care how long it takes." Zuko snapped back, stepping closer to the captain. "Would you care to join the victims? You can be either the searched, or the searcher."
The captain stepped down quickly and nodded, gesturing for his group to follow him, and they disappeared into the forest.
Prince Zuko headed back towards his fleet of ships with the unconscious Katara over his shoulder. "And if we don't find them… there's always a backup plan." He muttered slowly to himself.
A/N: The usual, please review! I'd really love constructive comments. The second chapter will be out by the end of this week, if not earlier.