A/N: Hi, people! What's up? Well, here's my new story. Don't worry, the other chapters will be much longer. Just wanted to get the whole scene set up. The first chapter is always the hardest. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!
Note: This is my version of "The Swamp". Yeah- my own reality. So I thought it would be interesting to put Zuko and Iroh in the mix (Cue wicked grins).
Summary: Zuko and Iroh are in the same swamp as Aang and the others. Everyone seems to have a strange sighting of those they love. But two of these people both see a little girl, lost and alone. Who is she and why can two people see her?
Aang leapt to the next tree branch, carrying himself with wind currents. He launched himself off that one and the next one and the next one. But he could never seem to be fast enough. He couldn't catch her. Up ahead, he saw a girl leaping from branch to branch as well. Her white dress billowed behind her. She had her hair done in a bun, bangs framing her face. What appeared to be her pet flying boar flew along beside her, feathered wings flapping. The girl's laughter rang like bells in the Avatar's ears.
"Wait!" Aang called after her. "I want to talk to you!" The girl kept laughing and jumping, never looking back. She didn't even acknowledge the monk was there. Aang took a particularly large leap. He looked up to see which direction the mysterious girl was going. His gaze returned to his jump just in time to see how off course he was. The branch was still three feet away! The airbender fell past the branch, clinging onto the one below. Clawing his way up, the boy lay on his back, breathing hard, looking up. His gray eyes widened.
There was the girl, sitting only a branch above him. There was a wide smile on her pale face. Her light eyes shined. That was the lightest shade of blue the he'd ever seen… Aang stared at her.
"Give up, twinkle toes?" she asked him, hands on her knees. Aang sat up.
"Who are you?"
"You'll have to catch me first!" she called over her shoulder, leaping away. The Avatar jumped up and followed. The branches raced past him and he pushed aside leaves and twigs. He grew tired of this chasing game, but it seemed the only way the girl would tell him who she was was if he caught her. Why he was so interested to know, he hadn't the slightest idea. It was like the Avatar was drawn to her, like he was to the swamp. So Aang kept up the chase despite his screaming lungs.
Sokka waded through the water of the swamp, violently slashing at vines with his trusted machete. His blue eyes were narrowed in anger. He mumbled things as he went, movements jerky and troubled. A vine caught his arm and he flailed to get loose, only getting him more tangled.
"Stupid vine! Stupid swamp!" the warrior said angrily, twisting and turning to free himself. He didn't have enough sense to use his blade. He pushed against the demon plant, now plants, entangling him. Sokka fell into a leaning position, held in place by the vines. "This is spectacular! Now what am I supposed to do? Eat the vi—Gah!" The vines snapped and Sokka fell into the shallow water with a splash. When he came up, he shook the bothersome plants from his shoulders, spitting a stream of murky water from his mouth. Stomping on the former trap for good measure, he continued on, muttering about 'man-eating plants from Hades'.
The sooner he found the others the better. He hoped to get out of this death trap before he was an old withered man. He let out a sharp exhale, driving his machete into the trunk of a tree in frustration. "Katara! Aang! Where are you?" he yelled. It took Sokka two hands and his feet on the tree trunk to pull his weapon free. He fell to the soaked ground with a thud.
"Aang! Katara! Can you hear me?" Sokka shouted louder. He forced himself to keep going, thinking of food all the while. He gripped his growling stomach. After his voice was hoarse from an hour of calling to his sister and friend, he collapsed on the ground and just sat there. "Appa! Momo!" Gods, he thought, I must be desperate if I'm calling to a bison and a lemur. But he did it anyway.
Momo chattered at his larger counterpart, flailing his small arms around in the air. Appa grunted indignantly. Their unknown argument had gone on for nearly an hour. It had all started when the lemur had blown the bison whistle. We can only imagine how much that hurt Appa's ears. And we can only imagine the pain poor Momo endured when he was body slammed by Appa's gigantic tail.
The ten ton bison floated through the water, blowing bubbles as he went. The pair suddenly looked up to see people in boats wearing leaves for hats. Appa stopped dead. For a moment, the two parties just stared at each other. Appa didn't speak much human, but when he heard the words 'we only want to eat you' he figured he should get the hell away from them.
Katara wandered the swamp alone, soaked to the bone with degusting muddy water. Her chocolate hair was coming free of its braid at its own accord. It stuck to her face. The air was humid and sticky. She felt positively horrible. Where were Aang and Sokka? What had dragged the three away from each other? Why had something dragged the trio apart? The waterbender waded through the muck, pushing aside annoying hanging vines as she went.
Suddenly, she came to a halt. Hadn't she been here before? That tree did look pretty familiar...Then again, the swamp had hundreds of trees in it. There could be some that looked very similar. Maybe she was fooling herself. She sighed and continued to trudge on. Her shoes squelched with mud, making her skin crawl. Katara felt horrible. She only wished she could find her brother and friend. Then the trio could find Appa and Momo and leave this horrid place behind them, maybe even laugh at the memory. Yeah right. She thought bitterly.
"Sokka!" she yelled, cupping her hands to her face. "Aang!" She listened for a moment, praying for a response. Nothing came. "Sokka! Aang!" The waterbender kept calling, reaching solid ground. Bending what she could from her clothes, she continued on. "Aang! Sokka! Where are you?"
Katara whipped around, summoning water to her hands for protection. Her eyes were wide. She'd been on edge ever since the group had flown into this place. All of them had agreed there was something rather eerie about it. Being alone only made those feelings stronger. When the girl saw nothing, she only stayed in place, waiting. She didn't trust whatever had made that noise. Her ears strained to hear any movement. And just as she was about to turn back around and plod on, the bushes parted. Leaves were sent flying. Katara screamed an ear-shattering, bloody murder scream.
Zuko pushed past the vines of the swamp, muttering under his breath. "Stupid Uncle. Always making stupid suggestions having to do with stupid locals and stupid tea…" The exiled prince tripped on a tree root and fell—hard. He picked himself up, brushing dirt from his brown clothes. He hated being a refugee. He was meant to be a prince. He was supposed to be waited on hand and foot, loved by his people, and spoiled with riches and extravagant clothes. Instead, he'd been deemed a traitor to his nation, hated by his people, and he was dirt poor with peasant's clothing. And he hated his hair growing in! He wanted to wear a topknot, damn it!
The firebender plowed on. "Oh, let's go look at the swamp, meet the locals, see if they have any tea…" Zuko mocked his foolish, plump, tea-drinking uncle. That man and his ideas were going to get the pair killed one day, Zuko had decided. And, oh look, that day might be today. How lovely. Some cursed demon plant had dragged the two apart. And here the teen ex Fire Nation prince was, stuck in a strange swamp with no food or (drinkable) water, covered from head to toe in murky water.
"While we're at it, let's jump off a cliff with rocks at the bottom to break our fall."
"Thank you. This tea is delicious." Iroh said, setting the small cup down. It was a leaf, folded in origami. He was currently sitting on an extremely wide tree branch in the center of the swamp. The branch overlooked the rest of the area, bringing once towering green treetops into clear view.
"You're welcome. That was one of the finest teas in the swamp." said another man cheerfully. He was similar in build to the ex-general: short and round. He had no shirt and wore a large leaf for a hat. He gave off a strange smile like he was confused. "Made from the Kukoto plant and dried—well, I doubt you want to know that."
"No! Please, continue." Iroh replied, giving a wave. "I do appreciate good tea and it would be wonderful to know the process." The other man smiled and went on describing were the herbs were dried, for how long, how long to boil it for, and blah, blah, blah. Iroh listened, intrigued with a smile on his face and a spark in his eye. Finally, someone understood his love of tea.
And now we have another Iroh to deal with. Brilliant.
A/N: So how was it? Should I keep it going or ditch it? Got suggestions? Review!