RISES WITH THE HEART
~by Jimi's Little Wing~
Katara moved restlessly in her sleeping bag. As always, she found herself unable to sleep on the night of the full moon. Not only was it much brighter during that phase, but every drop of water – in the trees, under the ground, in the sky, and especially down by the river – called out to her. Loudly. Katara moaned, turning onto her stomach and covering her ears against the water's song. She couldn't imagine how Aang was sound asleep as he was. But then, at heart, Aang was an airbender. Though his waterbending powers were great – greater than hers by now – he didn't have the natural affinity to water as Katara.
Often times, Katara would recall her days in the South Pole, where the water seemed to calm her. Here, however, it made her agitated. She was the last, maybe the last ever the way the war was going, waterbender from the South Pole, so perhaps that was why she felt a stronger, more soothing pull down in the south. Whatever the reason was, Katara felt herself unable to sleep. So she rolled up her sleeping bag and sat in front of the fire – the dwindling fire.
With the first days of summer upon them, Aang was feeling the pressure, and you didn't have to be a mind reader to see his worry. He may have surpassed Katara in mastery over water, but he had still not mastered Earth – though he was well on his way. They still had not found anyone to teach firebending to Aang, but Katara still clung to the hope that Jeong Jeong would come out of hiding and find them. It seemed all Katara did these days was cling to hope…
Every moment she hoped Prince Zuko wouldn't find them. She hoped the Earth Kingdom could withstand the constant barrages from the Fire Nation. She hoped she and Sokka would see Chieftain Hakoda, their father. And she most fervently hoped Princess Azula wouldn't capture them. The Fire Nation princess scared her more than ten Zukos. Something was wrong with her – she was a sociopath. A dangerous, unstoppable, prodigal sociopath – so a shoe-in for Fire Lady when she got older. Katara shivered at the thought of the girl in charge of the Fire Nation's army.
The fire cracked and Katara jumped. It had almost been dead…it was as if someone had given it new life… Immediately, she unstopped her waterbending skin and killed the fire with one swift stroke.
"Aang," she whispered, crawling over to the tattooed monk. She pulled at his shoulder until he turned over to look at her.
"Katara…" he mumbled grumpily. "It's still dark."
Katara felt foolish. Had she just been scared by the dark, and made up the crackling fire? Suddenly, Toph's stone tent zipped into the ground. The bitter earthbender looked startled. "I feel someone coming," she hissed, bending a rock at Sokka's head.
Aang was instantly alert, his hands on his staff and a frown on his face. "How many?"
Toph was silent. "It's hard to tell. They're on foot – twenty-three…as many as twenty-five. They're heavy, like they're armed." Then she stood, taking her sensitive hands off the ground and frowning. "And they're moving very fast."
With a matching frown, Aang hit the butt of his staff on the ground. "I'm tired of running," he said firmly.
"Couldn't agree with you more, buddy," Sokka said, his face grim with determination. "But it's not smart – twenty-five to four. We should escape."
"While we still can," Toph added, her blank eyes turned in the direction of the approaching soldiers.
Katara, who had been silent during the affair, noted that Aang was the only one spoiling for a fight. He'd been like that since learning earthbending – taking on the characteristics of the element. He was unyielding, determined, and solid. The airbender was still in there, but something had changed.
Aang turned to Katara, his face pleading. "It's a full moon, Katara," he tempted her. "What do you say?"
Dipping her head, she frowned at the ground. "Let's go, Aang. We can't afford…any risks."
She saw his angry gray eyes, but he followed them onto the back of Appa, taking the reigns with a vigorous, "Yip yip!"
With the help of La, the moon, Katara could see the threat as they approached the cloud line. Red glinted off the metal of their armor. "The Fire Nation," she murmured quietly, her grip tightening on Appa's humongous saddle. She watched sadly as Aang tensed, his hands clenching around the reigns.
As they flew over the river, Katara saw the moon reflect in the water, and she felt the full weight of the water's draw. Aang had known just how to tempt her – his offer had tempted her greatly, more than she would admit. She ached to use the water. Then a kite shadow split the moon's reflection in half.
"Aang! NO!" Sokka yelled, leaping to take Appa's reigns as the young airbender silently dove to the soldiers.
Almost on instinct, Katara flung herself from Appa's back, immediately bathed in La's empowering light. The water raging in the river rose to meet her as she followed Aang to the ground. She was amazed at the strength of her powers. The water circled and cradled her all the way to the shore, where Aang was already engaged with several firebenders – Royal Guard firebenders.
Something that had never happened during any full moon happened just then. Tui and La seemed in perfect harmony within her body. Looking at her hands she saw they glowed faintly with the light of the moon, and she felt for certain the presence of her discipline's patron gods. With a slight smile, she stood in the river, the water lapping around her ankles, and began to bend.
As soon as the water rushed around her Katara began to enter a state of vicious control. She was in a completely one-sided battle with seven powerful firebenders. She had them on the run, and sneaking a look at Aang she felt the first stabs of fear. "Azula!" she gasped.
A wall of rock flew up in front of her face, several clunks were heard on the opposite side. Toph and Sokka had arrived on the back of Appa. "Hey! Watch the firebenders in front of you, Katara!" Toph yelled angrily, receding the rock from in front of her.
Katara smiled at her friend, whose bare feet sunk into the mud before she ran onto solid ground to join the fight. Sokka threw his boomerang with deadly precision, locked in a duel with the fancy tumbler friend of Azula's, Ty Lee. Katara froze a shield of ice in front of her face as the pale, dark haired friend of Azula fired three arrows from her sleeve. Glaring viciously, Katra summoned a great wave of water and froze Mai to the higher branches of a nearby tree. A few firebenders began to thaw the ice, but Katara circled them with a bubble of water and sunk it into their lungs. As soon as the pair passed out she released them from the watery suffocation and bent the water from their lungs. They would live.
"Katara! Watch out!!!" Sokka yelled. His partner had gotten away from him on Azula's command to take out Katara as a deadly force.
Katara formed a waterwhip from the water around her ankles and tried several times to hit the agile acrobat. Unable to get around the girl's speed, Katara was tackled and thrown into the water. She zoomed away from Ty Lee before she was able to employ her pressure point attacks and spun herself into a water tornado. She released it onto Ty Lee and several of the firebender soldiers, straining to control the massive amount of fast moving water. She had never been able to do this before, and before she knew it, the water had gone on a rampage – right towards Toph.
"TOPH!!!" Katara screamed. Her voice never rose above the sound of rushing water, and before Katara could gain control of the water tornado, Toph was carried off screaming.
"No!" Katara sobbed, falling to her knees in the shallow water. What had she done? A firebender took advantage of her pause of guilt, but before his blast hit her, Sokka leapt bravely in front of his grieving sister. "Sokka?" she said softly, tears filling her eyes. He didn't move, and she brought him to her in a sobbing hug. "SOKKA!" she screamed mournfully. The burns on his chest had been cultured by the heat, but she couldn't feel life within her brother.
"Katara! Help me!"
An urgent voice rang through her sorrow, and Katara laid down her brother's body, half still in the river. Her face dark with rage, Katara put her right hand out over the river and a thick pillar of ice formed under it. Like she had when battling the Water Master of the North Pole, she fired thin, sharp, deadly slices of ice at the attacking firebenders that encircled Aang and Azula's duel. Several cried out in intense pain; she saw limbs fall off of several of them, though she aimed for hands.
Azula's ire grew as Katara ruthlessly cut down her soldiers, and with a raging fist, she released a blue ball of fire at Katara. Her increased powers allowed her to block the blue fire, but Katara was reeled back into the water. Things grew black before her eyes, and the bright glimmer of the moon made a spear of light through the water. Katara's eyes hardened as she sunk into the river, and with a surge of adrenaline and power, Katara flew through the water and rose above its surface – an angel of death.
The scene she happened upon filled her with such rage that the water around her erupted with power. Aang had fallen to the prodigal firebender Princess Azula. Katara screamed in anger, flying towards the older girl by way of water. She sliced at the princess's face, taking her by surprise. The firebender fell back with a howl, holding her cheek as it bled.
Katara was kneeling next to Aang. He was alive, but barely.
"You…" Princess Azula seethed, standing, but still holding her cheek, blood running through her fingers. "You PEASANT!" she screamed, her eyes filled with a terrifying anger.
Katara barely had time to react as Azula circled her hands above her head. Lightning began to crackle from the princess's fingertips, and Katara reached to the river for water. It was too late. "DIE!" Azula cackled furiously, madly. "DIE DIE DIE DIE!!!"
Her hands flew in front of her face…to protect her against a blow that never came. Katara peeked between her forearms. Above her, shielding her, was General Iroh, Dragon of the West. Lightning entered his right arm and escaped his left. Azula was mad with anger.
"Run," he whispered – almost kindly – to her.
Grabbing Aang, Katara nodded, hauling him over her back and heading into the forest. An explosion of fire rocked the woods, and Katara fell to the ground only twenty feet away from the battle. She turned and saw General Iroh and Prince Zuko locked in a deadly duel with Princess Azula. For a moment Katara stood in wonder. Iroh and Zuko had the upper hand – but just barely. They worked as a team, bending the fire to block Azula's blue flames. Fire danced in Katara's eyes – she had never before been so mesmerized by the flames.
She was suddenly knocked to the ground then kicked in the face. It was Ty Lee. The acrobat was quick with her hands, fishing for Katara's pressure points. But Katara was quick too. She released her waterbending skin water and lashed the acrobat in the face. It was much easier if the slight girl was close by. Ty Lee screamed in pain, but redoubled her efforts. Katara didn't have enough concentration to draw water from the river – it was too far. The skin water would have to do. She blocked kicks with bending, her eyes straining to see Ty Lee in the half-light of the moon. Using her ice like a club, Katara landed a luck blow at the acrobat's stomach. The girl was launched at the ground, and Katara positioned herself above Ty Lee with an icicle over the slight girl's heart.
Unfortunately, the girl was grinning. A stab of pain flashed over Katara as a steel arrow slashed her left arm. Ty Lee flipped Katara over with her nimble legs and Katara flew into a tree, hitting her head so hard stars erupted before she was plunged into darkness.
Murmuring voices woke her. She must not have been unconscious for too long because Ty Lee and Mai were talking loudly over the Avatar. "Leave her," Mai said. "She'll be dead soon anyway. But we have to take the Avatar to Azula."
Ty Lee nodded and lifted Aang over her shoulders. Weakly, Katara tried to crawl over the bushes in her way, trying to follow the two Fire Nation warriors as they took Aang to their mistress. Katara felt the waves of nausea as she tried to move. Ever inching crawl was a fight to keep on her hands and knees, a fight to keep her consciousness. She collapsed under a young tree, blocked by a bush. She could see Princess Azula was severely burned, but Iroh and Zuko were worse off. Neither were moving, and though Katara longed to do something, she simply couldn't. Her body wouldn't let her. General Iroh's face was charred and sizzling. Prince Zuko had a large gash across his chest that looked like a weapon, not fire.
"We'll meet the fleet up the river," Azula said weakly. Katara had never seen the princess so disheveled. "Take the Avatar and that boy." The sociopath princess held her forearm tenderly. "He'll pay for that stunt with the boomerang."
Two surviving – one with a single hand – soldiers hoisted Aang and Sokka over their shoulders respectively. Katara gasped quietly. Sokka was alive?! Summoning the strength she had left, she attempted one last waterbending stunt. Nothing happened. Tears leaked from her eyes. She would die here if she did nothing. Toph would die (wherever she was), Aang would die, Sokka would die, and even General Iroh and Prince Zuko would die.
Princess Azula disappeared into the trees, heading down river. Her two friends, along with the surviving soldiers carrying Aang and Sokka melted into the dark trees as well. Katara rolled on her back, her face bathed in the light of the moon. She couldn't move. She would die. Everyone would die if she couldn't do something. La, she called out quietly. Please. Help me. Help me help the Avatar. Help me help my brother.
Almost immediately she felt a charge of energy – enough of it so that her head cleared and stopped hurting so much. Katara forced herself to stand, though her knees wobbled. The river shimmered behind her, and Katara looked at the two living firebenders – General Iroh and Prince Zuko. She couldn't let them die…Aang wouldn't let them die if he was here.
An idea struck her. They had as much reason to hate Azula – probably more – as she did. Maybe she could heal them and convince them to help her free Aang and Sokka. And stop Princess Azula. Maybe…
She looked first at General Iroh, then at Prince Zuko. She couldn't trust them like Aang, Sokka, and Toph, but she could use them. Both Iroh and Zuko had only slight shimmerings of life left, but General Iroh was worst off by far. Unfortunately, she didn't think she could heal him as fast as she could heal Prince Zuko – and they needed to leave as soon as possible to survive.
Katara kneeled in front of Zuko, facing the river. His face and chest were bloodied, and Katara thought the wound was made by metal, not fire. There were minor burns all over his body, but they would have to wait. In a feat of strength, Katara summoned the river water and let it circle Zuko's unconscious form. She pressed her hands firmly against his cut, and let the water seep in and around the young warrior's wound. Almost immediately the cut began to heal, flesh forming and stretching over the prince's bloodied chest.
Tiredly, Katara put her hand on his forehead. "Zuko," she whispered, her voice soft, but urgent. "Zuko," she repeated as loudly as she dared. Bronze eyes stared into hers, and for a moment, Katara saw what he must be like when he wasn't angry – which was all the time. He was quite handsome, but she put her observations aside. "Azula and the other firebenders took Aang…and my brother. And your uncle's hurt badly."
Zuko sat up violently, his hand going to his chest in pain. His eyes were pinned on hers. "I tried as hard as I could," Katara said pleadingly. "But your cut was deep. I'm tired, but if you help me I can heal your uncle."
"Why?" Zuko growled in a low, suspicious voice. "Why do you even care?"
Katara hung her head. "He saved my life." Then her face turned to ice. "And you're going to help me get Aang back from your psycho sister."
Though Zuko didn't say anything, Katara could see he was thinking things over. She pushed him in the right direction. "I know of a cave nearby – it's concealed well. I'll heal General Iroh and we'll talk. But you have to help me carry him – he's too heavy…"
The miles were long and demanding to the cave Katara spoke of. She almost gave up when Zuko stumbled and fell…and didn't get up for a long time. In fact, Katara almost gave up when they couldn't find the cave the first few passes. It was REALLY very well hidden. And General Iroh was no minor inconvenience. He was heavy, dead weight, and his burns smelled like melting flesh – which they were. When they made it to the cave, Katara almost passed out right there. Zuko did.
But Katara remembered the reason why she had wanted this cave, and not several of the ones they passed. Not only was it well hidden, but it boasted a natural, underground water source deep within the depths of the cave. They had only stayed here briefly before making camp next to the river. They didn't stay because Appa hated caves. But Katara remembered it because of the pull of water she'd felt.
She was able to drag General Iroh to the underground river. The water smelled odd – but Katara knew it to be clean. Shyly, Katara began to peel as much clothing off of the general as was decent. Much of it was burned to his skin, and she had to cut the cloth off with her knife. The problem was Katara's fatigue. Whatever the moon spirit had done was wearing off, but she knew if she didn't act fast General Iroh would die. And then Zuko would probably kill her.
Katara meditated over the fallen general for a moment, feeling the wounds within his body. For some reason his stomach was scarred – from the inside. Burns covered his body. His face, hands, and shoulders were completely unrecognizable. Katara still had hope. She was very good with burns – they were the first things she learned to heal…though the experience was terrible.
Summoning all the control she could, Katara released water from the natural well and let it creep all over the general's body. Unfortunately, the process was slow. She was tired from healing Zuko, from battling the hoards of the Fire Nation, from battling Princess Azula and her talented friends.
Her hands ran the length of the general's body, bending water to clean and begin the healing process of the burns. With any luck she could do this without scarring him horribly… Like Zuko, the thought echoed in her mind.
Katara was only able to clean the extent of the burns before she felt a wave of nausea. She had never done so much bending in one day. And she had never done it with the harmony of Tui and La. Quietly, tiredly, Katara pulled her anorak – her parka-like coat – over her head and sliced it in half. It made a blanket capable of covering Geneal Iroh's girth. She would sleep until sunrise and then take up where she left off.
Colors and lights danced before her eyes. There was a whisper, a light song that carried on the air currents. Katara was standing alone on a sea of water, the moon glittering magnificently on her from above. It was that same feeling that she had before the battle, the complete harmony with Tui and La.
She looked down and saw Tui and La dancing around each other in the water. They swirled into Yin and Yang, and then Katara sunk into the water between them. She couldn't breathe, couldn't hold her breath. She inhaled, but no water entered her lungs. Tui and La were circling her head, swirling and dancing the dance of balance.
Vision of techniques and attacks bombarded her mind. Waterbending from the beginning of time, every move anyone had ever done. Every healing method anyone had every used. Anything that connected this world to the spirit world – to Tui and La – filled her mind. And though the bombardment of information screamed like a whirlwind of pain into her mind, Katara welcomed it, cherished it. Had she not asked for their help? Had she not asked them to help her help the Avatar? With what they taught her she could aid the Aang in his quest, and hopefully save him from Azula.
Katara felt her body rush up above the water and she looked directly up at the moon. A shadowy, silvery essence was descending from the moon. Katara squinted her eyes, and then recognized that it wasn't an essence – it was Yue.
"Katara," Yue breathed, her whole body glowing with ethereal energy from the moon. "Katara, sister, welcome."
"Yue?" she asked.
Yue only smiled. "Yes. It's me." Then her smile faltered. "The Avatar is in danger…very great danger." She spread her hand across the sea and the image blurred into that of a large Fire Nation battle cruiser. "Princess Azula moves with speed to the Fire Nation," Yue explained. "But she will be caught in a deadly hurricane and be forced to dock on this Earth Kingdom shore." The scene swirled again and Katara recognized the place.
"Kyoshi Island," Katara gasped.
Yue only nodded. "This is the last bit of help that Tui and La can give you," Yue said quietly, seriously. "You must be quick if you hope to regain the Avatar, because from now on you are on your own." Yue paused, then looked a little worried. "Your time here is short," Katara guessed she meant here in the Spirit World. "So I want to give you one more piece of advice… Kindness can break through any barrier. No one is immune to it. Especially not certain Fire Princes." Then Yue smiled, her form drifting up towards the moon, shimmering slightly. "Tell Sokka I love him…and I can hear him…"
Yue's form became hazier, and Katara reached out towards her friend. "Goodbye, Yue!"
The koi swirled beneath her…