A/N: I'd just like to say, that this first chapter might have some parts that will leave you with questions. Please be patient and just take everything in as it is… things will be explained as the story progresses, so just enjoy the chapter!! Thanks!! Oh, and Zuko is 20 and Katara is 18 :) Setting is after the war in a Temple…
Dying To Survive
"The choices we make only reflect that which is already destined to happen."
A screaming blast of flames circled towards Katara as she drew her arm up as a shield. There was no where to run to, and the smoke irritated her lungs. Tears ran down her face smoothly as the overwhelming force gathered in front of her gaze. They had been battling the royal family for almost an hour, and the end was coming near. Each second that the fire came closer, she took turns looking at the people that were closest to her. Katara's strength was weakening, and Aang was too far away to help her. Zuko stood motionless, watching intently as the fire his father shot at the enemy swirled vibrantly. The air in between their gazes stood electrically on its end and suddenly, Zuko roared defiantly. Her mouth hung open as the heat neared the dangling hair surrounding Katara's face and was swiftly eliminated by Zuko's protective arms.
The Fire Lord didn't move. His eyebrow rose slightly in question with his son's actions. Zuko quickly looked at Aang and nodded his head. The Avatar knew at once that this was his cue. Both yelled furiously as they unleashed their most powerful attack towards the cruel dictator. Ozai took a deep breath and let his fire clash with the spinning tunnel of dirt and fire. Katara fell to her knees as Zuko left her side and ran towards his father with daring speed. Sparks flashed around their bodies as forces of nature collided. Anguished howls echoed in her ears as Katara's eyes began to droop. She heard one final unearthly cry of pain and picked her head up.
Zuko stood over a limp body lying on the ground. His back was arched and the firelight danced on his bloodied face as he breathed heavily. The sounds shifted with the lonely wind and then Katara saw Aang standing feebly in the distance, also covered by a trail of blood on his head. Zuko stepped away gradually and then walked in Katara's direction. She wasn't aware of his presence until he was a foot in front of her. It took all of her strength to look at him in the face as she knelt before him. Tears still streamed down her face as his golden eyes glittered in the surrounding crackling fire.
Not one word escaped his mouth. Katara's thoughts spun rapidly like a tornado. A few minutes ago, Zuko wasn't on their side, and just a moment before, he had helped save her from his father's attack, and ultimately helped defeat the Fire Lord. Zuko could see the confusion in her eyes and all he could do was stare at her speechlessly. His eyes were constantly dim and narrow, looking at her with the unspoken words of the torment inside of him. A sigh jumped out of his chest and he closed his eyes, turning away from her and the place he had called home. Katara wanted to say something, ask him why, but as she turned to reach out to him, she fell forward, her body giving in to the desperate need of rest.
Her eyes flickered and she heard a rushing of approaching footsteps. An echo of her name rang in her ears and the pair of golden eyes flashed in the darkness as her world became suddenly cold and faint.
The stretch of ginger and violet skies swam together amidst soft puffy clouds as Katara stood at her room's window. She rested her head on her cheek and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath as the wind kissed her skin. The breeze ruffled the hem of her skirt and for a moment, she thought she could smell the smoldering ashes of the ground she had fought on so long ago. The memory of the Fire Lord's defeat was always replaying itself to Katara, even though she didn't want to remember. It had been four years since that day and every now and then, Katara would let her thoughts surround the vanished prince. His bold action and continual deception until the very end had left Katara stunned and she was never given an answer. Thus her time passed by, wondering if she would ever see him again.
Watching the sun set became a special ritual for Katara. There was so much of the world she had yet to understand, and Zuko was one of those things.
"Oh, this is pointless! Why am I worrying so much about a stupid prince I'm never going to see again? Let's look at it this way. I thought he was evil, then he proved me wrong. A few minutes later, he turned evil again, and then he proved me wrong when he saved me… and of course defeated his father," Katara said to herself distantly. A slight blush arose on her cheeks at the mention of how he had guarded her. She sighed and her eyes pinpointed each major landscape from where she stood. First there was the Great Forest which housed a great variety of trees, each with a different twist of branches and falling leaves. Sparkling water gleamed in the sun's reflective rays as the Holy River trickled away from the forest. The water washed away against the plains of grass as it neared the village she lived in. Finally, Katara's gaze reached for the tallest and most distant building she could see. It must have been miles away, and yet she still pretended to smell the ocean breeze by the tower's docks.
Katara left the windows with a final sigh and walked over to her bed. She sat down and continued to look at the sky. Her life had changed dramatically after the ending fight. As Sokka came to realize, their mission was to help Aang master the four elements and defeat the Fire Lord. Since they had done exactly as they promised, it was best to go home and rest. Katara welcomed the idea generously, but her heart wrenched at the prospect of leaving the Avatar after such a long extraneous journey. A simple smile became etched into his face however, as he said goodbye to the two people he had come to care about the most in the world. Aang left for the Eastern Air Temple with Toph; she wasn't too fond of the water filled environment of the South Pole, and she didn't want to go back home, so she decided to visit Guru Pathik with Aang.
It had been all right for a while afterwards. Katara was pleased with how well the South Pole had progressed since their departure. Her grandmother was laughing with Master Pakku when they came back and Sokka eyed the old man curiously. They each exchanged pleasant greetings as the men of their tribe began to return home. It had stayed that way for almost four years. One morning, Katara had been doing some chores on the outer wall of her home, when she spotted a small boat. It had four green sails and was made out of dark wood. She rushed towards it and saw a middle aged man come out.
"Hello," Katara said cheerfully. "Welcome to the Southern Water Tribe! May I help you with something?"
The man grunted and nodded. "I am Unio and I hail from the eastern city of Halan. My mission is to seek the one they called the Water Saint on the day of Black Sun."
Katara's eyes widened and she dropped the basket she had been carrying. The girl who had healed many soldiers before they had reached the Fire Lord's palace was none other than herself, and she knew that some had called her that after they had opened their eyes.
"That's… that's me," Katara said hesitantly.
The man called Unio looked her up and down and then sighed.
"All right then. We of the Second Temple of Sanoroi ask that you come with us on an urgent quest. Our masters have foreseen your great ability and ask that you visit to further engage your powers," Unio said without great expression.
Katara's jaw dropped and then she scowled, putting her hands on her hips.
"You expect me to just leave my life as it is and join this Sanoroi Temple place?" she asked loudly and with annoyance.
Unio nodded and clapped his hands together, bowing his head. "We believe that it will be an experience of utmost reward. Please take your belongings and come back here within an hour. We will await your answer anxiously."
With that, he turned around and headed back into the boat where he and a few others, including some women, were busy preparing more space. Katara stood still and then suddenly grabbed her basket off of the ground. She ran back towards her village quickly, barely leaving any footprints in the snow. As Katara ran, her heartbeat matched her thoughts in its pulse. Out of nowhere, someone came and wanted her to come to a place where she could learn more about herself and her abilities. It seemed that every amazing incident she had experienced had been through an unexpected arrival of a stranger, the first being the Avatar himself. She smiled as she neared her father on the slopes, thinking of how much that first journey had changed her life. Perhaps she was being given another opportunity to change her life.
Hakoda was torn inside when his daughter told him she wanted to leave, but after he talked with the foreigners in the boat, he looked at Katara and hugged her fiercely.
"Be careful and learn a lot," he said holding back tears.
Katara blinked, but the tears fell anyways. "Don't worry dad, I will."
And with that, she left her home for the second time in her life. It was heartbreaking to see the dome of dazzling snow disappear, but she finally turned away, looking towards the horizon and the new light of life it was offering her.
The Second Temple of Sanoroi is where Katara lived now. She sat on her bed, curling her legs up to her chest. A roll of sighs exited her mouth delicately and then she stood up, tired of remembering the past. Her door opened silently, and her fingers left the cool silver knob as she closed the door and walked down the darkly lit hall.
His lips were cracked and dry. His hair was messy and tangled. His clothes clung to him with the stench of sweat and body odor, and his face was covered in blotches of dirt. Zuko was a wanderer, and he desperately needed a place to stay.
For countless days after defying his father and his country, Zuko had fled, trying to find a meaning to his life. He knew that what he did was right, even if it wasn't his expected course of action. He walked slowly, keeping each step longer than the last. He found a lone tree standing tall in a patch of soft grass. His body dropped onto the ground and his hat tilted over face, shielding his face from the remaining amounts of sun light. A pair of broad swords rested at his side and he placed his arms over his head, taking a deep breath of the crisp air. The fire cracked and sparked inside of his thoughts; her blue eyes passed through his mind frequently. It was at the moment when she could no longer defend herself, when Zuko saw the pain and torture in her eyes, and that he had fully realized how much of a coward he had been. Standing up to his father was an action long over-due. Leaving her without any words was something Zuko wished he had never done.
Four years had passed, and he still wasn't completely sure of what he was supposed to do. Iroh was Fire Lord, as Zuko had heard from travelers such as himself. The Fire Nation had no other choice for a leader, as Zuko abandoned his title, and Azula was not fit to rule. Seeing her dead father had caused direct insanity. She was taken away and Ba Sing Se was free of her tyranny at last. People around the world rejoiced; a new era of peace had begun. But Zuko couldn't have cared less about what his actions had meant to everyone else in the world. Katara's trust had been broken when he had betrayed her, and Zuko was sure that forgiveness was not in his future, even if he had helped after all.
Zuko exhaled and rolled over on his side. Each color in the sky continuously piled into another and soon, a dim orange glow filled his view. He had made it out of the Great Forest, and as some had warned him, it had taken Zuko days to travel through it. There was no account of how far its vastness reached, but he knew from his exhausted body that there was a place of rest nearby. His eyes scanned the close horizon. A grandiose building with a few higher levels signaled the entrance to a simple village. Something pricked his neck and his fingers casually scratched the spot. A bug flew away and he rolled his eyes.
"Anything is better than sleeping out here," Zuko said to himself bitterly. He stood up and took his swords with him. Slowly, he walked towards the golden building and its rounded domes.
Three pensive people were gathered near a fire in a closed circular room. Paintings enveloped the walls of faraway lands. There were some that had people wearing grand robes and were bathed in jewelry, while those poorly dressed held their hands up in admiration. Flickering shadows seized their faces and each person took a deep breath in while taking hold of each other's hands. One was a woman, dressed much alike to the people in the portraits. A small light green sash wrapped some of her dark brown hair in a bun while the rest fell down along the back of her neck with the remains of the silky material. The sleeves of her robes were wide and around her neck was a chain of silver diamonds. Her sleek nose pointed towards the fire as she picked her chin up. The woman's name was Mayuri. She had not one wrinkle on her fragile and pale face.
Sitting next to her was a man slightly more aged. His brows furrowed with deep concentration as his long black braided hair sat on his chest. Bangs swept across his forehead and down along the rigid spine of his jaw. A swirling birthmark was stamped on the right side of his nostrils, right below his eye. Before taking a hold of his wife's hand, Taiko scratched the few hairs on his chin. He suppressed his cough and then closed his eyes, bonding with Mayuri and the man next to him.
He was old, at least twice the ages of the married couple, and founders of the Second Temple of Sanoroi. His head was completely bald except for a few loose strands of white hair on the sides of his head. Gray and putrid spots dotted his wrinkled skin all over. His nose was crooked and his lips twisted up on one side and down on the other. If a stranger had bumped into him, they would say he was a maniac. His clothes were torn every where; there were no sleeves, and he didn't wear any shoes, which was enough to conclude why his toenails were yellow and chipped. This man wasn't an ordinary lunatic who scavenged each town trying to beg for food and shelter though. Riku-won had a special sixth sense, some said, and that was exactly why the Temple's founders had called upon him.
"Let the reading begin," Mayuri said quietly. The room was completely still and the air was suffocating, but the three sat undisturbed. Taiko had long since welcomed his powers from the Spirit World, and that was why he joined the Sanoroi Temples. There were five scattered randomly across the plains of the Earth Kingdom and as soon as he mastered the Art of Knowing, he became the Temple's true founder. When he joined, the men in the academy were simple people who wanted to learn more, but they weren't serious about truly gaining more power. As with most people, they were just curious. After Taiko married Mayuri, who also shared the same desire as him, they founded the Second Temple of Sanoroi. Every year afterwards, on that date, they came to this darkly lit room, conjured a fire, and entranced themselves with the intoxicating power to see what news the Spirit World would bring to them of the following year.
"Oh greats spirits, let us bathe in your extraordinary grace that you have bestowed on us for so long. We call upon you with the desire to learn of our future's forthcomings. Spare us as your loyal servants if that is what you wish, but we greatly impress the supremacy of your beings and wish that you share it with us," stated Riku-won as his lungs depleted inside his chest.
Taiko and Mayuri waited while the fire sparked and danced around the burning wood beneath it. Patience would be greatly needed if they were to succeed, and so they waited, hopefully praying that the spirits would bring them good fortune.
Somewhere in the temple, three consecutive knocks disturbed the gate keeper's nap. She got up warily and stretched her arms as wide as she could before scuffling to the main entrance. The large oak door creaked open as she let go of the steel latch. A filthy man stumbled inside and gate keeper's eyes grew as her mouth fell open. She gasped and immediately helped him stand up as his stance was beginning to fall apart. He coughed and held onto the woman's shoulder as he stood up again. Suddenly, she became aware of the large scar that marked the left side of his face. There was a rumor of a prince that left his duties to the throne, and that he was marked in some way, but she wasn't entirely sure that the rumor was true. Even if the man carried the mark of his large scar, he had no resemblance to royalty.
"What's your name traveler?" she asked hesitantly.
"Zuko," he responded, catching his breath as he did so.
She straightened him up as her dark auburn hair swung from side to side. "I'm guessing you need a place to stay. Well you're just in luck! The Masters have requested we take in anyone in need, and that's who you are, aren't you? All right then, I'll lead you to a room and we'll you get you cleaned up!"
Zuko eyed her with a cocked brow. She was certainly perky for an older woman. Her eyes were worn and baggy, with dark circles underneath, but she was definitely not weak like some women. As soon as they turned a few corners, Zuko realized he was leaning on her with most of his weight. She finally left him to stand on his own and she took a key from her pocket and slid it into a black door. Spread all over the door was a series of carvings filled with silver. The hatch clicked and the door swung open peacefully. Zuko stepped in after her and his eyes shinned at the sight of clean water, a bed and from the smell of the clean air wafting in from the window. As soon as he felt the soft fabric brush on his face, his eyes closed and he sighed deeply. The gate keeper smiled and then clapped her hands, waking him up instantly.
"Could you be a bit quieter? I would really like to sleep," Zuko muttered as he tried to settle in on the bed once more.
The gate keeper chuckled and then pulled him out of the bed. "Silly little boy! You need a bath first! And a proper meal! Then you can decide to go to bed or not!"
Zuko grumbled as he heard the roar from his stomach. He combed his fingers through his hair and winced when he came upon a knot of it. Defeated, Zuko stood up and followed the woman out of the room.
Upstairs on the second level, Katara kept wandering around aimlessly. There was no one around, most likely because the students must have all turned in for the night after the day's festivities. She had only been a student for a few months, but already Katara felt like she had made a new home for herself. The people who studied along side her were kind and generous, most of the time willing to help her out when she struggled. When Katara found out about the Day of Foundation, she didn't feel awkward at all. It felt like she had celebrated it time and time again. Emptiness engulfed her as the night's shadows began to creep into the courtyards slowly. She turned a corner and walked beside the row of railings overlooking the rustling leaves of the trees she sat under while she meditated. Gray clouds passed through the pale dark blue sky as Katara suddenly jumped. The birds fluttered away as she heard two loud voices bickering with each other.
"Sit still!! I have to comb out all of these tangles!" said a feminine voice strictly.
Katara heard a low groan as the woman laughed to herself.
"Who would have thought you could be this far from being groomed? But I guess if you're traveling out there in the wild, it can't be helped."
Another grunt echoed in her ears as she walked closer towards the lit room. The door was slightly open and Katara could see two shadows. After recognizing the voice of the woman as the gate keeper, Katara became more intrigued in the person who needed to be groomed. Her heart beat faster as her feet inched towards the door.
"There! We're all done! Who would have thought you would look so handsome underneath all of that dirt?"
Katara jumped and stood back as the shadow shifted and grew larger. She saw the shadow shake its head, its hair flowing smoothly. All of a sudden, Katara was seized with the urge to disappear from the door's view. She turned and ran down the hall, turning left quickly. Her hurried breaths escaped from her mouth and a small puff of frost formed in front of her face. Standing against the wall, Katara calmed herself down and then smiled.
"What's wrong with you Katara? It must be an ordinary traveler who needed a place to rest. Yes, that's it! There's nothing to worry about!" she said under her breath.
She looked to the sky and saw the moon peaking over the Temple's domes. Her eyes widened as the door's light stretched out down the hall and towards the railing.
"Thank you for your hospitality," Zuko said while bowing his head.
The gate keeper waved her hand in the air and smiled widely.
"It's no problem, young one! I rest assured that you are in enough condition now to find your room?" she asked hopefully.
Zuko nodded and she sighed.
"Good, good. You see, I wanted a bath myself, and well, there's no better time to do it if you don't need my services anymore."
He turned around and faced the receding light. It vanished as the gate keeper closed the door. The moon immersed its glow onto his face and he breathed deeply, taking in the calming presence of his surroundings. Around the corner, Katara was frozen to her place. She had recognized the voice after he spoke a few more words and she was sure that it was someone from her past. Closing her eyes, she held her breath and tried to be as still as the wall.
The eerie quiet cleansed all three of their souls. Mayuri, Taiko and Riku-won were all still huddled around the fire they had lit. Not one of them had spoken, as they awaited the Spirits reply. Unexpectedly, a deep and powerful feeling rose in the three and their eyes burst open immediately. They looked at each other wildly without saying a word. Mayuri tried to remain calm as the tension built inside of her. Along with the Spirits' attendance, they each felt a growing presence, combined and more powerful than they had ever known could exist. Taiko tried to remain focused as the elder's eyes rolled to the back of his head. They each gripped each other's hands as tightly as was possible. Every finger was white and their veins became visible underneath the surface of their skin. The fire smoldered and a small trail of gray smoke slithered up into the air.
"What's happening? This has never happened before!" Mayuri exclaimed nervously while eying her husband.
"Shut it woman! The Spirits will be angered!" Taiko replied, furrowing his eyes darkly. Their robes fluttered as a sudden cutting breeze entered the room. Riku-won wailed and suddenly, at the end of the smoke, a globe of bright light appeared. They each sat still as the voices of the Spirits flowed through their heads.
"A quiet breeze will follow two travelers on the way to tomorrow. When what is wrong becomes what is right, shall condemn these two with awful fright. Only by becoming one in mind, body, and soul, each will be rewarded with a new role. As King and Queen of their lost hearts in a world with indescribable power, these fated shall never cower.
A new dawn will shine with torturous pain, should two doomed find what they seek to gain. And yet, all will not be lost, if and only if, the rightful path is not covered in unforgiving frost."
"That is the prophecy you seek and receive, beware and take care, and heed as you please."
The three let out swooping breaths as the pressure inside of their chests subsided. The wind blew around them fiercely and the flames in the fire were smothered to their cinders. Among the dim fading light, Taiko could the see the painful tears streaming down his wife's face. Her hair lay scattered in her face and the silk ribbon fell to her lap. Riku-won's eyes stood open, unblinking. They let go of each other's hands as his voice bellowed out.
"Thank you Great Spirits for bestowing upon us your prophecy. This reading is now… complete."
"Riku-won!" Mayuri cried out instantly. His back cracked and the old man fell backwards. She rushed to his side and grabbed his hand in hers. A swelling heat scorched her fingers and she recoiled at once. Taiko swiftly came to her side and she wept freely into his embrace, seeking the comfort she desperately needed. The old man was gone from this world. He had conducted his last reading and left the Masters of the temple to their own thoughts.
"He was a good man," Taiko said grimly. His wife nodded as she folded her scarf and placed it upon his face. "Come darling, we must retire to our chambers." She nodded as they stood up together. Mayuri leaned on her husband for support as he sighed and closed his eyes. His fingers trembled once as he pointed them straight at the wall they faced. A door slid open from the seemingly closed off room and a small amount of light poured in. They gradually made their way outside and then Taiko repeated the sealing spell, while letting a flow of air into the chamber with his minute airbending.
"Wait, shouldn't we take him with us?" Mayuri asked timidly.
Taiko shook his head and sighed. "Unfortunately, we can't control what the Spirits have done. It isn't up to us what happens to his body. A year from now, there will be no living being there," he finished boldly. Mayuri's eyes glanced to her right as a sudden gripping feeling rose in her heart. The power she had sensed before was pulsing in her chest once again. Her eyes widened in fear and she gripped her husband's robe as they walked away.
"Master, we haven't understood the prophecy yet. It spoke of doom. What if the Spirits were warning us?" she asked quickly.
"Darling, don't fret. We shall decipher each phrase in due time. It shall be more difficult now that Riku-won isn't with us any longer, but we shall manage. Come, I know what you fear, but we mustn't think of that at the present."
She took a deep sigh and followed him, now letting the worries fade to the back of her mind. The moon was fully above them and soon, they had made their way to their bed chamber.
A level above them, in the opposite direction of where Mayuri and Taiko were headed, Katara stood silently, every hair on end, hoping that Zuko wouldn't see her. She kept telling her body to move, but it didn't obey. Katara clenched her teeth as a sudden tension was broken and she leaned forward. At the same moment, Zuko turned the corner and immediately stepped back in shock. He heard an audible gasp and saw the back of a shadowy figure swaying in its place. He squinted in the dark light and tried to make out who it was. The figure didn't move and Zuko finally decided to speak.
"I'm sorry if I surprised you. I didn't know anyone was here. My name is Zuko. May I ask who I've bumped into?" he asked pleasantly.
His calm voice stung Katara's heart as she tried to move again. A hammer was pounding against her chest and her hands clung to her sides. Finally, as if someone was pulling her towards him like a magnet, her head turned, as did half of her body. Air rushed into his lungs as the forceful shock stunned him. His eyes grew and his lips parted when his gaze struck that of the haunting pair of crystal eyes. Katara met his stare and didn't let go of it, afraid that if she made any sudden movements, she would regret it. A spark lit in the back of her head as a thought occurred to her. Had she not just an hour or so ago thought of the vanished prince? He was standing before her, there to answer any questions she would ask him, but her mouth didn't speak. No words traced the air in between them, but the electricity was alive and thriving. As Zuko was about to say something, Katara darted away in the other direction, her footsteps rushing out of his ears. He closed his mouth and let his arm fall to his side. For a moment, he simply stood there, looking at the empty dark corridor. Somewhere in the distance he heard a door slam and he shivered. The wind ruffled his hair and sleeves as he suddenly felt light-headed.
"It's you, and I thought… I would never see you again," he said, as the breeze carried his words away into the empty space above him.
Katara swallowed hard on her breath as she stood leaning against the door to her room, panting. Her head tilted forward and then she walked over to her bed, falling onto it exaggeratingly. She buried her head in the soft pillows and then rolled over so that she was gazing at the ceiling.
"Zuko's here, in the Temple and I ran away from him like I always have," she said to herself quietly. It had become instinct for Katara to run away whenever she saw him, but his greeting was full of peace and well meaning. The war was over; he had helped to end it, he had helped to cease the suffering everyone had endured for a hundred years. Katara sighed and closed her eyes slowly, letting the moon shine onto her, filling her face with a pale glow.
"If he's such a good person, why did I run away?" she asked the empty room. The question was left unanswered, but the vitality in her heart began to grow. Not since that day so long ago had she yearned for something so much. Katara turned and covered herself with the thick blankets on her bed. She had felt unfamiliar warmth standing there by him, and it had surprised her. Katara only wanted to know why Zuko had done what he did, and it seemed like with every passing cloud in the sky, she would get that many chances to finally find out.
A/N: Was it confusing? I hope not!! I really worked hard on this first chapter, and I'm pleased with how it turned out! Do you like it? If not, what can I improve on? I'd love to know what your thoughts are, so please review and share with me!! It's your reviews that keep me writing:D The next chapter will explain everything a bit more, and will have a lot more Zutara interaction ;) Until then!! Arigato!!
Oh, and just as a side note, yes, the prophecy basically explains what's going to happen, but I will not tell anyone if anyone asks what it means… you'll just have to wonder… because I'm a person who writes with an air of mystery, if you know what I mean. I like to leave your mind open to the possibilities ;)