Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters etc etc..
Hi everyone! I realise it has been a while since the last time I added a chapter. All that is going to change now:)
I will not keep you any longer, here is the next chapter;
"There she is!" Aang exclaimed with great enthusiasm. His new outfit wasn't half bad, and he loved being able to walk among people without having to be afraid of the fire nation discovering who he was. At least now he fitted in with the rest of the crowd.
"Do you know there is a festival today?" Katara had to smile at the sight of the beaming airbender. She knew he loved festivals –and any other excuse to have fun. Not that she was any better herself. Besides, she was very curious about what the lady in the shop had been talking about earlier.
"I know! There is something happening in the town square at sundown tonight." Aang's eyes lit up with anticipation.
"Hey, you all found new clothes!" Katara eyed her friends from head to toe. Even Zuko had a new outfit.
"Yeah!" Aang nodded towards the two boys beside him. "Sokka even got himself a new bag." Katara looked at her brother as he proudly held up his new accessory. "I'm starting to like the fire nation. Their clothes makes me feel manly." Zuko let out a small grunt at this, but Sokka managed to pretend he didn't notice.
"So, do you know what this thing at sundown is all about?" Katara directed her question at Zuko. It was still an adaptation to travel with the prince of the fire nation but she figured they had to make the best of it. And she was determined to find that good part of him that she knew was somewhere in there. Iroh was convinced his nephew had a good heart, and he didn't seem like a man who made too many mistakes.
With that in mind the water bender made an effort to include Zuko in as many things –and conversations- as possible. And now, as always, he seemed as uncomfortable as a fish on land. He watched Katara with little interest and muttered a silent "no". Sokka scowled at him. It didn't take long before the fire prince noticed and returned the warrior's gaze. "What are you looking at?" he growled. Katara felt uneasy at the anger in his voice, but it didn't look like Zuko had the same effect on her brother.
"The least you could do is to answer her properly." Sokka frowned and stared at the fire bender.
Katara had expected this day would come but had been hoping they could have avoided it for the time being. Sokka still had his issues with Zuko and she couldn't say she totally disagreed with him. On the other hand, Zuko obviously had his struggles, and he didn't seem like the type who would apologize for his flaws, and Katara was certain that accusing remarks like the ones Sokka was throwing at him right now definitely wouldn't make things better.
Zuko clenched his fists, and Katara grabbed Aang's shoulder as she backed out of the line of fire, literally speaking.
"You have been acting like the spoiled angry jerk that you are since day one! I know you don't want to be here, but guess what; neither do we! As your travel buddies, the least you could do is show us some respect! Or doesn't they teach you that in the fire nation?!"
Zuko could feel his eyes shrew open in anger. He hated how he sometimes lost control over his body, but right now he didn't care. His vision was blurring with the heat rising within him, and he could hear the pounding of his heart so loud that it blocked out any other sound around him. For some reason, this strange water tribe boy knew exactly which buttons to push.
"But what could we expect from a soiled prince like yourself? You have probably always had what you needed, and are used to treating people like dirt." Sokka was wearing that serious expression which he rarely wore. In fact, Katara guessed the last time had to be when Yue had left for the spirit world. He brother always surprised her at these times, and she often fell in awe at how well he could balance reason and maturity on one side, with whining and "goofiness" on the other. This time however, Zuko was without a doubt the one who surprised her the most. He had looked like he was about to explode, but something had changed in him. Instead of answering Sokka, or shooting fire at him, the fire bender turned his back to them, and without a word he walked off into the crowd of red that surrounded them.
For a second Sokka looked just as surprised as Katara felt, then his expression softened in indifference.
"Never mind him. We're better off without him anyway!" Sokka shrugged his shoulders and started to walk the other way, down the main street, to the town square. Katara cast a worried look over her shoulder. She couldn't help but care. He had no friends, and they were in a strange town. The water bender felt confident that he wasn't having much fun at the moment. Besides, he seemed so troubled.
Aang saw Katara's reaction and knew how she felt. Still a small part of him couldn't help feeling a little angry at the fact that she seemed to care about what happened to Zuko. Zuko was older, a great bender, good looking –aside from his scar- and a prince. Aang knew it was ridiculous of him to think that way, since Katara didn't seem to care more for Zuko than for any other person, but this gnawing feeling of jealousy had made a room for itself deep down in his stomach, and he couldn't seem to shake the feeling. If it was because there had always been just the three of them, and now they had to make room for one more person, or something else, Aang couldn't tell. But right now they were at this exciting new island with a festival going on, and the kid inside the Avatar wanted to enjoy every minute of it. "He'll be fine. We'll catch up with him later. He probably needs some time to cool off." The air bender smiled in what he meant to be a careless way. Katara returned his smile and caught his hand. "You're probably right! Let's see what this festival is all about." And together they ran down the street to catch up with Sokka.
The lights surrounding the center of the little town was overwhelming. The darkness of night fell in such a contrast to the bright light that it was hard to make out any of the people standing in the small square. It was chill now, and Katara rubbed her upper arms, gently embracing herself, as she followed Aang to the center of the crowd. The whole town, which had seemed so cheerful and warm earlier, had a mystical and fleeting air to it. The air had grown so chill that you could see your own breath, and Katara made a silent wish that she had bought a coat earlier, while she had the opportunity.
Somewhere ahead a tall figure was rising from the crowd and in an instant the whole population of Yakuru fell silent. Katara had troubles seeing the man clearly, but he was obviously standing on some form of stage a few meters up ahead. When he spoke, his voice was deep and rumbling, like it filled the entire town and echoed off the surrounding walls.
"My fellow inhabitants of Yakuru, and guests." He started, tipping his hat in a welcoming gesture. "As many of you know, today is the day when we celebrate the founding of this great city and island as we know it today, the bravery of a man, and the spirits of the lanterns." An acknowledging buzz went through the crowd, and the speaker held his tongue until everyone had quieted down again. "As it is custom, we will honor the help the spirits provided for Yakuru so many years ago." The man stopped to watch the listeners intently. When he continued his voice held even more volume than before.
"When he was in need of company; they provided him with it." The crowd cheered.
" When he lost his path, they showed it to him." The crowd cheered again.
"When he no longer had hope, they gave it to him." The crowd cheered even louder, and by now, Aang, Katara and Sokka had joined in as well.
"And when he was drenched of all that he cared for and loved.." The man bent forward like he was about to tell them all a great secret and smiled.
"- They turned on the lights!"
The entire town exploded in sounds. People were screaming, clapping and whistling as the man watched them, a pleased expression on his face. "Like before, the lanterns will provide guidance to those who need it, whatever their reasons may be." He raised his hands to the sky, like he was waiting for something to drop out of the sky, and suddenly the light surrounding them seemed to grow even more intense. "Let the festival begin!" the man bellowed, and once again the crowd exploded into cheers. Katara felt affected by their joy, but didn't really know what to do. This was obviously a very important festival that meant a lot to the town, but she couldn't quite figure out what was going to happen next. As she stood there half excited, half confused, people seemed to scatter.
Suddenly the crowd was gone, leaving the shops, magicians and musicians visible to the naked eye. All of a sudden, a thick fog rolled down from the mountain. It seemed to float down the hillsides, finally engulfing the town in a unearthly mist.
Once again, their view was obscured, and Katara felt even more cold than before. She rubbed her arms, which was now moist by the dimness surrounding them. The water bender moved closer to her friends.
"Where did everyone go?" Aang's eyes reflected her worry and confusion. Only a minute earlier the whole square had been filled with cheerful people, and all of a sudden they were the only ones there. Aang was just about to give her an answer when something struck him in the back, sending him scrambling forward.
"Ouch!" The airbender exclaimed and turned around to see what had hit him. Behind him stood a young boy, no more than perhaps eight years of age, shaking his head at the surprising percussion.
""Are you alright?" Katara asked with concern in her voice. The kid standing there seemed absolutely confounded by the fact that he had bumped into them.
"What are you all doing here!?" He shouted in disbelief. "What do you mean?" Aang responded, confused.
The boy glared at the three strangers until he saw their looks of obliviousness. Then he uttered a resigned sigh and gave them a meaningful look. "You are supposed to follow the lanterns. That's why we are here!" The boy flung out his arms, emphasizing that they were the only ones left in the town square.
"Follow the lanterns? Well where do they lead?" Sokka shot in suspiciously. The boy smiled a sympathetic smile, like he held some secret they didn't know. "That depends, now, doesn't it?" Even more confused by his answer the group stood motionless, staring at the boy. Suddenly he started laughing and grabbed Katara's hand as he ran past her. "Follow me!"
Katara was yanked back by his force and had no choice but to keep up. Behind her, she could hear her brother and Aang running as well. The boy continued laughing and pulled the water bender along. The fog was really thick now, and she no longer had any idea of where they were. Up ahead she could see the faint flicker of a light, and as they drew closer the boy suddenly let go of her hand. In reflex, Katara turned to look for her friends, but they were nowhere to be seen. The water bender whirled around again and shouted after the boy. "Hey, wait up!" She could no longer see him, but heard his thrilling laugh as it disappeared into the distance. Not knowing where she was, or what to do, she hurried after him. After all, he was a small kid. How fast could he possibly be running?
Zuko had stopped caring or noticing where he was going since he had listened and discovered that he could no longer hear any of the sounds that emerged from the town of Yakuru. His first intention had been to find his way back to the enormous beast and the annoying lemur. He didn't care much for either of them, but at least they didn't talk or bother him with accusing looks. He was furious, no doubt about it, but he wasn't foolish. He had made a promise to his uncle, and it would be an utmost disgrace if he were to go back on his word. He would travel with the avatar and his friends to the fire nation, but that didn't mean he would spend his every waking minute by their side. Not that any of it mattered at the minute. As much as he hated to admit it; he was fully, completely and one hundred percent lost. The only thing he knew was that he was still on the island, and as far away from the sorry excuse of a warrior as he could get. Zuko was satisfied with that, for now. He didn't know for how long he had been walking, but there were trees around him, so he figured he had to be in the woods surrounding the valley. That alone meant he was pretty far off, but the fire prince didn't care.
Zuko had been insulted in worse ways than that of the water tribe peasant a few hours earlier, but still, his words stung like a humming bee sting. It reminded him to much of Azula and her evil games, which consisted of pushing him towards the edge, just to see how far she could go before he exploded. And the thing he hated the most about it was that the boy didn't know the first thing about him – and that not one of the things he had said were true. They weren't true because he was not a spoiled prince, and they definitely taught you respect in the fire nation. I learned that the hard way, he thought bitterly. But he had realized something earlier that day, and that was that no matter how his life was, or what his father had done to him, the water tribe warrior had described Zuko the way everyone thought he was. It didn't matter what he did, because people would always see a spoiled and selfish prince when they looked at him, and Zuko couldn't decide if it hurt or angered him – or maybe both.
Suddenly Zuko felt tired, so very tired. He was tired of thinking, tired of being angry, tired of trying to please his father, tired of struggling with his own decisions. He was tired of life.
Coming to a halt, the fire bender leaned his back heavily against a nearby tree and slid to the ground. He tilted his head backwards and stared up at the stars. Wanting to drain his mind of all his troubling thoughts, he allowed himself to get lost in the myriads of twinkling stars staring down at him from the black emptiness of the evening sky.
Out of the corner of his eye, the prince could see a faint flicker of light. In a second he had forgot all about the stars and the different thoughts in his own head. If Zuko had learned one thing over the years, it was that you could never let your guard down. That meant you had to be prepared for an encounter with your enemies everywhere, even in the depth of a forest in the middle of the night.
The fire prince jumped up from his sitting position. In a split second he was ready to strike, standing in what was considered a very offensive firebending form. His uncle's words rang in his mind. "Sometimes offense is the best defense".
"Who is out there?" Zuko hated the fact that his voice held a hint of nervousness. The prince couldn't see anything except for the faint light flickering from behind the tree trunks. Focusing his eyes he searched for the outline of the person holding the light, but with no luck.
"Show yourself!" Zuko felt his temper rise as he watched the steady flicker of light a few yards away. It just hovered in the air, and the person holding it showed no signs of neither approaching nor moving away from him.
Zuko was in no mood for playing games and fired a steady stream of yellow fire towards the light. It was a pretty harmless shot actually, and wouldn't cause the stranger any harm, except that he would have to move out of the range of fire. To late he realized that the stranger in the forest planned on doing no such thing. Zuko's own fire seemed to engulf the light before it died off, and all that was left was the same, calm twinkle of a light among the trees. The prince's anger had been replaced with annoyance and a bit of curiosity. He took a few steps towards the end of the small glade he was in and called out again.
"Who is out there?" He didn't really expect a reply, and he certainly didn't get one. This is getting pretty old, Zuko thought to himself and took a few steps more, just so he could get close enough to get a look at the person taunting him.
It was a strange thing, because Zuko was sure he would have known it if the person behind the light was moving away. He could have sworn the light was being held completely still. Yet he couldn't get closer no matter how many steps he took towards the stranger.
"This is getting pretty old" the fire prince thought to himself. He had been following the stupid person with the stupid light for almost twenty stupid minutes, and was getting sick and tired of not being able to catch him.
Zuko had tried everything; running at him, jumping at him, surprise attacks, climbing trees, -everything. But still, he hadn't been able to close the distance by even an inch. It was almost like there was a magnetic field around him, and whenever he moved, he pushed the stranger holding the light further away.
After a while the fire prince had reconciled with the fact that he couldn't get his way, and settled into a steady pace, following the light through the trees. Zuko sighed and let his eyes wander the ground. He didn't even know why he was here, wandering the forest, being guided by a strange light-source. It was so unlike him. Yet, he was here, and in a way he found some comfort in the unexpected company. He had even stopped caring where they were going. Normally Zuko would have aimed out a direction and then held on to it. Sooner or later he would have managed to get out of the forest, and then find his way back to camp. This time however, he was following some stranger with a lantern. For all he knew it could be an enemy. And they were definitely not following a straight course.
Suddenly a thick fog seemed to engulf Zuko and everything around him. The prince stopped in amazement -and to his pleasure this time- so did the light. Where did this fog come from? The prince had never seen anything like it before.
The fire bender realised that the light was moving again. Zuko considered his options for a split second before he followed the lantern into the blinding fog.
Katara had long lost track of the little boy. After following his laughter into the forest she had completely lost track of everything. The laughter had sounded like it came from everywhere and the water bender had finally accepted the fact that she had no idea where she was. The fog was still so thick that you could barely see your own feet, and Katara found that not being able to see was a terrifying feeling. Several times she had tried to bend it away, but it just kept coming. Finally she had given up. There was something outer- worldly with this fog, she muttered. And her thoughts went to Aang. She couldn't think of another person she wanted by her side more at the moment –except maybe her dad. After all, Aang was the Avatar, and if there was something connecting the fog to the spirit-world, who better to have by your side than the Avatar? Katara tried to answer her own question in an attempt to calm her self down by thinking of something else, when she heard a whisper through the fog.
The water bender froze and listened. Nothing. What was that? Katara crouched into a bending position. She called her element and felt herself extend into all the small water molecules in the for surrounding her. A smirk formed at her lips. She might be alone and weaker than her opponent, but unless there was another water bender in these forests she had a clear advantage.
Katara held her pose in complete silence and concentration when she heard a branch crack. In one swift motion she formed the water whip she knew so well and waited.
There it was again. She turned her foot towards the sound and heightened her concentration.
Suddenly a new feeling struck her. If it was the thickness of the fog, or the fact that she had no other sense of sight than her bending, she couldn't tell. But she suddenly had a strange feeling of awareness. It was hard to explain, but in a way she could feel someone approaching through the fog.
Shaking her confusion away, Katara gave in to the feeling, and a whole new world unraveled. It was like a light came on. The fog was filled withe Katara's element, and she had connected with it in a whole new way. By using the fog as an extension of her self she could see – or feel- everything around her. The ground, the trees, every root, leaf, or straw of grass, and the person approaching her. Katara let out a yelp of surprise and excitement, then the fog disappeared, and the world turned pitch black.
In the corner of her eye the waterbender could see a small flicker of a light.
Aang couldn't tell for how long he had been running. He and Sokka had followed Katara as best they could, but the fog had gotten to thick. Soon after Sokka had disappeared too. The air bender wasn't really scared, nor worried. They were at an island, no one knew they were there, and after all – it was a festival. And besides, the whole city had disappeared, so most likely, everything was as it should be.
Never the less, Aang didn't like being separated with his friends. They had been through so much together, and experience had shown that they were always stronger together.
Aang sighed as he continued to feel his way through the trees and embraced himself in an attempt to keep warm. Now would be a great time to master fire bending, he thought as the fog clung to his clothes, leaving him damp and chilled. Suddenly Aang felt tired. Tried and lost. What was this stupid festival for anyway? The man in the square had given them a speech of how the spirits had helped Yakuru, showing him the path, giving him hope, guiding him. "I'm totally of track and there is certainly no one guiding me." He said out loud. As suspected the fog gave him no reply. A rush of anger came over Aang. He didn't want to be out in the cold and dark forest anymore. "Do you hear me!?" He shouted at no one and everyone at the same time. "Hello!? Spirits! A little guiding would be good right about now!"
"Fine, I'll just find the town myself. No problem. I'm already doing so great." he muttered as he kept walking. The Avatar couldn't really understand what s happening. He considered himself a positive person, and he was generally in a good mood. This time however, everything felt so hopeless. Aang stopped and stared into the air. When he thought about it, it had been a long time since he had been alone with his thoughts. The group had traveled and live don top of each other for so long that he had forgotten what it felt like to be alone. The air bender realized that he was more worried about his situation than he had ever dared to admit. It was so easy to push his worries aside when he had his friends to distract him and make him laugh. Now however, left on his own, the weight of the world suddenly seemed to heavy for him to bare. And it dawned on him that he had gotten to dependent. Now more than ever Aang knew that he would have to face his fears on his own. He loved his friends, and was glad they were with him, but in the end he would have to trust himself. If not only because he needed to be more independent, but also because if anything were to happen to Katara and Sokka, he might have to feel this way for the rest of his life.
Aang sunk down on his knees, burying his head in his hands, trying to escape the despair of his own mind when he heard something moving through the trees. His first feeling was excitement. Finally another person. But the feeling was shortly replaced with cautiousness, so instead of jumping out screaming, he tested the ground with a whisper of hello.
No reply, but the rattle of the bushes stopped, and he assumed that the someone -or something- had heard him. Aang listened for yet another second before he got up and stepped towards where the sounds had come from.
All of a sudden the fog lifted. Actually lifted wasn't the right way to describe it. Vanished was more like it. The air bender rubbed his eyes to get a clear vision of the now dark forest, and when he opened them he saw Katara.
Katara turned towards the light and stared at it. Before the fog lifted she had just caught a glimpse of the person approaching her, but that was all she needed. She knew his appearance so well that there was no way she could mistake aang for another person. Normally he would have ran over to him and greeted him, but there was something about that light. She just couldn't tear herself away from it. It seemed to hoover in mid air as it glided towards her through the trees. Katara felt herself get completely lost in the warm, yellow light. It seemed to fill her eyes, her ears, her entire world, everything. Suddenly there was nothing but light. She blinked, and when she opened her eyes again the water bender saw that she was standing under an enormous tree. The blinding light had disappeared, but seemed to linger on the tree's leaves. She looked up, and saw that It's glowing branches reached out over her head, sending a circle of light down around her. As Katara lowered her gaze someone stepped in to the light surrounding her. It was Zuko.
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