Disclaimer - I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender. If I did, we wouldn't have had to wait NINE MONTHS! for a new episode! But it's okay. I'm getting help for my anger issues. Keeps chanting, it will be worth the wait, it will be worth the wait.

P.S. Only joking, I totally respect the creators of Avatar.

Chapter 1 - The Hunt

Katara let out a sigh as she turned the corner heading away from their camp site.

"All I need is a little time alone." she had told her friends.

After three weeks of nonstop travel with Sokka, Aang, and Toph, her nerves were a bit frazzled. She loved her brother and traveling with her new friends all over the globe was exciting, but between Sokka's appetite, Aang's crush, and Toph's abrasive personality anyone would feel their sanity slipping.

"I'll be back before nightfall. I just want to take a walk. If you want, I can investigate the area while I'm at it, okay?" This comment seemed to appease Sokka, the self-appointed leader of the group. He had made it a priority to do this wherever they landed as they hardly went anywhere without some kind of confrontation or catastrophe.

After all, they were traveling with the avatar. The young monk seemed to attract trouble like a magnet.

She took a deep breath and continued along the wooded path. She was following a large brook that flowed into the pristine lake they had camped beside. Perhaps she would find the spring where this brook originated.

Sunlight filtered through the canopy and glistened on the surface of the rushing water. She listened to the soothing sound as she walked. The water rushed over the smooth stones at the riverbed.

This was her element. She could feel her tension drift away as she focused on the swirling movements of the water flowing cool and clear. Her mind calmed.

She needed this.

He cursed his luck. Not only was he hot, thirsty, and tired, but now he was being followed. From what he could tell, there were four men, likely bounty hunters. He would bet that Azula had put a price on his head. They were on rhino back and were closing the distance between him.

Zuko had been trying to lose them for three days. Having gone without food and sleep, he was in no state to face the group of weapons specialists.

He almost wished his uncle was with him.

"No," he scowled, "I'm better off alone."

It would be difficult to lose them. His ostrich horse was as exhausted as he and it moved slowly through the earth kingdom forest. The rocky, unstable terrain was beginning to slope uphill and he could hear the offending group gaining distance.

Sliding off his mount, Zuko grabbed his canteen. It was the only thing of value that wasn't strapped to his person. He carried his dual swords on his back. His earth kingdom knife strapped to his shin. Long ago were the days of armor and uniforms. He was disgusted at the cloths he had to wear to disguise himself. Green was never a color he preferred.

He had considered facing the group and under other circumstances he could have assailed. But in his weakened state, he would be unable to sustain a flame for long.

Resigning himself to the only other option available, he would try to lose them in the thick foliage.

He slapped the rear of the beast and sent it running off continuing in a direction perpendicular to the slope.

Turning to his right, Zuko struck out directly up the slope, hoping the group would follow the trail of the animal and allow him to disappear into the underbrush.

"Were catching up to that coward!"

Zuko screwed his eyes closed in frustration. Their voices carried clearly. They were closer than he thought.

He quickly scrambled behind a bush and crouched down. He had only moved 30 feet from the path. He would have to hide or else risk them hearing his footsteps crunching on the leaf strewn earth.

"What do we have here?" one of the riders said. "Footprints, fresh ones beside the ostrich horse tracks. The traitor is trying to lose us."

Zuko's anger flared. Could this situation get any worse? Here he was weak, exhausted and humiliated at getting himself into such a position. He should have faced them days ago when he stood a chance to fight his way out.

As he crouched unseen, he felt a surge of emotion. I am the prince of the fire nation. I will not be found hiding in the bushes like a frightened child.

With determined purpose, Zuko stood from the ground and stepped out to face the group.

He would not be taken without his honor.

He knew he would be overpowered, probably shackled, and brought back to his sister, Azula. Still, it was better to fight than be found cowering in fear.

He could formulate a plan of escape later. Zuko, prince of the fire nation, was not that easily defeated.

Zuko's eyes narrowed as he stepped into the clearing.

Upon seeing Zuko, the four men took defensive stances, all weapons aimed at the travel worn youth.

Each one scowled back at the prince, muscles tense, ready to release their assault of arrows, knives, battle axes, and whatever else they had packed onto their rhinos.

"Well, well, well, seems you've finally realized the futility of this little chase. Not so invincible alone, are you Prince Zuko?"

Zuko sneered. He would not give them the satisfaction of a response.

"Nothing to say, well that's too bad. Your sister had plenty to say about you. It would have been better for you if you had not escaped from her ship. You would have been brought back to the fire nation as a prisoner. But that's too bad. The rules of the game have changed, you see."

The leader of the group had an expression on his face that made the prince uneasy. Azula's plans never ended well for Zuko.

"You see, she and the fire lord have decided you're too much of a liability to the fire nation. They no longer want you captured."

Zuko's eyes widened in alarm.

"They want you dead."

Zuko reached for the weapons on his back, his mind reeling from the statement he had just heard. Dead. Emotions he could not identify raged through him.

In the split second it took for Zuko's mind to register that the rider's mission was not a capture but an assassination, one of the riders, a Yu Yan archer, had released his arrow.

Zuko cried out as it pierced into the flesh of his shoulder. He could feel the fast acting poison in the barbed arrowhead spread with white hot daggers through his veins.

The stabbing pain in his shoulder causing him to drop the sword he clutched in his right hand. His vision blurred as he felt pain and poison course through his body, sped forward by his already quickened pulse.

Zuko fell to the ground as blows from the various weapons struck his body.

His vision now black, he wished for the pain to end soon. I don't want to die alone.

Author's Notes

Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading my story.

Please review! This is my first fanfic and I want to know if I should quit my day job.

I promise I'll respond to every single review. Pinkie swear.