Note: I started writing and plotting Baptism before Avatar had finished airing. So while it started as speculative end/continuation story, it would now be AU finale.
When Fighting Monsters
"Give it up Waterbender, you have nothing left to work with," smirked Azula as the last steam from Katara's flask wisped up to the ceiling, quickly being pulled out of the room by the dehumidifiers and fans the cunning Fire Princesses had prepared for this trap. Triumphant, Azula looked over her cornered prey as if they were toothless stray dogs at her mercy. "What an inferior form of bending that requires external materials," laughed Azula as she drew out her own internal chi, igniting it in threatening jets of blue flame.
"We're not finished yet," grimaced Suki defiantly, shooting Azula a hateful glance as she got back on her feet, warily eyeing the Imperial Guards that had them surrounded.
"That's right! If you think-" began Sokka, before Azula cut him off.
"Was I talking to you Suki dear?" said Azula with a dismissive wave of her hand, not even bothering to look at the Kyoshi warrior. "Don't flatter yourself that you or that pathetic excuse for a swordsman you call boyfriend were ever relevant to this battle. Guards, take them prisoners. If the male resists it's no loss to kill him, but if you can, take the earth girl alive. She's one of the most entertaining prisoners I've had the pleasure of breaking," gloated Azula, winking at Sokka.
Her taunts having the exact intended consequences. "Why you monster! We'll see who kills who," yelled the water tribe youth, charging Azula with his sword. The Imperial Guards instantly stepped in his way, letting loose a powerful blast of fire.
"Sokka!" cried out Suki as she tried to fight her way to his side, quickly finding her way blocked by Imperial Guards as well. To her relief, she saw Sokka emerge from behind his shield, only slightly singed. Two more guards were moving in to flank him however. Determined to go down fighting, she pulled out her fans and went into fighting stance. "You'll never take us alive Azula!"
"Have it you way," sighed Azula wistfully as Sokka and Suki began their desperate battles. "How about you bender? Are you going to throw your life away like your foolish brother?"
Katara watched the scene unfold before her with a sense of hopeless horror, conflicting emotions roiling inside her. She desperately didn't want her brother and friend killed, but without her water bending Katara felt powerless to turn the tide of this hopeless battle. She wanted to call out, beg Sokka to sheath his sword, but she knew he was to gone with pride and rage to listen. She understood only to well how he felt. For the sake of her own pride, Katara wanted to resume the battle beside her comrades, especially after seeing Suki's courageous determination to fight rather than meekly surrender. It made her feel like a coward for fearing the death that Azula seemed all to willing to deal upon those who resisted her. Swallowing her pride, Katara tried to make her way toward Sokka to quell his fury. "Sokka! Stop fighting! Even if we surrender now, Aang and the others can still defeat the Fire Lord!"
"Speaking of which, as much as I'd like to stay and play, I'm needed at the real battle. And with you out of the way, this time when I kill the Avatar, he'll stay dead," taunted Azula over her shoulder as she began to leave.
As she struggled to get past the guards between her and Sokka, an image of Aang's lifeless form flashed before Katara's eyes. His fragile body falling back to earth after Azula ruthlessly struck him down with her lightning. The smell of burnt flesh as she cradled his limp body in the crystal caverns underneath Ba Sing Se. The fear and sadness that she might never see his childlike smile again. Those memories that plagued her nightmares were suddenly dispelled by the smell of burning flesh in the present. Sokka screamed in pain as one of the guard's flames got past his defense, searing his leg. Never again! Thought Katara darkly, rage overtaking her.
There has to be some way to get enough water to work with, thought Katara desperately. She remembered when she and Toph had been thrown in the wood cell, she'd worked up enough sweat to bend her way out. There wasn't time for that though, and it wouldn't be enough water to fight with. "What an inferior form of bending that requires external materials."! That was it! Living things contained not just the energy of fire, but the water of life as well. Hama had taught her that. Her blood bending worked by bending the water inside humans. There wasn't a full moon out, so she wouldn't have the power to pull off something as elegantly fine tuned as that forbidden art, something with more brute force however… without stopping to think, Katara reached down into the inky depths that were the vast ocean of her water bending talent.
In those dark depths she could feel her rage bubbling up, like the great Sea Serpents of old that Grandmother used to tell tales of. She let that rage coil through her blood, until all the water in her body was simmering with her bending energy. Once it reached the boiling over point she struck out with her energy, feeling for the water inside the two soldiers trying to restrain her. And then she felt it, her chi wrapping itself around the water inside the guards. "AZULA!"
Azula started with surprise as she heard Katara call her out with a soul piercing battle cry. Immediately it was followed by two blood curling screams. "What-!" exclaimed Azula as she spun around, only to get struck full force by a torrent of water. "Im-impossible!" sputtered a soaked Azula as she rolled back to her feet, narrowly avoiding Katara's follow up strike, which whipped around the room, throwing the rest of the Imperial Guard up against the walls. "Where did you get that wa- *urk* !" For once Azula found herself speechless as she saw the desiccated remains of her men, their shriveled hands reaching out as if to try and grasp back the life sustaining water that had been forcibly ripped from them.
"Fire's not the only element inside the body Azula," remarked Katara icily as she gathered the mass of water back to herself in a raging ring. Several of the Imperial Guard attempted to breach it with all the fire they could muster, but Katara's easily doused their attacks, and with a quick flourish of her hands stripped the water out of two more of the guards. A strangled scream escaped their parched lips, quickly being choked off into a wheezing rasp. "Nor apparently the most abundant," noted Katara as she added the still warm liquid to the raging river around her, which pulsed outward as it hungrily grew toward her foes. "I'll make sure you never harm anyone important to me ever again Azula!"
Now it was Azula's turn to watch in horror as her guard's shriveled remains collapsed to the floor. Involuntarily she found herself taking a step back as Katara advanced menacingly on her. What kind of monster is she?! A few of her guards fled, screaming in terror at the horrific power Katara had unleashed. Azula made a note of who the cowards were so she could suitably punish them when this was all over. The majority of those still able to stand proved her judgment had been sound in choosing them, by moving between their Princess and the advancing blue clad angel of death. "Princess Azula! Please go to your Father's side! We'll hold her off as long as we can!"
Seeing her men's bravery, Azula quickly regained her regal composure. "Fools, you don't stand a chance against her! Your deaths will just make her water stronger! Get out of here while you can, only my bending is strong enough to resist hers!"
"GO!" Ordered Azula with finality as she leapt over her guards and unleashed a barrage of flame punches at Katara from the air and above her ring of water. Katara simply spread her water out into a globe, Azula's attacks turning into harmless steam as they struck against it.
I need to finish this quickly before she can get hold of my water, thought Azula as she landed, ducking as Katara's counterattack whipped overhead. "Tylee! She's open!"
Glancing behind her, Katara prepared to smite the traitor. Her opening created, Azula prepared to quickly strike. She wouldn't have time to generate lightning, but a well placed flame bolt would be enough to leave the water bender open. "Eye's front Katara!" shouted Sokka in warning.
Realizing too late she'd been tricked, Katara had no time to dodge as Azula fired off a narrow bolt above her ring of water. The water bender cried out in pain as the bolt struck her shoulder. Her ring of water collapsing with a great splash, Katara stumbled back and fell to the floor.
Azula charged in to take out the water bender before she could recover. Katara knew however that she could expect no respite from the ruthless Fire Princess and forced herself to ignore the pain and raise her head, locking her angry gaze upon her enemy. Azula's charge came to a full stop as she felt Katara's chi invade her body, seizing the water inside her.
Eyes narrowing, a slight smirk crossing her lips, Katara raised her good arm as she spread her bending energy along Azula's meridians, ready to force every last drop of water out in one quick attack. "Get her Katara!" cheered Sokka from the sidelines. Suki looked on more with apprehension however. She'd fantasized many a time of taking revenge against Azula, but was finding herself taken aback and slightly disturbed, on a gut level, by the sheer viciousness of Katara's power. Looking at the transfixed expressions of horror left on the faces of the nearby shriveled corpses, Suki wondered if they'd suffered before dying. To her surprise, she found her self feeling a little pity for Azula. Let it end quickly.
It didn't. Katara's hand came to a stop and started shaking two thirds of the way up before she could complete her strike. What's wrong? grunted Katara as she hit an unexpected block within Azula's energy pathways. Her main chi had been spiraling up the Sushumna nadis around Azula's spine, but something was wrong with the fourth chakra.
At first Katara thought it wasn't even there, she couldn't detect the slightest signature whirling or flowing of energy that was supposed to permeate all chakras. But no, it's gate was just closed so tightly as to be virtually undetectable. To take full control of the water inside Azula, she needed to also take full control of all of Azula's meridians. As a healer, Katara had often needed to open up congested energy pathways to help direct the bodies healing chi to the site of injury. She'd never come across anything like the blockage in Azula's heart chakra however. Still, she should be able to use the same principle to force it open so her chi could flow through and take over the rest of Azula's Sushumna channel.
Eyes locked with Katara, Azula gritted her teeth as she attempted to marshal her own chi against the foreign bending energy violating her very core. Expecting the battle to be entirely internal, the fire bender was caught off guard when Katara sprang forward, forcefully placing a watery palm over Azula's chest. The Fire Princess gasped as Katara rammed the bulk of her chi into the fourth charka. At first there was some resistant, but Katara pushed forward relentlessly. Azula broke out in a cold sweat. It felt like her heart was being pierced by a thousand shafts of light. And then all at once Katara broke through, leaving Azula feeling as if her heart had been torn open.
Get out of me! Azula acutely felt Katara's chi snaking it's way through the rest of her body. She knew it was only a matter of moments before that energy would shoot out every pore in her body, taking with it all her water. I won't die so shamefully! Just as the energy of heat grew weaker the farther from the flame, surely a person's chi must get weaker the further it reached from the body. Since our chi is fighting inside my body, that means mine is at it's strongest while hers is weaker! I'm the stronger!
"GET OUT OF ME!" screamed Azula as she shoved the water bender away from her, also forcing Katara's bending out with her own indomitable will and prodigious bending talent. Katara fell again, stunned by the sheer force of Azula's will. It felt like she'd been mentally slapped all the way through to her soul. Uncharacteristically, the Fire Princess was in no shape to capitalize on her enemies vulnerability. "What… what did you do to me?!" panted Azula as she clutched at her still aching heart, trying to get it's breakneck erratic beat to slow.
Something felt very wrong to Azula. She tried to calm herself, to don her customary inner zen of emotional neutrality which allowed her to always be coolly in control. But that damn water witch had broken something inside of her. Instead of being able to kill these feelings of panic, fear, disgust, and bury them away, they kept flowing through her, growing more intense. Disoriented, it felt like the room was warping around her, or was it her insides warping around the room? I think I'm going to be sick, thought Azula as she stumbled back, covering her mouth with her other hand as she tried to force down the nausea welling up in her and control the hyperventilation taking over her lungs.
She failed miserably, her breathing becoming more shallow and frantic. Azula's insides felt feverish, but she was shivering from the cold sweat which had drenched her entire body. Collapsing to all fours, Azula vomited water, trying to expel the lingering feeling of Katara's energy contaminating her. Perhaps it was a trick of her fevered brain, but Azula swore she could taste Katara in the water in her mouth. Vomiting water again in revulsion, the Fire Princesses tear ducts involuntary opened up as her body's purge reaction went into overdrive "Get it out!" ordered Azula, trying to keep it from sounding like a plea.
Azula wasn't the only one feeling off kilter by the lingering feeling of a rivals chi. Blinking, Katara tried to clear the after image left by Azula's Will when it had slapped her out of her battle rage. She was disturbed at the image of herself as she'd appeared from the Fire Princesses eyes, as a monstrous violator and killer. What am I, I mean what is she thinking?! She's the monster! Yet Katara couldn't deny the feelings and sensations she'd seen reflected in Azula's soul, the stark terror the normally unshakable Fire Princess had felt staring down the horrific death Katara herself had tried to inflict. D-does it really feel that awful to have someone try and bend your insides out? thought Katara as she looked at the desiccated guards she'd slain, starting to feel a little queasy.
And yet for all that fear and pain she'd felt, Azula's determination had been even stronger still. Katara couldn't help but feel a sense of awe and grudging admiration at the glimpse she'd caught of Azula's soul when their chi clashed; how truly strong was the proud fiery confidence at her core that had refused be extinguished by Katara's onslaught of her very being. To her surprise, Katara found her self asking, "Ar-are you all right Azula?" as she reached out toward the tear streaked fire bender.
"Do I look blazing all right?!" snarled Azula as she slapped away Katara's hand. Azula was starting to feel a little better however, as evidenced by her quickly scrambling away from her nemesis. "You should have finished me off when you had the chance Water Witch," stated Azula as she backed toward the exit warily, not taking her eyes off Katara.
"You're not getting away that easily!" yelled Suki as she drew her blade and headed off the weakened Fire Princess escape route.
Seeing Azula stumble as another dizzy spell apparently gripped her, the Kyoshi Warrior put everything into one thrust. Having fooled Suki into over committing to her strike, Azula stepped around the sword thrust and in low toward Suki. Using the Kyoshi Warrior's own momentum against her, Azula grabbed Suki and tossed her into a wall across the room. "Even at a fraction of my strength, you're still no match for me Suki dear."
Suddenly the sound of distant explosion went off, and the whole palace began to shake. Azula looked off into the distance, her face a mixture of annoyance and concern. "Water Witch, we'll settle the score soon at the final battle, which by the sound of things has already begun. If you intend to protect the Avatar, don't be late." Azula took one last backward glance at her rival, then took off for her Father's throne room.
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Geeky A/N: Udine's Harvest, XUB. Instant. Bury target creature with converted mana cost of X. You may put a +1/+1 counter on Katara the Water Witch. "Fire's not the only element in the body Azula. Nor apparently the most abundant."