Spirit World Shenanigans Part One- A familiar face
A few minutes later they were sitting in a triangle, underneath the arch that Zuko had found at their arrival to the western temple.
"When we all cross over, I'll contact Roku and ask where we can find Loki," Aang told them and the other two benders nodded in agreement.
They all simultaneously took deep breaths.
Aang was first to cross over, Katara knew this because she peaked every few moments, wondering what she was doing wrong.
"You have to concentrate," Zuko told her with his eyes still closed tight. All the tension seemed to be gone from his brow.
"I am!" she snapped, then closed her mouth, as her shout had reverberated across the large room and made her feel slightly foolish.
Opening his eyes he scooted closer to Katara, placing her hands in his, with their palms facing upwards.
"Feel the energy leaving your body through your hands; as a firebender, they are your most important tools."
Katara took another deep breath, concentrating on her hands, though it was hard to ignore how her own palms still rested in his. Still, things began to grow exponentially darker. She felt a gentle brush of a hand on her cheek, and when she opened her eyes again, she was in the spirit world.
"I think you were the key all along," Zuko said quietly at her side.
"Huh?" Katara gave him a puzzled expression, and then turned to look for Aang.
"What took you guys so long?" he asked as he approached from a small bush behind them.
"Sorry," Katara said gritting her teeth. "Some of us aren't expert spirit travelers, or the Avatar," she was a little short with him, but honestly, what was he trying to get at?
"Right," Aang said, placing a hand behind his head and looking away.
"How do we find Avatar Roku?" Zuko asked to break the tension. They all jumped when the spirit rose from the swampy water and stood before them.
"Hello Aang," he said and bowed to his reincarnation. "And you brought friends, quite unorthodox."
"We kind of have a problem," Aang began, and then proceeded to tell Zuko and Katara's story, with surprising accuracy. He made Loki's trick seem more like a tragic mistake then a sadistic joke. "We were hoping that you could help us change them back, or at least point us in the right direction."
"I truly would like to help, but the gods are on a totally different realm, then the once spirits of man," Roku gave a small frown. "I know of Loki, he is one of the older gods, and he often frequents this swamp, some spirits say he has a home here, because he made this place when time first began."
"Where is his home?" Katara asked, finding her voice.
"I'm afraid it's hidden," Roku told them, he looked at them closely, his eyes settling on Aang. "But there is one that knows the location."
"Ah, come one Roku," Aang said slapping his forehead. "It's Ko isn't it?"
"Yes, young Avatar."
"That's just great," Aang turned to them with a despairing expression. "Katara, did I ever tell you of that creepy centipede I had to trick to learn the whereabouts of Tui and La?"
"The thing that steals faces," Katara whispered and covered her mouth in horror.
"What?" Zuko asked in alarm.
"Ko is one of Loki's children," Roku spoke up. "I imagine that if his father has laid claimed to your fates," he motioned to Zuko and Katara. "Ko will not attempt to take your souls or faces."
"That's just great," Katara said sarcastically. "Of course the creepy face stealing monster is the spawn of Loki."
"How do we find Ko?" Zuko asked his great-grandfather.
"Aang, do you remember the way?" the old avatar asked the younger.
"Yes," he groaned.
Minutes later, if time was actually measured in the Spirit World, they stood before the ancient winding tree that opened into a wide cave. Zuko got all sorts of bad feelings about entering that dark cavern, but Aang simply led them ahead, stopping abruptly at the mouth of the cave.
"You can't show any emotion," he looked back and forth between the two benders. "None, that's how he steals your face."
Katara and Zuko both took deep breaths and nodded. "Let's go," they said in unison.
They barely entered the cave when the creature stepped around them, circling like a vulture for a feast.
"Well hello again Avatar," his voice was calm, as it was before.
"Hello Spirit Ko," Aang said just as calm. Katara was impressed on how well he kept his cool. "We were hoping you could offer us some directions."
"Yes, yes," he said hurriedly, examining Katara and Zuko closely. "But you must introduce me to your friends. They have such interesting faces."
Zuko touched his scar out of habit, but remained silent.
"This is Prince Zuko, of the Firenation, and Katara, of the Southern Watertribe," Aang motioned to them, both benders bowed in respect.
Ko had settled in front of Zuko. "He doesn't look like a son of Agni," he circled Zuko again. "More like a child of Tui."
"That has to do with our inquiry," Aang continued. "A god switched the bending of my two friends. I believe you know him. Loki."
The Spirit looked truly disappointed at that.
"Yes, that sounds like some of my father's tricks. He loves coming across Mortal's in the spirit world just as much as I do."
"We needed to find his home in the Spirit Swamp, to ask him to change them back," Aang said in an even tone. "These are my bending teachers and I need to train before I confront the Firelord in a matter of weeks."
Zuko looked the Avatar over, taking time away from the large centipede.
"I see," Ko began, easing back over to Aang. "Are you nervous, Avatar? I would still like to add that lovely face of yours to my collection, even if your friends are off limits."
"Why are we off limits?" Katara found her voice, feeling a small sense of relief.
"Because, mortal, it is sort of a rule between gods and spirits. We don't step on one another's toes," The masked face, switched back and forth, between a young girl and an elderly woman, perhaps a grandmother and granddaughter. "As my father has already laid claim to your fates, I cannot touch you, mores the pity, I really admire that scar of yours," he added to Zuko, who took the opportunity to frown.
"Will you tell us where to find him, so that he can take back his gift?" Aang asked, slightly relieved, that at least his friends were safe.
"I will," Ko said as he turned away. He pulled his long body completely away to clear a large space in the dirt, where the light from the mouth of the cave fell. "Distance and time have no meaning here, but you must imagine this small hill, its center dips down and my father resides in a small hut at the bottom. I caution you though, young souls, he will not be pleased that you are unappreciative of his gift."
Katara sighed loudly, "We'll try to remember that."
"Well, if that's everything, I guess we should be going…" Aang trailed off towards the mouth of the cave.
"One more thing," Zuko said quietly, turning back to the spirit, it had taken the face of a beautiful Firenation woman, with long brown hair, pale skin, and eyes of burning embers. "Can you tell me where to find Itom?"
"He rests in the swamp; my father would know exactly where to find him. He was unwilling to tell you before?"
"Then he must really like the two of you," Ko smiled through the young woman's face. Katara turned to glance at him curiously. "To let you live after you asked such a personal question."
"How is that personal?" Katara spoke up, making her way Zuko's side.
"Because he is who you seek on both accounts," Ko swayed, his movements a ghostly sort of dance that caused the hairs on their arms to raise.
"Huh?" Zuko raised a brow.
"When things first began the elder gods gave Loki a task, as the keeper of man," the centipede retreated into the darkness of the cave. "Don't you see? He is Itom."
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