Hey, everyone. Thanks so much for visiting my story. This is my first-ever, so please enjoy. Criticism is accepted, in fact-- nearly asked for. I'll take all into consideration to make this as best as it can possibly account to. (:
Chapter One: Fortunes
It was a bright, sun-dipped morning. It was early, so the pinks and pastel oranges and yellows were still being lightly brushed into the sky. The rushing creek was soft and stirring and there were few birds awake and chirping happily.
Zuko, as usual, was the first to rise. He felt comfort in waking up along with the sun, even if it meant he'd be awake alone for the first few hours. Even on Sokka's tight schedule, sometimes this early in the morning was too early. It was alright with Zuko, though. He never expected anyone else to join him, and he certainly didn't mind spending time alone to think. Alone was his favorite time of day.
Zuko grunted as he stretched silently then quickly sprouted up. He drifted past Aang and Sokka and Appa and Momo. Toph, who when he first became a part of the group, always woke up alert each time he passed her, but now she was used to Zuko walking around this early in the morning. The way she thought of it now was, if she didn't hear him up and about this early, then something must be wrong. But sticking to tradition, he walked past her, and she ignored the vibrations of his light footsteps.
Zuko cautiously dipped his feet into the cool water of the creek. He watched fish obsessively swim away from him, and although hungry, didn't bother with them. Something felt different to him this morning.
Something felt wrong.
There was a crack behind the bushes. Leaves brushed together and Zuko stood up vigilantly. He prepared himself for battle and took a few steps back towards the rest of the sleeping group in protection mode. He was fairly surprised Toph hadn't noticed or risen yet, but if there was a battle about to break out, he didn't have time to think about where Toph was or what she should be doing.
A clumsy Katara with a flushed face fell out of the bushes. She quickly scrambled to her feet and regained composure, hoping her face wasn't too red. Zuko disarmed himself with a confused look on his face.
"Sorry!" She tripped again, making her way through the shallow creek over to Zuko. Zuko waited there quietly and watched her come closer and closer towards him. "Sorry," she repeated, "I didn't mean to startle you."
"It looks more like I startled you," Zuko replied suspiciously.
"So, what are you doing up this early?" She ignored his statement, brushing the dirt off her skirt.
"I always get up this early, Katara. Besides, I should be the one asking the questions here, not you." He reported. She looked away as if she were hiding something. "What have you been up to, Katara?" He asked in demand. She grumbled a little, as if she were trying not to give a secret away. Zuko huffed. "Katara," he began impatiently.
"I found this town." She began quickly, as if she were impatient with her own mouths inability to keep up with the pace of her thoughts. He raised his eyebrows. "It's beautiful. And gigantic. Last night when we stopped to look at the local map to see where the best campsite would be, I saw it. I was interested. I tried getting Sokka to come, but he just started complaining and told me not to bother trying to ruin his timing schedule. So I woke up early to go see how far away the town is from here; its only about a fifteen minute walk." She informed him. "Its so interesting and exciting. Everyone there is so friendly and there wasn't a fire bender in sight! No offense though because not all fire benders are bad--" she ranted. Zuko put his hand out motioning her to stop.
"Lets go!" Zuko looked back at the others sleeping. "Please?" Katara pressed on. "Its amazing! Everything imaginable is there! You'll love it!"
"I don't love anything. And I don't think this is a good idea, at least not without the others. Lets just wait until they wake up."
"But they'll be sleeping for another three or four hours! Well miss all the good parts of the town in the morning. All the best fruits and fish, all the hustle and bustle-"
"And you like hundreds of random people pushing you and shoving you and trying to out-bet you for a lousy piece of fish?" Zuko asked, curtailing her dreamy explanation.
Katara shrugged. "Usually, no. But for some reason today, well, something just feels right."
'Not exactly what I was thinking.' He crossed his arms and took one last glace at the group. "Fine," Kataras face lit up with a smile, "but only for a little while."
"You know, this'll be fun; just you and I spending some quality time together," Katara sighed. "Right Zuko? Zuko?" Katara stopped and turned around. "Zuko?"
"What?" She spun around again. "Why are we stopping?"
"How did you get in front of me? And were you even listening to me?"
"I walked. And no." Zuko began walking again, and Katara quickly followed after, trying to catch up, but never seeming to be able to.
Soon enough the two came to a big wooden gate leading into the market. There were rows of stands that went straight to the docks and the harbor. Katara's eyes lit up seeing all the people and merchants and trinkets and exotic foods.
"Where to first?" Katara asked happily. She didn't bother for a response, which is good because Zuko wasn't going to give her one, but just kept walking down an aisle of shops and stands. Zuko reluctantly followed. He silently watched from two feet behind as Katara boggled at every necklace and bracelet, and sampled each kind of fruit she could find. Each time someone passed Zuko and bumped his shoulder or his back, he had to retain from spinning around and giving that unlucky jerk a piece of his mind. But he figured it would only look bad on his behalf, as if bumping and shoving were a term of endearment here. In the Fire Nation if someone bumped into another person, there was a big possiblity a riot would break out.
"Do you want some?" Katara offered after taking a sip of sweet tea. Zuko curiously took a small drink, only to spit it out right in front of the old tea maker. He didn't look too pleased to see his livelihood be spat into the dirt. Katara snatched the cup back and gave it back to the old man. She softly apologized and thanked him for the free taste. She tightly pulled Zuko's arm away.
"What is wrong with you?" She muttered through her gritted teeth.
"It was terrible! I wasnt going to swallow it!"
"I know that! But the polite thing would be to have pretended to like it like I did! I thought a Prince would know that." She replied sharply. Zuko snatched his arm free of her grip.
"No, a Prince would realize the finer things in life are never found in a poor peasants marketplace."
"Why did you even come if that's the way you feel?"
"You asked me to come with you. That's being polite."
"No, that's being dishonest." Katara retorted. She glared at him, and he glared back.
"You lied to that man and told him his tea was good," Zuko confirmed. Katara scoffed. "You were just as dishonest as I was."
"I didn't tell him I liked it, but I certainly didn't tell him the tea was bad, either. I said nothing but thank you to him."
"But you hated the tea and actions speak louder than words, Ms. Goody Two Shoes." He said coolly. He stopped walking and crossed his arms gruffly. She stopped walking as well and stared at the Prince angrily.
"This isn't about the tea! You're always so kind and generous and polite with the others around, and yet here, with me, alone, you're not! You're bitter."
"Just like that tea," he spat. She glowered at him. "I need my alone time with the sun in the mornings. You've disturbed that."
She snorted. "Sorry!" She replied sarcastically. "Then go back! Go back to the camp site and sit by the creek and watch the water or the sun or whatever it is that you do that I've disrupted and wait until the others wake up. If you're going to be like this, then go away."
"Gladly." Zuko turned his back to her and walked away.
Zuko shoved through the crowds. 'Why did I do that?' he asked himself. 'Shes right; normally, I would've just told the man I liked his tea, even if it did taste terrible.' He sighed. And looked forward. The next shop to pass was the tea shop.
"Hey," Zuko called for attention. The old man stopped dipping cups into the barrel of tea. He rudely frowned at Zuko then ignored him. "I'm sorry for spitting your tea out in front of you- or at all. It wasn't that bad." He attempted an apology while awkwardly scratching the back of his neck.
"You have insulted my entire family. We have made this tea for three generations." He replied with a husky voice.
"Me too." A soft voice came from behind Zuko. He turned around to find Katara standing there. "You were right. About me and the whole dishonest thing." He shrugged in a 'that's okay, Katara' way.
He turned away from her, hesitated, then turned back. "Do I-"
"Have to go back to camp?" She finished his question. She smiled. "Not if you dont want to." Zuko smiled sweetly back. "C'mon." She pulled his wrist and they began walked together.
The more shops they passed, the higher the sun got in the sky and the better Zuko's mood was. He began tasting some tropical fruits, he was patient when Katara stopped to gaze at necklaces and water bending scrolls, but he reminded himself not to try any more drinks...especially teas. Katara did the same. But each time someone rudely bumped into Zuko, he still had half a mind to turn around and yell at them. The thought of chaos ensuing in the Fire Nation for something as little as a shoulder bump took the edge off of Zuko's frustration, but not enough.
"Hey, look at that." Zuko pointed to a small building. I was a small distance from the rest of the shops and that's why it stood out. It was painted a dark reddish brown color and had vines of ivy dancing up onto the roof. "What do you think that is?"
"It looks like a fortune tellers home. I've been to one. She was excellent."
"Fortune teller?" Zuko chuckled in an insulting way. "You don't seriously believe all that mumbo jumbo, do you?" She shrugged.
"Let's go inside, its fun to at least try." She pried.
"I dont know about this. My uncle said fortune tellers can just be after money or personal enjoyment from others unpleasantness."
"Too bad." Finally, by force, she got Zuko through the door. A small old lady was drinking some tea. She was dressed in silky, colorful robes with some sort of bright yellow and purple flower on them. She had bright red lips and deep laugh lines. Her fingers were crowded with rings and her neck with bronze charms. There were two empty pillows in front of the tea table. As if she were expecting company.
"Hello, there." Katara said in a fakely nice voice. "I'm Katara, this is Zuko." She pointed to the angst-filled black haired boy leaning against the door as if he were signaling to Katara that he wants to leave. She ignored that ever so obvious signal.
"Sit down, my dears." Her old lady voice was soft, but also crinkly as if she had something stuck in her throat. "Tea? It's the finest of the land," she reported proudly. Katara nodded kindly. Zuko rolled his eyes. 'Does she not realize weve already learned our lesson on honesty and tea today?' He remarked to himself. "Young man?" He popped out of his thoughts. "Tea?" He shook his head.
"This tea is amazing!" Katara gulped the tea down.
"Suck up," Zuko whispered to her. She jabbed him in the gut and he let out a grunt. The old woman smiled, pretending she hadn't heard his whispers.
"So," Katara began nonchalantly, "are you open for business this early in the morning?"
The old woman laughed. "It's never too early for a fortune!" Katara laughed weakly and politely. Zuko loudly coughed at her fake politeness. She jabbed him in the gut again. He didn't bother grunting. He just gave her a cross look.
"So which one of you would like to go first?" The woman asked. Katara raised her hand with a grin on her face. The old woman nodded and slowly stood up.
"I'll go set up. You wait here and I'll call you in." She instructed before she turned down a hall and left Zuko and Katara in the main room alone.
"Great, now's our chance to leave." Zuko said in a hushed voice.
"Zuko, it's fine. Shes a kind old woman who reads oracle bones."
"Oracle bones are dangerous and do not talk about her as if she were your best friend. You have no idea if she's friendly and kind or not." He protested.
"It's fine," she assured. "And oracle bones aren't dangerous."
"No it's not and yes they are. Something feels wrong." He didnt sound so assured.
"Too bad," she replied quietly.
"Fine. I'm going in with you, though."
"I don't think she'll allow it." Katara replied.
"But she's so kind, how could she say no?" Zuko said sarcastically. Katara gave him an annoyed expression. She hated when people twisted her words around into something different. "I'm doing you a favor."
"Oh, thanks." She returned the sarcasm.
"You may come back now." The old woman said loudly from around the corner. Katara and Zuko both stood up. Katara tried pushing the Prince down and away, but he didn't budge. He grabbed her wrist and dragged her down the hall.
"This is what you wanted," he whispered. He reached the doorway where the old woman was standing.
"Oh, one at a time, please." She said with a smile.
Zuko ignored her. "After the ladies, of course." Katara led him in with one last evil glare. Somehow, Zuko seemed satisfied and pleased with this. The old woman, realizing Zuko was going to be in the fortune telling room whether she wanted him to be or not, gave up and walked in. Zuko shut the door behind them.
The room was dark and there were three or four candles around a small, ashy bowl. There were a few bones in a smaller dish to the right of where the old woman sat down. The room smelled like spices and dust and Katara sat down across from the fortune teller with a feeling of claustrophobia. Zuko sat closely behind Katara. Normally she would've felt uncomfortable with this, but for some reason she didn't mind. It felt warm and protective. She was comfortable.
"So, do you know how oracle bone reading goes?" She asked the two teens. Katara nodded eagerly. Zuko did nothing and showed no emotion. But on the inside he was sensing a dark curiosity coming from the old woman. She stared back into Zuko's eyes for a few moments, trying to also show no emotion. Finally, she looked away. But Zuko kept his focus on her.
"Lets start, then." She routinely scratched two small incense-like sticks together until a fire started. Zuko scoffed at the mediocrity of the flame. Katara once again jabbed him, but the shock and pain wore off of Zuko. He would've been more surprised if she hadn't jabbed him. Transitionally the old lady added more small twigs until the fire was big enough for her likings. She sighed and placed a bone into the fire. The three watched as the bone cracked under the pressure of the fires heat. The old lady would gasp or pretend to be drawn aback while each crack formed.
"Good acting." Zuko ironically applauded her. The old woman didn't seem to hear her. Katara gave up on elbow jabs.
"Love is in the air, hmm?" The fortune teller started, as if she were asking Katara her own fortune.
"Oh, yes. A lot of love! And success!"
"And riches! And joy!" Zuko added with fake excitement. The old woman heard him this time.
"Young man, I'd like you to leave."
"Old woman, I'd like you to admit you have no idea what you're doing." He growled.
"Zuko!" Katara scolded. He leapt off the floor and grabbed Katara's arm and pulled her up too. "What are you doing?"
"This is a hoax. We're leaving." He pulled her towards the door. There was a flash and a swoosh. Before Zuko could even take a step towards the door the old woman was already blocking the way out.
"No you're not." She tested.
"Love? Success? She's telling you what everyone dreams of. That's not a fortune, that's a rip off." He told Katara, getting into fighting position. Katara, without a second thought, did the same. "What now? Do you want us to pay you or you won't let us leave?" He asked the old lady.
"She has love and success, you have toil and sadness. You are a very bitter young man and you are ungrateful and dishonorable! I knew you'd be trouble the instant you walked into my home."
"Oh, see. You didn't need a silly bone to tell you that, did you?" He punched a whip of fire at her. She put her hands up and in an instant, almost like magic, the fire was evaporated into the air. The smoke ventilated into the ceiling quickly.
"You're in my element, now."
"Who are you?" Katara demanded.
The old woman chuckled. "My name is Paymon. I am a fortune teller. A gypsy. And you're lucky I do not curse you for accusing me of a con artist."
Zuko and Katara backed up. Zuko protectively stood in Katara's path.
"I think maybe your uncle was right about them loving others misfortune." Katara whispered.
"I've learned he usually is right," Zuko whispered back.
"Now's no time for smugness, Zuko!" She disapproved.
"Trust me, I wasn't being smug."
"Quiet!" Paymon ordered. Zuko and Katara returned to combat position. "Fighting isn't worth it. I shall curse you for your own good!"
"How can cursing us be for our own well-being?" Zuko asked Katara rhetorically.
"It'll teach you a lesson about honesty!" She yelled.
"We've learned enough honesty lessons for one day, and it's only about seven in the morning." Katara said into Zuko's ear. He nodded in reply, not really listening to what she had said.
The old woman Paymon began rambling in another language. She threw her hands up and down and spun around twice. She pointed at Zuko and Katara as she finished her curse and they both fell to the ground as if their legs were paralyzed.
"This room shall be a lonely asylum for the two of you. Learn to be honest with each other or you'll be trapped in here forever!" She screamed. "Now sleep!" Katara and Zuko's eyes fell instantly and they swung into exhaustion.
The last thing Katara heard was a faint laughter.
Well, there you have it, the first chapter!
I hope you enjoyed!
Please review! (:
**Paymon means demon(: