Katara awoke to the screaming of her people and the smell of burnt flesh.
Stumbling out of her father's compound, she recoiled in horror. Her entire village was on fire. Several men on Komodo Rhinos were lashing out at her fellow clansmen. The red paint against their pale skin marked the attackers as Ozai's men.
Suddenly, a tanned hand reached out and tugged her back into the shadows created by the compound. She turned around and stared into blue eyes.
"Yes, it's me baby girl." Her mother hugged her tightly before letting go, looking her daughter in the eyes, "Listen to me, Katara. I want you to run to Gran Gran's house as fast as you can and don't look back no matter what you hear. Understand?" Katara nodded, her heart pounding, and her mother held her close again.
"Sokka's already there. You'll be safe with him." Katara nodded her understanding to her mother.
Then mother and daughter screamed as a warrior from Ozai's clan fell dead before them.
"Darling, you must go now!" Kya whispered urgently into her daughter's ear. Katara wrapped her arms around her mother's neck.
"I love you, mom."
Kya smiled through her tears.
"I love you too," She wiped her tears away on her sleeve, "Now go!" Katara nodded and ran out of the shadows as fast as she could, never looking back.
She bit back a scream as a Komodo Rhino bolted in front of her, a fierce warrior atop it.
The man grinned wickedly, his flaming fist poised to deliver a death blow to the young waterbender.
Katara, being only twelve, didn't know much waterbending, but she knew enough.
She quickly formed a water whip from a nearby well and lashed out at the man.
The man swore loudly and clutched his face in pain.
Katara took off running again, as nimbly as one can in a thick parka, towards her Gran Gran's hut.
Breathless, she crashed against the door, banging and shrieking loudly. The door flew open and she stumbled into darkness. Momentarily blinded, she heard scrambling around and Sokka cursing softly.
When her eyes readjusted, she saw Sokka and Gran Gran piling the sparse furniture against the door.
When they finished, she felt Sokka fly at her.
"Katara! I'm so glad you're safe. Where are mom and dad?" Katara bit her lip anxiously.
"I don't know where dad is, but I saw mom about ten minutes ago. She told me to come here." Sokka's face scrunched in worry.
"I sure hope they're safe."
"Katara, Sokka. Let's go to the back room, away from the window." Their grandmother said softly.
Slowly, they went to the back of the hut and collapsed on their Gran Gran's furs. They had been attacked in the middle of the night and they wanted nothing more but to sleep and forget the world.
Wrapped in each other's arms, Katara and Sokka fell asleep to the sounds of screaming and death.
A dull banging on the door woke up the children. Katara shifted closer to Sokka as the kicking got louder. Gran Gran put a reassuring hand on Sokka's arm and tried not to let her fear seep through.
"Anybody alive in there?' a voice called out. Everybody broke into weary smiles.
"Yes. We're alive." Gran Gran called wearily.
"Hold on. We'll get you out." The threesome got up and moved towards the door, too tired to inform them they could get out themselves. Weary faces met the light as the door broke open.
Bato's blood streaked face greeted them. His face broke into a relieved smile.
"Sokka, Katara! Kanna! We were worried when you weren't in your father's compound." Kanna stepped closer.
"What happened out there, Bato?" Bato grew somber again.
"Come with us. Hakoda is calling an emergency council as we speak."
As they left the hut, they could hear the deep rumble of the drum as it called everyone together.
Katara gripped Sokka's hand tighter as they walked through the devastated village.
"The Spirits blessed us during this attack. We only lost three souls." Bato said bitterly.
"Three souls too many." Kanna whispered.
If Bato heard this, he made no note of it.
"We managed to drive the barbarians back. We captured two of them, however. Kuruk is currently interrogating them."
Katara flinched inwardly. She was a gentle creature, and did not wish harm on anyone, even if they were from the enemy clan.
"You're not going to kill them, are you?" Katara asked worriedly. Bato smiled softly at her.
"No, little one. We are more civilized than that." Katara smiled to no one in particular, and they walked in silence the rest of the way to the council room.
When they arrived, their father was already sitting on his tribal chief stand. Bato quietly slipped away to join him on his right side.
When they saw their father, Sokka and Katara rushed to him.
"Dad!" Sokka cried as they jumped on him, all their fears washing away. Hakoda enveloped them in a crushing embrace.
"I'm so glad you two are safe." He whispered into their ears. They remained like this for a few moments before breaking apart. Sokka stared at his father, and then looked around expectantly. Then he turned back.
"Dad…where's mom?" Hakoda's face broke and looked away.
"She was…she was killed in the attack." Katara stumbled backwards.
"W-what?" She cried.
A tear slipped down Hakoda's ashen face into his beard. Sokka and Katara were gently led back down to their grandmother, never taking their eyes off their father, as if he might be taken from them too. They sat still as stone, not feeling anything but a crushing sorrow.
They stared at the father as he stood up to speak.
"My fellow clansmen, last night we were attacked by the dishonorable Ozai." Murmurs of anger rippled through the crowd. Hakoda held up his hand and the crowd grew silent.
"We lost three honorable souls in this raid." Hakoda took a deep breath. It was tradition to name the fallen and honor them in front of the clan.
"We lost Nunka, Okonko, and Kya, my wife."
A few cries resounded through the room. Katara stared at her father, afraid that if she looked away, she would lose herself.
"This attack was uncalled for and obviously for the selfish gain of Ozai. This means two things. We can either declare war-"A few angry cries of approval rose up. They quickly fell silent as Hakoda opened his mouth again.
"Or Ozai will forfeit his eldest son to us for reparation." Hakoda waved forward a man standing against the wall in the back. A man named Sangok stepped forward into the shadowy light.
"If Ozai had to forfeit his son to us, it would greatly cripple them, as Ozai is getting old, and has not taken a wife since his first one died. It would be very hard to produce another heir." Hakoda nodded, taking in Sangok's words. Then Bato spoke.
"We captured some of Ozai's men. They could be sent back with a small party of our men as hostages to make Ozai behave. He cannot afford to risk any more of his men after last night…and neither can we. Our numbers have never been big to begin with." Hakoda took in these words, then stood up.
"So, it is decided. Ozai will forfeit his eldest son to us. Although, we will need some men to go." It grew silent, and then Sangok stepped forward.
"I will go." Hakoda nodded, approval shining in his eyes. Several other men came forward.
Soon, a party of eight men stood before Hakoda. He stood up from his seat.
"You will leave tomorrow morning. May the spirits be with you." The men bowed and the council was dismissed. Hakoda sat down wearily in his seat, his face buried in his hands.
Katara, Sokka, and Kanna walked up to him, leaving behind them a trail of sorrow. The families of Nunka and Okonko stood in the corners of the room as well, grieving with one another.
Kanna lifted her son up and helped to lead him away, Katara and Sokka following behind them. Then, the families of Nunka and Okonko fell in step behind them.
As they walked out of the council room, the wails of mourning began.
When Katara had turned seven, a young child had gotten lost and froze to death in the wasteland. She had been kept up all night by the wailings of his mourning family. She had slept with her parents that night, never knowing she would one day have to wail like that.
Now, following behind her father, Katara felt a cry bubble up in her throat. No wailing came out, but instead, a soft whimper. She clutched the necklace at her throat, grateful for the small piece of her mother she had left.
A cold wind suddenly blew past her and she looked up to the sky. There, in the dancing lights across the sky, she could have sworn she saw her mother's face, smiling at her.
A strange peace suddenly filled her chest. Katara smiled to herself, and she knew, she knew she would see her mother again.