Holy...I just realized this story has passed the 600 review mark...
Wow...I'm speechless. I look back and realize 'I didn't think this story would get this popular' I'm glad a lot of people love this story! :D And if I never replied to your reviews, sorry! It's hard to keep track of them, now because so many people review for this story ;3; Thank you all for being amazing and I love all your faces!
By the way, I made an ask blog for Akemi! Feel free to stop by and ask her questions until 1/3/13:
ask-akemi-avatar -dot- tumblr -dot- com
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender 3:
When they returned to the inn, Sokka seemed bugged about what Hama had said earlier. "That Hama seems a little strange, like she knows something. Or she's hiding something." He commented while putting a basket of vegetables down on the counter in the kitchen. Akemi turned her head in Sokka's general direction as she walked in with Aang and Toph, carrying her share of groceries.
"For once, Sokka, I agree with you." Akemi placed her basket on the counter, sighing in relief. "I don't know why, but I believe that Hama is giving me the cold shoulder; she keeps on staring at me, sometimes."
Katara raised a brow, obviously thinking that they were being melodramatic about Hama's mannerisms. "That's ridiculous. She's a nice woman who took us in and gave us a place to stay; she kinda reminds me of Gran-Gran." She replied as she unloaded the goods from the basket she carried.
"But what did she mean by that comment 'mysterious children'?"
Katara rolled her eyes. "Gee, I don't know! Maybe because she found five strange kids camping in the woods at night?" She placed her hands on her hips, staring at him in disbelief that he was accusing the woman of strange behavior even after she took them in out of her generosity. "Isn't that a little mysterious?"
Sokka's placed a hand on his chin as he took in her retort while absorbing the odd quirks about Hama, but he didn't seem convinced that Hama was all-that normal. He walked towards the other room of the inn. "I'm gonna take a look around." He started searching around the inn, and he started climbing the stairs he came across. Everyone followed, but Katara was not happy about it, naturally.
"SOKKA! Sokka, what are you doing? You can't just snoop around someone's house!" Katara chided in disbelief at her brother's antics.
"It'll be fine!" He reassured as he peered in another room.
"She could be home any minute!" Aang also added, nervous. He was already dreading the thought of Hama coming back to find them inspecting her home.
"Sokka, you're gonna get us all in trouble! And this is just plain RUDE!"
"I'm not finished, yet!" Sokka grasped the handlebars of a cupboard and tried opening it. It seemed stuck. "Come on!" He yanked the doors open, and puppets attatched to strings fell out of the cupboard. Everyone freaked while Sokka drew his sword in defense, falling down against the wall.
"O-Okay, that's pretty creepy!" Aang stuttered recovering from a near-heart attack.
Akemi's hand was over her heart and she was panting heavily from the fright. "Geez!"
Katara was the first to recover. "So...she's got a hobby! There's nothing weird about that!" She closed the cupboard and realized Sokka was still moving forward. She let out a frustrated grunt and strode after him. "Sokka, you've looked enough! Hama will be back, soon!"Sokka wasn't finished snooping. Once going upstairs, he tried opening a door that turned out to be locked. Akemi was starting to get nervous herself; Hama already gave her the creeps somewhat, and she didn't want to know what would happen if they got caught snooping around.
"Just an ordinary puppet-loving innkeeper, huh?" Sokka released the doorknob and huffed. "Then why does she have a locked door up here?" he questioned Katara accusingly, still not buying that Hama was not at all innocent as Katara claimed she was.
Katara furrowed her brow as she came up to his level. "Probably to keep people like you from snooping through her stuff!" She had a point, there.
"We'll see!" He looked through the keyhole and noticed a small box sitting in the middle of the room; questionable of all places to put it. "It's empty, except for a little chest!"
Toph jumped in at an opportune moment, "Maybe it's treasure!" Katara and Aang looked at Toph with a wearied look. Akemi stayed in the back, hand rubbing up against her arm nervously as she peered down the stairs to see if anyone heard them and was coming up.
"Sokka, we should just stop." Akemi spoke up.
"Not until I find out what's inside that box!" Sokka replied, taking out his sword and picking the lock with it. They were all surprised and nervous when the door opened with a small creaking sound. "We shouldn't be doing this!" Aang commented, looking as nervous as everyone else was(minus Toph, who was hard to read at the moment).
Sokka picked up the box and tried opening it, only to find out it was locked. He looked around the room. "Maybe there's a key here, somewhere!"
"Oh, hand it over!" Toph took the box from Sokka, earthbend her meteor bracelet in the shape of a key, and started to pick the lock with it. Akemi's hands twitched and she fiddled with her fingers apprehensively.
"Come on! Come on!"
"This isn't as easy as it looks!" Toph was having a hard time opening the box. Katara was peering over Toph's shoulder at a frantic pace, nervous but curious at what was in the box.
"Guys, I don't know about this..."
"This is crazy! I'm leaving!"
"Suit yourself. Do it, Toph!"
The lock suddenly made a click!
Everyone huddled and squeezed themselves around the box to get a peek inside until,
"I'll tell you what's in the box." A familiar ragged voice said from behind. Shoot. Hama caught them.
They turned and Hama stood there, surprised to see that Hama didn't look mad or infuriated at all or even yelling at them from invading her private property. Sokka held up the box to Hama, all of the adolescents bowed over in shame as Hama opened the box and took out the item they had so despereately wanted to see:
They all stared at Hama with questionable looks, who just smiled.
"An old comb?" Sokka asked in disbelief, thinking there would be something much more secret-worthy in a box. Like old knives or something like that, stained with dried up blood...
"It's my greatest treasure...it's the last thing I own from growing up from the Southern water tribe."
Of all people in the room, Sokka and Katara were the most shocked. They all stared at Hama with wide eyes. "You're from the Southern water tribe?" Katara gasped in total shock. Hama smiled warmly and replied, "Just like you."
"How did you know?"
"I heard you talking around your campfire." That sounded a little creepy to Akemi, considering they couldn't hear her around the campsite at the time.
"But...why didn't you tell us?"
"I wanted to surprise you! I bought all this food today so I could fix you a big watertribe dinner!" Hama responded, her warm smile never leaving her face. "Of course, I can't get all the ingredients I need here, but...ocean kumkwats are a lot like sea prunes if you stew them long enough!" Aang made a disgusted reaction to himself; obviously he doesn't like either ocean kumkwats or sea prunes. "Great..." he muttered half-heartedly.
Katara smiled. "I knew I felt a bond with you, right away!"
Sokka relaxed a little. "And, I knew you were keeping a secret, so I guess we're BOTH right!" He crossed his arms and gave a smug look in Katara's direction. He muttered 'ow' when Katara smacked him in the arm. Sokka rubbed his arm and sighed apologetically, "B-But...I'm sorry we were sneaking around..."
Hama closed her eyes upwards and nodded. "Apology accepted." She gestured them out of the room with a wrinkled hand. "Now, let's get cooking!"
Akemi felt that this woman was safe, enough. But still, she couldn't help but be on her toes around her for the rest of the evening.
That night everyone was situated at the table while Hama brought in a large bowl of the stew she had promised. The meal looked good, but Aang seemed to think otherwise. He glanced at kumkwats on the table and leaned over to Toph, whispering,
"I'd steer clear of the sea prunes."
"I thought they were ocean kumkwats."
Aang grimaced. "Close enough." Akemi, sitting next to Sokka at the other end of the table, blinked curiously at the prunes. She stared at the kumkwats and wondered if they were that bad, considering she's never tried them before. In fact, this was probably the first time she's ever had a Southern water tribe meal...
"Who wants five-flavor soup?" Hama asked, and everyone raised their hands.
Suddenly, Hama waterbent the soup out of the bowl and with the flick of her fingers, the soup landed in all their bowls with precision. Once again, Hama shocked them all, but Katara looked really ecstatic, without exaggeration. "You're a waterbender! I've never met another waterbender from our tribe!" Katara had every reason to be excited; she met another waterbender from the same tribe she was from, even though they were believed to be extinct.
Hama looked grim. "That's because the firenation wiped them all out...I was the last one." Katara looked sympathetic that moment. Akemi's eyes widened briefly. "So how did you end up out here?" Sokka asked cautiously, hoping not to stir too many bad memories from the poor old woman. Hama stared at them all, then lowered her head in remembrance,
"I was stolen from my home..."
She told her tragic story about how she had been taken from the watertribe many years ago before their time after so many other waterbenders had been taken after fighting so many battles against the firenation raids. Everyone at the table was moved by her story at the end, and none of them spoke up for a while.
Katara walked over and put both hands on Hama's shoulders comfortingly. "They had put us in terrible prisons here in the firenation...I was the only one who managed to escape." Hama finished, her mood dwindling even further.
Sokka straightened in his seat considerably. "How did you get away? And why did you stay in the firenation?"
Hama hesitated to answer for a moment, but she shook her head dejectedly. "I'm sorry-it's too painful to talk about it, anymore." her voice cracked a little as she responded. Akemi's hand that rested on the table altered from clenching to relaxing limply, and she bit her lip softly.
"We completely understand...we lost our mother in a raid." Katara told her and bowed her own head in remembrance. Hama gasped softly and patted Katara's hand. "Oh, you poor things!"
Everyone at the table seemed melancholic. Akemi turned her head to hide her face from everyone else, now feeling uncomfortable and out of place by just being there while they were talking about how the firenation had taken whatever they loved away. 'I wish I can say something to make them feel better, but what can I say? They're talking about the very nation that runs through my blood...' she thought and sighed to herself quietly.
Katara let out a small smile. "I can't tell what it means to meet you...it's an honor." she spoke. "You're a hero."
Hama smiled back. "I never thought I'd meet a southern waterbender. I'd like to teach you what I know so you can carry on the southern tradition when I'm gone."
Katara shot up and beamed. "YES! Yes, of course! To learn about my heritage-it would mean everything to me!" She bowed appreciatively with much eagerness, already excited about her first lesson from Hama. Akemi smiled at the somewhat reunion before it lowered back into a frown. She stared at her bowl before slowly standing up and saying, "I'm sorry, but I'm not hungry, tonight. Thank you for preparing the meal, though." Hama nodded in her direction and Akemi excused herself to her room.
As she walked down the hall, her frowned deepened more into one of melancholy and self-loathing. Her eyes narrowed while being focused on the ground in front of her as she continued to walk, her peripheral vision blurring. At some point she let her hand drag on the wall beside her, feeling the rough sandalwood on her fingertips as her feet dragged across the floor. Thinking back at the conversation at the dinner table, her head hung further and she clenched her teeth.
She suddenly paused her path and just leaned her forehead against the wall for a moment, suddenly feeling her breath coming out in restricted wheezing. Her sickness wasn't the main cause of it, even though it was making her feel light-headed, but it was the agonizing pain she felt from hearing Hama's story that was making her feel sick. Even though the lanterns in the hall shined brightly, her vision saw the halls dimming and getting darker before her.
A choked inhuman cry escaped her as she lightly banged her fist against the wall before she let out a small sob. Limply sliding down the wall, her shoulders shook as she let out a few more quiet sobbing, keeping it low so no one would have to hear them, tonight. As she lifted her tear-stained face up, she slid the door open to her room that was conveniently next to where she had collapsed and shut it firmly.
Her back against the wall, she slid and sat against it, letting a few more tears run down her face. After letting out a few more racks of sorrow, she wiped away the stray tears with her hand-then paused and stared at her hand for a moment. Her brows furrowed and she looked as if she was contemplating something. Then, she rolled up the sleeve of her gloves until her bare wrist was exposed. She leaned her head against the door behind her.
For a long time, she sat there, staring at her wrist.
That next morning, Hama had taken Katara out to teach her new waterbending techniques and history of her cultural heritage, most likely while the others had the afternoon to search the small village for clues on the mysterious disappearance of many villagers during the full moon. So far, they got nothing and were at a stump in the road.
Akemi sighed and placed a hand behind her head. Aang was next to her overlooking the small valley full of fertile evergreens and plantation and he shook his head in disbelief, wondering how such nature that was untampered with could've possibly angered any spirit. "This has gotta the nicest natural setting in the firenation...I don't see anything that would make a spirit mad around here." Aang commented, turning to get the other two's opinion on the matter.
Sokka was knelt on the ground next to Toph sniffing flowers. The blind earthbender shrugged. "Maybe the moon spirit just turned mean." She commented with recklessness, not knowing that the moon spirit had been Sokka's first love and he just so happened to be kneeling right into hearing range, so it's not a surprise that Sokka shot up and started shouting in protest.
"THE MOON SPIRIT IS A GENTLE, LOVING LADY! SHE RULES THE SKY WITH COMPASSION, AND...LUNAR GOODNESS!"
Aang stared at Sokka skeptically while Akemi rolled her eyes with a smile. Aang spotted a local villager walking by and quickly shuffled in his direction. "Excuse me, sir! Can you tell us anything about the spirit that's been stealing people?"
The man placed his hand on his chin thoughtfully. "Only one man ever saw it and lived...and that's old man Ding."
Toph tugged on the man's sleeve. "Where does old man Ding live?"
Sokka noticed Akemi rubbing her wrist. "You alright, there?" he asked her quietly. She looked over at him and nodded.
"Just fine, why?"
Sokka stared at her then his eyes trailed to her arm. "Let's get going, then. The sooner we find out about these disappearances, the better."
Akemi yawned tiredly and rubbed one of her eyes. She sighed exhaustingly and asked, "Can't we just ask this man tomorrow?"
Toph spoke up, "I don't think that's a good idea considering the full moon's tonight." Oh, right...Akemi had forgotten about that. They came to their destination to find an old man setting boards against his window, apparently preparing for the night against any potential danger.
"Old man Ding?" Aang asked. The man jumped and accidentally hammered his finger by accident. Akemi winced. "Ouch..." she muttered.
"G-Blemit-What? What do you want?" The old man asked them, already cranky by his throbbing thumb. "Can't you see I'm busy?" He turned from them. "Got a full moon rising...and why does everyone call me that? I'm not that old!" he muttered while bending over to pick up a plank. However, the plank didn't even budge an inch.
"Well...I'm young at heart." He grunted in defeat. Aang walked over and helped him pick up the board and set it against the window. "Not ready to get snapped up by some moon monster, yet, at least."
"Um..." Akemi muttered.
"We wanted to ask you about that." Sokka spoke up for her and picked up a hammer to nail in the board.
"Did you get a look at the spirit that took you?" Aang asked.
"Didn't see no spirit. Just felt something come over me, like I was...possessed. Forced me to start walking toward the mountain!" Old man Ding pointed toward the large mountain that loomed over the village. "I tried to fight it, but I couldn't control my own limbs!"
Akemi's eyes widened. Now, she was getting scared. "It just about had me into a cave, up there...and I looked up at the moon, for what I thought would be my last glimpse of light..." Sokka's knees were knocking in terror and Akemi had shrunk in her place, both already weary that that spirit would come out from around them and attack.
Old man Ding continued, "But, then...the sun started to rise, and I got control of myself again and I just high-tailed from it as quick as I could!"
Sokka, coming from his fear-induced trance, shook his head. "Why would a spirit want to take people to a mountain?"
Everyone reared up in terror at Toph's suddne exclamation.
"I DID hear people screaming under the mountain!" Toph realized. "The missing villagers must still be there!" Their eyes drifted up towards the mountaintop.
Akemi hadn't realized how far the mountain was from the vilage to begin with...or maybe she was just out of shape...or maybe it's because the mountain looked so close but it was just so far away. Whatever it was, she was tired and they still kept running toward the mountain.
'But that's not the issue, now.' Akemi chided herself as she panted through her mouth while running. 'Missing villagers trapped in the mountain against their will...worry about them, first.' They stopped and Toph kneeled and placed a hand against the ground, feeling for vibrations. "I can hear them! They're this way!" They followed her towards the mountain, which still seemed so close but yet was still so so far away...
Finally, they came to the entrance of a cave which was pitch black. "This is the place!" Akemi shuffled back a few steps. Memories of being locked in the dark cell back at the firenation surfaced and she felt the paranoia and claustrophobia starting to sink in little by little.
"I can't see anything down there." Sokka said.
Toph grabbed Sokka's wrist. "That's why you have me. Let's go!" She jumped in with Sokka and Aang was about to follow suit until he realized someone was missing from the equation. He looked back and noticed that Akemi had backed up and not come forward. "You coming?" he asked concerned.
Akemi shook her head in reassurance. "I'm fine out here."
Aang didn't seem convinced. "You sure?"
"Positive. Just hurry up so we can find Katara." Aang nodded and jumped inside, and Akemi heart Sokka's voice faintly. Akemi sat slowly on the ground and wrapped her arms under her legs, trying to catch her breath. The longer they were in that cave, the more anxious she got over their safety, but more importantly Katara's; where was she? Had the spirit gotten to her? Or at this time was she fighting for her life against it.
Akemi jumped to her feet and was about to run to search for her. However, she paused. That would be a bad idea...getting separated when this spirit could strike from anywhere in any given time and being alone...
She heard voices from inside the cave. The ground rumbled and she saw Aang and Sokka rise from earth steps that Aang had earthbent beneath them. Akemi came up to them. "What happened? Where's Toph-"
"Not now!" Sokka exclaimed, grabbing her wrist and dragging her along. "We need to find Katara, now. Hama's with her, and Hama's the one who's been trapping the villagers under the mountain to begin with!"
Akemi's face fell. She had trusted that woman...and she had seemed so nice...why would she do such a thing? "Sh-Shouldn't we wait for Toph?" Akemi exclaimed as Sokka was practically pulling her along like a limp ragdoll.
"Toph can take care of herself. She's busy getting the villagers out of the cave." Sokka replied over the wind. "Right now, Katara needs us an-"
Akemi suddenly collapsed face-down in the ground and the boys skidded to a halt. Sokka kneeled next to her fallen form and shook her shoulder. "H-Hey, get up! We need to get going, Akemi!" Akemi lifted herself from the ground shakily and replied, "G-Go, now...you need to get to them."
"We're not leaving you here, Akemi!" Aang protested, coming to her other side to lift her up by the arm. "Come on! Katara needs you!"
"Aang, I'm just slowing you guys down, right now." Akemi rasped and coughed into her arm. "I need to catch my breath. I'll catch up with you guys, I promise." She looked up and glanced between them with a hard look. "Go, NOW!"
They shared a look with each other before hesitantly standing. "Just be careful." Sokka said and they quickly took off running in the direction where Hama and Katara were believed to be.
Akemi held a hand to her throat and wheezed uncontrollably, her thoughts spiralling out of control. 'Why why why why why...' She felt so weak now. She had never felt this weak in her life. Not physically...mentally, emotionally. She always felt the need to hide behind someone in the face of danger and even get scared over a spirit. Why was it that she was feeling insecure, of all times, now? It didn't make sense...nothing made sense to her, anymore. Where had insecurity even come from to begin with?
She stood up slowly and kept a face pace to catch up with the others, hoping they had gotten to Hama in time. She gasped from afar when she saw a faint outline of Hama's hands outstretched towards Aang and Sokka, and they were attacking Katara...being possessed.
Akemi grit her teeth and charged forward with a battle cry,
"DON'T YOU TOUCH THEM!"
Suddenly, she felt frozen in her movements. Her limbs didn't seem to want to obey her. She felt a constriction in her arms and it traveled up into her chest. Akemi's mouth hung open, letting out ragged noises. Her chest felt on squeezing little by little, around her weak heart. Her eyes were wide open as if they were ready to pop out of their sockets.
Now, she heard nothing. Her arms hung limp and her body hung backwards in an arch, all control of her body loss and her whole body going limp.
The last thing she heard was Katara's voice.
GOOD GOD THE FIRST THING I DO WHEN I UPDATE AFTER SO LONG IS GIVE A CHAPTER WITH A CLIFFHANGER.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME?