Got that bug again. Had to write me some Avatar. A story of three pairs of siblings, brother and sister each, and their interactions with Aang over the course of what would have otherwise been a normal Books 1-3. Now, in a way, I'm cheating, because I'm using a lot of elements from the world I created in Children-Verse, but in an effort to not be hopelessly self-referential, I make a habit of starting from scratch, as though one had not even seen the show, let alone read my gargantuan novel based on it. But I'm also introducing new stuff, stuff that will be explained in the fullness of time. And I have thought out the shippings, in case you were wondering. None of them are canon, which is fitting in its way.

The only thing I fudged, strictly speaking, was Toph's age, because she just never reads as 12 to my mind. Thus, she's a year older, because somehow that makes it all better. Everything else can be figured out through reading. And yes, things might not make sense right away, but once again, I write with stuff down the line in mind, so things will become clear. My great concern is that I get the characterizations if not right - because getting them wrong the proper way is the intention - then at least believable. Unlike the last one, which was more of an In Spite of a Nail, this one is a clearer For Want. There is one, clearly defined nail that changes the map significantly as it butterflies out... Well, two, but one of them happened a hundred years ago, and was barely noticable. I don't doubt you'll spot them pretty much immediately. Also, made this one a lot more light and all-ages-appropriate, more in keeping with the original story... only the world seems a bit worse to live in. But there's a reason for that, too.

I have been told that I tend to be too verbose in my Lead Ins. You know what I say to that? LONGER LEAD INS! {/Cave Johnson} The fact is, lacking a community, this is usually my only way to communicate with the readers that I do accrue, and I'll be damned if I lose that channel. Now, sadly, I won't be keeping to my slaughterous update schedule that I managed before. I know how nice it was to get three 10,000 word updates in a single week, but that just isn't feasible... or outright possible... considering my employment and mental health demands. Sad to say, it will get updated whenever I can do so. That's the best I can offer.

Three Familes Seek The Avatar. Three Families Find The Avatar. Three Families Use The Avatar.

The weather was unpleasant, but not surprising for this time of year. Wind screamed past his flaring ears, numbing them despite his best efforts to keep the protective bubble of warmer air around him intact. The truth was, flying in this sort of weather was the last thing he should have been doing. It took a grand master, like Monk Gyatso or Elder Tengeh to attempt such daring with any hope of success. Aang was anything but. He was considered by most to be an extraordinarily gifted amateur at best, to have coasted his way to airbending mastery. Right now, he was wishing that he'd spent more time paying attention to monks other than Gyatso, absorbing their lessons.

Because he didn't like his chances in this storm.

"I know, buddy! I'm taking us down!" Aang shouted over the wind. Appa, ever the faithful companion, let out a rumble as it moved lower, shaking its head and trying to throw off the ice which had covered it. This had been a bad decision. Bad and stupid. Yeah, he had to visit her on her birthday, because he promised he would, but he should have just accepted the invitation and waited out the weather. After all, the worst he would have gotten when he got back was a caning, and flitting off for a few days was not a caning offense. Dare say, it was actually part of Air Nomad culture. They wouldn't laud him, but they'd understand.

If he survived to get back.

"I know, Appa. That's what I get for making friends with Tribesmen," he said. Appa let its opinion be known in another bass bellow. The sleet and ice began to sting at Aang's face, now flying with such velocity that it was able to punch through his defenses with ease. That was becoming increasingly distracting. "Do you see anywhere to land?" Aang shouted over that gale. The twisting of the reins was the answer Aang had hoped for. His own eyes, pulled tight to keep out the stinging ice, obviously missed something the sky bison's keener senses did not. The great white beast descended, and a shape began to loom up out of the waters. It didn't make sense. They were way too far south to be at Gwynt, and the time of year was wrong for icebergs. The shape eluded Aang until the beast finally pulled up, and spread its six pillar-like legs under it, landing with a terrific thud onto the metal plating of a ship. A metal ship.

Aang pelted off of the creature's brow, and pulled it along the deck. The cold now even seeped up through his feet, numbing them. He was quite glad that he accepted the boots, at least. Boots weren't a prideful gift, they were practical. And their practicality right now was in that his feet weren't blocks of ice. A great tower loomed about a third of the way forward of the back of the boat, just as dark and dreary as the rest of the ship. There was a hatch, one which seemed to be sealed, because no amount of tugging on it would loosen it. Aang scraped his fingernails along his shaved head. Bad enough that he couldn't figure out where he was, he was also trapped outside. Appa let out another bellow, and the airbender turned back to face him. "What is it, buddy?" Aang asked with hope in his voice. The beast plodded to the center of the deck, and began to dig at it with its great paws.

Aang pelted over quickly, and could see what the beast was aiming at; there was a hatch of some sort, massive in size, just under the ice. He looked to Appa. "This isn't going to be easy, but it's going to be warmer than out here," he said. He blew on his hands, trying to get some warmth into them, and then wormed them into the crack. A heave yielded nothing. Not surprising, since his frame was not built for strength. He tried again, and was again stymied. "Come on! If there wasn't ice I could..."

Aang let out a groan, slumping to the deck. Appa nudged him, and he looked up. He nodded. If Appa wasn't going to give up, then neither was he. Aang blew down into that crack, and began to wheel his arms, a cushion of airbending pressing up from below. It wouldn't be enough, but it was worth a shot.

Only it was. Somehow, the ice spontaneously decided to release it's unforgiving grip. There was a great creak, and the doors opened just a foot, barely enough for Appa to hook a horn under it and heave, sending the door upward. With that done, the other was much more easily opened, and then both beast and bender descended into the ship.

For just a moment, it felt like all of Aang's skin caught on fire. But that sensation faded as he began to regain feeling in his extremities. But truth be told, this ship was far warmer than any that he'd ever been in before. Appa shook vigorously, and great chunks of ice and sluices of melt flew about, hissing as they struck some of the pipes around. Aang glanced about, but couldn't find any lanterns by which to see. He sighed. It would just be tapping around in the dark, then. It was somewhat embarrassing to use his glider, a precision instrument of great worth, to feel around him for things he would trip over, but given he had no alternative, he took it. Appa, quite content where it was, simply lied down with a grumble of contentment.

"Let's see who these people are," Aang said to himself in the darkness. "If nothing else, I've got to thank them for their hospitality."

Aang's tapping finally revealed another door, but this one actually moved to his command, opening into a hall lit with a faint red light. He could hear voices somewhere, talking quietly in Huojian, the language of the Fire Nation. Aang was fluent in a great many tongues; most Air Nomads were. It was counterproductive to be the kind of person who never stopped traveling, and be unable to communicate with the people that one met. With an easy smile on his face, he sauntered through the halls, whisking away the damp and ice from his kavi. Damp clothes would be the death of him. But on the plus side, on a Fire Nation ship, he wouldn't die of hypothermia. He slowly moved toward the source of those voices.

A bulkhead opened nearby, and an amber-eyed man left a room, turning behind him. "Yeah, and they've got the weapons of the Storm Kings waiting for us, so keep alert," he shouted back. A couple of sarcastic laughs followed him. He turned, and fell absolutely still and silent upon seeing Aang. That silence stretched out for rather a long while.

Aang raised a hand. "Hello," he offered.

"Air Nomad?" he asked.

"Yup!" Aang said enthusiastically.

"You... you're going to have to talk to the... the captain," he said, pointing down the halls. "I'll, I'll take you to him."

Aang thanked him, but couldn't shake that there was something weird about this guy. The way the man stared at him, you'd think Aang was some sort of serial killer or something. Aang did enjoy the warmth, though. It dried him and left him feeling optimistic for the first time since that storm overtook him. He had mixed luck with storms. There was a nasty one not long after his twelfth birthday. If he'd have flown out in that one, he'd have been a goner for sure.

Aang was in a much better mood by the time he reached the identical door to the captain's chamber than he had been when he had landed on the hull. Being warm and dry would do that for a person. The door swung open with a creak and a clang, showing three Fire Nationals inside, all huddled around a map of Great Whales. Oh, so they must have been close to the islands after all. "I found this spy infiltrating the ship," the soldier said.

"What? Spy? I'm not a spy," Aang protested.

"Air Nomads? Here?" the captain jumped to his feet. "Sozin was right. They're everywhere. It was too much to hope that we would catch them unawares. What was your mission, urchin?" he said, looming over the airbender.

Aang shrunk back, but didn't have very far to retreat before bumping into the soldier behind him. The other two had odd armor, all spiky points and a mask which looked like they were staring out of a skull. Aang's grey eyes flit about. "I don't have a mission!" he said. "I was just caught in the storm and I needed some place to land!"

"That is preposterous. You were sent to scout us, weren't you?"

"Are you guys pirates or something?" Aang asked.

"Answer my questions, child!" the captain made to slap Aang, but the airbender panickedly threw up a blast of air, which sent the man flying back into the far wall. Terror coursed through Aang's very veins as he had to dive aside, as a blast of flame seared past him. They had to be pirates! Aang never had this trouble in the Fire Nation before! He twisted again, sending out a wave of air which lifted the soldier behind him and smashed him against the wall. But the captain was recovering, and with the other two masked firebenders beside him, the three surged forward, erupting a pillar of flame.

Let the energy flow.

As usual, Aang hadn't the first idea where the thought came from. But he couldn't afford to be distracted. Despite the fact that air was hardly the best counter to fire, he managed to spin his staff before him, a vacuum pocket starving the flames before they could overtake him. Fear was every drop of his blood, now, ever twitch of his muscles accelerated by self-preservation and panic in equal measure. He bounded out of the halls, as a roar of "Kill the airbender! Kill the spy!" tore through the ship behind him. He could hear them coming. Dozens of pirates. He could deal with two, three, even four, but against those numbers?

He was very much regretting flitting off, right now. He needed to move faster, faster than he ever had before. His feet weren't good enough, because things kept getting in his way, the lips at the bottom of the doors, pipes, detritus thrown down by the storm...

The ball has balance.

Without really understanding why or how, Aang twisted the air under him into a ball, and like he had practiced it all his life, he was now shooting along the halls atop a scooter of air. He knew the trick, now, despite having no idea how panic and fear could teach it to him. He had much better things to do. Like duck. He almost hinged backward trying to get under an arm which was attempting to clothesline him. Speed was now working against him. He almost shot past the door he'd entered, and used his airbending once again to spin the handle, opening the door just in time to smash one of the pirates in the face.

"Oh! Sorry!" Aang winced, before shooting into the door and slamming it shut behind him. There was a discontented grumble from the hold. "Come on, Appa! It's not safe here!"

Appa let out another bellow, and Aang navigated the dark, until he could feel the breath from the beast's nose, and guessed well enough to jump up to the brow even blind. "Alright, this isn't going to be good, but we have to run. Are you up for that, buddy?" Appa seemed unsure, but bellowed. "Yip yip!"

The beast slammed upward, badly jarring Aang as it broke its way up through the ice once again, and the hold's doors swung open. Again, the airbender and the bison were exposed to the driving sleet, but this time, even above the whistle of the wind, there was another sound. Klaxons and horns. An alarm had gone up. "What does that mean?" Aang asked.

The answer came in the form of a boulder covered in burning pitch a few seconds later. Aang let out a scream and sawed on the reins, barely pulling Appa away from the projectile. It was followed shortly by more of them. Whoever these pirates were, they were well armed. But worse than that, Aang's dodging and weaving was wreaking marry hell with his sense of direction. It was only a matter of seconds before he was lost. By the end of the three minutes it took to finally leave those flaming boulders in his wake, he had no idea which way he was going, where he was... or how high from the ocean he was.

"We should pull up!" Aang shouted.

Appa bellowed, but it was a tired, weary thing. Aang tugged again, but the beast couldn't even respond.

"We're going to crash!" the airbender pleaded. "Please buddy! Don't give–"

That was when they hit the frigid waters. The shock of it drove the air from Aang's lungs, even as his eyes snapped open and his entire body felt like it had been both pummeled and set on fire. The cold was beyond shocking. One numbed hand clung to the reins, as he took his first breath of water. It went just about as well as one might imagine it would. Panic took over, and Aang's hand slipped from the reins.

There is enough air in water.

So far beyond reason was he that the words were a beacon of hope. Aang didn't know what was happening. He just wanted the pain to stop. He just wanted the fear to stop. And then, the water flew out of his lungs with a wracking cough, and a breath came in in its stead. It was a shallow breath... but the was still entirely under the water. How? How had that happened? No. He was drowning, wasn't he? There had to be a way. He had to save Appa! Appa must be so afraid...

How much are you willing to lose?

Anything, he thought. Just don't let him die. I don't want to die. I don't want to die.

Then let the power flow.

The world became white.




There was a rush of air, and Aang found himself kneeling on ice, his fists pressed together. He breathed in, and it came as a great gasp. Something was strange about the world. The colors were almost too vivid, too bright. As he stood, there were whispers on the breeze, a thousand voices murmuring quietly under the sun. It was cold, brutally cold, but this time, the bubble of air around him held firm, and he was warm. He slowly got to his feet, and scaled what looked like a half-sphere of ice, coming to a lip and staring down. At the base of that hollow sphere there was a girl. She was about his age, maybe a year or two older, and unsteady on her feet. Her hair was a lustrous black, falling in bangs that framed her face. Her golden eyes were wide and incredulous, shocked... and hopeful.

"I can't believe it," that girl whispered, a strange accent to her voice. "You're actually here."

Aang took a step forward, and the girl rose two fingers toward him.

"I searched for so long," she said, her voice phlegmatic and wet. Come to think of it, she looked quite sick. "I finally... found..."

She trailed off as she pitched forward onto her face in the snow. When she did, that whispering vanished, the vividness faded, and Aang felt like he finally came to his senses in the snow. He looked up in the sky. The sun was up. That meant that he must have been out for hours! Oh no; Gyatso was going to be so angry with him. He looked down at her, though. She didn't look good. He jumped off the lip and slid down to where she had fallen. He turned her over, and saw that her eyes had rolled up, and she was shaking violently.

"Oh, man," Aang said. "What do I do now?"

Three Families

The Story of Avatar Aang

Chapter 1: The Girl and the Iceberg

Sharif had long been called a boy lost in his own little world. Most people used that as an insult. To be totally honest, Sharif didn't care. His sister did, though. She had been quite vocal throughout all of her life that they shouldn't make fun of him. That was apparently her job. In a lot of ways, Sharif wished he could voice how he appreciated her looking out for him, but the words never came. Besides, if he could not look to his twin to care for him, then who could he?

"You're doing it again," Nila Badesh bin Seema din Nassar said. Despite the fact that the two of them were born on the same day, and shared the same eyes and gross facial feature, most people saw her as the older sibling. It wasn't surprising as why: Nila had taken after Mother, and Mother was a figure of authority, even in backwards Si Wong.

"Doing what?" Sharif answered.

"Staring," Nila said, her tattooed hands dexterously working with a flask, ever so carefully measuring things out.

"Sorry, Sis," Sharif said. And then immediately went back to staring to the south. All his life he had that buzzing sensation, that humming in the back of his mind that he could neither understand nor completely tune out. If he had been a more astute or diligent person, it might have driven him mad. Mother blamed it on his wound, but in truth, it had started long before the incident with the Tribesman. So he kept staring south.

"Ugh, you're doing it again!" Nila complained.

"Sorry sis."

"Stop being sorry and do something useful," Nila ordered. She threw him a leather skin. "I need some more water. The water from the distillery mind, not the well."

"Distillery water, alright," Sharif parroted.

"I don't know why I put up with you," she muttered to herself, more annoyed than harsh. In truth, he didn't mind doing these things. The problem was, he easily got distracted. That's why, at an age when a tradesman or warrior was usually under the wing of their master, finding a suitor, preparing to start his own family, he was still lazing about home, with Nila and Mother. Even the shaman from Misty Palms threw up his hands in defeat after trying to tutor Sharif for a month. As far as most could tell, there might well be no occupation in the world that Sharif could hold. Nila, though, was an odd case. She was just as guilty as he was, although from a different angle.

And that didn't bother him. He didn't even realize that it should have. Sharif whistled a formless tune to himself as he ducked out of the weathered house and into the glare of the Si Wong sun. This place was as close to the equator as the Fire Nation, so it was no less hot, all year round. Of course, it had the dubious distinction of also being the most harsh environment to live in outside of Azul, and the only reason it was surpassed was because everything in Azul was actively trying to kill you. The shif-shif of sand under his feet was an undertone to that song that he whistled, as he walked right past the tent in the back yard, where Nila kept her distillery and several of her more explosive substances, and pulled water up from the well.

"Wow, it looks like Sativa let the freak out again," a voice came from the path that ran between Mother's house and the neighbors. They always had harsh words for all of that family. Then again, a family of bastards, without any noble standing, yet possessing a house like this was supposedly quite scandalous to Si Wongi. "I'm surprised she didn't do the smart thing and just abandon him on a sand dune."

"You are being too harsh, Gashuin," the youth's father chastised. He was the chieftain of the tribe, and dwelled in the greatest manor. "She has proven herself enough to make some questionable choices."

"I can hear you, you know?" Sharif pointed out, looking directly at them. The father rolled his eyes, while the son leveled a significant glare. What significance it held was lost to Sharif, who got distracted by an interesting whirl of the sand down on the Grit Ocean. Huh. That must have been some odd winds to make the dunes pile like that. There wasn't much to look at in Si Wong.

"Freak," Gashuin muttered one last time, before leaving the balcony and reentering the chief's manor. Sharif shook his head, taking a swig of the water he'd collected so deep that he ended up refilling it. Once again, from the well. He started walking back toward Mother's house, and suddenly, the buzzing stopped.

Sharif turned south immediately, all of the focus he had forfeited all of his life slamming into place in one moment of pristine clarity. Something enormous had happened. All his life, he thought he just inherently knew which direction south was. But that wasn't it. It dawned on him like revelation itself. Something was happening to the south. Something he needed to see.

Sharif quickly moved into the house, out of the sun and into the sweltering heat. He walked past Mother, who was scratching notes onto paper. She turned to him as he shot through the room, opening her mouth to ask him something, but not managing to get it out in time before he'd moved on. Sharif heard a sigh from behind him, but he was already in his room. He shoved his mattress to one side, and picked up a box that had been secreted underneath it. It was extremely heavy for its size, as though the box had been form fitted with a block of iron. Well, silver and gold, actually, but that wasn't the point. He slipped it into the sling on his back and looked around the room.

It would be a long journey. He had to see what had made that buzz in his head all his life. He considered telling Nila and Mother about it, but by the time he resolved to inform them, he realized that he was missing his shroud and veil. It wouldn't do to have his eyes gouged out by blowing sand, after all. He quickly wrapped it 'round his head, almost obscuring the vertical scar which started at his hairline and ended just above his eyebrow. Keeping the sun off of his head was important. Heat stroke could kill quickly in the desert. And he probably had far to go.

Telling his sister and mother once again came to his mind as he was throwing together a few items of food, but he was distracted once again by picking out which block of cheese seemed the most palatable. Throwing caution to the wind, he took both. Mother could always get more. It wasn't like she was impoverished or something. He strode out again, leaving the pale stone walls, and past Mother a second time.

"Sharif, where are you going?" Mother asked, her dark green eyes on him.

"Out. See you in a while," Sharif said, and continued out the door. There was a creaking of wood at the desk, but Sharif was already closing the door behind him. Mother always told him not to let the cool air out. When he did, he could see something shift in that wood; a portal spirit, quietly twisting the wood. When Mother tried to open the door and follow him, she found that it was wedged closed. Sharif didn't question why that had happened. He didn't question much about what he saw. For all he knew, it was the same thing everybody saw. In fact, he wondered why everybody wasn't walking south. The spirits cajoled him, urged him. Find the anomaly. Find the broken piece.

Sharif Badesh bin Seema din Nassar continued whistling that formless tune as he descended the sentinel rock, upon which the entire town had been built, and began to walk across the Grit Ocean, with the sun drifting toward setting in the West. Behind him, the spirits ensured he would not be seen, as they pulled the sand up into a storm at his heels. And as he walked, so too walked the spirits, so he was not alone.

Iroh carefully set down a tile, its clack grating ever more on Zuko's nerves. The way it slid danced up his spine and settled into a throbbing pain at the back of his jaw. Uncle stared at the piece under his finger, then, to the rest of the board. It was bad enough that they had to play a game that neither particularly knew the rules to – Gack was a Tribesman's game, not a proper National one – but to be doing it now? Zuko's nerve was very, very strained, and his patience was very, very sparse. "Yes, that will do nicely," the man said.

"We shouldn't be wasting our time like this," Zuko muttered darkly, grasping a piece and slamming it down hard enough to make those yet present dance on the board. "We should be out there, searching. Before..."

"You have been awake for two days already, Nephew," Uncle said calmingly. Perhaps morosely. The quivering anger didn't leave Zuko's jaw or his voice, but that niggling little voice in the back of his mind told him to back off. Uncle was still wearing his mourning whites. Auntie was not even long to the pyre, and she had died out here, instead of comfortable at home, because of him. Because Uncle wouldn't let him wander alone.

But he wasn't alone.

"And I'll stay awake another two days if I have to," Zuko said. "I'm not losing the trail."

"Sometimes, you simply have to have faith that the universe will provide. You can't afford to get yourself worked up over nothing," Iroh said.

Zuko lept to his feet, kicking the game board aside and scattering its pieces across the floor. "NOTHING?" he roared, his face transformed into a mask of wrath. "How dare you say that! Don't you realize what will happen if I don't find the trail in time?"

"You have already searched for two years for the Avatar," Iroh pointed out. Zuko just stared at his father's brother. If that was the point Uncle was trying to make, then Zuko did not appreciate it. Iroh sighed, then got to his feet, meandering over to a pot which had been set aside, steam wafting lazily from its spout into the chilly air of the cabin. "Perhaps you should have some calming jasmine tea. If you are frayed and reckless, you may overlook some critical clue."

Zuko stared at the man for a long moment, before releasing a breath which felt like defeat. His eyes, the color of burnished gold, fell to the deck panels and he nodded slowly. "Yeah. Yeah that might be for the best," Zuko admitted, choking that frustrated rage. It was very small comfort that the smell brought when it wafted to Zuko's nose, as a cup was forced into his hand. He stared at it for a long moment, considering drinking it, maybe even getting some sleep.

"Agni's blood, why is this never easy?" Zuko asked nobody, or maybe Uncle, or maybe even the universe itself. "Why can't anything ever be simple?"

"You must have faith, Prince Zuko," Iroh stressed. "She can't have gotten..."

Both were cut off when a blinding light filled the cabin, leaving both squinting against it, for the moment it took both to abandon tea and decorum and spring out of the bulkhead doors, onto the balcony which ringed the tower of this admittedly puny ship. He leaned hard on the rail, his eyes locked on a pillar of light which rose between the drifting mountains of ice in the sea, to the southeast. Zuko gaped at it for a long moment.

In that moment, a thousand thoughts hounded him. Thoughts of finding the Avatar. Thoughts of bringing the Avatar before his father. An end to the quest, an end to this endless journey. Honor restored. Succession returned, the title of Crown Prince restored to him. All of the wealth and power of the Fire Nation, finally standing behind his name once again. He would stride the Long Walk as a champion and a hero, and the crowds would scream his name. Not in revulsion and hatred, but in awe and reverence. He would be home again. He would be back with his family.

And even as that thought wormed through his head, it was overwhelmed by a mass, an interminable weight of shame. Yes, if – if – he captured the Avatar, then he would have his honor back, his throne, his home. But what about her? Shame turned to anger as he thought about those words he heard, on the day when Father finally showed his true face. Idly, Zuko adjusted the hair which fell over his left ear, making sure it covered it completely.

"Do you think that was...?" Iroh began.

"It doesn't matter," Zuko muttered. He stared up again. He made a promise, that night he stayed up until the morning. She made him promise, and he would not betray that vow. Whatever honor he had left was bound in that. "It was obviously immense power, but even if it was the Avatar, he is a man with command of all four elements, and could have as much as a century of experience with them. If I face him alone, it would be a slaughter."

Iroh nodded. "I must admit, I am surprised to hear this much caution from you, Prince Zuko," he said.

Zuko shook his head. "I promised Mom," he said quietly, too quietly for his uncle to hear him. "We've drifted too long as it is. This isn't our land, we don't know it. We need somebody who does."

Iroh nodded, and returned to the ship, to give word to the helmsman. Zuko hated having to rely on others, because he had to be the supportive one. He needed to be strong enough to keep her safe. But he knew when he was beat. He needed a guide, and that meant finding somebody who knew the land. Still, Zuko's fists tightened on the rail, and his breath puffed out with flame.

"I'm coming for you, Azula," Zuko promised. "I will find you."

She was shaking far to much to be simple cold, Aang knew that much. This Fire Nation girl had to be very, very lost to be down this far on the planet, and feeling the cold far more than he was. The Fire Nation was pretty much right on the equator; this latitude must have been torturous for her. He turned from her, unable to think of what to do. "Come on, think man! Urg!"

His eyes fell upon the half-sphere. It was a massive construct, its outer surface all waves and whorls,and it looked to be half-buried in an iceberg. He frowned for a moment. Wait. How had he gotten inside that thing? The sound of displaced snow, as the girl behind him twitched, drove such inquisitive thought from his mind. He had far more important things to worry about. Like keeping the pretty National alive. But then he remembered what else he had smelled, rather than seen, in those brilliant moments. Wet bison.

Brightening as he vaulted up the wall of that ice, airbending sending his bounds ten feet to a step, he beheld what he had desperately hoped he would find. He threw himself at the great beast's brow, and nuzzled into the fur. But then he realized that it was quite still. A shard of panic worked its way in beside the others that Aang was working very hard not to think about, and he clambered lower. "Appa, are you alright?" he asked. He heaved up on one of the massive eyelids, and it slid down again. "Oh, no," Aang said, his voice perilously close to tears. "Don't do this, Appa. Please, wake up!"

Aang bounded lower, and planted both feet on the ground, putting his back into giving the great beast a shove on the nose. The indignant snort Appa released was as music to the airbender's ears. Aang lit up like the sun. "Appa! You're alright!" he said. Well, tried to, because half way through the second word, the great beast opened its maw and licked Aang aside. Aang whisked the drool away from him with a quick blast of airbending, then bounced up onto the brow once more. The reins on one side were off, so he would have to do this one-handed. But considering the situation, he probably would have had to anyway. "Alright, buddy, we've got to get home fast. Monk Gyatso will know how to help her, I know it."

The bison plodded lethargically out of the sphere, and nudged the National on the snow. "Yeah, we're bringing her with us," Aang confirmed. Appa let out a rumble that didn't sound too disagreeable.

Aang bounded down, and tried to scoop the girl up. She was actually a bit heavier than he expected, despite being very lean of build. All of her shape must have been carved of muscle, to be so dense. She muttered something angry, in a language the he hadn't even heard of, and weakly slapped at him, before coughing violently and wetly. "Just hold on, alright. I'm going to take you some place where they can take care of you."

Aang took the remaining rein in one hand and gave it a flap. "Yip yip, boy!"

Appa took one heady bound...

And belly flopped onto the ice. Aang was so startled by this that he was actually unseated, and had to twist in mid air to not land on the National. As she coughed, she seemed to be disgorging a pink froth. Since he doubted severely that she'd inhaled one of Gyatso's pies, that meant that it was filled with blood. A hand to her brow found that, despite her constant shaking, she was running a deadly fever. He turned and sawed the reins again. "Come on, Appa, this isn't funny! Yip yip!"

The great bison grumbled loudly, put its legs under it, and began to shuffle a short distance, before stopping, lying down, and letting out a loud snort. No. No no no no no! "Are you alright?"

Appa just rumbled lightly, its eyes sliding shut. It still breathed, and Aang could feel its great heart beating even through his posterior, but for the moment, Appa was grounded. "What do I do?" Aang asked. "I mean, what do I do? I..."

Aang glanced to one side, and the girl was staring at him again. That was an odd look in her eyes. Like she half-way recognized him, which didn't make sense, because he was fairly certain he'd remember somebody who looked like her. Well, a more healthy her, anyway. "What is your name?" Aang said, helping her down.

"Don't. I will..." she tried, before falling to more wet coughing. She stared at him for a long moment, and then said one word which he really didn't expect to hear.


With that, her eyes drifted shut, and she fell limp. Aang set her amidst the fur on Appa's leg, as warm a place as he was likely to find any time soon. Aang turned to the bison. "My gods," Aang said to the great beast. "I think she's the Avatar!"

Nila actually stopped her decanting when she started hearing the axe tearing apart the door. Shaking her head, she wondered what idiocy Sharif got into his head today, but found herself a bit gobsmacked when she wandered out into Mother's study, and found her wielding the axe. Mother was not a frail woman; she was lean and tough, a form hardened by decades in the desert and years at war. So when she hurled axe, it was not daintily. After burying the weapon of warfare into the reluctant wood for the fifth time, she turned back, noticing the presence of her daughter.

"What did you say to your brother?" Sativa immediately demanded.

"What?" Nila asked. Sativa's wide mouth curled into a scowl.

"Don't play innocent with me. You said something which upset your brother. What was it?" she demanded.

"I didn't say anything," Nila complained.

Mother responded by shoving hard on Nila's chest, shoving her back against the wall, disapproval clear on her features. "I will not suffer you lying to me, Nila."

"I'm not lying, Mother!" Nila said, outrage quaking in her voice. "What did he do? Where has that idiot gone now?"

The slap across her face was very light, compared to what Nila was well aware Mother was capable of. Were Nila a Tribesman, or a National, or some pampered Continental, she would have been stunned by the assault. She was Si Wongi, though, and filial chastisement was just something she was used to. It was not abuse. It was a warning, which was followed by a finger thrust under her nose. "You will not speak about your brother that way. Have some respect."

"Respect? For him?" Nila asked, rubbing her cheek. Sativa shook her head, then returned to the door. Nila sighed. "I don't know what's going on. What did Sharif do?"

"He sicced the spirits on me to keep me from following," Sativa said, spitting into her hands, grasping the axe handle, heaving the weapon out, then sending another swing at it, to a resounding thunk and an explosion of splinters.

"Spirits? Really?" Nila asked. "I didn't think you believed in that garbage."

"I believe in what I see before my eyes," Sativa said. "This door is jammed. There is no reason for that, and it jammed the instant after Sharif passed through it."

"You talk about him like he's..."

"A shaman?" Mother asked, taking a pause, to examine the door. "It has been obvious for a very long time."

Nila rolled her eyes. "He's dense because his brain was injured, that's all there is to it," she stressed.

"Your memory is remarkably short, all things considered," Mother said. She gave the door one final swing, and now, the great boards freed from the hinges, it fell outward onto the grit. She stared down at it like some fallen foe, with scorn and derision.

"I could have just climbed out the upper window," Nila pointed out.

"That's not the point," Mother said. "It's the principle of the matter. This door has disobeyed me. Its spirit thought it could deny me. I have proven otherwise."

"That's just magical thinking, Mother," Nila said.

"Go after him," Sativa said, storming back into the house and restoring the ornate battle axe to the rack where it had hung for almost a decade. Nila put on an expression of utmost distaste.

"Excuse me?"

"Your brother has a notion in his head. Go and find him, and keep him safe," Sativa said, sitting down hard enough in her chair that it creaked, before turning back to the table.

"What? Why me? Can't you do it?" Nila asked. "I mean, you've always been complaining that you want to get out and see the world again, so why are you saddling me with this?"

"Two reasons," Sativa said, twisting around once more and ticking them off of her fingers. "I did not break the Fire Nation's will completely and eternally. They will turn their eyes to the Continent and to the Earth Kingdoms again, and when they do, it will fall to people like me to stop them from burning everything to the ground. Two, you are lazy and rudderless. You need some direction in your life. Perhaps this will help you find it. Besides, I can claim something without being truthful. Much as I'd like to see rivers and grass again, I have duties to attend to."

Nila shook her head. The stinging in her cheek had faded – for what it was worth, considering she was nothing other than headstrong even at the worst of times – and she glared at her mother again. "So hire a tracker to deal with him. Hell, Ashan would do it for a pat on the head!"

"No. It must be you."

"I am not my brother's keeper," Nila said petulantly. Well, she tried to make sure it didn't sound petulant, but she obviously failed in that, because Sativa stood again, and stared her daughter in the eye.

"Yes. You are," Mother said, and the tone of her voice said that there was no arguing that point or snaking out of it. She glanced toward one of the windows, which was more of a fortification's arrow-slit than a proper vantage. "There is a wide world out there, and you do yourself disservice and disrepute by sequestering yourself in your room all day. Reading tomes and scrolls is all well and good, but it is a pale shade to the real world. It's time you had an education in life, and this will be a part of it."

"So you're just going to kick me out and send me after my idiot brother?" Nila complained. "I mean, he'll probably get himself killed long before I reach him."

"Spirits look after drunks, fools and shamans," Sativa said, facing the wall of armament she had accrued over her years throughout the East Continent and beyond in her youth. "You would certainly agree that Sharif is two of those three."

Nila pouted for a moment, before the anger returned. "And how am I supposed to find him? He could have gone in any direction!"

"He went south," Mother said.

Nila glared. Had they worked that out between them when she wasn't looking? "What do you m..."

"He went south," Mother repeated, more sternly. She didn't turn from the armory. "Believe it or not, I actually do listen to you and your brother. If he wanders at random, random always turns out to be south. So he is going south."

Nila slumped a bit, defeated by logic. Damn her and her scientific outlook on life! "Still feels like a fool's errand," Nila complained.

"Yes, in essence. Everybody has to suffer a few fool's errands in life," Mother said. She turned, ran her finger along the many other weapons, most ornamental, but some quite functional, which adorned her study. Mother's hands, the tattoos on her fingers so old that they had faded into almost illegibility, slid past the curved katanas of Great Whales, the scimitars of the Big Empty, and a narrow, double edged blade with a white flower etched into its handle. It was a common flower around this house, obviously one of Mother's favorites. Nila preferred more red when it came to flowers, which it seldom did. Finally, past the spears and the war clubs and even a commandeered Water Tribe boomerang, she pulled up something which had no ornamentation, no rack. Just a case made of unadorned leather. Mother grabbed it and tossed it to Nila. Nila scowled at the offering.

"Really?" Nila asked, pulling the recurve bow out a bit.

"You're not going out there unarmed," she said. She paused for a moment, staring at her daughter. "I want you to know something, Nila. You haven't done much that I've approved of. You've done less that's made me proud. But you turned your back on war, and that alone tells me that you have a working mind."

"Thanks, Mom," Nila said sarcastically.

"Hm," Mother grunted. "Get enough water to last to the edge of the desert."

"And the money?"

"Really? If I give you money, you'll just lark off and I'll have to drag you back home, after I have to track down my son on my own," Sativa pointed out. "You're a clever girl. You'll make due."

"It sounds like you're sending me out there to die," Nila said.

"No," Sativa said. "I have faith in you. If nothing else, you'll do this just to prove to me that you're better than I think you are."

Mother was right about that, at least. "So..."

"Find your brother, bring him home," Sativa said, turning back to her tome and muttering something dark about the wasp-vulture quill she wrote with, she let Nila vanish from her view. "Oh, and if you happen to have yourself an adventure along the way, make sure to rub it in Gashuin's face when you get back. That little shit has been getting on my nerves."

"No arguments there, Mom," Nila said. "What about my other stuff?"

"Food, water, anything but money," Sativa said, not looking up. Nila considered once again pointing out how unfair this was, but knew that fighting Mother at this point was just banging her head into a wall. It achieved nothing, and gave her a headache besides. Besides, some small part of Nila knew that Mother was right. And she did want Mother to be proud of her. And it was embarrassing even to hold that thought in her head.

Nila went back into her room, marked by the distinct change in odor as much as the sudden starkness of décor. There was so much stuff that she would simply be unable to bring with her. Her alembics and her calcinator were just too fragile. That meant that she was probably going to have to make due with the hopeless essentials. She quickly loaded herself on what she could carry under her robe, and spared just a glance at the mirror on the wall. Her skin was quite dark, darker than Mother's, but she had gotten Mother's green eyes and big lips. And ostensibly her hair as well, but Nila kept it shaved, because that way it wouldn't catch on fire. She pursed her lips, and strode out into Mother's study one more time.

"Water?" Mother asked, not looking up. Nila hefted the heavy jug which would ride her back. "Food? Of course you have food."

"Goodbye, I guess," Nila said. She walked toward that sundered door, and as she crossed the threshold, she felt a stab of worry. "Mother, what if I can't..."

"You'll find him," Mother said, not turning back. Nila stared at her mother for a long moment, the only sounds being the wind and the scratching of the quill. Nila hoped Mother was right. The only thing worse than finding her brother, would be not, and having to come home. That was not something Nila wanted to think about.

"I'm going to bed," Iroh said, looking upon his nephew as he stared out over the waters, the ice beginning to mount higher and higher around them. He exaggerated a yawn a little, which backfired when it became a very deep, very long, very real yawn. "Yes. A man needs his sleep."

"I won't be able to sleep," Zuko said, eyes on the horizon, the spy glass under one hand. "Not now. Not when she could be out there."

"Worrying about her won't bring her back or keep her safe, Prince Zuko," Iroh said softly. "And if you do not sleep, your mind will suffer."

"I know, Uncle," Zuko said quietly.

"Then come to bed."

"I won't be able to sleep," Zuko repeated. He let out a sigh, and not a despondent one. It was frustrated. Angry. He pulled the lens to his eye once more, staring out across the ice. "There's got to be something I can do. How do people navigate this barren hell-hole?"

"The stars, I'd imagine," Iroh said. He took a few steps toward his nephew, the young man who he had watched grow up so much in the last two years. "I must say, Prince Zuko, I'm a little surprised at you."

"What do you mean?"

"I thought that any sign of the Avatar would have you," he let out a chuckle, "foaming at the mouth, surging against the chains trying to get to him."

"And if that wasn't the Avatar?" Zuko asked. Iroh saw the look on the young man's face. It was the look he got when he was being devious. "For all we know, it was just the celestial lights, and while I waste time looking for him, Azula freezes to death. Face it, my great grandfather, my grandfather, and my father have all searched for the Avatar. Sometimes for decades."

"Are you saying..." Iroh asked, since the boy seemed dangerously close to broaching a topic which made Iroh very uncomfortable, to have to broach so soon.

"I'm saying that I have my priorities straight," Zuko said, his eyes closing, his face tipping down. "If I find the Avatar, then I find him. My honor is restored and I return home a champion. But that's a big if. Right now, there are more important things."

Iroh nodded. Zuko being sensible was always a welcome change. This was not the first time Azula had run off, and Iroh doubted it would be the last. His niece had a tendency for trouble. As they had taken to saying in recent years, Zuko lived lucky, but Azula was lucky to be alive.

Zuko looked up again, and brought the telescope up. Zuko's left eye widened in surprise, and he thrust the scope toward his uncle. Iroh took it, and followed the out thrust finger. There, at the very edge of the horizon, Iroh saw what Zuko had noted. A thin wisp, almost invisible, almost mistaken for a cloud. Smoke. Smoke meant human habitation. Humans meant Tribesmen, Tribesmen meant guides.

"Helmsman!" Zuko shouted, his voice full of fire once more. "Set a course to the smoke! Pull it up two miles out!"

"Prince Zuko, what are you doing?" Iroh asked carefully, handing the lens back.

"What you taught me best, Uncle," Zuko said, moving to the doors into the cabin. "Being discreet."

Iroh smiled at that, privately. He just hoped that his nephew could carry through on his promises. He didn't doubt it, though. Zuko loved his sister, after all.

There were about a thousand places she'd rather be than right here. At least it wasn't cold. Well, to most people, it would be deadly freezing, but having lived here all of her life, she understood the subtleties of a polar winter. Yes, it was still hypothermia inducing, but summer time gave her, and anybody else, a much larger margin for carelessness and error. The only other passenger on the boat needed both, desperately.

"Will you just admit that we're lost?" Katara asked.

"We're not lost, we're fishing," Sokka answered, waving idly back at her. "You wouldn't know the difference, anyway."

Katara grunted with disgust while Sokka just kept peering into the water outside the canoe. Gran Gran didn't have to saddle her with Sokka. Well, saddle him with her, in the matriarch's words. She could have been doing something much more productive. With a glance at her older brother's back, she admitted to herself that at this moment, just about anything would be more productive. There was a tremor in the boat, and even without being able to see her brother's face, she could tell he was brightening up.

"There you are," he said quietly. "You're not getting away from me this time."

"Really? Is it the same fish as before?" Katara asked, her tones over-sweet. "Or the one before that?"

"Tut tut," Sokka said patronizingly, waving back at her once more. "What would a girl know about catching a fish anyway?"

"I know not to store my fish hooks in my thumb," Katara pointed out. Sokka actually turned back to her, a very unamused look on his face. They were both alike and not alike, she and he. Both were darkly complected, possessing the same bright blue eyes, and the same dark, wavy hair. There ended the similarity, though. Sokka was gangly, all elbows and angles, where Katara managed to be just thin enough to be judged unattractive. Of course, most of the children were on the same ration she was; weight loss was sort of inevitable when the village starved. As well, he'd taken the Tribal haircut to its logical extreme, shaving the sides of his head to make it stand out more. A ridiculous look, compared to her 'hair loopies' and braid.

"Everybody's a comedian today," Sokka posited.

"Just taking up the slack," Katara answered. He shook his head, turning back to the fish. Katara too looked away. There was no point complaining about Sokka's chauvinism. Food was food, no matter how he got it. She looked down, and she could see something moving through the brine below. Just a shimmer of movement against the dark. She glanced to her brother.

"Mmmm. I can already smell it cooking," Sokka whispered, spear leveled down. She pulled off her thick, warm gloves and reached out. It wasn't going to work. She knew that. It took a waterbender of some skill to...

A tail formed in the water behind the canoe, as she could feel the energy vortexing up from the surface of the brine, pulling the water with it. The fish, too close to that vacuum, was pulled up and into the blob which snapped off, and floated in the air. Katara's eyes grew quite large. She almost didn't want to breathe. This had never happened before. She was holding the water up, completely apart from the sea!

"Sokka look!" she exclaimed, as she tenderly moved that orb of dripping water toward her.

"Not now, Katara!" Sokka hissed. "You're gonna scare it away!"

"But I've caught one!" she said, a wide grin on her face as she brought it slowly above...

"HYAH!" Sokka shouted, thrusting the spear first up, then down into the water. The positive side of things was that he did manage to lance the fish. The bad part was that in doing so, he had also lanced her tenuous globe of water during his back swing, so when he struck, the frigid water burst from her control, and poured down his back. His warrior cry was followed immediately by a fairly girlish shriek, as his back arched and he tried to flail against the cold and the wet. He turned to her, his eyes so wide they almost looked like they were about to fall out of his head. "Katara, what did–"

She reached down between them and picked up the flapping ice bass. "I caught a fish."

Sokka seethed at that. "Why is it every time you play with your magic water, I'm the one who ends up getting soaked?" he asked.

"It's not magic! It's waterbending," she said, a twitch of bitterness in her voice.

"Yeah, ancient artform lost for generations, stolen from the youths of the Water Tribes," Sokka said. "All I know is if I had weird powers, I'd keep them to myself."

"How could you be so heartless?" Katara asked. "You know what they did to the other waterbenders," Sokka wilted a bit at that, turning toward the water. She was on a roll, though. "Besides, I'm not the one who keeps making muscles at myself in the mirror."

"You swore you wouldn't tell anybody about that," Sokka said, pointing a warning finger at her.

"Please, you're the most immature, nut brained, sexist twit left in the village," Katara said, standing to loom over her older brother. "I'm embarrassed to be related to you! And ever since Mom died and our family was torn apart, I had to do everything while you mooned around with the others playing soldier!"

She barely registered that the canoe had bumped into the slowly drifting flow of ice, and no force on this Earth could stop her from continuing.

"I mean, I even clean all the clothes!" Katara ranted. With every flick of gesticulation, unheard but ominous cracks sounded behind her. "Have you ever smelled yourself? How do you even produce that kind of stink? It is not pleasant!"

"Yeah, well maybe you should just be a bit more appreciative that I've managed to keep you fed for the last two years," Sokka was now standing himself. "It's not like you've been doing much to keep food on the table!"

"Yeah, that's because I've been doing everything else! Like cooking that food! Like cleaning up after all of the mess you make with your 'recruits'!" Katara kept shouting.

"Well at least I'm still trying to keep this Tribe standing!" Sokka shouted back. "If it wasn't for me, then there'd be no male influences left in this village!"

"You say that like it's a bad thing!"

"You know what? You're on your own. Go and starve for all I care," Sokka said, turning away, his arms crossed.

She glared at his back for a long while, before turning to the ice shore, and letting out a scream of alarm.

The youth standing there gave a glance to each of them in turn, before nervously raising a hand. "Hey," he said, his words oddly accented but in her own language. His voice was quite soft, perhaps even a bit lisping. "I... uh... heard you two screaming. I thought something was wrong."

He was quite unlike anybody she'd seen before. A bit taller than Sokka, his skin was almost white as the ice under his boots. His clothes were quite dark, which was sensible because they would stand out against the ice, and very thick. It was his eyes, though, which struck Katara the hardest. They looked like burnished gold, staring out over an uneasy smile.

"Well, since I'm on my own, I guess I'll just go with the weird stranger," Katara said, bounding onto the shore and looping her arm around his.

"Katara, don't be stupid," Sokka said, pulling her away, giving him a wary glare. "For all we know he could be a Fire Nation spy!"

"Um... I'm not?" the stranger said.

"See? He's not a spy!"

Sokka palmed his brow. "That's exactly what a spy would say!"

"Why would anybody want to spy on you?" the stranger asked.

"Because my sister's weird and crazy," Sokka said, with a bizarre gesture.

"Yeah, I can see that," he said with a soft smirk, pointing over his shoulder to great cracks in the wall of the moving water. Unlike when Sokka said it, she could tell he was being jovial, rather than closeminded. But when Katara saw the extent of what her wild flailing had caused, her jaw dropped.

"I did that?"

"Yup. You've graduated from weird to freakish," Sokka said.

"I need some help," the stranger finally broke in. Sokka let out a braying laugh.

"Well, you've found the best warrior, hunter, and tracker in the South Water Tribe," Sokka said proudly, his chest puffed up.

"Yeah, he inherited that title by default," Katara pointed out.

"Why do you have to ruin these moments for me, Katara?"

"Because you make it too easy."

The stranger glanced between them. "I need somebody who knows the land," he said.

"I know this ice like the back of my hand," Sokka said, stripping off a glove to make his point. Then, he actually looked at the back of his hand, and got a querulous expression. "What the hell is that?"

Katara sighed, palming her own face. "Much as I hate to admit it, Sokka does know his way around," she said. She looked up, forcing a warm smile to shove aside the annoyance at her goon of a brother. "So the goon is Sokka and my name is..."

"Katara. Like I said, I could hear you two screaming at each other," the stranger said. "My name is... Zuko," he said, giving her a respectful nod. He then turned to Sokka, who was now picking at that unknown thing with a fingernail. "I need to find my sister."

"Did she run off on you?" Sokka asked, shooting Katara a significant glance which was about as subtle as a rock to the skull.

"Actually, yes," Zuko admitted. "She's not well. And after all the time down here, she could be deathly ill by now. I need to find her before... before it's too late."

"You came all this way to find your sister?" Katara asked. Zuko let out a sigh, his gaze becoming distant.

"I promised I'd keep her safe," he said quietly. With more gusto, he continued. "I don't intend to betray that promise. I can pay. Not much, but silver is silver."

"You can't eat silver," Katara pointed out dejectedly.

"I also have a bunch of food back with my ship," Zuko offered. At that, Katara felt herself shoved aside by a grinning Sokka.

"Then you've found yourself a guide."

In the north, a girl looks back, to the form of a rock that stood against the horizon. She had never been out of sight of her own home, not anywhere but in her mind. Another mile, out into the Grit Ocean, and she would be farther than she had ever been in her life. Dispatched on a fools errand to hunt down an idiot, with nothing but some food, some water, and her own wits.

And about thirty pounds of hazardous chemicals and materials.

She lets out a sigh, her eyes pressing shut, as she turns to the south, and considers the long path ahead. She is entering another world. And she is afraid.

On the ice, an airbender tucks another blanket around a girl who he doesn't even know. He never even got to learn her name. Appa grumbled with exhaustion, trying to get sleep days overdue, trying to summon the strength to fly. He had already been up there, in the biting winds, but there was nothing but ice. So the airbender sat next to the girl, against the side of the great, six legged beast. Her breathing had become weak, wet, and rattling.

He lets out a weary sigh, his eyes pressing shut, as he looks to the north, to his home at De-Aer Island, where the South Air Temple perched hidden amongst the clouds of the mountain's peak. It was so far, right now. Almost unreachable. She needs help, help he can't give her. And he is afraid.

Not far away, but a lifetime away, two Tribesmen walk the ice, a stranger at their backs. If they knew more, beyond the soft words and unsure smile, they would be afraid. But instead, they power on, in ignorance. The would-be hunter moves out ahead, scaling a mount of snow-covered ice, tilting his head back. He breathes deeply of the South Polar air, his eyes pressing shut, and a goofy smile on his face. The other, the stranger, though, looked on in caution. He had things to hide, things he dare not let them learn. How long would their largess last when the truth came out?

"This way!" Sokka shouted, and bounded from the block. The hunt was on. Three families, hunting.

And thousands of miles away, in a cleft between mountains, a figure rose to her feet. Her body was a girl's, barely into her teens, but it had been that way for a very long time. Tatters of clothing, yellow and orange, fluttered in the wind that whistled through the rough terrain she felt most at home in. Grey eyes, flat and stony, stared across a worldly distance, but with unerring accuracy. There was a time, long, long ago, that people once gave offerings to her, as though to a benign spirit. But then came the Hunger, and the World War. Offerings became supplications. She devoured them all, but could not be sated. She tilted her head to a side. Maybe now, she could finally have her fill. Maybe now, after all of these long, hungry decades, Malu could finally know satiation. And if not, then the world would burn.

To Be Continued.