This is my 2012 Zutara Secret Santa gift for jesterry. I hope you like it, m'dear. :)


The Descent


"Death twitches my ear;
'Live,' he says.
'For I am coming.'"

.

·

IT BEGAN WITH a tug at his navel, and suddenly he was being thrown up into the air. The icy wind sung in his ears as he sailed, like ephemeral music curling around his thoughts. When he finally reached the pinnacle, he exhaled, watching as his breath crystallised in the air.

There was an annoying pulse beating at the back of his eyes, like the percussion of war drums, but then the pain shifted to his throat—hot and sharp. Drops of blood burst before his eyes and fanned out like delicate red tendrils. He gasped for air, but all he could do was gargle as tiny red bubbles spilled from his mouth and stained his lips.

This is it, he thought. This is how it ends.

It felt as though he was being pulled in another direction—out onto the edge of something terrifying, over a cliff he couldn't climb out of. He expected to be terrified, but it was almost like a peaceful calm had taken over him. Then the music in his ears changed, its final notes becoming shrill and tinny like a threnody. His threnody.

The beating of the war drums grew louder, deafening and incessant. They would not stop. They would never stop. They would only burn like a tattoo on his heart until—

.

·

KATARA POKED AIMLESSLY at the fire with a stick and shivered as a blast of icy cold wind howled all too close to her ears. Inside the cave was no warmer than it was outside. However, unlike the vast, frozen tundra that surrounded this place, the cave was relatively dry and free from snow.

The storm outside raged its ceaseless anger, filling the opening of the cave with yet another fresh blanket of snow. The sky had darkened an angry shade of grey, and the cave too, save the flickering fire that cast dancing shadows along the walls.

It had taken a few minutes, but her heart had finally stopped its racing. It was a relief to breathe normally again, no longer having to suck the air into her lungs in short gasps. She felt oddly calm huddled around the fire as the light from the flames rolled over her face and hair, giving her features a rusted, haunted glow.

His body, however, lay cold beside her. His mouth was open in a faint O of shock. His hair was already drying; some strands had fallen loose from the knot, feathering over his closed eyes in wisps. That fair skin of his, that fine black hair, that painful red scar—everything was so stark and contrast, calling out to her.

He looks so young, she thought. He looked so young.

The fire hissed at her feet, creating its own melody with the burning wood. It crackled and popped, and she shivered violently, drawing her coat tightly about herself as she awkwardly shuffled away from the body. She was dressed warmly enough, but it was the North Pole and the night (or was it day now?) was cold.

A pack of wolves howled in the distance and she shuddered. She had no idea how to get back to the city from here on her own, but she figured someone would come for her eventually. Truth be told, she didn't want to go back yet. She couldn't. Not with him, not with the body.

The body.

Katara hugged her knees to her chest and glanced down at the young man. Man? Just a boy, really. Zuko, the Fire Prince. He was so still, so motionless. Katara's eyes began to water at the sight of him, and she quickly turned away.

The sky pulsed a dull red and she caught a glimpse of the moon hanging blood red behind the clouds. Something was wrong. She could feel it. She wondered if her brother and Aang were okay.

On the heels of a second set of howls, she realised that it was not wolves she heard but the screaming of people from the frozen city below. Their frightened screams carried on the wind. Fear was in the air. People were afraid. People were dying.

Katara swallowed back the terror. Her stomach churned in fear, and regret. She should have run outside to see what was going on. She should have abandoned the cave's protection and helped her friends. However, the body lying beside her refused to let her go. It weighed her down like a stone. Guilt had rooted itself in her heart and would not let her move.

Yes, people were dying. People were dead. She should know. She had also killed today.