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Book 4: Air, Chapter 2: Visitors
Chapter Two: Visitors
The sounds of laughing children could be heard faintly ringing behind the lightly falling snow. A snow fight had broken out. Two small groups of giggling water tribe children huddled behind their lopsided snow forts, each with a makeshift flag made of an old rag perched atop their home made fortresses.
“We’ll never surrender!!” cried a particularly tenacious girl as she hurled a snowball towards the opposing fort. She looked almost ridiculously out of place amongst the other, much younger children. The members of the opposing team, whose noses had been peeking out from behind their fort, quickly ducked back down to dodge her attack and squealed in delight. Their retreat was short lived. The older girl quickly took cover as her own fort was pelted with snowballs. She reached beside her, where her team’s stash of snowballs were being stored, only to find empty ground.
“Hey! Hurry up with those snowballs, guys! We need more ammo!” she ordered.
“We’re going as fast as we can, Yue,” huffed one of her...two teammates. She blinked. Hey...that wasn’t right... The girl called Yue chanced a glance at the opposing team. She managed a quick headcount before she was pelted with a deluge of packed snow.
“Nine?!” she exclaimed. “This was supposed to be six on six!”
“Three joined the other guys ‘cus we were gettin’ beat so bad,” replied her other teammate matter-of-factly as he furiously packed snowballs while the other boy stacked them. With this, she grabbed a snowball in each hand and prepared to fling then over their fort with an outcry of , “TRAITORS! YOU’LL PAY FOR YOUR DISLOYALT--” but she stopped, dropping her snowballs to the ground. By now, all the children had stopped their game and were staring up at the sky. Yue held out her mittened hand and a single black snowflake landed on her finger tips. That was all it took to send them all flying.
* * *
Legs pumping, arms flailing wildly, only one thought kept passing through her frazzled mind. “Aunt Katara!!” she wailed as she dashed towards the village, all eleven children trying desperately to keep up. “AUNT KATAAAARAAA!! Her heart was thudding violently in her chest, her breath ragged and her cheeks stinging as her face was pelted with the frigid air. When they reached the village, the group split, each undoubtedly off to find his or her mother. They had all grown up hearing stories of the war, and they all knew what black snow meant. The girl made a beeline toward the large tent in the center of the village. Dodging into the tent, she was met with a gust of warm air from the lit stove inside. “AUNT KATARA!!” Yue exclaimed, flailing her arms in comic desperation. Katara had to hold back a laugh before answering her wide-eyed niece. She adjusted the baby she had perched on her hip to a more comfortable position.
“Honestly, Yue, what’s gotten into you?” Despite the humor she found in the look on the girl’s face, Katara managed to add a drop of concern to her tone. Her niece, however, was too shaken to form comprehensive sentences. Still flailing her arms like a startled turtleduck, she tried her best to relay to her aunt what she had seen.
“We, we were playing! A-and then they were like FWOOSH! And then I was all ‘TRAITORS’ and I was gonna throw it! And then SNOW!! And then we ran back all ZOOM! And, Aunt Katara, they’re COMING!!” The whole time she was saying this, Yue gestured wildly with her arms in an attempt to emphasize what she was saying. All this earned from Katara was a blank stare.
“Ok, sweetie, you’re going to have to talk a little slo-”
“Lady Katara!” The flap to the tent was flung open once again to reveal a middle aged woman with a young child clinging to her side. Katara let out an exasperated sigh as the baby on her hip clapped and babbled in the excitement of having visitors, and such lively ones at that.
“Seriously, is this barge into Katara’s house while yelling at her day or wha-”
“Black snow! By the Shoreline,” informed the newcomer. Katara stilled. Yue huffed.
“THAT’S what I’ve been TRYING to tell you!” she moaned dramatically, using her whole upper body to gesture for emphasis.
“Really, Yue,” Katara sighed, handing the smiling baby over to the other woman before quickly grabbing her coat and mittens, “you’re just like your father sometimes.” Yue crossed her arms and pouted, blue eyes squinted in irritation. Katara paid her little mind.
“Take Tenzin and Yue to my grandmother’s,” Katara instructed the woman, “my other two are visiting her already, I’m going to find out what on earth is going on.” And with that, Katara dashed out of the tent.
Katara made her way to the shoreline at a furious pace, panting as she ran away from the village and towards the sea. This couldn’t be a simple diplomatic meeting, black snow could only be caused by a large amount of soot. The ship wasn’t a normal one used for traveling. This was undoubtedly a war ship.
“Master Katara!” a young man’s voice rang out from behind her. Katara glanced back at two figures dashing towards her. They were both teenagers, one male one female. Katara recognized them immediately as two of her students.
“Where are the others?” Katara demanded as they caught up to her and matched her pace. She had to raise her voice in order to be heard over the icy wind blowing in their ears.
“Kuma is probably already on the shore,” the girl, Nula, panted. Her long hair whipped around her face and neck, but she didn’t seem to care.
“Yeah, he sent us to go find you when we saw the black snow,” her companion,
Eyalu, added. “But then we saw you already heading this way while we were running to the village so, y’know...”
“Here we are, I guess,” Nula finished dryly, “and here I thought I was going to get my beauty sleep for once.”
“And Nitka and Keelanie?” Katara inquired impatiently. Her legs were burning. Her pace had evolved from a steady jog to an urgent sprint.
“Keelanie wasn’t with us,” replied Nula.
“Yeah, so we sent Nitka to go find his girlfriend,” Eyalu smirked. They both snickered. Katara glared.
“Now is not the time,” she warned. Their snickering died off almost instantly. Eyalu taking on the expression of a scolded puppy-monkey.
“Yes, master Katara,” they said in unison. And with that, the three of them dashed to the shoreline where others were sure to be gathered.
* * *
There was a chill in the air when they reached the shore, and it had nothing to do with the icy weather. A group of warriors stood waiting, shields and spears held at the ready, looking towards the horizon with apprehension. Out in the distance, a dark figure could be barely made out. It was growing larger by the second. The group parted for Katara and her students as they made their way to the front. There, they spotted a young man who, unlike the others gathered there, had no weapons. He had a stalky build. One could easily guess that he was muscular, even when dressed in customary water tribe furs. He inclined his head to Katara, Eyalu, and Nula as they approached.
“Hello, Kuma,” Katara greeted, solemnly but not without friendliness.
“Master Katara,” the man (though he was very young, he certainly couldn’t be called a boy) replied. His voice was deep, quiet but deep. He gestured to the approaching ship. “What are they doing here?”
“I don’t know,” answered Katara simply. “In any case,” she continued more loudly, addressing all who had assembled there, “I want everyone on their guard. However, I do not want anyone to attack until we know exactly what is going on. Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation for all of this.” Katara paused to let her words sink in before she continued. “There has been over two decades of peace between the water tribes and the Fire Nation, and we have no reason to expect an attack from them.”
“Yeah, except for that massive ship heading our way,” grumbled Nula rolling her eyes. Eyalu snorted. Katara and Kuma shot them both stern glances. The other warriors, however, seemed relatively soothed by their leader’s words, and their grips on their weapons and the looks on their faces relaxed to a certain degree. Katara only wished she was as optimistic about the current situation as she had sounded.
* * *
Nothing could be heard for several seconds. Nothing except the angry crackling of the flames rising from the Firelord’s throne. Zuko was the first to speak, addressing a kneeling figure partially hidden by the shadows in front of the throne. In his anger, Aang hadn’t even noticed that he and the Fire Lord were not alone. “Princess Kai Lyn,” Zuko said in a calm, stern voice, “ you may go. I’ll deal with you shortly.” The girl sat up and bowed quickly before turning to leave. She caught Aang’s eye with a flash of recognition. Her expression was worried and questioning, but she dared not say a word as she continued to scurry out of her father’s thrown room. When the grand doors opened and then closed behind him with a resounding echo, Aang took a deep breath and stepped forward.
With all the authority he could muster in his voice, Aang said, “I know about Kim Pei, Zuko!”
“Oh?” the other man answered as he rose from his seat and strode towards Aang with...was that a smirk? Aang felt a surge of anger rise in his chest.
“There’s nothing funny about this,” Aang warned. He was now face to face with Firelord Zuko who had a thoroughly amused expression on his face. The Avatar just glared.
“Well, that all depends,” replied Zuko. His face was beginning to regain its composure and settle into an expression that was halfway between irritation and exhaustion. “The Fire Nation loosing two ships and fifteen men in an unprovoked attack? No, that’s not funny at all. But,” Zuko raised a finger, stopping Aang from interrupting him, “you marching in here, in my own palace, like you’ve just been named supreme emperor of the world, and attempting to chastise me as if I were a child? That, my friend, I find that funny. Ironic at the very least.” Aang froze.
“Ah, I see you are as uninformed as you are humorous,” Zuko said dryly. His face reminded Aang of his own: older, tired. His scar not as blazingly red as it was when they were still still children fighting the war, but still painfully obvious. No matter how many times he had seen it, the effect was still the same, still a painful reminder of the past. “Let’s think for a minute, Aang. Do you honestly think, that after twenty years of peace and the end of a hundred year war, that I would just send troops waltzing into the Earth Kingdom and start taking over land again?” Zuko raised an eyebrow; he was giving Aang that look, the ‘Zuko’s smarter than you look’ as Toph had dubbed it several years ago. Aang slouched slightly, letting out a breath that he hadn’t realized he was holding. Zuko started to walk towards the exit, looking over his shoulder at Aang who was left behind looking rather dumbfounded. “Care for some tea?”
Aang was sure he looked like an idiot as he tiredly followed a self-satisfied Zuko out of the thrown room after storming his way into the palace like that. He couldn’t decide whether he was relieved that the Fire Nation was not aggressing after all, or miffed with himself for overreacting. Either way, if Zuko’s version of events was true, then Aang would have to go pay a visit to the Earth Kingdom about their misuse of force...again. But for now...tea first, politics later. Maybe even a little Pai Sho. Yes, that sounded like an excellent plan.
* * *
Katara was wrong.
She thought they were dealing with a big ship; she was sorely mistaken.
They were dealing with a very, very, VERY big ship.
It was now seconds away from setting anchor, and its shadow loomed above her and the other warriors as it came to a stop with a massive hiss of smoke. The warriors and the four water benders stood at the ready. She realized, with a twinge of annoyance, that her other two students, Keelanie and Nitka, were no where to be seen. ‘Probably for the best anyway,’ she thought, almost guiltily, ‘I’d hate to say it out loud, but if this comes to a fight they’d probably only get in the way. Those two are cowards.’
She snapped back to attention and adopted a fighting stance as the enormous door of the ship began to lower with an ear-splitting screech. Her students followed her example and took fighting stances of their own. Everyone waited, Katara’s heart threatening to leap out of her chest, for the Fire Nation sailors to make the first move. Finally, several figures could be seen making their way out of the ship and down the ramp. All were helmeted except for the man in front. He was slightly shorter than the rest of the soldiers, and he wore a cape over his armor, but that’s all Katara could make out from their distance. As they continued to approach, Katara let out a sigh of relief to see that none of them had weapons, but she didn’t relax completely. This could be a trick. After all, firebenders had no immediate need for weapons. The armored men put their hands up in a show of peace. The young man at the lead had a small grin on his face. And then it dawned on Katara. She straightened up out of her defensive stance. She recognized that face!
“Tom Tom?!” Katara exclaimed incredulously. The young man continued to grin good-naturedly and he lowered his hands to his sides.
“Captain Tom Tom, actually,” he replied cooly.