They huddled around the corpse, three friends in various stages of grief, for various reasons. A low, keening cry came from one, who lay across the chest of the fallen warrior and wept softly. Near her, hair wild, the other female in the group stared at the ground, her finger clenched in the dirt, her breath coming in ragged gasps.
The bald boy sat near the fallen one's head, his hand outstretched, pushing hair from his forehead. Tears streamed down his face, but he made no sound. The young boy's face seemed old beyond belief, drained of color, right down to the blue arrow tattoos on his head.
The silent, wild haired girl looked up, swallowed, and reached up to wipe tears from her cheeks, streaking the dirt on her fingers down her face. She gazed at the body on the ground and took in a deep breath, as if to shout out. The only thing that came from her mouth was a whispered name.
"Sokka... Oh, Sokka."
The young man turned his head to look at her, and she met his eyes. Hers were cold and hard as the ice she could manipulate, and he found himself holding his breath.
"I can't sit here any more."
"Don't do this, Katara." The boy put no force into his words, only the hint of pleading. The girl did not waver, but instead let the ice in her eyes creep into her voice.
"They killed my brother. We trusted them, we let them get close, and they killed him in cold blood." Her voice began to shake in anger. "Look at him, Aang. LOOK at him!" Her finger pointed, like a claw, and Aang turned away in shame. "They burned him. Fire filled his lungs and he suffocated while he did nothing more but try to breathe." She stood and took a few faltering steps away from the group. Though she whispered, Katara's words reached Aang's ears. "They shouldn't have done it on a full moon night."
She left, and Aang did nothing to try to stop her. After a few moments, the other one, ignored by the pair, stood and stumbled after Katara. "Toph," Aang called, but he seemed to know it was as futile as it would have been with Katara. Wiping blind eyes, Toph followed Katara. Aang stayed behind.
"It was a mistake attacking them," ground out the former Fire Nation Prince, pacing in front of the campfire where his sister lounged. Nearby, two women watched the Prince pace. One of them sat sedately, watching with only her eyes. The other was animated, looking over her shoulder, scared out of her wits.
The Princess lifted herself luxuriously, propping herself on the palms of her hands and gazing up at her brother. "Zuko, they weren't buying it. The little Water Nation peasant was reaching for his weapon, and he was going to kill you. I could see it in his eyes."
The more still of the two sitting between the Prince and Princess glanced sidelong at the Princess, who shrugged at her. Given Zuko's recent reluctance to get the job of capturing the Avatar done, it was a good idea to soften the truth a bit. The truth was, the warrior was in the way.
Ty Lee fought back a sob, but said nothing. Instead she was jumping at the slightest noise.
"Ty Lee, what is your problem?"
"Zuko's right," the acrobat said, her voice high and afraid. "You killed him! And his friends... they're all really powerful benders!" Ty Lee looked around again, quivering. "We're all in danger."
"Oh, like fighting benders matters to you. Neither you nor Mai have ever had problems with anyone, let alone benders. And no one could hurt me and Zuko." Azula lounged back, tossing her hair. She smiled u at the sky, a smile that would have frozen anyone in its path to death. "Besides, they're all such goody goods. They'd never look for anything as 'evil'," she chuckled, emphasizing with a sarcastic tone of fear, "as revenge."
"Don't count on it."
Ty Lee squeaked. No one from their camp had spoken. The voice had come from the shadows at the edge of the campfire.
Azula snapped into action, sending twin fireballs toward the noise. The target didn't move; the flames were not meant to destroy, but to identify. They hit to either side of two shapes and lit the grass on fire. In the hellish flickering light stood a woman in Water Tribe robes, her long, dark hair hanging in wet strands from her head, in front of her face. Her clothing was dirty and ripped. Behind her was a smaller girl in green clothing, her milky eyes hidden by her bangs.
Zuko stepped forward. "Katara? Toph?" Katara's head snapped up, hair falling away to expose one eye.
"You killed my brother," she snarled, her fingers curling into claws.
The acrobat leapt over the fire, bravely overcoming her fear. "It... It was an accident! A misunderstanding! I'm sorry Sokka died! But it's--" Her pleas were cut off as the very earth rose up to capture her feet, then her hands. She screamed, a sound that was cut off when stones crawled up her body and formed a band around her neck, cutting off her air. She tried to breathe, but couldn't. She tried to sink down, but the earth binding held her up.
"Stop it," cried Mai, trying to pull Ty Lee loose. "She can't breathe!" Mai pulled harder. "You're killing her!"
"No," growled Katara, pulling the cap off of the water pouch at her hip. She allowed water to flow from the mouth of the container, stretching it out and raising it above her head, forming it into a water ring. With a scream she flung her hands toward Ty Lee. Mai dived out of the way, but Ty Lee was still pinned. The water froze into flat, crescent shapes and seemed to miss all around Ty Lee. The acrobat's struggles ceased.
"I'm killing her."
As Katara spoke, Ty Lee literally fell to pieces, the crescent shaped ice blades having ripped her limb from limb. The head rolled to Azula's feet, the shocked look on her face locked forever.
Azula froze, staggered by the enormity of the act. Zuko screamed, turning to look at Katara. "Yo- you're..." He lifted his hand and shot fire around the two friends of the Avatar.
"Mistake," said Toph, but it was Katara that acted. She lifted her hand toward Zuko, and he stiffened. His face filled with panic.
"Full moon, Zuko." She turned him around, using the blood in his body to pull his limbs in a macabre dance. He struggled against her grip, screaming at Katara to stop, but she wouldn't. Bones cracked.
"Leave him alone!" The shout came from Azula, full of command, and blue fire erupted around her fists. She thrust a fist toward the Water Bending woman, sending a gout of blue flame, but Katara yanked her hands, pulling Zuko into the path of the flames. Before Azula could stop it, Zuko was covered in flames.
Mai screamed, sinking to her knees. Azula gaped at the charred form of her brother, still breathing, but obviously not getting any true air. Azula gibbered softly to herself.
"Don't worry, Azula," whispered Katara. "I won't let him suffer like Sokka did." Her hands began to glow, and Mai, having seen her heal, found a smile creeping onto her face. A smile that froze in place as Katara let out a primal scream and ripped every bit of moisture from Zuko's burnt body.
As Zuko's dried husk crumpled to the ground, Mai screamed, and continued to scream as if her soul was being torn from her. She screamed, her eyes glued to Zuko's inert form, and screamed louder as Toph took control of the minerals that were left in Zuko's body, raising him up in a mockery of life and putting his arms around her. Toph's body was tense and straining. Controlling the 'earth' in the body was harder than controlling the ground, but she did it anyway. Zuko's skeletal remains embraced Mai, who was screaming even more.
"Don't do this! No, no, don't do this!"
Zuko's desiccated hand rose up and slid along Mai's cheek. Mai was frantic, trying to pull away, but stopped as soon as Zuko's fingers touched her cheek. She whimpered, but looked at his face. "Oh, Zuko," she said, her voice full of a shaky, mad rapture, and her eyes shone with love that was conquering the fear.
She stayed like that for minutes, staring into what remained of Zuko's eyes. His fingers suddenly stiffened, striking snake like into Mai's eyes. She gasped, arched her back, and then fell limp. Both her and Zuko's remains fell to the ground, locked in an embrace as if they had fallen asleep.
Azula screeched, sending fireballs at Toph, which Katara was forced to block. It was a sign of the Fire Nation Princess's distress that they were orange rather than the hotter blue.
"FINE," Azula cried, sending more and more fire at them. Toph was still exhausted from controlling the foreign matter, and Katara was hard pressed to block it all. "Fine, you killed them! You got your revenge for your brother and killed mine! I still have a score to even! I still have my warriors to avenge! And I'm going to start with you!" By now, Azula's anger was stoked enough to manifest in blue flames, and Katara was getting beaten down. "And who will save you," Azula crowed, her face lit up with deranged glee. "Not the Avatar! He is peaceful! He is weak!"
A noise behind Azula went unnoticed, but Toph felt the cause of it and gasped, launching herself backwards by instinct. Up from the ground rose the form of a man, arms and head limp. In the light of the fire, Katara could see that half of its face was burned and the hair that was left from the fire that consumed it was hanging down limply. Katara sobbed, and Toph cowered.
Azula did not heed the noise, but had stopped throwing fireballs, breathing heavily, her fist blazing. A sound behind her made her freeze. The sound turned into a gurgling, gravelly whisper.
She turned then, and saw it. The Water Tribe warrior, dead, limp, was staggering toward her. She shot a bolt of quickly conjured lightning, her fear blanking her mind to give her the control she would not have had otherwise. It struck the corpse, but left no mark, and only the faintest smell of cooked meat.
"A-zu-la..." Sokka's corpse stumbled at Azula, who pulled back in fearful disgust. It caught her anyway, its arms around her neck. "hun-gry."
Azula screamed only a little as the ground opened up and swallowed both whole. The last sound from her was the short yelp as she and Sokka fell, cut off when the ground slammed together in her wake.
"Did you do that, Toph?" Katara whispered, shocked out of her anger. Toph's head shook rapidly, and she began to cry. Katara looked around. "Did... what... how did that happen?"
"I did it."
Katara spun to see Aang in front of her, shirtless, in brown training pants. His tattoos were only now beginning to lose the white glow that marked his transition into and out of the Avatar state.
"I did it, Katara. " His voice was as soft as ever. "I had to. Sokka needed his closure as well."