A/N: This is my first ALTA fic, and it might not be strictly canon, but I wondered where to Painted Lady went for all that time. Hope you enjoy it. :)

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I watched curiously as the building went up. It was not a normal building; it was large, and metal. Lucky it was on the edge of the river, or it would have collapsed into the water. There was a reason that my villagers built with wood.

It took a full season before the building stopped. I noticed the loud, erratic noises cease, though the building was never really silent. Thrums, shouting workers, and splashing were constant, even at night. I left for a moon to consult with a friend who dwelt near the fire nation capitol. Perhaps he would know what the purpose of the building was.

It took some time to find him. We spirits care little for war, or human aggressiveness, but even we disliked when nations upset the balance. Pointless suffering and chaos for the greed of a few humans leading many. The spirit had secluded himself, trying to gain distance from the greed he fed. He delighted in helping the people living near him, they depended on him for their lives in the hot nation. But so did the Royals, and the generals, and the soldiers that claimed his legend was just that, a legend. He could do nothing to stop them, nor was he allowed to. Spirits could not interfere, and most did not want to. Perhaps we River Spirits felt closer to our mortals than other spirits.

The spirit of the river that flowed through the capitol was a longtime friend. All the rivers in this small land joined somehow. We had not seen each other in nearly a century of mortal time, but it mattered little. He was always as busy as the mortals around him while I preferred to pass my days watching the quiet village dwelling in my protection. I finally found him in pain, unable to do anything about it. We mourned together for 7 sunrises, before I implored him to help me.

He explained that the metal building was a factory, used to build other metal things. I was behind on the ways of the world, but I had never minded. Doc's quiet, gentle raft carrying people back and forth, wooden houses on stakes, jumping channels preferred to walking on the paths, those were our way of life. We had never needed all those new things.

I returned with the full moon. I had tried for several sunrises to enter my river again, but I grew so weak I needed Tui's help to guide me back home. I saw the damage when I cast my gaze around the river. The factory was pouring its toxic waste into the river. My River! How dare they poison the water sacred to me! The villagers did not notice, I thought. Watching closely, I began to notice the ever frequent mournful but frightened looks cast to the factory.

After half a year had passed, all the medicine and worthwhile food in the village had been taken by the soldiers. They declared it given, but the people of Jang Hui knew the lies from the serpent's mouth. The serpent was untouchable however, protected by faster boats, and fire, and the Firelord himself. Each day I became more human as I felt the suffering of the people. I aided when I could but I grew weak, so weak.

After only one more moon had passed, I left. I had no choice, I could not stay with my life force fading away. The villagers became sicker, hunger became starvation, and hope was abandoned.

I found refuge with my friend in the spirit world and I drew what strength I could. He continued to stay with his people, but he visited often, staying a little longer each time he returned. It got so difficult to dwell in the world, to view the world for all its suffering. I watched however, no matter how much it pained me.

Other spirits came and went passed the little river where we dwelt, the representation of all the rivers in the fire nation. Some stayed for a time to rest, I healed as many weary spirits as I could. Other gave us no heed to stay, they continued on, uncaring, or unhearing. The war was ending, the spirits told us. It was only a matter of time before the Fire Nation armies won. Perhaps it would bring peace. Anything to get back to my people was worth it, even if the cruel armies must win.

Then something changed. Spirits whispered of a boy. A boy who could save the spirits along with the mortals. The Avatar was back.

Only months later, the unthinkable happened. My world went dark. I cried out in agony that surpassed even the pain of the polluted waters. Perhaps my friend felt it as well, but I could not see outside myself. It surpassed the pain of losing my family as a mortal, the sorrow at the world burning, the unbalance of the airbenders death. Every fiber of my spirit was burning, and fading. If I was fading, why did I still feel pain? Nothingness crept upon me, I faded away until only my heart beat was left. I struggled for life, but Tui had given me life, and Tui was dead. Eventually the pain ended, but I did not notice.

I later learned of Yue, the brave mortal who had given her life for Tui. The foolish, heartless mortal who had murdered the moon was punished by La, thrown into the fog of lost souls. My world returned to normal, if still cruel. The young Avatar grew stronger, learning the elements, learning the ways of the spirit. And I was still by a river, unable to stop the suffering.

One day my friend woke me. The avatar and his companions were in the Fire Nation. More importantly they were in my village. My anger simmered at the boy, his uncaring attitude would have caused his death had I been there. But the girl, she helped the boy who had not understood. I watched and learned their names, something I rarely cared to do with visitors. They would succeed in their quest or they would not, it would not affect me. But I hoped, which spirits do not do of course, that perhaps they would help me before continuing on their journey.

Katara snuck under the cover of night to obtain food for the villagers. If she lived through this, she would get my blessing, I vowed. She returned every night, helping and healing the way I could not. When the avatar finally stepped in, I rejoiced. The spirits who were watching with me shared my joy.

When Sokka accepted his sister, I decided I would not strike him down.

When the soldiers sped to the village, the river almost erupted in my rage.

When the four children defeated them, doing what the adults could not, I felt more peace than I had in 10 years.

And when that spunky blind child, Toph, encouraged them to clean the river, I set off with Yue's guidance to return to my home.

"Thank You." I say to Katara as she washes off her face paint. Maybe the Avatar was delayed, maybe there will be consequences, but I have my river back. That is all I ever needed. Now I can watch Dock and Shoe and Mushi declare their differences, I can watch that boy grow up with a mother, and I can keep watch for any other mischief makers. I can drive them out with the help of my people. And maybe Katara, and the Avatar, and their friends can stop the War so that my village can live in true peace.

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Well I'm done finally. I wrote it months ago, but I'm really glad I edited before trying to post it. Thanks for reading!