I'm not totally sure where this came from, to be perfectly honest. This takes place a few years after canon, and Kataang never happened. Apologies in advance for any mistakes.


Maelstrom

[Turbulence; violent turmoil] or: [A powerful whirlpool in the sea or a river]

ZK

Deep in the Earth Kingdom, there was a village in a clearing beside a stream. In many parts of the world, that was rather unremarkable. Very few of the villagers had ever left the safety of their forest, and those that did rarely saw other benders. They knew that there had once been a terrible war between the firebenders and the rest of the world, but it was so long ago as to be barely remembered.

But once a month, a whirlpool formed in the deepest part of the river and thundered all day. And when the full moon rose, the vortex subsided and a young, dark skinned woman stepped from the water.

She had been appearing for as long as the village had stood. Maybe longer, for all the people knew.

What they did know was this: her blue eyes were unlike anything they'd ever seen; she could control the river with her hands and feet; and she spent all night waiting by the edge of the water, tracking the moon's progress across the sky.

They didn't know her name, as every time someone approached her she slipped back into the stream, so the villagers called her Ratna, for the blue jewel she wore around her neck.

The moment Ratna waited for seldom came, for it only happened when the sun's rays broke the horizon while the moon was still in the sky.

When that occured, a man stepped from the horizon.

They called him Durjaya, because he never gave in to Ratna, just as she never surrendered to him.

On the uncommon occasion that he appeared, Durjaya pulled the fire of the sun down with him and Ratna met him in the middle with half of the river in her grasp.

Their fights were barely contained chaos. They never lasted more than a few minutes but everything was raging heat and blinding, hissing steam and pounding water.

And when the sun was fully settled in the sky, the steam sank away and the villagers would catch a glimpse of her fingers on his neck, and his lips on her cheek.

Ratna would slip away into the river, and Durjaya spent the rest of the day seated on the rocks of the water's edge, watching the whirlpool slowly dissipate.

At dusk he extinguished the fire in his fists and fled back to the sky.


Katara pushed a branch out of her face and looked forward to her companion, who was hacking away at the foliage that blocked their path.

"Zuko, are you sure this is the right way?"

He stopped to wipe the sweat from his brow but didn't turn around.

"The village men said there was a settlement in one of the forest's clearings where a woman of Fire Nation descent was recently seen. It has to be her."

Normally Katara admired her friend's determination, but they were nowhere near civilization. The sun was close to setting and she was covered in soars from leech-a-pillars.

"We may have to consider the possibility that the men lied to us," she said. Ahead, Zuko's shoulders slumped. Katara felt horrible. This was the first time in years that Zuko had had any sort of hope for finding his mother, and she was only being negative.

Katara walked forward, pulled yet another leech-a-pillar from her arm, and placed her hand between Zuko's shoulder blades. Even the swords in his hands seemed to droop.

"I'm sorry, Zuko," and she meant it.

They had left Caldera City nearly fourth months ago to find Ursa, but the woman was proving to be incredibly illusive. Everywhere they stopped, someone had information that she was just over the next hilltop. Katara knew the Fire Lord's gold had something to do with the sudden- but misleading- support.

She also knew they were in Hei Bai's forest, and though Aang was friendly with the spirit, that wouldn't save them from his wrath if Zuko kept slicing at the trees and plants.

"Why don't we set up camp for the night? We can head back to the village and question the men again in the morning."

He nodded and turned away to start a fire. Katara let her hand fall, wincing as he broke branches off of trees. They would have to have a conversation tomorrow.

She watched her friend stare at flame cradled in his fingers and felt something in her chest clench.

Katara was carrying their shared pack that day and she shrugged it off to start on dinner. They had to find Ursa, before Zuko's shoulders could curl any further in on themselves.


Once, only a short time after the village had been built, thieves had snuck in in the dead of night. The inhabitants woke to knives at their throats and demands that they gather anything of value.

They were being held in the town center when the black night burst with light. A man with a scarred face stepped down from the clouds and chased away the thieves, bending fire at their backs. He cut the villagers' bonds with his double swords and disappeared.

He did not appear for several years. The dark skinned woman never abandoned her position by the water's edge, but her eyes grew sadder with each passing moon cycle.


Katara woke in the middle of the night to Zuko's eyes hovering above hers and his hand on her arm.

"Look," he whispered. "Smoke."

She followed his gaze to the sky, and sure enough, there was the telltale haze of a fire blocking the stars.

Katara sat up and tied her hair back. She observed as Zuko unsheathed her swords and followed when he crept forward. Her hand never strayed far from the water skin on her hip.

It took some time to sneak through the underbrush, but thankfully Zuko was not making his own path. They came to the edge of a clearing, and Zuko took the time to shoot Katara a look. She rolled her eyes.

The scene before them made her gasp.

If there was a settlement, it was gone now. Katara wondered how they hadn't heard the crackling or smelled the fumes earlier.

This was no campfire, nor a village cooking flame.

This was an inferno.

Beside her, Zuko stiffened. "Mom!"

Katara tried to grab his arm to stop him- tried to tell him they had no proof that Ursa was here. They needed a plan. But he slipped through her grasp and ran toward the flames.

Few of the buildings were still standing, and those that were bellowed as they burned. Zuko ran and Katara tailed him, water skin uncapped but untouched. She would need to conserve it in this heat.

Everything was twisting orange and red. Blistering heat licked at her limbs. Smoke irritated her throat. Someone was lying in the middle of the road and she sprinted to them.

Katara stumbled back and tried not to vomit. They were dead- charred beyond saving.

She glanced up and Zuko was gone. She screamed his name and thought she heard his voice amidst the roaring burn but couldn't be sure.

Underneath it all, she caught the faintest whisper that resonated in her bones. There was water nearby.

She stumbled and coughed her way to the other side and was welcomed by the sight of a shallow stream. Relief blasted in her veins. She might have been crying. She wasn't sure. Her face felt like sun-dried leather.

Taking a deep breath to center herself, Katara turned back to the settlement. Everything was shrieking fire and groaning wood. The flames were high enough to tease the tree branches.

She had no idea how anyone could survive in there. She thought of Zuko and prayed to Tui and La that he would be alright.

Katara raised her arms and behind her a wave taller than the trees formed. Then, she sent it rushing forward.


Sometimes, the villagers knew, even well-meant mistakes could have deadly consequences.

One fine summer's day, a young man lit the cooking fires to prepare a meal. He meant to woo his beloved, but, as is often the case, he was soon distracted by his friends. They left to go hunting in the surrounding forest, but the young man forgot to extinguish his fire.

In the dry summer air, it did not take long for it to spread. Soon, flames were crawling through the grass and dancing in doorways. People ran for the safety of the trees.

Before they could organize themselves, the river roared and spat up Ratna. Not moving, she stood on the surface of the stream and bent water toward the village.

She flowed from one stance to another, element mirroring her motions. Tendrils of water snaked between the buildings, flooding the village and putting out the flames.

When it was done, Ratna bowed her head to the gather people and sank below the gentle ripples.

She did not appear again for nearly two decades.


When Katara could think straight once more, the fire was gone, the night was silent, and Zuko stood before her, pale and soaked. She thanked the spirits that he was alright.

Something in her head pounded fiercely. Zuko advanced and she smiled. When he was close enough for his face to be visible, it slid from her mouth.

He was furious.

"What was that?" Oh how she hated his quiet anger. Katara almost wished he was still the brash, hotheaded youth that chased them around the world. At least then he would yell until he wasn't mad anymore. Quiet Zuko was deadly.

She reached her hand out, to steady both him and herself, but he drew back. She wobbled on her feet.

"Look, Katara! You destroyed all of the buildings!"

She did look. Zuko was right; the few structures that had stood were now just piles of rubble like the rest, though not all of that was strictly her fault. They had been on fire. She didn't understand his rage.

"Zuko, why are you mad? I put out the fire."

"She could have been alive!" He yelled. Her head throbbed. She clutched it. Katara couldn't remember a time she had bent so much water at one time. Just out of her reach, Zuko pulled at his hair.

"Zuko, no one could survive that," Katara's heart broke for him as he groaned and shook his head. "You're lucky you made it out of there."

He pulled at his hair and blew flames from his mouth. She hoped he didn't catch anything else on fire. She wasn't sure she could bend again so soon. On closer scrutiny, Zuko's clothes were scorched. Katara was sure he had been trying to search the buildings. She was fiercely glad he didn't get hurt.

The thought of her dear friend sacrificing his life for a mother he hadn't seen in nearly a decade was suddenly too much. Katara's legs buckled and she fell to her knees and Zuko was crouched right in front of her, making sure she was okay. His hair dripped on his face but his eyes were wide and scared.

Katara nodded in answer to his frantic questions and he crushed her to his chest. His wet clothes clung to hers but she could still feel the tears seeping into the fabric covering her shoulder.

She kissed his hair and whispered nonsense in his ear and wished they could have done something more.

Something crashed, deep in the forest, and Zuko stiffened against her. Katara prayed to the spirits that it was just some animal, running away from the clearing.

The four-armed monstrous form of Hei Bai thundered through the trees, and Katara changed her prayer.

She only wanted them to make it out of this alive.


It took the people of the village many years to come up with a name for their little settlement. For the first few generations it didn't matter, because it was only them and they didn't require a name to know that this place was their home.

But travelers did pass through, no matter how rarely, and they eventually acknowledged that they needed a way to distinguish who they were.

After much deliberation, the people voted to name their home Tonrar, after the two souls that protected them.

The people of Tonrar knew Ratna and Durjaya were spirits. They did not know what their original purposes had been, but the two had become the town's guardians.

As the years passed, they erected shrines to the pair. It wasn't purposeful- at least not at first- just a sweet cake laid out for Ratna during her long vigils or a shelter constructed to protect Durjaya from the blistering sun. Soon, the rock where the sweet cake was usually put was covered in swirls of blue paint. Children laid flowers around her resting place, and elders took turns keeping watch over her. The shelter was painted with red and orange, and young men and women visited it to ask Durjaya for luck in their ventures.

Tonrar prospered under their keen eyes, and the forest flourished.


"Who dare cut and burn my forest?" The giant spirit paced in agitation until its gaze fell on Katara and Zuko. It advanced. "You! It must have been you! I'll have your souls for that!"

Zuko untangled his arms from Katara's, and she was left on the ground while he stood to face down the spirit alone. "We didn't do this!"

Hei Bai ignored him. Katara tried to stand but collapsed. Her head thudded with pain. The spirit drew himself upward and opened his mouth. Zuko moved in front of her and Katara wanted to scream at him for his stupidity.

There was a soft light in the night sky above them, and Katara twisted herself to watch as Yue stepped down from the crescent moon. Her chest relaxed; Yue would save them.

The moon spirit maneuvered to be between them and Hei Bai. Katara could only see her back, but Yue's shoulders were square and her spine straight. She did not fear the woodland spirit.

"Hei Bai," her voice was as cool and calm as the ocean, and just as deadly. "I watched them. They did not cause this." She glanced over her shoulder and smiled lightly at Katara. "Zuko was searching for survivors, and Katara is the only reason the entire forest was not engulfed."

"Bah!" Hei Bai snarled. "He reeks of smoke; it is not just on his clothes, it is in his blood. Firebenders have hurt my trees too often in the past. I will not allow him to escape unscathed."

"What do you plan on doing?"

Katara attempted to stand once more and succeeded in climbing to her feet. She swayed. Zuko was two, maybe three steps away. She could do this.

"I will take his spirit." Katara stepped forward. "I will bind him to me and make him guardian of the forest." She managed another stride. "He will be responsible for all who live here, for no less than two thousand years."

Katara reached Zuko and grasped his arm tightly. He jumped but she paid him no mind. She would not allow her friend to be enslaved.

Yue glanced at Katara again, and this time her face was hopeful. "Does that mean you will let the waterbender go?"

Hei Bai didn't even look at her. "Yes. Now leave, moon spirit," he said with a dismissive wave of one of his smaller black arms. His focus fixed back on Zuko.

"No." Katara stepped forward. Zuko's arm tensed in her grip. "Let me take on some of his punishment."

Behind her Zuko grew still. "Katara," he breathed, "don't do this."

Hei Bai tilted his head and studied her. "Very well, little girl. You shall also become a spirit and guard my lands. You will each serve one thousand years in my service."

Zuko rested his head in the curve of her neck and wound his free hand in her hair. "You're so stupid sometimes."

Katara looked to Yue. The spirit's eyes were regretful but she turned to Hei Bai.

"If I may bestow a gift upon them?" He sneered but didn't object. Yue cupped Katara's face in her hands and kissed her brow. "Katara, daughter of the seas, for your sacrifice I will allow your spirit to enter the mortal world once a month, every time the moon is full."

She reached around Katara and drew Zuko's head up. "Zuko, son of fire, you will be allowed to cross over when the full moon and the rising sun both occupy the sky."

Katara's heart swelled with gratitude. She bowed to her friend.

Hei Bai cackled in the background. "However, you must fight against one another whenever you are here!"

Yue frowned.

"Can't you do anything, Yue?" Katara knew she was asking a lot, especially for a girl who had willingly gotten herself into this mess.

Yue shook her head. "This is his realm, Katara. I may influence him, but even I cannot change his decisions." She relinquished her grip on the pair and turned to Hei Bai. She dipped her chin and strode back into the sky.

Hei Bai grinned at them. "And every time you must appear to save my forest, you will lose time together."

Katara wanted to object. She wanted to scream and rage that this wasn't fair, that this wasn't their fault. Instead, she clutched Zuko's hand in her own and looked at him. His stared back, his eyes so familiar something deep in her chest ached.

"Zuko, know that you are my greatest friend and I'm sorry-"

She never saw the fist that struck them down.

Hei Bai pulled the spirits from their bodies and flung Zuko's to the stars when the heat of it burned him. He stared at the swirling blue one in his hand. What strange creatures humans were. Almost as if in response to his thoughts, the soul turned to ice so quickly it clung to his skin. Hei Bai snarled and shook it off. It plopped into the river.

"Enjoy your new homes."

Then he ran back into the forest.


In the Water Tribes, occasionally a story was told of a chief who was visited by the moon spirit. He had been a wise and strong leader, and that is why, they said, the lady of the night sky stepped into his dreams and gave him news of his sister, who had been missing for quite some time.

The chief had many powerful friends, and he traveled to the Fire Nation to discuss this with them. He met with the Fire Lord Regent, the only metalbender in the world, and the Avatar. They scoured the world, searching for the chief's sister and her traveling companion, the Fire Lord. The Avatar especially was distraught by the loss of his friends, and he spent many years of his life combing the Earth Kingdom for a clue as to where they had gone.

Eventually someone else was named Fire Lord, and the chief stepped down from his post. The Avatar passed on, and a new one was born.

No one in the Water Tribes- nor in any of the other nations- knew what had happened to the sister. Some said she had run away with the Fire Lord to start a new life. Others thought she had killed him to protect the world from his family's madness (though those who believed that were few and far between).

The people of Tonrar never heard such stories. They thanked Ratna and Durjaya for guarding over them and their homes, and were content to live their lives in the shadows of the forest.

One morning, hundreds of years after Tonrar was named, a young girl named Ekta hid and watched the two spirits spar. She was close enough to see things no other villager had witnessed- the tears on Ratna's face, or how Durjaya purposefully sent his flames a little to the side of his opponent.

And she saw, before the steam had truly settled, how Durjaya clutched Ratna to his chest and bowed his head low.

"It's been so long," he said.

She laughed. "I've missed you." He laughed too, but they were crying.

"It's time," Durjaya whispered. "I can feel him letting us go."

Ratna nodded. "I love you."

Durjaya did not seem surprised by the statement. Ekta was; no one had ever heard the spirits talk, let alone profess their love for one another. Why did they spend every meeting fighting?

He nodded and pulled her closer. And then, as the sun topped the trees, the scarred, man and the blue eyed woman faded away.

Ekta stared. They were gone. The spirits of Tonrar were gone.

She had yet to reach her eighth birthday, but Ekta was suddenly determined. She would protect her people, now that their guardians had left them.

She didn't know how Ratna controlled water, but she carefully placed her feet in a similar position and raised her arms. At first, the water in the river continued to flow by, taking no notice of her efforts. Ekta furrowed her brow and tried again. This time, when she lifted her hand, a sphere of water trembled into being above the surface of the stream.

Ekta smiled and wondered if she could control fire too, like Durjaya. It was harder to figure out, but she planted her feet firmly, thought fierce thoughts, and punched out her fist. Fire appeared; it was nothing like Durjaya's massive, roaring flames, but it was fire.

She smiled and ran back to the village to tell her parents. Behind her, a tiny whirlpool appeared in the middle of the river.


Well, this is it (for this year at least). Thank you all so much for your kudos and wonderful comments! I'm so happy with the way these all turned out and I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Have a great rest of the summer, and I'll (hopefully) see you all again next year!

Skats