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He’d heard the rumors.

Exile had made the Prince devoid of empathy; he’d gleefully watched Zhao fall to his death at the North Pole so now he was once again the only one searching for the Avatar. He’d sail his crew past the point of exhaustion and into danger after danger with no regard for their safety. Yon Rha had never been a stranger to pushing his sailors hard, but even he knew when to let them rest. But the exiled Prince was said to have killed a man in a duel himself for demanding rest for the crew. He’d even battled his own sister and uncle to ensure he would be the only one to secure capture of the Avatar—the young man’s obsession had clearly consumed his mind.

And now here he was, standing with the last waterbender of the Southern Tribe who’d grown so powerful she stopped the rain around them entirely in a dome graceful as gossamer and as terrifying as drowning.

It was then Yon Rha knew he was going to die.

He leaned back on one arm, bent at an angle that aggravated an old, sharp pain there. Feeling the tremors that rattled around the aches in his joints, he stared up in petrified awe at the amount of control and power the Southern waterbender girl now wielded. Would she drown him? Freeze him?

Or would the exiled Prince be the one to kill him?

It was strange; time seemed to slow to a stop in that moment, as suddenly and completely as the rain had stopped around them. A bizarre calm fell over Yon Rha as his gaze flickered from the rain to the waterbender, to the exiled Prince. He contemplated the possibilities of his imminent death.

He’d killed the waterbender’s mother with fire, so perhaps the Prince would be his executioner. Wouldn’t that be poetic justice? The firebender who thought he’d killed the last Southern waterbender, killed by another firebender under the real last Southern waterbender’s employ.

But then he looked back at the waterbender herself and saw the fury in her eyes, saw in them the terrifying savagery of the sea.

She would be the one to kill him, he was certain.

Like a phantasm, his own words echoed cruelly up from the depths of his memory—I’m afraid I’m not taking any prisoners today—and he watched her shift her weight, circle her arms up and back behind her head, then thrust them toward him.

Dull light glinted sharply off the water in the air, taking some horrific form he couldn’t bear to see. Yon Rha squeezed his eyes shut, cowered behind his own crossed arms as if that would do anything, counted his hammering heartbeats like a mantra—what I did was wrong, what I did was wrong, what I did was wrong

Coldness surrounded him, did its best to leech the last bits of warmth from his body. This was it. This was his death come for him, after so many years.

Except it didn’t.

His heart still hammered in his chest, shaking his bones. His breath still hiccuped in his throat. Slowly, fearfully, he opened his eyes and the sight that greeted him undid the tenuous hold on his bladder. It was the only warmth now trickling anywhere along his skin.

More ice than he’d seen in years hung in the air before him—right before his face—arching backward high into the air, and puncturing the earth around him, as if she’d been trying to outline his silhouette. Each shard that she held aloft looked like glass, broken from some great window somewhere and honed into points more cruel than any worked steel blade he’d ever seen. She didn’t even have to have good aim toward anything truly vital—he would become a sieve the moment she flicked her wrist the right way and impaled him to the ground in a hundred different spots.

But she didn’t move.

And then it all came crashing down with a single step back that she took.

The weight of a rainstorm fell upon him all at once, drenching him—washing off the contents of his bladder—the ice released back into water as cold as the frozen South that was her home.

And then Yon Rha was on his hands and knees in an instant, groveling in the mud and his own piss on the ground. Pleas and meaningless words came tumbling out of him as he kept his eyes on a point between his trembling hands. “I did a bad thing! I know I did and you deserve revenge, so why don't you take my mother? That would be fair!”

Now he did dare to look up at her, and immediately regretted it.

The look she gave him shook him to the very marrow of his bones, set a chill deep inside him that he suspected he would never get rid of for the rest of his days. It was cold, her gaze, and hard as ice, frightening as the midnight depths of the sea he’d always feared as a sailor.

All she said to him, naming him pathetic, sad, empty—he barely heard her over the rush of blood in his ears and over the frantic tumbling of his own mind, trying to figure out why she hadn’t impaled him. What could she want from him? What could be more terrible than to die with his lifeblood staining ice red?

When he spoke again, his voice was no more than a whimper, but he didn’t have any strength or presence of mind left to muster. “Please, spare me.” Hot tears ran freely down his cheeks and mingled in the mud on the ground.

The only thing he heard from her answer, and even then it took a moment to truly sink in, was that the waterbender wasn’t going to kill him. He lifted his gaze to her, mouth curving up in a sudden exhale of relief—but then was cowed again by the ferocity of the scowl the exiled Prince aimed at him.

Even then it was clear he wasn’t going to do anything, wasn’t going to go against the waterbender’s decision. She walked away from them both, and the exiled Prince followed in her wake. Yon Rha was left alone and shaking in the slanted rain.

He knew why Prince Zuko didn’t kill him, even though he saw the same fury, the desire to do it in the younger man’s eyes.

The waterbender had made her choice, and if Yon Rha had been in Prince Zuko’s place, he wouldn’t have dared go against her wishes—spoken or unspoken—either.

For the first time before, during, or after his lengthy career in the Fire Nation Navy, Yon Rha found himself doubting. After serving their glorious nation and the determined iron will of their Fire Lord, with whom he had the distinct honor of meeting a handful of times, Yon Rha found himself doubting.

Against the elemental power and control and raw force the waterbender wielded, against the matched impassioned and clear devotion to her he saw in the Exiled Prince, could even the prodigy of the Fire Nation truly withstand an onslaught from both of them together?

Yon Rha was glad that he wouldn’t be one of the people standing in their way to find out.