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the Spirit's Waterbender

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“She’s coming again!” someone shouted from the eastern lookout tower. “Everyone get ready!”

There was a sudden flurry of activity throughout the dirt streets of the village. People grabbed whatever was handy—pitchforks, spears, hoes, anything—and ran toward the open square before Aunt Wu’s machiya household, all necks craned to watch the wall surrounding Makapu Village. Zuko’s scar filled with a brief warmth that had nothing to do with the furnace of the tatara forge behind him and his heart ricocheted in his chest. It wasn’t Ozai come back, was it? In the dense of the forest surrounding this area, he’d lost the trail of the spirit he’d been tracking. There were no paths of scorched earth or woods around here, and Zuko had found himself wondering if he’d come to the right place. That was before he learned what Aunt Wu had done to anger the volcano’s spirit, that had sent Ozai rampaging from here all the way to where he’d fought and been burned by the enraged spirit.

He jogged toward the square with everyone else, eyes scanning the wall. She, the villagers had shouted. Zuko sucked in a breath. It must be the waterbender Aunt Wu had talked about. The one working in league with the spirits of the forest to try and take the land back from the villagers. Unsure what he wanted to do—what he could do—Zuko ran faster, breath coming quicker as he tried to see where she was coming from.

A flash of movement caught the corner of his eye. It was someone dressed in blue, darting along the top of the wall. That had to be her. Surging into motion, Zuko sprinted through narrow alleys, heading in a straight shot toward the incoming waterbender.

From a distance, he watched a serpentine lash of water coil and whip out in response to her sharp hand motions. A surprised sound came from him as he watched wood and stone alike fall away as if they’d been paper, cut by a sharp blade. She dispatched a few sentries on the wall and vanished from sight. A sudden explosion of fire blew apart bits of the wall and Zuko saw a figure in blue leaping through the air. She landed nimbly on a rooftop and kept running without missing a single stride, headed toward the opposite end of the village.

It was difficult to keep track of her as she ran—she was so quick, with water trailing behind her like twin tails. Another explosion blew a hole in a thatched roof right after she landed on it, but didn’t even send her stumbling. She kept going. Zuko rounded a corner, following the sound of the blast and finally caught sight of her in truth. She was on the roof of a house just across from him, and he stopped in his tracks, heart pounding in his ears and his breath caught in his chest. She moved like a storm, intent on her path and uncaring for any of the beings beneath her wake. Just as she reached the edge of that roof to leap to the next, a third explosion sent thatch and wood and sparks flying, finally succeeding in knocking her from her feet and sending her tumbling through the air.

Zuko watched as the waterbender landed in an effortless crouch right in front of him. In that split second, he saw that half her face was covered by a dark cloth, leaving only her bright blue eyes, narrowed in determined fury, exposed. She glared at him for being a hindrance in her path, and brought a hand up swinging, water following her command and lashing out at him.

He jumped back, the water’s edge narrowly missing him and shaving off some threads from his tunic.

“Wait!” he exclaimed. “Stop! I’m not here to fight you!”

The blue of her eyes snapped to his face like the sudden swell of a wave, and he felt as if the breath was being crushed out of him by that look. She moved her arms back with a definitive twist of her elbows, sending a glinting stream of water straight at him. Without another thought, Zuko brought his hands up, trailing enough flame to disperse her attack. Her eyes widened in shock, but it didn’t slow her down for more than half a breath.

She leapt backwards, out of reach of both him and the villagers now catching up behind him. Zuko didn’t have time to start moving toward her before she ran to the nearest house and nimbly swung herself up to the roof again. The water he’d dispersed onto the ground shifted and answered her summons, rising swiftly to her hands—and then she was gone, darting along the rooftops again.

The group of people surged around him as he stared after her, but Zuko didn’t join them in their rush. All it took was a moment to make his choice; he used the side of one house to vault himself up onto the rooftop of the other she’d been on and ran after her. His dual dao blades knocked rhythmically against his back as he sprinted from one rooftop to another, trying to catch up with the waterbender. She was already far ahead of him, making her way up the tall, slanted roof of the tatara, the blue of her clothing the only giveaway that she was still there at all.

By the time he’d reached the tatara roof as well, the waterbender had vanished from sight. Beneath him, in the dirt square that stretched between the tatara forge and Aunt Wu’s machiya, it looked as if the entire village had gathered. Many of the people held a weapon of some sort, but they all stood back several feet from Aunt Wu herself in the middle. She stood defiantly out in the open, flanked by two other women. Their gazes were directed up to the very peak of the roof. Zuko paused on a rise of roof above a window opening and followed their line of sight, searching for that telltale flash of blue.

There.

Between the curling plumes of smoke, the waterbender stood, twin streams of water encircling her form like deadly serpents waiting for the opportunity to strike. Her braid whipped forward in the wind, lashing angrily.

“Can you hear me, waterbender?” Aunt Wu called from the ground. Her voice rang out clear in the sudden hush that befell the crowd of townsfolk gathered. “You claim to fight for the spirits, but you don’t give a damn what they do to us—what they do to other humans, just like you!” She spread her hands to indicate the two women flanking her, a sharp and calculating spread to her mouth. “Come down and try to kill me if you like, but I’ve got two women here who’d like to face you even more.”

“Come down here, you little monster! My husband’s dead because of you and your spirit friends!” the women to Aunt Wu’s right spat. She shouldered a long piece of wood and iron that must have been what his hosts had called a rifle.

Movement prickled at the corner of his peripheral vision, and looking up revealed people taking up positions along the wall. Firelight glinted darkly off metal in their hands, and Zuko realized they were carrying rifles, too, and they were aiming at the path the waterbender would have to take to attack Aunt Wu.

“It’s a trap,” he breathed to himself. He watched at least half a dozen riflemen kneel in position, watched the two women with Aunt Wu stand with their rifles. He could feel the slow, slow burn of readied matchlocks like tiny flickers of flame dotted along the edge of his senses.

They were going to kill each other. The waterbender was fast, and he wouldn’t be surprised if most of the shots missed her, but someone would eventually get her. It probably wouldn’t be before she took down who knew how many of them, but there would be so much death. And, if Aunt Wu was right and this girl was so closely allied to the spirits of the forest surrounding this town, Zuko could only imagine how much more they would be enraged if she were killed. The scar on his face flared with heat.

“Stop!” He shouted, springing up from the ledge he was crouching on and taking a few steps forward. “Everybody stop! This is only going to make things worse between humans and spirits!”

No one heeded him. The waterbender surged forward like a typhoon; riflemen tracked her movements with their weapons. Zuko moved without thinking.

Rushing along a long bamboo beam, he sprinted as fast as he could to try and reach the waterbender in time. If he could intercept her, he could knock her out of the way of the shots and stop her attack at the same time. His legs burned from the sudden exertion, but he ignored the discomfort and pushed faster. The hiss of firing charges reached him distantly, but he was only a few arms’ lengths away. He could make it to her.

The same moment the rifles along the perimeter fired, that the waterbender was about to cross right in front of him, Zuko hurled himself forward through the air. The thatch roof below him exploded, sending pieces of splintered wood and sparks flying up into him, sprinkling his forearms and face with burning pinpricks. He squinted his eyes against the debris and reached out, one arm snagging the waterbender around the waist. The momentum from his leap crashed him solidly into her, sending them both rolling across and down the rooftop with his arms wrapped securely around her. They hit the edge and fell off; his back collided with the bamboo beam there with a grunt of pain forced from his chest, and he tucked himself around the girl in his arms so that his shoulder would take the brunt of the impact with the ground. She landed heavily on him, knocking the rest of his breath out with a sharp elbow digging just below his ribs. All the water that she’d held at her command rained down on top of them.

For a moment, everything was still. Zuko lay wheezing on the ground, and the waterbender lay on top of him, stunned. The stillness didn’t last beyond that.

“What are you doing?” The unfamiliar voice was right overtop of him, and Zuko opened his eyes to see the waterbender’s covered face glaring down at his own. She pushed forcibly off him, and got to her feet again.

Water came out through a window of a nearby house as she summoned someone’s bathwater and wreathed herself in it. Zuko pushed himself up off the ground as the waterbender faced down Aunt Wu and the two women again.

“Stay back,” Aunt Wu sharply ordered. The villagers who had begun to move forward stopped, and backed away. She leveled her gaze at the waterbender. “Come and kill me, if that’s what you want.”

With a snarled shout, the girl in blue ran forward again. Aunt Wu cocked her head to the left the slightest amount and the woman on that side took her cue and fired. Zuko’s mouth opened in a wordless shout, but he couldn’t force himself to move in time to get to the waterbender, and she was already too far out of his reach for him to snag any part of her clothing and drag her away. Quick as lightning, she brought up a crest of water and formed it into a thick shield of ice. She didn’t slow down. The iron shot contacted with her ice and shattered it into shards deadlier than any wood splinter had been. Though she’d saved her own life, the impact from the shot sent her back, collapsing on the ground in a heap. Fractured ice lay scattered around her in a glittering display.

Zuko scrambled over to her, crouching immediately and grasping her shoulders to shake her gently. “Wake up,” he breathed, desperate. He felt each heartbeat rattle in his chest. She didn’t move.

Just as the wild thought to try and revive her somehow crossed his mind, her eyes flew open. She swung up with one hand and sent a thin crescent of water directly at his face. Only his instincts helped him pull back in time, and even then he felt a sting and warmth trickle down his unmarred cheekbone. All at once, she was on her feet at him and attacking, and it was all he could do to evade backward and keep from being cut again.

He wasn’t her target, however, just an obstacle in her way. She managed to push him aside and dart around him, quicker than he’d anticipated her to be.

“Wait!” he called after her, reaching out and grasping at the air, far too late.

He could only watch as she ran toward an incoming cluster of villagers, armed and waiting for her. Meng stood at their head, a kodachi blade shining bright in her hands, and eyes trained on the waterbender rushing straight for her.

The girl in blue did not slow down for a single step—moving as fluidly as her element, she extended her arms and then drew them back in, pulling out more household water until she had enough to form a wave beneath her. She rode it up above everyone’s head and launched herself from the tip, leaving behind a frozen crest that engulfed half of Meng and the villagers closest to her.

Zuko couldn’t see past the press of people in the alleyway she’d vaulted down, but he could hear her enraged shout and people audibly gasping. There was a sudden flare of light, and his sense of fire echoed within him in response. Aunt Wu was fighting the waterbender.

They were going to fight until one of them was mortally wounded or outright killed, and the utter impotence of all his attempts to stop that from happening clawed at the bottom of Zuko’s lungs. Each breath stung, as if he were breathing in smoke. He got to his feet again, eyes intent on the crowd over which the waterbender had gone. An unwelcome heat churned his stomach, and it rose with every step that he took. He felt the air warm all around him, and ghostly cinders and ash began rising up off his form as if he were burning. His scar felt like there was fire bubbling beneath the surface of it, like there was a slow flow of movement within that burned and burned and burned, and it only made him angrier.

“Hey! Where do you think you’re going?” Meng demanded as he neared her, but half-frozen as she was, she couldn’t move. She used the hilt of her kodachi to smash apart the ice holding her enough to break free before he passed her by. Spinning the sword, she leveled the point of the blade at him. “You’re a traitor! A spy for the spirits!”

Zuko paused, looking at her through the ash rising up in the air around him. A tight scowl tugged his mouth down, and heat blazed behind his eyes. He reached out and grasped the bare blade, feeling the sting of it cutting into his flesh but not caring enough to let go. Beneath his fingers, the metal reddened and cinders flew from his arm to run along the length of the weapon, leaping up to singe Meng’s hands and arms. “Don’t get in my way.” His tone brooked no room for argument, and he let go of the blade as he walked past as if she was of no consequence to him.

Hissing in pain, Meng dropped the sword just as he stepped by her, and frantically bat at her sleeves to put out the little phantom fires that had caught there.

Zuko carved a path through the tightly gathered crowd with ease. As soon as he stepped near, people snapped aside in pain; the cinders flew from him to those that stood in his path. He saw two different worlds as he stepped toward the center of the impromptu ring of people around the fighting women—out of his right eye, the world looked as he always knew it, but the left showed him a world cast in the red of flames and the grey of smoke and ash. Nothing slowed his path as he pushed the last of the villagers out of his way, phantom flames leaping to their shoulders where he touched them.

Aunt Wu noticed him first, and hesitated for a hair’s breadth of time. That pause nearly cost her her life, and she only narrowly avoided a blade-like swipe of water. Zuko strode right up to the two fighting and placed himself between them, grabbing both their wrists and holding tight. All the water in the waterbender’s hand steamed away to nothing, and Aunt Wu’s own flames were consumed by the spectral ones his face and shoulders were now engulfed in.

“What are you doing, boy?” Aunt Wu hissed at him, trying to tug her hand away. On his other side, the waterbender snarled at him and dug her heels in, pulling. He held firmly onto them both, feeling a swell in his own power and strength as his anger rose.

“You’re both doing nothing but feeding anger and hate,” he snapped at them. “And it needs to stop.”

The smile Aunt Wu gave him was sharp and came with narrowed eyes instead of crow’s feet. “You think you can right all the wrongs done in the world, do you?”

Zuko glared at her, feeling heat and fury swell in him. “Just because you can’t change the past doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and do better in the future.”

A harsh laugh echoed from Aunt Wu, even as the waterbender tried in vain to wrest herself from his grip. “Listen to you. What an idealist.”

“Fear and hate only make things worse, you know that,” he said. His voice rose along with the cinders drifting around him. “Look at me—look at my face! This is what it looks like to be touched by anger and hate. It’s cursed me, and if it you all let it continue, you’ll only feed it and make it worse with your ignorance and fear. You all need to learn to live in balance with spirits again.”

Aunt Wu clicked her tongue against the back of her teeth. “The spirits are just stupid manifestations tied to a place with no real purpose anymore. Their time is over. We’re just helping move forward the natural order of things, Zuko.”

“They are not stupid! They have a purpose!” The waterbender’s voice cut through Zuko’s attention on Aunt Wu, and surprised them both.

“Ah—so you can speak, after all,” Aunt Wu said, a curl twisting her smile into something keenly edged and not at all humorous.

As if that were the cue for an unknown signal, both women moved against him at once. Aunt Wu stepped in with a quick jab toward his armpit with her free hand, and the waterbender tried to twist and duck beneath his other arm and bend it backward. Zuko felt them both tense just before they moved and, feeling his face burn with impossible heat, shifted more quickly than a normal human should have been able to. He knocked away Aunt Wu’s jab by pulling her abruptly forward and driving his fist solidly up into her fire chakra. At the same time, he moved his foot just slightly into the path of the waterbender’s momentum and made her stumble for half a beat. Taking that split moment’s advantage, Zuko made the same sharp jab into her solar plexus. Both women slumped over his arms and shoulders, stunned.

A gasp shook through the crowd. The confrontation diffused for the moment, Zuko felt the heat recede back within him, and the ash and cinders that encompassed his frame dissipated into the air as if they never existed.

“Someone take her,” he called, strained. Several women rushed forward, hands reaching for Aunt Wu. “She’ll be okay; she’s only stunned.”

Once relieved of the extra weight, Zuko knelt and hefted the unconscious waterbender across his shoulders.

“What do you think you’re doing with her?”

Zuko turned to look back over at the same woman who’d accused the waterbender of aiding in the death of her husband. She stood next to the women holding up Aunt Wu, and had one of the rifle weapons braced against her shoulder. It was aimed at his chest.

His eyes flicked from the mouth of the dark barrel up to her face. “I’m taking her back to the forest. No one’s going to die tonight.”

“Oh, no you don’t!” the woman snarled, squinting one eye and lifting the rifle a bit higher against her shoulder. “This little monster is the reason why my husband is dead. You’re not going to rob me of this.”

Zuko leveled his gaze at her for a long moment, his mouth drawn into a taut line. Her hands were shaking, he noticed, and tiny glints of light at the corners of her eyes gave away the tears welling there. For a moment, the only sounds he heard were the blood rushing in his ears and the steady breathing of the waterbender. The rifle was still aimed at his heart, but his gut told him the woman wasn’t going to fire. He turned his back to her, facing the southern exit of the village.

“Don’t move! I’ll fire if you move!” Her voice was clipped with the edges of desperation, but he didn’t hear any true conviction in her words.

A tenuous silence held the space between Zuko and the villagers. It was broken by the quiet scrape of his boots over the soft dirt road. No one moved, no one called out to stop him. He could feel every eye following him as he walked toward the gate, but he did not slow nor glance from side to side. His heart pounded in his chest; the waterbender breathed steadily near his ear.

Suddenly, a frantic voice shouted behind him: “Jie, what are you doing?”

Something that felt like a rock hit Zuko’s back on the left side, and for half a moment, he thought that the village’s earthbenders were attacking him. It was then that he heard an explosive bang behind him. A searing heat spread through his abdomen from where the rock had hit him, burning through him from the bottom of his ribs all the way  to his hip. Zuko knew without a doubt it was not earth that had struck him, but refined iron, shaped into a ball.

He clenched his teeth together and continued walking.

The echo left behind from the rifle explosion faded into the night, leaving behind nothing but tension strung through the air. He drew the quiet tauter with every step he took, as if it were a rope and he the winch that tightened it across the whole village in his wake. He felt more warmth spread down his side, running down his thigh and making his tunic and pants stick to his skin. He didn’t need to look behind to know he was leaving a trail of blood.

Zuko didn’t stop.

He walked past the open tatara forge doorway, distantly hearing someone talk to him, but whatever the words were, they didn’t register. The gateway was in his sight, and everything else suddenly became muffled and unimportant. He was going through that gateway and into the forest. He had to. The waterbender across his shoulders grew heavier with every step, but he did not slow.

Another crowd of people waited for him just before the gateway, but as he approached, their eyes all widened, and many took involuntary steps back from his path. Meng and two other man stood in a small line between him and the gateway. By their stances, Zuko knew that the two beside the young woman and her kodachi were earthbenders. He came to a stop.

“Let me pass,” he said, his voice rough and unyielding.

“You’re not taking that girl anywhere,” Meng told him, though the grip on her blade’s hilt left her knuckles all white.

Zuko scowled resolutely. “I told you not to get in my way. I’m leaving with her.”

As if on cue, the earthbenders flanking her shifted and carved out rock from the ground before them, shaped into thick wedges Zuko suspected were meant to break several of his bones if necessary to stop him.

He took another step forward, and nearly faltered as pain lanced through his entire left side. Heat flared in his scar in response, and it felt like molten fingers reached through him to connect both sources of pain. His jaw hurt from clenching it so tightly, but he took another step. The wedges of rock sustained by the earthbenders responded to the shift in their wrists by hardening so much Zuko could hear cracks of pressure. He really didn’t want to have to fight them, but he widened his stance, and turned his body to lean more weight back onto his right foot. It was awkward not balancing more on his left leg, but he’d trained both sides equally with his dao, and as such it was only a mild unease. Keeping the waterbender secured with his left hand, he reached back to grasp the hilt of his dao blades with the right.

Wet warmth surged down his side, but his glare never left Meng and her earthbenders.

“Stop! You’ll kill yourself!” someone shouted behind him, and Zuko vaguely recognized the voice as one of the men he’d eaten dinner with earlier.

He drew his blade.

Intense heat engulfed his head and shoulders, flaring down along his left side as if he’d set fire to himself and it followed the slow flow of his blood. Without stopping to think, he swung his blade in a wide arc toward the earthbenders and Meng. A trail of liquid fire followed the sweep of his attack and spattered on the ground at their feet like lava, forcing them to scatter. The earth was blackened into a shallow gully beneath it, but his path now was clear.

Zuko kept his dao drawn and his eyes on Meng and the earthbender that had dove away with her as he resumed his walk to the gate. His entire body all the way down to his fingertips felt like it was on fire, like he could set the very air aflame if he but snapped his fingers.

Meng and the other villagers stared at him as he reached the gate, and no one else tried to stop him.

Strange noises and flashes of bright color flitted between the trees outside the village, and Zuko half-turned to address the empty space outside the gate.

“Your waterbender is fine, spirits! Stay where you are, and I will bring her out.”

Movement in his peripheral caught Zuko’s eye, and he looked to see several ostrich horses tied up and straining against their ropes to try and pull as far away from him as they could. Without waiting for an answer from outside the village, he sheathed his dao and grabbed the reigns of the nearest one. Normally, the strength in its neck would have allowed it to wrench free from his grasp, but he overpowered it with the same fiery strength he’d used against Aunt Wu and the waterbender. While he had control of its head, he shouldered the waterbender onto its saddle before swinging up behind her. Sitting her upright and leaning back against his chest, Zuko bent around her and tugged sharply at the knot keeping the ostrich horse tethered. The mount’s reigns snapped easily off the wooden hitching rail, and Zuko kicked his heels into the creature’s belly to send it into motion.

Only Zuko’s ironlike grip on its reigns kept it from bolting in outright panic. As it was, he had to wrap his free hand around the waterbender’s waist and hold her tightly to keep her from falling off. Locks of her hair worked themselves free of her braid and curled lengths back against his arms from their traveling speed. The ostrich horse ran swiftly out of the village gate and across the sloping stretch of cleared land between the village and the forest, following a dirt and stone path. Two spirits peeled away from the darkness and ran just behind the ostrich horse and Zuko. He chanced a glance over one shoulder at them, and saw them loping along on long, slender legs. Their eyes were bright slants set above dark, angled snouts with a thick bristle of mane that reached along their hackles. They reminded him of pantherwolves, but more unearthly and terrifying, as if they were made from the umbra itself.

The ostrich horse ran along the curving path up a hill that lead toward the dark of the forest, and it was then that Zuko felt the last of the heat recede back beneath the scar on his face. All that was left was the undiluted pain in his side—a strange searing cold where he was struck surrounded by warm, sticky blood. The edges of his vision began to darken, and he felt his grip slacken on both the waterbender and the reigns.

The next thing he was aware of was the hard, jolting crack of his shoulder against the rocky ground. A pained sound forced its way out of his lungs as he rolled several spans before one of the spirit pantherwolves caught up to him and took his head and half his shoulders in its maw. He felt strangely serrated teeth begin to sink through his clothing and skin, felt heat and his qi begin to leech out of him. His vision went entirely black.

The next time his eyes opened, he was lying face down in the dirt and grass, with stones pressing into his cheek and jaw. Every breath felt like he was drawing in shards of broken glass through his chest. A boot came into blurry view. He groaned softly.

“Why did you stop me from killing her?”

At first, it was all Zuko could do to keep breathing. His side kept getting colder, and his chest and shoulder throbbed. He closed his eyes.

“Tell me while you’re still alive!”

The waterbender’s voice forced away the encroaching blackness on his consciousness. He opened his eyes the barest amount and tried to focus on a single rock lying a hand’s span away from his nose.

“I didn’t want her to kill you,” he managed, his voice barely a rasp.

She still heard him anyway. “I’m not afraid to die!” she declared, indignant. “I’d do anything to keep these humans out of the forest.”

Zuko blinked slowly; though he knew it would be all to easy to close his eyes and never open them again and just sleep, he opened them anyway. “I knew that from the first moment I saw you.”

“That woman and the humans who follow her are evil, and they have to be stopped from destroying the forest any more than they have already done!” Anger wove through the waterbender’s voice, shaking with shards of hurt. “I’m not afraid of you—you’re a firebender, and just as bad as she is. I should kill you for that alone!”

All at once, she grabbed his throbbing shoulder and heaved him onto his back. Stuttered gasps escaped him as he was rolled over, and he squeezed his eyes shut against the pain. Small rocks and his dao blades pressed painfully into his spine, but he didn’t have the strength anymore to move. He heard a strange sound, like a fluttering of a sudden wind through tall grass all around him, though he felt no air against his skin. A chill formed at the hollow of his throat and crept along the lines of his neck.

“That’s not the answer,” he said hoarsely. His breathing was labored, and with the way he lay on his back, he felt the weight of all his bones pressing down on him. It felt like his ribs were going to pierce through the other side of his body.

“That’s enough—I’m not listening to you anymore! I’ll cut you, firebender! That’ll shut you up!” the waterbender snarled from somewhere above him.

Mustering the dredges of his will, Zuko forced himself to open his eyes. Dark hair framed the waterbender’s face and shoulders, having come entirely undone from her braid to cascade wildly around her. She’d lost her half mask at some point, and he could now see the rich depth of her skin, shadowed by the night like damp earth. Her mouth was turned down in a fierce scowl, and a flash of silvery blue glinted at her throat. She glared down at him with eyes bright with anger and bluer than any sky or lake he’d ever seen. He found himself wondering if that was what color the ocean was, or if even that would pale in comparison.

“You’re beautiful,” he breathed.

The anger in her eyes and face gave way to confusion crashing over her like a wave, and she stumbled back away from him. With the release of her will and her hands, water doused his face and chest from the long shard of ice she’d held at his throat. Now she just looked at him, wide-eyed, the startled breaths she took audible even to him on the ground. When she spoke, her voice was small and he had to strain to hear her.

“W-what did you just say?”

“You,” Zuko managed before the last of his strength left him and blackness overtook all his senses.