Tribespeople gathered as Katara went through bending forms, lifting snow and turning it to ice as she packed it against the side of the watchtower. The grand, blinding white structure had caved in, trapping several warriors inside. Katara, who had been fortifying the ice wall that surrounded the small tribe, had been dragged to the sight immediately. Before she had worked on the wall, Katara had gone farther than the eye could see onto the ocean to catch fish with her bending. Winter brought the dark season, making it harder for those without bending to catch enough food to feed everyone. Katara had been aiding the fishermen for the past five years since the war. Her tribe needed her. Each time she thought she would have a moment to rest, something went wrong in the Southern Water Tribe. As the only waterbender, it was always her job to fix it.
Katara wiped sweat from her brow with the back of her thick mitten. She barely had time think of going back to the igloo she shared with her grandmother when one of the younger midwives skidded to a stop before her.
“Master Katara, come quick. Please,” the midwife begged, tugging on Katara’s arm, “a child is being born feet first and we can’t flip it. We need your healing abilities.”
Katara squared her shoulders, doing her best to push fatigue from deep within her bones. “Lead the way.”
Hakoda watched his daughter be dragged away for the umpteenth time that day. Without a word he turned on his heel and marched to the spirt temple. The temple was small, but it did the trick of contacting the spirits that watched over the Southern Water Tribe. Hakoda knelt, dipping the wooden bowl into the small water pool before the altar. He poured the water into a crystal cup that was probably worth more than everything the tribe had to offer combined. Hakoda sank to his knees and turned his face skyward, letting his eyes slide shut to better connect with the spirits.
“I beg of you, Great Ones, please send more benders to our tribe. My daughter is much too overworked, I fear for her safety if she continues to support every need of our tribe for much longer,” Hakoda prayed, “Katara will never turn away those in need but she doesn’t realize that she needs to take time for herself.”
Hakoda stayed in stance, unmoving as the wind stilled inside the temple. He didn’t dare move, knowing that any disturbance would be disrespected to the spirits. Finally, when he felt the ice seeping through his thick winter clothing, Hakoda felt a presence with him.
“Katara is a strong bender,” a soft voice whispered, “She can handle her duties. Help will come when it is most needed.”
Hakoda’s shoulders slumped but he simply thanked the spirits, returned the water to the pool and left the temple. Hakoda went to his family’s igloo to wait for his daughter. After five notches on the candle had burned, Katara returned home. Dark circles hung beneath her clear blue eyes. Her deep brown skin looked sunken and her dark hair was missing the shine it had held years before. Hakoda knew that his daughter was only nineteen, but looking at her, she seemed nearer to his own age.
“I asked the spirit to send us more benders,” Hakoda told.
Katara jumped slightly, obviously not having seen her father sitting by the time-keeping candles. Her blue eyes were almost hopeful as she looked in Hakoda’s direction. “What did they say?”
Hakoda’s tall frame folded in on itself. “That you are a strong bender that can handle her duties and that help will come when it is most needed.”
“I need it now!” Katara shouted.
It was Hakoda’s turn to jump. It had been so long since Katara had expressed anything strongly. She ran her hands through her hair, which had fallen haphazardly out of its braid while she helped deliver not one, but two babies that day. Hakoda didn’t miss that more than a few strands came fluttering through her fingers.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shout,” Katara apologized, her voice a whisper, “It’s just been a lot these few years.”
Hakoda crossed the small room in two steps to hug his daughter. “I know, Katara, I know. You’ve handled more than we could ever hope to repay you for.”
“I don’t need to be repaid.” Katara sighed and sagged into her father. “I just hate the thought of not knowing when I’ll get help. Of sitting and just waiting. Of just leaving things to someone else to decide.”
Katara stood at her full height, her eyes blazing so fiercely Hakoda thought he could feel the heat of her barely contained anger.
“I need to write to Aang,” Katara said through gritted teeth.
“Katara, you need sleep.”
“I bet if I talked to the spirts on my own they’d tell me to meditate.” Katara took the time-keeping candle, holding it above her head and using one hand to look for the letter writing kit Zuko had sent her a year ago. “I bet Aang has been talking to the spirts about this. Every letter he sends me tells me I should meditate for a while, once I feel more rested I’ll be able to tackle anything. Just like he did when he went out and found a bunch of non-benders to restart the Air Nomads. It always comes back to his successes.”
By the time Katara found her kit, she was muttering under her breath. Hakoda stayed near-by, not daring go to the sleeping room that Katara had added upon returning home from the war and risk disturbing her. Katara’s gaudy quill scratched across the paper angrily as she scrawled out a letter.
“Where’s Hawky?” Katara demanded.
Yue held the glowing blue spirts that made a waterbender in her hands. She reached down delicately, pushing the spirts into the growing abdomens of the sleeping Southern Water Tribe women. As she reached for another, she tried to remember how Tui and La had stuck her with the job of choosing new benders. Something about new spirits needing to pay dues.
Yue grumbled, combining two spirts and putting them into one abdomen. That’s how strong benders were made, right?
“Ah, I remember the eons where I had to create benders,” a smoky voice said.
Yue turned, carefully sealing the bender spirts so none escaped…again. Agni stood behind her, oranges, yellows, and red coming off him in waves. When the colors met her blues, whites and silvers a brilliant mix was born. The fire bending spirit came to stand next to her, looking down on the peaceful women with soft, amber eyes.
“Hello, Agni. What brings you to the Water Benders nursery? And the Southern Water Tribe wing at that.”
“I was looking for you actually. As a new spirt you have interacted with those who are still living. I have an idea about your Southern bender, Katara and one of mine, Zuko.”
Yue’s eyebrows shot into her hair. “What do you have in mind?”