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Mending Wounds

Chapter Text

 

Excerpt from the Ember Island Players’ musical reproduction of

The Epic of the Eclipse and the Scarred Dragon

From the fires of destiny,

the Scarred Dragon rose.

The brave folk of Dockside

their Lord they had chose.

With cries of joy

and wails of delight,

they proclaimed him theirs

and joined to his fight.

 

The people who actually bled for their country didn’t care whether the name Ozai or Zuko followed the title “Fire Lord.” They were starving. They were bereaved. They were buckling under the weight of wartime taxes. They agreed to join the saboteurs and, come the eclipse, the invasion force itself, but only out of sheer practicality. Or was it desperation?

A Dockside woman named Sen, widow and spokesperson for the town, made this perfectly clear.

‘Listen,’ she told him after he’d laid bare to this room of people his vision for a future without war. ‘Frankly, Prince Zuko, we don’t give a shit whose arse is on that throne as long as I can feed my family and raise my sons without fearing another round of conscriptions. We’ll help you, but only because the rumour is that your sister is to be Crown Princess if you fail.’ A shiver went through the crowd, a look of steel through the woman glaring at him. ‘We’ll help you, Prince, because we need to help ourselves.’

 

Clever and cunning,

he swept the enemy with ease;

the battlements and airships,

from their strength to their knees.

 

As fire caught on Haru’s shirt, leaving a burn just as permanent as the lesson seared into Zuko’s own face, the Crown Prince wondered if his father was so evil after all. If these men, his countrymen— and one day, his subjects— fought so viciously for the Fire Lord, was rule under Ozai truly worth all this death? All the struggle?

Despite Sokka and Iroh’s careful scheming, nothing about the sabotage had gone to plan, had been easy, had been fun.

Zuko was distant thunder, growing louder and more ashamed at the swell of screams from his father’s soldiers— his soldiers— as Toph crushed them between pillars of towering earth. He broke like lightning upon the waves at the cries of those burning at his back.

 

Armoured with iron

and ivory bone,

for his bites and his howls

the Wolf Warrior was known.

The smile he wore,

the devil may care,

the Warrior’s laugh

rung like steel in the air.

 

Sokka lost the taste for his good humour when he met the gaze of the first person he’d killed. The man— a boy, really— stared with eyes of glazed horror at the spear embedded in his side. His helmet had fallen away in the scuffle by the dock, and his sob soaked through the Water Tribe boy’s armour and shirt and skin. Sokka felt it land below his flesh, somewhere by his bones.

This could be me. The thought bounced like stone in his mind. It sunk and settled against his heart. This could be me.

 

The earth she made buckle,

its boulders were thrown;

the enemy’s doom

was the Shattering Stone.

She ‘quaked the ground

and the enemy’s hearts,

then sang lewd songs

about their mothers and smarts.

 

The song didn’t come from a place of laughter.

Despite the hard and unyielding nature of her element, Toph just wanted to bury the sound of bones breaking under the earth at her fingertips. It wasn’t a song so much as a scream. Anything to drown out the crack and splinter of the bodies she couldn’t see.

 

Battle ‘came fierce

with reinforcement’s arrival.

When the Tempest Tide struck

there was no survival.

Graceful, she danced,

sure, bold, and strong.

Her waters drowned the enemy

all the day long.

 

The fighting had already begun. Katara wasted no time learning why the saboteurs had attacked before the main invasion force arrived; she threw herself into the battle, dragging half the bay’s water along behind her.

She was millimetres away from death or grave injury at any given moment. She swung and twisted and jumped and lurched. She didn’t have time to die yet. Not yet. Her friends were somewhere ahead and they needed her.

With weapons of ice and razor-sharp water, she cut down every fire bender between them. With tears of stinging horror, she cut down every whimper that fell from her breaking heart. A man with a moustache, someone’s son. A woman armoured in leather and steel and fear, someone’s daughter.

It could be me, she snarled against the back of her teeth. It could be me.

 

The fourth and final

of our hero’s companions

was the Avatar himself,

bender of seas, storms, magma, and canyons.

The wisdom of hundreds,

all the power in the world,

the Airbender Avatar

with certainty whirled.

 

The first person Aang saw Katara kill chilled him to the bone. And a numb air bender is not a nimble air bender. He took a fire blast to the shoulder, returning the blow with a roaring gust of wind— just enough that his attacker was knocked, winded, to the ground. Not permanently hurt. Please don’t let anyone else die…

Up ahead Toph turned a tank full of people into a metal wafer.

Up ahead, Zuko’s dual swords cut twin crimson ribbons into a soldier’s neck.

Up ahead, Sokka was retching whilst trying to pull his spear from the twisted steel-and-gore of a weeping man’s belly.

Aang’s soul sunk so low that he wondered, not for the first time, if he was the right choice of Avatar.

 

Onwards they tread

as the eclipse dims the sky.

Through gates, ‘cross roads

up volcanos they fly.

The going is tough,

the way is hard,

yet Agni decreed no fire

shall stand against the Scarred.

 

They nearly lose it all, the hard-earned progress, when they begin their ascent up the volcano. The eclipse is early. Or they are late. Though Pakku’s theory proves true and the water benders swell with power, they’ve not enough of the sea with them to press it to their advantage.

The swamp benders falter. The water benders of the White Lotus stumble. Katara does not. She finds there is water in places she’s never thought about.

The gore on her skirt. The tears on her brother’s face. The sweat on Zuko’s brow.

She finds it as quickly as she loses it in the bodies of her enemies.

 

The capital of Fire they storm

Dragon, Warrior, Stone, Tempest, Avatar.

Victory nearing,

shining like a star.

The Shattering Stone

reaches into the earth,

she pulls and she heaves

at the tyrant with mirth.

 

Ozai spills from the unearthed bunker like a maggot exposed to daylight. He should be powerless, but the eclipse is over too soon and his daughter is death itself at his side. They repay Toph for her digging by setting her alight.

Katara never knew a child’s scream could ring so clearly above the clamour of battle.

 

The tyrant he swung,

Fire poured from his fists…

 

Ozai would have murdered Zuko had Katara and Aang not been so close. The man was shouting obscenities at his son, and the boy with the scar over his eye was beginning to crumble under the lashing.

‘Aang, go!’

The Avatar gasped with the force of the blue flames. ‘But, Azula—’

I’ll handle Azula,’ she snapped, knocking the princess off her feet with bloodstained water. ‘Help Zuko!’

 

The Scarred Dragon was unfazed,

and consulted his wits.

 

Sokka was down, a broken bone at worst. Azula roared fire so hot it turned Katara’s water to hissing steam. Her brother would have to manage without her.

She prayed to Tui and La that Toph was capable of the same…

 

He parried with sword

and struck, palms full of fire.

 

They were meant to have the eclipse onside. Fire was supposed to be out.

‘KATARA! DUCK!’

Her hair caught the flames and the bushes to her right dehydrated and died so she could extinguish the bite of the princess’s rage.

 

But Azula had plans

for her hate and her ire…

 

Lightning crackled. Lightning struck. The scream torn from Katara’s chest was silent in a world of falling friends.