A burning sensation danced agonizingly over her body. The day was already humid, suffocating so. But this…
This was something else.
Not only was her head pounding furiously and her lungs straining against the heat, but her skin was smoldering, blistering…but without showing so physically.
The pain wasn't skin deep it burrowed deeper, to her core. Leaving her bones feeling a mock sensation of melting away.
Her muscles a sense of uselessness.
Her heart aching in such a way that she could swear it was ready to burst…at least that's what illusion told her.
She buckled to the floor gripping at her head which was hurting most furiously. But as her hands met skin, the pain would shift in such a way that it was then more intense in the stomach region. And when she went to grasp her middle, the pain would shift once more, so that it rested in her chest area.
At that she just let herself shift positions; once sitting upright—knees drawn to her aching chest (hands returned to her head which was nuzzled in her knees)—she now maintained the fetal position whimpering softly against the angry festering feeling.
Her eyes burned with tears.
And then her skin went up in flames…
And yet she lived on.
The flames remained, the pain finally subsiding.
A soul trapped in a body surrounded in angry roaring fire.
Zuko hoisted himself onto Appa's saddle. This was his task, and yet he was still the last to arrive; Mai wasn't egger to let him go (she didn't much like the cause he was setting off to aid) and the council was even less pleased. His mother wasn't much thrilled either—she'd just gotten in contact with 'her baby' again and didn't want to split so soon. Iroh was really the only one who approved of Zuko's little one task to do list.
But Azula was his sister and he couldn't just leave her alone to the Forgetful Valley…not that she couldn't handle herself—she was more than capable of doing just that—but it just felt so wrong to let her take on the Valley alone.
The guilt ate at him practically every day since he watched Azula flee into the valley.
"You ready Zuko?" Aang called down from Appa.
"Yeah I'm ready." Zuko replied. "Let's find my sister."
Zuko stared off into the distance as Appa took off. He found himself at a loss for words and at a lack of motivation to uphold a conversation. So he just listened as the other four chattered amongst themselves. Eventually he just drifted off…his thoughts finding their way to the last thing Azula said to him before taking off; "even when you're strong you're weak."
He wouldn't be weak.
Not this time.
"We're going to land." Aang cut through Zuko's thoughts after…well Zuko couldn't tell how long it had been.
"Sounds good Aang." Zuko stretched his arms. Yup, he'd definitely stayed in one position for too long. He could feel the pins and needles creeping and tingling under his skin.
"It's getting kind of late, wouldn't you agree?" Sokka asked.
"Sokka, the sun is just starting to set." Katara pointed out.
"It's never too early to get some sleep."
Toph was the first to leap off Appa.
Aang quick to follow. He shivered. "I don't like it, it just feels so wrong…"
"What does?" Zuko asked.
The trees rustled softly, shedding themselves of a few leaves. But it only took a few to uncover the many tiny glowing orbs that lie within. They blinked and shimmered and disappeared.
"They're watching us." Aang pointed to the place once inhabited by the orbs.
And they reappeared.
Taking shape—twirling in and out of one another, splitting into smaller groups, and coming together to from multiple semi-solid figures.
"I don't like it." Aang muttered, staring face to face with one of the spirits; a female (or so he assumed) with very human-like arms and legs. Aang probably would have assumed she was human if not for the two extra pairs of eyes and the twitching arachnid legs. The fangs were also a pretty big give away.
"I think Twinkle Toes is right; these guys don't want us here."
The spider spirit closed in; she leapt into the air and gave a kick. Aang prepared himself to deflect a rain of fire as he usually would when someone made such a motion. However, the fire did not come. Instead he was met with a thick sticky, silky thread. A thread that bound him to a tree.
He squirmed and shifted trying to free himself but on managed to wedge himself further into the web. "Guys, I can't move." He huffed.
"Neither can we." Sokka announced. He and Zuko found themselves in a rather awkward position. Toph was happy to announce that they looked like a loving couple from her angle…which wasn't really any better than theirs as she found herself on the covered in the threads.
Katara was the last to fall; the girl was first taken by the wrist and then pulled towards the spider spirit who didn't even blink before wrapping the waterbender in her own little cocoon. She dropped to the floor with a thud.
The other two spirits closed in (leading their own army of worm-roach spirits). These two looked twice as repulsive as the spider spirit. The first of the two was comparable to a rotting tree covered in moss and fungus—smelled like it too. The second was more familiar—it was much like its companion but with the addition of one of the many faces featured everywhere else in the Forgetful Valley.
"I knew we shouldn't have come in here at night." Sokka groaned. "Nothing good ever comes out of being in a creepy jungle at night."
Katara shrieked as one of the worm-roach spirits crawled its way over her. Followed by another and the a heap more. It wouldn't be long before she was buried in them.
The tree-like spirits took hold of the Sokka-Zuko cocoon. Sokka's eye twitched as the putrid smell of rot, dirt, and mushroom filled his nose. It took everything in Zuko to not mirror Sokka's twitchy and appalled reaction.
"Twinkle toes, do something!" Toph yelled as blades of grass wound and broke through the web, twisting themselves around her ankles. "The whole jungle is trying to kill us! I can feel the entire ground moving, it's like each blade of grass is a spirit too."
"I can see that." Aang hollered back. He was now in a second cocoon, this one made of dark splintering tree bark. "I don't know what to do. I…I think we all need to just calm down. We're giving off such negative energy I think it's making the jungle mad."
"Nature hates us more than it hates Azula!" Sokka shouted.
"You're not helping." Katara yelled, growing more and more squeamish as more and more worm-roaches joined the pile.
The tree-like spirits tossed Zuko and Sokka across the clearing, landing them next to Katara. Zuko gave a soft 'oof' as his shoulder hit the ground.
"How you doin' lil sis?" He smiled.
"Oh ya know." Katara rolled her eyes.
Aang squeezed his eyes shut, trying to focus on what the spirits were saying. All he could pick up on was the squealed thoughts of the worm-roaches…and maybe the tiny blades of grass; Invaders, trespassers, humans. Get them out. Eliminate.
Just when everything seemed to be reaching a deadly height—all hope gone—everything came to a halt.
A new spirit arrived in the clearing. She—rather it looked to Aang like a she—was surrounded in flame. Her skin a cross between brittle parchment and tree bark, eyes glowing a deep red to match the symbols etched into her woody skin.
The spirit spoke no words, not comforting nor condemning. The grass seemed to slink away back into its normal state, the bark retreated, and the worm-roaches eased away. The only issues remaining were the spider spirit and her two cronies.
The flame spirit simply gazed up at them and they edged slowly away.
Aang zoned in on the whispered spirit words again; Safe. Okay. Safe humans. The message transmitted, bouncing off one spirit to the next. A message probably delivered first through the flame spirit. And yet he could pick up on any words from her—spirit nor human.
This spirit seemed to be a mute, communicating just through a calm and passive sort of energy...if she was calm around the humans, they must be safe.
The flame spirit knelt down and burned a small hole through the web. Aang took the hint; he tore his way the rest of the way thorough and moved into help the others.
He bought a flame of his own onto the web entrapping Katara. The fire adorning the flame-spirit seemed to die down, leaving an expression of agony on her face.
Clutching her head she lowered herself to the floor. With her finger she drew a simple message in the dirt; don't firebend.
Aang blinked twice. Imagine that; a flame spirit, hurt by firebending.