Author’s note: In which there are creepy happenings, ghost stories, insane waterbenders and the waterbending’s equivalent of lightning bending.
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The wind howled and clouds raced near the almost-full moon. Around a small campfire, in the middle of the woods, a group of teens listened intently to a boy.
“Suddenly, they heard something down the hall, in the dark. Oooh…It came into the torchlight. And they knew the blade of Wing Fun was haunted!” Sokka made an unearthly scream for effect but his friends were not impressed.
“I think I liked ‘the man with a sword for a hand’ better,” Aang said bored. Lia bowed in his direction.
“Why thank you!”
“Water Tribe slumber parties must stink,” Toph whined. Katara suddenly looked up from where she was leaning against Zuko.
“No, wait, I’ve got one, and this is a true Southern Water Tribe story.” Her brother looked doubtful.
“Is this one of those ‘a friend of my cousin knew some guy that this happened to’ stories?” Katara glared at him.
“No, it happened to mum.” Everyone sobered as Katara began her story. “One winter, when mum was a girl, a snowstorm buried the whole village for weeks. A month later, mum realized she hadn’t seen her friend Nini since the storm. So mom and some others went to check on Nini’s family. When they got there, no one was home, just a fire flickering in the fireplace. While the men went out to search, mum stayed in the house. When she was alone, she heard a voice,” she dropped her voice making it sound like a little girl’s “It’s so cold and I can’t get warm.” She continued in her normal voice, “Mum turned and saw Nini standing by the fire. She was blue, like she was frozen. Mum ran outside for help, but…when everyone came back, Nini was gone.”
“Where’d she go?” Sokka timidly asked. The story had really spooked him.
“No one knows. Nini’s house stands empty to this day. But sometimes, people see smoke coming up from the chimney, like little Nini is still trying to get warm.”
Even Lia was unusually quiet after the eerie story ended. Suddenly Toph’s head shot up.
“Wait! Guys, did you hear that? I hear people under the mountain, and they’re screaming.” Everyone immediately ran to Zuko, even Lia clinging a bit to her brother. Sokka was the first to calm down.
“Pft, nice try,” he snorted at Toph.
“No, I’m serious, I hear something!” the little earthbender insisted.
“You’re probably just jumpy from the ghost stories,” Lia stammered moving away from her brother slowly.
“It just stopped,” Toph said softly. At her side, Aang looked around nervously.
“All right, now I’m getting scared.” Suddenly an old woman’s voice was heard behind them.
“Hello children.” With a frightened scream everyone huddled around Toph, Lia and Zuko. An old lady walked to their fire and smiled benevolently at them. “Sorry to frighten you, my name is Hama. You children shouldn’t be out in the forest by yourselves at night. I have an inn nearby, why don’t you come back there for some spiced tea and warm beds?”
“Yes, please,” Sokka whimpered in relief. Anything to get out of the creepy woods.
Hama had a small inn on the outskirts of a nearby village. She beckoned the group inside and they entered a small, homey kitchen. She immediately went to fix tea for them. Katara smiled gratefully at the old woman.
“Thanks for letting us stay here tonight. You have a lovely inn,” she said.
“Aren’t you sweet? You know, you should be careful. People have been disappearing in those woods you were camping in,” Hama said in a grandmotherly, concerned tone.
“What do you mean, disappearing?” Sokka asked suspiciously.
“When the moon turns full, people walk in, and they don’t come out,” Hama said gravely before smiling brightly. “Who wants more tea?” she paused seeing the worried expressions of the gaang. “Don’t worry; you’ll all be completely safe here. Why don’t I show you to your rooms, and you can get a good night’s rest?”
Hama showed them their rooms at the first floor of the inn. Sokka hurried to lead Katara to the furthest room and then take the one next to it.
“Sokka, perhaps you’re overreacting,” Aang said hesitantly. Sokka gave him a long, thoughtful look before shrugging.
“You can never be too cautious,” he said and rushed inside.
The next morning he would insist that he stayed up all night because the room was too creepy. Lia would snort at the comment. Hama had asked her to wake everyone up and the Spirit, who for some reason felt like something was crawling on her back when she was alone with the innkeeper, agreed immediately. The Water Tribe boy was lying halfway out of the bed snoring peacefully. Lia crept up to him silently before yelling:
Sokka bolted up and promptly fell the rest of the way to the floor.
“Where?” he asked, rubbing his head. He saw the redhead pointing at herself, smiling. Lia ran to the door laughing, leaving an enraged Sokka with a bedhead behind her.
“I’m going to kill you Lia!” he yelled after her.
“Stop whining and get ready Sokka,” Katara ordered, exiting a nearby room with Zuko. “It’s time to go shopping.”
His sour mood didn’t get better an hour later when he was being dragged around the market. Hama was buying enough food for a feast, with the children carrying the different bags and packages. Lia and Katara were helping her. As they left yet another stall, Katara turned smiling to Hama.
“That Mr Yao seems to have a thing for you.”
“Maybe we should go back and see if he’ll give us some free komodo sausages,” Lia suggested. Hama frowned disapprovingly.
“You two would have me use my feminine charms to take advantage of that poor man?” she smiled. “I think you and I are going to get along swimmingly.”
As the three of them walked away, Sokka’s attention was caught by a nearby conversation.
“You won’t have any ash bananas till next week?” a man was asking.
“Well, I have to send the boy to Hing-Wa Island to get them, and it’s a two-day trip,” the merchant explained. The man nodded in understanding.
“Oh, right, tomorrow’s the full moon.”
“Exactly, I can’t lose another delivery boy in the woods.”
Sokka raised an eyebrow.
“People disappearing in the woods, weird stuff during full moons…this just reeks of spirit world shenanigans.” He gave a knowing look to Lia. She looked thoughtful for a moment but shrugged.
“No ideas here,” she said.
“I bet if we take a little walk around town, we’ll find out what these people did to the environment to make the spirits mad,” Aang suggested.
“And then you can sew up this little mystery, lickety-split, Avatar-style.”
“Helping people…that’s what I do.” Aang struck a heroic pose.
As they left the village Hama turned to them.
“Why don’t you all take those things back to the inn? I just have to run a couple more errands. I’ll be back in a little while.” Sokka walked up to her with a suspicious look.
“This is a mysterious little town you have here…”
“Mysterious town for mysterious children,” she answered with a cryptic smile before walking away.
Inside the kitchen Katara started immediately to put everything in order. Sokka leaned against the table.
“That Hama seems a little strange. Like she knows something, or she’s hiding something,” he said thoughtfully.
“That’s ridiculous. She’s a nice woman who took us in and gave us a place to stay,” Katara retorted crossing her arms. “She kind of reminds me of Gran-Gran.”
“But what did she mean by that comment, ‘mysterious children’?” His sister rolled her eyes.
“Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because she found six strange kids, camping in the woods at night? Isn’t that a little mysterious?”
“I’m not sure Katara,” Lia said nervously. “Sure Hama seems nice enough, but I get this weird feeling when I am near her. Like something is crawling up my back.” Her words were encouragement enough for Sokka.
“I’m gonna take a look around,” he walked out of the kitchen.
The others followed him hurriedly.
“Sokka! Sokka, what are you doing?” Katara called worried. “You can’t just snoop around someone’s house.”
“It’ll be fine,” he shrugged her reprimand off. He started opening and closing doors, checking the rooms for anything suspicious. Finding nothing he only grew more stubborn.
“She could be home any minute,” Aang muttered nervously.
“Sokka, you’re gonna get us all in trouble, and this is just plain rude,” Katara said.
“I’m not finished yet,” He snapped, trying to open a cabinet. “Come on…” he muttered under his breath. The doors burst open and a bunch of marionettes came out. Everyone jumped back in surprise, Sokka going as far as to draw his sword.
“Okay…” Lia raised an eyebrow. “A cabinet full of puppets is rather creepy…” Even Katara looked a bit shaken.
“So… she’s got a hobby. There’s nothing weird about that. Sokka, you’ve looked enough. Hama will be back soon”
“Just one last thing,” Sokka insisted, climbing up the last flight of stairs.
When everyone had climbed up behind him they saw him trying to open yet another door. Sokka turned triumphantly to his sister.
“Just an ordinary, puppet-loving innkeeper, huh? Then why does she have a locked door up here?”
“Probably to keep people like you from snooping through her stuff,” Zuko rolled his eyes. “You are overreacting Sokka. Again.”
“We’ll see,” the other boy muttered. He peeked through the keyhole. “It’s empty except for a little chest.”
“Maybe it’s treasure!” Toph said excited. Sokka grinned at the prospect and tried to pry the door open with his sword.
“Sokka, what are you doing? You’re breaking into a private room,” Katara reprimanded him aghast.
“I have to see what’s in there,” he insisted. The door clicked open and everyone walked in. Sokka picked up the small chest curiously.
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” Aang muttered nervously.
“Maybe there’s a key here somewhere,” Sokka muttered, looking around. Toph had a sudden inspiration.
“Hand it over,” she said and took off her space-bracelet. She formed it to a key and tried to open the chest.
“Come on, come on!” Sokka urged.
“This isn’t as easy it looks,” the earthbender grumbled.
“Guys, I don’t know about this.” Aang said nervously again. Katara turned to leave.
“This is crazy, I’m leaving.”
“Suit yourself. Do it, Toph,” Lia said to everyone’s surprise.
“What?” Zuko looked incredulous.
“I get this weird feeling near Hama,” Lia explained. “There’s something wrong here and perhaps whatever is in this box will clear things up.” As if on cue Toph managed to open the lid. Everyone rushed to her side, eager to see what was inside, none of them hearing the door creaking open.
“I’ll tell you what’s in the box,” an elderly voice called behind them.
With a yell of fear everyone turned to face Hama. Sokka took the chest and handed it to her guiltily. Wordlessly the old woman reached in and took out a simple comb made from whale bone and painted blue and white.
“An old comb?” Sokka said disappointed.
“It’s my greatest treasure. It’s the last thing I owned from growing up in the Southern Water Tribe,” Hama explained solemnly.
Katara was the first to regain her voice.
“You’re from the Southern Water Tribe?” she asked in disbelief.
“Just like you,” Hama answered with a smile.
“How did you know?” Katara asked again.
“I heard you talking around your campfire,” the old woman explained.
“But why didn’t you tell us?” Sokka asked now.
“I wanted to surprise you. I bought all this food today so I could fix you a big, Water Tribe dinner. Of course, I can’t get all the ingredients I need here, but ocean kumquats are a lot like sea prunes, if you stew them long enough,” Hama explained with a note of longing in her voice.
“Great!” Aang groaned under his breath.
“I knew I felt a bond with you right away,” Katara was smiling now.
“And I knew you were keeping a secret, so I guess we’re both right,” Sokka said smugly. His sister punched him on the shoulder. “But I’m sorry we were sneaking around,” he added in a more serious note.
“Apology accepted. Now let’s get cooking,” Hama beckoned everyone to follow her.
Later that night found them all sitting around the kitchen table with an assortment of Water Tribe dishes in front of them. Aang leaned towards Toph and Zuko.
“I’d steer clear of the ‘sea prunes’,” he whispered.
“I thought they were ocean kumquats,” Toph said confused.
“Close enough,” Aang shrugged.
“Who wants five-flavour soup?” Hama asked cheerfully. Everyone’s hand shot in the air, even though Lia, Zuko and Toph had no idea what this was. To everyone’s astonishment Hama bended the servings into their bowls.
“You’re a waterbender! I’ve never met another waterbender from our tribe,” Katara said amazed.
“That’s because the fire nation wiped them all out. I was the last one,” Hama explained sadly.
“So how did you end up out here?” Sokka asked, part of his earlier suspicions returning.
“I was stolen from my home,” Hama explained. “It was over sixty years ago when the raids started. They came again and again, each time, rounding up more of our waterbenders, and taking them captive. We did our best to hold them off, but our numbers dwindled as the raids continued. Finally, I too was captured. They put us in terrible prisons here in the Fire Nation. I was the only one who managed to escape.”
“But how did you get away?” Lia asked. “And why would you stay in the Fire Nation?” The old woman shook her head.
“I’m sorry. It’s too painful to talk about anymore.” Katara wrapped an arm around her consolingly.
“We completely understand. Sokka and I lost our mother in a raid.” Hama petted her hand.
“Oh, you poor things.”
“I can’t tell you what it means to meet you. It’s an honour, you’re a hero,” Katara continued with a smile.
“I never thought I’d meet another Southern waterbender. I’d like to teach you what I know, so you can carry on the Southern Tradition when I’m gone,” Hama offered. Katara’s eyes widened.
“Yes, yes of course! To learn about my heritage, it would mean everything to me.”
The next morning the two Water Tribe women walked outside the village so that Hama could begin her instruction without danger of being seen.
“Growing up at the South Pole, Waterbenders are totally at home surrounded by snow and ice and seas. But, as you probably noticed on your travels, that isn’t the case wherever you go,” she began. Katara nodded.
“I know, when we were stranded in the desert, I felt like there was almost nothing I could do.”
“That’s why you have to learn to control water wherever it exists,” Hama explained.
“I’ve even used my own sweat for waterbending,” the younger woman said with a chuckle.
“That’s very resourceful, Katara. You’re thinking like a true master,” Hama praised. “But did you know you can even pull water out of thin air?” She collected moisture from the air around them, freezing it into claws. “You’ve got to keep an open mind, Katara. There’s water in places you never think about.”
Not very far away the rest of the gang was trying to find why people kept disappearing.
“This has gotta be the nicest, natural setting in the Fire Nation. I don’t see anything that would make a spirit mad around here,” Aang said confused.
“And I don’t feel any disturbances,” Lia added.
“Maybe the moon spirit just turned mean,” Toph guessed. Sokka snapped around at the comment.
“The moon spirit is a gentle, loving lady. She rules the sky with compassion and…lunar goodness,” he yelled at Toph. Before anyone could comment on that Aang saw a traveller pass by.
“Excuse me, sir. Can you tell us anything about the spirit that’s been stealing people?” he asked politely.
“Only one man ever saw it and lived, and that’s old man Ding,” the man said thoughtfully. Toph yanked his sleeve.
“Where does old man Ding live?” she asked.
Hama and Katara had reached a beautiful valley filled with Fire Lilies.
“Wow, these flowers are beautiful,” Katara breathed.
“They’re called Fire Lilies. They only bloom a few weeks a year, but they’re one of my favourite things about living here. And like all plants, and all living things, they’re filled with water,” Hama explained.
“I met a waterbender who lived in a swamp, and could control the vines by bending the water inside,” her student recalled, eager to show her understanding.
“You can take it even further.” With a wide move of her hands Hama drew the water out of the flowers and used it on a whip.
“That was incredible!” Katara said amazed. Then she noticed the withered flowers. “It’s a shame about the lilies, though,” she said softly.
“They’re just flowers,” Hama said dismissively. “When you’re a waterbender in a strange land, you do what you must to survive. Tonight, I’ll teach you the ultimate technique of waterbending. It can only be done during the full moon, when your bending is at its peak.”
“But isn’t that dangerous? I thought people have been disappearing around here during the full moon,” Katara said nervously.
“Oh, Katara. Two master waterbenders beneath a full moon? I don’t think we have anything to worry about.” Hama walked away.
The gang walked aimlessly around town. Katara and Hama had left again for practice, causing the feelings of uneasiness Lia had to double. The sun had set some time ago and all the roads were deserted, making it seem like a ghost town. Finally they reached the house the traveller had pointed out. An old man was barring the windows at the front.
“Old man Ding?” Aang called questioningly. The man turned to look at him and ended up hammering his finger instead of the nail he was aiming for. He dropped the hammer in pain.
“Eeh, yeow! Aw, dang blame it! What? Can’t you see I’m busy? Got a full moon rising. And why does everyone call me that? I’m not that old.” He knelt and tried to pick up a board but failed miserably. “Aww…well, I’m young at heart.” Aang knelt and helped him lift the board while Sokka took the hammer and resumed the nailing. “Not ready to get snapped up by some moon monster, yet, at least,” the old man muttered.
“We wanted to ask you about that,” Sokka said continuing his job.
“Did you get a good look at the spirit that took you?” Lia asked. Old man Ding shrugged.
“Didn’t see no spirit. Just felt something come over me, like I was possessed. Forced me to start walking toward the mountain. I tried to fight it, but I couldn’t control my own limbs. It just about had me into a cave up there. And I looked up at the moon, for what I thought would be my last glimpse of light. But then, the sun started to rise. And I got control of myself again! I just high-tailed it away from that mountain as quick as I could!”
“Why would a spirit want to take people to a mountain?” Zuko wondered out loud. Suddenly Toph’s eyes widened.
“Oh no!” everyone turned to her. “I did hear people screaming under the mountain. The missing villagers must still be there.”
They followed Toph hurriedly inside the forest. She stopped near their campsite and placed her hand on the ground.
“I can hear them, they’re this way.” She pointed at a direction and took off again. They made their way to the top of the mountain. Indeed there was a cave there.
“This is the place.” Toph paused to catch her breath. Sokka squinted his eyes trying to make out any details.
“I can’t see anything down there,” he complained. Twin flames appeared on Zuko’s and Lia’s hands.
“That’s why you have us,” The Fire prince pointed out before moving inside the cave. “Now let’s go,” he called over his shoulder.
At the far end of the cave there were two torches illuminating a locked door. Toph knocked it out of its hinges while Sokka and Aang took the torches as an extra light. Inside the chamber there were people chained to the walls. They turned their faces warily towards the light. Seeing the teens one of them called,
Without much of an introduction Toph formed her armband to a key again and started unlocking the shackles.
“I didn’t know that spirits made prisons like this,” Aang said. “Who brought you here?”
“It was no spirit,” a woman said.
“It was a witch!” the man next to her explained.
“What do you mean a witch?” Zuko asked.
“She seems like a normal old woman, but she controls people like some dark puppetmaster,” the first prisoner said. Everyone’s expression darkened.
“Hama!” Sokka spat furious.
“Yes, the innkeeper,” one of the villagers verified it.
“I knew there was something creepy about her!” Sokka turned to look at Aang and Zuko. The latter’s face had gone deadly pale.
“Katara is with her,” he said. Sokka’s eyes widened in terror. He turned to the rest.
“We’ll get these people out of here, you go,” Toph said, making a shooing motion at the two older boys.
“Can you feel the power the full moon brings?” Hama asked Katara as they walked through the woods with only the moon to guide them. “For generations, it has blessed waterbenders with its glow, allowing us to do incredible things. I’ve never felt more alive.” She inhaled deeply, basking at the surge of energy. Without turning to face Katara she continued. “What I’m about to show you, I discovered in that wretched, Fire Nation prison.” Her voice started to harden, until it was sharp like a razor’s blade. “The guards were always careful to keep any water away from us. They piped in dry air, and had us suspended away from the ground. Before giving us any water, they would bind our hands and feet so we couldn’t bend. Any sign of trouble was met with cruel retribution. And yet, each month, I felt the full moon enriching me with its energy. There had to be something I could do to escape. Then I realized that where there is life, there is water. The rats that scurried across the floor of my cage were nothing more than skins filled with liquid. And I passed years developing the skills that would lead to my escape. Bloodbending. Controlling the water in another body. Enforcing your own will over theirs. Once you perfect this technique, you can control anything…or anyone.” Katara looked at her uneasily.
“But, to reach inside someone and control them? I don’t know if I want that kind of power,” she said hesitantly. Suddenly Sokka’s suspicions and Lia’s intuition rang true.
“The choice is not yours. The power exists…and it’s your duty to use the gifts you’ve been given to win this war. Katara, they tried to wipe us out, our entire culture…your mother!”
“I know,” Katara whispered. It was true the Fire Nation had committed horrible acts during the war but not everyone was like that. Zuko was different and Aang had told her about his old friend Kuzon. Even Avatars had been born to the Fire Nation.
“We’re the last waterbenders of the Southern Tribe. We have to fight these people whenever we can. Wherever they are, with any means necessary!” Hama continued her speech and suddenly it clicked to the girl.
“It’s you. You’re the one who’s making people disappear during the full moons,” she said, the sudden realisation feeling her with horror. Hama’s face distorted in rage.
“They threw me in prison to rot, along with my brothers and sisters. They deserve the same. You must carry on my work.” Katara crossed her arms.
“I won’t! I won’t use bloodbending, and I won’t allow you to keep terrorizing this town.”
She was about to turn and walk away, planning to warn the town when her body froze.
“You should have learned the technique before you turned against me,” Hama said gravely. “It’s impossible to fight your way out of my grip. I control every muscle, every vein in your body.” With an insane laugh she made Katara’s body twist around before she forced her to her knees. Katara teared up from the pain.
“Stop… please,” she managed to choke out.
For a moment it seemed like Hama had won. Katara closed her eyes ready to give up when she realised something. Her waterbending was stronger too. Slowly she concentrated on throwing Hama’s influence away and rising to her feet. Hama’s laughter died as Katara stood in a waterbending stance.
“You’re not the only one who draws power from the moon. My bending is more powerful than yours, Hama. Your technique is useless on me!”
Both women shifted into battle stances and Katara did the first move, ironically drawing from the techniques Hama had taught her earlier. They both drew water from the plants and the ground around them, sending more and more water at one another. With one final blast Katara threw Hama to the ground. As the old woman made a move to stand, a blast of fire landed right in front of her. Behind her Zuko, Sokka and Aang appeared, the first’s hand still smoking.
“We know what you’ve been doing, Hama!” Sokka yelled.
“Give up, you’re outnumbered,” Aang added, falling into a stance himself.
“No,” Hama said with a crazed edge on her voice. “You’ve just outnumbered yourselves.”
She raised her arms, causing the boys to stiffen and charge at Katara. She dodged, drawing more water in the process, to create a shield.
“Katara look out!” Sokka yelled suddenly. His sister turned in time to dodge his sword. “It’s like my brain has a mind of its own. Stop it, arm, stop it!” the boy yelled horrified. Katara knocked him away and then did the same to Aang.
“This feels weird,” the airbender said scared.
“Katara, freeze us to the trees,” Zuko suddenly called as Hama made him charge forward too. She nodded and drew more water, and encased them in ice on different trees.
“I’m sorry guys,” she called.
“It’s okay,” Aang called back.
Hama surveyed the scene before her and gave Katara a wicked smile.
“Don’t hurt your friends, Katara…and don’t let them hurt each other,” she said before bloodbending Zuko and Sokka again. They flung at each other but seconds before Sokka’s sword could pierce Zuko they stopped. They turned to look at Hama surprised, to see her frozen. Their eyes snapped to Katara who had also frozen into a stance. She looked as shocked as them to realise that she was bloodbending. She slowly forced Hama to her knees while the boys rushed to her sides. Hama tried to stand on her feet when a ring of fire appeared around her. The children looked up to see that Toph and Lia, along with the prisoned villagers had arrived. They quickly put shackles on her.
“You’re going to be locked away forever,” one of the villagers said. Hama didn’t seem to care.
“My work is done.” She turned to Katara with an almost grandmotherly tone on her voice. “Congratulations, Katara. You’re a bloodbender.” Katara leaned against Zuko as she cried. He wordlessly held her as the entire gang gathered around them trying to comfort the waterbender.