Using Sokka's torch, the two boys quickly found the path Katara had taken to the waterfall. When they emerged into the clearing, the scene before them made them come to a full stop.
"Whoa. Freaky." Sokka managed.
The silvery curtain of water gushed at its usual pace, but an eerie white light from within made the whole cascade glow. The pool was black and dark and menacing, reflecting the cave light on its inky surface.
"So, what now?" Sokka asked.
"We gotta get into that cave. We'll have to jump in."
Sokka knelt by the pool and dipped his hand into the water. "Geez, it's freezing! There's no way I'm swimming in that!"
But Aang had already stripped down to his underwear. "Sokka, stay here. If anything happens to me, you'll need to get help somehow. Take Zuko's ship. Bring back help."
The Avatar took a running jump and dove into the centre of the pool.
Aang hardly felt the icy cold tear into his flesh as he lunged into the black pool. His mind was fixed on one thing alone.
She was in danger. She was on the verge of a fate worse than death. He had no idea what he was doing, where he was going, but it was like Fonquay said: he was the Avatar. He would think of something. After all, if he couldn’t save one life, how could he expect to save the world?
If he didn’t save Katara’s life, the world wouldn’t be worth saving.
Aang dove deeper and deeper, the freezing water stabbing his eyes. The only light he had to go by was the eerie white glow coming from behind the waterfall. He swam toward it, until suddenly, in the darkness, loomed a face—
Aang stopped before the armless statue of the water woman. The figure was carved of smooth rock, like some kind of milky quartz crystal. Her empty eyes stared at him pleadingly, almost hopefully in the dark.
The young Avatar hovered before it a moment, wondering how this statue had gotten there in the first place. Who had carved it? And what was it doing at the bottom of a waterfall?
The woman stared at him beseechingly. He reached out, compelled to touch it—
The world swirled around him, dissolving in the dark water. If it were not for the overwhelming sense of calm, Aang would definitely be panicking and trying to swim away as fast as he could, but as it was, he was no longer in the water. Not in his mind, at least.
Aang stood on a grassy plateau high up on a mountain. A serene lake reflected the silvery overcast sky. A tiny cottage made of logs and sod sat discreetly in one corner of the field, with a fire pit off to one side. A neatly-kept garden patch sown with an odd assortment of vegetables and fruit surrounded the homey complex.
The young Avatar moved instinctively toward the house. Somehow he knew there would be something to see there. Just as he approached the door, it swung open, the solid wood harmlessly passing through his spectral body.
Oooookay. Again, not in the Spirit Realm, Aang noted with interest. Just how many realms and other dimensions did he have access to?
Two people emerged from the earthy homestead. Though they were laughing, Aang could hear nothing, except for a vague gurgling sound hollowly sloshing in his ears. Glug glug.
One of the cabin's inhabitants was a handsome young man wearing dark red robes. His thick raven hair was tied up in the traditional Fire Nation top knot. His startling green eyes turned smilingly upon the beautiful young woman following him out.
Aang instantly recognized her as the quartz statue in the pool. Her straight brown hair cascaded down her back, fluttering in the wind. She carried a small black pot, which she hung on the fire pit tripod.
The man gathered some logs and gestured at the pile of wood in the pit, a blast of flame erupting from his hand. The logs caught and he beamed at the woman, who smiled warmly back.
The woman moved her arms in a smooth flowing movement and bent a large sluice of water out of the lake and into the pot. They placed assorted vegetables into the boiling water, murmuring indistinguishable things to each other. But from the dreamy look in both their eyes as they gazed at one another, Aang knew that these two were the Firebender and Waterbender lovers from Fonquay's story.
Time seemed to fold because the next thing he knew, it was night and the two were resting by the fire, their stew eaten, the fire burned down to cinders. The woman snuggled happily in the man's embrace, his arms wrapped protectively around her.
Someone came stumbling up the hill. Aang couldn't see immediately who it was in the dream dark, but by the way the couple jumped to their feet, he wasn't a welcome visitor.
The Firebender pushed the young woman behind him and was angrily shouting things at the intruder, but Aang could hear nothing. The shadow hovered just outside the firelight's radius for a moment, then threw something glittery to the ground.
It was a handful of crystals, just like the one Zuko had found, but these were not glowing. The trio seemed to exchange a few more words and then the shadowy figure scuttled back down the hill. The man gathered the crystals up off the ground and hurled them into the lake, embracing his trembling lover tenderly as he wiped away her tears and all traces of the intruder.
Another fold in time, and Aang was startled to find himself standing before a whole troop of Fire Nation soldiers. Their armour was made mostly of leather and crudely-wrought iron, unlike the polished steel plates the Fire Nation currently wore, but they were equally as impressive, if not more menacing in a primitive sort of way.
The pale sun shone weakly through the overhead cloud cover, lighting the scene in a sickly glow. Two soldiers held the woman's arms behind her back. She was struggling and crying. The Firebender battled with three men who eventually wrestled him to his knees. They each took an arm and grabbed him by his hair, yanking his head back to expose his neck. He shouted something at the approaching man, a tall, steely-eyed general.
Aang saw the red-hot blade the general carried as he approached. He drew his arm back—
Aang tried to shut his eyes, but it was as if he no longer had eyelids. He watched in horror as the blade came down and blood poured from the hole in the man's heart. The soldiers let the corpse fall to the ground. The next thing he knew, the woman had broken from her captors' grip and was on her hands and knees, sobbing and screaming wordlessly to the sky at her lover's side. The soldiers roughly hoisted her up onto her feet when another man approached her. He was tall and gangly with a mass of tangled salt and pepper hair, and wore a tattered knee-length tunic, leggings, and high boots.
It took a minute for Aang to match this character to the ghostly form of Lord Fonquay.
What was he doing here? He said he hadn't encountered the island until years later.
No wait, all he had said was that he’d been in the In-Between for two hundred or so years. Confused, Aang watched the scene unfold.
Fonquay went up to the woman and tenderly wiped the tears from her face, saying something. She shrank from his touch, and spat at him angrily. He gripped her chin tightly, his eyes bright with anger and hunger as he stared into her tear-streaked face. Aang wished desperately he could hear what they were saying. He tried to read their lips, but to no avail.
Turning to the steely-eyed Fire Nation general who was nonchalantly wiping the blood off his sword, he said something and they went back and forth, the nasty smile on the general's face growing wider while Fonquay grew more and more pale. The General then grabbed Fonquay by the collar, slugging him hard in the gut, and threw him hard onto the ground. The soldiers around them laughed.
Fonquay curled up in fetal position on the ground, looking beaten and defeated. Aang looked at this spidery mass of a man and realized that he was the shadowy intruder slinking around the lovers' home who had offered the crystals in return for… what? Aang was at a loss.
The lean man’s shoulders shook, his chest racked with sobs. He seemed to calm down for a moment. Then he suddenly threw back his head and began laughing. His eyes glinted maniacally, his hair looking wilder than ever. And he burst up, howling, his arms raised high.
The ground shook and shot up in a series of earthen columns, catapulting two-thirds of the soldiers into the lake. With a swoop of his arm, half of the remaining contingent was swept into the water, thrown far from the shore.
Meanwhile, the woman had managed to struggle free once more, and she staggered to her fallen lover's body. She collapsed atop him, sobbing, her hands soaking in his blood.
Fonquay continued fighting off the remaining troops, hurling rocks and clods of dirt, raising walls of the mountain’s granite to shield himself from the responding onslaught of fire. The General who had callously run the young Firebender through advanced on him, dodging the man's crazed attacks and countering with deadly fireballs.
And before Aang could register it, the sword that had been used to kill the Firebender was now buried hilt-deep in Fonquay's stomach. The Avatar retched at the sight of the red blotch blossoming in the Earthbender's back where the sword had penetrated clean through his centre, the point of the blade tenting the back of his tunic.
He turned away from the gruesome scene to be met by yet another. The Waterbender woman was kissing her lover's corpse. She was drenched, her blue robes stained a dark maroon as the still-warm blood soaked her skin. As her lips worked passionately over his, more blood welled up from his mouth, but she took no notice, eagerly lapping it up.
Aang desperately wanted to stop watching, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away. His stomach churned.
Seemingly sated by her dead lover's still passion, the Waterbender smiled and gently settled the body back on the ground as though he were only dozing, moving a stray hair from his sallow face. She rose, a look of pure serenity on her countenance, blood dripping from her smiling lips.
The General and the dying Fonquay looked on in horror and revulsion as she walked gracefully toward them. She seemed to be saying something, and turned to the dying Fonquay. His eyes were wide, his lips and face drained of all colour - he was going into shock from blood loss.
And then she looked at the Fire Nation general who had killed her lover, and pressed her palms together tightly, praying for him.
And when she quickly pulled them apart, Aang screamed. The general barely had a chance to cry out before his body exploded in a shower of blood and flesh.
She had bent the water in his body, tearing his flesh from his bone.
Aang couldn't vomit. His head spun, his vision blurred, but he had none of the bodily functions he wished would relieve him of this awful sickness building in every part of his body. Oh gods, why wouldn't it stop?
Worst of all, he had no choice but to keep on watching. The woman, now thoroughly soaked in blood, walked to the edge of the lake where some of the troops had witnessed their late commander's gruesome death. They scrambled towards the far shore trying to get away from the madwoman, but it was far too late for them.
With a simple twirling motion of her wrist and a flourish over the head, the lake was whipped into an instant waterspout. It grew and grew, its radius widening until the entire contents of the lake had risen into the air. Every fish, plant, and human body in the water was killed instantly, crushed to a pulp by the torrential super-bent water.
Aang had never seen such raw and uncontrolled Waterbending. Water was supposed to be healing, calm, and cool, but as he thought this, he realized the dual nature of water as both the life bringer and the destroyer. Such was the precarious balance of the elements that he, as Avatar, was charged to keep. He shuddered, incapable of imagining himself, the world's most powerful bender, even approaching anything close to this magnitude of bending. He silently hoped he never would.
And as quickly as it had begun, it stopped. The lake was now a muddy hole, an enormous, sprawling iceberg resting quietly in its centre, the newly formed ice steaming in the pale sun.
And Fonquay had seen it all. He sat there, still bleeding, dying, and watched as dozens of lives and bodies were utterly destroyed. The look in his eyes was a mix of despair, loss, anguish, and terror. He stared at the woman mutely.
Understanding dawned on Aang slowly. Though he was only 13 and had been a cloistered monk for most of his life, he knew what love was, and he had an inkling about passion. Though he was no poet, and would never be able to put his observations into words, this much he did understand: all of this was the result of tainted and misplaced love. The jealousy that had driven Fonquay to commit the murderous treachery and the grief-filled rage that had consumed the Waterbender stemmed from love. Love that should have been pure, like the once pristine lake water, but was now defiled, turned into some horrible shadow of love, polluted, dark, twisted...
Still sitting on his knees, Fonquay rose and shakily pulled the sword out of his chest. Dark red blood poured from the wound and ran from the corner of his mouth. He laughed weakly again and said something to the dazed woman, who was still standing at the edge of the horrific former lake.
She turned her head ever so slightly and said something. Two streams of tears drew parallel ivory lines down her crimson-stained cheeks. Her eyes glowed an unearthly blue. She walked forward, and a rivulet of water snaked into her hand, gathering itself from the still damp ground. It became a lightning blue pike in her fist and she raised her arm and jammed it with all her might into Fonquay’s open wound.
A bright blue-white light surged, blinding Aang, throwing him from the surreal massacre. Once again, he found himself staring into the armless quartz statue’s beautiful, horrified face.
And when he tried to breathe in, Aang choked and took in a lungful of water.