seitentaisei: (ZUTARA!)
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This is Chapter 10: The Trust and Tears of Angels

Title:
Virtually a Princess
Author: kaguyathefallen
Rating: E
Summary: AU Katara is discovering a new virtual reality game that Sokka himself invented. Her relationships with her gaming group is complicated enough already, but with the in-game romance and relationships, reality and the game world is starting to mix. When a rogue hacker invades the system and Sokka disappears, Katara must find a way to seperate the reality from the fiction and find a way rescue her brother with the help of her allies from the game world.

--Virtually a Princess--

+Level 10: The Trust and Tears of Angels+

When Sokka reached the end of the road, he marched straight up to Tennin and Jet. He gave Jet a humorous angry look and pulled Tennin away by her hand. Tennin didn’t seem to mind in the least and was smiling encouragingly at Sokka. She gave Jet one last smile and a wave. With this, she appeared perfectly content with being led away by the hand.

A boisterous laugh erupted from Jet’s lips as he watched Sokka stomp away, girl in tow. He glanced at Katara, his eyes alight with mischief.

“I told her that he’d have the guts to do it.” He found this whole situation hilarious apparently. He moved closer to Katara and smiled widely at her. “Besides, I wanted to see if you got jealous, too. So, did you?” He lifted an eyebrow questioningly, an attractive gesture.

Widening her eyes innocently, she smiled confusedly at him. “Why would I be jealous? I don’t like Tennin, Sokka does.”

Jet laughed and seemed happy with this response.

Toph came over and grinned. “I was going to tell you that I beat Twinkle Toes’s butt in that race, but all this jealousy and angst is probably more interesting, huh?”

Jet smiled at Toph and congratulated her on her win, and the elf girl took that as permission to continue with the details of the story.

Katara turned to see Axel moving slowly down the trail, his face still mostly pale with one streak of red across his cheeks. As he was looking decidedly mortified, she grinned at him and met him at the end of the path.

He was almost immediately talking. “About that… before… I didn’t mean that… I wasn’t talking about you. I mean… maybe not all girls are crazy.” His speech was sputtered and embarrassed, and she laughed.

“No,” she responded. “I’m pretty sure most girls are crazy. Just ask my brother; I have my crazy moments too.”

His eyes widened for a moment as though the very idea frightened him before he laughed. Scratching the back of his head and blushing, he said, “I didn’t need anyone else to be mad at me. So… yeah.”

“Anyone else?” she asked, but he was already walking towards the small camp.

--

Once all seven of them had entered the camp, a short blackness engulfed them and spit them out into the night. Almost immediately, a cut scene started. They group was lead to the wall, and Katara watched as Jet and Axel climbed up the wall first, followed by Sokka and Aang. Tennin and Toph went next, scaling the wall with ease and considerable grace.

Then it was her turn.

“Here,” Yun said, handing her the end of a rope. “Tie this to your waist. They’ll hoist you up.”

“No,” Katara said quietly. She could hear a fierce determination in her voice. “I can pull my own weight.”

All eyes were on her when she took the ropes in tiny, soft hands and began to pull herself up. At first, the going was awkward, and her feet slipped on the stones. Her breath came in straining puffs, and sweat began to pour down her face and hands. Katara mentally cheered Kaguya on as she made her slow progress. When she’d climbed a third of the way up the wall, her dress snagged on the wall, and her foot slipped. A chorus of tiny gasps came from above and below, but she caught herself and continued to climb.

‘Just a little more,’ Katara chanted in her head. ‘That’s a girl; just a little further.’

Then she was on the top of the wall and sighing in relief. Kaguya smiled with Katara’s lips into the darkness where she had last seen Yun. Wiping the sweat from her face, she accepted the rope offered to her and climbed down the other side. This was considerably easier as gravity was working with her this time. She touched the ground first, and Axel landed next to her, a proud smile on his face.

They waited, silent, as the others stepped softly onto the dirt road. When they were all safely on the ground, the ropes slithered away into the darkness.

So, no turning back now.

Axel smiled at them. In a muffled whisper, he said, “We’ll follow this road. They said that all the peasants from this area that are going to leave have already done so. For this reason, we shouldn’t be seen by many people. Yun told me how to get to the safe house, so just follow me, okay?” He squeezed Katara’s hand confidently and set off through the dark city.

Katara heard Axel sigh sadly as they walked through empty streets and dilapidated houses.

The group glanced at him, worried.

He shook his head quickly. “This is just so different from my memories of this place. A lot can change in two years.” For a brief moment, a flicker of a memory replaced the dark destroyed homes with simple yet strong buildings; peasants were hard at work but still laughing and happy. This shared memory was, Katara was certain, shown only for the players’ benefit.

She found out that she was right when her character didn’t seem to notice the change. She said in a sad, small voice, “I wish I could have seen it back then.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll see to it that it gets restored.” Fierce anger lit his eyes, and Katara felt Kaguya’s sadness. Despite Kaguya’s overwhelming sadness for the emperor’s plight, however, Katara had a jab of fear run through her that belonged completely to her. She dearly hoped she would never see Axel’s true rage directed at her.

Sure, she could handle anybody who crossed her, but that didn’t necessarily mean she be unscathed. She had seen his firebending skills in action when they battled, but if he were angry? She shuddered to think of it.

Then she wondered how she must look to the other students in her waterbending class when she showed up for training angry. She winced and decided that she should try not to go to class mad anymore.

Pulling herself out of her thoughts and concentrating on the steady movements of her feet, she peered through the eyes that she couldn’t control and admired the graphics. The buildings were dilapidated and ugly, but they looked completely real. She wondered how Sokka had done it all so well. This team that he had picked to help must be more knowledgeable and skilled than they let on.

When Axel finally tore away from the center of the street, she felt her feet slow to a stop. She watched the mighty Emperor knock at a peeling door at a ramshackle building. It was larger than the others but in the same state of disrepair.

An older woman holding a candle opened the door hesitantly, and Katara watched as the ‘Mighty Emperor’ bowed. He muttered a few inaudible words to her, and the woman’s eyes widened. Then she bowed in return and ushered them into the building. The hallways were dark, lit only by the old woman’s candle. From what the flickering light revealed, the building was dirty with very little furniture and other accoutrements that weren’t absolutely necessary. She lead them to the room at the end of the hall, and after pulling away a stone in the floor, she pulled a lever that sent the wall flying open to reveal a dark passage.

If possible, the darkness here was even deeper, and the woman beckoned them into the passage with a sweep of her hand. Axel lit a flame over his left hand and took Katara’s hand with the other. A wave of relief swept through her, because Kaguya’s fear was mounting at the prospect of entering the darkness. Walking with him into the darkness felt unusually comfortable and safe, and even Katara felt a little genuine gladness that she had a hand to hold. She realized quite quickly that they were traveling down, possibly into an underground cave system. The flame sent the shadows scurrying away as they advanced, but Katara’s eyes weren’t focused on this for very long. Kaguya was true to role of caring lover, and Katara soon found her attention wholly on Axel.

Deep trust flowed through her, and she was startled by it. Katara wasn’t by nature a distrustful person, but this complete and utter trust in another human was almost staggering. Of course, she trusted her family with her very soul, but this trust was different than that.

Katara had always knew that there were different kinds of love—the love of a father, the love of a sister or brother, the love of a friend, the love of that first crush, the ever-fabled true love, and so on—but she never realized that there were different kinds of trust. She had never felt this deep a trust.

She knew that this Emperor Kirin could lead Kaguya to the Empress like a sheep to slaughter, and Kaguya would probably believe in him even after the Empress had wrung the very life from her body.

It was frightening and intoxicating at the same time. She wondered if she would find a person that she could trust so explicitly and so completely.

Finally, Axel turned to smile at her happily. “See,” he muttered as he leaned closer to her. “You can always find friends. I’ll make for certain that you’ll be safe here. We can trust these people.”

Katara nodded at him, and she knew that her character would have followed him even if he had told her that they would be forced to fight a lynch mob when they reached the bottom of this downward-slanting passage.

After a few more minutes they started seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Katara could feel both her and Axel’s anticipation as they sped up in the hopes of being in the light sooner.

When they finally stepped out of the tunnel and onto the flat floor of this new room, Katara was rather surprised. Lanterns hung around a large round room, illuminating the opulent furniture and beautiful carpet spread over the stone floor. The chairs and couches were made of velvet and carved oak, and lavish silk pillows were scattered generously over the carpet and seats. Paintings decorated the walls, and colorful toys littered the floor. Along the wall there were several opulent doors leading out of the central chamber.

Tennin and Aang collided with them from behind.

“Your Highness—”

“Your Majesty—”

They both started to speak, and they both lost their voices at the same moment. They gazed around at the sumptuous room, surprised.

“Huh,” Aang said with a laugh. “Didn’t expect to find a place like this down here.”

Axel guided Katara to one of the couches, and she sat down gratefully. As the others filed into the room, she watched the astonishment flit across their faces as they took in the extravagant decorations. They all took a seat at one of the couches and appeared decidedly uncomfortable.

After all the Knights had taken a seat, the small woman smiled regretfully at them. In a soft, kind human voice, she said, “We do not have as much as I’d like, but Yun and the Guards do make sure we are well-taken care of. I shall go prepare you all something to eat and a little tea, perhaps?”

Saying this, she disappeared into one of the doors.

Almost immediately, another door opened. An older man stepped quietly out and gently closed the door behind him. The man was somewhat chubby, but he had a kind, open face. He wore red and black clothing, and his hair was pulled into a gray top knot. When he finally noticed them, he jumped and looked about in a startled manner. His eyes singled Axel out first.

“Uncle!” Axel cried joyously, leaping to his feet.

The old man took a few hasty steps towards the emperor, wide smile in place. His smile faded quickly, though, and he shot an uncertain look at the door he’d just closed.

A wounded expression crossed Axel’s face. “Uncle Roxhi? What’s wrong?”

Roxhi smiled uncertainly and spoke in a calming human voice. “My nephew, I’m delighted to see you, but your nephew might not feel the same.”

Before Axel had time to ask, the door behind Roxhi swung open, and a small boy with pale skin and dark brown hair pulled back into a ponytail took few steps into the room.

He was rubbing his eyes and yawning. “Uncle,” the boy said in a disgruntled voice. “I told you to wake me up before the end of the story. Now, I don’t know what happened to the princess and—” The sleepy boy finally became aware of the others in the room. His eyes widened in fear before landing on Axel. The boy’s face scrunched up in rage.

“Xokzu!” Axel cried happily and approached the boy.

For a moment, Katara’s attention was ripped away from the situation, and a thought—probably a silly thought but nonetheless—raced through her head. ‘Axel’ was using the name of a Nobody from Kingdom Hearts 2, and before her stood two people, both with the names that include an ‘X.’

Although this shouldn’t be odd, she had always thought of Axel in terms of Kingdom Hearts 2, and in that game, most of the Nobodies had names that were just rearranged versions of their previous names only with an added ‘X.’ For example, Sora’s Nobody took the name of Roxas.

She wondered if these two were based on people Axel knew in real life. She began to remove the Xs from their names and rearrange the other letters in a vain attempt at guessing their real names, but her attention was drawn back to the conversation in front of her.

“I hate you!” The young boy’s face crinkled in disgust, and he retreated back into the other room. “Get away from me!” Tears sprang into his eyes. “I hate you! You’re not my uncle anymore.”

The regal, calm emperor fell back a few paces and gazed at the child, his face dumbstruck and distressed.

The little boy wiped his hand across his eyes and glared as furiously as a boy on the verge of tears can. “You abandoned us all, you traitor! All of us! You were supposed to protect us!”

He pulled the door closed with resounding ‘thunk!’ as if in anger, but Katara could hear the sound of soft crying somewhere in the room beyond.

Roxhi shook his head mournfully but strode across the room to hug the upset emperor. The old man motioned for Axel to return to his seat before finding a seat himself.

“I’m quite afraid that the boy has always blamed you for this mess. He was only eight years old when you disappeared, and I haven’t been able to convince him that it wasn’t your fault.”

“IT WAS HIS FAULT!” came a tearful shout from the other room.

Axel’s face was twisted into a tortured expression, and Katara felt her fingers find his. “Maybe if you tell him what happened, he’ll understand.”

He nodded, but the door was thrown open violently. The boy marched across the room to stand thunderously in front of his uncle.

“You don’t have to explain! I already understand. Don’t treat me like a child! You ran off with some floozy! I heard the rumors!” Xokzu turned his fierce, swollen eyes on Katara. “You’re her, right? He chose you over us! He truly is a traitor. He left us without a care in the world, and look at where we are now! Hiding like rats in caves!”

“Get out of the girl’s face,” Roxhi said, but he too was gazing at Katara with a strange expression.

Surprisingly, Katara heard her voice laugh. “Why, you’re just a spoiled little prince throwing a tantrum.”

The boy’s eyes widened in shock before indignation lit up his eyes. “What would you know about royalty, peasant?”

Katara just smiled pleasantly at the boy’s accusing eyes and said, “I was child once, and I threw my fair share of tantrums.”

Katara’s character wasn’t offended in the slightest, but Axel’s angry voice cut through the conversation.

“She is the only Princess of Heaven and sole heiress to the throne that rules over the Gods and Goddesses of the Upper Realms. You may speak to me how you wish, but you will show her respect.”

Wonder danced across the boy’s face. “The Kingdoms of Heaven?! Uncle Roxhi tells me stories about the Heavens!” Excitement was thick in the child’s voice, but he seemed to realize that he was making friends with the enemy. So he added, “They aren’t my favorite stories though.”

Katara felt delight well up in her heart. Apparently, Kaguya liked kids.

“Oh dear, that’s too bad,” Katara heard herself say, disappointment on her lips. “I was going to tell you all about how your Uncle Kirin managed to escape from the evil Goddess that captured him.” She saw the boy’s eyes light up with curiosity and enthusiasm. He was desperately trying to hide it, but his eyes still betrayed him.

He turned large eyes on his uncle. “You were really kidnapped by a Goddess! Didya have to fight her?”

Axel smiled. “No, but I will soon. First, we have to take that evil emperor off of your throne.”

The boy crinkled his eyes at his uncle. “Yes, you must do that first. Don’t forget about that Goddess though. You can’t let her get away with messing with the royal family.”

Axel nodded.

“Oh dear,” Katara exclaimed. “It’s far too late for you to be awake. Back to bed with you.” She stood and took the boy’s hand in hers. “If you promise to go to sleep I’ll tell you the story. Deal?”

“Deal!” The boy turned back to Axel though and rushed to him. Without a word, he gave the surprised emperor a swift hug.

Kaguya smiled, and Katara knew that the boy had never really hated the emperor. The boy was hurt and angry, but he had missed his uncle.

The boy bounded back to her side and took her hand again. “Now about that story…” He led her into the other room. This room was quite as lavish as the first but with a large four poster bed and more toys scattered about. Some were well loved and cracked while some stood broken on the shelves and waiting for repair.

Katara turned to shut the door and heard Aang laugh.

“Her Highness always did adore children.”

With a smile on her lips, she watched the child climb into bed. He patted a chair next to him and moved a large book of stories from the seat.

She sat down and began to talk.

“When the Goddess kidnapped us, we were both sitting in the garden at my Earthly father’s house. Her voice boomed around us, and the trees shook with the force of it. Her voice told us that our love was sickening to the Gods and that she would put an end to it. She sent a wind that swept us up and carried us to Mount Fuji. When we arrived, the wind sent us deep into the caves and locked us each in an emerald prison. She kept us very far from each other to make sure we would be especially miserable in our captivity.”

“Wait, why did the Goddess kidnap you? Why didn’t she like your love? What kind of emerald prison?”

So, Katara found herself explaining her fall from Heaven and the Empress and the mountains. She talked and talked, trying to fill in all the holes, but the boy always had another question or request.

“You met the Returners! What were they like really?” “You fought a God? What did you do?” “You saw Yun! How was she?” “You don’t describe battles very well, do you?”

He kept laughing and questioning for a long time. Finally his questions ran dry, and his tiredness began to overcome him.

“Wait, so she took over your Kingdom too? I bet your people think you’re a failure,” the boy’s eyes closed. “They think I’m a failure too. At least you have a good reason. It’s hard when your parents die. I know how that feels; I’m an orphan myself.”

Katara felt a tear on her cheek, but she knew that she would’ve cried for this boy even if she had had full control over her body. She ran her hand over the child’s hair and forehead.

“I was never afraid though, because I had Uncle Kirin. I always knew he’d come back to help me. Always. I never gave up.” Xokzu was just rambling sleepily now. “He’ll make things right, don’t you think?”

“Yes, that is what I think.”

The boy smiled and finally fell fully asleep.

Katara stood, a happy smile on her face and moved soundlessly across the room. She cast one last soft glance before opening the door into the room where she knew plans were being made to defeat the false emperor and restore that sweet child to his rightful home.

--End Level 10--

So yeah! What do you guys think? It’s strange that we’re ten chapters in and Sokka hasn’t even disappeared yet. That was one of the things that I mentioned in the description of the story because I thought I thought that it would happen pretty early. Makes me wonder how long this will end up being.

Video Game References:

-I thought that the note about Kingdom Hearts 2 and the Nobodies was so important that it needed to be in the text for non-gamers to understand. But now that you know the principle of the naming, I bet you all know where Zuko got the names “Roxhi” and “Xokzu” from. lol : )

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