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This is Chapter 9: Girl's Side Story

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 9: Girl’s Side Story++ 

Working their way back to the campsite was a little more difficult than leaving it. Without the hypnotic butterfly spurring her on, monsters appeared out of the dark forest to attack them. 

‘Of course,’ Katara thought ruefully. ‘The most elite Royal Guard aren’t helping at all.’ 

They were there, though. She could feel them moving through the shadows around them; she could see the unnatural movements of the trees that they climbed through and hear the sound of their surreptitious footsteps among the leaves. Truth be told, it was actually extremely creepy, but Katara didn’t want to show that she was unnerved by it. 

So, she plugged through the darkness along with Jet and Axel, who both remained silent. She couldn’t remember them talking to each other outside of the cut scenes. They may have talked in Sokka’s group chat room sometimes, but she was quite sure she’d never heard them speak to each other in the game so far. Admittedly, Axel was proving to Katara as being somewhat antisocial to begin with, but Jet was outgoing enough for the both of them. Sokka talked to Axel quite a bit online, and if Sokka’s choice of writers was any indication, he trusted Axel immensely. 

Yet, here Jet and Axel walked side by side without a single glance in each other’s direction. They were fighting oversized wolfbats at the moment. As she threw water at the wolfbat in front of her, she watched them, frowning, until Axel met her eyes. As he was still focused primarily on the creature in front of him, he had the appearance of someone who was concentrating quite intently, and in his distraction, managed to gaze at her without seeming to become embarrassed. His eyes were questioning and almost irritated, and his lips tilted downward into a cute frown. Confused, curious annoyance sent his eyebrows racing upward, and Katara thought perhaps she might finally be seeing a glimpse of the boy underneath the self-conscious awkwardness. 

Sure, he had shown anger before, but it was usually a product of embarrassed frustration. Perhaps, their relationship would become comfortable pretty soon even despite the romantic, starry-eyed cut scenes. 

She grinned at him, and she could feel mischievous laughter in her eyes. His brows knit together and his frown deepened. She noticed that an almost imperceptible streak of red on his cheeks, but he didn’t seem exceedingly embarrassed by her stare. 

Actually, he seemed almost challenged by it, and he narrowed his eyes at her as if she were plotting against him. 

Katara found this highly amusing and laughed out loud as she leapt at a wolfbat that materialized out of the forest and slashed at it with her dagger. 

Jet sent her a perplexed smile, and she laughed harder. Neither boy seemed to understand the humor and merely shrugged, turning their attention back to the fighting. 

However, she did notice that afterwards Axel kept shooting her inquisitive narrow-eyed glances. 

-- 

When the campfire came into view, another cut scene started. 

Shadowy figures paced near the fire, and Aang’s voice was the first to reach Katara’s ears. 

"You think Mamoru will find her?" He sounded worried and tense, and his voice was as trilling and flighty as a bird’s. By the sound of his voice and his small shadow pacing about the fire, he was ready to bolt into the forest himself. 

"We’ve already searched nearby the campsite and found no signs of her," Sokka’s voice was worried as well but calm and soothing. "She obviously went quite far, and Mamoru is likely the best candidate to search. If he can track a dragon through an endless ocean, he can find a girl traipsing about through the woods." 

"I could go," Toph volunteered. "I had to track down that fabled sparrow in the woods of the Eastern Mountains so surely I’m as qualified as Mamoru." 

"No," Tennin’s voice chirped as sternly as it was able. "If he comes back with her and you don’t meet them on their way back, we’ll just have to track you down too." 

Toph’s voice was disgruntled when she said, "No one stopped Prince Charming from charging after Mamoru." 

Sokka sighed. "We all agreed on this before sending Mamoru, but Kirin isn’t one of the Knights. We have no say over what His Excellency does. I really don’t know what Kaguya is planning in regard to that man. I’ve already told him that there is no way for us to get him to—" 

His lips froze when Katara stepped out of the forest with Jet and Axel at her side. She hoped very dearly that he would finish that sentence. That sounded like a particularly interested train of conversation. 

Her wish wasn’t granted, however, as the group rushed at her with questions and relieved reprimands.

Finally, however, her character recalled Sokka’s earlier unfinished sentence.


"Sai," she heard her voice say quietly. "Just now, about Kirin, what were you saying?" 

A pained, frantic expression twisted his countenance, and he began to struggle for words. "You mean, you don’t… that is… well…" 

‘Ah, they’re keeping information from me,’ Katara thought. ‘Should be fun to catweasel this out of them.’ 

Confusion and anxiety knotted her stomach, but Axel’s voice cut into Sokka’s sputtering. 

"We’ve found our way into the city," he declared to the group in fake exuberance. At his announcement, the shadow warriors dropped almost silently from the treetops and into the grass. Axel began to make introductions, but Kaguya’s questions were not leaving Katara’s mind alone. Katara’s heart was assaulted with Kaguya’s confusion and apprehension. Her body felt numb as her feet dragged her to the back of the campsite, and she sat down on a log as the rest of the group chatted excitedly about tomorrow’s plan. 

Axel’s eyes watched her for several long moments before he joined her. He smiled, but it didn’t touch his eyes. 

"What are you keeping from me?" Tears pricked at her eyes, and shame flooded through Katara. Why did Kaguya respond to everything with tears? 

Axel embraced her comfortingly. "Don’t worry, my beloved. The problem isn’t unsolvable, and I’ll handle it. I have no wish to cause you unnecessary worry, dearest." 

She began to protest, but he interrupted her. 

"Now, about your infatuation with these butterflies. Mamoru seemed to think that I had missed quite an important story."
A sad smile tilted her lips upwards. "Butterflies were my mother’s favorite. She said that they were perfect because the symmetric nature of their wings. She said that these wings represent two halves of the same whole. Perfect in balance and harmonious in nature. My mother passed away when I was very young, and I’ve always felt that butterflies are my sole connection with her. I’ve always loved them as much as she loved them." 

The sting of old pain and hopeless longing assaulted Katara’s heart. These feelings were familiar to her since she herself had lost her mother at a young age. For Katara, that had meant becoming more independent and strong for herself and for her family, but for a princess? Wouldn’t she have been pampered and protected to prevent more heartache? 

For the first time since the game began, Katara felt her first stab of real sympathy for the young princess. She was weak and prone to tears, but she would become stronger. Her encounters with Quetzalcoatl and the Empress proved she could, on occasion, take control of her own life. 

Axel smiled sadly with her. "I, too, lost my mother at a very young age, but she was treacherous. Supposedly, she committed treason, and she was executed for it. At least you have good, even if they may be vague, memories of your mother. That is soothing, right?" 

She nodded at him and nestled closer to him, smiling softly as another fake sleep closed her eyes. 

-- 

The world went black for a moment, and when she adjusted to the change, the sun was in the sky again. She was standing in the clearing that had previously been a campsite, but the group had already cleared away any signs of their presence.

"We have an encampment further in the forest. You can come there and buy any supplies you might need," Yun said as her comrades melted away into the trees. 

Yun stayed with their party and, surprisingly, helped them battle through the monsters in the forest. She was amazingly strong, and she destroyed the monsters with extraordinary deftness. 

Katara pursed her lips. She knew Yun would just end up being like the Beatrix character from Final Fantasy 9: awe-inspiringly powerful but the player only gets to utilize her strength for an astounding ten minutes of the game. When they reached the encampment, it resembled a warring army camp, with flags emblazoned with a red and black symbol—Emperor Kirin’s symbol?— and short, wide tents. 

Yun smiled at them. "When you are finished here, we’re setting up a camp closer to the wall for you." She pointed to a thin trail leading into the trees. Her smile was kind when she looked at Katara. "Don’t worry, dearie. We’ll get you into the city." She bowed low before Axel, and she strode purposefully into the encampment. 

Sokka was close behind her. "Shopping!" 

Tennin giggled and skipped along next to him. 

Katara rolled her eyes but followed them to the first tent. 

-- 

Of course, Sokka approached the weapon’s counter first. Katara sighed and began to purchase items. As she was accepting a few multi-colored glass orbs, Tennin was suddenly at her elbow and peering at her with large eyes. 

"Um, hi," Katara said as Tennin smiled up at her. 

Tennin put a single finger against her lips and began to whisper quietly in her ear. "I’m going to borrow your man later, okay?" She muffled her giggle with her hand. "I’m gonna make Sokka jealous." 

Before Katara could respond, Tennin had danced back to Sokka’s side. She gaped at the mage as she beamed up at the blushing blue-eyed boy. 

She hoped very dearly that it was a joke. 

-- 

After the group had broken up to explore and after Katara had been through the village, she heard Sokka shout that it was time to leave. 

When she exited the tent, she saw Toph and Aang dashing at full speed down the trail. Katara was sure she would hear who won that race when she caught up to them. 

She then saw Tennin bound over to Jet and wrap herself around his arm. Though Jet was surprised for a moment, he recovered quickly and smiled winningly down at her. His normal charm lit up his face, and his lips moved with that cocky manner that was so recognizable. 

Oh, how Katara wished she could read lips. The jealousy that writhed in her stomach was almost painful, but Tennin had planned it so Jet may possibly know what she had planned. 

‘Maybe,’ Katara thought as she watched the two of them walking away, ‘but probably not.’ 

Glancing at Sokka, she almost flinched. He was glowering angrily, his lips tugged into a frown. She almost laughed at how close that frown was to being a pout. 

Sokka stood at the edge of the trail with a frown on his lips and refused to follow. Axel was hovering just over his shoulder and appeared to be trying to comfort her brother. His lips were moving rapidly, and she still couldn’t help but wish she knew what was being said. Sokka met her eyes for a moment over, and something interesting passed over his face. It lasted only a moment, but he muttered rapidly at Axel. She saw Axel nod and respond. At this Sokka’s arms began to flail madly about in the air. He looked extremely angry now. 

Axel was shoved away when he tried to pat the Water Tribe boy on the shoulder. When she was finally close enough to hear them, Axel’s low snarl of surprised anger reached her ears. She froze on the path and listened to the two of them talking. 

"Sokka...," he said between clenched teeth. "She’s a girl. Who really knows what goes on in girls’ heads? Maybe she’s trying to get a rise out of you." 

Sokka’s face was harassed when he looked up at Axel. "What reason could she have to do that? That doesn’t make sense!" His blue eyes scrunched up in hopeless frustration, and his voice rose into a warbling shout. 

"She’s a girl!! She doesn’t have to have a reason!" Axel cried, his voice becoming as frustrated as Sokka’s. "Girls are crazy!

Sokka considered this and nodded. "Maybe you’re right." He rubbed his chin emphatically, and he smiled. His pout reappeared quickly, however. Katara saw Axel’s shoulders sag, and a sigh escaped his lips. She saw him reach out to pat Sokka on the shoulder, but Sokka retreated from the hand, his pout deepening. 

Axel growled in frustration, and Katara decided to cut this meeting short. 

She strode forward and tapped Axel on the back. "Just leave him alone for a bit. When he’s in this mood, nothing will help but time." 

With a startled sound, Axel whirled around and examined her with wide eyes. 

He licked his lips and laughed. It was a nervous sound. "How much did you hear?" 

Katara smiled at him playfully. "Not much." He seemed to relax a little bit. "Let’s just keep going, okay? Sokka will catch up when he realizes he’s being silly." 

As she passed, she nudged Axel forward and ignored the fact that Sokka stuck his tongue out at her. 

Axel followed behind her, although he did turn once to stare at Sokka’s slumped sad form. He walked slowly beside her, obviously uncomfortable with leaving her brother sulking. If he’d been paying more attention, he would have realized that Sokka was already edging towards them. Katara knew that he wouldn’t stand there alone for very long. 

Katara sighed when the tension didn’t leave Axel’s face. "He’ll be fine, you know. She’s just trying to make him jealous." 

Axel’s eyebrows shot up in consternation. "That just doesn’t make sense," he muttered under his breath, and he didn’t look at her. He was staring relentlessly at the ground, eyebrows creased in annoyance and his cheeks slightly pink. 

"She wants to see how he reacts." She pursed her lips. "Mostly girls do it so they can be sure that a guy is properly interested in her and to force his hand." 

Confusion was written plainly across his face, and she sighed. 

"She wants to see if he’ll fight for her," Katara said. "Or something." 

His eyebrows rose, and the pink in his cheeks darkened into a deep red. "So is that the sort of thing you do?" 

Katara’s face heated up. "No! I think it usually makes things worse, but girls do it to get attention." 

Finally, Axel seemed to understand. "Oh, Tennin always wants attention so that makes sense." 

Katara rolled her eyes. Sometimes guys were hopeless. 

"So, Mighty Emperor," she said. "You wrote the story, right?" She smiled up at Axel’s suspicious face. 

"Yeah…," he agreed slowly. "Why…?" 

"Well, actually, I was wondering what Emperor Kirin is keeping from Kaguya. I knew you could tell me." She smiled in a pleading way. "I’m very curious, and I don’t think I can rest till I know." 

"Um… alright… well, Kirin—" 

"SPOILERS!!!!" 

Katara and Axel jumped and whirled around to find Sokka approaching them menacingly. He marched up to Axel and poked his index finger at the taller boy’s chest. 

He glared at Axel. "No spoilers!!" One of his eyes narrowed as the other widened. Katara thought that he looked sort of deranged. "The story is between me and you. Everyone else has to find out as we go. Got it?" 

Axel chuckled. "Got it. No spoilers." The two of the grinned at each other for a moment, and Sokka punched Axel’s arm. Axel immediately punched him back before Sokka continued down the road as if he didn’t have a care in the world. 

Katara decided that this must be some strange male way of saying ‘Thanks for worrying about me,’ and ‘Hey, no problem, man.’ She shook her head and decided just coming out and saying it was easier. 

Sokka stopped to grin at Katara as he went happily down the road, and she realized that he had followed behind in order to spy on her. She mentally berated herself for falling for his little ploy and frowned at Axel when he turned to peer at her. 

"Sorry, no spoilers," he said simply and his lips jerked up into an apologetic smile. She could tell that he was happy that Sokka wasn’t pouting anymore. 

Katara glared at him. "You two planned that, didn’t you?" 

Axel just shrugged and averted his eyes, pink on his cheeks. 

"One of those guys must to stick together sort of things, right?" 

He shook his head and started to speak. "I just wanted—" 

"Well, I guess that’s fair." She shot him the fiercest scowl that she could muster, but she could still feel the corners of her lips pulling upwards into playful smile. Her voice deepened into a mockery of Axel’s rough voice. "I mean, girls are crazy, right?" 

She watched him long enough to see his pale skin blanch whiter—if that were even possible—and turned on her heel to do her best impression of a stomping angry girl while laughing softly behind her hand. 

--End Level 9-- 

This chapter is surprisingly devoid of cut scene. I didn’t realize quite how long the Tennin/Sokka angst (or humor lol) was going to last. But once they actually (or FINALLY) get into the city, the cut scene rate will increase a little. And the Katara finally chewing Sokka out for leaving so much stuff out will happen soon. (I think, depending on the rate things go) And Zuko’s finally becoming more comfortable with Katara which is nice (and by more comfortable, I mean he didn’t blush and dither quite so much this chapter. lol)
Are there plain old weasels in the Avatar world? I just couldn’t put a plain animal in there after how they reacted to a plain bear, so voila! Catweasels were born. 

Video Game References: 

-The chapter title ‘Girl’s Side Story’ is actually the title of a Tokimeki Memorial game. I just felt with the Princess revealing a little more of her back story and Tennin’s little ‘jealousy’ stunt, it was a fitting title and fittingly video game related. : ) 

-Beatrix is probably one of the most powerful characters in the whole of Final Fantasy 9. She starts out on the wrong side, and the player has to defeat her (She’s one of the hardest bosses to beat and you have to encounter her several times before you’re good enough to even wound her.) She only lends you her power for a short time before she leaves again to do her own thing, but the rest of the game, I always wish that there was a way to put her back in my party. –pout pout- 

Chapter 10?

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