A dark ritual goes awry and now the great Spirit of the Dark walks the earth once more. His power is great, and he seeks only one thing: Vengeance upon the one who imprisoned him centuries ago.
He stopped for a moment and sniffed the air. Yes. The scent was much stronger now. Hei-Bai had not lied to him. His brother was close.
He caught sight of a light burning in the forest ahead, and approached with great care. He slid to the edge of the circle of firelight, peering through the bushes. Four figures sat huddled around the flame.
He recognized his brother right away. With him were three mortals, two young girls and a boy. Koh wondered about their function. Concubines, perhaps? No, he dismissed the thought a moment later. Not concubines. His brother had never had any interest in that sort of thing.
Well, whatever their purpose and relationship with Arventi, it mattered little. He would use them to draw his brother out. His brother was far too powerful to engage lightly; he would have to lure him out and to a battleground of Koh's choosing, where the terrain and energy was in Koh's favor, in order to be assured of victory.
One of the woung women-the older one, with long brown hair, one of Tui's, if he was any judge-rose from their circle and left it, heading towards the nearby river, presumably to gather water. She had a certain stately beauty about her, and for a moment Koh considered taking her roughly in the darkness outside of their camp, and letting her run back weeping to him, and allowing that to be his messenger to him. It had been a long time since he had been able to do that, as well. But then he saw the look in his eldest brother's eyes as she walked away, and discarded that idea. No, he knew exactly what to do to send the appropriate message.
As she stepped away from the protective circle of light, Koh dogged her footsteps. He deliberately broke a twig, causing her to whirl around-but of course, when she did there was nothing there. He stalked her all the way to the river, occasionally taking small steps to attract her attention, and make her nervous. A rustling in the bushes here, looming behind her there. Terror always tasted best when properly prepared.
When she reached the edge of the river, she began gesturing, drawing water from the river into a pouch she wore on her side. He had not been mistaken; this mortal belonged to his older sister.
He slithered up a tree that stood by the waterfront, and out onto a branch that dangled above her. Although he was enormous, he seemed to have no weight to him, and the bough neither bent nor broke. He set the tree rocking, causing groaning sounds to resonate up and down the trunk. The girl whirled around.
"Ok, you can come out now, you joker. Not funny."
As she stepped towards the shoreline, Koh donned his most terrifying face, and dangled down from the branch, hanging upside down behind her.
Sensing someone behind her, she turned around again, and suddenly found herself face to face with a horror: a rotting, lesion-covered face attached to the front of an enormous centipede.
Koh let her scream rise until it peaked, luxuriating in the sound, and then lunged forward, forcing his face over hers. The cancerous visage vanished, replaced by a great sucking hole which closed around her face. She continued screaming in pain and terror as he pried her face off until all that came out was muffled sounds. It is hard to scream without a mouth.
Koh sigh with near-orgasmic pleasure as he swallowed her face, and began feasting on the emotions contained within. There was nothing quite like the taste of raw terror.
Of all the wonders of creation, of all the mountains, trees, oceans, and beasts, Man was their greatest accomplishment.
All of the Great Spirits had long since taken to forming lesser Spirits out of the raw stuff of creation, giving them servants and children to watch over and delegate tasks to, but this was something different and new. They formed a great beast, and granted it the capacity for thought.
Man thrived in this new world, spreading far and wide across the land, taming it and ruling it wherever they went. In those days mortal men lived side-by-side with their creators, and the spirits all had favored groups.
The mountain nomads found favor with Basha and Tysha. Their playful, free-spirited nature appealed to the two sisters, and the nomads grew attuned to the air and wildlife around them. Ashin and Ilza chose the hardy island people of the west as their favored, due to their passionate and proud nature. Tui and La selected the tribes from the north and south poles as their chosen. They lived with the water and on the ice, and were given knowledge of its navigation and the favor of its masters, and with these gifts thrived on the fish and whale stocks. The people of the great continent were the beloved of Gan and Wan Shi Tong, for their patient and dependable nature. Wan Shi Tong built his library upon their lands, and shared all that he knew with them.
The only two spirits who had no race of their own was the oldest and the youngest. Arventi, as the world's ultimate judge and adjudicator, held himself above their conflicts, a true neutral party to whom all could go for a fair judgement. Shinbei, however, had a different reason.
Shinbei had no domains of his own, no creations to rule. He was as bored as he ever was. And so men of all nations would approach him and ask for his favor. He alone out of all the spirits held no loyalties and gave aid. He was cajoled and pleaded to. If a king went to war against his neighbours, he would seek Shinbei's blessing. The other spirits always held the same loyalties, but Shinbei would lend his aid to whoever he felt like at that moment, and that could make all the difference in the world when you go into battle.
And so Shinbei amused himself in this way for several centuries. Civilizations rose and fell at his whims. But, eventually, he tired of the intrigue and grew bored once again.
It was almost a hundred years after that that the big change happened.
Throughout the people of all four nations, there grew men and women who could bend and control the natural elements, much as the Great Spirits could. The mountain nomads developed the ability to control the air, the polar tribes learned to control the water, the continental people gained mastery of the earth, and the islanders learned to control fire. They had nowhere near the same amount of power as the Great Spirits, but if left unchecked, they could disrupt the delicate balance between the four elements that composed the entire world.
An urgent Council of Spirits was held, and each of the Great Spirits spoke on what should be done to prevent these newly-gifted mortals from doing any lasting damage. After days of heated discussion, Arventi made a decision.
The Balance between the Great Spirits was already established and could now be sustained without his help. But these gifted mortals required his aid and judgement. So he would descend among them, and house himself within a mortal shell. The mortal would be gifted with his power, including a mastery of all four elements, and the ability to channel Arventi's power to increase his own a hundredfold. When the mortal body withers and dies as it eventually must, Arventi would be reborn, into a child of a different nation.
When he first came into the world, the people called him 'the Avatar of the Lightspirit', and all four nations bowed to his superior might and wisdom. He brought harmony to the land once more, and maintained the balance. And when he died, Arventi's spirit passed from his body to that of a young girl in another nation.
As the centuries passed and Arventi continued in his cycle of reincarnation, the name was shortened, and his vessel became known simply as the Avatar.
A piercing scream tore through the forest, pulling Aang from his half-asleep stupor. For a moment his mind raced. Who's screaming? What's going on? Where's that coming from-
"Katara!" he called out as he arrived at a conclusion. He stood up, snapped open his glider and took off through the trees towards the river. He flew faster than he normally would have dared, faster than was safe. Oh Spirits, please don't let me be too late, don't let me be too late...
He flew at breakneck speed until he saw something a shadow in the river. Katara was floating facedown in the middle of the current.
Aang retracted the glider into his staff, falling down towards her, and then brought the staff down, summoning up powerful winds to push the water away from her. Aang touched down beside her as the waters came rushing back to cover them, but he set his feet and gestured upwards, bending a column of earth upwards to create a small island for them.
"Katara, are you OK?" Aang cried frantically. She hasn't drowned, she can't have drowned, she's a waterbender to Spirit's sake...Aang recoiled in shock and horror as he turned her over and saw her face.
There was nothing but a blank slate. No eyes, no nose, no mouth. A true /Tabula Rasa/.
Koh. How had he left the spirit world? What was he doing here? It didn't matter. Remembering Roku's warning, Aang set his face into an emotionless mask. Koh was nearby, and if he caught Aang unprepared...
Suddenly the young Avatar whipped his head up and around, focusing on where Koh was lurking in the branches of a nearby tree. Koh was wearing the face of a porcelain doll, grinning at him eerily. Yes, I did that, he seemed to be saying, although he emitted no sound, now, what are you going to do about it?
Koh stared at him in silence for a few moments, then turned and slithered away back into the darkness.
Aang turned as his two companions finally caught up, panting as they ran to the riverside.
"Aang! Is Katara all right?" Sokka called out from the edge of the river.
"No," he said sadly, "she's not."
He froze the water between his small island and the shore, creating a bridge to carry her across. She was larger than him, and heavy, but he did not falter for one step.
"Oh, gods, what happened to her?" Sokka asked when he saw her.
"What's going on? What's wrong with Katara?" Toph asked. She could not see the blank space where Katara's face used to be, but something about her vibrations felt /wrong/.
"Her face was stolen, by a powerful spirit named Koh," Aang said. "I'm going to go and make him give it back."
"I'll go with you," Sokka said, pulling out his boomerang. Toph began cracking her knuckles expectantly.
"No, you guys. Koh is way too powerful for either of you to do anything, and all that will happen is that he'll take your faces, too. I've got to do this alone. I need you to take Katara back to the camp, and keep her safe until I get back."
"Hey, twinkletoes, don't think you can leave me behind!" Toph said, but Sokka grabbed her shoulder to stop her.
"Let him go, Toph. This is Avatar Stuff. I want a piece of this guy as much as you do, but this is Aang's territory."
Sokka turned to face Aang, and said "Give him one for me, Aang." Then he picked up his sister and walked away.
Aang, left alone once more, set his face into an emotionless mask and took off with his glider, following the trail Koh had left behind.