It was not easy, but then again, not even her close friends said it would be.
After all, she was stepping away from what she had thrived on her entire life to enhance skills she had very little idea how to work with. What to do if she could not reach her element.
The training was not easy. Some nights, she would wonder what she was doing - abandoning the Moon and the Ocean in some attempt to learn the ways of a warrior.
Some in her own tribe even questioned her - she was one of the best in her art. Why would she need to learn so many non-bending forms? Was she really not so confident in herself?
Nevertheless, through many hard months, she persevered. She needed emotional support from her friends, brother, and boyfriend at times, but she saw it all the way through to the end.
Now, she faced her final test.
"Katara of the Southern Water Tribe," Suki commanded, "follow Ty Lee and myself to prepare for bearing the look of Kyoshi."
The waterbender joined her two friends, decorated in her casual Water Tribe look. Soon, she would take on the appearance of the late Avatar.
Sokka and Aang each sat down near a wall, while two other warriors mused.
"I still can't believe my sister went through with all this," Sokka addressed the current Avatar. "I mean, we've seen it - her waterbending skills are amazing. Why would she need to learn non-bending ability?"
"It's like she told me just before starting," Aang replied, "she had too many memories of getting her chi blocked, being away from water...and well, just being rendered totally useless. She hated that feeling...so, she just wants to be ready for such a situation. Who knows, I mean, remember how all the Southern Tribe waterbenders were imprisoned and kept away from all water?"
"I suppose anything's possible," Sokka answered. "Still, I really don't think this was needed; but if she really was unhappy with things - I guess this was best for her. I guess I just don't get why a master bender needs this."
"Sometimes, it's also most important to look at the other side of life," the Avatar told his friend. "Bending is a powerful tool, but sometimes, you just have to understand what disadvantages non-benders deal with too - learn what it's like to contend without your bending. Sure, you know that, Sokka - but Katara doesn't. Knowing this other side will help her understand everything and make her a better fighter for it."
Sokka nodded and look toward the Avatar with a slight smile. "You know, you're pretty wise for just 15. You must have really learned a lot from Gyatso - you speak like a wise old man. Though, you are technically 115..."
Aang smiled sheepishly. "Thanks, Sokka. Gyatso did have a lot of effect on me, and maybe Zuko's uncle is rubbing off too. You are right though, I guess I am kind of an old man," he finished with a modest chuckle.
Back inside a dressing room, Katara stood behind a paneled door as she removed her Water Tribe clothing. Just outside it, her two warrior friends stood, Suki holding the Kyoshi Warrior clothing while Ty Lee prepared the makeup.
Behind the paneling, Katara asked, "So, what happens if I should win this duel?"
"Not much, really," Suki answered. "Except that you become an honorary Kyoshi Warrior," she finished with a smile before handing the waterbender the kimono and equipment that came with the outfit.
"Just remember," Ty Lee added. "Even if you don't win, we're still proud of you, Katara. You've come a pretty long way from when you started."
Behind the panel, Katara blushed somewhat. "Thanks...I mean, I owe a lot to you two, Aang, Sokka - you all helped keep me going when I was having a hard time getting everything," she said as she placed the kimono over her. "I'm glad I had you both as instructors."
"It was great to teach you too," Suki replied. "Hopefully you win today. We'll be rooting for you. Heh, I think Mianna and Lai Shi won't appreciate that."
"Please," Ty Lee spoke up. "Mianna wins too many duels as is," she continued with a chuckle. "It's due time for her to lose. Lai Shi though, maybe she can get a win. Been a while for her."
"Lai Shi's improved quite a bit over the past couple weeks," the warriors' leader remarked. "She'll be a tougher fight than it seems."
"Not exactly inspiring confidence you two," Katara jumped in with as she got the black shoes on, then placed the shielding over her body.
"I think you'll be all right Katara," Ty Lee replied. "Don't worry, you're really good at this, and of course I mean that!" The warrior finished pouring red facepaint into a small cup.
"Thanks, Ty Lee," the Water Tribe citizen answered as she tied the shielding down, and placed the armbands and gloves over her hands. Soon, she emerged from behind the paneling.
"Oh my gosh sis, you look so awesome in that!" Ty Lee exclaimed, staring straight ahead at her best friend. "It fits you so well!"
"Thanks sis," Katara replied, looking around at the clothing before turning to Ty Lee. She then added a quick look at the mirror as she brushed her hair with her hand somewhat, still feeling nerves about the duel to come.
Back outside the dressing room, Aang and Sokka looked toward Katara's opponents. "So, what do you two think about Katara's progress in her training?" The Water Tribesman asked.
"Your sister's done quite well," Mianna said. "For someone who has relied totally on her bending in the past, she's gotten a solid understanding of the Kyoshi Warrior ideals, moves, how to face an opponent was just weaponry - everything. But that said, no offense to her, she's going down today."
Sokka and Aang each gave the warrior a glare.
"Oh, calm down you two, it's not like Lai Shi and I are going to hurt Katara," the warrior replied, laughing. "It's all just a recreational duel, you know that."
Lai Shi took over the flow. "It's an honor to duel her. I mean, like Mianna said, she's progressed so far. If she weren't already in this current situation, I mean, with helping the Southern Tribe, accompanying you everywhere Aang, and whatnot - she'd make a great Kyoshi Warrior. But hey, honorary's good enough! If she wins, that is."
"Well, we'll definitely be rooting for her," Aang said. "Not that the Kyoshi Warriors aren't cool, of course - but it's definitely my girlfriend first."
"Yep, sorry ladies, it's going to have to be my sister winning today," Sokka added.
"You're lucky it's not Suki versus Katara," Mianna then said. "Imagine having to choose between rooting for your sister and girlfriend in a contest!"
Sokka didn't respond to this, instead quietly thinking how awkward a situation that would be for him.
Back in the dressing room, Katara took her seat in front of a mirror. Behind her, Suki twisted the waterbender's hair into several braids, much like she looked while she lived in the South Pole before the end of the War. Katara had planned to set her hair up much like Ty Lee's due to its length and her familiarity with braiding.
After the warrior completed the braiding, she placed a metal headdress upon the Water Tribe woman - a golden bar adorned its front, with two small holes filled with the ends of decorative sticks to keep her tied hair in place, though just above the top of Katara's hairline to allow her to keep her hair loopies in. Suki locked a portion of the braid under the headdress before tying it around the top of Katara's hair.
"It's been so long since I've had a braid," Katara mused, tapping the braid on the back of her head.
"Now you're almost going to look just like me!" Ty Lee exclaimed as she took a moderately-tipped paintbrush and placed it in the cup of white face paint. She then placed her hand under Katara's chin to lift her face slightly, allowing her the chance to paint her neck first. The waterbender removed her mother's necklace and set it in a drawer, safe from any potential issue during the duel. With this, Ty Lee began painting her best friend's neck.
The warm, white paint running up her neck and eventually onto the lower parts of her face helped relax Katara somewhat as she mentally prepared herself for the duel. Becoming even an honorary Kyoshi Warrior was a high honor for anyone, especially a foreigner. A Water Tribe citizen had not even become an honorary warrior - not even Sokka - in over 200 years.
"I've got to say," Suki said as Ty Lee continued work on Katara's face, "you look pretty cool in the facepaint."
"Isn't she going to be so pretty?" Ty Lee added.
"Come on you two," Katara replied to them, gesturing her blue eyes to them both as best she could without moving her head. "I don't think I could look as good as either of you."
"Oh, stop it, sis!" Ty Lee said back. "You look amazing. I can't wait to get the rest of this makeup on you!"
The moments ticked by as the acrobatic warrior took her time on smoothing out the white war paint. Several minutes later, the white paint was done, after time to let it settle in was given. This allowed Ty Lee to move to the red face paint, which would decorate the top and edges of Katara's eyes.
"Close your eyes," Ty Lee advised Katara.
The waterbender complied, allowing her best friend to take a smaller-tipped brush dipped in red paint and begin the next part of the face painting. Slowly, Ty Lee worked her way to outlining the tip of Katara's left eye, working her way up to the top left portion of her hairline. With this, she then began taking slow brushstrokes across the same area, a total of six, before she took a black makeup pencil and outlined it across the red's upper edge. She then did the same with the right eye, officially finishing up the eye portion with small tips of the black pencil on the far edges of her eyes toward her ears.
All that was left with the lip makeup - and Ty Lee did this with the same small-tipped red paintbrush. This was fairly easy - just like putting on lipstick. With this, Katara's transformation to a Kyoshi Warrior was complete.
In a moment, the waterbender appeared in between the two Kyoshi Warriors in the main room of the dojo. Aang took a moment to survey Katara's temporary look and was left in awe - she looked even more beautiful in the long green dress and he was left reeled in by her warrior look as a whole.
"See that, Aang?" Sokka couldn't help but remark. "Now you know what it's like to have a warrior for a girlfriend." He then gestured toward Suki, which earned a blush from the lead warrior.
Also blushing was Katara herself - even after three years, she still could feel herself become flushed whenever Aang marveled her. Nevertheless, she had to quickly regain her focus for the duel ahead.
After Suki got herself reset mentally, she announced the contest ahead.
"Ladies and gentlemen in attendance today, we welcome you to this recreational duel. Today, Katara of the Southern Water Tribe contends to earn the title of Honorary Kyoshi Warrior from our ranks. In order to do this, she must defeat two opponents in this combat - current warriors Mianna and Lai Shi!"
Katara stepped into the large dueling circle that was painted across the wooden floor in green - this was put into place exactly for these purposes following the Hundred Year War - a dueling circle which was the last step in training for hopeful warriors or honorary hopefuls. She stood in the upper half of the circle, while the two current warriors stood on the left and right edges in the lower half. Aang and Sokka stood in front of a wall several feet away from the circle's right side.
Suki then gestured for Ty Lee to take over the explanation.
"All right, it's as simple as this," the acrobatic warrior explained. "You three girls will duel in a two-versus-one format, each trying to push your opponent or opponents out of the circle. Katara, as you know, you are forbidden from using your waterbending at any point - doing so will result in your disqualification from the duel. Lai Shi, Mianna, if you both go out of the circle at any point, Katara wins the duel and earns the title of honorary Kyoshi Warrior. To get an opponent "out", her foot must entirely be outside the line. Suki and I will watch to make sure the duelist is still in or out. This is also a recreational duel - no physical harm! That will also result in a disqualification. Are we all clear?"
The three girls nodded in understanding.
"All right," Suki then said. "Good luck, and may Avatar Kyoshi's spirit bless you all."
Sokka gave a quick look at Aang, who was the legendary Avatar in a past life, but he only slightly shook his head, indicating he could do nothing else.
Suki then raised a hand for the duel to start. "In 3...2...1...duel!" Ty Lee then struck a gong with a mallet.
The girls broke into their own sections of the large dueling circle, Katara taking the area in front of Sokka and Aang, while Lai Shi and Mianna backed up to the area where only the wall and empty floor space separated them.
Soon, the three girls drew their fans, and began the fight.
Katara began by absorbing a shove from Lai Shi, who got her fan up into the waterbender's face. Mianna then tried to take charge on Katara from behind, but only found herself thrown back by a quick fan shot to her arm.
Katara then got a better grip on her arms, and began clashing them against Lai Shi's. The two girls tried to take shots at their best, but neither could get an advantage. Seeing this, Mianna got to the sight of the duel and began taking her own shots at Katara. However, the waterbender, who had sharpened up on her agility and movability with Ty Lee, ducked the fan shots and fell to the ground, then swung her leg toward the warrior's feet, throwing Mianna off-balance and near the circle's edge.
Quickly, Mianna recovered while Katara scrambled to her feet. Lai Shi decided to try chi-blocking in an attempt to disable her Water Tribe opponent, but Katara was up to the task, grabbing Lai Shi's arm before her shots could connect.
The girls now stood in the left third of the circle. Katara took a couple steps back near the center, while Suki and Ty Lee relocated themselves to the upper left, a few steps outside the circle.