Story [Avatar: The Last Airbender] Destinies Rewritten Book I: Water, Updated 12/9

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  1. MasterGhandalf Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 25, 2009
    star 2
    Author: MasterGhandalf
    Title: Destinies Rewritten Book I: Water
    Characters: Aang, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, Azula, Suki, Iroh, Ozai, Lu Ten, Bumi, etc.
    Timeframe: Season One AU
    Summary: Lu Ten survived the Siege of Ba Sing Se, which fell to his father, the Dragon of the West, General Iroh of the Fire Nation. Now the Fire Nation is closer to victory than it has ever been. Iroh is Fire Lord and Lu Ten is his heir and right hand, while Prince Ozai schemes to usurp his brother's throne and sends his two children on a secret mission of utmost importance. Omashu and the Northern Water Tribe are the only great strongholds left which still resist Fire Nation rule, and they seem certain to fall soon. All hope for those who would oppose the Fire Nation seems lost.

    It is in this world that two siblings from the Southern Water Tribe find a mysterious boy and his allegedly-extinct animal companion frozen in an iceberg...

    Notes: This is an AU that I started a while back, got distracted during and never got far into, and now am planning to revisit. The first couple of chapters have been posted here previously (sadly chopped up now by the word limit), but after that will be new material.

    Prologue: Divergent Courses

    Destiny is a funny thing.

    At first glance, history would seem to be already written, unchanging and immutable. After all, what's past is past- why should it have been anything else but what it is? All we have to do is live with it and learn from it. And yet it is also true that in the end, great things are made up of small things, and that all of history can turn on individual events, so that if they are altered slightly, fate itself will run in a different course.

    Imagine, if you will, a world where Prince Iroh of the Fire Nation did not lose his son at the climax of the Siege of Ba Sing Se. The loss of his beloved Lu Ten was the one thing that prevented him from keeping the siege up and taking the city; without that one death, the great capital of the Earth Kingdom falls. The Fire Nation moves in to occupy, and the city's people who survive the conquest are forced to live under its tyranny, their own culture slowly eroded to be replaced with that of their conquerors. The legendary city of the Earth King is now a jewel in the Fire Lord's crown.

    With the passing of Fire Lord Azulon a year later, it is Iroh who takes the throne of his ancestors; having been given no reason to question the policies of his predecessors, he continues them, with an eye towards bringing the rest of the world under his rule and building an empire that will endure for a thousand years. Only two great enemies remain- the Northern Water Tribe and Omashu, first and last city of the Earth Kingdom, whose mad but brilliant King Bumi is now Earth King in all but name.

    Hakoda of the Southern Water Tribe still goes to war to avenge the murder of his wife and many others of his people, but with Ba Sing Se gone and Omashu landlocked he finds few allies in the Earth Kingdom. Instead he sails to the far North, and for the first time in centuries the two Water Tribes are joined together once more. With Southern ships and warriors backed by Northern waterbenders, he wages a guerilla war along the Fire Nation's coasts, and while he does damage, he also rouses the Fire Lord's anger.

    In the Fire Nation Capital, unrest stirs. A new army is being marshaled under the command of Prince Lu Ten, its target unknown. Prince Ozai, the Fire Lord's younger brother, has been consumed by bitterness and ambition, and though he professes loyalty, all know that he truly desires the throne for himself. He has dispatched his two children, Zuko and Azula, on a mission of utmost secrecy which he believes can, if successful, bring him the glory he needs to successfully usurp Iroh.

    And in the icy waters of the South, two teenagers move closer to a discovery that will shake the world- but with the Fire Nation's victory all but certain, can even the long-vanished Avatar bring victory to those who would live free?

    Destiny is a funny thing, and in the end, no one but the great spirits themselves can see all the twists and turns it might, or might not, take.
    Last edited by MasterGhandalf, Dec 9, 2013
  2. Mira_Jade The NSWFF Manager With The Cape

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2004
    star 4
    This looks to be so very interesting! I love the premise of your AU, and can't wait to see where you take it. :D

    =D=
  3. MasterGhandalf Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 25, 2009
    star 2
    Chapter 1: The Boy in the Iceberg*

    Katara sighed and settled herself more deeply in the back of the canoe, watching her older brother as he leaned over the edge, eyes fixed on the shadow of a fish moving just beneath the surface of the water, spear held poised to strike. Sokka was muttering to himself under his breath- whether urging the fish closer or debating with himself how to cook it when he caught it she was too far away to tell, but the sight brought an amused smile to her face. Sokka could be a show-off, and was sarcastic rather more than was good for him, but he was Katara's brother and she did love him- the moreso now because of the fact that, despite his faults, he was one of the only people in the South Pole she could stand to be around.

    A sudden flash in the water on her side of the boat caught Katara's interest- another fish swimming along by the side. Swiftly, an idea formed in her mind- she wasn't technically supposed to be doing this, but it didn't seem likely she'd get another chance any time soon. Glancing back at Sokka, making sure he was thoroughly occupied, she stood up slowly and smoothed down her apprentice healer's furs, and then removed one of her gloves and stretched out a hand over the water.

    Instantly the water responded to her movements and began to rise, forming a bubble around the fish- she hadn't been trained in this kind of bending, but the natural affinity for the element was there, just as it had been her whole life, and she relished the chance to actually make use of it for once. Slowly, responding to Katara's motions, the water rose above the canoe, the fish swimming frantically inside it.

    Unfortunately, Sokka chose that exact moment to try and spear his own fish- which might have succeeded if the butt of his weapon hadn't smacked into Katara's water, throwing off his aim and sending cold liquid cascading down over both of them while the fish, grateful for its freedom, flopped back over the side and out of sight. Shaking himself off, Sokka slowly turned towards Katara.

    "What were you thinking?" he demanded. "Katara, you know you're not supposed to be doing that. If your Master saw you…"

    "Master Sasiko's not here, Sokka," she shot back. "I'm sick of not being allowed to learn real waterbending! Maybe the Northern Tribe doesn't train girls to be anything but healers, but Gran-Gran says that's not how our tribe did it back when we still had benders. Besides, I thought you were getting tired of Northern Tribe warriors treating you like a kid."

    "I am, believe me," Sokka said. "But this alliance with the North is important to Dad, and I don't want to do anything to screw that up- and you shouldn't either."

    "Easy for you to say. You're old enough that you'll be able to go off and fight with Dad, the other warriors, and the Northern fleet soon. But under their stupid rules, I won't ever be allowed to be anything but a healer. It's not…" Katara never got the chance to say what the situation wasn't. The canoe suddenly rocked in a powerful current, and then it and the two Water Tribe siblings were being pulled along at a tremendous pace through a narrow, iceberg-choked stretch of sea. They attempted to regain control of their craft, but to no avail. The canoe slammed against a particularly large and unpleasant hunk of ice and splintered. Wet and exhausted, Sokka and Katara climbed atop the ice and surveyed their surroundings.

    "I knew I shouldn't have let you talk me into taking me along," Sokka said, staring at the water where the canoe had been.

    "What, because I'm a girl?" Katara demanded. "Listen, Sokka, I'm starting to get really tired of hearing that. Master Sasiko says I've got one of the strongest waterbending talents she's seen- I could use that to be out helping Dad fight the Fire Nation, but instead I'm stuck running errands for her and it doesn't look like that's going to change any time soon…" As Katara spoke, her temper built and she began to gesture more dramatically with her arms. The iceberg looming behind the young waterbender responded to her anger and began to shake and crack. Sokka stumbled backwards, eyes wide.

    "Katara," he began, "watch out!" Even as he finished speaking, however, the iceberg shattered completely with tremendous force, sending shards flying and causing the water to churn angrily around it. Both siblings collapsed onto their own iceflow and held on as tightly as they could until the water settled, their eyes still wide as they stared at the empty place where the iceberg had been.

    "Wow," Sokka breathed. "I really hope that's not what you do to your patients."

    "Ha, ha," his sister responded, but she still couldn't tear her eyes away from what she had unleashed, awed and more than a little afraid. Slowly, Katara and her brother began to pull themselves back to their feet, but before they could move more than that the water began to churn again and glow a strange, unnatural blue. A ball of ice was rising to the surface- the strange glow emanated from it. Child of the polar seas though she was, Katara had never seen anything quite like it before. As she stared into the ice-ball, her eyes managed to make out two figures inside- a large animal of some sort, and a boy who looked almost like he was meditating. Suddenly, the boy's eyes snapped open- they burned with a blue-white light, and Katara realized that he was the source of the glow.

    "He's alive! We have to help him!" Grabbing Sokka's club from where it was slung across his back, she ran to the ice and began striking it frantically, ignoring his protests that she should stop. Katara threw as much strength of body and bending into every blow as she could- and suddenly the ball of ice broke apart, releasing pillar of blue-white light that shot upward into the sky, further than the eye could follow, visible from miles away.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------

    Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation lowered the spyglass from his eye as the bolt of light continued to shoot into the heavens from an unknown source and allowed himself a rare smile. "Finally," he said. "Azula, you need to come look at this! There's only one thing it can mean."

    "That the celestial lights are unusually active this time of year?" a cool female voice said from behind him. Zuko turned to see his sister approach with a predator's casual, deadly grace. Stopping at her brother's side, she took the spyglass from his hands and began to study the light herself. "I'll admit its strange, but there's no guarantee it's what we're looking for- at least, not until we examine it more closely."

    Zuko growled. "Don't be ridiculous, Azula. That light's not natural. It must be coming from some powerful source- it has to be him."

    Azula lowered the glass and turned to face her brother, leaning on the ship's rail. "Oh, I'll certainly give you that it's unnatural, but just because it is doesn't mean that it's the Avatar. Running off after hunches gets you nowhere; the cunning warrior uses her mind as a weapon at least as much as her body or bending."

    "Her?" Zuko asked, not bothering to hide the irritation in his voice. Azula only arched an eyebrow and shot him an expression that said that in her opinion there was only one "cunning warrior" aboard their warship, and the pronoun she'd used was a perfectly appropriate description.

    "Still," the princess mused, "there is a chance you're right, and if we passed up a real lead- well, explaining that to Father wouldn't be an enjoyable experience." She turned to the crew and raised her voice. "Helmsman, make for the light. Let's find out if my brother isn't on to something for once."

    The princess left the prow and moved back towards the main body of the ship, the winter cloak she war swirling behind her. Zuko watched her go with a scowl, then shook of his irritation at family and turned back to the fading pillar of light- where he was certain their true target waited.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------

    Katara and Sokka stumbled back from the exploding iceberg, Sokka doing his best to shield his sister from the light and flying shards of ice with his body. Finally, after how long they couldn't say, the light began to dim and both turned to see a shadow moving inside it. Sokka leveled his spear at the figure, but before he could react further it slid to the ground and collapsed before the Water Tribe siblings. The strange light from its eyes and tattoos dimmed, revealing nothing more or less than a young boy with a shaved head, his forehead and hands tattooed with a strange arrow pattern and his clothing that of a monk.

    Katara ran forward and grabbed the boy, lifting him up out of the snow. Sokka hovered behind her, spear still at the ready, but she looked over her shoulder and shot him a glare, warning him to stay back. Turning back to the boy, she leaned in closer and saw that he was beginning to stir.

    His grey eyes opened a fraction as he saw her, and his lips moved, giving voice to a weak whisper. "I need to ask you something."

    "What?" Katara asked.

    "Come closer," the boy whispered, and Katara bent in towards him- before suddenly his eyes snapped fully open and his head raised, his whole demeanor changing.

    "Will you go penguin sledding with me?" He asked in a voice that was much stronger, and seemed almost chipper. Katara, taken aback by the sudden change, could only think to pull back and stammer that yes, of course she would. Inside, her mind was whirling. The boy obviously wasn't Water Tribe- how did he even know about penguin sledding in the first place, and what in the name of the spirits had he been doing inside that iceberg?

    The boy leaped to his feet- no, Katara thought, leaped was a poor word- he almost glided- and glanced around, while Sokka backed up with a startled shout, still brandishing his spear. "What's going on here?" the stranger asked with interest.

    "That's what I'd like to know," Katara said, studying him intently. "Listen, I'm a healer- well, technically, an apprentice- and I'd like to take a look at you. Being in that ice can't have been good for you- how long were you in there, anyway? Do you feel sick, or dizzy, or anything? "

    "No, I feel fine," the boy said, examining himself thoroughly. "Are you really a healer? That's great- the monks always taught us that it was a really noble thing to do." He looked back at the iceberg. "I don't really know how long I was in there. A few days, maybe a week?" He shrugged. "I'm Aang, by the way. What's your name?"

    "I'm Katara." She motioned at her brother. "And the guy who's gaping at you like a landed fish right now is my big brother, Sokka."

    At that comment Sokka seemed to recover himself. "All right," he said. "What was that light all about? Were you trying to signal someone? You're a spy for the Fire Nation, aren't you? Answer me!"

    "Oh, leave him alone, Sokka." Katara turned back to Aang. "You're not a spy, are you?"

    "Not that I know of," said Aang, looking baffled. "And why would the Fire Nation need spies, anyway?"

    "Why would they need…" Sokka began, then ended with a choke, apparently at a loss for words. "All right, kid, you can act all innocent if you want to, but I still think we should take you back to the village and let the warriors figure out who you are and what you want." He looked back at the water where the canoe had sunk and sighed. "Or at least, that's what we would do if we had any means of transportation."

    "Transportation!" Aang smacked himself on the forehead. "I almost forgot. Appa!" Turning around, he darted up into the remains of the shattered iceberg, where something inside was making groggy rumbling noises.

    "All right," Sokka said. "Who or what is that?"

    "Appa!" Aang said happily from inside the ice. "You're all right!" His head popped up again from over the edge of the iceberg. "Appa's my sky bison. He's big enough to take us all back to your village." He turned back towards the crater. "Come on, buddy. Yip yip!"

    "Sky bison?" Sokka mouthed, and even Katara felt a little dubious at the sound of that name. Shortly thereafter, however, they both found themselves riding on the back of an immense, six-legged, furry legendary creature as it paddled through the water, along with a boy who had been frozen in ice without suffering any ill effects and now claimed he was an airbender. Sokka murmured under his breath that this was obviously one of those days. Katara found she couldn't quite bring herself to disagree. **

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Zuko stood on the ship's tower, leaning against the railing and eyes fixed on the darkening horizon, when he heard his sister's footsteps approach from behind him. "What do you want?" he asked without turning.

    "To tell you to get some rest," Azula said. "You're not going to capture the Avatar by doing nothing but stare at the sky, and if you don't get any sleep you'll be no use to anyone."

    "Why do you care?"

    Azula laughed darkly. "Why Zuko, do you honestly think I can't be concerned about my only brother's wellbeing?" She paused. "The truth is that if we do go into battle tomorrow, I don't want my back watched by someone who's half asleep. And so you see my reasons are, in fact, purely self-interested."

    "Figures," Zuko muttered. "But I don't feel like sleeping. We need to do this- Father's counting on us, and I will show him that I am a son he can be proud of."

    Azula sighed. "Very well. Your choice, but I, for one, am going to bed. Good night, Zuzu."

    Zuko gritted his teeth at the taunting nickname and remained on the tower for some time longer, before finally reluctantly taking his sister's advice and heading down to bed.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Aang floated in darkness on Appa's back as stormclouds swirled around them. The only illumination came from occasional flashes of lightning around them, and Appa roared as he struggled to fly straight despite the storm's winds. Then they were falling, and Aang heard himself scream as the ocean rushed up to meet them, and the cold dark waters swallowed them up…

    Aang woke suddenly to the sound of Katara calling his name. Sitting up, he looked around and saw that he was laying on a pallet in a hut that seemed to be made from animal skins. Katara was kneeling by his side, looking concerned. "Where are we?" Aang asked her.

    "In the village," she told him. "We got here last night, but you were already asleep. Come on- everyone wants to meet you, and, well… some people would like to ask you some questions."

    "Sure," Aang said, jumping to his feet and pulling on his shirt. His airbending staff lay nearby- Katara or Sokka must have moved it from Appa's saddle- and he picked it up and followed Katara out into the tribe's village.

    As he stepped out into the sunlight and took in the people gathered there, the airbender blinked in surprise. In the Air Temples, he'd learned that the Southern Water Tribe, while never as large or prosperous as the Northern Tribe, was still a large and successful nation, but this village was tiny, and most of the people were either children or older women. A group of maybe a dozen men stood slightly apart from the rest, but their clothing was different and they carried spears. Aang blinked as he studied them- he thought they looked more like they were from the Northern Tribe than the Southern, but that was probably just because he hadn't been paying attention to Monk Gyatso enough when they'd talked about the Water Tribes.

    "Aang, whole village," Katara said, "whole village, Aang." She gestured to an old woman. "This is my grandmother."

    "Call me Gran-Gran," the woman said wearily as Aang bowed to her.

    "This is Master Sasiko, who teaches me healing," Katara continued, motioning to a middle-aged woman who stood next to her grandmother and who was regarding Aang curiously. You'd almost thing she'd never seen an airbender before or something. "And these are the warriors who are protecting our tribe while my father is away, and their leader, Hakka." Here Katara motioned towards the Northern-Tribe-looking men; their leader stepped forward and faced Aang.

    "All right, young man," he said; his voice was calm and even, but hardly warm. "It's my job to keep this village safe, and I want to ask you some questions about who you are and where you've been. We can't afford to take any chances. Understand?"

    "Yeah," Aang said. "I'll tell you whatever you want me to, but… when you're done, can I ask you a few things? Cause there are things around here that aren't making much sense."

    "Well, that depends on the question," Hakka said. "We'll see. So- Aang, right?- you told Sokka and Katara that you're an airbender. Would you mind demonstrating that?"

    That question hadn't been what Aang had been expecting, but this was something he was more than happy to oblige. "Watch me," he said, grinning, and then snapped his staff's wings open and called up a gust of wind to bear him and it into the air. Looking down below, he could see children jumping and clapping, Katara smiling broadly, Gran Gran, Hakka, and Sasiko staring in undisguised amazement, and Sokka, who had come to stand beside Katara and was now rubbing his hands in his eyes frantically as if to make sure what he was seeing was real. Aang smiled broadly down at the village and circled it once- and then slammed into something hard and cold. Having not been paying attention to where he was going, he'd apparently crashed into the village wall.

    Leaping lightly down, folding in his glider, and airbending snow off himself, Aang stepped forward to face Hakka. "That's… very impressive," he said. "so, I guess you're not from the Fire Nation, then, and I don't think you're a spy."

    "Wait," Aang said, holding up a hand. "That's the second time I've heard about Fire Nation spies, and I'm confused. Why would the Fire Nation want to spy on anybody else? What's going on here?"

    "Why would the Fire Nation want to spy on us?" Sokka put in, his tone one of utter disbelief. "Because they're trying to take over the world! Spies help you do that!"

    "Take over the world," Aang repeated in shock. "I don't know anything about that. How long has this been going on? How long was I in that iceberg, anyway?"

    "The War has raged for nearly a hundred years," Gran Gran said sadly. "Ever since the Air Temples fell. As an airbender, you must have heard…."

    Aang backed up, eyes wide. "A hundred years," he breathed, shaking his head. "The Air Temples fell? No- that can't be possible. It just can't be!" He looked pleadingly at Katara, but she only shook her head, her eyes wide and sad.

    Backing up slowly from the village, Aang leaped into the air on his glider and soared away. He didn't know where he was going, but he needed to be alone, needed to find some way to take this all in.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    As Aang flew off, Katara rounded on Hakka. "Are you happy now?" she asked. "You scared him off." She whirled on Sokka. "And you didn't help."

    "How was I supposed to know the kid didn't know about the Fire Nation?" Sokka asked in exasperation. "Everybody knows that!"

    "Obviously, Aang doesn't," said Katara. "I'm going after him!" She could hear Master Sisiko and Gran-Gran calling out after her, but Katara blocked them out- she hurried from the village in the direction the airbender had gone, knowing that right now, more than she could imagine, he needed a friend.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    Azula spun on the deck of the warship, punching and kicking and sending great blasts of fire shooting across it, causing nearby sailors and soldiers to duck or dodge out of the way. The princess was almost in a trancelike state when she practiced this intensely- it was doubtful she would even be aware if she hit one of her crew, or that she would care if she was. Zuko watched his sister from a safe distance, and while she was often difficult to get along with (and had been an absolute terror when they'd been children) he had to grudgingly admit that when it came to firebending, she was tremendously impressive. Zuko was the more skilled of the royal siblings with the blade, but in terms of bending ability, Azula was his unquestionable superior.

    There were times when he resented that.

    Azula finished her routine and turned to face her brother. "Enjoying the show, Zuzu?" she asked. "Pick up any tips?"

    "Why do you drill so hard, Azula?" Zuko asked, ignoring her. "I've seen full-grown masters who aren't as obsessive about it as you are. You're already better than anyone else your age- what are you trying to do?"

    "Skills must be practiced or lost," Azula said in a superior voice. "But if you must know, I'm trying to learn to create blue fire.*** Father told me that it is the hottest, purest form of fire a bender can control. Only the most powerful can use it."

    Zuko suppressed a twinge of jealousy- Father certainly never gave him private bending lessons- before he spoke. "I heard Uncle say once that blue fire is a waste of time. There's nothing you can do with it that a master bender couldn't do with regular fire. He said only people with too much time on their hands and too much vanity bothered with it."

    "Did he?" Azula asked coldly. "Well, just because Uncle is Fire Lord doesn't mean he knows everything. I'll show you vanity." Quickly she drew in a deep breath and then spun, beginning her drill once more. Zuko sighed and shook his head, going back inside the body of the ship to retrieve his swords and get in some practice with them before the very likely event they found battle today.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------

    Katara found Aang out in the tundra, sitting against Appa's side and with his head hung. He didn't react as she approached and sat down next to him. "You really didn't know?" she asked quietly.

    Aang shook his head. "No," he said. "A hundred years. That's how long I was in that ice, and the Fire Nation destroyed the Air Temples and is trying to take over the world? I should've been there; I should've done something!"

    "Aang, don't blame yourself," Katara told him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You're just one person- what could you have done against the whole Fire Nation? They're powerful, and they're ruthless- my mother died one of the times our tribe got raided." They both sat quietly for several moments after that; the air was heavy with shared sorrow.

    "Tell me what happened," Aang finally said, his voice soft.

    "Well, your people fell first," Katara said. "The Air Nomads- I don't think they stood a chance. The Earth Kingdom fought for longer- Ba Sing Se just fell a few years ago. I've heard there's still an Earth Kingdom city and its king that fight, but I don't know either of their names. A few years ago, my father Hakoda, our Chief, sailed to the Northern Tribe to make an alliance- Water against Fire. His fleet and the Northern fleet combined and are still out there somewhere, fighting. As part of the deal, the North sent Hakka, some warriors, and Master Sasiko came with them to be our healer- and teach me waterbending healing." Katara sighed. "Too bad that's all I get to learn. Apparently, the Northern Tribe doesn't approve of girls doing any other kind of waterbending, and I have to follow their stupid traditions."

    "That's silly," Aang said. "My people taught anyone who could airbend."

    "Your people had the right idea," Katara said. "I mean, healing is great and all, but I could do a lot more. I want to make a difference, and I can't do that here. Even Hakka's warriors are mostly just for show- Sokka says that Dad and his men are much better than they are, and nobody really expects the Southern Tribe to get attacked again. We don't have anything the Fire Nation wants anymore. At least Sokka will get to leave and go fight with Dad in a couple of years. I'm stuck here."

    "You never know," Aang said. "The monks always told us that the future was always in motion. You can never know what's going to happen."

    "I hope you're right." Katara stood. "So, are you ready to go back to the village?"

    " I think so," Aang said. "You want to ride on Appa again?"

    "Sure," Katara said. She clambered up onto the saddle after the airbender, and after he took the reins and gave his cry of "yip yip" they were suddenly, impossibly, in the air, as the ungainly six-legged bison moved effortlessly through the sky and back towards the village.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------

    "Azula!" Zuko called out, gesturing with one of his swords. Azula paused in her firebending and turned in the direction he was pointing- and her eyes widened as they took in the distant, and yet unmistakable, form flying above the nearby frozen wastes.

    "A sky bison," she breathed. "They're supposed to be extinct- they were only kept by the Air Nomads. And the Avatar…"

    "Is supposed to be the last Airbender," Zuko finished. "We've found him."

    "We have." Azula's lips curled into a smile as her gaze followed the sky bison. "Now we only need to follow him to his hiding place, and we'll have him."

    *In cases where the plot does not significantly diverge, I'll be using episode titles for chapter titles. In this case, the general events surrounding Aang's unfreezing are very similar to canon, even though the specifics are different. Later chapters where the altered timeline causes significant diversions will, of course, have different titles.

    **I streamlined this bit partially because the specifics of Sokka and Katara meeting Appa wouldn't be hugely different in this AU, and partially because the scene's visual humor I didn't feel would translate will to writing.

    ***Yes, this Azula is somewhat weaker than canon- she's still a scarily good firebender, particularly for her age, but she can't make blue fire and isn't as good with lightning. This was done partially because the presence of Canon!Azula would make the Fire Nation Avatar Hunters too powerful too early, and partially for in-story reasons we probably won't get to until this series' version of "The Storm".
  4. Mira_Jade The NSWFF Manager With The Cape

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2004
    star 4
    I like this version. Already I am intrigued - with Katara learning her skills earlier than in the series, and with the new dynamics to the Water Tribe's way of life. But the more intriguing change is Zuko and Azula. As much as I miss Iroh in his spot of 'Yoda' to Zuko, I am curious to watch how their relationship is going to progress and change throughout this series. Really, really intrigued. [face_thinking]

    As always, your writing is fun and easy to read - you have a knack for story telling, and I am looking forward to more. =D=
  5. MasterGhandalf Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 25, 2009
    star 2
    Chapter 2: The Avatar Returns

    The village children squealed in delight as Appa came in for a landing just outside the low wall, charging out and petting the great sky bison's fur or just babbling excitedly about this strange creature that somehow flew without wings. Appa gave a low rumble of delight and settled down into the snow, his large eyes regarding the children benignly, but as Katara slid down his side with Aang, she saw that the village elders, including Hakka and his warriors, were standing back, their expressions grim.

    "Wait- what's going on here?" Aang asked as he walked forward, looking from face to face. "What's wrong?" Katara, though, thought she knew; her heart felt as if it had frozen from dread.

    "Fire Nation," Sokka said before any of the adults could speak. "One of the warriors saw the smoke from the watchtower- there's a warship out there." His gaze fixed on Aang. "You led them here, didn't you? I knew there was something funny going on with you."

    "Sokka, don't be ridiculous," Katara said, stepping protectively in front of the young Air Nomad. "Aang's been frozen for maybe a hundred years- he didn't even know there was a war on. Why would he signal the Fire Navy- and how could he if he wanted to."

    Hakka put a restraining hand on Sokka's shoulder- Katara saw he brother flinch, but fall quiet. "Nobody's blaming you, son," he said looking directly at Aang. "I'm not sure if I believe your story, but I saw you airbending earlier, and no airbender has any reason to love the Fire Nation." He looked off towards the ocean. "From the smoke, I'd guess that one ship is coming, not a larger fleet. That means they're probably looking for something specific. I don't know why they'd be after you, but I'd recommend that you get out of here." His gaze shifted back to Aang, and his teeth clenched. "This… isn't going to end well, I'm afraid."

    "If they're looking for you and you're not here, they might decide to leave us alone," one of the younger warriors snapped. "We can't win against even one ship."

    "I think it might be wise," Gran-Gran added, though she shot the warrior who'd spoken a dark look.

    Aang backed up slowly, head downcast. "If that's what you all want, I'll leave," he said quietly. "I'm sorry I brought the Fire Nation here."

    Katara put a hand on his arm. "It's not your fault," she told him. "Don't worry about us- we'll be fine."

    "I hope so," Aang said. Calling up a small gust of wind, he leaped impossibly high and landed on Appa's back. The bison stood and grunted loudly before shaking his fur out, sending snow flying over the children, who first laughed as the wiped themselves clean but then looked up with expressions of dawning sadness as sky bison and rider rose slowly into the air. Aang waved sadly from the saddle, and then Appa was gliding off away from the village and the coast. Katara watched him go and hung her head sadly.

    "All right, men," Hakka called once he was gone. "Some of you get the old people and children to safety; the rest of you, man your posts. If the Fire Nation does try to take this Tribe, we'll make them fight for it."

    Katara turned back and saw frantic activity as the village rushed to follow Hakka's commands- Gran-Gran might be the respected elder, but with battle looming, the Northern war leader was the one who unquestioningly took command. Katara had to bury a burst of irrational anger to see the Northerner taking the role that should have been Dad's, but shook herself out of it. Hakoda was doing something important; it wasn't his fault that meant he couldn't be with his family. That helped, a little bit.

    Hakka himself was moving to take his position on the wall when he was stopped by Sokka. Katara saw her brother look up at the war leader with a pleading expression, but the older man shook his head. "I'm sorry, Sokka," he said, "but I'm not going to let you join this battle. I don't want to have to explain to your father how I got his son killed."

    "If the Fire Nation are here, they're probably going to try and kill everyone," Sokka shot back. "I can fight, and you need every man you can get. I can help!"

    Hakka considered for a moment, then nodded. "All right. Just… try and stay safe." As he turned away, Katara saw her brother give a victorious grin that seemed at odds with the seriousness of the situation and then hurry to the hut that had been converted into a makeshift armory to grab his favored weapons- spear, club, and boomerang. She gave a small sight of frustration- if only her own problems were that easy to solve.

    "Katara!" Sisiko's voice echoed across the village. "Whatever happens today, we'll almost certainly have wounded. I'll need your help getting ready!"

    The young waterbender raised her head. "Coming, Master!" She gave one last look in the direction Aang had gone, and then hurried to join her teacher.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Zuko stood still as he allowed his attendants to strap his armor- black with gold trim, as befitted his royal status- around his body. He was not normally a calm or patient sort, and today the urge to move was stronger than usual- if he and Azula were right, they would catch up with the Avatar and end the century-long hunt today. Soon, they'd bring the old airbender back to the Capital in chains with them- then Father would have to acknowledge that his son was competent- that he was actually worth something beyond being a decoration…

    Growling in frustration, Zuko batted the last attendant away and strapped on his own sword belt before stepping out into the ship's corridor. Azula was already there, leaned casually against the wall. She too was armored, but bore no weapon- firebending served her well enough. "Finally ready?" she asked.

    "I am," Zuko replied. "We should be arriving at the Water Tribe village any time now."

    Azula smiled, and cold fire seemed to dance in her eyes. "Then, brother mine, it's time to write history."

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Fog and mist swirled over the arctic sea. The village's defenders lined the wall, spears at the ready- the sight was admittedly impressive, though a part of Katara thought that it wasn't likely to do much good against a Fire Navy warship. Quickly squelching that thought, her eyes darted from warrior to warrior, finally spotting the only one who wore Southern Tribe warpaint. Sokka was slightly shorter than the other warriors, but he seemed to be going out of his way to try and project the same kind of confidence. Katara quietly wished him luck. She found herself torn between fear from her people and relief that Aang at least had gotten away safely.

    "It's awful just before battle, isn't it?" Sisiko said quietly, coming to stand beside her pupil. "Knowing what is coming, but not when… I'd hope not to have to go through it again."

    "You've been in battle before?" Katara asked, her curiosity piqued.

    "Warriors will always need healers," Sisiko told her. Then she stopped her gaze turning north. "Wait- did you hear that?"

    Katara did. Something was coming through the mists, and from the sound of it, it was very large. The warriors tightened their grips on their spears as a silhouette appeared and began to grow, larger and larger until it dwarfed the entire village. A Fire Navy ship- it could be nothing else. Small for its kind, but still more than enough for what it intended to do.

    The warship stopped just shy of the wall, and Hakka gestured at his warriors. In an instant they'd leaped off it and into the village proper, rising quickly back to their feet- and a moment later, Katara saw why. The warship's sharp peaked front was descending towards them, slicing the wall neatly in tow as it was lowered to the ground and formed a long ramp to grant the invaders access.

    Six soldiers in Fire Nation armor descended the ramp, their expressions impossible to read behind their inhuman masks. Behind them came two figures in more elaborate armor, their faces exposed, and Katara started when she realized they were a boy and a girl who looked barely older than herself and Sokka. The two looked enough alike that they had to be relatives- they had the same thick black hair worn in a topknot, and the same sharp golden eyes. Their expressions were similarly haughty, though there was a cold edge to the girl's that the boy lacked. Another four soldiers followed them down.

    The boy stepped forward and regarded Hakka imperiously. "Are you the leader of this village?" he demanded.

    "I am Warleader Hakka," the Northerner replied in a frigid tone. "And who might you be who comes so far out of his way to trouble us?"

    "I am Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation, and this is my sister Azula. Our father is Prince Ozai, the Fire Lord's brother. We're looking for a fugitive- he'd be an old man, probably has blue arrow tattoos, bends all the elements." Zuko's eyes narrowed. "We know you're hiding him- we tracked him here. Where is he?"

    "I have no idea who you're talking about," Hakka said. "I'd recommend that you continue your search elsewhere, your Highness."

    As he spoke, the girl- Azula- was glancing around the village, her lips pursed in displeasure. "I don't see any old people here," she said slowly, "or any children. Our quarry is probably hiding with them, wherever they are- the same way he's done for the last century." She raised her hand. "Men, tear this village apart until you find them."

    "I'm afraid I can't let you do that, miss," Hakka said, and behind him his warriors hefted their spears. Zuko stepped back and raised both hands, flames playing around their edges, but Azula only smirked. "Oh well, then," she said. "It seems we'll be doing this the hard way." In an instant she exploded into motion- a thin jet of fire shot from her fingers and struck Hakka in the chest, sending the warleader stumbling to the ground in obvious agony.

    The other warriors exploded into motion. Seeing their leader fall, they charged the Fire Nation soldiers with their spears lowered, only to be met with flame. Several unlucky ones fell immediately, the lucky ones rolling in the snow and trying to bat the flames out of their furs. Katara saw one firebender be sent stumbling back with a spear in his side, but the warrior who injured him was quickly felled. Between the Fire Nation's bending and superior armor, the Water Tribe warriors were all but powerless.

    Her mouth opened in horror as she saw Sokka charge directly at Zuko. The Fire Prince fell back briefly, but Katara quickly saw he wasn't injured- rather, he was taking the opportunity to draw the two wickedly curved swords he wore in the sheath at his side. The blades spun with deadly skill, and Sokka's spear fell from his hands, cut neatly in two pieces. A kick from Zuko sent Sokka sprawling beside it.

    "Leave him alone!" Katara shouted without realizing what she was doing, charging forward. Her hands came up as she tried to use them to force the snow into a shape- any shape- that might be useful for fighting, but one of Zuko's soldiers only shoved her away with minimal effort. Stumbling back, she crouched down beside Sokka, checking him for injuries.

    "You know," he muttered, "this isn't quite how I pictured my first battle going."

    "You're lucky he didn't burn you," Katara said. Looking up, she saw that all the other warriors had fallen, unconscious or worse. Zuko stood in the center of the village, hands on his swords, while beside him, Azula was smiling.

    "Now then," she said in a voice that was almost pleasant- and horribly at odds with what had just happened. "Where were we?"

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Appa lay on a snow-covered plateau a few miles away from the village, and Aang rested against one of his immense furry forelegs. The sky bison gave a mournful sounding rumble, and Aang reached up and patted his nose reassuringly. "Don't worry, buddy," he said. "I promise we'll go somewhere soon where you can get all the fruit and hay that you want." Appa gave a deeper, more contented sound and nuzzled against his rider, but Aang's expression grew dark.

    "I don't like this," he said. "I mean, I can't just leave them, especially after Katara was so nice to me, but maybe they were right, and we're safer out here." He rocked forward on his feet, wrapping his arms around his knees.

    Suddenly Appa rumbled loudly, and Aang turned to look back in the direction of the Water Tribe village- and saw what he was sure was smoke rising from it. "No!" he said, jumping to his feet. "The Fire Nation must be there- and they've got to be looking for me. I got them into danger, and then I ran off and left them." Bending down, he picked up his staff and snapped its wings open. "You stay here, Appa, but I've got to go back. I can't just run away again. Maybe I can still help them."

    Leaping into the air, Aang bent a gust of wind around him to keep the glider aloft and rode the air currents back towards the village.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------

    Azula smirked as her soldiers lead the village elders and children out from the hut where they had been hiding- the children visibly frightened, the elders grimly defiant. The princess's eyes darted from one elder to the next searchingly, while at her side, her brother was becoming increasingly angry.

    "He's not here," Zuko snapped, stepping forward and pointing at Gran-Gran. "He should be about this age, but he's not here! Where is he?"

    "I don't know who you're talking about," Gran-Gran said. "But if I did, I wouldn't tell you."

    Zuko growled angrily, but before he had a chance to act Azula pushed past him roughly, eyes flat and deadly. "You may be some tribal wise-woman," she said in a voice more frigid than the arctic air, "but that doesn't mean you shouldn't show respect for your betters. I'll show you the respect due royalty." She raised one hand and formed a flame in it, raising it to strike.

    "No!" Katara shouted, attempting to charge forward only to be stopped as one of the soldiers grabbed her by the arm. Beside her, she saw Sokka struggling in a similar predicament. Azula drew her hand back and prepared to unleash her fireblast, but before the blow fell a tremendous gust of wind shot through the village and sent her rocking back off her feet so that she landed in a snowdrift, upside down and all dignity thoroughly lost.

    "What the-" was all Zuko had time to say before a second blast struck him and sent him sprawling beside his sister. Riding another gust of wind came the one who'd attacked them- Aang himself, who landed lightly in the village center and folded his glider back into a staff. The Fire Nation soldiers backed away at the sight of him, hands raised defensively.

    "Hi Katara, Sokka," he said, then spun his staff and used it to direct two more blasts of air that knocked the soldiers holding them aside. "I couldn't just leave you. Sorry I didn't get back sooner."

    "Thanks for coming," Sokka said dryly, then turned and gave the soldier who'd been holding him a solid kick to the side. If the groan the man gave was anything to go by, he felt it solidly even through his armor.

    Across the village, the snowbank into which Azula and Zuko had been hurled suddenly exploded into a cloud of steam. As it cleared, it revealed Azula, water evaporating from her body and armor, in a bending stance, expression murderous, with Zuko at her side with drawn swords. When the prince and princess saw their opponent clearly, however, both of their eyes widened in disbelief.

    "A child?" Azula breathed incredulously. "Impossible!"

    "You're the airbender?" Zuko demanded, gesturing at Aang with one of his swords. "You're the Avatar?"

    "Yes," Aang said. "Here I am. Were you looking for me?"

    "Aang," Katara said to herself, feeling the world reeling beneath her feet. "The Avatar?" Sokka was only shaking his head madly as if trying to clear it.

    "We are," Zuko said, stepping forward; as all attention was on the firebender and the airbender, Katara saw Azula step back towards the edge of the village out of the corner of her eye, but put it out of her mind. "My father gave my sister and I the mission of hunting you down, and we don't intend to fail him." With a sudden cry he lunged forward, using his swords as a kind of channel to launch fireblasts at Aang. The airbender's- the Avatar's- eyes widened and he quickly brought his staff up, spinning to parry the strikes.

    Suddenly, Katara felt an armored arm wrap around her throat even as a deceptively delicate hand lit a flame beside her face. "I've heard your people don't like unnecessary violence, airbender," Azula's cold voice said. "If you don't want to see the girl hurt, you'll come with us quietly."

    Aang and Zuko both paused; the Avatar's eyes found Katara's and widened in shock and guilt. Then they shifted slightly, presumably so he could meet Azula's gaze. "And if I go with you, you'll leave her and the village alone?"

    Katara felt Azula shift behind her, as if the princess was shrugging. "I don't see why not. The Avatar is a far greater prize than a worthless Water Tribe fishing village, after all."

    "All right, then," Aang said, hanging his head.

    "Aang- no! Don't do this!" Katara shouted, even as Azula tightened her grip enough to prevent anything further.

    "Don't worry, Katara," Aang said, giving a smile that seemed far more forced than normal. "I'll be all right." He held out his staff, and Zuko took it after sheathing his swords; the soldiers closed ranks around the Avatar and began to march him up into the ship. Once they were atop the ramp, Azula released Katara and shoved her to the ground before running lightly to join her countrymen. Katara watched her go, and then her gaze shifted to the captive Aang; her emotions were a mix of anger and fear.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Aang winced as the warship's ramp snapped back into place- really, the Fire Nation needed to seriously invest in machines that didn't sound so horrible- and then turned to Zuko. "So," he said conversationally, "you're going to take me to your dad now?"

    "Yes," Zuko replied. "My father is the Fire Lord's brother, and I think they're both going to be anxious to meet you."

    "But why?" Aang asked. "I've never done anything to the Fire Nation- I didn't even know there was a war on until today!"

    "You're the Avatar- the only one who could be a threat to them." Zuko met Aang's gaze directly. "Father and Uncle are great men, and the Fire Nation is the greatest civilization in the world. It's our destiny to be a great empire."

    "That's very stirring, Zuko," Azula said from nearby. "But I think we should put our prisoner in the brig before he gets any ideas."

    Zuko's eyes narrowed- apparently, he didn't like having to admit when his sister had a point- but he motioned to the soldiers anyway. "Take the prisoner to the brig," he ordered. One soldier took each of Aang's arms, and they began to march him into the ship. Looking over his shoulder, he saw Zuko studying his staff and putting it through some basic swings.

    "I think I'm giving this to Uncle," he said to Azula. "You know how he likes antiques."

    The princess only rolled her eyes.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Katara stood on the shore of the ocean near the village, staring out in the direction where the Fire Navy ship had gone, all but ignoring Sokka who seemed to be pacing somewhere behind her. "We have to go after him, Sokka," she said finally. "Aang saved out tribe- now someone has to save him, and we're the only ones who can."

    "Katara," Sokka began, but she cut him off.

    "Look, I know you don't trust him, and that you probably think you should stay as one of the only warriors left still in fighting condition, but he needs…"

    "Katara!" Sokka said. "You coming, or not?" Spinning, she saw her brother heaving the last of several bags of supplies into a canoe. The waterbender's eyes widened in happy surprise as she took in what it meant, and she ran forward and wrapped her brother in a tight hug.

    "Kata," Sokka protested, pulling away. "All right, now let's go save you…"

    "What do you two think you're doing?" a calm voice asked. Katara turned to see Gran-Gran and Master Sisiko both watching them with severe expressions- but then Gran-Gran smiled. "You'll need these," she said, holding out a roll of blankets.

    "Then… you're okay with us leaving?" Katara asked.

    "You were the ones who found the Avatar and brought hope back to this tribe," Gran-Gran said. "Now, your destinies are intertwined with his."

    "I've tended to Hakka and his warriors, and they should survive," said Sisiko. "The injuries were not as severe as they appeared- no doubt, the firebenders feared to bring too much power to bear, lest they accidentally kill their quarry. Your brother and the Avatar need your help more than I do." She stepped forward and put a hand on Katara's shoulder. "You have been my student for several years now. Healing is a noble calling, but I feel there is more in store for you. You are not of the Northern Water Tribe- it was foolish to think you should have to follow our customs, when they are not your people's. You have a fighter's spirit. Good luck."

    "Yes- good luck to both of you." Gran-Gran hugged each of her grandchildren in turn. "And, Sokka- try to stay out of trouble." Sokka's face fell at the comment, and Katara heard him muttered protests under his breath.

    Sisiko regarded their canoe and frowned. "Even if you had a master waterbender with you, catching a warship in that would be almost impossible," she said. Even as she finished speaking, however, a low but loud rumble sounded nearby, and an unmistakable furry shape crested a nearby hill.

    "Appa!" Katara said. "He can carry us!"

    "Great," Sokka muttered. "Giant flying furball, here we come."

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The two guards led Aang deeper into the bowels of the Fire Nation warship; despite having seen a good deal of the world when traveling between Air Temples (he squelched a queasy feeling that line of thought brought), he'd never seen anything quite like this steam-powered contraption. Of course, he supposed that a lot could happen in a hundred years…

    He glanced up at one of the guards. "So," he said nonchalantly, "I guess you guys've probably never seen an airbender before me, right?"

    "Silence!" the guard snapped, his voice weirdly distorted by his helmet. Aang shrugged as best he could with his arms being held tight, and then drew in a deep breath and released it with as much bending-backed force as he could muster. The guard he aimed at was slammed against the wall, and after impacting he slid to the floor and lay in a daze. The second guard's expression was hidden behind his mask, but Aang imagined his eyes were wide with surprise- the man quickly caught himself, but not before his grip loosened. Aang pulled away from him and let loose another gust, which left him in the same condition as his companion.

    "Sorry about that, but I'd really like to get out of here," he said to the unconscious figures, and then turned and bolted down the corridor in the way from which he'd come at full bending-enhanced speed. He needed to get his staff back and then get off this ship fast. Unfortunately, that proved easier said than done- the ship's corridors all looked much the same, and while he was quick and agile enough to breeze past the few guards he met, that wasn't enough to keep them from sending up a warning shout.

    If he could find the prince or princess, Aang figured, he'd be able to find his staff- one of them probably had it, or at least knew where it was. That idea in mind, he made his way towards the exit to the outer deck- soon he could see the light where it opened to the sky- and then he pulled up short as the doors slammed shut. Azula stood beside it wearing an almost feline expression of lazy arrogance, holding his staff lightly in one hand.

    "My staff!" Aang said. "That's mine!"

    "You know, I think I noticed that already," Azula said lightly. "Well, if you want it back, you're going to have to go through me- and in the extremely unlikely event you manage that, there's still my brother and the crew waiting on deck. For all his faults, Zuko is rather good with those swords of his. You're not going anywhere."

    "We'll see about that," Aang said, and fired a blast of air directly at her. Azula dodged nimbly aside and smirked before responding with a series of precisely controlled fireblasts. Even though she had only one free hand, Aang still found himself being forced to dodge- blocking the blasts wasn't nearly as easy without his staff.

    "Give it up, Avatar," Azula said. "I can keep this up all day, and you can't hit me with anything too powerful without risking smashing your precious staff against these metal walls. Your airbending isn't a match for a firebender who knows what you can do."

    "But you don't know everything I can do," Aang said, an idea quickly forming in his mind. Maybe Azula had read enough history to recognize a lot of airbending- but she almost certainly didn't know the move that Aang had invented himself. Quickly, he formed a spinning ball of air beneath his feet and leaped on it, and then used the air scooter to propel himself in a spiral around the corridor towards the firebender princess, building up momentum as he went. Her eyes widened and she shot more fireblasts, but she'd made the mistake of maneuvering herself into a space where she had nowhere to go. Closing in, Aang let the air scooter go and then slammed into her.

    The combined force of the two of them hitting the door forced it open, and they sprawled onto the main deck. The staff fell from Azula's hand, and Aang quickly grabbed it and leaped to his feet. "Thanks!" he said to the still-dazed Azula, and then turned to make ready to fly- and found himself faced by a semicircle of firebenders with Zuko in the middle, one hand on his sheathed swords, the other raised to bend.

    "Oh, right," Aang muttered. "Them."

    "There's nowhere to go, Avatar," Zuko said. "If you try to escape, there's enough of us to set your glider on fire. Then you won't be going anywhere."

    "Listen to my brother," Azula said from behind him; Aang turned to see her getting back to her feet. "For once, he's talking sense."

    Aang's mind whirled as he tried to think of some way out of this one- but then he smiled broadly as he saw a familiar shape flying in the air high above the ship- distant now, but closing rapidly. "I don't think so," he said lightly. "See, there's something that the two of you don't know about."

    "What's that?" Zuko asked suspiciously.

    "Appa!" Aang shouted, just as the sky bison came in for a landing. Turning his back on the Fire Nation soldiers, he slammed his tail down and released a powerful burst of natural airbending that sent the entire crew reeling. Quickly, the airbender ran forward and embraced one of Appa's legs before looking up and seeing Sokka and Katara slide down from the saddle.

    "Are you all right?" Katara asked, hurrying over to him.

    "I am now," Aang said.

    "Not for long." They both spun to see Zuko struggling back to his feet. The Fire Prince drew both of his swords and dropped into a fighting stance, slowly circling- Aang admittedly didn't know much about bladed weapons, but he thought that that his opponent looked awfully competent with them. More than that, they looked more than sharp enough to cut his staff, which could be a major problem.

    A flicker of motion from the corner of his vision caught Aang's attention, and he turned partially to see Katara, her movies jerky and uncertain, but growing more confident as she went, bending a large stream of water out of the ocean and into the air over the ship. He watched it closely, almost mesmerized- and then it fell apart, doing little more than drenching Zuko.

    "Umm- Katara," Aang said, "I don't think that worked."

    "Actually," she replied, "it did. Now, here goes nothing." Slowly she drew in a deep breath and then let it out- and the water covering Zuko froze into a coating of ice. The prince sputtered in anger and shock, bending heat and steam from his nostrils and hands to thaw himself, but before he could Sokka walked casually up and struck him in the back with his club, sending him sprawling.

    "That's one from the Water Tribe, jerk," he said.

    "We're just lucky that it's cold enough here that turning water to ice is really easy," said Katara. "Now let's get out of here."

    "I'm up for that," Aang said. Turning, the three of them began to climb up onto Appa's back, but before they took off, Aang looked back over the ship and saw that Azula and several of the firebenders were standing together hands raised.

    "Fire," the princess hissed, and then as one they unleashed a massive fireball, far too large for Aang to deflect, and too fast for Appa to outrun.

    The airbender's eyes widened with horror as the giant fireball approached- and then, suddenly and inexplicably, something within him snapped, as it had once before on the night he and Appa had been frozen. As the sky bison leaped into the air, the Avatar jumped from his back but did not fall- rather, he hovered there in the path of the incoming inferno, held aloft by airbending and perceiving time as almost a crawl. Both hands came up, and the sea answered, an immense wave that stretched across the ship and absorbed the blast. Then the Avatar pushed out with both hands, and the water surged beneath the Fire Navy ship, throwing it back even as its engines struggled to move it forward.

    Then the surge of power passed, and the Avatar was only Aang again. A faint feeling passed over him and he fell from the sky- but landed in Air Nomad-made saddled as Appa swooped beneath him. "We've got you, Aang," he heard Katara say.

    "Thanks," Aang replied weakly.

    "That was some amazing waterbending," Katara added. "How did you…?"

    "Wait," Sokka said. "What's Creepy Girl doing down there?" Aang and Katara both joined him on the edge of the saddle, and they both looked down to see Azula alone still standing, her hands forming a tight pattern as sparks trailed behind them.

    "I don't know, but that looks like some seriously nasty firebending," Aang murmured. "And I don't think I've got any Avatar State left in me."

    "Well, whatever she's doing, she's not going to be doing it long," Sokka said firmly. Reaching over his back, he drew out a curved weapon that Aang was sure he recognized, though he couldn't put a name to it at the moment with his head still groggy. Aiming carefully, Sokka let the weapon fly- it spun through the air in a looping arc and struck Azula in the back of the head just before she let her firebending loose. She fell face-forward to the deck, and her interrupted bending set loose a bolt of lightning that punched clean through the ship's prow, rocking it in the water.

    Sokka smiled as he reached up one hand and caught his weapon as its arc brought it back to him. "Let's see them try and follow us with a hole in their ship!" he called. "Water Tribe boomerang- never leave home without one!"

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Zuko, still wet but no longer frozen, shook his head at Azula as she slowly stood, rubbing the back of her head. When she turned to face him, her expression was both furious and pained. "One laugh, Zuzu," she said, "and you'll wish you were still an ice block."

    "There's nothing funny here," Zuko said with a snort that vented steam into the air. "We just got humiliated by a little kid and two barbarians. Now we need repairs, too. What were you thinking, trying lightning?"

    "I underestimated them- we both did," Azula said. "But pointing fingers, while satisfying, gets us nowhere. Fortunately there's a base near here- we can get repairs and new supplies there. After that it's back to the hunt."

    "And now we know what they can do," Zuko finished. "We won't underestimate them again."

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    "So, why didn't you tell us you were the Avatar?" Katara asked when they'd left the Fire Nation ship safely behind them.

    "Because I never wanted to be," Aang said quietly, his expression unusually somber. All three sat quietly for several minutes, and then Aang looked up. "It looks like I've got my job cut out for me. Where should we go first?"

    "Well, I've been thinking," Sokka said, "and I say we find Dad. His fleet's the only serious resistance we know about- and he's got the Northern Tribe helping him, which means he probably has waterbenders- maybe Masters."

    "And water is the next element in the cycle after air." Katara smiled. "Maybe if we're lucky, we can find someone we can convince to let us learn together!"

    "I hope so," Aang said. "That would be great! But before that, we've got some very important stops to make…."

    As she listened to Aang go on at great length about places he'd either been or wanted to go, and all the fun, fascinating, or exciting things to do there, Katara realized that for the first time since her father left, she felt both contented and determined.

    AN: Again, the general events remain close to canon, although the specifics are different. Next chapter will be an odd one- the events at the Air Temple wouldn't be significantly different from canon in any way in this AU, so it will focus primarily on the Fire Nation side of things. With "Warriors of Kyoshi" and "King of Omashu", the differences will start becoming more obvious; after that, the canon events should be abandoned in all but the loosest ways.
  6. NYCitygurl NSWFF Manager

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2002
    star 9
    YAY! I'm so excited to see this :D I love the prologue (unsurprising; I love the prologues to all your stories).
  7. MasterGhandalf Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 25, 2009
    star 2
    AN: As mentioned in the AN for the previous chapter, the events at the Southern Air Temple occur largely as canon (specific dialog is likely different in this timeline, but there is no meaningful difference to the actual events). As such, this chapter will focus almost exclusively on the Fire Nation side of things and will, therefore, be a good deal shorter. We'll be back to roughly episode-length next time.

    Chapter 3: The Southern Naval Base

    "Well," Azula said, jabbing her finger at a specific point on the map of the southern seas that was set up in the warship's bridge. "We are here, roughly, and our ship is in definite need of repairs. We're not in the kind of condition to make it far, but fortunately, we don't need to." Her finger moved until it was resting on a small island. "There is a Fire Navy base here. They should have what we need."

    Zuko bent over the map and scowled when he saw where his sister was pointing. "I don't like it," he said. "That's Commander Zhao's base. I'd rather not have to deal with him."

    "What's wrong with him?" Azula asked. "Zhao is one of Father's political supporters- when he finds out who we are, he'll be more than happy to help us- and more importantly, to keep his mouth shut about us. Anyone else might run off to Uncle and tell him what we're up to."

    "Zhao's slime," Zuko growled. "He just kisses father's boots so he can keep getting promotions- he's not loyal to anyone but himself. And you know I don't like keeping our mission from Uncle."

    Azula rolled her eyes. "I know you like Uncle, Zuko, but you know as well as I do that if he knew what we were doing, he'd pull us off what he thinks is a mission that won't accomplish anything and put us somewhere else- and Father wouldn't be happy with either of us if we let that happen. And Zhao may be a self-serving suck-up, but he's also our best chance of getting our ship fixed."

    Zuko stood up and turned towards the helmsman. "Fine," he said. "Set our course for Commander Zhao's base."

    "Understood, sir," came the reply, and Zuko could feel the ship moving beneath his feet as it turned towards its new course.

    ----------------------------------------------------

    Commander Zhao was a skilled firebender of middle years who wore the thick sideburns favored by many of the Fire Nation's elite and whose face seemed to be set in a perpetual self-satisfied smirk. A decently competent leader as well as a powerful bender, he'd risen to the respectable rank of commander without difficulty, but Fire Lord Iroh had made it plain he intended to promote the man no further. In spite of his strengths, he was possessed of an awful temper and tremendous pride, two qualities that made trusting him with overall command of a fleet a risky proposition at best. Too, Zhao chafed under the Fire Lord's determination to consolidate his hold on the occupied Earth Kingdom rather than to strike out at and conquer new targets. It was for these reasons that he had come to affiliate himself with the Fire Lord's younger brother, Prince Ozai- a man far more in line with his personality and desires.

    All of this passed through Zuko's mind as he descended the ship's ramp with Azula at his side and a small group of their soldiers behind them. Zhao, flanked by his own bodyguards, was waiting for them at the bottom. "Well, well," the naval officer said as they came within hearing range. "Prince Zuko and Princess Azula. Welcome to my base. How may I be of assistance?" By the spirits, Zuko though, the man sounds smug even when offering help!

    "As you can see, our ship is damaged," the prince said out loud. "We need repairs made as quickly as possible so we can depart."

    "I see," Zhao said, eyes going to the hole Azula's misfired lightning had blasted in the hull. "That's some rather impressive damage. I wonder what could have caused it?"

    "Oh, it's a long story," Azula said. "And sadly, it's not as exciting as it looks- with all the ice in these waters, it's amazing ships don't get damaged more often." She shot Zuko a glare out of the corner of her eyes, as if daring him to contradict her; clearly, the explanation of what had actually happened wasn't something she was keen on sharing. "We just want to get it fixed, so we can be on our way."

    "Of course," Zhao said, nodding in acknowledgment. "Now, I'm sure that you'll want to oversee the repairs yourself, Prince Zuko- perhaps the princess would care to join me for refreshments?"

    "Of course, Commander," Azula said, stepping forward; Zhao put an arm around her shoulders and began to lead her off towards his command tent, stopping briefly to flash a smirk in Zuko's direction. The prince had half a mind to blast the expression off his face then and there, stopping himself only because he knew that Father and Uncle both would be angry if he started randomly attacking high-ranking naval officers. Gritting his teeth, he turned to watch as several of Zhao's minions came scurrying up with tools and materials for repairs. He was going to watch them intently- regardless of what Azula thought, he didn't trust Zhao's men with his ship.

    ---------------------------------------------------

    A servant poured a cup of tea for Azula as she seated herself at the table in Zhao's command tent. The commander himself waved both servant and guards away but did not sit, pacing instead in front of a map of the world, Fire Nation occupied territory colored a deep crimson. Finally he stopped and turned to regard the princess. "You're brother's a fool," he finally said.

    Azula shrugged. "He has his uses. But don't waste your time flattering me or insulting Zuko- the whole Fire Nation knows which of his children father favors, and I don't need you reminding me. I presume that you brought me here because you have something you wish to discuss?"

    "I do," Zhao said. "Namely, I wanted to discuss your father's plans, and do my own, small part to bring them about." False humility, Azula decided, did not suit Zhao- the man's natural arrogance shown through anyway.

    The princess paused, sipping her tea slowly. "You know that my brother and I are on an assignment from Father- one that is of utmost secrecy. I can't share specifics with you, but I wish you to send a hawk to Father telling him that we've been successful, to an extent."

    "To an extent?" Zhao asked. "I'm afraid you've lost me, princess."

    Azula sighed. "Just say this- we've found what he sent us to look for, and it does exist. We're currently in pursuit. Commander, you don't need to know any more than that."

    "I see." Azula could practically see the wheels turning in Zhao's mind- while no one would ever call him a genius, he was intelligent enough to make guesses as to what- or rather, who- she was referring to, and some of those guesses might be closer to the mark than not. She shot him a look that clearly said that he was not to voice his suspicions aloud.

    "Now, then," Azula asked, "what news from the Fire Nation? We've been out of touch for some time near the South Pole. Surely there've been things happening in the wider world we should know about?"

    "The army the Fire Lord was assembling has moved out," Zhao said. "Finally- I thought Iroh would never make his move! Your cousin Lu Ten is in command, continuing the family tradition. They just landed in the southern Earth Kingdom a week or so ago, and are on the march."

    Lu Ten- Azula did not like her cousin, but she had to admit, he had inherited his father's skills both as a military leader and a firebender. Zhao hadn't said what target they were headed for, but Azula's nimble mind was already running through possibilities. Not the Northern Water Tribe, surely- they were too far out of range for that. The marauding Water Tribe fleet might be a possibility if they'd tracked it to this region, but no, Lu Ten was a land commander, not an admiral, and besides, Zhao had said army, not fleet. That left only… "Omashu," Azula said. "They're headed for the last Earth Kingdom stronghold."

    "And when it falls, Iroh's dynasty will be assured, and that means I'll be stuck in this backwater for the rest of my career," Zhao snarled.

    Azula glanced over her shoulder in the direction of Zuko and the ship. "Are you certain my brother won't be bothering us?" she asked.

    "I think my men should be able to keep him occupied," the commander said with a wolfish smile. Azula returned the expression.

    "Then let's talk strategy."

    ------------------------------------------------------

    Part of Zuko felt like collapsing to the deck in frustration while tearing out his hair. The rest of him just wanted to burn Zhao's repair crews to ash and have done with it. Torn between these two increasingly tempting alternatives, he finally managed to force out words that were- hopefully- coherent. "This isn't complicated!" he all but shouted. "You just need to weld a new metal plate over where the giant, gaping hole is! Are you a firebender or not?"

    "Well, ah, forgive me, your highness," the head of the repair crew said. "You are quite correct that the actual procedure is not difficult. However, regulations demand that there are certain steps that must be taken before we can commence with repairs of this magnitude."

    "What do you mean, steps?" Zuko asked slowly, steam beginning to rise from his clenched fists. The crewleader's eyes widened as he saw that, but managed to hold his ground, which was more than Zuko had expected from the man.

    "Well, a base like this one has only a limited amount of material on hand at any given time," the man went on, "and it is necessary that we keep track of it in order to get the most use out of it, and to make sure that all of it is used correctly, and as a result there are certain forms that must be processed…"

    "Forms?" Zuko demanded. "You mean you've been stalling all this time because you need me to fill out paperwork! I'm the Fire Lord's nephew- can't you skip it for once!"

    "My apologies, highness," the crewleader said. "No exceptions." He rooted around in his robe and produced what appeared to be the proper form and a brush and inkbottle- Zuko snatched them from him and signed the form hastily before stuffing it back into his hands.

    "That good enough for you?" he demanded.

    "Well…" the crewleader said, his voice trailing off as he began to remove more paperwork from the same pocket where he'd presumably gotten the first one. Zuko growled as he grabbed them from the man and went to work. This had every indication of being a very long day.

    -------------------------------------------------------------

    "So," Zhao said, "this mission- I would be correct in assuming that if it is successful, it will be to the benefit of your father?"

    "Certainly," Azula replied, smiling tightly. "It could easily give Father and his bloodline the kind of prestige he needs to move out from under his brother's shadow after so long, and from there- who knows what might develop? And don't think Father won't reward those who stand by him."

    "Of course," Zhao murmured. "I know several other naval officers Prince Ozai can rely on, and of course, I am at his disposal whenever he might desire it- but Lu Ten will stand by his father." His eyes narrowed. "And what of your brother? I've heard Zuko is close to his uncle, and if it does come to blows…"

    Azula's grip tightened on her cup, and she scarcely noticed that its contents were boiling as memories of childhood and then the departure on their search washed over her. "I know what you're suggesting, Commander," she said in her quietest, most dangerous voice. "And you go too far."

    "Forgive me," Zhao said, paling- not out of humility, but fear of offending the daughter of the man he hoped would gain him an admiralship. Azula felt that was sufficient- fear, properly applied, was always an effective motivator.

    The commander and the princess finished their tea in silence.

    ------------------------------------------------------

    It was evening before the repairs on the ship were completed, though when they were, even Zuko couldn't find fault with Zhao's men's handiwork. Azula joined her brother on the ramp shortly after the last of the repairmen had left, looking distinctly pleased with herself, but the commander himself was nowhere in sight.

    "Where's Zhao?" Zuko asked as they boarded.

    "He found himself suddenly occupied, but wished us good luck," Azula told him. Zuko shot her a dark look- he doubted Zhao had done any such thing- but her expression was, as usual, inscrutable.

    "What did you talk about, anyway?"

    "Nothing you'd find terribly interesting," Azula said dismissively. "Politics and the like. Now then, we'd best be off. We have hunting to do."

    Zuko paused as he watched Azula make her way back towards her cabin, and wondered exactly what it was that she wasn't telling him.

    --------------------------------------------------------------

    Not so far away, in the ruins of a temple high in the mountains, the Avatar discovered the bones of his mentor, slain by Fire Nation soldiers a century ago. Consumed by anger and grief, he unleashed his power, and the shockwaves were felt around the world. In their temples, sages of all three surviving nations saw strange lights and felt his power, and knew what it signified- and in the Fire Nation Royal Palace, the Fire Lord awoke suddenly from his sleep and knew that the world had changed forever.

  8. Mira_Jade The NSWFF Manager With The Cape

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2004
    star 4
    A wonderful few updates. That last chapter, especially, gave me chills. =D=
  9. MasterGhandalf Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 25, 2009
    star 2
    Chapter 4: The Warriors of Kyoshi

    "This doesn't make any sense."

    "What doesn't?" Zuko asked, turning to face his sister. Azula was standing hunched over the ship's map of the southern seas, which seemed to have been marked over with ink lines in various colors, as well as what appeared to be various calculations and speculations she'd begun and then abandoned in the margins. The expression on her face was one of mixed frustration and anger.

    "The Avatar," she replied, straightening up and gesturing to the map. "I've been marking down all reported sightings we've encountered since we left Zhao's base, and trying to figure out where he and his friends are heading next, but it all looks completely random." Azula turned to face the map again and made a quiet snarl; Prince Ozai's younger child wasn't used to problems that perplexed her royal will, and meeting one now wasn't pleasant for her.

    "He's obviously an expert at evading pursuit," Zuko told her. "But it doesn't matter. We'll find him before long."

    "There's got to be logic to his movements," Azula muttered, bending back down over the map. "When I figure it out, we'll have him- and this time, we won't underestimate what he's capable of."

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    "Do you have any idea where we're going?"

    Aang shrugged and looked over his shoulder at Sokka, grinning sheepishly. "Well, kind of," he said. "I know it's an island, and we're in the right ocean!"

    Sokka glanced over Appa's saddle at the expanse of featureless blue water that stretched out to every horizon beneath them. "Great," he said. "That's really reassuring."

    "Oh, Sokka, don't be so hard on him," Katara put in. She moved closer to Aang, with Momo, the flying lemur the trio had picked up at the Southern Air Temple, perched on one shoulder. "So, do you mind telling us about this island we're going to be visiting?"

    "Oh, it's great," Aang said. "It's called Kyoshi, after one of my past lives, but that's not the really great part. There's these giant fish called elephant koi that live around it, and if you're a really good swimmer, you can catch up to one of them. Then you can ride it- it can be pretty hard to stay on sometimes, but that's half the fun!"

    "Riding a giant fish sounds a lot less interesting to me than catching and eating one, but whatever," Sokka said, lying back on the saddle and apparently trying to get in a midair nap before they reached their destination.

    Aang gave a slight snicker watching him, then turned to Katara. "You want to see an airbending trick to pass the time?" Before she could react, he'd whipped a small set of marbles from his pocket and set them spinning in a tight circle between his hands. Katara shot him an unusually nonplussed look; the young airbender decided she'd probably liked the trick better the first few times he'd shown her. Sighing, Aang pocketed the marbles and turned his full attention back to steering Appa.

    Several hours later, even he felt like he was beginning to nod off, but his eyes widened and he sat up straight when he saw the distant bump on the horizon. Looking more closely at it- yes, it had to be an island! "Sokka, Katara, wake up!" Aang shouted.

    "What, are we under attack by air pirates?" Sokka demanded sleepily, apparently still under the influence of whatever dream he'd been having.

    "No, we're here! I give you, Kyoshi Island!" With land in sight, Appa seemed to have perked up as well, and the island quickly grew larger ahead of them. Shortly, Aang could make out the bay, the small forest- and something else, which caused his eyes to widen in surprise.

    "What's going on down there?" Sokka asked, now alert. "It looks like they're getting ready for battle!"

    "I… I think you're right," Aang breathed in surprise, leaning forward past Appa's horns for a better look. Far below them, several small ships were drawn up on the island's coastline, and figures could be seen milling about as they loaded cargo. Most of them wore blue, but there were some who were clad in what looked like vivid green robes.

    "What do you think's happening?" Katara asked, coming forward to sit near Sokka and Aang.

    "I don't know," the airbender replied, "but let's find out!" Pulling on Appa's reins, he brought the sky bison about and turned him towards the island as they came in for a landing. Appa came to rest on the beech a fair distance away from all the activity, and Aang patted his head fondly before leaping off and landing on the ground in front of him, while Sokka and Katara dismounted as well beside him.

    Down the beach, the green-clad figures turned to watch them, and Aang realized they were wearing heavy makeup- he'd seen people from all over the world, and he was pretty sure skin didn't come that white naturally. The lead figure was pointing directly at them, and did not look happy. "Invaders!" the figure shouted in a high, clear voice. "Take them!" The villagers who were wearing blue scrambled backwards, but the ones in green drew what looked like fans and charged.

    Sokka's eyes narrowed as he listened to the voice. "Hey, wait a minute-" he began, but before he could communicate whatever thought was bothering him, the island warriors were on them. In short order, both Water Tribe siblings had been knocked to the ground and bound tightly- these people really were good at this, Aang thought- and the airbender himself was backed up against Appa, hands raised and trying to figure out what he could say to convince them that they were harmless. As the warriors gathered in a semicircle around him, his eyes darted from each to each, and he registered what he figured was probably what had caught Sokka off guard- as far as Aang could tell, all these warriors were women, or maybe even girls- it was hard to tell their ages with all that makeup.

    The lead warrior leveled her fans at him. "Give up now, and we'll go easy on you," she said. "Resist, and we'll show you how the Kyoshi Warriors deal with invaders."

    "I'm not an invader!" Aang protested. "I'm the Avatar, and I just wanted to ride the elephant koi. Now, will you please let my friends go?"

    "Avatar?" The leader laughed. "Not very likely. The Avatar disappeared over a hundred years ago."

    Aang sighed. "I really didn't want to do this," he said, and then leaped forward and thrust both hands out before him. Wind rushed around the young monk's body and exploded forward, striking the lead warrior and knocking her and the ones who stood near her back. Stumbling back into standing positions, they regarded him with expressions of wide-eyed amazement.

    "An airbender," the leader breathed. "You are the Avatar. Forgive us- we were only trying to defend our home." She bowed to Aang and motioned to her companions. "Release his friends."

    Quickly, the other girls undid the cords binding Sokka and Katara and pulled the gags from their mouths. Sokka stumbled to his feet and faced the lead Kyoshi Warrior, studying her up and down with a scowl.

    "What's the matter?" she asked, a faintly teasing tone in her voice. "Don't like that a bunch of girl's kicked your butt?"

    "That- that's not what happened!" Sokka spluttered, crossing his arms and attempting unsuccessfully to maintain an air of dignity. Several of the Kyoshi Warriors looked like they were smothering giggles at the sight.

    Katara sighed and stepped forward. "Don't mind my brother," she said. "He doesn't like being one-upped. I'm Katara, he's Sokka, and the airbender's Aang."

    "I'm Suki," the leader said.

    "So what's going on around here, anyway?" Aang asked, looking around the beach. "Sokka thought you were preparing for battle, but I don't see anyone to fight around here."

    "The battle isn't here," Suki said, looking off to the north. "Ever since the fall of Ba Sing Se, Omashu has been the last bastion of the Earth Kingdom- to all practical intents and purposes it's the capital, though that's not saying too much since apart from it there's only a bunch of villages and refugee camps that are still free of the Fire Nation. But there've been rumors that the Fire Nation has amassed a new army, with the Fire Lord's own son in command- and there can only be one place they're going.

    "Here on Kyoshi Island, we tried to stay neutral, but Omashu's too close for comfort. If it falls, then the Fire Nation will be right on our doorstep, and there wouldn't be anything to stop them from gobbling us up whenever they feel like it. I talked with Oyaji- that's our village elder- and we decided that we can't stay out of the war any longer. The Kyoshi Warriors are going to Omashu, and we're going to help the king fight the Fire Nation when they come."

    "And you think a bunch of girls with fans are going to help an Earth Kingdom city fight the Fire Nation?" Sokka asked dubiously. Suki whirled on him and stalked towards him, eyes burning.

    "Do you have a problem with it?" she demanded, her face inches from his. "You fight for your people, and we'll fight for ours. Maybe we'll make a difference, maybe not- but we are going to try."

    "Whoa- everybody, calm down!" Aang said, stepping forward. "Fighting with each other isn't going to stop the Fire Nation. But I know Omashu real well- I used to visit a friend there all the time, and I'd love to see it again. How about we all travel together- there's safety in numbers, and maybe the king knows where we can find Sokka and Katara's dad and the Water Tribe fleet!"

    "Do you really think so?" Katara asked, turning to Aang.

    The airbender shrugged. "I don't know," he admitted, "but I think it's worth a shot. So, Suki, what do you say?"

    The lead Kyoshi Warrior glanced from Aang to Katara to Sokka, as if weighing options in her mind, and then she smiled and made a small bow. "We would be honored to travel together," she said, "so long as certain parties behave."

    All eyes turned to Sokka, who shrugged. "What?" he asked.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Zuko opened the door to the bridge as lightly as possible and stepped inside. Night had fallen outside, and Azula lay slumped over her maps, apparently having fallen asleep in the middle of her calculations. The prince studied her for a moment- asleep, his sister almost looked peaceful- and then shook his head and turned to leave. Before he made it a single step, however, Azula's head shot up and her eyes opened wide. She fixed him with a sharp golden stare, and said two words- "Kyoshi Island".

    "Come again?" Zuko asked.

    "Kyoshi Island is named for the Avatar two incarnations ago, who was its founder," Azula explained, apparently unaware of the ink smeared on her face. "It seems very likely to me that the current Avatar will stop there on his journey, or has been there already. Even if he hasn't, the villagers will likely have heard news and may be of use to us. It's our best option."

    Zuko regarded her for a long, quiet moment, and then nodded. "All right," he said. "I'll find the captain and tell him we have a destination."

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Kyoshi Warriors wouldn't be ready to depart for Omashu until tomorrow, but the villagers were more than willing to offer the Avatar and his companions accommodations until then. They had been treated to an outstanding feast (or, in Appa's case, several bales of hay and a number of apples Aang slipped him) and had then retired for the evening. Aang and Sokka were both fast asleep in the guest house, the lemur Momo curled up on Aang's head, but Katara found she couldn't sleep. After tossing and turning for she didn't even want to know how long, she finally got to her feet and crept from the building, careful not to wake her brother or friend.

    She made her way through the village square and then, on impulse, along the path that led to the north, deeper into the island- she vaguely remembered having seen Suki and some of the other Warriors heading in that direction after the dinner had ended. Finally, a small building came into sight, with lights that appeared to be still lit. Katara approached and saw that the door was open- inside, she could see Suki and her comrades drilling.

    She watched for a few minutes, until one of the warriors noticed her and tapped Suki on the shoulder. She turned and saw Katara and smiled. "You're up late," she said in a friendly tone.

    "Couldn't sleep," Katara said, shrugging. "You're up late too, though."

    "Tomorrow, we're leaving to aid in the defense of Omashu," Suki said. "We need to get in as much drilling as we can before we go. Battles are nasty, and the Fire Nation isn't going to go easy on us just because we're kids."

    "Believe me, I know," Katara said. The two girls stood silently for several more minutes, and then an idea began to take shape in the waterbender's mind- something that varyingly seemed like a good plan, and a completely insane one, and she couldn't decide whether to act on it or not. Finally Suki took the matter out of her hands.

    "All right," she said, "you're thinking hard about something. What's on your mind?"

    "Well, you know I'm a waterbender," Katara began, and Suki nodded, the matter having come up in conversation during the feast, "but I'm the only bender left in my tribe. There are masters in the Northern Tribe, but they have this crazy idea that girl benders can only be healers, and shouldn't be fighters."

    "That's stupid," Suki said.

    "I know," Katara muttered. "But the point is, I want to fight the Fire Nation, and right now I don't have any way to learn combat bending- unless I'm lucky, I might never have the chance. And it's just so… frustrating."

    Suki regarded the Water Tribe girl critically. "Well," she said, "I'm no bender, so I can't help you there, but I do think I could give you some pointers before we get to Omashu."

    "Really?" Katara asked excitedly. Suki held up one hand.

    "Now, I can't make you a warrior overnight," she said, "and like I said, I can't help you with your bending problem at all, but I can teach you some stuff that can come in really handy in a fight."

    "Thank you," Katara told her. "I really appreciate this."

    Suki shrugged. "No big deal. Anyway, to start off, keep in mind that almost everyone you or I fight is going to be bigger and stronger than we are- most soldiers are full-grown men in heavy armor- but that's not nearly as big an advantage as it looks. Our techniques are based around using speed, skill, and your enemy's own strength and momentum against them to level the playing field and take even the biggest down hard." She dropped into a fighting stance and drew her fans. "Now, watch and learn…"

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The next morning, the villagers of Kyoshi Island gathered on the beach to wish their warriors and guests off. Aang could see and hear a variety of reactions from the crowd, including tearful farewells from individual Warriors' families, shouts of encouragement from others, and one poor man who became so distraught he had some sort of fit and had to be quietly escorted away while foaming at the mouth. That matter attended to, Oyaji stepped forward and wished success for Suki and her companions, as well as for the Avatar, and called on Avatar Kyoshi's spirit to watch over them. Suki bowed to him, and Aang gave a cheerful wave; then the Kyoshi Warriors boarded their two boats, Aang and his friends scrambled into Appa's saddle, and they began their journey to Omashu.

    Appa hung low over the Kyoshi Warriors' boats- high enough to avoid the sea-spray, but close enough for the two groups to see each other and stay somewhat closely in contact. "Well, we're going to Omashu, buddy," Aang said to the bison, ruffling his fur. "You remember where that is, don't you? I wonder if Bumi's still around after a hundred years- if he is, maybe we can see him?" Appa gave an encouraging-sounding rumble, and Aang turned to face his Water Tribe friends.

    Sokka was staring at Katara curiously. "You look tired," he said finally. "All right, tell me- what's going on?"

    "Going on? What? Nothing!" Katara said in a tone of innocence too exaggerated to be entirely real. "I just had trouble sleeping last night, that's all."

    "Uh-huh," Sokka said. "And how come when I got up in the middle of the night last night to get a drink, you weren't there?

    "I was just- going for a walk," Katara told him. "Yes- that is all. A walk." She smiled and nodded in a very deliberate manner that left Aang feeling like scratching his head. He wasn't sure what was going on, but he was pretty sure it was something more than a light-night walk.

    "You're hiding something," Sokka said.

    "Yeah, Katara," Aang put in. "What is going on?"

    "Okay, fine," the watebender said, throwing her hands in the air. "I went to see the Kyoshi Warriors last night, and Suki showed me some of her fighting techniques, all right?"

    "Hey, that's cool!" Aang began, but before he could continue Sokka broke in with an expression of utter shock on his face.

    "You what?" He demanded. "Katara, what were you thinking? Water Tribe girls aren't warriors- it's just not done!"

    "You've been spending too much time around the Northern Tribe warriors," Katara shot back. "Our tribe never had a problem with letting female waterbenders fight before, and if I can't find a master who'll teach me combat bending- and we don't know if I can- I need another way to make a difference apart from just being Miss Healing Hands!"

    "But- but-" Sokka began, but before he could clearly articulate exactly what he felt about the situation Aang pointed over his shoulder towards the sea behind them.

    "What's that?" he asked. "Is that smoke?" Both Water Tribe siblings turned to follow the direction he was pointing and saw the thin black plume rising into the sky- still distant, but getting closer every moment. They looked at each other and nodded grimly.

    "Smoke," Sokka agreed. "This far out at sea, it's got to be a Fire Navy warship. They could be headed for Kyoshi Island!"

    "I don't think so," Katara said. "They were going in a straight line, and it looks like they'd miss the island. I think they're heading for…"

    "Us," Aang finished. "It's got to be Zuko and Azula. We need to warn Suki and the Kyoshi Warriors!" Turning back to Appa, he pulled on the bison's reins and directed him to drop towards the two boats below.

    ------------------------------------------------------------

    "I see them!" Zuko said, lowering his glass. "It's the Avatar's bison, which means he's got to be there. I thought I saw some boats nearby too, but we don't need to worry about them- the Avatar's the prize." He turned to Azula. "You were right."

    She shrugged. "Of course," she said. "Now the hunt is on again- and this time, we won't let him slip away."

    "Helmsman!" Zuko shouted. "Full power to the engines! We need to catch that bison."

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    "A Fire Navy ship?" Suki asked Aang. Appa had landed beside her boat and now swam to keep pace with it in the water; the Avatar and his friends perched on the bison's head.

    "Pretty sure," Sokka told her. "We think it's this ship that went after us before, at the south pole- it's commanded by two kids who said they were the Fire Lord's niece and nephew, an obnoxious guy with swords and a creepy girl who's a scary firebender."

    "They're called Zuko and Azula," Aang put in helpfully. "I'm pretty sure they want to hand me over to their dad- I don't know what he'd do to us, but I don't think we want to find out."

    "I don't think we want to either," Suki said dryly. "Problem is, we don't stand much of a chance of outrunning a warship in a couple of sailboats, and I don't think we could take them in a direct fight." She looked at Aang thoughtfully. "Do you think Appa could carry all of us?"

    Aang shook his head. "Maybe for a little bit," he said, "but there's too many of you to keep it up for long, and we're still too far from the mainland to make it in one trip- and I won't leave any of you behind. But if we can't outrun them and can't beat them, what can we do?"

    "Suki," one of the other Kyoshi Warriors said suddenly, lowering her spyglass, "they're getting closer. The ship isn't that big- but it's big enough to take care of all of us!"

    "What we need is a plan," Katara grumbled, "and we don't have one."

    "Plan," Sokka said suddenly, narrowing his eyes and rubbing his chin. "I think I might have an idea- but we might need some really good warriors with us to pull it off."

    Suki looked him straight in the eye. "You've got us," she said. "But I hope you don't screw this up."

    "So do I," Sokka muttered in a voice that was almost too low to hear.

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    "What are they doing?" Azula asked intently, leaning over the ship's rail to get a better look. "It looks like the bison is coming directly towards us! Have they gone mad?"

    "It doesn't matter," Zuko told her. "They may have the Avatar, but we have them outnumbered. If they come for us, there's only one way it can end."

    "For once, brother," Azula said in an almost approving tone, "you're talking sense. Captain, all marines to the deck now- and prepare to fire."

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    Appa soared low over the warship's deck, dodging the fireblasts that its crew shot into the sky with help from Aang, who perched on his head and used his staff and airbending to deflect any that made it too close. Finally, the sky bison lighted near the edge of the deck and used his tail to blast several of the soldiers backwards. Aang, Sokka, Katara, Suki, and two of her best warriors took the opportunity to leap onto the deck; riders deposited, Appa launched himself back into the sky, while Momo remained perched on Aang's shoulder.

    Firebenders closed in around them in a semicircle, with Zuko standing in the middle, directly across from Aang. "You made a real mistake by coming here, Avatar," the prince said, drawing his swords. "You were lucky to get away last time, but you're no match for all of us, even with a bunch of girls in too much makeup backing you up."

    "I don't want to fight you, Zuko," Aang said, though he held his staff in a warning position. "You can turn around now and stop chasing us."

    "Sorry, but I can't do that." Zuko gave a tremendous shout and leaped forward, fire playing along the edges of his twin blades. Aang spun his staff and deflected the fire, dodging out of the way of the physical blows and shooting blasts of air at his opponent. Behind the prince, the firebenders raised their hands and unleashed their element, and battle was joined.

    The other two Kyoshi warriors darted forward among the Fire Nation soldiers, using their superior precision and maneuverability to avoid their attacks and deliver several of their own, leaving their opponents stumbling back. Katara looked nervous, but she'd pulled a slender whip of water from the ocean and held it suspended before her, sweeping it back and forth menacingly in front of the handful of soldiers who'd focused on her. Momo darted among the soldiers, diving at their heads and forcing them to duck and shield themselves from a flying target too small and fast moving to hit. Sokka and Suki stood together, their focus on the ship's bridge.

    "That's where I've got to get," Sokka said. "Think you're enough of a warrior to guard my back while I get there?"

    "Think you're enough of a warrior to keep up?" Suki shot back, though this time there was an almost playful edge to her words. Sokka looked at her and nodded once, drawing his boomerang and bone knife. Then the two warriors were off.

    They charged directly towards the bridge tower, their skills, while vastly different, being enough to clear the path of Fire Nation footsoldiers. The two watched for threats to the other and countered them- several times, a soldier would strike for Sokka only for his blow to be parried by Suki's fans, or for a soldier aiming to attack the leader of the Kyoshi Warriors to be knocked to the deck by a blow from the Water Tribe boy's boomerang. Finally, they reached the stair that led up to the tower, but before they could begin to climb a fireblast struck the deck in front of them, causing both to jump back. Sokka looked up to see the armored girl who leaned against the railing halfway up, smoke trailing from her fingers and a malicious light in her eyes.

    "Azula," he said.

    "You know, I thought one of you might try something like this," the princess said casually, "but I was expecting the Avatar, not you. This won't even be a challenge." She raised her hand to unleash another fireblast, but before she could Suki was up the stairs with agility that would do Momo proud and tackled the other girl, knocking both of them to the deck below. The scrambled back to their feet and faced each other, both poised and deadly.

    "Sokka, go!" Suki shouted. "I'll hold her off!" Sokka hesitated- he wasn't comfortable leaving a girl in danger, or letting one fight his battles for him, but he had to grudgingly admit that here, Suki would probably handle herself better than he would- and there was something else he needed to do here. He nodded once at her, and then began to climb.

    On the deck below, Azula looked at Suki's armaments and snorted disdainfully. "Silly Earth Kingdom girl," she said, "haven't you heard that fans only make flames stronger?"

    Suki returned her malevolent grin. "We'll see about that," she said, and lunged forward to meet the princess of the Fire Nation.

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    The lead soldier facing Katara stepped forward, his gaze uncertain as he studied her improvised water whip. Lowering his spear, he poked at it tentatively, and the waterbender winced as it exploded into a shower of wet droplets. The soldier smiled cruelly and advanced, lunging with his spear.

    There was no time for thought; only action. The little combat waterbending Katara had worked out on her own was too basic to work here- instead, she remembered her lesson with the Suki and the Kyoshi Warriors the previous night. As the soldier struck, Katara managed to dart aside and lunged with an open-handed strike directly to the center of his chest. The soldier's eyes widened as he was knocked off balance, and then he stumbled back into his comrade who stood behind him, sending them both sprawling. The third soldier, though, was a firebender; he raised his hands to unleash an attack, but before he could do so, Momo landed on his helmet and twisted it around, cutting off his vision. The lemur chattered as the soldier stumbled about and tried to hit him; Katara was forgotten.

    The Water Tribe girl looked down at her hands, and then over at the two soldiers who now lay sprawled in front of her. "Yes," she murmured happily, and a triumphant grin slid over her face. *

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    There was one sailor at the controls in the bridge as Sokka burst in; he looked up at the Water Tribe warrior with a shocked expression. "I'm terribly sorry," Sokka told him as he let his boomerang fly; it struck the man's head and left him sprawled out cold in the middle of the floor, "but I am claiming this room for the Water Tribe." Pushing past the downed man, he made his way to the controls and looked them over.

    "Doesn't this thing come with a manual?" he asked no one in particular upon realizing that there was little to no marking to indicate which control did what. Shrugging, Sokka focused his attention on a likely-looking lever and pulled hard on it; he was rewarded by feeling the ship shake under him as it came to a halt. "Knew there had to be an anchor somewhere," he said. "Now, to make things a bit more difficult for 'em."

    Raising his boomerang, he brought its sharp edge down on the lever, snapping most of it off. Rooting around in his belt, he pulled out a short knife and jammed it deep into the lever's groove; satisfying himself that it was wedged so tight as to be next to impossible to get out, he hurried from the bridge and back onto the deck. "I got it!" he shouted.

    Down below, Aang paused in his duel with Zuko to wave in response, and then he raised his staff into the air and snapped the glider open. It was answered from the sky with a low bellow, and then Appa descended, slamming against the ship's side and shaking it while it lay at anchor. Quickly, the Avatar, the Water Tribe siblings, and the Kyoshi warriors hurried to the bison and climbed back onto his back before he launched himself back into the air. Fireblasts followed them- including a couple that were powerful enough they might have come from Azula or Zuko themselves- but with the ship stationary, Appa quickly outpaced them.

    "They'll get that fixed pretty soon," Sokka said, "but by the time they do, we'll be out of their range and well on our way to Omashu."

    "Good plan, Sokka," Aang said, and Katara smiled; she looked very happy about something. After a brief moment of silence, Sokka turned to Suki.

    "Look," he said, "I know I've been a bit of a jerk to you, and I'm sorry- I saw what you did out there to the Fire Nation, and you fought really well. Not just for a girl, but for anyone." He paused for another moment. "And, well- I couldn't have done it without you."

    "Thanks," Suki said. "And you're not half bad yourself- but I hope you learned your lesson today." Suddenly, apparently on impulse, she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek, leaving Sokka sitting perfectly still and with a shocked but not entirely unhappy expression on his face.

    Sokka watched her return to her boat as they deposited her next to it with a smile. "You know," he said when she was out of earshot, "that Suki's not half bad looking…"

    "Sokka!" Katara said, but her brother raised his hands.

    "What? I can respect her as a warrior and still think she's cute, right?" He glanced to the Avatar. "Aang, back me up here!"

    But Aang and Katara only laughed. "Next stop, Omashu!" Aang finally said, which Sokka noted didn't remotely have to do with the conversation, and then he took the reins to steer the bison towards the Earth Kingdom's last stronghold.

    *No, I'm not going to turn Katara into a full on Kyoshi Warrior- while Suki and the KWs are sticking around for next "episode", that's not enough time for her to get really good with their techniques. Rather, in this AU she knows that she may well have to teach herself combat waterbending, and decided here to pick up a little mundane fighting as what you might think of as a sort of "insurance".
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