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Story [A:TLA] "A Universe of Beaches" | 2021 FanFic Olympics | Zuko/Katara Decathlon

Discussion in 'Non Star Wars Fan Fiction' started by Mira_Jade , Jul 1, 2021.

  1. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    I'm not going to address everything here because I don't want to completely derail the thread (I'll save my more in-depth musings for PM :p), but just know I basically agree with everything you said, re: the problems with how the original Gaang were portrayed as adults. That was so disappointing. And though there are some aspects of the show that I very much enjoyed, I can still completely understand why other fans did not enjoy them. And I've had many a long conversation with my sister about how much better the overall story of the series would have been if we could shuffle certain conflicts and plot elements around. The big bad of B2, for example, really should have been the ultimate villain of the series, imho. Which, if you do watch the Avatar Wan episodes, I think you'll see why that is. Instead, like Amon, he was offed after one season... and don't even get me started on killing Amon at the end of B1. I can sorta respect it from a storytelling POV when they thought they were only going to get one season, but omigosh, I don't even care if he was overpowered, I thought Amon was a fantastic villain, with more depth than Ozai ever had, and a much more sympathetic background, and then the relationship between him and his brother :_| ... hmm, I did a rewatch of LoK B1 last summer, maybe that partially inspired me to explore the Chaos Twins further [face_thinking] ... my gosh, I said I wasn't going to go in-depth here, what happened? [face_laugh] :oops:

    Um, anyway... I do stand by my opinion that the two Avatar Wan episodes are beautifully drawn and acted, and that they tell a great self-contained story. I remember being so frustrated with the direction B2 was taking up until that point; it was meandering all over the place, the characters were all behaving like insufferable children (even the adults), and I didn't really get what the point of it all was supposed to be. And then we got the Wan episodes, and it was like a light flipping on, and I was like "oooh, this makes a lot more sense." And that doesn't excuse the lack of focus in the first half of B2, nor does it change the fact that I just didn't care about the conflict that was building. And maybe I have a disproportionate amount of love for those two episodes because of how much better they were than what came before, I don't know. :p But I definitely recommend giving them a watch. ;)

    (More thoughts in PM, at some point, because clearly I have a lot of them. :p)

    Well I am just all kinds of intrigued now. [face_thinking]

    This might just be my default mode, I can't help it, Mira. [face_laugh] :p

    [face_laugh] I love this! (Not gonna lie, this is me and my husband, sometimes. Okay, I don't ever stay up until sunrise anymore, but he is often up before dawn, and there have been a handful of times when our paths crossed in this way. [face_whistling] So I relate. :p)

    Awww! [face_love] For all that we think of him as the fierce prince who pursued the Avatar around the world, Zuko really does have such a gentle spirit, and it's perfectly reflected here. Very nice touch!

    I love how you described this feeling between them.

    Not only was the description of this chest exquisite, but the enormity of the gift Zuko is giving to her, to her people, and how she reacts to that... I loved it all.

    You come up with the best names for bending styles, just saying. There's a whimsicalness to them that makes an interesting contrast to the rugged, just-hanging-on tribe that we meet in B1, and I love how - even in the naming of these forms - it hints at a deeper, richer history for the Southern Water Tribe that is every bit as beautiful and complex as that of the Northern Tribe.

    Yeah, we can just ignore that bit of LoK world-building. I like your version of events much better. ;)

    Okay, I definitely snorted a little when I read that. :p Plus, I could totally hear Zuko's voice here. Reminds me of when he offered to chase Aang around like old times.

    Speaking of chasing the Avatar around the world... [face_mischief]

    This was a perfect encapsulation of why Zuko is one of my favorite characters from A:TLA, if not my favorite: that determination, that smile-in-the-face-of-his-enemies, do-your-worst attitude, that ability to get back up no matter how many times life or his enemies knock him down. Yep, that's the good stuff right there. [face_mischief]

    Oh, this whole part hurt. I know Zuko has the weight of his nation's crimes on his shoulders, and he's trying to approach this as the leader of a sovereign nation returning to another nation what is rightfully theirs, and all the baggage that goes with that... but this is still Katara, his friend, someone he loves, and who loves him, and omigosh the feelings, Mira. =((

    I just had to quote this, again, for the fantastic names you've given the waterbending forms. :D

    EXACTLY THIS. That's right, Katara, you tell him that as many times as you need to until it sinks in.

    My. Heart. [face_love] My gosh, this whole chapter was so loaded with emotion, and they're so close to realizing what all these feelings mean, aren't they? Gaaah, I can't wait to see where we go from here.

    There it is. [face_mischief] (Also, loved the use of the spark/fire imagery for Katara here. Borrowing from each other's elements, indeed. [face_batting])

    This was an excellent update, as always! I'm so eager to see where this goes next. [face_mischief] [face_batting] [:D]
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2021
  2. devilinthedetails

    devilinthedetails Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jun 19, 2019
    So I've been remiss in my reading and commenting, but I'm going to make up for that now in one long post, haha.

    I love the detail of Zuko replacing the statue of Azulon with ones of Ran and Shaw. Really shows how much he is changing the Fire Nation and reconnecting the Fire Nation to its past and legends.

    This was just a very beautiful and poetic paragraph. I really felt like all my senses were engaged.

    This rang so true to Katara's character. I think Hakoda totally has her pegged. He really knows his daughter.

    This:

    And this:

    Is why I love Sokka.

    So glad you included him and also had some sweetness between him and Suki. Suki can sometimes be such an underrated character in fanfic so it makes me smile whenever she gets some love and attention in stories.

    You paint such a beautiful image of the garden in my mind here. Love it!

    Oh, I love how you are elaborating on the lore of the Water Tribes and creating myths about extinct water dragons. Awesome and fantastical!

    Such a simple but powerful sentence.

    Great job with these two chapters!

    Can't wait to see what you come up with next!
     
  3. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Aww, thank-you! So many in this world have lost so much thanks to the Fire Nation, but it's that story about rediscovering harmony and balance at the heart of A:TLA that really gets to me! [face_love] Plus, you know, the backdrop of the water and the moonlight and Katara and Zuko just made it even better.

    I'm so glad that you're excited about the multiple sections! I am too. :p [face_laugh] [:D]


    Welp, clearly I know what I have to watch next so that I can keep up and rant with you! :p I only made it to the mess that was early B2 in LoK and I stopped there. Maybe now a bit of age and a more open mind will help me enjoy it more!

    [face_whistling] [face_mischief]

    And I LOVE this. I'm usually more on Zuko's side of the spectrum, but night classes sure are challenging my better instincts lately. 8-}

    Doesn't he?? That really is one of my favorite things about Zuko! Yes: he was a disrespectful, angry teenager who lashed out with no small amounts of temper in response to his circumstances and abuse. But it's that gentle spirit and good heart at the core of him that won out in the end, even if he'll always have to fight some tendencies for hot-headed stubbornness, I bet. But, basically: ALL THE CHARACTER GROWTH, FTW!

    It's been an absolute joy, lemme tell you! [face_love]

    I LOVED WRITING THIS PART SO MUCH TOO!!

    Aw, thanks! It was so much fun coming up with the names, and, admittedly, expanding on the SWT's lore and history, even a small way.

    Eugh. Thanks but no thanks, LoK. o_O I'll just happily play in my little sandbox instead. :p [face_mischief]

    I thought of the same thing! Awesome redemption arc or not, Zuko is still Zuko. [face_laugh]

    YAAAAAAAAAAAS! That's exactly what I love about Zuko too. He never lets life keep him down, and he changes and adapts and survives and fights. I just love this character so much, Vi, it hurts. [face_love]

    Riiiight??? This was painful to write, it really was. Because these two love each other so much, any way you look at it, canon or AU - yet the weight of his nation's crimes are just so unbelievably enormous. Zuko is too honorable to be anything less than one sovereign returning to another what's rightfully theirs in this scene, but he's more than his people's past: he's their future. His relationship with Katara - and the whole gaang, of course - already says so much of the path he's taking for the better with his rule. Thankfully, Katara can also help keep him grounded as a human being first and foremost, and the symbolic placeholder as Fire Lord second. [face_love]

    Or, at least, they'll get there. ;)

    I just loved naming these, too! :D

    BECAUSE WE ALL KNOW THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT KATARA WOULD DO. (Excuse me, you horribly OOC comics, but you should be ashamed of yourselves. o_O)

    They are so close, aren't they? Their feelings are just so tied up in so many other feelings that everything feels huge and hard to define. You know, even more so than love is for any couple to figure out at first, anyway. But, that's just the mmmh! good stuff to work with as a writer. [face_mischief]

    So close, again! [face_mischief] (And I will never be over these two borrowing from each other's elements. ;))

    Thank-you so much for your kind words and encouragement, as always! We'll be on our way with more in just a few . . . [:D]


    That is something I SO relate to, as I know you know! ;) [face_laugh] It was awesome to read your one long post, though, so thank-you! (Heck, I owe you more than a few comments still, and especially one on your new Iroh collection! Gah, but everything is so good there so far! [face_love] =D=)

    I'm so glad you liked this detail! Zuko really is making so many changes to his Nation for the better. [face_love]

    Oh yay! I love writing exposition and descriptions, so that was a little more than self-indulgent on my part than was probably necessary. But that's the highest compliment I can receive as an author in hearing that all your senses were engaged. Thank-you. :)

    He really does, doesn't he? [face_love] I loved writing that passage, so I am glad you found it so true to Katara's character as well.

    Because Sokka is SOKKA! I just love him, and Suki too. [face_love]

    Fantastical, you say? [face_mischief] *whispers*we're getting there*/whispers*

    Thank-you! Whenever I ramble in my descriptions, I usually have to remind myself to bring it all home and summarize my point in just a few words. Then: bam! that line wrote itself, and I loved it. :p [face_love]

    Thank-you so much for your kind words and awesome feedback, again! I hope that you continue to enjoy this story as it goes! [:D]



    ~ MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2021
  4. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Author's Notes: So, remember my plans to keep my updates around ~4.5k words? Scratch that. I could have split this chapter in two, but then neither part would have been quite long enough to stand on its own without disrupting the flow of these scenes, and I really just want to get onto the fantastical aspect of this story anyway, and -

    - ahem, yeah. Enough excuses! Instead: here you are with a 7k word chapter. You're welcome. ;)

    [:D]





    V-III
    .


    "Through Them the Sunlight Now Bursts"
    (Fantastical Fencing | Part 3 of 5)​

    After that first night in the gardens, their time together fell into an ebb and flow all its own.

    Sokka was just as overwhelmed to receive Zuko’s gift as she had been, and the hug he tackled their friend with was even more animated in return. But Sokka was quick to compose himself, and in the next moment he was every bit their people’s chief-to-be as he more formally bowed to Zuko, thanking him as one leader to another. Following, Sokka immediately called together a meeting of the tribesmen who’d accompanied them to the meet. Under his direction they decided what needed to be sent south on their fastest cutter, and what needed to stay so they could better know what to barter for at the summit to help their efforts in rebuilding back home.

    From there, Sokka carried Lord Nake’s journals around with him like a lifeline. He even skipped one of the feast nights to spend his time holed up in his rooms reading instead. The next morning he was brimming with plans and ideas – so much so that he greeted her by picking her up and spinning her around before setting her down again with a loud kiss to her cheek. He spent breakfast rambling faster than an arrow-hawk could fly, all the while shoveling fish and eggs and rice in his mouth as he caught up on the meal he’d missed the night before. Thankfully, though, it was just her and Sokka and Suki breaking their fast together. Zuko, Katara knew, had already been up and in meetings for hours by then.

    From there, Katara mostly saw Zuko in formal settings during the day. She had her own schedule to keep, and while many of the meetings she attended overlapped with the Fire Lord’s agenda, others did not. For the most part, she sat silently by Toklo’s side, listening and learning the same as she had when she’d talked herself into being allowed along when her father first taught Sokka how to hunt out on the glacial plains. Everything imaginable was debated to the point of wearing formally good points and ideas thin, burying the urgency of so many crucial matters underneath a surplus of empty rhetoric and endless dialogue. Trade routes; taxes on imports and exports; rights of citizenship for mixed-element families; the tricky mess of giving back colonies to their original sovereign elements when their citizens were now full of such mixed families; all the while yet more reparations were demanded from the Fire Nation as they struggled to recreate their own economy in a time of peace: everything was on the table and no matter was less important than the next in regards to the whole. Yet few things were solved so easily, especially when a great deal of those gathered were more interested in what they – or their sponsors – could personally benefit from, rather than speaking for the whole they represented.

    It only got worse when the rest of the delegates arrived from the Earth Kingdom. The debates got longer and the arguments got louder.

    Katara felt her blood thunder more than once throughout the proceedings, but progress was slowly being made for her people. To that end, she was amazed by how effortlessly Toklo kept his cool for the subtle barbs and slights that were inevitably turned their way. He dueled with words the same as she did with her water, pushing and pulling but refusing to yield when he needed to stand firm. She paid close attention to this new skill she wanted to master, and absorbed everything she could to learn in her turn.

    So, when Toklo turned a question about appropriating aid for both new and refurbished hospitals over to her, Katara carefully considered what she knew of all three nations and then gave the best answer she could. One of the most prized resources the Water Tribes had to share was their healers, and Katara outlined the hesitant plans they’d had in mind for establishing mixed-element hospitals in all the nations – with some clinics specifically focusing on the mental health of both veterans and victims from the war alike. The idea was a relatively new concept for many, but one she was determined to take a stand on. Toklo nodded in approval for how she'd answered the questions that followed – from the honestly curious ones from the Fire Nation’s Minister of Health and King Kuei’s Secretary Guo, to the more cutting ones from Elder Bayar who challenged both her credentials and her youth – and she felt full enough of pride fit to burst in return.

    She wanted to help change everything.

    To that end, Katara found that some of her best work was done away from the council halls. Outside of the palace, adding to the stalls that were popping up all over the city to celebrate the Dragon Days Festival, she offered her assistance and volunteered at the temporary clinics the healers from the Water Tribe had set up for the duration of their stay in the Fire Nation. On her breaks she chose to eat her lunch by the fountains decorating the plaza by the clinics, and, inevitably, her casually fiddling with small spouts of water turned into shy requests for demonstrations from the children who watched her. When, at first, she was regarded oddly, and even suspiciously by the locals, the people of the capital slowly warmed to her. There were even times when her bending drew quite the crowd, and she tried to draw in her fellow healers and even a few earth-benders she'd befriended during the meet to join her displays when she could. All the while, she tried to answer any questions the previously propaganda-fed citizens had about the wide world beyond their nation. It helped that they already knew who she was – the story of the water-bender who'd defeated Fire Lord Azula when she'd dishonored the Agni Kai for the throne was a veritable legend by then, as was the crucial role she'd played in helping Aang end the Hundred Years War. Many of the people in the caldera had never seen a water-bender before, and she delighted in breaking down barriers wherever she could, no matter how small.

    When Zuko broke from the meet for the sessions he traditionally held to hear private complaints from his citizens – bringing back a tradition that had been lost long before Sozin started on his path to conquest – she attended his open court when she could. She enjoyed being on hand to pitch in where she could help, and she listened so that she could better bring the matters that the people were truly facing to the council’s attention with fact and direct observation on her side.

    Yet, as the meet wore on, she saw Zuko less and less in the gardens at night, and she practiced her new forms alone more often than not. As her confidence grew, she was amazed by how different Southern bending was from its Northern counterpart. While both styles were based on the philosophy of ebb and flow, and relied on the principal of using an opponent’s energy against themselves, the Southern forms felt more like manipulating the tether of an ocean tide rather than holding the path of a winding river in thrall. These forms felt wild to her; rushing like undertows and breaking like sea waves and dragging and pressing with all the might of an ocean in its rage. To her surprise, she even found herself grounding her stance like she’d seen both Toph and Zuko do in their own bending to focus on push more so than on pull; flow, rather than ebb.

    No wonder the Fire Nation had thought the water-benders of her tribe dangerous, and had acted accordingly. This was what her mother had died to preserve alive – through her.

    It made sense, one night she reflected as she bent the water dry from her soaked hair. The Southern Water Tribe had separated from the North back in the days of Avatar Leong, dozens of cycles before Aang. On their way south they'd been eager to meet those of the other three nations after being isolated at the top of the world for so long. Even now the Southern Fire Isles and the Earth Kingdom shores were only a few days' journey by ship from the South Pole. It was inevitable that some of the tenets from earth and fire-bending would have mixed into their forms. Katara had been practicing with her friends for so long that adapting their styles to her own in order to create hybrid forms was second-nature. Now she found herself thriving to embrace new forms that had clearly been designed as such, without the need for trial and error. Her chi connected with these moves in a way that she’d never realized had been just slightly off with the Northern styles before. One night, as the moon filled out even more so in the starry sky, she bowed her head to Yue and thanked her friend through tears for the legacy she had returned to her.

    There were a few nights, at least, when Zuko was able to join her. More so than challenging her to spar, Zuko was eager to see which of her new forms he could apply to his own bending, and they ended up running through katas together more often than not. So far, while he was able to glean bits from here and there, only her Water Dragon seemed like it was made to compliment his Dancing Dragon, and it was a thrill to complete the steps together, with streams of fire intertwining with ribbons of water before steaming in a great cloud of mist all around them as if they’d been designed for each other.

    Yet, as the meet wore on, the Fire Lord’s council often didn’t break until the small hours of the morning, and Katara saw Zuko less and less. She knew how exhausted he was from trying to hold so many volatile tempers in sway, all the while trying to live up to so many high expectations for his rule. The council she'd attended where they tried to rewrite the history curriculum for the Fire Nation’s schools with input from the other nations was like trying to pull teeth from a gator-cobra, and she was amazed that Zuko didn’t just breathe fire and banish half of his own ministers outright. He couldn’t; not if he wanted to keep his throne and drive forward the changes his country needed to make. Yet, to bring those goals to fruition, he was clearly a candle burning himself at both ends.

    When Zuko even cancelled taking tea together with her and General Iroh on what should have been one of his rare breaks, Katara shared a look of stark concern with his uncle. But, what could be done? Zuko was trying to repair a century’s worth of horrors with nothing more than sheer willpower alone, it sometimes seemed. Where was the line between Zuko the Fire Lord and Zuko the man when he was the spearhead of his people's restoration? Where could he draw that line, and know peace for his decision?

    She truly didn’t know the answer to that, and she suspected that Zuko didn't either.

    It didn’t help that Aang had yet to arrive, either. If anyone could make the Council of Free Elements even the slightest bit more tractable, it was the Avatar, and yet . . .

    Aang was Aang; he’d be there to help in his own way, in his own time. Yet, something deep inside of her whispered that this was more than a flight of air-bender fancy. Katara could only hope that he hadn't ran into too much trouble without them. As Avatar, it was his duty to deal with the forces in their world that were beyond mere mortal control, yes; but she didn’t like the idea of them not being there for him when he needed them.

    At least Aang had Toph. If there was any force of nature equal to the Avatar – or any threat he might face, it was the blind earth-bender.

    Yet, one night when she was practicing her new forms alone – again – Katara let the water fall from her hands with a frustrated sigh. She eyed the tallest peak in the palace, looking to where the Fire Lord’s chambers were located. Zuko's rooms were dark, but the windows to his study showed more than one oil-lamp still burning. He had yet to stop for the night, and the moon had already been out for some time.

    All right, then: she knew what she had to do.

    It had been years since she last sneaked into a fortified Fire Nation stronghold, but she couldn’t exactly visit through the front doors then, could she? The rumors surrounding her and Zuko – some kind and yet most decidedly not so kind – were already bad enough as it was. She'd have to be careful with how she went about this.

    Timing her run for when the moonlight hid behind the clouds, she waited for the guards on the uppermost battlements to cross each other, knowing that she’d only have a moment’s blind spot to take advantage of. She walked to the garden's edge, and flung disks of ice to let her scale the lower storeys of the palace compound and then the tower itself to reach her goal. With a flick of her hand the ice melted behind her as if it'd never been. Before the moon broke free of the clouds, she’d done it. She was in.

    Smirking in satisfaction when no alarm was raised – it was nice to know that she hadn’t lost her touch – she almost missed the swinging fist wreathed in flames that was turned on her by the room’s sole occupant. But she didn't bother calling her water back for her defense; instead, she stood up tall and trusted Zuko to extinguish his attack just as quickly as he’d ignited it.

    “Agni, Katara!" Zuko exclaimed, spinning as his flames abruptly dissipated. He stumbled back from her, clearly disturbed by what he’d attempted to do. "We were just talking about assassins, remember?”

    “We were,” Katara agreed, burying just how disturbing it was that Zuko was so ready to face a killer in the night as a conversation for another time. “It’s a good thing that I’m not an assassin, then, isn't it?”

    She was more concerned to find her friend still in his formal dress – but with his top knot and thus his crown hopelessly crooked, and his shoulders slumping underneath the heavy weight of his mantle and crest. His gaze was shadowed, with his unscarred eye matching the narrow slit of his scarred eye for want of rest. There was ink staining his chin and the right side of his jaw, as if he’d been nodding off while starting at some document, his quill still held in hand as he tried to take a moment to close his eyes.

    He looked, to put it plainly: awful.

    “And, about that,” Katara hid her frown by turning from the window and letting herself into his study, “it was sadly easy for me to sneak in here. Your guards should be ashamed of themselves.”

    “I doubt they’re rarely this outmatched,” Zuko muttered dryly, still clearly trying to regain his center. “But yes, this is a lapse that will be addressed.”

    “Although, now that I'm here, I think this may have been more the work of the spirits,” Katara tried to keep her tone bright and airy, but it was difficult as she critically looked from Zuko to the mountains of scrolls and loose parchment paper that obscured the lacquered wood of his desk. He’d already gone through more than one inkwell, she saw, and his usually neat characters were starting to slant across the fresh page he’d just started. “I’m glad I was able to get here undetected," she made her mind up to declare, "because it looks like you need help.”

    With that, she unceremoniously took a seat on one of the cushions – one that was only just slightly less ornate than Zuko's on his right-hand side, where she assumed his uncle usually sat – not waiting to be invited or dismissed. She looked back up when Zuko remained standing, a brow raised to preemptively challenge his protests, and instead caught the way he scrubbed his hands over his face before blearily rubbing at his eyes. Adorably, that just made the ink stain he didn’t know he had on his cheek even worse.

    . . . not that she found Zuko adorable, of course; Zuko in that moment simply was.

    “I’m fine, Katara,” Zuko exhaled – still just the slightest bit testily, if the sparks that escaped his mouth were any indication. “I just have to finish - ”

    “ - you’re not fine,” Katara interrupted mildly. “You’re not fine and that’s okay.” She picked up the first scroll she could reach, and started perusing it. “There aren’t any state secrets here I shouldn’t be stumbling across, are there?" she added, more as an afterthought and only half serious. "I want to help if I can, and this . . . sale of banana groves between the Houses of Hori and Ito seems like a good place to start?” She let her nose crinkle in distaste. “Why in La’s name is this an issue that demands the Fire Lord’s attention during the Council of Free Elements?”

    For that, Zuko matched her with a scowl of his own. Away from his court, he didn’t have to play at his mask; instead, he exaggeratedly rolled his eyes and threw up his hands in frustration. “Agni if I know!” he growled before taking a breath to compose himself. He reached up to fix his crooked crown and straighten his rumpled robes as best he could before explaining in a more level, though no less aggravated, tone, “House Hori controls the largest canal that leads through the Eastern Islands. It's a highly travelled waterway as the best direct route to the open ocean from the Central Islands. House Hori also owns huge swaths of land on the Eastern Islands dedicated to agriculture, where they primarily grow bananas - the same as House Ito. Lord Ito, however, owns a substantial amount of land in the Earth Kingdom, too, where he, once again, farms bananas. To get Lord Ito to surrender his lands in the Earth Kingdom without an official decree as Fire Lord, I'm trying to expand the traditional Ito lands here domestically to help salvage his losses abroad. Lord Hori is willing to negotiate the sale of his adjacent lands to expand Ito's property, but only if he's allowed to raise the fares for use of his waterway and lower the taxes he pays to the treasury on his profits at once. That, in turn, would have to refactor into our budget with the Department of the Interior and - ”

    “ - all right, then, all right. I think I've got the picture,” Katara held up a hand. “It’s a tangled ball of yak-wool, all of it.” She turned a glower of her own at the daunting piles on his desk, her brow furrowing in contemplation. If all of these matters were just as complex, and required Zuko’s direct hand in coaxing them along to some sort of settlement . . .

    . . . well, she felt a headache of her own growing in sympathy. Yet, as her Gran Gran liked to say: sea-prunes didn’t peel themselves. They’d best get to work.

    “Okay then,” she rolled her neck and cracked her knuckles. “It looks like there’s no good way to go about this other than to dive right in.”

    But Zuko only continued to stare at her, wide-eyed like a cat-owl, as if he couldn’t understand why she was there and just what she was doing. Katara ignored him and his gaping, and instead picked up a much more promising scroll – this one detailing the environmental codes of practice placed on the repurposed Fire Nation factories and outlining the latest reports from the ordinance officers who were tasked with enforcing those codes. Katara had assisted in cleaning up more than one poluted waterway after the war, and this was something she could help with. She made her way through the first page, which was actually interesting reading, when -

    “ - you know, you really don’t have to do this,” Zuko said. Though his words were level, the torch-light around him flickered and then dimmed when he sighed. “This is something I need to do.”

    “And you will,” Katara agreed. For a long moment she didn’t look up from the scroll. “Do you really think that you have to do all of this alone?” she challenged. She did look up then, and frowned, letting her concern show through. “You’re only one man, Zuko. It’s okay to need help, to ask for help.”

    “My council . . .” he started, but he didn’t have to explain. Katara knew that he couldn’t trust his ministers; not fully; not yet – not when so many of them considered him too young and naïve at best, and an outright traitor and disgrace to his forefathers at worst. But, he couldn’t carry the weight of his country alone, either. “I would delegate more of these matters,” he raked a restless hand through his hair, which only made the mess of his top-knot worse and knocked his crown askew again, “but I can’t ask for their aid and trust that they'll - ”

    “ - but you don’t have to ask me,” gently, Katara interrupted. “I’m offering.”

    For her words, Zuko stopped, clearly at a loss. She waited, but he just continued to stare. More worryingly, he seemed unsteady on his feet, and so she patted the cushion next to her pointedly. “Sit down before you fall down, Fire Lord,” she opted for teasing then. "I'm not going anywhere."

    Like a puppet with its strings cut, Zuko gave in and obeyed her without any further argument. With none of his usual grace, he slumped down to sit again. When he reached for his pen, resigned, she swatted at his hand and gestured for him to serve himself a cup of tea instead. She suspected that he needed to give his eyes a break as much as his mind. While he did that, she was still feeling fresh and energized with the moonlight, and she was ready kick out at least one of these piles before they finally had to turn in for the night.

    “Here, when you're done you can have those scrolls," she directed, "and I’ll take these. Now, let’s get to work.”



    .

    .

    Their rhythm lasted them until the first day of the Dragon Days Festival, with Katara practicing her forms at night until Zuko’s council departed and then sneaking up to his study to help him with his workload. It wasn’t ideal, and she still wanted to do more to help her friend find balance in his duties, but for the time being it was the best she could do to help ease his burdens.

    On the first day of the week-long celebration, the meet broke early in order to allow the delegates a chance to relax and find refreshment in the festivities. Katara was eager to head out with Sokka and Suki, and marveled to see the capital so transformed. Stalls lined every street, some with artisans and fishermen and farmers bartering their wares, while others hosted games and contests and sold festival trinkets. More than half of the vendors were present to feed the ever growing crowds – much to Sokka’s delight. They made it their goal to try as many things they didn’t recognize as possible, and came back more than once for their favorites. Katara particularly liked the sticky rice dumplings with the date filling, while Sokka couldn’t get enough of the braised pork and mushroom varieties. Suki, naturally, took to the fan shaped mianshanzhi cakes – as much for how excited Sokka had been to point them out to her as she favored the taste, Katara suspected.

    Alongside the stalls, fire dancers and jugglers showed off their skills, while musicians and other visual artists performed on seemingly every corner. Larger ensemble bands filled the plazas, where dancing had already started even in the daylight. Red, orange, yellow, and even pink lanterns were strung across the streets from building to building, and ceremonial torches lined the roadways below. Every temple, from the smallest neighborhood shrine to the massive High Temple to Agni that rivaled even the palace in its glory, burned incense so fragrant that it could be smelled on the breeze. Ritual chanting sounded every hour on the hour when the Sages rang the gongs and led the prayers with clear, loud voices. They were counting down to the longest day of sunlight on the solstice itself, and a matching energy ran through Agni’s chosen children in answer to their element being at the pinnacle of its power in the sky above them.

    To honor the days of old when the Fire Nation used to celebrate the summer solstice with the dragons – before Sozin started the sport of slaying the mystical creatures and hunted them into extinction – down in the Harbor City there were dragon boat races in the canals that stretched inland from the ocean. Every island in the Nation, from Home Island itself to the furthest settlement on the archipelago, boasted at least one boat of their own in the old style – with oars favored over the modern steam powered engines – in every imaginable shape and size and color. Each boat was fashioned to form a dragon, with artistically rendered heads on the bow and stylized claws and wings sweeping down the hulls and flying off the stern. The teams of oarsmen wore matching outfits that corresponded with the colors of their boats and the flags they proudly flew as standards to represent their homes. They raced in a bracketed style that would narrow down the field every day until Solstice Day, when the final two teams would compete for that year’s prize as Agni’s favored one. As visitors, they didn’t have any personal stakes in the teams, so they chose boats at random based on designs they liked and cheered out encouragement from the bridges with the myriads of other spectators.

    It was all great fun, and the energy of the festival sparked and skipped like the element the Fire Nation took its name from. Even the delegates attending the meet seemed to be having a good time – or, at least, those who allowed themselves to embrace that which was new and different enjoyed themselves, that was. Zuko, Katara thought as Sokka pulled her and Suki to a shadow puppet show that had caught his attention, was a genius in inviting the other nations to visit his home when it was on display at its best. Feeding off the crackling joy of the crowd, Katara felt as if anything was possible, just so long as this peace was something they fought to maintain and refused to let go of now that they had it in their grasp.

    Her only disappointment was that Zuko didn’t join them in attending the festival. Instead, he cancelled their plans to go out together by letter before taking more and more meetings with his lords and ministers, all of whom were in the capital for the solstice and had some matter or another that seemingly demanded the attention of their ruler and no one else. Zuko didn’t join them on that first day, nor when the council broke early on the second and third and even the fourth day. When, finally, the council declared a complete recess until after the solstice on the fifth day, Katara reached her limit on Zuko’s behalf.

    Honor and duty and the fate of the world was one thing, but there was also sheer stubborn stupidity in working oneself into an early grave for refusing to draw a line in the sand and just say no.

    Katara had known for years just where Zuko fell on that particular scale.

    She wasn’t alone in her frustration – and worry, at least. When Zuko failed to join them on that fifth day, Sokka and Suki were right behind her to march up to the Fire Lord’s study, unwilling to take no for an answer. They had no real plan for how to announce themselves or work their way around the guards, but thankfully they didn’t have to – they reached the corridor outside just as General Iroh was leaving, an untouched tray of tea in his hands and a clearly worn expression on his face that nonetheless broke for a pleased smile when he saw them.

    “Perhaps you will succeed where I have failed,” he waved the guards aside to admit them. “After all, with such an enticement before him, how can my nephew say no to such honored guests?”

    Strangely, Katara felt Iroh’s eyes fall on her for a long, considering moment, but she didn’t have time to examine his words any more closely when they were all pushing forward into Zuko’s study then and loudly making themselves known.

    In the end, they only had to threaten to take Zuko hostage and physically drag him away from his desk once – well, almost twice. Katara knew that he wanted to say yes from the first, but his deeply entrenched sense of honor was only rivaled by his pig-ox headed stubbornness, and that was a hard combination to break through. In the end, they only gave him long enough to change into a simpler outfit – they would never make it through the streets if he came out in his full regalia, and it was much too hot outside for so many layers, anyway – and then they were off before Zuko could change his mind.

    In the days of the festival so far, Sokka had already ferreted out which stalls had the best food, and he led the way to a booth serving noodles that he declared as the tastiest the Fire Nation had to offer. They all placed their orders – with Zuko blushing to beckon the proprietor of the stall to rise from the floor when he fell into a reverent bow in recognition – and then found seats on one of the bridges that arched over the canals. They sat on the edge with their legs dangling over the water to eat, watching as the racing boats passed beneath them.

    There, away from the palace and the court and the meet, they were able to catch up as friends as they yet hadn’t been able to. Zuko asked about Sokka and Suki’s wedding plans, and listened to how they were balancing life between their respective responsibilities – paying particular attention to Suki's plans to establish a branch of the famed Kyoshi Warriors in the South Pole once she finished training her replacement in the Earth Kingdom. Katara, in her turn, was able to talk about the bending-school in the South and share details of her progress with the new Southern forms she was learning, while Zuko shared stories about the Dragon Festivals from his youth and how . . . different they had been as compared to now.

    They finished their food by the time the sun was setting, just as the more spectacular festival displays began. The growing shadows made the light that much brighter between the performers and the lanterns and the torches. The boats in the night-races had candles glittering in dozens of sconces across their hulls, while fire-benders performed on the decks to mimic spouts of dragon-fire as they passed to the giddy applause of the onlookers.

    When the last of the sun disappeared behind the horizon, the gongs in the High Temple chimed. In answer, everyone gathered bowed their heads and had a moment of silence before the Sages called out loudly for Agni to return to them upon the morning and bless them anew with his light – an ancient tradition when compared to what they knew of the rhythms of the heavens now, but still a tradition that was honored for its sacred roots. The cry of the Sages reverberated through the crowds, rolling from the caldera and down the volcano to the harbor like a living thing. Even though Agni wasn’t the spirit her people honored, Katara joined the chant out of respect along with her brother and Suki, and with the second call the Sage gave – thanking the moon for shining to bless them with a reminder of Agni's light – Katara joined in with an even louder voice. It was only since Zuko’s reign that the second devotion had been reintroduced to the festival, and she felt its meaning echo in her heart where she was bound to her own element.

    The celebration then began to approach its finale in earnest as fireworks exploded in dazzling displays in the night sky above. Away from the sunlight, Zuko was recognized less and less by his people and could move about relatively uninterrupted. Katara then had the rare treat of enjoying the festival with her friend without worrying about anything or anyone else – especially when Sokka and Suki broke away from them to walk just a few paces ahead. Sokka wrapped an arm around her shoulders while Suki wound hers about his waist, making the most of the time they had to be together away from their own respective duties. Their happiness was contagious, and Katara couldn’t help but smile to share their joy.

    For some time, they walked in contented silence, watching the spectacle unfold around them. Zuko was more relaxed than she’d seen him in a long time, and she felt a tension that she hadn’t realized she’d been carrying on his behalf ease in response.

    “So, I solved your Ito and Hori problem,” Katara said during the relative silence that fell in the pause between firework displays.

    “My what?” Zuko frowned – his mind clearly far away from his duties of state before recognition sparked. “Oh yeah: the banana groves and the waterway tax. How'd you manage that?”

    “Would you believe that all I had to do was ask nicely?” her voice turned overly saccharine to ask. “Lord Ito actually proved himself very inclined to reason in the end.”

    “Yeah right,” Zuko rolled his eyes. “And I’m a hog-monkey’s uncle. What did it really take?”

    “Not as much as you'd think, really,” Katara shrugged, in all seriousness then. For an absurd moment she felt the impulse to reach out and take his hand as they walked, like so many other couples around them were doing. She made a fist of her hand instead, lamenting that her outfit was sleeveless in deference to the tropical heat and gave her nowhere to hide. “It turns out that Lord Ito really loves his home in the Earth Kingdom, and he doesn’t want to leave. He's lived there since he himself was a child; his wife is from the Earth Kingdom, and his children and grand-children are all of mixed elements. Many of the workers in his groves have families with similar circumstances.”

    “We’re trying to work with the Earth Kingdom for families like Ito’s, but right now the coastal governors are unwilling to relent in wanting all Fire Nation citizens to surrender their property, and it's understandble why,” Zuko frowned. “Those lands were purchased unfairly in wartime by his father; he can’t keep them.”

    “I know,” Katara said. “Anyone from the Fire Nation who wants to stay has to do so fairly now. So that’s why Lord Ito has agreed to buy his lands from the reinstated governor over the providence. His title will be empty in the Earth Kingdom; a tithe of his profits will go to the governor, and he'll pay a tax to the Earth King, too. They just finished their negotiations today.”

    “What?” Zuko stopped short, his eyes turning wide before he blinked. “Others have tried to work out similar agreements, but have failed. How can he afford - ”

    “ - all it took was a meeting with King Kuei,” Katara gave a small, sly grin to explain. “Lord Ito hit it off with Bosco – who, as it turns out, loves bananas. Ito has agreed to provide the palace in Ba Sing Se with all of its bananas now; he has a contract for life.”

    “ . . . bananas, really?” Zuko drew the word out slowly – and though he was flabbergasted by the development, he was not at all surprised by King Kuei's rather . . . unique take on ruling, nor his abnormal love for his caniform companion. “Huh,” he said after a moment's consideration. “Maybe this one successful transaction will help open the way to more negotiations for other families now, especially those who don't have the resources Lord Ito has.”

    Katara nodded her head in agreement. "And then we can tackle the issue of dual citizenship from there." It wasn’t a full solution for the complications presented by all of the mixed-element families in the Earth Kingdom after a hundred years of colonization and all the evils that word had attached to it . . . but it was a start. Recalling his troops was a given. After that, Zuko had taken great efforts to weed out the war-mongers and profiteers immediately upon taking the throne, and recalled all the Fire Nation officials overseas who had unfairly gained posts over a subdued people; he'd tried more than a few of Ozai's favored officers for war crimes himself and gave others over to the Earth Kingdom for justice, at that. They were taking all the practical steps they could to break down what the Fire Nation had built, yet, for everyone who caught in the middle just trying to live their lives on both side of that divide . . . all they could do was their best, and let the world heal from there.

    “What about Lord Hori?” Zuko finally asked, distracting her from her thoughts of the future.

    Right, then: the rest of it. “Instead of selling his lands here in the Fire Nation to Lord Ito, he’s agreed to buy the Ito lands, so that Lord Ito can reinvest the profits into repurchasing his property in the Earth Kingdom.”

    Zuko shook his head, clearly incredulous that something was actually working out for the best for once. “And Hori’s waterway tax?" he mentioned the last tangled thread. "Does he still want to raise that fare in return for his act of good-will? That has to be the catch.”

    “Oh, that part was easy: I just asked him if he really wants to put yet another financial strain on the people of the Fire Nation when they are already struggling to restructure their economy. I then reminded him to consider what a friend that would make of his Fire Lord should he ever have to ask for your assistance in the future,” Katara’s eyes flashed to say – that conversation, after all, had been extremely satisfying. “After a bit of . . . persuasion, Lord Hori decided that he would rather be in your good graces, especially since he will eventually want to broach the ideal of securing royal funding to expand his canal to accommodate larger vessels – say in about five years or so.”

    They had come to a standstill where one of the larger bridges intersected with a crowded plaza full of revelers as she finished speaking. Above them, the fireworks had just started to flash again, and the mosaics of glittering lights let her see the stupefied awe and surprise and gratitude that all struggled for dominance in Zuko’s expression at once. She felt a curious bloom of warmth fill her with a giddy rush in reply.

    “But that’s,” he stammered, “that’s just -”

    “ - absolutely brilliant?” Katara couldn’t help but boast. She tilted her head up imperiously, and spread her arms as if to encompass the full magnitude of her genius. “I know I am, but feel free to tell me again.”

    “It’s beyond brilliant! It . . . it’s inspired,” Zuko grinned, and an incredulous little laugh punctuated his praise. “You’re brilliant; I don’t know what I’m going to do without you when you leave again.”

    While his words started out commending and even exuberant, they ended on a strangely somber note – or, at least, she thought it was a somber note. She couldn’t exactly put her finger on just what it was as that bit of something shifted between them again. He was standing so close to her, she couldn't help but notice – closer than the mere press of the crowds could so easily excuse. That same flush of heat sparked and skipped through her again, and she felt overly warm in a way that had nothing to do with the heady summer’s night. He lifted his hand, and she thought that he was going to touch her face – to trace the skin of her cheek or touch the loops of her hair, she couldn’t say. His eyes were wide, but, then, her eyes were wide too. Her pulse was racing so, so fast and she could feel his heartbeat thrum to match hers in reply as he leaned in closer to her, before -

    - a massive shadow blocked out the fireworks above them, just as a powerful gale of wind exploded, pushing the rockets to detonate well away from the crowd. The rush of air crackled and boomed in the thick humidity like thunder, startling her before she realized that there was only one thing that could've made that sound – and she knew that shadow.

    Sure enough, the crowds in the plaza parted with a cry of: “The Avatar, the Avatar!” to make way for Appa to land, and a moment later the great bison touched down with a yawning growl of greeting.

    With a much smaller gust of air than he’d used to clear the fireworks from their descent, Aang himself then flew out of the saddle even before Appa wholly had all six feet on the ground. He turned back to help Toph, but the earth-bender already had him beat as a pillar of earth rose to take her down in her own way. The cobblestones of the plaza were only the slightest bit worse for the wear in her wake as she let her feet see again – as happy then as she ever was at the end of a flight, even after years of traveling with Aang by air.

    Almost immediately, though, Katara felt the joy that crested through her sour with concern. Appa had a huge paddock and private stable back in the palace compound where he was always pampered and spoiled whenever Aang visited the Fire Nation. Why would Aang bring Appa here, instead, flying down through a barrage of fireworks to do so, even, when -

    - something was very wrong, Katara concluded. Something was wrong, and she found herself running even before she consciously gave her feet the command to do so. Zuko was evidently of the same mind – as were Sokka and Suki, and they all wasted no time in pushing their way through the curious crowds to reach Aang's side.

    “What’s wrong, buddy?” Sokka called out, just as Katara exclaimed, “Aang! Did something happen?”

    Hearing their voices, Aang spun around to face them, and, no matter the worry that had knotted his brow just a moment before, he smiled widely as they broke free from the masses.

    “Good, you’re all here!” he beamed, rushing forward with another gust of air. Then, the same as always, he was the one instigating the group hug to follow – pulling a not-quite resisting Toph in just as Katara tugged on Zuko to follow. No matter what they had to face next, it felt good to have their group reunited once more, and she let herself bask in that feeling for a full, contented moment. “We thought we'd have to search the crowds for you!" Aang gushed. "So this is a relief.”

    "We were going to check all of the noodle stands first," Toph snickered to add, elbowing Sokka hard in the ribs – who yipped before pushing her right back.

    "You know," Sokka grumbled, breaking from the hug first to avoid Toph's counter-counterattack, "the ten-ton flying bison is, as always, pretty hard to miss."

    “What did you have to find us for?” Katara asked again, stepping back from their huddle in an effort to get them back on track. At the very least, she reasoned, everything had to be relatively okay if Aang was taking the time for pleasantries. Or, she caught Sokka’s eye as her brother huffed, clearly as impatient for answers as she was, that could have just been Aang. “Is everything okay?” she asked again, just as Zuko more firmly added, “You need to start talking, Aang. What’s wrong?”

    But, oddly enough, their questions only made Aang smile all the wider. “Oh, it's nothing much,” he assured them, looking around their still close circle with warm grey eyes. Bellying his words, however, Toph gave a more unconvincing snort under her breath before crossing her arms again. “It's only the small matter of balancing the world just a teensy bit more – you know, your typical everyday Avatar stuff. And for that I need you,” he nodded at her, “and you,” he turned to Zuko, “to help me.”



    TBC


    The Dragon Boat Festival is an actual Chinese midsummer's holiday, and variations of it are celebrated throughout Asia. Zongzi, or sticky rice dumplings, are its traditional food, and mianshanzi from China's Gansu providence does look a lot like Suki's fans!

    [​IMG]

    Isn't that neat? :D

    Now . . . as for what exactly has been keeping Aang away. Well, let's just say it's fantastical. [face_mischief] [face_whistling]


    [:D]



    ~ MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2021
  5. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Great way to describe political style meetings: empty rhetoric and endless dialogue. I like Katara's moral and practical support of Zuko. Eager to hear what Aang has to say. =D=
     
  6. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    I totally understand giving up after early B2. :rolleyes: And I can't guarantee you'll love the Wan episodes, but I do think they're worth watching at least once. And then we can rant some more. ;)

    Come to think of it, a lot of my favorite characters might share these exact qualities... [face_thinking]

    Yaaaaaasss. :D

    Aw, I just love Sokka and Katara and their beautiful sibling bond. [face_love]

    I still think you've done a fantastic job fleshing out the politics of this world. As always, you bring a wonderful depth that is often missing in the canon materials. And that's true of SW, too, especially your Song!verse. I love seeing those instincts at play here, in the world of Avatar.

    That's our Katara. [face_love] She has so much enthusiasm and love for the people of this world. Gee, I wonder if those would be good qualities for a future Fire Lady... [face_whistling]

    Mmhm, definitely a good thing to be well-liked by the people of the Fire Nation... not that it's relevant to the future or anything... [face_batting]

    I love this insight! Because it's so true, and not something I'd have thought of right away, but you're right, Katara would indeed be famous for defeating Azula specifically. Man, that fight. So good. :D

    Beautiful descriptions here; I could feel the difference in these forms just through your prose! And you know how much I love me some wild ocean imagery. [face_love] And I love how you describe Katara adapting her bending and drawing from her friends' elements, just like how Iroh studied waterbenders to develop his lightning-bending technique. This whole section was just fantastic!

    Well isn't that just a gorgeous image? Love this idea of the two dragon forms complementing one another so perfectly. The best kind of OTP foreshadowing. [face_mischief] ;)

    Well ain't that the truth! Toph is amazing, and I love her.

    Oh, of course not, it's just in the moment. [face_mischief]

    [face_laugh] This made me think of the episode where young Zuko threw his hands up and said "girls are crazy!" I love seeing the ways in which he hasn't changed over the years, even though so much has changed otherwise.

    Gorgeous! All of the descriptions throughout this section were just incredible. I don't know how you're always able to bring these worlds to life the way you do, but as with your SW fics, this feels fully realized and perfectly right, and I LOVE IT. [face_love]

    Iroh knows what's up. [face_batting] And this sounded exactly like him.

    Again, I love what you've done here, using this passage to show not only the politics of the world and Katara's growing negotiating/diplomatic skills, but as a way of having Katara help Zuko with one of the many burdens weighing on him, and providing an avenue for the moment that happens next...

    Oh, I could feel that shift in tone, even before Katara reflected on it. I was on the edge of my seat, Mira, and I really thought it was going to happen...

    DANGIT, AANG, YOU COULDN'T WAIT FIVE MORE MINUTES???

    It's good, I'm good... *grumbles*

    Okay, but now I need to know what happens next. Miiiiirrrraaa. [face_batting] Please, can I have some more?

    Excellent update! :D [:D]
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2021
  7. devilinthedetails

    devilinthedetails Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jun 19, 2019
    Aww. I love Sokka both staying the same enthusiastic fellow we know and love while also maturing into a leader and future chief. I really appreciate how you portray Sokka throughout this story.

    I just think this description is awesome, and I appreciate that Katara is so interested in learning the power of diplomacy, and, indeed, by the end of this chapter, we see how she has used her newfound negotiation skills. It is nice to see non-bender skills highlighted and acknowledged in Avatar fic so big thumbs up from me!

    I think the idea of these hospitals, and it doesn't surprise me at all that Katara would be a driving force behind the creation of these hospitals. It definitely seems like something she'd be passionate about.

    What a great tradition. So glad Zuko is reviving it!

    What a beautiful passage. I love how you are delving into the differences between Northern style waterbending and Southern style waterbending.

    Ooh, this interchange of ideas is a wonderful concept. I was really fascinated how Iroh could use waterbending technique/philosophy to apply to firebending and learn how to redirect lightning, so it is cool to see that sort of exchange happening in the other direction and at an earlier time. Cultures definitely influence one another in our own world, so it is neat to see this exploration of how Southern waterbending style might have been shaped by benders of other elements.

    This was just a very profound sentence that made me feel all sorts of powerful emotions.

    What a perfect piece of Gran Gran wisdom!

    I love that you incorporated dragon boat races. That detail feels just so perfect and wonderfully inspired by real world Chinese dragon boat races as well!

    Haha. This is just so Zuko, and I love how fed up Zuko's stubbornnes Katara is[face_laugh]

    And this detail feels so true to who King Kuei is and why he as a ruler makes me facepalm so much. But Bosco is adorable. He just needs to dictate less of the Earth Kingdom's policies, lol.

    Anyhow, I'd definitely rather be a Fire Nation citizen under Zuko than an Earth Kingdom one under King Kuei...

    Great job with this chapter, and I'm eager to see what you post next!=D=
     
  8. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Isn't that really the best way to put it? :p

    I'm glad that you enjoyed this, and can't wait to share the surprise now. [face_mischief] [:D]


    I'm always up for a good rant. So that sounds like a plan. [face_mischief] [face_laugh]

    They're the best favorite character qualities to have. [face_peace]

    You know me and my love for siblings who love each other. :p [face_love]

    Aw, thanks so much! This really meant a lot to me. There's just so much world-building to do and so few words with which to do it. [face_laugh] [face_love]

    Because she will never, ever turn her back on people who need her. /quote. I just love how much she loves and wants to make a difference - and where better could she do that then as Fire Lady helping to rebuild the world in a real, meaningful way after the war? Though I don't want to be salty here any more in this thread, I have to say again how much I hate Katara's comics and LoK writing. She's just a shell of everything she could have become and accomplish with her life, and I hate that.

    That said, it also makes you curious how Mai did as Fire Lady . . . you know?

    Oh, you know, it's one of those little things that will be just slightly helpful in the future. [face_whistling]

    So, soooo good! These two are practically a legend already, even within the Fire Nation, I have to believe. Zuko sacrificing himself in the Agni Kai for Katara and then Katara defeating Azula in his place??? There has to be more than one play about that already, I bet. You can't tell me otherwise. [face_mischief]

    It really is just an illusion of separation between the elements, isn't it? Just like Iroh demonstrated! [face_love] Rewatching the series again, I love how much you can see the gaang - and even Zuko - mirroring each others fighting styles with more than one move, especially in the latter end of the seasons. And I was really thinking about Hama's flashbacks, in particular, when you saw the Southern Water Benders fighting together. There was definitely a wildness to their style (and I love that the women were bending too ;)) that I was trying my best to describe here!

    Plus, you know, wild ocean imagery is really just the best. ;)

    Isn't it? [face_batting] [face_whistling]

    Toph is the BEST, and I wish that I had more room for her to shine in this story. But she steals even the small lines she has, at least. :p

    We're just revisiting that good ol' river in Egypt! [face_laugh] [face_love]

    Right?? It's a trick, too, writing reflections of their younger selves in a more mature version of Zuko and Katara, so I'm glad you could see that!

    You know me: I love my world building and wordy descriptions. It's one of my favorite parts of writing! So I'm glad you found the Fire Nation and the festival coming to life just as well here too. :D

    Oh, Iroh knows exactly what's up. [face_mischief] (And he soooo shipped Zuko/Katara in Legacy of the Fire Nation, too. Besides the gorgeous artwork, it's worth flipping through that book for gems like: "your heart burned brightest when you were protecting Katara," or "the fire of that friendship - that bond - that is your strength," or "more than any other member of team avatar, Katara forced you to grow up, pushing you to be the man I knew you could be," or "your heart prompted you to reach out and seal the wound in Katara's heart," or "a friendship built on the bond of warriors united in heart and cause - the true blossoming of trust." What does canon expect me to do when they tease us with shipping gold like that???)

    Thanks! I really went back and forth coming up with the politics in this one. Because, you know, I didn't want to show sympathy for the Imperial power who's forced to decolonize, but there's still people caught in the middle after a hundred years of living together, for better or worse, who are just trying to live their lives, and now what do they do?

    It seemed like a great moment to let Katara shine, and of course segue into . . .

    The funny thing is that this wasn't even part of my initial outline! I could just feel the shift in tone, too, as I was typing and then I was like: welp, if the characters insist! We're gonna go there sooner than I had planned. [face_laugh] [face_mischief] [face_love]

    [face_rofl] [face_devil]

    Aang's Avatar senses were tingling, and he didn't even know why. [face_laugh]

    You got it! Coming right up! [face_dancing]

    I can't thank you enough for your awesome comments, as always. [:D]



    Aw thanks! He's just so much more than the meat and sarcasm guy with the boomerang. :p Sokka was already growing up so, so good into a strategist and a warrior and a leader in the show, I can only imagine how much he'd shine with a bit more maturity, and I loved portraying that here. [face_love]

    Thank-you! Non-bender skills still so, so important too, and diplomacy is definitely one of them. I loved writing Toklo, and Katara grow through being mentored by him. [face_love]

    There's so much I can imagine Katara would want to do after the war, and a project like this is something she'd definitely be passionate about! [face_love]

    Thanks! That felt more than fitting too.

    Thank-you! I LOVED writing this passage, in particular. Like I was telling Vi: I was totally thinking about Hama's flashbacks, and how different the Southern Style (and the ladies bending too!) looked from the Northern. Then I just ran with it from there. :p

    Exactly! It's like Iroh demonstrated: there's only an illusion of separation between the elements. I loved writing this interchange of cultural influence. [face_love]

    Aw, thanks! [face_love]

    Gran Gran really knows best! :D

    Thanks! Inspiration from RL dragon boat races really helped this festival come together. Everything just wrote itself from there! [face_love]

    The good thing is that they are equally stubborn and then just as stubborn on each other's behalf! [face_laugh]

    Right??? Oi, Kuei, but he just makes me face palm with his rather . . . unique take on ruling. No matter how cute Bosco is. o_O

    Thank-you so much! As always, I appreciate your kind words more than I can say, and I hope that you continue to enjoy this story as it goes! [:D]


    Alrighty! More will be up soon! :D


    ~ MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2021
  9. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    V-IV.

    "Through Them the Sunlight Now Bursts"
    (Fantastical Fencing | Part 4 of 5)​

    All Aang had to do then – but not without first casting an exaggeratedly furtive glance to the left and right – was whisper: “It’s about our friends. You know . . . the Old Masters.”

    Zuko stood up straighter, his eyes widening in a moment’s surprise before narrowing. He was then every inch the Fire Lord as he waved a hand that was used to giving orders and having them obeyed. “Appa will be fastest. Let’s go.”

    In no time at all they were back at the palace and gathered in Zuko’s study, the guards excused and Iroh sent for. Zuko’s uncle appeared – well ahead of his summons – with a tea tray in hand and a hearty welcome for Aang and Toph’s arrival, which they returned just as happily. Once everyone took their seats on the cushions and had a cup of tea served they looked to Aang to explain what, exactly, was going on.

    “I can’t say much here,” Aang started. “You know it’s not that I don’t trust you,” he gave Zuko an apologetic wince to explain, “it’s just that - ”

    “ - no,” Zuko agreed. “There are too many ears in the palace, and this secret is far too great to risk.”

    Aang smiled, clearly relieved that he understood. “Then you’ll just have to trust me when I say that I need both you and Katara to return with me. I wouldn’t take you away from the meet if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.”

    Because that was the trick, wasn’t it? “The Council isn’t scheduled to meet again until after Solstice Day,” Katara bit her lip to consider. She glanced at her brother, who nodded in agreement. “Toklo can explain my absence, but - ”

    “ - it won’t be that easy for me,” Zuko frowned. Yet he didn’t say anything more when Iroh held up a hand to forestall him.

    “ - the Avatar has come, and the Avatar has spoken. Your court requires no more explanation than that,” Iroh offered his counsel, his usually genial expression then utterly serious. “If your ministers fail to accept your actions, they will at least have the better sense to keep their opinions to themselves.”

    Aang nodded in agreement – though with another little wince that said he still didn’t feel wholly comfortable with the weight of command that came inherent with his power. Even after everything he’d gone through and overcome, Aang’s heart was still gentle. When he did resign himself to his role as the Avatar he thought of himself as a guide and a guardian, first and foremost – a servant to the world, rather than its overseer. But, in other ways . . . if the Avatar summoned even the Fire Lord, it was to the Fire Lord to bend his head in answer. “I’ll be happy to play the Avatar card with your ministers,” even so, Aang offered. “But, more than that,” his expression filled with a sincere warmth, “I’m just really glad this help has to come from you. It’s . . . special; you’ll see. I want you both to be there.”

    Still, Zuko hesitated. Katara, well knowing the unrest in his court and the tenuous control he had over that unrest, sympathized with her friend. It was hard enough for him to leave his seat of power even with weeks of planning for visits of state – let alone disappearing into the night on what some of his ministers would still call a flight of fancy.

    “For those unwilling to accept your heeding the Avatar,” Iroh continued mildly, holding Zuko’s gaze, “I believe that I can manage to keep them in line during your absence.” A glint sparked in his eyes, even as he humbly refreshed their teacups. Although Katara ever thought of Iroh in connection with good food and drink and the right proverb at the right time, it was then easy to remember that he was once the Dragon of the West and famed General of the Fire Nation's elite armies.

    “We’ll be here, too,” Sokka echoed Iroh to agree. He clapped Zuko’s shoulder, even as he gave a sharp grin to challenge: “I’d dare anyone to try anything while you’re gone.” Suki matched Sokka’s grin with one of her own, while Toph punched the fist of her right hand into the open palm of her left. “We’ve got this, Sparky. You guys go – and you need to go now.”

    With a last, wry muttering of somehow, I expect Toph to have usurped my throne by the time we get back, Zuko gave in and agreed. With a deftness she hadn’t had to use since back during the war, Katara then readied what she needed to travel lightly and quickly before meeting Zuko and Aang in Appa's stable. In no time at all they were airborne again, with the stars themselves seemingly reaching down to welcome them up into the glittering expanse of the heavens.

    It was a luminous night, with not even a single cloud out to obscure the guiding light of the nearly full moon. The great expanse of the palace and then the caldera and volcano itself turned small beneath them as they soared away. There was a special sort of beauty to the world from the air, and the entirety of Home Island aglow with the lights of the Dragon Days Festival was something particularly mesmerizing to fly above. Katara leaned over the edge of the saddle to stare at the dazzling sight, the warm breeze rushing through her hair, and smiled to see Zuko doing the same.

    She knew that he’d wanted to leave with Aang from the first, and she was glad that he’d finally agreed to go with them. Though Zuko had wanted nothing more than to return home during his exile, there was now a weight of its own that came with being bound by his rule, with his every move being one he answered to in the eyes of his people. His course was no longer wholly his own, and in a way he'd lost the freedom to do what he wanted, when he wanted, as he had before. Whatever Aang needed them for, it was a challenge Katara was confident they could overcome. It was just a bonus that it happened to get Zuko away from his duties, even for a short time, when she knew how dearly he needed the reprieve.

    Feeling as if she was sneaking something she shouldn’t, she watched Zuko stare at the glittering island below them as they continued their ascent. The moonlight illuminated his profile and caught on the unbound black of his hair as the wind blew in great gusts around them. His expression was softer than she’d seen in some time, and turning softer still as the distance grew between them and the palace. Even in the dark she could tell the gold of his eyes, and without her conscious thought her gaze fell to the shape of his mouth, thinking that, before Aang had arrived, she had been almost certain that -

    “ - we won’t get there until well after sunrise,” Aang said, turning back to them once he was satisfied with their altitude and Appa fell into a languid cruise. They were well over the broad expanse of the ocean by then, with the glittering blue-black mass only breaking for smaller islands to the left and right of them as they turned north and then east. “You guys should get some sleep while you can. You’re going to need your strength for tomorrow.”

    Somewhat guiltily, Katara snapped her eyes away from her friend – her friend, spirits, what was wrong with her? “What exactly do we need our strength for?” it took her a moment to feel as if her voice was under her control again as she scooted closer to Appa's head to better hear Aang's answer. Beside her, Zuko did the same.

    But Aang paused, and Katara understood even as Zuko scoffed: “You’re still not going to tell us what’s going on, are you?”

    For that, Aang flashed them an overly bright grin. “Nope!” he was all to cheerful to confirm. “At first I just couldn’t, but now . . . well, let’s just say that it’s better to show you anyway.”

    Aang, Katara thought, looked much too pleased with himself. She shot him an unimpressed glance before looking over to catch as Zuko rolled his eyes. He huffed, clearly exasperated, but he didn’t bother trying to change Aang’s mind. Whatever it was, Katara assured herself, Aang wouldn’t treat a threat waiting for them so blithely – or, she amended, she hoped he wouldn’t. Aang was still a fourteen-year-old boy in some ways, and a boy who thought that riding the Unagi was something one did for fun, at that. His definition of danger didn’t always align with what was typically considered to be so by the rest of the world. Marginally, she exhaled in an attempt to relax – but it was hard between the nearly full moon seemingly close enough to touch and Zuko right there next to her and . . . whatever it was that Aang specifically needed their help for.

    “Fine, keep your secrets,” Zuko grumbled, turning away to start unrolling their bedding for the night.

    “I will,” Aang chirped – boisterously enough that Zuko stopped what he was doing and glared at his back as he turned to adjust Appa’s course again. “Air-benders,” he muttered under his breath, and Katara couldn’t help but share a commiserating look with him as she undid her own sleeping roll.

    It was just like old times as they both laid down to sleep. Even so, Katara fidgeted on her back with the starry sky so close and bright before restlessly turning on her side, resigned to a sleepless night; the moon was going to keep her up no matter how she tried, especially as they flew over the ocean. There, she found Zuko peacefully settled in and watching her. She was grateful for the relative darkness as it hide her blush, uncertain why she was unnerved by how close he was. During the war she’d slept next to him plenty of times without thinking anything of it. But this . . . suddenly, their proximity to each other felt intimate. He looked content, and his eyes were already heavy lidded – that same war, and undoubtedly too few truly peaceful nights since then, ensured that he was able to fall asleep quickly and deeply to get what rest he could when he could. Usually, Katara was conditioned to do much the same, but, now . . .

    “At least just try to close your eyes, water-bender,” Zuko rumbled from his chest. While his words would normally be amused at her expense – teasing, even – they were then filled with a warm sort of affection that soothed her. She inhaled, then exhaled deeply, feeling as the tide tugged at her from below.

    “It’s like you trying to sleep past the sunrise,” she muttered in return. “I feel like the ocean is moving under my skin.” Sure enough, she could feel every pulse of her own blood – of hers and Zuko’s and Aang’s and even Appa’s thrumming in time with the great currents of the ocean as they raced to greet the nearly full face of the moon in their eternal dance of ebb and flow. She could feel the connection between Tui and La reverberate like a living thing – echoing in the very water that gave them all life – and through that, she couldn’t hope to rest. How could she, when the night was so alive and seemingly full of song?

    How could she, when Zuko was right there, and had wanted to kiss her not so long ago?

    “Fair,” Zuko granted, the corner of his mouth tugging upwards. She wanted to talk to him then, to ask him what he was thinking and bring them back to that aborted moment at the end of the festival – but Aang’s presence, happily chatting to Appa as they flew, gave her pause. Their destination, and all the questions surrounding it once they arrived, made her hold onto her hesitation. This wasn’t the right time or place, she told herself, and she . . . well, it would be for the best if she took some time to parse out exactly how she felt about everything that had happened – and hadn’t happened, anyway. (Full and giddy and glowing from the inside out; she felt as if she could bend the entire ocean and all the oceans, even, just like the moon itself did.)

    “Just close your eyes, then,” Zuko repeated. “We’ll be there before you know it.”

    She knew that Zuko was trying to stay awake for her sake, and so she nodded and turned comfortably into her bedding to show him that she was trying. Though she still didn’t think she would be able to sleep, she ground herself on the rhythm of her heartbeat – of Zuko’s heartbeat, and before long found herself nodding off to the swaying of the tide.



    .

    .

    Katara woke to the sunrise painting the great mounds of fluffy clouds around them in cheerful shades of violet and pink and orange. Blearily, she rubbed at her eyes, feeling only slightly unbalanced as she gathered her bearings. Needless to say, this was not a time of day she was used to seeing for herself.

    The moon was still there, pale in the morning sky next to the burning face of the sun as it rose over the horizon. She looked, and wasn’t at all surprised to see that Aang had taken Zuko’s place in the bedding next to her. He'd already fallen into a deep sleep, complete with snores, after such a long night of flying. Zuko, in return, was sitting at Appa’s head with the reins held lax in his hands as they flew, carrying on a conversation with the bison about the rice tax debate, of all things. Appa rumbled amiably in reply, and Zuko inclined his head to his imagined answer. “A bold stance,” he said thoughtfully, “but one I will take under advisement.”

    “Should someone tell your ministers that they're being replaced?” Katara teased, careful not to disturb Aang as she moved forward in the saddle.

    Zuko’s expression was warm in greeting as he glanced over his shoulder. “I would if I could,” he admitted, scooting over to make room for her beside him. Carefully, she climbed down to join him. “Appa has more sense than the whole of them put together.” He paused, and the small smile he flashed her was then more sincerely at ease than anything she’d seen from him back at the palace. “Usually, though, I talk these things out with the turtle-ducks. They come up with my best ideas.”

    She laughed for that, easily able to imagine Zuko reasoning his affairs of state out loud by the turtle-duck pond. His smile stayed to hear her laugh, and she couldn’t help but hold his gaze in return for a long moment. That . . . tether between them shifted again, filling her with a happy, heady warmth.

    Zuko didn’t have an open flame out to meditate with, but she recognized the deep, purposeful way he was breathing as the sunlight flushed across the sky with a gradually building intensity. His eyes were very gold, then, and very bright. She’d always thought that his eyes were beautiful, even back when their color had only meant enemy and loss and everything she had to fear and hate. She especially found them beautiful now.

    . . . not that she thought that Zuko was beautiful, of course. Handsome, obviously, and sometimes she couldn't help but stare at him while he was bending, he was just so powerful to watch in motion. Sure, there was even a time or two when she had almost reached out to touch the glossy length of his hair, and she'd thought she'd wanted him to -

    - but Katara sucked in a breath, and told herself that she was still feeling silly from the moon’s sway. Clearly.

    “Did you sleep well?” Zuko asked. They broke through a last blushing expanse of clouds, and the ocean came into view as they left the front behind. Katara distracted herself for a moment by counting the white crests of the waves as they swelled and broke over each other.

    “Surprisingly, yes,” she answered. “How about you?”

    “Better than I have in months,” Zuko agreed. “I traded with Aang not too long ago. The kid’s beat, not that he’d ever admit it.”

    In some ways it was strange to her, knowing that Aang was now the same age she’d been when she first freed him from the iceberg. (Or maybe he was even older – it was hard to tell, as all air-benders shared a communal birthday late in the fall, exactly nine months from the Day of Four Winds in the spring when all the nomads and monks and nuns gathered together from their usually segregated lifestyles to celebrate their element as one.) He was even older than Zuko had been when he was first banished by his father with the impossible task of finding the Avatar contingent upon his his return. She hadn’t felt her age back then, and it was disorienting now to reflect on how much they’d all done while so young. She knew that she still wasn’t old by any measure of time – she’d only just turned seventeen that spring – but in some ways she felt as if she’d already lived enough for a lifetime.

    “I’m glad he can rest,” she agreed, that old instinct to protect and care for Aang the boy when the rest of the world saw Aang the Avatar, first and foremost, rising up then the same as it ever did. “Did he say anything more about what we’re coming up against?”

    “Not a word,” Zuko shook his head. “But,” he added thoughtfully, “I know it has something to do with the dragons.”

    Dragons.

    Even with every fantastical thing she’d seen and experienced since finding Aang, a thrill raced through her. Dragons. There was still such a sense of awe and reverence surrounding the mythical creatures in her mind. It had been amazing when Aang and Zuko had first revealed that two of the great beasts had survived being hunted into extinction by the fire-benders who were eager to prove themselves against the ultimate masters of their element. It was beyond comprehension when they said that they learned from those same two dragons – something out of the stories sung during the Long Nights around the fire, deep in the polar winter – and the idea remained so to her now.

    Katara had never envied Aang and Zuko their experience – that had been a turning point for their relationship, in more ways than one – but she did feel a giddy rise of anticipation for the idea that she might be able to share in the honor of their secret before long. “Do you have any idea beyond that?” she asked, curious to know what he thought.

    “You mean, do I have any idea for what you and I are needed for that Aang can’t accomplish alone?” Zuko shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

    But that, at least, gave her more than enough to contemplate as they continued on their way. Aang blinked awake just an hour or so later with a growing boy’s sixth sense for breakfast when they unpacked the provisions the palace had made for them, already brimming with energy to face the day. He kept up a steady chatter from then until they reached their destination just before noon: a mid-sized island with a dormant volcanic range that was now more crags and craters than the lush green paradises she’d since come to expect from the isles of the Fire Nation. This place, she felt with a thrum of knowing as they came lower and then lower still, was very old. Not just old, but ancient.

    Ancient, and, she knew with a glance at Aang, who could feel the years in the earth and listen to the secrets in the wind and know the memory from the water, sacred. But, Aang only spent a moment with his head bowed and his breathing deep and even as he listened to what his senses were telling him. In the next, he was grinning to guide Appa down towards the dormant mountains, fairly thrumming with an eagerness that Katara couldn’t help but share in as his smile inspired her own.

    From there, they flew over what Katara would have first called ruins – old stone buildings of a city weathered from the hands of time and half-claimed by the wild of the jungle once more. Vines grew between cracks in the stone while entire trees perched on rooftops. Hog-monkeys played in the crumbling windows, and parrot-keets perched on the ledges of the more massively tiered pyramidal structures. At first glance she would call this place deserted, but she knew better from the stories Zuko and Aang had told.

    Dead and forgotten: that was just what the Sun Warriors wanted the rest of the world to think of their civilization.

    Living outside of time, the tribe that flourished here as a memory of the Fire Nation in eras begone still kept to the old ways underneath the watchful eyes of the Masters – the last two living dragons in the world, Ran and Shaw. Looking at the craggy summit standing tall over the wild ruins, Katara felt a shiver run through her to know just what it was, exactly, those mountains held within. Awe and nerves made for a roiling mix as her stomach fluttered from more than just the rush of Appa’s descent from the clouds.

    At last, Aang guided them through a pass in the mountains that was all but invisible before, and they appeared over a wide stone courtyard set at the base of a steep, imposingly tall staircase that ended in a summit with an altar of sorts between two caves in the mountainside. There were dozens of people gathered together in the clearing, all dressed in red and gold in a way that was familiar to her but not from the Fire Nation’s current styles. Many had scarlet designs decorating their faces – much as Katara herself had donned in her disguise as the Painted Lady. Some were bowing and praying, while others were chanting and beating on drums in a ritual that Katara couldn’t recognize. She hadn’t the faintest idea if this was the Sun Warriors’ own way of honoring the summer solstice, or if something more – something even bigger was happening.

    She didn’t have to wait long to find out. As soon as Appa landed, Aang vaulted out of the saddle with a restless gust of air. They were just a heartbeat behind him as Aang approached a stocky, imposing looking man who presided over the gathering with a raised chin and folded arms. He wore a feathered head-dress that was unique amongst the crowd, and . . . something in his expression gave Katara the impression that he held a place of importance amongst his people – maybe even absolute importance.

    Surely enough, the man only respectfully inclined his head to Aang in welcome, even as Aang gave a more formal bow. “Chief Susuhan,” Aang greeted. “I’ve returned.”

    The Chief – for indeed he was – looked from Aang to Zuko and her and back again. For a long moment, he was silent. “You made quick work, Avatar,” he finally said. While Katara wouldn’t call his demeanor welcoming in any way, there was a distant twinkle in his eyes that nonetheless put her at ease. “So, this is your solution?”

    “This is my solution,” Aang said, his voice then firm with an authority beyond his years. “As Avatar, this is the path I advise we take.”

    “Hmm,” Susuhan made a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat. Though his expression remained stony, he returned Zuko’s bow with another nod of his own. His fixed look lingered on Zuko for a long moment before he turned to her. “A water-bender?” he asked Aang.

    “This is Master Katara of the Southern Water Tribe,” Aang proudly introduced her. “She’s one of the most powerful benders I know, and she has healing abilities, too. If anyone can help, it’s her.”

    “My people welcome you, Master Katara,” the Chief inclined his head to her the same as he had for Aang and Zuko. “It has been many, many years since we last had a water-bender in our midst. Perhaps the Avatar’s solution is . . . fitting, then.”

    “The honor is mine,” Katara returned sincerely. The Sun Warriors didn’t suffer outsiders kindly, and with good reason; she knew how much of a gift this was. “Thank-you for your welcome.”

    “Yes,” Susuhan held her gaze for a moment longer before he turned back to Aang, his mind made up before Katara even consciously realized that he was weighing them to make a decision. “They will do.”

    “Do for what?” Katara asked, then more than ready for answers. Even if, in retrospect, she wasn’t ready for the answer she was given.

    “For the birth of a dragon,” Susuhan proclaimed, and his words smacked into her with all of the force of a tidal wave for how massive they were in their meaning.

    A dragon.

    A baby dragon.

    Beside her, Zuko was just as stunned as she was. His eyes were wide, and he looked from Aang to the Chief and back to her again as if seeking confirmation that he had heard correctly. “I’m sorry," he unconsciously reached up to touch his burned ear, "but did you say the birth of a dragon?”

    “I did.” There was definitely a glint of amusement in the chief’s eyes then. “Do you need me to repeat myself?”

    “No, no,” Zuko said, looking more like the nineteen-year-old boy he truly was, rather than the leader of an either nation as he shook his head in awed disbelief. Instinctively, Katara took a step closer to him, wanting to be there should he need to reach out for her. “It’s just that . . . this is . . .”

    “This really is a new age, isn’t it, Zuko?” Aang finished for his friend. A significant look then passed between the Avatar and the Fire Lord. “It's the beginning of the future for the dragons.” But all the lives Aang had lived then gave way for the child he truly was as he nudged Zuko more playfully. "Isn't this the best surprise?" he gushed. "You have no idea how happy I am that you are here for this!"

    “It is, Aang. It's . . .” still, Zuko couldn’t manage a complete thought beyond that. He looked completely overwhelmed, as if a burden that had been weighing on him for too long had finally tipped over and left him wanting for balance. It was the same look he wore when he’d returned the Southern water-bending scrolls to her, or when they learned about the hope for Aang’s people through the dormant air-benders who may have escaped Sozin’s purge a century ago. “This is . . . this is everything.” Finally, he stood up straight and with the full dignity of his power he bowed to Chief Susuhan again. “I can’t say how honored I am – we are – to be here.”

    “The honor just may be ours, Fire Lord,” something softened, but only just, about the Chief for Zuko’s reaction. The use of his title, then, was slow and purposeful. “If this goes the way the Avatar suspects it shall, we will be the ones thanking you before the solstice is through. It may even prove to be . . . fitting that one of Sozin’s line will now undo the damage of his rule. After all, you are also of Agni’s blood, too, are you not?” Susuhan grunted to add. “Come, then; there is still much to explain, and for that it will be best if you see for yourselves.”

    Susuhan gestured to an ornate arch carved into the mountain-side – tunnels, clearly, leading further down towards the heart of the earth. Katara felt her breath catch for the sight. Dragons; they were really going to meet the dragons. Next to her, Zuko was still wide eyed and stunned, near to motionlessness, it seamed. As Aang walked ahead with the Chief, the gathered Sun Warriors parted to bow low on either side of them. They stayed posed as such, ready for them to follow. Right, then, they had to follow.

    Katara reached out to take Zuko’s hand, seeking to ground herself. She squeezed just as hard as he did in return before breathing in deep to find her center. Next to her, she felt as he did the same.

    “Come, come,” Susuhan turned to beckon them forward in a brisk voice. “There is still much to be done before the solstice arrives.”

    With that, Katara shared a glance with Zuko that she couldn’t keep from widening into a grin. She let go of his hand but stayed close by his side as, together, they entered the dragons’ lair.


    TBC



    ~ MJ
    @};-
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2021
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  10. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Gorgeous details and a momentous event is imminent
     
    Mira_Jade likes this.
  11. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    Well, I didn't mean to take this long, but I'm here now! :oops: :p

    Okay, so I didn’t know this book existed, and now I need it. [face_hypnotized] [face_love]

    [face_laugh] Yep, I could definitely picture this moment and hear Zuko muttering those words. :D

    I love seeing the ways in which your RL experiences come through in your writing, and this is a really lovely image here. [face_love]

    Ooh, I like how Katara describes that sensation, the ocean moving under her skin. Really, all of your descriptions of the pull of the moon on her throughout the night, and as they fly over the water, are just beautifully done. And then once again, you do such a great job of capturing her voice and Zuko’s.

    Aha! So she knows. I mean, it’d be hard to deny it with how close they came, but still. I like that she realizes what nearly happened, and not only that, but that he wanted to kiss her. A very small but significant distinction. [face_mischief]

    I love the imagery here, and your prose especially.

    [face_laugh] I love this! Of course Zuko would discuss affairs of state with Appa. [face_love]

    [face_whistling] [face_whistling]

    DRAGONS!!!!!

    And somehow I missed quoting part of it, but I love their approach to the island and the descriptions of the Sun Warriors and their home and just everything with the lore and worldbuilding and also DRAGONS.

    BABY DRAGON GAAAAAHHH!!!

    I mean, I knew it had to happen at some point because there have to be more dragons in the future; but I wasn't expecting it in this story, and I'm so excited! :D Yep, this sounds pretty fantastical to me. [face_dancing]

    Awwww! I love your portrayal of Aang and his friendship with Zuko. [face_love]

    And wow, I'm really not doing this chapter justice, and in my effort to not quote everything I feel like I quoted barely anything? 8-} It really was an excellent, beautiful chapter, and omigosh give me the baby dragon, Mira!!!

    :p
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2021
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