Let me begin by stating that this is a Zuko-centric Alternate Universe. There will be significant differences from the series though the world itself is the same in terms of the Four Nations and the existence of bending. However, there is no Avatar. Also, I'm warning you now that there won't be any rushed, immediate Zutara love! If you're looking for that, it won't be found here. Zuko will deal with his feelings with Mai at some point. Besides that, this has been rattling around in my brain for a few days and I'm slowly working on it, having plotted out the next three chapters. It's been over a year since I've written anything creative, so I hope this is both intriguing and enjoyable!
Also: all that usual disclaimer stuff, of course.
/ march 16, 2019. / lightly edited! i've gotten inspiration to continue this, here's hoping it sticks :)
IT is with a heavy heart that I write this letter, but you must know the truth, my darling. I will be leaving tonight, and I'm afraid you will never see me again, but believe me, my son, that everything I have done has been done in order to protect you.
You may think that you are inadequate, but Zuko, you have something both your father and your sister lack – heart. Compassion. It is that human instinct that will allow you to do things far greater than anything they could ever hope to achieve. You have the capacity to love, Zuko, and with that power you will rise.
You are my love, my life, Zuko, and to protect you I must leave you. I hope you do not hate me for this, please don't assume that I've abandoned you here. I want you to grow up and become strong, become the man you were always meant to be – not the man your father thinks you ought to become.
Never give up, never succumb, and always fight, and most of all never ever forget who you are. Not Prince Zuko, Son of Ursa and Lord Ozai.
Just Zuko…and I promise you, my love, that's enough.
It will always be enough.
It had become a rare occurrence that he would dream of his mother's letter, but on evenings that the memory resurfaced, sleep was always a stubborn friend. That was one such night, and Zuko was tossing and turning in his cot, the ghost of the Fire Lady's voice echoing in the vestiges of his mind as if reaching for him. Tendrils of sound emerged from the dark crevices in his brain, holding peace hostage. If sleep refused to visit, he might as well make the most of the evening.
Which was why that very same prince found himself seated atop the roof of a shop, watching the home of a very wealthy elite. Kozuki Li. The nobleman stumbled down the paved road of the upper district and entered his dark shelter. Zuko lowered his mask over his face, shedding his identity. He dripped from the roof-top, a melting shadow, and breezed by the shutting door with a few light steps. The nobleman seemed not to notice, at least, until a flick of the interloper's wrist brought a single candle-wick aflame. The glow was weak, and cast ominous shadows against the walls: Imitations of the lives lost at the hands of the Blue Spirit's captive.
Kozuki barely had time to turn before the masked man held him in place by an extended dao sword.
"Please—why are you doing this!" The elderly man's voice cracked as his plea fell on deaf ears. Wide, brown eyes watched the single blade resting beneath his nostrils, breath steaming the metallic sheen. "If it's money you want—" The curved sword slid away, quickly replaced by a swift kick. The captive was sent sprawling and blood splattered the hardwood floor of his home. "Please! Please! I have a wife! I have a child!"
The Blue Spirit crouched before his victim, and placed the tip of his joined dao swords beneath the Fire Nation noble's chin, lifting his wrinkled, sun-spotted face. "You mean the wife and child you abandoned in the Earth Kingdom to join the ranks of the Fire Lord's court? Do you know how they are faring? Let me tell you: your child was taken from its mother because she was killed during a Fire Nation raid. A raid you allowed."
"Who...who are you?"
The masked visitor straightened up, the movement simple enough but swathed in a layer of merciless quiet. "A man who seeks to right the wrongs of his people."
As the wick of a nearby candle crumbled to ashes, the hooded man disappeared through a window and into the night, leaving behind the corpse of his fourth victim.
The weeks passed by in a similar manner and eventually rumors of the assassin began to circle amongst the Fire Nation. It was clear that the victims were within the same ring of people, and noble houses took up more security. Posters were made. Bounties declared. Anyone who caught the masked demon would be greatly rewarded.
Of course, that didn't deter the culprit.
It was on a beautiful night that he sought to silence a particularly affluent man who constantly dipped his chubby fingers into the lower district's funds. Stealing from the poor to give to himself. What scum. Zuko was already perched in a nearby redwood, ensconced in the cover of leaves and awaiting his prey. Lord Zhu frequented the brothels of the lower districts, partaking of the slums and dutifully rinsing his hands of it upon assuming his noble title. Zuko watched as the gluttonous man passed the arches marking the upper ring of the Fire Nation districts. Leaping down from the branches, the Blue Spirit stood before his next victim. "A nice evening for a visit to the brothel, isn't it, Lord Zhu?"
The rotund noble gasped, stumbling backwards at the surprise, but immediately regained his footing. "I had a feeling you would come for me sooner or later. What is it you want? What are you after? I'll pay you twice as much as your client!"
The masked stranger laughed and the sound was deep and unfeeling. "You people always think my mind can be changed by money." His statement was punctuated by the sound of metal sliding against its sheath.
"Every man has a price," Lord Zhu reasoned, much less inebriated than he appeared.
"I'm not a man," the predator answered as he skillfully separated his dao swords, "I'm a demon."
His lunge was halted by an onslaught of arrows.
Lord Zhu laughed. "You think anyone would go walking around alone after your crimes? Tell me, are you familiar with the Yuyan Archers? It is said they can pin a fly to a tree without killing it from one hundred meters. I wonder what they can manage of a man hiding behind a mask from ten?"
At once the barrage of arrows repeated and the Blue Spirit dodged as best as he could, blocking the projectiles with his dao swords – metal on metal on metal. The assault was much too fierce, and the masked marauder took off into the web of streets, knowing the best defense he had was cover. He hated that the entitled nobleman managed to make it home safe, but he had far more important matters to attend to. Avoid being captured for one.
His steps were quick and ready, but the archers hid in the shadows – who knew how far away they actually were? The Blue Spirit skidded along a turn and took cover beneath a bridge. By the frequency of the barrage, he estimated a minimum of three archers hunting him down. Their precision was legendary, and the prince knew there wasn't much he'd be able to do aside from escape. An arrow slit into the sleeve of his tunic and Zuko growled as it pinned him against a post. He twisted about the wooden pole, tearing his sleeve, and sprinted towards the other end of the tunnel.
A single perfectly-aimed shot hit him square on the forehead— an archer must have beat him to the exit —and the prince fell back at once, hitting the cold pavement. A loud crack in the back of his head left him reeling. Approaching footsteps echoed along the tunnel beneath the bridge and the firebender did his best to pick himself up but the world spun. Everything tilted this way and that and the ringing in his ears faded in and out. His limbs wouldn't respond to his mind's demands. He managed to get onto all fours, unable to do much else.
Not like this. C'mon, Zuko. Get up. GET UP!
His swords lay on either side of him, but both were kicked out of his reach.
And a spirit came out of nowhere—when did the fog sneak in?—silent and precise and disarmingly agile. She wore a cloak and large straw hat; there was a mystery about her, the swirl of her attire betrayed where she previously stood. Nothing but a trail of silvery liquid marked her presence. At close combat, the archers were not as quick. Perhaps it was the sweeping vision the blow to his head did to his sight, but the strange woman seemed to have an ethereal glow about her. She looked down at him, calculating, sizing up his worth, and decided he was unimportant.
"Thank you," the firebender mouthed, though no sound came.
The spirit stared at his kneeling form, unmoving. It seemed as though she was going to say something, but decided against it. With a flourish, a mist emerged and swallowed her silhouette. Zuko was left alone, beneath the bridge, pondering the identity of his unknown savior before slipping into uneasy darkness.
He was unsure how much time passed before he regained his bearings and was able to stand; luckily, it was still night. Despite the unfortunate (and admittedly pride-bruising) turn the evening took, what the Blue Spirit saw when he rose was both amusing and disconcerting: The Yuyan archers were frozen to the walls of the tunnel.
Under the cover of the darkest part of night, the Blue Spirit fled the scene, dao swords safely strapped to his back. It was a miracle that no one happened by to notice the incapacitated group, but Zuko didn't dwell on his luck. His mind was preoccupied by the mysterious fighter who saved his life. Had she been real?
Daylight breached the horizon just as the young prince returned to his cot, at which point a familiar voice beckoned him to join in tea and morning meditation. But his uncle's voice was nothing more than a faint memory; sleep claimed Zuko's being and he drifted off, thoughts circling the woman in the mist.
Keep going, Zuko, and most of all, never ever forget who you are.
For the first time in many nights, his sleep was deep and free of nightmares.
Just an idea that's still fleshing itself out!
I hope you enjoyed c: