What If Kasai got her way?
"Lets cut to the heart of the matter and get you on the throne."
(A/N: This is the start of several Omakes, Outtakes, What ifs.., and AUs related to my story 'To be Cast Adrift'. Also known as "Writers Block Revenge!" As a size refrence, Kasai/XaXu is just a little bigger than Toothless from 'How to train your Dragon'.)
~~ ( - ) ~~
Agni waved his hand at her to be quiet. "You will take this task and you will do your best to complete it without fail." The Great Spirit of Fire waved his hand over the pond causing the surface to ripple a moment before turning a golden color. An image appeared followed by a second. "You will become this young man's guardian and you will take that shape to do so. You will cross paths with him here," an image of a location appeared, "and will travel with him until your task is complete."
"What!? How? I won't be able to speak or really communicate well for that matter." XaXu studied the image of the creature she would become. "And then there's the size. At least make it big enough the kid can ride on my back, it would make it easier to travel from place to place." If she guessed right, the creature was as long tip of the beaked snout to tip of the whiplike tail, as the distance from the tip of an average man's fingers to the opposing shoulder. Wingspread looked to be about the same from fingertip to fingertip, the undersides of said wings looked smooth like hide yet the top was layered in feathers like any bird would have. An avian looking head with a feathered crest that flowed into a sinuous neck, a slim body not much wider than a man's head and only about a third the total length. The rest was taken up with a long tail that could curl about as an anchor if needed. Good strong haunches to launch herself into flight and allow her to sit upright. Forelimbs were also strong looking yet wiry, ending in 'hands' that had four talon tipped 'fingers' and a 'thumb'. "Hmmm might be able to hold something and write," she murmured to herself. "No changing the colors?" The skin was a dark sooty gray that was almost a matte ebony, the feathers were red at the base shading to gold at the tips, and the eyes, Like Agni's, were molten gold. Overall it gave the creature the look of living embers almost.
"No, a small creature is easily overlooked as a pet therefore you can perform your task without drawing attention to yourself. No, you cannot change the colors."
"Isn't this going a little overboard cliche wise? I mean a dragon-phoenix, a creature that hasn't been seen for a great long while even by the spirits standard, that's red, gold and black going to the Fire Nation Prince as a companion and guardian. Come on..."
~~ ( - ) ~~
She wheedled, she whined, she groused and complained for who knows how long (time moves differently in the Spirit World after all) till finally Agni could stand it no more.
"Fine! You want to be able to communicate with him and be big enough for him to ride?" A snap of his fingers and the image rippled and flashed a moment. "So be it, but your immortality while in that form is revoked as well as your immunity to fire. You will live, and die, as a Phoenix-Dragon. Should you die or allow the boy to die then you will have failed and I will see to it you are chained to the heart of a volcano in the middle of the great ocean, where you will stay until the newly formed land meets with the main land mass as punishment for that 'little joke' of yours in the Si Wong inland sea."
XaXu crossed her arms over her chest and cut her eyes to the side to look at Agni. "But I'm still your champion, with all that goes along with being said champion, am I not?"
The great spirit, in an entirely too human gesture, pinched the bridge of his nose as if to ward off an oncoming headache. "Yes, you are still my champion. What has that have to do with anything?"
"Nothing.. just checking," she replied in an offhanded manner before the left side of her mouth curled up in a smirk. "See you some time next century then," she said with a barked laugh before diving head first into the pond.
"Wait? What?!" Agni realized too late just what she had implied when she asked about still being his champion. With frustrated yell Agni let off a blast of fire that turned the garden into a molten pool of liquid magma.
In the living world, volcanoes around the world shuddered and roiled, sending great plumes of magma high into the sky, yet no harm was done as the magma dropped straight back down into the volcanoes. In every Fire Temple (Original or over-taken), the sacred fires flared then went out completely sending every single sage, priest, nun and elder into panic. No amount of firebending could reignite those sacred fires. Less than an hour later, those same fires relight themselves without human assistance. In Caldera city, the capital of the Fire Nation, Fire Lord Ozai, Princess Azula woke to cold sweats as their chi shuddered, rippled then was drained away till only enough to sustain their inner fires were left, neither could leave their beds for several days afterwards. Every firebender in the world also felt their chi shudder few heartbeats, the strength of their reactions was affected by how closely they supported Ozai and his regime. Some were so drained they could not leave their beds, much like the Fire Lord and the Princess, while others had an overflowing abundance. The next day, the noon services at almost every Fire Temple were packed and several had to move the services outside to accommodate everyone attending.
Once Agni's temper had cool he waved a hand, reverting the garden back to its pristine condition. He waved off several inquisitive spirits who came to investigate what had happened to spark the great spirit's ire.
~~ ( - ) ~~
Zuko stepped out of the house he had stayed at overnight with all the intention of getting an early start. But the spirits had other plans for him. Or at least one spirit turned Phoenix-Dragon did.
"Good morning young one."
The voice came from inside Zuko's head and had the feeling of being female but not overly feminine. It also had an accent that sounded familiar yet was unfamiliar at the same time. He just blinked and started, and blinked again as his jaw slowly dropped. A creature sat next to his ostrich horse, long tail curled around its feet and it's feather crested head even with the hen's. The pair was nose to nose like a couple old gossiping women.
"Close your mouth child unless you plan on catching stink-flies like a badgertoad," the voice said. "And I do not gossip. I gather information than you very much."
Zuko's mouth closed with a click. "Where are… what.. who are you?" he finally asked as his thought processes started catching up. He looked around trying to spot the person/creature/whatever it was that spoke to him inside his head. A warm, amused chuckle flowed over him causing his temper to spark. "Stop laughing at me!" he demanded.
The creature turned it's head to look at him, molten gold eyes in a face that was a combination of avian and dragon, sleek, streamline and deadly yet beautifully wise and benevolent. "I am here for you young one at Agni's command. My name, young one, is XaXu the Lightbringer. I may be his champion, but you are a child of fire and his chosen one."
"You're lying.. I'm not his chosen.. I can't be... my own father didn't want me so why should he?" He didn't realize until too late just how fast she could move. He found himself pinned by a pair of deadly sharp taloned forefeet, on the flat of his back staring up into a pair of narrowed molten gold eyes that glowed.
"Whether or not you believe it now, Zuko son of Ursa and great grandson of Avatar Roku (that idiot), you ARE Agni's chosen one. It may take a lifetime of constantly reminding you, but one day you WILL believe it," XaXu growled then backed off to let the boy get up on his own. Sitting back on her haunches she studied him, turning her head this way and that before snorting, twin plumes of smoke jetting from her nostrils. "Besides, I cannot lie to you mind to mind. I can avoid telling you the whole truth but I cannot lie…. Anyways, see if you can find out if there is a saddle maker close by, I doubt that hen's saddle will fit me very well." She raised her head and reared up, wings spread for balance. "I'll be back in a few there's something I need to deal with it seems." She dropped into a crouch then launched herself into the air.
Less than an hour later XaXu comes walking back into Gaipan with an unconscious teenage male dangling from her jaws by his belt and a gaggle of children and teens following her. Without ceremony she drops the teen in front of the officer in charge. "It seems I have found your pest problem," she said 'out loud' so everyone could hear her. "I would recommend finding some place to put the boy lest he start causing problems again. If there is a Temple close by with a mind healer, I'd suggest there. He has some serious issues with the Fire Nation it seems."
The officer was wide eyed at being spoken to by a creature that was, essentially, a hybrid cross between a dragon and a phoenix. But he recovered quickly. "The closest Temple would be.. umm.. Xilin Gol, my lady." When all else fails treat the person (Spirit creature?) like a noble.
XaXu shot a look at the oldest pair of the bunch, a tall gangly youth who wore a circular cone hat and had a quiver slung across his shoulder, and shorter kid with short yet bushy hair and a pair of red stripes on each cheek. "Try it you two and see how fast I can snap bones," she growled then turned back to the officer. "How long will it take to get the children there and do you have the resources to do so?" she asked.
"A week and.. If they behave, don't fight us and don't try to escape? Yes," the officer replied.
"Is there an herbalist or an apothecary here?" XaXu called out.
An old man shambled forward hesitantly. "I'm the closest this village has to a doctor and herbalist."
The phoenix-dragon nodded her head and quietly conversed with the old man. Her head bobbed from time to time as she gestured with one forefoot. The old man would nod or shake his head in reply. Finally after several minutes he shambled off. When he returned he had a large pot filled with what looked to be a tea of some type.
"As much as I dislike drugging the children, it is the best alternative we have at the moment," She informed the officer, who also agreed.
By mid-day every one of the freedom fighters were in the back of a wagon, either asleep or in a drug induced haze. Zuko's ostrich horse was hitched to the front and several guards were perched on the seat. In the back with the children were rations and the herbal concoction ready to be brewed. Last minute instructions were given as Zuko wordlessly handed over two of the jade tables to cover any fees the Temple may charge the rest would go as a donation for taking in the children and seeing to their care until they could be reintroduced into normal society.
Zuko, now sitting in the saddle, which had been fitted as best as possible, to XaXu's back, looked resigned to the fact that his travel plans had once more been hijacked by the spirits.
~~ ( - ) ~~
Zuko was screaming at her, both vocally and over their shared bond, as he beat his fists against the unyielding surface but she was ignoring him. She slammed shields in place that blocked him from her mind just as she had thrown him out of the throne room. Once he was safely out of the way, she forced the hidden doors closed and welded them shut after dropping the heavy bar across them. The normal draps which hid them long since burned away. Now, she had no reason to fear he that he would interfere and be harmed. If she was to die this day, then she would meet her death head on and take both Ozai and Azula with her.
From the outside Zuko kept screaming and pounding his fists against the door, unheeding or just uncaring that the metal doors were starting to glow a dull red. He was grabbed from behind and hauled away from the door several times, each time fighting like he was demon possessed until he got loose and returned to the doors to the throne room. His voice long gone, all that came from him was unarticulated grunts and harsh hissing noises.
"Damn it to Koh's lair! Someone get that kid away from the damned doors!" The bellowed order coming from the commander of the imperial guards. "I don't care if he is the crown prince or Agni himself, he's going to get himself and everyone around him killed!"
Men and women, some armed and armored while others were wearing the livery of the palace servants all scrambled about in the chaos. Those that could bend were focusing on dampening the flames at worst, or putting them out if they could. Non benders formed bucket lines as the garden ponds became the primary water sources when the wells were cut off.
"Move it people! Get everyone out now!" Cmdr. Xunlai bellowed over the noise. "If those idiot nobles won't abandon their precious possessions then knock them out and drag them away!" His sub-commanders already knew what had to be done and were seeing to their own evacuation plans.
Two of the Imperial guards took the order to heart, as one grabbed Prince Zuko for the fourth time to drag him away from the now white-hot glowing doors, the second drew his dagger, flipped it over and rapped the young man smartly on the temple. Zuko's limp body was thrown over the first guard's shoulder as the pair quickly took him to safety.
~~ ( - ) ~~
Where it was minutes or hours, or even a day or two, the fires were extinguished and the heads counted. Massive amount of damage to the palace, especially around the throne room, due to the intense heat warping metal and cracking stone. Lots of burn injuries, from minor to major, lots of smoke inhalation, but no fatalities thank Agni. Or at least no known fatalities, no one had heard anything of Fire Lord Ozai, Princess Azula or XaXu, Crown Prince Zuko's companion.
When Zuko woke, the first thing he noticed, was that he was no longer blocked from XaXu's mind. Overwhelming relief and joy flooded him but that soon turned to bitter ash when he got sorrow, some regret and absolutely no remorse for her actions in return.
"I'm sorry. I tried to get her to back down, to walk away from this fight and live. But she refused. I'm sorry. I made it fast and as painless as possible," XaXu said softly into his mind. "As for Ozai..he reaped what he sowed."
Zuko let out a keening cry for the loss of his sister and wept bitter tears, whether for joy, relief, sorrow or pain, he couldn't say. His only spoken words, mumbled over and over, were "I hate you!"
The palace physician liberally dosed Zuko, now Fire Lord, with a sleep draught and ordered someone to be with him every moment of the day and night until a Fire Healer could make the determination of his mental state.
When the throne room doors were finally pried open, Cmdr. Xunlai was the first to enter. The smell was terrible, the scene of burnt flesh and feathers permeated the room along with the smell of charred furnishings and spilled blood. Most of the pillars were damaged in some form or fashion, a few were shattered completely. He found Princess Azula off to one side. At first he thought she was unconscious, the only signs of battle was her soot and ash stained clothes and skin. Her hair was in disarray, the topknot holder missing along with the traditional hair piece of a Royal Princess. But when he reached down to touch her, his hand touched cold flesh of the dead instead of the warm flesh of the living. He knelt down to check, rolling her slightly to the side. Her head moved and twisted in such a way he knew without a doubt her neck had been snapped with such force her death was instant. Standing he moved further into the room. A large mound lay close to the raised platform where the Fire Lord normally sat.
Slowly XaXu shifted and sat up on her haunches. Most of her feathers were signed or burnt off completely, one wing hung limp and she favored her left hind leg. She also had numerous burns that looked like they came from fire whips. And like everything else in the room, she was covered in soot, ash and dust.
The state of Prince Zuko's companion wasn't what had Cmdr. Xunlai's attention though. It was the blackened, charred corpse of the former Fire Lord, Ozai. The only reason he knew who it was, was because half the man's face was still easily recognizable.
"The Fire Lord is dead… Long Live Fire Lord Zuko, Child of Fire and Chosen of Agni," she intoned solemnly, her mind voice reaching out not only to Zuko, but to every single person within the Caldera and the surrounding city. She swayed then slowly toppled over to lay on her side, her breathing evening out as she slid into unconsciousness.
In the days that followed, Zuko refused to speak with XaXu. Instead he poured out his anger and hatred for what she had done. In turn, she accepted it as her due and returned her love and unwavering support of him. It would be weeks before he would come to an understanding of why she had done it and months before he finally forgave her.
~~ ( - ) ~~
In the year 98AG the Year of the Horse, at high noon on the summer solstice, at age 15 Zuko, former Crown Prince, was officially named Fire Lord Zuko. The youngest ever Fire Lord in recorded history.
One of the first decrees of his reign was to return autonomy to the Fire Temples, no longer would they fall under the jurisdiction of the Crown. Following that was the decree to stop all advancement of troops in the Earth Kingdom. The war, sadly, could not be stopped over night. It had to be a gradual process to ensure the Fire Nation retained its stability while keeping the ability to protect itself from reprisals. Instead, with advice from several sources and his own study of the maps, he ordered a gradual withdrawal of men, women and resources. For the moment the colonies would remain under Fire Nation control until an agreeable plan could be worked out. Third decree was the revocation of the status as traitor to and exile from, the Fire Nation to number of men and women. No longer would they have to hide (though it would take up to a year for this news to reach everyone listed).
The news of his nephew's ascension as Fire Lord and the death of both his brother and his niece, would not reach Iroh for several months. When it did, it was in the forms of a summons to return to the Fire Nation and speak with the Fire Lord. To say he was surprised was an understatement. Due to Zuko's age and him being related to both the former Fire Lord and the current one, he was named (and crowned) Regent Fire Lord. He would co-rule until Zuko's 18th birthday, after which he would step down and could become an advisor if he so wished.
Zuko found himself suddenly the sole owner of not only his personal estates, properties and accounts but those of both his sister and father's, as well all that went with their titles. Not counting his status as Fire Lord and all that went with it, he became the wealthiest person in the Fire Nation if not the world. His personal income quadrupled overnight. It would take him months to unravel the tangled threads of just how some of those properties and accounts became his fathers. Sadly many of the bloodlines had been wiped out to even the cadet branches so returning them was no longer an option. Instead he found other creative to use some of the properties and to spend the money, almost all of them would eventually enrich the nation in some way, if not in his lifetime then in those of his descendants.
The parts of the Royal Palace that was the most damaged remained the throne room and the surrounding areas. Until it was either repaired or remodeled, the throne room was closed off and court was held in the front courtyard. Sitting at his back, as still as a statue sat XaXu. A living, breathing reminder of Agni's presence and his approval of Zuko as Fire Lord. While he held court, the priests and sages moved through every room, corridor and corner of the palace, performing cleansing rites and ceremonies to appease the spirits. It would be almost a year before the Palace was considered clean of malicious spirits and harmoniously balanced once more.
Other occurrences happened in his first few months as Fire Lord….
The Hono-Yingzi stepped from the shadows and made themselves known to Zuko. They made their formal oaths and once more became the Fire Lord's private information network, and when needed, his silent shadow assassins. He gained teachers in the art of stealth, learned how to hide in plain sight and learned a wider range of weapons. Rumors of spirits roaming the Caldera and Capital City spread as small time criminals started appearing tied up in places for the Home Guard to find in the mornings. They all said variations of the same thing; a Water Demon wielding dual blades and a Kitsune who threw knives with deadly accuracy came out of no where and vanished again like smoke in the wind.
A family of Waterbenders arrived in the capital. The child, a 7 ('Almost 8!') year old girl named Umiko made it known, quite loudly, that she was here because the Great Moon Spirit Tui asked it of her and she wasn't about to let Tui down by saying no. Her parents, both waterbenders as well as healers, were Tonraq and Luava. They admitted that they were baffled at their daughter's insistence on coming but offered their services all the same. It didn't take long after that before they were integrated into the network of physicians and Fire Healers within the capital. And if Umiko was gaining more practice by healing bruises, scrapes and the occasional sprains, neither she, Zuko or his partner said anything. By his 16th birthday, the scar given to him by his father had been soften, the mobility of the eyelid returned to almost full and his sight in that eye increased to almost normal. Though it could never be removed, the scar no longer defined who he was.
The men and women of the military who had been forced to retire due to injuries sustained in the line of duty found themselves going from sub-par assistance and second class citizens to receiving top notch care and being honored. Many found themselves being requested to work on or assist with various projects that had sprung up all over the nation.
By the end of his first year as Fire Lord, Zuko was in delicate negotiations for a truce as well as opening trade between the Fire Nation and the Northern Water Tribe. Healers Tonraq and Luava provided invaluable information on customs and views which helped him avoid potential disasters (like sending a female diplomat or female guards, no matter how good they were). His offer of truce and trade with the Earth Kingdom met with mixed results. King Bumi in Omashu didn't even bother with reading what was offered, just accepted it with a hearty handshake, a staggering slap on the back and introductions to his pet Floppsy. No word had yet to come from King Kuei of Ba Sing Se. As for the Southern Water Tribe, he had yet to have a chance at offering a truce and reparations due to the simple fact, no one knew who was really in charge. The current status of the Southern Water Tribe was a dozen or so tiny villages loosely aligned with each other and who often declared war on each other all dependant upon what time of year it was and how good or bad their hunts went.
The education system was being overhauled as well. The dogma of the Fire Nation superiority was removed completely. More emphasis was placed on innovations and free thought, of the freedom of expression and tolerance of other Nation's customs and views. No longer were some bloodlines revered over others, instead the person's accomplishments in life became the focus. The concepts of air gardening, hydroponics and sea farming were introduced and expanded on as a way to increase food production without having to rely solely on what was brought in from the Colonies.
A delegation was sent to the Northern Air Temple. The leader of those living at the temple no longer had the threat of harm hanging over his head. Plans for war machines were destroyed (after being secretly copied for archival purposes that is), and instead the focus was shifted to new methods of easier, faster transportation. The idea of air travel was encouraged and if a working plans could be made, the Fire Nation would pay handsomely for it. As for War Minister Qin, he was hauled back to the Fire Nation to stand before Fire Lord Zuko for questioning and reassignment.
Factories around the Fire Nation that once operated constantly, creating environmental and health hazards were reduced to minimal operations until it was determined if they should be kept open, re-purposed or shut down completely. Teams were sent out to deal with the cleanups and help the locals start rebuilding their lives. The Fire Temples sent out their own teams to see about cleansing those areas as well. Many of these projects were funded not by the Crown, but by the Fire Lord personally.
~~ ( - ) ~~
In the late spring of 100AG, the Year of the Monkey, everything changed. Again.
The last of the remodeling and renovations to the palace had been completed, in part due to the earthbenders who had been hired (after thorough checks) to help assist in the task. The throne room was now a brighter, more open area that was akin to a rather large pavilion than a true room. The Imperial Guards weren't too happy with the new design but at the same time, they agreed that it wasn't so oppressive anymore either.
Zuko was currently sitting in his office going over the quarterly budget requests and financial reports. Like the throne room, his office was more open. Large floor to ceiling folding panels that could be opened or closed depending on the weather and diaphanous curtains that provided extra light while keeping out the insects. The heady scent of spring flowers and the light breeze which kept it from getting too oppressively hot were a bonus. XaXu was laying curled in a patch of sunlight, listening to him read through the reports and offering her occasional input. Iroh was sitting at his own side desk reading as well, he had his own copies of the budget requests and financial reports due to his status as Regent.
In the distance a horn started blaring causing both royals to look up from their paperwork then at each other. XaXu uncurled and moved to sit behind Zuko like a statue, wings slightly unfurled and her head held high yet angled down slightly. A closer horn blared and the Imperial Guards went from alert to combat ready. The commander of the guard, Xunlai slipped into the office nodding subtly to the royals then to XaXu before taking his place.
A large shadow passed over head and a low groaning bellow sounded off as a creature, easily three times as large as XaXu, if not bigger, landed in the private courtyard off the office. The curtains rippled and blew open revealing a trio of figures slightly smaller than Zuko himself, each armed in some way. The two in the back were wearing Water Tribe blue, the male holding what looked to be some type of club (though why it was bent the way it was who knows), the female was in a waterbending stance and had a globe of water swirling between her hands. As for the first figure, they were much smaller but was holding a staff in hand.
"Fire Lord Ozai! I am the Avatar and I demand you stop this war right now and order your people to leave the Earth Kingdom!" the front figure said. The voice indicated that it was a male and young, maybe just into puberty.
Zuko raised an eyebrow and shared a look with his uncle before he shrugged and went back to the budget request. He was neck deep in dealing with the national budget and quarterly finance reports so wasn't in the mood to deal with kids.
Iroh shrugged and stood up, "Actually he is not Ozai…." He didn't get to finish before the kid claiming to be the Avatar slashed his staff forward in an arc causing a huge gust of whipped through the office scattering papers everywhere. He let out a sigh and looked around as the papers fluttered to the ground. "...Oh dear…."
"Ha! Then you're Fire Lord Ozai! Admit it!" yelled the male Water Tribesman as he pointed a finger at the elderly man in rich red and gold robes.
"No, he's not," Zuko commented as he rubbed his temple, still reading the one page he had in hand, the rest, once neatly stacked was now scattered hopelessly around the room. Slowly he lowered the page and aimed a glare at at the boy. "So you are the Avatar?"
"Yep! That's me," the boy answered.
The Water Tribe girl hissed "Aang!"
Zuko sighed and leaned back against XaXu's front legs. "Tell me Avatar Aang, can you balance a national budget and ensure everyone gets what they need to ensure those under them will not go needing?"
"Uuhh.. what's a budget?"
"Do you even know what a financial report is?"
Avatar Aang looked puzzled. "Umm…"
Zuko rolled his eyes with a sigh. "So, being the Avatar means you're the master of all four elements right?"
"Well… you see.. about that… I..kindaonlyknowairbutIplanongoingtotheNorthernWaterTribetolearnwaterbendingwithkatara," Aang said it all in one breath.
The girl, Katara, let out a groan as the water dropped to the floor in a splash. The boy facepalmed and turned away to beat his head against a pillar.
"You are the Avatar but you only know Air…." He facepalmed as well before looking up. "XaXu? Would you show Avatar Aang out please? And Uncle...For the last time.. Tea is not a national requirement on the budget!" he looked at Cmdr. Xunlai, "Could you please summon my secretary? It seems I'm going to need either help straightening up this mess or a new set of papers…"
The trio's jaws dropped as XaXu folded her wings and stood up. A quick nuzzle to the side of his head then she was walking around the desk. With ease, since the boy wasn't fighting her, she plucked him up by the back of his tunic and walked out to where the creature they arrived on was standing. A toss of her head had him flying into the air and dropping into the saddle basket on the creature's back. "Please see to it that the Avatar arrives safely at the Northern Water Tribe so that he can continue his training." She turned to 'assist' the two Water Tribe into the basket as well.
"No thank you," the boy said holding up his hand. "We can get on Appa without help. Let's go Katara…"
"You are more than welcome to come back when you are ready to learn firebending," Iroh called out. "I'm sure Zuko will be happy to teach out," he added with a huge grin.
"Ok!" Aang called out. "Yip yip Appa!"