Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with the show Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Chapter 1

It was a typical day for the Avatar clan. Sokka was snoozing on Appa's saddle, a thin line of drool pooling beneath his head. Katara was sitting nearby busily mending a tear in her sleeping bag while doing her best to ignore her brother's resounding snores. And the Avatar himself was perched on the giant bison's head, humming to himself and glancing idly at the land passing by below them.

It had been a week since they left the North Pole. Aang had pretty much mastered Waterbending in no time at all. Their teacher, an elder of the village named Kita, had greatly praised Katara on the few bending moves she had taught him. It had helped move them along a lot faster. Katara, too, had greatly improved and was now the equal of any Waterbender her age if not better. Sokka, who was completely uninterested in their "fancy splashes", spent most of his time sleeping, eating, or training with the warriors of the North Pole. All in all, they had each had a pleasant time. They had a temporary relief from the pursuit of Prince Zuko who had surprisingly not been seen in almost a month. And their treatment had been much the same as in Kyoshi- they were pampered and spoiled the entire time. It had been hard to leave.

With a sigh of relief, Katara tied off the final stitch in her worn out sleeping bag and rolled it back up. She was going to have to get a new one soon. One had been offered her upon their departure from the North Pole but she found it difficult to part with anything that had come with her this far from home. Sokka had teased her endlessly about being emotionally attached to a sleeping bag. Slowly stretching out her cramped muscles, she glanced over the side of Appa's saddle and realized that she vaguely recognized the area they were flying over. They must be getting close.

Crawling towards the pommel of the saddle, she called, "Hey, Aang, how much longer do you think it'll be until we reach Omashu?"

Jerked suddenly out of his private thoughts, the boy took a second to answer but eventually turned to her and grinned. "We've been making excellent time. This trip's been a lot quicker without Prince Zuko and the Fire Nation waiting for us at every turn. We should reach Omashu within the next two days," he answered. "I just hope Momo got that message to Bumi. I'm not quite sure how reliable he is as a messanger and I don't really want to enter the city again unannounced." He shivered slightly recalling their previous visit to the Earth Kingdom city.

Katara chuckled. "Well, even if he didn't, atleast we're known this time. I'm sure King Bumi will welcome us with open arms unannounced or not. He knows as well as any of us how crucial it is for you to learn Earthbending."

Aang nodded in agreement and returned his attention to steering Appa. There was a few minutes of silence before Katara asked aloud, "I wonder what has become of Zuko. I was worried we'd have to leave the North Pole as soon as we arrived because he'd come sailing in right behind us. But we haven't seen hide or hair of him since that storm."

Aang flinched. He, too, had just been wondering about the banished prince. Even after all these weeks, he hadn't been able to tell Katara or Sokka about his little escapade with Zuko at the Fire Nation fortress. The whole thing was a bit of a blur to him anyways. The only thing he remembered quiet clearly was removing the mask of his rescuer and revealing the face of his enemy. It was only the slight gratitude he felt towards the prince that kept him from leaving him where he had fallen. Whether it had been for his own benefit or not, Zuko had risked his life to break Aang out of the fortress. Since that night he had often thought back to the one-sided conversation they had had in the woods afterwards. The look on Zuko's face had been sad and almost understanding at the telling of Aang's story. Whatever his reasons for doing what he did, Aang was now sure that there was much more to the young Firebender than what met the eye.

In answer to Katara's question, he said, "I'm sure his ship was damaged in the storm. Maybe bad enough that it required lengthy repairs. And now that we've been over land for the last few days, he can't very well follow us in it." He paused. Her question was one of his own as well. Where was Zuko? Why wasn't he following them? In a way, he was almost worried for the prince. What if he had been found out? "I'm sure we'll be seeing him again eventually."

"Yeah," Katara said, looking at Aang closely. He had a far away look in his eyes, like he was reminiscing on some past event, and there was something in his voice that made her slightly suspicious. This hadn't been the first time, either. And the normally talkative, out-going young monk she knew so well seemed to be taking some time off. The Airbender had been so quite lately, often just sitting and thinking. She supposed it could just be the pressure that was resting on his shoulders to master all four elements by summer. But it was odd nevertheless. "I just wish we knew where he was," she continued. "He could have easily set up an ambush somewhere. The guy seems to have a knack for knowing exactly where we are and where we're going next."

She paused when Aang suddenly sat up straight from his relaxed position and stared at a point a little to their right. "What's wrong?"

"Momo!" the boy chirped happily as the little lemur came into view, a small scroll gripped in his hindpaws. Chirruping proudly at his accomplished delivery, Momo landed on Aang's outstretched arm and held out the roll of parchment to him. "Good job, boy!" Aang praised as he accepted the scroll and unrolled it. Momo hopped to his shoulder as Aang moved closer to Katara so she could hear him better. He smoothed the paper out on Appa's saddle and read out-loud:

Aang-

I am glad to hear you are well. My sincerest congratulations on your mastery of Waterbending. That is a great accomplishment. As for Earthbending, I would be more than happy to instruct you. You are welcomed in Omashu and a great feast will be held immediately upon your arrival. Until then

-King Bumi

P.S. My compliments to Momo. He arrived here in good health and delivered your message to me immediately. After raiding a few fruit stands, of course.

"Oh, boy! Food!" Aang and Katara jumped at the sudden shout as Momo shot off of Aang's shoulder and almost tumbled over the edge of the saddle in surprise. Apparently, Sokka had awakened in time to hear the word "feast", and was now jumping around happily. Aang and Katara just rolled their eyes.

"Typical," Katara muttered and Aang nodded in agreement.

Miles away from the trio, Prince Zuko's ship was currently in the process of docking at a small port. Sailors could be seen rushing around the ship's deck as it gradually slowed to a stop alongside one of the few docks. After a few minutes the plank was lowered and a short, stout figure could be seen descending it as Iroh made his way down to the dock and into the town's market. There really hadn't been any need to stop. Iroh had used the excuse that he was running low on tea. But the truth was, he just needed to get away from his nephew for a few hours. Ever since that night a few weeks back when the boy had disappeared without telling anybody what he was doing or where he was going, he had changed. They had trailed the bison for awhile afterwards, but upon reaching the cooler North Pole climates, had turned back. Iroh didn't know what compelled Zuko to do this. No one on board believed for a second the prince's explanation of not wanting to deal with cold weather again so soon. Compared to most Firebenders, Zuko enjoyed cool temperatures.

And then when word had come around a few weeks later that the Avatar had left the North Pole, Zuko surprisingly ignored them. When a rumor started that he was heading to the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu, he stayed right where he was. The old Dragon of the West didn't know what to think. Like Aang, Zuko hadn't told anyone, even his uncle, about that night. And like Katara, Iroh knew something was off although he didn't say anything.

So now, the retired general found himself pacing slowly up and down the aisles of booths and little shops in the town's central marketplace. It was a small, grungy place and the faces that peered out at passerby through the dirty shop windows had the feral eyes of weasels. He wished he could be just about anywhere else but here. But the sullen attitude his young nephew had recently adopted was killing him. True, he didn't stomp around deck so much barking needless orders and his temper had cooled down quite a bit. But Iroh liked the boy's silence even less. He didn't converse with anyone anymore, prefering to listen rather than speak. He spent even more time than usual locked up in his room meditating or sometimes leaning against the deck railing just staring at the ocean. Iroh guessed it could just be pressure. Zuko had so much weight on his shoulders, trying to capture the Avatar before Zhao but at the same time keep the well-being of his crew and ship in mind. After all, unlike the admiral he didn't have anyone to fall back on should anything happen to what he had now.

Shaking his head, Iroh quickly tried to shove these thoughts from his mind. He had come here to try and take a break from his troubled nephew. As much as he loved the boy, even the serene old man couldn't put up with his dour attitude 24/7.

Still plodding along slowly, the distraction he had been searching for finally came into view a few moments later. A small shop caught his eye, as it must every person who walked by that way. Covered with brightly colored flags and kites on the outside, it stuck out like a sore thumb from the dark and shabby outlets extending from either side of it. Through the windows, Iroh spied shelves full of a variety of different odds and assortments. It looked like his kind of a place. And he'd like to meet the brave soul who would create this one ray of sunshine among the cold, dark clouds.

Upon entering the store, he was immediately greeted by te soft, lilting melody of a flute. A young girl, not much older than his nephew, sat behind a desk at the back of the room, her feet propped up on the wooden top and her fingers dancing nimbly over the slender intrument's surface.

She removed the flute from her lips when he walked through the door and gave him a winning smile.

"Hello, sir. May I help you find something?" she asked in a sweet, musical voice that was similar to the sound of her pipe.

"No, no, nevermind me. I'm just browsing. Please continue. That was a beautiful tune you were playing."

She smiled and complied, returning the instrument to her mouth and gently blowing out the notes. Iroh turned to the shelves of knickknacks and began to inspect the diverse collection. He was intrigued by many of the objects. He wondered how a resident of such a small town could come across so many rich and exquisite wares. Reaching out a hand, he gently lifted a small glass hawk, wings extended in flight, bright red plumage glowing lustrously. It then occurred to him that maybe a little gift would cheer Zuko up. Replacing the hawk in its place on the shelf, he glanced around with a frown, wondering what on earth the prince would like. It was then that a large, dusty chest tucked away inconspicuously in one corner of the room caught his eye. It was a crude piece of work at best and he didn't know what had caused it to come to his attention. But then his eyes narrowed cunningly as he thought back to all those stories he'd been told in which some item of immense power and importance had been found hidden from view among other, less appealing objects.

Chuckling at the thought of discovering something that would "save the world", he made his way over to the chest and opened it. Although he doubted it had any secret magical power melded into its gleaming metal blade, the sword he found inside was by far the most wonderous weapon he had ever laid eyes on, and being the son and then brother of a Fire Lord, he had seen and even owned some splendid weaponry in his time. The blade was long but light, imbued with a firey-colored hugh that seem to flicker over its surface. The hilt had been fashioned in the likeness of a dragon rearing up on its hind legs and spreading its wings in defiance of some unknown foe. Two gleaming rubies had been inserted for its eyes and its body had been plated with a thin sheet of dark metal. Inscriptions in some language Iroh didn't know ran the length of the blade on both sides. The awesome piece was definitely fit for the Prince of the Fire Nation. Searching the chest again, Iroh retrieved the sword's scabbard. Not nearly as exciting as the blade, it was nevertheless in good condition. He blew a layer of dust of both his finds, and smoothly inserted the sword into the sheath.

Struggling back to his feet with a groan, the old man turned to make his way back to the young girl and her flute. Before he could get far though, something else tucked away in that same back corner caught his attention. Kneeling down again, he reached out and swept the dust and cobwebs off the statues surface and had to strangle a gasp at the figure beneath. Baleful green eyes stared back into his own, eyes that, although only painted stone, emanated a feeling of hate and despair. Underneath, an unsmiling mouth was slashed across the narrow face. Dark, bluish-black hair hung down to the shoulders of a black sleeveless cloak that was belted tightly at the waist. Crook-clawed hands rested on the hilt of a huge mace strapped to the belt and a spaded tail extended from beneath the cloak and wound its way around taloned feet. The rather demonic image was completed by strange symbols etched into the face and bare arms. Iroh raised his eyebrows at the statue. After the initial shock of seeing it, the creature looked like nothing more than a sad joke used to frighten small children. He was slightly embaressed that it had unnerved him at all.

"Ugly thing, isn't she?" a voice behind him commented. Iroh jumped to his feet and spun around in surprise. His embarresmant increased when he realized that he had been so entranced by the statue that his sharp ears hadn't caught either the sudden absence of music or the girl's approach from behind. She smiled that almost infuriatingly bright smile again and nodded at the sword he still grasped in his hand. "Did you want that?"

Swallowing, Iroh nodded back, "Er, yes. And I'd much appreciate it if you could wrap it for me?"

"Ah, a gift for someone?"

"My nephew, yes." He followed the girl back to the desk and watched as she took out a sheet of brown paper and set to work wrapping the sword. As she carefully went about her task, Iroh glanced back around at the demon-woman again.

"Who is she?"

"She?" the girl inquired, glancing up with a frown. Following his gaze to the statue, she brightened again. "Oh, her. It's an old legend and a simple enough telling." She returned to her wrapping as she continued speaking. "Her name is Kameko, Goddess of the Dead. Or atleast she was a few hundred years ago. Funny how people make such a big deal about worshipping gods and keeping them happy when the names and faces of the gods themselves are so often changing. Don't you think?"

"I guess."

"Anyway, the story goes that once every few thousand years, she gathers up her armies of demons and the undead and leads an attack on all humanity. Millions are killed on the human's side because, of course, demons and the living dead can't be killed. So there is always one human of extreme determination and strength that must rise above the rest to beat Kameko back down to her black pits of dark and despair below the earth, where she must bid her time until the next time she is allowed to come out." Her voice had gradually become lower and more mysterious with the continuation of her story, and ended on a slightly gravelly note accompanied by a knowing gleam in her eyes.

"Um, okay," Iroh said reaching for the now neatly wrapped sword. To his surprise, the girl jerked it out of his reach and leaned forward until they were almost nose-to-nose. Her sharp eyes bored into his. "The legend says the last war was fought 4,000 years ago," she whispered dramatically. "It is every 4,000 years that Kameko is supposed to rise from her maggot-hole and once again walk the earth." She searched his eyes for a moment and then straightened with a grin. "So I'd watch my back if I was you. Keep an eye out for any…strange occurences." She handed Iroh the package.

"Sure, thanks," he said trying hard not to stare incredulously at her. He was becoming slightly creeped out by this strange young woman. He incdicated his money which he had laid out next to the discarded flute. "You can keep the change," he said quickly before hurrying out of the shop. The girl watched him go, broad smile still plastered on her face.

So, there's chapter one. I'll go ahead and admit that this is my first story ever on fanfiction so forgive me if it sucks horribly. Any constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated. And so I don't get flamed later on, I'm gonna go ahead and warn you that after a few chapters, this story is going to almost completely swing away from the plot of the show. Kinda AUish I guess. And please just keep in mind that I am totally new at this and have no earthly idea what I'm doing. PLEASE LEAVE A REVIEW! IT WOULD MAKE ME FEEL SO LOVED!