Blue Mask, 2 Swords, and Sozin's Comet

Avatar's Handmaiden's Sacrifice

By Pat Squared

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"Report, Handmaiden. You bear greetings from an avatar dead thirteen long years and yet you have no news of what happened to his successor."

For ninety six generations, her ancestors lived unseen among the shadows. For ninety six generations, her ancestors were the eyes that watched the world and the dagger in the shadow that many avatars used to nip problems in the bud.

However, today was her first day as the handmaiden to represent the avatar's interests to the fire nation. By normal measures, it would be decades before she would be old and experienced enough to speak with Avatar Roku's voice.

This was not normal times. She was the only left that Roku trusted to carry his last message from the grave.

Only blood kin could convey the words of the dead to the living and be a conduit from the living to the realm of the dead.

She would be the last handmaiden until the new avatar, an Air Nomad named Aang returned from his self-imposed exile and selected his new handmaidens from her distant cousins. Only then would she be able to relinquish the role given her by the shade of her father Avatar Roku.

The young maiden bowed to young Fire Lord Sozin as etiquette demanded.

She tried to relax. She tried to enter the meditative calm required to be a faithful conduit to the spirit world. However, the calm eluded her. Despite her sheltered upbringing, she was not fazed by talking to nobility. However, she was worried that they would not take a mere girl seriously - whether or not her father was the old avatar.

The Lord Protector of the Earth Kingdom was stubborn and unyielding as a granite mountain. He would never believe her message.

The Lords and Ladies of the Water Tribes were like the hidden currents of the sea, deep, powerful, and mysterious. They would listen, but they would never condone the demands she would make.

The Masters of the Air Nomads were elusive like zephyrs of air. She would not even have a chance to talk to them.

However, nothing scared her like the quicksilver tempers of the fire nation nobility. The only thing they held more important than profit was their status - their honor.

Fire consumed air.

Fire and air mixed together properly yielded only a more powerful flame.

However, what scared her was not the temper of the nobles assembled around the dais, but her own legendary temper. She was fire mixed with air, a product of an avatar of fire and a air-bending handmaiden from the Air Nomads. Unlike the cool red, orange, or yellow flames, her flames were blue and white hot enough to melt any metal. If challenged to an Agni Kai, she would incinerate any firebender.

However, she had to deliver the message vital to the safety of the world. She was but six years old when her father died and moved to the spirit world. However, at nineteen, she had to deliver a message or watch as the world her father attempt to preserve die.

She had no choice. There was only one way left for her to communicate the message and its seriousness to the Fire Lord. The price would be steep, but better that only one suffer than the entire world.

She slid out of her robes revealing her mother and father marks on her back. Only the Avatar handmaidens were allowed such marks. Unlike the others, her parent marks were merged into one mark. A red dragon and a golden phoenix melded into a firestorm.

She could hear the vulgar exclamations and awe from the assorted male nobles as they saw her nude form. She knew that by any race's standard she was attractive, even if only in an exotic way. However, having an avatar for a father ensured that most suitor would give her wide berth. Even dead avatars were powerful enough to strike the living from the spirit world.

She resisted the urge to give the nobles a demonstration of what happens when certain types of air and fire mix. Explosions were not conducive to the type of diplomacy needed to ensure that her father's message would be acted upon. Besides, they would not ooh and awe at her slender body much longer. To save the universe, she would have to sacrifice herself.

She reached into her bag and withdrew two curved broadswords, a stone coin, a feather, a piece of chalk, and a blue mask. With the chalk, she drew a circle with an intricate design of spirals and loops.

"Lord Sozin, I ask that no one enters the circle or disturbs the ritual until I am finish. Even only then, can a true healer touch me without joining me in the Halls of the Dead. I shall be close to Death and Death shall be close to me. To break this rule will forever end my communion between the world of form and the world of shadows. Summon scribes for I will not be able to repeat the message nor will I ever be able to commune with the departed again."

She slid the blue mask to her face.

"I was conceived under the light of the waxing moon. I was conceived by my father's salt. My birth was heralded by my mother's tears. If I shall lie, may the gods take back the gifts of the waxing moon, salt and tears that gave me life and spirit."

She stood on the stone coin crushing it into dust.

"I stand firm upon the truth I speak until the highest mountain falls into the sea."

She slid the feather into her braids.

"My soul flies free and bids me to return to the land where my ancestors now wait for me."

She crossed the swords in front of her chest with the sharp blades next to her neck.

"My soul is surety for my words and shall bear witness to the truths until the furthest star burns to cold ashes."

With a twist she severed the arteries in her neck forever committing her to serve as the blood bearer of this message.

She slid aside as another presence took over her body.

She watched in horrid fascination as her body maintained it perfect posture.

She watched as her body used the quill in her hair and her life blood to write her father's final warning on the stone-tiled floor.

The message commanded the fire nation to perform an evil to prevent a greater evil. A proud race must be exterminated so that a plague would be burnt out before it spreads all over the world.

Only fire could stop the plague that the comet will bring.

Only fire could save the world.

Every time the comet comes, it was the Fire Nation's duty to burn it out so that Pestilence did not destroy the world.

Her body stepped off the remains of the stone coin. With her tears and the dust, the message was made permanent on the stone.

She wondered what death would be like.

Would it be a relief?

Would her father be proud or upset that she had to kill herself?

Would she have to answer to the gods for her role in the prophecy?

Her body was pale from the loss of so much blood.

Her fingernails were turning blue at the quick. Her blood was congealing on the stones.

She winched when her body drove the point of the sword into her throat forever severing her vocal cords.

She watched helplessly as her body collapsed.

A young man wearing the colors of the Fire Lord's bodyguard unit and a badge of a healer stepped off the dais and wrapped her body with his cloak. His eyes were soft, brown like the candied bezel beetle nut that every fire-nation child view as the ultimate treat. Instinctively she knew his name and despite the fact that he was the only commoner in the throne room, destiny marked this young man for great things and his offspring for greater things.

He was only allowed in this room because he was a healer. Fire Nation nobles unhesitatingly would cut into each other with swords or burn each other for honor in Agni Kai's, but none would perform the unclean task of cutting into human corpses to master the surgical arts for which the fire nation healers were known.

She followed as he took her dying body to a room and started cleaning it as tradition demanded. He sutured her cuts, keeping her stitches small to minimize their presence. Even in death, the fire nation took great pains to uphold their concept of honor.

However, the young man did something against the rules.

He removed her death mask. He removed the feather. He removed the swords. He set them aside.

He pulled out a dagger and slit his right wrist. With his right hand he offered her life saving blood and with his left he started using fire to finish melding her severed veins together.

She now could feel the flames consuming her, sealing her to this life.

She wanted to scream in protest that it was her fate to die this day, but her cords were forever cut.

Not even the legendary healers of the water nation or the most skill surgeons of the fire nation would be able to restore her voice.

The young handmaiden suffered in silence. Her body was gapping for air. Yet she was trying to not drink the healer's blood. Her body battled her mind. Her body's desire to live despite the damage won over her guilt.

He placed his lips over hers and gave her the breath of life. His warmth pulled her back from the cold. His willingness to sacrifice his own life to save someone else he never met obligated her.

The young man passed out from the loss of blood. Despite her pain, she knew that she would forever owe the young man's family a life debt unless she saved him. With the last of her fading will, she sealed his wound.

A whispered legend would be born this day.

A legend whispered from ruler to heir.

A stone only viewed by the Fire Lord upon the ascension to the golden dais.

A task that would dearly cost the fire nation its claim to honor.

A task that would result in the death of at least one nation.

A task that would unite the others to destroy the nation cursed to perform the dreaded task.

To save the fire nation, the fire nation would have to fight off the world and kill a people that the fire nation once considered close allies.

To save the fire nation, Sozin would have to unite his people and sacrifice their parents, siblings, children, wealth, and honor for a terrible cause.

To save the fire nation, Sozin and his descendants would have to throw away generations of sacrifice and hard work by his ancestors.

A nation once known for its scholarship in the natural arts, its civilized culture, and legendary merchant houses would have to turn its knowledge and wealth to bring two things quite foreign to the fire nation and this world – Total Warfare and Genocide.

However a second legend was born also this day. A legend that would be more well known.

The legends would tell of Kozun and the silent lady and of their love.

Minstrels would sing of the sacrifice both bore for the good of the fire nation.

The invasion force was decimated by the plague that Sozin's comet brought.

However, Kozun, a healer, used his knowledge of disease to save his troops.

Kozun rose rapidly through the ranks and soon found himself leading the force that burnt out the plague before it spread beyond the confines of the Air Temples.

Kozun wept as he, a healer, became a mass murderer.

Knowing that only knowing that this sacrifice was necessary for the greater good, Kozun's silent lady watched mutely as her husband killed her mother's kin. She was just the echo of a doomed race. It was in the lands of the Air Nomads the two consummated their love while trying to comfort one another. It was in the lands of Air Nomads they wed and conceived a son.

Twelve years, before Zuko's birth, Kozun and his lady both died the same night.

Born to a brothel girl and raised in a house of joy above the apothecary shop that provide treatment to the working girls, Kozun died a general and most trusted advisor to Fire Lords Sozin and Azulan.

Their only child, then Commander Lu Ten, the fire-bending tutor to Ozai and Iroh, lit the pyre that sent the legendary pair to the spirit world.

Iroh would name his only son in honor of his teacher and surrogate father.

In due time, Lu Ten's daughter, Ursa, and his prized student, Iroh, together would light his pyre and send Admiral Lu Ten to join his parents in the Halls of the Dead.

Although the Kozun Clan was not an ancient lineage with dozens of generations of service to the Fire Nation, Fire Lord Azulan arranged for Ursa to marry his younger son.

It was a marriage of wealth to power.

Kozun and his son, Lu Ten, were not only shrewd on the battlefield, but dealing with the various trading houses. In two generations, they took a small endowment from a grateful nation and turned it into a financial empire.

With its legendary reputation for frugality and reinvesting its profits wisely, Clan Kozun became the wealthiest clan in the Fire Nation, or at least the one with the most coins to lend the Fire Lord. To cement political alliances among the traditional noble class and prevent the expected dissatisfaction that would occur when he allied himself with Clan Kozun, Fire Lord Azulan wedded his eldest son, Iroh, to a daughter of a politically powerful clan in the Assembly of Lords.

The wealth of the Kozun clan was the very air that the fire nation war machine breathed.

Clan Kozun's numerous shipyards and metal foundries provided the military with war goods. Their master artisans developed the terrifying weapons that allowed the Fire Nation to dominate battlefields, despite being outnumbered ten or twenty to one. Their merchant network provided the intelligence that every general needed to conduct a campaign. Their vast fleet of merchant ships provided the logistical support required to maintain a large effective fighting force. Without the resources of the Kozun Clan, the war would have ended in defeat for the Fire Nation decades ago.

Thus the fates of the house of Kozun and the house of Sozin would forever be linked.

In due time, the union between Clans Sozin and Kozun yielded two children.

The eldest child was a sickly son named Zuko who was born two months prematurely and suffered from lung flux.

The youngest child was a gifted firebender named Azula after her paternal grandfather.

The ill health of the son initial did not matter as Ozai was distant in the line of succession. Zuko was just a prince in name - Until his cousin Lu Ten died, Uncle Iroh was disgraced, and his father Ozai became Fire Lord soon thereafter.

Originally groomed to manage the Kozun financial empire, Zuko was now thrust into a role that no one expected for the weakling prince.

The child of Clans Sozin and Kozun was force by fate to grow up in a single night.

He had to survive. He had to fight the ill-effects of a premature birth and prove that he was fit to be the crown prince.

With the exception of his uncle, Iroh, everyone else in the palace wanted him dead. Twice he had to fend off assassins, killing his first man at the age of twelve. He had to face down the critic that wanted to push him aside.

A moment's decision to do what was right and a single comment destroyed everything. Save for Uncle Iroh, he no longer had a family. He went from being the next Fire Lord to being the example of what could happen if you did not toe the line in the Fire Nation.

Zuko vowed to spite them all. He vowed to be the boy that would honor his mother's memory. He vowed to raise his successor as his Kozun ancestors would wish their offspring to be raised. Although tradition dictated his loyalties should lie with his father's clan. However, in his heart, he was Clan Kozun.

That was the night that Princess Ursa disappeared, the mask, the swords, and the title of Clansmaster Kozun were passed down to Ursa's only son, Zuko.

The morning he left his homeland, Zuko would bring the mask and the two swords of Kozun's silent lady.