Disclaimer: I do not own Danny Phantom, Avatar, or any other fictional work referred to in this story. Butch Hartman, Nickelodeon, and others do. The characters and whatnot being used are only being used for fun and not profit.

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The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.

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Dead Faces

By psychicsaphie

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Prologue - The Beginning

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Millenia ago...

Everything the Power does, it does in a circle.

This was the whisper of old mothers, grandmothers, the wise women and wise men, those that understood the nature of the world.

Circles and cycles--Man was born, man tilled the earth and hunted and lived off the land. The air was in his breath, water was in his blood, heat was in his body, his body was made of earth, and they knew because when man died, he went back into the earth.

There was balance in the world.

The Nomads understood it best and when petty rivalries and tribal concerns started to trouble the rest of the world, they withdrew to understand the nature of the world even better.

They lived in the mountains, far away from the rest of mankind and learned how to live from the sky bison, the peaceful giants that roamed over the skies in herds like living clouds. The sky-bison could not be tamed, but the nomads didn't try to tame them. They watched them and befriended them--they learned from them.

They understood that the world worked in circles and when they learned from their Bison brothers to move the air, they moved in circles too.

The Air Nomads were the first to learn.

The brown-skinned Tribe in the North was full of hunters. They clubbed the cat-seals and speared the six-flippered whales and thanked the spirits for their food because they knew they could not exist if it weren't for the circles of the world.

The Moon pulled the sea and sea pushed back, and they watched as the tides brought in the shoals of fish, and the fish brought out the penguins, and the penguins brought out the cat-seals. Their survival depended on cycles, on the push and pull of the moon and the ocean.

In the Water Tribe, they learned to push and pull the sea like the moon, and when some grew warlike and others grew more spiritual, a great number of Tribeman migrated all the way to the South of the world, to live in peace. The move was rather easy--at the time, the Air Nomads were always willing to give Water Tribesman rides north and south on their bison during their travels, after all.

The Water Tribe was the second to learn.

In a cave, deep under the ground, two lovers met in the dark, away from the war and hatred between their villages. From the badger-moles that tunneled through the mountains, they learned how to stand strong.

In the end, when only one of them was left, she needed to keep standing strong.

The Sons and Daughters of the Earth were the next to learn.

Where the ground bubbled and steamed, it took longer. They were a practical people, and they had no use for spirits and stories, but they were also creators, inventors. Soon, they realized that the spirit of the Sun gave them strength, a gift. Their respect for the spirits--especially the sun--grew.

The Children of the Sun were the last to learn, but they were by no means weak.

It was a gift, that some had and some did not. It was a gift given by the spirits of the sun and moon, a gift granted by the spirits of the earth and air.

The ability to heal the sick and wounded, the ability to build cities of stone, roads, the ability to smelt ore with ease, to create works of art and engineering the world had never seen, the joy of flight. These gifts were meant to be shared.

Human nature got in the way.

No one can really say what started it--most likely an argument over land or hunting rights. No one can really say who started it--whether the first village destroyed was flooded, blown to pieces, smashed with boulders, or burned to the ground.

It didn't matter. The balance was lost.

The stories that survived the time said that in places of great upheavel, battlegrounds, where forests were burned, wherever part of the world lay dead and dying, the spirit of the entire world sometimes showed itself, bodiless and voiceless, only great, glowing eyes that appeared and wept for the life lost.

Soldiers fell in great battle, and in the middle of the battleground, the spirit wept.

A city was flooded, and the spirit looked on from a hillside and wept.

A whole stretch of forest and all the villages in it burned and the spirit wept.

One day, during a great terrible battle, the spirit showed itself again, but this time it was not weeping.

This time it was angry.

The soldiers of both armies stopped fighting and quaked with fear as the eyes rose up, as hands appeared, trying to stop spears and turn aside swords, as legs moved the hulking giant in front of volleys of fireballs, tried to stamp down waves of earth.

When they realized it could touch nothing, the battle raged on, and the bodiless spirit tried to stop it.

Then the spirit finally understood what it had to do.

A great wind started to blow and the earth began to shake. Rain and hail pelted down, soaking the earth, and despite the rain, fire sparked to life in the mountainside, burning without fuel in the dark.

A storm had rolled in.

The winds were so strong that in the fields, the armies were forced to hunker down in their camps and stop fighting, lest they be blown away.

Wind and water, fire and stone.

Just like any birth, the birth of the spirit of the world was not gentle.

At first.

After the storm died down and the clouds cleared, after the fires burned out, after the stone stopped crumbling and popping, after the rain stopped falling, there was silence. Only the gentle shush of the breeze through the mountains.

There were five of them, that ventured up into the mountains, five that had fought in the armies and put aside their quarrel to go up into the mountains together.

Their names have long since been lost to time.

One listened to the earth, one listened to the air, one found strength in the sun, and one found strength in the moon.

The last found strength only in himself.

They were all barely more than children and they went where no one else dared to go.

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"What is it? What's in the pit?"

"I think..." the Airbender's voice was hushed with awe and disbelief. "I think it's a girl."

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When the spirit of the world first took on flesh and blood, she did not know how to stand and walk on two legs. She did not know to speak in any language other than what the spirits could understand.

The five of them, enemies at the start, understood that they had chanced upon something greater than them, greater than the war, and worked and lived in peace, even if they did not understand what she truly was. They showed her kindess, they took her in and taught her to speak, they protected her.

One thing she did know how to do, even before she could walk or talk properly, was Bend. A flick of her wrist and fire leapt to life, a stamp of her foot could make a mountain grow. Her breath could move the winds, a nod could part a sea.

When she finally learned to stand, it is said she could have made the whole world shake if she wanted to.

They named her Shakti, which means many things, but above all else, means 'divine energy,' partly because the storm had seemed an almost divine thing, an explosion of elemental energy.

…And partly because she never seemed to run out of it.

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"Look! Come out and look! She's doing it! Igul, she's a better Earthbender than you!"

"She is not! ...No, wait, never mind. She is. How did she teach herself?"

"She can Waterbend, too, see? Show them, Shakti! She's better than Naaquiq. And better than Bhala at Airbending, better than Guzu at Firebending."

"--Better than you at everything, Autiq."

"Oh, shut up."

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She learned to speak.

The five listened.

She told them what she was before they met her.

Solid as the earth, fluid as the water, bright as the fire, free as the air, infinite as space, she traversed all elements belonging to the world, without acquiring the identity of any.

In her travels, she saw only pain, the pain of man in the battlefield, the pain of children starving in villages because of war, the pain of felled trees and the spirits that had protected them, and had decided it was time to end it.

She told them about the nature of the world, how it was meant to be; how it had gone astray. She told them stories from when the world was young, she told them about the nature of the spirits, how the sun and moon had come to be, she sang them the songs of the stars.

She had already learned how to stand, so then she learned to walk.

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When she started walking, she did not stop, and the others followed her wherever she went.

From battlefield to battlefield, where armies were fought to a standstill, from city to city where diplomacy led to peace accords.

From village to village, where she taught peace.

Most loved her.

Some feared her.

The five that traveled with her loved her as much as children could love a mother, as much as siblings could love a sister.

At times they loved her as much as parents could love a child, for when the fighting was over and she was alone, she was very much a child--she would go into fields and lay down amongst the flower or jump into rivers fully clothed.

When the first attempt on her life was made by an angry Water Tribesman, they protected their child.

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"You killed my father! When you drowned the fleet, you killed my father! He was just a cook! You owe me your blood!"

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She felt the first pangs of her mortality then, but even as she bled, she stopped her companions from killing the man.

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"The fleet was raiding villages because of the blood feud. I had to stop it. I'm sorry."

"You killed him! You killed all of them!"

"Their lives meant just as much to me as the lives of the people in those villages. I had to make a choice. Please understand that. Please understand..."

--

There were many stories of the first Avatar that were recorded and then lost to time, but one of the ones that lasted the longest was the story of her death.

The name of the battle--even of the war--was forgotten, but it was a terrible one, that even the Air Nomads took part in.

The words of the Water Tribesman had not left her thoughts and as such she did not strike out against any of them, only tried time and time again to disarm all sides.

The storytellers said she swept through the armies in a circle, until all were bowed before her strength and before one another, armies of air, armies of water, armies of earth, armies of fire, armies no more.

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"Naaquiq! NAAQUIQ! She's dying!"

"I can't--there's too much blood--I can't--"

"I know! Make it stop!"

"I CAN'T!"

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As she lay dying, she told them of the sacrifice she had made, and of the gift she had given to the world.

The Avatar would not stop existing as long as the world existed, so long as the spirit of the world lived.

The spirit of the world would live so long as it was not slain, so long as it hid in flesh and was not brought forward to fight.

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"I will not--remember who I am. You will have to remind me. Your children will have to remind me."

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The Air temples had already existed, and the Air Nomads, urged on by her Airbending companion, were ready to wait and watch for the Avatar.

The Firebender went on to establish the Fire temples and the Fire Sages, the Waterbender did the same with the Water temples, as did the Earthbender with the Earth temples.

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"The palace will be your temple in the Earth Kingdom, too, Shakti. As long as my line reigns, the Avatar will always be welcome in Bǎ Chéng Shì."

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The one among them that did not have the gift was asked to care for everything else.

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"The spirits gave them strength, but you had your own strength, Autiq, and you are just as important. Be my voice when I'm gone--tell everyone I'm coming back."

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The Avatar died. In the Eastern Air temple, a newborn infant cried as it breathed its first breath.

Everything the Power does, it does in a circle.

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500 years ago...

"The door will be closed?" asked the man of the strange spirit.

"Yes, after this, I intend to seal it for good. This place may seem like nothing, but just as there is a world beyond your Spirit World, there is a world beyond this dreary place. These worlds are not meant to be crossed."

The silence was filled by the sound of clocks ticking away.

"I made a mistake," the man admitted mournfully, "Because I lost her, I--"

"Trapped him. When you could have destroyed him. I know."

"In time, he may be free. He may be able to break through the door."

"Oh, I am certain he will, but then, I suppose I'll see you again when you come to stop him from doing it, won't I. Even if you have a different face then," said Clockwork.

With that, he shut the door in the man's face and locked it up tight, a barrier between the Ghost Zone and the Spirit World--which were the same place, really. They couldn't be anymore, not after the war. Not after what had been done.

It was for the good of their world, as well. If Pariah Dark--who could not be destroyed--ever broke free...

Of course, he would. Clockwork knew he would.

Clockwork knew everything.

"Everything is exactly the way it's supposed to be," he said happily to himself.

Everything was meant to move in circles. Even time.

It all looked circular from above, anyway.