I walk through the soft light shimmering, dusty, in the air. I'm completely alone. Completely and utterly alone.
My eyes downcast, my hair drifts with my gait in the still atmosphere, forest sounds barely penetrating my bubble of solitary silence. I reach up, and, for the thousandth time in my life, touch the mass of discolored flesh that hounds and engulfs my eye, my own private curse to bear. Uncle always said I needed to control my self-pity, but no matter how hard I try, I can't keep my head high. The sun bears down mercilessly, and it's too hard to let light back into my life.
I see a small, grey stone beside my foot and kick it off the path. A walk to clear my head, I told Uncle. Clear my head? More like jumble it even more with thoughts streaming in from all directions. The Earth Kingdom is beautiful, yes, but I can still remember the raw might of volcanoes belching lava into the sky and the firebenders laughing as they channeled it into the crystal sea down the bleached white sand. This loamy forest seems like nothing next to the shady courtyards where I spent my youth.
Closing my eyes, I breathe deeply. I unclench my jaw and unfurrow my brow. Sometimes it feels fruitless, this search for the Avatar over landscapes I wouldn't touch if my honor weren't at stake.
I long to wear the high ponytail of elegant ebony perched on top of my head once again, have a set of delicate showcase fingers instead of these rough, callused hands. I want to feel the hot breeze on my face and soak up the scorching sun's sweat in all its glory to try and prove that I'm not just anyone - I'm a prince. But what I want most of all is a look, just one look from my father that's not filled with loathing and disgust, like he wishes I was the kitchen boy instead of his son. I want frustrated tears not to trickle from the sides of my eyes, declaring my weakness.
I don't want the Avatar - I want the benefits he will bring. Sometimes I consider him unlucky, three different Fire Nation search parties hunting tirelessly for him. Most of the time I just want to see him bound in front of me, helpless and ready for me to deliver him.
His eyes are old for his age, filled with a brown-grey stoniness of training and power. I loathe the feeling of shame I get when I'm knocked aside by a gust of something I can't even see.
I touch my scar once more and wish it covered my whole face, my whole body. It's what I've become, a disfigured, crumpled image of the perfection it used to resemble, hardened and stiffened. Rigid skin with merely a slit of humanity glaring out from its depths. What irony that I should be cursed with such a life to go with such a mark.
As I squint up at the sun, a tear slips from my eye, and I remember the old days where I'd sit on mother's lap and fold into her warm embrace after a hard training session. I let the tear trickle on its way, thinking how weak my father thought I was every time I dared show emotion. I used to cry all the time - for my own miserable self-pity when I couldn't be as quick or as perfect as Azula. I used to cry for my manic sister and my cruel father and my banished uncle. These days, I only ever cry for the mark on my face the tear trickles over, when I remember the old days. These days, I only cry for the times when I was something, someone.
I count the things that are still the same from when I was young: my tears, firebending, and the sun.
They say that the sun gives firebenders power. But if it's remained the same, then why is it that I feel so drained now, so lifeless as I plot and chart and look up into the sky? Why is it that I feel completely powerless? My power source does not come from the sun, apparently. It must come from my skin, and my soul, and my heart, which are now totally unrecognizable.
I sit on the bank of the river and dip my feet in. The water soothes my aching feet and I look up at the sun, still the same after all these years, still the same as the one I saw while sitting in the garden, long before I became what I am.