Author's Notes: Thanks for the great reviews so far, everyone. Now, at first, this story may seem a lot like the show, but as time goes on things will change.
Er... Small note that I forgot to tell you about last chapter. In this story, Zuko will not be able to firebend. On the other hand, Sokka can waterbend, for obvious reasons. An interesting change, don't you think? Things like that will be all throughout the story, situations where people who can normally bend can't and vice versa. They're all necessary, I tell you.
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender and I am in no way associated with the creators of the show.
Book 1: Fire
Chapter 1: The Boy in the Volcano
The raven-haired girl sighed at her brother as she chased him through the various trails and trees. He was refusing to listen to her taunts about him being an incompetent hunter. She didn't even know why she came out here to hunt with him, but she did know that the heat was already starting to get to her, despite being around it her whole life. She had a short fuse at the moment, and their prey's speed was definitely beginning to irk her. They nearly had a whole village to feed, so couldn't they get a break?
"Zuzu, you really need to work on your hunting skills, you know that?" she picked on her older brother, annoyed. She rummaged through the foliage and numerous bushes and trees, looking for the boy. "Zuzu, where are you?" she sang.
"Shut up, Azula!" he whispered furiously. And then she saw him, crouched in one of the bushes, his broadswords held out as he watched the rabbit-fowl standing on a bunch of leaves.
"You can't hunt an animal like that with broadswords, dum-dum. You've got to be kidding me," she sighed dramatically. At the sound of her voice, the animal dashed away again, letting out an annoying squawking sound.
"You let it get away again!" he yelled in frustration to her, running after it.
"I bet I can get it before you," she challenged with a smirk, running alongside him as they ran. His golden eyes narrowed.
Her smirk grew wider as the two ran and dodged through the trees, neither of them taking their scrutinizing golden gazes off of their prey. Quite suddenly, the two of them stopped short as they noticed where the rabbit-fowl was going, just as they ran out of the trees.
Azula looked up at the long mountain pass stretched before her. The foolish creature ran right up the rocky, dangerous road through the mountains. Even their Uncle didn't know what lied beyond.
"You go first," Azula dared her brother.
"What? No, this place is forbidden, you know that!" he said, taking a cautious step back.
"Aw, my big brother is trying to abide by the rules like a good little honor-boy," she said in a mock-baby voice. "It's not like the place'll explode!"
"What are you talking about? There are volcanoes in there. Volcanoes. You know what those are, don't you? They explode," he said to her, arms crossed.
"Well, I don't know about you, but I'm not gonna give up chasing that annoying little creature so soon. I'm going in," she said, bravely stepping forward and going up.
Zuko groaned. "Why do you have to be like this? If you die, it's not my fault," he said. Azula just laughed to herself. The siblings walked forward slowly, as the heavy, rotten smell of sulfur hung in the air. The heat rolled over them in waves, causing even more sweat to fall from their brows. Azula looked up at the sun, cursing herself for wearing black clothes on a day like this. Zuko wore his dark red with gold edges and black boots. He couldn't have been much cooler. After a few minutes of walking, they came to an opening in the path, where hot steam shot out from the ground in numerous places. There was a conveniently placed cliff off to their left.
Azula walked forward without pausing, while Zuko stopped behind her. "Coming?" she asked him, looking over her shoulder.
"Are you crazy? It's only getting even more dangerous. By now, the thing's probably fried," he told her. "Either that, or it left already," he muttered under his breath.
"Let's keep looking. This place is pretty cool," she said. He hesitantly stepped forward, and when he did, a jet of steam shot from the ground. "Zuko!" she yelled, running over back to where he was, narrowly dodging another spurt of the stuff. "Zuko!" she called again. He was nowhere to be found. She started to get frantic now, looking all around while she jumped between blasts of steam and lava. She felt ready to choke; the sulfur was getting everywhere, in her lungs, stinging her eyes...
"ZUKO!" she shouted, her voice clearly betraying anguish. No, he couldn't be, this was all her fault, she made him come... He was practically all she had left... She threw her arms up into the air, pulling them down again as she shouted for her brother with a stomp of her foot. "Zuko, stop hiding! You have to be here!"
The rock wall next to her suddenly cracked loudly, causing her to jump back with fright. Magma surged out of the cracks, followed by a blinding bright light.
"Azula!" she heard a voice. Relief washed over her when she saw a pale hand reach up from the cliffside, gripping the rock as he tried to pull himself back onto solid ground. Thank Agni he was able to grab something after he jumped...! She ran over to pull him up, and with their combined efforts, Zuko was on the ground, on his hands and knees, panting. She smiled.
"Zuzu, you're such an idiot, falling like that..." she said, laughing weakly.
"What did you do?" he asked, looking over to the cracked rock, which was still webbing across the walls.
"W-wait, you think I did that?" she asked with shock.
"You're the only crazy firebender around here that I know," he answered. The wall exploded outwards, narrowly missing the two of them as more magma gushed out of the hole. Suddenly, a huge glowing red stone toppled out, landing over one of the lava holes. "What the hell is that thing?"
Azula narrowed her eyes when she saw the dark shapes inside the stone. "No, who is that thing?" She hurriedly pushed herself up and walked over to it, examining the fiery red stone closely. What kind of material was this? The person inside of the stone had their legs crossed and their fists pointed into each other, with glowing arrows on the backs of his hands and head. It was bald. "What the...?"
And then the eyes opened, glowing just as bright as the stone and the arrows.
Azula let out a small gasp. "He's alive! We've got to do something," she said to her brother. She widened her stance, holding out one hand. Her palm faced the stone as she braced her wrist with her other hand, and taking a deep breath, she forced her energy into it. A ball of flame shot out of her hand, but it did nothing to the stone.
"Azula! It could be dangerous!" Zuko yelled at his sister. The stone was huge, most of it still concealed by the mountain beside it. The magma that was gushing out of it was already hardening into volcanic rock. Azula kept blasting the stone with fire, but it did nothing, until hot air burst from a crack in it, pushing her back. Zuko caught and braced her as they heard more large cracks in the rock. One huge crack was splitting it up the middle, and smoke covered the whole thing. A brilliant white light shot straight up into the air.
A small wooden ship was slowly approaching the area. It sailed with blue masts with a giant silver orb in the middle—the symbol of the Water Tribes.
A boy on the deck of the ship saw the light. He was deeply tanned, with brown hair that was shaved on the sides with a long warrior's wolf tail in the back of his head.
"Finally," he said to himself, narrowing his icy blue eye. The other eye was missing. A long, straight scar went right through his left eye. He turned to the other person on the deck with him. "Grandmother, do you realize what this means?"
The old woman was sitting calmly, playing a game of Pai Sho and eating seal biscuits. "I won't be able to finish my game and cookies?" She had grey hair, and her face was lined with age, but she was as equally tanned as her grandson. She wore light Water Tribe clothing, while her grandson wore Water Tribe style wolf armor.
"No, it means my search is over," he said, turning to the light again. His grandmother sighed. "That light came from only one place—the Avatar!" he said determinedly. He looked so much older than he really was.
"Oh, it's probably nothing," his grandmother said. "Don't get excited over nothing, Prince Sokka. Come, sit, and finish this game with me. It's rather challenging," she said, scratching her chin as she placed down another tile. She cackled with delight. "Ooh, I've got this game! Here, have a biscuit."
"I don't need any biscuits!" Sokka yelled furiously at her. "I need to capture the Avatar! Helmsman, head a course for the light!"
His grandmother shrugged. "Fine, suit yourself. Man, it's hot."
Azula and Zuko tried waving the smoke away as the beacon died out. When they could see, they spotted the boy trying to push himself out of the rock, his eyes and arrows still glowing. The siblings looked up in amazement.
"Stop!" Zuko said threateningly, regaining his bearings. He held out his swords. The young boy stood up straight. What was he going to do?
The bright light all around them suddenly died out, and the boy's arrows turned blue as he lost consciousness, falling forward. Azula ran forward and caught him. She laid him down gently on the ground, her arm holding his head up. Zuko began poking his head. "Stop it," Azula said, annoyed. The boy let out a weak groan.
Aang's eyes twitched, as he felt air come into his lungs after so long. His eyes were closed, but he didn't want them to open... He was comfortable, and warm. He didn't feel this truly at ease for such a long time. But then he felt his head lying against stone, and someone moving his body. Wh... What? He weakly opened his eyes.
The first thing he saw was rather nice—two golden orbs peering down at him curiously, with just a hint of cautiousness in them. "Don't look like that," he mumbled. "I'm not dangerous."
"What's he saying?" another voice asked. The deep voice didn't fit the pretty girl.
"I can't tell," the girl shushed the boy. Wait a minute... Golden eyes... Black hair... Eyes as sharp as a hawk's... Azula!
His awareness hit him full force. The first thing he did was thrust his hands forward, producing a mass of air that struck the girl, sending her flying backwards. He stood up with another gust of air, his movements pure reflexes. Azula was sent tumbling down the rocky path. Where am I? What did she do to me? He wondered.
"What are you doing?" the deeper voice roared. Next thing he knew, someone was attacking him with broadswords—reckless swings of the sword that were easily dodged. He spun quickly, sending the boy across the field and into some more black rock. He got into a stance. No more running from Azula. He decided that a long time ago. Ignoring the boy, who ran toward him again, he ran full speed toward the girl who tumbled down the path. He didn't even realize that she was being oddly clumsy for Azula's normally cat-like movements. He didn't even realize that he wasn't bending any other elements; the air came so easily to him... He pulled back his arm once he gained on the girl, ready to strike her, ready to finally end her...
"STOP!" a voice desperately shouted, and he suddenly felt force against his arm, grabbing him and pulling him back. Aang looked at him with anger.
"Let me go!"
"Leave my sister alone!" the boy yelled. Aang froze. His sister? Now, he finally looked closer at the boy, a little taller than him, maybe around his age. His eyes were just as golden as Azula's. Now he recognized the face. It was Zuko. But he was different.
He had no scar.
His gaze hurriedly switched to Azula. She was kneeling on the ground, looking up at Aang with fear, but also with determination to defend herself. And then it hit him. This wasn't Azula. It couldn't be. She did not have the coldness, the lack of mercy, and the condescension in her eyes. "I-I'm sorry!" Aang stuttered, falling to his knees. "I... I thought that you were someone else!"
"So you attacked her?" Zuko asked him, still full of anger.
"Who are you?" Azula immediately demanded. "Those attacks... I couldn't see any of them... Are you... An airbender?"
"Uh... Yeah," Aang answered, scratching his head. She was forgiving him, already? Or was she just still shocked? As he scratched his head, he realized something. His hair was gone! After the failed invasion on the Day of the Black Sun, he decided to let his hair grow out again. But now... He was bald. Again.
"How'd you get in that fire stone?" Zuko asked, arms crossed. He held back his anger, for the time being. Azula didn't seem too angry or scared, now that the boy wasn't after her. She was just curious. Odd, Zuko thought.
"What?" Aang asked, looking around him. He laid his eyes on the red stone, now devoid of glowing energy. This all seemed familiar... What was going on? Could it be...? He jumped up with the aid of air, landing on the inside of the stone. Yes, it was. Appa was there. But how? How did he and Appa end up like this? Last time he remembered, he was with Avatar Yangchen. She wanted him to abandon his regular mission for the time being, and make new friends? She said he needed to see the world from all perspectives. Was this what she meant? Was he on some kind of crazy spirit quest? He had to know.
"Appa, wake up buddy," the Avatar said to his bison. He climbed onto his head, pulling open his eyelid, but he didn't move. He went over to tug on his mouth, as Zuko and Azula walked around to see what he was doing. Zuko gaped, just as Appa woke up and licked Aang.
"What the hell is that?" Zuko asked, holding his sword in front of him, in case Appa attacked him too.
"Appa, my flying bison," Aang answered, with a ghost of a smile on his face. Appa began to inhale, and he sneezed. Aang ducked just in time, but the green bison snot got all over Zuko.
"Ugh, that's disgusting," Azula said, staring at Zuko. Zuko tried vainly to wipe it off of him.
"That thing can't fly," he stated. "That's impossible."
Azula stepped up to him. "You guys are from around here, right?" Aang asked. Zuko pointed his swords at Aang again.
"Don't answer that! He probably signaled the Water Navy! He's a spy," he accused. Aang's eyes widened. Did he just say...? No, it can't be! He refused to believe it.
"Did you just say... The Water Navy?" Aang asked weakly.
"Duh, who else?" he thought that was Azula, but suddenly, he felt lightheaded and dizzy.
"What's wrong with him?" Zuko asked.
"I don't know, but there's definitely something weird about him."
"First he attacks us, and now he's having a seizure or something. You know, I don't really care," Zuko said, folding his arms. Aang fell to his knees, clutching his head. What was going on? Did his previous lives just dump him into some twisted, separate dimension? Was he just dreaming?
"Tell me everything you know, please," he said to them, looking up at the two. He chose to just accept the option that he was dreaming.
"Why should we?" Azula scoffed. "First you attack us, then you go crazy, and now you just expect us to do what you want?"
"So it's the Water Tribe, as in, waterbenders, that's controlling the world?" he asked unsurely.
"Of course, everyone knows that," Zuko said, speaking slowly. Aang fell back.
"Ugh... I think I feel sick again," he mumbled. "Please, tell me everything about the war."
"It's been going on for a hundred years," Azula informed him. "One hundred years ago, the Water Tribes invaded all the other Nations, and they were winning. The Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation fought back, but they wiped out all of the Air Nomads," she said, adding the end weakly. Aang sighed.
"I thought that might happen," he said. "Keep going."
The two looked at him oddly as he casually dismissed the destruction of his people, but Zuko continued. "Our father and most of the men in our village went off to fight."
"I'm the last firebender in the whole southern part of the Fire Nation," Azula sighed. "My father looked all around for a master, but I haven't been able to find any. Anyway, I'm Azula, and this is my dum-dum brother, Zuko."
"Shut up, Azula."
"I don't think you're a Water Navy spy," she said, inspecting him from all sides and ignoring her brother. "By the way, it's considered polite to tell us your name after we've introduced ourselves."
"Oh... My name's Aang," he said, offering a weak smile. Just go along with it... I'm just dreaming...
"Doesn't matter," Zuko said, turning around back to the path. "I'm leaving. I need to protect the village; I don't believe him."
"Excuse my idiotic brother," Azula said to Aang. "Zuzu, he's an airbender. The only one in a hundred years! Don't leave yet. He's kind of interesting. That's the only reason why I haven't kicked his ass yet for what he did."
"You wouldn't be able to kick his ass anyway!" Zuko scoffed, snickering. "You lost pitifully."
"Well, he surprised me," Azula said, crossing her arms. As the two siblings bickered, Aang thought to himself.
How am I going to wake up? He tried pinching himself, but it hurt. "Oh, uh, Azula... And Zuko," he said. This will take some getting used to. "Appa can give us a ride."
"I'm not riding on that thing, we're walking," Zuko said. Aang remembered another incident, way back when he first came out of the iceberg in the South Pole.
"Oh, he might need some rest anyway," Aang said. "Let's go, Appa." The bison groaned tiredly, walking slowly around the stone to join them on the path. He didn't seem distrustful of Azula or Zuko. And then Aang wondered. Was this Appa the same one that went through all of his adventures with him, back in the "normal"... place? Did he have the same memories and experiences as Aang, or was he in that stone for one hundred years? Appa couldn't really talk to him and confirm it or anything. He folded his arms and thought for a moment. He looked at Azula again, her black hair not as sleek as it normally was, her face tanner, her nails not as sharp, and her eyes not as cruel.
"Why are you staring at me?" she asked, turning to look at him.
"Oh... nothing," he replied. Then he remembered. The "real" Appa had a scar on his back right leg, a long gash cut into him by Mai. Aang sifted through the white fur, looking for the scar. Nope... Nothing, he thought sadly. He was alone in this "dream." If anything, that proved that he was dreaming, and it wasn't real. It had to. He slapped himself.
"What are you doing?" Azula asked.
"Told you he's crazy," Zuko whispered to her.
"There were, uh... Lava bugs on my face," Aang quickly lied. Azula and Zuko raised an eyebrow.
Sokka remained on the deck of the ship, not taking his eyes off of the approaching shore. They weren't getting there soon enough! The Avatar would run away! He was about to explode in anger to anyone that spoke to him.
"Prince Sokka, I'm going to bed," his Grandmother yawned. Sokka mentally sighed. Of course, the one exception had to interrupt him. "An old lady needs her rest. So do you. Off to bed!"
"I'm not giving up on searching for the Avatar!" Sokka barked, not turning to the old woman.
She sighed. "Even if you're right, and the Avatar is alive, your father, my husband, and your great-grandfather have all tried, and failed."
"Because their honor didn't hinge on the Avatar's capture," Sokka said, thinking about the scar over his empty socket. "Mine does. The Avatar's hundred years in hiding are over."
It was getting later now as the sun began to set beneath the mountains. Zuko walked ahead determinedly, but Aang was weary and wanted some time alone. Azula also looked tired.
"Hey, I was wondering..." she began, slowing to a pace to match his, "... Do you know what happened to the Avatar? He was supposed to be born into the Air Nomads."
"What? Oh, I don't know," Aang shrugged halfheartedly.
"Alright," Azula said, nodding. She let out a long, cat-like yawn. "I'm tired."
"You can go and, uh... Rest on Appa, if you like," he offered, not believing his own words. This was Azula! But... She was different. He mentally groaned.
After a few more hours of walking, where Zuko didn't complain once, they found the village. It was well into the night, and it was deserted, but there were a few torches lit. Most of the structures were wooden, surrounded by a small wall of sticks. There were also numerous tents around.
"You can sleep in this one," Azula said. She had likely not been sleeping. The firebender jumped off of Appa and led him to one of the tents. "It's not much, but you'll be fine. Night."
"Night," he mumbled, collapsing onto a heap of blankets. Sleep mercifully came to him immediately.
He was fighting in a mass of people, blood and dead bodies all around him. Everything was burning, but there was also a storm. Lightning cracked through the sky as the enemy firebenders drove the rebels back. A fireball was soaring through the heavens, heading towards the Earth, giving the firebenders unstoppable power.
Aang fought using the full rage of the Avatar as his allies fell around him, one among them being Jeong Jeong, who had ten firebenders all around him as each of them fought with as much strength and power as Aang. The firebending master, as skilled as he was, fell to the inferno.
"NO!" Aang shouted, waking up.
"Aang, what's going on?" Azula asked, storming into the small tent. She stumbled over him, not expecting him to be sitting up.
"I'm sorry," Aang said to her, hugging his knees. "It was just a bad dream."
"Oh, well, come on then. Everyone wants to see you." She pulled him up and outside, and the sudden, sweltering heat made him sweat. "Aang, this is our entire village. Everyone, this is Aang." He looked over them all, not surprised to see that most of them consisted of women and children, except for one old man. Iroh! He looked the same as ever, so achingly familiar that he felt a painful sensation in his stomach. He offered a smile to them. "He's an airbender." Now they looked interested.
"An airbender?" Iroh asked, stepping forward. "I have never met one. It is an honor."
"He's our kooky Uncle," Azula informed him. Iroh grinned widely.
"Call me Uncle," Iroh told him. "Is that... a glider?" he asked, pointing to his staff.
"Of course," Aang smiled. He's alive... I can see him... Iroh had helped so much and had become so close to all of them. To think that Azula, the girl standing next to him, had ended his life... it was unfathomable. "Want to see it in action?"
"That would be wonderful," Iroh said with an excited grin. He didn't change at all. Aang unfurled the glider's wings, soaring up into the air as a skeptical Zuko watched in awe. Most of the children cheered. When Aang landed again, most of the children crowded around him while even Azula looked interested. Zuko grumbled to himself. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but Azula has errands to finish." The firebender rolled her eyes, but walked off. "Now, Aang, would you like to talk over some tea?"
Sokka stood on the deck of the ship once again, but this time he wasn't facing the approaching shore. Three Water Navy soldiers stood in front of him, while his Grandmother was sitting off to the side. The soldiers got into a stance.
"Again," she commanded. Water rose from the sea at Sokka's command, hitting the soldiers' own streams of water. One threw knives of ice at him, which were blocked by Sokka's newly formed ice wall. Water lashed out at him, but he dodged between the whips, returning blasts of water to them. He landed on both of his feet, facing his three opponents. "No, you're doing it wrong," the old woman said a little harshly. "Waterbending is passive, it flows all around us. It is a redirecting power, not a blocking defense. Water cannot be forced by us. As little energy as possible has to go into bending water for defense, so make use of its cutting ability. Watch," she explained, pulling up thin tendrils of water from the sea. One of the soldiers threw a dagger of ice at her, which was cut clean through without any effort. "See? Try it that way."
"No, I'm more than ready to move past the basics," Sokka said, trying to force the anger out of his voice. "Teach me more."
"No, you are too impatient. Keep doing what you were doing," she ordered. Sokka growled, pulling up a jet of water and sending it at a soldier. He tried redirecting the attack with more water, but was pushed back.
"The Avatar is over one hundred years old. He's an airbender. He's had plenty of time to master all four elements. I'll need more than basics to defeat him!"
His Grandmother seemed to think this over, but reluctantly answered. "Fine, but after I finish my cookies."
"Aang," Azula called to him, after finishing her chores. She opened the tent flap, looking inside to see Aang and Iroh joyfully sipping at their tea. He was almost able to forget that he was dreaming, and that the war was still going on. Someone who had died had returned to him.
"Yeah?" he asked, stifling his laughter over a joke he and Iroh shared.
"Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Um, sure," he said. He followed her out of the tent, but she was walking out of the village. "Where are we going?"
"On a walk," she replied. He caught up with her. "Can you teach me firebending?" she suddenly asked.
"Firebending? I don't think so," he replied sullenly. The day before, as they were walking through the night, he had tried lighting a fire in his palm... but it didn't work. It was as if he totally forgot how to bring fire to life in his hands. He tried everything—moving rocks, conjuring water—but he could only airbend. He didn't know what was going on, but something wasn't right. "There's nobody else to teach you?"
"No, like I said, I'm the only firebender here."
"What? Iroh and Zuko can't bend?"
"Of course not," she said, staring at him oddly. "The only firebenders live in the Golden City."
Aang almost froze in his tracks. That explained a lot of things. Before, he saw Zuko lighting a fire using flint and tinder, and Iroh boiled his tea with the same method. And there was something else now, too. "What's the Golden City?" he asked.
"How long were you in that volcano?" she asked.
"I'd say about a hundred years, since I don't know about this war with the Water Tribes," he said offhandedly. "But what's the Golden City?"
"You seem to be taking that well," she said, raising an eyebrow. "You're a very odd boy. Anyway, it's a city to the north. It's one of the only standing Fire cities left."
"Well, I'm sure there's firebenders there. Why don't you go?"
"It's on the other side of the world. I can't just simply walk there," she said, sighing in defeat. He couldn't believe he was about to say this... but he needed to see if he could firebend again. It was the only way.
"I can bring you, on Appa," he choked out.
"I can bring you on Appa," he said more clearly.
"What? It sounds great and all, but I don't know," she said, averting her eyes. Aang almost slapped himself again. This girl was definitely different than the Azula he knew. "His" Azula was so clear and precise, and never indecisive.
"Well, think about it," he said.
"Let's head back," said Azula. "It's time to eat soon."
As he followed after her, Aang thought, This is definitely the weirdest dream I've ever had. He jumped up and down through the air, trying to lift her spirits. His jumps brought him over twenty feet into the sky. She let out a small smile.
Sokka looked through the telescope, spotting something odd. It looked like a tiny person, jumping abnormally high.
"He's quite fast for his old age," he mused. "Someone tell my Grandmother that I've found the Avatar." He moved the scope to where the old man was heading. "... as well as his hiding place."
Author's Note: Sorry that this seems a lot like the show at this point, but like I said, things will change as Aang begins to accept that he's not dreaming and he'll try to change things for the better. I know it's boring, but it'll get better. We're still in the introductory chapters :/
Okay, I've fixed the Uncle/Grandmother mistake (XD) If anyone notices any others, please feel free to tell me. I know I will keep mixing those up, even when I'm specifically looking for them.
Anyway, tell me how you like this chapter so far :)