Conjurors of an Age: Great Magicians of the Vitriolum Era

by Prof. Zei. Head of Anthropology Department, Ba Sing Se University

-X-

...but the question that captivates poets and academics, kings and errand boys, lawyers and alewives, is this: what makes a great magician? Power and training seem small-minded answers, their elucidation curt and indistinct.

By its very definition, magic is a contradiction; it not only creates the impossible, it is the impossible.

Is magic to be deemed a servant of the Mind or a hostage of the Heart? Is passion a restorative or a poison to its workings? Each magician had a theory, every college a philosophy...each argument inspired its own opposite...an issue both private and peculiar...

Perhaps the best example of the era's conflicting mindsets lies in the remarkable relationship that existed between the time's most notorious opposites...


"Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero." pledge motto on Prince Zuko's journeyman badge

From the moment he was born, Prince Zuko had no place to hide—nor truly belong.

...'Prince' being the closest available translation of his real title, though the family no longer owned a throne. (For more information consult Bishop Roku's Sozin's Winter; Decline and Fall of the Ember Empire.)

...arrived in the city at the age fourteen, emigrating for unexplained circumstances...

...his renowned uncle, the retired General Iroh, an Elemental Master of prominence...

Though educated at the magical institutions of his homeland, he was nonetheless obligated to pass the local Qualification Examination to earn the badge of apprentice; it was presumed he'd have little trouble passing the test.

Prince Zuko adamantly refused the offer...

...spending a year under his uncle's private tutelage...

...end of the year, he approached the Council of Five for permission to undertake the auxiliary examination (ironically nicknamed "trial by fire") which required him to construct and present a wholly original conjuration...

He succeeded and was granted permission to apprentice.


"Cum grano salis." pledge motto on Miss Katara's journeyman badge

.
..a captain's daughter...

...a storm...suspected piracy...Captain Hakoda willed his assets to be evenly split between brother and sister in an unconventional gesture of egalitarianism...

...St. Marine Board School...healer schooling...

...during the winter Miss Katara turned fourteen, her brother used the majority of his inheritance to bring her back to the city and procure a magical preparatory curriculum for the girl. That he was able to do so is no small testament to the young man's ingenuity, and powers of persuasion...

...a female Master both licensed and recognized was a rarity...a sensation...an anomaly...

...present female talents with alternate options, such as healing...seldom giving any encouragement to pursue certified Mastery...

Allegedly the tribal sea kingdoms, where Water magic is most frequent, hold no such prejudice on gender...Miss Katara's own early conflict with her Master, a transplanted river native, belies the claim...Dr. Pakku made no secret of his original reluctance to undertake a female pupil, let alone accept one as an apprentice...

...equally open about admitting that Miss Katara was the most distinguished student ever to come under his care...

She requested the auxiliary exam...twice refused...the official, and generally suspect, reason stated being her young age...The Council of Five finally allowed the examination...

She succeeded and was granted permission to apprentice.

-X-

It is impossible to say exactly what beget the rivalry.

The Council of Five had a longtime history of being tightfisted about granting licenses, especially to foreign residents. Competition was always fierce among peers...Prince Zuko and Miss Katara rated on a level higher than the rest of their set...they had to endure much heavier scrutiny due to "exceptional" potential...

Rumor speculated that only one apprentice would receive journeyman authorization...

...promoting two high level magicians would make it impossible to moderate their performance as new Masters...the city's resources were still recovering in the Great War's aftermath...

...hard to say how much truth these rumors held, both apprentices felt the pressure of hearsay...

...each raised the bar for the other, the result being an ongoing private contest...


...the Masters...

Dr. Pakku and General Iroh long enjoyed an unconventional friendship...a strange liaison considering the two had initially fought on opposite sides during the Great War.

...venerable scholars...highly sought after as teachers...

...neither of the men had plans to accept the demanding task and responsibility of training an apprentice, let alone mentor one through the journeyman period...yet both found themselves doing exactly that...acquiring their charges within mere months of each other...

...the Winter Solstice Ball...all licensed magicians required to attend...both Masters attended with a young guest, each who they introduced as their private student...

...no record, however, that the young people ever made each other's acquaintance...


Generally, one believes that the main aim of a tactile spell is to forestall or to be ahead of the opponent. Among contests of the same Element a valid needs only to be delivered a fraction of a second earlier; among matches of different, let alone opposing Elements, forestalling takes more subtle form. Here forestalling is expressed not only through speed of conjuration, but by the necessity for careful and acute perception. Plainly speaking, the magician must be a thought ahead of his, or her, opponent. It is by this principle that the pair built their rivalry.

Prince Zuko presented a new parry tactic...within a week, Miss Katara had the answering riposte to match it...her attack was displaced with his froissement...his augmented tierce defense was arrested by her coup d'arrêt...a Fire neuvieme versus a Water passé...

...always there remained a distance between them...a strange war, when overt foes never share a battlefield...

It was a mercilessly civil clash of ingenuity, craft, and absolute obstinacy.

...no quarter asked, none given...

-X-

...the time of apprenticeship drew to a close...Society, and the rest of the city, readied for the storm...fireworks and torrents...snow and ash...

Nobody could've predicted what actually occurred.



Author's Note (of Apology):
Hi, Vertigo here.

Having read the above (or at least skimmed over the shorter bits) you probably have some questions. Like, is Bending magic? Vitriolum whatchamacallit what now? Or, when is this happening? Also: what the hell's up with all the ellipses?

Well…

-X-

"It's not magic. It's waterbending."The Boy in the Iceberg

…but what if it was both?

CP is a collaboration between the inimitable Irrel and the inexcusable I cooked up over a series of silly emails and boring work hours. The project was—and still isn't—meant to be anything other than an exercise in folly. Irrel wanted to try drawing Zutara in something involving a longer hemline and neater hair (seriously, Zuzu, buy a comb). I wanted to play with magic water and Victorian dialogue. Of such desires is madness born.

While actual full-length stories/chapters are possible (and tentatively planned) they will not be featured here, in this collection. Rather The Peacock's Companion will house various drabbles and odds describing the CP universe and the Zutara relationship within. Don't be fooled by the lengthy appetizer above; the things you'll read here will be significantly shorter.

Illustration pertaining to CP can be found either at Irrel's deviantART site or at the CP Livejournal community. Addresses for both can be found in my profile. Go check out the graphics because they're definitely the niftiest thing about this lunacy.

The point is, fillies and gents, once upon a time two people (who happened to be bored) made up some stuff about two other people (who happened to be fictional) and decided to share it with whatever other people happened to be into that sort of crazy thing.

Thus bibbidi bobbidi boo...