Hello readers. This story will be my first fanfic, and my first attempt at writing fiction in many years. I consider it to be a creative warm-up of sorts, but that does not mean it's going to be slap-shod textual garbage either. Once upon a time I took creative writing as a serious endeavor... my means of artistic expression since I suck at drawing or painting ;)
Unfortunately, being more career-minded caused me to shove aside enjoyable hobbies for far too long. The Avatar story was so compelling, so damn well written and presented, that when it ended I couldn't help but want more... and found myself reading several dozens of stories on ficnet. Now I'm going to take my own crack at it.
But enough about me, I want to briefly talk about the framework for my story.
Let me list what this story is: a post-war gen-fic, canon I would say, looking to extend the story in a way that makes sense without being predictable or stupid. Lots of people have done this; some have done this better than others. I hope to be the latter, but time will tell.
Many of the core characters have loose ends at the conclusion of Book III, and I intend to resolve some of those. I also intend to develop some of these characters beyond what Mike and Bryan put forth, because lets face it... they're kids and they still have growing up to do. They have more mistakes to make, more things to learn, and more battles to fight.
I will do my best to preserve the fantasy-ness of the story and try to keep my own cynicism and "people would never do that in real-life" comments out of it as much as possible. Suspension of disbelief is part of making a story like this enjoyable. That said, the lines of what is common and plausible in the Avatar universe have been drawn, and I'm not inclined to smash them around to make them fit my story... my story has to fit the source material. The end result should be something I might call 'plausible fantasy'.
Of course, let me also mention what this story is not: a ship-fic of any kind, or a story meant to pander to any particular community. It's just a story. There will, of course, be relationship developments and possibly changes, because that's what human beings do: develop and change. Don't expect me to focus on a couple more than the overall plot though.
I should also mention that this story will not focus exclusively around the 'Gaang' as they've come to be called, which I now consider to be Aang, Katara, Toph, Zuko, Sokka, and Suki. The story will eventually incorporate more attention for a few supporting characters, and some OCs as well.
I'm also not writing this story for the sake of boosting my ego with review-praise. I hope the meanest, most critical jerk in the entire ficnet community comes to review my story and just rips it apart (constructively, of course... I can't learn or improve from flames). But if no one reviews, that's cool too... ultimately I just want to practice the art.
Finally, a couple of quick notes on locations. I'm assuming that the avatar world is round, and the maps shown display most of the known landmasses, and that there is a huge amount of ocean between the western shore of the Fire Nation and the eastern shore of the Earth Kingdom. In line with this, I'm assuming this stretch of sea to be extremely dangerous to travel by boat, be it by weather or sea serpents or what have you, which would explain why approaches between the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom has always been what they were. With air travel, in my story Ozai actually went west from his capital and arrived at an island to the east of Ba Sing Se, which is where the Wulong forest lies. This is also the route the giant lion-turtle took Aang on. I've done my research based on Nickelodeon's site and other sources to get the idea of where various towns and other places are supposed to be, but I may deviate from what is accepted as fact because some locations (Great Divide being one of them) just don't make sense to me.
Preface over. I humbly present the first chapter of Spinning Whispers.
Chapter 1: Always Fools
Fire Lord Zuko pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a long, hot breath. On the open deck of his small diplomatic airship, he leaned over the railing and watched his exhalations immediately cool into misty vapors.
He chuckled slightly. At this altitude, maybe his breath would contribute towards the next storm-cloud over the northern reaches of the Earth Kingdom. Some places could really use the rain.
No more than a month ago, his father and a large contingent of firebenders had incinerated a great portion of the Wulong forest, east of the Earth Kingdom capital of Ba Sing Se, with the power granted by the passing of Sozin's comet.
His father, the previous Fire Lord, Ozai, had intended to burn a swath straight into and beyond the outer wall of Ba Sing Se and consume as much of the Agrarian Zone and other nearby life-teeming lands as he could, all in a display of awesome firepower. All with the express purpose of destroying hope.
Then his father, who would call himself Phoenix King, found the last airbender, Aang, the Avatar and hope-incarnate, waiting at the edge of the forest for him... and Aang would not be destroyed that day.
Since his ascension to the throne, it dawned on him that the trials ahead were not going to be easier than before. Just different. Wrapped up in his thoughts so much as he was, he nearly flipped over the railing when Suki tapped him on the shoulders.
"Sorry!" the Kyoshi Warrior managed between chuckles, "Why so jumpy?"
Zuko relaxed and tried to compose himself, but the effort only made Suki laugh even more. "I'm concerned about what's waiting for us back in the Fire Nation."
Zuko's words seemed to sober her. "Could be anything; could be nothing at all. If there's a problem, I'm sure Ty Lee and the rest of my girls will be all over it."
"I'm not doubting them. It's just that part of me hopes I'm just being paranoid, but I know I'm not. Things are going to get complicated when we flush the rats out of the council and the nobility. What we have now seems so... fragile."
"It's not fragile, Zuko, it would take a lot of effort to break the peace we've begun putting together. Even your crazy sister would have trouble undoing what we've accomplished," Suki smiled brightly, then added: "Have some faith."
"I want to... but with snakes like General Bujing likely to strike at any moment... well that was part of the point of this trip I guess. Bait them with my absence."
"I thought it was to celebrate with friends?"
"Well, that too."
Zuko gripped the railing. He wanted vermin like Bujing to incriminate themselves. That man, who thought nothing of sacrificing an entire rookie division for the sake of a military feint, deserved to be in chains for life.
But his Uncle Iroh advised patience. Zuko, you cannot not risk going on a spree of punishment against your own people... not without a reason the public would accept.
He touched the waxy scar on the left side of his face and wondered how things would have been different if he had actually dueled Bujing instead of his father. He quickly dismissed the line of thought - too many variables - and exhaled another big puff of air, watching it disappear into the darkening view of the land. The sun was setting, and he could no longer make out the details of the Earth Kingdom as they flew by. All he saw were big, rolling shadows.
"I'm turning in Zuko. Try not to be so negative."
He barely managed a nod, not even turning towards her. Probable treachery wasn't the only thought plaguing him. He didn't know what to do about the colonies, and would most likely need to make a trip out to them himself at some point. The total colony population was sizable, but he believed they could be relocated if he was smart about it. Just the same, he knew that many of his people living there would not be happy about moving, having established their livelihood and families.
"Aren't you cold?" a deep, slightly monotone but distinctly feminine voice called behind him. Zuko turned towards Mai, and she added, "Do you want to share your life story?"
"No, and... no. I've been looking backwards enough today." Mai smiled and rolled her eyes, although both gestures were slight. Zuko let out a small laugh, already feeling his mood shift back to something more centered. He noticed she was still wearing the white and green dress from their last moments at his uncle's tea shop; her open-mindedness on color was easily one of her more obvious changes, although she still pretended to hate orange and preferred red and black.
"A wise decision, Zuko," she said as he pulled her into a warm embrace. "Would I be crazy if I said I'm starting to miss your tantrums?"
"Tantrums?" Zuko gave her a half-hearted groan, betrayed by the grin on his face. They held each other in silence for a moment, enjoying the contrast of the night air to their own shared warmth.
"Suki went to sleep already, it's been a long day," Mai eventually said.
"I was talking to her a few minutes ago."
"Glad you got along with them." Zuko said, suddenly changing the subject.
"Hmm? They're alright, although Toph could have refrained from bruising my arm."
"Better get used to that, being Toph's friend is almost as painful as being her enemy."
"We should probably turn in as well," Mai offered. Zuko nodded, knowing the airship would find home without issue. He trusted the handful of guards, engineers, and navigators on the ship to see them home safely, most of them were the same men who were his crew for three years.
The Jasmine Dragon was bustling with activity, and although Avatar Aang was glad to see Iroh's business doing well and loaded with the laughter of happy people, he was secretly hoping for the tea shop to be empty.
Aang had spent the better part of the day arguing with various Earth Kingdom nobles, dodging mobs of over-zealous admirers, and saying goodbye to a lot of dear friends. Zuko, Mai, and Suki had set out the previous night on Zuko's private airship towards the Fire Nation capital city. He would be joining them eventually, as he had no doubt the Kyoshi warriors will have dug up some ill-tempered Fire Nation military personnel and they were likely to need his presence in maintaining peace during their apprehension.
Sokka and Katara had set out with their father that morning, heading southeast for Chameleon Bay, where they would take a Southern Water Tribe ship back home. It was hard watching the two siblings depart, especially Katara, after they had been together for so long, but they had not been home for almost three seasons, and his immediate duties were still in Ba Sing Se.
Toph, who had been uncharacteristically teary in seeing off 'Snoozles' and 'Sweetness', gave Aang a crushing hug and abruptly said she was off to see her own family in Gaoling. Aang hoped she would refrain from churning up the roads too much, but held little hope as she began her journey by drilling right through the outer wall of the city instead of using the open gate that was only a few steps away. General Sung would have a fit.
Sighing, he snuck around to the back of the shop and gracefully leaped through a nearby window into what had become his temporary living quarters. General Hao, leader of the Earth Kingdom's Council of Five and now acting regent while the absent King Kuei was being tracked down, had offered Aang a place in the palace, but Aang rarely stayed there as it only made it easier for him to be found.
Aang was the Avatar, and held a copious amount of wisdom for such a young man, but he knew so little of politics and had little impetus to learn about it. He was beginning to consider dictating a policy of 'call me when you need me to glow-it-up', but then mentally berated himself for trimming his Avatar responsibilities down to simply using his raw power. The monks, even Gyatso, would be wagging their fingers at the thought.
After changing into a set of unassuming tan and brown robes with a high collar and donning a simple cap and gloves, he strode towards the kitchen to see if he could help Iroh without getting mauled by the customers. As he turned the corner, he saw Iroh in a rather uncomfortable looking position: tipped over and standing on one leg, the other foot in the air sending a thin stream of fire to heat a kettle on the nearby stove, while his hands were busy with a mortar and pestle on the opposite counter, grinding tea leaves. His head was turned away from the counter, towards the stove, and he was blowing another thin jet of flame towards a second kettle on the stove behind him. His face was showing obvious stress from the exertion and his lips were comically twisted in order to blow flame in the right direction.
"Hi, Iroh! Need some help?"
"Hwuh?!" was all he got back, as the old General jumped and lost his balance. The unintelligible response was paired with flame spittle in Aang's direction, and the mortar's contents flew into the air. Aang quickly swatted the errant flame away with his left hand and brought his right hand forward with a twist, sending a small whorl of air to catch the tea grounds and deposit them back in their place. Iroh grabbed at the counter and hoisted himself back to his feet, rubbing his backside.
Aang winced. "Sorry..."
The Dragon of the West composed himself, "It's okay Aang, you only startled me. I'm just glad your remarkable reflexes spared you any loss of skin and," he turned to the counter, "any loss of tea! I would certainly appreciate some help. I admit I wasn't expecting this degree of business so soon, and I have not had a chance to hire assistants." He raised a bushy, gray eyebrow. "Are you sure you don't have more pressing matters?"
"Maybe, but I'm a bit tired of being the Avatar for today and just want to be Aang for a bit. Besides, the Avatar is all about keeping balance and... I can see this place could use some more of it."
Iroh let out a belly-busting laugh, "I always knew airbenders had a great sense of humor!"
As the evening hours waned, Iroh's clients thinned out and eventually disappeared completely. It had been a prosperous night; he even had the good fortune of partially addressing his employee deficiency, as Jin, who Iroh recognized as the girl who had a crush on his nephew while they were refugees here months ago, had wandered in hoping for a job. Iroh was happy to bring her on board, as she had demonstrated she knew her way around tea (and a pretty young lady could only help his business), and he discovered she was trying to raise money for University expenses.
Jin, not to Iroh's surprise, had long since figured out who they were, thanks to his nephew's shockingly romantic but typically short-sighted idea to light the lower ring fountain's torches and candles on their date. Despite Zuko's involvement in Ba Sing Se's occupation, she held no grudges and was actually not bothered when Iroh carefully mentioned Mai in their conversation. She did frown a little when she heard he had already departed, however.
While Iroh brewed, Aang and Jin served the customers through the afternoon and evening. At the end of the day, when Iroh closed the front doors, Aang plopped unceremoniously onto one of the wooden chairs and removed his cap. Jin nearly dropped the plates she was carrying back to the kitchen and gawked.
"Why is the Avatar working in a tea shop?" she asked carefully.
Aang grinned sheepishly. "Uhh... keeping the balance?"
"He's keeping his own balance, Jin," Iroh added.
Jin nodded and continued into kitchen to clean up. Iroh sat down across from Aang as he noticed his smile slowly dissolve into a frown. Iroh waited patiently, leaning back in his chair and pretending to be interested in the ceiling.
"Did you hear some of those customers today, Iroh? Some of them were happily discussing how they'd love to drive out Fire Nation colonials, or better still have some Earth Kingdom colonies on the Fire Nation eastern islands. Some even rumored that many governing bodies in the western and southern reaches of the Kingdom want to become their own countries... they blame Kuei and Ba Sing Se for failing to defend them from invasion."
Aang irritably removed his gloves and tossed them onto the table. "Does it ever end? I thought that stopping Ozai would put an end to this, but it didn't. People still want to fight with old enemies and seem more than happy to make new ones. Stopping this terrible war was necessary, and I don't resent being the Avatar and being responsible for ending it, but these newer conflicts just seem... stupid and petty!"
Iroh reached forward and put a hand on the boy's shoulder. So much a burden to bear, for one so young. "Aang, one-hundred years of conflict cannot be ended with the removal of one man in one day, or even a hundred men in a hundred days. But what you have done has reversed the direction in which the world was moving. You and your friends spared it from careening off a cliff into assured self-destruction. Things are better now than they were before, take pride in that, but you must stay strong and continue your duty... eventually there will truly be peace."
"Does this mean it will take a hundred years of work for people to stop acting like idiots?"
Iroh laughed. "There will always be fools, Aang, but you are a remarkable young man, and not simply because you are the Avatar or the last airbender. For every fool, you will inspire hundreds of people by your example. I'm sure it will take less time than you think, and you'll find that the burden of healing the world is on everyone's shoulders, not just yours."
Aang looked up at the old general and smiled, he gray eyes brightening on his cherubic face. Jin walked back into the room, having finished cleaning up the kitchen, and hung her apron on a hook as she passed into the open dining area. She bowed slightly to the seated men and made for the front door.
"Do not be in such a rush, Miss Jin! I'm sure Aang here will be happy to escort you home on his bison, seeing as how we've kept you working so late this evening, and it is a long way to the lower ring. But first, some calming tea, perhaps?"