Prologue: Lost Girl
I am Azula.
The name is the one light in the darkness around me. Everything else is empty, cold, chaotic, but my name warms me and drives away the shadows… I am drawn to its flame. It is all I have left. I am Azula.
I remember things, sometimes. I see mother looking down at me with pity in her eyes- how dare she pity me- no mother, don't leave, I didn't mean it!- and then she is gone. Maybe I drove her away. I don't know.
I see my brother. He is a small boy looking at a knife that Uncle gave him- no, he is older, and Father looms over him while he weeps- no, he is a man and he is looking down at me while I am lying on the ground in chains (no, no, don't think about that!)
I see Father. He is regal, kingly, masterful, my ruler, my mentor. All I want is to make him proud… no, don't leave me here, it was my idea, you can't treat me like I'm not important, you can't treat me like Zuko! (who?)
I see my friends. We go to school together, we serve our nation together, what, why are you betraying me how dare you don't you see that this is the only way he's a traitor you're all traitors no no don't leave me alone…
I see my nation. It is the greatest empire the world has ever seen. One day it will rule the world, and I will rule it. It is everything my life has been leading up to. It is my destiny. And it is snatched away from me and I am being carted away and left to rot in a cell just like father, and they come around and feed me and clean me but I don't react.
I can't react anymore. They aren't real, are they? I am a princess, not a prisoner, this is all just a dream and I'll close my eyes and when I wake up I'll be in my bed and the servants will be asking me what I want for breakfast…
But there are no servants. There isn't anybody here, in the dark. I chased them all away and now they won't come back and I'm all alone in the dark and the cold where all the fires have gone out…
I am Azula. I am Azula. I am….
The "Azula Trilogy", as I think of it, was my first major fanfiction project, and the only one to gain anything close to wide recognition. Taking place across three fics – Heart of Fire, Path of Fire, and Soul of Fire – that I wrote across most of 2009, it picks up about a year after "Sozin's Comet" and continues the story of Avatar: The Last Airbender, with a focus on Azula's personal journey back to sanity and, perhaps, towards redemption.
Unfortunately, it's also fairly rough in places, especially Heart. Looking back, the writing and storytelling were a bit choppy, I relied on clichés a bit too much, and it generally feels in need of a bit of a tune-up. Several months ago, I finished revising my other Avatar epic, Fall of the Fire Empire, and I felt that the Trilogy deserved a similar treatment. If you're not familiar with the revised FotFe, then this revision won't substantially change the storyline, but it will hopefully clean things up a bit on both a technical and story level, include some commentary on every chapter, and hopefully provide a chance to introduce the fic to those who may not have had a chance to read the original version.
I will note that, as I wrote the Trilogy long before the comics started coming it, it does not take them to be canon, and that will not change (as it would be essentially impossible to do this story in the same continuity). In particular, my characterization of Ursa is very different from the version we ended up getting in The Search – but that won't really matter until she actually shows up in Path.
I began brainstorming ideas for a follow up to Avatar shortly after the finale aired, and my initial plan was to do a more general story that continued the show. However, as I began plotting out ideas, it became apparent that Azula's arc was getting the most focus – not surprising, as not only was she my favorite villain from the show, she had a lot of potential development to go through following everything she thought she knew crashing down around her. I've always loved a good redemption arc, and trying to bring Azula to some degree of peace while keeping her recognizably herself was a challenge that appealed to me as a writer. Though I initially only planned one fic, I ended up realizing that a trilogy suited my needs better and would give Azula more time to develop.
This prologue is left essentially unchanged, and is, in essence, a stream of consciousness from Azula as she descends into complete madness following the last Agni Kai. It's intended to be eerie, a bit disjointed, and to portray an Azula who is alternately pitiable and vicious. In a state of complete breakdown, her psyche has hit rock bottom. Perhaps it's time for her to start digging herself out…
As one last note, despite the fact that the title contains "Heart", this is not a shipping fic. Shipping in general is not really my cup of tea (though I've nothing against any of the canonical couples), and I think Azula's still too broken at this stage for a relationship involving her to be remotely healthy.