Part 1

Mai's parents were both of noble birth. Their families had arranged a marriage between them. Hoshi and Akira met for the first time when he was 12 and she was 11. Not understanding completely the terms of their meeting, the two youngsters simply stared at each other for a while. Akira's mother then prodded the little girl to serve tea to her future husband. Nervous, Akira spilled most of it on the table. Hoshi didn't seem to notice but Akira's mother frowned disapprovingly at her.

Once a week for almost five years, they met, parents always hovering in the background. The boy and girl came to a sort of understanding and even grew to like each other. The time for their marriage approached. It was set for a month after Akira's sixteenth birthday. Pulling her daughter aside the day before the wedding, Akira's mother told her how she must please her husband and not bring disgrace upon their family. If both Akira and Hoshi behaved as proper nobles should, they were sure to catch the attention of the Fire Lord and perhaps even acquire a position of some power or importance.

So they were wed in a traditional Fire Nation ceremony. Their marriage was friendly, even affectionate. Years passed. Akira did not produce an heir. She wondered if something was wrong with her. Hoshi served in the army for five years. Akira was left alone much of the time. Military service was mandatory for all men of The Fire Nation. He came back to the capitol with the rank of Lieutenant.

Finally, when Hoshi was 23 and Akira 22, she became pregnant with their first child. Akira was ecstatic. Hoshi was offered a position as assistant to General Fong. His political position was slowly improving. Soon, if things went very well, Hoshi and Akira would have their own house in the caldera that housed the Fire Nation capitol. As of now, they lived with Hoshi's parents. Hoshi's father had been an important general in the Fire Nation army.

Akira's pregnancy was uneventful. In fact, it was easy and comfortable. The nine months flew by. Secretly she prayed for a son, a proper heir for Hoshi. Her husband was not so secretive about his desires. So, after seventeen hours of excruciating labour, when Akira gave birth to a beautiful and healthy infant daughter, she frowned quickly in disappointment. Holding the sleeping infant, her disappointment faded. Hoshi looked down at his daughter and smiled. But the smile was subdued. A healthy child was always welcome but every man wanted a first-born son, a boy to carry on his name.

Years passed. Hoshi worked very hard to climb the ranks of the Fire Nation hierarchy. Mai grew into a curious and bright toddler, prone to wandering and exploring her surroundings. Akira dressed her like a perfect little doll. Mai was always tugging at the restraining clothes, wishing that she could move more freely. Akira chastised her gently, and explained that proper little girls dressed to look pretty.

Hoshi and Akira had all but given up on having another child by the time Mai was nine years old. Her husband's position had improved dramatically and Akira told herself to be happy. They moved into a lovely house across from the Fire Nation palace. They enrolled Mai in the Fire Nation Academy for Girls.

Important people came to Mai's home frequently. Her father was a sycophant. Her mother encouraged Hoshi's ambitions. The last thing they wanted was a giggling, crying or screaming little girl running about the house engaged in play or upset about some schoolyard trauma. They sent Mai to her room and encouraged her to stay quiet and stay put. "Stay in your room, Mai. We don't want to hear you. And if we do call you down to meet someone, for Agni's sake, don't speak unless you're spoken to. One wrong word could ruin your father's chances for a future governorship." Mai was "rewarded" for her silence. She had beautiful clothes and a lovely room. Secretly, the little girl wished she could just talk freely. She learned to stifle that wish and became an expert at hiding her feelings. Her parents marveled at the change in her.

"But she's still not a son," Hoshi thought to himself.

While at The Royal Academy for Girls, Mai met Princess Azula, second child of Fire Lord Ozai and Fire Lady Ursa. To say that Hoshi and Akira encouraged a friendship between the two is an understatement. Mai also met Ty Lee, an acrobatic and cheerful little girl. Azula seemed to almost hand select Mai and Ty Lee as friends. Visits to the palace became frequent. Mai at nine years old didn't say much. Ty Lee talked enough for the both of them. And Azula just ordered them about. She orchestrated elaborate games and competitions. She always won.

Around this time, Mai picked up her first knife. Guards around the palace carried them, despite being firebenders. The royal family couldn't have enough protection. While visiting Azula one day, Mai slouched beneath an apple tree. She noticed the sun glistening off something metallic in the grass a few feet away. Glancing around to make sure neither Azula nor Ty Lee was watching, Mai quickly got up, walked over to the spot and saw a short bladed knife lying in the grass. The handle had the Fire Nation insignia. She picked it up cautiously, her eyes gleaming. Looking around furtively, Mai slid the blade inside her tunic, careful not to cut herself. She excused herself a few minutes later, feigning illness. "I don't think you're sick at all, Mai. What are you up to?"

Mai's eyes grew wide. "I am sick and I want to go home."

"Let me look at you, Mai," the princess demanded.

"Azula," called Fire Lady Ursa sharply. "Mai wishes to go home. I suggest that you let her."

"Hmm, where did she come from?" Azula asked under her breath.

Mai looked towards Ursa, hoping to see Zuko, Azula's older brother and Prince of the Fire Nation with her. He was usually with his mother. She never saw Zuko with friends of his own. But the Fire Lady was out in the garden by herself. She smiled kindly at Mai.

"I'll have one of the guards accompany you home, Mai. I hope you feel better."

Mai flushed and bowed quickly to the Fire Lady. She worried that the knife might drop onto the grass. It didn't. She said a quick goodbye to Ty Lee and Azula and walked off with guard.

Once home she rushed to her room and extracted the knife from her tunic. It enthralled her. She didn't know why. Mai ran her fingers very carefully across the blade, avoiding the razor sharp edge. The urge to throw it at the wall was almost overwhelming but she resisted. Instead, she wrapped it carefully inside a nightgown and stuffed it in her wardrobe. She would throw it later.