Epilogue: The Firebending Master

In later years, tales spoke of the greatest firebending master alive, saying that she was a woman who lived alone on a small island near the edge of the Fire Nation. They said that she wielded rare blue fire, a trait only of the most powerfully talented benders, and almost never heard of in one as old as she. There were rumors that she had mastered the art beyond what most could dream of, that she could kill or heal with equal ease, but only her few students knew the truth of it. It was obvious to all, however, that those students were very skilled, and that in and of itself spoke highly of their teacher.

Of course, she trained only those who already possessed great talent, for she had little patience with failure and less with drilling the basics with students who lacked true commitment to the art of firebending. Many sought her teachings; few were accepted. She tested all who would have her knowledge for skill, commitment, and self-control; those who lacked any of these traits were turned away.

The master herself was an old woman, though she was still as straight and slender as a sword blade, and it was clear that in her youth she had been very beautiful. She wore plain red robes, and the eyes that gazed out from her lined face were a gleaming, predatory gold that never faltered in their intensity. Though the master never spoke about her past, this trait alone was enough that many of her students guessed she was of very high noble blood. The fact that she was in correspondence with someone at the Capital- perhaps the Fire Lord himself- on a semi-regular basis added fuel to this theory. Combining these with her age, it was indeed possible to guess her identity with some accuracy, but none of her students confronted her about it. She made it quite clear that the ghosts of her past were to stay buried, and none of the students had any desire to see the master in her temper.

In addition to bending, the master taught her students another lesson. "Fire is the element of passion," she said to a small group of them on the last night of their training. "It will give you the power to create or destroy, and it can inspire you to greatness- or it can hasten your destruction. That is the line all firebenders must walk. Once I believed that my power gave me the right to do as I pleased, no matter who I harmed. I learned differently only after much suffering and giving up more than you can know. I have known others who never learned, and died for it. But the lesson is this- if you have power, you must control it. If you do not, it will control you, and then consume you.

"Some of you are thinking right now that this is nothing but an old woman's nonsense. When I was young, I would have agreed with you. But I know better now, and that is why I leave you with this last lesson- wield your power responsibly and with forethought, or you will fall and drag many more into the ashes with you." Here she paused and looked and the small circle of students that surrounded her with those penetrating eyes. She saw that one of them was eyeing her with a smirk he thought well-hidden- he had come here to learn to fight, not to listen to her spout philosophy. She shook her head, foreseeing the fall ahead of him. "As you leave here, remember these things- discipline, control, and responsibility. If you do so, you can perhaps avoid the path I walked and find greatness- or not. In any event, remember that your destiny lies in your own hands, and even if you fall, if you desire you can still rise again."

She did not tell them she was proud of them, did not wish them a fond farewell- the master was not given to overt displays of affection. But as her gaze swept over them again, they all knew that they had met her exacting standards, and not been found wanting. That was praise enough.

The next morning, they departed her island, returning to the mainland of the Fire Nation. The master stood atop the hill on her island and watched them go, then turned and began to walk towards her home. Soon more would come, seeking her knowledge, but for now she was alone again. For years now she had trained the most talented young firebenders; it was an often difficult and annoying task, but one she was and remained determined to perform to perfection. To her mind, it had become almost a ritual, her way, after her battle against the spirit of War and her years of wandering as she sought her new place, of repaying the world for the damage she had caused.

And one thing about Azula of the Fire Nation that had remained constant through all the chaos of her long life was her determination that any task to which she set herself would be executed to the absolute fullness of her abilities.

AN: Well, it's finally over. It's taken me nearly a year to write and post my Azula Trilogy, but I must admit that I'm rather satisfied by the outcome . I'd like to thank everyone who's come along with me and our favorite messed-up royal on this ride, whether reviewers or just readers. I'd tried to produce something entertaining and in-line with the characters, themes, and story of A:TLA, and I hope that I managed to accomplish that for all of you. If I didn't; well, feel free to PM me- I'm glad to take tips. In any case, now that Azula has come full circle, teaching young benders to avoid her own mistakes, I'm done with this storyline for now. I'll probably be working on other stuff for awhile (you can check out what on my profile if you're interested), though it's distinctly possible I'll return to this continuity sooner or later. Until then, thanks again to all my readers and reviewers, and I hope you have a Happy (insert winter holiday(s) of choice here)!