Disclaimer: Avatar: The Last Airbender is the creation of Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, and is owned by Nickelodeon.


Summary:

In a world where the Fire Nation reigns supreme, where the Avatar is forever missing, where the Water Tribes and Earth Kingdom are but fragments of once great civilizations, a world where the feared Fire Lord Zuko presides over everything – can a lone waterbender open his heart to peace?



No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.

--Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege



Fire

At the age of 21, Fire Lord Zuko had already been through much in his short life. The royal family had a long and bloody history, and it was nothing short of a miracle that he had ended up on the Fire Throne.

His mother had died shortly after giving birth to his sister Azula. Zuko retained vague memories of his mother – images, feelings. In his mind's eye, he saw the shadowy outline of a soft, kind, loving face. He heard a quiet voice full of love. He felt a gentle touch on his shoulder; a motherly hand cupping his chin when he was sad, telling him to look at her so she could tell him everything would turn out alright.

But she had disappeared – he had been just over two years old, and he hadn't quite understood why a baby sister had arrived but his mother had gone somewhere. He remembered a ceremony where he had been forced to wear clothes of the purest white. He had listened to a droning voice while staring at a platform with a shrouded figure atop it. Soon, fire had engulfed the pyre, and Zuko had watched his mother's spirit drift away with the smoke.

All love and kindness in his life had disappeared with his mother. His father was a hard man, and pushed him to be better than the best. It was difficult, and at times painful, but he understood that it was necessary. He bore a scar across his face – a gift from his father, given to Zuko the one time he had shown the weakness of compassion. It was not a mistake he would make again.

Until Zuko was eleven years old, his uncle, Crown Prince Iroh, had been first in line for the throne. Iroh, who was known by the frightening moniker of "The Dragon of the West" was off in the Earth Kingdom, trying to breach the walls of the great city of Ba Sing Se for the glory of the Fire Nation.

Everything changed when Iroh's son, Lu Ten, had been killed in battle. There were whispers that the great general lost his touch after such a personal loss. He no longer had the will to fight. He abandoned the siege of the great city, and returned home in disgrace.

It was then that Zuko's father, Ozai, had challenged his brother to an Agni Kai over control of the Fire Throne. Azulon, the current Fire Lord and grandfather to Zuko, had allowed the challenge, and was content to let the victor take control of the Fire Nation upon his own death. Iroh had fought admirably, but some said he had lost his inner fire and his will to live. More furtive whispers spoke of a rigged match; that the general had not tripped over his own feet, but that a nearly invisible trip wire had been set prior to the duel.

As it was, Ozai became the heir to the Fire Throne. Azulon was old, and two years later, the aged monarch died quietly in his sleep. Fire Lord Ozai was crowned immediately following the funeral of Azulon, and Zuko was named as the Crown Prince. Ozai ruled with an iron fist, and the world slowly fell under control of the Fire Nation.

The Southern Water Tribe was defeated; its remaining people scattered and fled to the Northern Tribe. The once great capital city of the north was reduced to a sad refugee camp of igloos and tents, the victim of repeated attacks by the Fire Nation. Most waterbenders had been taken prisoner; only a few remained, and those that existed hid their talent for fear of discovery and death.

The Earth Kingdom fared no better. The fire siblings, Zuko and Azula, orchestrated a clever and legendary takeover of the great city of Ba Sing Se. They succeeded where their uncle had failed, and in doing so, the Earth Kingdom fell under Fire Nation control. Only a few outlying provinces remained rebellious. Some of the resistance groups tried the patience of the occupying soldiers – one particularly vexing rebel was said to be a small blind girl who was repudiated to be the best earthbender in the world.

Finally, three years ago just after Prince Zuko had turned eighteen, Fire Lord Ozai had died under mysterious circumstances. There were those that suspected the prince of committing the act himself, but in truth, he had had nothing to do with the murder. He did, however, suspect his sister. He knew she held no love for their father. He had treated both of his children cruelly, but Zuko had seen the bruises and burns almost daily on his sister. She became adept at covering them, but he knew better.

And so, upon the death of his father, Prince Zuko became Fire Lord Zuko. He continued the legacy of his ancestors, and wished to impress the greatness of the Fire Nation upon the rest of the world. He kept his sister close to his side. The relationship between the royal siblings was a strange one indeed. There was no love lost between them, as they had been forced to compete against each other for all of their young lives. Zuko harbored an unconscious resentment toward Azula. His mother had perished because of her.

On the other hand, he would stop at nothing to protect her. He had been unable to save her from the cruelty of their father. Zuko was greatly feared, but his protectiveness of women and children was well-known. He would never lay a hand on a woman or child, unless a woman met him in the equal playing field of battle. He knew Azula wished to plot his demise and take the throne for herself. She was a strong, talented woman; a genius on the battlefield and a firebending master. The only person in the world she feared was her brother, and Zuko intended to keep it that way.

For three years, Fire Lord Zuko cemented his control over the world, and no one dared oppose him. Not until attacks on supply routes in the northern provinces became more and more frequent.


Ice

She had been ten years old. The numbers of the Southern Water Tribe were dwindling. A few months before, they had learned that her father, Hakoda, had been killed in battle. The news had been devastating. Her brother, Sokka, had become quiet and distant. Hakoda's best friend, Bato, had been the one to relay the news, and had taken it upon himself to protect Kya and her two children. They had entered into a strange mode of survival. Joking and smiles became infrequent. The love was there, but happiness and hope were hard to come by.

Then the black snow had started to fall. By now, everyone knew what that meant. All the men donned their war paint and battle gear, including Sokka. Katara had wanted to fight; she had waterbending skills, but the men wouldn't hear of it. They made her promise to keep her abilities a secret. They told her to stay with her mother – her mother needed someone to help protect her after all. When they put it that way, the girl had grudgingly agreed.

Not much later, the acrid smell of smoke began to fill the igloo where Katara hid with her mother. Kya threw herself in front of her daughter when a Fire Nation soldier, with his cruel voice and frightening mask, had entered the igloo. Katara ducked as a blast of flame engulfed her mother. Disbelieving, she knelt by the smoking corpse of her mother. The ice of the igloo began to crack as the girl began to unconsciously bend her element. The Fire Nation soldier greedily licked his lips as he smiled at his good fortune of finding a waterbender. She would be the key to a promotion, he was certain.

This thought was his last as Bato entered the igloo and threw an ax between the man's shoulder blades. The Water Tribe warrior scooped up the sobbing girl and ran outside. Katara looked with wide blue eyes at the scene before her. Spots of blue lay upon the ice, unmoving. Bato ran with her, ducking behind an outcropping of ice.

There was a small wooden Water Tribe boat waiting. Katara started to protest as Bato had led her onboard. She didn't want to leave without her family. Sokka? Where was Sokka? Tears began to roll down her face as Bato closed his eyes and shook his head sadly. He gathered her into his arms and explained that they were going to make a new life in the Northern Water Tribe.

Two months later, they had arrived at their sister tribe. By this point, the once great city was reduced to a few small refugee outposts, but Katara and Bato were welcomed with open arms. She had been introduced to a man named Pakku, whom she learned was a great waterbending master. He had been hesitant to teach her anything but the healing arts, as it had been tradition for woman waterbenders to be healers, but the need was great for warriors. Pakku finally agreed when he observed the girl's raw talent. He declared he had never seen such great potential.

Soon after, Bato had left her to go fight with the other Water Tribe warriors. As a parting gift, he had presented her with her mother's necklace. He had snatched it from Kya's neck in the chaos following the attack. He had replaced the burned leather with a new piece, and painstaking cleaned the soot from the pendant. Katara had fastened it around her neck with tears in her eyes, the snow falling heavy on her dark eyelashes.

For years, she had trained under the great master Pakku in secret. No one was to know she was a waterbender. As distasteful as the thought was, there were those who would sell the information to the Fire Nation for coin. Life was hard, and a little extra gold could ease some suffering.

Three years ago, at the age of sixteen, she had learned of Fire Lord Ozai's death. This was cause for a small celebration, but the mood was dampened by the thought that his greatly feared son, Zuko, would be taking over the throne. Life would go on as before.

Finally, at the age of nineteen, Katara had gathered a small group of secret waterbenders and warriors and left the Northern Water Tribe to wage war against the Fire Nation in any way they could. The waterbenders staked out supply routes in the Northern Provinces of the Fire Nation, and proceeded to terrorize the supply caravans.

And so life continued.


Author's notes:

Hope you all enjoyed the prologue! I have Part I (9 chapters) written in its entirety, and will be posting a chapter a week. Reviews are welcome!