Alright. My first foray into the world of Avatar. I could put forward a prologue, but there's enough information which needs to be disseminated that this will have to do. First, the legal stuff: Avatar doesn't belong to me, I'm just playing with the dials a bit. Its characters and world and all the fun things inside it are the creation of better storytellers than I. All I want to do is explore what could have been, even as the canon went forward.
First of all, there are a few changes to the world. First, there are languages. The big three, the ones most spoken, are: Yqanuac for the Water Tribes both North and South; Tianxia, and its many dialects, as a lingua franca, a trade language, and the primary language of the East Continent (AKA, the Earth Kingdoms); and finally, Huojian, the language of the Fire Nation. As a rule of thumb, the Tribes speak Yqanuac and maybe Tianxia. The Kingdoms speak Tianxia, and sometimes another minor language. Except for a few groups, such as fishermen, traders, well educated nobility and the like, the Fire Nation speaks Huojian and nothing else. The language barrier is one of the reasons the war is so bitter.
Second of all, there are ethnic groups. The most prevalent in the story, since they become increasingly relevant as it will move forward through the books, are the peoples of the Fire Nation. It is composed of three primary ethnic groups; the Azuli on the west coast, the Embiar on the south and down the archipelago, and the Sozu between them. The north used to be home to the Hui, but their civilization was lost generations ago. Mai is an example of a stereotypical Azuli, Ty Lee, of an Embiar. Zuko and Azula, while culturally Sozu, hail from the bloodlines of the Hui. This also shows up in cultural tendencies and taboos which some people have, but others don't. Ty Lee doesn't care about showing a bit of skin, but Aang would be mortified... until he got used to it, at least.
Third, and this will be glaring for all the shippers out there, Suki is a different character. While I like the portrayal of her as the badass-est of badass normals, ever since watching Avatar Day, I got a notion in my head: What if Suki were voiced by Jennifer Hale? So I aged Suki up by about a decade, and saw what that made of her. Age and maturity, in an era of war, has made her a different person than she was, but that doesn't mean I've sent her out to die for your ship. It just means there are other stories I want to tell, and hers'll be quite interesting if I ever get to it.
And lastly, this story starts for want of a nail. Because the Avatar spent a bit more time futzing around in the world after getting out of the iceburg, everybody's just a little bit older. Accordingly, Sozin's Comet is coming at the end of the Summer, but I did not specify WHICH summer. And the change which started it all? Which made this story turn out as it did? Ty Lee had an accident, and ended up stranded on Kyoshi Island. For a year.
Anything else important will be mentioned when it's relevant.
I do hope you'll forgive any missteps I make during this initial period. This functions as a way of helping me get a feel for the Avatar World and the people in it. You'll notice that sometimes things are just mentioned, and never said: That's because the people who made the cartoon did a pretty good job of it. If they did it better than I conceivably could, I see no reason not to let their work stand. This work doesn't replace the first season, it just sort of... flows around it.
Mai stayed where she always did; in the background. Her father was talking excitedly with some general or another. She didn't particularly care who. All that mattered was that there was another push going on. No more fiddling about with occupying towns or villages. An actual campaign to take a major city from the Earth Kingdom. And what did she think of it? Nobody cared what she thought, so she didn't care about them.
"Think of the glory we could achieve at Ba Singh Se," Chan declared. He never 'said' anything. He, like a few of the older military minds, had no concept of indoor voice. "With one mighty strike, the resistance to the occupation by our Nation would be at an end!"
"You forget your place," Wu Shan quietly said. "The Dragon of the West could not take Ba Singh Se in six hundred days of siege, and he had the brilliance of tactics to bring down the outer wall right under their feet. How would you propose to do better?"
"War Minister Qin will answer for me."
"I will do no such thing," Qin said peevishly. "The drill is months away from completion. It is an undertaking of engineering the likes of which this world has never seen. If you want to invade 'the Impenetrable City' before next summer, then you should hope you can surpass the Dragon. I doubt you could."
"What about your armored vehicles?"
Qin smiled at that. "Those are almost ready to be deployed. The prototypes were very successful, and I believe I have come up with a solution to the inversion problem..."
"Enough of this technobabble!" Deng said quietly, as he often did. Still, as one of the eldest and most respected of the Fire Lord's generals, his quiet words carried ten times their own weight. "We cannot take Ba Singh Se without Qin's drill, and even then, I believe it a pipe-dream," Qin looked a little annoyed, but held his tongue. "And besides, at the end of that summer, is not Sozin's Comit due to return? We will take Ba Singh Se then, and they will have nothing that could stand against us."
"Omashu," the words silenced all in the room. Even Mai straightened up a bit. Ozai's voice had that effect on people. The Fire Lord had been silent until now, but he was a calculating man. He spoke when he was ready. "A vital strategic point in the southern Earth Kingdom. It commands a very potent stronghold, on a naturally defensible point. When taken, it will be impossible to oust the Fire. Cripple them, and remove their 'legitimate' ruler, and the people will lose spirit."
"Omashu," Deng said, nodding.
"Omashu," Qin smiled. "The Salamanders are already in transit, some of which are stationed on Whale-Tail. We can begin the invasion in two months."
The fires which raged at one end of the chamber made Ozai an inhuman specter, something seen in silhouette if at all. His expression was utterly invisible. Then, Mai assumed, came the nod. "Omashu will fall. Make it so."
Mai sighed, as she often did. "Great, we're getting shuttled away from civilization to push papers and baby-sit some yokels."
"Silence yourself!" her mother hissed. "This is a great opportunity for advancement. Don't you know how hard your father has worked to even be in this room?"
"Not hard enough, apparently."
"Mai!" her mother scowled, rubbing her belly. "I only hope your brother or sister will be a little bit more manageable than you."
"Whatever. I'm going home. While I still have one," Mai got up from her bench at the back of the room, turning away from the Fire Lord, her father's hopelessly and drearily eager toadying, and her chastising mother, to move toward the small side door which the servants used, but would raise less of a fuss than opening the grand and golden doors which stood opposite the great throne. She paused, just past her mother's place, then turned. "Just one thing. Where in Agni's name is Omashu?"
Suki looked angry. Well, she didn't really look angry, because anybody wearing that much face-paint didn't have much expression at all. But her aura was angry and she was stomping toward the barracks with more haste than happy, and less than panic. Ty Lee kept walking along the railing, upside down, on her hands. Suki briefly looked up, and was surprised to see her at eye level, despite their difference in alignment.
"Girl, I've told you to stop doing that. The other warriors find it unsettling. One of these days, you're going to fall off and break your neck," Suki said.
"Why are you in such a bad mood?" Ty Lee asked.
"Annoyances and aggravations," Suki responded. "Somebody claiming to be the Avatar has just washed up on our beach."
"Is that why you all left in such a hurry?"
"Yes, girl. You really had better pay attention. The world just seems to pass you right by, doesn't it?" Suki moved past the acrobat and entered the dojo.
"I notice things. Lots of things," she complained. She dropped down and followed the warrior. "Besides, 'claiming to be' the Avatar? I thought people gave up on that one during my grandfather's time."
"Those were charlatans trying to bank on the significance and spiritual importance of an individual to get money, or power, or fame. This is... well, he is a child. And he speaks... well, he speaks as though he were from over there," she pointed to a hut near the center of town.
"Everybody speaks Tianxia, but he speaks it the way my mother spoke it, and her's, and her's before her," there was a long pause, as Suki leaned down to examine her paint in a mirror. "And I think he might be an airbender."
"Oh, now that's just impossible," Ty Lee said cheerily. "They've been gone for hundreds of years!"
"One hundred years," Suki corrected. "Give or take a decade. Well, he might have the elders – and the rest of the blighted Warriors – eating out his hand, but if he is a reincarnation of Kyoshi, then I am the Fire Lord."
"No you're not. You're taller than he is, for one thing," Ty Lee said. "And you don't have a beard."
Suki chuckled. "Sometimes I think you do that just to be silly."
Ty Lee smiled wide, "Everybody should have a good laugh every day. It's good for the skin."
Suki rolled her eyes as the rest of the Kyoshi Warriors began to file into the dojo. Suki's expression, such as it was, went from amused, back to all-business. "Alright, ladies. We've all had our big introduction with this so-called Avatar. Now remember why we are here; remember why our namesake assembled us and taught us her way of fighting. We are here to prevent another Chin the Conquerer, another Kaii the Bloody, another would-be tyrant from stepping foot in our land and making us bend knee."
"This is the Avatar," one of the girls said. Ty Lee called them 'the girls', even if Suki tended to be more professional. It didn't make sense to her; most of these soldiers were still teenagers like Ty Lee. All of them unwed, and only this handful remaining because the rest had gone off to war against the Fire Nation. Ty Lee wasn't sure how she felt about that. It hadn't been so long ago when she would have been rooting for the Fire Nation to wipe the Kyoshi Warriors out. Now, perhaps despite herself, she desperately wanted them to win, to come home in one piece.
"He claims to be the Avatar," Suki said. "I, on the other hand, have a documented matrilinial descent from Kyoshi herself. And since my sister is missing in battle, and her children are too young to bear the name, I act as the Hand of the Avatar. This boy is the Avatar if I say he is. Understood?"
The Warriors nodded their unanimous agreement. Suki smiled then, a small, professional smile, taking her seat at the head of the room. "Good. Now, back to drilling. We can't be sure when trouble is going to walk through that door. Form of the Crab!"
Ty Lee loved watching the Warriors train, even if she was never allowed to join in. This was for the daughters of the Island, and by extension, the Earth Kingdom, only. Ty Lee had been lucky in that she didn't need to lie about her provenance, but that just meant they thought she came from the unaligned lands in the North Seas. She'd been here almost a year, and they didn't trust her yet. But then again, they might have reason not to: she was a Fire Nation noble, after all. The Kyoshi Warriors went through their stances, looking nothing less than hawks, gracefully cutting the sky, before entering the stoop and claiming their prize.
"Sorry ladies, didn't mean to interrupt your dance lesson," a foreigner said, a wide grin on his goofy face. "I was just looking for some place to get a little work-out."
"Well, who's the cute one?" Ty Lee asked. Suki shot her a look, but the foreigner just got a smug look on his face.
"Well, you're in the right place," Suki said, not rising from her cushion. A smirk came to her face. "Sorry about earlier. I didn't know you were friends with 'the Avatar'."
The young man obviously didn't hear Suki's derisive inflection. Of course, Ty Lee had been trained from birth to read volumes in the slightest nuances of tone. And his Tianxia was pedestrian at best. The way he talked... Water Tribe, maybe? He did have the eyes. What lovely eyes...
The tribesman limbered up, oblivious to the slight he'd been dealt "That's alright. I mean, normally, I'd hold a grudge, but seeings as you're a bunch of girls, I'll make an exception."
Suki almost laughed at that. Ty Lee could tell how hard she was trying to hold it in. "I should hope so. A big... strong... man, like you, we wouldn't stand a chance."
"True..." he said. Pretty, but the boy sure was oblivious. "But don't feel bad. After all, I'm the best warrior in my village," Ty Lee wondered how small that village would have to be. Still, he did have such lovely eyes. Suki must have read Ty Lee's mind, because a dangerous smile came to her face.
"Wow. Best warrior in your whole village?" she actually missed a chuckle that slipped out. "Maybe you'd be kind enough to give us a demonstration?"
"Oh. Well, I mean..."
"Oh, come on. Girls? Wouldn't you like to see the 'great warrior' show us some moves?" Suki prompted. By now, stifled laughter was spreading through the ranks. At any moment, like a steam-geyser, it threatened to erupt into open mockery. And that would be wrong. Funny, but wrong.
"Well, if that's what you want, I'd be happy to. Sokka, by the way. Just so you'll know the name of the greatest warrior in the Southern Water Tribe," he took up a fighting stance. Or rather, what he must have thought was a fighting stance, because Ty Lee was fairly sure she could have pushed him over with one finger. She really wanted to see if she could.
"Zhen?" Suki asked, and Zhen moved forward. The boy went on with great bravado and pride, but even Ty Lee could have seen his sloppy punch coming long enough to have made tea before it landed. She stopped him with a jab to the armpit. He tried a few kicks, but she just moved out of the way, with as little effort as Ty Lee leaping onto a roof. Finally, angered, Sokka rushed at Zhen, who caught his wrist and flipped him to the floor. The girls dissolved into raucous and unmitigated laughter. Suki beckoned Ty Lee over.
"What is it?" she asked.
Suki smirked. "How'd you like a crack at him?"
"Really? Does that make me a Kyoshi Warrior?"
Suki suddenly looked a little insulted. "What? No. I just thought you shouldn't be left out of the fun," she cleared her throat and rose to her full stature. She was a figure which overtopped every man in the village; that was the legacy of Kyoshi. She looked well down at Sokka, then smiled. "Perhaps you should have a partner more your aptitude. Ty Lee?"
Ty Lee stepped forward, smiling wide. "Hello, handsome!" she said.
"Oh, now this isn't funny anymore," Sokka complained. "She's just a girl!"
"So are all of us, aren't we?" Suki asked, and that smile got just a bit cruel. "Surely, the greatest warrior in all of the South Pole can hold his own against a little girl?"
"Fine. I'm sorry to have to do this, lady, but," he let out a fierce-ish cry and lunged forward. Before she even had the chance to think, her body did all the work. She was out of the way, and in perfect position. A swift jab to the joint of the shoulder, and his arm was useless and numb. A hard, two-fingered jab to the side of the buttock, and his leg went out from under him. A fairly light poke behind his ear, and his jaw went, and he landed on the floor like a bag of millet. All of the Kyoshi Warriors stared at her in shock. Some of them were taking a step backward.
"Ty Lee, I didn't tell you to kill him!" Suki said urgently.
"I can't feel my face," Sokka slurred from the floor.
"Chi-blocking," Ty Lee happily explained. "Turns your body against you. He'll be fine in a few hours, like nothing happened to him at all."
The Warriors began to whisper amongst themselves. Ty Lee couldn't restrain the grin. She was something unique to them, now. Something never-before-seen. A girl who can bring down a raging bull... well, a raging Tribesman, with three pokes of her fingers. Suki leaned down to Sokka. "Anything else you want to teach us? Hmm? No? I guess 'greatest warrior in the Southern Water Tribe' got passed to you by default. Ladies, show him the door."
When the Warriors took the numb and defenseless Tribesman outside, Ty Lee caught Suki's sleeve and demanded her attention. "That was just mean, Suki. You didn't need to say those hurtful things."
"Didn't I?" Suki asked. "Face it, girl, the world is at war. The Fire Nation isn't going to go easy on him just because he's clueless. As I see it, the fewer fights that boy gets himself into, the longer his life will be."
"Don't argue this. It's already done," she said.
Ty Lee pouted. "If you keep acting like this, you'll never get a boyfriend."
Suki looked at Ty Lee for a long moment before shaking her head. "Sometimes, I forget how young you are, Ty Lee. Then you say something like that and it all crashes home. Girl, I am blood related to just about everybody on this island. The only way I could find a husband would be doing things the Fire Nation way and having an arranged marriage from the mainland."
"I still like you," Ty Lee offered. Suki laughed. "You have a pretty aura."
"Oh, you bizarre creature. What I would have missed had the circus not come to Kyoshi Island," Suki's tone went serious, then. "But there is one thing I'd like to know. How did you learn to do that... chi-blocking, you said it was. I've never seen somebody go down that hard with all their blood in their veins and an intact skull."
Ty Lee knew she had to lie. She couldn't tell her about Piandao's private lessons, the long evenings with her sweltering in saunas so that she could feel where her own chi ran, the slow pressure of hot-rocks teaching her where each pressure point lay. Every bit of it would scream Fire Nation faster than reciting the national anthem in its proper Huojian. So Ty Lee smiled, as she always did when she was backed into a corner. "I learned it in the circus. You'd be amazed at the things those people can do. I once saw a man who could swallow four swords at once!"
"Then I regret not spending more time there before they departed," Suki said. She looked Ty Lee up and down. "Do you think you could teach us this technique?"
"You? No. You're fists are too big. You'd just be punching people," she said. It was half-way honest, too. "As I was told, it's half-way between fighting and massage, and I've never seen a masseuse in those hands."
Suki looked a bit annoyed, but then shrugged. "It couldn't hurt to ask. Anyway; I'm having a few girls over for dinner tonight. Afterwards, a game of Pai Sho. Would you like to come?"
"Really? For real?" Ty Lee beamed. "I'll be there nice and early. What should I wear? Will there be boys there? What are you serving? Should I bring a gift?"
Suki shook her head slowly, wearily. Ty Lee didn't care. She was recognized. She was special.