Category: Avatar: Last Airbender
Author: Mrs Pettyfer
Title: The Black Games
Pairing(s): Zuko/Katara. Possible other pairings.
Rating: M - for violence and possible light language
A/N: This story is very AU and disregards most of seasons 1-3; however, it takes place about 70-80 years later. The "world" is more futuristic slightly and much different than the seasons we know. Please keep that in mind. I wanted to take the concept of The Hunger Games and transform it into the Avatar world. Hope you like it!
Disclaimer: The Avatar world and characters belong to Mike Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The Hunger Games belongs to Suzanne Collins.
"The world is is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don't do anything about it." - Albert Einstein
Chapter 1 - Province 9
A distant grinding wakes me and my eyes snap open in alarm. I sit there for a moment, trying to recall the last few seconds of my dream. Most of its fuzzy but I distinctly remember shouting and smoke and fire. It's the same dream I have at least once a week, though it's a relief I didn't wake up screaming. I sit up from my bed and see Sokka staring at me intently, pausing from sharpening his blade. This explains the noise that had awoken me and I can tell by his expression he's also pleased there was no screaming. He's usually the one here to comfort me when that happens.
"Morning," he says, his tone crestfallen. He rises and places his sword in his sheath, grabbing a spear and heading toward the flap of our hut. "I'll meet you at the Poles."
I nod before adjusting my sarashi so it's fastened tightly around my chest before slipping into an arctic blue kimono tunic. Someone must have placed my boots by the crackling fire in the center of our hut, and I wiggle my toes against the fur inside. Soft and warm, just how I like. I adjust the circular pendant around my throat, one of the few keepsakes I have of my mother. I don't remember much about her; she died when I was only a year old, but my dad says my brother and I look a lot like her. The same dark hair, tan skin, and ocean blue eyes. Then again, almost everyone in Province 9 has that same look.
I finish adding a few extra layers – mittens, my fur coat, ear muffs – before stepping out from our hut.
Typically by this time in the morning Province 9 is crawling with Anglers and Trackers, carrying large nets and bags filled with game and heading toward the Palace. See, hunting is forbidden in Province 9 unless you're a registered Angler or Tracker. Only they are allowed to catch game from the sea or hunt the wild animals, as long as they deliver the majority to the Palace, where it's shipped out to other Provinces. The rest is sold to our butchers and shops, where we have to pay twice the amount its worth if we don't want to starve. My dad says every Province in the Fire Nation has a purpose; ours happens to be our arctic game and vessels advancement. You would think surrounded by the ocean would mean we had limitless supply in food, but that's certainly not the case.
Caldera City, the Fire Nation Capital, controls everything. We're surrounded by high walls of ice here in Province 9 – to keep out intruders we're told, but we know better. It's to keep us from leaving our province. Traveling to another province is illegal, punishable by imprisonment or even death. Few have tried, but they've all failed. They don't get very far and the Guards always catch them.
I pass a few of the Guards on the way to meet Sokka at the Poles, our secret meeting place where we're able to slip through the cracked walls and to the edge of our province. It's unchartered territory back there – fit with arctic hens, polar sea lions, turtle seals, and even the occasional buffalo yak. My dad taught Sokka and I how to hunt at a young age, and I've been able to incorporate some Waterbending techniques into it, hauling more fish than both of them combined. Even though I'm sixteen years old, my Waterbending is still very limited. Everything we learn in school is overviewed by the Capital and this includes bending. We learn enough to know the basics, but not enough to do anything harmful. Waterbending is allowed in our daily routines but never for an offensive attack. We know better than that, anyway.
Everyone is still paying the price for the last invasion on the Capital. It was on this very day over seventy-five years ago, on the Day of Black Sun –the one day all Firebenders were rendered powerless as an eclipse fell over our world. A group of rebels invaded the Capital in attempt to overthrow the late Fire Lord Azulon, leader of the Fire Nation. The rebels fought well until the Firebenders regained power and the young Fire Lord was so furious he killed all the rebels and established the Black Games.
The Fire Lord issued today as the official Day of Black Sun and every year on this day, each of the twelve provinces must send forth one boy and one girl tribute between the ages of twelve and eighteen to compete in the Black Games. The Games typically last anywhere between one to five weeks and the rules are simple:
The the last person standing alive, the victor, is rewarded with prizes for their province; food, supplies and medicine amongst them. Here in Province 9, we've only had five victors in the past seventy-five years, three of which have died from age or disease. Typically the victors hail from Provinces 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7 though Province 1 has won easily the most times. Which is no real surprise, considering the Capital is at the heart of Province 1. The kids that come from there look like they've been training for this event their entire lives. They aren't the half starved, miserable and helpless kind we have here.
I pass another group of Guards all wearing their traditional black and red armor with metal masks and spot the Head Guard Meng amongst them. She tugs at her mask and smiles at me, and I tell her I'll drop off the fish I gather in the next few hours. Even though I'm not an Angler or Tracker and am technically breaking the law, our Guards tend to give a blind eye to me and some of the other unregistered hunters, the ones that know what they're doing. The Guards are all from the four Fire Provinces, most of them Firebenders. They despise the cold, says it goes against their own nature, which is probably why they're a bit more lenient with our hunting. I bring them whatever I'm able to kill, and they pretend my knife and spear is a fashion statement.
The Guards may enforce the Fire Lord's law, but they don't get special food brought in from their provinces. They eat whatever our Anglers and Trackers manage to find, and they live in igloos created by our finest Waterbenders. Only the wealthier members of Province 9 live in igloos as well, like the Chief his family, but the rest of us live in huts we made from animal skins, pelts and bamboo.
I don't complain though. As long as our Head Guard keeps trading me arctic hens for soap and herbs, my family can manage to get by. Even though I know Meng likes me, if I was ever actually caught hunting she'd have to punish me. So before I slip into an open crack in the icy wall, I glance over my shoulder to make sure no one is watching.
Sokka is already tying a heavy rope around a dead polar-seal lion when I find him at our usual place we nicknamed the Poles. My dad told us long ago Province 9 was known as the Northern Water Tribe of the North Pole. That before Caldera City seized power there were no provinces, but four nations that lived in unity. I couldn't imagine it, four distinct nations holding their own set of customs and laws apart from the Capital. But I guess it makes sense, considering there are four types of benders in our world. They had to hail from somewhere.
My dad keeps a tattered map in our hut. One that was drawn years and years before he was born that was passed down through our family. There are large red marks across several areas in the world, places my dad says are no longer present with people but used at the Capital's expenses. Some I know by memory were once called the Northern Air Temple and the place my family hailed from, the Southern Water Tribe. It was overtaken by the Capital years before my father was born, and all the remaining survivors were forced to live here, now Province 9. I wonder what it was like, if there were tall ice walls that keep everyone trapped inside, or if there was as much snow. I guess I'll never know for sure, though.
"I thought you were waiting for me," I say to Sokka, setting down my spear.
"I was going to but I saw this big guy and couldn't pass him up," he says. "Haven't seen a polar-seal lion in months."
"Kami will pay well," I say, tightening the ropes around the creature. There's a bloody hole punctured through its chest from Sokka's spear but I cannot afford to pity it. We need the money too much. "You know how she loves blubbered seal jerky."
I try to pretend today is like an ordinary day. Sokka and I spending the morning hunting, bad-mouthing the Capital under our breaths before we take our bounty to the White House; the black market hidden in the deeper parts of Province 9.
"Dad said to be back around noon," says Sokka. "He left early this morning to make a few trades around town."
I nod, remaining silent. No one is required to go to work or school on the Day of Black Sun. At two o'clock in the afternoon, everyone is forced to go to the square in front of the Palace for the reaping. A woman from the Capital named Joo Dee acts as our Province 9 escort, and she draws the names of the two tributes before they're shipped back to the Capital to prepare for the Games. I've only got two more years to suffer the reaping, but my name is down twenty times.
When a child turns twelve, their name goes into the reaping once. Every year following, another slip is added. This would mean I would only have five slips this year, but the Capital began offering tesserae in exchange for adding your name more times to the reaping. Every tesserae is good for a meager year's supply of oil and thread for one person, and you can take it out for as many people in your family. Sokka had been taking it out since he was twelve, and was furious when I did the same. The winters are harsh here in Province 9 and we can never have enough thread. Our dad works hard as a Tracker but it isn't always enough. We all pitch in and do what we can to survive.
I move to the edge of the tundra, staring out over the ocean. This is my favorite place in Province 9 because it's outside the ice walls. The Guards must know I cross the territory, but they also know I won't make a break for it. My dad and Sokka would be punished, and when I was caught I'd be killed. But it was still a beautiful view with the snowy ice caps, broken in bits over the crystal blue water. The edge of the ocean, going on for miles and miles, giving me hope that we're not alone in this world. It may feel like the edge of a map, but I know it's not. Somehow that makes me feel better, knowing this prison isn't the end of the world.
That somewhere, life is going on.
A couple hours later Sokka and I return to our hut with a few extra bars of soap, fresh sea prunes, a new pair of mittens for our dad, and a loaf of fresh baked bread. We have one Firebender here in Province 9 who isn't a Guard, but married to our Head Healer Kami. They own the only bakery in Province 9, and Kami always trades well for the jerky meat. She's also the one that taught me almost everything I know about Waterbending and the human body. She taught me about our blood and veins, about how understanding the body can help you learn how to heal. Kami says only a select few Waterbenders are able to heal with their bending, and I have yet to prove to be one of them.
As far as I know, only three benders in all of Province 9 are able to do it. Sure, most Waterbenders can nurse someone back to health or heal minor injuries, but a true advanced healer can bring someone back from the brink of death. I may not have mastered this technique yet but I won't stop trying.
"I'm going to change," Sokka mutters suddenly, slipping behind a hanging animal skin flap into our back room. "Wear something pretty."
It thoroughly irritates me that we have to wear our nicest clothes under our fur coats on the Day of Black Sun. I don't have any desire to impress the Capital in any way, chosen tribute or not. I've heard stories from the Guards that the Capital's way of living far exceeds our own. Their weapons and technological advancement is enough in itself.
In front of the Palace is a gigantic flat screen that looks like thin white animal skin. I'm not sure how it works, but the Capital's Mechanist whom I hear all about has created a way for the Fire Lord to deliver messages without doing so in person or in written messages. His face appears on the screen, is able to talk and move as if standing right before our eyes, yet he's miles away.
This is where the Black Games are watched, on this enormous screen in the center of Province 9. I've heard the Chief actually has one of these screens in his home, a smaller version, but I'm not for certain. I've never asked his daughter Yue, even though we take a few lessons together. She's always been very kind but Sokka's always been a little resentful toward her, considering she doesn't have to take out tesserae. Her name will only be in the reaping five times this year.
The Guards only force everyone to watch the first day of the Games, though almost everyone in the province watches the entire process: the training, the interviews, the chariot arrivals, and of course, the Games. There's some device that's able to watch or record these events, sending them somehow onto the large screens across the Fire Nation. Again I'm no mechanist, and Sokka has been studying intensely on trying to figure out the screen but to no prevail. The Capital doesn't share their secrets.
Sokka claims it must be magic, but I don't know if I believe him.
I always thought if no one watched the Games, the Capital would be forced to discontinue them. But as it always happens, and even though we know how horrible the Games are, people can't help but watch. I remember the first time my dad took me hunting, I was only four, and he shot a polar leopard with a spear straight to its heart. There was blood everywhere, pouring from the animal's chest and mouth. But it wasn't dead. My dad told me to close my eyes so he could finish and I did, but at the last moment I had to open them.
I guess that's how people work. Even though we don't want to watch, we do because we feel like we have to.
I dress in my usual reaping outfit. I keep my kimono tunic and fur trimmed leggings but swap my usual fur coat for a long flowing one. White fur wraps around my neck and my sleeves, trailing along the edges and resting along the ground. It's a hand-me-down from my mother, and even bares resemblance to the one worn by Princess Yue, though mine's much older and worn in.
I twist my dark hair into its usual long braid, adjusting the loops to secure a few dangling strands. Sokka emerges dressed in his warrior armor, fit with metal plates around his forearms and heavy looking shoulder plates. I've got my plates on my arms too, along with black gloves and wrappings hidden beneath my coat. I may have to look like a lady on the outside, but I'm a warrior on the inside.
The walk to the square is short, my dad leading the way. The icy streets are crowded with Guards and members of Province 9 alike. The Capital has sent more Guards for this event, as they always do, to make sure we don't do anything rash. About three years ago, a thirteen year old girl had tried to make a run for it after she had been chosen as tribute. She didn't get far before her back was lashed repeatedly with a fire whip numerous times.
After my dad signs us all in –attendance is mandatory– we embrace quickly. Goodbyes are not my strongest, and I allow Sokka to kiss me lightly on the forehead as I make my way over to the roped area marked for sixteen-year-olds. I recognize several kids in my group, while others are completely unfamiliar to me. Province 9 isn't one of the largest by any means of the Fire Nation, but today is the only day everyone is in the same place. I smile weakly to my friend Hope, who stands several feet away with her arms crossed tightly and her long black hair braided like mine.
I try to find Sokka over in the seventeen's but I'm not tall enough to see over everyone. I glance to the Palace, up the icy covered stairs and stare at two large glass balls filled with tiny pieces of parchment. I remember my name is written on twenty of those pieces. I try not to think about it, and even more so about how Sokka has around twenty seven.
The large screen that hangs in front of the square mirrors the anxious expressions of everyone around me. The moving pictures are fuzzy, like looking through water and completely black and white. The Guards and our province mechanist installed the enormous screen about six years ago. Before the screen, the Games were only watched at the actual arena by those who could pay the hefty price and the family of the tributes. Everyone else had to rely on a messenger hawk, gathering in the square at dusk every evening, and our Head Guard would read the deaths that occurred during that day. The anticipation of knowing these tributes were fighting to the death in another part of the world, while we were carrying on our daily routines, made for a very uncomfortable few weeks.
Now that we had the screen, we were able to watch everything that was happening. At first I thought this might be for the better, until my friend Akaya had been chosen two years ago as tribute. She was my age, fourteen at the time, and a skilled Waterbender. She was tied to a wooden post and burned alive by a boy tribute from Province 2, simply because she had stolen some of his bread while he was sleeping.
I watched the entire thing and had nightmares for a week.
The chairs on the Palace dais begin filling and I recognize Chief Arnook, a gentle man with a suffering and hardened expression. His black hair is long and streaked with grey, tied in pieces with blue beads that match his eyes. His daughter Yue sat next to him, her white hair as lovely as the snow covering the Palace and wearing a long, willowy blue dress with fur around the collar. The next two chairs are filled with our past victors, Master Pakku and Hama.
Pakku looks like he always does; mouth set in a hard line, white wispy hair and long goatee, narrowed silver eyes. He's our leading Waterbending instructor, but he refuses to work with girls. He always chooses the male tribute to mentor, and leaves Hama to the female. I've never met either of them, but for some reason Hama scares me a little more than even Pakku. At first glance she looks like a gentle old woman with grey-white hair that falls like curtains around wrinkled and worn down face. She always wears ragged clothing despite the amount of wealth she obtained from winning.
As it stands, Hama remains the youngest victor to ever win the Black Games. She was only ten back then, when the age bracket had been between ten and seventeen. The Games were only watched by an elite crowd at the time, and Hama being so small was able to avoid being seen by both the viewers and the tributes. Still to this day, no one knows exactly how she won. Several Elites – the group that are actually in charge of the Games and present in the arena – claimed the last three tributes simply dropped dead, leaving Hama the victor, but the idea seems impossible to me. Still though, Hama mentors the female tribute but I've heard refuses to give any information on how she won.
It doesn't seem very fair to me.
The Chief begins his opening speech and I tune it out, having heard it what feels like dozens of times. He goes on about the history of the Games, about why there is no longer an Avatar, about the Capital, about how proud we should feel to contribute to such a wonderful nation. I know he's just saying these things because we're being watched; that this gathering will later be shown on the screens across the world. There are several Guards stationed around the square, holding medium sized black boxes and rotating a handle in a circular motion, a small circular looking piece of glass in the middle. Sokka told me these are called Watchers, the devices that are able to record everything that's going on. Our province mechanist – a thin, balding man named Lu – says they're complex instruments made of a mixture of Fire Province materials and advanced bending.
And magic, Sokka would add.
I sigh deeply as the Chief is replaced by one of the most annoying women known to man. Joo Dee practically glides to the center of the dais with a ridiculously large smile on her face, one that no one reciprocates. Her grey eyes are piercing and large, reminding me of the fire hawks that deliver messages around the province. Her black hair is stick straight and falling just below her shoulders. She's wearing a very plain, beige colored dress with flowing sleeves, and a matching parka. There isn't an ounce of color in her wardrobe, as always, and she appears just as dull as ever. If only her personality was the same.
"Happy Black Games everyone! And may the odds be ever in your favor!" Her voice comes out robotic and slightly pitchy. She reminds me of a machine, programmed to act a certain way. If only she had an off button, I'd be satisfied.
I think of my twenty slips and Sokka's twenty seven while glancing around. Sure there were plenty of kids to be chosen, but were the odds in our favor? With nearly fifty slips total, I'm not so sure they are. As Joo Dee begins talking about the late Avatar Roku, I begin to wonder what kind of lifestyle it must have been years ago. The Avatar was said to be able to control all four elements, and brought peace and balance to the world. Some part of me, buried deep past desperation and hope, believes someday the Avatar will return. That the cycle will cease to be broken, but I'm not sure how.
It's time for the drawing, and I tense as Joo Dee bounds toward the large glass balls. She slips her pale hand into the one marked for males, and the crowd grows silent. I can practically hear my heart beating in my chest as she unfolds the tiny piece of parchment. I barely have time to brace myself when she reads in a clear and confident voice,
"I give you your Province 9 male tribute! Sokka, son of Hakoda and Kya, now deceased."
A/N: Hope you liked it! This is my first story in first person, present tense, so I apologize for slip ups. Anyway you'll notice a bit of canon 'history' like the Day of Black Sun. However keep in mind the timing is different in this story than it was in the episodes. Just to clarify, the entire 'avatar world' is now known as the Fire Nation, broken into provinces.
Thanks for reading!