It has been three years. Three years since that fateful day when I lost everything. Now I have lost even more. My sister Azula betrayed me, lied to my uncle Iroh and I, and so we forever severed our bonds with our family.
I remember the first time I ever saw Azula. She was a baby, and I was three years old. I remember asking Mom where the little thing had come from. She told me that it was a baby, and that I had been one, too.
"Did I look that ugly?" Mom laughed, and hugged me. I remember looking at Azula and feeling a surge of hatred toward her charming little chin and innocent eyes. I didn't know why, but I knew my life would change forever.
"Prince Zuko," my uncle asked me suddenly, "What are you thinking about?"
"That explains why you look like you've swallowed a live porcupine snake."
I blinked. I had been unaware of my facial expression or that it would be so obvious. We walked further until we came to a bulletin board. It had Fire Nation wanted posters on it. There was the army deserter Jeong Jeong, the Blue Spirit (who was my alter-ego, though no one knows it but me and the late Admiral Zhao), and the Avatar. Seeing his poster made me unwillingly narrow my eyes in contempt. The Avatar had eluded me all the time I'd searched for him.
When I spoke out against a general's tactics, I had no idea that it would get me this scar. I was challenged to a fire duel, an Agni Kai, and thought I would be the victor against the old army general. But I had to duel my father instead. When I saw that, fear gripped me, and I bowed to him, essentially begging for mercy. My father, the Fire Lord, told me that suffering would teach me respect. I shut my eyes in hated anticipation, and felt the heat sear my left eye and face. The scream of agony expressed only half of the pain that I felt. I was a fourteen-year-old outcast. Just before the pain knocked me out, I glanced at the spectators and saw Azula, not with a look of terror or pity, but of enjoyment and victory on her face. It's been three years, but I will never forget that look.
"Zuko, look at this!"
"What is it, Uncle?" I move around to the other side of the board, only to see my face and my uncle's on a wanted poster. My uncle takes it off the bulletin board. I snatch it from him and set it ablaze.
"Azula can burn in the hottest fire for all I care! I hate her! I wish she'd never been born!"
"You don't really mean that, Prince Zuko."
"Of course I do! You don't know her! You didn't live with her for fourteen years!"
When we were younger, Azula always did better than I did at everything. She was Dad's favorite child, always the perfectionist.
"Hey, Zuzu, I hear you had a nightmare last night."
"Don't call me that!"
"Are you really so scared of dragons that you had to go sleep in Mom's room?"
"Shut up, Azula!"
"I heard you crying. Mom had to sing a lullaby so you could sleep." She turned to her friend Ty Lee. "Zuzu's nine years old and still has to have Mom tuck him in and sing him to sleep."
I lost my temper at that and ran over to her. Then I firmly planted my fist into her eye. I heard Ty Lee scream. Azula fell to the ground, and I began to pound her with all I had. She was fighting back, though. Suddenly I felt arms pull me away, and I screamed for whoever it was to let go of me. It was Mom.
"Zuko, what are you doing?" Behind her back I could see Azula sticking her tongue out at me.
"Teaching Azula some respect."
"Zuko, this is the third time this week you've hit your sister. What's wrong with you recently?"
"Her." I pointed. Mom turned around just in time to miss Azula's tongue and in time to see her injured puppy-dog-innocent-angel-face.
"Here, Zuko, your lip is bleeding." She moved to wipe the blood off, but I do so myself with my sleeve.
"Prince Zuko, we have to stop walking sometime to rest."
"Not until we get as far away from Azula as possible. We can't risk her finding us."
"Also, we need some food."
I am about to protest when my stomach rumbles very audibly. "Fine, we'll get food and a little rest, but no more than three hours."
"Very generous of you."
I am eleven years old. Azula is nine. Father is now Fire Lord, and Mother has left us for reasons unknown. No more family picnics, no more bedtime stories, no more lullabies. The blue dragon that so terribly frightened me before still haunts my dreams, though I have gotten over the emotion of terror and replaced it with mere alarm.
"Zuzu, you talk in your sleep."
"Yeah, you were saying something about a dragon. Still scared of them?"
Firmly I reply: "No."
"Oh, by the way, look what I can do." She made a little flame in her palm. It was blue. "Dad says that means I'm the most powerful Firebender ever. Sorry, Zuzu. Looks like no one thinks you're worth anything."
"I am Dad's heir! I am going to be the next Fire Lord, and you aren't, Azula, so just leave me alone!" How wrong I was.
All night long I stare at the stars and moon. The moon that not so long ago had been blotted out by a rival admiral in the Fire Nation was now healthy and glowing. To me it seemed that she was sad for me, for all the things I've been through. A banished prince, doomed to chase the Avatar. It sounded like a sad bedtime story to me, but living it was a horrible experience.
"Prince Zuko, did you sleep at all?"
"None of your concern."
My uncle sighs. "You know, it isn't healthy to keep all your anger inside you. Or outside, for that matter."
"I don't remember asking your opinion."
"You are very difficult to get along with sometimes."
"Zuko, you have to move the swords like they're one weapon, not two separate ones."
"But I can't get it! I'm a failure. Azula was right. I'll never do it." I sat down despairingly.
My cousin, ten years older than I, pats me on the shoulder. "I don't remember ever seeing her try to use a sword. Just trust in yourself. I know you'll be a better swordsman than she will ever be."
"I'll try." I swing the swords aggressively, each blow more violent than the previous one. Soon, however, I am exhausted.
"Here, try this." He took the two swords from me. "You should let the weight of the swords help swing them. They're stronger and easier to use that way." He demonstrated. It was like watching an elegantly choreographed dance, and not an action that could kill. Lu Ten stood up and handed the swords to me. I follow his advice and am soon quite good with swords.
"See, Zuko? I knew you could do it!"
And then I hear her voice.
"Impressive, Zuzu, but worthless."
I swing around in anger and move Lu Ten's swords in a crossing gesture capable of beheading someone within range (which, unfortunately, Azula was not), and then an arc of fire comes from the blades.
"Go away, Azula. We don't want you here."
Lu Ten sighs. Watching his cousins bicker plainly wasn't his idea of fun. He gave me a be-nice-to-your-sister look and I rather angrily said "Please."
"It's alright with me if you don't want perfection around. Your loss." She shrugged and walked away.
"You know what, Zuko? I think you should have those swords."
"What? Have them? But what did I do to deserve-" He put his hand up.
"I'm also giving you this mask. It's part of an ancient ceremony that warriors used to do before battle. Nowdays, though, it's just decorative."
Little could Lu Ten know that those swords and that mask would become crucial to the disguise of the Blue Spirit.
"Feel the gentle rain on your face, Prince Zuko!"
"No thank you."
Uncle Iroh is standing, his face turned upward to the raining sky while I try to fish. It's not going well. "All I manage to catch are the little ones. This is stupid."
"I'm sure that if you had more patience it would be better."
My reply is a rolling of the eyes. "I don't like having to do this! Why is it always me?"
"If it makes you feel any better, I don't like not having tea to soothe my nerves."
I pick up my stuff and go to a rocky area where my talkative uncle isn't around.