Welcome, everyone. It's great to have you reading this story. There are just a couple things I have to cover before we get started.
The 1st: Since this takes place two centuries after Aang's triumph against the Fire Lord, all living characters will be my own creations. Additionally, the time since the original series means that the world itself has advanced. Technology is more refined, cultural diffusion has occurred between the nations, and certain worldviews have changed since Aang defeated the Fire Lord.
The 2nd: Since Legend of Korra hasn't come out at the time I'm starting this, parts of this story may violate canon to be established at a later date. I apologize for any inconsistencies that come up after the new series airs, but as I'm only working with what I know from Avatar: The Last Airbender, the only references to the show I'll make will be in relation to the original series until I can get more information from Legend of Korra.
" 'And so, body aglow with the twin energies of good and evil, Avatar Aang overcame the usurper and brought a new age of peace to the four nations.'"
The sound of hundreds of pages slamming together startled Meira out of her reverie; her head snapped up.
"Now, can anyone tell me what major event in history this quote concerns?" Professor Parka asked, a hopeful smile plastered on his liver-spotted face.
A tense silence fell over the fourteen students listening to the lecture. All were girls, all natives of the Northern Water Tribe, with the blue and gray eyes that were common among their people. All came from prominent families within their tribe.
Someone had to respond; the answer was so obvious. The candles in the corner said it was three o' clock, but the professor wouldn't let them go if no one answered the question.
Still, no one spoke, either out of ignorance for the topic, or out of the crippling shyness of uncertainty. The silence seemed almost like a protest against another minute of class.
"Oh, come now, surely one of you must know the answer. It only happened two hundred years ago. How about you, Lady Meira?"
She glanced up from her notes, repressing a groan. It was bad enough everyone looked to her for guidance. Giving answers in class pained her to an absurd extent. "It's in reference to the final battle of Sozin's War, when Avatar Aang vanquished Fire Lord Ozai during the comet by removing his firebending."
"Very good. If only all my students were so knowledgeable."
Suck up, she thought, just as three flashes from the candle announced the end of class. Grateful for the reprieve, she rose to her feet and picked up her books.
"I expect you all to look into the war before class next week," Professor Parka said. "It's our longest unit."
Meira slid across the floor, graceful over the ice from a lifetime of practice, and skidded into the frigid air outside. The wind bit at her face, as if often did, and she turned away, toward the practice fields. Her sister, sixteen years of age and in her last semester of the required formal education, waved her arms around, the movements similar to the flowing patterns of Classic Northern Waterbending. Instead of moving water, though, puffs of flames flew from her fingertips. Meira smiled and brought a block of ice up from the thick frozen sheet to sit on.
Zelda continued to practice her firebending, an expression of total focus embedded on her face. Her features were distinctly Fire Nation; their mother had married into the Northern Water Tribe to forge a political alliance and encourage goodwill between the previously warring nations. Though their mother wasn't a firebender herself, she'd passed on the gene to her youngest daughter. One of the few firebenders in the Northern Water Tribe, sixteen-year-old Zelda was unskilled in her bending art and eager for their trip to the Fire Nation this summer.
As Meira observed the slight girl, she noticed the water pooling at her sister's feet. The fireballs were heating the air around Zelda, and melting the ice under her just enough for a slick layer of water to form on top. As the girl shifted stances, her foot slid across the puddle and her body fell backwards onto the ice. Meira winced.
"I'm fine." The firebender found her footing again and moved to a dry patch of ice. A fire glowed over her fingertips, a sharp contrast to the frosted expanses of snow. When she moved, the flame followed her hand, leaving a glowing trail that lingered several seconds before vanishing altogether. She turned, bringing the flame around her in an arc, much like classic waterbending. It followed her hands like a loyal pet, bending to her will and her movements.
A small pet, though. The flame was no larger at the base than the palm of her hand, and the fingers of flame that followed it were thin, like wisps of hair.
"Father said he wanted us back for the welcome feast before dark," Meira called. "We need to get ready."
The orange glow faded from her sister's fingertips, and the girl skated across the ice in her boots. A trail of water, barely visible, followed where she slid, as if her feet were warming the ice through her shoes.
"You should be wearing a thicker jacket than that," Meira said. "You'll freeze out here."
"I told you, I can keep myself warm just fine."
"And I told you, I don't care how good your firebending is, it reflects badly on me if I let you run around the North Pole without a jacket."
Zelda sighed, and started walking at her side. They passed by other benders practicing out in the training fields, mostly waterbenders. Meira saw one boy using Tropical Style, adapted from the Fire Nation in the years since the war. Another boy, older than the first, busied himself with Classic Northern Style, the kind of waterbending that had been practiced here for centuries. On the edge of the ice field, a girl pulled chunks of ice from the snow with Earth Kingdom Style, and smashed the frozen blocks into each other, making them crack and shatter on impact.
Beside her, Zelda sighed again.
"Don't worry," she said. "As soon as you graduate, we're going to travel down to the Fire Nation so you can learn how to bend just like them."
"Yeah, I guess so."
They kept walking. Zelda's feet slipped around on the ice as it melted beneath her. Given that normal body heat couldn't melt polar ice that fast, it wasn't hard to guess that she was melting the ice herself. Meira didn't mind; her sister couldn't make a circle of heat wide enough to encompass them both, anyway.
Dark fell early this time of year. When she went to school in the morning, the sky was still black. Now, only six hours since her trip to the school building, the sun had risen and set again. She stepped up the pace, not wanting to be late to the chief's feast when she was the star of the show.
"You okay, Meira?" her sister asked. "You look sick."
"I'm fine." The ice dome that housed all the major events in the north was in sight now. A curtain, made of silk imported from the Fire Nation, hung over the entrance, bearing the ocean and moon symbol of the water tribes. Standing in two lines were a dozen of her father's finest warriors, men skilled in the art of close combat. Even in times of peace, a military presence was necessary for formal ceremonies and personal protection. Of course they'd be here, she thought, her heart sinking as the gravity of the situation hit her. No, it's just another ceremony. Nothing bad will come of this.
"Ready for the party?" Zelda asked, too cheerful.
She pasted a smile on her face and nodded, afraid that her throat would close shut if she tried to speak.
"Princess Meira," each of the warriors said as she passed by, bowing their heads. She returned their greetings with several nods of her own, then slipped through the waterfall of silk, into to the party. The salty smell of sea prunes and the sharp scent of smoked fish filled her nose, and her mouth started to water. She swallowed, not wanting to drool in front of all her subjects.
"Meira, Zelda, welcome," the event planner greeted them. Name, name, what's his name? "Are you enjoying the party so far?"
The name came to her in a rush. "I am, Master Aruk. The decorations you set up are beautiful." She looked pointedly at the new candleholders on each table, guessing Aruk had commanded his waterbending apprentices to construct them, as each was made of ice and carefully sculpted to fit the candles. As wax dripped down the sides of each candle, the ice, too, melted. Aruk would have people running around all night, making sure they stayed frozen enough to do their job.
"I am glad you like them. Nothing but the best for the Peace Celebration."
Meira nodded. The Peace Celebration marked the stretch of time the four nations had gone without bloodshed. After the air nomad avatar vanquished Ozai the usurper, the war with the Fire Nation had come to an end. Riots and assassination attempts on the new Fire Lord had imperiled the supposed peace, but it had been almost two centuries since a battle had been fought over power. She supposed that was good enough cause for a celebration, but she couldn't make herself take joy in these festivities.
"Meira," a new voice called, piercing through the clamor of guests skating across the icy floor. She turned to her father. "Come to the stage, it's almost time."
She turned to Zelda, wishing more than anything that she could be sixteen again. Just two years older, the pressure was coming down on her like a hammer and chisel on ice.
But she couldn't be sixteen anymore, and her father was waiting for her at the platform under the skylight, so she dragged her feet across the ice and joined him at his side. Her mother joined her father at his right, her sleek, black hair tied up in loops and draped over the back of her head. Her golden eyes shimmered with unshed tears.
Chief Narue stood up, which seemed to be the universal sign for all the guests to find a seat and shut their mouths, since the seething crowd fell silent. The chief waited until all sound had disappeared from the massive room, waiting even for a wailing infant and a warrior clearing his throat. Then, in his booming voice, he began. "Tonight we gather here to celebrate two centuries of continued peace between the four nations. It is rare for such a time of prosperity, but the great moon, Yue, and the spirits of the ocean have allowed us to live in harmony with our fellow nations.
"We also celebrate the end of the eighteenth winter of my daughter, Meira, with the promise that she will become a great and loyal leader one day, when I can no longer rule. Let us hope, however, that she won't have to do so for many moons."
At this, a laugh echoed across the vast room. Bubbling giggles and deep-throated chuckles and lighthearted peals of laughter blended together in a warbling chorus, loud at first, then slowly fading as the atmosphere turned serious again.
"Meira, stand now, as my firstborn and the most skilled of Master Makar's students, heiress to the Northern Water Tribe, and daughter in spirit to all its people."
Her stiff legs unfolded, bringing her to her frozen feet, and she faked a smile for the whole tribe to see. It won't be so bad. He said I didn't have to decide tonight.
Her father gestured for a cart at the back of the room to approach. Six of his finest buffalo yaks pulled the hefty cart through the sea of people, puffs of fog drifting off their noses even in the comparative warmth of the indoors. As the wheeled cage rolled forward, Meira felt her pulse quicken. I don't have to choose yet. Father said so.
Chief Narue made an expansive gesture with his arms. "May the spirits guide us through another year of peace, and guide my daughter on the right path through the perilous journey of life. Bring forth the royal suitors!"
Oh, she thought, her knees giving out beneath her. Shit.