Full Summary: When Katara is kidnapped and brought to the Volcanic Islands by the Dragon King's orders, she finds herself in a radically different world from her protected and ancient lifestyle, especially when she is thrust into the Dragon Court's politics. It isn't long before she's at odds with the unpredictable Descendants of the Dragons, and Crown Prince Zuko is challenged by the ethereal nature of the siren while the Dragon Court's façade of stability slowly crumbles away. AU. Zutara.
Author's Notes: This story is something new for me, as I haven't written fanfiction in quite a long time, and it is an alternate universe fiction. It is somewhat inspired by Greco-Roman mythology, but the vast majority of it - like a siren - is based on my own creative license. That being said, the story doesn't require anyone to read Homeric Hymns or Ovid's Metamorphoses to understand the story, but do keep in mind some of the unexplained or mysteries may be part of the story I want to tell and I will work in the parts that are relevant. It is rated T primarily for language, violence and certain themes (there will be no explicit gore or sex). If anyone has any questions, please let me know and I hope you enjoy this story as much as I enjoy writing it. Without further adieu, I present my new project, Ethereal.
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or anything pertaining to it.
Prologue: The Glacierlands
"In the beginning, there was nothingness, and that nothingness was Chaos. But from Chaos came Order. Order established the Heavens, and then came forth the Gods. And the Gods decided to create a world other than their own Heavens, and so the Planet was born through the only act of unanimity of the Gods." – The Creation, 1:1-2.
There was always something soothing about the water, or so it had been for Katara, and so it should be for someone like her. As she combed her fingers through her long and tangled hair in a clouded mirror, she wondered how anyone could possibly not like the water – water was the fountain of life. Her and her people were entrusted by the gods at the Creation to protect water.
The Creation was a story Katara knew by heart, and she told it to all the children in the village once they were old enough to retell the story; it was not only their history, but also the history of the world. She had memorized the pages of the book, and each of the engraved drawings in its heavy, solid gold pages. It was encased in glass and kept in the center of the palace. When she was younger, it would take her, her brother, and another young boy to turn the pages. She never tired of the pages, but she longed to see the illustrations with brilliant colors. Often her mind wondered if the endless Earthlands or impressive Windmountains had colorful pages in their versions of The Creation.
A few beams of light trickled down into her room from the skylight, and showed no signs of dissipating any time soon. With summer coming, it would be soon that there were days without the moon. Those were dangerous times for her people, and she would be forbidden to leave the palace grounds; but those were the times she longed to feel the sun on her tanned skin and the salty breeze flow through her hair.
"Katara, if you brush your hair anymore, it will fall out," a young girl smiled and took a seat beside Katara, then began gazing into the mirror. "I know you love the mirror, but really, it's so dreadful. You should get rid of it."
"It's the only mirror in the entire Southern Glacierlands – I won't just dispose of it because it's not pristine, Bing Xue" Katara said to the other brunette who had her hair piled on top of her head. Katara began weaving a braid into her hair, "Besides, it makes braiding my hair easier."
"Ah," Bing Xue laughed a bit at her stubborn acquaintance then said solemnly, "You know, tonight's the night of the celebration of the Ocean and the Moon,"
Katara nodded, going to tie her mother's necklace around her throat before giving herself the once over in the mirror. "I know."
"And I know you don't like celebrating it—" her friend continued. Katara got up quickly and moved away from the mirror and towards the entrance to her room. It would seem this year it was Bing Xue's turn to convince her; the previous year, her grandmother tried, and before that her father, and so on and so forth.
Katara ran her fingers over the polished stone of her single piece of jewelry. "I wish you would respect my decision not to participate, Bing Xue. I thought you of all people would understand why I don't wish to partake in such an archaic festival."
"Katara, I understand after what happened to your mother, but we need you to help. This festival helps us feed for the summer season when the sun wanes and we can no longer hunt. We will go thirty days without sunlight – you're nearly seventeen, you know we need you to help. The first girls go on their first hunt when they're thirteen. You were given four years of grace to not participate, but you will have to one day, and with the way autumn has been—"
The brunette sighed in defeat. "What if I go, but don't…participate entirely? What if I just watch?"
"It's better than sitting here and staring into a mirror that you can barely see yourself in."
Katara nodded a bit, hugging herself for comfort, and turned away from her friend as a tear rolled down her cheek. "I'll go."
"Men, these are dangerous times to be at sea," a man in his late fifties, who seemed to be commanding the ship, warned his crew as his ship glided across the sea. Night had come and it seemed as if the ship's disturbance of the water was the only thing that distinguished the night sky from its impeccable reflection on the surface of the sea. "You never know what can happen at night."
An younger man in his early thirties stood at the railing of the ship, watching the ripples in the water before stepping back. The cold wind cut across his face, and he began wrapping himself in a spare blanket. "You know," he said to the captain, "Sometimes, the worst thing that can happen is you find what you're looking for." The king had sent them on either a fool's errand or a suicide mission, and either way, the man was not looking forward to the potential – and likely probable – results.
A soft, but faint sound cut through air, and then was followed by a splash in the water. "We're getting closer," the younger whispered, barely audible. "But they'll never come close enough if we're in this ship; we have to take the rowboats out."
The captain nodded and instructed a few of his men to board the smaller vessels and start paddling around in the deep, dark water. "Keep your eyes and ears open."
Silence. If a single drop of rain fell from the sky and hit the ocean miles away, it most likely would have been heard. The commander was certain he could hear the sweat rolling off the rowers' faces, and the pounding of their hearts from fear. It was the Ocean and the Moon festival; it was the deadliest time of the year to be in this region.
"There! I saw something!" A young deckhand pointed in the water. He turned quickly to look, but did not even see a small school of fish passing by.
"I heard something now!" Another shouted across the water, whipping around anxiously and clenching his sword to his chest.
"Steady," he warned. "The king has faith that we can accomplish this task, just remain steady and don't panic." He didn't even believe what he was saying.
Then he heard it.
He strained his ears to hear the soft sound he was listening for; it was barely audible at first, but then it began to pick up. Yes, there it was. It sounded almost like an angel.
A pair of eyes appeared from the icy water, followed by a nose. Her skin was bronze, her eyes almost silver, and her hair was pulled back in several small braids with silver cords weaved through it. She was singing a song in an ancient language, forgotten by most landwalkers – it was the ancient language of the gods.
Already, the men in his rowboat were captivated by her; she was more beautiful than any of the maidens they had ever seen before. Even the captain desired her, and it was uncommon he paid great attention to any woman that was not his faithful wife. He shook his head to dismiss any thoughts, but the idea of this beautiful woman, so young and flawless, lying beside him was gnawing at him.
He cleared his throat, "Servant of the Seas, do you speak my language?"
She nodded a bit, slowly coming forward and trying to watch the movement of the soldiers. "Do you find me beautiful, sir?"
"I speak for all my men when I say we find you ravishing," he admitted. The captain found it hard to maintain focus while this girl gazed at him. Focus, he reminded himself, and get what you really came for. "What is your name, enchantress?"
"Adine, sire. And do you," she looked to a young boy, barely sixteen, "find me beautiful? Would you want me as your bride?" her head sank slight into the water, just covering her full, pink lips.
He nodded, shaking so much he could barely speak. "I-I-I-I th-thought yo-yo-your s-s-s-ong was so beaut-i-i-i-ful," he stammered.
"Shall I sing you another?" she offered, sitting up quickly in the water. "I wish to sing my most beloved and favorite song of all the land!"
The aging captain noted she was almost within range as she slowly inched forward, but was suddenly more interested to hear this beautiful song she was going to sing for them. "Please, fair maiden, grace us with your song."
She smiled, coming right beside the boat and starting to sing a song in an ancient tongue, soft and slowly. She gripped the edge of the boat and began lifting herself out of the water, running her hand along the cheek of the young boy, and then tracing her finger down his neck to his chest. In a matter of seconds, her grip tightened on the slack of his shirt and she moved backwards to pull him into the water, her face contorting into a wicked expression. The young boy screamed, begging his shipmates to help him break free.
"Get the nets! We need a siren!" the man shouted, trying to throw a net around the bold creature who had approached their boat. All feelings of lust had vanished with the adrenaline that was coursing through his blood.
The woman was gone, however, pulling the young boy down deep into the seemingly endless abyss of the ocean. In a matter of seconds, another siren had gripped the edge of the boat and grabbed another sailor by his leg to drag him into the water. They were surrounded by these seductresses, and it would be a miracle if they escaped with their lives - let alone with a siren as a prisoner.
The captain climbed the side of the boat and hoisted himself over, before going to help another man climb back onto the boat. "Are we ready to hoist the filthy demon up?" He began pulling the rope in synchronization with the other shipmate to lift the heavy boat with a passenger to equal level with the side of the ship.
He and the shipmate climbed the side of the ship and the shipmate climbed inside the boat to grab the struggling prisoner restrained by ropes and knots and tossed her to the captain as if she were a box of cabbages. "Let's put her in water before she dries out completely and dies," he muttered, almost wishing her to do so anyway to compensate him for the loss of half his crew, and opened the water tank. It was made of glass from the northern Windmountain glassblowers and reinforced with steel, then filled with water to the brim.
She pounded her fists against the glass, pleading with her captors to let her go. They stared at her, as if she was some sort of freak, or prize, or both. The brunette began pulling at the ropes wildly, her braid coming undone, trying to free herself and eventually conceded to sinking to the floor of the tank and hoping they would arrive at their destination soon. Katara ran her fingers over the smooth stone of the necklace she wore, trying to find comfort.
There was none to be had on the carrier ship belonging to the Dragon King.