A/N: So excited to be doing this story. I have missed writing. I hope to be updating a bit quicker this time around, but this school year promises to be a, well not a nice word. I will leave it at that. Warning, there will be femslash and this fic is rated Mature for a reason. However, I do plan on having a storyline, hopefully a good one but I will let the readers decide that. Anyway, I will warn if there are lemons. There are none in this chapter. Please review!
Diclaimer: In an alternate universe I may own Avatar, however in this one I do not. I only own the OC's.
The sun rose from the depths of the eastern horizon, lighting the sky over Republic City a pale pinkish hue. As it made its ascent the small amount of industrial smog covering the urban sprawl and the surrounding waters kept the rays a rustic orange. Air Temple Island was unnaturally quiet for the hour. Usually the island was lively even in the wee hours of the morning due to Meelo making a ruckus before the crack of dawn. The child's obvious decision to sleep in was not shared by every occupant of the temple. Two hollow cerulean eyes peered through one of the building's many windows, spanning the expanse of the city, but not truly seeing what was there. Korra took a deep breath and released it in a long sigh, wishing that all of her misfortunes would be exhaled with the air from her lungs.
It had been three months since her victory against Amon and her first use of the Avatar State. The exhilaration of regaining her powers and returning them to the others affected by Amon's perverse bloodbending had dulled. It had been only three weeks after that, when Mako had left. Bolin had told her that Asami had wanted to start a new life away from Republic City and the shadow of her father's treachery. Korra hadn't even been able to say goodbye. Mako hadn't even waited. The next few weeks, she barely noticed his absence as Tenzin had her running around along with Lin's force, capturing Equalist rebels still lurking around or going to conferences and trials. Then, about a month back, peace had ensued once more and she was no longer necessary. Too much time to think and too much misery running through her head made her a hollow of her former self. She still participated in the pro-bending tournaments per Bolin's request-or rather his incessant begging until she begrudgingly agreed- though it was painstakingly obvious that without Mako they weren't complete.
Her eyes came to rest on an airship lazily crawling in the ever-brightening sky. Sato's airplane designs had caught the attention of all of the inventors in Republic City and beyond, becoming the most popular new item. Still, they were far from perfect and larger cargo was still packed into the large basket under the zeppelin. Silently Korra imagined hopping onto it and going out on her own. Tenzin, Pema, and the kids- she included Bolin among them- would surely miss her, but they would manage. She would come back if there was trouble… maybe. Just the thought of having new scenery to distract her from the mundane feeling of the cold stone in her heart was enough to tug at the corners of her lips. She couldn't even remember the last time she had smiled. She didn't even know if she still had the capability.
Deciding that some fresh air would do her good, Korra stood from her seat at the windowsill and exited through the sliding door. Outside, the sea breeze blew a soothing fragrance into her nose. It did wonders for the minor headache that had been plaguing her sleepless mind. She moved past the open corridors that led to the meditation center. She had learned what seemed like months ago, though it had only been a week or two, that meditation was only a short reprieve. Still, the quiet was not unwelcome.
She sat on the cool floor. Crossing her legs into the meditation pose, she laid her right palm over her left and linked the tips of her thumbs. Her breathing became slower, more even. Her lids grew heavy and slid down to cover her sapphire irises and searching pupils. Her eyes moved behind the veil of darkness before becoming still. Aang and her reincarnations used to come to her before. However, her mind had become too dull in despair that they had soon begun to fade away. She had attempted links before and found that her past lives were never far away, but she didn't want their judgment and so stayed within her own self.
That was how Tenzin found her when he came for his own meditation, sitting straight-backed and facing the rising sun. The view would have been picturesque had a certain five-year-old boy not crash landed into the poor girl's lap. Korra started violently at the unexpected object pummeling into her at insane velocities. Her eyes returned to their monotone glaze after recognizing the impish smile and wide grey eyes. Meelo's own expression dampened a bit at her obvious apathy. Jinora and Ikki looked on from behind their father's yellow robe.
Tenzin himself cleared his throat before declaring, "The Fire Lord will be crowning his heir in a week's time. We will be expected to appear to witness it and you will be required to give your blessing. We will be leaving at dawn tomorrow. I wanted to let you know so that you could pack."
He almost expected Korra to start complaining about the short notice and grilling him about missing a Fire Ferret match. Instead all he got was a distant look and a small nod in acknowledgement. At times, all times, he missed the stormy fire that sparkled in Korra's eyes. Her friend's, no Mako had always been more than that to her, absence had caused more damage than Tenzin had realized at first. Silently he prayed for a spirit-sent solution. Katara was to be at the Fire Nation during the ceremonies. He sincerely hoped she would know what to do.
Acutely aware that she was not going to get anymore alone time, Korra relinquished her place in the meditation circle and walked to where breakfast was no doubt being served. The corridors had so long ago become familiar that she didn't even have to think about where she was going. Her feet simply took her where she wanted to go. The smell soon indicated that Pema was in the kitchen preparing something delicious.
Korra slid into the room to find Bolin dutifully sitting by the table with his utensils held in each hand. His cheerful smile made her feel guilty for not being able to reciprocate. He didn't seem fazed by her obvious lack of emotion, instead opting to turn his attention back to the door which separated them from the kitchen. Despite herself, Korra was hungry. Her stomach growled angrily in agreement.
"Soooooo," Bolin broke the silence after a few minutes when it became apparent that their food was not coming yet. "You guys are heading to the Fire Nation tomorrow huh?"
"Yeah," Korra replied mechanically.
"That's too bad. I don't know if I can get a replacement waterbender between then and our next tournament. Not that it matters much," his face fell when he recalled their last few matches. It was soon back to its bright glow when Pema came in with a platter heaped with rice pancakes. "And what am I going to do without your marvelous cooking?"
Pema smiled at him. "You'll manage somehow," she joked setting the food down and returning to get the second helping.
Tenzin and the children entered from the door that Korra had used. Meelo and Bolin attacked the meal with equal enthusiasm. Ikki and Jenora followed suit at a slower pace while Tenzin sat staring worriedly at Korra who was simply picking at the contents of her dish despite the hunger she felt gnawing at her insides.
"Eat something Korra," Pema chastised as she came to sit as well.
"Sorry," Korra mumbled before taking a tentative bite. The pancakes were always irresistible and she was soon inhaling them without trepidation. Pema smiled approvingly. "So, the new future Fire Lord is going to be chosen? Isn't it obvious who it's going to be?"
Tenzin smiled in barely veiled astonishment at Korra's actual attempt at conversation. "Well, Fire Lord Zuko had a daughter who took the title, and then her husband became the Fire Lord. She resigned her title to be Fire Lady when she gave birth to General Iroh of the United Forces. He is the only one next in line so it should be him. It is more of an event to uphold tradition than one of necessity."
"And I'm just giving him my 'okay?'" Korra verified. The whole endeavor seemed like a huge waste of time. Then again, she had nothing better to do.
"Yes, that is the extent of it. Though General Iroh isn't too keen on taking the throne either."
"It'll be nice to see General Iroh again, won't it Korra?" Bolin said with raised eyebrows.
Korra let out a nervous laugh that she fully regretted the moment it escaped her lips. The General was handsome, no one could dispute that fact, but she didn't really feel it with him. Whatever it was. Bolin, on the other hand, took her little chortle as a positive sign. He wasn't too happy with his brother's blatant rebuttal of Korra's feelings. Finding someone new, he thought, would be good for both Korra and, by extension, Mako.
"Alright," Korra said as she stood. "I guess I should start packing early."
She tried to sound nonchalant about the trip, yet the slightest trill of excitement managed to escape her. She had wished to travel the world after all. Perhaps it wasn't the exact circumstances as in her imagination, but she would take what she could get.
Meelo was the first one up unlike the previous day. His raucous laughter and shrill shrieks filled every crevice of the air temple. Korra, who hadn't been able to sleep at all the previous night, buried her head in her pillow. Whatever shelter she was seeking in the plush cotton fabric was not to be found. Within five minutes she was up. Her mousy locks were in a mess. She half expected a family of sparrowjays to pop out and start flying around her head.
Her bag had been packed in all of four hours the previous day. She herself had spent fifteen minutes assembling her essentials. Then Tenzin had Pema come in and help her arrange the fine dresses that she would be wearing in court. The supple silk was like water running through her fingers. She preferred her usual ensemble of blues, taking two dresses styled after the moon pulling the tides. The small waves were made of beads; the frothing foam was the finest of embroideries. Pema had accounted for the rest. Rich violets mixed with deep crimson satin. Gold frocks were mixed with pale milky white ones. Jewels were laid aside to be placed carefully on top of the pile. Pema had also agreed to do all of Korra's hairstyles as she was only talented in making her casual ponytail and hanging bangs.
The brush running through Korra's hair snagged on a knot and pulled her from her recollections. She said a curse under her breath and set to work fixing it. Once she had control over the unruly locks, she set about dressing and picking through anything else she might want to take.
Half an hour before the airship was set to take off, Korra went to say goodbye to Naga. The polar bear dog was whining, perhaps sensing that her owner and longtime friend was leaving. "It's okay girl"
Korra scratched behind the floppy white ears. She had been ignoring Naga much as everyone else. Now she was regretting not spending more time with her pet. The dog looked just as depressed as she felt.
"I'll be back soon. It's only for a week or two. Just going to say 'hi' to the royal family and leave," saying it made it sound absurd. Korra lightly laughed to herself. Catching herself she wondered about her sudden good mood. Maybe a change was really all that she needed.
With one last hug, Korra left Naga and headed to where Tenzin and his family were boarding. She added her bag to the pile of luggage that was heaped to the side of the walkway. The airship itself was a dull red resembling rusty iron. The sigil of the air nomads was plastered on both sides in a bright yellow that clashed with the other color. The cabin itself was spacious enough; three bedrooms, one bathroom-much to the girls' horror-, and a viewing area that was three quarters glass. The food would be served from the staff quarters below. Meelo had already made himself at home, spinning along the walls on his air scooter. Ikki and Jinora fought over who was going to stay with Meelo and who got to bunk with Korra. In the end, Tenzin drew the short straw and was paired with his son. Pema took the baby and Ikki into the other room. Jinora gave Korra a wide smile and proceeded to jump on her bed. Korra herself was still exhausted and flung herself onto the bed. She was happy that they had decided against riding sky bison. They were quicker, but a saddle didn't compare to a soft bed.
Korra's first glimpse of the Fire Nation was obscured by the thick tendrils of ash that floated from the active volcanoes. She had apparently 'missed the good part' according to Ikki, while she had been sleeping. It didn't bother her that much. It had been two long days of flying and her energy had been all but drained.
The smoke parted above the massive dormant volcano that held the Fire Nation capital. Statues of Zuko and the heroes of the Hundred Year War adorned the pavilions. Tiny cars could be seen zooming along the pale cream streets. Flags flew in the wind, emblazoned with the nation's sigil, obsidian on a scarlet field trimmed with gold. The palace itself had not been changed since before Fire Lord Zuko's time, except the part that burned down in his Agni Kai with his siter. The airship sailed over the volcano's other rim, obscuring the city from view once more. Korra raised an eyebrow at Tenzin in confusion.
"The airship dock is at the base of the volcano," he explained knowingly.
She glanced at the long, winding road that led from the now visible ports to the entrance to the capital. Her stomach churned just from the sight of it.
"Hey Dad!" an excited Meelo yelled from across the room. "Can we jump out and glide down to the city? Ikki doesn't wanna walk."
"Hey," an indignant Ikki protested, "it was your idea."
Meelo responded with a mature gesture of pulling down an eyelid and sticking out his tongue. Tenzin simply shook his head and dismissed the idea, much to the protest of both children. Korra wouldn't admit it, but she would have rather done as they suggested than ride in a rickety car to the top of a volcano.
The gears under the zeppelin groaned as they uncurled and lodged into the matching grooves on the docking bay. The clash of metal against metal set Korra's teeth on edge. A small shiver of anticipation shook her shoulders, though she made sure that her expression of aloofness stayed plastered on her face. The door of the cabin dropped down with a hiss and a billow of steam. A scrawny man wearing fine red robes and a tall gold-rimmed matching hat was standing before the steps that led to the metallic floor. The business frown he wore was partially hidden by his thin moustache and trimmed goatee. He nodded solemnly to Tenzin and Korra as they made their descent. Pema and the children got a more casual tilt of the head.
"This way Master Tenzin, Avatar Korra. Your coach awaits," he stated briskly before turning on his heel and strutting to a shiny new model based on the Sato-mobile. Korra hunched her shoulders and followed.
Pema seemed apprehensive upon assessing the remaining space left in the vehicle after her husband and Korra had taken their places. "Where are the kids going to go?"
The man gave her an annoyed look from his position next to the driver. "The presence of Avatar Korra and Master Tenzin is required in the royal palace immediately. You and your children will be driven to your guest lodgings by the chauffer behind this one."
Pema glared at the man but could do nothing but acquiesce and board the next car over. Korra let herself be lulled by the rumbling of the engine and the slight shake of the frame. The soft leather on her back was warm but not hot since the sun was blocked by the large plumes rising from the mouth of the smaller active volcanoes. Ahead and above them, the rock wall reached into the heavens, its hollowed zenith lost in the mists of ash.
"-Korra?" she snapped to attention when her name was spoken questioningly by Tenzin.
"Sorry what?" she asked, the blood coloring her cheeks a faint pink.
"The naming has been moved up. I was wondering if you felt alright to go now?" he repeated patiently.
"Huh, naming what?" Korra still hadn't quite registered the conversation.
"Of the new heir to the throne," Tenzin supplied helpfully.
"Oh… yeah, I feel up to it," she looked down at her somewhat rumpled attire. She was wearing her usual light blue tank top and baggy pants. "Am I okay going in this?"
"Yes, I'm sure you will be alright."
"Why was it moved?"
The man who had come to greet them turned to be heard over the rush of the wind, "There is a rumor that the young General Iroh may be challenged by another candidate for the throne. As far as I know, there is no other person with legitimate claim; however we cannot be too cautious."
"Wouldn't that work out better for Iroh?" Korra interjected. "I mean, he doesn't even want to be Fire Lord, does he?"
The man reeled back as though she had struck him. His frown was pulled so far down that his goatee almost reached the fancy dragon ringed neckline of his robes. "The Prince is the only true heir. It would be degrading to the sanctity of Agni's blood to have someone else on the throne."
"Isn't the current Fire Lord only married to a member of Zuko's family?" Korra replied haughtily.
The man narrowed his eyes but wasn't able to come up with a decent argument. Instead he mumbled an indignant, "It is different in that case."
Korra rolled her eyes and rested her chin on her knuckles. Her elbow was connected to the rim of the car and sent soothing vibrations through her frame. The sea was below them now, a stormy deep blue. The waves frothed against the stony land, here white, there green as the tide retreated into the surf. Seagull-pelicans shrieked and dove to catch fish, invisible to their silent observer. She couldn't help but fill her lungs with the scent of the sea and think of home. The Northern Water Tribe where she had trained. Master Katara's gentle smile and crinkled brow.
A bump sent her fist flying painfully into her jaw, chasing distant memories from her mind. Here, there was no snow or ice. The air clung heavy with the vapors of the waters below. The heat caused small beads of sweat to gather along her light brown forehead and the tip of her nose. She lazily wiped at them and new ones soon came to take their place.
"The tunnel leading into the city should not be too far now," their stuck-up guide informed them. Korra decided to call him Panties-in-a-Bunch. It may not have been as original as Toph's nicknames, or as creative, but it fit her purposes since she refused to learn his real name. He hadn't offered it anyway.
The city was even more magnificent than her first glimpse. The houses were neatly positioned in a circular formation with streets leading to the Royal Palace in the center. The walls were a light white or pale crème. The roofs ended in sharp edges that stuck out far beyond the walls, colored with red tile and black wooden beams. Many windows held patterns of dragons entwined in vines or flames, Korra was uncertain as they passed them too quickly for her to see clearly. People walked along pristine sidewalks. Shops held their wares displayed in their windows or hung on open doors, their owners shouting advertisements to passerby's. Small children ran ahead of their parents, smiles plastered on their faces. Korra could have sworn that she saw a few parks with ponds and wispy willow trees in the distance. The street was tiled in a way that caused the car to bump up and down frequently, creating a shaky view of the surroundings.
The inner ring was full of much larger houses and huge expanses of gardens. Quaint bridges spanned across man-made rivers full of colorful koi fish. Nobles wearing rich silks in vibrant colors walked peacefully among their blooming flowers and emerald grass. The women held tiny parasols in their dainty hands, spinning them with the breeze and creating illusions of pink and yellow flower petals dancing in the wind.
They had finally come up to the palace. The central tower rose into the blue sky like a pillar of flame. Three stories jutted out of the building, outlined in golden supports, leading down to the large crimson doors. Two buildings stuck out to the right and left of the central building. Their three stories were also outlined in glimmering gold. Large stone slabs held the first stories aloft high above their heads. They reached the end of the driveway. The chauffer opened Korra's door first then went around getting Tenzin's. Korra smirked at the way the man obviously ignored Panties-in-a-Bunch. Two guards in the antique armor of the elite guard from Zuko's time stood at attention. Panties-in-a-Bunch showed a piece of paper to one. The guard nodded and the heavy doors opened into a large hallway the torches on the large marble pillars were still lit with fire instead of the now popular electricity. The plush carpet felt spongy under her feet. Korra longed to take the uncomfortable boots off of her feet and wiggle her toes in it. Alas, Pants-in-a-Bunch beckoned them onward and she had to abandon her fantasy.
They walked through an assortment of hallways matching the first in all but size. These guys sure love their columns and fire, Korra couldn't help but think, and every bloody thing is either red, gold, or black. They rounded a corner and came before the ceiling sized doors that led to the throne room. Korra mentally braced herself for the breathtakingly grand scene that lay behind the heavy wood. With barely a sigh, the golden hinges swung in and a set of blue eyes widened.
The interior was lined with more rows of columns than Korra cared to count. Golden dragons wound up the glistening marble and snarled down at them, teeth gleaming in the sunlight that filtered through large windows on both the right and left sides of the room. The windows had been a new installment made by Fire Lord Zuko to make the room less foreboding. To Korra, his efforts fell just a tad bit short. Perhaps it was the hundreds of golden reptilian eyes turned to her. Or perhaps it was the wall of dancing scarlet flames that stretched before her.
"Air Master Tenzin of Republic City and the Avatar, Korra," Panties-in-a-Bunch stated importantly.
The wall of flames parted and a tall man stepped down. His robes were shiny obsidian, as though made of carbonate. The trim that he used was almost reflected white in the sunlight, the lines on the uppermost fold of his robes coming together into the Fire nation sigil. The man's face was worn but his storm-grey eyes were kind and told of the hidden power in him. His jet black hair was peppered with grey and held tightly in a bun with the royal crown placed imperiously on top.
"Master Tenzin, Avatar," he said bowing his head in courtesy. They emulated.
"Fire Lord Inzei, it is a pleasure," Tenzin greeted formally. The two men then gave each other small smiles to break the cold atmosphere.
"Fire Lord," Korra supplemented lowering her head.
"I apologize for the inconvenience and urgency with which you were summoned here. However, certain rumors are better addressed than forgotten," the Fire Lord swept past them. Tenzin went to fall in step with him. Korra herself stayed a step behind, unsure of herself were she to be alongside the formidable man. Panties-in-a-Bunch was at the very end of their procession, probably still wearing that infuriating frown.
"I completely understand," Tenzin was saying. "So, tell me, what are these rumors exactly? Your servant was kind enough to give them a vague mention but I am lost on the details."
"There is talk of another suitor for the throne. Usually that would not bother me as we can play the 'divine right to rule' card. This particular person, on the other hand, is said to be of Agni's bloodline. I know that my wife has not born any other children but Iroh. It is an enigma, yet I do not wish to ignore it."
"You are wise not to," Tenzin's brows were knitting together in his usual thoughtful expression. "Where is the ceremony to be held?"
"In the old Agni Kai arena as it has always been. The Fire Sages should be waiting and Iroh is being prepped as well."
Korra silently felt somewhat sorry for the poor general. He had no wish to have such a tremendous duty heaped onto him, and yet there it was. It reminded her of her first appearance in Republic City. Not when she had been on her own there, but when all of the eyes turned to her, all of the people's hopes riding on her shoulders, all of the hate of the nonbenders burning into her back. It was a lot of pressure. Not something she would wish on anyone much less a 'friend.'
Fire Lord Inzei had led them outside into a long courtyard. It was covered in fine sand, surrounded by two walkways and one large building sticking out at the far end. Five wizen old men in flowing crimson stood in a huddle. Their heads rose when they heard their approach. They wore strange hats that almost looked as though giant koi fish were eating their heads. Korra had to stifle a chuckle.
"Fire Lord Inzei, we are ready to begin. All we need is your son," the tallest man spoke in a voice that made gravel appear soft. His white beard shook over his chest as his lips moved to form the words. Korra had the sudden urge to make a grab at it. An urge she forced herself not to act on.
"Very well, let the nobles in. They must be held as witnesses as well or I will never hear the end of it," Inzei said exasperatedly.
"Yes Fire Lord," the sage bowed and then tilted his head to the others and then to the doors leading into the hallways. Two peeled away from their places atop the stairs and moved to open them.
The colorful nobles clamored in as though they themselves were children waiting in anticipation for something incredible to happen. Korra suddenly felt all of their eyes on them. She had thought that she was used to the attention, but the moment those ebony pupils dilated to take her in, she felt tiny as an ant under glass. The loud talking gave way to softer murmurs as the handsome dark-haired man stepped out from where Korra and the others had come. His golden eyes were darkened despite the sun that now shown upon them in all of its glory.
Iroh came up to them with long purposeful strides. The corners of his pale lips were slightly tilted down though he did his best to keep a composed expression. He wore the white uniform of a general, the bronze buttons shining to match the decorum and his eyes.
The Fire Lord and Airbending Master walked up to the stairway, shaded by the sharp overhang of the building above their heads. Korra stood to the opposite of them. The Fire sages lined themselves in a 'v' formation, the eldest standing furthest from the young man who had come to stand atop the stairs. Iroh turned his back to the sages and kneeled, looking out into the crowd watching him. The head sage walked up from the shadows, his hands holding a bright three-point crown, until he stood directly behind the prince.
"Prince Iroh, only son of Fire Lord Inzei, you have come here to be crowned as official Crown Prince to the Fire Nation. Do you take the oath to serve your people and your country in times of war and peace? To uphold justice in your rule and punish those who would take power and contort it to suit their own needs? To dictate when your leadership is necessary and to listen when it is not? To-"
A large bang resounded from across the courtyard. All heads snapped to a small dust cloud that had appeared by one of the doorways in the left hallway. The doors themselves had been blown off of their hinges and lay broken in shards on the ground. A lone silhouette rose from a squatting position to a standing one. Korra squinted her eyes to catch a glimpse of the intruder.
"Guards!" Inzei called. Three men raced toward the figure still hidden behind the veil of dust. They moved apprehensively at first before falling upon it. One swept out the figure's legs while the others made a grab for its arms. All the while the figure did nothing to oppose them, rather complying and moving with them.
"Bring this intruder forward," Inzei commanded in a forceful tone. Iroh was looking almost relieved at the interruption.
The guards brought the figure forward and forced it onto its knees. The first thing Korra noticed about the person kneeling before them was the sleek black hair. Two long jet bangs hung down just past the hidden jaw line. The rest was carefully pulled back into a formal topknot held together by a small golden crown with three points, the central one sticking up further than the others. A crown identical to the one held in the hands of the fire sage. It was now obvious to Korra that the person was a girl, probably about her age if not a bit older. She wore a light blood orange shirt that was buttoned over to her left side, much like an officer's uniform. However it fell short to make space for a black belt that wound around her waist. Her pants flared out at the knees but were tucked into the long slender boots that ran from her calves to end in points at her feet.
"Speak your name and your purpose," Inzei instructed.
The girl lifted her head and met his eyes without even a flinch. She stayed silent, observing them for a few moments, giving each person before her a piercing glance. When her eyes met Korra's, she felt a shiver run through her. The power and intensity behind the molten orbs of gold was astounding. So enraptured was Korra, that she didn't make the connection until the girl spoke up.
"My name is Kaji. I am of Agni's lineage by the blood of Princess Azula, Commander of the Fire Nation's armies during the reign of Fire Lord Zuko. I hereby challenge Prince Iroh to an Agni Kai for the right of the Fire Nation throne."
P.S. Please Review. I know it is a bit slow but chapter 2 is done. I will post it as soon as I have revised it. Reviews make me revise faster. I apologize for any errors in advance and will promptly fix them if they are pointed out.