Little do we think of how fortuitous the circumstances were during the times of Avatar Aang. Not often do we realize everything could have turned out very differently had only one factor been removed. The removal of said factor would allow for endless possibilities to unveil themselves. For what would have happened if Katara hadn't tagged along on that fishing trip with her brother Sokka? What if she had decided to stay behind to help her grandmother with her chores?
The changes on the story that was already written would be unimaginable… the world as we came to know it wouldn't exist. To picture such developments may be unfathomable… but who is to say it wasn't likely? Who is to declare it was impossible? Certainly, the story as we know it wouldn't have been written… but a different story would have been born instead.
A story where the struggle to save the world is not in the manner we envisioned, where a different war wages in the form of fighters who strive to prove their worth through their bending or their weapons. A tale where the least expected love story unfolds, changing the way a Princess sees the world, changing the way a young man makes a name for himself when he takes upon the challenge of becoming…
Staring into the white horizon anxiously had become, to Katara's utter displeasure, her most recurrent activity nowadays. She had started doing it when her brother had decided to join the war in hopes to force the Fire Nation out of their home. He had left the Tribe a week ago, and she couldn't even bother practicing her waterbending forms because of how concerned she was over his fate. Ever since she was a kid she had grown used to this way of life: sitting by the edge of the village, waiting for the warriors to return… and returned they had, most of them. But by now, hardly any warriors from the Southern Water Tribe were involved in the war, for there wasn't much of a war to be fought anymore.
With their skills enhanced by the power of Sozin's Comet, the firebenders had taken over the world much faster than anyone anticipated. The Earth Kingdom had collapsed when the overpowered firebenders had taken over Ba Sing Se and most of the major Earth Kingdom towns; not even Kyoshi Island had gotten away from the slaughter. The balance between the Four Nations was little more than a myth at this point in time, and not even Katara could hold on to the hope of the Avatar returning anymore. She had to face reality: the Fire Nation had won the war, and the one thing the Southern Water Tribe could do was attempt to stand their ground for as long as possible before the Fire Nation came for them, too.
Not many firebenders could endure the cold environment of the poles. They were far more comfortable in the warmth of tropical regions, where the sun would shine brightly nearly every day, providing them with the strength they needed to burn down everything in their way. The poles' dynamics were very difficult for them to bear, since the sun would shine during six months, but it would be absent for the rest of the year, weakening any firebender greatly.
The light period was about to end in the South Pole, but the six months of sunlight hadn't gone without a hitch. While they'd had the upper hand on the Northern Water Tribe after over five years of fighting, the Fire Nation's forces had split, and part of their navy had moved down to the South. After a few battles against the natives, they had taken over a small territory of the icy tundra, marking it as their land and instating a large, metal building to prove their might. However, only a handful of guards would stand by this newly obtained territory, due to how difficult it was for Fire Nation soldiers to survive in this environment.
Taking advantage of this fact, Sokka and the best warriors of the Southern Water Tribe were getting ready to attack the Fire Nation settlement. He had taken his most reliable supporters with him, the kids he had trained in the art of fighting ever since he was scarcely a teenager himself; they had grown to admire him and follow his every command over time. Currently they were on a scouting mission, or so Sokka had claimed, to obtain more information regarding the Fire Nation's new base. Hakoda, the Tribe's Chieftain and Sokka's father, hadn't approved of those plans, but Sokka was a daring young man, twenty-one winters old, determined to fight back against the Fire Nation's advances in whichever way he could.
Thus, Katara was left to await her brother's return by the edge of the village, hoping he would be back before the darker half of the year began. It was already quite hard to face the coldest temperatures while inside the village, and the weather during the dark period, outside the walls of the Southern Water Tribe, could prove deadly. Katara shook her head, trying to shun such gloomy thoughts from her mind, but she was unable to do so. She could never contain her concern for her brother when he left for too long…
"Dinner is ready, Katara," said an elderly woman, who had silently joined her granddaughter outside the village a short moment ago.
The girl turned and smiled kindly at Kanna.
"Thanks, Gran Gran," she muttered. "I'll go in a bit, I'm just waiting…"
"Katara… it will be better if you come inside," said Kanna. "You need to rest properly. The dark period is coming; it won't do you good to spend so much time out in the cold."
"For that matter, you're the last one who should tell me that," said Katara, turning to her elderly grandmother. "Let's both go inside, Gran Gran."
Kanna smiled and headed inside the village again. Katara followed suit, but she turned around for one last glimpse of the horizon. She could only hope to see a shadowy figure far away, walking towards her, clad in his warrior outfit, waving at her… She smiled sadly as she saw a humanoid shape far away, for she was certain her mind was playing tricks on her. She had seen Sokka return like that so many times that she was already seeing things… only, she was actually seeing something now. She rubbed her eyes with her gloved hands, and the shape was still there.
"Sokka?" she called, surprising Kanna, who had thought her granddaughter was right behind her.
More shapes appeared in the far horizon, all of them clad in the typical blue armor of Water Tribe Warriors. The one leading all of them was beaming and waving, his carefree attitude giving away his identity with ease.
"Sokka!" yelled Katara, smiling and sprinting towards him.
She swung her arms around his neck and embraced her brother once she reached him. Sokka chuckled and hugged her too, surprised by how much she had missed him only after a week of being apart.
"I'm back, Katara," he said, and she smiled as she pulled away from him.
"I was so worried! You guys took too long to come back this time!" she exclaimed, scolding her older brother, as ever.
Sokka grinned guiltily at her accusations. The other warriors walked by them as Sokka patted his sister on the top of her head, and they were amused to watch their fearsome leader being treated like a little kid.
"I know, Katara, I know, and I'm sorry about that. But you'll see we were worth the wait!" he said, smiling widely. "We've got some great information this time… you'll be amazed when you hear it. We'll finally have a chance to kick those Fire Nation invaders out and send them back to that slice of hell they belong in."
Katara stared at him with concern again, uneasy about her brother's ploys to beat the Fire Nation. She hated everything about the invaders, she always had… but life in the Tribe had been calm these last few days, and she didn't wish for the small peace they had achieved to be broken in any way. Whatever plan Sokka was devising to tear apart the Fire Nation settlement on the South Pole promised to disrupt said peace, and it might destroy it altogether.
"Are you sure about this, Sokka?" asked Katara, but he ignored her question as he walked to greet his grandmother.
"Hey, Gran Gran!" he called her, and Kanna grinned, hugging him tightly.
"We were worried sick about you, Sokka," said Kanna. "Don't leave for so long again, I beg you."
"I won't leave for a whole week again, I promise," he told her. "But I do have to take off again in a few days. Things are looking up…"
"What exactly do you mean by that, Sokka?" asked Katara, frowning and seizing his attention this time.
"I think I'll explain everything over dinner," he stated, smiling clumsily. "I'm starving!"
Katara sighed in defeat as the three of them entered the village amongst the other warriors, who headed into their houses and greeted their respective families. Katara smiled as she heard the cries of joy and laughter in each hut… The only good part about the war was that it helped everyone value their family members far more than they would under normal circumstances. Although, to be quite honest, it wasn't as if she knew much about what normal circumstances were like: she had never known a world without war.
Sokka headed inside the largest igloo in town, the one that belonged to Chief Hakoda's family. Hakoda had served the Water Tribe's warriors for many years now, but a few months after the Fire Nation had taken over the Earth Kingdom, he had decided, after losing some of the best fighters of the Tribe, that it would be safer for what was left of their battalion to return home. His wise decision had saved many lives, but at the same time, their withdrawal from the war had been as surrendering the world to the Fire Nation. At first Hakoda had been determined to make sure the Water Tribe wouldn't undergo the same fate as the Earth Kingdom and the Air Nomads had, but his age was starting to weigh on him. He was tired after investing half his life battling in a war he couldn't win. His son's enthusiasm wasn't contagious for Hakoda; in fact, it discouraged him instead. He had already lost a wife because of the war, and he would hate to lose his son as well.
Relief washed over Hakoda when Sokka appeared at the igloo's threshold, setting his weapons down and grinning at him cheerfully.
"I'm back, dad," he said, as he embraced his father. "And I have great news."
Hakoda patted his son on the back before pulling away, smiling also.
"The best news you could give me, you already have. You are safe and sound, Sokka, and that is what matters most. And I would like to have dinner before you fill my mind with plots to destroy the Fire Nation, if you don't mind."
Sokka sighed and rolled his eyes, but he smiled at his father and nodded in agreement.
As they ate, even though Katara was quite certain it wasn't wise of him to do so, Sokka presented his family with the tale of his trip. After explaining how some of the warriors had infiltrated the settlement, disguised as Fire Nation guards, he finally reached the main event, the great revelation that he believed would tip the scales to their favor:
"… It wasn't easy, but once I had my disguise so they wouldn't notice I was Water Tribe, I walked into the main building and pretended to stand guard during a small meeting," he explained, lifting his empty dish and requesting another serving of noodles. Katara complied with his wishes, bending some of the soup into his bowl. "And I heard the best news I could have asked for: there will be a bigger meeting in the settlement in two days: several big shots from the Fire Nation will attend it, and they'll be discussing how to take over the whole Pole. Apparently, they're striving to do it during the dark period, even when they know they'll be weakened. They're bound to bring in lots of benders to help keep guard of their station, but the cold is a great disadvantage for them: it weakens them while it gives us cover. If we surround the perimeter once the meeting is taking place, we can take out the guards and make the big leaders our prisoners."
"Who are these people who'll attend the meeting?" asked Hakoda, frowning. "Did you hear anything specific about them?"
"Not really," said Sokka, shrugging. "I heard that the governor they plan to impose on us will come, and who knows what other crazy Fire Nation military people…"
"They won't be easy to outsmart, Sokka," said Hakoda, crossing his arms over his chest. "And even if the sun is gone during the dark period, they won't be completely powerless."
"Ever the party pooper," said Sokka, sighing. "Dad, I know you're worried and you don't want me involved in anything this dangerous, but I can handle this operation. There's hardly any way for this plan to fail! We know the layout of their settlement really well thanks to this scouting mission, and we'll have the element of surprise on our side, since they have no idea we've got this information! I can devise a strategy so we can take over the whole…"
"Sokka, do you realize what's at stake here?" asked Hakoda, staring at his son sternly.
Sokka was the one to frown now, and he glared at his father as he muttered, between gritted teeth:
"Stop treating me like a child. I know what I'm doing."
"Do you, really?" asked Hakoda. "You're being selfish and naïve, Sokka. You might be a great leader, but by pulling through with this plan, you wouldn't only put your own neck in the line, but everyone else's as well. You could just as easily get them killed by dragging them to the Fire Lord's Palace…"
"You think I'm going to let my men die?" asked Sokka, snorting in disbelief.
"What I think is that you don't understand that your men CAN die!" exclaimed Hakoda. "Are you ready to face the consequences of losing your fellow warriors? Can you tell those families that their beloved husband, father, brother or uncle died fighting for you?"
"It won't happen," growled Sokka, stubbornly. "I have a good plan, and you'll see nobody on our side will die because of it."
"Does that mean you're planning on killing Fire Nation people?" muttered Kanna. "How will that make you better than them, then?"
Sokka was aghast by those words, and he looked from his grandmother to his father, feeling betrayed.
"So you just want me to sit here with the rest of you, knitting and fishing for whatever's left of my life until the Fire Nation comes to slaughter our village? You think that's what I should do? You don't want to regain the territories that are rightfully ours, the territories they took from us? The warriors that died to keep the village safe would be disgusted to see us give in to the Fire Nation like this... Bato would never accept this. He would have fought to the end!"
"Don't you dare pretend to understand Bato," growled Hakoda "He was nothing like either one of us… he knew what was at stake in this war far better than I did, and it was my own foolishness what brought him to his death. I thought myself undefeatable, much like you do, and I wasn't the one to pay the price for my arrogance. It would have been better if I'd been the one to…"
"Don't say that, dad," muttered Katara, looking at Hakoda apprehensively. "Please… can we all just calm down and talk this through?"
"I'm trying to talk this through," grunted Sokka. "But it seems the man I always looked up to isn't as brave as I used to think he was."
Hakoda knew his son was being so defiant because he wished to prove he was as capable a leader as Hakoda once had been… but Hakoda had already lost too many people he had loved dearly to even imagine losing Sokka because of the boy's own arrogance.
"Sokka, just listen to me," he muttered. "If you wish to go, I cannot stop you. But this is by far the riskiest move you've ever made, and I won't let you go until you really understand all you're risking with your scheme…"
"Believe it or not, you don't need to explain anything to me," Sokka retorted. "I know what's at stake in wars. I won't fail to bring everyone back home, you can count on it."
Hakoda sighed and shook his head, for his son refused to listen to reason. At this rate he would only ever learn the lesson the hard way… Hakoda didn't want things to develop like this, but it was bound to happen if Sokka kept acting so recklessly. The world wasn't merciful to the men who believed they were strong enough to face every obstacle headfirst. Hakoda had come upon this knowledge in the worst possible way after losing his best friend to the Fire Nation on an unsuccessful raid to an enemy campsite. He had been certain his plans wouldn't fail, since they hardly ever did, but he was proven wrong when almost half his men had been slain that day. This terrible defeat had brought him to decide to return to the South Pole to protect his people. All the hope he had held in his heart long ago had vanished slowly over time, and despite how much he loathed to think like this, he had accepted that the Fire Nation had won. The only area still relatively free from their armies and firebenders was the South Pole, and at this rate, they wouldn't last long either. At times he wondered if they should simply surrender. At least they might survive if they did…
But Sokka's headstrong nature wouldn't allow him to give up. He had been born and raised under the firm belief that the Fire Nation's deeds were completely wrong. As the idealistic young man he was, he had no qualms over putting his life in the line to battle against the people who had taken his mother from him, the people who had destroyed two other cultures in the most gruesome manner possible.
Sokka was set in his ways. He would defend his tribe, and he would defeat the Fire Nation. He was certain he would be perfectly suited for the task someday, if only he was given a chance to lead his warriors to the war's frontlines… but his father wouldn't allow him to do that, not right now. Yet Hakoda would have no reason to refuse Sokka's request to join the war once he had succeeded with the mission he had only just explained to him. And Sokka would succeed. Everything was in place for him to do so.
Katara looked from one man to the other, her eyes filled with concern. Her family had already suffered many losses, but they had always gotten along despite the upsetting circumstances. Something within her chest seemed to stir and weigh her down, for a sense of loss had taken over her even before anything troublesome had occurred. Because, if Sokka accomplished his goals, their father still wouldn't approve of Sokka's actions. And if her father was right to say Sokka would fail… Katara didn't even want to think of the consequences of that. Sokka wouldn't be able to stand losing his friends, and if it came to the worst case scenario she could picture, she would be the one completely devastated if her brother were the one to perish in what promised to be a horrible battle…
As it was, she could only trust Sokka's instincts, no matter how many times they had been wrong so far. Maybe there wouldn't be anyone particularly dangerous within the Fire Nation's big shots he meant to capture, and the soldiers would attain victory without any losses, just as Sokka planned. Maybe there was nothing worth worrying about at all. Sokka could lead his warriors, she knew he could… and she believed in him. Because all she could do for him at this point was hope for the best. All she could do was hope nothing deadly awaited her brother within the Fire Nation's settlement…
A frown spread over the Princess's brow as she tapped the edge of her throne's armrest impatiently. Usually, she would be comfortable with traveling by ship, especially while traveling in one as magnificent as her personally selected vessel, but the decreasing temperature only increased her unease with every mile they traveled.
But she didn't blame her discomfort on the weather. At least, not completely. She knew what the true source of her displeasure was; she had known it for years now. In fact, she had known what it was for her entire life.
She was pondering the matter that irritated her when the captain of her Royal Barge walked up to her and bowed before giving her the report of their situation.
"We are approaching the bay, my Lor-… Princess."
The glare she presented him with was so harsh that the man froze in place briefly, and it had nothing to do with the cold. She could easily read in his terrified features that he would much rather be tossed into the freezing water than face her wrath. He stumbled back, dreading the consequences of enraging the young woman. Yet Azula merely brought her hands together, intertwining her fingers and resting against the back of her chair as she continued to glower at him.
"Good. Do make sure we reach the settlement smoothly, will you?" she said, a venomous tinge coating her every word.
"Yes, Princess," he said, performing a very deep bow before running off as quickly as he could to the engine room of the ship. He had departed so swiftly, not because his presence would be required below, but because he wished to be as far from the deadly lady as he could be within the ship.
Azula sighed once he was gone and she shook her head in complete disgust. She was a powerful woman in a world ruled by weak men who seemed to believe that only men should hold privileged positions: during her childhood days she had been seen as inferior to her brother, not because she was the younger sibling, but because she was a girl. It didn't matter if she was a far more powerful firebender, a greater strategist or a better leader. The noblemen wouldn't care less about her qualities unless she somehow woke up one day transfigured into a man… the sole idea made her shiver in disgust. She had grown to hate the sexist society she lived within, and she most definitely wouldn't want to become another one of the males she had grown to despise. She only ever felt prized and cared for by her father, and he was the only example of a gentleman she had met so far. The rest of the men she knew… they really weren't worth thinking about. So she definitely didn't want a spirit of some sort to turn her into a man… she wanted to prove her worth as a woman. She wished to show the world that gender made no difference when it came to actual talent in politics or bending, and if it made any difference, then said difference probably served to prove that she was superior to all the men she knew.
She wasn't weak, she wasn't fragile-minded, and she most definitely wouldn't be content with a simple life based on social interaction in parties and balls, like the other women she knew. She wanted more… and she deserved more. She was the heir to the Fire Nation's throne, and once she obtained the crown, she would make sure all the disdaining of the females would vanish completely. She could become the most amazing leader her nation had ever witnessed… and she knew she would. It was only a matter of time…
But was it? For all she knew, what the noblemen hoped for could come true one day, and she might lose her claim to the throne. For all she knew, Zuko might find the Avatar and return home, regaining the honor that he had been denied… the sole thought made her cringe. It wasn't so much her dislike for her brother – which was evident and mutual – as it was her wishes to retain her current privileged position…
By now, she had almost spent nine years putting up with the pressures of being her father's heir and being a girl at the same time. And despite she was certain she had excelled at her role so far, by both terrifying and inspiring respect from her subjects, she knew that whenever she turned around they began whispering about how inappropriate it was for a woman to hold such an honorable position. And she wasn't making this up out of paranoia: once, after a war meeting had ended, she had left the hall but returned shortly in hopes to convey one final thought to her former most admired military figure, Admiral Zhao. But before entering the hall she had overheard him, and several other generals who had been present at the meeting, chuckling at her expenses, claiming a thirteen year-old girl – her age at the time – was better off playing with dolls than getting involved in military tactics and strategies. They were convinced that she would never understand the true extent of what they discussed in the meetings because she was a woman.
And what was so wrong with that? She never understood why there was such a barrier between males and females. Sure, the differences between both genders were completely clear, but what made one better than the other? Who had decided which one was better? She truly wished to discover the answer to the second question for the sole purpose of electrifying the culprit to prove him wrong… but would such display of power and greatness help her cause? Probably not. She could have taken over Ba Sing Se on her own and they still would consider her inferior to them.
She gritted her teeth and looked forward, trying to keep those unsettling thoughts off her mind. She was heading down to the South Pole's settlement as her father's representative, to ascertain they would take over the Water Tribe as soon as possible. Circumstances were against them now, since they would be battling over the ownership of the Pole during a dark period. The absence of the sun wouldn't fail to cut to half the power of even the greatest firebenders. But they had an advantage: all the waterbenders of the Southern Water Tribe had been slain years ago. According to the reports, there wasn't a single one left. So if their soldiers were to face any hardships, they would come solely from warriors, which were still dangerous, but not as deadly as waterbenders attacking them when they were at their weakest.
She was attending the meeting in a diplomatic manner, but she was certain she could provide valuable input to their strategies to defeat the Water Tribe warriors; well, that is, if she wasn't the one to develop all the plans altogether. She could already imagine the way the meeting would proceed, with those admirals and generals discussing and arguing out of the pathetic need to show who was the more dominant one, to prove who was the manliest man… and then she'd give out a brilliant strategy, a perfect plan not only to protect the settlement, but to take over the enemy village during this period.
Azula wanted to devise a plan that wouldn't even require reinforcements. The Fire Nation armies were spread out thin all over the world, and their best firebenders would be battling in the Northern Water Tribe, since the light period would begin there soon and they would finally gain the upper hand. The North Pole was, of course, a bigger threat than the South Pole, since there were still many powerful waterbenders there. Hence, they would need as many soldiers as possible in order to submit the massive tribe to the will of the Fire Nation, and they only had half a year to fulfill said purpose. Therefore, she would make sure to keep the scales tipped to their favor by conquering the Southern Water Tribe without asking for any help from those who were currently fighting up north. She had that much confidence in her skills as a strategist.
She knew it would be no easy feat for the Fire Nation forces to triumph in the South; the cold even made her shiver, despite she kept breathing deeply and increasing her body heat at will, and she was one of the greatest firebenders alive, second only to her father. Surely the small battalion that they'd brought for this siege would have a hard time fighting in these conditions, but she was convinced they could succeed. She was already thinking about her plans, and she was certain she'd find a way for the Fire Nation to stand its ground against the savages down in the Pole… but it all depended on the men, as usual. Unless they suddenly grew a spine and admitted she understood the wages of war far better than they did, they would dismiss her every intervention by claiming this was no place for a Princess. She knew it would take a lot of effort to bring them to trust and acknowledge her, but she was determined to forge a name for herself, to prove she was far above the challenges they were unwilling to impose on her.
Because she was the daughter of the Fire Lord, and the heir to the throne. And she wouldn't surrender, not to the men of the Fire Nation or to the Water Tribe savages. It wasn't a matter of fighting to the end, of winning or dying in the process… there was no such option. She would conquer and burn to the ground whoever dared oppose her, just like her father had done when he'd had Sozin's Comet to fuel his strength a few years ago. She wouldn't waver, because she was Princess Azula, and nobody could stand in her way without facing dire consequences for it.
She didn't know it at the moment, but she would be teaching this lesson to the men around her sooner than she thought, at the expenses of a Water Tribe savage who would jump headfirst into battle, not knowing whom he would be dealing with…
Well, well, as you must have realized by now, this story is going to be far darker and totally different from everything I've written so far. As you can see, the setting is, as I promised, no longer within The Reason's timeline. I will try to update both Gladiator and How They All Reacted, but don't expect regular updates ^^U I know it's a major put-off and you all loved me because I updated with the blink of an eye, but I've grown busy and I've taken upon a lot of fics at the same time, so you'll see less and more of me at once xD
Thanks to Chaosconetic for suggesting this story to me, I'll do my best with it! Hopefully you'll enjoy what I've made of your idea ^^ can't thank you enough for entrusting me with it!
And yeah, this was a pretty uneventful chapter, but I promise this will be packed with action soon! xD And romance… because that's what many of you are expecting, and I know it really well xD I'll do my best not to disappoint you!
This story will probably develop for a very long time, so keep that in mind. It's going to be pretty long… but I hope you'll enjoy it every step of the way just as much as I know I will ^^ thanks in advance for reading, and every review is welcome! ^^
WARNING: this fic might end up rated M eventually, because of violence and… a few other things ^^U I will be posting a heads-up on each chapter with M-content if you don't wish to read it. Well, that's all for now! Will be seeing you guys soon! ^^