***ATTENTION*** If you have read this story before 2/10/2018 please note that nearly every chapter has been altered/rewritten for your reading pleasure, especially the beginning 10.
This will be my Disclaimer for the entire story. I do not own Avatar the Last Airbender, nor do I claim to. This is made purely for my own enjoyment and the enjoyment of others.
Katara (aged 12)
The snow was cold on Katara's face but she didn't mind it very much. In fact, nothing could bother her today of all days. Today was her twelfth birthday and she would begin her steps toward woman-hood.
For as long as Katara could remember, she'd seen the world differently than the other children in the Tribe. From her own family, no less. She'd always had this…affinity for…something. There was something coursing through her veins other than her blood.
Of course, most women in the tribe felt differently on the night of the full moon, the night that their moon's blood began, but whatever Katara felt…it wasn't like that. She could feel the pull of the moon throughout her entire being, and some nights, when she was out on the snow banks with only the light of the moon and stars to guide her and the wind whipped through her hair, she felt the most open and free she'd ever been.
One evening when she was a child, the moon had arisen, and they'd claimed Katara had, in a trance-like state, walked out of her family's Igloo, and went dancing in the falling snow. But what had made the story so remarkable, was that Katara had shed her parka and danced in the swirling snow only in a thin dress with no boots on her feet. They'd asked her if she was cold, checked her for signs of frostbite, but Katara had claimed that she was fine.
The entire village had known the story within the hour.
So there had to be something wrong with her. And she had to find out today, the day of the ceremony.
Katara had watched as people cheered for the Princess Yue, daughter of the Chief's younger brother. She was dressed in what was perhaps the most extravagant robe that Katara had seen. It was all silk and fur, covered in sparkling moon dust and entirely in white fabric. The eight-year-old girl had been allowed to watch for the first time that year, as another girl who shared the same birthday as Yue joined the path from the temple. Her dress was nowhere near as fine as Yue's, only being a dark blue muslin.
But it hadn't seemed to matter. They were happy. Yue and Banu had smiled with each other, embraced as sisters, and held hands as they walked through the large doors of the stone Temple of Tui and La. They'd gone into the temple around noon, and had come out in a few hours, looking unbelievably shaken. Neither girl had said anything.
She'd heard the whispers.
Banu was said to be marrying Kanto, one of the most promising hunters in the Tribe, despite their 7 year age gap. Apparently, her future would be magnificent.
Yue hadn't said anything.
Later that night, after everyone in the palace was asleep, Yue had snuck into Katara's bedroom and told her what happened inside of the temple.
'Nothing spectacular' she had said, sitting on the fur-lined bedcover and at first, Katara thought she was being selfish, not wanting to share the information with Katara, but when the young girl looked at the "woman", she realized she wasn't lying.
They were silent, bathing in the light of the moon, and listening to the crackles of the fire in the hearth. Katara almost drfted off to sleep, her eyes heavily closing shut until—
"My destiny..." Yue murmured more to herself than to Katara.
"What about your destiny?" Katara asked, suddenly sitting up. If Yue would not be excited, then Katara would be excited for them both. "Did Gran-Gran read your fortune? Is that what goes on? Did you find out who you're marrying when you turn 16?"
"Oh Katara," the 12-year-old had snapped at her, "Dreams like that are for children.", and the girl felt the smile fade from her face.
Yue moved to the fire pit in the center of the room and sat. Staring into it. She wore a cold expression and Katara embraced her but the young girl could not soothe the ache in Yue's heart.
"A priestess!" She wailed suddenly, startling Katara. Yue let her head fall into her hands. "Gran-Gran said I was to become a priestess of all things! Me? A priestess?!"
Katara said nothing, only frowned as she too stared into the bright orange flames.
"Oh Katara..." Yue gasped, turning to the girl. Katara did not look at her, upset with what she was saying. "You wanted to be a priestess, didn't you? But…but it's so
"You get to be blessed by the spirits, and help the tribe survive, that doesn't sound so bad." Katara whispered.
Yue shook her head. "You don't get the point. Banu gets to marry Kanto and I…I, will never have children, never marry… never leave this Spirit-forsaken block of ice that we live on! She's just a peasant, I'mthe niece of a chief! Shouldn't that mean something?"
"But Yue…you know the Spirits don't care who we are."
"Oh yes, some generous lot they are." Yue spat bitterly, staring deeply into the flames.
An unexplained heaviness filled her heart. How could Yue feel this way? It wasn't that Katara wanted to be a priestess more than anything...she just...there had to be a reason for her strange connection to the water and the moon. That's why she wanted to be a priestess, maybe that was her calling. Now, Yue would be a priestess and Katara never would be. Yue should be grateful for this chance to be so close to Tui and La.
As for her own future…she didn't know.
She left her place on the bridge that connected one end of the village to the other and started the walk back her room where she would wait for a priestess to get her. It wouldn't be a long wait, she was sure, but what if no one came to get her? If they forgot about her?
It's happened before. She'd been forgotten. Katara might be the daughter of a chief, but Yue was elder, and by birthright, she had experienced things before Katara did. She had her first sealskin doll (Katara got the old one), all new dresses (again, Katara gets the older ones) all before Katara She glanced down to the flat expanse of her chest with a frustrated sigh. Yue got breasts first, a fact that Katara was still angry about.
She came up to the Water Tribe's small palace. Her home was a building built like an igloo but made of an ash grey stone imported from the Earth Kingdom. It was oddly shaped, like a big stone block with appendages attached almost haphazardly after it had already been built. It was as if whomever designed it decided to add the surrounding room years later but had lost the building plans. The wind and snow did not weather the stones of her bedroom yet, they were still a dark rich brown in color, but the main building's color had faded so much it was almost as white as the snow surrounding it.
As she approached, she froze. There was a figure in the doorway to her home.
"Katara?" She spoke, the girl had the same familiar face and familiar blue eyes, but it was the unfamiliar white hair shocking Katara into silence. But it was her, the girl that Katara had loved as a sister, standing there, welcoming her into womanhood.
Katara wanted to hug her, she had missed the older girl in the 4 years she'd been gone. She'd be 16 by now, the right age to be married…a pang of sadness went through her as she realized that wouldn't happen. As Katara approached, Yue smiled. Time had not changed her character or her face, still youthful in its appearance, though it had certainly changed her body. She was more of a woman, and underneath the thick coat, Katara was sure there was a body that would send boys into a frenzy if given the chance. But Yue was in the white garb of a temple priestess, a veil covering her snow-white hair and her body lacking decoration or adornments. It would not be right. Yue had come to get her, and it was time for Katara to face her destiny.
"Come with me, 'Tara" The young woman smiled at her like how she used to when they were children, and Katara felt warmth spread through her.
Maybe, just maybe…this wouldn't be so bad.
With a deep breath, she set off towards the ice temple, recalling her thoughts from earlier. Yes, her future wouldn't be so uncertain after today.
Zuko (aged 14)
He reached for the girl, but she recoiled, curled in on herself and scrambled to get away from him, her arm hanging limply at an odd angle smoke rising from blackened clothes. Her friends, Mai and Tylee shuddered in fear, flinching from him. They tried to steal her away, but she wailed fiercely. His heart pounded as the guards came over to investigate. He watched her, his sister, as tears filled her eyes and for a brief moment he forgot why he'd lashed out at her, why he was so angry in the first place.
She's been teasing him about Mai.
With Azula, it was so easy to forget what she really was like, and every moment of weakness he showed, only made her claws dig that much deeper into him.
There were red marks all along the skin of her revealed arm. Zuko winced. Bruised in the shape of his fingers would appear come morning.
He reached out to touch her. His fingers grazed the inflamed skin of her arm; it was much, much too hot. She let out an ear shattering scream that would wake the entire palace in no time. Mai and Tylee winced. And he tried to block out Mai's stone-cold stare from his mind. He liked her. She liked his sister. He didn't want her to be mad at him. He could hear the footsteps coming down the corridor, the heavy boots echoing off the marble stones.
The guards were closer now, and then he'd have another problem to deal with.
"Azula!" Zuko reached for her again, but she backed away, screaming at the top of her lungs that Zuko was evil, that he was a monster
I am a monster.
He reached for the girl again, either to shut her up or take her away, but a large hand took hold of his wrist, probably breaking it in the process, and wrenched him away from her. His back hit the wall behind him hard and he groaned in pain. He glanced up, ready to snarl at whatever guard had dared to touch a prince of the Fire Nation.
He stared up into amber eyes furious with wrath.
His own father.
"Zuko! What did you do to your sister?" His father barked at him. Zuko quaked with shaking breaths. He tried to speak, but no words came out.
Zuko looked past him and saw his mother, the Princess Ursa, staring at him with grief-stricken eyes. He could barely meet her gaze, recoiling from more disappointment and shame.
"Father!" Azula cried out and ran to their father. Prince Ozai embraced her, features growing soft, while leering at Zuko. A pang of hurt went through his chest. He tried not to let it show on his face.
"I'll ask you again, boy, don't you dare make me ask a third time, what did you do to your sister?!" His father raged at him, shaking Zuko like he was a ragdoll, the stone of the wall digging into the soft silk of his sleeping robe, tearing it, leaving cuts on his skin..
"I-It was an a-accident," Zuko stammered out, "She scared me."
Or…he tried to.
The truth didn't matter. It was Azula's fault, like everything was, but onlyZuko got the blame. Even if his father had been watching what happened, there was no doubt in Zuko's mind that Azula would have found some way to twist things around in her favor. She'd goaded him, egged him on about his weaknesses, failures, embarrassing himself in front of their grandfather, how he'd ruined his mother's life, no girl would ever like him…everything. He'd just been so angry. But he'd lashed out her before he'd realized, striking Azula with such intensity that it'd scared him.
For a second…he thought he actually scared her.
It's not as if he had a choice though but to lie. What would his father have done if he knew what really happened? Why he'd faltered. Zuko couldn't imagine it. No one knew what the Second Son of the Fire Nation was thinking; even those most close to him: his advisors, doctors, and even his own family had to be wary.
Zuko wished his voice was stronger, though. Strength made a lie more convincing. If there was one thing Fire Prince Ozai hated, it was weakness. It explained why he favored Azula, his second child, over Zuko. because she was the more cutthroat out of the two of them, the one more willing to do whatever it took to get ahead, no matter how many people she had to step on to achieve her goals, and despite only being a girl of thirteen.
Yes, Azula was strong. And Zuko…Zuko would always be weak.
Uncle Iroh and Mother had always said that the truth was strength, because lies add together over time, and eventually crush you, deliberately, gradually, until you suffocate beneath them.
"Ursa!" The Fire Prince spat out, fury practically scorching the air around him. "Take Azula to your chambers! Call for the royal physician."
13-year-old Azula limped towards the woman, but not without throwing a smirk at her elder brother, her task completed. Ursa led the girl away with a solemn expression, glancing at her son briefly with eyes that expressed a mother's worry for her child. Zuko couldn't help but notice that when Ursa reached out for the girl, to give her some comfort, Azula shied away from her as if the older woman had been the one to burn her in the first place.
Ozai did not watch them go.
Long fingers gripped the boy's throat now, restricting his windpipe, pushing Zuko against the wall harder, like his father was trying to push him through it.. Prince Ozai's face was so close that Zuko could practically smell the smoke coming off his father. The crushing hand was hot against him, and Zuko struggled to breathe, inhaling vicious air with each breath he tried to take.. His father stared at him, searching, but those caramel eyes filled with revulsion were forever burned into his brain.
"Azula…snuck up… from behind… and startled me." The words came out strangled as Zuko fought for breath. His vision was starting to blur now as unconsciousness crept toward him like an dangerous assassin. Zuko gasped out again, "Father please!"
"Learn to lie better, Prince Zuko." His father hissed in his ear, shaking him once more. "because should your grandfather find out, I cannot help you. I willnot save you. Even the Sprits themselves will not be able to save your miserable hide."
"His grandfather already knows." The scratchy voice of Fire Lord Azulon washed over him, turning his limbs to stone, freezing him in place so he couldn't move even if he wanted to. Under the fixed, oily stare of the 76 year old Fire Lord, no one could escape punishment. His grandfather looked like a skeleton wearing a coat of skin, a face that's long and cold, and mouth that never changed except to frown. He was tall, as tall as his father and towered over his Uncle Iroh and Zuko.
Zuko knew he was, for lack of a better world, cooked. How dare he hurt Azula, his grandfather's favorite. It was clear in that instant; that he would suffer for his transgression and suffer badly.
The stony voice of his grandfather echoed over him, but Zuko couldn't make out the words over the blood pounding in his ears as he stared into his grandfather's practically dead, dull eyes. He fought to swallow, his father kept a careful grip on his neck, not even looking at Azulon though there was a bitterness on his face, acquiescing to the will of the Fire Lord. "You will have a punishment that no firebender should ever have to face."
Katara (age 12)
She held her breath as the High Priestess read off her destiny in the smoke of the fire behind her.
Katara you are a waterbender…
When Katara entered the Temple, she'd been taken aback by all the eyes that watched her. She was the only one her age in the Temple, for no one else in the tribe had been born the same day as her. Gran-Gran was there, on the highest level, of the dais, as she was the oldest and most powerful woman in the Tribe, her mother was on the second level, as the wife of the Chief, and lastly, a woman she had barely met, Rana, the High Priestess, occupied the third level. The rest of the women sat in a circle around the fire burning in the center. Katara had felt their stares burning into her back, but she tried, to sit properly, back ridged and firm. After all, she wasn't a child anymore.
Okay, that was a lie. She was a child in truth...but she couldn't very well act like it.
Yue had instructed her to sit with the fire at her back, the smoke rising through the cloth-lined ceiling of the igloo. She trembled on the inside but did as she was told and sat in front of her grandmother. She was given a seal skin, was told to cover it with freshly fallen snow and a tundra rose, and then throw it into the fire. She stared at the meat curiously and with a little bit of fear, but her mother gave her a smile of encouragement.
Immediately after she had done that and sat down, the smoke from the fire turned a purple color, fading to a murky blue. Rana, the high priestess had informed her that she was a waterbender. Katara was thrilled, because she'd finally found the reason she was so connected to the ocean and tides. She'd felt restless during the full moon, and helpless and anxious when it was gone. Waterbending was a rare art but came with great responsibility. Waterbenders were responsible for maintaining the structures of the Water Tribe, as the heat from the fires melted homes rather quickly.
Waterbending was also essential to the tribes' heritage and connection with the Spirit World. Legend has it, that the very first waterbenders were the Moon and Ocean Spirits. From them, people became Healers, Teachers, and Warriors.
She just wished she knew which path she could take, a Healer, who was the doctor of the tribe, a Teacher, who taught the legends or a warrior who would hunt and feed the tribe.
Maybe I could do all three? I will. I will do all three. I can. I know it.
It was silent in the hut then. She could not read her grandmother's face, but did not dare to turn to her mother for answers.
A woman's voice rang out, bitter and harsh. Katara did not turn to see who it was. "What of her future? I can see nothing in the smoke! Is she nothing to this tribe then?"
Marda, middle aged woman, sounded bitter, angry. Katara turned to her, her face outlined in the smoke. Marda's face was all lines and hard edges that worked to manifest the image of a woman who had worked very hard throughout her life.
"You assume things too quickly, Marda" Her mother said softly, looking on Katara with kind, but somewhat sad eyes. "Just because you cannot see answers in the smoke does not mean that she has no future—,"
"It only means that her destiny will take her far away from here. Her path…is not fully formed or solid. It has no direct tie to the Water Tribe." The high priestess said. "Far away from our shores."
But where? Katara wanted to say, but did not have the courage to ask.
"Why her?" Marda's said again, and this time, Katara turned to look at her, the sour-faced woman glared back.
"Why not her?" Piri, one of the younger mothers asked. She was only a few years older than Yue, aged 22. She'd already had 2 children, and was pregnant with her third. Katara hadn't been allowed at the birth, given her young age. Still, though she didn't know her well, Katara was surprised the young woman spoke up in her defense. "She's just as much a part of this tribe as anyone else."
"She hasn't done anything to deserve such a life!" Marda insisted, enraged. She pointed accusingly at Katara's grandmother. "When my child turned 12, years ago, you read in the smoke hat she was going to get married to a great warrior, Kanna!"
"And was not Kanto the best warrior of his generation, Marda?" Katara's grandmother replied calmly.
"He was. He was a great warrior, and a fine young man." Marda sniffed, affronted, but a wistful smile crossed her face at the mention of her former son-in-law before hardening just as quickly as it came. "But he died, Kanna. Now she is alone, with a child!"
Katara had heard of Marda's daughter, Banu. She'd share'd a birthday with Yue, and a ceremony with her all those years ago. Her husband had drowned a year ago while on a hunting expedition. The whole village had mourned for Banu, and her loss. The entire village, as was customary, came together to support Banu and her child, only a few months old, by sharing meals, providing extra blankets in the winter, and offering them a place to stay should life become too difficult on their own. Marda told Banu to reject their help as a matter of pride but Banu never complained, explaining to her mother that pride had no place in a home where children were starving. Marda felt like the Council had done her daughter a great injustice and had never forgotten what happened.
The Water Tribe had famed pride, and could not stand to be a burden, or indebted to anyone.
"What has Katara done to deserve such good fate!?"
"We cannot avoid destiny, Marda. Though I feel your pain. Banu can always marry again, and she may do so when she feels the time is right." The High Priestess said, calmly. "I never said that Banu's journey would be easy. Few would have the strength to do what she has done. But this meeting is not about her. It is about Katara. And her journey will not be easy either."
But what am I supposed to do?!
"Kya, can't you tell your Mother-in-Law she's making a mistake!?" One voice, an elderly woman called from somewhere in the circle.
"Let the girl have an adventure!" Another woman said, as the voices continued to rise over and over each other, each woman engaging in the shouting match.
"She should be at home, like other princesses!"
"You're just jealous that you didn't get to go anywhere at her age!"
"She's the chief's daughter! It's only right that she gets a glorious destiny."
"Have her enter the temple like Yue!"
Katara did not dare to look at them. She only listened, hearing their complaints and comments. Several women voiced their complaints along with Marda. Others voted in favor of her argument. Katara felt her face go red as they listed the reasons, they felt that she shouldn't have such an unknown destiny. She also understood that unless you married a wealthy man, a foreign wealthy man, you really didn't get to leave the ice. Many girls aspired to leave the frozen plains but Katara wasn't one of those girls, she loved her home and loved her family, and no one was going to take that away from her.
She agreed with some of the ones that focused on Yue. Their eyes met over the fire. Yue was everything that Katara was not. She'd been a priestess for less than a year, but Katara had aspired to be one since she was 6. Yue had always been poised, balanced, and in control of herself, Katara was clumsy, spoke before she thought, preferred penguin sledding to lessons about manners and behavior. Katara had learned enough to be passable at best, but…
"Enough." Cheiftess Kya said in a clear voice. The shouting died down to a quiet murmur. "We tell you time and time again. We cannot fight destiny no matter how hard you try. Katara's fate is not in our hands. We are only the avenue of direction, providing guidance to that destiny. Unless you plan to chain her to the walls, she will go wherever her path takes her. Is that clear?"
A murmured 'yes' resounded throughout the room as they resigned themselves to the Cheiftess' authority. Katara glanced at her mother with nervous yet relieved eyes. Kya beamed at her.
"Very good. You may go. Katara, you will begin training on the next full moon." Her grandmother looked at her expectantly. She would have to do well.
She nodded. Katara inferred that her teacher would be Pakku, her father's father. Pakku was strict but fair. It would be awkward, considering that he was her grandfather, but she would have to make it work, there were no exceptions. The women started to leave before her, grumbling to each other. Her grandmother raised her arms, calling to be helped off the platform by her mother and the high priestess.
Wait, it can't be over yet! I haven't-
Before Katara could stop herself, she blurted out the question.
"But wait! Who am I going to marry?"
Her mother only smiled at her. "A very powerful bender."
Katara just stared at them. "Is that it?"
Her grandmother shrugged, a gentle mirth shining in her blue eyes. "If I tell you everything, where would all the fun be in finding things out for yourself?"
Zuko (aged 15)
Zuko awoke screaming.
He doesn't know who gave the order. His grandfather? His father? All he knows is that they've been forcing him to drink something 3 times a day for the past week …something to sedate him, something that makes his breath hitch in his throat, acrid and painful, choking and burning him enough to steal the breath from him. it makes him shake and burn but they hold him down, make him feel like he's on fire, but his blood runs ice cold. It's wrong. Everything's gone so wrong.
He tried to stand up on his own, but doubles over as his bones burn. He lets out string of curses through clenched teeth, groaning and curling into a ball on the floor as the pain surged through his body, starting in his stomach, and working his way towards his fingertips. It seared as it moved, scorching, and threatening to burn him alive. He felt the fire crawl through his skin, clawing at him with tendrils of heat and agony as whatever they gave him ripped through him. His skin burned and itched in fire and brimstone and set the room ablaze behind his red eyes.
"By the spirits, Prince Zuko!" A woman, his mother, possibly, rushed over to him. No…no, her hands were wrong— she was a nurse. Through the haze he could see the red and white gown and apron, though her face was an indistinguishable blur. "No, no, Prince Zuko, you must rest, you shouldn't be awake. You can't be awake. You'll die—,"
But her voice feels far away. Her hands are gentle and soft, they pushed him down on to the bed, but he fought against her writhing and struggling. Suddenly she shouts incomprehensible words, and he can't tell if she's shouting at him or not. But he will not lie down. Not again. Then there are more hands—holding him down with brute strength. He jerks, resisting. Cold hands pry his mouth open while another person holds a bowl to his lips. They pour in the liquid—what it is, he knows not—but it is vile and tastes like sulfur as it hits his tongue. He wants to spit it out—but they won't let him, holding his mouth shut and pinching his nose so he is forced to swallow or drown.
Once it slides down his throat, they release him. He can feel it work, his body reaching for the darkness that closes in on his mind, but he fights it. At this point, Zuko decides he would rather live with the pain than disappear to that world of darkness.
"How could he have woken up? Did you not give him enough?" The second, a male, different from the others, snapped aggressively.
"I did, sir. I swear on my life I did." The woman who'd spoken before said, almost pleading. "Please, sir—ah!"
The slap echoes across the room, interrupting the woman's protests. He hears her cry, the woman's pain resonates in his ears, whispering, tearing at him. His fault. Her pain was his fault too—
The male snorted in disgust. "Your life isn't worth the oath." There was a murmur of solemn agreement from the woman before he continued. "It'll be both our heads if this doesn't work. Fire Lord Azulon does not tolerate mistakes."
"But sir," She spoke again. "Is this the way to go about it?" He heard the nurse ask, warily, voice trembling. "Is this how the Prince should be punished? I don't think it was really his fault."
There is a cry again, and the sound of another slap forces its way through the ringing in Zuko's ears.
"Stupid girl—This prince pissed off enough people to ruin his fortunes for the rest of his life." He sniffs disinterestedly, but then continues, and Zuko realizes that his voice is familiar, deep, rough, full of arrogance and authority. "I don't mind giving the little shit what he deserves."
She choked on her words. "The doctors say he might not survive."
"If he's worth a damn, he'll survive."The man snorts in barely concealed laughter "And if he doesn't, good riddance."
I hope you all like the story! Please review or PM me your thoughts! I would love to hear them!