This is my story for the evenly_matched community's The Coldest of Nights Exchange!
Check out their blog on tumblr - there are some great pieces of fanwork (both fic and art) being posted!

Cover art for this story - created by themomentyoudie using art by yuki119 - is used with permission by the evenly_matched community.

Word Count: ~4100 of 22,000
Warnings: mild language and non-graphic violence, some sensuality, spoilers for book 2

Author's Notes: I'd like to thank my recipient for an awesome prompt (I hope you like it!) and my awesome beta, Naeryna (without you this story would have never come together).

A lot of this story should feel very familiar to LoK fans. But I have purposely changed the way events play out - sometimes subtly, sometimes much more overtly - and every change had meaning. (Though I will admit, sometimes the reason was a simple as I didn't want to focus on a character I don't like as much).

And please don't be frightened by the Book 2 part of the warnings - yes, I did incorporate some of that storyline, but it quickly changes it into something completely different.

Also, there is a lot of Japanese terminology that comes into play. I have included a glossary at the end of each chapter, for those unfamiliar with the terms. A lot of research went into this story, so I hope everyone, especially my recipient, enjoys it.

Disclaimer: Legend of Korra belongs to Bryke and Nickelodeon. I am merely playing in the sandbox they have created. I am most definitely not receiving any monetary compensation for my child's play.


ooOoo

The Republic's United Council Library
Historical Record 2-010101, scroll 1
Documentation of the Legendary Sword Avatar* from 153 – 176 ASC
Administrating Historian: Senior Staff Member, Kya of the Kaze Clan

Preface

History is usually presented in facts. Gaining the definitive answers to the questions – who, what, where, when, why, and how – is the goal of every historian. Our training teaches us to remain neutral and unbiased, to present the clear-cut evidence and nothing else. To show our discoveries of the past in stark blacks and whites, leaving all grays to the reader's interpretation.

That is not my goal. My aim is to present the past in vivid color, capturing both the facts and emotions that make up the whole of a particular turn of events. History is a living thing, created by people who really did walk this earth, who made choices both good and bad, and who went through extraordinary events. We, as historians, like to write these things down in the coldest common terms, callously ignoring the human significance of such tragedies and triumphs, and in doing so we separate ourselves from the very thing we are trying to preserve. This practice strips our history of its most important truths – the lessons hard learned by our heroes and villains.

Now, my dear readers, let me introduce you to Korra of the Southern Mizu Clan and the ancient sword that defined her destiny.

*For further reference, see Historical Records:
610321 (The Life of Mikado Aang)
040104 (The Founding of the Kyoshi-ken)
080108 (The First Burning of Edo, Mikado Roku's Folly)
590319 (List of Known Wielders of the Legendary Sword Avatar)
2-190207 (The Spiritual Journey of Wan)

ooOoo
{153 ASC, tenth month of the lunar year}
ooOoo

"It is time, Senna-sama," a feminine voice gently urged. "Push."

The wind beat fiercely upon the humble home, its plaintive moans sounding while dumping layer after layer of smothering white. The frigid outside air seeped in through the faint cracks in the walls, from under the door and the thin membrane of the windows, and was barely held in check by the roar of the fireplace.

A young woman, her pained eyes surprisingly clear, reclined on the room's only bed, propped up by pillows, and struggled with her breath. Despite the chill, her cheeks were flush and strands of her loose, dark hair clung to the dampness that had accumulated on her face, brow, and neck. She sucked in another gulp of air, releasing it in a sharp exhalation, and obeyed. Muscles tightened as she curled in on herself, her entire body vibrating with exertion, and the material held in her white-tipped knuckles threatened to tear under the pressure. Teeth bore down on her own bottom lip, pulling it into her mouth to stifle her cry, and her lids shuttered down over the escaping saline.

A piercing cry, strong and sound, filled the air.

All tension left Senna's worn body and she slumped into the pillows at her back. The midwife began to work in earnest then, severing the umbilical cord and turning her attention to the newest member of the Southern Mizu Clan. With deft hands, the older woman cleaned the child, quickly but thoroughly, and checked over the babe's general health. Then, wrapped snugly in soft blankets of cloth and fur, the infant was handed over to the new mother.

"Congratulations, Senna-sama," the healer spoke softly, "you have a beautiful daughter."

The young mother cradled the tiny bundle with awe, her shaking fingers grazing over tiny hands and fingers and cheeks to brush against a small tuft of dark hair, as the other woman cleaned the room, removing soiled bedding and afterbirth. Then worn hands were applying a warm, damp cloth to her face, neck, and body, freshening her sweat-glazed skin, and her mussed hair was brushed and pulled back into a simple tie.

Senna smiled, weary but grateful, at the woman's kindness. "Thank you, Kya-san."

The midwife simply nodded and went to the door, opening it for the child's father. "Tonraq-sama, we are ready for you," she announced with a slight bow.

The man rushed to his wife's side, a nervous excitement running through his features. He opened his mouth to speak, but when nothing was forthcoming he took her hand instead.

"You have a daughter, Tonraq," Senna whispered. "We have a daughter."

Tonraq turned his head for a moment, wiping the emotion from his eyes, and then placed a lingering kiss on her cheek. "Everything went well? Is she healthy?"

The gaze of both parents landed on the healer, expressions expectant.

"Physically, she is perfectly well," Kya began with a slight hesitation. "But I think that it would be wise to have my mother look at her." Her eyes softened at the sight of the parents' worry. "Her chi network is… different. It is much more complex than what is normal and I'm having trouble reading it. I do not believe anything is wrong with her. Quite the opposite, actually. I believe your daughter may be very special. But… Tonraq-sama, may I have permission to speak candidly?"

The father gestured for her to continue. "I would appreciate plain speech."

"Considering the current political climate, it may prove wise to wait to announce her birth until you have all the facts about the child's condition. If my suspicions are correct, she may be the next wielder of the Avatar."

"I see." Tonraq ran a comforting hand over his wife's hair, before moving to take up his daughter. "Please arrange a meeting with Katara-dono then, as quickly as possible."

"Of course, Tonraq-sama," Kya replied as she made her way to the door, intending to leave the family in peace.

"And Kya-san," he turned to face her fully, "thank you."

"You're welcome." She paused, hand on the handle, and asked, "Do you have a name picked out?"

Husband and wife looked to each other, nodding in agreement. Beaming, Senna answered for them both. "Her name is Korra."

ooOoo

The old woman quietly sipped her tea, her bearing regal in spite of her age-shrunk frame. With a contended sigh, she set down her cup, now empty, and folded her hands on her lap. Bright blue eyes twinkled. "Thank you for your hospitality, Tonraq-sama, Senna-sama," she inclined her head in deference and her white hair which was held out of her face by thin twists – looped over her ears and gathered in a knot at her nape – swayed with the motion. "I suppose you would like to hear my findings now?"

"Yes, please, Katara-dono," he replied, his young face marred with lines of worry.

"Every person born on this earth has chi. It is our life-force and runs throughout the body in a circular pattern, much like the blood in our veins. There are five different types of chi – neutral, earth, fire, wind, and water. You know this much, I am sure." Tonraq nodded and she continued. "Each person has only one chi type, one network, and the type of chi determines which element, if any, they connect to. If their chi is weak or neutral, a person cannot call on the elements, bending them to their will. But if their chi is strong then a person can be taught to call on their like element, using its properties to their advantage. It is how our clans were formed, waterbenders binding with other waterbenders and so on with all the elements."

"As a son of the previous shogun, this is something I was brought up to understand," Tonraq reached for the hand of his wife, "but how does this relate to our daughter?"

"In very rare cases, a child is born imbued with all four elemental chi types. Without fail, every one of these individuals, as far as is recorded in the ancient scrolls, have been charged with the inescapable destiny of righting the wrongs of their generation," the old woman smiled, wan and weary and full of a lifetime of wisdom, and spoke the fateful truth. "Korra is such a child."

"You are sure?" the mother asked, her voice wavering. "Absolutely sure?"

"I have no doubts," Katara sighed, her eyes warm with compassion. "It is not the first time I have seen such a thing after all."

"Of course. Please forgive my insensitivity, Katara-dono," the younger woman bowed her head low. "Mikado Aang was the last person known to wield all the elements, was he not?"

"Yes, my dear husband – Kami rest his soul – was the last owner of the Avatar. I know your plight well, even if her situation is a bit more… delicate." She turned from wife to husband. "What will you do, Tonraq-sama? When it becomes known what she is, your brother will stop at nothing to have her. You will have no help from the new Mikado."

"I know his policies quite well. This will be considered a Mizu Clan dispute and will be expected to be resolved internally," the young man frowned. "The South does not have the forces to repel an attack from the North and Unalaq is itching for a reason to go to war. My brother has become power hungry and I fear that, upon discovering Korra's destiny, he will have all the motivation he needs to strike. If that happens," Tonraq's face crumpled and he hid it by resting his head on his folded hands, "I will be unable to protect her."

"How far are you willing to go to save her?"

A small cry sounded from the cradle in the bedroom and Senna excused herself to see to the child. Tonraq watched from his seat at the table as his young wife lifted their daughter, cooing and fussing over her, and he made the hardest decision of his life. "I would do anything. Anything. Just tell me what I need to do."

"In that case, I believe we should contact Shogun Tenzin of the Kaze Clan. You will be needing his help." Sadness colored her eyes a deep blue. "Talk to your wife and spend some time with your family while you can. I will let your head councilman know that you are not to be disturbed during this period of mourning. With your permission, Kya and I can construct a plausible story as to what happened during Senna's delivery. I give you my word that for the safety of your child and the clan, my family will keep this confidence." At his absent nod of acquiescence, her age-weathered hand reached across the distance to gently press into his forearm. "Get some rest, Tonraq-sama. You will be burying your firstborn soon."

ooOoo

Six days later, the funeral for Shogun Tonraq's newborn daughter began, dignitaries from all five clans present. As the sun dropped low in the sky, Katara, as head priestess of the local temple, initiated the wake with prayers for the innocent departed soul. A tiny body, made of hardened clay and exquisitely wrapped to hide its secret, lay inside an equally tiny open casket on a raised wooden platform. An ornate urn stood vigil in front of the departed while the family – Senna and Tonraq, Unalaq and his wife – offered incense to it, the guests presenting their offerings from the comfort of their seats. This repeated once, then twice, and then the crowd left the heavy atmosphere until morning.

The cremation the following morning was a somber affair, the expressions of both parents suitably and unaffectedly distraught as the coffin was placed upon the pyre, and only the most stoic of men endured the service with a dry eye.

Later that day, after the still-warm ashes had been gathered, the group convened one more time to entomb the remains in the cold, hard ground of the family monument. A new name – Haruka, daughter of Shogun Tonraq and Senna – had been carved into the stone, the etching still sharp compared to the weather worn engravings before it. More prayers and incense were offered up, Katara keeping to brevity, and no one stayed to linger in the biting winter wind.

Over the shared meal that night, Ty Lee, elderly wife of Shogun Zuko, commented on the beauty of the lost child's name. Senna merely smiled, melancholy darkening her ocean-colored eyes, and softly replied that she was named for the distance that now stood between them.

ooOoo

By the weak light of morning, one by one, the visitors left, returning to their respective villages and cities, and only four people remained. Husband and wife, along with mother and son, made their way to the small guest cottage hidden amongst the trees on the far side of the property. Kya emerged in the doorway, spying their arrival from the window, and welcomed them inside. Senna rushed past the group, eager to gather her daughter in her arms. Tonraq was soon by her side.

"Okaasan, I will ready the carriage," Tenzin tenderly squeezed her hunched shoulder. "I think they could use some privacy."

"Of course, dear. I'll have Kya prepare for travelling."

The time for goodbye came much too quickly, but the young couple put on a brave front. Tonraq firmly shook Tenzin's hand, transferring all his fatherly hopes to the Kaze Clan leader. Senna attempted to bestow a smile, but it came out so watery that she gave up and threw her arms around his neck, whispering her thanks and instruction for the care of his new burden. Impassive by nature, Tenzin merely nodded and made the appropriate promises, his sincerity running through the calm current of his voice. Kya took Korra from the reluctant arms of her mother and was seated inside the carriage, safe from the elements. The Kaze Shogun ran a palm over the muzzle of his furry white steed and then took the driver's seat, perched on the front of the transport.

"Be safe, Tenzin, and keep Kya and Korra safe as well."

"Of course, Okaasan," he replied as he gathered the reins.

"Remember, Tonraq and Senna have lost their daughter, but you must raise a son."

"I will do my best to nurture her… him as my own. Korra will be well taken care of. I give you my word of honor."

Katara's lips curled upwards in approval. "That is all I ask. It is all anyone can ask."

ooOoo
{154 ASC, first month of the lunar year}
ooOoo

"I can't stay here forever, Tenzin," Kya protested. "Okaasan is getting older and she needs help. She can't be healer and priestess to an entire clan by herself."

The man rubbed a hand over his clean shaven head and sighed. "I know, Oneechan. I know. But give me just a little more time to find a caretaker for Korra. Please?"

"A fortnight."

"I'll need at least a month," Tenzin pleaded. "I have duties to the clan and I'm not fully confident in Bumi's ability to fulfill his role as daimyo. It will take me awhile to go through a list of trusted candidates. The circumstances require a certain level of… discreetness that makes the task difficult."

"And I have a duty to our mother that I have already neglected for two months," the woman stood firm. "A fortnight. No more, no less."

"Fine."

"Good." With a pleased smirk, the sister threw out one last comment as she walked away. "And don't worry too much about Oniichan. He's more responsible than you give him credit for."

Tenzin sagged into a nearby chair and tried to rub the troubling thoughts out through his temples.

ooOoo

"Hush now, Korra, it will be alright," Tenzin softly cooed with a hint of desperation. "We can do this without Oneechan. Just me and you, as a team."

The infant quieted for a moment, her fists curled into miniature balls, and then let out another wail, plaintive and even louder than before. Tenzin rocked her as he walked the hallways of his sizeable estate. His actions did little good though. Korra would not be consoled, crying through the night with very few pauses, and he was exhausted. It had been only two days since Kya left, but the ordeal was already showing in his countenance. Fatigue dulled his eyes, leaving deep rings of purple underneath and creases at the corners. His complexion turned sallow, his bearing bowed, and a clumsiness overtook his usually graceful limbs. Sleep had been non-existent, her cries forthcoming each and every time his head hit the pillow. It had only been two days, but they had been the longest two days of Tenzin's life.

The child exercised her lungs more than the man thought was physically possible.

Tenzin decided his best course of action was to pray. Surely Kami would show mercy on the caretaker of the next destined child. So the shogun wound his way through the corridors to the temple, ignoring the questioning looks of the monks and servants he passed on the way.

When he arrived, a young woman was cleaning the temple, removing incense and ash from the altar. The noise of the angry babe drew her attention and her brown eyes softened. Collecting herself, the woman remembered her manners and bowed deeply. "Tenzin-sama."

"Please, be at ease," he spoke over the din and moved to retrieve the necessary supplies – fresh sticks of incense and his prayer beads – for the ceremony.

"Forgive my impertinence, but would you like me to…" she asked, gesturing to the bundle in his arms.

Tenzin regarded her carefully. Her plain yellow kimono was held in place by a red obi, tied with great simplicity, as was the fashion for temple maidens. Rich brown hair, thick and full, was tied at her nape with a ribbon and it framed her kind face. She was neatly kept, face freshly washed, and had smooth, clean nails despite her work. There was nothing about this young women that spoke of any threat to his tiny ward.

And should his instinct prove incorrect, Tenzin was sure that he could overpower the woman with little effort.

"Thank you. That would be most welcome," he finally replied as he handed Korra over. The silence that immediately ensued was deafening. "How did you do that?"

"My lord?"

"The crying… it's stopped," Tenzin clarified. "The child has been crying almost nonstop for the past two days."

"Oh, the poor thing!" She swayed side to side in gentle rhythm, keeping her voice low. "Perhaps the child is just missing its mother."

"Unfortunately, the boy is an orphan. My sister tended to his parents, but the injuries were too severe," he cleared his throat and stuck to the prescribed story. "I have pledged this child my protection in place of his lost parents."

"You are a good man," she declared, her bronze eyes steady on his own.

"Thank you…"

"Pema. My name is Pema."

"Then, thank you, Pema-san," he shook his head in awe. "You are very good with him. Do you have much experience with children?"

"Oh, no. But I wish I did," Pema nuzzled the sleeping child a bit closer. "I have no family, no children or siblings. I was raised here by the monks, surrounded by adults. I… I am an orphan, too." Her voice drifted into a whisper. "I would love to one day have a family with many children to care for."

And as he looked at the young woman, her sad expression giving way under the joy of holding Korra in her arms, Tenzin felt it deep within his bones that Pema was the one.

This woman would be the mother to all his children, both natural and adopted.

"Pema, I am in need of a caregiver for young Korra here," the man straightened as the weight of a burden slipped from his shoulders. "Would you be interested?"

Her eyes lit up with a burnished glow and he knew that his instincts had not steered him wrong. "Yes, Tenzin-sama. I would like that very much."

"Come with me. I will have new quarters set up for you in the main residence nursery," Tenzin stepped to Pema's side, resting his hand lightly on her shoulder, and led her out of the temple. "Then we will have tea. I have an extraordinary tale to tell you."

ooOoo
{158 ASC, fourth month of the lunar year}
ooOoo

"Baachan!" The clear voice of a young child rang through the air at the Southern Mizu Temple. "Baachan!"

"Korra, my dear, what is wrong?"

The girl found her adoptive grandmother near the fireplace in the main family space and climbed onto her lap. "Obaasan won't let me in the kitchen to get a snack."

Katara chuckled at the child's frustrated expression, chubby cheeks puffing in and out. "You wouldn't be trying to steal some of the special goodies Pema-san made, now would you?"

"No." Korra shook her head emphatically. "Course not."

"Good," the elder patted the child's head, "because you know those are for later when our special guests arrive. And you wouldn't want them to be sad when they get here, would you?"

She hung her little head with dejection. "No, Baachan."

"Don't worry, dear. They'll be here soon and we'll have a feast. Now run along and play until then," the old woman winked. "I think Bumi is hiding in the barn."

"Okay," Korra hopped down from her perch, mollified, and ran for the doorway. Just as she was out of sight, the girl turned back and peeked her head back into the room. "Baachan, when they get here can I show 'em my tricks?"

"I think they would like that very much."

"I'm gonna go prackis then!" the girl exclaimed and she left in the same hurry in which she had entered. "Bumi-niichan!"

ooOoo

"Welcome Tonraq-sama, Senna-sama," Tenzin spoke cordially, ushering them into the large sitting room. "You know most of the family, but I would like to you meet my wife, Pema." At his introduction, the young woman stood, bowing in polite reverence, and sat back down. "Please, make yourselves comfortable."

Seated around the sizeable, square chabudai, the other ladies of the family – Katara and Kya– inclined their heads and raised voices in greeting. After civilities had been returned, Tenzin gestured to a pair tatami positioned between his mother and sister and the couple took their seats while the Kaze Shogun sat at the head.

Senna's gaze flitted across the expanse of the room, eager and anxious. "Where is she?"

"She'll be here soon," Kya assured. "I believe she is planning a surprise in your honor. Bumi is helping her apparently."

Surprise widened the younger woman's eyes, "She knows about us?"

"No, no. I won't tell her the truth until you feel the time is right. And she is still very young. All she knows is that we are expecting some important guests," Tenzin answered.

"She's been trying to pilfer food all day," Pema sighed, drawing Senna's attention. The two women sized each other up, mother to mother, and the room went taut with tension. Then, with a warm smile, Senna broke it free.

"Thank you, Pema-san."

The loud clearing of a masculine throat quieted any further conversation. "Welcome honored guests. It is my pleasure to present the amazing," Bumi paused for effect, gesturing dramatically at the doorway, "Korra!"

"I'm the Avatar!" shouted the child, her war cry confident, and out she hopped. "You gotta deal with it."

The girl, all chubby hands and round belly, worked through a series of fluid movements and kata of her own design. The first was punctuated by a splash of controlled water, whirling in a beautiful spherical pattern. Fierce kicks and punches came next, with small flares of fire coloring her hands and feet. Then the child adjusted her stance, wide and low, and her stable actions caused the stones in the miniature rock garden on the far side of the room to rearrange themselves. With a great flourish of a bow, Korra completed her act, flushed from her exertions and beautifully bright-eyed.

Then she saw the visitors and froze, her little nose scrunched in thought. After a few moments, her innocent stare going from woman to man and back again, Korra put her hands on her hips and turned to Tenzin, "Ojiisan, her eyes're just like mine and that man looks like he stole my stubborn 'spression."

Laughter, deep and rumbling, overtook Tonraq while Senna struggled to hold back her tears.

Confused, the child turned to her adoptive grandmother. "Baachan, you said they would like it!"

"They do, my dear. They do," Katara comforted. "In fact, I believe they would like to hug you."

"Really?"

"Yes, if you would like to."

Korra looked over at them once more to see them smiling in her direction and she nodded. "Yeah, they seem real nice."

The girl spent the rest of the night seated between Tonraq and Senna, happy to have made some new friends, as she feasted until her little tummy bulged and her lids drooped in the late hour.

And when it was time for the adults to retire, Tonraq carried her to bed and Senna tucked her in.


[Glossary of terms:]

Mizu- water
Kaze- wind
Mikado- emperor
Shogun- territorial leader
Daimyo- a leader of a subdivision of a territory; subordinate to the corresponding shogun
Kami- God
Obi- a sash; women's obi are very wide, men's obi are thin
Kata-
detailed choreographed patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs
Chabudai-
traditional Japanese table; sits low to the ground
Tatami- a type of mat used as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms

[Honorifics]

San- a general use honorific (like mister or miss)
Sama- a markedly more respectful version of san
Dono
- lies in between san and sama in level of respect
Chan- used for young children and teenage girls
Okaasan- mother
Ojiisan- uncle or older man
Obaasan- aunt or older woman
Baachan- grandmother
Oneechan/neechan- older sister
Oniichan/niichan- older brother

*Choosing to not use an honorific when addressing someone implies one of two things, disdain for the person or an intimate/close friendship. Also, younger family members tend to use honorifics for older ones, but not vice versa.