Monthly Archives: May 2014

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Past of a Spirit

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Author’s Note: In which there is exposition, the author tries her hand as drama without being overdramatic and there is set-up for further conflict.

Last chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Past of a Spirit***

“Would you tell me story?” Zuko asked her. “You don’t have to.” He added quickly, sensing her reluctance. Lia kept her eyes trained on the horizon.

“But you want to know,” she said reluctantly.

“It’s just that you know everything about me, but I know nothing about you, other than that you are the Spirit of Fire.”

“A Spirit of Fire,” she corrected him.

“What?”

“I’m not the only one. But I suppose you’re right. It is unfair for you to know nothing about me.” Lia took a deep breath and began.

 

“It was such a long time ago; sometimes even I forget how long. The world was more divided then than it was now, several small warring kingdoms that eventually formed the four nations. The people then were only just discovering their bending abilities. I wasn’t born a Spirit, you know. I was normal, living with my little brother on a village that would much later become the Fire Nation capital. Those were strange times,” she added with a laugh. “It was more common for someone to see a Spirit walking the earth than to see a mortal control one of the elements. My brother, Hisao we called him, was a born earthbender, always wondering in the forest, helping around the village and usually landing himself in all sorts of trouble. I on the other hand wasn’t gifted. Not that it bothered me. With no established styles of bending, it was usually more fuss than good to learn to control your abilities.

 

The day of Hisao’s tenth birthday he asked me, as a present, to go on a picnic. There were rumours that a band of thieves near our village, but I didn’t have the heart to say no. We walked deep into the forest, much farther from our village than it was wise. It wasn’t long before they appeared. They were all firebenders. They demanded our money and didn’t believe us when we said we had none.” Lia paused and took another shaky breath. Then she continued in a colourless voice, while Zuko listened wide-eyed.

 

“Hisao stood up and tried to defend us with his earthbending, but he was only a kid with barely any training. They killed him right in front of me, while I could do nothing but watch. You’ve never seen someone die in front of you, Zuko. It shattered my soul, everything that made me human burnt away for the moment. The next thing I remember is fire consuming everything and I was just standing there, the cause of it. I watched the land around me change, the forest transforming to a volcano.

 

If these men were afraid they didn’t show it. Where I let the power flow through me, they knew how to manipulate it and turn it against me. Mortal or not, they would have won, had I not had a little help.” She smiled faintly at the memory.

 

“I can still remember their surprise. They had cornered me, when out of nowhere this man appeared to help me.” Her smiled disappeared along with the light in her eyes as she said “He guided me and I killed every single one of them.”

 

“With nothing left for me in the mortal plane I did not think twice before I followed him to the Spirit World. He said that he was the sole Fire Spirit, that he had tired of the burden of the responsibility and that he needed someone to help him soldier it. I trained under his tutelage for years and in due time took my place as a Fire Spirit, a personification of the element. I travelled between the worlds and created the dragons so that those born firebenders would be taught how to control their element.

 

And then, six years ago, I found a little boy that looked so much like Hisao curled on the side of a pond. I couldn’t help it. I started watching you and your family. You were so much like my brother. So I decided to help you.”

 

Heavy silence followed the end of Lia’s story. Zuko was looking at her, trying to comprehend everything she had told him. As it started to sink in he finally saw why Lia seemed to stick to his side no matter what. He felt guilty. He always lashed out at her and his uncle, throwing accusations every which way whenever things went wrong. And even though his uncle drove him crazy regularly, he and Lia, who teased him even more often, didn’t actually anger him. How could they? Deep down Zuko knew they would be the ones to stick with him no matter what. Then another thing occurred him. Lia had told him that she had lost her brother when he was ten. She couldn’t have been much older. Suddenly Zuko felt really bad for the girl sitting next to him.

“So that’s why you said I was like a brother to you?” he asked her quietly.

“Yes. It’s not as if it can change anything, but I think you need a family as much as I needed one back then. I still need one. So why can’t we help and support each other?”

Help and support each other… Zuko thought of it. As long as he didn’t have the Avatar he couldn’t return home. And even if he did, his mother wouldn’t be there to welcome him. His father and Azula could hardly be considered a family. His uncle and Lia on the other hand…

“Maybe…” he said hesitantly. “I would like that.”

Lia smiled at the distance and instead of answering him turned and embraced him with a heartfelt hug.

 

Urged by the strong winds, the ship sailed north…

In which I complain about the internet…on the internet

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I sincerely hope that nobody reads this post expecting anything remotely close to high style. This just a small catharsis piece for me (since I can’t contain myself on ranting over Facebook apparently…). What is the problem, you ask? Well, the problem is that I spent the last three days having my WiFi crashing every other minute. The problem also is that it took my flatmate and I completely unplugging the modem, re-plugging it and praying to the Powers that be in hopes of getting it back. Clearly we did, but seeing this is only the latest on my string of computer-related problems I find myself…not charitable.

That being said, it was not the lack of internet itself that bothered me. Goodness knows I have more than enough books to entertain myself (and revision to do, but let’s not go there…) No, my issue is that the contract I have was, supposedly, specifically modeled for students and you’d expect that they would at least ensure that we would not have to deal with THIS kind of trouble.

It’s one thing after the other, so I’ll just go ahead and unceremoniously dump everything under the “moving out – time for the universe to collapse” umbrella. That (rather ugly) umbrella includes disconnecting the house, packing away the STUFF (while keeping in mind that some of said stuff will be needed until the last moment), cooking away whatever is left on the fridge, squeezing some revision and swimming time in-between and of course keeping up with my blogging.

Whew! It feels so much better to get everything out of my head and on the screen. Thank you for listening internet and I promise the next time you hear from me will be under better (or at least better articulated) circumstances.

Lia out.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Winter Solstice

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Author’s Note: In which the author is very aware of the irony on today’s post’s title, Zhao cameos to everyone’s disappointment, we meet a past Avatar and the chapter finishes in an obnoxious, follow-up-begging cliffhanger.

Last chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Winter Solstice***

To say Zuko was angry was a gross understatement. He was beyond furious. All it had taken was the Avatar to drop by and now an entire high security earthbenders’ prison lay empty. The commander had explained, after getting over the shock, that a Water Tribe girl had let herself be arrested and then inspired the prisoners to escape. All it had taken was a few words from this girl – and coal, of course. Zuko now stood on the platform searching for any clue that might help him. He was ready to give up when something blue caught his eye. It was the necklace the Water Tribe girl – Katara – wore. Zuko wasn’t sure why, but he had a feeling that it was far more precious than it looked. He smiled to himself as he gazed westwards, where the Avatar had flown off. He couldn’t wait until his next encounter with them. Maybe then he would at last get to fight with the blue-eyed girl too. Hopefully that would be enough to cure his strange fascination with her.

 

A few days later Zuko found himself following Lia through a forest, trying to find Iroh.

“He has to be somewhere around here. I swear I can almost hear his thoughts.” The spirit said listlessly. Something had been tingling on the back of her mind all morning and it was starting to give her a headache. Zuko cringed.

“I wouldn’t want to know what’s in there for the world.”

“You sure as hell don’t.” she said and suddenly stopped. Her face had turned ashen, the tingling turning suddenly to a telepathic call.

“What? What’s going on?” Zuko looked at her, alarmed.

“I have to go.” She whispered.

“Why? You said you’d help me.”

She gave him a small, sad smile. “There’s an old friend from home calling out to me. I need to see him.”

“Who?” Zuko was surprised. In all the years he’d known Lia, never had a spirit contacted her. She was already turning transparent, phasing from the mortal realm to that of the Spirits.

“Avatar Roku,” she said, her voice a mere echo. “Go down that way and you’ll find your uncle.”

 

Zuko stood motionless after she left. An Avatar? And not just any, but the previous incarnation of the spirit, a firebender? He was reminded quite suddenly that the Spirit of Fire was far older and held more secrets than her appearance led people believe. He wondered when she would trust him enough to share some of these secrets with him. But for now finding his uncle was more urgent. He followed the trail she had pointed out, barely aware of the temperature slightly rising.

“Over here!” Iroh suddenly called.

“Uncle?” Zuko called back, following the voice. There he was, lounging in a hot spring like they didn’t have anything to worry about. “We need to move on” Zuko reminded him angrily. “We’re closing on the Avatar’s trail and I don’t want to lose him.” The words didn’t have the effect he hoped.

“You look tired prince Zuko. Why don’t you join me in these hot springs and soak away your troubles?” was the care-free response he received.

“My troubles cannot be soaked away. It’s time to go!”

“You should take your teacher’s advice and relax a little bit. The temperature is just right. I heated it myself.” To underline the statement Iroh did it again.

 

Steam enveloped them and Zuko hastily bended it away.

“Enough! We need to leave now. Get out of the water!”

Iroh sighed. “Very well.” He said rising.

“On second thought” his nephew said hastily turning on the other side, “why don’t you take a few more minutes? But be back on the ship in half an hour or I’m leaving without you.” I bet he planned this all along when he dragged me here, he thought annoyed as he returned to the ship.

 

While Zuko was contemplating the many ways in which his uncle annoyed him (the list was a substantial one), Lia was walking along the bridge between the worlds. It wasn’t a bridge actually, more of a never ending grey nothingness half-covered in mist. She had always hated the place but it was the closest she could go to her old home without risking an even more severe punishment for border-jumping. She knew Roku knew of her opinion about this place and wouldn’t make her stay there for more than it was absolutely necessary. Sensing his presence approaching, she spun to meet him.

“Spirit of Fire.” He said, bowing Fire Nation-style.

“Avatar Roku.” She responded likewise.

The older-looking man smiled at her.

“It has been a long time Lia. I’m glad to see you in good health.”

“It’s good to see you too. In this form.”

“How is Aang coping?”

“From the little I’ve seen, as much as airbending is concerned, your friend, Gyatso, should be proud of his pupil. For the rest of the stuff…”

“He needs guidance.” Roku concluded.

“You said it!”

“I will contact him soon, but this isn’t the reason I called you here.” He paused and looked at her questioningly.

“Don’t worry,” she assured him with a smile. “It doesn’t bother me. And I guessed you would eventually ask me what is going on with Zuko.”

 

Roku looked at her for a moment. “When word went around that you had decided to aid my great-grandson I must admit I was surprised. But seeing how the Fates are leading things I believe that the Council might have been a little rash on their decision.”

“They had a point.” Lia shrugged. “Zuko is bound to make the right choices. I was and still am merely making sure that it will not be at the expense of his happiness. I have said as much to the Council but we never really got along.”

“I know. I was present when you explained your case. Some of the words you used where rather… interesting.”

Lia blushed. “I was angry.”

“I don’t blame you. But I also want you to know that whatever happens from now on, you will have my support.” He assured her.

 

A scene suddenly flashed in front of them. Lia and Roku watched with interest as Iroh, who had obviously dosed off at some point, was captured by a troop of earthbenders.

“I need to return.” Lia said to her companion. “Keep an eye on what happens. Your great-grandson can be really amusing when he’s angry. And I say this as his friend.”

Roku laughed. “I sure will. Until next time my friend.”

With a bow Lia left.

 

It was nearing sunset and neither Lia nor his uncle had returned. Zuko was getting worried. Not so much for the spirit, who was after all quite powerful and she had said that Avatar Roku was her friend. They probably were still catching up. His uncle on the other hand should have returned. There was always the chance that he had merely dosed off, but Zuko doubted this was the case. Taking a few soldiers with him as a precaution, he decided to return to the hot springs.

If he is sleeping I swear… the prince thought moodily as he walked for the second time that day through the forest, calling his uncle.

“Sir; maybe he thought you left without him.” A soldier suggested.

“Something’s not right here,” Zuko muttered, surveying the deserted springs. “That pile of rocks!”

“It looks like there’s been a landslide, sir” the same soldier said.

Zuko shook his head. “Land doesn’t slide uphill. Those rocks didn’t move naturally.” He rose. “My uncle’s been captured by earthbenders.”

 

He ordered his men back to the ship and, taking his komodo-rhino, he set to track Iroh down. By the time the sun rose he was still following the tracks, when he came across a rather smelly sandal in the middle of the road.

“Definitely uncle Iroh.” He said to himself.

“Quite right!” He knew without looking it was Lia that had materialised behind him.

“Back from your little trip to the Spirit World?” he said not bothering to look at her.

“Well, technically I wasn’t in the Spirit World but yes. Don’t worry about Iroh. He is fine. A little sore but otherwise fine.”

“How do you know?”

“I came across a group of earthbenders on my way here. They are hard to miss on those ostrich-horses.”

Zuko rose. “Can you lead the way?”

“As always kiddo!”

They went on, Zuko riding and Lia easily matching his pace on foot.

 

The tracks were getting easier to define in the dirt and they were progressing fast when a groan was heard on the horizon behind them. Zuko turned in time to see the Avatar’s bison.

“The Avatar.” He breathed turning his rhino.

Lia narrowed her eyes to see clearly. “It’s only Katara I see,” she said calmly. All the same Zuko continued turning.

“She can lead us to the Avatar.” He said with barely hidden excitement. Lia raised an eyebrow.

“What about your uncle?”  she pointed out.

Zuko stilled and then sighed and turned back to the tracks. Lia hid a smile as they continued in silence.

 

Hours later they reached a clearing, away from the forest. Below them they saw four Earth Kingdom soldiers surrounding Iroh who tied to a rock.

“These dangerous hands must be crushed.” Their leader decided lifting a boulder.

“Go,” Lia told Zuko. “No one but you can see me, but still it would be better if I didn’t interfere.” He nodded in understanding and ran towards them.

 

Before the rock had a chance to crash Iroh’s palms, Zuko kicked it aside. He turned and freed his uncle, who immediately stood, remarking:

“Excellent move prince Zuko.”

Smirking, the prince answered to the direction of both his uncle and Lia: “You taught me well.”

“Surrender yourselves,” the leader of the soldiers ordered. “You are five against two. You are clearly outnumbered.”

“That’s true” Iroh smiled, “but you are clearly outmatched.”

 

Uncle and nephew worked together, backing each other up and soon the soldiers were half-buried in the very same earth they had tried to bend. Zuko checked his Uncle for any harm and found none. From her place above them Lia laughed as he heard him say, exasperation raining from his words, “Now could you please put on some clothes?”

 

The next morning they were back on their ship and sailing fast towards the Fire Nation. Some villagers Zuko had questioned on their way back had revealed that the Avatar was heading to Crescent Moon Island. Iroh was completely against the idea of even approaching their home nation’s waters.

“Sailing into Fire Nation waters…”he said. “Of all the foolish things you’ve done in your sixteen years prince Zuko, this is the most foolish!”

Said prince didn’t even turn. “I have no choice uncle.”

“Have you completely forgotten that the Fire Lord banished you?”             Iroh looked at the teenager concerned. “What if you’re caught?” he asked quietly. At this Zuko turned.

“I’m chasing the Avatar. My father will understand why I’m returning home,” he insisted, although he couldn’t quite hide the worry in his voice.

“You give him too much credit.” Iroh scoffed. “My brother is not the understanding type.”

Lia appeared for a brief moment behind Iroh. I agree with him! she mouthed to the prince.

Zuko turned back to his spyglass, finally spotting the bison. He turned to the helmsman.

“Full steam ahead.” He ordered.

 

The ships lone catapult was brought on deck and prepared. Iroh looked at the thing with disgust.

“Really prince Zuko, couldn’t you shoot them down with something more fragrant?”

They had time to shoot only once before noticing a slight problem ahead. A blockade.

“Technically you are still in Earth Kingdom waters. Turn around now and they can’t arrest you” his uncle advised.

“He’s not turning around!” Zuko said surprised.

“Please prince Zuko,” Iroh tried again. “If the Fire Nation arrests you, there’s nothing I can do.”

Zuko lowered his head. “I’m sorry Uncle,” he whispered and turned to his men. “Run the blockade!”

 

Fireballs were soon flying around them. Lia sped frantically around the ship, casting small spells, doing the best she could without being forced to appear to protect them. It was fruitless though. Eventually the engines were hit. Zuko still ordered the ship to continue. They almost collided with the Fire Navy ships forming the blockade, when Zhao – standing on deck, apparently in charge of the operation – ordered his men to halt.

“He let you pass so that he can follow you.” Lia told Zuko.

“Let him follow.” The prince muttered darkly, mostly to himself.

 

They were closing in on the island and still there had been no sign of the Avatar.

“Zhao wants to follow you to the prize you both want. The Avatar.” Iroh pointed out.

Zuko looked at the smoke the damaged engines left behind. A smirk appeared on his lips.

“If Zhao wants to follow our trail of smoke we will let him do so.”

“What?” his uncle exclaimed surprised.

“I, on the other hand, will follow the Avatar. On the boat.”

The small lifeboat boat was lowered with Zuko inside. Before it was released he turned at his uncle who was looking at him worried. “Keep heading north. Zhao will follow the smoke while I’ll use it as a cover.”

“So… What do you plan to do once you reach the Avatar?” Lia appeared on his side as soon as they had disappeared through the smoke.

“If I find him.” Zuko corrected her.

Lia sighed. “I probably shouldn’t tell you, but he is on the island’s temple.”

“Why shouldn’t you tell me?” Zuko looked at her surprised.

“Well I don’t exactly agree with you on this whole Avatar case. All matters of national pride aside, balance needs to be restored.” She heard no reaction and turned surprised to her companion. He was gazing at the horizon solemnly.

“Why are you still here?” he asked, refusing to look at her.

“Just because we are not agreeing on something doesn’t mean I would desert you. It doesn’t work like that!”

“But why?” he insisted turning to look at her now. “You could do anything you want. Why tag along on a mission that you are against?”

It was her turn now to gaze at the ocean. “Once I had a little brother,” she said quietly. “I lost him the day he turned ten. It was hundreds of years ago. Then, six years ago, I found a ten-year-old boy, curled next to a pond in the Fire Nation palace. You remind me of him.”

“Lia…” Zuko started awkwardly but paused. He did not know what to say. It had never occurred to him that a spirit’s past could be quite so… painful. Seeing her caring he had thought at first that she wanted something interesting to pass her time. When Lia admitted to thinking of him as a friend he had reconsidered that. But a brother? Azula, his younger sister, was the only one to come to his mind when he thought of the word ‘sibling’ and their relationship was anything but ideal. “Do you want to talk about it?” he finally asked hesitantly.

“Some other time please. Now you are in too much danger by just staying here. The cover of smoke won’t hold forever. We’d better get moving.”

Lia said tonelessly, turning away to hide a few tears.

 

Avatar Roku’s temple was wonderful. In an intimidating, show-respect-or-get-kicked-out way. Lia had been there a few times in the past, after she had met Roku’s spirit. The former Avatar had shown to her the various secret passages that criss-crossed the building and now she made good use of that knowledge. Zuko followed her silently. Before they reached a staircase Lia stopped.

“The Avatar is just up the stairs. I will make sure that you are safe, but I warn you Zuko: I will not help you with this.”

He bowed on her. “Fair enough.” Then he turned and climbed up the stairs silently. He had barely reached the landing when he saw the airbender hiding behind a column.

 

“Aang!” his friends called the Avatar. Not that he could answer them. Zuko made the boy move from behind the pillar, keeping a secure grip on his arms.

“The Avatar is coming with me.” He said.

He watched intently as the Sages of the temple took control of the situation and restrained the Water Tribe teenagers and one of their numbers.

“Close the doors.” He ordered them. “Quickly!”

His attention wasn’t on the Avatar anymore. He looked at Katara. She and her brother were chained in a column with the traitor Sage. He had never thought he would ever think a woman other than his mother beautiful, but this girl couldn’t be described as anything else. It turned out that these thoughts were his downfall, literally. The Avatar twisted against him and run away. Before he knew it he was flying down the stairs.

“Gotcha!” Lia appeared out of nowhere and balanced him back to his feet.

 

By the time he had made it back up the stairs the Avatar was already in the inner chamber. Together with the four remaining Sages Zuko tried to open the door but it wouldn’t budge.

“Why isn’t it working? It sealed shout!” he said angrily.

The elder Sage next to him said, “It must have been the light; Avatar Roku doesn’t want us inside.”

Nicely done Roku! Zuko could have sworn he heard Lia’s voice from the shadows.

He turned to the traitor Sage. “Why did you help the Avatar?” he demanded, torn between curiosity and exasperation.

“Because that was once the Sages’ duty,” the man explained averting his eyes for a moment. “It is still our duty.”

 

“What a moving and heartfelt performance.” Zhao stepped out of the shadows suddenly. “I’m certain that the Fire Lord will understand once you explain why you betrayed him.”

“Commander Zhao.” The elder of the Sages bowed.

“And prince Zuko.” Zhao finished nodding at the boy. “It was a noted effort, but your little smoke screen didn’t work.”

Zuko narrowed his eyes, already calculating ways to get out of the situation.

“Two traitors in one day.” A soldier came and took hold of the prince. “The Fire Lord will be pleased.”

“You are too late Zhao.” Zuko smirked. “The Avatar is inside and the doors are sealed.”

“No matter.” Zhao looked like the proverbial cat that had right now eaten a canary. “Sooner or later he has to come out.”

 

As soon as the alignment of the solstice was over Zhao prepared his men in front of the majestic doors.

“When those doors open, unleash all your power,” he commanded.

“How’s Aang going to make out of this?” Zuko turned from the column he had been tied against when he heard Katara speak to the boy next to her. They looked like each other, so Zuko guessed that they were siblings. The boy asked her back in a high-pitched voice: “How are we going to make it out of this?”

 

A bright light appeared from behind the doors as they opened. Before the person standing there had a chance to walk out Zhao and his men fired. Avatar Roku stepped forward unharmed, as the fire twisted to his will and attacked the soldiers. A tendril strayed away and freed the Sage, Katara and her brother, ignoring Zuko completely. Lia appeared and melted his chains instead.

“Never trust the Avatar to do anything perfectly,” she advised him cheekily. “Follow me now! He is going to destroy the temple.”

They ran together through the corridors, not bothering with hiding this time, until they reached the boat and set sail.

 

They found Iroh and the ship quickly. Seeing his nephew in one piece, but without the Avatar, the old General wisely didn’t say anything. That night, on the banished Fire prince’s ship, two figures sat on the empty deck, watching the full moon. Zuko turned to Lia and asked her quietly:

“Would you tell me your story?”

Anatomy of a Wardrobe

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I can still remember my first kind-of-essay. It was near the end of the first grade and we had been asked to write what we wanted to become and why. Ever the trendsetter (NOT!), I proudly declared that I would be a seamstress! And upon what grounds did I make this brash declaration you might ask? Well, you see, little six-year-old me loved the Disney Princess movies and dreamed for a chance to wear a ball gown at the drop of a glass slipper. Mini-me had concluded, in all her infinite wisdom, that the only reason she could not fulfil that dream was because such dresses were not available to public. (And before anyone asks, no, I don’t think my mother would have allowed me to wear them, even if I had them.) Hence the desire to be a seamstress: to make those gorgeous dresses I dreamed to wear.

One style-indecisive adolescence later, during which I experiment with nearly every fashion trend from goth to hippy (excluding those atrocious beehive-hairstyles that girls rocked a few years back), I can safely say that mini-me had the right idea. Not about becoming a seamstress, but about not giving a fig about how she was supposed to dress like. Most girls spend their teenage years arguing about the shortness of their skirts. I spent mine staring longingly at those gorgeous maxi skirts that I knew I would pull off fantastically but was told were too “grown-up” for me. Is that even a thing? I like long stuff: long skirts, long hair, long earrings, long tales, the expression “long time no see”….

In retrospect I can say that it wasn’t even a matter of reaction. I truly felt more comfortable wearing clothes that looked like they were from another era (one at least 200 year in the past). If you were to open my closet now (and providing nothing landed on your head and knocked you out) you’d find more skirts and dresses than trousers. I don’t think it’s uber-feminine or anachronistic of me. In a time when people are encouraged, even expected to be accepting of other people’s differences, I don’t understand how fashion statements can hold some much power.

I think this is part of why I enjoy university life so much. You can walk on campus wearing just about anything and people will not bat an eyelid. I’m not joking. We’re so blasé about it at UEA that even someone entering the pub in full Viking warrior regalia will cause no staring at all. (Unless you’re a first year, but even they catch on pretty quickly.)

*** 10 minute break later ***

I…I know I was going somewhere with this… Heck, I’m confident I had a well-drawn and mature conclusion. Goes to show why taking breaks in the middle of writing is a bad idea… Well, since my brilliant conclusion evades me I will sum this up as best as I can. Clothes and a person’s personal style ought to be extensions of his character, or at least the persona he wishes to project. There is something very frustrating about the sight of a gang of twelve-year-old girls in matching outfits, especially when you know this is probably not a phase. People can be incredibly outspoken for a wide variety of issues. Why then insist on following someone else’s set trends when you could have your own personal one?

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Kyoshi Island

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Author’s Note: In which there is character development, Zuko is in denial and the author tries to figure out how to link posts without it counting as a comment. Also, WOW! 50th post milestone! Go me! Now if only I could get my head in the game and my writing on the internet…

Last chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Kyoshi Island***

Dusk lit the sky orange as the now-familiar Fire Nation ship moved towards the north, leaving the ice plains of the South Pole behind. They had been on the trail of the Avatar for several weeks now, but he always managed to slip away. In his quiet room, a lone figure was meditating. The flames of the candles in front of him rose and fall in tune with his calm breaths. In reality Zuko was far from calm. Normally meditating would have allowed him to reach a level of clear-headedness where foreseeing the Avatar’s next moves should have been easy. It had been this calmness that had led him to the South Pole. To her…

 

That was his problem. Whenever he thought of the Avatar, his thoughts would eventually lead back to the Water Tribe girl. He couldn’t see what it was in her presence that distracted him. She was definitely good looking, even beautiful, but Zuko had never paid attention on this kind of thing before. Or maybe it was that she had thought he would strike her when he had used the old woman as a – false – example of the Avatar. He couldn’t place it and Lia’s cryptic answers when he had tried to ask her didn’t help either. These musings where pushed aside when the door behind him opened.

“The only reason you should be interrupting me is because you have news about the Avatar,” he said in a quiet, solemn voice. His uncle entered hesitantly.

“Well, there is news prince Zuko, but you might not like it. Don’t get too upset. ”

“Uncle, you taught me that keeping a level head is a sign of a good leader. Now, whatever you have to say I’m sure I can take it,” Zuko answered, fighting the urge to roll his eyes.

“Okay then” Iroh took a breath. “We have no idea where he is.”

The candle flames, still in tune with Zuko’s mental state, erupted.

“What?” the prince shouted. His uncle merely fanned himself saying:

“You really should open a window in here.”

“Give me the map.” The teen snatched the parchment and opened it irritably.

“There have been multiple sightings of him, but he is impossible to track down,” Iroh explained. Zuko scrutinized the map.

“How am I going to find him uncle? He is clearly a master of evasive manoeuvring.”

 

General Iroh had barely time to close the door before a loud, crystal laugh rang inside the room. Zuko turned to see the mighty Spirit of Fire rolling on the floor laughing so hard her face was as red as her hair. When she was once again able to breathe she told him:

“These have to be two of the most hilarious things I’ve ever heard!”

“Two?” he raised an eyebrow.

Lia wiped the tears from her eyes and nodded, still smiling brightly.

“One, was your reaction when you heard your uncle’s news. Some level-headed leader, huh?”

“It isn’t funny.” He grumbled.

“Want me to show you?”

He nodded curiously and took a seat in front of her on the mat. She sat straighter and a ribbon of white flames appeared in her hands. Lia twirled them around until they were shaped like a perfect cycle. Inside the cycle appeared the scene that had taken place in the room mere minutes ago. Once it was finished, with Lia giggling this time, Zuko was smiling too.

“I guess it would seem funny to an outsider.” His companion simply grinned triumphantly. “But this is one thing and you said two.”

“Oh, yes.” the spirit was still smiling but her expression turned a little serious. “I actually found it ironic. Aang and evasive manoeuvring? Not the case.”

The prince frowned and opened the map. “How are you explaining this then?’ he asked her.

“Well, you now, me being a spirit and all, I travel all around the place and see many strange things. Even flying bisons, if you know what I mean. So I heard the Avatar – Aang – saying that before they begin anything they have to visit these places. Kind of sightseeing after a hundred years of absence,” she finished shrugging.

Zuko was staring at her. “Are you saying that instead of mastering the elements the Avatar…”

“Aang!”

“Whatever! He is touring instead of assuming his role?”

“Zuko, you forget that Aang is twelve years old. It’s a little too much to ask of a child who had lived such a sheltered life to become the world’s saviour overnight. And don’t you give me that look young man!” she added in a rather motherly voice when Zuko scoffed. “Now come on. It’s late enough to practice.” She added standing up.

 

A few days later that they had news once again from the “Evasive Master”. The ship’s cook had found some rather delicious fish from the neighbouring Kyoshi Island. Along with it he had also found some even better news.

“The Avatar is on Kyoshi Island?” Zuko turned to General Iroh eagerly. “Uncle, ready the rhinos. He’s not getting away this time.”

“Are you going to finish this?” his uncle merely asked pointing on the freshly cooked dish. Zuko’s only answer was the bang of the door. The Dragon of the West sighted at his nephew’s antics before eating the whole fish.

 

They are quite a sight! Lia thought mirthlessly looking at the Fire Nation prince and his soldiers stepping on the island. Although she would defy literally everyone on this world and a few others to help the young prince, she didn’t always agree with his actions. For example his obsession with the Avatar: it was desperate, plain desperate and it led him to make stupid choices. But it wasn’t her place to make him see that. She knew that he would have to come to terms with reality eventually. Who are you trying to kid? she thought angrily. You just don’t want to fight with him again. He has grown up and takes what both of you say while angry seriously. And you can’t risk letting him know why exactly you didn’t return to the Spirit World just like he asked.

 

Kyoshi Island’s harbour city seemed deserted with everyone locked up in their houses. Zuko demanded that the Avatar show himself. Lia was watching them from above and realized with a humourless smile that next to his soldiers he looked exactly what he was: a teenager. A frightening, imposing one, but still a teenager. Not receiving an answer he ordered his men to search the houses. They would, had the Kyoshi warriors not appeared. Lia had trained with them shortly after the group had been first formed, a few centuries ago, and respected the young women’s skill greatly. The generation the soldiers were ambushed by was no exception. They took the men down in a matter of seconds, as their leader charged towards Zuko. Unlike his soldiers he had rather good experience sparing with women and didn’t underestimate her.

 

The girl was pushed back and nearly knocked out, when another girl blocked the decisive blow. Lia did a double take. There he was, the boy who was traveling with Aang – Sokka – dressed in the Kyoshi uniform. The two of them were good. They even succeeded in knocking Zuko off his rhino, but still they had far less combat experience than he had. Once they were out of the way Zuko called the Avatar once again.

“Nice try Avatar, but these little girls won’t save you.”

Excuse me? that was a personal insult to Lia.

“Hey, over here!” a voice called from behind them.

“Finally!” Zuko exclaimed under his breath.

 

Their fight this time was a little better than the previous one, but both boys still moved awkwardly against each other. It didn’t make sense to Lia. During the Agni Kai with Zhao, Zuko had shown skill far better than she expected. It probably had to do with his opponent, she reasoned. He sincerely hated the Commander. Instead the Avatar was a mere tool for him to return home. Not only that, but this fight wasn’t happening in an arena. The houses surrounding them were wooden and one misdirected blast would be enough to torch the entire town.

 

Unfortunately the soldiers did not have Zuko’s restraint. Soon the smoke was raising thick in the sky as the houses burned. Lia was about to land, unable to see through it, whn she heard a roar behind her. She turned and gasped, her hold on her element momentarily lost. That resulted on her rather abrupt loss of height, but saved her from being cut in two by the Avatar’s flying bison. From below her she heard Zuko yelling for the men to return to the ship. It was rather comical, the whole team bundled on a single rhino, the rest of them having fled the flames, and everyone soaked because of the Avatar’s attempts to put away the fire. She turned on her heels and flew back to the ship. She knew Zuko would arrive any minute now, and someone would have to keep him from melting the ship out of sheer frustration.

 

She had barely made it to his room when a very angry, drenched Zuko stormed in. The Avatar had got away – again – and most importantly, it was his fault. He couldn’t understand what was wrong with him. Twice he had crossed paths with the airbender now, and twice he had found himself unable to focus on his opponent. His mind was too distracted by his surroundings, his wish not to hurt those not involved in his quest. And of course the Avatar’s girl. I really need to ask Lia her…their names, he thought absently. She had been brave to follow the boy outside the safety of her village and would probably be helping the villagers. Zuko couldn’t explain it, but for some reason he couldn’t stand the idea of her being caught in the crossfire. And his soldiers just had to set the place on fire.

 

And now he was tired, sore and chilled from the water soaking through his armour. He only wanted to sleep right away, but he had a feeling that his day would only become worse very soon. Indeed, as soon as he stepped inside his chambers he felt a warm breeze embracing him.

“We can’t have you catching a cold, can we?” Lia asked him. Zuko looked at her annoyed.

“Don’t you have better things to do other than haunting my ship?”

Lia shot him a thoughtful look. “Now that you mention it… no!”

A ball of fire passed right over her head as a response.

“You are insufferable!” Zuko exploded. Much to his chagrin Lia merely shrugged.

“So are you sometimes. That’s why we’re friends. And if I were you I’d bring this cup of tea to General Iroh.”

“And why would I do that?” Zuko replied, making a beeline for his bed instead.

“Seems like that fish he ate today was too much for him. I have brewed a special mix to ease his stomach.”

Zuko looked horrified. “If I bring him a miraculous cup of tea he will praise it for all eternity!”

“Isn’t he doing that already? And it’s either praising tea or him being sick. Your choice.” She pointed out before disappearing with a faint ‘pop’.

 

Grumbling Zuko stood up and grabbed the cup. He couldn’t let his Uncle remain sick. It wasn’t just his (sometimes doubted) mastermind as a strategist and firebender. He cared about the old man who stuck with him all these years through bad and worse. Noble feelings are however contemplated better under favourable skies. The trek to the General’s room didn’t do much to erase Zuko’s foul mood. Iroh was in his room, playing Pi Sho with a member of the crew he had probably abducted. His nephew wordlessly entered gave him the cup and left, unaware at the astonished looks he was getting. Once he was out of the room and well out of earshot Iroh tried the tea, turned to his badly losing opponent and asked:

“Did my nephew really bring me a proper cup of tea?”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Agni Kai

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Author’s Note: In which we meet Series 1’s resident douchebag, Lia can’t keep grudges and Zuko learns to apologise. There is also tea. Always a good thing to have tea!

Last chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Agni Kai***

It took the crew nearly a week to free the ship from the ice. Lia had at first contemplated helping them, but decided against it. Zuko’s words had hurt her more than she had allowed him to see and so she decided she wouldn’t appear to him again until he was truly in danger or ready to apologise. She suspected that the first would probably happen quicker… The prince’s pride and stubbornness got in the way a lot more than they should. That being said, she had to grudgingly admit that her own temper had not helped her case either. Now they were leaving the South Pole behind– something that would take weeks – and so far Zuko hadn’t even lit a single candle for meditation, much less do anything that could be taken as a request for her presence. Fine, she decided. If he wanted to show her he didn’t care he could be stubborn on his own.

The problem however was that he did care. He had missed Lia, her kind words and her lessons. Zuko knew he should apologise but how could he? If someone had treated him the way he had treated the Spirit they wouldn’t get away with it without a few burns. And there she was: the Spirit of Fire herself, and she was just giving him the silent treatment. He had been aware of her constant presence before. It was his anger and disappointment with himself that had once again taken over and talked instead of him. It was a terrifying feeling. But who was he kidding? He was simply a coward. The same day she had saved his life he had lashed out at her as if it had been her fault, to begin with, that the Avatar had escaped.

 

Lia saw his struggle. Her presence was kept securely hidden by her magic, but still it was hard. Her sisterly instincts were screaming at her to comfort him even when she understood that there are things everyone has to learn alone. So she divided her time instead between the ship and shadowing the Avatar. She was curious after all…

 

The next turning point came on a day like any other one. The ship had been moving slower than it should, but with half the right side of it damaged, they didn’t have much of a choice. They would be arriving at a Fire Nation camp soon, as Lia had gathered from the troops’ gossip. Indeed a few days later they were docking. She had woken up earlier than normal and out of habit took out the twin pedant to check on Zuko. It said something for both their characters really that even when he had told her – more or less – not to bother him again they had both kept their charms. Still smiling she looked at the symbols. Immediately they started to glow a deep red.

 

In theory, Lia knew how the charm was supposed to work; she had never actually seen the colours change. Alarmed she left the ship and hovered over the camp, stretching out her senses, searching for a threat. There was a vague air of foreboding, but couldn’t place it. Lia frowned. It wasn’t as if the soldiers hated Zuko. Most of them hadn’t even seen him before. It had to be a single person. Whoever this person was, she decided, he’d better not try anything. Suddenly another wave of hatred hit her. Telepathy had never been Lia’s strong point and she landed (more like crash-landed) feeling dizzy and weak. She took a few deep breaths, trying to ground herself, as the feeling rose to its zenith and then disappeared completely.

 

Lia blinked away a few tears, thankful that her cover was still up, and rose unsteadily to her feet. She thought that for a moment Zuko’s eyes drifted to her direction, as if he knew she was there, but it was probably just her imagination. An officer was approaching Zuko and General Iroh, so she turned to face the reason behind her troubles. He was a middle–aged man with long sideburns and an expression way too arrogant for her taste. She liked his voice even less.

“Getting in the way of what, Prince Zuko?”

 

The great Fire Spirit face-palmed, listening to the hasty explanation that uncle and nephew cooked up and served to this ‘Commander’ Zhao to explain the damages on their ship. It was obvious that the guy didn’t believe them. An Earth Kingdom ship so south? Please! Zuko seemed to understand that such a weak story would not hold for long, so when Zhao invited them for a drink he immediately declined. Lia was celebrating in relief, but then Iroh popped in accepting the offer. The Spirit, as aggravated as the prince, had time to whisper on his ear “I agree with you”, before the boy stormed ahead without hearing her. “Stupid covering spell” she muttered following them.

 

Inside the Commander’s tent Lia stifled one yawn after another as Zhao outlined his ‘genius’ plan for subduing the Earth Kingdom. Zuko was not impressed either, commenting impassively that whoever thought that the Earth Kingdom would fall easily was simply a fool. The Commander didn’t seem to take him seriously and proceeded to mock-ask him about his search for the Avatar. Lia flew to her feet and gave a rough shove on Iroh’s arm. The weapons the old man carried fell down, effectively drawing Zhao’s attention, giving Zuko time to collect himself and answer that it was a failure.

 

Zhao continued to press him, insisting that if he had “an ounce of loyalty left”, Zuko would tell him whatever he knew. The remark hurt, it was a low blow and the temperature on the tent rose imperceptibly before Lia realised what was happening and reigned her temper in. She hated seeing Zuko hurt, and a glance at the pedant told her that he was navigating in treacherous waters. They have to get out of here soon, she thought urgently. The same thought crossed Zuko’s mind as he rose from his chair and called his uncle to leave. However, when they reached the exit, the soldiers blocked the way and Lia seriously thought of interfering then and there.

 

A third soldier came in and informed Zhao that Zuko’s crew had been interrogated and admitted the presence of the Avatar on their ship. Zhao, wearing an even more self-satisfied smile asked the teenager: “Now remind me; how exactly was your ship damaged?”

 

Hours later, Zhao continued questioning Zuko. Lia might have still been angry with the prince but Zhao’s attitude was making her question her non-interference decision. The Commander was practically glowing as he remarked:

“So a twelve-year-old boy bested you and your firebenders. You are more pathetic than I thought.”

“I underestimated him once but it won’t happen again.” Zuko shot back, clenching his fists in an effort to control himself.

“No, it will not, because you will not have a second chance.”

WHAT? Lia screamed in her head. Did the man know by any chance what he was talking about?

Once more she seemed to mirror Zuko’s sentiments.

“Commander Zhao, I’ve been hunting the Avatar for two years and I…”

“You failed! Capturing the Avatar is far too important to leave in a teenager’s hand. He’s mine now,” Zhao sneered.

 

Zuko lunged at him angrily and was restrained by two soldiers.

“Keep them here.” Zhao ordered.

Zuko kicked the table frustrated. Lia rolled her eyes when Iroh asked calmly for more tea. This was going to be a long night indeed.

Very soon Iroh was asleep, leaving Zuko to his restless pacing. Finding the Avatar was his only chance of ever returning home and now Zhao had robbed him of it. He had never liked the man, even before his banishment. He always moved around with the idea that everyone, including the prince, was inferior to him. Zuko found himself wishing that Lia was here now. Maybe…

 

Shooting a nervous look to his sleeping uncle, Zuko lit one of the torches leaning against the walls of the tent. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing, falling back to the pattern he had used when he had first started this ritual.

“I’m sorry Lia.” The words fell unbidden from his lips and his eyes snapped open when a soft hand landed on his shoulder.

“Apology accepted my friend.” Lia materialised on his side with a smile.

Zuko’s eyes widened in surprise. He had expected that it would take hours, maybe even days to see his Spirit guardian again. But there she appeared immediately. “Lia?”

“Who did you expect? The Face Stealer? And don’t get your hopes up. I’m still angry with you.”

“Then why did you come?” Zuko frowned. The redhead had been smiling, but she held herself as tensely as a coiled spring.

“Well”, she took a seat, shooting an amused look at the now-snoring Iroh, “an apology is always a good way to begin…. And I need to discuss a few things with you.”

“What kind of things?” he asked carefully.

“First of all, do you still want me around or not?” Lia asked facing directly in front of her, refusing to meet his eyes.

“Y…yes. I thought that you wouldn’t want to be around me!” Zuko exclaimed confused.

She turned sharply, surprised. “Why wouldn’t I? There are so many things you could still learn.”

“Like?” he asked interested.

“More on fire to begin with. And there is also water and earth. Oh, and I’ve seen these swords you have on your room. Do you know how to use them?” Now that they were back on the familiar ground of training both of them were relaxing.

“No.” Zuko shook his head. “They are antiques. I was afraid they would break if put pressure on them.”

Lia smiled mischievously and said “I’ll take care of that. Now tell me. How has your firebending been lately?”

“As it always is. Why?”

Another smile. “Oh no reason. Just try to keep your temper in a tiny little check, at least around me.” With that she vanished.

 

When the sun rose again, Zhao decided to honour his ‘guests’ with another visit.

“My search party is ready.” He announced. “Once I’m out at sea, my guards will escort you out and you’ll be free to go.”

Zuko threw him a side glance. “Why? Are you worried that I’m going to try and stop you?” He asked mockingly.

“You? Stop me? Impossible!” the Commander laughed.

Zuko stood up. “Don’t underestimate me Zhao! I will capture the Avatar before you!”

“Prince Zuko; that’s enough.” Iroh said sternly.

“You can’t compete with me.” Zhao said incredulously. “I have hundreds of ships under my command and you? You’re just a banished Prince; no home, no allies. Your own father didn’t want you.”

Not good… Lia winced when she heard the comment. Zuko would be soon furious.

“You’re wrong!” the teenager said desperately. “Once I deliver the Avatar my father will welcome me with honour and restore my rightful place on the throne.”

Zhao raised an eyebrow. “If your father really wanted you home he would have let you return by now, Avatar or no Avatar. But to his eyes you are a failure and a disgrace to the Fire Nation.”

“That’s not true.”

“You have the scar to prove it.”

Is this guy thinking at all? Lia now refused to believe her ears. She knew that Commander Zhao was a -for lack of better word- creep but this. He would soon have a very angry spirit on his heels.

“Maybe you’d like one to match!” Scratch that. After Zuko finished with him.

“Is that a challenge?” now Zhao was serious.

“An Agni Kai. At sunset.”

“Very well. It’s a shame your father won’t be here to watch me humiliate you. I guess your uncle will do.” With that Zhao left.

“Prince Zuko, have you forgotten what happened last time you duelled a Master?” Iroh asked him worriedly.

“I will never forget,” Zuko answered darkly.

 

The sunset looked magnificent and dramatic from the practice arena at the edge of the camp. No one but a few guards was present. Lia sat on Zuko’s side, visible only to him. She couldn’t speak in front of others, so she contented herself with giving him a reassuring smile. Iroh had put once again the stern face of the General as he looked down to his nephew.

“Remember your firebending basics prince Zuko,” he advised. “They are your greatest weapons.” Lia nodded approvingly.

“I refuse to let him win.” Zuko answered through clenched teeth. The two contestants stood up simultaneously. From the other side of the arena Lia heard Zhao declare,

“This will be over quickly.”

 

The gong rang, signalling the beginning of the duel. Zuko attacked first, remaining at a secure distance, but Zhao dodged all his attacks. Soon the boy’s chest was heaving with exertion. It didn’t seem to do anything to the power of his attacks and Zhao eventually started to use his own fire to put the prince’s off. From the sidelines Iroh advised,

“Basics Zuko. Break his root!”

But now it was Zhao’s turn to attack. Unlike his opponent he didn’t to control his blasts. Zuko was able to dodge two powerful blows, when the third one sent him to the ground. In a second Zhao was above him ready to strike. Oh no, you don’t! Zuko moved quickly to the side, heating the air under him just enough to add spin to his round-house kick.

 

Zhao was forced to retreat as attack after attack barely missed him and soon he was the one on his back looking at the prince towering over him ready to strike.

“Do it!” he commanded, when Zuko hesitated.

The prince struck barely missing the Commander’s head.

“That’s it?” Zhao said incredulously. “Your father raised a coward.”

“Next time you get on my way, I promise I won’t hesitate,” Zuko answered coldly.

As Zuko turned to leave, Zhao stood enraged and tried to attack him, but before it could make contact Iroh and Lia, doing exactly the same moves, blocked it. Zhao went flying back. Zuko turned angrily; ready to pick up the fight. He stopped when Iroh placed a hand on his shoulder.

“No, prince Zuko. Do not taint your victory.” He turned to the fallen man. “So this is how the great Commander Zhao acts in defeat. Disgraceful. Even in exile my nephew is more honourable than you. Thanks again for the tea.” He said turning to leave. “It was delicious!”

Zuko followed him astonished. Once they were out of earshot he asked Iroh quietly: “Did you really mean that uncle?”

“Of course” the General replied. “I told you jasmine tea is my favourite.”

 

A few nights after the duel two shadows were standing on the deck of prince Zuko’s ship, practicing some basic moves with swords. Suddenly one of them lunged forward and disarmed the other one.

“Good job my student.” Lia said picking her sword up.

“It’s so easy,” Zuko said surprised. “It feels almost natural for me to use swords. What does this mean?” he asked her. Lia smiled at the child-like expression on his face. It was endearing and a little sad at the same time that he had a hard time believing he was good at something.

“It means that other than firebending you have also great talent with the Duo swords. Off to bed now. It’s been a long day and you deserve your sleep.”

“As you wish sifu Lia.” Zuko answered with a smile and a small bow.

It was only after he was asleep that she entered his room. Just like so many other nights she tucked him in to his bed properly before blowing the small candle on his desk out.