The Danger of Tradition
It was a tradition he could not and absolutely should not ignore, the sages told him. The well-being of his wife and child depended on this ancient custom one sage had gravely intoned. They thought he was gambling with the lives of loved ones by putting off an ancient ritual he did not believe in. They couldn't have been further from the truth.
His wife was already six weeks into her pregnancy and it had become public knowledge weeks ago. According to tradition he should have conducted the Invocation of the Ancestors ceremony and paid tribute to the patron spirit of child-bearing before announcing the pregnancy publicly. While he had paid tribute to the patron spirit of child-bearing (and every other spirit he thought could help) he had neglected to conduct the Invocation of Ancestors ceremony. His wife had followed tradition and invoked the protection of her ancestors immediately. But then, her ancestors weren't the problem here. His, on the other hand, were probably more apt to aide the malicious spirits that lingered around a mother with child rather then ward them off. He sincerely doubted any of his ancestors liked him well enough to actually give aid and protection to his wife and unborn child.
The Sages would not be dissuaded however and had taken to badgering him every free moment he had. His wife had already chided him, calling him a dork for brooding over a custom she found pointless and droll. His wife did not believe in spirits. She only followed the traditions because it was expected of a lady of her station. He couldn't fault her lack of faith though, he'd been the same once. Then he saw the moon turn red, then darken completely; all because a fish was killed. He'd seen the Ocean spirit itself rise up and take revenge for the murder of its lover. Denying the existence of spirits after that was impossible.
He didn't just believe in spirits, he knew for a fact they existed and interacted with their world. His luck was non-existent. He'd let down so many people with his wrong choices and in the end he'd gone against his own family to try and set things right. There was absolutely no way he had a familial ancestor who would guard and protect his loved ones after all of that! He knew this. Yet here he was kneeling before the alter, mallet clutched in his shaking hand, about to begin the ceremony none the less. Taking a deep breath, he raised the small mallet and struck the small ceremonial gong on the alter.
Before the last chords of the gong had completely faded away a dense fog rolled into the shrine, blanketing everything in white. As soon as the fog had appeared it was gone and in place of the shrine a vast swamp stretched out before him. Most importantly, he was no longer alone.
"Greetings, Firelord Zuko."