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Earth Waits [Book 3 of Avatar: the Last Dragon]

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A/N: The Following is a non-profit fan-based work of fiction. Full Disclaimer TM  is available on the author page/series page. This is also (as should be obvious from the title) the third book in a series. You can probably make it through without reading previous works but… why would you want to?

Don't worry, it'll be here when you get back.

Chapter uses, where appropriate, dialog from S2E1 "The Avatar State."

Rated A, for Alcohol

Reader discretion is advised.


Mid-Autumn, year 10 in the reign of Fire-Lord Ozai

It was after his second bottle the Zuko decided that he rather liked sake.

It had a grounding effect on him, centered him in the present, on the here and now. Killed thought.

Today of all days that was a blessing worth any hangover.

By his request Lt-Cmdr. Dosei had dropped him and his uncle at Tohin Wo several weeks prior. Zuko had told his old crew that he might seek out the garrison at Shiro Pohuai; to ask them for information on how Admiral Zhao had captured the Avatar. It had pained him to lie to them, even a lie of misdirection such as this.

He might have gone to Pohuai. He might have also taken up jugglingAnything was possible.

He doubted it had really fooled any of them, but it was better to give them an obviously false trail to report to high command than it was to try and divide their loyalties. They were samurai of the Fire-Nation, servants of the Fire-Lord. Their loyalty should be unquestioned.

Zuko just wished that his loyalty would be as well.

As it was, he and Iroh, whose highly visible assault on Admiral Zhao was the reason they needed to lie low in the first place, had instead crossed the Hebi river, travelling south along the coast until they reached the island town of Kanka in the Kashi-no-Ki river, the official southern border of the Colonies.

The resort town was famous for its masseuses and beautiful scenery, and Iroh had insisted that they take some time for their selves. To relax and recuperate after the disaster at the North Pole.

"A man needs his rest, Zuko," he'd said, beaming genially.

And Zuko couldn't find the will to argue with him.

Now he stared out the window, leaning on its sill, drinking sake and trying very hard to not think about anything.

Unfortunately, Kanka was also known as a place of deep thought and meditation. The island's western edge abutted a large waterfall where the mighty Kashi-no-Ki roared downward filling the air with cool mist, very pleasant on a hot day. As one travelled to the eastern side of the island that roar dropped to the merest hint of a whisper, a white noise that was prized by visitors as ideal for reflection and spiritual relaxation.

Zuko didn't care for it.

The white noise made it too easy to think, and thinking, on today of all days, was an unpleasant experience. Even the natural beauty of the waterfall seemed to pale in comparison to the knowledge that someday, in the future, it would wear the island away to nothing. The passage of time bringing only destruction and the certainty of defeat.

Zuko's thoughts always darkened today; the ninth day after the autumnal equinox.

The anniversary of his banishment.

It had been five years since that day, five long grueling years, and while he knew that there was no point in dwelling on past failures, if there was nothing else to occupy his mind then the memories would inevitably creep in.

He could almost feel his father's foot at his chest, his ribs cracking with the force. The left half of his face seemed to tingle, more the echo of feeling than anything. Worse than that was the bone-crushing feelings of shame that wracked through him. Shame at his failure, shame at his display of disrespect, shame at having dishonored his family name. The look on his father's face… that at least he did not have to remember, he could see that face any time he walked past a mirror.

Even his uncle, who, on the whole, went out of his way to avoid talking about the incident, or home in general, had commented that Zuko was now the spitting image of his father.

Half an image anyway, he thought darkly as he finished his cup and poured another.

The left half of his face was still a dark ruin from missing eyebrow to jaw and from the ruined nub of his left ear to just shy of his nose and mouth. Zuko had gotten used to seeing that face in his shaving mirror. It took a long time to shave the odd contours on the left half of his face, which still managed to sprout thick black hair, despite the scar tissue. He'd had to shave for two years now, and it was still a chore that required his complete concentration.

His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a groan of pleasure from the room behind him as two masseuses continued working on his uncle Iroh's back.

"Zuko! You must try this! The stress will just-" Iroh let out another groan- "melt away."

Zuko shook his head, then downed his cup and refilled it.

How his uncle could allow a complete stranger to come that close to him, to touch him, to relax like that was unfathomable to Zuko. The very idea of turning his back to someone he didn't know and allowing them to lay hands upon him made him nervous. The idea that his uncle would be so incautious made him nervous as well, which was why he was in the room to begin with, his daisho thrust through the loose belt of his bathrobe.

Nobody was going to get that close to him, or to harm his uncle. Not without a fight.

His thoughts, which seemed to delight in taking him places he would rather not be today, filled his mind with the image of a certain Water-Tribe girl whom he would not mind allowing that close. He flushed in a mix of embarrassment and anger at his intemperate thoughts.

He downed his cup and refilled it.

She is probably MORE likely to give you concern for your safety than any masseuse here, he mused. She would probably just as soon stab you as give you a massage.

She had already done so once before.

Zuko's face actually softened into something akin to a smile as his mind filled with memories of their fights, her remarkable improvement from simple unblooded village girl to waterbending samurai master, all in the space of a year. Every beautiful look on her face, from grief to rage, was indelibly etched there in his mind. That look of shock, after he'd kissed her…

He sighed, downed his cup and poured another.

He was disappointed in himself. That fight had been a masterpiece, a textbook example of situational awareness and strategic thinking. He had practically choreographed the entire flow of battle, allowing her to exhaust herself before the sun rose and stole away her moon-bourne strength. It should have been a triumph, one of the high points of his career. Defeating a beautiful waterbending master in a sacred spirit grove at the heart of the North Pole was the sort of premise from which great epics were written! But then he'd ruined it, tainted what should have been a flawless victory by giving in to unworthy base desires.

And now she most likely knew how he felt about her. The spirits alone knew what she would do the next time she saw him.

Actually, as I recall, the next time she saw you after that she dropped about a ton of ice and snow on your head, he thought blithely. Best you could have expected really… at least she didn't leave you there to die? That's got to count for something.

Being defeated in battle was one thing. Being buried in snow at the edge of the world was something else entirely.

Not a particularly honorable way to die.

Zuko sighed again. That was probably the Avatar though. Wouldn't be the first time he's saved you.

The Avatar was an odd creature. A powerfully strong bender who refused to kill his enemies, the destruction of the Northern Fleet notwithstanding. A samurai who only had a passing acquaintance with the conflict between honor and duty. Zuko had gone from annoyance, to bafflement, to blinding rage, and then back to sullen resentment where his feelings towards the boy were concerned. If Zuko was being honest with himself, it was more envy than anything else. The boy simply breezed through life, collecting victories and glory more like seashells on a beach than hard-won accomplishments.

There's also the fact that the little ash stain is likely BETROTHED to the woman you're in love with…

Zuko downed his cup, mood turning black again.

It was impossible, the whole quest, the whole… everything. The Avatar had summoned the Kami of the Sea the last time Zuko had seen him. Before that point Zuko had only half-heartedly believed that the heavens had been set against him, but now it was a FACT. The heavens, the Kami, the spirits were all squarely on the side of the Avatar. Even the Fire-Nation spirits favored him. The Spirit of Roku had brought down his own shrine rather than allow the boy to be captured.

And now Zuko had nothing. No ship, no soldiers, no resources. Where before he'd at least acknowledged that the task had grown ever more improbable…

Now it was flatly impossible.

Zuko flipped his sake cup over the sill of the window and began drinking directly from the bottle.

/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\

Something was wrong… and it wasn't the hangover.

Certainly, his hangover was fierce, but that wasn't what caused Zuko's eye to snap open.

Someone was outside his room, about to knock.

Someone who could firebend.

His uncle was still asleep, sprawled out on his futon, snoring deeply. Zuko quietly grabbed his katana and, moving low, crossed to the wall next to the door. The knock came, and Zuko raised the blade over his head, waiting.

The door slid open. Zuko continued waiting, but no one entered.

"Is this really necessary, Zuzu?"

It was his sister.

"Azula?" Zuko said, shocked, as he stepped into the doorway.

She had grown taller. She was still a great deal shorter than him, but she looked more like their mother than he remembered. There were differences of course; her eyes were the Akodo yellow as opposed to their mother's light brown, and Ursa had never had such a perpetually angry cast to her eyebrows, but otherwise the resemblance was uncanny.

For her part, Azula looked surprised as well, perhaps he had changed in the three years since he had seen her last. Perhaps she noticed how much he looked like their father.

"AZI!" Zuko roared happily, grinning broadly as he swept her up in a hug and then held her up under her arms like a puppy.

"How many times must we go through this, brother?!" she snarled. "Put. me. DOWN."

Zuko put her down with a chuckle remembering the last time he'd seen her. She'd played at anger then to, but they both knew that if she hadn't wanted a hug from her big brother she probably could have killed him a dozen ways before he even took a first step.

"Well, it's not my birthday, so to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?" Zuko said, bowing and gesturing for her to enter.

Iroh had sat up when Zuko had begun shouting and was now blearily looking around the room. His eyes focused and narrowed as he saw Azula.

"Azula?" he said wonderingly.

"Hello, uncle," she replied with a sneer.

The two of them glared at each other for a moment while Zuko fetched the small table and cushions they had moved out of the way to make room for the sleeping mats.

"Uncle, you should make some of that tea you were raving about last night," Zuko suggested, placing the table down with a soft thump.

Iroh nodded slowly, still maintaining eye contact with Azula.

"I would love some tea, uncle," Azula said, smiling in faux politeness and Iroh rose to fetch his teapot.

The three of them sat in silence as the tea brewed, Iroh formally presenting and serving it in the traditional ceremony.

"So," Zuko said after slurping down his tea politely, "what brings you to Kanka, Azi?"

"Generally, it is considered polite to make small talk before diving into the main conversation, Zuzu" Azula said primly, despite her characteristic smirk. "I hope you have not become uncivilized out here in the barbarous east?"

Zuko smiled back, in his own toothy grin. He had missed sparring verbally with his little sister. "That was small talk, sister. Surely you came here on some errand of your own and simply overheard rumors that I was here as well. Unless-" his smile grew wider as he sipped his second cup of tea- "I am the reason for your trip?"

Azula's eyes narrowed in irritation. Zuko had scored a point.

"And what are you doing here?" she said, launching a verbal sortie. "Surely you don't hope to find the Avatar hiding here amongst the masseuses and… geisha?"

Damn. That's how she found me, Zuko thought. It was a well-known fact that Scorpion spies often embedded themselves into geisha houses to gather information. They were now tied.

"Rumors actually place the Avatar south of here, in some sort of conflict with the Earth-Kingdom," Zuko said attempting to deflect the barb.

The rumors had been odd. It seemed that the boy had nearly leveled an Earth-Kingdom fortress some ways to the south. That, at least, all the rumors agreed upon, but where they all differed was the reasoning behind it. Either the garrison commander there had made a pass at the Avatar's waterbending teacher (a rumor which had caused Zuko to buy and immediately consume another bottle of sake) or the boy had begun involuntarily earthbending and had leveled the fortress with a powerful sneeze.

Zuko was actually beginning to miss Lt Jee's nonsensical reports.

"As to why we stopped here," Zuko continued, "As Akodo said 'To enter battle exhausted is to enter with less than half your army'."

"When in doubt, a Lion will always hide behind Akodo," Azula quipped, shaking her head ruefully.

"When in doubt, a Scorpion will always ridicule that which they do not understand," Zuko fired back, barring his fierce grin at his little sister.

"Did Akodo come up with that one too? We both know you couldn't have thought of it on your own, you halfwit!"

"Nerd."

"Slowpoke!"

"Brat!"

"Enough," Iroh said rolling his eyes. "Perhaps, your Highness, you could tell us why you are here?"

Azula glared at Iroh as Zuko continued grinning. He had definitely had come away from this verbal spar with, at the very least, a draw.

Which, against Azula, was about as good as he could expect.

"Very well, uncle," Azula said. She hesitated, playing with her bangs as she took a moment to compose herself. "Father… has changed his mind," she said finally, her eyes on her teacup.

"About what?" Zuko said, mildly confused. Their father very rarely changed his mind about anything.

"You," she replied, and the room went very still with sudden tension.

"Family has suddenly become very important to him," she began slowly. "After the near destruction of the northern fleet, there have been rumors of treason, plots against the throne. Family are the only ones you can really trust."

Zuko felt his heart stop.

Azula looked away, out the window at the cherry trees outside. "Father regrets your banishment. He wants you home."

"He wants… but- but I haven't…" Zuko's voice was quiet, almost a whisper. "I can come home? But I-" he cut himself off and rose from the table, going to the window to stare out, his arms behind his back.

Azula's voice grew hard. "You should be happy. Excited. Grateful! I just gave you great news."

"I'm sure your brother just needs a moment to-" Iroh began.

"DON'T INTERRUPT ME, UNCLE!" Azula shouted, her voice turning furious as quickly as lightning. She rose from the table, crossing the room to Zuko.

"Father… regrets?" Zuko said quietly, almost to himself.

Azula smiled, shaking her head in consternation. "I still haven't heard my thank you. I am NOT a messenger you know. I didn't have to come all this way to- UG," she grunted as Zuko grabbed her in another fierce hug.

"I'm sorry, Azi," he said, his voice full of emotion. "Thank you, sister. I'm sorry." His eye gleamed wetly with tears that he would not allow to fall.

After a moment Azula hugged him back. "I'm sorry too."

/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\

"After five years! FIVE LONG YEARS!" Zuko laughed as he paced the room with a nervous, jubilant, energy. "It's unbelievable!" he darted back to his bags and resumed shoving his meager possessions inside.

"It is unbelievable," Iroh said musingly. "I have never known my brother to regret anything."

"Yes but… you heard Azula. Someone is plotting against the throne! He needs me to come back."

"She said there were rumors, nephew. There are always rumors. I just worry that Ozai may not want you home for the reasons you are imagining."

"It doesn't matter. If wants my life he only has to ask. Seppuku will restore my honor just a surely as anything else." He began stuffing clothes into his bag with more force than was strictly necessary. "I am a loyal son."

"And if he decides that you should just have an 'accident?'" Iroh said sternly.

"Why would he!" Zuko snapped. "I'm not some… traitor to be silenced in the dark of night. And even if he had, then why would Azula bother with the deception? She could have just burned the village down around us and blamed it on the Earth-Kingdom. She's only subtle when it suits her to be."

"So, you will just blindly walk into her arms?"

"I am not blindly walking anywhere," Zuko snarled pointing at the black and amber armor which he had polished to a gleam instead of packing away. "I love my sister, but she is still MY sister. I cannot imagine a more dangerous enemy. But she came, in peace, and asked me to come home. My father WANTS me home!"

"You are certain?"

Zuko stopped where he was, his eye falling to the floor. He wasn't certain. His father did NOT change his mind. To do so was to admit weakness, and there could be no weakness on Akodo's throne.

"No…" Zuko said aloud, quietly, "I am not certain uncle. But this is it, this is my only chance, my last chance." He turned to Iroh, face a broken mask of anguish. "We both know I cannot catch the Avatar. He is to quick to run, and the very heavens favor him. This," he turned back to his bags, "this is the only way."

"You will not go alone," Iroh said his voice ringing with emotion. "Family sticks together. 'A lone arrow will break…"

"Where a pack of ten remains strong," Zuko said, finishing the quote with a smile.

/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\

It was a beautiful day.

Kanka was also known for its temperate weather, and the day of Zuko's leave-taking seemed determined to put all the others to shame. The sun was a bright jewel set in a cloudless blue sky, the temperature was pleasant and even the birds seemed happy to simply be alive, filling the air with song in a last gasp before winter set in. The light wind carried the falling leaves along, swirling in bright red and orange, as they danced like little flames before falling to the stone walkway Zuko and Iroh walked upon as they made their way towards Azula's ship.

The docks for large ships were down a long series of steps carved into the cliffside overlooking the Kashi-no-Ki and its waterfall. It was nearly a quarter mile from the waterfall's base to the stone docks that had been placed in a widening on the river. Azula's ship was an ornate thing, more a showpiece than actual battle worthy vessel. Its front, where the forward boarding ramp should have been, was covered in hammered copper. The ship's command tower, instead of unadorned battleship grey steel, was shaped like a pagoda, an ostentation the Zuko found almost disrespectful, a mockery of a battleship.

Other than that, she seemed to be a fine ship, Zuko's practiced naval eye told him. Not that his sister would settle for anything less than the best.

As the pair of Akodo's reached the jutting spar of stone that Azula's ship had been moored to, a full company of the royal guard, their faces concealed in the masked helmets that denoted their profession, marched off the boat as stood in two rows. An honor guard fit for a returning Prince and the Fire-Lord's brother.

And yet… it bothered Zuko.

Such an honor guard was entirely his right as a Prince, yet it was hardly practical, there was no one here to impress. Surely there was no reason for Azula rouse a full company, in their best armor, simply for him to walk thirty feet onto a boat?

You are being paranoid. She's just showing you honor.

But as Zuko stalked down the spar towards the boat his Commander's eye picked out little incongruities in the guardsmen.

Their armor was not their best.

It shouldn't have bothered him as much as it did, but their armor was not parade-ground clean. It was worn in places and had chips at some edges.

This was armor that was worn for fighting, not ostentation.

No. Azi… she's just not an officer, she wouldn't notice something like that.

Even he didn't believe that excuse. His sister's attention to detail was practically a mania with her, and Zuko's knuckles tightened on the scabbard of his katana.

Azula greeted the two of them formally, if somewhat pompously, as they reached the gangplank up to her ship and then bid her Captain to set a course for home.

"Yes, Highness!" the man said and began to shout at his men. "You heard her Highness! Raise the anchors! Stoke the boilers! Somebody escort the prisoners down to-"

He froze eyes going wide at his mistake, and then even wider as he stared down the bar of red fire that was sticking out of his chest.

Azula was massaging the bridge of her nose in irritation as, with a shout, Iroh began to fight the Royal Guardsmen at the base of the gangplank. Zuko shook his head in consternation and gestured at the corpse that had been her Captain a moment before.

"Really, Azi? Where did you find that idiot?" he asked, in dark humor, as the corpse slid off the plank and into the river.

"He came very highly recommended," Azula said with a sniff, taking a few cautious steps back, not a retreat simply an unconscious gesture, establishing her firebending root, readying for violence.

"Well, it would seem you need to reassess that particular source," Zuko said, stepping fully on to the ship, glaring down at his sister.

"Without question," she said, rolling her shoulders and taking a stance.

But Zuko hesitated. "Are we really going to do this Azi?" he said quietly, dropping his sword of fire.

Azula's serene face twisted abruptly into an utterly vicious snarl of rage. "Did you really think you could just… come home?! Father blames uncle for the loss of the Northern Fleet and he considers you to be a miserable failure for failing to capture the Avatar! No member of our family should be so weak, so pathetic!"

"What do you WANT from me?!" Zuko roared. "I have searched and killed and bled trying to do as commanded! The Avatar has all the luck and all the spirits on his side! How am I supposed to-"

"Excuses! A samurai makes no excuses! He succeeds or dies!"

"Or keeps fighting! I will never give up, not without a fight. You know that, Azi."

They stared at one another for a long moment, both trying to find what to say next.

"Azula, we are Akodo you and I. There is no reason for us to-"

"No, Zuko," Azula said quietly, "There are no Akodos here but me."

Zuko was no stranger to pain. His body was littered with scars, from animals and blades and arrows and fire and now even ice, but he'd never really experienced the sensation of having his guts torn out. As though the entirety of his chest had been ripped open and removed, replaced with nothing but hollow dread.

A sensation he was now experiencing in its entirety.

He was Akodo. He was samurai. But Azula was the Crown-Princess, the little gold flame in her topknot marked her so. If she said he was not samurai…

Then so did Fire-Lord Ozai.

And if that were so, there was only one other thing Zuko could be.

It felt as though he were underwater, as though there was no air, and his limbs moved with terrible slowness. He cast aside his helmet then let his black and gold Lion armor, with its embossed Commander's rank at the collar, clatter to the deck.

He drew his wakizashi and, grasping firmly with his left hand…

He severed his topknot.

"So be it, your Highness," the ronin said, dropping both his topknot and the short sword he no longer had enough honor to carry.

The world sped up, and the fight began.

/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\^/\

Azula was fast.

Zuko had almost forgotten just how fast she was, it had been so many years ago.

But if his memories were correct, she was even faster now.

Bizarrely, he found himself very proud of her.

Trying to use his blade of fire was revealed to be futile in the first few moments of the fight as she ducked, danced and flipped around him. She didn't even bend at first, choosing instead to demonstrate her superior agility, all the while taunting him with her proud sneering smile.

She's showing off before she kills you, Zuko thought. Pride is probably not the emotion you should be feeling right now.

But in spite of that, in spite of everything, he was proud of her. She was his sister after all, and a phenomenal combatant. She may have just disowned him, cast him out of the family and reduced him to the lowest he could have ever conceived, but that didn't make her any less his sister. Not really.

She may be technically superior, but YOU are the experienced battlefield commander, he thought furiously. Take her freedom of mobility away!

So Zuko continued to bend fire, now in greater and greater amounts, allowing rage to show on his face.

This is actually reminiscent of fighting the Avatar, he thought, mind calm despite everything. Just another prodigy that really doesn't want to be fighting me. Pity about the ship.

Every strike Zuko bent hit his intended target as Azula pirouetted and spun in a tremendous display of agility. Zuko continued to power the flames with his chi, allowing them to spread and grow and consume.

No ship in the Fire-Nation navy was all metal. There were important places on any ship which had to be made of wood and Zuko, a naval Commander, knew those places by heart and sent his red flames sweeping over them with an almost fevered intensity.

The ship burned.

Sailors and soldiers came boiling out of the smoky depths below decks, fleeing down the gangplank or simply over the sides. Azula didn't even notice, so focused was she on her display of skill, until…

"Azula!" a pair of matching voices rang out, "You must see the entire field of battle if you wish to win a war!" Two aged women, identical and garbed in red, paused in their escape to chastise Azula.

Azula blinked, looking around in shock. "You burnt my ship!" she said almost petulantly, reminding Zuko of nothing so much as the time he had managed to snatch the last rice ball before she could get to it.

A loud crack sounded as the pagoda command tower, burning furiously, fell over and crashed into the river.

"You brought our aunts!?" Zuko said, also shocked. Technically Lo and Li were his great-aunts, Azulon's younger sisters.

"Father insisted," Azula said, rolling her eyes. She refocused on Zuko, her eyes narrowing in very real anger, also reminding him of the rice ball incident. "Enough games!" she shouted, and lept high into the air, landing on a nonburning patch at the edge of the ship nearest the river.

Still glaring, but now with the self-satisfied smirk she usually wore when she knew she was about to win, she began to move her arms in a sinuous motion, and the blue flames at her fingertips became lightning.

Well… shit, Zuko thought, racing towards her, futilely attempting to close the distance. She really HAS been working hard.

A single heartbeat away from the crescendo of the lighting kata Iroh appeared out of the smoke and grabbed Azula's hand. Somehow, he managed to bend Azula's electricity through himself and redirect it upwards into the sky. Azula, seeming as shocked as Zuko was, was unable to stop Iroh from twisting that same arm behind her back and then kicking her overboard into the river.

"She can swim?" Iroh asked calmly, looking down at the rapidly moving river.

"Yes, uncle," Zuko said, equally calm.

Their mother had insisted.


A/N: Ladies and Gentlemen, boy and girls, welcome to "Earth Waits," book 3 of the ongoing Avatar: The Last Dragon series! As noted, if you're new to this, this IS book 3, go read the other ones! Honestly, they're pretty good, and whole TENS of persons seem to agree.

If you're an old hand, thanks again for sticking with me, for providing motivation in the form of views and hits. You're the real MVPs.

So now some meta bits beginning with an overview of this book.

This book is LONG, almost as long (word count wise) as the last two books combined. We're currently sitting at about 18 chapters, although that number may change possibly shrinking or growing. I've been doing week of, whole chapter re-writes, and frankly it's been phenomenal but it does put my estimates in a bit of doubt. Some chapters grow 2-3  thousand words,  some shrink. SO there's that.

Also, you can expect THIS book to go completely off the rails in some places. Zuko is going to stick his noses in places that (canon-wise) he has no business being. I regret nothing.

Also an overarching question for those of you reading this on AO3 (same screen name as FFN) how am I doing on tags? Too many, not enough? If there's something I should be tagging, or warning or what-have-you, please feel free to let me know. I'm open to concrit in almost any form.

NOW the specific meta bits!

Ronin: Zuko has been disowned in a legal sense by his sister. They're still blood-related, he still cares for her, but legally speaking he is no longer  Akodo  Zuko. He's just Zuko. He's going to be dealing with the aftermath of this for a long time, but now he's more focused on the fact that his sister is trying to kill him.

A ronin, in the classical sense, is a masterless samurai. Sort of a mercenary in real-world feudal Japan. In L5R they are a literal caste of people who have the skills, knowledge, and  pride  of a samurai, but not a master or formal family. The state is even hereditary, a child born of ronin parents is, themselves, a ronin. As they have no family, and by extension no oversight, they are known, in L5r as in this fusion, as honorless rogues and thieves, without HONOR. Much like dangerous wild animals. Deadly and without the control of a master, without DUTY. So you can see how this is going to be a bad time for Zuko.

Azula: Honestly, I love the dynamic I've got for these two. I love the little sister/big brother vibe. But, just like Zuko's feelings for Katara, all that stuff gets put on hold for DUTY. They have to fight, for honor and for duty and all that. Both of them get that, though they don't really like it. It might be best to think of the whole thing as an "It's not personal, it's business,' kind of thing. The siblings care for each other but, still got to fight.

Deviation from standard.

The burning of the ship: Maybe I just wanted to give Zuko a little victory. He's just lost everything that basically made up his self-identity, so I wanted him to come out, for once, on top. So, he gets to burn Azula's gaudy ass ship, doesn't mean he would have  survived  without Iroh's intervention, but still something at least. This is also why Azula doesn't immediately catch up to him, she's got to fish herself out of the river and figure out what to do now that her ship got set on fire.

Also, she's got to figure out what to tell DAD.

I don't envy her.

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NEXT WEEK on a very special "Avatar: The Last Dragon"...

Iroh drinks tea! Zuko considers fashion, and there is killing.

TUNE IN. Same Zuko time, Same Zuko channel!

Original post date: 12 August 2018