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Son of the fire

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There were stories.  Stories of spirits and ancient gods walking among humans, living with them in harmony or, more often than not, hurting each other. 

 

 They were myths of a time when there was still the Avatar, the one who guaranteed balance in the world, preventing chaos in the world. 

 

 But when he disappeared, the spirits and gods also disappeared: prayers were no longer heard by them, temple altars were cold and empty.

  Disgusted with humanity, the gods had abandoned them.

  It wasn't true.

The Ancient Gods still lived.  They were weaker since Avatar's disappearance, but they lived. 

It was humans who no longer believed.

 Our story begins as in the myths: one day, the sun saw a sad princess and fell in love with her...

 

 

***

 

 

The screams of Princess Ursa could be heard even outside the room where she was giving birth.  There was a bustle of women with bloodstained clothes on their hands.

 

 She had been in labor for hours, her life slipping away from her too quickly.

 

 There was so little the healers could do but hope.

 

 Hope was an ephemeral thing.

 

 In all that difficulty, Prince Ozai did not show up.  Never.

 

 He didn't care that his wife and baby were risking their lives.

 When prince Ozai arrived hours later,  the baby was finally born, but was weak and barely cried.

 Ozai stared blankly at the baby in his wife's arms as the princess rocked him, humming prayers to gods who had been dead for a century.

 Everyone in the room was praying, hoping for a miracle that wouldn't happen.

 Pathetic

Ozai didn't want to waste time: he left the room.

 As far as he cared, the baby could die.  There was no place in the royal family for the weak.

Then, Ozai heard a cry. The sun had just risen. 

 

 

***

 

 

When he was five years old, Zuko enjoyed listening to his mother's stories.  He would sit with her by the pond, feeding the turtle duck, and she would tell.

 

 They were stories of spirits living with humans, stories of the gods and their wars, of heroes and kings.

 

 He loved listening to her because these were the only moments she smiled.  And they were smiles just for him.

 

 "... and the moon watched her lover sleep in the cave, until ..."

 

 "Mom! - the prince complained- I want the story of the dragon hero."

 

 His mother giggled, "I already told you yesterday."

 

 "Please!"  he begged her, and in front of his expression, the woman broke up.

 

 "Okay, I'll tell you the story of the dragon hero. Once upon a time, lived ..."

 

 "A queen."

 

 She giggled, "That's right. She was considered the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, and in her presence, the moon was hiding in shame. Many men had tried to win her heart, but ..."

 

 "Nobody was worthy," Zuko continued for her.

 

 "No, honey. The queen couldn't love anyone, not even herself. She had lost the man she loved years ago, and her heart had gone cold as ice since then."

 

 She had that look as she said it.  Her gaze was lost in the void, her lip trembling.

 

 It was as if she wasn't quite there, lost in her memories of her.

 

 "Mom?"

 

 "Mhm ... oh, right ... I was saying, no man had been able to conquer her. But one day, while she was taking a bath, Agni saw her and fell in love at the instant. He decided to make her his wife. "

 

 "Wasn't he already married?"

 

 "The gods are more flexible about these things, honey."

 

 "Ohhh ... like the grandfather. He was married to the grandmother, and also the Lady of Fire."

 

 Ursa bit her lip, "Something like that ..."

 

 "It seems uncomfortable."

 

 "It is. Agni's wife would not have accepted such a thing. So, he sneaked into mortals, pretending to be a prince. He introduced himself to the queen asking for her hand, but she was tired. I don't need a king that tells me how to rule my kingdom, she said. And I will not be king, but your consort. I will protect you from your enemies and do whatever you ask me. Anything? Anything. Then she ordered him to find a tear of the moon fallen on Earth and hand it over. He accepted. The queen knew it was impossible, and she did not expect to see him again. But after a month the prince returned with the moon's tear. Now, will you marry me? She said no. He had to go deep into a volcano and take its heart. Then he had to bring it to her. The prince accepted and brought it back two weeks later. Other quests followed.  Eventually, the queen realized she was facing an extraordinary being, and she agreed to the wedding ... "

 

 "He was known by everyone as Mu Qing, the dragon hero! Because he spits fire like a dragon!"  Zuko said excitedly.

 

 "Yes."

 

 “And what about their baby?  They had a son, didn't they? "

 

 The smile faded from the princess's face, “Yeah, they had a baby.  Chi You, the dragon warrior.  "

 

 “He unified the Fire Nation!  He was the first Fire Lord! "

 

 "It was a pitiful life."

 

 Zuko tilted his head.  What did that have to do with it?  Seeing his confusion, she hugged him, “He wasn't human enough to be with humans, but not divine enough to be with him, his father.  "

 

 "But he was a hero!"

 

 “Heroes don't always live happily.   - she told him sadly - They burn quickly. "

 

 She held him tighter, and Zuko moaned, “Mom!  You are hurting me."

 

 "I'm sorry darling.  I was thinking…"  the woman began to cry, and her tears wet the child's face.

 

Zuko turned and took her face in his hands.

 

 “Don't cry, mom.  I'm here. "

 

 "I know it."

 

 She stroked his head, but the sadness didn't go away.

 

 The princess knew, and she hoped that the weight of fate would not crush her child's shoulders.

 

 

***

 

 

 "The gods have never stopped protecting us,"  mother used to say.  Zuko had wanted to believe it.  He wanted to believe in something.

 

 But then Lu Ten died, his mother disappeared, and no god answered his prayers.

 

 

***

 

 

 

"Zuko ..."

 

 Zuko groaned.   He felt like something was melting, and it hurt terribly. He didn't want to wake up.  If he did, he would feel even more pain.

 

 "Zuko ... open your eyes."

 

 He didn't want to.  He was afraid.  He was in pain.  He just wanted it all to end.

 

 He felt something warm on his head, a reassuring warmth, not the sting he was feeling.  For a moment, he felt no more pain.

 

 He wanted that feeling to continue.

 

 "Zuko ..."

 

 The prince opened his eyes.  In front of him, there was a dragon.  

 The dragons were all dead.  His uncle had killed the last. But if there was one in front of him now, it could only mean one thing.

 

 "You are Agni ..." he whispered, almost out of breath.

 

 "You are smart, my boy."

 

 "Am I dead?"

 

 "What makes you think so?"

 

 "The gods are gone," he said softly.  

 

 “We didn't leave, " Agni said.

 

 "What happened to you?"

 

 "Without the Avatar, mortals have forgotten us.  Without him, the world is out of balance.  For this, we need him. "

 

 "The Avatar has been missing for years."

 

 "Not for long.  You will find him. "

 

 "What?"

 

 The dragon's bream eyes grew brighter, and Zuko saw his reflection in them, "It is your destiny, Prince Zuko.  "

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

  When Zuko woke up, he was on the Wani, several kilometers from home,  his uncle and a healer next to him.

 

Uncle Iroh was the first to rush to his bedside, "Prince Zuko ..."

 

 "We have to find him ..." Zuko, gasped, his voice barely coming out.

 

 "Who?" his uncle asked, confused.

 

 "We have to find the Avatar - he answered, - Agni wants it."

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

 Three years went by, looking for someone who was a master of hiding, whom no one had heard of for decades.

 

It was better than the alternative of wandering, exiled, and with no possibility of returning home.

 

 Father didn't want him back: the Fire Lord no longer wanted to see his cowardly son again, and nothing, not even the Avatar, would have convinced him otherwise.

 

 And Zuko accepted it.  More or less.  He couldn't understand why his father hated him so much that he burned his face (he was a coward, that's why) and sent him away, but it was okay.

 

 He was fine.

 

 He had even stopped losing control of his bending as before, so it was progressing.

 

 "Prince Zuko ..."

 

 “He must be here, uncle.  I feel that."

 

 "Is Agni telling you this?"  Uncle Iroh asked.

 

 "No ..." the prince admitted.  Agni had not been seen since he had given him the quest. He hadn't explained anything to Zuko.  He hadn't told him where to find the Avatar but had given him an impossible quest, expecting Zuko to complete it.

 

 Like in the story of the queen and Mu Qing.

 

 It was ironic, he was living his favorite childhood story.  It would have been easier to find the heart of a volcano than to find the Avatar.

 

 His uncle was about to say something but was interrupted when a column of light appeared on the horizon.

 

 And Zuko felt it in his bones.  He wasn't good at poetry, but it was like his soul was singing.

 

 The Avatar had returned.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

 

 According to Uncle Iroh, Zuko used the wrong approach.

 

 “You'll never be able to talk to him if you keep chasing him like that,” he'd told him after the Southern Water Tribe disaster.

 

 "You should take a gentler approach."

 

 Zuko hadn't listened to him.  When had kindness ever been useful to him?

 

 But after the umpteenth failure, he began to think that perhaps uncle Iroh was right.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

 He found the Avatar on Kyoshi Island.  This time, Zuko just tried to talk.

 

 "You only want to bring him back to the Fire Lord," the waterbender girl yelled at him, not letting the prince finish speaking.  

 

 Zuko groaned, “Damn, no.  He thinks the Avatar has disappeared.  The whole world thinks so. "

 

 The girl seemed taken aback, "So why are you chasing us?"

 

 "Agni asked me to find him!"

 

 He didn't expect them to believe him.

Uncle Iroh was the only one who did.  The ship's crew probably thought he was crazy, or they thought he was looking for a way to get back into the Fire Lord's good graces.

 

 Zuko admitted that he had thought about it, years ago.  He had believed Agni had suggested to him how to recover his honor.

 

 But he had seen in a neutral city a poster with his face above it, in which it was written that he was unwelcome to the Fire Nation and an enemy, and he gave it up.

 

 Father didn't even remember where he had made the scar.

 

 The Avatar relaxes his shoulders, "Oh, so you are here on behalf of your father."

 

 Zuko grimaced, "I already told you I'm not here on the orders of the Fire Lord."

 

 Confusion grew on the Avatar's face, “Er… I understand.  But I said your father. "

 

Uncle Iroh beside him stiffened.  Zuko frowned, "What are you talking about?"

 

 " Don't you know?  Really?  "

 

 "What should I know?"  he asked in exasperation.

 

 "Well... your father is Agni - the Avatar said - It's pretty obvious, and I feel this energy coming to you, like Kuzon...he was a friend and was like you ... "

 

Zuko was no longer paying attention to the airbender.  He looked at his uncle, "This is impossible, isn't it?"

He needed to hear it.  Uncle Iroh was obsessed with spiritual stuff.  And there was no way the Fire Nation princess could betray her husband without everyone knowing.  Even if the lover in question was a god.  

The man didn't look him in the eye.

" Uncle?"

" I'm sorry, prince Zuko. It's true."

After that, for the first time in years, Zuko lost control.

 

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Exhale.


Inspire.


Exhale.


Inspire.


There was a circle of flames around him, and if he didn't regain control, Zuko would have burned everything. He couldn't allow it, not in the middle of a forest.


What idiot would run away to a forest when he couldn't control his fire? Him, that's who!


He needed to get away: get away from the Avatar, from the waterbender girl, but above all, from his uncle.


No, not uncle. General Iroh.


Zuko had no right to call him uncle. Not when he was a bastard.

 

Did the Fire Lord know? If General Iroh knew, he must have done it too.


When had he understood this? When had he seen him born? When at three Zuko still didn't bend a flame? When looking into his eyes, did he not recognize Zuko as his?


There were too many questions, and if he keeps thinking about it, he'll go out of his mind and won't regain control.


He clenched his fists and forced himself to breathe.


Inspire.


Exhale.


Inspires ...


“Prince Zuko! "


"Go away!" he growled, the flames around him increased in intensity.


The general, however, was not intimidated and, on the contrary, stood next to him.


"You're doing the exercises I taught you - he told him in a casual tone as if Zuko wasn't about to burn the whole forest - Although you should better regulate your breathing. "


"I'm trying! I won't succeed if ... "

 

"If?"

 

“Go away, General Iroh. I can do it myself, ”he mumbled, keeping his gaze down.

He missed the expression of pain on the old man's face.


"Prince Zuko ..."


"Well? What are you still doing here? I set the village on fire! "


"I know, I was there. The Avatar and his friends are helping to shut it down. "


"If you didn't want to talk to me before, let alone now."


The man said, "They will understand. You just discovered something shocking. You have the right to feel this way. "


“I can't accept it, let alone them. They'll think… they'll think it was a trick to attack them. That I tried to harm the Avatar. "


And he had to admit it, in other circumstances, he would have done it.

If retrieving the Avatar allowed him to return home, he wouldn't stop at something.


Hell, he would have set the village on fire on purpose, and it wouldn't have been a messed-up accident.


But they weren't the surrounding ones, and Zuko was just a hopeless bastard.


"You didn't deliberately set it on fire."


“They don't know. And they would do well to doubt me. I chased them for months. "


"The Avatar seems a reasonable person ..."


“And his companions? Do they seem reasonable too? "


"Well, you could try."


Zuko let out a sort and said no more.

The fire was unstable, there were times when it rose and others when it decreased. He was unstable like Zuko.


He couldn't concentrate. Son of Agni, bastard, the shame of the royal family.


The Fire Lord had fulfilled his right during the Agni Kai. It was his right to punish his wife's bastard for his sins.


Was that why mother left? Out of shame?

Why hadn't she taken him with her? Did she hate him too? Did she hate him because Zuko reminded him of her mistake?


Because it had been a mistake, his whole life was a mistake. A juvenile mistake of an unhappy princess.


"You know, Prince Zuko, talking would help ..."


"No."


"There is a weight in your heart that must be lightened."


Zuko suppressed a hysterical laugh, “Do you think? Only one? My father is a goddamn god. And you knew it. Why didn't you ever tell me? "


"You weren't ready yet ..."


"How long have you known? Since when was I born?"


The general hesitated, and Zuko yelled, "Since when ?!"


"Since I returned to Ba Sing Se. Your mother had left me a letter, in a place that only I knew. I was the only one she trusted in the palace to keep you safe… from Ozai."


"A job that has come very well for you ..." he said, and it was unfair, he knew it because the scar was his fault, but he didn't think, he wasn't lucid. Meanwhile, the fire was getting stronger.


"Prince..."

"Stop calling me prince! I'm a bastard. I'm not a prince. "


"There is more nobility in you than in so many princes that I have known," the general told him, his eyes serious.


“But it's not a question of nobility. It is a question of legitimacy. I… I had no right to stay at the Palace. "


“You were entitled to it. The first Fire Lord was a son of Agni. "


“I know the story uncl… general. It was my favorite. "


"Uncle."


Zuko raise his head and stared at him, "What?"


“I'm your uncle. I'm not a stranger. "


For real? Was that all he had to say?


Zuko stubbornly retorted, “But we have no connection. I am not the son of the Fire Lord."


"I know. But family didn't end in blood. "


"But ..."


"Nephew - Iroh interrupted him, his gaze full of affection that Zuko didn't think he deserved-I don't care. I have seen you grow up. I accompanied you in your search. There is nothing that can persuade me not to love you. You are my family. "


After, he did something that Zuko didn't expect: he hugged him, heedless of the flames that licked him.


Zuko stiffened, not knowing what to do. Even before, he had never been a fan of physical contact.

But eventually, he broke up and hugged the man back, and the flames began to clear.

He was no better, but he could work on it.


"Come with me, nephew."


"Where?"


"Well ... you have a message to deliver, remember?"


Zuko suppressed a groan, "Do I have to?"


"You can't help it now."


"Yeah, I thought so."


And then, as was often the case in Zuko's life, everything fell apart.

In moments, they were surrounded by soldiers from the Fire Nation. Their leader was Zhao.

"What a coincidence.  Prince Zuko, just the person I was looking for, ”he smiled, and at that moment Zuko knew they were screwed.