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Rise of the Dragon

Chapter Text

Water… Earth… Fire Air

In eras bygone, four nations coexisted in harmony.

However, a series of tragedies began to befall the world,

And none was left unscathed.

The equilibrium of power has been tilted to a great imbalance,

Its people fallen to temptation.

The end is fast approaching, and all souls are fated to meet oblivion.

Rumors whisper of the Avatar, the master of all four elements,

holding the key to mankind’s only hope of salvation.

Families pray under his guiding light,

Enemies vow to divide and conquer .

But the glimmer of hope is sometimes found

in the darkest of places,

somewhere people would least expect.

—o0o—

Darkness enshrouded the people of the Fire Nation as they slumbered through the dawn of a new day in their humble abodes. They lay in their beds, unknowing of the events that would transpire in just a matter of minutes. Past the walled cities and up the steps of the great volcano stood at the very top the majestic palace of the Fire Lord and his family.  

Despite the peace of the night, there was great clamor in its lavish indoors, every maid in service running to and from the royal family’s main bedroom. Shouts and pained moans echoed in the corridors as the Queen of the Fire Nation was finally due to give birth to the Fire Lord’s first heir.

At the same time, another great disturbance was happening 10, 000 miles away from the Fire Nation. The halls of Ba Sing Se were free of people aside from the occasional loyal guard standing alert for any threat to the Emperor. Even lower underground, a set of people were on the verge of a new discovery, their souls brimming with passion at the pride of their work but at the cost of something far too great.

And in that one moment, two occurrences happened that would shake the foundations of the world as everyone soon came to know of it.

The screams of a young man’s dying breath and the cries of a newborn life.

—o0o—

At the age of seven, Yuuichirou Ichinose was quite rambunctious for a Prince of the Fire Nation. Like every other kid his age, his energy was boundless, his thirst for knowledge ever insatiable.

Scratch that. Guren knew the brat couldn’t care less for the scholarly. The only thing he craved was combat.

Ever since he was given permission to attend Guren’s daily sparring sessions —at Shinya’s adamant suggestion, of course; why Guren still bothered listening to that airbender was far beyond him—Yuuichirou had taken up an instant liking to it, and ceaselessly hounding Guren for days after that to teach him how to do the “Fireball Cannon Thingy with the Leg Thing”.

He would never admit it, but Yuuichirou’s eagerness to assign himself under the Fire Nation General’s wing was kind of cute.

Despite his countless pleading and begging that quickly turned into shameless ass-kissing— he even tried to do twice the studying he was expected to complete at certain periods, and Guren scoffed at the memory, remembering how well that turned out (re: he knocked out)— the raven-haired man knew better than to indulge Yuuichirou, especially when he was still far too young.

He didn’t want to bring down the wrath of his brother and sister-in-law upon him. The last thing he wanted was to be thrown into prison for jeopardizing the safety of the Fire Lord’s only son.

And speak of the devil, the little Prince was running towards him in the courtyard hallways, an excited grin stretched wide across his youthful face, his emerald green eyes shining in delight.

“Guren!” Yuuichirou shouted, nearly careening into the older male.

Thankfully, Guren’s hands shot out to steady the eager boy before he could topple them both, and he raised a curious eyebrow.

He already had a feeling where this conversation was headed.

“Teach me some of your super awesome moves!”

Guren sighed and shook his head, but his lips twitched up into a small smile. “I told you, Yuu. Not until you’re older.”

As expected, a small pout formed on the child’s face, his hopes ruthlessly squashed again. Guren was glad he’d built up a sort of immune mental barrier against Yuuichirou’s puppy-eyed dog looks lest he’d spoil the Prince any more than he already was.

Squatting down to eye level, Guren suggested, “Why don’t you go find your mother to practice your calligraphy skills?”

“But I’d rather learn new stuff from you, Guren! You’re amazing!” was Yuuichirou’s response, his last ditch attempt to sway Guren’s resolve.

Guren ruffled his hair instead and stood back up, giving Yuuichirou a small smirk, “Don’t think you can fool me with that now. Go on and find something else to do, I’ve got meetings to attend to.” With that said, the older male continued his way to the throne room, hoping Yuu wouldn’t cause more havoc while he was away.

—o0o—

Fortunately for Guren, Yuuichirou was spending time with his mother in the Palace gardens, sitting by the pond where Yuuichirou fed little turtle-ducks bread.

“Yuu-chan, don’t give them big chunks of food now. They might choke.” His mother, Queen of the Fire Nation, reminded gently. She placed her hand on Yuu’s back as the small boy leaned over the calm water, his hand outstretched towards the turtle-ducks.

“I know, Mother.” Yuuichirou said like it was obvious, letting the animals feed from his palm.

His mother smiled tenderly, brushing stray strands away from the side of his cheek and letting her eyes wander on her most precious person.

“How are your lessons, sweetheart? I hear you’ve been pestering your uncle for combat lessons again.” The lady had to hide an amused smile as Yuuichirou instantly turned towards her, clearly still perturbed.

“Yeah! Stupid Guren won’t teach me anything— I mean!” Yuuichirou’s hand shot towards his mouth when he realized he had forgotten to address Guren formally in front of his mother. It wasn’t like Guren minded when he called him that, but Yuuichirou was heavily conditioned by his mentors to address everyone in the palace with their proper honorifics. It had just become a sort of habit for the seven-year-old.

But the beautiful woman only laughed lightly at her son and patted her lap for Yuuichirou to crawl onto. When he did, she wrapped her arms around him and softly kissed his forehead.

“It’s alright, Yuu-chan. He’ll teach you once he knows you’re ready.”

“But I’m ready now!” Yuuichirou whined against his mother’s chest, feeling warm and content in her embrace.

His mother tut-tutted at him and patted his head to get him to look up at her. When their eyes met, she said, “Patience is a virtue, Yuu-chan. If you can master that, you can master anything you set your mind to.”

Yuuichirou nodded and set his head to rest against his mother’s chest again, her steady heartbeat a source of great comfort for the young child. “Mother, when I grow up, I’m going to become the best soldier ever!”

“And then, will you protect your mother when she’s grown ill and old?” Her wise eyes brightened at the smile on her child’s face. Yuuichirou pushed up against her and proudly placed a palm on his chest, a clumsy imitation of a Fire Nation vow.

“Of course I will! I’ll make you proud, mother!”

The woman laughed as she patted her son’s head again, “You’ve already made me proud, my dear son.”

—oOo—

Time passed for the mother and son as they laid under the shade of a Lotus tree, the little boy now resting against his mother’s breast as she hummed and ran her hand through his soft raven hair, his lashes fluttering closed at her gentle ministrations.

“My Lady, so you were here after all.”

The woman glanced up as footsteps trudged towards her direction. She acknowledged the new presence with a smile, sweeping her eyes back towards her son. “Have you been looking for me?”

The Fire Lord had his hands behind his back, a tender smile on his face as he looked upon his two most beloved. “There is an important matter I need to discuss with you, but perhaps now is not the time.” He nodded at Yuuichirou’s presence.

“It's alright, he's asleep.” The woman patted the empty space beside her and after a brief moment of hesitation, the Fire Lord sighed and soon sat down beside his wife.

“Surely you must be aware of my aversion to sitting on the dirt, my love?”

The woman released a soft chuckle, “I know, but you’d do it for me anyway.”

“I’m afraid you’re right.” He shrugged, not looking quite put out as one would be. Despite the intimidating aura that came with his ascendancy, the Fire Lord was quite benign. Underneath his strict and unapproachable exterior laid a gentle, virtuous heart only the Lady was permitted to see.           

During the days when the Lord was his most obstinate, there was very little the council of highly persuasive consuls could do to change his mind. They had no choice but to turn to the Lady to help make concessions.

It was she who possessed the power to open the Lord’s mind, to soothe and temper his most deep-seated nerves. When circumstances turned bleak, she was the only one who allowed him to let his guard down and speak his every concern.

She cocked her head at him in parts curiosity and parts concern. “I must say, I was not expecting you back so soon. Your meeting was due to dismiss in another two hours. What’s the matter, dear?” She inquired, shifting Yuuichirou just a tad on her lap so his legs could curl more comfortably.

The man sighed, suddenly sounding very tired, “It’s about the Avatar...the people are growing restless.”

The implications were more than clear. She side eyed her husband but didn’t stop stroking her son’s hair. “I see.”

The previous Avatar was an earthbender, yet little was known about them, save for the fact that they passed away a fairly young age. In 73AG, reports of their passing reached the Court, however any further inquisitions to the cause and their identity were vehemently restricted by the Earth Grand Secretariat.

Such secrecy was unheard of and placed grounds for immediate suspicion, yet the Council knew that if they continued to probe, the Fire Nation would risk war with the Earth Kingdom. So they had no choice but to lay it to rest.

All they knew now was that it was their turn, as decreed by the cyclic order of the Avatar Spirit spanning nearly ten thousand years. It was now the Fire Nation’s responsibility to identify who their next Avatar is, and civil unrest was to be expected until they were found.

Naturally, the first popular candidate would fall upon those hailing from the royal family. Namely, those born around the same year the last Avatar died.

“It’s the same year Yuu-chan was born.”

The Fire Lord gravely nodded his head, continuing his discussion, “There are, of course, many other children born in the same year so there’s a possibility that Yuuichirou isn’t—”

“—but there is a possibility that he is, isn’t it? You, of all people, should know,” She immediately interjected, her arms holding her son closer to herself like she could protect him from imaginary foes.

It wasn’t difficult to distinguish a dweller of the Fire Nation from the others. Almost every citizen bore amber eyes, and those who didn’t were usually immigrants or merchants from other nations.

Rarer still were those originating from the monarchy; it was highly preferred for the royal lineage to remain as loyal as possible to the characteristics representative of fire nation heritage, otherwise unnecessary complications would bear fruit down the line. Power would potentially become compromised, and the entire monarchy could fall apart and thrust the nation into chaos.

After scouring the family tree and ancestry scrolls, the Lady had no doubt that their blood was pure. There had been no records of hybrid marriages between benders of an element other than fire, nor were there any of descendants that did not bear the mark of a purebred firebender. All of them retained amber eyes that smoldered like ash and shone like the sun.

That was until Yuuichirou was born.

The verdant green of his eyes couldn’t be further from the typical amber. When the newborn first opened his eyes, the sight that greeted the Lord and Lady incited nothing short of great confoundment.

Infidelity was completely out of the question. The two sovereigns had nothing but absolute trust and faith in each other. There was never a shred of doubt between them that the Lady had mothered another man’s child. In the end, they ultimately decided that this unusual phenomenon was just an peculiarity, and preferred to view it as a form of kismet instead.  

It was clear when Yuuichirou grew up and his features became more and more defined that he was, beyond any doubt, their progeny. The line of his jaw and his large, bright eyes were unique to his father’s, while his nose and smile belonged to his mother’s.

Yuuichirou, their sweet child. For how much longer could they have concealed the truth? Concealed him from their subjects, from the judging eyes of the Fire Nation?

There was a crack in her composure now, a frown on her face as she thought of all the horrible things that could happen in Yuuichirou’s future as a potential Avatar. “You know what happened to the last Avatar, don’t you? Those people are going to come after Yuu-chan and exploit him until he dies!”

“I know and I won’t let that happen, my Lady.” The Fire Lord solemnly promised. He raised a hand to caress her cheek, trying to calm her with his touch and words, “I will protect him with my life. No one will be able to touch Yuuichirou so long as he’s in this palace.”

The woman leaned her head against the hand and closed her eyes, heart heavy with the thought of her son being cooped up his whole life, like a nightingale trapped in a golden cage, his beautiful green dulled by alabaster walls and doors. Abhorration would be an understatement on his part. But if he really did end up being the Avatar, the Queen had no choice but to keep him safe. Away from the danger. Away from them .  

“The troops are currently on their way to search for children born in the same year and they’re all to be led to the Fire Sages for scrutiny.” The man continued, once again focusing on the topic at hand. “...Yuuichirou will have to go through it too.”

The Queen gave a nod, her face blank as she set her eyes on Yuuichirou’s sleeping face,  “I understand.”

There was a brief moment when both Fire Lord and Lady stared down at their only son and heir, wanting him to live a long, good life whether or not he’d be named Avatar. Though they didn’t know it, there were bound to be great trials waiting in Yuuichirou’s future and his parents could only pray for his safety.

“On another issue, we managed to capture those rogue waterbenders that have been causing ruckus in the lower districts. I’ve dispatched Guren to apprehend them.“

“Have you now? That’s good to hear.”

“Indeed, I can always count on my brother to see things to their end. Sometimes I feel he would be better suited to the position of Fire Lord than me.”

“There you go again with the nonsense. How many times have I told you, dear, that humility of yours is what makes you, and no one else, our supreme leader?”

Yuuichirou began shifting in the woman’s lap and his mother shushed him gently, rocking him against her chest as if he were still a baby.

The Fire Lord couldn’t stop the smile that lifted the side of his lips at the small, sleepy sounds his son made, as the sun began to set and the sky tinted red.

—o0o—

A creak in a grand hallway of the Palace broke the serene silence of the night, a fluffy ball of raven hair popping behind an open door as he glanced left and right for anybody still awake. When a certain night guard noticed his presence, Yuuichirou held up a hand to his mouth and gestured for him to keep quiet as he tiptoed out of his room and rushed across the marble hallway, making a beeline straight for his parents’ bedroom.

Once Yuuichirou managed to creep inside, his small bare feet padded across the lush carpeting to reach his mother’s side of the canopy bed.

“Mother?” Yuuichirou whispered, eyes wide and hesitant as he tugged at the blanket around her.

The woman stirred in her sleep, amber eyes blinking open to find the small face of her child looking up at her. She gave a small, sleepy smile and pulled back the blanket for Yuuichirou to crawl into. Once Yuuichirou was settled in, she wrapped her arm around his little body and pulled him close to her warmth.

“What’s wrong, Yuu-chan? Did the nightmares bother you again?” She drowsily inquired as she caressed his soft locks.

Looking uncertain, he nodded his head, tucking himself under her chin as though he could hide himself under his mother’s protection.

“It...it was about those airbenders again! But I couldn’t really understand what was happening because they blindfolded me and...and started talking about weird stuff. They attached me to a bunch of scary things and it just hurt...everything hurt, and then I woke up.” Yuuichirou trembled as he recounted the horrible nightmare, wishing he could erase it from his memory. “I thought airbenders were peaceful and nice! That’s what my tutor taught me…”

His mother shushed him with her gentle voice, patting his back at the same time as her other hand threaded through his hair. “It’s okay, sweetie. No one’s going to touch you while you’re here.” As she said it, her own eyes gleamed in concern and she turned to her side to see her husband awake and sharing the same look.

“Yuuichirou.”

The small child immediately stilled from the sound of his name being called and he peeked up from his mother’s shoulder, muttering, “Hello, Father.”

The man on the other side of the bed looked at those huge, green eyes staring at him before he patted the space between him and the child’s mother. “Why don’t you stay here between us, son?”

Yuuichirou grinned and scrambled over his mother for his father, snuggling his cheek into the soft, downy pillow between them and releasing a contented sigh.

The older male leaned down and kissed his forehead, an act rarely seen outside these walls, as he whispered, “Everything’s going to be alright, Yuuichirou. We’ll protect you.”

Thud! Thud!

Yuuichirou flinched at the sudden noise and looked towards the door where more sounds emitted from outside.

Feeling nervous, Yuuichirou unconsciously held onto his mother’s sleeve as both his parents sat up from the bed, their faces stricken and alert.

“What’s going on?” His mother hurriedly asked, jumping off the bed with Yuuichirou secure in her arms. Yuuichirou had wanted to be set down but the arms tightened around him further, his mother urgently telling him to be quiet.

Yuuichirou hadn’t understood but did as he was told. The scary noises outside made him too frightened to react. Was there someone outside?

His father shook his head in answer while unsheathing a sword that was propped beside the bed. Yuuichirou watched as a fire blazed around the whole metal, its gleam shining even brighter than the moonlight.

The second the doors slammed open, everything became a blur. Yuuichirou couldn’t recall most of what had happened and if anyone asked, he could only recount the last moments of his family.

When three men wearing blue outfits and masks stepped into the room, his mother had instantly deduced the danger of the situation and dashed for the secret exit on the farthest corner to the right with Yuuichirou.

Meanwhile, his father faced the intruders head on, giving his wife and child enough time to escape as he fought with his opponents, his face a calm picture and his eyes deadly cold. But the fight lasted only a matter of seconds and Yuuichirou saw it all happen over his mother’s shoulder. Like a puppet strung up by invisible strings, his father’s limbs went lax and arched up in weird angles, his expression turning from confusion to complete horrification before Yuuichirou saw red coat his father’s lips, his body trembling and slowly slumping on the floor, lifeless.

Yuuichirou couldn’t take it. It was as if his nightmares had come to life.

His resounding scream at that instant could possibly cost him the life of another, but he couldn’t staunch it.

At his strangled outcry, his mother abruptly stopped and turned around, the sight of the Fire Lord falling to his death causing her to cry out in anguish, all thoughts suddenly lost.

Yuuichirou didn’t remember if he was crying because the next second, he was on the floor and his mother charged at the enemies herself, a tower of fire erupting from the palms of her hand as her own tears streamed down her face. But before she could do anything, she was met with the same fate and Yuuichirou, with wide eyes, watched as her blood stained the carpet floor.

 

It was as if time itself had stopped.

 

No...No…this couldn’t be…

 

Her eyes, wide and unseeing.

 

Mother… Father… No, please…

 

Bodies strewn on the floor like dolls.

 

Anyone… Someone...

 

Thundering of feet.

 

H-Help me.

 

After that...

 

A blinding flash of white light.

 

Then…

 

Silence.