The warmth from the yellow sun trickled down onto the courtyard, tickling the grass and trees as the wind danced gently across. There I stood, on the front steps of my residence, enjoying such a fine day. I could hear the sounds of the wind sailing through the leaves, birds chirping from above, and the voice of my friend calling out to me, "Come on, Roku, are you ready? Don't just be standing there all day!"
I turned my head to the source of the voice, and there he was. Sozin, crown prince to the Fire Nation and my lifelong friend, standing there waiting for me. He half-posed in the courtyard, already with his shirt stripped off. His developing muscles shined as brightly and clearly as the day. "Come on, we'll see who wins the game this time," he stated, brushing a few strands of his neatly trimmed hair away from his eyes. Like the rest of the Fire Nation's inhabitants, Prince Sozin tied back a bit of the hair on the back of his head, except the pin to keep it together was an official royal crest.
I shrugged. "If you insist," I replied, removing my outermost layer and my shoes. Unlike Sozin, I wasn't one to show off like that. I might be from an aristocratic family, but Sozin was royalty. While we were best friends and treated each other like brothers, I still had utmost respect for the one who would soon preside over me. I loosened my red shirt, leaving the top undone, and rolled up my dark brown pant legs. "So, same rules apply as before, yes?" I asked, getting into position across from Sozin.
Sozin nodded, getting into a wider, crouched stance. "Only weapon allowed is fire and first person goes down loses," he explained, his golden orange eyes flashing at me.
I got down into my posture as well. It was a game that most Fire Nation children were aware of: fire wrestling. Instead of using fists and feet, we used our fire bending to attack each other. It was meant to strengthen our fire manipulation abilities and general movements. The first person to lose their balance would lose the game. Throughout our battles, Sozin and I were relatively evenly matched. But given that Sozin often had some trick up his sleeve, predicting his moves was not easy at all.
As soon as that thought left my mind, a hail of fireballs rained down on me. I dodged and leapt as quickly as I could, hoping to avoid them. My eyes alternated from the fire storm to Sozin, whose body moved gracefully through the air, his arms and legs whipping out in rhythm as orange hues shot out his hands and feet. In fire bending, we were taught that offence was the key strategy, and one's strength was in how relentless one was in pursuing their foes. Seeing Sozin in this game alone, I could tell not only was he a master at it, but relied heavily on it to achieve his victory over me.
But wait, Sozin, you forgot one thing. I could fire bend too, and it was fine time that I matched your ferocity. Twisting around, I let another hail of fire go past me, the heat nearly lighting up my skin and almost scorching my clothing. But as I regained balance, I turned to Sozin and unleashed my own barrage of fire. I adhered to the basic steps taught by our mentors, calmly repeating every technique I learned throughout the years as I felt the fire rush through my arms and into the air. An orange wall of projectiles zoomed towards the Fire prince. While I wasn't nearly as competitive as Sozin, I didn't want to ease up either. We were always taught that giving our best effort was the best way to show respect, so for sure I unleashed everything for my best friend.
The flurry of activity continued as we switched positions. While I used to be the one near the steps, it was Sozin who backed towards the building, and I was now in the middle of the courtyard. We were still throwing fire at each other through our punches and kicks. I sent a few larger shots, but Sozin dodged them all with ease, even going so far as playing acrobatics and let one slide past his bare back and into the air. "What else was he up to?" I muttered, urgency churning inside me as my urge to win built up.
As he got back on balance, Sozin kicked out his right leg, letting another large fire ball at me. I was caught slightly off guard, barely dodging the shot as I whipped one arm up to direct the blast away while taking a hop back. There was a tree just behind and slightly to the left of me, so I had to alter my landing a bit. I ended up doing a one-legged stand, barely saving my game. Along with fire bending, we were taught martial arts too, and both Sozin and I had enough skills to balance ourselves in almost any situation. So even though it was an improvised move, it wasn't anything I couldn't handle, right?
But something in Sozin's expression told me he was onto me, as that twinkle in his eye and his mischievous grin made things a bit uncomfortable. I scrambled to get back into position, but it was too late. Sozin did a double spin kick, aiming two fire balls straight at my head. As I tried to dodge, I could feel my balance slipping from me as I tumbled backwards. My bare heel bumped into a tree root and my arms flailed in the air. The only thing I could see as my back tilted was my friend rushing up to me.
But my back never met the ground, as something lodged into my leg, right at the joint behind my knee. I craned my neck to see Sozin standing there, one fist balled up ready to send flames into my face. Dang it, he got me, I thought. But as unpredictable as the shot was, the game ended just as surprisingly when Sozin released his grip and let me crumple to the ground. My body seemed lifeless as it flopped onto the soft green bed below. I lifted my head just in time to see Sozin straighten his body, dropping his arms to the side as he smugly announced, "Looks like I win again, Roku."
I shook my head, my eyes set into the blue above me. Sozin, always the crafty one, made me fall for another one of his tricks again. I knew him my entire life, and still I could never guess where some of his tricks came from. But I couldn't let him get all the credit, right? "Are you kidding? The tree root did all the work!" I retorted, lifting my head and signalling to the brown object embedded into the ground near my foot.
Nonetheless, Sozin held his hand before me. I grabbed it, feeling his strong grip as I was hoisted back to my feet. Today, I genuinely thought the game would be in my favour, but once again I underestimated the brain of my best friend. "Nice one, Sozin," I congratulated him, patting him on the back. Together, we strolled out of the courtyard. It was just another typical day in my life with the Fire Prince, my closest peer throughout my childhood. For us both, we knew this friendship was one that would last forever.
"Why aren't you packed yet, all powerful Avatar? Come on, show me how it's done using all four kinds of bending?" the only voice echoing through my room was that of my best friend. Sozin took a step through the doorframe and suddenly broke out a bunch of random moves, supposedly representing the four elements.
But I didn't really have the energy to look up, as the Fire Sages' announcement was still fresh in my mind. The small candles at the corners of my room wavered slightly as I replayed the scene again and again. It was my sixteenth birthday a few days ago, and all my family and close friends joined me in celebrating. Being a member of nobility meant I had extravagant balls for important dates like this, and Sozin was invited to join. It didn't hurt that we were born on the same day, so the royal family also chipped in with the event. We had just exited the house and into the courtyard, and immediately my eyes scanned the crowd for that girl I had always fancied. She was positioned a few rows back to my right, and upon seeing me she turned away, a crimson hue spreading onto her face. I tried to smile back, and nearly fell down the steps in the process. Had it not been for Sozin's quick reflexes, my main birthday present would be a series of cuts and bruises.
Yet the second my head was levelled, the Fire Sages showed up. They were the religious authority in the Fire Nation, and usually conducted weddings or funeral proceedings. I heard they were also in charge of coronation ceremonies, and in advising and assisting the royal family. The five marched in formation, striding in wearing their traditional red robes and caps. Upon seeing their presence, Sozin became quite worried. "Did something happen to my father?" I recalled him asking. The Fire Lord had fallen ill just recently, and while his conditions weren't serious, there was cause for concern.
But the Fire Sages soon dismissed Sozin, waving him off as they informed the crowd that the identity of the next Avatar was about to be unveiled. That got a wave of chattering and whispering perked from each corner. But the biggest surprise came when they turned to me, looking me in the eye and stated, "It is our honour to serve you, Avatar Roku." With that, they all dropped down to their knees, hunched their backs, touched their foreheads to the ground, and not moving a muscle.
I was shocked into silence. It was like lightning had struck, and I froze completely while my jaw dropped to the ground. Immediately, every member of the crowd followed suit and kowtowed to me as well. I could see Sozin from the corner of my left eye. He stood in surprise for a moment, not knowing what to believe as his best friend had just been announced as the guardian of the entire world. It had been sixteen years or so since the last Avatar, a very powerful woman from the Earth Kingdom named Kyoshi, had passed away. And now, I was asked to fill her shoes, a massive responsibility given the achievements that Avatar had. Nonetheless, Sozin conformed to the group as well and got to his knees. My body felt faint amidst the complete silence, too stunned to even react. Around me, the world spun as every element seemed to rush at me. I could feel the blood rushing in and out of my head, not knowing what to do with this information.
The past few days had been a daze for me, with me receiving various congratulations from friends and family, but mostly the Fire Sages kept them at bay. After a quick test of my fire bending, they realized that I was advanced enough to go directly to the next element. They told me to pack my essentials while they contacted the closest Air Temple to arrange for my air bending lessons. But when they said only the essentials, they were not straying far from the meaning of that phrase. No valuables were to be taken, nothing that indicated my status in the Fire Nation, and as little family relics as possible.
And now, with Sozin peering over me, I truly had nothing left to do. "I started packing, but then the Fire Sages said I won't require any worldly possessions anymore." I told my friend as he continued holding that awkward pose in front of me.
Sozin's enthusiastic attitude drooped after my comment. Taking a seat next to me on my bed, I could feel him gauging me. I had been downcast and alone in my room for the last few hours already, knowing that this was to be my last day in the Fire Nation. "It happened so fast," I continued, "Everything is going to be different now."
Then suddenly, Sozin did the unthinkable, even to his best friend. His hands reached for the top of his head, and in one smooth motion, pulled out the pin fastening the royal head piece. He lifted the ornament off his hair and handed it to me. "Here, I hope at least you're allowed to have this," the Fire Prince handed me the horn-like object.
I turned my eyes to his palm, and was in disbelief. "But this is a royal artefact," I sputtered, "It's supposed to be worn by the Crown Prince." Everyone knew how Sozin, being the oldest son of the Fire Lord, never left home without this head piece. Its circular mould with two horn-like protrusions on each side signified royal-in-waiting, and only members of royalty were allowed to parade publicly with it. So for Sozin to gladly give the piece away to me, I wasn't sure if I should even accept it.
But Sozin persisted, shoving the piece into my hand. "I want you to have it," he insisted, his tone filled with sincerity. I looked into his eyes and saw that he meant what he said. Given that it might be years before I returned, he wanted to offer something to signify our lifelong friendship. And if it meant sacrificing the head piece, then so be it.
After giving it some thought, I finally plucked it from his hands. The cool metallic feel resonated through me, rejuvenating me as I wrapped my fingers around it. I had always wondered what it would be like to see Sozin's coronation ceremony, but it was almost like Sozin had wanted to crown me himself. Instead of a royal ceremony, the Fire Prince had just dubbed me: Avatar Roku. Nodding, I lifted the piece to the top of my head, feeling for where my hair had been tied and slipping it on. I fastened it with the long red pin, and it was finally complete. Thank you, Sozin, I thought to myself.
Then, we both got up and faced each other. We each formed a fist with our right hands and pressed it into the palm of our left hands. We took a deep bow, signifying the beginning of this long journey of my realization as my world's keeper.
"Sozin, or should I say, Fire Lord?" I greeted my friend as I entered through the main doors of the throne room. I had been gone for a dozen years, and my journey took me to places that I had never imagined before. My training had been intense, learning all the necessary moves of each bending style, while exposing myself to traditions and other customs of cultures I had never seen firsthand before. It was bitter work, but the results were worth it. I now mastered all the elements, and was ready to settle into my role.
I stared up onto the throne, and there was my friend. Just like me, he was no longer the goofy teenager I knew when we last saw each other. He had his red royal robes on, his posture straight and tall while his eyes gazed over the hall. And like me, he had also grown a beard, the hair lining the side of his jaw before ending in a tip under his chin. "Customarily my subjects bow before greeting me," he stated monotonously, casting a somewhat unimpressed eye at me. I was surprised at this, given he was never this formal or serious before. Had he changed that much after my departure? My mouth dropped slightly as the muscular man stepped down from his throne and marched to me.
We were at level as he stared his orange eyes into mine. Despite being a bit taller than Sozin, I could tell he was the authority figure here, and he didn't hesitate in exerting his power. I pondered what that tight, almost cold face represented when the Fire Lord suddenly relaxed his entire pose. "But you're the exception," he concluded. With that, he parted his arms and pulled me into a tight embrace. Sensing that he still saw me as his friend, even with the changes in our statuses, I couldn't help but return the hug.
When we finally released each other, Sozin got a good look at me, seeing a face he had not seen in over a decade. "I heard you entered the capital yesterday, and would be visiting the palace today. That's why I didn't hesitate in asking our chefs to cook the most luxurious meal we'll have since my coronation. It'll include most of the favourites we had when we were younger," he described, "I've got all sorts of questions for you on your journey, but I guess we can talk on the way to the dining hall." Sozin lifted an arm, gesturing at the door while nudging my shoulder. "Shall we?"
We strolled happily out the throne room. In the hallway, Sozin barraged me with questions on my first stop. "I heard this from the Fire Sages a few days after you left. They told me you went to the Southern Air Temple," he recalled, "The Air Nomads were quite spiritual, aren't they? So what was their approach to bending?"
I smiled. The Air Nomads were among the most interesting people I had ever met, and it didn't hurt that I seemed to have left quite an impression on one young air bender during my stay there. "The Air Nomads favour a harmonious approach. When we were still training on our fire bending, our mentors told us that fire is explosive, and that the strength of each blow must match our inner aggression. But for air bending, it's the exact opposite. When one air bends, one must be in perfect harmony with one's mind, so much so that all the energy in one's body is focused." I explained.
Sozin nodded, trying to absorb this new-found knowledge. Although I was sure he might have trouble understanding the different culture, I was genuinely impressed at the new curiosity he showed. I guessed that by being the Fire Lord, it was important for him to know the other cultures, in case he ever had to interact with them, or so I believed. "So what else did you experience there?" he asked, "Did you meet any new people?"
I couldn't help but throw my head back and recall the first air bender I met. He was one of a kind, and truly amazed me with both his enthusiasm and skill. "Ah yes, there was this one air bender, and I truly bonded quite well with him…"
Learning basic air techniques was the hardest thing for me. I had to understand this new culture's every way of doing things before I could start the new element. For example, it took me a week just to breathe correctly, as the monks told me that one could not manipulate air outside of the body if one could not even control the air within. It was quite difficult, as the Fire Nation taught us to feel the energy churning and use it with force, while the Air Nomads saw breathing as a way to calm the energy. Given that they were a pacifist culture, they preferred avoiding conflict with anyone. Thus, their bending directed force away rather than focused it, which was very different from fire.
But after another few weeks of learning basic steps such as body positioning and air release, my mentors finally decided that I was ready to do something more advanced. So, grouping me with a bunch of young air benders, many of whom years younger than me, we each picked up a glider staff and headed for the skies. My partner for the day was a young, taller than average air bender who had become quite close to me. Like all of his classmates, he had on the traditional orange and yellow air bender robes, his head shaved bald, and was a strict vegetarian, as not to harm animal life. His name: Gyatso.
As we spread our wings and took to the sky, I got a new feeling of the air. It was not the first time I flew before, having done so for a few years already on my pet dragon Fang, but it was the first time I did it without his help. With the air breezing around me, throwing about my long hair and whipping at my set of air bender clothing, I could feel the freedom that most monks spoke of when air gliding. The Fire Sages once told me the Air Nomads were a relatively carefree people, tending to blend harmoniously with nature rather than going with strict rules and guidelines. And seeing how happy my classmates were as their gliders sailed past me and into the clouds, I could truly understand why.
Taking a gander in front of me, just in the right side of my vision, I could see Gyatso flying at a steady pace. For someone younger than me, Gyatso was a true expert at the element, completing many of the techniques needed to elevate to the position of an air bending master. The monks told me that to achieve the master status one must have completed thirty-six main air bending skills, as evaluated by the senior council. Should the council deem the techniques satisfactory, the status would be bestowed upon one by having one remove their clothing and etching on the famous blue arrow tattoos.
But seeing my new friend fly so freely, my mischievous side took over, and I decided to show off a little to him. "Hey Gyatso, you want to see a new glider trick?" I called. And as he turned his head, I pulled the glider up and made a wide arc, doing two perfect back flip before returning to a level flying position.
Not to be outdone, Gyatso came up with a trick of his own. "Check this out!" He replied, flipping the glider around so that he was now on top. With some nifty acrobatics, he jumped onto the back staff and crouched down, teetering on the glider while taking the flight's control with his feet. This new air-surfing technique, one nobody had seen before, really amazed me as my friend handled the difficult manoeuvre with ease. Even before I joined his class, many others said Gyatso was a bit of an oddball, tending to do things in an unorthodox way. In fact, he developed new versions of basic techniques we learned, showing a sense of risk taking that was unique even among the freewheeling Air Nomads.
But the wind was a factor in these high-altitude places, as the expert air bender soon lost his balance and teetered off the staff. Seeing his flailing, I had to intervene before he fell to his doom. Curving the glider hard downward, I made an emergency descend and swooped below Gyatso. Luckily, I managed to catch him as he landed with a thud above me. The heavier weight of the glider made it difficult to handle, but I did everything possible to get to the landing site, which was a lower ledge of the temple just ahead of me. Gritting my teeth, I struggled for control, hoping to make it intact.
But the extra body on top was too great, and it forced a situation where the air currents could no longer flow by effectively. I could feel the glider slow down as we lost altitude. Wobbling involuntarily, we could see the ledge come closer and closer. There were still people getting off their gliders there, and we could only hope that they could get out of our way as Gyatso and I braced for a crash-landing.
"You crashed in front of all your classmates? What did the monks say?" Sozin chortled, trying hard to stifle his laughter. Not even when we were kids did this type of catastrophe happen, so upon hearing that story, he couldn't help but ask for more.
I smiled. "I think they truly found us an odd couple. He was a daredevil type, always trying to do something dangerous. I was the Avatar-in-training, and everyone expected me to take my lessons seriously. So to see us play around like that, I think it surprised them," I replied, shrugging, "But you know what? I'm glad I met Gyatso, and I think he'll be a great friend. Should I ever collaborate with the Air Nomads, I hope he can get involved, as he'll be really helpful for any future situations."
Sozin nodded astutely. I tried to glance over, but didn't manage to read any expressions. While Gyatso had indeed become a part of my Avatar training experience, I was never going to replace Sozin with Gyatso. After a dozen years, Sozin was still my best friend, and nothing was going to change that. Lifting his head, Sozin turned to me again and asked for my next destination. "I believe if we go according to the Avatar cycle, your next element would be water. What was it like with the Water Tribes?"
The ferocious fires of an Avatar's fury blasted through the open skies as I rode Fang all the way into the Fire Palace. As Avatar, part of my responsibility was to go around the world and check on the citizens of as many areas as possible. Sometimes, it might involve visiting places I had been to before, like the Southern Air Temple where my friend Gyatso was now a recognized master and mentor to younger air benders. But I must also go to lesser-known places like smaller towns in the Earth Kingdom. I had just finished a tour of the Northern Water Tribe, where I had spent the most of my time in training. Given that water was the polar opposite of my natural element of fire, learning water bending was extremely difficult for me. But during my final few months there, I had not only matched, but surpassed many of the experienced water bending masters there, to the point where I could create waves that could reach the top of their buildings.
But the happy memories of water bending stories came to a crashing end as I left the tribe and headed south. I flew past a few Earth Kingdom towns near the border with the Fire Nation, and I couldn't believe my eyes. Most Earth Kingdom towns usually had a front gate, and this one was no exception. But draped over this gate was a huge red flag with a black flame insignia in the middle. For some reason, this Earth Kingdom town, which was only a day's walk from the border, was claimed by the Fire Nation. "No, how can this be?" I muttered, signalling to Fang to descend, "Was Sozin truly serious?"
I strolled in, trying to remain as calm as possible. Being the Avatar meant security forces in each respective country allowed me to enter without further question, and it was no different in this town. The Fire Nation soldiers all stood on guard as I marched in, my face twisting in concern. The wind had suddenly died down, and even the birds in the surrounding area were silenced as I recalled Sozin's words from over a decade back. It was during my wedding party, when I proposed to Ta Min, the girl I had a crush on since I was a teenager. When she accepted, I was overjoyed, and immediately made plans for the ceremony. As expected, my best friend was invited to be the best man. But shortly after we had taken our vows, Sozin pulled me aside and made a proposal of his own.
"Right from the start, I was destined to be Fire Lord. And although we didn't always know it, you were destined to be the Avatar," Sozin described as we strolled on a balcony of the wedding hall. It was evening, and the bright sun was edging near the horizon. Orange and yellow splashed across the skies as wedding guests grabbed food and drinks while laughing merrily with each other below us. I was with Ta Min still receiving well-wishes from people when Sozin insisted that he wanted to speak to me. Ta Min reluctantly agreed, and that was where I found myself. "It's an amazing stroke of fate we know each other so well, isn't it? Together, we can do anything!" Sozin beamed, that mischievous twinkle I saw so often when we were young returning to his eye.
"Our nation is enjoying an unprecedented time of peace and wealth. Our people are happy, and we're so fortunate in so many ways," Sozin continued, moving closer to the edge of the balcony. From behind, I stared at him in suspicion, unsure of where he wanted to go with the argument. Sozin's body blocked the sun's rays, engulfing him into a silhouette as he made his suggestion, "I've been thinking, we should share our prosperity with the rest of the world. In our hands is the most successful empire in history, and it's time we expanded it!" he finished with a flourish. He tilted his head back to me, letting in just enough light to catch his excited and determined expression.
I gasped. Surely Sozin was joking, right? What would happen to the balance of the world should this plan succeed? Moreover, what would happen to the people and their cultures should we force our Fire Nation ways upon them? Immediately, I protested his decision. "The four nations were meant to be just that: four!" I insisted.
Sozin refused to believe me, claiming there were other possibilities to consider. But I reaffirmed my stance. "There are no possibilities," I reiterated firmly, my brows creasing in anger and disgust, "This is the last I want to hear about this."
But it wasn't the last that I would hear about it, as Sozin had proceeded with his plans anyway. I strolled through the village that as quiet as the Fire Nation royal burial sites, the Dragon Bone Catacombs. Not a soul was on the streets as Fire Nation soldiers marched through, peering through doors and barking orders to the civilians. With dust and sand swirling around me, I figured out what went on. Not saying another word, I immediately charged out of the town. I hopped back onto Fang and headed straight for the Fire Palace.
I could feel my blood rush through my body, my heart pounding from my chest as I shot through the halls. Not even bothering to greet the guards standing outside the throne room, I shoved the doors open and stomped up to my friend. "I've seen the colonies, Sozin. How dare you occupy Earth Kingdom territory?" I demanded, seething with anger as the smoke barely cleared from the force I exerted onto the doors.
But Sozin remained undeterred, his voice cold and defiant as he retorted, "How dare you, a citizen of the Fire Nation, address your Fire Lord this way? Your loyalty is to our nation first and anything less makes you a traitor." The flames lining the centre aisle flickered and waved, in fear of Sozin's words as he glared at me.
Realizing that two powerhouses were about to collide, I had to do everything in my power to ease the tension. While my duty as the Avatar was the preserve the balance of the world, I must also do it in ways that caused the least harm. "Don't do this, Sozin. Don't challenge me, it will only end badly," I warned, my tone lowering and darkening just as quickly as I flashed my deathly serious eyes back at him, "It's over."
Instantly, I turned around to leave. I still had to go back to that Earth Kingdom town to convince the inhabitants there that I would help them out of the situation. But as I neared the door, I could feel a tremendous amount of heat roaring from behind me. Darn it, I thought, Sozin's on the attack. Thinking fast, I drilled myself into the ground, using earth bending to travel underground while escaping Sozin's raging flames. Feeling my way underneath, I managed to sneak up from right behind Sozin and reappeared onto the surface. Catching him off guard, I blindsided him with a vicious air blast. "Oof!" Sozin yelled as he was slammed back-first onto the front doors, before crumpling to the ground. Taking advantage of his weak state, I stomped hard on the ground, forcing up a gigantic rock pillar which hooked Sozin up by his robes and pinned him to the ceiling.
Then it was sheer pandemonium as I reached deep into my Avatar training. Clasping my hands together, I concentrated hard and activated the most powerful aspect of the Avatar's arsenal: the Avatar State. After returning to the Fire Nation, I didn't head straight for the capital city. Rather, the Fire Sages pulled me into one of their temples on Crescent Island and trained me on this very important technique. I had minimal progress even with months of training, but I chose to employ a shortcut by using the solstice sun to boost my powers. The trick worked alright, but I had no control over it. My lifeless body just floated in midair, all the while the temple exploded, with the roof blasted off and debris everywhere. Luckily, one of the sages freed me with a mirror and chastised me for my lack of patience. Otherwise, even greater damage would be done to the area.
But no such lack of control here as I let the Avatar State take over, showing off its power as the throne room exploded, blasting the roof off the same way it did on Crescent Island. Sozin was nothing but a lifeless rag doll as the winds whipped about and threw him around. Luckily, the rock pillar was strong enough to keep him up, or the Fire Lord would surely fall to his doom. As the debris settled, I formed a minor tornado and used it to propel myself to his level. I hovered before him, staring him straight in the eye. He was no longer defiant, and trembled slightly, perhaps in fear as I shot daggers into him. "I'm sparing you, Sozin. I'm letting you go in the name of our past friendship," I explained, spitting out each word clearly and concisely, "But I warn you, even a single step out of line will result in your permanent end!" I declared, drilling the message into him.
Sozin's face twitched a couple of times, not knowing what to say or even how to react. Never had a Fire Lord been placed in such a situation, and part of me did realize the scarring Sozin must have received when I showed him I meant business. Nonetheless, I turned around and left him alone, returning to my duties and letting him deal with this dilemma. Despite telling him that our friendship was still intact, and that I would spare him because of it, deep down I knew that things would never be the same again.
"Everyone, evacuate immediately, please!" I heard Ta Min shout to the denizens of our island as the mountain above us displayed its full fury. It was just another peaceful night when the volcano that towered over our homes suddenly rumbled. Within minutes, rocks and ash raced down the hillside, smothering the streets and threatened to destroy our homes. Ta Min and I managed to get out to the pier, where I instructed her to start loading the boats to get everyone to safety while I stayed back and protect our homes as much as I could. Facing the fiery menace, I created a huge air ball around me, redirecting much of the dust and soot away from the town as I prepared my battle.
Taking a crouched stance, I summoned a huge slab of rock, riding it like a wave as I met the incoming lava. The orange glowing liquid poured its way down the cliff, but I was intent on using this earth to block its path, or at least direct it away from our town. It became increasingly difficult to see or breathe properly as particulates filled the air, the contamination starting to choke my lungs. Meanwhile, the thick stream of lava closed in on my position, trapping me like a rodent. Thinking quickly, I split my arms to the sides, using earth bending to create two long trenches to take the lava into the water. Hopefully, it would buy me more time while diverting it from the town site.
But the earthen trenches and dykes would not last as another large slab of rock gave way. The volcano shot more orange liquid into the air, this time reaching nearly the clouds as it raced down the sides. Sensing the larger threat looming, I raced up whatever little ground that was left before leaping into the air. Going deep into my Avatar abilities, I took in a huge breath, sucking in the cool air from higher altitudes before aiming it right at the lava. In one swift motion, I blew it all out, sending a chill down to the lava before solidifying it completely. It created a second dyke while I tried to find another way to stop them. The volcano was not letting back now as toxic fumes sprayed from various cracks on the ground. From above, I could hear Fang squealing as the gases sprayed up to his position. "It's alright Fang, get out of here!" I shouted, coughing into my left arm while air bending the toxins away with my right, "I'm fine!"
But the smoke, lava, debris and toxins all came at once, making any chance for survival unlikely. Swinging around once more, I activated the Avatar State, the power of my past souls coursing through my body. Slamming my fist into the ground, I shot a line of rocks through the crater of the volcano and into the other side. With two exits for the lava, it should create for an easier flow, and hopefully less damage. I was about to relax when suddenly, the second crater on the other side of the island also gave way, letting another stream of lava into the air. Helplessness descended upon me as I realized the island was doomed. With the amount of destruction this could cause, I realized that all hope was lost. There was no way I could handle two volcanic eruptions by myself.
Just then, a large shadow loomed over me. "Need a hand, old friend?" a familiar voice called. I turned my head just as the smoke cleared, showing a face I thought I would never see again. Riding before me on his own dragon was Fire Lord Sozin, my former best friend. "There's not a moment to waste," he stated seriously.
Instantly, he pulled me onto his dragon and together, we rode to the second site. I was truly surprised by this gesture, as I had not spoken to him for twenty-five years since our battle. During this time, Sozin had conceded some territory, returning a few to where they originated from, and kept the military activities to a minimum. But because of the huge mistrust we had, we refused to even address each other. Even in meetings with high ranking Fire Nation officials that involved the Avatar's advice, Sozin would usually show up but depart after a few minutes, leaving most of the negotiation and agreement signings to his assistants and ministers. So, to see him actively assist my island during this disaster, I couldn't help but be relieved. "How did you know about this?" I asked him.
The dragon halted just over the edge of the second crater. Sozin signalled us to dismount. "Never in my life have I witnessed a volcano display this much fury. The Fire Palace may be a hundred miles away, but I could feel the tremors all the way in my bedroom,” he described, “As the Fire Lord, I can't possibly sit idly while it destroyed the land, especially when it's your home."
I nodded and hurried into position. I took a deep breath, mustering all the strength inside me before pressing my hands down to the dirt. Sensing the liquids inside the lava, I used water bending to press it back to a level position. Beside me, Sozin used a modified version of fire bending to suck in the heat given off by the orange liquid. He brought the steam into him while pointing his other arm into the air, diverting the heat and cooling the lava instantly. The result was new rocks being formed, further blocking the lava from doing damage while decreasing the amount from inside the volcano from rushing out.
For a few minutes, there was significant success, as one side of the second crater was already under control. Even when Sozin accidently slipped off the crater, there was no worry between us, as I stomped hard onto the rocks, creating a horizontal pillar for him to balance on as we continued our work. "Don't breathe the toxic gas," I warned him as we rushed to stop the lava on the other side while air bending the toxins away from us.
But in my attempts to rush us both through, I miscalculated the unpredictability of a volcanic eruption. I ended up stepping right into a blast of toxic fumes, smothering my face with grey and spraying straight into my nostrils. Right then, I knew my time was up, as there was no way I could save the island and get out in time for treatment. My knees buckled and everything before me became a blur. "It's too much," I stuttered. Knowing that the fumes had already begun their infection into my lungs, the only way I could get out in time was with Sozin. "Please," I pleaded, reaching for him while gasping for air.
But Sozin stood there, not making a single move. Although I couldn't see his face clearly, I must have imagined his expression as he told me in a cruel, monotonous tone, "Without you, all my plans are suddenly possible. I have a vision for the future, Roku."
Just then, he signalled in his dragon, which slid in neatly beside him. Sozin climbed on board, glaring at me one last time. His eyes were cold and emotionless, not showing any mercy as he left me to die on that volcano. My coughs turned into wheezes as the dark dragon sped off, exiting the volcanic cloud and into the night sky. The only things I could hear as my eyes dimmed were the volcanic debris rushing down, and the final shrieks of my dragon. Fang dashed in, engulfing me in his body as the hot material rumbled down to us. Soon, we would be buried, our lives in this world gone.
Avatar Kyoshi, my predecessor, had been a fantastic advisor to me throughout my time here, but it was time to meet her on the other side. As my final seconds ticked down, my entire life flashed before me. All my childhood memories with Sozin, all my training in each element, all the new friends I met, like Gyatso, all my times throughout the world and how I interacted with the people, and above all my lovely wife Ta Min, who I could only hope had reached safety by now. My former best friend had changed into a person I could no longer accept. He had never been cold and ruthless before, and I could only imagine what the world would be like when the Fire Nation ruled everything. If only I had acted sooner, then maybe I could have stopped this disaster, I thought as darkness filled me. In my last bit of energy, only one more thought crossed my mind.
My name is Avatar Roku. That was my story. Those were my rites of passage.