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The Final Element

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Summary: (BtVS/Avatar the Last Airbender) Water...Earth...Fire...Air. These four elements once existed in a peaceful balance with one another. This changed a century ago. War came and now as the conflict nears its end new elements are added. Both good and Evil.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Cartoons > Avatar: the Last AirbenderShadowMasterFR21667,98242410,74122 May 0911 Aug 09Yes

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An Adventure Begins

“Book 1: White Flames” by Shadow Master aka Ryley Breen
email: ryley[underscore]breen[at]hotmail[dot]com
(BtVS/Avatar The Last Airbender)

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the copyrighted material contained herein. It is the rightful property of the creators and associated companies. I make no money off of this fanfic whatsoever. I write only for my own personal enjoyment and for what enjoyment my readers experience while reading my work. Therefore any attempt at filing a lawsuit against me would be counterproductive since it would wind up costing you and your lawyers more money than you could ever hope to get from me.

Note: This is something that latched itself onto the imaginative part of my brain after watching numerous episodes of ‘Avatar the Last Airbender’ and not being able to stop. Despite some kiddie moments this show surprised me with its depth and the detail given to each character whether they be bad guy or good guy. It didn’t take long for me to begin wondering how I could take this show and shape it into an interesting crossover with BtVS. I came up with many ideas and had to do quite a bit of thinking to figure out which of the many ideas had the most potential. In the end I chose this one. Now keep in mind that I’ll making use of artistic license and stretching of the truth at certain points of the fanfic so if you are one of those people who dislike any deviation from facts established in canon then stop right now and turn around. However if you’re the type of person who is flexible enough not to flame me if I bend the truth a little or interpret things in a unique way then prepare yourself for an excellent fanfic. Timeline-wise this takes place sixty years after the last episode of BtVS mere minutes after Xander passes away from natural causes in his bed. In the Avatar Universe this would take place roughly seven years prior to the start of the show.

Now that the stage has been set let the show begin…



Book One: White Flames



The Higher Realms, BtVS Universe, Sixty Years After “Chosen”


The Higher Realms are precisely what the name implies, a place where only those of great age or wisdom reside and it is these people who manage the fight against the forces of darkness. While those in the mortal plane of existence believe the fabled Powers That Be to be the most powerful of the residents, that is, for the most part, a lie. The Powers are to the higher beings what truck drivers are to big businesses: possessing some value to the company but not the true decision makers. It is the job of the Powers to carry out the commands of those who truly rule and, unfortunately, these celestial truck drivers occasionally choose to overstate their importance to the mortal world. They believe ‘those mortals will not be able to prove us liars, so why not stretch the truth a bit’ and this has led to a few moments over the years where the champions of the light become bitter towards those above them. Fortunately, though, that all came to an end after the Powers That Be failed miserably in preventing the First from gaining a foothold on the mortal world. While the supreme evil was successfully pushed back, it was not by the will of the Powers but rather the unyielding will of the mortal champions who chose to stand against the darkness. With this revealed, those that had held the position of the truckers of the high realms were exiled for their failure and two of the eldest of the Realms’ residents volunteered to take over for a century or two until suitable replacements were assigned. Under their guidance, their champions experienced a time of decreased hardship and, in some cases, joys they had never thought they would ever experience with Fates such as theirs. Some achieved a peace within themselves that dispelled the clouds of depression from their beings while others found their soulmates with whom they could share their burdens with.

It is as one such champion leaves the bonds of the mortal world behind to ascend to his just reward that the two Elders look on with satisfaction.

“He has done well for himself, my friend.” Spoke the First Elder as he watched the soul pass through the gate to the heavens, “He has lived a long and happy life while leaving behind a legacy that will ensure that the mistakes of the former Powers will not be repeated.”

“Indeed. It may have required us to call in more than a few favors, but we have indeed succeeded in cleaning up the mess that had piled up,” said the Second Elder, nodding its metaphorical head in agreement. “Now all that is left is to await the Almighty’s decision regarding the appointment of a new group to the position of the Powers That Be.”

“It shouldn’t take long. I am sure our Lord already has them picked out and is just waiting for them to mature enough before making His decisions known to all.” Said the First Elder but, before he could continue his statement, a new presence approaching caught his attention.

He did not even have to look to his co-worker to know that he felt it as well so, as one, they turned in the direction of the approaching presence and saw quickly who it was.

It was a female elemental from the Natural Branch of realities that the Almighty created and this caused the First Elder to raise a metaphorical eyebrow. While interaction between branches was not unheard of, it was odd that one of the ones in charge of that branch to come there, considering the important event only fourteen years away. It had come up every once and a while that, during the last century, one of the primary realities that the Natural Branch was in charge of had grown increasingly unstable. Some even dared to say that unless the problem was resolved in the next fifteen years, the reality would self-destruct, leaving nothing but a barren wasteland fit only for the forces of darkness. Therefore, with such a dangerous time approaching, both Elders thought that it would be more important to focus on that than for one of the elementals to come to visit them. What could all this mean?

“Honorable Elders of the Higher Realms, I would have words with thee.” Spoke the Elemental with a mixture of masculine and feminine voices along with all the respect required.

“Of course. It is an honor to speak with one of our comrade-in-arms.” Said the Second Elder with a respectful bow to the elemental, “What is on your mind?”

“A problem has just arisen in our region of the multi-verse that threatens to undermine our efforts to restore the balance.” Replied the Elemental, bowing in reply, “The descendant of the one who triggered the imbalance has now committed a new taboo that may tip events in favor of our polar Opposites. He has made a pact with the Lords of the Black Flame.”

This got the attention of both Elders and now they knew the cause of the Elemental’s upset state.

In every reality throughout the multi-verse, the concept of Yin and Yang exists in one form or another. Two opposing forces, constantly at war with one another, neither of which is able to gain a lasting advantage against the other. Light and dark, good and evil, were the most common representations of this and, just as the two of them worked to keep the demons of their branch at bay, so it was everywhere else. However, in the region where the Natural Branch ruled, the embodiments of evil and darkness had always managed their schemes from a place of obscurity, rarely making their existence known to the mortals of those realities. As a result, the news that three of their strongest players were taking a substantially stronger position was troubling news indeed. That these creatures had actually made a pact with one of the mortals of that reality made them suspicious of what it could mean. With a nod, they silently asked the Elemental to continue with her tale so that they could learn of his/her reason for coming to them.

“For the past one hundred years, we have seen the Fire Lords of the third strongest reality in our region step deeper and deeper into the darkness in their desire to rule their world. We anticipated this and made sure to secret our champion away until the appointed time arrived.” Explained the Elemental, exhibiting human body language, implying concern, “However, not more than one mortal week ago, Prince Ozai, son of Fire Lord Azulon, used forbidden arts to forge a pact with the Dark Flame Lords that could prove to be too much for our champion to handle. From what we have been able to discern, the Three Lords have donated part of their essence to Ozai to be implanted in a human of his choosing, bestowing that person with great power and skill.”

“Foolish. While it is true that the Shadow Men of old used essence from a demon to create the Slayer line, we of the Higher Realms ensured that it would be essence that would only benefit the bearer.” Stated the First Elder with a dismissive shake of his metaphorical head, “To place even the smallest amount of essence from those three would eat away at any host from the inside out. They would be driven mad within ten years at the very most.”

“In most cases, yes, but Ozai has devised a way to lengthen the duration in which the host can prove useful to him to fourteen or fifteen years. Considering how closely this coincides with the day of the final battle, my comrades and I have decided to make a move of our own.” Said the Elemental before a more focused aura enveloped it, “We would request one of your champions be placed at our disposal so that the Lords of the Black Flame will not succeed in fulfilling their ambitious plans.”

It would seem that today was the day of surprises for the two Elders.

If meetings between branch members and three prominent warriors of the darkness making an overt move were rare, then a champion being ‘loaned out’ to another branch was almost never done. The reasons for this was a combination of the work needed to harmonize the champion to the new reality and that those champions were so strong-willed that they retained or regained much of their former selves afterwards. It was like taking an animal from its native environment and putting it in a different one. Even if the new environment had all the things this animal would need to survive, it’d still experience difficulties adapting and, in some cases, reject the new homeland entirely. Between the two Elders, they couldn’t remember the last time that a champion from their branch was loaned out to another branch and would have to do some research to find out when it happened. For the Elemental to come here to make this request meant the situation in it’s region was truly perilous and also that it had already received approval from the Almighty. All that they had the power to do was select from their list of champions currently alive or recently deceased the one that they would give to the Natural Branch.

Looking towards each other, the Elders conversed telepathically, both with words as well as with images to discuss who would be the best suited for the task. It would need to be someone with the ability to adapt to any situation since that person would have the easiest time getting used to the new reality. It would need to be someone resourceful and prone to unconventional ways of handling a problem since the Lords of the Black Flame would no doubt be ready for the standard responses. Lastly, it would need to be someone whose nature would see them through the rough patches when logic and reason would compel others to simply give up. It was then that they realized that the answer was the very thing they had been watching ascend to Heaven for the past few minutes and, with a gesture, they took hold of the soul of one Alexander LaVelle Harris. He had been the chaos factor that had caused a great many of the plans of the former Powers That Be to go awry and that would be useful in combating those who were so skilled in their planning. While there was the issue of free will, neither Elder thought the young man would find much reason to resist this mission. All mortals were reincarnated sooner or later, making this arrangement a little more interesting since it would not be the same reality as the soul had lived in previously. Therefore, with confidence in their choice, the two Elders passed the soul of their champion to the Elemental to be used to counter the taboo committed by Prince Ozai of the Fire Nation.

“We ask only three things in return for this valued soul, Elemental.” Said the First Elder in a firm tone of voice.

“Name them.” Stated the Elemental, making it clear that it would agree to almost any terms set down.

“First, we decree that when the time comes for this soul to step onto the stage that he be given one final opportunity to choose whether he wishes to be your second champion.” Stated the First Elder with a firm look on his metaphorical face, “This one values greatly the ability to choose one’s own destiny. You will find him a more willing warrior if you show him your respect in this way.”

“Agreed, but should he decline we will require a replacement.” Spoke the Elemental agreeing to the first condition.

“Secondly, you will bestow upon him all the aid you can so that he may fulfill the goals you set before him.” Stated the Second Elder, showing his resolve in his aura, “While he has proven his value as a human without powers, he will not take it kindly should he discover that you have ‘saddled him with the leftovers’.”

“Agreed. Preparations are already underway to ensure that he will have all he needs to accomplish his mission.” Said the Elemental with no trace of dishonesty.

“Lastly… watch over him. He has earned our respect and our gratitude for the work he has done for us in his native reality.” Stated the First Elder with both fondness and warning, “We would be ^displeased^ should we learn he has been mistreated.”

“He shall be treated with the respect and honor we bestow all who hold the title of champion.” Stated the Elemental with voices that put their minds at ease concerning the future wellbeing of their champion.

“Then we place him in your care.” Said the First Elemental as he placed the soul into the metaphorical hands of the Elemental, “May he serve you well in the battle against the darkness.”

With one final bow of respect, the representative from the Natural Branch vanished from their sight, taking the soul of one of their champions with it. While they did not question the honor of this being from another region of the multi-verse, they nevertheless sent a prayer to the Almighty asking that a blessing of safety be placed on Xander Harris’ soul. It was the least they could do to the man who had done so much to help them set things right in the reality that was currently under their jurisdiction.

~Good luck, Defender of Mankind.~ Both Elders thought as they turned their attention back to the world below, ~May you find joy and prosperity in your new world.~

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Seven Years Prior to the Events in Avatar: The Last Airbender
A Town at the Base of a Mountain Range Northwest of the Fire Nation Capitol,
House of Healing


~Wake up soon, little Zihao.~ Thought the healer as she looked over the young boy’s chart as part of her daily rounds, ~Your friends and family miss you.~

It was a faint hope, though, because the child had been there for a month already with no sign of waking up any time soon. They had done all they could to heal him and a few other things to try and coax him back to the waking world but to no effect. It was the opinion of the head of the house of healing that the boy would never regain consciousness but, so long as the funds to care for him were given, they would allow him to stay there. While she would never think the old healer a greedy miser, she was somewhat disappointed that the sole reason little Zihao was allowed to stay was the money. It had always been her opinion that the houses of healing should be open to any in need of medical care and not be required to pay more than they could, regardless of how well off they were. Sadly, most of the others disagreed with her, saying that they needed money for their tools and ingredients, so there was no other choice but to charge patients for their healing services. It was a sad reality of life but she consoled herself by taking satisfaction in seeing the patients slowly work their way back to perfect health before returning to their homes. To see all their efforts bear fruit filled her heart with such joy that any problems she might have seemed trivial in comparison.

That was the reason she chose to become a healer.

~Now if only my little pet project would show some improvement.~ She thought as she put Zihao’s chart back in the holder dangling from the foot of the bed, ~That would be a true treat, indeed.~

Stepping away to look at the chart of the next patient, she almost didn’t hear the groan but hear it she did and turned to see the most glorious thing she’d seen in weeks.

It looked like Zihao was waking up.

Not wanting to disregard official procedure in the midst of her rising optimism, she began running the standard tests to make sure that this was indeed a waking up rather than simply involuntary sounds. She checked his pulse and was glad to see that it was indeed increasing past what had been the normal for the past month. Looking up to the boy’s face, she watched happily as the eyes cracked open a bit before the light that the two orbs hadn’t seen in weeks caused the boy to scrunch them closed again. That was all the proof she needed that her pet project was indeed waking up and so she called out to one of the other healers in the room to go get the head of the house of healing immediately. Moving to where a pitcher of water rested, she quickly poured some into a cup since she had a feeling the boy would be thirsty once he’d gotten his bearings. With eyes never wavering from the child’s face, she was glad when the golden orbs finally opened fully to reveal life in them rather than the blankness that had been there whenever they were inspected. Those eyes soon found her and she could see already what the first question would be so she decided that in the interest of making sure Zihao didn’t overexert himself she’d answer it swiftly.

“You were in an accident, Zihao. From what I heard, you and a couple of your friends had gone exploring the caves at the base of Mount Wufei and you fell.” She explained as she gently placed the cup to his lips and allowed a small trickle of water to go into his mouth, “You’ve been asleep for the past month despite our best efforts to wake you. But all that’s over with now! A little time to make sure there’s no side-effects and you can go home.”

“Home?” Zihao asked, apparently still somewhat disoriented but that was to be expected after waking up in a situation like this.

“Yes. Home. Oh! It’s too bad that your big sister Ming had to return to the military academy!” She said with true regret that the young woman who so adored her younger brother was nowhere nearby, “Still, if I recall correctly, she should be due for a vacation in about two months so I suppose you two will see each other soon enough.”

“That’s enough, Yukio. Don’t confuse the boy with so many things all at once.” Came the voice of the leader of the house of healing as he crossed the room from entrance to bedside, “This young man has just woken up from a terrible sleep. There’ll be time enough to talk about his family after we make certain that there are no bad side effects of his recovery.”

“Of course, Administrator Hiashi.” She said as she backed away from Zihao so the head healer of the building could examine the boy himself.

It went on for about ten minutes as the old man used a variety of techniques, both those known to her as well as a few she couldn’t place, but in the end it was concluded that with rest as well as some physical therapy, the boy would make a full recovery. Her heart soared at this news and she thanked the spirits that they had seen fit to let this boy return to the world of the waking. Happily walking from the room, she immediately went to the messenger hawk room in order to send a message to the boy’s family, letting them know he was awake. She could just imagine how Mr. and Mrs. Shen would react when they heard that their darling boy was awake and expected to be completely better in a few weeks. It only took her a minute to locate the right hawk that delivered mail to the neighborhood where the Shen’s lived and, with a few quick strokes of a brush, the message was ready to be sent. Slipping the message into the tube tied to the hawk’s back, she took it to the window and let it fly while wondering how long it’d take before the two adults came walking through the door. Would they come today? Should she make some tea? So many things to prepare for!

~Oh it’ll all be worth it!~ She thought as she walked away from the messenger hawk room, ~Zihao’s awake and on his way to getting his life back!~

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That Very Night, Messenger Hawk Room


~Looks like Kurosaki’s going to have another ‘volunteer’ by the end of the year.~ He thought as he placed the report on the Shen boy into the tube strapped to the hawk’s back, ~God, I’m sick of doing their dirty work!! If they weren’t holding that damn incident over my head, I’d tell them to go jump into a volcano!!~

Unfortunately they ^did^ have something on him and if it ever got out to the general public, his life would be over and he’d be lucky if he managed to flee the country before the ‘grateful parents’ got their claws in him. It had been about twenty years ago when he’d first gotten his license to practice medicine in the Fire Nation and he’d opened up a free clinic in his hometown. Oh, he’d been such a naïve ^IDIOT^ back then! So full of hope and good will! He’d had dreams of becoming known nationwide for his healing touch and benevolent ways. Two years in, though, the town had been hit with a nasty disease that targeted primarily those fifteen years old and under with only the rare adult thrown in for flavoring. Sadly his village had been so far from the main cities that he had been one of only three people for miles with any medical training and so he’d thrown himself into trying to combat the affliction. It had been a tenacious thing, resisting all conventional forms of treatment, and as the bodies had piled up he had grown desperate for anything that would ease both the pain of the patients as well as his own growing sense of failure. It was then that a note showed up on his desk informing him of a potential cure to the disease and where it could be found. According to the words he read, the cure was a rare plant called Dragon Blossom that could be found only near the mouth of a recently active volcano. As luck had it there was a volcano within a day’s journey of the village. It hadn’t fully erupted or anything, but there had been smoke coming from it along with a few mild tremors so there was a chance that he could find the plant there.

Putting the two other people with healer training in charge, he immediately made for the volcano with all the speed he could muster without collapsing from exhaustion. In the end he’d made good time and arrived at the base of the earth structure a full two hours earlier than he’d originally predicted. Thirty minutes later he found what he sought! It was such an inconspicuous looking plant but it matched the description given in the letter he’d mysteriously found on his desk so he quickly put as many as he could find into the satchel he’d brought with him. It was another day before he returned to the village and it was good that he had because all of a sudden the number of patients had doubled in number. Immediately he went to work preparing the plant and, once ready, began to administer it to the patients one by one. Over the next few weeks those under his care made miraculous recoveries and he was hailed as a healer touched by the spirits themselves.

Then some of the few remaining afflicted children began to behave strangely.

They slowly began to act more and more feral as time went on. Some of those that had volunteered to help even swore they saw the eyes of the children change to something not human in the least. He never personally saw the eyes change but when almost everyone in the building aside from yourself say they saw it, he was inclined to believe them. It all came to a head one night when he heard a scream come from the main hall where the remaining patients slept and, in a drowsy state, he scrambled to the room.

What he saw would haunt his nightmares for the next ten years and still showed up every so often when he slept.

Down on the floor, being torn apart, was one of the other healers covered in his own blood while the strange children bit into the man like they were vicious animals. Six of them in total were ^eating^ the man he’d worked alongside and, when they turned their eyes on him, he felt a paralyzing fear come over him. That fear almost brought about his death because once the feral children noticed him they began to stalk him like a predators circling their prey. Then all of a sudden three men in armor he’d never seen before entered and immediately began to use firebending to fend off the animalistic children. With scary brutality, the trio slew the children and, in the process, set the building on fire, causing flames to feed on everything. He’d been so overcome by it all it wasn’t until the three armored firebenders dropped him on the ground in the nearby forest that he regained the majority of his senses. He’d asked them the usual questions like ‘who are you people’ and ‘what the ^HELL^ is going on’ but his answers came not from them but from the man who walked out of the shadows a moment later. Clad in red robes with an odd symbol sewn into the sleeves was an old man groomed to look like a noble but with eyes that belonged more to a sadistic soldier than a kindly old man. The man he’d come only to know as Tsung proceeded to reveal that it was he that left the note detailing the cure to the disease and that he had ^unfortunately^ forgotten to mention the rare side effects it had on those who took it. Terrible side effects!

Naturally that had been the point he’d started yelling about how the man could have left out such a crucial piece of information but a cold stare from the robed man silenced him. The man then started pointing out some rather painful truths that took the fight out of him with every moment that passed. It was pointed out that he had made the first move, accepting information from an anonymous source about a plant not known to any healer, and that it was he who administered the medicine without running any tests on it. By the time the man was done, it’d been made clear that he had only himself to blame for what had happened and that he deserved any fate the spirits saw fit to hit him with. That was when the robed man had made him an offer: a new identity far from his village and a prosperous practice where he could continue healing. The price? He would administer a serum to patients who suffered from terminal or long-term conditions and, should any of them make a full recovery, he’d send word of it by messenger hawk. For a time it seemed like such a small price to pay in exchange for leaving the horrors he’d witnessed in his home village behind. The robed man had promised that the serum would not adversely affect those that took it or make them any worse then they already were. This proved to be true since none of those he’d given the serum to turned into cannibalistic human-shaped creatures that wanted to tear him apart.

Then they started disappearing.

Each patient that fully recovered after receiving the serum soon vanished from town with some disappearing mysteriously while others ‘left to seek a better life elsewhere’. For the children, he’d learned that the parents were approached with an offer to admit their offspring to an exclusive academy where they would receive nothing but the best in terms of an education. Most of these parents were overjoyed at this and, because of their less than wealthy status, were all too happy to give their children the chance to become something better. However, those parents who turned down the offer had their homes broken into less than a month later and the cured child abducted. Those few adults that recovered disappeared in similar ways and, before long, he clued into the pattern as well as developed a suspicion as to what was going on. It was confirmed when he questioned the person who brought him the next shipment of serum on the whereabouts of the people he’d administered the previous shipment to. While no outright admissions of knowing anything about it came from the man, he saw enough in how the jerk acted to know that his suspicions were right. Just as the idea of blowing the whistle got into his head, though, the man reminded him that there were still people from his home village who knew what he looked like and still suspected him of shady behavior. He was then told in a subtle way that if he tried to reveal what he knew that not only would it be useless but that he’d find himself vilified in the eyes of the public before the week was out.

So it came to pass that he simply did what he was told and nothing more than that. Each day that passed, each saved patient that went missing, took its toll on him and made him wonder if there was really a reason for him to keep on living.

If only he could come up with an answer to that question.

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Three Weeks Later, The Shen Home, Late Morning, Zihao’s P.O.V


“Zihao? Could you come in here for a moment?” Came the voice of his mother from inside the small but quaint home.

“Coming!” He yelled back as he got up from his place at the base of what he termed his ‘thinking tree’.

He called it that because whenever he was bothered or needed to think about a situation, he went there and the answers always came to him sooner or later. Lately the thing that was bothering him was some weird dreams he’d been having and so he had come to the tree to try and figure out what they meant. He knew he wasn’t what you’d call a typical seven year old, his parents said he was a teenager trapped in a kid’s body, but he tried not to let it bother him that much. It was kinda nice how he could figure things out a little quicker than the other kids and his parents always praised him for being grown up about certain things. However, the dreams he was having lately were unlike any other strange thing to ever happen to him and it made him wonder if he was really all better like the healers said he was. The dreams were always arranged so that it looked like he was seeing through another person’s eyes but what he did see was a place so bizarre and yet so familiar at the same time. Metal boxes that people rode around in, smaller boxes with moving pictures in them and a dozen other things he’d never seen before or believed existed in the real world. He’d told his mom about them but she just said it was probably his imagination coming up with it all and that he shouldn’t worry about it.

He wasn’t so sure.

It felt a whole lot more real to him.

Shaking his head, he went into the house to the living room where he figured his mom was waiting for him and, when he arrived, he was surprised to see two strangers present. Both were men and they were wearing clothes like the royal family but with a weird badge hanging around their necks that he’d never seen before. Neither of them looked younger than his dad (who was in his late forties, according to mom) and both had this stern look on their faces that reminded him of that horrible man in his dreams with the bald head and below average height. That last part immediately had him wary of the two strangers but, like a polite son, he didn’t let it show and immediately went to sit next to his mother.

“Zihao, these two men are from the Tiamat Academy and they think you’re smart enough to go to school there.” Said his mother, who looked quite happy about the whole idea, “Apparently it’s a place that only the best kids get to go and if you study hard and behave, Mr. Shang here said that you’ll get a nice government job nearby when you graduate.”

“But mom, I like my school and all my friends are there!” He said with worry at the idea of leaving behind all he’d known.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure the academy will let you come back to visit every few months and you’ll make all sorts of new friends when you get there.” Said his mom, who was definitely behind the idea of him going to this new school, “Isn’t that right, Mr. Shang?”

“Completely, Mrs. Shen. The Tiamat Academy observes all Fire Nation holidays and, if necessary, is flexible in its scheduling that we can make sure young Zihao can make any birthdays necessary.” Mr. Shang replied, being the older of the two and definitely in charge, “We also have an excellent messenger hawk Aerie, comprised of some of the fastest in the region. Trust me when I say that it’ll be like your family is less than an hour away no matter what time of year it is.”

He had to admit that it sounded pretty good. Then again his mother had always told him that if something sounded too good to be true, it generally was, so he wasn’t going to abandon his wariness just yet. Still he could see that his mother was excited about the whole idea and he remembered how happy everyone was when Ming graduated from the Fire Nation military academy. While there were families in the area who were perfectly alright living the life of a farmer or a merchant, there were others who wanted more and that’s what a job with the military or government had to offer. It was considered quite a feather in the cap if a family had someone who worked for the government or fought as a soldier in the military. In the end, though, he knew that his mother would be after him to accept and, while his father did occasionally manage to defeat her in an argument, it was quite clear who the ruler of this family was. Still, he could at least delay the choice until dinner this evening when he might get a second opinion in the form of his father.

“Is it okay if I talk to Dad about this first before I make a choice?” he asked, looking back and forth between his mother and the two men.

“Of course. We’ll be around for the next week interviewing other possible students for the academy, so take all the time you need to reach a decision.” Mr. Shang replied with a smile as he and his partner/subordinate got to their feet, “Good day to you both. Mrs. Shen. Zihao.”

With that the two of them left and, like clockwork, the moment his mother was certain that the men were out of hearing range, she turned to him with that look in her eye. The one she used whenever she wanted him to do something he didn’t want to but wound up making him do it in the end. Whether it was chores, his homework or not hanging around certain kinds of kids that lived nearby, she always got her way in the end. Still, he supposed that mothers were supposed to be like that, so he did what he could to make her happy and deal with the whole overbearing nature.

“Now while I agree that your father should be included in this decision Zihao I don’t think he’ll have a problem with this,” his mother said as she walked over into the kitchen. “After all, he was in the military himself and had to go through an academy as well. Don’t you think it made your Dad into a nice guy?”

“Well…yeah…but…” he replied, having to hedge a bit between agreeing that Dad was a nice guy and not agreeing about anything academy centered.

“And what about your sister, Ming? Sure she was beautiful enough before she entered the military academy, but now she’s pretty enough that she puts the nobles to shame!” His mother said, getting more and more gushy about the benefits of a government or military job, “If we do this then just imagine how it’ll help you grow into a strong handsome man!”

If there was one thing that his mother was fixated on more than her children getting a high standing job, it was the ladies being gorgeous and the guys being rakishly handsome. He supposed it came from those romance novels with the illustrations drawn by Ma Kensei that always had unnaturally perfect men and women on the covers. According to his dad, his mother had been reading them ever since she was a teenager and it had obviously been a key factor in shaping her goals for the future. Personally he didn’t see what the big deal was about looking good and everything. Sure, some of the girls in the neighborhood were fun to play with but he didn’t really care if they liked the way he looked or anything.

“Yeah, yeah!” he said dismissively before getting up himself, “I’m still just a kid, mom, so don’t go looking for a fiancé for me, okay?”

“Of course, my darling boy! I’ll wait until your fourteen at least before I go that far! Hahahahahaha!”

~Great! She’s in one of ^those^ moods!~ He thought as he recalled the odd times over the last couple of years when his mother started planning his future from start to finish.

He knew his mother thought the world of him and Ming but to actually go this overboard was a bit much. She was a mother who only wanted the best for her children and didn’t want to leave things like their future up to chance. That was why she went so far to make the right things happen and saw to a fiery death to whoever got in her way, even if she couldn’t firebend herself. Deciding that there was no way he was going to get any real thinking done out by the tree, he went up to his room to find something else to do.

Walking into his room, he cast his eyes over the various knick-knacks that his father had brought home with him from his time in the field before the accident. Trophies and objects from both the Water Tribes as well as the Earth Kingdom lay on the shelves and each of them had a story behind it. From a helmet from an Earth Kingdom soldier that his Dad had beaten in combat to a weapon used by a Water Tribe warrior who’d made it onto his father’s ship, everything on the shelf interested him. He could remember when he was really young how his Father always had stories to tell him whenever he was home on leave from the latest campaign. All that came to an end about two years ago when in a particularly vicious battle against a group of earthbenders his father’s right leg was crushed from the knee down. His Father was quickly rescued but it was quickly decided by the field medics that even with the best healing ingredients known to healer kind there was no chance of it being fully healed. This had led his father to be reassigned to the local milita, charged with patrolling the region for signs of traitors, rebels or spies from the other nations of the world. His Father was actually the second-in-command for the milita assigned to this region but was mostly put in charge of the paperwork and planning parts. Understandable when he had to use a crutch to get around but he knew his Dad missed the field work and fighting alongside his comrades.

Lying down on his bed, he reached over to his bedside table to pick up his most prized possession, considering how rare it was. According to his Dad it was a rare pre-war scroll that summarized the history of the world, including the role of the Avatar in that that entity was charged with keeping the balance in this world going. The scroll didn’t go into a whole lot of detail about the Avatar beyond the basics but he was so awed by the fact that this person could bend all four elements rather than just one like normal people. He didn’t talk about it with many people because everyone said that the Avatar was the enemy of the Fire Nation and that the previous one, Roku, was a traitor but he still daydreamed about what it’d be like to be one. He’d seen firebending done by street performers and a few of the harder techniques by his father, but he’d never really seen the other types of bending. He knew that seeing airbending would never happen since all the Air Nomads, except the new Avatar, were killed in the beginning of the war a hundred years ago but there was still water and earthbending. His desire to see these other types of bending was almost strong enough for him to want to sign up for the academy early if only so he could see it firsthand. Unfortunately he was still a kid and the minimum age requirement for the military academy was fifteen, so he had another eight years before he’d be allowed to sign up. Considering how most people said the war was nearing its end, it was likely that it’d all be over with by the time he was sent out into the field.

So for the time being he was going to have to be satisfied with simply dreaming about seeing what lay beyond the shores of the Fire Nation.

~Maybe going to this new academy wouldn’t be so bad if it meant I’d get to see the world sooner.~ He thought trying to figure out whether or not the Tiamat Academy could help him fulfill his dream.

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Six Months Later, The Entrance to Tiamat Academy, Afternoon, Zihao’s P.O.V


“This place isn’t an academy! It’s a ^palace!^” Zihao exclaimed as he looked about the courtyard of the academy.

“Heheheheh! Yes I suppose it could be mistaken for one.” Mr. Shang said as they resumed walking towards the front doors of the academy, “Truth is that it has to be this big to accommodate the students, the teachers and the various classes taught here. Firebending classes in particular require a lot of room so a student doesn’t accidently burn the entire building down during a lesson.”

“Makes sense.” He said as they passed through the front doors into the interior of the building.

All through the halls he could see other academy students going about their business and, like he’d predicted, they all had some sort of school uniform on. Personally he hated the way the uniforms made them all look the same but his parents had told him that it was all to convey a sense of national unity. That was a big thing for the people of the Fire Nation, a commitment to the Fire Lord and their country, but he wished it didn’t mean wearing such dorky school uniforms. It didn’t take them long to reach the headmaster’s office but apparently he was in a meeting with someone, so he and Mr. Shang would have to wait a bit. He didn’t mind though because the older man was kind and had all sorts of stories about his travels. Some were funny while others were so exciting but a few were really sad sounding. When the door to the headmaster’s office opened, though, he instantly got a creepy feeling like when Kai used to tell ghost stories during a sleepover. The cause appeared moments later when a creepy looking guy in fancy clothes exited the office of the headmaster with a twisted smile on his face. It only got worse when the creep caught him looking and turned his weird eyes towards him. He didn’t like this guy one bit and seriously hoped that he didn’t have to spend a whole class with the guy or he was going to skip that class completely, even if it caused him to flunk it.

“So is this the new student I’ve been hearing about, Shang?” Creepy guy asked, trying to sound nice but still coming off like a weirdo.

“Yes, Dr. Kurosaki. Meet young Shen Zihao from the interior villages.” Mr. Shang replied with a smile and a gesture in the boy’s direction, “We just got here today and after we get him settled in his dorm room, I plan on giving him a tour of the academy.”

“Good, good! It’s always refreshing to see a new arrival.” Dr. Kurosaki said with a nasty smile on his face, “Well, I’ve got a class to teach, so I’ll see you tomorrow, young Mr. Shen. Goodbye.”

Never in his whole life was he happier to see someone leave then that creep and he would definitely make a point of being someplace else whenever that guy’s class was taking place.

The meeting with the headmaster didn’t take long, just some paperwork that needed to be done, and once finished he was shown to his dorm. His roommate was this slightly overweight boy called Yamada Keiichi but he could tell that the two of them would be getting along just fine due to the boy’s sense of humor. It didn’t take him long to unpack and then it was onto the tour of the academy, which seemed larger and larger with every room he visited. The place certainly seemed to have everything it needed and the other students sounded like they were enjoying themselves completely. He was beginning to think that his worries about this place were mostly unfounded but he would still make full use of the vacations and the messenger hawks to keep in touch with his family.

Once the tour was over with, he was told that he was free to do as he pleased so long as he didn’t leave the academy grounds or enter any of the restricted areas. The former he had no trouble with since there wasn’t anything really interesting outside of the academy walls but the latter was like telling him not to reach inside the cookie jar. Now he knew he had to take a look inside those restricted areas to see what was so important that they had to keep it hidden from everyone else. He wouldn’t do it right away, though, because just like playing hide and seek it was always a good idea to get the lay of the land first. So that was how he’d spend the next few weeks when he wasn’t in class, playing with friends or sleeping. Once he had an idea of where everything was, he’d start working on how he could slip into one of these restricted areas without getting caught by anyone.

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Three Months Later, The Main Auditorium, Midnight, Zihao’s P.O.V


~I’m only going to get one shot at this so I better make it count!~ Zihao thought as he crept into the center of the auditorium, ~The second I try to open the thing, it’s going to make a lot of noise and that’s going to bring everyone here. I have to make it through before they get here.~

It had taken him over two months to figure out where all the restricted areas were and which ones were beyond his ability to sneak into. Those ones had too many people around at all hours for him to make it through unseen plus this one seemed the most interesting. It had a hidden entrance that required that he hit the statue of Fire Lord Azulon just right in order to trigger the mechanism. The only problem was that he was still something of an amateur in his firbending classes especially when it came to generating a consistent stream flame. Still if his instructor Mr. Kusanagi was any judge he had potential so he had been doing his best to reach that potential and perhaps exceed it. In this case he needed to light up three separate points on the statue at the same time to get the mechanism to react…or at least that’s what he thought since he hadn’t seen the entire thing when the headmaster did it. He’d been hiding just outside the auditorium and had been using a mirror to see into the room but the administrator of the academy had been blocking most of the statue so he only assumed that he needed to light three based on what he saw now. Ever since he clued into the whole ‘light them all at the same time’ he had been practicing during his free time and felt that now he had the move down well enough to try.

Breathing deeply, he centered his thoughts on the task he needed to perform and, when he thought he was ready, he acted. Using both fists as well as a well placed thrust kick, he produced three fireballs in perfect synch with one another and the timing was proven to be foolproof when both hands as well as the open mouth of the statue were lit at the same time. With the sound of something heavy being moved, the statue began to slide aside and, just like he’d thought, a hidden staircase was revealed. Waiting until there was enough room for him to fit through, he zipped through and took the stairs two at a time to make sure he got through. Once he was far enough down, though, he slowed his steps and used every technique he’d learned sneaking out of the house to make sure he wasn’t found out. It took only four minutes to reach the bottom of the staircase but, just the same, it felt like they were pretty deep underground at the moment. He was definitely deeper than he could ever recall being before when he and his friends explored the caves near the village. Unlike those caves, though, this place had definitely been man made and looked like they’d been around for a lot of years as well. Once at the bottom, he pressed himself against a wall and peeked around the corner to see what there was to see.

He wasn’t impressed.

The place looked like a cross between a prison and a military base with Fire Nation soldiers walking around within his eyesight. There weren’t many, probably due to the hour, but there were still enough that he’d have to be careful how he moved about the place if he didn’t want to be seen. Keeping to the shadows cast by the torches on the wall and always waiting until a soldier’s back was turned before moving on, he explored the underground prison base to see what it was all about. The further he got along, though, the less he liked what he saw and it left him wondering what a place like this was doing beneath an academy. Surely there had to be some kind of law or something that made building a base beneath a place where kids were stay illegal. He didn’t know what it all meant but it was definitely causing an unpleasant feeling to build up in his stomach. He didn’t like this feeling and while he was tempted to simply leave and go back to his room, too much of him wanted to know the truth about this place.

It was as he reached a particularly heavy looking door that his interest level in the place went up another notch when he heard something loud make a noise behind it. It was too muffled to figure out what made the sound but, if the door was really as heavy duty as it looked, then whatever was causing the ruckus had to be pretty darn loud. This piqued his curiosity but he knew that he couldn’t get in there to find out what it was both because of the implied weight of the thing but also the sound it’d probably make opening. Deciding that he’d learned enough, he turned around to leave but stopped in his tracks when he saw what was behind him. Somehow, without him being the wiser, three weird looking people had managed to sneak up on him and, judging from the looks on their faces, they weren’t here to escort him back to his dorm room.

“Well, well! Look what we got here, Miroku,” One who looked like he had the tough guy act down pat said. “Someone’s out past curfew. He’s in big trouble, don’t you think?”

“Probably. There are strict rules around here and he’s just broken a whole lot of them.” Miroku replied, sounding completely disinterested in the situation, “Shall we dispose of him here or feed him to what’s on the other side of the door?”

“That won’t be necessary,” came a voice he knew all too well from his first day. “Young Zihao was going to wind up down here eventually so I don’t see any reason why he should be punished for rushing things. In fact, it’s been awhile since I last had such a young subject and the results of the experiments on him could prove quite useful indeed.”

As the trio that had followed him stepped aside to reveal Dr. Kurosaki, he knew now beyond a shadow of a doubt that he should have stayed in bed. Quickly looking about, he tried to figure out a way that he could escape but all he could see were dead ends or bad guys blocking his path. He knew a few firebending techniques but he had a sinking feeling they’d be about as useless as a fireworks display against these three. Still he had to try! He quickly assumed the traditional beginning stance for a sparring match but this only made his enemies chuckle with amusement.

“I admire your inner strength, Zihao, but you must realize that by now your escape route back to the academy has been cut off and every soldier in here has been placed on alert,” Dr. Kurosaki stated in a very clinical and merciless way. “Even if by some miracle you made it past these three, it is highly unlikely you would be able to fight your way out of here with only a couple months of firebending experience to your name. The end result will be the same: either you will be captured or you will be killed. It makes no difference to me either way.”

It was the cold hard truth and it hit him with more force than anything he could remember. He was an amateur firebender and, even with a little luck, a more experienced one would be able to beat him easily. Depending on how long these three had been following him, it was indeed likely that his exit route had been cut off meaning he’d have to find a new one. That would take time and time would increase the number of soldiers he’d run into as well as up the odds that he’d be defeated. In the end he had no choice but to admit defeat and this was reflected in his dropping of his fighting stance but the fire of defiance still lingered in his eyes.

“A wise choice, young Mr. Shen. Still, there’s no reason why we need to start things off on the wrong foot.” Dr. Kurosaki said as he walked forward past him to the heavy duty door, “You were curious about what lay on the other side of the door, yes? Then I will show you.”

With the clink-clank of locks being undone, the door opened and verified his earlier suspicions that it was both thick as well as heavy. Once the door was fully opened, the creepy doctor gestured for him to enter and while he still didn’t like the guy his returning curiosity compelled him to step through the door. It was only after he did so that he was treated to a sight he never thought he’d get to see for as long as he lived.

Dragons.

Three of them!

He remembered the story his father told him of the grand beasts that once lived in the mountains of the Fire Nation and were considered to be the source of all firebending. For a long time they were honored creatures to be learned from but, a little under a hundred years ago, Fire Lord Sozin began a tradition of hunting them. Those that tracked, battled and conquered the animal by killing them would receive great fame among the citizens of the Fire Nation. They would receive the title of ‘Dragon’ due to the power and skill they must have possessed in order to defeat the original firebenders. However this resulted in a great many people seeking the precious title and dragons were slain by the dozens. In the end, the last person to have taken part in this traditional hunt was the famed ‘Dragon of the West’ General Iroh, resulting in the complete extinction of dragons in the world.

Unless his eyes were deceiving him, though, there were ^three^ live dragons struggling against their heavy metal restraints while soldiers did something to them. The largest of the three was red in color and struggled the most against the chains but was also covered with the most scars. A smaller but no less impressive blue dragon lay chained down not far away and only seemed to struggle when Fire Nation soldiers attempted to approach the smallest of the three dragons. This one surprisingly was almost completely white with only a little gold coloring in certain places to give it detail and structure. It was a timid animal and, despite the fact that the chains restraining it wouldn’t let it get close enough to touch the blue dragon, it nevertheless tried its best to do so. Size wise it couldn’t have been much bigger than the Komodo Rhino he saw once when he’d gone to visit his father at work one time.

“Quite precious, aren’t they? Aside from these three, the entire dragon race is pretty much extinct.” Dr. Kurosaki said casually as he looked down at the imprisoned animals with only vague interest, “Were it not for their role in my experiments, I imagine these three would have died a long time ago.”

“Their role?” He asked barely realizing that he was talking to his captor without defiance or venom.

“Indeed. Mixed with certain herbs meant to tap into a firebenders powers, dragon blood is a vital ingredient for the serum used to find those with potential among the populace.” Dr. Kurosaki replied, turning more to face the boy, “Once distributed among out field agents, it is administered to those useless members of society with a low chance of surviving any injuries they incurred to land them in the local house of healing or those who are simply considered expendable. Those that had a positive reaction to the serum, such as yourself, are then ‘invited’ here so that your potential can be further examined.”

“What kind of potential?” He asked as the feeling that was growing in his stomach again warned him of danger.

“You’ll find out soon enough, young Zihao. Miroku?” Dr. Kurosaki said, looking at something behind him.

That was all he was able to think or hear or ANYTHING before something hard hit him in the head reducing everything to the darkness of unconsciousness.

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