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|"Today is the first day of the Fire Nation's greatness! This is the beginning of our golden age! You have been afflicted by poverty...joblessness...starvation. No more! I am the Lord of Fire and the Scion of the Sun, and I decree...no more!
|— Excerpt from Fire Lord Sozin's speech to his fleet upon sending them to war|
Changing Plans is the ninth chapter of the AU fanfiction story.
Sozin's fleet departs and attacks the Southern Air Temple. Kuzon fights on Sozin's side, concerned about the welfare of his nation, but is disturbed by his brother's bloodlust. The Fire Nation imprisons the monks and sets up a temporary base at the temple. Sozin has Gyatso brought before him and interrogates him as to the Avatar's whereabouts. Kuzon hears Aang referred to as the Avatar, and realizes it is his old friend. Sozin explains he plans to kill the Avatar, or to kill every Air Nomad until the Avatar is brought to him. This is vastly different than what he had told Kuzon he would do, and Kuzon becomes disgusted with his brother.
That same day Sozin's fleet departed, under the leadership of Sozin himself. He gave a speech from a pavilion at the naval dock that morning. Sozin was a very convincing speaker, and he liked to talk. "Today is the first day of the Fire Nation's greatness! This is the beginning of our golden age!" He was gesticulating wildly. "You have been afflicted by poverty...joblessness...starvation. No more!" A cheer rose up. "I am the Lord of Fire and the Scion of the Sun, and I decree...no more!" He pounded his fist on the railing of the balcony. They cheered louder. "From now on, the Fire Nation is strong! Fire is the superior element! And like fire, we will now receive what we want, and consume what we please!" He made a sweeping gesture over the crowd. "It is particularly appropriate that we go into battle against the Air Nomads today. They took food supplies which rightfully belonged to the Fire Nation! They kept them while your families were poor and starving! That is the same as taking food from the mouths of your children!" Many of the soldiers cheered. Sozin had to prepare them for battle. "Now, we will take food from their mouths. Let us repay them for their greed!" Cheers. "It is not with a light heart that I send my people to war. Some of you will not come home. But we must think of the greater good. We will feed this nation again! We will make this nation prosperous again! We will make this nation GREAT...AGAIN!" Sozin built to a fantastic climax and descended from the podium with thunderous applause. He was very content with himself.
As the fleet moved away from the shore, he and Kuzon stood at the prow of the flagship. Sozin wore ornate black and red armor with trim made of real gold, and a hand-crafted helmet inlaid with jewels and carved to resemble a roaring dragon. Kuzon was just slightly shorter than Sozin. He wore the traditional armor of a Fire Nation prince, black and red with a yellow flame etched across the breastplate. They both wore their swords, and as they stood there looking out at the sunrise, their swords hung in such a way that they seemed to mirror each other exactly. Sozin breathed deeply and crossed his arms in confidence. "This is an auspicious day, Kuzon. And think, in a hundred years, everyone will remember that you were there." He smiled at Kuzon, and Kuzon smiled back. Then Sozin looked back at the rising sun, but Kuzon gave a very concerned look to the water below.
The next day, it was not long before the Patola Mountains came into sight on the horizon. The flotilla began to spread out, encircling half the archipelago. As the ships approached, a fleet of flying bison descended on the flagship. They were in a V formation, like migrating turkey-ducks. Each ship could only hold two or three bison, so Afiko had to carefully pilot the flanks down onto a ship, then move on to the next. As soon as the remaining bison got far enough away that they wouldn't be spooked, soldiers threw nets over the bison on the ship and chained them to the deck or put them in specially-designed holding cells below. The bison only trusted airbenders to handle them. The bison struggled and roared in protest, but they couldn't break their fetters. Finally, Afiko had only his and Taro's own bison, Pema, left. Sozin met him as he landed on the deck of the flagship. "You have done well..." he said, taking a handful of gold out of a box held by a servant. He placed it in Afiko's hand. "...Lord Afiko."
Afiko had fully justified his actions to himself, and now even grander schemes entered his head. He would begin a new order of airbenders, an order that was strong and powerful, where he was the leader and everyone followed his philosophy. They could even take back their lands eventually, bide their time until the Fire Nation was weak again. That was the future Afiko saw for himself and Taro. He looked at his fist as it curled around the gold pieces.
Kuzon was taken to one of the boats that held the tanks. These boats landed on a desolate beach full of barren trees, away from the foothills of the mountains, but on the same island. The prows of the boats lowered and the tanks crawled onto the beach. Kuzon steeled himself as he rode in the foremost tank. This was it. He was not frightened of his own death so much. He had attended enough combat training classes that he was a capable warrior and firebender. But he didn't want to kill anymore than he wanted to die himself. He tried to make himself ready to kill. I must fight. This is to win food for my people. They're poor. They're starving. It's the only choice.
The tanks reached the mountains, and began to ascend. They would never normally make an attack at night, but this night would be the first appearance of the Comet in a century, so the firebenders could receive power from that and use the cover of darkness.
Meanwhile, Afiko delivered Sozin and some of his top lieutenants directly up to the temple on Afiko's bison. They timed this to coincide with the arrival of the tanks in the temple. The airbenders had seen the ships approach and had had a few hours to prepare. Sozin's comet streaked the sky just as the battle began. The front lines clashed in an explosion of wind and fire. As Kuzon emerged from his tank he saw Afiko and Sozin descend on the battlefield. Sozin leapt from the bison and cut down two airbenders with his dao. Kuzon heard him call out, reminding his men of their orders. "Keep as many alive as you can, especially the adolescents, but kill whoever you need to!" Flammable items in the temple began to catch fire.
Kuzon took down some airbenders. He used light firebending and the pommel of his sword as much as possible. He didn't think he had killed anyone. At one point he chanced to catch a glimpse of Sozin. It was probably the most frightening thing Kuzon had seen in his life. Sozin was in full battle-fury. He was drunk on the Comet's power. He had always been a powerful bender, but now a single fireball from him could kill a man. His form was bathed in light emanating from the fires behind him, but the light somehow seemed to be tinted with more red than normal. He was like a demon, spraying fire and slashing unceasingly with his sword. He immolated men, kicked them, cut them down like weeds and all the while he shrieked harsh battle cries above the din of the fight. His face was flecked with blood, yet he was smiling. This is not my brother, Kuzon thought in disbelief. This is not the boy who played with me as a child, who would tell me stories of our real father, who comforted me when our mother died. It's something else, something strange. Kuzon tore himself out of his stupor and fought on, but that image would stay in his mind until the day he died.
There are many stories of that battle. There were heroes on both sides. A full account could fill volumes. But it was epic. It raged for days, and it might have gone for weeks if the airbenders had not been so outnumbered or had had a means of escape.
As it was, most of them were captured. The small rooms for novitiate monks were turned into makeshift prisons, and rooms designed for two people now held perhaps ten. At least they're alive, Kuzon told himself. At least they're alive.
Sozin turned the temple into a makeshift camp for his soldiers. He set up an audience chamber in the council room where the abbot once sat. Kuzon was with Sozin when Sozin had the surviving senior monks brought before him. Afiko was at his right hand, nervous over the fact that Sozin had not yet permitted him to find Taro.
Sozin was curt in addressing the mustachioed senior monk his guards now dragged out before him. "Where is the Avatar?"
The monk regarded him.
"The one named Aang. Afiko says he has been absent from the temple for years. Where is he?"
"Gone," the monk said.
"It's a lie!" Sozin snapped. "You're hiding him!" The monk said nothing. "Afiko says you were his guardian. He was like your own son. Do you really expect me to believe you don't know where he is? You know. Tell me! Where!?"
"I have told you the truth," Gyatso said calmly.
"I have plans for the Avatar. If you tell me where he is, I will kill only him. If you refuse to tell me, I will kill every airbender until I know I've killed him by process of elimination. When he is reborn in the Water Tribe, I'll kill that Avatar. When he is reborn into the Earth Kingdom, I will kill that Avatar. When he is finally born to the Fire Nation, I will take him and raise him as my own child. He will believe what I want him to believe and do my bidding. It would be wise of you to turn the boy over. I can't take the chance that he's alive. There can be no loose ends in my plan. If you protect him, your people will have to die. Now, I ask again," Sozin said, "where is he?"
The monk was silent, possibly meditating. Kuzon was shocked. He almost choked on the roll he was eating. Aang was the Avatar! His old friend! And Sozin intended to kill him. He had lied. Sozin had said he was going to keep the Avatar alive. Kuzon stepped forward, trying to speak, but Sozin exploded, snarling at the monk's disregard. Fire literally shot from his nostrils. He descended from his seat and grasped the monk's neck and drew back his other hand into a fist. Flames already began to surround it. "Last chance, old man: where is the Avatar?"
The guard who held the monk's shackles backed away. The monk said nothing. He and Sozin stared at each other, Sozin with a burning rage, Gyatso with perfect acceptance and serenity. A moment passed before Sozin mercilessly ended his life. Kuzon watched in disbelief.
Sozin spoke to the guards, but stared straight ahead at the man he had killed. "Tell the prisoners that until the Avatar is offered up, we will execute two of them each day."
"Sozin, you can't kill the Avatar!" Kuzon hadn't wanted to believe it, but now he was sure something was happening to his brother. He had to put a stop to it. "That's insane! The Fire Nation needs the Avatar too. Haven't you thought about how this will distort the balance?"
"Burn the balance!" Sozin spat. "Where was the balance in the civil war, and when Kai Hin salted the land? Was it part of the balance for our people to starve? Was it part of the balance for our father and mother to die?" Kuzon was speechless. "Universal balance is a myth. You want to know how the universe works, Kuzon? The strong do what they want and the weak follow. If the Avatar does my bidding, then I will be the strongest person in the world...as is my divine right."
"The Avatar is a human person! He's not a tool for you to use!"
Sozin looked at him for a moment. "Wait..." he said. "Aang...wasn't that the name of your friend?" Kuzon looked nervous. Sozin rose from his chair and approached Kuzon. "It was him, wasn't it?" Sozin punched the wall in frustration "I should have realized then! I could have saved so much trouble! I was too young and foolish." He paced the room for a few minutes. "Now Kuzon, I don't want your personal feelings to get in the way. We have to make sacrifices for the greater good. I have to do what's in the best interests of the Fire Nation, and it's in the best interests of the world for it to be ruled by the strongest, most capable element."
Sozin walked back to the dais and took his seat. "But Sozin, you promised you'd keep the Avatar alive..." Kuzon started.
"I intended to, until the battle... Then I changed my mind," he said casually. Then he gave Kuzon a stare. "Brother, do not oppose me."
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Enemies and Traitors chapters|
|Prologues - Brothers - Responsibilities - Necessities - Resources - The Avatar - Opportunities - Preparations - Betrayals - Changing Plans - Scars - Counting Losses - Exiles - Ghosts - Homecoming - The Traitor and the Firelord - Escapes - The Last Chance - Legacies|