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Opportunities is the sixth chapter of the AU fanfiction story.
Sozin recalls how his ancestors used the Comet's power to establish their Fire Lord dynasty. He formulates a plan to go to war for Kalden Island, and enlists the help of former war criminal to design special tanks for him. He does this despite Kuzon's objections.
Sozin was in his observatory, fuming as he spun a gyroscope he had had made. He usually came to the royal observatory when he was angry or depressed. The airbenders had refused his offers and there was nothing he could do about it. He still had some emissaries in the other nations, but they certainly wouldn't make any progress if even the airbenders didn't think he was important enough to negotiate with. Sozin was tired. He walked over to the chair in front of the observation table and fell into it. He put his hand over his face and rubbed his brow. They all think I'm weak, he thought. They have every right to think that if I can't make this Nation powerful again.
Sozin sighed loudly. He looked into the sextant. He looked at different patches of the sky, noting the movement of the constellations. The constellation of the Heavenly Spearman would be rising soon. He looked up at the sky. I need help with this...There must be a way...
Frustrated, Sozin walked slowly back to the palace and began wandering, looking for anything to inspire him. How could he recapture the island with no resources or soldiers? Soon starvation would set in, and the Fire Nation would get even weaker and more unstable. Mother told me to be strong, but it's so hard. She thought I was a failure as a child and she would still think so now! It all ran through Sozin's head as he wandered, coming to a stop at the Royal Family's private ancestral shrine. He decided to appeal to the honored Lords of Fire before him for help. He lit the incense and tried to pray, looking at the portraits so neatly lined up in the shrine. He imagined his picture there. The way my rule is going, my picture will be last one before we're overthrown. He looked down across all the portraits. I'm shaming them all...I hate myself! He looked past the picture of the first Firelord of his dynasty, thinking that some new family might soon have a picture of Sozin's usurper in that place. How did you do it, honored ancestors? How did you bring our family to power? He thought of the Jubilee, the celebration of the ruling family's rise to power centuries ago, that it might fall on a new date if he were to fail. Every hundred years the Jubilee was extra special, Sozin remembered. But why was that again? There hadn't been a centennial jubilee in his lifetime. Something to do with how his ancestor, the first Firelord of his dynasty, had come to power. The comet. The comet! The Comet! That was it! Sozin's ancestor had discovered the comet's power and used it to launch a series of tactical strikes on his rivals and unite the Fire Nation under one ruler. The comet had always been considered a symbol of security, prosperity, and good luck in the Fire Nation, although to other nations it was considered a harbinger of bad luck. I have an observatory. I can calculate the comet's course and when to use it to maximum effect, Sozin thought. He clenched one hand triumphantly and stared into the darkness around him where the meager candlelight didn't reach. "I will be remembered as a great Firelord. I will make this nation strong again."
Sozin knew that the next centennial would fall in four years, and over the next few nights, he and his astronomers calculated its trajectory and discovered a wonderful surprise. "Then that means," Sozin said, "that in four years this comet will pass lower than any in history." Sozin's face lit up. "This nation will be great again," he whispered to himself and the darkness. He spun back around and barked to his astronomers and Fire Sages, "Summon Scholar Shunkai! I think he is about to prove himself very useful."
Steam power had just been invented by Shunkai during the Civil War, but had not really been incorporated into any large-scale machines. Kuzon was at his brother's right hand the following day when Shunkai was brought before Sozin, just as the Firelord had requested. The guards dumped the shackled man before Sozin in the throne room. "You are Scholar Shunkai, are you not?" Sozin asked.
Kuzon's eyes went wide as he stared at the man. "Shunkai?" he exclaimed. He never expected to see the man alive. He hoped Sozin was just going to have him executed.
Everyone knew Shunkai was the most notorious traitor of the civil war. Rumor had it he was some kind of genius, and at a young age he was offered a position as a vizier and court scholar under Genzai in the waning years of his rule. When the civil war broke out, he feigned loyalty to Izuma for a few months, but then defected to Kai Hin's side, taking certain pieces of valuable military intelligence with him. He had also developed a device that could launch a child's top using steam power, as part of a project to develop a new power source with which Kai Hin had charged him. Izuma, Sozin's father Jiroh, and some other generals were able to reorganize their strategy, but they lost time and came out at a disadvantage until Roku lent his aid to the loyalists. For his crimes, Shunkai was sentenced to life imprisonment.
But now Sozin had plucked him out of jail. He stood before the Firelord in shackles and the filthy rags that had to pass for clothes to prisoners. He was gaunt and his once pale skin had become discolored from years of hard physical labor in the sun, which all scholars despise. It was tanned, but also had a hint of yellow to it, like parchment might if left outside under the same conditions. His hair and beard were unkempt and flea-infested, hanging down in greasy strands over pinched facial features and darting, beady eyes.
"Since Kai Hin's men burned your original designs for a steam-powered engine, I am told the only place to obtain such designs is in your mind. Am I correct?" Sozin questioned.
"Yes," Shunkai hissed. "...My lord." He pronounced the last word like a curse.
"I have a proposition for you, Shunkai," Sozin said. "You will design and build a steam engine that can be applied to ships and other machines of war for me, and I will formally pardon you and reward you handsomely," Sozin motioned to a guard who opened a small chest filled with gold pieces, "or you will rot in a jail cell for the rest of your miserable life." He paused briefly. "Need some time to think it over?" Sozin mocked.
Now Kuzon had to interject in protest. "Shunkai?" he cried. "How can you even think of trying to get his help, Sozin? He's a traitor. He's an enemy of the Fire Nation and our family. I don't care what he can build, you can't accept help from a person like that!" Kuzon was becoming increasingly dismayed by the people his brother had surrounded himself with since Sozin had become Firelord. Sozin had even allowed their stepfather to keep his position as the head general, even after how he had treated both of them growing up. Sozin had told Kuzon that Gizu was just the best man for the job, and that personal feelings didn't enter into the decision.
"Be still, Kuzon!" Sozin snapped, shooting him an angry askance look. "I am fully aware of who he is. Just relax, it's strictly politics," Sozin said, very suddenly adopting a comforting tone. He motioned Kuzon over to him and whispered to him. Sozin was not ready to fully reveal his plan to anyone but his brother yet. "If the airbenders do not return them willingly, I'm afraid I'm going to have to recapture the southern orchards in order to augment our food supply and end all the starvation. I can't hope to win with the Fire Nation so weak, but in four years a centennial Jubilee will occur and the Comet will return. If this one passes close enough I might be able to conquer that island with even our limited forces. It could be the miracle we need to begin reconstruction, and become strong again."
Kuzon was shocked. He had mostly stopped listening after his brother said the word "conquer." He couldn't believe it. War? "You're...really planning to go to war with another nation?" the fourteen-year-old asked.
Sozin smiled at him as though he were as innocent as a baby. "Kuzon, I know you skipped a lot of history lessons, but you do remember that Kalden Island was historically part of the Fire Nation. They rightfully belong to us and we need that food right now. It's the only way to capture this food source we need to rebuild all the parts of our nation damaged by the war. People are starving every day. Not only that, they'll soon want to overthrow me. It's the only way to save the people and keep this nation strong." Kuzon thought about it. It made sense. He didn't want anyone to starve, or his brother overthrown. His brother probably knew better than he did anyway.
Sozin now turned his attention back to the prisoner. "Shunkai, you will be provided with resources and a chamber here at the palace in order to complete your task, but you will still be considered a prisoner until your war machines are ready and you have fully proven your loyalty to me. Understood?"
"I followed Kai Hin because at the time I believed his side would be the winning one. I won't lie: I wanted power, a place in the court. I picked the wrong side. If my great lord will grant me freedom...I will do whatever he wishes," Shunkai said, bowing low. Sozin motioned and the guards escorted the prisoner to his new quarters.
After he was gone, Sozin realized Kuzon still looked uncomfortable. "I'm sorry brother, but this is the only choice. I'm doing it for the greater good. Please believe me when I say that." Kuzon looked at his feet, then silently nodded.
A few months later the scene in the throne room was almost exactly the same. This time, however, Shunkai was well-dressed in red scholar's robes, his oily hair slicked back and curling at the collar, although mostly hidden under a wide, puffy scholar's hat. He had an easel with blueprints for a new machine, a tank, which incorporated his steam engine and was, he hoped, exactly what the Firelord was looking for.
"Launches grappling hooks here," Shunkai indicated on the blueprint. "These treads are spiked to dig into solid rock. You can see this turret here. It rotates 360 degrees. A firebender can be stationed inside to lay down short range fire."
Sozin sat with his fingers interlaced, resting his hands in front of his mouth. "This can scale mountains?" he inquired
"I designed it for all-terrain deployment. It should be able to scale a mountain."
"All right. Bring this to the war ministry office on the other side of the palace grounds. I want to see a prototype in three months. We're going to test it."
Shunkai bowed. "Thank you, Lord Sozin." He turned to leave the room.
"This had better not be a waste of money, Shunkai...for your sake."
Sozin had just recently created the war ministry as part of his military expansion program. While Shunkai was almost effortlessly designing Sozin's new machines, Sozin began several programs to put the war effort into full tilt. He issued an isolation decree to prevent word of military expansion from getting to the other nations. No one came into or went out of Sozin's country. Anyone who tried to sneak out was executed. The lack of trade meant a temporary spike in deaths from starvation, but Sozin always believed it was for the greater good. He told the people that sacrifices now would make them better off in the future.
Sozin increased firebender and soldier recruitment drives. As the comet drew nearer, he changed to forced conscriptions. He began construction on steam-powered warships. Metal refineries and mining complexes sprang up all over the Fire Nation, especially on the barren earth left over from Kai Hin's attacks. Since crops could no longer grow there, they were used as land for factories, and became some of the Nation's largest industrial districts. To Kuzon's dismay, Sozin kept Shunkai around to oversee the design and production of steam-powered machines. Shunkai eventually became as close to Sozin as any of his advisors. Eventually Sozin formally made him War Minister. Of course, what the people heard about Shunkai was that he was a reformed traitor who had realized the error of his ways and only wanted to make amends and serve his country. Naturally, their magnanimous Firelord granted the humble penitent's wish.
Some nobles and commoners still objected to the military expansion. They did not like paying the higher taxes and the siphoning of resources to the military. And some just thought it was wrong for the Fire Nation to display such aggression. Sozin would not allow dissent to ruin his Nation's one chance to regain its glory. He established an elite force of secret police, which would snuff out any potentially rebellious sentiment. He couldn't let the civil war repeat itself, could he? Sozin wanted someone he could trust as head of the secret police, but he thought Kuzon was too young for something so dangerous, so he gave the job to Gizu. Though in his late forties, he was still a capable warrior, and one of Sozin's top generals. While the Death's Head Helmet with the skull motif had been introduced for standard military firebenders, Sozin's secret police wore red, horned helmets that wrapped around the entire head with the exception of two eye holes and decoration on the forehead, all framed in white.
Sozin also created a council to oversee newspapers and publications, and make sure they didn't contain any treasonous sentiment. Eventually this council put out its own literature for the purpose of glorifying the Fire Nation and its ruler. For the most part it worked, and almost the whole Nation was behind their beloved tyrant as the comet drew ever closer.
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|