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19 January 2014 (original)
None; book begins
The Fire Nation Royal Palace stood as the largest structure in the caldera that was the country's capital, casting an almost ominous presence with its tall towers. Well, at least, that was what he believed when he had first visited the place a few years ago. Back when he and the other Water Tribe warriors first broke into the heart of the Fire Nation, during the day of Black Sun. The Palace seemed almost like a mark of their progress to them, showing how far they had come, and being a sign of the impending victory.
Well, at least it was until the airships had arrived.
Sokka smiled at the thought as he gazed out one of the Palace's windows. To think, that a few short years ago, he came here as a conqueror. And yet now he was here on a diplomatic mission. Since the major problems in the western Earth Kingdom had ended, Sokka took up the role of the Water Tribe's ambassador to the Fire Nation (at his father's strong suggestion). Helping Fire Lord Zuko, the man who hunted and tried to capture them, rebuild his country. The Fire Nation!
Who would have guessed what fate ultimately had in store for him?
As he looked through the window, deep in thought, the Water Tribe ambassador didn't pay much attention to what was being said behind him. They were in the diplomatic wing the Palace (which was installed on Zuko's orders, he insisted on ambassadors residing there), where the Fire Lord had just finished talking with him about some minor trade agreement or something. Sokka wasn't paying too much, to be honest. Shortly after their meeting, Qin, the former War Minister and now the "Defense Minister" (a title change, one of the results of Zuko's reforms) came to give the Fire Lord his daily report.
Ever since the end of the War, the new Fire Lord insisted on getting reports on the progress of the Fire Nation military's new program. Sokka, as a warrior and a diplomat, had often went with Zuko to oversee the implementation of the man's plans. He demobilized all of the military's conscripts and half of the Fire Navy fleet was now in the progress of decommissioning (either being scrapped or refitted for civilian use). Sokka came up with a clever name for it that Zuko decided to adopt as the official title: The "Victory Without War" Program. At the very least, the name would make soldiers feel like they were doing something more important than it may seem to them. So far, it was proceeding smoothly. For the most part, Sokka corrected himself.
They had a few occasional problems with resistance groups now and then (the so-called "New Ozai Society" came to mind), but for the most part the transition was peaceful.
Although there were still economic and social problems in the country, Sokka had no doubt in his friend's leadership ability. Zuko would be able to overcome the problems, he was certain. And hopefully at that point Sokka could quit this job as the Water Tribe ambassador to the Fire Nation and get back to Suki–.
"Wait, what was that last thing you said?"
Zuko's loud voice snapped Sokka out of his thoughts. Defense Minister Qin was going over the latest happenings in the military.
"I merely mentioned, Your Majesty, that one of the Fire Navy communications outposts in the far east had failed to send its weekly report," said the Minister calmly. "I am confident that it is nothing to worry about, Your Majesty. Probably just a mistake."
Zuko looked thoughtful for a moment. "You're right. It would be a mistake to ignore something like this."
Qin looked like he was about to say something, probably a comment on the Fire Lord's paranoia, but Zuko didn't give him the chance. "I agree that it is probably nothing too serious, but we cannot take that chance. I suggest sending a small task force to the post to investigate."
The Minister nodded, knowing from his years of service to Zuko's predecessor that a "suggest" from the Fire Lord usually meant "get to it". Zuko was not like his father, of course, but he nonetheless expected efficiency and obedience from his ministers.
Sokka couldn't blame his friend for being cautious. Although his country was on the road to recovery from the events of the past century, the fabric of Fire Nation society was still fragile. Believe it or not, there were still those who believed that Ozai or Azula ought to sit on Scarlet Throne instead of Zuko (the absurdity!). However, they have been effectively forced into silence as Fire Lord Zuko grew in popularity in recent years. But that doesn't mean that they won't attempt anything. Again, I should add.
"I will tell General Mak to assemble a squadron to investigate," Qin was saying. He gave Zuko a departing bow.
The Fire Lord nodded, and continued looking like he was deep in thought as the Defense Minister walked to the door and left the room.
General Mak was the new Supreme Commander of the Fire Nation Armed Forces. A man who had been stationed in the Fire Nation colonies for much of his service during the war, Mak was eager to see the conflict end and was one of Zuko's strongest supporters in the military. Sokka had met him during his inspections of the military with Zuko, and found him to be a reliable and efficient man.
"An outpost in the far east?" the Fire Lord murmured to himself. "There aren't many towns or anything out there. Those islands are sparsely populated. Strange."
Zuko then looked up at Sokka, as if just remembered his presence. "What do you think, Ambassador?"
He said the last word half-jokingly, with a grin on his slightly tired-looking face. Sokka smiled back at him in return, glad to see that the Fire Lord wasn't letting the stress of politics get to him.
"Well, Your Majesty, as the minister said, it's probably nothing, but it couldn't hurt to investigate," Sokka told him. "In the meantime, I suggest that we investigate the kitchen! All of this diplomacy is making me hungry!"
- The prologue and the story were originally written in early 2014, but the author decided to return to it and completely rewrote it. The new version was published in July 2015.
- General Mak is supposed to be the canon character Mak.
For the collective works of the author, go here.