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The Spirit Within



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Chapter 1 (The Spirit Within, Part 1)

When I look back now, I see that, from the moment I laid eyes on her, I was enchanted. We were both five, and she had just come to live with Uncle. Lu Ten was ten years older than we were, and Azula, two years younger.

Uncle had invited us to Ember Island for the weekend, to meet her. My first glimpse of her was from afar, swimming in the sea – diving and frolicking, "like a duck," said Uncle. "Comes from her mother," sniffed Father. She emerged from the water, small and thin, and it was then that I realized that she had red hair. I had never seen red hair before; those of Fire Nation blood were brown-haired or black. Not red. Never red. Azula, who was hanging behind Mom, tugged on her sleeve. "Her hair is red, Mommy. It's so pretty. It looks like it's on fire." Azula was breathless with excitement.

I have rarely heard Azula compliment anyone, and most certainly it was the only time she ever complimented Lan Chi.

Later on in life, when I met Lan Chi again, she would beguile me, like those mythical creatures who lure sailors and fishermen to their deaths with fevered kisses and loving arms. Even now, I sometimes find my thoughts completely possessed by her, when I should be working or concentrating on something other than waves of red hair and large, liquid brown eyes. Such is the nature of enchantment.

"Stand up straight."

The little girl did as her father bade her. "Yes, Sir."

"Now, you will obey your new governess, correct?"

"Yes, Sir."

At the age of three, Lady Lan Chi Sun was being left alone, again. Her father was about to go back to sea, and, with the death of her mother and baby brother the year before, a governess was about to become both mother and father to her.

"Have you memorized the Fire Nation national oath?"

"Yes, Father."

"Let's hear it, then."

She started slowly. " My life, I give to my country. With my – hands, I fight for Fire Lord Azulon and our forefathers between – I mean before him. With my mind, I seek – ways, ways to better my country. And with my feet, may our March of Civilization continue."

A smile broke from him. "Good girl!" He pulled her in for a hug. "You are a true daughter of fire."

She smiled back. "Thank you, Father."

He set her on his lap. "Can you do a proper Fire Nation greeting?"

She nodded and placed a fisted hand below her upright, open palm. Her father laughed in delight. "What a bright little girl you are, Lan!"

"Thank you, Father."

He became serious. "I am leaving soon, Lan, and I will be gone a long time. But I want you to remember one thing: you are a member of one of the oldest and most illustrious families in the Fire Nation. Never forget that. Never forget who you are. Your ancestor was the youngest brother of the very first Fire Lord, over a thousand years ago. Your aunt Su Hsing will be Queen one day, and your cousin Lu Ten will be Fire Lord after that."

"Yes, Father."

"One day, you will meet the Fire Lord. Do you remember what I taught you to say?"

She nodded. "I humbly serve at the pleasure of the Fire Lord."

"That's right. And never turn your back on the Fire Lord. And when you bow, always get on your knees and put your forehead on the floor."

"Yes, Father. Will I need to do that soon?"

He laughed. "No, I don't think so, dearest. I hope to be back before you ever visit the capital. We will go there together - someday."

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