Zuko yells at Kazu, and goes to head out. Sozin finally appears.
Chapter 3: Koji and Embers
"Why didn't you tell me that your nephew was the Avatar?" yelled Zuko. It was morning, and Roku had left earlier for school, leaving him and Kazu alone in the house. To put it lightly, Zuko was not happy with the events of last night.
Kazu looked nervous, something Zuko couldn't blame him for. Zuko had inherited Ozai's temper, after all, which made him rather scary when angered. "I...I didn't think it mattered?" stumbled Kazu. "Besides, Roku is only thirteen. He doesn't even know he's the Avatar yet."
"It does matter!" yelled Zuko, still mad over last night. "It means that I'm in the last time period I ever wanted to be in!"
"At least that means you're familiar with this period, which should help you with your task," replied Kazu. He looked rather less nervous now.
"Not helping at all!" said a frustrated Zuko. He was trying to calm down now, and control his temper. "Just...how am I supposed to stay in this time without doing something stupid?"
"Define stupid," replied Kazu.
"Accidentally wiping out my own existence, getting a lot of people here to hate me, accidentally letting something about the future slip, and making the future worse than in my time, if that's even possible." Zuko paused, thinking that was everything. "That sort of stuff. How am I supposed to do this if I keep stressing over it? I was fine yesterday, but now...now that I know where I am, I...I don't know if I can do this."
Apparently, it took the realization of exactly where he was, coupled with a good night's sleep, for everything to sink in. Now that it did, however, he was finally feeling the stress and pressure of this whole thing.
He still wasn't sure why he was here. Though with this knowledge, he wouldn't be surprised if the spirits did this just to drive him crazy. But...this also met that he'd never see his Uncle or friends until he finally got back to his own time. Well, assuming the spirits were actually nice enough to send him back.
"I think you need to go out," replied Kazu at last. "Go and get some fresh air. It might help to clear your head. Why don't you go visit that boy you befriended yesterday at the palace?"
"He's not my friend!" yelled Zuko. "I don't even know the kid's name, actually!" Zuko then paused, thinking over the subject longer. "Though that's not a bad idea, actually. I wasn't too nice to him yesterday, since I was just so stressed and confused over everything at the time. I need to go apologize."
"His name is Koji," replied Kazu. "Though I must ask you not to tell anyone about my nephew. There is a reason why the Avatar's identity isn't revealed until after they turn sixteen. So please keep your silence on the matter."
"I will," replied Zuko, though he still wasn't sure why they waited until sixteen over here. Aang had to do it at twelve, after all. Zuko, however, had a feeling that the reason was common knowledge here, and he didn't feel a need to reveal his ignorance. He wisely choose not to comment on the Avatar part.
"That includes my nephew as well," replied Kazu. "I know you'll probably become friends with him, but don't tell him that he's the Avatar either."
Um...okay. Though Roku is a year older than Aang was back home. "I won't tell Roku anything, okay? Can I go outside now?" Zuko really thought he needed his fresh air right about now.
"Sure. Go ahead, Zuko. Stay safe," replied Kazu. "Just be back later before it gets dark."
"Ok, Kazu. I'll be back before then!" he yelled. He hoped this time outside would at least calm him down somewhat.
Sozin was in the school cafeteria, eating his lunch. Roku was beside him, messing with his food. Sozin sighed, that wasn't a good sign. Whenever Roku did that, something was up.
"Roku?" asked Sozin, slowly. "What happened?" He only hoped that it wasn't anything bad.
"I...I..." began Roku, hesitatingly. That wasn't a good sign, thought Sozin. "Um, Sozin...we now have some company at my place."
That was the last thing that Sozin was expecting to hear. Why would Roku have company there? "Um, how? What happened, Roku? Is he being mean to you?" He was feeling protective over his friend right now.
"No, nothing like that," replied Roku, hesitating. "I don't understand all the details myself yet. He only came around yesterday, after all, and he's doesn't seem all that talkative..."
"Out with it, Roku," commanded Sozin, losing his patience. "Who is he?"
"Apparently, he's a relative of mine I've never heard of until today. Bit weird to be honest, seeing as my father never mentioned these people before, but whatever. Something happened, so he's staying with us now."
Sozin stared at his friend. That did seem weird, but then again, he always thought Roku's family was weird. He, however, was a bit curious about who this relative was.
"Well, fishy circumstances aside, what can you tell me about him?" asked Sozin, trying to get to the bottom of this.
"Honestly," began Roku, "barely anything. We only had one short conversation so far, and I did more talking than him. All I can tell you is that he seems shy, and has a rather distinctive scar on the left side of his face."
"Where'd he get that scar from?" asked Sozin. He really didn't see too many people around with those.
"I didn't ask," responded Roku. "I figured it was too personal, and he has no reason to tell me that stuff." He shrugged, in dismissal. Sozin frowned at that. Roku might not have asked, but he thought it was important somehow.
"I want to meet this relative of yours," said Sozin. "You can't tell me all that stuff, and expect me to not see him."
"Fine. My place. Tonight," replied Roku. "You can meet him then."
Zuko sat on one of the walls in the Capital, thinking. Despite what he had told Kazu, he had yet to actually visit the servant boy. There was just too much on his mind right now, and his talk with Kazu hadn't helped any.
He wasn't sure entirely what to think of this whole thing. Way too many things had happened in less than a day, and his mind couldn't keep up with it.
He missed his Uncle already. He was the only constant presence at his side for the past three years, the only one that stuck by him, despite all his bad choices. True, he was separated from his Uncle after he joined the Avatar, but at least by then, he knew what he had to do.
That was the problem, he realized. He had no idea exactly what he was expected to do over here. His Uncle was always his guiding force, always ready with advice. Zuko never appreciated it at the time, but...now he realized exactly how helpful that was. If he ever got back to his own time, he'd really have to thank his Uncle for everything.
But there was no time to dwell on things. If he kept this up, there was no way he'd be able to get anything done over here. Speaking of things, he still had no idea exactly what to do with himself. He supposed it was best to just take it a little at a time, until he figured something out.
Zuko got up from the wall, and started walking towards the palace. If he was going to do this, it had to be now. He took a deep breath, still a bit nervous over what would happen today. It was irrational, but the palace just brought back too many bad memories.
"What is your business here?" asked a palace guard. He looked intimidating, which Zuko supposed was a job requirement for a guard. Zuko inwardly groaned. He should have been expecting this, really, but he was just too used to guards knowing who he was.
"Um..." began a nervous Zuko. That guard must have taken intimidation lessons. "I'm here to...um...talk to one of the servants." It's just a guard, stupid...you don't need to be so nervous. "I believe he's named Koji?"
The guard frowned, and Zuko had a feeling that he wasn't too happy over this. "Fine. Go ahead. Stupid servants, and their stupid friends. Just don't mess anything up." The guard parted, and let Zuko enter.
Well, that was easy, even though that guard was rude, thought Zuko. Now he just had to make his way to the servant quarters of the castle. Luckily, he knew where they were, since nobody seemed inclined to show him. The palace's general atmosphere might be different, but the room structure seemed to be the same in both time periods. Zuko was grateful for this small favor, after all his bad luck so far.
Finally, after a bit of walking, he arrived at the right area. These quarters were stuck in a more remote part of the castle, which made getting to them annoying. Zuko also noticed that this area wasn't as nice as the rest of the castle, though he really shouldn't be that surprised. Most upper-class people didn't care about the servants.
"Hello, young one. May I help you?" asked a woman from behind him. Zuko turned around, startled, and laid his eyes on a servant woman. He wasn't expecting this, but perhaps it would make his search easier.
"Uh...yeah. I'm looking for a certain servant...um...one named Koji. Would you know where he..um...is?" said a nervous Zuko. Gee, Zuko. It's just a servant. There's no need to get so nervous around her.
"Koji?" asked the lady, suddenly growing excited. "You actually want him?" Zuko nodded, not sure where this was going. "Well, he's currently on duty, but as long as you don't distract him, you're welcome to go over there, and talk to him."
"That sounds great," replied Zuko, wondering at the sudden change. "Where is he in the palace right now?"
"Well...," began the lady, opening a thick book she had with her, "it would appear that Koji is currently on feeding duty. He would be in UG Unit 4 if you want to go catch him."
UG Unit 4? What was that? Either the past used a different room numbering system, or they decided to add or remove some rooms in the future. There goes his earlier theory over the rooms being the same.
He thought about looking for it himself, but immediately dismissed that thought. With his luck, Koji would be gone by the time he found it. It would just be easier to ask the lady for directions, even though it would be weird. Then again, that lady had no idea who he really was, so it should be okay. There were probably plenty of new visitors who didn't understand the naming scheme.
"Um...can you show me where this UG Unit 4 is?" asked Zuko. "I'm new here, and don't know where everything is."
It turned out that the UG series of rooms were part of a series of underground rooms in the palace. Either they hadn't existed in Zuko's time, or nobody realized they were there. It was worth looking into later, but for now, he was content just to learn more about this time period.
Unit 4 in particular was special, because it was both underground, and on the ground floor of the palace. From what Zuko learned, it was set up this way, because of the animals kept down there. There were even tunnels in the Unit 4 room that allowed the animals to go outside, and hunt if they wanted. He didn't entirely get it yet, but he was sure it would make more sense after they arrived at the room.
The lady from earlier left Zuko at the entrance. Apparently, she had to get back to her own work, so Zuko was stuck talking to the servant on his own. Just what he needed. He really wasn't looking forward to this conversation at all. How was he supposed to convince this guy that he wasn't crazy?
Zuko summoned up what little courage he had left, and entered the room. He stared, shocked at the sight before him. He should have been expecting this, really, but to see it in front of him was another thing entirely.
He first noticed a large red dragon gazing at him with her blue eyes. Zuko didn't know why, but those eyes really unsettled him. The dragon finally looked away from Zuko, and laid her head back down, content where she was. A large blue dragon was lying down next to the red one, nuzzling her with his snout.
Dragons...how was he supposed to deal with dragons? He barely knew anything about them, and now here they were, alive. True, he met Ran and Shao once, but those two scared him. He was so sure back then that they'd decide to eat him. As a result, he was more focused on his impending doom, than the beauty of the dragons.
The people here also grew up with dragons. Zuko didn't. How was he supposed to fit in with everyone here if he didn't know the first thing about dragons? Or all the other things Sozin changed for that matter? Why did he even agree to this in the first place?
Because you didn't have a choice, he reminded himself. It's not like the spirits came up to you, and asked you if you wanted to take a field trip into the past for who knows what reason. They decided this whole thing for you. And if it wasn't for Kazu, you would probably look even more suspicious.
That was true. But it still didn't make him feel any better over this trip to the past. There was just no way that this whole thing could work out well.
"Hey, it's you," said a voice, interrupting his internal monologue. Zuko flung around, looking towards the sound of the voice. Sure enough, it was the kid from yesterday, the one he came all this way for. He was holding a bucket filled with some meat. Though now that he was finally here, Zuko had no idea what he was supposed to say.
"Yeah, I'm back," replied Zuko, nervously. He was dreading this conversation. "Uh...listen, I'm sorry about what happened yesterday. I was just confused and frustrated, and I took some of that out on you. So um...sorry."
The boy stared at him for a few moments, tilting his head to examine Zuko. "um...it's okay." He then turned away from Zuko, and knelt down on the ground. He grabbed some meat out of the bucket, and threw it at all the dragons.
One part of Zuko just wanted to leave the room, now. He apologized, and the kid accepted the apology. He wasn't even forcing him to explain what happened, like he was expecting. Yet, he was also in a room with dragons, and a part of Zuko was really curious over these master firebenders.
His curiosity won out. Zuko approached Koji, and looked down at what he was staring at. What he saw shocked him even more than the sight of the first two dragons.
/Cute. They had little baby dragons. /There were various red and blue dragons there, curled up in between the large red and blue ones. Zuko, who had never seen a little dragon before, was instantly won over by their cuteness.
Zuko just continued staring at them. He really wanted to go touch one of the babies, but for once, his caution won over. He knew nothing about dragons, but he knew some species were overprotective of their children. Why did Sozin have to kill most of them off?
One of the little red dragons suddenly got up, and stretched his legs. He started walking over to Zuko and Koji, and then started staring at them, out of curiosity. He finally settled on Zuko's lap, and curled up on it.
Zuko was startled. A dragon actually wanted him for company? That was surprising, but he liked it. Zuko then began to stroke the dragon's head with his right hand. The dragon leaned into his touch, seeming to enjoy it.
"Uh...I think he likes you," said Koji, watching the scene. Zuko's attention shifted from the dragon to Koji. He was so caught up in the dragons that he had completely forgot that the guy was there.
"Really? What makes you say that?" asked Zuko, curious. Anything he could learn about these dragons was welcome.
"Well...um..," began Koji, "no offense, but these particular dragons usually don't go up to strangers like that. It took me a lot of trips down here, before these little guys got used to my presence."
"Oh..." replied Zuko, not really sure what else to say to that. The dragon then nuzzled Zuko's stomach, seeming to like all the attention he was getting. "Does this little guy have a name?" he suddenly asked. It seemed weird to just keep calling him dragon.
"Not yet," replied Koji, looking confused."I don't know how it is for you, but we have some traditions here. The dragons here don't actually get names until a person chooses them as a companion, or they get a task assigned to them. One of those little guys will go to Prince Sozin once he turns sixteen, but I'm not sure about the others. They might end up guarding the capital or something though."
"Dragon's aren't exactly common where I come from," replied Zuko. It was technically the truth, after all. "So we don't really do anything with them." He hoped that was at least somewhat normal in some places.
"Well, that explains quite a bit, then," replied Koji. "You seemed rather fascinated with them earlier."
"Yeah...I was. I've only seen dragons a few times before," replied Zuko. More like once, but I don't want to look too suspicious. "It also didn't help that we lived in the Earth Kingdom before I finally moved out here."
"Well, you're here now, so you'll get to see loads of dragons now," replied Koji.
"That's true," replied Zuko. "Thanks." He was starting to like Koji's company, and the way they just got along. He wasn't annoying, and didn't ask Zuko the loads of questions that he was sure Koji had. He also appreciated the value of quietness. Yes, maybe they could be friends.
A small laugh escaped Zuko at the thought. A banished Prince and a palace servant. Ozai would be so disappointed if he knew. But that only fueled his desire to at least try and see where it would end up taking them. This might even get Kazu to stop bugging him over Koji.
"What's so funny?" asked Koji, looking up from his own rounds with the dragons. Uh-oh, think of something quick.
"Uh...," hesitated Zuko. "It's just...we're getting along better, than I do with some of the other people back home. It's nice."
"It is," replied Koji, throwing some meat at the dragons. "I usually don't talk to people like this."
"Well...uh," began Zuko. I can't believe I'm doing this. "Maybe we can see each other again, and have more talks like this? I'll be staying here for a while, so we can."
"I'd like that," replied Koji, quietly. "I really would."
Zuko and Koji spent the rest of the time just sitting there with the dragons. Zuko really enjoyed the company of the little red guy that seemed to like him. Of course, Koji eventually had to leave, because he needed to go help out in the kitchens. This now left Zuko alone with the dragons.
He continued to stroke the little red dragon, deciding that he'd stay in this room just a little bit longer. Suddenly, the adult red dragon got up, and started to approach Zuko. He held the little red dragon even tighter, feeling an unexplainable urge to protect him. The adult dragon than sat down right next to Zuko. She was so close that her left whisker was now touching Zuko's right cheek.
"Hello there, Son of Zai." Huh? What was that? He could have sworn he just heard a voice in his head. "You did. I am Embers, the adult red dragon. The blue adult one over there is Blitz. Blitz is Fire Lord Azuki's dragon."
"You guys can talk?" asked Zuko, shocked.
"Only telepathically, though there are many limits to our abilities, Prince Zuko," said Embers in Zuko's head. Zuko took some time to reflect on that. All it did was make him even more confused as to why Sozin would want to kill the dragons. Then the fact that she used his title registered in his head.
"You know who I am?" asked Zuko, shocked. He really wasn't expecting anyone to figure it out, let alone a dragon.
"Yes. You are the son of Fire Lord Ozai and Princess Ursa. However, the spirits have sent you on a mission into the past," replied Embers, telepathically.
"Can you...not tell anyone about me please?" pleaded Zuko. "I'm not quite ready for them to know the truth about me yet."
"Your father's and grandfather's actions hurt you more than you want to admit, even to yourself," replied Embers. Zuko opened his mouth to protest, but Embers cut him off. "Very well. I shall keep your secret, Prince Zuko, but these things do have ways of eventually coming out."
"Do you know why the spirits sent me here?" asked Zuko, changing the topic. There was no way that it could be this easy.
"Yes, but that is something you must figure out on your own, Son of Zai," replied Embers. She seemed amused with the whole situation.
"Why am I not surprised?" asked Zuko. "But whose Zai then? Why do you keep mentioning him?"
"Fire Lord Zai is considered the founder of the Fire Lord line," replied Embers, as if that fact was obvious.
Really? I've never heard of him before, thought Zuko. Then again, he barely heard about anything pre-Sozin. "Oh. Okay then. Is there anything else you can tell me?"
"Only that there is a hard path ahead of you, Prince Zuko. You'll be faced with difficult choices ahead."
"That's not really anything new," replied Zuko. "I've had difficult choices to make ever since I was banished."
"Good luck out there, Son of Zai. You shall need it to face the challenges ahead." Embers removed her whisker, breaking her telepathic link. She then walked back over to Blitz and the little dragons.
"I don't need luck!" replied Zuko back. "I've never had it, and I seem to manage just fine without it."
Zuko finally made it back to his new home. The trip today definitely wasn't what he was expecting. Not only did he manage to make a new friend, but he actually saw dragons. That conversation he had with Embers was a bit weird though.
"Zuko, I went shopping today, and bought you some stuff," yelled Kazu. "You didn't have that much on you."
"Uh...thanks," replied Zuko. "Though you didn't have to buy me stuff, you know. I could always get a job or something." As long as it's not in another stupid tea shop, anyway.
"Nonsense. You're staying with me, so I'm responsible for you. Besides, most teenagers out here don't need jobs, since they're upper-class," said Kazu. "I know your situation is special, but I like you, and don't mind paying for your things."
"Well, I also don't mind getting a job if I have to," said Zuko. Gee, I've changed. I've always fought Uncle over getting a job, though his horrible job choices might have had something to do with that.
"Well, you don't have to. So you can go relax and have fun, like a normal teenager," replied Kazu.
"I will never be a normal teenager, Kazu," replied Zuko, heading to his room. He opened the door, expecting the room to be empty. As his luck would have it, it wasn't empty.
Roku and Prince Sozin were both on the bottom bunk bed. They appeared to be engrossed in a game of Pai Sho, and didn't even notice that he came in. Zuko just stared at the sight for a second, not sure what to make of it. He knew they were friends, but he never expected to catch Sozin doing something so...normal. This whole trip was just getting too weird for him.
"Roku, is this the guy you told me about?" asked Prince Sozin, looking up from their game. Zuko now regretted coming into his bedroom.
"Yep. That's Zuko," replied Roku. "Uh, sorry for taking over your part of the bed like that, but we were bored."
"It's fine," replied Zuko. "It's not even that late anyway. I'll um...just go hang somewhere else, and you two can get back to your game in peace." He ran out of that room as fast as possible, before Roku or Sozin could stop him. He really did not want to interact with Sozin any longer than he had to. He was fine with Roku, but he absolutely refused to hang around Sozin.
Roku stared at the door as it closed behind him and Sozin. What was up with Zuko? There was enough space in the bedroom for all three of them.
"Roku," said Sozin, "I don't think your relative likes me." Roku turned to face his friend. He was not expecting that to come out of his mouth. But Sozin was a bit too sensitive over that stuff.
"It's not that he doesn't like you...," began Roku, not sure how to broach the subject. "It's just that...well, he only just met you."
"He talked to you yesterday!" protested Sozin. "He won't even talk to me." He frowned, clearly upset at the situation.
"Well, you are the Prince of the Fire Nation. That does tend to intimidate some people. Zuko's just shy, and he's in a new environment. That can't be easy for him. Just give him some time," replied Roku.
"I...guess I can try. But I'll always have you, right Roku?" asked Sozin.
"Yes, you do. Always"