It has been three years since Zuko was banished from the Fire Nation and three years since he started his hunt for the Avatar. The waters of the South Pole were tricky to navigate, the massive icebergs forcing their ship to move slowly to maintain maximum maneuverability. What Zuko hated the most though was the cold. The weather of the South Pole was about as different from that of the Fire Nation as possible, at least the Earth Kingdom was warm, but down South it was frigid. The cold winds and snow made the whole ship feel frozen. As uncomfortable as the cold was though, Zuko was not deterred in his search for the Avatar. Standing on the deck of his ship Zuko surveyed the surrounding waters looking for any sign of the Avatar. Just as he was thinking of heading inside to warm up a great pillar of light shot up into the sky. Zuko stared at it in awe for a moment before excitedly turning to his Uncle.
“Uncle! Do you know what this means?”
“That I don’t get to finish my game?” guessed Iroh.
“It means ,” Zuko stressed, “that my search is finally over. That light came from a very powerful source; it must have been the Avatar.”
Iroh sighed as he continued his game. “Or it was just the celestial lights. We’ve been down this path before, Prince Zuko.”
Zuko scowled at his uncle, his temper starting to rise. After three years of searching he finally has a real lead and his uncle is just brushing it off as celestial lights? “It was the Avatar, I’m sure of it. Helmsman! Set a course for that light, I’m going to find the Avatar.”
They had spent hours searching the area around the pillar of light and the only thing they ever found was more icebergs. Zuko was getting frustrated, looking through his telescope for even the smallest clue as to where the Avatar went. Everyday he prayed to any spirit he could think of that he would one day find the Avatar and today seemed to be his lucky day.
“Finally.” Zuko muttered.
Through his telescope he saw the bright flare of a Fire Nation ship being shot into the sky and emerging from the ship he saw two people, a Water Tribe girl and a bald person wearing the yellow and orange robes of the Air Nomads. He tracked them for a moment to see they were headed toward a village not too far away.
“He’s pretty spry in his old age.” Zuko mused before commanding his crew to set a course for the small village.
As they sailed toward the village Zuko got a couple of his crew members to help him put on his armour. Though he wasn’t planning on fighting the Southern Water Tribe he assumed they would be hostile toward him and didn’t want to take any chances. Moments after he finished putting on his armour Lieutenant Jee knocked on the door to his room.
“Prince Zuko.” Jee greeted him with a bow. “We will be arriving at the village momentarily.”
Zuko took a deep breath and smiled slightly. “Thank you Lieutenant, in that case let’s head out to the deck.” They walked through the narrow hallways of the ship and arrived on deck just in time for the ship to crash into the ice at the edge of the village. Jee stumbled trying to keep his balance while Zuko just sighed and slumped his shoulders in defeat. “Yup,” he muttered, “this is a great first impression. Thanks a lot Helmsman Lee.” Zuko straightened up as the ramp was lowered… right onto the village’s wall. Zuko wanted to scream but managed to keep his composure.
“I’m going alone.” Zuko said as a few members of his crew made to follow him, they stopped in their tracks and some made to protest but Zuko cut them off. “I don’t want us to seem more threatening than we already do.” With a final calming breath Zuko began walking down the ramp to be immediately charged by a young warrior. Zuko ducked out of the way and the warrior (who really, was younger than Zuko by the looks of him) lost his balance and fell off the ramp into the snow. Zuko glanced at the warrior boy for a moment before continuing toward the group of people gathered in the middle of the small village. He stopped about twenty feet away from them.
“Uh, hello,” Zuko gave an awkward wave, “I am Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation.” The villagers just glared at him. Zuko looked behind him at the destroyed snow wall and cleared his throat. “Sorry about your wall, my helmsman is kinda old.” He went to scratch the back of his head nervously but quickly realized he was still wearing his helmet and lowered his hand back down. There was a shout from behind him and the warrior rushed him again. Zuko easily sidestepped him and the warrior tripped in the snow. “I mean you no harm!” Zuko announced as he took a step away from the persistent warrior.
A girl not much younger than him spoke up, drawing his attention. “Why should we believe you? We’ve been attacked by the Fire Nation before, it’s bound to happen again.” Zuko noted how even though her voice was strong and confident she gripped tightly to the arm of the old woman next to her. ‘Her grandmother maybe?’ Zuko thought.
Zuko flicked his eyes toward the warrior boy who had seemingly given up and was just sitting in the snow; he was probably waiting to see how this would play out. “You can trust me,” Zuko said, “because I’ve been attacked by the Fire Nation too.” He took off his helmet to reveal his scar. It was a weak effort at gaining their trust but it was all he had. A few of the villagers started murmuring to each other but he ignored it. “I came here searching for the Avatar.” Zuko explained. “I know he’s here and I must speak with him, it is very important.”
It was the warrior who spoke this time. “I hate to break it to you Prince Ponytail but the Avatar hasn’t been seen in over 100 years, everyone knows that.”
Zuko gaped at him for a moment before regaining his composure. “My name’s not- you know what nevermind.” Zuko slapped his own forehead in frustration. “I saw the airbender at that old Fire Navy wreck, just tell me where he is and I’ll leave you alone.” Zuko waited for a response and he didn’t expect it to come in the form of a young boy sliding down the hill on a penguin-otter. A huge pile of snow was blasted onto the warrior as the boy and his penguin came to a stop.
“Hey, Aang, thanks for coming.” The warrior greeted in a monotone voice.
“Hey Sokka!” Aang turned to the girl. “Hi Katara!”
‘ Alright, Aang, Sokka, and Katara, now I know some of their names.’ Thought Zuko.
Zuko looked at the boy and immediately noticed the Air Nomad tattoos he bore. “Wait. You’re the Avatar? But you’re just a kid!” Zuko exclaimed.
“So?” Aang shrugged. “You’re just a teenager.”
Zuko opened his mouth to protest but realized Aang wasn't wrong. Instead he made a request. “Can you prove you’re the Avatar? The Avatar is supposed to be an Airbender. Can you airbend?”
Aang grinned and popped open his glider. “Can I airbend? Of course I can airbend! I earned these tattoos you know.” And with that Aang did a few tricks and loops on his glider before landing in front of Zuko. Zuko was in awe, he’d heard stories of airbenders being able to fly but seeing it first hand was amazing. Zuko bowed to Aang when he landed and made to introduce himself.
“It is truly an honour to meet you Avatar Aang.” Aang answered with a sheepish chuckle, clearly not accustomed to such formalities. “My name is Zuko, I am the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation and the great-grandson of Avatar Roku. I would be honoured to assist you in any way I can.”
“Woah! You’re related to Avatar Roku? That’s so cool!” Aang exclaimed. “But why do you want to help me? Sokka and Katara told me the Fire Nation was waging war against everyone, and last I checked being the Avatar kinda means stopping wars not continuing them.”
Zuko nodded, understanding Aang’s confusion. “Yes, I know it seems odd but my great-grandfather wanted to end this war before it even began but he died before he could complete his goal. I have decided to carry on his will and bring an end to this war and teaming up with you is the best plan that I have.”
“Well, I can’t end the war right now, actually.” Aang admitted.
Zuko was taken aback. “What? Why not?” He demanded.
“I only know how to airbend, I never learned how to bend all the elements before I got frozen in that iceberg a hundred years ago.”
Zuko just stood there blinking at the young Avatar but internally he was trying to keep his cool. ‘ What does he mean he can’t bend all the elements? It’s bad enough that he’s just a kid but he’s not even a fully realized Avatar yet? I’m not even going to ask about the iceberg thing. You know what, this is fine, it’s okay, I can handle this. It’s just a minor set back.” Zuko became vaguely aware of someone calling his name. He blinked a couple times and saw Aang waving a hand in front of his face.
“Huh? Oh sorry, I was just thinking. What were you saying?”
“I said I was planning on heading to the North Pole to find a waterbending master but Appa’s still pretty tired so I can’t fly there. Could you give me a ride on your ship?” Asked Aang.
“Yeah, I can take you there. Just one question, who’s Appa?” Zuko asked, bewildered.
“Appa’s my flying bison! I’ll go get him, you wait here and don’t leave without me okay?” Aang flew off in the direction he came from leaving Zuko alone with the villagers. Zuko stood around shuffling his feet nervously as Sokka and Katara whisper yelled at each other before disappearing into one of the huts. It felt like an eternity waiting for Aang to return, the awkward silence was stifling to Zuko. When Aang did return Zuko was shocked at the sheer size of the bison he had with him. Aang and the bison ‘Appa was his name, right? ’ walked right up to Zuko.
“Zuko, this is Appa, my flying bison. Appa, this is Prince Zuko, he’s gonna give us a ride on his ship.” Appa sniffed Zuko then licked him, covering him completely with slobber. Zuko shuddered and tried to shake the bison spit off. Aang just laughed. “Wow, Appa must really like you, he doesn’t just lick anybody.”
“Great.” Zuko muttered. “Anyway, let’s get going, I don’t want to overstay my welcome.” Zuko started to lead the way back onto his ship when he heard Katara’s voice call out.
“Wait!” Zuko turned back around to see her and Sokka holding a few bags each and following them. “We’re coming too. Aang promised to take me to the North Pole with him and I’m not getting left behind.”
“And no way am I letting my little sister go on an adventure without me.” Added Sokka.
Zuko was surprised but he didn’t protest as the siblings seemed very determined. “Uh yeah, that’s fine I guess. Your names are Katara and Sokka, right?” They nodded. “Great, well, it seems you’ve got all your supplies just follow me and we can get going.” The siblings did just that and waved goodbye to their village as they boarded the ship. Once they were all onboard Aang spoke up.
“Hey Zuko? Is it okay if we make a quick stop at the Southern Air Temple before we start heading North? I haven’t been home in a long time and I’d like to see it.”
Zuko gave a curt nod of approval. “Helmsman, set a course for the Southern Air Temple!” he called out. Zuko turned to his three new companions. “So Appa’s too big to stay inside so he’ll have to stay on deck but I can show you where you’ll be staying, we only have one extra bedroom though so you’ll have to share. And Katara, if you want more privacy you can take my room and I’ll stay with Aang and Sokka.”
Katara was surprised by the offer. “Oh, that’s really considerate of you Prince Zuko, but Sokka and I have shared a bedroom for our whole lives, I don’t mind.”
Zuko nodded. “Of course, but if you change your mind just say so, okay?”
“Great.” Said Zuko. “In that case, follow me.” He made a gesture for them to follow as he led them into the ship’s living quarters. The engines roared to life and Sokka and Katara were leaving their home for the first time ever, on a Fire Navy ship of all things.