Current time: 11 months, 2 weeks, and 1 day since capture
The Assassin’s Tale
Kurami hated summer.
It was mainly because of the weather–she was never fond of the hot days and humid nights that marked the second season of the year, but it was bearable.
The Summer Solstice had already passed two months ago, so Kurami’s bending was up and running properly again. Her relationship with the Fire Prince–she had now taken to calling him ‘Hotshot’–was going rather well. They did have the occasional argument, but most of it was actually banter.
Unfortunately, they were no closer to finding the Avatar than they were when the prince had started, which in Kurami’s case, meant that she was no closer to going home than he was.
Finding out it was Zuko’s birthday was a complete accident.
It had been a relatively normal morning, until Iroh walked into the dining room and loudly greeted his nephew. Zuko had frozen, as if he hadn’t even realized what day it was, before relaxing and nodding at his uncle in thanks.
Kurami kept silent for the rest of the meal, lost in thought. She remembered her own birthday and the Winter Solstice, when no one but Zuko knew and how he had kept her company the whole day. She’d never really managed to repay that particular kindness, but now she had an opportunity…as well as an idea.
Zuko looked up at the soft knock on his door.
“Come in,” he said, not looking up from his meditation. When nothing followed, he stood, opening the door and looking outside.
No one was in the hallway. As he stepped out to get a clearer view, his foot brushed against something. He looked down and saw a rolled-up scroll. He picked it up and returned inside.
He took a seat on his cot and unrolled it. The handwriting was unfamiliar, slanting slightly to the left, but the words written on it were unmistakable.
Happy Birthday, Hotshot, it read, making his lips twitch slightly in amusement.
I wasn’t sure about doing this, but I think it’s a good enough “thank you” for what you did on my birthday, and also during the Solstice. I trust you–yes, I’m saying that honestly–so I’m going to try to give you a reason to trust me. Just bear with me; this may seem strange, but it will make sense soon.
This is a story that takes place long ago, in a forest within the Earth Kingdom. A young woman was traversing this forest, grumbling about the cold. Suddenly, she heard a strange sound: the cries of a baby. As she drew closer to the source, she discovered an infant girl, nestled in a hollow tree, with only a blanket as her protection against the harsh winter. The woman picked her up, cradling her against her chest as she searched for any sign of who or what left her alone in the tree. None could be found. When the woman noticed the unnatural color of the baby’s eyes, she believed it to be a blessing from the Spirits–at least, that’s what I’ve been told.
The woman’s name is Kai, daughter of Jian, leader of the Black Spirits, and my mentor.
She’s also my mother in all things but blood.
That night, she took me back to the base, where she tried to convince Jian to let me stay. She promised I’d be a valuable asset, that she’d oversee my training with an iron fist. He agreed, although she wasn’t completely honest with him.
She made sure that my childhood was as normal as it could be, delaying my actual training as much as possible until Jian forced her hand. Even then, she taught me to put survival over the actual mission–the exact opposite of what Jian drilled into the others. When I was about five, I found my bending completely by accident. Kai made me swear never to tell anyone I didn’t trust and not to use it unless absolutely necessary. Of course, the ‘necessary’ rule has been all but scrapped now, but I digress.
Two more people would find out about my bending and live before you: Ren and Miyu. They’re twins, from the Northern Water Tribe, and they’re both older than me by a few years, but they’ve been my friends for a long time.
After I started training, I was pushed really hard, especially since I’m horrible at any weapon that isn’t a knife or made of shadow. On my twelfth birthday, Jian sent me on my first assassination, a minor official in one of the colonies. I don’t think he even realized it was my birthday, but I’m sure he didn’t care. I never forgot that time, or the times that followed. I’m not saying that I truly regret what I did–it was what I was trained to do–but I still mourn them.
I’m not sure what you’d do with this information, but I’m letting you do whatever you want with it. If you want to send soldiers after me once this is all over and done, I’m not going to complain.
Zuko stared blankly at those last few lines after he finished, thoughts whirling around in his head.
He was a prince. He grew up in an opulent palace, with servants answering his every whim, but not once did he consider how other people might have lived. In Kurami’s case, she was worse off than he’d realized. Abandoned in a forest, then taken and trained to be a killer…he finally realized why his Uncle was so insistent on buying her seemingly pointless things whenever they landed in a port.
He knew the shadowbender was not an open person, and the fact that she had trusted him, of all people, with information that exposed both her and the Black Spirits made him feel guilty for being so cold to her.
No. He was not supposed to feel guilty on his birthday.
Zuko stood, placing the scroll in the same drawer he had hidden Kurami’s old belongings. He paused before retrieving the cloak and knives and leaving his cabin.
He had to talk to her.
He found her, as usual, on the deck. She was leaning against the railing again, loose strands of hair flying in the breeze.
“You got one thing wrong,” he called out. She looked up, unsurprised at his presence.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Even if I thought it was the right thing to do, I wouldn’t endanger you or your family.”
She scrutinized him carefully, trying to see if he was lying, before her brow furrowed in confusion.
“You’re…you’re actually telling the truth. But…why?”
He shrugged. “Trust goes both ways, I suppose.”
He held out the items to her. “I think these are yours.”
She tentatively took them, inspecting them for any damage before looking back up.
They fell quiet after that, but it was a silence they were comfortable not breaking.
Aaand cut! This chapter’s really important, since it marks the last section before the series. After this, I’m not going to mark the time since her capture, but I’m going to use the episode number instead.
Speaking of Kai and the twins…I’ll get to them eventually, but I don’t need to at the moment. All you guys need to know is that they’re in hiding, but they’re fine.