"What is a Heart Beat?"

Summary: AU. Zuko was found in the Forest, wild, being attacked by a group of unknown beings, wounded severely but somehow not affected by the pain afterwards. Read and find out the secret of the Fire Nation, the reason why the nation despised the rest, the reason why the nation seemed cold, and yet…

Chapter One

Ba Bum … the heart beat once.
Ba Bum … the heart beat twice.
Ba Bum … the heart beat three times.
Ba Ba Bum … and the heart beat no more.

'Come closer… Come on, just a little bit closer… That's it that's it… No, no, no! Don't go that way, this way, yes, that's right, this way. Little closer, little bit more… Yes!'

Zuko, banished Prince of the Fire Nation, gripped his spear tighter, watching his prospective meal walking towards the tree where he crouched, waiting for the right moment to pounce; to kill it. This meal would be his first in many days, weeks perhaps. It was too risky to go out and hunt, for the enemy was always near. But he is so hungry, that he would even eat a human being if it came to that to fill his stomach. Days like this, therisk is one he is willing to take, even if the risk is high, even if the risk might take his life…

But what is this life? All I've done is live to watch my own county slowly dying out, as if my life and the lives of those before me were all cursed, even before the war started. Is this a life in which each day, time comes and goes, while my people are cursed to simply watch it pass and never age or truly die? It's led me places and left tomorrow, without saying goodbye to yesterday.

I don't think there's ever been a time that I've really been like those from the other Nations: living short lives, getting married, having children, being happy and loving each other. The only love that I've ever received was from my mother, Ursa; my cousin, Lu Ten; my uncle, Iroh, and my younger sister when we younger (though the latter is questionable). My mother and cousin have since departed, disappeared off the face of the earth itself. And I too, like others, will soon follow. Many times, I look up in the sky, wishing to the spirits that I too would discrete, that my time would come sooner…

The deer strode closer to the tree, now about 3-meters away. Zuko leapt out of the tree, thrusting the spear into the animal, killing it. Warm blood gushed out from the wound covering the front of Zuko's worn, dirty rags, which were already stained with much of the same. This didn't bother him; he had seen blood countless times throughout his life, sometimes being the cause of it.

"Nice catch!" Zuko looked up to see his fellow Fire Nation outcast, Takeshi (1).

Zuko smiled at his best friend. "Thanks."

Takeshi was one of the few friends he'd ever had in life: He'd been with him since practically the beginning. Wherever one was the other was always nearby. No one ever saw one without the other: it was unheard of.

Like much of the Fire Nation, Takeshi was a tall youth with short black hair, eyes yellow enough that they seemed to glow, and almost deathly pale skin. He jumped down from the branch along with Hitomi (2) and her little sister, Hoshi (3).

Zuko lapped the blood off his hands, grinning as he did so. He and the others then prepared to carry the deer back with them. Within 15 minutes, there was nothing but a puddle of blood where the deer was before. The Fire Nation learned long ago never to waste any part of an animal they killed, lest they anger the spirits.

"Come on. We can't linger. We have to leave before They come." Nobody needed to be told twice. If the enemy were to come, they didn't know what the outcome would be, but they knew it wouldn't be in their favour. They bounded off into the forest, disappearing without a sound.

A bloodcurdling cry shattered the tense silence.

"Shit…" Cursing in the many languages he'd learned from a young age, Zuko, like the others, threw down the meat and raised his weapons.

Instantaneously, shadowy, humanoid figures began darting out of nowhere and attacking the group.

Zuko parried a blow from a shadow wielding a pudao, then stabbing it where its chest appeared to be. The shadow disappeared as Zuko moved on the next one.

"Go Takeshi! Take the girls and the food with you! Warn the others! I'll hold them off!" Zuko yelled. Abandoning the din of yelling and metal-on-metal the girls grabbed their share of the load and his, bolting into the darkness. They did not look back, did not question his motives; for he was their lord, banished or not. Takeshi's eyes widened. He shook his head. "Go Takeshi! Don't be a fool! Just go now! " Reluctantly, Takeshi did as he was told.

Clang, clang…Panic…Clang, clang…Blood…Clang, clang…Oh God, is that my blood? Clang-

"SHRIEEEEEEK!" Zuko looked up and in that moment, one of the enemy's swords went though his belly. Pain was the last thing Zuko had felt before he blacked out. But what he saw as he fell shocked him. A water whip whipped around him, striking his opponent. A woman and man wearing blue clothes came into view, as two others shortly followed: one female, one male. The female was short wearing brown and green and the male yellow and orange. The only oddball group he knew to wear those colours was the Avatar's group. Why are they here of all places? Do they know they are in L' Taur d'lil Elghinyrr (4), between the forbidden lands and the Fire Nation territory?

'Strange…' Zuko thought. Without warning the darkness swallowed him, and he knew no more.

0o0o0o0o0o

Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Toph were resting in the unknown forest just a few miles north of where Zuko and his group were (though each group unknown to the other): Appa and Momo were sleeping to the side of the camp; Sokka, as usual, eating his post-dinner-snack; Katara was making sure that their supplies was in check; Toph, her arms folded in front of her, bored almost to death, and lastly, Aang, practicing earth or water bending by himself.

"Mmm, that was tasty." Sokka said to himself rather dreamily, setting his bowl down on the ground. Katara shook her head, rolling her eyes at her older brother.

"We need to stop at the nearest village, Aang. We need to get some more food."

"I don't know Katara," Aang said slowly, pulling out the map out from his backpack. "I don't even know where we are; let alone where the nearest village is."

"Let me look at that." Sokka said, reaching for the map. Shrugging, Aang gave it him to examine, knowing the older teen was better at using maps then himself. Aang turned to face Toph. She was facing away from the fire pit, as though watching something in the murky darkness of the forest.

"What's wrong, Toph?" Everyone looked up to listen. The entire group knew that Toph could sense things that they couldn't. Her aptitude in earthbending had come in handy many times.

"This place is evil." Toph said. "Things move around without reason. They just disappear from one place and pop up somewhere else. Things are not right here." She turned to face to group. "We need to leave now."

"We can't leave. It's the middle of the night!" Sokka said, looking up from the map.

"Look, guys." Knowing an argument would follow if he didn't step in, Aang decided to intervene. "If it makes everyone feel better, we'll leave as soon as possible."

"That's fine with me." Katara said.

"Fine, twinkle-toes." Toph muttered.

Katara put everything back into their respective packs once she made sure everything was in check, and the gang turned in for the night.

Toph was still dead sure there was something very wrong with the forest as she drifted off to sleep.

When everyone was fast asleep, everything became still and quiet.

Grrrrrr! Argh!

The whole group instantly sat up in response to the terrifying sounds that echoed throughout the once peaceful silence. All of them got up, into ready stances with their elements and weaponry. Oddly enough no one ambushed the camp (as they were now used to, nowadays), but a little while off, maybe a mile south of the camp they could hear the cries of a battle.

They ran off in the general direction of the cries. They had to make sure that the victims of whatever attack were alright. The Fire Nation could be attacking innocents for all they knew. They weren't sure, but they had to find out.

After a while of running through the trees, they stopped in horror. In front of them were four madly ragged teens fighting for their lives, fighting against shadow beings that they had never seen or heard of before in their lives.

One of the men shouted something to the others in a harsh language that none of them could identify. The younger girls suddenly bolted leaving the two men behind. One man, the one closest to the exit of the battle, stood there wide-eyed watching the other, shaking his head as if in objection of what the other had told him.

The other yelled again in the same of language, and the other left without looking back. Clearly, the man that stayed behind was holding off the shadows so the others could escape. The Gang came out of their shock, running towards the man who was now fighting the shadows by himself. Just then, one of the shadows stabbed the unknown man. Katara lashed out at that shadow with her water whip and it let loose a hellish shriek.

Sokka threw his boomerang at it before it had time to attack his sister. The shadows faded, as the shadow that Sokka had attacked with his boomerang disappeared, or rather, despoiled, crying out in surprised of the turn of events. They watched as the unknown man who was stabbed fell to his knees and then onto his back not moving. Katara ran to aid him, but in vain. The man wasn't breathing and his heart had stopped beating: he was dead.

Katara sat his greasy head onto her lap, looking up to the group that was surrounded her and the dead man. She ignored the disgusting smell of the man and how filthy his clothes were. The others covered their noses, looking sorrowfully at the dead man. There were tears in Katara's eyes. She didn't know why she was crying for she never knew the man.

"Leave him, Katara. He's dead. We weren't fast enough to save him." Sokka said, knowing what was wrong with his younger sister.

"No, let me try to save him!" Katara said, setting his head down on the cool forest floor, getting out her water in preparation for her healing skills, desperate to save the unknown man before her.

"He's dead, Katara. There's nothing you can do!"

"No, no, no." Katara said repeatedly to herself, stopping, seeing that he brother was right. She knew nothing would come out of trying saving a dead man's life. "We can't just leave him here. What would happen if those shadow things come back?" She whispered to them.

"We have to leave him here."

"No, we'll take him to the camp. It's almost dawn anyways. Toph and I'll bury him when the sun comes up." Katara said weakly. Everyone agreed to that. It was almost barbaric just to leave a dead man in the middle of the forest without a burial or tribute of some sort. With Aang's air-bending skills, they carried the bloody body to the camp. They decided that after the burial, they would leave straight away, going as far away as possible from the shadows.

Just as they got to the camp the sun was rising. Katara screamed. The rest turned around and saw…


End of Chapter

Words: 1948

(1) Takeshi: Japanese name meaning: "fierce; warrior."
(2)Hitomi: Japanese name meaning: "pupil (of the eye)." This name is usually given to girls with especially beautiful eyes.
(3)Hoshi: Japanese name meaning "Star."
(4) L' Taur d'lil Elghinyrr: In elfish means "The Forest of the Dead"

Author's Note: I came with this plot just a while back. I didn't post it right a way when I typed it, because I can't have incomplete stories up, and never complete them. Too much work.

Anyway, thanks for reading.

Just in case, for those of you who are wondering about the premise: The Fire Nation has been overruled. The other nations won the War, but several skirmishes still break out of occasion: namely, angry Fire Nation people attacking for the sake of revenge.

Aang has NOT mastered Fire-bending because his second fire-bending teacher was killed before the completion of his training. Afterwards, he couldn't find anyone else to teach him because much of the Fire Nation suddenly disappeared. The comet still needed to be stopped, however he was skilled enough to do few things with firebending even without adequate training. The Fire Lord was killed by luck, and Azula, younger sister of Zuko, became Fire Lady, then ruling the rest of the Fire Nation: A year later, the fire nation seemingly vanished off the face of the earth, leaving only rumors in place of what should have been a legacy.

The gang is going home, now that their "destiny" has been fulfilled and whatnot. It has been almost a year since the battle against the Fire Lord, and their trip home is taking a while as they do favours for and help out the towns and villages they stop by along the way since Aang, being the Avatar, still carries the responsibility of keeping peace, despite the war's end.

The surviving people of Fire Nation lineage across the world are now shunned from all the nations, including those of the Royal Family. These survivors have either banded together or have disappeared entirely.

E-mail me for more questions. :)

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