Pre English conquest, the gravest of all crimes in Welsh law was not murder, but theft. And while armed robbery was considered excusable under some circumstances, theft by stealth – theft absolute – could be a capital crime. Stealing from your own host, who'd taken you in and given you shelter… well. Very bad.
What at first seems like a fairly simple Alternate Continuity, Embers is deepened by Vathara's worldbuilding. She draws on her extensive research into psychology and real-world history and philosophy (she includes some partial bibliographies) to explain how the Avatar world could be the way it is and what that would imply about what the viewer does not see. Eventually, it grew into a full-fledged Alternate Universe. The varying interpretations of people and groups that can result from the different historical & ethical perspective is the main source of controversy. See the Headscratchers and discussion pages for further details.Little fragments of the show's Fridge Logic are expertly explained... in ways that later become Chekhov's Armory.Be warned that this fic has a lot of plot twists: there will be unmarked Late Arrival Spoilers, because after a certain point it's just not possible to say anything about the fic without them.During their travels in the Earth Kingdom, Zuko instead of resorting to banditry to survive, reveals a Firebending technique he learned from his mother - Fire-healing.This draws him into a millennia-old conspiracy spanning both the living and spirit worlds - to wipe out all healing benders, cripple the Avatar by eliminating the yaoren, who were meant to train him in dealing with spirits & combining elements in the same way that his other teachers taught him about the four forms of normal bending, and, eventually wipe out the human race. Oh, and there are dragons too.Embers can be divided into twelve major story arcs:
The Walking The Earth Kingdom Arc: After the confrontation in Theft Absolute, Iroh talks Zuko into wandering the Earth Kingdom posing as a healer. Along the way they fight a plague spirit, acquire a team pet in the form of a cranky, attack-happy ostrich-horse, and Zuko learns how to fake waterbending with very hot water. Iroh makes the mistake of praying to Yue, and Zuko and Katara work together to save Iroh after Azula's attack, causing the Gaang to question what they know about Zuko, Iroh, and firebending. Chapters 1-7.
The Ba Sing Se Arc, Part I: Zuko continues to pose as a healer in Ba Sing Se with the help of Amaya, who Iroh's contacts discovered is using her waterbending to hide Fire Nation refugees, although she is unaware of the White Lotus. This is made easier when Yue takes the opportunity to grant Iroh's prayer for a means to bring about peace by temporarily killing Zuko to make him a yaoren, meaning either the Fire Nation will fall apart when Azula takes the throne, or Aang gets a new yaoren. Or both. Zuko begins to open up, but between a young firebender, the Dai Li eying him as a potential recruit, and man-eating spirits, it's clear these peaceful days won't last long. Chapters 8-18.
The Ba Sing Se Arc, Part II: Canon begins to interfere with a vengeance. A Dai Li agent informs Zuko that they have Aang's bison, and he needs help breaking him out: Zuko recruits Toph to assist. Katara is temporarily captured very dishonorably by Zuko, strengthening her animosity for him. It ends with a showdown with Azula, and everyone running for their lives. This is where the fic becomes controversial. Chs. 19-24
The Beach Arc: Zuko assists Katara in healing Aang's lightning trauma, while more is revealed about the nature of firebending, dragons, and a lot of foreshadowed stuff. Katara not completing her healing training at the North Pole has terrible consequences for herself, not Aang. Meanwhile, Kuei and other refugees hide from Azula in the catacombs under Ba Sing Se, awaiting rescue. Chs. 25-30
The Shipboard Arc: Zuko and Iroh escape aboard ship, the Gaang travels with Hakoda's fleet, and Katara's lack of training is remedied during a vision quest by Yue, who also reveals the true scope of the conflict, and what needs to be done for balance to be restored. Meanwhile, Yue arranges for additional assistance in the form of a third yaoren and it is revealed that even though Toph accidentally prevented Iroh from finishing her off, Azula didn't escape the fight that ended the Ba Sing Se Arc unscathed... Ch. 31-36
Exodus from Ba Sing Se arc: Zuko, Iroh and Shirong lead Earth Kingdom citizens out of Ba Sing Se via escape by amphibious train. Azula and Ty Lee are headed back to the Fire Nation for reinforcements which include getting the Fire Sages to take care of the restless spirits of Ba Sing Se and thus making her its ruler. Kuei is in hiding with Bon and Quan. While trekking a forest, Jet and his Freedom Fighters attack Zuko and his people, only to be countered by Langxue and Shidan, Zuko's dragon grandfather/Kuzon's dragon friend. And now, a tense gathering takes place between Zuko, Iroh and Shidan... Ch. 37-46
The Fire Nation arc: As of Ch. 47, Aang has left for the Fire Nation with the Gaang in pursuit, and Makoto has finally appeared. She attacks Azula, who fights her off, which may have only furthered her plan. Sokka and Aang spend time having a "manly" talk, while Azula gets some sorely needed healing from Shidan. The Fire Lord is less than amused when he learns that Azula has had contact with her grandfather, and Azula's loyalties are tested once she meets her father. Katara meets the Painted Lady where she and the rest of the Gaang learn to tread lightly with spirits, who points out Shu Jing to them. This is where the Gaang ends up next, home of the retired Fire Army major, Piandao and Kuzon's ghost mate, Temul, who teaches them about ground fires and how Sky bison treading on their fields is bad news for farmers. In the Earth Kingdom, Kuei learns more about the Touzaikaze and how they survived in the desert both airbenders and sandbenders living underground. Zuko, Shirong and Langxue go off to find Asagitatsu to stop the volcano from erupting by fighting off Makoto and Koh. They win. While here, Aang finally learns of the tragic fate that befell his good friend, Kuzon who was killed by airbenders, trained by none other than Aang's own Temple mate, Ja Aku. Currently, the Southern Water Tribe fleet has caught up to Zuko and his crew, and are now in the Northern Air Temple. Ch. 47-55
Under the shelter of Dragons' Wings: Everyone is planning for the Invasion. In the Fire Nation capital, Azula and Mai take care of some dirty business that is, wrapped around a dead Fire Sage's body before Azula plans with the Fire Lord who gives her Shidan's request for help. Zuko and his allies explore their new home, and come to some mortifying revelations Avatar Kesuk, walking-whales/Sea serpents, and Koh, and decide that these things need to be kept secret from Hakoda and Tao. Meanwhile, with the Gaang, they meet Shidan who helps them put an end to Hama and her reign of terror. The good news is, the Gaang lives. The bad news: the Fire Nation knows about their plans to invade during the Day of Black Sun. Ch. 56-64
The Invasion: Avatar Aang and his allies attack the heart of the Fire Nation: the Caldera. However, Azula has known about their plans months ahead of schedule, and has planned to ambush the Avatar's ambush accordingly. Zuko's trusty ship crew (Kyo, Rikiya) are sent to interrupt Fong's little march towards Dragons' Wings. When Aang goes to face the Fire Lord, he finds a nasty surprise: Makoto. Ch. 65 to 69.
The Siege of Dragons' Wings: The eclipse is over, and while the Gaang recovers Zuko has to deal with general Fong and his army. Ch. 70 to 74.
The Search for the Fire Sage: Zuko climbs aboard and joins the Gaang to search for the arrested Fire Sage to teach Aang Firebending. An encounter with a sea serpent possessing Katara leads to Zuko fighting for his life and ending up in Byakko. Ch.75 to 80.
Sozin's Comet: The Fire Sage has been located. Zuko has fulfilled his obligation to the Gaang, Shunned Aang, basically the Temple's version of Banishment, and is returning to Dragons' Wings. Meanwhile, the Fire Lord plans to use Sozin's Comet to invade the Northern Water Tribe, and the Gaang must figure out a way to stop him. Ch. 81-91/End.
Abduction Is Love: In the historical form of bride capture. Played straight by the Water Tribes according to Sokka, and by the Earth Kingdom according to the Dai Li (when it comes to spiritually strong 'desert witches' for the Earth King's bloodline), but inverted in the Fire Nation, where it's a woman that ambushes the man with 'three cups of wine and a red cord.' In both cases, it's implied to ideally be ceremonial, basically part of the marriage process or a proposal (Iroh's wife proposed in this fashion), but Teruko jokes about doing it to Sokka, since he's prime stock, and given the Northern Water Tribe's feuding traditions and all three groups' cultures, it's probably been nonconsensual often enough.
"So, clueless," Shirong concluded. "I very much fear he is, yes." "He is standing right here, Uncle," Zuko said warily. "And he would like an explanation." "Of course, nephew." Iroh folded his hands in his sleeves with suspicious serenity. "Now let me see, I am sure I have a proverb for this..." "Never mind," Zuko winced. "I don't want to know."
Ditto Kuei. Bookworm tendencies and a lifetime shut up in the palace tends to do that to a guy; it's made quite clear after he meets the female Touzaikaze/desert witches in Chapter 45. But hey, at least he's trying. Sort of.
(Bon, thinking) Come on, pick up, I know you have no experience at all, but – oh, who am I kidding? You're clueless– "Does that sword still mean you're a healer?" Kuei blurted out. "Some of the scrolls I have – here, let me show you..." (Bon) ... Back to the books.
Bon might be dismissive but Kuei's sharing of the scroll with Eshe was the start of her beginning to trust and like him.
"Remember that talk you gave us about what kind of boys to drag home?" Jia jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "He's the guy you warned us about." "I didn't do anything!" Zuko protested. Trying not to look past Meixiang to Katara. Who hated him anyway, so it wasn't like it mattered… but he hadn't. "No, of course you didn't." Meixiang smiled, bittersweet. "Sweet, deadly, and broken. Your uncle's going to have to beat them off with a stick."
All Myths Are True: The stories of the dragon wife and healing fire survived in the Fire Nation in the form of plays and legends, despite deliberate attempts to destroy knowledge of them, according to Iroh and Azula.
Amnesiac Dissonance: Or rather, reincarnation dissonance. Helping his friend Aang was Kuzon's main goal, as shown when he surfaces during Zuko's second near-death-experience, whereas Zuko views him as a pain in the neck he has to deal with but would prefer to keep far away.
Ancient Tradition: The Order of the White Lotus has agents everywhere and has been around for a number of millenia.
Androcles' Lion: Invoked by Shirong, trying to convince Kuei to trust the Fire Nation refugees.
An Ice Person: The third Yaoren, as appropriate for a Hitsugaya expy. In his previous life as one of Yangchen's assistants, he was a water-fire yaoren, and notes that while he used to use those two highly emotional and forceful elements to keep each other in check, due to the personality changes associated with yaoren powers, air will now be allowing water to affect him even more strongly as well as having its own effects on his rationality.
Apocalypse How: A Class 2 via supervolcano is one part of the Big Bad's Evil Plan. The goal is Class 3a, engineered human extinction, and Koh likely has several other irons in the fire...
Arranged Marriage: Ursa and Ozai and each next Earth King, because of a need of a spiritually strong wife. It seems that's how matters look in the Earth Kingdom. The Touzaikaze didn't have problem with sending an air-healer and a presumably strong sand-bender as potential brides for Kuei.
Aura Vision: Ty Lee, since she's an airbender. Aang's own lie detection ability seems to work in the same way, only without the visualization, which may be because he's a master.
Author Appeal: Many. Cultural dynamics, psychology, spirits, dragons, people banging their heads against walls, Iroh & Toph being badass, and Zuko torture are among the most obvious.
Vathara also loves military units and the men who command them. Especially when they're accustomed to killing enough to not blink at doing it but don't like it too much, are extremely dutiful and fathers to their men, and their personal senses of duty and ethics come into collision because the brass is evil. That particular OC appears in a large selection of her work; Embers has a whole sub-plot involving the Earth and Fire versions working together to keep peace in occupied Ba Sing Se.
Authority Equals Asskicking: Shidan, lord of Byakko, grandfather, dragon in human form, among most feared/respected Firebenders on the planet, probably a beyond-lethal swordsman, and quite likely one of the (if not the) most powerful bender shown until now... yet it's stated very clearly by Zuko/Kuzon that he could never visit Ozai's court, for he wouldslaughter the Smug Snake noble bastards within minutes... and then immediately be killed by Ozai. Say what you will about Ozai and his methods, he really deserves the title of Fire Lord.
Toph: "I'm not saying Aang should be like me. I'm the greatest earthbender in the world. Too much awesome? Could break something."
Badass Boast: Yangchen has the best so far, surprisingly. And she's not even boasting, she was trying to be reassurring.Well, she was raised by evil monks who wanted to keep her ignorant of the outside world.
Yangchen: "You don't truly think you would survive if I meant you ill, do you, young one?"
Zuko gets one in chapter 80.
Zuko: Ask your elder what I've done to the drowned. Ask the ocean where the sea serpent's bones lie. Ask who woke Asagitatsu! Do you think you can face me?
Badass Normal: The Fire Nation in canon has a disproportionate amount of these, which is justified by the fact that firebenders start bending late (while the others seem to start at birth), meaning they need to start teaching martial arts discipline to everyone, early, before they start throwing sparks. As this story has everyone able to use chi, this makes Piando understandable but still awesome. The Yu Yan are non-bender chi users founded to fight air bender raiding parties; Zuko points out that Boomerang always hitting where Sokka wants is not (just) skill.
However, several of the show's Badass Normal Fire Nation people aren't normal. Ty Lee is an airbender, and at this point it's confirmed that there is a long-standing population of Fire Nation airbenders.
Chapter 59 has one such Fire Nation citizen the Byakko "merchant" Hitomi is actually one of the Yamabushi, the so-called Renegades that Monk Yuan-ti spoke of in chapter 31. Hitomi isn't an airbender, but she is of Air Nomad descent, and fearful of Monk Aang.
Balkanize Me: What needs to happen to the Fire Nation, instead of just putting Zuko in charge as in the show. As several states, they fight among and police each other: as one state, all it would take is one corrupt Fire Lord and the whole thing would start all over again.
Be Careful What You Wish For: Iroh prays to Yue, and the way she and the other spirits grant it completely ruins his plans for Zuko. Shirong prays in general that a certain messed up kid could have a little help. Agni answers and Shirong also ends up a yaoren.
In chapter 31, Langxue explicitly refrains from offhandedly wishing Saoluan dead, choosing instead to specify banging pots together while she slept and yelling at her. Malicious spirits are noted to use otherwise benign curses as a excuse to inflict suffering and death.
In chapter 45, Bon and Quan talk about the difficulties of their occupation, since it makes them unattractive to women, therefore barring them from having a normal life, let alone a family: "Pray," Bon echoed. "Right. Because it'd take a miracle to find spiritually strong women in the middle of a Fire Nation invasion-". Right after that, guess what happens?
Benders Live Longer: If a powerful bender dies before their hundredth birthday, it probably wasn't of natural causes.
Berserk Button: Lying, for Zuko and dragons/dragon-descended firebenders in general. Given that dragons communicate with emotions and pictures, (canon examples include Fang touching Aang with a whisker to give him visions, as well as Ran and Shao's rainbow fire), not words, most likely only psychopathic 'dark' dragons would be able to manage it, and Azula lies as easily as she breathes, without feeling any emotions about it as far as Toph can tell. If the ability to lie meant someone was evil in some species, it'd start ringing instinctive alarm bells very, very quickly.
Beware the Nice Ones: A recurring theme that shows up most dramatically in Iroh's killing of General Gang (debatably in cold blood), Aang, and Ty Lee's own inner monologue about how it's oh so sad that Zuko died but only natural, and everyone should just surrender to Ozai so no one else will get killed. And how Aang should have surrendered so Zuko could have been the heir. This appears to be official policy for the non-Byakko airbender survivors.
Let's not forget Earth King Kuei. Do NOT ever hurt any of his people. Wan Shi Tong is one such example.
Big Bad: Surprisingly, not Ozai. He's treated as a symptom of a disease: if the world was running properly, someone like that would have been stopped long before gaining that much power. It seems as though the real enemy is the current disruption of the cycle, ignorance and racism themselves. However, it's been confirmed that it was caused to get this bad, specifically by Koh the Face Stealer.
Big Brother Is Watching: The Dai Li and their brainwashed Joo Dees. It's implied that at least some of the Dai Li remain with Azula in order to make sure that no one tells her about Lake Laogai. One tells Min that he'll kill him instead of letting Azula have him, which he's grateful for. However, it's very possible that she knows and doesn't care, because she doesn't need it. Without the checks and balances provided by fire healing allowing rebels to survive and the lords of several domains being willing to gang up on anyone who crosses the Moral Event Horizon by trying to use it this way, fire loyalty can be used to punish thoughtcrime with death, no expensive surveillance system required.
Bilingual Bonus: 'Tejina' is Japanese for "sleight of hand", while 'Makoto' means "truth". Keep that in mind where those names come up.
Black and Grey Morality: While more upbeat than most examples of this, one of Embers' main themes is that people will often find themselves in situations where they will have to do the wrong thing for the right reasons, or the right thing for the wrong reasons. While at first it seems that this is a case of Grey and Grey Morality, or 'messed-up people messing up in a messed-up world', sometimes people just have to die, and what divides the characters Vathara holds up as examples from those she deconstructs is their willingness to admit it when they've done something unethical or are going to for the sake of what they hold dear, right reasons or not.
Blessed with Suck: The yaoren in the fic (Zuko, Shirong, and Langxue), who all have terrible luck.
Aang definitely counts, despite the Avatar having all the power of the world with no spirit wound. However, instead of being told on his sixteenth birthday, his Elders tell him when he's twelve. Shunned the by his fellow friends at the Temple, this will be nothing in comparison to what the Onmitsu and the descendants of the surviving Air peoples will do to him, should he come near them. Zuko and Shirong don't want to go near Aang despite their duty to the Avatar, and Langxue will definitely have his hope shot down once he meets the Gaang. Really, Aang really has to be the biggest Woobie in the story.
In chapter 45, Shidan informs Zuko that Zuko possesses, "The blessing – of no blessing at all." Because he has absolutely no luck, he is, in some unexplained way, invisible to spirits (which apparently gives him power to change the world that he apparently wouldn't have otherwise). Of course, the downside of this is his lack of luck.
Any yaoren in the time when spirit healing was lost got a cool new superpower to play with while they died.
Blood Oath: There is a spiritual bond, peculiar to each nation, where the The Oath-Breaker suffers pain, fatigue, sickness, Angst Coma, and then (almost certainly) death (unless treated by a healing bender).
Fire Nation: Loyalty
Water Tribe: Community and Family
Earth Kingdom: Oaths and Contracts
What binds (or not) the Air Nomads has yet to be clarified.
The most recent chapter suggests that, interestingly, Air Nomadsnote Or at least the onmitsu are bound by truth.
Air Nomads are bound by piety—the unquestioning acceptance of what they are taught by older Airbenders.
Blue and Orange Morality: a major source of conflict in the fic, both for plot and worldbuilding purposes. It applies to Spirits and partly to dragons. Because of this it is sometimes impossible to avoid angering some spirits without the Avatar's help. It definitely explains why making the Four Nations understand each other was a full time job requiring an Avatar's powers – especially as the spiritual realm does not care about human ethics. The spirits of the Fire Nation believe that the Fire Lord has the right to do as he likes to the rest of the world in the Avatar's absence, because he has Avatar Kyoshi's mandate. That is why Aang isThe Only One who can end the war – by forcibly revoking that mandate.
Azula thinks about Ty Lee in these terms, as an intelligence that works by alien rules.
Vathara's dragons turn this into fearsomeness, simply because dragon morality is similar to human morality with a crucial difference: both human and dragon morality have innocence and trustworthiness as shared key virtues, but are opposed as to which takes priority – to a human, a nonviolent traitor (a draft dodger) is less of a concern than a dutiful sociopath (a war criminal). For dragons, it's the other way around – a Blood Knight is at least of use to the clan, but a Dirty Coward is a weak link to be eliminated at all costs. Basically, if asked to choose whether To Be Lawful or Good, humans are more likely to pick Good, and dragons (along with all other known spiritual entities) are more likely to pick Lawful. As you can guess, this causes humans and dragons to confuse the hell out of each other at best, and actively seek each others' destruction at worst. In chapter 39, we get to hear why the dragons went along with the genocide of the Air Nomads from a dragon who witnessed but actively subverted it: Zuko's maternal grandfather.
Shidan: "For one of dragon's blood to not take up weapons, to not prepare night and day to slaughter any enemies that would come against them – it is unthinkable. It is – one who does such a thing, who believes the world will not be dangerous, will not strive to kill him... That is what we call insane. Do you understand? ...The bonds of clan mean one must assist one's kin. And it is our dangerousness, our peril to each other, that keeps each clan from another's throats. If one member of the clan will not fight, and other clans know that to be true..."
Langxue: "They stomp on him, everybody else comes roaring in to fight, and the whole countryside goes up in flames."
Also acts as a case of Fridge Brilliance: human/dragon hybrids with too much dragon blood inheirit hybrid instinctual morality. Zuko is constantly tearing himself apart because he prizes innocence and trustworthiness equally, and can never really console himself to either morality. Azula is The Unfettered because to her, the innocent are untrustworthy and the dutiful are puppets.
But For Them It Was Tuesday: Some readers feel the fic isn't spending enough time on the villainous acts of the Fire Nation: characters aren't appropriately horrified by them, or they should be ignoring the Avatar's own actions due to what the Fire Nation did first or second, or after having been run through the gears of a Gambit Pileup twice. This trope itself appears to be at fault for this – the Fire Nation has committed so many invasions, genocides, war crimes and other actions that people might occasionally be shocked by something really audacious (like killing the Moon) but there's not a lot of real surprise: characters are Genre Savvy enough, and everybody knows what happened to the Air Nomads, so when they do something else it's Just Another Tuesday for Sozin's Fire Nation. On the other hand, when a good guy, much less a pacifist, does something as unexpected as metaphorically bringing a very dirty warhead to a bending fight when he's the Avatar, and thus by definition powerful enough to have no real need to resort to such a thing,What the Hell, Hero? ensues.
Cain and Abel: Vathara notes in author's notes that there's a definite theme of this in Fire Nation Royalty: Zuko and Azula, Ozai vs. Iroh and Ursa, and adds to it by making Ilah, Azulon's wife, Roku's daughter.
And what about the similarity in names between Xiangchen and Yangchen?
The Call Knows Where You Live: Just to hammer this in, one of Aang's posters of Appa falls on Zuko after he's already acknowledged he has to help the Avatar by rescuing Appa.
Cast from Hit Points: Sozin-style firebending burns up the wielder's own chi, or life force, forcing it to be an offense-focused style since if it becomes an endurance match they'd lose. Not true of other styles of firebending: Ty Lee recognizes this increased endurance would allow Zuko to defeat Azula.
Chaste Hero: Dragons don't start looking for mates until they have claimed a territory to bring them home to, which tallies with canon Zuko being in a relationship with Mai as soon as he was accepted back as heir, and then leaving her behind when he lost that position instead of taking her with him to join Aang.
Chekhov's Armory: Not just Chekhov's Gun but Chekhov's Armory. The Plot Hooks in chapter three, for example. Two that have been referenced several times but not come into play yet are Iroh's ability to see spirits when no one else can and Amaya's meeting with the lion turtle.
Not exactly for the second, it is heavily implied that Amaya's ability to heal Zuko's spirit (which was broken and bleeding like a head wound when Yue made him a yaoren) came from said Lion-turtle
Ch. 49 tells the episode of the Painted Lady through her pov. Katara disguises herself as the Painted Lady, which in Embers, has the grisly consequences of what happens when one takes the name of said spirit. This goes back to the prequel of this fic, Theft Absolute. The aesop is "Never steal from one who provides you hospitality". Suddenly, the controversy of Aang's using Koizilla against the Fire Navy makes sense. As the Avatar, Aang can make anyone, any spirit, bow to his command and do his bidding. Tui didn't possess Aang; it's the other way around. The rage against the drowned Fire Navy spirits may be due to Aang's using Tui's power and form, and then doing absolutely nothing to help Tui clean up. In other words, ''ouch''.
In chapter 22, Iroh hints that the White Lotus has, centuries ago, had to deal with an Avatar that went bad. It has been revealed in chapter 57 that Avatar was Kesuk, from the Northern Water Tribe. According to the records the White Lotus kept, she was never really strong of mind or spirit, and when her spirit beast was killed, Kesuk snapped. Already desiring the world at her feet, she went on a destructive rampage. The dragons of Asagitatsu, with lots of help from both the Fire Isles and Air Nomads, stopped her, though it cost them greatly.
In chapter 9, after Zuko startles himself with rudimentary waterbending, he asks if there are spirits in the water of well in Amaya's clinic. Her response?
Amaya: "Not to my knowledge. A little paranoid, aren't you?"
Eight chapters later (17), the haima-jiao uses said well to possess the waterbending healer.
You guys remember that skeleton of the horrific sea monster they found in the White Lotus Vault? Check out chapter 88.
In Chapter 14, Zuko creates a move that uses burning leaves to create wind. In Chapter 80, he finally gets to use it seriously...against Aang.
Zuko: You have no idea how long I've been waiting to do that.
Chekhov's Skill: Didn't you think it was weird in the series that the Dai Li, sworn to protect Ba Sing Se, left their city to follow Azula around? Embers explains that certain Firebenders can bend the inner flame, which affects loyalty. Suddenly it all makes sense: Azula presented herself as someone better and more worthy to follow, and used her Inner Fire so they'd follow her. But then, who else has it? What about the other elements? Vathara takes things to their logical extremes.
Vathara named them after the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations. The Black Tortoise (Kurokame) and Vermillion Bird (Akitori) volcanoes threaten to go every 6000 and 3000 years respectively; they are thusly guarded by dragons who are both completely disinterested in and out of reach of humans. Shirotora (White Tiger, every 500 years) and Asagitatsu (Azure Dragon, every 1000 years) are not.
To be more precise, Shirotora is guarded and pacified by the Lords of Byakko and their heirs. Its schedule of eruption every 500 years and the threat inherent should there be none of Clan Byakko living to appease him is pretty much THE only thing that's stopped the Fire Lords from executing the entire family.
Asagitatsu, on the other hand, has no guardians. That clan has only one known member – Makoto – and she's been missing for a very long time. The last time Asagitatsu blew, Yangchen and her yaoren were killed and the world was plunged into a nuclear winter. That's why there was no war for a generation after Yangchen's death: nobody had either the resources nor manpower available, because they were all focused just on staying alive. The only reason humanity survived was the mid-winter timing; a few months either way would have caused mass famines when harvest or planting seasons failed. It is strongly suggested Koh has learned from this mistake and plans to set Asagitatsu off again, this time during the harvest.
Thankfully, Suzuran has just about everything and everyone on board to prevent catastrophe. Whether they can make a difference or not is the big question.
Compelling Voice: King Kuei descends from Earth Kingdom shamans, and has the ability to do this to spirits. It's partly based on the idea of China's Emperor being able to do the same thing, partly on Earthbending's equivalent to Firebending's loyalty manipulation and Waterbending's emotional.
Combat Medic: Zuko and Katara. It also seems that any other elemental healer before Kuruk was taught to both fight and heal. Kuei said that swords were a recognized sign of air-healers.
Subverted with Toph. She knows the basics, thanks to Katara, but isn't really willing to learn more.
Conflict Ball: Some people accuse Vathara of handing this to Katara. While Katara doesn't like Zuko in canon and does later threaten to kill him (after Aang nearly dies because Zuko betrays them), some think that her antagonism in this fic is so extreme that it's quite clear this trope was used to pad the story out to the desired ending, if not to outright vilify her. Some see this as a happy return to the Katara that challenged Pakku, and mother issues aside, if the Fire Nation tried to wipe out their people slowly and painfully, who wouldn't be racist against them?
This sticks out since Katara only gets handed the Conflict Ball after Ba Sing Se. In the earlier chapters of Embers, she helps save Iroh's life, as she offered to do in canon, and her inner monologue says that 'nobody deserved that pain' (referring to Zuko). Then she starts acting far more irrationally after having about ten chapters to muse on the encounter.
In regards to Katara's inner monologue about how "nobody deserved that pain", her inner voice, the same voice that picked a fight with Toph said "not even Zuko?" Even back then Katara was having issues doing the right thing when it came to people of the Fire-nation, she healed Iroh though, because at the time she saw him as a harmless elder & on the Water Tribes' side. After Ba-Sing-Se, Katara now saw Iroh as A) a warrior and B) the enemy. Combine that with the awful time she had in Ba-Sing-Se...well she's going to be kinda snarly towards anyone whose Fire-Nation, and then things kept getting worse.
Rewatched, Vathara is taking a line from canon and running with it
"It's just that for so long now, whenever I would imagine the face of the enemy, it was your face." —Katara "The Crossroads of Destiny", Season 2, Episode 20
Then there's the instance of Aang's escape in the first episode. Which no one really seems to care about (no one mentions it). In Embers, it's suddenly this huge slight that Cannot Be Forgiven.
As of Chapter 31 it appears the Author has somewhat resolved the conflict between Katara and Zuko, but Aang is still holding it, along with the Idiot Ball
Mostly, this Troper feels that everything is mostly IC, on the outer edges of it, but within the bounds of legitimate interpretation. However, there are two that really stick out at me. Both in Chapter 32(?) when Vathara deliberately makes Katara argumentative so her protests give Hakoda the wrong impression, that she was bending people on purpose, as it could have easily gone the other way. And well, the IC one that Zuko threw at the Gaang and the Water Tribe Fleet on purpose.
Conservation of Ninjutsu: In chapter 36, Shirong thinks that they have absolutely no chance against Ty Lee, while Kuzon was able to kill a fourth of Azulon's air nomad ninja forces before finally being taken down.
That could just be the fact that Kuzon was so familiar with them. After all, they were sort of like adopted children. Shirong probably had less than a few days to analyze Ty Lee's fighting style.
Cryptic Conversation: While it wasn't obvious in her conversations with Zuko (she has no reason to make things easy for the son of her enemy, after all), during the scene where Yue teaches Katara how to control her empathic powers, despite Yue's best efforts, the gap between human and spirit is enough that Katara has to work to figure out what she's saying and, in a subversion, succeeds.
Culture Clash: Lampshades and Anvils abound here. Vathara's biggest reason behind writing the fic seems to be exasperation at the canon Four Nations being The Theme Park Versions of China, Japan, Tibetan Monks and Inuit Tribes. For example, Vathara spends almost an entire chapter on the difference between the Nations' different definitions of "truce."
In the Water Tribes, a truce is decided upon by the women, who get together and decide that their men have wasted enough time and effort fighting, or are needed back home. Once they've determined that the men are rested and recovered, the truce is revoked and they go to war again.
In the Earth Kingdom, the local King (or the Earth King, if it's a big enough deal), will declare a truce only as a final ceasefire, when either they or the enemy is thoroughly crushed. Truces aren't temporary... they end the war, and breaking the truce starts a new one.
In the Fire Nation, the ranking officer can call for a truce at any time, but they will hold that truce without fail. They will not break a truce, but will revoke it and inform their enemy of the revocation before they attack.
The Air Nomads don't have truces. They may stop fighting, or work together with an enemy for a while against a common foe, but there's nothing binding about it. They can change their minds whenever they want, without informing anyone. This has led to them being generally liked but not trusted, and in Embers, has led to HUGE problems between the nations.
QED everyone would be pushing each others' Berserk Buttons. It's not pretty, but it's also much more realistic.
"Fair" is also a concept that trips people up:
Earth has the closest to the sense of fairness held by most readers, with debts balancing in the manner of equal weights or stones leaning on each other for mutual support.
Water's emphasis on community sometimes means that "fair" is when the people inside the community get what they need and everything they can grasp while outsiders get the leftovers.
Fire is influenced by both the nature of fire and the predator instincts of their dragon ancestors. Whoever has the strength to get the most, gets the most, but if they don't leave enough for others they are likely to end up with nothing as everyone else gangs up on them.
For Air, at least at the temples, fairness was based on equality of outcomes and circumstances. Vathara is basing it on the flashback in "The Storm" – where Aang agrees with the guy who later trained airbending assassins for Sozin that it's not "fair" for the Avatar to compete against normal benders; Tall Poppy Syndrome.
Also, funerary practices for each Nation:
The Water Tribes give their tribe members back to the Ocean.
The Earth Kingdom buries their dead.
The Fire Nation cremates the dead, setting up funeral pyres upon which the body is burned.
The Air Nomads have their sky burial – they take the body of the deceased up high in the mountains, and render the corpse into little pieces for the vulture-eagles to take care of.
The word "student" is not the same thing for an Air Monk and Fire Nation:
The Fire Nation High Court lingo uses Japanese words. "Deshi" means apprentice. Shidan defines apprentice as "one who hunts to your guidance".
The Air Monks and Nuns are teachers to the younger monks and nuns, as they show their students the Way.
Cursed with Awesome: Yue's 'gift' of waterbending ensures that Zuko cannot become the next Fire Lord, which would mean he has no alternative but to go his canon route and join Aang earlier, except he's intent on Refusing. Chapter 36 specifically discusses this as a curse.
However, Zuko is pragmatic enough to put the time into learning waterbending (even though he still sees it as a curse) because it's undeniably USEFUL.
Cycle of Revenge: What Aang is trying to prevent and everyone else thinks is both inevitable and agrees Aang is the only one capable of stopping.
Also present in multiple arcs in which villains have reasons for the evil they do, and often hit targets not responsible for the damage.
The Fire Nation attacked the Air Nomads because the Air Nomads did not warn them about the coming hurricane, and because they harbor the Avatar, who, as Kyoshi, killed thousands of them and destroyed the foundations of their culture. They also remember the raids of the White Wind, ancestors of the airbenders they killed who raided, enslaved, and killed their people. They may have also attacked the Earth Kingdom because they spawned Kyoshi.
The Southern Water Tribe attacks Zuko's ship, even though the ship is not involved in the war, because it is a Fire Nation ship and therefore necessarily evil. Later, Katara wants to/tries to attack the survivors and blames them for the deaths in her tribe that happened when they defended themselves from their attackers.
Jet takes revenge on anyone in any way associated with the Fire Nation in revenge for what happened to his village, even those who are trying to stop the war.
The Air Nomads hunted down and mindbent the remnants of the White Wind with extreme prejudice, possibly not just because they had different philosophies.
Dead Man Switch: The real reason Clan Byakko hasn't been wiped out. In the same way Kuei's family protects Ba Sing Se from spirits just by existing, Mt. Shirotora, aka the White Tiger, is the Avatar universe's equivalent of Mt. Krakatoa. While the mountain spirit is implied to be fond of Clan Byakko, who treat it with respect, it would take more than forty fire sages to forcibly subdue it... until they slipped, and they didn't just have a supervolcano eruption on their hands, but an angry supervolcano.
Zuko also plans to do this with Asagitatsu if Aang doesn't accept the idea of his all-nation colony
"A bold lie, from one who would see my nation drowned (destroyed) for one woman's murder." Temul's (The devil's) gaze was implacable as lava. "You'd have us all pay for one man's evil." She (The devil) pointed a long, bony finger. "And who will pay for his? Would you offer your life, little waterbender?" Aang(Person 1) gulped. Because of course Katara(person 2) would. She(2) was perfect, she(2) was kind, she(2) was just good... She(2)... wasn't saying anything. Sokka(Person 3) stepped forward. "I would." For Katara(2) to agree would be to possibly open the door to giving up her(2's) life to Temul(the devil), which is likely why she(2) stayed quiet. However, Sokka(3) did speak up, opening that door, and Temul adopted him(the devil took advantage of that offer in an unexpected way), so that his(3's) life is no longer his(their) own.
Deconstruction: Of stories where a group of 'special' children are expected to save the world despite personal tragedies in general and Avatar in specific.
This is a major source of the Fan Dumb over this fic, inserting modern sensibilities into a medieval world where Katara is clearly old enough to be married (the engagement necklace was assumed to be hers), and there are honor duels to the maiming, if not the death.
Averted in a meta-example. We the readers think being part dragon is awesome and a mark of being special. However what Vathara is writing is that the other nations would not see it that way. They would most likely view the Fire Nation as being animals, either partially or fully—beasts that need to be put down, and all around easier to dehumanize. Named characters don't view it this way, but individuals are smart, people are dumb.
Disability Superpower: In order to become a yaoren, having the scar from a near-fatal spirit wound (or nearly dying from lack of your element) is necessary.
Slightly subverted in Chapter 34 by Kuei.
"Well – those are the strongest yaoren, in the tales," Kuei managed, eyes still wide. "The warriors. The ones the spirits set between us and harm. But the stories say some benders went on spirit-quests to become yaoren. Though it was risky. You could die. Even if you didn't, it didn't always work. And the ones who lived... well, they weren't who you might expect." He gave Shirong a shaky smile. "If spirit-torn yaoren are lion-dogs, questing yaoren were cricket-mice. They were healers."
Worse for the Fire Nation. Their prisons for benders are designed to starve them of their element, wounding their spirits. Every single survivor of one of those prisons, like the Earthbenders Katara rescued (and Hama) has the potential to become a yaoren. Who obviously won't have much reason to like the Fire Nation.
Discontinuity Nod: Also for The Great Divide. May be considered a Mythology Gag by the author, in which the episode did not happen, but the characterization being solid. It is uncertain if Vathara considers The Great Divide to be canon or not.
Disproportionate Retribution: Chin Village doesn't just go after Aang on Avatar Day. Kyoshi Island folks are advised that if it's a choice between Chin Village and racist, potentially war-criminal Fire Nation troops, head for the troops.
Zuko, as refugee Lee in the Earth Kingdom, also communicated this to those whose eyes lingered on his scar.
Doom Magnet: Due to wounds sustained in the defense of Ba Sing Se from a horde of spirits, Shirong is cursed: unlike other Dai Li, he works alone because terrible things happen to his partners. One of the reasons he lets himself get attached to Lee may be the relief he feels when he realizes hanging around him couldn't possibly make Lee's luck any worse.
According to Vathara, any member of Sozin's line is also considered this to some extent.
Normally, anyone doing what the Fire Nation is doing would get hit by this like a ton of bricks. Due to Kyoshi's decree, it's not the Fire Nation people who commit genocide for the Fire Lord that end up a Doom Magnet, it's the people who don't, because they're disobeying the Avatar through the Fire Lord. Combine that with loyalty sickness, and it's no wonder that Jeong Jeong was the only (known) person in a century to survive telling the Fire Lord where to shove it. Theoretically, Ozai should be dead meat, since he'd end up with every single soldier's bad karma, except he's got the Fire Sages to protect him, there are some spirits who want him to keep doing what he's doing, and apparently dragon blood helps.
The Dragon: Azula to Ozai (her inner monologue confirms she's loyal for most of the fic), and quite possibly Makoto to Koh, although they may just be allies.
In the most recent story arcs, Vathara seems to be hinting that Azula (after being spirit-healed and then taking Zuko's advice on prioritizing the people of fire nation over her father's designs) is edging into Dragon with an Agendaterritory.
Dragon Rider: So far, only the canon ones: Roku, Sozin, and Kuzon. Roku's was his spirit animal/guide (as Appa is Aang's), Sozin's became his wife, and Kuzon's ended up marrying his daughter and becoming Zuko's grandfather. Since Embers shows that dragons are very proud creatures and just as intelligent as humans (and very touchy about respect and dominance issues), there probably won't be too many more even if Byakko's refugee dragon population goes to war alongside the humans.
Dragon Lady: Makoto (aka Fire Lady Tejina) was a literal one at one point.
The Water Tribes give their tribe members back to the Ocean.
The Earth Kingdom buries their dead.
The Fire Nation cremates the dead, setting up funeral pyres upon which the body is burned.
The Air Nomads have their sky burial: they take the body of the deceased up high in the mountains, and render the corpse into little pieces for the vulture-eagles to take care of.
Easy Logistics: Easier at least. Though the Earth Kingdom has had a number of rebellions and screw-ups, one of which was an assassination attempt on the Earth King's family that put Long Feng in charge of the Dai Li, who left that province to be abandoned to the Fire Nation, the Fire Nation is completely immune to such setbacks because the mandate granted to the Fire Lord by Avatar Kyoshi means that any domain that protests the war is ravaged by angry spirits. Everyone in Fire Nation has to support the war, no matter what it costs them – even to the point of permitting the Charles Dickensesque poverty and environmental damage seen in "The Painted Lady".
Elemental Baggage: Mentioned with Zuko's temper and how Shirong experiences emotional and mental changes, as well as a greater drive and focus. It's noted that it can make you do very stupid things for your goals. Airbenders being flighty, Waterbenders being community orientated, and Earthbenders stubborn.
Enemy Civil War: What Zuko believes will happen when Ozai dies, especially if Azula takes the throne. He is knowingly making this more likely by creating another Domain outside of the Fire Lord's control.
Everyone Is Related: The Fire Nation are always concerned about the family trees of each budding couple and avoiding inbreeding. Usually it's to prevent awkward individuals like Zuko or dangerous people like Azula. And since benders can sense their element in nationalities, they can easily tell if a foreigner has some of their own nation's blood in them, and that often clues them into who may be a distant cousin of who. Sometimes, these are even Wham Line worthy.
Evil Plan: It's too early to say for sure, but given the fic's track record for foreshadowing, the current state of the cycle, Aang's ignorance, the blunders of the recent Avatars, the extinction of the yaoren and the swift deaths of any new ones, what Yangchen did to turn the Air Nomads into the 'Air Monks', and almost the current state of the world may be consequences of Koh the Face Stealer's vendetta against the Avatar, especially since characters have often wondered about what it would take to get vengeance on or get rid of the Avatar. To kill the Avatar would require ending the cycle of rebirth, for one thing, and having humanity, or as much as possible of it, be actively seeking to destroy the Avatar too could only be a good thing.
It has been confirmed that Koh is behind it, and he's not just going after the Avatar: the goal is the destruction of the human race, which would explain the focus on crippling the Avatars: they're the ones most able to fight back.
The Evil Prince: Azula. While yes, she may be trying to kill Zuko with Ozai's blessing, she used Ty Lee's ability to interfere with Zuko's firebending kata practice despite the fact she knew how embarrassing it was to Ozai to have his firstborn son be so weak, and hence Ozai would be furious if he found out.
Expy: According toVathara, her method of OC creation is to not do so. Instead, she uses expies of characters from other series. Of course, most of her other fics are crossovers.
Even species get in on the act; the "rattle vipers" are suspiciously similar to Pern's tunnelsnakes, complete with "you know it's not a snake, I know it's not a snake, try telling that to the locals." (chapter 53)
Fantastic Racism: In addition to the more normal racism shown in the show (the Fire Nation thinks the others are inferior, the others think the Fire Nation is Always Chaotic Evil / Bad Powers, Bad People), Iroh tells Toph that he is afraid that this trope will come into play if the other nations find out that the Fire Nation has draconic ancestry and what that means. After all, it would be very attractive to blame their tendency to kill and so on on them being actual monsters instead of Kyoshi's blunder, and it would serve as an additional justification for the genocide practically the entire Fire Nation is convinced would happen following a defeat by the Avatar, between the Avatar's right for vengeance on his people's killers and the Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom's own grievances.
Even Professor Wen, who married a woman from the Fire Nation, is discomforted by the fact his wife 'isn't human.' However, this is not so much due to any kind of disgust than utter terror that a Great Name of Fire could use Loyalty to steal her from him. And though she says in Chapter 13 that her husband and children will always be more important to her than any Lord, that was before she learned who Zuko was - and her reaction did not inspire confidence. She didn't immediately re-affirm her loyalty to her family either, recognizing the depth of the problem. Instead, Meixiang took quiet a few chapters before acting, and then in chapter 29 decided that the best option was to merge traditions and make a clan of both Earth and Fire in order to protect her loyalty and that of her children, especially Jinhai. Keeping Shirong sane by adding him to the Wen Clan was little more than a moral bonus to her.
Fate Worse than Death: Ty Lee tells Azula what happened to the Air Nomads who could not get away from Xiangchen's followers.
Fire, Ice, Lightning: Zuko can wield, or at least redirect, all three after the early arcs. He is able to wield all three by Chapter 78.
Fisher King: Kuei, with regards to the palace specter who appeared in his absence:
She who only appears if the Imperial Palace is abandoned. If no king rules here, Shirong recalled. The spirits will not recognize Azula as our ruler. No matter what the cost.
Foreshadowing: Lots and lots, with several hints sprinkled many chapters and tens of thousands of words in advance of each reveal, to the point of Chekhov's Armory.
Flat Earth Atheist: Most of the Fire Nation. An entire populace who randomly start Playing with Fire, yet consider tales of fire-healers or traditions like the blood knot silly and superstitious. Zhao took it Up to Eleven, proclaiming they don't have to fear spirits and then tried to kill the Moon.
Gambit Pileup: Word of God states that this happened in the past, and is happening right now, which is the reason for the current imbalance of the world. And that all the nations got caught in the gears—twice!
Genocide Backfire: Zuko's apology to Katara reveals that by Fire Nation law and custom, Aang is obligated to kill his father's murderer. Since Aang doesn't know who his father is? The entire Fire Nation is convinced that he's going to wipe them out (even the ones who 'like' Aang think he'll let his allies do it) since they acknowledge that it's 'the right thing for him to do' according to their moral system. Azula's inner monologue shows how useful she and Ozai find this as a means to get the Fire Nation to continue the war, since obviously even the ones who don't want to fight can't stop, because that means the Avatar can kill their families unopposed , not to mention the firebenders among them will drop dead if they tell Ozai no. Aang is not just a naive little boy. His ideals are the only ones that can stop the war.
Ghost Shipping: Ping and Lu Ten seem to be on rather good terms, although it doesn't seem to be anything more than flirting. On a related note, Toph mentions that in the Earth Kingdom people sometimes arrange marriages between ghosts to get families to stop fighting.
Good Is Not Nice: Or rather, spirits aren't. Yue makes Zuko a waterbender without asking consent, and may or may not have known what this would do to the Fire Nation. As for Wan Shi Tong's kitsune agent and the haima-jiao...
Gray Eyes: Airbenders, like Aang and Ty Lee. Spiritual, check. Ideas above people, like putting aside vengeance, or surrendering to Ozai because that would make things so much easier on everyone, check. Innocence, check.
Gray and Grey Morality: At first glance, this verse seems like a very well written example of this. People do the right thing for the wrong reasons and the wrong thing for the right reasons. Nothing is ever as cut and dry as it may seem — and the fact each nation's culture is so very different, as well as backed by spiritual Blood Oaths (which, in the case of the Fire Nation, bind even non-benders), just causes more incomprehension and confusion. There are reasons, but no excuses. However, the fact that there genuinely are characteristics that can make a person beyond redemption or tolerance, or events so profane they cannot be allowed, makes it a very well written example of Black and Gray Morality instead.
Hanlon's Razor: A major theme of the fic is why 'sufficiently advanced stupidity' can be mistaken for malice and vice versa: because ignorance can stack up just as much, if not more, of a body count as outright malice. At least malice knows what it's doing and keeps the collateral damage down. Of course, in the case of Koh's plot, the collateral damage to humanity was practically the entire point, it turns out...
Healing Shiv: To (almost) everyone who's ever been on the wrong or right end of a Fire Nation's attack and see firebending as a dangerous tool at best.
Hard Work Hardly Works: Aang and Azula have this in common, as Zuko points out. Embers examines the logical consequences of this: one of the reasons for Aang's Idiot Ball, as Toph points out, is that while Aang is a prodigy at bending and many other things (due to his past lives), he's never had the opportunity to learn how to learn concepts that are new to him. So while everyone agrees he's a bending and tactical genius, that has actually stunted his ability to learn and adapt. Most people can't learn bending at his level without mastering learning: Aang could.
Hate Plague: Amak, along with all other survivors of the waterbender prison all carry a fairly nasty one, capable of driving entire tribes insane. This is a logical extension of the empathy waterbenders use to keep all the spears pointed in the right direction. Combine it with PTSD, however, and we've got an entire group of corrupters on our hands. As a result, some of them killed themselves upon realizing they could not go home without turning everyone around them into Wendigo, some of them headed to the Earth Kingdom, and some settled in Lituya Bay.
Heroic Sacrifice: Zuko thought this was going to happen when he went to save Aang from Azula: he survived only due to the healing fire and Iroh's presence. What happened to Avatar Yangchen and all the yaoren, courtesy of Koh and a volcano.
In Ch 57,Langxue tells Zuko that yaoren can feel where they died. Hyourin and his comrades made sure they survived until they reached a White Lotus secret vault containing the reason Koh hates humans so that their bodies could serve as markers to their reincarnations. They gave up their own right to proper burials just so the vault was never permanently lost.
The Dragons who used themselves as bait to lure Avatar Kesuk to Asagitatsu and the Air Nomads and Bison who tried to save them when they tired.
Hue and the other swampbenders who are planning to lure Makoto away so that she doesn't chase the Gaang.
Hero Secret Service: The Gaang, complete with explaining some of Aang's behavior in canon as him wanting, on whatever level, to drive them away so they'd be safe, not wanting them to die for something he considers all his fault anyway. In addition, the yaoren appear to function as this for the various Avatars – Yangchen's 'dear friends' committed a group Heroic Sacrifice alongside her, and Langxue gives their job description as holding the line against the current threat until the Avatar can get there to solve the problem.
Hero with Bad Publicity: Even the people in the Fire Nation who think the war is wrong mostly believe that Aang's what, the third coming of Kyoshi? According to Azula's inner monologue, this is deliberate propoganda to use the threat of the Avatar to mobilize the Fire Nation. Also, the Earth Kingdom generals and Kyoshi Island's leaders appear to be deliberatly trying to keep what happened at the North Pole a secret in order to avoid this trope – which will likely backfire very, very badly when people find out that not only are people being killed by spirits because the Avatar isn't doing his job as the bridge to the Spirit World, he's the one who ticked them off so badly in the first place and isn't lifting a finger to fix it.
Hidden Elf Village: In addition to Byakko, Sokka questions why the Northern Water Tribe didn't help out the Southern, or anyone else for that matter. Given that they're protecting the world's only surviving healing benders behind those walls...
In canon, the Sun Warriors were this: Vathara has not decided whether or not to include them. Byakko may be a subversion: they're a popular tourist destination due to having one of the few mountains in the Fire Nation high enough to have snow, and they bought the amount of not isolation but insulation from Ozai's power they have by the rulers giving their daughter Ursa to Ozai, and never even getting to meet their grandchildren, at least not yet. They have very good reasons for keeping under the radar: according to Teruko, they're hiding dragons, who are supposed to be extinct, people on Azulon's 'execute on sight' List, firebenders who haven't sworn loyalty to Ozai since they came into their power after the age at which the Fire Nation stops testing, and given the description of the mountain monks in an earlier chapter and the Air Monk letter in Chapter 31, they may also be hiding airbenders. It's not so much hypocrisy and disgust at the world as a deliberate plan to provide a refuge, likely by Kuzon. Zuko seems to have the same idea of creating a place to preserve both Fire Nation traditions and, explicitly, the freedom which is necessary for airbenders to be born.
As of Chapter 34, it is more or less guaranteed that Byakko is hiding Airbender descendants from the male-only Southern Temple. Likely full Masters, no less. Which could be good or bad, depending on what they've learned in the hundred years since their people were rendered nearly extinct. It also raises the issue of the Western Air Temple, which was one of the two female-only Air Nomad Temples, and was located in the Fire Nation itself, much closer to Byakko then even the Southern Temple Aang was raised in.
In chapter 37, The mystery of the missing Air Temple children is solved- those that weren't killed by Sozin or rescued by Kuzon, the Fire Lord had kidnapped to be raised by his onmitsu.
In chapter 76, Lituya Bay, a fishing village in Byakko is home to some of the surviving southern waterbenders.
Highly-Visible Ninja: Ty Lee, since "onmitsu" is the name for the classical concept of a spy/saboteur/assassin in ancient Japan (words like "ninja" and "shinobi" are modern inventions).
Honor Before Reason: Or rather, honor for very good reasons. Is it death before dishonor if a firebender betraying their lord caused their inner fire to go out, killing them? Of course, it's not 100% fatal. The same thing applies to Earthbenders who break contracts, Waterbenders who abandon the tribe, and likely Airbenders who abandon their teachings.
Hot for Teacher: In Chapter 33, Toph briefly considers Aang/Katara as an example of this trope. Then in Chapter 37, she breaks Sokka's brain by mentioning it.
Hope Spot: Aang seems to finally be getting a clue about how to deal with the mess the war wrecked, and decides to start listening to people instead of just judging them. Then he encounters the drowned.
How Do I Shot Web?: Zuko with Waterbending, Shirong and Jinhai with Firebending, and Especially Aang with shamanism.
Aang's inability to sense or discern the intention of dangerous spirit activity and ingorance of each nations' supernatural bonds has gotten him flack from all sides( thanks to freezing himself before Gyatso could fill him in on the powers & expectations of the Bridge Between Worlds).
And then he has to deal with the totally inhuman. Some of which make Hei Bai's angry form look like the peaceful panda.
In addition to that, this is the reason that some of the spirits want to wipe out humanity. Others are in it for power or personal vendettas.
Humans Are Special: When spirits want to wipe out humanity, do they pick a fight with us? No, they try to trick us into destroying ourselves, slowly destroying our capability to fight them and turning the strengths of the various nations into weaknesses. The fact that humanity can and should stop relying on the Avatar to solve all its problems and regain its own strength and agency is a theme in the fic, culminating in a CMOH when Sokka tells Aang that he doesn't believe in the Avatar's ability to save the world, but that of Aang himself: the person, not the powerful spirit.
Sokka: I believe in the kid who was smart enough to trick Katara into penguin-sledding. Who was crazy enough to ride the Unagi. Who had the guts to save Zuko – man, I can't believe you saved Zuko! – instead of letting Zhao grab him. That's what's really going to save the world. Sure, we need plans and weapons and benders strong enough to stop the Fire Lord. We need to fight. And it's not going to be pretty. But after that? We need you.
As of chapter 46-47, it's pretty much proven that Koh has become so frustrated with humans avoiding, averting, or defeating his attempts to destroy them all that he's decided to use a historically unstoppable super-volcano to do the job this time.
I Thought Everyone Could Do That: Zuko's assumption when he hears that the Water Tribes trim their nails without obsidian knives is that either they have some metalworking trick the Fire Nation doesn't or that bone knives might be better than he thought. He doesn't realize that there's something special about having fingernails that steel can't cut, or any of his other signs of draconic ancestry. It's pointed out in the Author's Notes that people tend to judge normal by themselves and what they can do. Sokka's accuracy with Boomerang is another example: he's been using his chi to fight all along without noticing it even though he thought only benders could use chi. Aang also had no idea that other people had problems with temperatures below freezing, since Aang's perfectly capable of sleeping on snow without ill effects.
It Runs in the Family: Most members of Fire Nation royal and Byakko family are highly paranoid and agressive. They are also prone to sociopathy. Dragon blood tends to do this to people. It's hitned that it may be a case with many other Fire Nation clans.
Justified. You know how the title is Avatar: The Last Airbender? The fact he's the last of the Air Nomads is a big part of Aang's identity, and since he is the last, if he ceases to be an Air Nomad then his people will cease to be, and it will be all his fault twice over. However, according to Embers, the Avatar is NOT a member of the people he is born to: Roku not really being Fire Nation and therefore not feeling what everyone else around him knew instinctively is a plot point. Instead, it is the Avatar's job to try to understand all the cultures without ever really being a member of any of them. Aang ran away from Gyatso in the first place to be able to stay with his 'family' and remain a normal Air Nomad. Throughout the original series and Embers, he's been holding on to his airbender identity so that his people can live on. The pacifism and other ideals Aang espouses are a fundamental part of being an air nomad. If he were a normal air nomad, they'd be the right way to be. As the Avatar, being in denial about who he is (and therefore isn't) and rejecting his responsibilities to the world is one big Idiot Ball. Trying to pry it out of his hands is a big part of the fic, and necessary to world peace, but man, you have to feel sorry for the kid. On the other hand, they also need the ideals; everyone needs to do a balancing act between having to kill the monsters like Azula, and stopping a Cycle of Revenge in its tracks.
According to Word of God in review responses, Aang is absolutely right about something else too: the air nomads as he knew them will cease to be as a consequence of at least one of his duties as Avatar. Is it really an idiot ball if carrying it is necessary to achieve your goals?
Word of God too is that Aang should get to stay true to his pacifistic ideals, and solve things without violence. He does and it is a Crowning Moment Of Awesome. It's not exactly an Idiot Ball when Aang is surrounded by people who think he means 'stop' as in 'kill' the Fire Lord, and is learning that the Air Nomads were not exactly what he was raised to think they were.
In Love with Your Carnage: The Fire Nation. A fairly even-tempered Fire Nation officer sees Mai massacring spirits and immediately wants her as a member of his family, great names prefer wives who can deal with assassins, Teruko finds Toph threatening people in order to get her way absolutely adorable...
Irony: Back when the Fire Nation was divided up into warring clans they thought Air Nomads to be a bit touched in the head for being friends with them, and with the other clan they have been at war with for generations. Chapter 54 has Aang doubting Kuzon, because Kuzon was friends with him, and with Temul, someone who Aang considers to be a bad person.
I Surrender, Suckers: Aang to Zuko in the very beginning of the series. Discussion moved to the Discussion Page.
Note Azula on that page too. The point being that Azula doesn't have honor.
This Troper will point out something. Zuko's contention with Aang on this point is not about Aang breaking his word. It is about the possibility of consequences, and the distinction between breaking a promise and lying in the first place.
Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: Vathara treats canon as this, fitting in bits of Real Life history to fill in the gaps. The metaphor is used by Ty Lee and Azula in Ch. 36.
Just Following Orders: In the Fire Nation, this justifies everything from kidnapping to cold-blooded murder. A side effect of Loyalty: people who disobey the orders of their Lords die the most horrible deaths it is possible for a human being to suffer. Thus, Zuko has never and will never apologize for any of his canonical actions throughout Season One.
(Chapter 22)I had my orders!
Katanas Are Just Better: They were the ancient symbol of airbending, and both foreshadowing and the way Vathara characterizes airbenders hints that she'll be giving the show's depiction of them her usual levels in badass. As of Ch. 36, she has.
Kissing Cousins: Zuko/Mai. The historical Chinese variant, where any known relation is unacceptable. Azula knew all along. The author also notes that the characters are afraid if one link is hidden, there might be many more they don't know about.
It Got Worse. According to Teruko, The Fire Nation's obsession with geneology and preventing inbreeding is in order to prevent anyone ending up with too much dragon blood, since this results in people like Azula at worst, or the social graces (and all-consuming rage) of Zuko at best. Since Mai is the descendant of non-firebenders and Avatar Roku, she's no more likely to have evil children than Zuko and any other Fire Nation person. However, they don't know that, and the current Fire Nation theory of genetics says that they would, and that's specifically why Azula set them up in the first place. Since that idea didn't pan out, she's considering sleeping with Mai's brother Tom-Tom in order to have children without that inconvenient thing called a conscience herself.
It was never specifically stated whether Azula was considering pairing herself with Tom-tom, or one of her children.
"One half of that equation was dead, but Mai did have a little brother. Perhaps she could just borrow him, once she'd produced a legitimate heir."
YMMV. The Fire Nation only considers sororal descent (i.e. both ancestors were sisters) as forbidden – fraternal descent is acceptable, at least as long as there's enough generations in-between. As Min is descended from Roku's son, he doesn't run into this particular problem.
Knight in Sour Armor: And how. Zuko pretty much IS this trope from the moment he gets involved with the Plague Spirit. Hasn't gotten any better since then.
Laser-Guided Karma: Except the spirits have bad aim. Anyone who fights a spirit, regardless of whether or not they're a good person or even if the spirit was trying to eat them for something they had nothing to do with at the time, has open season declared on them. Tingzhe Wen was hit with a fever that might have been fatal because Sokka hit Wan Shin Tong over the head with a book, and some spirits take this to the extreme of 'because some humans hurt the balance, I get to kill you all.'
Les Collaborateurs: Ty Lee & the Elders of the non-Byakko Airbenders living in the Fire Nation, aka Azulon's ninja, who killed Kuzon when he rescued some of the air nomad children they'd brainwashed.
Living Lie Detector: Airbenders: words are just breath on the wind, and they rule the wind. And don't forget Toph.
Airbenders tend to not to regard lying as a big deal, despite being aware that the people of other nations, unlike themselves, can be lied to. This hits berserk buttons, particularily among dragon-descended firebenders. This is less firebenders being lie detectors and Vathara extrapolating from the fact that in canon Dragons seem to be telepaths or empaths of one sort of another. See Berserk Button.
Locked Out of the Loop: Zuko is not only unaware he's descended from the Avatar, although slightly differently than in canon, but also Kuzon's reincarnation. Azula kept Zuko's letters from reaching Mai to make her think marrying him was still viable.
As of Chapter 36, Zuko knows about his descent from Avatar Roku, and was distinctly not happy that Iroh had chosen to keep that fact from him.
And as of Chapter 37, Zuko knows about his past life as Kuzon.
Lost Colony: Fire Nation legends, one of the reasons some spirits dislike humanity and the fact that Ba Sing Se sprung up overnight indicate that the Avatar world may be one.
Mama Bear: Amaya, to her hidden folk; Ursa; Kyoshi; Meixiang to her kin; Sokka realizes that if his mother had been born in the Fire Nation, where noblewomen are trained to defend their children against assassins, she might still be alive despite not being a bender.
Magnetic Medium: People, who have strong spiritual power—or deal with supernatural activity on daily basis—usually attract spirits along with any other strange phenomena that follows. This gets them ostracized from society, not just because of danger they may cause, but also the spiritual scars they often get along the way that other people subconsciously find unnerving.
Mommy Issues: Par for the course in both Azula's and Katara's canon characterizations. And Koh has his own issues with his parent: the Avatar Spirit.
More Than Mind Control: Benders can pull on your emotions. What the Dai Li pull. However, Azula's plans for Min indicate that it's not exactly mind control in the first place
My Own Grampa: As Zuko is the reincarnation of Kuzon, and Zuko's mother, Ursa, is the daughter of Shidan and Kuzon's daughter Kotone, Zuko is technically his own great-grandfather in a strange spiritual way.
Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Xiangchen to the other Air Nomads. Before Xiangchen, though, was Subodei and his clan, the White Wind. And of course, Aang to the Onmitsu and other Air peoples still hiding out there. Chin, Sozin, and Kyoshi all got NOTHING on the Air Nomads.
"Just tell me why this monster isn't going to do the smart thing, hide on the bottom of the lake, and laugh at us." "Three reasons!" The retired general sounded grimly cheerful. "First, if it did that, we would have no chance to rescue Amaya. And that would simply not be fair." "This isn't a spirit-tale, Uncle!" The hero doesn't always win. As if we were ever heroes. "Is it not?"
Never Mess with Granny: EVERY Fire Nation woman learns to fight. And it is the older generation who teach the younger one.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Aang allowing the Ocean Spirit to possess him in defense of the Northern Water Tribe was planned by Koh. At least Ocean didn't massacre the Northern Water Tribe too since they knew to hit the dirt praying, but spiritual pollution has spread all the way from there to Kyoshi Island, and the uncremated Fire Nation dead are going to be incredibly angry and vicious due to the way they were killed, meaning the Northern Water Tribe may be under the sort of attack that caused Long Feng's rise to power.
During The Beach arc, Zuko ( aided by memories from his previous life) gives a pretty hefty chewing out to Avatar Roku over how he could have prevented Sozin coming to power and the resultant war if he'd just paid attention to his people and how Kyoshi's decree was driving them all nuts instead of giving things the once over, saying "everything's fine as-is", then running away to other nations to train in other forms of bending. In his subsequent explanation of just what Kyoshi did to the Fire Nation that ultimately caused the war, Zuko may not explicitly state that the Fire Nation got drunk for a week after Roku died, but his opinions make it clear they probably didn't care too much to see this second Avatar die.
Congratulations, Katara! You've just handed verbal proof that Shidan—and by extension, Byakko—is working against the Fire Lord to the Fire Lord's own army. Their deaths, if any, will be on your head.
Kudos, Aang! You've finally figured out how and why you need to end the war, revoke decrees, etc. And the first thing you do immediately afterward is to douse the flames guiding the souls of the Drowned to the Spirit World and preventing them from attacking the exhausted Dragons' Wings. And said Drowned are now dragging themselves to shore. Oh Crap.
Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: Sozin's goal wasn't to wipe out the Air Nomads: it was to kill Roku's reincarnation. He arranged for thousands of people to die in a way that implied the Air Nomads had acted callously, at best, and Aang was going to repeat Kyoshi's massacre, at worst. It's likely Plan A was for the Air Nomads to produce Aang so that he could be put on (show) trial. When they couldn't do that, well, that 'proved' either the Air Nomads has been callously negligent, at best, or Aang was going to repeat Kyoshi's Massacre, at worst. Admittedly the Fire Nation's goals, and propaganda, were for destroying Air Bending so another Avatar could never call down a hurricane again.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In chapter 51, Sokka realizes Zuko did this at the North Pole. If Zuko wasn't there, Iroh might not have been there, and Yue wouldn't have known she could save the Moon. That is debatable. What is not is this: If Zuko wasn't there no one would have dragged the meditating Aang across the ice, meaning he would have been there, vulnerable, when Zhao showed up.
Kuzon trying to save the airbenders. Most of Kuzon's family die. He makes an oath that requires him to frequently desert what's left of his family to pursue what turns out to be a hopeless quest. He is betrayed by people he trusts. He is killed in revenge for some of the decisions he made at the time.
Helping Zuko tears apart the lives of several residents of Ba Sing Se. Helping Aang just makes it all worse.
No Man of Woman Born: A well-known weakness of spirits (see the Mythology section of the page). For instance, water of the shore is not technically water of the lake and thus it can be bent without leaving the bender open to possession by the haima-jiao.
No One Could Survive That: Aang after being struck by Azula's lightning, and Zuko betraying Ozai. While Azula doesn't say the fatal words in that scene, the triumph in her eyes and voice when she realized Zuko was trying to stop her was more than enough, it seems.
Noodle Implements: Chapter 25: Jee hasn't seen sucha creative interpretation of regulations since his old chief engineer got caught with a feather boa, a hog-monkey, and six dancing girls.
Now You Tell Me: Most helpful cultural notes are dropped long after diplomacy has been thrown out the window, smashed through a second building, and had its credit card stolen by Azula. If it is not played straight, it is doubly subverted, where information is told, misunderstood, and explained again to better effect.
Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: In Chapter 79, it's all but stated that this is the Big Problem everyone in the world has with the Fire Nation, but lack the cultural attitudes to define. Due to their natural state of intrigue and warfare (and their race-wide Hot Bloodedness), Fire Nationals become extremely vague and formal whenever they feel pressured, as the slightest ill-conceived word could ruin formal agreements or even get them killed. In other words, they lawyer up, and everyone assumes they're hiding something.
"He grew up in court," Karasu stated. "Nephew. You're among kin."
In Chapter 77, this is actually the big button that a mind-influencing monster pushes to make Katara attack Zuko.
Our Dragons Are Different: In addition to being the source of Firebending, most of the Fire Nation has draconic ancestry, in some cases very recently and on all sides.
Our Healers Are Different: Most particular are the airbending healers. They are most distinguishable by the swords they carry on their backs such as Eshe of the Touzaikaze.
Bon/Amisi, if Kuei doesn't decide to become polygamous.
Personality Powers: A person's raw ability in manipulating an element or using techniques based on it is dependent on the degree they possess the personality traits related to that element (among other factors, such as genetics and spiritual favour). The reverse is also revealed to be true, when those who become yaoren experience personality changes related to the new element. Zuko, who is forcibly given water, becomes far more willing to let others close, and what Shirong experiences after being given fire can be summed up as an increased tendency towards fanaticism that really worries him.
Person of Mass Destruction: It's not just Aang: One of the illogical things in canon was that a single practitioner of a style stripped of all combat moves was suddenly able to slaughter a small mountain of combat-trained, veteran firebenders given superpowers by Sozin's comet. After experiencing that transformation, it's no wonder Gyatso is horrified by the possibility that airbenders might once again start actually learning how to fight. In the battle in Chapter 36, on top of a train, Shirong realizes that Ty Lee is holding them in the palm of her hand since her element has them surrounded, and Kuei recites a proverb stating that airbending is the element best at destruction. Chalk up another series plothole closed by Embers.
When the human part of the equation doesn't understand people all that well? Yangchen is quite willing to admit her mistakes and failures, Kuruk additionally got along well with the common people of all four nations and people weren't afraid to tell him no, acting more like a god in the 'larger than life human' sense. And then Kyoshi somehow gets (or is given?) the idea that an unfallible god is she, who cannot be defied and can't possibly be wrong, and the misconception is passed down to her successors.
Aang's belief that the Avatar intrinsically has all the answers may be what leads to his backwards approach to becoming the Avatar Spirit: most other Avatars only achieved this after attaining whatever measure of enlightenment/understanding of the world and all bending necessary to awaken as a Physical God and control vast natural forces. Aang seems to believe that he's supposed to just 'open himself' to the Avatar Spirit, which may have been why he thought giving control to the Ocean Spirit was a good idea instead of a forbidden for very good reason one.
Pillars of Moral Character: Invoked on Zuko after he gets his second element and healer training, also Iroh, a bit on Amaya. As it is a Japanese trope it is primarily attached to people from the Japan Expy, the Fire Nation.
Pirate: Type 1. Definite type 1. In addition to the pirates Katara stole the waterbending scroll from, the Fire Nation historically got invaded by pirate 'kings' called the waegu (whom might have come from the Earth Kingdom orginally), then the Fire Nation's lack of a central government made them a pirate haven, since all pirates had to do to escape pursuit was to cross the border of one of the many, many small domains, and some domains were entirely on the ocean, meaning very little in the way of international waters. This ended in tragedy when Kyoshi wiped out the wave clans, along with most of firebending, trying to get the pirates that killed her son. In addition to that, both Water Tribes used to not only commit piracy but raid Earth Kingdom villages: the Southern tribe used to fence their loot on Kyoshi Island (despite Kyoshi's views on piracy), and mounting a coast guard was one of the things that brought Chin to power.
There may be Type 2s coming up. Chapter 33 sees Zuko making plans to steal Ba Sing Se's fleet to smuggle people to safety, and Iroh makes a comment about bringing back the memory of the waegu, flouting Kyoshi's decree. Perhaps they'll even fly a pirate flag?
Plot Hole: The number and scale of those in the original series is much of what inspired the fic, it seems.
Vathara: Canon leaves one big plothole... well, one short, somewhat rotund, awesome firebending plothole.
However, there may be at least one in the fic: Teruko seriously believed the propaganda that Sozin was a hero: this was the reason she doubted that Azula had hit Zuko with lightning and the Plot Hooks were used. Given that her own grandfather was a dragon child, she knew dragons personally, and Sozin committed genocide against them, it makes little sense that she'd have him on any sort of a pedastal.
Averted: Word of God explains that while Teruko wasn't lying, she wasn't telling the whole truth, either – despite what he did to the dragons, Sozin is still publicly considered a hero for ending the "airbender threat".
Nobody can redirect lightning… until Iroh created that ability, after his study of waterbending. (To heck with this being a Zuko-Sue, it's Iroh-Sue all the way… not that there's anything wrong with that.) Azula meditates on Iroh's treacherous plans since he kept a counter to the Royal Lightning a secret, while she's trying to bend hot water.
Best part? The part that isn't a spoiler is canon.
On Vathara's part, Chapter 57: Avatar Kesuk went crazy and got stuck in the Avatar State. It's strongly implied, if not outright stated, that she was in it when she died. Except dying in the Avatar State breaks the cycle, so what was going on there?
Actually...it's said within the chapter that the World-Spirit bid Asagitatsu to erupt, so it was a natural disaster, really.
Debatable: The show doesn't ever make a noticeable distinction between 'died as a result of dumb physics' (which would include natural disasters) and 'killed by enemy action'. It's the dying that seems to matter, though they don't ever go into it explicitly. It may be different in Embers, but if so, Vathara has yet to directly state it. (And it would be tricky to work out why killing has one result that dying doesn't. It makes sense if there's no distinction -the spirit in charge of the body being dragged into death, maybe -but if the process has to determine that something was done with malicious intent to work, it's a bit iffy.)
Posthumous Character: Canon characters include Gyatso, Sozin, Kya, and past Avatars like Roku, while Emberverse characters have Kuzon (who's given more background), some of Zuko's and Azula's grandparents, Hirata (the Fire Nation Avatar before Yangchen), Xiangchen, Subodei, and several Air Nomad groups.
Power of Friendship: According to Iroh, dragons, who eat the weak, view this as a real enough type of power that Aang should be safe if he approaches them accompanied by his friends. While seemingly a fic pretty far over to the Cynical side of Idealism Versus Cynicism, Embers spends a lot of time on the importance of this, as well as the Power of Love and Power of Trust. Of course, the fact that even good things can have bad consequences is an important theme.
Power of Trust: In their first encounter, Aang trusted Zuko but didn't feel obligated to be trustworthy in return. To Zuko, representing the Fire Nation, this had massive Unfortunate Implications, especially since Aang did this knowing Zuko held a high rank in the Fire Nation. He essentially said he considered all Fire Nation people non-persons, unworthy of honorable treatment. Since the Fire Nation being unable to trust the Avatar removes any chance of long-term peace, the fact that even someone who does want peace believes that is very, very scary. Trust is powerful, and this is what happens when there isn't any.
Teruko: "Sir.... He's the Avatar. We're Fire Nation. He's not going to treat us honorably. No matter what."
Protagonist-Centered Morality: Subverted. While the narrative often seems to favor the protagonists, it's mainly because the POVs are often characters that already follow (as with Teruko), like (Toph and Amaya), or have a good impression of them (Xiu). Dissenting point of views are narrated much later in the story, when they chip in to the momentum of the plot.
Rage Against the Mentor: We can only hope Pakku gets the beatdown he so richly deserves. In addition, Zuko isn't likely to appreciate being Locked Out of the Loop on several important plot points: his descent from Avatar Roku, his draconic ancestry, what being Kuzon's reincarnation is doing to his head (it may be making him dislike Aang as well as like him: it's one thing to be hurt by an enemy, another by a best friend). Also subverted by Yue and Katara: instead of being frustrated by the Cryptic Conversation, Katara realizes that Yue is doing her best and keeps trying to figure out what she means, enabling the real meaning to come through, instead of blaming her and giving up as per the trope.
Though, as of chapter 37, Zuko is no longer locked out of the loops.
Reincarnation: As expected of the setting, even though in this AU, Aang is explicitly not reincarnated, but merely the latest host of the World Spirit. Zuko is the more traditional reincarnation of Aang's childhood friend Kuzon, keeping a promise to Gyatso as well as making up for being unable to prevent the genocide, and Lu Ten and Lángxuě were yaoren allies of Avatar Yangchen.
Remembered I Could Fly: Ty Lee is a non-contrived example. The prospective consequences of Zuko's survival drive her into such desperation that she remembers how to Airbend. First order of business? Gale-blast everything in Zuko's direction.
Ret Gone: Originally the story was going to be slightly AU where everything happened just the way it did in the show up to that point. It seems like this might not still be true.
"when I started writing this story, I didn't intend it to be nearly as AU as it turned out. But then I got into researching exactly what sparks off genocides in RL, and what usually has to happen first. And then wondered about why water was the only healing element, and how that might be balanced if all the elements are supposed to be necessary to the world's balance. And then the bunnies tied together Koh, and Wan Shi Tong, and a few other things..." —Vathara AN Chapter 37
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Zuko thinks the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes will do this to the Fire Nation once the war's over unless Aang stops it. Whether or not he's right is still up in the air. Also, Katara is trying very hard not to do this while Zuko stamps on her Berserk Buttons.
Sacred Hospitality: Referenced in the oneshot that started it all: in addition to that there's the loyalty of Amaya's Hidden Folk, and The Shelter of Dragon's Wings, where hospitality is rewarded or given because it's expected that it will be rewarded.
The Right of Hospitality, recognized by the Air Nomads: you do not attack someone in your camp (under your protection) without due cause and warning. Aang violating it by almost killing him in chapter 77 is the last straw for Zuko.
Sacred Language: In a world where everyone speaks the same language, there's Fire Nation High Court, unless there's a better trope? Since the Fire Nation is the Theme Park Version of Japan, then shouldn't they have an indiginous language just like the real Japan does? In addition to using it for messages that might be intercepted (like Navajo Code Talkers), a disporprotionate amount of the terms Iroh and other Fire Nation people use for spirits and spirit-related things are High Court words. Given that the current Fire Nation government was formed around the head of the Fire Sages, the ones who dealt with spirits and hence the closest thing the Fire Nation ever had to a multi-domain body without outside interference, it's entirely possible that it was originally mostly a ritual language. For instance Agni Kai is High Court. Taking a broad view of the setting it's likely that High Court is a mix of Japanese, due to what the Fire Nation is, and some form of Hindi. Chapter 49 confirms that High Court is Sanskrit, with various Japanese words imported.
Sadly Mythtaken: One of Kyoshi's followers had become a Yaoren and died for lack of spirit-healing. Seeing an Earthbending follower die from Waterbending was a major reason for Avatar Kyoshi insisting on the rigid separation of the elements and nations. However, in the present, hundred-year-old spiritualists like Aang and Tao believe the spirits took offense to and struck down the follower for daring to tread on two elements. This was a completely wrong attribution of cause, as bending two element requires both great spirits' blessing. However, it could be quite true, for present benders, since the spirits tend to violently uphold an Avatar's Decree and it's unclear whether Kyoshi ever formally decreed this or just considered it a self-evident truth.
Name a historical hero and prepare to be disillusioned. In the latest chapter, it's revealed that a Northern Water Tribe Avatar went insane and tried to take over the world.
In chapter 46, Langxue insists that Asagitatsu didn't kill Avatar Yangchen. It killed dozens of people, one of whom was her.
Scars Are Forever: Amaya can heal lethal wounds or massive spiritual trauma, and create alternate personalities for people. However, revomoving the scarred skin on Zuko's face is beyond her.
Secret Police: The Dai Li, and this fic manages to humanize them.
Separated by a Common Language: Truce: highly regulated temporary ceasefire, the women calling a time-out, an end to the war, or 'whatever, it's not really that important.'
Sea Monster: Man-eating Seahorse dragons, leeches that can give hell to the Unagi, and (by chapter 43) something huge that makes Sokka think twice about pentapi. All stem from the Ocean Spirit's ongoing revenge, and they probably aren't the only things that we'll see.
Add to that list, the Isonade, or shark monster, that Azula faced as she was battling with Makoto.
Walking Whales, a.k.a. the Kadzait. They can grow to huge sizes (the skeleton Zuko encounters is 50 ft. tall), live extremely long lives, and can be good or evil, just like dragons. The Dark ones are known as Sea Serpents.
In Chapter 78 Zuko defeats a sea serpent banished from his clan for cannibalism of the pods' children. In Chapter 79 we find out that Kadzait are usually sable in color and like colder waters. They have much smaller and more brightly multicolored cousins who live in warm waters called Rakko. The Kadzait seem most like whales while the Rakko are like dolphins.
Considering that rakko means otter in Japanese, it's likely that the Rakko are otter-dolphin hybrids, following the combined-animal theme of Avatar.
Shapeshifting Lover: A common Interspecies Romance fairy tale in the Fire Nation about dragons that's true. Shidan, Kuzon's dragon companion, married Kuzon's daughter and became Ursa's father. This is likely intended, not just to be special, but as a polar opposite of the Water Tribes. Earth and Air learn from their bending spirit animals, Water learns from spirits, and Fire, in effect, joins with their bending spirit animals.
Shapeshifter Mode Lock: Shidan can't turn back into a dragon. The transformation to human is described as a gift from Agni, meaning dragons are unable to shapeshift on their own, and lasts either for a night or the lifetime of their human lover, which would be why they disappear after their lover dies.
Ship Sinking: Vathara closed what she considered plot holes in the canon couple of Zuko/Mai by explaining it as a plan on Azula's part. Then she set her sights higher by smacking Katara's devotion to her family right up against Aang's cavalier acceptance that no Air Nomad ever raises their own children. And both facts are canon. What's the reader equivalent of a Player Punch?
That's a very deliberate misreading of the facts. Aang is the only Air Nomad left. And Air Nomads raise their own. So what would happen if Katara gave birth to an Airbender? Aang would raise it, because there's no one else.
Are we sure Aang is the only Air Nomad left? As of chapter 31, and especially Chapter 36, he's definitely no longer the last airbender.
The Yamabushi are all but confirmed air monks, but they also rebelled against the main temples for some reason. They might not exactly be Aang's kind of Air Nomad.
And what happens to her grandchildren and great grandchildren? She's a bender, she can expect to live healthily for more than a hundred years if she survives all this. Aang would be putting the no family ideas into their heads.
Of course, the foreshadowing in the fic is that the Air Nomads will be reformed, probably meaning an end to that custom, meaning they will be able to hook up without having to decide between their love and their families/people.
Not all the Air Nomads. Perhaps Aang's Air Monk doctrine and the Onmitsu, sure, but as for the other fringe groups out there (Yamabushi, Touzaikaze, and the others still waiting to be introduced later), their ways are still yet unknown to us, but since they've escaped the Temples' grasp, it's safe to say they're not mindbent.
Not the onmitsu. Ty Lee's guiding principle is the will of her family, and being taken from them is the horror that sets her against Aang and has Azula promising sincerely to protect her. Who knows by blood, but culturally they're fire as well as air.
How can the onmitsu not change? The Onmitsu are the only Air group that still practice mindbending. Aang, luckily, is not, but ought to change the old Air Monk rules. Once the day of the Invasion happens, more than one brain is going to break. If Aang and Ty Lee happen to meet Langxue (and maybe the Yamabushi, if Aang can get allies), there's no way they'll leave that fight without dying from curiousity. Those Air Nomads over there? They're not the ones that Aang and Ty Lee know about, which sets the question of "Where in the world are the rest of the surviving Air Nomads? Who are they, and why are they so different?" It may just lead to Ty Lee questioning her upbringing, which may cause her to be dragged back to the Onmitsu elders to be reprogrammed, if her thoughts run heretical. Not that Azula's willing to let them get that far, of course...
Shipper on Deck: The Dai Li ship Kuei/a woman (or women) with enough spiritual strength to give him a heir and not get curbstomped if he dies.
Shock and Awe: Iroh comes out of retirement by smiting a certain Earth Kingdom general, an event that was both shocking and awesome to those who weren't familiar with his history. Azula is the modern fiction version of a lightning wielder, but in earlier works it was a heroic or divine element. Given some of the foreshadowing (the mind and airbenders), it will likely come up again, especially since the fic makes liberal use of Chekhov's Armory.
Shōnen: Embers could be summed up as 'what if Avatar was a shonen series starring Zuko?' The most obvious influence is Rurouni Kenshin, which Vathara has also written for (some characters introduced in 31 may be expies from it, according to some), what with the retired badass who is still badass (Iroh) and the Fire Nation being made that way with good intentions but ending up an expansionist and racist dictatorship (like the Meiji government).
Shoot the Medic First: According to Yue, there are spirits who think that humanity should be wiped out. They're doing it by taking out (by proxy) the healing benders first, since they're a vital component of humanity's ability to defend itself. This is probably why everyone except The Northern Water Tribe has lost their healers.
Shoot the Dog: Part of a growing schism between Hakoda and several Kyoshi Islanders; Hakoda is horrified that Langxue, a waterbending child, was tossed into the ocean when his flash-back to his family's death threatened to destroy the boat he was on. Understandable in that his tribe is more likely to hunt than fish, plus the obvious lack of benders, and it is less likely that a similar situation would have come up in living memory, so his love of his daughter and quasi-religious respect for water benders make talk about them being a threat from failing to control themselves less than effective. The deaths caused by the island's neutrality do not help his sympathies.
Shout-Out: There's more than just what's listed – Vathara is a crossover author, after all.
Star Wars: "Only Imperial Firebenders are that precise."
Dragonheart: "Though the tales say that when it comes to humans, they prefer to only chew in self-defense."
Possibly Lilo & Stitch: "I have a family. It's not my tribe. It's small and hidden and broken."
If anything, Embers slides it so far over to the cynical side that it ends up being incredibly idealistic and hopeful. Vathara is showing that normally the Avatar universe's methods of preventing racism and war actually do work, (unlike the actual show, which implies people like Ozai and Chin are allowed to get that far and plunge the world into war all the time) and that it's possible for people to overcome all the ignorance and hatred shown in the fic. The fact that she shows how dangerous and deeply ingrained in even the best of us racism and anger actually are just makes the triumph over it more impressive.
And a quote from Ch. 14, in which Huojin notes this "so cynical it's idealistic" in Zuko and sums it up nicely.
"Which implied Lee was both pessimistic enough to believe running wouldn't do any good, and optimistic enough to believe he could survive anyway. Ow."
Shirong: "The hero's supposed to get the girl. You know, the handsome prince, or the injured, bleeding common bender who saved the day in the nick of time? It's a fundamental law of the universe!"
Iroh "And what makes you think the hero did not?"
Smug Super: In addition to how Sokka is treated in canon, according to Hakoda, the Southern Water Tribe left the North for a reason. The way Pakku sabotaged Katara, because there was absolutly nothing wrong with tampering with people's brains in the service of the Avatar, after all, and what the girl didn't know wouldn't hurt her isn't going to help matters. Additionally justified among waterbenders since they're considered blessed by their gods.
Spirit Whale Aesop: In-universe. Sort of. With every Spirit attack, a character always comes out of it with more just experience in not getting mauled to death.
Iroh: The Haima-Jiao attack leads to him understanding that he perhaps should have extended a hand of assistence to Amaya, even if she did not want it.
Toph: Learns that she probably shouldn't be so quick to stick her toes into unknown water, but rather than just being bitten by a fish when she happens to be experimenting with the concept of bending salt-water, she gets attacked by the Water Spider that happens to hunt in that bay.
Zuko: Indirectly, learns something of overcoming his fears and trauma when Shirong shares one of his own inner demons, which is being haunted by the night he was attacked by something close to an actual demon and its hatchlings.
Katara: Never EVER take the guise of a spirit, particularly if said spirit is from the Enemy's homeland. Do not make any offhand remarks about what you think you know about the Enemy while said spirit has taken over your body.
Aang: When dealing with spirits, be absolutely positively certain of the Exact Words spoken, and do be sure to use very specific and precise words in terms and agreements. The Painted Lady gave him a lesson in this, and HOW. She also gave a hint about what Ocean thinks:
"You seek justice, Avatar? Better for your friend if you do not! She is naamacaura! Justice would be her drowned body washed ashore, liver eaten, to show all I am not mocked! Ask Tui and La, if you think I lie."
Spirit World: In canon the only ones we see visit the Spirit World are Aang and Sokka (even if he doesn't remember any of it). We never actually see Iroh there, although it is known that he went there in search of Lu Ten. In Embers,Zuko and Langxue are both dragged there after dying to receive yaoren abilities. The second time occurs in Ch. 53 when all the yaoren voluntarily travel there so that Zuko can speak to Asagitatsu.
To clarify, the yaoren do not enter the Spirit World, rather they approach it. Shoreline metaphors have popped up since the second kamuiy fight, and a (volcanic) shore is 'where' they go. The real world is the beach, the Spirit World is the ocean, and for the yaoren to cross that border is death.
"Walking among inattentive humans... it is much like holding a long feather, and coming across a sleeping cat. Irresistible."
Stealth Pun: Hey, remember the fused metal fishooks that proved Azula shot Zuko with lighting? Remember when Zuko bought them? No? It was back in Chapter Three. They were Plot Hooks.
Stepford Smiler: Katara, a Type A motivated by both her family's situation and the fear that she's a Type C. When the Masquerade is threatened, her efforts to protect it start to make her resemble a Type C, and when it breaks it looks like she'll head off on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. However, Toph and Yue accepting her for who she is begin to make her smile for real.
Supernatural Gold Eyes: Called "Sozin's Eyes" in the Fire Nation, they're a rare shade that generally indicates firebending prowess. Zuko has them while Azula doesn't, which is regarded as highly ironic. Actually, they're a sign of more non-human ancestry, as in Japanese myth, only with dragons instead of kitsune (although kitsune do exist in Embers...) The trope mentiones the potential for a Superpowered Evil Sidewhich is sort of true: dragon children, when they go berserk, can lose the ability to understand human speech and may, like spirits, kill even those under their protection if they don't hit the ground in supplication or otherwise show submission fast enough.
There are also "evil dragons"— Superpowered Evil Side as a characteristic. Non-evil dragons just get pissed and hear monkey-jabber for speech.
Though actual gold eyes are kind of a norm for Fire Nation, like blue in the Water and (apparently) grey for Air. Though blacks and browns also appear. It's Zuko's particular pale shade that are associated with dragon blood and Sozin.
Super Prototype: Subverted. The dating of the White Lotus' (remaining?) records indicates that the yaoren came before the Avatar. Since they're the result of a spirit deciding to empower a mortal to handle something that threatens the balance, it makes sense that when they were unable to handle whatever problem and the Avatar Spirit began to be incarnated, it took that template and turned it Up to Eleven. The Avatar has all four elements instead of just two, is born with them instead of having to worry about any of those possibly-madness-and-death-inducing spiritual wounds, is incredibly powerful instead of sometimes possessing Heroic Willpower without the raw bending power to back it up (which would likely be why they got that wound in the first place), is reborn like yaoren often are instead of immortal like normal spirits (which likely helps immensely when it comes to understanding the human condition, since Aang is only slightly Genre Blind instead of utterly incapable of acting like or understanding normal people,) has the past incarnations to act as full-on advisors... It's no wonder the yaoren got demoted to Hero Secret Service.
Taking You with Me: Ty Lee tells Azula about Yangchen taking down Subodei and Xiangchen at the North Pole. Talk about Badass.
Talking Animal: Subverted. Dragons don't use words, what with the fangs and the wrong-shaped tongue and all. Instead, as in canon, they communicate via images and telempathy. While they can shapeshift into human form and learn to speak, it's not very natural for them; it's implied dragons have a big difficulty with the fact that a lot of human communication is white lies or saying one thing to mean another, and this lack of aptitude for human speech and communication seems to get passed down to their descendants, resulting in not just Angrish but failure to not only understand words but the idea that the mouth noises might mean something while operating on instinct. Humans with the traits of dark dragons, on the other hand, are consummate liars, which makes sense given how hard it would be to fake belief and feelings in a story well enough to lie telempathically.
As shown in Chapter 78 the kadzhait also use telempathy to communicate.
Team Dad: As his character page notes, Zuko became this in canon. In Embers he spends a lot of time and energy avoiding being forced into Aang's true companions, and it looks like the position will be taken by Hakoda.
Team Mom: Katara, with much attention paid to what this implies about the impact of losing her own mother and the strain of having to take her place for Sokka and Hakoda's sake.
Team Pet: Asahi, and Iroh calls Zuko sending Aang the betobeto giving a grieving child a new friend, so once Aang learns to put his foot down and say "Bad spirit!" the Gaang might get a third, in addition to Momo and Appa. Toph already seems rather fond of it and gave it the nickname Boots.
Technicolor Fire: Healing fire is gold, green, and violet, just like dragon flame. And of course Azula's blue fire.
Tell Me How You Fight: ...and Iroh will tell you what (kind of bender) you are. Firebenders have to take the offensive, since they're burning up their own chi and will get exhausted or just drop dead if the fight goes on too long. Earthbenders wait for the right moment to strike. Waterbenders redirect the opponent's energy and switch between defense and offense. Airbenders dodge and redirect (negative jin, the opposing philosophy/element to Firebending's positive jin). Except, according to chapter 31, that wasn't always the case. And Gyatso is very, very scared and horrified by what will happen if airbenders become killers once again. Given how fast the Air Nomads, even he, switched from pacifism to killing piles of comet-superpowered veteran Firebenders, he's certainly right.
Given it'd be a relatively simple matter for an airbender to simply collapse somebody's ribcage/lungs, induce a realistic form of Explosive Decompression, and other fun crosses of Bloodless Carnage with Family Unfriendly Deaths, one who actively wants to kill probably ought to be considered fearsome. It might be worth noting that in the canon, the one time we see any skeletons in the Air Temples, the only bones we see of the dead Firebenders are the skulls.
The Bait: Zuko deliberately puts himself in harms way to protect first Iroh and then anyone he considers his people.
This seems to be a trait common to dragons. They played target for Avatar Kesuk's rage and Shidan plans to do this if a spirit is involved in one of his people's disappearance in Hama's village. Technically he'll be doing it twice as if any supposed spirit is strong enough to to defeat him then it is a threat to the entire Fire Nation.
The Determinator: Zuko and his previous incarnation, Kuzon, who didn't let even death stop him from trying to find and help his friend. Chapter 32(?) has both Sokka and Toph agreeing Aang needs to learn how to do this.
The Yaoren are chosen and survive because of this quality.
Embers also implies another reason for Zuko's determinator status: his prey drive which (luckily for Aang) seems to stop after the Search, Eye-stalk, and the Chase aspects, whereas Azula prefers the Kill Bite. Aang might also have intuited that Sokka's description of Zuko's behavior "He was hunting us." in Chapter 34, seems a little... off. (But not inaccurate.) Aang's different preconceptions about what hunting means might be helping him out in this case.
The Four Gods: Given that the blue dragon is her symbol in the original series, Azula, the female version of Azulon, likely does mean Azure Dragon: the Azure Dragon is associated with the East, which would explain the opposition to the Dragon of the West, Iroh. To that Embers adds Byakko, the White Tiger of the West as Kuzon's and Ursa's clan name and domain. It is unknown if Suzaku or Genbu (the lion-turtle of the north?) will feature in the fic. Byakko is associated with the season of autumn and the element of metal: in Avatar autumn is associated with the element of air, and it's been conformed that Byakko's been sheltering airbenders since before Kyoshi.
Confirmed in Chapter 46. Meixiang reveals the names of death: Kurokame (lit. "Black Turtle" being Genbu), Akitori ("Red Bird" being Suzaku), Shirotora (we all know what it means), and finally, Asagitatsu (has to be Seiryuu).
The Gods Must Be Lazy: At this point, subverted. The 'good' spirits are basically all in on the action (with the exception of Tui, who is actually spreading the result of the Avatar's actions at the north pole), and it's been shown that rather than the spirits sitting back and letting the Fire Nation get this far, they're actually been involved in this from the beginning... although mainly the ones on the other side.
The Good, the Bad, and the Evil: Aang's well-meaning but ignorant idealism, Zuko and the Dai Li's willingness to do things they know are wrong for the sake of protecting others, and Ozai.
The Laws and Customs of War: Codified by the Fire Nation: the Earth Kingdom obeys theirs (neither the Earth Generals nor Ozai have problems with going after civilians, even though that's a violation, among the many canon Fire Nation violations), the Water Tribes have their own, and the Air Nomads don't have any since they're pacifists (and there are hints they were Combat Pragmatists when they weren't.) Notable examples:
Among the Water Tribes, women and children don't fight and are therefore exempt from combat. Among the other countries, there is the more general category of civilian (especially since all Fire Nation women are combat-trained), which can include men. Attacking while disguised as a non-combatant is a war crime because it forces soldiers to treat the real innocents as potential threats and can get them killed. Zuko's ship, which was not part of the war, was attacked by some Southern Tribesmen and was forced to defend itself, in some cases lethally. So, the Water Tribes view the Fire Nation going after women as a violation (like Zuko thought Kanna was a valid threat in his introductory episode), and the Fire Nation have the same opinion of the Water Tribes going after civilian men.
The Law Of Reprisal: the only law mentioned by name in Embers, but it's the one that really underlies all the other laws of war: '"Don't use what you don't want thrown back in your face." For instance, don't disguise your troops as civilians unless you want the other guys to do it to you, on top of having to kill some of your actual civilians in self-defense. And now you know what happened to the rest of Jet's guerrillas.
Weapon of Mass Destruction: According to the Embers universe's equivalent of the Geneva Convention, a bender summoning a spirit to possess them and turning it loose is a serious war crime. This is because said spirit will not distinguish between one side and the other, soliders and civilians, combatants and those trying to surrender; they only recognize worship. (Yep, she noted the Water Tribespeople might not have been spared/would not (since they'd failed to protect it) if they hadn't hit the ground.) They do not give quarter, which is in itself a war crime. Not to mention the fates of those killed by spirits can often be A Fate Worse Than Death. Using one near a populated city is the equivalent of launching a nuke next to that city, since there's the well-known risk of the spirit deciding to destroy it as well. Aang's use of the Avatar Spirit doesn't qualify, since the Avatar is still a human and capable of making those distinctions. The way he unleashed the Ocean Spirit was. While he was undoubtably right to protect the city and clearly didn't know he was violating the Generva Convention equivalent, Aang still did it, and doesn't grasp that he needs to apologize and make it clear to everyone he won't do it again. Even Zuko admits Aang was right to protect the city; the trouble is even if Aang hadn't had other means of doing so, using a nuke near a populated city for good reasons doesn't change the fact a nuke was used. To make the metaphor even more explicit, there's even a very deadly "residue" left behind: Chapter 31 both states this and starts to show some of the consequences. The Fire Nation might be a Japan-analogue, and using nukes on Japan may have ended that war, but it looks like it will only be making this one worse.
Messianic Archetype: The Avatar, with much attention paid to what this implies. For instance, originally the Fire Sages, who were the priests of Agni, served the Avatar, as the voice of Agni on earth. This meant that Kyoshi's decree carried the force of a divine commandment and, given the mechanics of Fire Nation loyalty, for a Firebender to turn against the Fire Lord would require foreswearing their loyalty to them, the Avatar, and Agni, the source of firebending himself. So it is, in a sense, a very good thing for Aang that modern firebenders don't like him, much less have loyalty to him or regard him as The Messiah in the first place. It's likely that the Fire Sage who helped Aang in canon either nurtured loyalty to Agni in place of Ozai in order to survive loyalty sickness before Aang came along, since all (known) firebenders are required to swear loyalty to him, or was able to hold it off long enough to help Aang, as Zuko did, and then died offscreen.
As he's been rescued from the Boiling Rock prison to serve as Aang's Firebending teacher, either this or he became the third Firebender in the past century to survive loyalty sickness without healing fire
It's confirmed that he considers Iroh to be the true fire lord, because Ursa killed Azulon that should discredit Ozai's claim to power by Fire Nation laws. Sokka points this out that what Ursa did was technically legal, since Azulon was a dark dragon and therefore it was the responsibility of his family to remove him from power. It's made clear that the Fire Sage has deliberately ignored this fact for the sole purpose of staying loyal to Iroh. Since Iroh wants the Avatar well, the fire sage can help Aang.
There Are No Therapists: Polar summers and winters are not good for the human psyche (the show references midnight sun madness). The Fire Nation killed all of the Southern Water Tribe's waterbending healer/therapists and untrained Katara blamed herself for not being able to do that job and save those lives, while getting no therapy or consoling for her own mother's loss.
The Revolution Will Not Be Villified: Played with. While Embers calls for the complete destruction of the Fire Nation government, Zuko acknowledges that by creating a hidden refuge he's basically going to be sitting back and allowing the rest of the Fire Nation to be massacred, if not egging it on, although he and Iroh both agree that it deserves it for a certain value of deserves. On the other hand, it's implied that that the Avatar's actions at the North Pole are deliberately being kept secret by Water Tribe elders and Earth Kingdom officials in order to prevent him from being seen as other than The Messiah (and prompting the Fire Nation to try it with a Fire Spirit) even though the massed bad karma has already started to kill innocent bystanders; some kind of warning would certainly lower the body count.
To Be Lawful or Good: The central conflict in Embers; humans need to be Good in order to survive – innocence protected, compassion rewarded, cruelty punished. However, Spirits and spirit-related entities are creatures of Law; to act against their (extremely restrictive) natures is equivalent to being deprived of warmth, food, water, or even air. Violating a contract with a spirit is thus an act of murderous violence, to be answered in kind. As you can guess, this causes humans and spirits to confuse the hell out of each other at best, and actively seek each others' destruction at worst. Take into account that the Avatar – a human/spirit hybrid with divided loyalties – is not unique, and the War and subsequent destruction is not surprising; what is surprising is that there are any humans left alive, as we're much easier to kill.
Took a Level in Badass: Zuko might have become a yaoren, but the point at which how much stronger he's gotten becomes apparent is when he frees the Suzuran in order to escape an earth kingdom army.
Earth King Kuei. Clearly, his majesty keeps getting more and more awesome with each appearance he makes, especially where he accepts Eshe, knowing where is duty as Earth King lies.
Troperrific: Clearly. Became even more so once Vathara found out about this page.
Touched by Vorlons: Zuko as he was not technically "touched", it was Yue's intevension that gave him his secondary power in a first place.
True Companions: A major theme in all of Vathara's works is that people need people: we're fundamentally a pack/tribe species, and if we don't have people we trust enough to be honest with even about our flaws, people we know would be willing to die to protect us, and vice versa, we subconsciously find that terrifying and start to go quietly insane. This is the reason for the huge disconnect in the fic between how Katara is described and shown in her inner monologue, a nice person who wants to help others and will do the honorable thing, and how she treats Zuko.
Nope. Loneliness causes psychological pain, and pain over time drives people nuts. (Chinese Water Torture, anyone?) A lot of cultures have weaponized this in the forms of shunning and solitary confinement in order to force people to comply (for instance, this is one of the many reasons people born Amish are probably going to stay trapped in the Age Before Internet). As a waterbender, Katara is even more vulnerable to this form of torture and has been constantly suffering it since her mother died. On the other hand, being surrounded by people you can't get along with (alone among enemies, and trapped underground) is even worse for tribal humans, so an actual loner, one who withdrew with society, would be a lot saner than someone who spent their life alone in a crowd, trying to please people who didn't care about them. So, loners are generally choosing the less painful of two evils. And one of Embers' themes is that the lesser of two evils is still an evil.
You mean people that actively sought out a work written by another human being to read? Otakus aren't loners, they're losers (I kid, but that sums it up). They still need and want to interact with other people (or media produced by other people), even if they can't do it well face to face. People literally can not deal with loneliness – if they are truly isolated, they'll start personifying things or investing emotionally in fictional characters. And remember, we're dealing with pre-modern, tribal, and Asian-inspired cultures. All of these cultural categories are far more collectivist and conformist than modern day America. Loners are disturbed freaks in tribal cultures simply because being a loner in a tribal culture is suicidal.
Undying Loyalty: The hat of the Fire Nation. In a very literal sense, as in 99% of cases, breaking their loyalty means they die. Amaya speficially points this out in reference to the Dai Li's brainwashing techniques. People from the Fire Nation can resist the brainwashing for far longer than people of the other nations, and the brainwashing is never wholly effective on them. And Shirong notes that if you ever tried to use one of the few successfully-brainwashed subjects against their own nation, they simply died.
Amaya: They'll break, but they won't bend.
Unreliable Narrator: It is often mentioned in the ANs that Zuko is this, due to his preconceptions about the Fire Nation and the morality of its actions, amongst other things. Some of her fans miss this.
Practically everyone in the story is an Unreliable Narrator, having their own set of cultural and personal blinders that prevent them from understanding the words and actions of those from other cultures. This Culture Clash is one of the main points and themes of the story. Much of the controversy over this story revolves around whether this is done in a way that smoothly meshes with the characters’ canon personalities and behavior, or just shackles them to some form of Idiot Ball.
As of chapter 46, it's evident that not only is Azula misreading her brother (unsurprisingly), but Zuko is greatly misreading Aang, allowing his anger to cloud his perception of who he's dealing with.
Shidan makes a big mistake, justified since he's not the best at understanding humans. Knowledge of the show will immediately show that he doesn't know what he's talking about, though.
"The Fire Lord is arrogant and cruel. He is not foolish. No one can reign over ashes."
Villain with Good Publicity: Sozin, Chin among earth peasants, and Aang believes that Xiangchen, who kicked off the genocidal Shoot the Medic First plan, was a hero. From Katara's reaction, after she experienced the memories of one of his victims, it's safe to say he's wrong.
Vision Quest: Apparently one of these, with guides of all four nations, is another requirement for becoming a yaoren if another one isn't around to help. Katara has her own, where she is trained to control her wild empathic powers by Yue, but does not become a yaoren. On the other hand, given that the most powerful benders are those who learned from the sources of their bending styles, this may end not just compensating for Pakku's sabotage, but making her significantly stronger.
The War on Terror: One of the many things the fic gives social commentary on. Sozin made the populace think that they had suffered an unprovoked attack by the Air Nomads, a common staple of 9/11 conspiracy theories. They then started a war that made everyone hate them.
Wham Episode- Chapter 45. Not only are the Touzaikaze revealed, but one of them is an air-healer. What's more, they offer themselves as potential candidates for brides to the Earth King. Looks like there will be some shipping in the Emberverse after all...
Chapter 57. Koh is the Avatar Spirit's first child.
Chapter 88. Ursa. ALIVE. With paired dao at her sides. In front of Azula.
White Mage: In the original series Katara very pointedly chose offensive waterbending over healing, which is then ignored for the rest of the series. In Embers this is even more significant, since throughout her childhood she was given the impression she was supposed to be the healer, and a failure because she wasn't, so she's not just defying the Northern Water Tribe's sexism when she makes the choice to fight but also her own feelings of insecurity and failure. Instead of becoming the healer despite almost no training in the show, her talents and interest lie in the other direction and will likely remain insistant on being the Black Mage. Her alternative candidate for healer training is Haru, since Toph is also violence-focused, not to mention more interested on what she can do with seawater.
Warrior Monk: Shiratora-san's Yamabushi. Definitely not pacifists.
Weirdness Magnet: Team Avatar due to Aang's presence, just as in canon. Toph states outright that she had never even met a spirit before joining up, even if she is a bender.
Also people, who have been dealing with the spirits before or are spiritualy aware. They tend to become Doom Magnets as well. Society ostracizes them, because of a danger their presence may cause.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Tao just disappears after Chapter 57. There's no indication of whether he stayed in Dragon's Wings or at the Northern Air Temple, or if he joined the invasion force.
What the Hell, Hero?: This happens a lot. It could even be said that the divergence point of Embers from Canon is Iroh calling Zuko out on something in the prequel oneshot Theft Absolute.
Ty Lee wants to ask Aang why he didn't just surrender so Zuko would be heir.
Wise Beyond Their Years: Toph, being damn 12 year old, seems to have more understaning about other cultures and politics and how people work than the rest of the group. Her parents are rich merchants making deals even with Fire Nation, but still.
Veers into Fridge Logic when she knows more about the Fire Nation than Aang does, when she's going on overheard conversations and he's actually been to and had friends in the Fire Nation (and this is all before she befriends Zuko in Ba Sing Se).
Some of the later chapters may help this make more sense. Also, to agree with an in-story statement , Aang is very good at only hearing what he wants to hear. He is consistently and repeatedly shocked whenever someone thinks something to be morally right or justifiable that he thinks is wrong.
The Wise Prince: Zuko. Not only has Vatharamade it impossible for him to assume the throne of the Fire Nation the way he did in canon, one of the main arguments against him being a Canon Sue is how much fun the author is clearly having torturing him. The title itself references his ability to hang on despite things that should have crushed him (see the Trauma Conga Line page quote), and it's clearly a major plot mechanic.
Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Iroh was about to kill Azula at the end of the Ba Sing Se arc, but is 'rescued' by Toph before he can deliver the finishing blow.
Captain Lu-shan flat-out questions why the hell Iroh didn't do this, if he's known that Azula has been trying to kill Zuko since she was six.
You Are Not Alone: Since the job of the Earth King is to deal with spirits, and those who fight spirits are marked and thus seperated from normal people, Yangchen implies that Kyoshi created the Dai Li so that the Earth King would have not just help in dealing with spirits (part of what set off Chin's rebellion), but a group of people, including commoners, who could be regarded as friends and co-workers, allowing the Kings to have a source of friends and much more understanding of the people around them. The purpose of the yaoren appears to be this as well: a new avatar is understandably going to be upset at finding out their whole life was a lie, they're not like the people they love anymore (or never were), they now have a destiny to fulfill that doesn't care about what they wanted and got three more elements dropped on them. Not to mention teaching what you can pull with two elements that wouldn't occur to single element teachers. Meaning the elimination of the yaoren led to the Avatar feeling alone and isolated, as Aang does since he's 'the only one who can save the world,' and thus far less mentally stable.
You Can't Go Home Again: Zuko once Yue makes him a Yaoren, and Aang's clinging to the hope of reestablishing the peaceful, idyllic Air Nomads just the way they were despite all the hints that something was very wrong there...
Amisi and Eshe of the Touzaikaze. They were sent by their tribe to forge an alliance with Kuei, and are not going home, unless they want to go back in disgrace.
Chapter 76. After Hama busted herself out of prison, the other surviving Southern waterbenders decided not to go back to their tribe in the South Pole. Shamed and disgraced and abandoned by one that was their responsibility, they made their home in Lituya Bay.
You Didn't Ask: There's a fair amount of this going on due to all the Culture Clash. Vital information or basic assumptions that are seen as too obvious to mention by people of one group often aren't obvious at all to others. This turns into a multi-directional pile-up as the eclipse approaches and it comes to light that many of the people involved with or aware off the impending invasion have very different ideas about what this involves and how it will be carried out.