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Found this in an old WiP folder. I think it was a plot bunny for... something. Probably a thread on the Spacebattles forum. To sum it up, it was a stab at creating a "mirror universe" without the usual morality swaps of a good Fire Nation, evil Water Tribe, and goateed Spock. Everything in the Avatar universe gets inverted. I dusted it off, gave it a once-over, and finished it to post here. 

In another world, the dawn announces itself with the sun rising in the west...

Fire Nation

The Fire Nation is a peaceful backwater, dedicated to spiritual devotion and strict isolationism. This cultural resistance to militancy is a response to the bloody battles that ravaged the archipelago during Yangchen's tenure as an absentee Avatar. Only during the Air Nomad's invasion a hundred years ago did the Fire Nation ever take to arms, combating Gyatso Khan and his armies. Since then the nation has maintained a policy of closed borders, trading with the outside world only through preset Treaty Ports, and allowing only the upper priestly class permission to travel abroad.

Once an iron-handed theocracy, it was reformed by Sozin the Gentle into a collection of independent city-states, unified solely by pan-Fire sentiments and deep religious belief, with the Fire Lord maintaining vast influence as their people's premier spiritual leader and as the administrator of the Great Caldera Temple, which oversees the training of the next generation of sages. Individual islands are rules by lesser sages, who administer their largely rural lands and have almost total authority over the serfs that farm the land.

Novice Zuko, the Fire Lord's eldest child, was banished from the theocracy two years ago for failing to meet the moral standards demanded of sages. At least that's the official story. Gossipers in the remotest Earth Kingdom villages have heard the truth of the infamous Zuko, whose limitless miltancy challenged his father in an obscure firebending ritual for the right to head the theocracy, and whose scarring at the Fire Lord's hands left father and son shaken to their core. Zuko now travels the world on pilgrimage, command by the Fire Lord to not return home until he has taken council with the long-vanished Avatar.

Lesser known is Ozai's second child, Azula, who's ascension as Fire Lord is all but certain given her status as a Arhat. Her bottomless empathy and spiritual enlightenment is readily apparent to all who have the pleasure of meeting her.

As for Great Sage Iroh, who was once favored as the next Fire Lord before being disinherited by his father on his deathbed for calling for a war against the Earth Kingdom, dark whispers now follow in his wake, talk of him consorting with degenerate heretics who live in the deepness of the most fetid jungles and dare hunt the noble dragons. The death of Iroh's son while on pilgrimage in Ba Sing Se during the Six Hundred Day Rebellion, possibly by agents of Chin VIII himself for daring to support the rebel's cause, has exposed a deep vein of militancy that went ignored by his countrymen for most his life. While the Fire Lord is indulgent of his coffee-loving brother, most members of the theocracy are simply glad that Iroh has voluntarily followed his nephew in an exile's endless pilgrimage.

The veneration the Fire Nation shows to nature accounts for some of the world's most stunning vistas, but the resistance to industrialization has resulted in widespread poverty. As a vast population of illiterate serfs toil in service of their masters, anger is beginning to bubble up, especially as rumors of the outside world's wonders leak from the city ports. How long their cultural disinclination to violence will prevent armed uprisings is an open question, and a especially interesting question to envious foreigners eyeing the untapped wealth of the tropical archipelago...

Earth Kingdom

The Earth Kingdom is a technological, cultural, and military hegemony. Unified under Emperor Chin I, whose mandate was famously endorsed by Avatar Kyoshi herself, the empire has spent almost four centuries molding the once-fractionous continent of warring kingdoms into a single nation, largely by erasing the land's myriad provincial cultures.

While grand gestures, such as the demolition of Ba Sing Se's great Outer Wall and Inner Rings, are now in the past, the erasure of the Earth Kingdom's old ways continues under the Dai Li. Formed by Kyoshi after the Peasant's Revolution overthrew the last Earth King, the Dai Li have toiled effortlessly to free the Earth Kingdom from the chains of its long history. Under their latest director, Long Feng, the Dai Li have embarked on a program of public education, aiming to bring universal literacy to their country's children by constructing free public schools. In a subversion of Kyoshi's intentions, Long Feng is using his new school system to quietly reintroduce banned works from the pre-revolutionary period, feeling that such masterworks of art and literature deserve to be inherited by the next generation.

While unification has proven productive from the standpoint of ending the savage internecine warfare that once plagued the continent, the legacy of Chin has ultimately culminated in a stifling, staid culture. Playwrights must obey government-mandated codes to maintain 'proper' structure and theme. Permits are needed simply to board certain cars on one of the transcontinental railroads. The justice system is a brutal affair, biased against the defendant with the accuser playing the role of judge and jury, and punishments meted out by random chance of a wheel's spin.

Only in Ba Sing Se, the former capital of the Earth Kingdom, does the peasantry cling to the spirit of their own revolution, one separate from Chin's, that saw the three rings torn down in the name of social equality and brotherhood. This has often left Ba Sing Se and the rest of the empire at odds. A few years ago such tensions exploded into the infamous Six Hundred Day Rebellion, which was eventually suppressed by the empire's government at horrific cost. Yet even today, in the partially reconstructed ruins of Ba Sing Se, the war lives on in the back alley knifing of occupation troops and other acts of insurgency. There is no peace in Ba Sing Se. 

Visitors seeking more peaceful destinations are directed towards Taku, the northwestern city which now serves as the Earth Kingdom's capital, or boisterous Omashu, the industrial heart of the nation where even the noontime sun never brightens past a sunset's redness due to air pollution. Also recommended is Kyoshi Village, which celebrates the Avatar's endorsement of Chin's rule in the annual Emperor's Day celebrations by burning giant effigies of the Earth King.

Air Nomads

There is little to speak of the bygone Air Nomads, save that they and their war bison are long-dead. Falling upon the Fire Nation like locusts a hundred years ago, only the miraculous intervention of an earth-grazing comet gave the tranquil firebenders enough power to resist the enemy horde. In a single terrible day, the Air Nomads were obliterated from the face of the world.

Fire Lord Sozin would spent the rest of his life searching the world for survivors, even if it was just one person, but he died never finding even a last airbender. The guilt of their enemy's destruction continues to plague the national conscience of the Fire Nation to the present day, as did the knowledge that firebending used for violence had most likely led to the Avatar's death too.

The Air Nomads exists only in infamy now, with many now doubting the legends of tattooed airbenders cannibalizing their enemies and leaving sickly babies out in the wilderness to die.

Water Tribe

The Northern Water Tribe, its back broken even decades after the Earth Navy put an end to its bloody raids of the defenseless Fire Nation, still clings to an ancient tradition of egalitarianism. In the small, isolated villages that dot its coastline, its equally likely for a grizzled old man to be a chieftain as it is for a white-haired teenage girl. Deprived of their waterbenders by the imposition of the Earth Kingdom's vengeful peace treaty, everyone must work to the best of their own innate abilities to keep their people alive. This practice has its roots in the dedication of Avatar Kuruk, who spent his life tirelessly working towards peace in a world shattered by war, even choosing duty over love when he left his bride at the alter rather than face her disappointment.

Only the brutal Souther Water Tribe poses a faint threat to the Earth Navy's mastery of the seas. Caring little for the outside world, it has spent the last century bunkering down on its own continent, subduing a hostile and icy wilderness. The discovery of bloodbending allowed for the secret enslavement of foreign benders, who are used as puppets to shift masses of rock and to fuel steam engines when their wills haven't been sufficiently broken in the gulags. While such slave labor has given them unprecedented command of their homeland, its discovery would give the Earth Kingdom cause to invade and wipe them out as they did with their northern cousins.

With laws and practices that disenfranchise females, forcing them into the home, the Southern Water Tribe has seen a population explosion that threatens to exhaust the pole's limited resources. Already, outposts are being established in the old Air Horde lands, and some ambitious souls looks towards the bounty of the Fire Nation with envy. If not for the Earth Navy, they could carve out an empire of their own, but where would they find the necessary power to defeat the world's sole superpower? If only things were different, ambitious chieftains often think. It's a sentiment shared by many across the world.

If only the world were different, thinks a blind beggar in Gaoling, as her impoverished parents cheer her on in the ring so she can win them enough money to stay fed for a few days...

If only the world were different, thinks a chieftain's daughter at the south pole, as she bloodbends a sobbing laborer instead of being in the Healing Huts like she wants...

If only the world were different, thinks a scarred monk manning an old sailing ship, and my father wouldn't let the foreigners exploit us...

Although it was hardly a new thought. A hundred years ago, another child had wished the world was different, that his teacher and mentor Gyatso Kahn hadn't burdened him with the awful responsibility to lead the upcoming invasion of the Fire Nation, the first step in building a global Final Empire.

If only things were different, that airbender had thought, and his people saw a warm campfire and freshly cooked kill as empire enough...

In his iceberg, that sleeping airbender still dreamed the same thought to himself.

* *

A hundred years have passed since the last existential threat to the Earth Kingdom's dominance, the Air Nomads, was destroyed. A suffocating peace engulfs the world, stifling dissent and change in the name of harmony.

Sozin's Comet will return by the end of the summer. Unless the Fire Lord uses its power to smash the Earth Emperor's war machine, his nation will lose any semblance of independence as the Earth Kingdom inevitably takes control of the world once and for all. If the Earth Emperor is allowed to succeed, even the Avatar won't be able to restore balance to the world.

But can even the last airbender, a ruthless warrior of such quality as the modern world has never seen, win the fight to save the world?

* *

(And just because I had to add it:

"Do you want to go penguin hunting with me?!")

EDIT: (June 3, 2011) Ah, here was the original inspiration for this 'verse. It was from a plot bunny thread discussing various alternate histories, and I didn't make a note of it in the file I'd found this AtLA project in. So hat tip to B_Munro for the original "Opposite World" concept. It's very cool.

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