Avatar - The Last Airbender is property of Nickelodeon and it's creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.
This story contains spoilers from the 4-part season finale. If you haven't seen it yet and don't want anything ruined, do not read beyond this point.
Nearly a year has past since Sozin's Comet lit the sky ablaze and threatened the world with genocidal fire. Many feared it would be the day Phoenix King Ozai would burn the Earth Kingdom to the ground. Instead, it was the day the Avatar freed the world from his tyranny. On Ember Island, in the basement of the royal family estate, abandoned for some time, a lingering memory of the old regime was imprisoned in chains. Princess Azula, defeated on the day of her coronation, incarcerated for her crimes, forced to live the remainder of her life surrounded by the happy memories of her childhood. Before, only her mind was broken, in time, her will followed.
Her brother wanted to keep her prison arrangements a secret from the rest of the world, even from the Avatar and his allies, thinking it was best for his sister's safety. A single guard was tasked with the responsibility of feeding her and attending to her well being. After the forth month, he simply left her food at the foot of the stairs and stayed as far away from her as he could. She never threatened him physically nor had she threatened him verbally since the end of her first month. It was her growing insanity that spooked him, he feared it would one day spread to him like a plague.
One night, the night terrors came for her for a tenth night in a row, visions of blue fire consuming her, unseen hands tearing her limb from limb. She woke up screaming in fear. Moments later, she was screaming in pain. In her sleep, she had used her firebending, melting the metal chains that held her to the basement. Her skin was singed by the molten iron, her wrists, her ankles, her neck. The pain was nearly unbearable. She needed to find relief. Azula flew up the stairs, raced to the shore and threw herself into the ocean. The blue water washed away red hot iron from her flesh while the salt water stung her wounds. A bittersweet moment but worlds better than the rude awakening she experienced a few moment earlier.
Once the pain faded to a numbness, she pulled herself back to the shore. As her senses began to sharpen, she hissed weakly as the sun began to beat down on her. Being in the dark for so long left her weak, vulnerable. It was a sad sight; a firebender who cringed away from the sun, the source of her power. Her mind was still a muddle of nonsense, her body moved only by the impulses of her most baser instincts. As she reentered the house, she looked around as if she'd never been there before. Years of dust had claimed everything she saw, even her mother's old mirror. She wiped off as much as she could with her bare hand until she could see herself staring back.
What she saw was a shattered image of the person she remembered she was. Her face haggard and worn, rings under her eyes that have grown black as soot, disfiguring scars on her wrists and around her neck, her hair split, cracked, lusterless, no longer the glorious ebony mane of a princess. As she looked at herself, she began to laugh. "Oh, look at you!" she harped at the mirror. "What a lowly mess you are! Fire Lord? You? I don't see the divine right to rule in you! I only see a failure! Beaten by some lowly Water Tribe peasant! It's so absurd, it's actually the funniest thing I've ever heard!"
She began to laugh again, a twisted, disturbed laugh that could only come from a twisted, disturbed mind. Her expression quickly harden as she gazed back upon the mirror and saw what was now reflected. "Azula, you should eat something and get some rest, you look ill."
"I'm fine, mother. Don't speak to me as if I'm a child."
"You are my child and I'm just worried about you dear, you've been through so much."
"Why do you care? I'm a monster, you said so yourself. Now, I truly do look monestrous."
"I do care. I love you Azula, I always will."
She slapped her hand onto the mirror. "NO! YOU LIE! YOU HATED ME! YOU LOVED ZUZU MORE THAN YOU EVER LOVED ME! ALL OF THIS IS YOUR FAULT!"
"Why do you do this to yourself, Azula? You could've been so happy if you weren't so ambitious. Don't you regret any of it?"
"The Fire Nation didn't need a happy little girl, it needed a leader. You never understood that. You had the luxury of putting your family before your duties, father wasn't as fortunate."
"Your father only lusted for power and I suffered as I watched you idolized that side of him."
She turned her back to the mirror. "I'm done with you, I will hear no more of your slanders."
"Good, because it's my turn to make you miserable." Azula spun back around to face Mai and Ty Lee staring back at her from the mirror. "Hello Azula, how do you like being the one imprisoned for a change?"
"Well Mai, she's not really imprisoned anymore technically."
"Mai and Ty Lee, my supposed friends. Even in the depths of insanity I still remember your treachery. This is your fault, you two caused me to see enemies all around me, because of you, my brother and his water wench defeated me on my own coronation!"
"Of course Azula, it's our fault. When everything goes your way, it's because you're a born strategist, a child prodigy but if something goes wrong, it's everyone else's fault. I can see why we're the only friends you ever had and even then you had to force us to your side."
"I never forced you. You willingly joined me when I met you in New Ozai."
"Please, like I was going to cross you. Besides, I joined your little hunting party only because I was so bored out of my mind but I always knew better than to trust you. You always kept things from me, it's how you manipulate people. You nearly cost me my relationship with Zuko."
"She's right Azula. When you came to me, I was so happy with my life in the circus but that didn't matter to you. You put my life in danger just because you couldn't take no for an answer."
"But... Ty Lee, we were friends. Remember when you helped me during that party."
"You drove me to tears before you admitted you needed my help. That's not what friends do, Azula. You only kept me around because I was useful but even when I tried to be your friend, you only really saw me as a resource. That's all you ever see people as, your tools."
"No, don't you dare turn this all on me! You abandoned me, you betrayed the Fire Nation by allowing those prisoners to escape! I trusted you two, you were my friends and you left me all alone!"
"Azula, if you never let anyone get close to you, you'll always be alone."
The stress of being confronted by her mother and her friends had finally caused her to break down into tears, her forehead pressed onto the glass. "Azula."
When she looked back into the mirror, it was her uncle who looked back. She wiped the tears from her face with her ragged sleeve, glaring at his visage. "Oh, I suppose you're the spirit of winter solstices yet to come, here to convince me to change my wicked ways and keep the holiday in my heart all year long."
"No, I am not here to force change upon you but to offer you a chance to create change within yourself. Life is not set in stone, you can still reshape your destiny if you truly wish to do so."
"Even as a delusion, you're the same tea coddling, nonsensical weakling you've always been. Change my destiny? My destiny was to be my father's successor, my destiny was to rule the Fire Nation and guide it through it's golden age. No doubt that Zuko has already graciously returned all annexed lands back to their original owners, reduced our glorious Empire back to it's meager borders from over a century ago and announced me dead to the world. I have no destiny. I'm just a ghost from a greater time."
"Why were those times so great? Because of power? Because of conquest? Because the Fire Nation hoisted it's flags across the war torn battlefields of the world in the name of our family?"
"Yes! Our name was glorified! We were to be the rulers of the world, preordained by divine forces!"
"What of the Avatar? There is no more divine being to grace the mortal world than the champion of balance and he decided, as Roku did a century ago, that our expansion onto other nations was an inadmissable act. Azula, our lives are not shaped by forces beyond our comprehension. We are in control of who we are and what we will become. You are a human being, no better than a man born in poverty and no worse than a man who dies a hero. You must accept this truth."
"SAVE YOUR INSIPID BABBLE, OLD MAN! I'm not Zuko, you can't change the way I am! I've chosen my fate and I will become the Fire Lord. I'll be the greatest Fire Lord this world has seen!"
Iroh's voice boomed in her head, causing her to cringe. "AZULA! You're ambition has lead you to be a prisoner in your childhood home! You have gone down the path of self destruction at such a young age that you have lost your humanity long before you became a woman! This is perhaps your only chance to change yourself, would you really chose to live your life the same way again? Would you really place power over happiness once more and expect anything different than an existence of solitude and regret?"
His harsh words left her a sobbing mess on the ground. "Uncle, why are you tormenting me? Haven't I suffered enough? If you're here to help me like you did Zuzu, just say so and end this nightmare!"
"No Azula, I can not help you the way I helped Zuko."
In a haze, she pulled herself back to her feet and looked back into the mirror. "What? If you're telling me all this, why won't you help me?"
"When I lost my only son, I began questioning everything about myself until, one day, I found my true purpose. When Zuko lost what he valued most, the respect of his father, I tried to do the same for him. Sadly, no matter how much I wanted to guide him toward the right path in life, in the end, he chose to pursue false honor over spiritual fulfillment. Only when he was alone was he prepared to abandon the madness of his life and follow a better path. Now Azula, you find yourself with nothing, everything you believed in has been proven a lie. All that is left for you to do is to go out and find your true path by living your life with a new perspective. Only then will you know true happiness."
"So... you're telling me to just find myself? I don't have to help people, I don't have to join the Avatar or anything like that? Just find something that makes me whole?"
"I am telling you to abandon the life that left you in this state. After that, only you can find what is right for yourself. At times, you may be tempted to abandon your quest but only through hardship can you truly discover the real you. Be brave, my niece. Find what makes you happy and dedicate your life to it and you will live out the rest of your days in contentment and tranquility." Just as the images appeared before her, they vanished, leaving only her own reflection.
"Yes... it's so clear, so simple... No... it's... so obscured and confusing. Uncle... mother... please, come back. Tell me what to do, where to start. Don't abandon me like this, not now. DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU ALL!" she cursed before she smashed her fist into the window. The aged pane shattered around her knuckles, slicing deeply into her skin. She stared distantly into the lacerations and slowly laughed at the pain. "Oh my! It hurts! It hurts so much!" she cried out as the blood ran down her arm. As her laugh became more and more uncontrollable, she smeared the blood over her face, stopping cold only after she saw a large, jagged piece of glass at her feet.
For some time, she stared at it as if it were a masterpiece hanging in the royal treasury. She grabbed it with her injured hand and slowly ran the sharp edge across her scared neck, gasping shallowly at the feel of it. Once the tip was moved to the base of her jaw, she stopped and gripped the shard tightly. "Well... wouldn't this be grand? My great journey to find the one thing to make me happy, stopped before it even began, by my own hand. Yes, it would make you right uncle, the power to shape my destiny is inside myself. Maybe this is what will make me happy, ending a life so despised by others. The irony in it is so delicious; the purpose of my life is suicide."
She knelt down to the floor, laughing softly to herself as she gently pushed the tip firmer against her jaw. "Now aren't you a perfectly pathetic little wretch." Azula was spooked as the silence was broken. She peered over her shoulder to find herself, her former self, garbed in royal vestments, sneering down at her. "So your ready to give up, are you? You're finally free to enact your revenge on Zuzu, his little water wench and everyone else who's betrayed you and all you want to do is end your life."
"Shut up. I don't have any other choice. I can't go out there, I'm not strong enough."
"Then go ahead and kill yourself. Just save us both the shame of someone finding our corpse and set this whole cursed house on fire before you die."
"You can't tell me what to do."
"But uncle can? And Mai and Ty Lee and mother? Look at you, swayed by images in a mirror. Frankly, I'm glad your going to kill yourself. Please, do it, looking at you is making me physically ill."
Azula snarled and threw the shard right through her own hallucination. "SHUT UP!"
Her past self simply smirked. "You want meaning in life? How about this; retake your place on the throne."
"No. I followed in my father's footsteps before and it led to this. I won't be a fool twice."
"Who said anything about father. I'm not telling you to conquer the world, I'm telling you to lead your people. Do you think Zuzu can really be a competent Fire Lord?"
Azula paused for a moment and looked to the side. "Maybe... well... he is... he is a bit inexperienced..."
"Do you really believe he understands the true inner workings of this nation more than we do? It's people?"
"No... No, he can't. He's too... soft hearted, too shortsighted... too... too..."
"Yes... Zuzu is weak."
"This land needs a strong leader. If the Earth Kingdom suddenly decided that they should take over some of our land for compensation, who would be the most likely to rally the troops and defend the homeland?"
"Azula, no!" She looked down on the floor as Iroh's face appeared on several broken shards of glass. "She is manipulating you, just as before. If you follow her lead, you will only find heartache."
"Oh, be quiet you senile fool. At least I don't hide behind shiny surfaces."
Azula clenched her hands to her ears and stormed away. "SHUT UP! SHUT UP! EVERYONE SHUT UP!" She quickly turned around and found herself alone once again. "I'll decide for myself... just stop tormenting me for five minutes..." She tore off a piece of window dressing to bandage her hand and hide herself beneath an old, dusty cloak before she walked out the door. As she placed her first step off the front porch she looked back at her prison for the last number of months and returned to the basement. She gathered a small pile of rags and broken items to where she was chained and lit them ablaze. The spark she created felt weak, a shallow image of the godly power she once wielded with unquestioning authority. Nonetheless, her final task was done, the ashes would hopefully leave her jailer to suspect that she burned alive in his absence. "At least that's one less thing to worry about. I don't know what this new world has in store for me but I'll find my place in it... or die trying."