It was her third day of freedom and the once powerful and pampered princess of the Fire Nation has been reduced to finding nutriment from the garbage. As she forced down a slimy hunk of meat down her gullet, the voices returned to her. "I thought you couldn't humiliate us even further but I see you've gone to great lengths to prove me wrong."
Her former life, a life of privilege that lead to her ultimate downfall. Yet it still felt entitled enough to torment her at every turn. "Leave me alone, it's taking all my focus not to throw up as it is."
"There's a good reason your body wants to expunge that filth. We're not beasts, content to live off the scraps of others. We are gods among insects. We are destined to rule, not live our lives as common riffraff."
"You seem to be forgetting a few of my recent shortcomings; I'm broke, I'm a scarred mess, I'm a fugitive. Let's not also overlook my oh so annoying new habit of carrying out long drawn conversations with myself." Her eyes gazed upward to catch a passerby staring at her. She wasn't sure if it was the skeptical of talking to herself that caught his attention or the dried blood smeared across her face. Either way, she wanted to be alone and conveyed her desire to him with a venomous hiss that sent him running along his merry way. "Worm."
"See, I never would have let someone like him make me feel like a sideshow. Where's your fiery indignation? Where's your self respect?"
"Underneath that molded hunk of swine sparrow I just swallowed." Hoping to escape her own voice, Azula skulked around the alleys of the town, stopping only to observe a rather peculiar parchment plastered against the wall. "What's this? 'Pu Wan Tin proudly presents The Boy in the Iceberg. Performed by the critically acclaimed Ember Island Players and revised from it's original debut to reflect the historically accurate events of Sozin's Comet.' Unbelievable..." she whispered as her inner voices began to stir once more.
"See, does this not fill you a burning rage?"
"Of course it does. Critically acclaimed? They butchered 'Love Amongst the Dragons' every year I was forced to see them. I still can't understand why mother loved it so."
"No! Not their acting talent, their insult to us! They idolize the Avatar and display our own nation's downfall as entertainment! How can you stand there and not be enraged by this?"
"It's simple; I'm starving."
Meanwhile, miles off shore, a small Fire Nation ship was suddenly rocked by hard waves despite the day being very calm. It's helmsmen strained to keep the wheel steady as the captain staggered to his side. "What's going on? There's not a could in the sky and it feels like we're in a monsoon!"
Panicked, the helmsmen did his best to split his attention between the ship and his unnerved captain. "I don't know, sir! The ship can't take much more of this, we should find port as soon as possible and wait for things to calm."
"No!" the captain shouted, a tremor of terror in his voice. "There's a full moon out tonight man, we need to reach those waterbenders as soon as possible!"
"If we keep going, this ship will be ripped to shreds. Besides, she's filled with enough sedatives to put down a platypus bear."
Before the captain could voice his continued objection, another wave crashed against the port side, knocking him off his feet. "Fine, I see your point! The closest port I can think of is Ember Island. In fact, I think they're holding a festival tonight for Avatar's Day."
"I thought Avatar's Day was tomorrow."
"You know how Ember Island is, always a holiday for those people. I just hope there's enough guards on duty tonight to help us."
"You worry too much, sir."
"Do I? You heard what this witch did to those innocent people. If we go to Ember Island and she somehow gets loose, it'll be a disaster."
"Again sir, you worry too much. I doubt anything could possibly go wrong."
Dusk on Ember Island
"Avatar's Day! Yip, yip!" The crowd erupted in cheers as the actress best known for her portrayal as Aang was lifted up into the air by the actor best known for his role as the blind earthbender, Toph.
Lingering in the shadows of the festivity was Azula, unsure of what she was seeing but knew it as a prime opportunity to fill her stomach and her pockets. Still uneasy about the idea of revealing her true identity, a modest vending stand proved to be a godsend to her. The task of sneaking through it's backside unseen and pilfer a festival mask was simple enough. She looked down at what was to be her face for the night. A red demon, a clever joke of fate. Slowly, her lessons from childhood caught up to her. The demon this mask was made to represent was believed to spend all eternity gathering the souls of fallen firebenders from the battlefield. A demon cursed to spend her life burdened with the defeats of the Fire Nation. Again, a clever joke of fate.
In the end, the bitter symbolism was outweighed by her need to feed. Hiding behind the mask on, the happy people simply saw her as just another soul getting into the spirit of the festival but the fear of being recognized still kept her innards in a knot. Despite her paranoia, pilfering a few purses and sneaking away a few snacks proved to be good exercise to sharpen her dexterity and cunning. It was the first uplifting experience she had since her liberation. Once her pockets were filled with coins and consumable contraband, she retreated to the privacy of an alleyway. The sensation of biting into warm, fresh meat nearly brought her to tears. As she happily chewed the last morsel of her first course, she could feel a cold stare pierce the back of her head. "How far will you go to shame me further?"
She didn't need to look, she knew who it was and his words felt like a knife in her heart. "Father..."
"I trusted my title to you. I trusted you protect the homeland in my absence. Now I see all I can trust you to do is fail."
She tried her best not to cry but she could feel a lump swelling inside her throat. "I... I tried father... I truly did. But... but Zuko... Zuko and that waterbender."
"Silence!" His booming voice terrified her, causing Azula to quickly find refuge from his abuse in a fetal position on the floor. "You were your brother's superior and you tell me, on the day of Sozin's Comet, with your powers magnified ten fold, he defeated you?"
"No... that's not what happened. I... I defeated him... he was knocked down to the ground, I would have easily won the Agni Kai. It was that waterbender... she interfered, she chained me to a grate!"
"So, instead of losing to a firebender of noble birth, you lost to a Water Tribe peasant?"
"Father... please understand, she was underhanded and devious, she cheated me out of my victory."
"Face me!" His harassment had finally driven her to tears but it did not rouse mercy from her paternal delusion. In spite the physical shortcoming of him being a figment of her mind, he was still able to strike her across the face and leave a burning sensation on her cheek. When Azula finally turned to face her father, he towered toward the sky like a menacing monolith. "You're a disgrace to the our noble bloodline! All those years, thinking you had this great potential. I should have known better, you're just as pathetic as your brother."
"Father, please don't say that. You don't mean it."
"You're a failure, just like Zuko. You even hide in filth and poverty like he did with my brother. Except there is no second chance for you. You will spend the rest of your days in abject squaller!"
His image faded away as reality began to force itself upon her. At first, the sound was fuzzy but after a moment or so, she could make out a man's voice. "Hey, lady, are you okay or what?"
She slid the mask slowly back over her face before turning her head. "Leave me alone," she hissed.
"Geez lady, just asking if you were alright is all."
"Yes, fine, leave!" Once she was alone again, she waited to see if the voices would return. When it seemed obvious she was going to be left alone for the time being, she pulled out another kabob and devoured it ravenously. "I'm not a failure like Zuko..."
A watch guard at the docks was roused out of his half-hypnotic state when his coworker dropped a bag of fire flakes on the table. "Compliments of the festival my friend. I know how much you love this stuff during Avatar's Day."
"From Hina's stand?"
"Alright, now we're talking!" The guard grabbed a handful of flakes and greedily shoveled it into his face. "Mmm-mmm-mmm! I don't know why that woman waits for Avatar's Day but hot damn these flakes are worth it!"
While the first guard continued to engorge himself on festival flakes, the second squinted his eyes as he could barely make out the ship that was sailing toward the dock. "Hey, what's that ship doing out there? Little late to be coming into to port, ain't it?"
He compatriot swallowed another mouthful before he reached for a rolled up document. "Oh yeah, that. Messenger hawk flew in about an hour ago with this," he said before he summarized the note. "Basically, their on some official thing for the Northern Water Tribe but the waters got really choppy and they need a place to drop anchor until things calm down. Nothing to worry about."
"Official business? With the Northern Water Tribe? Give me that," he said before snatching the document away. The first guard continued eating as he quickly read the document over. "Prisoner transfer? Prisoner transfer with the Water Tribe and they suddenly experienced harsh, choppy waters on the calmest day I've seen in months?"
"Yeah, I guess. Just what are you..." he trailed off just as it dawned on him. "Now... wait, these guys are professionals. They have these precautions when sailing with waterbenders aboard."
"Don't count on it. Ever since Fire Lord Zuko took control, there's been massive cuts from the military. I wouldn't be surprised if that whole crew is just a bunch of civilian fishermen looking for extra money on the side."
"Oh... come on... let's give them just a little credit." A few seconds later, the ship crashed against the dock, turning it into several floating islands of splinter and driftwood. "Confound it!" They both raced for the ship, prepared for the worst. As they made their way onto the deck, there wasn't a single crewman to be seen. Suddenly, the ship's horn bellowed out a call, obviously there was still someone at the helm. The two rushed toward the bridge, each with a hand at the hilt of their sheathed swords. When they busted through the door, they found the helmsman at the wheel, looking straight ahead as if he was still steering the boat. "Hey, you! What the blue blazes is going on here?"
Slowly, the helmsman turned to them, his eyes bulging out of the sockets and bleeding intensely. "Run... run... for your lives..."
Before the gravity of the situation could sink into the two watchmen, a stunning chill ran through them both. When they looked downward, they noticed a matching set of jagged icicles jutting out from their chests. In the last moments of life, they could feel ice water running through their veins before they began turning to razor sharp blades of frost that sliced them to pieces from the inside out. The bloody act done with, their murderer finally stepped out from the shadows. "A fair down payment," Hama mused to herself before turning her attention back to her tortured puppet at the wheel. "But two night watchmen and a small crew does not make up for a century of atrocities, now does it?"
Wracked with agonizing pain, the helmsmen begged for mercy. "Please... have... a heart..."
She shot a cold glare through him and reached an open hand out toward him. "Fine, I'll take yours." She clutched her fist, causing the liquids in his body to flood into his heart until it exploded inside his chest. She smiled devilishly at her handiwork before she turned her sights to the celebrating village just beyond the bend. "They think the war can be over so easily? Tonight, I will show them that their crimes must be paid for in blood."