Hey everyone! Thanks for the great reviews last chapter, I really appreciate the encouragement, but I really adore reviews when people give me some helpful advice//strengths in the chapter//weaknesses in the chapter//favorite part//etc. A million cookies for everyone who left a comment, though ;)
Okay, I'm not going to spoil anything, but I worked really hard to fit in a lot of irony and allusions (and some foreshadowing), so I hope that you pay extra-close attention to the story this chapter…I also sprinkled some clues as to what's going on in the next chapter. Yes, I'll admit I did wander off for the first half of the chapter, but I promise it's only added to further the storyline (and make sense of stuff that happened in the actual show that Bryke left open-ended). This was probably one of the hardest chapters to write so far, but hopefully I did okay.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Azula's eyes opened at once. Would those awful servants never give it a rest? It wasn't as though they had any reason to be moving around seeing that no one in the royal family was around…
Trying to concentrate on the blue flames on the candles in front of her, she closed her eyes once more.
Thud. Thud. BOOM!
"That's it!" Azula snarled as the flames shot upward. She immediately got up and stomped out of her room; slamming the door angrily behind her.
Hearing the princess coming down the halls, the servants scattered into different directions before she came around the corner. Blue flames licked her clenched fists, just waiting to burn whatever servant had caused such a disturbance in her otherwise calming meditation session.
Unfortunately the pathetic slaves were nowhere in sight; what a shame. The look on their faces as she scorched every last hair on their heads would have been a great birthday present.
The sun was close to setting by now and Ozai had been missing the entire day. Azula had seen him duck secretively out of the palace just before sunrise; not once did he even acknowledge her or the fact that today was her birthday.
Today, she had turned fourteen years old. Her father had thought it to be terribly bad luck when Azula was born in winter. Zuko, like most other Fire Nation people, was born in the summer. It was extremely rare for firebenders to be born in any other season besides summer.
Imagine his surprise when the summer-born child ended up completely useless and his winter-born child possessed legendary firebending abilities.
Azula smiled proudly for a brief moment. Her grandfather, Azulon, and great-grandfather, Sozin, were also winter-born firebenders. For some reason the trend skipped a generation, making Ozai fear that the winter-baby blessing was gone.
Even after everything she had done to make her father love her, however, he still ignored her on her own birthday. Usually that attitude was only reserved for dear Zuzu's birthdays…
"Where is he?" Azula muttered to herself as she silently searched the halls of the palace. No one was even in the palace, by the looks of it. The thought of a surprise party didn't even flicker through her mind; those sorts of celebrations were reserved for the filthy peasants.
After nearly half an hour of searching, Azula gave up. Her father had been gone for weeks at a time in the past; it wasn't like she relied on him for emotional support or anything. She decided to go to bed; this day was boring enough as it was, and waiting around for Ozai didn't particularly excite her any more than going to sleep.
Anyways, wherever her father was, he was probably somewhere important…
"Congratulations Prince Ozai," Lieutenant Zhao bowed respectfully to the prince before turning to the woman sitting next to him. He carefully grasped her pale white hand and kissed the top of it. "On your fine marriage to Lady Ursa."
Ozai said nothing, but gave the man a stiff smile and nodded.
"May the spirits bestow nothing but good luck upon you," Iroh added as he walked up the steps to the dining area of the new Royal couple. He bowed to his brother and his new wife before sitting down on a comfy maroon chair and pouring himself a cup of jasmine tea.
The balcony where the Royal family and their closest friends sat overlooked an enormous crowd of people whom had come to witness the second prince's marriage; not a clue in the world that the man in front of them would be their next Firelord…
Ursa chatted animatedly with Iroh, while Ozai ate in silence. His big day had finally come, but it seemed so…dull. He had expected so much more than such a simple wedding. Iroh's wedding with his late wife was much grander than this informal disgrace.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a messenger come running up to Zhao and whispered something in his ear. Ozai tried to eavesdrop on the conversation, but the roar of the partying crowd was deafening.
"Best wishes to you and my new aunt, Uncle Ozai," he heard a voice from behind him. Slightly startled, Ozai whirled around to see none other than Lu Ten, Iroh's five year-old son. He was grinning goofily, and gave him a small wave, even though they were just two feet apart.
Ugh, Ozai didn't know what to say to him. He wasn't too good with kids yet. He knew he'd better figure out this exotic species known as human children though…his wife certainly wouldn't shut up about how much she wanted a beautiful daughter to raise…
Unsure of how to get the little freak away from him, Ozai nodded and suggested that he go find his father.
Lu Ten cocked his head and looked over Ozai's shoulder. "Daddy's talking to Auntie Ursa, though."
"Daddy?" Ozai repeated in a strained voice. Did this boy show no respect for authority? He knew if he ever managed to raise his own kids, they would never be allowed to disrespect him with such a demeaning title.
"None of this 'Daddy' business. You call him 'Father,'" Ozai responded coldly.
Taken aback by Ozai's sudden ire, Lu Ten froze and his boyish grin disappeared. "I'm sorry Uncle Ozai, it won't happen again."
He tore off in the opposite direction, apparently determined to stay away from his uncle for as long as possible.
Ozai sighed with relief. He thought the kid would never leave!
"May I borrow him for a moment?" he heard Zhao asking Ursa next to him.
"It's not very traditional," Ursa protested before seeing the oh-please-get-me-out-of-here look on her husband's face. "But okay."
Ozai jumped up a little too eagerly, but Ursa hardly noticed. Zhao strolled at a leisurely pace down the walkway, until they both halted at the end balcony. It overlooked the Royal palace's backyard: the untouched, vibrant green hills that led to the vast azure ocean. It was nearly sunset by now; the pink and orange colors glittered peacefully among the waves, and the fluffy white clouds hung low in the sky.
To Ozai, the entire scene was disgusting.
"Sir, I don't know how to say this but…" Zhao trailed off, using the sunset as a distraction.
Ozai walked up to the ledge of the handrails, where Zhao was apparently lost in thought.
"Yes, what is it?" Ozai urged him on in a grave voice as he tried ignoring the sickeningly beautiful scene in front of them.
"I ah…our soldiers near the Northern Water Tribe area claimed to have seen the Avatar recently…"
"The Avatar?" Ozai cut him off. "How do they know?"
"They swear by the spirits that they saw fire and water moving at the same time…by one person's bending."
"Certainly not the airbender though…?"
"Well, as you are well aware, our top sources believe some of the airbenders have survived over the years…"
Impossible, Ozai thought. And yet…what if it truly was the Avatar? Imagine the honor he would receive if he was the one who captured the seemingly long-gone airbender? Azulon would undoubtedly revoke Iroh's birthright and give him the throne first…
Firelord Ozai. Wow, that sounded good. Ignoring the possible hardships he would face on the open seas, the idea of him being crowned Firelord before his older brother was enough to convince him.
"Ready the ships, we'll leave tonight."
Zhao hesitated. He hadn't expected such a quick response. "But sir, your wedding…"
Ozai frowned, looking as though that unpleasant little reminder ruined his plans completely. Knowing that Ursa wouldn't want to miss him tonight, he considered another plan.
"Fine. I want a fleet of ships ready by morning."
Zhao nodded and bowed with respect before departing. Ozai glared out to the open ocean with contempt. The universe had hidden the Avatar from his nation for too long; it was time for him to end the old man's game of hide-and-seek. If it truly was the airbender, then he had to be over seventy years old by now. Piece of cake.
Ozai stared into the enticing lava of the volcano. It would be so easy just to jump in and get it over with. Somehow, he held back. Not for Azula's sake, and definitely not for Zuko's sake, but he really didn't want to die. He believed there was some way to gain immortality, and he was determined to find out the secret before trying anything crazy.
His own chase for the Avatar had ended a little over sixteen years ago. The day his disgrace of a son Zuko was born…
"Prince Ozai, we just received a messenger hawk," Admiral Yon Rha informed him.
Frustrated after months of pointless searching for the Avatar, Ozai had nearly lost all his patience by now. If it was just another rumor about the Avatar's whereabouts, he was going to kill someone…
"Well what is it?!"
"It's…a message from Lady Ursa. She, well…here," he awkwardly handed Ozai the scroll. It was wet from the rain that had been pelting their ship for the last week.
After finding out that the Avatar wasn't in the Northern Water Tribe, Ozai had nearly given up and gone home after just two months at sea. Lo and behold, another rumor that the Avatar was at the Eastern Air Temple popped up, and Ozai decided to give it one more shot. He was so obsessed with proving his worth to his father that he was willing to do whatever it took to capture the Avatar.
He went inside the cozy warm cabin, shoving many of the weary crewmen out into the storm so he could have some peace to himself. Ozai carefully unraveled the scroll and read it, not quite believing his eyes.
He must of reread the paper at least four times before it sunk in: he was a father. His eyes continued shifting over one part of her letter:
"…due to your absence, I have taken it upon myself to name the boy Zuko…you know I always wanted a daughter, but I'm sure you'll be happy to have your son. He looks just like you. Please come home…little Zuko can't wait to meet his father…"
He had been ecstatic. Finally, after all this time-wasting Avatar-nonsense, he had an excuse to go home. It had been nearly nine months since he was home, so he was definitely looking forward to it.
However, there was something about the name that didn't stick.
The first time he ever said the name aloud, he had unconsciously wrinkled his nose in disgust.
Thank Agni it was a boy though; girls were mostly useless anyways. Ursa would have to wait before he'd even consider another child…hopefully it'd be another son though…
Back in the present, Ozai remembered his first day meeting Zuko. He had thrown up on him. Not a good start at all.
Growling to himself, Ozai pushed Zuko out of his mind. When Azula had come, he had been terribly disappointed; especially considering the fact that the girl came in the middle of winter!
Ursa, on the other hand, was thrilled. She would finally have another female around to dress up in ridiculous outfits, play with dolls, and maybe even help Azula with any boy problems when she became a teenager.
And yet, within two years of Azula's birth, it was clear that Ursa had grown unusually fond of Zuko. Ozai had originally thought that Azula could be "Ursa's child" and Zuko would be "his child" and it actually ended up being the exact opposite. Azula's potential was clear to Ozai early on, while Zuko didn't show much at all at any point in his life. Heck, he was two years older than her, and he ended up firebending for the first time a year after his younger sister.
At that point, Ozai realized that Azula was undoubtedly born lucky. Everything came so naturally to her, and every feature on her face was flawless. Zuko, on the other hand, had some growing up to do. Azula surpassed him in height by the time she was six, and Zuko was still a little chubby kid before he began filling out around age ten. His awkwardness as a child had forced him to pick up bad habits when firebending; after a while, Ozai learned that they were irreversible and his so-called wonderful son would be a lousy bender forever.
Forcing himself to shake all the unpleasant memories away, Ozai realized that the sun was almost gone over the horizon. He had to get back down before the nightly gusts picked up…
"Firelord Ozai, a message has arrived for you," a servant announced to Ozai as soon as he returned to the comforts of the warm palace.
Azula, bored to death of doing basically nothing her entire birthday, had long since gone to sleep. She didn't even hear Ozai return…
In the dimly-lit hall, Ozai snatched the scroll from the servant and headed for his throne in the war room. He walked to the top of the throne, lit a wall of flames in front of him, and then sat down to read the tattered scroll.
It was from Lieutenant Ji, how very interesting. Part of him wondered if Zuko had finally gotten himself killed…
His eyes lazily ran across the scroll, but he realized this wasn't just any old news. This was actually…important.
After several minutes of rereading the paper, he barked for a servant to come over to him.
"Yes, Firelord Ozai?"
Glancing down at the paper one more time, he looked up. "Fetch Azula."
"Sir, I believe she's sleeping and…"
"Did I ask for excuses?" Ozai asked icily. The nervous man shook his head and sprinted as fast as he could out of the room.
"Princess Azula!" the man pounded on her door, expecting a wave of homicidal rage to meet him any second. "Please wake up…"
She slowly opened the door and peeked out. Her face had 'you-die-now' written all over it.
"Your…your father has requested your presence…" he stumbled over the words while he backed up and bumped into a corner as though he were planning an escape.
Azula laughed cruelly. "Ha ha, my father wants to talk to me?" Suddenly she turned very serious. "Whoever thought of that lie will pay," she added harshly as blue flames sprouted from her hands.
And yet, for some reason, she went anyways. Maybe her father would actually tell her what's been on his mind lately…or even acknowledge her new age?
She waltzed in sleepily and kneeled, waiting for yet another order for her to get out before he revealed anything. Instead, this time Ozai actually spoke.
"The siege of the Northern Water Tribe failed," he began, feeling a sense of overwhelming hatred for that place, considering he had once believed the Avatar was hiding there. Not only that, but the best man from his wedding, Admiral Zhao, been murdered during the invasion by unknown means. And apparently Zuko had let the Avatar escape him for the billionth time as well…
"Iroh is a traitor. And your brother Zuko is a failure…I have a task for you."
Azula grinned evilly as she looked up and awaited her father's next orders…
Ursa could feel her heart tugging at her chest at the sight that lay before her. It was just past sunrise, and on the other side of the bay, she saw the grand blue sails of the Water Tribe ships.
After many weeks of wandering into random villages and getting lost countless times, they were here.
Ursa hadn't seen Hakoda in months. She wondered if he missed her as much as she had missed him. While she enjoyed Bato's company through their extensive travels overland, she missed having someone around who felt like an equal. Not to belittle Bato or anything, but whenever they had a decision to make, he let her make the choices. Not that she minded, but she always felt as though, deep down, Bato still harbored some fear about her, which made their friendship a little uncomfortable at times.
It wasn't exactly shocking; he was the only one who knew her true identity, anyways. She just hoped he would keep that a secret…
As they walked down the sand in silence, Ursa pondered which tent was Hakoda's. The men were working all around the site, but she couldn't spot Hakoda anywhere. Perhaps he was on one of the ships?
The closer they got, the faster Ursa heart raced. She was wearing a new, brilliant blue Water Tribe outfit. After weeks of hiking through dense forests and crossing violent rivers, she was forced to find a new outfit in the nearest town before they arrived.
She was pleasantly surprised to find a Northern Water Tribe merchant in the giant town; of course, like most other vendors, he was quick to snatch up her gold. However, he certainly gave her the best Water Tribe outfit he had.
"Bato!" the men greeted him enthusiastically as they entered the camp. They were quick to form a circle around the two travelers, and everyone seemed to be speaking at once.
"Bato, are you completely well?"
"Where've you been? We expected you a week ago."
"Who's your friend?"
Everyone immediately paused and looked at Ursa. Blushing from the unexpected attention, Ursa hastily removed the hood of her parka. Her long black hair cascaded down her shoulders as the men stared in shock.
A couple of them instantly recognized her; Ursa remembered them from the lone ship that Zhao attacked so long ago. The others who weren't there when Ursa first came on the ship wondered what in the world a woman was doing here.
"I know some of you remember Ursa?" Bato broke through the silence. "She's a friend of Hakoda, and our tribe owes her…"
"Nothing," Ursa cut him off, hating the fact that her surrender to Zhao kept coming up again. Then she smiled. "I really hope you don't mind me intruding…"
"Of course not," Bato cut her off as well.
"Are you from the Northern Water Tribe?" one of the men who didn't know her asked.
Ursa froze. Some of the men knew she was a firebender, but some of them didn't. She didn't know how to respond to that. She so desperately wanted to reply 'yes' to the man.
And yet, if she lied, she would force a few of the men to hide the fact that a firebender was living amongst them. She didn't want to force them to divide their loyalties just because of her.
"Yes, she's from our sister tribe," Bato answered for her, giving her a helpful smile.
"No," Ursa shook her head. "I'm not from the Northern Water Tribe, I'm from…the Fire Nation."
She bit her lip as a few of the men raged about Bato allowing a Fire Nation woman to invade their camp. The ones from Hakoda's ship were silent. They knew she had to tell the truth, and they knew their fellows would react like this, but they didn't know what else to say.
"Spy!" one man accused her and a few others nodded fiercely in agreement.
"But she is a close friend of Hakoda," Bato firmly reminded them over the chaos and shouting. "He is fully aware that she is a firebender."
"She's a firebender too?" one of the men whispered with disgust, making Ursa feel like a freak.
"We welcome her," one of the men piped up. "She saved our lives."
Ursa rolled her eyes, wondering when they would let that go. Luckily for her, though, the rest of the men eventually quieted and looked reassured by the fact that their chief had befriended her. Even the boldest of the rioters steadily calmed down and nodded their heads in acceptance.
Noticing that Hakoda hadn't even come out yet, Ursa double-checked the group. He wasn't there.
"Where's Hakoda?" she asked quietly.
"Not here," one of the men immediately answered. "He went to Ba Sing Se for more supplies. We were in dire need of building supplies to fix up the ships."
"But he left a message for Bato…he asked for you to meet him in Ba Sing Se as soon as you arrived."
Watching Bato nod out of the corner of her eye, Ursa jumped in: "Can I come?"
Bato smiled knowingly. "Of course."
"This is madness," Ursa groaned.
"This is Earth Kingdom," Bato replied with equal strain as they worked together to shove a gigantic boulder away from their new campsite.
They had been hiking for nearly two weeks; one week longer than necessary due to the Ba Sing Se's eastern ferry port being closed for the season. There was a sign in the area that the southern port was the only one open at the moment.
So, the two trudged on, unfortunately taking a wrong turn when they reached the fork in the road near Omashu. Instead of cutting up north to the next ferry port, they accidentally misread the signs and headed east instead.
Somehow, they found themselves along the coast of the ocean. They were tired and confused as to why they ended up here, so they decided to pitch camp for the night and get their bearings straight before morning.
At least their timeframe wasn't too rushed; Hakoda had only been in Ba Sing Se for three weeks. As far as they understood, Hakoda not only went to buy supplies, but he also needed to speak with the Earth King regarding the permissibility of ambushing Fire Nation ships in the bay outside of the city. He would be waiting for an appointment for at least another three weeks.
Right now, Ursa was utterly exhausted. As she lay down and gazed up at the cool, clear blue sky, she sadly remembered the days she used to spend on the beach on Ember Island with her kids. Azula was always off exploring the ocean or creating magnificent sandcastles. Zuko, however, was perfectly content resting on the sand next to his mom.
Ursa hadn't brought up the subject of her son since the first day she met up with Bato; she sure wished there was someone she could talk to. She missed him so much, but it just would have been too awkward talking about him in front of Bato.
Hakoda would probably understand…he hasn't seen his kids in nearly two years, Ursa thought about telling him, but quickly shook the idea away. No way, if he found out that my kids were also the Firelord's kids…that would be awful.
Just as she closed her eyes to take a nap, she heard the sky rumble and the air grow unusually hot. Even through her closed eyelids, she saw a flash of white light and heard a deafening crack.
She bolted upright, and saw Bato staring out at the ocean.
"What was that?"
"I…I just saw lightning!" Bato exclaimed. "Lightning during the day…? But, that's unheard of…"
"No it's not," Ursa replied suddenly, a look of horror washing over her face.
Bato looked at her questioningly. "But there are no clouds, or storm or…anything."
"That's because the lightning didn't come from nature…it came from a firebender."
Bato's eyes widened as he leaped up to inspect where the lightning had come from. Ursa followed and from behind the giant boulder, they noticed a giant black ship in the ocean a quarter of a mile or so away.
"We need to get out of here," Ursa said at once, trying to hide the fact that she recognized the ship.
Sensing her urgency, Bato ran back to pack up the supplies.
"No time," Ursa hissed. A couple hundred feet ahead of them, they already heard angry shouts and feet charging in their direction. If they didn't get out of here, they'd be ambushed any second…
Sure enough, flames of orange and yellow blasted through the trees, causing cinders and sparks to fly everywhere.
"I heard people talking over here!" a man's deep voice growled over the sounds of fire blasting in every direction.
"Let's go!" she grabbed Bato's wrist, and they took off without any of their supplies. They ran into the treed area, for the dirt path would have been far too obvious.
After two minutes of running, they reached an area that had been cleared of the strange, pink-leaved trees; at the point where the land was divided by a raging river. The bridge that spanned the length of the river wasn't just a bridge; it was a small resort-town.
Bato shrugged to Ursa as they decided that trying to blend in with the townsfolk was better than attempting to hide among the trees. At the sound of soldiers approaching behind them, they resumed running.
Once they were towards the middle of the bridge, they rounded a corner and were met by a giant crowd. They were all facing a group of people clad in red Fire Nation attire up towards the front.
Ursa could vaguely make out the figure of a woman holding up a poster. She couldn't see the pictures or what was written on it, but part of her worried that it was a wanted poster of her and Bato…
"Anyone who harbors these traitors will face the wrath of the Firelord," the woman's frighteningly harsh voice rang out across the area.
If it weren't for her panic, Ursa would have recalled hearing the voice before. But now that the Fire Nation was onto them…they had to get out of there before the civilians recognized the two and turned them in to the woman up front.
"There will be no place left to hide," the cold voice added as Ursa and Bato threw their hoods over their heads and pushed their way through the outer portion of the crowd. Thankfully, they just had to get down the walkway and to the right before they could make it safely to the other side of the river.
Bato noted that all of the resort people were clothed in the same pinkish-purple robes. Dressed in rich blue parkas, they must have looked terribly out of place. However, that wouldn't matter if they could just sneak back into the trees on the opposite shore.
The girl up front was still glaring out over the crowd, searching for one last hint of the fugitives.
"Uh, Princess?" one of the masked guards behind her pointed to her left. Her carefully trained eyes instantly spotted the two blue-coated people slowly winding their way through the thick crowd. Water Tribe trash.
"Follow me," she commanded the two men, who summoned three more guards to also follow along.
She silently glided down the stairs and the crowd parted for her; most were still wondering who the heck the girl was…
Interesting, Azula noted; when her prey crossed the bridge and onto solid ground, they began running for their lives. Very suspicious, indeed.
She was much faster and much more agile than them, but her guards didn't have the endurance to keep up. She would have to either find a shortcut or face them alone. She chose the former, in case there was trouble, she could always sacrifice a guard or two. It would be worth it.
Just before she entered the grove of sickeningly rosy trees, Azula saw one of their hoods fall back.
Somewhat shocked by the sight, Azula halted and stared. The woman's long, black hair whipped in the wind behind her for a mere two or three seconds before she got the hood back over her head again; not once did she slow down as she adjusted it.
Water Tribe people don't have black hair, do they? Azula wondered as she continued stalking the two once more.
"Think we're safe?" Bato panted as they ran side-by-side along the river. His lungs were burning, and he hadn't seen anyone come after them…
Ursa slowed and nodded. Both of them were nearly out of breath, for they had been sprinting for quite some time. Luckily, it looked like no one had followed them, so now they could just hike upriver from there.
They walked over to the water and scooped as much water into their dry mouths as they could. Ursa knew the water was probably somewhat contaminated, but that didn't bother her…until she saw two big locks of human hair floating down the river, that is.
"Ach!" Ursa gagged as she stood up and spit out as much water as she could. "That's disgusting."
Curious, Bato waded out a couple of feet into the mostly calm river and retrieved the hair.
"Hey, maybe we should return these to their owners," he joked as he looked upstream.
Suddenly, she heard the faintest whoosh sound come from behind her. She froze immediately and waited. Bato was too busy examining the hair to notice it, but Ursa knew from experience…basic instinct…what it was…
In what seemed like slow motion, Ursa pivoted on her right foot and spun around, just in time to see a blast of blue fire aimed at her from some invisible firebender in the trees. She barely even had time to blink as her hand unconsciously reached up and rerouted the blue flames to the nearest tree. At the sight of the tree catching fire, Ursa whirled around to conceal her identity from the blue-flamed attacker.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Bato glancing at her, clearly mortified at the possibility that she had just blown their cover…
"Curious," a frighteningly cruel voice came from the trees behind them. Neither Bato nor Ursa moved to see who it was.
"I could have sworn I was attacking two Water Tribe peasants," she continued, sounding disappointed. More footsteps soon joined her. Ursa gasped as two pairs of red-clothed arms grabbed Bato and pulled him away. Apparently his mouth was covered, since all she could hear was him grunting furiously behind her. However, she didn't dare turn around. While he was truly Water Tribe, it would be obvious just by looking at her hair and eyes that she was definitely not. Her heart pounded fiercely in her chest, only vaguely aware of what was going on…
After a moment of studying the infuriated hostage and determining that he wasn't anything more than a simple savage, the girl clucked her tongue on the roof of her mouth disapprovingly. "I must say that I'm slightly surprised to see a firebender cowering under Water Tribe rags," she said in an eerily soft tone directed to Ursa.
She walked to the right of Ursa and continued: "Now, unless you're somehow the Avatar, I'm left to assume that not only are you an imposter, but a traitor to your own nation."
Ursa felt sweat trickling down her face. That voice…where had she heard that voice before?
The girl came up right in front of her; Ursa instantly lowered her head before either woman could see the other's face. The girl silently reached for Ursa's hood, but Ursa was too quick. She grabbed the girl by the wrist and held it firmly, as though proving that she wasn't afraid. But the girl didn't struggle against her grip, she merely laughed.
"Funny," she began, her tone icier than winter again. "I only know of one person who ever had such fast reflexes. And, she also turns out to be the only prominent female traitor to the Fire Nation I know of…"
Her other hand snatched Ursa's hood and pulled it back slowly.
"Azula?" Completely forgetting her earlier panic, Ursa's shoulders relaxed as she pulled Azula towards her and hugged her. It had been so long since she had seen her!
Azula's eyes widened at first; she clearly hadn't expected that to happen. After just a second of embracing, however, she pulled backwards and out of her mother's grip.
Ursa just blinked, her heart was filled with irrational joy. This girl had just captured Bato, and she had attacked her from behind. Not only that, but she was currently looking for traitors.
But, Ursa realized. That poster couldn't have been meant for us…this is my daughter…
While most of her time in banishment had been spent fretting over Zuko, Azula was the next best thing. And, Ursa noted, Azula had matured into a beautiful young lady.
"How did you know it was me?" Ursa asked with breathless happiness.
Azula's eyebrow rose. Apparently her mother was under the impression that this was a friendly meeting…
"How quickly you forget," Azula replied darkly; at the tone of her voice, Ursa frowned, wondering what had happened to the innocent daughter she knew. "Did you really believe that I wouldn't recognize my first master?"
Duh, Ursa thought to herself. Somehow, she really had forgotten that she was the first one to teach Azula when she was just a little kid. Of course, she was exceptional with her element…but her ambitions had driven her to the point of asking Ozai for lessons instead of her. Ursa vaguely remembered something about her refusal to teach the then-eight year old how to create lightning…
"What are you doing here?" Ursa asked her at last. By now, she had regained her senses and realized that Azula wasn't here for a happy little reunion…but, still! It was her daughter; she wouldn't do anything to her…right?
"Well, right now I'm hunting down a traitor, actually," Azula remarked as she eyed Ursa's Water Tribe clothing.
Looking down at her clothes, Ursa chuckled nervously. "Oh, these? Well, I wouldn't say…"
"I also recall hearing about the incident on Zhao's ship…"
"And," Azula cut her off, her anger towards her mother rising rapidly. "If you truly are not a traitor, explain why you're traveling with this peasant."
Ursa finally turned around and saw Bato for the first time in several minutes. He was tied up pretty well, and had a dirty rag shoved in his mouth to keep him from speaking. The soldiers held him with a tight grip on his arms, to the point where the blood flow was so restricted that his arms fell asleep.
His eyes were wide; while learning about Zuko was bad enough, seeing Ursa with her daughter freaked him out even more. What if Ursa turned on him for her?
"He's…" Ursa strained to think of something to say that would sound like the truth, but nothing came out.
"Useless? Well, I agree."
She turned to face the soldiers; the evil smirk on her face unseen by her clueless mother.
"He's not a peasant!" Ursa called out to Azula, but her words were drowned out by the raging river.
"Throw him in the river," she commanded them.
The two guards nodded and dragged their resistant hostage to the raging water's edge.
"No!" Ursa screamed. "Please!"
The men paused for a moment and looked to Azula for further instruction. She simply nodded to the water. They heaved Bato into the air and swung his body back and forth a couple of times before launching him into the water. His head bobbled on the surface for a moment before his body began plunging deeper and deeper into the water. His arms flung wildly, and Ursa could hear him yelling something, but she couldn't understand him.
"Oops, too late," Azula sneered unapologetically.
"BATO!" Ursa shrieked as she watched his head submerge below the chaotic currents. Three soldiers had come over to constrain her now…before she did anything to their leader.
"Bato, Bato!" Azula mocked her mother cruelly. "He's gone! He got what he deserved, as you will in due time!"
Ursa felt sick; the thought of losing Bato and having to explain his death to the all Water Tribe men made her sicker. Losing control of her senses, she vomited lightly on the soldiers who were constraining her, making them release her in disgust.
She stumbled away from them and tried drunkenly running towards the river. It was no use, but she would try…
Suddenly, she saw a head poke out of the water several yards downriver. It was Bato.
Miraculously, he managed to kick his way through the furious river's currents and land onshore. His face was covered in nasty cuts from the sharp rocks below the river, but at least he was alive.
"Bato run!" Ursa shrieked as quiet tears of joy slipped down her face. He was alive…Bato was actually alive…
Hearing Ursa's desperate pleas, Bato wasted no time in running for the trees. His water-laden clothes definitely slowed him as he tried rushing his way up the sandy bank, but at least he hadn't broken any bones…he could still move, at least…
"Run?" Azula jeered in a scarily high-pitched voice. She turned her attention to the now-escaping man on the opposite bank of the river. "Where is he going to run?"
With a malicious smirk on her face, Azula concentrated. Ursa felt the air grow immensely hot again, and, to her horror, Azula was easily channeling the blue lightning through the tips of her fingers…
Ursa didn't even have time to react: the lightning released through Azula's fingertips with a terrible crack!
Bato hadn't even noticed the lightning, but to Ursa's relief, he had finally made it to the trees and disappeared. The supercharged bolt struck the trees where Bato had just run through; Azula's accuracy was amazing…
Then, there was an explosion. Blue fire erupted everywhere amongst the trees, and it literally rained down fire. It spread quickly through the grove; so quickly, there was no way a non-bender would be able to survive in that.
"BATO!" Ursa cried out in a muffled scream. She flung herself against the restraints of the soldiers with all her might, and to her surprise, they released her. Ursa ran up to Azula, ready to strike her as hard as she could. She was completely blinded with rage, nothing mattered right now…
Just before she reached Azula, the girl held her arm up, but continued gazing indifferently at the raging wildfire she had just created.
"Are you really going to kill me...me, your own daughter…for some Water Tribe man?" she asked her quietly.
Ursa stopped. Azula always knew what to say, and she definitely hadn't lost that ability in the years of Ursa's absence. Azula probably just killed the man whom had been her close traveling companion for the last several months. The one whom had saved her by letting her join him in the first place…
And yet…even though she felt deeply connected to Bato…Azula was right. Azula was her daughter…she couldn't bring herself to even touch her. Instead she dropped to her knees and muffled a sob.
"Why?" Ursa whispered, wondering what had happened to the daughter she thought she knew. "Why?"
Azula turned around and faced her mother, looking almost surprised that she was still there. Shrugging, she responded carelessly: "I did my duty to the Fire Nation. "Less trash in my world, the better."
Her world?! Ursa thought angrily. This…this isn't Azula…I know Azula…this isn't her…
"Monster," she snarled to the girl whom she thought was her daughter. Tears streaked her dirt-covered face, giving her the pathetic appearance of a lowly peasant.
For a moment, Ursa thought she saw a flicker of…hurt cross Azula's face. It was just an instant: her eyes widened, and her mouth opened, as though she was unsure of how to respond to that insult.
Immediately, it was replaced with an expression of pretend-hurt. Azula walked up right into her face, to where they were nearly touching noses. Ursa stared into the girl's eyes for a long time. Gone was the vibrant joy she had once seen in both her children's faces. All she saw now…was emptiness.
If this was all she had to look forward to when she saw Zuko again…she almost didn't want to see him again.
Azula's breathing was steady, but Ursa's heart was racing.
"Monster?" Azula repeated almost inaudibly. She inched her face to Ursa's ear and whispered: "Perhaps I am now."
Instantly, Ursa felt a crushing blow to the side of her face, and her entire world went black.
Gah, Azula…I kind of got the idea from "The Avatar and the Firelord," actually (Roku shows Sozin mercy, Sozin still betrays him). Well, sorry for such a long wait…this was actually the longest chapter yet! 7,000+ words o_O
Hope you guys liked it, and chapter nine will undoubtedly be my favorite to write…but I think it'll break my heart. I won't give any details, but it's bound to be more intense and even more depressing than this chapter (if that's even possible). We'll either see Hakoda next chapter, or in chapter ten, but he's coming soon, I promise.
As always, comments/complaints/ideas are incredibly appreciated! :)