Disclaimer: Femmeslash. AU.
Author Note: For Azulera on DA for catching Emma's 10k. She wanted something costume themed with Azula in it. Of course, I misinterpreted this as something vaguely Halloween themed and wrote something like that instead. This is something of an AU where the Azula and Zuko are neither evil nor good and both reign.
Torchlight flickered lightly against the night's light breeze, a wind that cleared the sky of cloud and dust and exposed the full moon in all her revelry. The stars twinkled around the radiant body, a breathtaking sight that graced the people's hallowed night. The bamboo plants and palm leaves rattled and hissed as the wind stirred the foliage, and the bare limbs of the jacaranda trees undulated slowly. The sweetgrass of the gardens rippled, and the bonfire flared with each breath of life the wind offered.
A woman knelt down, a pale hand carefully keeping the long, trailing ends of her elaborate gown off the grass as she sifted through the pile of overgrown branches, logs, and dead leaves piled high in the middle of the garden. Amber eyes narrowing behind a golden mask, she pushed back a stray lock of hair before choosing a log, getting up, and approaching the bonfire slowly. The other guests mingled and talked quietly at the edge of the gardens in semi-darkness.
The wood's curling black bark scraped against her hands as she stopped before the fire and closed her eyes. The acrid scent of burning wood stung her nose and throat in a way that she took pleasure in, and she breathed deep, feeling the heat of the flames caress her skin and settle deep in her bones, anointing her with its power. Opening her eyes, she took the log and with one deft movement tossed it into the roaring bonfire. Sparks leapt high as the wind carried them up into the sky, and a plume of black, curling smoke rose silently, obscuring the moon as the woman tilted her head back. She watched the starts struggle to shine through the smoke before turning around and walked back toward the edges of the crowd.
Standing next to her brother, the woman crossed her arms in front of her chest, breathing deeply as she watched priests add fuel occasionally to the fire. Both siblings were outfitted in elaborately decorated deep amber robes, identical in design but not in cut. The robes left most of the woman's neck and shoulders exposed and trailed all the way down to her feet, whereas the man's robes covered more skin and stopped just below his knees, leaving his black leather boots visible. Each robe was created and decorated in the image of a phoenix, making a loose, trailing garment that had been accentuated with silk and precious materials in varying hues of gold, amber, crimson, maroon, and white. The woman wore a wide choker of pure gold, and both siblings had their crowns in their hair. Both wore half masks that covered their upper face, made of the same material and coloring as the robes. Modeled after the phoenix's face, narrowed slits served as the eyes of the mask and a small, thin ridge over the nose of the mask served as the beak of the phoenix.
The man sighed deeply, and the woman turned her head toward him slowly as he spoke, languidly meeting his eyes.
"Are you ready?" Zuko asked quietly, his arms crossed over his chest as well. Azula turned back to the fire, showing no emotion.
"Of course," she said calmly, nodding. "I am prepared both mentally and physically."
The man nodded, setting his jaw. "No one's been chosen worthy in several years. That makes your chances higher."
Azula closed her eyes, shivering and pressing her arms tighter to her chest as the night breeze turned cool. "Yes. I understand, Zuko, and I chose to do this." She paused, and then added quietly, "I chose this, but only the spirits know if they will find me worthy."
"Very well, then," the man said quietly, offering Azula his hand. "Shall we commence? The moon has almost reached her zenith."
The woman opened her eyes and took her brother's hand, and the two walked slowly toward the bonfire. The mingling people fell silent, coming together at the edge of the light of the fire and watching as the two regents stepped forward, stopping before the fire. Zuko let go of Azula's hand slowly, bowed deeply before her, and turned his back on her, walking back toward the crowd to watch with the rest of the people.
Azula kept her eyes forward as her brother stepped away, watching the darkness beyond the fire. Silence pervaded the night. The wind rustled the branches in the trees and the fire popped, sending embers skittering on the wind. A low dirge began on a hollowed animal horn, the note so low it was almost lost to the crowd's ears until it rose, keening, to a higher octave, and dropped down again, hauntingly. One other single horn joined it, and the two began a slow rhythm. The notes twined and separated, rising and falling in a rhythm and dissonance that called to the world of the spirits.
The crowd shifted with a collective intake of breath as a figure began to form from the shadows. The figure walked forward out of the darkness and toward the fire, rising up and standing tall. A black mask similar to the ones of the sibling regents covered its entire face face, and it wore loose robes of darkest black. The black figure walked languidly around fire, threading its way amongst the crowd and scrutinizing the watching people as it made its way slowly toward the woman.
Azula stood perfectly still, unblinking and unwavering, her hands loose at her side as she faced the fire, refusing to acknowledge the shadowy figure. The figure slid out of the crowd and walked up behind the young woman, every action elaborate and enunciated. It began to circle the woman with large, careful steps, looking her up and down.
The horns droned on, their dirge hinting at a crescendo.
The figure slid behind Azula and rested its hands lightly on her bared shoulders. Azula shuddered slightly, feeling a minute trembling shake her being, a trembling that for all her training and prowess she could not stop. The figure felt it and considered it.
Azula felt the figure's hands travel up to her neck and circle it gently, slip behind it, and unclasp her necklace. She closed her eyes and titled her head back, feeling the heavy gold slide away. She held a hand out to the darkness and the figure pressed the gold into it.
The crowd sighed as the figure reached down to the belt at its waist and produced a blade. The horns sang. The figure's hand ran up Azula's neck until it cupped her chin and forced her head back slowly, pulling her backward and flush against its own body. Its other hand brought the blade to Azula's neck and stopped.
It was female. Azula set her jaw, squeezing her eyes shut tighter as the blade brought her precariously closer to the spirit world. She felt the figure's curves press lightly into her back and two tears slid silently down her cheeks. Breathing out deeply, Azula swallowed, feeling the blade press against her throat. She reached up with one hand, placing her left hand over that of the figure's holding her chin. The figure felt it, paused, and considered it.
Azula worked her fingers thought the figure's, twining them together and squeezing once. She relaxed against the figure's body, leaning lightly with eyes still closed, Azula felt her heart beating in her throat as the figure stood perfectly still, neither moving to release her nor send her to the spirit world. The crowd watched as the two ceased to move, locked in a deadly embrace.
Time stopped. Every one of Azula's heartbeats seemed to jump against the blade, taunting it. The crowd stood still, eyes wide behind their own masks as the envoy of the spirits began to move.
With the barest scraping against her skin, the blade was withdrawn and the figure's hand opened, releasing Azula's fingers and letting go of her chin. With a strangled gasp, Azula breathed deeply as she stepped forward, away from the retreating figure. Her hands slid to her throat as she dropped to her knees, falling thankfully to the ground and her forehead touched the grass. Dry, silent sobs shook her body as she clutched her throat, unsure if she had just been shamed or spared.
The crowd watched as the figure stepped around the fallen woman and stood in front of her, watching silently until it kneeled down, extending a slim hand. Placing fingers under the Azula's chin, the figure brought the woman's head up. With gentle motions, the figure pushed the woman's golden mask back, baring Azula's face. Azula reached up, taking the mask off completely and looking up, her eyes trying to find the eyes of the figure through the slits in its mask. The figure leaned closer until the two women's face were nearly touching before using its free hand to lift its mask slowly up off of its face. Azula's eyes widened as the figure placed its mask on the ground and met her eyes.
"Ty Lee?" she breathed incredulously. The other woman nodded, brown eyes solemn.
"Yes." Closing the little distance left between the two, Ty Lee leaned forward and slowly pressed her lips to Azula's in a gentle kiss. "And you were not worthy."
Breaking the embrace, Azula threw herself into Ty Lee's welcoming arms, never happier to have failed.