AN: Hello! Long time no see! Well I'm not going to make any excuses, but I am going to apologize for such a long wait. I hope you all enjoy this chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it. It is slightly long. Thanks to those of you who took the time to message me and demand that I continue this story. Your words of encouragement meant a lot to me and thus, here we are. A new chapter! Also, I just wanted to give a shout out to an avid reviewer I just recently procured lol, TheEmoVanity. Your reviews have made me laugh and have also got my butt in gear to finish this chapter. I had about 80 emails from FFNet with review notifications for this story and it made my day. So, I hope you enjoy this chapter as well. For the rest of you, thank you so much for continuing to read this story and I hope you all enjoy yet again.
Also, I did receive a question as to who Mika is. All I can say is that she made her appearance in the very first chapter of the Concubine Princess and made a few entrances in a few chapters after that. Ok, enough, enjoy!
The ends of her robe swayed around her legs as she stormed through the Earth King's palace with purpose. Memories of the night before flashed through her mind. She cursed herself for not being more aware of what was happening, for not realizing that it wasn't some La forsaken dream. It had been too real and yet she still did not grasp that concept until it was too late. As she rounded the last corner that lead into the prisoner corridor she was greeted with a distraught sight. Yue, whose hands had covered her lips with tears streaming down her face as Long Feng whispered something to the few Dai Li agents that stood beyond her. As if sensing her presence, Yue turned to see Katara striding towards them and intercepted her before she could reach the Prince's cell.
"What is it?" Katara demanded, synching her robe around her waist a bit tighter, "What happened, Yue?"
There were no words to describe what she had just seen and with a shaken voice Yue wiped the tear trails from her cheeks, "The Prince he…" she caught herself momentarily, looking back as the Dai Li began to remove the body from the cell, "he and his men are dead Katara," she whispered softly, reaching out to stabilize her friend as she fell into the wall.
Katara gripped Yue's hand, her eyes pooling with tears and swimming with sadness, "How?" she demanded with a raspy voice, tracing her line of sight to the commotion behind Yue.
Yue shook her head, "I don't know. Long Feng believes they took their own lives to save them the humiliation of dying at the hands of their enemies."
Rage filled her. Zuko's visit last night had been his way of telling her goodbye? But why not just leave, run away, live to fight another fucking day?! Why did he return to his cell to only end his life? She had hoped that he had a plan on escaping his sentence but this was not what she had expected and her heart began to break. All along Zuko was never meant to live, it was evidently clear now. She had failed to save him, just like before and the spirits mocked her with hope, only to slap her in the face with the cold harsh reality that Zuko was always meant to die.
"So what does this mean then?" she threw Yue's hand from her shoulder, "What do we do now?"
Yue starred at her dumbfounded, her lips finally giving way to move in reply when something caught her attention. It was a faint sound at first, slow and lulling to a slow tempo like a beating drum in a song. Her fingers twitched as she wove through the trendles of air, grasping at the faint thrumming, wondering if maybe they were beats that signified life. Her eyes widened as she felt a life force behind one of the beating strands and her eyes darted to the would be like corpses. They were heartbeats, faint and dull, but beating nonetheless. Her eyes swiveled from body to body that was being carted out of each cell and suddenly it hit her…they weren't dead, not at all. They were just in a very heavy slumber. Those devilish geniuses.
She gasped when Long Feng appeared beside her, "I apologize for such a gruesome sight my lady," he bowed, his eyes wavering to her companion, "but we must inform the Earth King of our discovery. You must be present to validate our disappointing find."
Yue nodded, "I would be happy to join you in the King's audience chambers, Long Feng, but please, give me a moment to escort Lady Katara back to her rooms."
He merely nodded before turning on his heel and approaching his men to supervise their work.
Grabbing Katara's hand, she dragged her counterpart from the hall and proceeded to drag her through the vast hallways and corridors of the palace. All while hearing Katara screaming and yelling at her, demanding her to tell her what was going on.
Spinning on her sister-in-law with such sunder, startling the poor girl Yue snapped, "Not here Katara!" before continuing on down the long, narrow hallway.
Finally they reached Yue's rooms, with brisk movement she practically slung Katara through the doorway before slamming it swiftly behind her, locking it before turning towards her.
Crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes, Katara dared to speak, "Now will you tell me what in La's name is going on?!"
Yue brushed past her, drawing the curtains over her window to a close before resigning herself to the bed, "They're not dead."
"What do you mean they're not dead?" Katara demanded.
For a brief moment she wondered how Katara had not heard the dull beats, how she could not feel the life surging in the thin strands that connected them to their owners and she realized that perhaps, news of the Prince's death had clouded her senses. It was adorable really to know that even after all they had been through, Katara still loved that man with such ferocity as to blind her from obvious truths.
Yue smiled, "Could you not feel them? Him. Their heart beats were over shadowed by those of the Dai Li, grant you, but they were there, as faint as a whisper."
Katara gasped. How could she have not sensed it! Had she really lost such touches of her bending prowess as to be do void of sense? She cursed herself as she threw her body onto Yue enamors bed, her face burying deeper into the feathered mattress. She mumbled mere muffled words followed by a groan and Yue couldn't help but laugh. There were times that Katara and Sokka truly were alike. Their antics were proof of their relation. She glided across the room seating herself next to her companion and began to run her hands through her long curls.
"Obviously, the Prince and his men are up to something," she whispered softly, "I have a sneaking suspicion that we will soon discover what they have in store."
Katara rolled over onto her side, her eyes never meeting Yue's as she propped herself up by her arm, resting her head gently in her palm, "He visited me last night Yue," she confessed.
"He came to me and I thought it but a dream."
"What did he say to you?" Yue questioned, "Did he give you any indication on what he and his men are planning?"
Katara shook her head, tinges of pink blossoming on her cheeks as she looked up at her sister-in-law, "He gave no inclination of the sort. Though an escape attempt is something I foresee happening."
Yue laughed, "So there was no talking between the two of you then? Interesting."
Again Katara buried her face into the mattress with a groan, only to earn another round of laughter from Yue. But a knock on her door silenced her immediately. Katara bolted upright, her eyes narrowing on the door before them. Hadn't they notified Long Feng that they would be in Katara's chambers?
Yue stood, motioning her hand towards the washroom and Katara obeyed immediately. She quietly slinked into the washroom, closing the door leaving only a fraction open so she could see and hear what would happen next.
Once Yue was confident that Katara wouldn't be noticed, she opened her door slowly to see two Dai Li agents standing at ease in the hallway, "Long Feng requires your attendance with the Earth King, Princess Yue."
She nodded, slipping between the small space between the door and the frame, "Of course," the door clicked behind her and she gestured with her hand, "lead the way gentlemen."
The king sat high on his throne, his pet bear sitting idly at his side. The sheen from his glasses blinded her momentarily as his gaze shifted downward, landing on her person, his mouth in a grim line as he began to stoke his bear's head.
"My advisor," he drew out Long Feng's title with slight malice, "informs me that you were present when they discovered the dead bodies of our Fire Nation captives."
Yue nodded, her hands folded neatly at her waist, "Yes, your eminence."
"And pray tell me, what exactly was an esteemed woman as yourself doing in such a atrocious place?"
She raised her gaze to meet his, her chin raised in a defiant position; "I was awoken this morning with a missive that one of the prisoners had requested an audience with me before the execution. By the time we arrived, we discovered that not only had the royals perished in the small window of time, but so had their soldiers that had accompanied them."
The king adjusted his glasses with an elegant push of his finger on the bridge between both lenses and he hummed in concentration, "Do you know the nature of the audience?" he asked pointedly.
Yue simply shook her head, "I do not."
"And why then, would one of the prisoners request an audience with you and not one of my men, or perhaps myself? I am the one who controlled their fates after all."
She simply shrugged, "In our time of captivity, I can imagine a form of comfortable understanding settled between our factions. Thus perhaps seeking aid from one they are more familiar with. But, in light of the events, I cannot say exactly what the message I would have received contained. It appears that we shall never know."
He sighed, waving her off, "I suppose not. That is all Princess Yue," he glanced towards Long Feng, "I thank you for enlightening me with your observations. The celebration will still take place, Long Feng, I want you and your men to do a sweep of the city and quell any disturbances before the festivities begin."
Long Feng bowed, "Yes, your highness," and Yue didn't miss the sinister smirk that lapped across his pale lips as he turned and walked from view, his men following him close behind.
Deep beneath the palace, in the pits of the ancient palace city, Zuko found himself groggy and slowly coming too. It took much effort to sit up, but once he gained control of his motor skills, he was up and stretching his limbs out as if they had been cramped for ages. His eyes surveyed his surroundings and he vaguely remembered this place…it reminded him somewhat of the palace city only much older. He could only then assume that he was beneath Ba Sing Se in her original ruins. Muffled groans filled his ears and he scanned the area around him to see his men and sister stirring from their slumber and with the way his blood began to course through his veins, he could only imagine that it was almost midday. Soon, everything would fall into place.
The low rumbling sound of rocks shifting forced his attention towards the south end of the ancient catacomb and from the opening that had just sunk into the earth, walked the Dai Li, led by Long Feng. He snarled slightly but quickly adjusted himself as they neared. Glancing down he saw his cousin still snoozing away and gave him a swift kick in the ribs, jolting him awake with a fierce roar and fire blazing from his hands.
"Oh calm yourself cousin," Zuko chuckled, "it was only a pat."
Tyre narrowed his eyes at him before dousing out his flames, "There are better ways to wake a firebender from slumber, Zuko," he coughed, "you know that."
Zuko rolled his eyes before nudging him in the ribs once more, earning a hiss from Tyre who was ready to thwart him, "Why I otta—"
"Long Feng, I'm pleased to see you here," Zuko cut off his cousin in greeting the King's advisor.
Long Feng eyed him wearily before he looked about to see the other firebenders rise from their previous positions on the floor, "You say that as if you were surprised to wake at all, Prince Zuko."
Zuko shrugged his shoulders, "Too much mixture of the wrong substance can kill a man. I must give credit to the herbalists who possess the gift of balance when mixing such concoctions."
Long Feng studied the youthful prince calculatingly before nodding, "Everything is set in motion, your highness," he glanced at Azula and Tyre who stood next to him, "though I must say, young Master Katara was very distraught with news of your passing."
A muffled gasp passed through Zuko's lips, his eyes narrowing slightly, "Master Katara and I had been on a level of mollified friendship, you could say. I'm sorry if she caused any friction in our plans."
Long Feng only chuckled, "Quite the opposite actually. Her sudden shock and horror only solidified the report given to the King by myself and by Princess Yue. The King has ordered my men to do an initial sweep of the city before the festivities begin. He was rather upset to hear of your untimely passing."
"Only for the reason that even in death we defied him," Azula growled, "peasant."
Zuko turned his gaze on Azula who had her arms crossed defiantly over her armored chest. Her eyes were narrowed in on Long Feng and Zuko knew that his sister despised the man greatly. But, for now, they needed his cooperation.
"I hope all the preparations have fallen into place?" Zuko once again turned his attention towards Long Feng who turned his steely glare from his sister to him.
He nodded, "Yes. The Generals' movements have been plotted out step by step. It is only a matter of time before they are in our custody. Soon all of Ba Sing Se will be under our control."
"Good. Have your men sweep the city as to not raise the King's suspicions," he began watching as Long Feng turned to leave, "oh Long Feng, linger awhile. Your men do not need you to accompany them. We are need of your services one last time." He heard a soft snarl before Long Feng barked orders to his men and Zuko turned to his cousin and sister and began to approach the inner most sanctum of the ruins with Long Feng in tow.
Yue returned about an hour after her visit with the Earth King to find Katara perched out on the balcony. Her loose curls danced around her frame as the wind blew softly. She approached softly as to not disturb her but it appeared that Katara had already sensed her presence. She turned towards her slightly, a soft smile on her lips as she patted the stone banister, asking Yue in her silence to join her.
"How did the meeting with the Earth King go?" Katara asked as Yue slid onto the banister, keeping her feet dangling over the stone floor of the balcony.
She smoothed out her dress before averting her gaze to wash over the vast expanse of the city below, "It went well, I suppose," she commented, "but I feel that there are more players involved in the Prince's game than we had originally thought."
Katara didn't look at her, but merely sighed, "Who else?"
"Advisor Long Feng seems to know something. When the Earth King commanded him to have his Dai Li agents sweep the city to quell any misconduct before the ceremony, there was mischievous gleam in his eyes and that smirk," she shivered softly, "I feel he knows something."
Katara nodded, "It wouldn't surprise me. There have been rumors that Advisor Long Feng and the Earth King are not on the best of terms. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if Zuko recruited him for his cause."
There was a knock on the door, adverting their attention towards the inner chamber of Yue's rooms, "Yue? Is Katara with you? I cannot seem to find her anywhere." It was Seiran, His voice soft and smooth. Katara and Yue slid from the banister only to enter as Seiran allowed himself entrance.
"I'm glad to see that manners are still your forte, brother-in-law, dearest," Yue chuckled, earning a small blush from the older man.
He stuttered, "Uh yes…I apologize. I've been looking around the palace for you both all morning. I wanted to say my goodbyes before leaving."
Katara started, "Leaving? Where are you going? Surly you've heard the news."
Seiran nodded, "I was informed by a servant, courtesy of his majesty, that the prisoners had killed themselves earlier this morning and that you both had been witnesses," he paused, reaching out towards his little sister before enveloping his arms around her small frame, "I'm sorry Katara."
She felt tears prick at the corners of her eyes as she buried her face deeper into his chest, "Where are you going?" she asked again.
"It seems that there was an invasion attack on the Northern Water Tribe the other night. Word just reached us here in the city," Katara and Yue gasped, "the Avatar and our brother were there to help the North with the invasion and it was successful. The Northern Water Tribe is still untouched by the Fire Nation. My men and I are journeying there to help with a counter attack invasion plan and we hope to return to Ba Sing Se with revised plans."
Katara nodded, but Yue couldn't help but think to herself, 'If there is a Ba Sing Se left,' and her mind reeled. When the Northern Water Tribe had been attacked before, her departure from this world had come only a few days afterwards. She wondered if history would repeat itself once more. She felt a pull in her gut; a churning feeling and it drew her attention away from Katara and Seiran and towards the balcony. She gasped softly, unheard by the others and she quickly hurried towards the banister. There, leaning against the stone railing stood La in all his glory and she felt her body being drawn to him. She was his moon and he was her tide. Strong arms wrapped around her, pulling her into a toxic embrace and she felt her knees weaken at the contact, her breath giving way as she inhaled his sent. A sent she had long missed and ached for, ever since this new journey began. She sighed into his hair, and felt her flesh rise with bumps as he whispered her name. Her true name.
"The time is almost upon us my love," he whispered softly, "for you to return home."
He had come as a warning, letting her know that she only had only a few more breathes of life left.
The sun began to make it's decent towards the western horizon and the city was more alive than ever before. Torches lit up every nook and cranny of the pebbled streets of Ba Sing Se. Performers and artisans alike littered the streets, performing varieties of acts as music pierced the air. Laughter and cries of joy burst forth into the chaotic noise of celebration and for the first time in years, the people of Ba Sing Se rejoiced.
Amongst the crowd, cloaked in darkness awaited Prince Zuko and his men. Their golden feline eyes watched the array of excitement and celebration with mild disgust. They had been there for hours, concealed in black cloaks that blended them into the shadows waiting for the King's arrival. Azula had already stolen herself away, following as discreetly as possible behind the King's entourage in preparation to signal the Dai Li at the exact moment of attack. It took them hours to travel through the upper ring, stopping at every wayward stall and conversing with high nobility and dignitaries that had come out to catch a glimpse of the young ruler. When they had entered the middle ring, the entourage moved much faster. Apparently those of middle class standing had little interest to the King; therefore he proceeded to brush through the streets with purpose as they continued further towards the lower ring. No doubt the festivities would be over with soon. His disinterest in the middle class only suggested utter disgust would wrack him when he entered the lower ring. But that wasn't the only thing that would rack him.
"What is taking that stupid King so long?" Tyre hissed as he watched the sun settle behind the outer wall of the city.
Zuko hummed in an annoyed response, "Apparently, the King likes to take his time."
Tyre scuffed, "You don't think our plan was discovered do you?"
"No," Zuko turned to his cousin as the darkness of night crept over his features, "Azula would have returned to us by now if Long Feng had betrayed our agreement. Probably with his lifeless head in tow," he chuckled softly. How he felt her hatred for him and it only worsened with each passing moment that Long Feng lingered in their presence. He warned Azula to not let her utter distaste compromise their mission and he had every reason to believe that she would do what was needed to not do so. If anything were to go astray it would result in their demise.
Katara and Yue had been drug through the upper ring in the King's entourage for hours, their feet blistering in the new decorated flats that they had been provided with their evening attire. Throughout the entire journey, Katara was sullen and quite. She did not wish to partake in the small talk of nobility and even distanced herself from conversation with Yue. Though she had learned that Zuko was still alive, the question that remained fervent in her mind was simple. What was he planning and what would the end result be of his actions?
"Katara, are you even listening to me?" Yue whispered softly in her ear causing the young waterbender to jolt in response. She sighed outwardly before turning her gaze back towards their persistent shadow skulking through the crowd.
"What? What did you say Yue?" Katara asked, turning her gaze towards her companion.
Yue sighed, "I asked if you noticed our little shadow over there," her gaze averted back towards the crowd to a lone cloaked figure that weaved through the masses, staying just within sight of the King. Katara hummed softly, nodding her head discreetly as to not alert their shadow of their detection.
"I do now," she whispered, her eyes shifting from their tail to the Dai Li agents who surrounded the King, Jin, Yue, herself and the few court officials that had joined them. "They don't appear to notice or they have noticed and have deduced that whoever that is, isn't that much of a threat."
Suddenly a shift in the air around them caused them to glance at one another, "I wouldn't be to sure of that," a voice called out from behind them, causing both girls to jump in their startled state.
Spinning on their heels they saw Mika standing behind them, arms crossed with a narrowed gaze set upon them, "Mika?" Yue whispered, "What is she doing here? I thought she was arrested like the others."
The girl in question chuckled, "Don't be absurd. I am but a lowly concubine, who has but little standing and opposes no threat to his Majesty the King."
Katara scoffed, "What are you doing here then? Your masters have all but died. Surly you'd wish to return to the Fire Nation."
Again Mika laughed, "I'm a special guest to his Majesty. True I was at first a prisoner, but, after several hours of interrogation, the King deemed me worthy of repentance and offered me a place in his royal harem. Besides I only joined the royal harem in the Fire Nation because of Prince Zuko. Now that he's gone, it seems futile to return there."
Katara's eye involuntarily twitched. Mika had to of known what Zuko and the others were planning. She wasn't a simple concubine. She also served as bodyguard and double to Azula. Momentarily she wondered if Mika was their little shadow and quickly scanned the crowd to search for the cloaked figure only to see it beveled between two rather large gentlemen and wondered how Mika knew of their presence.
"Anyways, I just thought I would chat with you ladies for a few more moments before our time is up together," with that she smiled before appearing at the King's side, her arm tucked in his and her giggles filling her ears.
"I hate that woman," Katara spat before turning back to Yue, "not once in the past was she ever this…irritating! Heck I hardly ever heard more than five sentences leave her mouth and now, in this reversed fucked off reality, she is that thing that just won't be silent!" she growled in frustration only to earn a tender laugh from Yue.
Her glare silenced her companion momentarily, "I apologize, but it's just that seeing you so passionate and angry makes me happy."
"Happy? How does this whole situation make you happy?" Katara wailed.
Yue giggled again, "It makes me happy Katara because it lets me know that I haven't lost you, that you're still in there," she placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, "that you're still you, despite all that has happened."
From her position in the crowd, Azula could see everything she needed to see. Her eyes were aglow with hatred as she sighted Katara and Yue huddled close together laughing as if they hadn't a care in the world. They had made a fool out of her and her brother, even Tyre no less! Though it was to be expected. After all, they were but lowly prisoners in a gilded cage. To think that she could describe their relationship as friendship frustrated her. She had trusted the waterbender, even come to try and know and understand her, only to have such trust and endearment thrown back in her face. She hated them both and she would make them suffer.
"Princess," Nikko whispered harshly in her ear, drawing her out of her own musings, "the time is almost upon us."
She nodded, "Very well. Get back to my brother and the others and inform them that we are nearing the extraction point."
"Yes, Princess," and with one glance he stole at the young woman clad in green who stood near the two waterbenders, he disappeared into the crowd, intent on informing the prince.
"So it begins," Zuko snarled as his eyes took in the view of the King's entourage finally coming within his sights, "remember, the King is to be unharmed as well as Lady Yue, Lady Jin and Lady Katara."
"Yes sir!" his men mumbled softly as to not alert their prey.
Fire licked at the alabaster walls of the buildings that surrounded the point in which Zuko and his men had made contact with the King and his entourage. Chunks of earth had been uprooted and embedded into various places along the street way and water pooled in the massive craters. Jin, Katara and Yue had tried to protect the King with every fiber of their being, only to be outmatched and outnumbered. They pressed their enemies as hard as they could, yet one by one they fell to exhaustion which led to their capture once again.
Ba Sing Se had fallen in one fell swoop and it was all thanks to the simple misfortune that had caught them by surprise in the earlier days of their travels. Fate had a sense of humor and it was only by the ingenious thinking of the Prince that they had all come to realize what an opportunity they had been presented with. Now as they gaze out upon their victory, they now know that they should smile upon their misfortune for the sight before their very eyes.
The King was in chains, on either side of him stood one of Zuko's men. Nikko and Tyre finalized putting cuffs on the ladies wrists and bound them to one another before turning their attention towards Prince Zuko and Princess Azula. They conversed amongst themselves as they assessed their victory while the civilians of Ba Sing Se clamored away from them, screaming in pure terror over being caught in the crossfire between factions. Azula merely laughed, intent on claiming they had victory but before words could be uttered past her lips, Long Feng, who had disappeared during the scrimmage finally graced them with his presence.
Behind him there stood a fleet of Dai Li agents, poised and ready, with confidence he spoke in such a malicious tone that it even made Azula slightly cringe, "Now comes the part where I double cross you. Dai Li, arrest the Fire Nation royals and elites," yet the agents did not move a single inch, "I said arrest them!" Long Feng whirled around to glare down at his men, seething in rage, "What is wrong with you?" he demanded.
Zuko merely chuckled, stepping before Long Feng with a wicked smirk on his face, "It's because they haven't made up their minds. They're waiting to see how this is going to end."
"What are you talking about?" Long Feng demanded harshly.
Walking even closer, Zuko met Long Feng's glare with his own, his eyes narrowing dangerously as he spoke, "I can see your whole history in your eyes. You were born with nothing. So you've had to struggle and connive and claw your way to power. But true power, the divine right to rule is something you're born with. The fact is they don't know which one us is going to be sitting on the throne and which one is going to be bowing down. But I know and you know," he paused slightly, taking one more challenging step towards the Earth Kingdom Advisor, "Well?"
Long Feng began to sweat as he contemplated the Prince's words, his eyes traveling over the faces of the enemy before landing firmly on the Prince, embarrassed that he had been a mere pawn from the very beginning. He lowered himself into a kowtow before the Prince, mumbling in a defeated flat tone, "You've beaten me at my own game."
Azula scoffed, her smile was wicked as to match her tone, "Don't flatter yourself. You were never even a player."
Ooooh so what did you think?