Epilogue: The End of it All
The day of the execution had arrived. With his testament complete, the remaining days went by very slowly. For the first time since arriving to the detention center, Ozai felt boredom. He wondered what went through the minds of the previous two Firelords to have been deposed. What was going through their minds as the final day approached? None of them had written a final testament of their lives, they just sat in cells very much like this one for days on end before being brought up to the Firebending squad. Were they afraid of death? Did they just accept their fate like Ozai had? No one would ever know, and that was something Ozai prided himself for. He had gotten his word out to world for them to know who he truly was.
It was with this realization that the reality of what was about to happen finally hit Ozai in full force. He was going to die today at sunset. It was not that he wanted to die, but as he had written in his testament, it was much better than rotting in a prison cell and watching the nation he had devoted his life to fall into ruin. He just hoped that it would be done quickly. At this thought he raised an eyebrow. What was wrong with him? Did he just show fear of a little pain? Shaking his head in annoyance, he brushed that thought off.
Yesterday was the day that the guards came to collect his testament with a promise that they would get it over to the university. To his delight, the guards returned later in the day to report to him that Professor Muto had read the whole testament and assured them that he would have it published both as part of his book and as a separate entity. He would also make several copies to sell to the Water Tribes and Earth Kingdom. Ozai's word would be out, and that made him know that he could die with at least some pride.
Earlier in the morning, all the inmates here given an opportunity to bathe, shave, and put on some traditional Fire Nation robes instead of these filthy prison rags. At least they would go with dignity, Ozai thought to himself. They even put their hair in topknots. As the day went on, from his cell, Ozai could hear a Fire Sage visiting the other condemned inmates and saying a prayer with them. However, since the former Firelord had fervently denied a Sage's visit, he did not approach his cell. The morning soon turned to midday and the cell door opened, bringing Ozai out of his thoughts.
Three guards, the ones who always brought him to the visitors' room, were carrying in trays full of food. It was good stuff judging by the smell. They also brought a bottle of sake. Wordlessly, the guards placed the food in front of Ozai and left him to eat. It was everything he had requested, thank Agni. From the shark fin soup, to the curry whale steak and sake, to the fruit tart and tea, he slowly savored on each bite and drop. If this was to be his final meal, then he would enjoy every last morsel of it. Once he was finished, the guards came back to clean the plates.
Soon the sun was beginning to set, the blue sky painted an orange, golden, and purple hue. The sun itself was darkening to a gold color as well. Ozai never really gave much thought to how beautiful a sunset was. All too soon, the door opened once again and in strode the warden with a guard detail.
"Ex-Firelord Ozai," he announced with his hands behind his back. "The International Military Tribunal has issued a warrant for your execution. Sentence is to be carried out today, twenty-eighth of July, Year of the Pig at seven hours past midday. Would the condemned please step forward?" Ozai obeyed after the warden's obviously well-rehearsed speech.
They cuffed and shackled the former Firelord, placing him in line with the others. The guards flanked the inmates through the detention center's corridors and as they marched towards the exit, Ozai could hear his fellow condemned. Some were muttering under their breath, one was crying, but most just walked silently. At last, they were led outside the facility and loaded onto a large waiting cart drawn by a komodo rhino.
The cart slowly rolled out the gates and into the city of Agnishima flanked by full guard detail. The warden marched ahead of the cart, leading everyone to the site of the execution of the most notorious living perpetrators of the Hundred-Year War. The streets of the city were dead. Not one soul was in the streets. There were no children playing, no merchants selling their wares, no nobles gossiping about daily life…just silence.
They passed the palace gates and a flood of memories hit Ozai. It was from this place that he had accomplished everything in his life save for his victories in the army. Nguyen Thanh An tried to get his old Firelord's attention, but Ozai would not even meet his gaze. There was no more point in talking. It was over and his fellow inmates should have accepted that a long time ago.
All too soon, the Ministry of Justice drew nearer. A large crowd had already gathered in front of the building, waiting eagerly to see Ozai and the others die. Among the reds, there were also shades of greens and blues all standing together. A high platform had been constructed in front of the building. Upon it stood the scaffold; two poles connected by one long crossbeam and sixteen nooses dangling from it. A detail of four men stood on each corner of the platform by a lever. It was just as Zuko had said. Instead of four Fire Nation soldiers, there was only one. The other men were from the Earth Kingdom, the Southern Water Tribe, and the Northern Water Tribe.
Normally, the crowd would have been jeering but they all stood there silently, respecting the importance of what was about to happen. The guards herded the inmates off the cart, up the stairs, and onto the platform. Ozai stood in the dead center of the line of condemned men and the executioners began to place the ropes around their necks. Ozai felt an involuntary shudder as felt the noose around him.
The warden of the detention center that Ozai had spent his final month in made his way up the platform and faced them. "To all of you standing upon this platform," he began in a loud, clear voice that carried to the crowd even though he was speaking to the inmates. "You have been condemned to die on the gallows by the International Military Tribunal, sentence imposed by judges of good standing in the Four Nations, may the Spirits bless the people of the Four Nations. By international law, you will all be given a chance to say something before sentence is carried out. Executioners, please collect the final statements of the condemned and once they've had their say, place hoods over their heads."
They collected final statements in order from left to right. Some expressed regret and remorse for their actions, others showed that they have no regrets whatsoever, most just muttered a meaningless nothing like a goodbye to their families or how they had found enlightenment in the past thirty days and were ready to die. After they spoke, the executioners placed hoods over their heads and tightened the nooses. Finally, they came to Ozai.
"Do you have anything you'd like to say?" the Northern Water Tribe executioner inquired. He thought for a moment and gazed out at the crowd. He had spent days writing his final testament and his feelings about everyone. In the front row, he saw her after so many years; Ursa. Her eyes met his. There was no need for her to say anything at all, her expression spoke louder. It was as if she was saying, "As much as I hate you, as much as you destroyed my daughter and harmed my son, a part of me still loves you." It made his stomach turn in revulsion to watch.
Turning his head sideways, he firmly answered, "No." The Fire Nation executioner made a move to put a hood over his head but Ozai stopped him. "I don't want that thing over my face. I'm not afraid to die."
"I'm sorry, it's regulations." Ozai rolled his eyes as the black hood was placed over his heard, leaving him in darkness, never to see again. The noose around his neck tightened.
The executioners went on collecting final statements. War Minister Qin outright said that he had absolutely no regret for anything he had done and that it was an injustice that they were being executed by scum like them. Nguyen Thanh An, ever loyal to his former leader cried out one last, "Long live the Phoenix King! Banzai!" before the hood covered his head.
Once all the statements were collected, the executioners took their places at their respective levers. The warden once again stood in front of the inmates to address them. "To all of you standing upon this platform: the trapdoor shall now be dropped and you will be hanged by the neck until you are dead in accordance with international law. May the Spirits have mercy on your souls." Ozai rolled his eyes as the Earth Kingdom officer made his way to the side of the platform.
The warden removed his helmet, tucking it under his arm and blinked slowly. Upon signal, the executioners pulled the levers simultaneously and the trapdoor opened with a bang. For a few second that felt like an eternity to Ozai, there was nothing but falling through thin air. Then, sooner than he could have hoped for, he felt it; the stiffening of the rope, the tugging on his head, the resounding crack of the vertebrae in his neck. It was not painful, it just felt weird and Ozai had only a fraction of a second to think about it before the Phoenix King knew no more.
The sixteen ropes swung back and forth for a moment. The warden and crowd waited in silence as the swinging gradually began to slow until finally, the ropes hung still under the sunset. All sixteen men had been successfully hanged. Turning to the executioners, the warden ordered, "Cut the ropes, load the bodies on the cart, and dismantle the scaffold." As the executioners scrambled down the stairs to carry out their orders, the crowd began to disperse, muttering quietly amongst themselves.
After the execution, the bodies of the war criminals had been loaded back onto the cart and wheeled off to the outskirts of the city, where a mass grave had been set up for them. All sixteen bodies of the hanged men and the poisoned body of Prime Minister Yu were placed side by side in the grave and the guards unceremoniously covered them with dirt. Before their bodies disappeared, the guards caught one last glimpse of Ozai's body, his unseeing face fixed in a permanent look of disdain. Only one large slab of granite had already been placed there as a grave marker. Upon it was etched a single inscription:
"THE GRAVE OF THE MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS OF THE HUNDRED-YEAR WAR TRIED, CONVICTED, AND EXECUTED BY THE INTERNATIONAL MILITARY TRIBUNAL. LET THE INTERNATIONAL MILITARY TRIBUNAL OF MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS SERVE AS A WARNING TO ALL FUTURE WARMONGERS FROM ANY NATION: TYRANNY, FEAR, AND OPPRESSION AGAINST THE PEACE AND FREEDOM LOVING PEOPLES OF THE WORLD WILL NOT STAND AND SHALL BE MET WITH THE SWIFT HAND OF JUSTICE."
A/N: And thus ends The Final testament of Phoenix King Ozai. The lines used at the execution had be paraphrased from Stephen King's the Green Mile. The quote on the tombstone of the war criminals was inspired by the one left on a plaque in the Nuremberg courtroom after the hanging of the Nazis. It has been a pleasure writing this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Until next story, Lionheart out.