Okay. So here's the deal:
I found this story saved on my computer with almost five chapters already completed. I reread it today and decided that I might as well post it here so it's not just sitting there collecting dust. I have been busy lately, but I'm willing to write more if you guys like it. I'm thinking that I'll upload the chapters that I already have about a week apart and then decide where to go from there.
I would appreciate reviews with both constructive criticism and ideas for where to take this story.
TRIAL BY FIRE
CHAPTER ONE: A FIERY ULTIMATUM
Jet, the Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogi.
That one, simple sentence was all that it took to change the young freedom fighter's life forever. He didn't remember very much of what happened that night under Lake Laogi, but Jet did remember those words. As slowly and surely as a bell ringing in the darkness, the words resounded throughout the inner reaches of his brain. He didn't even remember what they meant.
Adding to the list of things that he didn't know, Jet didn't know where he was. His eyes were closed, and there was no light on the other side of his eyelids. It felt like he was lying flat on his back on some kind of stiff mattress. Rough sheets had been pulled over his body, and his chest had been bandaged. He could tell by the feel of the cloth around him that he was missing his shirt. He did, however, seem to be wearing pants.
When he opened his eyes, he saw the roof of the small, cave-like room that he'd been laid in. The bed took up much of the space, and there was a small lamp on a small table at his bedside. The light that it produced was dim and weak, but it was enough for him to get a handle on his surroundings.
He tried to sit up, but a sharp pain beneath his bandages stopped him in his tracks. Crying out involuntarily, he clutched at his chest and laid back down, breathing heavily. Whatever he'd been through the night before had left him wounded pretty badly.
"Don't try to sit up," came a voice from somewhere inside the room. "You'll only hurt yourself."
Startled, Jet looked around the room again quickly. Previously, he had failed to notice the figure at the foot of his bed, though he couldn't imagine how. She was silhouetted against the wall, the faint lighting illuminating only her outline. Her voice was not one that he recognized, and there was a single chord in it that mocked him.
"Who are you?" he grunted through a dry throat. How long had it been since he'd had a drink of water?
"If you must know," the stranger began in that characteristic drawl of hers, the one that made people feel like they were wasting her time, "I am Princess Azula of the Fire Nation."
His reaction was immediate. He may not have remembered what happened to him, but he did remember that he hated the Fire Nation with all of his heart for what they did to him. Without pausing to think, he flew into a sitting position and reached out toward his visitor like it was his intention to grab her throat and throttle her. However, he didn't get very far before the pain in his chest forced him to double over and cry out. He hated himself for being so weak.
The Fire Princess laughed a ringing laugh that scorned him with every one of its musical notes. "I already told you, Jet. Don't try to get up. You'll only hurt yourself. And wouldn't that be a shame? I worked very hard to fix you again. I would really hate it to have done all that work for nothing."
Jet groaned and raised his head so that he could look at her head on. He still couldn't see her very well, but he could make out her lips, twisted with amused derision, as she looked at him. "Where am I?" he demanded, the first of many questions.
"Under Lake Laogi," Azula answered.
"The Dai Li?" asked Jet.
"They obey my orders now," was the princess' cool reply.
"Why?" Jet wanted to know.
"Long Feng couldn't handle the heat," she responded, amused by her own pun.
"And the city?" Jet persisted.
"Taken by the Fire Nation," Azula answered smugly.
"What happened to me?" he wondered.
"Irrelevant," stated the princess.
"Why did you heal me?" he asked.
"Not me," she corrected. "I had the best healers in Ba Sing Se fix you up because I believe that you may prove to be of some value to me."
Jet was silent as he contemplated everything that the Fire Lord's daughter had told him. He was in some room underneath Lake Laogi, which was now controlled, along with the rest of Ba Sing Se, by the Fire Nation because some spoiled brat had taken down Long Feng, leader of the Dai Li. Something had happened to him, something that the princess didn't want to tell him but had rendered him seriously injured. Whether by her father's wishes or those of her own, she had seen to it that he be healed. She thought that he 'may prove to be of some value' to her.
He closed his eyes, allowing himself to slowly fall back onto the bed. Some of the pain in his chest subsided, only to be replaced by a dull throbbing beneath the skin. "I won't help the Fire Nation," he answered weakly. To do anything to help out the Fire Nation would be to aid his enemy, the very enemy that he had sought revenge against for so long. He wouldn't –couldn't- do it.
"You do realize," countered the princess, "that a refusal to do as I say often equates to death."
Jet shook his head stubbornly. "I don't care."
"Very well," Azula snapped, turning around and resting a hand on the doorknob. "But I think that you'll come around eventually, Jet. In these next weeks to come, you will find that I can be very persuasive. It will do you well to remember who you're dealing with. I saved your life, you know. I would have no qualms about taking it away."
Her exit, accompanied by an equally dramatic door slam, left Jet alone in the darkness. His life had been threatened before. He didn't think that this time was any different. There was nothing that she could say that would make him change his mind. He sighed heavily, then closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift off to sleep again, the throbbing ache in his chest serving as a painful lullaby.
Azula came to visit him again about an hour after he woke up.
"How are you feeling now, Jet?" she asked, though both her voice and Jet's previous conversation with her implied that she was not as concerned as she tried to appear. It was a ruse, a rather pathetic attempt to win his favor.
"A little better, I suppose," Jet answered truthfully. After sleeping through the night –or he guessed it was through the night- he found that he could sit up with a little bit less pain than before. As a matter of fact, he had managed to push himself into a sitting position with his back against the wall just a few minutes before the Fire Princess walked unannounced into his sick room.
"Glad to hear it," she purred, crossing her arms over her chest. "Have you given any more thought to my proposition?"
Jet narrowed his eyes. If that was all that she had come here for, then she could leave. He only wished that he could see a little better. The lighting was the same as it had been during their previous meeting. "I'm not changing my mind, Azula."
"Oh, what a shame," she cooed. "If you don't mind my asking, I would like to know why you're so adamant in your refusal. Don't you realize that helping me could be the best decision of your puny little life?"
"The Fire Nation murdered my parents!" he shot back, angry not only at past injustices but at this girl's blatant mockery of his opinions and beliefs. "To help you would be to betray them and everything that I've stood for. I won't betray the people that I love."
When she spoke again, Azula's voice had a hard edge to it. "Even if they're dead?"
"Yes," Jet answered without a question.
"It's a shame then," Azula replied, the playful menace restored, "that you already have. Don't you remember, Jet? Don't you remember what happened when you tried to lead the Avatar to his lost bison? Don't you remember attacking the airbender yourself?"
As if brought back from an obscure chamber of his mind at the princess' words, that all too familiar phrase sounded once more in his head.
Jet, the Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogi.
Confused and tortured by the truth of Azula's taunting, Jet brought his hands to his face and closed his eyes as if the action could somehow block the sentence from his mind. He couldn't remember, but somehow he knew that what his unwelcome visitor said was true. He groaned inwardly, disgusted with himself, and heard the Fire Princess laugh from the doorway as she left.
Things proceeded in this manner for some time; Jet thought that it was five days, assuming that Azula only visited him once a day. Each time she came in, she asked him how he was feeling, and he responded in the same way every time. She expressed her contentment with his recovery and then asked if he had given any more thought to her proposal. His answer never changed. He would not aid the Fire Nation of his own free will. He would rather die.
When the Fire Princess was absent, Jet spent his time trying to remember what had happened to him that. Slowly, he felt the memories coming back to him in flashes, images and vague feelings. He remembered Katara and the Avatar, and he remembered what Azula had said about trying to help them find Appa. Always, however, he remembered that eerie sentence; without fail, it was at the forefront of his memories. Yet, he could not dredge up its meaning or significance.
In addition to his attempts at recollecting the past, Jet tested his physical limits. As time passed in that dark room, his strength returned to him and his pain subsided. Soon, he could sit up without trouble and shortly after that he came to his feet and left the bed. He paced around the small chamber anxiously, and one time he tried to open the door but found it locked. By the fourth day, he had started going through some routine exercises to keep himself in shape. Of course, he was limited by space and wished that his hooked swords hadn't been confiscated, but he made the most of the time and strength he had. If the princess tried to kill him for his refusal, then he would go down fighting.
When Azula came in on the sixth day, Jet was sitting on the edge of his bed thinking about what that mysterious phrase could possibly mean. A woman had just been by to remove his bandages, and she had also given him a shirt to wear. The princess lingered in the doorway that time, whereas before she had always come to stand at the foot of his bed. Jet looked at her curiously and thought he detected a bit of annoyance in her expression, which usually seemed so serene and cool. He couldn't be sure, however. The dim lighting prevented him from seeing her very well at all. In fact, he didn't really know what she looked like.
"I have news for you today, Jet," she announced. "This afternoon, we're returning to the Fire Nation."
"Good riddance," Jet snapped in reply. "As much as I've enjoyed your death threats, I can't say that I'll miss your visits."
Azula sighed, irritated by his apparent misunderstanding. "No, Jet. You see, I've taken a bit of a special interest in you. I'm bringing you back to the Fire Nation with me. Did you really think that I wouldn't see my threats through? You really should reconsider your answer. I'm afraid that Fire Nation prisons are not as… quaint… as those here in Ba Sing Se."
Alarmed, Jet stared at her in disbelief. In his opinion, the Fire Nation itself was something to be avoided at all costs. Going there would be walking right into the belly of the beast. "You are not serious," he stammered, jumping to his feet.
"Oh, I'm serious," Azula answered, amused by his obvious aversion to journeying to the Fire Nation in chains. "I lie about a lot of things, but this time I'm telling the truth." Two men appeared in the doorway behind the princess, and she turned to leave them with him. "Remember, Jet," she called from the corridor. "I could make you great if you would only let me."
When she was gone, the two men she'd left, members of the Dai Li, converged upon him in spite of his vocal protests, which included a multifarious slew of swear words. They bound his hands with their earthbending, then dragged him out of his cell and down the hall in the direction in which Azula had disappeared. Jet struggled against them all the way, but they were stronger than he was. He blamed it on his mysterious injury, the one which he could not yet remember.