So things hadn't gone totally according to plan, Princess Azula reflected. What a novel experience.
Zuzu, for whatever moronic reason, had decided to side with the Avatar instead of his own flesh and blood; such a shame. There had been much potential for Zuzu, had he returned to the Fire Nation. He would have been a useful pawn. But alas, he was gone forever. No doubt he and the other foolish companions of the Avatar were trying to nurse him back to health; assuming he'd even survived the bolt to the back.
Still, it was only a minor setback. And on the bright side, her place on the throne was no longer in any doubt. Not that Zuko coming back would have changed it, honestly. But now her title as Heir Apparent was secure. And together, she and her Father would wipe out the Avatar, even if he was now a babe in the Water Tribes, and then the complete and pure domination of the Earth Kingdom would be complete!
Unfortunately, there was a slight snag in that plan. Namely, the people of the Earth Kingdom weren't going down without a fight. So the only natural solution to that was the complete and utter genocide of the earthbenders. It had worked for them with the Air Nomads, after all; why not with those barbaric scum, as well? Then once that was complete, they may as well eliminate the Water Tribes too, just to be safe. Then nothing would stand in the way of the glory of the Fire Nation!
...At least, that's how it should be. But instead, Father had vetoed the idea outright. He had the absolute gall to say that genocide of their subjects was going too far! He was far too confident in their ability to break down the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes over time. Azula knew that countless rebellions would plague them in the decades to come, if they did not take the precautions she knew necessary. But still, he would not listen.
It frustrated the Princess a great deal. To say the least. She tried, later, to persuade Father to see the error of his ways; but he'd have none of it. His word was law, and that was final. To Azula's utter fury, she would have to abide by his decision. Publicly, at least. In private, with Mai and Ty Lee, she would constantly rage about the cost of her Father's decree. She argued her side to them time and again, trying to vent out her anger, until Mai grew sick of it.
"Why don't you just kill him, then? That way you'll finally be able to do what you want."
That was a little surprising, coming out of Mai, of all people. Azula had briefly wondered where such a treasonous thought even came from, but she ultimately dismissed it. After all, it had given her a most perfect idea.
Of course! That's what she needed to do all along! It was so simple, it was brilliant! Kill Fire Lord Ozai, kill her Father, and the throne would be hers. Who would dare oppose her? Little Zuzu was off doing Agni knows what in the Earth Kingdom, and Dear Uncle Iroh was locked up tight in his cell. No one could possibly stop her ascension to Power.
So, all Azula needed to do now was murder her own Father, and she'd finally become the Fire Lord, and be able to carry out the necessary actions to sustain their...her empire.
Of course...it was not as easy as one would think, given her virtual superiority over the rest of her kind. In fact, there were several factors that prevented her from doing this immediately. Namely: when, where, and how to do the deed.
Princess Azula had no doubt in her mind that she was a better firebender than her Father could ever hope to be; but, he had decades of experience over her, and far too many guards to call upon should she foolishly try to take him out in the open. Which was never an option in the first place, of course. Such brashness would only get her killed.
There was always the possibility of an Agni Kai. Father wouldn't be able to resist the temptation, and in a straight up fight against him, Azula was more than confident of her skills.
But, in the end, this too had to be discounted. It would give her father too much time to prepare, and there was no telling what he might do to ensure his victory. After all, her creator had to know she was far superior than him in every field possible.
So, in short, a straight up battle was not the manner she needed to murder her Father. Instead, Azula came up with a more ingenious and insidious way to eliminate him; poison.
Another simple solution, really. Father was far too arrogant about his own mortality. Food was no longer checked for poison, and Azula knew she could easily slip something into his drink. Though it couldn't be fast acting; that would be too suspicious. Better it kill him over the night, so it looked like he died in his sleep. A fitting end to such a pathetic creature, she snickered.
So that solved how. Now all she needed to know were the when and where, which were far easier to decipher.
Where was, of course, at the evening meal she had with Father every day. Breakfast was considered, but striking at the dawn of night was a safer bet, she imagined. And Princess Azula may as well play things safe, to a point.
When was a bit trickier to pin down, but Azula finally decided to do it the week before the Day of Black Sun. Best to kill Father before that infamous event, so she could prepare for it herself. If the Avatar was alive, he'd no doubt try to strike then, and Azula would need all of her strength and wits to come out of that without a scratch. No need to have any unnecessary weight, like having Father around.
Now, what to do once Father was dead? It was easy enough to have herself crowned Fire Lord at his funeral, of course, but there was always the chance of some upstart noble challenging her for the throne, due to her relatively young age. And while she would be able to easily dominate the opposition in such a fight, Azula would rather not bother with it.
To solve that minor issue, she would have a feast, and invite the nobility to it, as soon as her Father was dead. During the meal, she would reveal his "untimely" demise, and make the nobles swear fealty to her then and there. That would take care of any (public) problems then and there.
So, with her plan coming together quite nicely in her mind, the Princess gathered the ingredients needed for her poison. It took a day to assemble, but it was worth the wait.
The next night, she enacted her scheme.
Father noticed nothing wrong when he took a sip of his tea; the poison was utterly undetectable to the human senses, as she'd planned. By the end of the meal, he felt a little ill, and decided to retire for the night. Azula graciously saw him off, as she must play the part of the dutiful daughter, and went to her own room to wait.
Waiting. Now that was the most unbearable part of the plan. Time passed so slowly as she watched the sky grow darker, and the moon shine brighter. Finally, she knew enough time had gone by that Fire Lord Ozai would be dead in his room.
Nearly trembling with anticipation, Azula slowly stalked her way to her father's quarters. Oddly enough, no guards were present, but she dismissed it offhand. Father had grown far too sure of his own immortality, after all. Perhaps this was another symptom of it.
The Princess casually opened the entrance to the chamber, and quietly slid inside. Her eyes swiftly adjusted to the darkness, and within moments she spotted the still form of her father, lying face-first on his bed. Hardly able to believe her plan had actually succeeded, she carefully walked over to him, and when she was near him, pressed her fingers to his neck.
He did not stir. And she felt no pulse.
Almost at once, a wide grin split across her face. She had actually done it! The one last thing holding her back was gone forever. Father was dead, and now SHE would be the Fire Lord! Perfect!
And it had been all too easy, too, Azula reflected. As it should be; after all, pride was his downfall, in the end. Father had been much too sure of himself, much too proud. And he'd been moronic enough to get himself killed over such outdated notions. True, one might say she suffered the same pitfalls as her Father had, but Azula knew she had such reasons to be boastful. She was the perfect firebender, after all. Nonetheless, she'd take care to be much more cautious and suspicious about such matters, in the future.
Azula took one last moment to spare a look at her father's corpse, and then she swiftly left her the chambers, and began to order servants about. Invitations would be sent at once, and preparations for the feast would now begin. It was rather short notice, as the chiefs panicked and complained, but they did as commanded. Especially once the Dai Li were sent in to give them the necessary motivation.
The next day, everything was ready. All the nobles that could make it to the feast were in attendance, and the chiefs had truly outdone themselves this time, the soon to be Fire Lord Azula acknowledged. The food was absolutely superb, though she barely ate any of it, due to her excitement of the things to come. Soon enough everyone else was digging into the meal; they all noticed the conspicuous absent of Ozai, but since Azula said nothing of it, they did not dare ask.
Halfway through the meal, the future Fire Lord stood up, and motioned for silence. The nobles did as she requested, and Azula smiled. It would be so easy to control these useless lot during her reign.
She opened her mouth, prepared to give her grand speech—
A nobleman at the far end of the table grasped at his chest as he started to scream in agony, before slamming his head onto the table. He did not move otherwise make a sound after that.
A deadly silence filled the room. And then the woman to Azula's left followed his actions, as did her husband beside her. Seconds after that a retired admiral copied them as well. As did another guest after him. And another. And another. And more, yet still.
It was then that everyone present broke into a pure panic.
Men and women alike jumped to their feet as they tried to flee the room, screaming for guards, as they all started to clutch at their chests and sink to the floor. Five minutes later, Lady Tai Min was the only one left, weakly crawling toward the door as she tried to resist death. The way she fully slumped to the marbled floor told Azula she had lost that fight.
Princess Azula had stared at it all, numb horror rocking her body as nearly all the nobility of the Fire Nation died before her eyes. Before she could even think of anything to say or do, Dai Li poured into the dinning hall. But no firebenders accompanied them, she noted.
A slow clap brought her out of her revere, and she whirled toward the source of the noise. The mocking grin of Long Feng greeted her.
"As you would say, Princess, all according to plan."
"No." Azula breathed with dawning dread, her eyes wide and wild. It couldn't be. It simply couldn't be. He was supposed to be DEAD!
"I assure you Princess, I am very much alive." Long Feng said, as if he was reading her thoughts.
Azula hesitated for only a second longer. Immediately she sent her fist forward to send a jet of blue fire at his face—
"The Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai."
Azula felt her body freeze on her, and after a moment, she slowly relaxed. Confused and frightened by this sudden rebellion, she tried to fight against whatever force was acting against her will. But it was no use. Her body would simply not respond to her commands. And while she struggled, flashes of forgotten memories came to her.
"You will kill Fire Lord Ozai, and all the noblemen of the Fire Nation." A Dai Li agent intoned, as a glowing lantern flashed before her eyes.
She continued to fight against it all, but her tongue would not obey her. Slowly, the words formed in her mouth.
"And I would be honored to accept."
"Excellent," Long Feng purred. Azula felt her eyes widen again, as sudden terror began to drown out her desire to fight. Heedless of the internal battle she faced, Long Feng continued to speak.
"You have done more than I ever dreamed of, my precious Princess. The removal of your empire from my nation, and the destruction of your people, is at hand."
"Slit the old man's throat," Long Feng declared to someone unseen as Azula struggled in her bonds. "The boy, too. They are of no use to us. General Iroh and Prince Zuko have no place in the Fire Nation now. The Princess is a much more useful pawn. Besides, we may as well have retribution for the Siege."
Long Feng issued a dark chuckle that made Azula shiver to her very core. Her eyes, still under her control, bore deep holes into the puppet master's skull. The true Master of the Dai Li ignored her glare, and went on with his little speech.
"You really think I was going to let some spoiled brat steal my city away from me? If you actually believed that, then you really are a child, Azula. Please. I am far too smart to make an honest deal with any Fire Nation scum like yourself. You were an absolute fool to trust me. Still, I have much to thank you for. Soon the Dai Li shall set about liberating Ba Sing Se, and I will be renowned as a hero. Perhaps even crowned Earth King, now that that child-king is gone. Even better, the Avatar may very well be dead, and now the entire ruling class of the Fire Nation is gone, and any who remain will likely fight over the throne, when your bodies are discovered." he sneered.
"You...you...!" Azula hissed, finally able to find some control over her words. Perhaps...perhaps...if she distracted him a little longer...
"When the Princess returns home as planned, I will leave with her Dai Li escort. I'll simply disguise myself as a regular agent, and hide from her until the time is right. Which shouldn't be too hard at all. And when she follows through on her orders, we will return here and liberate Ba Sing Se. After that...why not drive off the Fire Nation in general? They'll be too disorganized to put up a fight." Long Feng chuckled, ignoring the near lifeless Azula as the lantern passed before her eyes again and again.
"Hm. What did you say to me before? 'You were never even a player'? I believe that description fits you more than me, now. You've been my pawn this entire time, Princess. And you didn't even know it. And thanks to your arrogance, your people will die." Long Feng gloated, as he laughed maliciously at her plight.
A sharp pain exploded from her chest; finally, the poison that had stolen the lives of her brethren had caught up with her, as well. Her entire body started to shut down, and what control she had miraculously gained left her, as Azula felt herself sink to the floor. As she faded from consciousness, the mocking laughter of Long Feng filled her ears, and his vicious grin drilled into her eyes, taunting her into her death.
"Pride..." Was the last thought Azula had, before the darkness finally overwhelmed her.