Zuko found himself locked in another stare off with Kirah. The girl seemed ready to cave. They hadn’t spoken to each other in at least ten minutes. I
“What’s your excuse this time?” Zuko asked. “Visiting hours change again?”
“No. She’s…Tang-Shin took her to get some sort of new therapy…she should be out soon. After he’s done, I’ll check with him and see what I can do.” Kirah replied.
“Oh, so you’re going to play nice now?”
“Am I playing nice now or was I playing mean before?” She asked before pretending to fill out some paperwork.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Even if Kirah intended on giving him an answer, a certain clamor coming from just outside offered an interruption. The door swung open—kicked in with such a violent force the glass of water on Kirah’s desk rippled and vibrated.
Toph gave a wild shriek before bringing her fist into the wall leaving a decent sized crater on it’s already tainted surface. With another yell, a table sailed across the room. All the while Sokka and Katara struggled to keep the earthbender at bay.
Kirah sent for a team of nurses claiming “we have a new one, and she’s gonna put up a fight.”
And fight she did; she picked up a chair and flung it at one of the nurses before breaking out of Katara and Sokka’s grasp and then taking off into a mad dash out the door. “I’m not going in there!” She bellowed. “You can’t imprison the melon lord, I’ll sentence you all to a citrusy hell…you hear me! A citrusy hell where the only fruits you eat are the ones so sour they bring tears to your eyes!”
“She’s delusional.” One of the male nurses barked.
“Citrus hell!” Toph vowed. “CITRUS HELL!”
By which time the Water Tribe siblings and what seemed to be the entirety of the asylum’s staff were flooding out the door after her.
They took the bait. Zuko dashed behind the front desk quickly rummaging through each and every drawer for anything that could serve as proof of what was going down in the asylum. He came to the last drawer and yanked it open. The set of scrolls within seemed promising enough.
He quickly tucked them beneath his robes.
“Can I help you?”
“Kirah…I thought you were…”
“I’m Zhu-Ling.” She muttered. “What are you doing lingering around the front desk?”
“Waiting for your sister to finish dealing with a potential new patient.” Zuko lied. “However, I think I’m going to see myself out. This is just a waste of time, she won’t let me see Azula anyhow.”
“Good choice…Firelord.” Zhu-Ling spat.
Zuko trotted out with more speed than needed. Aang was parked with Appa just outside the doors.
“The other three get away just fine?” Zuko asked.
“Looked like it.” Aang answered. “You get what you needed?”
“I think so.” Zuko withdrew one of the scrolls.
“What are you going to do if the emperor doesn’t cooperate?” Aang asked.
“I’m not sure.” Zuko scratched his head. “I guess I’ll start by taking this island back. If he gives me my sister I’ll let him keep it, I don’t really need it anyways…but…”
Aang prompted him to continue.
“Mai seems to think that just letting the island go would make the Fire Nation look weak.”
It was Aang’s turn to scratch his head. “Well, I think it makes you look like a humble Nation…a merciful one. And that’s not a bad thing.”
“People…other nations take advantage of merciful nations.”
Aang was quite for a moment. “How about we worry about Azula right now and just take things as they come?”
Zuko tousled his hair… “You know I’m not a patient person.”
When the silence fell to heavy Zuko started looking over the scrolls. The first file he drew out was titled Eesouk ShiTong. “Eesouk, age: 23, sex: male…Eesouk…Eesouk…” Zuko murmured. He heard the name before. “Eesouk. Eesouk! He’s a real person!”
“Well…that’s kind of. You know, obvious.” Aang rubbed the back of his head.
“No. No, when I first got here there was this woman screaming about an Eesouk. Tang-Shin told me that Eesouk was just a voice in her head…”
“What was this person screaming about another patient for?” Aang asked.
“She said.” Zuko’s stomach seemed to go hollow. “She said they killed him.” His expression went dark.
“Why would they do that?” A puzzled look settled over Aang’s features.
“I don’t know, but we have to get this to the emperor right away.” Zuko decided scanning the scroll again. His brows furrowed as he read over the next bit. “Experiment No.008.” His finger brushed over a grim red stamp; Failed.
He hadn’t realized the knot in his throat until he swallowed it down. “They’re doing experiments on their patients?”
“What kinds.” Aang was beginning to look just as uneasy as Zuko felt.
“Doesn’t say.” Zuko’s lips pressed into a thin line. “All it says is that the experiment failed…which probably means dead…no, it definitely means dead.”
Zuko turned over the next scroll, his eyes settled on the neatly inked name; Azula. A bead of nervous sweat trickled down his temple.
“Patient no.272.” He read aloud, he skimmed over her biological information. “Patient hears voices and sees beings that are not there…has a habit of wandering off when told to stay put. Displays an uncanny need for physical altercations with staff and briefly refused to take her medications.” His hands were shaking. He flipped scroll over onto its other side. “Experiment: N/A – patient is not to be transferred to the experimental ward.” Zuko hadn’t felt such a sense of relief since making amends with his uncle.
“It’s going to be hard for the emperor to see that and not shut the place down.” Aang pointed out.
Zuko didn’t mean to ignore the Avatar, but his focus was too narrowed in on the scrolls. “Hiru Hwuan. Age: 18 sex: female. Experiment No.009.”
Azula dropped to her knees. The crackling in her head unwilling to subside. She looked up, Tang-Shin nor his partners seemed to be looking at her. So she willed as much of the lightning out of her head as she could.
Her skills in that department still weren’t in top shape—Zuko had only been working on lighting redirection with her for maybe a week prior to getting sent off to this Agniforsaken place.
She was able to bring herself little relief.
The men seemed preoccupied. Azula’s mind was made up, she’d chance another trip to her mysterious room. There probably wasn’t going to be another opening, and she sure as hell didn’t let them zap her ass for nothing.
Unlike lightning redirection, stealth was one of Azula’s specialties. Head still blazing, she slipped out the door and down the hall. This time making no hesitations about opening the door.
The woman was back on the gurney, looking as morbid as ever—though this time she didn’t look any worse.
Azula blinked twice. She was cogent, intelligible. Her mind had been clear of hallucinations for a good while. The woman had to be real, the confirmation Azula sought…realized. They…Tang-Shin’s partners must have moved the woman when she was talking to him.
It took a moment longer than it should have for Azula to register that the reality of this woman’s existence was infinitely more grim than her just being a spectacle of her broken mind.
Azula shifted uneasily. The rustle of her asylum garment as she switch positions was noise enough to cause the girl to turn her way.
A hand, bloodied and swollen beyond imagination, snaked out and took hold of the hem of Azula’s uniform.
Reflexively the firebender leapt back, biting back a startled cry.
“Help…me.” The woman’s voice was a weak and breathy whisper. Hoarse and agonized. “Help…us.” Her arm flopped back down, dangling limply over the operating table.
“So wonderful to see you have met Hiru,” came a voice from in the doorway. “She was getting lonely.
A chill shot down Azula’s spine.
Some miles away, Zuko threw the door to Sun Dragon palace open with quite some more force than need be.
“Do you have an appointment with Emperor Aku…”
Zuko shoved past the man with a muffled, “urgent business.” He stormed up to the throne, Aang only a few feet behind. He practically shoved the offending papers in Akuzan’s face. “Here you go! Here’s your proof!”
The emperor’s face twisted into a scowl. He let out a long sigh. “I had a feeling you’d make this difficult…” He tsked. “You weren’t supposed to find those.”
It was Zuko’s turn to make a scrunchy face. “Are you implying you knew about this the whole time!?” He went mute for a beat. “You didn’t just know about this. You’re the one who put the order through.”
The emporer laced his fingers together holding them at chin level, arms resting up on their designated armrests. He took a deep breath, pondering his next words. He exhaled. “Firelord Zuko, you are an…intelligent man. If you had an idea that could change the world…that could put you at its very top, would you act upon that idea?”
“If it means using humans as lab gatorrats, no.”
“Think of them not as gatorrats, but as vessels of power. If the experiment succeeds…which it has on occasions, they have a certain power. They’ll help Sun Dragon island flourish.”
“So they’re human weapons? And you’re going to use them to take me down and put Ozai back in power?”
Akuzan gnawed at the inside of his cheek.
“What do you think will happen when your people find out about this?” Zuko pressed on. “I don’t even need to dispatch my military, your own people will…”
“Stand by my side.” Akuzan interrupted. “Do you want to know how all of this went under the radar?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Anyone who showed even a speckle of disloyalty, a hint of spreading our secrets…”
“Was locked in that asylum?” Zuko guessed.
“Of course not. That would be too risky. No, anyone who could remain loyal to my rule and the practices of Ozai, they were executed. For treason of course.”
Zuko glanced over at Aang. “My army is sizes bigger than yours, you’re in no position to refuse my requests.”
“Is that right?” The emperor’s lack of concern had Zuko on edge. “Not only have I made an alliance with some of the Earth Kingdoms…the one still fuming over the wrongs your Nation committed against them, but...”
Zuko’s cut in, face scrunching again. “Th…that makes no sense.” He sputtered. “You’re supporting the man they hate.”
“With a few carefully placed words, a pocket of lies, and a bit of deceit you can earn yourself any ally.” Akuzan pointed out.
Zuko could feel the fire blazing over his fists.
“Put those away Firelord Zuko, it is you who is in no position to refuse. If you fail to free Ozai and return power to myself and he, then I personally, will see to it that your sister dies.” He chuckled. “See I knew the day would come when I would need to get you out of my way, your sister is my leverage.” He let it sink in. “As I said yesterday, I like to think myself fair…you have two days to decide. If I see any Fire Nation ships in my harbor I will kill your sister, any solider—same concept. Any act of defiance and your sister takes the fall. And after that I will show your army what my ‘human weapons’ can do.” He leered. “And believe me, even if I fall, my weapon will keep destroying…vengeance in my name.”
Zuko’s mind was racing. Would it be the life of one person or the many lives of his people. His sister, or the good of the Fire Nation.
“I take it this didn’t go well either.” Mai guessed.
His look of melancholy put hers to shame as he unraveled each detail of the situation.
And yet Mai always seemed to be more grim than all else. She didn’t hesitate, didn’t even bat an eye when saying, “let her die.” She let a hush hang before adding, “Azula would proudly give herself up for the Fire Nation. She was a lot of things…horrible things. But she had one thing, and that was her loyalty.”
But it wouldn’t be that simple. A boat ride away Tang-Shin decided to take matters into his own hands.
“I see you’ve taken quite a shine to this room.” The doctor observed. “Perhaps you’d like us to move your room down here?”
Azula gave him the dopiest look she could muster.
The doctor sniggered. “I’ve had my suspicions about you. You’re too clever. You know too much. Very skilled, can play a lot of roles.” He paused. “Dumb isn’t one of them. You can’t seem to do it.”
“It’s a shame, really it is. You were only supposed to be a bargaining chip.” Tang-Shin circled around her. “But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to pick you apart.”