Eruption 57: Trickery
Eruption 57: Trickery
"She escaped?!" Zuko was upset, very upset, alarmed, worried, frustrated and every other negative emotion one could feel. He had been told that Azula was making progress, that she had gone from wild madness to calm silence, which many thought was even more eerie, but at least she wasn't screaming incoherencies. If she was cunning and calculating enough to escape, perhaps that meant her mental health had indeed improved, but if she was thirsty for revenge, having her on the loose in her full senses was a terrible danger.
"I'm sorry Lord Zuko!" The director of the mental health institution apologized for the millionth time since the arrival of the Fire Lord for his visit to his sister. He was clearly nervous, fearing the gravity of the situation.
"What happened?" Zuko tried to keep his voice even despite his great alarm, there was no use in frightening the director more than Azula's actions already had.
"She used Keibi as a decoy," the man paused and swallowed, his hands clenched into fists still shaking in fear and frustration, gray eyes downcast.
Keibi, Zuko remembered the name, she was one of the workers of the institution, the one who always brought Azula her meals, they were just about the same age and size, with matching hair and eye color, though their faces were distinctively different as were the voices and personalities.
"Azula had a few accidents as you already knew," the director continued. Though the crazed princess had lost her ability to control lightning for several years, she could still use fire, even if it was no longer blue. In her rage she lost control of her fire several times which made her end up with burns in her arms, legs and torso, though she had not burned her face and when she became calmer, they thought the danger of more accidents was over.
Despite all that Azula had done, Zuko always felt terrible when he heard that something had happened to her. He knew her attendants were doing their best, she was simply too strong at times and a danger to them and herself.
"One morning I found a letter of resignation on my desk from Keibi, I found it strange that she didn't talk to me and simply left the letter and disappeared, but there was a lot happening on that day. Azula had burned herself again, her face this time and her vocal cords, as we informed you before, were destroyed. The doctors examined her, she was always restless, trying to speak but finding she had no voice and crying in agony. Her scars matched the wounds treated before, but the burns were fresh, as if she had burned herself over each scar again. She had been caught trying to erase the scars with more fire before, but had been stopped. We never expected her progress to be lost so suddenly so we were all shocked when we saw her in such a state. Azula had been talking to Keibi recently, full sentences, coherent thoughts, she sounded confused by repentant, I thought..." The director fell silent, he could hardly stand the stress anymore, his heart pounded, ached for poor Keibi and the Fire Lord. "The burned woman in Azula's chambers was Keibi, victim of Azula's attack. She was desperately trying to tell us who she was, but due to her condition it took a long time for the message to get across."
Zuko could not say much else than, "I'm sorry for Keibi, give her the best medical attention... and this is not your fault." Without another word he quickly left, got on his ostrich-horse and dashed away past the tall gates, over the bridge and in the direction of the royal palace at full speed. If only he had visited sooner, he would have noticed that Keibi was not Azula, but he feared seeing her with fresh wounds. If only he had spoken to her more, if only he didn't find it so difficult to look at her, if only he could have been her support, if only he could have made her feel like she had a chance for a new life. If only he would have done more for his sister, then Keibi would be in much better health and possibly even Azula.
xoxox xox xoxox
At the royal courtyard, there sat Iroh and Tenzuh, a board of Pai-Sho between them, "grandpa, it's your turn," Tenzuh rocked back and forth in his place, having become more impatient with the lack of satisfactory progress in his secret training.
"I know, I know, let me think..." Iroh finally picked up a tile, his favorite lotus tile, and moved it.
Tenzuh looked over the board, saw an opening and moved his piece forward in an aggressive head on attack. However, Iroh cut him off on his next move, "you need to be more aware of the possibilities and less predictable, you're not concentrating today, is something on your mind?"
Tenzuh shook his head, the sun was setting and his father would return from his meeting outside the palace soon, then they would all have dinner together. After that, he would go to bed early, and hopefully no one would question it too much, then he would sneak out with Angel. "It's nothing, I'm just tired."
"You don't look tired; you look like you can hardly sit still. I hope you're not losing your taste for this game, I thought you liked thinking of new strategies," Iroh observed the little boy in front of him, something was bothering him, Toph surely sensed it, but the atmosphere around her seemed to tense during the days of Zuko's visit to Azula anyway.
Toph knew Zuko would be stressed, worried, guilty and brooding when he retuned and she would need to help him compose himself. The longer Azula took to recover, the more time she lost, the more guilt and worry piled upon Zuko.
Iroh went to see Azula every now and then as well and she either hated him or did not recognize him, but tried to attack him anyway. That is until her recent improvement, she seemed to know who Iroh was then, but refused to speak to him insisting she could not face him, though she did say she would talk to Zuko when he came, which worried Iroh. He wanted to go with Zuko to his visit and make sure Azula didn't add too much more to his obstinate guilt, but Zuko insisted on going alone to have a word with Azula in private, hoping to lessen the tension between them.
"I am tired," Tenzuh allowed himself to fall back on the soft grass, catching sight of his mother at an odd angle from his position on the ground. Despite that, he could still see her focused and somewhat tense expression clearly, which Iroh soon noticed as well.
"Maybe we should continue this game when you're feeling up to it," Iroh suggested, a course of action which was accepted without complaints by Tenzuh. Then he carefully picked up the board balancing the pieces on it, making sure they did not move and took it indoors to a room that led out to the courtyard that was furnished but unused and left it there for later. "Let's have some tea with dinner tonight; you'll help me make it, right? Unless you're too tired..."
"I'm not that tired," Tenzuh glanced at his mother, then looked at his grandfather again.
Toph finally snapped out of her daze, puzzlement evident on her face, she looked at Iroh and Tenzuh, then made herself smile. "You two go on inside and make that tea," she had heard them, though she couldn't stop herself from focusing elsewhere at the same time. "I'm sure Zuko will be back soon, I'll wait for him."
Iroh nodded, as if letting her know he was there to listen to what was bothering her later. "Let's make something delicious, your dad will need it after such a long meeting."
With Iroh having led the young prince away, inside the palace, Toph focused once more. She had first sensed this at a meeting, the vibrations were close to her son, but she thought nothing of how blurry they were. This person was most likely someone new, but it couldn't be anyone bad to have gone so deep inside the palace and considering Tenzuh's lack of alarm. She was probably tired from the monotonous meeting and she couldn't deny it made her sleepy, she attributed the blurriness of her senses to that and let it be.
However, the problem had persisted and Toph was starting to find it odd to the point where after Zuko had departed, she took time to ask for a physical description of the mysterious lady from those who had seen her and tried to match the description to her senses, but not even with that hint could she truly perceive this person. She was not longer sure if the cause for the blur was lack of focus on her part, maybe due to worry for her husband's stress about his sister or if there was another reason.
xoxox xox xoxox
A fast paced rhythm entered Toph's senses; Zuko was riding back on his ostrich-horse full speed, at such a pace a trail of dark brown feathers was left behind by the force of large bird cutting through the wind. Zuko's heartbeats, as well as the ostrich-horse's were completely erratic. Toph closed the distance between them as Zuko arrived at the gates and jumped off the exhausted ostrich-horse; it was quite fast, but had been pushed to be faster than ever today. "What happened?"
"She escaped, where's Ten? Is he safe?" Zuko didn't even give Toph a change to reply before he became aware of the guards' gazes on him and quickly urged, "full alert, double the guard, triple it, be on the look out for Azula!" Then he turned back to Toph before the guards could even blink, "where is he?"
"Calm down," Toph placed her hands on her husband's shoulders, "Ten is fine, he's inside making tea with Iroh, take a deep breath before your heart bursts, I'm sure the whole palace can hear it pounding." In the background, guards ran around with the commanding officers shouting orders all of a sudden. One guard had gone off to sound the alert while the other remained at the gates. In split second his companion returned to his post and the courtyard gained several guards strategically positioned.
Though the noise of the guards was all around him, it went right through Zuko, who focused on the worse of possibilities, "what if she comes here? What if she causes trouble in town? What if...?"
"What if you relax? Don't panic Dancing Dragon, we can take Azula and you know it. She's been locked up in a metal clinic and we've been getting stronger, if she shows up, we'll stop her," Toph insisted, though she did not sense her words having any effect on Zuko, if anything, he got more worked up about the situation.
"I don't want to fight her again; I don't want to see her like that again. I really hoped she could recover and change," he wondered if that was an empty hope, in time he had forgiven his sister and now felt sorry for the pain she must have felt to lose herself.
xoxox xox xoxox
The Fire Lord and Lady had waked inside the palace, with Zuko pausing to make himself look composed, he didn't want to worry his son, who knew nothing of Azula's whereabouts. Ozai's history was inevitably briefly discussed in a general way, but Azula whom Zuko thought still had a ray of hope of eventually changing, was not mentioned, though Tenzuh would have to learn the whole truth eventually.
Both Iroh and Tenzuh had noticed the guards running around and Iroh had quietly inquired about it, with a look that asked for secrecy. A quick whisper from one of the guards was enough for Iroh to understand the situation, though that did nothing to stop Tenzuh from asking about it continuously, despite being assured it was only a security measure until the police could capture an escaped criminal.
Just for one criminal, it felt rather excessive to have such high security and it made Tenzuh wonder about who could it be they were after, "is it someone dangerous?"
Not wanting to frighten his grandson, Iroh assured, "it's nothing to worry about too much, just a very slippery thief."
To be Continued
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