The Search Part IV, V, VI, and VII

Chapter 4 - Ozai's Revenge

A secret aide of Ozai, a trusted part of Zuko's court, made a midnight visit to Ozai in prison. He could get past the guards without question. He walked past them with only a wordless nod. He owned them and could threaten their loved ones if ever a word was leaked. The last one had the keys to the outer room of Ozai's dank prison cell, and he handed them to the hooded man, and looked away.

The man awakened the deposed Fire Lord, who was not happy to be interrupted in the dead of the night. The aide never brought him good news.

He scowled at the aide, "What do you want at this time of night? Can't you see I'm busy right now?"

The hooded aide spoke urgently, "Sire, she's here."

"Who? Azula has returned?" Ozai asked with hope.

The aide was fretful, "No sire, your daughter seems to have completely disappeared after she ran into Forgetful Valley. I fear the worst."

Ozai dismissed the concern, "She's too angry to let herself get killed. She'll turn up. When we least expect her. So then, fool. Don't leave me guessing, who is it?"

The aide took a deep breath, and stated, "Ursa."

Ozai's eyes went from angry slits to wide open, and his scowl twisted into a terrible sneer. He rose to his feet in absolute anger, and spat, "Ursa! I banished her forever. How dare she come back."

The aide was fearful even though the tyrant was behind three-inch steel bars, thinking he could rekindle his lost firebending in the state he was in. The aide cast his eyes down and said shakily, "Well, sire, Zuko overruled your decree and brought her back."

The aide swallowed hard, "And her family…"

Ozai reached through the bars and grabbed his secret contact by the throat. He stood too close to the cell.

Through vicious eyes and grinding teeth, Ozai fumed, "Family? What do you mean, family?"

The aide rasped through the crushing grip, "Uh… her four-year old daughter and… huh… her husband."

Ozai was incensed further, but let go of the man's neck saying incredulously, "She's married? How dare my wife get married again. That's bigamy. I am her husband."

The aide soothed his raw throat and choked out the words nervously, not wanted to correct the tyrant, "Well sire, she was gone five years. She's still an attractive woman. And sire, I regret the correction, but you are actually are not her husband any more. When you banished her you… uh… divorced her, so she would have no claim on the throne or your fortune if you died before her."

"Don't remind me. But married? Married to who?" Ozai snarled.

"Her childhood sweetheart. An odd name. Iket… Itep… or something like that."

Ozai slumped back in his cell, and sighed, "Ikem, you idiot."

The deposed ruler was absolutely dumbfounded. Ikem had escaped all of Ozai's assassins. And yet she found him, and they married and had a baby, and lived in Hira'a for years without being discovered by any of his informants. He had certainly underestimated the power of true love that he had suppressed for almost two decades, and almost caught her in infidelity and betrayal. He should have had her killed anyway rather than exile her. Now they thought they were safe with Ozai in prison, a mistaken assurance. And if Zuko sanctioned this homecoming, he was even more stupid to put his mother and everyone she loved at risk by allowing them to break their cover and let them return.

He scowled, and rubbed his dirty face with amusement, "So the little lovebirds made a lovechild and dared to come back."

The aide explained what happened, "They didn't do it alone. She's Fire Lord Zuko's mother. Zuko was successful in his strange quest to find her with Azula, the Avatar, and his peasant woman. Today, when Zuko had a reception that officially recognized her royalty again, he also issued a decree that reconfirmed your divorce from her, and had the Fire Lords annul your union with her and bless the marriage between Ikem and Ursa."

He lunged out again but this time the aide was far enough away and barked, "Don't ever use the title 'Fire Lord' with my imbecile son in my presence, unless you use associate the title with me, understood?"

"Yes Fire Lord Ozai." the aide said magnanimously and bowed deeply.

"I must learn how she and her man escaped my assassins for five years by hiding out in Hira'a."

"I know why sir," the aide smiled.

"Tell me,' Ozai demanded.

"They hid in plain sight, sire. They encountered a benevolent deep forest spirit capable of changing a person's face and mind made them unrecognizable to anyone, especially the assassins. Ikem lived a hidden life with a new face and name, until he saw Ursa, and she chose to change her face too and forget her royal life. They married and had the child together. Only Ikem knew the secret. The spirit changed her back just before they came here."

"So that's how they did it. No wonder the Yu Yan archer could not find Ikem," he thought.

Ozai paced and wrung his hands, "Leave me alone now. I have to think about this. Come back in three days," he growled.

The aide bowed and left and Ozai muttered, "I must get my revenge on Zuko and the Avatar and his woman. Now I know how. Through Ursa's little 'home town' family."

The aide came back exactly when requested, and Ozai demanded, "Tell me what's going on out there."

"The family is enjoying their time here. There was a state banquet for them. She has been given the new honorary title of Fire Nation Crown Mother by Zuko. The people of the nation who always loved her are delighted. Many more loyalists were there at the banquet and we learned a lot. She looks happier than she ever was here before, sire. She's pregnant again too. She and her husband are about to head back home and live in peace with their girl and coming baby."

Ozai had an evil grin, "So… my little babymaker is still making babies, this time with her childhood sweetheart. Two timer and cheat that she has always been since my father took her from that backwoods village… Well, I hope Ursa is happy being pregnant again. I bet she even enjoyed getting pregnant by him. She sure never did with me. It was always a chore for her to sire our children. She probably thinks she can control this one and the toddler she has now and twist them just like she did Zuko - the weakling he still is. Thank goodness I never let her get her claws into Azula long enough to corrupt her. Well no matter. She won't live to see this one born, and then we will solve two problems."

"What do you mean?" the aide asked. This seemed extreme even to him.

"I was uncharacteristically kind in banishing her. I should have killed her for violating our marriage. She was pining for Ikem secretly for years. I could have easily blamed her for Azulon's death and executed her for treason. She made the poison after all. I should have never promised her exile in exchange for the children's safety. Well it doesn't matter. I still have the power. You have to get me out of here."

The aide went wild-eyed and stammered, "That's impossible, sire. You've been locked up more than a year. Anyone who tried was captured and executed by those Kyoshi Warrior women."

"That, my friend is where you will succeed where the others have failed. You already have Zuko's trust, and you alone control the guards. Get me a fast boat to Hira'a. There I will hide in the woods. I'll find that spirit and change my face this time. Then I can walk right up to Ursa in a crowd, and stab her through her happy little cheating heart and as she falls, I will take revenge on loverboy and the kid. As they lie in a pool of their lovers' blood, I will tell them who killed them all. Then I will walk a free man again through the palace, for the final solution for my son, the Avatar, their lovers, and their friends. I will be Fire Lord again."

"But sire, with a different face, how will you convince people you are really Ozai."

"There are secrets only I know and can prove it is me with a new face. And I have you to help them be convinced. You know my plans. And I can force the spirit to change me back if they don't believe you."

"That seems kind of extreme, sir. Ursa and her family had no role in deposing you."

"This is about hurting and revenge on everyone who took me down. If you don't want your former wife to have a happy ending, especially one that my son and Aang had anything to do with, then this is just business, not extreme. And I return to power by them. Wouldn't you like to rule a colony?"

"I… I…I would sir, very much. Thank you."

"So are you going to get me out of here or not? Or do I have to find someone else? That's the price for being a Governor."

"N-n-no sire, I will do it," saying so in fear for his life.

In a dark, completely moonless night, a long rope was lowered from the top of the prison tower by the paid-off guards. At the end of the rope was the aide. The windows were heavily barred and there was only a deadly drop. The aide steadied himself, assumed a reverent stance with his legs against the tower walls, and summoned his earth bending and secret metal bending skills, ripping the stones and bars carefully and mostly noiselessly from the wall. He lowered them quietly against the mountain cliffs. Ozai squeezed through the window with the help of the aide, grasped the rope, and both noiselessly touched down. It worked because it had been accomplished in the one way no one would ever think to escape – on the outside of the tower – and with considerable help from the inside.

The loyalist aide rushed Ozai off into the darkness. A guard disposed of the rope. In a safe house Ozai cleaned, ate a real meal, donned a set of peasant's clothes, and disappeared from the city. He hopped aboard the launch and disappeared into the oceans surrounding the Fire Nation.

It was not discovered until morning that Ozai escaped, and there was total panic in the palace. Zuko put a protective body guard around his mother and her new family, and they were taken to the deepest part of the Western Air Temple where Zuko and his friends had taken some refuge for awhile during the war. Hira'a was not safe for them. A dozen special undercover agents there watched for signs of Ozai, and the Kyoshi Warriors protected Zuko himself around the clock. Suki vowed that Ozai would never get through her to Zuko or Ursa's new family with other Kyoshi Warriors called up from the reserves protecting them.

Ozai delighted in his freedom, and knowing Hira'a would be ringed with guards, he headed swiftly into Forgetful Valley through a back trail. He lived there for weeks in exile, waiting like all the others had for the Mother of Spirits, the supposed wraith who changed faces according to the locals. He could smell the coming vengeful victory. He'd waited over a year to escape and a good plan for revenge. None was better than this and he could wait patiently a few months for the spirit to show up. But Ozai was always a man of action, and patience was not one of his virtues.

One day, months later, something happened, just when Ozai just about gave up patience for another plan, by a tranquil pool where he stayed in the same abandoned hut Ikem made by the young man for he and Ursa to live and love.

The blue spirit wolf lapped at the pond, looked up at Ozai, and soon the waters boiled. He was amazed to see faces drift and float, and then in awe, the Mother of Faces rose from the water. It was just as the legends and the stories said.

They were face to face. He was never frightened, but was on the verge of doing so, seeing this gigantic multi faced organic creature.

"What do you want of me, human?

"Ozai to you, Mother of Faces."

She was unimpressed, "It does not matter. You are a human. All of you are the same to me."

"I want to change my face," Ozai reminded her of his request.

"Why?"

"I wish to for people in my past to forget me," Ozai replied, which was vaguely the truth.

The Mother of Faces held up a vast array of male faces about Ozai's age and showed him one she picked, "Will this face do?"

"Any face will do. Just make the change," Ozai said impatiently.

His near insolence annoyed the spirit. Ozai's answer had an oddly familiar sound, but she didn't hesitate to start the change.

"Hold still," she ordered.

Her arms reached out to clasp his face, and the ghostly new face drifted to wrap itself around his current face.

As Mother of Faces felt his mind, even though she would not be changing that part of him, there were familiar memories and stories from the humans she had recently encountered with the Avatar and his beloved. And then a grim realization occurred to her.

This man represented all the pain and suffering that the kind woman Ursa, who for a time was known as Noriko, wanted to forget. This was the same man who had tortured Azula's heart and mind whom the spirit had just healed and sent on her way to a new life as a Fire Sage. There was a pervasive evil saturating this man's mind and heart.

While Mother of Faces hated interfering in the affairs of humans, the case of Ursa and Azula had been very different. There was such debilitating pain throughout this family. The pain had one source. A source of great evil.

This man was the source. She felt his deep malice within. And she got a brief glimpse in his mind of the extreme violence he had planned ahead.

She made a fateful decision, and stopped his transformation, and announced, "I cannot change your face, human. You are not worthy."

"I am more worthy than any human that you could ever change. I was Fire Lord of this great and proud Fire Nation," he said without an ounce of humility.

"I am aware of your position. It matters not how important you were to me. I existed here in this forest before your land ever even had a name. Even before your ancestors wore animal skins or even knew fire at all."

He demanded through narrowed eyes, "Who told you about me? Ursa?"

"Yes."

"That lying traitor."

"She never said a word of anger against you. I felt the evil you perpetrated on her in your heart."

Ozai sneered, "I am not impressed with your powers of empathy, spirit. I asked for you to change my face. The legends say you come into this word to change people's face when they ask. Just do it and I will be on my way and you can have your precious tranquil pool and forest back."

She was starting to become very angry.

"That is not everyone who told me of your transgressions."

"Who then? Ikem?"

"No. Azula. Your daughter."

"You changed Azula?" he screamed at the spirit incredulously with balled fists.

All five of Mother of Spirits' faces were seething at the man, "Yes. But she wanted it in her heart more than anything to forget you forever. To get away from any memory of you completely. So terrible was her pain as a daughter that she harbored about you. As well as her mother. I have never seen such heartbreak in two women about one man who caused it all."

Ozai was very upset, "That is not what my daughter would feel or want to do. You obviously brainwashed her. I demand to know where she is."

Mother of Faces explained, "She was changed by her own choice, and sent somewhere safe where you can never find her or hurt her again. You are in no position to demand anything of me, human."

"You have no right to meddle in human affairs, Mother of Faces. You are a spirit. Just change my face and begone."

"Gladly. But I do 'meddle' in human affairs by the very nature of changing faces."

"I don't care, just change me now." Ozai insisted.

He closed his eyes expecting the change.

He did not notice there no longer a face hovering before him. By being non specific with his request for change, it gave Mother of Spirits the freedom to act.

"Forgive me, fellow spirits, for what I do now," thought the Mother of Faces.

With her hands around Ozai's face, and her hands glowed.

She took them away, and what was left was…. nothing at all. Ozai's face was wiped clean. There was no nose, mouth, eyes, or ears.

He reached his hands to his face, and in a muffled scream knew that he his face was gone, feeling all the missing features. He was in total panic, feeling completely helpless for only the second time in his life – the first time being when Aang took his firebending.

He was placed into a world of no sight or smell or taste or sound, and was suspended in the mysterious zone between the spirit world and the world of man that allowed him to live every day without breathing, eating or drinking, but he would age. Interminably slowly in his new state. Mother of Spirits effectively exiled Ozai in his own world. No animal in the forest would touch him, as he was cursed by the spirit.

But he could hear her final words in his mind as she slipped beneath the waters of the quiet pool with her faces, including the one intended for him, "Human named Ozai. You preyed on your own family and would kill anything at will without mercy to gain power. Feel now how it is to be helpless as those you exploit, twist, and slaughter. My entire existence has been to bestow faces on people. You have made so many faces sad, or made them die. Therefore it is my judgment that you are no longer worthy of a human face, as you have not respected any of the others I have created. Your punishment is to go through the rest of your days without a human face, because of your detestable inhumane behavior toward others. I hope you are happy now, but of course you can't show it without a mouth."

He ran from the Spirit into the woods. He didn't know which way to go, as he could sense nothing except by the touch of his hands. He was lost instantly.

The Mother of Faces regretted she had done as her son Koh had done to so many people and animals, but this was the only way. She had one final thought, meant for those now safe from any more evil from this human Ozai, "Rest safely children of the world."

Aang stopped suddenly, in the midst of counsel and planning for the manhunt for Ozai.

Seeing his startle, Katara and Zuko both asked, "What just happened?"

"Mother of Faces just contacted me. She has dealt with Ozai in her own way. Or rather Koh's way."

Katara clutched her hands to her face, "Oh dear spirits, does that mean…?"

"It means he'll never ever bother you Zuko, you mother, and her family ever again. We can all rest."

They all sighed in relief, and life went back to normal.

Ozai was lost in complete darkness and silence of his own evil thoughts, and knew this was worse than being exiled or dead. If he was capable of weeping, for the first time in his life, he would have.

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