Azula couldn't place what exactly had tugged her from the best sleep she'd had in a while. She looked at her wrist—though the mark seemed to tingle and sting, it looked the same as before.
Appa gave a grunt. The bison seemed rather restless himself.
Azula sat herself up right and glanced around.
All the t4rees in the clearing rustled, giving the illusion that the forest was closing in around them.
"Who's there?" Toph mumbled
Azula shrugged. By now she was standing, on full alert. For once Azula actually hoped their intruder was a bandit or something of that nature. At least she could fight back.
And then came the crying.
Crying and screaming.
The cries could have been from a person of any age. There was a good mix.
It came from all directions. From the sky and between each and every surrounding tree. If Azula hadn't felt claustrophobic before, the trees seemed to press in even further.
The crying grew louder.
Toph seemed unfazed. But Ta-Yoon had emerged from her tent, Chan not far behind.
Azula saw a figure dash between the trees. Than another, and another. They had no real shape or form. They were just shadows.
Shadows with two small yellow orbs for eyes.
Shadows currently shaped like your kiddy Halloween-esque ghosts with twiggy little legs.
They didn't come off to Azula as the source of the crying and screaming, but what else could be emitting the sound?
One of the shadows let out an ear-piercing screech. A screech that sent Appa roaring and stomping around. The bison was going rather nuts. Me too Appa. Azula found herself thinking. Me too.
What's going on!?" Zuko shouted over Appa's cries.
Azula pointed to the shadows.
"I don't see anything."
"Can you at least hear them." Azula was shouting over Appa and the shadows.
"No, I can't."
"You don't!? How do you not hear them!" Ta-Yoon shouted.
"They're surrounding us." Azula noted.
"Who?" Aang asked.
Azula pointed again.
She never thought she'd hear Aang scream so shrilly.
Sokka jumped out of the tent, boomerang in position. Katara emerged right next to him set on waterbending.
"Mai, Ty-Lee, get over here!" Azula shouted. Everyone else was up and ready to kick ass, why not invite them along too. Chan could stay asleep for all Azula cared.
The two girls took their time but joined the rest of the group.
One of the shadows broke away from the group still dashing between the trees. Like a skipping film it entered the clearing and neared Azula.
From this distance she could make out a think jagged bolt of a mouth.
A mouth that released silent chatter.
"Consume, kill, take." Ta-Yoon whispered.
Chan emerged from his tent.
"Kill human. Take human. Consume human." Ta-Yoon muttered.
"What the hell are you saying?" Azula hissed.
"I'm not the one saying it." Ta-Yoon pointed to the shadow. "He…it is. I'm just forwarding the message." She shrugged.
The shadow moved in even closer. Azula was now staring into two yellow orbs.
They were so bright.
The mark on her wrist pulsed and began coiling up her arm in a spinning motion.
Azula didn't notice.
She couldn't seem to focus on anything else.
She wanted to get closer to the eyes.
To that light.
Zuko had seen his sister do some weird shit, but this…this was a whole new level. Her eyes dilated, movements slow and breathing erratic but in an odd serene way. The mark on her wrist now completely covering her arm and expanding to her neck.
Consumed. Zuko thought. Is this what she was worried about? He was filled with an overwhelming sense of grief. This was his fault. He was the one who insisted that she had time.
"Stay away from her." He screamed at the shadow. Or maybe he didn't—he couldn't even see it. "Azula snap out of it! Look at me."
He turned her around, her head was limp, her whole body was limp, Zuko didn't even know how she managed to stay upright. Her dilated eyes had a dazed look to them. An almost foggy one. "Azula?"
She didn't respond.
Not to him anyhow.
She let out a sickening choked gurgle. Blood ebbing its way through her lips. Her eyes went completely black as the unseen took over her body.
"Consumed." Zuko whispered. He didn't know what to do.
His sister stumbled forward. It was clear to Zuko that the thing inside her body didn't know how to use it very well. Zuko took a step back to avoid the thrashing over her arms.
"Zuko, what's going on?" Ty-Lee asked. And for the second time that night she burst into tears. "Zuko, she's scaring me."
"She does that a lot." Mai sighed.
"It…it's inside her." Ta-Yoon remarked.
"What is!? I feel like I'm always the one left out of the loop!" Sokka hollered.
Another shadow stopped it's dashing and edged toward Ty-Lee.
"You have to move." Ta-Yoon commanded. "It wants you too."
"What does?" Ty-Lee bawled.
"Just move." Ta-Yoon shouted again.
Ty-Lee darted backwards, just out of its reach.
The shadow lunged for Azula. A movement Ta-Yoon mentioned to Zuko.
Avoiding Azula's aggressive swats—easier said than done—he grabbed her by the waist and pulled her back.
"Can't even stop at one?" Zuko called to the forest.
Chan sent a rain of fire into the forest. "Stay back. All of you stay back."
The shadows hissed and glowered at the flames. They retreated back into the forest. All of them but the one within Azula.
The girl was now screaming, trying to twist her way out of Zuko's clutch—movements sloppy and inhuman in the most unsettling way.
"Azula, please listen to me." Zuko tried. Christ, the girl wouldn't listen to him when she had control over her mind, why the hell did he even try getting her to listen in this state? But he tried coaxing her… the shadow into calmness anyways.
She lurched forward against Zuko's grip with her entire body weight, nearly pulling both of them to the ground.
The shadow was defiantly figuring out how to put Azula's strength to use.
"Stop fighting me." Zuko demanded through clenched teeth.
Zuko didn't expect any compliance whatsoever, but he did not expect his sister to bite him. Consumed or not.
But it had happened, teeth digging into flesh. She had broke skin.
When he still didn't unhand her, Azula began to snarl and growl. The shadow may have mastered movements, but English was still not an area of expertise.
Katara finally had enough. She wormed her way between brother and sister, and gave Azula a forceful shove to the ground.
Zuko backed away.
Azula didn't even bother to pick herself back up. Or maybe the shadow simply didn't know how. She dragged herself toward him, nails tearing up the ground.
"Chan, do something." Ta-Yoon barked.
"What am I supposed to do." His voice was hysteric.
Whose wasn't at that point?
"I don't know! You got rid of the other ones. Do what you did to them."
"You want me to set her on fire?"
"Fire." Sokka mused aloud. "That's it. Fire! You don't have to burn her…try waving the fire in her face or something."
"Sokka that sounds completely absurd." Katara snorted.
"You have any ideas? 'Cause I'd love to hear them."
Katara rolled her eyes.
"Will someone hold her still?" Chan asked.
Zuko sighed. Since she was already on the ground he would just have to pin her there long enough to go through with Sokka's ridiculous plan.
Chan moved forward, fire dancing at his fingertips. "Okay then, we can do this the easy way or the hard way.
"Alright…the hard way." Chan bought the flame down closer to Azula's face. This earned him a stern look of disproval from Zuko that he chose to omit from his focus. "It's time for you to leave. You don't belong here."
Chan hovered the flame above Azula's wrist—far enough to singe the skin, but close enough to deliver a point. "I said leave!" Chan put on his most empowering voice—one he'd learned from mimicking his father.
Azula gave an unexpected jerk, wrist brushing against the flame. She screamed; and from her mouth escaped a dark cloud. Her body un-tensed. Her breathing now a heavy pant.
She bolted upright, knocking Zuko off of her, and clutched her burned wrist.
"Here. Let me help." Katara put a hand on her shoulder.
Azula flinched away. "I don't need help."
"Just give her a minute." Zuko urged.
Azula sat there shivering, cradling her wrist. Despite the burn she was cold.
Everything was so cold.
So filled with despair.
"Let her help you baby." Ursa put a gentle hand on Azula's cheek. The woman seemed to be giving off a calm vibe.
Azula felt herself relax and her breathing even itself out again.
"Tell her to help you now." Ursa gave her a soft, reassuring smile.
Azula nodded slightly. The waterbender took that as her cue.
No one ever used waterbending to heal her before. Azula clenched her teeth at the momentary discomfort of the water. The feeling came to pass and was replaced by a rather pleasant one. Azula released the breath she had been holding.
The waterbender pulled away.
Everyone and everything was silent. Appa didn't stir. No one said a word. And the forest was motionless—it was probably worn out by the shadows.
"It happened didn't it?" Azula shuddered. "I was…" She couldn't bring herself to finish.
"Possessed." Xin filled in. "Different from consumption. With consumption, they take your soul—and there are any of them. With passion they take your body—and there's only one. You were possessed. That can be fixed. Consumption cannot." Xin muttered in her ear.
Reassuring as ever.