Azula woke up with her head pounding and her ears ringing.
It was early, everyone else still seemed to be sound asleep—particularly Sokka, whose snoring could be heard clear across the forest.
Azula snuck away from the rest of the group. She'd have to be back before the others woke up, before they had a chance to wonder where she had left to. Truth be told Azula didn't really know where she was going, she just wanted to get away from that clearing.
Azula ran her hand over one of the trees—it was still scarred from Chan's abrupt blast of fire. How the forest didn't burn to the ground was beyond Azula. With all the spirits wandering around Azula just assumed that either they protected it or the forest put itself out. Or maybe those tress just weren't flammable.
She came to a spot in the forest where the trees seemed to thicken and the sound of water rushed by.
Azula would look for the source of the noise. What else had she to do anyhow?
The creek was only a few footfalls away, obscured by a wall of thickets. Azula burned a path tough them—and unlike Chan, decided to put the fire out before passing thorough.
The creek was almost as soothing as the pond at the asylum, with its burbles and slurps. Azula watched as a school of fish made their way down the creek, their silvery fins creating a shine against the water.
Azula dipped her fingers into the water allowing the fish to brush against them.
With much hesitance she peered at her reflection. The fear ebbed away upon seeing her eyes un-clouded by black. The familiar gold color, a reassuring sight. But other than that she was rather less than pleased; her hair disheveled (still slightly marred from taking her scissors to it), eyes tired. She looked rather sickly. Perhaps she should have eaten more at the asylum.
Before she could find anything more to criticize her reflection morphed into that of Xin.
The ghost boy really knew how to draw attention to himself.
She waited for him to speak up first. When he didn't, she turned to leave.
He emerged from the pond. "I have something to show you."
He edged in closer.
"What are you—?"
In the same freeze frame motion as the shadows he neared Azula. Closer and closer until he passed through her.
The passing triggered a series of images. In a fraction of a second they sorted themselves and rolled like a movie reel.
Xin was alive. He couldn't have been much older than Azula herself. He was defiantly in the asylum—he had the trademark robes and was situated outside the door to his room…her old room. Room 103. It was a little past lights out and he was alone in the hall.
Heels clanking down the hall.
Xin entered his room and made off that he had never left it.
"Xin. Your medications." A nurse, one Azula hadn't seen around, handed him some kind of herbal remedy (contained in a ceramic bowl).
Xin made no effort to take the remedy.
"It's not going to help me?"
"It will if you let it." The nurse replied.
"It can't help me." Xin insisted and glanced at his shoulder. The mark was moving—swirling. And he didn't know what to make of it.
The nurse set the medicine on his nightstand. Xin waited until she left and he could no longer hear footsteps down the hall before knocking the bowl to the floor. It shattered, leaving a gooey mess on the floor.
Xin spent the majority of the night wrestling with his blankets. The struggle lasted until at least 3 in the morning with nothing to intervene.
The overwhelming feeling of being watched weighed too heavy to put any real effort into sleeping. "Come on! Come and get me!" Xin finally snapped. He was tired of being afraid, tired of jumping at every bump or jolt in the night.
Every little sound he heard had, had him doing a scan of the room, craning his neck every which way.
He used to be rather fond of his gift.
Of his sight.
He loved being able to talk to his war-claimed father.
But now it seemed more like a curse.
The dark ones had driven the good ones…his father…out.
And he had no way to fight them. His father mentioned seeking help from the spirit world, but how was he supposed to get there?
Either way around he had come to accept that this night would be his last. His father died on September 16th. It would only make sense that he'd come to pass on the same date.
The door burst open. It was not his nurse. It was them. An army of them. Each sporting a face adorned with its own special horror. And forth stepped the ringleader—the spirit with the skull face.
"Consume him. Take his soul. It is ours." The spirit hissed.
It was over before he could blink. A spirit per limb.
Coiling up his arms, his legs, and his torso.
His chest constricted as one of them found his heart—and squeezed.
The mark had spread to his face.
There was a scream.
The Skull Spirit tossed her across the room.
Xin watched himself part with his own body. But before he…his soul could escape one of the spirits latched onto it. And then another, and another. Until his own spirit was just as overtaken as the body he once owned.
The body that lie in a heap coated in a film of shadow.
Even when it was over, it wasn't truly so. He would find a way to bring the light back to his soul.
He would do it by saving another from sharing his fate—not that having a companion to stalk the spirit world with him would be a bad thing.
He could very well help claim the next soul and have himself a friend. But surely that wouldn't help bring him to the light—quite the opposite.
"You were going to try to consume me!?" Azula sputtered once she found her ability to speak.
"I decided not to." Xin shrugged.
Azula sighed. "September 16th? Of this year?"
"That was only a month before I was sent there."
"I know." Xin replied. "Who do you think gave Lu-Ming the idea of placing you in room 103?"