She never seen Zuko look as hurt, as betrayed, as he did in that moment. And she'd been lying to and betraying him since they were young.
"See Zuko, I told you this was a bad idea." Mai scowled. "You should have just let the spirits…get rid of her."
"I was really hoping that we could start over." Ty-Lee frowned.
"Man, I thought I was gonna be a part of some crazy kick ass team." Chan remarked. "Figures, the one I get has the evil leader."
"Pay them no mind, luv. Soon they will all be yours to control. I'll even let you choose which spirits will consume each of them." Shade offered.
Azula shot a final glance back. The sight hurt. She somehow earned their trust…their help. Now the artillery used to save her, was pointed in her direction. She just wondered who'd take the first shot. Azula longed to take it back and rejoin them…but she need it…
She needed the power.
Power is the only way…
"Can Xin come along?" Azula asked.
"You want me to help you take over the world?" Xin laughed. "You're on your own this time. You choose Shade over me."
She felt another jab of mental pain.
"Besides, I have to let Wan know that it finally happened. We finally have an evil Beacon."
"Go on then, tell the first that we have an evil Beacon." Shade sneered. "He's powerless to stop us." H grabbed Azula's hand rather roughly and led her off.
"Where are we going?" Azula questioned. Panic was now bubbling up in her chest as the full weight of the situation began to set in.
"To the gate." Was his reply. "Shou, have you taken care of the Avatar?"
"I couldn't find him." She answered monotonously.
Shade gave the woman a swift slap. "You foolish woman, even a hundred spirits couldn't set your mind right…make yourself useful and ready the airship. We're going to the Forgetful Valley."
Azula didn't talk much on the way there. She didn't have much to say. Shade was a monster, and his human form—as Lu-Ming—only served to remind her that she was too. Frankly Azula didn't know if it would be worse to say her vows to the face of Lu, or to Shade's true, rotting one.
Shou landed the airship where Shade instructed.
"Follow me." He motioned to Azula. A slight hesitation was all it took for Shade to grow impatient and give her a forceful shove out of the ship. "If we're going to do this, you're going to have to stop being so stubborn, luv.
Azula nodded and followed him to the gate. It was a large stone, moss-claimed arch. Attached to it was a door, symbols of all sorts etched into it. It was wide open, revealing a swirling grey and blue smoke.
"Ladies first." Shade motioned Azula forward.
She looked to Shou.
"Don't look at her, she's possessed by a male spirit." Shade grinned. "And I said, ladies first."
Azula wasn't one to make the same mistake twice, she hustled past Shade and strode into the portal.
She woke up laying on her back, staring at a familiar face. "Mother…"
The woman simply turned her head.
Azula should be used to it. She always was a disappointment to the woman. So why did it have to start bothering her now?
Ursa turned to smoke and rushed away. Shade, was quick to fill her place.
"Where's Shou?" Azula asked.
"Don't worry about her, luv. We're going to be late to our own wedding, if we don't hurry." He lead her through thick thorny bushels. The spirit trees, those beautiful spirit trees grew more and more dark and decayed as they moved closer to their destination. After a certain time, Azula found herself having to duck under branches that jutted out like spikes.
She followed Shade through a wall of thorny briars. Briars that wore hundreds of tiny, glittering, red eyes.
"Crawl through, and then we're there." Shade instructed.
Azula looked at the small opening. To her dismay she actually would have to get on her hands and knees and crawl through.
"Go on, I'm right behind you."
"Reassuring." Azula mustered up some sarcasm. For all she knew, she'd never get to utter another sassy word. With that she tied up her hair—the last thing she needed was for it to get caught on one of the thorns—and ducked under the creepy thickets.
About half way through something wet and sticky glide over the back of her neck. She shuddered and looked up. To go with the eyes were dozens of tongues.
Azula's face bunched up as she swatted the thing off her.
Everything about this place was unsettling.
When she arrived on the other side she came upon a small crumbling village. Everything looked abandoned and over-run by the plant life.
"Welcome home. This is what they left for us dark spirits." Shade announced.
Azula looked overhead. There, loomed the tallest building; the ruins of a castle, windows smashed out, crawling with shadows, and gutted of most furniture. There was however a room full of chairs, used candles, a clock with odd symbols, and dead flowers of a dark red hue.
Flowers that adorned a broken alter.
"That's where we get to say our vows. Pretty, isn't it luv."
"Just beautiful." Azula lied.
The clock struck little skull symbol. Azula allowed herself a bitter inward laugh at that notion. Right on the mark, spirits started crawling in, or floating up from the cracks in the ground.
"Say hello to our guests luv."
All the spirits seemed to stare. Azula managed a slight wave.
"This is my dear wife." Shade announced. "I swear, she was talking a minute ago. I guess she's shy around crowds." He put his arm around her. "Imagine that. A princess who doesn't do well with public speaking."
Azula clenched her teeth.
The spirits simply gazed up with dead, glassy, orby eyes. They were less responsive than she.
"You really know how to work a crowd don't you?" Azula muttered.
Shade chuckled. "See, I told you she talks." He beamed at the crowd. "Now what do you say we get this charming little ceremony started?"
"I don't even get to pick out a dress?" Azula stalled.
"I already have one picked for you." Shade snapped his fingers.
The silk gown was ridiculously long, scarlet in color with a black lacey cover. It was form fitting and designed with two large velvet roses at the top right. And of course Shade had to go all out, form fitting wasn't good enough; constricting her waist was an intricate black corset adorned with hundreds of tiny shimmering black gems.
Naturally the outfit was topped off with a matching black veil that fell over her face and hung just below her chin. It was rather itchy and uncomfortable.
Another wave of his hands had her hair curled and fancied with rubies. It was tied in a loose, elegant bun, her trademark bangs (also slightly wavy) dangling in front of her eyes.
She looked to the floor.
"Oh don't look so forlorned." Shade sighed dramatically. "I assure you, you look stunning." He took Azula's hand and led her down the aisle.
The creature standing at the alter was by far the creepiest thing in the room, next to Shade of course. It was a shadowy figure much like the ones Azula had met on her first night in the forest. Only this one was tall and slender with twiggy limbs and a jagged glowing grin. A grin that seemed unfading.
So this was the spirit that would have them married.
"For many eternities our kind has waited." Its voice was rather high pitched, but masculine all at once. "We have waited for a Spirit Beacon to be on our side. It the time has finally come. Our king, Shade—Lord of Shadow—will claim his wife."
His big orb eyes scanned the room and then he turned to Shade. "You have waited longer than any of us for this. So to you I pose a question; do you accept the Beacon's hand in marriage?"
"Yes, I accept her hand." Shade answered.
"And you, Beacon…do you accept his hand in marriage?"
Azula felt sick. "Yes, I accept his hand."
Shade dug his nails into Azula's wrist—directly over the mark, drawing a surprised yelp. She watched her blood seep downward in four vertical streams.
The grinning spirit stepped forward and placed his hands over each of their hearts—or, in Shade's case, lack thereof. "Let your souls be bound and your powers merge."
Azula found her blood tracing the marking, dying the black a grim scarlet. Once again the other markings on her body pulsed and stung. And then came a choking sensation, air seemed to stop filling her lungs…heart seemed to stop beating. And then came the despair, the sadness, the loneliness, guilt, anger.
Every overwhelming feeling.
Everything she regretted.
It all seemed to hit her at once.
A heavy cloud of darkness. It was suffocating her.
This must be it…
For making such a huge mistake.
This wasn't part of her plan. Not at all. She was supposed to gain Shade's power. She was supposed to make it through this. Supposed to use his powers to take him down. Supposed to use his powers to shut the gate.
Azula's vision went fuzzy. All sounds and voices became static…
Just white noise in the background.
Her legs gave out, sending her toppling to the floor.
And for whatever reason her mind seemed to only muster up one single thought; I hope I didn't ruin my hair.
What a strange and useless last thought.
She woke up laying on fine silk. For a second Azula thought she was back at home, waiting for her father to call her to come eat breakfast. She longed for it to be true. Longed to just go back to being Azula, Princess of the Fire Nation…not some crazy Spirit Beacon.
"Good evening luv."
Azula turned her head to the left, not bothering to lift it from her pillow.
Laying right next to her was the skull-faced spirit that plagued her nightmares. The sight was unexpected enough to have her scrambling gracelessly off the bed and to the floor. The marble tiling not exactly kind to her rear.
"We are going to have a bit of a problem if you can't get used to seeing me in my true form, aren't we luv?"
"What the hell did you do to me?" Azula seethed.
"Your body didn't take well to my dark energy." Shade declared. "I don't know how that could be, since you so willingly accepted my invitation into the dark."
A bead of sweat formed at her brow. Would this be how he found out that she was playing him?
"Well maybe your spirit friend did it wrong." Azula spat.
"Nonsense." Shade sat up. "I must have misjudged how much power a simple human girl could handle…Beacon or not."
"So…does this mean that I. That I don't have any more power, and I married you for nothing?"
Shade let out a dark laugh. "Power, power, power. It hurts me deeply to think that's all you married me for." He paused. "Of course you have my power…you also have my soul. And I yours."
The sickly feeling returned. Azula found herself glad that she didn't stand back up after her tumble, or she'd have just fallen again. "Your soul?"
"Yes, luv. My soul. Our souls are intertwined. Good thing our souls are both dark and tainted, otherwise they'd try to overpower each other."
"And what would happen if that were the case?"
"Well luv, that would mean our souls could unbind from each other. We'd have to fight to the death, or in my case fight until I fade. Which is essentially what we'd be doing anyhow if you didn't accept my offer. And you would have lost in case there is any doubt." He paused. "You'd still lose. Even with my powers."
Azula took a moment to work up her old, calm, façade. "You act as if you think I'm going to try."
"Of course I don't think you're going to try. None of the other Beacons were actually fool enough to try to defeat me once and for all." He snorted. "They simply found ways to contain me long enough to close the gate."
"Good to know." Azula got to her feet. Her head spun at the sudden motion.
"Lay back down luv."
"I don't need to. I'm fine."
"Suit yourself, the bed is cozy."
"You mean you're not going to make me?" Azula muttered.
"I'm not going to make you do anything. As I said, if you accepted my hand, I wouldn't have to."
His words were certainly reassuring. But Azula couldn't help but to feel skeptical. What could he gain by letting her wander free.
"So you wouldn't mind me going for a little walk?"
"Go right on ahead." Shade waved her off. "I wouldn't stray too far from our quaint, thorny sanctum. The light spirits don't take kindly to us wandering onto their territory. Of course it isn't a problem for me, I could best them all. You luv, can take down maybe two or three at best in your current state."
"In fact you probably wouldn't even be able to survive the light." Shade added. "Most dark spirits only last a few minutes…precisely why I chose to place this sanctum where I did—so my fellow dark spirits could make it to the gate."
Each answer she was given seemed to spark more questions. "Why can't we survive in the light, dare I ask?"
"The answer is simple love…your dark soul simply can't handle the light. Believe it or not, light conquers dark…most of the time. You're heart has to be light in order to take light in."