New BeginningsThe Epilogue
Shade kicked over his nightstand. He had let that silly Beacon trick him.
It was a reckless move on her behalf. And he wouldn't be surprised if she tried to best him using his own powers against him…
In fact, he was counting on her to do just that.
He would beat the Spirit Beacon and end the cycle once and for all. And he would do it tonight…
During the blood moon.
Azula took a seat next to Xin. She could only hope that Aang was preparing himself for a fight with Shade's army of the possessed.
Ta-Yoon and Chan weren't exactly psyched up for it. Not in the slightest, Azula couldn't say she was either. Despite the fact that Wan and Xin seemed to be pretty confident in her abilities. Her mother had tried to be reassuring as well—claiming that she knew Azula would be able to catch on and master the skills quickly.
But Azula still had her doubts.
While yes all of it was true; Azula is powerful, and is a prodigy, and—no surprise—had caught on quickly. But the firebender had grown rather used to things not going as she wanted them to.
Perhaps after she defeated Shade…if she could defeat him, things would go back to how they were before the comet; Azula sleeping in her nice warm bed, getting pampered by servants, actually having a nice place to stay.
Azula really missed all of that. But now wasn't the time for self-pity nor for reminiscing about the past. Shade was coming and she had to be ready.
Wan was rather thrilled about Azula attaining Shade's powers. At first the man kept talking about how reckless it was and how he was certain that she went to the dark side. However, as the training proceeded the first Avatar began to praise her for making fighting Shade that much easier.
He claimed that his initial plan was to just have Azula trick the demon back into the Spirit World like all the other Beacons had. But defeating the creature once and for all was much better.
Azula may not have her firebending to fend him off—and she would defiantly miss using it during combat—but the power Shade had to offer was a good weapon too.
Wan hadn't much knowlage of how to use Shade's powers, so he and Azula kind of just experimented together and if something seemed to work they'd make note of it and work on it later until it was perfected.
After about an hour or two, the pair had a pretty wide variety of new combat techniques that Azula would play through over and over until the two agreed that the move was mastered sufficiently…that she could do it graceful and fluidly enough.
And then the first would leave Azula to her own accord—to take a break or continue practicing, whichever she felt—to go teach Chan and Ta-Yoon of their skills.
Azula had listened in on a bit of it; Chan's job was mostly about just focusing and will power. He'd be in for a battle of will, the more stubborn, the more forceful would come out on top. That would have been a great job for Azula—she'd have the spirits banished faster than the Di Lee agents!
Ta-Yoon's job was even simpler. She was pretty much a negotiator. She'd be the one to convince the dark spirits to see the light and go into the Spirit World. And when they agreed—she'd be the one to guide them into the light.
Azula turned back to her own work. Of course she had the hardest job. Nothing new there.
At this point Chan and Ta-Yoon had left for the Physical World. Aang was going to need his banisher.
Azula stood alone in front of a mirror, trying her best to tie up her hair. The last thing she wanted was for Shade to grip it in battle or for it to get in her face.
With a load of reluctance she picked up a pair of scissors. She thought back to the day of Sozin's comet when she'd first taken a pair of scissors to her hair. What a shame, it had just grown back to the way it was too. But she couldn't have any distractions. At least this time she would cut her hair cleanly and evenly.
Ursa offered to do it for her, so Azula handed her mother the scissors and watched as her hair fell to the floor in dark locks. She refused to look in the mirror until her mother was finished.
Ursa had left Azula's bangs untouched, however the rest of it was cut just above her chin.
Azula didn't dwell on it much, without a word she slipped into her armor.
"Your hair looks nice." Xin pointed out.
"I suppose." Azula replied as she adjusted the armor to a more correct fit.
"Fix what I screwed up, okay?" Xin drawled.
"Sure Xin. But it wasn't you who messed up. As Wan said, the Beacon cycle was broken when the Sozin's comet came through." Azula sighed.
"Yeah, but I could have figured out my job sooner…before I, ya know, died."
"Yeah, that's true." Azula made a waving gesture.
"You said it, not me." Azula shrugged.
"You ready Human Princess? To give Shade an ass-kicking?"
"As I'll ever be, I suppose." Azula mused. Truth be told her stomach twisted in knots at the thought. Anticipation coursed through her body—no matter how things turned out, it all ended tonight.
Aang could see them approaching. They moved in a slow, odd, bobbing way along the horizon. Hollow shelled silhouettes against a red sunset.
Hanging in the east was the largest moon the avatar had ever laid his eyes on. It was an ugly unsettling crimson and chilled his bones and blood right to the core.
Katara stood next to him, her breathing ragged with fear. Clutching her protectively was Sokka. Aang could hear him mutter something about not letting anything else happen to his beautiful little sister.
Zuko's eyes were fixed on the incoming army. Angry. Determined.
Aang hadn't a chance to tell him that his sister didn't screw them over. As far as the Prince knew, Aang was putting up a fight just to prove that he…they all would go down with honor and dignity. The young man didn't know that they'd still be able to close the gate.
Aang felt a world of guilt for not having the time to let Zuko know that his faith in Azula was not wasted.
But as the possessed drew closer his time for words fell away.
Mai gripped Zuko's arms as he stood transfixed by the approaching army.
"Ready Ta-Yoon?" Aang asked.
Ta-Yoon looked down at Toph—the earthbender was more than ready to start chucking boulders in Ta-Yoon's defense. She nodded.
"And you Chan?"
"Long as Ty-Lee can chi-block for me." Chan wasn't the brightest, but his plan was rather brilliant. After Wan had told him that the possessed had a tendency to lash out when being exorcised, Chan got thinking of how he could prevent such. Ty-Lee was perfect for the job.
"We just have to fend them off until the Spirits head for the gate on their own." Aang called. "When they start heading for the gate, Ta-Yoon, you do your guiding thing. Until they go willingly you and Chan work on banishing and persuading…"
"Why would they start going back willingly?" Zuko questioned skeptically.
"I'll explain it after this is all done with. For now just focus on keeping me covered long enough to close the gate."
The sky burned a searing red. The clouds a black swirling haze.
Azula stood motionlessly in a barren, dead, Spirit World desert. It like just before the eye-filled wall of thorns. The silhouettes of the broken structures within, rested menacingly…hideously on the skyline.
And Azula waited. Growing more and more anxious with each passing minute.
A slight breeze picked up what remained of her hair. She shivered impulsively against the sudden chill. A dead chill.
The kind of chill that seemed to linger around Shade.
The demon emerged in a cloud of putrid, rotten smelling black smoke.
His skull face as grotesque as ever…perhaps even more so now that his hostile eyes were fixed on her, shining with a sort of bloodlustful gleam.
"You've made a mistake Beacon. A big mistake." Shade hissed. "Don't you know, you can't overcome a demon with his own powers. All you had to do was be a good wife. A faithful wife, and you could have had everything."
"I already do have everything I want. It's all waiting for me back in the palace." Azula said nonchalantly. "The only thing I have left to desire, is the end of your existence. She added a shrug.
"Shall we, luv?" Shade hissed.
"Whenever you're ready."
Each gave a slight bow displaying what little respect they had for each other as opponents.
Azula had always been quick. But Shade gave the word new depths. He had the first strike; he sent Azula's own shadow snaking up her calf. It seemed to burn her leg as it flowed upward.
Giving her wrist a flick she shook the shadow off and back into its genuine state. She returned fire by slamming her foot down on the ground. Azula was certainly never an earthbender, but watching the ground break under her foot was exhilarating. Red flames jutted out from the crack she'd opened.
This was definitely more like it! Azula would enjoy having all of Shade's powers. She drew the flames up and blasted them in his direction.
Shade ducked under them and sent a rain of a tar-like substance down on her. The black clouds all seemed to gather—catering to Shade's will. And then they spilled over with a strange black ooze both doused the flames Azula created and put her at a standstill.
The stuff was hot and sticky. Maybe it was tar?
No matter what it was Azula was certainly thanking herself for the haircut now. She did her best to get the stuff off of her. Easier thought than executed.
Shade took that time to claw her belly.
Azula winced as his sharp skeletal nails slashed just above her navel.
The demon made no hesitation in utilizing her blood for his gain.
As a waterbender would marshal sea water, he began whipping at Azula's face.
Azula didn't even have time to ask herself what kind of twisted bloodbending that was. She felt her body growing weak and numb. She had to stop the bleeding…and Shade from smacking her around.
Azula opened another crack in the ground, this one right above Shade, and watched as the flames washed over him. He gave sharp growl as he trashed at the flames.
She found herself a nice large bolder to hide behind as she contemplated her next course of action. She and Wan had clearly mastered the earth and fire technique. But it wasn't going to do her much good now.
She and Wan also knew that she could utilize the shadows, but she knew nothing of this bloodbending form.
And the rain of tar was growing all too distracting. At least the bolder was taking most of it for her…
And then it came to her; the tar. She would use the tar to stop the bleeding. Azula willed it over to herself—mimicking a waterbending from she'd seen Katara use many times. It felt disgusting as she filled in the injury with it. She summoned up the flames again and bought them close enough to weld the tar in place.
Trying to suppress a scream didn't exactly work when the tar scorched her skin. At this point her entire midriff was scorched and screaming in pain…but at least the bleeding out was no longer an issue. Azula sat there clutching her stomach for a moment, trying to ease away the pain.
Shade kicked the bolder to the side. "It would seem that you are adapt at causing yourself more pain than I ever could, luv."
Azula jumped to her feet—stomach screaming in protest.
"You know, red flames are so…miniscule." Shade mused aloud. "Allow me to show you, what real damage is." He moved his hands in a spiraling motion.
Beneath Azula formed a portal…a dark swirling vortex that seemed to radiate fear, despair, and helplessness. She could hear the cries of those lost previously to the void. They screamed and shrieked more intensely than any of the voices she ever heard in the asylum.
She'd never been this close to them before.
And if she didn't stop it soon, she'd be stuck with them and their terror-filled screams in that hellish place.
Azula tried to pull herself out, but the vortex was akin to quicksand and she was sinking fast. The tar rain certainly didn't aid in her attempts to pry herself out.
Azula still had the use of her hands, she once again split the ground—this time outlining the vortex. Azula didn't quite know what she was going for, but she let the red flames wash over the portal. Much like the tar on her belly, it hardened.
Okay, so she'd stopped the sinking—earning a snarl from Shade—but she was now trapped within solid rocky matter…the scream still emitting from below, but quitter…muffled. And Shade was coming right at her again.
This time there would be no mercy. The demon fashioned himself a scythe, made out of his own skeletal arm. And he was going for her head.
Azula split the solidified tar. Quickly, in one fluid motion she thrust herself out of the crack and using the red flames propelled herself out of Shade's reach.
Truth be told, Azula had mastered only one technique to perfection. But that seemed to be all she needed. She searched her brain, trying to come up with a way to use it to take Shade down once and for all.
As she dodged spheres of dark energy, the idea came to her. Azula certainly never thought she'd thank Katara for tricking her into stepping over that water canal on the day of the comet, so she could chain her down. But it was as good a plan as any.
And so Azula found herself dashing back in the direction of the portal, once she crossed over it she waited for Shade to place himself in the dead center.
She backed farther away, trying to provoke him into getting there. "Come on, don't you want to be close enough to see it, when the light leaves my eyes?" Had done it. She'd baited him into place.
The minute Shade set his foot over the portal, she split the ground below him. The shrieking rang out again as Shade found himself caught with in his own portal, arms pinned to one another by the tar. Once his head was beneath the surface, Azula solidified it again and let the flames rise.
A roaring sensation filled her head. Azula felt as if someone threw a large rock at her head, she felt herself arch backwards as a searing pain worked its way up her body. And then came a feeling of invincibility. It was like nothing could stop her.
She had achieved absolute control.
So she called to them, each and every one of the spirits, through that familiar, blissful, connected state that Ursa had shown her on her first day in the Spirit World.
Slowly…head high…she walked up to the spirit gate…
Chan had just finished ridding Shou of the spirit possessing her—the thing had put up quite a fight too, Ty-Lee had to chi-block her thrice—when the spirits all began to flow towards a the physical gate.
They were like dark flocks of birds. All flowing through the sky, rolling through the clouds.
It was over. They'd won.
Aang waited a few seconds after the last spirit made its return before heaving the gate shut.
There was a unison thud as two gates slammed shut…but not before two figures managed to ease their way through the crack…
Azula stood before them; her face and clothing bloodied, hair disheveled, armor torn. She was breathing rather heavily, her body shaking lightly. But she had a fierce, proud gleam in her eyes. And a lopsided smirk to match it.
"I did it Xin." She laughed. She didn't know if he could hear her. "I beat him." She swayed and fell to the floor.
"Yeah, you did good." Xin's voice was soft, soothing. He knelt beside her, placing one hand on her shoulder, the other brushing aside a bang that clung to her dirty sticky forehead. "You did good."
Her vision faded. Her mind went numb.
Azula stood before her full-length mirror. She'd changed so much—in both appearance and personality.
A year had slid by since the incident with Shade. Since she and the Avatar…and the rest of the team of course, had officially bought back some much needed balance to the world.
She quickly ran her fingers through her hair. She had decided to leave it cut to the length it was on the day she'd defeated Shade. It was easier to work with and served as a reminder to her, that she'd grown.
She called to one of her servants to get a grasp on what time it was. A little past the start of sunset—she still had some time to get dressed and put on some make up—nah, she'd let her servants put her makeup on for her.
She traced her pointer over the thin scar above her navel. She'd wear it proud tonight, a symbol of courage and honor.
Tonight was her night. The first festival of many to come, honoring the works of the Avatar and of the Spirit Beacon. And of course honoring those who'd assisted on that night.
The day Azula had come home from that battle, weak and tired—worn and spent, was the night of a new beginning.
She had her palace back and that cozy bed she'd missed so much. Everything was back to normal…only better. Much better.
Things were still awkward between her and Zuko…and Mai for the first few months. But the three—with Ty-Lee's stellar people skills—had gotten used to each other again. And used to the idea of friendship and a healthy brother-sister relationship.
The Avatar and his friends would drop by on occasions, usually on holidays, to visit and spend some time.
In those short months away, the Avatar had done some changing himself. Azula didn't think it was possible to grow facial hair out at such a rapid rate. She'd work on convincing him to shave right away. With Katara's help he promised to shave that same night…Chan and Sokka went unswayed—the two seemed to admire their 'manly' beards and vowed to start up some sort of club focusing on facial hair. Apparently Haru'd be their president.
In those short months, Zuko escorted Azula back to the asylum once more…
She and Shou had convinced Lu-Ming to let them tear up the floorboards in Azula's old room. It was there that she found Xin's remains.
He'd given her one request before fading into the light once and for all. And that was, to give him a proper, dignified burial. Azula wouldn't let his final request go unfinished.
Nor would she let his memory die either. At some point she'd snuck off; while Shou distracted Lu-Ming (the guy was much more pleasurable to talk to without Shade inside him) Azula rummaged through the old asylum files.
She'd keep Xin's picture in a small locket she'd wear around her neck.
Whether she wanted to admit it or not—and with her trademark pride and sass still perfectly intact, she did not—Azula owed her life to Xin and his help.
She could only imagine what Xin would have to say about that. It would have been a battle of wits for sure.
Azula smiled to herself as she applied the last bit of makeup to her lips—recalling at that moment that she was supposed to let her servants do this for her.
She shrugged to herself and headed to join little Zu-Zu and the others on the balcony.
The crowd below seemed to go wild at her arrival.
Tonight would be the true…
The official start of a new beginning.
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