I struggled against the Dai Li’s restraints with all of my strength but they wouldn’t budge. Once those goons captured me for my sister they brought me down into an underground lair that looked similar to the one they had kept the avatars bison in.
We stopped at a round rock on the wall, and two of them lifted it up.
“You’ve got company,” one of the spoke into the dark hole before throwing me in. I groaned as I rolled down a sharp decline and landed hard on the floor.
“Zuko!” I heard Katara’s voice sound from in front of me as the rock was placed back in its spot.
I got up on my knees and looked up at her, who had changed from surprised to angry.
I sighed and got up, dusting off my robe.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Katara yelled, backing away from me.
I brought my brows together angrily, “Isn’t it obvious?”
Geez she was always so dramatic every time we cross paths. Mara is never like that. My eyes widened, Mara! Uncle better have gotten to her and kept her safe. Azula doesn’t know that she is with us so she should be fine. I need to find a way out of here so that I can go back to her. I was lost in my thoughts and didn’t even realize Katara was still going off about her girl stuff until she got in my face.
“Hello! I’m talking to you!”
I made a face at her and sat facing the wall, putting my back to her.
I could hear her pacing back and forth behind me.
“Why did they throw you in here?” she paused before continuing, “Oh, wait, let me guess – it’s a trap so that when Aang shows up to help me, you can finally have him in your little Fire Nation clutches.”
What is she talking about? I glanced back at her and then faced the wall again.
“You’re a terrible person you know that? Always following us, hunting the Avatar, trying to capture the world’s last hope for peace!” she took a breath, “But what do you care? You’re the Fire Lord’s son. Spreading war and violence and hatred is in your blood.”
I have had enough of her. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I spat back.
“I don’t? How dare you!” she yelled in response. “You have no idea what this war has put me through. Me personally.” I glanced back to see her now crouched down and turned away from me. “The Fire Nation took my mother away from me.” I could tell that she was crying from the way her voice sounded.
I turned more to see her better, “I’m sorry.” I shifted to face her on the ground, “That’s something we have in common.”
She stopped crying and glanced backwards at me.
I stood up and took a couple steps towards her. “My mother was taken away from me too, by the Fire Nation,” the words were bitter on my tongue, I don’t think I have ever said that aloud before.
Katara stood up and faced me, looking embarrassed. We stood there awkwardly in silence for a moment, until she said, “I’m sorry I yelled at you before.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I responded, looking down at the ground. The words that I spoke about my mother echoed in my brain.
“It’s just that for so long now, whenever I would imagine the face of the enemy, it was your face,” she glanced wearily at me.
She means my scar. “My face,” I subconsciously brought my hand up to it, “I see.” I turned away slightly, all too aware of the feelings my scar gives people.
“No, no that’s not what I meant,” she seemed to have taken a step closer to me.
“It’s okay,” I breathed, dropping my hand. “I used to think this scar marked me. The mark of the banished prince, cursed to chase the Avatar forever. But lately, I’ve realized I’m free to determine my own destiny, even if I’ll never be free of my mark.” Uncle and I had traveled around the world to countless healers, trying to find someone who could get rid of it.
“Maybe you could be free of it,” Katara said.
My eyes widened, how could she take it away when all those other healers couldn’t? “What?” I turned to her.
“I have healing abilities.”
Irritation stirred in me, “It’s a scar. It can’t be healed.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw her bring out a small object, and I turned to look.
“This is water from the Spirit Oasis at the North Pole. It has special properties, so I’ve been saving it for something important,” she closed the distance between us and held it out for me to see. It seemed like the shape of a sharp tooth that formed the smallest flask I had ever seen. “I don’t know if it would work but,” she stopped, waiting for my reaction.
Could this really happen? Could I really be free of this scar that reminded me every day of my past? What would uncle say? What would Mara say? Maybe we should try. But am I important enough to waste it on if it doesn’t work?
I took a breath and closed my eyes, bowing my head down slightly to her. I tried not to flinch as I felt her fingers on my face.
All of a sudden the wall a little ways away from us exploded inward, making us jump. When the dust cleared, I saw him. The Avatar. Closely followed by uncle.
“Aang!” Katara yelled and immediately ran to him. He smiled at her as she hugged him, and then he shot me a glare from over her shoulder.
I raised an eyebrow, but was surprised by uncle pulling me into a hug. Both of us pulled away, as did Katara and the avatar.
“Aang, I knew you would come,” Katara said, and then hugged him again.
I rolled my eyes and then turned to my uncle. “Uncle, I don’t understand. What are you doing with the avatar?” I could fell my anger rising by the moment.
Before my uncle could respond, the avatar cut in, “Saving you, that’s what.”
I felt my body flash with anger, and I started towards him. How dare he talk to me like that! My uncle stopped me before I could even take a step towards that little twerp.
“Zuko, it’s time we talked,” uncle said, bringing me back to a standing position.
My face softened but I still glared at the avatar.
“Go help your other friends, we’ll catch up with you.”
The avatar smiled and bowed to him, and then ran off. Katara wasn’t as eager to leave though, and glanced back at me before disappearing down the tunnel.
I looked down at the ground, “Why uncle?” I asked quietly, looking away from him. I can’t decide if he betrayed me or not. Why was he with the avatar?
“You are not the man you used to be, Zuko. You are stronger and wiser and freer than you have ever been. And now you have come to the crossroads of your destiny.” I finally looked back at him. What is he trying to say? “It’s time for you to choose.” I looked back down at the ground. I felt something that I couldn’t quite figure out. Something that I can’t remember ever feeling before. “It’s time for you to choose good.”
Choose good? What does that even mean?
All of a sudden the ground shook violently and a giant stream of crystals shot forward on the ground, trapping my uncle inside of it. I gasped at the sudden event and then turned to the source, bringing on my fighting stance.
I saw two Dai Li agents slide down from a new opening in the wall, followed by my sister. My eyes narrowed instantly at the sight of her. She was wearing an Earth Kingdom outfit, something that I wasn’t used to.
“I expected this kind of treachery from uncle, but Zuko,” she walked towards me, and I brought my hands down to my side. "Prince Zuko, you’re a lot of things,” she stopped a few steps away from me. “But you’re not a traitor, are you?” she sneered.
I ignored what she said, “Release him immediately!” I knew I couldn’t fight both Azula and the Dai Li agents on my own.
“It’s not too late for you, Zuko. You can still redeem yourself.” What is she trying to tell me? Does she mean I could go home?
“The kind of redemption she offers is not for you,” Uncle spoke up from behind me.
“Why don’t you let him decide, uncle?” She turned back to me, “I need you, Zuko. I’ve plotted every move of this day, this glorious day in Fire Nation history, and the only way we win is together. At the end of this day, you will have your honor back. You will have father’s love, you will have everything you want.”
I struggled to think, there was so much going on in my head. Azula always lies, but is she lying now? She lied before about father wanting me back... but this is different, right?
“Zuko, I am begging you,” Uncle spoke up again, I finally looked back at him. I am so confused, so conflicted. “Look into your heart and see what it is you truly want.”
I looked down at the ground and closed my eyes. What do I want? Almost immediately, a picture of Mara flooded in. She looked up at me and smiled. I saw her face light up as I walked to her, that was when we were on the boat to Ba Sing Se and I had helped Jet get food. I saw her laying asleep next to me in bed, the sunlight hitting her face in just the right way. But then it shifted, and I saw me back at the Fire Nation palace, wearing royal robes, being served my every need.
“You are free to choose,” Azula interrupted my thoughts.
She motioned to the two agents and they went back up into the hole that they had created to come in, but she walked past me into the hole that was created when the avatar came in. As she was walking away, I heard her voice echo down the tunnel back to me. “Oh, and in case you were thinking about becoming a traitor, you might want to think about where your little water girl is right now,” her voice was cold and sounded almost like she was enjoying herself.
I drew my eyebrows together. What does that mean? I looked over to uncle, “Did you see Mara when you escaped? Where is she? Is she safe?”
He looked down at the ground, “I did not go back to the apartment, I do not know where she is.”
“What!?” I yelled, anger flashed through me, stronger than it had been in a while. “How could you just leave her on her own when you knew that Azula was here!?”
“I am sorry my nephew, I thought that she would be safer if she wasn’t involved in this.”
“You thought –”
More echoes came down the tunnel at me, cutting me off and stabbing at my ears. My eyes widened as I recognized the voice. It was her.
“Let go of me! Ugh! Let go!” she was yelling. I heard her crying out in pain, it was like someone was tearing out my heart.
“I can’t do this! I have to help her!” I shouted to my uncle, who had a look of despair on his face.
“Zuko, if you go down that road, I am afraid that you will never come back.”
“I can’t just stand here listening to her like that!” I couldn’t think about anything else but helping her. I can’t just abandon her.
Distant rumbles and crashing coming from down the tunnel interrupted my frantic thoughts. What was happening!? I tried to focus, but it was hard. Then I heard what sounded like another cry from Mara. I could barely make it out over the crashing and the rumbling, but it was there.
I knew what I had to do. I turned away from my uncle and threw off my robes. I took a deep breath to center myself, and then went running down the tunnel towards the sounds.
I heard uncle yell something after me, but I didn’t pay attention to what it was.
As I emerged from the tunnel I took in the scene. We were in a large cavern, with a waterfall and a stream running through it. Mara was to the left, on her knees, pinned down to the ground with the Dai Li rocks. She saw me and gasped silently. I looked to the front and saw the avatar and Katara on either side of my sister. She had her hands pointed at both of them.
I narrowed my eyes and took a breath, and then sent a fire blast to the ground between Azula and the avatar. They all turned to me, waiting for what I was going to do. I didn’t want to, I thought I had started down a new path. But I had to make sure Mara was safe.
I was still in position from my original blast, Azula was looking at me, waiting. The avatar was looking at me, waiting. Katara was looking at me, waiting. I knew that Mara was looking at me as well. They were all waiting for my decision, which side I would choose. I knew that either way, I would be judged for my decision. The only one that wouldn’t judge me, was Mara. And she was the one who mattered.
I shifted my gaze to the Avatar, and his eyes widened when he realized what that meant. I threw my next fire blast at him. And he blocked it with air.
Azula smirked and then attacked Katara.
I felt a twinge of guilt rising up in me as I fought on the wrong side.