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October 29, 2013
Chapter 3-The Search
Fire Lord Zuko leapt to his feet, "WHAT?!" The messenger cringed, "The message said that Princess Azula has escaped. She burned her way out of the straight jacket and escaped. But it was only two days ago, the message was a black ribbon brought by the fastest hawks available, so she can't be too far gone." Zuko sat back down horrified.
He thought for a moment, "Bring me the Kyoshi Warriors. Ty Lee knows Azula better than anyone, if anyone can find her she can."
The messenger bowed, "Yes your highness!"
On his way out Zuko called, "And Lieutenant, speak of this to no one." The lieutenant spun bowed and spun again to hurry off in search of the Kyoshi Warriors.
Zuko looked at one of the servants, "Send word to the Avatar. Tell him it's urgent he get here as fast as he can. We have an emergency. Send another one to my uncle in Ba Sing Se. Tell him what's happened. Maybe he'll know what to do." The servant bowed and rushed to carry out his orders. Zuko rested his head in his hands, there was no end to the trouble a crazed Azula could cause.
He was still trying to calm himself when the Kyoshi Warriors came in half an hour later. They bowed, "You sent for us Zuko?" Suki asked.
Zuko nodded grimly, "Yes. I have a mission for you."
"Of course," Suki replied, "What is it?"
"Azula's escaped," Zuko said simply, "I need you to head south and start tracking her. Capture her if you can. Aang and the others should be here in a few days to help, but I want you to get started searching for Azula in case they're delayed. Don't take any unnecessary risks, you know how dangerous she is."
"Of course. We'll leave right away."
Zozi the guardsman looked up at the clouds with boredom. Being a guardsman in a sleepy little mining town wasn't what he had expected when he had signed on with the army, but since the war had ended, it was really one of the only posts to be had. He idly wondered what it would be like to be a great general and command a division of the army, conquering great swaths of the Earth Kingdom for Fire Lord and Country. At least he was only a day or two from the coast he thought.
He didn't register the shapes bursting from the silvery cloudbank until their shadow blocked out the moon. He frowned, what were those? Birds? He had never seen birds flying in so straight a line, and never at night. Maybe they were wolf-bats, he thought. Then they suddenly swooped and the guard's eyes widened with fear as he realized they were coming right at him.
He went for his horn to sound the alarm as they drew closer and he realized they were far too massive to be birds, or even wolf-bats. The last thing he saw was burning red eyes and the flash of flames.
Two days after the Kyoshi Warriors received their mission, the war balloon Zuko had lent them for the mission touched down on the mental hospital's front lawn. As Suki stepped off onto the grass she shook her head at the immense hole in the hospital left by Azula's escape, "Doesn't do things halfway does she? The door was only another twenty feet."
A nurse came bustling out, "Who are you? Were you sent by the Fire Lord?"
Suki nodded, "Yes. Fire Lord Zuko sent us to locate Azula. He will be here in a few days with the Avatar to assist in the search."
The nurse's eyes widened, "The Avatar?! And The Fire Lord himself? They're coming here? Oh we must get prepared! He can't see the hospital looking like this!"
Suki caught her by the shoulder as she turned to run off, "Whoa now, we need to know everything you can tell us about where Azula might have gone."
The nurse laughed, "Who knows? She was out of her mind hallucinating, always talking about how she was going to take the throne from her brother," she laughed nervously. "She probably would have headed straight for the capitol if she knew where she was, but great lengths were gone to in order to keep her from figuring out where she was in case she tried to escape. A fat lot of good it did us!" She walked off laughing nervously.
Suki shook her head and turned to Ty Lee, "Ty Lee, where do you think she would have gone?" Ty Lee thought for a moment.
"If I know Azula, she would have tried to get as far as she could from here before anyone could chase her. Then she probably would have tried to find a town or something. She's never really liked camping. Sleeping on the ground doesn't agree with her."
Suki went and stood in the center of the burnt area, "So if she ran straight, then she would have gone that way, which is south. Come on everybody, this way."
An hour of walking later, Suki sent Ming up a tree to see if she could spot any signs of Azula's passage. The rain had wiped out any tracks Azula might have left, and Suki wasn't feeling good about the odds of finding her without help. So she was surprised when Ming called, "Hey guys, I think I she went west!"
"How can you tell?" Suki called back.
"The stretch of burned trees at the other end of the valley that looks like an angry firebender made it?" Ty Lee nodded.
"Yeah that sounds like something Azula would do."
Nightfall found the Kyoshi Warriors making camp in a cave as a light drizzle began. Suki looked out at the rain with a sigh, "How are we ever going to find her if it keeps raining like this?"
"I don't think we are," Ty Lee said glumly, "Azula's good, even if she's crazy. She probably waited until the rainy season just because she knew tracking her would be harder if it was always raining."
Lei suddenly leapt up, "Hey guys, why is the stone back here burned?" Everyone turned to look at her as she bent down close to the ground and looked carefully, "There's a very distinct line where the stone is an entirely different color. That doesn't happen naturally! She must have been here! Whoa..."
"What is it?" Suki asked. Lei stepped back cautiously pointing at a spot on the ground.
"Look at this. She wasn't just firebending for laughs, there was something standing here." Suki looked at the spot Lei was pointing at. Sure enough, there were two large light patches where the stone hadn't been burned, in the shape of feet. CLAWED feet.
"It wasn't just standing there," Ty Lee said quietly as she looked at the footprints, "whatever was in that spot survived Azula's fire blast. The shapes are too distinct, if it had burned, the edges would be really blurred."
"How do you know?" Ming asked.
"When we were little Azula went through a phase where she loved making silhouettes on stone with fire blasts," Ty Lee replied, "There are still dozens of her silhouettes all over the Royal Fire Academy for Girls. She had to use metal shapes to make her silhouettes because the forms weren't as sharply defined when she used anything else." She sighed at the memory of the person Azula had been, then she added, "And, if she had killed it, there would be a body; or at least some bones."
Suki frowned, "So whatever made these tracks was made of metal?"
"Not unless she picked it up and took it with her, but whatever it was, it was fire proof," Ty Lee said, "And judging by the size of its feet, it was big too."
Ming peered over their shoulders, "Big? Look at how far apart the tracks are, the thing must have been huge."
"And if Azula fire bent at it, it probably wasn't very friendly."
A horrible thought dawned on Suki, "If it was fireproof and it attacked her she would have been defenseless..."
Lei sat down on a ledge, "So, what? We're searching for a body now?"
"We may be," Suki said quietly as tears welled in Ty Lee's eyes.
"Wait a minute," Ming said, "If she had been attacked by an animal, surely there would be some blood here somewhere. There's no blood, maybe she got away."
"You're right Ming, she must've gotten away. We'll search the area in the morning. Anything big enough to make those tracks would have to leave a trail even the rain couldn't wash away."
"I hope she's alright," Ty Lee said quietly.
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