|More from Minnichi||Romance/Angst/Action||PG-13||Very Positive|
|Chapter 20 - Consequence (SHiE)|
(The cruelest part :P)
July 16, 2013, Avatar Wiki and Fanfiction.net
Summary of the Last Chapter
Yuhan feels ready to give up hope after sending Joo Dee/Riya away, especially with his organization on the brink of victory against the Avatar. Iroh's encouragement motivates him to keep fighting, though he arrives too late to stop Azula from striking down the Avatar with her lightning. As Katara runs away with the body, the Dai Li nearly capture her along with the rest of her group. Yuhan finally strikes against his fellow agents, making himself known as a traitor and allowing the Avatar's group just enough distraction to escape. He's heavily wounded and loses consciousness, and remains captured after the children fly away on their sky bison.
Ning sighed as she leaned upon the polished windowsill of her bedroom and gazed outside. The Upper Ring was too quiet and spacious as usual, and the only movement she saw was the occasional bumble of a fancy carriage in the distance. Their polished wheels glinted beneath the sun as they rolled past, and every once in a while the decorated ostrich horses pulling them would glance lazily in her direction. She secretly wished that one of them would pull up to her house and return her son to her.
The last time Yuhan left had been unbearable for her. She couldn't make him stay, and she knew that he couldn't even if he wanted to. But she just hated the thought of him sitting somewhere alone in his dreary headquarters, wherever it was, heartbroken and pining for Riya. She wanted him to come home, where she could comfort him and remind him that he was one very special young man, who all the silly girls in the world would be fortunate to even meet, let alone date.
Mrs. Tsen never imagined that Riya would dump her son so brutally. She was irritably aware that some found the girl "above his league" – which was ridiculous, because she would've loved to see someone else try boasting a boyfriend who was not only handsome, but also wildly talented to the point of recognition from Sir Long Feng himself. But to throw it in those gossipers' faces, this mother happened to know that the "girl above his league," in fact, had gone soft for Yuhan long before he returned any feelings. Ning wouldn't have expected him to, seeing as he was seven years old at the time. But it was hard to miss the shy little girl who kept watching her oblivious Hannie play soccer every day, who lowered her bright pink face whenever he turned to her after scoring another goal with a grin. Her son would always make time for the lonely 'Afro Girl,' even if just to rest after one of his games, and sometimes she'd spot him carrying over a Pai Sho board to the girl's house on rainy days. His shy companion was more than grateful for his company, and his cluelessness towards her little crush only made it cuter to the adults, her parents included. Ning found it too adorable for words when fate revealed that Yuhan would end up falling for Riya years later. The young woman had always kept a special place for him in her heart.
...Which was why it was even more infuriating to Yuhan's mother when it turned out that the heartless wench had gone and dumped her son without mercy. It had been such an adorable story, darnit! What was wrong with that girl, and what in the name of the Spirits had Yuhan done to deserve this?
She couldn't rage completely in peace, however, with the horrible memory of Yuhan screaming at her to believe him when he declared that Riya wasn't at fault. Of course, he could have been too head-over-heels for the girl to judge her fairly anymore...but Ning just couldn't help feeling as if there was something else. Something beyond a breakup. He was certainly heartbroken, but could a breakup really produce such an unnatural, traumatized expression on Yuhan's face? Something just wasn't right about it at all.
Yuhan's mother gave a long sigh as she ran her fingers through her silky black hair. No matter how well she knew her son, the furthest she would ever get was only the fact that he was hiding something from her...
A crash as the bedroom door slammed open startled her. Ning turned around to discover the pale face of her husband, who only had time to share a panicked gaze with her a split second before two Dai Li agents marched out from behind him and obscured him from view.
Ning knew that uniform too well. She loved the way her son looked in it, and she had nothing but respect for his organization. However, she could tell that today the uniform was a bad thing. The faces of the Dai Li agents were cold and unwelcoming as they gazed down at her, their eyes darkened by the shadows beneath their pointed hats.
"Mrs. Tsen." The robotic voice didn't sound like it belonged to a human being at all. "We regret to inform you that you and your husband will be taken into custody as of today." There was a deathly moment of silence. "Your son has been dismissed from the Dai Li for treachery."
Her body seemed to lose all feeling as the shock swept over it, her throat going dry, her fingers cold. And just like her husband, whose emerald eyes were still staring bleakly about the room as if waiting to awaken from a nightmare, she suddenly couldn't remember how to speak.
Anyone who was even remotely familiar with the Dai Li knew that the word alone meant horror. No one in the organization wished to be associated with it.
Both parents didn't even seem aware that they were being pulled forcefully from their own home, as the trauma still blinded their vision. Ning's fragmented thoughts could only revolve around one thing, despite the stony fingers painfully gripping her arms as they dragged her forward: Yuhan.
Yuhan, the hardest-working agent in the Dai Li. Yuhan, the acclaimed keeper of peace, the embodiment of everything Sir Long Feng desired in a soldier. Yuhan...the traitor. Her son. The traitor.
Above all else, Ning was a mother. Her voice suddenly found itself, loud and demanding all at once. She rooted her feet so forcefully that even the agent dragging her along had to come to a stop. "Where is Yuhan?" she declared.
A few feet ahead of her, Yunxu rapidly shook his head for her not to continue. They'd both realized that wherever they were headed now, it would surely pale in comparison to Yuhan's fate - but her husband seemed more aware of the circumstances. He was silently begging her not to give the organization even more reason to torment their son.
She was painfully aware of all this, but she couldn't control herself. "Please..." she asked again, straining to keep the composure in her tone. The panic she felt for Yuhan had killed any fear she had for her captors, and she gazed firmly into their expressionless eyes. "I believe that I have a right to know...what you have done...to my son. As well as...the crimes he committed to deserve this."
Such a shallow bunch, these men were. Only weeks ago, they'd spoken to her with such reverence due to their deep respect towards Yuhan. Today, it seemed like she and her husband weren't even worth the effort of speaking to. "It is none of your concern, nor our obligation to disclose that kind of information," the agent leading her replied dismissively. "Your son has simply dishonored the name of our organization and is being dealt with accordingly. Frankly speaking, I suggest that you review your parenting for now."
Ning wouldn't have hesitated to smack the bastard across the face right at that moment – but alas, life had a very interesting way of timing horrible events. Both the agent and woman were caught completely off-guard by the messenger boy that suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
Seeing how their gazes clearly indicated that his presence was unwelcome, the messenger gave a quick and nervous bow before the two agents, while Yuhan's parents watched with dull curiosity. "I-I apologize for the interruption, sir," stuttered the boy, unrolling a formal little scroll for a brief second as if to assure that he'd been sent by decree of their leader. "But Princess Azula has asked all agents in the Dai Li to report to the Outer Wall within an hour. She has given word to the Fire Nation army and expects them to arrive shortly."
If looks could kill... The messenger was already scurrying away for his life by the time the first agent began to glare down at him. In his defense, it wasn't as if the matter was going to be much of a secret to the entire city – but it simply wasn't the right place nor time for these agents.
Having been surrounded by several refugees in the Lower Ring, Ning had never really been oblivious to the war outside, even if she never spoke of it. Her son had urged her to refrain several times, explaining to her how the Dai Li preferred not to disturb the peaceful lives of the citizens with such talk and sometimes "took it too seriously." Ning gazed warily after the messenger boy. Did she just hear everything correctly?
All of it hit her at once, along with a heart-wrenching realization that suddenly welled up her eyes with tears. There was a reason why that messenger boy had appeared now, and only now. It was all connected – the treachery, the Fire Nation...the elite keeper of peace. The true protector of Ba Sing Se.
Yunxu didn't even have time to register what his wife was doing, let alone try to stop her. He himself nearly toppled over with the agents during that moment, when the ground crackled violently beneath them in response to her boiling rage. The horror twisted his face as he regained his balance. "Ning!" he shouted desperately. "Don't –"
The chains latched onto her body before he could finish, yanking her off-balance immediately and digging into her skin as they tightened. Even her husband suddenly felt both his arms being bound behind his back by the cold metal, just for precaution. Dai Li agents were simply too used to these kinds of reactions, and far too organized.
"I'll silence you myself if you keep this up," snarled Ning's captor, who had to maintain a very firm grip on the restraints to keep her from thrashing about. His irritation had won over any efforts to maintain his earlier formality. It wasn't so much that he felt threatened by her, but that passerby were starting to watch curiously and that no Dai Li agent preferred to make such a spectacle out of his true colors. "Now if you ever want to see that traitor son of yours again, you will learn proper respect –"
He'd already fired his stony fist at her face even before the sentence was finished - but the sad irony of it all was that even the Dai Li couldn't look down upon Yuhan's earthbending prowess, regardless of his actions. The two agents were reminded during this very moment that talent often started with blood, and that it had to have come from somewhere.
It was good enough for Ning, even if she could only move her hand freely. The earthen fist gave a violent lurch in midair.
The agent was suddenly on the verge of choking, fighting to wrench the fingers of his own glove loose from his neck as Yuhan's mother gazed murderously into his eyes. Yunxu's expression was a mixture of awe and dread for her at the same time as he stared. "You came here today...to tell me that my son will pay for being a traitor?" Her voice started off low and venomous, but grew shriller by the second as the mother in her grieved. The other agent was now yanking on her chains and twisting her forearm painfully to snap her out of it, but her fingers stubbornly retained their death grip over the stony glove. "You say that my son will suffer for his crimes?" The hot tears began streaking down her face involuntarily. "You blatantly invite the Fire Nation into our city, and you call MY son the traitor?!" she screeched.
Her captor recovered from the unexpected attack soon enough, reaching beneath the fingers of his stony glove eventually and yanking it out of his way as he stepped forward. With a sharp swing, he landed the next blow with his own fist and muscle, without hesitation.
Something horrible flared in Yunxu's emerald irises, when his wife's tear-streaked face suddenly went dull and dropped to the ground along with the rest of her body...
It was the gossip of the day for the Dai Li. Agent Tsen wasn't the only one who went insane; his whole family was crazy, too. They apparently didn't take the news very well. The two agents who returned shared many disdainful laughs with the others over how badly the couple had been beaten down. Traitors these days – you'd have thought they learned not to cross the organization by now.
Deep down inside, however, the agents couldn't help feeling a little spooked by recent events. Some were still sorely tending to their wounded eyes from a certain night... To be honest, it was probably a good thing that those psychos were where they belonged now. One should never let a Tsen near dirt.
The agents chuckled nervously amongst themselves. Traitors these days...
That word was always haunting the air around him, whispering from the shadows. Whether in his deathlike sleep or during his dull periods of consciousness, the word would always come back periodically, murmuring disapprovingly in his ears.
It was also the only thing that stayed consistent nowadays; everything else in the world was constantly shifting oddly, and he'd stopped trying to retain his sense of time long ago. All he knew was that he was being hauled around a lot, that he kept seeing something different every time he regained consciousness, and that the air kept whispering "traitor" around him. And...his arms hurt badly. To the point where he might've preferred no arms at all instead of the pain - the kind of pain that he was sure would last forever.
Yuhan, would you care to refresh my memory of the standard penalties for disloyalty?
Grimly and painfully, something that looked oddly like a smile began to make its way across his violet and blue-swollen face.
Disloyal agents are banished immediately from Ba Sing Se, and all earthbending abilities are crippled permanently by physical means. Any family members are banned from following, are branded as traitors, and are transferred to the underground supply production for a lifelong repayment of debt to the Dai Li.
His eyes were fortunate enough not to have enough strength to try glancing down at his lifeless arms once more. It would've only made him feel sick again, anyway. The two limbs were left dangling on his body, since relieving the pain by amputation would be too kind. They were bleeding just about everywhere from the fractures, but only just enough not to break the surface of his skin. During his bad days, he would actually amuse himself by observing those interesting, unnatural blotches that consumed what used to be the color of his arms. The Dai Li seemed to have made a point of keeping them bare for him to see, aside from the fact that they'd torn away any part of his battered uniform that still contained any chains or potential weapons. He now sported only the dull green tunic and white trousers he'd always worn underneath, though they were considerably damaged from battle.
He didn't mind any of it.
Yuhan was left half-conscious in some rotting prison cell, as expected for a traitor - but he still preferred it over Lake Laogai. In fact, he felt a strange sense of freedom to be relieved of his uniform. No more annoying fancy hats. No more marching around to intimidate innocent citizens. No more brainwashing under the pretense of peace. And now...no more earthbending. It somehow gave him a feeling of peace, even if his arms still hurt beyond all imagination. Earthbending had also been a bad thing back in the day. He was secretly glad to be one less trouble for the world now.
Deep below his meager freedom, however, the former Peace Orator was scared out of his wits. He knew the fear was there, too, but he strained to focus only on the little positives while he still could. Because if he thought about it, he would only drive himself insane from the dread of never knowing the fate of his family – and only knowing that it couldn't possibly be good. No matter how noble his deeds were, no matter how firm his decision had been...he was still too terrified to think about the true price he was paying. The Dai Li's underground supply production wasn't kind.
Ning blinked a couple of times to grow accustomed to the darkness of her new surroundings. She could barely make out the shape of her husband and his chains from across their cell, due to the little streaks of green light that barely made it through the thick bars of the locked entrance.
Both of the treacherous parents only sat in nervous silence, neither of them daring to speak a word to each other. They knew that even if they did, they would only end up speculating over their son's fate and build up horrible theories by the second. Even if they'd recently acquired several new bruises and aches from their arrest, they were more terrified for Yuhan than anyone else.
The anxious mother looked up with a jolt when the thick door suddenly slammed open with an unpleasant echo throughout the metal prison. Greeting her was the sneering face of another Dai Li agent – a different one than her captor from earlier, but equally disdainful. Determined not to give him the pleasure of seeing any fear, Ning hardened her face and glared back as boldly as she could. These disgraces of earthbenders had turned on their own city and were punishing her Hannie for disagreeing. She would make sure that her disgust was obvious.
"Now, now, what kind of a face is that?" mocked the green-robed man. Even though the shadow of his hat naturally dimmed the color, his eyes were still a cold shade of blackish-green – a perfect combination with his pale, vampire-like skin. It wasn't the overworked, sun-deprived kind of paleness that Yuhan suffered from, but more of a chilling preference of his dark, shadowy headquarters. Ning shuddered. Were there really agents like this in the Dai Li? How many were there?
"Be grateful that I'm even kind enough to allow you this bit of news," continued the ominous agent, "considering you shouldn't even deserve this much for your blatant disrespect." Gritting his teeth, he ignored the scoff that sounded as soon as he'd uttered the word 'disrespect.' But the news he mentioned must have been horrible, considering how quickly the nasty smile returned to his face. "Don't you want to know where your son is?" he taunted.
Her eyes suddenly flashing with alarm, Ning unconsciously jerked forward and caused a loud clatter of her metal chains as they pulled against the wall. Across from her, Yunxu went oddly silent as he gazed up slowly.
"Your treacherous brat is right next door to you, as a matter of fact! Aren't you glad?" If only the agent would stop smiling. It was a promise of something terrible, and it made everything worse. "We just thought you'd want to be there when he starts wailing. You won't miss a sound," the man continued cheerily, even chuckling for good measure. "Thought it'd be a nice favor for you guys. No need to thank me."
There was a moment of complete and utter silence.
"You...pompous, disgraceful little -"
"Little what, traitor? You're in no position to get mouthy."
"N-Ning! Are you alright?! Ning...!"
The nightmare had begun.
Yuhan's hazy consciousness eventually cleared up enough for him to be aware of his surroundings again. But to be honest, he couldn't truly tell whenever he was even awake these days. His arms seemed to hurt for an eternity, anyway, and he didn't sense any difference when he was asleep.
It was this all-too-familiar sight, however, that led him to confirm that he was in the real world right now. This was actually the third or fourth time they tried, he believed. It was complete with the whole setup – the smooth, metal rail, the orb-like lantern, and the strange candle inside with an unnaturally bright glow. He'd honestly seen this coming. Some traitors weren't banished from the city, but "re-educated" so that they could still be useful to Ba Sing Se...only with a guarantee that they would never step out of line again. Not that they would ever be restored to their former Dai Li agent-status; Long Feng had usually preferred them as lowly messengers or headquarter janitors, and their names would be changed to something humiliating if he was in an extra bad mood.
Yuhan had found it strange at first that the Dai Li possibly wanted to keep him in the city, of all people – until he realized that that wasn't the purpose of his conversion at all. There were many things much worse than banishment that one could suffer. And considering Azula was probably the one dictating his punishment, the agents were most definitely attempting to do something exceptionally traumatizing to his head.
...The only problem was that they simply couldn't get him to crack.
Agent Yuhan Tsen was such a well-known Peace Orator for a reason, much to everyone's annoyance. Apparently his abilities made him able to keep an insanely stubborn grip on reality at all times, no matter what they tried... And to top it off, many were leaving the conversion chamber out of frustration during the attempts, because he would literally start snickering at them when they sounded "funny" to him. It got especially bad when he'd start mocking "nasally" voices – and apparently someone was told that they "sounded like a gnatfly." The traitor was way too comfortable with the conversion chamber for his own good. What was most annoying was that he'd gone utterly insane, yet somehow retained his knack for glowing lamps.
But of course, Yuhan was the only one who believed that he wasn't insane. Well, er...at least not yet. He was just having fun while he could, since he figured his life was screwed anyway. And it was too easy for him to let go and say ridiculous things about his former organization these days, because it was thrilling to be able to express himself at last. Sure, his arms were rendered useless and still felt like a thousand knives were wedged inside of them (most likely the bone fragments), but there was just something liberating about insulting the Dai Li out loud without ever having to fear the wrath of a Cultural Minister. Considering the lovely circumstances, though... Hmm, perhaps he was insane after all?
He was still mulling this over as he relaxed his aching body beneath his metal restraints, enjoying his last bits of twisted fun until the noise of the heavy chamber entrance shook him awake again.
Everything came to a screeching halt. In just a second, Yuhan suddenly knew that something unspeakable was about to happen. Whatever it was, he wasn't ever going to recover from it. All in that split second, he suddenly knew. The fear began to settle like ice throughout his body, chilling even his fractured, throbbing arms.
Because...it was written all over Hiroshu's face.
His former patrol partner had appeared in the chamber entrance like a ghost of his past, with the same crisp uniform, tidy hair, healthy skin and bright green eyes. His companion of seven years, the symbol of how to have fun outside the rules in the Dai Li... His best friend. But with only one difference: his face didn't look anything like Hiroshu today. It wasn't even the thick, red-blotched bandage that caused this, which covered the gashing wound that Yuhan had regrettably inflicted himself less than a centimeter from the left eye. It was his odd expression, completely void of his usual carefree spirit, that was so striking; it was staring helplessly at Yuhan, not with disapproval like the other agents, but with utter shame...and an underlying knowledge of something too awful for words. That's what made it the most frightening.
Their gazes had barely met for more than a second before Hiroshu had to tear his eyes away. He couldn't face his former patrol partner, not without losing his rigid composure and raising suspicion from the agents accompanying him. And Yuhan was suddenly so, so terrified of what lay ahead.
Hiroshu took in a long breath, stared one last time towards his treacherous friend, and shook his head ever so slightly as he shut his eyes. It was when he eventually turned on his heel and paced back out of dark chamber that Yuhan finally understood. There was an escort who'd been standing behind the agent - a small and fragile figure, whose tidy yellow dress and Earth Kingdom scarf made his blood freeze solid. It was impossible. It had to be a nightmare.
It was her.
Just like that – his hope, his everything, was simply shattered. Tossed in the wind. In the shell-shocked silence, the former Peace Orator couldn't find his voice, nor his breath in general...nor his very pulse. His entire body lost any desire to function at all the moment his eyes took in her delicate little figure, framed by the two towering agents at her sides, their shadows forever looming over her.
For a second, the two uniformed men raised their brows at each other. Was this really supposed to be the peasant girl that mattered so much to the stupid traitor over there? They'd have thought he would have more of a reaction – well, any reaction at all. Why was he just looking at her so blankly, without even blinking or attempting to speak? It was too...stoic. Spirits, this better have been the right girl.
Her overseers simply couldn't see beyond the "stoic expression," having never cared for anyone as deeply as the traitor did. It wasn't tranquility on his face, contrary to their beliefs. It was just emptiness. As if everything inside of him had shut down, rotting away as the seconds ticked by.
He saw her. He broke. They were only looking at the corpse-like shell on the outside.
"Hello, Agent Tsen."
Observing the horrible features that suddenly took hold of his face, the two Dai Li agents gave a subtle sigh of relief, smirking from the confirmation that they hadn't screwed up after all.
With a cheery smile, Joo Dee addressed the traitor, the wide black pupils glinting in her hazel eyes. "Please allow me to explain. Your condition is severe. Our failure to rekindle your loyalty to the Dai Li thus far –" She motioned towards the glowing lamp. "- requires extra measures to speed the process of your recovery."
There was a quiet hum of metal, the high-pitched friction of a blade as it left its sheath. One of the agents had procured it from his sleeve, lifting the polished dagger almost noiselessly before her. She gracefully took it into her smooth fingers. She bowed in thanks before her superior before turning back around with a grin. Less than 5 feet away, the traitor stared back at her from his metal restraints.
Extra measures... That dagger wasn't for him.
Yuhan's voice tore through his lungs right at that moment. "Riya." The name drifted right past her head, but he was oblivious to it all now. His tone had grown very still and unnatural, and his emerald eyes remained unblinking as she met their tortured gaze. "Riya...you listen to me...right now."
Joo Dee seemed perplexed by the odd title he kept using to address her. "Agent Tsen, please allow me to assist. You are confused –"
"Riya." His voice was transforming into something demented and unrecognizable, spiraling out of control as the dagger gradually rose higher and higher. The Dai Li agents behind her watched silently.
"You must understand, Agent Tsen –"
"Listen to me –"
"- that all of this is for your benefit."
"RIYA, you put that down RIGHT now –"
"Please, calm down. We are only trying to assist –"
"Stop - SHUT UP!" As soon as the last two words rang through the damp air, however, Yuhan's voice suddenly withered. The icy numbness of his chest gave way to the burning, merciless reality of what was about to happen. Even the pain of his battered arms couldn't compare. "Riya – just stop – you don't know what you're talking about... T-there's so much you don't know...just listen to me – for a moment...please..." His tone was quickly breaking up, fragile and wavering in contrast to how confidently she rested the smooth blade against her neck.
Joo Dee casually looked back at him in the cold silence, her teeth flashing wide. "Your recovery will be most successful. I'm sure of it." The two agents in the background were evidently stalling her out of their amusement.
Yuhan didn't see nor care about anyone else at this moment. He was oblivious to the chamber itself, glowing lantern included. Even the Joo Dee uniform, glaring yellow, no longer had any meaning to him. There was only Riya, and she was holding a dagger against her neck. He didn't care what she thought her name was. It didn't matter what she was wearing, how programmed her voice was, or how strongly she believed in her lies. The only person he saw standing before him was the girl whose smile was all he lived for. Whose presence today, breathtaking and beautiful as ever, proved that everything he'd ever done was for nothing, and that they never should have met. That he had condemned her from the moment they met, down to the last pitiful seconds of her false existence.
"Riya..." His choked-up voice somehow found itself again, trembling as his vision blurred. It suddenly hurt to speak at all, as if his throat were the narrow handle of the dagger that her rigid fingers wouldn't release, and her nails dug painfully into his windpipe. "There's s-so much I still need to tell you – please – just wait..." Even though his broken, pinned-down arms weren't allowed to clear his leaking eyes, which reduced her image to a salty blur, he could still tell that the shiny blade was beginning to indent her light skin. Her cue was coming up. The air was so cold. "At least...let me tell you...y-your name...Riya..." The words were dropping unconsciously from his lips as he pleaded hopelessly with her grinning face. "You have so much left – so much better than this – you can't stop –"
Her grip tightened around the handle.
"Don't you even want to know your name, Riya? Don't you know how beautiful your name is? How – beautiful – everything...about you -" His throat was on fire, and his eyes were flooded with boiling water. "You...can't do this now – Riya – stop..." Yuhan's voice dropped to a feeble whisper as the stone-covered hand rose behind her to give the signal. "D-don't you know...how badly...I want you to stay?"
As Joo Dee acknowledged her cue with a nod, he suddenly couldn't think of anything else other than how pure she looked right at that moment, like the fleeting bloom of a panda lily wilting in the smog of its looming volcano, right before the lava swept over its delicate petals. The black and white flowers suddenly spilled all over his vision. It seemed like all the pieces of his memory that contained them were flitting by. Heaps and heaps of panda lilies, disappearing into volcanic ash before he could reach them in time. A dying bundle of them in an abandoned porcelain vase, gathering dust somewhere in the remains of a tiny Lower Ring house. A single bloom, adorning Riya's auburn hair as she gazed up into his eyes, an innocent blush warming her cheeks as he gently caressed the side of her smooth, flawless face...
"Don't you remember...how much I...love you...Riya?" Yuhan's voice finally broke into a sob when Joo Dee's blank expression remained exactly the same. It was only a matter of seconds now. "I'm sorry...I-I'm so sorry...please..."
"Goodnight, Agent Tsen." She smiled.
It was like a bad dream. Everything mushed together into one dull color, except for the blinding silver of the blade, and the bright yellow glow of the lantern reflecting in her hazel eyes. He began to hear a strange sound that he was never aware of before. The beating wings of a dying butterfly. Petals dropping from a wilted flower. Her breathing. A sound he wasn't supposed to hear.
And then it stopped.
The dagger clattered against the floor.
There was no noise at all, even when the metal clashed sharply with the stone. The entire world had grown silent. Either it had stopped moving altogether, or it was spinning somewhere a thousand miles away from him. Yuhan remained utterly still, his wide eyes frozen. Time was holding its breath, and refused to carry on. His lungs were turning into ice, slowly expanding and pressing against his chest with excruciating pressure. Everything felt so odd. He couldn't remember where he was, because his head was too hollow to give him any clues.
His eyes continued staring blankly, but suddenly he realized there was a problem. He couldn't see Riya's face. Her auburn hair, no matter how smooth and perfect it was, irritated him the way it fanned all over her eyes. And what was that ugly crimson? It didn't suit her. The numb silence screamed at Yuhan to move. He couldn't see Riya's face. He had to move, to go over there and brush that hair out of her face for her. He began to stand, but nothing happened. His legs were rigid. His body wouldn't obey him.
What's wrong with you? Yuhan tried again, and again nothing happened. A drum began to beat slowly as he kept trying and failing to move. It was a weird sensation that started from inside his chest, and it hurt. He had no idea who kept banging that drum so excruciatingly slow, and it throbbed more painfully each time. But he didn't care. He just needed to brush that hair out of Riya's face.
Two nasty shadows suddenly loomed over her, almost causing him to recoil from the shock. What were those things? The strange, dark creatures were stalking towards her, and he didn't know what they were...
It finally hit him the moment the stone-covered hands made contact with her limp arms. The horror became a reality, sharp like the bloodied dagger still lying on the floor, cutting into his chest like the blade into her neck. Lights began exploding throughout his head like blaring alarms. The Dai Li agents were taking Riya away from him. He'd forgotten that they existed, and he hated them for coming back. Time crashed forward, slamming his pulse back into his bloodstream. The world flipped and twisted all around him, and the sound of a wild, manic voice suddenly split the air with its screaming. The uniformed bastards had no right. They were hurting Riya – yes, hurting her, because she couldn't be dead. That was no way to treat a girl, dammit, dragging her like an unwanted rag doll across the floor like that, letting her head flop towards her chest. Letting her crimson-stained hair remain all over her face.
They had no right. Come back here, he shouted dementedly. Come back here, so that he could kill them all. They had no right to take her from him.
He only realized that the crazed screaming was his own after the chamber door slid shut again, leaving him alone in the room with nothing except for a glowing lantern and a crimson floor. It continued for hours into the night, eventually separating into small, heartbroken sobs, weeping and choking uncontrollably in the numb silence.
The sound resembled the tortured moaning of some possessed animal as it vibrated throughout the walls of the cold, metal cell.
Yunxu Tsen sat trembling beneath his chains, huddling at the very corner of his little prison with his hands clasped tightly over his ears. He'd been separated into a different cell from his wife some time ago, due to her unruliness, but they'd made sure that he could still hear it all. His eyes staring wide into the darkness, he seemed completely oblivious to the two glistening streaks that ran steadily down his traumatized face. No matter how hard he tried, he simply couldn't drown out the noise. He could only keep repeating to himself that it wasn't real, that it couldn't possibly be real. What was reality, anyway? Both consciousness and slumber were so horrifying that he couldn't tell which was the nightmare anymore.
Because no parent wanted to believe that a voice like that could belong to his child.
The final bit of gossip finally settled into the night, circling throughout the dark organization. Agent Tsen had cracked at last – him and his entire family. Princess Azula really knew how to handle her traitors.
Hiroshu remained silent when he heard it, only forcing himself to smile whenever the others expected him to, in the midst of their laughter. During the occasional moments no one was looking, however, he would gaze wistfully towards the direction of his broken friend's cell somewhere in the distance.
What a messed up reality this was. It was still hard for him to believe it. What had he and these idiots around him ever done for the organization? And of all people to be tossed into that lowly cell, it was Yuhan – the sleep-deprived, workaholic agent who'd covered for their laziness so many times. Oh yeah, what a great crime he'd committed indeed, fighting for the girl he loved in the name of Ba Sing Se and defying the Fire Nation.
There was just something wrong about it all, no matter how badly he wished there wasn't. The guilt had crept into his chest, and it was there to stay. Hiroshu sighed. Reality sucked, and it was starting to annoy him. He'd tried his very best, but he couldn't ignore it anymore.
Hang in there, buddy...
...I'm sorry, guys. That's all I can say :(
- The author wishes to thank for being such a helpful scene-beta, and for her suggestions on the execution of Riya's last moments. (Not that some of you would consider that a good thing, but LL deserves her thanks ^^)
- The author complained about the difficulty of said scene several times with . She also thanks him for sharing with her his totally nectar strategies of handling these kinds of things himself. Very helpful as well :)
- Trust me, the author is depressed, too.
|Silent Hero in Emerald|
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