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|More from Minnichi||Romance/Angst/Action||PG-13||Very Positive|
|Chapter 21 - Time (SHiE)|
Summary of the Last Chapter
Ning and Yunxu Tsen, Yuhan's mother and father, are taken into custody due to his treachery. They're kept inside of a cell adjacent to his, with the intent that they would overhear his harsh punishment. Meanwhile, the Dai Li have been trying and failing to convert Yuhan, the stubborn Peace Orator. They resort to a different punishment by bringing in Riya, who he discovers that they captured. She has no memory of who she is and is commanded - as a Joo Dee - to take her own life with a dagger in front of him. Yuhan is forced to watch. Meanwhile, Hiroshu begins to doubt the organization because of his friend's fate.
(...Wow, the author just realized how evil that sounded. Heh ^^")
"But you won't give me back my stepparents...will you?"
"I – I can't, Riya."
Tears glistened like hazel crystals in her eyes. Crystals, because she wouldn't let them become rivers. Confined to the hazel, they were. Sad, yet determined hazel...
Red. Red everywhere. The walls. The floor. Her blood. Crimson. Red. So much red.
"I know you can't, Yuhan..."
Her fingers. So gentle, and so deadly against his pale skin. The warmth travelled all the way up to his eyes, making his lids shudder and close.
Fingers? Whose fingers? Certainly not his. These useless things? These ugly, murderous weapons?
I can't, Riya.
Pathetic. His last real words to her, before she was chained down in that chamber and broken forever. Utterly pathetic. Stupid Peace Orator should've rid himself from the world when he had the chance. Or replied anything else to her. Anything.
"What do you mean, 'you can't?'" a sickly-sweet voice called airily.
Two disoriented irises flicked warily towards the sitting figure a few feet away. The eyes were an odd color, too much black and too little emerald. They seemed unable to keep focus on any one point for more than five seconds, but the prisoner was too used to his cellmate by now to care anymore. "I don't know, Riya." His tone was hollow, too empty to belong to a human. It grew faintly bitter, however, as he kept talking. "I've told you a thousand times already, Riya, I don't know. I'm a stupid idiot. And I'm sorry you had to know me." His eyes were too tired, so his lazy lids sank down once more. He didn't care to look at her.
It wasn't as if she were much of a sight herself.
"And I tell you a thousand times that my name is Joo Dee!" He was so tired of that laugh. "Agent Tsen, you really amuse me sometimes."
A sharp hum of metal managed to catch his attention again, as usual. Yuhan finally looked over at her. The crimson puddle seeping down the front of her tidy yellow dress never failed to make him cringe. "Riya," he sighed. "For the last time – would you stop? You're already..."
She drove the blade into her neck. Never stopped grinning.
Yuhan had to look away for the hundredth time. He tried to lift his hands to save his ears from listening to the sound of the blade cutting into her flesh, but his arms were broken and only replied with knives. "Riya – just stop, alright?" he groaned, driving his head into the red wall so that the cold metal scraped against his ear, as if trying to block at least that side from picking up the disgusting sound.
"What's my name?" she taunted. Her voice was surprisingly crisp, for someone who'd just sliced through her own windpipe. Astonishing.
The former Peace Orator's body curled up tightly, trembling against the dirty floor as his chains rattled. His arms had no strength on their own to lift his hands, so he often resorted to resting his head on the ground between his rigid palms instead.
"What's my name, Agent Tsen?" She was merciless, and he couldn't blame her.
"J-Joo Dee. Stop it..." he whimpered, his hands still shaking uselessly over his ears. "You win, okay? Go do whatever you want. Just...stop it - stop coming here. Go rest...like you're supposed to..."
He didn't know whether she'd actually left or not, though the floor notably rumbled beneath him this time. As if something big and heavy were scraping against it. More metal. Was that Riya? No, it couldn't be. She was too light for that. Strange.
That...wasn't her voice. But for some reason, it was an important voice. He couldn't remember why. Forget it. He curled up even tighter and let his feeble body rest against the wall, his back turned towards the speaker. Joo Dee was gone, and he was free. All that really mattered. For now.
"Yuhan." The sound grew louder this time, sharp and unyielding to his silence. When he still refused to move a muscle, there was a loud sigh. It was too heavy to be a sigh, actually, but somehow he knew it was still a sigh. Or...what? Who was he even talking about now? Joo Dee? Riya? His head gave a painful throb, and he gave up.
...Until he noticed the stone fingers slowly curling down over his shoulder.
Stone fingers? His fingers! ...No, their fingers. Them. The killers. The bastards. His head remembered that much.
Yuhan bolted upright. Sure enough, emerald green flooded his vision, clashing sharply with the surrounding red. His matching eyes flared. That color was even worse than the red, worse than the crimson of her blood. It had taken her away from him.
The green-robed monster took a sharp step backwards when the demented prisoner cried out and lunged in its direction. "Yuhan –"
"I'll kill you – kill ALL of you! No right –"
His chains shot excruciating fire throughout his battered arms as they pulled. The resistance was so sharp, the pain so mind-numbing, that his entire body lurched backwards. He was sprawled across the ground again before he knew it.
No, he had to get back up. They had no right to take her from him. They all deserved to die, just like him. But even so, the image that he hated most infected his vision just from that thought. The stone fingers grasping her cold wrists without sympathy...dragging her... The prisoner screamed as his chipped nails dug into his scalp. "I'll...kill you..." his demented voice still promised, almost subconsciously.
"Just like you killed me, Agent Tsen?" A voice as sweet as poisoned honey.
Yuhan's eyes went wide, his hands still clutching his head. "Riya – not now – please..." But he knew she was right. She had always been. And...what was he in comparison? The salty flood immediately destroyed his vision, mixing all the colors of the cell together in a crazy mess of red and green as he sobbed and trembled violently.
Even though his broken voice shook the air of the cold metal cell, there was a strange silence for a long moment. Not the kind of silence from lack of volume, oddly enough. Just stillness. And then, of all things:
"...Wow, really? That's the lamest death threat I've ever heard from you." There was a light chuckle, foreign yet annoyingly familiar. "Buddy, you need help."
It somehow clicked. He didn't know why – but then again, maybe his patrol partner was just that annoying. "Hiroshu...?" Yuhan slowly narrowed his eyes in the direction of the green, forgetting Joo Dee for a moment. He still felt a little dizzy, but his oddly skeptical gaze confirmed the identity nonetheless.
"Good to see you too, kid." The air suddenly changed all at once. Yuhan had barely taken his first glimpse of that annoying face before the green robes moved swiftly towards him. The rusty chains clicked and floated away from his arms, placing themselves noiselessly upon the floor as his crazed eyes watched confusedly. He didn't have much time to realize that two stone gloves had carried out the stealthy maneuver, either, because one of them proceeded to yank on his front collar so heavily that he was forced to his feet. Suddenly he was facing the back of that evil, elegant uniform, being dragged along as it spoke sternly. "You have to get out of here."
The endless red began to move quickly past him, mixing occasionally with stony grey. Yuhan couldn't process anything in time to make a reply, but it was apparent that Hiroshu didn't care. His former patrol partner kept moving swiftly, and Yuhan was forced to follow lest the rock glove give another yank, which would make his arms waver unsteadily to retain his balance and hurt like Koh's Realm.
"Where are you going?" she called sweetly.
Even Hiroshu had to pause when the former Peace Orator's legs froze solid. No form of earth could get Yuhan to move, broken arms or not.
Joo Dee was standing so casually before them, twirling the dagger playfully between her bloody fingers. Her yellow dress was leaking rivers of crimson, a horrible contrast with the stark white color of her grinning teeth. They moved apart as a high laugh escaped them, amused by the traitor's traumatized expression.
Hiroshu seemed to understand after taking once glance towards the prisoner. "Yuhan. Ignore her." His tone was frighteningly calm as he darted his eyes about their surroundings. Just as it was when he killed the old man. The haggard old man who'd promised all of this a long time ago...
Joo Dee kept laughing, and the Peace Orator kept staring.
"I said...ignore her." Each word was emphasized by a sharp tug of the rock glove against his collar. Hiroshu's tone was growing more urgent by the second, as if every second they stayed drew them closer to some horrible fate. "Yuhan!" he hissed, failing to get his partner to budge once more. "That's not Riya! Just ignore her - I don't have time to -"
The world suddenly exploded with noise. Bells were ringing everywhere, their sharp echoes causing both men to jump. While Yuhan gazed deliriously about at their surroundings, however, Hiroshu's eyes widened with horror. "How in Koh's Realm – dammit –" He suddenly whipped both arms forward mid-sentence. The black cuffs shot out and locked tightly around the wrists of his patrol partner, who gave a yell of pain as he yanked mercilessly and began speeding across the stone floor with his rock soles.
Yuhan was staggering, sprinting for his life and struggling to keep up with Hiroshu's earthbending-induced speed. He was driven forward purely by the unbelievable pain, the throb of every bone fragment wedged inside of his arms. Yet, Joo Dee refused to leave. Wherever they turned in this strange, red-grey labyrinth, she kept smiling at him from every dark corner, shaking her index finger in the air as if chastising him before sliding the dagger slowly across her neck.
"Why are you running from me? Don't you love me?" teased her gentle voice, a perfect imitation of the Riya he'd known before her conversion. Yuhan finally collapsed, his body hitting the jagged corner of the next turn as his legs gave away. The chains pulled uselessly, for the pain they inflicted paled in comparison to her voice.
"Yuhan! Come on –" Hiroshu was yelling now, since the ringing bells made it pointless to speak quietly anymore. "We don't have any time! I'll explain it to you when –"
"Just let me go already!" cried the heartbroken traitor, his leaking eyes staring longingly towards Riya, who smiled ever so innocently as she turned and strode gracefully into the shadows. The auburn hair slowly wisped away. "Let me see her again – should've been me from the start!" Her childhood sweetheart was aching. "Need to see her before Koh takes me -"
"YUHAN, shut up!" Hiroshu's booming voice was alarming. Even he was mortified by what his partner had just implied. "Listen to yourself, you idiot!" he yelled again, grabbing both chains into his hands and pulling with all his might. "R-Riya would think you're a moron!"
The sharp sound of her name finally caused Yuhan to snap his eyes back towards his patrol partner. He wanted to lash out again, to declare that the stupid agent had no right to tell him what Riya would or wouldn't think –
Hiroshu groaned loudly before his partner could say a word, his face oddly contorted as he dropped the chains and clenched both fists for a moment. For the first time, Yuhan noticed that the scar beneath his eye had healed...very quickly. There wasn't even a scab anymore, just a strange dark marking where the wound had been. "I-I have to tell you now," Hiroshu muttered slightly to himself, like a realization. His eyes darted to the side once more as the bells blared, and the faint sound of yelling voices echoed in the distance. Guards? "Yuhan, pull it together and listen to me for a moment. We don't have any time." He spoke quickly, but the weight of his words still caused him to hesitate every now and then. "It's not real, you hear me? None of it's real. You need to get out of here, and you need help. You've -" Hiroshu gave a long sigh, almost shaking his head from the irony. "– Well, you've been brainwashed."
For some reason, Yuhan felt horribly insulted and immediately went livid with rage, much to his partner's exasperation. "WHAT?" he bellowed. Really? Hiroshu wanted to suggest that the Dai Li could take down their head Peace Orator? Those sorry excuses for brainwashers and men? He'd never felt so sure of himself before, and he had no idea why. No one could brainwash him."Gee, and I thought you were actually going to say something intelligent for a moment -"
"Of course you aren't going to think you're converted. That was part of your own brainwashing protocol, moron! Aren't you the one who lectures everyone about -" Hiroshu stopped himself, remembering the urgency of the situation. "Just shut up and - okay, you know what?" His face grew dark with determination as he bit down on his lip. "Yuhan, the Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai."
The icy sensation that suddenly took hold of Yuhan's body was horrifying. It couldn't be real. Why did that statement matter so much? Something was wrong, but he couldn't decide what. He just...needed to obey his duties. Everything would be alright if he obeyed his duties. His voice was no longer his, and it began speaking before he knew it. "I am... I'm honored..." No – Ba Sing Se wasn't a perfect city. Was it? Something was missing, but his duties called. "I'm honored t-to accept...his..." He paused. Something still hurt in his chest, and even Ba Sing Se couldn't cure it. Or could it? He was so confused.
A sharp pain in his forearm suddenly made him cringe as his wrist was pulled upwards. He looked down and stared blankly as each of the rigid fingers in his right hand were forced open. And when three strange disks suddenly filled the space of his palm, connected by an intricate series of leather bands...
His world slammed into focus once more, for better or worse. Everything hurt again. Yuhan's eyes went horribly damp as he took in the sight of her bracelet, a foreign object of a sweet, distant past, complete with all the memories that were too good to be true. He just sat there staring at her gift, blinking in the silence, his breaths heavy. So...this was really what he'd done to countless citizens? His head felt light, like his thoughts could escape him any moment. As if he had to make sure with himself that each of them were his own.
"No wonder it took them so long to mess you up..." a distant voice murmured softly.
Looking up, Yuhan suddenly realized that Hiroshu had kneeled down to face him – and that he'd been the one who saved the bracelet. His vision became a bit clearer, and the voice grew sharper as it returned to its normal quality. It truly felt as if he were slowly watching his conscience return to him, bit by bit. What an unpleasant sensation. He must have been one of the most horrible people in existence with that stupid glowing lantern.
"Your conversion isn't even perfect. You have doubts, and you woke up freaking fast," his former patrol partner continued, his expression somehow mixed between pity and admiration. Yuhan was hardly paying attention, only nodding vaguely in response every now and then. Another crash in the distance caused Hiroshu's tone to pick up speed, however. "But you have to know that they really got you when..." His face dropped. It seemed like he wished anyone else in the world could take his place right now. "Yuhan, I'm – sorry. I'm really sorry. I didn't know." He couldn't look at his patrol partner anymore, reaching forward instead to fold Yuhan's confused fingers tightly over the bracelet. "We have no time," he declared again, practically reminding himself as well. "Yuhan... Look, it's been three months since you shot gloves at everyone and tackled Azula."
Yuhan's brows furrowed for a moment as the statement sank in. That was impossible. Surely he'd just turned on the organization no more than a week ago? It was still too fresh in his memory. At the same time, though, he sort of remembered a sleep-deprived agent who'd been highly respected for his conversion skills. Time assignments were easy. Just had to block off some distracting events here and there. Kept the more important alterations fresh in the mind... Yuhan stared down at the cords of the bracelet, then back at his partner. "Really...?" His voice was hardly audible.
"Three months. Took them that long. They got into your head back at Ba Sing Se, but they had to take you to the Fire Nation to finish – oh, we're in the Fire Nation by the way – because Azula wanted you to see the real thing and that's really difficult to create -" Hiroshu was speaking so quickly in his efforts to get it over with that Yuhan could hardly pick up the words in time. "And you need to get out of here, because there's an eclipse right now and firebenders can't firebend when there's an eclipse. The Dai Li are all guarding the authorities, so you have to get out of here right now while there's time –"
"Hiroshu, why does this even matter?" Yuhan cut in, his fingers still trembling around the bracelet. He gave up trying to understand anything. The world never made any sense anyway. And she was gone. "What do you want from –"
"She's not dead, Yuhan!" Hiroshu suddenly cried. Ironically, his tortured, guilt-ridden face wasn't very convincing.
Joo Dee laughed in the background. The traitor gazed slowly back at his former patrol partner, his eyes threatening murder. The stupidly weak lie had somehow struck him to the core, filling his chest with bitter coals. "I don't know what you're trying to do...but –"
"They made it real for you, alright?" Hiroshu's voice wavered, despite its urgency. "You – you should know how it works. The pain's real. It's supposed to make you unstable first..."
Conversion suitable. The twisted rule was still somewhere in his head. Yuhan almost laughed in disbelief. What in the world was he?
"...And then the pain's just shifted a little in your memory to focus on another target, but it just took really long to convince you, s-so..." Hiroshu bit his lip again as his head dropped sharply.
Replacement Victim...? He didn't want to know where this was going. Not even he had been assigned those kinds of conversions. In fact, they were more of a twisted legend from the early years, in which 'treachery used to be a huge issue' in the Dai Li. When the organization first decided to try brainwashing...because they were eliminating the agents who opposed. Swallowing slowly, the Peace Orator gazed helplessly towards his friend. "Hiroshu...you've gotta be insane..."
"I'm sorry, Yuhan." Hiroshu looked desperate to escape himself. He'd never wanted this kind of knowledge. "It...wasn't Riya. It took them forever to recreate her correctly – make a new memory – but they did it. And s-someone still died. She –" The agent suddenly stood up and turned his back, dragging his unprepared friend along with a horrible pull on his broken arm. His voice cracked as he finally spewed it all out. "Your mom was proud. Remember that. She told you she was proud of you. S-she wouldn't stop saying it. If you look deep inside...you'll remember. You have to."
The words fell like hammers, each of them striking his head and making it ring weirdly. It was the same numbness all over again, the complete loss of his surroundings. Yuhan's throat was trying to scream back a protest, yet made no sound. Hiroshu had to be wrong. Riya was dead. He could still see everything – the dagger, the grinning, the blood. But...there was someone else. Those words. There was someone else. And Joo Dee was suddenly nowhere to be seen.
Shhh... It'll be okay...
His throat grew painfully tight, constricting all the way down to his lungs. He wanted this new voice to go away. It drowned out Joo Dee's laughter, made the world hurt in a whole new different way. It was cutting into his head, rendering him senseless as Hiroshu tried desperately to keep him moving.
Don't cry, Hannie... Keep your chin up ...don't cry...
"Yuhan." Hiroshu had grown still, his eyes locked on the passageway ahead. Time was growing short.
Footsteps began rumbling too close to them. "Prisoner escape," they cried.
"I'm so sorry, Yuhan – I didn't know they would take her!" Hiroshu's voice trembled as they ran, though his shaken friend was making it impossible to move anywhere. "I-I just saw them call all the Joo Dees, and I panicked, a-and – they really would've killed Riya! I didn't know they would do the replacement – I didn't know what to – I'm sorry! But you have to leave – now!"
"What are you even talking about?!" Yuhan bellowed all at once, the traumatizing fragments of memory splitting his chest open. He was suddenly so frightened of everything around him. Nothing was real anymore. He couldn't tell. "What did you do to my head?" The traitor thrashed and tried to pull away from the Dai Li agent, his eyes wild and his strange pupils unevenly dilated. It seemed as if the black and emerald were clashing with each other, at war over the truth, whatever it was. The black was presumably his conversion, the supposed lie – but the emerald wasn't much better. He was breaking apart.
"I'm sorry!" Hiroshu kept repeating it, his voice high and frantic as the guards kept yelling in the distance. "Yuhan – please –" He was struggling with all his might to keep his former patrol partner from curling up on the floor again. "The girl you love is still out there! Your mom wanted it that way!" The words seemed to trigger something else inside of Yuhan, whose hands only grasped his head tighter as he failed to understand. "Y-you have to go on for her – you'll see Riya again. The normal way! Don't let her down – MOVE, dammit! Run!" Hiroshu was beginning to despair himself, as the guards were drawing too close. He knew that he would end up just like his best friend at this rate; his family was still at the mercy of Ba Sing Se, and he was about to be exposed as a traitor. "Please... Yuhan, I can't -"
"Let me help him."
The deep voice was so sudden, but with a powerful quality that could silence an entire room. Even Yuhan, though trembling, looked up for a moment. Both pairs of green eyes went wide as they met the golden ones.
There was indeed an escaped prisoner, huge and muscular beneath his dirty, battered robes. Yuhan had just happened to be in the same passageway at this moment. The other traitor was whom the guards had been chasing in vain this entire time. He recognized the man at once, though his head was still spinning too much to make sense of anything...
"Get up." General Iroh's voice boomed into his ears once more. Two huge arms swooped down, pulling on his own more excruciatingly than Hiroshu ever could.
A few seconds later, however, the old tea brewer seemed to decide that Yuhan was simply too slow. And just like that, the world gave a chaotic lurch as the former Peace Orator's body was flung through the air. All the breath was knocked out of his lungs as his stomach painfully struck the rock-like surface of a wide shoulder. Hiroshu stared with his mouth slightly open.
"You have to stay?" Iroh asked swiftly, turning his head back towards the gawking Dai Li agent.
Hiroshu nodded meekly. His parents were still in Ba Sing Se. It was the Dai Li's foolproof system.
The general understood. "Go, then. Thank you for your kindness." His smile was short and stern, but sincere.
Yuhan was faintly aware of Hiroshu's emerald green robes flitting away into the shadows just before the mystery guards finally revealed themselves. They were dressed in foreign colors, sharp black outfits accented with red and gold, further proof that this was indeed the Fire Nation. Their faces were timid, and he realized that it was fear towards Iroh as soon as the first guard drew too close. The red-grey passageway twisted and flashed across his vision every time, but someone new was mysteriously knocked to the ground whenever it stabilized again.
Out of nowhere, his eyes were blinded with brilliant light. Yuhan even tried to lift his arms for a moment to cover them, forgetting that all the knives would stab as soon as he did. His aching head bobbed unsteadily with each heavy impact of the footsteps beneath him, but at some point his face flipped upwards toward the glaring light.
Was that the sun? It was black with glowing edges, and it confused him. Typically a sun would have needed much more light than that to produce such blinding rays...
Had he really been in prison that long?
Yuhan's weary head lolled back down towards his useless, dangling arms, which flopped against Iroh's back as they ran – well, as the old man ran. The grassy ground was speeding past, its colors ever-changing. However, his emerald eyes caught sight of a peculiar gleam reflecting from inside his rigid fingers. He suddenly remembered that he hadn't let go of Riya's bracelet this entire time.
He began to feel something distantly familiar growing deep inside of his chest. The little tune was slow and cautious, not daring to call itself hope just yet, but it was alive. Like the bracelet that was supposed to be long gone, the shy girl with the hazel eyes could suddenly be thriving somewhere inside the Impenetrable City. Healthy and smiling, she could be waiting for the day the war was over. Waiting for him. It was such a strange and foreign idea. He couldn't envision it, but he could somehow feel it. Sort of.
But the former Peace Orator didn't trust any of his feelings. It was all wrong. His mother's voice haunted him, and he still had very vivid memories of Riya and the dagger. Were they both dead? He had never felt so hollow in his life, and he didn't even know which truth to blame it on. Yuhan kept staring down at his little bracelet. Either they were both dead...or he had betrayed the Dai Li to save Riya. At the cost of his mother.
Don't cry, Hannie...
As the tall, stony prison in the distance grew tinier and tinier, the crimson began to transform inside his memories. It wasn't flowing over a yellow uniform, but something much simpler. The mark of a woman who never cared for Upper Ring fashion, whose grey eyes never left his as she smiled warmly. Then the vision dissolved again. Back to Riya and her crimson hair. Or was it the same shade of his black hair, where crimson couldn't stand out?
Goodnight, Agent Tsen.
I'm so proud of you - Yuhan. Keep your chin up.
The Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai...
Whatever creatures those voices belonged to, the broken Peace Orator wanted them to shut up. All of them. It was too loud, and he didn't want to hear any more. Everything was truth and lies all at once, and he just wanted it to stop. The Dai Li had messed him up.
You and me both, Riya.
It was the last conscious thought he had as his cold fingers dug into his pounding head. The little red streams that formed from his abused scalp ran subtly past the bracelet still looped tightly around his hand.
"Would be great if we could find you a healer...should be plenty where we're going...I hear they can make some of the most exquisite smoked sea slugs, though I've always been more of a roast duck person..."
His body still shaking, Yuhan naturally ignored that last voice as well, the weird and elderly one coming from below him. But it honestly didn't seem to care; it kept talking merrily as if he were actually listening for the rest of the twisted trip.
Somewhere deep inside the endless red of the Fire Nation Royal Palace, Agent Hiroshu Leung wasn't hungry. He'd left his fellow agents early. Not that they cared anyway, after such a successful day. The invasion had failed horribly, just as the princess promised. The Dai Li had never felt more satisfied about their leader. She made difficult problems look like a joke - like killing the Avatar. Then warding off his entire army during an eclipse. They wished she would give herself more credit, as she was currently too perplexed about the escape of General Iroh, her brother, and Agent Yuhan Tsen to pay attention to her successes just yet.
Hiroshu's fingers regained feeling after it was confirmed that Iroh had indeed been acquainted with the treacherous agent before. Some of their messengers in Ba Sing Se had taken note of it, particularly when the peasant girl was still hanging around their Peace Orator. The general might've noticed his fellow traitor being dragged onto the ship back to the Fire Nation and decided to do him a favor, for all they knew. After all, a deranged agent couldn't possibly escape a prison like that by himself; Iroh had been the first successful escape, in fact. Understandable. It seemed like Princess Azula was just going to stick with that conclusion for now.
Staring blankly at the red ceiling of his assigned dorm as he lay flat on his back, Hiroshu found himself envying his deranged patrol partner. The kid was free – truly free.
...But at what cost?
It was going to plague his mind forever. He'd saved his patrol partner's girl...by sacrificing someone else. Unknowingly, but it didn't make the crime any less despicable. Who was he to make that choice for Yuhan? Would the kid even survive out there with all this insanity? Should he have just left him alone, and kept his family out of potential danger?
Hiroshu rolled over on his mattress, digging his face into a pillow. Honestly, he couldn't tell if he was any better than the rest of his organization.
The same dream was probably going to haunt him tonight. He couldn't help chuckling bitterly for a moment; he was starting to sound like his crazy patrol partner.
"Princess Azula commands all Joo Dees within the walls of Ba Sing Se to report to the Royal Palace! She asks that you disregard any other obligations and present yourselves immediately."
"We are honored to carry out her wishes. Princess Azula's word is supreme. Her will is our priority."
Crowds of yellow dresses marched with unnatural precision throughout the city. The citizens pitied them, but the fear kept them silent as they pretended not to notice.
A figure in emerald robes noticed.
There she was. Oh, Spirits – there she was, just walking out in plain sight. The quiet girl with the hazel eyes and auburn hair, somewhere beneath that ugly grin. He suddenly realized that he had hoped for her never to appear.
It had taken several days. The messengers practically screamed the memo throughout every corner of the city before it finally reached her ears, wherever the kid had hidden her. The Fire Nation princess was so fixated on snuffing out this one helpless peasant girl, the one who mattered most to the traitor, that it hurt to watch.
And he didn't know what to do.
She kept walking. No one else noticed her yet. The remaining Joo Dees these days often popped out at unexpected times, and the first agent who happened to spot them would just herd them along with the others accordingly. Agents like him.
She kept walking. Yuhan loved her.
But he was a Dai Li agent. He couldn't do anything. Shouldn't do anything.
His veins threatened to burst from the pressure. The panic pulsed through them with every frantic beat of his chest.
Yuhan loved her.
He had to obey his duties.
But Yuhan loved her.
Duties. He had to ignore her.
The first green uniform that caught his eye in the distance sent him running before he knew it.
She kept walking. The shabby buildings surrounding her were beginning to lessen, threatening to expose her to the other agent any minute.
He was still running, unable to tell if he was more terrified for his life or hers. But his best friend loved her.
He didn't know what he was doing.
"Joo Dee – stop!"
"I apologize. I must report to Princess –"
"The Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai!"
The words felt icy cold on his lips, the terror and disbelief at himself making him tremble as he stared into her hollow eyes.
Her pupils went wide, and she stopped blinking. "I am honored to accept his invitation."
His voice was shouting, yet whispering. Power without volume. He didn't know what he was doing. "You did not hear any commands from Princess Azula!"
She remained silent.
The paranoia kept adding more and more forbidden words before he could stop himself. "If she doesn't tell you herself, don't listen to her commands ever again unless you hear it from me, got it? My word comes before those useless messenger boys! So get out of here! Don't let any of us see you ever again!"
Something twisted in his chest for a moment. "Unless – unless it's Agent Yuhan Tsen. Now get out of here."
"I understand. Your wish is my command."
She understood. He couldn't believe that she actually understood. Simply deleting and adding in commands like that – he'd seen his patrol partner do it. But not him. Never him. What just happened?
Her yellow dress disappeared from sight before he could even feel the horror of his actions.
What had he just done?
He was a traitor, too. Wide-eyed and petrified with fear, he waited for the other agent to call him out. Someone was going to catch him. Someone was going to punish him. He didn't want to end up like Yuhan. The agent had never felt this much terror in his life. Maybe it was better to kill himself now while he had the chance? But then his parents...they were still out there...
Seconds ticked by, then minutes. Then hours. Nothing happened. The agent was terrified.
She'd probably been sent outside the city, they said. The messengers had checked off every possible corner within the walls. She never appeared.
His patrol partner loved her, and she was gone from sight.
A few days later, they decided to try an alternative. They never truly gave up, and neither did the princess.
The agent was terrified.
- The author had to write for an insane character, and noticed that she herself was turning rather "batty" (as stated by during progress). Sometimes "feeling" the mood of a chapter just isn't good for your brain...
- The author started her first day of school on no sleep because of this chapter. The writing plague just happened to hit her at 10pm. And she can't escape the writing plague once it hits.
- Yeah, the author needs a nap. And sanity. *Twitch*
- The three-month thing was actually based on one of the author's favorite references. You guys should really check out this Avatar Calendar if you want an idea of how to time the canon events of A:TLA logically. It was made by Caelum Blue, a very brilliant and dedicated author of fanfiction.net, and Minn thinks it's the closest one can get to an accurate canon event calendar.
|Silent Hero in Emerald|
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|Professional Illustrations - Minnichi's Drawings - All SHiE Art|
|FanFiction.net Profile - Liberal Ba Sing Se (oneshot) - (oneshot) -|
For the collective works of the author, go here.