|More from Minnichi||Romance/Angst/Action||PG-13||Very positive|
|Chapter 5 - Her Only Family (SHiE)|
Summary of the Last Chapter
The girl escorted by Yuhan turns out not to be so random after all. He and Riya rekindle their old friendship in no time - only for Yuhan to discover that her supposedly dead stepparents are actually imprisoned at his headquarters.
Loud footsteps echoing down the hallways beneath Lake Laogai stirred several peasants behind iron bars awake. Another lifeless morning had begun in the Dai Li headquarters. The starved, beaten eyes that flickered in and out of consciousness at the noise could hardly be considered awake, however. They had been deprived of sunlight for years, no longer caring to wonder whether it was night or day above the water.
One set of footsteps paused before a cell at the corner connecting Ground Corridors 2 and 3. After several seconds, the footsteps still hadn't started again. The shadow of their owner could be seen blocking the gap beneath the rusty metal door. After a few more seconds, the loud jingling of keys accompanied the noises echoing down the eerie hallway.
Liu drowsily struggled to force his eyelids open, though the deep brown irises within writhed and stung. He put all his might into focusing his disoriented pupils onto another prisoner, chained to the dusty brick wall across from him.
"Mina. Mina..." He croaked. "Someone's outside."
The feeble woman, who was all but skin and bones, rubbed at her own dirt-filled eyes for several seconds before she could return the gaze, their jade color marred by the surrounding red. Her dusty black hair, matted and caked with dirt, hung like tattered cords upon her face as her cracked lips began to move. "They're coming back to try again..." she wheezed. "I don't know if I can pull through this time, Liu...I'm...tired..." A horrible, raspy cough shot through her lungs. A few drops of blood spattered across the hard floor.
Her husband's face twisted with pain and helplessness as he stared down at the crimson stains. "Don't worry, Mina," he replied, his voice crackly. "I can...convince them...to take me...instead..." Despite his determination, Liu was struggling to stay conscious himself.
"No...no..." The woman's head was barely turning back and forth as she tried to rest against the wall. "You've...done enough...already."
Before Liu could answer, the heavy metal door swung open and crashed against the wall with a deafening bang.
"Morning! Good to see that you're awake already."
The ragged prisoner leaned over in the direction of the voice that he'd learned to despise for the past 5 years. "What do you want..." he began slowly, sitting up a little.
"Why, it's that time of month again!" the Dai Li agent replied simply, his jeering mouth twisting into a smile beneath the brim of his hat. "If you promise to be good today, you'll be sent straight home in a carriage before you know it - and we'll all be spared the atrocious odor infecting this room."
An indescribable fury suddenly lit up the eyes that had seemed so lifeless just a few seconds earlier. Liu wanted so badly to be able to look straight into the face underneath that revolting, gaudy pointed hat. That coward! "Never. Burn in Koh's Realm." The words flew like knifes across the shadowy cell.
The agent gave a long, exaggerated sigh. "Now, now, I think we've been through this enough times, Liu. Just come with me quietly, and I won't have to concern myself with that filthy woman of yours. For the time being." The prisoner could see his lips forming a nasty smirk.
Liu turned his weary eyes painfully over at Mina, who'd already fallen into unconsciousness again. His face hardened. "Fine. Do what you will..." he muttered. He held out both his arms, struggling to lift the heavy shackles pulling down his wrists.
"See, that wasn't so hard was it?" sneered the agent, solidifying a thick band of rock around Liu's wrists before unlocking the shackles. "Now we're just going to take a little trip down into the conversion chamber – I'm sure you've been there many times already – where you'll hopefully come to your senses today. Then you and your wife are free...that is, if she complies too." The prisoner didn't answer.
Liu knew how to resist the influence of the strange, revolving lamp that often dazed him every time he was taken to the conversion chamber, and he certainly didn't plan on giving into it today. All he had to do was imagine the excruciating sight of his own father being stabbed through by ruthless Fire Nation soldiers, with his house burning in the background. If that didn't work, then he would force himself to recall Mina's tortured face as he tore her away from the charred bodies of her entire family. There were times when it seemed all hope was lost, but the innocent face of a young, sweet girl with hazel eyes would suddenly smile at him just before his mind slipped away completely. Sometimes it was his sheer determination not to let her be alone anymore that saved him from being brainwashed. But even so, the glow of the lamp became harder and harder to ignore as Liu was continually worn down by terrible conditions of prison through the years. He couldn't hide his anxiety when he spotted the specially marked door of the conversion chamber slowly inching closer and closer to him.
"Anddd now I finally get you off my hands." The agent guiding Liu wrenched open the thick entrance and pitilessly shoved him through. He tumbled onto the cold floor as the door slammed shut behind him. The sharp noise seemed to dull in contact with the cold air of the eerie chamber. Mina's husband simply stayed immobile on the ground and rested his eyes while he could, bracing himself to be brutally dragged back onto his feet.
To his surprise, he felt two tender arms lift his back gently off the ground, propping him up against a wall to sit temporarily. Liu gladly took the chance to rest his weary eyes some more, knowing that it would decrease his chances of being influenced by the lantern's glow. His ears picked up a voice and the rustling of paper a few feet away. "(Sigh) Let's see who's in here today..." the voice muttered softly. "Prisoner #113. 57th conversion attempt." There was a sharp intake of breath. "Liu...Lower Ring...4th Division." The parchment fluttered to the ground before Liu's feet. Confused, he twisted his head up towards the speaker.
A pair of dark, emerald eyes were gazing back down at him. Young, strained, and shadowed with looming signs of exhaustion...They were not at all what the prisoner had always expected to see beneath any agent's hat. As he stared back, the mysterious eyes seemed to flicker with both pain and pity. If he could say so himself, Liu almost felt that they looked...troubled. Dai Li agents could feel such emotions...?
No, the prisoner quickly thought to himself. It's just another one of their little tricks to try catching me off guard and brainwashing me. I have to ignore it. He finally tore his face away from those wretched eyes, trying to appear as strong and stubborn as possible. "Well?" he snapped.
The green eyes disappeared back beneath the hat. "...Would you like to seat yourself? Or should I –"
"I can walk myself, thank you very much!" Liu snarled, staggering over to the worn stone chair sitting in front of the lamp. "Just get it over with already."
The agent silently watched him collapse into the seat and wince from the pain of the bruises covering his body. Liu simply could not understand why he kept getting the impression that this agent was behaving really strangely, as if he were almost...human. After a heavy moment of silence, the Earthbender finally lifted an arm hesitatingly into the air. The lamp, already lit, began to drift across its curved rail, picking up its speed within seconds and whizzing across the faces of both the prisoner and the agent.
Liu panicked. He was too fatigued today. The blinding yellow glow seemed to envelope the entire room almost instantly. He desperately tried to focus. There his father was, screaming out in pain...from what? What was causing him pain?
"There is no war in Ba Sing Se." There was something unnaturally convincing about that voice, and it was impossible to ignore.
The prisoner struggled to keep his train of thought. Fire Nation. Yes, the Fire Nation was making his father...what were they doing? Liu quickly shifted his faulty memory to something else. Mina...there she was, kneeling and sobbing. Because...because...
"There is no war within the walls."
Was there even a war? Had he ever experienced one before? No, there had to be a war - he just couldn't remember why. Liu cried out in agony. His eyes refocused for a brief second on the hazy green figure of the Dai Li agent. He himself looked as if he was straining to force out the words. The thought quickly died in Liu's' mind with the next sentence, however.
"Here, we are safe."
Yes, yes, he was safe. He and Mina were in Ba Sing Se now. There was no war. There was no sadness. There was no one left behind...no one...except...
"RIYA!" Liu screamed, reaching despairingly towards a quickly dissolving vision of the smiling, hazel-eyed girl waving goodbye to him. Was that Riya? Who was she? Why was she important? His eyes failed him. Everything turned to black.
Liu reawakened to a couple of irritated voices. A familiar pain wrung his heart. It was a sign that, to his utter surprise, all his memories were still intact.
"You couldn't convert him? Aren't you supposed to be the Peace Orator that never fails?" rang the sound of Liu's 5-year target of hatred.
"It's not like I never fail, who told you that? And it did take you guys 56 tries before you even turned him over to me. Can I ask that you take that into account?" It took a few moments for the prisoner to recognize this speaker. Was that really the voice of the one who'd tried to brainwash him? It sounded so...natural.
"I'm tired of dealing with this stupid peasant, though!" scowled the Koh-bound agent. "I expected you to be able to send him away already. Long Feng Sir won't be happy with you."
"Long Feng Sir will see how many times you've failed before considering this particular session," the brainwasher replied coolly. "I don't want to argue with you, Tyru. The peasant is simply too stubborn. We just have to accept that."
Liu heard Tyru let out another scowl. So that's the bastard who drags me out of my cell every month. He slowly opened his eyes, blinking a couple of times to make out the two blurry green figures standing a few feet away. The agents noticed him shifting drowsily in his seat and turned towards him immediately.
"What are we supposed to do with him now?" Tyru grabbed Liu's tangled hair and yanked up his face to take a closer look. The prisoner glared back with steely malice. "He's still as hard-headed and war-crazy as ever!" the agent remarked, his callous grey eyes narrowing in response. "I don't want to keep having to babysit him forever!"
"Tyru, calm down..." sighed the young converter. "I'll ask Long Feng Sir to assign someone else to his cell, alright? Just let me deal with him for now."
Tyru released Liu's hair, allowing his head to drop back down. He wiped his fingers on the sleeve of his uniform with violent, angry strokes, as if the stone covering his hand wasn't even enough to keep away the filth he just touched.
The green-eyed agent dully observed his fellow member for a few seconds. Turning away, however, he shuffled in front of Liu's chair, kneeling down. "Hey, can you hear me?" The prisoner eyed him warily. "Listen..." the agent's voice was barely a whisper. "I stopped the lantern early, okay? Try not to be so easy to brainwash next time."
Liu couldn't believe his ears - almost literally. The words flew straight through them. His brows furrowed to the extent of surpassing the permanent creases that his rage had already produced so many times before. The Dai Li were all vile, disgraceful creatures. Liar! He looked straight into those cursed emerald eyes, and spat.
The agent flinched a little and stood back, slowly lifting a hand to his pale face. Without uttering a word, he began to dab at his cheek with the sleeve of his robe.
Tyru, on the other hand, had a dangerous, horrible expression distorting his face. "You...how DARE you," he started slowly, his venomous tone growing in volume every second. "You filthy peasant! I swear, you're getting your head smashed in before I leave this room – you dare defy your authorities in such –"
"Tyru. Drop it."
The enraged agent wheeled around viciously. "You're going to let him get away with that?" he roared.
"No, of course not. I would like to have the pleasure of punishing him myself, if you don't mind," replied his fellow member, a little too calmly. "You can leave if you'd rather not soil your robes with the mess." The green-eyed agent was frighteningly expressionless.
The ground began to shake violently, causing the entire room to rumble under the pressure. Before anyone could even blink, a huge crack shot through the air, and a bottomless, gaping hole suddenly appeared right before Liu's feet. He looked up only to find that a massive boulder had produced itself, and the brainwasher was hovering it precariously above his arms. His emotionless eyes and their ghastly shadows made the whole image seem like a twisted nightmare.
Tyru chuckled maliciously as he headed for the exit. "You're really in for it now, peasant." The metal door slammed shut, its echo slowly fading into the deathly silence.
Liu tried to keep a steady face, but his body sank down helplessly against his chair beneath the looming shadow of the green-eyed agent and the giant boulder. He took in his last breaths and slowly shut his eyes. Mina...Riya...his heart writhed in pain as he pictured his broken family; his tormented wife at the mercy of the dark organization, his twice-orphaned daughter forever alone...Please stay strong without me. I...I'll always love –
The Dai Li agent gave a loud grunt and threw the boulder aside. It crashed onto the floor, cracking it even more badly than before. The walls rattled horribly, and the conversion chamber lantern toppled off of its stand, shattering as it hit the ground. Liu stared.
"Holy Spirits...that was heavy..." The agent leaned against the boulder, breathing hard. "Well...he's gone now. So...er, let's head back to your cell, I guess."
Mina looked up anxiously as she spotted the familiar uniform, its owner chaining her husband back down across the room.
"Did...did you...?" Her voice faltered.
"No I didn't." The agent turned to her as he spoke monotonously. "He's still completely the same as he was before. Guess he's just too difficult for me."
Mina collapsed against the wall, the joy of relief bringing tears down her face. She'd really believed that they wouldn't make it today.
Liu watched the agent exit silently from the room and heard the lock click into place once more. He and his wife had been spared for another month. And although they were right where they started since the last 5 years in prison, they still had their dignity – something that he'd almost lost today.
Exhaling, the prisoner rolled over on the floor to rest his weary head. He felt something strange bubbling up inside him. It seemed so foreign, yet distantly familiar. Liu finally recognized it – he'd found a glimmer of hope. After a split second however, a frown twisted his face, and the hate returned to his eyes with all its fury.
Dai Li agents don't give hope.
Soooo...this would be the first of the angsty chapters in this fic ^^" But don't worry, there's lots of jolly ones too! I think.
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