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Chapter 7-The Plot, The Perfidy and The Pirates

3 Years PreviouslyEdit

Zuko entered his father's chambers and sat. He had been summoned without notice, three days after his young cousin Lu Cee's seventh birthday had brought the revelation that she was doubly gifted with strength and precognitive abilities, but she did not have the Death Touch. It had been a surprise, but her doubly gifted nature made up for her lack of the Death Touch, or so everyone had agreed. Azula had even immediately asked her best friends, Ty Lee who had the gift of strength, and Mei who had precognitive abilities and Zuko's deepest affections, to train the young princess in their respective skills as both were immensely formidable warriors.

Zuko however had caught a certain look in the eye of his father at the revelation. Ozai had looked upon the young princess with the same look of scorn he had when he looked at those of lesser birth, but there had been something strange mixed in with it, something Zuko didn't like at all. Now Ozai entered the room and sat down, casually pouring some tea before offering Zuko a cup, "Drink."

Zuko looked at the cup cautiously, there was something off, and his father was a master Death Touch, able to turn things to poison with a touch and rot the flesh from a living body at forty paces. Zuko raised the cup to his lips, but clenched his lip tightly against the rim of the cup to ensure that none of the tea entered his mouth. Ozai however drank deeply before setting his cup back down.

"Zuko my son," he started, "Look at our family. The mightiest of all Death Touch, the family of Azulon who was to be Emperor Aang's Horseman." Zuko frowned slightly, why was he bringing up the highest honor of the family? The four mightiest and most trusted of every sect were selected to be the Emperor's Four Horsemen, their most trusted generals and advisors, whose rule was second only to that of the Imperial Throne, when the Emperor came of age, an honor that was almost his grandfather Azulon's. That honor had landed them in a position akin to royalty amongst the Death Touch, and Zuko knew his father took immense pride in that, so why was he starting a conversation with that?

"Our family tree," Ozai continued, "split in two as you know with my birth. As you also know, your Uncle Iroh is next in line to the throne, and his son Lu Ten is next after him. Your grandfather is old, and so is Iroh. Lu Ten is a sickly cripple. There needs to be a strong hand to take the throne should anything happen to them. That would be Lu Cee." He drank again.

Zuko narrowed his eyes, his brow furrowing over his eyepatch, where was he going with this. "But Lu Cee," Ozai continued as he set his drink down, "Is not a Death Touch. She is weak, and cannot be allowed to take the throne." "What are you saying?" Zuko asked, his patience running thin and his fear running high. "Tomorrow Zuko, I shall take the throne," Ozai said with relish, "At the funeral."

Zuko moved almost too fast to see, leaping to his feet and running for the door; he had to warn them. CRASH! He didn't make it to the door as the heavy porcelain tea pot slammed into his head, knocking him to the ground, completely unconscious as the tea pot shattered on the floor next to him.

In The Royal Gardens, The Moon PavilionEdit

Chit-Sang poured the tea into Azulon's cup. He was very happy with his job. Then as Lord Azulon went to drink, little Princess Lu Cee leapt up, "DON'T DRINK THAT!" She shrieked. Azulon hurriedly set down the cup startled and stared at her. Chit-Sang looked at her, deeply startled, "Is there a problem Princess?" Lu Cee took the cup from Azulon and splashed it on a nearby plant, which immediately withered, "Poison." She said grimly, "Very powerful poison."

In A Cell Later That Night, Near MorningEdit

Zuko woke with a groan, the back of his head extremely sore. Chit-Sang, his butler and good friend, was sitting on the floor next to him. Chit-Sang looked over at him, a dead look in his eye, "They're saying we did it." Zuko's eyes widened as the events leading up to his being knocked out rushed back to him. He sat bolt upright facing the back of the cell, "Are they alright?" "So you did know," A voice said from behind him.

Zuko spun and saw Azula sitting outside the cell doors. She was a picture of composure, her black and purple gown extremely neat, her hair and makeup flawless. Zuko knew better though, Azula was on the verge of tears. "How could you?" she whispered, tears starting to well in her eyes. Zuko was on his feet in an instant, "It wasn't me!" Azula rose to hers, fighting back the tears, "Then who was it Zuko? I saw what the poison was capable of. There are only a handful of people with the power to make poison that powerful, and you're one of them. Father's in bed, deathly ill, and if Lu Cee hadn't stopped him from drinking, grandfather would be dead! How could you Zuko? Our whole family! Were you planning to kill me too?"

Time seemed to slow down, "But, he's the one," Zuko protested, his words slow as he struggled to understand what had just left Azula's mouth, "He said he was taking the throne tomorrow at the funeral." "And what Zuko?!" Azula barked, her composure finally cracking, "He poisoned himself to frame you?" Zuko suddenly remembered how little had been left in Ozai's cup, "No, maybe, I don't know!" His voice rose in desperation, "Azula you know me! You know I would never do this!"

"Do I?" Azula asked quietly, her eyes brimming with tears, "Your eye, father, uncle, grandfather, and me. Nobody else can make poison powerful enough to blister stone." Something occurred to Zuko suddenly as she said that, "Azula, my eye doesn't make poison! It only burns!" Azula's eyes widened and Zuko's eyes lit on a cup that had been slid under a slot in the door. He stooped and grabbed it, "Look Azula! I'll prove it wasn't me!"

He stared at it and lifted his eye-patch, allowing the purple bolt of raw death that his eye constantly emitted to slam into the liquid, he lifted it to Azula, "Bottoms up." Azula lunged and caught Zuko's hand, "NO!" Zuko stopped and she panted, "Please! Don't!" Zuko tossed the contents of the cup onto the stone, revealing it to be just tea, not the stone blisteringly powerful poison that had nearly killed half the royal family.

Azula stared and shook slightly as she realized Zuko was telling the truth. She closed her mouth, which had opened slightly in shock, and nodded, "I believe you. You're not powerful enough without your eye. I won't believe Father did this, but it couldn't have been you, and it wasn't me." Suddenly something horrible occurred to Zuko, "But there's no way to prove that." Azula's eyes snapped up to meet his, "Oh no."

Zuko reached out and clasped her hand, "Azula, I am very sorry about this." Azula tried to break his grip but it was iron and suddenly he yanked her forward into the bars. She didn't have time to brace herself, and as Zuko yanked with all his strength, she collapsed unconscious.

Twenty Minutes LaterEdit

Ozai's eyes opened and he started with horror as he realized Zuko was standing over him his eye-patch fraying before the power of his eye, which flickered around it like fire and illuminated the area around his sick bed with a weird purple glow. A very large hand suddenly gripped Ozai's shoulder and lifted him from the bed as though he were the size of a kitten. "For high treason," Zuko said in a low voice, "We find you guilty." Ozai was tossed in the air and caught by the shoulder and leg.

"Your punishment is to live the rest of your life as a cripple," Zuko told him coldly. Ozai tried to summon the Death Touch, but the small amount of poison he had ingested earlier to shift the eye of scrutiny away from himself was enough to make it impossible. Then the hands slammed him down onto a blunt point and he screamed as he felt his spine snap. He passed out from pain immediately.

The Next MorningEdit

Azula woke up in her bed, Ty Lee and Mei standing over her. She looked around before she sat up, "Why are there so many people in my room?" "You're awake!" Ty Lee exclaimed before leaping to hug her. "We were worried they might have broken your brain," Mei added dryly as Ty Lee let go, "bashing you against those bars like that." The events of the previous night rushed back to her and Azula swung her legs out of bed and leapt to her feet, only to nearly fall to the ground as the world shifted around her.

Mei moved quickly and caught her before sitting her down on the bed, "Whoa Azula, you're in no shape to be going anywhere." Azula felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and Ty Lee said, "Yeah, you got hit pretty hard. You need to lie down." Azula looked over her shoulder, knowing there was no way to break Ty Lee's grip, "I need to talk to my grandfather now."

Mei turned to one of the servants, "Go get Lord Azulon, tell him Azula's awake and wants to talk to him immediately." The servant nodded, "Yes ma'am," and bolted out to find Azulon.

A few moments later Azulon swept in, "Are you alright?" Azula shook her head, "Not really, where's Zuko?" "Gone," her grandfather replied grimly. "He and Chit-Sang attacked your father last night and disappeared." Azula's eyes widened, "What?" Azulon frowned, "Your father's spine is shattered. He may never walk again." Azula covered her mouth, eyes wide. Azulon looked at Mei Ty Lee and the servants, "Could you give us some privacy?" Ty Lee leapt to her feet as everyone except Azula bowed, "Of course."

The room was quickly emptied and Azulon sat down in a chair next to Azula's bed, "I take it you know something since you visited Zuko last night in his cell before his escape?" Azula nodded and said quietly, "He claimed Father was the one who tried to poison everyone." "So why did he attack you?" Azulon asked. Azula shook her head struggling to remember exactly what they had said, "I don't know."

Then her head snapped up, "Wait, he said his eye can't make poison, then he shot it into a cup and was going to drink it. I stopped him and he tossed it out, and it wasn't the same, and he's not powerful enough to have made that poison without the eye and it only fires one way and then..." she realized what they had said next and what Zuko must have done, "Oh no."

Tears threatened to break loose and after a moment Azulon asked, "And then?" "That only leaves four people who could have made the poison, and I'm the only one who wasn't posioned. He must've broken out to keep people from thinking it was me." Azulon nodded thoughtfully, "That does sound like something he would do, and poisoning me doesn't sound like something either of you would do."

Azula looked at him, "Then who...?" Azulon's frown deepened, "Zuko is not the sort to poison anyone, and you are more honorable than that. Iroh would not attempt to kill his own children and Ozai had time and strength enough to knock Zuko out with a tea pot from behind after drinking that poison? It does not make sense. You are a very good liar my granddaughter, that is not something you inherited from your father."

"Unfortunately," he continued, "Ozai is smart enough to cover his tracks. By poisoning himself, he makes himself very difficult to pin blame on. I will watch him carefully from now on. I must encourage you to speak of this to no one my granddaughter. We cannot let Ozai know I am on to him. With any luck, he may slip up, and then Zuko will be able to return, cleared of all charges. Until then though, he must stay at sea. He confirmed your story before he left and has promised to stay in touch. Would you mind doing that? Too many eyes are on me at all times."

Azula shook her head, "I don't believe Father is behind this. There has to be someone else. He wouldn't do this!" Azulon smiled sadly and said gently, "Your faith is a good quality, and I wish it were well placed, but until other evidence is brought to light, Zuko and Ozai are the only ones who have been blamed, and you are the only other suspect available. Leave this alone Azula, and keep in touch with your brother for me. I trust you, I trust Zuko, and I want to trust Ozai. Please, let the snake that did this think himself safe that he might poke his head out for us to lop off." Azula nodded reluctantly, "Of course Grandfather. I will be patient." Azulon smiled, "Good. Now get some sleep, you've got a hole in your head." He teased.

"I'll read thank you!" Azula replied sharply, taking her grandfather's subtle hint to proceed as though the previous conversation had never happened. Her grandfather laughed as he stood, "Do as you're told and respect your elders you spoiled brat!" Azula stuck her tongue out at him as she reached for a book.

Present, the Dungeons Beneath the Vampiri CitadelEdit

"Ever since that day," Zuko said quietly, "Chit-Sang and I have been on the high seas, plundering the Republic's trade ships and villages, trying to do what we can to restore the Empire. We came to this city because we tracked the Emperor here after our ship was sunk by Republic ships a few leagues north of here on our way to Erog. We were hoping for a pardon so we could go home."

Hakoda nodded and sat back, before looking up at the ceiling. Then he turned and looked at the young man that had ambushed Zuko and Chit-Sang earlier, "Sokka, you dragged the emperor in right?" Sokka nodded from where he was sitting and drinking with the massive Churaian brothers and jerked a thumb at the cell next to Zuko and Chit-Sang's, "Yep. He's right there. Still out cold. Dragged him in out of the stable when we brought these two in."

Hakoda smiled, "Good." He turned back to Zuko, "Well Captain Dread-Eye, we've got the Emperor. That means that as much a waste of space as he may be, we've finally got a shot at reuniting the Empire. However, we don't have any good ship captains that we can spare. If you and your first mate are up to it, I'd like to see the Empire reunited in my lifetime, wouldn't you?"

Zuko grinned, "Deal. All we need is a ship." The bearded Churaian Brother grinned from the table where they were seated, "We've got that covered." The three immense brothers and Sokka raised their mugs, "To the Empire!" "To the Empire!" Hakoda, Zuko and Chit-Sang replied in unison.

Next Time: Setting SailEdit