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Forum Name: Mini-Stories
Topic ID: 164
#0, FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Gryphon on Jan-03-14 at 02:09 AM
There had been a time when waking in her old bedchamber back in the Fire Nation Royal Palace was the one thing Azula really wanted in life. To sit up amid the scarlet silk and golden trim of her old familiar bedclothes, surrounded by the palace's rather heavy and oppressive decor, and find that everything that had happened since the last time she lay down there and went to sleep had been some terrible dream.

As the years went on, though, that scenario seemed less and less likely. She remembered reading once that dreams took as long to be experienced as the events depicted in them would have taken to play out in the real world. If that were true, she would have been asleep for something like sixty years at this point. Someone would have noticed by now. At the very least, the proposition strained credulity.

So when, one day, she did exactly that, Azula could be excused for having experienced a certain extreme of bemusement.

Blinking, she got hesitantly out of bed and stood looking around for a moment, confused, intrigued, and virtually paralyzed with déjà vu. Yes, this was her bedroom, all right, as it had been for all her short but eventful life to date: a place of which she knew every angle, corner, detail, and quirk, from the creaky floorboard near the wardrobe to the singed corner of the one tapestry by the dressing table.

She sat down at that table and tried to think. Her head felt strange, filled with a faint, hazy buzzing, but simultaneously cold and hollow. She tried to remember where she'd been last, but it wouldn't come. Instead, it hovered somewhere just out of sight of her mind's eye, almost taunting her with its nearness, but completely inaccessible. Not déjà vu but presque vu, that. She had the vague impression that there was a great deal of memory and experience over there, giggling quietly to itself as she failed to recall any of it, but she couldn't have pointed to any specific reason why she felt that way.

Azula looked up from her reverie and regarded herself in the dressing-table mirror. The face looking back at her was her own, she knew that, and yet for a moment it seemed utterly unfamiliar to her. That phenomenon, she recalled, was called jamais vu (she wondered what language those terms were borrowed from; she was sure she had known once), and so she'd completed a sort of confusional trifecta. Why had she expected herself to be older? That was ridiculous. Surely the girl she saw in the mirror was just as she should be, gracefully surfing the wave of adolescence, poised elegantly upon its very crest: Princess Azula the Conqueror, bred for supremacy and trained to perfection, as beautiful, precise, and deadly as a razor.

She smiled at the thought, rose, and went to her wardrobe. The disorientation she had felt on waking faded away as the familiar structure of reality asserted itself. By the time she reached the wardrobe, she remembered only that she'd had a series of strange dreams, but what they had entailed, she no longer recalled. It didn't seem important at the moment, anyway. Today was far too big a day for her to waste any of it mulling over anything as ephemeral as a dream. Plenty of time for that once the work was complete.

After a moment's consideration, she clothed herself in her best ceremonial armor, befitting a grand occasion of state. Then, returning to the table, she brushed her long black hair glossy and put it up in its familiar style, affixing her elaborately folded topknot with care. A touch of sparingly applied makeup, some routine maintenance to her nails...

As she saw to the latter, Azula became aware that her reflection was no longer alone in the dressing-table mirror. Without looking up, she said casually,

"Good morning, Mother. It's been a while. I trust you're well."

In the mirror, it appeared that Azula's mother, Ursa, was standing right behind her, close enough to put a hand on her shoulder, but Azula knew from long experience that if she turned and looked, she would find that she was alone in the room. At one time, this peculiar apparition would have been enough to send her flying into a rage - she'd destroyed more than one mirror - but she was so accustomed to it by now that she didn't even bother looking up to see the reflection until she'd finished with her nails.

When she did, Ursa - looking beautiful and solemn as always - gave her an earnest look and said, "Azula, you must beware. You aren't where you think you are."

Azula sighed, rolling her eyes slightly. "Oh, Mother, really?" she said wearily. "I thought we were finished with that."

She paused for a moment, looking thoughtful - there was that strange feeling again, as if she had years of experience with this phenomenon, when plainly she did not. Then, as before, it passed, and she put down her nail file and said casually,

"Well, I'd love to stay and entertain you, Mother, but I'm afraid I must be going. Father and I have a rather big day planned, you know. We're off to destroy the Earth Kingdom."

"Listen to me, Azula," Ursa pleaded. "You must open your eyes, you're in terrible danger."

Azula made a dismissive sound. "From whom?" she wondered. "Zuzu and his little pals? Please." Raising a hand in a casual backward wave, she breezed out into the hallway, adding, "Ta, Mother. I'll send you a postcard from the ruins of the old world."

The guards in the corridor, masked and silent, might as well have been mannequins in armor. Azula ignored them, as was her custom, and navigated the familiar hallways with ease to the war room. When she entered, she found her father up on the dais and his generals and admirals all standing around the map table, reviewing the strategy - her strategy - for the final reduction of the Earth Kingdom.

"Don't tell me you started without me," said Azula with a touch of playful reproach as she strolled past the line of flag officers on the left-hand side of the table. She knew them all by name, of course, and as she passed each of them, she let fall some small, cutting remark intended to remind him of his place. Some of them were less amenable than others to being commanded by a teenaged girl, however plainly superior, and for them, a little reminder of who had the whip hand wouldn't go amiss on a day like this.

"Well, Mung, don't we look eager to get started this morning. All right, Bujing? Cannons properly foddered, I hope? Don't look so glum, Shinu, it's your big day." She paused at the end of the line, wrinkling her nose delicately. "Zhao, you reek of seaweed." She glanced with distaste at the puddle beneath the admiral's feet, then shook her head dismissively - disgusting man, perpetually soggy and unkempt - and ascended the dais.

Like Azula, Fire Lord Ozai was dressed in his most elaborate ceremonial armor; befitting his station, it was even more ornate than hers, though she liked to think that it crossed a line into gaudy excess that hers did not, illustrating the fundamental lack of class that was the man's cardinal flaw in his daughter's critical eyes. He was a cunning brute, there was no denying that, but he was still a brute: bull-necked, square-jawed, and without imagination. His father, Azula remembered, was the same. So unsophisticated. She occasionally found it difficult to credit the notion that they were her forebears.

Now he smiled, though as always, it didn't reach his eyes. Azula noticed that, but didn't mind it. She hadn't been under any illusion that her father loved her for many years now. She understood him well enough by now to be well aware that there was little room in Ozai's heart for anyone but Ozai. They were much the same in that regard, though she had come to regard it as a flaw in both their characters, and occasionally to rebel against it in her own.

Where are these thoughts coming from? she wondered. Not only was this far from the time to be ruminating about such matters, these things felt like conclusions, long- and well-considered, over a span of time that her life to date was simply not long enough to have included. Azula hesitated on the top step, pressing her fingertips reflexively against her forehead for a moment, then shook her head and got hold of herself. She had far too much to do today to be giving in to existential qualms.

Ozai didn't seem to have noticed her momentary discomfort (again, not a surprise). Still not-really-smiling, he opened his hands and said, "And here's my favorite general now. Are you ready to make an end to this long business at last?"

Azula's smile was much more genuine than her father's, albeit rather cruel, as she replied, "Of course."


As she rode northward, standing up in the cupola atop her command tank, Azula found herself grappling with a strange sense of disappointment. This was a great day - the greatest day in the Fire Nation's history - and she was its acknowledged chief architect. The honor of leading the vanguard of the assault fell to her. On her head, placed in her topknot by the hand of her father himself, was the golden flame of the Fire Lord. History would never forget her name.

And yet...

She turned and looked back at the forces under her command. It was a great army, as befit a great leader on a great day, but it was so... so essentially shabby. The tanks were rusty, the men's armor was in poor repair, and the troops themselves seemed ill-nourished and strangely unmoved by the patriotic excitement of participating in such an occasion. She knew, of course, that it had been a long war, and even such an economic powerhouse as the Fire Nation couldn't sustain such a war effort indefinitely without a certain slippage of purely cosmetic standards, but even so... it was a bit of a letdown to ride into history at the head of such dilapidation.

And then there was the "Fire Lord" thing. Elevation to her country's highest office should have thrilled Azula to the bone - it was the culmination of all her life's ambitions, the honor for which she'd shaped herself ruthlessly since she was old enough to stand, or at least since she was old enough to scheme against her feckless elder brother (which in her case was much the same thing). Except it wasn't, really, because Ozai had changed the game. He'd proclaimed himself king of the world, at which point "Fire Lord" was just a fancy name for one of his vassals. The golden flame Azula wore in her hair now wasn't a badge of lofty accomplishment, it was a meaningless bauble her father no longer wanted.

She shook her head. What's wrong with me today? she wondered. I swear there are days when I can find a way not to enjoy anything, no matter how much I want to.


The army marched through the night, arriving just before daybreak at the final staging area. Cursing the frigid weather - a person would think they were attacking the Water Tribe again - Azula wrapped herself in a heavy cloak and struggled through the howling, sleet-filled gale to the forward command post.

From here, at the top of a ridge, it had looked on the map like a person would be able to see their objective, the western flank of Ba Sing Se. In daylight, that might have been possible, but with only as much muddy pre-dawn light as could force its way through the storm, all that was visible over there, even through the best binoculars, was the indistinct grey shape of the wall.

That, and the campfires of an enormous army arrayed before it.

"It looks like they're expecting us," Azula mused to her orderly (whose name she hadn't bothered to learn). Then, smiling, she added, "So much the better. Mass the earthbenders and prepare to commence the assault."

The earthbenders were, if she did say it herself, the most brilliant part of her ingenious battle plan. The defenders of Ba Sing Se had counted on their monopoly on that art to protect their vaunted wall for generations, never dreaming that anyone in the Fire Nation's armed forces would think of assembling an elite counterforce of their brother elementalists - or succeed, come to that, if anyone did think of it. It didn't seem to have occurred to them that there would be plenty of earthbenders, disaffected or otherwise... reachable, who could be recruited for such an effort by one method or another.

Azula raised her binoculars again and surveyed the earthbender force as it formed up. They were even shabbier than her regular army, most of them still clad in the ragged remains of the uniform they'd betrayed to join her. She couldn't decide for certain whether that was poetic or just pathetic, but it was a bit late to do anything about it now, so she sighed and let it pass. Lowering the binoculars, she handed them to her orderly, then turned and left the tent. At least she'd be well-dressed. No patchy leather trousers and ragged old sweater for Azula the Conqueror this time!

She hesitated at the thought; then, raising her left hand, she considered the vambrace of her ceremonial armor. It was just metal, polished and uninformative. No tactical information to be had there. She wondered vaguely why she'd momentarily expected that there might be, and why her right hand seemed to want there to be something slung at her hip for it to rest on.

With an exasperated shake of her head, she shouted over the still-howling wind, "To me, my minions!"

A few soldiers (and a very startled-looking General Bujing) looked up from making final preparations - one of them even asked in a puzzled voice, "Me, Your Majesty?" - but she waved them away and stalked out of the clearing, grumbling to herself,

"Where are those two? Oh, right! I sent them to rot forever in the dungeon. Why did I do that again?" Azula sighed. "I can't remember. Ah, well. I must have had a good reason." With a slightly nostalgic smile, she added, "I bet Ty Lee drank the last Nuka-Cola Victory again." Sensing the confused eyes of General Mung on her, she rounded on him and barked, "What are you staring at!"

"Uh, n-nothing, Fire Lord," the general mumbled, blushing bright red and turning back to inspecting his tank.

"Just impossible to get decent help these days," Azula muttered, continuing on her way to her own.

By the time they were in position for the final advance, the storm had abated somewhat, the screaming wind dying down to a stiff half-gale as the pace of the sleet slackened, but the unrelieved gloom of the sky meant that dawn passed largely unnoticed apart from a brightening of the iron overcast. A few minutes past when her pocket chronometer told her that had happened, the sound of a hunting horn cut through the wind, sending a sharp thrill up Azula's spine. It appeared the defenders had noticed them.

"Advance!" she barked, raising a hand and launching a brilliant blue signal flame into the grey sky.

/* Bad Religion
"The Day That the Earth Stalled"
The Dissent of Man (2010 */

As the battle began, Azula acquired a new appreciation for the difficulties of keeping track of matters across such a large front, particularly in such miserable weather. The figures of her own troops and the enemy's were almost impossible to distinguish at ranges of more than a few yards. Spotting the firebenders ought to have been easy enough, but as the combat degenerated into melee, she began to realize that it wasn't such a straightforward matter. In fact, if she didn't know better, she would almost think that they had a number of firebenders among their -

"Fire Lord!" cried the commander of her tank from his own cupola, a couple of feet to her left. Pointing with the hand not holding his binoculars, he declared, "Prince Zuko approaching!"

Azula turned and scowled at him. "What do you mean, 'Prince Zuko approaching'?" she demanded; then she snatched the optics from his hand and looked for herself.

Yes indeed, there he was, all right, big as life - her elder brother Zuko, all kitted out in his best, just like her, and unmistakable with his hilarious facial scar. She wondered how he managed to avoid being backshot by his own side, fighting for the Earth Kingdom in the dress of a Fire Prince. She very nearly shouted for her tank, and the others in the headquarters platoon, to open fire with all weapons, but a millisecond before she could, she thought better of it and handed her tank's commander back his binoculars.

"I haven't seen my darling brother in a very long time," she said conversationally to him, raising herself out of her cupola's hatch. "I believe I'll go and reintroduce myself."

Half a mile away, on one of the ramparts of the Golden City, a man in a red beret peered into a telesight and said tersely into his commbud, "I've got a shot."

"Take it," replied a woman's voice in his ear.

Carefully, deliberately - as if time were no object - he finalized his aim, looking through his SRS99 anti-matériel rifle's rangefinding telesight at the slim, red-clad figure of the opposing general as she climbed up onto the top deck of her armored vehicle and prepared to take the field. The little golden badge she wore in her hair made a perfect reference point. He dialed in a minor correction for the fierce windage, drew a breath, let half of it out, and depressed the trigger.

Craig Boone was not a praying man; but just before he sent the round downrange, he took a tenth of a second to pause and think,

I hope to Christ this works...

For his part, Zuko was astonished and disheartened to realize that the figure rising from the turret of the rusty old Fire Nation command tank in front of him was his sister. For all that seeing her again was, and long had been, one of his fondest wishes, not here, not like this. He had fervently hoped that, though she reported little encouraging about the encounter, their mother might have gotten through to her the previous day after all, and he wouldn't find her here today... but there she was, young as the last time he'd seen her so many years ago, smiling her familiar vicious little smile as she climbed out of her tank to give him battle.

And then -

- Azula flinched violently, her head snapping back, and her hands clawed at empty air for a moment as if trying to find purchase on it. A flicker of gold twinkled in the air as her Fire Lord's headpiece went flying. Suddenly loosed from her topknot, her long black hair fanned out around her like a cloud, then whipped forward and obscured the infinitely startled expression on her face as she toppled backward off the tank and disappeared from sight.

"No!" Zuko cried, horrified. That shot had come from somewhere behind him. Someone in his own force, deducing that Azula was an enemy VIP, had taken swift and decisive action to decapitate the opposing force. It was the right thing to do, the obvious tactical expedient, but by all the gods, what an ending to a story as long and colorful as hers! And for what? Why was she even here?

For all his life and some considerable time after it, Zuko had contended with the fulminating temper that was the most obvious legacy he'd received from his murderous forebears. With the help of some very good friends, he had achieved, if not mastery of it, at least a certain hard-won détente with it. Now, confronted with such a sudden, shocking loss in the midst of all this chaos, he didn't bother resisting it, and the damned and dishonored dead of the Hundred Year War in the immediate vicinity had cause to regret it as he laid into them, scattering them like burning dolls.

When the red mist cleared again and he found himself alone, Zuko felt grateful that the demands of the battle meant the others were nowhere around. At the start of this bleak day, he had regretted that they wouldn't be able to face it together, but now he was glad they hadn't been around to see him lose control that way. Winded, his fury not so much slaked as temporarily without a target, he steeled himself and trudged around the burning wreckage of Azula's command tank, then fell to his knees next to her sprawled body and bowed his head over it.

"Azula... " he murmured. "What are you even doing here? This isn't your war. You should be in Midgard, getting on with your life." He smoothed a lock of her coal-black hair away from her face, cool and serene in death, and shook his head. If any part of him noticed that there was a lot less blood than he might have expected, that realization failed to penetrate the shell of his grief as he asked her, "Why did he bring you here?"

"Why do you think, boy?" said a chillingly familiar voice behind him. Zuko stiffened, eyes widening, and turned to see his father smirking at him from behind the scarlet brands of an Archduke of Muspelheim.

Fists clenching, Zuko turned away from his fallen sister and faced Ozai, straightening up. "I wouldn't presume to guess," he snarled.

Ozai laughed mockingly. "What else would get your attention?" he asked rhetorically. "You have no idea how eagerly I've awaited this moment since I arrived in Muspelheim and learned it would one day come."

"Well, you know what they say, Father," said Zuko. "Be careful what you wish for."


The first thing Azula saw when she opened her eyes was a very familiar face she had never expected to see again; but she didn't get to see it for long, because almost as soon as her eyes opened, Ty Lee shouted, "She's alive!" and hugged her fiercely, stretching them both full-length on the snowy ground.

"Well, take it easy if you want her to stay that way," said an equally familiar voice. More-or-less-gently extricating herself from Ty Lee's embrace, Azula clambered to her feet, pressing a hand to her forehead. Her skull was ringing like a temple bell, and underneath that, the strange buzzing sensation from the previous morning was back. What was Ty Lee doing here? What was she doing here? Where was here?

As she stood unsteadily in the snow and groped internally for the scattered fragments of her situational awareness, she felt the cold prickle of a spray hypo against the side of her neck; after a moment, the buzz and the ringing both cleared. She turned to see a monk-hooded woman in battered antique powered armor grinning at her and discarding a spent Vorpanol ampoule.

"Looking good, Captain," she said, then added wryly, "I think you might be a little too young for me now, though. Just my luck."

Next to the armored woman, a hideously cadaverous-looking man in a green mechanic's coverall inquired sardonically, "You back with us, boss, or are we about to regret comin' after you?"

Azula frowned at him, brow furrowing in puzzlement; then she blinked, her eyes going wide, as all the confusion and uncertainty of the past couple of days fell away and were immediately replaced by new confusion and uncertainty.

"Raul!" she blurted. "Ronni! What are you - what am I - " She looked down at herself, then around at the little knot of people surrounding her.

Not just Raul and Veronica, but virtually the whole crew of the Phoenix Queen were standing around her, all loaded for bear - and Ty Lee and Mai were with them. For a second she thought this was another mirage, but that weird blurry feeling was gone now. She was confused, yes, but she didn't have the same epic flood of cognitive dissonance washing over her perceptions of everything around her now. The current situation was weird, maybe even surreal, but it no longer felt UNreal. A snippet of an old song flickered unbidden through her mind:

It's either real or it's a dream
There's nothing that is in between

"Where are we?" she wondered, looking around at the snowy, wreckage-strewn battlefield. In the distance on all sides, she could hear the thunder of war, as of other, equally titanic battles being waged in places just out of sight.

"Do you want the short version," Mai inquired dryly, "or the really short version?"

Azula opened her mouth to answer, but as she did, another memory fragment clicked back into place. The grey man in the Lubyanka. "Know this, then, Princess: The Ragnarök impends."

"But how did - " She shook her head. "Never mind. That's not important right now." She turned to Mai. "Where's Zuzu? Did I really see him earlier, or was that another hallucination?"

Mai shook her head, looking vaguely troubled. "No, that was real," she said. "As for where he is now... " She pointed toward someplace behind Azula.

Whirling, Azula saw what she meant, and understood why she looked worried. A few hundred yards away, carried far from where she'd fallen by the currents of battle, she could just make out two figures in the sleety murk. The armies of both sides had pulled back, at least in this sector, neither force daring to intervene as the two waged their own little war in their midst. Even at this range, Azula could tell that one was Zuko; his firebending technique was nearly as distinctive as her own, apart from the pedestrian flame color he'd always stubbornly insisted was good enough. The other was... different.

/* Electric Light Orchestra
"Prologue"
Time (1981) */

"What you're doing isn't really firebending, is it, Father?" Zuko inquired mockingly as he evaded another of Ozai's blasts. "It's a very convincing imitation, but something about it isn't quite right. What is it? Sorcery? Some kind of elemental charm?"

"It's real enough to burn that smirk off what's left of your face, boy," Ozai snarled, waving aside his son's counterattack.

"Fascinating," Zuko mused. "What the Avatar takes away, not even Surtur can give back? Aang will be very interested to learn that."

"Where is the Avatar today?" Ozai asked, his tone a parody of cordial inquiry. "I would have thought that today of all days, the so-called defender of all life would put in an appearance."

"He and the others are elsewhere," Zuko replied, unconcerned, then added cruelly, "They have much more important matters to deal with today than the likes of you."

In hindsight, Zuko considered a few moments later, that last taunt might have been a bridge too far. Faking it magically or not, Ozai was still an infernal archduke, and he had been a very potent adversary in life. Underestimating him wasn't a good strategy, and nor was twisting his tail unnecessarily. Besides which, there was one other thing about Zuko, besides his temper, that had dogged him all his life and beyond: He had rotten luck. If there was a rake to step on, a pebble to slip on, a twig to snap when silence was needed, or a tree root to trip over, Zuko would find it, as he now found what had to be the one patch of bare ice in this entire snow-filled valley.

The stars cleared from his vision just in time for him to see Ozai looming over him, a triumphant sneer on his face, as he drew back a hand to deliver a blow that, at the very least, was really going to hurt -

- and, a moment later, was struck by lightning before he could deliver it.

Surprised, Zuko looked in the direction it had come from - and saw Azula striding toward him across the battlefield, followed by a motley but formidable-looking little phalanx of people and robots, along with a handful of Einherjar they'd gathered to their banner on their way over here.

"Please assume the position," said one of the robots in an implacable synthetic voice.

Ozai, his armor smoking, picked himself up from the heap he'd fallen in and shook his head, the crisped remains of a few longer locks of his hair sloughing away to ask. "Wha - Azula!" he blurted. "But you - "

"Counting me out before my time, eh, Father?" she said with a cold little smile. "Don't feel bad. You're in excellent company in that regard." She broke into a run, energy crackling around her hands. "When you get back to Hell, be sure and say 'privet' to Comrade Beria for me."

/* Electric Light Orchestra
"Twilight"
Time (1981) */

One hundred seventy-one years before, Ozai had realized with a sudden, sharp horror that he had lavished a little too much care and attention on the crafting and honing of his favorite weapon - that Azula had become cleverer, more capable, more skilled, and more ruthless than even he himself, and that unless he did something to circumscribe her very soon, she would be a threat to everything he had worked for. On the other hand, he couldn't just discard her, as he had her brother; she was the only heir he had left, Ursa was lost to him, and there was far too little time for him to find another wife (even if any other would have done) and start again.

At the time, he'd congratulated himself for the solution he had found, which had shunted her out of his path without eliminating her in such a way that she would still be in reserve against future requirements. He'd even entertained the notion, while powerless and in prison, that he might find a way of exploiting the faultlines in her psyche to arrange his release and revenge - engineer a way back to some kind of position of power, in spite of his condition.

Instead she'd disappeared, and the whole thing had come to nothing. He'd rotted away in his own prison for long, slow decades, living long enough to watch his beloved Fire Nation sink into a disgusting, mongrelized, cosmopolitan morass under his son's weak and corrupt rule. When Beria had brought him Azula's file during the preparations for the Ragnarök, he'd nearly had the fool disintegrated, or at least demoted back to Larva Third Class. How dare he remind Ozai of one of his bitterest disappointments?

But then he'd thought about it some more, and the symmetry had proven too delicious to resist; and her refusal to join his cause willingly had perversely cemented his resolve. Ozai had always been a big believer in people knowing their place, after all. With a well-timed abduction and a little help from Beria's experts in the manipulation of mortal matter and memory, he could still apply leverage to his daughter's mental faultlines, gain a useful helper for the opening stage of the war... and position both of his children for his revenge.

It had never occurred to him that, in doing so, he'd positioned them for their revenge as well... or that what he remembered as faultlines in Azula's mind would have become, over the decades, the strongest parts of her.

The Einherjar and the damned of Dìqiú stood and watched in awe as Ozai's children - one an Einheri himself, the other a still-living mortal interloper - joined hands figuratively (and at one point literally) to avenge their ruined childhoods. So too did the crew of the Phoenix Queen, who had never entirely known whether to believe their captain's tales of her youth until now.

Zuko and Azula came together more or less instinctively, after a few perilous moments in which Ozai exploited their disunity in every way his brutal cunning could find. A moment's eye contact, a silent communication, and the whole game suddenly realigned. After that point, wherever their father turned, there was one or the other, and usually not the one he was expecting, nor from the most obvious angle.

Against either one or the other of his children, Archduke Ozai of Antenora would've had better-than-even odds of victory.

Against both of them, fighting him simultaneously but individually, he might still have prevailed.

Against both of them working together, in a way that he'd made certain they would never be able to do while he was alive?

Not a chance, as it were, in Hell.

They hemmed him in, swept aside his offense, shattered his defense, ran him ragged. With incredibly belated insight, Ozai suddenly realized what a fearsome engine his children would have been if he had raised them to collaborate this way in the first place instead of constantly pitting them against each other.

A moment after that, they linked their hands and engulfed him in a swirling vortex of blue and orange flame; then a shaft of lightning came up the middle like a freight train, and Archduke Ozai knew no more.

Zuko and Azula stood over the charred remains of their father and regarded each other, their instinctive collaboration wavering on the borderline of a more familiar mutual suspicion now that their joint enemy, and the immediate threat, was destroyed. Zuko seemed to realize for the first time that he was holding his sister's hand; hastily, as if embarrassed, he snatched his own back.

At that, Azula broke the brittle silence, remarking with a sardonic little smile, "Nice to see you too, Zuzu."

Zuko might have replied, but before he could do so, the sky above the snowy plain split open with a sound like doom off to the west, nearer to a distant seacoast that was barely visible in the ebbing storm. The damned dead cheered wildly; everyone else, from the Einherjar to Azula's crew, stared in stunned disbelief.

Alone among them, Azula turned and regarded the rift - and the flaming, laughing titan emerging from it - with a look of nothing more or less than frank annoyance.

"Oh now what," she grumbled.

"Nothing That Is In Between" - a Twilight Mini-Story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
special to the Eyrie Productions Discussion Forum
© 2014 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited


#1, Extras: Soundtrack Lyrics
Posted by Gryphon on Jan-03-14 at 02:10 AM
In response to message #0
Do you remember when
We were young, adventure had no end?
Those were the days, my friend
But I'm not talking about that at all
Do you remember when
You marred my future with a sickly parasitic pall?
That was the day that the Earth stalled
That was the day the Earth stalled
On the day that the Earth stalled

Friction bonds and gravity
All harmonic motion ceased
Life itself could not maintain
From that singularity
Try to withstand a magnetic storm
With no one to keep you warm
Waiting for the rest to fall
Since the day that the Earth stalled
That was the day the Earth stalled
Since the day that the Earth stalled
That was the day the Earth stalled
On the day that the Earth stalled

- Bad Religion
"The Day that The Earth Stalled"
The Dissent of Man (2010)


Just on the border of your waking mind
There lies another time
Where darkness and light are one
And as you tread the halls of sanity
You feel so glad to be
Unable to go beyond
I have a message from another time...


The visions dancing in my mind
The early dawn, the shades of time
Twilight crawling through my windowpane
Am I awake or do I dream?
The strangest pictures I have seen
Night is day and twilight's gone away

With your head held high and your scarlet lies
You came down to me from the open skies
It's either real or it's a dream
There's nothing that is in between

Twilight
I only meant to stay a while
Twilight
I gave you time to steal my mind
Away from me

Across the night I saw your face
You disappeared without a trace
You brought me here, but can you take me back?
Inside the image of your light
That now is day and once was night
You leave me here and then you go away

It's either real or it's a dream
There's nothing that is in between

Twilight
Twilight
Twilight
I gave you time to steal my mind
Away from me

You brought me here, but can you take me back again?


With your head held high and your scarlet lies
You came down to me from the open skies
It's either real or it's a dream
There's nothing that is in between

Twilight
I only meant to stay a while
Twilight
I gave you time to steal my mind

Twilight
I only meant to stay a while
Twilight
I only meant to stay a while

- Electric Light Orchestra
"Prologue/Twilight"
Time (1981)


#15, Oh, speaking of Bad Religion
Posted by Gryphon on Jan-06-14 at 10:11 PM
In response to message #1
I just ran across this old track of theirs while digging around in my library for something else, and it occurred to me that, since her discovery of antique punk rock in the 2330s, Azula has probably listened to it - and indeed, the entire album it comes from - quite often.


There's a watch in my pocket and its hands are broken
The face is blank but the gears are turning
Confusion is a fundamental state of mind
It doesn't really matter what I'm figuring out
I'm guaranteed to wind up in a state of doubt and
Sanity is a full-time job
In a world that is always changing
And sanity is a state of mind that you believe in, sanity

There's a shadow on the wall where the paint is peeling
My body's moving forward but my mind is reeling
Depression is a fundamental state of being
It doesn't really matter how my day has turned out
I always end up living in this world of doubt and
Sanity is a full-time job
In a world that is always changing
And sanity will make you strong if you believe in sanity

And sanity is a full-time job
In a world that is always changing
And sanity is a state of mind that you believe in, sanity

- Bad Religion
"Sanity"
No Control (1989)


Other tracks on No Control likely to resonate with our heroine are... many, but the standouts include:

"Change of Ideas"

So many theories, so many prophecies
What we do need is a change of ideas
When we are scared we can hide in our reveries
But what we need is a change of ideas

"The World Won't Stop"

Enormous things to do, others' practices to eschew
To be better than you is impossible to do
But the world won't stop without you
No the world won't stop without you

and of course the title track.

There's no vestige of beginning, no prospect of an end
When we all disintegrate it'll all happen again, yeah
If you came to conquer you'll be king for a day
But you too will deteriorate and quickly fade away
And believe these words you hear when you think your path is clear:
We have no control

(There's a song on another album, Against the Grain, called "Entropy", which includes what may well be the finest science nerd lyric ever included in a punk rock song, "Don't speak to me of anarchy or peace or calm revolt, man / You're in a play of slow decay orchestrated by Boltzmann.")

--G.
-><-
Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Mod
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
zgryphon at that email service Google has
Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.


#2, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by drakensis on Jan-03-14 at 03:55 AM
In response to message #0
'Prince Zuko is approaching'. Well under the circumstances you pretty much had to go there.

Ozai reaping what he'd sown was a nice moment of introspection and Zuko / Azula's post-fighting second or two of interaction was good.


#3, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by twipper on Jan-03-14 at 08:12 AM
In response to message #2
LAST EDITED ON Jan-03-14 AT 08:14 AM (EST)
 
Point the first: 2am? Get thee to bed, you silly person. And by silly person, I'm talking to Ben, although it applies to Drak as well. :) Replied under the wrong level...

Point the second: One of my favorite aspects of the Twilight was the point of view segments. Those little snapshots of the individual battles were as interesting as the over-battle between top-tier protagonist/antagonist pairings. This snapshot definitely belongs.

Point the third: 'Open fire! All weapons!!'

Brian


#5, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Gryphon on Jan-03-14 at 01:56 PM
In response to message #2
>'Prince Zuko is approaching'. Well under the circumstances you pretty
>much had to go there.

Apart from being an out-of-band say-hey to a particular reader, that's pretty much the case inside the story as well. Once the guy said it that way, Azula was more or less obligated to phrase her reply thus, even though she didn't consciously remember at the time that she was paraphrasing Veronica's favorite pre-War movie.

--G.
in fairness, the selection of pre-War movies available was... small
-><-
Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Mod
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
zgryphon at that email service Google has
Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.


#11, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Mercutio on Jan-06-14 at 08:24 AM
In response to message #5

>Apart from being an out-of-band say-hey to a particular reader,

A particular reader who once again owes you some thanks for doing right by his absolute favorite character from AtlA. :)

(As always, more in-depth commentary on this bad boy will be forthcoming.)

-Merc
Keep Rat


#4, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Matrix Dragon on Jan-03-14 at 09:56 AM
In response to message #0
LAST EDITED ON Jan-03-14 AT 09:56 AM (EST)
 
So, I'm going to start this post with a comment about the previous story. I kept meaning to type it up there, didn't get around to it, but hey, this piece actually helps to answer it somewhat so might as well stick it here.

I quite liked Agreement in Principle, and the line about snipers sometimes being a statement was particularly amusing. But the ending felt too simple. Beria gets shot, which okay I was expecting, but in the meantime Azulas people manage to neutralize any backup without any on screen trouble and she just walks out? I get that they're very good at what they do, but it felt too simple, too clean. At the time, I was talking to OM, one of the other occasional posters, and he agreed that it felt too easy. It didn't feel like Azula to make a plan go that flawlessly. Her luck's not as bad as her brothers, but it has its moments.

And then this story came out. Okay, THERE'S Murphy. The trouble came after the last mini. I was putting together the pieces pretty quickly, given that the character growth she'd earned in Midgard was trying to leak through. The references to Nuka-Cola were nifty, but it's actually the self-understanding I really enjoyed.

But it's the second half I really enjoyed. What with Azula's crew having the skills and loyalty to make it to Asgard, work out what was done to her, and counter it, which really does help to show just how they pulled off securing the building in AiP, Zuko... being Zuko, bad luck and all, and then the two of them teaming up to take their father down once and for all.

It must do Azula a lot of good to get confirmation that she certainly wasn't hallucinating the start of her life, assuming she hadn't found said proof before. I am curious as to if Ursa was her mind trying to warn her, or if she really was there. Both options are certainly possible at this point.

>"Looking good, Captain," she said, then added wryly, "I think you might be a
>little too young for me now, though. Just my luck."

I'm guessing Azula lost a few years, although I hope it was some trick on her fathers part to maintain the illusion, and not her being killed and her afterlife being diverted... Although I suppose that would then lead to her taking her crew and heading off to break out of the Afterlife.

Great piece.

Matrix Dragon, J. Random Nutter


#6, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Peter Eng on Jan-03-14 at 02:00 PM
In response to message #4
LAST EDITED ON Jan-03-14 AT 02:09 PM (EST)
 
>
>I am curious as to if Ursa was her mind trying to
>warn her, or if she really was there.
>

"He had fervently hoped that, though she reported little encouraging about the encounter, their mother might have gotten through to her the previous day..."

>
>>"Looking good, Captain," she said, then added wryly, "I think you might be a
>>little too young for me now, though. Just my luck."
>
>I'm guessing Azula lost a few years, although I hope it was some trick
>on her fathers part to maintain the illusion, and not her being killed
>and her afterlife being diverted... Although I suppose that would then
>lead to her taking her crew and heading off to break out of the
>Afterlife.
>

It's entirely possible that she was killed, along with the entire crew of the Phoenix Queen, and that somebody lacked the foresight to keep them from interfering.

Of course, it's also possible that they simply kidnapped her, and as a necessary part of the deception, it was decided that actually trimming six or seven decades off of Azula's physical age was easier than maintaining an illusion.

Edit: "With a well-timed abduction and a little help from Beria's experts in the manipulation of mortal matter and memory..."

I was thinking option one, but it looks like it's option two.

Peter Eng
--
Insert humorous comment here.


#7, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Peter Eng on Jan-03-14 at 02:21 PM
In response to message #4
>
>I quite liked Agreement in Principle, and the line about snipers
>sometimes being a statement was particularly amusing. But the ending
>felt too simple. Beria gets shot, which okay I was expecting, but in
>the meantime Azulas people manage to neutralize any backup without any
>on screen trouble and she just walks out? I get that they're very good
>at what they do, but it felt too simple, too clean. At the time, I was
>talking to OM, one of the other occasional posters, and he agreed that
>it felt too easy. It didn't feel like Azula to make a plan go that
>flawlessly. Her luck's not as bad as her brothers, but it has its
>moments.
>

I think this is a case of Beria making his own luck. He was probably trusting too much in not being recognized as either himself or an agent of Muspelheim, as well as betting that somebody who hadn't been around 300 years ago wouldn't know the history of the building. This is fine, but he left himself with only one path to victory.

Overconfidence is a bitch.

Peter Eng
--
"Well, let's see. You didn't have any counter-snipers in place, you didn't have anybody trying to spot her crew coming in..."


#8, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Gryphon on Jan-03-14 at 02:37 PM
In response to message #4
>I get that they're very good
>at what they do, but it felt too simple, too clean. (...)
>it felt too easy.

This bit is fair enough, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to take exception to this next part:

>It didn't feel like Azula to make a plan go that flawlessly.

Hey, now. She couldn't help it that she was a) surrounded by incompetents and b) on the wrong side of history the last time you saw her in action. :)

>And then this story came out. Okay, THERE'S Murphy. The trouble came
>after the last mini.

Yeah, I couldn't really go into that at the time - not if the next part (this one) was going to have a cold open that preserved anything of the sense of confusion Azula would've been experiencing.

I was putting together the pieces pretty quickly,
>given that the character growth she'd earned in Midgard was trying to
>leak through. The references to Nuka-Cola were nifty, but it's
>actually the self-understanding I really enjoyed.

Thank you. I was trying to convey something of the titanic cognitive dissonance that had to be applied in order to make the illusion stand up even long enough to get the battle underway. That was all it needed to do, but she had so much life experience and memory piled up by that point - well, it's not easy to make a woman who has lived nearly seven very full decades believe she's 14, even if you take the liberty of "adjusting" her mortal flesh to fit the expectation.

(Ozai assumed that once the actual fighting started, she'd get lost in the moment and not give the awkward discontinuities of her surroundings any further thought. Which, give him his due, is more or less what happened, until Boone (almost) shot her. Azula always did love a good scrap.)

>It must do Azula a lot of good to get confirmation that she certainly
>wasn't hallucinating the start of her life, assuming she hadn't found
>said proof before.

She had fairly strong suspicions, but not much in the way of proper evidence. By this point in galactic history, Dìqiú was in regular contact with Zipang, but very little beyond it (the first official extra-Zipangi contact established by anyone from Dìqiú would be the following year), and she hadn't found her way there yet. She was pretty sure it was out there someplace, though.

Once she's had a chance to sit down, take a few deep breaths, and reorganize her thoughts (it's going to take a little while for her to get the present experience fully on board), one suspects she'll be very relieved indeed.

>I am curious as to if Ursa was her mind trying to
>warn her, or if she really was there. Both options are certainly
>possible at this point.

For years now, Azula has assumed that her periodic conversations with Ursa were exactly that - some off-kilter aspect of her battle-scarred subconscious conveying important information. Since her release from the ice, those conversations have been fairly civil; she even rather came to look forward to them; but she didn't believe for a moment that she was really talking to some spectral manifestation of her mother. After all, she'd come to understand that she wasn't back in the days before she left Dìqiú.

It may come as something of a surprise (add it to the queue for this crazy week) to discover that she actually has been.

>>"Looking good, Captain," she said, then added wryly, "I think you might be a
>>little too young for me now, though. Just my luck."
>
>I'm guessing Azula lost a few years, although I hope it was some trick
>on her fathers part to maintain the illusion, and not her being killed
>and her afterlife being diverted...

Well, not a "trick", as such, I mean, she genuinely did wake up much younger than when she went to bed the day before, but she's still a living mortal, yes. That was part of the plan all along. Beria, with his typical lack of vision, assumed Ozai wanted her brought in alive out of sentiment, but (as anyone who knows Ozai better would surely have understood) it was nothing of the kind; he wanted her alive because dead, she would probably have been more powerful than he was.

Of course, she was anyway, but, you know. Ozai. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

--G.
-><-
Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Mod
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
zgryphon at that email service Google has
Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.


#9, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by ebony14 on Jan-03-14 at 03:02 PM
In response to message #8
>It may come as something of a surprise (add it to the queue for this
>crazy week) to discover that she actually has been.

To draw upon the Spinal Tap analogy from a previous topic, it's a fairly safe bet that this week passed 11 without slowing down, left 12 somewhere in its rear view mirror, and is knocking on 13's back door. (Somehow, that Spinal Tap analogy morphed into a racing analogy. Weird.)

Ebony the Black Dragon

"Life is like an anole. Sometimes it's green. Sometimes it's brown. But it's always a small Caribbean lizard."


#12, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Arashi on Jan-06-14 at 11:55 AM
In response to message #8

>Well, not a "trick", as such, I mean, she genuinely did wake up much
>younger than when she went to bed the day before, but she's still a
>living mortal, yes.

And now I'm wondering if the 'Fountain of Youth' treatment holds. That would be one way to put Azula into the Symphony crowd by being (physically) only 14-16 years older then Corwin.


#13, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Peter Eng on Jan-06-14 at 12:26 PM
In response to message #12
>
>>Well, not a "trick", as such, I mean, she genuinely did wake up much
>>younger than when she went to bed the day before, but she's still a
>>living mortal, yes.
>
>And now I'm wondering if the 'Fountain of Youth' treatment holds. That
>would be one way to put Azula into the Symphony crowd by being
>(physically) only 14-16 years older then Corwin.

Even if it did, Azula would probably go back to commanding the Phoenix Queen, although she'd need her crew to handle resupply work.

I'm hoping they gave her the whole rejuvenation effect, rather than just a cosmetic alteration. I like this version of Azula much better than I do the canon version (what little I've seen of her), and I think it would be interesting to see what happens to her come the New Frontier.

Peter Eng
--
"Aren't you a little young to be commanding a ship like this?"


#14, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Verbena on Jan-06-14 at 09:33 PM
In response to message #13
>I'm hoping they gave her the whole rejuvenation effect, rather than
>just a cosmetic alteration. I like this version of Azula much better
>than I do the canon version (what little I've seen of her), and I
>think it would be interesting to see what happens to her come the New
>Frontier.

Seems to be the real deal to me, and it strikes me as exactly something Ozai would do, from what little I know of him.

One of the themes I see over again is the notion that Ozai consistently fails to account for the changes in Azula since he's seen her last--a mistake Akio made when facing Utena. The dead don't grow, after all. I think he may have had her reverted to 14-16 years old partly because that's just how he still envisions her--as someone whom he, as her father, has genuine authority over. Azula, of course, is a free-thinking adult who has long since concluded she hates her father and everything he stands for, and the story itself points out he is trying to take advantage of faults she had in her psyche decades ago--faults she has long since corrected for.

--------

this world created by the
hands of the gods
everything is false
everything is a LIE
the final days have come
now
let everything be destroyed

--mu


#16, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Mercutio on Jan-06-14 at 10:16 PM
In response to message #14

>Seems to be the real deal to me, and it strikes me as exactly
>something Ozai would do, from what little I know of him.

There also might be pragmatic reasons at work here. Muspelhiem is planning to win, of course. But Ozai, despite being a thug, is also a thug who usually has contingency plans. Having a living catspaw as opposed to yet another demon general requires very little effort on his part and could potentially pay dividends if it turns out there's still a Midgard after this campaign. And with the resources at his disposal giving an Azula who is probably starting to get slightly weathered (even given extended lifespans, still being a galactic asskicker in your mid-seventies has to be taking a toll) a quick wash-and-wax is pretty trivial.

>One of the themes I see over again is the notion that Ozai
>consistently fails to account for the changes in Azula since he's seen
>her last--a mistake Akio made when facing Utena.

Less forgivable an oversight for Ozai than for Akio, although Akio is a lot smarter than Ozai. Akio was juggling a lot of bombs at the time, and his plan involved Utena not actually showing up, and certainly not showing up being ready to lock and load.

(That must be getting annoying to Akio at this point, really. So far he's started two cosmological engineering projects that he planned extremely well only to have them both foiled by people he had no possible way of foreseeing arriving suddenly arriving.)

But Ozai actually had time to sit down and plan this shit out, which means mistakes that ought to be obvious are all the more egregious.

>The dead don't grow,
>after all.

Is this actually true in the context of UF? Because it has unfortunate implications for a lot of beloved characters who are members of the Einherjar, for example.

You could make the case that the damned don't grow, but that has unfortunate implications for Nanami Kiryuu, and also seems to be at odds with the fact that demons have been known to defect out of the Pit and join the good guys.

-Merc
Keep Rat


#17, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Gryphon on Jan-06-14 at 10:19 PM
In response to message #16
>>The dead don't grow,
>>after all.
>
>Is this actually true in the context of UF?

It was true of the kind of dead Akio was when Utena said it to him. Beyond that, princely poetic license.

--G.
-><-
Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Mod
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
zgryphon at that email service Google has
Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.


#18, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Mercutio on Jan-06-14 at 10:30 PM
In response to message #17

>It was true of the kind of dead Akio was when Utena said it to
>him.

Fair enough.

In that vein, I yet maintain that Akio actually got a significant upgrade when he died for realsies. He's a whole person now as opposed to being a crippled sort of... rage ghost, I guess is what I want to say? Really, when he was at Ohtori Akio was simply a more robust version of Mikage, who barely existed. Usually becoming a demon would be a step down if for no other reason than being a demon builds a certain kind of damage into you, but in Akio's case Surtur put a new roof on, storm doors and windows, replaced the siding, and threw in a whole new kitchen just as a bonus, and all Akio got as a downside was some faulty wiring, which he had anyway.

-Merc
Keep Rat


#19, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Gryphon on Jan-06-14 at 10:35 PM
In response to message #18
>In that vein, I yet maintain that Akio actually got a significant
>upgrade when he died for realsies. He's a whole person now as opposed
>to being a crippled sort of... rage ghost, I guess is what I want to
>say?

I believe the technical term is "revenant", and you're quite right. That's one of the main reasons why the kids were so dismayed.

--G.
-><-
Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Mod
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
zgryphon at that email service Google has
Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.


#20, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Offsides on Jan-07-14 at 02:15 PM
In response to message #16
>>One of the themes I see over again is the notion that Ozai
>>consistently fails to account for the changes in Azula since he's seen
>>her last--a mistake Akio made when facing Utena.
>
>Less forgivable an oversight for Ozai than for Akio, although Akio is
>a lot smarter than Ozai. Akio was juggling a lot of bombs at the time,
>and his plan involved Utena not actually showing up, and
>certainly not showing up being ready to lock and load.

Also, Akio had a lot less time being "dead" than Ozai did. IIRC, Utena had been away for less than 3 years, whereas Azula had been missing for ~115 years, and then lived for another 50+. Yes, Utena went through a massively accelerated growth program thanks to Kate, Corwin and the gang, but she still only had about 5% of the time that Azula did...

Still, it was nice to see that her experiences since being thawed had done her a lot of good.

Offsides

[...] in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.
-- David Ben Gurion
EPU RCW #π
#include <stdsig.h>


#10, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by BZArcher on Jan-03-14 at 11:57 PM
In response to message #0
I can't really add much to this that hasn't already been discussed, but I have to say that I love the image of Azula looking at Surtur in all his terrible glory and being so utterly unimpressed.

#21, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Mercutio on Jan-20-14 at 10:18 PM
In response to message #0
>There had been a time when waking in her old bedchamber back in the
>Fire Nation Royal Palace was the one thing Azula really wanted in
>life.

I'm actually going to diverge from my usual pattern of going line-by-line on this one and skip to the end of the cold open to discuss it in-depth before going back, because that was a hell of a cold open.

Or, more precisely, where I think the cold open "properly" ends, which is here:

>Half a mile away, on one of the ramparts of the Golden City, a man in a red >beret peered into a telesight and said tersely into his commbud, "I've got a >shot."

This right here is where the story stops being trippy and snaps into focus, as it were. I got kind of a... not a dolly-zoom moment, but kind of a "snaps into focus" moment right at that instant; we've been wandering around in a fog with Azula for the entire story thus far, and suddenly we pull up, out, and away, and zip over to Boone, who is about to pierce the filmy veil in a decisive way.

That's good stuff.

As for the sequence itself, everything leading up to the point where Boone decides that Azula's headpiece needs some creative re-arrangement... I've spent a lot of time thinking about, reading about, and discussing Azula's mental headspace over the past seven or eight years. I've read a lot of fiction where people delve into the kind of mental damage her father did to her and her attempts to swim her way out of it.

This isn't the best such thing I've ever read. But it's up there. Probably top ten.

It just sneaks up on you. Given the context of the suite of stories this is part of, we know something isn't quite right from the very first line... but we aren't sure what. We have to tease it out. Ursa's visit points us on the right track, and then Zhao does it further when he makes his cameo, and finally it allll comes together.

It also seems like a stretch from the usual Eyrie house style I've come to expect from a Hutchins-authored piece. I like to think I have a pretty decent lock on your authorial voice, Ben, (I might be deluding myself) and this was not the kind of thing I expect from you. And I mean that in a good way. It was subtler, more deliberate. A lot less direct than your usual writing, which usually tends toward the straightforward and strives for clarity of intent. I quite enjoyed it.

Anyway. Back to the beginning...

>As the years went on, though, that scenario seemed less and less
>likely. She remembered reading once that dreams took as long to be
>experienced as the events depicted in them would have taken to play
>out in the real world. If that were true, she would have been asleep
>for something like sixty years at this point. Someone would have
>noticed by now.

I do love how Azula assumed people would want her up and wandering around if she happened to lapse into a multi-decade-long slumber. Because who wouldn't want to spend as much time as possible in her wonderful presence, am I right?

>Blinking, she got hesitantly out of bed and stood looking around for a
>moment, confused, intrigued, and virtually paralyzed with déjà vu.
>Yes, this was her bedroom, all right, as it had been for all her short
>but eventful life to date: a place of which she knew every angle,
>corner, detail, and quirk, from the creaky floorboard near the
>wardrobe to the singed corner of the one tapestry by the dressing
>table.

I really like the transitional work this paragraph is doing, as we shade away from "Azula the weathered space captain" over to "Princess Azula the childhood prodigy."

>She had the vague impression that
>there was a great deal of memory and experience over there,
>giggling quietly to itself as she failed to recall any of it, but she
>couldn't have pointed to any specific reason why she felt that way.

And this! I love how Azula doesn't even trust her own faculties on a subconscious level. She doesn't think that she has a chunk of her mind over somewhere that's struggling to make itself known; she perceives the part of her that's being uncooperative as being mad, possibly even mocking her.

>"Well, Mung, don't we look eager to get started this morning. All
>right, Bujing? Cannons properly foddered, I hope? Don't look so
>glum, Shinu, it's your big day." She paused at the end of the line,
>wrinkling her nose delicately. "Zhao, you reek of seaweed." She
>glanced with distaste at the puddle beneath the admiral's feet, then
>shook her head dismissively - disgusting man, perpetually soggy and
>unkempt - and ascended the dais.

Zhao's presence, I must admit, threw me for a loop when I encountered this for the first time. I had assumed Azula was dreaming, or on some sort of spirit quest, or something. Zhao hanging around made me go "uh-oh. This... might be really happening. For some definition of 'real.'"

>He
>was a cunning brute, there was no denying that, but he was
>still a brute: bull-necked, square-jawed, and without imagination.
>His father, Azula remembered, was the same. So
>unsophisticated. She occasionally found it difficult to credit
>the notion that they were her forebears.

Hmm. I have to take some issue with this description of Ozai, really. I mean, maybe he's changed since becoming a demon, but Ozai was neither bull-necked nor square-jawed. If anything, the defining feature of Ozai's face is its extreme gauntness; the mans cheekbones and brow ridge jut out quite prominently, and one gets the distinct impression part of the reason he has that really stupid beard is to conceal a sharply pointed chin.

>Where are these thoughts coming from? she wondered. Not
>only was this far from the time to be ruminating about such matters,
>these things felt like conclusions, long- and well-considered,
>over a span of time that her life to date was simply not long enough
>to have included. Azula hesitated on the top step, pressing her
>fingertips reflexively against her forehead for a moment, then shook
>her head and got hold of herself. She had far too much to do today to
>be giving in to existential qualms.

This paragraph is... maybe a bit to direct, I might say? You don't necessarily need to lead the reader on this directly. A lighter touch might have been apropos. It's still good, mind you. But it didn't quite fit, at least for me; I'd have cut everything in there before 'Azula hesitated' and then let the readers draw their own conclusions.

>I swear there are days when I can find a way not to
>enjoy anything, no matter how much I want to.

Much like her brother, Azula is never happy.

>The earthbenders were, if she did say it herself, the most brilliant
>part of her ingenious battle plan. The defenders of Ba Sing Se had
>counted on their monopoly on that art to protect their vaunted wall
>for generations, never dreaming that anyone in the Fire Nation's armed
>forces would think of assembling an elite counterforce of their
>brother elementalists - or succeed, come to that, if anyone did
>think of it. It didn't seem to have occurred to them that there would
>be plenty of earthbenders, disaffected or otherwise... reachable, who
>could be recruited for such an effort by one method or another.

Worth noting; Azula would probably be aware that the Fire Nation has loyal earthbenders available from the colonial populations who would consider themselves to be proper paid-up Fire Nationals no matter what element they happen to bend. I mean, yes, I do know that this is actual an army of the dishonored dead, not an actual Fire Nation military cadre. Still. :)

>She hesitated at the thought; then, raising her left hand, she
>considered the vambrace of her ceremonial armor. It was just metal,
>polished and uninformative. No tactical information to be had there.
>She wondered vaguely why she'd momentarily expected that there might
>be, and why her right hand seemed to want there to be something slung
>at her hip for it to rest on.

Again, there's maybe a sentence or two in there that could be cut down to make things less direct.

>With an exasperated shake of her head, she shouted over the
>still-howling wind, "To me, my minions!"

Ahhahahahahaha. Heeee. Sometimes her lines just write themselves, don't they?

>one of them even asked in a puzzled
>voice, "Me, Your Majesty?"

I've decided I really like that guy. I don't know why. :)

>"Where are those two? Oh, right! I sent them to rot forever
>in the dungeon. Why did I do that again?" Azula sighed. "I can't
>remember. Ah, well. I must have had a good reason." With a slightly
>nostalgic smile, she added, "I bet Ty Lee drank the last Nuka-Cola
>Victory again."

Awww, Ty Lee. Azula will always miss you and your insouciance.

>"Fire Lord!" cried the commander of her tank from his own cupola, a
>couple of feet to her left. Pointing with the hand not holding his
>binoculars, he declared, "Prince Zuko approaching!"
>
>Azula turned and scowled at him. "What do you mean, 'Prince
>Zuko approaching'?" she demanded; then she snatched the optics from
>his hand and looked for herself.

You know, Ben, you've gone to awful lot of trouble to make a guy who spends half his time being all "you could have done this better" about your writing feel very damn welcome around here. Your mother raised you right, is what I'm saying. :)

>Yes indeed, there he was, all right, big as life - her elder brother
>Zuko, all kitted out in his best, just like her, and unmistakable with
>his hilarious facial scar. She wondered how he managed to avoid being
>backshot by his own side, fighting for the Earth Kingdom in the dress
>of a Fire Prince. She very nearly shouted for her tank, and the
>others in the headquarters platoon, to open fire with all weapons,

Sadly, Mai is not available to dispatch to bring back the body.

>Half a mile away, on one of the ramparts of the Golden City, a man in
>a red beret peered into a telesight and said tersely into his commbud,
>"I've got a shot."
>
>"Take it," replied a woman's voice in his ear.

I haven't read the next installment of this very closely, so I don't know if it's spoken to one way or the other, but I would be utterly unsurprised if the voice on the other end of that commbud were Katara's.

Again, I really love this transition point. Everything up until now (well, almost) could actually have been a completely standalone AtlA fic; right here we make the sudden and well-executed transition to suddenly being part of UF again.

>The first thing Azula saw when she opened her eyes was a very familiar
>face she had never expected to see again; but she didn't get to see it
>for long, because almost as soon as her eyes opened, Ty Lee shouted,
>"She's alive!" and hugged her fiercely, stretching them both
>full-length on the snowy ground.

Now kiss!

...

...

... okay. Fine. I'm patient. I can wait.

(Yes, I know that ends up actually happening. I didn't the first time I read this. I have expectates when I read things involving both Azula and Ty Lee, is what I'm saying. :)

>"What you're doing isn't really firebending, is it, Father?" Zuko
>inquired mockingly as he evaded another of Ozai's blasts. "It's a
>very convincing imitation, but something about it isn't quite right.
>What is it? Sorcery? Some kind of elemental charm?"
>
>"It's real enough to burn that smirk off what's left of your face,
>boy," Ozai snarled, waving aside his son's counterattack.
>
>"Fascinating," Zuko mused. "What the Avatar takes away, not even
>Surtur can give back? Aang will be very interested to learn that."

I like this a lot, for the very selfish reason that it conflates solidly with my own biases and prejudices in this area. Namely, I've always been of the opinion that Aang went rooting around in Ozai's soul, found the one part of him that was pure and transcendent, his firebending, and said "No, you know what? You're not worthy of this anymore. You don't get to have it anymore" and then just cut it right out of him like preforming an appendectomy.

And of course Surtur can't give it back. Surtur can build things that have the semblance of being new out of wreckage and detritus, but bringing genuine healing and regrowth? That's not the kind of fire he is. Maybe Frey or Sunna (I don't know if Sunna is around in the UF-pantheon, tho) could do it, but not Surtur.

>"Please assume the position," said one of the robots in an
>implacable synthetic voice.

Oh Fisto. I wish I could've kept you. Stupid quest restrictions.

>One hundred seventy-one years before, Ozai had realized with a sudden,
>sharp horror that he had lavished a little too much care and
>attention on the crafting and honing of his favorite weapon - that
>Azula had become cleverer, more capable, more skilled, and more
>ruthless than even he himself, and that unless he did something to
>circumscribe her very soon, she would be a threat to everything he had
>worked for.

Genuine question: why "cleverer" as opposed to "more clever?" It kind of messes up the cadence you had going there, in my opinion.

>On the other hand, he couldn't just discard her, as he
>had her brother; she was the only heir he had left, Ursa was lost to
>him, and there was far too little time for him to find another wife
>(even if any other would have done) and start again.

Interesting. This implies a certain respect on Ozai's part for Ursa, or at least Ursa's bloodline.

It also implies he didn't expect to have the sort of lifepsan of his antecedents did. :)

>At the time, he'd congratulated himself for the solution he had found,
>which had shunted her out of his path without eliminating her in such
>a way that she would still be in reserve against future requirements.
>He'd even entertained the notion, while powerless and in prison, that
>he might find a way of exploiting the faultlines in her psyche to
>arrange his release and revenge - engineer a way back to some kind of
>position of power, in spite of his condition.

I've read some very interesting stories predicated on exactly this plan, and generally speaking, Ozai trying to use Azula as his leverage back into a position works out about as well as you'd expect it for Ozai.

>Instead she'd disappeared, and the whole thing had come to nothing.
>He'd rotted away in his own prison for long, slow decades, living long
>enough to watch his beloved Fire Nation sink into a disgusting,
>mongrelized, cosmopolitan morass under his son's weak and corrupt
>rule.

Yes. Yes yes yes yes. This.

I yet maintain that allowing Ozai to live is actually the cruelest thing Aang could have done to Ozai. As the man once said:

"You have robbed my revenge of sweetness, and now I must go hence in bitterness, in debt to your mercy."

Ozai had to watch Zuko rip apart everything he'd ever done and rebuild the Fire Nation into this bastardized THING he found repellant. That's... making him do that is a much crueler kind of justice than just giving him a quick death. And Aang probably still thinks it was the merciful, humane choice. I don't imagine Zuko and Katara, who understand this kind of thing better than Aang does, ever disabused him of that notion. Katara probably thought of him in that tower from time and time and it brought a smile to her face, tho.

I also like to imagine that Aang spoke at Ozai's funeral, and his words were full of mercy and common humanity. Ozai would have totally hated that.

>When Beria had brought him Azula's file during the preparations
>for the Ragnarök, he'd nearly had the fool disintegrated, or at least
>demoted back to Larva Third Class. How dare he remind Ozai of one of
>his bitterest disappointments?

I can't help but wonder if Ozai actually has that authority, or if it merely pleased Beria to let Ozai think he does. :)

> With a well-timed
>abduction and a little help from Beria's experts in the manipulation
>of mortal matter and memory, he could still apply leverage to
>his daughter's mental faultlines, gain a useful helper for the opening
>stage of the war... and position both of his children for his revenge.

And this brings me to the one serious problem I have with this installment; I feel that, structurally, the Azula cycle doesn't flow smoothly from Agreement into Nothing, and it makes the ending of agreement seem contrived and weak.

The most direct parallel I can think of is the transition between episodes 10 and 12 of the first season of Legend of Korra. Specifically, how we have this whole big thing where Tenzin and his family escape from the Equalists... and then we discover two episodes later that they were all captured and locked up offscreen.

There's a similar thing going on here. Azula basically gets a complete and total win over Beria and his infernal goon squad... and then she's immediately captured offscreen by a second infernal goon squad as we move into the next part. It almost feels like there's an entire story missing between that one and this one, where Azula tries to storm hell and discovers that maybe that is a wee bit difficult than she'd thought it would be. At the very least, it feels like maybe you should have ended Agreement with Beria actually winning.

Or, well, if not Beria directly (because lets be honest, watching him take one in the head was pretty satisfying) then ending on an uncertain note; fading to black with Azula leaving his office to see if she's good enough to run the gauntlet he'd set up for her in the hotel. That would still preserve the sense of confusion I think you're trying to set up with the very beginning of the next part without sacrificing overall structural needs.

>The Einherjar and the damned of Dqiú stood and watched in awe
>as Ozai's children - one an Einheri himself, the other a still-living
>mortal interloper - joined hands figuratively (and at one point
>literally) to avenge their ruined childhoods. So too did the crew of
>the Phoenix Queen, who had never entirely known whether to
>believe their captain's tales of her youth until now.

"You owe me fifty caps, Arcade."

"I hate you so much, Boone."

>Alone among them, Azula turned and regarded the rift - and the
>flaming, laughing titan emerging from it - with a look of nothing more
>or less than frank annoyance.
>
>"Oh now what," she grumbled.

Hmm. You know, this was funny and all, but... well, I mean, Surtur is Surtur. It feels like even Azula would have to respect and fear what he embodies, especially when confronted with his unmediated immediate presence.

Whew.

For a Mini-Story, this one took a lot out of me. And I thought I had some complex thoughts about Azana and Karana.

-Merc
Keep Rat


#22, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Gryphon on Jan-20-14 at 11:36 PM
In response to message #21
>Hmm. I have to take some issue with this description of Ozai, really.
>I mean, maybe he's changed since becoming a demon, but Ozai was
>neither bull-necked nor square-jawed.

That's usually true? But for some odd reason, he is in the last scene he and Azula are in together. He's very Dave Ryder in that scene.

>Worth noting; Azula would probably be aware that the Fire Nation has
>loyal earthbenders available from the colonial populations who would
>consider themselves to be proper paid-up Fire Nationals no matter what
>element they happen to bend. I mean, yes, I do know that this is
>actual an army of the dishonored dead, not an actual Fire Nation
>military cadre. Still. :)

Worth noting: The whole point of the prep Ozai's people did for this scene was that she wouldn't be aware of anything outside the very narrow window of things they needed her to be aware of.

>You know, Ben, you've gone to awful lot of trouble to make a guy who
>spends half his time being all "you could have done this better" about
>your writing feel very damn welcome around here.

Yeah, well... pretty sure I've said it before, you can be a pain in the ass, but at least you're paying attention. :)

>I haven't read the next installment of this very closely, so I don't
>know if it's spoken to one way or the other, but I would be utterly
>unsurprised if the voice on the other end of that commbud were
>Katara's.

That's not addressed, but it's entirely possible that that's the case. Upon finding their way into the mix, the Phoenix Queen's crew's first priority would have been to find out a) if the homeworld their captain occasionally talked about was in fact real and b) if there was anyone from there around. Under the circumstances, that would have led them more or less straight to Katara.

>Genuine question: why "cleverer" as opposed to "more clever?" It kind
>of messes up the cadence you had going there, in my opinion.

Hell, I don't know. You think about these things more than I do, I guess.

>>On the other hand, he couldn't just discard her, as he
>>had her brother; she was the only heir he had left, Ursa was lost to
>>him, and there was far too little time for him to find another wife
>>(even if any other would have done) and start again.
>
>Interesting. This implies a certain respect on Ozai's part for Ursa,
>or at least Ursa's bloodline.

The latter, one expects. Roku only had the one granddaughter, after all.

>It also implies he didn't expect to have the sort of lifepsan of his
>antecedents did. :)

... well, or it implies that when he thought of it, Comet Day was in like a week, and he wasn't considering the matter much beyond that point.

>Aang probably still thinks it was
>the merciful, humane choice. I don't imagine Zuko and Katara, who
>understand this kind of thing better than Aang does, ever disabused
>him of that notion. Katara probably thought of him in that tower from
>time and time and it brought a smile to her face, tho.

I suspect that, on certain levels, Zuko has long understood Katara... rather better than Aang does. I don't wish to imply anything hinky about that - certainly not during Aang's lifetime - but I think there are a number of things they're on the same wavelength about that Aang just doesn't get at all, and that's most likely one of them.

All of which reminds me of a musing I had while working on this and the piece after it: One of the things people have to adjust to when they get to Valhalla is that, if they're part of a tight-knit peer group in which some members outlived others by a considerable time, once they're all back together again it takes a while for the group dynamics to re-sort. Aang died relatively young, Katara didn't, and Zuko really didn't. That probably made for a reasonably confused status quo once they all got to the far side of the Bifröst. It's long since shaken out by the time we see them in Tyrants - they're all obviously quite comfortable with each other - but one expects the Team Avatar org chart was a bit jumbled for a while there. :)

>I also like to imagine that Aang spoke at Ozai's funeral, and his
>words were full of mercy and common humanity. Ozai would have totally
>hated that.

"Thank you for your kind remarks, honored Avatar. And now for the countervailing viewpoint: You were a vicious bastard, Ozai, and I'm glad you're dead. WHO'S WITH ME?"
- excerpt from the definitive biography of the man, the myth, the legend, Ty Lee's Master Sokka, You're Drunk!

(Not really. Katara would still be strangling him 150 years later if he had done that, even though she agrees with him.)

>And this brings me to the one serious problem I have with this
>installment; I feel that, structurally, the Azula cycle doesn't flow
>smoothly from Agreement into Nothing, and it makes the
>ending of agreement seem contrived and weak.

It's not supposed to flow smoothly. Azula's consciousness doesn't flow smoothly, why should a story that's mainly looking over her shoulder? How utterly pointless would the cold open you were so fond of a minute ago be if you knew how she got there? Pretty pointless, I should think.

>The most direct parallel I can think of is the transition between
>episodes 10 and 12 of the first season of Legend of Korra.

Well, now you're just trolling me. I don't have to dignify that.

>At the very least, it feels like maybe you should
>have ended Agreement with Beria actually winning.
>
>Or, well, if not Beria directly (because lets be honest, watching him
>take one in the head was pretty satisfying) then ending on an
>uncertain note; fading to black with Azula leaving his office to see
>if she's good enough to run the gauntlet he'd set up for her in the
>hotel. That would still preserve the sense of confusion I think you're
>trying to set up with the very beginning of the next part without
>sacrificing overall structural needs.

I'll accept this as a viable way of setting it up - certainly a better idea than just giving it all away beforehand, which, it seems to me, is exactly the sort of Excessive Directness you were so backhandedly complimenting me for not indulging-in-as-is-my-custom not long ago. On the other hand, though, the very fact that they could arrange for her to wake up where she is at the start of this piece after she'd completely outmaneuvered Beria and his forces at the end of the previous one could be seen as an example of something that's not foreshadowed for the readers to replicate the sensation of complete unexpectedness the character experiences. That, at least, was the intent.

>"You owe me fifty caps, Arcade."
>
>"I hate you so much, Boone."

Heh, it hasn't come up, but Arcade isn't actually with them. He stayed on Mojave - figured he could do more good there.

>Hmm. You know, this was funny and all, but... well, I mean, Surtur is
>Surtur. It feels like even Azula would have to respect and fear
>what he embodies, especially when confronted with his unmediated
>immediate presence.

After the day she's had, it's entirely possible that it simply hasn't registered yet when she speaks. One reaches a sort of saturation point on days like that, beyond which the recording surface is so work-hardened no new stimulus can make an impression right away. :)

--G.
-><-
Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Mod
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
zgryphon at that email service Google has
Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.


#23, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Mercutio on Jan-23-14 at 04:33 PM
In response to message #22
LAST EDITED ON Jan-23-14 AT 04:34 PM (EST)
 
>>You know, Ben, you've gone to awful lot of trouble to make a guy who
>>spends half his time being all "you could have done this better" about
>>your writing feel very damn welcome around here.
>
>Yeah, well... pretty sure I've said it before, you can be a pain in
>the ass, but at least you're paying attention. :)

Comes with the territory of being an inveterate close-reader. Also, you went to the trouble of writing it, I can at least read it carefully. Hell, I do that with books that are so awful they end up in the recycling bin as soon as I finish them.

(Yes, I know I should donate them or sell them to a used bookstore. Very occasionally I end up with dreck in my possession that overrides my natural visceral distaste for destroying the written word.)

>>I haven't read the next installment of this very closely, so I don't
>>know if it's spoken to one way or the other, but I would be utterly
>>unsurprised if the voice on the other end of that commbud were
>>Katara's.
>
>That's not addressed, but it's entirely possible that that's the case.
> Upon finding their way into the mix, the Phoenix Queen's
>crew's first priority would have been to find out a) if the homeworld
>their captain occasionally talked about was in fact real and b) if
>there was anyone from there around. Under the circumstances, that
>would have led them more or less straight to Katara.

My train of thought was that anyone but Katara with some knowledge of the situation (assuming it wasn't just some faceless Einherjar commander who got stuck with this particular part of the theater) might have hesitated before ordering Boone to put one between Azula's eyes. Katara? No remorse. :)

>>It also implies he didn't expect to have the sort of lifepsan of his
>>antecedents did. :)
>
>... well, or it implies that when he thought of it, Comet Day was in
>like a week, and he wasn't considering the matter much beyond
>that point.

Ahhh. I see what you mean. I was reading it in the context of "Ozai is thinking about what he'll need in an heir to bequeath his empire of ash to" rather than "Ozai is thinking about what he'll need in a general next week."

>>Aang probably still thinks it was
>>the merciful, humane choice. I don't imagine Zuko and Katara, who
>>understand this kind of thing better than Aang does, ever disabused
>>him of that notion. Katara probably thought of him in that tower from
>>time and time and it brought a smile to her face, tho.
>
>I suspect that, on certain levels, Zuko has long understood Katara...
>rather better than Aang does. I don't wish to imply anything
>hinky about that - certainly not during Aang's lifetime -

It's hard to talk about Zuko and Katara without implying that at times, so the disclaimer is warranted. Speaking personally, let's just say I sailed that ship until I couldn't anymore and leave it at that. :)

>but I
>think there are a number of things they're on the same wavelength
>about that Aang just doesn't get at all, and that's most likely one of
>them.

Something I've thought a lot about over the years, actually. I eventually came to the conclusion that one of the big things Katara and Zuko understand about each other that Aang doesn't get about either of them (or people in general) is the way they both have ugly dark sides.

Aang just doesn't understand evil (not to say either of them is evil, although Zuko tried very, very hard) or the darker aspects of human nature in general, I don't think. It isn't that he's incapable of recognizing it when it stares him in the face, or that he's even surprised when it turns out certain people are total shitheels. But he doesn't understand or comprehend it. It's like a sickness or a disease in people in his eyes, something wrong that he doesn't understand and doesn't want to understand; he will shy away from it and avoid confronting it.

Katara and Zuko (Zuko especially) don't have that problem. When Katara wanted to go hunt down an old man and maybe murder the hell out of him, for Aang that was like Katara's head had started spinning around and she began speaking in tongues. Zuko didn't have that issue. It's another thing I suspect neither Zuko or Katara ever brought up; Aang thinks that Katara's confrontation with Yon Rha was about Katara denying that part of herself. Zuko knows that it was actually about her accepting that part of herself.

Or at least, that's my opinion.

> Aang died relatively young, Katara didn't, and
>Zuko really didn't. That probably made for a reasonably
>confused status quo once they all got to the far side of the
>Bifrst.

I find it somehow fitting that, once again, Zuko the stubborn bastard is the last one to arrive. :) At his welcome party, Toph probably made Sokka make a banner that just said 'FINALLY'.

>>And this brings me to the one serious problem I have with this
>>installment; I feel that, structurally, the Azula cycle doesn't flow
>>smoothly from Agreement into Nothing, and it makes the
>>ending of agreement seem contrived and weak.
>
>It's not supposed to flow smoothly. Azula's consciousness
>doesn't flow smoothly, why should a story that's mainly looking over
>her shoulder? How utterly pointless would the cold open you were so
>fond of a minute ago be if you knew how she got there? Pretty
>pointless, I should think.

It isn't so much that I need to know exactly how she got there as that it feels a bit like having your cake and eating it to; it's as if Azula can't actually be shown to fuck up and lose on-screen. I also feel like it undercuts her out-maneuvering Beria if it just turns out he woke up in Muspelheim, shrugged, and dispatched slightly higher-level minions to finish the job.

Narratively speaking, it seems like for Azula to end up in hell, the smoothest flow is either for Beria to outright win, or for Azula's hubris to land her in hot water and for us to see that happening.

>>The most direct parallel I can think of is the transition between
>>episodes 10 and 12 of the first season of Legend of Korra.
>
>Well, now you're just trolling me. I don't have to dignify
>that.

I wasn't, actually. That was a legit and direct comparison. I mean, maybe you think that's an unwarranted and baseless slur on my part, but I wasn't simply trying to get a rise out of you.

>>At the very least, it feels like maybe you should
>>have ended Agreement with Beria actually winning.
>>
>>Or, well, if not Beria directly (because lets be honest, watching him
>>take one in the head was pretty satisfying) then ending on an
>>uncertain note; fading to black with Azula leaving his office to see
>>if she's good enough to run the gauntlet he'd set up for her in the
>>hotel. That would still preserve the sense of confusion I think you're
>>trying to set up with the very beginning of the next part without
>>sacrificing overall structural needs.
>
>I'll accept this as a viable way of setting it up - certainly a better
>idea than just giving it all away beforehand, which, it seems to me,
>is exactly the sort of Excessive Directness you were so backhandedly
>complimenting me for not indulging-in-as-is-my-custom not long ago.

It was meant to be a direct compliment, as opposed to a backhanded one. I enjoy seeing you stretch your style. I mean, I wouldn't be here if I didn't enjoy the Hutchins Style, as it were, but it is always nice to see something a bit different. You know?

>On the other hand, though, the very fact that they could
>arrange for her to wake up where she is at the start of this piece
>after she'd completely outmaneuvered Beria and his forces at the end
>of the previous one could be seen as an example of something that's
>not foreshadowed for the readers to replicate the sensation of
>complete unexpectedness the character experiences. That, at least,
>was the intent.

Hmm. Fair enough. I just... don't quite think it works, is all. It's hard for me to tell, I can't erase my memory and go back and try it another way and see how it hits me. I respect what you were trying to do, it's not like this is one those "your writing is bad and you should feel bad" situations, I just feel like it doesn't quite come off.

>>"You owe me fifty caps, Arcade."
>>
>>"I hate you so much, Boone."
>
>Heh, it hasn't come up, but Arcade isn't actually with them. He
>stayed on Mojave - figured he could do more good there.

Fair enough. I just picked Arcade because he seems like the only one who would openly call the Captain on her crazy stories and put his money where his mouth is. Veronica is too nice, Boone and Cass are too loyal, Fisto is... programmable, Rex can't actually talk, and it's hard to tell what Raul is thinking underneath all the bitter sarcasm.

-Merc
Keep Rat


#24, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Gryphon on Jan-23-14 at 05:10 PM
In response to message #23
>(Yes, I know I should donate them or sell them to a used bookstore.
>Very occasionally I end up with dreck in my possession that overrides
>my natural visceral distaste for destroying the written word.)

Heh. I have at least two books in my library that are there solely because I'm protecting everybody else from them. I found them in the charity book bin at my local supermarket, and I can't bring myself to destroy them. So I'm like the CDC keeping that sample of smallpox in the fridge, hoarding copies of hideous advice books in the hope that by doing so, I'm preventing other people from being subjected to their ill-advised contents.

(Seriously. Two of them are books on child-rearing by people plainly unqualified to undertake such a task, much less tell anyone else how to do it; the other is entitled Beloved Unbeliever: Loving Your Husband Into the Faith, and is tragically not pornographic. If my sacrifice prevents even one hapless, unsuspecting person from being lifesculpted by some numpty who's read and bought into any of that, my life has not been in vain.)

>My train of thought was that anyone but Katara with some knowledge of
>the situation (assuming it wasn't just some faceless Einherjar
>commander who got stuck with this particular part of the theater)
>might have hesitated before ordering Boone to put one between Azula's
>eyes. Katara? No remorse. :)

In fairness, whoever is giving Boone his instructions there (and I am inclined to believe now that it's Katara) knew full well what he was planning to do, and that it wasn't simply to shoot her in the head.

>Something I've thought a lot about over the years, actually. I
>eventually came to the conclusion that one of the big things Katara
>and Zuko understand about each other that Aang doesn't get about
>either of them (or people in general) is the way they both have ugly
>dark sides.

Upon review, I think it's entirely possible that - at least in his adult life - he did eventually get that, he simply preferred not to engage with it...

>It's like a sickness or a disease
>in people in his eyes, something wrong that he doesn't
>understand and doesn't want to understand; he will shy away from it
>and avoid confronting it.

... thus.

>Katara and Zuko (Zuko especially) don't have that problem. When Katara
>wanted to go hunt down an old man and maybe murder the hell out of
>him, for Aang that was like Katara's head had started spinning around
>and she began speaking in tongues. Zuko didn't have that issue.

I'm sort of vaguely reminded of the little conversation between Skuld and Gryphon in Weapon of Choice:

"That's a very direct way of dealing with evil."

"'Get your murder on' was my default response to people like him at the time. To be brutally honest, it was in many ways a lot more satisfying than due process."

"Hey, I didn't say it disapprovingly. Remember who you're talking to here."

>It's another thing I suspect neither Zuko or Katara ever brought up; Aang
>thinks that Katara's confrontation with Yon Rha was about Katara
>denying that part of herself. Zuko knows that it was actually about
>her accepting that part of herself.

"It's just easier to leave him his illusions, I find."

"Mm. Sometimes you just want to pet him on the head and say, 'Oh, bless.'"

"Well, maybe you do. It'd just be weird if I did that."

>I find it somehow fitting that, once again, Zuko the stubborn bastard
>is the last one to arrive. :) At his welcome party, Toph probably made
>Sokka make a banner that just said 'FINALLY'.

"What? I had some stuff I had to finish."

>Narratively speaking, it seems like for Azula to end up in hell, the
>smoothest flow is either for Beria to outright win, or for Azula's
>hubris to land her in hot water and for us to see that happening.

They probably got her in her sleep. It wouldn't have been any too exciting.

>Hmm. Fair enough. I just... don't quite think it works, is all. It's
>hard for me to tell, I can't erase my memory and go back and try it
>another way and see how it hits me. I respect what you were trying to
>do, it's not like this is one those "your writing is bad and you
>should feel bad" situations, I just feel like it doesn't quite come
>off.

Well... they don't always.

--G.
-><-
Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Mod
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
zgryphon at that email service Google has
Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.


#25, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Zemyla on Apr-06-14 at 08:14 PM
In response to message #0
>A flicker of gold twinkled in the air as her Fire Lord's headpiece
>went flying.

A question occurs to me. Was that headpiece actually enchanted, keeping her from realizing fully that something hinky was going on, or was it just the shock of being shot like that that broke the enchantment on Azula?


#26, RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between
Posted by Gryphon on Apr-06-14 at 08:20 PM
In response to message #25
>>A flicker of gold twinkled in the air as her Fire Lord's headpiece
>>went flying.
>
>A question occurs to me. Was that headpiece actually enchanted,
>keeping her from realizing fully that something hinky was going on, or
>was it just the shock of being shot like that that broke the
>enchantment on Azula?

It might've been, but the concussion (and subsequent shot of Vorpanol, which is a neural regenerator) would've been necessary in any event.

--G.
-><-
Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Mod
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
zgryphon at that email service Google has
Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.