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Subject: "FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between"     Previous Topic | Next Topic
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Conferences Mini-Stories Topic #164
Reading Topic #164, reply 21
Mercutio
Member since May-26-13
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Jan-20-14, 10:18 PM (EST)
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21. "RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between"
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
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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
 FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between [View All] Gryphonadmin Jan-03-14 TOP
   Extras: Soundtrack Lyrics Gryphonadmin Jan-03-14 1
      Oh, speaking of Bad Religion Gryphonadmin Jan-06-14 15
   RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between drakensis Jan-03-14 2
      RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between twipper Jan-03-14 3
      RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Gryphonadmin Jan-03-14 5
          RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Mercutio Jan-06-14 11
   RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Matrix Dragon Jan-03-14 4
      RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Peter Eng Jan-03-14 6
      RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Peter Eng Jan-03-14 7
      RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Gryphonadmin Jan-03-14 8
          RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between ebony14 Jan-03-14 9
          RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Arashi Jan-06-14 12
              RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Peter Eng Jan-06-14 13
                  RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Verbena Jan-06-14 14
                      RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Mercutio Jan-06-14 16
                          RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Gryphonadmin Jan-06-14 17
                              RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Mercutio Jan-06-14 18
                                  RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Gryphonadmin Jan-06-14 19
                          RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Offsides Jan-07-14 20
   RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between BZArchermoderator Jan-03-14 10
  RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Mercutio Jan-20-14 21
      RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Gryphonadmin Jan-20-14 22
          RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Mercutio Jan-23-14 23
              RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Gryphonadmin Jan-23-14 24
   RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Zemyla Apr-06-14 25
      RE: FI/TWI: Nothing That Is In Between Gryphonadmin Apr-06-14 26


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