Title--For The Greater Good (chapter 2: Escape)
Fandom--Avatar: the Last Airbender
Characters (for chapter)--Ozai, mentions of Aang, Zuko, and several unnamed people
Rating/Warnings--PG. One swear word. Rude treatment of a waitress? I don't know if that qualifies as something to warn about.
Summary (for chapter)--When you're on the run or itching to get out, you do whatever it takes to get out alive and free.
Word Count--2,617 (not including A/N)
Chapters--2/? (Chapters: Introduction | )
A/N--It's been ages since I've looked at this. However, I've got a good chunk of it plotted out now, so the updating speed should start picking up. You'd never guess this was owed gift!fic for New Years the way I've been acting.
Also, if my distances are off (like later in the chapter, where there's people that are such and such feet apart), then please feel free to ignore those and make up your own or, rather, poke me and tell me that they're way off. I have the worst time judging distance...
EDIT (7/29/09): I changed the ending around completely along with a few other edits to the chapter. It's the ending's changes that are more important, though.
In the town of Lu Kang, the afternoon stretched to fill several lifetimes instead of several hours.
At least, that was how it felt to Ozai, who had been sitting in the same shadowed alleyway for the entire afternoon. Time seemed to move at a deathly slow crawl for the man. Mornings and evenings went at a faster pace, at least, but when the later hours of the day started…it seemed as if the city just crawled up into itself and died.
Sighing, Ozai pushed himself up from the ground. How had he even gotten here in the first place? He supposed that it had started a year ago, when the sounds of the celebrations for the first anniversary of the end of the war had been loud enough to snake down to his lonely prison cell. It drove him crazy to hear Fire Nation citizens disrespect him in such a fashion. Former Fire Lords were to be treated with honor, not locked up and forced to hear their former subjects cheer and whoop at the one year anniversary of their demise.
The festivities had convinced him that he must get out of the prison, if only to dish out proper doses of respect towards the people that were happy to have the war ended. He took full advantage of the ample amounts of free time he had in his cell to think and exercise, and eventually, almost a year after he started to plot, he had everything in place to escape. The week before the Summer Solstice, he was as fit as he was before he’d been imprisoned and absolutely ready to break out. The guard that had been charmed into bringing him armor and weapons unlocked his cell one night that week and led him out into the prison. The two almost managed to get out without too much of a hassle when they encountered two guards in front of the only exit.
The guards were suspicious of Ozai, despite his being dressed in full armor. With the suspicion of Ozai and his guard, on top of the generally tense atmosphere that was generated by the escapees, it didn’t take long for a fight between the three guards to start. The guard loyal to Ozai ended up knocking out the other two before getting killed along with them by Ozai. (He’d been planning to do that to his loyal guard from the beginning. He couldn’t have anyone travelling with him and he sure wasn’t going to just leave the person who helped him get out alive for Zuko’s interrogation. He wasn’t stupid, after all.)
It had taken two whole weeks to get to Lu Kang. While most people travelled directly to the city by boat, which only took one week, Ozai had to travel both on land and by boat just to make sure he wouldn't be caught. Zuko had basically put the country on lockdown and ordered the Fire Nation Army to do round-the-clock country-wide searches for him, which made it near impossible for the former Fire Lord to go near any cities, well-travelled roads or ports. However, he managed to escape getting noticed by any of the soldiers he constantly saw and got to Lu Kang with no major incidents.
Now that he was here, though, he was wondering why he’d wasted two weeks coming here in the first place. The city seemed, at best, neutral about the end of the war. He’d found no one who fully and truly believed that the war should be restarted and that he should be reinstated as Fire Lord. It was maddening. He’d spent an entire week in the town and had yet to hear anything that could be of use. Or at anything that was interesting, at the very least.
By now, dusk was starting to fall over the city. The sun had almost completely disappeared behind the mountains, and a soft summer evening was promised for the residents of Lu Kang. Grumbling, Ozai walked out from his alleyway to find some food, pulling up his hood as he left. At least the vanishing light would make hiding among the residents of the town easier.
After walking down the street for a few minutes, Ozai saw a sparsely populated restaurant down another alleyway. The sign above the shop had no name, instead bearing a few characters that told the ex-Firebender the shop served fire flakes and some sort of rice dish. Though it didn’t sound appetizing in the least, Ozai could feel hunger gnawing at his stomach and knew that this was going to be the emptiest place for a while. He walked in and immediately took a seat at one of the tables by the door.
The restaurant was small and obviously family owned. There were only six or seven tables in the place, and each table could only seat two people comfortably. Not that space was really an issue, as there were only four other people, including the man that looked to be struggling with something in the kitchen and the young woman that was walking over to Ozai with a smile on her face.
“Welcome to the Dancing Spirit! Here’s a menu.” The woman handed him a piece of paper with “Dancing Spirit” written at the top in large characters. The menu had two items: a bowl of fire flakes for fifteen copper and a bowl of rice and roasted duck for twenty five copper. Ozai frowned.
“This is it?”
“Yessir. We don’t serve much, but what we do serve we serve well.” Glancing up at the waitress, Ozai saw that she was smiling ear to ear. It bothered him, and he ordered a bowl of rice and duck to make her go away.
While he was waiting for his rice and duck, parts of the conversation of the other two patrons drifted over to him. The two men seemed to be merchants and were discussing Wan Cheng, a city that was a day’s walk away from Lu Kang.
“Y’know, I heard that the road to Cheng got closed a few days ago…”
Closed? That was odd. Fire Nation roads weren’t closed unless they needed to be worked on, and this town wasn’t nearly populated enough to warrant any roads needing work. Ozai tried to catch more of the conversation over the clanking noises coming from the kitchen.
“Yeah, they closed it ‘cause some…started to show up 'bout a week ago. Real strange stuff, too…people gettin’…and other stuff, actin’ all weird…”
“Really? I heard it was a training…for the Army. Like the Fire Lord’s sendin’ ‘em…train and…exercise…”
The voices of the men kept going in and out, making it impossible to get every word of the sentences, but Ozai picked up enough from listening to them for a few minutes to gather that Wan Cheng's residents were getting sick by the bucket load.
“They ain’t lettin’ anyone…trade or anything in the city, said it’s…dangerous for anyone to go there…”
“My son’s a squad leader, they won’t even let…go or his unit. Only Army soldiers…go in. It’s like the city’s been quarantined…”
Before Ozai could listen in on any more of the men’s discussion, the too-cheery waitress came back with a lukewarm bowl of rice and roasted duck and set it down in front of Ozai.
“Here you go! Fresh from the kitchen.” She smiled down at him. “Is there anything else I can get you?”
“No.” Scowling, Ozai picked up his chopsticks. “Even if I wanted something, you probably wouldn’t have it, since all you serve is fire flakes and rice with duck.”
The woman faltered. “Well, sir, it says that on the sign outside…”
“Whatever. Just go away.”
The waitress scurried back to the counter, leaving Ozai to eat his food. The rice was sticky, the duck was burnt and it wasn’t nearly warm enough, but food was food and he was very hungry. The bowl was empty within ten minutes, at which point the now-frowning girl walked back over to collect Ozai’s twenty five copper. He handed it to her, leaving no tip, before getting up and leaving the restaurant.
Night had now fully taken the city. Ozai had left the Dancing Spirit hours ago and found an abandoned alleyway to settle down and sleep in. Before drifting off, he had considered going back down south to look for better support for restarting the war. It seemed more likely to find people that supported him down there than where he was at the moment. Thoughts of glorious victory over the Avatar and Zuko filled his mind as he fell asleep.
He didn’t get to sleep long, though, as a few hours after he fell asleep the sounds of heavy footsteps awoke him. Ozai quickly leapt to his feet and looked over at the people at the end of the alleyway. The shadow cast from the building to his left didn’t let him see things very clearly, but it looked like there were two people. From their silhouettes, they looked like they were both men. One of them held a torch and the other one held a dark outline of something resembling a club.
Instinctively, Ozai didn’t move a muscle. The sound of footsteps stopped about twenty feet from him. The light the torch was throwing off didn’t come close enough to reveal the former Fire Lord to the two men.
“I hate getting the night shift. Why are we doing this?”
“‘Cause you told the captain that you weren’t going out when it was really hot. Yeah, we ain’t sweaty now, but we could be jumped by some crazy bum at any moment.”
“Don’t say that, man!” The torch moved a little as its holder leaned over to smack the shadow next to him. “You know that stuff like that only happens ‘cause people say that kind of stuff!”
“Bah, you don’t know anything. Let’s just get this alley done. After that, we can head over to that place that sells fried dough. Police get a discount.”
The footsteps started up again, leaving Ozai with only a limited amount of time to react. There were no side alleys he could run down, so he opted to turn and run to the street. It was only ten feet, so it wouldn’t be too much of a problem. He figured he could be turning out onto the street by the time the two called out for him to freeze.
However, Ozai didn’t realize until he started running that there was junk scattered everywhere. He’d been hoping to only have the sounds of his feet hitting the street give him away, but instead made enough noise to wake up half the neighborhood as he tripped and stumbled over Agni-knows-what on the ground. It more than alerted the police officers to his presence and slowed him down enough to where they were only seven or eight feet behind him when he got out to the street.
The two shouted at him to stop running, but Ozai ignored the order and flat out sprinted. No doubt the police in this town knew his face. If he was caught, everything he’d worked for would be ruined. He couldn’t let that happen. He’d sooner die fighting than lying on an executioner’s block.
Up ahead, there were buildings and shops lining the streets. Most were closed for the night, though some bars appeared to still be open. Beyond that, straight ahead, there was a sign with “Wan Cheng” inscribed on it and some wooden barricades put up to alert travelers that the road to the town was closed.
They gave Ozai an idea.
“Freeze or I’ll throw my nightstick!” the officer behind him threatened. The threat seemed fairly ridiculous. Not only was Ozai a moving target but it sounded like he was now about twenty five feet in front of the chasing officer. Though the ex-Firebender didn’t turn around, he had a feeling that the torch holder wasn’t with his partner any more. It was just the two of them.
Ozai’s luck was only getting better and better as he approached the barricade. It didn’t look like there were any people guarding it. Or if there were, they weren’t currently there at the moment. Perfect. Now all he’d need to worry about was jumping the barricades.
Or maybe something more.
A man popped out from behind a building, holding a club and shaking it at Ozai. As the last ten feet between Ozai and the barricades came up, the man ran out to the center of the road. It was a race to see who was going to get there first, and the former Fire Lord was absolutely determined to win it. Channeling all he had left of waning energy, he managed to sprint just a bit faster to get there a second before the other man. It was enough to be able to gather his energy and lunge over the club swing that was aimed at him and, at the same time, the barricades. He hit the ground, using his momentum to do three somersaults before jumping up to his feet and running down the forest-lined road.
By the time the officer got to the barricades, Ozai was starting to get lost in the trees. The two men looked at each other and then the ground before the barricade guard spoke.
“Hey…what do those wanted posters that’re plastered all over the station say?”
“The ones that got sent over by the Army ‘bout two weeks back?”
“Something about Fire Lord Zuko’s father getting loose from prison. I don’t know, I really didn’t look at what it said.” The officer frowned. “Why?”
“Well, I think that I just saw the guy those posters are for jump over the barricades and run into the forest.”
The two stared at each other for a moment before the officer asked the barricade guard if he was absolutely sure that he just saw the dishonored former Fire Lord jump the barricades and run off into Wan Cheng.
“I’m absolutely sure. That guy…spitting image of the face on the posters, I swear.”
Simultaneously, they both looked out at the dark, ominous forest beyond the barriers. The officer’s frown turned fearful. What were they supposed to do? Fire Lord Zuko had condemned his escaped father as a fugitive and made it very clear that if he was seen he was to be captured, but…well, both of them had heard rumors of what was going on out in that forest. Hell, they’d even seen results of what was going on. Men were going in and not coming out.
“Uh…well…the Army’s supposed to take care of stuff like this, right?” The officer turned back to look at the barricade guard. “I mean, we shouldn’t…the captain said he’d have our asses if any of us went beyond the barricades…we could just send a hawk to the Fire Lord.”
“Yeah. I mean, he’s supposed to take care of stuff like this, right? It’s…it’s his father, after all.”
“Yeah. I’ll go back and tell the captain about it. And if he comes back…”
“I’ll handle it. Got my club, after all.” The guard tapped his club against his shoe to emphasize his point. The two bid goodnight and the officer went to pick up his partner, who had tripped over the things in the alley, and report what the barricade guard had seen.
Man…a fugitive, right here in Lu Kang. The officer sighed as he jogged back over to the alley. I wonder…Fire Lord Ozai got his bending taken away, right? If so…well, he’d better hope that the rumors I’ve heard aren’t true. For his sake, at least.
A/N: "Lu Kang" is (supposed to be) Chinese for "Land of Health", though how accurate that is I'm not sure. If there's any Chinese speakers out there that can translate a more accurate name, I'd be happy to hear it.
Also, there are some "deleted scenes" from this story. (The one having to do with this chapter is the more detailed story of Ozai's escape.) All of them will be posted on my deviantART and will be linked to in the chapter that the scene is from. A warning for this one: it really is violent. Gore and blood and death and everything. I'm a little surprised I wrote it.
NOTE: A small portion of the introduction was editied to fit the way the story's going to be progressing. Feel free to check it out if you'd like.