Story: Revenge (all chapters)

Authors: bluerosethorn

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Chapter 1

It was Mai, this time.

Azula considered this latest hallucination with detached interest. She'd grown almost used to the things, in a strange way. They tormented her daily, here in the 6x8 cell that was her home now, and which she could see sometimes, when she was closer to reality. Sometimes the visions said horrible things, and she would shriek and rage at them, and wake up hours later, cold and stiff and hungry, wrapped up tightly in chains and leather restraints. This particular hallucination was fairly mild, she reflected, running her golden eyes over it. The specter of Mai wasn't even speaking – just standing there, gazing at her calmly. It was even wearing the crown of the Fire Lady, which was a nice touch. The real Mai would no doubt be actually wearing that soon, if she wasn't already. She and Fire Lord Zuzu were probably living it up right now. With a bitter sigh, Azula closed her eyes. She was done being tormented by this particular vision.

“Chain her up, and bring her.” Azula heard the words before she felt the results. She squirmed and whined like a beaten dog as she was wrenched from her prison cot and forced to her knees. Cold, heavy cuffs trapped her bony wrists behind her back. Shackles bound her feet. Confused, Azula didn't struggle as she was pulled to her feet and made to walk out into the hall of the dungeon.

Could this be real? The prisoner looked up ahead, at the graceful form of Mai that was leading the way though the labyrinthine prison halls. It feels real. But...but they so often have felt real... She considered fighting, but then thought better of it. After all, if this was real, struggling would do her no good – and if it wasn't, there was no sense in wasting her energy. Azula sighed again and shut her eyes, letting the firm hands lead her where they would. She was tired.

Abruptly, Azula found herself being thrust down into a chair. Her arms were unchained and bound to the arms of the chair with leather straps. More straps were fastened around her legs and torso, holding her still. A rough hand tangled itself in her raven hair, jerking her head back. Azula grimaced and squirmed as some kind of a band was tightened around her brow, until she couldn't move her head at all. She whimpered.

“That's good.” The cool voice of Mai broke the relative silence. “You can all go. I want to handle this first session alone.” There were retreating footsteps, followed by the closing of a door. Azula watched as the assassin calmly moved to stand over her. Without a word, Mai drew something from her sleeve and slid her hands around Azula's throat. The prisoner felt the young woman's sharp fingernails trail lightly over her skin – and then, a shooting, sickening pain! She groaned through her teeth. “Relax,” Mai said, her voice dry. “You're not dying. It's just a little dose of something to clear your head, Azula. Give it a minute.”

Some of the fog around Azula's mind seemed to clear. She felt much sharper somehow – more like herself than she had felt in quite some time. She looked up at Mai, who was watching her impassively. “I take it you're not a hallucination.”

“No. You're not that lucky today.” Without haste, Mai dragged a small table up beside the chair Azula was bound to, and began to lay things out on it. Azula watched with some nervousness as a small collection of blades began to grow – all sizes and shapes. “You know, Azula, there's a few things I never got to discuss with you,” she said quietly. “By the time I was released from the Boiling Rock, you were already here, so I never got the chance then. And afterwards, with all the craziness about building the peace and planning my wedding, there just wasn't time.” Mai took one last blade – a small, wickedly-sharp flechette – from her sleeve and laid it with the others. Then she turned to a cabinet on the wall, opened it, and began to take implements from it. At this, Azula finally looked around the room. To her dismay, she realized that she was in a torture chamber.

Still calmly, the assassin laid out a few other things – thumbscrews, clamps, and something metal that resembled a bottle opener. This was one time Azula wished that she had less clarity. She could feel the cold wash of fear and dread. Nevertheless, she held on to as much composure as she could. “So you're going to torture me,” she said, trying to sneer. “Is this your new way of showing your vast moral superiority?”

“I'm going to torture you,” Mai affirmed, as nonchalantly as if she were reciting a grocery list. “And it really has nothing at all to do with morals, and everything to do with plain old revenge.” She picked up the sharp little flechette and turned to her prisoner. Azula couldn't help shuddering as the blade slid in between the skin of her neck and the cloth of her prison shirt. Without ceremony, Mai cut the cloth down the sleeve, then down Azula's side. One more quick slice, and the shirt came off, leaving Azula naked to the waist. The assassin tugged the ruined garment away and let it fall to the floor. “See, you tried to kill my boyfriend – at least three times. I owe you for that. And you sent me to prison.” Mai's blade slipped inside the waistband of Azula's loose pants, slicing through the cloth and down Azula's leg. “It wasn't so bad for me, because my uncle was the warden. But you know what happens to girls in co-ed prisons, right, Azula? And Ty Lee had no protection.” Mai paused in the act of cutting away the last of Azula's clothes. “Do you have any idea what they did to her?”

Azula was shivering in cold and fear by this time. She tried to think as the flechette finished its work; Mai pulled away the last shreds of cloth covering Azula's body. “Mai, I...I have contacts,” she said desperately. “I was the crown princess for years. I can give you connections...”

To her surprise and dismay, Mai actually laughed. “Contacts? You're offering me contacts? Come on, Azula. My family's one of the oldest noble houses in the Fire Nation, nearly as old as yours. I'm married to the Fire Lord. You don't have any connections that I need, believe me.” She paused, surveying her handiwork, her gaze lingering over Azula's naked skin. “Although it is interesting to hear you bargain for your own hide, Azula. And it'll be even better when you start to beg me for mercy.” A sudden, feral gleam made her narrow eyes flash like a cat's – the prisoner shuddered.

Turning away, Mai laid down the flechette and considered her array of tools. Azula wriggled, testing the strength of her bonds, and found them very strong. Mai shot her a cool smile. “So what do you want to do, Azula? Lots of knives here. I could test a few of those out on you. Or maybe you'd like your fingers broken first?”

“No.” Something very close to hysteria was clutching at Azula's throat. “ don't have to do this, Mai. It won't change anything...”

“Sure it will.” Mai picked up one knife with a bored look, examined it, then abandoned it in favor of a thumbscrew. “You'll suffer, and I'll feel a lot better.” She moved to the left. Azula clenched her hands into tight fists, but Mai spread out the fingers of her left hand with little trouble, and tightened the implement onto her thumb. The rest of her fingers followed, one by one. “My husband gave you to me as a wedding present,” Mai murmured, pausing in her work to meet Azula's gaze. “A pretty good gift, don't you think?” The fourth and final finger was pinned in position, ready to be snapped like matchwood. Mai smiled a bit. “Got any begging you want to do before we start?”

Fear had turned to terror, and Azula was sure that at least some of it was showing in her face. She gave another fruitless jerk to her bonds. They didn't loosen. Smiling grimly, Mai began to tighten one of the screws.

It wasn't that Azula had never known pain. She'd been a soldier and a warrior since a very early age, and had been wounded before – even wounded badly, once or twice. But that pain was different. It was clean pain, however excruciating, and there was no mental torment about it. This...this was agony. Tears began to flow down the prisoner's white cheeks as the bones of a second finger snapped. She kept her teeth closed tightly, determined not to cry out. Mai began to turn the third screw with deliberate slowness. The assassin was taking her time, inflicting as much pain as possible – finally, she gave the device a vicious twist, and Azula's middle finger shattered under the pressure. The helpless girl gave a little scream of pain.

“Hurts, doesn't it?” Mai's face was stony. “You might want to think about what Ty Lee went through while she was in prison. You know, if you need something to think about while I break this last finger. I'll give you something else when I go to work on your thumb.” She turned the screw; Azula heard herself whimper. “There's a lot of guards in that prison,” Mai said coldly. “And there would be three or four of them in our cell every night. They wouldn't touch me because of my uncle. But I couldn't protect Ty Lee, Azula.” The screw turned again, slowly. “Every night. Hours of it. We were there for six weeks. Do you know how many nights that is?” The sharp screw dug mercilessly into Azula's bone - she could feel it beginning to crack. “That's over forty nights. Can you imagine that?” Snap! Azula screamed again, as tears streamed down her face.

With deadly calm, Mai put her hands on the final screw. Azula wanted desperately to beg her to stop. As it was, she sobbed. “Here's something else to think about,” the assassin said quietly. Her fingers twitched a little, but she didn't tighten the implement – not yet. “She actually loved you – the gods only know why. Even in prison, being gang-raped by your dogs every night, she really believed that you were going to let her out and forgive her. But you weren't, were you, Azula?” The screw tightened. Azula writhed. “You were just going to leave her there for the rest of her life, however long that wound up being, and forget about her. The one person who actually loved you.” Mai's voice grew softer as she pitilessly drove the screw into the hard bone of Azula's thumb. “The irony. You did that to the one person who might have had pity on you. Ty Lee could have saved you, Azula. She would have, in fact. But you – you tried to destroy her.” The helpless prisoner cried out against a pain only partly physical. “And now – she's gone. She's forgotten you, like a bad memory. And here you are.” Mai gave the screw one last turn, and the bone of Azula's thumb snapped. Agony shot up Azula's arm, and she felt her vision going black. She slumped down in her bonds.

When Azula came back to herself, she found Mai still standing over her, seemingly waiting for her to regain consciousness. The assassin touched the side of Azula's neck, and the sharp pain again pierced her; she winced. “I want you awake and aware for this,” Mai murmured. “Don't think you can get out of anything by fainting, Azula.” She turned to the table of implements, and turned back with a second thumbscrew. Azula looked down – her throbbing left hand was still pinned in the first device. Desperately, she clenched her right fist, hard. The assassin again opened her hand and began to fit her fingers into the five vises that would soon snap them like twigs.

Azula normally had great courage, but she had been in prison a long time, and had almost reached her breaking point. “No,” she whispered, flinching as Mai pinned her thumb into its place. “No more...”

Mai actually paused, looking Azula in the eye. Her face was cold. “You know,” she said quietly, “Ty Lee said that, too.” Without another word, she forced the last of Azula's fingers into its vise and pinned it down. “Ty Lee said that, too,” Mai said again, standing up straight and slipping her hands into her sleeves. “She also begged them to stop, and she pleaded with me to save her. Do you have any idea what that was like?”

If bargaining wouldn't help, maybe pleading would. Azula was desperate enough to swallow what little remained of her pride. “Mai, I...I'm sorry. Please, I'll do whatever you want! I...”

“All I want you to do,” Mai said, “is suffer.” Her voice was as hard as flint. “Suffer, and pay the price for what you did to us. Cry. Beg me for mercy. That's what I want.” She leaned over and began to turn the screw pitilessly on Azula's pinkie finger.

The prisoner writhed in anguish. Her other hand inadvertently twitched, sending fresh waves of agony shooting through her. “Oh gods, no. Stop! Mai, n-aaaagggh!” - As her finger snapped. She was screaming now, as much in horror as in pain. The ruthless point of the screw began to press into her ring finger. It was excruciating. “Mai, stop it. Please! No more! No – no!” Ignoring her victim's frantic pleas, Mai coldly shattered each of her fingers, one at a time. Then she moved to the thumb, the last of Azula's digits left unbroken.

Mai paused, and waited until her writhing prisoner's streaming eyes met hers. “Last one,” she said coolly. “Don't forget, Azula. I want you to think about Ty Lee. I want you to think about what you did to her. I want whatever sleep you get tonight to be haunted by her. Do you understand me?” She gave the screw a vicious twist, and Azula screamed. “I want you to think about this, and anticipate what I'm going to do to you tomorrow night. I want you to suffer, Azula. Suffer!” The vise tightened again. Azula sobbed convulsively. “Are you getting it? Are you getting some of what you put her through – what you put me through?” Again the screw sank deeper, and deeper still. Azula could feel the bone giving way. She shrieked and blubbered like the half-crazed animal that she was. At last, with a moist crack, her thumb broke. Choking with sobs, Azula went limp in her restraints.

Methodically, Mai removed the screws from each of the crushed fingers – a process nearly as painful as the initial breaking of bone. Then she put the devices back in their place in the cabinet. Only then did she turn to the weeping prisoner. “They're going to take you back to your cell now,” she said calmly. “No one's going to heal your hands until just before our next session, which won't be until tomorrow evening. And then I'm going to show you exactly what they did to Ty Lee. Only this time, it'll be you instead of her.” As if on cue, guards reentered the chamber and began to release Azula from the chair. The prisoner wailed pitifully as they dragged her to her feet and chained her broken hands behind her back. “Get her out of here,” Mai ordered. And Azula had to stagger back to her prison cell, being half-dragged by the soldiers. They threw her back inside, not even bothering to unchain her. The door slammed shut. Still shuddering and gasping with sobs, Azula collapsed on her filthy cot and tried desperately to sleep.

Chapter 2

She wanted to believe it wasn't real – that the guards who were dragged her from her cell again were just a hallucination. But Azula knew somehow that they were very real, and that she soon wouldn't be able to take refuge in the shadowy world of insanity at all. She knew Mai was waiting for her.

Azula was out of it enough for the healing of her hands to be less painful than it would have been otherwise, but she still squirmed and whimpered as her shattered bones moved and fused back together. The hard hands of her guards twisted her arms back behind her back when the waterbender had finished his work; she felt her wrists being shackled again. Then familiar claws traced her throat, and the sharp pain of the injection came at the side of her neck. Azula's head cleared. She looked up into the glacial calm of Mai's face.

“Good evening, Azula.” Mai looked her over with little outward interest. “There's been a slight change of plan. Last night's session was quite satisfying, so I've decided to postpone what I was going to do tonight until tomorrow.” The prisoner knew better than to let herself hope at this. She squirmed in the grip of the guards. Mai's lips curved just a bit. “Remember what I said yesterday? Six weeks, Ty Lee and I spent in prison. That's forty-two days. Those guards took her for two or three hours every night. So there's a minimum of eighty-four hours of agony I owe you. You served about two of them yesterday. You do the math.” Azula swallowed hard. “You're pretty quiet today, Azula. Nothing to say this evening?”

The prisoner glowered. “I'm not going to beg you for mercy.”

“Yes, you are. Not right away, maybe, and certainly not willingly. But you'll beg.” Mai's matter-of-fact tone left no room for argument. “String her up, and leave us.” The soldiers dragged Azula backward a foot or two. Her hands were shackled in front of her, and then she was lifted up; the chain that held her arms was thrown over a metal hook embedded in the stone ceiling, suspending her by her wrists. The cuffs dug into her flesh. Azula grimaced. Then she felt her feet being fastened into cuffs, as well. Looking down, she saw that they had shackled her legs to either end of a steel rod, pinning her ankles about two feet apart. They fastened the rod to a ring in the floor with a short chain, holding her outstretched. Without another word, the guards filed from the room, and the door closed behind them.

Azula already had some idea of what Mai was planning, but she still winced when the tall young woman began to remove the whips from the corner cabinet. Mai considered them carefully, weighing them in her hands, before choosing one. It was a blacksnake whip, its braided lash about a foot and a half long. She set it down on the small table and turned back to the cabinet. Her victim couldn't help flinching a little as Mai took out a bundle of rods. Silently, the young queen tested a couple of them for flexibility, and finally selected two. She laid them on the table and picked up the whip again.

Not until this little ceremony was complete did Mai speak again. She looked up at Azula with a faint smirk. “I suppose whipping you is a bit of a cliche. But sometimes the old classics are the best.” She shook out the lash so that it hung loosely. “Are you sure you don't want to start pleading now, Azula? Practice makes perfect, you know.”

“Go to hell!” the prisoner snarled.

“Suit yourself.” Mai shrugged and walked slowly behind her victim. Azula set her teeth and waited helplessly. After a moment, she felt Mai's fingers trace gently over her naked shoulders. “I should have had my guards cut your hair before they left,” the young queen mused. “Oh, well. I suppose I'll have to do it myself.” Azula felt several sharp tugs as her hair was shorn off at the nape of her neck. She wriggled in her bonds, and regretted it at once; the cuffs cut into her wrists, and she felt blood begin to trickle down her arms. “There we go,” Mai murmured finally. “Ready, Azula?” Before the captive had a chance to respond, she heard the crack of the whip! Pain shot across her back like lightning a split second later. Azula gasped, then took her tongue between her teeth and screwed her eyes shut.

Mai whipped her methodically, laying her first stroke high across Azula's shoulders, and then working her way slowly downward. The blows fell in a steady rhythm. Azula stayed silent, bracing herself for each stroke. A couple of them made her suck in her breath sharply, but she stubbornly refused to cry out.

When Mai had scored Azula's pale skin from the base of her neck to the backs of her knees, she stopped. The prisoner listened as her tormentor shifted her position. Then the lash began to fall again, cutting ruthlessly across the welts that had already been inflicted! Azula's body spasmed, and she almost screamed. It was excruciating – it felt as if Mai was filling the cuts on her back with molten lead! The captive bit down hard on her tongue, trying desperately to stay silent. She couldn't restrain a few whimpers as the pitiless whip worked its way slowly down her body again. Tears streamed down her face.

At last, as she reached the backs of Azula's knees again, Mai stopped a second time. Blinded by tears and cold sweat, Azula could only listen as the young woman's footsteps moved in front of her. She heard Mai humming softly to herself in satisfaction. Then rough cloth wiped at her face. Azula's body quivered. “There you are,” Mai said calmly. “Can you see?” The prisoner blinked. Mai's cold amber eyes swam into focus; Azula jerked her head in a curt nod. “Good.” The young queen turned away. As Azula watched, Mai put down the whip and picked up one of the waiting rods. The prisoner couldn't help wincing. “This will be a bit different,” Mai remarked, bending the cane in her hands. “It's heavier and harder than a whip, so it will cut you deeper, and leave more bruising.” She raised a brow coolly at her victim. “I would imagine it will hurt more, too. Are you ready to beg yet, Azula?”

Nothing had seemed to derail Mai to this point, but Azula refused to give up. She desperately tried to think. “I didn't know that either of you was being tortured, Mai,” she said, her voice strained and hoarse. “I swear to you, I didn't know!”

“Swear all you want. I know you're a liar.” Mai's eyes glittered. She began to move behind her helpless victim again.

“I never ordered either of you hurt!” The former princess squirmed in her bonds, stopping with a hiss as her torn body protested. “I was going to release you.”

“Lies.” Mai's voice was flat and cold. “I'm not a fool.”

“It's the truth! Mai, I...” Realization dawned. Azula's eyes widened. “Mai, I even told Captain Chang. I was going to have you both brought to me after two months. I figured you'd have learned your lessons by then. Ask him – I told him!”

“Captain Chang. My uncle's deputy.” There was a new note in the young queen's voice – one of sudden uncertainty. “Why tell him, and not my uncle?”

“Because I didn't want you to find out before you were released.” Azula screwed her eyes shut and prayed hard. Oh gods, please, let her listen to me. “It's the truth, Mai. Go and ask him! He'll tell you.”

Very slowly, Mai moved back to the little table and set down her rod. Her narrow eyes flashed dangerously as they met Azula's. “I'll ask him,” she said coldly. “And if this is true, then I might consider taking a few hours off your time. But if you've just lied to me, Azula, then I swear to you that you will not have one moment without pain until you die. Understand?” The captive's lips tightened, and she nodded. Without another word, Mai turned on her heel and left the room.

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