Story: Revenge (chapter 2)

Authors: bluerosethorn

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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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