As word spread throughout Ba Sing Se, Zuko, the new Executor, wandered around each district, singling out individuals that caught his eye and sending them to the nearest Precinct House. What was he looking for? Town Criers. Individuals who would go to the Precinct House each morning to collect a list of decrees that the new Queen had decided on, go to the District Center, stand on a platform that was currently being constructed, and announce them to their district so everyone could hear them. The Queen’s brother, lover, and enforcer wasn’t taking any chances with the citizens claiming ignorance of his sister’s rule, so he was doing everything he could to spread her every word as far and wide as he could.
While his only thought was to safeguard against the belligerent, it was entirely unnecessary. Not that he or anyone else in the city knew that. The Earth Kingdom citizens could never rise up against their High Queen, but not out of loyalty, not directly at least. For you see, while the Earth Kingdom’s citizens tended to be as spiritually sensitive as rocks, there was one thing even their spirits couldn’t ignore: a decree from the Avatar.
When Kyoshi formed the Dai Li, she wanted them to preserve the culture of Ba Sing Se specifically and the Earth Kingdom in general. She also wanted them to be loyal to and enforce the will of the reigning monarch. Between this and her only choosing those sensitive to Spiritual matters, she inadvertently tied the loyalty of the Earth Kingdom to the loyalty of the Dai Li. As long as the Dai Li remained loyal to the Earth King, his will was absolute, preventing peasant uprisings like the one that inspired the organization’s creation. As more and more Dai Li lost faith in their weak rulers, the rule of the royal family weakened until, in 80 A.G., the title of Earth King was given to a child incapable of ruling or holding anyone’s loyalty. It was this lack of loyalty that finally split the Earth Kingdom into scattered city-states that could offer no resistance to the Fire Nation’s sudden focus, having recently made the Water Tribes a non-issue.
Over a decade later, enough Dai Li had been recruited and served at the Earth King’s side to feel some measure of loyalty to him over the Grand Secretariat that had thought himself a more capable and fit ruler than the one born to rule. These few Dai Li didn’t represent a significant portion of the agents, but it was enough for the soldiers to hold the wall for 600 days in the face of the Fire Lord’s own son, the fearsome Dragon of the West, General Iroh himself, who had managed to carve through the very heart of the continent to the mighty city.
Today, the loyalty of the Dai Li is split exclusively between Queen Azula and Prince Zuko. Normally, such a split would be just as disastrous as the previous century or so, but this was different. The Prince didn’t gain their loyalty to the exclusion of her, nor was he disloyal to her as Long Feng and his ilk were to their sovereigns. Prince Zuko valued her life and well-being above his own and that of everyone else. The others were selfish, letting their authority go to their heads and valuing their own ambitions above their loyalty, but, with Azula, Zuko was completely selfless and viewed the Dai Li’s loyalty to him simply as an extension of their loyalty to his sister. Sparing no thought to his own ambitions within the Earth Kingdom, he allowed himself to be a vessel of her will, just as much an extension of her as her fire.
All this being said, and there was a lot said, his efforts at collecting a cadre of criers weren’t going to waste. By ensuring that so many people heard her orders by word of mouth, he also ensured that they would obey them. When he finished selecting the criers, Zuko would draft a plan for every city still in Earth Kingdom territory to adopt a similar method of spreading her words: messengers would be sent out from the Palace to Precinct Houses or Town Halls where they would deliver a list of decrees. These decrees would be announced in a public square at the center of the city or district with the command to spread word to anyone who didn’t hear it. Thus would the will of the Earth Queen be obeyed by anyone and everyone who considered themselves Earth Kingdom. It wouldn’t work on those who rejected their citizenship, but before Zuko finished scouting, he would already be aware of that issue and write up a decree that shopkeepers and other service providers would only be allowed to serve citizens of the Earth Kingdom or Fire Nation and that citizens were ordered to persecute citizens of nowhere until they swore fealty to the Queen or Fire Lord. It wouldn’t take long to weed out the dissidents and establish order within Ba Sing Se and all its dependents.
While Zuko was on the prowl, he came across a familiar face.
Zuko’s head snapped around at the familiar voice, his eyes dilating to near-human appearance out of surprise. “Jin?”
“Lee, what’s going on?” she seemed almost hysterical, having watched the Fire Nation invade her home yet again.
“Ba Sing Se has fallen. The Fire Nation is now in control of the Earth Kingdom.”
Jin took a closer look at the boy she took on a date, her eyes catching on the claws, the natural long hair, and the flame he wore comfortably on his chest. “Who are you, really?”
Straightening up, having been asked a question he had a resolute and absolute answer for, he took a deep breath and responded. “I am Zuko, Crown Prince of the Fire Nation, son of Agni and brother to High Queen Azula of the Earth Kingdom. I enforce my sister’s will and command those who keep the peace.” As he was speaking, he didn’t notice the flames puffing out of his mouth like steam on a particularly chilly day, but Jin did. And while Earth can be stubborn, it also settles when it finds itself in a rut, so she knew how to recognize when fighting would do more harm than good, especially when she trusted the person she would be fighting.
“Oh,” she said, looking down sad. “I’m sorry if I overstepped my bounds, your highness.”
“What are you talking about? Last week I was just Lee, a nobody who didn’t matter. Now my true form as a Fire Nation Royal has been revealed, and I’d like it if you wouldn’t turn your back on me.” As he finished, she looked up, noticing how his demeanor seemed to resemble Lee’s and realizing that this really was the same clueless, hopeless young man she had taken a liking to. So, while hope in victory over the Fire Nation had died, from those ashes emerged a new hope: Hope that their new overlords would be better than their previous ones. Hope that living under the Fire Nation wouldn’t be so bad. Jin didn’t know Queen Azula, but she knew Prince Zuko, so her countenance brightened. The first of many. As more people saw joy while under their new Queen’s rule, more people decided to try and see the good in it, making them feel that joy and spread it to others. Just as Zuko had planned long ago, when he and his sister were still tiptoeing around one another. But that wouldn’t happen today, or even this week. Today, Jin was alone in her hope.
“All right, but what could you need from me?”
“I’m looking for someone in each district who can go to their local Precinct House, pick up a list of new decrees, and announce them to their district every morning. Can you do that?”
“Sure. I’m part of the Spider Monkey South district, right up against the Inner Wall.”
“Great.” They then stood there awkwardly for a moment.
“So, who’s this?”
“Uh, this one’s the knife thrower, and this one’s the acrobat. I think I mentioned them?”
“Oh yeah! You’re able to pin a gnat-fly to a wall at a hundred paces, right?”
“After I warm up, yes.”
“And aren’t you able to walk on your fingers?”
“Yup!” At this, Ty Lee flipped over, landing on an index finger and making a “ta-da” motion, getting applause from her one-person audience.
“They’re also able to tear through a battalion of elite Earth Benders, leaving each of them dead on the ground or wishing they were that lucky.”
“Great, now she’s terrified of us. Thanks, Zuko.”
He sniffed and raised his chin. “The only person more terrifying than the two of you is Azula. And considering I was the practice dummy for your ‘freestyle acupuncture’ and Ty Lee’s ‘2-second massages’, I think I’m the one most qualified to make that statement.”
“Hey, I’ve been practicing those! Good news, now they don’t leave you in agony on the ground!” Ty Lee said from her upside-down position, earning an eye-roll from Mai at the two jokers.
“Well, we’ve still got work to do. Let’s go.”
As Zuko and Ty Lee walked off, Jin turned to look at Mai. “Is his sister the one he took for walks around the city last week?”
“As far as we’ve been able to find out, yes.”
“Are they, you know…” she made a vague “coming together” motion with her hands.
“Doing things no siblings should do? Yes.”
“I thought they looked awfully similar to be a couple. I guess that didn’t stop them, though, did it?”
“Unfortunately not. You’re not the only teenaged girl he’s managed to charm without trying.”
Jin gave her a knowing, sympathizing look. “I wonder how many of us there are?”
“More than you would think, probably, since two of us found each other,” Mai replied, touching the left side of her face.
Noticing Zuko turning to look for the other half of his escort, she decided to cut the meeting short, following him to the next district.
Searching for spokespeople wasn’t the only thing Zuko was doing during his tour of the entire city. He was also taking note of bad trends that he now had the power to do away with, rather than simply do what little damage control a masked vigilante could do. Things like not taking from sellers without the sellers’ permission or paying for what they’re taking was a relatively easy one, but the concept of extortion, gangs, and other such issues would take someone more clever than himself. As for easing the occupation, it was a simple matter to place the Fire Nation soldiers at the same level as the City Watch. Colleagues, even, making it clear that the two organizations were to work together to ensure smoothness. However, he also remembered the view from the other side, not only the hatred the peasants felt for his people, but how deserving some of them were of it. Fortunately, he already had a group set above the Watch and answered only to the Queen.
“Chung, I want the peace kept to the best of everyone’s abilities. The Watch, including the combined Earth and Fire forces, is to keep it among the citizens, but I want you and your faction to keep an eye on them. If there’s any infighting, you treat it as if it was a pair of Watchmen, no matter who they are, even if it’s two firebenders. If any firebender disturbs the peace, you are to punish him according to the crime. Same if he abuses his power in any way. If you deem it necessary, make an example of them to make things clear. Ba Sing Se is still your city, you know it better than we do, and it’s your sacred duty to maintain it. Understood?”
Interestingly enough, over time Zuko found himself being called that by more and more Dai Li, until that became his unofficial title among them. They called Azula “Your Majesty,” since she was their Queen, but him killing and making an example of their former master also made an impression in their minds, even beyond the effort Azula put into overthrowing Long Feng. After all, after seeing her lose the only fight she got into, they watched Zuko utterly dismantle the one who beat her and immediately start taking charge of them, taking the time to care for her and almost having her be his porcelain doll that he keeps safe while he goes out into the city. Not only that, but while Azula was born royalty and trained from the cradle to rule, she was not born to be the true ruler. She was born the spare of the spare, regardless of Azulon’s plans for her when she grew up. While her royal birth made her superior to the commoner Long Feng by default, her older brother was born with all the privilege she was, with the added benefit of being ahead of her in the line of succession. He only followed her because he chose to. It was certainly the right choice, given her capabilities, but he appointed her queen, with all the corresponding implications.
By the time a certain message arrived from Caldera, the Dai Li’s loyalty had turned into its proper form: The Monarch had their loyalty because they were royalty while their leader, their Master, had their respect for the actions he took. This is the way it had always been, with each aspect ebbing and flowing, waxing and waning, but for the first time in a while that ebb and flow didn’t matter because of the mutual trust, loyalty, respect, and even love between the Monarch and the Master.
“Joo Dee, anything interesting this morning?”
“Well, there were two messages that seemed to require your attention,” she replied, holding the first one out for Azula to take.
“Well?” Zuko asked, seeing her finish reading.
“Someone who calls himself ‘Lord Bei Fong’ has surrendered a place called Gaoling to the Fire Nation, requesting annexation and offering it as a base of operations to subjugate the area south of the Si Wong Desert.”
“Hm. Why haven’t we done so already?”
“Inaccessibility. There’s a swamp, desert, and a lot of mountains in the way, plus there’s pretty much only cliff faces along the coastline and we’ve never been able to gain control of the ocean beyond Whaletail Island, making any kind of sea-based assault on that region impossible. Our standing plan has been to take it by land piece by stubborn piece. I think he knows how generous this offer is and is probably hoping for something in return.”
“As long as the area obeys the rules and doesn’t cause a ruckus, is there any reason to refuse him things like general autonomy?”
“Not really. We’ll send someone to make sure Fire Nation interests are being kept, but if he’s this eager to be a colony, we might as well let him govern it…Wait. Where’s Mai?”
After a second of thought, Zuko summoned a guard. “Find Lady Mai and bring her here.” To Azula he asked, “What just occurred to you?”
“Something she said back when we were still undercover. Joo Dee, was this sent in response to our general message?”
“No, Your Majesty. You were only crowned two weeks ago and it takes ten days for a messenger to go that far south as the eagle-hawk flies. I imagine the Gaoling messenger only arrived a day or two ago.”
“I see. Mai, who was that earthbender you made friends with?”
“Toph Bei Fong. She calls herself ‘the Greatest Earthbender in the World,’ which doesn’t seem inaccurate. Why?”
Zuko and Azula shared a glance. “I wonder if they’re related.”
“Most likely. Mai, did she seem like a noble?”
“She didn’t act like one, but I suppose she didn’t seem like a commoner.”
“Probably his daughter, then. Or at least a niece.”
“Sounds like we’ll have an interesting conversation at some point, then. You can go now, Mai.”
“Thanks for your help.”
“You’re welcome, Zuko,” she replied to him specifically, leaving.
“You said there were two messages, Joo Dee?”
Silently, she held the other one out. It was quickly apparent why she waited and didn’t say anything about it.
Seeing the stress around Azula’s eyes, which grew as she read, Zuko was somewhat concerned. “What is it?”
“It’s from Ozai.”
Zuko immediately tensed up. “What does he want?”
“He says we’ve ‘spent long enough gallivanting across the Earth Kingdom and playing at being rulers.’ He wants us to return home immediately.”
Both of them have pursed lips at this point. “‘Gallivanting’? Is that what he calls it? ‘Playing at being rulers’? Who does he think he is?”
“He says he never told me to take any cities or install myself as its ruler. He only said to bring you and Iroh home.”
“So, instead of congratulating you for taking the two biggest cities in the entire Earth Kingdom, he’s scolding you for going above and beyond. Does he say anything about what we’ve been doing, or is it just ‘playing’ to him?”
“Just ‘playing’. He doesn’t say how to leave the city, just to come back.”
“Humph. It’s like he doesn’t want to win the War or something.”
“…What if he doesn’t?”
“He really liked the thought of sacrificing a division for a badgermole hill and doesn’t seem to care about how much he wastes, both time, money, lives, and destruction. What if all the death and destruction is what he’s after?”
“Then I think we’ve figured out his plans for the Comet.”
“Well, he better rethink them, because the Earth Kingdom is mine now. And I don’t appreciate others taking or breaking what’s mine.” Everyone except Zuko got nervous at this, because it was said in a dragon’s growl. Those who cared to look closely saw her claws and fangs get just a little bit longer.
Of course, Zuko was blind and deaf to anything unusual, since to him it was normal. “Don’t worry. We won’t let him do anything to your Kingdom, no matter what.” As she calmed down, he turned to Joo Dee, who was trying to regain her signature smile. “Will you be able to handle administration around here for a while?”
“Yes, Master,” she replied, her smile returning at having something to distract her. “I will send daily reports by dragon hawk.”
“Good. Chung, you’re in charge of security while I’m gone.”
“Yes, Master. All will be as if you were here. I shall include my own report when Joo Dee sends hers.”
“Good. Have the servants pack our things. Queen Azula, myself, Lady Mai, and Lady Ty Lee will be departing for Caldera at first light tomorrow. We’ll being our prisoner with us.”
“Master? I’m here to give my report.”
“I gave you that assignment weeks ago. What took you so long?”
“I had to confirm some things he said.”
“All right, fine. What happened?”
“Well, I gave him that password you mentioned and acted like I was an eager potential recruit that didn’t really understand what was going on.”
“Um, sir? I heard that the White Lotus opens wide to those who know its secrets. Are you alright?” she asked, making the “blooming flower” hand gesture.
Iroh smiled, returning the gesture. “You heard correctly. I’m afraid I’ve lost contact with the outside world recently. How goes it?”
“Sir, it’s terrible. Princess Azula was declared Queen of the Earth Kingdom! The Earth King has been driven away and the Council of Five has been executed by Prince Zuko!”
“That is terrible news. I thought Zuko was better than this, but apparently his sister has somehow corrupted him away from Good. Perhaps I’ve lost him. What a shame, I tried so hard to bestow wisdom upon him, but he was always too stubborn to listen.”
“What are we going to do about this?” the servant asked hysterically. “The Fire Nation Army has taken hold of the city and began repressing the population! The siblings have made mandates that disrupt our way of life!”
“Calm yourself. All is not yet lost. I have already made arrangements to gather the military forces of the White Lotus at the western region of the Outer Wall. When the Comet arrives, we will reveal ourselves and liberate this city from its oppressors.”
“But who can take this city by force when even you couldn’t?”
“The Grandmasters of the Order will gather. Master Pakku of the Northern Water Tribe, King Bumi of Omashu, and General Jeong Jeong and Piandao of the Fire Nation will be there to assist me.”
“Wow. All three nations?”
Iroh’s smile returns. “Yes. We will restore this city, abolish the colonies, and separate the three remaining nations as they are supposed to be. Only then will balance be restored.”
“Amazing. Do you need any messages sent out?”
“Not at the moment, but I think you should familiarize yourself with the other members. A servant within the Forbidden City itself will be useful in the future.”
“As I left, I heard him singing something about ‘leaves from the vine’ or something, and I’ve been an errand girl since then. I thought that, since you were all leaving, I should update you now.”
“That senile old fool,” Zuko snarled. The servant flinched at the sudden animalistic growl. “Who does he think he is?” It took a while for him to calm down, but eventually he was able to talk without snarling at the poor girl. “You did well. Do what you can to keep their suspicion off of you and give your report directly to Chung after we leave. What’s your name?”
“Tu Ling, Master. You’re not taking me with you?”
“No. The Fire Nation isn’t friendly to those of Earth Kingdom decent, especially the palace itself. It’s better for you to stay here among friends. I’ll give Chung your name so he knows to trust you.”
“Thank you, Master.” With that, they parted ways. She wasn’t as shocked at his restraint in not hitting her or his concern for her well-being as most would, since she had already experienced the Prince’s kindness once before. After all, it’s not every day that the person you serve a meal chooses to ease your burden and allow you to use both hands, if only for a moment. It was small moments like that that explained why, while Azula had their obedience, Zuko had their loyalty and love. After all, Zuko loved them first, in his own way.
Meanwhile, Zuko was still seething. “We achieve the most prestigious achievement in the world, one he failed at, and he immediately starts planning on tearing it down? Why can’t he be happy for me? And what about Master Piandao? He gives enemies and cowards the honor of their titles, yet ignores the blademaster? And what’s this about bestowing wisdom? If he wanted me to learn something, he should’ve told me. Did I not do the little things he told me to do when he told me to do them? ‘Firebending comes from the breath’, so I started using it. I can’t learn wisdom if he won’t teach me. And what’s this about the colonies? He speaks as if he’ll have any voice in the Fire Nation or control over its actions. ‘Separate the nations’? Didn’t he say something about how they weren’t supposed to be separate or something?” Sighing, he went to make certain arrangements with Chung. After all, he had already told them to punish belligerent firebenders. This would hardly need any special instruction, it would almost be…perfectly ordinary.
“Have you seen the Queen or the Prince?”
“No, my Lady. Um, should we refer to her as Queen? She’s not our Queen, just a Princess.”
“When I find them, I’ll ask her.”
Where in the Burning Pits could they have hidden themselves? It’s not like there’s that many secluded places on a ship like this.
Eventually, she managed to find a door near the Engine Room that, if she pressed her ear up against it, she could hear muffled moaning. It was a good spot, since it was an unused storage closet that no one ever went in and was close enough to the engines that any sound would be muffled enough as to be hidden.
She stood there for a moment, staring at the door, debating on whether or not to interrupt them. Eventually, she decided that she really did need to talk to them, so she went in. Opening the door, she stopped, startled at the sight before her: Azula, with her hands behind her back, on her knees in front of Zuko, with his cock in her mouth and his hand in her hair, yanking her head back and forth as he didn’t so much receive a blowjob as fuck her face. As Mai watched them, she couldn’t see a single scrap of clothing, nor any jewelry except that thin crown thing Azula never took off. This was Zuko and Azula as they truly were.
Her musings and observations were cut short when she noticed Zuko looking over at her. When they made eye contact, he beckoned her over. As she got close, letting the door close behind her, he broke his silence.
“Take it off,” he growled. As Azula looked around, trying to figure out why he suddenly spoke, Mai found her hands automatically moving to disrobe, clad only in her underwear by the time she regained control. “Keep going,” Zuko insisted, piercing her with his gaze. Before she could take off her weapon holsters, which she was hesitating doing, he gave her another order. “Get behind her.” When she was in position, he put his foot under Azula’s crotch and lifted, eliciting a muffled groan, and gestured with his chin for Mai to get under her. “Lick,” he ordered, removing his foot and letting Azula put some of her weight on Mai’s face when she positioned herself.
As Mai’s tongue started working its magic on her friend, Azula found herself very much enjoying being taken from both ends by her brother and someone under his control. The fact that it was one of her friends was the only reason why she tolerated a third member joining, but when she discovered how it felt, she found her objections fading as the pleasure mounted. The fact that she was able to submit to her brother and still be able to grind her feminine folds on someone’s face was pure ecstasy. As Zuko sped up his movements, nearing his release, she was also getting close, between getting overwhelmed by him and Mai’s ministrations. As she put all her weight on Mai’s face, smothering her, she groaned her release, triggering Zuko’s.
When Zuko calmed down and his sister managed to suck him dry, he pulled her face away and noticed Mai’s increasingly frantic movements, so he took mercy on her, pulling Azula up by the jaw so Mai could breathe. Gasping for air, not having the capacity of the two siblings, she extracted herself and stood up.
Finally being given a moment of reprieve, she remembered her whole reason for coming down here. Part of it was making sure they were discreet, but obviously they had that handled. The rest was details about their trip. “Well, if the two of you are done, we need to specify our route home. Clean up and meet me in the Command Tower with the captain.” And with that, she wiped off her face, dressed back up, and stalked out, leaving the siblings cuddling on the floor, Zuko having untied Azula and pulled her to sit on his lap.
“I rescind my earlier statement,” she said into his chest.
“You can pursue other women. But only so long as you both understand that it’ll be the three of us, not you with a pair of concubines. I’m not letting anyone take you from me, even from my bed.”
“Heh, understood. Somehow I doubt there’ll be many others willing to be with both of us, though.”
Zuko sighed, knowing that neither of them would like the next subject. “When we get home, maybe we should say that Mai and I are a couple.”
Azula tensed, reflexively opposed to the idea, but she was smart. She knew as well as he did that they needed to be secretive. “All right, but only in public. And make sure she knows it’s just an act. I still want you between my legs every night, even if we wake up alone.”
“I will.” He hugged her tighter. “I’m sorry.”
“I know you are…I am, too.”