Unwelcome Shade

Zuko’s arm snapped forward, driving the head of his Twin Dragons Chain deep into the makeshift earth of this strange place he found himself. The portrait had led Kadon and Zuko into a facsimile featuring the front of the Invisible Manse, where a party seemed to be underway.

Every fiber of Zuko’s being told him that the “portal” Kadon had found would be nothing but trouble. Nevertheless, he planned to back his ally’s play and was willing to serve as anchor. With his chain properly secured, and a harness of diamond thread securing Kadon to himself, Zuko felt prepared to pull his friend out of whatever nightmare lay beyond that door.

“Okay Kadon, I’m ready. Just for the record, this is a dumb idea. If this kills us I am totally going to kick your a-“

Darkness. Darkness overtook Zuko’s senses in an instant. He looked for his friend and saw nothing, he shouted for him and heard nothing. As the terror of the assault rushed by him, Zuko initially tried to reach for the thread to pull Kadon out of this place. Reaching forward he grasped at the thread tied to his waist only to find nothing before him. Even with his senses hindered as they were, the Night Caste could tell that the thread was gone, and more disturbingly so were his hands and feet.

Okay Zuko… Keep it together, Zuko attempted to reason to himself. So everything is gone and you are trapped in a void only to find yourself without a body. Just focus on a solution… think!

The only possible solution dawned on him in mere moments. Find Kadon. It seemed so obvious that Zuko was almost embarrassed it wasn’t his first thought. Though finding Kadon would prove difficult in such a place. Unable to move, the desperate Haltan decided to think about finding his Twilight companion REALLY hard, willing himself to his location.

Suddenly, Zuko was able to see something. His elation at having senses again was quickly replaced by abject horror at what he surveyed. A pair of enormous eyes split the inky void of what he could only surmise was beneath him. They gazed at him unblinking, yet with a wisdom and sorrow that convinced Zuko that these eyes were ancient. Filled with confusion and completely afraid of what he was witnessing, the exalt’s mind drifted to thoughts of his wife. He had hoped to see her once more and put her at ease about all of the confusing events at the hidden manse, but that seemed impossible now.

Zuko felt a lurch from within himself and he was able to see something else appear in front of him. As his eyes(?) adjusted he recognized the small glowing object that drifted in front of his vision as the obsidian rose he had “purchased” for Scarlet in Autocthon.

What in blazes is that doing here? Did I still have that on me? I hadn’t thought so… wait. Why do I care about that when I don’t have a rest of me? Why does the flower get to exist in this terrible tree-less zone when I don’t get to, it’s just not fair! Zuko mentally screamed against the pitch and silence.

The eyes seemed to light up for a moment, a change that Zuko knew to spell his doom. Surely whatever entity possessed those eyes would consider him a delicious treat. His concerns were dashed soon after as the eyes seemed to follow the rose which now drifted down towards the creature.

Hey, at least one of us got what we wanted, right? The exalt mused, beginning to accept his fate when suddenly a burst of light dazzled him. As his sense adjusted, Zuko recognized the form of Scarlet coming towards him and wrapping her arms about his torso. I have a body again!? the Solar mentally exclaimed, but his joy at this realization was quickly drowned out by unspeakable pain wracking every nerve in his form. He barely maintained enough consciousness to hear Scarlet mumble something to the giant eyes below. As his mind shut down from the overload of feeling his skin and flesh melt Zuko managed to spy the diamond thread attached to Kadon with his friend still at the end of it. Looping his arms and legs around the thread to maintain a grip on it used up the remainder of his strength. As Zuko’s exhaustion overtook him he barely noticed a second pair of arms grab hold and the sudden lurch of being yanked by them.

As the group was pulled out of the portrait by Mnemia, Zuko’s eyes struggled with the brightness of the room. He was able to at last see that Scarlet was safe and with him, and that the rest seemed okay too. He was too confused to question why Sidney or Zis were also lying in a heap around him as Mnemia crouched down to check on his condition.

Smiling meekly, Zuko managed to raise one mutilated hand and point towards the similarly afflicted Twilight. “It was all… K-Kadon’s fault” he barely whispered, finally passing out.

Eons of a dreamless sleep seemed to pass by before Zuko could faintly hear a soft lyrical humming in the distance. He tried to focus on the familiar sound, desperate to remember where he had heard it before. As the sound grew louder, his memories of home began to flow back to him, to that of his childhood and learning to leap through the trees for the first time. “The sparrow dances upon the breeze” was the name of that tune; one he had heard sung to him as a young boy. Zuko struggled to open his eyes to see who sang it now.

As his vision cleared and focused thru half-raised eyelids, Zuko recognized the face of Scarlet in her human form. Her straightened hair framing her face, his wife held his head on her lap and was softly singing to him and stroking his hair. Though still in a decent amount of pain, Zuko could tell his wounds were far less than they had been, he even recognized the familiar discomfort of a few needles jabbed into his chest. Summoning up his strength, Zuko reached his hand up and gently stroked her cheek.

“So, I have to get hurt this badly to see this face? I had nearly forgotten how beautiful you are without fuzzy cheeks.”

“Zuko!” Scarlet’s amber eyes popped open at his touch “I’m so glad you’re okay! I was SO worried, but now I have you back!” She leaned down and held him close, hugging him tight against her.

“Yeff, Mmm oh kaa” he tried to reply while pressed against her chest. After catching his breath when she released him from her hug, Zuko continued. “But what are you doing here? I thought you were waiting at the boat.”

“I did wait, for weeks. Then…” tears began to well in the Lunar’s eyes as she became quiet, “then you weren’t there anymore. You disappeared more than you did when you went to Autocthon! You died!”

“What? I’m still here aren’t I? Can’t you tell from the bond?” As soon as he spoke those words, Zuko realized something incredibly strange. He could sense Scarlet through the bond as always, but she was far away. She certainly wasn’t in this room and crying over him.

Picking up on his confusion, his wife responded. “Time stuff, dear husband. Well, I’m from a different future I suppose. One where…” Scarlet held up her hand showing an absence of their wedding band. “The enchantment of our rings faded. I came here to look for you on the slim chance that you had made it through safely. We searched this manse high and low, finding nothing. But, I have you back, I’m so glad”

“Scarlet… no stupid trick or trap is going to kill me.”

“But it did! You don’t get it. You died and I just… I just don’t want to lose you again.” His wife exclaimed as her tears began to fall onto Zuko’s face. “I couldn’t even find your body here. Everyone kept telling me you were hiding somewhere or were trapped, but I knew… I knew you were gone from me forever. I can’t bear to think of it again.” Breathing deep, she attempted to settle herself as she held her husband’s hand in hers and continued. “It wasn’t until after a few weeks of research that we found the way down and traced your steps through the redoubt. I came upon the painting and I just knew it had something to do with you from some writing Mnemia had written near the portrait about coming after you. I theorize that time has little meaning in the empty void of Oblivion. When I opened the door with Sidney we appeared and I could see the rose, your bodies, and that giant pair of eyes. In my research inside the library I discovered that a primordial, referred to as Ophelia, was trapped in Oblivion despite not dying like the Neverborn. I knew she had a connection to Autocthon, so when I saw it had an interest in the black rose, I took a gamble about her and made that bargain.”

Smiling, Zuko lifted her hand to his lips and kissed them. “A wager I’m very happy you made, for I truly doubt we’d be alive without it. I was more than beginning to lose hope in there. Though giving my body back did have some unfortunate side effects.” The Night caste strained to sit up in the bed alongside his bride. “Tell me, is everyone else alright?”

“Well, despite my protests mind you, they chose to heal you… last sweetheart. It seems Kadon was needed to figure out how this place worked and to start learning a spell to get rid of this basement level. Everyone else has already gone back up to the salon. You are healing nicely, and should be completely healed in another few hours.”

“Ahhhh, so I’m the leftovers then? Well, I guess I’m feeling well enough, shall we go upstairs and join them?”

Brushing her long red hair over her ear Scarlet wiped the tears from her eyes and gave a coy smile. “Why would we want to go see them when I have you all to myself?”

“Careful young lady, I do still have a different wife… I think.” Zuko mused while pointing to his wedding band.

“Let her have her turn, for now you’re mine!”

Unwelcome Shade

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