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Author Topic: Justice at Agnishima (rated T, explanation inside) Pre-Korra announcement canon  (Read 1567 times)

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Offline Lionheart

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Rating for mild language and mature subject matter.

Disclaimer: Avatar: The Last Airbender is owned and copyrighted by Nickelodeon and Viacom. If I did own it, I wouldn't have let the Promise come into existence and I would've nixed the love triangle in LOK.

A/N: This is a sort of prequel to the Final Testament of Phoenix King Ozai that deals with the actual trial and the immediate post-war Avatar world.

Chapter One: The Prosecutor

The war was over. A hundred years of war and suffering had come to a halt with a victory for the Avatar, his friends, and the Earth Kingdom - Water Tribes Alliance. After the initial celebrations had died down, people all over the world, including the Fire Nation who had started the war came to realize that there was still a devastated world left behind; a world full of victims both living and dead who were crying out for justice to be served. Well, the world had heard the cries of the victims. Eight men had met in the chambers of the Supreme Court in Agnishima, the Fire Nation capital, to deliver justice on those responsible. These men were judges, two from each surviving nation, appointed by their respective governments to be the hands of justice against the fallen tyrants. After much debate, the world settled on the eighteen highest-ranking members of the deposed Fire Nation government. This included the deposed Firelord Ozai, his Ministers, and the top military leaders of the Royal Army and Navy; in short, all the men who had held absolute command over their respective function of the former government, especially Ozai who was the undisputed ruler of the Fire Nation.

The eight men took a seat at the round table in the chambers. Two men were selected for each nation, but as there was only one known Airbender left, the Northern and Southern Water Tribes were to be considered separate. The selected President of the Tribunal, a middle-aged Southern Water Tribe warrior named Amak began to address the others as soon as they were all seated.

"Welcome, gentlemen. Before we begin, let us take our oath."

The eight men stood up and raised their right hands. "Here do I solemnly swear," Amak began.

"Here do I solemnly swear," repeated the other judges.

"Before all the spirits."

"Before all the spirits."

"To duly administer justice without passion, fear, or prejudice."

"To duly administer justice without passion, fear, or prejudice."

"As members of the International Military Tribunal of Major War Criminals in Agnishima."

"As members of the International Military Tribunal of Major War Criminals in Agnishima."

"In accordance with international law."

"In accordance with international law."

The judges took their seats at the table. "Now," said Amak, folding his hands. "Since I'm from the Southern Water Tribe, I should tell you that we're not big on formalities where I come from, so you may just call me Amak. In the Southern Water Tribe, we don't exactly believe in titles." There were a few laughs in response. "Now let's get the seating arrangements out of the way before we get to business. It'll be done according to the Avatar cycle, but as there is only one Airbender left and it's vital that he stand as a witness, the Northern and Southern tribes will be seen as separate entities. Elder Kuruko of the Northern Water Tribe, Chief Oyaji of the Earth Republic*, General Kurosawa of the Fire Nation, yours truly Amak of the Southern Water Tribe, Elder Nanuk of the Northern Water Tribe, General Hao of the Earth Republic, Master Piandao of the Fire Nation, and Master Pakku of the Southern Water Tribe. Each nation has a bender and a nonbender representing them."

"Now that we've got that out of the way," said Pakku curtly, "let's get to business. The trial will be conducted according to Earth Kingdom common law and Water Tribe judicial law. All the defendants are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and will be entitled to the most aggressive defense, but it will be we - the judges - that decide who's guilty or not based on the evidence presented, not a jury. I don't trust common people to make the right decision on such a serious case as this."

"I agree, Master Pakku," Kuruko responded. "This can't be a show trial, no, we will give them the fair trial that they denied to their victims."

"Now for the charges," said Kurosawa, turning to Amak. "There are four indictments in these proceedings: General conspiracy, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Each indictment carries several crimes."

"So let's discuss who these men are," suggested Oyaji. "We'll start with the obvious; Ex-Firelord Ozai. He's among the many charged under all four indictments." Ex-Firelord Ozai, the self-proclaimed Phoenix King was a subject of much debate since his defeat at the Avatar's hands. Avatar Aang chose to spare his life, to remove his Firebending instead of killing him, but now he was under international jurisdiction. One way or another, Ozai would have to face justice for his crimes against the world.

"I think it's important that we take all things into consideration regarding him," Amak replied. "Firelord Zuko has already chosen an attorney for the defense, a Professor Hideo Tanaka. He's head of the law department at Firelord Shinji University and he's been a lawyer for over twenty years."

At this, General Hao looked up."What's his defense?"

"I don't know, General, but the Firelord says he's all professional. He never lets his personal feelings get in the way of his work."

General Kurosawa's brow furrowed as he looked up. "He didn't exactly jump for joy when His Lordship hired him, but at least we don't have a radical loyalist as lead defense counsel. It could really get ugly if we'd have somebody too biased in either direction. Professor Tanaka's very devoted to his work, and that devotion will take precedence over any personal feelings he may have towards the defendants."

"Excellent," said Master Piandao. "Let's move on. Who's our next defendant?"

"War Minister Qin," said Pakku, spitting out the name like a vile swearword, "also charged under all four indictments. He's been behind every military campaign and every attack on Earth Kingdom and Water Tribe civilians for the last twenty years of the war."

"We also have Grand General Thanh An Nguyen, the Butcher of Xu Qiang..." Oyaji said, looking at the man's long list of charges with deep loathing. "Now this one is a real bastard!"

"You're telling me!" said General Hao, white-hot anger burning in him. "He was placed as Governor of Ba Sing Se after Azula's coup. Had countless citizens enslaved and murdered. And that's nothing compared to what he did before! I fought that sick bastard myself!"

"Oh, you mean the Xu Qiang* Massacre that he conducted with Ozai?" Oyaji shot back in equal anger. "The Fire Nation silenced all records of that raid. Nearly a million people were killed, the rest taken prisoner and enslaved, many starved and tortured to death... countless girls brutally raped! Firelord Zuko's searching for witnesses in the Fire Nation, but once we find a prosecutor, things will move faster."

Amak cleared his throat loudly. "I would like to remind you gentlemen that we are judges, not prosecutors, and definitely not executioners. We are supposed to be impartial and we were chosen because our nations found us to be the most qualified for the job. We're not going to disgrace our countries or the integrity of the law by sinking to the levels of the defendants." Oyaji and Hao both glared in response, but said nothing further. However, Amak was not finished. "Look, I know as well as anybody how much all our nations have suffered at the hands of the Old Regime-"

"The Fire Nation's the pariah of the world because of these warmongers!" General Kurosawa cut in harshly. "Millions are dead or homeless because of this war! Our children were abused, tortured, corrupted, and morphed into killing machines to serve the ambitions of-"

Amak slammed his fist on the table silencing him. "Gentlemen!" He look a deep breath. "Gentlemen," he said again in a calm yet firm tone, "we are judges. Our job is to be impartial. As I was saying, all our countries have suffered because of this war. We all suffered personal losses too. My two sons were killed in battle against the Fire Nation forces. The supreme commander of the army they fought against was General Itagaki*." Amak closed his eyes tightly, fighting back tears. "He's also facing all four indictments. I'm going to have to face the man who took my boys away from me every day of the trial. My wife's too sick to travel, so my eleven-year-old daughter has to take care of her alone. No father should have to hold his children's funerals, the children are supposed to hold the funeral of their father.

"The Old Regime had my country reduced from a proud and strong civilization to a meager village living in tents. We have only one Southern-born Waterbender left in the whole South Pole, and my sister, Kya was brutally murdered trying to protect her."

"Wait," said Master Pakku. "Katara and Sokka are your-"

"Yes," Amak confirmed. "Katara and Sokka are my niece and nephew. However, as long as I'm a judge representing my people and the world in these proceedings, I will remain impartial and keep my personal feelings to myself. I'm running on a system of good faith with all of you, gentlemen. I expect you to leave your personal feelings and experiences at home and be completely impartial during our work hours and in everything this job entails. The world is trusting us to give Ozai and the men in his inner circle a fair trial, which will include judges from the Fire Nation. If any of you can't separate your personal feelings from your professions, I need to know now so I could ask for someone who can."

"Amak's right, gentlemen," said Hao quietly. "All in all, I'd say a total of two hundred million of my people were killed in the hundred years of this war. More than half were civilians. This was a quarter of the Earth Kingdom population, gentlemen. To this day, my nights are haunted by the charred bodies of the women, the children... the babies lying dead under the rubble in the ruins of Xu Qiang. I can still smell the stench of the death all around my soldiers and I!" He gave a short grunt. "You know, it would be so easy to just earthbend a boulder to crush these bastards en masse, but we've got to follow the Avatar's example."

"The Avatar's just a-" Elder Nanuk began, but was cut off by Pakku.

"Just a boy? Yes, he's just a boy who saved the world! We're going to follow his example and do what is right in the name justice!"

"I for one won't be able to rest in peace unless the crimes of these men are proven in a court of law," Hao amended.

Nobody else spoke, and Amak knew that despite the justifiable anger and resentment every man in the chambers was feeling, they would all do their jobs in a professional manner.

Elder Nanuk announced, "You mentioned enslavement and rape? Well, that brings us to Justice Minister Takahashi, another one of our all-fours. He's been behind the prisons, the thought police*, the mass executions, and the slave labor."

"What about Princess Azula?" inquired General Kurosawa. "She's been at the Royal Psychiatric Center for months now and is showing no signs of improvement. We must consider that she was, in fact, in her right mind when she committed those atrocities. I know she's a minor, but we can't be lenient under the circumstances."

Piandao looked at Kurosawa like he was as insane as Azula. "How can you tell us that Azula was in her right mind?" the swordsman responded, his eyebrows arching. "That child was raised to be a weapon from a very young age and if it were up to me, I would press charges against Ozai for the way he treated his children. We had three healers and the Avatar see to her mental condition. Azula is insane. She's not fit to stand trial. It doesn't matter whether she was in her right mind or not at the time. She's insane now… I don't want her brought up again."

Nobody spoke for a few moments after the swordsman's short speech. It was Oyaji to break the silence. "Now, what about Heritage and Culture Minister Han Jian? He's not charged under all four indictments, but he did take over Omashu and was responsible for its liquidation. This man is the father of Firelord Zuko's fiancée. Maybe she can tell us exactly what-"

"No," Hao interrupted. "We're not forcing family members to testify against the defendants. We won't even so much as allow the prosecutor to question them. However, the stand is open to anyone who wishes to voluntarily present evidence on behalf of the defense or prosecution. Any objections?" Nobody spoke.

Amak cleared his throat and folded his hands. "Uh, before we continue, I first wanted us to select a prosecution team. Are we all agreed that the lead counsel should be from the Earth Republic?" The other men murmured in agreement. "Very well, he'll form a prosecution team and get the evidence we need."

"I think I know just the man for the job," said Oyaji. The other judges looked at him.
***

Chief Magistrate of Qing County, Zheng Yi signed the last bill on his desk before locking up his office for the day. His attendant greeted him, "Good evening, Mr. Yi."

"Hello, Xiao." The two men walked across the gardens from the work area of the prosecutor's compound to the residential area. "Been a long week, and now I'm looking to spend the weekend with my wife and daughter." Zheng was a burly thirty-eight-year-old man with a bald head, green eyes, and a full black beard. He became the Chief Magistrate of Qing upon the death of his father. The Yi family had a very long history of practicing law and believed firmly in the Earth Kingdom common law system and progression. If the Republic idea would truly come to pass, Zheng would be proud to continue serving the new free government.

Entering the dining room, he was immediately greeted by the delighted squeal of, "Daddy!" A small girl sprinted towards him. Grinning, the Chief Magistrate scooped his daughter in his arms and kissed her forehead. He placed her on his shoulder as she chattered away about her day with the governess.

Dinner was highly welcomed after Zheng's long day. Despite his position of power, he was a modest man so he and his family generally ate in the kitchen. As he made to drink his tea, a servant entered the kitchen. "Begging your pardon, Mr. Yi," she said, "but you have visitors."

"Who are they?" he replied, putting down the cup.

"They say they're representatives of the International Military Tribunal, sir."

"Escort them to the living room and bring a bottle of rice wine; I'll be with them shortly." The servant bowed and proceeded to carry out her orders.

"What's the International Miritelly Tribunal?" Zheng's daughter asked. His wife was the one to answer.

"Military," she corrected, smiling. "They are a court of Army and Navy judges from all the nations. They're going to put the leaders of the old Fire Nation on trial."

"But why do they want to talk to daddy?"

"I don't know, honey, let's go to the living room."

There were two men sitting on the chairs across from the sofa where the Yi family sat. One was a Fire Nation man in formal robes and the other was an Earth Republic soldier in dress uniform. "So what brings you here?" the Chief Magistrate inquired, pouring rice wine for the two men.

"Mr. Yi, I'm the bailiff for the court," the Earth Republic soldier replied. "My name's Staff Sergeant Hong Lee. This is the lead court scribe, Hiro Masaharu."

Smiling politely, Zheng responded, "I'm Zheng Yi, the Chief Magistrate of Qing. My wife, Ling and my daughter, Lian. What brings you to Qing?"

"The Council of Judges has asked me to request that you lead the prosecution of the major Fire Nation war criminals." Zheng heard, but did not quite believe.

"Me?"

"Yes, Mr. Yi," said Lee. "Judge Oyaji personally recommended you for the job." Qing did a lot of trade with Kyoshi Island, so his and Oyaji's diplomatic relationship went back many years. As for taking the case, Zheng had prosecuted many criminal cases before, but it was always civilian cases. During the war, he left it up to the military to try captured Fire Nation troops who'd attack civilians.

Zheng asked them, "Why me and not a military prosecutor? I know some very honorable Earth Republic officers who could do the job."

"We need someone who believes in what this trial is really going to be about; justice for the victims of this war, but a civilian whose opinion will not be biased based on personal experiences." He did believe in justice for the victims, but was not entirely sure that he could handle such a responsibility. It would also mean that he would need to leave Qing for a very long time and would have to find someone to fill in for him yet there was nobody available.

"I… really need to think about this."

The men looked as though they were expecting him to answer like that. "The court will find someone to fill in for you while you're gone. We'll provide a house in Agnishima for you and your family during your time there."

Zheng turned his gaze to his wife who gave her approving nod and then to his daughter who looked excited.

"We get to go to the Fire Nation?" Lian asked, jumping from her seat. "Can we meet Zuko and Aang?"

Her mother shushed her gently. "Sweetheart, calm down. First of all, it's Avatar Aang and Firelord Zuko. And I wouldn't count on meeting them. The Avatar and his friends are going to be very busy now."

"But you'll probably make friends with Fire Nation children," said Zheng. "While I'm in court, you'll get to make new friends and show them all you learned in Earthbending. They'll be so impressed and might even show you some Firebending. With Firelord Zuko running the Fire Nation and with the terrible war over, our two countries are friends now and the kids can play together." Turning back to his visitors, he answered, "All right, I'll do it."

"You will?"

"Yes, Lee. We all have to do our part now that the war is over." He turned to his daughter again, "Isn't that right, Lian? We all have our own big jobs to do, right? This is obviously my responsibility"

"Uh, I guess," she said with a frown. "But what's my responsor-ability? The war's over, I want to help too!"

"Your job," said Zheng, ruffling her long black hair, "and the job of all the children in the world is to show the idiots who still think in the old way that everybody in the world could be friends with each other, and that no people from one country are better than those from other countries."

"Excellent!" said Lee with a single clap. "A ship will leave Qing Port a week from now." After exchanging farewells, the bailiff and scribe left the Chief Magistrate's compound.

A week later, the Yis were on their way to the Fire Nation. Zheng and Lian stood on the deck gazing at the azure water. "Why do we have to go to the Fire Nation again?" the little girl asked, looking up at her father.

"The war started in the Fire Nation," he explained, wrapping an arm around her. "It was from there that all the orders for all the horrible things these men did came from. No, I'm not going to say what, but it's my job to make sure the world knows what ex-Firelord Ozai and his henchmen did and they get the proper punishment for it. It's only right that the war ends there." He cradled her head to his side and slowly stroked her soft hair. "Don't worry, it'll be fine."

In ten days' time, the ship docked at the port of Agnishima. Tomorrow, Zheng's job would begin. Little did he know what would await him the coming trials.

A/N: The trial has a panel of judges instead of a jury for one reason. Judges are only interested in hearing facts. A jury's opinion can be swayed by how a case is presented or by the emotional aspect, etc. This way, a person can get wrongfully convicted or acquitted. Oh, by the way, an interesting note on Zheng's name. Zhengyi means "justice" in Chinese. I assure you it is a coincidence, I just chose a common Chinese given name and surname.

* Xu Qiang is the (made up) name of the ruined city you see in the Blue Spirit. Think of it  as the Avatar equivalent of the Nanking Massacre.
* I had the idea to make the Earth Kingdom a democracy after the war since 2009.
* Itagaki is a canon character, but his name is my own creation. This was the General that Zuko spoke out against before Ozai scarred him.
* The thought police are based on the former Japanese Tokko. They were basically the enforcers of the imperial propaganda whose job was to silence opposition to the militarists.
« Last Edit: July 09, 2017, 09:55:46 PM by Lionheart »
Set by Waterlady


Offline wherewulf

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"Pre-Korra announcement canon".  Oh, I hear that.  :D  And I certainly agree about "The Promise".  :D  For a few reasons; won't get into them here.

I look forward to the legal sparring between Zheng and Professor Tanaka.

I am surprised both that Aang isn't a part of the tribunal and that the tribunal is all male.  I think Gran-Gran Kanna could have been brought onto the tribunal with no loss of authority; certainly she's a leader in the Southern tribe.  I also think it's interesting that with no Air Nomad votes being taken into account, the Water Tribes between them have 50 percent of the tribunal's votes.  I'm going to stay tuned to see how that plays out.

It's good that Amak reminded the judges that they're supposed to be as impartial as possible about what they're going to rule on, otherwise this will be just as much a show trial as what the Fire Nation elites are accused of conducting.  As far as that goes, though, why are only Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom law being considered?  Why not Fire Nation as well?

Okay, all set for Part 2.

EDIT: Sorry, one other thought--I have to think that some women worked their way into the Fire Nation's officer corps, too; would have been interesting to see one of them here on the tribunal.
« Last Edit: April 28, 2016, 02:19:37 AM by wherewulf »

Offline Lionheart

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Thanks for the review. Fire Nation law is not being considered here for the same reason Soviet law wasn't considered in Nuremberg or Tokyo. In the USSR, the deck was stacked against the defendant. Zuko hasn't gotten around to reforming Fire Nation law yet, and the laws currently in place amount basically to a kangaroo court. Aang's not a judge simply because he's too young and it's more vital that he's a witness. I'm sure the testimony of one of the few people who were alive before the war began would carry considerable weight. I like the idea of Kanna, but there are two problems. The Water Tribes are very patriarchal. Even the more liberal Southern Tribe is more biased in favor of men. The other problem is that too many of our favorite sibling duo's relatives are on the bench. You have their uncle and their step-grandfather.
<< Post Merge: April 28, 2016, 04:21:34 AM >>


Chapter Two: Many Meetings

Settling into the house didn't take long, but Zheng had little time to think about it. The very next morning, an entourage brought him to the Supreme Court of the Fire Nation to what would be his office. It was a small room with a desk in the corner, a meeting table in the middle, and a single window. Upon his arrival, he had his first of many pre-trial meetings. First he met with the eight judges who simply told him that he was to form a team of three including himself. One would be in charge of documentation and written evidence and the other would be in charge of finding witnesses.

That very same day, there was knock on his office door. "Enter," he said shortly. A tall bespectacled man in red robes with his hair in a top knot strode in. "Good afternoon, Mr. Yi, my name is Hideo Tanaka, I'm the dean of the law department at Firelord Shinji University," he announced and bowed to the Magistrate. "The Firelord has assigned me as lead defense counsel for the tribunal."

Zheng blinked. "Oh, well have a seat, Professor." The professor obliged. "Tea?"

"No thank you."

"Okay, I'm guessing you've come to talk about the accused."

"Yes, Mr. Yi," he replied placing his hands on his knees. "I wanted to talk to you about how the trial is going to be conducted. My clients don't understand your Earth Kingdo... er, Republic common law idea."

Zheng looked at him incredulously. "What's there not to understand, Professor Tanaka? It's fairly straightforward. The accused are presumed innocent by the court. The burden of proof falls on the prosecution." He then added with narrowing eyes, "Unless they want to plead guilty and save all of us a lot of trouble."

Tanaka went on as though Zheng didn't make that last comment. "I must also add that the charges against these men are ex-post-facto. Consider that their actions, if they did them, were not at the time illegal."

Zheng was immediately overcome with rage. How could anyone be insensitive enough to say that? Hundreds of millions of innocent people had died in the past hundred years in a war that Tanaka's country started and he goes and says that the defendants' actions were not at the time illegal? It took all his strength not to lose his temper. His father had taught him that the first rule of being a lawyer was to never lose your cool or the opposing counsel will use it against you. The judges only wanted to hear the facts of the case, not an emotional plea.

"Do you really believe that?" Zheng asked evenly.

"It's not my place to believe my clients or not," he responded, lifting up a hand. "I'm a lawyer, Mr. Yi. It's my job to defend whoever is placed in my charge. I took this case because I believe in the common law system and it's my duty to make sure these men receive the best defense a lawyer could give them. I will make my case on evidence only."

"Good to know. Then I'll have you know that I'm here as a representative of the tribunal, not a hired assassin. I'll also present my case based solely on evidence."

The professor's face softened. "Now, if my clients do plead guilty, are you offering any sort of deal?" Zheng sighed. He was not a man who generally asked for the death penalty except in extremely grave circumstances. Even in most premeditated murder cases, he would have the defendants sentenced to life imprisonment. There was also the fact that some of these men did not necessarily deserve death or even life imprisonment.

"This trial is about justice for the victims of the war, Mr. Tanaka," he said firmly. "If they plead guilty, I will put the worst of them in prison for life, but do not expect Ozai or the majority of his top advisors to ever see the outside of a prison for as long as they live." There was no need for Zheng to say that he would definitely seek the death penalty for many of them should they plead not guilty. Tanaka could see it in his eyes.

"Very well, I'll speak to my clients. I should have their answers in three days time." The two lawyers shook hands. As Professor Tanaka left, Zheng realized that he was dealing with a private and very professional man. He could not tell whether or not the professor supported the war, but it was irrelevant either way. He would defend the accused nonetheless.

***

"So now for the charges." Zheng sat at the head of the long table in his office. Two others sat on either side of him. One was a very pretty middle-aged woman from the Fire Nation, and the other, a man from the Northern Water Tribe. "Indictment one is general conspiracy; conspiracy to commit any or all of the crimes under the other indictments." He slammed his fist on the table. "Documentation is of utmost importance here. We need to find official papers with these men's signatures… details of how everything was planned. If we want a confession out of any of them, we'll need these documents." He turned to the woman. "That's where you come in, Setsuko."

Setsuko Miyamoto, a assitant to a well known defense attorney in the Fire Nation Island of Amahara nodded. "Isn't it ironic?" she responded, adjusting her glasses. "I always prided our organizational skills, but now it'll be the undoing of our own former government."

"Yes," Zheng responded. "So it'll be your job to look wherever you can for these documents, records of orders, cabinet meetings, war meetings, orders of executions, shit like that."

"Got it."

"Indictment two is crimes against peace. Namely the planning, preparing, initiating, and waging of wars of aggression against the Water Tribes and the Earth Kingdom with no regard to the peace, tranquility, and sovereignty of said nations."

Tuktu, the Justice Advisor to the Chief of the Northern Water Tribe raised his hand. "Tanaka will undoubtedly object to this. He'll argue that the ones that started the actually war are long dead."

"Yes, I thought we'd hit that snag," Zheng said, his brow furrowing. "What we're going to do is argue that the fact these men, especially Ozai who had absolute rule over the Fire Nation could have stopped the war and chose not to, it's as if they declared war on these nations all over again." The other two in the room were in agreement. "If my intuition's correct, the other defendants will likely try to put all the blame on Ozai. We need to show that they were willing to wage aggressive war as well.

"The third is war crimes. For this, we need actual witnesses. The charges under here are the wanton destruction of cities, towns, and villages; devastation not justified by military necessity; and the maltreatment and murder of prisoners of war. We need citizens and diplomats of the Earth Republic and Water Tribes to testify that the Fire Nation destroyed everything in its path to conquest. We need former war prisoners to testify about the slave labor and mass executions. We need you for this, Tuktu.

"The last indictment is crimes against humanity. This indictment carries charges of genocide, mass murder, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts against the populations of the Water Tribes and the Earth Kingdom such as mass rape and the kidnapping of young girls to be used as comfort women. Let's not forget that the Fire Nation itself wasn't spared from the Old Regime's atrocities. Citizens were persecuted, oppressed, enslaved, and murdered solely on ethnic or political grounds for the past hundred years. We need both of you to work for evidence on this one."

"Are we seriously going to insist that women and girls testify about their experiences as comfort women," Setsuko demanded, appalled, "or that former prisoners of war testify about their treatment? I personally think, Zheng, that these people suffered enough at the hands of the Old Regime. Why make them relive it?"

The magistrate looked at her sympathetically. Yes, it was a rather callous thing to do, insisting that the victims stand as witnesses, but documentation alone would not be enough. "Look," he said. "I don't like it anymore than you do, but the world needs to hear from those who suffered directly under Ozai's rule. Documentation alone will not have as much of an impact on history, we need to hear from actual people who suffered and even from the people who caused their suffering under the Old Regime's orders." He turned his gaze to Tuktu. "I also want the Avatar and his friends to testify. If possible, also foreign politicians and military personnel."

"When does the trial begin?" Tuktu inquired.

"They didn't say, but we need to get as much as we can as quickly as possible. They're giving us time, but we should not push our luck. We can only keep these men confined for so long without legal proceedings moving forward."

"If I may," piped up Setsuko. "The judges said we're not to approach the family members of the accused, but the Firelord's agreed to help us in any way he can. The Firelord can bring us a lot of documented evidence." Well, that made their job a little easier, Zheng thought. Firelord Zuko was doing everything in his power to make drastic reforms in the Fire Nation. He did not gloss over the fact that the Fire Nation was responsible for the devastated state of the world and the first thing he did was publicly apologize on the country's behalf. He then gave his word that he would do whatever he could to help with reparations, pay compensation to the victims, and help bring the Old Regime to justice.

"I think it's more vital that he stand as a witness," Zheng responded thoughtfully. "He's the one who's seen the Fire Nation's menace firsthand during his banishment."

"Why aren't any charges brought against him?" demanded Tuktu in a forceful tone. "His hands aren't exactly clean! He burned down Kyoshi Village and aided Azula in conquering Ba Sing Se!" Setsuko was about to angrily defend her leader but Zheng cut across her.

"Firelord Zuko saw the error of his ways and betrayed Ozai at great risk to his own life. I'll remind you, Tuktu, that we are not executioners, we're lawyers."

"I have one other concern," said Setsuko. "When this is all said and done, I'm afraid of this trial being seen by loyalists and worse, by history as triumph of superior might. Just the winners of the war punishing the losers."

Zheng turned to her, looking her in the eye. "Well, our job is to make sure this isn't triumph of superior might, but of superior morality. We have a very important task at hand here, people. We are going to make a future where wars of aggression and oppression of the common citizenry will be dealt with as crimes." He waited for one of the others to speak and when no one did he clapped his hands together and said, "All right, people, let's get to work."

***

While Zheng Yi's team was scrounging for evidence, Hideo Tanaka was conducting his own series of interviews for the defense. The easiest client to find witnesses for was Minister Han. The professor would first interview the Minister's wife to get her story on the charges her husband faced.

The Han family lived right across the street from the palace in a large manor. Being a family that flaunted their wealth and valued proper behavior, Hideo was escorted from the front gate to the door across the garden by a guard. The professor never understood nobles and their desire to flash their money in everyone's faces. However, that may have been due to the fact that he had worked hard for his position for most of his adult life. Either way, he found it arrogant and tasteless that nobles who contributed absolutely nothing to the country shoved their wealth in the poor's faces. What purpose did the Ministry of Heritage and Cultural Preservation even actually serve? Hideo could only find one redeeming quality about Han and his wife; they gave a lot to charity, even if it was just to put themselves in a good light amongst their peers.

The guard knocked on the door, which was immediately opened by the butler. "Good morning," Hideo greeted. "My name is Hideo Tanaka, I am Minister Han's attorney. Is Mrs. Han available? I wish to speak with her."

The butler nodded and showed him into the house. "Wait right here, sir," the butler said, "I'll go check for her right now." With that, the butler left him standing in the foyer. Well, so much for protocol, Hideo thought. About five minutes later, the butler returned. "Please, follow me to the drawing room."

The drawing room came as no surprise to the professor. Like the rest of the house, no expense was spared into decorating it. The room featured plush red sofas and chairs, a crimson and gold rug, and red satin wallpapers. An equally elegant woman sat cross-legged on one of the chairs. If it were not for her white face and dark hair done up in a ridiculously posh style, Hideo would have thought she had blended into the rest of the room, due to her scarlet kimono. Off in a corner of the drawing room, a little boy of three years was playing absentmindedly.

"Ah, welcome, Professor Tanaka," Mrs. Han greeted with a PR gesture. Turning her head, she called, "What do we say to our guest, Tom-Tom?" The toddler immediately snapped out of his little world, stood up, and bowed to him.

"It's a honor to have you in our house, Pro…" he turned to his mother, gray eyes widening questioningly. Being a toddler, one could not expect him to really pronounce certain words properly or to use proper grammar in his speech.

"Professor Tanaka," Mrs. Han informed with a smile, and set the child on her lap. "Now Tom-Tom, I have to talk with this good man about grownup stuff, so why don't you go play with Kenji for a while?"

"Okay," Tom-Tom answered. He sprang off his mother's lap, bowed to Hideo, and scurried out of the drawing room. Mrs. Han gestured to the sofa in front of her and Hideo sat down.

"Something to drink, Professor Tanaka?"

"Just tea, ma'am."

Once the two of them were settled with drinks and formalities were out of the way, the woman's noble mask was shattered. What the lawyer saw before him was a desperate woman at the end of her rope. "You are going to save my husband, are you?" she pleaded.

"I'll do whatever I can, ma'am." This was the standard answer he would usually give to the family members of his clients. "Minister Han is charged with conspiracy and crimes against humanity."

"What does that mean?" the woman pressed, clenching her teacup tightly.

"That he is accused of illegally occupying Omashu and planning and ordering the evacuation its liquidation. That he forcibly evicted the citizens from the premises. His Ministry also contributed to the race laws of the Fire Nation."

"But he didn't!" Mrs. Han exclaimed louder than she had intended. "They left of their own accord! Nobody got killed or hurt!" She drew in a deep breath. "And he didn't write those hateful laws, he was just running the Ministry of Heritage an Cultural Preservation as it had been since Sozin, dishonor on his name, started the war!"

"That's what I'm going to try to prove, Mrs. Han," Hideo replied.

The noblewoman regained her composure and stated, "But can you prove that he was not the one to actually conquer Omashu? General Shinu conquered the city! My husband was simply ordered to be its Governor! He was only following orders, Mr. Tanaka! If my husband refused, we would all have been hanged as traitors, including my son!"

Hideo ran a hand through his hair thinking of how to answer this in a reasonable way. However, it was best to just answer bluntly. "I understand, Mrs. Han, but the judges do not recognize obedience to a superior as a valid defense, though they might show mercy considering Minister Han's circumstances. As for following orders... Grand General Nguyen was also following orders from both Firelords Azulon and Ozai, and Mr. Yi will undoubtedly collect enough evidence against him to warrant ten thousand death sentences if convicted."

"Nguyen is a demon with no conscience, we all know that!" Mrs. Han snapped. "Do you think I don't know about Xu Qiang? Azulon may have destroyed records of it, but the entire country knew what Ozai and Nguyen did there. But Jian isn't a violent man; he's a politician who was just doing his job and made a bad judgment call. Believe me, if he could have repealed those race laws, he would have."

"I know," the professor reassured, feeling more awkward by the minute. "I will do my best to keep him out of prison, but I'm a lawyer, not a miracle worker. I can only give the judges what I can prove."

The two of them sat silently for several moments before Mrs. Han spoke again. "What is he facing if convicted? They're not going to exe-"

"If convicted, he's facing twenty years imprisonment with hard labor." Hideo's interjection drained the color from the woman's face. It wasn't a death sentence, but still nothing to be taken lightly.

"Agni, no…"

"That is why it's important that you stand as a witness for the defense. A character witness and as one who had been at the scene of the crime… sorry, the event. Because Yi will come down on us with everything he has. With Omashu, we can convince the judges easily, I hope, but knowingly running a government body that helped contribute to the oppression of our citizens... that will be extremely difficult."

"Very well," said Mrs. Han, composing herself. "I'll stand as a witness. My daughter can too; she knows more than I do of what happened in Omashu. Always has been a perceptive young woman… really proud of her. Our Mai has good judgment in men as well. She's to marry the Firelord within a year, a fine young man if I say so myself. He will bring this country out of the shadows of the past and into a respectable place in the international community."

Well, some people never changed, Hideo thought struggling not to roll his eyes at the arrogance of Mrs. Han's tone. She must have caught it too, because when she spoke next, she was more humble. "My deepest apologies, I got carried away. Where are my manners?"

"It's fine, Mrs. Han. I must go now. I thank you for your cooperation."

"Just please save him."

"I'll do my best," he assured her again. After exchanging bows, Hideo went on his way. A small figure that had been hiding himself until now emerged from the door. Usually, Mrs. Han would not have approved her children eavesdropping, but this was going to be a very difficult time for her son.

"You heard everything?" she asked him softly.

"Are you angry, mother?"

"No," she said, setting Tom-Tom on her lap, wrapping an arm around him as he rested his head on her shoulder.

"Who is that man?"

"He's a lawyer," Mrs. Han answer, resting her hand on his head.

"He lies?"

"Not a liar," she chuckled, "a lawyer. He's going to help your father."

"Oh." The toddler still sounded confused. "Where's father? You two were talking about him." His mother tensed. She knew this question would come eventually and that she would need to answer.

"Well… this is hard, Tom-Tom. Your father has to go to court, so they're keeping him there until they finish."

"What's court?"

"Well… when grownups do something bad or if someone thinks they did something bad, they have to go to court. Court is a big building where grownups sit in a big room. One man called the prosecutor says the person in court did the bad thing and another man, the defense lawyer, says he didn't do it. Each side tries to prove that they are right. Once they finished, a group of men called judges decide who is right after hearing what both lawyers said. If they think the grownup did the bad thing, he has to be punished."

"What is purrison? The man said father may go to purrison." Mrs. Han held him tighter.

"Prison," she corrected. How was she going to get out of this one? "Prison is like… grounding for grownups, but grounding for grownups is different from what is for children. For you, grounding is a little while in your room. For a grownup, they have to leave their house and go live at a building with other grownups that did bad things and for much longer than children. They also have to do work for the prison sometimes, that is called hard labor. Sometimes they build roads, go into mines and collect coal for our ships... they do hard work all day stopping only to eat, sleep, and maybe get a little bit of break time."

"For how long do they go to prison?" Tom-Tom pressed and his mother grimaced.

"If your father is conv… if the judges believe that your father did the bad thing, if the lawyer that says he did the bad thing makes it look like he was right, then your father will have to go to prison for twenty years. You will be a grownup when they let him leave prison. Twenty-three-years-old. Why, you might even be a father then."

Tom-Tom looked unsure of how to react to this, so he just snuggled closer to his mother.

"But Professor Tanaka will make sure your father won't even go to prison for one day. Your father did nothing bad. He only worked for a very bad man."

"Who?" The boy's eyes widened. From the bedtime stories he heard from his nanny, he could differentiate between bad boys and bad men. Bad boys did naughty things like break stuff in the house, pull the cat's tail, or not go to school when they had to. Bad men hurt people, stole things, kidnapped children, and sometimes even killed people who could not fight back. The nanny called them murderers, and they were the worst types of bad men.

"Firelord Zuko's father, Ozai." Tom-Tom was confused. Zuko was a nice man. He played with Tom-Tom all the time when he visited the palace. He would even teach him to use a sword next year. Most of all, his sister Mai loved him, and Mai would only marry a good man like Zuko. How could a good man like him have a bad father and why would his father work for him?

"What did Ozai do, mother? Is he a murderer? Why did father work for him?"

"I'll tell you when you're older." The boy pouted in disappointment. He hated that answer, but knew it was useless to argue. He simply rested his head against his mother's shoulder.

***

"Is this enough for Mr. Yi to start building his case, Mrs. Miyamoto?" Setsuko and Zuko walked along the palace garden, having just emerged from the archives. The woman was carrying a thick stack of papers and scrolls under her arm.

"Please, my Lord, just call me Setsuko," she said. "And yes, sir, I think he'll be pleased with it. But I think he'd be more pleased if Your Lordship will agree to testify."

Zuko gave a short laugh. "Well, it all depends on my time. I do have a very busy schedule and my duties take priority."

"I know, my Lord."

"But I'll talk to Mr. Yi personally if that's all right with him."

***

A few days later at the Ministry of Justice, the prosecution team had met again. "So, let's have our progress report," Zheng said.

"Firelord Zuko gave us all the records he could find in the palace archives," Setsuko reported. "However, if my intuition is correct, I believe Ozai was clever enough to his records in other locations. As were many of the others."

"I concur, Setsuko," said Zheng. "And I'm glad the Firelord has the right people searching the nation for other records." He turned to his other assistant. "Tuktu?"

"I haven't found the Avatar and his friends yet but I have several officers willing to testify against Ex-Firelord Ozai, Grand General Nguyen, and War Minister Qin. Admiral Jeong-Jeong is willing to testify as well. I also have a man named Chit Sang who's got a lot to say about the prisons here. As for the Firelord, he's agreed to testify on our behalf."

"Excellent," Zheng replied. "Judge Kurosawa spoke to Tanaka and me. The arraignment will take place three months from now and then the trial will commence on the anniversary of the war's end. Now, a year may seem like a long time, but we must use every waking hour of that year to gather as much witnesses and evidence as possible."

A/N: Alright, everything's in motion. Next I'd like to get to the Gaang and the stars of our show, Ozai and his henchmen.
« Last Edit: April 29, 2016, 01:20:30 AM by Lionheart »
Set by Waterlady


Offline wherewulf

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That little clash between Zheng and Tanaka was a nice taste of what's to come.  It'll be interesting to see how the tribunal mushes Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom law together to determine what objections to sustain or overrule.  :D  On that, I think it's quite an irony that Fire Nation law is not part of the legal stew here because, per your above, it is weighted against the defendants.  So much for home court advantage, as such.

As to the patriarchal nature of the Water Tribes, I agree, but I think the Southern Tribe's delegates sit there by choice of Chief Hakoda, and I think he's a bit more progressive than his Northern counterpart, especially given his treatment of Katara.  I still think you could have Kanna on the tribunal in place of Amak or Pakku and suffer no loss of authority.  With Kanna in place, I don't think the tribunal would run amok without Amak.  :D

Mrs. Han's opinion of Grand General Nguyen was rather choice, too.  Admittedly we didn't hear much from her in the show, but I wonder if she held the same opinion of the good General when the Fire Nation held Omashu.  It was nice to see a bit of Tom-Tom's home life,  too.  I like the idea of Zuko spending some time playing with him.

Question: does Zheng have the authority to make or accept deals?  From the first chapter, it seemed like he was just the lead prosecutor.  I thought that kind of authority would come from the tribunal, if it came from anywhere.

I do have to say, though, that I'm seeing some things that feel like they belong to our world rather than the Avatar's.  Ex post facto is Latin; "after the fact" would do just as well.  The Han mansion has a butler rather than a servant, and people sit on sofas in rooms decorated with wallpaper.  Zheng and Tanaka shake hands; granted Sokka offers a Water Tribe handclasp, but it's a hand-clasp rather than a hand-shake.  Also, there could have been comfort women and reparations made after the War in the Avatar world, but it feels very... World War II-ish.  I feel like those things and those people could be described with words that could fit into Mike and Bryan's world a bit more seamlessly.  They fit--those things probably did happen--but the words feel out of place to me.
« Last Edit: April 30, 2016, 09:57:50 PM by wherewulf »

Offline Lionheart

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Chapter Three: Proceedings Begin

His name was Colonel Ryu Iwata, a man who had served his entire adult life as an Army prison officer and was now the warden of the dungeons of the Supreme Court of the Fire Nation. He was a tall, imposing man with sharp features, fierce golden eyes, and a thick, full black beard with a few streaks of gray. Over the years he had served in the dungeons, he had seen hundreds of innocent men and women spend no more than a two weeks in the cellblock before facing a mock trial where they would be summarily sentenced to death for whatever trumped-up charge the two previous Firelords and the rabble of yes men in their cabinets and General Staff thought of. To an outsider, hundreds would seem like a horrendous amount of people, but compared to the countless victims of the Old Regime over the past century who had been enslaved and executed by the thousands (if not by the millions) without trial, it was truly a meager number. Iwata was never proud to work for men like Azulon, Ozai, former War Minister Qin, or former Justice Minister Takahashi (the arrogant bloated prick of an opportunist that he was). Just referring to them as men give him a choking sensation in his throat. The fact that Ozai's reign in and of itself was rumored to have been illegal under the old and new Fire Nation law made it even worse. However, the Colonel could say with a clear conscience that neither he nor the men under his command had ever harmed an inmate in any way. He would give the same treatment for his new set of prisoners who ironically, were once the ones issuing his orders.

Iwata stood in the unoccupied cellblock before the guards under his command. There were fifty men and women in full combat gear from all the surviving nations standing at attention; one guard per cell one could say, even if there would be less than half that amount of inmates arriving that day. Iwata himself was clad in full armor, but nixed the mask that Firebenders would generally wear on duty. In his right hand, he carried a ceremonial baton, which was common among high-ranking officers. "Soldiers," he announced as he paced in front of his subordinates, his baton resting over his shoulder, "welcome to the Supreme Court of the Fire Nation. My name is Colonel Ryu Iwata, and I'll be your commanding officer. We're going to be guarding the defendants in the upcoming military tribunal for the duration of the trial and in any further legal proceedings held here by the International Military Tribunal. This trial's hopefully going to be the first of many from what the prosecutor tells me. Now, as you all know, these defendants were until recently, the most important men in the Fire Nation. Obviously, ex-Firelord Ozai is the number one defendant in this case." There were a few angry hisses from the guards, but Iwata cleared his throat to silence them. "All of you from every nation have every right to hate these bastards for what they did to our countries... for the millions of innocent men, women, and children who were brutally slaughtered, raped, or enslaved. Many of you soldiers from the Earth Republic and the Water Tribes lost good friends and family in battle to defend your homelands from the Old Regime's aggression." He paused for a moment and turned to some of his own countrymen who were also shaking with barely suppressed anger. "My fellow Fire Nation citizens, I empathize completely with your resentment and hatred towards these tyrants who persecuted our people, murdered and enslaved our troops and civilians... they poisoned our minds as children and then did the same to our children, our grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, many of whom are still children today. These wretched tyrants put an eternal stain of shame and dishonor on our country. One the other hand, some of you, unfortunately, may still have some loyalty left to these men because of the positions they once held. This too is understandable. You're still Fire Nation soldiers after all.

"However, despite any personal feelings you soldiers may have, no harm is to come to these prisoners in any way! History is gonna be made in this building, and I want this to be a textbook example of our joint forces working together to ensure international cooperation in a just cause. What is this cause, you may be thinking? To ensure that justice is served for the entire world. Our job is to make sure these men stay safe and healthy enough to face the world's justice for their crimes against civilization, and they're gonna face justice in a fair trial! As guards, you will not harm these men except in self-defense in which case you'll only restrain, not kill or severely injure. On top of that, you'll all ensure that they don't try to harm themselves!" Noting the outraged look on a young Earth Republic guard's face, he said, "Believe me, uh... what's your name, son?" He had to have been no older than twenty with rugged handsome features. A jian hung from his belt in a green, emerald-encrusted sheath.

"Sergeant Sensu* Wong, sir," he said, "from Tongxiao Village. Previously served in the Earth Republic Eighth Army. Permission to speak, sir?"

"Granted," said Iwata.

"Sir, you're right. We've lost good friends in this war. My best friend since early childhood was killed in the Battle of Tokdong in the west. I've seen Fire Nation troops pillaging villages and killing defenseless women, children, and the elderly. I myself was wounded there and got separated from my unit in the carnage. Do you know who it was commanding the Fire Nation troops there, Colonel?"

Iwata had a pretty good idea. "It was Nguyen, wasn't it?"

"Yes," Wong spat with deep loathing, and several other soldiers cursed at the former Grand General's name. "Though I do have to thank that bastard for one thing." Some of the other Earth Republic troops looked at him incredulously. A slight smile crossed the Sergeant's face. "If he hadn't wounded me, I would never have been found by nearby villagers, and I would never have met the love of my life, Song*, who nursed me back to health. Well... we got close over those three months, began dating, and now she's my fiancée. Yeah, this monster brought me together with the sweetest, most beautiful, amazing woman in the world. I'm staying with Song, her mother, and my family in the city." His smile suddenly vanished. "All the same, Colonel Iwata, over two hundred million of my people were killed in this war. Two hundred million - more than a quarter of them in last twenty years alone and more than half were civilians! Sir, this was about a quarter of the whole population of my country! Are you saying we have to make this place a comfy resort for these monsters? These bastards... these sick heartless bastards! They need to be lined up against a wall and have stones, flames, and icicles shot at them! They have no right to go into a courtroom and stand before a council of judges, and say they're not guilty!"

"Hear, hear!" a few other guards responded fervently.

"Silence!" the Colonel shouted. "Yes, they do have that right, and they're going to get a fair trial because our morals are superior to theirs. I'm not saying to make this place a resort, this is still a jail after all." He then turned to Sensu. "Believe me, Sergeant Wong, I want to see these bastards die as much as anyone, and there'll be no greater honor for me as a Fire Nation soldier than to preside over any executions that may take place." He paused for a moment, his eyes narrowing sternly. "However, an execution will only happen if these prisoners are sentenced to death by the tribunal and with indisputable proof of their crimes against the world. This is a court of law, soldiers, not the battlefield. Justice is going to be served here for the first time in over a century, and we are the guardians of that justice." He then added with a slight grin, "Oh, one more thing, Sergeant: Anymore sappy tales of love and romance from you, and I'll have no choice but to punch you."

"Yes, sir," said Sensu. "But you'll all understand if you'd meet her."

With a sigh, Iwata raise his fist and launched a right hook to the Sergeant's shoulder, earning laughs from the soldiers. "Yeah, I'm sure most of us have spouses or significant others, but let's keep our private lives private." When Iwata spoke again, his voice began rising. "One more thing, soldiers: None of you are to exchange any military courtesies or signs of respect with these inmates no matter what position they may have held, or allow them to exchange them with each other. I want this to be very clear right now: These inmates have no rank or title!" Iwata spelled out each word, his gaze mostly on the Fire Nation guards. "You won't bow to them or salute them, and we're forbidding them to do it amongst each other as well. You won't even address them by their previously held titles or ranks. If any title must be given, you'll address them as 'Prisoner' or 'Defendant'. Is this all clear, soldiers?"

"Yes, sir!" the guards responded.

"All right, they'll be arriving soon, so let's get to work!"

***

Not even a week ago, Ozai would have given anything to be let out of his cell at the Agnishima Prison. He was alone in that cell for days on end, only having to endure that idiot warden bringing him food and mocking him for his downfall. "I always told my wife," Ozai barely held back a snort. Wife? The only woman who'd see a good quality in that man was his mother, if even. "That you were the worst thing that ever happened to this country. A lesser son of greater ancestors. Now look at you… defeated by a thirteen-year-old pacifist monk and your Firebending's gone. You're a disgrace."

The ex-Firelord was sure that the warden would not be singing that tune had he been face-to-face with him in any other situation. Ozai only responded, "You think you're clever, huh? But one of these days you'll also be standing on a platform in front of Supreme Court in front a crowd of the lowliest of peasants and then beheaded if you're lucky. A lesser form of life like you would probably be hanged." Hanging was considered the most dishonorable method of execution in the Fire Nation. It was reserved almost exclusively for traitors or insubordinate soldiers so nobody would see them as martyrs. The only others hanged were the pettiest of criminals. His words seemed to affect the warden, because he just left the cell in rage.

One day, in comes the Almighty Firelord Zuko on a particularly frustrating morning. Ozai had only one visit from his son and that was to know where Ursa was. As to that, the former Firelord did not know. He only knew that he had banished her from the Fire Nation the night before his coronation. She had taken a ship out to the Earth kingdom colonies and was never heard from again.

However, this time his son came on official business. Zuko was a much younger version of Ozai. The only difference lay in the scar that the older man had marked him with all those years ago. "What do you want?" Ozai demanded shortly. "I told you I don't know where your mother is!"

"That's not why I'm here!" his son snapped back at him. "I'm here to inform you that the International Military Tribunal demands you stand trial!"

At this, Ozai stood up and clutched the bars. "Trial?" he repeated. "For what?"

Zuko regarded him coldly. "You've been charged with conspiracy to commit and the commission of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. You and seventeen others will be moved to the dungeons of the Supreme Court."

He was moved that very day with the other seventeen defendants, and looking at his situation now, he would take his cell in the prison over this any time. They were dragged through the streets of Agnishima, where the citizens jeered at them and threw garbage and other objects at them while hurling insults. Once they had arrived in the Supreme Court dungeons, they were lined up in front of the cellblock door and greeted by a detail of guards from every nation with a Fire Nation Colonel leading them. "Prisoners, you're now in the dungeons of the Supreme Court of the Fire Nation," he announced, as if they didn't already know that. "I'm your warden, my name's Colonel Iwata. New arrivals, identify yourselves!"

"You there, Colonel!" General Itagaki replied harshly. "How dare you address your superiors in such a fashion? You will show the proper respect for rank and nobility, especially to your Phoenix King, you lowly peasant!"

The warden turned to the General sharply, handed his baton to a Northern Water Tribe guard, and marched over to the inmate. Iwata surveyed Itagaki's uniform for a moment, then with a swift movement, snatched the rank insignias from his shoulders. He then proceeded to do the same with the other Generals and Admirals. "Now you're no longer Generals," he said coldly, "you're no longer Admirals, you're no longer Ministers, and you, Prisoner Ozai, are no longer royalty!" He ended his last statement with a sharp glare at the deposed Firelord. "You're all nothing but war criminals! War criminals who sullied the honor and integrity of the Fire Nation, its people, its throne, and its armed forces for the next thousand years, if not more! I personally believe ten thousand years will pass and still, the guilt and dishonor brought upon the Fire Nation as a whole by you 'gentlemen' and your ancestors will not be erased! But, it's not my job to convict you, that's up to the court! However, as long as you're in this cellblock, the library, in the recreation room, the exercise yard, or the mess hall, you will do as we say or face dire consequences! Now, I said identify yourselves, so do it!"

After scowling at Iwata for a few seconds, Itagaki said, "General Yasuno Itagaki."

"Ex-General," Iwata retorted. "And when you talk to me or any other guard, you'll address us by rank or as 'sir' or 'ma'am'."

He resumed his pacing. "Jian Han, former Heritage and Cultural Preservation Minister, sir." Ozai turned his gaze to Han. If possible, he was even more furious than Ozai himself about the situation. "Colonel, I respectfully demand to know why I've been arrested, I have that right! What exactly do you people mean by 'crimes against humanity'? I've done nothing wrong! I didn't harm a single citizen of Omashu, and neither did my troops, nor did I write the race laws or educational curriculum! My ministry has barely involved in the war effort!"

The warden stopped in his track, his eyes narrowing as he surveyed Han in disdain. "I'm your jailer, Prisoner Han, not your lawyer. You will meet him in due time and be advised on your indictments. And if you're thinking of writing your future son in law for help, then you don't know our Firelord. He's not above the law, and he knows it-"

"What?" Ozai cut in outraged. "The Firelord is the absolute ruler of this nation, Colonel! If you're not going to respect us, at least respect the throne you swore to serve!"

Several of the guards laughed. "Oh, didn't you hear, Prisoner Ozai?" a Fire Nation Lieutenant inquired, and the former Firelord flinched at being addressed in such a fashion, especially by a low-ranking female officer "His Lordship is ending all your tyrannical policies. There's word that he and his cabinet are working on a constitution outlining the role of government and ensuring the rights of the people. Yeah, things are going to change around here with Firelord Zuko on the throne." Ozai's jaw dropped in outrage! This was disgraceful. Less than one year on the throne and his worthless son was already destroying the nation.

"Name?" Iwata stopped in front of Nguyen. He was tall and lanky with a rather unusual appearance. His dark hair was cut short and his face was clean-shaven. The only difference now than when Ozai had last seen Nguyen was that his golden eyes did not hold their usual maniac blaze. Also dispensed was his very well used sword. However, he still donned his formal black uniform with gold trimmings.

"Grand General Thanh An Nguyen... Colonel."

"Ex-Grand General," Iwata shot back and spat in his face, a gesture that would have resulted in his immediate execution under any other circumstances. "And you wipe that look off your face, you murdering piece of garbage. You're not intimidating anybody here." He then stopped in front of the next defendant, a large, rotund man with salt and pepper gray hair and beard.

"Raijin Takahashi, Justice-"

"Former Justice Minister," the warden finished hatefully. "Architect of the slaughterhouses and slave camps that you called prison facilities. You inspected our little facility not too long ago; seemed to think we were 'too soft' on the few poor souls who managed to get their day in the rabaroo court you ran here. And if I'm not mistaken, the thought police were your creation too. Well, well, well... how ironic it is that you're a prisoner here now, only you're facing an impartial judicial council and you have the chance to be acquitted, slim as that chance is. Soon, the Fire Nation's going to have its own justices appointed here to truly uphold the honor of the law, both civil and military." He paused to give Takahashi the once over. "You're as fat a pregnant hippo cow! I'm putting you on a strict diet starting right now!" The guards and other defendants laughed as the former Justice Minister flinched in outrage. Even Ozai couldn't help but laugh at his former Minister's expense. "You'll be mentally and physically fit to stand trial," Iwata added.

As the warden continued to collect names, Ozai glanced around the cell block. There were fifty cells - twenty-five on each side - and a solitary cell at the end of the corridor. Each one was meant for one person, but unlike the cages in the Agnishima Prison, these cells were small and narrow with a mattress, a toilet, a sink, and a desk. Ozai doubted he would even be able to stretch out his arms in there. To make matters worse, the cells were completely exposed with sliding bars for a door. "Colonel, am I to understand that I have to be housed in that closet of a cell?"

The warden stopped short and strode over to the former Firelord. "Oh, are these accommodations not to your liking, Prisoner Ozai? Perhaps we can arrange that you spend the duration of the trial in solitary confinement. That'll of course mean no mess hall, no recreation room, no library, and no exercise. Don't want that? I didn't think so." Satisfied at putting Ozai in his place, Iwata continued collecting the last of the names. "Right, that's everybody. Now, your time in these dungeons can be easy or hard, that all depends on your cooperation. You'll each be allowed up to three books in your possession at a time along with ink and papers for writing letters, memoirs, or whatever. Personal items will be confiscated. You'll get them back if the court acquits you or after you've paid your dues to society if convicted. Firebending is strictly prohibited and will result in solitary confinement. Acknowledging of previously held rank or title - either verbally or by bowing or saluting is also prohibited. You have no ranks or titles anymore, is this all clear?" Nobody answered. "I thought I made it clear that when I or any other guard ask you a direct question or gives you an order, you answer immediately with 'sir' or 'ma'am'. Are we clear?"

"Yes, sir!"

"Outstanding," said Iwata. "Guards, process these tyrants."

The next few hours were among the most humiliating of Ozai's life. The guards flanked him and the other inmates into the shower room, where they were all forced to strip naked and bathe together. Then they had to change into a sleeveless red prison uniform, which was the standard in all Fire Nation prisons and concentration camps. Despite the indignity of the situation, Ozai was grateful for the haircut and shave. His beard had grown unkempt during his time in the Agnishima Prison, but now he had his goatee back and his hair tied in a dignified topknot. After lunch, the defendants were finally placed in their cells.

Nearly a week had passed since the transfer, and Ozai would give anything to go back to his old prison. While the cells were solitary, they were by no means private. He was completely exposed to the guards and his fellow defendants. Sure, the latter were loyal to him during his time on the throne, and remained so to this day, but that did not make him anymore comfortable, being under their constant gaze.

While Ozai lay in his bunk that evening, he heard Qin say from the cell next door, "Heard they chose a prosecutor." Ozai heard footsteps approaching his right wall. "A man from the Earth Kingdom – or Republic – as they're calling it now."

"What in Agni's name is a Republic?" demanded Nguyen from the cell across the hall.

"It's the type of savagery you'd expect out of the Earth peoples," Ozai responded in contempt. "It gives commoners say in government affairs. Any uneducated cabbage merchant could choose who leads him." Nguyen snickered in response. "What?"

"When I was Governor of Ba Sing Se, my troops were conducting a raid of the slums. There was one neurotic cabbage merchant who accidentally had his cart overturned in the search." He screwed up his face and made his voice higher and whiny. "'My cabbages!' They didn't have the heart to deal with him."

"But you did, of course?" said Justice Minister Takahashi from the cell next door to the left. Nguyen rolled his eyes. This wasn't even worth the time acknowledging.

"Look at our situation now," said Ozai, coldly. "That prosecutor they chose is going to do everything he can to bury us. It won't matter who they choose to defend us."

Nguyen gazed up at his former Firelord. "You're not just giving up are you, my Liege? You are the Phoenix King." Ozai turned his head to him, expression blank.

"Believe me, I have no intention of pleading guilty and neither will any of you. They don't want this to be a show trial, so we'll put them into disarray and maybe some of us will get off."

Just then, the doors to the cells slid open and a detail of guards thundered into the corridor. "Everyone, let's go!" a young Earth Republic soldier who's name, Ozai learned was Wong, said shortly. Knowing it was pointless to argue, Ozai climbed off their bunks and made his way out into the corridor. "Just a second, you," snapped the guard at Nguyen, who turned to him, looking at him as though he'd love nothing more than to burn him to ashes. "Turn around, face the wall!" He did so cursing under his breath. Without another word, the guard cuffed the Grand General's hands behind his back and shackled his ankles.

"Why am I the only one being chained... Sergeant?" Nguyen spat the last word.

The soldier smirked back mockingly. "Oh, don't blame me, I'm just following orders." He tightened the handcuffs, making the former Grand General wince.

After making their way through the dank corridors of cell, the prisoners were herded up a flight of stairs into a large meeting room. Three men waited for them in there. The civilian and oldest of the lot had to have been their lawyer. "Everyone, against the wall!" a guard ordered.

Once they were standing against the wall, the older civilian stepped forward. "My name is Hideo Tanaka, I have been selected by the Firelord to represent you in the coming trials," he announced, earning hisses at the mention of Zuko. "I am a professor of law and dean of the law department at Firelord Shinji University." He pointed at the younger men. "These are my legal assistant, Captain Goshiro Suijin and Lieutenant Dai Vanh Minh.

Drawing in a breath, the lawyer continued, "The Fire Nation faces a difficult time in the years ahead. This is the first time a government of a Nation is put on trial, so I ask that you tell the truth and remember your oaths to your country."

Hearing enough, Nguyen stepped forward and faced the rest of the defendants. "Long live the Phoenix King!" His glare became more pronounced, crying, "Banzai!"

The other men apart from Ozai responded in turn. "Banzai! Banzai! Banzai!"

With a sneer, Ozai followed Tanaka to a private office within the meeting room. "So you teach at Shinji?"

"Yes," the lawyer responded, opening the door. "About sixteen years now."

***

The Royal Villa on Ember Island had been refurbished and was once again fit for regular dwelling, though Firelord Zuko seldom visited there. Instead, he granted it as a house for his friends when they stayed in the Fire Nation. Setsuko and Tuktu had finally found what Zheng Yi would consider to be among his star witnesses with only three weeks to go before the arraignment.

"I don't understand why I couldn't just go myself," complained Tuktu, trailing behind Setsuko who sighed in exasperation. "It's my job to interview the witnesses."

"You're not well acquainted with women are you?" she said.

"What does that mean?" Tuktu demanded forcefully. Setsuko stopped in her tracks and looked at him seriously.

"When women have gone through a trauma like Suki or Katara had and they have to be interviewed for it, they would feel a lot more comfortable talking to a woman stranger than they would a man. I don't need to remind you of the Southern Raiders' last attack on the Southern Water Tribe?"

"No…"

"And Suki, she was a prisoner of war. The Spirits only know what she went through during her captivity... especially under Azula's watch."

Tuktu bent his head, ashamed of his earlier attitude. "I see." Without another word, he knocked on the villa door.

A servant opened it and showed them in. "Good evening," she said bowing. "May I help you?" Setsuko stepped forward.

"I'm Setsuko Miyamoto."

"And I'm Associate Justice Elder Tuktu of the Northern Water Tribe," Tuktu announced. "We are the assistants to the prosecution in the International Military Tribunal of Major War Criminals. Are the Avatar and his friends available?" The woman looked in awe at first to be in the company of people who would almost certainly be recorded in the post-war history, but she shook it off and showed them to the living room.

"-can't accept that I'm not a frail little girl, so who needs them?" they heard Toph say, laughing derisively. "And it looks like we got company." The crimson door swung open. The team was seated on sofas and armchairs, the Avatar and the Master Katara sitting rather close together, his arm around her waist.

Setsuko and Tuktu both bowed. "Avatar Aang, Master Katara, Master Sokka, Lady Bei-Fong, and Master Suki," the Fire Nation woman began.

"Master Suki?" Suki repeated with a smug smile. "I like that," she said as she rested her head on Sokka's shoulder.

Sitting down on one of the available chairs, Setsuko spoke again. "I'm Setsuko Miyamoto and this is Elder Tuktu of the Northern Water Tribe. We represent the prosecution in the case against the highest-ranking members of the Old Regime."

"Mr. Yi, the prosecutor, is asking that you all testify on our behalf, considering that you were all directly… involved," Tuktu explained and Suki shifted uncomfortably against her boyfriend.

Sokka held Suki's hand as Aang asked, "What do you want us to testify to?"

"Maybe you, as the last Airbender and the Avatar, can give us a clue as to how the war started and the rest of you can testify as to what you saw after the Avatar emerged from the iceberg." Tuktu focused on the Water Tribe siblings, his brow furrowing. "You two were present in the last Fire Nation raid on the Southern Tribe. The two of you can give us an account as to what happened."

"We lost our mother in that raid," Katara replied thickly, turning a sharp gaze to Tuktu. "Is Yon Rha one of the people you're prosecuting, because if he is, I'm more than willing to testify!" Aang turned to Katara with a commiserating sigh and slowly stroked her hair. She closed her eyes for a few seconds and regained composure, burrowing her face in the crook of Aang's arm.

Tuktu turned to Setsuko and growled, "We're going to speak to Yi and Chief Hakoda about this Yon Rha. If he's only commanded the Southern Raiders then he's not high ranked enough to be tried by the tribunal. We'll let the Southern Water Tribe deal with him."

"Sounds good to me," said Sokka, glaring like his sister.

Tuktu turned to Toph. "You've probably seen - sorry, heard what the Fire Nation did in its occupation of the Earth Kingdom. Particularly after you left home."

"All I can tell you is what me and my friends experienced on our journey. I can tell you about the refugees, the invasion of Ba Sing Se, and how things were here in the Fire Nation under Ozai." Tuktu nodded in understanding and turned to finally to Suki.

"Suki," he hoped his tone was comforting. "After the Avatar, Katara, and Sokka left Kyoshi Island, you and the other Kyoshi Warriors left to do your part in the war. You can tell us what you've seen in the former Earth King-"

"I know what you really want me to testify to," the warrior said quietly, lowering her head. "I don't think I can. I - I h-haven't even fully told my friends yet." Sokka wrapped an arm around her shoulders as Setsuko looked Suki in the eyes.

"Suki, please…" something about the woman's tone seemed to have an effect on the Kyoshi Warrior. It was almost motherly. "I know it's hard. My own brother was imprisoned, tortured, and finally hanged as a deserter and they faced the same treatment as prisoners of war. His death was the only act of mercy he'd received. We need you; the world needs to hear from you who have suffered at the hands of the Old Regime. Do not feel compelled… Mr. Yi will understand, but you will be doing yourself and other former prisoners of war a great justice if you testify against those responsible."

Suki's face began to pale and Setsuko immediately regretted trying to make her agree. Sokka held the warrior tighter kissed the top of her head as she leaned into his chest, tears filling her eyes.

Katara said, "She will need time before making a decision, and I'm sure others will too."

"I know," said Setsuko. "Thank you for your cooperation just the same."

As the lawyers made their way out of the villa, Tuktu snapped, "Well, that went well!" Setsuko chose not to answer.

***

The main courtroom was a vast circular chamber with a double tiered mezzanine for the spectators above the court, surrounding it on all sides. The bench was placed on dais at the end of the chamber. In most cases, the defendant would usually have to sit in a chair on the platform in the center for the trials, but as there were many defendants in this particular case, they were to sit in the dock behind the desks of the prosecution and defense teams. Either Zheng or Tanaka would stand on the platform when addressing the court or questioning a witness. A podium was constructed there for the coming proceedings. Each desk had a bell on top. If one wished to object to a question or answer, they'd ring the bell, but the judges made it clear that they each had to wait until the opposing lawyer finished his question or witness finished answering.

As of today, the courtroom was empty, but Zheng knew that once the trial began, there would not be a single seat available. The prosecution team sat on the right side of the room facing the bench and Tanaka sat on the left with his assistants. The only sound came from the muttering of the defendants behind them. Finally, the bailiff, Lee rapped his staff on the marble floor and defendants fell silent.

"All rise for the honorable judicial council, Justice Elder Kuruko, Chief Oyaji, General Kurosawa, Defense Elder Nanuk, General Hao, Master Piandao, Master Pakku, and the President of the Tribunal, Justice Consul Amak." Everyone in the room stood up as the eight judges made their way from an adjacent chamber to the bench. Once they took their seats, the rest of the court followed suit. Amak, who sat at the center of the bench, rapped his gavel three times.

"I hereby convene the International Military Tribunal for Major War Criminals in Agnishima; hereafter officially documented as the World versus the Old Regime of the Fire Nation," he announced, lifting up a stack of paper. "The accused are charged under any or all of the following indictments, specific charges detailed in the indictments served to each defendant in meetings with their defense counsel. This tribunal has been informed by the defense counsel that the accused fully understand the charges against them. The first indictment: General conspiracy to commit any or all of the crimes under the other indictments. The second indictment: Crimes against peace. The third indictment: War crimes. The fourth indictment: Crimes against humanity. How do you plead?"

Ozai stood up. "I wish to have Professor Tanaka speak on our behalf."

The judges muttered among themselves for a short moment and then Amak turned back to the former Firelord sternly. "Request denied, you have to state your name, your role in the Old Regime, and tell this tribunal yourself whether you're guilty or not guilty."

Ozai rolled his eyes. "Phoenix King Ozai, not guilty," he snapped and sat back down.

The First Minister arose from his seat. "First Minister Jiang Yu, not guilty."

"War Minister Sun Qin, not guilty."

"Justice Minister Raijin Takahashi, not guilty."

"Education and Information Minister Hiroshi Matsumoto, not guilty."

"Treasury Minister Soichiro Hanada, not guilty."

"Heritage and Cultural Preservation Minister Jian Han, not guilty."

"Interior Minister Hyuga Koizumi, not guilty."

"Industry Minister Tetsuo Abe, not guilty!"

"Foreign Minister Akihiro Motoyama," said a man with a sour glare on his face. "Not guilty."

The next defendant was a tall, lanky, clean-shaven man with glasses. "Health and Scientific Research Minister Mifune Ishii, not guilty and I protest my-"

Amak rapped his gavel. "The accused are not permitted to make a speech, they are to only enter their pleas."

A man in his late sixties stood up next and he looked nothing short of petrified. "No," he muttered, making the judges survey him closely. "No..."

"What's wrong with him?" Master Piandao inquired, turning to Professor Tanaka.

"He's a worthless old drunk," Ozai said, glaring disdainfully at his fellow defendant. "His addiction finally caught up with him. He has sake running through his veins, not blood."

"Shut up, Defendant Ozai!" Amak shouted, his eyes flashing.

"The defendant is former Transportation Minister Goro Hashimoto, your Honor," said Professor Tanaka.

"Then enter his plea as not guilty," said Amak. "Next defendant."

Nguyen did not even stand up. He sat in the dock as if it were a throne, a haughty expression in his golden eyes. "Grand General Thanh An Nguyen, not guilty."

An equally arrogant looking defendant stood up glaring daggers at the judges. "Grand Admiral Shigeyoshi Suzuki, not guilty."

"General Kousuke Shinu, not guilty."

"General Yasuno Itagaki," the next man hissed. "Not guilty."

"Admiral Xiaoding Chan, Eastern Fleet, not guilty."

"Admiral Yao Liang, Western Fleet, not guilty."

"Do the accused fully understand the charges against them and what they will face if convicted?" Amak inquired.

"Yes, your Honor," said Professor Tanaka.

"Then enter a plea of not guilty for each of the accused. This tribunal will adjourn until September the eighteenth at which time we will hear opening statements and the prosecution shall begin its case." Amak banged his gavel once.

"All rise!" said Lee.

The courtroom cleared quickly, leaving behind the prosecution team. "Right," said Zheng firmly. "We got the collective not-guilty pleas that we expected so that means we've got a lot of work to do. The requests for previously gathered witnesses are now subpoenas and we will be detailing the dates and times for each of them to appear." Tuktu and Setsuko nodded though the latter looked uncomfortable. She had told Zheng about Suki but the prosecutor was resolute about having her as well as others like her who were mentally fit to testify on the stand. "You two are to gather as many witnesses and documents as you can. Whatever you find may be of help. We'll meet twice a week at my house to discuss our progress. Remember, we may have months but we are to-"

"Spend every waking hour working to collect evidence." Tuktu and Setsuko cut together. "We know," assured Tuktu. "But as of now, I'm hungry."

"I know a good place," said Setsuko smiling. "Come on, you two. My treat." Zheng couldn't help but laugh. He had been under a lot of pressure since arriving in the Fire Nation. Maybe a few hours relaxing would help him a little.

A/N: Well, the trial's about to begin. I had the idea to make Suki a victim or torture as well as other...atrocities since I first started writing Avatar fanfiction. Some torture victims can keep their experiences and feeling bottled up well but would find it hard to actually talk about it, let alone in detail.

* Sensu and Song are canon characters. Sensu was the older brother of Lee, the kid from Zuko Alone. He was in the Army at the time. Song is the girl from Cave of Two Lovers, the one who healed Iroh after drinking the White Jade "tea".
« Last Edit: May 08, 2016, 03:26:16 AM by Lionheart »
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Offline wherewulf

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I don't like Iwata very much.  :D  Seems like his switch in sides is pretty convenient for him, too, for that matter.  So no prisoners harmed under your watch, huh, Colonel?  During Ozai's time?  When he treated his own son as brutally as he did?  Hm.

I'm sorry to bring this up again, but there were two things in this chapter that really stood out to me.  "Banzai" is distinctly Japanese, and I feel like it is really out of place here.  "Long live the Phoenix King!" was just fine.  That fits.  But banzai belongs to our world.  I get the intention, I get the emotion, but I feel something else should have been used.  Also: September the 18th?  Really, Lion.  :D

I do like the idea of turning Yon Rha over to the Southern Water Tribe.  For something so well documented, he deserves to be brought to full account.  I also look forward to seeing how the Gaang will fit into all this... and what happens when they're cross-examined.  I'm still guessing as to how Tanaka will defend his clients.

One thing I would like to see is a feeling of time.  You mention September 18th; how far away is that?  How long do both sides have to prepare?

Offline Lionheart

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Don't know how else to identify the months so, yeah :D. They need a few months to prepare for the trial. The banzai thing... someone else brought that up. I always saw the Fire Nation as the Avatar's version of Japan (with the volcanic islands and the government and culture) and in ATLA, it was World War II Japan. To me, the Banzai exclamation just seems fitting.

Chapter Four: Post-War Tensions

"Never thought I'd like raw fish, but this… sushi did you call it, is not bad." Zheng helped himself to another serving of one of the Fire Nation's prized delicacies.

"Most foreigners are weirded out at first," said Setsuko. "But we can't end our day without here."

Tuktu nodded in agreement. "Wonder if Ozai's missing thi – ow!" Setsuko kicked him under the table.

"We finally got Zheng smiling, let's not get him started on work now," she deadpanned. The prosecutor took a sip of his sake and gave a short laugh.

"When I was in the Army, both Ozai and Nguyen's names were spoken as if the very syllables themselves symbolized the Fire Nation's ruthlessness. Even more than the Dragon of the West himself, 'cause we knew General Iroh would never harm civilians. When we got the news of the Xu Qiang Massacre, you can imagine the blow it was to our morale hearing Earth Kingdom citizens speak of it. 'A million killed', 'Young girls taken as sex slaves', 'millions homeless', 'pillaging', 'historic buildings and monuments destroyed', 'Xu Qiang has been part of our history and culture for thousands of years'." He took another drink of his sake. "Now look what happened to these faces of the evil, merciless Fire Nation. They're now prisoners and I, a simple magistrate from a coastal city has the duty to convict not just Ozai and Nguyen, but the whole inner circle of Ozai's regime."

"Hey," piped up Setsuko raising a palm, "we have that duty." She gestured to herself, Tuktu, and Zheng.

"Bringing further shame to our Nation?" said angry voice from the table next to theirs. Three men sat there, one of them narrowing his eyes at the prosecution team. "Is that what you call duty?"

"Shame?" Zheng snapped back, slamming his mug on the table. "Shame that we're giving the men responsible for all but devastating the entire world and the most despicable acts of evil to ever be committed in the history of humankind the fair trial that they denied their victims? Shame that some may very well walk free?"

"How dare you talk to me, you Earth Kingdom filth?" The other two men tried to calm their friend down and he rounded on them. "No! These people have the audacity to sully our land with their footsteps and call us criminals as if we were petty bandits!"

Setsuko spoke evenly, but her golden eyes were blazing with fury. "If you actually still supported the war after Xu Qiang, let alone after and Ozai was more than willing to annihilate the entire Earth Kingdom population, then you're the one who sullies this Nation and you deserve nothing but shame."

"Hear, hear!" said Tuktu. The angry customer was soon on his feet knocking his table over. With a growl, he launched a jet of flame from his fist, narrowly missing Zheng who ducked just in time. Panic overtook the restaurant as the other patrons, including the man's friends made to flee.

Before he could strike again, the prosecutor hardened his stance and spread out his arms, causing the Firebender to quickly sink into the ground until only his head and neck were visible. Then Zheng opened one fist and lowered it slightly to harden the ground around his attacker.

The first thing any Earthbender learned in the Army was that Firebenders were quick and offensive so one had to make it that they are caught off guard. The angry customer wriggled his head furiously. "Release me at once!"

Zheng looked down at him in disgust. "Are you gonna be nice?" The man drew in a deep breath.

"Yes." Without another word, Zheng stomped his foot on the ground, launching the man out and into another table.

"What's going on here?" an angry voice demanded. The prosecution team and the beaten customer turned to a lanky man in black work robes flanked by two policemen with their swords drawn. The civilian, obviously the owner, surveyed the overturned tables and spilled food.

"These foreigners," snapped the customer, "and this traitorous b****," he pointed to Setsuko, "have the audacity to sully our sacred land with their footsteps and then call us criminals!"  Sorry, Lion; gotta watch the language.  --Wulf

"That man attacked my customers," said the owner angrily, "and caused this mess!"

The police advanced on the man. "All right, pal, I think a night downtown will help you cool off some." The policemen cuffed the man and escorted him firmly from the premises. Zheng turned to the owner.

"We'll help you clean up," he said apologetically. The owner nodded in gratitude.
***

The War Room, a vast chamber in the Fire Nation palace adjacent to the Firelord's office, was renamed the Cabinet Room and had undergone a few modifications since Zuko took the throne. The Firelord no longer sat behind a wall of flame, but at the head of a raised table with his Ministers. "I think, my Lord, before anything else, we must decide what to do about the Fire Nation Colonies in the Earth Republic," announced the Foreign Minister. Zuko knew this would be a major issue to deal with as soon as he took the throne. "Our citizens have been living there for the better part of the century, it's not like we can forcibly evacuate them."

The Firelord turned to her. "It's still occupied land," he replied. "The other Nations don't recognize the Earth Colonies as Fire Nation territory. Minister Takenuma, any suggestions about our armed forces?" the Minister of Defense and Security (or what used to be the War Minister) looked at his monarch and spoke.

"What I suggest is that we maintain a strong military force at the ready, my Lord, but we do away with the draft. Our armed forces should be all volunteer. I have the orders to release all conscripts from service ready, it just needs Your Lordship's signature."

"Very well, Minister Takenuma, you may send the orders to my office after the meeting." Zuko sat up straighter and cleared his throat. "Now, the main reason I called this meeting is to take the true first step into restoring the glory of our Nation." The Ministers gazed at him perplexed. "In order to do that, we must show the world that we are a progressive country not just in technological innovations, but in ideas and politics. Therefore, I decree that we write a Constitution guaranteeing our citizens rights and preventing anyone in government, including myself, from taking too much power. The very structure of our government needs to change."

"How, my Lord?" demanded the Minister of the Interior.

"First of all, I'd like to make this a government of, by, and for the people. I wish to form a legislative body, which we will call the Diet. This will consist of two houses: The first is the House of Peers, which will be ceremonial and consist of nobility. These seats are hereditary. The second will be the House of Commons, which will consist of commoners elected by the people and have the real legislative authority. The House of Commons will be made up of several political parties and the leader of the party to win the most seats in a general election will be the Prime Minister for seven years. Once everything is said and done, I will be transferring most of my political power to the Prime Minister. I and every future Firelord would only have the power to approve or veto bills from the Diet, appoint or dismiss Ministers, declare war with the Diet's approval, appoint the Justices of the Supreme Court, and dismiss a Prime Minister if a no-confidence vote is reached. The rest of my duties would be purely ceremonial."

The other men sat there silently for a few long moments until the Treasury Minister responded, "My Lord, these are wonderful ideas but they'll take years to implement." As if Zuko needed to know this. What he did not tell the Ministers yet is that he had spoken with members of the Order of the White Lotus and they helped him with these ideas.

"Years we have. What we don't have is the Constitution detailing the powers of every branch of this future government or the rights and duties of our people. I've been speaking with members of the Order of the White Lotus and they've agreed to help us in our transition to representative democracy and constitutional monarchy."

"The White Lotus, my Lord?" the Foreign Minister replied. "Isn't that General Iroh's group? The one that liberated Ba Sing Se?"

"Yes."

"Then I trust them. If it's a group of people as enlightened as General Iroh, then it can only do us good."

"Surely we can take some steps now, sir?" inquired the Education and Information Minister.

Zuko replied, "We'll introduce elections from the local to archipelago level. Local Mayors, Prefects, and Archipelago Governors will also be elected positions. What you can do in the Education and Information Ministry is to revamp the curriculum. No more emphasis on history. Our history books need to be rewritten anyway; the current ones are all Sozinist propaganda and I want them to be factual and unbiased. I want emphasis placed on mathematics, sciences, language, factual history, and the arts. These are skills kids will need in the future. As for the information sector, our news media should never be the mouthpiece of the government. Freedom of the press is going to be a Constitutional right."

"I'll get right on it, sir."

"Another thing: though the Constitution will guarantee the right to free speech, expression, press, religion, and assembly, the only thing we will outlaw in any of those categories is public displays of loyalty to the Old Regime and any vestiges of Sozinism."

"My Lord," piped up the Minister of Industry. "Doesn't it seem a bit like a double standard if we allow other forms of political and ideological extremism to be lawfully expressed but have an exception for Sozinism?"

It took all of Zuko's strength not to lose his temper. What kind of idiotic question was that? "Was any other ideology responsible for a hundred years of war and suffering, Ishikawa?" the Firelord demanded in a hard voice. "Was any other ideology responsible for the destruction of an entire Nation?"

The Minister sighed. "No, my Lord."

"Then we're all agreed on this?" The Cabinet members muttered and nodded in acknowledgement. "We'll begin writing the Constitution after my wedding and honeymoon. The Order members will aid us in the details."

"I find it amazing," commented Takenuma, shaking his head, "simply amazing, that Mrs. Han can take the time to plan such a grand wedding with a little child at home and her husband on trial facing a very long prison sentence. I swear, that woman's priorities are… sorry, my Lord."

"It's okay, Minister," Zuko responded. "She insisted on taking charge of everything. Doesn't want her friends to see her losing face. Even Mai agrees with you. We'll let her have her way, otherwise we'll never hear the end of it."

"But on a happier note," said the Minister of Justice whose ministry would soon be completely separated from the Judiciary, "the wedding itself. I propose we make this day a State affair. Let the whole country join in on the celebration." This earned a laugh from the Firelord.

"Making my wedding a national holiday, a reasonable excuse not to work… yeah, why not?" The cabinet members shared a laugh until finally Zuko announced, "Well, ladies and gentlemen, this meeting is adjourned. This Constitution will be a major change in the governing of the Fire Nation, but I'm confident that it'll bring positive results." The Firelord rose from his seat and the others followed suit.

"Minister Takenuma, Minister Iwamatsu," said Zuko and they turned to face him.

"My Lord?" the replied together.

"Come with me to my study and we'll discuss what we can do about the Colonies and the conscripts."
***

A turn for the worse… that was the only was Jian Han could describe his life since Ozai had assigned him to Omashu as its governor. It had all begun with the "pentapox" disaster, forcing him to drive out the entire population from the city. In all that madness, his two-year-old son had wandered off and to this day, Jian did not know how Tom-Tom was able to get out of the palace, down the mountain, and follow the crowd without suffering any harm. If anything, when the Avatar brought him back, he just looked like he had been worn out from a very long day of fun. At the time of his absence, Jian thought it was a kidnap, forcing him to negotiate a deal with the Resistance to release King Bumi for the safe return of his son. However, Azula, who despite her young age had all the cruelty and callousness of her father, had foiled the deal. She had been more than willing to let potential harm come to a child in order to keep a valuable prisoner.

A few months later, during a solar eclipse, King Bumi had escaped his metal casket of a prison and single handedly managed to take the city back from the Fire Nation. This forced Jian, his wife, and son to retreat and take refuge with the nearest Fire Nation military unit. His daughter, Mai had left with Princess Azula and Ty Lee to capture the Avatar and the then banished Prince Zuko and General Iroh. Jian thought that he and his family would face execution for the loss of Omashu, but was relieved to learn that Ozai had lost the war on the Day of the Comet.

Upon disembarking the ship in the Agnishima Navy Yard, Jian was met by the military police who presented him with an arrest warrant. Now here he was, charged with forcibly evacuating the citizens of an entire city, the illegal occupation of said city, continuing his predecessors' laws of Heritage and Cultural Preservation, and potentially facing twenty years in prison. However, he still had some pride left. He would not say that he was guilty, potential incarceration be damned! Jian believed he acted according to his duties as Governor and he had never harmed a single citizen of Omashu. He made that it clear that he was not guilty at the arraignment and he would not back down from his stance.

The one thing that made him sad was that either way, he would miss his daughter's wedding. His beautiful little Mai would be married to Firelord Zuko in a little over a month. His first child was getting married and he would not even be there to escort her down the aisle and give her away to the Firelord. He would not even get to see her in her wedding gown. No, he would be stuck here in this dungeon while his wife would march down the aisle with Mai, give her away to be married, and make a speech for her at the reception. It wasn't worth it to even ask Professor Tanaka to speak to the judges. There was no way they would let him out for the wedding even under guard; he was too well connected. Either way, Jian would fight, no matter what the prosecutor had to throw at him.

A strong hand squeezing his shoulder brought Jian out of his reverie. Wincing, he looked to his left, meeting the manic gaze of Thanh An Nguyen. Currently, he was wearing a grin that told the former Minister that he was about to receive a threat.

"Hello, Minister Han," said the former Grand General in a mock-friendly tone. "You haven't been talking to us much, have you?"

"I have nothing to say," Jian responded coolly.

Nguyen's demeanor faded in an instant. "Well, just so you know, Han, Yi doesn't know anything and neither do any of us. We play our cards right, we might get off and take this Nation back. Once we do, all traitors will be punished." The two men held gazes for a few brief moments before the Grand General took his leave. Jian immediately grabbed his empty rice bowl and hurled it to the floor in rage before storming from the mess hall back to his cell.
<< Post Merge: May 16, 2016, 02:03:39 AM >>


Chapter Five: Setting the Pieces into Motion

The incident in the restaurant was the first of many that Zheng, Setsuko, and Tuktu had had to face. The prosecutor had several loyalists to the Old Regime throwing insults at him and his family but luckily no further attempt on his life. Setsuko's children had several problems at school with the children of the loyalists, the worst of which ended with her youngest coming home with a black eye, but according to her, the victor in the fight. Her son stood up for Zuko's reformations. A colleague had ambushed her husband, a secondary school literature teacher named Yoshi, and the two men engaged in a fierce Firebending duel. The colleague was fired from his post and arrested. Setsuko herself did not face many problems other than the occasional snide remark thrown her way. Tuktu on the other hand got into at least three Bending battles with loyalists who had attacked him. One incident where he had initiated an argument with a group of loyalists talking amongst themselves, which had led to an outright brawl. Judge Nanuk was so furious when he had found out, Zheng was surprised he had not disbarred the Water Tribesman instead of placing him on probation.

However, there were some positive events as well. Zheng, his team, and their families had been invited to Firelord Zuko's wedding to Mai Han, where both his wife and Setsuko had forbidden him from even mentioning the trial. It was fun, a much-needed break from the hard work he and his team had been doing. He had even talked to Professor Tanaka over a glass of sake without any tension. Outside work, the Professor was a very pleasant man who enjoyed the finer things in life. He had a wife and two teenage daughters who were equally friendly. What is more, Zheng's daughter became friends with Mai's brother, Tom-Tom who was now four-years-old, a year younger than Lan. He had to have danced with every girl that was invited including Lan, Katara, Suki, Toph, Mai's maid of honor Ty Lee, the other Kyoshi Warriors, and of course Mai herself. General Iroh commented that the boy would be following his example soon enough, just give him a few years and he would be a magnet for girls. Since the wedding night, Lan and Tom-Tom would play together nearly every day. However, Zheng's wife, Ling found it awkward seeing Mrs. Han considering that the prosecutor had the job of putting her husband in prison for twenty years.

In the months that had passed, many lower-ranking war criminals were arrested and deported to the locations of their crimes, one of whom was Admiral Yon Rha who had been tried by the Southern Water Tribe for about a week, was found guilty, and hanged. Most days, the prosecution team would work to build a case. They would work long into the night reading documented evidence, interviewing witnesses, and answering questions from the press, the latter being the most tedious. Finally, after a year of preparation, the big show was to begin. The trial the whole world was waiting for.

"All rise!" The prosecution, the defense, the defendants and thousands of spectators fell silent, rising to their feet as the judges entered the courtroom. Once the eight men had taken their seats, the rest of the people in the courtroom had followed suit. "Ladies and gentlemen," said Lee in a clear voice. "The International Military Tribunal for Major War Criminals in Agnishima is now in session. All those having business with these proceedings, stand forward and you shall be heard. The Judicial Council, led by President of the Tribunal Amak is presiding."

Amak rapped his gavel three times before asking, "Is counsel prepared to make opening statements?"

"Yes, your Honor," said Zheng after standing up.

Professor Tanaka followed suit. "Yes, your Honor."

"Very well, Mr. Yi, would you please step up to the podium?"

Zheng made his way to the platform in the center of the chamber looking the judges in the eye and began to speak. "Honorable Gentlemen of the Tribunal, over a hundred years ago, only about a kilometer away from this historic building, Firelord Sozin met with his cabinet to decide how to bring further glory to an already flourishing Fire Nation. These men decided that in order to accomplish this, they would need to spread that glory to all eight corners of the globe. This would need to be achieved by conquest. Sozin famously waited for the Dragon Flame Comet, a comet that flies so low that it almost enters the planet's atmosphere and gives an orange fire-like glow; a comet that comes only once every century and lasts about ten weeks before disappearing. This would later be known as Sozin's Comet. Sozin waited because he knew its energy would enhance Firebending powers a thousand fold. Using this power, the Fire Nation launched a vicious and cowardly attack on the Air Nomads, wiping out the whole race save for one known member, and it is to him that we all owe our lives. What came after the Air Nomad Massacre was a hundred years of war, suffering, and destruction at the hands of three generations of ruthless, tyrannical Firelords and their loyal minions." He paused for a moment, letting his words sink into the judges' heads.

"Take a good look at the men sitting in the dock!" Zheng said, his voice rose slightly. "Many of us ask why the Hundred-Year War happened in the first place. Many of us ask how one man can wake up one morning and decide to inflict so much suffering on the world. I'm on the other hand asking why the war needed to continue to the next generation and the generation after that." He clenched his fist tightly and glanced down at the podium. "The answer is actually quite simple: it didn't. It didn't need to continue after Sozin died, but Firelord Azulon continued it for twenty-three years; some of his henchmen sit before this tribunal today. Although, he had already been the de facto ruler the country decades prior, but I digress.

"Azulon's death and the rise of a new Firelord should've seen the end of the war, but it hadn't. It was continued once again and only one man was responsible for continuing it." Zheng turned to the defendants and pointed his finger at Ozai. "This man, Defendant Ozai, held absolute power, total control over the Fire Nation. His word was law. At any moment, he could have ended all the violence and suffering. He didn't." Turning back to the judges, Zheng continued, "On the contrary, he escalated the violence to levels beyond those that had been seen in the entire war! The entire world was subjected to six more years of global conflict and the vilest atrocities committed against both civilians and soldiers in the history of mankind.

"Not even the Fire Nation was exempt from the tyranny of the Old Regime. For a hundred years, any opposition to the war or the Firelord was met with merciless retribution. For an entire century, a totalitarian government ruled the lives of all Fire Nation citizens... citizens who were forced to show slavish devotion to the Firelord. These citizens had to watch as their children's minds were being fed with propaganda, hatred, and intolerance from a very early age so they would be molded into killing machines that had no concept of mercy, compassion, or value of human life. The Fire Nation also was subject to ethnic cleansing, purges, and a prison system where atrocities not even out of the worst nightmares had occurred.

"What the prosecution is going to show the tribunal are written records of war and cabinet meetings detailing the atrocities committed under Defendant Ozai's rule and letters sent to lower-ranking officials to carry them out. The tribunal will also hear from those who suffered directly at the hands of the Old Regime and from those personally responsible for their suffering by carrying out the Old Regime's orders. We will show you that everything that was done under the rule of these men was deliberate and premeditated in their path to world domination.

"Now, Professor Tanaka is going to try and argue that the men standing trial were following orders, he will tell you that Ozai was a product of his time, he might even argue that most of this happened before these men were even born... he'll even try to throw in a few legal terms like 'ex-post-facto'. However, not all the lawyer techniques in the world will be able to divert your attention from the incontrovertible truth. The fact that Ozai, who had absolute rule over the Fire Nation could have stopped the war and didn't is no different from him declaring and waging aggressive war on the world all over again and thus he and his subordinates were wholly responsible for all the suffering that came subsequently."

Zheng paused for a moment once again to let the judges really soak up his statements. "Now that the war's finally over, we have the chance to bring these acts of evil into light so that history may never again repeat itself in this way; human civilization cannot survive these atrocities being repeated, thus it is human civilization that is true complainant in this tribunal. Let records show that I am glad that the Avatar left Defendant Ozai alive at their duel and only stripped him of his Firebending!" An angry hissing from behind the prosecutor told him that this was a particularly raw point for the highest-ranking defendant. Well good, it better be. "Now the whole world will know of his atrocities and we can purge doubt from anyone's mind. I repeat: we intend to bring the evil acts of these men into light and to ensure the defendants face the proper consequences for their crimes against the world, and we are going to do it by proving their guilt in a fair trial by this honorable judicial council. Professor Tanaka was appointed to give these men the most aggressive defense, and I respect his work as an attorney and the entire way this tribunal was put together. We are giving these defendants the fair chance to be acquitted; a fair trial where the prosecution has the burden of proof. This was something that they'd denied all their victims. This isn't about revenge, Honorable Gentlemen; this is about justice for an entire nation being destroyed and for the millions and millions of victims all over the world both living and dead. We must ensure in this tribunal that the world will not stand for tyranny, fear, and oppression against the peace and freedom loving peoples of this world and that the world can and will deliver justice on those who would forcibly take it from them."

The judges showed no emotion throughout Zheng's speech. All they did was listen to him as the scribe and reporters wrote down everything he said. Zheng stepped down, rejoining Setsuko and Tuktu at their desk. Both of them gave him approving nods. Amak turned to the left side of the room. "Professor Tanaka?"

The bespectacled professor made his way to the platform. "Honorable Gentlemen of the Tribunal, when Firelord Zuko asked me to take this job," he began quietly, "I asked myself, what I can possibly say to defend these men. To deny Defendant Ozai's ability to end the war whenever he wanted would be the same as trying to deny the war had ever happened. Then the answer came to me right now from Mr. Yi.

"He is absolutely right. For an entire century, all, I repeat, all Fire Nation citizens were subjects under the totalitarian rule of the Old Regime. All of us were subjected to the propaganda-filled education and indoctrination of the regime from the moment we were born. All Fire Nation citizens were to be molded into merciless killing machines whose roles were clearly defined. A truer statement has never been spoken. This was true for every citizen of the Fire Nation, including my clients.

"Defendant Ozai was conditioned from birth to commit these atrocities, to push harder than his predecessors, to claim victory and dominion over the entire world. The conditioning, which he helped instill, is the same conditioning to which he himself was a victim. It is the same conditioning his own daughter, Princess Azula fell victim to, each generation suffering harsher effects because of it.

"Princess Azula has since gained immunity from prosecution due to insanity. I understand that Defendant Ozai is of sound mind to stand trial, but would not a man who thought it fit to follow Princess Azula's suggestion of setting an entire nation on fire be insane? Defendant Ozai is a man who was conditioned from the moment he could walk and talk to be a heartless soldier, so desensitized to violence and cruelty, that he saw it as nothing more than a power play. Is he truly guilty of a crime first perpetrated by his ancestor, who bore it into the minds of all his descendants that to take over the entire world was to improve it? On the other hand, was he simply following a structurally mandated philosophy that every single child of the Fire Nation, even those who are still children now, would be victim? Can we honestly punish men who never was their own? Or should we condemn to death the majority of the Fire Nation's military? Had the then Prince Zuko not spoken out of turn in that war-room meeting on that fateful day, which led to his banishment and eventual reformation, and had the Avatar still succeeded, would he not also be sitting in the dock at this very moment?

"The Fire Nation is a nation that has been so deeply scarred and manipulated, that to blame one man who was nothing more than a product of his abusive lineage is the same as blaming the winds of a typhoon for a destructive wave. The typhoon that causes a wave does not drown thousands of people for any reason other than it thinks no differently than to move that way. It does not ask itself if it should move to a less-populated shore, it does not question its morals, it simply moves because all the gusts of wind before it led it on that path and it cannot think to change course.

"This man and his henchmen are not merely a product of their time, we all are. And, under the intense conditioning placed upon all people of the Fire Nation, are we to assume that not any other man or woman given the position of Firelord at that time would not feel that same self-righteousness and power that they have been conditioned to believe that the throne grants them loyalty to the point of deification? This is a man raised to believe that given this position would make him equal to a god and the whole nation was raised to revere him as such.

"Mr. Yi is absolutely right that the world deserves justice for all the suffering it's been through this past century. However, when delivering justice upon those responsible, we must consider all matters."

The professor stepped off the platform and returned to his desk. It took all the years of Zheng's training as an attorney not to scoff at what the defense had said. There were many cases of resistance against the tyranny of the previous three Firelords, deserters from the military, and those who silently opposed what was going on. Well, Zheng thought as he arose from his seat, now it was time to make the first move.

"Honorable Gentlemen of the Tribunal, the prosecution calls General Iroh." The doors in the back of the chamber swung open as the witness marched in. In walked Iroh, the Dragon of the West, a name notorious in the former Earth Kingdom, now revered as the savior of Ba Sing Se. The old man certainly did not fit the image of a ruthless Fire Nation General. He was of shorter stature and slightly overweight with a balding head of gray hair and beard. He was clad in a formal green and white tunic. He sat in the witness stand at the right side of the bench as Zheng once again stepped up to the platform.

"General Iroh, please raise your right hand, sir," said Lee, stepping in front of the witness stand. "Do you swear before the Spirits that the evidence you'll give this tribunal will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"

"Yes, I do."

"General Iroh," said Zheng, looking at his former enemy, "You were ordered to conquer Ba Sing Se, correct?"

"No, Mr. Yi," Iroh replied. "I had a vision that I would conquer Ba Sing Se and presented the battle plans to my father." The prosecutor blinked.

"So you're saying the orders to attack Ba Sing Se did not come from Firelord Azulon."

A high-pitched ring sounded. "Objection," Tanaka said curtly. "The prosecutor's leading the witness."

"Overruled," Amak countered, looking at Zheng sternly. "But watch your wording, Mr. Yi, or I will reverse my ruling. Continue your examination."

"Yes, your Honor. General Iroh, how did the whole idea of conquering Ba Sing Se come up?"

The former General's brow furrowed as if trying to recall all the details. "When I was much younger, I would say in my thirties, I dreamed that I stood at the threshold of the Royal Palace of Ba Sing Se. Nearly eleven years ago, a window of opportunity opened for us to conquer the city. I presented the battle plans to my father, the late Firelord Azulon who gave the order to conquer the city."

"What were the standing orders?"

"Take the city at any cost," said Iroh flatly.

The prosecutor figured that much. He would have been shocked if any place the Fire Nation had conquered was not at any cost. "General, at any point in your service in the Fire Nation Army have you ordered your men to target unarmed civilians or kill prisoners of war?"

"Objection!" Tanaka exclaimed after ringing his bell.

"Sustained," Amak answered. "Rephrase, Mr. Yi."

"General Iroh, what was the official mandate regarding unarmed civilians and prisoners of war?"

"We were officially forbidden from harming civilians unless they showed 'signs of resistance'."

"I don't understand, General. What do you mean by signs of resistance?" Like how did the entire Air Nomad population 'resist' against the Firebenders or a million citizens of Xu Qiang 'resist' against the Fire Nation as they slaughtered them and took the surviving citizens prisoner as slaves. He wanted to add those examples, but Amak would probably see it as inflammatory. Iroh seemed to understand though.

"This was a very broad order left up to the discretion of the officers. I have never taken part in any purge and my soldiers were never to harm civilians under any circumstances except if they attacked first with intent to kill. Under any other circumstances, the soldier in question would be tried ans summarily executed.

"As for prisoners of war, we had them sent to prisons in the colonies, but while they were under my watch, I made sure they were treated humanely with proper food, bedding, and medical care."

"Why was this order worded so vaguely?"

Iroh grimaced as he said, "This order was not necessarily for the Fire Nation to follow, but to instill fear in enemy forces and civilians. In exchange for their safety, we demanded their silent, obedient consent."

"Thank you, General," he turned to Tanaka. "Your witness." He then stepped down from the platform and took his seat as the professor made his way to the platform.

"General Iroh," he said. "I'm not sure if you remember, but I served under you in the Xuan Thien region in the Earth Kingdom."

"Yes," Iroh replied with a slight smile. "I believe you'd expressed your own moral concerns about the war to me."

Zheng rolled his eyes and rang his bell "Objection, your Honor, I'm sure Professor Tanaka and the witness will have plenty of time to reminisce on the past when the tribunal adjourns for the night as neither man is on trial."

"Professor Tanaka," piped up Master Piandao, "is this relevant?"

"It is, your Honor."

"Overruled," said Amak, "proceed with your examination."

Tanaka turned back to the witness. "Was I the only soldier that day who expressed his moral concerns to you about the war, General?"

"No, you weren't, Professor. In fact, this happened before the Siege. In the years when we advanced north to Ba Sing Se, word had gotten to the troops about Xu Qiang." Zheng could not help but look back into the dock at the mention of the destroyed city. For an instant, the prosecutor thought he had seen a triumphant gleam in Nguyen's eye but at the next moment, the former Grand General just sat there with a blank expression.

"There were many cases of desertion and suicides following the Xu Qiang Massacre," Iroh explained. "The prospect of the same thing happening in Ba Sing Se had frightened more than a few soldiers even up to the rank of Colonel."

"My service had ended long before you had arrived in Ba Sing Se," said Tanaka. "General, did you intend to destroy the city if you had succeeded?"

"Absolutely not!" Iroh exclaimed, his eyes blazing. "I wanted to conquer the city with minimal collateral damage."

"And you managed to break through the outer wall, is that correct?"

The former General frowned at the question. "Yes, Profesor Tanaka. However, we could not have been less prepared for what had awaited us on the other side. My forces had been utterly routed because of General Hao's strategies." Iroh turned his head to the bench where Hao sat. "From one General to another, I must commend you on your skills as a combat tactician."

Hao cleared his throat. "I would like to take this time to remind the tribunal that in here, I'm not a General, I'm a judge. An Earth Republic judge who only seeks justice for his and every other country." Amak stepped in.

"Any more questions for this witness, Professor Tanaka?"

"None, your Honor."

"Mr. Yi?"

"Yes, your Honor," Zheng replied firmly as he stepped back to the podium. "General Iroh, you're now on record of saying that high-ranking officers had expressed their moral concerns about the war. When did you yourself begin to question the justification of the war?"

A pained expression fell upon the witness's face as he answered, "It was in the months we spent in the fields beyond the outer wall. Our forces were already being pushed back but after my son, Lu Ten, had been killed in action… As you can imagine, I was devastated. I could not have another man die of my own folly. I had ordered my troops to withdraw."

"If you were half the General everyone claimed you were," Ozai shouted angrily from the dock. "You would've pushed forward and burned Ba Sing Se to ashes!"

Zheng turned sharply to him but before he could retort, Tanaka said, "Defendant Ozai, please-"

"No!"

Lee rapped his staff on the floor. "Order!"

The former Firelord ignored him. "I am the Phoenix King! I won't be treated like some common criminal off the streets! This trial is a joke!"

"Order, I said!"

"You are nothing but trash, Ozai, you murdering bastard!" Tuktu spat back, his blue eyes burning with pure hate. "Just a worthless murdering thug like your father and grandfather!" Ozai turned sharply to Tuktu as he massaged the back of his neck in annoyance. "Oh, feeling the rope around your neck already, aren't you, you sick f-"

"That's enough!" Amak bellowed making everyone turn to him. "I will not have these outbursts in my courtroom! Defendant Ozai," Ozai, red faced and furious had clearly intended to shout again. "You will shut your mouth until you're called upon to testify! And you, Elder Tuktu, this tribunal won't warn you again about behaving professionally! Any more misconduct on your part and you'll be held in criminal contempt, is that clear?"

"Yes, your Honor," said Tuktu, his voice strained.

"Now, Mr. Yi, if you may kindly proceed?"

Zheng would have a serious talk with Tuktu later, he thought as he asked Iroh, "After withdrawing, you disappeared according to Firelord Zuko. Where did you go in this time?"

Iroh seemed to contemplate on how to answer the prosecutor's question. Zheng knew of the many rumors of what Iroh had been doing during his absence and would not press him if it were personal. "I went on a journey to find enlightenment," he said shortly.

"Could you please elaborate, General?"

"After my son died," he said sadly, "I had an epiphany. I've always been against the atrocities the Fire Nation had committed in this war, but then I realized that the war itself was an atrocity. After losing Lu Ten, I began asking myself, 'How many sons have you and your troops taken away? How many mothers and fathers have you left childless? How many sons of the Fire Nation gave their lives to serve the Firelord?' It was then that I'd thought about my place in the world." The older man drew in a breath.

"First I went to the Eastern Air Temple, one of the most beautiful locations in the world. The Air Nomads were the most spiritual of all nations, so maybe I would have been able to find enlightenment in a place where they once lived. Once there, I had met an old man whose name I'd promised not to disclose. He was my spiritual guide." That was probably where he had entered the Spirit World!

"And what happened in this time?" Zheng inquired.

"Towards the end of my visit there, I had been meditating and then entered the Spirit World."

A buzz of conversation erupted in the chamber making Lee once again rap his staff. "Order! We shall have order!" The room fell silent again.

"So it's true," Zheng muttered.

"Yes, I'm afraid so. I am not at liberty to say everything that had happened. However, Agni, the Spirit of Fire himself appeared to me and told me that my final test has yet to come. My brother Ozai had usurped the throne and it was my job to protect the one who would be able to restore the honor of the Fire Nation. One who would face an inner battle or darkness and light. I knew that to be Ozai's son, Prince Zuko, due to his lineage."

Zheng stood there silently for a moment. He was not a very spiritual man himself, but he did believe in the Spirit World and that the Spirits allowed certain mortals to enter under grave circumstances. "General Iroh, I just have one more question. Why is it that Defendant Ozai had taken the throne instead of you? You were the older son and natural heir."

Iroh seemed to know that he would face this question last. "First of all, Mr. Yi, you must understand that I had never wanted to take the throne."

Zheng's eyes widened, taken aback by the General's response. "You wanted your brother to be the Firelord?"

"Objection!"

"Overruled."

"I did not want Ozai to take the throne," he answered seriously. "My intention was to have Lu Ten take the throne with Prince Zuko next in line unless my son would have children. However, the day he died, Ozai went to our father, Firelord Azulon to revoke my birthright. He said my line has ended, but my father would not have it. He ordered Ozai to kill Zuko if he wanted any chance at the throne. Ozai's wife, Princess Ursa had found out and stopped him."

Zheng had a pretty good idea of what Iroh would say next, but decided not to prompt it. "Ursa made a deal with Ozai. If she had poisoned Azulon and changed his will to name Ozai the new Firelord, Zuko would be spared." The General would not meet his eye. "I beg you not to fault her. She was doing what-"

"Any other mother would have done," Zheng finished. "I can assure you that no charges will be brought against Princess Ursa. No more questions."

"The witness is excused," Amak announced and Iroh took his leave.

***

The day had ended with three more witnesses taking the stand. One was a woman from a Fire Nation village where an arms factory had once stood. She testified to how the soldiers occupying the village would hoard all the food, medicine, and other resources for themselves, leaving the villagers to fend for themselves on the polluted river until Aang and his friends saved the village with Katara cleverly disguised as the river spirit, the Painted Lady. Another had been a guard at a prison camp in the colonies for prisoners of war, political activists, and their families. He had testified to how the prisoners were used for manual labor and girls as young as ten were used as sex slaves for the guards. The witness had named Nguyen and Takahashi visiting the camp to inspect it. The last one to testify that day was a young man named Haru from a formerly occupied town in the Earth Republic. The Fire Nation had forbidden Earthbending and had either deported or publicly executed any citizen caught or rumored to disobey them. Hundreds of Earthbenders were imprisoned or burned alive under the occupation, including this Haru and his father.

When Zheng had settled into bed that night next to his wife after tucking his daughter in for the night, all he could do was stare up at the ceiling. "It's awful, isn't it?" Ling said understandingly as she took his hand in hers. The prosecutor turned to his side, gazing into her warm brown eyes.

"I insisted the tribunal hear from those who suffered at the hands of these defendants," Zheng murmured in barely a whisper. "But Ozai... to think that someone would sink so low…to kill his own son in exchange for power!"

"Ozai's going to pay for what he's done… to both the world and his family," Ling stated firmly. "And so will his henchmen. The world's going remember you as the man who had brought their atrocities into light and gave them a fair trial."

"I don't know, love. You heard Tanaka's opening statements. Their way of thinking came from generations of this kind of indoctrination. The judges might consider this."

"Not for something of this magnitude."

Sighing, he wrapped his arms around her torso. "I hope you're right. This is only the beginning…"
« Last Edit: June 01, 2016, 09:27:29 PM by wherewulf »
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Offline wherewulf

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Sorry I didn't get you a reply sooner, Lion, although I will have you know I did read your story at 37000 feet.  On a cantankerous new tablet that I'm still figuring out.  XD  It wouldn't let me in to TKC.

So.

Chapter 4: Fire Nation sushi, huh, Lion?  I'll pass on the obvious pun.  XD  And a mug of saké in Zheng's hand?  Well, well!  Somebody's chugging the stuff.

Re the line of "Shame that we’re giving the men responsible for all but devastating the entire world and the most despicable acts of evil to ever be committed in the history of humankind the fair trial that they denied their victims?": that's a pretty long sentence.  Trying to read it out loud, I would stutter a few times; to say it with the obvious passion that Zheng is, I think he'd have a little trouble saying it in one go too.  Although I do like the way Zheng turned his detractor into a talking head.

You mentioned the handling of the Fire Nation Colonies at the beginning of Zuko's segment, and I look forward to how you're going to handle that--if there's time and space enough within the confines of your story.  It is a delicate matter with lots of future ramifications; I have a few thoughts on it, but I look forward to yours.  Again, if there's room in the story.  :D

I have to say, though, regarding Zuko's desire and spelled-out plan for turning the Fire Nation into a constitutional monarchy with the Fire Lord being little more than a ceremonial figurehead (speaking of long sentences... (shakes head at self)), I have a few issues.  I know General MacArthur of our world all but dictated such to the Japanese people (an American shōgun if ever there were one), but even given that the White Lotus is helping Zuko come up with such things, to our knowledge (or at least to mine) there has never been a republic or a constitutional monarchy to serve as a precedent, and Zuko is rolling this thing out as if it were a kit with some assembly required.  Not that he can't, not that you can't, it's just... a bit much.  Second, and more importantly, spelling out the government to come, branch by branch, position by position, detailing who runs what, how long their term of office will be, et cetera... as a broad overview of the future of the Fire Nation, it would be interesting, but I feel like we're losing momentum from your main story, the prosecution of the war criminals.

Also, one other little note: for better or worse, I don't know if people need "freedom of religion".  Freedom of belief, certainly, but I don't know if people have anything to worship, per se.

I was glad to get a bit more of Jian's backstory and perspective, and it'll be interesting to watch his journey through the trial.  He certainly benefited from being within the Fire Nation's bureaucracy, but he does seem like the typical Fire Nation guy just doing his job, yet is still a fairly decent man.

Also, I thought having him throw down his ricebowl before storming back to his cell was a nice touch.  You may know this already, but in our world's China, "breaking one's ricebowl" is a euphemism for quitting one's job.  Jian was throwing it down because he was mad, yes, but doing it here because of being approached by Thanh An Nguyen... nice touch.

Chapter 5:

I actually was glad to see Zheng & Co. get some resistance, to see some resistance to Zuko's reforms.  I can't think that the entire Fire Nation is happy with what he's doing, after a hundred years of war.  Somebody has to object.

I wanted to add that while I try to avoid units myself, I think your use of "kilometer" in talking about where Sozin met with his council to plan the beginning of the war is canon; sailors in Legend of Korra did say that something was "a few klicks out".

Even if it is ex post facto.  :P

Tanaka's defense is interesting: that the very man running the show is a victim of his own grandfather's manipulation.  I wonder why he would choose to have Iroh bring out that Iroh and others had moral issues about the war.  If Iroh could choose against Sozin's way of thinking, even before Lu Ten's death, couldn't Ozai?  Wouldn't that be a Defense admission that Ozai did have the power of choice?

Still staying tuned.

Offline Lionheart

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Chapter Six: The Warden and the Warrior

Colonel Phuong Minh Tran, long time warden of the Boiling Rock sat behind the desk in the office of his now virtually empty prison. The prisoners of war and political activists had all been released. The actual violent criminals had been transferred to other prisons. It didn't matter though, he thought. His no-escape record had not only been broken in the riot, but three hundred guards had been killed in their attempt to quell the rioting prisoners. In retaliation, the warden had over a thousand prisoners executed.

Now Tran had stayed in the Boiling Rock with a few guards. They had intended to stay there until Firelord Zuko would order the place shut down. After that, then what would he do? His sister had distanced herself from him since she and her sycophant of a husband had returned to the Fire Nation so staying at their place was out of the question. Add to the fact that Jian was now on trial as a Class One* war criminal; her association with the warden of the most notorious prison in the Fire Nation would not put her in a good light these days. He hadn't even been invited to Mai's wedding and that was a particularly painful blow. If there were any people Tran had loved in this world, it was his niece and nephew.

An abrupt rapping on the door brought Tran out of his reverie. "What do you want?" he answered brusquely. "I said no interruptions!" No response. Just another three knocks. Wincing in annoyance, he slid his chair backwards and stormed to the door to open it. His eyes widened at the sight of the four strangers.

"The military police?" he gasped, taking a few steps back. "Why are you here?" A Sergeant stepped into his office.

"Colonel Tran," he announced shortly. "In the name of the Firelord and the people of the Fire Nation, you're under arrest."

"For what?" Tran snapped.

"For major war crimes and crimes against humanity."

The warden blinked hearing, but not really believing. "Excuse me?"

"We have a warrant for your arrest co-signed by the Minister of Justice and His Lordship." In a ruffle of rice paper, a white sheet bearing the royal seal was presented to him. The Sergeant removed a set of handcuffs from his belt. "You have the right to remain silent," he said, placing the cuffs around the astounded warden's wrists. "If you give up the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a special military tribunal. You reserve the right to defense counsel at initial questioning and at any future legal proceedings. If you cannot afford a defense counsel, one will be appointed to you at the expense of the State. Do you understand these rights as I've read them to you?"

Tran stared at the soldier nonplused. "First of all, you didn't read them to me, you recited them to me. Second of all, what in Agni's name was that about?"

"It's a law under the Constitution, Article four, Amendment twenty-nine," he said. "The Firelord and his cabinet wrote a Constitution as you know." Nothing else was said. The soldiers flanked the warden out of the prison to a waiting airship.
***

The tribunal had been going on for two months. In that time, many victims and former soldiers of the Fire Nation took the stand. Ozai had a few more outbursts, but neither the judges nor the prosecution team was fazed by it. While Zheng thought it important for the court to hear from common people, what he really wanted was for significant people to make their cases. Subpoenas had been sent out to the former Earth King, former King Bumi of Omashu, and to the Avatar and his friends.

They were understandably busy with reconstruction, meetings, and helping displaced persons resettle. They would appear as witnesses at their own convenience not at Zheng's. Even if Firelord Zuko was only a short walk away from the Supreme Court, he was still very busy in his own duties. However, Team Avatar happened to be in the Fire Nation and Zheng had arranged for both Katara and Suki to testify but before he and his team would get to them, he would first need to interrogate the Warden of the Boiling Rock.

On cue, there was a knock on his door and in walked Warden Tran flanked by a detail of military policemen. Zheng thought the warden had the appearance of a bald hog monkey. His face was large and round with bulging eyes. "Leave us," the prosecutor ordered and the soldiers immediately complied. The two men held each other's gazes in a brief battle of wills before Zheng said, "Sit down."

"I prefer to stand, thank you very much," Tran retorted, rolling his eyes. Zheng exhaled impatiently as he stood up slamming his desk.

"Dammit, I don't have time for this!" he snapped. After more than a year of dealing with these people, he had finally reached his breaking point. "I'll be frank here, Colonel. You're gonna be tried by the Fire Nation since you're only considered a Class Three war criminal and aren't ranked highly enough to be tried by an International Military Tribunal. I can tell you that despite the Firelord being married to your niece, he's out for your blood. Oh, and Lady Mai, she's not gonna testify on your behalf either. The prosecution has enough evidence and witnesses for a trial to only last a fortnight and then you'll be hanged."

Zheng was pleased to see a wavering expression on the man's face. Despite whatever pride the warden had, he obviously did not want to die. In a poor effort to keep his voice dignified, he inquired, "Then why am I here, Mr. Li?"

"It's Yi," Zheng replied irritably, sitting back down and pointing a condescending finger at Tran. "You're here because I think you're useful to our case. I'm offering you a way out, Colonel. I've made a deal with the Firelord. You testify for us, give us as much detail as you can of what went on in the Boiling Rock, what orders you'd received from above, and your life will be spared. You'll spend the rest of your evil life in prison, but at least you'll live."

Tran lowered his head in thought after giving the prosecutor a look of pure loathing. "So you're saying," he growled, "if I do as you ask, I'll be sentenced to life?"

Zheng shrugged. "You should know this process very well, Colonel, your old bosses were very well-versed in it. Only difference is that I'm not asking you to give up innocent people to be killed so that you could live. No matter what you decide, you'll get a fair trial as virtually nonexistent your chances are for acquittal. The ball is in your court, Colonel. I'm warning you, though. If you refuse, it'll be too late to change your mind... I'm waiting."

"Fine! I'll do what you want!"

Zheng chuckled mirthlessly. "A wise decision."
***

The door to General Hao's office burst open with so much force that it had nearly knocked a picture off the wall. Oyaji seemed peeved about something and the General could only wonder what would set him off. It was only when the Chief of Kyoshi Village stormed over to his desk that Hao noticed the newspaper tucked under the older man's arm.

"Have you seen this?" he shouted as he slammed the paper on the desk.

"Calm yourself, Oyaji! What's going on?" the General responded angrily.

"Read the article!" General Hao frowned as he glanced down at the headline.

FORMER EARTH KINGDOM DIVIDED

"You've got to be kidding me! Dammit!" Hao knew that there had been much heated political debate going on in the Republic's transitional government. Two camps were the most popular in those debates and among the populace. While both supported representative government, one camp supported a multi party presidential republic with a separation of powers and a capitalist economic system. The other camp supported a philosophy called communism, which did away with class divisions; thus the citizens and the government collectively owned all property and enterprise. While Hao believed the latter to be a workable idea on paper, he thought it ridiculous that so many thought it could work in practice.

The article stated that a referendum had been held two months ago where the people voted for what kind of government they had wanted. The vast majority of the East around Ba Sing Se had voted for communism while the West voted for a presidential republic. Now the East had officially named itself the Earth People's Republic with its capital being Ba Sing Se. Their leader, who went by the title of General Secretary of the Communist Party, was a man Hao knew quite well; a fellow Council of Five member named Liu Xiaoping, a charismatic man among his soldiers, but Hao knew him to be a glory hunter. He became a General at a relatively young age (only his early forties), and since then had gotten himself into the good graces of all the right people.

"This is unbelievable," Hao muttered, shaking his head. "There's no way I'm serving under Liu Xiaoping! Once this is over, my family and I are moving to the West!" He turned his gaze to Oyaji. "What does this mean for us and the trial?"

The Chief sighed and sat in one of the chair in front of the desk. "Even with all this chaos, Liu Xiaoping's sending two judges from his country. Guess he knew he couldn't count on you to support him. It seems like we're representing the West then."

General Hao read on. The West would be known as the Earth Democratic Republic and was now under a provisional government led by the former King Bumi. Omashu had been named the capital of the West and an election for President and the members of the National Assembly would be held shortly after the Winter Solstice.

"Wonderful. Now our country is split in half. As if we didn't have enough to worry about with this trial and reconstruction. Any idea's who's running for President of the West?" Oyaji's expression softened.

"Yeah," he replied. "About five guys are running. I personally have my money on Yao Huang from Omashu. He was the commander of the Earth Kingdom resistance forces there. But I can tell you, none of these guys have the same charisma as Xiaoding in the East."

The General laughed derisively. "Wonder how Yi is going to take this. They're not sending a prosecutor, are they?" Hao sincerely hoped not as he doubted Zheng Yi would take kindly to it and they could not afford to lose him.

"No they're not," Oyaji said and Hao sighed in relief. "Liu Xiaoding seems to think Mr. Yi represents the interest of all the Earth peoples, not just the West."

"He really believes in this communism stuff," the General said as he read further. "'Revolutionizing our culture', 'must move forward and rid ourselves of all vestiges of the failures of the monarchy', hah, he's even having Long Feng tried as a traitor and disbanded the Dai Li." He folded the paper and stated, "The war may be over, Oyaji, but with all this crap going on, our problems are far from over." All the Chief of Kyoshi Island could do was nod grimly.
***

Two more men had sat at the bench. Zheng had been informed that they were two Generals from the Earth People's Republic. The news that the Earth Republic had split in two had come as a shock to him. After the war, Zheng's number one priority had been the reconstruction of Qing and the surrounding area and then he had been called for this job. All the work had taken away his attention from internal politics. Like General Hao, Zheng knew this split could only lead to more trouble. However, he had a job he needed to focus on now and could not allow himself to be distracted.

"Colonel Tran, when were you appointed Warden of the Boiling Rock?" Tran had just been sworn in. After today's proceedings, the Colonel would be transferred from international custody into Fire Nation custody where he would stand trial for his crimes. Firelord Zuko had agreed to show mercy to the former warden if he had testified for the prosecution; that is if one would call spending the rest of one's life in prison doing manual labor merciful.

"About twelve years ago," he said evenly but glaring at the prosecutor.

"Where were you stationed before that?"

"I was first assigned as an officer in Concentration Camp Forty-Six in Rokkotsu," he began lifting his hand to his chin in thought. "I was assigned as executive officer of block three."

"What kind of prisoners were placed into Forty-Six?"

Tran shrugged and turned his gaze away from Zheng. "The usual undesirables." Almost immediately, the courtroom erupted in furious shouts causing Lee to rap his staff on the floor. General Deng of the Earth People's Republic had to be held back by two of his colleagues from lunging at the warden.

"Order!" said Lee.

When the chamber fell silent again, Amak stared Tran down in rage. "You will refrain from using these terms in this court, Colonel. One more remark like that and you will be found in criminal contempt! Do you understand me?"

Tran nodded curtly but the Southern Water Tribesman would not stand for that. "I asked you a question, Colonel!"

"Yes, your Honor," the Colonel said through gritted teeth.

"I'll ask you again, Colonel Tran," Zheng stated. "What types of prisoners were incarcerated there?"

"Forty-Six was solely for Fire Nation citizens; ones that the Firelord found to be undesirable elements." He counted each category on his fingers. "These were political activists, traitors, the weak, the racially inferior…that is to say those who had ancestry of any other nation or those who had sexual intercourse with one of another nation. We also imprisoned their families."

"What were the conditions of this camp?"

"Well…" The warden's voice wavered but not with regret, Zheng knew. Tran was trying to think of a way to put it in proper words. "This and other concentration camps like it were not designed to hold prisoners for long periods of time. They would sleep in barrack accommodations and would be subjected to slave labor. Once they would not be able to work, they'd be killed by a Firebending squad."

In a frosty tone, Zheng demanded, "And was this ordered from the top?"

"Yes."

"And from whom did you receive these orders?"

Tran grinned and nodded over at the dock. "Justice Minister Takahashi."

"Liar!" the former Minister shouted.

Before Amak could say anything, Ozai snapped, "Shut up, Takahashi!"

"What other reasons were prisoners killed?" Zheng inquired.

"When prisoners arrived, they would be given a medical exam to see if they're physically able to work. They would also be selected by age. Those deemed too young or too old would be killed right away."

"Did you kill any children or the elderly, Colonel?" The words escape Zheng before he could stop them. He had not intended to ask that question and Tanaka did not let him get away with it.

"Objection, this is not Colonel Tran's trial, he is here as a witness!"

"Sustained," Amak replied.

"Colonel Tran," Zheng had decided to go with another line of questioning. "Where else were you stationed?"

"When I attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Firelord Azulon appointed me supervisor of Unit Eight Twenty-Nine, which is located on Yoronjima Island. This was where the Fire Nation was developing weapons of mass destruction; chemical weaponry… these were meant to eradicate vast amounts of people as quickly as possible. That's where we developed the nerve gas we used to eradicate most of our prisoners and our enemies in combat."

"Where there any prisoners in Unit Eight Twenty-Nine?"

"Do you even have to ask?" Tran inquired with a sneer.

"Just answer my question, you sick f…." Zheng breathed heavily to compose himself. "Answer me!"

"Yes, there were. Our scientists conducted research on the effects these chemical agents had on the human body. One of these chemical agents were called the Shinzo-16, named after the scientist who developed it. I'm not sure exactly of what it did, but death occurred within less than a minute if inhaled, but it could also be mixed in water...the effects would be slower, though. That is how we annihilated most of Hangzhou. That was after I was transferred to the Boiling Rock, though. Ozai ordered that one. He had our forces contaminate the water supply in that city.

"We were also working on a kind of bomb with the power to annihilate an entire city, possibly as large as Ba Sing Se. Would've been dropped from an airship. These kinds of bombs would've used atomic energy. It would have the power of over ten thousand tons of gunpowder, that would split and fuse atoms to create a phenomenal explosion. But unfortunately, all experiments failed. We got nowhere with it."

"Who appointed you as Warden of the Boiling Rock?" Zheng spat angrily. How could he have been so stupid as to not know of Unit Eight Twenty-Nine? He nearly shuddered at the prospect of the Old Regime trying to obtain such a ghastly weapon. He would have these scientists indicted and subpoenaed as witnesses, especially this Shinzo.

Tran gave a short laugh. "That would be Justice Minister Takahashi again. He told me he'd seen my exemplary records while working in Forty-Six and Eight Twenty-Nine. He was very impressed."

"Your records of murdering and torturing innocent people whose only crime was being hated by the Firelord, you mean?"

"Objection!" Tanaka exclaimed after ringing his bell. "That's inflammatory!"

"Sustained," Amak repeated. "I'm not gonna warn you again, Mr. Yi."

"Colonel, please describe the Boiling Rock for the court."

"The prison's located on an island within an island. The main island is a good twenty kilometers east of Agnishima. It's on an island in the middle of a boiling lake inside a volcano. Prisoners and guards must ride a gondola that takes them over the lake and into the prison itself.

"The prison's divided into two sectors. One was for the most dangerous of Fire Nation criminals and the other was designated for high profile or particularly dangerous prisoners of war and political prisoners."

Tran sat there silently after he had said his piece. What Zheng had wanted to get out of him was what went on in the prison itself and the warden knew that. Shaking his head, the prosecutor pressed, "Don't play dumb with me, Colonel. What were the conditions of the prison? Tell us how the inmates were treated."

The warden rolled his eyes. "The prisons were not like the concentration and labor camps," Tran explained in forced patience. "The Boiling Rock was big enough to allow private cells for each prisoner. They were given mattresses, a sink, and a toilet. Food was provided in the cells."

"There was no starvation?" Zheng inquired with a raised eyebrow.

"Not unless a particular prisoner was useful to us. See, both Firelords Azulon and Ozai, Minister Takahashi, and Grand General Nguyen devised an effective method of interrogating prisoners." Tran's lip curled into a sardonic grin. "See, some people can, in fact, endure physical pain no matter how much of it you can inflict on them. What we put more emphasis on was breaking them mentally.

"Other than starvation, we subjected prisoners to isolation in dark cells for long periods of time, mental weakening by the interrogators, or putting them in the coolers." He shook his head laughing quietly. "Now those were my idea. Firebending was prohibited amongst the prisoners so whether they were criminal or political, we placed them in the coolers as punishment. These were special cells where cold air would blow on them for several hours. We had quite a few deaths from hypothermia. The guards would sometimes forget about them."

It took all of Zheng's strength not to run over to the stand and tear the Colonel limb from limb. He did not know how he managed, but when he spoke again, he kept his voice even. "This was standard in all the Fire Nation prisons?"

"Yes. Once we had no more use for a prisoner we wished to interrogate, we had them executed. Firebending squads for Benders, beheading for Nonbenders. Towards the end of the war, we put them in sealed chambers and killed them with nerve gas."

"No more questions."

"Professor Tanaka?" Amak called.

"No questions for this witness, your Honor," said Tanaka, unable to hold back a glare. He was apparently too disgusted to even look at Tran.

"Very well. Guards, get this dirt heap out of my courtroom."

As Colonel Tran was flanked out of the room, Zheng stole a glance at his colleagues. Tuktu looked as though he was going to be sick and Zheng's heart sank at the sight of Setsuko sitting there with her head bent, tears falling down her face silently.
***

Suki awoke with a start, sitting on the bed she shared with Sokka in the Ember Island villa breathing fast, her heart racing. Cold sweat soaked her body as she reflected on her nightmare – no – her memories. It had been over a year and a half. Nineteen months had passed and Suki's dreams were still haunted by her months of imprisonment.

For a while now, Suki thought she had healed. She had thought that she'd put Azula behind her, that her experiences under the custody of that heartless princess were only a painful memory. However, since the trial of Fire Nation war criminals began, the nightmares had returned worse than ever. To make matters worse, the prosecution was expecting her to testify in the morning. How could they make her do that, she thought as large tears of sorrow filled her eyes. No, how could they make any former prisoner of war testify to the hell they had gone through, some even worse than hers!

A quiet sob escaped her throat as she placed her face in her hands. A shifting to her right told her that Sokka had awakened. Without a word, he reached his hand over to Suki and slowly ran his fingers through her hair. That simple gesture broke the barrier and she began to sob openly as Sokka pulled her into his arms, rocking her gently while she buried her head into his chest.

"It's okay, Suki," he whispered gently and kissed the top of her head. "I have you. You're safe now." As she wept, he held her protectively, his warm hand rubbing her back and stroking her hair all while reassuring her that it was over. It was only in Sokka's arms that Suki could believe such a thing. It was only with Sokka that she knew she could recover not just from the horrible torture inflicted upon her both mentally and physically, but also from the guilt eating inside her. An involuntary image crossed her mind; Lin and Eun, two of her fellow Kyoshi Warriors beheaded right in front of her eyes as Azula, that b****… she held her back and forced her to watch as two of her closest friends were murdered simply for refusing to give the princess any information about Aang's whereabouts.

Thinking about them, of course, made Suki cry harder than ever. Sokka simply held her tighter. "I love you," she managed to whisper shakily. In response, Sokka kissed the top of her head.

"I love you too. It's gonna be okay. We'll get through this together." Eventually, Suki fell into a somewhat peaceful sleep in Sokka's embrace, just as she felt him caressing the side of her face.
***

The next morning, Suki sat beside her friends on a long bench in the Supreme Court just outside the main courtroom dressed in her green dress. A grim mood had taken over the team. Sokka sat beside her with his arm around her waist. Katara held her hand while Aang had his arm around her. Toph sat next to Sokka. "You can do this, Suki," Aang said firmly. The hour was slowly approaching when Zheng Yi would call her in to testify.

She glanced at Aang. The boy she had met so long ago on Kyoshi Island had changed much since they had first seen each other. He was taller, stronger, and his voice was now very deep. He was quite handsome too, she thought. Being a Kyoshi Warrior, her loyalty to Aang as the Avatar was unwavering but even more so was her loyalty to him as a friend.

"You'll do great on the stand," Katara added with a warm smile. Toph stretched out her arms, kicked out her feet and strode over to Suki with her distinct Toph grin.

"You'll put those bastards in their place," she said, placing a firm hand on her arm.

"Damn right!" Sokka agreed and Suki couldn't help but laugh appreciatively.

"Thanks, guys." She settled her head under Sokka's chin, then a voice immediately rang out from the other side of the door.

"The prosecution calls Suki Kim." As the five friends stood up, the doors opened. Sokka kissed her lips softly and stroked the side of her face with his hand. Closing her eyes in content, she rested own hand on top of his. Then, drawing in a breath, Suki walked through the doors to the witness stand.

*The war criminals are divided into three classes.

Class One: All the big decisions makers, highest-ranking government officials and military personnel. These are the guys on trial.

Class Two: High-ranking military personnel and lesser government officials who committed or contributed a lot to the major war crimes outside Fire Nation borders as well as within.

Class Three: Specific commanding officers, lower-ranking government officials, etc. whose crimes were concentrated in one area.

A/N: And the next chapter's gonna be a tough one to write. Yeah, as you can see, problems are already erupting in the post-war world. The Earth Republic split is based on the Korean split after World War II. The Earth People's Republic is based on both North Korea and China with some elements of the post-World War II USSR. The Earth Democratic Republic's gonna take most of its inspiration from South Korea. No new war in this story though, that's gonna happen later. Unit 829 is based on Unit 731. Read up on it, but I warn you, it's really sick. Oh, and Suki's last name? Yeah, spur of the moment thing.
<< Post Merge: June 04, 2016, 04:03:39 AM >>


Trigger Warning: Depictions of torture and rape of a minor, and murder. We are certainly treading the boundaries between a T and M rating.

Chapter Seven: Suki's Lost Days

Suki sat at the stand and took in her surroundings. Thousands of spectators had their gazes fixed upon her from all sides of the courtroom. In the far back sat the defendants. From where Suki sat, she could see Ozai eyeing her blankly. The last time she had seen the deposed Firelord was right after Aang had defeated him and she was unable to insult him as effectively as Toph and Sokka. Suki had to bite down on her lip to keep from smirking. However, those feelings of amusement immediately turned to burning hatred as the harsh features of Thanh An Nguyen, the monster who had personally killed Lin and Eun, appeared in front of her eyes… two of the countless innocent people to become his victims. This was the man who also… Suki shook her head and kept her focus on the prosecution team.

Like many people in the former Earth Kingdom, Suki viewed Nguyen as the personification of the Fire Nation's ruthlessness. As a little girl, she would hear the warriors speak of him with such fear that it gave her nightmares of a shadowy figure in Fire Nation armor cutting down women and children of some obscure village with his sword and then burning the buildings with red flames. This was how Suki had seen Nguyen until she had met Azula despite everything Nguyen did to her. Despite knowing that Azula had been locked away in a mental hospital, she could still sometimes feel her maniacal gaze upon her.

The bailiff approached her and said, "Master Suki, please raise your right hand." She did so and bailiff recited, "Do you swear before the Spirits that the evidence you'll give this tribunal will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"

"I do." To her relief, it was not Zheng Yi who had stepped up to the podium, but Setsuko Miyamoto. Suki wasn't sure what she had thought about the prosecutor. He seemed like a generally kind man, but persistent. He would not hear a word about her not testifying despite already getting some evidence on what went on in the prisons. However, relief filled her every being that it would be his kindly assistant cross-examining her rather than Yi himself. At least Setsuko had some understanding of what she had gone through as the older woman had lost her brother in the prisons.

"Master Suki," she said, looking at her sympathetically, "could you please state your name and rank for the record?"

"My name's Suki Kim from Kyoshi Island," she said. "I'm the leader of the Kyoshi Warriors."

"Master Suki, when did you first meet the Avatar and his friends?"

"While on patrol with the other girls," she began. "We spotted three strangers fooling around in the lagoon where the Unagi lives."

Setsuko blinked in confusion. "The Unagi? What's that?"

Suki was about to answer, but Oyaji spoke first. "The Unagi is a giant eel that has guarded our island for generations, Mrs. Miyamoto. Local lore says it's immortal; it was around when I was a boy and even when my great grandparents were children too."

"Thank you, your Honor," Setsuko replied and turned back to the witness. "Please continue."

"We immediately got suspicious and hid in the trees so we could ambush them. Aang was riding our elephant koi but was chased out of the water by the Unagi. Taking advantage of their confusion, we jumped and bound them. After we interrogated them, we found out that Aang was the Avatar." Suki decided to omit the fact that she and the other Kyoshi Warriors thought them to be spies originally. In retrospect, it was pretty stupid of them to suspect unarmed kids (save for Sokka and his Water Tribe weaponry) of being Fire Nation spies.

"And after you discovered this fact, you welcomed the Avatar and his friends as honored guests?"

Tanaka rang his bell. "Objection, how is the Avatar's stay on Kyoshi Island or Master Suki's friendship with them relevant?"

Before Setsuko or Amak could answer the defense attorney, Suki cut in. "I'll tell you how, Professor Tanaka. They were the main inspiration for me and my comrades to leave the safety of Kyoshi and do our part in the war!"

"I withdraw my objection," said Tanaka quietly. "My apologies, Master Suki."

"We did welcome them, Mrs. Miyamoto. Aang, Katara, and Sokka stayed for three days. In that time, I got closer to the three of them, especially Sokka." She felt her cheeks reddening as brief, quiet laughter rang out in the chamber.

"Order," said the bailiff sternly, rapping his staff. "Order in the court, ladies and gentlemen."

"Then our village was attacked by the Fire Nation. Zuko and his troops were hunting for Aang and we all fought back. Aang and his friends retreated so that the Fire Nation would leave our village alone. Five buildings were burned down in the raid and Aang extinguished the flames with the Unagi's water attack. Luckily no one was seriously hurt." She then hastily added, "Nobody in Kyoshi Island faults Zuko for this. He's as much a victim of Ozai as anyone else! Not to mention he redeemed himself and proved that he had really seen the wrongs of his ancestors, at great risk to his life, I must add!"

"Objection, the court is aware that His Lordship had seen the light. He has been granted immunity from prosecution, so the witness has nothing to worry about."

"Sustained," Amak said. "Please, let's try not to deviate from the point, Master Suki."

"After the Avatar and his friends had gone, what happened?" Setsuko inquired.

Suki answered him with a hint of pride in her voice. "We helped with reconstruction and then immediately told Chief Oyaji that our true purpose as the Warriors of Kyoshi had come. Now that the Avatar had returned, it was our duty to help him win the war in any way we can. We boarded a boat to the mainland, first arriving at Qing."

"Was the city occupied at the time?"

"No," Suki said and then grimaced. "The Earth Kingdom Army had recently liberated Qing, but there were a lot of refugees and wounded soldiers. Our first job was to help in the makeshift hospitals they've constructed and to guard the refugee camps. That was where we stayed until we were needed at the front."

"Where have you and the Kyoshi Warriors been in combat?" Setsuko asked.

Suki's brow furrowed as she said, "Jiangxi, Hulao Forest, the Bay of Xian, and Yeongnam. Those were the locations where we've faced actual Fire Nation forces." None of those were major encounters, but both the Kyoshi Warriors and the Earth Kingdom forces had managed to ward off the Fire Nation's assaults. The raid on Jiangxi was the first time Suki had taken someone's life. The soldiers she had spoken to before being transferred to the frontline had told her that they could still remember the face of the man they had first killed in combat and the same was true for her. The Firebender could not have been older than seventeen, but she had to eliminate him before he would have eliminated her, her comrades, or worst of all, innocent civilians.

"We stayed with the Earth Kingdom forces until a few weeks after the Spring Equinox," said Suki. "In that time, the Fire Nation had conquered Omashu, retook Qing, and were advancing north. Ba Sing Se was the last stronghold left so we ended up helping refugees flee to the city. Finally, we got jobs at the port seeing the refugees to the ferries. There I reunited with Aang and his friends. They even had a fourth person to their number, Toph Bei-Fong." Suki loved Toph from the very beginning. She was truly an inspiration to her as a girl warrior. Woe be to the idiot who underestimated Toph Bei-Fong.

"It was odd seeing them on foot when the could've easily flown on their flying bison, Appa but I was glad to see them nonetheless. Appa was stolen by Sandbenders and sold to a merchant in Ba Sing Se. They needed to go to Ba Sing Se anyway to tell the Earth King about a solar eclipse. It turned out they were accompanying a family with a pregnant woman, but that family didn't have passports. They needed to cross the Serpent's Pass, so I decided to accompany them."

"Then you went back to the port, correct?"

They were getting to it now. Suki shifted in her seat, shaking that thought off. "Yes."

The two women held each other's gazes for a few moments. Suki could tell that Setsuko did not want to ask her this and it was killing her, but she knew she had to. The older woman sighed in defeat before finally inquiring, "How was it that you ended up in Fire Nation captivity? Could you please tell the court what happened when you were a prisoner of war?"

"Your Honor," Tanaka responded slowly, "is the witness... fit to testify about this?"

"I am, Professor," Suki said quietly, not looking at Professor Tanaka, suddenly feeling very vulnerable. She shifted her anxious gaze around the courtroom until her eyes met Sokka's. He, Aang, Katara, and Toph were seated at the front row of the spectator seats at the far side of the chamber. From the distance, she saw Sokka signing as if to say, "It's okay, sweetheart, just say it to me. You'll do fine."

After a few silent moments, Suki began to relay what she had dreaded for more than a year. She closed her eyes, trying to imagine herself not in the courtroom, but on a comfortable couch alone with Sokka, his strong arms wrapped protectively around her, as she'd lean into his chest. "After I returned from the Serpent's Pass, the other Kyoshi Warriors and I left the port and went back to the front after we heard of Nguyen's forces advancing north. We stopped at an abandoned village that the Earth Kingdom was using as a garrison. While scouting the nearby forest for food… that was where we were ambushed."
***

The Earth Kingdom forces were running low on food so we volunteered to go out and hunt. We went deep into the forest, not finding any animals that could feed our allies but plenty of fruits and vegetables though. That was when my friend Lin discovered a clump of coarse white fur.

There had obviously been a fight in the area. Leaves had been torn off bushes and the branches were askew. Lin showed me the fur and I recognized the smell immediately as Appa's. Something was wrong… I could feel it. We rushed through the trail of fur to some kind of shelter built within the trees. That was where we found him. I've never seen anything so horrible in my life.

Appa was cowered in the far corner of the shelter. He had obviously been through something horrible; his fur was unkempt, his legs were shackled, his body full of boar-q-pine quills, and he did not trust anybody. I approached him slowly telling him it was I, and I placed some apples and berries at the entrance. Eventually, he came out of the shelter and ate the fruit. From there, the poor animal began to trust us.

The other warriors and I removed his shackles, removed the quills, and washed the dirt and dried blood out of his fur. He was clearly looking for Aang and the others. They were in Ba Sing Se at the time. So, what we planned was to have the Earth Kingdom forces fly him over to the city as fast as possible. That was when Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee appeared riding on mongoose lizards.

Azula sneered at us, commenting on how easy it was to find Appa and then made some snide remark about us being the Avatar's fan girls. We weren't really listening, we were getting ready to fight and kill if we had to because these girls meant business. They attacked us. Ty Lee with her chi blocking skills overpowered most of us. Mai pinned Li-Hua to a tree with her knives… soon it was just Azula and me. She fought with such precision and fury that I too was overpowered. Ty Lee knocked me unconscious by hitting a pressure point in my shoulder.

When I came to, I found myself in this large, empty iron cell with the other Kyoshi Warriors. Our weapons and armor had been stripped…even our face paint had been washed off. To make matters worse, our hands were cuffed behind our backs. We could not have been in that cell for more than an hour. In that time, Eun asked, "What are they going to do to us?" Eun was one of the bravest girls I knew. Her being scared was enough to frighten me. The Fire Nation was notorious for their torture of prisoners of war. I had to be strong though. I was the leader of the Kyoshi Warriors; I had to live up to that name.

"We all have to be strong," I said more to myself. "We can't let them break us no matter what. We're the Warriors of Kyoshi, loyal defenders of the Avatar, we don't let our enemies break us." Soon, the door slid open and a detail of guards took us out of the building into a courtyard. There we saw Azula and a man who until then existed only in name: Thanh An Nguyen, the same monster sitting here right now in the dock. He looked at us like a vicious attack dog waiting to be unleashed on a wounded kitten and Azula was his sadistic master. We were lined up against the wall and Azula paced in front of us.

"You are all now prisoners of the Firelord," she told us coldly. "Your treatment depends entirely on your cooperation." She then stopped to face us her golden eyes blazing with malice. "You have only one chance at freedom. Tell me where the Avatar is and I'll let you all go."

All my training in the ideals of a Kyoshi Warrior came back to me. Our founder was obviously Avatar Kyoshi so our loyalty to the Avatar is absolute! That and they were asking me to give up my friends, including the love of my life. I spat back at her, "Over my dead body!" I immediately knew that that was the wrong thing to say. Azula's sneer only became more pronounced.

"That can be easily arranged," she told me, "only it won't be over your body." She immediately motioned to the guards to grab Lin and Eun. They forced them to the ground as they cried out in anger at her. Nguyen slowly marched behind them and brandished his sword. I begged… I b-begged Azula to take me instead and to show mercy but she refused… sh-sh-she j-just refused. She grabbed my arms and pinned me to her.

She forced me to watch helplessly as that heartless bastard, Nguyen… he raised his sword. It was like it happened in slow motion. He beheaded both of them. I can still see their blood spurting from their severed necks. I can still see their heads rolling on the floor. Their eyes… wide and horrified. I can still see it in their eyes… I let them die. I failed to… I… betrayed them! My friends are dead because of me! My… friends… my sisters are dead because of that b****!

***

Suki's eyes were burning with tears as violent sobs rocked her entire body. She hated herself for crying at this critical moment where she had the chance to avenge the murders Lin and Eun. How could she be so weak? Hastily wiping her eyes, she regained control after a few moments and faced the prosecutor's assistant.

"Azula knew damn well where Aang and his friends were," said Suki, her voice even. She gave a short derisive laugh. "She just returned from a defeat at the outer wall of Ba Sing Se! My friends destroyed a drill that the Fire Nation tried to use to break through the wall! She just wanted the opportunity to have a few of us killed!"

Setsuko nodded in understanding and turned to the opposing attorney. "Your witness."

Tanaka stepped up to the podium. "Master Suki, did you and your comrades consider yourselves prisoners of war upon being captured?"

"Yes, we did," said Suki, slightly confused.

"Did Lady Mai and Ty Lee know of what happened to you and your friends?"

Suki shook her head. "No, Professor. One of the other Kyoshi Warriors said that Azula told them that she was simply going to hand us over to the Fire Nation forces."

"At present, Ty Lee is a Kyoshi Warrior, correct?"

"Yes," Suki affirmed. "Mai betrayed Azula to save Zuko and just as Azula was about to kill her, Ty Lee attacked her. Azula had them both imprisoned elsewhere. Ty Lee bonded with my comrades and helped in an uprising. Immediately after the war ended, I accepted her as one of us. A lot had happened before though… It was only the beginning though, what she did to Lin and Eun. From then on, I was separated from my comrades. I was to be Azula's 'special prisoner'."

Suki's body gave an involuntary shudder as she barely managed to hold back a new wave of tears.

"Your witness," said Professor Tanaka and Setsuko took the podium one again.

"Master Suki," she said gently. "I hate to have to ask you this, I really do, but I need you to tell the court everything you can remember about what went on in your captivity. Who was... involved? This is extremely important."

Professor Tanaka rang his bell looked at her with genuine concern, as if he were looking at a regular seventeen-year-old girl* rather than a battle-hardened Kyoshi Warrior. Suki knew from Zuko's wedding that he had two teenage daughters, whom she met at the reception, so she knew he was not happy about having to question her. "Your Honor-" he began, but Amak cut across him.

"The witness said she's fit to testify, Counselor, so let her speak."

"Are you sure about this?" he asked.

"Professor, I have to do this," said Suki evenly.

Professor Tanaka sat back down as Chief Oyaji coaxed after a long silence, "Go ahead, Suki." Drawing in a deep breath, Suki closed her eyes momentarily and began to speak once again.
***

I was held in that prison for a long time. In that time, Azula had me interrogated daily. They stripped me naked, chained me to a wall… my wrists above my head and my ankles to the wall to keep from kicking them. I would hang there limply for hours, even days on end. They would start with the beatings… always the beatings. They'd beat me with bamboo rods until Azula would stop laughing and tell them to stop. She would then… she'd grab the chains and shock them with lightning. I can't even begin to describe the pain… the horrific pain that never even to this day went away. It was like every part of my body was on fire and even after was done it would still burn.

We are trained to resist torture, to resist agony; even though Kyoshi Island was neutral, we were still prepared for if the Fire Nation would attack us and we knew of their interrogation methods and the trauma that came with it. However, Azula soon figured out that it would take a long time before she could break me with physical pain.

"If you don't talk, Suki dear, others will," she whispered in my ear after she electrocuted me again. "Your friends won't last as long as you and if that doesn't convince you to talk, I will kill each one of your warriors in front of your eyes. Do you really want that on your conscience?" She hit me in a place where no physical wound could reach as she had with Lin and Eun. "It doesn't matter anyway, though. You and your little friends will be separated."

"What?" I gasped. They just couldn't take the other girls away from me, the just couldn't!

"It's Fire Nation policy, Suki," Azula sneered. "We can't have prisoners conspiring to escape, especially someone as valuable as you."

"I'm honored you think me valuable," I said dryly, wincing from the aching in my shoulders. "But you'd be stupid to think you can make me talk."

She wasn't insulted; that was one of the most terrifying things about Azula. She was always in control. Anything an enemy of hers ever said or done was anticipated minutes, maybe even hours before.

"I didn't think you'd cooperate so easily," she said. "You Kyoshi Warriors take your honor code too seriously for your own good." Her grin broadened… a truly sick, twisted grin spread across her otherwise beautiful face. "Let's see how long it will be before you break."

I can still hear the sizzling of the lightning surrounding Azula's hands as she grabbed the chains. The pain was excruciating. I screamed, but it sounded so distant in my ear, as if it were another person crying out in agony. It felt like my entire body was on fire. It could not have been more than a few seconds but it felt like hours, and suddenly, it just stopped.

My body was still shaking; the pain was still there, but not as intense and I was drenched in sweat. "I'll ask you again, Suki. Where is the Avatar?"

I slowly looked up at her, barely able to speak and half-blinded by tears. It hurt me to talk, but I did answer her all right. "Go screw yourself!"

I spat in her face. This time, I was prepared for Azula's wrath. I tried my best to detach myself from the pain, but to little avail. It lasted longer this time, maybe even more than a minute. As soon as it stopped, I was given no time to recover when Azula stated, "Perhaps we can persuade you another way." She grinned and turned to the guards standing by the door. "Bring one of her friends here," she ordered. "Maybe watching her die will loosen her tongue."

I wanted to shout no, but I was not able to speak. All I could do was watch helplessly as the guards disappeared and then burst in seconds later with Song in chains, forcing her to her knees. It was then that I noticed Nguyen standing behind them, his sword already drawn. My friend's eyes met mine and she looked horrified at the sight of me.

"This is your last chance," Azula said, not wasting any time. "Where is the Avatar?"

I wanted to shout out, to defy her. I would not have been able to live with myself if any other one of my warriors get killed, but there are some values where your life and even the lives of those you love must be sacrificed. Just as I was gathering my strength to form a word, Song cried out, "Stop!" Azula and I turned to look at her. Tears filled her eyes and she bent her head in shame. "P-Please, s-s-stop h-h-h-hurting her! He's in Ba Sing Se!"

"No!" I screamed.

"They're all in Ba Sing Se…"

Azula gave a quiet mirthless laugh, keeping her gaze fixed on me while Song cried on the floor. "Your friend's very wise, Suki, that's all I needed to know." She snickered again and I felt sick. "But I admire your determination. I look forward to having more conversations with you in the future. You're now my favorite prisoner." I shuddered as she placed her hand on my head momentarily before running a hard slap across my face. "If you'll excuse me, I have business to attend to in Ba Sing Se."

"You'll never break through the wall, you b****!" I yelled, but Azula was not affected.

"That language will get you nowhere." Just before she turned the doorknob, she nodded at Nguyen muttering something.

"It would be my pleasure, Princess." I was suddenly scared. The way Nguyen and his four henchmen were looking at me, it was like a predatory animal finding defenseless prey. Two of them grabbed Song by her hair and dragged her out of the room while the others were advancing on me.

I close my eyes, and involuntarily murmured, "Oh, Sokka, please…"

I don't know how Azula heard me, but she did. "That Water Tribe peasant won't save you, my dear." She opened the door. "You should just abandon hope."

She closed the door behind her, leaving me alone with Nguyen and the guards. Nguyen… he didn't speak at all. He just punched me in the stomach, pulled down his pants… the other soldiers just laughed… they… th-they. It was so horrible! They all took turns raping me! One by one, they all…"

***

Through her tears, Suki could see Sokka, who looked horrified at first, but then a shadow crossed his face as his gaze fell upon Nguyen. It was beyond anger; it was beyond hatred. Tears of rage fell from his icy blue eyes as he looked back and forth from Suki to Nguyen. It was as though he was torn between acting on holding Suki in his arms or ripping Nguyen to shreds. He regained composure only when Katara patted his arm reassuringly.

"It's okay," said Setsuko in a soothing tone. "Take your time."

"Your Honor," Professor Tanaka insisted, "I would like to request a recess."

"No!" Suki exclaimed, wiping the tears from her eyes. "I have to finish!"

Chief Oyaji had gone pale at the testimony of the girl who was like a daughter to him. "Are you sure?" he asked gently.

"Yes," Suki said thickly.

"Request denied," said Amak. "Please continue, Master Suki."
***

This went on for a while. It was always the same soldiers, minus Nguyen who was ordered to lay siege to Ba Sing Se while Azula took it from within. I didn't see the other Kyoshi Warriors again until the end of the war. I was kept isolated in a cell for most of the day. These cells... th-they're not even normal cells! The inside is painted completely white. They dressed me in a white uniform... even my shoes were white. They even went as far as to feed me white rice in a white bowl with white chopsticks. Sensory deprivation on top of the rapes and the torture. These bastards used me as a comfort woman. I wasn't the only girl. I heard others screaming… crying from their cells.

Even though Azula had the information she wanted, they were still determined to break me. They would starve us… I had to have been in that prison for at least two months and I can only remember being fed twice, just a small bowl of rice. They gave me a cup of water every five days.

There is no way to describe what it's like to be deprived of food for so long all while in that white room. I lost control of bodily functions, I was in constant pain from the hunger, and I was even hallucinating alone in my cell. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that Sokka would come rescue me; that he'd find out I've been captured. The guards must've heard me muttering his name because Azula tried to use him against me. Yes, she came back.

I was eventually able to separate myself from the rapes and beatings, but Azula… I've never met anyone like her. She knew just where to strike. The guards took me back to that room and chained me to the wall again. Azula was approaching me and from the way she smiled, I knew something terrible had happened. "How's my favorite prisoner?" I didn't answer. "I thought you should hear it from me personally. Ba Sing Se is now in our hands." I couldn't believe it, I wouldn't! Ba Sing Se, the unassailable stronghold that is the Earth Kingdom capital, was now in Fire Nation hands. "And the Avatar is dead."

My heart literally stopped when she said this. Avatar Aang, my friend to whom all Kyoshi Warriors swore everlasting loyalty was gone. "Liar…" I hissed.

Azula laughed, as she told me, "Not this time, Suki, I took him down myself. I wish you could've been there to see it." No, she was trying to break me. Aang could not be dead. I knew he couldn't even then.

"Even if that were true," I whispered, "the Earth Kingdom won't bow down and surrender to you. We'll all rise up and tear you to pieces."

"The Avatar's dead, my dear," she said again confidently. "And his friends fled like cowards on their bison. Oh, that Sokka you're hoping will come to your rescue, I've met him too." A wave of dread washed over me. If anything happened to him… "Oh, don't worry, he's fine for now," Azula reading my thoughts. "But I can't wait to meet him again once the eclipse hits. Your friends are convinced they could invade the Fire Nation on the Day of Black Sun, but we'll be ready for them.

"Sokka doesn't even know you've been captured, let alone where you are. Though I think he may have a hunch since my friends and I infiltrated the city in Kyoshi Warrior uniforms."

"So, you've conquered the world," I said venomously, fighting back tears. "You claim to have killed Aang, what more do you want from me?"

She stepped closer to me and grabbed the chains. "Just to have one more conversation with you before you're transferred to the Boiling Rock."

"The what?"

"It's the most secure prison in the Fire Nation. You're of no more use to us here, so we'll keep you confined somewhere where you won't cause us anymore trouble." Her face was now inches from mine. "Do you know why you're my favorite prisoner? Do you know why I didn't have you killed?"

I could not even begin to comprehend the answer to such a question. How could I fathom what went through the mind of this… this monster? She answered for me that I intrigued her. It was the first time I saw her as a human being. "What is it that keeps you going? Many war prisoners succumb to madness, but you, it's like you're fighting it with your entire being."

"It's something you can never understand," I said, my voice distant. "It's something a throne-born monster like you-"

"Don't call me a monster!" Azula shrieked. I was taken aback by how she lost control like that, albeit momentarily. She soon regained her composure. "Enlighten me," she commanded, "tell me what this 'thing' is."

"You know, I think I understand you now," I told her with a dry laugh knowing I was literally playing with fire here, but I needed this, I needed to seize control away from Azula. "You're a pitiful, scared human being who uses fear and intimidation to control those around you. Even your two so-called 'friends' are scared to death of you. You would see things like love, friendship, loyalty, bravery, and honor… putting others before yourself as weaknesses. I see them as virtues worth holding on to and worth living and yes, even dying for. That is what keeps me going.

"Oh, and you may be a powerful Firebender, but Aang will not fall so easily to the likes of you. He will recover and he and the others will take you, your father, your brother, and the whole Fire Nation down! I will be there to witness the downfall of your country's tyranny, because Sokka will rescue me!" I ended my speech by spitting in her face.

Azula was no longer sneering, but she stared at me, her face filled with a terrible rage. "You are going to regret that," she said in a deadly whisper and I immediately felt agony rushing through my body as lightning coursed its way down the chains. It was nothing but continuous pain for several long minutes before it ended abruptly.

Azula ordered the guards to take me back to my cell. It w-was only th-then that I… I b-b-b-broke d-down. I couldn't… I couldn't move, the p-pain was so intense, but more than that, I… a-at that p-point I believed her. I t-truly though Aang was g-g-gone! The guards threw me i-i-into my cell and one of them said… he said th-that I would d-d-die as their prisoner and I was j-j-just protecting people who didn't g–give a s*** a-about me!


It took a while for Suki's cries to subside to hiccuping sobs. "I was transferred to the Boiling Rock three days later. I didn't see Azula again until my escape." To her revulsion, she saw that Ozai was not at all affected by her testimony regarding his daughter. If anything, he was amused by it.

"Was the Boiling Rock anything like the place you were held until then?" Setsuko inquired.

"No, Professor," said Suki dejectedly and pushed back her hair. "I had a proper mattress, better food, the opportunity to bathe, and the ability to interact with other prisoners, but by then the damage was already done. I was a broken shell of a girl. From the way the guards spoke, Aang was dead and even if he wasn't, nobody knew where I was. This... was undoubtedly my darkest hour. I forced myself hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month to go on. I was determined to live to see the end of the war no matter what the outcome!

"Eventually, Sokka came to the Boiling Rock with Zuko. They didn't know I was there; they were hoping to rescue Chief Hakoda, but that didn't matter, Sokka found me. He was holding me, kissing me… he was real! It filled me with hope and a new will to fight and fight we did! We escaped the Boiling Rock. We almost didn't make it because Azula tried to stop us. It was only thanks to Mai that we did manage to escape. I was finally free… or so I thought then."

Suki shook her head, breaking down into a fresh wave of tears. "I-I… I will never b-be free!" she sobbed. "I'll h-h-have these s… these scars forever! Because of them," she pointed violently at the defendants, "Lin and Eun are dead! Because of them, I'll probably never have children!" she shrieked as her eyes burned with tears, her breath heavy and ragged as she lunged at the defendants. She did not know what she'd do to them, but a young Earth Republic soldier held her back befoer she could even take a step.

Suki continued to sob uncontrollably, fighting against the soldier's grip. Sokka, unable to hold himself back any longer; he jumped over the barrier and raced towards Suki, taking her in his arms. "Bastards!" she cried, making her throat go hoarse."You bastards! I hope you all hang, you hear me? I hope you all die!"

"The witness is excused," said Amak quietly, his voice shaking. "This tribunal is adjourned until tomorrow."

"All rise!"

Sokka said nothing, he only held on to Suki as tightly as he could, leading her out of the courtroom as she cried into his shoulder. She didn't know where he was taking her, but she didn't care as long as he was there. They did finally stop in an out of the way corner and Sokka pulled away slightly so he could look Suki in the eyes.

Half blinded by tears, Suki met his eyes. He looked so horrified, so ashamed that Suki simply threw her arms around his neck, nuzzling her head under his chin, before settling her head deeply into his chest as she continued to cry. Sokka tightened his embrace on Suki, a wave of warmth enveloping her. For the first time since arriving at the Supreme Court, Suki was not ashamed of her tears, because as she wept, Sokka held her. He held her tighter than ever before, his head resting on top of hers. A slight dampness in her hair had told Suki that Sokka was now crying as well.

"I'm so sorry, Suki," he said in barely a whisper as he drew her even closer to his chest, his fingers weaving slowly through her hair. "I'll never let anything happen to you again, I swear."

Suki held on to him tighter and after a while, calmed down enough to murmur, "You did come for me in the end. Just please... don't leave me, Sokka."

Sokka kissed the top of her head. "Never again."

A/N: Yeah, this was a particularly tough chapter to write, and overall, it didn't come out like I wanted. Yeah, there was some OOC-ness but I elt it necessary in order to have look into Azula's psyche.

* I assume all the characters aged a year from episode 1 to episode 61.

Until next chapter, Lionheart out.

I'm sorry for the edits, Lion, but you gotta watch the swearing.  It is story-appropriate, but we're on the main boards here.  --Wulf
« Last Edit: July 02, 2016, 03:42:51 AM by Lionheart »
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Offline wherewulf

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Oh, good amount to say here.

Just briefly, I'm still seeing a lot of things that belong in our world rather than the Avatar's (although I suppose that should be "Avatars' ", plural).  I'm sorry, but if I heard any character from ATLA talk about how "one camp supported a multi party presidential republic with a separation of powers and a capitalist economic system" other than possibly Wan Shi Tong, I'd have to wonder if cactus juice was somehow involved.  I think you could have those things in the story, but I would describe them in simpler terms to try and have them better fit in with the Avatar's world.  And weapons of mass destruction?  Chemical weaponry?  Nerve gas?  Atomic weapons??  In Ozai's hot, steamy dreams maybe, but otherwise, um, that... seems a bit much for their tech right now.  In Korra's world... maybe.  Maybe maybe.

And Miranda rights read?  Now you're doing a Law and Order crossover!  XD  (Which I suppose wouldn't be too bad either.)

I'm kinda sorry Mai's uncle didn't fare a bit better, have a gentler backstory than that (and yes, I know we're talking about a Fire Nation Colonel here), but I will admit I have a bias there, rooted in one of my stories.  His backstory does prepare a lot of ground for the prosecution, especially laying out how institutionally the Defendants created their torture machine of a government.  I'm surprised Tanaka didn't probe into any of that, or lay into Tran about how he was getting a deal and what that meant.  Tran isn't a sympathetic witness like Suki is.  I am very surprised Tanaka had no questions for him.  Tanaka could have used Tran's decimation of the Boiling Rock's prisoners after the riot as an example of what kind of lovely guy he is, and used it to question a few things.

I liked how you started with Suki, blending in how she met Aang & Co. with the Unagi situation and where that led.  That was nice.  And good that you had Tanaka ring his bell asking how it was relevant.  XD  That was appropriate on his part.  I was surprised, though, that you had Tanaka wanting to give Suki the opportunity for a break; it does show the man's humanity, which I appreciate and approve of, but giving Suki a chance to regroup could not help his clients at all.  I would think he'd move to have the witness excused, but there it is.

Suki's testimony was powerful, and damning.  You did a great job of threading Sokka in there, supporting her.  I... actually wasn't surprised by Azula's behavior for a couple of reasons.  I fully believe she's capable of being that evil (it's hard to think of a word that fully describes it), and I've seen her put through her paces that way by another author I think you know: Invaderk.  :D  She writes a definitely devilish Azula.  And your portrayal of her is right up there.

Azula, that is.  Not Invaderk.  Just to clarify.  XD

I am really, really wondering what Tanaka is going to put forward when it's his turn.

Offline Lionheart

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Kinda stuck on chapter 8, but I'll leave a review response. XD Yeah, Tanaka is beginning to doubt his ability to defend these scumbags. The fact that he has two teenage daughters, one of whom is fifteen, the same age as Suki when she... you know... is not really endearing people like Nguyen to him, but he'll do his job. I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that Tanaka would not lose any sleep over seeing Thanh An Nguyen with a rope around his neck.
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