"I know you're there."
Honora froze, staring at the figure held to the prison wall with chains so thick they could anchor a boat, or so it seemed to her.
"Come girl, step into the light."
So this is my Aunt Azula, Honora thought as she followed the command, moving closer so that they could see each other clearly. There was something about her aunt's voice that compelled obedience, even with as rough from disuse as it was.
Aunt Azula was smaller than Honora had imagined her. With all the stories she had heard of the firebending prodigy, one of the central figures in the end of the 100 Years War, Honora had expected someone taller at the very least. But Aunt Azula was slender, almost doll-like, made to look tinier still by the chains that kept her immobilized.
Kept her from summoning the blue flames she was so famed for.
Honora never told anyone - could never tell anyone - that part of her admired and aspired to be like her aunt, one of the strongest female firebenders in history. She practiced her forms night and day, but her fire was still orange. One day, she promised herself, it would be as blue as Azula's. They were family, after all.
"Who are you, girl?"
Honora squared her shoulders. She knew that Aunt Azula already knew who she was. The flame ornament she wore in her hair spoke clearly enough to anyone familiar with the Fire Nation royal family. Aunt Azula wanted to hear her say it. So Honora did, with pride. "I am Princess Honora, daughter of Firelord Zuko, heir to the throne of the Fire Nation."
Aunt Azula narrowed her golden eyes. "You do have Zuzu's nose, I suppose. Is Mai your mother?"
Honora blinked, surprised her aunt didn't already know, but nodded respectfully.
"Are you a firebender?"
"Yes, Aunt Azula."
"Good. Show me."
Honora was getting nervous. She wasn't sure if it was the prickling at the back of her neck that made her feel this was dangerous somehow, or the prospect of showing Azula her forms and being found lacking, but her stomach began to flutter and her hands to tremble.
She bowed to Aunt Azula and began The Dancing Dragon form her father had taught her. Aunt Azula watched silently, her face an expressionless mask. Honora could feel the woman's gaze. It seemed Azula missed nothing - every move Honora made was scrutinized.
Honora finished the form and then bowed to her aunt again, waiting for her to say something - anything. A moment ago she'd been afraid of Aunt Azula laughing at Honora's orange flames, calling her form sloppy and weak. But now the silence seemed worse than that. At least she could learn and improve from criticisms.
The silence stretched on and on. Finally Honora turned to leave.
"I was a princess once too, you know. I was the heir. Your grandfather, Ozai, wanted me to lead our nation," Azula's voice cut through the silence of her prison cell like lightning through the sky.
Honora faced her aunt once more.
Azula smiled. "But your father - my brother - stole that right from me. He took my crown by treachery, first challenging me to an Agni Kai and then ignoring the rules of engagement and having his little waterbender friend intervene."
Honora grit her teeth, her hands curling into fists. Sparks danced between her fingertips. "Shut up! My father has more honor than that!"
"Your father lost his honor a long time ago."
Honora roared, fire leaping from her throat, showing her temper as she would never dare with her parents looking on. Her father was the best, the true ruler. The avatar was his friend, and the people loved him. What Aunt Azula said couldn't be true!
Azula laughed, sending chills down Honora's spine. "That's right! There's the spark your bending was missing."
There was the sound of metal on metal as Azula flexed against her chains. Honora assumed a defensive stance, backing away, but her aunt wasn't trying to break free.
Slowly, she relaxed. "I have to go. Goodbye, Aunt Azula."
"Of course you do, Honora," Aunt Azula agreed.
Honora was almost to the door when Azula spoke again. "Come visit me again. I can teach you things about firebending that ZuZu can only dream."
Not knowing why, Honora ran up the prison steps, feeling as if Azula chased her though she knew the woman to be securely chained.
Her father was waiting at the top of the stairs, the stern look upon his face that meant she was about to get a lecture on honor and responsibility and sent to work in Great Uncle Iroh's tea shop again.
Then her father looked at her, taking in the red of her cheeks and the shadows in her eyes.
Firelord Zuko knelt and hugged his daughter. Then he whispered in her ear. "There is something very important you must remember, Honora. Azula always lies."