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Author Topic: Prince Iroh [T] [Complete]  (Read 48037 times)
Acastus
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« Reply #150 on: Aug 19, 2016 02:54 pm »

Avatar: The Last Airbender Created By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender Owned By: Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom
All original content and characters © Acastus

Chapter LVIII – Fire Lord Azulon

The doors were open. The triumphal party stood in the entrance, wide shafts of sunlight streaming in behind them.

A narrow hallway hung with tapestries bearing the Fire Nation flag ran along the temple’s forward facade. Opposite the great doors an even wider archway provided access to the inner temple.

The party entered the archway. The chamber was an enormous, vaulted cavern. At its far end lay an apse with a low altar. A deep fire pit glowed in the center of the room, surrounded by Fire Sages. On either wall a series of low, wide marble steps ran down to the floor.

The Fire Lord and his cabinet sat on pillows of gold carefully arranged according to rank in front of the altar. Prince Ozai sat impassively at his father’s right hand. The members of the War College sat crossed legged on the wide marble steps. Jeong Jeong calmly assumed his place on the single empty spot that awaited him. Macro and the honor guard retreated to stand at their assigned positions in the forward gallery.

Father and son regarded each other calmly across the flames.

Iroh stepped forward and addressed the chamber in a strong, confident voice that echoed off the walls and ceiling.

“I, General Iroh, son of Fire Lord Azulon, come before you, conscript fathers, victorious against the enemies of the Fire Nation to receive your blessing.”

He did not bow. Perhaps the most signal honor of all, a general returning home in triumph bowed to no one, not even the Fire Lord, on the day of celebration.
   
Azulon stood. The rest followed.

“Hail, General Iroh,” the ancient ruler greeted, “We welcome you home, a true son of Agni and Master of Fire. You have won a glorious victory for the Fire Nation and earned your triumph. Your name will be entered into the ranks of the most illustrious in our country’s history.”

All bowed to the conqueror.

The doors closed behind them. The flames of the altar fire leapt to the sky.



The formal religious ceremony then began which lasted a little under an hour. The Fire Sages had sacrificed to Agni and asked the Sun Spirit to bless the Fire Lord and the people. Chanting mantras from the sacred texts, they had then performed a firebending ritual that melted stone, vaporized water and consumed the wind to demonstrate the superiority of the national element.

Once the ceremony was complete, Iroh stood and recounted briefly the central events of the campaign. He was careful to address the question of his succession to the leadership of the army in anticipation of any accusation from the Tien Shin. Chieng stood on his right, his step brother and Gan on his left. The members of the War College and the Cabinet were then encouraged to ask questions in order of rank.

“A great victory, General,” the War Minister commented, “but a costly one. The loss of so many dreadnoughts and their payloads was most unfortunate.”

“Yes,” Iroh agreed, “but the weaponry proved most effective at Mequon.”

“Not worth the money,” the aging official replied.

Gan opened his mouth to object, but was cut off by Iroh’s response.

“I won’t argue that now, Minister, but I believe the rockets will be required to breach the walls of Ba Sing Se when we reach them.”

Iroh turned to the engineer.

“Chieng, they’ll penetrate, right?”

“They should, General,” she replied confidently, “The war heads will need some modification, but, yes, based on our intelligence, we should be able to penetrate.”

The War Minister considered this and nodded his once in affirmation.

The Fire Lord spoke last.

“So, General, you plan to attack Ba Sing Se next?”

The audience waited expectantly for an answer to this question. Capturing Ba Sing Se and the Earth King would end the war.

“No, Lord Azulon, but I have developed a strategy to force that outcome within three seasons. I will be prepared to present this to the War College within a fortnight if it pleases you.”

“Yes, General,” the aging ruler replied, “It will please me greatly.”

The Fire Lord stood.

“This council is ended,” he commanded, “The homecoming feast begins at sundown. Now, leave us, all of you, I wish to speak with General Iroh and his officers alone.”

Everyone stood and began speaking simultaneously. A few intrepid members of the War College shook Iroh’s hand as they passed by on their way to exit the temple. Side doors at the back connected to the palace and served as the regular access to the temple when the great doors remained closed.

Soon the chamber was empty save the Fire Lord, Prince Ozai and the triumphal party.

The Fire Lord motioned for the group to approach him. They complied, all but Iroh bowing once more to the ruler of the Fire Nation. He looked over the party with his sharp, penetrating glance. He shifted back and forth between Iroh and Chieng several times before speaking.

“A bold claim, General, to propose victory within three years.”

“As Agni is my witness, Father, I will make it happen.”

Azulon made a noncommittal noise before turning to the elder prince.

“What is this news you have, Tien Shin?” he prompted without preamble.

The group suddenly tensed. Ozai’s eyes glinted. Iroh and his friends had prepared carefully for the former daimyo to make good on his threat to prosecute Iroh for taking command.

Tien Shin smiled and replied.

“Most noble lord, General Iroh’s account of the campaign made clear the contribution of the Army of the Song to our victory at Mequon. He indicated that he sent a message to Mequon before we left the Nasu and that Governor T’zan relayed it to General Shu.”

Iroh and Gan quickly exchanged a panicked glance. This wasn’t what they had anticipated, it was far worse.

“So?” the Fire Lord prompted.

“Such a message would have taken weeks to reach them. The Army of the Song was besieging Omashu over a thousand leagues to the south at the time. It occurred to me that there wasn’t enough time for all this to happen. There was less than two months between the battles.”

“What are you saying, Tien Shin,” Gan interrupted, “What’s your point?”

“I think you know… Captain,” Tien Shin replied with derision, then to Azulon, “Lord, after looking into the matter, I obtained proof that the Army of the Song did indeed receive a message from Governor T’zan.”

Iroh felt the bottom drop out of his stomach as Tien Shin produced two pieces of neatly folded paper from underneath his breastplate.

Tien Shin unfolded the paper and began to read.

“To the Most High and Noble General Shu, Supreme Commander of the Army of the Song, I, Rhiannon T’zan, Imperial Governor of the Province of Mequon send greetings.

My lord, I must regrettably report that a great disaster has befallen our beloved Nation at Lake Myojin. General Xian is dead and a great part of the the Army of the Great Divide has been destroyed.

Prince Iroh has taken command and now makes for Mequon with all that remains of our forces. He hopes that you can move immediately to support him. A great and final battle will take place on the steppes east of Mequon and General Iroh hopes to catch our enemy between the two Fire Nation armies.

May Agni bless you, General and bring with all speed to the aid of my beloved city!”


Tien Shin stopped reading and looked up with a confident smile.

“I will echo Captain Shu, Prince Tien Shin, what is your point?”

“Rhiannon’s letter is undated, my lord, but the Army of the Song’s war diary,” here he indicated the second of the two pieces of paper in his possession, “shows that it was received a week before the battle of Lake Myojin and a full three weeks before Iroh sent his own message to Mequon! The war diary then records that the Army of the Song broke camp and began moving north two days before the battle of Lake Myojin.”

He paused a moment to let this sink in.

“So, how did Govenor T’zan know that we’d lost at Lake Myojin… before it happened? How did she know that Iroh’s plan was to envelop the enemy east of Mequon and that she needed to send a message to General Shu?”

Azulon smiled slightly, but did not look surprised. Tien Shin fingered the tessen in his belt and continued in his most calculated and dangerous tone.

“I suggest that Governor T’zan has inherited the clarovoyance of her mother’s people and that she be recalled immediately to ensure proper use of this gift… and to account for its concealment.”

Unable to contain himself, Iroh erupted.

“Father, no! This is yet another base manipulation of my step-brother’s to achieve his own ends! Whether this is true or not, he only wants her recalled so he can force her to honor the betrothal to him – a betrothal made against her will!”

Azulon stood stock still. He could have been a statue. The Fire Lord looked back and forth between the two young men. One arrogant, cool and confident, the other angry, tense and off balance. The moment stretched until the old man suddenly threw back his head and laughed, a cold hard sound, and shook his head as if this were exactly what he had expected.

“Yes, I know all of this.”

Tien Shin and Iroh instantly wore identical expressions of surprise. Ozai crossed his arms and surveyed his brother and step brother in expectant silence.

“What, General Iroh?” Azulon continued, “Did you really think she was able to hide this from me? Or your cousin? Or you for that matter?”

Iroh wisely declined to respond.

“I know everything that is said and done… and thought.” the Fire Lord concluded darkly.

“Then why leave her at Mequon, my lord?” Tien Shin finally rejoined after recovering from the shock of the aging leader’s unexpected response.

“Why? Because her gift was never of any practical use… until now.”

“Then you will recall her, my lord?”

“No! Father, she is –“

“Silence, General!” the Fire Lord suddenly thundered, “Even on your day of triumph, I still rule!”

Iroh obeyed, quickly casting his gaze to the floor, anger flushing his face red. Gan and Chieng stood stock still, uncertain how to react.

The old man turned back to the elder prince.

“She will be summoned, Tien Shin. Have her then, though you are a lordly fool. You take her for the wealth and power you think you will gain, but you will only avail yourself of misery and loss by taking a woman who despises you.”

Tien Shin turned to Iroh and smirked.

“Thank you, my lord,” he nevertheless replied with a bow, “I will see the order issued at once.”

The Fire Lord turned to General Shu’s second son.

“Captain, report to your father and bring him before me. I intend to elevate him to the War College for his contribution. I will see him in the annex one quarter of an hour before the feast.”

“Yes, my lord,” Gan replied with a stiff bow. Stony faced he departed.

The old man turned back to his elder son, though he addressed all who remained.

“Go now, all of you, and prepare for the feast. This is a day of celebration, General Iroh. Only you can insist that it be otherwise.”

The Fire Lord turned and exited the temple, Tien Shin and Ozai in tow.

Moments later Chieng and Iroh were alone. As soon as the doors closed behind the Fire Lord the raven haired engineer turned to her mate and took both his hands in her own. Iroh breathed heavily, his eyes burning with rage.

“We’ll fix this,” she said earnestly.

He looked into her eyes.

“You think we can?”

“Yes, I don’t know how,” she confessed, “but somehow, we’ll get her out of this mess, okay?”

He squeezed her hands. She didn’t know about the specifics of Rhiannon’s prophecy. If she had, he wondered if she would express such confidence. He wanted to believe her. He did. She had gotten them through the desert. Maybe she could be right here too?

“Let’s just try to enjoy the feast and we’ll think about what to do. We can grab Gan as soon as it’s over and put together a plan, okay?”

“Okay,” he said with a weak smile, “Let’s go get ready.”

She released one of his hands, but held on to the other. Determined to avoid the Fire Lord’s party, they exited the back of the temple through the opposite door used by the aging ruler and the two princes. Entering a long hallway that connected the temple to the east wing of the palace they were surprised to find it empty.

They turned the corner and entered the long arcade that extended along the eastern edge of the Fire Lord’s reception hall. This hallway was not empty. A tall, imperious figure surrounded by attendants rapidly approached them from the opposite end of the gallery.

Chieng gasped suddenly and stiffened as the other party halted in front them. She dropped to the ground, her chin on her hands in the ancient show of respect reserved for the Fire Lord and the patriarchs of the Great Houses.

“Greetings my lord, Father, I come to serve.”

Iroh started in shock. He examined the regal figure before him and knew that he had finally come face to face with the infamous Liu Shiung. He was neither a Cabinet member nor a member of the War College, so he must have been with the other high nobility on one of the palace terraces that overlooked the Golden Road.

He was much taller than his daughter, who clearly took after her mother in stature. His hair, sideburns and long, thin beard were snow white. His topknot was held in place by a severe, double headed arrow of iron. Father and daughter shared the bright golden eyes that could pierce the soul, a fierce countenance and a perfectly erect posture.

The white haired old man ignored Iroh and regarded his daughter coldly.

“I am told that your machines failed the Fire Lord at Lake Myojin,” he began without greeting.

Chieng remained perfectly still, but her body tensed. Iroh could feel the words cut and knew that she bled inside.

He instantly hated the old man.

“Yes, Father.”

“You are a failure, Ten-Ten. Many have died because of your incompetence. You have brought shame to our House.”

This time the physical reaction was obvious. Her fists clenched and her slight frame shook.

“Father… I….”

“Silence!” the old man thundered, cutting off her attempt to reply, then in a quiet tone of utter contempt, “I will not bandy about crooked words in some pitiful attempt to fabricate excuses. I have neither time nor patience for those who fail in their duty to the Fire Nation.”

Suddenly Iroh found himself standing between Liu Shiung and his slight daughter.

“Stop! I command it!” Iroh roared, his eyes aflame with anger and resolution.

The attendants stared in horror at the conflict that had bloomed suddenly before them. Such a confrontation was unprecedented. No one challenged Lord Shiung, not even the Fire Lord. The prostrate woman looked up in shock, her mouth agape. Surely the apocalypse had arrived.

The old man shifted his bloodless gaze to the Crown Prince. The golden eyes set so beautifully in Chieng’s delicate features looked reptilian in her father’s.

“She is my daughter, Prince Iroh,” Lord Shiung declared, for he had recognized the Crown Prince instantly though he had declined a greeting, “and I will deal with her as I see fit. You have no right to interfere, even if you are Azulon’s son.”

Iroh stepped closer to the taller man.

“Father or no, if you treat her that way again I will burn you down, whether you accept agni kai or not!”

Without thought the Crown Prince raised his fists, wreathed in fire. He continued in a threatening tone, his voice growing louder as he went on.

“And you will refer to me as General Iroh, Lord Shiung! On my day of triumph you will accept my rule as if I were the Fire Lord himself! If you honestly believe your daughter has failed then you will show me respect for the victory I have won in spite of it!  And remember this, if she has failed it is because you have failed as a father and now that I’ve seen this… this shameful and disgusting display of cruelty I wouldn’t hesitate to hold you accountable if it were in fact true!”

Lord Shiung held perfectly still, offering no visible reaction to the outburst at all. He waited patiently for Iroh to continue his torrent.

“But it is not true! Your daughter, whom you will call Commander Shiung in my presence, a title she has earned a thousand times more than your own, is a brilliant success! You are just too arrogant and cruel to realize it. We won for many, many reasons at Mequon, but every soldier in the Army of the Great Divide knows that without your daughter’s courage, imagination, ingenuity and total commitment to the Fire Nation we never would have even broken out of the Gulf of Gela!”

Iroh lowered his fists, extinguished his fire and drew himself to his full height.

“I am ashamed of you, Lord Shiung, for failing to recognize your daughter’s contribution and her quality.”

The old man examined Iroh closely as if seeing him for the first time. He arched an eyebrow and smiled with more than a trace of satisfaction.

“I like you, General Iroh,” he declared suddenly, and to Iroh’s surprise he could tell he meant it, though his countenance lost none of its frigidity.

“I can see your reputation for courage and honesty is well deserved. That’s good. The ruling class of our nation is honeycombed with liars, boot lickers and other low life scum, but you apparently are not one of them. You have taken after your father and your cousin.”

Iroh was confused by this response and made no immediate reply. He remained steadfastly between Liu and his daughter.

“I know Ten-Ten’s quality better than you,” the old man continued almost conversationally, ignoring Iroh’s earlier command and speaking as if Chieng wasn’t present, “But I can see you have made up your mind.”

The Crown Prince was uncertain what he referred to, but did not hesitate to reply. He had taken a strong stand and did not want his resolve to appear to weaken for any reason.

“I have, Lord Shiung.”

The old man crossed his arms.

“Will you have her, then?”

The question sucked the air out of the room. Iroh could feel rather than see Chieng move behind him. He thought he heard her… squeak.

Iroh’s face went slack.

“I’m sorry, uh, what?”

Lord Shiung laughed wickedly.

“You challenge me for her, her father and rightful Lord, but am I to understand then you aren’t prepared to take responsibility for her yourself?”

“I don’t understand, Lord Shiung,” Iroh sputtered in reply, “What do you mean “take responsibility” for her? In case you haven’t noticed she can take care of herself!”

The old man pursed his lips and shook his head.

“You haven’t thought this through,” Liu observed correctly, “Very well, then I’ll make myself clear, General. I offer Ten-Ten to you in marriage. Then you will certainly be free to deal with her in your household as you see fit.”

“Ten-Ten?” Iroh asked dumbly, trying desperately to gain time to formulate a coherent response.

He was in shock at how the tables had turned so suddenly and was only dimly aware that Liu had been calling her that since the unexpected interview began. Iroh could feel the heat on his face and knew that he had turned the color of his own fire.

“Chieng, if you insist,” Liu clarified with more than a trace of exasperation, “We have called her Ten-Ten since she was a little girl. Now, General, quit stalling. What is your response to my offer?”

Against his will the Crown Prince stepped aside and turned to look upon the woman he so fiercely protected.
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Acastus
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« Reply #151 on: Aug 19, 2016 02:55 pm »

Chieng had risen on one knee. She looked rapidly back and forth between her father and her superior. Her mouth hung slightly open, her golden eyes bewildered and more vulnerable than Iroh had ever seen. She blushed furiously. He desperately wanted to hold her close to him and take her away from this place and this awful old man.

Finally she found her voice, though it quavered with emotions she could not name.

“Father, please, I accept responsibility for my failure, his Highness is…”

The old man stopped her short with a curt, dismissive wave of his hand.

“Enough, Ten-Ten,” he replied without looking at her, “I am no fool. The young General has courage and honesty. I will see for myself what other qualities he possesses.”

Lord Shiung’s smile disappeared.

“I ask again, General, will you take her?”

Iroh hated himself for the reply he knew he must give. His father had pointed out only minutes before that, even on his day of triumph, the Fire Lord ruled his own House. He was even prevented by custom and the strict rules of marriage negotiation between the Great Houses from acknowledging openly the deep feelings he now knew he harbored for her.

“I am not free to decide whom I will marry, Lord Shiung, as you well know.”

Liu smirked.

“Exactly. General you may be, but you are bound to the will of your Father, the Fire Lord, the lord of your House, just as Ten-Ten is bound to mine! Neither of you are free to do as you please,” then, in a more reflective tone, “But then, in truth, neither am I, nor is your Father. We are all of us prisoners!”

The old man laughed harshly, then lowered his head to look squarely at Iroh.

“I advise you to temper your self-righteousness, General, and accept this reality.”

The smirk became an evil smile. If his irises had been vertical he’d have looked like a dragon.

“Besides, you should be thankful that you have escaped today, General. Ten-Ten is an arrogant, nasty little b***h whom no one has been willing to marry despite the wealth, power and connections of my House. I accept responsibility for this, of course, she clearly takes after me, but because of that I’m afraid she will remain a spinster.”

Liu turned to his daughter.

“Get up, Ten-Ten, I want to see your mother. She at least has performed well.”

The raven haired engineer stood. Her posture sagged, her gaze locked on the floor. For the first time since he met her she looked dead and above all defeated. Liu swept imperiously from the room, his daughter following meekly behind him, the rest of the attendants in tow. She did not look at him as she passed.

Iroh shook with anger. He hated Liu Shiung… and, for only the second time in his life, himself.

Crown Prince… destined to rule the Fire Nation and the world… and I can’t even help her… please, please, Agni, let me help her!

When he was alone he drew a breath and exhaled a great gout of fire from his mouth which filled the atrium to its ceiling. Anger rapidly gave way to grief. He sunk to his knees and amidst bitter tears beat the floor with bloody hands.
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« Reply #152 on: Aug 19, 2016 02:57 pm »

Avatar: The Last Airbender Created By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender Owned By: Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom
All original content and characters © Acastus


Chapter LXIX – The Duel

Iroh burst into his apartment, his mind awash in a swirling, molten mixture of anger, fear, despair and helplessness. Two servants appeared from nowhere. He suffered their assistance to remove his breastplate, but waved them off as soon as it was gone. With curt, jerky movements he removed his greaves, gauntlets, boots and other pieces of armor. He handed them over to the servants and dismissed them to retreat to his bedroom.

He sat down heavily upon the great chest at the foot of his bed. He wanted to weep, but refused. The world spun around him. Fate had once again thrust him down from commanding heights. Early that afternoon he had stood at the open doors of the Temple of Sun gazing into the loving countenance of the woman he loved. Now he felt powerless to save her and his adopted sister from slavery. Dimly he recalled the awful descent from elation to panic during that awful third day of Mequon.

I can’t let this happen! She’s a hero and he treats her like… like she’s nothing! I can’t let this be!

He rocked back and forth, his mind trying desperately to assert control over his emotions, but failing.

The other horrifying development haunted him.

I’m sorry, Rae, oh Agni, I’m so sorry! That son of a b***h is winning…I’ve lost Xian, and Nikon, I’ve sent a hundred thousand men to their deaths… and I still can’t stop him…

On the floor a mosaic sun dial showed the feast would begin in less than an hour. Steeling himself, he stood up and walked over to the adjoining thermae where a hot bath awaited him. He hoped rather than believed that the warm, tranquil water would calm his inner torrent. Once stripped down, he stepped down into the deep, steaming pool of water. His fear proved prophetic however and minutes later he toweled himself off in no better state than when he entered.

Wearing only a towel he marched into the dressing room to find the servants waiting to dress him for the feast. Next to a curule chair a table had been laid out with a small pot of tea, a cup and two scrolls.  After he put on his underclothes he considered the teapot and decided to pour himself a cup, though he did not really want it. The memory of Xian and anguish for Chieng bade him take it. A quick sip made him tense reflexively. It was ginseng, but it stirred the memory of hyacinth.

He put the cup down.

“Who sent the messages?” he asked the servants.

“We don’t know, your Highness,” the elder replied, “They were delivered with the refreshment from the kitchen.”

He picked up the missives. They were identical. He opened the first.

The handwriting was unmistakable, but he couldn’t read it.

“What the… what the hell is this!?” Iroh questioned in incredulity.

The message was coded using bizarre symbols comprised mostly of geometric shapes and foreign characters. The handwriting was Tien Shin’s.

He flicked open the second.

“Bring me a desk! Now!” he barked.

The servants responded instantly and moments later he was cross legged on the floor with a dark wood writing table over his lap. The teapot and its cup were placed discreetly on a corner.

“Leave me!”

“Your Highness! The feast begins in half –”

“Out! Out, I said!”

The servants obeyed and slid the door closed behind them.

Iroh worked furiously. The second scroll contained a substitution cipher key written in the same print used by the capital’s numerous news rags. The first message did not take long to decode. He never finished the operation. Halfway through the decryption he stopped and reread the uncoded portion over and over, his insides boiling up inside him.

He dropped the scroll and stood, upending the desk and its contents. The teapot shattered on the hardwood floor.

Seconds later he erupted from his apartments, his fists wreathed in bright orange fire. He never thought once of Rhiannon’s vision.



The winter sun hung low in the sky. The feast was to begin at sundown. Even at this time of year the hours of sunrise and sunset did not vary much in the Fire Nation. They perhaps had twenty minutes before the event.

Iroh, his mind aflame, preserved just enough sanity to guide him to where he was most likely to find his victim.

A small group of notaries had gathered in the annex adjacent to the Fire Lord’s grand reception hall, patiently awaiting the appearance of the Fire Lord himself. The annex was a long, wide, salon with open windows that faced west. The east wall was hung with tapestries separated by large oil lamps lit in anticipation of a night of celebration and supported by long iron pikes.

General Shu, Gan, Tien Shin, Tojo and a few other nobles stood together speaking quietly. All wore dress uniforms, having permission on such a high occasion to wear their decorations. Gone was the burnished armor worn during the procession.

Iroh heard none of the conversation. He marked only his target and the beautiful pair of blue enameled war fans that hung on either side of the hated prince’s belt.

The party looked up in surprise and shock at Iroh’s roar of rage as he burst into the far end of the room. The young general looked nothing like he had appeared earlier, resplendent as he had been in his triumphant regalia. Iroh was, in fact, wearing nothing but his underclothes. He was, however, beyond embarrassment or even understanding.

“Iroh!” Gan exclaimed in horror.

He ignored his friend and everyone else in the room. He looked only at the man he intended to kill.

Tien Shin locked eyes with Iroh and saw no trace of the brash, gentle idiot he had long despised. Instead, the Crown Prince’s soft brown orbs, now hard as adamant, burned with the Will of Fire.

“General Iroh, what is –” Gan’s father broke in, but was silenced by the body of the Crown Prince blowing past him.

Tojo and the other nobles, shocked and terrified at the unanticipated turn of events, hopped out of the way as they identified the target of the sudden and violent assault.

Iroh’s hands and forearms burned with bright orange fire. He was completely unaware that he had burned off the sleeves of his undertunic. Suddenly he was within melee range, having closed the gap between him and his opponent in what seemed an instant. As on the steppes weeks before, his mastery of close combat tactics and agni kai was drowned out by rage, pain and hatred, his only thought to get his hands around the neck of his tormentor.

Tien Shin stood his ground and managed a few words before Iroh began his attack.

“Stop this, Iroh! We will have no agni –”

The elder prince dodged a crushing blow and a second later a jet of fire which Iroh launched from his offhand.

“Get help!” Gan’s father shouted to his son.

Gan moved instantly to comply, but Iroh did not hear it. He did not hear or see anything other than his opponent.

The tessen appeared in Tien Shin’s hands. With a quick, practiced flick the fan blades spread wide, revealing intricate silver designs that glinted in the shafts of light cast by the rapidly setting sun.

“Come to your death then, animal!” Tien Shin sneered in a sneering voice that none but Iroh could hear, “You have played my game and lost!”

Iroh did not respond. He didn’t even hear the words. He controlled his breathing and his chi. This was the extent and limit of his control and with great effort he focused all his will to that end.

As the elder prince spoke, Iroh assumed a basic horse stance and aimed a blast of fire at his opponent’s lower body. Tien Shin danced gracefully out of the way, stepped forward, turned and swept Iroh’s feet out from under him. The Crown Prince responded instantly by using his then free legs to entangle Tien Shin’s. Both went down in a heap on the floor and simultaneously rolled back onto their feet and stood.

The elder prince, using the twin advantages of greater reach and weaponry, took the offensive. His main hand war fan zipped past Iroh’s nose, but the second came down with a resounding crack on his opponent’s shoulder. Iroh roared in pain, but the blow did not truly register in his body. The adrenalin and emotion prevented him from suffering its effects.

Tien Shin pivoted on one foot and swung his main hand tessen once again in a short jab aimed at Iroh’s throat. In a lightning reflexive move Iroh blocked the fan by sandwiching it between the palms of his hands. A blow with the off hand fan was deflected by a kick from Iroh which knocked the blade out of his opponent’s grip. The tessen clattered to the floor. A second kick landed on Tien Shin’s abdomen which separated them momentarily.

Dimly Iroh was aware that the audience had grown. A circle of faceless, nameless, elegantly dressed party guests now lined the regularly spaced apertures connecting the annex to the entry hall. Every face wore a horrified mixture of shock and fascination. The Crown Prince, Victor of Mequon, was at that moment without any trace of doubt parading around in his bedclothes engaged in a clear, high intensity attempt to kill his step brother. Tien Shin was an object of fear and loathing, but not one of them knew why General Iroh had chosen that moment or the bizarre method to move against him. Many rooted for his success. All feared the consequences should he lose.

The world held its breath as the combatants battled with ever increasing fury.

Tien Shin launched several quick fire balls all of which landed, but which were expertly dissipated by Iroh’s steepled palms. The elder prince back flipped, landed on his hands, then launched himself back off the ground, deftly grabbing the errant war fan as he leapt back into the air. He landed on his feet only to whirl and see Iroh halfway through a terrifying wind up that he recognized instantly.

The Crown Prince had seized the opportunity without thinking. Widening his stance and taking a deep, measured breath, he prepared to split his chi. The air around his hands crackled and popped with rapidly rising electric potential. Slowly he brought the middle and index fingers of each hand toward each other.

“Lightning!” General Shu suddenly bellowed, seeing the danger, “Run!”

Everyone began screaming at once.

The scene disintegrated into a panic as the onlookers vacated in a sudden, uncoordinated stampede. As the crowd receded to the entry hall several palace guards burst onto the scene only to freeze when they saw what was happening.

Tien Shin, blocked by the crowd and unable to flee, closed his tessen, turned and grabbed one of the pikes supporting the oil lamps. The glass bulb immediately fell from the top of the pike and blew up all over the floor. The elder prince ignored the rapidly spreading flames and drove the iron pike deep into the tile.

The room flashed brilliant white as Iroh discharged. A raw arc of bright blue electricity sprang forth from his extended right arm. A blast of hot air whiplashed against his face as the compression shock of the blast expanded around them. The smoke cleared to reveal the iron stake melted in place where it had been driven into the floor, three dead or dying guards and Tien Shin, undamaged and springing forward to the attack.

With a cry of impotent rage, his breathing ragged, Iroh surged forward to meet his opponent’s charge.

The elder prince snapped open his war fans. His eyes stung both from the stench of ozone and the burnt human flesh of the ill fated guards who had taken the brunt of the attack. Stunned by the power of the Iroh’s prowess, he nevertheless moved with lethal precision, knowing his only hope for survival lay in his opponent’s undisciplined attack.

Iroh launched two quick blasts of fire that Tien Shin batted out of the way with his weapons. He then swung off hand which Iroh blocked with his own. Anticipating a swing from Tien Shin’s main hand, Iroh moved to block, but Tien Shin instead stepped to his left, freeing his off hand once more and allowing a second attack. Iroh jumped back to avoid the second blow, but not far enough to avoid the sudden slash from his opponent’s main hand. A large, bloody gash opened across Iroh’s chest. He felt nothing except a spreading cold sensation.

The crowd had returned to block the exits and stared in fear and wonder at the carnage. No one dared enter the annex itself. Somewhere behind the mass of nobles and servants Iroh could hear shouts of people trying to wade through the throng. His ears heard the sounds, but the meaning was utterly lost on him. He continued his absolute focus on his opponent.

Tien Shin shifted his stance back and forth as he probed for another opportunity to attack. His main hand tessen ran crimson with Iroh’s blood.

His opponent laughed under his breath.

“You’re finished, “brother”,” he exulted, “Just like your idiot cousin and filthy street rat friend… and you’ve done it all for me!”

Iroh found his voice, though the words that finally emerged came out in a low, threatening growl that seemed to come from another body entirely.

“You… you killed him… you killed him…”

A knowing, evil smile appeared on his opponent’s face.  He twirled his war fan in a taunting gesture.

“Prove it,” he purred.
 
Iroh roared and launched himself forward. Unbalanced and moving too fast, Tien Shin stepped out of his way and, closing a fan, calmly stabbed him in the arm with its sharp end in a single, fluid motion. The other still spread wide cut a clean arc across his back. Blood quickly drenched both sides of his undertunic.

Hot, searing pain instantly penetrated Iroh’s shield of adrenalin and anger. He howled in agony as Tien Shin withdrew the weapon and unfolded it once again. Iroh staggered back and looked with hatred into the eyes of the enemy. He fired two quick jets of fire from the ends of his war fans which Iroh barely dodged, his breath now coming in sharp, painful gasps.

The elder prince, his confidence soaring, continued to gloat.

“You’re a failure, Iroh, unworthy of your father and grandfather! You lost Xian, your gutter trash friend and now Rhiannon! After you’re gone I will take your place! And then… then I will make sure Gan and that arrogant dreadnought wh*** you love so much follows you!”

Iroh’s vision went red with rage, once again blotting the pain of his wounds.

“Never!” he vowed with a hoarse scream.

“Stop me then!” the elder prince taunted, his eyes sharp and full of malice.

Agni, help me! Help me save them! Save her!

Then, as he stood there, his vision blurred, his breath ragged, his mind suddenly calmed and he saw clearly. The prophecy of Rhiannon returned to him.

So, this is how it happens.


He stood straight and raised his palms, aflame once more, to a guard position.

Let it be then.

“Yes, Tien Shin, I am stopping you… right now…and a victory greater even than Mequon will it be.”

Iroh forced down the pain and anger, the world resolving into focus around him. His ragged breath settled. He scanned the annex and finally saw the crowd. At the back, Macro had just appeared with a dozen palace guards.

He turned back to his tormentor.

Tien Shin stepped forward once more, slicing and swiping at Iroh with his war fans. They clicked and clacked with distinctive metallic sounds as the elder prince rhythmically opened and shut the blades as he pressed forward his attack. Iroh blocked each blow that came close enough to land. Over three sets of attack and counter they had turned about so that Iroh now had most of the hallway behind him.

Ignoring the pain and rapidly spreading sensation of numbness in his back, Iroh parried one last thrust from his opponent before bending low and sweeping his right foot in semi circle along the floor. A long, perfectly formed arc of flame blossomed from his foot and expanded outwards. Tien Shin dodged by leaping into the air, but lost the initiative. When he landed Iroh had already launched a fist wreathed in fire which connected solidly with Tien Shin’s neck.

The elder prince cried out in agony, his flesh searing at the direct contact with Iroh’s flaming hand. The former daimyo slapped away his opponent’s fist from his wounded neck with a sharp crack from his main hand tessen. He staggered back, choking from the blow to his wind pipe.

Sensing possibility, Iroh used the momentum from the war fan’s blow to bring his arm back around and grab Tien Shin’s main hand wrist. The elder prince himself then twisted in an attempt to land an off hand blow. Anticipating the move, Iroh quickly grabbed his off hand wrist as well.

They stood locked together for a moment, both straining against the other.

Then, feeling his body’s strength ebbing from the blood loss, with a massive heave he turned his back to his opponent and pulled him over his shoulder in one swift, liquid move. Tien Shin landed on his back with a clatter. The elder prince attempted to roll away, which Iroh allowed him to do at the cost of losing his tessen. As Tien Shin twisted away the Crown Prince slid his grip up his opponent’s wrists until they alighted on the shafts of the blue enameled weapons. As Tien Shin’s body accelerated away he provided all the momentum required for Iroh to retain them.

Tien Shin regained his feet to see Iroh brandishing his twin trademarks.

Iroh flicked open the tessen and swung them in a rapid series of sharp, controlled arcs at his retreating opponent. With a few measured breaths he found he was able to imbue the blades in an intense nimbus of fire. Tien dodged and answered with rapid blasts of flame of his own from both hands and feet, but none landed.

Suddenly the elder prince found himself backed into the melted pike that had saved his life from Iroh’s lightning. Surprised, he tried to recover by twisting away, but the unexpected obstacle made him lose his balance.

Iroh heard a commotion from the crowd behind him as he leapt to take advantage of his hated enemy’s misstep.

“Stop! I command it!”

The voice was thunderous, cold and utterly unmistakable.

Iroh ignored it.

He swung the flaming edged of the wide open tessen clean across Tien Shin’s exposed neck. A shower of blood exploded from the wide and deep wound. Almost instantly the warm, sticky liquid covered him and his victim. Iroh followed up with a slash across his chest and finally, snapping both blades shut, brought a double blow on the elder’s prince’s exposed head. The second of these produced a sickening crack that left no doubt as to its effect.

Tien Shin fell to the ground, his body jerking uncontrollably, as his life blood poured forth onto the tile floor. Iroh fell to his knees next to him, the war fans clattering to the floor.

He breathed heavily as his step-brother’s convulsing body slowed and then stilled.
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« Reply #153 on: Aug 19, 2016 02:58 pm »

Slow and deliberate footsteps came up behind him. He looked up. Macro and the palace guards now stood before him. The crowd watched in terrified silence from the archways.

“What is the meaning of this outrage, General Iroh?” his father’s voice demanded.

Iroh did not reply. He stared at the now silent corpse of his opponent. He felt cold and weak.

More footsteps, smaller and lighter than his fathers. A woman appeared in a beautiful gown of red and orange, a pair of golden Fire Nation pins holding her hair, and stepped past Iroh.

Lady Ila knelt before the broken body of her son. Ignoring his killer and the blood and gore of his defeat, she lifted him up into her arms and hugged him. Some in the audience began to cry at this simple display.

“Answer me!” the Fire Lord bellowed.

Iroh turned to face his destiny. The Fire Lord stood flanked by Ozai and Gan.

“Father…” he began in a slurred, heavy voice, “He killed Xian… at Lake Myojin… I found a letter he wrote to Lady Ila but could never send…”

Lady Ila did not reply. She ignored everyone as she cradled the body of her dead son.

“General,” Azulon replied in a slow, deadly tone, “No matter the reason, you have engaged in agni kai and used deadly force within the bounds of the palace itself!”

“This was no agni kai, my Lord,” Macro inserted in a loud, strong voice, “General Iroh offered no challenge and none was accepted.”

A ripple ran through the crowd.

The Fire Lord loomed imperiously over the bloody body of his son.

“Is this true?”

“Yes, father.”

The sun set, the last rays of light winking out as the last edge of the burning orb sunk beneath the horizon.

“You have condemned yourself, General.”

“Father, Tien Shin was a murderer! I have the evidence! Let me show you!”

Lady Ila spoke, anguish and hatred burning in her eyes.

“A murderer?” she cried, “As you have shown yourself to be?”

Turning to her husband, still cradling the broken body of her son, she cried.

“Husband! I ask only the ancient law be honored! I do not seek revenge! Revenge will not bring my son back from the spirit world!” then turning back to Iroh, her eyes burning with hatred, “but let Iroh’s fate be a lesson to those who would dishonor the Fire Nation!”

The Fire Lord regarded his son evenly.

“Bring him,” he commanded, “and see to the body Prince Tien Shin and the others.”

Macro and another guard strode forward and gently helped Iroh to his feet. Others helped Lady Ila cover the body of her son and prepare it for transport. The slain guards were picked up from where they had fallen by their comrades.

The crowd erupted in a thousand conversations. The fight had only last minutes, but news of it had already spread throughout the palace. Within hours it would be all over the capital, spread by the same cheap periodicals that had so effectively heralded the great victory at Mequon.

The guards forced a path through the crowd for the Fire Lord’s party. Within minutes they arrived at Iroh’s apartment. The troopers flung open the doors and the party immediately entered. The reception room was empty as were the other rooms.

A search of the dressing room revealed nothing. The overturned writing desk and the broken teapot remained where Iroh remembered them. The scrolls were gone.

The servants were summoned. Both quaked with fear as Macro questioned them harshly. Neither had entered the apartment after Iroh had dismissed them in such anger. Macro released them.

“Nothing, my Lord,” Macro reported after the guards had rifled the whole apartment.

The Fire Lord had remained impassive during the proceedings, his arms crossed before him. Ozai and Gan wore inscrutable expressions for different reasons.

“Where is this evidence then?”

“I don’t know father,” Iroh confessed sadly.

Iroh explained the coded letter and the cipher key.

“I don’t know where the letters came from or how they got there. I acted on them in anger without thinking,” he lowered his head, “I am a fool.”

“Yes, my son,” Azulon agreed without a trace of sympathy, “and we all shall suffer for it, for your actions have left me no choice but to apply the law.”

“Don’t you believe me, father?”

“Yes,” Azulon replied harshly, “but what does that matter? You have committed kinslaying outside of agni kai – in front of the entire capital! You have wantonly slain innocent guardsmen charged with the protection of the palace! You must know that protect the integrity of my rule I must act as the impartial arbiter of justice! Especially with my own family!”

“Yes, Iroh, you have proven yourself a fool, but I swear that from this moment you will have all the time you need to grow wise – and suffering will be your teacher! I will send you to an island so small the tides won’t even know of its existence! Ten minutes from end to end, I promise you! You will know every stone and blade of grass before your first sunset. There you can reflect on your foolishness and wonder at the fates of your friends in a world at war! A war you could have stopped!”

Iroh bowed his head.

“General Iroh,” the Fire Lord began again formally, “you have committed a crime of passion rather than premeditation, and but for that you would have earned death. However, you have slain a kinsman in the Royal Palace without cause. You have slain loyal members of the palace guard without cause.”

“Therefore… I sentence you to be stripped of all rank and command, that you be dishonorably discharged the service and suffer exile from our lands as the common criminal you have shown yourself to be.”

“Have you anything to say?”

Iroh looked into the faces around him. His father. His brother. Gan. Macro.

He lowered his gaze.

I’m sorry, Rhiannon, I’m sorry my love, but you’re safe now. Safe.

“No, father.”

Iron clasps clicked around his wrists and he felt the weight of heavy chain that would be his constant companion for years to come.
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« Reply #154 on: Aug 19, 2016 03:02 pm »

Avatar: The Last Airbender Created By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender Owned By: Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom
All original content and characters © Acastus


Chapter LX – All Good Things Come To An End

A week had passed and Iroh’s wounds had begun to heal. The news of his impending exile had broken across the land like the wave that had devastated the army at Lake Myojin. Many had received the news during the very feasts given in honor of his triumph.

Shock and sorrow spread far and wide, for the fall of the hero from such commanding heights was so swift and devastating that none could fully comprehend what had happened. For a brief moment Iroh had become the hope and savior of a nation exhausted by war and driven deep in despair. Now, they feared, he would soon be gone and all the good that he had ever done would be swept away.

Thousands lined the docks as he entered the harbor to board the ship that would deliver him to captivity. He was kept in an iron carriage driven by prison guards. Macro and a company of palace guards rode komodo rhinos in front and behind.

The Fire Lord and the rest of the family would not see him off. He was a criminal.

Many in the throng were soldiers who had marched with him in the triumph only the day before. They had woken up from drunken revels to learn that their beloved leader had fallen in the most spectacular and unexpected way imaginable.

They yelled from the sidelines as his carriage passed. Unlike the day before when the tumult had been happy, celebratory and infused with flowers and glorious music, today’s assemblage was filled with cries of lament and bitter tears, as if they had themselves lost a brother or son. They all felt the hope Iroh had brought going with him.

“We heard, Gen’ral!” Iroh heard a soldier from the outer islands yell, “We knows he done it! Ye did the right thing, ya did!”

“Long live General Iroh!” others cried through tears.

The carriage bounced along over the narrow cobblestone causeway that allowed access to the quays. When it stopped he lifted his head from his hands where he had listened to the clanking of his chains as the vehicle had traveled.

The door opened to reveal bright sunlight. A pair of guards stood on either side of the door. Macro stood beyond, his armor bright.

“Come forth,” Macro commanded quietly.

He applied no honorific, for Iroh’s titles had been stripped, but his tone retained respect. Whatever games Macro had played, he had lost his benefactor and now tread carefully. As his prisoner’s experience demonstrated, Fate was capricious, its turns often sudden and violent.

Iroh stood and descended the solitary step onto the street.

The guards formed up behind him as Macro led the way to the bare, lonely transport that awaited.

Dimly Iroh recalled the arrest of Master Chen and wondered if he looked now as his friend’s master had looked then.

Gan and to his great relief, Chieng awaited him at the jetty. As soon as he exited the carriage the slight engineer ran to him as she had on the steppes, her black hair flailing about her shoulders. She embraced him and buried her face in his chest. The guards moved to push Iroh along, but Macro signaled them to allow it.

The crowd looked on in silence with tears of sympathy and downcast faces.

“I’m coming with you!” she vowed.

“No!” he replied, his body tensing painfully at the thought, “You can’t! I won’t let you! You’re needed here!”

“No, I’m not! I want to be with you!”

“I want to be with you, so much!” he admitted, his voice thick, “I want a life with you! Wait for me! I swear I will return, somehow, I will return!”

She hugged him fiercely and fresh tears sprang from her eyes.

“I love you! I want a life with you too! I don’t want anything else!”

“We belong to each other then, Ten-Ten,” he vowed, the chains of his servitude clanking as they slid heavily across her back, “you are my love, my only one!”

“Yes, I am yours, Iroh… if you will have me! And though I’ve hated that name my whole life I give it to you and only you to call me!”

He hugged her close and lifted her off her feet. Then he put her back down, ran his hands through her hair and kissed her. She deepened the kiss and ran her hands through his hair in return.

They released each other. He could barely rip himself away from her golden eyes to turn to his friend.

Gan stood close by, tears welling at what he had just witnessed. He walked up and hugged Iroh himself.

“All good things come to an end, don’t they?” Iroh asked in irony as he returned the gesture, his his voice still threatening to break.

Gan did not trust himself to reply.

“Take care of yourself, my friend,” Iroh begged, “Please, look after her and Rhiannon if you can!”

“They don’t need it, Iroh, but I will, I promise.”

Gan released him and stepped back to stand beside Chieng.

“She will be heartbroken when she hears,” Iroh confessed through tears.

“I know, but she is prepared for this more than we could ever possibly be… and while you live, there is hope,” Gan replied.

Iroh nodded bitterly and turned back to his mate. Her took her hands in his and kissed them.

“Please, my love, have mercy on Rhiannon! Help her if you can!” he pleaded, “She’s alone now, and she’s the only sister I will ever have. She’ll blame herself for this and it’s not… it’s not her fault. It was my choice to protect you… and her… and Gan. She saved us all, just as Nikon did, but she will punish herself so badly for it!”

“Governor T’zan is strong and brave, Iroh,” she replied in a comforting and confident voice, “and she will have a friend in me for life, I promise. That was Nikon’s greatest gift to me.”

She looked down.

“That fool,” she reflected with bitterness, “he showed me that friends are the only things worth having… then popped off and got himself killed.”

He hugged her once more.

“Do you know where you’re going?” Gan asked.

Chieng looked up to hear Iroh’s response.

“Planasia.”

Chieng and Gan exchanged a glance, wiped the tears from their eyes and nodded to each other.

“We’ll find it,” Gan vowed.

“No heroics, Gan,” Iroh commanded, then to Liu’s daughter, “and nothing from you either, my love! Promise me!”

She declined with a smile. Gan crossed his arms in front of him.

“I’m not sure we’ll need to Iroh,” he replied, successfully avoiding a commitment as well, “We’ll see how the war goes without you… without us.”

Iroh looked back and forth between them.

“You can’t just quit because of me,” he commanded them sternly, “Chieng, you must go forward with the new tank designs, no matter what happens to me! Victory for the Fire Nation is more important than this silly drama! Our soldiers can’t pay the –”

Chieng shook her head and smiled once more. He loved her smile. How quickly he had become accustomed to the smile she radiated only for him. He tried as they spoke to drive the image permanently into his memory. The real article would be far behind soon enough.

“Already corrected,” she assured him, “I have a good solution that will save many lives, but,” she continued, her expression hardening, “I will design no more weapons until you are released. I don’t give a god damn what my father says.”
 
They kissed once more and separated.

Macro stepped forward. It was time to go.

The crowd waited expectantly for Iroh to address them. He raised his manacled hands to point at the thousands of soldiers and common citizens who stood around them. Macro considered the implicit request, then nodded once more.

Iroh stepped up onto a small crate so his voice could carry father. He addressed his followers in a loud, confident voice. Many of the faces he saw had been among the mutineers who refused to cross the desert. Back then they had to be convinced of his leadership. Now there was no doubt. Young as he was, they looked up to him as a father.

“Comrades, we have been through much together. We have known victory, defeat and everything in between. We began our journey young in mind and heart. That innocence is gone, but we have learned much about ourselves and the world, knowledge paid for with our dearest blood.

Today I go into exile, but yet I live. Do not grieve for me when so many of our best never returned home at all. Remember them, keep them close in your hearts and minds as I do and celebrate the victory we won together for the sake of the Fire Nation!

For myself I can only say this. I never knew what honor meant until I served with you. Now, I know, the greatest honor I have had in my life was the command of the Army of the Great Divide. If Agni smiles on me once more, it would be my privilege to lead you wonderful people into battle… anytime… anywhere.”

Iroh scanned the enormous throng once more.

He saluted, his chains making a clinking sound of metal against metal. Thousands of soldiers returned the salute, their arms and hands filling the air with the sound of their uniform motion.

“Hail, General Iroh!” they cried in unison.

They repeated the cheer twice more as he boarded the prison ship, a sadder and wiser man than when he and his friends had embarked for Gela so long ago, to serve his exile in a lonely, foreign land.



“And so it was, most noble guests,” the storyteller at long last concluded, “though he found himself in exile most bitter, weighed down by the chains of servitude, this was not the end for General Iroh. In truth, his story was just beginning, and as the ship bearing him across the sea slipped from sight, he did but turn another page.”

The audience, sensing that the story was nearing its end, had roused itself to hear the characters final goodbyes. Enemy though they were, the universal and everlasting themes of star crossed lovers separated by forces beyond their control, of vows of friendship and loyalty in circumstances most dire, had their effect on the assembled guests.

Gao ended his speech with a flourish and low bow to the master of the house who stood up, tears running down his enormous jowls, and began clapping loudly. The rest of the audience did the same.

Iroh, stony faced despite a few tears that had escaped his discipline, pulled his nephew up by the arm in imitation of their neighbors.

The storyteller bowed once in each cardinal direction before returing to look upon his benefactor.

The applause was long and genuine, and Gao smiled broadly knowing he had pleased his audience.

“My dear old man!” Trimazu began once the clapping had subsided, “I must admit you have earned your enormous fee! Your skill and passion are without parallel and you are truly a master of a most difficult craft!”

“I am honored, Master Trimazu, I know your standards are high.”

“They are, but you have exceeded them!” he congratulated in genuine admiration, “You have captivated your audience and made my party once again the envy of the four plains region! It is as if General Iroh himself was brought before us tonight!”

The fat man turned to his lowly guests.

“Isn’t that right, Xian?”

Iroh looked down at the floor, declining to make eye contact with his host. The silence stretched a moment too long, prompting the old storyteller to make inquiry.

“Pardon, was the story not to your liking?”

The retired general started slightly, knowing he must make some kind of response.

“Uh, no, Master Gao, it was… a tremendous story and well told. Forgive me, sir, I am old, and I myself was young in those days.” Iroh laughed quietly and continued, “When you reach our age, it is often painful to remember one’s youth, isn’t it?”

The storyteller smiled once again, saying, “Yes, friend, you are much wiser than your appearance suggests! Tell me now, like many here you seemed to feel our enemy’s plight at the end, did you feel sympathy then for General Iroh after all he had done to destroy us?”

Iroh’s smile withered. He felt Prince Zuko’s eyes on him. He considered his response and decided on the truth.

“Yes, Master Gao, I did.”

Gao clapped his hands once and bowed extravagantly.

“Then I have succeeded!”

Suddenly the banished prince, unable to contain himself, burst in.

“Wait! Who left Tien Shin’s message in, uh…Prince Iroh’s apartment? How can you finish the story without telling us that!?”

“Oh,” Gao responded slyly, turning his head and putting a finger to the side of his nose, “Hadn’t you guessed?”

“No,” came the acidic and impatient reply, “Or I wouldn’t have asked!”

Trimazu regarded the banished prince out of the corner of his eye as Gao furnished a response.

“Why, Prince Ozai, of course.”

The scarred young man’s chest heaved in anger.

“That’s a lie! My…” he was stifled by Iroh’s light step on his foot, “I mean, how could that be? Why would he do something like that? Didn’t Tien Shin do it?”

Zuko looked back and forth between the storyteller and his uncle.

“Well, some believe the elder prince did indeed plant the letter, hoping to excite Iroh to attempted murder, which is of course what happened,” Gao stroked his beard in thought, “but I myself believe it happened as I have related. Tien Shin was much too careful to risk direct combat with the likes of Iroh.”

Prince Zuko looked down, a look of sullen displeasure on his face.

“Well,” Trimazu segued, “let’s wrap this up, eh?”

The fat man beamed a wide smile and clapped twice.

A servant appeared from nowhere.

“Yes, your Corpulence?”

“Bring forth the payment!” he boomed.

“Oh, stones and scree,” chided Chen Ho, “do you ever tire of thinking up new and improved ways to debase yourself, Trimazu?”
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« Reply #155 on: Aug 19, 2016 03:23 pm »

“No, my friend, besides you know I’m doing you a favor satisfying your curiosity!” he continued in his conspiratorial tone, “You really should be thanking me.”

“What does it matter at this point, Ho?” Tao offered, “We might as well indulge ourselves since he obviously won’t let us escape without shoving it in our face.”

Chen Ho groaned in reply.

Moments later two servants appeared pushing a tiny wheelbarrow filled with gold coins.

“Five thousand gold pieces!” Trimazu cackled in glee, jabbing a fat finger at the obscene pile of lucre.

Gao’s eyes, bulging noticeably, bowed low with an elegant flourish.

“You are truly generous, lord!”

“I am! I am! I gladly pay you five times the amount agreed for the best holiday entertainment I have ever had the pleasure to offer my most noble guests!”

The audience ogled the small mountain of wealth with undisguised desire, but everyone clapped once more as the storyteller was escorted out the way he had entered, his massive fee in tow.

“Now get the hell out of here, Gao!” Trimazu shouted at the thin man’s retreating form, “before one of my less than scrupulous “guests” robs you on the way out to pay off their enormous debts to me with my own money!”

Gao, taking him at his word, batted the servants out of the way and vacated the room immediately pushing his massive load.

Trimazu turned to address the assembly.

“Now, my friends, I daresay you have dined well and been spoiled with a rare and unusual tale! Go now in peace and friendship – and tell your neighbors how much fun you had!”

The master of the house roared in good natured laughter and was joined by his guests.

Conversations erupted around the room as the audience broke from their tables. Dawn would soon arrive and the guests, sleepy and full, made ready to depart, to spread word of the outrageous acts, generous table and fantastic entertainment of Trimazu’s pleasure palace to all those who poor unfortunates who had not been invited.

As the crowd streamed from the chamber, Chen Ho and Tao stood ready to thank their extravagant host.

“So, my friends, I am so glad you favored me with your attendance. I trust the evening was well spent?”

“Don’t be a fool, Trimazu,” Ho replied is his customarily acidic tone, “you know the truth as well as I. Everyone knows you delight in lending others money so you can abuse them in every possible manner, especially by requiring attendance at these disgusting “events”, but what you obviously don’t get is that the real reason we put up with you is so we have someone to look down upon. No further evidence of our superiority is needed than you.”

“A shame then, my lord Ho,” Trimazu replied without batting an eyelash, “that my power is such that you feel compelled to attend no matter your sentiment. I look forward to seeing you at my next celebration.”

Chen Ho snorted.

“The only way to end this war quickly is to threaten the Fire Lord with an invitation to one your parties, Trimazu.”

The fat man laughed.

“Oh, the trouble with you, Chen,” he replied in wry amusement and using his neighbor’s given name for the first time Iroh could recall, “is that you never get any fun out of life.”

“All right, I understand,” the thin noble acknowledged in impotent frustration, “but could you just stop being such an ass about all of it?”

“Haha! My friend, you ask too much of me. You have your pomp and circumstance – and I have your pomp and circumstance! Surely you don’t mind sharing? Mmmm?”

Chen Ho shook his head and waved an arm in a gesture of both farewell and defeat.

Trimazu turned to Tao Lin.

“Well! I hope you’ve had a better time than my dear Lord Ho has, Governor!”

“I suppose I have, Master Trimazu,” Tao agreed, “For myself I thank you for a most enjoyable evening.”

The austere governor turned to the two erstwhile day laborers.

“Well met, Xian… Li, I wish you success wherever the journey of life takes you.”

Iroh bowed, followed a fraction of a second later by Zuko.

“The honor is ours, Lord Governor,” Iroh replied, “to share a table with you this evening.”

Tao departed.

The dining hall was almost empty. Trimazu turned to his two saviors.

“Well, Xian, we have had quite an evening!”

Iroh, exhausted beyond all endurance, could not help but agree.

“Yes, my lord, quite an evening.”

The portly merchant looked on Iroh with sympathy.

“You’re exhausted, my friend, aren’t you? Of course you are, you labored all day, fought a battle for me at dusk, and stayed up all night listening to tales of war in a far off land.”

Iroh’s eyelids drooped.

“Yes, lord… you have been most generous.”

“Sleep then now,” the obese merchant commanded quietly, “enjoy the rest you have earned.”

The merchant clapped his hands once more. A servant, silent and ubiquitous, appeared at his right hand.

“Take our honored guests to the west wing and see they are well treated.”

Iroh bowed to his host, his young charge stiffly following suit.

As they travelled the wide, well lit corridors of the villa, Iroh and his nephew fell behind the servant leading them. Soon they found themselves alone for the first time that evening.
 
“Is it true, uncle? Did my father…?” the banished prince asked in a bitter, quiet voice.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you believe he did?”

Iroh sighed.

“Yes… but it doesn’t matter now.”

They walked in silence before Zuko finally continued.

“I have so many questions, uncle.”

“They will have to wait,” Iroh responded as they approached the door to their chamber.

The room was simple, but the beds were comfortable. In moments, they were asleep.



The afternoon sun streamed through the window.

Zuko opened his eyes to see his uncle already prepared to leave. He rubbed his eyes. He had slept heavily, but he found he was still tired.

“What time is it?”

“Time to leave,” his guardian responded.

The banished prince suddenly perked up.

“Trouble?”

“No,” the retired general responded, “but I think it would be best if we slipped away quietly.”

Zuko nodded.
 
Clean clothes had been laid out for them both. Iroh had already changed and Zuko quickly followed suit.

Fixing their round, straw hats on their heads, they exited the bedchamber into a long, empty hallway. Less ornate than the reception hall or the vast audience chamber they had dined in the night before, it was nevertheless impressive in its size and length.

They headed the opposite way they had come and exited the hallway into a large, grass covered courtyard. A riding ring dominated the enclosure, but no people or ostrich horses were about. Two small, metal doors graced the far end. Iroh pointed at them and set off in their direction, his nephew in tow.

Iroh grabbed the handle on the first door and twisted. The locking mechanism clanked and the retired general opened the door, its rusty hinges screaming in protest.

He stepped through. Zuko stepped through behind him. Beyond lay a vast, unspoilt countryside populated with evergreens.

A crossbow appeared at the nape of Iroh’s neck.

They suddenly found themselves surrounded by a dozen men dressed in the dark green uniforms of the Earth Kingdom. All had crossbows aimed at them.

“Leaving so soon, Xian?” a familiar, booming voice questioned.

Iroh turned to see the Merchant of Shanxi standing before him. The finery he wore that morning was nowhere in sight. He wore a simple green tunic and black trousers. In his hand he carried a scroll with red stoppers.

“I would have thought you would at least have offered thanks before departing.”

“Forgive us, lord,” Iroh begged, “We did not wish to disturb your slumber.”

“Why are you doing this!?” Zuko injected hotly, “Why are you threatening us? We’ve done nothing to you!”

Trimazu eyed the banished prince.

“Correct, Li,” the fat man agreed, “You saved my life and I still owe you thanks for that, but there is this other matter to attend.”
 
He produced the scroll and opened it. It was a copy of the “wanted” poster that Azula had distributed after they had escaped her trap.

Iroh and his charge stiffened slightly at the revelation.

“How strange that I should have guests who so closely resemble the fugitive Prince Zuko and the mighty General Iroh himself visit my humble abode.”

The silence stretched. Zuko and Iroh scanned the armed men around them, silently and independently calculated their chances of survival. Both had assumed bending stances, though they and their opponents scarcely recognized it.

Iroh regarded their host. Gone was the silly and boisterous buffoon, miraculously replaced by the countenance of a shrewd and resolute personality of steel.

“What happens now, my lord?” Iroh finally inquired.

The merchant considered this and replied.

“What always happens, Xian, I make the best decision I can with the information I have.”

He signaled his men to lower their crossbows.

“For all my fortune I am a small man, Xian,” the fat man confided in a circumspect tone, “and though I can see the resemblance, I suppose I was mistaken…”

He rolled the scroll back up and placed it in his waistband. He approached Iroh and handed him a small purse.

“Here, take this small gift, and may the Earth Spirit guide you and your nephew to your destiny.”

Iroh looked into the hard, resolute eyes of the merchant and replied in a low voice.

“You would take such a risk, Master Trimazu?”

“Risk is a part of life, Xian, as you know even better than I.”

Trimazu scanned the landscape around them and continued in wistful tone.

“The tale of the Avatar’s return has spread far and wide. The battle at the North Pole… perhaps, the first of many.”

He met Iroh’s gaze once more.

“Wherever General Iroh and the banished prince may be…I feel they yet have a part to play in the shape of things to come.”

Iroh considered this.

“You are wise, my lord.”

“Wise or not, my decision is made.”

Iroh and Zuko left the Merchant of Shanxi as they had found him, on foot, traveling a dusty, nameless road, strangers in a strange land.



The infamous villa of the Merchant of Shanxi lay far behind them. The sun was close to the horizon before Zuko emerged from his melancholy to question his guardian about the fantastic events of the night before. For the first time he felt small and insignificant next to the man he had often treated so poorly.

“Was all that true, uncle? Did it really happen that way?”

Iroh was prepared for the questions and answered without hesitation.

“Yes, much of it anyway.”

“Grandfather really banished you?”

“He did.”

“Is that… is that why you came with me when father banished me?”

Iroh considered this.

“No, nephew, I came with you because I love you.”

Zuko stiffened at the simple admission.

“But it’s not fair! You were exiled without any way to regain your honor!”

“Life isn’t fair, Prince Zuko.”

“So you just… went to Planasia then?”

“Yes,” Iroh replied bitterly, “though I did not remain there long.”

“What happened then, uncle?”

“The worst possible outcome.”

“What do you mean?”

Iroh looked ahead, his expression distant, and replied.

“The war went on.”



FINIS

A/N: Well, it is done then. I hope you’ve enjoyed the story. I didn’t know how I’d react when I penned the last words. I thought I’d cry or be very sad. As it happens, I’m not. I’ve lived with these characters and this story for ten years. They are as real to me as my family and friends. As long as I live, they will live, vibrant and colourful, for all time.

I’d like to thank my lovely wife for editing the first third of the story long ago. Without her I don’t know if this project would have gotten off the ground!

Comments from all readers are appreciated, but I’d like to thank LordStone and Fanwright especially for their many thoughtful reviews. I found this feedback of immeasurable help to calibrate later chapters.

Most importantly, I’d like to thank Colonel Brian. Over an 8 year hiatus in which this story was for all intents and purposes dead, he dared to hope that it would someday be completed. His belief in the power and importance of this tale revived in me my own belief that it was worth the effort.

You deserved to have this finished, Colonel, I hope you have enjoyed it.

Acastus




In what ways has your story changed since you began writing it many years ago? Did certain themes that were prominent before end not being as important? Did new new themes rise up? Did the significance of certain characters changed in any interesting ways?


Good questions. The basic story outline did not change at all. The major story elements, including the twin battles, the desert crossing, the duel and its source, Ozai showing up at the end, all these were envisioned back in 2006. Themes also remained relatively constant, such as decision making under uncertainty, the effect of operating in a moral vacuum on otherwise decent people, all these stayed on focus. Young Iroh as always meant to be a parallel, but also a contrast, for Zuko in the present. The one theme that got added after the fact was the decline of the ancient world and its relation to the present.

While the main story stayed on target, I did elaborate over the years. I always intended to have the scene at the dam, for example, but I expanded it dramatically with its links to the ancient world. The rocket sleds were also added later, around 2008 as I was struggling with Lake Myojin.

Characters did change. The Governor of Mequon was always a character, but Rhiannon didn't take final shape until like 2009 or 2010. Originally the governor was going to be a friend of Tien Shin's and the sojourn at Mequon was going to be another major conflict between Iroh and Tien Shin. I couldn't get that plot path to work satisfactorily though and ultimately I decided that Rhiannon as I came to envision her would shed more light on Iroh and be a much more compelling character in her own right. Rhiannon's gift also solved the ugly problem of how to get the Army of the Song there in time to envelop the Army of the Granite Mountains.

Nikon was always going to die, same as Xian. Both of them are life lessons leading up to the final crushing blow of losing Lu Ten years later. I ended up developing Nikon a lot more effectively than I thought possible in the Mequon battle scenes and in his relationship with Rhiannon. I loved writing chapter 40 - it sprang unexpectedly between two previously written chapters. I wouldn't give it up for anything now.

Gan grew significantly in importance and his role as Captain of the Inferno did not develop until just a few years ago. I needed to show the devastation at the Field of Coins, however, and the solution to have him in command of tank train just clicked one day while I was in Bangkok drinking gin & tonic at the Oriental. So, Gan got "promoted" and allowed me to develop him.

Macro was going to have a larger part, but I couldn't find a compelling role for him at the end. I'm satisfied with how it turned out though and he could be a useful villain in a later story.

Liu Shiung was my favorite late addition. Originally he was supposed to be dead before the story began. You may have caught an edit back in chapter 9 where I shifted a past tense to a present tense many months ago. The guy is just so horrible - but again not in the typical way one might think.

I'm also kind of interested in knowing more about the relationship between Iroh and Tien Shin. How recent is their parent's marriage?

Never well defined. Maybe between 5 and 10 years? You're correct it was relatively late.

I can't believe this story is done. You've pulled off an amazing feat, by sticking with this story and seeing it through to the end. Prince Iroh has played such a big part in my enjoyment of the Avatar fandom, that it'll be hard to see it go. So I suppose once next Friday rolls around, I'll finally have your permission to die. Wink

No, my friend, like Iroh, you do but turn another page Smiley

Acastus
« Last Edit: Aug 23, 2016 08:24 am by Acastus » Logged
djinn
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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Posts: 5235


Fish genetics is a very small field


« Reply #156 on: Aug 23, 2016 12:39 am »

Insane. Congrats on completing this.
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