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14 January 2010
Burning Ashes is the fifty second chapter of.
This chapter, along with the next two, take place before the events of "Zuko at the end of .." The three chapters are meant to fill in the events that were revealed to
Just a few days earlier, Iroh had let Ursa get off into the Fire Nation, for the first time in years. He left her in the care of dozens of Imperial Firebenders, and only the ones he trusted. He knew that he couldn't stay by her side forever.
Iroh had also switched ships, boarding a faster, smaller, and less comfortable ship to make up for time. He finished his Jasmine tea and thought about Pai Sho. Maybe someone aboard the ship would be good enough to pass the time. Iroh leaves his room and walks through the halls of the ship. He waves to lesser officers who had only heard of him through legends and war stories. He offered Pai Sho to them as well, but none of them seemed to know how to play, a tragedy in Iroh's book. He finally reached the control room of the ship, and offered the off-duty officers a nice game. These officers, more confident in their strategic thinking and blissfully unaware of Iroh's secret passion, quickly accepted his challenge. After barely five minutes, the first officer was defeated by an incredibly strange move, pulled off through the usage of the White Lotus tile.
"That- How'd- Huh?" the soldier wonders, scratching his head at his sudden loss.
"You should play again. Practice doesn't always make perfect, but it can't really hurt to try again." Iroh says slightly while smiling.
The soldier nods and accepts Iroh's challenge. Iroh says the soldier can have the first move, but he declines. "I will allow the guest the first move."
"Your name, son?" Iroh asks as he moves his lotus tile.
"Zhian. Colonel Zhian. Why do you ask?"
"Sharing tea with an interesting stranger is one of life's true delights. But Pai Sho is a bonding experience. I think Pai Sho is much more than just a game."
"I've heard." Zhian replies as he slides his wheel tile to create a block for Iroh's lotus.
"Interesting move. Why did you do that? That move leaves your lotus tile open." Iroh says, moving one of his tiles and capturing Zhian's.
"I didn't see that. I was hoping that you would move your lotus and I could capture it." Zhian replies, stroking his chin while pondering his next move.
The game continues, and Iroh easily defeats Zhian. "That was a nice move there," Zhian adds to the end of their game. "Where did you learn that?"
"If you've been around for a while, you learn many things, some useful, some just nice to know," Iroh replies calmly.
"This has been fun, but I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me sir. My shift is starting. I'm sure some one else will play with you now." Zhian says, getting up and leaving the control room.
"Okay, who wants to play next?" Iroh says with a grin. No one returns the smile.
A Traitor in the Midst
Zhian walks towards the back of the ship. He walks up the stairs and reaches the flag room. He knows that he has his orders, and that he will be safe no matter what happens. He has checked the boat, and it is ready.
"Hey, Captain wants you now. He says I'm to replace you." Zhian tells the man.
"What does he want?" the worker replies, turning from his work.
"He didn't say. I just know that you are to report to the Captain's quarters immediately. That is an order." Zhian adds, adding force this time.
"Works for me." The man says, leaving the room. Zhian knows that the man will take his time in the hallway, and begins his work. Zhian lowers the flags slightly, leaving them flying but noticeably lowered. That should be enough... he mutters quietly to himself. He walks down to the escape boat area. He almost climbs into his boat, but gets an idea. He fuses the boats to the hull of the ship, rendering escape impossible. He then walks back to his boat and lowers it into the water. He gets the boat far away from the ship, and sees another coming in from a distance. His role is done.
The Plan in Action
Iroh moved his wheel tile, defeating the last member of the ship's command. "You have really improved. That game lasted a few minutes longer."
"I'm beat..." his opponent says as he concedes defeat. "I can't play any more."
"That's a dreadful thing to say!" Iroh exclaims. He begins to list his reasoning, but is stopped by a deafening crash coming from the back of the ship.
A runner from the back of the ship arrives within moments. "Sir, we've been hit!" Iroh gets up as the captain gives his orders.
"Mobilize the guns, turn the ship so our catapults can hit them at a good angle!" the captain begins.
"That won't work. They can get to us as we are turning. We would need a distraction. Allow me." Iroh interrupts, leaving the room with a cold demeanor.
Iroh walks calmly through the ships halls, heading for the back deck. He knows that this violence is needed to save both his life, and more importantly, the innocent lives of the crew. He arrives on the deck and sees a large fire ball coming through the sky. He shoots his own charged blast at the ball, and it is deflected off course. He stands calmly and sees the figure of the commanding officer on the deck of the other ship.
The other officer sees Iroh as well. "Attack that man! Aim! Fire!" The fire balls rain through the sky. Iroh has to deflect many of them, as the ship's turning is insignificant. Eventually, the other commander comes up with an idea. He has his men clump the balls they sent as Iroh into one large ball, and they launched that. The ball was too much for Iroh's fire blasts to take down. He quickly changes tactics.
Iroh's arms swing back and forth, and when he points his fingers at the large fire ball, the energy he was making crushed the projectile into hundreds of pieces. The commander on the other ship decided that he needed to use more powerful attacks. He swings his arms back and fourth, and the air around him begins to crackle with electricity.
Iroh sees this from a distance, and prepares for a dangerous interception. The commander sends a massive lightning bolt at the hull of Iroh's ship, something Iroh didn't expect. The massive force of the impact caused Iroh to loose his balance, but the damage was done. The ship's hull was damaged beyond immediate repair. Iroh glanced menacingly towards the ship's commander, and suddenly recognized him from an old officer's meeting: Jiang Rha.
Iroh then looked at the distance between him and his enemy's ship. He screams across, trying to get through to Rha. "Rha! Stop your attack! These men have not harmed you! If it's me you want, you can have me! Let these men escape first!"
Iroh's plea is unheeded. Jiang orders more fire balls be sent at the ship, more than Iroh can shoot down. One hits the tower of his ship, and the tower begins to crumble. Iroh looks back at the crumbling tower with utter contempt.
"Have you no honor?" Iroh screams at the Admiral. Jiang ignores Iroh's verbal assault and orders attack. He sends a fire blast at the hull of the ship, countered by a fire wall Iroh creates in the back of the ship. Jiang's men create another, larger projectile and prepare to launch it. Jiang has another plan this time. When his men launch the large fire ball, Jiang's arms begins swinging in a fluid motion. The energy around him crackles, and he thrusts his arm forward at the airborn projectile. The ball shatters into hundreds of pieces near the ship, and it damages the hull further. The ship begins to take on water, and the rest of the crew look for life boats.
"The escape boats are fused to the ship. It's sabotage sir!" Iroh can hear from the other end of the ship.
Iroh's head falls as he realizes that he has failed the entire crew of the ship. "I am sorry." Another fire ball soars from Jiang's ship. The ball lands in front of Iroh, who puts it out once it lands. "I have failed you all."
A Triumphant Victory
Jiang's face is quite the opposite: he had conquered the Dragon of the West. He looks on as Iroh's ship slowly sinks into the ocean. After Iroh vanishes from his sight, he heads to report his success.
Jiang knocks on Ozai's door. "May I enter, my King?"
"Your presence is granted." Ozai's voice echoes from his room, bitter in tone.
Jiang opens the door and bows at the first sight of Ozai, who is looking out his window. "I have done it sir. I have witnessed with my very eyes the death of your brother."
"Good... Good... Is that all you have to report to me?" Ozai says, still not even turning from his open window.
"Is there something else I need to report to you, sir?" Jiang asks, slightly confused.
"Have you regained me control of my nation?"
"Not yet, sire. I just need-"
"Silence yourself. I want my country back. You will get it for me. Dismissed." Ozai interrupts, slicing into Jiang's honor.
"Yes, sire." Jiang slowly gets up, and leaves the room. He enters his own room, and decides he needs some time to think. As he sits in his chair, there is a knock at his door. "Enter," he mutters to the closed door.
The door opens, and a young officer enters the room. "I've completed the task you gave to me, sir," the soldier says calmly.
"Good work Colonel Zhian. You may go now."
"Certainly, sir. I was told that I should come give a report of my mission."
"You can do it later." Zhian bows and leaves the room. Jiang stares at the window in thought as the door slowly closes.
This chapter is a personal favorite of The Bos. The idea of the leader of an antagonistical organization dueling against Iroh was constantly favored, leading to a chapter in . The Bos later thought, as part of the midpoint of Book 3, that he could include a similar chapter. After reading The Wall, a four part chapter written by , he knew that he needed a powerful Iroh chapter, and set out to include his favorite parts about Iroh in one chapter: his humor, his strategical skill, and his bending prowess.
Zhian is a new character specifically designed for this chapter. He had been unnamed in a previous chapter, but was named first in this chapter. His strategical mind was perfect for this chapter, and The Bos even changed a later chapter to give him a larger role, substituting him in place of Jiang Rha.
For the collective works of the author, go here.