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May 14, 2013
The prince sat in tranquil meditation in the center of the northern courtyard of the royal palace, the wind blowing a gentle breeze and fondling the hairs of his brow. This cool flow swept over his body, garbed in merely a white undertunic and thin, shaded red pants, the color of his nation. With his legs crossed and his hands stretched down to his hips, Lu Ten's meditative stance was one of discipline. That was something the attackers ought to have taken note of prior to making their move.
It was a blazing ball of fire two feet in diameter which broke the peace of the scene. As the flaming sphere approached the prince's head, Lu Ten promptly wrenched his eyes open and shifted his shoulder-blades, his head evading by inches. He then wasted no time in pulling both his arms up in front of his chest and hopping to his feet. Although he had spent upwards of an hour sitting still, he had remained vigilant the whole time. Since Lu Ten had not succumbed to a sort of trance, as many others would have done, he had never wavered in being ready to spring into action at a split-second's notice.
A tall, heavyset man in a sleeveless black-and-crimson tunic took a similar stance to Lu Ten. It was he who had conjured the fireball from before. Drawing his arm back a reasonable distance, Lu Ten punched straight forward and a corresponding hot stream of fire emitted from his knuckles and continued on the same path. The Prince of the Fire Nation kept a close eye on his opponent's movements as he dodged the attack. However, it was not this man who attempted the next blow to Lu Ten. A quartet of small, sharp jobs if flame approached him from behind. It was Lu Ten's hearing of the crackling sound that allowed him to turn about and shepherd his back away from the fate of being burnt. He jabbed the air in front of him four times - twice with each arm - to extinguish the attack in a similar motion to how it had been ignited. The creator of the flame stood before him: another man in black-and-crimson, shorter and stockier than the other.
Being surrounded on both sides, the Fire Prince shifted his weight and spread his legs apart. Punching to both sides, he shot two long, continuous streams of flame from his fingertips at either of the assailants. The shorter opponent was hit square in the chest by this burst of flame, while the other managed to sidestep the better angle of it, though still ended up with a scorched corner of his tunic. Clutching his shoulder in burning agony, the man gritted his teeth as the prince prepared himself to duel him head-on. This was not a duel for long, though, as a third opponent garbed in similar clothing extended his arm in a fit of rage and shot a fire blast at Lu Ten's head, which the prince easily dodged before it was halfway to its mark. Dropping both arms to knee-level, Lu Ten lifted them up swiftly to rise a wall of flames from the ground. The first opponent had just sent another stream of fire toward him, which he ducked under and moved his elbows about eloquently and curved the flaming projectile, sending it back to its conjurer and knocking him down. Lu Ten then pushed his wall of flames forth, consuming the third opponent, who was not the last. A fourth opponent and a fifth opponent now stood across from where the flaming wall had been moments earlier. With a roaring cry they charged at their adversary and clenched a daft of fire in either hand. Lu Ten wasted no time in sharpening and narrowing the fire in each of his own hands as blunt as a blade. Finally, he drew his dominant arm back and cut across one of the men's torso with an almighty blow, then wrapped his left arm around and pierced the last of them in his backside, searing the rear of his shirt.
"Well done, Lu Ten!" a familiar voice called out from the steps leading to the nearby stone pathway as the five bruised figures limped out of the courtyard in defeat. The fat spectator was Crown Prince Iroh, who promptly tossed his sweat-drenched son a towel from several paces away. "Granted, your sidesteps could have been better, but a diamond with a flaw is more perfect than a common stone with none. And a diamond must be refined, just like your gift of firebending. It took some time, but even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That's why I knew this day would come when you first started firebending at the same time you started walking." Iroh finished his statement just as Lu Ten had approached him. "Here, have some tea!" he added with a wide, toothy grin, holding out a tray with a steaming kettle and cups.
"Ah, jasmine, my favorite!" Lu Ten greeted with a smirk. He straightened his topknot as he wrapped his fingers around the cup poured for him. Lu Ten was half a head taller than Iroh, having inherited his height from his mother and his firebending and taste for tea from his father.
Iroh was cut off by an approaching elderly man with long hair and beard dressed in robes that stretched down to his feet. "Sorry to interrupt your conversation, Prince Iroh," he told the Crown Prince with a polite bow before rounding his face more sternly on the former's son. "Prince Lu Ten, your exercises for the day are not done yet!"
"Come on, Master Huo Chung," Iroh uttered with the slightest roll of his eyes. "After besting five of your other trainees in combat, I think my boy's earned a break." The Crown Prince seized the tea cup he had poured for himself and lifted it up to his lips.
"Hmph!" With bitter reluctance, Huo Chung turned away from the two princes and stormed off down the path toward the palace interior.
Shrugging, Iroh turned back to face his only son. "He's a well-renowned teacher, but he can be a bit cranky sometimes."
"Indeed," Lu Ten agreed as he wiped the towel slowly across his upper body.
"He must be getting pretty old. He taught me when I was your age."
"I'll bet he taught Grandpa, too."
"Not quite that old," Iroh told Lu Ten with a hearty laugh.
Breaking eye contact, Lu Ten gave his father a hasty nod. "You called my firebending a gift before, but I'd call my progress lucky circumstances. My whole life I've been training with best teachers in the world."
"You're too modest," Iroh told him, reaching a hand over and grasping his son's shoulder. "Take some credit for yourself! Your teachers open the door, but you were the one who walked through it."
"The best firebender in any village in the country would be a master if they had been required to train as much as I was," Lu Ten continued nonchalantly. "In fact, they might've mastered it quicker."
"You still mastered it eventually," Lu Ten's father reassured him. "Fall down seven times, stand up eight."
"For me, it was more like fall down ninety-nine, stand up a hundred," the young, handsome firebender said with a mild laugh. "You're missing the point, though. My firebending as it is today is a gift from men, not spirits."
"However you got the gift, you have it, so use it well," Iroh pointed out, lifting his finger to emphasize the gesture. "You just took out five firebenders as a result of your training, so who knows what you can accomplish on the battlefield."
"Dad, please!" Lu Ten turned his head back and brushed Iroh's arm off. "You're embarrassing me. I suppose that would be like defeating ten earthbenders, then. Assuming that Grandpa Azulon is right when he says one firebender is a match for two earthbenders."
"Never underestimate earthbenders, my boy," the much-older, much-heavier firebending prince advised, raising his eyebrow. "They are a persistent people, and they can endure through a lot." With that, Iroh took another tiny sip of his hot tea. "Commander Feng tells me you've risen through ranks pretty fast."
Now more awkward, Lu Ten reached his arm around and scratched the back of his neck. "Ummm...about that. I won't be with Feng much longer. I've decided to leave my current commission."
"Why?" Iroh questioned him quizzically. "Has the Colonial Defense Brigade disappointed you in some way? I heard Feng was ready to give you charge of a unit of your own."
"I want to do something more worthwhile for the war," Lu Ten clarified with an earnest gaze into Iroh's eyes. "When's last time our possessions were really threatened?"
The Dragon of the West paused and nodded his head. "Okay," he replied afeter a few brief moments. "Where did you want to go instead?"
"I want to go to Ba Sing Se," Lu Ten pleadingly blurted out. "Fighting alongside you, it'll be just like when I was a recruit."
"Are you sure about this?"
"Yes," the younger prince declared with confidence. "Most of the world is already under Sozin's great vision. This battle at Ba Sing Se will be one of the last major campaigns of the war. It'll never be forgotten, and someday it'll be legendary. If I'm not there when it happens, I know I'll regret it for the rest of my life." He continued to stare directly into his father's eyes, his breath taking a break as he awaited the response.
"My dear Lu Ten," Iroh began, placing his hand on his son's shoulder once more in seeming solemness. "I would be honored to fight by your side again. So be it!" he added with a smile at the younger prince's relief. "We're preparing for the invasion already. As a matter of fact, I was on my way right now to a function to drum up more domestic support for the war effort."
"So you're still set on making your invasion force composed entirely of volunteers," Lu Ten said matter-of-factly. "Isn't that a little unrealistic?"
Iroh shook his head intently and waved his finger in the air. "Those who tried to take Ba Sing Se before us have failed. We need a better edge this time, and a volunteer to a cause is worth twenty men pressed to their fate. Our individual units will be like armies and our army will be like an entire nation."
"Well then, consider me your very first volunteer, Father!"
"Excellent! In that case, you can start packing tonight. I'm going to Gangkouz for some similar events in the next few weeks and I'll need you to accompany me."
Suddenly, Lu Ten felt his heart and mouth sink at an identical rate. "Ugh! Come on, Dad. I'm a fighter, you know that. All that other stuff is dreadfully boring."
"Oh, I agree," Iroh clarified, batting his eyes with slyness. "But if you're coming to Ba Sing Se with me, you're going to suffer through it as well!"
"Fine," Lu Ten said in reluctant acceptance. "Where will we be staying?"
"Old Kao has a house near the port," Iroh told him. "We can stay with him."
Dreading the prospect, Lu Ten allowed his mouth to sink once again. "I can hardly wait," he exhorted with a sarcastic snort. "I haven't stayed with Kao since I was about eleven."
Smirking, Iroh downed the rest of his cup of tea. "On that note," he began, clearing his throat. "Leaves, from the vine," he began to utter in a fluctuating tune.
Shaking his head, Lu Ten brought his palm up to his forehead. "Oh, geez!"
"Falling so slow," Iroh continued to chant.
"Come on, Dad," Lu Ten protested. "That song was much more appropriate when I was a skinny, teenaged new recruit," Iroh gave him a look as he continued, "Okay, maybe that wasn't all that long ago," he admitted. "But I've matured a lot since then!"
"Like fragile, tiny shells, drifting in the foam..."
Resigning himself to the tune, Lu Ten started to smile. In addition to all the privileges he was fortunate enough to have as a Fire Nation prince, Lu Ten had one additional luxury the others of the royal family lacked: growing up with a warm and loving relationship with both parents. The rounded, boyish face beneath the manly topknot was still recognizable as the same boy shooting scorching red fireballs about and setting fire to the table cloth, much to his mother's distress and his father's amusement. It was since those days that Lu Ten had a strong adoration of his father, wanting to be like him in every way possible.
"Little soldier boy," Iroh sang on, looking back into Lu Ten's orbs with his own. "Come marching home..."
Finally giving in, Lu Ten joined in and they sang the last line together. "Brave soldier boy," the elder prince and the younger prince uttered in unison. "Comes marching home."
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