Chapter 18 (The Spirit Within, Part 1)
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The Spirit Within



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Chapter 19 (The Spirit Within) [2]

Iroh had pledged to be completely honest with Lan Chi, that was true. However, he did not say that he would tell her everything. He told her that he had gone to see Ozai. That was true. He told her that he had spoken to Ozai about the throne. That was true. He told her that he had spoken to Ozai about Zuko. That was true.

She had asked whether he had talked to Ozai about bringing her home. He had told her, simply, that it was none of Ozai's business; Ozai was not her guardian, after all. That was true. It was, however, not the complete truth.

The interview with Ozai had started inauspiciously. Iroh told Lan that, and that, too, was true. There had been the matter of being summoned to the throne room that had angered Iroh. And, then, of course, there was the matter of the Royal Guard attacking Iroh as he paid his respects to his brother.

Iroh had walked into the throne room slowly, his shrewd eyes seeing much more than most would have seen. The abnormally large number of Royal Guard, excessive even for his paranoid brother, alerted Iroh to a situation that might bode ill. When the doors closed behind him, and he heard footsteps behind him, he began going through, in his mind's eye, the position of each of the guards whose footsteps he heard, as well as the positions of the guards who remained at attention.

He made his obeisance in front of the flaming throne, as any good Fire Nation citizen should. However, he could not see his brother, so high were the flames, so Iroh, who knew that the secret to the flames was to extinguish the jet at the far right of the sequence, and thus extinguish them all, did just that.

With a slight flick of the wrist, a movement he had learned from observing waterbenders, the entire string of flames died in succession. With a grunt of annoyance, Ozai re-lit the strand with an exaggerated motion. Again, Iroh extinguished the flames.

"What trickery is this, Brother?" Ozai sneered, again re-igniting the fires.

It took only a finger movement to put them out again.

Ozai gave a nod to one of his guards, and, although Iroh did not see it, he did hear the sudden shuffle of feet behind him.

From a prone position, Iroh was still able to extend his leg and shoot a flame, of a size larger than a man, back at his attackers. Once on his feet, it was really little trouble to subdue the rest, although the last two guards actually just threw themselves to the floor.

Iroh smoothed his hair back, and greeted his Fire Lord was a flourish. "It is good to see you, too, Brother."

Ozai's face was mottled with rage. "I – I ought to..." he sputtered, unable to speak full sentences.

"What, Brother? There is nothing you can do to hurt me, at this point. That should be obvious to you. Have you more guards? You may send them in, but it will do no good." He retied his belt, which had come loose. "You can try lightning, of course, but you know I can redirect it. Besides, killing me will only inflame those who thought I should be on the throne in the first place. You do not want a civil war on your hands as well as a world war, do you?"

Ozai's mouth was set in an ugly line. "Why have you returned, Iroh?"

Iroh shrugged. "This is my home."

"A home you have not seen for four years."

"It was high time I came back."

"You do not fool me. You have come to claim the throne."

Iroh came up the stairs of the dais. "I have no desire for the throne, Ozai. I wish you joy in it."

Ozai's eyes narrowed. "Then why return?"

"To claim what is mine."

"Which is?"

"My rightful place."

"Your rightful place?" His voice was mocking.

"I have a home here. I have a daughter here. I want them both back."

"Ha! Your daughter, the Water Tribe whore?"

Iroh had come up to the throne, and he now leaned over Ozai intimidatingly. "I have told you before, Ozai, that I will not tolerate disrespect towards her."

"And what will you do, Brother?" The word was said like a curse.

"There is so much that I can do." He turned and walked back down the stairs. "You know, Ozai, when I heard that Father left the throne to you, I confess, I was surprised."

"Why should you be? Your line is extinct. Did you think Father would hand the throne to a man without issue?"

"It is true, that I no longer have a – son." Iroh's voice broke, but he continued. "However, many years ago – when Lan Chi came to live with us, in fact, I amended my will. In the event that Lu Ten preceded me," he hesitated only a second, "in death, I designated Zuko heir to the throne, with the bulk of my estate to go to Lan Chi, of course." Iroh stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Father knew about that. Indeed, his seal, and his mark, are on the document. He knew that, after me, Zuko would be Fire Lord."

Ozai was dangerously silent, his fingers gripping the arms of his throne tightly.

"Strange, wouldn't you say, that he would replace me in the succession with you, when our heirs were one and the same person?"

"He was angry with you," Ozai said, through gritted teeth. "After you failed at Ba Sing Se and fled in a panic."

Iroh shrugged. "That could very well be true. I will give you that, Ozai. But, I have been a hero of the Fire Nation for almost longer than you have been alive. You, on the other hand, have only distinguished yourself for conducting a failed search for the Avatar."

"Hold your tongue, Old Man."

Iroh smiled wolfishly. "Oh, I can, Ozai. With appropriate incentive."

"Now we come to it." Ozai said, smugly. "What exactly do you want?"

Iroh shrugged. "Very little, really. My home. My child. And Zuko."

"What?" Ozai's voice was a slightly higher pitch than he would have liked.

"I intend to take over the matter of Prince Zuko's education."


"Let's just say that I reached enlightenment on my travels, and I would like to share it, with him."

"And if I say no?"

"You won't. The alternative is a protracted, bloody battle for the throne, which you have little chance of winning."

"That is all you want?"

"Oh, there are a few more things. Silly of me to forget them. I want to be re-instated as chief war minister. No decisions are to be made about the war, without consulting me first. I want all of my funds released, and the funds you pilfered, returned. I also want you to schedule the reading of Father's will. I do appreciate you putting it into abeyance while I was – away, but I am home now. And I will want everything he left me. Everything."

So angry was Ozai that small flames licked from his fingers. "Is that it?"

Iroh looked thoughtful for a moment. "I believe so."

Ozai stood for the first time, and began to walk down the stairs. "Fine." He bit out. "I have a condition of my own." He stopped barely an inch from his brother, and, because of his superior height, he towered over him. Iroh, however, was not intimidated, although he decided to listen to his brother's request.

"That girl," Ozai began, "that Water Tribe – " he changed the word at the last moment. "Child. Keep her away from my son. If I hear any rumors," he poked Iroh in the chest, "anything at all, to suggest that you are trying to make a match between her and Zuko, then all deals are off. Do you understand?"

It seemed a small enough concession, although, of course, Iroh did not know the ramifications to those directly involved. "You have my word."

Ozai turned on his heel and ascended the stairs back to the dais, although he was not quite quick enough to avoid his brother's lighting of the flames behind him.

The acrid smell of singed hair accompanied a smiling Iroh out of the throne room.

Ozai could not remember ever being angrier. How dare his brother come into his throne room and threaten him? He was Fire Lord now, not Iroh! The old man would do well to remember that!

"Feng!" His shout carried to the dressing room off the throne room, where his secretary kept all things that the Fire Lord might need while receiving.

The young man came running, and threw himself onto the floor in submission.

"Up." Ozai said, and Feng scrambled to his feet.

"How may I serve you, my lord?"

"You have not recovered my father's will." It was a statement that Feng agreed with quickly.

"No, my lord. As you know, it was not amongst the Fire Lord's personal papers and we still have had no success in finding it."

"His secretary still claims no knowledge?"

"No, my lord. He is – old – and was old even then, Sire. He clings to the claim that your father took it from him after the death of Prince Lu Ten."

"But where did he put it?" The Fire Lord was speaking more to himself than to his assistant. "Search the Dragonbone Catacombs again."

"Yes, my lord."

Ozai gave a grunt of annoyance. "And bring the High Sage to me immediately."

The High Sage was concerned. It was unusual for the Fire Lord to summon him so late. He entered the throne room on silent feet and bowed down before his master, noting that the flames before the throne were high and angry.

The Fire Lord wasted no words. "My brother has returned."

The High Sage felt his pulse jump, but remained silent.

"He wants my father's will read."

The sage still said nothing.

"You are certain that the document does not exist?"

The sage finally spoke. "We have searched for it dozens of time, Sire. We have found no evidence that Fire Lord Azulon's will still survives."

"If it exists, I want it. Under no circumstances should my brother acquire it."

"No, My Lord."

"Do not fail me in this."

"No, Sire."

Lan Chi woke up after the first night in her home happier than she had been for over four years. The sun was shining, and there was, in the wind, the slight bite of autumn. Although the Fire Nation was an equatorial country, even it could experience cold snaps.

Lan, who had slept with her window open, relished the sting of the cool air on her face and her uncovered toes. It was delightful, and she threw the remainder of her covers back and stretched languorously. The feeling was positively hedonistic, and she wanted to lie there all day. However, it was her first day home, and she wanted to explore everything even more than she wanted to stay abed. She wanted to re-acquaint herself with every corner of every room, and every paving stone in the courtyard. She wanted to splash in the fountain in her bare feet, and she wanted to climb the cherry tree.

Her stomach growled. But first of all, she wanted breakfast. She jumped up and took care of her ablutions and chose the best-fitting clothes in her closet, which turned out to be a set of sparring clothes that had been purchased too large for her. Now, the pants were about two inches too short, and the top two sizes too small, but at least she was mostly covered.

She ran down the stairs two at a time and into the kitchen, where Hua and the cook were arguing about how much honey to dribble in her rice bowl. She kissed them both on the cheeks, grabbed the bowl, and began eating it on the way to the dining room. Uncle Iroh was at the table, a pile of papers before him. She kissed him with lips sticky from honey, and dropped down across from him.

He smiled at her. "My, you are in a good mood this morning, my dear."

Lan shoveled some rice into her mouth. "Why not?" She asked around wads of her breakfast. "It's a beautiful, cold day. I never have to go back to the Royal Fire Academy for Girls, and this rice is delicious! How did Cook get it so tasty?"

Iroh was reading one of the parchments. "Perhaps it tastes sweeter because you are eating it at home."

"Very wise, Uncle."

He looked up and chuckled. "I thought so." He put the papers down, and folded his hands on the table. "So, young lady, what would you like to do today?"

She leaned back and unfolded one of her legs to extend it above the table. "New clothes. These are the largest in my closet. And they are nearly indecent."

"I see what you mean. Yes, first thing, then, new clothes. I have a few hours this morning, but this afternoon I have a cabinet meeting, and then, I am committed to Zuko."

She stopped chewing. "What are you doing with Zuko?"

"I told you - firebending. I am still searching for a swordmaster for him, since Master Piandao has retired to the islands."

Lan pointed her chopsticks at her uncle. "Jiao Ao," she said, although, with a mouthful of rice, it sounded more like jow yow.

"May you live a hundred years." Iroh smiled mischievously as he poured himself a cup of tea.

She rolled her eyes, shook her head, and swallowed the bite she was eating. "I didn't sneeze! I meant Jiao Ao, my master at school. He is an excellent teacher, Uncle."

He looked speculative. "Really? Perhaps I will pay him a visit – or ask him to come here."

She put another mouthful of rice in her mouth. "Asb hib to cub here. He dubn't ge out mup," she said, which translated to ask him to come here; he doesn't get out much.

Iroh looked dismayed . "You really did lose your manners at school."

She gave an embarrassed half-smile. "Sobby."

He drained his tea cup and stood. "Choke down the rest of your rice, my dear, and let's go. You know how I love shopping!"

Iroh was not lying when he said that he loved shopping. He was a shrewd bargainer, and as Lan Chi noted after he had purchased a brass dinner bell and a golden monkey statue, a "sucker for shiny objects."

However, he also had a fine eye for the fabric and cut of women's clothing. He had rarely participated in the purchase of Lan Chi's clothing before now, though, since her clothes had usually been the functional sort worn by children. Now, however, since she was growing up, he thought that she should have a more appropriate wardrobe, and that he should help choose it, since Lan Chi had no one with a discerning eye to assist her.

They entered the clothing shop at the open market that Su Hsing patronized during her life, and the seamstresses there were overjoyed to see Iroh and Lan Chi. They cooed and fussed over Iroh and settled him on a cushion with a pot of their finest jasmine tea. Lan Chi had often accompanied her aunt on shopping excursions, and the ladies now exclaimed over her growth and her burgeoning beauty.

"Fan, just look at her features," said one seamstress to the other.

"Oh, yes! And look at her cheekbones! Exquisite," Tong, the other seamstress, smiled.

"And the hair!" Fan picked up her braid, trying not to look repulsed by the color. "She has quite grown into it. Hasn't she, Tong?"

"Oh, yes. She really has. It's not as – jarring as it used to be." She gave Lan a look of earnest concern. "Not at all, my lady."

"Oh, but the freckles." Fan turned Lan's face from one side to another. "Urine of a pregnant cow-hippo should fade those. Have we any, Tong?"

Lan passed a look of horror onto Iroh.

"I believe she is allergic to cow-hippo urine, unfortunately," Iroh said between sips of tea.

Fan's shoulders drooped in disappointment. "Ah, well, can't be helped, then. Let's see how she's grown. Well, really, I can see how she's grown." She tsked-tsked over the ill-fitting clothing, and whipped out a tape measure.

She measured legs and arms and other body parts, and barked out numbers, which Tong copied down assiduously.

"Are those with or without breast bindings?" Tong asked after Fan called out Lan's bust size.

Fan gave Lan's breast an experimental squeeze. "With."

Lan gave a squeal at the invasive grope.

"Well, you'll have to take them off so we can get an accurate number." Tong said over the tops of her sewing glasses.

"Of course." Fan started to strip off Lan's clothes.

"In the dressing room!" Iroh called out, his eyes closed.

Fan blushed, although her color was not nearly as red as Lan Chi's. "Of course. Of course. Come."

She dragged Lan into a curtained closet and efficiently pulled off all of all the girl's clothing, save for her knickers. Lan attempted to cover her nakedness with her hands, but Fan slapped her wrists away. The very cold tape measure was put around Lan's bust area, which caused the girl to jump, and numbers were yelled out to the other seamstress.

After hanging the tape measure around her neck, Fan produced a soft robe for Lan to don and escorted her client back out to the showroom.

Tong had managed to find a plate of almond cookies for Iroh, who sat happily eating and drinking. Lan reached for a cookie, but Fan slapped her wrist again and made a disapproving sound. "We are shopping, not snacking."

Lan stuck her tongue out at the woman when she turned her back, and Iroh patted the cushion next to him. "They are going to bring out some fabric for us to choose from now. Here, have a cookie."

Lan smiled and shoved the entire cookie into her mouth, lest Fan turn around. She muttered her thanks to Iroh, and smiled as the two women came back with arm loads of fabric – red fabric. There were fabrics in every shade of red – carmine, crimson, scarlet, magenta, vermilion, burgundy, pink, coral, wine, rose, ruby, and a few more Lan could not name. They were all laid out, side by side, all across the shop. A sea of undulating red.

"What a wonderful selection!" Iroh exclaimed, although his eyes slid sideways to gauge Lan's reaction. Upon seeing her disappointment, he smiled at the two women. "Have you any other colors?"

Fan looked thoughtful. "Well, I do believe we have some raspberry in the back."

"And maroon. I think we have some maroon," Tong interjected.

"Oh, wonderful! But have you any – other color? Green, perhaps, or blue? Or some sunny yellow?"

The women looked at him as if he had sprouted a second head. "Other – other colors?" Fan asked.

"Besides red?" It was Tong's turn.

"Yes." Iroh turned to Lan. "I think, with her coloring, that she would look stunning in a nice moss green, with jade green trim."

Both women put one hand on her hip and the other on her chin, in matching poses, and studied Lan thoughtfully.

"Hmm, I suppose," began Fan.

Tong's face brightened. "Oh, yes!" She clapped her hands. "Oh, yes, Fan! I can see it! And a pretty, buttery yellow, edged with –" She trailed off, thinking.

The women spoke at the same time. "Maroon!" They gave small squeaks of pleasure and ran off into their storeroom.

Lan gave Iroh's arm a grateful squeeze. "Thank you, Uncle. It's not that I don't like red – I do! I love it, it's just that –"

"That it gets a bit boring." He supplied with a pat on her hand. "I understand. And there are so many other, beautiful colors in the world."

Lan nodded and laid her head against his shoulder. "Yes. That's it, exactly."

So, in the end, after being poked and prodded and turned this way and pivoted that way, and having dozens of fabrics of varying colors draped over her, Lan Chi and her uncle left the shop. An entirely new wardrobe had been purchased for Lan Chi in all the colors that the seamstress sisters had in stock, with promises from Fan and Tong that more would be ordered. They were also able to quickly cobble together an outfit for her to wear home, and told Lan that some other simple pieces would be delivered to her the next morning.

When they returned to the palace, Iroh rushed off to his meeting, and Lan Chi decided to practice her forms in the courtyard. She spent a few minutes warming up, and then ran through all of the advanced drills. After about a half hour of training, Hua came out with some tea and cookies.

"Time for a break, my lady." She put the tray down on a small table.

Lan dropped her arms and grinned. "Thanks, Hua. That is very thoughtful of you. But you didn't have to do that. I could have come into the kitchen. You needn't spoil me."

"I think that you could use a little spoiling."

"Thank you." She sank down on the small stool set next to the table, and surveyed the courtyard. Everything was the same – even her old swing, still on the cherry tree. Just then, she noticed a long scorch mark on the side of the building. She squinted at it. It was definitely the mark of fire.

"Hua, what's that?" Hua, who had not yet gone, followed Lan's pointed finger.

Hua's face darkened. "Fire Lord Ozai had the wisteria removed a few months ago."

Lan's jaw dropped. She had not realized it, but she had been staring at the outside wall of her bedroom. The burn marks extended from the ground, and snaked all the way up to her window. The wisteria, which had held so many beautiful, fragrant blooms, and which she and Zuko had used to climb into her window, was gone.

Hua looked thoughtfully at the marks. "It had to go. He said that it was diseased."

Iroh's first task, upon returning to the palace, had been to see his brother. His second task had been bringing Lan Chi home. His third task was to see Zuko.

So, after having left Lan Chi at home, and after having been re-introduced as Ozai's War Minister to the rest of the stunned cabinet members, he sought out his nephew. He searched in the courtyard, where he knew that Zuko took his training, but the boy was not there. Iroh thought to check Zuko's bedroom next.

He knocked, and heard his nephew's voice calling to enter.

Zuko was laying on his bed, reading, but did not look from the pages, so Iroh was given a chance to observe him.

He had grown so much. He was taller, much taller than he had been, although not as tall as Iroh himself. He had that look that many adolescent boys had – a sort of awkwardness that made the limbs seem as if they did not correspond to the body. Despite this, he was quite a handsome young man – and, although superficially, he resembled Ozai, Iroh could see, in the slight softness of his features, shades of Ursa.

"Interesting book, Prince Zuko?"

Zuko shot upright, abandoning his book. A look of joy came over his face, and he hopped off the bed, rushed across the room, and embraced his uncle tightly. "Uncle! You've finally come back!"

Iroh grunted, and Zuko released him with an embarrassed "sorry."

"Quite all right, my boy. You needn't apologize for your strength." He held him at arm's length, and looked him over. "You're almost a man, Nephew. When last I saw you, you were this high." He held his hand about two feet off the ground.

Zuko laughed. "You have not been gone that long, Uncle."

"It seems that I have been gone that long."

Zuko's smile disappeared. "I am sorry about Lu Ten, Uncle. I was very sad when I heard."

Iroh clapped him on the shoulder. "Thank you, my boy. I am sorry for the loss of your mother. To lose a mother so young is very, very difficult."

"Yes, Sir. It is."

They looked at each other for a long moment, until Iroh spoke. "We both of us have lost someone important, Zuko. We should help each other heal."

Zuko gave him a slight smile. "I would like that." He remembered his manners then. "Would you like to sit down?"

"Yes, that would be nice." They walked to a low sofa, and Iroh sat down on it heavily.

"How long have you been back?" Zuko settled across from him, on the floor.

"I arrived yesterday morning."

Another thought came to Zuko suddenly. "Lan! Have you been to see her?"

Iroh smiled knowingly. "Lan?"

Zuko colored again. "I mean Lady Lan Chi. Does she know?"

He nodded. "I brought her home yesterday."

A wide grin, troubling to Iroh, spread over Zuko's face. "She's here?"

"Yes, indeed."

Zuko looked past his uncle's shoulder, his face delighted. Lan was back! She was back! He would be able to see her again!

Iroh frowned at the dreamy look on his nephew's face. It seemed that Lan's affection for Prince Zuko was not one-sided. He decided to ignore that issue for the current time.

"Well, Prince Zuko, I confess that I am surprised to find you in your chamber at this time of the day."

Zuko's face fell. "Father has dismissed my masters, so I have nothing to do."

Iroh's face expressed surprise. "Really? Were you so fond of your masters, then?"

"Not really. But, now, I have no one to train me. I have nothing to do." He repeated.

"Hmm. Are there no other diversions in the palace?"

"I have been reading today. And, I suppose that I could ride."

"Can you not practice your forms, as well?"

He lowered his eyes. "Yes, Uncle. I shall do so."

"Good. Good. Then we shall start tomorrow."

Zuko's head snapped up. "What do you mean, Uncle?"

"Your father dismissed your masters on my request, Zuko. I will be overseeing your education from now on."

A smile split the young man's face and he jumped up and bowed. "Uncle! That is wonderful news! Thank you! Will you teach me Breath of the Dragon?"

Iroh chuckled. "Perhaps not just yet. I will have to evaluate you, of course, and I intend to hire a new swordmaster for you."

"When can we start?" He went running to his bureau and began rummaging for sparring clothes.

"Tomorrow, Zuko."

"What? Oh, yes. You said. Well, that's all right. I will just go –" He pulled his shoulder armor off over his head, "and practice for a little while."

Iroh lifted himself from the sofa with a grunt. "That's a good idea, Prince Zuko. I will see you tomorrow, an hour after sunrise. What time do you awaken?"

Zuko stopped undressing to grin at him. "I rise with the sun, Uncle."

Iroh smiled fondly. "A true son of Fire."

"Yes, Sir." He ran over and gave Iroh a quick hug. "I'm truly glad that you are safe, and home, Uncle. I was really very worried."

"Thank you, Nephew."

"We will talk about all of your travels, won't we? I'm sure it was all very exciting!" He jumped around as he pulled off his military boots.

"Very exciting. I will leave you now to your work."

"Thank you, Uncle. Thank you so much!"

Iroh smiled at Zuko's enthusiasm, and left his nephew to his task.

As he closed his door behind him, a girl's voice hailed him from down the hall. "Well, well, Uncle. I heard you were back. Been to see Zu-Zu already? You work fast."

Azula stopped in front of him, a hand slung insolently on her hip. Her mentors, Li and Lo, walking in unison behind her, stopped in unison, as well.

Iroh stiffened, but attempted a smile. "Hello, Azula. You've grown."

She gave him a look of derision. "Of course I've grown. It's been four years. I'm not stunted, you know."

I wouldn't say that, Iroh thought, unkindly. "Of course."

"I understand that you have withdrawn Lan Chi from the Royal Fire Academy for Girls."

"Yes, indeed. Lan is back at the palace, where she belongs."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that, Uncle. It's true that she did not fit in at the Academy, but I doubt she belongs here. I think, perhaps, that there is nowhere in the Fire Nation that she truly belongs."

Iroh's smile tightened. "Her place is with me, and my place is here."

"It is kind of Father to allow you both to stay here."

Iroh grasped Azula by the chin and smiled into her eyes warningly. "No, Azula. It is kind of me to allow your father to stay here."

Anger, and something that Iroh could not define, blazed in her eyes, and she ripped her chin from his fingers.

With her hands fisted by her side, she stalked off.

Iroh watched her go, and turned back to find Li and Lo staring at him unblinkingly.

The sisters, who had been overseeing Azula's education since she was quite young, were contemporaries and cousins of Azulon, and had, indeed, been responsible for Ozai's naming of his daughter after the Fire Lord. It was said that the twins, renowned as great beauties in their youth, had both been in love with Azulon, but, due to the laws of consanguinity, no romantic attachments had ever formed between either girl and the future Fire Lord. However, neither girl had ever been interested in any other men, and had pledged to devote their lives to Azulon in any manner that they could. Throughout the years, they had been confidantes to the queen and had become renowned for their wisdom and their skill as twin oracles.

"The Dragon of the West has returned." This came from Li. Or perhaps it was Lo. Iroh could never tell them apart.

"Your return was foretold." Both sisters had their hands folded into their sleeves.

Iroh looked skeptical. He had seen much recently that told him that the twins' skills were spurious, at best. "It was not foretold to the Fire Lord, I think, ladies."

They both smiled secretively. "We keep our own counsel when the spirits demand it." One of them said.

Iroh gave a nod of acknowledgment – he did not believe they had any real power. He bowed to them, and turned to go.

"Your tenure here shall be short, great dragon."

He stopped on his heel and faced them. He could not tell if they were threatening him.

"Your time here will be marked by great tragedy."

"A tragedy that only you can prevent."

"If your wisdom is great enough."

"And your resolve powerful enough."

"Many lives will be altered by your actions."

"And two destroyed, if your decision is the wrong one."

"It is within your power to avert great misfortune."

"For yourself and others."

Throughout this, Iroh was frozen to the spot, held in thrall by their even tones and their prophetic words. A chill ran over him as he listened, and his throat ran suddenly dry. His breathing became shallow, and his fists clenched spasmodically.

Just then, Zuko shot out of his room and nearly tripped over Iroh.

"Oh, Uncle. I beg your pardon. I did not see you." He saw Li and Lo, smiled, bowed, and ran off.

The two women watched Prince Zuko go, turned to Iroh, bowed together, and were gone, leaving the general behind, his entire body shaking.

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