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|More from Sea-dilemma||Romance||PG-13||None||None|
|Chapter 20 (The Spirit Within, Part 1)|
Chapter 19 (The Spirit Within) 
Chapter 21 (The Spirit Within)
Ozai watched as Iroh strolled into the throne room, followed by his lapdog of a secretary, and all the Fire Sages – those traitors. Ozai's own man, Feng, sat beside him on the dais, a small table set up before him.
The scribes that Iroh had requested sat at the foot of the dais, parchment and quills spread out upon the low table set up there, ready to transcribe all that occurred. Ozai wondered if he could simply immolate them.
The Fire Sages bowed, shuffled along, and sat in a row along one side of the table, while Iroh and his secretary took the other side. Ozai turned to Feng.
"Get down there and sit with them. If he produces the will, I want you to examine it carefully."
"Yes, Sire." Feng gathered his things and hurried down the stairs as soon as Ozai doused the flames. He settled on the other side of Iroh, who ignored him.
"All right, Brother. Where is it? Where is this counterfeit will you have conjured?" Ozai's voice was peeved.
"Protocol must be observed, first, My Lord." This came from the chief scribe, and Ozai regretted not killing him earlier.
"Then get on with it!" Ozai yelled, already losing patience.
The scribe jumped at Ozai's tone. His hand shaking, he picked up a paper and read from it in a weak voice. "Hear ye. All in this room are gathered for the reading of the last will and testament of His Majesty the Most Serene Fire Lord Azulon, twenty-third Fire Lord of the Fire Nation and all its sovereign colonies, spirits rest his soul." The Fire Sages each made a ritual gesticulation across their chests at these words, and the scribe continued. "Will the Fire Sages pledge that, should this document be found to be authentic, they will swear to abide by the provisions of this will?"
The Fire Sage answered affirmatively, each in turn.
The scribe turned to Iroh. "Do you, Prince Iroh of the Fire Nation and all its sovereign colonies, pledge that, should this document be found to be authentic, you will swear to abide by the provisions of this will?"
"Do you, Fire Lord Ozai, twenty-fourth –"
"Yes! Yes! Get on with it!"
"Sire, I must ask the question in its entirety, for the record, you see." He began again. "Do you, Fire Lord Ozai, twenty-fourth Fire Lord of the Fire Nation and all its sovereign colonies, pledge that, should this document be found to be authentic, you will swear to abide by the provisions of this will?"
Ozai rolled his eyes. "Yes."
Both scribes seemed satisfied. "Is the aforementioned Fire Lord's will offered here with good faith?"
Iroh answered. "Yes."
The scribes nodded, and Ozai's eyes narrowed. "Can this document be produced?"
"Yes." One of the Fire Sages slid a cylinder out of his tunic. All of the other Sages gaped at him.
"Who produces this document?"
The Fire Sage laid it on the table in front of the scribe. "It is I, Shyu, Fire Sage."
Ozai looked daggers at the Fire Sage, promising him death.
"Shyu!" The High Sage snapped at him. "How did you come by this?"
Shyu's chin lifted. "It was given to me by Fire Lord Azulon the night of Prince Lu Ten's death."
"What?" The High Sage stood. "You had it all this time! Why did you not tell us?"
"You did not ask." Shyu's voice was calm.
"Enough!" Ozai roared, and the flames shot ceilingward. "This will is a forgery! It must be. How could this simple Sage be in ownership of it for over three years with no one knowing?"
"It was given into my safekeeping, my lord, by your father, who instructed me to give it only into the possession of Prince Iroh."
Iroh looked smug.
The chief scribe examined the cylinder, which was wrought of finely etched gold and silver, and removed the cork. He unrolled the parchment from within, and he and the other scribe peered at it carefully, turning it one way and then the other, examining the scarlet seal affixed upon it, and whispering between themselves. After several minutes, he looked at the assembled company. "It appears authentic."
"Let me see that!" The High Sage snatched it from the scribe's hand.
"Be cautious!" The scribe screeched. "That is a royal artifact!"
The High Sage studied the document for long minutes, with other Sages looking over his shoulder. After he had satisfied himself, he passed it along, and all the Sages were given the opportunity to study it. They whispered and nodded and pointed and shook their heads, all while Iroh and Ozai waited, one patiently, one with malice in his heart.
It finally reached Feng, who looked it over a long while. He studied the parchment and the seal and the signature, and the language used. He compared it to several other documents that bore Azulon's signature and seal.
He stood, with the intention of taking the will up to the Fire Lord, but the scribe stayed him. "I am sorry, but anyone who may be a beneficiary is forbidden from touching the document until after its terms have been discovered."
Ozai waved a hand at his assistant, and Feng sat, handing the document back to the scribe.
"It matters not. When it is discovered to be counterfeit, this farce will be over." Feng sneered.
The High Sage cleared his throat. "My – my Lord, it appears to be – well, it appears to – to me, that is – to be authentic."
The flames in front of the throne shot higher.
"Wonderful. Wonderful." The chief scribe smiled, and turned to his companion, who smiled as well. "That is our analysis, as well. I am so pleased that it has been authenticated. Let's get on with the reading, if we might."
He cleared his throat, and smoothed the parchment in front of him.
"In the name of the spirits, I, Azulon, twenty-third Fire Lord, being of sound and disposing mind and memory, do now make and publish this, my last will and testament in order, as justly as may be, to distribute my interests in the world among succeeding men. And first, that part of my interest, which is known in law and recognized in the parchment-bound volumes of the law as my property, being considerable and of account, I hereby now proceed to divide and bequeath." The scribe cleared his throat.
"I leave to my first son, Iroh, all my worldly possessions that passed into my hands from my fathers and from my beloved wife Ilah, to not include any goods passed down as possessions of the office of Fire Lord. I also entreat Iroh to provide for his brother Ozai a portion upon which he and his family might live, the amount to be determined by Iroh, according to his conscience and wisdom."
"What?" Flames shot up and out, exploding in a cloud directly over the heads of those seated before the Fire Lord. He stood and pointed at the assembled men. "What treachery is this?"
The scribes, who, upon feeling the heat, had fallen to the floor, refused to rise. "No treachery, My Lord! We beseech you! The terms of the will state that –"
"I heard them! Get out!" He sent another wave of fire over the table, hoping, perhaps, to torch the will, but it was safe beneath the table, with the scribes. "Get out!"
All the men, Feng included, scurried from the room, although Iroh, unafraid of his brother's tantrum, sauntered out. Once in the anteroom, his secretary came up to him, fear on his features. "General Iroh, I am sorry – but I do not understand quite what happened."
Iroh allowed a brief smile to come to his face. "It means that the Fire Lord is beggared."
"General Iroh! General Iroh!" Iroh heard, as if from a great distance, a voice. He looked up to see Lu Ten, his beloved Lu Ten, smiling down at him. Iroh smiled in return. "Son." He reached a hand to touch his son's face.
"Prince Iroh! Wake up!" Lu Ten's face disappeared, to be replaced by another. "It's Jianyu! There are Royal Guard pounding at the door!"
"What?" Iroh was fully awake now. He rushed from his room and down the stairs, his butler at his heels. Hua stood in the front room, wringing her hands in worry.
"Hua – go upstairs to Lan's room and keep her there! Under no conditions should you allow her to come down. Lock yourselves in."
Hua nodded and disappeared up the dark stairs.
Iroh indicated that Jianyu should open the door.
Six masked Royal Guard stood in the doorway. "General Iroh. The Fire Lord requests your presence."
Iroh gave a convincing yawn, raising his arms into the air. "It's much too late, Captain. Tell my brother I will attend him in the morning."
"General, we have orders to bring you – with force, if necessary." They stepped into the room.
Iroh lowered his arms. "You should probably know that putting your hands on a member of the royal family is a treasonable offense."
"We – we are under orders, Sir."
Iroh put on his most winning face. "I understand, son." He patted the man on the shoulder. "You have your orders. But, really, what matter is it if I sleep a few more hours?"
"But, our orders..."
"Well, if that is all that concerns you, I can give you another order. I am, after all, a general."
"Yes, Sir, but –"
"You are dismissed for the evening. You may return here tomorrow, at an hour past daybreak, if you like, and I will accompany you then. Is that reasonable?"
The guards looked at each other uncertainly, and Iroh smiled. "Gentlemen, it really is quite late. Return to your beds. I give you my word that I will see my brother first thing tomorrow morning."
Deflated by Iroh's reason, they left without incident.
Iroh turned to Jianyu and raised his brows. "That was a close one."
Upstairs, Hua had entered Lan Chi's bedroom and closed and locked the door behind her quietly. By the light of the full moon, she could see the girl's outline on the bed, and she went over and crouched beside her.
"My lady." She shook her arm. "My lady. Wake up."
Lan lifted a hand to rub over her face, and sat up. "Hua? What is it?" Alarm crept into her voice.
"The Royal Guard are here."
Lan sat up, fear waking her. "What? Why?"
Hua shook her head. "I don't know, my lady. Your uncle told me to keep you in here."
Lan looked at her with grave concern. "Hua, I am going down. What if Uncle needs my help?" She started to scramble out of bed, but Hua's surprisingly strong grip stopped her.
"No, my lady. Prince Iroh told you to stay here, and stay here you will."
Lan looked out the window for a moment and saw the moon. "Hua, I can help him. Let me go!"
Her grip increased. "Lan Chi!" In her anger, she dropped the girl's title. "Listen to me! Your uncle wants you up here, where it is safe. Do not disregard his wishes."
"But, Hua –"
"You will stay." Her voice was low and authoritative.
They stared at each other, neither wanting to give in, until Lan finally saw the wisdom in Hua's words, and lowered her eyes. "Yes, Ma'am."
Just then, there was a knock, and Lan and Hua exchanged anxious looks.
"It is I, Iroh. All is well." The muffled voice came through the door.
Lan breathed a sigh of relief and ran to open the door. She threw herself into Iroh's arms, and he embraced her tightly.
"They have gone." Iroh looked at Hua, who nodded.
"What happened?" Lan asked, pulling back to look at her uncle.
He gave an embarrassed half smile. "I have apparently made my brother very, very angry."
Iroh was right. Ozai was very, very angry, indeed. Upon hearing that his own father had left him nothing – nothing at all in his will, Ozai had been so livid that he literally saw the world through a red haze for several seconds.
He had driven everyone out of his throne room, and sat, brooding, for a long while. He looked around the throne room with displeasure. He took no joy in it right now – no joy at being the Fire Lord, no joy in being the most powerful man on Earth. Iroh had taken away that happiness. Iroh had always succeeded in taking away his happiness. He had always been the more clever, the more powerful, the more beloved of the two brothers, and he still was. He had twisted their father until there was no love left for Ozai, and here was more proof of that. Iroh was the chosen son – chosen by his father for everything, and, even now, when Ozai thought that Azulon's favoritism had ended, his father's final jab – leaving all of his money to his elder son.
The office of the Fire Lord was a powerful one – but it had become, increasingly, with the war dragging on, a poor one. However, Azulon, shrewd and cunning, had made certain that few of his personal funds were used on the war effort. His wife, Ilah, a member of the Fire Nation nobility, was also a member of one of the richest families in the Fire Nation. Her father had revolutionized the production of metal, used in warships and the like, and he had become very, very wealthy. Ilah, an only child, had brought that wealth with her to her marriage, and her husband had done an excellent job of managing it throughout the years. And now, it was all Iroh's.
Ozai gave a grunt of anger and launched himself off the throne. He strode down the stairs from the platform purposefully, and headed for his office. The corridors were deserted, and he was glad. He wanted to see no one.
He slammed open the door to his office, and it banged against the inside wall. Feng, seated at his own desk, jumped.
"My – my lord! I was not expecting you."
"I have to sort out this mess somehow. Since the men who work for me are a bunch of incompetent fools!"
Feng fell to his knees in front of his employer. "P – please, my lord, have mercy on me! I tried to get the will for you! I did! I had no idea that Shyu had it! Please, my lord!"
Ozai waved a dismissive hand at him. "Cease your sniveling. I'm not going to kill you. I'd like to kill those useless Fire Sages, though!"
"But, my lord –"
"I'm not going to. And I probably cannot imprison them for incompetence. I can, however, banish them – get them out of my sight. Didn't you tell me recently that one of the Sages at Avatar Roku's temple has died?"
"Yes, my lord. He was 103."
"I don't care how old he was! Send a hawk to the temple, and tell them that I am sending, not one, but two replacements." He gave a malicious smile. "Let's see how they like cooling their heels in the back of nowhere. And find me a replacement for the High Sage – see which of the other Sages would be most grateful for a promotion."
He had not solved his biggest problem, but at least he had cleaned his house of perfidious Fire Sages. "Oh, and send the Royal Guard for my brother. Six of them, in fact. That should be enough. And don't let them take no for an answer from my brother, Feng."
Despite the Fire Lord's order to Feng, the Royal Guard did indeed take no for an answer from Ozai's wily brother. Luckily, for Iroh, Ozai was not to know that until the next morning, since, upon giving the order, he had retired to bed, intending to let Iroh sit and wait for him until the morning.
Iroh, however, although intending to keep his word to attend his brother, did not want to be hauled in front of him like a miscreant, so he made certain to leave his home at sunrise, long before the Royal Guard was due to return.
Iroh went first to see Zuko, already up and waiting impatiently for his teacher. After ordering his nephew to practice hot squats and meditation for an hour, Iroh proceeded to the throne room.
Ozai, by now aware that his brother had successfully weaseled out of seeing him the night before, was not happy.
"Give me one reason why I should not kill you where you stand." Ozai said, silk in his voice.
"Because then Lady Lan Chi would have all of the money you think should be yours. Unless you want to kill her, too."
Ozai's voice was sullen. "Do you think that I would not do such a thing?"
"No, I'm certain you would. But I have tied up that money in such a way that, should anything happen to me, or to my niece, you would be certain to get none."
"And what of Zuko? Is he not one of your heirs, as well?"
"Zuko was to inherit the throne after me, Ozai. The only money he will ever receive from me is a small yearly stipend that is to continue until he is twenty-one. Nothing more."
Ozai's lip curled. "So all of our parents' money shall someday go to a half-breed."
"Irony is a wonderful thing, is it not, Brother?"
"You still have not convinced me not to kill you."
"If I am dead, you get nothing. Alive, I may give you something."
Ozai's eyes narrowed. "What are you offering?"
"I am offering all that you have. You know, as well as I, that many of the items in this palace came from our mother's house. I do not want any of it. You may continue to keep it in the palace, for your use."
"How generous! To offer me furniture I already use."
Iroh shrugged. "The palace would look odd, would it not, without furnishings? Of course, you would still have all of the paintings of the past Fire Lords. As well as a few dozen vases. And that charming desk that the Treaty of Yian Ding was signed on."
"The palace has considerably more than that."
"Much of the furniture is moth eaten and one hundred and fifty years old."
"So you expect to placate me with some gew gaws and a comfortable sofa or two?"
"And some money. Of course, some money."
Ozai's brow raised. "How much money?"
"Twenty thousand a year."
Ozai scoffed. "I could raise that much by increasing taxes on the nobility by a half a percent."
"But they would not like that, would they? They already feel as if they are being bled dry by the Fire Nation."
Ozai set his jaw mulishly, and Iroh was reminded of his brother as a small boy. He sighed. "Ozai, I am aware of the injustice of Father leaving you nothing of your own."
"If you are aware of it, then rectify it."
"By giving me a pittance?"
"It is not a pittance. It's quite fair, and, as Father left it to me to administer your funds –"
"I am not a child!"
"Then don't act like one!" Iroh's statement ended in a yell.
They glared at one another for a long moment, then Iroh sighed wearily. "You trusted me once, Ozai. You loved me, as you loved Father. I do not know what happened – I do not know why things changed. But perhaps this was Father's way of attempting to reconcile us."
"Then he did not know us well."
"Perhaps he did."
"So, I shall have an allowance, like a child?"
"If you persist in seeing it that way..."
"In what other way can I see it?"
"As a chance – to prove yourself."
"To prove myself? I must prove myself to you?"
"You have always been profligate in your spending, Ozai. It was no secret to Father. Prove you can –"
"I can what? Take orders, like a good boy? I have proven myself – time and again. I wasted four years of my life looking for that blasted Avatar, and I did not complain! When you went off to fight your battles, I was Father's advisor. Me!"
"This is the last thing that Father asked me to do, and I will do it – to the best of my conscience and wisdom. I hope that you can accept that."
"What choice do I have?" Ozai asked bitterly.
"One always has a choice, Ozai."
Ozai looked at his brother, standing there with a falsely sincere look on his face, pretending to have Ozai's best interests at heart, and Ozai's hatred for his brother grew. Hatred and resentment and loathing. That's what he felt. And now, this fat old man was presuming to tell him, the Fire Lord, how to spend his money – money that should have been his by rights – and how to live his life! Well, Ozai would pretend, as well. Pretend to accept Iroh's strictures. Pretend that all was well. Oh, he would pretend, all right. And when he, Ozai, was ready, he would strike, and that fat old man would not know from where the strike had come. Then, Ozai would swoop in and take it all. Everything. Everything that should have been his from the beginning.
Ozai smiled, and hoped that it appeared heartfelt. "Yes, Brother. You are right. And I have made my choice. I will accept what you have offered." For now.
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