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January 3, 2017
Hello to everyone reading this post. This is the second day in my 5 day fanon posting spree, since I was out for the whole month of December. Today is going to be Chapter 3 of The Desire for Honor, and it's been about a month and a half since I last posted a chapter for this. Sorry about that.
Basically, this chapter is going to involve very little Aang and Katara, since we had plenty of that in the last chapter, and it's more going to be based on the dynamic between Azula and Zhao. Plus, we get to see some Azula backstory, which I haven't talked about in two months.
Chapter 3: The Blockade
Aang's wrists had been chafing for days now. The skin was rubbed red by the harsh edges of the cuffs, and his ankles weren't faring too well either. Hanging up by his wrists had really done a number on his muscles as well, as his limbs burned from the pain and the strain of holding up his weight for days.
Katara wasn't much better. She weighed more, and thus she was losing he skin on her wrists much easier. Unfortunately for her, she also had worse injuries on her ankles because of the load on the bottom chains. She could barely sleep, the pain was so intense, and she wasn't as strong as Aang, letting her muscles give out every few hours even in spite of the pain.
It didn't help that it had been days since they last ate a decent meal. In the 5 days since they left Gaoling, all they were given was some bread and enough water to survive. It seemed that Azula wanted them to survive, but she didn't want to risk another escape. They would stick to the bare necessities, and it worked. For 5 days since Gaoling, not once did Aang or Katara think of escape. They thought of food, water or not being in pain, but never did they think of escape.
Azula yawned. Nighttime had already fallen, and she was well past her normal time for sleep. She had spent the entire day training her bending, even going so far as to shoot lightning into the sky. No one would notice, or care. They couldn't do anything about it if they did care, either.
A gigantic map was unfurled on the captain's table. Almost 3 meters long by 2 meters wide, it showed each nation in near exquisite detail. Designed by the Fire Nation itself for conquests and mapping the movement of troops, Azula had managed to sneak one away when she was banished.
She shook her head, trying to focus on the situation at hand. They had just passed the city of Chin two days ago, and they had just rounded the major horn in the south of the Earth Kingdom. They had two options: Try and cut across the open sea to a major port across the bay, or hug the shore, trying to find a village that had enough supplies to sustain the crew, or at least prolong their survival.
Both options were bad. The captain of the ship and Commander Zhao walked in. "Princess. You should be asleep," Zhao said as he bowed out of begrudging respect. Azula waved away his concern. "I'm trying to figure out the most probably nautical maneuver for our survival. Surely you can understand that, Commander Zhao, master of the Navy."
For the hundredth time in countless days, Zhao filled with anger. He could not begin to comprehend Azula's arrogance, pride or mockery. Here was the banished Fire Princess, ordering him around, Commander Zhao? Nevertheless, he steeled himself, his muscles tense, as he responded with a slight tremor in his voice.
"Princess, if I may suggest a likely course. If we remain near the shore, the chance is high that we will encounter a village with at least some sense of direction and certain foods that the crew would enjoy. I'm sure that the entire village would be willing to part with any surplus they have, whether we must do it civilly or by force."
Azula laughed, a shrill tone that echoed in the room. "You really are not as intelligent as you look," she mocked. "Have you not heard of the stories about the bay? Legend has it that the swamp in the area is spiritually infused, a dangerous place filled with spirits that will have nothing to do with humans. Disgusting creatures, the hidden animals are."
Again a short burst of laughter. "That's all superstition, of course. I say that we should cut across the bay because of the blockade that prevents anyone from getting into the little inlets of the Earth Kingdom. The Fire Nation blockade starts here - " Azula pointed at a spot just before the swamp on the shore, a day's journey ahead of them " - and ends here," pointing at the strip of land past one of the major inlets of the Earth Kingdom. "In light of that, I think that we should cut across the bay. Captain, informs the crew. We start the journey tonight."
Azula stalked out of the room, presumably to sleep, or ruminate more in her room. Whatever the case, she was away from Zhao, who began to breathe steam the minute she left. "Call the crew," he growled. "I think that we should fulfill Azula's wishes, personally."
Within minutes, the crew was gathered in the conference room outside of the bridge, Zhao seated on a stool in front of the seated crew, eagerly awaiting the gossip on Azula like hounds waiting to devour their leader if given the chance.
Zhao rubbed his stubble and calmed himself, but his red eyes still shone in his face. He grabbed his jaw, opened his mouth and let the edge of his mouth creep upwards into a half - smile. "Azula, our great and visionary leader, would like us to risk our lives, the lives of our two prisoners and everything that we have spent the last three years working for on the basis of a Fire Nation blockade. Unfortunately, there is very little that I can do that will save us in this situation. However, I know that each and every one of you are strong, and you will survive this. And as an early reward, I will finally tell you the story of how Azula was banished from the Fire Nation."
There was a collective gasp around the room. The general populace had very little information on Azula's banishment, only that she was banished, obviously, and was tasked with looking for the Avatar as a service to her country. That, she hoped, was what would return her to a state of power. Now that she finally had the Avatar, she was beginning to adopt some of her old habits, such as demeaning tones, insulting language and threatening even the slightest misdemeanor.
"Azula was 11 at the time. A young Princess, but quite obsessed with the war. She spent hours studying textbooks, analyzing battle strategies and even practicing moves. Every week, you could almost guarantee that she would run up to a major general and explain to them a flaw in their plan to defeat some Earth Nation city. It was mind - boggling. She was so adorable, regardless of her attitude towards others. I'll tell you what changed it all, oh I will. It was a dark day for her, but also a dark day for myself..."
Azula slammed the book shut. The sheer size of it - over 3,000 pages of content - made the room echo with the sound. Azula threw herself over the bed and hauled the book from the bed, almost folding under the weight. Azula was a powerful bender and excelled at hand to hand combat, but she was more lithe and agile than muscle. Weighing only 35 kilograms, she had hardly more substance in her than the book.
Stumbling out into the blazing red hallway, she shouted for a good two minutes, before one of the servants in the palace rushed to her aid. Relieving herself of the book, Azula carried herself haughtily to a general's meeting, presided over by Commander Zhao. The Fire Lord remained behind his wall of fire, as customary, but here was a new change. Azula's brother Zuko sat next to him.
Fire Prince Zuko, the eternal rival of Azula, has preference over her in the ascent to the throne. Azula's blood boiled, even though she knew that it was bound to happen one day. She just didn't expect it so quickly and so visibly.
Commander Zhao cleared his throat, somehow reading her mind. "As I was saying, if we move our troops from across the canal to the Serpent's Pass, we have a clear path to Ba Sing Se. A concentrated passage like that will allow us to stockpile our forces until we can invade the great city. This was suggested by one of our expert tacticians."
Azula's pride got the better of her. Running to where Zhao was, she put her hand onto the map, about where the troops were, according to Zhao. "What a ridiculous idea! if we went through the rivers near the city instead, then we could be hidden by the fog, and we could launch a surprise attack! Why wouldn't you do that when you have an opportunity!"
Dead silence struck the room. Everyone but Azula was shocked or appalled at her behavior, most of all, her father. "You dare speak to one of my most respected tacticians in this way? Do you even know who he is? It is your brother! He devised this plan, based on Earth Nation formations! What does a girl know of military technique?"
Azula swallowed, a lump in her throat. A shadow crossed over her face, the imposing figure of Zhao standing between her and Ozai. "My lord, Azula has read on military tactics for the past two years. If she had an idea, I think that we should entertain it. I will vouch for her."
Ozai nodded his head, while Zuko stared at both Azula and Zhao furiously. Azula's eyes connected with his, and the tension was visibly palpable for all those not looking at Ozai or Zhao's discussion.
Finally, Ozai came to his own conclusion. "We will implement Azula's plan." Zuko almost jumped out of his seat, but Ozai's arm kept him in place with his arm. "Calm yourself, Zuko. Should your plan fail, then you have given me reason to believe that you are not what this nation needs to survive in the war. Action will be taken accordingly."
Azula was truly confident that whatever the case may be, she was a valuable asset to the country. A prodigy firebender and a master strategist, there was no way that her father could follow up on his promise, even if her ruse failed.
Zhao sighed. "The Earth Kingdom knew that Ba Sing Se was close to the river. Under the guise of the fog, they completely slaughtered our forces. We lost hundreds of thousands that day, and Ba Sing Se reinforced itself and other states in rebellion with our weapons."
"Azula's boneheaded move that day cost us a potentially war - ending battle. And today, it may cost some of you your lives. I just hope that we can weather this storm out, or at least, get Azula off of her power trip and back onto ground. This way, it's a near slaughter."
It had been some days since Azula decided to move the ship across the bay. The cook had pronounced that there was only enough food for two more days, unless everyone started eating in smaller portions. The crew members were faced with a choice: Go hungry for slightly longer than normal; or hope to the Avatar in the sky that the ship could make it across the bay in two days. Nearly everyone voted for the former.
The prisoners were also fed less, although they didn't realize it. Resources were partitioned so thinly that most everyone was in a constant state of hunger, thirst or pain. Only Azula was exempt from this feeling, and Zhao might well have been, regardless of what he felt on the inside.
Azula's move was not all bad, however. 5 days after they changed course and avoided the blockade, the captain reported that they would be in sight of land within the next day. There were also reports of a village not too far up the coast, but it was under Fire Nation supervision. They would either have to make the purchases separately, or they would have to fight for the control of the village. Everyone was too tired to make a choice, but that was enough for Azula. They couldn't risk an actual fight.
Just after lunch the day before they were expected to make landfall, the one thing Azula dreaded in her three years at sea was made a reality. Another Fire Nation ship let go its horn in a series of honks in a language created by Zhao himself, as a way of communicating with other ships. Even without being able to see the ship, Zhao knew exactly what the message said: STOP WHERE YOU ARE. PREPARE TO BE BOARDED.
As the fog cleared, courtesy of Zhao's immense rage, the much larger ship came up directly next to Azula's ship. On the deck, clear as day, stood General Iroh, the brother of the Fire Lord and the most proficient firebender in the army. Quite fun - loving and amiable, he could very quickly turn aggressive, devising firebending moves that no one had imagined, and quickly rising through the ranks of the army as a military genius.
Upon seeing Azula, he laughed heartily. "Niece Azula! It has been too long!" Azula looked away and muttered, "Not too long for me."
A bridge was lowered between the two ships, and Iroh boarded the vessel, along with some other, official Fire Nation soldiers. Iroh walked up to Zhao. "How have you been, my friend?"
Zhao stalked away. "Quite terrible, stuck on this ship with no success...to speak of." Iroh heard the tremor in his voice, but thought nothing of it. "Have you had any good conquests lately? Burned any villages, threatened any harmless civilians for your own gain?"
Iroh burst into laughter, but no one else followed suit. He obviously thought Zhao was joking, but no one else seemed to think the same way. "Oh, you know me, I don't partake in those sorts of activities. What about yourselves? I heard from a source that you invaded the Southern Water Tribe. Was it a successful raid?"
Azula looked away from Iroh. "Yes," she haltingly admitted. "We found a waterbender, illegally residing there. She was not registered, and thus we decided to take her to my father."
Iroh stroked his beard, musing, "My brother is not one to take a waterbender in exchange for the removal of disloyalty. But maybe I can convince him to change his mind, if I get a good look at the waterbender and can make a reasonable argument for why she is valuable."
Zhao hurried forward. "Well, she is the daughter of Water Tribe Chief Hakoda, but she's pretty tired right now. The entire crew is. Just let us go to shore, and we can stock up on supplies. Then, you can report to the Fire Lord that Princess Azula has a waterbender. We can save time that way."
Iroh, taken aback by Zhao's violent defense against seeing the waterbender, grew slightly suspicious. Charging towards the prison room, Iroh thundered, "If you're hiding something in your prison, then the General of the Fire Nation demands to see it. This is a Fire Nation ship, and I can demand to see whatever I want to see."
Just as Iroh passed Zhao, Zhao moved over to block Iroh's path. He stared down at Iroh, whose features hardened into a mask of pure rage. "What is it that you could be hiding down there? Could it be...the Avatar?"
No one on the ship could hide their surprise, not even Zhao. Iroh grinned. "Lucky guess, really. But thank you for confirming my beliefs. Now, you can either step aside and let me inspect your prisoners, or we can duel."
Zhao growled, "This is my life on the line. If you walk down those steps to see those prisoners, then it will be over my dead body."
Iroh smiled. "I expected as much from a brash and headstrong commander as yourself. An Agni Kai it is. Do you remember the last time we dueled? I hope not."
Also, there's Iroh! I know I made him a different person in this fanon, to somewhat suit my purposes, but I'll try my best to make him the fun and lovable character that he always was, aside from those times when he's dueling one of our protagonists.
Be sure to come back tomorrow for Day 3 of this week long spree, where we return to Fire of the Red Lotus. I haven't posted this in a month. How time flies. See you tomorrow!
For the collective works of the author, go here.