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|The Dragon Chambers|
March 31, 2013
The Dragon Chambers is the sixth chapter of the fanon series, by .
Iroh held his arm out, a crackling half-foot tongue of flame illuminating his path as he walked through the dark tunnel that led to the outer edges of the volcanic rim surrounding the Fire Nation Capital. The Crown Prince had not come down this path in a long time, but he still knew the way as well as ever. It did not lead to a place he was particularly fond of, but neither was it somewhere he could avoid for all time. When he emerged from the pitch darkness of the cave, the beams of the moon shone upon his destination: an old building shaped like many of the temples in the Fire Nation Capital, save that it was constructed entirely out of stone.
Tonight, Iroh did not wear his usual general's uniform, or even the ceremonial robes of the Fire Nation Royal Family. The only accessories which he wore tonight that he wore often were his sandals, which some said he wore too often. The robe he was garbed in was plain in color - the bright, scarlet color of blood - and stretched all the way down to his feet. Inhaling a deep breath, the Crown Prince approached the dreaded, decaying building in front of him. Even he could not avoid it on a day like today - his anniversary.
Standing between the four identical dragon heads carved on the grand entrance, dressed in a robe identical to his own, was the now-retired former Commander of the Southern Raiders. "It is an honor to be in your presence this evening, mighty Dragon of the West," Han Shui greeted as he extended a bow to Iroh.
Although he felt a sense of hollowness and irony behind Han Shui's words, General Iroh remained cordial and echoed the gesture. "Honor felt and returned, mighty Dragon of Water."
"We should go in," stated Han Shui. "The others will be waiting."
Iroh nodded in pleasant agreement. "Let's open the door together, then."
Both taking a step back and tensing the muscles in their arms, he and Han Shui shoved their arms forward and curved all ten of their fingers stiffly, but loosely, each sending two powerful, unyielding streams of fire into the four open mouthes of the dragon heads. The dragon heads were stubborn and the mechanical movements were harder to trigger than similar ones in other shrines. They required a stronger, more consistent jet of fire to open, and Iroh and Han Shui each shot two of them. Although this move was simpler in appearance than other high-level techniques, it was quite difficult to keep up. It would take four ordinary firebenders on good days to open the door - or two masters. At last, the dragon heads lifted and the sides of the door parted. Then the two men entered the Dragon Chambers, a sanctuary and lounge forbidden to all but those enshrined in the highest pantheon of firebending mastery. Those who had conquered dragons.
"You do remember we're still on for tea in a couple days, right?" Han Shui recounted to Iroh as they went through the hallway at each other's side.
"Oh, don't you worry," Iroh replied with a hearty chortle. "It's not like me to forget tea-time." Though he couldn't help but think Han Shui had more than tea on his mind for that occasion.
Since the dawn of bending the elements, dragons were the ultimate firebenders. For countless generations, true firebending masters treated them with reverence and respect, but Fire Lord Sozin began a new tradition of hunting dragons for glory. If a firebender conquered one, their talents became legendary and they earned an honorary title with "Dragon" in it that was uniquely theirs. Iroh's title was the Dragon of the West. It was now twenty years ago to the day that Prince Iroh had won the glory for killing the last great dragon in existence. Iroh remembered the day he had set off for that journey well. The love of his life was still with him and Lu Ten had been very little. In the end, he came back a changed man, though he said few words about the hunt's result upon his return.
After his feat, Iroh was brought here for the first time. He had of course never come before, as only those who had conquered dragons were allowed. Since his youth, Iroh was always a sharing man, though he could not share this with everyone. His wife could never have set foot here, and neither could his son, or his brother, nephew or niece for that matter. He always found the ominous darkness of this particular building - save for only a few candles - disturbing, and the scent reminded him of rotten tea-leaves. It had grown more and more untidy, as no one had properly cleaned it in years. Most who came here thought themselves too high and important to bother.
Together, Iroh and Han Shui scaled the edges of gigantic room with a long table in the center - as long as the one in the Earth King's dining room. Gathered at the farther end was a small cluster of men ranging from Iroh's age to slightly older to much, much older, all wearing identical blood scarlet robes. A celebratory feast was in the corner, buffet-style. Naturally, it was self-service, as there was no one to wait on them. Decades prior, the long table was filled with an infinitely livelier bunch and there were lots of younger men among them. Now, their numbers thinned year-by-year and none would ever join their ranks again. Iroh wondered to himself what would become of the Dragon Chambers when the last of them died. It would not be soon, but it was only a matter of time now. Most likely, the site would be left to rot like the corpses of the great beasts they once hunted. Indeed, the whole atmosphere was already one of decomposition.
After gathering a plateful of stir-fried komodo rhino with a side of capsaicin-enhanced sea slugs wrapped in tomato carrots, the Dragon of the West took his seat near the head of the table between the Dragon of the North and the Dragon of the Fist. He was now well-acquainted with every face in the room.
Indeed, it was Iroh's father who spoke first, from the head of the table. "Fire Lord Sozin was the first among our nation to rise up and challenge the original source of firebending himself, to gain a level of mastery over firebending so great, that the bender was even greater than the flame itself. This newfound domination over our element gave us the power to wipe out the airbenders, who still clung to so-called 'harmony' with their element. From that day forward, we were not as benders of ages past had been, but something greater. Three generations after he ended the last of the airbenders, we are gathered here today in these Sacred Dragon Chambers, to mark the anniversary his grandson ended the last of the dragons."
Iroh, the Dragon of the West tensed up a little as a round of applause followed the aged Azulon's words. "I accept this great praise of yours, Dragon of Fire," the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation said aloud to the table, forcing a good mood upon himself. "Perhaps we should also use this occasion to reflect on what magnificent creatures the dragons were. They knew far more about firebending than we can even comprehend."
"It was you who beat the last dragon in the end," Azulon, the Dragon of Fire scoffed, turning to his plate and lifting his chopsticks with disinterest. "Whatever else it knew was not worth learning." This was no more or less than Iroh expected. Sometimes words needed to be said, whether they were wasted or not.
"Here, here for the great Dragon of the West!" Han Shui roared from the other side of Azulon, waving his fist above his head, before settling himself back down.
"The dragons might be gone, but their power is still legendary, and by extension, us, as the ones who finally beat them," one of Azulon's former War Ministers with the title Dragon of the South chimed in through a mouthful at the other end of the table. His voice was hoarse and his limbs old and frail. While those at the table had performed great feats, they had done so many years ago, and many were not what they used to be. The Fire Lord himself was an exception, as Azulon had held onto a portion of his firebending strength even in his ancient days. "They have not been extant for twenty years, but still some claim to see them in the night."
"Some peasant claimed to have seen one last month near the village of Nongkun," the Dragon of the Fist informed from across the table. This was not something which was unusual. Even twenty years later, one heard whispers of dragon sightings, but the rumors always turned out to be false.
"Indeed," Han Shui said with a sly, extended nod. "As you can see, everyone was invited today," he added across the table to Iroh. "Except for the Dragon of Pure Luck, of course."
The Fire Lord dropped his chopsticks with a soft clatter and angrily rotated spun head about at these words. "Do not mention that man in my presence!" he bellowed at the Dragon of Water. "His name is a disgrace to the title." Azulon's amber eyes blazed with fury as he glared at Han Shui, his chest heaving.
After taking his first bite of food, Iroh cleared his mouth once again. "I am planning another grand expedition soon, but it won't be for hunting dragons this time. This time, it will be the Earth Kingdom capital."
The voices around the table quieted as Fire Lord Azulon crossed hands in front of face, obscuring the long, hanging ends of his mustache. "I remember our last two great campaigns to take Ba Sing Se, once sixteen years ago and once thirty-four years ago. Both ended in disaster very fast. What will be different this time?"
"We weren't prepared for a long drawn out battle and the Earth Kingdom forces swiftly waited us out from behind their walls and then overwhelmed us when we had become exhausted," Iroh explained simply. "Now that we've learned from our past errors, we can secure a proper supply line and make certain we have the proper amount of men and resources before we set off."
"Bah!" Han Shui blurted out through a sloppy mouthful of food. "What use is going to all that trouble when it's not guaranteed victory anyway? In a few years Sozin's Comet will be upon us again and our fire power intensified! If there's any time to attack Ba Sing Se again, it'll be then."
"I agree," the man sitting to the left of Iroh - the Dragon of the North - said with a curt nod. His words, however, were met with scoffs from the others at the table. Unlike the rest, he had zero military experience, being a Fire Sage rather than a soldier. Despite his profession, he was not a spiritual man, having become more obsessed with raw firebending strength than anything else.
"Perhaps the Dragon of West is correct," spoke Genzor, the Dragon of Aether, who was also the only one there besides Iroh with a trace of spirituality in him. "It's exactly twenty years after Sozin, the Dragon of Air's spiritual presence left the world. This has to be the appropriate time to finish his work in spreading our glory throughout the world."
"All the same," Azulon glowered from the head of the table. "It would be a much swifter sweep if we waited for the comet."
"Waiting for the comet to go after Ba Sing Se would be dangerous," Iroh cautioned. "The people of the Earth Kingdom are rigid and if given the time to secure themselves, would find a way to hold out through the comet. The comet can help win the war quicker once Ba Sing Se is already under our control."
"Nonsense," Han Shui countered. "We dealt with the Water Tribe when I was in charge. I didn't need any comet to massacre the southern waterbenders. Don't you agree, Dragon of Fire?" It was in this setting only that the retired Commander of the Southern Raiders could speak to the Fire Lord in such a fashion. Here, one living legend to another, in the temple to their skill as the highest-level firebending masters, they could speak on almost equal terms. Almost.
Fire Lord Azulon narrowed his eyes and pressed his fingers together, pondering. "I agree...with the Dragon of the West," he stated. Han Shui crossed his arms and leaned back in scowling resignation as the Dragon of Fire addressed the heir to his throne. "Prince Iroh, as you conquered the last great dragon, you can now conquer the last great obstacle to victory in the Earth Kingdom. You must take the burden of raising the army and preparing for the invasion entirely on your own, but...you have my support."
Iroh smirked, his pursuit successful. "I wouldn't have it any other way." The Dragon of the West enjoyed himself considerably more the rest of the night.
- Nongkun means "rural village" in Chinese.
- When Genzor says that Sozin's "spiritual presence" left the world twenty years ago, it is meant to indicate that some say that Sozin's spirit lingered after death until the last dragon was conquered by his forebears. Thus, while Azulon actually ruled as Fire Lord for 75 years, some say he ruled for 23 years, from a certain point a view, as Obi-Wan Kenobi might say. This is meant to be the reason why the Fire Sage said Azulon ruled for 23 years in The Avatar and the Fire Lord.
For the collective works of the author, go here.