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Chapter 9: Relief
Fire Lord Zuko sat on his throne, overlooking the meeting. His top generals were there, and each had their own ideas about the War. General Bujing sat at his usual place, noticeably nervous.
Zuko waited until everyone was present to begin. "I have heard it said that the War is not over, that we should continue. Gentlemen, this will not happen." He glared at each one of them. "I have said this before; you will pull back your armies, your navies, everything!"
General Mung scowled. "Will you kill anyone who disagrees with your position, Fire Lord Zuko?"
Zuko stood. "No, differences of opinion make an effective War Council. However," The fire separating his throne from the officers split as he walked through, "My command to pull out is an order! And those who refuse will be subject to explicit Earth Kingdom retaliation as well as demotion. I made it clear to Earth King Kuei that any who did not leave when asked would be subject to punishment."
General Shinu cleared his throat. "Fire Lord, what of the colonies? Some of them have been around for the better part of a century; they've made lives there."
Zuko's harsh glare softened. "We are searching for a solution that will benefit both parties. We will not abandon our fellow citizens if they wish to remain so. But it is a delicate situation that must be handled carefully."
Admiral Chan raised his hand. "The Eastern Fleet is making its return, along with troop emplacements in the Eastern Earth Kingdom, but what will we do with the Western fleet?" He glanced at his counterpart, Admiral Liang.
"The Western Fleet will drop back, men included, to defend the Fire Nation from any future attack, although we will begin a massive scaling back of both fleets."
General Bujing finally spoke up, but his voice was shaking. "Fire Lord Zuko, I challenge you to an Agni Kai!"
All of the officers, even General Mung, were taken aback by such a blatant display of disloyalty. "Now why would you go and do a thing like that?" Zuko asked, strangely calm. He smirked. "Could it be that you knew that Colonel Mongke sold you out? The attempted assassination yesterday was sloppy, Bujing, but if you insist..." Zuko signaled his attendants to remove his outer robes. "I accept."
The general, upon seeing the bandages present even weeks after the Agni Kai with Azula, suddenly grew bold. "You're weak, and your leadership will bring us to ruin!" He took off his armor. "I will restore the glory of the Fire Nation; prepare for the shortest reign in history!"
The Previous Day
Zuko and Mai sat in the Palace Garden, their favorite spot when they were children. Zuko was nervous, but determined; tomorrow he would establish his authority. Mai noticed his discomfort and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. "What's wrong, Zuko?"
Zuko stared at the pond, watching the turtleducks swim around. "The end of the War is only possible if I have the loyalty and respect of the officers. I don't have it, but without it they will fight me every step of the way. I want to rule differently than my father, his father before him, and Sozin before them."
Mai kissed Zuko softly on the lips. "We'll figure it out; I promise. Maybe we could send for Iroh? He could advise you."
Zuko chuckled. "Uncle is happy at his tea shop; I won't deprive him of that because of nervousness."
"You know what would make you happy?"Zuko gazed into her eyes. "Ordering the servants around?"
They both were interrupted by cries of distress; someone had entered the palace, and they weren't friendly. "Mai, hide; I'll handle this."
She whipped out a stiletto. "No, I'm staying by your side."
Zuko put his hand on hers, pushing the blade down. "This isn't up for debate. Go, hide in my chamber."
She glared at him. "Fine, send me away when things finally get exciting." Her expression softened. "Be careful."
He drew her in for another kiss. "Stay safe. I'll get you when this is all over." A Komodo Rhino climbed over the wall separating the Gardens from the outer courtyard. Zuko turned toward Mai. "Go now!"
"Well, if it isn't Prince Zuko." Colonel Mongke said as four other riders came over the wall. "I've been waiting for a rematch."
Man, it's a good thing I'm not in my ceremonial robes, or this might've been difficult .He moved into his fighting stance. "What's this about? Didn't Uncle Iroh and I smack you around once already?"
"This time, it will end differently; you can't take all five of us on!" Zuko side-stepped as Mongke launched a fire blast at him. He knew he had to watch his back, as the archer, Vachir, was now behind him. He utilized a back kick to send a miniscule blast of fire from his heel that seared a hole in the bow and severed the string. Vachir grunted and charged at Zuko, attempting to crush him with his mount, but the Fire Lord propelled himself into the air right as Ogodei swung his bogo. The ball and chain connected with Vachir, knocking him off of his Komodo Rhino and into unconsciousness.
The rider-less rhino barreled into Ogodei's beast, trapping him under two large animals. Zuko saw Yeh-Lu's bomb resting on the ground, fuse lit. Unfortunately for the bombardier, the detonation timing was slow, slow enough that Zuko kicked it up and threw it back at him before it exploded, knocking the third member out.
Zuko turned to see Kahchi pinned against a wall by knives. "Thought you could use a little help." Mai said.
Zuko grinned as he turned toward Mongke. "And I thought I told you to hide." Mongke launched a fireball at Zuko, who easily parried before crescent-blasting the last opponent off of his Komodo Rhino. He walked over to the dazed rider. "Why are you here?"
"We...ugh... were given the order to... eliminate you." Mongke struggled to stand, but Zuko pushed him down.
"Who gave the order?" The Fire Lord shook the defeated man, struggling to contain his temper. "Answer me!"
Mongke looked around and saw that he was defeated and told Zuko everything.
- The same way that Vachir was disabled occurred in the episode "The Desert".
- The Rough Rhinos had a rough time (again!)
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