|More from Typhoonmaster||Tragedy||PG-13||Positive||Complete|
"He was out like a snail-sloth!"
The officials doubled over in laughter as they made their way through the Royal Palace.
"I could've sworn I heard him mumbling in his sleep!"
"Party Friday night...Roku..."
The officer sneered, "He certainly isn't the formidable conqueror he used to be, that's for sure."
Azulon listened to the generals with loathing. The prince had long proven himself a prodigious fire-bending talent and a quick learner. He began attending the war meetings at age 8. Now a young man, he fully understood the sacrifices of war and strategies of battle. His insight and wits earned him respect as a soldier and a student of discipline. He looked down on the chattering generals in abhorrence. His father dozed off during the war meeting. Instead of waking him, the generals abused their time and talked about trivial gossip. Azulon had no patience for crazy weekend stories and arguments between husbands and wives. He struggled to control his temper as the generals blatantly disrespected his father.
As Azulon strode through the halls of the palace, he felt dwarfed by the hanging tapestries of past Fire Lords. The weavings were adorned with intricate, aesthetic design. The young prince felt conflicted. In the tapestries, these men held the sun in the palm of their hand as they stood regally upon earth, untouched by the nipping flames. In reality, they were just men with human flaws, no different from any other person. They were imperfect human beings who stood on the pedestal of perfection. The only place to fall was down. One day, a weaver would spin golden threads in his image. Azulon's fingertips numbed. He didn't know how to feel.
Whispers slithered like snakes through the halls of the Royal Palace. The Fire Lord's condition worsened with each passing day. Sozin's behavior had become increasingly unpredictable. Sometimes he sat quietly in pensive thought. Other times, he was the intimidating force of old, temper flaring like a roaring fire. Even Sozin's closest advisors questioned his ability to rule. How could a man rule a nation if he couldn't remember what he had for breakfast? Azulon figured that a Fire Lord needed sound perception, but Sozin was every bit the ambitious man he used to be. The prince abandoned the shadowy corridors in favor of the sunlit courtyard. His features relaxed as he returned to the familiar turtle-duck pond.
In the spring, mother turtle-ducks never leave their nest. They dutifully guard their eggs and keep them warm. The soft down of a turtle-duck incubates the eggs with the infant chicks growing inside. Tiny cracks form on the fragile shells. Finally, the tiny turtle-ducklings poke their heads to breath fresh air for the first time. Taking their first clumsy steps into the world, they rustle their wet feathers and jump in the water, instinctively able to swim.
Azulon smiled at the turtle-ducklings bobbing in the water. The mother always stayed nearby, a watchful guardian. All was silent, save for the tiny drops of peach petals dappling the water. Ripples spread outwards in perfect rings until they vanished against the sides of the pond. The ducklings swam away.
"Sorry to disturb you."
Fire Lord Sozin stood alone under the shade of the blooming tree.
"Mind if I join you?"
Father took his place next to son. The two sat in mutual silence, admiring the calm of the courtyard. The rocks and plants were placed purposely to mimic the chi-paths. The landscaping balanced light and dark in perfect harmony. The mosaic tiles felt cool and the pattern of the stones weaved stylishly. Sozin broke the silence:
"I just wish I could see it."
Azulon snapped out of his pensive state, "See what?"
The old man sighed, "...the ending."
Azulon wasn't entirely sure what his father was talking about. But, he knew that his father loved to reminisce about the past. He predicted a story. The prince had heard every story from the post-coronation party to stirring tales of war. Sozin was always open with his son.
Sozin admired the young man who sat next to him; he had developed into a fine prince, full of honor and respect. Azulon had an experienced look about him as well as a spark his eye. Sozin supposed the spark was energy, in its purest form. He always listened, taking in everything and retaining it. He reminded Sozin of a young Roku after he had finished his Avatar training. When the Avatar returned, they were every bit the brothers they used to be. Time apart only strengthened their bond.
"Have you thought about marriage, son?"
The question came out of the blue, but so did many of Sozin's comments nowadays.
"Not too much."
"I remember a particular wedding, before you were born, Roku's wedding."
Recently, Sozin had been thinking about his former friend constantly. Azulon noticed by the way his father looked into the distance. Sometimes he accidentally mistook his son for the deceased Avatar. Azulon never paid much attention to it. Sozin often forgot words or mixed up his thoughts. He was patient with his father.
Sozin stared into the clear water, "I was his best man."
Sighing, he continued, "and I really let him down. We had a dream, and I let him down."
Sozin breathed in the fresh air. Sitting against the tree was comfortable.
"Father, what were you saying about the wedding?"
Sozin blinked, "What wedding?"
"I was his best man."
Azulon nodded tolerantly, "I know you were."
"We were supposed to shape the world together." Sozin paused, "It was our dream."
The old man furrowed his brow, "On the balcony, he told me..."
Sozin searched for the words. "He told me..."
"-that we would share the peace of the Fire Nation with the rest of the world."
Azulon reminded his father that he was still there, "I see."
"We grew up together." Sozin closed his eyes, "He promised..."
"...and after he returned, he was experienced, and wise, and serious, and a fully realized Avatar; I was so proud of him."
The Fire Lord dwelled on his thoughts, "On the balcony he told me we would change the world forever."
"He promised that we would always be brothers. I was his best man."
Azulon could feel the emotion concealed within his father. The old man couldn't find the right words. He struggled with a story but could only grasp at fragments. It seemed like he was on the brink of making a connection, but the thought vanished and left him reaching. Azulon looked past the weathered face and white beard and into the eyes of a child. The old man strained to understand his memories, but the fragments muddled together. The old man was deathly afraid because he couldn't discern what was real. His memories were like shadows, twisting and contorting. His father experienced so much in his life. But now, as it came to a close, he sat trying to make sense of it all. The young prince shuddered.
Sozin spoke clearly, "I remember it like it was only yesterday. The sun was setting; it painted the bay crimson and gold. We looked out onto the world. What amazing luck...or..fate, that we had come to know each other so well. We were the Avatar and the Fire Lord, destined for greatness."
Sozin turned to his son with tired eyes, "Let me tell you about power."
"Even though I am grey..or..white, with age, I have only recently realized some important things. I listen to these war meetings and I don't really care anymore. I wish things were simpler, like they used to be. Being the most powerful man in the world has torn me apart. I hear the screams of all of the people who die because of me, and I'm deathly scared of hearing the rest who are still waiting. I feel so weak in this broken body. I haven't slept."
Azulon felt a pang in his chest. His mind wandered back to the tapestries of fiery gods standing above the world. Here he was, staring at the next tapestry, an old man torn apart by his duty, unable to live up to expectations. Azulon could sense the regret in his father's voice. Sozin only wished that he and Roku could have changed the world. His memory was distorted, perhaps by his own choice.
"I wish Roku was here...he always was before."
"---I just don't...feel anymore. There's nothing left." Sozin winced, "I used to regret that Roku never saw our dream fulfilled. Now I regret that I won't see the ending either."
The shadows of late afternoon crept over the rooftops, and the warmth had long vanished. The cool stone mosaic tiles now penetrated with cold. The pond was still; the ripples no longer spread like rings, and the peach petals had sunken to the bottom. Azulon shivered. He was at a loss for words, like his father.
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