Ursa in Zuko's dream
Smoothened Salt, Iron Heart
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My Imago

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The Snow Mouse and the Hawk

Zuko is asleep, and Ozai is finishing off paperwork at the estate. I'm sitting on a log with my daughter's advisors Lo and Li, the stinging warmth of the fire illuminating the darkened beach. Azula is scampering around, scouring the sand for the pointiest shells, porcelain daggers, but the beach has smoothened everything. Little stars twinkle above in a cloudless sky and if I squint my eyes there is a faint green lining on the end of the ocean's horizon. A hawk is perched on a cottage up on the northern head, preening its feathers. Our family comes to Ember Island often to escape the busyness of the mainland. Ozai's campaign is quite demanding and a holiday does him well, even if he spends most of it working in his office. Something about the island soothes me. Its simplicity – the nature, which seems to exude wise secrets from each shadow – enlightens. Lo and Li sit opposite, gazing into the fire. Their skin is wrinkled and cracked, but I can see some lasting beauty from their youth coming up with the emotions that they're experiencing. Memories from the past twinkling in the oncoming tears.

"It was good to come back?" I ask softly to both of them.
Li stirs, she's usually the more talkative one, but she has said nothing all day. Lo watches her sister stir, eyes piercing through the fire. Azula returns, interested at the tension between her two advisors.

"Yes," they both say simultaneously. They had a knack of doing that, as if their minds – or hearts – were syncopated.

"I don't know why you two are moping," Azula says with teasing brevity. "Moping isn't going to bring your dead mother back to life."

"Azula!" I hiss. "Sorry. Azula, let's go back to bed now."
I take Azula's hand and leave the two sisters in their grievances. After putting Azula to bed I return, taking a spot behind some reeds above the cleft of the beach and, shamefully, eavesdrop on the sisters' conversation, watching them, as if a dramatic play, to provide myself with some entertainment.

"The Princess is right," Li utters. "Wallowing, like filthy pigs, in these emotions isn't going to do us any good."
Lo looks up immediately upon hearing this, her eyes wide with disgust and fury.

"Our mother took her own life! She must have felt something," Lo shouted, her voice powerful than I had ever heard it prior. "She must've felt horrible about herself to do such a thing!"

"Feeling something doesn't redeem her, Lo! She was numb when she was with us, she felt nothing towards us! Won't it be better to forget her? She hated us."
Lo got up from the log and walked to the shore, kicking up sand.

"Why do you think she did it? She was alone. Father was in the war, Tosha was conscripted too and we left to the mainland."

"So it's my fault?" Li said, appalled and standing.

"And there you go," Lo laughed. "You always have to bring it back to you."
Li stormed up to her sister and addressed her inches from her face.

"But you don't deny it, do you? That it's my fault she's dead?"

"No I don't!" Lo screamed back, tears welling up in her eyes. "It's your fault she's dead and you broke Tosha, too!"
Lo trudged up the beach, away from her sister. I had to crane my neck to keep my eyes on them.

"Anything else you want to say?"

"You know what!" Lo shouted, turning to face her sister.

"What? I'm a harlet? No? Then go on, say it!"
Lo ran to her sister and shoved her away.

"You destroyed the only person that loved me! The first person that ever paid me any attention!"
Li rolled her eyes.

"What about Hozon? I saw the way he looked at you when I was with him," Li snivelled. "You made me feel second-best! And now you make me out like I'm the bad guy!"

"You are!" Lo screamed, curling her fingers white at the knuckles.

"So are you! You didn't have to leave with me! You could have stayed!"
The women's voices started becoming hoarse and their neatly tucked hair fell out from their pins.

"With her?"

"And so you say, 'with her.' Stop acting like you love her!"
Lo groaned furiously, the furrows in her brow accentuated by the shadows cast be the fire.

"Stop acting like you don't!" she replied. "Put down the façade, and show some emotion for once!"

"Stop lecturing me on how to feel! Face it, Lo. We're broken! Mother screwed us over, and we'll continue to screw each other over! Mother was smart enough to end it sooner than later."
Lo gasped and pushed her sister's shoulder.

"Don't say that! Remember what mum told us?"
Li made no reply.

"Do you?"

"Yes!" Li interjected.

"The beach has a special way of smoothing even the most ragged edges."
There was a pause. Then Li glared at her sister.

"Let me ask. How did you feel when you received the telegram, smooth or ragged?"

"That's not the point."

"Smooth or ragged!"
Lo stiffened. I could see she didn't want to say.


"Smooth," Li repeated, as if it cemented something concrete. "She's gone now, Lo. Don't you finally feel normal?"
Lo did not face her sister. She could not bear to look at her.

"I'm never talking to you again."
It appeared that admitting the death of her mother had bettered her was torturous to Lo, and that the things Li had done to her and their family scarred Lo to point of no return. Li sighed.

"Fine. We'll keep it professional. Speak only to the Princess, and to each other if it is the girl's wish, then return to our separate homes once the day is done. Does that sound good to you, Lo?"

"It sounds great," Lo spat, still determinedly facing away from her sister.
Li sighed again.

"Fine. Have fun being mother."
Li stormed up the dune to the cottage on the head while Lo stayed behind on the beach. She shouted out at the rolling waves, picking up handfuls of sand and tossing it furiously into the murky water. She shouted again, up to the sky, as if to beckon at the gods to spare her from the turmoil she was experiencing. It seemed these two advisors were deeper than I thought. When I look at them today, they appear smoother then yesterday, but still there are bumps and craters on their surfaces. The beach had done its best to wash away the jagged edges, and it was now up to them to finish the task. Their hearts are made heavy of iron. And when iron is thrown to the sea, it sinks and rusts. I had no idea what to give them in terms of advice. Their relationship would remain bitter, and only between them could it be sweetened. And I'm afraid it never will be.

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