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|Fire Lord Iroh|
Fire Lord Iroh
Korra's journey to the Fire Nation was a quick one. She used Bolin's speedboat, which he had custom made to be one of the fastest in the world. The Mo Ce Sea was calm, so she had no trouble what so ever crossing it. The Great Gates of Azulon were open, and now the Royal Plaza came into view. All in all, it went a lot smoother then the last time Korra went to the Fire Nation in order to persuade the Fire Lord to lend military support to her.
As Korra was about to dock, she saw that two Imperial Firebenders were waiting for her. As she stepped ashore, both of them bowed to her.
"Avatar Korra, welcome to the Fire Nation. Would you care for an escort to the Royal Palace?"
"No, not yet anyway. I'm here to meet an old friend. He's residing in the Blue Dragon Hotel. I could use a ride, if you're going that direction anyway."
"Of course, no problem. Follow us."
They preceded her to a luxurious Sato mobile, bearing the crest of Fire Lord Iroh. At least the right people had been informed of her arrival. She grinned as she remembered something she read a long time ago; "Competence is such a rare bird in these woods, I always take time to appreciate it when I see one."
They used the spiral tunnel to climb the volcano, carved by Toph Beifong herself on special request of Fire Lord Zuko. It made a full circle along the side of the volcano, as the mountain road was considered too slow and scaling it directly was not possible for a car.
They quickly arrived at the Blue Dragon Hotel. Korra thanked her escort and went inside. She asked for Bolin, and fortunately the receptionist knew exactly who she was talking about. Korra found him in the restaurant.
"I fly halfway around the world and you still make me go to a different continent to meet you?" she sarcastically remarked.
-"What can I say? Business is business." Bolin had been working on that, Korra knew.
As they both laughed, they warmly greeted each other. Bolin wanted to order lunch for the two of them, but Korra was forced to come straight to the point.
"Bolin, I know this is going to sound blunt, but I need your help. Things in Republic City aren't going well, and if I'm correct, the city will burn when Sozin's Comet comes. I need you there in case things go wrong."
-"Mako has taken precautions, he's told me."
"I'd sleep a lot easier if you were at Air Temple Island. Opal made a good point about the last time we thought the air temples were safe when the comet came."
-"I'm shooting a movie on location here, I'm going to have to make some arrangements, but fine, if you really want me to, I'll go."
-"What is this whole "city will burn" stuff about? Don't you think you're being a little overdramatic?"
"The firebending triads are up to something big. I don't know what but it's something big. And they're going to do it when Sozin's Comet comes."
-"Something big? How big? Burn down the city or just each other?"
"No, not that bi..." Korra's eyes went wide as she suddenly realized what they could possibly have to gain that day. She quickly organized her thoughts and turned to Bolin again. "That's it. It's been staring me in the face this whole time and I just didn't see it. They're going to destroy the other triads."
-"Makes sense. But what are you so worried about? They have turf wars every week. I'd say it's a good thing if a few would be cleaned up. Doing the police's job for them."
"I'm worried about collateral damage, and we can't just sit on our hands while they murder hundreds of people, even if they are criminals."
"Listen, I came here to persuade the Fire Lord to lend his support. Mako is being too stubborn to call in the United Forces, and we need as many firebenders on our side as possible. If our suspicions are true, the firebending triads are joining forces on this."
-"Ooh, that's bad news."
"Considerably. Alright. You do whatever you still have to do, but get back to Republic City as soon as possible. I'll talk to Iroh and see what I can get out of him."
They went their separate ways, as Korra headed for the Royal Palace. She kept pondering about how she could have been so blind. On one hand, it wouldn't be too bad. Even though she couldn't say these things out loud, Bolin did have a point. But there was also the risk of replacing one evil with an even greater one. She had to stop them.
Once inside the palace, the Fire Lord had made time for her. The Fire Nation had similar issues, of course, but the United Republic always had a special place in Iroh's heart. He had been general of their army for a good reason. Korra was being escorted by two Imperial Firebenders, even though she knew her way around the palace. Korra heard that she was announced to Iroh, and stepped into the throne room.
It was remodeled by Zuko after the War. He wanted to get rid of the symbol of a darker time, when hate fueled firebending. He instead made its appearance more closely resemble the classical style it was before Avatar Roku destroyed it in his fight with Sozin. Korra always liked this room much more than the one in the Earth Kingdom. It had a light feeling and atmosphere to it, aided by the kind and open personality of Fire Lord Iroh.
She did uphold the tradition, and bowed respectfully to the ruler. "Your majesty."
He bowed back. "Avatar Korra. How nice to see you again."
"I wish it could have been under better circumstances, but unfortunately, this is the hand we've been dealt."
-"Yes. I understand you need my help."
"Well, not your help specifically, but yes. I need firebenders who can help me defend Republic City. I've stumbled across a conspiracy of the major triads. If they can manage to bring these ideas into practice when Sozin's Comet comes, a lot of people are going to die."
-"Why not just ask the president?"
"The president always agrees with the Chief of Police. And he told me he couldn't do anything. He said that all we had was a hunch, no solid evidence."
-"Is that true?"
"Yes, but he's trying to ignore the circumstantial evidence because it's easy. A lot of circumstantial evidence is pointing in the direction of something big, enough for me to make the trip here."
-"You understand that officially, there isn't much I can do. I can't march my soldiers into Republic City, just because you are reasonably certain something bad is going to happen."
-"I trust your judgment, Korra. I want to believe you, and help you, but I also want to avoid an international incident."
"Of course, and I've thought about this."
-"You came prepared."
Korra smiled. "The Imperial Firebenders are officially no soldiers. They have sworn their allegiance to the crown, but they are not under the formal command of any military leader, except for you. If you could send them with me to the Republic, I would have my army."
-"I'm impressed. You really have done your homework."
Iroh thought for a moment. "Alright," he said, "I'll send them with you. But they are leaving their uniforms here. That way, no one can accuse the Fire Nation. They will just be extremely talented firebenders in the right place at the right time."
"Fantastic. That was exactly what I was hoping for."
-"Shall we go to the captain of the guard?"
The Fire Lord preceded her to the quarters of the Royal Procession, in the basement of the palace. Everyone immediately stood up when they noticed Iroh had walked in. "As you were, gentlemen. Captain, we have some business to discuss."
They went into the office of captain Mori. He was huge. At least a full head tall than herself, and half a head taller than Iroh. He struck Korra as a pragmatic man, a feeling that was confirmed by the interior design of his office. It was a little more than a glass box with everything Korra expected to see in one of a man in his position: a detailed blueprint of the palace (one for every level of course), a calendar with the important people visiting (Korra was a little bummed she wasn't on there), and the rest of the wall space was taken up by filing cabinets. The only decoration was a clock that definitely came from the Earth Kingdom. He invited them to sit down. Iroh, being the humble man he is, insisted on taking the simple wooden chair, while the captain sat in his comfortable desk chair. Korra took the remaining chair, and Iroh came to business.
"Captain, you and your men are taking a trip. You're going to Republic City when the comet comes."
-"Excuse me sir, but, could you explain that? We have the palace to guard that day."
"I know. But Avatar Korra has made a special request and a good point."
Captain Mori turned his attention to Korra.
"We have a big celebration coming, the 100th anniversary of the end of the Hundred Year War."
-"Yes, I'm well aware of this. My men and I have been preparing for this for weeks. And now you want to drag us to a different continent?"
"Yes. Believe me, I wouldn't have asked if it wasn't absolutely necessary. We have evidence of a massive gang war brewing, and that it's going to erupt during the arrival of Sozin's Comet. Normally the police can deal with it, but now we need firebenders, and the police simply doesn't have adequate staffing for that. The United Forces won't intervene unless they receive a direct order from the president, and he adamantly refuses to give it."
-"Okay, you are making sense. But, sir, if I may, why are you agreeing with this? We have our own problems in the Fire Nation."
Iroh nodded approvingly. "Correct, but unlike the United Republic, we have plenty of firebenders to fend off the ones that are up to no good. I'll simply order the regular soldiers to defend the palace in your place. Temporarily, of course."
"Avatar Korra will be in command in my absence, and you will be leaving your uniforms here," Iroh continued, "I don't want to attract any unnecessary attention to the Fire Nation. You are simply tourists out to enjoy the festival. But let's talk numbers. How many men can you get by tomorrow morning?"
-"Six dozen, if I push it."
"Korra, you think you can work with it?"
"72 of the best firebenders in the country? That'll give those triads a run for their money."
-"We certainly will, ma'am. One more small item of business; where are my men going to sleep? All hotels and campsites will be booked, so close to the festival."
Iroh thought for a while. "I can call in a few of my old army contacts. They'll have a place for 72 men."
Now it was Korra's turn to be worried. "Won't that attract a lot of attention?"
"The people I know can be very discreet, if necessary. If anyone can do it without setting off a lot of bells and whistles, it's them."
The rest of the planning went smoothly. They ironed out the kinks, as Mori's pragmatic personality came up with some great ideas to keep the men undercover until it was necessary for them to act. Korra and Iroh soon were on their way again, when Iroh asked: "Korra, where are you planning on staying?"
"I don't really know, I hadn't planned that far ahead. Bolin is staying in the Blue Dragon. Maybe he can spare a bunk. That, or I'll just go back to the United Republic."
-"Nonsense, you're staying here in the palace. Bolin too. I'll send an escort for him."
After dinner, Korra wandered around the palace for a bit, and mumbled a little to herself.
"72 of the best firebenders in the world. This should be good."
"Make that 73," said a strangely familiar voice behind them. Korra turned around and was pleasantly surprised.
"Lord Zuko... You want to come with us?"
-"The United Republic is my baby. It has grown up, but I will not stand by idly as it burns. It and you, Avatar Korra, are my last attachments to my all-time best friend."
Korra was completely lost for words. Even at 116 years old, Zuko was widely regarded as the best firebender in the world. Much like his great grandfather, it was rumored that Sozin's Comet gave him the energy that allowed him to grow so old, and still be this vigorous. Unlike said great grandfather though, he fought an Agni Kai when the comet last came, which must have supercharged him or something.
"I... I don't know what to say. Thank you, Lord Zuko."
-"It is my pleasure. When do we leave?"
"I'm going back tomorrow. I have a boat docked down at the Capital Plaza, you can go with me if you'd like to."
-"Thanks, but no thanks, I'm going by dragon."
Korra smiled. It didn't surprise her, given that Zuko was one for standing on tradition. Fire Lords travel by dragon, that's the way it always had been and that's the way it should be, even though he was retired.
Later that evening, Bolin and Korra sat down to enjoy a cup of tea together.
-"So I heard you got your army. Six dozen. It's not a lot to protect a city of three million."
"It'll do. Plus, I have an ace in the hole. Zuko."
Bolin spit out his tea in surprise. "What? A century-old retiree?"
"Well, nobody seems to have told him that. Trust me, he's the best at what he does: protect the people he cares about and bend fire."
-"Okay, but still. That's the best you can come up with?"
"Do you have something better, because I am open to suggestions. I going to leave tomorrow morning, do you want to go with me?"
-"Are you seriously inviting me along on my own boat?"
Bolin gave her the "raised eyebrow" look, but he still agreed. Korra was glad to hear that. It would be a fun surprise for Opal and his children. She was escorted to one of the guest bedrooms, in the western wing of the palace. It had a very traditional Fire Nation design: lots of red in the color scheme, a large fireplace, candles in every corner, and a large banner on the wall with the Fire Nation logo. Cozy. Still, the bed was soft and the pillow comfortable. Still a little pleased with herself about the firebenders she managed to get to go to Republic City, she quickly dozed off and enjoyed a good night sleep.
The return journey was fun. Bolin was stylishly late at the dock, but that only meant they could see if they could still catch up with Zuko and Druk. They spotted them right before they were going to dock at Air Temple Island.
When they stepped ashore again, Opal, Yin, San and Song were waiting for them on the jetty.
"Dad!" Korra was surprised every time that those kids could speak so perfectly synchronized. As they hugged him, Bolin lifted Song, the youngest, on his arm, and kissed Opal.
Song asked: "Did you bring us anything from the Fire Nation?"
Bolin had to disappoint them: "No, I had to leave in a hurry. Ask Korra."
Korra was shocked: "Oh, so now it's my fault?"
"Well, you were the one who forced me to drop everything and come back here."
"Ahem." Zuko had joined them and was clearly not in the mood for this bickering. "Shall we get down to business?"
"You're right, Lord Zuko." Korra said. "Bolin, I need to visit your brother."
Zuko insisted on giving her a lift to the police headquarters, and Mako had seen them coming. By the time they had dismounted, Mako had come out of the building. He was not very pleased to see them making a stir like this.
"Korra, what are you doing here? And why do you have Lord Zuko with you? And why a dragon?!"
"Calm down, Mako. I'll explain everything inside." She briefly turned her attention to Zuko again. "Lord Zuko, thank you for the ride. Would you like to go inside for a cup of tea?"
-"No, thank you Korra. I have a few arrangements to make." And with one swing of his mighty wings, Druk was in the air and they were on their way again.
"Now, Mako, I have traveled a long way, and could use a good cup of tea. What do you say."
Korra didn't wait for his answer and went inside, walking past a bewildered Mako.
In Mako's office, she poured herself a cup of tea by the time Mako walked in. His expression of "can somebody please explain to me what's going on" had changed into one of "you have got to be kidding me".
Korra was the first one to break the silence.
"Mako, you look like you have some questions. Shoot."
-"Yes. What are you doing here? Or more specifically: why did you bring Lord Zuko with you?"
"Well, you didn't agree to get more firebenders from the United Forces, so I took matters into my own hands. Tadaa!" as she made a triumphant gesture to Zuko. "But that's not why we came straight here. We figured out their plan. The Infernos and Agni Kais are going to try to destroy the other triads. It's going to be a turf war like no one has ever seen."
-"Makes sense. What doesn't make sense is that you traveled to a different continent to pick up one century-old retiree."
Korra smiled. "Hmm, must run in the family. Anyway, I also picked up Bolin, he was in the Fire Nation. I discussed business with Fire Lord Iroh, but there was nothing he could do. Zuko offered to come, I didn't ask him for anything, but it was as good an offer as any."
-"So no military of any sort?"
"Well, Iroh is actually on your side with this. He made a good point that he can't just march his army through the streets because I asked him to."
-"Damn straight he can't."
"But all those things are details. Look, you need to concentrate your firebenders in the vicinity of the other triads' headquarters. That is the big issue here."
-"Korra, those are far apart, and none of them are close to the city centre, where most people are going to be. I need more certainty."
"Mako, please. Why don't you trust me on this like you once did?"
He gave her a look which told Korra she had him right where she wanted him.
For the collective works of the author, go here.