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One Shot: Famous Monsters
Twilitlink, The Bos
Famous Monsters is a short side story in the Wanted Universe. It takes place during chapters 1-3 of Book 1. As the title suggests the short revolves around key characters in the Black Lotus Order.
A special caveat: This is not meant to be "Wanted Canon", althoughhas been thoroughly involved in the consulting process. This is a speculative version of how things could have happened. The final say on this work's fit within the "WantedVerse" lies with .
She had been there all afternoon. She had only ordered one ginseng tea with a small plate of dumplings, yet she had stayed long after they were both finished. The day was unusually slow; maybe in part because of the big black ribbon at the front door... Therefore, he didn't feel like asking her to give up her seat, especially since she had been crying all through the last half hour. At least it seemed that way; the hooded cloak made it kind of hard to see...
His brother and niece had just been murdered back at the Fire Nation capital. His nephew would hold a funeral in their honor as it befit members of the royal family. His World was far from shattered, since it was an old military man's business to know that violence begets only more violence, and both father and daughter had purveyed more than their fair share unto the World. He was, however, distressed at the news that the assassin had tried for his nephew as well. Was it revenge? A coup? Would they try to kill Zuko again? All these unanswered questions made him all the more determined to rush to his side at this time of need. He would close up shop for one or two weeks or until the matter was seen through.
As dusk approached, the clientele waned until only the mysterious lady was left. He felt compelled to learn her story, but the desire to see his Zuko pressed harder, so she approached her as gently as he could:
"I'm sorry ma'am. I can see that you are having a difficult time. Please, believe me when I say that, under other circumstances, I would love to be able to help you, but I really need to close shop a bit earlier today. Some family matters have come up - my presence is needed back home at the Fire Nation. I must start packing tonight to start at dawn tomorrow. Is there anything more that I could do for you before we close?"
The lady pulled back her hood, revealing her face. She was a handsome woman, in her forties, with long black hair and streaks of silver beginning to show. Her face, lovely as it was, was drenched in tears and stricken with the blackest grief. All of her expression lines were deepened by her sorrowful frown. She slowly pulled up her deep amber eyes until they met those of the old warrior's. They were still as kind, warm and deep as she remembered, at which point she was once again overcome by emotion. She covered her mouth, trying to stifle her sobbing, as her eyes squinted, imploring her old brother in law's mercy and compassion.
Iroh froze in place...
"Master, I've just about finished cleaning up, so..."
"Go home, Wei" Iroh said in a small, quiet voice "I need a moment alone with the lady."
"Sure Master, I'll just..."
Wei was a young boy, but very smart, so he was able to tell when the old man needed space to do his business.
"Yes, Master. Good night, and have a safe journey. Ma'am."
Iroh was about to sit down, but having read his forlorn guest's attire, he surmised that she had been traveling the same way she had been living for nearly a decade: incognito. He quickly dimmed the lights and set about to closing all windows, doors and blinds in the establishment. He then lit a single candle, heated some tea, and sat across his old sister-in-law.
"I'm so sorry that you have to see me like this, but it's been so long since I could be myself in front of anyone..."
Her voice trailed off into more sobbing, as Iroh poured two cups of hot ginseng tea.
The hot beverage helped soothe Ursa's frayed nerves. She closed her eyes, as the warm embrace of the infusion helped take the edge off her grief.
"Your shop – it's so beautiful. I'm so happy for you, Iroh..."
"You know – It would have never happened without Zuko. He's the one who helped me start it all."
"Well, there was this big, private investor – Quon. I don't think you would know him..."
"I know Quon..." her eyes locked onto the bottom of her tea cup.
Iroh threw a questioning glance, but felt it inappropriate to press for an answer at the moment. He had been there, at the edge of that emotional precipice that is the loss of a child. He knew that on that lonely peak of life, the winds were treacherous and the mind was particularly vulnerable, so he decided to let things transpire on their own. A moment of silence ensued in which Ursa's face once again threatened to crack under the weight of her anguish. Yet, she was able to maintain a measure of composure...
"They killed my baby..."
"I heard they tried for Zuko, too..."
"I know..." she responded, a tinge of anger in her voice.
"I will head out for the capital tomorrow. With Ozai gone, I think it might finally be safe for you to return home. Zuko will need you know more than ever."
"I can't do that..."
"Ursa, I think it's been long enough..."
"Iroh," she interrupted, "I know who did it."
The old man's heart nearly burst in his chest, as it beat fiercely to the rhythm of his warrior's instincts.
"They're coming for you too..."
Iroh was thoroughly puzzled. He tried to ask the question, but no words came out. His face had contorted into a confused frown, making his disarray all the more visible.
"It's the Black Lotus..."
A diabolical chill exploded from his spine and quickly spread across his entire body, leaving him cold, speechless and motionless. It was as if the demons of his past had broken the seal of their tomb and grabbed a hold of him, immediately pulling him back to the darkest days of his life: those two years spent at the base of the Giant Wall. His mind thought of that young assassin he'd harbored as a friend and protégé during the entire campaign, of Lu Ten's friendship with him, and of the sinister token which finally revealed his affiliation to the infamous order. The old man shook his head in horror and disbelief:
"Iroh – listen to me: we must act quickly. The assassin is on his way. We have an agreement to make it seem as if he had been successful. I need you to play along."
"Did you know Ozai hired the Black Lotus to eliminate me and Lu Ten?" Iroh, still bewildered, was not able to latch on to the conversation.
Ursa strengthened her resolve. She wiped her tears and straightened up in her chair. She knew the conversation was about to veer off into rough terrain. Nevertheless, she had a message to deliver, so she braced herself for the ride ahead, willing to power on through it.
"Yes, I knew."
"And, when I survived, they took my father's life while I mourned Lu Ten, taking advantage of my absence..."
How she had feared this day! She was as unprepared now as she had ever been, but there was no other way to get her message across. She had to be transparent:
"The Black Lotus did not kill Azulon..."
Iroh sighed a hollow sigh, as the tears welled up in his eyes "I never wanted to believe them. I never gave them any credit – I always defended your honor."
"Ozai asked him to revoke your birthright, so Azulon asked for Zuko's life as punishment! A ten year old boy! The man had no honor! Your tears are wasted on him!"
Iroh bared his chest, exposing an old burn scar "This was your baby – your Azula! Zuko has one just like this one. She gave it to him the day of the comet. The Avatar wears one on his back, from which he almost died! Even so, I have no right to deny you the right to mourn your child!"
"She was sick!"
"She was a killer!" Iroh almost shouted. He paused briefly to regain his composure:
"And so was my father. She was well named, for they both shared that lust for power which drove all my family insane! And, as much as it may hurt us, in the end they both reaped what they had sown. But, even when a person has given up on the good inside of them, there will be always someone to love them. There will be always be someone who will shed a tear in their memory..."
"I am sorry." The words were belated, but heartfelt. "I am sorry for having caused you even more pain after Lu Ten was gone. But believe me Iroh, if I had the choice again, I would choose my son again in a heartbeat."
"Well, you kept him alive, but that doesn't mean he was safe – or happy..."
"I heard of how he suffered..." Ursa once again began sobbing. "If I could have, I would have taken him with me. I should have never left him with that monster..."
"It was hard to pick up the pieces, especially since he was not willing to admit he was broken in the first place. It was a very difficult time." He took a slow sip of tea "We are all blessed that, in the end, he made the right choices. He redeemed himself - and his country."
Ursa remained silent. Reproach was usually absent from the Old General's lips, but his years of suffering tending to the broken Prince were directly related to her deeds and her absence. Yet, her silence was rewarded in the most unexpected of ways:
"Still, Heaven only knows what would have happened if I had just returned home and confronted Ozai. All of this pain and sorrow could have been prevented. I may very well die before I forgive myself for having been so weak..."
Ursa allowed herself to exhale, since the worst was over. Or so it seemed...
After his last words, Iroh's mind trailed off for a few moments before a severe frown cut across his face:
"Did you say that you cut a deal with the assassin?"
Ursa had no other option, no other recourse, than to come clean. A deep, sorrowful scowl darkened her fair features, as tears poured down it like the monsoon rain. She bared her right arm, whence a red dragon was imprinted on her fair skin, wielding daggers and spitting fire...
The old man grabbed his chest and turned his sight away from her. As he did, he wept bitterly, his noble heart drowning in a sea of shame and despair. Ursa knew she had no time to waste. She jumped from her chair and knelt in front of Iroh. She took his face into her hands, but he fought not to look into her eyes:
"Iroh! Iroh, listen to me! I had no other choice! After Azulon it was joining them or being a fugitive forever!"
The old man wept, slurring his words between his tears:
"Are you here to kill me too?"
Ursa felt her heart jump, but she channeled what little emotional strength she had left into getting her message across:
"No! Iroh, listen to me! We have a plan: a plan that could bring the Black Lotus down forever! We will expose them, force them to go public – we will make them pay for all they've done to us – to you – to me! I'm on good terms with the elite, they won't see it coming! But I need you to follow..."
Slowly, Iroh regained his composure. Still without looking into her eyes, he nodded.
"I know you have given your all. I know you're tired of fighting, but I need one last fight, okay? I need the greatest warrior that ever lived to be on my side on this one? For me, for you, for justice..."
Iroh lifted his eyes and met those of Ursa's.
He nodded silently. His eyes were still as kind, warm and deep as she remembered. She languished for a moment, but quickly stood up.
"I have to go. Tell your people to be here tomorrow at dusk – I will share details on how to proceed then."
She turned was about to go on her way, when she felt a tug in her cloak...
She did not dare turn around.
"Will you forgive me? Will you ever forgive me for not saving you? For being weak? For letting you go?"
She turned around, held his rugged old face in her hands and kissed him passionately. She had no ties, no future, no past – just now... After what felt like eternity, she let him go:
"Never. I will never forgive you..."
And just like that, she disappeared into the night.
Iroh sat alone in his shop, gazing at the flickering light of the dying candle as it faded away...
- I thank Twilitlink for allowing me to go this far. This is the last one - I promise.
- I thank The Bos for reading endless after endless draft.
- Thanks to Evatar114 for helping me tweak some things.
- Thanks to the people who answered the poll - your support gives me validation.
- I guess I don't need to explain why this scene called out to me. I did my best to navigate credibly around many delicate, treacherous issues here. Please comment and say what you think. Thanks!
For the collective works of the author, go here.