Heart of the Dragon General

General Iroh. Fire Nation hero. First born son of Fire Lord Azulan. The Dragon of the West. It was thought he would be the greatest warrior in the history of the Fire Nation. But all that changed when the war claimed his son's life. This changed him, and he turned his back on the war. This was a necessary event. Iroh had a role to play in bringing balance back to the world...but to play that role, he first had to be broken down, so that he could be rebuilt. This truth was self evident in the spirit realm. But one particular spirit felt this was unfair to Iroh. The wheels of fate are cruel to those caught in the gears, but this particular spirit felt that Iroh deserved kindness. And so this spirit sent Iroh one who would help him to rebuild himself. And so, shortly after his son's funeral, Iroh would find a creature sent by the spirits, the likes of which he never would have imagined...a pretty pink pony princess. Somepony to love...and be loved by.

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46. Recruitment

Zuko stared around in amazement at the 'special squad' Sokka had gathered for the assault of the Fire Nation capital to take down Fire Lord Ozai.  It was certainly an...eclectic group, to say the least, and not all of the meetings were entirely happy.

The first group Zuko wound up meeting - the closest one that Sokka recruited for the mission - was Jet himself, along with his entire 'Freedom Fighter' brigade.  That encounter was...tense.

"So you are a Firebender after all," Jet stated bluntly as they sized each other up.

"That's right," Zuko replied as he stood firm, trying to ready himself for whichever way the conversation would go.

"And not just any Firebender," Jet continued.  "The Prince, if I'm not mistaken."  He idly moved the bit of wheat clenched in his teeth around his mouth.  "Which makes that old guy General Iroh?  Talk about big fish I missed."

"Wouldn't have done you much good to report us," Zuko replied.  "We wouldn't have given you any proof, and without proof the Dai Li would have dragged you off as the threat to the city's stability."

"What makes you think I wouldn't have gotten proof?" Jet challenged.

"Jong and Zhin," Zuko replied.  "Between them and Cadence, we always knew exactly where you were while you were stalking us."

Jet shrugged, still managing to look impudent.  "Maybe, maybe not."  He waited for a time, then continued.  "Still, in the long run, seems like it's a good thing I didn't."  He shrugged.  "Can't say I like or trust you yet...but I suppose I can give you a chance."

Zuko chuckled softly.  "Quite the stellar endorsement," he offered jokingly.  "Does that mean I won't be finding your blades in my back?"

"At least not until you've dealt with your old man," Jet promised, smirking.

Rolling his eyes, Zuko nodded to those members of Jet's group he didn't recognize - amongst them a rather large young man named Pipsqueak and a much smaller boy named 'The Duke' - before moving on to the next group.

He was unsurprised to see that the entirety of this group was dressed in the garb of Earth Kingdom peasantry, both in coloration and make of the fabric.  What startled him most, however, was to see that the apparent leader of the group was a young boy his own age...bound in a wheelchair.

"So you're Prince Zuko?" the boy asked, rolling himself up.  "I'm Teo.  A pleasure to meet you."  He offered his hand cordially to shake.

Managing a smile, Zuko accepted the offered handshake.  "Nice to meet you, too."  He glanced over the group.  "So...are you all Earthbenders?"

"Nope!" Teo replied eagerly.  "We're backup for Aang in the air."  He gestured to a nearby glider, plainly designed to be attached to his wheelchair.  "With that, I'm all but unstoppable as long as I've got wind to fly on.  My Dad designed it for me."

Zuko didn't know much about mechanics, but he knew what was expected.  Kneeling down, he examined the glider.  "Very nice," he praised, even though he didn't know much about it.  "Your father's pretty good with machines, then?"

"He's a brilliant inventor," Teo confirmed.  He looked aside somewhat guiltily.  "Unfortunately...most of the Fire Nations newer weapons are his designs.  He was...supplying them with weapon designs in exchange for them not wiping out our settlement at the Northern Air Temple."

Zuko stroked his chin as he vaguely remembered reading a report regarding a battle there while he was pursuing Aang.  "I take it Aang put a stop to that?" he asked confidently.

"Yup!" Teo confirmed.  "Between our aerial assault from our gliders and the war balloon Sokka helped my Dad perfect, we were able to drive the whole attacking force off."  He smiled widely.  "That's where my Dad is now.  He's up at the palace with Sokka, working out plans for special assault craft for the attack plan.  Heard them saying something about some sort of underwater transport craft to slip right past the defensive fleet."

Zuko couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at that.  "How is that even supposed to work?" he asked, completely stumped.

Teo shrugged.  "Dunno.  But apparently it involves Water Bending."  He gestured to another group of individuals dressed in...leaves and swamp muck.  "That's why they're here."

"Who are they?" Zeko demanded, confused.

"Swamp Benders, apparently," Teo offered.  "Not sure what that even means."

"I'll go ask," Zuko decided, turning to go.  "Looking forward to seeing you in the air."

"Looking forward to seeing you on the throne!" Teo called back before spinning to go seek out other acquaintances.

As he approached the Swamp Benders, he spotted three individuals who immediately caught his attention.  The first was a fat, grey haired man with amusement sparkling in his ancient, wise eyes.  The second was a younger fat man clutching his stomach in pain.  The third was a skinnier man, clutching himself in pain somewhat lower.  On top of that, all three were dressed - if you could call it that - in grass and swamp muck skirts and leaf hats.

"Now what have we learned?" the older one asked, his voice containing qualities that reminded Zuko of Iroh in 'teacher mode'.

"Ponies are not good eatin'," the pair of younger men groaned back, whimpering.

Chuckling, Zuko decided to leave well enough alone for now.  Between this group and whatever else Sokka called in, 'unconventional' was a definite given.

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