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.


16. Reevaluation

Cadence followed her father in as he went to give Zuko the news about what they'd been able to track about the Avatar's movements based on the sightings.  Zuko was a tad upset about how little was known despite multiple sightings, but he managed to keep himself under control as he looked at the map that plotted the course he'd presumably taken.  "How could a child like that be such a master of evasion?" Zuko found himself asking in amazement.

Cadence flew up to Zuko's shoulder and glanced at the map.  "Hmm...it kinda looks like what our trip together before you learned I could Earthbend, Daddy," she pointed out.

"Eh?" Zuko and Iroh both asked in confusion.

Smiling, Cadence pulled out another map and unrolled it.  "This was our trip," she explained, tracing a similarly wandering trail, though on a much smaller scale.  "It's like the Avatar thinks he's on vacation or something!"

"Of course!" Zuko crowed as he slammed the map down on the table.  "We've been so focused on the fact that he's the Avatar that we've been ignoring the fact he's a child.  We're trying to interpret his movements based on an enemy mindset.  Evasion's the last thing on his mind right now.  If he was at the Southern Air Temple, then he's probably only just come to grips with how much time has passed, or is still doing so.  The reality of the 100 Year War...that's more than he could handle intellectually."  He rubbed his chin.  "Uncle, I need a list of all the best vacation spots from 100 years ago.  Unique landmarks, unusual flora or fauna, or anything else that would be of particular interest to a child reared in isolation on his first adventure."

"Reared in isolation?" Iroh clarified.

"Yes.  He was raised in one of the Air Temples, and he knows only Air Bending.  That means he never started his journey to master the Elements.  That means this is his first time leaving home."  Zuko smacked his fist into his palm.  "And that's why his first stop after he woke up was the Southern Air Temple!  That must have been his home!"

"A home we destroyed," Cadence pointed out with a frown.

Zuko nodded.  "Yes.  After that, he has every reason to hate, distrust, and try to destroy us.  Our only hope at not dying at our next encounter with him is that he lives by the Air Nomad teachings of not doing harm."

"If he has never left home before, that's likely the case," Iroh indicated.

"Uncle, the list," Zuko chided.

"Right away, Your Highness," Iroh replied with a bow and a slight teasing tone to his voice.

As Iroh left to look through his books, Zuko turned to Cadence.  "He's an Airbender, so he's used to looking at things from the air.  So once we have that list, I'm going to need you to mark which ones you find the most interesting."  He glanced at the map of Aang's progress.  "He still seems to be going in a generally northerly direction, so his overall goal of finding a Waterbending Master to teach him remains...so we'll rate his probable movements based on the appeal of the various locations selected as his path takes him north."

"Yes, Zuko," Cadence replied with a smile.  "I'll do my best."



A few days later, Zuko, Iroh, and Cadence were sitting down to dinner as they discussed their findings.  "Alright," Zuko concluded calmly.  "Based on Cadence's choices, the basic plan of the map, and an analysis of the places Aang has gone...we've come to the conclusion that his most likely present destination is Kyoshi Island, to ride the Elephant Koi."

"It sure sounds like fun to me!" Cadence happily proclaimed.

"It would explain his travel path," Iroh agreed.  "So far, he's been heading primarily for inlets and bays.  It's likely he doesn't know exactly where he is going."

"If we can get there before he does, we can set up an ambush," Zuko mused as the door opened, and the ship's cook brought in the baked fish he'd made for their entree.  "Still, it would be nice to have some confirmation..."

"Prince Zuko," the chef stated as he set the fish down.  "You wanted any news of the Avatar's location, yes?  Well, market gossip has him on Kyoshi Island."

"Set a course," Zuko instructed.  "And ready the Rhinos.  I'm not facing the Avatar on foot again."  Calmly, he lifted a portion of the fish with his chopsticks.

As the chef went to do as he was bid, Iroh raised his eyebrow.  "You are not going to oversee it personally?"

"It will still take an hour at least to finish loading the supplies and weigh anchor," Zuko replied.  "Plenty of time to finish a family dinner."

Cadence's grin at his words was rather infectious.



As they arrived on Kyoshi Island, Zuko glanced around carefully as he rode the lead rhino.  "I want the Avatar alive," he instructed firmly.  "Unless and until battle is engaged with the Avatar, do your best to avoid damaging any settlements.  Records show this island is currently neutral.  Do your best to respect that."

Zuko led his unit carefully into the settlement.  Noticing fresh paint on the statue of Avatar Kyoshi, he nodded.  "That's confirmation.  If the Avatar isn't here, he was quite recently...and he wasn't exactly secret about his presence."  Seeing that the villagers were hiding from him and his men, he sighed.  "No point in forcing a confrontation," he grunted.  "Look for him, but remember, avoid doing damage."

As they moved into town, however, several young women in warrior garb patterned after that worn by Avatar Kyoshi attacked them.  Zuko and his men were forced to defend themselves, and before long Zuko found himself face to face with Aang.

"Avatar Aang," Zuko called calmly as he assumed a passive combat stance.  "I don't desire conflict with you, or the people of this settlement, but I'm under orders from my father, the Fire Lord, to capture you as an enemy of the Fire Nation.  Surrender now, and we can end this peacefully."

"I can't do that," Aang replied.  "Too many people are counting on me.  There's too much I have to do."

"You can't run forever," Zuko pointed out.  "We'll pursue you to the ends of the earth and beyond if need be."

"Then I'll just keep running," Aang replied.  "Until I'm ready to turn and fight."

Zuko sighed.  "It's a pity it had to come to this, Avatar."  He shifted to an active stance.  "I'll convey your sentiments to my cousin."

"Your cousin?"

"Cadence," Zuko replied.  "She was looking forward to meeting you again."

Aang's eyes widened.  Before Zuko could initiate an assault, he had fled.

Though damage to the village was minimal, quite a bit was on fire.  On his way out, Aang made use of a large sea serpent to extinguish the flames.  As he left, Zuko ordered the ship to once more make pursuit.

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