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.


20. Storm of Trouble

As Zuko's ship traveled northward - having no new leads on Aang's path beyond his eventual goal of reaching the North Pole - Zuko used his telescope to scout for any sign of the Avatar's bison.  Unfortunately, in the wide open sea, all he saw was cloudless skies and birds flying south.  He sighed to himself as he lowered his telescope.  "What about you two?" he asked hopefully, turning to face his Uncle and cousin.

Iroh paused in his observations as he sniffed into the breeze from the north.  "There is a storm coming," he stated ominously.  "A big one."

Zuko raised an eyebrow.  "Really?" he asked, glancing around.  "But...there isn't a cloud in the sky!  Are you certain, Uncle?"

"I feel it, too!" Cadence confirmed, shivering.  "It's...it's like a tingling in my feathers, like lightning in my wings.  I...I'm afraid to take to the air...I want to head south...now..."

Zuko paused, comparing what Cadence was saying with the activities of the birds.  The only explanation for Cadence's reactions was avian instincts, responding like the birds were to the approach of a bad storm.  Between that and Iroh's assessment, Zuko was ready to believe a bad storm was coming.

"I suggest we alter our course and head Southwest," Iroh offered.  "It would be best for all of us, ship and crew alike."

Zuko stared to the north as he rubbed his chin.  "...no," he said at last.  "The Avatar might use the storm as cover to fly North without being seen.  We'll head straight West, altering our course Southward as needed should the storm appear especially dangerous.  In the meantime, prep the safety lines for any crewman who has to be on deck, and when the storm is in sight, get everyone below deck."

Iroh nodded, accepting the compromise.

When the storm arrived, the intensity forced them to turn more and more southward.  While skirting the edge, they spotted the Avatar flying straight into the storm.  Despite several members of the crew being ready to pursue, Zuko ordered to patrol the edge of the storm.  He knew this was neither the time nor the place for recklessness.



A few days after the storm, Zuko received a message from Mai that concerned him, and he brought it to Iroh and Cadence.  "It looks like Zhao's been covering himself in glory with the war effort," he stated.  "He's been promoted to Admiral."

"If he's been doing a good job, I don't see the problem," Iroh pointed out reasonably.  "If he has the skills, then surely it is for the good of the nation that he is promoted."

Cadence frowned as she sipped at her tea.  "But he's also after the Avatar," she pointed out.  "If he captures him before us...it may go badly for Zuko."

"And as Admiral, he has the authority to commandeer our ship for any large scale operations," Zuko added.  "And he has a personal vendetta against me from beating him in that Agni Kai.  And...according to Mai, he's spent a good amount of time in the company of my sister."

Iroh's face fell.  "You will forgive me, I'm certain, for stating that your sister is not exactly emotionally stable."

"That's a polite way of saying she's a vicious witch with more ambition than sense, and an absence of compassion," Zuko replied acidly.

"Zhao is also ambitious," Cadence pointed out.  "And unlike you, Azula does not have an assignation arranged."

Iroh and Zuko both turned to stare at her.  Iroh scratched his chin.  "Zhao captures the Avatar before us, leading to Zuko being shamed..."

"Azula twists that into getting me removed from succession, making her next in line to be Fire Lord..." Zuko continues.

"And she professes a fondness for Zhao, and his glory in battle makes him important enough to brush aside any objections..." Iroh mused.

"Leaving the two of them with all the power in the Fire Nation between them, should anything happen to Father!" Zuko concluded.

Iroh's eyes widened.  "You don't really think Azula or Zhao would do that, do you?  It would be treason!"

"Would you put it past either of them?" Zuko demanded.

As Iroh sat back in thought, Cadence frowned.  "It sounds like the good Admiral is getting too big for his britches..."

Iroh's eyes swiveled to his equine daughter.  "Cadence...what are you planning?"

Cadence smiled widely.  "Let's just say there's more than one way to achieve an end...and that I'm about to earn that attribution of Spirit Beast."  She turned to Zuko.  "You focus on catching Aang, cousin.  That's your job.  Leave Zhao to me."

Zuko's frown deepened in concern.  "Are you sure you won't be in any danger?"

Cadence giggled wickedly, for a moment resembling her other cousin strongly enough that Zuko and Iroh both warded themselves with their arms.  "He won't even see me," she promised, getting up and heading out, ghosting into the air on silent wings.

Iroh stared out after Cadence.  "...I am suddenly feeling very sorry for Admiral Zhao...or anyone else who crosses her."

"Just what have you been teaching her, Uncle?"

"Not that!"



Cadence frowned to herself as she witnessed Zhao's use of the Yuyan Archers to capture Aang.  While certainly good for the war effort, if Iroh and Zuko's conclusions about Zhao and Azula's motives and goals were correct, then it was bad for the Fire Nation and the world.  She would need to break Aang free of the Fortress.  On the plus side, if she succeeded, Aang would be kindly disposed to herself and Zuko.

Glancing over the fortress, she looked over her resources.  The Fortress was built on dirt, and the floors were dirt as well.  She knew that Aang's cell would be at the center of the Fortress on the ground floor, making it the most difficult chamber for the Airbender to escape from, and putting the most possible obstacles between him and freedom should he manage to escape.  The floor of that chamber might also be metal, but it would only be a thin layer.  The storm he'd been captured in had also just ended, leaving a great deal of moisture in the air.

As she watched and planned, a family of Owlbears gathered around her, seeming interested in her and what she was doing.  A wide grin crossed her face.



As Aang struggled against the chains holding him, he was startled by the sounds of absolute bedlam in the Fortress at large.  While at first he was confused, he was distracted as the frozen frogs he'd grabbed to treat Sokka and Katara's sickness climbing out of his shirt as they started to thaw.  "Don't leave, frogs!" he called out.  "My friends are sick and they need you!  Please go back to being frozen!"

As he said those last words, a burst of ice cold air erupted from the edges of the metal square the frogs were on, freezing them.  As Aang stared, the square glowed blue, and the thin sheet lifted into the air.  Dense fog flooded out from underneath the sheet as it was set aside, the glow fading.  His manacles then glowed blue, and with an audible snap they popped open.

Aang quickly dove for the frogs as a voice scolded him.  "Come on!  We don't have that much time!"

Aang's head shot up.  He recognized that voice.  "Ca-"

"Ssh!" Cadence hissed.  "No noise, just come!"

Deciding to listen, Aang followed Cadence into the tunnel entrance through which the fog was flowing.  Cadence waited until the cell was full of fog, then covered the hole with the sheet again.  "A friend will fill in the tunnel after we're gone," she told Aang.  "No one will ever know how you got out."

"But what's with all the noise?" Aang asked.  "And the fog?"

"A distraction to make the superstitious jumpy," Cadence explained as they crawled.  "A mix of Air and Water Bending to turn the moist air post storm into a dense fog bank, a mix of Air and Fire Bending to conjure several Will-o-the-Wisps to wander the fort, a bit of lightning to race along the metal of the fort for an eerie glow, and a family of owlbears hooting and hollering to make the people think they're under attack by spirits."

There was suddenly a loud, piercing, human scream.  "And that?" Aang gasped frighteningly.

"In exchange for digging and hiding the tunnel, I told a honey badgermole he could raid the fort for their rations without the Avatar getting mad at him," Cadence replied.  "From the sound of that scream, one of the Archers had some snacks in his pocket."

Reaching the end of the tunnel, Cadence led Aang out of sight of the fortress.  "I think I can leave you to make your way back to your friends on your own," she commented.

"You're...not going to capture me?" Aang asked, surprised.

"That's Zuko's job, not mine," Cadence replied.  She turned to go.

"Wait!" Aang called.  "I have so many questions for you!  How did you learn Air Bending?  Who taught you?  How can you bend all four Elements?  Where-"

Cadence cut him off with a feather on his lips.  "You know where and how to find me if you want those answers," she teased.  Deciding she liked Zuko's words, she decided to echo them.  "Run fast, heal your friends.  We'll probably capture you in the morning."  Spreading her wings, she ghosted into the fog, vanishing in moments.

Aang shivered.  "She's good..."  Remembering the frozen frogs, he turned and raced for the others.

Cadence, for her part, did her best to stifle her own laughter.  Terrifying all those troops like that was just so much fun!  The touch of her magic to the Will-o-the-Wisps to make them move independently had been a nice touch.  And the owlbears had been directed to her by Wan Shi Tong, apparently...and that honey badgermole had just loved her belly rubs...

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