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.


14. The Quarry

One day, as Zuko's ship was sailing amidst the ice floes of the far southern waters, he was startled out of a pleasant reverie by the sight of a bright blue beam of light shooting from the ground into the heavens.  He reacted much as anyone would when they saw something they couldn't explain.  "What in the world was that?" he demanded.

Right at that moment, he heard a pained cry.  "Cadence?"  He spun around, rushing to his cousin's side, getting there just as Iroh did.

Cadence was rubbing her forehead as her horn glowed and sputtered.  "I'm...I'm alright..." she hastened to assure both of them.  "I just...there was an energy surge in the spiritual plane...as though it felt the weight of a powerful spirit..."

"The Avatar!" the two men shouted at once, Zuko as a proclamation, Iroh as a question.

"Maybe," Cadence admitted.  "If...if the Avatar were in the Avatar state...based on what I read, that might cause something like this..."  She sighed in relief as the light beam faded from the sky, the discomforting weight on her spirit senses fading with it.

"Set course for that light!" Zuko ordered immediately, his crew leaping to follow the instructions.

The helmsman had run some calculations.  "It will take us a few days to reach the source of the light," he declared.

"Are there any settlements of any sort around here?" Zuko inquired.  "Close to the source of the light?"

"The only settlement of any sort in the area is the Southern Water Tribe, at the South Pole," the navigator explained.  "Not much of a detour."

"How long to the South Pole?"

"About the same amount of time," the helmsman clarified.

Zuko thought about that for a few moments.  "I'll be in my quarters," he stated.  "I'm not to be disturbed unless some other significant event occurs, or we're in sight of the South Pole."  Turning, he marched off.

Curious, Cadence followed him, wanting to see what he was up to.  She found him sitting in a Lotus position, hands resting on his knees.  "Zuko?" she asked.

Zuko smiled softly at her.  "I'm going to need a clear mind and a calm heart when talking with the people in the village if we're going to get any cooperation," he explained.  "So I intend to use the afternoon to meditate, get a good night's sleep, and spend the morning relaxing with you and Uncle over some tea.  I'm going to need to keep myself calm for the next few days, after all."

Cadence couldn't help but smile.  "Just make sure you eat something," she pointed out.  "Even Uncle doesn't live on just tea."

Zuko rolled his eyes.  "Yes, Mother," he replied sarcastically.

"And don't forget to brush your teeth!" Cadence called back as she dashed off.



Late afternoon on the second day, a Fire Nation signal flare was sighted from the direction of the South Pole settlement.  The derelict ship it was launched from was visible through a spyglass...as were the two individuals leaping from it.

"The last Airbender," Zuko muttered as he watched the figures descend.  "Quite agile for being over a century old."  He frowned as he stared more closely.  "...but why is he so tiny?"

"He?" Iroh asked curiously.

"There are two figures, one male and one female.  The male was carrying the female, and leaping ten feet in the air at a time."  Zuko pulled back from the spyglass.  "And he's wearing Air Nomad garb, based on the drawings Cadence showed me from the books."

"Maybe the lady's his wife?" Cadence suggested hopefully.

"If she is, she's a leverage point we can use to force his cooperation," Zuko pointed out.  Seeing Cadence's frown, he held out his hands.  "What do you want me to do?  We're dealing with someone who's had over a century to master the four elements.  You've said yourself that you're only a novice bender in each Element, and I'm nowhere near a Fire Master.  Even all of us together wouldn't stand a chance against him in a fight, especially if he draws on the Avatar State."  Zuko had read avidly through the books Cadence had about the Avatar in preparation for this mission.  "The only pressure we can apply to him is through those he cares about.  That may be monstrous...but he's an enemy of the Fire Nation.  We can't just let him go."

Sighing, Cadence nodded.  "I know.  I'll help how I can.  But that doesn't mean I'm going to like it."

Zuko turned away.  "...you aren't the only one," he muttered under his breath.



As Zuko prepared for the encounter with the small village, he decided that it would be imprudent to go unarmored.  After all, there was always the chance the Avatar - or the villagers - might strike first.  However, if he went fully armored, he might come across as hostile.  As a compromise, he carried his helmet under his arm, and did his best to keep his expression neutral.  There was only so much he could do as far as appearing friendly, considering the war and his scar, but diplomacy was a safer tact when dealing with someone as strong as the Avatar.

He also chose to leave his twin short swords behind.  While he knew how to wield them, against the Avatar his fire would be more useful.  He also firmly instructed Iroh and Cadence to stay on board the ship.  As effective as each of them might have been in capturing the Avatar, he didn't want this capture to be the result of a Pai Sho wager...or the Avatar being too busy "coochie-coo"ing to defend himself.  That would just be embarrassing.

As per his instructions, the boat stopped and anchored before actually touching the ice shelf, and the ramp was lowered carefully.  At the sight of how ramshackle the settlement was - and how few of the buildings were actually made of ice or snow - Zuko relaxed.  This indicated that there weren't that many Water Benders in the settlement, so they were unlikely to have to deal with anyone threatening besides the Avatar himself.

Once the ramp was lowered, Zuko and his armored guards marched around the village to where the snow wall had an opening for people to come in and out.  Based on his Uncle's lessons, courtesy never hurt.  As he entered, he saw that the village was populated almost entirely by old women, young women, and children.  There was only one young man with warrior paint ready to face him, but he looked to be younger than Zuko himself...not to mention his knees were shaking.

"YAAAAAAAH!" the young man shouted, charging at Zuko with a weapon of some sort raised.

There were a number of ways Zuko could handle this situation.  In the end, he decided to simply catch the weapon by the ball at the tip with one hand.  "I do not come to make war on your people this day," he stated bluntly.  "There is a certain individual I am seeking, not one of your tribe.  If you and your people do not interfere, we will do you no harm this day."

"And what about all the harm you've done up till now?" the young man demanded.  "Is that going to go away just because you're being nice, you damn Fire Nation flunky!?"

"Probably not," Zuko admitted.  "But your cooperation will mean that we won't have to hurt anyone."  Remembering something Mai's friend Ty Lee taught him, he brought his other hand up and jabbed the young man on the wrist with two fingers, causing his hand to reflexively open.  Taking the weapon, Zuko examined it for a time, then reversed it and held it out to him.  "Now, may I speak with the leader of your tribe?  I'd prefer to keep this civil, if not civilized."

An old woman stepped forward.  "What is it you want here?" she demanded.

"We are here in pursuit of the Avatar," Zuko stated bluntly.  "He'd be about your age, with arrow tattoos."

"We have seen no one by that description," the old woman replied.  "No one as you describe has ever lived here."

Zuko stared at her for a time, trying to determine the truth of her words.  His ears suddenly twitched as he heard something approaching from behind him.  Leaping into the air, he spun as he shot flames from his hands, giving him a burst of extra height as Iroh had taught him, using the trick he and Cadence had developed, applying Air Bending teachings to Fire Bending.

As the figure passed beneath him, he was glad he'd chosen not to wear his helmet into the village.  With his ears covered, he'd have never heard their approach as they were riding a penguin.  When he landed, Zuko saw the figure...a young boy of maybe 12 in Air Nomad attire with arrow tattoos.

"Looking for me?" the young boy demanded as he leapt to his feet, spinning a curious staff.

"You?" Zuko demanded.  "You're that Avatar?"

"Aang?" he heard one of the young women - about the same age as the lone warrior - whisper.

"No way," the warrior added.

He saw the Avatar - Aang, presumably - assume a combat stance.  Zuko raised his hand.  "I have no intention of fighting you, Avatar.  However, I will insist that you come with us."

"And if I refuse?" Aang demanded.

"Then you'll leave us with no choice but to destroy this village and kill everyone in it," Zuko replied bluntly, doing his best to keep his voice neutral as he spelled out such an atrocity.  "Starting with the children."

Aang shivered, then nodded.  "Alright.  I'll go with you."

Nodding, Zuko gestured to his guards.  They quickly moved up beside the Avatar, taking his staff as they guided him onto the ship.



On board the ship, Aang was quickly led down to the brig, wondering what his captor had meant about the 'special cell'.  Noticing there were only two guards with him, he spoke up.  "So...I'm guessing you've never fought an Air Bender before?"

"We have," the first guard replied.

"Wait, what?" Aang asked in confusion.

"Get the metal diaper," the second guard instructed.  "We don't want any more Fart Bending."

"Fart Bending?" Aang asked, shocked.  He then burst into laughter.  "That sounds hilarious!"

"Not when you're smelling it," the first guard stated, locking something around Aang's waist...only for it to fall to the floor.  "Uh...it's too big."

"Well, it is sized to an old man," the second indicated.  "We weren't expecting a child."

As the two guards started arguing, Aang decided it was time to make his move.  Taking a deep breath, he exhaled forcefully, blasting the two guards away from him before racing away, leaping upward to get his bound hands in front of him.

A blast of air slammed into him, knocking him against the wall.  "And just where do you think you're going?" a female voice demanded.

Aang stared at the figure approaching him.  "Oh my gosh, a talking goat-bird!" he gasped out.  He dashed over to her.  "So adorable!"  he then began petting the multi-colored mane.

"Not a goat-bird," the filly complained.  "But...that feels nice.  I'm Cadence.  What's your name?"

"I'm Aang.  It's nice to meet you Cadence-"

Cadence spun and kicked him in the gut with both hind legs, knocking him back into the stairs.  "And you're under arrest," she stated bluntly.  "Don't run away now."

"Actually, I think that's just what I'll do!" Aang shouted, pulling his hands free.  He'd caught the ropes on the tip of Cadence's horn, and her spinning kick had shredded them.

As Cadence watched Aang race around the ship, she frowned.  "Oh, ponyfeathers," she spat, then paused to wonder why she used that word.



As Zuko watched the sky bison fly off with the Avatar, he made a mental note that putting the Avatar in mortal danger was a badidea.  Even as a child, the Avatar State was nothing to sneeze at.  He was quite glad that Cadence had managed to duck under the watery assault and catch him with her magic, so he didn't end up in the freezing water.

"Well...that could have gone better," Cadence admitted sheepishly.

"At least a sky bison will be easier to track," Zuko grumbled.  "Follow that bison!"  Noticing his crew was mostly locked in ice, he sighed.  "Just...as soon as you're all thawed out."

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