DISCLAIMER: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender nor the characters presented within. If I did the 3rd season would have been better. Much better.
There would have been Zutara goodness !
This story is based off of The Chains of Honor by Feye Morgan on . If you haven't read it I would encourage you to do so simply because it was AWESOME! Great plot ideal. Very well written. Unfortunately only a one shot. I sincerely hope the author continues with it and not leave it as such.
I case you deny yourself the privilege of reading the parent story, here's the overview. When Zuko goes to rescue Aang from Zhao the first time, he doesn't get away. Zhao gets him. You can imagine the rest. I am making the assumption that Iroh believes Zuko died at the stronghold. This is what Iroh does about it.
In his lifetime he has been called many things.
And sometimes ... Legend.
Admittedly he never really felt he deserved the last one. It made him seem almost ... inhuman. Any other day he would have disagreed, but today ... today he most certainly was not feeling very human.
Humans knew mercy.
Humans knew pity.
Humans knew when it was enough.
Today ... He knew none of those things.
Without escort or the prompt and circumstance due to his title, General Iroh calmly strolled through the gates of Ponghui Stronghold. He did not ask to be let in. He simply ordered the gates open and they obeyed. It took little time to find his quarry. As predicted Admiral Zhao meet him halfway into the courtyard.
"General ... we were not informed you intended to visit. Had we been given notice ..."
"Silence Zhao! Where is my nephew?" Iroh's voice boomed.
"That's Admiral Zhao General!" the man sneered. Rising to his full height. "I will be given the proper respect ..."
Iroh was not impressed.
"I am a Prince of Royal Blood Zhao. You are nothing next to that. You are nothing to me. Now I ask again where is Prince Zuko?" Iroh's voice was calm, controlled, but the tone hinted at the anger the older man was suppressing.
"Now why would you think the banished Prince is here?" Zhao sneered.
"I know he was here. I know he freed the Avatar. As I know he failed to escape. Again last chance where is Prince Zuko?" Iroh spoke loud enough that all around heard. Some of the more attentive soldiers took cautious steps back.
Zhao was not one of them. Instead he stepped closer to the General and locked eyes with the shorter man. A sinister smirk that in another time or place he would not have dared show to a member of the royal family. But this was the former General Iroh. The supposed Dragon of the West. Ha! The man was a failure just like that Banished Prince that had somehow escaped his due. A failed prince tending to a failed heir. The Admiral did not bother to stop his snort of laughter.
"Yes he did manage, by some small miracle, to free the Avatar from my prison. My only regret was that I was unable to recapture the Avatar as easily I was able to that miserable excuse you call a nephew. Probably would have too if not the boy had the good sense to run while he had the chance and leave that failure behind in his dust."
"What was that ?" the General's voice cold and controlled.
"That's right General. Not even saving the Avatar's hide could earn that failure a single friend. As soon as the prince was down the Avatar bolted and left him behind to face the consequences of his actions." Zhao leaned in close enough to the General's face so that the man could smell his contempt. "And those consequences were ... fatal."
For the first time since entering the fort, Iroh's face changed. His eyes grew wide and most of the color drained away. Blinking several times he grasped the bridge of his nose and took several deep breaths to contain himself. With control regained he looked up at the Admiral who was still within a hair's breath.
"You would dare harm a member of the royal family ? MY family ? The Fire Lord would never allow ..." his angry speech was cut short when Zhao laughed right in his face.
"He ORDERED me to do it!"
Iroh froze. Again the color drained away and he fought to breath. All the while Zhao was smirking. He actually looked smug over what he just admitted doing and who had ordered it. Was his brother that insane ? He knew Ozai had little love for anyone save himself and maybe his chosen heir, but his own son ? After losing his own beloved son at the Siege of Be Sing Se, Iroh could not imagine his own brother could be so full of hatred and contempt that he would see his only son die like that. In a prison cell. Alone. Without alley or friend. Unloved.
No it cannot be. Not another son. He will not allow it. He will not believe.
"Show him to me Zhao. Show me his body now!" Iroh practically roared. Attempts to reign in his temper long gone.
Zhao had to audacity (or stupidity) to actually laugh at his request. The Admiral merely casually shook his head with a slight smirk.
"Sorry General ... it has been disposed of."
"Where ? What did you ..." Iroh started.
"The Komo Rhino's had a good meal this month. I mean why waste the meat?" At the horrified look on the old man's face , Zhao started to laugh loudly.
That was all it took for something to break.
Iroh's feature calmed, stilled into a blank facade. Only his eyes portrayed the boiling rage within.
Taking three steps back Iroh looked from side to side and waited. Waited for this fool to stop laughing. In retrospect one might have considered this a kindness the old man afforded a dead fool.
When Zhao finally calmed down he wiped at his eyes. Noticing the General had backed up a couple steps , his brain picked up on the way the man was glaring at him. Suddenly wary he looked for his personal guard and took comfort at their closeness. Momentary weakness of dread passing , he glared back with equal contempt.
"You are a fool Zhao to have done such a thing."
" Oh really ? " Zhao sneered.
"Yes. You are. But take heart for it is the last foolish mistake you will ever make." Iroh's monotone carried throughout the courtyard. Zhao snickered to himself thinking he knew what was coming next.
"What's the matter Iroh. Upset you lost your replacement son? Does it make you angry? So angry you wish to challenge me to an Angi Ki?"
Iroh shook his head 'no'.
Slightly perplexed Zhao had figured the old man would have challenged him to a duel. Maybe the old fool hadn't gotten as senile as believed. He thought it almost pitiful.
"No?" he asked in a mocked tone.
"No." Iroh said again and opened his moth as the Admiral smirked.
What occurred next witnesses would testify that they had never seen nor heard of such a thing ever before and would have gladly forgone the experience.
They describe the General simply dropping his jaw and a torrent of fire roaring out. One minute Admiral Zhao was there standing before the General, the next, well he was still standing there. Just without any flesh on the front half of his body. They would describe the horror of watching a half burned skeleton, now mind you the back half was completely untouched, trying to scream without a face. Jaw hanging slack almost comically , limbs twitching slightly as only half the muscles were there for proper movement. Eyes smoldering in their sockets. The body collapsing limp on the ground with this spirits awful sound when the guts spilled out. Quite the stuff of nightmares.
Taking a moment to note his work the General nodded with a grim satisfaction at the smoking pile of filth. Turning to the men all around he raised his chin and spoke so that all could hear.
"Admiral Zhao charged with the heresy of the murdered of Crown Prince Zuko. Son of the Lady Ursa. Son of Fire Lord Ozai. My beloved nephew ... Guilty. Punishment ... Death. Punishment rendered. All praise Agni for justice has been done."
Turning to the men gathered around.
"To all you loyal men who stood by and allowed such heresy to occur ... I grant you a moment to make your peace with Angi for you are all going to meet him. NOW!"
One swift movement produced a lightning bolt that collapsed the gate trapping them all within the fort.
The cowardly ran, but they didn't get very far. The fortress was on an overhanging cliff therefore jumping over the walls still had the same result. Although maybe falling to your death was better than burning alive.
Maybe one could ask Zhao when you saw him in hell.
The brave, the bold, and the guilty alike tried to fight. Tried being the operative word. They were no match for a master among masters. The Great Dragon of the West. Seems that title was very well earned. 'Fought like a one man army.' the survivors claimed. Some might have said they died like true soldiers of the Fire Nation. On their feet fighting. The end result ... they died just the same. Burned to a crisp.
The smart ones hit the ground prostrate and begged for mercy. Luckily for them there was just enough humanity left within the General that he did indeed spare them. The handful of men were left alive for one task and one task only. To go forth into all the Fire Nation lands and tell this tale. Tell everyone what occurred this dark day. So that all would know the woe of Prince Zuko and what happens when justice is done. In all directions Iroh sent his messengers. All but one. One he saved for the Fire Lord. A special message just for his dear brother.
Just one word.
Pray Ozai. Pray we never meet again in this life. Pray I never have the chance to repay you for this travesty you wrought on our family. On your very own son Ozai. Pray I never get the chance , brother, to even the score. Pray that the fates are kind Ozai. Just like you.
His task complete Iroh walked away from the burning wreckage of Ponghui Stronghold. A fitting funeral pyre for his nephew. Let the Earth Kingdom reclaim it's ashes. Hopefully Zuko's spirit could now find peace. As for himself ... that would be difficult. For he had many miles to go and promises to keep before that day would come.
And so Iroh traveled on in search of a legend.
The slates would be balanced.
This he swore.
AN: Again a little something that came to me after reading the parent story. Hopefully the author doesn't mind me posting this. Thanks for reading. Please R&R. Take care!