Two wrinkle-lined faces stare down at Iroh when he opens his eyes. It is often like this after time spent wandering the spirit world--the world of the body blurs, lacks depth--but this time the doubling does not resolve itself when he blinks.
"You cannot keep doing this," says Lo.
"You will exhaust yourself," says Li.
"Your nation needs you." Lo extends a closed hand.
Li matches her sister's gesture. "Your son calls."
As one, they upturn their fists, open their fingers. Lo's hold a single white lotus tile; Li's are empty.
"Which will you choose?" they ask together.
Lu Ten still cries in Iroh's dreams. The thin, childish voice winds through his sleep, now whispering, now so loud Iroh wonders it does not wake the palace.
Once he would have followed the threads of sound down, down, down. Dreams are a border between matter and spirit. Once he would have passed through.
Now, when the cries come, he forces himself upward. He rises. He brews tea. The ritual actions are calming. The liquid's surface is a mirror, but a prosaic one; it shows no ghosts, only Iroh's own tired eyes.
He drinks, and it holds sleep at bay.