“General Iroh, sir? We’ve just received word from the Captains Xu Tan and Huang of the 6th and 24th battalions. Regarding news on the southern and western fronts.”
Placing down his cup of ginseng tea, the burly general pinched his brows, turning to face the young lieutenant who’d just walked into his office. “Let us not be kept in suspense then, young man. I cannot imagine a build up to this news will be a welcome surprise.”
Nodding respectfully, the lieutenant continued. “Lord O – I mean, Ozai’s forces have taken both the Southern and Western Air Temples. There were a great number of casualties, mainly of the air nomads; our battalions have reported they arrived at the conclusion of the massacre, able to protect and rescue a small number of those remaining. They are currently retreating back to bases in Omashu and the Northern Water Tribe to treat and counsel those remaining of the Air Nomads.”
“Great Agni”, Iroh breathed, steadying himself against a chair. “I had… suspicions my brother would do something drastic, but never this coldheartedly and barbaric. I should have known.”
The young man stepped forward to speak, then collected himself again, looking down.
Iroh watched him thoughtfully for a moment then said, “Any report on the training camps outside Ba Sing Se?”
His head perked up. “Uh, yes, sir – currently admissions are… quite low, unfortunately. There are a few air acolytes that have expressed interest in joining after what has happened to their people. In regards to Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom, and Fire Nation recruits...” he trailed off sheepishly, looking to the side, “we’re at an all-time low.”
Iroh cast his eyes to the stars that dusted across the sky out his window, seeking silent reassurance from their eternal brilliance. While he was a man of ferocity, a man of power and war, he was firstly one of honour and spirituality. He knew that he and his men would work and fight until they saw the end of Ozai’s fiery terror, give up life and limb if they had to. But he also hoped, prayed, that the spirits he so fervently admired and respected saw his brother’s evil too, and were just as prepared to let destiny be theirs for the taking. That the world could be brought to peace. But he knew that one’s joy often required another’s sacrifice.
If numbers were as low as this young lieutenant said they were, it wouldn’t matter if the spirits were on their side or not. Ozai would crush their hope and bodies like a measly bumble fly.
No, winning this war would require sacrifice, acts of selflessness, integrity, courage in the face of adversity. From every good man in the four nations.
Resolved, he moved to his desk, swiftly taking out several pieces of parchment and his favourite bamboo pen, and copied the same direct, concise message over and over again. Sealing them each with the same neutral-grey seal, with the characters of each of the nations imprinted small on it, he handed the letters to the awaiting lieutenant.
“See these delivered to Colonels Morishita, Bato, Wei, Lu Ten, and Master Pakku as soon as possible. I pray that destiny is our friend in this war, but friends will not win it. Warriors will.”
The attentive lieutenant bowed, and Iroh enjoyed his surprise when he bowed back. Glancing back up, his expression hardened. “Be swift, my boy. Time goes away, waiting for nobody.”
With that, the young man practically flew down the corridor, already gesturing to the keepers of the messenger hawks.
Iroh sighed. He could feel his joints cracking, his back aching, his heartbreaking. War was not good to anyone, and he wished it over soon as much as anyone else, maybe even more so. Moving toward the window, he smoothed down the grey-turning-white hairs of his beard, hoping for a sense of normalcy or peace. None was granted.
He was too old to be partaking in such acts as wars, battles, planning and forcing young men to go to a war they didn’t feel in their hearts they were meant to be part of. He wanted nothing more than to retire to a quaint little piece of heaven, perhaps in Ba Sing Se, and open his own tea shop. Oh, yes. Tea. Jasmine, gingseng, longjing, oolong, maybe even try some of this kombucha his young soldiers would sometimes talk about. That would be the dream. Nothing but tea, pai sho, and bringing smiles to those he could.
But he knew that dream could never be true in the world they were currently living in. He would never be able to live with himself if he simply retired and left the world to the selfish desires of his brother. This war would determine who became Fire Lord, and in turn, who ruled the most powerful and dangerous nation in the world. Iroh dreamed of bringing unity back to the four nations, reigniting alliances and friendships, bringing an era of love and peace. If Ozai were to take the throne, anyone who couldn’t produce a flame from his fingertips, or proudly sing the Fire Nation anthem with clarity and precision, would be considered an enemy and utterly destroyed. And that was not a possibility that Iroh could live with.
Once again, he turned to the stars above, and prayed they heard his plea, prayed they saw the despair the world was in and prayed that if they could do something, they would.