Eyes raised to rest on the door across the room, glimpsing the table she sat before and the chairs that circled it in the process. Glare of candles lighting the walls was clear out of her peripheral, as were the few high classed generals she had chosen due to their distinctive rank, and for nothing more. What she had been careful to make the distinction of, however, was to insure that no general that sat in on her upper council was guilty of any more serious war crimes than the generals of the other nations. It was an important political distinction, and one the other nations would recognize.
The doors parted and two of her guards stepped through and parted to each side, permitting a small contingent to enter. Blues were the dominant color that caught the eye, as did the proud stance and the distinctive animal pelts that they wore. To anyone that hadn't lived under a rock the majority of their lives, the men were very obviously Southern Water Tribe.
While, by their elaborate dress, they were obviously people of importance, a less informed person might neglect to notice that the leader of this particular group was Hakoda. This was of importance to her plans for several reasons, but the primary was that he was the father of one of the Avatars compatriots. While her personal involvement with the water tribes had been limited and more overlooked than Zuko's by a good margin, her personal quest against the group would negate this advantage somewhat.
She stood and greeted him with a pleasant smile and a polite bow, gesturing for him to take his position at her table. "Chief Hakoda, its an honor that you've agreed to meet with me." He returned a slight nod of the head but there had been a moment of obvious hesitation; either because he wasn't expecting her own or if he was unsure that he should do so.
"Let me save us both some time. I do no know what your expecting to come of this meeting, Azula, but we will not be backing you in your claim to the throne." Had this been a conversation with Zuko, or a meeting with anyone before the end of the war, a a slight grin would have crossed her face to demean the other person... but she restrained herself.
"Chief Hakoda, I would not expect anything of this nature, nor would I allow it. The dispute over the throne is an internal Fire Nation mater, and will be resolved with internal politics. If we are to be frank, I would like you to agree that the Southern Water Tribe will avoid interfering with either side in the disputes, and what may result out of them. But that's a discussion for the end of the meeting I think."
She leaned forwards and rested her arm on the table, rolling out a map with her free hand. "I'll skip the formalities so that we may begin. I understand that in the Southern Tribe, it is your preferred method to be direct with your dealings." It was somewhat contrary to their elemental nature, but she figured it had something to do with the split from the Northern tribe, who were much more politically oriented.
He grunted his agreement and didn't speak, so she continued on. "As your aware, roughly half of the Fire Nation follows me. I control a small majority in the military, and as will prove to be beneficial to both the Southern and the Northern Water tribes, a fair portion of this force is situated within sovereign water tribe territory. Or, what had been water tribe territory many, many years ago in some instances."
She gestured at the map. "As you can see, I have outlined the areas currently controlled by the fire nation that once belonged to your own, and have subdivided that into the sections in which the military authority is my own. For the next year, my military and civilian force will gradually withdraw itself, reaching the indicate milestones at each time frame," She pointed towards a few dotted outlines. "
The end result is that at the end of this time next year, all of your ground that is within my power to return at this moment will be..." She trailed off. "Of course, should I become sole and sovereign ruler over my nation, I assure you that the maps will be once more reviewed and a revised withdraw will be drawn up as to expedite the return of all of your ancestral land to you once more."
Hakoda looked at Azula, and regarded her in a stern manner. She could see the thoughts tinking around in his head as he considered her words. After all, she had basically offered to give him everything that he wanted in exchange for nothing. Everything that was in her power to give at the moment at any rate. Finally, he leaned in. "Just like that then, Azula? Why would you turn in all of the chips you have?"
She smiled at him. Hakoda was smart. Beyond just truth, she was going to have to offer a slight, controlled slice of her motives in order to get him to believe her. "As you can see, my position here is quite...precarious. While I trust in the other nations not to intervene in an internal Fire Nation conflict, I would like to insure that when I come out on top I find a world willing to accept my rule. I'm not asking you to support me, Chief Hakoda. I'm just asking you not to oppose me when all is said and done."
The Chief sat back and crossed his arms over his chest, once again contemplating. "Very well, Azula. Our nation has suffered enough as a result of our dealings with yours. We would not put ourselves out to be harmed further to stop you from harming yourselves. Beyond that and so long as your intentions remain pure, and we will be watching you Azula, we will recognize whichever of you finds themselves sitting on the throne."
Azula nodded, a slight smile coming to her features. "Very good, Chief Hakoda, I expected nothing less from a man with your experience." She looked back down on the map. "Now that the basics are taken care of, there are a number of other matters to go over. The first of which is that there will surely be some Fire Nation Nationals that have taken to your way of life from living on your land. Once your land is reclaimed, may those that wish join your nation?"
Hakoda scratched his head and shrugged. "Anyone that is willing to respect our ways and pull their own weight is welcome amongst our tribe, and the other tribes will answer the same. There will be no issue with such people living with us."
Azula nodded once more. "Very well. Also, we have a number of mining operations occurring within the land that we currently hold. While we don't expect you to allow us to tap into your resources for free, they are resources that your people do not make use of. We would like to establish a trade agreement so that we may continue to use the facilities that we have established to acquire resources for our own nation."
Another nod from the older man. "I had expected as much. As you are aware, my tribe frowns on your use of coals and other resources that require burning to release their energy. We find the process to be unnatural, and it causes an undeniable damage to the area around both the area of mining as well as when its used for its given intent. In order for us to allow you to continue in good conscious, you must put into place measures to protect the area near your operations from harm. Further, we would request that you look into your own operations to minimize damage there as well."
Another smile from Azula, this one internal. She had already given this possibility some consideration, and had prepared for possible resolutions ahead of time. Outwardly, she maintained a calm and reflective view, one fitting a concerned queen. "Due to the strain of the past few wars on all of the nations, we are not in a sufficient economic surplus as to have the resources to devote to such an endeavorer. However, due to the strain that it does place on your own cultures, I would be willing to allow such development to occur external of the Fire Nation, and once we become more economically stable we would give consideration towards implementing them within our own boarder as well."
Hakoda looked a little shock. She was giving grounds on all of his issues with little to no resistance. She understood very well. Thus far, all such attempts to negotiate with the fire nation had gone over...less than smoothly. "Very well, that is acceptable. With regards to the trade we would expect in return..."
The rest of the meeting had gone unexciting. Details had been hammered out, and following his leaving she had given the orders for things to begin immediately. She was sure that she would have been able to milk more out of the exchanges, but given her current standing, she had to insure that by the end of her conflict with Zuko, not only would the other nations accept her rule, they would secretly be rooting for it.
Today had been a good start to that ends. By so easily cleaning up a sore spot for her nations relations with one of the villages, particularly one that she had little to no personal conflict with, she was opening the door to future precedings going as well. For now, though, and the rest of the day, she found herself out in her courtyard, attempting to hone her skills.
The striking fist, stopped just short of its full reach to provide forward momentum and energy, the stop gap permitting the energy of fire to lick forwards. Limb retracted, center of mass shifted down and away, providing balance for a kick to swing up and around, gracefully following through back to the ground facing in the opposite direction. This provided stable footing for a second kick, but where as the mind was still skilled the body was lacking and gave way to undignified lay her on the ground.
Rough stone met the flesh of her arm as it came down to brace the rest of her body against the fall. The rough surface was unkind to the soft flesh, biting in to it and tearing it away, leaving a gap that was quickly filled with a flow of crimson. A small grunt escaped from her lips as she settled herself on her knees, looking over the wound.
Instinct brought her other hand up towards it, willing the temperature to raise as to seal the wound shut, but the flames didn't come as commanded and the blood continued to flow. She was reminded then that she didn't actually command the forces of life and death any more or yet again, and she cursed herself for letting herself forget that.
Clutching the wound, she stood and waved off the guards that were rushing over to offer their support, and watched them walk inside after she gave each of them a very stern look. She wouldn't accept another person's help, wouldn't tolerate the humiliation of having another fire bender lend her the support of their abilities because she was without. Rather, she brought herself back into position for the start of her Katas, as to continue her training despite the injury.
She would command flame once more, and once she did, her body would be ready for it again. Her time in prison hadn't served her well. Even if she had months, she wouldn't be close to peak form. But it was her own weakness that got her here, and every injury, every pain, would add to that reminder. She would carry the weight of her own weakness in order to strengthen her.
"Worthless." A voice behind her. She sharply turned to berate the guard standing there, but instead found him gone. Her eyes widened as they settled on a figure, tall and proud, sharp face accented with wicked facial hair.
"Fa-father." She stammered, taking a slight step back. It wasn't fear. Not fear, but surprise. "Your dead. I know your dead." Her voice was something resembling a whisper, just barely coming out. She found it somewhat caught in herself.
"Surprised to see me, Azula?" He took a step forwards. His form wasn't the ragged figure she expected, not the imprisoned form she would have guessed at. Instead it was tall and regal as she had remembered him, wearing the royal robes and crown. His appearance filled her with something, and emotion she didn't quite expect. "No Azula. Your not rid of me. Who would rule my country then, you? Your brother. Please. Both of my heirs are so worthless. If I was gone, this country would be nothing!"
"No. This is my country! My country!" She laughed as she took a step towards him now. Not a controlled, powerful laugh, but more of a crackle. A crazed laugh. "You have no right here. No right to rule. You lost to the Avatar, and through him lost to Zuko. But I'm beating Zuko. Beating you. I rule here now. Go back to whatever rock you crawled out from under."
His hand snapped out, too fast for her to follow this close, to fast for her to block or dodge with her body this weak. The sting shot through her face and upper body and knocked her side ways, sending her landing with a crash on her side. But still she continued to laugh. "You poor, disillusioned child. You think you can rule? Your a dog, only as good as the master holding your leash. Straighten up, masters home. You can't even Firebend, what do you expect to do?"
She growled, almost benefiting what he had called her and lashed out with her foot. The strike was easily avoided as Ozai backtracked a few feet and looked down on her with disdain. "If your calling that your claim to the throne old man, your sadly mistaken. Of the three of us only Zuko can fire bend. Are you saying hes better than us?"
It was Ozai's turn to laugh. Loud and proud, dominating and crushing. It sent a shiver through her soul.
"Yes. He's a much better dog than you now. I have no use for someone as worthless as you've become. Both of you bit the hand that fed you. At least he still has teeth!" He pulled back his his fist and struck out towards her. "But your sadly mistaken daughter, dog. Unlike you, I'm not so worthless."
Shock kept her from moving, had she even had the strength to do anything about it otherwise. As his fist lashed out towards her flames sprang to life around it and shot towards her. Instinctively she brought her arms up to protect herself, and felt the flames washing around burning them, her hair and felt the heat on her face.
A scream escaped her lips and she fell back, desperate for the pain to stop. As the smoke cleared she barely noticed that her father was gone and bit her lower lip, struggling to bring herself under control. Finally her guards emerged, on rushing off to search for whoever had assaulted her while the other ran over to help her. She batted away the offered hand and barely managed to stand, heading back for the open door. Hakoda wouldn't have came without a healer. That was something she was in desperate need of at the moment. This was a new revelation and would require a good deal of planning.
Father greatly upset her balance, but he was playing into her hand without realising it. If he made his move now, he could certainly gather enough support from both hers and Zuko's side to be a contender to the throne. Instead he seemed to be waiting for something, and that waiting gave her time to plan. She would show him that Firebending or not, he would regret underestimating this -dog-.