While it might seem out of context up here, Kahol is pronounced with that glottal, like the 'ch' in the Hebrew word L'chaim.
The sound of children running through the tea-shop was music to Iroh's ears. Well, there was also proper music, but it called to mind a time when he could dream, and the things that he would dream about. The happy days when Lu Ten was still alive, before Ozai corrupted him. The days at the shore he spent with Zuko while the boy was still unwell. It saddened him that he could not have such memories with Azula, but she turned out well in the end. It had just taken her a far longer path to reach that point.
The pair of three-year-old boys seemed quite pleased with themselves, chasing each other around with blunt swords amidst the sparse, early day crowds. The day was far too young to have the traffic the Jasmine Dragon was usually entertaining. Missus Baihu was beaming, as she usually did, watching her twin progeny cause a ruckus and some forgivable property damage. It came as no great surprise that Ty Lee would eventually have twins. Considering that family, the opposite would have been absurd. She and her husband were overseeing the running about of those two proudly. Iroh didn't blame them.
"Mitvahr, put that down," Sokka said. "And stop hitting Tengri, he's not as tough as you."
"He's plen'y tough, dad!" Mitvahr complained, before running off after his twin again, and laughter echoed once more. Iroh took a moment to carefully adjust the photograph which Baihu had taken almost four years earlier, that winter that saw the end of the last international conflict on this planet. Avatar Aang's age of peace had finally come. Iroh had even lived to see it.
"It is good to hear the laughter of children," Iroh said. "It makes all of this worthwhile. All of the struggle and sacrifice and suffering," he let out a relieved sigh. "It is a good time to be alive."
"Yeah, but there's still so much left to do," Sokka said, a distant tone in his voice as he watched the two children rampage. They weren't identical, which made their mother quite happy, but rather seemed like different admixtures of their parents. Mitvahr had his father's eyes but mother's complexion. Tengri was the opposite. They were not the last children to be had. Rather, when peace broke out, families swelled once more. Iroh's line was ending, but in Zuko, he had a spiritual successor. "I mean, Long Feng's gone, and Jeong Jeong, and Ozai and everybody else, but there's always going to be people who are going to stir up trouble."
"Against what? Everybody's happy."
"That is patently impossible, honey," Sokka said. Ty Lee frowned at that.
"Isn't Azula due to visit some time soon?" Ty Lee asked.
"You're not supposed to say that name," Sokka admonished quietly. Indeed. Part of the great deception was that in order to protect Zuko's legitimacy, and to undermine the army which had been levied against him, 'Azula' had to officially be dead. While there was an admittedly vast collection of people – much of the Fire Palace's servants, by way of example – that knew it was false, according to the world at large, Azula died, and Princess Kahol appeared in Great Whales.
"Yeah, but it's weird calling her that. She doesn't look like a Kahol."
"That's the sacrifice she made," Iroh said. "She did so willingly."
"It's been so long since I've seen her," Ty Lee said quietly.
Iroh nodded. It had been long since the group had been together. That picture was a memento of that time. In truth, they didn't look much older now, but that might as well have been in a different age. He moved into the back of the shop, quickly removing a pot from the fire, lest it boil away to nothing. He could bring it out in time. But right now, he just felt tired. Like he could do with a nap.
Iroh sat down on the stool in the back of the shop, and his eyes drifted closed. His visions were gone. They had been used up. He knew what was coming, but not when. It would be his last surprise. He had fulfilled his promises. He had seen the boy he saw as a second son grow into a man any would be proud of. The age of peace had finally come, and his duties were cast aside. He had even chosen his successor as Grand Lotus. He sat in the room outside. Iroh's breathing evened, as he drifted into a dreamless nap. Then, his breath stilled, as he went far, far beyond.
They found him almost a half hour later. The Dragon of the West had finally fallen.
Queen Bei tapped her foot with impatience, as the craftsman milled around under her gaze. It was bad enough that their shoddy craftsmanship had failed her at an inopportune time, it was made worse by the slow response by the man called in to restore it. She almost thought that there was some sort of conspiracy on the part of King Gong to keep her in discomfort. Of course, that might just be paranoia. She had become quite a paranoid woman in the last few years. Ever since Long Feng vanished, his Dai Li bending knee in droves to Beifong, or else vanishing into the darkness completely, she had found herself isolated and cut off. Well, she had to admit, there were far worse ways to be cut off than as the queen of a city-state.
"Are you going to fix my bed or just stare at it?" she demanded. The man, a quite handsome fellow, she had to admit, turned to her with a highly expressive look. She could almost see him asking 'do you want me to fix it at all?' in that look. He then returned to his task. An entire tiring day of negotiations for an armistice with Omashu, and as soon as she tries to get some sleep, her bed's leg snaps and she's sent out along the floor.
"Not tonight," he said. "Not a miracle worker."
He was a man of few words. That worked for her. The woman who had become Bi Bei admitted that she indulged in a fair amount of hedonism, when it became apparent that her previous goals were now utterly out of her reach. There was no returning to Ba Sing Se, save for at Beifong's pleasure, and there was about a sugar-cube's chance in hell of that happening. A sultry smile came to her face. He might have big ears, but they suited him. She sidled a bit closer. "Well, maybe I could share yours?"
"Not interested," he said simply. She scowled at that. Who wouldn't be interested? Sure, she was in her middle years, but she was still well capable of children, let alone distant from spinsterhood. And she had it on good authority that she was quite the looker. She had to be nowadays. She had nobody else to depend on. In Three Hills, she was utterly alone.
"Really?" she asked. "And why not?"
"I can have it done by tomorrow afternoon," he said simply.
"Tomorrow? Just put a leg under it."
"The frame's rotten. Needs a rebuild," he answered. "Tomorrow."
The Queen grumbled to herself. "Very well. And I assume you'll be charging an outrageous amount?"
"No charge," he said, turning and walking toward the door. "Already getting payment."
"And what would that be?" the Queen asked. The carpenter opened the door, and there was somebody else outside. It was a woman, obviously enough, but an odd looking one. She was possessed of a wide, froggish mouth and limp, lusterless hair, and a body-shape more at home on a pear than a grown woman. And she was looking at the Queen like she was owed money.
"Is this the bitch?" that rude individual asked. "Doesn't look like much, Longshot."
The man shot her a look.
"Yeah, I know. You don't need to yell," she muttered. Yell? Was she insane? She stepped into the room with total disregard to propriety and tact, looking the Queen up and down. "Gotta say, I'd hoped they'd picked somebody a bit less reedy, but Long Feng was a bit of a twit..."
"I beg your pardon?" the Queen said, scandalized. Well, showing herself as scandalized. In truth, she was very, very wary.
"Oh, I haven't introduced myself yet, have I?" she got a wry smirk on her face, and bowed in a fashion which had been driven into the Queen's muscle memory as soon as it was certain that she'd been selected for this role. It was a manner, so precise and elegant, that could never leave the mind completely, never be forgotten, whether one wanted to or not. It was a bow of royalty to her lessers. "I'm Bi Bei," the woman said. "Daughter of King Jiang, third in line for the throne. The woman you're claiming to be."
"That is a heady charge to make," the Queen said, making sure not to take a step backward. "And a preposterous one."
"Yeah, well, like an old friend's mother liked to say, the difference between reality and fiction was that fiction has to make sense," the woman said, wiping her nose with the heel of her hand. While there were some traits which the Queen could instantly recognize as royalty, they had obviously been tempered by years living wild. That face ought to have been a dead giveaway. Jiang's nickname had always been 'the Toad' after all.
The Queen's brows drew down. "Let me guess what this is all about. You assume that by murdering me, you can assume your former station and reclaim your nation? Well, I must tell you, things will not be so simple."
"Kill ya?" Bi asked. She then scoffed. "Please. I ain't a ruler, not by any stretch of the imagination. I just wanted to know that Three Hills was in good hands. Sadly, it's in yours, but hell, there could be far worse."
"So why did you...?"
"Three Hills has the Queen it needs for the moment," Bi cut her off. "Don't betray that trust. I haven't killed anybody in years, and I would very much like that to continue, but my homeland has suffered enough. Don't make it fall again."
The Queen stared at the woman. Bi stared back. Long fiddled with a clock at the back of the room until a piece snapped off, which he silently pocketed. "Is that all?"
"Yeah," Bi said, backing toward the door. "Don't fuck this up. I've got my eye on you."
"So many do," the Queen muttered. Long pulled the door shut behind the two of them, leaving the Queen in her gilded cage of status and society. Forever lost were the streets of Ba Sing Se. So she would do as she had always done, as she intended to do even without that threat; she would carry on, and make the best of what she had.
Her brow rose. Perhaps the delegation from the South Water Tribe could be found? One of the ambassador's aides was unbelieveably handsome. A smile grew on her face, as she plotted out how to catch Nurik's attention, and what would follow after it.
She might not be the perfect Queen for Three Hills, but she was the best that it got.
The slicing sound hit the air as the knife bit deep, peeling back that epiderm and revealing what lay beneath it. Its contents actually made the woman who still in her own mind called herself Azula release a grunt of alarm, before reaching up and replacing the blade back into a notch which she had slowly created over years. It was a bad habit, leaving a letter-opener embedded in the higher portion of the table, but it was the only way she could be sure that small hands would not easily grasp it.
"What is it?" Ked asked, not looking up from the manual he was scribing. It was hardly strange, that once she finally ran out of things to do, he suddenly got busy. Life had an odd sort of humor about it.
"Uncle Iroh has died," Azula said.
"Who's Unka Iroh?" the little girl sitting on her father's knee asked.
"The tea-man, Mimi," Azula said distractedly. She could only imagine how hard it was for Misato, having to grow up with four names. She would have only called her her proper name, but Ked immediately latched onto the nickname and none else, and worse than that, because Fire Nation names were hardly in style, she had to have an Adamite and a Whalesh name as well. Depending on the company, the child was either Mimi, Misato, Anwen with the locals, and Nava with the Adamites. "I doubt you remember him."
"When's he gonna come back?" Mimi asked.
"Likely never. He's dead," Azula said.
"So he's not going to visit me?" she looked a bit upset at that.
"Correct," Azula said. It was tiring, but she had a habit of reasking the same question every concievable way before accepting it was answered. There were some days when Azula simply wanted to strangle her. And whenever that impulse occurred, she was known to vanish from all sight for the rest of the day, opting to sit under a very cold waterfall, shivering as she tried to purge that malignant thought from her mind. For all she had been a mother for three years and more, she still felt extremely uncomfortable around children. Even her own.
And more the irony, since her belly was once again betraying that another was on the way.
"Do you think he'll be surprised if we visit him?" Mimi asked.
"I severely doubt it," Azula said. She got to her feet.
"Oh? I didn't think you were close," Ked said, noting her rise.
"Not as close as he was with Zuzu, but I still owe him my presence at his funeral," Azula said.
"We're goin' to a party?" Mimi asked, brightening visibly. She was an odd mixture of Ked's features and her own, her complexion closer to Ked, but her eyes the bright, clear gold of Azula's line. Her hair was black, but wavy, her build strong, but somewhat pudgy.
"It's a funeral," Azula pointed out.
"So it's a fun party?" Mimi asked. Agni's blood, it was like talking to Ty Lee, only worse. As soon as Misato moved beyond two word sentences, it was nothing but a barrage of questions. "'cause-'cause-'cause it's got the word 'fun' right in it!"
Azula turned to her consort. He shrugged. "I can't help you with this one," he said. He should consider himself quiet lucky that she loved him, otherwise the beating he would receive would have been legendary.
"I'm going to arrange for the trip. I assume you'll be coming?" Ked smiled at that, then turned down to the book again, his pen scratching along. Mimi jumped up and ran over, tackle-hugging Azula's legs, her face mushed against the woman's thigh. When she did so, Azula went absolutely rigid for a moment.
"C'mon, Mama! Up!" Mimi implored. Azula took a calming breath and scooped her daughter up. Sooner or later, she'd stop being so nervous around the child. Maybe. Azula turned to Ked.
"Aren't you going to come?"
"Between you and your mother? Not likely," he said lightly, a smirk on his face. A legendary beating, make no mistake.
Shaking her head, Azula departed from the large, wooden-floored room in the Palas yr Llyswennodd, crossing the great atrium along the loft that overlooked the lower two levels. The whole structure resembled an inverted pyramid of space, each loft slightly smaller than those below it, before flaring wildly on the bottom level, all of it in marble and fine woods. She had memorized its layout when she first came to Kad Deid, before returning that critical time to the Fire Nation. She was a paranoid person when it came to safety. Knowing the way out was paramount. Mimi actually remained silent during that trip, her thumb in her mouth as her big golden eyes took in the building. Mostly because she couldn't see over the railing yet, so she was enjoying the view from on high.
The samurai in their pale grey parted as Azula approached, allowing her to enter the most armored and well defended bedroom in the entire palace. Mother, despite her status as a somewhat powerful firebender, tended to sleep in. Azula thought the nature of the Whalesh was staring to rub off on Ursa. The Empress was barely stirring, letting out a groan and sitting up in her bed, her robes tight around her. "I see you have ejected Jee from your bed again?" Azula noted.
"That is hardly the sort of thing you should be talking about in front of my grandchild," Ursa pointed out, her voice froggy, and her greying hair disheveled. Azula didn't doubt that the man was quite likely hiding under the lumpy covers. It had been a very severe point that the Empress had laid down to the ambassador from the Fire Nation that he was not to 'corrupt Misato's innocence'.
"She's heard worse," Azula dismissed.
"Gramma!" Mimi piped up. "Mama! Down!"
Azula let the child hit the ground and run to her grandmother, feeling a tinge of relief. Yes, children liked to be touched, to be comforted. She just knew that she wasn't the best person for doing that. Ked was much better with Mimi than Azula was. And yet Mimi kept on... hovering around her.
"Hello sweetheart," Ursa said brightly, upon being tackled by the little girl.
"Iroh has died," Azula said, skipping all preamble.
Mother looked up from her granddaughter. "Really?"
"That's all you have to say about it? 'Really'?" she asked.
"The man lied, separated me from my children for years, out of spite," Ursa said. "If he is dead, then good riddance."
Azula smirked at that. "I hadn't known you were so bitter."
Ursa sighed. "I will speak to the Fire Lord. He likely needs a comforting word right now. But I am not going to that man's funeral. He forfeited that right years ago."
"If that is your choice, I will not bother persuading you; it would likely be a waste of time and effort," Azula said.
Azula turned, and took a step away, before remembering what she had almost left without. She turned, and cleared her throat. "Misato?"
"Comin', Mama," the girl said, running to the firebender's side and grabbing several of her fingers with her tiny hand.
"Have you given thought to the offer?" Ursa asked from the bed.
"I have," Azula said. "But we can discuss it when I get back from Ba Sing Se."
"I'm not going to be around forever," Ursa pointed out.
"And that's not the sort of thing you should talk about in front of your granddaughter," Azula said sarcastically as she walked away. She was by all official lines the daughter of Empress Dov, child of Zeruel, which was patently impossible, because Mother had only been married to the man briefly, and not long enough ago to spawn Azula. As the child of the Empress, though, it had given her as much nominal control of the state as she had ever enjoyed as Princess Azula, and probably more, because there was no Ozai to quash her if she showed a glimmer of independent thought.
And she had been offered the throne. Empress of Great Whales. Azula, in charge of one of the great nations of this Earth.
And she wasn't sure if she was ready.
She really had changed.
"Mama, come on! Don't stand in the way!" Misato urged, pulling Azula by those fingers the girl grasped, and hauling the grown woman out of her haze of distraction. The girl was right. There was much to do. Uncle was dead. It was her duty as his family to see him off. It was the least she could do.
The Avatar stared out at the crowds. Ba Sing Se housed well over a million people when he had first come here. That number had swelled to an even two amidst its three rings in the years after the Weary War. It could rightly claim to be the most populace city in the world, if not the densest one; considering all of the land surrounding it, most people had quite a bit of room to live in. But this day, Ba Sing Se had a quite unusual problem, one never encountered in its thousand years of existence.
Milling in the Palace Gardens of the Earth King, like a sea of flesh and blood, stood more than a million souls, all packed together in one place. It was a sight that Aang had never expected he would ever behold. A million. It was a number that he couldn't even hold in his head, now thrust before his eyes. And they were all united in one thing. Mourning the passing of one of the greatest men of a generation. Aang, being a monk first and the Avatar second, wasn't much one to track such caprice of glory and fame, but Iroh was a name which was known throughout the world. And when the world learned of his death, they came, en masse. Easily a third of that crowd were people all the way from the Fire Nation, paying last respects.
"Quite a crowd, Avatar," Azula's voice started him out of his awe and actually had him bring his staff around. When he found himself leveling a weapon at a pregnant woman, he felt a well deserved shard of shame, and blushed, letting the staff tip back to the floor. "Who would have thought my kooky uncle would get such a send off."
"Princess Kahol," Aang said diplomatically. The instant she appeared, Katara's back went up like an angry cat. Azula cast a smug grin at Aang's wife, then turned back to the crowds. "I didn't think you were going to come."
"I might not have been as close to Uncle as Zuzu was, but he was the Dragon of the West. Even if I thought him weak and soft, he was still a hero to the Fire Nation," Azula said. She let out a sigh, and her voice dropped slightly more quiet. "It's a shame I couldn't have known him better."
"I'm just going to... go over there," Katara said, her blue eyes flashing on the firebender. The two women practically hissed at each other as they passed. Spirits and gods, were they always this bad? Or was it their mutual pregnancy bringing out the aggression? Once they passed, Azula returned to a relatively placid appearance. Aang wasn't so naïve as to believe that facade, though. She was just very, very good at keeping what she was thinking to herself. Aang was about to clear his throat and ask a question, when he felt something tug at his hand. He looked down to see golden eyes staring up at him.
"Are you the Avatar?" the little girl asked.
"Yes, yes I am," Aang said.
"Yes, I can fly," Aang answered.
"No, stupid! Up!" she said, her arms up. Azula actually chuckled at that, shaking her head as Aang found himself scooping up her offspring and letting her ride on his shoulders. Ked, at least, was keeping an eye on the girl, always an instant away from grabbing her should she fall. Sokka, was once again milling near the podium stand, but this time, he was not alone. Sokka Baihu's was not the only photographic camera assembled, nor even the most intricate. As an afterthought, he quickly pivoted the device back to the group standing clear of the pyre, the lost hero, and those who had known him best. Aang frowned.
"Sokka, what are you...?" he managed before a bright flash interrupted him, causing him to blink away the glare. His young passenger let out a shout, and he could feel her squirming.
"Mama, he hurt my eyes!" the girl complained.
"You'll get better," Azula said. Glancing back, Aang could see the reason for the shot. Everybody was in it, even Zuko who was just now approaching the foot of the pyre. Sokka quickly returned the camera to facing the podium before the pyre.
"We all heard the terrible news," Zuko said, his soft voice cutting through the din of the million and more like Sokka's Space Sword through paper. All fell silent as he glanced down at the scrolls, his speech, staring back up at him. "Fire Lord Iroh was a great man. A hero not just to the Fire Nation, but to the Earth Kingdoms, and the entire world. His final wishes were to join the flame... and be buried next to his son, just inside the Outer Walls. He does honor to both his bloodline, and to the people he adopted as his own."
Zuko swallowed, his eyes looking up over the masses. Those eyes were damp. A glance to Azula showed that hers weren't, but she had a distracted, distant expression. Maybe she too was wondering why she was not taken by sorrow. Aang didn't know.
"He never hungered for power," Zuko said, his voice wavering. "My fath... my father instead entrusted the nation of his birth to me, believing that I would do the duty justice. He..."
Zuko trailed off, his eyes tightening. Even that burnt eye had lost its glower and contorted in genuine pain, tears slowly leaking out of it. At that, Azula finally moved, taking a step forward. But this time, it was Ked who took her hand, and with a shake of his head, rooted her in place. Of course. Officially, Kahol and Zuko were utterly unrelated. It would seem bizarre if she did something now.
"He was a man too large for this age, too heroic for it," Zuko managed. "And he will be desperately missed. Husband of Shaiu, now passed. Father of Lu Ten, now passed. Father of Zuko. We commend you to the fire from whence we come, to whence we all return."
Toph, actually looking like the Earth King for a change, solemnly lowered a taper into the pyre, and it slowly, almost reverently, spread upward and obscured the departed in quiet, almost soft flames. Everything Aang knew about fires told that this should have been much more aggressive; the entire pyre was dry wood doused in oils. But the fire was low. And it was also blue. A glance to Azula showed that she was concentrating on that pyre, as the flames lazily drifted upward, consuming her uncle and their friend.
Zuko turned and walked away from the pyre. "I couldn't finish the speech," he muttered.
"You said the parts that mattered," his wife said.
"Uncle would not have been ashamed of it," Azula said, favoring him with a glance. Aang felt weight lift from his shoulders as the girl was plucked by her father and set on the ground. Toph actually looked stricken, which was an odd look for her.
"Come on, guys. This place is bumming me out," she said. Aang nodded. It seemed like just for this moment, almost the entire world mourned.
"One second," Sokka said again. Everybody turned back to the podium, but he was already amidst them, a hand on the shoulder of either of his lads, as a second flash went off. Everybody let out a grumble at having been hoodwinked again, and momentarily blinded. Teo looked like he was trying very hard not to curse in front of his son. "Don't worry, that's the last one, I promise."
"It had better be," Azula said, rubbing her eyes behind her spectacles. "The next time you do that, you'll find yourself taking my picture with a cinder."
"Noted," Sokka said evenly. He turned to his sister and hooked his arm over her neck, and the other over Aang's. "So, what's the big day?"
"Not for a while yet," Katara said.
"Have you picked out a name yet?" Mai asked with a cool but genuine note of interest.
"Well, Katara's calling her Sedna if it's a girl," Aang said.
"Really?" Ked asked.
"It's a good name," Katara defended. Ked rolled his eyes.
"And if it's a boy," Aang shrugged. "I figure Tenzin's as good a name as any."
As they walked away, none of them knew the import of that photograph, remaining in the camera. It would be the last time that all of them were in the same place at the same time, for the rest of their lives. One last time, as Sokka would have said, Team Avatar and the A-Team walked together, into an uncertain future, but it would be a future of peace.
Until Republic City, anyway, but that's a different story, for a new Avatar, and a new age.
Children of the War IV
The War of Flames
And that's all she wrote. Story's done. Everybody got the ending they needed, if not the one they wanted. Before you ask, all of Mimi's names mean the same thing, and Azula's Adamite moniker means 'blue', so in essence, it is the same as her old name from a certain point of view. After this, they all went their seperate ways. An age of peace that lasted almost seventy years follows, and then Korra happens. Sokka managed to take the secret of his waterbending to the grave, which he would have regretted; his status of an outstanding non-bender made him a rallying figure in the anti-bending uprisings in Ba Sing Se and Burning Rock, which eventually just renamed itself the Republic City. Zuko's tenure as Fire Lord was ambivilant and divisive. Some loved him, others hated him. He eventually got succeeded by Kimiko, who became one of the most beloved leaders in Fire Nation history. Azula eventually became Empress, and unwittingly creating a dynasty of powerful benders amongst the nobles of Great Whales. Her grandchildren were the last firebenders that the family produced. In Korra's time, Toph's still around, still Earth King, and still badass. Bi and Long never got married, never had children. They didn't dare. But they stayed together until the very end. The years were not kind to the North Water Tribe; bereft of clear succession, a schism formed and the tribe broke apart. The return of the Sun Warriors to the Fire Nation had... mixed results. And under Si Wong, an ancient and vengeful spirit plotted revenge for the destruction it suffered at the hands of mankind.
Stories of a different time. Stories of a past age. Stories which can't reasonably be told until the new cartoons arrive.
The shore was silent, as the oily waters lapped at the dark grey sand. A sigh hit the air in that unnatural space, between a sea not of water, and a sky of burnished gold. He was an old man, that released that sigh, twice as old as he looked, and only that because he had found a way to cheat his death once. But it seemed that his cheats, his tactics, his schemes, had all run out. Because now, Jeong Jeong sat on the shore of the Sea of Souls.
He turned as an electric zap hit the air, pushing away the low mists, and left in its place a small plot of glass, and a figure which looked like living lightning, its face a featureless wooden mask. Jeong Jeong rose to his feet, facing that thing, and dropped into a firebending stance. Utterly useless though, since bending was denied of the Spirit world. It was a part of the material world, not this one. He knew that for a fact, that stranger. Because he had been one of the ones to make it so.
"What are you?" Jeong Jeong demanded.
"Don't you recognize an old friend, J.J.?" it crackled, his voice both electric... and familiar.
"Irukandji?" Jeong Jeong asked. "Bah. Too much to hope that you'd finally gotten killed, I suppose."
"Please, do you really think anything on these two layers of reality can kill me? There's a reason I'm five times older than the universe; I make it a habit not to be easy to kill," despite having no facial features at all, with his face being a wooden mask, Irukandji let his smirk be known.
"You promised me revenge."
"I promised you a chance to try again," Irukandji countered. "But instead of joining the good guys and wisely staying the hell away from Azula, you got all pissy and swore vengeance. You know, I learned a very important lesson out of this reality. Had a lot of time to think about it as my Uncle/Cousin Koh was peeling off my old face. You want to know what that is, J.J.?" Jeong Jeong glared. "It's remarkably simple. Even you could grasp it. 'Don't Fuck With Azula'. Trust me, from now on, any time I make a plan, DFWA is going to be the first thing it gets run against. That's just how big of a fuck-up you are. Right now, up top, she's got a husband and kids, living a happy life. Hell, after the second one's born, she'll even start to enjoy being a mother, take over Great Whales, the whole nine yards. Good for her. Graduated from lunch, she's somebody else's problem."
"You are a failure of your promises, spirit."
"Yeah, well, you're a bigger failure than I am," he said. There was a flash of an invisible grin. "Besides, I didn't haul you out of there," he said, casting an electric hand toward the Sea of Souls. "I just wanted to rub it in a little."
"You sadist beast."
"Guilty," Irukandji shrugged. Then, he hauled back and drove his foot up between Jeong Jeong's legs, lifting the ghost hundreds of yards into the air and across distance. Jeong Jeong carefully squirmed in place, until he saw that that ghost fall cleanly into a great stone well, which plunged directly into the Pit of Oblivion. When Jeong Jeong passed that lip, Irukandji's hands flew up as a harsh sound emitted from his body, like a buzzer. "And IT'S GOOD! Three points for Team Irukandji! Irukandji wins the Superbowl! I'm goin' to Disney World!"
Irukandji chuckled to itself briefly before letting out an amused sigh, and turning toward the Sea of Souls. "Hmm," he pondered. Another invisible smile. "That will do quite nicely."
Irukandji reached a hand of solid sparks into that un-water and heaved. Flying out of the tide came the form of somebody almost a decade and a half dead, his body restored from its dust which made the sand, his soul reconstituted from the Sea, his mind from the mists above it. Irukandji dusted off his hands, as Zhao glanced about in abject confusion.
"Where am I? What happened?" the long dead admiral demanded. "The moon! Wait, wh... Damn it, I'm dead, aren't I?"
"You're actually a lot more astute than J.J. was. I'm impressed," Irukandji shrugged. "Well, a little anyway."
"What do you want?"
"I want into Canon," Irukandji said simply. Zhao just stared at him. "Y'see, I've been farting around alternate realities, the thousand courses of what-might-have-been, thousands of paths that could never have been, and yet were. I'm getting bored. I want to rekindle my interest in this whole event, so I figure, what better way than to go directly to the source?"
"And why do you need me?" Zhao asked warily. Smart man.
"I scoped J.J. the same way I scoped you; after finding a way in following a projectile soul. Lots of people would leap at the opportunity to try things again. Azula did it, and she ended up Fire Lord. Jeong Jeong did it, and he proved to be an abject failure. I even managed to get Aang to do it once. That was a lot of fun, that one, but I ended up losing part of my soul, so, kind of a push. But Canon? That's a trickier proposition. I can't change anything already there. I know, I've tried. But I can send you between the cracks. Good news, a second chance, bad news, it's not quite the reality you remember."
"Lots of little things," Irukandji shrugged. "It won't matter. You won't have your memories."
"Don't worry, you get to keep your personality. Just not your memories, because trust me, they would fuck you up royally. I've got a deal with the Yue in Canon. I can get you dumped off in the North Water Tribe a year after Ozai goes down. The rest is up to you."
"And once I'm there, what do I need to do?"
"Do? Nothing. Just show me the way in," Irukandji smirked invisibly. "Take your time, though. I feel a distinct need of a 'vacay'. You know how it goes?"
"Is this a trick?"
"The very best kind," Irukandji said.
Zhao pondered it, rubbing his chin between his aggressive mutton chop sideburns. "Do it."
"Already done," Irukandji said, and with a flicker of light, Zhao was gone. Irukandji looked with pride as he saw the path into Canon emerge to his senses. "Huh. Neat, it's a comic strip," he pondered. He then turned up, staring out of the screen, and looked at you. "I know, you're pissed Koh didn't kill me. But believe me, I'm just getting started."
He turned away from you, and with another electric flash, the shore of the Sea of Souls became empty, silent, and the mists rolled over the sands once more.