Wolf woke up early the next day. He packed provisions and headed off for the palace. Along the way, he stopped by the new location of the village, just as he had promised.
He discovered that all of the people liked Jin and thought of her as their leader in his absence. Inquiries were made about the prisoners, and Wolf couldn’t answer them. Someone said that the Fire Nation took no prisoners. When asked about their next try, Wolf decided it would be best to lay low for a couple years, build back up. After Wolf answered a few more questions, he was off, headed for his original destination.
A young man strode confidently around the garden like area. He was tall and decent looking and carried himself majestically. He had a small ponytail. His golden eyes stared straight ahead.
“Hey, kid…” Wolf hissed. He was hiding in the shadows of a corner, watching for a good moment.
The young man stopped and looked around. He thought he heard something, but he didn’t see any one.
“Prince Zuko,” Wolf called, only slightly louder.
Zuko turned quickly and spotted the person who was talking. The man in the shadows enthusiastically gestured him over. Warily, the prince walked over to the space between walls.
“Amazing. He has a wolf’s hearing,” Wolf muttered, pleased before he slunk into the shadows a little more, forcing Zuko to follow.
“What is a wolf?”
“A spirit creature. They live mostly up north and have very acute hearing, so it is a compliment.”
“Do I know you?”
“You don’t know me, but I have heard about you. Your uncle thinks highly of you. He talks about you a lot.”
“You know where uncle is?” Zuko asked.
“Take me to him.”
“Not yet. I have some questions, and depending on your answers, I will decide if I take you or not. First, why do you want to see Iroh?”
“He is my uncle, but he is more of a father to me than my own father.”
“Do you resent that?”
Zuko glared slightly.
“What about your father? What do you think he’s like.”
“I…I don’t really know him that well.”
“He’s pushed you away. I can relate. What happens if your uncle committed treason? Would you still want to see him?”
“Why would uncle do that?”
“Maybe…his family ties are far stronger than his brothers. But…that is just a guess.”
“What has uncle done this time?”
Wolf chuckled. Apparently Iroh was still up to being slightly defiant. Ozai didn’t seem to want to let Zuko in on the whole of what was going on. “I think I might leave now.”
“Take me with you.”
Wolf looked at the young prince. “Not today.”
Zuko attacked. Wolf had barely enough time to block an enflamed fist before Zuko had him against the wall by the neck with his other hand. Wolf grimaced with the pain that exploded down his back. He grabbed Zuko’s hand with his own, allowing the other to hang by his side, to show that he had no hostile intentions without fully endangering his own life. A small smile tugged at Wolf’s lips.
“That was interesting,” Wolf chuckled.
“Why are you laughing at me?” Zuko’s hold tightened with his anger.
“Ok, I was just kidding. I was planning on taking you, but I wanted to see your reaction. Iroh was right. You are good.”
Zuko released his hold and turned half way, slightly embarrassed that he had shown that kind of reaction.
“Now, there’s a way to do this. It would be better today to tell your father you are going out. I wouldn’t tell him that you are going to see your uncle, though. Take some food and another outfit. I’ll be right here when you return. Please be alone.”
“I don’t trust you yet, but I will do as you suggest. I would like to see my uncle.”
“It would help if I knew your name.”
“My name is Moltov. I’m sure you wouldn’t have heard of me?”
Zuko shook his head.
“Perfect. I’ll be here.”
Zuko nodded once, and left. Wolf sat down to wait.
Zuko had hurried to inform his father that he was going to be going out on a small recon and requested to choose his own men to leave with him. Ozai was too busy to take much not of this, and let him go. Zuko packed a small bag and went back to where his contact was.
“That was quick,” Wolf muttered as Zuko approached.
“I’m ready. Let’s go.”
“All right. This way.” Wolf stood and started on his way.
“Why are we going this way?”
“Um…” Wolf chuckled slightly. “I’m not really welcome here. Long story. So, I sneak in the back way.”
“A back way?”
“Yup. Through the kitchen. I’d appreciate it if you keep quiet about it. I like being able to do this.”
Zuko glanced at Wolf with a “You are weird” expression.
Wolf led the way through the main part of the building to the kitchen. From there, he waited for an opening and slipped through the secret passage. The secret passage let them outside of the wall. Wolf set a brisk pace to get them to Ba Sing Sei quickly. It was between midday and sunset when they finally made it to the walls.
“Why are we here?” Zuko asked quietly.
“I live here. Your uncle does too, for now. You are going to be among the first Firebenders to actually step foot inside this city. But first…” Wolf stopped and grabbed a man’s arm. “That’s a nice hat. How much?”
“I bought it for twelve.”
“I’ll give you thirty.”
The man’s eyes widened with astonishment. “Deal.”
Wolf gave the man the money and the man handed off the hat. Wolf was grinning widely. “That was easy. Here. It won’t do to have you look completely like a Firebender going into Ba Sing Sei, right?”
“I don’t think so…” Zuko took the woven wicker hat and put it on.
They got through the gate with no hassle. Wolf let Zuko through the crowded streets until they got to his abode.
Wolf opened the door and walked in. Zuko was close behind. The interior was darker than the world outside, so the two had to wait a little bit for their eyes to adjust. Wolf’s eyes did so quicker, and he plodded away from the door to an area that was farther away from the door, but the wallessness prevented it from being a room. He sprawled across a couch, lying on his side.
“Wolf, welcome back.” Iroh commented as he came forward from the back room. He paused when he spotted someone else. “Zuko?”
“Uncle! It is so good to see you,” Zuko exclaimed, rushing to stand in front of the old man. “Why did you leave so suddenly?”
“As it happened, an urgent matter came up. As such, I am no longer welcome at your father’s table.”
“What happened? Please, uncle, tell me.”
“It is a really long story, and it is hard to explain.”
“Start from the beginning,” Wolf called, waving a hand over the top of the couch.
“I don’t know the whole story.”
“Then tell the basic outline. If there’s something wrong with it, I’ll correct it.”
“Come. We will sit and talk this over with tea. I have just finished making some. Would you like some, Wolf?”
Iroh showed Zuko into the room like area that incorporated the couch, a table and a cushion. Zuko sat at the table on the opposite side from the cushion, making sure he could keep an eye on Wolf. Iroh left and returned minutes later with two steaming cups of tea and the pot. Iroh sat on the cushion and took several sips from his cup before starting the story.
“It was many years ago. Your father, Wolf, and I all were all born within five years of each other, so we grew up together.”
“My father was never part of my life, so he isn’t part of my history. Same with my mother. I was raised in the palace with Iroh and Ozai,” Wolf imputed.
“Yes, that is true. Wolf, here, was very smart, and his strategies worked very well.”
“They still do.”
“To some extent. Wolf and my brother were mostly unseparateable. Wolf was my brother’s closest advisor. We were doing very well until our father died suddenly.”
“Too suddenly,” Wolf muttered.
“I know you think my brother killed him.”
“I have every right to. Zuko’d understand if you’d finish the story.”
“If you wouldn’t interrupt so much, I could.”
Wolf humphed and flipped around so that his back was to his guests.
“Any way, your father became king. He always thought that our father was too nice, even during our war. His first move was to tighten our hold on other nations. I remember Wolf saying that it wouldn’t be good, that doing so would encourage massive uprisings.”
“I warned him.”
“My brother was not happy with Wolf’s advising. I also believe that he wanted to rule without the ties of humanity. ‘Humanity was what made Father weak’ was what he said to me once. I do not know the rest of this story. I was sent out to the war about that time.”
“Ozai wasn’t happy with me,” Wolf started quietly. “But it would have been conspicuous to just have me murdered. At that time, I don’t think he quiet had the guts. So, he ordered some of the sages to invoke a forbidden practice. It was called magic or sorcery; I’m not quite sure which.
“I was called from my room the night he decided to do that. I was used to having things like that happen, so I didn’t think anything of it. I went to the main hall. I walked into the room and stood directly in front of him, like I always did. Suddenly, I was grabbed on both sides. Ozai branded me a traitor. I heard them chanting in an ancient language.
“The next thing I knew, I was waking up in a spiritual realm. I was being escorted by two of Ozai’s followers. I really didn’t like it, so I struggled to break free. It didn’t work. We came across rare and fascinating creatures. One or the other kept saying that it wasn’t right. I didn’t understand what wasn’t right.
“Finally, complete night descended upon the spirit realm. A silvery being appeared before us. It said that we didn’t belong, and that it would make us leave. They talked to it, saying that the Fire Lord was looking for something like this creature for his ends. He wanted to disgrace me as much as possible. The wolf prowls under the moon’s light, and that would be fitting for a Fire Nation out cast.
“I really don’t know what happened after that. All I can guess is that the wolf half possessed me or turned me into one of them. I was sent back to this world as a wolf. I have no memory of the ten years after that, but I know that I traveled everywhere. All I knew was the animal instincts and a will to survive. Finally, a shaman brought back the human part of me. You know where I’ve ended up now.”
“I don’t believe you,” Zuko stated after sitting in silence for a while.
“Believe or not, that’s your deal.”
“How could a man become an animal? It doesn’t make any sense. And why would the spirit do that?”
Wolf shrugged. “Like I said, that’s your deal.”
“You are being oddly grumpy today,” Iroh commented.
“I’m tired, and I hurt. That should make me happy.”
“Sarcasm from you too. I’ll find some more of that balm for you.”
“Don’t need it.”
Wolf sat up, a dangerous look in his eyes. “I said I don’t need it!”
Iroh started at him. “I believe you have been to long a stray. You know longer know that friends are here to help.”
Wolf glared at Iroh for a few seconds more then glanced away. He closed his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
“You are forgiven. Now, I will go find that medicine.”
Iroh left to go do as he said.
Wolf reached over the slight hill of the side of the couch and pulled a lever. The sofa back fell backwards with a creak and a thud. He twisted around and lay on his chest, making sure he could watch the prince.
“Why did you tell me your name was Moltov? Uncle called you Wolf,” Zuko asked.
“Because I am both. My old name was Moltov, back when I was with the Fire Nation. Since I’m not any more, I figure I’d take on a new name. People just started calling me Wolf, and I took it.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“Right now? Nothing.”
“But, Father probably won’t expect an attack right now.”
“That’s what I think too, but there are two problems. The first is that I have no force to attack with. My mission failed, and I lost. There are probably only a hand full of my force left. The second reason is that I can’t fight right now.”
“Maybe a second attack would still work.”
“Have you ever heard of jing?”
“Yes. It represents the ideas of battle. Positive jing is when you are attacking and negative jing is retreating. Right now, I’m executing neutral jing by doing absolutely nothing.”
“Oh. So, why are you fighting against my father?”
“To help the people.”
Zuko scrutinized Wolf closely. “You’re lying.”
Wolf stared at Zuko, weighing the young prince. “Not really. When I first started, I thought of nothing but revenge. As I traveled from village to village, gathering all of the rebellious fighters, I started to realize how the war affected everyone. All of these people, either uprooted or forced into submission. What’s more, Ozai’s upsetting the balance of nature. If the Avatar hadn’t gone missing, all of the Airbenders would be extinct. If one Nation becomes completely void, the whole world will cease to exist. They all balance each other, and if you throw that balance off, the counter weight will go out of control. I want to help the people get their way of life back and maintain balance of the elements. Besides, what your father did to me, it really isn’t all that bad. I’m as old as Iroh, but I look half my age.”
“Which is one reason why I don’t believe your story.”
Iroh came in right at that time. “I have found it!”
“Great,” Wolf muttered sarcastically.
“It helps. You know it does.”
“Take off your shirt.”
“I’m comfortable. I put it on backwards just for that reason.”
“I thought you were just making a statement against the Fire Lord.”
Iroh sat on the bed next to where Wolf was lying and started undoing the shirt. Wolf caught Zuko trying to get a better glance.
“Sit back down, kid. It’s not something you need to see,” Wolf said.
Zuko sat back where he was with a small scowl.
Iroh finished the first step and started looking at the wounds. “You reopened them,” he commented in a half scolding tone.
“Could explain why they hurt, right?”
“I told you to take it easy.”
Iroh started applying the salve.
“What happened?” Zuko asked.
“When? The first time? You’re better off not knowing.”
“Why don’t you tell the boy? It might help…”
“Iroh, it’s fine. He doesn’t need to know.”
“I still think you should tell him. You can’t build trust by keeping secrets.”
“I’m not keeping secrets, I’m withholding information, that’s all.”
“It is the same thing. Done. I will put a cloth over it so you can still live in your active life style.”
Iroh finished what he said he was doing and re-clasped Wolf’s shirt.
“Uncle, I believe I will be going now,” Zuko stated.
“It is just about to get dark. I do not think that would be such a good idea.”
“Father wanted me to come back sometime today.”
“I see. I will see you out.”
Wolf made to get up, but Iroh put his hand on his shoulder. “You can stay here.”
“Fine. Well, feel free to stop by whenever you’re in the neighborhood. You can leave your stuff here. We might be changing locations soon, since it’s a little dangerous here. If we do, I’ll send someone you know. See you around?” Wolf held out a hand.
Zuko shook it. “Yes. Who will you send?”
“Just…some one. It’ll be a hard one to miss.”
“I will see you around. Maybe…sometime later this week?”
Zuko nodded and followed Iroh to the door. They talked quietly for a few minutes before Zuko left.
Iroh came back into the room.
“Well, that was interesting. Not quite what I expected,” Wolf commented.
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in!” Wolf called. He laughed shortly. “That could have been stupid.”
“Welcome back, Wolf.” An elderly woman entered the room. She was carrying a couple small boxes in her arms. She was waning in her years, but she still had the form of someone young.
“Ah, my adoptive aunt!” Wolf exclaimed, sitting up.
“Oh, my. Who is this?” the old woman asked, looking at Iroh with interest.
“My older brother, kind of.”
“I see the looks run in your family. I had dinner early today, and I thought I would bring you the leftovers. I didn’t know that you would have a guest.”
“He’s a room mate, not a guest.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Thank you for the food. We will eat it, right?” Wolf smiled, looking at Iroh.
Iroh muttered something about how there wasn’t any decent food in the house.
“I’ll just leave it on the table for you. You take care now, Wolf.”
The old woman set the food on the table and left.
“Who was that?” Iroh asked.
“Some old lady. When I first came here, she looked after me. Even now, she stops by to feed me almost every day.”
“You are a freeloader.”
“Yeah, I am. But it works. Now let’s eat!”
Chapter 6 – END