After everyone clears out to go talk to other old people, Sozu sticks around to speak with Ambassador Iroh. There's a moment of awkward hesitation - after all this has been a weird day for her and the evil threat of Pai Sho hangs over her head - but she moves through it and stills her features into a less sort of turmoiled impression. "I wanted to thank you -- I'm not sure if you knew that the Fire Lord intended to summon me home, and decided not to only after hearing from you, if that was even remotely your intention, but I am indebted to you, and grateful even more than indebted, either way."
Iroh, for obvious reasons, makes some tea.
"My nephew is head strong, but he is in a very difficult position. He is under so much preassure to do the right thing, that osmetimes it is hard for him to see what the right thing actually is, and he needs to be reminded."
He grins toward her.
"Now, have a seat, we can have some tea, and you can tell me how your trip as been."
Sozu nods a sort of tacit agreement; for all his wonders and all that she owes Zuko kind of big time at the moment, he's silly at times. (And a whiny little girl at times but this is a separate issue, perhaps.)
"Please. That would be very nice. It has been... enlightening? Frustrating, and thrilling, and very boring."
Well, that's a statement meant to inspire questions if ever there was one. And Sozu seems to be getting slightly more comfortable -- more comfortable than she's been seen to be since coming into Omashu, at least.
"I would have thought destroying a Fire Nation military outpost would be at least a little exciting."
He pours the tea into her cup and leans back stroking his beard.
"It's not something I can say I have ever done before. But you know, it's something I've always thought about trying."
She raises an eyebrow: "Crashing an airship into a military base? Really?"
Then, as she lifts her teacup, she shakes her head; "That was exciting. Some parts are; and then there's the days and days of going places, sitting in small steel rooms, and hoping that we don't plummet from the sky."
"Fire is the element of power. And the people of the Fire Nation are passionate people. I would be more surprised to find out you didn't have the urge to lash out at the authority of our country then to find out you did."
He grins a little and sips his tea.
"I find that those long trips are a good way to relax, and think about where you are and life, and where you are going. Ask yourself what do you believe in, and what do you fight for. What guides you in life.
And if that fails, you could always rope your friends into a game of Pai sho, your brother Aizen tells me your a very talented player."
Sozu can't help but wince a little when Paisho comes up, and looks a bit perplexed after that: "Surely, he was exaggerating a little; I'm a mediocre player at best..." It's either modesty or a sincere desire to avoid the game that motivates the statement; Sozu is not a bad player when she is not moody or angry, but that is a rare day.
"I promise I never wanted to drop an aircraft on a military building as a way of lashing out at the government," she says. Of course not; her methods would be more personal.
"Have you been writing back and forth with Aizen?" Of course Sozu is eager to talk about Aizen.
He grins as she promises she didn't drop the death trap on the base as a form of lashing out.
"I was talking about me. Though I hoped you would feel just a little bit the same. I have been getting letters from quite a few people lately. Your brother is proud of you, but hesitant to let you go traveling on your own."
Sozu is somewhere between a smile and a sigh at the news of what Aizen thinks; "He's worried? Or just joining everyone else in being ashamed that I couldn't last a week without making a fool of myself?"
"I did not say he was worried, I said he was hesitant. Hesitant because it is often hard to let go of those we help to nurture, and let them stand on their own. Also you were chosen for this mission so quickly for this mission, I think he misses his pai sho partner.
He asked that I keep an eye on you for him, and make sure you have any help you might need."
"That's got to be the cause of his hesitation. I don't know what he's doing with himself - he must have found someone to play Pai Sho with, or else gone crazy." She grins, though; it's Aizen. And... she can't really make fun of Aizen for playing it, that much, because what else can he do with himself? That thought shows itself on her face, briefly.
She tries to recover, though, awkwardly - "Well, I, at the moment I think it's along the vein of dealing with Zeng and his troops on that beach."
At least she refrains from saying instead of playing that demon tile game.
"Ahhh yes, General Zeng, what do you suppose he's up to down on that beach? I hear there's excellent surfing, and it is a wonderful place to do landscape painting."
"I imagine he's preparing his force for deployment, and not surfing. It's not... Ember Island or something."
Yeah, he's weirder than her brother, but she can kind of see where this strain in the family comes from, sometimes. At least, it must be a strain in the family, because Aizen is often like this too. Right?
He cocks his mouth to the side, in that way that Iroh does.
"I suppose it's a possibility. I should hope not though, I've gotten too old to go charging through a fire nation army battalion again."
And yes, Sozu is fully aware of when Iroh opted to check out of the Fire Nation prison hotel.
"What do you think he'll do? Zeng, I mean."
Because if there's anyone to ask, the Dragon of the West is the guy.
He contemplates for a moment.
"Both your grandfather, and your cousin made their greatest military moves on the day of Sozin's comet, and a key to both of those battles was the ability to fly.
The Fire Society has never before engaged in a full military attack, and before now they've had access to a small portion of our Navy. Now that they seem ready to strike, Zeng went after Airships before he could make his move."
Riddles. Oh boy. Sozu does the annoyed and pouty teenager thing and sighs, but remembers herself pretty quickly and straightens up, sipping her tea again. "So his move requires flight, too, then."
Hooray, she's getting more people in the club of refusing to grace Zeng with any address of rank, earned or self-promoted.
"Our respective Grandfather was, despite any faults he may have had, wise in the ways of war. He knew, much like I'm sure Zeng knows, when you have the element of surprise on your side, if you intend to start a war, you should strike at the target that is important.
Zeng still has the opportunity of surprise, I doubt he would waste it on a battle he cannot win. And I'm sure you realize that he cannot win if he attacks Omashu. "
She nods again -- aww, awkward Sozu! it happens so often -- "I did. Even though air support might make a difference... He is expected here, and I understand that the city has dispatched scouts to keep watch over the Fire Society's army. ... I worry that they were able to recruit that many men, that that many disloyal and dishonorable people served in our military."
To think that soldiers would defect from their commanding officers, from their Fire Lord? Sozu is too much General Shang's daughter to feel that that is anything less than horrible and treasonous. Sozu likes throwing around the word "treason", you see.
"Many feel that my Nephew has betrayed them, you know the Fire Nation is not in a good place right now. Many of our people are without jobs, and without money, men turn desperate. And desperate men are exactly what Zeng looks for.
And there are men who feel that they have been robbed of their destiny. That the war should never have ended. They cannot all be your father. Loyalty such as his is rare, and it is always a trait I have respected. When I broke my seige of Ba Sing Se, your father was there, and many of my men felt I was wrong. It was his words that swayed them to stand down and not attack the city further.
You are not a soldier though, unquestioned loyalty will not serve you as well as it has your father or your eldest brother.
As far as strategy goes, it's more then simply a surprise attack. Zeng's first strike must be as much of a message as it is as a military victory. He would need to strike the Fire Nation capitol, or Ba Sing Se, or the Northern Water tribe. It's his only option.
So... if you were in his place, needing to shake our people into continuing the war, with limited resources, most of which comited to air support, what would you do?"
He stands up, and goes to make more tea, having finished his. Apparently, he wants her to consider the question carefully.
Sozu does think about it carefully, keeping any bruised feeling at being told that unquestioned loyalty will not serve her well, silent; she keeps the objection that loyalty is honorable silent, too, out of respect.
"Those are the only three places he might strike to send a message? ... All three of those targets are too far away, from here, or they seem like it, and with more men than his airships can carry, he would not make it there without being intercepted. There is not even a clear water route to the Northern Water Tribe from here, unless I don't know my geography."
"The closest targets are small towns in the Earth Kingdom and outlying islands of the Fire Nation. But if he wanted to shake our nation into continuing the war, he wouldn't strike there. There's no message in that... Those are the targets east and west. North is the same - small and purposeless villages, unless he intends to strike this military base I hear about, but..." She shrugs. "And south is merely the Southern Water Tribe, and the Southern Air Temple."
She leans back and thinks a moment. "I would not choose a target in the Fire Nation if I were him. It would shake our people into action against him. I would not attack Omashu or Ba Sing Se - for he would lose, I think. If he could succeed where Admiral Zhao had failed, and take the Northern Water Tribe... but it is far away, and he moved his troops south to muster. In his position, I would assault something south of here. He has open water southwards and little to oppose him."
She looks over at Iroh to see if her answer is right or not - after all, her father used to drill his children like this, on military matters and on a variety of other subjects - and that is the context she has.
"There is very little in the world more important then loyalty and friendship, and while unquestioning loyalty makes for a good soldier, a good leader needs to be able to question, so they can know whats right, and whats wrong.
I see within you the potential to be a great leader one day Princess Sozu.
And you clearly don't need my help in figuring out this General Zeng problem. I think you and your friends can handle it just fine without me getting in the way."
She looks surprised - and pleased - at what Iroh says at first, and maybe she gets mired down enough in the compliment that it takes her a moment to realize that he's also really not going to dispense any help on the Zeng front.
"I - thank you," she says, making a sort of shortened bowing motion from her seated position.
He nods, and pours his next cup of tea.
"So then, how is your firebending coming? You are still practicing right?"
She nods. "I am, as often as I can find the time to train, mostly when we make camp. Having actual.... chances for practical application have given me even greater chances to improve." And to know what she really needs to improve, but she doesn't say that.
"Fighting an opponent like Zeng will be difficult. You must remember your fundimentals of course. If you'd like,w e can practice sometime while you are in the city. In my retirement, I have developed a deep love of cakes, so I certainly need to keep up my workouts to keep trim and fit."
"I would be honored, if you found time to practice with me. After the Pai Sho tournament, of course." She nods her head, and is grateful that she managed to accept his offer without stuttering or blushing or anything.
So when Sozu, and Iroh get a free moment he takes her outside the walls of Omashu, out to a remote cliffside.
"The key to firebending is the breath. We breathe in, and that breath becomes energy, that energy is carried through the body and released as fire. These are the basics, which I'm sure you already know.
In order to progress even further you must learn how to control the fire. That energy can be pushed to make your fire stronger, or hotter, but you must understand the flame first. You must know the paths to coax it along. Many firebenders choose to force the fire to follow those desires, but it can be guided there."
Sozu, dressed lightly for training and straight-backed with the military discipline that her father has instilled in her, listens.
Coax and guide are... Strange concepts for her to associate with bending; bending is about force and drive, necessity and extremity. There is guidance, true, because you need to know where the fire is going and be able to send it there but you must be in control. Coaxing, in Sozu's mind, is the opposite of control.
And some of this process of thought shows plainly ok her face after Iroh has finished speaking.
"In the Fire Nation, we are taught to respect strength, power and control these are admirable qualities but they are not the only path to dealing with fire. There are many who view fire only in terms of control and power, there are also manybwho only see see fire's ptential for destruction. But fire, like people can be a force for good or evil."
He laughs and pats his belly.
"Certainly no one can argue that a well done steak dinner could be evil. You must find your own path to understanding fire Princess Sozu.
As far as your firebending, you have reached a point where you are not just releasing the energy, but shaping it, it takes great strength of will to begin to direct fire in this manner."
When he pats his belly, Sozu grins almost in spite of herself. "I don't know; have you asked the cows?"
Miyak's humor - and Chiyoko's odd insistence that animals objected to being eaten - is clearly rubbing off on her just a int bit. But she makes an attempt at getting more serious after that lapse.
"Alright. And you can show me how to do that?"
Sozu's training in bending, after all, has been far more oriented to action than to philosophy and this new approah seems to her merely a lead-up to true training.
"When you breathe in, you feel that breath become energy. You feel it in your lungs, but you must pull it further down, into the body. Into the sea of chi. There you can feel it growing stronger, and building."
Sozu attempts it, straightening her back even more from the military stance she'd adopted and breathing in as she normally would to begin bending. It's a method of focus that she's been trained in almost since she was able to walk; it works well. She repeats it, engaging her diaphragm more, breathing more from the stomach and the lower abdomen, less from the chest. Another time, with, again, more diaphragm and less throat and lung.
He nods, walking around slowly every once in a while reaching out to help her posture just a bit.
"It may help you to close your eyes, and visualize the energy flowing through your body. Don't rely solely on your lungs to do all the movement, most of it is about handling the flow of chi."
She closes her eyes and continues the deep, measured breaths, slowing down ever so slightly with each inhalation and exhalation. She's thinking more about chi and less about diaphragm, little by little. Her shoulders relax just a tiny, tiny bit; the posture becomes, if still military and precise, more natural-seeming for her.
"Once you feel that energy in your body, it is the raw power we use for firebending. But with the right application it can be so much more."
He twists his hands over eachother, and then raises his right arm up in the air, where a small spark of flame appears. He swings his hand down, and when it hits the ground, the fire engulphs the area around both of them, filling the small area with fire, then going out.
Sozu starts a little at the sudden blast of fire, and her steady, measured breathing goes nearly to shit; she clearly wasn't ready for so sudden a change from lecture to demonstration. Immediately, or almost immediately, she straightens, looking ashamed of herself.
"That requires a better control of chi?" Her first question - really, first words - of the training session.
He gives her a reassuring smile.
"To build up the energy to perform the technique without wearing yourself out completely."
"Ah," she says, nodding. "Then. I should try it again. And I should try that?" It's slightly a question, but she's already starting to focus on getting her breathing back under control.
"Just focus on your breathing, and feeling the chi move through your body, even the most powerful of bending still depends on the basics."
She nods, closes her eyes, and loosens her arms slightly as she begins breathing again; she picks it up fairly well again, breathing deeply and trying not to think about it too much.