Of Shadows and Fire: Chapter Eight

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Sparring Match

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Iroh looked up from his game as Zuko entered the bridge, customary scowl present on his face.

“Nephew! I see you have brought our guest with you. Good morning,” he greeted, inclining his head to the young woman standing behind the prince. She nodded once, silent. Iroh wondered if it was because of the discipline the Black Spirits enforced.

“She’s going to help us find the Avatar,” said Zuko, before walking over to the maps. She followed, eyes barely flicking to a place east of their current position, before scanning the rest of the area.

A somber look crossed the elder man’s face. “I see.”

“Well then,” he continued more brightly, now speaking to her. “Would you like to play Pai Sho?”

She straightened, head turning towards him, when Zuko interrupted.

“Uncle-”

Actually,” she cut in, “I would love to play.”

Brushing past Zuko, she sat in front of Iroh while he reset the pieces.

“Excellent! You have the first move.”

Zuko growled, steam shooting from his nostrils. Kurami let herself share a small smile with the general as she picked up one of the pieces.

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It had been three days since Kurami had agreed to Zuko’s deal. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy for anyone, and the pair of teenagers certainly had a hard time getting along with each other.

For one thing, Kurami retained her “silence-at-all-times” mentality, making Zuko increasingly frustrated.

Where the prince was hot-headed and brash, the Black Spirit kept an emotionless, calculating mask on around him. While he was impatient, she never seemed to mind waiting for hours at a time.

While he was obsessed with capturing the Avatar as soon as possible, she didn’t care.

However, there were parts of their personalities that, somehow, were hilariously similar. Iroh found himself rather amused as he listened to his nephew rant one day about how the shadowbender had “no respect whatsoever” and how she was a “back-talking brat” who “ignored every single thing he said”. By the time the prince was done, the former general was stifling laughter.

They might do each other some good after all, he thought. If they don’t end up killing each other, that is.

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It was a split second before the blast sped towards her.

Acting on instinct, Kurami turned, moving her arms in a semicircle. Fire curled past her sides as a shadow blocked the blow, before morphing into a spike which flew back to the firebender. As Zuko dodged it, the spike dissipated. He counter-attacked with three quick bursts of flame before running towards her.

He’s quick, that’s for sure. He spends most of the fight attacking than defending, which can be bad in some cases, she thought, mentally going over his form. He seems to see just fine out of his scarred eye, so his left side is not a weakness.

She successfully dodged the blasts, though was unprepared for the sudden high kick. She barely managed to duck under the prince’s leg before his arm lashed out at her, catching the wrist of her injured hand. Kurami gasped at the sudden pain and Zuko quickly released it, only to be knocked down by the shadowbender’s knee aimed at his…er…royal jewels.

Kurami clutched her wrist, staring at the fallen prince in shock. She didn’t even mean to do that–it was just instinct! Of course, she doubted that the prince would see it that way, as she was biting her lips to stifle her laughter. General Iroh walked over to help his nephew up, trying to hide his own smile.

“Come along, Nephew, you will need some ice on that.”

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Later that day, Kurami was knocking on the Fire Prince’s door. She wanted to apologize about what happened, though she didn’t know why. The door opened, pulling her out of her thoughts.

Zuko looked surprised that she was standing there, but then it turned into another glare.

“What do you want?” he snapped.

Kurami crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m sorry for what happened earlier.”

The glare didn’t lessen, but a spark of curiosity shone in the teenager’s gold eyes. “Why would you be sorry?”

“I felt guilty. I may have tried to kill you, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have morals,” she said. “If it was anyone else, they’d be thinking you got what you deserved, but…yeah.” It was the longest she had ever spoken to him in a single conversation.

“Why are you so different, then?”

There was a pause before Kurami looked the prince in the eyes.

“I don’t know.”

She started to leave, but Zuko’s voice stopped her.

“I’m sorry about your hand.”

She contemplated just continuing to walk away, but she found herself responding. Turning back to the prince, she said,

“I’ve had a lot worse than this. Besides, it wasn’t even your fault.”

Catching herself, Kurami fled before she could let anything else slip out.

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