Of Shadows and Fire: Chapter Sixteen

*jumps in excitement* Finally, some action! Things are gonna get interesting from here, so hold on tight.

Sorry I couldn’t post last week; I was really busy with school. So, to make it up to you guys, I present…A SUPER-LONG UPDATE! Enjoy!

Current time: Season 1, Ep. 1 and 2

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The Hunt Begins

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Time passed quickly, as it usually did. After months of scouring most of the lower Earth Kingdom, Kurami suggested they set their sights further south. Zuko agreed without hesitation, since that was one of they only places they hadn’t checked, and soon they began their trip to the South Pole.

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Kurami shivered as an icy breeze blew through her unbound hair. She pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulders as Iroh placed another card on the table. Zuko stood near the prow of the ship, scanning the iceberg-ridden waters.

“I’m starting to regret this idea,” she muttered, placing her own card on the table.

Suddenly, a huge beam of light appeared in the sky, coming from somewhere farther ahead. Zuko growled, “Finally.”

“Uncle, Kurami! Do you realize what this means?” he called out, turning to them.

“We won’t get to finish our game?” Iroh calmly asked.

“It means,” Zuko corrected, “My search…is about to come to an end.”

The general sighed as Kurami groaned.

Not again, she thought.

“That light came from an incredibly powerful source! It has to be him!” the prince exclaimed, as if he was trying to convince them.

“Or it’s just the celestial lights,” said Kurami. “Come on, Hotshot, we’ve been down that road before. Don’t get too excited over something that could be nothing.”

“Miss Kurami is right, Nephew. Please, sit,” said Iroh, gesturing to a spot beside them. “Why don’t you enjoy a nice cup of calming Jasmine tea?”

“I don’t need any tea!” Zuko burst, cutting Iroh off. “I need to capture the Avatar.”

He looked up to the observation deck and yelled, “Helmsman! Head a course for the light!”

Iroh sighed again, placing his last card with a troubled look on his face.

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Zuko barely ate anything that night, before suddenly standing and walking out the door. Kurami’s worried eyes followed the prince as he left, and she sighed.

“I’ve never seen him like this,” she said, turning to Iroh.

The general shook his head. “Neither have I, Miss Kurami, but you know how he is. Once he has his mind set on something, he will only focus on that one thing.”

Kurami muttered something under her breath about stubborn princes and how that stupidity might get them killed one day. Iroh nodded in agreement.

“Maybe I should try to talk to him,” he said, rising.

“No, I’ll go do it,” she said, jumping to her feet. “I think I might have a little more luck with him.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She found him at the prow again, dressed in his meditation clothes and coldly gazing at the horizon.

“You know, even if you do find the Avatar, you wouldn’t be able to fight him if you treat yourself like this.”

He didn’t reply. In fact, he didn’t even twitch.

Kurami sighed, exasperated, and walked over to join him.

Zuko,” she said, all teasing gone from her voice. “I know this means a lot to you, but you can’t let yourself get lost in this. Get some sleep, get a clear head, and then we can figure out our battle plan, okay?”

The prince hesitated. She lightly placed her hand on his arm, moving so she could look him in the eyes.

“Please?”

Eventually, he nodded. “Alright.”

She led him to his cabin and stressed the need to sleep once more. Then she turned to leave, but Zuko’s voice stopped her.

“Kurami?”

“Hmm?”

“You believe me, right? About the Avatar?”

She answered sincerely. “Yeah, of course I do. Good night, Hotshot.”

I have to, a part of her mind whispered as she left, the part of her that was still completely loyal to the Black Spirits. Kurami violently pushed it away, shaking her head.

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The next morning, Kurami was sitting near the railing of the ship, reading a book. Zuko was busy with firebending practice, so she decided not to bother him and buried herself in the story.

A sudden noise made her jolt in surprise. She dropped her book and rose to her feet, spotting the flare the same time Zuko did. The prince ran to the telescope, searching for the source.

She joined him after picking up her book. “Well? What is it?”

“The last airbender…quite agile for his old age,” he murmured before turning to her.

“Go wake Uncle. Tell him I’ve found the Avatar…”

He lowered his eye to it again for a moment before adding, “As well as his hiding place.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She peeked into his room just as a battle helmet was placed on his head. She only spoke when the last servant disappeared out of sight.

“Are you ready?” she asked.

“More than,” he said with a confidence she’d never heard from him before. “I’m ready to go home.”

Her lips twitched. “I guess the same can be said of me?”

Zuko froze. He was so used to her presence on the ship that he’d forgotten it was only temporary.

Help me find and capture the Avatar, and I will let you go. We then part ways and forget all about each other. His own words echoed in his head, and he realized then that he didn’t want to forget. He didn’t want her to leave.

She was watching him expectantly, waiting for an answer.

“Oh. Yes, I just…forgot,” he said.

“Sure,” she said, unconvinced. “Well then, we’d best get to the deck. Don’t want to miss your big entrance, do you?”

They left the room, and Zuko pushed those thoughts aside–he’d deal with them later.

Right now, he had an Avatar to capture.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kurami stayed on the gangplank, watching as Zuko interrogated the villagers, tension making her shoulders tight.

When the villagers kept their silence, Zuko sent a blast of fire over their heads.

“Zuko,” she warned, grasping his upper arm. He shrugged her off, sending an irritated scowl at her. She glared right back at him.

If there was one thing she didn’t condone, it was harming innocents. Big talk, coming from her, but she had an excuse–at least, that’s what training drilled into her.

Suddenly, the Water Tribe warrior Zuko knocked down earlier charged at them. He looked no older than they did, but that was pure hatred burning in his eyes.

Zuko easily disarmed him, but the warrior wasn’t so easily defeated, tossing a projectile at them. Zuko dodged, pushing Kurami out of the way just as the warrior caught a spear from one of the other villagers. Kurami mentally commended him–not a lot of people would charge the Fire Prince again after being knocked down; of course, she was one of those people.

She couldn’t help but snigger when the prince grabbed the spear and jammed the blunt end into the warrior’s forehead.

The projectile from before slammed into the back of Zuko’s helmet, making him jerk forward at the unexpected contact. The prince straightened his helmet and growled at the warrior, two fire daggers appearing in his hands.

Something slammed into Zuko’s legs, throwing him backwards and causing him to land on his head. His helmet had flown off and landed on his rear. Kurami slapped a hand over her mouth, torn between worry and laughter.

She turned around and saw that ‘something’ turned out to be a young boy. He was bald with strange blue arrows on his head and hands and was dressed in yellow and orange clothing. He held a staff of sorts in his hands, watching them warily as Zuko ordered the soldiers to surround him. Kurami stepped backwards, closer to the prince, but not getting in his way. Her hand crept to her back, where her knives were sheathed, but she didn’t draw them.

“Looking for me?” the boy asked.

Both Zuko and Kurami stared incredulously at the boy.

You’re the airbender? You’re the Avatar?” exclaimed Zuko.

“Aang?” she heard one of the villagers ask, a girl who was tending to the warrior from before–his sister, maybe?

“No way…” murmured the warrior, bewildered.

So they didn’t know? she thought, and made a note of it for later.

Zuko and Aang began to circle each other, the Avatar’s staff raised for battle.

“I’ve spent years preparing for this encounter. Training, meditating. You’re just a child!” exclaimed Zuko angrily.

Aang tilted his head to the side. “Well, you’re just a teenager.”

With a growl, the prince began blasting fire at Aang. The airbender twirled his staff, dissipating the flames. One blast got too close to the villagers, who cowered in fear.

Aang’s eyes widened, and he lowered his staff immediately.

“If I go with you,” he said suddenly, holding his staff in front of him as an offering, “will you promise to leave everyone else alone?”

Zuko glanced at her for a moment, waiting for her opinion.

“No innocents,” she found herself saying.

He turned back to Aang, nodding once and signalling for the guards to surround and disarm him. As the Avatar was led away, the girl from before ran forward.

“No! Aang, don’t do this!” she pleaded. Kurami bit her lip at the desperate look in her eyes.

“Don’t worry, Katara. It’ll be okay,” he promised, surprisingly calm despite his situation. He gasped when he was pushed suddenly. “Look after Appa for me until I get back.”

“Head a course for the Fire Nation,” she heard Zuko order. “I’m going home.”

Kurami hesitated, lingering at the bottom of the gangplank. Her eyes met Katara’s for a single second.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, her voice apologetic.

“Kurami!” Zuko called sharply.

She sighed and turned her head toward him. “Coming!”

Glancing sadly at the village once more, Kurami rushed up the ramp to join the prince.

“I’ll be in my room if you need me,” she said to Zuko quietly, then left.

She didn’t even notice the look of sympathy she got from the Avatar.

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In her room, Kurami paced back and forth, trying to settle her jumbled thoughts.

Don’t get emotional about this, Kurami. It’s what you and Zuko have been waiting for for so long–the way back home. Your deal will be over and done with, and you can finally return to your old life.

Maybe I don’t want to go! she shot back, surprising herself.

“I don’t want to leave,” she breathed. She didn’t want to leave her room-slash-former prison cell. She’d miss Music Night, Pai Sho games, and arguing with Zuko over dead ends. She’d miss their sparring matches and conversations under the stars…

She’d miss him.

Zuko, strange as it was, was the only person she’d ever called a friend. Ren and Miyu didn’t count–they were more like siblings, though she said otherwise–and everyone else was already an adult.

So when she heard about the Avatar’s escape, she felt a tiny bit of relief wash over her. Nonetheless, she raced out of her room to join Zuko on his chase.

She still had to go home, after all.

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Kurami got to her feet, dripping wet, and found herself face-to-face with the Avatar’s creature–Appa, was it?–and the Avatar himself, seated on its head. She drew her knives, ready to attack.

“Wait! Come with us,” Aang pleaded suddenly. “You don’t have to stay with him.”

Kurami shook her head. “Actually, I do. He gets you, I go home.”

She glanced around Appa, spotting the frozen soldiers. There was no sign of Zuko. After a second of deliberating, she sighed, sheathed her knives, and dropped her stance.

“You better run,” she said to him and Katara, who appeared on top of Appa. “But be warned–he won’t stop until he gets hold of you, understand?”

Aang nodded quickly, the surprised look on his face turning into one of thanks. A gust of wind threw her off her feet, and she let herself land hard against the deck.

Appa rose into the sky, and Kurami struggled to her feet again. She saw Zuko and Iroh shoot a huge blast of fire at the group. It was redirected towards the side of a cliff, causing an avalanche to fall towards the ship, and her eyes widened as she realized she was right in its path.

She was abruptly yanked out of the way, and both she and her savior fell from the sudden movement. Groaning, she pushed herself up and realized Zuko had pulled her out of the way.

“Well, that went well,” she said, surveying the damage of the half-buried ship and trying to ignore how her voice shook.

Zuko sat up and glared at her.

She shrugged it off. “C’mon, Hotshot, what were you expecting? This was never going to be easy.”

The shadowbender never expected what happened next–Zuko pulled her into his arms.

“You could have died.” It was barely a whisper, but she heard it anyway.

“I’m fine, Zuko,” she replied. “Little shaken, but fine.”

Zuko released her, and the pair rose to their feet. Zuko waved his uncle off in irritation as Iroh tried to inspect him for any injuries.

Kurami patted Zuko’s shoulder. “We’ll get him next time, don’t worry. We’ll be more prepared then. Now, let’s get inside. I don’t know about you, but I’m freezing.”

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They never mentioned the hug again.

Zuko would deny it vehemently, while Kurami pretended it never happened and said, “Are you sure you weren’t seeing things, General?

(It turned out Kurami was a far better liar than Zuko was.)

However, Iroh knew something was going on between the two, even if the teenagers themselves weren’t aware of it. He would just have to give them time.

After all, no one should rush destiny.

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Iroh ships them so hard it’s hilarious.

Thalassa

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