Of Shadows and Fire: Chapter Seventeen

This is gonna be a fun one.

Current time: Season 1, Ep. 3

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Agni Kai

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Eventually, the crew managed to dig out the ship, mostly by melting the ice and snow, and soon it was up and running again, quickly sailing out of the South Pole.

Zuko wanted to press on after the Avatar, but Iroh convinced him that the ship wouldn’t make it that far without repairs. Reluctantly, the prince agreed, and the course was set for the nearest harbor.

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Iroh knocked once on Kurami’s half-open door before entering. The assassin raised her head from where she was sharpening one of her knives.

“Yes, General?” she asked, placing the dagger beside her and rising to her feet.

He cleared his throat. “I know this may be the last thing you would want to hear, Miss Kurami, but I want you to stay on the ship when we dock.”

She raised an eyebrow. “How come?”

“I do not doubt your abilities, Miss Kurami, but a harbor full of Fire Nation soldiers is not the safest place for…”

“Someone like me,” she finished, then nodded once. “Alright. I understand.”

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They docked half an hour later, surrounded by ships twice as large as their own. As promised, Kurami stayed behind, feigning a headache when Zuko shot her a questioning look.

Back in her room, she was back to inspecting her knives, making sure they were well-polished and sharp. She sheathed them just as a noise from outside caught her attention–had Zuko and Iroh returned so quickly?

She crept to the door, pressing an ear to the cold metal.

“–the rest of the crew?” an unfamiliar voice asked. Kurami narrowed her eyes.

“Yeah, we’re interrogating them now. Found anything else?” came a second.

“Nothing yet,” replied the first voice, much closer now. “Maybe there’s something in here.”

Kurami inhaled sharply, realizing what was going on. She rushed back to her cot, hiding her knives beneath it. Just as she turned back to the door…it opened.

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He stopped as the spears crossed in front of him and a guard entered the tent.

“Commander Zhao,” said the guard. “We interrogated the crew as you instructed. They confirmed Prince Zuko had the Avatar in custody, but let him escape.”

He clenched his hands as Zhao walked over to him and spoke in his ear.

“Now remind me, how exactly was your ship damaged?”

Before he could speak, the guard continued.

“There’s something else, sir. We found something that might be of…interest to you.”

Two more guards entered, throwing something to their feet. Zuko stiffened, recognizing Kurami’s green-clad figure.

She straightened immediately, eyes wide and terrified, and shrunk back from the guards.

Kurami, scared? That’s not like her at all…unless…

The prince caught on to what she was doing and relaxed slightly.

“Well, well, what have we here?” mused Zhao.

“She’s my servant,” Zuko said, praying to the Spirits that this lie was better than the last. “I got her in one of the colonies, at a slave auction.”

Zhao turned to her. “And what is your name?”

Kurami jolted, as if surprised he was even addressing her.

“K-kira, sir,” she stuttered before swallowing.

“You seem different from most Earth Kingdom peasants.”

It was true. Kurami contrasted greatly with the Earth Kingdom people, given her name and appearance.

Kurami bit her lip. “My mother was Water Tribe,” she lied, speaking softly. “Her family moved to the colonies a long time ago.”

“And your father?”

“Fire Nation. He’s dead now. Both my parents are.” she said, inhaling shakily.

Zhao gestured for her to continue.

“I never really knew them. I mostly grew up on the streets, before the slave traders got me. After that…that’s when His Highness bought me,” she finished, looking down.

“I see…well then,” Zhao said, turning back to him. “I seem to recall another tale to be told. Isn’t that right, Your Highness?” he asked mockingly.

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“My search party is ready. Once I’m out to sea, my guards will escort you back to your ship, and you’ll be free to go.”

“Why?” Zuko shot back angrily. “Are you worried I’m going to try and stop you?”

Zhao laughed disdainfully. “You? Stop me? Impossible.”

Zuko was on his feet instantly. “Don’t underestimate me Zhao! I will capture the Avatar before you!”

Iroh rose as well. “Prince Zuko, that’s enough.”

“You can’t compete with me,” continued Zhao. “I have hundreds of warships under my command, and you? You’re just a banished prince. No home, no allies…your own father doesn’t even want you.”

“You’re wrong!” Zuko argued. “Once I deliver the Avatar to my father, he will welcome me home with honor and restore my rightful place on the throne!”

Kurami suddenly remembered the conversation she had with the prince, similar to this one, and her hand unconsciously went to her cheek.

This isn’t going to end well…

Zhao’s response was softer, but no less taunting. “If your father really wanted you home, he would have let you return by now, Avatar or no Avatar…but in his eyes you are a failure and a disgrace to the Fire Nation.”

“That’s not true.”

It was barely noticeable, but Zuko’s voice was starting to shake. Zhao’s words were hitting him hard.

“You have the scar to prove it.”

The prince got into Zhao’s face, his fury reignited.

“Maybe you’d like one to match!”

Zhao’s expression remained calm, but Kurami spotted the smirk that was pulling at his lips.

“Is that a challenge?”

“An Agni Kai. At sunset.”

“Very well. It’s a shame your father won’t be here to watch me humiliate you.” Zhao turned to leave.

“I guess your uncle and little Kira will have to do.”

Zhao exited again, leaving the three of them alone.

Kurami stood, dropping her act, and approached the prince.

“Zuko…are you sure about this?”

“Of course,” he replied. “This is something I have to do.”

“Prince Zuko, have you forgotten what happened last time you dueled a master?” asked Iroh, full of worry. Zuko’s face darkened.

“I will never forget.”

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Sunset came all too quickly.

“Remember you firebending basics, Prince Zuko. They are your greatest weapons,” Iroh advised.

“I refuse to let him win,” said Zuko, determined.

“Go get him, Hotshot,” she whispered, back in her ‘Kira’ persona. Zuko smirked confidently at her before rising.

A gong rang, and both Zuko and Zhao fell into firebending stances.

Zuko struck first. Zhao avoided and blocked the attacks easily, a smirk on his face the whole time. Zhao wasn’t even retaliating; he was just waiting for the prince to tire out. Kurami had to stop herself from scowling at that.

“Basics, Zuko!” Iroh called out. “Break his root!”

Zhao began his own attack. He shot powerful blasts at the prince, who managed to deflect them. Once. Twice. Three times.

The fourth blast knocked Zuko flat, causing him to skid a few meters backwards. As Zuko struggled to get up, Zhao flew at him with a roar, a blow aimed at the prince’s face.

Zuko rolled out of the way and twisted his legs around, bringing the commander down. The prince landed solidly on his feet, gaining the upper hand. He stepped forward, fire sliding forward as he did, making Zhao stumble. Pressing his advantage, he kicked at Zhao, making him stagger backwards. He was finally brought down with a second kick.

Zuko stretched his arm, ready for the final blow.

“Do it!” challenged Zhao.

He thrust his fist forward, scorching the ground right beside Zhao’s head. Kurami let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding.

Zhao stared in both anger and shock. “That’s it? Your father raised a coward.”

“Next time you get in my way,” Zuko promised, “I won’t hold back.”

He turned around and started to walk toward them. Zhao got to his feet, facing away from them. Suddenly, he shot a strong kick at Zuko’s back. Kurami opened her mouth to cry out, but Iroh acted first, grabbing Zhao’s foot and tossing him backwards.

Zuko went to charge at him, but Iroh held him back.

“No, Prince Zuko,” he warned. “Do not taint your victory.”

The general then spoke to Zhao. “So this is how the great Commander Zhao acts in defeat? Disgraceful. Even in exile, my nephew is more honorable than you.” He paused for a moment, then added, “Thanks again for the tea. It was delicious.”

Kurami joined the pair, and they began the long walk back to the ship.

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As they left the arena, Zuko turned to Iroh, a thoughtful look on his face.

“Did you really mean that, Uncle?” he asked softly.

“Of course,” replied Iroh, glancing at him. “I told you ginseng was my favorite.”

Kurami giggled, making Zuko focus on her.

“I see you’re back to normal, Kira,” he said, teasing lightly. Kurami shrugged, a smile tugging at her lips.

“It was the only explanation I could think of.”

“Yes, but you nearly blew it with that ‘His Highness.'”

Kurami laughed. “Well, it was proper, wasn’t it? I had to think fast. Speaking of which…not bad, Hotshot. Though your lying isn’t as good as your bending. I’ll probably need to help you with that.”

Zuko didn’t smile, but there was something in his eyes that looked like it. That was the closest to a compliment he had ever gotten from her, so he wasn’t going to complain.

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