Of Shadows and Fire: Chapter Eighteen

Current time: Season 1, Ep. 4 and the time after 6

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Tracking Down the Avatar

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The night was calm and quiet; a nice change, considering the stressful events of the past week. It was getting close to midnight, but Zuko was still awake, meditating. The flames of the lit candles rose and fell as he breathed a steady tempo.

He didn’t open his eyes when he heard his door open slightly with a soft creak.

“The only reason you should be interrupting me,” he stated calmly, “is if you have news about the Avatar.”

The door opened wider.

“Well…there is news, Prince Zuko, but you may not like it,” said his uncle. “Don’t get too upset.”

Still in a calm state of mind, Zuko responded, “Uncle, you taught me that keeping a level head is a sign of a great leader. Now, whatever you have to say, I’m sure I can take it.”

“Okay then.” Iroh paused a moment, hesitating. “We have no idea where he is.”

WHAT!?” Zuko yelled, furious. The flames in front of him expanded, causing smoke to fill the room. He rose to his feet, all traces of calm gone.

“You should really open a window in here,” commented Iroh, pulling a fan out of his sleeve.

“Give me the map!” he demanded, scanning it.

Outside, a door slammed open. Kurami appeared in the doorway, wide-eyed and barefooted, her hair in a complete disarray.

If Zuko wasn’t so angry in that moment, he would have laughed at the sight.

When she realized that there weren’t any intruders, she dropped her stance and glared halfheartedly, too tired to care.

“Spirits, Hotshot, what’s going on?” She yawned behind her hand, rubbing her eye. “Some people are sleeping, you know.”

“Apologies, Miss Kurami,” said Iroh. “I was just informing my nephew that we cannot locate the Avatar.”

She groaned. “That’s it? I thought we were being attacked or something.”

She walked inside as Iroh continued, “There have been multiple sightings, but he is impossible to track down.”

“How am I going to find him, Uncle?” asked Zuko, looking at the zigzagging lines on the map. “He is clearly a master of evasive maneuvering.”

Kurami sighed, looking over his shoulder.

“Maybe he’s just lost,” she offered, shrugging. “I’m going back to bed. Wake me up when something actually happens.”

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

Kurami decided to sleep in a little the next morning, but all plans of that were ruined when she heard someone pounding on her door.

“Kurami!” Zuko shouted, just outside the door.

She winced slightly at the tone and sighed, getting up and opening the door.

What, Hotshot?”

“Get ready. The Avatar’s on Kyoshi Island,” he said, before turning to go to his own room.

“Looks like we’re skipping breakfast today,” she muttered.

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

“Oh, no. No, no, no. I’m not getting on that thing, Hotshot,” she protested, looking up at Zuko, who was seated on a rhino.

“Yes, you are.”

“Nope.”

“Yes.”

“Nuh-uh. You can’t make–AH!”

Zuko leaned down suddenly and grabbed her arms, pulling her up to sit behind him. She clutched the saddle, trying to steady herself. Her withering glare met his amused glance.

“You’re going to fall if you stay in that position.”

“I think I’m going to be fine, tha–” she yelped as they began to move, arms instinctively grabbing on to him. She loosened her grip, re-positioning so she was holding on to his waist.

“I hate you,” she said.

“I know,” he replied, before focusing on the task ahead.

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“Come out, Avatar! You can’t hide from me forever!” he called out. Kurami scanned the empty village.

When he got no answer, Zuko ordered, “Find him.”

Kurami slipped down from the saddle, drawing her knives as she followed the other three rhinos deeper into the village. All of a sudden, green figures flew at them, knocking down some of the riders. The figures turned out to be young women wielding metal fans.

One of them charged at Kurami. Kurami raised her knives, slashing at her opponent. At a closer look, it turned out to be one of the Avatar’s companions, the warrior who fought Zuko in the South Pole.

He managed to block one of her attacks and shove her backwards. She landed in the soft snow, grunting. When she got back on her feet, he was gone, rushing towards Zuko.

She went to help the prince, but was confronted by two more warriors.

Looks like Hotshot’s on his own for now, she thought.

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

“Why is it that every time we find the Avatar, I get soaked?” Kurami asked, her tone deadpan, wringing water from her braid as she dismounted from the crowded rhino.

Zuko growled in response, literally steaming. He stormed past her, disappearing through the door.

Kurami rolled her eyes and went to find Iroh. He probably had a nice, warm pot of tea waiting.

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A few days later

Another sighting led them to an oil rig. Kurami stayed behind this time, insisting, “I am not risking getting wet again. I’m not built like you firebenders–you don’t get sick from cold. I do.”

The search party returned at sunset, thankfully not dripping wet.

“Find anything interesting?” asked Kurami as Zuko entered her room. He was scowling again, which meant the Avatar was still free.

“He was already gone by the time we got there,” he said, dropping down on her bed, sulking. She raised an eyebrow and walked over to him, nudging him over so she could sit.

He grasped something from his belt and held it up.

“It’s that Water Tribe girl’s. I found it on the ground.”

Kurami took it from him, inspecting it.

“A betrothal necklace…” she murmured.

Zuko glanced sharply at her.

“What?”

“The men of the Water Tribe hand-carve designs into stones and then make it into a necklace for the women they are to marry,” she explained. “Most of the time, they’re arranged marriages, decided when the bride turns sixteen.” She pursed her lips. “Judging from the lack of young men, save for her brother, and the fact that she’s younger than the both of us…this probably belonged to her mother.”

She noticed Zuko staring at her when she finished.

“What?”

“How do you know all that?”

“I know some people from the Water Tribe, remember? Miyu wears her mother’s necklace–she hasn’t gotten her own, but she’s already nineteen. Should be twenty, by now,” she explained. “Anyway…this necklace is an heirloom, so she’ll probably want it back.”

She returned it to him, dropping her hands into her lap afterwards. “Don’t you do this sort of thing in the Fire Nation?”

“Most marriages are made out of love, but there are the occasional political ones.”

“Like with your parents?”

Zuko nodded once. “The whole celebration takes days, at least with the nobility. There aren’t any hand-carved necklaces that I know of, but there is betrothal jewelry.”

“I, for one, never considered marrying anyone,” she said. “It’s not like I can get married, being a criminal and all. Besides, no one would ever want someone like me.”

“You’re right,” he said jokingly. “I’m not sure anyone could bear living with you for longer than a day. They’d be too worried about you killing them.”

Kurami smacked his arm, narrowing her eyes. However, the way her lips curled suggested she wasn’t really offended.

“And what about you? No girl would be able to handle ten minutes with you, what with the glaring and the temper tantrums.”

“I do not have tantrums.”

“Mm-hmm, sure, keep telling yourself that.”

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The “Why is it (…), I get soaked” quote mirrors Sokka’s from Ep 1. (Don’t worry, Kurami, the next chapter will keep you relatively dry.)

Also, I literally have no idea why they started talking about marriage…I got a little carried away.

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