Of Shadows and Fire: Chapter Twenty-One

Current time: Season 1, Ep. 12 and 13

Important announcement: I’m going on a hiatus for a few weeks. For details, click here.

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

Black and Blue

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

Kurami walked the halls of the ship, listening to the many sounds echoing through the metal–the humming of the engines, the clank-clank of the crew’s footsteps.

Her own footsteps were always light, even with her boots, and years of training kept her as silent as a shadow.

The bender grinned to herself at the apt description as she reached her destination: the door that led to the deck. It opened suddenly, revealing an irritated-looking Fire Prince.

He stormed past her without a word.

Raising an eyebrow, she ontinued on outside, spotting Lieutenant Jee and Iroh.

As she approached, Jee bowed to Iroh and left.

“Did something happen?” she asked. “Hotshot seems…upset.”

“He is just overworked, Miss Kurami,” replied Iroh. “Stress over the Avatar.”

“Hmm.”

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

“Hotshot? I know you’re in there,” she called. “Come on, talk to me.”

Silence was her only response.

She sighed, leaning against the metal. “I heard about what happened. Jee doesn’t know what he’s talking–”

The door suddenly opened, and she fell forward, into Zuko’s chest. His arms came up instinctively to catch her, preventing her from falling further.

She stepped back quickly after she regained her balance, crossing her arms and looking up at him. His face was dark, his shields in place.

He turned and walked back inside, but he didn’t shut the door, which she took as a sign to follow him.

They sat beside each other on Zuko’s cot, not looking at each other.

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

“You don’t care about anyone but yourself! Then again, what should I expect from a spoiled prince?”

“I won’t fight you.”

Zuko clenched his fists at the memories Kurami’s words brought up. He’d kept it locked up for such a long time, figuring no one would ever understand; yet there she was, waiting patiently for him to talk to her.

He took a deep, shaky breath before he spoke.

“It happened when I was thirteen,” he began. Kurami turned to look at him, but he stared ahead, to the still-lit candles on his meditation table.

“I wanted to attend a war council, and persuaded Uncle to let me in.”

He laughed, sharp and bitter. “That turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life. One of the generals wanted to sacrifice an entire division of new recruits. I spoke up against it, out of turn…but I didn’t realize the consequences.

“I was challenged to an Agni Kai. I accepted, thinking that I had to fight the general, but that wasn’t the case. By speaking out in the war room, I disrespected the Fire Lord himself.”

“You had to fight your own father,” said Kurami quietly.

“I tried to protest. I was begging not to fight him, but he said I had to learn respect…and suffering would be my teacher.”

His hand drifted up to his scar.

“I refused to fight, so he burned and banished me.”

He finally looked at her, but didn’t meet her eyes.

“That’s why I’m so insistent whenever we catch up to him. He’s my only way home.”

A cool hand grasped his wrist, bringing his hand down.

“I know what that’s like,” she murmured. “You know I do.”

“But you have a choice–”

“No, I don’t,” she cut him off.

“I’d be branded a traitor and a failure for not killing you if I went back to the Black Spirits. Frankly, I don’t care. I used to,” she admitted, deciding to let it all out. “Sometimes, I considered going back on our deal, but I didn’t.”

I could have.”

“But you didn’t.”

Kurami smiled slightly. “You also could’ve chosen to kill me instead of making that deal in the first place, or not to save me from that avalanche, or not to defend me from Zhao. You could’ve chosen not to tell me about your scar, but you did. You care about your uncle, otherwise you wouldn’t have gone and rescued him. You even defended those recruits, people you didn’t even know. That proves something.”

Zuko snorted. “And what would that be?”

“You care about people. Not just yourself.”

The prince opened his mouth to respond, but was interrupted by a violent tremor running through the ship. The teenagers instantly jumped to their feet and bolted out the door.

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

“Where were we hit?” Zuko shouted, trying to be heard over the storm.

“I don’t know!” responded Jee.

The waves seemed to get worse, tossing the ship back and forth. Suddenly, the ground underneath her seemed to vanish, and she went over the railing. By some miracle, she managed to grab on to the edge with one hand, but she ended up slamming hard into the side of the ship.

A scream tore its way out of her lips.

“Zuko!”

She struggled to hold on with both hands, but her fingers began to slip. Luckily, someone managed to grab her at the last moment and pull her to safety. She grabbed on to the familiar figure once her feet were on solid metal again, breathing shakily.

She caught a glimpse of something in the air, and Zuko followed her gaze.

“The Avatar!”

“What do you want to do, sir?” asked Jee.

He paused, looking down at Kurami for a moment before answering.

“Let him go. We need to get this ship to safety.”

“Then we must head directly into the eye of the storm,” said Iroh, shooting a smile at his nephew.

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

They entered the eye, where the water was much calmer.

“Uncle…I’m sorry,” said Zuko.

“Your apology is accepted,” replied Iroh, placing a hand on Zuko’s shoulder.

He turned and spotted Kurami by the railing, wringing out her hair and tunic. She looked up and mouthed, “I told you so.”

He walked over to her.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“I’m okay,” she said, turning to him. “Freezing cold and dripping wet, but okay.”

He rolled his eyes. “Let’s get you inside then, before you start whining.”

“I don’t whine!”

“Of course you don’t.”

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

Two days later

“We haven’t been able to pick up the Avatar’s trail since the storm,” said Jee, running a finger across the map.

“There’s still a chance he’s heading north,” said Kurami, crossing her arms.

Jee nodded once in her direction. “Perhaps. If we continue heading northeast…”

A shadow fell across the windows as a large Fire Nation ship pulled up next to them.

“What do they want?” asked Zuko, annoyed.

“Perhaps a sporting game of Pai Sho!” said Iroh, bringing a finger up.

A few minutes later, three soldiers walked into the bridge. One of them brandished a wanted poster at them and spoke.

“The hunt for the Avatar has been given prime importance. All information regarding the Avatar must be reported directly to Admiral Zhao.”

Kurami raised an eyebrow at the title, but kept silent.

“Zhao has been promoted? Well, good for him!” commented Iroh.

“I’ve got nothing to report to Zhao,” Zuko growled. “Now get off my ship and let us pass.”

“Admiral Zhao is not allowing ships in or out of this area,” replied the soldier.

“Off my ship!” the prince snapped, pointing at the door.

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

Kurami emerged on the deck, wrapping her arms around herself. She joined Zuko, who was staring out at the setting sun.

“Iroh said you wanted to talk to me?” she asked.

“I do,” he replied, turning to look at her.

“Kurami…do you trust me?”

She tilted her head.

“Do you even need to ask? Of course I do.”

“I have an idea. It’s insane, possibly dangerous. You’re the only person I’m telling.”

“…go on.”

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

The guard looked inside the cart and found nothing but cargo.

He nodded.

“All clear,” he said. “Go on in.” 

The cart rolled through the gates without any problem and stopped in a courtyard.

Two figures slipped from the cart and ducked into the shadows of an entranceway. They made their way across a wall before slipping down the other side and entered a sewage tunnel.

“Told you I could hide us.” whispered Kurami as she followed Zuko past the bars.

“It’s not like I doubted you.”

“Psh. You were giving me that look.”

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

They took down the first soldier they came across, and Kurami stole his helmet, tossing it down the connecting corridor.

One guard came into view after a few seconds and blasted fire at her. She dodged and charged at him, rendering him unconscious with a few well-placed kicks. Two more guards came to investigate, but they were easily defeated as Zuko jumped down and attacked them from behind.

Kurami entered the corridor just in time to spot yet another guard grabbing the alarm horn. She tossed one of her knives at him, knocking it out of his hand. Zuko ran towards him, extinguishing the flames that flew at them with a water bucket and then sweeping the guard’s feet out from under him. She retrieved her knife as Zuko picked the lock on the door and went inside.

She didn’t have to wait long until he emerged with Aang in tow. She followed him down the hallway, only stopping when the Avatar lingered to try and catch some frogs. She raised both eyebrows behind her mask, shooting an invisible look at Zuko. He just shrugged and went to retrieve him.

They reappeared in the courtyard after making their way through the sewers and began to scale the wall with the rope they had left. Suddenly, the air was filled with the sounds of alarm bells and shouts.

“There! On the wall!”

We’re in trouble now…she thought.

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

It all happened in a split second. One moment, Kurami was leading the way out as Zuko had his swords at the Avatar’s throat, and the next, he was lying on the ground, unconscious. Aang airbended a cloud of dust to shield them from view.

When Kurami managed to get to them, Zuko’s mask was off and Aang was backing away, staring at him in horror and shock. He looked up at her, and she lifted her own mask.

“Hello, Avatar,” she said, moving to crouch by Zuko’s side.

When he didn’t say anything, she spoke quickly.

“The guards are coming for us–it’s better if you get out of here.”

That brought him out of his trance, and he shook his head.

“I can’t just leave you here.”

Kurami’s lips quirked.

“Well then, can you help me carry him? He’s not exactly light.”

By the time the dust had settled and the guards had arrived at the spot, the trio had vanished.

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

“Thank you, Avatar,” she said. “For helping us.”

“It’s the least I could do. You did the same for me.”

Aang glanced at Zuko before looking back at her.

“I guess we haven’t been properly introduced. I’m Aang,” he said, holding out a hand.

“Kurami,” she replied, shaking it once.

“Why did you? Rescue me, I mean?”

“Actually…I’m not sure. It was all Hotshot’s idea,” she said, gesturing at the unconscious prince. “I guess it’s because we didn’t want to see you in Zhao’s hands.”

“But in yours instead?”

Kurami sighed. “It’s a long and complicated story, Avatar, and not mine to tell. I’m just going to say that we won’t be stopping any time soon.”

“So why don’t you do it right now? I mean, I’m right here.”

“We all deserve a bit of a break, especially after what happened.”

Aang rose to his feet. “I have to get back to my friends.”

She nodded once.

“Till next time, Avatar. Don’t worry, I won’t tell him about you helping us–Spirits knows what it’ll do to his pride.”

He opened his glider, ready to set off.

“Oh, and Avatar?”

He glanced back at her.

“We’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention…” she tapped her mask.

He smiled at her. “Your secret’s safe with me, I promise.”

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

Zuko groaned, opening his eyes.

“Hey, Hotshot, how you feeling?” asked Kurami.

“What happened? Where’s the Avatar?”

“He made a run for it after you got hit by that arrow. I dragged you into the forest before the guards could catch us.”

They made their way back to the ship just as dawn started to break. Thankfully, they didn’t have to pass by anyone on the way back to their rooms. That would have triggered questions that they were too exhausted to answer.

The next morning, they went on as if nothing had happened, listening with the appropriate amount of interest when they received the news of the Avatar’s capture and escape from Zhao’s fortress, and of the two ‘Spirits’ who helped him.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s