Chapter 1: The gateway and the butler
I was standing in a white room.
It was big, square and blindingly bright. The celling was a cathedral roof of illuminated plates soaring high above me and flowing down the walls in square patterns. Even the floor seemed glowing with the cool light that was impossible to place the source of. There was a low electronic hum swirling around my head, like a thousand blazing computers constantly exhaling to cool down. It made my teeth vibrate.
The white room looked like a sterile laboratory taken directly out of a science fiction novel, except there wasn’t any equipment or lab-coated geniuses swirling liquid in conical flasks.
The only object, which stood in the far end in the room, was the tremendously contrasting reception disk made of dark glistening mahogany. I took a few tentative steps. As I moved I expected the entire place to dissolve in a fog, like a dream or perhaps a maddened hallucination, but the desk and the hum and the glowing floor remained existing. And surprisingly, so did I.
I stepped with more purpose now. A suspicious but undoubtful lopsided smile was tugging at my lip. This was not a dream. It was real. Or as real as you could argue reality to be, and now I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
I knew this room. I knew the room because I’d imagined it countless times. It would be completely safe to say that I could expound every detail and purpose the room held - Including the character of the older man who was standing behind the disk. He had a striking, and in retrospect not so oddly, resemblance to Alfred Pennyworth from batman.
But although I had all this insight, I was having a minor heart attack because I had never actually expected to find myself in the room. And further more, I had absolutely no idea how I’d gotten there.
I approached the disk and as I laid my hand on its smooth cool surface I grinned down at my palms.
“What will your requirements be this afternoon Miss?” The butler spoke in a crisp British accent.
His face pulled in something that could have been a smirk under the thin mustache but I wasn’t sure if it wasn’t a nervous tick. I knew his name was Jerry, but if I hadn’t known that, he actually carried a golden nametag with the name engraved.
I couldn’t quite speak yet. I looked behind Jerry to see what I knew already would be there; a heavy white door with a huge elaborately decorated doorknob sticking out of it.
A chill tickled down my spine.
I wondered if I should ask Jerry about what the heck was going on, but a part of me didn’t want to risk breaking ‘the spell’. The humming from the program that was behind the wall panels made my ears feel irritated.
“I wish to go back to the beginning. I want the program to drop me off on the boat.” I answered vaguely and Jerry caught my eyes.
He nodded, and this time I was sure he was smirking a thin-lipped and hidden smirk under the line of black mustache. Jerry wrote my demand down in an old leather bound book.
“And how long will you be staying Miss?” He asked with the pen set to the paper.
I gave it a thought. I knew that time would be different inside the universe I was visiting, and that time on my side, aka the ‘real world’, would practically stand still while I was away.
I also knew that I could come back to reality at any time by speaking the password to the program.
“We’ll start off with one year.” The excitement made my face hot.
“Very well Miss.” Jerry looked at me as if knowing something I did not, but made a note of my ‘stay’ -as if noting a checkout date in a hotel. A year seemed reasonable, and I knew that the story I was about to join had a main timeline for approximately a year from start to finish. I could always prolong my fictional vacation if I felt like more adventuring.
“Lastly, do you have specifications for your persona Miss?”
“Yes. Fire, and give me something extra to make it pop. I want to be as cool as the other guys.” I shoot Jerry a pair of finger-guns and a cheeky wink. “Oh, and I want my outfit to be entirely bananas!”
“Ba-na-nas. Certainly Miss.” Jerry recited as he ended the sentence with a graceful swing of the pen.
The book closed with a weighty ‘flop’ and then the clerk bid me to go through the white door.
I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep myself from exploding in a hysterical laughter. This was it. It was really happening!
Jerry bowed as I passed him. I wondered if I should bow back but dismissed the thought as my hand was already turning the big doorknob.
I took a deep shaking breath before striding over the brink.
It was dark. As in really scary pitch black where I stood. I glanced over my shoulder and back at Jerry who was mid-bow. Well, he would be, because as soon as I’d stepped over the threshold I was in different time-continuum now. Everything on the other side would slow down to an almost stop as a second there gave me months here. I gulped before facing the darkness again. Slowly the door creaked to a close behind me. Leaving me completely blind.
For a long awaiting moment I was frozen in a slightly awkward stance, hands stretched out in front of me and feet planted wide apart.
A sudden loud microwave-ish ‘ding’ made me gasp and sucking in the awful stench that filled the dark. It rushed in my nose like sewer water, and I could tell that it was the unmistakable rotten smell of old mops and moldy rags.
I smacked a hand over my heart and made an irritated noise.
“Goddamn program!” I hissed under my breath. Then I noticed my hand wasn’t touching chunky knit but smooth pressed cotton instead. Dumbfounded I patted both hands over my body. I was definitely not wearing dodgers and a thrifted knit anymore. This was sleek and formal and layered. I realized it was a kimono. Bananas.
Though I was curious to see what Jerry had interpreted my word into I first of all needed to focus on getting out of here. I fumbled my way through broomsticks and low shelves stacked with clay pots until my fingers discovered something fuzzy and moist. I recoiled and held back a yelp. I was in a closet - a very small, very stinky, closet.
Irritated I kept moving and accidently kicked the metal buckets on the ground as I tried to locate the way out of the small stinky closet. I stumbled and fell against what felt like the other side of the cubbyhole. There a big turning handle sat, you know the kind you only find on ships, and with a satisfied smile I was ready to enter the awaiting events on the other side. I put all my strength in moving the wheel, expecting it to pop right open. But it didn’t. The airlock-door didn’t budge.
Of all the places on the entire ship, the brilliant program had opened a gateway that lead from reality to parallel universe and straight in to a locked broom closet.
I cursed under my breath and tried the wheel again, one way and then the other, and then the first way again. It was as if the blasted door had been welded shut. My hands prickled and I kicked the doorframe in a moment of irritation. The metal echoed darkly in the small metal box.
It wasn’t any good. I would have to go back to the white room and reprogram the stupid core system -then try the whole thing again. Typical.
I tripped a few steps across to the other side where I’d come from and reached for a door of some kind. I expected it to be right in front of me. But there was none.
I ran my palms from side to side and from floor to as high as I could reach, but the metal wall was even and door-less. Panic began to set in. I even tried knocking while I wheezed the emergency password for my immediate escape. It was supposed to be a safe-word of sorts. A word that could fast-travel me back home instantly in the case of an unexpected crisis. Like this.
But nothing happened. Absolutely nothing; not Jerry’s polite voice apologizing for the mishap, not the program responding with an error-run-through, not even the tiniest of beeps or boops or indication that someone had heard me and was ready to come to my aid.
Nothing at all.
I was full-blown hyperventilating now.
I spoke the password again louder, clearer, and wiped my wet eyes with the stiff sleeve.
But the word was ineffective and I was stuck. My own confidences assured me that I wouldn’t be stuck in a closet forever but I was stuck here, in this parallel, for a whole year!
I bit down hard and sunk to the floor against the door.
Actually there was one other way back over the threshold.
The only chance of me getting back, was to kill myself off, or rather the fiction of me. The story couldn’t go on without me in it to say it bluntly. But honestly, I wasn’t ready for spearing myself on a rounded broomstick just yet.
A heavy ‘conk’ of metal going against metal made me break from my despair. The eerie howling from a sudden gush of wind blowing through the corridors followed. It had to be Aang’s airbending.
“Wait. Bending, duh!” I smacked myself on the forehead and scrambled to my feet. If I was already dressed to impress it had to mean that my requested firebending was fully baked too. Maybe I could melt my way out!
I sat my palms to the airlock door and started thinking fiery stuff.
Just in that fateful moment the entry of my prison swung open and I spilled out like a bunch of marbles. Something broke my fall and when I looked down I saw that my hair was in Aang’s face. He winched but then caught my eyes with mirrored astonishment. Aang was about to say something but with quick effective movements I was up and scouting down the narrow passageway. There were yells of commands and flames to my right. I started sprinting left.
“Sorry! But thanks for getting me out of there! I gotta go!” I called over my shoulder.
“You’re welcome I guess!” Aang replied in that upbeat voice of a kid with a great sense of humor. Yeah, Aang was undeniably good company. But pleasant or not, it didn’t change the fact that I would not like to be seen together with him right now. If Zuko thought that I was an ally to the avatar he would throw me in a holding cell quicker than I could say giant saber-tooth-moose-lion!
And after all Zuko was part of the reason I was here in the first place.
Behind me I heard the metallic rung of Aang opening and closing doors, and when I heard him exclaim that he’d found the staff he was looking for. I ducked into the next corridor and out of sight as I knew trouble was on its way.
Aang finding the staff meant Zuko and him fighting.
My gata shoes ‘clanked’ loudly against the metal floor and the sound traveled through the empty labyrinth of corridors lit up by red lamps.
I was not being the elegant quiet escapee I’d hoped to be, and that could become a real problem if I slammed right in to a fireblast-match with the guards, or even worse Zuko. I couldn’t go all flamethrower defense on them because I was trying to be nice to the Prince and his crew. Not that I was entirely sure how to make fire shoot out of my hands. And I couldn’t just be passive because, well, the guards would perhaps burn my pretty little face right off the bone.
I slowed down the pace and peered around a corner as I slipped out of the noisy shoes. There wasn’t anybody in the corridor but the sound of turmoil wasn’t far away.
I inched along the wall.
My legs carried me with no effort. Guess I have awesome stamina in here, I smiled to myself. Like a ninjaaah, I thought. I may or may not have added a funny voice in my head.
Then the seriousness of the situation hit me. I would have to explain how I got on his ship, when Zuko inevitably got a hold of me; If not from Appa and ‘The Gaang’, then from where had I appeared?
I had to make up something to earn his trust. Something that would make him intrigued enough to not kick me off the ship in a matter of moments into my intended capture. But I had nothing. My mind was blank for lies and backstory.
My initial intention was to stay on Zuko’s ship for as long as possible and learn firebending from Iroh. It was properly not the best of ideas analyzed in hindsight. Zuko was a super angry jerk in this entire period of his life and getting him to agree to lend out ‘the dragon of the west’ would be difficult. Especially if I was suspected of being a spy or and enemy.
I frowned as I realized that I hadn’t thought any of this through, and because I was stuck, it could have consequences.
In a less smart and angst-suppressing manner, I decided to wing it. Here using the term decided a little loosely for as my thoughts preoccupied me with making a good first impression, I heard the battle coming to me. I only saw the tip of a pointed shoe about to turn the corner in a stride before I ducked in to the nearest room.
The door was missing, which was odd but beneficial to me because then I avoided making a ruckus opening a screeching airlock. I slithered into a shadowed corner as I heard boots beat the metal floor right outside. This will be my first real fight in my life I thought as I mentally prepared myself for violence. It was weird, as I’d decided to possibly fight my body knew exactly what to do and took a stance. Maybe it would be that same for firebending?
The guard marched, and just as I thought he would walk past me, he stopped in the doorway of the room. Still in my stance I pressed myself up against the wall. A large thud deep within the ship made my heart skip a beat. The guard made a noise of startle as well. He started running down the hall, and I could finally exhale the breath I’d been keeping.
The epic fight scene was still unfolding on deck. Just as I wondered about how far they’d come the ship came to an abrupt stop. I was thrown out of my hiding spot and on to the floor. Then a long piercing screech from ice scraping along the side of the ship forced me to cover my ears.
I could only guess what that meant -Aang had redirected the Fire Nation’s attack and now half a glacier had crashed down on the ship’s deck. The fight was over.
I got up and looked around. I absently dusted myself off and wandered around the space. Scorch marks and other signs of a struggle defaced the metal space. There were bits of burnt tapestries on the walls, and on the floor and a meditation-altar of some sorts, a simple cot in the far corner and polished twin swords above it. The bulky steel door was lying purposeless on the middle of the floor.
It was Zuko’s room I realized.
A new set of emotions shot through me.
I shouldn’t be in here! This shouldn’t be where he first finds me! My cheeks felt hot.
But I had dawdled and a sudden fire blast shot right by my ear. An unfamiliar squeak escaped my mouth and I jerked away from the fires general direction.
“Who are you?” Zuko’s voice was horse and filled with his ill temper.
The Prince was undeniably a ‘shoot-first-ask-later’ kinda guy.
“I’m Kai. Hello.” I did an awkward wave and Zuko’s face knit together.
“Ehm. You are probably wondering what I’m doing on you ship. Well, it’s an interesting story!” I said and tried to look both unintimidating and charming, but I could see that the efforts was making Zuko’s mood worse as his jaw clinched. His hands were in tight flaming fists and I had to pull out something out of my sleeve quickly to hinder Zuko in transforming me into a pile of ash!
“No honest!! I am a spirit-“ What am I saying I thought frantically. “Guide!”
Zuko looked mean but puzzled.
“That’s me! Spirit-guide! I guide people’s, ehm, spirits.”
“Are you with the avatar?” He asked in a low threatening tone.
“Nope. I am your Spirit-guide Prince Zuko!” I grinned and made jazz-hands. It was a flustered malfunction rather than a conscious decision to do so.
“I should have you thrown off my ship and into the icy sea for lying. How did you come aboard my ship if you didn’t arrive on that flying beast?” He stepped closer.
“I… I… I came through a spirit portal. Of course.” I made a ‘well dah’ look. His eyes darkened.
“What a coincidence that the spirit world would drop you off here on my ship, in the middle of the arctic, right after the avatar has been spotted for the first time in a hundred years, to guide my spirit. Of course.” He dripped with sarcasm and took a step closer.
I got his point, and kicked myself mentally.
“Fate?” I shrugged in a strained smile.
“Do you think I’m that stupid little girl?” He circled me, and I was offended by his ‘little girl’ comment. I would guess he could see me pull an insulted face because Zuko looked smug through his anger.
“Do you even for one moment think that I believe you are here to help me? And that I will trust you! If that what you were hoping for when you strolled through the spirit portal, then I must disappoint!” He hissed and I saw two flame daggers burst from his hands. My mouth went dry. Think, quick! I mentally yelled at myself, what does Zuko want?!
“I will not be tricked into an ambush!” Zuko took a stance to ready an attack, but before he could fling the first flame, I spoke.
“I will help you catch the avatar!” I cringed in defense, dropping my gata sandals that I’d been holding.
When I wasn’t immediately fired at, I peeked at Zuko from behind my hands.
“And how will you do that?” He relaxed the stance but the skepticism hadn’t left his amber eyes.
“As I said. I’ll guide you.” I relaxed a bit myself, lowering my guard a fraction. “It’s what I’m here to do. It’s what I chose to do.” My heart raced in my chest and I hoped it didn’t show.
Zuko stepped up to me with something that could be wary interest in his features. He challenged my gaze for another moment, and somehow it made me simultaneously uneasy and very giddy, all at the same time.
“I assure you I don’t need guidance from anyone.” He said, now he was fairly close to me.
I pushed my lips.
“So. Are you really turning down an opportunity to be handed a ticket home? My mind is the map to your future, you know.” I lifted a careful brow.
This made him think. I could see him calculating risks before answering me.
“And what’s in it for you? Other than the great honor of serving the Crown Prince of the Firenation.” He was sarcastic again and he sounded bitter.
“I would like to train under General Iroh’s teachings, and have him as my tutor. Oh, and a room instead of a holding cell would be appreciated too.” I said casually.
“You are a firebender?” The darkness evaporated from his voice and became sincerely curious. Zuko ran his gaze over me and met my eyes again. I nodded.
“But you have white hair?” He said like I was the one being confused.
“Yeah. It’s called blond actually, and I guess I could explain it… But does it really matter?” I rolled my eyes. Zuko was either baffled or sulky. When he didn’t respond I decided to fill the quiet.
“Where did we land on the mentor thing? It’s not like I would steal him away from your training.”
“Show me you skill, and I will consider.” Zuko curled his lip.
“My skill? Alrighty then…” I muttered a little hesitant.
I tried to channel the feeling of being ready to spark flame like I had been when I was squaring up for a fight earlier. I imagined the flame and the heat and slowly I felt warmth circle in my palms. It was like nothing I’d ever felt before, and yet I could link the sensation to touching a warm breathing animal. I stretched out my arms and with great force two blazing columns of fire shot out from each of my hands.
It instantly ignited the leftover of a tapestry on the opposite wall and a flame caught on to Zuko’s sleeve. He jumped back and made a sound that was somewhat between a snarl and a hiss.
“Woah! Did you see that!?” I exclaimed and pointed at the blazing tapestry.
“I MEANT YOUR SPIRIT SKILLS!” Zuko yelled as he patted out the small fire on his right arm.
“Oh. Sorry… I thought you meant-“ I pointed at my hand.
He shot me a furious glare.
“You know you weren’t very clear…” I mumbled in defense before realizing that I essentially did not have any spirit powers to show off. “But okay, a demonstration of my spirit stuff, right, I got it. Okay, here I go... spirit mode on!” My smile tensed as my mind raced a thousand miles per hour to find how I could wriggle my way out of this one. Perhaps I could try to ‘foresee’ the future, or reveal that I knew a personal fact about Zuko. Something no one would know. A few useful bits sprung to mind, but none of them felt right to me. It was honestly kinda stalker-ish to flaunt that I knew the most intimate and significant moments in another person’s life.
I bit at my nail in thought.
“What’s taking so long?” Zuko had lost his patience while I had sunken into myself to deliberate how morally corrupted I truly was when push came to shove. I sighed. No. Opening a can of childhood-traumatized worms, that could spark immediate distrust and hostility between us, wasn’t an option.
“I knew you were lying.” He snarled.
“Hey give me a moment! It’s not like I can just pull an abracadabra lever!” I snapped and Zuko but then ‘the thing’ happened. All by itself as it were, and it turned out that I could, in fact, pull a lever.
It was like plummeting down through a hatch and lightning flashes of glimmering golden specks filled my eyes. My body was moving without my command. I tried to resist, to speak or blink away the strange shimmer, but a compelling force was ignoring my will. It lifted my hand entirely unaffected.
My fingers touched something opposite me. It was Zuko, and in between the glittering fragments I saw how he wanted to recoil from me as if I had been attacking. With two light fingertips on his breastplate, the bizarre energy that apparently had frozen us both in place, started to flow.
The air capsuled around us and circled us like only magic could.
My hair and clothes was lifted in the wind but everything else was. I felt the warmth in the blood inside us. I felt the earths blazing core beneath us, and the ball of fire in the sky. I passed the things I felt on to him. The connection went deeper and glimpse of past, present and future as I knew it started to flash. I opened my numb mouth to explain but the wind sucked out my breath. I tried to stop it. Hold back, but the waves of pictures were crashing down on us. They rolled with greater force still, and the nanoseconds became seconds of clear imagery of both of our memories.
The bond grew stronger and our memories intertwined. I could see that Zuko saw the white room. With every last drop of mental control I broke the touch. It was like pulling myself out of a rushing river. The encircled air bust apart and both I and Zuko were staggering back to keep our balance. I gasped and looked up at him with just as surprised a facial expression as the one on him.
“… Wild ride…” I breathed a little dazed. It felt like I’d just stuck my head in the microwave and cranked the setting to max.
What the heck was that all about?! Was I really a spirit-whatever?! Maybe that had been the next level of firebending I had asked the program for?
“What was…” Stunned Zuko touched his chest where I’d touched him. Two fingerprints had scorched the dark metal. So it had been firebending after all.
My heart was pounding as his yellow orbs burned through my skull in a question I couldn’t answer for the life of me. After being momentarily lobotomized by a celestial slideshow, I wasn’t even sure I could count properly to ten. In my muddled thoughts I wondered if Zuko was feeling the same wooziness and if this was a normal way of feeling after having encounters with spirit stuff.
Zuko and I stared at each other for another dragging pause.
“Prince Zuko, I didn’t know we had a lady onboard.” The wonderful accented voice of Iroh came from through the doorway. Iroh’s sudden presents made us take another step away from each other.
Our faces were flushed and we had been standing less than an arm’s length apart. Zuko sent me an odd look. I was blinking slightly asynchronous as my brain fizzed like diet coke on Mentos. Stay Fresh!
“Did you come with the avatar?” Iroh smiled like it wouldn’t necessarily mean I was ‘the enemy’ if I was. I appreciated that, even though I properly couldn’t say it in so many words while the remains of my cerebrum was seeping out of my ears.
Iroh’s comment had reset Zuko and he was quicker to shake off the lingering ambiance. He found his darker and more threatening attitude again.
“If she is, I will know before long. Show the girl to one of our empty chambers.” It was not hard to deduct that the Prince wasn’t pleased about me being a guest rather than a prisoner. I wasn’t blaming him entirely, to have a spy running freely around the halls was one thing, but to have a supernatural spy snooping was another. He strode out of the room without another glance, pushing past Iroh in a insolent huff.
In the notable quiet that Zuko had left behind, Iroh eyed me in a curious, nevertheless, friendly way. I shook myself out of the trance too and focused.
“I’m not with the avatar and I’m not like a mole either, in case you’re wondering. Zuko got me all-wrong on that. I’m just…” I had to stop talking while remembering words. “Ouch… A little out of my depths.” I winced and rubbed the back of my head that pinched from within my skull.
“Aren’t we all?” Iroh chuckled as he wandered over to me to put a gentle hand on my back. “Lucky we’re on a ship then.” He grinned and led me out to corridor.
As we walked I felt like I should be the one to talk, but my mind was desperately trying to comprehend everything that I had already experienced today. That, in itself, was a pretty tall order when being slightly jellified. Thankfully Iroh took the conversational wheel.
“It’s quite a surprise that we should have such spontaneous company as we are three weeks away from port. I do not get amazed easily, you learn to let the mind stay open at my age. However I must say, you are truly an unexpected guest.” Iroh said and lifted a brow on his mild face.
“I was surprised too! One moment I was home in my bed and then BAM! Everything I thought impossible was proved to be possible.” I said and looked up at Iroh with a lopsided smile. “Oh! I’m sorry! I’m being super rude. My name is Yokai. Or Kai for short.” I’d chosen the name at almost random, together with everything else in the white room.
“Ah, it means sun child – it goes well with your honey hair.” Iroh informed.
I smiled at that and gripped the ends of my long hair. Sun child. What a coinkidink.
“And you are not being rude. Believe me, I’ve seen rude.” He whispered behind his palm and it made me snicker.
“My name is Iroh and I am the Prince’s uncle. Pleased to meet you Yokai.” Iroh said gracefully.
“I am very pleased to meet you too General Iroh.” I tried to bow, but did an uncomfortable head dip while we kept walking instead.
“So what brings you here, Kai?” We turned another corner lit by red lamps.
“Actually I am to be Zuko’s spirit guide. If he would let me help, that is.” I rolled my eyes.
“Yes, spirits are not much in my nephew’s thoughts. I hope he will be ready to take the knowledge you have to offer. But forgive me, I have never heard of a spirit-guide before.”
“Well. I’m not from the spirit world per say. Aaand I’m not from around here either.” I said. “I guess you could call me a tourist.”
“Tourist?” Iroh smiled.
“Yes. I passed through from another other world to be here. I’ve followed your lives from afar and I’ve always wanted to meet you and Zuko, and even the avatar. I just… Didn’t think it was possible.” I shrugged one shoulder. “So now I’m here and I know what the Prince needs to find his way home.” That had been the most truthful thing I’d said since I’d stumbled out of the broom closet.
I just didn’t know it yet.
Iroh hummed and tucked a little at his gray beard.
“I have been in the spirit world once. It is a parallel to this world, a place that exists torn from our time and laws, however it intertwines with everything we know as wistome. And your are telling me that there are multiple parallels?” He asked slowly. The General’s golden eyes had none of the blazing anger that Zuko’s did, but instead held a flame that now flickered in his gaze.
“I’m not sure. I only know of my own place…” I said carefully.
“THAT’S WONDERFUL!” Iroh exclaimed and slapped my back so hard I tripped a little in my step.
“That is most interesting Kai. Most interesting indeed. It sounds like a debate you and I should have over a cup of good jasmine tea.” He beamed.
“I’m in! I love tea! And then you will have to tell me about you spirit world journey!” I beamed back.
“Oh finally someone who will appreciate the art of sitting around and drinking tea.” Iroh wiped his eye dramatically before snapping back to smiling. “Ah. And here we are. I hope it is to your liking, even though it is a little simple.” He gestured the room on our left and I peered in. The chamber was like Zuko’s in size and inventory, except I didn’t have the Dao swords or the meditation alter. And of course it was lit in the ever-present warm red color.
“It’s perfect!” I clapped my hands as I took a few giddy steps inside.
“I’ll leave you to settle in.” Iroh said kindly and started closing the door. “Welcome Kai.”
As soon as I was alone I was jumping around like an idiot.
I was here. Inside the place I’d been fascinated by for a decade! I was finally here and everything was real!! I ran my hands over everything in my room. The walls, the low cot, the bedside table with candles and an oil-lamp on it. It was weird that I could hold and touch something I’d thought to be fiction.
Speaking of weird, Iroh was taking this whole spirit slash parallel world stuff really well. I didn’t expect Zuko to be so easy to convince. He would properly think I was lying again or trying to trick him into something horrible. The guy had trust issues for sure. Eh, given the majority of his family members I understood where he was coming from. Trying to be his friend, much less his ‘spiritual guide’ would be a challenge.
I noticed that it was warm enough to walk bare foot (my gata shoes were still in Zuko’s room) even though my sliver of a window was frosted with ice. Maybe the ships coal furnaces were located below. I stretched and found that I could reach the low steel celling. It was actually really cozy in here, and with a bit of decorating it would be be a brilliant little cave to creep into. It needed some rugs and blankets though.
I sat my hands to my hips and nodded. Yes. I could see myself here.
Next order of biz: firebending!
I didn’t really understand how exactly I had been able to firebend before, but I had done it, so doing it again shouldn’t be impossible. Besides I’d chosen to be able to firebend because the element was the one I thought fitted me the best. It was heartfelt, forceful and exciting! And yeah, I was bias as to the fact that it looked extremely cool to do a fiery roundhouse-kick midair.
It seemed to me like most of the power within bending came from a specific state of mind. Like moving a muscle, but like, with your ‘thoughts’ and precise movements. Meditation and mind-expansion played a big role in bending. Even Zuko meditated. I hadn’t ever done that before either. Well, what a day for firsts!
I snatched a candle from the bedside tabled and sat myself on the cot with my legs crossed.
After a deep breath I placed two fingers above the wick and concentrated.
Feel the fire. Fell the will to bend the elements within yourself to bend the candle.
I scrunched up my face and placed the candle a little further back on the bed to point at it instead.
Okay. Warmth. Sizzling thoughts. Think desert, volcano, jalapeño.
After a while I felt a little stupid. It was odd to sit and point dramatically to a candle. I made a noise of an annoyance. Okay so it was a little harder than last time when I’d flown on autopilot, but that didn’t make me want to give up.
Summer. Sauna. Bonfire. Fever. Kiss.
I thought as I felt a tingle in the tips of my fingers. Something was without a doubt about to happen.
“Come on…” I whispered under my breath.
The heat prickling in me fingertips intensified.
“Almost… There.” I smirked.
Then, the roar of fire sounded.
It was as if I’d sat a lighter to a cloud of gas when the ball of flame flared out.
Unfortunately for my candle and some of my bedspread, the shoot of compact fire folded out and became way too big and too powerful. It instantly melted the top off of my candle and three others that stood on my table a little ways away.
Flustered, I leaped to my feet and grabbed a pot of water by the door to pore over the flames that ate at my pillow and table. The fire died with a sizzle and a cough of black smoke.
I sighed. Had I really expected to be perfect at controlling fire from day one? Zuko and all the other benders had had a lifetime to get used to their element, not to mention a lot of them had received extensive training since before they could walk.
My candles were drowned, and I’d made a mess of the floor not to mention my pillow. I felt drained and dizzy, and just a tad disheartened as I flopped back down on my bed, which was luckily only half-soaked.
I curled up at the foot of the bed and pulled the part of the cover that wasn’t wet over me.
This was a day of firsts, but it also felt a little bit like a day of failure.
I didn’t even close my eyes for a second blink before sleep had swept me away.