Almost ninety years later, an old retired general though he saw some large orange fish in the water. Being curious, he decided to try and catch it. First he tried a fishing rod – he didn't expect it to work, and it didn't. He decided to try a different method: All creatures came to the hand that fed them, so he would give the orange fish some food. Then he might get to see what it was…
It would most likely eat small fishes… most large fish did.
Said and done. Iroh started to put out a fish a bit over the water at the back of the ship every night.
In the morning, it was always gone… and often he'd see a glimpse of orange in the vicinity of the ship. Whatever this animal was, it was quite bright – it had understood what he was doing after the first time he'd put out food for it. That only made him more interested in it. Whatever could it be?
After a few weeks, he decided to stay up, watching the food he put out. That night the fish wasn't taken. He decided to be up on the ship and sleep, instead of watching – and when he woke up, the offering was gone. A few days later, he decided to watch the fish he put out, and when he saw a glimpse of orange, he looked away. When he didn't look, they fish he put out was taken.
And one night, he saw an orange tail in the water. He was now sure it was a fish, and it was getting less and less afraid of him.
A few nights later the bait was taken when he was looking… but he didn't see a fish. No, instead a single arm came out of the water, grabbing the fish. An ordinary, human arm!
He had never heard of such a creature, not even a rumour or a myth. What could it be?
The next night was a full moon – and the whatever-it-was didn't show up. He tried to look away for awhile, but the bait was there, and there wasn't a single sign of the creature…
Iroh though it might have tired of him. Still the next night, he threw a fish towards the water – and out of the ocean jumped a girl with a fish's tail, grabbing the fish and landing in the water again. She then proceeded to bite down on the fish, and quickly devoured it.
Iroh was amazed. He had never seen such a creature. He wondered if it… no, she was definitely a female… if she could waterbend. True, the moon was considered the first waterbender, as the badgermoles were the first earthbenders, the dragons the firebenders, and the flying bison the airbenders… He had always thought it odd that there was no such creature that bent water. Perhaps he had found it? But then again, why was it not even whispered of? Could these creatures be that rare?
A few nights later, he decided to ask her. If she was as bright as she seemed, she just might understand him.
"Can you waterbend, my dear?" He asked.
She giggled, and swallowed the last of her fish. This was when she usually disappeared back into the water. This night, she nodded instead.
"Could you show me?" Iroh asked calmly. "I would love to see you do it."
The girl smiled, and made a raising motion with her arm. The part of the water she was floating in raised her into the air, putting her face to face with Iroh.
"Amazing…" he whispered. "It's like there's no effort at all… So natural… and powerful"
She giggled, but as a door slammed open on the ship, she was startled. Iroh blinked, and when he looked again, she was gone.
"What are you doing out here in the cold, uncle?"
It was Zuko, his nephew, the banished prince. When would he truly understand his father didn't want him back, with or without the avatar? Hopefully before it was too late…
"Just getting a breath of fresh air…" he answered absentmindly. "It has become a habit of lately…"
"You should come in" Zuko stated. "You might get sick"
"You're right, of course" Iroh said. Before going back in, he looked out at see, and whispered:
"I hope you come back…"
Iroh needn't worry. His kind behaviour had touched some small part of humanity Cleo still possessed, and she often came to him for food, as well as to listen to his troubles.
He suspected there was more to her that it seemed, and wondered if she really couldn't talk. She always understood what he said, and was a patient listener, but no matter how he tried, she wouldn't say a word. She answered to yes-or-no questions though – by nodding or shaking her head.
He hadn't managed to find out much about her though, but he knew she was unique. If he'd understood her correctly, there had once been a few more like her, but there weren't anymore.
He also thought her older than she looked. That assumption was backed up by the fact that she hadn't aged a day since he first met her – though it might be a little early to say so, as he'd only known her for a few years.
He suspected she might not be a creature, but a spirit… the spirit of storms, to be exact. When she disappeared, usually around the full moon, he often saw a storm far away – and it wasn't uncommon that there was a sunken ship by the end of it.
Still, the storms had never neared their own ship – the spirit was always close, but never attacked them. The weather was unusually nice as well… and he had almost panicked when he realized who she just might be.
Still, he had considered if it was the other way around. She didn't act like a spirit, but waterbending came so easily to her, she just made be able to raise storms… the storm spirit might be a girlfish instead of a spirit. His girlfish, to be precise.
He had seen her last night – but she had seemed unusually restless ever since they'd entered the ice-filled waters of the south… Perhaps something was going to happen?
The thought was proven right, as a huge light beam in the sky, beginning somewhere far out of sight. Zuko was naturally very excited, and gave order to set a course towards it. Personally, Iroh thought it unlikely that the avatar would be that reckless, but he didn't say that. He did mention it could be something else – but not that he would sooner suspect his girlfish, than the avatar…
The huge burst of energy almost shocked Cleo out of her mermaidish state. For a brief moment, her mind was her own, but then she lost it again. Her surrender to the moon was still too complete… it would take something much greater to break its hold over her.
Still the mermaid was curios. She quickly found the source of the energy – a boy that seemed strangely familiar… He reminded her of the old man that gave her such delicious fishes… Perhaps the boy would give her food? No, it was too risky. He wasn't alone – there were others with him as well… and he travelled on some beast, which might be dangerous.
She'd have to wait, and see what would happen.
Iroh had been surprised that the avatar was still a kid. It was as if time had stood still for him a hundred years… and his skills were that bad as well. The boy seemed to know nothing but airbending!
He suspected the girlfish to have something to do with it, but when he asked her that night, she denied it. He had to accept that as the truth; he hadn't ever known her to lie. He didn't really think she actually could. There was something innocent in her demeanour, which made her seem but a kid, despite the power he knew was buried within her.
This night though, he had seen an odd flicker of intelligence in her eyes, as if there were a little bit more to her that there used to be.
Perhaps he was just imagining things…
Iroh didn't see Cleo again until they failed to catch the avatar at Kyoshi Island. She had tried to catch up with the avatar, and had arrived there a day or so before Zuko's ship. In fact, she had almost saved Aang from being eaten; in the end, Katara had bended them out of the way before the mermaid could decide what to do… the fear of discovery was still strong in her.
Iroh was glad to see her again afterwards. He had missed her the days when she had been gone. She was always listening to the stories of his life – the good as well as the bad. Once, he had even mentioned that there were dragons still alive, but he quickly remembered his promise not to talk of them, and changed the subject.
He was now resting in a hot spring he had found. He still had a while before his nephew would come back.
Of course, that was the moment the earthbenders showed up.
Cleo immediately realized something was wrong. Something bad had happened to the nice old man – and he was in need of help. She quickly swam to the beach, airbent herself dry, and ran into the forest.
She found the spring just as Zuko left it to follow the earthbenders.
She easily kept up with him, using airbending, and when he freed Iroh, she attacked.
Zuko and Iroh never had to fight – Cleo was defeating the few earthbenders all by herself.
She seemed to conjure water from nothing – soon the entire place was soaked, and the earthbenders quickly fled. The only one dry was Cleo, and she stopped her dancing. It hadn't been a dance of storms, but one just of water. Iroh realized who she was almost immediately. Zuko, on the other hand, was too shocked to act.
Iroh thanked her quietly, and as he started to walk, she fell in half a step behind him.
"You coming, Zuko?"
Zuko just nodded, not trusting his voice at the moment. After all, it isn't every day a firebender is rescued from earthbenders by a powerful waterbender, is it?
Zuko was confused. Who was this powerful waterbender, and how did uncle Iroh know her? He had never mentioned her, and she was much too young to be an old acquaintance. Besides, he seemed quite used to her silent company.
That was odd as well. She had not said a word, not uttered a sound, during the entire trip back to their ship. Uncle had been unusually quite as well, but now he was talking as much as he usually did – but to her, not to him.
He interrupted his uncle's musings as the tea was ready.
"Uncle, who is this waterbender? Why did she help you?"
His uncle poured himself and the girl tea before answering. "Ah… This is no mere waterbender, Zuko." Iroh looked the girl in the eyes, as he continued. "This is the spirit of storms, and for some reason, she seems to favour me."
Iroh was quite certain his nephew would assume she was a spirit, not a waterbender, when he told him some of who she was. He was less sure of how she would take the revelation – he had never mentioned his suspicions to her. He wasn't really sure she wasn't a spirit. How else had she been able to shift forms? She looked like an ordinary human now, and apart from her strange attire of worn, foreign clothes, pearls, shells and other little things from the ocean, she could have passed as an ordinary girl of pretty much any nation – though he'd probably had pegged her as from the earth kingdom, due to her brown eyes and hair.
Still, he knew she was no earthbender – she had to be a powerful waterbender, or a spirit, the latter being more likely that he'd thought. Either way, she probably wasn't human, even if she looked it right now.
His nephew had reacted just as he thought he would.
"The spirit of storms? And just how long have you been keeping this a secret?" Zuko looked angry about being out of the loop.
"Since I met her, of course" Iroh answered calmly. "I hadn't even told her I knew who she was"
The girl herself was looking at Iroh with huge eyes. She was shocked he had figured out who she was, and that he told Zuko just like that. He knew she wanted to be as unknown as possible…
"How long will she be staying?" Zuko asked. "I don't want the ship damaged by any storm."
"She can stay as long as she likes" Iroh answered. "She's been around for the most part of the last years, and we haven't had any major storms hitting our ship… she wouldn't do that to us."
Zuko shouted angrily and went out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
When he had left, Iroh addressed the girl.
"You know, that was the best way of making he leave you alone. Now he thinks you're a spirit, and likely won't bother you at all, in fear of you raising a storm."
She nodded, understanding his point immediately. She seemed much brighter that usual… how odd.
When they had sat there for a while, drinking their tea, Iroh offered:
"You know, if you ever want to tell me anything, I'm all ears."
She nodded, and smiled at him. He took that as a good sign.
"Now, why don't we get you some more ordinary clothes – it would be much easier to be unnoticed by the crew if you looked as if you were from the fire nation…"
After finding her some clothes – they as good a fit as they could've been, but they would do – Iroh realized that he still had no idea what to call her. Girlfish wasn't really an appropriate name – especially when she looked human now. He asked her if he could give her a name. When she nodded, he thought hard, and proposed:
She seemed to think about it.
"I thought it might be appropriate…" Iroh said, a bit uncertain. He didn't want to lose her over a name. That was why he had never tried to name her before.
Thankfully, she seemed to decide that she liked it, as she nodded, and smiled at him again.
"Well, Chiyoko" Iroh said. "As I said to my nephew before, you can stay as long as you like." As an afterthought he added mischievously: "You just have to try the cooked fish. I find it much better than the raw one…"
The crew had taken well to the odd, silent girl. When they got no explanation of her presence, they had decided she was some distant relative of Iroh, and treated her as such. That she was quite pleasant to be around made things even easier. The strange sense of innocence that lined her every action made her seem young, and she was treated with an oversight similar to that of a kid.
The only one that didn't really like her was Zuko. After what his uncle had said, he was weary of her – he couldn't understand her, and to him, that made her unpredictable. The reputation of the storm spirit was bad in the fire nation – she had been destroying their ships long before he was born. He kept expecting her to destroy the ship, but she never did.
When they chased the avatar to the crescent island, she had come along. As soon as the avatar's bison could be seen, she had stood there, gazing towards it. This made Iroh wonder – if she was a spirit, it could be explained by the fact that the avatar was the bridge between this world and hers. If she wasn't, he was quite unsure what that meant… Could she be familiar with him somehow?
She stayed with them for the next few weeks, but as the next full moon drew closer, she started to seem restless, and the day before the full moon, she was gone.
Iroh gave the crew no explanation, and they made one wild guess after another. Zuko seemed relieved, but when Iroh said it would storm, he stared at Iroh with a gaze that said: "What do you know?" When he shook his head, and said he felt it in his joints, Zuko disregarded the advice to seek shelter.
Half a week later, Shiyoko was back in the morning. Once again, there was no explanation, and the crew came up with a lot of strange theories to explain the time she was gone – as well as why it had stormed the day she had left… A few of the ideas even came a little bit too close to the truth for Iroh's comfort.
About two weeks later, General Zhao commandeered the crew – when Iroh left the ship, Shiyoko went with him. He was used to her now – she might still be a mystery, as he still had no idea what she was. It didn't matter. To him, she was a lovable niece, no matter what she was.
When the ship exploded, he was too distraught to act. Shiyoko sensed his panic and concern for Zuko, and jumped into the water. A girlfish once again, she put Zuko on the dock by him. After explaining what he would do, he asked her to stay away from the fire nation navy for a while – if she really wanted to, she could go to the North Pole and wait until this was over.
She didn't seem to like it, but agreed when she said it was for her own safety.
As she swam away in the sunset, Iroh realized he already missed her. It would be lonely without her.
It's nice to see a few people actually like the story. I'm especially glad two of you even left reviews. Thanks!
The next chapter might be a while, as it isn't finished yet. I hope you don't mind too much...