A/N: Remember guys, reviews make me more prolific! Also, you may notice that this fic has had a tvtropes page for a while now. Please be a dear and add tropes to it, would y'all?
Trial and Error
The question burnt in Kazuma's heart, hotter than the flames he wielded, harder than the sky-iron from which his sword was forged, striking him with all the force of the lightning bolt that had hit Kei in the chest and put her in her current state. He looked down at her comatose form and sighed as the team of waterbending healers continued working tirelessly as they had been for the past several hours, calling for potions and serums, rapidly firing off status updates on blood circulation and respiratory rates and blockages in chi flow, the rejuvenating glows of their craft running up and down Kei's meridians as trading boats traversing up and down a river. Ever since their match abruptly ended, Kazuma had been in the room, watching the grisly aftereffects of his handiwork and alternating between feeling terrible and praying to the spirits that Kei would open her eyes and be okay.
Kei did not stir.
"I'm sorry," Kazuma whispered, fighting back the tears welling in his eyes. This was not supposed to happen. He was supposed to be the paragon, to represent the best the White Lotus had to offer, to inspire all others to a new birth of civility. Instead, he'd almost killed a fellow competitor in the arena. The guilt gnawed at him like a spider-rat, doubly so whenever he'd catch the eye of a departing spectator and see the condemnation within, triply so whenever he's catch the eye of a departing spectator and had them congratulate him on his victory. That most of these were Fire Nationals didn't help.
Why had he done it? Sokka was annoying him, yes, but that shouldn't have been a reason for him to pull lightning. Hadn't Iroh and Jeong Jeong always told him that lightning was a last resort? At least Kei wasn't dead - Kazuma had never killed anyone before, not even when he went on the joint mission with Yunfei and the others, and he wasn't sure what he would have done had Kei been a fatality. But given how just looking at her comatose state made him feel, he wasn't sure he wanted to find out.
Crap. Kazuma had hoped it would be Piandao. Or Iroh. Or one of the healers. Or even Yunfei. Instead, it was the one person he couldn't face right now.
"Sokka, I'm sorry," Kazuma began, standing up. "I didn't - I never - I -"
Sokka held up a hand to stop him.
"I want to know," Sokka said, slowly, deliberately. "Why you did that."
"I don't know," Kazuma replied. "I really don't. Sokka, I'm sorry, I really am. Look, Sokka, you know I was an orphan. The White Lotus took me in and raised me. Everyone in the Order was the only family I'd ever known. I would never try to intentionally hurt you or anyone you care about. Please believe me-"
"It's a little hard for me to do that at the moment," Sokka interjected. Kazuma fell silent. Sokka sighed. "Sorry, that was low. Look, I'm just a little on edge. Well, not a little. But by all means, explain away."
"Sokka, I really don't know what happened. All I know is that I was tapping into my spirit state-"
"Spirit state, it's - well, Iroh and I can explain it to you later. But then I didn't know what happened next. All I know is that I blanked out, and next thing I know, Kei..."
"Alright, fine." Sokka stood up. "Get up, come with me."
"Wait, what?" Kazuma was confused, but he did as he was told and followed Sokka outside. "Dad, Iroh, Toph," he said in surprise. "What's going on? Were you listening the whole time?"
"There was a meeting," Iroh said, nodding. "Called as soon your match ended, so that we might decide what will be done with you. In three days, there will be a hearing to determine whether you are to continue in this tournament.
"Iroh, if I did that, then I don't want to continue," Kazuma replied. "Not if it means someone else might get killed because of me."
"If what I heard in there was true, there is something entirely different that we need to be concerned about," Iroh replied. Kazuma was about to protest, but Iroh cut him off. "You are sure that you didn't bend lightning on purpose?"
"Describe to me, again, what it was like."
"I don't even remember doing it. I remember her swinging her sword at my neck, and the next thing I remember...she was lying on the ground unconscious..."
"Then we need to find out why this happened. Come, we are leaving for the Jasmine Dragon."
With a last wistful look at Kei, Kazuma nodded and walked away with Iroh, Piandao, and Toph.
"Please be okay," he heard Sokka whisper as the Water Tribesman followed.
The airag burned down Jun's throat like a good brushfire clearing out old growth in midsummer. Sounds of raucous revelry surrounded her, as gamblers, addicts, drunkards, and johns went about their revelry. They were familiar sounds, sounds she had become used to before her teens, as she followed her father around the world in his bounty hunting profession. But some of it was new, though.
"You didn't see the match? Well lucky for you young'uns this old man here did. It was nuts, I tell you. Nuts. You wouldn't think a bunch of nonbenders could hold their own against the greatest earthbender in the world and this powerhouse that the White Lotus somehow cooked up, but they were playing those benders like a silk string orchestra..."
Jun downed another shot glass, shaking her head as it went down. All around her, people were talking about the same thing, albeit with different spins. Complaints about bets lost. Enthusiasm about the next match, the Ouyang couple against the Fire Lady and her protege. Armchair ninjas going about their morning-after foreplay. Son of an eelhound, the freaking armchair ninjas. This bar was one commonly frequented by members of her community, men and women trained to perform a suite of quiet and often unsavory tasks, and unfortunately that also made it appealing to all the wannabes out there. If she had to listen to one more delusional jackass yammer about how tournament fighting was "just a sport" with rules and so their competitors wouldn't last two seconds in a "real fight" where all you had to do was palm strike someone's "nasal bone" through their brain for an instant kill, she was going to strangle a bitch.
Every time you say something idiotic like that, Koh steals the face of a puppykitten, Jun thought, before turning her attention back to the surroundings. The old man was reaching the zenith of his tale now. Excitement flew all about him, along with spittle lining his beard, as he recounted all the clever tricks of Sokka and Kei. Jun was almost amused by his enthusiasm.
"You forgot the part where, for all their tricks, for all their cunning, one lightning blast left Kei deader than a doornail," another patron interrupted loudly, and Jun's heart stopped cold. First with a that can't be right, and then with disdain as she realized she recognized the newcomer. Poofed up hair, white gi, red belt, yeah, it was him alright.
"And how do you know?" Another patron asked. The pub had gone silent at that point, every single customer with his or her ears perked up like puppies around a dinner table, most of them hungry for the news, some of them hungry for its implications.
"Because I'm the Xan Hom, bitches. I used to run with her," the man said icily. "You think I wouldn't keep tabs on all my old teammates?" And with that, he turned and left a wake of murmurs behind. As the various bar patrons argued and pontificated, no one noticed several of their number leave to follow the man out, such was the silence of their steps. Jun noted more than a few familiar faces among their midst as she followed. As the gaggle grew more numerous, Jun was considering whistling for Nyla when the man stopped. Night Lord territory, she noted, observing the dark alleyway they had found themselves in, as well as every single one of her companions who were doing the same.
"Ah, my friends-" he drawled, but Jun cut him off.
"Stuff it, Hom. I know you're not just here to get your ass handed to you at arm-wrestling again," Jun barked. A few snickers came from the crowd. "Last I heard she was just in the hospital getting healed, and I've been here for weeks longer than you, so why don't you cut to the chase and tell us what is it you know that I don't." She gestured to the various others who had followed, Tower of Grey and Cold-Blooded Eagles, along with various other more independent operators, each of whom radiated barely contained energy and killing intent. "I'm sure they'd be thrilled to find out as well."
"Yes, do tell," said another, this one a grizzled old Water Tribesman, dressed in thick furs despite the weather, and suite of concealed hunting gear imprinting from underneath despite the thick furs. "Is she really dead?"
"A-heh," Hom replied, running a hand through his hair. "Well, ah, hmm, how exactly are we defining dead here? Because the easiest way is really just that she's mostly dead, which really works for all intents and purposes, right?"
"Hom, you little rat-viper, I ought to shiv you for this," snarled an athletic Fire Nation woman in her late twenties, whose hand twitched for the straightsword at her waist. "Spreading misinformation like that gets people killed, Hom. And you know what happens when people get killed?"
"Um, they die?"
"Exactly." Her straightsword appeared at his throat.
"Whoa now, Sister Si Yue, rein in your rhinos, alright? Before you get mad at me, I had a really good reason, I swear!" Hom stammered, making sure he caught everyone's eyes. Slowly, he reached for a little pouch at his waist. "I got paid to."
"Son of a-"
"Now, now, Sister Si Yue, I think we should hear what else this guy has to say," Jun said, placing a restraining hand on the woman's wrist. "We can always eviscerate later." She then turned to Hom. "Speak. What's the angle, here?"
"My fellows of the trade, your useless little brother here has a confession to make," Hom said. "That statement…was not completely accurate. That said, she did get hit by a lightning bolt at point blank, and she's shown no signs of waking up, and besides, you're all the minority here. All those other guys back there, the ones who didn't bother thinking about it? I bet they're just about done declaring open season right now. And if you ask me…for folks like us, we might as well join in. After all, what dear Sister Kei doesn't know won't hurt her, will it?"
Ouyang Yunfei was in trouble.
To the left, a sword. To the right, a sword. Above, a sword. Below, a sword. Straightswords, broadswords, sabers, rapiers, shortswords, cleavers, willow-leaves, horse-choppers, spring-and-autumn falchions, scimitars, two-handers; swords, swords, everywhere, of every design, from every corner of the four nations, all of them hurtling towards his vital points with murderous speed.
Yunfei moved his own sword in a frantic blur, parrying and blocking this way and that, in a desperate attempt to defend himself from the constantly incoming blades. In a flash, he had used up the full thirty-six moves of his Raging Wind broadsword technique and looped back to the beginning. His muscles and lungs ached, but he wasn't down or out yet. Unfortunately, neither was his opponent, a massive man in even more massive armor, staring ominously through a dark steel faceplate as he sent more swords downrange, while Yunfei's own steppe armor had become tattered by dozens of close shaves. Next to Yunfei, Ty lee was in a similar predicament, ducking and weaving between strikes even as they came close and close to hitting home. She aerialed over a cleaver, but the weapon continued on its trajectory, and Yunfei cursed as he saw that it was, in fact, headed straight for him. He had just deflected a pair of cavalry sabers, and there was not time to pull his force back for a proper defense, and so instead of a clean deflection there was instead a jolt of pain as the projectile avoided his midsection and instead struck his thigh.
Yunfei cursed, fighting through the pain as he hopped on one leg and continued defending the best he could. He and Ty Lee were holding their own, but such was the ferocity of the rain of blades being launched at them that there was never the opportunity to come back on the offensive. Discarded swords began piling up on the ground, until the battlefield began to resemble a low-quality version of the Field of Blades, that section of grassy knoll where the ashes of Ouyang dead were buried.
Another attacker moved in, taking advantage of the momentary distraction and lunging in with her own straightsword for Ty Lee, but Yunfei dashed forward and cut at her midsection, forcing her to disengage. This one specialized in close-quarters, and she was a violet blur as she fought back, matching Yunfei cut for thrust, her impassive expression never changing even as the clang of broadsword on straightsword became more and more frequent as both fighters upped their speed. In the blink of an eye, they had exchanged twenty strokes, and in the next blink, another thirty. And in the next blink, through his peripheral vision, Yunfei saw Ty Lee twist over a speeding rapier, the acrobat training costume hugging every one of her curves just right, the skirt-tails blousing out like snow-lotus petals as she spun in the air.
And then that rapier continued onwards to nail him square in the chest. He fell to the ground, gasping for air and clutching his sternum as a gilded lightning claw found itself at his throat.
"Shit," Yunfei muttered, climbing back to his knees.
"Popular last words," Ouyang Shijie said, lowering his lightning claw as he threw his helmet's faceplate back with a buck of his head. He knelt down and picked up the blunted practice rapier that lay on the ground from where it had bounced off of Yunfei's chestplate. "You were doing well, Cousin Yunfei. Not many last that long against my Storm of Swords, especially even fewer when Cousin Hui is helping me." And then, in steppe-dialect, "might I suggest not being distracted by the sexy next time?"
"Lesson taken," Yunfei replied back, resting on his sword as he tried to catch his breath.
"Are you okay?" Ty Lee asked as she approached and pulled a silken handkerchief from her waist belt. "That practice sword sounded like it hit you pretty hard." She said something else, but Yunfei didn't really notice, his attention occupied by the fact that she was wiping the sweat from his brow with it. "…Yunfei? I asked if you needed some more rest? We've been going at it for hours."
"Eh? Aww, no, I'm good. Thanks for asking, darlin'," Yunfei replied, flashing a toothy grin before sinking back into a defensive stance, sword at the ready as he nodded to Shijie. Battle-light was in his eyes. "May I have another, sir?"
"Close your eyes, Kazuma. Focus your breathing. Rise through your enumerations. Keep your mind centered on your being, focus...focus...now release."
Kazuma opened his eyes and exhaled. Or at least, he would have, if he were not in his disembodied form, still sitting in lotus position across from Iroh. This was a more advanced method than the ad-hoc means by which Iroh had entered the Spirit Realm earlier. Where they had started in a private room in the Jasmine Dragon, now they were instead in a forest clearing. Everything around them was off-color, as if it were an ancient painting that had faded with age.
"How do I look, Iroh?"
Iroh looked over Kazuma's spirit body, a light magenta in contrast to his own light turquoise. He poked and prodded, then furrowed his brows.
"Well, your aura looks normal. Let's look at your chi paths...huh."
"Huh? What's huh?"
"It's strange. It could've always been there, really. Your chi has always had a bright red color to it. However, there seems to be a darker shade of red mixed with it as well. I can't believe I hadn't noticed this before."
A twig snapped behind his back, and Iroh turned quickly, ready to return to the mortal world if need be.
It was Yue.
"Oh, it's only you, Iroh. And it seems you've brought Little Kazuma along with you, although he doesn't look so little anymore."
Iroh nodded, "We were just about to leave, actually."
"Oh, that's such a shame. What were you doing here, anyway?"
"I needed to see Kazuma's chi, and-"
"Interesting. May I look as well?" She went to Kazuma without waiting for Iroh to answer and examined him herself. "Oh my. That's different, isn't it?"
"Any ideas?" Kazuma asked.
"Well, it seems that the second color isn't Kazuma's chi at all. Its nature is totally different from his own. Kazuma's chi is suppressing it right now, but I saw signs of a struggle earlier."
"So the chi comes from an outside influence?" Iroh asked.
"That's what it appears like."
"Thank you, Yue. That's all I needed to know. I'll be back soon to consult you and some other spirits further on the matter."
And with those parting words, the two rejoined the mortal world. Iroh was unfazed by the journey, but Kazuma gasped for air, and breathed heavily. A journey of the spirit takes a lot out of you.
"Well? What happened?" Piandao asked, leaning in closely with Sokka next to him.
"This is far more complicated than I had previously thought," Iroh replied, sighing. "Well, The Aspect within Kazuma has been wakened, somehow. I noticed something off, and Yue confirms that an outside source is conflicting with Kazuma's chi. There are two types of chi flowing through his body. One is his, and the other is foreign. Yue said the two colors were fighting for control."
"Hold on, what's an Aspect?" Sokka asked.
"Pieces of the great spirits, representing some part of their being," Kazuma answered. "Life. Death. Order. Chaos. Love. Rage. All that stuff and more." He turned to Iroh. "So...you're saying I have one of those inside me?" Iroh nodded. "What is it?"
Iroh and Piandao exchanged a glance.
"You house inside you Agni's Aspect of Destruction, I'm afraid," Iroh said, sighing. Piandao's eyes grew wide.
"You had not informed me of this," Piandao said.
"I'm sorry, my friend," Iroh replied. "I didn't-"
"Hold on, Iroh," Kazuma cut in. "Why did you let me compete, then? If I'm so dangerous, aren't I a risk to - well, to everyone around?"
"Avatar Aang has been communing with the spirits since the war's end Kazuma. We were assured that it should be safe. And there have been safeguards placed upon you, such that the Aspect should not break free."
"Well, that one obviously didn't work out."
"No, because someone was interfering with them. They were designed so that as you aged, you would gradually gain control of the Aspect within, until such time when your chi and the Aspect's would meld together, giving you perfect control over it. This would have happened on your birthday, but it seems that the plan leaked somehow."
"Still, that was a heavy risk. Why did you enter me in the tournament? Toph is tough enough, surely you could have tapped anyone to be her partner and it would have worked out."
"Because you are the best chance of proving us correct in the eyes of those who need convincing," Iroh said. "Remember why you wanted the first fight of this round?" Kazuma nodded. "Too many still believe in a relation between right and might, whether it is that they are right because they are mighty or that they are mighty because they are right. We will not get through to them except by the only philosophy they know. And you, Kazuma, you are the best candidate to do that."
There was a brief silence. And then Sokka laughed a bitter laughter.
"Sokka? What's wrong?" Piandao asked.
"Oh, nothing," Sokka replied. "Just that, you know, I thought that when I ran this idea by you guys, this grand spectacle of 'meeting friends through the martial arts', where we lay down our politics and stuff for some good clean competition…I thought we actually meant it."
"Sokka," Iroh began, but the Water Tribesman cut him off.
"No, I understand. I understand completely. You explained it pretty well. That's realpolitik for you, I guess. Just goes to show what happens when I get optimistic. Now if you'll excuse me," Sokka said, sighing and walking towards the exit, "I'm going to go visit Kei."
"Wait, Sokka," Piandao began, but Toph headed him off.
"I'll handle it, Piandao," she said. "You and Iroh do what you need to do here." With a salute to both ranking White Lotus masters, Toph Bei Fong nodded and earth-glided her way out of the Jasmine Dragon.
"Well, that takes care of that," Iroh mused, before turning back to Kazuma. "Kazuma, I expect you have many more questions. Ask away."
"You sure know how to show a girl a good time, Lin Hayate."
"You're adorable when you hate the world, you know that?"
Lan-feng looked at her partner and rolled her eyes, then went back to her scrolls. She and Lin had been in the Ba Sing Se library for hours ever since the match finished, poring over what seemed like every single encyclopedia and treatise ever, and it was boring the crap out of her. And because this was a library, she couldn't really get in any real discussion about the match either. At least there were small mercies to be had, though. She'd been wearing a Tang-style dress that, in contrast to the more tightly wrapped Earth Kingdom women's wear, hung loosely down either side of her neck, revealing that tantalizing patch of skin below her throat and above her inner garments. She'd been keeping a running mental tally of the times that Lin's eyes had looked up from his scrolls, lost in thought, before they slowly but surely drifted there and then quickly snapped back to the scroll.
"My eyes are up here, boy."
28, Lan-feng thought as Lin coughed in embarrassment as he turned back to his scrolls, Lan-feng grinned. She was not usually inclined to let others ogle her so readily, but the annoyance it caused Lin made her decide it was worth it.
"What are we here for anyway?" Lan-feng asked, slumping back in her chair and blowing up on a strand of hair that annoyingly insisted on falling down in front of her face. "I'm bored."
"Great. What do you want me to do about it?"
"I don't know, find me a sudoku book or something. You're the guy, you figure something out."
A grin appeared Lan-feng's face as Lin sighed in exasperation and stomped off. She looked over and peered at what her partner was reading, and her brows knitted in thought as she skimmed its contents and suppressed a giggle. Oh Lin, such a plebe. Trying to get his way still, to keep the powers he was granted, without paying the price for it. A small part of her approved of this attempt. After all, it spoke of Lin Hayate as a man who knows what he wants and works his hardest to get there or die trying. The bigger part of her that actually knew him simply laughed.
Does he think Koh is some Jang Hui fishwife?
This was most peculiar, Katara thought as she passed her healing waters along Kei's comatose body. She'd been lending a hand with the healing at Sokka's request, ever since her brother had returned from meeting Kazuma and the White Lotus masters with Toph in tow. She'd warned him that if the actual healers who had trained their whole lives couldn't revive Kei, then someone who'd instead specialized in combat waterbending such as herself was not likely to have any more success, but he'd told her to stay optimistic and give it a shot. So she'd talked with the healers and tried, and the results were…startling.
"Katara? You just said 'huh'. What's 'huh' mean?"
"Well, her condition is stable, and her bloodflow, circulation, breathing, and all that is normal," Katara said. "Everything except her chi flow, which is blocked off somehow."
"Can…can you blast it through?" Sokka asked. "I mean, that's part of how water healing works, right? Blockages in the chi circulatory system that you open up by passing your own chi through it? Via the water?"
"That's what I've been trying to do, Sokka," Katara replied. "I've talked to the healers and they pretty much confirmed that they've reached the limit of what can be done with their training, so I should just use my higher raw power to try to blast through. It's just…not been successful. Usually, with firebender-induced injuries, it's just a matter of pouring water on it and chipping away at the blockage until it's gone. But no matter how hard I push, the chi blockages here are holding fast somehow, and I'm afraid that if I try harder I'll permanently mess up her systems." Katara sighed. She thought about mentioning the other thing she noticed, that the blockages seemed to correspond with the various tattoos lying in seemingly random acupoints on Kei's body, but decide against it, knowing that he would not understand. "If there was a way to draw the firebending back somehow, then maybe-"
She was interrupted by a sudden and strong hug by Sokka.
"I'll be right back," the Water Tribesman said, before running off.
That was a good workout, Ty Lee thought as she came out of her freshening chamber. Her muscles ached, but it was a good kind of ache. She was a little surprised at Shijie's demonstration of his Storm of Swords, having been under the impression that Ouyang martial arts and firebending were all about close-quarters combat and forcing their way into that range, until Shijie explained that it more or less only he who had ever tried it, and even then it turned out much better than he had expected.
"Good lightness skills, little sister."
Ty Lee smiled and thanked the woman who now stood in front of her, water skin in hand. She liked Ouyang Hui. The woman was from the Capital branch of the clan, but she lacked the airs that those who grew up so close to opulence flaunted. Indeed, everything about the woman was plain and placid, from her dress to her features to her short cropped hair to her simple speech to the pale purple aura she radiated, but there was a certain calm elegance to her, complemented by the one ornate item she owned, the straightsword at her waist that she named Violet Mist. Standing next to her were Yunteng and Shijie, who were giving pointers to an attentive Yunfei.
"Oi, Little Lord, we've got company," came a gruff voice from outside. Ty Lee shivered at the murderous aura she felt. Leng. Sure enough, the First Sword walked in, blood still dripping from the tip of his sword as he strode over to Hui and greeted his older sister with a deep embrace. The two began chatting about Leng's most recent excursion, which seemed to have gone well, and Ty lee turned her attention to the visitor as a wave of worry tinged with optimistic hope greeted her.
"Sokka, how's it going?" Ty Lee called out. "How's Kei doing?"
"Comatose but stable," Sokka replied. "But I think I've got something figured out-"
"Ah, if it isn't the young lord Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe!" Shijie said warmly. "An excellent showing at the tournament, if I say so myself. Pity about your partner, though."
"Indeed. I was watching," Hui interjected. "She is a true warrior woman in all senses of the word, to last so long against a master earthbender with nothing but steel and her wits." At this, she suddenly fell silent, as if reminiscing about something in the past.
"Ah, thanks, uh…what was your name again?" Sokka asked. He blinked and looked around. "Is it just me, or does it seem like every time I come here there's more of you Ouyangs?" Shijie laughed.
"What can I say? Thanks to Yunteng here, business has been booming, and the deals are starting to come back," the Ouyang heir replied jovially. "This is Ouyang Hui, my dear cousin and Leng's dearer sister." He turned back to Sokka. "So what brings the young hero to our humble shop?"
"I need a favor," Sokka drawled, "one that I think only the most noble and esteemed Clan Ouyang provide."
"Aha, the young hero wants the best, I see," Yunteng said, beaming. "What will it be? Dragontusks? A new hunting spear? There are some modifications we'd been testing out on the Water Tribe boomerang design, perhaps you would like to see those? Speak and I swear upon my honor as head of the Ouyang Ironworks Ba Sing Se branch to do everything in my power to grant it."
"Er, well, it's not exactly weaponry I need," Sokka said. "Though I probably will be back for that later. I'm – well, it's actually about Kei. As you know, she got messed up pretty bad by Kazuma's lightning, and I'm really looking for an Ouyang firebender to test a theory I have about how to fix that."
A sudden flare of suspicion bordering on paranoia, followed the kind of raging unease usually preceding drawn blades, hit Ty Lee like a speeding train, and she winced with the intensity as she noticed it subside as fast as it had arisen. She looked and noticed the easy smile instantly disappear from Shijie's face, while Yunteng's and Hui's had become strangely neutral. Leng, meanwhile, had already left to clean the blood off his sword before it rusted.
"And what theory was that?" Shijie asked, a plaintive expression on his face. "As you now, proper healing isn't exactly part of the firebending repertory, and lightning wounds kind of cauterize themselves."
"Well, my partner was injured from firebending, see, and the healers haven't been able to bring her back. So I figure, with your clan's specific skills, maybe you could-"
"Surely the young hero jests," Yunteng replied, knitting his brows as he said this. "As you know, reverse firebending is a mere theory, unaccepted by most mainstream firebending schools-"
"I'll do it," Yunfei said.
Ty Lee raised an eyebrow at him in surprise, along with Yunteng and Shjie.
"Well, I did give my word," Yunteng said, coughing. "Go ahead, little bro."
The brothers exchanged something in steppe-dialect, then Yunfei headed off to join Sokka.
"Wait," Ty Lee called out. "Kei's my friend too. If she's well enough to have visitors, I should be there for this."
"Sure thing, come along," Sokka called out, before turning to the Ouyang and bowing. "Thank you so much. I will not forget this."
"Not a problem," Yunteng replied. He glanced down at Sokka's feet and frowned. "Sokka, did you run all the way here?"
"Uh, yeah," Sokka replied sheepishly. "I kind of get carried away sometimes."
"Well, take one of the mongoose lizards on the way back. Yunfei, lead them to the stables."
Yunfei grimaced as he looked at Kei's body and immediately felt bad for initially congratulating the White Lotus on their win when the last match ended. Lightning was bad juju any way you cut it, and to be on the receiving end of that was not a winning combination. Inside, he actually found himself feeling a stir of anger at Kazuma. For all the boy's talk of mutual friendship and cooperation, when it came down to victory or defeat, he'd shown his true colors.
He'd gotten the lowdown from Katara, that the chi blockages on Kei's body were localized and corresponding exactly to where she had a series of tribal tattoos all over her body. He'd received the "Water Healing 101" theory, and understood what Sokka was going for. It had surprised and scared him a little that the Water Tribesman had somehow intuitively figured out so much about Clan Ouyang firebending simply from Kazuma's secondhand narrative of that joint expedition, but he hadn't figured out enough, and Yunfei thought that as long as he didn't reveal too much things would be fine. Which was why he was now sitting in lotus position, stripped down to his drawers and submerged in a healing tub, palms against the two major acupoints on Kei's back as she too was brought up in a sitting position.
"Katara, Ty, you ready?" Yunfei asked. Katara nodded, and Ty Lee gave him a thumbs up. With a deep breath, Yunfei began working, running his own chi through Kei's body as Ty Lee, Toph, and Sokka looked on.
Immediately Yunfei felt something wrong.
Usually, when he'd used his ancestral firebending to absorb fire and redirect it elsewhere, or to simply store it in his body, there was mild pain as the heat passed along his meridians into his dan-tian. That was normal. At worst, it felt like the first time he'd had soup dumplings fresh from the steamer and foolishly plopped the whole thing in his mouth and bit down. In hindsight delicious, but at the time it tasted like burning.
This time it literally felt like he'd swallowed a lump of hot coal from a ship's engine room. Quickly he'd tried to vent it, and the tub began to steam from the rapid infusion of heat, but the incoming energy rushing up his arms was threatening to overwhelm him faster than he could diffuse it.
"Katara!" he was about to shout, but the waterbender was already there, taking Kei's arms into two water tentacles emanating from her own. Immediately Yunfei felt a cooling sensation as it was under control. He shook his head, letting Ty Lee know that the waterbender had it under control, that there was no need for her to come in and stop his chi flow before the influx of heat blew out his heart. Scum-sucking motherlicker, that hurt! he wanted to say, but that would have been undignified. "Welp, that didn't work," he grunted instead, and Katara nodded as the two of them broke off.
"There's a mark that's shaped kind of like two linked hearts sitting just above her actual heart," the waterbender said. "The blockage there I've found to be a little more pliable than the others. Try focusing your efforts there. Wait for my signal, and then start draining." Yunfei nodded, wheeling Kei around, peeling back her shirt, and trying not to blush as both his palms found the supple flesh there. The mark was indeed where she said it was, tattooed a strange shade of black, not just the black of fresh coals or pentapus ink, but as if there was a void where light itself was swallowed up.
Suddenly, Yunfei felt the need to turn back to Ty Lee and cough, the sound of which seemed similar to "not my idea".
"Oh, come on Yunfei, we're trying to save our friend here," Ty Lee replied with a slight snort. "Be serious."
"Is everyone ready?" Katara asked. Ty Lee replied in the affirmative, and Yunfei nodded before gritting his teeth and bearing down as Katara's healing wave came at him again. This time it was a little better. Between the push of Katara's water healing and the pull of Yunfei's heat redirection, slowly and surely the chi blockage was getting smaller and smaller. It was just like lancing the cyst developing on his first raptor-hound's knee, or popping a particularly bad pimple back during adolescence, Yunfei thought.
And then he began to feel warm, and looked down to see small bubbles begin to form in the healing tub, followed by a searing pain in his chest as the accumulated chi inside threatened to overwhelm him. He tried to rise through his enumerations, to stop the influx of chi, but it wasn't helping. The inner fire was threatening to break through his barriers pounding and prodding and-
"Yunfei, are you okay?" he heard Ty Lee ask as his own body slumped forward. "If you're okay, blink three times!" So he did that, and it was heartening to hear Ty Lee's sigh of relief. By this point, the healing staff had entered at that point, cooling down Yunfei's healing tub.
The sound was tiny. Almost imperceptible. And Yunfei would never had heard it had Kei's head not ended up on his shoulders and therefore next to his ears, as body mechanics resulted in the two of them slumping awkwardly into each other once Katara's healing hands were no longer supporting Kei and Ty Lee's paralyzing hands and removed Yunfei's muscular control.
"What? Shit, Kei, talk to me," Yunfei said urgently, as Ty Lee unsealed his acupoints. "Come on! Kei!"
But Kei had gone still again.
"Damn," Yunfei hissed, shaking his head as he and Katara exited Kei's room while the healing staff ran their diagnostics to make sure nothing was broken. He met Sokka's gaze and grimaced.
"What'd she say?" Sokka asked. "She came back for a little bit, what'd she say?"
Well, shit. He wasn't going to like the answer.
"Kazuma," Yunfei replied. "I'm guessing he's important to this thing somehow."
"Well, crap," Sokka said. "Alright, I guess it's back to the Jasmine Dragon."
Kazuma stood at his window, cup of cold tea in hand as he looked up at the stars and pondered. There were a lot of things to take in. On top of the guilt he felt towards what he had done to Kei, now there was the matter of his destiny to grapple with.
He knew his parents had died when he was a baby, and that Iroh and Piandao and Jeong Jeong and various other White Lotus masters had raised him. He knew that he had always had a talent for combat bending and martial arts. He knew that at the age of thirteen he was already outstripping adults in terms of raw bending power. But he had no idea that that was literally due to a piece of primordial spirit sitting inside of him, nor that this Aspect, was a representation of the last thing he wanted for the world, and now that the spiritual wards that controlled it had been tampered with, there was a very real chance it would overwhelm him and control his body entirely. And especially not the fact that had Avatar Aang not been discovered when he was, the White Lotus's backup plan would have been to send him to face Ozai, relying on both the Aspect as well as the power boost that he too would receive from Sozin's Comet. At least that hadn't come to pass, and instead he was now living Plan B – that is, live a relatively normal life as Piandao's son so that when Kazuma eventually died, Agni would receive the learnings of his own lifetime of peace, and spiritual balance could restored.
Kazuma sighed. Now that he knew, he would have to be better, better than he ever could have thought he would need to be, because the consequence of what could happen just didn't bear thinking about. He looked back around. Iroh had left after the Q&A session, claiming he had some business with the Ouyang, while Piandao had stayed and chatted with him some more until it finally became "old-people-bedtime" and his adopted father retired for the night.
There was a knock on the door.
At first Kazuma thought it might have been Iroh returning, but then he realized that if it had been Iroh, he would have just unlocked the door. "Coming!" he called out, putting down his cup and fumbling in his sleeves for the keys. As soon as he opened the door, though, he was surprised, as there was no one there. "Um, hello?" Kazuma called out, poking his head outside and still seeing nothing. He took one step out, and then another, and continued looking around. "Anyone there?"
A gust of hot wind slapped Kazuma's face, and he stepped back just fast enough to avoid the fireblast that had come for his eyes. It dazzled his vision, and he immediately retreated while sinking back into a horse stance and throwing a straight punch fireblast, a move adapted from the Eight Extremes Fist style of the Earth Kingdom's northwest. He had sensed the presence of a firebender outside, but unfortunately his easygoing nature prevented him from registering that as a threat. Now, rage filled him, and he immediately stepped forward and punched out another fireblast, but his assailant had sidestepped this and followed up by hurling a chain whip at him that glowed white with the firebending applied to it. Kazuma cursed as he was forced to dodge again; a piece of hot metal applied to the flesh was not the kind of attack bending could defend against, not matter how good it was, and his sword was hanging on the wall to his room out of easy reach. The enemy's assault came relentlessly, one strike after the other, never giving him a chance to recover from the initial surprise. But Kazuma was holding his own on defense, and he slowly but surely began move back to his own room, trying to get to his sword. He was close now, just a couple more dodges, and then a flying boulder slammed into the weapon. Due to the high quality of the material, the strike could not shatter it, much to Kazuma's relief; however such was the force of the strike that the sheath splintered into a thousand pieces, while the sword itself was simply punched through the wall and into the neighboring room, much to Kazuma's chagrin.
Kazuma cursed again and as he took more note of his two assailants. Both were of average build, although it surprised him that one was an earthbender and the other was a firebender, and they seemed to be working together. No matter, he thought, kicking arcs of flame at the firebender even as he formed a fiery drill into his right fist and shattered the earthen barrier his other assailant had raised up. I'll just beat both of you up, and –
Something glinted in the moonlight, and Kazuma dodged just quick enough for a shallow cut across his cheek as the icicle javelin grazed it, That threw him off enough for him to barely block the fireblast coming at him and forget entirely the stone column that slammed into his gut, winding him and knocking him to the ground.
"That bounty is ours," the firebender said pleasantly, forming fire daggers into his hands. Suddenly there was series of quick flashes, followed by yelps and curses, and soon the room was empty save for a prone Kazuma and a standing Piandao, breathing heavily not with exertion but with fury, blood still dripping from his sword. The master swordsman took a few steps out the door, attempting to pursue, but the two enemy warriors had used their bending to accelerate their escape, and he lost visual contact. Sighing, he turned back to his adopted son.
"Are you alright, Kazuma?" Piandao asked urgently as he helped Kazuma up. Kazuma nodded.
"Who were those people, dad?" Kazuma asked. "Why did they attack me?"
"Assassins," Piandao replied, with some disdain. "I know the type. No doubt your newfound celebrity has earned you some enemies. We'll need to put in a report to the City Watch, though I don't know how useful that would be. The earthbender was covering up their tracks."
Just then, the sound of pawbeats against the ground was heard. Father and son exchanged glances, then took defensive positions, Piandao in a blind spot next to the open doorway, Kazuma further away, fists held ready to give fire. Both men were on edge, their fight instinct primed as a nocked crossbow, when they saw that it was only Sokka, Yunfei, and Toph.
"Hey – whoa, what happened to you guys?" Sokka asked, stepping inside and surveying the wreckage. Piandao briefed his disciple, and Sokka's eyes went wide. "Seriously? Do you know who or why it was?"
"The White Lotus has many enemies over the years," Piandao replied, glancing at all the youths gathered, though Sokka noticed it lingered a little on Yunfei. "Still, fire, earth, and water working together is not one that we have yet encountered." By this time, Kazuma had fetched a messenger hawk and began penning a report. "It is troubling, but the danger is past for now. I suppose my sword still has some reputation in the martial world. In the meantime, what did you need us for?"
"I have a theory on how to cure Kei, but we need Kazuma to do it," Sokka replied. "So, sorry if your nerves are still a little frazzled, but if you're not feeling too unwell-"
"I'll do it," Kazuma said, nodding gravely.
"Your little brother has a good heart, Yunteng," Hui said softly as she sipped her cup of warm kumiss. It was past closing time at the Ouyang Ironworks, all the smiths and younger generation clansmen had been dismissed, leaving only the handful of Ouyang seniors gathered around a lingering forgefire with their cups. "I fear, however, that he may expose us."
"I do not think that is a worry. Yunfei knows to hide the true nature of our firebending, and we made sure he understood our various means of concealing our shortcomings before sending him here," Yunteng replied. "Leng can vouch that he has done a good job of it so far."
"Aye," the First Sword grunted. "The Lotus pup didn't suspect a thing in the whole op. I hope he's learned to always keep a reserve, though."
"If anything, I am more worried that Sokka was able to deduce the logical conclusions of our firebending based purely on secondhand accounts from Kei and Kazuma. Still, the prime directive of the martial codex helped hide our deficiency from our countrymen throughout the ages, I'm sure it will continue to do so," Yunteng replied with a wry grin. "At any rate, I did impress upon him the purpose of keeping a reserve, Leng, and informed him that the next time he neglects to do so happens, he is either to say that even if he had burned his restraints free, the enemy's numbers were too many to overcome. And, well…" a rare mischievous glint appeared in Yunteng's eyes. "I also told him the next time it happens, I'm sending a letter to Sister Lan and Mom, and leaving his punishment in their hands."
"Ouch," Shijie interjected, wincing. "Invoking the Iron Orchid and Auntie Crystal-Hawk? Harsh, Yunteng. Harsh. And I thought you were the chill one out of your branch."
"Oh, I am the chill one," Yunteng replied. "But it is both the chill of a meltwater spring, and the chill of the harsh Tengri-sent winter." He drained his cup and nodded appreciatively as Shijie went to fill it. Good old Shijie, not lording his heir status over others of the same generation. "By the way, Cousin Hui, as branch owner here I must apologize for not being able to give you a proper welcome yet. I've been swamped with client meetings and deals. I hope you are enjoying Ba Sing Se so far?"
"It is a magnificent city," Hui replied. "The sheer riches of the high Middle and Inner Rings are quite eye-opening for a girl who forsook silk brocades for an iron sword. Yet I cannot help but feel that it is an empty richness. Yunteng, you have lived here for years – and believe me I was surprised to hear that you had married, even – pardon my ignorance, but it seems…well, it seems almost…degenerate, to use the language of previous reigns."
"Privately, between us…I would have to agree with you, in some respects," Yunteng said, switching to steppe-dialect and sighing. "Still, it is the world we live in. And, if my dealings here have shown me anything, it is that these people can change." He shrugged. "It all goes down to culture, I think. On average, with the exception of a few, the people of the Earth Kingdom simply do not have as much of the drive and ambition that we Fire Nationals hold in such high esteem. Naturally they advance slower. But I think as time goes on, things will change here." He smiled, then switched back to common speech. "Like Dee, for example. At first she was demure, and shy, and timid, and now look at her! Getting backbone like a proper Fire Nation lady."
"This is true," Shijie said, nodding. "How's my little niece Kaili doing? Has she come into her bending yet?"
Yunteng was about to answer, but suddenly there was a knock at the door. All four Ouyang suddenly kicked their chairs back and rolled into defensive postures as hands reached for weapons, ready for battle in an instant. And when nothing happened, all four Ouyang looked at each other and laughed.
"Good to know that peace had not dulled the finely-honed warblade," Shijie said, lowering Evenstar and clipping Falcon's Talon back into safety-position and going for the door. "Away with your notions of station, Yunteng, you know me better than that. Besides, I'm closest to the door."
"Yes, well, having the key might help," Yunteng said, walking forward to unlock. "I'd rather not have to spend time forging another lock. Zhuge may be our bannermen, but that only means they give us a discount, and a percentage of a very large number is still a very large number."
"Why, Royal Uncle Iroh, what a pleasant surprise! Please, come on in," Shijie said happily as the doors opened. "Sister Hui, pour the Royal Uncle a cup of fine wine. None but the best for the Dragon Throne!"
"Now, that won't be necessary," Iroh began, but Shijie cut him off.
"Nonsense, steppe-hospitality demands no less," the Ouyang heir replied, taking the two cups that Hui handed them and passing one along to Iroh. "Now then, brothers all, bottoms up!" Iroh smiled and drained his cup, turning it upside down as Shijie did the same, laughing. "Right then. What brings the Royal Uncle to our humble workshop?"
"A most curious occurrence in today's match, actually," Iroh said, nodding respectfully.
"Ah, yes, the match! Good showings on both your Lotus disciples' parts, really. Sokka's swordsmanship managed to impress even Leng."
"The hell are you on, little lord," Leng growled from his seat. "I merely said the pup doing well holding his own against the other Lotus pup."
"Yeah, trust me, Royal Uncle, that's as close as you're ever going to get to Leng openly saying he would be impressed by anyone," Shijie hissed, as if he was whispering some great secret that know one knew. "By the way, excellent work on Kazuma's part as well. Few master the art of lightning at such a young age. Many never do, or rely on external help," he added, tapped Falcon's Talon with his knuckles at the last part. "Good old Clan Zhuge. Genius design. Just genius, I tell you."
"The lightning is what brings me here," Iroh said curtly. "But first, allow me to toast you, Ouyang Shijie. A toast to your long record of service to the Dragon Throne, beginning from the Taming of the Steppes so many years ago."
"The Royal Uncle recalls such ancient history," Shijie replied, smiling. "We are honored."
"I shall return the toast," Yunteng added. "A job well done is its own reward. For Clan, Khan, and Fire Lord."
"A good one, Master Yunteng," Iroh replied. "Truly, your clan saved the Fire Nation from fracture back then. That Agni Kai along the Talimu banks, Elders Sanfeng and Kefeng against the Four Aces and Four Hounds of the Great Khan…ah, truly a spectacle for the ages. And it solidified the age-old alliance between Jaghatai and Ouyang, too, marking a turning point in that war, if my muddled old head recalls history correctly."
"It gladdens us that the Royal Uncle remembers such history," Shijie said. "Yes, Jaghatai and Ouyang, enjoined as the heroes Guo Jing and Tolui in ages past. An ironclad brotherhood, forged in and continually renewed by blood and fire."
"Indeed," Iroh said, looking pensively at the ground. "Come to think of it, there are some spiritual matters I require consultation on. I don't suppose you would know where I might find the Stormcaller? I am given to understand he was invited here by you."
"The steppe shamans come and go as they please, Royal Uncle," Shijie replied. "We do not ask where they go, only consider it a blessing when they arrive. That is the way on the grasslands, Royal Uncle, surely you understand this?"
"I mean no disrespect, Young Lord Ouyang, but my needs are somewhat urgent," Iroh said, bowing. "It…it is a matter of loyalty to the Throne, in fact."
Yunteng, Shijie, and Hui exchanged glances. Only Leng still sat and drank.
"Is it so serious?" Yunteng asked, concerned. "What brought this on?"
"With all due respect, Royal Uncle," Hui cut in. "Jaghatai and Ouyang have been brother clans for centuries. Such a charge impugns the honor of one, which besmirches the honor of another. Forgive my bluntness, for I am but a simple woman who knows not the silk tongues of the courts, but what proof supports this claim?"
"Now, now, Sister Hui," Shijie interjected, raising a disarming hand. "I'm sure the Royal Uncle did not mean that as it sounded." He turned back to Iroh. "But really, I must echo both my kinsmen's sentiments here. Clan Ouyang's dedication to the Dragon Throne is beyond reproach – at least, I hope it is. But if you need assurance, let me promise right now as heir that even though our ancestors shared brotherhood, should Jaghatai be acting in treason, then it takes but a word from the Fire Lord and the full might of Clan Ouyang and its banners will march upon Erdos and drag Altai Khan to the Capital in an iron cage. Of course, such an action would depend upon evidence beyond doubt that treason is afoot…"
"It is but an old man's hunch for the moment," Iroh replied. "Leave your banners be, Young Lord. The Dragon Throne owes your clan too much already. In the meantime, I am given to understand it is customary to exchange gifts when steppe shamans come to call, is it not?" Yunteng nodded at this. "May I simply borrow the gift the Stormcaller bequeathed upon you upon first meeting?"
There was a long and awkward pause.
"That sounds reasonable, I suppose," Shijie replied. "Cousin Yunteng, if you do not mind?"
Kazuma took one look at Kei's comatose form and felt the guilt stab into him again. This time, however, he would not let it overwhelm him. He was responsible for this, and now that there might be a way to fix it, he was going to see it through to the end. Sokka had explained everything to him, how Katara had tried to chip away at the blockages of chi, and Yunfei had tried to leech it into his own body and nearly earned himself a massive case of heartburn while he was at it. Thus, now he was sitting in Kei's room, Katara and Yunfei beside him, trying out Sokka's final revision to his theory. Beside him, Piandao looked on, concern in his eyes.
"Dad, do you have any idea what these are?" Kazuma asked, Kazuma moved closer to Kei's bed and examined the markings on her wrists.
"They appear to be spiritual markings of some kind. Well, actually, since everyone's been saying that is where the chi blockages have been concentrated, they probably are spiritual markings of some kind. But other than that, no," Piandao replied. "Perhaps if Iroh was here…but we know so little about the spirit world, and in any case healing is not our expertise. Just do what feels right, Kazuma."
"Hmm. I don't suppose I could try to channel my lightning out of her somehow…" Kazuma mused, only to be interrupted by a laugh from Yunfei.
"Yeah, you try that," the Ouyang warrior sneered, which made Kazuma want to punch him in the face. "My clan specializes in that, and I almost blew my heart out trying to draw your flames away. But hey, you want go for it, be my guest." A pensive expression crossed Yunfei's mind. "Actually, on second thought, maybe not. You'd only put yourself into the state that she's in, and I'd rather beat the baas out of you when you're good and fresh in the ring of honor."
Seriously, guy? Someone's life is at stake here and that's what you think about? Kazuma thought, but he bit his tongue and instead tried to figure out what to do, which was made easier by the fact that Yunfei looked kind of silly submerged in a tub. Alright, these markings or tattoos or whatever are, like, really, really weird. My bending has never had this kind of an effect on anyone before, and since her problems are centered around where the markings are located, they must be what caused this. So all I have to do is figure out how to fix this...and I'm right back to where I started. Great. Awesome. He looked outside, at Toph who was waiting, as well as the team of conventional healers who were busy taking notes in the event they were about to witness a medical miracle. Sokka was there too, both fingers crossed as he looked on, Ty Lee by his side. Shit. I don't know what I'm doing. Hell, Iroh probably doesn't know what to do even if he were here… Alright. Let's see. Firebending is powered by the breath. The breath circulates through the dan-tian and becomes energy - chi. The chi is what powers a bender and forms the fire. So, if my chi formed the lightning, then maybe…
Kazuma quickly leaned over Kei and grabbed both her wrists.
"Katara, start your healing and get her stable. Yunfei, get ready to step in and bleed out any residual chi if it gets too much. Dad…tell the healers outside to send some of them in here in case we need more healing power, and the rest of them to stand by."
As the others nodded and confirmed they were ready, Kazuma closed his eyes, took a deep breath, concentrated, and forced a small amount of his own chi into the points where the markings were located.
In the metaphoric world of the spiritual psyche, the equivalent to Kazuma's chi surge for Kei would be the booming percussion of doorways being blasted open, nearly off their hinges.
When the lightening had struck it had conflicted with the spiritual energy centered in her markings, causing the twelve doors of her meditative mind to close under bolt and lock and leaving her unconscious and blissfully unaware. With Kazuma's attempt, however, it made her very much conscious and very much un-blissfully aware of all her wondrous aches and pains.
She screamed as her eyes flew open, her immediate reaction to jerk her arms away and scramble back against the headboard. Pain crackled in her wrists where Kazuma had touched her, but a numb sizzling still held onto the markings he had left alone. There was a brief soothing cooling sensation, but to her it was as rubbing ice against a scald wound, and it only increased her discomfort, and the sense of searing inner pain she was feeling due to her imprint of Yunfei was doing a good job of canceling it out.
"Get away from me!" she yelled, flopping out of the bed and to the floor. Her legs gave but on her, but she caught herself on the bed, her shaking vision fixed upon Kazuma, Piandao, and Yunfei to keep them at bay. "S-stay away. Don't...don't touch me anymore."
She staggered back against the wall and hugged her arms close, looking around the room. Where was Sokka? Why wasn't he here with her? She was hurt and disoriented, and she didn't want the enemy's face to be the one she had woken up to.
"Where's my glaive?" she demanded hoarsely, looking at the White Lotus swordsman and ignoring Kazuma. "Where is it?"
"It was returned it to your lodgings in the city," Piandao said kindly. "It's safe and intact."
"Kei? Kei, are you okay? How are you feeling?" Sokka had opened the doors and come walking in, taking slow steps to be sure
"Kei, wait, you're not completely healed yet," Katara added, moving forward. Yunfei tried to join her, but suddenly he clutched a hand to his chest and sat back down. Kei couldn't really blame him; given the sheer amount of pain she had been in, she empathize just a little bit how Yunfei trying to draw all of that into his own body must have felt.
But only a little bit, which is to say, she did not particularly give a crap. At any rate, that was all she needed to hear from them. Without considering her waning energy or condition, Kei pushed off the wall and headed towards the door, failing to hide the struggle on her face. Ty Lee tried to insist that she stay but she brushed the acrobat off, instead grabbing Sokka and using him as a support to continue her path, knowing that as much of a clueless dunderhead Sokka could be, he wasn't one to let go and send her collapsing on to the cold hard ground with a dullish thud just to prove a point.
There was a distinct dullish thud sound, and Kei suddenly noticed that everyone seemed to be a lot taller than she remembered.
"Alright, fine," she slurred. "You guys win. Jerks. Sokka, pick me back up. But only Katara and the registered healers. Yunfei…fine, you can come too. Just go easy with the treatment, okay? But everyone else out. Seriously. You're…you're messing with my head."
"Kei, I'm sorry, I really am-"
Disbelief turned to frustration turned to anger, and Kei's utter ignorance of Kazuma threw him overboard at last. He punched the wall behind him in fury, making quite a nice hole in the waiting room.
"Kazuma!" Piandao admonished sharply. "Control yourself!"
"I can't!" Kazuma turned to his adoptive father, tears swelling in his eyes, "I've just made someone hate me, Dad! Hate me! She didn't look at me at all! My entire life, I've been hidden from society! My only friend was Zuko, because Iroh brought him along whenever he visited, and back then he wasn't exactly friendly! And now, I've finally been given a chance to make a friend on my own, a real, actual friend. And now she hates me. She hates me for the mistake that I've made, and not only that, but she probably thinks I did it on purpose because I only wanted to win! AND THAT'S NOT TRUE AT ALL! I didn't mean to use any lightning at all. That was a decision I had made prior to the match's beginning because I didn't want to hurt either of them! And then, my body reacts on its own and shoots lightning at her! And to top it off, I figure out how to fix it and she doesn't want anything to do with me!"
The old man simply stood, letting Kazuma get all of his anger and frustration out. Kazuma was now a crumpled up heap on the floor, tears flowing down his face. He finally looked up into the wise eyes of his father figure and sword master.
"Dad...what's wrong with me?"
"Nothing, Kazuma," Piandao said softly, patting his son's head. "You've done all you can. Now you need to let time take its course." The sword master sighed at the series of unexpected events that had unfolded. "Just rest and prepare for your hearing."
Subsection: Special Techniques
Heat control: Advanced firebenders may develop the ability to control heat. At low levels, this technique may be used to manipulate the temperatures of a wide range of substances, from freezing hot tea to melting solid metal. At high levels, one may even redirect and use the bended flames of another firebender. Notable users of this ability include Clan Ouyang, who wielded this power to great effect during the Taming of the Steppes and the Ten-Months Rebellion, as well as the peaceably deceased Fire Lord Sozin, who used it to in his heroic efforts in evacuating civilians when the volcano on Roku's Island erupted. Such was his power that even the very lava itself cooled into solid rock. It is theorized that similar principles may be applied to redirect lightning or to cure firebending-inflicted wounds, although such theories have not been clinically proven.
See also: Clan Ouyang, Fire Augmentation.
~Introduction to Firebending, 7th edition, Royal Fire Academy for Girls Publishing