Iroh stirred slowly, feeling hard ground under his back. Odd, he thought to himself. I'm pretty sure I fell asleep in my bed... Not yet opening his eyes, he began using his other senses to get a feel for the world around him. Hmm...the ground is somewhat hard, not much grass. There's not a single scent of soot in the air...or anything else I'm used to for that matter. A cooking fire nearby...and my favorite tea brewing? My fire... His eyes shot open as he felt his fire flowing through his body a great deal stronger than normal, though not as strong as it had been under the Comet. "What in blazes?"
"You noticed it too?" a familiar and yet unfamiliar voice spoke up with a giggle.
Confused, Iroh turned to the source of the voice. Sitting by a flame that burned without wood, Cadence was carefully pouring a pot of boiling water into two teacups...but she wasn't as he remembered her being when he fell asleep. The pony that had curled up to him the previous night was, at most, an adolescent. The one before him now was plainly an adult, her mane and tail both long and luxurious, her legs delicate but strong...and her horn was longer and wings bigger than before. "C...Cadence?" Iroh asked, confused. "You look...different from last night."
Cadence smiled softly up at Iroh as she handed him a cup of tea. "'Last night' was nearly thirty years ago."
The cup paused halfway to Iroh's lips. "One moment." He took a sip of the tea, enjoying the flavor and aroma, much stronger and somehow purer than he'd ever had it before. Noticing Cadence' mortar and pestle, he nodded, setting down the cup. "Wherever we are, the tea leaves are much more flavorful than home."
"This is home, Father," Cadence explained. "Well...mine anyway. This is the world I came from."
"I had a feeling it would be something like that," Iroh replied with a smile. "That's why I asked you to wait until after I'd drunk some tea before explaining. But I will take the full explanation now."
Cadence nodded. "After you died in bed of old age, surrounded by friends and family-"
"The best way to go," Iroh agreed.
Chuckling to herself, Cadence continued her story. "Well, after that, I entered the Spirit World, hoping to find you there, since all of my work in the physical world was complete...and I'd stopped aging around the time I reached physical maturity. I did find you there, but many spirits had gathered. Apparently, some sort of wager was involved regarding what I'd do when you died."
Iroh chuckled softly. "I'm not surprised that your life was of interest to the Spirit World."
Cadence smiled warmly. "Well, since I chose to stay with you rather than everyone else, I was shown the path to my world...and you were given a choice of permanent residency in the Spirit World as a Spirit of Wisdom, or giving up a portion of your life experiences in order to join me in my world." Leaning in, she nuzzled against her father. "I'm sure it's obvious what you chose."
"I wouldn't even need to think about it," Iroh replied, stroking her mane.
Nodding, Cadence went on. "Then the rules were explained to me. Your personal timeline would be turned back to the point of my choosing, to give you back a portion of your life to live in my world, which had a much stronger connection to the Spirit World due to its strong magical fields. So I was asked to choose what would be your last day in your world, before you joined me in mine." She lowered her gaze coquettishly. "I choose the day you always called perfect, which I never forgot."
Iroh smiled as he ruffled her mane. "A good choice, I assume," Iroh replied. "So...can you tell me of things that happened that I don't remember?"
Cadence grinned widely. "Well, Mai and Jin each gave Zuko children on the same day-"
Iroh burst into laughter. "Do they let the poor boy get any rest?"
"The children or their mothers?" Cadence asked playfully. "Jin's son was named Rokku, and Mai's daughter is named Azula, since she looks just like her...but seems to love everything she comes across."
Iroh nodded in understanding. "And my brother?"
"Takes obscurely perverse pleasure in the fact that his physical presence causes Aang emotional turmoil," Cadence replied. "Apparently, it played a number on Aang's conscience that he had dedicated himself to delivering the killing blow, even if he didn't have to, and that came up every time he and Uncle Ozai met." Cadence giggled again. "Perhaps that's why he spent so much time travelling...and why he and Katara had five kids."
Iroh chuckled, seeing where Cadence' focus was for the retelling. "So how many kids did Sokka and Suki have?" he asked, raising his tea to his lips.
A spray of flame erupted from Iroh's mouth, followed by a few coughs. "Seriously?"
Cadence nodded, covering her own mouth to stifle her giggles.
"And did Toph ever find someone special?" Iroh asked, deciding not to think about Sokka trying to keep nine kids in check.
"She never got married," Cadence replied. "But she did have two daughters. At my suggestion, she found some young men she liked to be their father figures, since she didn't bother keeping track of who their fathers were."
"Which did she choose?" Iroh asked curiously.
"Haru and Jet," Cadence explained with a smile. "The girls seem rather attached to them."
"Anyone else have children I need to know about?" Iroh asked teasingly.
Cadence put her hooves to her lips to stifle another wave of giggles.
"What?" Iroh asked. "I can take it."
Cadence burst into laughter. "Kuei and Ty Lee!" she shrieked, falling onto her back.
"...you are serious?" Iroh finally managed to ask as he smirked. "How did that happen?"
"At a party to celebrate the founding of the Central Kingdom, the culmination of the Peace Movement," Cadence explained. "They both got drunk, and Bosco put them in bed together after they conked out as a prank. Kuei insisted on doing 'the honorable thing', and by the time Bosco came clean they'd become genuinely attached to each other."
Iroh couldn't hold it in any longer. A deep belly laugh echoed across the dusty lands that surrounded them and into the few nearby clumps of trees. "Did you scold Bosco for encroaching on your territory?" he gasped out between laughs.
"Nope!" Cadence giggled. "I apprenticed him!"
They continued to share their laughter for quite some time. It stopped suddenly as Cadence tensed up. "Cadence, what-"
Spinning, Cadence slammed her hooves to the ground. Massive crystal formations shot up out of the ground between the pair and the nearest clump of trees. Lightning lanced from her horn to dance between the crystals even as her wings flung daggers of ice. Rearing back, she spun one hoof in the air to create a vacuum disc which she hurled forward. It sheared through the crystal formations and the trees beyond as it arced upwards into the air before dissipating.
"...Cadence?" Iroh asked worriedly.
"I...felt something malevolent in that direction," Cadence explained.
"Do you not think that perhaps you overdid it?" Iroh suggested.
"This is the world I come from," Cadence countered. "Which, according to Wan Shi Tong's books, means that my capabilities are an adaption to this world. Meaning it's likely anything malevolent is something I'm adapted to combat."
Iroh thought about that for a time. Something malevolent that required Cadence's level of power to combat... "Next time don't hold back," he instructed, having noticed from how she had held herself that she hadn't struck with her full force.
In what was left of the clump of trees, the Queen of the Changelings slowly backed away from what she'd just witnessed. After careful thought, she decided that maybe this wedding wasn't the one to try and conquer during. Another royal wedding was sure to come up eventually. After all, she'd had reports of how the blue princess looked at that red stud. He'd be much easier to impersonate accurately. After all, he barely spoke!
Cadence and Iroh both blinked, turning to the sound of that voice. Several white pony stallions in gold armor came charging up. Some had horns, some had wings, and some had neither. They all came to a halt a few feet away from Cadence before bowing. The one in the lead spoke up. "Are you alright, Your Highness?"
Cadence blinked. Highness? she thought, confused. Deciding to run with it, she nodded. "Other than a little disoriented, I'm fine," she explained. "Can you...refresh my memory a bit? What brought us out here?"
The obvious guardspony nodded. "We stopped here on our way back from a diplomatic meeting with the Zebras," he explained. "You detected a massive magical imbalance in this region, and instructed us to wait while you investigated. When we detected you unleashing high levels of defensive magic, we came to your aid."
Cadence nodded, memories of those events returning as she was told of them. Noticing the stares directed Iroh's way, she decided to introduce him. "This is my father, Iroh."
Most of the guards nodded, though the one in the lead blinked. "Forgive me, Your Highness, but it was my understanding your father was...dead."
"He got better," Cadence replied firmly, much to Iroh's amusement. The guard acquiesced. "Now, we should probably be getting back."
"Agreed," the guard replied. "Captain Shining Armor is likely eager to see you."
Cadence gasped as more memories returned. "Oh yes! We really should hurry!" Quickly cleaning up the campsite, she grabbed Iroh by his wrist in her magic and began towing him along, following the guards to where her zeppelin awaited them. "Father, there's so much to tell you! You see..."
As the large vehicle lifted from the ground, Iroh smiled indulgently as he listened to his daughter remember her old life, keeping note of all the things he would need to know...and making a mental note to take the measure of this Captain.