After several months of training with Bumi - sometimes with the entire city of Omashu watching, to ensure she wouldn't have a problem with the attention her unique appearance would draw - Cadence had finally gained complete control of her Earth Bending. This was not to say she was a master. Bumi was quite insistent that she was far from a Master. However, she knew enough that she could develop further from self study, and he could guarantee it wouldn't get away from her.
However, during her last training session with Bumi, something else had happened that set a new course for Iroh and his other-worldly daughter.
"That's it, Cadence," Bumi instructed. "Bring me my tea. You can do it."
Cadence, for her part, was doing her best not to scream in frustration. She was carefully bending a stone disc with her on it towards Bumi, while balancing a tray with a ceramic cup filled with hot tea on her horn. This - balancing the bending motions and her own body weight to not spill the tea - would have been hard enough, but several of Bumi's Earthbending guards lined the path, and randomly hurled stone discs her way that she had to dodge, and Bumi had ensured that the pattern of thrown discs would never repeat. Also, she was blindfolded, because Bumi felt she needed even more of a challenge.
Just as, for the first time since she was given this training, she nearly reached Bumi, a stone disc knocked the tray off her horn, sending the cup flipping through the air, the tea cascading outward. "No!" Cadence screamed out in frustration as she pinwheeled off her own stone disc as it fell, her movements both strong and fluid as she fell.
What wasn't a surprise was when the ceramic cup slammed into Bumi's hand. What was a surprise was when the spilled tea swirled up into the air before it hit the ground, spiraled around Bumi's head, and deposited itself in the cup.
As everyone stared in surprise, Cadence pushed her stone disc off and lifted her blindfold. Seeing Bumi holding the full cup, she gasped happily. "Did I do it?" she asked desperately.
"That you did," Bumi agreed. "And not at all how I expected you to."
Cadence raised an eyebrow. "So...how did I fail to think outside the box this time?" she asked in resignation.
Smirking, Bumi lifted the disc he was standing on into the air. Taking the cup, he emptied its contents into his mouth before placing it on his head. He then blindfolded himself and bent his disc up and around himself into a sphere of stone before floating around the course, the thrown discs deflecting off the sphere. When he landed, he unwrapped himself, took the cup off his head, and spat the tea back into the cup. "Ta dah!"
Both Cadence and Iroh were making disgusted expressions. "W...why would I do that to good tea?" Cadence demanded in revulsion. "Who would want to drink tea that had been in my mouth? I was supposed to serve the tea to you!"
Bumi tilted his head in thought. "Hmm...now why in the world would I want an indirect tongue kiss from a cute young girl with my tea, hmm?" He then proceeded to cackle and snort.
Cadence scooted away nervously. "You're...weirding me out..."
"Then I'm doing my job!" Bumi proclaimed proudly. "After all, I'm the fun but creepy Uncle who always leaves you feeling a little unsure what's deliberate and what's crazy, and is tons of fun in small doses!" He cackled madly again, snorting a couple times.
Cadence couldn't stop the giggles that followed that pronouncement. Unable to hold herself back, she had hugged Bumi around the neck and kissed his eyebrows.
"Hey!" he proclaimed angrily, pointing accusingly at his eyebrows. "Stop stealing all the smooches!"
After that, Iroh and Bumi had discussed the revelation of Cadence's apparent ability to bend Water, in addition to Fire and Earth. While it was no real surprise that a spirit creature would not be bound to the same rules regarding bending as humans - after all, it was the Light Spirit being bound to the Avatar that allowed him or her to bend all four Elements in the first place - one thing was certain. If she could bend three Elements, she would have to be able to bend all four, or her spirit and life force would be out of balance with itself. She had also learned to control her Fire and Earth, and Water had awoken in her. She would need to learn control Water as soon as possible, and then some way would have to be found to teach her Air.
It was for this reason that Iroh had made for the northern coast as soon as they'd left Omashu. Bumi had already made arrangements via albatross messenger with another member of the order to have a ship waiting to transport them to the North Pole, where Cadence could learn Waterbending. However, Bumi had warned Iroh that it would be up to the two of them to convince that member - who was of quite high standing - to actually teach Cadence. In Bumi's words, "He's an old stick in the mud with the stick of 'culture' so far up his ass he can taste it." Of course, Bumi didn't say that around Cadence, merely describing this 'Master Pakku' as a stubborn old fool where she could hear, along with instructions not to tell Pakku he'd said that.
Iroh was quite surprised that the boat waiting for them - hidden from all prying eyes - was crewed entirely by Northern Water Benders. He idly wondered what sort of favors Bumi had offered or called in to get this level of cooperation. Cadence, however, was quickly enthralled by the actual bending the crew of the longboat was doing to speed them across the waves towards the north, and began mimicking their movements, attempting to bend the water as well. Most of the crew either smiled indulgently or stared incredulously, although a couple took the time to either pay her compliments for her efforts or offer a pointer or two.
By the time they actually reached the Northern Water Tribe a week later, Cadence was contributing effectively to speeding the boat along, and was informed she could probably propel herself and Iroh back to the Earth Kingdom under her own power when she left, though it would take longer.
While they were both given a quiet welcome to the Northern Water Tribe, their reception by Master Pakku was...less than ideal.
"No," Pakku replied firmly when Iroh broached the subject. "We do not train women to water bend here in the Northern Water Tribe. It is our way, our customs. Women are not trained to fight."
"I'm not asking you to teach her to fight," Iroh replied calmly, despite Cadence's hurt look. "I'm asking you to teach her control."
"Then she can learn healing with the other women," Pakku replied firmly.
"She has not demonstrated talent for healing," Iroh pointed out. "Even amongst those who can waterbend, that ability is not exactly common. She has, however, demonstrated the ability to manipulate water. If she does not learn control, there is no telling what could happen."
"Then you should take her back with you," Pakku stated bluntly, "and make sure that it happens far away from this country."
"There is nothing you can say to change my mind," Pakku interrupted firmly.
"Please?" Cadence begged, arranging her features into her cutest, most heart wrenching begging face.
"No," Pakku replied firmly without even looking. "Nothing you can say will make me change my mind either."
Cadence frowned, glaring up at Master Pakku. "Nothing I say...what if it's something I do?"
Pakku raised an eyebrow. "Explain."
"I propose a game between us," Cadence suggested. "I win, you make an exception and teach me Waterbending, since - despite being female - I am technically not a woman. You win, we leave, and seek my teaching elsewhere."
Pakku frowned deeply. "And why should I even accept this proposal?"
"Because if you don't, I'll go to the spirit spring and tell the Moon and Ocean spirits that you're being a big, mean, stubborn, poopyhead," she replied easily. "I can sense them from here. They want me to come play with them."
Iroh did his best not to burst into laughter, both at Cadence's threat and at Pakku's face in response. He couldn't tell if Pakku was horified or amused. "Fine then," Pakku replied at last. "I shall accept your terms, if you swear to abide by them absolutely. Should I win, you both leave immediately."
"Fair enough," Cadence agreed, reaching into Iroh's bags.
"So what game shall we play?" Pakku asked, his frown once more firmly on his face.
"Pai Sho," Cadence replied, pulling out the tile sets. "I've grown quite fond of the game." She reached for the portable board.
Pakku promptly threw his arms up, causing a Pai Sho table to take shape and rise up out of the ice between them. "You should have chosen a different game," Pakku pointed out. "I am undefeated in my tribe."
"Then perhaps you can see your way to giving me the first move as a handicap?" Cadence asked innocently. Iroh's eyes widened as he began to see where she was going with this.
Pakku shrugged his shoulders. "Very well," he allowed, pulling out his own set of tiles. "I see no way you can be skilled enough to win either way."
Smirking, Cadence placed her White Lotus tile smack dab in the center of the table.
Pakku stared in open mouthed shock for a time, then spoke almost as though unaware of his words. "I see you favor the White Lotus Gambit," he stated ritualistically. "Not many still cling to the ancient ways."
Cadence smiled softly. "But those who do can always find...a friend."
Pakku nodded. "Then let us play..."
Pakku began placing out the tiles in the ritual pattern, Cadence keeping up every step of the way, until the lotus pattern was shaped on the table with the last two tiles. Pakku stared at the pattern for a long time before finally speaking up. "Welcome, sister. The White Lotus opens wide to those who know its secrets."
Cadence smiled widely. "Have you reconsidered teaching me?" she asked softly.
"I must," Pakku replied ruefully. "As a Master of the White Lotus, I am honor bound to share my knowledge with other members who have need of it...and you have need of my knowledge of Waterbending." He turned to glower at Iroh. "You could have mentioned you had inducted her into the Order so I didn't make myself look like a fool!"
Iroh shrugged his shoulders. "You did not exactly give me a chance."
Pakku sighed. "Fair enough. Training starts tomorrow night after sundown. Meet me outside the Spirit Spring."
Cadence smiled happily, and bowed low. "Thank you for agreeing to teach me, Master Pakku," she said sincerely.
"Don't push your luck," Pakku countered grumpily, though he was inwardly pleased she didn't rub it in.