Cadence slowly sorted through their packs, trying to find something to do with herself that day. Iroh was off wandering town for the 'right place', and she knew what that meant. Today was the anniversary of Lu Ten's death, and Iroh always needed to spend that day alone. It gave him an odd sort of Catharsis, to wander on that day, listening to other people's problems and doing what he could to help them, before ending the day at sunset alone, lighting incense for Lu Ten.
Zhin had offered to shadow Iroh invisibly, in order to make sure he stayed safe. Jong was going to do the same for Zuko, who was going to be working in the shop that day. Zuko had actually requested that extra protection because he felt that one of the customers in the shop was on to them...a young girl Cadence recognized, named Jin, another refugee. Cadence had seen Zuko trying - and failing - to write a letter to Mai asking her to forget about him for her sake, convinced that he would never be able to overcome Azula's machinations. As such, Cadence had given rather specific instructions to Jong. If Jin made the first move, Jong was to act as a facilitator, to ensure they spent time together. If nothing else, it would do Zuko good to finally have a friend of his own.
Of course, this left Cadence having to promise to stay in the home for the day, much to her frustration. She understood the reasons, and she wasn't about to break her promise...but she was so bored! In desperation, she turned to the books she'd been allowed to borrow from Wan Shi Tong's library. Unfortunately, she'd read most of them several times already. The only one she hadn't read was one that Iroh had added, possibly as a joke. "The Art of Grass Growing". Wan Shi Tong had jokingly suggested it would be good for when she was truly bored. Sighing, she opened that last book...and a letter fell out, addressed to her.
Raising her eyebrows, she opened it...only to recognize Wan Shi Tong's calligraphy.
If you've opened this book, then you must be bored, and likely promised to stay put for the day, leaving you with no way to entertain yourself. You're likely somewhere new as well, as otherwise you'd have already found or acquired some other means of entertainment.
Foreseeing this possibility, I saw fit to provide you with this...loophole. But be careful. Your magical and spiritual signature ismuch stronger that most mortals, and someone with great ability - or great need - might still perceive you.
Wan Shi Tong, he who now knows 10,001 things.
Next to his signature was a lovingly drawn picture of the lotus she had made him.
Smiling softly, she opened the other parchment contained, and gasped at the title.
Astral Projection: How To
Studying the page intently, she prepared herself for the magic.
Phasing through the wall, Cadence giggled quietly to herself. This was incredible! Now she could explore wherever she wanted, and no one would be the wiser. Her body remained safe and sound, tucked away under the bed where she wouldn't be discovered until she returned - as long as she made certain she got back before anyone else did - and she was free to explore the entire city. She idly wondered what she would look at first.
As she was wondering about that, she spotted someone familiar down below. Floating down, she stopped and stared. She'd never expected to see Toph wearing make up. If she was honest with herself, it didn't really look good on the blind girl. She really didn't need it. Cadence made a promise to herself to give Toph a proper makeover once everything regarding the whole War was resolved.
She also noticed Iroh on his way through the city, and decided that he was one of those most likely to perceive her. Not wanting to intrude, she glided to another part of the city...where she saw Aang struggling to keep numerous animals under control as they ran amok through the city. She stayed long enough to see him guide them out into the fields outside the Lower Ring, where he made new enclosures for them. Realizing he was helping a zoo keeper, she went looking for something else to see.
Finding her way towards the very center of the city, she found a young human playing with a creature unlike any she had ever seen before in the middle of a very fancy looking garden, surrounded by other animals. The creature looked like a platypus bear, but the head and paws were wrong. Gasping, she realized it must be one of the mythical creatures she'd read about in the library, one from which the names of the modern animals were derived from...a bear! She had to take a closer look.
Diving down, she got a better look at both figures. The bear was wearing an odd blanket over its shoulders and a green fez, along with a monocle of all things. The human was a young man, maybe 20 or 30 Cadence could never judge human ages well, and wearing all yellow and green and some fancy jewelry, along with glasses. She watched the pair playing for a time, smiling softly at just how gentle the bear was with the human. "He really loves you," she said aloud, feeling safe that she couldn't be seen.
Both the bear and human froze, spinning towards her. The human leaned in close, gasping. "Has...has a Spirit Creature chosen me for a visit?" he whispered. "I am truly honored."
Cadence found herself giggling, despite her shock at being perceived. "More like a Creature Spirit," she replied teasingly. "I'm Astral Projecting. It's-"
"Sending the spirit out from the body! I've read about it!" The man smiled widely. "What is your name, little talking creature spirit of great beauty?"
Reaching out, she gently booped the man's nose with her ethereal hoof. "You really should give your name before asking a lady's," she chided.
The man looked shocked, then confused...and then overjoyed. "My name is Kuei," he introduced himself happily. "This is my friend, Bosco," he added, gesturing to the bear, who let out a happy growl.
"He's a very good friend to you," Cadence replied, brushing her insubstantial hoof over the bear's head. "He absolutely adores you. My name's Cadence."
"How is it you speak with such certainty of his emotions, Cadence?" Kuei asked with interest.
"Cause I can see them in his aura," she explained. "Even stronger now than I can when I'm in my body. It's why I know now how you're able to see me. Wan Shi Tong said in his letter that those with great ability or need would be able to perceive me-"
"Wan Shi Tong? The Knowledge Spirit?" Kuei asked, shocked. "You...you must have so many stories to tell. I'd love to hear them all."
Cadence smiled softly. "Great need indeed," she replied. "I'd be happy to swing by every so often to tell you stories. It'd be a relief from always running from the Fire Nation."
Kuei turned his head, confused. "...why would you be running from the Fire Nation?" he asked.
"Because we've been branded war criminals," she admitted sadly.
Kuei looked even more confused. "In...what war?"
Cadence' eyes widened in shock. "...no wonder you're so lonely, if you've been sheltered so much." She glanced around. "I can't stay too long today, friend Kuei, but if you tell me when I can come again-"
"I'm here every day from two hours before midday to two hours after," Kuei supplied eagerly. "Can you make it, dear friend? I'll be sure Bosco and I are awaiting you alone."
"I can't make it every day," Cadence replied. "The Lower Ring's expensive on our budget, and sometimes I have to take the lunch shift at the tea shop. But I'll come whenever I can." Floating forward, she gave Kuei an ethereal hug, which he eagerly returned. "But...be wary of the man over there with the mustache and goatee. His aura...it is filled with deception."
Kuei blinked, confused. "But...Long Feng has tended to me since I was a child...but projected spirits cannot lie, the tome I read about Astral Projection in was quite clear on that..."
"Don't take my word alone," Cadence hastened to add. "Just...keep your eyes and ears open, and make your own judgments."
Kuei nodded slowly. "I can do that..."
Cadence smiled softly as she floated back. "I need to get going now," she whispered. "My father's likely home by now...and he's probably worried about me not waking up." With a happy wave, she flowed away.
Flowing back towards home, she found Iroh working on Zuko's hair and clothes, plainly getting him ready for a date. She also saw her own body, curled up on her bed under blankets, the Astral Projection paper tucked in a roll beside her.
"Now try not to make a fool of yourself tonight," Iroh gently chided Zuko. "You won't have Cadence looking over your shoulder."
"No," Zuko grumbled noncommittally. "Just Jong."
Cadence couldn't help but giggle, though she stifled them. Iroh wanted her to watch Zuko on his date and give him the details.
"Have fun, Lee," Zhin teased, much to Jong's amusement and Zuko's frustration.
As Cadence watched the 'date', she couldn't help but shake her head in frustration. No wonder he'd needed her help to woo Mai so long ago. Zuko was clueless how to act around women. It was plain he liked her at least somewhat by the way he was acting around her, and how willing he was to humiliate himself for her amusement. Seriously, juggling? Cadence thought as she watched. I thought your coordination was better than that.
Still, he wasn't entirely bad. It was rather a surprise to discover - after he'd said he liked to play Pai Sho for fun - that Jin had seen the game played and always wanted to learn. That was something they could do on future meetings that Cadence would work to set up.
Thankfully, Jong waylaid the waiter before he could ask Zuko about him and his 'girlfriend', murmuring about "first date jitters". The waiter was very understanding, and thus asked Zuko if he and his date would care for some dessert.
Not long after the meal, Jin took Zuko to one of her favorite places, a fountain surrounded by lanterns. She was obviously disappointed that the lanterns weren't lit. Cadence was stunned by what Zuko did next, risking discovery by using his Firebending to quickly light all the lanterns. It was beyond obvious now that he really liked her.
And then she kissed him.
Cadence started to squeal, but then froze. Over Jin's head was the half heart she'd once seen over Zuko and Mai's head. But over Zuko's head, it was as if the center portion of a heart had been cut out, and that section cut in half. One section was beating in tandem with the one over Jin's head, but the other half still beat to the rhythm she knew matched Mai's.
"...I'm sorry," Zuko said softly.
"What's wrong?" Jin asked worriedly. "Was...was I too forward? I just..."
"I like you," Zuko continued. "I really do. But...before I started travelling, started running...there was someone special. She and I..." He glanced away.
"...and you aren't ready to let her go?" Jin asked quietly.
"...I thought I was...for her sake. But..." He turned back to her. "I'm...not ready after all..."
"It's okay," Jin replied understandingly. "We...we all have our past ghosts. I can be patient. And...we can still be friends."
Zuko managed a smile. "I'd like that."
Cadence grinned widely. She is good, she thought quietly. Looking forward to meeting her in person.
"Maybe when I use that coupon your Uncle gave me, you could teach me a bit about Pai Sho?" Jin asked.
"I'll make the time," Zuko promised.
Cadence slowly awoke as she returned to her body, just as Iroh spoke up. "So how was your evening, Zuko?"
Zuko looked out at the night sky. "It was...confusing...but nice..."