With Wan Shi Tong's active participation, Cadence was able to control her Airbending rather rapidly, and the Knowledge Spirit had provided several pointers on further study for each of her bending abilities. With that knowledge under her wings, she and Iroh decided it was time to make their way back to the Fire Nation. They had been gone nearly two years, and they both felt it was time to go home.
With Wan Shi Tong's assistance, they transferred their boat back out to the desert and made their way to the Earth Kingdom's eastern shore, seeking passage from one of the colonies back to the Fire Nation.
Once there, they both went their separate ways ever so briefly. Iroh went to report to Ozai, to inform the Fire Lord that their journey was finished, and to privately discuss Cadence's capabilities...though he did not go into details as far as where Cadence learned to control her abilities, seeing fit to imply that she was merely naturally talented, aided by a few scrolls found in a library. It wasn't that Iroh wanted to deceive his brother in this regard. However, what Wan Shi Tong had said about one of his countrymen arriving a few months prior to them made him cautious of what knowledge of the Spirits he spread. Beyond that, he wasn't about to mention anything about the Order of the White Lotus. Once he was finished reporting to Ozai, Iroh sought out Master Piandao to discuss his visit to Wan Shi Tong's library.
Cadence, however, went to look for Zuko. She had liked him when they were here last, and she wanted to see how he'd grown in these past two years, and to show off what she'd learned.
She found Zuko sitting on a fountain, head hanging in sorrow. She decided to cheer him up the only way that she could think of. "Hi Zuko!" she called out, tackling him into the fountain.
Zuko let out a brief yelp before flailing around, then looking down at her. "Hey Cadence," he grumbled, trying to push himself out of the water. "That's sure to wash right out..."
Smiling, Cadence waved her wings, yanking the water out of her coat, Zuko's clothes and hair, and parting the water around them so they could climb out of the fountain dry. "Geeze, when did you become such a grumpy guss?" she asked playfully.
Zuko stared at the parted pool. "You...you can Waterbend?"
"And Firebend, and Earthbend, and Airbend!" Cadence proclaimed proudly as the got back out of the fountain. Letting the water resume its normal configuration, she used a bit of flame and a blast of air to dry them both off the rest of the way.
"That's amazing!" Zuko breathed happily. "Think you could teach me a few tricks?"
"Hmm...maybe," she allowed. "If you'll tell me why you were such a gloomy guss."
Zuko's face fell as he sighed. "Mai won't talk to me anymore," he said at last.
"Eh?" Cadence asked, confused. "Why not?"
"She's upset about our engagement," Zuko replied.
Cadence scratched her head. "I...I don't get it..."
"She's never liked that her life gets decided for her-"
"Oh!" Cadence gasped out. "An assignation..."
Zuko nodded. "Yup. And...I like her, I really do...but with things like this..."
Cadence frowned, wishing she could do something to help. She blinked in shock as she felt her horn glowing, and saw a half heart floating over Zuko's head, pulsing rhythmically. Glancing elsewhere, she found her vision swooping over the imperial compound until she saw Mai, sitting in a corner by herself, the other half of the heart pulsing in magic light over her head. As her magic faded, Cadence gasped happily, a plan in her mind. "So...the reason she isn't happy with you is the choice was taken away?" she asked.
"Pretty much," Zuko agreed.
"Then give her the choice back," Cadence instructed.
"I don't exactly have the-"
"Not like that," Cadence interrupted. "Propose."
"W-what?" Zuko gasped out, shocked.
"Give her a formal proposal," Cadence explained. "Make her a ring - or maybe a bracelet, since she'd outgrow a ring sized to her now - get her to meet you somewhere romantic where it's just the two of you - maybe with me acting as chaperone - and give her a formal proposal. Trust me, she'll love it."
Zuko scratched his chin. "Well...I suppose I have enough to pay the jeweler-"
"No, not buy. Make." Cadence smiled. "I'll get you the materials. We can swing by Master Piandao's and borrow his forge. I'll get the raw materials. Come on!" Seizing Zuko in her magic, she dragged him off, protesting mildly in confusion.
Two nights later, Mai was standing by the fountain as the anonymous letter had asked of her, wondering what it was all about.
"Oh, Mai!" Cadence called out as she and Zuko approached. "Fancy meeting you here. So good to see you."
"H-hey," Zuko greeted nervously.
"Your Highness," Mai greeted coldly, making Zuko wince.
Cadence smiled as she hopped up to the top of the fountain. "I was just going to practice some music," she stated, summoning up the water from the fountain, freezing some of it in intricate shapes as she then affixed crystals throughout it. "I hope you enjoy." Placing her hooves against the ice and crystal, she produced some rather lovely notes...ones that were recognizable far too quickly as a love song, making Mai raise an eyebrow.
Zuko swallowed, remembering Cadence's coaching - though why he was trusting the advice of a two year old pony, he wasn't sure - as he turned to face the girl beside him. "Mai...I know you're upset about the...assignation."
"Upset?" she asked coldly. "Why would I be upset? I've known for years my husband would be chosen for me. It's hardly news."
Zuko winced, having known something like that was coming. He rallied gamely. "I didn't want that choice taken from you...especially for us. So...as best I can...I'd like to give it back to you."
Mai raised an eyebrow, but remained silent.
Turning to face her, Zuko went down on one knee, holding out a black box, which he opened to reveal a somewhat misshapen gold bracelet with three diamonds embedded in the metal. "Mai...will you marry me?"
For a long time, the only sound was Cadence's music. After a time, Mai leaned over and examined the bracelet closely. "Not very good quality work," she muttered.
"I'm not so good with tools," Zuko admitted, shamefacedly.
Mai raised an eyebrow as she noticed the burn marks on Zuko's fingertips. "You made it yourself?"
"Just like I would have if we weren't the Prince and the daughter of a governor," Zuko replied. "If we were just...Zuko and Mai...and our choices were our own."
Mai stared at him for a while in silence, Cadence's song rising to a crescendo in the still moonlit air.
"So...will you marry me?" Zuko asked.
As the music reached its peak, Mai reached out and closed the box. "No," she replied firmly.
There was a crash as Cadence fell forward atop her ice and crystal instrument and into the fountain. "N-no?" Zuko asked in shock, feeling crushed.
Taking the box, Mai slipped it into her sleeve. "No," she replied. She waited just long enough for Zuko to sink into complete dejection before continuing, "But I might reconsider someday." She then walked off, though Cadence was able to notice that she had a soft smile on her face, and was blushing slightly in pleasure.
Behind a window of the Fire Palace, Ozai twitched the curtain shut, having seen enough. "It seems Zuko has a bit more steel in him than I had thought," he murmured. "Cadence seems to bring out a bit more spine in him than he normally has. I believe, as Iroh asked, it is indeed time to start initiating my eldest son in the ways of government."