Zuko lay back against Omashu's stone walls, relaxing after a long and tiring meeting. Although the Peace Conference was no longer physically taxing as it had been when Bumi was in charge, they were still mentally draining for the young Fire Lord, along with all other participants. It still amazed Zuko that platitudes and old sayings had more effect on the older delegates than reasoning and forethought. He'd lost count of the number of times he'd recited Sozen's favorite old saying, and the source of his dream: "Stagnant waters breed only decay."
After several days, however, the Peace Accords were tentatively completed. It would take some time to set them in motion, and there was still the concern of what Ozai might be up to, but it looked like a lasting peace would at long last come to pass, and all the peoples of the world could work together towards a brighter future. Zuko desperately hoped that when it was over, he'd have a chance for a vacation. He was exhausted.
Unfortunately, more things that needed doing seemed to pile up from all over. On the off chance Ozai did intend some form of militaristic action against the world, it was decided that Aang needed to learn Firebending so as to have a chance against him when the time came. Unfortunately, the only two Firebenders that Aang had any sort of connection to for studies were Iroh and Zuko...and Iroh had insisted that teaching was the final stage of Zuko's education as a Firebender. As such, it was up to the young Fire Lord to teach the Avatar. It had...not been going well.
While Aang was eager to learn, he seemed to fear his fire far more than was healthy, to the point he couldn't even bring it out. Despite all of Zuko's patience and encouragement, it had been five days since the teachings had started, and he still hadn't managed to even conjure smoke. Zuko tried to pass on the lessons Iroh had taught him about fire being something to be respected but not feared, but Zuko didn't fully understand the lessons himself.
As Aang approached nervously, Zuko decided to try a different tact. "I think perhaps we should try a different approach," Zuko stated as he pushed himself up. "During my lessons under Iroh, he spoke of...a pilgrimage I might make when I felt I was ready, to fully understand and embrace the true meaning of Firebending. I think it's time I do so...and it should be a good way to help you get past your hurdles, as well."
"A field trip?" Aang asked eagerly. "Cool! Where are we going?"
"The ruins of the Sun Warriors, the first Firebenders," Zuko explained. "You'll need to call Appa for this trip."
Aang glanced nervously towards the Conference Chamber. "Are you sure we won't be missed?" he asked ruefully, plainly as eager as Zuko for a break from the tedium.
"I made a deal with my Uncle," Zuko explained. "He'll fill in for us today...if we take Cadence with us."
"What's the problem there?" Aang asked, surprised. "That sounds like a-"
"And she's in charge of the expedition."
Aang's face fell. "Oh..."
To say that the pair felt a bit overloaded by the time they reached the ancient 'Ruins' of the Sun Warriors - similar in design structure to the Temple of the Fire Sages - was an understatement. Cadence apparently believed in being prepared for everything, which meant having something with you to deal with every possible situation. Each pack of gear weighed more than the person carrying it, making it very difficult to move...although Cadence seemed to enjoy nudging them playfully onward.
Finally, Zuko had enough and dropped his pack back onto Appa's saddle. "Enough of this!" he grumbled. "We're three of the most powerful Benders in the world right now. I seriously doubt anything's going to come up that the three of us can't handle with our own abilities...and failing that, Cadence pouting! Put your pack down, Aang."
Unsure what else to do, Aang obeyed.
Cadence, for her part, smiled widely. "And here I thought I'd have to start poking you with a stick to get you to remember your authority," she teased. "Lead the way." With that said, she settled on Zuko's shoulder.
Zuko simply stared at her, plainly irritated, which only made her and Aang giggle. Harrumphing to himself, Zuko quickly led the way into the 'ruins'.
Reaching the top of the pyramid-like structure, the group took the time to peruse the murals, depicting dragons surrounding the first Firebenders with flames. "Doesn't look like a very pleasant teaching method," Zuko muttered.
"Look again," Cadence countered, pointing to the face of the human in the mural. "That's not an expression of pain or fear."
Aang took a close look. "It almost seems...awed..."
Continuing further, they found a Celestial Calendar as the lock on the massive doors, a Sunstone designed to only trigger the door to open on the Solstice. Cadence watched as Aang complained about the frustration of it, and Zuko used his swords to reflect the sunlight, triggering the lock with thought and patience.
Inside the chamber, Cadence watched as Aang and Zuko came to an understanding of 'The Dancing Dragon', an ancient Firebending form represented by statues surrounding the interior chamber. When doing so caused a pedestal with a glowing crystalline egg to rise out of the ground, the whole group had the sense to not touch it.
Having no real idea what else to do, the trio searched around for further clues. "So...what now?" Zuko asked finally. "Iroh implied we'd learn something here...but I can't figure out what to do next."
"You could stay right there and not move," an authoritative voice ordered from the entrance, causing the group to spin to face it.