It was one night after they had left Gaoling that Cadence decided to show Iroh what she'd learned. After all, she needed to practice her Earthbending anyway, and she didn't like him not knowing. However, an impish notion of mischief - learned from Toph - made her want to catch him off guard with it, to see if she could leave him stupefied, as she had when she first breathed fire. "Daddy?" she asked as they began setting up camp. "Can I dig the fire pit tonight?"
Iroh chuckled in response. "Alright," he said indulgently. Using a staff he'd taken to carrying, he drew a circle on the ground. "This should be a good spot. Let me get the shovel." He started to turn away.
Before he was completely facing away, Cadence took a strong stance, reared back, and stomped both forehooves into the center of the circle. Using the drawn circle as a guide, she shaped a circle of solid earth to drive it into the ground a few inches, remaining perfectly circular. Stepping back, she then made several thrusts with her wings, rolling nearby rocks into place on the outer ring of the fire pit. "How's that?" she asked.
Much to her great pleasure, Iroh was well and truly stupefied, his jaw hanging slightly as he stared. However, he didn't stay stupefied for long. Shortly after she spoke up, he regained control of himself. "Where did you learn to Earthbend?" he asked.
"Made a friend in Gaoling," she replied happily, taking a drink from her canteen. "She taught me a lot." She then promptly belched, just like Toph had taught her.
Iroh struggled not to laugh. "When did you have time to meet up with this friend without me knowing?"
"Met her first when I went exploring when we first got there," Cadence replied, not quite meeting Iroh's eyes.
His eyes narrowed. "And sneaking out to spend time with her at night after I fell asleep?" he asked insightfully. "Which is why you were so sleepy in the morning?"
Cadence whistled innocently.
Shaking his head, Iroh sat down, laying wood in the fire pit. "And how much did your friend teach you in that week?" he asked.
"I can move small rocks," Cadence replied, "and move small earth discs like that." She sat down herself.
The ground under her rump cracked, drawing a zig zag line backwards from her tail.
"...but that sometimes happens..." Cadence murmured. "My control once I start's not so good..."
Iroh frowned, stroking his beard. "Then perhaps what you need is someone more skilled than your friend, to teach you control." As he lit the dinner fire, he took a look at the map. "Hmm...well, that is convenient. We are not far from Omashu. I know someone there who can assist you in that."
Cadence smiled widely. "Another Lotus?" she asked eagerly.
"Do not speak so lightly of it," Iroh chided gently. "...but yes."
Cadence stared up in awe as she and Iroh crossed the narrow, winding stone bridge to the city of Omashu. To Cadence's eyes, it looked like four pyramids of varying sizes inside massive walls, suspended atop a pillar of earth that stretched deep into the abyss of a wide pit. Truly, a well fortified city, and a testament to the power of Earthbending, the only force that could have shaped the city like this.
As they approached, one of the three guards levitated a boulder above Iroh's head. "State your business!" he proclaimed firmly.
"We're just visiting an old friend," Iroh replied.
"Oh?" the guard asked with a raised eyebrow. "Who?"
"Am I to assume you know the names of every citizen in the city?" Iroh asked. "Or that it is within your purview to pry into the private business of visitors?"
"Just tell me your name," the guard grunted.
"Iroh," Iroh replied easily.
The guard's eyes widened. "The Fire Nation General?" he asked in shock.
Iroh chuckled. "Do I look like a general to you?" he asked playfully, patting his stomach. The easy pace of the journey had started to give him a bit of a paunch. While useful here, he made a mental note to start working on keeping himself in shape, if only to keep up with Cadence.
The guard exhaled a sigh of relief. "You're right. You must be some other Iroh. Go on-" He froze as he stared at Cadence. "And what is this?" he demanded.
"Hi!" Cadence said happily, waving her forehoof. "I'm Cadence! Iroh's my Daddy!"
The guard promptly fainted. His partners decided to let Iroh and Cadence into the city.
Inside the city walls, Omashu was even more impressive, leaving Cadence completely stupefied as she stared at the bustling citizenry and soaring buildings peaked in towers. She also saw several stone baskets zipping back and forth on long slopes through the city.
Noticing her focus, Iroh smiled. "That is the mail delivery system," he explained. "The stone baskets move up and down the slopes through Earthbending, delivering messages, stock, and other things around the city."
"And people?" Cadence asked, her hoof touching the side of one of the sloping delivery tracks as her aura emitted from her horn.
Iroh frowned. "...no. Never people. That's against regulations."
"But the tracks remember people," she pointed out. "Two young boys...one bald, one with really spiky hair and a missing tooth...riding down the slopes, screaming happily..." Her eyes widened. "It looks like so much fun! Can we?" She turned eagerly to Iroh. "Please Daddy? Can we try, please?"
Iroh thought for a time. Well...I do need to get his attention...and it does sound...interesting...
Once at the top of the slope, however, Iroh was reconsidering as he sat in the stone basket behind Cadence. "Mayhaps this was a bad i-"
Cadence leaned forward, the earth just under the basket pushing upward, tipping it over and into the slide.
"-deeeAAAAAA!" Iroh screamed out as they sped downward.
Cadence threw her hooves up in delight, screaming happily as they sped down the slope. As they sped down, things seemed to be going well...until they came to part of the slope that was missing, and apparently scheduled for repairs.
Dropping out of the slope, the pair sped through the city streets in the stone basket. Cadence had the brief sight of some sort of cart filled with vegetative matter before they crashed through it. She spat out the bad tasting mouthful as she heard someone in the distance behind them shout out, "My cabbages!"
For some reason, she felt certain that the next decade or so of that man's life would not be pleasant.
Not long after that, they crashed into a building, coming to a screeching halt. Guards instantly surrounded them. "Oops," Cadence murmured, though Iroh only smiled.
Iroh and Cadence were brought into a large chamber lit with green light. At the opposite end, an ancient man with mismatched eyes and scraggly hair stared at them, seeming interested in Iroh.
One of the guards stepped forward. "These two are under arrest for misuse of the mail system, sending a delivery basket down an out-of-use slope, malicious damage to vegetables, and damage to the foundation of a building. Your Majesty, what is your judgement?"
Majesty? Cadence swallowed as she realized this was a King. She found herself suddenly very nervous, hoping he wouldn't be so bad.
The King stared at them both for a time. "Throw them...a party."
Cadence tilted her head in confusion.
Iroh did his best to maintain his composure in the face of King Bumi's...eccentricities. However, that was a little hard to do while wearing a blue chiffon gown with matching oversized hat, sitting on his knees around a table set for high tea...especially with King Bumi himself in a pink tutu, and Cadence in a little black tux. He tried not to think of what it meant that Bumi'd had the tux ready for the tea party.
Cadence, for her part, was perfectly happy to pour tea and eat cookies, chattering away nonsensically with King Bumi, who responded just as readily...even if Cadence was calling him, 'Lady Fuzzy Face'. Oddly, he seemed to enjoy the name.
Finally, Iroh decided to come around to business. "Cadence, perhaps you would show Bumi what you are capable of?"
Smiling, Cadence stomped her hoof, bringing a chunk of stone up before waving it aside with a wing, sending it flying. She also breathed fire onto her tea to warm it up.
Bumi's eyes widened. "Impressive...but so what?"
"While I am able to teach her to control her fire," Iroh explained, "I have no idea how to instruct her in controlling earth...and she needs to learn control. She is a Spirit Creature, and sometimes her bending gets away from her."
"So you want the King of Omashu to take time out of his busy schedule to teach a Spirit Creature how to control herself?" Bumi asked. "...I'll do it."
"You will?" Cadence asked eagerly.
"If!" Bumi countered quickly. "If you can pass three deadly trials." Iroh face palmed.
"I'll...I'll do it," Cadence agreed.
"Good! You can start tomorrow. For now, the guards will show you to your room."
The next day, Bumi led Cadence to a massive chamber filled with stalactites and stalagmites, with a massive waterfall pouring down the center. A key was visible hanging from a chain in the center of the waterfall.
"It seems I've misplaced my lunch box key and I'm hungry!" Bumi called out.
Before he could continue, Cadence seized the key in her aura and floated it up to him out of the water, breaking the chain in the process. "Is this it?" she asked.
Bumi took the key, a bemused expression on his face. "You didn't tell me she could do that," he accused Iroh.
"You didn't ask," Iroh replied with a wide grin, his hands folded in his sleeves.
The next place Bumi led Cadence to was a large open area with trees, rocks, and high walls. "I seem to have lost my pet Flopsie-" he began.
Cadence had promptly squeed and leapt over the walls, racing to a large creature that looked like a cross between a bull, a rabbit, and a gorilla, completely ignoring the tiny bunny-like creature in the middle. Leaping to the beast's head, she promptly began scratching him behind one ear. "Who's a good little bun-bun?" she cooed. "Yes you is! Yes you is!"
Flopsie, for his part, promptly rolled onto his back, his tongue hanging out as he grinned widely.
Bumi blinked. "How did you know?"
"I could feel how much he loves you!" she called back as Flopsie leapt up to the platform and proceeded to lick Bumi.
Bumi glanced over at Iroh again. "You didn't tell me she could do that either." He held up a hand. "I know, I know...I didn't ask. Is there anything else amongst her abilities I should know about?"
"Only that she can read the memories of inanimate objects with her spirit aura," Iroh explained.
"Well isn't that interesting..."
The last place Bumi led Cadence and Iroh to was a massive stone arena. "Your last test is a duel. And since you've done so well on the others, you may choose your opponent-"
"I choose you, Your Majesty," Cadence replied quickly.
Bumi blinked. "But...but you haven't even seen the other options."
"True," Cadence agreed, "but you're supposed to be my teacher. This will be a good way to judge my capabilities. Also, I can sense how strong your friendship is with Daddy, so I know you'll be careful not to break me." She smiled up at him.
Bumi chuckled happily. "Good thinking...but you have no idea just how hard an opponent you've chosen!" Shrugging off his robes, he revealed a surprisingly ripped if hunched body.
Cadence's eyes popped open. As Bumi leapt forward, all she could see was a rippling mass of skin, muscle, and bone. Every wrinkle now looked like another fold of muscle. And his abs... "Great Spirits, you could grind meat on those," she found herself saying as she stared.
"Huh," Bumi commented, looking down at his abs. "I'll have to try that sometime." He looked back at Cadence. "As thanks for the compliment, and because you're so young...say, just how old are you?"
"11 months," Cadence replied softly.
"Almost one year old?" Bumi asked in surprise. "Well, you can have the first move."
Cadence's ears went flat against her skull. Her eyes widened and began to water. She lifted one hoof upward against her chest, turning her most adorable pleading expression on Bumi she could muster. Her horn ignited, causing music to play from nowhere.
Bumi stared, waiting until the music ended. "...that is without a doubt the most adorable thing I have ever seen," he said finally. He then cackled madly, snorting a couple of times. "Too bad for you this isn't a beauty contest!" He promptly stomped with one foot, catapulting Cadence away with a pillar of stone.
Cadence quickly spread her wings to keep from slamming bodily into walls or ceiling, coming in for a landing before turning the skills Toph had taught her to use. Rather than watching Bumi's body movements, she focused on the vibrations she felt through the Earth. While she wasn't good enough to feel people's movements through it, she could feel the force of the Earth being bent. Leaping quickly back and forth, she was able to avoid several of Bumi's attacks, countering with several of her own.
Bumi, however, was able to flick aside each of her attacks like it was nothing. "Let's see something real, pretty pony!" he shouted out, hurling a large stone block straight at her, too large for her to evade.
Thrusting her wings forward, she froze the block in the air. Flexing her wings, she shattered the block, leaving numerous feathers of stone, all razor sharp. These she flung at Bumi at varying velocities for a continuous barrage.
Bumi countered easily, catching every feather blade of stone between two fingers, neutralizing their momentum as he bound them together in a sharp edged ball which he promptly rolled towards Cadence, as though trying to knock her over like ninepins.
Thinking quickly, Cadence used her horn to mimic the movements of Bumi's fingers, stopping the rotation of the ball as she brought the tip of her horn up against the blade.
Bumi cackled in response. "Good, good! Show me what you've got!"
Spinning, Cadence bucked the ball at him with both hind legs, but he only crushed it to powder between his hands. As he lunged forward on a wave of earth, she realized there was no way for her to win with Earthbending. As he approached, she inhaled, and exhaled a wave of flame.
"Yipe!" Bumi yelped, drawing a pillar of earth up to shield himself, the flames blowing to either side. "Almost got a hot foot!"
Glowering, Cadence swung her wings inward. Her flame breath curved around the earth pillar, aiming for Bumi's feet. The Earth King immediately leapt into the air to avoid burning his feet...and Cadence released the flames in order to leap upward, the King's own Earth pillar rising up with her hoof.
Cadence was barely able to see what happened next, and had no chance to react. Using the earth pillar for leverage, Bumi flipped himself upside down before clenching his stomach. In response to the clench, a pillar of earth shot down from the ceiling, bracing his feet. His open hand came forward as the pillar slammed him downward, trapping her neck between his hand and the earth she was now pinned against.
"Not a bad tactic, young bender," Bumi stated as he held himself there. "Trying to separate me from the Earth...against a lesser Earth Bender, it might even have worked. However, you're about 100 years too early to match me, my little pony."
Cadence glanced around, looking to see if she could turn this around...but went limp as she realized she couldn't.
"However," Bumi stated as he released her, standing upright, "I might still be convinced to train you...if you can do something for me."
"Yes?" Cadence asked eagerly.
"It's been decades since I last got kissed by a pretty young girl," Bumi pointed out idly, cackling and snorting.
Giggling, Cadence hopped up and kissed him right on the cheek.
"To training!" Bumi proclaimed with a wide grin.