Iroh awoke slowly to find himself in a ruined house, the sun shining in through the broken roof. Zuko and Cadence were leaning over him worriedly, and both breathed a sigh of relief as his eyes opened. "You're awake," Cadence whimpered, cuddling up to him.
Smiling softly, Iroh stroked Cadence's mane. "How badly...was I hit?"
"Pretty bad," Zuko replied, offering him a cup of tea. "Katara did what she could to heal you, but she was exhausted herself. Still, without her work...you might not have survived. The strike was close to your heart."
"I was trying to block with my belly," Iroh admitted. He patted his stomach. "It used to be a bigger target..." Taking the mug of tea, he tasted it. It was far from perfectly brewed, but definitely palatable.
"I hope I made it the way you like it," Zuko spoke up hopefully.
Before Iroh could speak up, Cadence took a sip from her own cup. "Not bad for a first attempt with actual tea leaves," she complimented. "Drinkable, which is more than most first timers could say." When Zuko started to complain, she interrupted, "And no, accidentally poisoning yourself with White Jade tea doesn't count."
Iroh chuckled. "Mistook it for a white dragon bush?" he asked. Zuko looked away, grumbling under his breath.
Jong stepped in. "It's good you're awake, sir," he stated, kneeling down beside them and picking up his own cup. "Have we decided what we're doing next?"
"What about that Katara girl?" Iroh asked. "Is she up to healing me the rest of the way?"
"She left with the Avatar and his group," Jong explained. "That Sokka kid has a good grasp of military strategy and tactics. He said that since Azula's after all of us, it's better if we travel separately, so she has to divide her resources. Also, there's the fact that Zuko still intends to take Aang back to the Fire Nation."
"So it doesn't make sense for us to travel with them, even if flying on a sky bison was a good idea for someone injured," Zuko explained. "For now, the plan is to let you fully recuperate, and then decide where to go from there."
Iroh nodded. "In the meantime...it's time to instruct both of you in more advanced Firebending. Azula has already mastered it, and if we are going to be confronting her...both of you need to be Masters as well. I will teach as much as I can."
Iroh started by explaining the nature of lightning bending, both how it involved no passion or emotion, and how it involved separating positing and negative charge of energy in the air. Once he was certain they both understood the concept as best they were able, he decided it was time to demonstrate.
Moving to a nearby cliff, Iroh first demonstrated lightning bending for both of them, drawing out the imbalanced energy before guiding the bolt of lightning out across the plains where it would harm nothing before the energy dissipated.
Under Iroh's guidance, Zuko made an attempt to control lightning. However, his own hesitation, fear, and uncertainty weighed heavy on his mind as he made the attempt, and the energy would not break for him. A burst of flame was all that came, knocking him backwards.
"Very few Firebenders can successfully bend lightning, Zuko," Iroh explained. "Do not be discouraged."
Zuko nodded, but inside he was afraid. The power of the lightning scared him. He knew how destructive it could be, how dangerous...and he wasn't certain he could control it.
Cadence stepped up to attempt. She tried shaping it with her hooves, and the energy divided. However, she was unable perform the proper movements in their entirety, and she fell over, the lightning discharging around her and into the ground. Iroh attempted to rush to her side, but he found himself stumbling, not yet fully recovered. Zuko was immediately at his side, holding him up.
"I had it!" Cadence pouted. "I'm certain I had it there...but I couldn't do the motions!"
Iroh frowned as he sat down beside her. "You had the right mindset, and could control the energy. But if you can't complete the motions..."
"What if you used your wings?" Zuko offered. "Using your wingtips to guide the energy of the lightning."
Cadence tilted her head. "Well...maybe...but I can't thrust with my wings..."
"What if you guided the energy to the tip of your horn?" Jong suggested. "You can use the energy you generate there to influence bending. What if you held the lightning in that energy, and thrust it in the direction you want it to go?"
Iroh thought about all that had been suggested and all he knew of Cadence's abilities. "It could be dangerous," he pointed out. "If you can't hold the lightning there, it could arc back down your horn and into your brain. You could die instantly."
Cadence frowned thoughtfully. "I...I don't think that will happen," she stated calmly. "I...want to try." Moving a distance away, she spread her wings wide.
Bringing one wing up, she brought it down in a wide curve, the energy splitting before her. Her other wing came up, guiding the other arc. Bringing the two arcs together, she guided the energy to her horn, where it gathered and held. Taking aim with her horn, she willed the lightning to leap.
The peal of thunder knocked Iroh off his feet as the lightning flashed across the sky. "Well..." he admitted, staring at Cadence, whose horn wasn't even smoking as his own hand did when he released lightning, "that worked very-"
Another bolt of lightning leapt from Cadence's horn, this one smaller but more controlled, and not even involving the separation of the energies. Her eyes were closed as she fired off two more. "My...my magic..." she began. "It...it followed the shape of the lightning..."
Jong stared. "Correct me if I'm wrong," he began, "but does this mean she can fire a certain number of smaller, more controllable lightning bolts instantly?"
"Sure seems that way," Zuko admitted.
"Then what do you need us for?" Zhin asked, his voice a little strained.
"Your rapier wits and sparkling personalities?" Iroh offered a bit hesitantly himself.
While Zuko attempted to generate his own lightning a few more times, Iroh went over what he'd recorded about Cadence's abilities. The ability to generate lightning like that was certainly new, and he wanted to have an explanation before he taught Zuko how to redirect lightning. After all, Cadence's smaller lightning bolts would be perfect for him to attempt it with - especially as she could make them as small as she wanted - but only if they actually could be redirected.
Over the course of her bending lessons, Cadence had - on occasion - found ways to create a bending result without bending. This happened most frequently when she attempted to use the energies from her horn in her bending, and finding ways to duplicate that feat with the energy alone. Wan Shi Tong had referred to her energy as 'magic', and those 'magic' techniques as 'spells'. From the looks of things, Cadence had learned from bending lightning how to cast a 'lightning spell'.
All his past records indicated that the 'spells', once cast, were indistinguishable from bending as far as the energy of the world was concerned. In theory, the same should hold true for the new 'lightning spell'. However, lightning was incredibly dangerous. Even the smaller bolts could cause serious harm. Still, Zuko would want to be sure he could actually do the technique. Iroh would have to test if the 'lightning spell' could be redirected himself.
Coming to this conclusion, he stepped out to where Zuko was practicing just in time to see Cadence hurl a small lightning spell at Zuko, only for him to catch it on his right hand. He then used his left hand in the proper motions to guide the lightning down to his stomach and out his other hand, up into the air.
"Wonderful!" Cadence praised. "And do you understand why I made you practice the motions so many times, and only used thesmallest lightning bolt to test it with?"
Zuko nodded, swallowing a bit nervously. "Yeah...that was..." His voice trailed off, plainly at a loss for words.
Or Cadence could teach him the technique and have determined the spell could be redirected herself, Iroh thought ruefully, having forgotten Cadence was there when he developed the technique.