As Kuei entered his throne room, he did his best to calm his beating heart. Ever since Bosco's birthday party, something had come to his attention that he knew he had to deal with. However, a bit of logic applied had shown him that doing so would involve a direct confrontation with Long Feng, who had practically raised him. He hadn't been sure he would be able to do it. However, a few days of practice with and reassurance from Cadence the creature spirit left him with a plan that should work. The key would be gentle persuasion and 'innocent' inquiry.
As Long Feng entered to present the day's business, Kuei spoke up. "Long Feng...the Avatar was at Bosco's birthday party, wasn't he?"
Long Feng blinked, surprised. "Your Majesty?"
"The boy who bent Air and Water, the one with the Airbending tattoos," Kuei explained. "I heard everyone call him the Avatar. Why wasn't I made aware he'd come to visit our glorious city?"
Long Feng smiled. "You've been very busy, Your Majesty," Long Feng explained. "I'm sure the Avatar understands the weight of responsibility."
"Likely," Kuei agreed, deliberately giving ground in the argument. "Though I'm surprised he hasn't made an appointment to see me, if only for the courtesy."
Long Feng was caught off guard, but he rallied gamely. "Well, he is a child," he allowed. "His understanding of politics and proper social behavior is obviously not that of an adult."
"Then perhaps we can spare an hour today to indulge this child?" Kuei suggested, doing his best not to visibly sweat. "I think I can forgo my time in the garden today to learn what brings the Avatar to our fair city. Surely, it must be of great importance." Seeing Long Feng preparing a counter argument, he knew this was the moment Cadence had mentioned, when he'd have to exert the authority that was actually his. Steeling himself, he spoke before Long Feng could. "Do see to it the Avatar and his friends arrive timely today, Long Feng," he stated firmly. "If nothing else, I would like to ask about his Sky Bison. I saw it just this morning flying over the city. Quite a lovely creature, wouldn't you say?"
Long Feng looked completely off guard, but he eventually bowed respectfully. "By your command, my liege." With that, he turned and left the throne room.
Kuei sighed in relief as Long Feng left, slumping back in his throne. As Bosco nuzzled him, he managed a smile. "She was right," he murmured, petting the bear's head. "As...terrifying as that was...it felt good."
Aang was beginning to get very suspicious of events. While he knew he should be overjoyed about Appa returning under his own power, and the reveal that their appointment with the Earth King had been moved up...he couldn't help but feel something was off. Especially since Long Feng was conspicuously absent.
"You're worrying too much, Twinkletoes," Toph stated bluntly, punching him lightly on the arm.
"Up until recently, you were against everything here in Ba Sing Se," Sokka pointed out defensively. "Why the sudden change?"
"Let's just say I recognize a certain someone's touch on events, alright?" Toph offered. "As long as we don't mess anything up, we've got this in the bag."
"So Sokka shouldn't talk then?" Katara joked.
"Hey!" Sokka complained as the whole group - even Momo and Appa - snickered.
Kuei sat up straight on his throne as the Avatar and his group explained their mission. It was, to say the least, hard to swallow. While this was the second mention of the war he'd heard, the idea that it had been going on for 100 years and all mention of it had been kept from him was difficult to believe. "You are the Avatar," Kuei stated softly. "My training as a King says I should heed your words. My chief adviser, however, gives me reason to doubt your words. Not only that, you claim he is the head of some sort of conspiracy deliberately preventing me from learning of the war. ...were it my father on the throne, he would likely have you all thrown in jail just for suggesting such a thing."
Seeing the group getting nervous, Kuei sat back. "However, Bosco likes you, which gives me reason to pause. So here is what we'll do. I will give you one chance to prove to me both that the war is real, and that it is an immediate and real threat to this city. You may take me anywhere within the city limits to do so, accompanied at all times by Long Feng, Bosco, and three Dai Lee agents. I will look at whatever you direct, or talk to whoever you introduce me to. You have one hour to do this. If, at the end of the hour, I am convinced of your words, I will hear all you have to say. If not, you will all take up residence in the dungeons." He looked down at the group. "Or you can leave without attempting, and I will forget that any issue was raised. It's your choice."
The Avatar huddled with his friends in discussion, and then turned back to Kuei, swallowing convulsively. "We'll take our chances, Your Earthiness."
Kuei smiled at the misspoken title. "Alright. Where to first?"
"The outer wall!" the member of the group who wasn't a Bender proclaimed.
"How do you expect to get the Earth King there in under an hour?" Long Feng demanded.
"We can ride Appa!" the Avatar offered, much to Kuei's delighted pleasure.
Cadence and Iroh watched over Zuko carefully as the illness wracked his body. Jin had already been over several times to find out if his condition had improved at all. While Iroh gave glowing endorsements of Zuko's steady improvement, Cadence knew better. All she had to do to see the nature of Zuko's ailment was astral project.
Within his body, his spirit was at war with itself. Whatever he had done that had led Appa to deliver him safely to them, it had broken something deep within him, and as a result his very soul was a storm of destruction. His psyche made war upon itself as his soul continued to spiral out of control. And the worst part as far as Cadence could tell...she had power that could do something.
She could act, try to help him through this, and it might save him. But she had no idea how to use that power, and could just as easily destroy him. And if she didn't act, he might destroy himself.
As she curled up beside him, she could only pray he would recover.
As the morning sun rose, Cadence found Zuko laying across his writing desk. He looked to be doing better, but a quick projection showed her that the conflict inside him had only subsided, not ended. The conflict could only be resolved by his choices from this day forth...and one had been made.
Climbing up onto the desk, she saw several crumpled pieces of parchment, an empty inkwell...and the Heartfire pouch sitting open. She sighed sadly, nuzzling him.
He'd sent a letter.