Iroh was amazed at how quickly Cadence was developing. She was plainly an expressive child from the moment he'd met her, but she'd started talking before his boat ever reached the Earth Kingdom's shore. Her first word had been 'Daddy!' calling out to him as she pointed to the fish leaping from the waves, demanding he tell her what they were. Iroh had happily spent the remainder of the voyage telling her all he knew about the sea, its creatures, and its moods. By the time they'd made landfall, Iroh had moved on to talking about the land and the sky, and Cadence was speaking in broken sentences.
It was not long after their landfall as they shared an ostrich horse mount that Cadence began asking questions about the various things Iroh had brought with him. While her questions were broken, their meaning was easy to decipher, especially as she was somehow able to levitate the various objects she had questions about. Iroh happily explained each item, its purpose and significance, as they progressed.
It was as they stopped to camp for the night that Cadence pulled out something to question that put a wide smile on Iroh's face. "Daddy," she asked, pulling out two boxes full of circular tiles and a large rolled parchment, "what's this?"
Smiling widely, Iroh unrolled the parchment, weighing the corners down with stones. "This, Cadence, is Pai Sho," he explained. "An ancient game that holds many secrets. While frequently played to gamble or merely to while away the hours, it holds much more significance for those who dedicate themselves to what can be learned from it."
"A game?" Cadence asked eagerly. "Something we can play together?" She eagerly thrust one of the boxes of tiles at Iroh. "Teach me Daddy? Please?" She turned her most adorable pleading look his way.
Iroh couldn't help but chuckle. "Of course, Cadence," he replied. "I would be happy to teach you, and share this game's secrets with you." Opening the boxes, he proceeded to explain the various intricacies of the game, showing the ways it could be played.
A few weeks into their journey together, Cadence started trying to take over some of the chores as they traveled. Despite having the option of staying at any inn along the way - Ozai had sent them with plenty of money, both Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom currency - Iroh felt that attempting to commune with the Spirits worked better in the wilderness than in a village inn. Not to say he never stopped at the inns, though. Not only did Cadence desire a warm bath and soft bed every so often, but occasionally Iroh desired some pleasant company beyond just Cadence...although Cadence seemed especially good at drawing that sort of company for him. After one particular stay at an inn, when six ladies of varying ages converged on him and Cadence - cooing over her and sending him gazes of varying degrees of surprisingly pleasant intensities - Iroh began watching Cadence's horn whenever they entered an inn. Not that he assumed she was using her Spirit Magic to draw such company, but he also wouldn't put it past her, considering how overjoyed she was with the good mood he had after such encounters.
Given Cadence's current size, the only chore she was really able to do at this point when on the trail was the cooking, and she went to it with a will. She had yet to master brewing a good cup of tea, so Iroh still took care of that while she learned. He had to admit, though, watching her stir the pot while occasionally bending down to blow on the flames beneath was adorable.
It was during one such time, however, that Iroh discovered something surprising. As he stirred the tea, he heard a woosh of flame behind him, followed by Cadence's startled squeak.
"Daddy!" she called out. "Daddy, I think I burned my tongue!"
Setting the tea aside, he quickly spun to check on her. Holding the filly up, he examined her tongue and mouth. "I do not see a burn," he murmured.
"Bu I bea faia!" Cadence pointed out as he held her mouth open.
"You did what?" he asked, releasing her mouth.
"I breathed fire!" she replied, looking somewhat freaked out, not that he could blame her.
She pointed to the fire under the dinner pot. "I was just stoking the fire the way I've seen you do," she pointed out. "Then fire came out of my mouth all woosh!" She waved her forehooves, tracing an imaginary path of flames in front of her mouth.
Iroh frowned, raising an eyebrow. "Did it hurt?"
Cadence blinked. "Umm...only when I fell on my butt in shock," she admitted.
"I'm sorry I missed that," Iroh joked. "Can you show me?"
"But my butt still hurts!" Cadence whimpered.
"Not the fall," Iroh corrected, petting her head. "What you did that led to you breathing fire."
Nodding, Cadence braced herself in front of the pot, leaning her head down to be staring into the flames. She took a deep breath, then exhaled, sending her breath into the flames. She repeated this action several times.
Iroh, for his part, stared in wonder. Each time she inhaled, the flames shrank. Each time she exhaled, they flared up. If this visual demonstration wasn't enough, he could feel the way she was shaping the energies all unawares. Somehow by watching him, she had mastered the most basic fundamental of Fire Bending: the breath of flames.
When one particularly deep breath caused the flames under the pot to reduce almost to embers, the massive exhale rode a sheet of flames, though Cadence yelped again in the middle, falling backwards in shock. She then looked up at Iroh in confusion as he began to applaud.
"Well done, young one!" he said happily. "Well done! You have quite the talent for fire bending. I never would have thought a Spirit Creature would bend as humans do."
Cadence tilted her head. "But...but I saw the soldiers bending fire when they sailed us over the sea," she pointed out. "None of them breathed fire..."
Iroh grinned widely. "That particular technique is one very few fire benders have mastered," he explained.
"How few?" she asked eagerly.
Iroh took a deep breath, put his clenched hands to his chest close to his chin, and opened his mouth wide. A roar of flames leapt from his mouth, which he swept back and forth before him for a time. When the flames stopped, he smiled down at Cadence. "If you learn to control it so it happens when you want it to instead of on its own...two. This technique is one of the reasons I am called the Dragon of the West!"
Cadence stared up at Iroh, her eyes shining. "Please teach me?" she pleaded.
Iroh chuckled. "It would be a pleasure. After dinner."
Gasping, Cadence quickly rushed to the pot, checking on the contents. To her relief, it had suffered no harm due to the surges of flame.
After dinner, Iroh began the lessons. "The power of fire begins with the breath of life..."
Cadence's lessons in fire bending progressed rapidly. Iroh was constantly astounded at how easily the concepts behind fire bending were absorbed into her mind...and even more pleased at how readily she took the lessons of controlling it to heart. Every other night on the road, they would continue lessons, Cadence eagerly gobbling up everything he could teach her. On those nights they didn't study, they would play Pai Sho together.
During their journey, Iroh had noticed that Cadence would frequently seem to know things about what they encountered with no logical explanation. The best she could say sometimes was that the object in question 'remembered'. She generally gained this insight when holding an object in her Spirit Aura, the pale blue light that extended from her horn.
One night, however, the true extent of what she could learn this way caught Iroh completely off guard. As they sat down to play Pai Sho, he noticed that she had accidentally taken a different tile box than usual...specifically, the one he used when greeting other members of the Order, with the White Lotus piece right on top. As Iroh ruminated a bit on that and prepared his pieces, Cadence stared at the tile for a time. Her eyes seemed to unfocus for a bit...and then she took the tile in question and placed it right in the center of the makeshift board.
Iroh's eyes nearly popped out of his head as he saw this. He knew he hadn't taught her this. "I see you favor the White Lotus gambit," he found himself saying without even thinking about it. "Not many still cling to the ancient ways."
As he wondered what had made him give the ritual response to identify a member of the Order, Cadence stared up at him. Her mouth worked for a time as though she were trying to remember something. "Those who do can always find a friend," she said at last.
Iroh's eyebrows tried to climb into his thinning hair. "Then let us play," he replied, deciding to see just how much of this ritual Cadence somehow knew.
As Iroh placed his pieces, Cadence quickly placed hers in response, though she looked almost confused as she did so, as though she weren't entirely certain why she was doing it. However, if her eyes were uncertain, her movements weren't. Before long, the pieces were all in place, and he pulled his hand back as Cadence withdrew her hoof. A lotus pattern covered the board. "Welcome, sister," Iroh intoned ritualistically. "The White Lotus opens wide to those who know its secrets."
Cadence stared up at him, her confusion now much more apparent. "Daddy...what is this? What does that mean? What is this pattern? Why...why do the tiles remember you doing it? And those words?"
Iroh smiled softly. Cadence showed an eagerness to learn about the world around her, and she was born of the Spirit World. Plainly, for her to guide him, he would first have to guide her. He would not refuse the guidance of the Spirits, that they give her the keys to his secrets. "Cadence, let me tell you about the Order of the White Lotus..."