Not long after the storm, Pakku declared that Cadence's control of water was as good as she was likely to get it under him, stating that she would learn better at this point through practice and self study. Thanking Pakku for his assistance, Iroh and Cadence made their way across the ocean towards the Earth Nation.
"I must say, your Waterbending control is most impressive now," Iroh stated calmly as their little boat zoomed across the sea faster than most birds could fly. "I can only hope we can find some way to teach you to control your air. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to find an Air Bender in this day and age..."
"Don't worry about it, Father!" Cadence cried happily, flapping her wings steadily to speed the boat along atop the water. "Tui and La gave me directions to someone who should be able to help me learn Airbending, as long as I approach him correctly!"
"You don't say?" Iroh called back, clutching his hat to his head as the boat sped up. "And where can we find this mysterious teacher?"
"The door to his home is in the Great Southern Desert!" Cadence shouted. "I'll have to practice sand bending a bit - shouldn't be too difficult, since flowing sand's a lot like flowing water - but I should get us there rather easily and quickly!"
"That will be interesting to see!" Iroh yelled, lowering his head. "As long as we have a proper shield against stray sand! What is the name of this mysterious teacher, anyway? And where does he live?"
"His name's Wan Shi Tong!" Cadence shouted back, her voice returning to normal as they reached the shore. "And he lives in a library! Doesn't that sound exciting?"
Iroh did his best to suppress the sudden surge of terror inside him. He knew the name of Wan Shi Tong...and of his library. It was rather large in the story of Sozen and Rokku. "Yes...quite exciting..."
Cadence had insisted on bringing the boat the Northern Water Benders had gifted them with all the way to the desert. At first, Iroh had assumed it was a sentimentality point, that she didn't like leaving behind a gift. However, her words about bending sand being like bending water in earth proved to be quite true, as she was able to curl the sand around the boat in twin miniature dust devils - one to either side - pushing the boat along over the surface of the desert quite rapidly.
Iroh smiled as he relaxed in the boat. "Quite an efficient mode of transit, I must say," he admitted. "Though are you certain you know where you're going?"
"I'm certain," Cadence confirmed, her horn glowing as she controlled the sand with wings and forelegs. "Tui and La gave me...a sense of the library's spiritual signature. I'm following that sense to find it."
After a time, the boat came to a halt. "I don't see any library," Iroh pointed out, looking around. "Just a fox...with a scroll in its mouth?"
Cadence smiled, beckoning the fox over. "That's one of Wan Shi Tong's Knowledge Seekers. They gather books, scrolls, and other knowledge for him." The fox approached carefully. "If I give you a lift back to the library, will you guide me there?" she asked kindly.
The fox tilted its head in thought, then nodded, hopping into the front of the boat. It then pointed its nose forward, guiding Cadence as she once more sent the boat to moving. As the fox pointed them to a high tower, Cadence shaped the sand into a ramp to the top, lowering them all slowly into the building below.
Shortly after they settled down and the Knowledge Seeker had run off, while Iroh and Cadence were marveling at the architecture and sheer size of the library, a massive black owl with a white face walked up behind them. "Human," he stated bluntly, "you should leave immediately the way you came. Humans are no longer welcome in my study."
Iroh swallowed convulsively as he and Cadence turned to face the creature. Cadence spoke up first, however. "You are Wan Shi Tong?" she asked. "Keeper of the Library of Knowledge, he who knows 10,000 things?"
Wan Shi Tong blinked in surprise. "I am he. You are well versed in my identity, especially for one who is not of the world up above."
Cadence smiled as Iroh stared in surprise. "I am Cadence," she replied, bowing respectfully. "Tui and La suggested you might be able to provide to me the means to learn to control my suspected Airbending ability, before the power controlled me, so I would hurt no others."
"I am aware of all the forms of Airbending," Wan Shi Tong replied. "And your claimed motives are more noble than that of most humans. I brought my library to the human world so they could better themselves...but with rare exception, humans only use knowledge to get an edge on each other. As such, I have banned their presence in my library unless they can prove themselves true scholars...with a contribution."
Iroh smiled, stepping forward. "I am Iroh, of the Order of the White Lotus," he said with a gentle bow.
"Ah, the Order," Wan Shi Tong replied, his voice...mildly more pleasant. "Their ideals are in tune with the proper use of knowledge...though that's no guarantee that every member will live up to the ideals. What have you to contribute?"
Iroh took some scrolls from his bag. "As you said, Cadence is not a creature of the human world. I have never seen the like of her before. In raising her, I have kept a record of her growth and abilities." He unrolled the scrolls to show the detailed writings and illustrations.
"Ah!" Wan Shi Tong breathed happily. "A true artist's hand in those images, and flawless calligraphy in the writing. Truly a scholar's touch. And you wrote these yourself?" Not waiting for an answer, he collected the scrolls with a wave of his wing. "It will be a pleasure to have a scholar of your caliber perusing my shelves. Perhaps while Cadence seeks her own lessons, we can discuss a few things."
Iroh bowed with a smile. "It would be no greater pleasure for me than to while away what hours I will have discussing with you, Wan Shi Tong," he replied with relief.
"I know the reason for your nervousness," Wan Shi Tong stated bluntly. "I don't hold the actions of your ancestor or your countryman who visited not long ago against you personally. I hold it against all of humanity in general." He then turned to Cadence. "So tell me, young other worlder...what have you to contribute to my stores of knowledge?"
Cadence stared up at Wan Shi Tong for a time...then smiled. Focusing her magic, she gathered matter in the air before her from the very dust upon the shelves, weaving it together until it took shape as a white lotus in full bloom.
"Interesting," the Knowledge Spirit replied. "A most unique form of creation."
"That isn't the knowledge I offer," Cadence pointed out, levitating the flower to him. "This flower holds a secret...one that cannot be taught, only learned."
Wan Shi Tong smirked. "You propose a challenge for me, then? Very well, then I propose my challenge in return. You have until I discover the secret of which you speak to study here, in timeless time. After which, you must leave."
"Agreed," Cadence replied.
"In the meantime, my assistants will provide an area in which you can practice the skills you seek," Wan Shi Tong stated. "I'll stop by from time to time with pointers."
"My thanks, noble spirit," Cadence replied happily.
The Knowledge Seekers provided a wide open area for Cadence to practice her bending in, as well as bringing the Airbending scrolls for her and Iroh to study. Iroh watched Cadence's progress carefully, studying the movements both to help her learn and to see how the various forms of bending could further interact. After all, he'd discovered how to redirect lightning by studying Waterbending. Who knew what Airbending would teach him?
At the end of each day while they were in the library, Wan Shi Tong would return from his studies of the blossom that Cadence had created for him, and speak of what he'd divined from his study of the flower. Cadence was surprised that he discovered that she'd crafted it immune to the ravages of time on the first night, but was quick to inform him that it wasn't the secret. At the end of each recital of learning, she would always respond the same. "Is that all?"
Iroh was somewhat concerned that she was pushing Wan Shi Tong more than she should, but he always accepted it with good grace. While Cadence rested, the spirit took the time to talk about her with Iroh, as well as adding anything new from his observations to the scrolls he had donated.
During one such night, Iroh asked a question that had been bothering him. "You referred to Cadence as 'other worlder'," he pointed out. "I was under the impression she was a spirit creature."
Wan Shi Tong shook his head. "No. She is not born of the spirit realm, nor tied to any of the spirits. Her ability to manipulate all four Elements should have told you that. Even the Spirits cannot command all of nature, and the Avatar's ability to do so is both unique and unstable. Had Wan and Raava not merged to create the Avatar Spirit, even the Avatar would not be able to do so...and that power can be easily broken if one knows how. However, Cadence is not of your world. Her life energy has a natural connection to the power of the Elements that has nothing to do with how human spirits and life forces have been shaped for bending. What she does is not true bending in terms of how the energy interacts."
"I see..." Iroh stroked his beard in thought. "I will have to edit the scrolls, then..."
"Already taken care of," Wan Shi Tong replied.
Towards the end of the second week of study, Cadence and Iroh were surprised as Wan Shi Tong turned up towards the end of the day. Unlike before, when he'd merely carried the flower in a wing or left it behind, it was set gently in a small basin of water, balanced on a cushion carried by four Knowledge Seekers. Iroh was confused by this, but Cadence seemed to be smiling.
"I have spent the past day in 100 years of timeless time, studying this flower," Wan Shi Tong proclaimed. "There is no secret. You have lied to me."
"Perhaps you merely haven't studied it in the right way?" Cadence suggested. "Why don't I burn it and let you study the ashes?" She gathered flames at the tip of her right wing.
Wan Shi Tong lunged forward, placing himself between Cadence and the flower, wings spread wide and aggressively, neck extended as he shrieked his defiance in her face. "You will not harm that flower!" he roared.
Iroh stared in shock, his heart beating rapidly in fear. However, Cadence stared Wan Shi Tong down. "Tsk, tsk," she scolded. "So much fuss over a simple flower? It's just a blossom."
"It is not just a blossom!" Wan Shi Tong shrieked. "It is dear to me!"
"Dear?" Cadence asked curiously.
"I love the flower!" Wan Shi Tong raved. "I will not allow its destruction!"
The tableau sat in silence for a time, until Wan Shi Tong noticed Cadence's soft smile. "Did it truly take you a century to admit your affection for this gentle, fragile thing?" she asked softly, chidingly as she levitated the flower before the owl's eyes. "Tell me...when was the last time you admitted affection for a living thing?"
Wan Shi Tong stared as he slowly withdrew into himself. "...quite some time," he admitted finally. "I had...forgotten what it felt like...to care for something other than knowledge. I had...forgotten I could..."
"I could see that spark of compassion inside you still, though," Cadence pointed out. She set the flower behind Wan Shi Tong's left ear, braced there by his own flesh and feathers. "I couldn't bear to see your heart die."
Wan Shi Tong was silent for a time, reaching a wing feather up to gently stroke the flower. "So the knowledge you contribute to my collection...is knowledge of myself?"
Cadence smiled softly. "Is that acceptable?"
More silence greeted her query, but he eventually nodded. "It is a gift of knowledge...that is beyond price." He turned away. "I have changed my mind. So long as my rules are obeyed, you and your kindred may utilize my library to learn, so long as it remains in the physical world."
Cadence bowed her thanks.