Cadence made her way back to where she and her Father were supposed to meet up after foraging for supplies. "I think I've hit on a problem with following Zuko so close," she commented as she spotted Iroh. "He, Jong, and Zhin have already foraged everything edible from the path."
"But they didn't take this," Iroh whispered as he stared at a brightly colored flower, a brillinat mix of red, white, and yellow. "You're looking at the rare white dragon bush. It's leaves make a tea so delicious, it's heartbreaking!"
Cadence stared at the flower, thinking back to what she'd read. "It might also be the white jade bush, which is deadly poisonous," she countered. "There's no real way to tell."
"Except by brewing it," Iroh indicated.
Cadence turned to stare at him flat eyed. "No."
"Did you forget we're trying to keep track of Zuko? Even if it is what you think, we don't have time to brew tea."
Iroh sighed. "You are right. How was the fishing?"
"Not too well," Cadence replied. "We should probably step up our journey to the next village and hope we can get food there."
Zuko groaned as the young lady healer worked to apply the medicine. "You must not be from around here," she said, her voice gently chiding. "Most of us know not to touch the white jade."
"I just had to try and make tea like Uncle..." he groaned, the rash across his body unpleasant. He managed to glare over at Jong and Zhin, who were snickering at him.
"So where are you three from?" she asked softly.
"It's been so long, I don't remember the name," Jong supplied.
"The three of us are wanderers," Zhin added.
"Oh?" the healer spoke up excitedly. "What are your names?"
"I am Jong," Jong spoke up. "This is my brother Zhin. Your patient is Zuzu, our slow witted cousin."
"Hate you so much," Zuko growled under his breath, much to Jong and Zhin's amusement. When the healer reached for his scar, he stopped her. "That's...not from the tea..."
"Oh, sorry," she added softly. "My name is San. You three look hungry. Perhaps you could stay for dinner?"
"We'd be delighted," Jong replied quickly, wanting to conserve supplies.
"If it wouldn't be too much of an imposition," Zhin added.
"Quite alright," San replied. "My Mom always makes too much roast duck."
It was as she said this that Zuko realized that she was actually younger than he was, though not by much. He decided that it would be best if they didn't stick around too long...and he was going to keep his mouth shut. He could always blame his silence on discomfort, and Jong and Zhin seemed to have the situation under control.
As the trio left later that night once Zuko was fully recovered, Zuko himself was lost in thought. Hearing San's story about what happened to them, of how the Fire Nation had destroyed their town and lives, seeing the scars on her leg...
"You alright, Zuko?" Jong asked.
"Yeah," Zuko replied. "Just...thinking."
"Good on you," Zhin complimented. "You're the brains of this outfit."
"You two seemed to have things under control back there," he countered.
"Just because you weren't up to speaking," Jong replied. "Do you still hate me?"
"Of course not," Zuko replied, walking ahead of them both. "I'm sure the herbs in your canteen are there by coincidence and havenothing to do with you calling me your slow witted cousin."
Jong paused, staring at his canteen. "...herbs?"
"They're harmless...mostly," Zuko replied. In truth, the herbs were harmless, doing nothing but adding a bit of flavor, but Jong's face right at that moment was more than enough petty revenge as far as Zuko was concerned. Besides, it made the point that, even if they weren't going to listen about letting him go alone, he was still in charge.
Zhin, at least, seemed to appreciate that, if his laughter was anything to judge by.
Mai sat at her desk, quill in hand, as she looked down at her scroll. It had been a while since she'd heard from Zuko, though she was pretty certain she knew why. However, she felt she needed to write to him now, and a bit more than she normally did. Dipping the quill in the ink, she began to write.
You haven't sent me anything in a long time. I'm pretty sure it's because you've been declared traitor, and it probably has something to do with Azula. I know you would never actually betray the Fire Nation. You're too dedicated to your duty. So you probably didn't write to me because you were afraid Azula would get me branded a collaborator.
You needn't bother at any rate. I haven't been back in the Fire Nation since Omashu was captured. Father was made governor of Omashu, which means I'm stuck here now. It's boring.
Admittedly, last night was pretty interesting. The Earthbending rebels tried to kill me, but someone else saved me. Based on how you've described them, I think it might have been the Avatar and his friends. I'm not going to say anything, though. I don't have any interest there, beyond it being less boring here.
However, I've received word that the Royal Procession is approaching. That means Azula's going to be here soon. Don't write me back, the less she knows about this the better. Even my parents don't know we can communicate like this. Ty Lee's the only one who knows, and I've sworn her to secrecy on pain of what Azula would classify as mercy.
I don't know why Azula's coming here, but there's a chance she might want my help hunting you down. She'll probably phrase it as 'proving my loyalty'. If that's the case, I'll get Ty Lee's help feeding you whatever information I can this way. Don't worry, I won't put myself at risk.
If you get yourself killed, I won't forgive you.
Giving the scroll a spritz of her favorite perfume - the only kind she wore, since it was a gift from Zuko and selected by Cadence - she rolled it up and slipped it into the Heartfire pouch, as she called the message delivery system. As she closed it and hid it back under her clothes, she heard the alarm bells. Stepping outside, she heard from a soldier that the city was apparently infested with 'the pentapox'. She hid her own amusement.
Perhaps life would be interesting soon after all.