When the trip started, Shyu resolved that he was going to make the best of this whole mess. No, it wasn’t his old school. But it still had a student council. And clubs. And all the other things Shyu was looking forward to. Besides, his parents did have at least one point straight. This far away from Republic City, maybe the news about the spirit portal attack wouldn’t haunt him so much.
So he thought, anyway. One the crewmen on the ship walked over and whispered, “So? Is it true?”
Shyu winced. “Is what true?”
“Did a giant cater-lynx spirit really swallow three people at the coronation?”
He reached over to help Mica with her bags. Or at least, he tried to. When lifted the nearest bag, it, it nearly yanked his arm halfway out of the socket. He tried again, cautious, with both hands this time. He was able to carry the bag along, but it wasn’t an easy feat.
Mica glanced over at him. “Hey, not that I don’t appreciate the help, but be careful with that,” she said. “Record players break easily.”
He had to have heard her wrong. “You’ve got…a record player in here?”
“Sure,” she said with a shrug. “How else am I supposed to listen to my tunes?”
She said it so matter-of-factly that for a second, Shyu actually thought her logic made perfect sense. Then he shook the stupid out of his head. “Hang on. You know my aunt has a player of her own, right?”
“Wasn’t sure at the time I packed, though. Couldn’t take the risk.”
Shyu could think of a million responses to that, but none he was willing to say aloud, so he contented himself with stepping aside and letting Mica carry her own important stuff. He did grab one of her clothing bags, though. As he plopped it onto the desk and walked down to see if there was anything else left to take on board, he noticed his parents were no longer standing on the dock. Instead, the only one there was Kaja, arms crossed and gleaming with his typical aren’t-I-so-important smile.
“Where’s…” Shyu began, pointing to the empty space.
“Mom and Dad?” Kaja finished. “I told them you get crazy seasick and if they didn’t rush down to the store and get some ginger-fizz right away that you’d be puking all the way to Aunt Zarah’s place.
Shyu rolled his eyes. “Gee, thanks.”
“Oh, get over yourself. I wanted them to leave because you need to hear something. Mom’s never going to tell you and if Dad ever tells you, it’s going to come out sounding stupid.”
For as much as Shyu hated to enable Kaja’s ego, he was too intrigued to tell him to get lost. Kaja never insulted their father, for one thing. For another, if he had a secret, he tended to hold it over Shyu’s head in constant mockery, not offer to tell him freely.
“Okay,” Shyu said hesitantly, stepping down onto the dock himself. “Talk, then.”
Kaja didn’t speak right away. Instead, he leaned against a wooden pole and gave a long sigh like talking to Shyu was both the hardest and most annoying thing he’d ever had to do over his lifetime. “Where to start on this,” he said, running his hands over his short, perfect hair. “Grandma told you about her dad, right?”
“About his bloodbending, you mean? Yeah, she clued me in.”
“She tell you how it got started?”
Shyu shrugged. “She just said that that Firelord Zuko got bloodbending from the Avatar,” he said, not really comfortable with where this was going. Finding out he had bloodbending in his family line was bad enough; he didn’t want to hear about whatever weird, power-obsessed reasons his great-grandfather might have had for acquiring it.
“Yeah,” Kaja said. “But did she tell you why?”
Shyu opened his mouth to make a retort, then he realized he’d stormed off before his grandmother had actually gotten the chance to explain that detail.
“Great-grandfather never talked about it much. His bending was so good, you’d never think about it. But there’d be times you could tell. He’d be more tired on days when the moon was thin. If he cut his hand or arm or whatever, he’d never react to the pain; he’d just sense there was an injury and seal the cut. When Kiki was a baby, every time he held her, he’d hold her close to his face.”
“Um… not seeing how those things are related,” Shyu said, feeling even more foolish. All those things were true, now that he thought about them, but he’d always just pushed them off as odd quirks, never anything connected.
“You’re such an idiot sometimes,” Kaja said, brushing his bangs aside. “Great-grandfather didn’t want more power. He just wanted his life to be the same as it was before his sister attacked him.”
Shyu’s jaw slackened. He knew he must have looked like an idiot. He also wondered if his brother was getting some odd sort of pleasure about making him feel this stupid, rubbing it in his face that the crown prince had obviously been privy to all sorts of family secrets while Shyu was left in the dark. But as much as he wanted to tell Kaja to shut up and go away, he also wanted to know the truth about his family’s past. All of it. It must have read on his face, too.
“Sit down,” Kaja said, shaking his head. “I’ll tell you the whole story.”
Shyu’s parents came back about ten minutes later, stocked with more ginger-fizz than even the most seasick person could use in a lifetime. They hugged him, kissed him, explained how this was all for the best, and didn’t notice for one second the strange lack of tension between their two sons. It wasn’t to say that Shyu liked Kaja now, or even respected him. But still, his brother had shared something with him that no one else in the family had. He was thankful for that. Kaja still needed someone to punch his self-obsessed attitude down to size, but for the one favor he’d done, Shyu was thankful.
He also needed some alone time on the boat to process everything. Whenever anyone from the crew asked if he needed anything, he pulled out his best don’t-bother-me tone as he told them he was just fine, thank you for asking. He also avoided the room where Mica was staying. He worried at first he might be insulting her or something, then he heard a loud snore as he snuck past her door.
With everyone out of his hair, Shyu went to his own room and stared out the tiny porthole at the endless sheet of water.
So what if Great-Grandfather needed bloodbending? he thought. Grandma Izumi doesn’t need it. She could have decided never to use it. And why did Mom and Dad never tell me? Were they worried that I could have it, too?
He placed his hand against the porthole window, closing and widening the fingers. They didn’t feel like hands that had any power behind them, certainly not the power of the most feared types of benders of all time. For a split second, Shyu felt disappointed at the thought. Then he felt angry at himself for being disappointed. Bloodbending was dangerous, both for the user and whoever their target was. Better to have no bending at all than to have bending like that.
Exactly what Dad would want me to say, Shyu thought. He sighed, lowered his hand, then looked at the bed sitting temptingly behind him. Maybe Mica had the better idea, after all.
Some hours later, the boat let out a low, loud whine as it pulled into the Hira’a Harbor. The steps were lowered, and several sailors stood ready to help Mica with her unnecessary number of bags. As Shyu watched them from the deck above, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, a strong hand clapped him on the back.
“Don’t like doing the princess thing much, but I’ve gotta admit, having the extra help is nice sometimes.”
“Hi, Aunt Maura,” Shyu replied. Unlike Mica and the crew, his aunt avoided him on the ride here. Another small favor. It wasn’t that he didn’t like her; it was more that he had nothing to say. Dad had done a decent job of making sure his royal highness’s embarrassing younger sister interacted with the family as little as possible.
Aunt Zarah smiled, warm and sympathetic. “Listen, I know you kids had no interest in coming to stay with me, so I’m gonna try to give you your space.” Just then, her grip on Shyu’s shoulder got stronger, and a mischievous grin spread across her face. “Although with that said, if hear of any funny business between you and Bolin’s little girl…”
She was joking. Shyu knew she was joking. For some reason, though, his temper flared at his suggestion. He yanked his shoulder out of her grip. It actually stung a bit. How tight was she holding it? “Geez, Aunt Maura! It’s not like that! Don’t embarrass me, all right?”
She stared at him for a moment, mouth open a fraction. Probably trying to process the fact that he’d voiced his opinion on something. Her face fell in disappointment. “Right. I’m sorry, dear.”
“No, wait–” he started to say, but she was already walking away. Where did that outburst even come from? It sure wasn’t like how he normally acted. Then again, this was hardly a normal situation. He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. Now wasn’t a good time to go running after her. He’d apologize to her later. In a scenario like this, later was always better.
“Now, I’ve been thinking…” Varrick was going on. Iroh really did try to pay attention to him. It was just difficult balancing between that and the reports from his guards about how many death threats he had received that day.
“Your grandfather got death threats all the time,” his mother had assured him. “Why, when he became Firelord, he got five threats in the first year alone. One girl came very close to succeeding. And then he became great friends with her family and helped save the city of Yu Dao.”
Somehow, the advice did nothing to comfort him, but Iroh at least appreciated her efforts. Varrick, on the other hand–
“Hello! Earth calling the Firelord!” Varrick said, snapping his fingers in Iroh’s face again.
“Yes?” Iroh said, hoping he sounded as exhausted as he felt.
Varrick looked like he might have sympathized, but quite frankly didn’t care. “As I was saying,” he went on. “I think there’s a few things you could do to help move this movery into the people’s hearts.”
“Um…okay?” Iroh asked. There was no point in speculating with what Varrick was about to say; he’d at least learned that much the past few days.
“So, here’s what I’m thinking. Your great-grandfather’s birthday is coming up soon, am I right? Why not release it then?”
“Oh,” Iroh said, surprised at the level of Varrick’s sound, and for once, non-crazy logic. “Sure, I think that’d be a fine idea.”
“Great!” Varrick exclaimed. “And while we’re at it, I think you should declare a national holiday!”
So much for a lack of insane suggestions. “Wait… what?”
“In honor of Firelord Zuko,” Varrick went on. “I mean, the guy ends the hundred-year war, establishes the United Republic, rules your country for way longer than anyone else did. Guys like that deserve holidays.”
“I don’t know,” Iroh said, trying to avert his gaze and realizing that the only things at his side were the spotlights and the cameras. “It hasn’t been that long since his death. People might think it’s too soon.”
“Bah, it can never be too soon,” Varrick said, hands on his hips. “Look, your highness, I see it like this. You’ve got Sozin’s Comet, you’ve great the Great Gates of Azulon. Heck, someone failing at something in a remarkably short time is already called ‘pulling an Ozai’! If you don’t pick a namesake for your grandfather, I can promise you someone else will. And you might or might not like the results.”
Iroh opened his mouth and found he didn’t actually have a good counter argument to that. And the fact that he didn’t gave him the uncharacteristic urge to curl up in a ball and go hide in a corner somewhere.
How in flames do I get dragged into these things?
“Well, here we are,” Aunt Zarah said as she showed Shyu into his room. It was a bare wood floor, as opposed to the maroon carpet he had at home. But the place had a rustic sort of feel, not unlike the rooms in their house on Ember Island. It even had some pictures of some golden lizard-gull taking flight across the sea.
Great, so if I just pretend like this is a vacation, everything should be fine, Shyu thought. Being sarcastic with himself didn’t accomplish much. He turned to face his aunt, who was still giving him a sympathetic look as she stood in the doorway.
“I know it’s not home,” she said gently. “But I promise, I’m not your dad. I’ll do your best to give you and Mica your space, okay?”
“Yeah. Sure,” Shyu replied. You said that earlier.
Zarah smiled and walked away, pulling the door behind her, but leaving the door open an indecisive crack.
Shyu sighed and sat down on the bed. This would usually be a point where he would flop on the bed and obsess over the weight of his troubles. Maybe read some comics. But for some reason, he felt anxious — pulled to action rather than a desire to hide until action left him alone.
What am I doing here, anyway? He felt his muscles tense. The whole reason he’d come out here was because Dad wanted him out of the way. So he wouldn’t cause any more trouble. But wasn’t that attitude exactly what hacked him off all the time?
I’m sick of being pushed to the side. Shyu stood up and started pacing the room. He walked past the sea paintings two, three, four times as his mind burned with rapid thoughts.
The adults thought they could handle everything themselves. But Shyu was the fire prince. Not the crown prince, no, but quite frankly, he was sick of that making a difference. And what was all that talk about Mica going for her career? A career, at her age! If she could walk into the adults’ world, why not him? He was stuck still thinking like some stupid ten-year-old, stepping back and letting Mom and Dad and his big brother handle everything. No more of that.
I’m the fire prince, he repeated to himself again and again. And the Fire Nation is at risk from something I did. It’s my job to fix it.
Shyu felt a renewed energy unlike anything he had experienced in a long time. He didn’t feel like Firelord Iroh’s second son, or like the Crown Prince’s little brother. He felt like his own person. I’m Prince Shyu of the Fire Nation.
He dropped down onto the wooden floor and yanked his suitcase out from the closet where he’d dropped it. He pulled out a notebook and started jotting down some ideas. First day of school tomorrow. There’d be people he’d have to talk to. Certainly a school staff to get on the right side of. But not so much the right side that he looked like a teacher’s pet to the students…
As Shyu jotted down his frantic thoughts, he felt a shiver run through him. Reluctantly, he put the pencil to the side for a moment and went back into the suitcase, looking for a longer-sleeved shirt. One thing about Aunt Zarah’s place–it was definitely cooler than at home.