Shyu’s day at school didn’t start off too badly. A lot of people recognized him. They even knew his name, as opposed to pointing at him, snapping their fingers, and then announcing that his name was Other Kaja.
Unfortunately, they knew his name for all the wrong reasons. Apparently with all the news stories going around, he’d earned nicknames such as “Prince Shyu the Destroyer” and “Prince Shyu the Rebel” and “Prince Shyu the Last Person You Ever Want to Invite to your Big Important Party.” He liked the “rebel” thing, but the other names he could definitely do without.
Still, I at least got the homeroom teacher talking about the docu-movery thing, he tried to reassure himself. Maybe if he chatted up the right staff, he could get some sort of event going. A school-wide showing of the movery the day it came out. He was feeling pretty optimistic about the whole thing when he entered his next class, Political Science. The teacher was young but carried herself with the confidence of someone who’d been teaching several years. After getting lost a few times on the way here, Shyu just barely made it before the bell, and had to settle for a seat right in front of the teacher’s desk.
The teacher rapped her pointer on the desk, inches from Shyu’s face, to catch her students’ attention. The room grew quiet.
“Now, first thing’s first,” she began. “As I’m sure you’ve all heard, Firelord Iroh has declared a national holiday next month to commemorate the life of Firelord Zuko–”
“Do we get the day off?” a guy in the front row asked. He had broad shoulders and huge muscles, and the girls around him giggled when he spoke.
The teacher shook her head, but looked at least like she shared her student’s sentiment. “I have not gotten any information about that from the administration yet,” she said. “But believe me, you’ll know when I know.”
Shyu smiled a bit. This teacher seemed nice, or at the very least, aware that students had a life outside her classroom. Maybe he could ask her to approve his bid for student council.
One of the girls who had been giggling at Mr. Muscles raised her hand. The teacher pointed to her.
Setsuna folded her hands and straightened in her chair as she tossed her plaited hair to the side. “I wanted to ask a question, Miss. In your personal opinion, it is appropriate for the Firelord to be declaring holidays so soon after his disastrous coronation?” She shot Shyu a look at this question, still grinning widely. How did someone’s teeth get that white, anyway?
The teacher locked eyes with Shyu and seemed hesitant to answer the question until–
“I dunno,” Mr. Muscles blurted out. “Maybe he declared a holiday ’cause a party guy. I like parties.”
Now the entire class. Well, if the “entire class” included the teacher and left out Shyu. Why couldn’t his bending just let him melt into the floor or something?
“Now, now, everyone,” the teacher teased, waving her hands for quiet. “If our new Firelord wants to spend his time declaring holidays rather than solving the bloodbending crisis that plagues our nation or teaching his children not to drive motorcycles through spirit portals, he is certainly within his rights to do so.”
That got a few more giggles, though for the most part the class settled down. Shyu wanted to be sick. This was worse–way worse than anything he’d had back at home. He tried his usual self-diversion tactics, tried to focus on the lesson starting in front of him. But all he could think about was how furious he was. How dare they treat me like this! I’m the prince of the Fire Nation! As the words crossed his mind, the room seemed to be filled with a loud buzz, and he felt his hands growing hotter than they ever had before. Then he smelled something strange. He looked down to see that his fingertips were burning the edges of the wooden desk. He gasped and quickly balled his hands into fists. The smell of smoke in a classroom apparently wasn’t that strange in a Fire Nation school, as the teacher immediately stopped writing on the board and shot a glare at a student behind Shyu.
“Mr. Hino? I’ve warned you about firebending in class before.”
“But I didn’t–” the guy started to object.
“I know what burning desks smell like, Mr. Hino. If it happens again, you’re in the office. Am I clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Hino replied, sounding both upset and genuinely confused. Shyu took a few deep breaths while the teacher went back to scratching out notes on the chalkboard. His hands were a bit cooler, but if the teacher started any wisecracks about the royal family again, he wasn’t so sure he’d be able to get himself under control a second time.
“Um, excuse me, Miss?” he said raising his hand. “May I use the restroom?”
She paused from her writing and gave him an annoyed glance before returning to her work. “If you must, Prince Shyu. The hall pass in on the hook by the door.” Shyu quickly got up and grabbed the wooden pass and hurried out into the hall. No one cracked any jokes about him not getting lost in spirit portals while he was out in the hallway, but somehow, this fact wasn’t terribly comforting.
Once out in the hall, Shyu at least felt like he could breathe a little. His hands were cooler, and some of the anger that had been building in him dissipated. Shyu leaned up against his locker and slumped down onto the floor, the hall pass dropping to his side. He held his head between his hands, wondering how long he could stay out here before someone came out looking and humiliated him further. He felt trapped. He felt–
“Hello there, Shyu.”
Shyu startled and looked around. He hadn’t heard anyone approach, but there stood a teenage guy right there in the middle of the hallway. He wasn’t dressed in a school uniform, but in royal armor, though the style was a bit outdated. His unadorned hair was done up with a top-knot. But the most distinguishing feature about him was the large scar on the left side of his face.
Oh, flames! The stress of school is making me hallucinate! Shyu started to edge away from the figure, but still found the words slipping out of his mouth.
The figure laughed. “Well, I must admit, it’s a bit awkward to be called that. But, yes, Shyu, it’s me.” He walked over and sat next to Shyu. There seemed to be a glow, translucent quality to him, which didn’t really debunk Shyu’s hallucination theory at all.
“Um… now that it isn’t nice to see you, but, um… how are you talking to me?”
Zuko laughed. “You came through the spirit portal. And you seemed distressed. I thought it was only right that I follow you out and see if I could help.”
“Followed me out? Were you…” Shyu reached over and touched the spot on his shoulder where the strange firey butterfly had landed. “Were you that spirit I met? You showed us the way out?”
Zuko nodded, then his smile faded. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to help you battle some of those spirits in Republic City. Emerging from the portal left me in a weakened state. I’ve only now just gathered the strength to talk to you.” He held out his hands, as if examining them to see if they were still there.
Shyu swallowed, his throat dry. “I appreciate that you’re here. I feel so lost. And I’m pretty sure everyone hates me.”
Zuko turned and narrowed his eyes. “You are the fire prince. Their opinion means nothing.”
“Well, I’m not the crown prince,” Shyu pointed out.
“The crown prince or princess does not always become the Firelord,” Zuko said. Strange, his voice was that of a teenager, but his words sounded like those of an adult. “The throne was my Uncle Iroh’s birthright, and it was taken from him. It was my birthright, and my father revoked it. I only gained it again through many difficult battles.”
“I guess that’s true,” Shyu said. He’d be lying if he said the throne meant nothing to him. But at the same time, the idea of something happening to Kaja that was catastrophic enough to lose him his place in the family… Shyu didn’t really want that, either.
“In either case,” Zuko went on. “The way your citizens have been treating you in completely unacceptable. You deserve their respect.”
“So, what do I do, exactly?”
Zuko smiled. “You must be more aggressive. More energy… energetic. Prove to them they deserve your respect.”
“And if that doesn’t work?” Shyu asked.
Zuko smiled faded. “Then you get that respect by any means necessary.” And with that, he faded from view.
Three trips to the office before noon. A new personal record. Mica knew that she was in for a rough time at school. But this was starting to get ridiculous, even for her.
The teachers here were so fussy and annoying, even when she was sitting there minding her own business and not doing something wrong, she was somehow doing it wrongly. Her first period history teacher argued with her about her painted nails and “gasp” was that lipstick she was wearing? For shame! Her second period math teacher argued with her for keeping Bandit in her backpack and forced Mica to put him outside. Her gym teacher argued with her for being “too aggressive” with her combust-earth bending, even though it was he who had asked her for a demonstration in the first place. The lunch lady argued with her for trying to take double portions to replenish from gym. And of course, they all argued when Mica inevitably argued back.
Mica sat in one of those uncomfortable plastic chairs in the principle’s office, forcing herself to sit straight and keep her mouth shut. In truth she was only half-listening as Principle Tetsuya ranted on about this rule and that rule and how they didn’t tolerate misbehavior at this school… blah blah blah. Nothing Mica hadn’t heard a million times before. She nodded stiffly when the principle’s mouth finally stopped moving.
“I understand, ma’am. It won’t happen again.”
It was a generic reply with generic emotion. More proof that Mica had been over-taxed from all the arguing that morning. On a better day she would have spiced up her act with a bit of blubbering or pathetic groveling.
She rose when Principle Tetsuya dismissed her. Good riddance. Maybe now she could finally finish her lunch. She found her tray right where she had left it at the self-designated “cool kids” table. Or were they the “hot kids” here in the Fire Nation? Whatever. Her tray was still there, plopped down right in the middle of the their table because Mica didn’t really give a crap. The scavengers had helped themselves to her pudding, fruit cup and chips but had at least been decent (or disgusted) enough to leave her soggy grilled-cheese and cold tomato soup. Mica polished these off in a few mouthfuls not tasting any of it. Then she dumped her tray and headed straight for the vending machines to fill up on snacks, since apparently getting second helpings broke some sacred Fire Nation lunchroom law.
She found the snack machines in a hallway just off to the side of the lunchroom. A handy little shortcut, she noted, to the main stairwell and the front offices. Mica slumped by the machine, snarking down three boxes of fire flakes, two bags of fire-roasted nuts, and at least a dozen different candy bars before the edge was taken off her hunger.
I’d kill for one of Sal’s burgers right now, she thought. Her stomach growled in agreement. Perhaps if she wrote a pathetic enough letter to her Aunt Korra or Uncle Varrick they’d send her a care package.
Mica was in the middle of buying a pack of cheese doodles and composing said letter in her head when she heard a raised voice echoing from the stairwell.
“Where do you think you’re going, freak?” demanded a boy.
A girl’s voice replied. “Just leave me alone, okay?”
“Or what? You gonna use your power on me? Go ahead, Rina. Do it. I dare you!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
The hair on Mica’s neck rose. Down at the far end of the hallway she could see the girl just stepping around the landing. She picked up her pace, hugging her arms and looking about like a nervous animal. The guy followed close behind, all swagger and budging muscles. He reminded Mica of a platypus bear. An ugly platypus bear.
The girl—Rina, was it?—didn’t use her power, whatever it was. Instead she tried to dodge the boy-bear by quickly turning the other way, towards the hall Mica was in. He didn’t let her get very far. With one strong hand he grabbed her backpack, yanked it off her shoulders and tossed it over the stairwell railing.
“Hey!” she yelled.
“You’re a liar,” hissed the guy. “You might have everyone else fooled, but I know what you really are, and we don’t want your kind around here.” He made a grab for her wrist.
“Get away!” Rina screamed and shoved him in the chest with both hands. Not hard. It was barely enough to knock the boy-bear off balance. But it was enough to piss him off. He shoved her back, hard. The girl flailed backwards knocking into the railing and teetering backwards. She was going to fall!
Mica was on her feet and earthbending before she even heard her own shout. “Get away from her!”
Stone moved at her command, erupting through tiles and shredding floor structures until a platform was extended out into the stairwell just in time to catch the falling girl.
The boy-bear jerked back, startled just as much that someone was watching as the fact that that someone had just yelled at him.
“Who–” was all he managed before Mica made another gesture and called up more rock to bind him from ankles to collarbones. No way was this psycho going to get away.
Her indoor earthbending didn’t go unnoticed. Teachers and office workers swarmed from the office to converge in the stairwell. And behind her Mica could hear an entire cafeteria’s worth of students crowding to get a batter look.
“What is going on here!” Principle Tetsuya stormed forward, eyes flitting from Mica, to the captured boy-bear, to the trembling Rina as she slipped under the railing and back onto the uneven tiled floor.
“This psychopath just tried to kill someone! That’s what’s going on!” Mica pointed to the boy and projected her voice actress loud. Let the entire school see what this maniac had done. Mica freed him from the stone with a gesture just long enough to earth-fling him at the principle’s feet.
Principle Tetsuya looked down at the boy with raised eyebrows and pursed lips.
“Kaiden, is this true?”
The boy, Kaiden, stood and brushed himself off, leering at Mica all the while.
“No…” he lied. Then his mouth curved into the faintest smirk as he added softly. “…Mother.”
Mica’s features fell. “Seriously?”
Principle Tetsuya surveyed the damaged floor and gave a disdainful sniff. “It looks to me like you’re the only one causing trouble here. Again.”
“But-” Mica started and was cut off.
“Detention. Now!” she barked. Then she turned her gaze sharply to the other girl, who was impressively close to slipping away unnoticed. “You too, Rina!”
“But I–But he–” Rina looked stricken. Why the heck was she getting in trouble? She was the victim here! Blind fury moved Mica forward until she was within fist-shaking distance of the principle.
“This is the biggest load of–”
“Not another word,” the woman growled. She glared down at Mica with cold, shifty eyes. Mica sucked in a long breath, tilted her chin up and stepped forward one more pace–standing so close that she and the principle were practically nose to nose. There was no point in trying to reason with this woman, she decided. And if she was doomed anyway, then Mica was going to go out with a big, explosive, bang.
“Flame-flamity, Ozai-burning blast of ashen dragon snot!” she cussed.
Principle Tetsuya took a half-step back, her cheeks pink. Bless the flames, she actually blushed! Ha! Beside her, Kaiden’s eyes goggled right along with the rest of the teachers. And behind her, Mica heard a collective “oooo” from the student body and more than a few snickers.
The principle was struggling to form words. When that failed she pointed a furious, shaking finger in the direction of the detention hall.
Mica went, hands casually in her pockets while Rina trailed along nervously behind her. She wondered, did the Fire Nation schools expel students on the first day?
They probably do. And if they don’t, the school board will probably make a new law just for me. All because I tried to help someone. Mica shook her head angrily, hoping Shyu, at least, was having a better day.
Shyu looked down at his schedule. Apparently he had a free study period as his last period before the end of the day, and he had no idea what to do with it. The period started in one of the classrooms, although from Shyu’s observations, it seemed that all anyone needed to do to get out of said classroom was the come up with an excuse, any time of excuse, for why they would work better somewhere else. Several people had gone to the library, a couple more to the resource room, and one guy had claimed he needed to use the bathroom at the start of class, even though he hadn’t come back twenty minutes later.
“Hey, Mr. Firelord’s son,” a girl next to him whispered. “We can talk, you know.”
“I thought we weren’t allowed,” he whispered back quietly as possible, keeping his eyes on his math homework. Even though seemed to draw the teacher’s glare, though she too went back to her work when she saw Shyu was busily scribbling down numbers and keeping his mouth shut.
Still, he figured that when no one had said anything nice to him all day, maybe ignoring the girl who had spoken wasn’t the brightest idea. He coughed a “sorry,” into his hand and turned to face her. When they made eye contact, she inched her chair and desk closer to his and held out a notebook, and asked, “Can you explain this problem?”
She pointed to a page where she had written, “The teachers don’t care if you talk. They only care if they think you’re talking about non-school stuff.”
Shyu nodded. “Y-yes,” he said, in what was probably not a terribly convincing voice. “That problem does look difficult.”
She smiled at him and started writing something down, even as she said aloud, “Well, I’m glad one of us is catching on here.”
She pulled her hand back from where she’d been writing, and Shyu saw the words, “I saw the news footage of you. I think you got an unfair portrayal.”
“You think?” Shyu asked, excitement pumping through him. The teacher glared at him again, and he struggled to finish his sentence. It came out something like: “…think you can solve the next one here?”
They went back and forth writing again. Her: “Well, you weren’t exactly driving the motorcycle, were you?”
Shyu: “I don’t get it. So, you don’t hate my dad?”
Her: “Oh, I hate him. Everybody does that.”
Shyu started to say aloud, Then why are you talking to me, but she glared at him and put a finger to her lips before continuing to write, “But I do think a little differently than everyone else. I think you might actually be able to talk some sense into him. Goodness knows your older brother won’t. He’s just a mini Iroh.”
Reading that line almost made him laugh aloud, and he had to cover his mouth and bite his tongue to stifle it.
If I show that I’m different from my dad, and different from Mica… Shyu thought. Maybe I actually have a chance to put my reputation back together after all. He smiled and though Lord Zuko did not suddenly manifest in the room, Shyu could imagine him saying, “There’s the initiative the Royal Family needs.”
Shyu stood up in his seat, much to his classmates’ surprise, and raised his hand. “Excuse me, ma’am? May I please be excused?” The teacher was an older woman who might have resembled his grandmother, if she had grown up eating lemons for breakfast every morning.
“To where?” she asked suspiciously.
“The principal’s office,” Shyu answered without hesitation. Several of his classmates giggled. He didn’t care. He had more important people to talk to.
“As a general rule, our students try to keep themselves out of the principal’s office.”
“It’s related to the Royal Family,” Shyu said simply. Confidently. Like he just knew that phrase would get him through anything. And, to his shock and pleasure, it did. The old woman swallowed and nodded her head.
“Yes, of course,” she said. “Feel free to go.”
Shyu stood up and gathered his things. He couldn’t believe it. He’d had this all wrong to begin with. People were fine picking on him when he didn’t fight back, but when they actually thought he might bring the Firelord’s wrath down on them for treating him badly, they backed off immediately. Like those cowards at the coronation, only willing to protest when they were sure they wouldn’t get caught.
“Thanks,” he said to the girl next to him before he left. “For the help.” His teacher raised an eyebrow, and he quickly added, “That you let me give you. It was a pleasure.” And with that, he walked confidently out the door.