I know this update took over a week, but I have an excuse! Actually, several excuses...
1) I graduated from high school last Thursday, so my entire week was filled with prep and stress. It's over! I'm free until August, where I've gotta go to college sports camp. Oh goody... =D
OH! For all of my fellow Avatar lovers, guess what I put on my graduation cap? THE SYMBOLS FOR THE FOUR NATIONS, ON EACH CORNER! I was beyond proud of myself...
2) Got a Macbook Pro for my graduation present. So I've been setting up Microsoft Word and all that jazz for the past two days.
3) And, lastly, Legend of Korra Episode 10: Turning the Tides. This episode...it affected me so freaking deeply that I literally COULDN'T write. Seriously, I'd sit down to write the chapter, and pttffffhhhhh...NOTHING. I'd start crying (it's a heart-wrenching episode, that's all i'm gonna say for all you peeps who haven't seen it yet) and feeling all sad, and go watch the episode again. Gah! I'm still feeling weepy, but I sucked it up and plowed through this chapter for you guys.
A huge thanks to Sadiera Manx, who is the owner of the 200th review! Thanks a lot, you're amazing!
Also, an enormous shout-out goes to everyone who sends in reviews. No matter how long or short, they put a smile on my face! Thank you all so much, and keep being awesome!
SUPER AWESOME FANART:Okay, this amazing person named Ninjagirl2211drew this picture of Dakota giving Hadyn the Water Tribe necklace. It's really really really awesome, and I recommend you go look it up. I'll try and put the link on my profile...if that doesn't work, I'll put it in the next chapter's author note.
Okay, end of dangerously long Author Note.
If you have any questions, concerns, or just plain exclamations of adoration...
Chapter 26: Behind the Pirate Hat
Sweat dripping down her forehead, Dakota took a slow breath, keeping her eyes locked on her equally motionless sparring partner. A soft breeze flowed over her, tousling her high ponytail. The muscles in her arms and legs were crying for her to stop, but she forced herself to slide into the defensive stance. The sun's rays were hot on her bare shoulders, and the whoosh of the ocean against the sides of the metal ship was a constant presence. After so long at sea, the sound was so commonplace that Dakota barely registered it; in her mind, the air in-between herself and her target was very still and quiet.
Zuko nodded at her stance, and apparently had nothing to critique – a rare event, one that Dakota was too tired to celebrate – because he shifted into his own offensive stance. His own form was bereft of any signs of fatigue, but Dakota chalked that up to the fact that he had been Firebending since he was very small, while she had been attempting it for a mere three months.
Had it been three months since she arrived? Dakota couldn't confirm or deny that with any degree of accuracy. There were no calendars on the ship, and even if there were, there was no guaranteeing that they were organized similarly to the ones in her world. The only measure of time Dakota had to go on was that she had fallen into this world on September 2nd, and the only reason she knew that was because it was the day before school started. At least, it was the day before school would have started, had she never stuck her hand in the glowing water like an idiot.
"Keep your arms up!" Zuko barked, and Dakota realized that in her brief moment of distraction, her arms had been inching downwards, struggling to obey the pull of gravity. She quickly remedied her position, and Zuko scowled at her lapse in concentration. The Firebender gave her another second of rest, and then shifted his body forward in a graceful pounce. Suddenly the air in front of Dakota was made of fire. The fireballs roared towards her, dangerous and fierce, in a way that would have been terrifying a week ago.
But now, Dakota eyed it with a sort of familiarity, and managed to stay somewhat calm. She swept her hands in front of her, calling a bit of fire to her palms, and the fireballs were dissipated. The tickle of harmless heat against her skin was satisfying, and with that satisfaction came a sudden burst of confidence. Defense was something at which she excelled; this had been proven time and time again.
Unfortunately for her, fire wasn't the element of defense. It was the element of attack.
Zuko was still moving, and Dakota hastened to roll out of the way, feeling the heat of his next attack brush against her back as she did so. She knew that he was expecting her to fight back, and closed her eyes before pulling forth the memories that made her most angry.
Lotek's face as he screamed, helpless to defend himself as the Earthbender dragged him across the deck –
Dakota felt the fire welling up, but it was weak, as it had been for the week that had passed since the Winter Solstice. She maneuvered to her feet in one smooth movement, preparing to lash out with the flame. Her head lifted to sight her target, and she met Zuko's golden eyes.
Quite suddenly, the fire disappeared from her hands.
Dakota's eyed widened in astonishment as she shoved her hands into the stance, watching as nothing remotely hot appeared. Zuko was sending a thin stream of fire toward her, and there was an explosion of pain as it hit her exposed shoulder. The girl stumbled backwards, falling onto her backside with a hiss of pain. Her shoulder was burning and stinging, and she instinctively curled her body around the injury, holding her hand against the injury. Footsteps thudded toward her, and Zuko's snide voice snapped.
"That was an easy shot, why didn't you block it?"
Dakota didn't answer. There was nothing she could say. The reason she had been unable to diffuse the fire was because of her own carelessness, and at the moment she didn't really feel like giving Zuko more reason to scold her. So she focused on reining in the tears of pain that threatened, and kept her head tucked down.
The sound of rustling met Dakota's ears, and she knew without having to look that it was Zuko that was currently kneeling down next to her. Not only was he the only person in the vicinity of the upper deck, but she also recognized the careful, slow way he breathed. The sound was familiar, as was the smell of him – he smelled of smoke and heat.
Dakota's head snapped up, and her brown eyes met Zuko's golden ones. He was scowling, and met her confused gaze with an exasperated huff.
"Let me see it," he demanded, and Dakota immediately shook her head – because really, how else was she supposed to act? This was Zuko for crying out loud! He didn't exactly exude a "don't worry, I'm friendly and nurturing" vibe.
"It's okay, I–" she tried to assure him, but before she could finish he let out an angry grumble, and reached for her arm. It was an automatic reaction to move away from him, and Dakota yelped as the movement jostled her burn. Much to her surprise, Zuko stopped before touching her, and stared at her with an indiscernible expression on his face.
"I know a thing or two about scars. Let me see it."
With those few words, Dakota's focus instantly went to the left side of Zuko's face. She had gotten so used to it over the past months that it ceased to stand out to her, but in that moment, it was the dominant feature of his visage. Dull red and striking, it spread upward from his partially closed eye and spread in thick tendrils around his ear and upper left temple. And it didn't help that Zuko shaved his head save for a single ponytail – the lack of contrasting textures around the scar didn't do anything to diminish its jarring appearance.
Zuko reached for her again. This time, she let him grab hold of her hands, and with surprising gentleness he peeled them away from her shoulder. Dakota hissed at the sweltering ache that resulted in the action. She had never liked the sight of her own injuries, and so she focused on Zuko's expression. It didn't shift from its scowl, and Dakota was struck with a question.
"Does it hurt…your scar?" she asked, and Zuko's eyes didn't leave her burn. But she could tell from the tensing of his shoulders that he had registered her question. He paused briefly, and his voice was harsh and gruff as he answered.
"Not anymore," he muttered, and his eyes moved to a spot beyond her shoulder. Dakota followed his gaze, and realized that he was looking at her own scar. It was clearly visible, as her hair was currently pulled away from her neck and in a ponytail. After a moment the Fire Nation prince moved back, avoiding her gaze.
"You need to go to the medical bay," he said, and Dakota nodded meekly, using her opposite hand to heave herself to a standing position. Zuko rose with her, and Dakota was just turning to go inside when the ship suddenly tilted in a hazardously sharp way.
Was it really necessary for the captain to turn the ship so sharply? Surely there was a more gradual technique…
Déjà vu, sharp and prominent, flitted through Dakota's mind as she began to fall, and she instinctively reached for something to steady her. Zuko's hands gripped her forearms, and she managed to keep her balance. The ship slowly righted itself, and Zuko was practically spitting fire out of his mouth as he glared up at the dome that held the main control room.
"What in the…" he snarled, and stormed off before Dakota could hear the rest. The girl let out a sigh, and continued on her original path to the medical bay. Her shoulder was in a good deal of pain, and she didn't particularly relish in the idea of witnessing Zuko's imminent rage at the abrupt change in course. Better to wait it out in the medical bay, and then test the waters once Zuko calmed down a bit.
Dakota was just turning into the healer's clinic when a cry of outrage was heard, even through the layers of metal that separated the control room from the hallway.
Yep, waiting it out was definitely the better option.
Dakota was outside enjoying a cup of tea when Iroh made his way onto the deck. She had let her hair down after being treated, appreciating the way the wind felt in her loose tresses. At the sound of Iroh's footsteps, Dakota turned to look at him, putting down her cup in order to wave in greeting. The older man ambled across the deck, lowering himself to sit beside her. She offered him a cup of tea, and he graciously accepted.
"Is everything alright?" Dakota asked after a few moments of comfortable silence, and Iroh nodded.
"Yes, everything has been settled. You see, my only lotus tile is missing, and so we are stopping at an Earth Kingdom port to see if I can replace it. "
Dakota nodded seriously; Iroh had begun to teach her the rules of Pai Sho, and so she knew firsthand how important the game was to him. It was less about winning, and more about exchanging stories with the soldiers who were under Zuko's command. According to Iroh, they were actually a very good-natured bunch, and that a few of them were musically inclined.
Iroh's eyes were scanning her shoulder, which had been cleanly bandaged by the healer. It still hurt a bit, but the numbing creams had helped a great deal, and so the pain was more than manageable.
"I heard about your lesson," Iroh prompted gently, and Dakota frowned, lowering her eyes to her drink. The liquid was steaming slightly, and she closed her eyes to better enjoy the heat as it soaked through the ceramic cup and into her hands.
"Yeah, it didn't go very well."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really," Dakota answered as politely as she knew how, and Iroh gave her a searching look before settling back on his cushion.
"Then perhaps you would like to discuss the events that occurred on the Winter Solstice," Iroh said, as casually as if he were discussing the weather or the taste of a particularly tasty dish. Dakota's head dropped in defeat – she had hoped that he had forgotten.
"I don't know how I'm able to see spirits. I don't remember ever going to the Spirit World," Dakota blurted out, and Iroh nodded in understanding.
"I understand your confusion, but unfortunately, I have no definite answer. A possibility is that because you are from another world all together, you are an exception to the spiritual laws of this world."
Dakota looked at Iroh, and forced herself to ask the question. "Um, Iroh? If you're able to see spirits…doesn't that mean that you've been to the Spirit World?"
Iroh's cheerful expression slipped from his face like water against an oil-slicked surface. The creases of his face deepened as he turned to stare into empty space, his mouth turning downward in a pensive frown. Dakota waited silently, nervously fidgeting with the wooden bracelet Matya had given her. Iroh set his tea down with a heavy exhalation.
"Yes…yes it does," Iroh replied, his voice thick with suppressed emotion. His golden eyes were soft as they sought out something in the horizon. But when Dakota glanced in the same direction, she found that there was nothing there. Iroh seemed to come to himself then, and returned his attention to his companion.
"What's it like?" Dakota asked, hesitant to continue along this topic, and Iroh smiled slightly.
"It is a world that defies all the boundaries we humans set for ourselves. The sky constantly changes color, the creatures are fantastical and whimsical, and the ground isn't always solid. The physical form is much less tangible; the spirit is what dominates a person's being. It is very peaceful there."
"It sounds wonderful," Dakota stated simply.
Both of them seemed to silently agree that perhaps they should save the subject of the Spirit World for another time, because an unassuming silence stretched between the two of them. They sipped at their tea, watching the late afternoon sky drift by and letting out contented sighs every so often.
A short time later, the port came into view, and Dakota stood and moved toward the railing to better see the mainland. It appeared to be a small town, with several colorful ships docked on the smaller structures of wood. When she asked, Iroh explained that it was a lower-level trading center, a black market of sorts. It was obscure enough to escape the regulations of the Earth Kingdom, and so it allowed for much more exotic and rare items to be traded.
Zuko's vessel approached the largest wooden dock, and it was then that Dakota noticed a ship that looked oddly familiar, though of course she had never seen it before. It was a sturdy, medium sized ship built out of honey-colored wood, with colorful sails and a roguish feel to it. The shape and build was distinct, but understated enough to blend in without any trouble.
Ah! Now she remembered! The gypsies had the same kinds of ships, and she had been around those constantly at one point in time. It was kind of strange (and unnerving) how ever-present gypsies were – everywhere Dakota went, there were signs of them.
Dakota's fingers brushed against her gypsy necklace, unconsciously sliding against the three glossy pearls that were nestled against her throat. It hadn't left her neck since Tali tied it there, and it served as a source of comfort when Dakota was feeling particularly lonely. She touched the soft woven strands, and they took her back to that bright morning, running across the wooden decks of the ships and diving into the clear waters surrounding Kyoshi Island.
If she closed her eyes, she could still feel the silky swaths of her skirt swishing against her bare ankles, surrounding her in a whirlwind of color as she jumped over the side of Tali's boat–
The metal beneath her feet shuddered, and Dakota opened her eyes to see that the ship was finally secured to the dock. The large metal ramp was lowering, and Iroh got to his feet, dusting off his robes and offering his arm.
Dakota nodded, her eyes finding the gypsy ship again. Her hand fit neatly into the crook of Iroh's arm, and the two quickly descended the ramp. Several soldiers followed, and Dakota turned to see that Zuko was just behind them, his face set in an angry pout. The sounds of people directed the girl's attention back toward the front, and her face smoothed in wonder at the sight of hundreds of people milling around with extraordinary objects.
"Woah…" she breathed, pulling away from Iroh to take a few steps toward the bustling crowd. There were people carrying large instruments – like tubas in shape, but with hundreds of twisting valves and tubes that expanded from the metal like the legs of a flailing insect – and colorful rugs that seemed to shift colors the longer Dakota looked at them. The smells of oil and expensive spices filled the air above the market, and men with wide smiles were calling out their wares in charismatic tones.
Iroh saw her gazing around in awe, and moved to her side, placing a small purse into her hand. "Go on, explore a little. We will find you when we are finished."
Dakota pushed the money back to him, shaking her head. "Oh no, I can't–"
"I insist," Iroh urged, and Dakota flushed before slowly taking the purse. It was painfully heavy in her pocket, and she thanked Iroh profusely before turning to merge into the crowd. It was delightfully busy, and it made Dakota realize how much she had missed being around other people. Sure, Iroh was a wonderful companion, but the company of one couldn't hope to compare to the liveliness of a town. The girl stopped at various stalls, examining the wares, and tactfully refusing the offers of zealous sellers.
"All the way from the North Pole, young miss. You won't find a better deal, that's a fact!"
Dakota politely shook her head at the beautiful fur robe, and backed away, moving on down the line. It was all so colorful and new, with so many things to see and smell and touch. There were no lotus tiles, though she asked nearly every vendor she stopped at.
She made her first and only purchase at a tea stand, where she bought two small containers of tea – one was a deliciously spicy deviation of regular jasmine tea, and the other was a rich blend of chamomile and something else she couldn't put her finger on. The seller was a kindly old woman, and Dakota gladly handed over four silver pieces before having the packages placed in a small carrying bag.
Happy with her purchases, Dakota made her way over to the ships docked near the street. The gypsy one caught her eye once more, and this time she wasted no time in approaching it. The sails were down, but their varying colors were no less stunning than they would have been if the sails had been fully extended. There was a cabin area at the rear end of the ship, along with a deck that held the traditional steering wheel in the center of it.
A ramp was visible, an obvious entryway to the trading room, and Dakota decided to take a chance and walk up it. The temperature of the room was slightly warmer than the outside, and the walls were completely filled with various artifacts, some simple and plain, others extravagant and obviously antique in nature. Behind a counter, an older man with a ragged pirate hat and a feathered reptile creature on his shoulder was organizing some things on the shelf, and when she entered he turned to leer at her. The man's teeth were yellowing and plated with gold, his hair was mainly silver in hue, and his eyes were dark and merciless.
"Welcome to my humble store! I see that–"
Suddenly, he went silent, his eyes locking on her necklace. Dakota shuffled her feet, trying hard not to panic. The man looked scary enough as it was, and his frozen expression didn't help that impression. Dakota took a hesitant step back, and the man's shoulders loosened.
"My daughter made that necklace," the man stated, and Dakota's eyes widened impossibly wide. No, there was no way that this man knew Tali. The world wasn't that small, was it? The chances of a random gypsy at a black market being connected to Tali was–
"Tali is your daughter?" Dakota asked, and the man nodded gruffly, reaching up to yank down the high collar of his vest. Tied around his neck was a necklace identical to Dakota's, three ivory pearls gleaming in the interior light of the room. The man lifted the cloth up to hide it once more, and his dark eyes were wistful.
"I haven't seen her in many years, but I'd know her work anywhere. She made this necklace for me when I was still part of the Lelino clan."
"You're not anymore?" Dakota asked. The man shook his head, and gave the room a grand sweep of his weathered hands. Dakota looked around and saw the gleam of precious jewels and figurines, and compared them to the interior of Tali's boat. The differences were jarring and tangible, and Dakota turned to focus back on the older man.
"You're a pirate?" she guessed blindly, for that was the only image that came to mind when she witnessed the jewels and the weapons decorating the shelves. An even greater surprise was that he nodded in affirmation, leaning against the counter and giving her a steady stare.
"Most consider gypsies and pirates to be interchangeable, but they're full of hogwash. Pirates have the stones to do what gypsies only dream of. The rich and greedy are ripe for the taking, and we remove some of their pride – they have enough as it is."
Dakota was struck with a pang of pity for this man. Part of her wanted to hate him for stealing and looting for sport, but another part couldn't stop glancing at the spot where his necklace lay against his skin. He still loved his daughter, even though she refused to support his path. He still thought about her enough to where he would recognize her handiwork on another.
The pale-haired girl stuck out her hand, much to the man's surprise.
The pirate stared down at her, and slowly took her much smaller hand in his. "My name is Isdan."
They parted, and Dakota smiled. "Your daughter was very kind to me, she took me in after I was lost at sea. She and her daughter–"
"Matya?" Isdan exclaimed, his gray brows furrowing. Dakota nodded slowly, and the man put a hand to his hat, fingering the edge. "She was just a baby when I left. How old is she now?"
"Twelve, I think."
"Spirits, it's been eleven years," Isdan said softly, and the reptile-bird on his shoulder squawked at Dakota, scolding her for disturbing its master. The man in question gave his bird a sharp command, and it quieted, albeit reluctantly. Dakota looked around at the ship, and noticed a wall of containers. When she looked closer, she saw that they were filled with various buttons and little trinkets. Iroh's mission came back to her, and the girl turned on her heel.
"You wouldn't happen to have a lotus Pai Sho tile, would you?"
Isdan scratched at his stubble, and after a moment of pondering, shook his head.
"I'm afraid not. I have most of the other pieces, but the lotus…no, I've never been able to get a hold of those. Tricky little pieces, those are."
"You play Pai Sho?" Dakota asked, a bit shocked, and Isdan chuckled at her confusion.
"I'm a pirate, not a hermit. I still enjoy a good game of strategy every now and then. Pai Sho keeps my mind thinking one step ahead, because you never know when you need a good dose of logic."
"I'm sure you would know," Dakota murmured half-mindedly, running her hands over a large stone monkey with rubies imbedded as eyes and a necklace. It was mildly frightening, but oddly fascinating at the same time. The rich red color was really nice, once you got past the fact that it was a part of a madly grinning monkey.
Isdan laughed out loud. "You're right, I would know! I do what is best for my profits, and if that means doing some risky things, well…I'm not in the business for moral reasons. I'm here for the thrill, and the monetary benefits."
Dakota nodded. His point of view made sense; he wanted more freedom than the life of a clan gypsy could offer, and so he left. He didn't try to defend his behavior, he just chose to make his own way.
Isdan nodded approvingly. "I like you, girl. I can see why Tali helped you; she always did connect with the gentle ones. She wouldn't let anyone but the finest around her daughter."
Dakota flushed under the praise.
"Thanks, Isdan. For a pirate, you're not so bad yourself."
Isdan gave her a mock-glare. "Now that just won't do! If anyone asks, Captain Isdan's the nastiest of the bunch. For a pirate, reputation is as much protection as a sword."
Dakota found herself nodding in agreement.
"Eeep!" a startled voice sounded, and Dakota turned to see Katara, Sokka and Aang standing at the doorway, followed by a tall lanky man with long brown hair and green eyes. Katara was staring in horror at Dakota, recognition saturating her expression. Sokka was about to say something, his hand coming up to point. But before he could do so, Katara pulled the two boys out of the room. The three kids bolted down the ramp and disappeared from sight. The brown-haired pirate called out in confusion, and made to run after them, but threw up his hands when he realized that it was a pointless venture – they were already long gone.
"I think you scared them off," Isdan said simply, giving Dakota an appraising lift of his eyebrows. Only a pirate would see that as something to celebrate. The conflicted seller spotted her, and a suave grin appeared on his face.
"Why hello there! You seem like the type of–"
"Cut the salesman act, Oh. This is Dakota, she's off limits."
Oh shrugged. "Just doing my job, Captain," he assured, his tone taking on a less unctuous tone and a more casual, easy-going one. He ran a hand through his hair, and slipped into the chair beside the door, leaning his head against the back of the wall.
"I think those were the last potentials I was going to get today, Captain. Are we going to head off soon?" Oh asked, his pale green eyes assessing Dakota in what he probably thought to be an unobtrusive manner. Dakota scanned him as well; he had a thin moustache, several dangerous looking swords at his waist, and a pouch that was bulging with coins.
"Yes. Is the rest of the crew still in town?" Isdan asked, and Dakota couldn't help but marvel at the transformation. Just a few minutes ago, he had been the gruff but nostalgic father of Tali, and now he was the smooth, cold captain of a pirate ship. Both personas suited him, somehow, even if Dakota preferred the former.
"Yeah, but they should be back soon. You did say we leave at sunset, and they know better than to be late," Oh said genially, kicking his heels up on a nearby table. "So Dakota, you're a gypsy."
"I am," Dakota answered automatically. Inwardly, she wasn't sure if she was completely comfortable in saying that she was one. Was she a gypsy? She sure felt like one, in the presence of these two dangerous pirates.
"Is it as boring as Isdan says?"
Isdan gave his fellow pirate a look, but Oh missed it, as he was waiting for Dakota's answer. Dakota hurried to come up with an answer, wishing that she had just denied any affiliation and walked out of the store. She pulled up all of the memories of Tali and her words about what her boat's purpose was.
"It's safer, more consistent," Dakota said after a long pause. Oh let out a great bark of a laugh, and Isdan chuckled along with him.
"So yes, Oh. It is boring," Isdan said. Oh laughed again, and got up to leave. He nodded to his captain, and waved cheekily at Dakota before strolling down the ramp and into the street.
Dakota turned to look at Isdan, and noticed that his eyes were a startlingly clear shade of hazel. The last time she had seen those eyes, they had belonged to a little girl. Matya's eyes had been scrunched in sadness, but their color had been brilliant all the same.
It was rather sad, to see those eyes on the face of the girl's grandfather – a man the girl had never met and probably would never meet. In the prison rig, Dakota had seen Matya's father and had assumed that the hazel eyes were the same as Matya's, but now, looking at Isdan, she knew she had been mistaken.
The gypsy girl's father had had hazel eyes, yes, but the color was much darker than Matya's honey-hazel. The resemblance really lay in the face, in the set of the mouth, in the feel of the man.
Matya had inherited her eyes from her grandfather, and him alone.
"Matya has your eyes, you know," Dakota said quietly, and Isdan stiffened, his face smoothing out into a mask of shock. He stared down at Dakota, blinking slowly and with a sort of purpose. A wave of pity swam through Dakota, and a thought appeared to her. Once it solidified, she knew that it was the right decision.
Dakota reached for her wooden bracelet, and quickly pulled it off of her wrist. It was large enough that it came off with no trouble, and without hesitation she offered it to Isdan. The childishly artistic markings stood out in the light, and Isdan's lips formed a puzzled expression.
"Matya made this. I'd feel better if you had it; she's your granddaughter, after all."
Isdan stared at the bracelet. After a few seconds he slowly reached for it, with a definite air of wariness. His rough grip closed around the smooth wooden bracelet, and his hazel eyes silently adored every inch of his granddaughter's artwork.
"Not bad for a twelve-year-old. If she keeps practicing, she might be able to market her ability someday," Isdan said gruffly. Dakota watched with a smile as the man put the bracelet on. It fit his wrist perfectly, much better than it had on Dakota's slender one. His large coat sleeve quickly concealed it, but his fingers touched the spot, making sure that it was still there.
"Thank you. This is…very valuable," Isdan said cooly, and Dakota smiled at his efforts to keep a tight lid on his feelings of appreciation. Perhaps it wasn't the nature of a pirate to show emotional attachment to anything besides precious metals.
"No problem," Dakota said cheerfully, and glanced out at the sky. It was nearing sunset, and she was sure that Iroh was finished shopping by now. She turned back to Isdan, and held out her hand in goodbye. "I have to go. It was nice meeting you, Captain Isdan."
Isdan shook her hand firmly. "Likewise, Dakota. Remember, if anyone asks: Captain Isdan is fierce and powerful."
With that, Dakota left the pirate ship, the bag holding her tea in hand. The slight breeze blew her hair back from her face, and Dakota frowned a little at the length. It's getting longer, she mused, noting that the ends of her hair were now an inch or so below her shoulders.
Dakota saw Iroh and the purchase-laden soldiers trailing behind him, their faces tired and weary. Zuko was standing off to the side, looking grumpy and frustrated – Dakota took that to mean that the quest for the lotus tile had been unsuccessful. Iroh spotted Dakota, and strode toward her, his face alight with happiness.
"I see you made some purchases!"
Dakota laughed. "Just some tea, Iroh. If anyone made 'purchases', it was you," she said, giving the toiling soldiers a sympathetic glance. They looked at her single bag, and gave each other looks that clearly said: we should have gone with her instead.
Zuko glared. "We didn't find the stupid lotus tile, did you?" he asked, and Dakota's eyebrows rose. How had he known that she would search for the tile as well? Iroh hadn't asked her to do it, so there was no expectation from him; and yet Zuko knew without any uncertainty that Dakota had looked for a lotus tile.
"I didn't find any. I'm sorry," Dakota said, and Iroh gave a disappointed sigh. But then he recovered a moment later, gesturing to the astounding variety of instruments that were currently making the soldier's arms shake with exertion.
"No need to worry. I may not have found what I wanted, but I did find what I needed!"
"Needed?" Dakota and Zuko spoke simultaneously, and their eyes locked in astonishment before quickly returning to Iroh. The older Firebender grinned mischeviously, and began to walk toward Zuko's vessel, leaving the two teens to follow behind.
"Of course! Now we can finally have Music Night! Dakota, did you know that Zuko is an excellent tsungi horn player? When he was younger, he would write his own music, and it was so beautiful you could practically feel your heart breaking!"
Dakota smiled at Zuko's embarrassed scowl, and stole a glance behind them.
The pirate ship was lifting up its sails and slowly backing away from the dock. The colorful sails were lifting, and the beautiful array of shades was dazzling, blending well against the crimson-rose hue of the sunset. After a few seconds, the ship was clear of the docks, and turned toward open water.
With a flutter of air and a quick filling of the sails, the pirate ship began its path into the endless reach of the horizon.