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March 31, 2013
Mr. Re's thin finger tapped Kero's fist. "No, boy," he rasped, his thin voice difficult to understand. "Your fire must come from here," he murmured, tapping Kero's chest, then head. "Not from here."
Kero hung his head, but only for an instant. "I will try harder, sir."
Mr. Re grunted. "You are trying hard enough, but in the wrong way." He turned to the rest of the class. "Continue on with drill five. I wish to speak with Kero alone."
Neru caught Kero's eye and nodded in attempted reassurance.
The student/master pair walked outside the small dojo. Student's shouts of frustration and concentration could be easily heard through the thin walls.
"Tell me what is wrong," Mr. Re grunted.
"Nothing... Everything. Hell, I don't know!" Kero yelled. An infant flame tried to grow on his arm but--like every other one--it was stillborn. Only a small trail of smoke was evidence that it had ever existed.
Mr. Re's ancient eyes glanced at Kero. "It's a girl, isn't it?"
Kero looked away. "Maybe."
Mr. Re nodded. "Then you have two options. You can hold on to the emotions and use them to your advantage, or you can learn to let go and practice your breathing outside until you are ready to rejoin the class." Mr. Re hobbled his way back up the stair and opened the door, then turned to look back. "I suggest the second one."
A half-hour later, Neru had showered off and was walking back with Kero when Gre came running towards them.
"Father got a letter! Let's go faster!"
Kero and Neru took one look at each other and broke into a run.
At the Hai family house, Vef Hai was crying when Kero and Neru made it up to his room. They bowed respectfully and waited almost a minute before their father turned around. The merchant didn't speak, just handed a letter to Kero.
"Dear Father. I am writing to inform you that I am coming home. I was not dead as you were told, but was in fact in captivity in Omashu. I cannot tell you when I will arrive, but I will be home as soon as possible.
Love, your son, Wulon Hai."
Kero let the letter fall, then grabbed it again and handed it to Neru.
"What are you going to do, Father?"
Vef Hai didn't respond at first. When he did, his voice was so raspy it momentarily resembled Mr. Re's. "My sons," he began, his voice getting stronger as he went. "The trip from Omashu takes a minimum of three weeks. We have that long to prepare for your brother's return. "Let us spare no expense."
Kero's head buzzed so loudly that he couldn't hear. Wulon was nothing more than a legend to him, a thing to measure up to that was always just a tiny bit better than he was. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined that his brother would return.
He walked downstairs and collapsed on the table.
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