The Hot Place wasn't high on his list of favorable pastures. For one thing, it had almost no grass to eat, much like The Great Stone Place the herd visited last season. For another, it was only a few moons ago that he, the rest of the herd, and many of his herd's kin had stampeded to this very building; fighting their way from the ocean, up the island, and into The Hot Place while the sun had gone dark in the middle of the daytime. Even now this place stank of coal, steel, and all those other reminders of the just finished Hunted Times.
The near-silent sound of silken slippers crunching grass underfoot brought Appa away from his musings. Glancing up, he recognized the figure half-hidden in the shadow of the courtyard wall and instinctively tensed. It was a hunter, an attacker, one of Blue-flame's herd from the Hunted Times. A growl that rumbled like distant thunder issued from deep within his throat, and it was only Life Brother's assurances that the Hunted Times were over, that they had no more reason to run from anyone, that kept Appa from fleeing over the wall or charging forward, horns down.
Mai paused on the edge of the courtyard as the Avatar's Air Bison took note of her. She raised a single delicate eyebrow at his rumbling growl. Sighing, she leaned against the courtyard's threshold.
"Figures. Should have just ordered a servant to go on Aang's little check-up."
At the mention of his Life Brother, Appa's growling ceased and he blinked. Curious at this hunter's easy posture, he warily relaxed as well.
Mai's arched eyebrow lowered. So he wasn't going to attack her. How boring. Deeming a staring contest with a six-ton animal uninteresting, she made her way to one of the stone benches that dotted the border of the courtyard. She ignored the bison's sudden tensing as she moved, only settling her gaze on him again after she had seated herself comfortably on the marble bench.
Appa for his part finally decided that if this hunter truly was done trying to attack him and his herd, than he could go back to what at that moment mattered most. Eating. He resumed masticating the hay piles with an easy, methodical vengeance, pausing every few mouthfuls to re-assess his quiet companion.
There was a sort of subtle comfort hidden in that quiet, he found. Unlike Loud One's incessant chattering, she didn't seem to voice every thought she had out loud. Nor did she hum to herself when no one else was around, like he sometimes noticed Ocean Eyes doing as she cleaned camp or prepared food for his herd. And this former hunter definitely didn't make all the body-noises Little Badgermole would whenever the opportunity arose.
No, this two-leg reminded Appa most of Chainbreakerand not just because she smelled of him. Like him she was a former hunter, and she still carried the latent predatory gleam in her eyes that constantly probed for weakness and advantage. She moved with an easy grace in this region's sticky heat, despite the multitude of dark false furs she draped over her body.
Perhaps Unhappy One? Bringing up some Cud to chew, Appa pondered on what he should call this particular two-leg. It was obvious how his herd's scents, especially Chainbreaker's, hovered on her. That meant she was important to them, and therefore deserved a name her own. Stillshadow? Silent One? No Smiles? Appa shook his great head and snorted. None of them seemed to fit.
Mai sighed again. Pitiful as it was, this was the least boring place for her to be at the moment. Her house wasn't an option, because her parents could be coming home for Zuko's coronation any day now. Nor was she allowed to sit in on the meetings Zuko and the Avatar were currently attending. Helping the wounded with that Water tribe girlKatarina?might have been the honorable thing to do, but that didn't make it any less gruesome. And her brother was still busy going on and on and on about how he broke his leg on an airship to anyone who would listen. Besides, he had that Kyoshi warrior permanently attached to his hip, and Mai was still feeling guilty about her part in the girl's imprisonment.
Speaking of jail-time, Ty Lee still hadn't left the rooms she shared with her new prison friends since she'd heard Azula was sent to the Coolers at the Boiling Rock. Mai supposed she should go talk to her about it, but since she herself was still deciding how to feel about her best friend's play for power, psychotic breakdown, and subsequent jailing, now probably wasn't the best time for a heat-to-heart.
So all that left was either helping the blind Earth Kingdom girl go looking for that weirdo in white, or checking in on the Avatar's Bison. Wasn't a choice at all, really. And as company went, The big thing wasn't so badas least it didn't chatter her ear off or go out of it's way to try and make her feel like one of the group. In fact, as the soon-to-be Fire Lord's girlfriend, that was technically her job.
Mai sighed again, then flicked her wrist and summoned a knife between her fingertips. She ignored the Bison's angry growl at seeing the weapon and instead jabbed her chin in the vague direction of the Courtyard's sole apple tree.
"Hey. Bison. You want one of those?"
The great animal kept growling until it saw what she was pointing at. It looked back at her, then the knife in her hands, then the tree and it's full, just-ripe-enough-to-fall apples, then back at her once more. When it finally made this sort of chuff-chuff-chuff'ing sound at the back of it's throat, Mai took that to mean 'yes' and let the dagger fly. It connected with the stem of an apple and the fruit fell to the ground, only to rest there for an instant before zooming into the bison's open mouth on a narrow, powerful stream of air.
For a moment, Mai's eyebrow arched again. "How did you..." she trailed off as she watched the animal crunch the comparatively tiny treat between its flat teeth with relish. "Oh yeah," she muttered, "Air Bison."
Appa finished his apple quickly and chuffed again. He looked back at the tree imploringly, and when he turned his head to take in the new heardmate he saw she had a whole handful of tiny sharp fliers ready to go. Feeling like a calf half his age, he stomped his feet back and forth and chuffed eagerly.
It was subtle, but he was sure her mouth quirked upwards for a moment at his obvious excitement.
"So," he heard her say. "you're not scared of me or my knives anymore. Good."
She whipped her hand forward and several of the tiny sharp fliersknives, she'd called themshot towards their targets. This time he caught them with air before they hit the ground, inhaling and bending a breeze strong enough to bring the delicious fruits into his open maw. Bunching all but one in his cheeks, he reversed the airflow at the last second, sending one lone apple away from himself and his hungry stomachs towards instead the lap of his new herdmate. She caught the apple with a deft, professional, and quiet ease. This time, her smile was longer-lasting and definitely genuine.
"Thanks," Mai said. "I don't think anyone but Zuko knows this, but apples are my favorite fruit."
The Air Bison nodded it's shaggy head once in agreement, happily crunching on it's mouthful of apples. She turned her own over in her hands a few times, before producing yet another dagger and cutting herself a slice. She chewed pensively, not nearly as annoyed at the large beast's crunching as she thought she should have been. What had the Avatar called it? Aural? Airy? Mai cut herself another slice of apple. Apple. Appa. That was it.
Satisfied, Mai stood. "Well Appa, looks like you're okay." She waggled her dagger between her fingertips. "One more for the road?"
Appa swallowed his last bit of apple cud and chuffed. Quick as a flash, Mai's dagger flew. This time however, the blade ricocheted off one of Appa's horns before leaping to the tree and severing an Apple stem. Shocked, Appa only looked at Mai, head slightly cocked to one side in silent inquiry.
Mai shrugged. "You once blew me and Ty Lee into a river. I had to ride my Mongoose Dragon sopping wet for five hours after that. Now we're even."
To her surprise, Appa just chuffed again and trotted over to her. Before she could think of what to do, a slimy, pink tongue almost as big as she was lolled out of his mouth and licked her from boots to hair buns in one fell swipe.
Appa blinked once, grunted, and walked back to eat that last apple.
Even indeed, Quiet knife. Even indeed.