Lynn gripped the staff tightly in her hands as she faced her adversary. This battle had been going on too long for her liking. Here she was, her fur soaked with sweat, while that vile Kyrii just stood there, showing off his trademark smile with a hint of malice. He twirled his staff like a propeller and took his battle stance. He curled his fingers a few times, inviting her to attack again.
Blinking the sweat out of her eyes, Lynn used her staff like a pole vault and leaped into the battle once more. Each strike was met by a block. Again and again she tried to knock Kai off his feet, but each attempt failed instantly.
Soon, both warriors had their staffs pressing against one another. Lynn gritted her teeth while Kai just grinned. "What's wrong, Whiskers?" he cooed softly. "Skip your nap this morning? Why don't you just give up? You're clearly exhausted."
"I.... won't... lose..." she growled. "Not... again!"
Lynn pushed off Kai's staff and leapt into the air. If she timed it right, she could get him right on the head and the fight would be over. Victory would finally be...
Kai nimbly flipped out of range and caught Lynn's collar on the end of his staff. In one quick thrust, he sent her sprawling to the ground.
Lynn struggled to get up, spitting the dirt from her mouth. Her whole body was trembling with rage. She saw nothing but red as the blood pounded in her brain. She had trained too hard to lose. Letting out a earsplitting roar, she grabbed her staff like a club and charged at Kai, swinging her weapon madly over her head.
In the blink of an eye, Lynn was thrown down to the mat with her own staff pressed against her chest. The young red Wocky tried to steady her breathing as Master Ryshu stood over her, his pale green eyes giving her enough warning to stand down.
"That is enough, Lynn," he said. "Kai has won the duel. As a fellow warrior, you must accept defeat gracefully."
Lynn clenched her paws as strands of black hair fell in her face. "No! I can beat him! Just give me another chance!"
Ryshu helped Lynn to her feet. "I am sorry, Lynn." He then turned to his students who had been watching from around the ring. "The winner of today's match: Kai!"
A loud cheer arose for the yellow Kyrii as he bowed respectfully to his fellow students. It is tradition at the Mystery Island training center that whenever two students finish a dueling match, the victor must bow to his audience, then the two warriors bow to each other. While Kai willingly upheld this honor, Lynn was far too upset to even look at the pompous Neopet.
"You cheated!" she shouted. "You wouldn't have beaten me if you hadn't pulled that stunt with the staff."
"It was a legal move, Lynn," said Ryshu calmly. "It is the best way to defend oneself against an aerial attack. Now bow to your opponent so that we may continue the..."
"NO!" she cried again, stomping her foot. "There is no way I am bowing to that no-good, cheating coward! I demand a rematch!"
"Lynn!" snapped Ryshu. "You show disrespect to your opponent and your master. Fifty back flips, then meet me outside by the gates."
So badly Lynn wanted to object, but the tone in Ryshu's voice told her it would be hopeless to argue. Sighing heavily, she went to the back corner to do her back flips while the rest of the class continued the lesson.
* * *
The back flips helped release her stress, but Lynn was still upset over what had happened. Ever since she started her training at Mystery Island, she had longed for the days she could be a great warrior. She practiced the moves until she knew them flawlessly. She was quick, agile, attentive, resourceful. She showed great strength and balance while fighting. She knew she had what it took to be the best. What was stopping her? Why couldn't she defeat Kai?
"I see the storm has finally subsided."
Lynn looked up to see Master Ryshu approaching. He sat down next to her on the steps and gazed at the sun as it slowly started to sink in the horizon.
"It is beautiful, isn't it?" he said softly. "The scenery. Ever since I was a young apprentice, I was always distracted by the beauty of Mystery Island. The crashing of the waves, the wind through the trees, the way the Peophins would leap in the..."
"I almost had him," Lynn muttered. "I was so close. I could've nailed him with one shot, I know I could've."
"It was a simple match, Lynn. You mustn't..."
"But it's not fair!" Lynn started to pace back and forth. "Every time Kai and I fight, he always has to have that smug look on his face and act like he's SOOO much better than me. He taunts me, he mocks me, he's always distracting me with that attitude of his. And yet, somehow, he ALWAYS wins! I can't take it anymore! I just don't know why I keep losing."
"I mean, I know all the moves, I practice every day, and I know I'm just a good a fighter as he is... aren't I?"
Ryshu said nothing as he picked up a stick and started to doodle in the sand. For a long time, he was quiet. As antsy as Lynn was, she knew better than to be impatient with her teacher.
Finally, Ryshu looked up. "Tea" was all he said.
Lynn cocked an eyebrow. "Tea, sir?"
"Yes. You must make a pot of tea. That is how you will defeat Kai. Follow me."
Lynn wasn't sure what to think, but she followed Ryshu to the training grounds. He told her to sit in the middle of the sparring ring. She sat and waited, wondering just how making a pot of tea would help her defeat Kai.
Ryshu returned with a kettle, a fire mote, a bucket of water, a jade teapot with two cups, and a canister of green tea leaves. Ryshu set up the items the way one would when they were preparing a cup of tea.
"You have everything you need before you, Lynn," said Ryshu, sitting down across from her. "You are to make me a good pot of tea. If you succeed, then you will master the skill you desire to defeat Kai. If not, then you must try again and keep trying until you get it right. Begin."
At first, Lynn just sat there, staring at the items quizzically. Luckily for her, she knew how to make tea. Her mother always made her cups of Earl Grey for breakfast. First, she poured the water into the kettle and placed it over the fire mote to heat. Then she took a small scoop of tea leaves and placed them in the teapot. Once that was done, she waited. She could hear the small rumble of the water from inside the kettle. Soon, steam emerged from the spout, giving the kettle a high pitched whistle. She poured the water into the teapot and waited for the leaves to steep.
She looked up at Ryshu for approval. He remained stone-faced. Had she done something wrong? No, that was just the way he was. He'll be happier once he tastes it.
After a few minutes, Lynn poured the tea and gave Ryshu his cup. The Nimmo gently took the cup in his hands and sipped it. His face winced from the taste.
"Wrong," he said, splashing the water out of the cup. "Do it again."
Lynn's jaw dropped. How could she have messed that up? She had seen her mother do it a million times. She sighed and took the bucket to fetch more water. After cleaning out the teapot, she tried again, doing the exact same thing as before. Once the kettle whistled, she poured the tea again.
This time, Ryshu didn't even pick up the cup. "Wrong," he said. "Again."
"But you didn't even taste..."
"Do it again."
Lynn tried three more times, each with the same result. She could feel her patience wearing thin. There were only a few scoops of tea left. If she didn't get this pot right, then she'd only have one more chance.
She gradually poured the tea, trying to look as poised and elegant as possible. Before the cup was even filled, Ryshu said "Wrong! Do it..."
"WHAT?!" cried Lynn, almost dropping the pot. "We've been at this for over an hour! How the heck am I suppose to beat Kai with a pot of tea! It doesn't make any sense!"
Ryshu did not answer, but instead picked up the cup and handed it to her. "Taste it," he said.
Lynn took the cup and sipped the warm, green liquid, than immediately spit it out. It was so bitter! The tea left a funny taste in her mouth.
"There's something wrong with that tea," she said.
Ryshu shook his head. "The tea is fine, Lynn. It is Sun Blossom, a green tea grown in the mountains of Shenkuu. The leaves are more delicate than black tea."
Ryshu then filled the kettle up again with water and placed it over the mote. He waited patiently until the water started to rumble inside the kettle, then he poured the water in the teapot with the last scoop of tea leaves.
Lynn was confused. Weren't you supposed to use boiling water for tea? Before she had a chance to ask, Ryshu was already pouring her a cup. She looked at her teacher, who nodded, encouraging her to taste it. She took a small sip and was pleasantly surprised to find that the tea tasted much better this time. It was smooth and flowery with a small robust bite to it.
"This is delicious," she said, taking another sip.
"Yes, green tea is an excellent drink, but it takes careful preparation. As you noticed, I used the water when it was just under boiling. When the water gets too hot, it ruins the leaves, making the tea bitter, therefore destroying the flavor."
Like the rising sun, the lesson was slowly starting to dawn on Lynn. "Hot water... is like my temper, isn't it?"
Ryshu nodded. "You have everything you need to become a great warrior, Lynn. Including a burning passion. All fighters have that passion, that anger in their hearts when they go to battle. It is necessary to have. But you let the anger control you instead of motivate you, then it begins to boil inside and it destroys your talent, just like how the boiling water destroyed the taste of the tea."
"That's why Kai's able to defeat me?" Lynn asked sheepishly. "Because he knows how to get me mad?"
"Yes, Lynn. Kai already knows how talented you are. Aside from your temper, you pose a very serious threat."
Lynn was silent as she looked at the last remaining leaves floating around in her cup. A small sun blossom was among the leaves, its petals open wide to reveal its delicate nature. She saw what Ryshu meant. Her passion was the water that helped these tea leaves become something great, but she kept ruining them by letting her passion become pure anger. She thought about all the matches she had had with Kai and how angry she had become during all of them.
She wasn't going to let that happen again. She would not give Kai the satisfaction of making her boil.
* * *
"Fighters, prepare yourselves."
Lynn looked at Kai across the ring. Just as smug as always. She cast a quick glance at Ryshu, who gave her a small nod, silently reminding her of their talk the other day.
Cheers of encouragement applauded from the spectators as Kai and Lynn began their match. They circled each other, not breaking eye contact. Kai was the first to strike, but was blocked by Lynn, who immediately counter-attacked with a blow to his shoulder. Kai leapt back and went back for another try.
Like the day before, the two continued their battle, giving it all they had. Lynn could feel her passion rising as she watched Kai trying to distract her with his attitude.
Do not boil, she told herself. Do not boil...
Once again, they locked staffs and stared at each other in the face.
"Getting tired yet, Whiskers?" Kai sneered. "I'll understand if you want to take a nap."
"That's okay, Kai," she said coolly. "I already had one, but thanks for the offer."
Kai's jaw dropped. Normally this would've sent her over the edge. This brief moment of shock gave Lynn the opportunity she needed. She flipped back and swung the staff under Kai's feet, sending him crashing to the ground.
"Enough!" shouted Ryshu. He came between the two fighters, holding up his hands. "The winner of this battle: Lynn!"
The other students cheered for Lynn as she caught her breath. She bowed to her fellow students, then turned and bowed to Kai, who grudgingly did the same. It wasn't long before Lynn was surrounded by the other students who patted her back and congratulated her on her victory.
At last, Ryshu stepped forward through the crowd and bowed to his student. "Very good, Lynn. You have done well." He turned to the rest of his class. "In honor of Lynn's victory, we will continue the day's lesson outside on the beach."
The students burst into applause as the Nimmo led them to the shores of Mystery Island. Just as Lynn was about to join them, she turned to see Kai picking up his staff. She was expecting him to look irritated over his loss, but instead he was sad. Embarrassed, in a way.
In the past, Lynn would've loved to have rubbed her victory in his face, taunting him mercilessly as he had done so many times. However, her heart told her something else to say.
The Kyrii faced her, but avoided eye contact. "Shouldn't you be shouting your victory from the rooftops or something?"
"Actually... I was wondering. After training, I was going to have a pot of tea on the beach. Would you like to join me?"
For a long time, Kai just stared at Lynn, as if trying to find her true intentions for such good sportsmanship. "Why?"
Lynn shrugged. "You just look like you could use a cup of tea, that's all."
Kai was quiet as he fiddled with his staff. "Um... sure. That sounds nice."
Lynn smiled. "Okay then. We'll meet by the gates afterwards."
"Cool. Hey, I meant to ask you, Whis-Lynn."
"How exactly did you beat me? Like, what's your secret?"
Lynn chuckled. "I just stayed the right temperature, that's all."