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|From Outside the Outer Wall|
April 7, 2015
"I can't believe it."
"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, Tooru," Ratana jived back at him.
"No, I mean, congratulations," her parter took on a different tone. "You deserve to be Captain of the Terra Team. If anything, it's long overdue. I've always known you're a natural field leader, like when you sort of took charge back at Gujuhmin."
"The rank means nothing to me itself, but I'd like to use it to make a difference," said Ratana. She knew that Sung was expecting her to be a tool in his strategy, but she had other ideas in mind. "It's time to make up for our setbacks."
"Quite a few of ours suffered injuries at the hands of the Fire Nation during our charge the other day," Tooru said solemnly. "You'll see soon, and some new volunteers came to help us out."
Ratana soon noticed what Tooru meant, as a lot of the staff were not from the Earth Kingdom, let alone the Ba Sing Se area. They were dressed in various shades of blue, and their darker-skinned bodies in combination with their aquatic and cyan clothing meant that these could only be healers from the Northern Water Tribe. "I see."
"So many of our men were taken out of commission. It's lucky that the Fire Nation doesn't have a solid enough line, so they were still able to get passage into here without encountering any trouble."
One of the healers, a woman older than either Ratana or Tooru, came over to approach them. "You two must be on the Terra Team. It appears that most all of your comrades are going to be fine. Granted, there weren't as many injured in your unit. The one called Zan Xun had it the worst."
"Taigang's partner," said Ratana. "Will he get better soon?"
"He suffered the most wounds, but his perseverance does him credit," said the healer. "A couple of the younger girls are finishing up on him as we speak."
"That's good news," Ratana replied, and she meant it. Even though she had not gotten along Zan Xun with in particular before, the Terra Team would have to stick together, like she told Taigang before. And as captain, it was her job to ensure that they stayed that way.
"Hasida," one of the other women from the Water Tribe called to the one conversing with the Terra Team pair. "We need you here."
"Excuse me," the woman called Hasida ejected herself from Tooru and Ratana, carrying on with her duties.
"Of course," said Tooru. "And thank you for all that you've done for us today."
Ratana took notice of some men in blue clothing similar in style to that worn by the women healers. There were not as many of them as there were healers, but they would be of help if they were here as combatants. "I see that you have some benders and warriors with you, too. Will you be joining us in this fight, then?"
"Nay," one of the taller men with a spear and a goatee shook his head. "We're here as the escort for these ladies. Our job was to bring them across the continent, and when the time comes for us to leave, we'll ensure that they have safe passage up north, where we'll take one of our boats back to our homeland."
"Ah," said Ratana. "Of course, I should've known. Well, when you see the Chief of the Northern Water Tribe once again, you can give him my personal thanks for sending you all down here. We, his Earth Kingdom allies find it really touching that our nations stand side by side at a time like this." Ratana saw frowns on all their faces appearing as she turned to exit the tent.
Tooru followed her outside and clamped his hand on her shoulder. "Ratana, what was that about?" he asked, astonished at her rude, sarcastic outburst.
"It's not like we need them to fight our battles," said Ratana. "But if you look at the histories, we've helped them out of a tight spot a few times recently and it'd be nice if they truly returned the favor."
"Good thing Sung put you in charge of the Terra Team and not international relations," said Tooru. "They're relatively isolated and their sister tribe is on the brink of extinction. Would you be taking a lot of chances if you were in their shoes?"
"Sorry, but I've been under a lot of stress lately," Ratana said, trying briefly not to think of the Water Tribals or General Sung's lackluster attitude, but then, as usual, felt her mind wandering back to the face of Lu Ten when she shut everything else out, and thus allowed it to settle and fixate back on Sung again. "It just seems that no one knows how to face what we're up against now, and the world is slowly, but surely crumbling all around us."
"Well, we're the Terra Team," Tooru reminded her, grinning. "It's our job to make sure that doesn't happen, right?"
"Tooru, remember when we were on the field of battle the other day and you were stuck on the line with Indigo here?"
"I do," Tooru recalled solemnly. "It seemed like a disaster. You saw some of the result of it in the infirmary today. From where I stood, it looked like you and Hanbao in the others got yourselves locked into some kind of death trap out there."
"Well, I think that what we were trying might actually have some merit to it," said Ratana. "I think that the maneuver Hanbao stared putting into action would be a good idea, just it wasn't executed correctly."
"That's a bold statement," Tooru commented uneasily. "Interesting. I wonder how General Sung would feel about that. Maybe you should mention it to him."
"He thinks it's a terrible idea," said Ratana. "He wants to stay on the defensive, but if we always stay on the defensive, we'll never save Ba Sing Se from these attackers. If we don't fend them off, they'll just keep coming and even if it takes a long while, they'll overcome us eventually. Then, it'll be on that day that we won't have any options left, and all we could do is wish we had taken more chances at the early stages, such as now."
"Hmmm..." Tooru stroked his chin. "I don't know. General Sung is our commander, so perhaps we should trust he knows what he's doing..."
Ratana shook her head. "He's never been our best general, and he doesn't have the guts to strike back. He's playing it too safe and giving into cowardice."
"Whoa, Ratana, watch it," Tooru told her, serious. "Look, you're usually the one to warn me of these things, but he's our commanding officer, and if you stand against him, that reeks of insubordination. Do you want to find yourself court-martialed again?"
"He had made me captain," pointed out Ratana. "But he won't agree with what I do once I'm out on the field with the rest of the Terra Team."
"I think that's all the more reason for you to be cautious, Ratana," said Tooru. "You don't want to jeopardize your new position."
"Ugh!" Ratana sulked. "I don't care about the rank, Tooru. I care about winning this battle...winning this war..."
Tooru nodded for a few moments before speaking again. "Ratana, you seem like you need a break. Fortunately, we have time to get you over this stress before our next assignment. Why don't we go to the Lower and Middle Rings for a while?" he suggested, eying the monorail many feet above their heads.
"I don't know," said Ratana. "We should stay focused. Let's train instead."
"Is that an order, Captain Ratana?"
"No, it's not an order, just a suggestion," said Ratana. "If you knew what was good for you, you would use this time to train, too. Otherwise, you're not only endangering yourself but everyone you serve alongside by being below standard. Actually, you know what, it is an order. You're training with me, Tooru."
"Usually you're the responsible one, but not now," said Tooru. "You know as well as I do that this isn't going to help your focus one jolt."
"I just don't see the point in it."
"Since you never take time off, I don't think you're one to judge it," said Tooru. "Let's relax like a couple of careless teenagers for a few hours, then we'll go right back to business. Does that sound alright, or are you too mature for that, oh captain, my captain?"
Ratana sighed. "Fine, alright. Let's go."
"Really?" Tooru beamed with spontaneous excitement. "You never want to go anywhere if it's not a battle. I didn't think you'd entertain the idea of going into the city, even when we're this close."
Ratana scowled. "Let's just get going before I change my mind and say no."
"Father, come on!" Jaya nearly stomped her foot to the ground, but she was far too much of a lady to do that now. "I should be playing more of a roll in this scheme. If I'm going to be ruling the Fire Nation someday, I should be front and center now."
"Jaya, please, I don't have the patience for your objections right this second," Prince Lizen the Younger gritted his teeth. "This is my plan, and I am putting it into action. I'm the one who came up for it, so just follow my lead and stay in the background. Stay put as a spectator until I have something I need your assistance with, and then do as I say."
Jaya's composed, cold eyes narrowed at her father. "No. I heard you tell me every little phase of your master plan before, and I distinctly remember the part where I'm the one who will be taking charge of the Fire Nation eventually, after Lu Ten and I's child is on the throne and I am regent. In all fairness, I'm the one who should be calling the shots."
"Pah!" Lizen scoffed. "You'll never get there without me. If you weren't so impertinent of a spoiled brat now, I would laugh at your logic. You're not on the throne of the Fire Nation yet, you're here to accompany me, your Grand Sima and provisional governor of the occupied Province of Munn, on the expedition to invade Ba Sing Se, the Earth Kingdom Capital. And I am your superior! Don't forget it."
"Stop talking to me like I'm just a little girl, Father," Jaya shot back. "I was fully on board when you told me about your plan, but you've been shutting me further and further into the dark ever since you initially told me everything, keeping all the important tasks for yourself. I know the gist of it, but you refuse to fill me in on every step."
"The steps that we're taking are on a need to know basis," Lizen responded, further losing his patience.
"Need to know, where you're the only one in the circle?"
Lizen ignored her. "All you need to know for now is that everything is according to the plan and you have nothing to worry about. There is a reason I do things as I do. Some of the decisions and actions involved require a strong person like me to perform them without wavering. I can't trust them to someone else."
Jaya crossed her arms. "It is as I suspected," she said. "Despite the fact that I'm your daughter, you still harbor some resentment against me because I'm a bender and you are not."
"Don't be ridiculous!" snapped Lizen. "If that were true, why would I concoct a plan where you become the regent and ruler of the Fire Nation and I am at serious risk of being defamed, sentenced or exiled?"
"I don't know," said Princess Jaya. "With all the changes to the plan, how do I know that the end result hasn't changed as well? Maybe you're not planning for me to rule the Fire Nation."
Prince Lizen took a deep breath. "Let me put it to you this way, my dear, spoiled Jaya. What other choice do you have than to trust me on this? Do you have a plan to make yourself ruler? Of course not! You don't have the capability of coming up with a master scheme like this as I have. My plan, my rules."
Jaya pouted, blowing one of her strands uncharacteristically out of place for her well-known, picturesque face, but she did not verbally respond.
"Good," said Lizen, claiming victory even though Jaya's reaction was hardly an admission of wrongness, let alone a full on submission. "With that said, I'll be off. Make sure to do some hot squats and practice your firebending while I'm gone. And also make sure the workers don't make a mess of things." The Prince of the Fire Nation had quite a lot on his mind as he left his daughter behind, including all the risks that he was taking that she was not aware of. He would have to make quick use of the seal that she had brought, which meant that he would have to make sure that everything else was in alignment soon, too. Meanwhile, he would have much to discuss to stay on top of what was going on at the battle, in the Siege of Ba Sing Se. He had caught wind that one of the commanders had acted insubordinate, and that Iroh had punished him dearly for it, though he did not know who it was. That mean that somebody else was going to come in to replace them, and he had to make sure to be cautious if that person were a suspicious type unseen yet among the general staff.
- This is the first time in DSV when characters are shown from the Water Tribes.
- "Oh captain, my captain" is a phrase many might recognize from either Walt Whitman or The Dead Poet's Society, starring the late Robin Williams. However, the context where Tooru says it here is more like how it was used in Alley Cats Strike.
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