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|Raid on Gujuhmin: Part 3|
May 4, 2013
Luck was on Ratana of the Terra Team's side as she dashed through the carnage of near the front wall of the Fire Nation colony of Gujuhmin. Side-stepping flame-pointed arrows and ducking under scorching streams of fire, she made her way toward the section of the wall which had crumbled on her own troops earlier. After their attempt to retake this long lost city of theirs had taken a turn for the worse, she had rallied the remnant of the Earth Kingdom forces together in a last stand just inside the rim of the city. Having heard that her friend Shun Ping had not made it to where the rest of them gathered, Ratana now retraced the steps of her fellow Terra Team members alone, in search of him.
Sweat creeped slowly from her crown to her neck as she ran swiftly between the ranks of the hostile army and rounded the corner of the fortified wall. Frantically, Ratana began to scale the rocky rubble with her eyes. She was graced with another fortunate course of event when she spotted the conically-shaped helmet of one of her own between three large boulders. Ratana approached a staggering Shun Ping just as at the rim of the shattered wall, thanking the spirits that she had found him.
More importantly, he was still breathing. "Ra-Ratana?" her Terra Team comrade greeted her, blinking in surprise.
"I'm getting you out of here, Shun Ping!" the elegant earthbending woman said to him as she picked his skinny body up by the leg and knocked the crumbled pieces of rock off of him.
"No...go...save yourself," Shun Ping whispered onto deaf ears as she hoisted him over her shoulder and balanced the shorter earthbender on her back.
Ratana's foot rose up to her hip before she dropped it back down once again and erected a towering earth column beneath her feet, which launched the weight of both her and Shun Ping into the air. They soared a good distance before touching down near the same fountain their army had gathered by earlier. On one side of the earth trench that the Terra Team had constructed at her suggestion were the Fire Nation forces of Gujuhmin, whom the earthbenders and warriors of her army frantically tried to fend off. On the other side were a few modest-sized homes made of white stone with trembling civilians in both red and green watching from the windows, including a crying old lady clutching her arms around the shoulders of a young, mossy-haired little boy.
Lowering the injured Shun Ping to the ground and allowing him to rest against the fountain, Ratana spun about and crossed her arms in the air. Gravel from the paved path flew up and covered around her forearms, which allowed her to deflect the oncoming fireball, which had been thrown by a younger-looking Fire Nation captain. Shifting her weight back, Ratana yanked up a small, hard chunk of earth with a wave of her arms. She promptly shifted her weight forward and with careful aim, managed to hit him fast between the nose and the jaw. Her opponent, having fast pace, had punched a second blazing ball of fire in her direction in the time she had taken to respond with her own move. With him now knocked back, Ratana twisted her left foot, emitting a curving line of earth. As the line reached the Fire Nation captain, a rocky slab popped up, slamming him in the face and knocking him unconscious. Before moving on, Ratana stole a last glance at her fallen opponent, who had proven more capable than most she had fought in her time. This ruthless human killing machine from the Fire Nation's face and top-knot reminded her of a picture she had once seen of Prince Lu Ten, the grandson of the current Fire Lord, who was also said to be an exceptional firebending master at a young age. Ratana's lips curled as she pictured herself besting the Fire Prince himself in a duel on the battlefield and rubbing it into the face of his countrymen.
"Well, what do we do now, Ratana?" Taigang jeered at her with resentment, himself occupied with a trio of skull-faced firebenders he had to himself in a fight.
"I'm thinking, I'm thinking," Ratana said aloud, partially serious, partially to mock Taigang's attitude at a time like this. An oncoming tide of black smoke emitted from a charred road sign and forced her to shut her eyes. Coughing and wheezing, the momentarily-blinded Ratana instinctively felt the earth beneath her feet to find out if opponents were near. When the smoke passed a few seconds later, Ratana was relieved to have use of her eyes again. She could not imagine having to fend like that all the time, like that girl Toph she had met not long ago, or the badgermoles.
In this moment, a fresh idea came to Ratana, and she allowed her orbs to remained covered by their lids as she stroked her foot along the ground. Detecting a hollow area where the boundless mass beneath the earth's crust was not quite so thick, she stabbed the ground with her pointed toe and sent a fissure down. A crack appeared on the street floor like a lightning bolt, which soon split apart and the ground crumbled and sank below them. The paved road tore apart and the foundations of the nearby houses gave way, their walls crumbling along with their floors and ceilings.
As the floor of the earth split apart, the soldiers of the Earth Kingdom tightened their stances, bracing themselves for what had snuck up on them. By contrast, the troops of the Fire Army loosened their stances and fell back, fleeing the gaping hole in the ground beneath the entrenched area. Meanwhile, the citizens of the city, both Fire Nation settlers and subjugated Earth Kingdom civilians alike, mostly ran inside and slammed their doors. Some found shelter, while others were not so lucky. The concrete corner of the house nearest the fountain split and cracked off from the rest of the dwelling, leaving a tall, triangular gap in the residence, through which screams could be deciphered. Still, this home did not fare the worst. The crack in the ground shot straight underneath one of the houses closer to the outer wall, which split apart exactly as the ground had. On the doorstep at the time, a man garbed in lime-green robes frantically tried to scramble in, but being right above the cracking line himself, he plunged downward, terrified, along with the Earth Kingdom soldiers nearby.
Darkness swept over those who fell, and the loud, deafening scene of bloodshed that was the battlefield inside the walls of Gujuhmin faded away into a quiet, though no more peaceful, descent. Dazed and confused, the soldiers of the Earth Kingdom army found themselves inside a cave looking up at a hole the shape of the trenched area they had enclosed to themselves in Gujuhmin. There was an unconscious Earth Kingdom civilian from the city among them. He was the one whose house had been torn apart less than a minute earlier.
"Where are we?" Tooru wondered aloud, adjusting his helmet over his bruised scalp and squinting his eyes in vain.
"The badgermole-dug tunnels," Ratana clarified. "I knew they were our only way out of this mess once the tanks had felt the scene, and I doubt the Fire Nation knows these passages well." With a final, tremendous push of both her arms, she brought an enormous clump of dirt over which obscured the hole in which they had fell.
"Why'd you do that?!" Taigang exclaimed indignantly. "Now we can't see!"
"It's the only way we can be sure the Fire Nation won't follow us," Ratana countered matter-of-factly. "We'll have to sense our way out with the vibrations in the ground. If you're a non-bender, stick close to an earthbender or follow our voices!" And so the remnants of the defeated army marched their way to safety.
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