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|More from AvatarRokusGhost|| Drama/Romance/Action/
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|To Inside the Inner Wall|
April 7, 2015
"It's been so long since I've been to Ba Sing Se proper," said Ratana. The sight was not as she remembered it, either. There were fewer tourists or travelers going back and forth between the Outer Wall and the Inner Wall than one would find in the recent past. This was likely due to the fact that the influx of refugees had stopped with the Fire Nation laying siege to the city, though a few had still made it through. It seemed that these lucky refugees still thought Ba Sing Se to be the safest place within the Earth Kingdom, even with the Dragon of the West and his massive army sitting outside the Outer Wall. The Outer Wall had, in fact, endured multiple attacks throughout history, including from the Fire Nation, where the invaders had left defeated and Ba Sing Se remained victorious. The Outer Wall had never been breached, let alone the Inner Wall.
"Well, we're here now," said Tooru. "And it took us long enough to get here." The Agrarian Zone between the two great walls of Ba Sing Se was vast and took long for their train to travel through. It was home to many farms and small, minor locales. Plots of land were filled with harvests of various fruits and vegetables, and countless barns and pens stood as home to livestock for meat. Even if Ba Sing Se was cut off from the outer world completely, it could survive an age as long as the Outer Wall stood, for the population within the Inner Wall could still be well-fed. Ratana had laid eyes on no fewer than seven small farms that they had passed by the time they arrived at the station within the Inner Wall of Ba Sing Se. Now that they had disembarked the train with the other passengers, Tooru eyed the stony station around where they stood. "Where should we go to first?"
"I don't know," admitted Ratana. "This city is such a big place it's hard to decide where to start."
"Let's start with which ring," said Tooru. "Upper, Middle or Lower? We're on the Terra Team, so they're all open to us."
"Alright, Middle Ring it is," said Tooru. "By the end of the day, though, remind me to buy my mom a present from the Upper Ring. She always wanted to visit one of the jewelry stores there, but it's been ages since she's been here and even when she is in the capital she only has permission to travel to the Lower Ring and Middle Ring."
"Looking to get her something fancy, then?"
"It's not that I'm classist, but I have expensive taste for the gifts I give people," said Tooru.
"I don't think that you're classist, Tooru," said Ratana. "Remember, I grew up in Munn."
"True," he nodded. "Say, while we're here, maybe I should buy something for each of my siblings, and perhaps my brother-in-law and nephew, too."
"We'll be shopping all day," said Ratana, recalling that Tooru had eight younger brothers and sisters.
"It's the biggest city in the world," Tooru shook his head. "We'll never see everything do everything worth doing in a few hours. That's a losing battle. Here, let's make the best of our afternoon and check out some of the hot spots I know of."
"Fine, Tooru," said Ratana. "As long as what you speak of is not getting call girls, lead the way."
They changed trains and took one of the adjacent monorails across the Lower Ring. As they passed over the houses and buildings, Ratana took a good look at the city. The Lower Ring looked as dismal as she last remembered it, at least in the rougher parts. For a moment, she was reminded of the time that she spent back in the Fire Nation in Gangkouz. It was in a place like that where she had first met Heidze. Ba Sing Se from the monorail hanging in the sky looked like it stretched on forever, even though the edges of the Inner Wall and the walls within the city separating the rings were clearly visible.
As they were "practically starving" once they had gotten this for, Tooru took Ratana to a restaurant for lunch where he had been several times before. Although it wasn't the kind of place the upper class in Ba Sing Se would frequent, it was considered a charming, reasonably priced eatery with an amiable atmosphere. Unsurprisingly, it was a hot spot for local teenagers and Ba Sing Se University students. Tooru promptly ordered the fried appetizer sampler platter that was one of their signature dishes once they sat down.
"Have you decided what you want for your meal yet?" the waitress asked them upon returning.
"Not yet," said Ratana. "Still looking."
"I'll have the noodles," Tooru grinned widely as he handed his menu to her.
"Good choice for a fighting man like yourself," the waitress commented, noticing their uniforms.
"We're taking a bit of time off from that now," said Tooru. "Got to fill our stomachs in the mean time, you know what I mean?"
"What exactly are you taking time away from?" asked the waitress.
"Patrolling the borders," Ratana raised her voice before Tooru could speak again.
Tooru grimaced. "Yes, patrolling the borders. We have lots more borders to patrol once we're done here, for a couple border patrollers like us."
"Hmm," the waitress nodded, noticing tension. "Well, I'll go pass your order onto the chef now."
"Way to make things sound as uninteresting as possible," Tooru scowled as the waitress left him and Ratana behind.
"Tooru, you cannot mention the war here," Ratana said to him in an urgent, hushed whisper as she leaned across the table. "You should know that."
"And that's the best other explanation of what we do that you can think of?"
"Technically it's true," Ratana continued to whisper. "Only now the borders are just outside the Outer Wall, and there's a lot more obstacles than normal."
Tooru snuck a peak at the other patrons to the restaurant, as well as the civilians on the street - men, women, children and families alike. "Look at them," he said. "How many do you think are entirely oblivious to the storm raging right on their doorstep, and how many are simply keeping their heads down?"
"There's no way to know that just by looking at them," said Ratana. "It's the ones that open their mouths that stand out."
"It really is distasteful what they do here in the name of preserving order," said Tooru, now much more solemn than when they had arrived.
"Agreed, but it's not a conflict we can concern ourselves with. We can only afford to focus on the one we're fighting outside the walls."
"And as we can see here, no one is cheering for us."
"Look, Tooru, if this is too distracting for you, perhaps we'd better leave."
"No, it's okay. I won't bring it up again, promise."
The two hungry members of the Terra Team finished their meals in relative silence. Ratana had chosen a mixture of meatballs and rice, with fried vegetables as garnishes. Once they had finished up their meal and paid their check in full, Ratana and Tooru wandered away from their table at the restaurant and entered the Lower Ring, where they took a walk on some of the more crowded streets. Both of them were strong enough with their earthbending to be able to handle themselves in any section of the city, but stuck to the crowded areas in order to avoid any unnecessary hassle that they may have come to encounter along the way. In one of the main squares at the intersection of four crowded streets the pair arrived at another landmark of Ba Sing Se: Firelight Fountain. There were many patrons in the street and they were watching some sort of show, by first glance. Granted, the real time when this attraction stood out was the nighttime when the torches around the fountain were all burning and the place got its name, but it had its moments during the day time as well.
"What's going on?" asked Tooru.
"It looks like they're doing a puppet show," stated Ratana. "A war drama."
Tooru raised an eyebrow. "That can't be right."
"War, of course meaning the ancient wars to unite the Earth Kingdom," Ratana clarified. "They wouldn't make a play about another war here."
"Alright, that makes sense," said Tooru. "It looks like the characters from Ba Sing Se and their allies are all wearing light green, and Munn and their allies in dark green."
"That's good for clarity."
"Say, Ratana, is that why you hate where you're from so much? Because your ancestors were the losers?"
"No, it has nothing to do with that," said Ratana. "I don't care about a conflict that took place centuries before any of us were born."
"Whatever you say, Dorunian?"
Ratana's eyes flared. "Why are you calling me that, Tooru?"
"Taigang called you it," Tooru shrugged.
"My father was a Dorunian Warrior, not I."
"Ssh!" a woman in her forties next to Ratana put her finger to her mouth for her. "Do you mind? My kids and I are trying to watch."
"Pah!" Tooru scoffed. "What is this, a history class? There's a war going on now. We're fighting the Fire Nation and that's all around us today."
Ratana tugged at the clothe on her partner's Terra Team uniform. "Tooru...knock it off."
"Let's get out of here." Ratana noticed a stranger with a possessed stare at the other end of the crowd, watching not the play, but her and Tooru. "I have a bad feeling about this."
"Nah, let's stay here a little longer," said Tooru.
"Tooru, I'm serious!" Ratana pleaded with urgency. "It would be much better if we were not here right now. Trust me."
"Why?" asked Tooru, sneering. "Are you ordering me as Captain of the Terra Team if I don't want to go."
"No," Ratana shook her head as she felt her patience melting away with every word that came out of Tooru's lips. "I mean, maybe I am. We need to go."
"Fine, Ratana," Tooru kicked a pebble skidding across the ground as he followed behind her.
On the next street over, the two Terra Team comrades came across a small marketplace with dozens of stalls flanking the edges of where they walked. Some of them sold food, some beverages, some tourist items or antiques and some newsletters for those who were keeping up with current events.
"Nice outfits," a young woman with long, light brown hair commented as Tooru and Ratana passed her by.
"Umm...thanks," Tooru voiced uncertainly, looking back over his shoulder. Ratana, on the other hand, had said nothing in response and had continued walking.
"Are you two earthbenders?" she asked curiously.
"Yes, we are," Tooru stopped and approached her.
"What's it to you?" Ratana pointed abrasively once she realized she had to turn back as well.
"Have you, you know, fought in the war?" asked the girl at the stall. "How are things out there?"
Ratana rolled her eyes. "Let's get going, Tooru." Her partner, however, had not moved.
"Yeah, I've fought in the war," Tooru grinned at the girl. "My partner of the Terra Team here, Ratana, has too. We're fighting the Fire Nation right outside of Ba Sing Se to keep them from invading Ba Sing Se. General Iroh brought his armies from the Fire Nation to try to take the capital."
"So, it's true," the girl put her hand to her mouth as she gasped in response. "That's why we haven't gotten as many refugees as we usually do. I had heard rumors among the other cityfolk in this part of town, but now I know for myself."
"I wouldn't worry, my dear," Tooru put his hand on her shoulder with tenderness. "The Outer Wall has never been breached before. It's always held up every time an invader has tried to break through it, and we'll make sure that it holds up again." He stared into her eyes. "You can count on us!"
The girl put her hands together and folded her fingers, smiling at Tooru. "How brave you all must be."
"Let's go, Tooru," Ratana tugged at his shoulder once again.
Tooru sighed. "Well, we had better get back to our posts, so we can fight off that nasty Fire Nation and stop them from getting in here and getting to you."
"Good luck!" the girl yelled after them as Ratana rushed the two Terra Team earthbenders away. However, by the time that Tooru had turned back around, she was gone, and there was a ruffle of dirt forming a small dust cloud in the place where she had once stood.
"Tooru, what have I told you before?" Ratana questioned him angrily. "Are you stupid? We can get into serious trouble if you carry on like this, and by serious, I mean even worse than when I was put on a court martial for assaulting Colonel Quan Jing."
"Ratana, would you lighten up," Tooru rolled his eyes. "I seriously doubt that they can watch every square inch of the city twenty-four hours a day. She seemed to feel safe mentioning the war in front of us. What did you think, she was a spy?"
"No, that's ridiculous."
"If she's freely talking about the war in here, why shouldn't we be able to when we're the ones fighting to protect these people day and night? And even if there is a chance they would find us out, since when do you shy away from taking risks? We're taking big risks for ourselves every time we fight the firebenders."
"That's different, Tooru," said Ratana. "We're taking risks for our own lives and well-being when we fight the Fire Nation because those are risks that we have to take. This is different. What you're doing is fruitless. There's nothing worthwhile to gain from violating the law inside the city of Ba Sing Se. We can be caught, imprisoned, even have our minds and our very existences wiped and replaced with whatever they see fit, and we would have nothing to show for it."
"It's not fair, though," Tooru sulked.
"You're right, it isn't," Ratana conceded, looking around the corner to find a light green-robed woman with a discomforting smile eying them from twenty feet away. "But it's not worth it. Sometimes life isn't fair and sometimes we just have to deal with it. We're already fighting a battle outside the walls. It's not practical to go off fighting another one inside the walls."
Tooru paused for a few moments. "I guess that you're right. Still, though..."
"Here," Ratana put her hand on her partner's shoulder, lowering her voice and trying to sound understanding. "We've probably spent enough time off for one day. Why don't we go catch a monorail train back to the Outer Wall? It's getting to when we'll be needed there again, so it's best we start preparing for our next attack. As the Captain of the Terra Team, I should see to it that we're up to snuff."
"Alright," consented Tooru. "Can we at least grab one cup of tea before we head off?"
Ratana hesitated. "Sure, but let's make it quick, okay?"
"Okay," nodded Tooru. He led her into one of the variety tea shops on the way to the monorail station and they entered together. It was a stuffy, but cozy establishment, with four sets of tables lined up, and a rectangular mound of dirty sticking up between the wooden floor boards near the back of the room.
"This place has a nice aroma," commented Ratana. "I wonder what kind of tea they have here. It's hot and bubbly at the same time."
"It looks like they have a long menu," said Tooru. "So I'll probably go for what's at a good price. Hmmm...they must have performances here sometime, or maybe an open poetry reading," he added, pointing to the dirt stage above the wooden floor at the back.
Ratana opened her mouth to respond, but was distracted when the door behind her creaked open a little and she caught a glimpse of a face peering in. It appeared to be the same woman that had been looking at them earlier. The door promptly shut once Ratana saw her. "Wait here, Tooru. I'm going to go check on something." With that, Ratana exited the establishment and looked up and down the street for signs of the woman, but she had disappeared. The Terra Team member darted over one block northward and investigated the alleyways perpendicular to the street. She then rushed back and checked the alleyways similarly-positioned one block southward from the shop. Finally, she bent over and ran her palm across the ground, but her seismic sense told her the area was deserted.
"This is bad," Ratana said to herself. It seemed that someone had already taken notice of them, and even the slightest slip-up would spell the end for Tooru. Now it was no longer safe for them, even to stay for one cup of tea.
When Ratana reentered the tea shop to collect Tooru, she fount that her partner was neither sitting at one of the tables nor ordering himself. Instead, he was on the dirt stage at the back of the building, where he had used earthbending to erect an upright wall with a diagonal attachment hanging off of it.
"And then, in an instant," Tooru mused to his audience, which now consisted of the remainder of the patrons in the establishment, plus the waiters and owner. "The wall collapsed!" he continued, thrusting his elbows back and collapsing the diagonal attachment, as well as the midsection of the miniature wall that he had made. "With most of our forces trapped underneath, we were outnumbered against a hostile legion of Fire Nation soldiers who came to overwhelm us. But my partner and I-"
"Tooru!" Ratana called out, appalled.
"Oh, hi Ratana," Tooru smiled. "I'm just reenacting the Raid on Gujuhmin for them. Do you want to come up here and help me finish?"
- Tooru's family was introduced in House of Tooru.
- The puppet play about Ba Sing Se and Munn fighting each other for control is a historical saga within a historical saga.
For the collective works of the author, go here.