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June 6, 2015
Ratana jabbed her fist forth and sent a rock flying towards a pair of Fire Nation soldiers, knocking them off balance, and the rock didn't stop there. Continuing to soar forward, it slammed into the front of a tundra tank, denting it in the process. Her partner then proceeded to lift some of the dirt from the surrounding ground to clog up the gears. "That won't be going anywhere for a while," Tooru said with a smirk as the tank growled to a stop. "How much longer do you think we can stay out here? The Fire Nation seems to be regrouping..."
"Let's damage as much artillery as we can before pulling out," directed Ratana. "With as much progress as we've made, we should get the best of our time here before he leave. This is for Hanbao!"
"And Shun Ping?" asked Tooru.
"And Shun Ping," she agreed.
The Terra Team had all the momentum on their side for the time being, but that state of affairs was, alas, only temporary. Fire Nation reinforcements were on their way, and even without her keen observation and seismic sense, Captain Ratana could somehow tell that there was a sudden threat that could turn the tide against them and overwhelm them for being too bold.
The inside of the main camp ground of the Fire Nation siege forces was in turmoil. Infantry, benders and tank runners alike were frantic in packing up their gear to move to a safer zone or marching off to fight the Earth Kingdom army that they had underestimated that day. If they were to take Ba Sing Se eventually, the sure truth was that this would be a long siege and the Outer Wall would not fall without a fight. A long and treacherous fight for them all.
General Iroh himself, and Admiral Jeong Jeong were well aware of the situation. "This is quite problematic, if I might say so, Your Highness."
"Please, call me 'general' out here," Iroh waved this addressing of him by his royal title aside. "I am a little caught off guard, I'll admit. But by the time this siege is over, we shall be victorious. That, I am sure of."
"You're quite confident, sir," stated Jeong Jeong, stroking the goatee of his hair, the same white color as that fastened by his headpiece. "If all goes according to plan, though, I believe that you will be right."
That second, the Dragon of the West received another visitor. It was none other than his son, the Prince Lu Ten. "Father, I bring news. Azulon, Son of the Comet, Dragon of Fire, Fire Lord of our nation brings to you a message, and requests your immediate and urgent reply for-"
Iroh promptly snatched the official-looking paper from Lu Ten's outstretched arm. "Honestly, my boy, you could save yourself a lot of breath simply by saying 'Grandpa sent a letter'."
"What is it?" asked Jeong Jeong, curious.
"Nothing out of the ordinary," stated Iroh. "He wants an update on the progress of our battle. Lu Ten, tell the scribe to write that everything is going smoothly for the most part and then give the response to the courier to take to Munn."
"Is it wise not to have messenger hawks here?" Jeong Jeong wondered aloud. "Sending couriers back and forth to Munn each time will slow down our communication with the outside world. The messenger hawks in Munn aren't any closer to the Fire Nation than here."
"It is necessary," said General Iroh regrettably. "There are too many Earth Kingdom benders and archers here to risk them getting shot down in transit."
"And what of the travel distance between here and Munn?" Jeong Jeong cautioned darkly. "Aren't you worried that the couriers will be attacked and that messages will be vulnerable coming to and from there. A courier on an ostrich horse is much more slow and large a target than a messenger hawk."
"Nonsense," Iroh said with a brief wave of his arm. "That territory in between the city is securely ours. No one from the Earth Kingdom-controlled area has been able to penetrate there."
A hail of pebbles showered around the earthbenders, biting them with ferocity to match that of the inferno on the ground created through the shear heat of so many bursts of fire shooting about and surrounding them at once.
Taigang summoned the strength of his lungs and reached out to the nearest Terra Team earthbender to him. "Where is Ratana?" he asked.
"Huh?" Tooru raised his eyebrow, trying to make out what was said to him over the noise from the battle. "How is Ratana?" he shouted back, quizzical. "She's fine, I think. I'm fine also. How are you?"
If there were not so many firebenders nearby, Taigang would have struck Tooru. "No, you retard! I said where is Ratana?"
"Oh," said Tooru. "She's just up ahead. She said she wouldn't fall back until she accounted for the entire unit."
"Pull out," Ratana yelled out just then, about thirty feet away from the pair, as one of the taller camp tents the Fire Nation forces held came tumbling down to the ground, knocking broken wooden shards over dozens of soldiers, as well as two bystanding tundra tanks. "Pull out, now!"
"What are you doing?" Tooru asked her as the rest of the team began retreating.
"I'm going to stay behind to cause a little extra damage," said Ratana.
Tooru rushed to her side and tightened his stance. "I'm staying, too, then. I can't leave my partner behind."
Taigang eyed them both for a second. "Spirits be with you both," he added, breaking into a run in the opposite direction, where Zan Xun and the rest of their comrades were now heading.
At Ratana's orders, the remainder of the Terra Team in the area threw one final set of miniature boulders at the enemies they faced and erected earth walls in front of some of their own. Immediately afterwards, they turned tail and ran, retreating from the Fire Nation soldiers, broken and battered, but still chasing them in a rage that boiled beneath every firebender and Fire Nation warrior's very skins.
Being the Captain of the Terra Team, Ratana did not neglect her duties in the slightest, remaining behind until all the rest of the Terra Team had retreated before her. In the meantime, she gave them extra cover. Or, rather, she and Tooru did, as Tooru was still Ratana's own Terra Team partner. With the reinforcements visible, Ratana and Tooru finally retreated themselves. They took a different path than the rest of the team, going slightly west, toward a river, where they would not be overwhelmed by the additional forces that had arrived.
They had nearly reached the borders of the Outer Wall when three tundra tanks that Ratana had not seen appeared to emerge from empty space, with half a dozen Fire Nation soldiers right behind them. In preparation, Ratana and Tooru stood back-to-back and Tooru sent an earthen spike to repel two of the soldiers as Ratana kicked her own foot to the ground, sending a pair of earthen spikes to halt one of the tanks in its tracks.
It appeared that they were cornered and running out of options when a miracle came to the Terra Team partners. A thin layer of the water from the stream rose up in the air, rising over the next tundra tank like a small tidal wave and engulfing it, shutting its circuits down.
"What the-" Ratana blinked, looking around for the spirit who had performed the impossible for them, but found that it was no spirit at all. "Hasida?"
The healer from the Northern Water Tribe, Princess Hasida, daughter of Chief Nanook the Second, had emerged from behind the Outer Wall and charged to their spot, swinging her arms about so that a jet of water hurled itself against the astonished Fire Nation warriors in response. Then, the three benders - one of water and two of earth - took care of the remaining tundra tank with ease. Meanwhile, Tooru kicked the ground and sent an earthen slab into a Fire Nation guardsman that was preparing to rise up and stab Hasida in the back.
"Looks like we got the better of them today," panted Tooru. "Let's go make our way home now, shall we?"
The two earthbenders and one waterbender marched into the protection of the Outer Wall in relative silence. While Ratana and Tooru sweat profoundly, Hasida was far more pale than either, shaking and huddling into her solid blue and cyan clothing.
"Thanks for coming to give us a hand," said Ratana. "I promise I won't ever badmouth your people again."
"I happened to be watching from the top of the Outer Wall," stated Hasida. "I saw you left behind and it looked like you two could use some backup, with all those Fire Nation troops approaching and most of the rest of your unit already within the walls."
"That was amazing," said Tooru. "I mean, I haven't seen a whole lot of waterbending in my life, but it was pretty good from what I could tell. Why didn't you tell us that you could do that?"
"Promise me you won't tell anyone," Hasida blurted, her voice now much more urgent.
"Not tell anyone?" Tooru said. "That was great stuff. I'd-"
"Promise me!" Hasida turned, looking both Ratana and Tooru in the eye. "If anyone finds out, I can never go back to the Water Tribe. I can never go home."
Ratana was slightly caught off guard, but read the pleading in the waterbender's wet eyes. "We promise, Hasida."
Hasida looked awkward and frail as she marched back into the infirmary at the Ba Sing Se Outer Wall base camp. Ratana looked on in pity, knowing now how much strength that Hasida kept within herself, and how helpless she was about not being able to use it. It was immense for Ratana to try and comprehend the weight that Hasida carried, forced to hide that about herself. Then again, Ratana had her own secrets. She doubted very much that she would want to learn firsthand what the rest of the Terra Team would think of their captain if they knew about the time that she spent with one of their most recognizable enemies back in Gangkouz.
Ratana had wondered to herself whether she would face Lu Ten on the battlefield today, but it was not to be. At this point, she wanted just to get the ordeal of facing him again over with quickly. She remembered his statement that he could take down ten earthbenders by himself, and that angered her. Whatever their connection beforehand, she had to put her kingdom first. The best firebender out there besides General Iroh himself was likely his son Prince Lu Ten, and it seemed almost destiny that they fight. Destiny. That was something that irked Ratana's stomach to think of in any context pertaining to herself and Fire Nation Prince Lu Ten.
"Not a bad result, Captain," Taigang said, in a better mood and pleased with himself. "It turns out we destroyed fourteen tundra tanks while we were out there today, according to observers from the top of the wall, as well as putting a handful of their units out of commission, plus we took in some prisoners of war."
"Great," Ratana said with a nod of approval. "Do you know how many from the Fire Nation we captured, exactly?"
"No," Taigang shook his head solemnly. "Most were infantry, and I think one might have been a captain."
That moment, Indigo came back from inside the barracks to rejoin the Terra Team with an officer from the regular army right behind him, looking quite serious. "Ratana, Commander Lao wants a word," he informed his captain, not as enthusiastic about the news as Taigang had been. He then shrank back into the crowd and wandered toward where the new prisoners were being held.
"We can speak fine here," Ratana said, her voice flat. She knew that Commander Lao was one of the less friendly of non-bending officers in the Earth Kingdom army, and it was no secret that he had always resented the prestige of the Terra Team. Whatever he had to say, he could tell her in from to the rest of her Terra Teammates.
"That was reckless, captain," the thin-mustached man spoke down to the woman half a head shorter than he. "Do you know how awful that could have turned out?"
"Pretty awful, I'm guessing," said Ratana. "As can any attack on any day. None of us can predict the weather, you know. But then again, I suppose I'm too distracted by how well it did turn out to dwell on how poorly it could have turned out."
"Don't get testy with me!" Lao lifted his finger to her, enraged. "You damn near got your entire unit killed in that suicide mission. That was way to far into their line that you went for too quickly, and watch that attitude. You do not deserve to be captain, and I will do everything in my power now to see to it that you are stripped of your rank."
Ratana shrugged, not giving Commander Lao the satisfaction of seeing her mirror his attitude. "You're free to do what you want, commander. But at the end of the day, results are results, and you might want to pick a different time to denounce us. Just a suggestion."
Before Commander Lao could open his mouth again, Indigo came running back to join them, now looking in much better spirits than before. "Guys, guys!"
"We're busy," Lao barked at the new arrival. "Go away!"
"Sorry, but I have something I just have to tell you now," said Indigo, nearly out of breath.
"Can it wait?" asked Ratana. "Is it good news or bad news?"
"Good," said Indigo. "Very, very good! You won't believe who one of the prisoners is we captured today. This is huge!"
"Who?" asked Ratana, curious.
"Prince Lu Ten."
- Yes, Sep0815. We've finally reached that part again.
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