|More from AvatarRokusGhost|| Drama/Romance/Action/
|First chapter - start reading||Book 1 - Dragon||Book 2 - Siege||Book 3 - Volcano||Fanonbending||Subscribe||Characters||News|
|Gangkouz: Part 1|
July 19, 2013
On the eve of arrival to the port of Gangkouz, Ratana retreated to her cabin early and attempted to bolt the door shut. As it had no mechanical lock of its own, she soon gave up the endeavor and instead lay down on her assigned cot and stretched the cover over the front of her face. Still alert and taking precaution at every step, Ratana wanted to hide her face in case someone crept in during the night and found that she had shed her phony facial hair while she slept. Slipping into her soft, white nightdress, Ratana collapsed onto her mattress and allowed her mind to drift. However, once she lay down, curled up and closed her eyes, she found herself unable to doze into unconsciousness. Thoughts of dragons delayed her sleep, and the dreams of them disturbed it once it finally did come to her. Ratana did at least get to enjoy the comfort of a few hours relief from having the infernal prickling beard attached to her face before morning time, when she had to once again put it on, fasten her hair into a manly topknot, and continue her ongoing masquerade as Nookyazu, the missing Fire Nation national with a lame left leg.
As they all-too-often do, the unkind daylight hours came too soon. Despite turning in earlier than usual, Ratana had not received her fair ration of slumber. Nevertheless, she would not permit this to taint her determination as she once more donned the disguise she now despised. Being in the army, she was used to being on-the-go. Even though this esteemed mission was not the best of experiences, she had been fortunate enough not to have any major setback yet, like there had been at Gujuhmin, and if such a setback did arise, she would have to do exactly what she did there. She would have to improvise. Serving in the Earth Kingdom military had shown her that it was never any use to fret. Carrying on and making the best of the situation was all there was, and it was a notion she had dwelt with since shortly after her sixteenth birthday.
At last, the towering vessel docked at port, and the robust crewmen announced their passengers the arrival at Gangkouz. And so, Ratana finally set her first sight upon Fire Nation soil. Being surrounded by so many individuals garbed in various shades of red, Ratana's battle instincts quickly kicked in and her mind began calculating which earthbending attack to use in such a hopelessly-outnumbered scenario. She was forced to remind herself once again that that was not the reason why she was there. Nevertheless, she felt tense and defensive, given that however out-of-place she had been in a colony like Guangcheng, she was far more out-of-place here. As she was supposed to be one of them, she concentrated on continuing to act natural, limping with her limb in the exact same manner with each step she took. Perhaps she was overanalyzing herself, and assuming the Fire Nation citizens would be overanalyzing her, but Ratana could never be too careful. One suspicious eye could bring everything crashing down for her, and there was no telling how long she would have to remain in the Fire Nation.
At least Ratana had her allies in this foreign land. The commanding officers had informed her of an Earth Kingdom spy network hideout in Gangkouz. There she could seek aid, transportation and answers to how she might go about trying to reach the dragons and somehow prove to the world that they were still alive. The directions to the location lay in elegant scribbles on the map of the Fire Nation that General How had given her. Strangely enough, Ratana had hardly glanced at it since setting off, but now she needed it to find out where to go next. The words were difficult to decipher, but from what she could tell, the hideout was a couple streets away from the center of town, in an apartment complex. Ratana was just thinking to herself that it seemed an odd spot to be center of the local Earth Kingdom espionage when her eyes wandered to the dots on the map itself.
She froze in her tracks when she noticed where Nongkun was located. "What?" she questioned to herself in a whisper. "That can't be right." The village of Nongkun was nowhere near where she was. In fact, it was near the other side of the Fire Nation. "Why did they send me so far away? Maybe there are two Nongkuns...it sounds like a common name." But Ratana could not find a single other one anywhere on unraveled paper she held.
She found herself distracted by a deep male voice a few feet away from her, in front of what appeared to be a giant billboard. "Did you hear our boys wiped out some more of those Earth Kingdom brutes the other day?"
"Yep, we're gaining ground," his burly companion boasted. "I've read all about it in the papers. Methinks it's time to enlist and get some of the action."
His friend nodded approvingly. "It has it perks. You get to travel the world and show off for the ladies when you're a man in uniform. I served for two years near Omashu myself, though most of the action has been closer to either Munn or the Si Wong Desert these past months."
"I'm signing up today," the stockier Fire Nation man declared jubilantly. "Let me just write down the address for this recruiting office."
Ratana remembered that not everything she knew was public knowledge yet and these two did not know about planned siege against Ba Sing Se. As soon as they had gone off, she walked over and took a peak at the poster they had been eyeing. On either side of the message was a drawing of a masked firebending soldier and an unmasked non-bending warrior, respectively.
"Come sign up for the war effort today! Serve your country and spread our famed prosperity to the uncivilized savages of the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes. The Fire Nation needs you to join the army and bring glory to your countrymen. See your nearest recruiting station for details.
"The posting of this message comes by official decree of Azulon, Son of the Comet, Dragon of Fire, Fire Lord of Our Nation."
With her insides flaring up and spreading anger to every cell in her body, Ratana had a hard time desisting from tearing the obscene propaganda poster apart. During her years with the Terra Team, she had seen the full horror of what the Fire Nation had done to her people. She had seen the devastation brought to cringing victims: the scarred, the mutilated, the violated. From ruined widows, to lonesome four year-old orphans, to those left with nothing to survive off of but their own flesh, Ratana had seen what most would see only in nightmares.
"Spreading their glory..." Ratana muttered to herself, shaking. "The only entity they're capable of spreading is that of misery and destruction."
Those spreaders of misery and destruction were not far off, as a unit of Fire Nation soldiers were stationed along the wall opposite the pier, alertly surveying those getting off the boats. Ratana noticed that a few of these guards were females. While they were still in the minority, there were clearly more than one would find in a similar unit back in the Earth Kingdom. Looking at their faces, Ratana wondered what it would be like to have a duel with them, however, that was not in store for her. Since blending in was essential to her mission, which was vital to her people's fight against the Fire Nation, it was now the time to stand in place and utilize her neutral jing. The time to strike would come later, and when it did, she would strike hard and swift.
Several hours into a steam train ride that ran overnight, Crown Prince Iroh and Prince Lu Ten were now arriving at Gangkouz Central Station. Having a full wardrobe prepared for them at their destination, Lu Ten had not bothered to pack any extra clothes, sleeping through the night in his full royal ceremonial regalia. It had seemed sensible to him at the time, despite whatever anyone else had said. The following day, however, Lu Ten came to regret that decision. Near the Fire Nation coastline, the air was ablaze with the scorching heat from the sun managing to seep its way into the train through openings and windows, causing the younger prince to sweat profusely in his extravagant robes.
As they stepped down onto the platform, the calm Iroh and the tense Lu Ten discovered their respective escorts. Side-by-side stood a military envoy and a noble page. "General Iroh," the mustached man in a helmet greeted with a short bow. "The War Board has been expecting you. If you'll follow me, I'll escort you to the briefing."
"Ah, I thought this might be coming," the Crown Prince acknowledged. "Well, then lead away, my good sir. There is much to be done!"
"You were expecting a briefing this soon after we arrived?" Lu Ten questioned his father, raising an eyebrow. "What's going on?"
But Iroh held up his right hand as Lu Ten made to follow him. "Sorry, but this meeting is to discuss classified developments on the war front. Go to your uncle's house. I'll catch up to you in a day or two."
Lu Ten sulked in his sweaty over-garments as his father left him stranded with the nobleman's page, who bowed and offered the same glorified, empty greeting that he had come to loathe. "Prince Lu Ten, the palanquin is ready to take you to Old Kao's apartment."
"It's not that far away," Lu Ten scoffed. "I can just walk."
"It's not a prince's place to walk anywhere, Sir."
"Oh, give me a break!" Lu Ten snapped irritably. "I'm still the grandson of a Fire Lord, so there's no need to overdo it. I'm not the son of a Fire Lord yet." Nevertheless, the sweaty prince decided he preferred not to walk in the hot weather while still in his curly-tailed blue nose suit, and reluctantly stepped up into the covered enclosure, carried by four bearers.
Although Iroh had referred to Old Kao as Lu Ten's uncle, he was actually the first cousin of his late mother, but he had been to Kao's apartment in Gangkouz so often that he had become referred to as Lu Ten's uncle, though that was certainly not the son of the Crown Prince's choice. As much as Lu Ten was annoyed at being excluded from the important meeting his father was off to, he was dreading a stay with Old Kao even more. Kao was a fly fishing enthusiast, and his seaside flat always smelt of what he had caught during a given season, some of it fresh, some of it not so fresh. Whenever Lu Ten had been left alone with the old man, he had droned on for hours about stories of huge fish he had caught and storms he had been through. Although they had been mildly interesting the first time he heard them, even great stories could grow dull by their twentieth retelling. In exchange for this "entertainment," Old Kao made the young prince gut and scale his most recent catchings, the elder man's most prized possessions.
Granted, it had been years since Lu Ten had seen Old Kao, so he had hopes that things would be different now, but he started to doubt it as the palanquin lowered by the front steps to the flat. Dreading what was to come, Lu Ten ascended the spiraling steps to the top floor of the wooden building and rasped on the door with his knuckles. "Hello? Kao, I'm here. It's Lu Ten, remember me? Hello?"
Knocking just one more time, Lu Ten saw the door move and realized it was not locked. The stench that greeted him on the way in showed him that Old Kao's hobbies over the years had not changed in the slightest. Baffled by the quiet and lack of response, the youthful prince in his royal robes stared about the humble apartment and came upon an unmistakable note lying in plain sight on the short, wooden table.
"Dear Iroh and Lu Ten. My apologies for not being here to greet you in person, but I booked a last minute fishing trip to the river Jang Hui. I hear they have some exotic new specimens down there and couldn't pass it up! Help yourself to anything in my pantry for the next week or so."
Lu Ten blinked his eyes twice and brought the paper closer. "A week?" Old Kao would be gone for the entire time that his father was at his meeting. Granted, Iroh had told him he would catch up within a day or two, but Lu Ten knew it could easily be longer than that. He had assumed that Kao would have an itinerary ready for him to follow in the meantime, like he had back at the capital. A Prince of the Fire Nation, or any royal, for that matter, was not used to this much free time. This meant he could eat when he wanted, sleep when he wanted, firebend when he wanted, even go out and about when he wanted. It was a time like this that Lu Ten often dreamed of, but now that he had it, he hadn't the slightest idea what to make of it. WIth no obligations or assignments, and no one to give him any, Lu Ten undid his topknot and shed his princely robes. He had the urge to take a break from being a prince, at least for a little while.
- Iroh and his brother Ozai obviously have very different personalities. While Ozai forced Ursa to completely cut her ties to her past and never see her family again, Iroh did no such thing with his wife. "Old Kao" is a relative from her side of the family. Originally he was going to be Lu Ten's mother's brother, but it seemed to make more sense to just have him be a cousin, so he's not too intertwined with the rest of the story.
- Old Kao is in for a hideous surprise when he travels to Jang Hui. The "exotic new specimens" rumored to be there are two-headed fish, not exactly the kind of distinction he was looking for.
For the collective works of the author, go here.