|More from AvatarRokusGhost|| Drama/Romance/Action/
|First chapter - start reading||Book 1 - Dragon||Book 2 - Siege||Book 3 - Volcano||Fanonbending||Subscribe||Characters||News|
June 30, 2015
A knock on the stone in their doorway caught the attention of both Ratana and Tooru. "Hey guys," said Zan Xun. "The rest of the Terra Team with the night off is heading off to the Lower Ring. I wanted to stop by and see if you two wanted to come along."
"We can't," said Tooru. "Remember, we're both still banned from the city proper."
"Oh, yeah, that's right," Zan Xun jeered, trying but failing to make it sound like he had truly forgotten. "Well, shame."
"Zan Xun, let's just get going," Taigang told him. "Leave our captain and her partner alone."
As they headed off, Zan Xun gave his partner a look, less than pleased that their rivalry with Ratana had subsided. Another of their comrades ran by to join them. "See you around, you two," Indigo said before running to catch up with the rest.
"I wonder what he's doing with them," said Tooru. "He's not into call girls, we know that."
"There's plenty more to do in the city, Tooru," Ratana reminded him.
"Damn, it seems like you always get the short end of the stick, doesn't it?" Tooru asked later when he and Ratana were back in their room. "You witness Quan Jing's offenses, and you get put on court martial for them. We go into the city, and after I start acting up, you get a life of banishment for it. Now your latest expedition on the battlefield is one of the biggest successes we've had out here in Ba Sing Se against the Fire Nation, and you're confined to barracks!? When are they going to let you catch a break?"
"That's not their greatest strong suit, so I just don't know," said Ratana. "At least someone was around to take the night shift, so I don't have to be guarding prisoners twenty-four hours a day."
"Yeah, I'd be paralyzed from sheer exhaustion myself," said Tooru.
"It wouldn't be the lack of sleep that would get to me."
"Then, what?" asked Tooru, confused.
"Never mind," said Ratana, deciding that now was not a good time to discuss her conversation with the Fire Nation Prince Lu Ten. "Let's talk about something else."
"I hope they let you out again soon," said Tooru. "Once this nonsensical punishment period is up, the rest of us on the Terra Team will need our captain back with us again. At least you have a somewhat dignified duty in the mean time, guarding royalty."
"Prison guard is soldier drudgery, no matter who the prisoner is," Ratana scoffed at Tooru's proclamation.
"Anyway, if we're not going into the city again, what are we going to do tonight?"
"I don't know," Ratana mused, lying on her back and staring at the dirty, stony ceiling. "I haven't really got anything in mind."
"Well, why don't we just get out of this compound and walk around the grounds for a while," said Tooru. "Maybe a stroll is just what we need to clear our head and keep our juices flowing."
"Sure," Ratana placed her hands on opposite face-down sides of her mattress and pushed herself upright. "Why not?"
Far from the raging tension that was present outside of the Earth Kingdom capital of Ba Sing Se, a simple tavern was open for business in the evening. At least, it seemed simple enough from a distance, with a gentle light glowing in the window like a firefly against a midnight-dark forest in the Spirit World. Closer up, one could hear the loud, deafening noise of chatter from within. Unlike many other nights there, there was no brawl going on at the moment. The relative quiet compared to other times was enough so that Nyla the shirshu was actually able to get some sleep as he awaited the return of his master June, who was still among the patrons inside.
"Another one!" June pounded her drained, empty mug on the counter as she signaled the bar keeper for another serving of ale. While he took care of her order, she took a peek around the establishment, and found that there were significantly fewer patrons there than usual. Even some of the normal regulars were absent. The bounty hunter June wondered to herself if it was because of something to do with the ongoing siege at the capital, or if it were something more to do with the changes in weather instead. The former seemed more likely, as she could remember this place being packed year round on occasions past. Now there were missing men who may have gone off to fight in the war at the pivotal hour as volunteers at a critical moment. June chuckled to herself as she could see some of the tough guys in the area giving it a shot, but privately knew she would not be among them at any point in time. Aside from a career in the army sparking no interest whatsoever in her, June only personally knew one other woman who was serving in the Earth Kingdom military. She had only heard of scarcely few others, the Kyoshi Warriors being notable, but Kyoshi Island was not involved in the Neverending War. They had not managed to attract the Fire Nation to their shores as of yet.
The absence of so many familiar figures notwithstanding there was presently the introduction of a not-so-familiar figure to the scene. "Are you a bounty hunter?" a man dressed in black asked the tattooed woman as she lifted her newly-filled mug back up to her lips.
"Maybe," June shrugged, coolly, enjoying a sip of her brew and savoring the taste as she acknowledged the stranger. "What's it to you?"
"I might have a job," said the man. He seemed to by stroking something in his side pocket as he spoke to her, a small object.
"Is that so?" asked June, putting her mug back down onto the counter. "I haven't taken a new job in a while. Before my last one I was in here almost every day, but I don't recall seeing you around here before. Who might you be?"
"It's not of immediate importance to you to know who I am and where I come from," said the man in black. "But trust me when I say that this venture, should you accept it, will be...profitable."
"Not that you would say otherwise if you were unreliable, and you haven't given me any reason for me to believe that you are reliable yet," June went on. "The last time that I took a job from someone approaching me as you do now, he was working for someone else."
"Ah, of course," said the man in black. "I heard about your last job, and how it go, exactly?"
I didn't end up actually carrying it out. In fact, I did just the opposite and helped my employer's target capture my employer and clear her name. "It went alright. Have you done some checking up on me?"
"It's merely common sense to know a little more about those who might work for you," said the man.
June's eyes flared threateningly, and her arm fell down toward her belt, where her whip and dagger were located. "Let me tell you something, stranger. I don't take kindly to being 'checked up on'. If this really is an interview, I want to know more about the job that you have in mind for me."
"What else would it be?" said the man. "It's someone that I need tracked down. They're not far from here. In fact, you can say they're very close by indeed."
"And where is it that you want them delivered?"
"Also close by. The job will be done once proof is presented that they have been successfully eliminated."
"I see," said June. "Perhaps you should've said so earlier. It would have saved the both of us some valuable time. You see, I don't do assassinations, so you'll have to find someone else for you."
"What do you have against assassinations? Have you ever tried taking an assassination job? They pay mighty well, and it's easy work." It was actually debatable whether the payment for an assassination was equal to the reward or bounty for a bounty hunter job. At the end of the day, it always depended on the client, whatever the nature.
Of this client she knew nothing. "I took one once, but I couldn't follow through with it," said June.
"That's too bad," said the man. "You could've proven your worth at something new, and your employer must have been so disappointed."
"He was arrested, so I believe he was a little more preoccupied with that." Hearing the sound of the door swinging open, June spotted a pair of Earth Kingdom patrol officers entering the seedy tavern. "I'm going to insist we cut this short now. Leave me."
"How disappointing," said the man, not reacting to her change in tone of voice. "Well, so long June, I do hope we meet again."
"I don't recall ever telling you my name."
Ratana and Tooru found the inside of the Outer Wall of Ba Sing Se to be unusually quiet in the night time, considering how loud the roars of the tide of war raged during the day. Even in the background, they could hear faint sounds coming from the territory between the Outer Wall and the Fire Nation camp. However, they had to listen hard to hear them, and even then it seemed relatively peaceful, like the Siege of Ba Sing Se's version of a chirping grasshopper.
"This is kind of nice," said Tooru. "The breeze is just strong enough, and we're not spending any money. I think I might actually prefer this to going to the Lower Ring anyway."
"Glad that you feel that way," said Ratana. "Since apparently you're so strong in that belief that you made that decision for the both of us."
"Sorry, Ratana." Tooru gritted his teeth together nervously. "I didn't want to get us both banished from the city of Ba Sing Se itself."
"At least you're not banished for as long," said Ratana. "I'm laying my life down on the line each and every day for a city that I'll never be allowed inside again."
"I know, Ratana," said Tooru. "It's not fair. Maybe you'll be let back in, though, if the government changes or if you continue to perform well in the field."
Ratana shook her head. "As you said before, my war record is part of the reason they made an example of me to begin with. And Long Feng isn't going anywhere anytime soon."
"There must be something we can do. There has to be..."
"I do admit that your view of things is refreshing sometimes, Tooru," Ratana admitted, now smiling mildly. "Even if I don't always agree with you. How long have we been partners now?"
"Geez," Tooru scratched the back of his head. "I lost count of how many weeks, or rather months and years we've served alongside each other. If you count all of it, save those times in between where you were away and we were split up for various reasons, then I'd say it has been a pretty long time."
"It's funny, looking back at how many battles we've fought, and how many days we've had to fight the Fire Nation together," said Ratana. "To be honest, a lot of those occasions began to blur in my mind after a while. After all, one battle that we're fighting at each other's side is pretty much the same as the next, but the memories that really stand out in my mind after all this time are when we talk about it at the end of the day, before we turn in and have to face the same threats the next day."
"Yeah," said Tooru. "After serving on the field with you so long, I've practically developed a second nature or a sixth sense or whatever for it. We both know what the other one is thinking, and how we're doing all the time. I would do anything for you, on or off the battlefield, and I know that you would do the same for me."
"Yeah," Ratana smiled awkwardly, gritting all of her teeth together at once. "We have been through so much together."
"And I wouldn't have it any other way," said Tooru.
"I'm really glad you're the one that's watching my back, Tooru," said Ratana. "And I'll always watch yours. Always."
"By the way, a lot of the Terra Team members have been talking about your talisman," Tooru pointed to the necklace he knew was tucked underneath Ratana's green tunic. "They wonder where you got it from. It has that shape on it."
"It's the sun," Ratana explained. "And I got it on my travels to the Fire Nation. What else do they need to know about it?"
"I guess they think that it's odd the way you keep wearing it," said Tooru. "You're back in the Earth Kingdom now."
"It's just an accessory," said Ratana, still hesitant to tell Tooru the whole story of what she did in the Fire Nation and how she had actually found live dragons, but let the chance to expose them and stop the invasion of Ba Sing Se go. "Nothing more."
"Cheer up, Ratana," said Tooru. "This gig you've got guarding the prince won't last forever. You'll be out in the field again before you know it."
"Sung seems to want to make a statement on me just like the Dai Li."
"Our progress has not gone unnoticed," said Tooru. "A messenger came by our room while you were guarding Lu Ten. General How is pleased with the news, and he sent this little gift from the Upper Ring."
It was a knife. After Tooru handed it to her, Ratana unsheathed it and held it up in the moonlight. "Never give up without a fight," she read the inscription on the tiny blade. "How appropriate."
- The knife that is currently in Ratana's possession was seen in Zuko Alone.
For the collective works of the author, go here.