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|More from AvatarRokusGhost|| Drama/Romance/Action/
|First chapter - start reading||Book 1 - Dragon||Book 2 - Siege||Book 3 - Volcano||Fanonbending||Subscribe||Characters||News|
Lu Ten, Rang Xue, and Speedy, their newly-named komodo rhino were nearly halfway up the mountain by the time the sun reached it's peak in the sky. They had stopped only briefly to have some of the fruit they brought to eat before continuing on their journey to the top of the mountain. Lu Ten had recounted his earlier visit to see the dragon spirits from years ago and just finished telling it to his companion a few minutes after they resumed riding.
Following a pause of several seconds, Rang Xue broke the silence again. "So...what are you doing with that?" she asked, pointing to a flute hanging at Lu Ten's waist that he had just begun to fondle back and forth.
"It's for the dragons, of course!"
Rang Xue laughed mildly, as though she thought him joking. "Heh...do dragons like music, then?"
"Of course they like music!" scoffed Lu Ten. "Geez, for someone so eager to go find dragons, you don't seem to know very much about them. This traditional flute sings in cool harmony with the wind, which tames the fiercer side of a dragon's spirit."
Although Rang Xue admittedly did not know much about dragons, she very much doubted this. "That's...surprising."
"It's hard for me to picture ferocious fire-wielding beasts getting into a tune."
"Ferocious beasts are merely beings in the balance...just like us," the incognito Prince of the Fire Nation told his uninformed companion. "Back when they were hunted, those who went after them spent years studying their ways before they were considered worthy to face them. Did you also know that when they roared the loudest wasn't when they were attacking something? It was when they themselves were being attacked."
Rang Xue seemed like she was about to respond when all of a sudden, the beast whose back they rode upon keeled over, wheezing and sweating. Both of his riders were knocked to the ground in the process. "What's wrong with him?" she asked in alarm, spitting out dust.
"Speedy's been bit," Lu Ten stated solemnly. "He's poisoned. It's pretty bad."
"I thought the venomous critters were at the bottom of the mountain."
"Usually they don't venture this far up, but luck was not on our side today," stated Lu Ten, looking on the animal with pity.
Rang Xue's eyes widened. "There must be something we can do!"
"There is," said Lu Ten, ripping out a cloth and dousing it in hot water. "We need to get something to seep the poison out within minutes or this komodo rhino of ours is a goner. Try to keep him calm while I tend to the cut and try to get the poison out."
Rang Xue nodded and placed her right hand on the komodo rhino's forehead, just below the main horn as she began monitoring the animal's temperature. Staring into the vulnerable and innocent creature's eyes, she let out a deep sigh. "Hang in there, Speedy," she said with awkward prose, briefly breaking eye contact before turning back. "Look, I'm sorry about saying you weren't that fast earlier. I didn't mean any offense. I'm sure you're the fastest and strongest of your kind around here, so you can make it through this."
Lu Ten smirked broadly, listening to Rang Xue's pale attempts at conversation while he himself routinely checked Speedy's breathing patterns. It was less than an hour before he got the bulk of the venom scooped out, but he and Rang Xue sat by his side a few hours more.
"Good job, Lu Tong," Rang Xue smiled admiringly, once it became clear that Speedy would live another day.
Lu Ten nodded in response. "He's in remarkably good shape, but he needs to rest and get home to his family. You and I will have to hike the remainder of the way on foot."
"Well, let's get going, then!"
Lu Ten smirked again as he and Rang Xue ascended the mountain together. She was an odd creature, that was for sure. However, there was also something alluring about her. At first he found it strange that she never talked about her origins and that she was obsessed with dragons, but seeing her healing Speedy's poison wound, among other things, was something that exposed another side. She was someone who was rash in her determinations and opinions, but he also knew deep down that she was someone that could be trusted and counted on, even though he had not known her for long. Such people were easy to spot if one looked at them under the right light, as Lu Ten's father Iroh had often said.
Within a few more hours, the pair reached the summit of the mountain. Lu Ten yanked his fiddle pipe off his belt and began to play through the flute jubilantly. Echoes seemed to ring from all around as the wind rustled in the background. "Hear that? That's the sound of the dragon spirits."
"It is?" Rang Xue asked, confused. "But...that's just the echo."
"Yeah, but it sounds kind of ominous like when it blows through this area. Did you think we would find real dragons here?"
"Come on, Rang Xue," said Lu Ten. "Real dragons are extinct. Everyone knows that."
"I see," said Rang Xue, hanging her head. "Was what you said about dragons liking music true, or just these so-called dragon spirits?"
"So you really did think there would be dragons here? Wow. They're extinct now, so it's all in the past tense, but what I said before was true for real dragons as well before the last one was killed, from what I've heard." Seeing the look on her face, he continued. "Look, I know that you may be disappointed that this is just a local urban legend, but boy, just look at that view before us." Lu Ten gestured down to Gangkouz, several hundred feet below them. The bright copper disk of the sinking sun illuminated the surroundings, as the waters of the harbor glowed gold, the waves appearing like an entire Earth King's ransom, and the many lights in the town at festival time sparkling like diamonds. It was truly a view to treasure.
"It's...breathtaking," Rang Xue stated, looking forward for a few seconds. "Lu Tong, it was really amazing what you did back there for Speedy."
"Thanks," said Lu Ten. "You know, you weren't too shabby yourself."
"Give me a break. All I did was talk to him. You did the important work."
"We all do our part," Lu Ten stated. ""Come, let's sit for a while."
For the next few minutes, Lu Ten and Rang Xue dangled their legs, side by side, as they sat and allowed them to hang over the edge of the giant rock atop the mountain. "Heh, did you plan for us to make it here exactly at sunset in your timing?" she joked, grinning.
"No," chuckled Lu Ten. "I wouldn't have been able to predict a poison for our ride earlier, would I?"
"I suppose not," admitted Rang Xue.
"Rang Xue," said Lu Ten. "Look over the ocean beyond the port town of Gangkouz. When I was younger, the elders would say that everything in the world is connected and the ocean is really one big river. Think about it. On the other side of that river is the Earth Kingdom. Makes it seem a lot closer to think of it like that. Isn't it unbelievable?"
"Yeah," Rang Xue concurred thoughtfully. "It kind of is." She now seemed homesick more than ever.
Just then, Lu Ten took a deep breath, ready to get something off his chest. "Listen, Rang Xue," he began solemnly. "I have to tell you something that I haven't told you yet. It has something to do with who I am, where I come from, everything about me, really. I probably should've told you earlier. Maybe I should've told you when I met, but I hope you'll understand. I just hope you won't look at me too differently after I tell you."
"Oh, sounds quite scandalous," Rang Xue laughed, grinning.
"Actually I should probably tell you tomorrow when my father's around," said Lu Ten. "If that's possible. I must warn you, it'll be quite a shocker."
"Sure, it's so late now that I might as well be in town another night. After all I've been through in Gangkouz, I think I can handle whatever you want to tell me," Rang Xue laughed again.
Seeing how she was acting so far, Lu Ten allowed himself to relax for now. "Wanna bet?" Rang Xue responded by leaning away and playfully punching him in the arm.
It was long after the sun descended and darkness swept over the port town of Gangkouz that Ratana and Lu Tong returned to the apartment, where the chairs by the fireside beckoned once again, Ratana's having the same pine-checkered quilt draped over it. Fortunately, there was no need for any drying off this time. As it was dark now, Ratana was perfectly fine to stay another night, though she was still alive and filled up with energy and feeling from the day's events.
She was enjoying herself in a way that she had not been able to in years. Lu Tong could be cocky in a light-hearted way, but he also had a sweet side to him. Today, they had eaten sugar tarts, tamed a komodo rhino, climbed a mountain, saved their komodo rhino and bonded extensively with each other in the process. Lu Tong spoke to her inner child like no other did in recent memory. Tomorrow, she and him planned to return to the festival that was in town, and maybe get to spend a little more time there, having been too focused on another destination today. Then, once they got tired of the games, Lu Tong said he would take her down to the harbor and show her the nice walks down by the beach, right where the boats came into port, and...
What on Earth was she doing?!
Ratana was in the Fire Nation, in enemy territory. She was not here for climbing mountains, drinking tea or going to local festivals. And she was certainly not here to make friends. She was here to find dragons. The leading commanders of her nation entrusted her with this mission and sent her here, and she was now more side-tracked than ever. As a member of the elite Terra Team, she was expected to succeed in any duty assigned to her, but so far, she was disgracing the name. To put it bluntly, all that Ratana had managed to do since getting off the boat in Gangkouz was have her stuff stolen, get into a brawl with a local gang and waste time. Meanwhile, the attack on Ba Sing Se grew closer and time for her and the rest of her nation was running out.
Granted, Ratana had taken advantage of Lu Tong's kindness in the beginning in order to get closer to her goal. In the Earth Kingdom capital of Ba Sing Se were many lives that would be uprooted in the event of a full-scale invasion, and any taking advantage of Lu Tong was justified by the end of her mission. She felt guilty nonetheless and although logically she knew what the stakes were, she was unable to shake the feeling. Knowing a person oftentimes makes such things more difficult. All that she was here for, she could not tell Lu Tong about. Whatever supposed secret he had been keeping from her, Ratana knew almost for certain that hers would be more shocking if he ever found out.
But now Ratana had to leave him. She needed to leave Gangkouz and Lu Tong behind early the next day. Right now, she needed her focus and Lu Tong was a distraction. It seemed simple enough. After all, Ratana was a rational person who knew what she had to do and logistically it was not hard. She just had to make up some excuse and leave at the crack of dawn. Even without money or direction, she could find her way to Nongkun and the dragons somehow. Couldn't she?
She would have to. The more time went by, the more the malevolent Fire Nation shaped their plans in motion, led by their famed General Iroh. Although she had never met him, Ratana could picture the man in her mind: calculating and ruthless. It was up to no one else but her to stop his invasion. Of course, there was no full guarantee that this mission of hers would stop the attack. She could find dragons, but perish in the process. She could find dragons, but fail to bring proof of their continued existence back. Her mission might confirm the beasts' extinction, and prove that it was all a waste of time. On the other hand, if her mission really could succeed, Ratana could never live with herself if she did not give it her all.
As rational as she was, Ratana still met with resistance to the idea of leaving Lu Tong. Part of her wished she could spend just a little more time with him, and if he was a man living in the Earth Kingdom, she would probably visit him often when away from duty. But he wasn't. Why did she have such strong emotions in this situation at all, with everything so straightforward? Ratana was furious with herself for this. It was not like her to find it hard to do what she knew she had to do. She tossed and turned both mentally and physically. Great. Now she was losing sleep as well. It did not become any less stressful as her mind rapidly moved from one thought to the next.
"I have to get away from here," Ratana told herself aloud in the darkness.
- The same kind of "by-name" point of view of the last chapters is present in this one, with more focus on Lu Ten in the beginning and more focus on Ratana for the end.
For the collective works of the author, go here.