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February 26, 2016
Ratana had been performing strenuous earthbending exercises on her own time all afternoon, but still she was not exhausted as she should have been. Holding high hopes that General Sung would follow through with lifting her suspension in the days to come, the only woman on the Terra Team - and it's captain - was more ready than ever to get back on the field of battle and take down even more Fire Nation soldiers who were poised to strike at Ba Sing Se. It was only now that she realized she had not actually seen her partner Tooru all day, and wondered where he might be and what he might be up to at this hour. Certainly he was not busy guarding prisoners like she was, and he was not on duty on the other side of the Outer Wall, as far as she knew. As dusk approached, she went down to check around in the quarters. When Ratana found her and Tooru's room deserted, she wandered around the rest of the barracks in search of her other Terra Team comrades, finally running into Indigo.
"Huh, Tooru?" Indigo replied quizzically to her inquiry. "No, Ratana, I'm afraid that I haven't seen him all day."
"Neither have I," Ratana informed him. "Weird..."
"Yeah, I guess so," Indigo said, meanwhile scratching the back of his neck in seeming discomfort.
Ratana raised an eyebrow. "Indigo, is there something you're not telling me?"
"What?" asked Indigo, astonished. "No!" Despite the definite emphasis in his reply, Indigo did indeed appear to be hiding something.
Evaluating the situation for a few seconds of tense silence, Captain Ratana finally resolved nevertheless that there was no profit in pursuing the matter further. "Alright then, if you say so..."
Indigo smiled after breathing a brief sigh of relief. "Cheer up, Ratana. I'm sure that he'll be with everyone else at the celebration tonight, if nothing else."
"I suppose so," Ratana said with a shrug. "I guess that will be all for now, Indigo. Dismissed."
Indigo, while keeping his composure, wasted no time whatsoever in scurrying from the scene, away from his captain and the questions that she was asking him. In the end, Ratana resolved that Tooru had to be somewhere nearby and that wherever he was, she did not think that he was in any danger. It was not the best attitude to hold on a regular basis about those one knew and loved during wartime, which Ratana had known all her life, but she knew Tooru well enough to believe he would not be in any real trouble without her knowledge, as they had always fought side-by-side together.
With nothing else to do, Ratana simply wandered aimlessly about the compound on her side of the Outer Wall, listening to the distant noises of war on the other side of the massive structure - hoarse yells, battle cries. weapons clashing, feet running and the constant flow of the elements of earth and fire being shot back and forth again and again. It was a place she was long familiar with and could not bare to dwell on those she fought and served beside having to defend the Outer Wall today without her help. By all means, if Sung did not lift her suspension soon, Ratana would most certainly return to his office - appointment or not - and demand that he reinstate her to her rightful place on the field of battle.
Ratana did chuckle to herself a little as she thought of one more convenient thing about fighting the Fire Nation on the other side of the Outer Wall of Ba Sing Se. At least Lu Ten was not there any more, so she did not have to worry about running into him. Then again, if General Iroh finally did decide that he wanted to bargain and exchange prisoners from the Earth Kingdom for his son, then Lu Ten would be back on the other side and they would be right back where they started. It had been hard enough for Ratana to dwell on the prospect of fighting Lu Ten in combat, face to face, when it was merely the memories of the time they spent when she was in Gangkouz on her mind. If she had to face him again now, in a duel, the whole of both armies would expect the pair to carry out their duties to the end and to finish the other one off when the time came to do so. Ratana, however, could not bare the thought. Shame on her! How could she not separate the time spent with Lu Ten now, as his prison guard, with her duty on the battlefield. After all, he was a prisoner of war, so that was what one would expect of any old prisoner of war or prison guard that they happened to meet on the field of battle later on.
Unable to dwell on her thoughts any longer, Ratana shook her head at herself and stormed off toward her quarters, deciding to get a nice nap in there before going back to the world above for the Terra Team's party. To her misfortune, though, she was unable to sleep a wink.
"Ugh!" June groaned loudly. "Why does it have to stay so quiet all the time?" After her shirshu grunted in response, June went on. "I know, maybe it's not the worst thing in the world."
As the moon reached close to the highest point in the sky, the tattooed bounty hunter and Nyla, who could smell almost anything anywhere in the world harbored themselves in a clique of trees, the dark forest as quiet as the tiniest critter that inhabited it.
"And yet it is," June went on, contradicting herself. "Perhaps it's too quiet." She found herself feeling nostalgic for when she was running around the Fire Nation with an earthbender more hot-headed than any firebender and a sly, pretentious pickpocket, all well too much trouble for the pay she received. "Everyone who used to loiter around here is off at the siege, fighting for their country, and here you and me are, Nyla, just us, like the old days. You see, when we have a job, or when we're traveling, we have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. When there's not as much to do during the day, there's too much time for thinking. It's so complicated to have too much time to think. Heh, if only it was nice, simple and busy, right?"
Nyla jerked his head about, like he was searching for something to root out. "You don't agree? Either you're growing soft, Nyla, or I wish I had your ability to shake things from my head. What, do you want food now? We already ate for the evening. If you want something else before going in, you're big enough to get something to eat yourself, boy." When Nyla snorted extra loudly, June understood that none of this was the case. "Oh, you mean there's actually something out there?"
As June stared off into the woods, the breeze brushing the branches of the birch trees back and forth, she heard the whizzing sound of something flying toward the back of her neck. It was too sharp and straight to be a bird or wolfbat. When she dipped her head down to allow it to pass over the crown of her head, June gasped to find what it actually was. A sai!
Wrenching the long, sturdy whip from the rim of her waistline, June swung her roped weapon out in front of her, aiming in the direction from where the sai had come. The bark of the tree behind her, meanwhile, sizzled as the poison on the tip of the weapon tore viciously at the outer wood like acid. As soon as the attacker moved in front of her, she could see the outline of the figure. She needed not see the face or hear the voice to know that she recognized the adversary.
"You're the one who offered me a job not long ago," remarked June. "What's the matter – can't take 'no' for an answer?"
The man drew out a set of dual dao swords from his blackened cloak and faced the pair before him. "I was gone for a while since then. But now I'm back. You committed sacrilege, and now you will find that actions have consequences."
"Who are you?"
"I am called Shiriko, though I fear we will not know one another long." He stepped to the side to dodge June's whip once again and readied another one of his sais.
Well, here was some ill-wished something to occupy her time and mind, June thought to herself. Whatever broken vow he spoke of, June did not harbor any knowledge of. Drawing her own dagger, she clashed her knife against one of the dao swords and blocked the other by shoving her arm against his. Shiriko managed to nick her in the leg, dripping crimson oozing from the wound line. If she allowed him to get another strike in, Shiriko would keep his promise to her.
June shoved forth and then used her remaining strength to leap onto Nyla while Shiriko took the time to recover himself. The giant animal put two feet in front of two others as quickly as could be, trees and wind racing by in what was no longer a light breeze for them. The bounty hunter felt her own consciousness slipping from her as she bounced up and down at breakneck speed.
Suddenly, the huge creature let out a deafening yelp. Something had struck it below. June was flung from the back of her beast and thrown through the air. She hoped that it had not been from a poison-tipped sai, like the last one, but she had little time to dwell on it. It took not even two seconds for June to realized that she had not stopped falling when she should have, which meant she was on her way down farther than Nyla's own height. To her horror, she looked around and realized that she had gone over a cliff. Jagged, forbidding rocks stood down and to her left, whilst rough patches of water knocking themselves against such rocks lay below her.
June dove in, fortunate enough not to collide with the rougher surface, and braced for the impact as the sea engulfed her. The sea? How far had she and Nyla been chased exactly? And how had the assassin – Shiriko – kept up with them. All questions she had no time to dwell on and think of an answer for, as she held her breath and swam in breast strokes against the stubborn tides, her whip gliding behind her like a tail. If a sea serpent were here, she would be dead meat for all the energy she had left over. Occasionally, June let her head rise and took a look around the surrounding area. Shiriko was nowhere in sight, but neither was dry land that she could step ashore to. The tattooed bounty hunter clung to the rocky sides and scaled the line of the coast, eventually stumbling upon a beach.
June was relieved to find that the coast was clear, though that relief was brief – mere seconds, in fact. "Nyla? Where are you?" She screamed out into the cold, dismal emptiness. "Nyla!"
- This is the third chapter where Shiriko appears, but the first one where he is named. He was previously in Darkest Hour and Present.
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