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|Confrontation: Part 2|
February 6, 2014
"That lady just earthbended!" screeched a little boy standing beside one of the many festival booths.
"I...uh...," Ratana uttered uselessly. She was found out and there was nothing else for it.
"Get her!" cried a few voices in the crowd in unison. Moments later, a small pack of city guardsmen emerged from amidst the families of merry festival-goers and charges straight for the now-exposed earthbender.
"Oh great, not these guys again!" Ratana yelled out as she ran past the edge of the festival, jabbing a pair of hastily-unearthed rocks back their way in order to slow them down. Now that they knew what she was, a little more bending in public couldn't hurt. One of the rocks collided with a guard at his chest point, sent him back a few feet before knocking him over unconscious. The second rock did not hit any of the other guards, but forced them to sidestep and scatter in different directions as Ratana continued to charge out of the main festival area and toward a more narrow side street.
When she reached the side street, she was greeted by the same dark-headed woman on a shirshu that she had encountered earlier. "Don't forget about me!" June sneered threateningly as she brandished her whip and pulled a trio of stilettos from behind her back.
"Ugh!" Ratana grunted in frustration. "You're still on my tail, too!?" The public demonstration of earthbending she had foolishly performed had been in vain, not even getting rid of the one who was chasing her initially. Now, she had more than double the trouble on her hands.
"I'm not going anywhere yet," smirked June. "I've got a reward to collect and after traveling across continents, I'm not returning empty-handed."
Across continents? Ratana was surprised by this bit of news from her line. Naturally, the member of the Terra Team had assumed that the one sent to kill her was of the Fire Nation. Then again, most all the foes Ratana had encountered were in either the Earth Kingdom proper or the Fire Nation-occupied colonies. Someone from the colonies must have gotten wind of her mission, which was supposed to be top secret. Perhaps this woman was some elite assassin that the Fire Nation employed the use of in the Earth Kingdom to take out top targets for them in the Neverending War. If they were trying to stop her, the silver lining of that was that General Iroh must be afraid of her succeeding in discovering dragons and halting the invasion of Ba Sing Se, which meant that the rumor that he never finished off the last of the dragons rang some truth.
But this was no time for Ratana to speculate over what the meaning of this development was, for she would not have time to contemplate it further whilst she was the target of both a trained assassin and a host of city guards that were now bent on hunting her down now that they knew she was an earthbender, and one of the enemy. June and Nyla had knocked over a couple booths at the festival less than a minute earlier, damaging valuable property, but now the city guards did not pursue them at all. Such matters were trivial when there was an earthbender at large on their home turf.
Ratana knew that drastic times called for more drastic measures, and she twisted her ankle and sent a crack down the foundation wall of a nearby concrete apartment complex, sending the wall down tumbling into the street. She was relieved to see that there were no passing civilians in the area when the wall came down. She subsequently thought about submerging herself in the earth and waiting for the rest of the city guards to run off, but recalled how that backfired last time, and how it could prove suicidal when those chasing her knew of her abilities.
Sirens rang loudly in the background. Every official in the city now knew that there was an earthbender in town, and of course they would not be stopping until they found her out and eliminated her. "Perfect," Ratana muttered under her breath. Now was about the time when a disguise would have come in more handy for her, and she actually longed to have that dreaded fake beard and Nookyazu outfit with her again. With dozens of eyewitnesses, they would have a description of her detailed enough to pinpoint her on sight. Ratana needed to think quickly and act decisively or else she would be done for.
A deafening crashing noise rang from behind her. "There's no escaping," remarked the sassy girl atop the beast. "My Nyla can smell you out wherever you go," she added, hurling a couple stillettos Ratana's way, which she expertly dodged.
Of course. That must've been how this assassin had found her. Ratana had heard tales about shirshus before, and their renowned sense of smell that could track any scent, but she had never actually encountered one until now. This was unsurprising, given that they were nearly extinct. That would further explain how the beast had tracked her down both while she was disguised as Nookyazu and now. The scent would follow her anywhere. Realizing that discretion would be of no use, Ratana made a dash for the walls surrounding the town. Whirling her elbows around, she collapsed a portion of the wall, creating a safer exit point for herself than the town gate, which would now have several guards stationed around it to prevent the fugitive earthbender from escaping.
Without looking back, Ratana swung her left leg and erected a mound of dirt from the grass between her and June. That bought her the time that she needed to run into the forest and find a small brook that she had come across on her previous visits to the area. Surveying her surroundings, Ratana spotted a point where the stream was just deep enough for her to submerge herself and without hesitation, dove in and brought herself completely underwater. Then, flailing her arms around, she streamed a pile of the dirt at the bottom of the stream in a line which encircled her and spiraled around her body like a dark underwater tornado. Moments later, Ratana emerged from the river, covered in mud. She hid amidst a group of trees, certain that this coat around her body would drown out her natural scent and throw the assassin and her shirshu off of her trail.
Not for the first time in the day, Ratana had miscalculated. Less than a single minute had gone by when June and Nyla returned to the scene, ready to pounce on her. Ratana clapped her palms together and shed her coating of earth in all directions. The speed and velocity of the flying mud was enough to cover Nyla's eyes and nose, leaving him dizzy. In a clumsy stupor, Nyla unseated June, who fell on her back, sprawled across the stringy grass.
"Let's see how you hold out without your shirshu to do your dirty work for you," Ratana jeered, facing off against June.
"Leave Nyla out of this!" Now that she was dismounted, June stood directly between Ratana and Nyla. She was ready to take out Ratana, but she did not want any harm to come to Nyla, which was priceless to her. "Wait...are you Ratana of the Terra Team?" June wondered aloud, unsheathing her dagger. "Huh, I should've drove a harder bargain when they hired me."
June charged at Ratana with her dagger held straight out, which Ratana evaded with ease, sending another mound of earth at June's backside when she had gone by, but June ducked and took evasive action. She was a master of agility, just like Ratana was. Along with being able to make the right strike at the right moment, that was what a nonbender required in order to keep up with a bender. Ratana held June at bay with her rocks and deflected blow after blow, sending forth several of her own, but June persisted.
Upon hearing a faint, distant rumble of footsteps, Ratana snuck a quick glance. A battalion of Fire Nation. She needed to see no more to realize they were aware of some commotion in the vicinity, and Ratana was thus far unable to escape from or finish off her pursuer so easily. As long as she was being chased in this manner, she faced an endless amount of pursuers, for the army would find her as long as the assassin followed her. At last, Ratana took a step back, thinking of her next move. "Who are you?" she called out to June, now situated twenty feet away behind a tall birch-like tree. "Why are you after me?"
"Isn't it obvious?" said June. "The money! It's a job, nothing more."
"Leave me alone or I will end you!" Ratana knew that if they kept it up, she could take down June eventually if she did not have her shirshu with her, but June had already forced her to expose herself as an earthbender and she could not continue to be sniffed out if she was to complete her mission. "And your pet." Unless she could break away, Ratana would never be able to stay in one place long enough to get anywhere in finding a dragon.
June twisted her body, protective of Nyla. "Watch it, earth girl! Your reward is worth the risk of my life, if you really want to call it that."
"How about we come to an arrangement then?" proposed Ratana. "If money's all you care about, I'll pay you whatever it is that the person who hired you paid you to leave me alone. Call it a cancellation fee."
"Interesting notion, though I have my reputation to think about, and bailing out of a contract will damage it, so you'll have to give me double."
"How much did they pay you?" Ratana asked. She assumed it would be no more than a hundred gold pieces, tops. That was a steep price, but worth it to allow her to complete her mission to protect the Earth Kingdom and Ba Sing Se from harm.
June paused. "A thousand gold pieces, but like I said, I'm going to have to charge double."
Ratana's eyes widened in sheer disbelief. "Two thousand gold pieces?! You're out of your mind."
"Take it or leave it."
"Fine, we have a bargain." Ratana did not have close to that amount of money, but she would jump that hurdle when she came to it. When her work in the Fire Nation was done, she would have a score to settle with this woman and her employers.
"Produce then." Grinning, June flexed all five fingers of her right hand.
"I don't have the money with me," said Ratana, turning her eyes from side to side. "I...have a bank account."
June raised an eyebrow. "A bank account?" repeated a skeptical June.
"Yes," said Ratana. "If you just follow me back to Gangkouz, you'll have your money and we can both be on our separate ways!"
June narrowed her eyes. "Very well. Lead the way."
"Gladly." Ratana was improvising once again, but she had a better start this time. She already knew where to go next.
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