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May 17, 2014
The place was pretty much just as she imagined it: tiny, isolated, only a miniature handful of small houses congregated in a cluster. Nongkun was the epitome of a backwater village where news traveled fast and crazy rumors were born. Appearances did not add to the credibility of one of the people actually having seen a live dragon two decades after their alleged extinction. At any rate though, Ratana was here, and ready to investigate the authenticity for herself first hand. Having journeyed all the way across the Fire Nation for this, she had encountered June, Heidze, Nyla and Lu Ten, among others, along the way. Granted, her colonel who sent her on this mission purposefully created circumstances where she wouldn't succeed. Now that she was here, however, Ratana of the Terra Team would make the best of it.
"So, this is the final stop on our tour?" June said, surveying the area. "How amusing..."
"It's not the final stop!" snapped Ratana "After we figure out where the individual who started the rumor saw the dragon they claimed to, we'll go to that place and find where the last living dragon resides."
"Whatever you say," said June, putting her hands in the air. "I'll leave you to that. I'm going to find Nyla something to eat. This is your wild boar goose chase mission, after all. Just let me know when it's time to move on."
"Kind of sad, isn't it?" Heidze remarked to Ratana as June and Nyla turned and left, looking up at the earthbender.
"What are you talking about, Heidze?" the lone female member of the Terra Team asked him in surprise.
"If this dragon that's supposedly still alive is the last of it's kind, there's really no hope for it," he clarified. "I mean, if there were at least two dragons left over, they could breed and carry on the species. Imagine if you were the last of your kind. I can't help but feel sorry for it."
"Imagine if you were a giant flying beast that shot flames from your mouth," Ratana rolled her eyes at him. "I don't think you'd be dwelling on settling down."
"Dragons have feelings and attachments, too."
"How many dragons have you met?" retorted Ratana. "Let's just find out who started the rumor and go from there."
The place was nearly deserted, with every door and window in sight tightly shut. They came upon an elderly woman sweeping the front porch of her wooden cabin. Her hair was long, gray and scraggly, and her clothes were dusty and brown. That attire could have been seen anywhere in the Earth Kingdom or even the Water Tribes in some remote, barbarous localities. She was only easily identified as Fire Nation by her eye color, something that Ratana had struggled with when she entered the enemy nation, as it was a feature she could not cover up.
"Excuse me?" Ratana caught the old lady's attention, waving her hand in the air.
"Hm?" the elderly woman grunted in response after catching a glimpse of Ratana and subsequently acknowledging her presence.
"Sorry to bother you," Ratana excused herself politely. "But we were just wondering if you'd heard anything about dragons around here? Like if you'd seen one or someone else had seen one or anything of the sort."
"Hmph!" the elderly lady grimaced, clutching her broomstick for support. "To answer your question, I did see one once, when I was very young and they were still commonplace. Fortunately for me, the beast was so far away that it posed no danger for me. It had probably already caught its prey. But I was careful from that day onward. I haven't gone out as much since that fateful day. As for more recently, there was someone who claimed to have seen one. That would be Yao, but he's always getting himself into trouble. You'd be a fool to be taken in by anything he says."
Ratana was now glad that June was no longer with her and Heidze, for the bounty hunter would certainly have made a smart assed remark at this point. "Where is this Yao person? Is he around?"
"My bet is he'd be down in the local public house," the old woman muttered in disgust. "That's where you would find him most of the time. Not like others of his generation. He's hardly ever tending to the pig pen in the public plot or working the fields like a responsible grownup. What a waste of space..."
"Thank you," Ratana bowed respectfully, in a universal gesture of respect for elders. It was much different in nature than a bow to an old bending or martial art master or superior in rank, but it looked similar to an outsider at first glance.
"You're welcome," said the lady, turning back to her floor. "Just try not to let him get you into trouble. He excels at that. Whatever you do, don't go inland."
"Why?" asked Heidze. "What's inland?"
"Nothing but rough and treacherous wilderness," answered the lady. "This here town is the only civilized location for miles and miles."
"We'll take that into consideration," Heidze said over his head so boldly that Ratana shot him a look over her shoulder. Even nearing the end of her journey, she wanted to be as cautious as possible, and not draw too much attention to herself.
The sign on top of the building that they had been directed to was crooked and hanging off of its hinges on one end. Awkwardly, one would have to tilt one's head in order to read it properly. Even if it were not for that, the place would not have looked very visitor-friendly, so it was clear that whoever was in charge did not put much effort into it.
"Let's go inside and get this over with," Ratana said to Heidze.
Entering into the establishment, they found it similar to the one in Gangkouz that Heidze had stolen Ratana's bag in, save for the fact that it was smaller, more modest, less decorated and far less-filled up with customers. The wooden work and the general layout was the same. A middle-aged man with a mustache pointed out the table that Yao was sitting at when she asked, not that there was much question about it, as only one table was occupied, with three people sitting at it: two men and one woman. One of the men had long brown hair, baby eyes and an unshaven face and the other had a shaven head and tattoos on either arm by the shoulder, exposed by his sleeveless shirt.
"Hello?" Ratana greeted the group of daytime tavern-goers, all nurturing their drinking problems together. "Is one of you Yao?"
"That'd be me," said the long-haired one. "Is there something I can help you with?"
"We just wanted to hear your story about dragons," said Ratana. "We heard that someone in this village had seen one not too long ago and an old lady on one of the porches said that we'd find you here. She said that you had seen a live dragon, which supposedly went extinct twenty years ago. And she said we were sure to find you here."
"Ah, Grandma knows me better than anybody," Yao shared a hearty laugh with both of his companions.
"Grandma?!" asked Heidze, surprised at the connection.
"Hmmm...that makes sense actually," Ratana muttered under her breath, barely audible.
"Have a seat," Yao pointed to an empty chair which Ratana took as Heidze grabbed one from the empty table beside it and yanked it over. "I'll tell you all about it."
"Please do," Ratana smiled, thinking it was all too easy. "We'd love to hear it."
"Sure," said Yao, turning to Heidze. "I was going off searching in the valley not too far from here for the ancient city that's rumored to exist down there."
"A lot of the people in town think that's a hoax," said the other man, with a shaved head.
"Thanks, Sid," Yao noted. "Unfortunately, my grandmother is one of those people. She has a hard time believing anything. Anyway, it took me a while to get to the base of the farther range of mountains. I had left the tavern earlier that afternoon, so I stumbled a lot of the way."
"I told you that you should've left in the early morning," said the woman across from him.
"Hey, I ain't an early riser!" Yao rose his voice in irritation. "Besides, there's hardly any point investigating anything with an empty belly. I'd lose my focus and energy later in the day."
"There were ghosts in the area of the mountain range nearest there," said the woman. Her thin hair was slightly light and slightly dirty, coming down to her shoulders. It reminded Ratana of a swamp tree. The dark outfit she wore resembled June's, though she did not have tattoos like her. "Pity you didn't see any of those. They sparkle in the moonlight."
"Those aren't ghosts, Hidi," Sid chimed in. "They're waterbenders from the north, channeling their energy through the moon and creating copies of themselves out of the moisture in the air from thousands of miles away. It's their secret battle strategy. Our government has no idea."
"I wouldn't bet on that, Sid," Yao clucked his teeth. "The Fire Lord probably knows. Nothing's been done about it because they don't know how to counter it. He just doesn't want the rest of the nation in a panic. That's why they keep it secret from us."
Ratana's mouth hung open as she listened to the trio's theories and speculation. She could not believe that this was really what she was sent by How, Sung and Quan Jing from halfway around the world to investigate. Actually, at this point, it seemed closer to all the way around the known world. Her mission was looking like more and more of a lost cause every second that went BY and with every new word that came from these strangers' lips.
"Excuse me," Heidze interrupted. "What about the dragon you saw?"
"Oh yeah," Yao said definitively, grasping his mug. "Sorry, we get a little sidetracked sometimes. Where was I? Right, I was investigating the ancient city that belonged to some ancient civilization, but I encountered some kind of squid or something in a stream on my way there. It was lime-like."
Ratana raised an eyebrow. "A squid?"
"Or maybe it was just a big fish. It could've also been a vine or something."
"Yeah, those three things are practically identical. How would one not confuse them."
"I was also dehydrated, so my senses weren't all in place," Yao continued, not making it clear whether he had picked up on the sarcasm or not. "Either way, I got hit pretty hard over the head. I was unconscious for a few hours only, but by the time I came to, it was dark. When I opened my eyes, I saw this giant dark shape flying across the sky. I thought it might be a giant bird at first, but then it breathed fire out its mouth, and I knew what it had to be. It was the last living dragon."
"Man, if people found out about that," Sid grinned. "Prince Iroh would have a lot of explaining to do."
"That's what I'm counting on," Ratana thought. "It's a shame your encounter was so short," she said, deciding at the very least that the believability of the story was not completely down the drain - yet.
"Yeah, there was no evidence of the encounter," said Hidi. "Except for the skin he brought back."
"Skin?" asked both Heidze and Ratana at once.
Yao pulled a patch of light, textured thin shedded skin from his pocket. "This was near where I fell. It's lair must've been nearby if it shed this skin from its flight. I discovered this on the ground twenty feet away from me."
"How do you know it was from the same creature?" asked Ratana, taking the skin from him.
"I don't know for sure," he said simply. "You can keep that skin if you want."
"Thanks," said Ratana. "Well, I've been chasing after this dragon tale for a long time. It's time I went and found out the truth for myself."
- Sid is a common name in Final Fantasy, and I was running low on new names to give minor characters. I was probably going to fallback on it sooner or later.
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