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June 15, 2014
The trip back to the Earth Kingdom from the Sun Warriors' city was uneventful compared with the journey across the Fire Nation that Ratana of Gaipan had taken in order to get there to begin with. After bidding their new friends farewell, Ratana, Heidze, June and Nyla went back through Nongkun, where they met the curious locals again. It turned out that Yao, Hidi and Sid had been lost in the wilderness for the better part of a day before getting back to their hometown, and they had lost almost all the remaining supplies along the way. In their new role as "protectors" of the dragon secret, Ratana and her companions told everyone that they had not actually found anything of note in their search. The faces that this piece of news met were much disappointed. That practically went without saying. The travelers did not reside in that location long, wanting to avoid further questioning. And so they made their way for a nearby port town with cargo ships that were bound for the colonies in the Earth Kingdom. Rather than bothering with disguises, passports, or secret identities, they snuck on board and stowed away for the journey, which stretched out for days. Luckily there was food being transported on their way to the harbor in Yu Dao, so they raided the crates to nourish themselves. With all the food stored inside the ship, they doubted anyone would notice before they were long gone.
After reaching land, they were in a colony surrounded by Fire Nation guards, but by keeping a low profile and maintaining discretion, they evaded being found out with ease and gradually made their way through the city and back to free Earth Kingdom territory. Now, the place they traveled was a foreign country only to Heidze. It was here that Ratana found an appraiser, to whom Ratana showed the talisman she had received from the Sun Warriors. Displayed on his table, the piece shined like gold, or a rare gem, and seemed to live up to the name of the civilization it hailed from, shining like the sun on the table. The designs on the edge weaved in and out of one another, and at the center was a nexus that appeared to represent the sun itself.
"Very impressive!" the astounded appraiser declared after examining the object thoroughly. "This is quite a treasure that you have for yourselves. I'd say it's worth approximately fifteen hundred forty-nine gold pieces at the very least. Maybe even as many as two thousand!"
"You don't say," said Ratana, smirking. "Do you here that, June? It's worth at least the difference, and possibly the entirety of what I owe you. What do you say I give you this, and you give back all the money that I paid you for the debt already."
June eyed what she found a tacky-looking object with her face contorted towards revulsion. "I'll tell you what. I got a better idea. You keep that medallion, I'll keep everything you've given me so far and we'll just call it even at that."
"Alright, that works too," Ratana conceded, thinking that this was unusually nice for June. "Thanks." She brandished the artifact thoughtfully for a bit.
"Don't mention it," said June. "Now that that's all over with, Nyla and I better be going back to where we belong. We've spent enough time on this contract, and there are plenty more out there."
"Take it easy," Ratana nodded as June left the room. "What about you, Heidze? What will you do? Are you going back to the Fire Nation now?"
"Maybe a little later," answered Heidze. "I'll stick around here a little longer."
"Suit yourself," said Ratana. "But be warned, the rest of the members of the Terra Team are accustomed to fighting the Fire Nation on a regular basis, so don't expect a warm reception."
"What is the status of our troop preparations for the time being?" General Sung pointed the question to the officer who served directly under him.
"Adequate," replied Colonel Quan Jing as the pair were walking through the outdoor training fields and toward the barracks. "There is still much work to be done on everyone's part, but we're well on schedule to being in our defensive position by the time the enemy arrives at the capital."
"Great. We'll have to not only make sure everyone is up to speed, but also we'll have to move the whole compound and relocate to a new base at Ba Sing Se itself."
"I'm one step ahead of you."
Tooru lifted one mound of rock after another, shooting them at nearby trees and branches that he aimed at for target practice in the forested area. This was the best practice he could muster for himself without his partner around to help him out.
Ratana spotted him from a distance. Even though she had not seen his face yet, she knew her Terra Team partner anywhere. "Why don't you hang back here for the time being," she suggested to Heidze.
"Are you trying to get rid of me?" Heidze looked up at her, still surrounded by winding branches filled with dangling leaves.
"Not at all," she reassured him. "I have some unfinished business to attend to when I first get back to base, though, and it could get ugly. I'll come fetch you once it's done."
"Okay, I see," Heidze acknowledged. "You're going to confront that general guy who set you up."
"He's just a colonel, actually," Ratana corrected him. "And yes. I'm going to make a public arrest of Quan Jing, for his conduct at the Raid on Gujuhmin. He's the direct commanding officer of the Terra Team and he wields a lot of influence, so I'm sticking to that for now. Him setting me up to die on my mission might be harder to prove, as that's solely my word against his."
"Good luck," Heidze bade her. "Not that you need it."
"Thanks," Ratana muttered back, stepping into the clearing where her partner was practicing. Smiling, she jabbed her own rock forth which collided with one of the ones that Tooru had shot, sparking it off course.
Shocked, Tooru turned to the one who fired the new rock to deflect his. "Ratana!" he yelled, excited, running up to his partner and throwing both arms around her. "Why is it that every time I'm training in the forest, someone has the nerve to sneak up on me?"
"It's great to see you too, Tooru," she reciprocated.
"What happened while you were in the Fire Nation?" Tooru asked.
"Let's leave that for later," Ratana told him. "I have tons of stories to share with you, but for now, where's Colonel Quan Jing?"
"He's with General Sung I believe. Follow me."
"Like I said, we must take every precaution necessary," Quan Jing stated earnestly to General Sung.
"Is this really necessary, though?"
"Yes," Quan Jing pressed. "The Fire Nation will not be here today or tomorrow for their grand invasion, but we can spare no time or expense. We must get everyone and everything into position quickly!"
"Nah, let's not exhaust ourselves," Sung waved this objection away. "The Dragon of the West may have set sail for our shores, but we've still got time to prepare."
"Listen, Sir!" Quan Jing barked impatiently. "Overestimating your opponent's capabilities at a time like this is infinitely better than underestimating them. It's-"
The commanding officer in charge of the Terra Team found himself cut off as he noticed a crudely-torn rock heading through the air in his direction. Never one to let his guard down or dim his senses, Quan Jing vigilantly assumed a fighting stance, surprising Sung, who had not seen what was coming yet. Holding out his strong fist, the bulky Quan Jing crumbled the rock that had been fired at him into dust in an instant.
"Ratana?!" a disbelieving General Sung cried out, recognizing the attacker at once. Quan Jing, however, was not caught off guard by the identity of his assailant. "What on Earth do you think that you're doing?"
"I'm apprehending Colonel Quan Jing, Sir," Ratana shouted to him as she shot an earth line out from her toes, which followed the same trail as the rock she had just hurled.
"Apprehending him? Why?!"
"I'll explain later, Sir," Ratana began, but found herself cut off as Quan Jing had erected a barrier between him and her, stopping the earth line in its track. At that moment, two Earth Kingdom army warriors seized each of her arms and held her in place.
"What is the meaning of this, Ratana?" interrogated Quan Jing, a menacing glint in his stare that was enough to pierce through the skin of any soul who was even slightly wavering.
"Your conduct at the Raid on Gujuhmin was cowardly and disastrous," stated Ratana, not wavering at all. "I'm personally detaining you for your misconduct, with all due respect."
"All I recall of the Raid on Gujuhmin was your neglecting to follow orders, and our subsequent defeat."
"Unless you can back that up, then all you've done is assault your commanding officer," stated General Sung. "This is a serious offense in and of itself. And if Quan Jing is right about your disobeying orders at Gujuhmin, that's insubordinate."
"General," Ratana said to Sung. "Colonel Quan Jing disobeyed orders on his own, in his hasty retreat, an act of cowardice, and in his panic, he earthbent at the battle, hindering more of his own troops than those of the enemy."
"Ridiculous," said Quan Jing.
"Why didn't you say anything at the time, like when you were giving the report in my office?" asked Sung.
"I don't know," said Ratana, her head sinking and her eyes making contact with the grass. "I guess I could've. You're right, I should've. The colonel asked me to cover for him, but did not trust me to comply, and so he tried to set me up for death on my mission to the Fire Nation."
"Ah, your mission," interrupted Quan Jing. "How did that go, now that you bring it up? Were you ultimately successful? Present the proof of what you set out to find if you have it."
Ratana paused for a few agonizing moments. "I'm afraid I do not."
"So that's it, then!" declared Quan Jing. "You failed in your mission to the Fire Nation, and so you tried to save face my smearing my integrity and fabricating a story where I'm somehow responsible not only for your failure in the Fire Nation, but also the Raid on Gujuhmin!"
"This is quite disappointing, Ratana," said Sung, solemn.
"Take her away," Quan Jing directed the guards who held Ratana in place. "We have a trial and possible execution to prepare for."
- So far, Ratana had given June 450 gold pieces, which is 150% of the 300 that June was offered by her contractor. Likewise, this is less than 50% of the 1,000 gold pieces June said she was offered, and less than 25% of the initial asking price. Therefore, Ratana thought she had caught a break from June and June decided to quit while she was ahead, as it may have been too much trouble for her at this point.
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