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|Identities Taken Up|
June 22, 2014
Identities Taken Up is the sixty-fourth chapter of the fanon series, by .
It felt eery for Ratana to enter the same room once again where she had first been given her mission by General How, General Sung and Colonel Quan Jing, which had triggered the beginning of much untold chaos for her. It was occupied only by General How today. His own office was being used for storage in the transition. The Terra Team and all who served with them would be recalled to Ba Sing Se shortly. The Fire Nation was on their way, as they had no reason not to be. Shaking, Ratana clutched the Sun Warrior talisman in her pocket between five of her fingers. Despite her moment's regret, she had no doubt that what she had ultimately done was the right thing, but it meant accepting that things would be more difficult for all of them here on the home front from now on.
"You wanted to see me, General How?" Ratana respectfully saluted her superior. She now had less patience for wasting time than ever, and wanted to know what the reason for her summoning was this time.
"Welcome, Ratana," the large-goateed How said casually as she entered the room. "Please sit down. First of all, I want to offer my apologies for the trouble that you went through during the time you were wrongfully accused," How told her, breaking eye contact. "I imagine it must have been very hard to be mistrusted and ostracized in the process. Some you trust were involved in the case against you, after all, and most of us were blind to the truth."
"It's nothing that you need to apologize for, General How," Ratana said back. "The now-former Colonel Quan Jing was good at his deception. He fooled a lot of people."
"Indeed, it was upsetting in particular for General Sung after serving with him for so long to see what he was capable of."
"Was that all you asked me here for?"
How raised an eyebrow at Ratana's presumptuousness. "Not quite," he told her. "I also want to offer my condolences for what happened to your father, losing him like that..."
"You mean when I was just in the infirmary?" she asked him, quizzical. "Brawki's not my father, he's my earthbending teacher. And I didn't lose him. He's just wounded. He'll recover."
How blinked impatiently before opening his mouth again. "Yes, I know that. I don't mean Brawki, I'm talking about your actual father."
Several moments ticked by as Ratana turned her head at her country's commanding general, confused. "Are you talking about Roshune of Munn?!" she asked, her eyes widening. The daughter of Lady Rang Xue and Dorunian Warrior Roshune had disappeared immediately after the death of the former. As the most able and only female member of the Terra Team, Ratana of Gaipan had become somewhat iconic to those who knew of their exploits. Everyone who asked about her past growing up in Gaipan met a dead-end. Ratana had emerged fully grown like some demigoddess of the Earth Kingdom, and scarcely anyone knew of both Ratana of Gaipan and Ratana of Munn, who had disappeared around the same time that the former came into being. Sung, being her superior officer, was in the know, and had full access to her file, one of few who could connect the dots. He must have told General How upon hearing of Munn's fate. "Sir-general, really, I haven't seen that man in years. We have no connection left. There's no need for you to give me condolences for his sake."
"I understand he was well-regarded within the Kingdom of Munn," the general pressed on. "And I don't enjoy speaking ill of a man of such stature, especially after he's dead, but I hear that he was quite stubborn. You can be, too, according to General Sung. I can see why you feel this way, but it must make a difference now that any chance of reconciliation, however remote, are gone forever."
"I never intended to make use of that chance," Ratana said icily. Her mind, however, was drifting back to her memories of childhood in Munn. The times with Roshune were distant and buried deep, like an untouchable dream. "I doubt he did, either."
"On the surface level we may think we mean what we say about family, but our true feelings are always much deeper," How mused on. "I'm offering you three days leave to mourn your loss."
Ratana nearly stood up from her chair in protest. "There's no need for that."
"It's not optional," he said firmly. "General Sung and I have spoken, and he agrees. You will take three days off, end of story." As How watched Ratana rise from her chair, offer a reluctant salute and leave the office, he added another statement. "You'll require your strength for the coming battle. Storm clouds are in the air, and for an age that ought to be filled with storm clouds, that's saying something."
Just like the last time she had left that office, it was not long before she ran into her partner. Tooru had caught her just as she was saddling up an ostrich horse and pondering to herself where she would be going on her banishment. That's what it felt like to her. Banishment. If it was supposed to be time off to mourn a man she had shared a household with a long time ago and was now completely estranged from, then this was a waste of time.
"There you are," Ratana's partner greeted her. "Nice to see you in uniform and outside of a prison cell," he told her, grinning. "I hear you have some time off, unlike the rest of us," he added when she did not respond.
"Yeah," Ratana responded curtly, focusing on the saddle.
"You don't seem very enthusiastic about it," Tooru said, his smile fading.
"It's unfair of him," Ratana spat out, resenting How's orders. "He's making me feel useless at a time like this."
"Do you know how many of us on the Terra Team would murder for three days off right about now?" Tooru asked her. "I suppose that you've earned it, though, with all you've been through and all, with the trial here and your dragon search coming up empty."
Ratana debated telling Tooru the truth behind the outcome of her mission. The promise that she made to Chief Shang and the rest of the Sun Warriors was undoubtedly sacred, but her bond with Tooru as a Terra Team partner was also sacred. "Yeah, that was disappointing alright." She decided that she would hold off for now at least.
Tooru knew her better than almost anyone. "You seem like you have a lot on your mind. Want me to walk with you to the edge of town?"
"Sure, I'd like that." At any rate, it felt good to be around Tooru again. He was truly his own form of relief.
"So what will you do with your time off?" Tooru questioned, marching beside Ratana, who held the reins of her ostrich horse in one of her hands. "Where will you go?"
"I don't know," Ratana replied blankly. "I have nothing to do and nowhere to go."
"You can't really have no life outside of the army," Tooru joked, or at least pretended to joke. "Don't you have other interests you can pursue in your spare time?"
"I joined here after Sifu Brawki granted me a recommendation," Ratana answered. "I woke up years later still here. It's the story of my life. I live to serve."
"You'll have to do something else sometime," Tooru said, now sounding worried. "Won't you want a husband, children, family, all that?"
"I don't think I need any of those things, no."
"Well, there will come a day when you're too old to fight," said Tooru. "What will you do then?"
Ratana shrugged, unbothered by the question. "Join the Council of Five, I guess."
"Join the Council of Five, you guess?" Tooru gawked at her. "That's ambitious of you. There's never been a woman appointed to the Council of Five, you know."
"There was never a woman on the Terra Team before, either."
"Touché. But do you really think we'll still be fighting the war when you're that old?"
"Of course we will be," Ratana countered briskly. "It's been going on since long before we were born, so why would it end until long after we're dead."
"The war is not neverending as some may say," said Tooru. "When it first began it was not an always and forever reality. It will end someday. My dad was one of the many who fell to firebenders."
"Sorry," Ratana said regretfully upon learning what happened to her partner's father, which was ultimately similar to what happened to her own mother.
"I have to hope those kinds of tragedies will end within our lifetime," said Tooru. "That is something that I, personally, want to live to see."
"What could possibly end the war?" The boundless struggle against the Fire Nation had grown into as much a part of the world around them as the earth beneath their feet or the sky above their heads.
"The Avatar could return."
Ratana stared at her partner thoughtfully. "I didn't know you believed in the Avatar, Tooru."
"My mother and grandmother told me stories of the Avatar when I was younger," Tooru told her. "I find it inspiring to hope for a better world."
"My mother told me similar stories. Everyone's mother and grandmother told them stories about the Avatar, Tooru. But they're just that. Stories. I don't hope for a better world," Ratana replied. "I make a better world, by taking action. I don't hope and linger. That is why the front is my home. I have nothing better to do and nowhere else to go."
"The way you define yourself is centered around the Neverending War against the Fire Nation," Tooru pressed, his concern rising. "It's like if the war were over, you would have no place in the world."
Ratana said nothing.
"This is another reason for me to hope for it to end," Tooru told her. "So you can live for yourself. The way that it sounds, you don't seem to know who you really are, and that disturbs me. You should take the right kind of risks and live the right kind of life. Be interested, for your own sake."
Ratana had lived two days for herself the way Tooru described it in recent memory. It had been when she was with Lu Ten, the son of the enemy general. "I am what I say I am. Like you, I want to prevent further tragedies, like what happened to my mother. I lost her to firebenders shortly before I joined the Terra Team."
"I'm sorry," said Tooru. "I never hear you talk about your childhood. What happened to your father?"
"He was also killed."
"At the same time as your mother?"
"No...he was killed a few days ago," she admitted. "In the Battle of Munn."
"I heard about that," Tooru nodded. "Gaipan also fell within the past couple of weeks."
"That's why I was given leave." It was an ominous coincidence, that both Munn, the city Ratana was born in, and Gaipan, the town where she met Brawki in an entirely different region of the Earth Kingdom, were each under the thumb of the Fire Nation now. When she had left for the Fire Nation, both were still free. "But it's not necessary. I hadn't seen him since right after my mom died."
"You don't seem too distraught about it," noted Tooru, sounding even more concerned. "Did you not get along?"
"I wasn't what he desired," she said simply. "He tried otherwise. I have no living siblings, but I have just as many miscarried siblings as you do live ones. I grew up in a different world than you. That pathetic girl who wanted attention from him is long gone."
"You shouldn't say such things, Ratana," Tooru put his arm around her. "No child is pathetic for seeking love and attention from their parents."
Ratana jerked her shoulder away and climbed onto her ostrich horse. "I changed my mind. I'd rather go to the edge of town on my own."
For the collective works of the author, go here.