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March 24, 2015
"This is much like our room in the old barracks, isn't it?" Tooru commented, eying the walls of his and Ratana's room. Although there was no dirt on these walls, they were still beneath the surface, and the lighting was the same, so the lack of dirt didn't stand out much. "Funny, it makes me forget all about Ba Sing Se for a second, like we could go outside and just expect to be in the middle of the woods again."
"I suppose so," Ratana agreed, sitting with her palms down on her mattress. "Even if some of it looks the same, though, nothing is." She and Tooru had both changed into pine green night clothes, as their Terra Team uniforms would not be ready for a few more hours.
"Right," Tooru smirked at his comrade sympathetically. He was ready for a chance to relax for once, and he could see his partner, as usual, was not. As Tooru had just finished in the washroom down the hall, Ratana had gotten up to take her turn, but Tooru stopped her. "We have a visitor tonight, Ratana. Did I tell you that, yet?"
"No, you didn't, Tooru," said Ratana. "Who is it?"
The visitor that Tooru spoke of hailed from the Fire Nation, the place whom both Ratana and Tooru fought day-in and day-out, but his demeanor was calmer than they were accustomed to finding with his countrymen. He was no firebender, or soldier for that matter.
"Heidze," Ratana beamed, her hair stretching straight down and her dark green night clothes already on. She was clearly getting ready to turn in, but had no trouble making room for an old companion. "What a pleasant surprise. How have you been?"
"I've been well, Ratana," replied Heidze. "How are you?"
"Fighting the Fire Nation," remarked the Terra Team woman. "Defending the national capital of the Earth Kingdom. The usual."
"I expected as much," Heidze nodded, sitting on the chair across from Ratana's bed. "I do hope you succeed. It's not a bad city, I can say, after living there these past weeks. Of course, I've only been to the Middle and Lower Rings, but all of it's better than Gangkouz by a long shot."
"How's school?" asked Tooru.
"It's alright." Heidze bore a guilty grin and scratched the back of his neck nervously. "Should thank Ratana for that, I guess."
Ratana shook her head. "There's no reason to thank me for that. Really, there was nothing else that I was comfortable with spending my father's money on. Ever since I ran away, I made my life on my own, without his help."
"Roshune must have had quite the fortune," Tooru said solemnly.
"What I got was just the tip of the iceberg," said Ratana. "All his belongings in Munn were seized by the Fire Nation. I was left with what he had left in outside banks, and that got transferred to me right after my trial. Actually, I was most surprised that he had not bothered to write me out of his will after all these years."
"Did he have anyone else to write into it?" asked Heidze.
"I suppose not." Ratana shrugged to indicate she did not care to spare a thought about it either way. "I just figured if I had to spend it on something, I might as well spend it on tuition for you while you're around here. It's a very different experience than the one you came from before."
"I see," Heidze said with noticeable discomfort. "About that..."
"What is it, Heidze?" questioned Tooru. "You seem like you have something on your mind."
"Well I sort of ran off," Heidze disclosed. "But at the rate of trouble I was getting myself into, I would've gotten kicked out or worse eventually."
"Whatever," shrugged Ratana.
"Really?" asked Heidze, relieved. "You're okay with that?"
"I'm not your parent, Heidze," said Ratana. "You don't have to bring me progress reports or anything. My covering your tuition was a gift. What you do with it is your own affair."
They were interrupted by a knock on the door. It turned out to be Taigang, and unlike Ratana and Tooru, he had not changed out of his uniform yet. "Ratana, we've got trouble," said Taigang. "Some of the new recruits are fighting and we need to stop them or they might damage part of the Outer Wall in the crossfire."
"I'll come," Tooru declared, hurrying to the door. "I'm an expert at breaking up fights."
"If you say so," said Taigang. He then turned to the unfamiliar fourteen year-old boy in the room. "Who are you?"
"A visitor," said Heidze.
"Come, Taigang," Tooru pointed out the entrance. "It sounds like we'd better hurry." From Taigang's face, it appeared he did not approve of visitors, but he voiced no objection and he and Tooru left Ratana and Heidze behind.
"I guess I shouldn't stay long," said Heidze.
Ratana shook her head. "If it's anything like the fights he and I used to have when he and I were new recruits, then he'll be a while, even with Tooru helping him. So, what will you do now?"
"I think I might take the Chief Shang up on his offer."
"Going back to the Sun Warriors, eh? I'll bet Chang Lei wouldn't mind seeing you again."
"It'll be nice to see Shang and Wu and Chu Fang again, too," said Heidze. "Even Ham Ghao," he added with a laugh.
"I see," said Ratana. "Well, take care then, Heidze. Thanks for stopping by."
Heidze's eyes shook for a few moments. Then, in an instant, he hopped onto Ratana's mattress and sat beside her, proceeding to wrap his arms in a lock around her chest. "Ratana...I am going to miss you. So much!"
"I'll miss you too, Heidze," said the taken-aback earthbender, patting Heidze on the back. "I never thought that I would say that to a Fire Nation citizen, let alone one who's stolen from me before."
"You're the only genuine person I've ever really been close to," Heidze said as they broke their embrace. "Seriously, no one I ever met in Gangkouz was genuine. You were something totally new to me, the way you care for and look out for others. You're so right and at balance."
"Ummm...thanks, Heidze," Ratana blushed.
"The only time that I ever lost faith in you was when you trapped me in the Sun Warrior prison and went to find the dragons despite my warning," Heidze reminded her. "It was a dark time for me, but you did the right thing and restored my faith in you in the end."
"Oh, right," Ratana recalled uncomfortably. "That. I should have listened to you, then. It's perfectly understandable. You should have lost faith in me. I would have lost faith in me, too."
"I remember," said Heidze. "What brought you back?"
"It was only when I got a reminder at the moment of truth," Ratana said thoughtfully. She remembered the Trance of Solitude and picturing Lu Ten, how the vision calmed her down from her fury. It was not a memory that would be to her credit anymore, though. Prince Lu Ten was now a mortal foe on the opposite side of the battlefield she could no longer afford to dwell on the past, especially when he had seen her and now accepted their status as enemies for himself.
"Yeah," smiled Heidze. "It was Wu, right."
"Well, actually..." Ratana began, but then stopped herself. "Yes, it was Sun Shaman Wu. He helped me see the error in my thoughts."
"Ratana, I know that it's cliché and may sound childish to you, but...friends forever?"
Tooru stormed back into the room at that point. "False alarm. Routine Terra Team hazing ritual..."
Ratana hesitated. "There's no guarantee when or if we'll see each other again, with this war on and at opposite ends of the world. But sure...we'll always be friends, Heidze. If you're going back to the Fire Nation, you should take this with you." Ratana held out her Sun Warrior talisman.
"No, keep it," Heidze pushed her fingers back together. "It's yours. Besides, if I'm going back to the temple and the ancient city, I'm sure that they'll have several there that I can have if I want."
"Well, we'll have to get you another going away present, then," Tooru chuckled. "How about a call girl from the Lower Ring?"
"Don't you dare, Tooru!" snapped Ratana. "Well, I do hope that we'll see each other again someday, Heidze. Take care."
"I hope so, too," said Heidze.
Tooru was uncertain. "Ummm...how are you going to get past the enemy lines once you leave the city?"
"I can manage," Heidze reassured him. "And your partner can vouch for that Goodbye Ratana. Goodbye Tooru." And with that, he left the two Terra Team earthbenders behind and departed, embarking on his long trip across the continents.
The throne room in the formerly-Earth Kingdom-held city-state of Munn was quiet when contrasted with the noisy landscape of the metropolis below. A minor Fire Nation defense force was left there under the command of the Grand Sima, Prince Lizen. It was small in size, as all disposable troops were now mounting the invasion of Ba Sing Se and few would have elected to stay behind in Munn, and were likewise quite disappointed in having been chosen to do so.
Prince Lizen looked out of one of the side windows of the late King Aisin's chambers, staring at steam near the munitions center, which was operated with the help of the Earth Kingdom laborers that Aisin had commandeered from all the remaining survivors of the Battle of Munn. In the first few days, some of them had dared to put up a fight against the new forced labor order that the former Kingdom of Munn had become, but Lizen had tightened his grip sufficiently to bring them in line since then. Now, they had made up for lost time and were back on schedule for all of their ongoing projects.
The opening and closing of the doors to the throne room signaled that Prince Lizen now had a visitor. "I have returned, Father," Jaya informed him as she entered.
"Good," Lizen's lips curled as he turned to face his daughter. "I must say that you took your time. Were you looking at scenery?"
Lizen scowled. "Did you fetch what I asked you to on your visit to Iroh?"
"I did," Jaya confirmed as she handed the official seal of the Crown Prince to him. "Plucked it from that tent of his while we were making conversation and casually slipped the decoy into place. He didn't notice a thing."
"Excellent," said Lizen. "Not everyday that our beloved Crown Prince is so easily outwitted, but we have what we need now."
"If I may ask, why did you have me fetch it now?" asked Jaya, curious. "Wouldn't it be more logical for me to have taken it at the upcoming meeting? The decoy I replaced will only last for so long, and it's only a matter of time before he discovers that the real one was taken."
"That's why all must go according to plan now," stated Lizen. "Time is of the essence and everything depends on it. And you know that you're not coming to the meeting, Jaya. Only I must go."
"Why?" Jaya pierced her father's eyes with a gaze from her own. "I can be of good use there."
"Your unexpected trip there to get the seal was enough from you for now," Lizen said, losing his patience. "It will prove suspicious if we both show up when only one is expected. Now, if you'll excuse me, honey, I have important business that I must attend to."
Jaya crossed her arms and frowned as Lizen left her in the throne room by herself.
- The old Terra Team base that Tooru refers to was first seen in .
- Chang Lei, Chief Shang's daughter, was first mentioned by name in .
- Heidze and Ratana recall the events of and together.
- Jaya visited Iroh's tent in , though the seal was not mentioned at the time.
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