|More from Graywand2||Action/Adventure/Military/Drama||PG-13||None|
Anthropologist's Note: The cultural attitudes expressed by the characters in this chapter and the rest of the story, of the onset of puberty in females being the start of womanhood and marriageable age, are the historical cultural attitudes towards sex and marriage of the real-life cultures the Four Nations are based on. Even though there there's absolutely nothing sexually explicit in this story, as some may be uncomfortable with these concepts I warn you now out of a spirit of understanding.
The sun was barely peeking over the horizon, casting the sky in dark blue and the clouds in deep purple when Ty Lee stood on the hill overlooking the quay, watching as the last of her company marched in perfect, or as near to perfect as humans could get, up the gangway of the Victory's Crucible as the salt smell of the sea tickled her nostrils. Despite all that was going down, she felt at peace near the ocean, as any son or daughter of a seafaring people. The sea was the center of their way of life. It was from there it was said the first people to inhabit the isles came from. Her earliest memories were of standing on the deck of her father's private yacht. It was the sea that fed them, nurtured them, and where their ashes were sprinkled when they died, completing the cycle of human existence. She held up her mouth to cover a yawn. She was tired, but getting up early was part and parcel to life as a soldier, officer or not, and it was only when she had the day off did she fall into a tendency to oversleep.
"We're going home, Ty Lee," Michiko said from next to her, the other woman unable to keep the wide smile off her face. "Five months after the end of this war, we're finally going home, and the two of us can take some well deserved leave."
"That will be fun," she said, trying to keep the smile on her face. In a few hours, she was going to have to inform her exec what was going on and recruit her twenty volunteers for this mission. She was certain that Michiko wouldn't hesitate to volunteer for a mission like this. Ty Lee was uncertain about how to react when she did volunteer. In many ways, Michiko was closer to her then even Mai. She had accepted her almost immediately when Captain Shiga had made her an officer and ordered her to teach her men chi blocking. When she watched the Warden who had replaced Mai's Uncle Chung casually murder Shiga and her exec right in front of her, they had both been thrown into the same cooler and huddled for warmth as the minutes dragged on like agonizing hours. She'd stood by her when she took command of the remains of the company before the end of the war.
However, someone had to take care of the company as a whole, and she'd rather have her do it.
I wish I was able to recruit Mai as I wished, she thought to herself as she stood there. I could really use her on this mission. Mai had been stuck in meetings all day and it had been impossible to get her alone. No matter, I'm not a complainer. I use the resources I have, and I get the job done.
"Are you ready for this, Captain," a familiar feminine voice said from behind her. A tingle running down her spine, in an instant she had wheeled around and came to attention before Suki. The commanding officer of the Kyoshi Warrior's undress uniform had the brown roundel of a Colonel on her sleeves.
"Stand at ease," Suki said, holding out her hand.
"We're fine, sir," Ty Lee said, as she shifted into at ease position.
"Good," Suki said, nodding. "I will not be heading to Kyoshi with your company." She sighed, and a faint flush appeared on her cheeks. "I'm taking my leave time, ah, somewhere else, so tell my exec back home she has the command until I get back around the fifteenth of next month."
She'll probably be with Sokka in the South Pole, Ty Lee thought to herself. Though knowing her she'll probably be lending a hand with the aid and reconstruction mission there.
"Of course, sir," Ty Lee said
"I trust you know your additional duties in this matter, Captain," Suki said pointedly, giving her a hard stare.
"Of course, sir," Ty Lee said by a way of response to the reminder of her other mission.
"Good," Suki said, nodding. Looking behind her, she nodded curtly and said, "Now, you should be boarding. Goodbye, and enjoy your trip as best you can." Suki bowed. Ty Lee bowed in return and Suki walked away.
Ty Lee sighed and turned back to Michiko, who had a somewhat surprised look on her face. "Let's get going, Michi."
As the two women walked down the path to the ship, she noticed a slight spring and a hint of a goofy smile on her face.
"What is it?" Ty Lee couldn't help but ask, even though she was already ninety percent certain of the answer. She only gets that way over a man. Kind of like me, if I could bring myself to actually put myself out there. The fresh memories of Kozin, dead these past five months, came back and bit her again.
"I met the Officer of the Deck while I was presenting our itinerary to the senior staff aboard Crucible," she said, smiling. "He was cute."
"Ah," she said, nodding. "You're interested in him, I take it."
"I think the feeling's mutual," Michiko said, nodding as they came up on the gangway. "I'm really looking forward to this journey now."
Ty Lee smiled. "I'll bet. Come on."
The Victory's Crucible, like her class sisters, and indeed every combat transport in the Royal Navy, was a huge hulking thing sitting in the middle of the water. She was as wide as several dozen Kuai Ball fields and half again as long. She looked up at the smokestacks behind her conning tower, smokestacks that would no doubt belch black smoke from the coal burning in the boilers that kept every ship in the Navy moving. Ty Lee and Michiko looked at each other, then stalked up the steel gray gangplank and set foot on the ship. She heard footsteps and saw a man who could only be Crucible's Officer of the Deck walking up to her. The clean-shaven young man with black hair, golden eyes and dressed in the red tunic and black pants with a red stripe running up the right leg of a commissioned officer of the Fire Nation's Royal Navy stopped and stood at attention. He had, as she'd expected the ranks of a naval Lieutenant on his shoulders, marking him as being equal in rank to Ty Lee.
Ty Lee, remembering what she was supposed to do, snapped to attention. A heartbeat later she heard Michiko do the same thing. Ignoring the sickening feeling in her stomach, she faced the quarterdeck, where the Fire Nation flag flew and bowed to the colors. The officer of the deck, as tradition demanded, bowed in return. She then, feeling somewhat better, faced the officer of the deck and bowed directly to him. Once he'd returned the bow, she came up and stood at attention.
"Permission to come aboard, sir?" she asked.
"Granted, sir," he said, even as he locked eyes with her exec. "If you step inside the ship, the side boys will be waiting for you and will show you to your quarters. Now if you excuse me, I have duties elsewhere."
"Thank you, sir," Ty Lee said quickly as they stepped through the open hatch into the interior of the ship.
Ty Lee took a look around her quarters. The room was about a third the size of her rooms at the palace with a narrow bed with a regulation white sheets and brown blanket bolted down against the starboard bulkhead. Sunlight got into the room by a single porthole in the port bulkhead.
"You were right," she said as she looked around the room. "He was cute and he's definitely interested in you."
"You liked him to," Michiko said, giving her a pointed look. "Just admit it."
"Michi," Ty Lee said, faintly annoyed. Michiko had launched an on-again-off-again campaign of trying to get her to show interest in men again since for the past two months, continually citing that it was unhealthy to keep dwelling on Kozin. "Just because I haven't let another man touch me since the Rock doesn't mean I've stopped looking at men." Abruptly Ty Lee remembered her mission for Zuko, and gave a frustrated sigh and walked over to the round porthole on the starboard wall.
"Hey," she heard Michiko say after a moment, contrition on her voice. "I'm sorry, Ty Lee. You're right, I need to let you move on from Kozin in your own time. I guess it's difficult for me to sit on the sidelines with things like this because I actually had a husband once you know, and I know what it's like to lose someone you love like that. The loss of my husband may not have been under similar circumstances as the loss of your lover was, but still it was a blow."
"I remember," she said, feeling sad for her friend. As was common, Michiko had gotten married at thirteen, about six months after her courses began, the traditional beginning of womanhood in all Four Nations. It had been a love match to a friend of her eldest brother. They'd been happy with each other for six months before his ship had been lost with all hands on a trading mission to one of Kyoshi's neighbors. "And I'm sorry. I know you mean well, but that's neither here nor there." She gave a resigned sigh. "There is something I have to tell you."
Michiko gave her a curious look, cocking her head to the side. "What?"
She took a deep breath, and told her what she'd agreed to do for Zuko. When she was done, she sat down in the chair in front of her desk and looked at her expectantly.
"But why you?" Michiko asked when Ty Lee was done.
"Nearest as we can tell," Ty Lee responded, putting her head in her hands. "There are only five people that Zuko's mother would explicitly trust enough to listen to. Out of them Ozai is dead and Azula has yet to be retrained on how to go to the bathroom. The two of us have helped put down enough insurrections to know that the Fire Nation is simply too unstable for Zuko to leave at any length of time, and I couldn't get to Mai to ask her to come with me on this mission. That leaves only me that she'll probably trust. Also," and she folded her arms under her breasts. "There are several questions about that night that have been weighing on my mind since I was eight, not the least of which is the suspicions I've had over the years that she murdered Azulon." But also the fact that her leaving took away the last real defense we had against Azula's depredations, and the only woman who was ever anything close to a real mother to me.
"All right," Michiko said, nodding and standing up. "I get that, and I get why the Firelord deserves to see his mother again and how this is going to answer questions you've had for a long time. When do we leave?"
"When do we leave?" Ty Lee said pointedly, having made up her mind as to what she wanted. "You're not leaving. I need you charge of the company when I ask for my twenty volunteers from the ranks when we land in Kyoshi."
"Nonsense," Michiko said nonchalantly. "My duty is to protect the life of my commanding officer. How can I do that if I'm not with you?"
"You're duty to is to the men, First Lieutenant," she said darkly as she glared at the other officer, She squelched the part that told her she needed her friend at her side, the men needed her more. "I'm giving you a direct order. You're not coming and that's final. Do I make myself abundantly clear?"
"I'm sorry, sir" Michiko responded, looking up from where she'd been making a show of examining her fingers and giving her a curious look. "I couldn't hear you. Did you say you needed volunteers? Good, because consider me your first volunteer."
Ty Lee opened her mouth to fight this, but closed it a heartbeat later. Michiko was anal and stubborn, and trying to get her to change her mind on something like this was going to be like beating her head against the wall. I might as well accept it, she thought to herself. She's going with me.
She reached into her uniform pocket and pulled out a brown parchment scroll. "These are the orders to the commanding officer of the Victory's Crucible. We'll present these to Captain Nara after we make landfall on Kyoshi. She'll then take us to Tezhue Colony in the Southern Earth Kingdom. There we'll begin our search."
"Okay," Michiko said, nodding in agreement. "Though I think-," she was interrupted by a loud banging on her door. Sighing, she walked over to the hatch, unscrewed the manual valve and opened the door to reveal one of her side boy attendants, a girl of about thirteen standing before her. She had black hair and green eyes and she was wearing the pure black tunic and pants of a recruit trainee in the Fire Navy.
"Excuse me, sir," she said, standing at attention. "We're leaving port, you asked to be informed."
"Of course, Midshipman," she said, nodding. The moment the words were out of her mouth her stomach let loose with a loud grunt.
"You sound hungry," Michiko said from behind her.
She turned to face her. "Yes, I am. Why don't we-," she was interrupted by Michiko's eyes widening in shock and fear as her pupils contracted to reveal the whites of her eyes. "Look out!" Michi screamed, leaping up and drawing her sword.
She wheeled around to just in time to see her side boy's knife flash in the light of her porthole as the younger woman brought it crashing down towards her shoulder. Instinct taking over she leapt back and grabbed the hilt of her sword. She pulled it out as the girl advanced again, this time slashing at her face with a manic look in her eyes. Ty Lee charged forward bringing her sword up in a swooping arc designed to sever the knife-wielding bitch's head from her shoulders.
She had just started to bring her blade up when the sound of a knife burying itself inside human flesh was heard, and she looked to the blood-red point of a blade sticking out of the front of her assailant's neck. Gagging, as blood ran down her neck, the knife came clattering to the floor and she collapsed to the floor, her blood pooling around her hair as the spark of life fled her eyes.
Knowing where the knife had come from the instant she saw it's tip poke out through the girl's flesh. She looked up to see Mai standing in the doorway, a look of concern in her golden eyes.
"Are you all right, Ty Lee?"
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