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"You honestly couldn't find a smaller size?" said Rokan incredulously as she attempted to adjust a second-hand Fire Nation tunic. The hem that was meant to meet her knees dragged on the floor, and the long sleeves covered her hands.
"Deal with it."
The short soldier turned his back on Rokan. Though he was a grown man, his narrow shoulders stood inches below Rokan's own shoulders. His uniform was immaculately clean, and Rokan could tell from the painstakingly labeled cupboards in his quarters that he prided himself on his organization skills.
"No need to get snippy with me," drawled Rokan.
The soldier made a scoffing noise, turning back to glare at Rokan.
"I have every right to be snippy with you! How can the Commander possibly think it is right to leave me in the colony while she takes you, a lazy, immature, inexperienced child, on a special operation?"
Anger bubbled up inside of Rokan. Swinging her arm back, she drew her katana and thrust it beneath the little man's nose, displaying a nicked and chipped blade.
"Inexperienced? Listen, Smidgeon, do you think this thing dents up by itself?"
The soldier knocked the katana away with the back of his hand, a sour expression spreading on his face.
"Very witty of you. Why don't you go ask the Commander, seeing as how you're her new favorite?"
Rokan opened her mouth to retaliate when a shout rose from outside, sounding the tanks' departure.
"Better hurry. You wouldn't want to be left behind," the man said with false concern.
With a roll of her amber eyes, Rokan turned her back on the little man. As she walked out of the barracks, she hiked up the deep red tunic, bunching it about her waist and tying it. She picked up her katana, which was propped against the doorway, and slung it over her shoulder, adjusting it with difficulty over the bulky folds of fabric.
Outside, all the soldiers were ready to leave. Men and women alike had piled into the tanks, and the great metal beasts roared to life. Commander Mei Lee beckoned to Rokan from her position beside the lead tank. She was dressed in full armor, and at her hip was a long knife.
"Come, Rokan. You're to travel with me."
"Sure," said Rokan casually as she strutted up to the hulking machine.
Mei Lee put a hand on Rokan's shoulder, forcing her to a stop. With a scowl on her face, the older woman leaned forward to whisper in Rokan's ear.
"You had better change your attitude towards me if you want to stay on this mission. One more hint of disrespect and you'll be thrown out on the mountainside."
It took all of Rokan's self-control not to roll her eyes or push away Mei Lee's hand. With a polite nod of her head, Rokan forced herself to be respectful.
Mei Lee scowled and pushed Rokan towards the tank. With a little difficulty, Rokan climbed up the wheels and slipped into the cramped space. There was one other soldier in there; a man whose face was hidden by his helmet. He was bent over, examining the controls, and Rokan had difficulty maneuvering about him. Much to her annoyance, he pointed her to a small corner of the fuselage, where she was forced to crouch.
The load voice of Mei Lee shouted that all were to move out. With an agility far superior to Rokan's, the Commander dropped into the tank.
"Move out. Northern Air Temple, here we come," she said menacingly, adjusting her helmet.
Rokan did not know how she managed to sleep in that jolting, cramped vehicle, but her exhaustion must have gotten the better of her. She snapped awake when the tank came to a lurching stop. Mei Lee's face came into focus before her.
"We let you off here, Rokan. Here are your supplies."
Mei Lee held out a small sack that was filled with small, hard objects, which Rokan knew were metal-encased explosives. Shivering, Rokan took the pouch and held it close.
"We appreciate your service, Rokan," said Mei Lee as she pushed open the hatch, "Keep warm out there."
Rokan landed with a soft crunch in the snow, her breath showing in front of her like puffs of smoke. Turning back to the tank, Rokan winked and nodded to Mei Lee.
"No problem, Commander. See you."
Mei Lee nodded and closed the hatch, trying to fight the smile that was threatening to appear on her weathered face. The group of tanks proceeded up the mountain, leaving Rokan alone in the snow in the shadow of the great Air Temple.
Rokan had never seen anything like it before in her life. The Fire Nation Palace was grand indeed, but its smoke-spewing chimneys and dark golden halls could not compare to the raw beauty of this towering place of refuge. The pale grey stone peeked out from between the passing clouds, and sharp green spires thrust into the air like blades. This great temple balanced on the steepest edges of the mountains without the slightest hint of instability...a feat that even the Fire Nation's best architects had difficulty accomplishing. Rokan became aware that the sound of the tanks had died down, and she knew that she was meant to continue her journey. However, something caught her eye at the Air Temple; something that surely did not belong in this deserted monument.
Narrow pillars of dark smoke were rising from the Temple's turrets, curling into the air and dispersing. Smoke could not exist without fire, and fire did not just create itself. Perhaps the Avatar was practicing his Firebending, or maybe he had left a campfire burning...but why were there so many?
A loud thumping noise drew Rokan's attention away from the smoke. Glancing up towards the summit of the mountain she saw countless foot soldiers marching their way up to the Temple. Her instant of confusion was ended when she recalled Mei Lee telling her that several squadrons of soldiers from many different Fire Nation colonies had been sent to the Temple a few days earlier. The cracking sound of the tanks' spiked wheels digging into the frozen snow echoed all around the mountains. The Avatar surely could not defend himself from such an army.
Pulling a map of the Air Temple out of her bag, Rokan began to climb the mountainside, heating her hands with Firebending to melt the snow on the rocks. By the looks of the looming Temple, she still had a long way to climb.
After about fifteen minutes, Rokan stopped on a small ledge to take a rest. Panting, she rolled up the sleeves of her oversized tunic and studied the map. Not much farther now, she thought, glancing up at the Temple. There was what appeared to be a natural entrance into the underground chamber just about a hundred feet up the mountain. Tucking the map back into her bag of explosives, Rokan resumed her climb, reaching the chamber's entrance in a few short minutes.
The opening to the hidden room was a large ravine, delving deep into the mountainside. Rokan took a coil of rope that the Commander had placed in her bag and fastened it to a stable boulder near the edge of the chasm. Tying the end of the rope around her waist and around the sack, Rokan began the slow descent into the darkness.
When Rokan's booted feet hit solid ground the sky was visible fifty feet above her. Her rugged journey had tired her, and Rokan tugged her bulky tunic off.
"Ugh, it smells awful down here! Like rotten eggs," mumbled Rokan, putting her hand over her nose and mouth.
Quartz was naturally crystallized into the cavern's walls, reflecting the greyish light that shone down from the chasm's opening. Rokan's eyes adjusted to the darkness, and she did not feel the need to Firebend for light. As she ventured into the cave she began to feel slightly dizzy, but dismissed this without a second thought. She was underground, after all, and she had exerted much energy during her climb.
After a short time the heavily textured stalactites and stalagmites turned into smoothed columns. The rock and dirt floor had become a marble path, set with swirling motifs. The craggy roof made a flawless transition to a sloping ceiling.
I suppose I should start setting up the explosives, thought Rokan, stumbling a little from her light-headedness. Dust fell from the ceiling as loud noises sounded from above. By the muffled sounds of the advancing tanks, Rokan deduced that the Fire Nation was on the way to victory.
I'm surprised the Avatar hasn't given up yet. He's clearly outnumbered.
Rokan shrugged and bent over her bag, pulling out the explosives that Mei Lee had given her. The rumbles of the ongoing battle did not concern her. After setting the explosives, Rokan stepped back to ensure that she had done everything correctly.Rokan was prepared to leave when a shattering boom sounded in the cave, sending tremors through the floor and ceiling. She felt a growing heat on her back and turned, a feeling of dread sinking into her stomach. The sight that met her eyes was a heart-stopping explosion rushing towards her.
Panic took a hold of her mind, and Rokan tried to run. Her hands found a door, and in a desperate attempt to escape Rokan threw her whole body into the heavy wood. Open! It has to open! Rokan screamed in fear and frustration as she smashed her shoulder against it. No!
And then all was darkness.
As the Fire Nation military left in defeat, Commander Mei Lee looked out at the damaged mountainside. She bowed her head in sorrow. Rokan had failed.
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