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Three days had passed since Rokan had shed the disguise of Zoai. She traveled through the Earth Kingdom, attempting to stay clear of the towns. After seemingly endless travel, Rokan rested in mountainous regions of the Northern Earth Kingdom. Hard rains pounded down from the sky now, and Rokan took shelter in a spacious cave.
Rokan could only amuse herself with fire blasts for so long, and she began to grow restless. Her old personality had fully blossomed in the days that followed her transformation near Shu Min, and she was bored.
For once I wish someone would pick a fight with me, she thought, repeatedly drawing and sheathing her katana.
The rains began to let up, and Rokan found it safe to venture outside. Her boots sunk into the mud with sickening squelching noises. A chill wind whistled through the funnels created by the rugged mountains, biting Rokan's skin. She warmed her hands with fire and kept her palms pressed on her bare arms.
Rokan became aware that no wildlife seemed active about her. Several times she noticed small furry creatures burrow into the ground. She looked to the sky, expecting to see approaching storms or winds, but the weather had cleared.
Rustling noises met Rokan's ears as she rounded a bend in the craggy mountain path. Frozen, she strained to hear more. It was unmistakably the sound of feet, padding softly and quickly on the ground. She would not have heard it had there been other sounds in the area. Keeping her breathing steady and quiet, Rokan drew her katana slowly. Her heart pounded against her chest so hard she feared its beating would give away her position. The moments passed like hours before Rokan saw them.
There was a group of them, probably fifteen strong. They ran across the rocky terrain as if it was nothing more than soft grass against their soft leather boots. They had quivers on their backs and bows slung on their shoulders, and sharp eyes glared out from a red painted face.
Rokan recognized the symbols on their headbands and their face paint well from stories that her father used to tell her. As a child, the Yu Yan Archers used to be just that: a story, nothing more. Rokan remembered them as an idea, a myth even, told to little children when they begged for an exciting tale. But now here they were before her, plain as day, gliding gracefully over the ground at lightning speed. Rokan could scarcely move from surprise and within seconds the Archers had her surrounded, their arrows pointed at every inch of her body.
Rokan lowered her sword and held up one hand. Twitching her fingers, she produced a small flame that danced on her palm.
"I'm from the Fire Nation. I'm on your side," she said slowly.
The Yu Yan Archers pulled back their bowstrings farther.
"I'm not against you! I'm a Firebender!" shouted Rokan, dropping her sword and creating a flame in her other hand as well. One of the Yu Yan Archers lowered his bow and motioned to the others. Rokan watched as they slung their bows on their shoulders and began to run again, giving her as much regard as they would a rabbit-mole mistaken for an armadillo-bear.
I wonder where they're headed, thought Rokan. She knew that the Yu Yan Archers were used primarily as a defense division of the Fire Nation military, and she could not imagine what brought them so far away from the home country. Still, Rokan pushed the Archers out of her mind and continued to walk. She wanted to make it to the Fire Nation colony of Sa Ying within the next few days.
Conflicting emotions rose in Rokan's mind the minute she set foot in Sa Ying. Tanks were stopped just outside the gates, a new armory towered over the little buildings, and Fire Nation banners rippled in the slight breeze. The sound of metal being manipulated in a nearby forge rang in her ears. It was amazing that this little Earth Kingdom village could be so like the home.
But shortly after entering Sa Ying, Rokan saw the effect that the occupation had had on the little town. Civilians cowered in their homes and shied away from the soldiers, who in turn bullied the frightened people and took advantage of their terror. Food was taken by force, and higher-ranking officers had made many of the residents their servants. Rokan felt anger towards her own people; they had digressed from noble beings to arrogant tyrants, just like their lord.
Rokan clenched her fists in anger when she saw one soldier corner and harass an elderly woman, demanding a share in the groceries she had just collected. Storming forward, Rokan whipped out her katana; she would teach this man not to dishonor the name of the Fire Nation with his rude behavior. Unfortunately, before she could confront the man, a woman in armor stepped in her way.
"Let's see some identification," she said coldly.
Rokan looked the woman up and down. Her build was tall and muscular, and her dark brown hair was streaked with gray. She wore the simple armor of the domestic forces, with a dark red sash across her chest. This sash was decorated with a small gold medal, signifying her high rank among the other officers. No doubt this woman was in command at this colony.
Rolling her eyes, Rokan help up her left hand and produced a small flame.
"Is everyone demanding to know where I'm from nowadays? I'm one of you, so chill."
The woman narrowed her eyes.
"I have reason to doubt that. A true citizen of the Fire Nation would know to treat her elders with respect."
A sarcastic laughed escaped Rokan's lips.
"I just Firebended for you! What more proof do you need? Unless you think I'm the Avatar."
The woman gripped Rokan by the collar of her shirt, her amber eyes alight with anger.
"You're dangerously close to the edge, girl. One more step and I'll personally see to it that you get punished."
Rokan was about to retort when she caught a glimmer of movement out of the corner of her eye. Soldiers dressed in heavy-duty armor were gathering in the center of the village, and others were heading towards the parked tanks. The wheels of Rokan's mind began to turn. She couldn't let this woman think she had intimidated her. Punishment didn't seem like a good choice either.
"Before you assert your authority, mind telling me where all those soldiers are headed?" asked Rokan, nodding her head in the direction of the tanks.
"They have a task to carry out at the Northern Air Temple."
The Northern Air Temple? thought Rokan, I didn't know it still existed...
Shaking her hair out of her face, Rokan pulled her shirt out of the officer's hand.
"A special op, huh? You know, you just might find that I'm a valuable addition to your team."
"Is that so? And why might I think that? What can you do that my soldiers cannot?" said the woman stiffly.
Rokan rolled her eyes nonchalantly as she pulled out her katana.
"First off, I'm ten times more talented with this," she said, idly spinning the sword, "than any of your guys are with Firebending. Secondly, I was trained in Firebending by the greatest masters the Imperial Palace had to offer, and thirdly—..."
Rokan paused, smirking.
"Well? If you have yet another incredible talent, please enlighten me," sneered the officer.
Rokan spun her katana one last time and slipped it smoothly back into its sheath.
"Maybe I lied," she said, shrugging, "Maybe there isn't a thirdly. Still, you can't deny that you appreciate my abilities. It's written all over your face."
The female officer frowned thoughtfully.
"Very well. You win this time, girl. Come with me."
Beckoning to Rokan, the officer went into the nearby barracks with Rokan trailing behind.
"My name is Commander Mei Lee. Though I do not approve of your impudence, I understand and respect the values of your assistance."
The Commander pushed open a thick wooden door at the end of the barrack's hallway. Rokan stepped inside the room, which was arranged as an officer's quarters, and looked around happily at the scarlet Fire Nation banners which decorated the walls.
"As you may have heard, the Avatar has returned. Our military has been tracking him for weeks on end, yet he is continuously evasive. We've trailed him all the way to the Northern Air Temple, where we're sure he'll stay for a time. After all, he'd want to spend some time at the remains of his old civilization," said Mei Lee, walking towards a tall shelf.
Mei Lee pulled down several rolled up maps which she spread upon her dark-wood desk.
This is the Air Temple, complete with all known passages, tunnels, and secret rooms. Our plan is to attack straight on, and drill through the lower walls. This structure is old...very old. Once our tanks so much as tap it, these stones will crumble."
Rokan nodded, leaning over the desk and studying the map intently.
"What's this?" she asked, tapping her index finger over a small, cave-like structure beneath the main temple towers.
"We're not sure. Rumor has it that it's some sort of bomb shelter, or perhaps a mere storage house."
"If you can get me in there," Rokan said thoughtfully, "I can take down this whole main tower from the inside out. Once I collapse any supports in there, the entire temple will come crashing down. I can plan it out when I get there; find an escape route, figure out what beams to crush first. You just need to provide me with enough explosives that are small enough to carry, yet large enough to do some damage."
A half-smile played upon Commander Mei Lee's chiseled face.
"You really do know what you're doing. What is your name, child?"
Z-...Rokan. My name is Rokan."
A wide grin spread on Rokan's face as she spoke her name. Having her old identity back was like the return of fresh rains in the springtime.
"Well, Rokan, it looks like you're found yourself a spot on a Fire Nation mission. It's a decent journey to the mountains where the Nomads once lived. We leave for the Air Temple in two hours."
- The writer's block that delayed this chapter for so long was broken by listening to I Am the Doctor (Doctor Who, Series 5 OST) and by erasing nearly half of the original text.
- Commander Mei Lee's name is a play on the word melee, a form of combat.
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