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Book 1: Ba Sing Se
July 20th, 2011
This takes place shortly after the events of chapter 3. This one took forever for me to write, mostly because I kept getting lazy.
Cheng couldn't wait to get out of his geography class today. Bolt was finally going to teach him some moves with the dao swords. It was all that was on Cheng's mind. He knew that great things would come from this. And it couldn't have worked out any better for him. Just when he wants to start practicing with a weapon, a teacher comes to him to help him. It almost seemed too perfect, but it didn't matter. He had a teacher.
Finally he was dismissed from class, and met Zhong outside.
"Hey, you wanna eat now?"
"No, actually I have something I gotta do."
"What, you gonna study?" he mocked, "Gotta get those good grades."
"No, I just gotta meet a friend."
"Yeah, like you have any other friends."
"You know you're not the only friend I have, Zhong."
"Yeah, sure." And he walked away, leaving Cheng to his business. One great thing about Zhong was that he would leave Cheng to do what he was going to do. He didn't have to know everything about what was going on. He seemed to realize that sometimes it's just better to not stick his nose into everyone's business.
Cheng walked as quick as he could to get to the hideout to start training. He was so excited to finally get started.
When he arrived, he walked in the front door, but didn't see Bolt. Maybe he's in the back. He walked toward the back room when he heard a sword unsheathe and nearly take his head off.
"Alright, your first and most important lesson, always be alert and aware of your surroundings. You can't just allow me to get you like that."
"Well I didn't expect you to try to kill me. Thought you were supposed to train me, not kill me."
"Yes, but how can you learn without experience. You should always be prepared for the worst to happen."
"Alright well the first thing you should know is that I am self taught, and I'm not very good. I'm not very good because I don't have a lot of experience. And experience is the best teacher. I can teach you basic forms and ideas, but most of the work is to be done by you."
"Wait, so you're saying that you aren't an expert at your weapon? Smellerbee lied to me."
"What do you mean? She told you I was an expert?"
"Yeah, she said each of you was a specialist in each of your weapons."
"Hah. She told you we were all specialists. I think Longshot is the only real expert here. He never misses with his arrows. The rest of us, we're just average. We never really got any specialized training. We just use what we have and learn from ourselves. I guess it's the teamwork that is our strength."
"Interesting. Interesting that she would lie to me. I guess she had to do her best to sell it so I would go with her. And it worked, so I can't really blame her."
"Shall we get started then. First, wielding the swords. Show me what you got."
Cheng unsheathed the swords, and slid them apart awkwardly to get them into each hand.
"Wow, you weren't kidding when you said you didn't know what you were doing. Okay first off you are holding them all wrong. You must remember, these are dual swords. Two swords to be used together in every motion. In a general sense, you can think of it as one attacking, one defending. Each sword with a different purpose to achieve a common goal, used together to the greatest efficiency." Bolt made a few motions with his swords, demonstrating as he was speaking.
Cheng imitated amateurishly, trying to do so correctly.
"Not great, but as long as you get the idea, experience can take care of the rest."
"So that's all you did? You just learned through experience?" Cheng questioned.
"Intuition can do a lot if you know how to use it."
Bolt showed him some more motions, simply just to get the hang of simply holding the swords in the correct fashion. Cheng simply went through the motions with him, hoping some sort of flow would come to him in using the swords.
"You're going through the motions, but you're not feeling the flow of the weapons. Take your own creative control with the weapons. You don't have to do exactly as I do. You can create your own style, your own form, just as long as you know the basics."
Cheng then broke off from Bolt's motions, and started swinging wildly as if driving an imaginary opponent backwards hard.
"Don't get too crazy," Bolt said, "you need to remember to defend at the same time. You can't simply go off attacking your opponent. If someone else were to come from your side, you would be completely exposed. Never solely attack with all of your energy, make sure you can defend yourself at the same time."
This time Cheng backed away, making slower, more calculated movements. Weaker, but smarter.
"Much better," Bolt praised, "Now as long as you remember the basic forms, you can create your own style and succeed with it."
"Wow, you barely teach and you're a great teacher," Cheng said.
"I try," Bolt smiled jokingly, "Now, what's more important is how you work in a group. When we hear of a job, we will do as much prep work as we can to plan, but still much of it must be done on the fly."
"I think I'll be able to adapt pretty well."
"Thinking and doing are two completely different things. Awareness in the field takes time to actually learn. You'll need to be patient."
"I understand. So are there some sort of codes and signals I'll need to learn?"
"Yeah, but I think Smellerbee wanted to teach you those. Don't worry, you'll have plenty of time to learn. Right now I think it's more important you work on your swordsmanship."
"Okay" They continued to work until Cheng had to hurry off to his next class.
Late the next day Cheng headed off to meet Smellerbee. She had asked to meet with him to go over a few things. He presumably thought they would simply be the signals he would need to learn, so he brought along a pen and some paper to write them down so he could be sure to remember them.
The second he walked into the hideout, he noticed everyone was here, and they were arming themselves for battle.
"What's going on!?" Cheng asked the instant he noticed he wasn't simply being taught some signals.
"We've got a job," Smellerbee responded while putting some sort of chest armor on, "get yourself ready, we're moving out soon."
"Wait, what? What do I do here? What's my job. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing." Cheng stammered in amazement that he was about to be going on his first mission without any preparations.
Bolt stepped over to him, "Come with me, I'll help you." Bolt seemed to always be there to help him. "Do you have anything to wear, anything dark that will keep you hidden?"
"No, she didn't tell me to bring anything, she simply said we were gonna go over a few things."
"Alright, then I hope this fits." He threw a small black shirt with a hood over to him. "She only let us know that we had a job a few minutes ago."
"You sure I'm ready for something like this? I haven't really learned any signals, or worked with any of you at all." He struggled to put the shirt on, as it was very tight on him, but still fit.
"You'll be fine. Like I said experience is the best teacher. And if anything goes bad, we'll be there to help."
"Alright, well could you at least let me know what the job is?"
"Smellerbee is going to brief us in a minute, after we get everything together. I hope you're ready to run in those shoes."
"Yeah, I always wear good running shoes."
"Good, take these," Bolt handed him a pair of small round explosives, "just in case."
"Woah, explosives, are you sure we're going to need these?"
"Don't worry, those have very small charges in them, only meant to stun and distract. And these ones are smoke grenades." He handed his two more grenades. "Never know when you'll need some smoke distraction."
"Whoa, this is a little overwhelming."
"Hey, you knew what you were getting into."
"I guess, I just never thought it would be so soon."
"Here's some rope too. Never know when you're gonna need it. Well hurry up, grab your swords and let's go."
He grabbed his swords and rushed over to a table where everyone else was crowding around.
"Okay," Smellerbee began, "a source alerted me that a flower shop not too far from here will be broken into tonight. The shop apparently is owned by an old man who has gotten himself into some trouble with some men who thought he was harboring some fugitives. He claims otherwise, but these men are attacking tonight to find out what they can. Our job will be to protect the old man, and make sure no damage is done."
"How do we know this man isn't actually harboring fugitives?" Pipsqueak inquired, "How do we know he can be trusted?"
"My sources are trustworthy, they've never led me wrongly in the past," Smellerbee responded.
"Who are these sources you speak of," Cheng asked. He was hoping maybe he would get another connection.
"They swore me to secrecy, and I won't break it. Now does anyone know the layout of this shop? I've never been inside, just passed it on the street."
Everyone shook their heads.
"I guess we're going in blind then. The attack is supposed to go down an hour after sundown. It's just after sundown now, so we have still got some time to get into place. Bolt and Cheng, you two can take the front. See if you can get yourselves inside the building without the shop owner knowing, and take position there. Pipsqueak and I will take the sides of the building and follow in once the attack has started. Longshot, you'll be our lookout. When Longshot gives the signal, we move out, making sure to protect the man at all costs. Let's try to figure out who these guys are. If we get separated, simply meet back here. Everyone got that?"
Everyone nodded except Cheng.
"Alright, let's move out then."
As everyone started out the door, Cheng walked next to Smellerbee. "Signal?"
"Oh right, forgot to tell you about those."
"Yeah, that's what I thought me coming here was going to be about."
"Well it was when I told you, but then I heard about this mission."
"That's what I figured."
"Alright, well most of our signals are based off of bird sounds. The different chirps mean different things. For tonight, you'll only need to know two of them I think. There's the one Longshot will give when you need to move out. It sounds like a blue jay chirping. The other will be the retreat call. If something goes wrong for anyone, and you need to discreetly alert to get away, just make the sound of a sparrowkeet. Think you can handle that?"
"Well I'm not the loudest whistler, but I think I'll manage."
"Alright then let's get moving. This'll be a good first mission for ya."
The two caught up to the others who were heading down a back alley, as to stay off the big streets and avoid attention. They quickened their step as the two joined, wanting to make sure they get there with plenty of time.
What seemed like seconds later, they were coming up on the building. He wasn't ready for it, but he knew that he had to do it. No other way than to just be trown straight into it.
"Alright, Bolt and Cheng, go, and make sure you're not seen," Smellerbee gave orders. The two ran off quickly toward the building. Longshot found a nearby tree and began to climb into it. It had a good view of the front of the building and was mostly covered by the leaves. He would just have to find a good open branch to perch on. Smellerbee and Pipsqueak continued to walk toward the building. "Think Cheng will be able to handle this?" she asked Pipsqueak.
"Of course he will, and he'll have Bolt with him just in case. You shouldn't worry."
"I guess you're right."
Cheng and Bolt were at the back of the building as they both looked around for an easy way in. There were two windows in the back of the building, but there was a light coming from them. Cheng ran around the right side of the building to see if there was another entrance point while Bolt stuck his head up to get a peek into the window to see if anyone was there. He immediately shot his head back down, and ran over to Cheng.
"Looks like the back isn't going to work, the man is sitting right there," Bolt told Cheng, "fortunately he had his back to me when I looked over."
"Why don't we just use that." Cheng pointed to an open window on the side of the building that led to the storefront. "And next time don't stick your head straight into a lit window. I thought you were the teacher here."
"Yeah, good call."
Cheng all of a sudden lost all of his uneasiness. Seeing Bolt almost screw this up like that seemed to make him more comfortable, as he did the right thing.
The two crawled up through the window into the dark emptiness of the main room. It was very moist in the room and was filled with thousands of aromas. "Never like flowers," Bolt whispered as the pungent smell burned their nostrils.
"You know, I think I'll take a few of these for Lian as we're leaving," he whispered back. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room, they could see all of the flowers and plants placed around the room.
"Okay, they're likely to come through the front doors or these windows in the front, so we should stand guard right here." Bolt pointed to the ground right between the door and window.
"Yeah, and if they come through both the door and the windows, we'll end up surrounded with no way out. And what if you're wrong and they come through the back. Here's a better idea. You stay in that corner," Cheng pointed the left corner of the room, "and I'll take this back corner." He pointed to the back of the shop that was right next to the door that led to the old man's back room. "This way I can cover the old man, you can cover the front, we'll be able to see the entire room, and if one of us gets cornered the other will be there to back him up."
"Yeah, yeah, okay," Bolt whispered back.
Cheng could just barely see through a crack in the door and see the old man sitting quietly making a pot of tea, it appeared to be just green tea, and reading some book. Somehow he seemed ultimately confidant about this. Especially after Bolt had messed up again. Bolt knelt on one knee on the corner with both swords out, ready to jump at any moment. Cheng simply stood there in the corner. He stood at the ready of course, but not to the same level as Bolt. He knew that Longshot would give the signal with plenty of time to get ready.
Right then he heard some sort of chirping outside the window. It was a relatively quiet whistling noise, as if from a bit of a distance away, but still audible in the still night. It was the sound of a blue jay, so Cheng unsheathed both swords and stood at the ready, still watching in the old man's room, just in case they came through the back.
Seconds later he heard footsteps coming from the front door. He stepped forward to ready himself for the attack from the front. There appeared to only be two people approaching, by the sounds of the footsteps. Then all of a sudden they stopped, right as they approached the door. Then, WHAM, the door burst into the room along with part of the building that surrounded the door.
"COME OUT OLD MAN," the man on the left shouted as he kicked up a chunk of rock, ready to threaten whoever walked through the door.
Great, Earthbenders. Smellerbee didn't say anything about Earthbenders. The men's eyes had not yet adjusted to the darkness as Bolt's and Cheng's had, so they did not see them right away.
"I don't think that's the best idea," Bolt said as he jumped into action, swinging his blades toward the closer Earthbender.
Cheng saw the old man jump into the air in fright, and start to get up and run to hide. But as Bolt jumped into action, Cheng needed to join him, and hoped that the others would be in as soon as possible. The two jumped toward the startled Earthbenders who immediately started flinging rocks in every direction in hopes that they could slow down their attackers while they were still unable to see well. Bolt was much closer and was able to get right next to the first bender when he was hit by a rock in the chest. It didn't stop him, but rather just slow him in moving forward, but this alerted the bender exatly where Bolt was.
Cheng jumped toward the other bender who immediately noticed his presence although he could not see him the best. He launched a rock in Cheng's direction, but Cheng already dived behind a flower stand to avoid the shot. Cheng jumped back up into action, and maneuvered himself closer to the Earthbender. The bender shot a few rocks his direction, but Cheng was able to deflect them with his swords away from his body, or just dodge them altogether.
Where are those two, they should be in here by now. Just then Cheng heard the back door fling open. He stepped beck, behind a flower rack again, to see the old man running out and two more men with knives, clearly not Earthbenders, catching and tackling the man. Then he looked over to see Bolt struggling with the Earthbender, constantly being hit by rocks and backing further and further into the corner.
Then the Earthbender tossed a rock towards Cheng so hard that it broke straight through the flower stand and threw Cheng to the ground. The Earthbender approached Cheng who was laying on the ground under the broken stand. He slammed his foot on the ground, picking up a large rock, and started to motion forward to crush Cheng with it. Cheng just turned his head as that was the only thing he could move while pinned under the rubble. He heard the rock crash just before his feet, and then heard another thud as the Earthbender fell to his knees and down to the ground. Cheng then saw Pipsqueak standing over the bender with a large tree branch in hand.
"Thought you could use a hand," he said as he started to lift the rubble off of him. Then he looked over to see that Bolt and Smellerbee had pinned the other bender to the ground.
As soon as Cheng could move, he jumped up, and spun around. "Where's the old man!" he shouted, realizing the two men may have gotten him. Then he saw the back door swing around, and saw a foot just leaving, jumping out one of the rear windows.
"NO, we need to save him." Cheng sprinted off to the back door, and slammed it open. With one swift movement, he jumped, kicked his feet up and launched himself out of the window he had just seen one of the men jump out of. His landing didn't go as well as his jump. He fell to the ground with too much forward momentum, and fell to his knees and then shouldered the building that was on the other side of the alleyway. He jumped back up to his feet a bit rattled, but determined to retrieve this man. He heard the old man yell "Help!" from his left, and he bolted off in that direction. Adrenaline filled his body, and he was seemingly able to run faster than he had ever before.
When he was finally able to focus on what was in front of him, he saw the man being dragged by both men. He yelled out to them, "Put that man down."
Once they realized they had been caught, they spun around, and tossed the old man in front of them. "What do you want with this old filth," the taller of the two kidnappers asked him.
Cheng was now close enough and since they had stopped, Cheng started to just walk toward them. "That's just what I was going to ask you."
"This man is Fire Nation filth, and needs to be taken care of as such. We're doing these people a favor."
"How do you even know he's from the Fire Nation. And even so, the war is over. And he wasn't bothering anyone."
"This man assisted in burning down earth nation villages, causing the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. He should pay for his crimes as so. And you will pay if you continue to get in our way."
"I don't think so," Cheng said confidently as he stepped forward, wielding his swords. Then he saw the knife in the man's hand fly out of his hand, and then a second later, the other man's did the same. There were two Arrows sticking out of the wall to their side. Longshot!
The two men gasped in amazement and turned to face the bowman direction. They all saw him perched in a tree, with an arrow already lined up to be shot at the men. They each put their hands up into the air. "Alright, alright you win this one, tell your man to stand down, and you can take your old man."
Cheng nodded in Longshot's direction, and he nodded back, but kept the arrow at the ready.
"Cheng! What happened?" Cheng heard Smellerbee call from behind him in the alley. As Cheng turned to look at her, the two men jumped ran to the side, to the cover of the building, so that Longshot would not be able to shoot, and ran off in the other direction.
Cheng turned and jumped to start after them. "You take care of the old man. I'll take these two," he shouted as he ran off after them.
"You...you saved me," the old man muttered as Smellerbee approached to take care of the old man.
"Yes, unfortunately just a bit late," she responded.
Then the old man realized this was the same girl that had assaulted her in the forest in the year past. "No, not you again, how did you find me again?"
"Don't worry. We're here to help you this time." She helped him up to his feet. He was still a bit uneasy, as well as shaken by the attack. "Here to protect you."
The two men weren't nearly as fast as Cheng was, but they knew the local streets better. Cheng was barely closing the distance as they dove in between houses and alleys. Then as they hit a larger street, they split up, going two completely different directions. Cheng decided to follow the taller man who had spoken when he confronted them. He was more likely to speak when he caught up to him. If he caught up to him.
The man then turned down another alley, as Cheng followed quickly. As Cheng turned the corner, he saw a sword tip come flying toward his face. He fell hard to the ground, just to avoid being hit by the unexpected sword. Cheng slid a few feet, before managing to turn and roll around back to his feet. The man had found a sword and now challenged Cheng in the small alley.
"Stand down and I won't hurt you," Cheng told the man hoping he wouldn't put up a fight.
Without saying a word, he lurched forward with the sword, but Cheng managed to deflect it with his left sword. Cheng then attacked with his right sword, but the man turned his sword back to deflect the blow. Cheng took this as an advantage, and took a step in closer to the man. He dropped his right hand down, and struck the man's sword with his left sword. The man stumbled backward with this blow, and Cheng used this even further to his advantage. He guarded his left side with his left sword, and attacked from underneath toward the man's sword. The man distracted by Cheng's left sword, didn't see the right sword coming. Cheng lifted the man's swords out of his hands with so much force, that it landed up on a nearby building. Then he put his left sword on the man's throat to threaten him.
"Alright, alright, what do you want," the man submitted.
"I need to ask you some questions." He lowered his swords, but cornered the man so that he had nowhere to go.
"Why were you really attacking this man?"
"I..I already told you, he's Fire Nation, we thought he might be harboring some other Fire Nation fugitives."
"Who hired you?"
"Psh," he responded. Cheng lifted a sword toward him. "Alright, alright, an anonymous man came to us."
"Really, he's anonymous to us. He never shows us his face, and just tells us who to get and what to do with them."
"Tell me where I can find this man."
"He..he meets us once a week at sundown an antique collectibles shop. He hands us a paper with the information of what we need to do, gives us our money and then is just gone."
"The one just down that street there, two blocks down on the left."
"And what's this guy look like?"
"He's average height, a little big, and a bit muscular too. He always wears a dark green robe, and a conical straw hat." That's all I know, just let me go."
"Oh no, see now you're gonna get arrested by the guards for assaulting that man. Here," Cheng took the rope he had wrapped around his shoulder earlier and threw it at him, "tie yourself up with this.
"I can't do that, how am I supposed to tie myself?"
"Well we'll just have to wait and see." The man struggled to get the rope to his hands behind his back. He poorly tied a weak knot, which would never have held. "Oh, just let me do it," Cheng said as the man failed to tie a knot.
He sheathed the swords and stepped over to the man's hands. Then the man jumped to his feet to start to run off. Cheng dove after him, and tackled him to the ground by his feet. He jumped onto his back and held his hands together.
"Let's not try that again," Cheng scolded him after the failed attempt. He tied his hands together with a very strong knot, and got him to his feet. "Now let's go find some guards."
The two walked in silence all the way back to the flower shop where Bolt and Pipsqueak had ben waiting for them.
"Where's the others?" Cheng asked, noticing Smellerbee and Longshot were not with them.
"They went to go get some guards for these guys." The two Earthbenders lay unconscious, and bound by rope on the ground. "Where's your other guy?"
Cheng kicked the man to the ground. "The two split up and this was the only one I could get. How's the old man?"
"He's a bit rattled, but otherwise he's okay. He's in the other room making us some ginseng tea."
"Alright, I wanna go talk to him, you watch over this one." He gave the man another kick and walked into the other room.
"How you doing sir?" Cheng asked as the old man stood over the tea.
"I'm alright thanks to you. You saved my life."
"Do you know who those men were?"
"Yet you didn't seem too surprised when I saw you run after they blew down the door."
"I've been on edge since I came to Ba Sing Se."
"And why is that?"
"Well I was a refugee when my town was destroyed by this group of bandits in the forest."
"No, it was just a group of tree dwellers that assaulted me in the forest. That girl that was with you was one of them. Surprisingly she was here to help me this time."
She had assaulted him? So she knew who we were helping. What else isn't she telling me? "They assaulted you? Why?"
"Because I was a Fire Nation Colonist, but I came here to change my ways. I realized when my town was destroyed that I needed to change. I guess my past has stuck with me."
"I guess so."
"Well the tea is ready. Let's join the others."
They drank their tea in silence until the guards showed up. Cheng could sense the tension that was between Smellerbee and the old man when she returned with the guards. He glared at her with curiosity in what else she knew, but didn't say anything. The guards took the three men away, and the group left to go back to the hideout.
"Alright. Good mission guys. We got three of the four guys and kept the old man relatively unharmed. Good Work."
"Well I've got to go. Gotta give these flowers the old man let me have to Lian. I'll see you all later." Then he stepped over to Smellerbee. He murmured to her, "And we're gonna have to talk later. I've got some things I need to go over with you this time."
Next Chapter: The Blue Spirit
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