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|The Governess, Part 2: The Song|
4 January 2016
My eyelids reluctantly peeled open at the sound of that immeasurably irritating bell, and my hand fumbled through the dark to grasp that damn water clock and shove it off its nightstand. As the contraption crashed, the water spilled onto the floor, and I sat up to produce a small flame and inspect the damage. It didn't look like I had broken it, which was good, because I wasn't spending any more money on a machine I deplored.
Up before the crack of dawn, yet again. I threw on my "Tu Lin" uniform, put my hair up, and set off for the beach. That's right, I was going back. This time, however, I was a woman on a mission. Not the mission Zhang gave me to scout out the rebels, but a mission I assigned myself. For the first time in far too long, I was on my way to save a life.
I passed through the streets with the same degree of obligatory paranoia as the day before. Remember? All the adoring fans who want me to sign their tits? I didn't have time for that. And I certainly did not have time for anyone who wanted rip my head off and peel it like a ripe fruit. Luckily, I had no trouble, with the exception of a particularly malodorous man of ample proportions who stumbled onto the street and nearly vomited on my shoes, the nice shoes that Uma made me wear, too. That didn't calm the nerves of confronting Sentoki. She rejected my aid after I saved her life, but I wasn't going to let her die at the hands of Zhang's goons.
There was no easy way to approach the mouth of the cave. I made my way along the water's edge cautiously. If I appeared too suddenly I'd trigger instinctive self-defense. If I tried to sneak in I'd rouse suspicions of an attack. Either way, I didn't want to startle her.
I startled her. And just as I took one step closer to Sen's hideout, I received a forceful jet of cold water in my chest. It knocked me straight back into the tide, and the side of my face landed in the hard, wet sand. There was a second of shock in which I couldn't breathe despite my best efforts, and when I could finally move I wiped the dark brown sand off my check and looked up to face my attacker.
"You again!" barked the Water Tribe native.
I panted while she glared down at me, still not fully recovered from the powerful blow. "I-" Finally, I took in a deep breath of air. "I had to come back!"
"I told you to leave me alone!" she remained in a fighting stance, her arms positioned and weight distributed in a way that was unfamiliar to me, as I brought myself off the wet, shifty ground to my feet.
"That's some move you got there," I exhaled lightly the little air I had. "Maybe you're safe here after all."
Her dark blue eyes persisted in their glaring, like they were transfixed on my soul. "I would be safe if you would stay away. I can handle my own life! I don't need you putting my in danger."
I had just about had it with her attitude at that point. "Look, Sister, I saved your fucking life. Remember that?"
Her body loosened just slightly as she continued to observe carefully, and when she didn't object I continued.
"And I'm going to save your life again. I have a place. It's safe. Nothing fancy, annoying-ass water clock, but it's safe."
"I'm safe here!" she insisted.
"It's a cave!" Somehow I had met someone more stubborn than me and Jirou put together. "My apartment has actual walls. And a bed. I have money, and clothes, and maybe with some company neither of us will go insane trying to survive in this damn city!"
She finally let her guard down, but turned her head away. "Well you don't have to worry about me anymore. I'm going to live with some others tonight."
"Others?" I gasped. "Other rebels? How many are there? Is there an organized resistance?"
Her glare swung back in my direction. "What does it matter to you?"
I threw my arms out and laughed, looking around perhaps for someone else to witness the absurdity of the conversation. "What's it to me? Sentoki, my father gave his life for this cause, and you better be damned sure I'm prepared to do the same."
There was a pause, then she bit her lip and pondered something to herself. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "I lost my parents too."
"We're in this together," I pleaded, "like it or not."
To my surprise, she nodded. "Yes, we are." She scanned the beach quickly then leaned in. "Tonight, just after the sun goes down, meet me at the Leafy Tavern a couple blocks away from the museum."
"Leafy Tavern? What kind of name-"
"Just be there," she urged sternly. "And don't be late."
I nodded in reply, satisfied. "Okay."
I knew was going to be on time for work that morning when I saw the Fire Nation flags on top of the palace gazing menacingly over green-tiled roofs. Depressing imagery aside, I was ready to get to work both for Uma and against her, and I was motivated by anticipation for my dinner-date with Sentoki.
"Hey you!" Someone seized my arm and pulled back, and when I spun around two grimacing figures grabbed hold of me. One of them held up short, curved blade.
The two faces looked at each other and smirked. "Ah, who knew she'd be so pretty," the stocky one hissed leaning in. "We just wanted your money but maybe now we could go for something else on the side."
My eyes darted right and left. No one in sight, but I couldn't risk bending. "Oh yeah?" I scoffed. "How's this?"
Just as I was trained, I whipped my left heel around the thug's legs and kicked him behind his knee. He buckled and swing his dagger, but I redirected his arm at his friend, and the knife grazed the side of his shoulder, drawing blood and forcing him to release his grip with a yelp. As much as I wanted to finish the job, they weren't worth my professional skills or my time, so I ran in a beeline for the palace, unfollowed.
The protocol for entry was the same. I flashed my papers, climbed the steps, spoke briefly to the perpetually busy and flustered Sanje, received the tray from the grumpy chef, walked upstairs, and performed my morning duties. Uma was in her bed when I pulled apart the curtains and invited the light from the sunrise to fill the room. I said nothing, she said nothing, and I left.
I had to wait much longer after starting the fire for my boss to waltz into her office that morning, but I didn't dare have a look in her desk- not yet.
"Governess." When she entered, I bowed my head. I was feeling especially chipper after I embarrassed the morons outside.
"You look terrible!" She stopped in her tracks and struck me with a horrified expression.
That's fine. I probably did.
"Why are you wet?" she stammered.
Before I could answer, a third woman stole my attention.
My jaw dropped. I had completely forgotten about the woman who stormed into the office, evoking an annoyed reaction in a clearly-irritated Uma, who sat at her desk rolling her eyes.
"Mother, I know you received information! I demand that you tell me! Where is my husband?"
I had to look away. It was impossible to keep a blank face in a situation that fucked up. The wife of the man I murdered, the man who tried to kill me, who she was kept from by her own mother and my dictator, was on a rampage right in front of me demanding the truth that I knew would only devastate her.
Uma sighed and prepared herself. "Janda..."
"What is it mother? Tell. Me."
"Janda, I had correspondence with General Zhang... who confirmed that Jirou was in fact aboard the ship sunk by the Water Tribe mines."
I watched the poor woman break down as her mother delivered the news. She was devastated, but not surprised. I knew the look. She had been holding out hope for the impossible, lying to herself, when she knew deep down her world was over. Even I almost felt heartbroken- almost.
Janda shook her head in between tears. "And there were no survivors from that wreckage?" she croaked.
Uma glanced around the room, then at her daughter. "It was completely destroyed. I'm... I'm sure it was a quick death for-"
"You don't know that!" Janda protested. "You don't even care!"
"What? Obviously you loathed him! It wasn't enough to pull us apart; I knew you always wished he would die. This has to be the best news for you!"
"Janda be reasonable!" Uma stood and banged her knuckles on the middle her desk. And then I heard it. It was a small moment, but I heard something. That desk was hollow! There was something inside the middle compartment.
"You are not thinking clearly!" Uma continued to fight back. "I had the rebels behind the ambush executed. They killed a man who was dedicated to his country, and I always valued and appreciated his service. You simply had to be here with me where you were safe."
Janda had nothing to respond with, she just fell on her knees and weeped. Uma looked at me as if she had forgotten I was there. "Tu Lin! You are dismissed. Go downstairs and help the other girls; I don't need you the rest of the day."
"Yes, Ma'am." I left as told, but not before making the discovery that Uma had something hidden inside her desk. That split second in which she brought her fist down on it would be her fatal error, I knew it.
My schedule for the remainder of Day Two at the palace included cleaning, scrubbing, and more cleaning. I polished Uma's throne, washed windows, shined armor, made the bed in a guest chamber for a visiting colonel, and I got to clean up khomodo rhino dung like I was hoping to. I would've done anything, powdered by the excitement both for that night and over my discovery in Uma's office.
Sanje dismissed me and another maid at the same time, and he gave us each a pouch with a few copper coins as a parting gift. How thoughtful.
The other girl and I walked out together, and I dumped the pitiful contexts of that pouch into my palm. "Some pay we get, huh?" I sneered. "You gonna save up all that?"
"Nope," she said flatly. "I will be spending it at the pub starting right about... now."
"Already?" I giggled. "It's a bit early. Not as early as Uma likes her wine, however."
She laughed and shook her head. "I'm Ming."
"What?" I halted, like I had a stroke.
"I said my name is Meng... Are you okay?"
"Meng? Oh. Yeah, sorry." My mind made me believe I heard my sister's name for the first time in ages.
Meng didn't seem to care much about my bizarre conduct. "I can't believe you have to spend all your time with that bitch. If I had that job, I'd kill myself. Give me the crap sweeping before that."
I laughed genuinely, which felt strange. "It's not that bad. You just have to let her have her moments."
"Is that right?" Meng wasn't laughing anymore. "Her soldiers raided my farm four years ago. Destroyed everything."
I felt like an asshole. "I'm so sorry. I had no idea."
I realized then we were outside the pub Meng was heading to, and we both stopped. "You know," she started, "one of these days I'm going to give our Governess a piece of my mind. I really am. I'm going to let her know what a lowlife she is. Fire Nation scum!"
"Well," I smiled. "Good luck with that." She smiled back and went into the pub. "See you tomorrow."
At least she was making something off her life, I figured. Meeting regular people like Meng was bizarre and refreshing at the same time. She had no knowledge of my true identity, of an entire worldwide organization swiftly enforcing its will all around her from the shadows, no idea what I was planning to do. She was uninvolved, safe, someone for once who didn't have it out for me. Though a pleasant concept, I didn't dwell on it for long. I had my own plans for the evening and I had no intention of standing up my latest potential ally.
"Leafy Tavern" was a dumb name, and I wasn't going to let it go uncriticized, but the important part about the establishment was who I was going to meet there. My best postulation was that it was a secret meeting place for the rebels, but that wouldn't explain why the rebels would convene there during such a popular hour.
The exterior of the tavern was a cosy combination of brown oak and actual tree bark lining the walls. The roof was designed to appear as though it was made entirely of timber, and there was a wooden sculpture of a curved leaf sitting cozily at the center.
"Inviting place, huh?" Sen was waiting on a bench just under the tavern's window, donning simple dark brown garments and a cedar robe.
I smiled in her direction. "Is it the prime hub for Taku's woodland creatures? It must be an important spot in the rabbit-squirrel nightlife. Come to think of it, I'm certain I overheard some cat owls discussing the new breakfast menu."
Sen looked down and conceded a faint snicker. "Alright, that's enough," she smirked. Her smile didn't involve teeth, just lips forming the minimum shape of a grin and small dimples materializing. "Come on," she led the way in, "it's about to start."
"The meeting?" I whispered, following the waterbender.
She hesitated and looked over her should at me, shaking her head. "No, the directions."
Unsatisfied with her vague response, I entered into the disappointment that was simply an average tavern. There was a bar area, with both men and women already well into their libations laughing and shouting at each other. Past that there were several small, circular tables painted like tree stumps accompanied by barrels used as seats. In the corner of that area was a stage elevated a few feet above the rest of the restaurant.
The most curious aspect of the interior was the fact that at least three of the tables were occupied by uniformed Fire Nation soldiers. If the Leafy Tavern was supposed to be a place of congregation for the resistance, I would've recommended finding a different hangout.
But it wasn't, at least not in the orthodox sense. Sen and I sat at a vacant tree stump, where I gave her a quizzical glance and a shrug. "I don't get it," I announced.
Instead of retorting vocally, she simply nodded her head at the stage and raised her eyebrows, and my face must have been somewhat of a -____- as I directed my undivided attention to the young, plump woman and the short, elderly man who made there way to the center. The woman sat on a barrel at the edge of the stage and the man stood just behind her and to the left. I was about to complain about being forced to witness a musical performance until I noticed what the man was carrying. It was a pipa, a plucked, pear-shaped instrument with four strings. Back home, my internment camp of a school used to take sadistic pleasure in watching me fail miserably at playing, and I never knew its usage extended beyond the Fire Nation mainland.
I suppose I was intrigued, but also frustrated that Sen dragged me to a pretend forest just to listen to a woman sing.
The musician and vocalist nodded at each other, and then the old man started to a play a simple yet pretty tune. After a few notes, the woman dressed in plain basil-colored tunic joined in with her soft, charming voice.
I know they say, you can't go home again.
I just had to come back one last time.
Ma'am, I know you don't know who I am now.
But these handprints on the front steps are mine.
And up those stairs, in that little back bedroom,
is where I did my homework and learned to play sitar.
And I bet you didn't know, that under that live oak,
my favorite dog is buried in the yard...
I was struck by the amount of emotion the singer had invested in her performance. It was a slow, quiet song, but somehow it was also powerful enough to have the entire place in utter silence. She was visibly saddened by the lyrics, which I speculated may have been about returning to a childhood home she was once forced out of, occupied perhaps by a Fire Nation colonial. I glanced at Sen, who sat nesting her chin in her palm and her elbow on the table. Others in the tavern had similar mesmerized stares, almost like they were concentrating on every word.
Then I realized, they were concentrating on every word. The Fire Nation soldiers picked at their meals and downed their glasses, disregarding the two musicians entirely. The Earth Kingdom patrons, however, studied the lyrics. Some people mouthed the lines in repetition after they were sung, and one man was even copying what he heard on parchment.
It was a code.
I thought if I could touch this place or feel it,
this brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here it's like I'm someone else;
I though that maybe I could find myself.
If I could just come in I swear I'll leave.
Won't take nothing but a memory,
The last line.
It hit me with something I wasn't prepared to face. Like the woman who had just completed that beautiful song and was humbly receiving praise, I was wiping tears off my face. I always tried to be strong, emotionless, but how could I be after such a sweet reminder of the home my sister and I were raised in. I had a perfect life, a life destroyed by the Fire Nation just like that singer's and probably everyone else's in the room.
For others, the song served a more pragmatic purpose. I caught two men sharing a table look at each other and nod. They understood whatever message the singer relayed to them, and by the smug look on Sen's face, she did too.
Over the next half hour or so, the patrons who had been there for the musical entertainment left in a staggered fashion. Everyone standing up and exiting at once would've drawn suspicion, so instead they were disciplined and waited their turn. After all, they had surprisingly-tasty food to enjoy.
Sen and I didn't speak until we were back on the street, where she checked to make sure no one else was in earshot before inquiring, "Did you get it?"
I shrugged. "I got that there was something to get, but I missed the actual message."
"It was one of her tricker ones," Sen acknowledged.
"So this is a regular thing?"
She blew past my question. "Did you notice how she emphasized the last line?"
"The house that built me," I recalled.
"I heard her tell someone that 'The House that Built Me' was the tile of her song," Sen affirmed. "It's the most important part. Do you know Homu Kaizen?"
"Is that a name of a person or an ancient style of martial arts?"
"He's that famous carpenter and builder in Taku. You've really never heard of him? He probably built the Leafy Tavern itself."
"Not ringing a bell, I'm afraid." Hopefully he wasn't too famous, or else it would've struck Sentoki as odd that I wasn't familiar.
"You've probably been to his shop before without realizing," Sen assumed erroneously. "It's where all the Earth Kingdom residents around here get chairs, desks, mirrors, you name it."
"Hmmm, I'm not a big shopper."
"That makes two of us," Sen began to walk. "Anyway, the yard in front of his shop has a big oak tree that he used to keep his dog tethered too during the day, before it died. Remember that line about the dog being buried under the oak?"
I was already genuinely impressed with the songwriter's cleverness. "I think I'm catching on. I take it we're heading their now?"
I was getting used to Sen's silent nods, and there wasn't much need for conversation as she guided me to Homu Kaizen's shop and residence, where there was indeed an oak tree. I couldn't help but feel a bit guilty about the time I snapped dog's neck as I passed by.
When we opened the door to the shop, a middle aged man sporting a bald head and dark sideburns was sweeping the floors. "The shop's closed for today," he muttered, "you'll have to come back tomorrow."
I looked at Sen, who approached Homu confidently. "If I could just come in I swear I'll leave."
The carpenter placed his broom against the wall. "Alright then lets take a look." He escorted us past the shop's display of various crafted objects and home items to an area in the back where he displayed his mirrors.
There was one long, broken mirror hung on the wall that stretched down to the floor, and Sen walked up to touch and feel it just as the song instructed.
"Anything interest you?" asked the shopkeep.
Sen responded stoically, "I won't take nothing but a memory."
"Okay then." Sen stepped aside for Homu, who made a fist and knocked in a long pattern on the mirror. Moments later, the glass turned on its side and revealed set of stairs that led down, into a path in the ground lit by torches. It sure was convenient to have earthbenders on your side.
"May you find yourself," wished the store owner as he ushered us until the passage and closed the mirror-door behind us.
"Tu Lin," Sentoki grabbed my hand, "prepare to meet the resistance."
I was prepared. I was eager.
But the gathering we joined in the damp, dimly lit cave below was smaller than I had hoped.
"Where is everyone?" I was let down.
"Well," sighed Sentoki, "not everyone in the tavern was in on the secret, and not everyone can decipher the code."
Two men in their early twenties who apparently did decipher it smiled when they saw my waterbending guide and made their way over. I'll say it now to get it out of the way: they were cute. Hot, actually. One was tall and lean, but fit and toned. He was sharp in an emerald and gold tunic and white pants with well-kept, short light-brown hair. The other was shorter but more muscular- I knew because he wasn't wearing a shirt, just green arm braces around both of his massive biceps. Evidently he was comfortable in no more than light green shorts and boots, and his curly hair was longer and messier than the other man's.
But I digress. Sen embraced both men, the taller of the two very enthusiastic to see her. "We heard you escaped!" he exclaimed. "But how? Something about a mysterious vigilante?"
The waterbender turned to me and offered a half-smile. "This is Tu Lin. You can thank her for that."
"I'm Lahn," he used both hands to grab mine excitedly. His eyes were a beautiful green, and his skin was flawless.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," I said honestly.
He nudged the other man, the shirtless one. "This is my older brother, Kasar."
Kasar raised an eyebrow. "I thought we agreed not to bring strangers to our meetings? What do we even know about her?"
"Um," I scoffed, "you know that I saved Sen's life!"
Sen interjected. "Of course I had my reservations, but she did save my life. And her father died fighting for our cause."
Lahn was embarrassed. "Don't be so rude! Tu Lin is a hero for her actions. I heard she stole-"
"Oh, I'm just giving her a hard time, little bro!" Kasar laughed and put his hand on my shoulder. "It's good to have someone as badass as you among us, that's for sure."
You're damn right it is, I thought. "Thanks."
According to Sen, it was time to move the conversation forward. "What are we discussing tonight?"
"Well," Kasar grinned and crossed his hairy arms. "Word on the street is, the ship you took down had Uma's son-in-law on it! You did good, Sen. Your people died fighting for a great cause."
For a split-second, Sen reveled in her victory, but she quickly reverted to her natural solemnity. "They did, indeed. I couldn't be more proud of them."
Lahn concurred. "It's great to deal such a devastating blow to Uma."
It wasn't a 'devastating blow,' but they didn't know that. It was better for morale that they believed her heart was broken... But what if her heart was stopped. I weighed my options carefully. I could offer them an incredible gift, a plan, but I had to reveal something about myself they may be wary to hear.
"What if we could deal an even bigger blow to Uma?" I teased. "The final blow?"
-"That's what we're planning," Lahn cut me off. "There will be a memorial service for those sailors on Kun Island in a few days. "We're organizing these meetings with the help of Gita's songs in the tavern to recruit a large enough militia to storm the event and take her out once and for all. We were just electing division leaders. I'll be heading the scouts to learn her position and the placement of her guards. Kasar is leading the initial raid."
"What?" I gawked at Kasar and the preposterous plan. "That's a suicide mission."
Kaiser closed his eyes and nodded. "To take out Uma, it's worth it."
I shook my head vigorously. "It won't be if you don't get to her. She almost never leaves her palace. That has to be because of an extreme paranoia and sense of caution. She'll have soldiers everywhere, more than your ragtag crew can handle. She'll have escape routes, safety protocols. A move like that would only cost the resistance lives and expose it."
"A lot of talk from the new girl," and offended Kasar retorted. "You have a better idea?"
The three of them ogled at me, waiting for a response. "Yes," I hissed. "I do."
"You can't be serious," dismissed Sen.
"An easier way to kill Uma," laughed Kasar. "I'm all ears but I doubt it!"
"Shhh!" Lahn put up his hand. "Let's hear her out."
"Look," I began. "I'm going to tell you guys something. It may sound bad, but you have to trust me."
All three nodded, anxious.
"I'm kind of... I'm a maid. At Uma's palace. I'm her handmaiden."
"You're her what?" Kasar and Sentoki were equally stunned, both taking a step back.
"You work for her?" Kasar jeered.
Sen was furious. "And you didn't tell me?"
Even Lahn was dubious. "If what you say is true, then how can we know you're trustworthy."
At that point, I looked the waterbending woman in the eye. "Sen, please," I begged. "You know you can trust me. I know you know it! I saved your life for a reason."
Sen looked at the others. "She risked her own life to free me. She begged me to come live with her and came back to the beach hideout.
"But for what reason?" Kasar doubted my motives. "What if she was an informant?"
"I don't understand. If I was an informant why would I save Sen's life? If I was with them, that hideout would've been raided! I'm telling the truth! I was forced into Uma's personal service. I have a way to get to her. I deliver her breakfast personally every day!"
Lahn perked up. "You do?"
"Yes. And I'm the only other person with her for a good portion of the morning."
"How did you get in such a position? How did you get so close to her?"
"I'm a people's person. I made her like me."
Lahn looked at Sen, who nodded, then at his older brother, who stared me down one last time before joining in approval. "Well, Tu Lin," he said, "welcome to the team."
The rest of the meeting went without interruption. Lahn, apparently a leader in the movement, spoke charismatically to the small crowd about their plans to assassinate Uma on Kun Island and how they were so close to accomplishing a major feat, neglecting to mention me or my new information. That was probably for the best. We agreed to postpone any further planning of a quieter alternative mission involving my job until the next day, after I got off work.
For breakfast, the chef prepared Uma an elegant array of seafood samples on a platter. For breakfast. This woman has the life. Being a ruthless tyrant with seemingly-total autonomy in the region had its advantages.
Morning Three was the first time the Governess stopped me before I left her chambers. "Tu Lin," she moaned.
"Yes, Governess?" I paused at the door.
"I have to meet with Sanje and some others today to plan a memorial service for the victims of the Water Tribe ambush off Kun Island, so I will not be in my office this morning. However, I would like you to do a complete cleaning. Scrub the floors, dust my desk and the mantle, sweep the ashes from the fireplace, aaaand... that should be adequate. You can ask the other girls where to find the materials you'll need."
It felt like my birthday, but I had to mask the excitement in my voice. "Yes, Ma'am." I was finally getting chance to do some investigating on my suspicion that her desk was hollow. I more-or-less skipped down the stairs, to the amusement of my friends with axes, and found Meng shining Sanje's shoes in the hallway next to the kitchen.
"Did the Governess report a problem?" inquired my overseer. Meng looked up at me with a sarcastic smirk.
"No, Sir. I need to gather cleaning supplies for her office."
Meng ceased her shining for a moment and directed me to a cellar room where I found a bucket, a broom, and a duster. I then took water and soap from the kitchen and returned to Uma's floor. She was gone by the time I got there, but I wasn't alone. To my great vexation, there was a guard in the hallway, equipped with typical infantryman armor, helmet, and a basic spear.
"Are you here to watch over me?" I grumbled.
He was cheerier than I anticipated, much friendlier than an average Fire Nation soldier. "Just following orders, Miss."
I started by dusting Uma's desk, occasionally checking the doorway to see if my guard had dropped his gaze, but he remained vigilant under the threshold. I suppose I didn't earn Uma's complete trust, but then again I doubt she trusted anyone, what with the amount of secrets she had to guard. Who knows, if I didn't charm her so well I could've been cleaning under the surveillance of ten Imperial Firebenders.
The guard still hadn't looked away, but if I kept dusting I would've provoked suspicion, so I picked up the broom and moved onto the fireplace, stalling while I thought up a plan.
"So, you're a young man," I giggled, "how long have you been in the service?"
It took a second for the guard to respond. "Three years."
"Oh wow. Have you ever seen action?"
"Well, I've never been in combat against any of your people," he assured, "or in any foreign battles. But I did fight off a few hordes of bandits when I was in the domestic forces."
I looked up and smiled. "You must be so brave. Do you like Taku so far?"
"It's gorgeous," he affirmed, "I love it here."
"That's great," I continued. "A handsome man like yourself must have a wife back home?"
"Actually I don't. I hope to settle down with a family when I get back."
It was then that I decided to move on to scrubbing the floors, making sure my sweet ass was pointed his way as often as possible. I got the space between me and the guard nice and wet, applying as much soap as possible. "It's so hot in here," I commented, loosening my shirt. I considered pouring water over my top, but even I wasn't that desperate.
"Yeah, it is," agreed the guard, who wiped some sweat off his brow. He then removed his helmet, revealing an unfortunate baldspot.
I sat up and sighed. "Hey, I want to scrub the space under he desk, but it's too heavy for me to move by myself. You must be strong; can you help me?"
"Well, I suppose I could." He took the bait. Hook, line, and sinker.
"Be careful," I cautioned as he walked over to join me, "it's very slippery."
He headed for the desk, with me a step behind him. I waited for the perfect moment, when he was right next to the fireplace.
"Oh no, watch out!" I shouted, jumping him from behind. Before he could react, I tripped him, clutching the back of his head and slamming his temple into the corner of the fireplace mantle. He collapsed to the floor with a thud, unconscious, and I didn't waste a second.
I started with the desk drawers, tunneling through the papers stuffed inside. I found a map of Taku and the surrounding region, shipping reports, a Kun Island barrack training regiment, nothing useful.
One drawer boasted a series of letters. One from Firelord Sozin, one from Prince Azulon, one from Uma's daughter, there was a letter of surrender from an Earth Kingdom general, but nothing from any Crimson Wolves whose names I recognized like Wadze or Generals Chang or Quang from my very first mission.
"Come on!" I muttered exasperatedly.
Then there was that center compartment I discovered the day before. My hands searched frantically under the desk for some kind of latch or handle, and they ran across something small and metal. My fingers examined it. It had three pieces that spun, like some kind of coded lock. I didn't have time to guess every possible combination, so I just tried different solutions at random while keeping an eye on the knocked-out soldier in front of me.
About two heart-stopping minutes went by before I heard a click, and then part of the middle of the desk flapped down, revealing a compartment just as I suspected. I reached in and snatched a package-
A package marked with the insignia of none other than the Crimson Wolves.
- Janda is named for the Indonesian word for "widow."
- The song Gita performed at the Leafy Tavern is "The House that Built Me" by two-time Grammy Award-winning American Country artist Miranda Lambert.
- Gita is named for the Japanese word for "guitar."
- Homu Kaizen is named for the Japanese words for "home" and "improvement."
- Lahn is named for the Vietnamese word for "leader."
- Kasar is named for the Indonesian word for "brute."
- "You know you can trust me. I know you know it!" were the tragic last words of Survivor season 16 contestant Ami Cusack to her tribe before she was voted off. Omashu Rocks likes Survivor more than you could possibly know, and that moment almost made him emotional.
- With the introduction of Lahn and Kasar, Crossfire now has five major characters, the most it's ever had at one time.
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