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July 5th, 2011
"Please. He took everything from me! I need your help!"
The peasant was on his hands and knees, grovelling in the dust. He bore the bruises of a recent brawl, and the empty pockets of a recent mugging. He was dressed in the simple clothing of the Earth Kingdom; the brown rags hung loosely on his skinny frame. The foot before his face, clothed with dark grey leather and bound with red cloth, began to tap impatiently.
"You know, I don't usually do favors like this."
"Yes, yes, but please!" begged the peasant.
The owner of the boot sighed and stood.
"I need you to tell me everything you can remember about your attacker. What did he look like?"
The peasant scrambled hurriedly to his feet and massaged his temples in an attempt to recover a memory.
"He--he was tall. And strong. Er...long, dark hair...he carried a--a knife."
The man looked hopefully into the eyes of his aid.
"Well then," came the sarcastic reply. "I'll just have to single him out from amid the thousand other men with long dark hair and knives. We're through here. Unless you can give me some useful information I'm wasting my time."
The peasant lunged forward as his only hope left and grabbed at the thick boots.
"I remember now! He wore simple, dark clothes, but his top-knot bore a Fire Nation ornament!"
The feet kicked at the peasant, driving him away, and the quiet voice said:
"I'm not interested."
The peasant was left on the ground, weeping, as a dark shadow of the retreating figure passed over him in the light of the setting sun.
It all fell quiet when the door opened to the inn. Distrustful eyes glared over their mugs of tea and ale, and many turned their backs on the newcomer.
The girl who had just entered took no notice of the coldness exhibited by the people. She walked up to the counter, dropped a few copper pieces on the rough wood, and took the cup of tea that was hurriedly handed to her. She sipped it slowly and leaned her elbow on the counter, surveying the crowded room.
The girl wore a light brown suit, all one piece, that tied behind her neck at the top; the pants of it came down to just below her knees. A layered, dark brown skirt of thick material was wrapped around her waist, and over it was a dark red sash. Grey boots bound with red cloth covered her feet. Around her bare biceps were single gold rings, and she wore fingerless black gloves. Her dark brown hair was tied back in a pony-tail, and a white cloth was tied around her forehead. She stood there leisurely observing the inn for some time, till a burly Earth Kingdom soldier barged in.The soldier swaggered over to the counter and demanded drink, slamming coins on the counter. The bartender jumped and scurried away. Smiling smugly, the soldier looked around as if ensuring those present had seen his display of dominance. His beady green eyes wandered across the faces of the people, till they came to rest on the girl, still sipping her tea and keeping her head down.
"And who are you?" he barked.
The girl said nothing at first. Hooking her foot around the leg of a stool, she pulled it closer the counter and sat down.
"I said, 'who are you'?" repeated the soldier through clenched teeth.
She took another sip of tea, watching the soldier slowly become infuriated out of the corner of her eye.
"Call me Zoai," she said at last.
"Is that your real name?" demanded the soldier.
"You asked me who I was. And I am Zoai to you. Whether or not it's my real name was not in the original question."
The soldier gripped his mug till his dirty knuckles turned white. It was obvious that he was not used to this level of confidence being used around him.
"And where are you from, Zoai?" he said in a dangerously soft voice.
Zoai shook her hair into her eyes and kept her face in shadow.
"I come from many places. I travel a lot."
"Where were you born?"
"In my father's house, where do you think?" said Zoai, smiling to herself.
The soldier slammed his fist down on the counter with a roar of frustration and anger.
"Do not disrespect me again! I was lenient with my discipline just now, but I promise I won't be again!" he shouted.
The corners of Zoai's mouth twitched slightly. Setting her teacup on the counter, she stroked the thick, black leather strap that lay across her chest and shoulder. She watched the soldier's eyes follow the strap to the sheath of a long katana resting on her back.
"You have been generous with your patience tonight. Thank you," she smirked.
Turning her back on the soldier, Zoai tipped the bartender and left the inn to the sound of much whispering.
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