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|Unusual Bonds: Part 1|
November 18, 2017
Jagged chunks of dusty rock and blazing spheres of fire flew back and forth at high altitude. The benders who crafted these attacks were high up on top of a tower tall enough to scrape the clouds. Ratana, Captain of the Terra Team, faced off against the prince of the enemy nation as the whole world crumbled and burned all around the two. This was the carnage the former lived in, so the skilled earthbender knew that the upper hand in this struggle would only be hers to take. Both opponents breathed heavily, for each exhale was possibly their last, and bled from head to toe, but still they did not allow their spirits to be defeated or their minds slowed down. This was the only place that Ratana could truly call home, til her dying day. However, that day could not come while she harbored unfinished business, and finish it she would soon, or die in the attempt. As she knelt and pounded both her fists on the stone rooftop of the gray skyscraper, an echo rang hundreds of feet in all directions, and down to the surface far below.
"Ugh," Ratana groaned, tossing her hanging head back and forth as her trance began to subside. "Uhhmmm? Gh! Where am I? This isn't the tower." It most certainly was not, as the darkness was too black to be outdoors even at the deepest hour of the night. "Tower? What am I even talking about?" Of course there was no tower. Ratana was back in her cell within the Dai Li's secret underground prison. "Now I remember. Oh crap, could things have gone any worse than this?" Just like last time, she had company, but Tooru had not accompanied her on this mission. It did not take her long to figure out who it was instead. "You!"
"Ratana?" Lu Ten uttered aloud, dazed and having only recently woken up himself. "Is that you?"
She did not answer directly. "I should have killed you back there," she said, referring to when their eyes had met in Ba Sing Se. "When I had the chance." Even though she had presumably been hanging by her wrists for hours at this point, she felt ready to snap out of them in an moment on pure rage.
"Well," Lu Ten said, seemingly trying to figure out how to respond as he dangled in an identical position to her. "Good to see you again, too."
"Don't you try being all smooth with me now, Fire Prince!" Ratana spat her venom into the damp air that separated the pair. "You manipulated me. You used me to escape from our camp."
"A captured soldier's duty is to escape," said Lu Ten. He probably would have shrugged, had his body not been hanging. "All I did was take the first real opportunity which presented itself."
"I thought," Ratana began, though she could not deny what he said. Escaping was the first duty of any soldier who found themselves a prisoner. It was a universal rule of war. "I thought..."
"You thought what?" Lu Ten asked.
"Never mind," Ratana said, letting it go. "The Dai Li could have at least had the decency to put us in a different cell. Rumors state that they have countless twisted methods of torture at their disposal, for when they need it to get something out of a prisoner, or to experiment on them, or sometimes just because they can. Perhaps this is one of them."
"Hey," Ratana went on, as something new had only just occurred to her. "Now that I think about it, how did they capture you? You were still up and about when I last saw."
"They caught me a couple of minutes after they got you," Lu Ten answered simply. "It didn't take them long to realize that I was the one that you were chasing after of all the others in the vicinity. I didn't get a chance to fight back. They knocked me out before I knew they were after me."
Ratana was confused. "A couple of minutes? Why weren't you a fair distance away from me by then?"
"Perhaps I should have made a break for it," Prince Lu Ten admitted. "Instead, I-"
But Ratana never allowed him to finish his sentence. "I'll never understand what it is that they teach you back in the Fire Nation," she interrupted. "Here in the Earth Kingdom, fleeing the scene would have been what we call common sense."
Lu Ten turned his head away and faced toward one of the two faces of the wall to their sides. "I guess I hesitated."
"You paid for your hesitation with your freedom," Ratana told him. "As did I..." If she had struck him down quickly the moment she saw him, she might have had a chance at escaping being kidnapped by Ba Sing Se's cultural protectors for a second time. "Good luck convincing the Dai Li to be as gentle and foolish with you as I was."
"Well, we're both prisoners now."
"No, shut up," said Ratana. "I can't take anymore from you. Just...don't talk to me."
"Okay," said Lu Ten. "But this cell will get pretty quiet."
"So be it."
"If only I could free myself from these shackles, then we could both escape."
"What was that?" Ratana's voice grew louder. "I told you to stop talking to me."
"Sorry," said Lu Ten. "Look Ratana, I was just doing my duty, which I'd expect you of all people to understand. I'm really sorry. Hurting you was never my intention."
"It may not have been your intention," she replied. "But you did."
"I wish that things could be different," he confided in her. "And if I'm not mistaken, I think that you do, too."
"Hmph!" Ratana would not dignify with any further response.
"There's so much that I would like to say right now." The second in line to the Fire Nation throne, however, seemed to be holding most of what he had to say within. "At least one thing has become clear to me, though. This...thing that you and I have right now, whatever it is.... It doesn't work."
"My father always told me that we could all turn to the spirits in time of need. They allowed for harmony, balance and for us to find that inner peace within ourselves," Lu Ten continued. "Everyone, no matter who they were, could trust in them and good things would happen. I've never really questioned that until now. It seems like the spirits chose to put a horrible curse on you and I."
"A curse on both of us?" Ratana echoed before she remembered what she had told him earlier. "Shut up! I can't take another word from you."
"Sorry," he said, and Ratana could tell that he meant it. "I won't disturb your silence any longer. Goodbye, Ratana."
Despite getting what she had asked for, Ratana did not allow herself to enjoy it for even five seconds. "Ugh! I can't let things end for me down here. I have to break free. Do you know when the guards come by our cell?"
"I thought we weren't talking anymore."
"Just answer me!"
"Well, I haven't been awake much longer than you," replied Lu Ten. "But I think that it's almost meal time, so they should come by pretty soon. What does it matter if we're bound both like this?"
"I think that I have an idea," said Ratana. "Just trust me."
"Alright," Lu Ten said so fast Ratana herself could not believe it. "I'll trust you."
"No need to make a big deal of it." Neither of them could forget who the other was. They both knew that.
It turned out that Lu Ten was not far off in his instinct, and the Dai Li agent called Gitsu whom Ratana encountered last time arrived and opened their cell door. If it was possible, he looked even less cheery than he had been when Ratana and Tooru had been stuck in their cells. "Wake up, you two," he instructed as he entered the dark opening, a small bowl of sludge supposed to pass for stew hanging from one of his rock-gloved hands. "It's time for some grub. Under normal circumstances we might let you down, but you're both highly skilled benders and we aren't willing to take the risk." He proceeded to dip a spoon into the pot long enough to reach up to their mouths. "Cheer up, though. Maybe one of these days Long Feng will decide to be nice and brainwash you and send you up above to live as merchants in the Middle Ring," Gitsu said. "Or maybe something much less glamorous in the Lower Ring," he added with a wicked smirk.
"If you're going to leave us hanging like this, could you adjust my shackles?" Lu Ten asked through a fake moan. "They're too loose."
"Too loose?" Gitsu scoffed. "What do you mean?"
"They shake too much whenever I move my arms or hands," said Lu Ten. "I would be most grateful if you would tighten them so they won't bump my wrists." This did not sound like it would be much of a problem to Ratana when one was hanging suspended by the chains as they were.
The teenaged Dai Li agent, though, pondered the prince's words before relenting. "Hmmm...very well," he agreed. "If that's really so much of a problem for you, I'll tighten your restraints." As he reached up and grabbed ahold of the cuffs that rounded the young prince's wrists, Lu Ten took a deep breath and exhaled onto the metal, which became too hot for him to hold. Gitsu screamed in agony, having had to bend off his rock glove first, and Lu Ten kicked him in the chest with both feet so hard he stumbled toward Ratana's edge of the cell. "Oof!"
Ratana lifted her own legs with a tremendous thrust and locked her feet around Gitus's neck, beginning to choke him. Then, she concentrated her chi the way that the King of Omashu had taught her and moved her head and neck, focusing her limited movement toward as much bending as she could muster. The stone around her hands cracked, and she fell to the floor, crushing Gitsu's body with her own and rendering him unconscious. With her legs free, she jumped and an earthen spike shot up and snapped apart her chains, freeing her arms as well. If they had been served by an experienced agent rather than a teenager who couldn't be far out of training, Lu Ten's trick would not have worked. Luck was on the unusual pair's side today, and Ratana would have said the spirits were making up for the curse they had sadistically placed on her and Lu Ten now, but she did not believe in such things.
"Thank you, Bumi," Ratana muttered under her breath. She proceeded to take the keys from knocked-out Gitsu's waist and unlocked her fellow prisoner's restraints, setting him loose. "Good job, Lu Ten."
"Not bad yourself," he said, shaking his arms about to get them used to being unrestrained once again.
"Well, you're free now," said Ratana. "I guess we're even, so this is where we part ways."
"Right," Lu Ten said, nodding. They both seemed to think that would be for the best.
Ratana slapped Gitsu gently across both cheeks, waking him up. "Hey, you're that same Dai Li agent that came by my cell last time. What's the way out of this place?"
"Drop dead, earth woman!" he spat defiantly in her face. "I'm not telling you squat."
"Ratana, this is a tight spot we're in," said Lu Ten. He was right. Another agent could emerge at any moment in the ominous corridor illuminated only by patches of glowing green light.
"I know," Ratana conceded to Lu Ten while she punched Gitsu in the jaw and knocked him back out. "So?"
"If either of us are to have a chance of getting out of here, we're going to have to work together."
"Yeah, you're right," Ratana said, still wiping saliva from her jaw, as they both stepped outside their cell into the long, green-lit hallway that stretched as far as they could see in either direction. "Let's try this way first."
- Lu Ten's method of escape here is similar to his dad's in the canon show in Winter Solstice, Part 1: The Spirit World.
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