[Fic]: Terracotta Dawn (Chapter Three)|
She nearly cracked her head against the ground, but fortunately whoever had caught her was tall.
"Let her go!" Kouji yelled.
Yui went cold.
That voice — Rong!
How had they missed that he had remained in the room? Mentally Yui went over their conversation and stifled a groan — neither she nor her brother had bothered to keep quiet, assuming all three men had left. They knew better than that!
"Give me that paper, boy," Rong ordered.
"No," Kouji snapped.
Rong squeezed Yui's ankle, grinding bones together. She gritted her teeth against the pain as the man commented, "With your sister in this position? Do as I say."
Yui hissed. She was nobody's leverage against her brother! She twisted in Rong's grip, trying to wriggle loose, but the other man was having nothing of it. How could she— ah!
Her wonderful, thoughtful twin had earthbent some stones around them. Without hesitation, she snatched one up off the ground and smashed Rong in the knee with it. The man yelped, his grip loosening just slightly — but not enough.
It was enough distraction for Kouji to act, however — she saw her brother's feet leave the ground, then strike, and the earth shook. Yui flailed with her free foot, and managed to strike her captor in the face and head. Finally he dropped her.
Yui scrambled away from him, getting to her feet behind Kouji and getting her first good look at the man who apparently was an enemy.
Rong was very tall, a full head taller than her twin, and broad-shouldered. He wore his brown hair cropped close to his skull, but his eyes glittered gold. He wasn't really handsome, but, vain as she was, Yui had never been one for looks in her partners.
Down, girl, she checked herself.
For a moment, none of them moved.
Then Kouji grabbed his sister by the shoulder and dragged her behind him, then pushed. "Run!" he ordered her.
She started to, but stone jutted up in front of her, cutting off her escape route.
"I don't think so," said Rong.
If Rong was an earthbender too…
"Kouji, don't!" she cried, too late.
He surged into an earthbending form, driving a chunk of stone at Rong. Rong slapped it aside, and it shattered against one of the terracotta statues. "Cute," he commented, then raised up a multitude of stones.
Yui's eyes went wide as Rong fired them off.
Kouji, however, had quick reflexes. Seconds before they would have hit him, part of the corridor wall slid in front of him, serving as an impromptu shield—
That shattered when the first stone hit it.
He barely had enough time to protect his head before the rest of the rocks slammed into his lanky frame.
She yelled with him and stumbled back, feeling every hit as he did, and Rong hesitated, glancing from Yui to where Kouji lay motionless.
That was all Yui needed. She threw herself at the big man, swinging just underneath his strike at her and getting behind him. He turned to face her and she punched him. Her fist thudded harmlessly into his palm, then his hand slid over hers and grabbed her by the wrist.
She pulled back against Rong's hold with all her might, to no avail — the man was firmly rooted.
"Why are you doing this?" she demanded of him.
Rong smiled slightly. "Because Mi Ren asked."
"This is insane!" Yui exclaimed. "The war is over!"
"The war will never be over," the big man told her quietly, pulling her closer to him. He hooked the fingers of his free hand under her chin and tilted her face up to him. "You ought to understand that as well as I, gold-eyes."
There were a thousand things Yui could have said to that. The one that started to emerge was "We're not war-children."
To prevent that from coming out of her mouth, Yui grabbed his shirt and kissed him thoroughly.
He didn't let go of her wrist, to her dismay.
But he did kiss her back.
Stone shattered, and Rong whipped towards the fallen Kouji, half-dragging Yui with him. Kouji had dragged himself upright and destroyed the tablet. "You—" Rong began, his grip on Yui tightening painfully, but Kouji was already in motion.
His hands dropped to the bag hanging from his belt, then flowed into something not unlike a waterbending stance. Sand streamed from the bag, following the movements of his hands, and then Kouji lashed out with it like a whip.
Rong threw a hand up to protect his face, but the sand whip curved around his arm and struck him in the eyes. He released Yui to claw at his face, trying to rub the sand out, and Kouji followed through with a more traditional earthbending move, sending the shattered remains of the tablet at the other earthbender.
Still blinded by Kouji's sand whip, Rong couldn't avoid or block this attack, and he went down heavily.
"Yui, come on!" he yelled needlessly; she had already leapt to the shoulders of the nearest warrior and used it as a boost to make it to the corridor wall. He followed suit, pelting with her for the doors to the room.
No attack came from behind, no yell of fury or indication that Rong was pursuing them. This didn't slow either twin, however — it was likely that he was counting on the doors to stop them.
"Boost me!" Yui instructed as she reached the end of the wall. Kouji stepped heavily, and the rock there thrust out under her feet, furthering her jump to the platform. She landed lightly just in front of the locked door, picks in hand. She knelt and got to work, trusting her brother to buy her the time she needed.
Yui never did her best when she had to do a rush job, but the threat behind them brought an odd sort of clarity as she worked on the lock. She could hear the crashing of earth and desperately hoped Kouji wasn't fighting Rong — neither of them were a match for the older man.
The lock clicked, and Yui shouted, "I've got it!"
The noise near her stopped, and Kouji joined her on the platform as she swung open the door. He didn't even pause to earthbend the bolt on the metal door, just as Yui didn't bother to lock the door again. The odds were high that Rong either had a key or was a lockpick as well, and locking the doors would just waste time for them.
Kouji and Yui fled the Crystal Catacombs, mindful of the danger right behind them and praying they wouldn't run into Mi Ren or the professor on their way out.
The didn't stop running until Kouji collapsed, unable to go any further.
Yui spun on her heel and returned to her twin. "Kouji!" She checked him frantically and realised that he was exhausted. When had he last done that much major bending?
"'m'fine," Kouji mumbled. "Jus' tired…"
"Well, we're too exposed here," Yui said, carefully lifting her brother off the ground. She looped his arms around her neck and pulled him to his feet. "Just a little further, then we can rest." Her eyes were on the train station she knew was a half-mile ahead.
"Can't go home," Kouji whispered, and Yui paused.
"Can't go home," he repeated. "Professor Qu Hua — took his class." He paused to take a few breaths. "He'll rec'nize me."
"Ashes," Yui breathed. She started walking regardless. They could go home. Remaining there wasn't an option, but there would be just enough time for them to pack.
For her to pack, she amended, glancing at her brother. Kouji was going to need a nap.
Well, she could handle that, and she could get them at least temporarily safe until they decided what to do about the madness they'd discovered. Fortunately, she and Kouji lived in the Lower Ring, so getting to the Agrarian Zone wouldn't take too long once she'd packed.
She masked her fear and her worry and got Kouji to the train station, where she smiled at one of the earthbenders working there. "My brother overextended during a test," she lied cheerfully, "and I need to get him home."
The earthbender rolled his eyes. "When will those storefront 'masters' ever learn they're not teachers?" he asked the air, and stepped forward to scoop Kouji up in his arms.
Yui pouted at him. "It's all we can afford," she explained, "and it's better than an untrained earthbender."
"Unfortunately true," he admitted, and sighed. "But too many of these 'masters' run their students into the ground. You tell your brother to be careful."
Yui beamed at him. "I will."
The earthbender smiled back, and Yui allowed herself a moment of regret that they would be outside the city by nightfall. Ah, well. Perhaps another time.
The earthbender made sure she and Kouji were settled, then slipped back out to work.
Yui rummaged in their bag and took out the last of the cheese. She shook Kouji awake and made him eat it, then found some of the tú miàn bāo and nibbled on it to flush the taste of Rong from her mouth.
Stupid attractive crazy man.
Getting back home was interesting, but Yui was strong enough to manage her heavier brother. Kouji was putting on muscle, an irritating side effect of his training with Alak. Still, she made it inside, though she immediately dumped her exhausted twin on the floor.
He didn't so much as twitch.
"You," she informed him, "are going to start earthbending more."
That said, she moved into their shared bedroom and started packing immediately. Most of her clothing was sensible, made for day-to-day living and her temple excursions with Kouji. She did, however, pack her one nice dress; depending on which sage they saw, it might be best to tart herself up a bit.
Yes, it would be best to see one of the Fire Sages, wouldn't it? But how would she ensure that one would listen to laypersons? Especially the younger siblings of a convicted murderer?
Would they even be able to enter one of the temples in the Fire Nation? All the sages were in temples…
Sages, yes, she thought. But not all sage-trained men.
It would be far easier to break into a high-security prison than to see a trained sage.
But how would she get that man to listen to her?
Yui bit her lip, considering.
("That scroll had better be worth it.")
("Alak didn't want the damned scroll.")
Sages appreciated knowledge, didn't they? What better knowledge than a religious text from a temple he might never be able to visit?
Yui moved to Kouji's side of the room and started packing for him as well. Everyday rough-and-tumble clothes, as well as the nice outfit she'd made him buy. It was a little short in the wrist and ankle, but there wasn't much she could do about that now. When that was done, she tucked the scroll they'd retrieved inside the bag. They would need more to convince, him, of course, but this was a good start.
She put the bags by the door and scoured their apartment for anything they needed, and paused when she came across the stash of money that she and Kouji had built up since they'd started tomb raiding.
Their trip was going to require money.
She and Kouji weren't as poor as they made themselves out to be — couldn't be, what with their hobby. However, the majority of the money they made from their discoveries and their sales was set aside for the day they could buy their brother out of prison.
But to stop another war…
Taking a deep breath, Yui dug out the money and divided it between her bag and Kouji's, then checked the stash of artefacts that Kouji's Dai Li contact hadn't wanted to buy. Among the articles there, she found a handsome armband made of gold and studded with garnets. If it wasn't much too fine for her (and too large), she would have kept it for herself.
It had the look of a religious ornament, however, and not necessarily Earth Kingdom, at that. Perhaps that man would like it.
She slipped it into her own bag, then went to dig into their larder. She packed the rest of the tú miàn bāo, then dug up some leftover meat and went to force her twin awake again.
"Go 'way," Kouji whinged at her.
"Shut up and eat," she instructed him, pushing the meat into his hand.
He whinged some more, but did as she told him.
"C'mon," she said when the food was gone. "We're getting out of here."
With Yui's helpful bullying, she got Kouji's bag on his back and then got him out the door. It was a long walk back to the train station, but this time she made him move on his own, with promises that he could sleep on the train. For his part, he did try to keep his cranky down to a minimum, and kept quiet rather than snap at his sister.
"I am never letting you earthbend that much again," Yui muttered once she had him settled on the train.
Kouji mumbled something in return, but she couldn't make it out. It probably wasn't important anyway — or at least would lead to another fight, which they really couldn't afford right now.
Yui sighed, and turned her thoughts back to figuring out what else to bring the not-sage.
Why was she dancing around the identity of who she needed to talk to?
Because the idea of talking to him was frightening, she realised. He had no reason to even want to listen to a peasant colony girl.
Which is why I'm bringing him bribes, she reminded herself. So he'll at least know I respect him even in his current state. She was too young, far too young to have ever been directly affected by his policies — except she had been, and Kouji too, and Ichiro was in jail because of it.
Yui buried her face in her hands. "I don't want to do this," she whispered.
Yui calmly ran a brush through her long hair and marshalled her thoughts together. Kouji'd slept quite some time once she had finally let him, through sunset and until the moon was at its height. She, on the other hand, was quite tired by now, but she'd get no rest until this thing was settled. "I told you, Kouji," she said patiently, "he's the only one we have any hope of getting help from."
"Have you lost your mind?" Kouji hissed. "He's psychotic! He was going to destroy the entire Earth Kingdom!"
"Like his grandfather destroyed the Air Nomads?" Yui asked softly. Kouji paused, and she continued, "We won't be asking him to do this for his enemies. We'd be asking him to do this for his country — or, at least, for a decent bribe."
"How will we even get to him?" Kouji wanted to know.
Yui laid her brush aside and divided her hair into thirds. "We're tomb raiders—"
"—tomb raiders, with two years' experience of breaking into all sorts of guarded and booby-trapped temples and ruins," she continued, twining her hair into a braid.
Kouji raised an eyebrow at her. "That isn't going to make this a cakewalk."
Yui gave him a look. "Of course it isn't. He's going to be in a high-security prison with a lot of guards. It won't be easy, but it isn't beyond our capabilities."
Kouji sighed. "And assuming we can even get there, how do you expect to get anything out of him other than a 'piss off'?"
"Bribes," she explained. "Three of them."
"How, exactly, do you intend to bribe Ozai?"
Yui tied off her braid and held up one finger. "One, that scroll we found that Alak didn't want. He's sage-trained, he'd be interested in that kind of thing." She held up a second finger and said, "Two, that gold armband with the garnets. It's in Fire colours and it could be a religious artefact. Again, interest."
"And the third?" Kouji asked.
"…I don't know," she admitted. "I'm trying to think of one."
He grunted. "And you think this will work?"
"I think that if he doesn't know how to stop this, he'll know someone who does," Yui said. "If we're polite and bring him gifts to show that we respect him still, he'll probably be more inclined to listen."
"You do realise that nobody is going to believe this?" he asked.
"That had occurred to me, Kouji," Yui said, annoyed. "But what choice do we have?"
Yui blinked. "What?"
Her brother sighed. "Your third bribe. Get him coffee. Real coffee, from Buyou no Long Shima."
Yui arched an eyebrow. "Coffee?"
"You're not the only one who's heard things about him," Kouji informed his twin. "He likes coffee."
Yui smiled. "Thanks, Kouji," she said with a smile.
His smile back was small. "Get some sleep. I'll keep watch."
← Chapter Two | Chapter Four →
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Tags: character: kouji, character: yui, characters: earth kingdom, fandom: avatar, fic: terracotta dawn