Your fingers dug furrows in the tree bark as you clung to a high branch, watching the ground below. Five of your companions were hidden around the general area, lying in wait. It was your command that would set them loose on whoever was unfortunate enough to cross this path.
In this case, Fire Nation soldiers.
You liked to think of yourself as a ...professional thief. Your victims were usually rich snobs or the occasional party of bandits. People who actually seemed to need their money were left alone, which you thought was quite magnanimous of you. So that would make you an honorable thief? You were still trying to figure out if that was an oxymoron.
Fei last-name-nonexistent, the thief with a conscience. Yep, that was you.
One of your scouts had come to you with news that a pretty banged-up Fire Nation ship had docked at a nearby bay, and four of the soldiers were heading into town for spare materials.
But they had to come through your territory first. And you weren’t extremely fond of the Fire Nation. Not that you were patriotic or anything, but when an empire decides to move in and regress to the state of a playground bully....well, somebody needs to put them in their place every once in a while.
You weren’t a bender yourself, so fights like the one ahead were a challenge. There was a nasty burn mark on your shoulder and another on your stomach from previous battles. Those encounters had shown you plenty of ways to put out a firebender’s flame. A simple rock to the head would do the trick, but that wasn’t nearly as fun as some of the other methods.
Voices met your ears at that moment, and you crouched down on your branch.
The clothing you wore was perfect for stealth. Your forest green tank top was the same color of the tree leaves, and your black armbands stretched from your wrists to just past your elbows. Daggers were strapped to each arm, and more weapons hung from the belt that held up your baggy black trousers. Your soft-soled boots made no noise when you moved.
You silently slipped a dagger from its sheath and held it ready. Four Fire Nation soldiers came into view. One was a squat old man with a bulging belly and grey hair, and he was humming a cheerful tune. You could honestly say you had never seen a happy fire bender. It was kind of disturbing.
The person next to him was a young man who looked the exact opposite of his companion. His features were dark and brooding. A large burn stretched over the upper left side of his face and he had one small area of black hair that was pulled back in a ponytail.
The other two soldiers wore helms and the standard Fire Nation uniform. A small grin broke over your face. This might not be a challenging fight, but it would certainly be interesting.
When the group was just below your tree, you let out a loud chirp that sounded no different from the voice of any song bird. But your companions could tell the difference. They burst soundlessly out of the bushes and attacked. You jumped down from your hiding spot feet-first and your boots landed right on the serious guy’s shoulders, sending him sprawling onto the forest floor.
You had just taken out your other dagger when two swords flashed toward your neck. Dodging them both, you saw that your victim had gotten to his feet and now wielded two broadswords. His amber eyes burned with fury, and you smirked at him.
"Having trouble?" You asked sweetly.
His eyes narrowed dangerously and he answered, "No. But you will be."
Ooh, a tough guy.
You lunged forward and he blocked your first attack, striking out with his foot. You knocked it aside, feinting to the left before ducking down to slash his leg. He hissed in pain, and when you darted in to repeat the attack he adopted a lower stance to accommodate your shorter stature. He was a fast learner.
The battle raged all around you, fire blazing from the soldiers’ palms as they tried to score a hit on your fleet-footed companions. They knew they couldn’t win in a fair fight. Your lip curled in scorn.
Your opponent launched a flurry of attacks that you parried, knocking each aside with a sweep of your short blade. But this guy was strong! The blows reverberated up your arms, making your shoulders ache.
He went on the offensive, pushing forward with increasingly quick attacks. You were losing ground. You jerked your head back as a sword whistled past your face and the tip sliced into your cheek, drawing blood. Now it was his turn to smirk.
This particular enemy wasn’t using his fire bending at all. It was his pride —or arrogance, whatever you want to call it. He wanted to show you that he could beat you without tapping into his bending abilities. The challenge just made you fight harder.
With a low kick, you swept his legs out from under him and drove your daggers downward while he was on the ground. His boots caught you in the stomach and he flipped you over his head, a surprise attack that had your eyes widening in astonishment. You landed on your back and the breath whooshed from your lungs.
Even as you struggled to breathe, you took careful aim and let loose with a dagger. He had no time to dodge. Heh. Take that, fire boy. His eyes widened and a burst of flame erupted from his hand, knocking the weapon aside before it could slice through his scarred left eye. You struggled to your feet, wheezing, and grinned at him. The fact that you had forced him into firebending gave you well-earned feeling of satisfaction.
He scowled and attacked moved as if to attack. You reached for another dagger from your belt, but found nothing there.
Oh. Well, dang.
“Looking for this?” Your opponent held up your weapons belt, which he had yanked off you the instant he’d sent you flying. You blinked at him. He smirked back.
You were not amused.
For lack of any alternative, and because you were at least as prideful as him, which disqualified surrender as an option, you attacked with the only blade you had left. It was pretty much suicide.
You did your best (which actually had a substantial amount of skill behind it, thank you very much), but in the end you were outmatched. The dagger flew out of your hand as he disarmed you, so you attacked with your fists.
He caught your arm and spun you around, twisting it behind your back. When you struggled he applied more pressure, forcing you to your knees. Then you were on the ground with your face in the dirt, his boot pressing down on the back of your neck. Now you really hated him.
The firebender leaned down and spoke right next to your ear, "Having trouble?"
You really, really hated having your words thrown back in your face. You growled in fury and squirmed, trying to throw him off you. He wrenched your arm viciously and you went still as pain burned up into your shoulders.
"Now, are you going to give me any more trouble?" he asked, not letting up an inch. When you didn't answer, his hand clenched tighter on your wrist, a warning.
"No," you hissed. Oh, when you got the chance, he was going to pay.
"What was that? You're going to have to speak up."
"I said, no," you repeated, louder this time.
Your hands were swiftly tied together and you were jerked to your feet. Your companions had fled, predictably (This was why you liked to work solo. The goons you hired were about as reliable as a well during dry season), and the soldiers were nursing their wounds. Unharmed, the old man continued to hum cheerfully. "You fought well, Zuko," the man said, and then chuckled. "But I think the girl got the better of you."
"I won, Uncle," snapped Zuko. "That’s all that matters."
The two soldiers straightened up, saluted, and asked, "Prince Zuko, should we pursue the others?"
"No," Zuko said shortly and looked down at you. "One is all we need."
You gulped, eyes widening in realization. Leave it to you to pick a fight with a prince.