A/N: I was surprised to realize that it's been almost three years since the last update. Since that time, a few people have reviewed that story – Likewow5556, kawaii kokeshi, Lookthestars, and Crystal-Wolf-Guardian-967. Thanks for the review. Finally here is Chapter 4. It was actually fun writing it. I hope you enjoy!
:Leap of Faith:
Mao and his mother didn't have a lot of extra room in their humble home, especially for four guests. Still that hadn't deterred them from trying to accommodate the group. They moved living room furniture around and set up four futons on the floor. The Freedom Fighters and Yilin lay in close proximity to each other, making Yilin feel a bit uncomfortable. Somehow Longshot and Smellerbee had no problem sleeping, even with Jet carefully maneuvering around them an hour later. Yilin closed her eyes, hoping she looked like she was sleeping. This favor – she didn't know what it entailed but she knew it involved the Fire Nation.
She rolled over, pretending she didn't hear him. Then she felt him shaking her shoulder. She turned and looked up at him. She hoped that maybe if she looked really tired, he would drop it. However, he smirked when he saw that she was awake. "What is it?" She asked in a hushed voice.
"We're going out for a night stroll," he told her, carefully standing up. "Come on. We'll leave through a window."
A window? She frowned. "Why?"
"If we leave through the front door, we'll get caught. The curfew is still in effect, Yilin."
Yilin resisted sighing. She shouldn't be surprised that the leader of the Freedom Fighters would think about the slightest details.
It had sounded like a bad idea going out the window, maybe even terrifying when she remembered what floor Mao lived on. But when she finally stepped outside per Jet's instruction, her suspicions were confirmed. Anxiously she pressed herself against the building wall, fearing that she was going to slip off the narrow ledge. She carefully looked over at Jet who seemed far too use to these acrobatics. "Jet?"
"I'm listening," he told her.
Yilin tried not to look down. "What are we looking for?"
"The fire nation must have a base outside this town. We locate it and-!"
"Take it down?"
"In due time," he corrected. "Like I said, we need a group to do that. The job will probably be too big for the two of us."
Yilin closed her eyes partially out of relief, partially out of fear. Heights were not her thing.
"See that roof top below?" Yilin warily looked at it and nodded. "We're going to jump to it."
"Jump." With that, he pushed off the ledge. Yilin watched in horror as he fell through the air. Just when she swore his jump fell short, Jet grabbed onto the ledge of the roof with one hand. Quickly he pulled himself and again, she felt that he was too used to these acrobatics. He looked at her before beckoning her to follow.
Yilin closed her eyes and counted down from three. Then she pushed off. The rooftop ledge was fast approaching. She reached out and her fingers scraped the edge. Her eyes opened wide, a scream itching to get out of her throat. And then Jet grabbed hold of her arm.
"You okay?" He asked.
She nodded as she looked down below. A shiver ran down her spine. She put her free hand on the wall and a small ledge popped out underneath her dangling feet. "Can I have a moment? I don't want to move yet."
"Take your time."
Yilin took a few deep breaths, reassuring herself that she was safe and she wouldn't be falling to her death anytime soon. She leaned against the cool wall for a while before she looked up and extended a hand. "I'm okay now."
Jet pulled her onto the roof. Yilin felt like the shock hadn't completely worn off but she didn't want to slow Jet down. It seemed like he already had his eyes on the next roof. He looked back at her. "Come on. I won't let you fall. I promise."
Shaking off her fears for the moment, Yilin walked over to the edge of the roof, her eyes on the next rooftop. The jumping distance was shorter than the last one but that didn't make her feel any better. "How many more are we jumping?"
He stood next to her. "We're aiming for the edge of the town. Closest way would involve seven more. I'll jump first, okay?"
"Why can't I just earthbend our way across?" She suddenly asked.
"Earthbending isn't subtle."
"I used it today."
"When the town was bustling and lively. Right now it's dead. Any disturbance and they'd probably hear it. Besides, don't you need a lot of earth to bridge these gaps?"
Yilin sighed but she dropped the topic. Jet looked down and saw a few Fire Nation soldiers walking around below. He paused, waiting for the soldiers to leave the area. Then Jet took a few steps back and did a running leap. He made it cleanly across.
Jet made it look easy but it wasn't enough to shake off her fear. In Yilin's mind, she could see what happened last time playing out again but with the fatal results. Jet stared at her expectantly, waiting for her to join him. Taking in a deep breath, Yilin ran and jumped across. Her feet landed on the other roof. Jet smiled reassuringly at her. "You're doing great, Yilin."
"Thanks," she said even though she felt the opposite.
After what felt like hours, Jet and Yilin finally reached the edge of the town. Without anymore rooftops to give them a bird's view, things would be a lot more difficult. So Yilin thought until Jet suggested something that sounded so ridiculous to her.
"Have you ever climbed a tree before?"
She stared at him. "Jet, I'm an earthbender. I don't climb trees."
"So you want to walk where the enemy can and most likely will see you?"
She sighed. "Trees it is then."
Jet saw how uncomfortable she was about the idea and changed his mind. After all, he had forced her out of her comfort zone already. Plus, if she wasn't a tree climber, it might slow them down considerably. "On second thought, let's stay on the ground. We can use the shrubbery and trees to hide behind."
"Don't worry about it," he said, brushing it off. "It's no big deal, Yilin." He heard voices and pulled Yilin behind the nearest bush. A couple of loud soldiers walked past, heading toward the town. Jet wasn't sure where they needed to go but their best bet was to go in the direction the soldiers had come from. After telling Yilin, the two of them snuck around.
The further they moved in, the more soldiers were teeming around the place. Yilin could feel that familiar surge of adrenaline again as her body prepared for a fight. She was about to move behind the next tree when Jet stopped her.
"Stay here," Jet whispered. "If we get any closer, we'll be spotted. I'll climb a tree and see if I can find the camp."
"Okay," she whispered back. "Be careful?"
"I will," he nodded before leaving her side. Yilin turned toward the front, listening and keeping an eye out for any soldiers. She shifted a bit, placing her right knee on the ground. She held her breath as another soldier walked by. What's taking you so long, Jet? No more than five minutes could have passed but it felt like more. A few days ago, she never thought that she would purposely go to a Fire Nation camp. She had run away from all this. I wonder how the rest of the Guard is doing... I wonder if Mao returned to Yuyinshi yet.
Yilin quickly turned around, ready to earthbend the moment she saw fire. But all she saw was Jet. His foot was still on the snapped twig but his arms were in a defensive position. "Sorry," she said quietly, dropping her arm.
"It's my fault," he told her as he got down low. "I startled you."
"Did you find it?"
He nodded and pointed up ahead. "It's about fifty yards that way."
Her green eyes opened wide. "We're that close?"
"Yep. Do you want to go in?"
She stared at him. He had to be joking. Just the two of them against an army? "If I say no, are you planning on going by yourself?"
"It would be easier with your help. You can make a tunnel underground."
Her eyebrows furrowed together. "Besides risking capture?"
He smirked confidently. "Taking risks is what I do."
A glowing light suddenly illuminated the darkness around them. Jet and Yilin looked up at a Fire Nation soldier holding a torch. Before the two could make a move, the man shouted:
The two teens scrambled onto their feet and ran for it. They could hear soldiers heading toward the scene. Up ahead was another soldier, clearly oblivious to the situation. The soldier's eyes opened wide when he saw the two teens running. At the last second, he spun out of the way. Yilin avoided the man, barely sparing him a glance.
"Yilin," Jet said as he jumped over a tree root. "That tunnel might actually be a good idea right about now."
"If I'm going to make a tunnel, we have to stop running," she said, ducking under a low branch. She could hear the yells of soldiers behind. For the moment, it seemed like they were far ahead but she couldn't shake off the feeling that the soldiers were catching up.
Jet suddenly stopped and she slammed into him. Both of them fell onto the ground. "Why'd you..." Yilin looked up and saw the three Fire Nation soldiers riding komodo rhinos.
"Well, well, who do we have here?" The general from earlier moved closer on his komodo rhino. "Yilin, right? And her friend from earlier. What a pleasant surprise."
"It's Jet," Jet said, getting up. He offered a hand to Yilin and pulled her onto her feet. All the while, his brown eyes never left the general. He could hear the Fire Nation soldiers closing in from behind them. He looked at Yilin and saw the fear in her eyes. Gently he squeezed her hand and she looked at him. "Relax," he mouthed.
Yilin inhaled deeply. She wished she could relax but she just couldn't keep cool under this amount of pressure. Not like Mao. Mao... She shifted her right foot oh-so-slightly, testing to see how lose the earth was. It sifted under her foot too easily. A quick look at Jet and then she stomped hard and fast. A dust cloud rose up into the air and spread out. Yilin covered her mouth before she could join the coughers around her. Before she could take off in one direction, someone grabbed her and tugged her in the other. Soon she was out of the dust cloud. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw it was Jet pulling her. He had brought his collar up over his nose. It wasn't until he was a good distance away, he pulled it down.
"How about a warning next time, Yilin?" He called out.
"Sorry!" Yilin apologized. "But I think we lost them."
"I highly doubt that," he said, not slowing down at all. "They're riding komodo rhinos. I'm pretty sure they can outrun us."
Yilin looked over her shoulder.
Jet came to a halt.
Yilin grabbed his wrist. "Come on. We have to keep going!"
"Don't you hear that?"
Yilin was the one who had a hold on him but Jet was pulling her. "This way!" He urged. He started running, forcing the girl to keep up. At first, Yilin didn't know what Jet was thinking. Then she heard it – rushing water. At that moment, she saw the komodo rhinos on either side of them. "Jet!"
"I know! I think we're almost there!"
Yilin could see that the ground ahead of them came to end in thirty feet. With each step they took toward the edge, the roar of rushing water only got louder. "You're not serious, right?!"
"Are there any other options, Yilin?!"
"Besides hurtling ourselves off a cliff?!"
"Yilin, trust me on this!"
Their feet were off the ground and in the air. Yilin saw the height of the waterfall. If Jet had even slowed down, she wouldn't have jumped. It was too high and the water they were supposed to land in was too far below. She flailed her arms as if that would slow her fall and then – SPLASH! There was pain, coldness, and then the sudden pull of the current.
Yilin nodded. This was the second mock fight of her training session with Mao. In the first one, he had gone easy on her. It was his way of assessing whether she had improved or practice in her downtime since the last session. The second mock fight was when he became serious. He almost always used a new move to open it up but this time he was not going to catch her off guard.
She quickly got into her stance. The moment Mao lifted his foot she prepared to block the incoming rock with a shield. She was unprepared, however, for the cloud of dust engulfing them. She inhaled at the worst possible time and started coughing into her sleeve.
"Yilin, you can't assume things. You have to be prepared for anything."
Yilin frowned. Was her hearing affected, too? It sounded that his voice was coming from all around her.
"Part of today's lesson is improving your instincts."
She coughed out the remainder of the dust in her lungs. Mao had plenty of time to launch a second attack on her. What was he waiting for? Holding her breath, she pushed both hands down in a fast motion, clearing the dust. She didn't see Mao anywhere. She stepped back, waiting for the slightest hint but then something grabbed her ankles. One instant, she was above ground. The next, she was neck-deep in the ground.
Mao popped out of the ground in front of her and gave her his signature lopsided grin. She gave him a dirty look when he sat down in front of her, his brown eyes full of amusement. "The other part of today's lesson is how to make a dust cloud." He picked up the dirt, letting it sift between his fingers. "Here the dirt is pretty loose so a small quake will do. Other times, if the dirt is more compact, you might need a bigger earthq-!"
"Um, Mao, I don't mean interrupt but can you get me out of the ground?"
Mao blinked before grinning. "You're a good earthbender. Surely you can manage it."
"Not with my arms pinned to my sides."
Mao stood up. "My apologies." He stomped his foot and Yilin shot out of the ground. She must have flown twenty feet up before she came straight back down and into his arms.
It was strange being close to his handsome face. She couldn't help but notice every detail on his face. She noticed the way his dark hair fell over his thick eyebrows and into his eyes. She could see the green flecks in his eyes. Her gaze passed over his strong nose to his lips. Her face heated up. Why, oh why, did she have to have a crush on Mao? It was embarrassing and an unnecessary distraction and if he didn't put her down any time soon, her heart would burst out of her chest. It was pounding faster and faster because he hadn't said a word yet. He was only looking at her, which meant he could see the redness in her cheeks.
"Y-you're okay?" Mao stuttered. Mao wasn't the sort of person to stutter. She was definitely making this awkward. He set her down on the ground carefully. "I thought it was funny but I just remembered you don't like heights."
"...lin. Get up, Yilin." Yilin's green eyes fluttered open. Immediately she started coughing up the water in her lungs.
Jet sighed in relief. "For a second, I thought I had to carry you all the way back."
"I'm glad that's the biggest of your concerns."
Jet smirked. "Don't be offended. I would have carried you."
"It's a long way back, Jet." She looked around. "Do you know where we are?"
"I have an idea." Jet took a step toward the river. "The river flows up that way. And we came west of it. If we follow that general direction," he concluded, pointing ahead, "we should be okay."
"That's good to know." This had been a terrible night. She was drenched, cold, and miserable. And somehow they were supposed to return to the town without running into the Fire Nation. If she had known it would be this bad, she would have tried to talk Jet out of it. "What do we do now?"
"Wait until the sun rises," Jet said. "At least then we can use the crowds to our advantage."