The sound of ragged breaths, crunching leaves, snapping sticks, and the thundering of her own heartbeat flooded her ear drums. The searing pain of another branch whipping across her face was left forgotten as she fell to the earth; the warm liquid running down her leg took to the forefront of her mind. ‘Just keep running,' She pushed the pain aside by continuing this mantra that she stuck to for the last hour of her escape.
Finally, at the brink of exhaustion, she fell to her knees in the middle of the forest, hair as dark as a midnight sky frayed by sweat and wind stuck to porcelain skin browned by mud, soot, and dirt, and piercing emerald eyes cast downwards, dulled by anguish. Huffing out air until breathing felt normal again, Asami Sato finally allowed the events of the past few hours to overtake her senses as she crumpled to the ground.
“Asami! Would you come here please darling?” A beautiful voice rang out through the castle.
“Yes, mother?” Yasuko turned as Asami had entered the room to answer her call. She smiled at Asami, beckoning the younger woman to her.
“Ah, my darling, you are ever so beautiful.” Yasuko smiled warmly at her daughter.
Asami rolled her eyes before retorting, “Oh mother, you know I look just like you, so you should be used to seeing the same beauty every day.”
Yasuko moved Asami to the bench in front of her, grabbing a hairbrush, and gently pulling it through the young Sato’s hair.
“Nonsense my dear. A mother could never get used to the beauty she sees in her own child,” her mother then began to hum.
This was a ritual the two shared each morning. Asami would be called into her mother’s room, receive a sweet smile with a compliment, and have her hair brushed as her mother beautifully sang or hummed a tune. As monotonous as it would seem, Asami cherished each morning with her kindhearted mother. Each day of her 25 years began with a smile because of this ritual.
“Mother, do you think we could go out to the country today to speak with some of our people on the farms? It’s been so long since we’ve made a visit, and all of our people should feel important to the kingdom.”
Yasuko smiled, she loved that her daughter took such a passion in taking care of the people in their kingdom. She is going to be a great queen for the United Republic.
“If your father has no plans for you already, then of course.”
An explosion rang out nearby, shaking the room and permeating the smell of burning oil through the air. Yasuko rushed to the window in the direction of the sound, gasping as she saw a portion of the castle in flames.
Whipping around from the window Yasuko swiftly grasped Asami’s hand as she rushed through the corridors.
“Father!” Asami called out to her mother. Yasuko remained silent, skillfully striding through the maze of hallways avoiding the staff rushing around in a panic. There was no time to slow down or explain things to her daughter. Based on the location of the infiltration, there was no telling how soon they would be here.
Tears profusely streaked her cheeks as she lay on the forest floor, succumbing to her sorrows for the first time since she left her mother behind. The time she spent weeping unknown, she glanced at the spaces of sky between the treetops.
Her resolve to survive pushed the sadness aside. She needed to keep moving and get to the next town before nightfall. Zaofu was too far to walk in any decent time, so she would need to procure a horse as well.
Assessing herself, she tore a piece of her crimson cloak to wrap the gash above her right knee. Her clothing, now tattered and dirty from her desperate escape, she deemed appropriate for blending in a crowd. Details of the attack on her castle were still unknown, and Asami would rather not risk being a target for potential hostiles. Pocketing the golden cog brooch representing her family and pulling her hood up, she trekked forward, certain that the small town she was looking for would appear in a few hours.
The sun was nearly set by the time the princess caught the scent of meat cooking on a fire, eliciting a groan from her stomach. She sighed a bit in relief while simultaneously raising her guard and senses. She knew it was awful to steal, but her stomach drove her feet to the fire with a delicious stew simmering above. Just as she thought she made up her mind to take the food, she turned and ran from the meal.
‘I won’t allow anything to turn me into something I am not. I am a princess. I am a Sato. And I will not become a petty thief.’
This mindset was great and all, but the girl couldn’t help laughing at herself. ‘Now how do I make money to get any supplies…’ A glint caught her eye from the shop across the road, bringing her attention to the weight in her pocket.
Her heart felt heavy. It was silly to think she could have such a keepsake from her home.
Walking up to the merchant, she glanced at the items littering the tables. Metals of all sorts crafted into different jewelry with various stones. The quality seemed to be lacking, but it was a good start for her to attempt to sell the golden brooch.
“Excuse me sir?”
“Yes, young lady, what can I help you with?” his voice came out rough and unfriendly despite the choice of pleasant words.
Holding the brooch out to him she asked, “How much would you offer for this?”
Eyebrows raised slightly, he took the brooch from her, examining it closely before glancing back at the stranger.
“Now then, where did you get something like this?” he asked skeptically.
“I have a friend that visited the United Republic and brought this back to me as a gift. Sadly, my family fell on hard times, forcing us to sell valuables for food.” Asami explained, it wasn't far from the truth, but she was grateful for her many years of practice in speaking with people and fielding difficult questions. Being groomed to rule a kingdom has proved useful in many interactions.
The shopkeeper’s eye lingered on her a moment longer than Asami deemed comfortable, so she spoke up again.
“Anyways, would you be willing to buy this from me?” she added a slight tilt of her head as she returned his gaze.
“I’ll give you 15 bronze pieces for it. That should be enough to feed you for a couple days.”
Asami had to physically force the scowl away from her face. This man was using her situation to his advantage.
“Pardon me sir, but that is gold, and I find it inappropriate to be offered bronze pieces in exchange for it.”
“Young lady, what I find inappropriate is you coming to my stall with an item you clearly shouldn’t have and expecting me to pay me good money for stolen goods based on a sob story.” The man fired back in his brusque tone.
Not wanting to make a scene, Asami decided on taking the brooch elsewhere, perhaps try trading it for a room and food. As she reached for it, the man pulled the item out of her reach. “Give that back.” She evenly stated, the honey-like tone from earlier now absent.
“Ah ah, I don’t think so. If anyone is going to benefit from the poor sucker you duped, it will be me.”
Punctuating his sentence was a sudden movement from the corner of Asami’s eye causing her to stiffen. Before she knew it, the shopkeeper was pushed into a nearby wall.
“Either you give this nice young lady her property back, or you answer to me, tough guy.” The voice threatened through a deep, yet distinctly feminine sound.
“Ah, okay okay,” he squealed in pain as his wrist was twisted by the mystery woman. She appeared to be a soldier from her kingdom. Rippling muscles coiled deliciously underneath smooth bronze skin as her savior turned to Asami. Oh dear, captivating blue eyes sharply contrasting her dark skin pulled Asami into their depths. It suddenly occurred to her that the woman was speaking. She felt heat rush up her neck, painting her cheeks red.
“Excuse me, miss? Hello?” she emphasized with a wave of her hand.
“Oh, I’m so sorry for that. Thank you kindly, Ms?”
“Captain Korra, it’s my honor to be of assistance and a pleasure to make your acquaintance uhm, pr-”
Before Korra could finish her sentence, Asami rushed forward and clasped her hand over Korra’s mouth, giving a quick shake of her head, hoping to convey her thoughts to the bronze warrior.
Korra furrowed her brow in confusion, but kept her mouth shut about it nonetheless. Remembering the shopkeeper was still in their presence, Korra demanded, “Now, you give this woman her brooch back.” As he was obliging, Korra added, “And what do you say?”
“Here you go ma’am, my apologies for giving you a hard time,” he pushed the words disdainfully through his teeth.
“Thank you,” and with that Asami made her way from the stall.
“Hey! Wait up!” Korra chased after the retreating figure, “I’m supposed to be protecting you, so can you please explain to me what just happened?”
Asami suspiciously eyed the soldier, ‘Word hasn’t traveled yet and I still have no idea why my castle was attacked, who was behind it, and how many people might want me dead. She may be a United Republic soldier, but it would undoubtedly be a risk. However, she already knows who I am…’
“Korra, take me somewhere we can speak privately,” the request came off as more of a demand which seemed to annoy Korra. Asami shoved the thought aside, she is the princess and this is a soldier she is talking to after all.
Korra straightened before replying, “Understood, please follow me, your grace .”
The princess caught the sarcastic ending to Korra’s statement, “Excuse me?”
“What? Did you fart or something?”
Asami gasped incredulously. What kind of unrefined solder is this that dares speak to her this way?
“No, and how dare you speak in such a way to me. You will do well to watch your tongue.”
Korra scoffed, “You’re the one that stopped me from addressing you properly. If you are playing ‘town girl’ for the day, then I’m just happily doing my job to make you feel like you fit right in,” she finished her response with a smile.
‘A smile? OH the audacity of this girl.’ And to think she found this brute attractive at first. Asami decided to stay quiet for the remainder of the trip, opting to just explain the circumstance to the captain at their destination, leaving out a few details of course.