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|A Tale of 2 Recruits|
-1 (Blood & Steel)
Friday, June 10, 2016
The sun had not finished fighting its way over the ashen clouds when Phorcys and Euryale set out, the latter sitting bolt upright, arms at rigid right angles as she grasped the steering wheel as though trying to strangle it. Phorcys frowned at her, hearing a crack as her jaw clenched tighter.
"You did learn how to drive, didn't you?" he asked.
Euryale stared resolutely ahead, unblinking. "Yes, but only the basics."
Phorcys sighed heavily. "That should be fine. We're starting out with a routine traffic patrol."
Suddenly, he lurched forward, smacking into the windshield—Euryale had slammed her foot down, stopping abruptly in front of a crosswalk, where an elderly man in a brown coat and flatcap was crossing with a small, pink-clad girl and a dog. Fortunately, as a detective, he'd requested an unmarked car. The main models had no windshields, and he would have toppled right onto the road.
"S—sorry," Euryale muttered as he rubbed his forehead.
"All part of the learning experience," her father muttered, before continuing more clearly, "Speaking of, I think it's important you learn how to control the car using metalbending."
"What?!" Euryale exclaimed, turning to him with wide-eyed terror. He raised a hand.
"Don't worry, don't worry, we'll start small. How about adjusting your mirror, can you do that?"
Euryale reached out, twiddling her fingers. Sure enough, the side mirror swiveled out, revealing more of the road behind them.
"Good job," Phorcys commended, before a bright yellow Satomobile swerved out of an alley and blew toward them. Double-taking, the elder metalbender held a hand out over Euryale's head, pointing his other hand to the ground and raising a section of the street. Euryale was jostled to the side as the car lurched, assisted by earth rising beneath it, and the Satomobile just barely avoided crashing into them before the car slammed back onto the ground, bouncing them around.
"I'll teach you that move later," Phorcys said, "Right now, it's time for your first car chase."
"What?!" Euryale shrieked, looking nervously between him and the road, "You can't be serious!"
But he pointed forward, shouting, "Follow that car! Hurry, before it gets away!"
Euryale slammed her foot down again. Unfortunately, a green cabbage car was now taking up most of the intersection, having swerved when the other vehicle almost struck it. Euryale doubted very much that she could weave past it, but it seemed to slide out of the way at the last second. Euryale soon realized her father was grunting, forehead glistening as he bent the vehicle away with both trembling hands. She was now fast gaining on a blue, low-slung sports car that the Satomobile had just passed. Euryale tried copying the suspect's maneuver, but had swerved too wide, and was starting to tip over.
"Stabilize yourself!" Phorcys called. As they were still tipping over, he began to panic, "Root your stance!"
He finally said the magic word, and Euryale stomped, causing them to sink back to the road—and inside of it, as Euryale had been too forceful, breaking the asphalt beneath them into sand. Phorcys reached out ahead of them and ripped apart the road as if tearing a slip of paper. They went bumping over the rubble, but emerged back onto the pavement in 1 piece. He then waved a hand behind them, causing the rubble to slide back into place, bubble like boiling tar, and smooth over. When he turned back to the chase, they were approaching a pair of trucks that the suspect was trying to edge past, honking his horn angrily.
Unfortunately, their presence seemed to spur on drastic measures, and the driver leaned out of his window. Euryale could see the crimson sleeve of his duster flapping in the wind as he shot a fiery jet into a back wheel on the left-hand truck. The rubber burned bright, black smoke curling into the air, and soon sparks flew from steel grinding against asphalt. The vehicle lagged backwards, threatening to run them over.
"I'll get us up in the air!" Phorcys called, "You get us down safely!"
"I don't think that's a good ideeeeeaaaaa!" Euryale screamed, for her father had raised a ramp that sent them soaring through the sky. Thrusting his palm back down, he collapsed it into dust that the truck could skid harmlessly through.
Seeing they were about to land on him, the Agni Kai driving the Satomobile darted back into the right hand lane, swinging his left hand to shoot wide arcs of fire at them. On top of that, Euryale was pulling backward with all of her might, the steel siding of the car groaning as her bending pulled on its every fiber with a fury that seared her shoulder muscles.
They landed with only a slight jolt, but Phorcys dragged her down as an arc of fire shattered the passenger's window, shot over their heads, and melted a lopsided hole into the driver's window. Euryale rubbed her lips where they had smacked onto the steering wheel and looked up to see the Satomobile pulling in front of them, the driver reaching awkwardly backward to shower them with a cone of flame.
The road was converging into a narrow lane between a set of buildings, forcing them to face the fire head-on. They could see only bright orange-read, but heard the microscopic cracks spreading through the windshield, the flames threatening to surge through it at any moment. The flames broke without warning, the yellow Satomobile looming ahead.
Euryale and Phorcys pushed outward simultaneously, flipping the car with metalbending. This sent it careening through a clothes line set up between 2 small shacks, causing a rainbow of shirts and slacks to rain down around them. When a pair of green-and-red striped boxers struck the window, Euryale flicked her wrist, engaging the windshield wipers to clear her visual field.
Aside from the undies swaying back and forth in front of her, she saw the suspect shooting to the top of a wooden shack with a tin roof, having apparently jumped out of the car on jet propulsion. He rolled and ran, disappearing from sight.
"Pull over here! Don't hit the stand!" Phorcys called, pointing to where a series of fruit-filled crates had been set up under a red awning. Euryale did as instructed, the portly, rag-swathed woman behind the counter running for cover, shielding her head with her arms.
"Keys! And you know how to shoot the cables, right?!" Phorcys called as they climbed out of the car.
Euryale hurriedly ducked back inside to retrieve her keys. "I've only ever used the old belt model!"
"It's basically the same, but you should try to weave them up under your armor! It increases accuracy!"
Euryale held out her fist, fingers flexing imperceptibly. She heard the cable spool whir and felt the vibrations of the cord snaking up her back, over her shoulder, around her arm, and finally shooting out from her gauntlet, where it swung to and fro, wobbling dangerously in the air.
"Concentrate your bending near the end, that's where you need most of the force! Keep the rest flexible!" Seeing that the cable was about to fall shy of the roof, Phorcys grabbed her arm, straightening it out, "Now go up!"
She flicked her wrist upward, finally striking the roof. Vibrations surging up her arm showed her irregularities in the tin, allowing her to shift them around, fusing the metals of the cable and roof together.
"Yes!" they both called out, her father adding, "Now go!"
He grabbed her around the waist from behind and they shot out over the small open air markets of the Dragon Flats bazar. By the time their feet thudded deafeningly against the tin, the firebender had reached the other end of the roof. Kneeling down, he pulled a power line out with both hands, and they could see the brilliant blue energy crackling around his fists. He pointed a pair of fingers at the officers, trailing an arc from the wire, and shot it at them as a zig-zagging electric blue lance.
Phorcys pushed himself and his daughter apart so they landed on opposite edges of the roof, well clear of the lightning strike. Euryale rolled on her side, stopping just at the edge, but Phorcys skidded to a stop on his heels, sparks flying from his feet.
"Where'd a small time crook like you learn how to redirect electricity?" he asked oddly jovially, punching out twice, each shot launching a roof tile.
With lightning still coursing between his hands, the Agni Kai easily blasted the attacks away. Seeing a crimson blur to his left, he looked in time to see Euryale leap to her feet, swinging a cable at him in a downward sledgehammer motion.
"No, wait!" Phorcys called, holding out a hand, but his paternal concerns were unnecessary. Twisting her fist, Euryale snapped the cord just as the man grabbed it, the result being that the electricity arced back into him, causing him to tremble and fly off of the roof. He landed in a pile of trash bags, bursting them and causing a sea of soggy noodles and half-eaten dumplings to wash over the alley. The elephant rats scurried away as he lay there, feet up and smoking. A groan let them know he was still alive.
"You did very well," Phorcys said, walking up to Euryale and clapping her on the shoulder.
"I feel like I'm ready for anything!" she exulted, beaming at him.
Senthose, cheeks much fuller but as sour faced as ever, sat at a round, black table, carved with a Pai Sho board. Similar tables dotted the hall, a kind of vast square space with a blue-and-white tile floor, lit by silver chandeliers and faintly reflected in the polished marble walls. Most tables had about half-to-a-dozen people surrounding them, but not all were the same game. Some involved throwing dice, others playing the three cup game, and so on. The customers were a sea of various types of suits and coats, in even more shades of purple, blue, and white. But in all cases, like Senthose, a single person wore a button in the shape of a red spiral.
For his own part, Senthose had been loaned a cleanly pressed navy blue suit, and was sitting in front of a fountain in the shape of the Northern Water Tribe Capital. He had a nice, fat stack of yuans at his right hand, but not for long, as Tall, Lanky, and Toothless came by with a collection tray.
"The higher-ups say to keep up the good work," he said with what passed for a grin.
"Easy for them to say," Senthose grumbled, "They get 90% of the take. I'll be lucky to see a dozen yuans out of this game."
"3 years of running numbers not quite up to the 'higher standards' you set for yourself, then?" he chuckled.
"Oh, I imagine you'll see what I mean soon enough," Senthose said, grabbing a large man's arm and adding, "You tried to sneak in a double-sided piece."
With a white suit, a matching grizzly mane, hulking arms, and pronounced canines, the man looked more like a polar bear dog who learned how to speak as he reared up to his full height. "Are you calling me a cheat?" he asked in a low tone. The other players left their money at the table and began to file away to far-flung corners of the room.
Senthose held up a red flower tile, flipping it around to reveal a white flower.
"That's not mine," he said simply, "You planted it."
"Are you accusing the Red Monsoons of cheating?"
"You're not the head of a family," he snorted, "You're just a trivial pawn who runs numbers."
"Be that as it may," Senthose replied calmly, slipping the piece into his breast pocket, "I represent their interests."
He merely gave Senthose a wolfish grimace and commented, "Let go, or I remove your arm."
"Certainly," Senthose said, "Simply pay the fine for cheating and you are free to go."
He was still smiling, but the man's face twitched just slightly, cuing Senthose to duck under the fist that soared at his head. The warrior clenched his right fist in front of him, but reached back with his left hand, pulling a blade of water out of the fountain and slicing down the large man's forehead with an overhand slice.
The brute clutched his wound with his free hand, roaring, but Senthose didn't let up. After he let his fist fly into the man's sternum, he rolled up onto the table, chips clattering to the floor as he did a kind of a handstand and twirl. In addition to kicking the man twice in the head, more water arced out of the fountain, spiraling around the cheat and freezing solid. Senthose sprang back to his feet, bouncing on his heels and making as if to grab him around the waist.
The ice quivered and the oversized man began to slide forward, polished black boots squealing along the floor, but he flexed his arms with a snarling grunt, breaking free. Punching rapidly, he sent a volley of the shards at Senthose—his comrade had ducked under the table—who leaped back toward the fountain.
Twirling, his feet met an ice ramp that formed underneath him. He skated around the fountain, launching water shots at his foe all the while. The man was so busy slapping them back, his snarl eerily contorted by the seeping, scarlet slash down his forehead, that he hadn't noticed Senthose skid behind him and roll to his feet.
The young Monsoon pulled a kind of crude truncheon out of his pocket, really more like a carved stick, and smacked him in the back of the neck, the throat, and the base of the spine, in quick succession. He then leaped, performing a spinning kick that knocked the man flat on his face.
The number-runner rolled him over with his foot and stomped on his chest. Leaning over, he held the truncheon at the cheat's throat, an ice spike forming at the end of it. The man gazed at it warily.
"Are you going to do what I want now?" Senthose asked acidly. His victim nodded.
"Yeesh, Sen, that was amazing!" his cowardly comrade commented, peeking out from under the table.
"I couldn't have done it without you," Senthose said flatly, "Thank you for having my back."
Hearing a tumultuous roar at his back, Senthose turned to see that the crowd had stopped playing to watch. Some were cheering, but most were booing. He noticed that a few of the table masters were being paid out of pocket by some of the surlier-looking booers.
"Here!" the man at his feet spat insolently. Senthose turned back to see that he was holding out a stack of yuans. Senthose took it and flipped him roughly over. He found another stack of cash in the man's coat pocket, a few rolls in his shoes, more trick pieces hidden in his cuff links, and even a coin disguised as a clasp.
"Really?" Senthose's comrade grinned, shaking his head.
When he was finished, Senthose stepped off of the man, grabbed him by the collar, and rolled him roughly to the door. "Now get out, and pray that the families think you've suffered enough for trying to steal from them!"
At the mention of the families, the man's mutinous demeanor melted away. Glancing at everything that was taken from him, he furrowed his shaggy brow, appearing to assess the situation. Evidently it wasn't good, because he nodded fervently and ran out of the door, stumbling slightly.
Hearing slow clapping, Senthose turned his attention to a man slightly shorter than himself, finger-curled blond hair, wearing a white suit and duster. He watched the cheat flee for a moment, then turned and approached, revealing twinkling blue eyes and smiling wide to display an immaculate set of teeth set above a slight chin cleft. The single flaw Sethose noticed was the brown roots at his hairline—he was using dye.
"Pretty impressive for a newcomer," the new arrival said with a whistle, "But then again, your old captain gave me the heads-up that you were a warrior. Must've been a pretty good one, at that."
"I was under-appreciated."
"Right, right, and so humble!" he said with a laugh, before thrusting out his hand. "The name's Netzach. I work under Voland. He heads the main family, y'know."
Senthose's mouth twitched into a smile as he held his hands at his side and gave a right-angle bow. "Yes, I've heard of him, but thank you very much for the information. It is an honor to meet you," he said in a voice so uncharacteristically polite that the man half-hidden under the table looked around for the source.
"That guy had to be 2 or 3 heads taller than you, but you took him on without hesitation," Netzach rambled, his expression remaining static, "I think you would've even killed him, if he kept resisting."
"I'm afraid I don't understand your implication," Senthose said, keeping up his smile and doing his best to look confused. This is the kind of guy who savors making you chase him around for the point.
"I'm just saying—you can stand up, by the way—I think I see what job you really want now. No wait, lemme guess!" he added, waving his palm in front of Senthose when he opened his mouth to answer. "You wanna be an enforcer. A guard. A debt collector...maybe even a hitman." He squinted shrewdly.
"You certainly have my number all figured out," Senthose replied, his grin widening. The man under the table gulped, looking between them fearfully.
"Tell ya what," Netzach continued, raising a finger, "I'll give ya a job. Do it well, and I'll bring you into Voland's circle."
"Sounds good. Thank you, Mr. Netzach."
Senthose was spun around as a hand clapped against his back with nearly enough force to knock him over. Netzach pulled him into a side-hug that forced the air out of his lungs.
"Haha, get a load of Mr. Serious and Responsible, here!" He pointed at Senthose with his free hand, eyes closed in laughter. "I just love his shtick! Don't you?"
For a while, Toothless just stared in confusion, but he jumped when Netzach snapped his fingers at him, glaring. "'EY! I'm askin' you a question, here!"
"Uh—yes, Sir, I love it if you do, Sir!" Almost as an afterthought, he imitated Senthose's bow, his eyes watering as he bashed his nose against the table.
"Shut up, peon, no one likes a sycophant." Netzach looked away in disgust.
Toothless's face fell in a confused depression. He started to stand until Netzach snapped that nobody told him to. Noticing Senthose's face was starting to blotch red, the eccentric gangster finally released him.
"Nobody calls me 'Mr. Netzach,' Kiddo, just call me Netzach. Or Net, Netz, Netzy, spirits, call me Princess Yue if ya'd like, point is, I'm one of the few big wigs that likes to keep it casual. There's no need to be scared of me." With a shrug, he added, "Unless I'm ordered to whack ya, of course. Then ya could call in favors with the Northern Chief, the Avatar, and the Moon Spirit herself, it still wouldn't save ya."
"But if it doesn't come to that," the loudmouth started anew, raising a finger before pointing it at his own chest, "Then with a bit-o-time, and a lot-o-luck, I could maybe someday make you up to a third as good as I am. Maybe even a half, who knows?"
"I'll keep that in mind, Netzach," Senthose answered with a smirk.
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