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|All Good Things II: Innocence|
Thursday, March 17, 2016
On their return trip, Thiera caught something soaring over her shoulder out of the corner of her eye. Ducking instinctively, she was knocked backwards by a wave of force, ears ringing as debris from the collapsing hallway whizzed by, snagging her uniform and pelting the ground.
She could see a crowd of Purists hovering over her, their Leader at the head, and did not need to hear what she was saying to recognize what it meant that she was drawing her sword. She quickly spun on her spine, edging backwards until she came to a sitting position against the newly-formed wall of debris. She shoved, but they did not budge, nor did she hear anyone on the other side.
Without more water, Thiera assessed, biting her lip, it will take me far too long to slice through this concrete. There is a wooden door behind the Purist Leader. It appears to be fairly old, perhaps even flimsy, but I have no idea where it leads. Not that I could even get past her.
She was unsure why the mobsters had suddenly looked away, until she saw Purists at the back of the crowd crumpling, amidst flashes of a fluttering red coat and glittering metal. Euryale, who must have emerged from the stairwell at the end of the hall, made a leaping kick that a Purist foolishly tried to block. She struck his shield and kept going, transferring the momentum into the ground when they landed. The Purists who swarmed around her like buzzard wasps waiting for a kill probably did not even realize their mistake before they were thrown against the wall, the invisible force shuddering the tiles as it surged through them. None of them would arise again for some time.
With a series of jabs and elbow strikes, the detective sent the tiles flying towards the remaining Purists, but they stood in formation around their leader, the flagstones shattering against their shields. Not to be deterred, said Leader turned back to Thiera, who brandished a feeble ice spike at the tip of her index and middle fingers.
Not wishing to test it, she ducked when the Purist Leader shot forward with her draw slash, screaming that she needed water. To her it might as well have been a whisper, but apparently Euryale heard, because she punched through the floor, the tiles ripping down the length of the hall as she yanked out a pipe that cracked open along its seams. Nothing emerged.
"Did you honestly think I hadn't thought of that?" the Purist Leader mouthed, and Thiera could see that she withdrew a shorter blade to use in her off-hand, even as she turned back to the Healer, stabbing with the katana. Behind the warrior, Thiera caught a glimpse of her guards being swept aside by a shape like a giant silver snake, pinning them against the wall and granting their assailants passage.
Lilith practically dove forward, hooking the katana using her own sword's guard. Rotating her sword like a wheel, she quickly dragged the Purist Leader away from her sister, stepping closer to Thiera and nicking the warrior's headband in the process. With a flick of her other wrist, the Purist Leader fired a smoke dart out of a concealed device in her gauntlet. It broke against the thick fabric of Lilith's coat, but caused her to back away, sputtering.
Thiera tried to scrabble to her feet, but a lazy, backhanded swing from the Purist Leader's wakizashi sent her flailing right back to the floor.
Meanwhile, Euryale punched each end of the cable binding the Purists in succession. Twisting, she caused the concrete to warp around the steel, apparently drilling it into the wall. Once finished, she whirled, swinging at the Purist Leader with a pair of katars. Both were blocked, but Euryale quickly turned them to cables with a flick of her wrists, binding her up to her shoulders. The crime boss, in turn, leaped up and kicked her square in the face with both heels. The officer thudded to the ground, out cold, her enemy flying free from the bindings as she fell, landing with an almost dainty somersault.
Seeing Thiera wind up a punch, the ice at her nails rapidly melting, oozing out from the cracks between her fingers, the Purist Leader withdrew a coin pouch from within her kimono. When the Healer released her water shot, she threw it, and the liquid burst it open. Instead of money, a gray powder seeped into the water. It clumped together, hardening around the water, guzzling up the remaining liquid, until it formed a solid stone that fell to the ground with a thunk.
Lilith recovered as her waving finally dispelled the ashen cloud from around her head. From the corner of her eye, she could see the other Purists still fruitlessly wriggling against their bonds. Euryale managed to secure their arms. Good. Her gaze then darted to the aforementioned metalbender, lying unconscious on the ground, her face already mottled with small bruises. Not so good. But at least she's still breathing.
She next glanced at her sister, pressed up against a wall of debris, biting her lip and shivering as she stared at the Purist Leader. Finally, Lilith locked eyes with the woman's cold, gray glare. She gripped her saber in both hands and stepped forward in an over-the-shoulder arc, forcing the Purist Leader to catch it with both of her swords. She then shifted her back foot, adjusting the angle of the sword point, and pushed forward with a vicious head-stab, which her enemy ducked aside.
Pushing with all of her weight, the Purist Leader sent Lilith stumbling backward. Thiera crawled forward as quickly as she could, and began bashing the rock binding her water against the floor. Though it cracked into smaller pieces, very little fluid trickled out.
Regaining her footing, still holding her sword in front of her, Lilith raised an eyebrow at the scene. Okay, the Purist Leader is still in front of that door, and Thi is trying to kill a rock. Not sure what that's about.
"Why do you insist on fighting for your oppressors?" the foreign warrior asked silkily, cocking her head as though curious. "You are skilled without relying on savagery. Perhaps as much as I am. Someone like you would be indispensable in liberating the pure citizens of this city."
"Y'know, Ivan said something along the same lines." Lilith's stomach churned as she thought of him lying crumpled beneath her, face down in the filthy concrete. She choked up on her sword to hold her shoulders steady, looked the Purist Leader right in the eyes, and added with a cold glare, "Right before he died." Hoping she wasn't over bluffing, Lilith twitched her sword point ever so slightly forward.
The head Purist's eyelids twitched slightly. "I see. In that case, you've had enough chances!"
Quickly looping a bola around her short sword, she made to swing at Lilith, but threw the weapon at the height of the arc. When Lilith raised her sword to defend, the Purist Leader quickly jerked the cord taut around her saber and wrists, pulling on the wire with both hands. Lilith was forced to stumble toward her, sawing the line as quickly as possible, but once it snapped, the Purist Leader shot behind her. Lilith turned, holding her saber up in front of her, but didn't expect a high kick straight to her chest.
Lilith toppled into the door, which burst open from the weight. She tripped over a bucket, grabbed the nearest object for support, and brought a steel shelf down on top of herself with a reverberating crash, accompanied by the sounds of bottles skidding off and smashing against the floor.
Thiera's hearing came back just in time for the Purist Leader to toss a bomb in after Lilith and close the closet door. The waterbender heard the muffled shockwave rattle the door as she watched inky smoke curl up from the cracks. She paid no attention to her sister's killer as she calmly walked over, or even when she secured a bola around the Healer's wrists, raising the katana over her neck. All at once, Thiera's arms shook, the rocks in front of her quivered, and the Purist Leader swung, her allies jeering.
A gurgle fought its way through Thiera's throat, erupting into a frenzied scream without beginning or end, rhythm or consistent pitch. The rocks shattered, their powdered form scattering from the speed of their formerly trapped contents rocketing back to the Healer. Not only did she pull the water from the desiccant, but also all the moisture around her; droplets condensed from the air, a fine mist snaked off of the Purist Leader's tongue, even the blood puddles dried up, leaving dark stains behind.
All of it congealed and froze around her wrists as gauntlets, allowing her to break her bindings, whirl, and grab the sword. Without skipping a beat, the crime boss leveled her other weapon and stabbed Thiera right in her abdomen. A dark spot instantly seeped through her uniform, but the only pain she felt was the pounding at her temples and the air being wrung from her lungs.
Ice exploded into steam, hurling the Purist Leader against her comrades, whom Thiera was pleased to see were no longer smiling. The remaining crystal shards spinning through the air melted, following the wake of her hand as she slapped the incision at her side. "You'll pay for what you did to her!" she snarled, the water cleansing her wound flashing furiously white, "I'll make certain you suffer!"
Steam spiraled toward her outstretched palm and then, slashing like she held a sword, she launched a crescent of water that sliced the Purist Leader's katana clean in half. Hikari rolled, the water blade gouging the stone beside a shocked Purist's head, and fled back down the hall. Thiera pulled her hands in, the rolling globe of water gleefully rushing to its master, before thrusting her palms back out, the orb uncoiling into a water whip. With a snap, it adhered to the severed end of the sword and, twisting suddenly to face Hikari, she flung the blade at her like a shuriken.
But by then Purists poured in from the stairs, hearing the explosion, and rallied around their leader. The blade embedded in a nameless man's shield as he crowed, "You don't have nearly enough water to defeat all of us, little lady!"
As he sniggered, a trio of the new Purists rushed forward, surrounding her, and the previously incapacitated Purists began to stir. She saw her attackers withdraw fire-tossers from their belts, and the next thing she knew, her entire field of vision was a furiously burning orange-red. But soon the other Purists' smirks faltered, their laughter turning to screams as their comrades abruptly turned back, and they found themselves forced to flee an advancing cloud of flame.
Thiera, a film of protective water whirling around her, advanced on the Purist Leader with her arms high above her head, fingers arched as if grasping invisible strings. Her grimace was contorted by the screen of water, projecting her flashing jaws and narrowed eyes as much larger than normal, twisting and pulsing as if it were the face of a dark spirit. Her 3 would-be-attackers floated before her, grinding their teeth and rolling their eyes, only saucer-like pupils betraying their fear.
"Do you still think I don't have enough water, Hayashi? Planning an attack on the day of the full moon...how utterly thoughtless of you."
Far from showing fear, Hikari Hayashi's eyes narrowed in disgust as she snarled, "Of course the hypocritical boars would resort to tainting our bodies with—"
"Save the sanctimony, Hayashi. I've never even attempted this technique before today. But you crossed the line. You forced me—"
At that, Hikari tossed her head back, laughing derisively. "True to form, you savages are always so quick to blame us normal citizens for your brutality!"
Thiera quivered for just a second, before her brow smoothed. Her emotions seemingly melting away, she continued in a low, hollow tone, "Your opinion will not matter to anyone very soon, Hayashi. Rest assured, once you are no more, I will make certain that everyone knows precisely what you really are—" Tilting her head back, she flashed an empty grin, "Nothing but a frightened little girl, playing soldier and praying desperately that nobody ever realizes that the main reason you're so bitter is because not even your own family cared about you or your raving lunacy."
She twitched her fingers, bidding the Purists to slowly advance in a jerking, shuffling fashion. Thiera kept their mouths frozen in a rictus grin, ensuring they could not do or say anything to stop the inevitable. Their leader edged back, but otherwise stood her ground, hair ruffling from the waves of heat rushing over her.
But just as the flames were about to reach her, they sputtered, shrank into oblivion, and only a soft whistle came out of the fire-tossers. The Purists stopped their unearthly march and suddenly bashed their heads together, before crumpling to the floor. Thiera held a hand out to the Purists bound to the wall, who barely had time to scream before she lowered her arm, silencing them with a deep sleep.
Hikari started to reach into her kimono, but suddenly her eyes went wide. She gulped as her limbs began twisting the wrong way, Thiera continuing to roll her invisible controls between the fingertips of her right hand.
"No matter," the waterbender commented icily, "Water is water."
Suddenly, Hikari's face and shoulders went slack. She closed her eyes, measured her breathing, and began sliding her feet forward, one after the other dragging along the ground as if being forced through invisible tar. Finding herself backed against the debris pile, Thiera trained both hands on the Purist Leader, gripping and twisting the air.
Hikari's own arms folded over her chest, and her throat began to depress as if squeezed by an invisible hand, but slowly she came within 5 feet of Thiera, who rooted her stance and gasped through grinding teeth. Another foot, and a bead of sweat dripped down Thiera's furrowed golden brow. Hikari's face turned blue, then purple, as she slowly advanced. Finally, she tremulously raised her right foot and then, with a sudden jerk, kicked out. Splashing through the water shield, she struck Thiera square in the neck, and bashed her against the concrete. Sliding into a sitting position, the waterbender lost consciousness before she even hit the ground, her uniform soaking up the puddle that was the remains of her shield.
Relaxing her stance and massaging her throat, Hikari rasped, "Guess it—really is—always—the quiet ones..." With the color gradually fading from her cheeks, she slid the remainder of her katana back into its sheath and positioned the point of her wakizashi at Thiera's throat.
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