|By Neo Bahamut||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Neo Bahamut||Adventure, romance||PG-13||See main page||See main page|
|An Unlikely Hero|
Saturday, June 28, 2014
"You're weak," Ozai bellowed, "Just like the rest of your people! They did not deserve to exist in this world! In my world! Prepare to join them! Prepare to die!" His eyes bulged with sadistic glee as he swung his arms down, letting loose a torrent of flame that tore through Avatar Aang's shield of rock like it was wet paper. In a last effort to protect himself, the young Avatar swirled the air around him, but he was nonetheless thrown back against a pillar of rock, which crumbled on top of him. Slowly, meticulously, Ozai approached. "Come out. You're about to be—" Before he could finish his taunt, a hand marked by a glowing arrow shot out and grasped his beard. The Avatar rose from the rubble, restored to his former glory and very, very angry.
The woman bit her lip. She didn't feel the terror from many miles and 60 years away from the battlefield, but she still didn't like hearing about death. She saw enough people die as it was. Seeing a stout, yellow Satomobile driving by, she closed the glossy, painted booklet and returned it to the wire shelf. She frantically waved the taxi down with her right hand, as her left clutched her leafy green purse and the magazines that she had actually bought to her chest. To her great relief, it stopped just a few feet down the street.
"Thank you so much," she said with a bow of her head as she shuffled in. She looked up, noting in the rear view her own eyes, as well as another pair of emeralds. She thought it a funny coincidence. As he adjusted his mirror to be able to see her, she noticed that his hair was mostly gray—not as much of a coincidence.
"Well, I couldn't just leave you there—thought you might blow away!" He chuckled at his own joke, and she slid even lower into the seat than her 4 feet, 10 inches normally allowed. "Where to?"
"Uh, the, uh, clinic, just...down this road."
"You got it. So, what's your name, little lady?"
"Uh...Aroma," she answered with a sheepish grin and a horrible realization that she was about to be subjected to awkward cab conversation.
"Huh. That's an interesting name. So, you bought that magazine about the election?"
She looked at the top of her stack, where there sat a pinkish edition of the "United Inquirer." It depicted a woman with hair as white as Yue's, who held in her hand a series of pictures spread out in a fan formation. Most of them were crossed out with red "X's," but one had a heart over it; a woman with short, dark hair.
"Pretty gross, if ya ask me," he answered for her, prompting her to stare in disbelief at the back of his seat. "I think they're...doing things, ya know? People been doin' things like that ever since that Windbag came back and changed all our laws.
"You mean...60 years ago?"
"Yeah, exactly! Things were so much simpler back then! What do you think?"
"...Well...heheh...when you're right, you're right...?" She actually thought he was a master jerkbender, but she wasn't going to say that. Truth be told, she actually did buy the issue wondering if it meant what it looked like, but was rather intimidated by the situation she now found herself in. "I guess...she must have approved the cover, right? Anyone who tries to use her image without permission faces wrath like a dark spirit."
"So true. Bit stuck up, that one is. You think her hair is actually from the Spirits, like she says?"
"No, that is exceedingly rare. In her case, it is probably just early onset of hair color loss—Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course!"
"What?" He squinted in confusion, then opened his eyes wide as it dawned on him. "Oh! You work here, don't you?" he asked, pointing out the window as he pulled up to the curb. They had just arrived at a 3 story, boxlike building adorned with a blue, 4-pointed star above the double glass doors that marked the entrance.
"Yes," she said with a bright smile, sitting up a little straighter, "I'm a Junior Healer!"
"Well, why didn't you tell me? Can you show me a little waterbending? Please!"
"Well...no, I—I don't actually know any," she confessed, shrinking back again.
"Oh. I see. That'll be 2 and a half Yuans, then. Have a nice night, Miss."
She murmured her thanks and passed the money to the front seat before opening the door and sluggishly shuffling out. She suddenly felt very tired. She entered the building as the cab drove off, shielding her eyes at the sudden influx of bright fluorescent light.
"Glad to see that you're here," she heard from an approaching female voice, "But why the long face? Ah...that's better."
She added the last part as Aroma smiled, her heart fluttering with recognition. She put her hand down, taking in the sight of her friend, also smiling, and instantly recognizable by her uncommonly golden hair, worn long enough to extend to the middle of her back. Unsurprisingly, she was wearing the basic Healer uniform, featuring a dark blue covering that extended down to just below the knees, with long sleeves of a paler blue, white leggings, and finally black shoes. However, as a Waterbender, she was also wearing a short sleeved and high collared white jacket, fastened by a trio of buttons extending from her neck to her neck to just above her stomach.
Aroma's smile faded and she bowed slightly, practically squeaking, "I'm sorry for being late, I was—"
"It's only been 3 minutes," Thiera cut her off, "Don't worry about it. When you're done changing, meet me at the pharmaceutical storage room, and I'll fill you in on what's going on."
"While I claimed that I would tell you what is going on," Thiera droned while pulling items off of the shelf and sticking them into what Aroma liked to think of as their utility belt, "it would be more precise to say that I am telling you that nothing much has gone on in the first place. We lost 3 patients—"
"What?! How is that 'nothing?!"" Aroma asked, aghast.
"We lost them in the sense that they were deemed healthy enough to be released from care," Thiera clarified, hardly reacting otherwise.
"O—oh." When the horror drained from Aroma, the color returned, deepening into a furious crimson.
She was unsure if her supervisor even noticed, as she just continued her report. "A man was admitted 4 hours ago with a broken leg. His eye and hair color, as well as his skin complexion, all suggest a long Fire Nation ancestry. He claims that he slipped, but the fracture shows signs that the limb was braced to prevent the impact from glancing off and deflecting most of the force. So I believe that it was actually inflicted by a Triad member, probably one to whom he owed Yuans. In any case, I performed emergency healing and applied a cast. He should be ready to leave after an overnight stay."
Aroma looked up into Thiera's deep blue eyes. If the fracture had been deliberately inflicted as a form of torture, then it had to be pretty severe. "That quickly? I'm always surprised at what a master waterbender can do. So amazing.... Wait—the shop owner we admitted for burn treatments 2 days ago, didn't we conclude that that was a Triad attack, too? Is there something going on recently?"
"Yes, we did, and since you bring him up, I should inform you that he has insisted on staying another night, despite my confidence that he is fully healed. Regarding your second and likely less rhetorical question, we are not police, so I would not know."
"Yes, of course...I apologize. Please continue."
"Very well. A-hem. Other than that one man, we have had no patients admitted since your last shift. Of our previous patients, the only one that you have yet to be informed of is Mrs. Lee. Her fever has not returned. Here."
"Oh, yes, thank you." Aroma had been watching Thiera's lips in anticipation of what information she would give next, and so hardly noticed when her supervisor passed her a vial of medicine.
As she took it and placed it in her own utility belt, Thiera continued, "In her case, I was the one who had to beg her to stay another night!" She let out a quick little melody of laughter, to which Aroma replied with a dutiful chuckle. "I understand that she feels cooped up, but at her age, she needs to take more precautions. Don't you think?"
"Absolutely. Besides, I like having her around. She's funny."
"And that is exactly what I told her to finally convince her to stay." After handing Aroma a package of gauze, Thiera stood rigid and gave a salute. "Thank you for providing special service in this time of crisis, Healer Aroma!"
Aroma laughed more sincerely this time, fueled by a swell of pride. As hard as it was to keep up with Thiera's pace, she was glad that she was noticed by someone. Because of this, once the duo was fully stocked and went their separate ways, Aroma headed to check in on Mrs. Lee, giving a quick trio of knocks when she arrived at the door.
"May I come in?"
"That depends. You find yourself a man yet?"
"Mrs. Lee, I keep explaining to you that I'm not interested in a boyfriend," she chided as she entered the room. Of course, the bed was empty and the elderly woman was pacing in front of it. She rounded Aroma, pointing at her.
"And I keep explaining to you that you're too much of a catch for that attitude, and in the prime of your life. And don't go thinking of changing the subject and harping on me about bed rest. I survived the Hundred Years War! A little case of the sniffles isn't going to do me in."
"I wouldn't dream of it. I know that Thiera is a bit of a worrywart, but she means well. Besides, you should be fine, as long as you stay warm," she said, taking a fleecy, pink robe off of the nearby coat rack and approaching Mrs. Lee. Thankfully, she allowed Aroma to slip her arms into the sleeves. The standard-issue gown for patients was a paper thin white garment. Worse yet, it didn't leave much to the imagination from behind. According to Mrs. Lee, however, the point when people stop wanting to see it is exactly the point at which you no longer had to worry. Aroma did not understand this logic, but questioning it proved pointless.
"What she needs is a night on the town to loosen her up. As her assistant, it's your job to get on that."
"Oh how I'd love to...." She snapped back to reality, shaking her head and waving her hands. "Wait, I didn't mean that, what I meant was...uh...."
Between the thick curls of gray hair, slightly drooping mouth, and bushy eyebrows, Aroma couldn't help but feel as though Mrs. Lee was a gigantic lion turtle, emerald eyes boring into her soul. She also couldn't shake the feeling that Mrs. Lee could actually see her thoughts, and worried what the older woman would think of her if she could.
Mrs. Lee tilted her head. "...Right, well, I'd hate to interrupt you gawkin' at me like you're my daughter and I just caught you stealing from the cookie jar, but it looks like one of us has a visitor."
She pointed behind Aroma, to another woman. She was also a redhead, with hair only slightly longer than Aroma's—a bob, reaching down to just above her shoulders. Other than that, they were as different as light and darkness. This woman was an imposing 6 feet, buxom and with some fairly impressive curves, despite being heavily concealed by Metalbending Police armor. Due to her dark complexion, Aroma briefly concluded that she was from the Southern Water Tribe, and had to resist the urge to physically slap her hand to her head when she realized that of course this woman was an Earthbender. But she did have the characteristic golden eyes of the Fire Nation, so she must come from a mixed family background.
The officer raised an eyebrow and stepped forward, at which point Aroma squeaked out, "I'm not in trouble, am I?"
Unable to raise her eyebrow any further, the cop just blinked. "Of course not."
"Well, I sure hope it's not me you're here for!" Mrs. Lee offered candidly, pointing at the new arrival. "'Cause you'll never take me alive! Ho-ho, I've always wanted to say that."
"I just want to ask everyone at this clinic tonight a few questions," the officer assured, raising her hand, "My name is Euryale Rakshashi, a detective in the RCPD. Just 'Euryale' is fine."
"Well, that's good," Mrs. Lee retorted, "'Cause I'm sure the statute of limitations on all the stuff I did ran out a loooooong time ago."
Aroma looked back at Mrs. Lee, eyes wide and hoping that was a joke. Euryale scratched the back of her head. "Uh, yes, well, I'm actually investigating more...current events. I have reason to believe that some of the patients brought here—not you, I'm sure—are involved with the Triads, either as victims, perpetrators, or both."
Aroma looked back. "Except for the manager, Thiera is in charge here. She can probably help you best, or call the manager for you, if need be."
"I've already gotten both of their testimonies. Ironically, the manager didn't seem to know much of anything that goes on around here. Thiera was more helpful, but we never ask only a single witness. But thank you." She added the last part hastily. "In any case, we don't need to be all business. I haven't even told you how nice it is to meet you."
She held out her hand. Aroma was halfway into a bow before awkwardly taking it, chirping, "The pleasure is all mine!" Of course, that was ignoring that Euryale's gauntlet was as cold as ice, but at least she wasn't gripping very hard. In fact, she was barely holding on at all. Handshake injuries must be a common hazard among the Metalbending Police.
"I'll question you first. Please follow me," Euryale said, leading Aroma into an unoccupied room. When they were both inside, Euryale closed the door and walked until she was about 3 feet from Aroma, before turning to face her and continuing. "Firstly, do you suspect that any of your patients have been attacked by Triads?"
"Well, actually, we had a patient with a broken leg and another with burn wounds. The former needs an overnight stay, and the latter is insisting on staying."
"Do you know why that is?"
"I'm afraid not."
"We believe it was an attempted murder," Euryale explained, plowing right past Aroma's gasp, "For the past month, we've been responding to more cases of death by arson than usual. All victims were suspected of being members of either the Agni Kais or the Triple Threats. So, naturally, we assumed that these were fights that got out of control. But the crime scenes increasingly began to look planned. There was evidence that victims were restrained before being set on fire, or taken to out of the way locations. Recently, the perpetrators were really careless: They left a lighter on the scene."
"Why would a Firebender need a lighter?"
"Exactly. Someone, who is not a Firebender, has been deliberately disguising murders as Triad fights gone out of control. We do not know much yet, but since all of the victims were suspected Triad members themselves, we assume that the Triads are being targeted."
"Like a vigilante?"
"Well...that may be how they think about it, but they're just another Triad. The Agni Kais began as a response to postwar discrimination against the Fire Nation. The Red Monsoons to protect the growing Water Tribe districts, especially from the Agni Kais. Whether they come together for protection or greed, in the end, each Triad becomes virtually indistinguishable from the others, save for who is allowed to join. Which brings me to another point: I don't want to alarm you, but this group is much more violent than the Triple Threats, and there's no guarantee that they will stick to only attacking Triads. It could be dangerous out there. Do you usually take a taxi home?"
"Yes. But thank you for your concern, Officer."
"Right. Sorry, Euryale."
Long after Euryale went back to her investigation, Thiera and Aroma were in the office. Thiera had said that she'd planned to fill out an order for more pain medication, but had to pass the form off to Aroma when they received a call.
"...And a very good day to you, too, Sir," Thiera concluded, hanging up the earpiece as another white-coated Healer stepped into the office, this one sporting gray eyes and a black bob.
"Glad I wasn't here for that," she quipped, "It sounded intense."
Thiera waved her off and hanged up the mouth piece. "It was just Mrs. Lee's insurance company trying to shave a few Yuans off of their bill for about the fifth time. They were arguing that we overcharged them for antibiotics, and did not take too kindly to my explanation that Mrs. Lee's strain was resistant."
"I see. Well, you 2 are free to go."
So Aroma retrieved her purse from beside her workstation and set off to quickly change back into her street clothes and call a taxi. It arrived shortly before Thiera met her in the lobby.
"It's a beautiful night, isn't it?" Thiera asked as they walked.
Aroma was actually pretty scared, especially after Euryale's warning, but said instead, "Yes, it really is" as they got in and rode off. Aroma had told the driver to drop Thiera off at her house, then turn and take her home. However, he soon stopped about halfway to Thiera's, on a road darkened by a swath of closed shops.
"What's wrong?" Aroma squeaked, looking around with wide eyes. She immediately flushed red and stared at her feet when Thiera simply smiled and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Nothing to worry about, Ladies," the driver answered, stepping out. "It's just a flat tire."
"Why would it go flat?" Thiera asked.
Illuminated by the headlights, the driver stared down in confusion. "Is that...a dart?"
Perhaps in punishment for answering her question with another question, the driver was seized by a very large man wearing dark clothes and a dark scarf wrapped around his face. The man quickly got an arm around the driver's stomach and elbows, and another around his neck, cutting off any noise as he wrestled him to the ground. This time, Thiera joined in when Aroma screamed. Thiera shook her head and began looking around frantically, clawing at the seats with equal vigor.
"Quick! Find me a source of water! A drinking bottle, anything!"
"A waterbender, huh?" came a cold drawl from outside. "That's interesting."
The lock clicked and the door was ripped open. Thiera tried spitting, freezing it into a dagger in mid-flight, but she wildly missed as her attacker ducked, grabbed her wrist, and punched her in the stomach. Aroma stopped cowering and grabbed Thiera's feet, trying to keep her from being pulled out of the vehicle, but just ended up toppling out with her. The woman seemed to tower above her, but from the angle that she used to pin Thiera's arms and push her against the car, she couldn't have been much taller than Thiera herself. Even so, she looked like something out of an old war movie, wearing heavy plates of armor over her chest, forearms, and thighs, with some kind of sword strapped to her left hip. Underneath, she had some kind of green kimono, but the sleeves and skirt were heavily ripped, and any designs were impossible to discern because of the red-brown stains in the uniform. Aroma quickly dreaded her studies when she realized that those stains were probably from blood. The woman jabbed Thiera in the neck and dropped the Healer limp at her feet, but Aroma could see that Thiera was still breathing.
"What the—I can't Bend!"
"Bend?" the assailant laughed coldly enough to make Aroma shiver, "You shouldn't be able to move, but that's what you're worried about? That you can't Bend? You people really are pathetic."
She shrugged, then bent down to drag Aroma—who, of course, screamed again—to her feet by her shoulder. The woman tapped her foot, then rolled her eyes. "Are ya done?"
"Y—ye—yes," Aroma stammered out, unsure of what else to say or do. She was trembling so hard that she was practically seizing, and couldn't discern her breath from her heartbeat—both were audible, loud, and frantic.
"Good," the woman said. Now that Aroma had a better look at her face, she saw that her attacker had gray eyes and brown hair in a simple bob, extending down to her chin, but it wasn't combed very evenly. This was tucked down behind an armored headband that might have been bronze, or maybe faded gold. Absurd as it was in this situation, it crossed Aroma's mind that this woman would be very pretty if she cared about her appearance, and didn't have her face set in a constant, frigid death glare.
Strangely, she looked away from Aroma, shouting behind her, "You idiot! You told me this was the guy we attacked, but it's just some water savage and whatever this thing is!"
"I—I apologize, Leader," answered a much scrawnier man, barely any taller than "Leader," but dressed the same as his much larger friend. He sounded almost as scared as Aroma did as he gave a practically 90 degree bow and continued, hopefully, "But—they're Benders, right? So they still deserve it."
"Don't explain the obvious to me!" the Leader snarled back, "If the boars realize what we're doing, I'll have your head! As it stands, I'm still deciding if I want any other part of you. Help me make up my mind by taking care of the water savage."
By this point, Aroma had seen through their lack of subtlety. Knowing what was going to happen if they didn't get away, she looked around. The big guy was dragging the driver out of the street. The scrawny one didn't seem to have any weapons at first, but produced a darkly colored knife from some kind of band around his forearm. He was making his way towards Thiera. She couldn't see any sign of the one who shot the dart. Their leader was turning back towards her, and she knew she didn't have time to think about the million ways that her plan could go wrong.
She drew her fingers back and poked the leader right in the eyes. The leader let out a growl of frustration, but the pain wasn't enough to make her drop Aroma. By desperately throwing herself to the ground, she was able to use her weight to get free. She grabbed Thiera under the armpits and shot to her feet, using every ounce of her strength to drag the waterbender over her lap as she hopped in the driver's seat. Unfortunately, every ounce of her strength was having trouble getting Thiera's calves over the threshold when the man with the knife caught up to them. Grabbing Aroma's wrist, he raised the knife, rotating it to an icepick grip. Aroma twisted the key that was left in the ignition literally for her life, but it took several times to get it to start. In that time, the man had stabbed at her. Jerking away as hard as possible, she was stabbed in the leg. Screaming again, she shifted into drive and slammed on the gas pedal, the flat tire's squeal harmonizing with Aroma's own. But he was still keeping up, she wasn't going fast enough!
That was taken care of for her when he finally managed to pull the knife free. Aroma's scream turned into a hoarse gasp as the man toppled and was left in her dust. Breathing steadying gasps and trying not to look at the red stain quickly covering the seat, Aroma pulled Thiera's legs in and closed the door. Aroma held her own leg with her left hand as she swerved around, having difficulty seeing the road behind a film of tears.
"That was incredible! I can't believe you did that!"
Aroma jumped at the sudden noise and skidded onto the sidewalk, before jerking the steering wheel back. The fire in her leg had a few fresh coals thrown onto it.
"Sorry," Thiera apologized awkwardly.
"It's okay," Aroma said, but felt anything but. Unable to place her feeling, she went over in her head all of the things that she should worry about. There are murderous criminals after us, I had to steal a taxi to get away... Her jaw dropped as it hit her. How could she have forgotten? Knowing already that the question was fruitless, but with her mouth working faster than her mind, she blurted out, "Wait, where is the driver?!"
"How should I know? I can't see anything but the car's roof!"
"Oh no, oh no, I left him behind! We've gotta go back!"
"Are you crazy?! No!" Thiera sighed, "Look, I know how you feel, but I can't move and I don't know what they did to you, but I clearly heard them do something before you managed to get away. Something that's left you wheezing ever since. If we go back now, all of us will die. What we need to do to help him is find a payphone and call the police."
"I guess you're right...but if something happens to him, it'll be—"
"That psycho's fault for attacking him. You didn't do anything wrong. Besides, for all we know, he could already be—"
"No, I saw him breathing, I'm sure of it!"
"Okay, well, the other point still stands. Now, I want you to tell me that you know this isn't your fault."
"I was stabbed in the leg," Aroma informed her, avoiding the question.
"How bad is it?"
"I don't know. Last I saw, it was bleeding everywhere."
"If I could just waterbend, I could heal it," Thiera noted with frustration.
For the collective works of the author, go here.