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|B2 Chapter Eight: In the Dragon's Mouth|
The space that Nanaki was shown into and told was her room was actually a suite of rooms on top of the HimaruTech building. The central room was easily the size of her entire house uptown, a fact that she exclaimed after being in the master room for less than ten seconds. The floor was covered in a beautiful soft green shag rug, the walls a pristine white and decorated with framed oil paintings. One entire wall was dominated by a television screen and a state of the art entertainment center, as well as a wet bar ( which the Avatar was promised would be stocked with fruit juices and milk), but what took Nanaki's breath away completely was the replacement of a wall with glass so that the entire downtown area of Ba Sing Se was laid out so cleanly that she could make out the Great Inner Wall in the distance, miles and miles away.
The bedroom was no less spectacular, with a queen sized four poster mattress hung with green drapery and warmed by a thick green quilt, perfect against the oncoming cold temperatures of Autumn. Next to the bed a large lamp, and even a telephone. A small bathroom was connected to the bedroom, and the third room she inspected was a kitchen so clean not even a dust mote would be able to find safe haven there.
Nanaki was beyond impressed, and she was actually quite touched that this fine gentleman, a man of great wealth and power, was giving her all this. She felt a bit badly too, knowing she would never be able to repay such kindness. She spent most of her tour of the penthouse bowing deeply and repeatedly to a chuckling Himaru.
When the old gentleman had left her for a brief time so that she could shower and get some rest, Nanaki wasted no time. After a scalding shower that made her realize how much she had missed modern conveniences—since the Fire Temple had none—she wrapped her body in a green bathroom as soft as fleece, a pair of brown slippers that conformed neatly to the shape of her dinky feet, and her body's length of hair up into a towel and returned to the living room.
She took a detour to get a refreshing glass of iced ash banana juice and stood for a time just looking out the window at the city. She felt so glad to be home, much happier than she expected she would be. As much as she had and did adore the quiet serenity of Air Temple Island she had never been quite able to shake a subtle malaise of homesickness. Her stay in the Fire Nation, which struck her as a generally hostile and oppressive place altogether, had only intensified her desire to see the greens and browns of Ba Sing Se again, to hear the honk of Satomobiles, and to smell the aromas of pavement, concrete, and stuffed pork buns. She was back where everything was familiar, where everything was right, where she belonged. And she wanted a pork bun.
After finishing her drink she slippered her way into the bedroom to try and get some more sleep. In the closet she found several more bathrobes, a few very nice formalized gowns, and some pajama sets. Of these latter she selected a beautiful green top and shorts set, which she discovered fitted her perfectly. She spent a few minutes indulging her vanity and admiring herself in the pajamas in front of the full-length mirror but something began to nag at the bag of her mind about the clothes. She couldn't put her finger on what it was. She laid down to sleep but the niggling in the back of her mind continued. After nearly an hour of tossing and turning she gave up sleep and sat up, pursing her lips. Her eyes fell on the phone.
She picked the receiver up and heard a dial tone. Experimenting, she pressed the 0 pad. Almost instantly the line was picked up and she was greeted by a voice she didn't recognize.
"Yes, Avatar? How can I be of assistance?"
"Um," she said, hesitantly, "Hi. Can I get some steamed buns please?"
"I'll have them sent up to your room right away."
The operator hung up, and so did Nanaki. She boggled a bit. All of this was so new. All these fine things, this beautiful set of rooms, these clothes ( nag nag nag), and all of this profound respect. She was wholly unused to this kind of preferential treatment and even though she had been experiencing a lot of deference over the past few weeks, it was still overwhelming. Being the Avatar was overwhelming.
"Why me?" She said, then looked at the phone again. Her lips pursed in thought once again. She picked the receiver up and dialed again, a full number this time.
The phone on the other end rang twice before it was picked up. The voice that said hello was so familiar, so wordly, and so comforting that tears sprang into her eyes. Her throat caught, and she found herself unable to say anything.
"Hello?" Her father's voice said again. The silence stretched on for a few more seconds, with Nanaki still trying to think of something, anything to say. Then she heard Jintaro's sharp intake of breath. Very softly, his tone patined with an anxious hopefulness, he spoke again.
She hung up.
She hid her face in the crook of her arm. Her hand curled into a fist, tangling the quilt. With Herculean effort she struggled to fight back the tears demanding to be set free. Her father had not called her by the affectionate nickname since...since that abominable day eight years ago, and never since until now had he inflected such warmth. She suddenly discovered that she missed her father horribly, needed him desperately, and loved him completely.
A soft knock at the open door of the room startled her. She quickly wiped her eyes, sniffed, and turned to see Himaru standing in the doorway, a covered tray in one hand. With him was a strikingly beautiful woman with a flawless complexion, long black hair, and golden eyes. Her kimono, a silk white and peach hued garment, was the finest Nanaki had ever seen.
Himaru frowned. "Avatar Nanaki? Are you all right?"
Embarrassed, Nanaki nodded.
"Yeah," she said, smiling feebly. "I'm sorry. I'm just...a little taken aback by all of this I guess. Forgive me."
She got up from the bed and bowed. Himaru smiled and lifted the cover off of the tray, revealing a plate with four softball sized white bun, a smaller bowl of dipping sauce, and a flat plate of marinated garden vegetables. The aroma of the food assaulted Nanaki and her stomach gave an audible cheer, embarrassing her further.
Himaru smiled. "I've brought you your steamed buns. Shall you take your meal here or in the living room?"
Nanaki decided to eat in the living room and sat down at the table there. Himaru sat directly opposite of her, the woman remained standing. Never one to forget her manners Nanaki invited both of the adults to share her meal, and she tore into the food after both politely declined. Himaru watched her eat, amused. After a moment of watching Nanaki stuff her face, his head tilted slightly, he smiled an award winning smile. "My you do look lovely with your hair down," he said.
Nanaki felt her cheeks erupt in a blush and she couldn't help but smile, and giggled from the depths of her flattered self.
"Avatar," Himaru continued, "may I introduce my assistant, Miss Chai. She will be caring for you on those times when business or obligation prevents me from doing so myself. She is entirely at your beck and call."
Nanaki wiped her lips and stood up to bow to Chai. She was a little disconcerted when Chain not only didn't return the bow, but seemed to regard her with an aloof, unfriendly coldness. Regardless, Nanaki was much too preoccupied with smashing buns into her mouth to care much about it.
"Are you comfortable?" Himaru asked.
"Oh yes sir," she said. "This house is amazing, and the food is delicious. Thank you for being so nice to me. Thank you very much. Where's Yakkara?"
Himaru's smile faltered. "I am truly sorry, my dear. It appears he didn't follow us."
That bothered Nanaki. A lot. Her stomach bottomed out at the thought, nay the fact, that Yakkara had deserted her. But still, she tried to bolster her own spirit.
"Well, maybe she went back to Jinora. Have you called everyone to tell them where I am?"
Himaru shared a look with Chai and seemed uncertain as how to proceed. He spoke slowly, clearly trying not to further upset his guest.
"As you know there is no telephone in the Fire Temple. But even before we touched down at the airport this morning I instructed a messenger to be sent to collect your friends directly. I would expect them to be here by tomorrow evening at the latest."
She smiled and thanked him. The three of them spent the better part of the next two hours talking, with Nanaki learning the history of the man giving her shelter, and she became a little awed of him. She, in turn, regaled the gentleman and his lady with a full accounting of everything that had happened to her since the day she learned she was the Avatar. Then they parted, with much more bowing from Nanaki.
Himaru and Chair didn't speak until they were in the elevator on their way down.
"It's a stroke of luck you found her wandering the streets," Chai said.
The image of the friendly charming refined gentleman was gone from Himaru now, the disguise tossed away to reveal the true man, the stiff-backed merciless lord of empires, both legitimate and criminal.
"More fortunate that I chose to travel to Crescent City to see how our little drama played out to begin with. It's a shame, really. Were she not the Avatar, that stupid little prattling gnat might actually be a likeable girl."
This amused Chai.
"She's going to realize she's a prisoner sooner or later, sir," she said.
"I have planned for that eventuality," he said. "Watch her carefully. Ensure she does not leave the building. Stage a protest, Unbelievers protesting myself and my company for being a supporter of the Avatar. I want her to see them. This will scare her into staying in her room and cement her trust for me. Do not allow her to place any more phone calls outside the building, and do not allow any calls to come into her. Give her anything she needs. I want her neutralized until the weapons can be placed in the Spirit World."
"And after that?" Chai asked.
"After that, give her a play date with Po."
Kozin knelt at the spot Yakkara was staring so hard at. He touched the asphalt with his fingertips and swept his cerubine eyes from one side to the other. After his inspection he stood and looked at the rest of Team Avatar.
"A car. Someone picked her up, and I don't see any signs of duress. I'd say she got into the car willingly."
"Someone from the Air Temple?" Tu'uri asked, turning to Jinora. "Maybe one of the Air Acolytes?"
Jinora considered, leaning tiredly on her glider-staff.
"No, no I don't think so. Yakkara wouldn't have been as agitated as she was when she returned if Nanaki had met with someone she knew."
"Unbelievers grabbed her, then," Guo said.
Jinora shook her head.
"No. Nanaki would have run from anyone attempting violence against her, or she would have fought back," she said. "This was someone whom earned her trust in a matter of minutes, or someone she felt she could trust. Someone from the Earth Kingdom, would be my guess. Oh I fear the worst."
Jinora closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose.
"What is it?" Kozin asked.
Jinora looked up at the moon.
"We must get to Ba Sing Se immediately. I am convinced that Nanaki was found by the person or persons responsible for the Unbelievers and the Fists, and that she went with them willingly in her blind innocence. I fear, my friends, that the Avatar is in the hands of our Enemy. She has walked directly into the dragon's mouth."
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