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Bargaining
Chapter information
Series

Republic City Renaissance

Book

0 (Void)

Chapter

2

Written by

Neo Bahamut

Release date

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Word count

3,574

Chronology
Last chapter

An Unlikely Hero

Next chapter

Ups & Downs

The next few minutes dragged on in an eternity of uncomfortable silence. Occasionally, whenever the throbbing in her leg slowed down a bit, Aroma would take the wheel in her now-bloody left hand and awkwardly attempt to get Thiera properly situated in her seat with only her right hand, before the car would lurch or a knot in her leg would twist, and she was forced to attend to that matter instead. When Aroma finally spotted a shop whose lights were on, she slammed on the brakes. Fortunately, Aroma had already put their seat belts on by this point. She gently repositioned Thiera's left leg from hanging over the center console to being firmly planted on the passenger side floor, then reached back to grab her purse.

"Are you sure you'll be okay?" she asked, "They might have followed us, and you can't move."

"We didn't see any sign of them in the rear view mirror. Besides, what other options do we have? It would take too long for you to drag me inside."

"Well...okay. I'll try my best to give you some first aid, but chi flow isn't my specialty."

"You should be worrying about yourself."

"I'll treat the wound just as soon as I've reached the police," Aroma said, reaching up to Thiera's shoulders. "I promise."

As she brushed the golden locks out of her way, Aroma couldn't help but feel a twinge of happiness under the fear and guilt. Thiera said she was incredible. Trying to keep her hands steady, she lightly gripped Thiera's shoulders and begin kneading the muscles, trying to focus just above the shoulder blades and slightly in, towards the spine. She reached into Thiera's hair, pinching her neck a few times. She started to reach for her thighs and felt her face growing hot.

"Um...I should probably go now."

"Alright. Be careful."

Aroma smiled. "You should be worrying about yourself."

"Well, I—that's not—" While Thiera was still at a loss for words, Aroma scrambled out of the car. She clutched the left side of her leg with both hands and limped to the door of a Narook's Noodles. As a smaller version of the restaurant, it was basically a green box with tinted windows. When she arrived, she practically fell on it. When door wouldn't slide, she began beating it with her fist. "Let me in! Please! It's an emergency!"

When a woman opened the door, Aroma promptly punched her in the face and fell on top of her. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean it! ...Owwww...."

The brunette rubbed the side of her face. "I understand...Spirits, you're bleeding! What happened to you?!"

"We were attacked by—" Aroma shook her head. "It's too long to go into! Do you have a phone?"

"Of course, it's right over there," she said, pointing.

"Okay," Aroma said, pulling herself off of the server, "keep an eye on that taxi, and be sure to tell me if you see anyone get near it!"

"Are you sure you don't need my help?" she asked, sitting up.

"Yes, I'll be fine! I have a first aid kit in my purse and I'm a registered Healer!"

The other woman was now rising to her feet, dusting off her apron. "Then why didn't you use it on yourself earlier?"

"Because I was afraid to stop, okay!?"

The server raised her hands defensively and took a step back. "Sorry, sorry!"

Aroma ran to the phone. Thinking about it, she looked back as she fished around in her purse for Yuan coins. "Me too! I didn't mean to be snippy!" She turned her attention back to the phone as she put the money in. Once that was done, she took the ear and mouth pieces.

Ring.

"Come on..."

Ring.

"Come on!"

A man's gruff voice cut halfway into the 3rd ring. "RCPD, can we help you?"

"Yes! Please, yes! We were attacked by...by some kind of Triad! Non-benders. We're in a taxi, and the driver needs help, but he's not with us, he's back there!"

"Back where, Ma'am?"

"I don't know, exactly...somewhere between the Dragon Flats clinic and the river."

"And where are you?"

"A few minutes north of there, at a Narook's Noodles."

"Alright, I'll dispatch a couple of cars there. Can you stay on the phone?"

"I don't know...I need to treat a wound, and my partner may be in danger."

"Don't do anything that you think will compromise your safety. But, can I ask, what do you mean by 'partner'? Are you private detectives, or something?"

"We're both Healers," she explained, "If that's all, then good-bye—oh, and thank you very much for your help."

"Well...you're very welcome. Stay safe."

"Hopefully," Aroma said, hanging up. The next item that she removed from her purse was a little white case adorned with the Healer's Cross. She resisted the temptation to use it until she limped back to the door and saw not only that the taxi was still there, safe and undisturbed, and also that the woman was still watching it.

Aroma passed the kit to her. "Hold this, please." Once the waitress had taken her kit, she opened it and pulled out a gauze pad, a roll of bandage, and disinfecting ointment. Breathing deep, she leaned on the window and lifted up the soaked short skirt of her leafy green dress. The jagged strip of red flesh was surrounded mostly by dry blood, with only a steady trickle of fresh. So there were no major arteries hit, which was a relief. It was relatively deep, but she couldn't see any bone, also a relief. Probably no more than an inch, at most. She put the disinfectant on the gauze pad and pressed it onto her leg so she could wind the bandage strip around it. The numbing herbs didn't quite cancel out the sting of the alcohol, so she couldn't help but wince. After she had finished bandaging herself, Aroma began to limp back to the taxi. The waitress stood on Aroma's right, grabbing her left shoulder to brace her.

"Thank you, but you don't have to go through the trouble."

"Oh, it's no trouble at all. Are you sure your leg is okay?"

"No," Aroma confirmed, "I need to put some stitches in it, once I have some anesthetic."

"Or you could just hire a waterbender to heal you," the waitress pointed out.

"Yeah, I...guess I could do that."

When they arrived at the taxi, Thiera tilted her head and fumbled for the door handle. Since she wasn't making much progress, the waitress opened the door for her. She then asked Thiera, "What's wrong with you?"

"My Chi was blocked."

"Oh. Well, your friend here called the police, but she needs better healing."

They didn't notice Aroma's sideways look as Thiera informed them, "That shouldn't be a problem. I should be able to move enough for now."

"Oh, you're a waterbender," the waitress observed, "That's perfect!"

"Yes," Aroma chimed in dully, "I suppose it is."

"If you could just fetch me some water, please," Thiera requested. The waitress nodded. After propping Aroma against the car like a delicate statue, she set off back to the restaurant. They heard the approaching sirens just a moment before seeing the flashing lights. The cop car pulled up just behind them and, after cutting off the sirens and the lights, the officer stepped out.

"I hope I didn't alarm you," said the officer that the duo quickly recognized, "But I wanted to send a warning, just in case those crooks caught up with you. Well, I suppose that would be more of a threat, actually." Euryale walked towards them and crossed her arms. "Are you alright?"

"Yes," Aroma quickly replied, wringing her hands, "But what about the driver?"

Euryale let her arms fall to her side, shaking her head. "I'm sorry, but there was nobody there. There's another car out searching for him and the perps."

Aroma looked at her feet. "No...."

Euryale leaned down and put a hand on Aroma's shoulder, prompting the Healer to flinch from the sudden chill. Euryale paid no attention to this, reassuring her, "You did the right thing. If you hadn't acted, all 3 of you would have been captured, or worse."

"That's what I told her," Thiera chimed in, drawing Euryale's attention.

"Well, then, you should listen to...I'm sorry, but I've forgotten your names."

"I'm Thiera, and that is Aroma. We're Healers from the clinic nearby."

"Yes, I remember that much. Thank you, I won't forget again. Partly because it looks like we're going to be seeing much more of each other," Euryale reported, taking her hand from Aroma's shoulder and standing up straight. Digging a notepad and a pen from a pack at her side, she continued, "Now, I know this is a hard time for you both, but I need to know everything that you can tell me about the Triad that attacked you. You said that they were nonbenders, right? How did you know?"

"Well," Aroma began with a slight sigh, closing her eyes, "They made it clear that they hated benders. Called Thiera horrible names...oh, and they mentioned the man at the clinic, the one that you said they attacked."

"That's who they were expecting," Thiera added.

"That's pretty damning evidence, if we can prove it," Euryale confirmed, making a few quick strokes, "But who were they, specifically?"

"I don't know," Aroma continued, "There were 2 men, a big one and a scrawny one. Both wore scarves around their faces, so I couldn't see anything. The woman looked much different. She had brown hair and gray eyes. Her face was...gracile. Slender nose, small lips, didn't wear make-up...instead, she wore some kind of ancient battle armor. They clearly referred to her as their Leader."

"Their—their Leader?!" Euryale exclaimed, looking up at them, eyes and mouth wide in astonishment. "That would be an amazing break in the case! You didn't happen to catch her name, did you?"

"No...they just called her, 'Leader.'"

"Oh," Euryale responded, with a slump of their shoulders. She looked back down and resumed writing.

"I'm sorry...she blocked Thiera's chi, and...that's really all that I remember. Oh, and the driver said that a dart was shot into the front tire, but I didn't see who did that." Her face began to turn red from scrunching up, so she reopened her eyes, asking, "Was I...of any help?"

"We'll make use of the information, I assure you," Euryale reported, looking up at her. "But at this time...well, there is one rather famous group that she could belong to, but...no, I can't make assumptions."

At this time, the waitress scrambled out of the shop, clutching a green teapot in both hands. Breathless, she inquired, "Will...will this do?"

"Yes," Thiera confirmed, reaching slightly towards the pot, a trickle of water emerging from the spout to meet her hand, "That should be fine. Aroma, if you would please lift up your skirt."

Aroma flushed, unconsciously moving her hands to pull her skirt further down. "Right here? In front of everyone? I—I think I'm fine, really."

"We can turn around, if you need," Euryale said, the waitress nodding along.

"Really," Thiera said with exasperation as the water molded itself around her hand, "It's only an inch or 2."

Reluctantly, Aroma lifted up her skirt. She looked away, flushing red, as Thiera touched her bandage. To try to take her attention off of the tingling warmth in her leg, she listened to the faint whirring, wondering why waterbending healing made that noise. Does it have something to do with the water bubbling, or is the noise made by the body itself?

She was snapped out of her thoughts when Euryale asked, "Another important question is, 'How much does she know about you?'"

The assembled looked to her, and Aroma asked, "Do you think we're in danger?"

"It's tough to say," Euryale answered, "Since we know so little about this woman. But you say you weren't even her target, yet she tried to kill you anyway, just because Thiera is a waterbender. That alone proves that she's someone with little sense of mercy."

"I don't think she knows any more than that," Aroma said, looking to Thiera, who nodded in confirmation.

"Then how did you get away?" Euryale asked, jotting down Aroma's answer.

"I, uh, poked her in the eyes and drove off," Aroma answered.

Euryale snorted, prompting the others to raise their eyebrows. "I'm sorry," Euryale apologized, "It's just that, being defeated by something out of a newspaper cartoon, that must be so embarrassing." Her tone evened out as she added, "But, ah, probably no laughing matter. If you've hurt her pride, it may make her more likely to retaliate against you." She concluded her statement with a "hmm," crossing her arms and pursing her lips.

Aroma, on the other hand, was practically pulling her hair out. "What do we do?!"

"Don't worry, I'm sure we can get you into a protection program. We'll just need proper orders from Chief Beifong. Once I finish taking statements, I'll take you to HQ. Don't worry, things will brighten up soon."

As if the forces which control their universe greatly enjoy terrible puns, dawn broke right then and there.

***

Euryale had suggested that Aroma drive the taxi with herself driving nearby as an escort, but Aroma was adamantly against that plan, so they left it at Narook's and Euryale instructed the waitress to call to have the police pick it up. Thus it transpired that Euryale pulled into the parking lot of Police HQ with Aroma and Thiera in the back seat of her cruiser. Aroma sat silently, staring at her hands, clasped white-knuckled in her lap. Meanwile, Thiera tried using her healing water on her legs, faintly illuminating the back seat with a white glow.

"I'm not getting anywhere," she sighed with disappointment, "I think your way was actually more successful."

"But how can that be?" Aroma asked, looking over as the light ceased. Her hands began to relax for the first time since they set off.

"Healing with waterbending works by redirecting chi flow," Thiera answered, rolling down the window and tossing the water outside. "But if the chi doesn't flow, then there is very little for it to work with. It's like trying to make water flow uphill, it just doesn't work."

"But can't waterbenders make water flow uphill," Aroma asked with a tilt of her head.

"Well—yes, but that's not the point of the analogy!" Thiera yelled, her cheeks flaring up. She's so cute when she's flustered. "Anyway, what exactly was it that you did?"

"Oh, well, I just massaged the muscles around the pressure points that I knew of. That's supposed to relax their grip on your chi pathways. But, ah, like I said, I'm not an expert. A specialist could probably restore your full range of motion."

Euryale twisted in her seat to look back at them. "Hey, I'm not sure if you 2 noticed, but we're here."

Inside, headquarters was bustling, with a full 5 officers behind the desk, answering calls, and several others transporting stacks of paperwork too big to see over.

"Wow, this is serious," Aroma remarked, watching a metalbender avoid a near-collision with a nonbending officer by backing out of the doorway that he just came through.

"They definitely know what they're doing," Euryale explained, heading up to the desk and waiting rigidly in front of it, "But we think they'll make more mistakes as their numbers grow."

"What are they doing?" Thiera asked, "And how do you know there aren't that many?"

"After they kill their victims, they steal everything that isn't nailed down and on fire," Euryale clarified, "They're probably looking for money to expand, and once they know we're on to them, they'll move on to heists. They have a very small range, it doesn't even fully cover the Dragon Flats. Sir, where can I find the Chief?"

She added the last part with a salute when a balding Metalbending officer with stern jowls and a large nose turned his attention to her. "3rd interrogation cell," he replied gruffly.

"Thank you," she responded, turning and heading off to a metal-lined hallway, the 2 Healers bobbing along behind her.

"You don't bow to your superiors?" Aroma asked.

"No, it was deemed inefficient," Euryale answered, "Plus Chief Beifong was never fond of those rituals."

"I suppose that makes sense," Aroma said, adding, "The rule in the clinic is that bows outside of private meetings not exceed 15 degrees."

"Wait," Thiera asked, "Who wasn't fond of the ritual? Both Toph and Lin could be described as 'Chief Beifong.'"

"Well, both, I guess," Euryale answered, stopping to knock on what appeared to be a plain wall. Though she barely tapped it, the sound of steel banging against steel reverberated through the enclosed space, chattering the Healers' teeth.

The echo was finally drowned out when a woman's voice snapped from within, "What do you want?"

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Ma'am, but we have survivors from an attack by the new Triad. They claim to have seen the leader."

A flurry of footsteps approached and the wall simply slid away, revealing the Chief herself—Euryale snapped to attention and saluted. "Well, why didn't you say so in the first place?" She turned back and shouted, "We'll finish this later!" Aroma stood on her tip toes and craned past Chief Beifong to see a small room with a table and an overhanging lamp. Someone was sitting in 1 of the 2 chairs at the table, but they were too steeped in the shadows for Aroma to make out.

Chief Beifong and Euryale led them further down the hall and opened another interrogation chamber, this one empty. With a wave of the Chief's hand, the lamp flicked on, and with another, the room sealed up behind them. Aroma grabbed Thiera's arm with both hands, staring back at the hidden door, but awkwardly stepped back when she turned to see the waterbender raising an eyebrow at her. Their attention snapped forward when they heard Lin ask for Euryale's report.

Euryale briefly saluted and said, "Yes Ma'am," before taking the note pad out from her pack and reading off what she had been told almost verbatim. "The waitress was ignorant of everything Aroma hadn't told her," she concluded, "She was merely opening the restaurant at the time."

"I see," Lin responded, tapping her foot, "In that case, we'll send word to the press, and tell the officers searching the area to look for a woman matching your description."

"Ma'am, with all due respect, I think that, if we let them know that we're onto them—"

"Save it," Chief Beifong said impatiently, pointing at Euryale, "This woman is a danger to the public. People need to be warned."

"Yes, but I'm worried it will make her more aggressive!" Euryale breathlessly said, letting the words tumble out before the Chief could stop her again. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be rude. I just—I needed to let that worry be known."

As she spoke, Euryale's stature became increasingly slumped, and her eyes kept darting from the Chief, as though searching for an escape. She even took a step back. Her reaction was understandable, as Chief Beifong's eyes were narrowing dangerously. Finally, the Chief closed her eyes and sighed measuredly, prompting a relieved Euryale to sigh as well. When Chief Beifong opened her eyes again, Euryale snapped to attention with another salute.

"I understand your concern," Chief Beifong said with a softer, sympathetic tone, "But my decision is final. I believe that people will be in more danger if we don't put out a warning. Am I clear?"

"Yes, Ma'am, Chief Beifong, Ma'am!"

"Now," the Chief said, turning her attention to Aroma and Thiera, "That just leaves the matter of these 2. Do you think you can look after them?"

"Well, I would love to," Euryale started off sheepishly, "But my apartment is only a single."

"Not a problem. We have enough funds to get you a new apartment, and start you all on rent."

Stepping forward, Thiera asked, "Miss Beifong, might I inquire as to where this apartment shall be located?"

"Pretty much right by headquarters," the Chief replied simply.

"That's a problem," Thiera pressed, "Because we need to be able to get to the Dragon Flats fairly quickly, in order to work at the clinic there."

Chief Beifong shrugged. "Oh well."

Euryale gathered the Healers up and shuffled them out of the opening wall, shouting over her shoulder, "Well, we'll just be going now, Chief! Thank you very much!"

***

Euryale and Thiera were still arguing by the time they got the address at the front desk and piled back into Euryale's cruiser to drive there.

"Look," Euryale said tersely, "I'm sorry, but her mind's made up. And the department can only rent out the apartments that it owns, anyway."

"Well, why don't we just rent our own apartment, without money from the police?" Thiera asked.

"If that's what you want to do, fine, but until you find a place that satisfies all of us, and we clear it with the Chief, we have to make due with what we can get!"

Aroma frowned. "It's been a long night. Maybe we should just get some rest and talk this over in the morning?"

"Good idea," Thiera and Euryale agreed simultaneously.

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