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|Crossroads of Destiny|
Royal Plaza 9:00
Deep in the picturesque city that was the Fire Nation Capital, by the now glistening lake and it's thin estuaries, bathed in the merciful shadow of gargantuan Caldera is the Royal Plaza painted with its ever changing backdrop. Today it kissed a starry twilight sky and the many candy like prismatic clouds. Set firmly in the centre of this grand city, it overshadows the industrial district of factories and complexes spewing fourth revelation after revelation, and existed closest to the harbour and the dock. A beautiful ring of homes surrounding the Royal palace itself...why it was built so close to glory yet so close to the sooty source of power is almost poetic, maybe all things as ugly as progression needs something steadfast and beautiful to cloud the truth. And it is the home of the ring leaders and masters of this charade, they were the fortunate, the aristocracy, and they thrived on their pulpits, always the centre of attention, always the source of social revolt and evolution.
The Willows is one such home, a gorgeous villa of vast size, ornate red roofs with silk pink curtains and open courtyards, a garden full of foreign flora;cherry blossom and fire blossom from the south, exotic jacaranda and Nordic lunar blooms. The hanging branches are a plethora of vibrant colours, but just one of the many villas surrounding the palace, varying only in size and the extent of the owners purse.
Accompanying the sway of branches is the constant putter patter of shuffling feet, servants, artists, thespians and masters alike are lost in motion, emotion and the flurry that is their life.
And if you listen close enough you can hear the hushed undertones, whispers of promises and gossip, all of the hearsay, ranging from the Lord's new liaisons to the scandal of politics. It is a cacophony of laughter and scowls, sighs of disbelief and shock, the stipulation all in preparation for the days frivolities.
Among those voices is young Hime, a spectacle to behold with her translucent skin, powdered cheeks, the innocence of her smile and the dissembling batting of eyelashes, black upon gold. Her physique is desirable and her posture controlled, she smiled when she needed to smile, laughed delicately as expected to the jokes of her Mother's many associates. They lounge among the stone benches in their practised poses with their fans in artificial ease and comfort. Their conversation never diverged from the context of Hime herself.
"They are meeting today?" Asks one of the painted ladies.
"Yes! Over a candle lit dinner shared by both of our families...I assure you it is all very auspicious!" Replies Hime's mother Suyan with that smile she wears with this crowd, Suyan the Lady of the Willows. Hime's eyes traced the voices of the talk, Suyan, the painted ladies she could never recognise, her auntie May, Suyan again...but never Hime.
"Appropriate match I should hope? So hard to find good suitors these days." Asks another painted lady.
May, steadfast among the ever changing associates always steered the conversation, "The heir of the Piandao himself...", a smile, a smirk, eyes glistening with the promise of new opportunities, another step up the social ladder. "And so it should be!" She waves away the servant filling her glass with Dragon gin, "we don't want to waste such beauty on...something less fortunate...to say the least."
She, like always, sparks a new conversation, the air has been refilled with giggles as they all took turns to speak of their own marriages, "how did it happen?" Was it worth it?" "Does he know...how to Dance?" And then more giggles.
Maybe Hime could have told the story, but as always it was told by her elders recalling the last party, speaking to the Women, the blaring jazz, the drink, taking to the floor drunk with loose lips, Hime's composure, her manners, her face...All so perfect, perfect for the second most wealthiest family in the capital. It was brought up after the one too many drafts of whisky and the third attempt at an actual Cha Cha, and now they were coming over for dinner.
All the time she smiled, despite the stuffy space, despite the nice and high pitch tee hees and Hu hahs. Despite the need for space, she was always a brilliant actor, and she reaps the rewards every time.
Beneath the vast surface of the lake, 10 fathoms below in fact, 400 meters from the dock was the Pentagon, more commonly known among the thrill seekers and gamblers as Arena no 1. A long tunnel connected the opening to the unmanned dock, a round tunnel of bricks and some harder material that released a dull, green glow. It stretched to the Pentagon, the only way in and apparently the only way out. It was the best and worst protection for the beehive it was, attracting nobleman, bankers, paupers and gangsters alike, anyone who had tasted the honey, anyone with the money, they all returned for another taste. All, naive teens and girls with their teenage dreams, gamblers with their addiction to risk, all were, are attracted to the games.
Haru, a bulky man in the typical black overcoat with a fur collar of his people, the uniform of La Croix, clears his throat, catching the attention of the brutes.
"I wan' IT to go down smoothly;Nobody gets in without payin',(Fuck! Pronounce your bloody G's!) "No one brings their own shit (crap, cut down on the language!), food or drink, no weapons! Today is our busiest night as usual and He wants it to go down nicely...If all goes fine...We all get somethin'(Oh for fucks sake!) nice..." And after stroking his pointed beard, his gold beady eyes shine, "besides, we have a reputation to uphold, or else we might end up paying(YES!!)...Dearly."
His voice resonates along the tunnel, and the sound is quickly followed by men moving to their positions, heavy, echoing stomps on stone, like a marching platoon.
Royal Plaza, The Willows dining room 11:45
The coming and going of servants with the many courses could never inspire caution in the aristocracy, they simply continued in their speech. The bobbing of their heads and the pricking of earlobes never caught anyone's attention, just here and there, never speaking, just cleaning and refilling...just listening, adjusting the records, the windows...just listening.
Han Piandao oozed confidence it seemed to Hime who he looked over once or twice, now he constantly tells her "you're perfect for our family," like a product he approved of her, "Isn't she darling?" He would ask his wife Una of the Water Tribe, and with a smile in her kind, ice grey eyes and her ageless dark skin she agrees, and real festivities begin. The drinking and eating commences. They mostly converse, about the wedding, the venue and the invitations, which flowers, maybe the villa was suitable, or the castle as both were large enough, the dress? The groom will cover that and vice versa, will the king be there...no? Why not, the Piandao are the richest in the land, the only rival to the royals. Han and Una with their wealthy dresses and jewels, Aunt May, Suyan and her father, her wise grand mother was speaking to his wise grandmother, but He...He just stared. He was Ling Piandao...and he was gorgeous, the jaw and width of his father, the same wavy black hair, the brown skin of his mother and the same grey eyes albeit without what she could only describe as hair loopies. Did anyone ask if she consented? No, would she even refuse? Maybe her lack of experience with men made her trusting and judgemental. Staring would have been creepy if it was someone else, someone less beautiful, but then his mouth turns to burning side smile full of handsome arrogance, and her heart began racing. Her attention might have been stolen now and then by Una and her compliments...Some seconds wasted answering questions and returning more compliments, but he always was waiting with that smile...somewhere in the distance is Una again..."you do take after your mother. .."
Ling was told she was pretty, not that she was beautiful, he had his experience with women, flirting and playing and sooner or later satisfying, but he has none of those urges when he looks upon Hime. Still he remained cool, collected, first he is aloof and then as always he drops his signature side smile...He expected it to work and of course it did, but it was the first time he was sharing the same end of the stick...her smile was something else...He wanted her, her smile to be his, her full succulent lips, his in the morning and night...It was no longer just an idea...or a social obligation he Had to care for her, it is a matter of his pride. He didn't just get what he wanted...He made sure he earned them, being wealthy was something, but that could easily be taken away being a Piandao. Wealth is earned...Their words of wisdom.
Capital Police HE 11:45
Detective Feng approached Officer Keto and his team, Feng radiates tension, a hint of fear even, maybe some apprehension. He receives a quiet nod and then it changes, he oozes reassurance maybe, his eyelids close and his eyebrows knit rainbows as if calculating, searching for something he might have missed. He turns to a soft hand on his shoulder...His wife Officer Suzin smiles and says "They know the risks they are taking...they all chose the badge and they all chose to follow you...don't worry too much, this is your break, their break.." Her words are reinvigorating as always, apprehension becomes determination when he turns to his team and yells "We are taking the tunnel tonight!"
The Pentagon 11:48
The Pentagon arena was quickly being refilled, the smaller less thrilling skirmishes were dealt with and now the new audience are anticipating the main event. The benches were filled, the further benches filled with the paupers and desperate gamblers, closer were the middle class, the salary men and their working wives...separating them were pillars to the separate boxes, full of gangsters and men smelling of new money. Yet closest to the ring were the VIP seats, lavishly furnished boxes with perfect view and unlimited supplies, servants to tend to their needs when ever, henchmen stationed for protection and even vintage wine is prepared with ice, large flowing curtains to diverge their attention away from the sweating masses to the true entertainment. The Pentagon was filling fast, in the middle was the arena where all the games took place, an entrance on either side, the only design being the large Ying Yang symbol in the middle.
Royal Plaza, The Willows 11:55
Now that the adults were drunk the servants returned to their dorms. The men had fallen asleep and the women retired to the baths alone to do what women truly do, they laughed at their men and laughed loud, swore and bitched, sometimes there was the occasional burped, all things never done unless intoxicated. Ling took his chance and led Hime to the balcony, and with her there, finally alone he's at a loss for words....so instead they simply watched. They could see the entire city, a kaleidoscopic skyline dotted with thousands of lights, a massive shadow made visible only by the many lights, the lights that never faded, offering a piece of the many lives that past together, turning into the speculation that inspired stories and art. They could see it all, the city through the eyes of a pedestrian, ignorant of the millions of problems and fun things, overwhelmed by the endlessness of emotion, always wondering what it was to walk in their shoes, wondering why while being surrounded by so much emotion...They are still haunted by an overbearing loneliness. Why it was so difficult yet so easy to knock on a door...a few words and then the walls are just walls, they fall down and there is no longer a house but a vessel of new adventure.
"You live in a beautiful city..." He says, the first thing he says and it seems so appropriate, to comment on this place, humanity living on a volcano! So absurd so surreal, so poetic...
"Yes...I love it..."She replies with a voice like honey.
"But it is nothing compared to the beauty before me now"..He felt she was a romantic, speaking like romantic should surely catch her, but she doesn't reply, only stares out. Despite her silence he continues, "you may think that was corny, but that was the only way to describe it.." Her continued silence worried him, he was used to women swooning at cheesy lines, because cheesy was never cheesy when accompanied by good looks.
But she only thanked him.
"I thought now would be a good time to get to know each other. ..although I'm sure there will be plenty of knowing!" He chuckles. She blushes! Finally a response, but then his initial proud feelings go out like candle under water;
"Your going to take me away from here aren't you?"
He flinched, he is here making jokes about fornication while she is worrying about marriage, he's a fool!
"What do you think about the marriage?" He asks, hoping for a good answer.
"I want to marry you...But this place is my home." She turns and bats her eyelashes, so natural and cute it seemed, he wanted to hold her and comfort her.
"You have only known one home...There is so much to discover, so much I can show you, new homes and new worlds, I do not plan on spiriting you away forever if that is what you think...just to provide options..."
Yes she was his, he could see it in his face, he stared out again, quickly forming an idea, what that was originally scrapped due to the unexpected amount of time needed to arrive at the city. Beneath the surface of the lake was one such new place he could show her, a whole new experience.
"Can you keep a secret? "
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