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|Curse of Sin|
Thursday, June 29, 2017
"You don't have to do this if you don't want to," Euryale reminded Thiera, as they shuffled past other RCPD workers in the halls. "Just so you know."
"You have made that perfectly clear," Thiera said in a soft, hollow voice, laced with bitterness.
"What I don't understand is, why did you convince Aroma not to come? The Junior Healers would've been fine on their own for a little while. Even if they needed help, they could always send for it. They don't need Aroma watching over their backs."
"Aroma did not lose anyone to this monster, thank the Spirits. There is no reason why she should be threatened any further. If we can convince it to take the guilty plea, she will not have to face it again."
"Thiera..." Euryale trailed off as she placed her hand against a section of the wall, turning to look down at the waterbender as if seeing through her scowl, to something she could not reach.
"What?" Thiera snapped impatiently, "Do you have something to say?"
"...No. At least, nothing that will help." With that, the officer slid the wall away to reveal the familiar cramped steel of the interrogation chamber. The hanging lamp over the table pierced the gloom with a thin ray. When Thiera saw the pair it illuminated, the light flickered as if withering under the intensity of her gaze.
The taller figure was a man, with neatly combed hair that matched his jet-black suit and thin mustache, and dull eyes magnified by circle-rimmed glasses. Beside him sat a woman in a plain gray jumpsuit, whose gray glare was half-obscured behind thick bandages covering the top of her head and her right eye. A neck brace and sling-and-cast ensemble over her right arm completed the look. As they approached, their nostrils burned with the bleachy scent of cheap jail soap, admittedly probably a step up from the rancid odor of dirt and sweat Aroma claimed she exuded in her hideout.
"Good afternoon, ladies," the man said briskly, opening a folder set before him. "I thought we might start by confirming how my client obtained some of her wounds." As they took their seats, the man passed an array of photographs before them, pointing first to an image of a thick ring of bruises around a slender neck. "I am told that these wounds were inflicted via the illegal skill of bloodbending, is that correct?"
"Your loaded question does not escape my notice," Thiera stated flatly, "The Council has already cleared me of all charges for performing bloodbending." The Purist Leader scoffed, but Thiera pressed on without looking at her. "It is not illegal to use force in self-defense, and I did not practice the technique prior to that outstanding circumstance."
"Now when you say, 'force,' do you mean lethal force?"
"Your client murdered my sister and an estimated total of 24 others, not including victims by proxy. Further, she was about to murder me, before moving on to my friends." She made it a point to meet the former crime boss's glare before answering, "Yes. My goal was her death."
"You're not even going to try to stop her from making such inflammatory remarks?" the lawyer balked at Euryale.
"Of course not," Euryale replied, sitting back and crossing her arms. "As a matter of fact, Thiera made the proper decision. Your client, as all the evidence we've gathered shows, initiated a fight that she intended to be to the death. If she had not been subdued, anyone in the department would have chosen, or rather had no choice but to fatally wound her."
"I see..." he trailed off, making notes, before looking up to ask, "You inflicted this wound, correct?" He pointed to a picture of the black and bloody blotches on the Purist Leader's forearm, a forearm which seemed to be bending at slight but impossible angle. "The report says that you crushed the armor on her right arm. Aside from the surface damage, the blow was enough to break my client's bones."
"Yes, although it was not my intention to break your client's arm."
"I fail to see how that is rele—"
"Because," Euryale interjected calmly, "If you read the report, you also know that I was recovering from unconsciousness—induced by your client, I might add—when I performed that attack. So if you are trying to argue premeditated malicious intent, it won't work."
"I believe that is for the Council to decide," he said, "What about the blow to the back of her head? It was forceful enough to also cause damage to the upper spine." He passed along a picture of the swollen and bandaged face of the Purist Leader, the rest of her body held in an iron tube. The present-day Purist Leader fidgeted uncomfortably, but otherwise just continued to glare at Thiera. "It took the Healers almost a week to repair the damage, which blocked the chi flow to my client's lungs. She was forced to remain like this until her prayers were answered and the blockage was repaired. Most with this type of wound are not so lucky. If she had been hit even a fraction harder, or if she had taken any longer to be moved to a hospital, her neck may have broken completely. This poor woman was imprisoned in an iron coffin for almost a week, praying that she would not die or be paralyzed for life."
"The blow was sustained when she tripped on ice and fell," Euryale answered, "And we can confirm that our Healers followed proper protocol. Your client's medical needs were not neglected in the slightest."
"I did not say that they were," he replied, "But this ice does not seem to be in any of the evidence photographs."
"Time for a little show-and-tell of our own, then," Euryale said, slapping down a folder of her own and ruffling through the photographs. Settling on one, she showed it to the attorney, pointing at a dark spot near the broken weapons of the Purist Leader. "Water. It's what happens when ice melts."
"But you cannot prove that it ever was ice," he pressed.
"You can argue that if you want. Next question?"
"Could no one on the scene have prevented that fall? By any means at all? Was it simply physically impossible to avoid?"
"It was not safe to do so, as our documented wounds would confirm. And yes, we can prove that the break to the Purist Leader's—"
"I want to remind you, Officer, that Hikari Hyashi has not been convicted of any crimes involving the self-proclaimed Purists."
"We can prove that Hikari Hyashi, whom the Purists claim is their leader, couldn't have broken her arm in that manner if she hadn't been pointing her concealed dart gun at us."
The Purist Leader laughed bitterly, finally tearing away from her staredown with Thiera to shake her head. "This whole thing is a farce."
The lawyer looked anxiously at his client, a bead of sweat rolling down his forehead. "Please, Ma'am, I advise—"
She stared hard at him. "You accuse these boars of corruption, yet whom does it fall upon to provide evidence of my guilt and their innocence? Why, none other than the boars themselves! My accusers say I am guilty and they are innocent, based on evidence only they are allowed to collect."
"So what do you claim you were doing in our building during a Purist Raid, Miss Hyashi?" Euryale asked with a not-so-subtle hint of sarcasm.
She gestured to the defense, who sighed in relief, mopping his brow with a charcoal handkerchief from his pocket. "My client says she cannot answer," he replied, "Which I submit is due to memory loss from the aforementioned blow to the head."
"Of course it is," Euryale said with a scathing eye roll. Seeing he was reaching for his pen, she sharply added, "Let the record show that last remark was sarcasm! Now may we ask our questions?"
"Your hostile tone is noted, but go ahead."
"Your client says that she stands up to protect the rights of nonbenders," Thiera spat, "And that any conflicts we can prove she had with the Bending Triads were only to protect her community, correct?" When he nodded, she shot up, pointing accusingly at the Purist Leader's impassive face. "My sister was a nonbender, so why was she murdered with a bomb of the make found on your person?!"
The defense rose as well, blustering, "Officer, I really must object to your partner's attempt at intimidating my client!"
"Your objection isn't the law. Thiera is neither assaulting nor threatening your client. Now answer the question."
"I have already confessed to using illegal explosives for self-defense," the Purist Leader responded, "And to using them on my aggressors. It is as your friend said: In battles, people die. I remember being attacked by Ivan's murderer, so it is not unreasonable that I killed her in self-defense."
Thiera ground her teeth together in a vicious snarl. When Euryale reached for her hand, she wrenched it away, but inhaled slowly, relaxing her face and sitting back down.
"Of course," the defense attorney said, sitting as well, "I extend my deepest condolences about your loss, regardless of the circumstances."
"Thank you," Thiera replied stiffly, though when he reached for his water, she shifted her foot under the table, causing it to fall with a clatter and pour its contents all over his pants.
"Ack!" he exclaimed, shooting back up fast enough to knock his chair over, but not fast enough to prevent a dark spot from spreading at his crotch. "May I take a few minutes to clean this up, ladies?"
Euryale coughed into her hand to disguise her laughter, before shaking her head. "Nope. We're available to meet now, so we meet now. You're free to change when we're done here."
"But my client's right to representation is—"
"You are the one who wants to leave," Euryale pointed out, "We're not asking you to. We just have one other thing to show your client anyway."
On cue, Thiera passed him a newspaper clipping.
8-YEAR-OLD KILLED BY PURIST RAMPAGE!
I sat across a young woman, whom I'll call Su Ling to protect her identity. She had black hair, once curly but now unkempt and knotted, which bobbed with every shake of her shoulders as tears streamed from her crystal blue eyes. She looked emaciated, her twiglike body barely filling out her sky-blue dress, save for the ridges that marked her rib cage.
Su had just finished telling the story of how her husband, a security guard working at the Dragon Flats Clinic, left for work one day as normal, but simply never came home. It wasn't long before she discovered that he was killed by Purist arsonists, when she was asked to identify what was left of the body. But what she had to say next was even worse.
"My daughter," she gasped desperately, "Came down with a horrible fever. I rushed her to the nearest hospital, but with the clinic gone, and no car, it was just too far away. My little girl passed away after fighting for her life for hours. I'd say, 'at least she isn't in any more pain,' but she shouldn't have been in any pain to begin with. Her death was completely preventable."
When I asked, Su told me that only her husband had been an earthbender, but either way the Purists weren't protecting nonbenders by destroying the clinic. "How many Triad victims will bleed to death now, with nowhere to go?" she asked rhetorically. "How many innocent, vulnerable children like my little girl can't get the medicine they need? How many will be left alone without their parents? How many other families lost children, husbands, or wives? They didn't think about any of that. With one match, they snuffed out dozens of people who have nothing to do with their little war. And they don't even care."
"I hardly see how this is relevant to the case," the man protested as his client stared down at the picture of the beaming little girl with the bobbed hair. "There are only a handful of alleged witnesses who claim to have seen my client at the clinic on the night of the arson. Even your own department agreed to drop the case, due to lack of evidence. If we could just focus on—"
"Shut up," the wounded woman said at last. "This little girl's death is not 'irrelevant.' Don't say such disgusting things. Especially not in my name."
Taken aback, he stared at her, stammering, "I—well, I did not mean to—to minimize this tragedy, but—surely you must understand, my job is to defend you."
"How defensible can I be, if you have to come up with absurd tales of sudden amnesia to justify my actions? I hired you to expose the boars' corruption, not to defend the murder of a child."
"Hikari," he pleaded, reaching out to her tremulously, beads of sweat once again collecting on his brow, "You haven't said anything incriminating yet, so I urge you to—yeeow!"
She had suddenly reached over with her good hand, grabbing his wrist and twisting until something snapped. Euryale quickly darted around the table, yanking the attacker's arm behind her back. Hikari briefly tried to support her weight with her broken arm, only to gasp in pain and fall limp in Euryale's grasp. Thiera tossed her hair and sat back. As she gazed down on the pathetic woman, she smiled for the first time that day.
"You're insane!" the man roared with fury, clutching his arm as he leaped to his feet. "Find yourself another attorney!"
"I will not be needing one," Hikari said softly, "I am changing my plea to guilty."
"Then you lied to me!" he screamed, "I didn't know about any of it, nothing is on record!"
"You can lie if you wish," she said, "But I will not defend you, nor will I recommend that my comrades use you in their own defenses."
"Get out!" Euryale shouted, "You heard her, you're fired! You're no longer part of this trial, you have no right to be here!" He shook a fist at her, so she coldly added, "Do you want me to press charges?"
Gulping, the man turned and jogged to the door, which Euryale opened with a wave of her hand. Thiera leaned forward, craning her neck to look her enemy in the eye, despite her refusal to raise her head.
"Do not think for even a second that you are better than him," she scolded, "That girl died because of you. And deep down, under all of your self-righteous delusions, you know that my sister and most of your other victims deserve to be here today." She shook her head slowly, continuing, "Unlike you, even if you claim to feel remorse for any of it. If you think what we did to you was bad, then I cannot wait to see how you fare against the Bending Triads in prison, without any fancy weapons, armor, or brainwashed cronies to hide behind."
With that, she turned and swept out of the room. Euryale released her captive, who fell flat against the table, biting her lip as she followed the waterbender. They informed the guard that he could take the Purist Leader back to her cell, and left to file their report with the Chief.
"Really?" Aroma asked on the evening drive home, "That's all it took for her to confess everything?"
"Well, she won't give us anything on the other Purists," Euryale clarified. "Honor among thieves, I guess."
Thiera scoffed from the back seat, arms crossed as she stared intently at the empty spot next to her. She pretended she didn't notice the couple frowning at her in the rear view.
"What if she changes her plea again?" Aroma asked.
"Then she'll go to trial and still get convicted," Euryale answered, "She'll waste tax payer money on a case she can't possibly win. Worst case scenario, she gets a few years shaved off a sentence that's already more than enough to put her away for life. More likely, she'll fail and be punished even worse. But I don't think we have to worry about that. I think she knows she's finished."
"She is not finished yet," Thiera dissented, "She could still escape, or be set free. It could be months, even years down the line, but the possibility is always there. Besides, the Purists are still fanatically devoted to her. With so many of them in prison, she can lead them from there."
"We can break them up by transferring them to prisons across the country," the officer pointed out, "And the raid on headquarters was a freak hole in security, we know to look out for it now."
"There will be other holes. There are always other holes."
"Prison breaks get rarer every year, Thiera."
"But they still happen, usually with the worst criminals."
"What do you expect us to do, kill her? The United Republic does not have capital punishment, you know that." When Thiera did not respond, she pressed, "You're going to let this go, aren't you? Let the justice system take it from here, and focus on your own life?"
"Do not patronize me," Thiera huffed. "What are you expecting me to do, storm into her cell and slaughter her with my waterbending? If you honestly believe me to be that rashly stupid, I am deeply insulted."
"That's not what I meant," Euryale growled with a rising edge of annoyance.
"Please don't fight," Aroma moaned, "This should be a time for celebration. Why don't we turn on the radio and find some music?"
"...I agree with Aroma," Thiera said.
Euryale slowly reached out to adjust the knob. After shifting through differing volumes of static for a while, the voices cutting in became clearer and more numerous until a soaring soprano sang out, "Don't faaall in love, with the traaaveling girl!" In the pauses in the music, they could make out the brass bleats of the jazz beat, a popular addition to strings and drums these days. "She'll leave you broke," the singer continued, a flute melody rising and falling with the notes, "And broken hearted!"
The next few lines were lost in an abrupt surge of static that prompted the girls to look curiously at the radio. The metalbender reached again for the dial when the noise suddenly gave way to a deep, familiar voice.
"Citizens of Republic City: This is Amon."
"How did he—is he broadcasting nearby?" Euryale stammered.
"By now, you may be finding that adjusting your set is pointless. I am on every channel. To the enemies of equality, that means you won't find me. To those of you who don't know, I am the founder of a new group, known as the Equalists. We seek to address the oppression of nonbenders by the Bending Elite. Importantly, we plan to do so through non-violent means. While we understand the motives of those who call themselves Purists, we will not tolerate crime and violence in our communities. Other than that, we welcome and address the concerns of nonbenders from all walks of life. Even so, we must still counter the appalling treatment of nonbending criminals by the Council and police."
"Oh, not this nonsense again!" Thiera screeched.
"As many of you have seen in the papers, Hikari Hyashi, better known as the Purist Leader, has been arrested. While detained, she obtained excessive injuries, while racketeers such as 'Lightning Bolt' Zolt go unprosecuted to this day. This just goes to show the brutality benders show toward those who don't share what they would call a gift, while reserving favoritism for those who do. Never mind that many of the Purists have confessed to being forced into crime by losing their jobs to benders, or being attacked by Triads, only to be disproportionately punished by the very institutions that created them. Despite their mistakes, they do not deserve to have such cruelty inflicted upon them. But I am here today to tell you something important: If you fear these injustices, you are not alone. I will stand up for your rights, regardless of what slanderous accusations the bending elite make of me. And I invite you all to stand with me against them. Together, we will replace both the misguided Purists, as well as the tyrannical Bending Regime, with a new era of peace and equality. You will hear from me again. I hope to hear your voices soon too. And for any benders listening...know that you will soon answer to justice."
The broadcast cut out as abruptly as it began, just in time for the cymbal crescendo at the end of Don't Fall in Love With a Traveling Girl. With the song's echoes dying away, Euryale switched to the confused chatter on the scanner, and the girls sat in dumbfounded silence as the cruiser hurtled through the empty night.
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