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-1 (Blood & Steel)
Saturday, January 14, 2016
Euryale let out a heavy sigh as a crimson sports car blazed through a stop signal. Flicking on the power to her lights and siren, she coasted into the street and put on a burst of speed. The driver—an older, portly man with a greasy black pompadour—pulled over almost immediately. As she stopped behind him she noticed that he was adjusting his hair, as it had fallen lopsided. A wig.
The man was shaking like a leaf in the wind when she approached, sweeping her eyes across the empty back seat to see that the leather and paint job were still impeccable. In her professional opinion, more likely a mid-life crisis than a hardened criminal.
"Sir, do you know why I pulled you over?"
"I, uh, might have ran a red light, Officer."
"Speeding is very dangerous, someone could have been killed."
"I'm sorry, I should have known better."
"License and registration?"
He passed her the items and she flipped through a pocketbook, confirming he wasn't a wanted criminal. Seeing that the registration matched the name on the license, she handed them back and started writing the ticket.
"You know the drill. Pay the fine, don't do it again, and you'll be okay. Oh, but one more thing before you go."
"Uh, what's that, Officer?" he asked, teeth chattering as he took the ticket.
She reached over and flicked off his toupee, where it landed sadly on the passenger seat to reveal a wrinkly chrome dome with a gray halo.
"If you want to feel young and energetic, take up hiking. It's better for you and won't get you in trouble with the police."
After sending him on his way, she returned to her patrol. It was easy for her to forget with all the excitement of her first days, but she was still just a rookie beat cop. So, while her dad stayed in the office trying to find a link between the mysterious "Gevurah" and the decommissioned ship that was suspected to have been sunk by a bombing, it was up to her to patrol the streets for traffic violations, graffiti, and other minor offenses.
Imagine her surprise, then, when she spotted Senthose in an empty parking spot, waving while making a hitch hiking gesture with his other hand.
Squinting, Euryale engaged her turn signal, prompting him to step back and watch her parallel park with his hands in his coat pockets.
"Hey, you're pretty good at the wheel," he complimented as she stepped out. "Mind giving me your instructor's name?"
"Why do I get the feeling this isn't a coincidence? How did you know I'd be here?"
He held a hand up to his ear as he mimed spinning a dial. After a brief pause, he said, "Hello, may I please speak to Officer Euryale? Oh, she's on patrol, you say? Oh no, no problem at all, I'll just ask around to see if anyone's seen her lately." He shrugged, returning his hands to his pockets. "And once I'd narrowed it down that far, it was a simple matter of following the sirens."
"Stalking is a crime, you know."
"Who's stalking? I just have information on the Other Fire Lord, and you're the only person I feel comfortable giving it to."
"Is that so?" she asked, crossing her arms and cocking an eyebrow. "In that case, let's hear it."
"You put an APB out on a man calling himself Gevurah, about 7 feet tall, amber eyes, white hair, built like a truck. But have you ever noticed the similarity between that name and the previous Other Fire Lord?"
"Of course we've investigated the history of the Other Fire Lord, but 'their names sound kind of similar' isn't exactly the pinnacle of detective work."
Senthose raised an index finger. "Not just his name. Gevu had a wife named Samurah, but it's a little-known fact, which I happen to know, that those closest to her called her 'Urah' for short."
"I see what you're driving at," Euryale replied, unimpressed, "But none of Gevu's surviving relatives have that name. In fact, they all disowned him and moved far away."
"Ah, but what if the records are wrong?" Senthose asked, his finger swaying. "What if Samurah didn't die in that fire? What if she had a son? What if they had an escape hatch or a safe house on the property that nobody else knew about?"
"A lot of 'what ifs.' What if she did? Why would you tell me this?"
"Just doing my civic duty, Officer. Besides, I need you to help me find it." He shrugged, adding, "Unless you'd rather keep driving around looking for litterbugs and loiterers."
Euryale put a finger to her chin in thought. "Hm, I could call in for permission to pursue a lead—but why should I trust you? How do I know this isn't a trap?"
"You think he was responsible for blowing up the Club Voland building. While I disagree, supposing for argument's sake that you're correct, why wouldn't I want to help you catch the creep who might've tried to bump us off?" he asked.
"Point taken. Wait right here."
Strolling around the car, she opened the door to grab her radio. "This is Officer Euryale, requesting to be patched through to Detective Rakshashi."
"...What is it, Hun?" she was asked after several minutes.
"I've got a concerned citizen who claims he has a lead on The Other Fire Lord. Permission to investigate?"
"What's the lead?"
"He thinks there might be a bunker or something beneath the ruins of Gevu Manor."
"And who said this?"
She glanced up at Senthose, noticing he was shaking his head, eyes locked on her own.
"...It's Senthose. From Club Voland."
Senthose sighed in exasperation as Phorcys answered, "...Euryale, I thought I told you to be careful around him."
"I am! I just want to check out this lead, that's all!"
"And have you thought that it might be a trap?"
"Of course I have, but they must want to catch Gevurah just as much as we do!"
"Did he tell you that?"
"Spirits, he's not there with you right now, is he?"
"Shoo him away and continue your duties. Consider those your orders."
She hung up, glaring daggers at Senthose, who smirked and said in a high-pitched voice, "Daddy, can I go play with the neighbor boy? He wants to show me something." In a lower, throaty tone, he added, "No, young lady, I forbid you from seeing him!"
"Shut up," she answered, climbing into her car.
"Ooh, good one. But you know, there is another option: If you were to arrest me, and we just so happened to pass by Little Fire Nation along the way, then you would be perfectly within your orders."
"Arrest you for what?" she asked, still halfway through her door.
With that, he licked his finger, the saliva freezing into a sharp cap on his nail. He then pressed this against the hood of her car and scraped, producing a high-pitched whine as he dug a scratch through the paint.
"What are you doing?!" she roared, equal parts aghast and aback.
"Committing petty vandalism," was his answer.
"Well, stop it!"
"What're you gonna do to make me?"
And that was how Senthose wound up being slammed face-first against the windshield, his arms twisted painfully behind his back as his wrists were tied with steel cables.
"Y'know, I really don't appreciate the police brutality," he griped, his voice slightly warped from his mouth being pressed into the glass. "That wasn't part of the plan."
"The plan's changed!" she retorted.
"And you won't help search the compound either?"
"Did you really think you could just manipulate me into doing whatever you wanted?"
He shrugged as well as he could. "That's fine. If you don't help me, I just have to pay a fine and say I'm the jerkbender who scratched your car and I'm sorry. The people who will really suffer are all of the victims Gevurah will claim because you didn't stop him when you had the chance. But, if you can live with that on your conscience, I guess it's no big deal."
"I know you're still just trying to play me."
"Yeah, but here's the funny thing: That doesn't mean I'm wrong." He felt the hesitation in her grip and let the silence linger for a bit before adding, "You can hate me as much as you want, you can try to lock me away and throw away the key—I don't mind—but right now, if I'm right, we may be in the perfect position to stop Gevurah. To protect and serve. That's why you joined the force, isn't it?"
Euryale jerked him to his feet and stuffed him unceremoniously into the cruiser's back seat.
Senthose had not spoken since, forcing Euryale to drive on in uncomfortable silence. As she noticed the shimmering scarlet of Little Fire Nation, her hand lingered on the brink of the turn signal. The traffic was unusually thin today.
"Stopping him is not your destiny," she thought. That's what Shānshén said. But what if destiny can be changed? Maybe that's what I was meant to see. That right here, right now, I could change the fate of Republic City.
She blew past the exit. She sighed as if relieved. Then she activated her lights and siren and spun into a U-turn. Senthose retained a passively bored expression and stared out the window, merely giving directions whenever asked. It took several moments of winding up and down sketchy alleys, but eventually they came to a part of the city where the buildings just fell away, revealing a desolate patch of blackened land with twisted spires of refuse jutting out of it at odd angles.
As she helped Senthose out of the car, a crumpled-up newspaper rolled by her feet like a tumbleweed. She looked around at the rusty old cans, rotting fruit rinds, and ripped up shoes scattered about.
"Well, clearly this place is inhabited," she assessed, "But it looks like it's just by homeless squatters."
"The Agni Kais usually steer clear of here," Senthose admitted, "But then again, we're not dealing with the usual Agni Kais, are we? It would be best to stay sharp, especially since you'll have to protect the both of us."
She considered him for a moment before reaching around to adjust his bindings, twisting them until they formed bracelets on either wrist. She then fired a pair of cables at his feet to do the same to his ankles.
"There. Now you can move freely, but I can stop you at any time."
He nodded and they set off into the ruins, looking around.
"Seems pretty empty," Euryale remarked.
"Well, no hobos want to be around when trouble shows up," Senthose replied dryly.
Euryale twiddled her toes to slide her sole away and stomped, waiting a few seconds before reporting, "I don't sense anything."
"Did you honestly expect to find it in a single try? If it were that easy, it would've been found ages ago."
"Then what makes you think I can find it where more experienced cops have failed?"
"Seismic sensing techniques have improved a lot since Gevu was alive. Besides, whatever dampener he used to disguise the bunker has probably rotted or eroded away by now."
The unlikely duo ducked under a charred beam hanging over the ghost of a doorway and continued deeper, winding their way through the ruins, Euryale stomping every few paces. Each time the vibrations flooded back, her stomach soared with hope before crashing and twisting into ever tighter knots. By this point, the sun was dipping behind the skyline, sending long shadows over her and tinging the ruins a harsh orange.
How much longer can I keep this up? If I don't have anything to show for this, I'll be in big trouble. I wonder if I'll lose my job. Maybe that's what he wanted all along....
She glanced at Senthose, who continued to betray no expression, hesitantly bringing her foot down a little harder on her next step. She automatically took a step forward, then stopped dead and stared at her boot. This time, she stomped more forcefully.
"Wow...it's...it's really here..." she muttered in awe, "The reports said the basement caved in during the fire and filled in over time, but there's something below us. Like a big steel box."
"See, this is why you should never doubt me."
She spread her feet to create a wider, squatting stance, and thrust her arms apart rapidly. The ground followed suit, opening before her in a chasm that flowed toward a jagged pile of concrete shards and twisted rebar. The debris sagged in either direction, falling away to expose what was unmistakably a steel cellar door poking out of the sand.
"It's welded shut," she reported with disappointment, returning to her normal stance and moving closer, "And it looks old. No way this is being used as a hideout."
"It's still a discovery. Just open it and see what's inside."
Shrugging, Euryale covered her hand with a cloth from her belt pouch. Reaching down, she simply ripped the door open as if it weren't even locked, let alone welded shut. She then withdrew a flashlight from her belt and descended, steel shoes clanging against steel stairs. Senthose followed along behind her.
The beam illuminated a miniature stove, piles of burlap sacks in the corner, shelves upon shelves of canned food, a partition containing a toilet and water tap, and most noticeably, a white cloth sitting atop a pile of ash. She headed over, flipping a corner and sifting through the dust, making note of several bits of charred wood and long, splintered white shards.
"There are bone fragments in here. The cremation was much sloppier than Gevurah's known victims, but it doesn't seem to be due to lack of care. I think this cloth is a funeral shroud."
"Are they human?" Senthose asked, standing idly as he surveyed the scene.
Euryale withdrew a round fragment with a scorched orbital socket and a few teeth still attached. "Most definitely. It's difficult to say, but all the remains I see look like they could belong to a single adult female."
Hearing a scuffling noise, she looked behind her to see Senthose rooting through a sack.
"Please don't touch anything, there could be fingerprints!"
"Doubtful," he argued, stepping back, "But if you insist. I was just checking to make sure there were baby supplies in there."
Instead of doing that, she shined her light at the bag pile to confirm his report: In addition to empty, discarded cans, the sack was filled with torn, worn out baby clothes.
"I'm just lucky I didn't get one filled with dirty diapers," Senthose said wryly.
Euryale stood. "Well, the evidence seems to support your theory. Someone was definitely living down here, apparently raising a baby, and before this place was sealed shut, a woman died and was cremated in here. I take it you think it was Samurah."
"Of course. These ruins were the perfect place for her and her child to hide from her husband's many enemies. She must have told him the truth before she died, so he set out for revenge."
"That scenario would explain the evidence. The sloppy cremation could be due to inexperience, and the shroud makes sense if he had a personal attachment to the victim. But why do you say he wanted revenge? Did someone else murder her?"
"I cannot know her cause of death, but excluding the police, Gevu had 2 major enemies: Yakone ruined his criminal empire, and the faction of the Agni Kais who betrayed him are in power now. It's no small wonder that Gevurah turned against the powerful Agni Kais and a business rumored to be a front for the Red Monsoons, Club Voland."
"I see. And do you have any other insights?"
"Not at this time, no."
"In that case, we can report your suspicions once we get down to the station, because you're still under arrest! Now turn around and march!"
He rolled his eyes and ascended, Euryale following along behind him. She bit her lip, glancing anxiously back at the ash pile until it was out of view. Upon entering the sunlight, she slammed the bunker shut, resealing it and waving her hand to move the dirt and debris back over it.
"And don't even think about breathing a word of this to anyone! If I find out the crime scene's been tampered with, the penalties will be a lot higher than the ones for scratching my car!"
"Yes, yes, of course."
Euryale squeezed her fist to bring his cuffs back together behind his back and forced him to return to the back seat.
"I'm bringing a suspect in," she informed the radio once she'd been connected to her father, "I hope you're not mad, but on the way, I stopped to check out the lead."
"I figured. I'll decide how mad I am after you tell me what you've found."
"The bunker is there, along with cremated remains."
"No reprimand," Phorcys said with a heavy sigh, "Good work, Officer. Don't disobey orders again, you won't always be this lucky."
She expected a smart aleck remark from Senthose, but he just watched the sinking sun through the back window. Before long, the last bubbles of light were drowned by the bay, plunging the forgotten tomb into darkness.
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