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|Into the Abyss|
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
A week later, Thiera and Lilith were playing Fire Frenzy Pai Sho when the phone rang.
"Let's call this an official time out," Thiera said, rising to her feet. She picked the phone up on the 3rd ring, but no sooner did she press the earpiece to her head than she called out, "Euryale! It's for you!"
Euryale strode out of her room. She was wearing her little black dress again, but her hair had not been done up yet. She took the phone from Thiera and said, "Hello?"
"We just got a report that Aroma was abducted," Chief Beifong said quickly, "Our officers didn't see much. Claimed she was there one minute and gone the next."
Euryale's chest froze to the core. "Does—does that mean we lost her?"
"Perhaps not. Some of the Triple Threats say they watched the whole thing from Harmony Tower. According to them, Purists repelled up the south wall of the Yue Delta, knocked her out, and dumped her overboard."
This news was doing nothing to thaw Euryale's heart, and now her stomach clenched tight as her fists. Nonetheless, the Chief continued, "Here they lost sight of her. However, there's a drai pipe just below that location, which could be used to access the city's tunnel system. Prepare to move out immediately. I'll fill you in on the rest when we get there."
"Y—yes, Ma'am," Euryale said in a hollow whisper, though the Chief had hung up halfway through. Euryale slowly hung the earpiece back on the receiver as she turned to the Psyche sisters.
"They took her," she continued in the same tone, "I've gotta go now."
"Wait," Thiera said, holding up a hand, "You need to call Roatha and tell him that you're canceling your date."
"Is that really important right now?" Lilith asked.
"Of course it is," Thiera breathed impatiently, "Because we don't want the Purists to suspect that anything abnormal is going on. Just—tell him that you were called to headquarters unexpectedly."
Euryale nodded and took the phone again, turning the dial, waiting for it to slide back into position, turning it again, a 7-step process that seemed to drag on forever.
By contrast, it rang only once before Euryale said, "Hey, it's me. I'm sorry, but I got called back to HQ. I can't make it tonight...yes, I know I was late last time, but this is different, you should've known this might happen! You can call and ask the Chief yourself, if you don't believe me! Look, I have to go, it's urgent!"
She slammed the cone back onto the phone body and bitterly noted, "Guess I burned that bridge."
"It sounds like he wasn't considerate of you anyway," Lilith said, "You're better off without him."
"Actually, given his unawareness of the circumstances, Euryale most likely appears to be quite impolite, and I'm surprised that he gave her as many chances as he..." she trailed off, noticing Lilith glowering at her over the couch. "What?"
Euryale waved them off, still looking resolutely away. "It doesn't matter who should be blamed, what's important right now is that I get to Aroma."
So she retreated into her room, shutting the door slightly harder than necessary, and emerged a few minutes later in her armor. She then crossed to the door and left without a word or even a glance at her roommate and guest, though she nodded slightly as they wished her luck. She tried to walk briskly, as though in a hurry, but just the kind of hurry of someone who needs to get to the office on short notice. Nothing special.
When she got to the stairs, she focused on the surge that went up her legs each time a foot pounded on the next step. She got a pretty clear sense of the stairwell and even some of the rooms beyond, but noticed nothing out of the ordinary. With a quiet "shink," the soles of her shoes slid away—she knew she wouldn't be able to stomp as hard outside without looking suspicious. But when she entered the basement garage, she still sensed nobody lurking behind the thick support beams of the cavern, barely illuminated by the dusty, dim caged lightbulbs.
Once in her car, she drove off towards headquarters, as promised. The Purists couldn't see the police investigating Aroma's kidnapping before it was officially reported, but that could take days, even weeks, and they couldn't wait that long to take action. Fortunately, the department had access to resources the Purists could only dream of. So once inside, she didn't even bother waving to Chan at the front desk—he was reading his book anyway—before she set off for the shadowy, claustrophobic concrete stairwell.
Though she was in good shape, even her calves were starting to ache as she waved aside the steel door to the rooftop, entering a flat, windswept space between 2 enormous domed spires. From the sky, a cord snaked down, the airship above hidden partially by the clouds and partially because police airships, as a rule, were very dark when the spotlights were not in use. Euryale grasped the cool steel and was quickly sucked up into the night.
She could barely make out the shape of an officer grabbing her arms to help her up, though once her eyes became accustomed to the glint off of the silvery-black steel, she shared a salute with the officer, who had rather thick black eyebrows. Setting off down the hall, she encountered no one else until she got to the bridge, at which point she saw that most of the ship's light came from panels in the ceiling.
"I'll make sure to show the Psyche girls around the site some other time," the captain, Chief Lin Beifong herself, noted as Euryale approached. "We've worked out a likely route to the Purist Headquarters. Saikhan can give you more details."
Euryale looked around until she noticed the balding officer standing beside a waist high briefing, a garment and several papers laid on its face. Saikhan gestured towards a sheet that dominated most of the work space, a beige and white map of Republic City, crosses of various colors dotted along the city's northeast side.
He explained, "Miss Psyche offered us this map. Between it and our own reports, we've worked out a few locations that we think the Purists may be using to access the tunnels."
He handed her a roll of some sort of parchment before continuing, "This has the plausible routes we've worked out, based on what we've been able to sense about the layout of the tunnels. And here is your disguise."
She shoved the parchment into her belt and picked up the garment. Pitch black in color, she recognized the wrapped bandage design from typical Purist garb, though up close she could feel rough cotton underneath: The bandages had been applied to old, worn out clothing.
"We're nearing the drop location," the Chief announced without looking back, "Good luck."
"Thanks, Chief," Euryale called over her shoulder, before saluting Saikhan, "And thank you, Sir."
"I wish you luck too," Saikhan answered, saluting her back, "Now go bring Miss Gingiber back home."
After Euryale had changed into her disguise, she slid back down the cable to a roof below. Once there, she scaled the fire escape to the alley. Having reviewed the map inside of the airship dressing room, she decided it may be too suspicious to take the same drain pipe that Aroma had been brought in through, so she made a beeline towards the next nearest suspected target.
"Lightning Bolt" Zolt told Euryale off-hand that he used to own a lot of "interconnected store houses" in this part of the city, but a triad had chased his workers out of and began squatting in them. He said he didn't report the theft to the police because he didn't like the idea of them "rootin' through his stuff."
She got the hint. They couldn't charge him for anything, but they could take whatever contraband they found. It was lost to Zolt anyway now that the Purists had taken it. The illegal tunnels would be sealed up and the warehouses would be returned to Zolt. She didn't know what he'd do with them then, though she doubted that he'd keep using them now that the RCPD knew about them.
Getting to the facility wasn't a problem. This wasn't a residential area, so the streets were basically deserted when all of the nearby shops were closed. Euryale stuck mostly to the alleys, peeking into the streets and darting to another whenever necessary.
Eventually, she came upon a 7-foot chain linked fence, topped with another foot of barbed wire. For a while, she just focused on breathing steadily, and stared into the thick umbral mass beyond. She saw the beam of a flashlight passing by the fence early on, lazily swinging to and fro, but hadn't noticed anyone since. Her seismic sense didn't turn up anyone hidden in the shadows either, just the fence—which wrapped around to the right to form the gate and connect with a guard booth—and the hint of thin sheet metal walls beyond. Perhaps the Purists could only afford to station 1 guard at this location?
So she breathed deeply and stepped out of the alley, stomping and thrusting with both hands. The ground under the fence cracked and shifted, forming a small crater. She still wasn't great at tunneling, but it was the only way she would get inside without leaving evidence, and she had to act fast. So she kept stomping and making digging motions until she had enough space.
She pressed herself flat against the pavement and wriggled through, hoping the asphalt grating against her chest and stomach and fencing poking her in the backside wasn't actually ripping through her outfit.
Once she was through, she shot to her feet, whirled around, and brought her hands together, causing the ground she had ripped up to smooth over with the usual crunching gravel sound. Then she heard the footsteps of the guard approaching again. She knew she couldn't run to the buildings before he came around, but fortunately she had a secret weapon.
Jerking her hand out, she grabbed the cable that shot out from under the bandages on her back. When it anchored against the shape of the building with a loud, reverberating "thunk," she caused it to retract, riding it to a tin roof top. Of course, the guard had heard this, and was now shining the flashlight beam in every direction, but she couldn't be seen from this angle.
When the guard chose a direction to go, Euryale went the opposite way, pressing herself flat against the roof and shimmying along, trying to avoid making too much noise. She climbed down the wall on the other side like a spider-rat and darted 3 doors down—the vibrations running through her feet told her that this was the nearest entrance to the tunnel running beneath her—then grabbed the lock to muffle it as she unlocked it with metalbending.
She slowly raised the door so it wouldn't make too much noise, glancing over her shoulder to see the beam of light rounding the corner. She grabbed the lock to muffle it again and darted through, letting the door down gently and pressing her ear to it. She could hear that the footsteps had stopped, and feel an almost imperceptible shifting against the ground that kept going back and forth. As the man continued to shift from side to side, the "image" grew clearer and she could "see" him bending down to inspect the lock.
Fortunately, he moved on, having apparently decided that he must have just misheard something. Euryale just had to wait for the vibration of his footsteps to move away before she padded across the concrete floor to the back of the warehouse, shifting aside the false floor to reveal the earthen ramp.
In contrast to the buildings above, the tunnel was of a much cheaper construction, essentially packed dirt held in place by wooden post and lintel constructions about every half dozen feet. Of course, it was completely dark, but that didn't impede Euryale's seismic sense. The tunnel was a basic "T" shape, as it had been designed to link between the warehouses, and then to the Triple Threat headquarters. Euryale didn't feel any side tunnels nearby, so she decided to head up the longer tunnel, away from the warehouses.
Sure enough, about 2 or 3 dozen paces inwards, an irregular hole had been cut in the wall, through which Euryale could hear rushing water, the awful stench telling her she was entering the sewer system. From the moonlight glinting through the manhole covers, she could see a tunnel running perpendicularly to this one, and again used her cable to slingshot over there. She took Saikhan's advised twists and turns for a while, but still hadn't located any other Purists. Their estimation was very, very rough.
She wandered aimlessly up and down the tunnels for a while, before she heard voices echoing down the concrete of a side passage. Of course, she immediately scaled the wall and gripped a few protruding bricks in the ceiling, her bending pulling her closer like an invisible harness, or the feeling of trying to hold a magnet over an ice box.
"...a waste of time anyway, our Leader's just gonna have us kill 'em all," said a squat, slightly overweight Purist to his partner.
Tall and slender, the shape suggested female, as did the soft pitch in her voice as she answered, "Yeah, probably, but the doctor keeps making new weapons, so she kinda has to make him happy, doesn't she?" They were pressed up against the wall and moving slowly, apparently navigating by touch.
"Whatever," the man said grumpily, "Meanwhile I have to fight ash-makers in the middle of the night and got nothin' to show for it but burns."
"Maybe if you lost some weight, you'd be able to dodge better."
"And maybe if you put on some muscle, we'd actually be able to catch 'em! Ow!"
The woman had slapped him in the back of the head, adding, "That enough muscle for you?"
"You're lucky I don't hit women!"
Once she was sure they were out of earshot, Euryale dropped down, ran to the edge of the tunnel, and peered around. She didn't continue following the Purists until they had almost disappeared in the darkness. She continued following them like this until she heard more voices. Peering slowly around the wall, she saw the lights from a much bigger tunnel. Why it had been dug and then forgotten was a mystery to her, but it had not stayed that way, as she saw Purists swarming it like buzzard wasps.
As she hadn't heard the pair she'd been tailing be asked to prove their identities in anyway, she decided to just saunter in like she belonged there. Trying to seem nonchalant as she looked around, she noticed various side tunnels and some kind of big, plywood construction. It had a makeshift doorway covered with a cloth, suggesting it was some kind of room.
Having no idea where Aroma could be found, she contented herself by sidling closer to a table to see what the Purists were working on. It turned out to be an assembly line, with each Purist tasked to assemble a different device. Euryale could identify the shells being packed with gunpowder as the Leader's bombs, recognized the home made fire tossers, and saw several different kinds of crossbows. Some were made of metal, but she could see that the Purists were also experimenting with wood and plastic construction, painting them dark colors to improve concealability.
Other objects she only knew were some kind of bow because of the flanged bolts that were being put into them, as the crossbars were almost unnoticeable. Instead, the devices were dominated by tubes, similar to the fire tossers. She guessed a gas could be used to propel an arrow down a pipe, but she didn't see any kind of canister.
"What are you doing?" asked a snotty, suspicious voice behind her. Euryale jumped, turning on her heel to try to make it look like she was just eager to answer her comrade, and hoped it was proper to salute.
The corner of the woman's left lip twitched slightly upward. Euryale noticed that it was somewhat twisted, and it wasn't hard to see why—stretching diagonally from the left side of her lips to just slightly past where her right eyebrow should have been was a region of bumpy, slightly red skin—a burn scar. Euryale thought her right eye was squinting, but soon realized that's just how it had healed. Other than that, she had blue eyes and raven hair tied back into a tight ponytail. The woman's chin and cheek bones were sharply pointed, especially where the bur scar caused her skin to shrivel inward, while her nose was unusually stout and bumpy, chunks of cartilage clearly missing.
The woman's half-smile faded instantly once she realized Euryale was scanning her facial features, so the detective tried to keep her gaze steady as she said the 1st excuse that came to her mind, "Just hoping to be able to train with some of the new weapons, Ma'am!"
"You should already have an assignment."
Euryale lowered her arm and hunched her shoulders as if disappointed, "Yeah, I know, but I joined up to kill benders, not scrub toilets."
"We all have to start somewhere. But I'll make a note of your enthusiasm, Miss...?"
"Sankara Lee." The name had been Thiera's idea. She noted that Euryale could easily pass as half Water Tribe and half Fire Nation.
"Right. You know, I have to show someone else around. You should join us. But they're in training right now, so why don't you finish cleaning the bathroom and then meet me at the doctor's big box?"
She pointed her thumb over her shoulder to the strange plywood construction that Euryale had seen earlier.
"Yes, Ma'am, thank you, Ma'am," was Euryale's robotic response.
"Call me Miss Vyanna. It was nice to meet you, Sankara."
Vyanna patted on Euryale's shoulder. Euryale nodded and said, "You too, Miss Vyanna."
Vyanna smiled and headed off. Euryale walked along behind her, but slowly, so that Vyanna was out of earshot by the time Euryale had passed the 2nd table. When she reached the 3rd, she nudged a shorter Purist and asked in a whisper where the bathroom and the cleaning supplies were.
"That way," he said pointing, "The bathrooms are marked, and the closet is right next to them."
"Thank you," she responded, heading off.
For the collective works of the author, go here.