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Sunday, March 26, 2017
(story bridging from) (previous book)
"Goo—ahhh—ood morning," Aroma said, waving away a yawn as she stepped out of the shadowy hall, a sheer pink nightgown clinging to her slender frame. Her feet padded softly over to the crimson couch, upon which Euryale, in her own nightgown, practically blended in. With the radio on low, she was poring over a series of slightly scrunched papers strewn about the coffee table she was hunched over.
"What are you doing?" Aroma asked.
In response, Euryale leaned back and set down the page she was holding. "These are the notes that Lilith left behind," she explained with a heavy sigh. "Back when we were looking for the Purist Leader's new hideout."
Frowning slightly, Aroma walked around to take a seat beside her. She placed her tiny, pale hand on Euryale's toned, bronze thigh. Seconds later, Euryale placed her own hand on Aroma's, rubbing her knuckles absent-mindedly.
"You think it will help you find the rest of the Purists?" Aroma asked.
"I hope so," she answered, turning with a weak smile. "I heard Thiera came back to work. Have you been talking more?"
The little healer's face fell instantly, Euryale's soon following suit. "She mainly just talks about work," she replied with a shake of her head, "And she won't talk about Lilith at all. Sometimes, I don't think she even knows I'm there."
Euryale chewed her lip anxiously. "Oddly enough, she seeks me out a lot. She always wants to talk about the Purist case. Especially their Leader's trial."
"...Hopefully Chief Beifong's mysterious leads prove promising," a woman's voice cut through the ensuing uncomfortable silence, echoing from the wooden box on the table, "As Fire Delegate Keter Aurora reports that the RCPD has rebuffed her offer to extend more Fire Police to the cause of locating the remaining Purists. Reports indicate that both she and Council Chair Franz, as well as the Earth Delegate, Yánjī, were present during the Purists' attack on police headquarters, but the details are unclear. The Council has stated that they have no comment at this time."
"Well, you seem to have more leads on the Purists than anyone else," Aroma noted as the reporter droned on in the background, "So that's good."
"It's all thanks to Lilith," Euryale answered with a nod.
"Don't sell yourself short, you worked harder on that case than anyone."
"Harder than the little healer who put her life on the line to infiltrate their nest?" Euryale laughed, reaching up to ruffle Aroma's already messy bed head. "How 'bout we just compromise, and say the Purists never would've been busted without all of us?"
"I can agree to that," Aroma replied, grinning broadly. "So, have you eaten breakfast yet?"
"Oh, shoot!" Euryale exclaimed, retracting her hand and snapping her fingers, "All this time I've been up and I didn't think to make you something."
"It's no trouble at all," Aroma answered, "You're doing important work. I can make us some food and you can join me whenever you're ready."
"Nah, I'm pretty much done, I'll help out. How about banana pancakes?"
"That sounds delicious," Aroma agreed, and as she went to turn on the stove, Euryale sidled alongside her, whisking flour, milk, eggs, and a single peeled banana in a large bowl. Together they gripped the rim and poured the batter onto the skillet, briefly locking lips in the process. When the puddles of dough began to bubble and sizzle, Aroma reached for the spatula, Euryale retreating to set the table. Moments later, after Euryale had paid her respect to the spirits, they began to eat.
"I never thought to ask," Aroma started, "What is it that you pray for before we eat?"
"Oh, you know, the usual," Euryale answered with a shrug, spearing chunks of breakfast with her fork. "Thanks for the food, sorry about the city's pollution, hope you liked my offerings, and would you please protect and guide me, my friends, and my wonderful girlfriend."
Aroma stopped with food halfway to her mouth, dripping a long line of golden brown syrup back onto her plate as she blushed. "That's so nice—maybe I should start doing it too."
"Sure, I'd be glad to teach you more about the spirits," Euryale answered. They ate in silence until they were about halfway done, before Euryale wondered aloud, "Maybe we should invite Thiera to something—dinner, or maybe a party."
Aroma took a quick sip of milk. "That would be nice, if she would agree to it."
They were just finishing up when they heard a knocking. Euryale shoved what was left of her food into her mouth, gulping it down with the assistance of half a glass of milk, and started for the door.
"Wait, don't answer, we're not dressed yet!" Aroma cried out.
"I don't mind," she replied, turning the knob. "Just stay back in the kitchen, I'll throw you your coat if I need to invite them in. Though I'm really not sure who it could be at this time of—"
She gawked through the doorway at Roatha, flushing scarlet from his matching coat up to his auburn locks. He coughed into his hand as a pretext to tear his eyes away from Euryale's thinly veiled, chiseled bronze form.
"What are you doing here?" she asked with unclear inflection.
"Well, I—I've been reading the papers," he started, glancing up at her, then back down to the floor, "So I saw about your sting operation with the Purists." He looked to her, and away again. "I felt bad about not believing you, but when I heard about—well, about what happened with your friend, I thought maybe you'd need some space." He once again glanced at her. "This isn't too early, is it? In the day, I mean? I'm sorry, I didn't know when you had to work."
"It's fine," Euryale said, "Apology accepted."
Rubbing the back of his head, he asked, "So—you don't have to, of course, but I was wondering if maybe you wanted to go out again some time—you don't have a boyfriend now, do you?"
"Well—no, I don't have a boyfriend. Hold on a sec." She reached over to the clothes rack, withdrawing a rosy cape coat. Aroma hurriedly washed her hands and scampered into the living room, catching the coat when Euryale tossed it. Once she was all wrapped up, Euryale spread the door wide.
"You remember Aroma, right?" Euryale asked as the girl came striding forward, "She's my girlfriend."
Roatha shook Aroma's hand. "You were at Keter's dock party, right? Nice to see you again. I think Euryale did mention moving in with a couple of her girlfriends."
"No, I don't think you quite understand," Euryale corrected, wrapping an arm around Aroma's shoulders, "She's my girlfriend in the sense that we're dating."
"Oh," Roatha said in a stilted sort of tone, going suddenly very stiff, "It's just, you never showed any sign that you were into girls before."
"Don't start that again," Aroma moaned.
"Start what again?" he asked.
"Never mind," Euryale waved him off, "I have a feeling that we're going to keep hearing that."
"Keep hearing what?" he asked again.
"Like I said, never mind. Look, it's really sweet that you came to apologize and all, but I get the impression Aroma is the monogamous type. Am I right?" She looked to Aroma, who nodded emphatically. "So, I can't go out with you. At least not romantically. You understand, right?"
"Yeah," he said in a hollow, less-than-enthusiastic tone, "Sure. Well—I guess I've taken up enough of your time. I should probably just go."
"It was nice seeing you again too," Aroma said softly as he stepped back.
"Thanks," he replied, waving. They exchanged their farewells and, after he disappeared into the hall, Euryale shut the door.
"Well, that was kind of awkward," Euryale observed, glancing at Aroma with furrowed brows. "Think we'll be seeing him around?"
"I don't know why we would," Aroma answered with a shrug.
Once on the street, Roatha fished around inside his hand-me-down United Forces jacket until he withdrew a bouquet of fire lilies, bought out of season. Perhaps they could be returned for a refund, but presently he wasn't thinking about money. Grimacing, he held them over a trash can. They caught fire in his hand, curling and blackening, before finally withering away into a fine mist of ash. Unfortunately, as he was about to walk away, he noticed orange tongues lapping at the rim of the can.
"Ah, geeze!" he exclaimed, whipping off his coat to frantically beat the flames. A second later, an arc of water shot out from apparent nowhere, splashing into the wastebin and drowning the budding blaze. He looked back to see a blond woman in a double breasted white coat, striding forward as she replaced the stopper of the water skin on her belt.
"You should really be more careful," Thiera scolded, "If I wasn't here, who knows what could have happened."
"Sorry, I guess I wasn't thinking..." he trailed off, smelling his coat to make sure it didn't reek of burnt garbage now.
"Clearly," she replied, folding her arms. "Say, do I know you from somewhere?"
Roatha looked up again, curious squint giving way to instant recognition. "Oh yeah, we met before, at Keter's dock party...but I recognize you more from your picture in the papers." He frowned, adding, "I'm really sorry about your sister."
"Everyone is," she said blandly, brushing aside his condolences, "It doesn't resurrect her, nor ensure that her killer suffers what she deserves."
"I wish I could help," Roatha said, staring at the pavement.
Thiera put a finger to her chin. "Perhaps you could. You previously gave Euryale information about the Purists, correct? Information that she later used for the undercover operation?"
"A little bit," he answered, locking onto her cool, blue eyes, "But I'm not sure I know much more."
"There is only one way to find out. How about we go to the boardwalk to talk? We can get lunch there."
"But weren't you doing something here?" he asked.
She waved his concerns off. "I was just about to move back in from Mom's, and I can do that at any time."
So, after a few minutes of walking through the bustling downtown crowds, they found themselves striding along an even more crowded pier, sausage sandwiches and paper tea cups in hand.
"I really haven't heard of any Purist activity lately," Roatha maintained, starting into the latter half of his sandwich. Swallowing, he added, "There's this new motorcycle gang, but I'm not sure if they're related."
"Then why do you mention them at all?" Thiera asked. Having finished, she dabbed at her mouth with her napkin and tossed her items in a wastebasket.
"Well, they do have some similarities," he explained with a frown, "They wear dark jumpsuits instead of bandages, but they're still basically camouflaged. Plus, they have the same bolas."
"What sort of activities do they engage in?"
"Mostly just drive around, look intimidating, and tell anyone brave enough to approach them to beat pavement. But they certainly do look like trouble. See, they've got these high collars and bike helmets with tinted goggles, so they definitely look like they could be hiding their identities."
"I suppose it may be that the Purists are changing their attire, in an attempt to hide in plain sight, as they prepare for the next phase of their plan."
"What do you think that is?"
"Retrieving their leader from prison, of course."
"Well...I guess that could be. Maybe."
She glared sidelong at him. "If you have something to say, then say it!"
Suddenly, the crowd was giving them a much wider berth as Roatha threw away his garbage and raised his hands defensively. "Sorry, sorry! It's just—well, the papers said that only 1 of the gang's leaders is still out there. So it looks like he's in a good position to take what's left for himself."
Catching a shift in the corner of his eye, he turned to see his companion hanging back, slowly shaking her head. "That is true...I should have foreseen that."
"Hey, it's just a theory. You might still be right."
"That doesn't matter, the important thing is that I find a way to stop her once and for all."
The firebender frowned at her, rubbing the back of his head. He cast a look around, spotting a simple table littered with steel scoops and bowls, colored bottles, and other accessories, all under a blue-and-white striped umbrella. The water tanks underneath it, as well as the apron on the broadly grinning young man with the turtleduck style hair, bore the characters 冰淇淋.
"Hey, you still hungry?" Roatha called over his shoulder as he turned toward it.
Looking up in surprise, she traced his path with her gaze and squinted in confusion. "Isn't it a bit too cold for ice cream?"
"Not for us," he answered, holding up a clenched fist. With a flourish, he opened his palm, revealing a flickering flame that glinted off his grin.
The corner of Thiera's mouth twitched ever slightly upward as she approached, reaching into her pocket. "I suppose I could afford to indulge in something small."
"Nonsense, have whatever you want. My treat." Noting her blank stare, he added, "What?"
"Well," she began slowly, her eyes wandering over the frothing surf lapping at the dock, "I appreciate the offer, but—and I mean no offense by this—I believe I have more money than you do."
"Oh yeah," Roatha confirmed, rubbing the back of his head again, "That's true."
"Please," she insisted, placing money on the counter, "Allow me to repay you instead."
The man reached to the tanks under the table, flicking open a tab. With a wave of his hand, he drew an arc of water up to splash down into a pair of bowls. With his left hand, he grabbed both by the rims and swished them, dispensing flavored syrup from bottles with his right, nodding along to their orders. The water gradually froze and broke apart, becoming more slush-like each time, firming up with the addition of milk from a small ice box. Seconds later, Roatha was holding a small cone of cherry red topped with fire flakes, while Thiera took a slightly larger vanilla sky bison, with cinnamon sticks for horns and raisins for eyes, nose, and mouth.
"May I borrow your pen?" she asked the man as he wrote the receipt. He nodded and handed it over, at which point Thiera scrawled her name and number on the customer copy, before handing it to Roatha. "So you can fill me in on anything else you find," she said with a slight grin.
Roatha took it, wearing a much larger grin. "Right—thanks!"
Thiera felt her way up a rickety staircase, bleary from the far overhead light having to fight its way past the stacked sets of turning stairs. The hall she arrived in was slightly more illuminated, though the lamps were turned down low in hopes of not disturbing the room occupants. She made her way to her old apartment, withdrawing a key from her pocket, scratching about the lock in her blind efforts to make it fit.
This soon proved moot when the door swung open, revealing frankly more of Euryale than Thiera would have liked, clad as she was in her practically transparent rouge night gown. Of course, Aroma was by her side, fidgeting with the belt of her fuzzy pink robe. She made a pouting face that the waterbender looked away from, focusing instead on the eagle hawk intensity in Euryale's eyes as the larger woman pursed her lips and breathed through her nostrils.
"We paid a visit to Binah," she started slowly, "Who said you moved out already. Why didn't you tell us? And where were you? We've been waiting for you all day!" Her voice slowly rose in volume, prompting Aroma to hastily shush her and look around.
"I didn't see why it would bother you, nor did I ask you to wait for me," Thiera answered with a shrug. "May I come in now, or should I find another apartment?"
Euryale stepped aside, closing the door behind her blonde friend. Aroma reached out towards her, which she interpreted as an offer to take her coat. Thiera gladly accepted, revealing that she had a rather plain white dress draped over herself.
Aroma blinked in bewilderment, so Euryale took the initiative to ask, "So what were you doing out all day?"
"What else would I be doing but gathering more information on the Purists?" Thiera asked rhetorically.
"Thiera," Euryale began slowly, reaching out, "I want to get them off the streets as much as anyone, but you need some time for yourself too."
Her fingers had just barely brushed the healer's shoulder when she set off, mumbling over her shoulder that she was tired and just wanted to go to bed.
"W—well how about our next day off?" Aroma called after her timidly. "Would you like to join us for a night out?" a Thiera had retreated far back into the dark hallway, and could no longer be seen. But they heard her unenthusiastic "we'll see," followed by the muffled thud of the door sealing her off from them.
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