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|Smoking Out the Buzzard Wasp Nest|
Sunday, September 6, 2015
The Purist Leader took Aroma back to her cell as promised, but didn't tie her up this time. Aroma waited for hours. A bowl of rice had been slid through the door. After eating it, she laid down with her hands under her head, staring at the ceiling. She waited for hours more.
Suddenly, she was being shaken awake, a hand clasped over her mouth.
"It's me! It's me!" Euryale hissed in her ear. Only when Aroma stopped thrashing around did Euryale remove her hand.
"Why did it take you so long?!" Aroma hissed back.
"I'm sorry, I was training with that firebow, then Vyanna wanted to teach me hand-to-hand combat, then dinner, then they decided I should know how to actually maintain a firebow, then I had to be shown my quarters, and then I had to wait until nobody was patrolling the prison blocks before I could come get you."
"So how are we escaping?"
"This was a wine cellar, right? There must be a winery above us. You mind standing up, please?"
When Aroma acquiesced, Euryale stood on the cot, which groaned under her feet, and ran her hands over the ceiling. "Well, it must've been a winery at some point. It feels more like a parking lot now." She leaned to her right so she could feel as close to the back of the prison as possible, adding, "Shelves...soft items in boxes and bags...it's a grocery store."
"Maybe it's just some kind of bunker for some criminal hideout?"
"Why would a secret storehouse be built above the ground? Either way, there's no one there now. We're in the clear, as long as we hurry."
"No one will hear your bending?"
Euryale pressed her fist against the ceiling and flexed her bicep. It looked like she was punching it in slow motion, grinding her fist into the rock. As she did so, trickles of gravel and coarse powder ran over her arm, piling on the floor.
"That's all they'll hear," she said, referring to the soft shushing noise of dust piling on the floor. Euryale was not much of a sandbender, but it seemed to work.
"How long will this take?" Aroma asked, wringing her hands and starting to pace up and down.
"No more than an hour," Euryale answered. "Hang by the door and let me know if you hear someone coming."
Aroma did so, though she could only see a tiny sliver of light from the main tunnel. Occasionally a shadow passed in front of it, but she saw no one for a very long time. Meanwhile, Euryale continued to drill through the ceiling, occasionally pausing to scoop out a wider path with both hands.
"Okay," Euryale announced suddenly, "I'm through." When Aroma looked over, she saw that Euryale had climbed down a kind of crude ladder that she'd carved into the escape passage. "After you."
Grabbing a rung with quivering fingers, Aroma began her ascent, often having to brush powder off of the hand holds before she could get a grip.
"You're about halfway up," Euryale eventually called from down below, "I'm on my way."
She could hear Euryale catching up to her when she suddenly heard a man shout, "Hey! Hey! Heeeey! A prisoner is escaping!"
His statement was punctuated by the cell door scraping open. Aroma looked back without thinking, and her fingers slipped off of the rocks, causing her to plummet into Euryale. The duo smacked painfully into the wall and then fell feet first back into the cell, which they now heard footsteps running towards.
A burning shockwave surged up Aroma's legs as she hit the ground, the dust pile billowing out in all directions. Instantly, her elbows were seized and held behind her back by a thick arm. Turning her head, she could see that the Purist towered above her, but could make out few details in the darkness.
"I see, looks like an earthbender snuck in here as 1 of us."
Aroma's line of sight darted to where Euryale lay sprawled flat on her back, unmoving. She must have hit her head on the way down!
She looked back to see that the man was staring upward as more shapes filed in behind him. He continued, "The tunnel she dug will be a problem. But she'll be easy to fix. Just need someone to hold onto this for me."
At "this" he gave Aroma a shake. A shorter Purist obliged, stepping forward to grab Aroma's arms. The large Purist pulled a knife from his belt and approached Euryale. Aroma couldn't let this happen, but had no idea how to stop it.
Wildly, she stomped her new captor's foot, but the boot didn't give, so she squeezed her eyes shut and slammed her head back into his chin. Ignoring the swirls of color she was now seeing and the throb of her teeth, she tried to wriggle out of his grasp. Maybe he hadn't had time to secure her—yes, her right wrist had gotten free!
She whirled around and struck him in the shoulder, hammering several punches a second until she hit her mark. Finally, the arm holding her left wrist went limp and she shot towards the large Purist. There was no way she could beat him. He glanced back, momentarily surprised, but recovered quickly. Aroma saw the glint of the knife approaching and knew this was how it would all end.
And yet, it didn't. At the last second, the Purist remembered she was needed and jerked his weapon aside. Aroma immediately grabbed his wrist with both hands, squeezing until the knife slid into her grasp. Once she had it, she pointed it to his throat. He raised his hands, eyes wide as saucers, but after a couple seconds, they narrowed as he caught onto her bluff. Flaring his nostrils, he kneed her hard in the stomach, and for the 2nd time in as many days, Aroma found herself on the ground, wheezing.
Suddenly feeling a lot less merciful, she reached forward to rake the blade across the back of the man's ankle. He went down with a howl of anguish, Aroma doing her best to push him away from Euryale. Of course, other figures were now rushing in, and Aroma felt jolts of pain in her ribs and lower body as the mob of Purists kicked her in earnest.
"Stop!" the man on the ground yelled between gasping sobs, clutching his leg as trembles started in his hands and rose up through his entire body, "You think—this hurts...?! Nothing—compared to—disobeying—our Leader!"
A jerk ran through some of the Purists at this and they began pulling their comrades away from Aroma, yelling at them to stop. Aroma didn't see much at this point aside from the toe of a boot heading for her face, then the swirls of color were washed away by a throbbing mass of solid red.
When her vision started to come back, she saw the Purists collecting themselves as the dust settled. Several had gone to hold Euryale's limbs down, and Aroma could feel the same being done to her, as well as someone grabbing the back of her head and forcing her face into the dirt, the fine gravel causing her to cough and her eyes to water. Someone tugged on the knife in her hand twice, before deciding to pinch her wrist, causing her fingers to tingle and slack.
"No!" she cried, blowing puffs of dust out as the shape approached Euryale, "Euryale, please, you have to wake up!"
He bent over her, grabbing her hood and placing the knife to her throat.
"Now, or he'll kill you! And you, what if the Purist Leader wants to interrogate her! Did you think about that!?"
His wrist jerked back in hesitation. Then Euryale moaned.
"...Chi block her!" the Purist cried out after just a second's hesitation.
It was enough. Euryale's eyes fluttered, then snapped open as she pounded her fists on the ground, cracking it and causing the Purists to sway and stumble. Finding their grip was still such that she could barely lift her arms, she decided instead to pull all of her limbs inward, dropping the loosened rocks of the roof down on everyone.
Aroma screamed. Purists screamed, and ran. Aroma made to follow, only for something to dart out and wrap around her waist. The cable pulled her towards Euryale, whose right arm clamped down on her as she rose shakily to her feet. Aroma did not realize this, so she screamed her head off, clawing fruitlessly at the arm binding her.
Euryale raised a hand, causing the rocks over her to shudder and fall away from them, as if rolling down an invisible hill. Then she shot another cable up to the street above and the girls were quickly sucked up into the chilly night air, the thick clouds above them parting to allow shafts of moonlight through.
"That could have gone better!" Euryale shouted, dragging Aroma, kicking and screaming, across the parking lot. "We don't have much time to alert the reinforcements! So could you please stop fighting me!?"
Aroma kept fighting her for almost a minute, until finally slowly going limp, as it dawned on her what was going on.
"That's better!" Euryale called, "But it'd be even better than that if you'd RUN!"
This time, Aroma did not need to be told twice. The girls darted across the parking lot in each other's arms, jumped the curb, and kept going.
"I'm not sure how far we can get before the Purists regroup, or where they'll come from!" Euryale yelled.
"We blew it! We won't be able to ambush them anymore, they'll just move to a new headquarters!"
"That will take time!" Euryale pointed out. "We're not sunk yet!"
On the other side of the road was a fairly tall, nondescript building. As they approached, Euryale scooped Aroma up, leaping up the stairs, spinning in the air, and bringing both of her feet down right on the door. It flew open as the pair rolled into a hallway. Euryale immediately shot up, wrenching open another door and flicking the light switch, revealing a plain white, windowless office, dominated by a black desk and matching swivel chair. The desk was bare but for a typewriter and a phone.
"Call HQ!" she shouted as she set Aroma down and reached back to close the door, "I'll barricade the entrance!"
Aroma nodded. Rushing inside, she swept the candlestick phone off of the desk, mainly because Euryale had grabbed it with a pair of cables and was dragging it towards her. Now that she'd pulled her hood off and stuffed it into her belt, Aroma could see that her hair had been dyed black.
"Yes, hello Chan," Aroma rapidly rambled when the ringing finally stopped, "I need you to call all available units to...?"
"North Silk Street," Euryale provided, as she sealed, locked, and barricaded the office entrance.
"North Silk Street," Aroma repeated, "We've found the Purist headquarters! Chief Beifong can tell you more!"
"Shh! They're searching the halls," Euryale whispered from the vantage point of having her ear pressed to the door. Sure enough, the door knob began to rattle. A pick could be heard scraping inside, but Euryale was holding it steady. Meanwhile, Aroma hung up the phone, having heard the tone go flat and realizing that the line had been cut.
"Move," they heard Vyanna say in an irritated tone, and then came a sound almost like gum being slapped against the door.
Euryale raced towards Aroma, wide eyed and screaming, "It's blasting jelly! Get down!"
No sooner had she thrown herself over Aroma, dragging them both to the floor, than a draconic roar filled the room. A rush of fiery wind atomized the door, a hail of smoldering, blackening splinters bouncing off of the wall that Euryale was trying to raise. Then the Purists funneled in through the fading clouds of ash, the desk having been cracked basically in half, drawers spilling paper that promptly combusted, curling up and disintegrating as it was kicked aside, typewriter unaccounted for but for a few singed and disembodied keys.
Euryale shot back up, but wobbled. She tried to grab the defensive wall to steady herself, but it was half-formed and porous, and crumpled beneath her fingers. Aroma darted to her feet to grab her shoulders.
"Your head injury!" Aroma grunted with the strain of holding Euryale.
"You'll have to look at it later!" she shouted, launching a haphazard roundhouse kick that sent the remnants of her fortification angling towards the Purists. It careened into a stout and overweight Purist, possibly the man Aroma had treated. He was down and out, but Vyanna and the others deftly cartwheeled out of the way.
"You know what weapons we have," Vyanna spat as the Purists demonstrated her point by pulling bombs from their belts, "You can't beat us!"
"Don't have to!" Euryale exclaimed. With that, she whirled around, grabbing Aroma and leaping right through the wall, which crumpled in front of them like a house of cards, explosions echoing through the alley as they ran. They hadn't gotten far when Euryale stumbled into a wall. In desperation, she reached out, collapsing the bricks from the upper floors onto the alley behind them.
"Be careful," Aroma cried, "This fight could bring the buildings down on top of us!"
"It won't matter if the chief doesn't get here soon," Euryale said, staring at the sky, "Come on, come on...yes!"
Aroma looked up, and could just barely see an airship parting the clouds, trailing lines that armored warriors would be sliding down. Aroma looked away as the search lights flared, and could hear sirens approaching from behind her.
"Get back here, you idiots! We can't get away, so we might as well take them with us!" Aroma looked back to see Vyanna raising a firebow. "Fine. I'll do it myself."
Euryale swung out with her cable just as Vyanna pulled the trigger. Missed her hand, but raked directly up her stomach, her face snapping back as the cord made contact with her chin. A brick cracked just above Aroma's head, powder trickling down into her hair.
Vyanna rolled back to her feet, pulling another bolt from her belt pouch and scrabbling to force it down the barrel and pull back the bowstring, but Euryale was charging her down like a saber tooth moose lion, albeit swerving like a very disoriented one. Finally, Vyanna stuffed the weapon back into her belt and grabbed her own wrists, withdrawing concealed dao swords, the length of her forearm, from each sleeve. Seeing the glint of the blades, Aroma pressed herself back against the wall, dropping down to sit with her knees drawn up to her face. Wrapping her arms around her legs, she trembled.
Vyanna swung her left blade at Euryale's neck. Not having her armor, Euryale ducked and grabbed Vyanna's right wrist to stop her next slash in mid-swing. Vyanna turned her left blade and brought the pommel towards the back of Euryale's head. Aroma now sprang to her feet, scooping the dust from her hair as she ran, and threw it right in Vyanna's eyes.
Vyanna roared in frustration, but Euryale just laid there. "I can't move!" she noted helpfully.
Aroma grabbed the officer's feet, tugging until her shoulders felt like they would wrench free, then tugging some more, as Vyanna brushed the dust out of her eyes with the back of her hand. Blinking a few times, she spotted the duo trying to retreat. Grinning, she tucked her blades under her left arm and resumed loading the firebow.
"If I can just—get us around—the—corner!" Aroma gasped. She ran around Euryale's front, ducking down to push her the rest of the way.
"What are you doing?! Don't put yourself in her line of fire!"
"Don't worry, they won't kill me!"
"Doesn't mean I can't hurt you real bad," Vyanna offered.
Both of the girls screamed as Aroma dropped, pain shooting through her left leg. She opened an eye and saw, through a film of tears, what looked like a spear of bone with fins running through her, just above her ankle. She put her right foot on Euryale's shoulder, braced her hands against the ground behind her, and shoved with all of her might. Euryale soon disappeared behind the building.
"Blasted--! Stay there!" Vyanna commanded, stalking down the alley past Aroma, only to drop as Aroma grabbed 1 of her feet. Having caught herself, Vyanna growled, twisted around, and punched Aroma hard in her injured leg.
Aroma blacked out. When she next opened her eyes, Vyanna was backing towards her, ducking under chunks of rock hurled by an unseen attacker. Aroma could feel the shockwaves uncomfortably close to her head as they slammed and skidded across the street. To her left, Chief Beifong ran across the wall, flanking Vyanna and firing a cable. Aroma blinked a few times, seeing Vyanna whirl in snapshots, pinning the Chief's arms against the wall with her left sword, then stabbing at her throat.
Vyanna was pulled back as Saikhan came into view, tugging on a cable binding her wrist. She ran to him, leaping over the stone spikes he kicked up, running across the right wall, and coming down to kick him in the side of the head. Landing on top of him, she maneuvered her swords into a scissor shape at his neck, but had to duck once again to avoid a punch from the chief.
She quickly rolled to her feet, stabbing both blades into the chief's side. She then pulled them apart, breaking a large hole where the front and back plates met. This proved pointless when the chief grabbed her broken armor to mold it back into shape, using her other hand to wrap a cable around Vyanna's swords and wrists, pulling her down and kneeing her in the stomach. Vyanna went down, gasping, and tried to sweep the chief's leg with a kick, but soon Saikhan, holding his neck, had trapped her arms and legs in more cables.
Aroma looked up, which since she was lying on her back, meant she was looking at the opposite street. She could see her neighbors, the undercover agents, now back in their armor. They had arrived in unmarked cars and raised an earth pyramid that she presumed contained the Purists who fled in spite of Vyanna's orders. Some of them rushed forward to seize Vyanna, hauling her to the cruisers.
She could also see the Fire Nation police repel into the hole in the earth, cables running through multi-geared clockwork contraptions on their backs, and more units driving down the street. She assumed these were regular patrols, being directed by Chan towards the various entrances to the underground to capture whatever Purists tried to escape through them.
"Are you alright?" Chief Beifong asked her briskly, kneeling at her side and grabbing her shoulders to help her to a sitting position.
"No!" Aroma hissed through gritted teeth, "My leg!"
"The Psyches will be here soon. We sent an airship for them."
Sure enough, Aroma could already see the clouds parting for the search lights, as if the sun was peeking through an overcast day. Another airship had joined the original.
Not being metalbenders, Lilith and Thiera were outfitted with harnesses to help them slide down the cords. These were easily detached, and the sisters ran in opposite directions, Thiera drawing fluid out of her water skin and pressing it to Aroma's leg as she slowly removed the bolt.
Aroma gave a few shuddering sobs, but soon enough, Thiera was withdrawing bandages from her utility belt, wrapping them around Aroma's leg. The nonbender reached down, brushing Thiera's hands aside and tying it herself.
"Euryale's been chi blocked! And she has a head injury!"
Thiera nodded and ran over. Euryale was already climbing into a sitting position, supported by Lilith. Thiera splashed her hair full of water, which grew very warm as she touched it, the pressure in Euryale's head going down.
"Kane's down!" a man shouted.
"I'll get him!" Lilith said at once, dashing out to the street, where a group of police had raised a wall to protect from the storm of arrows from the office building windows. This managed to hold until an explosive bolt collapsed the wall, burying the police in smoking rubble.
Hearing a groan, Lilith looked out to the center of the road, where she saw Kane clutching his left knee with the same arm, a bolt poking out from between his fingers. He was whipping his other wrist cord left and right, trying to fend off a group of Purists closing in on him. Eventually, a Purist got his bola around the whip, pulling to keep Kane from attacking.
When the attackers raised their firebows, Lilith darted forward, pulling her saber from the crimson sheath at her belt. A silvery rose blur flashed as she sliced through the bola and the Purist tumbled backwards. Kane raised a wall as the Purists fired on them, a man howling in frustration as his weapon exploded in his hand, which he now cradled as it bore a series of splinters. The other Purists rushed around the wall, jabbing with the spear tips on their strange bows.
Lilith batted the weapons aside with her blade, but a shorter assailant managed to slip to her side, grabbing her braid and brandishing a knife. Wincing, she rotated her own weapon, grabbing it with both hands and thrusting with all of her might. He screamed and fell backward, clutching his stomach as dark fluid bubbled out.
Lilith let loose a shallow horizontal swing, but the other Purists were backing away, deploying shields and having replaced their empty firebows with swinging bolas. Kane grabbed the ground with both hands, literally flipping the road over onto the Purists. Lilith thanked him, grabbing him under the arms and dragging him towards the alley. But the Purists were climbing out of the wreckage, reloading and aiming at them.
Suddenly, the rocks at their feet came rushing in, battering them from all sides. Forced to cover their heads with their shields and weapons, their fragile firebows were easily bent and shattered by the assault. Lilith next saw the flowing red flash of Barbatos's hair streaming from under her helmet as she leaped into the fray, deploying katars. She smacked aside razor-edged punches from the Purists' shields, angling to slice and stab them after each deflected blow. In desperation, a retreating Purist threw his shield like a discus, arching towards her right side, but she raised her arm, allowing it to clang off of her armor before lashing him hard across the back with a possibly still bladed whip. He ran no further.
No sooner had Lilith got Kane back into the alley than Aroma was taking the armor off of his leg, having hobbled over and sat down with Euryale's support.
"But you're injured too!" Lilith yelled. "You shouldn't be working!"
"We don't have a choice, Thiera's busy!" Aroma yelled back. "Saikhan's been cut worse than we thought!"
The trio could see that the flesh around Kane's knee was black and shriveled, displaying the contours of his patella. All of this seemed to be caused by a similar bone arrow to that which Aroma had been shot with.
"It looks like a flesh-eating poison," Aroma commented, "Euryale, I need you to bind the leg above and below the knee, until we have a clean blade to cut the flesh."
Euryale followed her instructions. For good measure, Aroma gave a swift pair of blows that she thoughts should concentrate his chi around that area. For his part, Kane laid quietly with his eyes half open, nodding vaguely at everything Aroma said. Soon Thiera began operating on his leg with a water scalpel and an officer with large, bushy black eyebrows ran up, saluting as the Chief turned to bark at him.
"Assist the healers! Euryale, come with me!"
"There's a man that the Purists dumped in the sewer!" Aroma called after them, "They thought he was dead, but it was a trick! Please make sure he's okay!"
As the police pair ran into the street, Lilith pointed out to the man where more officers were buried in rubble. He used his bending to shake as many as he could loose at once and pull them into the alley. Many just had minor swelling, so Thiera contented herself to freeze bands of water around the offending areas until it went down, having brought additional water skins under her healer's jacket.
However, a few had been shot, which was more serious. On particularly deep wounds, Aroma worked in tandem with Thiera, with the aid of supplies from her utility belt. She would hold the wound open with a pair of long, thin tongs, stitching in places where Thiera had managed to stop the bleeding. All the while, explosions continued to ring out as the Purists fought the police throughout the city, Lilith and the officer watching opposite ends of the alley.
"An attack!" Lilith shouted, prompting the officer to raise a rock tent around the Healers and patients, only for part of it to be blown away by a bomb. Lilith had ducked behind the rock tent, but blood was still trickling down her right eye from where a shard of stone had whizzed by her forehead.
A pair of Purists raised their firebows. The right attacker's weapon clicked, at which point he found himself wrapped head to toe in steel cable. Thiera took a swipe at the left attacker, splashing his weapon and encasing it in ice as Lilith darted forward. He pulled the bola from his side, hurling it at Lilith's feet, but she sliced it in half and forced him to stumble back, lest he be bisected.
Lilith did not stop, but continued to surge forward, bashing him in the head with her sword's guard. While he stumbled, disoriented, Lilith seized the cords from the bola, binding his arms and legs, then forcing him onto his stomach and tying them together.
"P—please don't fall asleep, Mr. Kane, you might have a concussion," Aroma cautioned breathlessly, the Healers having quickly returned to work.
Chief Beifong dropped into the hole that opened onto the Purist headquarters with Euryale in hot pursuit. The light spilling in from the moon and the main tunnel indicated that the walls had been scorched, the likely offender being the twisted and charred remains of barrels by the prison door.
Euryale and Beifong nodded at each other. Skulking around opposite walls, they approached the door, where the prison bars had bowed outward from the blast, and peered out. They had not detected anyone with their seismic sense, nor had it been fooled. Each ran in opposite directions until Euryale heard a sound in another cell. Flinging open the door, she saw a Purist turn toward her and the flash of a firebow.
She yelled as the metal arrow embedded itself into her wrist, too fast for her to stop, but swung her other fist aside, sending a piece of the wall careening toward the tall, thin woman. She rolled forward, only to eat a rock to the face, courtesy of Euryale's foot.
Peering over her unconscious body, she saw a man of Fire Nation descent in a straightjacket, propped up against the wall. She expected him to look fearful, but his frazzled goatee twitched as he smiled at her, apparently oblivious to his near death experience. With a grunt, she wrenched the bolt out of her wrist, bending it into a compress that she wrapped tightly around her wounded wrist. As she nursed it, the chief walked up.
"I saw the same, only I didn't reach my target in time. These are the doctor's test subjects, aren't they? Probably local Agni Kais that he'd kidnapped."
"It looks that way. My guess is that he tried to escape with his research, realized he couldn't bring it with him, and left them behind, ordering some of the Purists to cover his tracks."
Sure enough, after securing the Purist, they found the makeshift clinic ablaze, the foreign metal police helping firefighters into the tunnel with their cables. Chief Beifong started to run over, but to her surprise, Euryale was running in another direction.
"Vyanna—I mean, the Purist lieutenant said they were expanding to the south!"
The chief nodded and ran after, only to find themselves face-to-face with a collapsed tunnel.
"If we try to get through this, we could bring the whole block down," Chief Beifong noted, "C'mon, let's find another way around!"
They wound their way around, finding themselves in a sewer tunnel. A stake had been hammered into the stone path, with chains wound around it. When they got closer, Euryale noticed an almost imperceptible dark spot on the ground and summoned the brick to her hand to give it a sniff.
"Motor oil," she reported, allowing the brick to fall back into place, "Someone must've escaped on a boat."
"Well, let's go back and order this tunnel traced. Hopefully we'll find that man Aroma was talking about while we're at it."
By the time they repelled up to the streets, making their way to the nearest cruiser to use the radio, the road was fully blockaded by police cars at every turn off, and filled with bound Purists, who were being pulled towards the cruisers. The windows of the office building had been sealed in stone, metalbenders swarming in from the main entrance. The sun was just beginning to poke out around the skyscrapers, but with the search lights from the fleet of patrolling airships, it might as well have been midday.
Meanwhile, Aroma, the officer with the eyebrows, and the Psyche sisters assisted in loading patients on an ambulance.
For the collective works of the author, go here.