|By Neo Bahamut||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
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Friday, June 12, 2015
One after the other, Thiera thrust her palms out, rolling a pair of waves towards Aroma, who essentially twisted around them. Thiera then grunted as she arched her right foot high into the air, sending yet another wave crashing down, this time as wide as the pool. Aroma tried to leap clear of it, only rising about halfway out of the water before she was shoved under and the wave crashed against the deck. After sloshing against the guard rail, most of it slid back into the pool, leaving behind only dark stains and isolated globules.
Thiera, trunk twisted to the left from the kick, was winding up another palm thrust from that side. Instead of launching it, she slowly clasped her hands at her waist and bowed, inhaling deeply to steady her breathing. She did not stand until Aroma returned to the surface, spitting out a little arc of water.
"Remember what we discussed," Binah lectured from her vantage point of sitting at the table, sipping tea with Euryale, "You should duck under a high kick. Then you can trap your opponent, and take advantage of their loss of balance and defensive abilities."
"Right," Aroma noted as she rubbed water from her eyes, "The wave is a lot weaker under the surface."
"You are getting the idea behind the movements, though. You must be graceful and slip through the water. The more you try to force your way, the more it will resist. You must learn to move like this even on land."
Euryale put her cup down. "You know, I keep bringing my swimming suit, but we never actually go swimming. The closest thing is Aroma or Thiera...doing whatever Aroma is doing now."
"Ai Chi," Binah answered, "Most waterbending masters find it beneficial for the student to actually train within a body of water. But if you would like, you could certainly go for a swim now. I think that is enough training for today."
"Thanks, but we'll have to take a rain check," Euryale responded, "But it'd be swell if you could come to Keter Aurora's soiree with us."
Binah held her cup up to her mouth. "Oh, no, I wouldn't want to intrude."
"No intrusion," Euryale insisted, "You said yourself that we're friends. Right, girls?"
She looked over. Aroma swam up to the deck and grabbed Thiera's hand as she bent down. Aroma looked up at the wet beads sparkling on the glowing backdrop of Thiera's toned thighs and—she shook her head, droplets flying off of her hair. Meanwhile, Thiera beckoned some water to her free hand and dabbed her own forehead with it.
"What? Oh—yes, I'd love to show you how grateful I am to you, Master Psyche."
"You are too kind," Binah answered.
Once Aroma was on deck, she bowed at Binah. Thiera tentatively patted her on the shoulder and disengaged to go have a drink, sweeping her wet fingers through the length of her hair.
"Well, we'll have to change out of our training outfits and wash off," Binah said, "That is, provided my daughter won't be too embarrassed to have me there with her."
Euryale caught a glimpse of Thiera's cheeks flushing before she looked away, her mumble echoing into the cup pressed to her lips. "Are guilt trips a required parenting course? No, Mother, of course you can come."
"Is using formality as a passive-aggressive insult a required course for being a daughter?" Binah asked. Euryale chuckled as Thiera reddened further.
The second the girls emerged from the Cruiser, they could already tell that the docks were alive with the sounds of music, Tsugi horns rumbling out ambient background sounds matching the push and pull of the waves while saxophones bleated out an escalating counterpoint.
"Come on, let's go!" Euryale called in excitement, jogging backwards like a kid at an amusement park. Aroma wondered how she didn't slip out of the red leather sandals she was wearing. She evidently wanted to make a good impression, as she was wearing a new crimson dress decorated with golden fractals of flame rings whirling around its entirety. The dress was also longer than usual, extending just past her knees and relying on an elastic band to enable movement. It was sleeveless, but compensated by having a cape collar stylized as if a giant lotus had been slipped over her head, white petals with sanguine streaks.
Aroma dutifully jogged forward, wearing a comparatively simpler pink dress and matching cloche hat for the occasion. Fearing she may be under-dressed next to Euryale and needing something to offset her purse anyway, she tied a green ribbon to the back of a jade clip in the shape of a moth and wound it around her hat so that the clip was on the left side. She also grabbed a simple, loose-hanging necklace of green beads. Unwilling to wear the gloves that Thiera had bought for her, she wore a simple white pair, matching them to a pair of heeled boots extending midway up her calves.
But not everyone could—or perhaps wished to—be color-coded for the festivities. Binah wore a long, loose-fitting white dress, cinched at the waist. Instead of sleeves, she had wound a scarf around one marble arm, drooped it behind her back, and then continued with the other arm. Blue with flecks of white, they were evocative of a winding river. Thiera simply wore her usual white dress and slippers, with a longer coat thrown on over top because of the cold. She did, however, have a bit of hair arranged in long, slender loops on either side of her face.
They found the atmosphere to be much warmer on the docks, which were of course crowded, their surface area extended by anchoring small boats out at sea and stretching planks to the main piers. Though most boats were being used to accommodate the dancing shadow people, a few smaller boats were roaming free, mainly kayaks and turtle duck paddle boats, but also a few motorboats drifting on low.
As they walked on, more details swam out of the night haze. Red, orange, and gold ribbons streamed through the air, hung from poles along with more traditional Fire Nation flags. Below them, spherical canvas lamps floated on the water, their lights twinkling on the tides so it appeared as though the assembled were partying on a molten lake.
Of course, no Fire Nation celebration would be complete without fire. As soon as their shoes clanked onto the wood, it roared all around them, to the point that it felt like spring again. They passed fire eaters, fire twirlers, a pair of divers who managed to engage in a mock Agni Kai under the water for the amusement of a throng of children, a play featuring a six-person canvas dragon that breathed fire, and even a stage magician in a long, black suit and top hat shooting fireballs that became turtledoves or rains of Fire Lilies.
Euryale nudged Aroma—who would have fallen into the sea had she not bumped into Master Psyche—and pointed excitedly at the shadowy form of a boat advancing on the horizon, visible against the backdrop of the moon.
"There she is! She should be here in a few hours."
"And what do we do until she gets here?" Thiera asked.
"Do you not know how to have fun? Do whatever you want, just try not to miss the shows."
Thiera, the instruments, everything was drowned out by an enormous boom. Aroma jumped. Sea and sky alike lit up as blue claws aggressively raked through the sky. Aroma jumped again as she thought she heard another thunder burst on the way, but it turned out to be just the cheer of the crowd, a wave of fire forming above them as they each shot sparks up in sequence.
"So Keter can generate electricity," Thiera observed. "But why exactly is that so noteworthy? We are surrounded by Firebenders. Statistically speaking, some of them should be able to—"
Thiera scowled as she was drowned out by another loud CRACK and the next roar of the crowd.
"Not like that, they can't!" Euryale yelled while clapping.
Thiera stared at her blankly for several seconds, before ultimately flicking her fingers to summon droplets up to her from the sea. She flicked her wrists, twirling them around her fingers in figure eights, then triangles, and onto increasingly complex geometric patterns. Aroma momentarily forgot her promise to keep her distance, staring in awe at the waterbender's deft finger work. She had formed the shape of an eight-pointed star before she finally threw up her arms in frustration.
As she did so, the droplets fell to the ground and were quickly absorbed by the wood. Euryale's attention was stolen away from the ship—which had stopped shooting lightning for now anyway—and she frowned at Thiera.
"If only I had brought my Healer's belt, then I could at least get some work done!" Thiera lamented.
"You don't work at a party," Euryale pointed out. "Look, people are always dragging their shut-in friends to these things to get some fresh air—"
"Shut-ins?" Thiera asked, blinking at her several times.
"You're missing the point. Just find someone who looks as bored as you do and go strike up a conversation. You'll probably have loads in common."
"You just make it sound so—"
Euryale cupped her hands to her mouth, turned to a group of men in dingy red coats, and shouted, "HEEEEY!"
"What are you doing?!" Thiera shouted, eyes widening in terror, sweat already gleaming on her brow in the pale orange light.
Euryale dimly felt Thiera's palpitations vibrating up her leg bones, but ignored her. "Not all of you," she clarified as they started forward, "Just the guy lurking in the back and not saying anything! Yes, you!" she said the last part in answer to a young man who pointed at his own dumbstruck face. Brown haired and clean-shaven, exposing a somewhat round chin, he was about as old as the girls, and about as tall as Thiera. Not especially muscular, he was the same overall thickness of her as well.
By this point, Thiera had latched onto Euryale's left arm with both of her own. But though she threw all of her weight into each tug, she was unable to pull Euryale away from that spot. "I'll do whatever you want if you just stop this!" she pleaded. "Anything! We can watch all the lightning you want, I'll even have fun, I swear!"
Aroma glanced at everyone assembled as if searching for advice. Her gaze finally fell on Binah, who had been quietly watching the scene the entire time, arms clasped at her waist.
Glancing down at Aroma, she answered her unasked question, "I think it will be good for Thiera to make some new friends."
Aided by a great shove from his compatriots, the man stumbled over. In the pale light emitted by the performers, Aroma could see that he was relatively light-skinned, but not nearly as pale as her or Thiera. He had light eyes, but she could not quite make out whether they were blue or green. Whatever the case, it seemed unlikely that he was pure Fire Nation, though that wasn't so odd in Republic City. Aside from the jacket, he wore gray slacks.
He and Thiera locked terror-struck gazes as Euryale pried her off of her arm and shoved her forward.
"Uh...hi," the pair said in unison. The man's presumed friends each shot a single fire blast in the air and whooped.
Euryale coughed into her hand, "Sowhat'syourname?"
As planned, Thiera blurted it out without thinking, all in one word. Euryale gave an approving nod and wandered off.
"What? Oh—my name—it's Roatha. Yours?"
"So...which Water Tribe are you from? What brings you to a Fire Nation party? Are you a fan of Keter's?"
Thiera's left eyelid twitched slightly. "I was born in Republic City," she said, "But my mother relocated from the Northern Water Tribe. I was dragged here by someone whom I thought was a friend—"
"Hey, now, be nice," Euryale protested from a stand at which she'd just purchased a bag of Fire Flakes.
Thiera continued, "And if I am honest, I consider Keter rather vain."
Roatha backed up slightly, amidst the "oohs" and "aahs" of his presumed friends. "Okay, probably shouldn't have phrased it like that...I live in the Dragon Flats."
Behind them, Euryale offered Aroma and Binah the bag. Both of them waved her off.
"Hold that thought," Thiera said before pointing to the gaggle of guys, "Will you please ask them to stop jeering like that?"
Roatha glanced at them and turned back, scratching the back of his head. "I mean, I could try, but I don't think they'd listen to me. I don't know much about them except that they all outrank me."
"Yer in teh Ooni'ed 'Orces?" Euryale asked through a mouthful of flakes, still managing to sound impressed. Now that she said it, Aroma did notice that his style of jacket had looked very familiar, and more elaborate than those of the other men. It was a kind of longcoat like Thiera's, and was worn similarly, buttoned only down to the waist but extending down just pas his knees. Unlike Thiera's, it was red with gold trimmings, having prominently folded cuffs and collar. It also looked just slightly oversized.
"Ah, no, I'm a power plant worker. The jacket's my dad's."
Euryale swallowed and let that conversation point die on a flat, "Oh."
Roatha scratched his head yet again as the men behind him snickered. "Maybe we should just go somewhere else?"
"We?" Thiera asked, but Euryale quickly clapped an arm around each of them, spilling Fire Flakes all over the docks and down Roatha's coat. He glanced down, but said nothing.
"The more the merrier!" Euryale shouted before dragging them away, Aroma tottering along behind.
"Go get 'er, tigerdillo!" one of the men shouted, just before another flash of light from the approaching ship.
Euryale and Aroma sat on a secluded bench overlooking a small pier on which Roatha and Thiera were talking. Roatha was slowly moving backwards from Thiera, who stood rigidly, with her legs together and arms crossed. The lightning pulses had been off and on for the last couple of hours, becoming increasingly spread out. It had been at least 40 minutes since the last one. This was fine by Aroma, who preferred sitting quietly with Euryale.
"So what do you think about this?" Euryale asked in between mouthfuls of fire flakes, gesturing towards the pier below.
Aroma held up her stick of cotton candy to block the scene, glaring hard into the billowing clouds of sugar, ash-gray with swirls of orange "Well, I did tell her that I was moving on, but I can't help but feel a bit jealous."
"Really?" Euryale noted with an ascending tone of satisfaction.
Aroma looked away. "Yeah, but I don't want anything to blow up in my face at last time. I should probably make a big show about talking to a few girls at this party. But I'll just ask them for the time, or weather, or something."
"Oh," Euryale said, her tone dropping back down. She glanced up as Roatha came jogging up, pointing down the pier at a white figure drifting through the crowd.
"Hey, Thiera wanted me to tell you that she's going to go look for her mother."
"Okay," Euryale answered, standing up, "We should probably go follow her. Here."
She thrust the bag of Fire Flakes at Roatha's chest. Reflexively, he stepped back and seized it with both hands, then looked at Euryale with a raised eyebrow. Euryale held out her hand for Aroma, who grasped it without thinking. After they had taken a few steps, Euryale looked back over her shoulder.
"Are you coming with us?" she called. "You seemed to be pretty eager to get to know Thiera."
"I don't know, I think the boat's pretty much sailed on that one. Unless maybe one of you are single?"
"I don't think you 2 are compatible," she said with a nod to Aroma, who was sporting an awkward grin that was really more like a grimace. "But as for me? Well...." She looked back and forth between him and Aroma, who tilted her head to look curiously at her out of the corner of her eye. Finally, Euryale continued, "Why don't you tag along with us, and we'll see what happens? Unless you have something better to do, that is."
"I guess not," Roatha said with a shrug.
"I admire your commitment," Euryale praised him sarcastically.
The trio began walking down the pier, squeezing past partygoers, with Roatha lagging along a few feet behind. After a few minutes, they encountered a thin spot in the crowd, which had formed a loose ring around a man and woman. This pair stood circling each other, arms locked in a mock Agni Kai. They then twirled simultaneously, locking their arms again as the crowd around them clapped to an ever-increasing rhythm.
The man had hair almost as dark as his slacks, styled in a ducktail, but with temples that matched his ashen duster, which Euryale pushed past as it billowed in the wind. She wound around the duo, emulating their stomps and rotating footwork. Aroma stared at her feet, struggling to keep up with the movements. Roatha just tiptoed sideways along the edge of the pier, holding his arms out for balance.
The woman scrutinized them through half-closed amber eyes. She sported long curls of black hair dangling down over red satin dress that in turn flowed over her feet, flashing and whipping around with each twirl. When they were almost out of eyeshot, she exhaled a little jet of fire, barely bigger than her tongue, which Aroma swore was aimed in their direction.
"You know that dancing's a form of flirting, right?" Euryale called back. When Roatha and Aroma just exchanged confused glances, Euryale frowned and changed the topic, "So you said you live in the Dragon Flats, right Roatha?"
"Yeah," he answered, "But I'm thinking of moving. All of those Triads, you know? Worrying about being mugged by an Agni Kai or a Triple Threat was bad enough, but have you heard of these Purist lunatics roaming the streets?"
"Uh, yeah," Euryale said, her frown deepening as she looked down to see that Aroma had resumed staring hard into her cotton candy.
"I just keep thinking, it'd be great if someone found their base and took them out quickly, they might not...." He trailed off as they entered the pale golden glow of a fire ball juggler's act and he saw Aroma and Euryale staring grimly at each other. "I'm sorry, did I say something wrong?"
He rubbed the back of his head, diverting his eyes towards the juggler, a man in a poofy red jumpsuit with a conical hat, face painted white with red swirls on his cheekbones. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to keep making you and your friends angry."
"No," Aroma said wistfully, "You're right."
She turned suddenly to face him before adding, "Roatha, do you have a phone number?" Though confused, Roatha nodded.
Aroma inclined her head towards him and asked, "Could you please give it to Euryale? That way, you can catch up with her later. For now, I need to speak with her alone."
"I still don't really like the idea," Euryale complained.
"It's the only way," Aroma insisted, "You need someone who can get close to her or Dr. Avici. That's why you can't find them, they wouldn't associate with your usual leads."
"Look, if you don't propose the idea to Chief Beifong, then I will."
"Okay," Euryale breathed, "Okay...she'll probably shoot you down anyway."
"If saying that makes you feel better."
"Can we please just try to enjoy the rest of the night?" She smiled weakly as Aroma nodded.
They had been encountering fewer people for a while now, and now they found that everyone seemed to have clustered in a largely empty street, at the mouth of 2 long piers. The intersecting roads had been cordoned off by waist-high metal fencing, with a similar structure forming a ring to keep people away from the water's edge. Here they found Binah and Thiera already standing in the back of the tightly-packed crowd.
Thiera turned and asked, "What are you 2 arguing about?" Binah merely smiled and turned forward once more.
"Nothing," they answered in unison.
Thiera noticed their clasped hands and smiled at them awkwardly. "So...did you find someone else after all?"
Euryale shrugged with an equally sheepish grin.
"Wha--?" Aroma started to ask, but then she looked down and noticed that she was still holding Euryale's hand. "Oh, no!" she shouted, abruptly pulling away—not noticing Euryale's annoyed scoff—and waving her hands in front of her as if the observation was a mosquito-fly that she could just swat away, "No, it isn't like that!" Thiera just raised an eyebrow.
A man in the front of the crowd loudly shushed them. "She's here!" he exposited in a high-pitched tone.
Sure enough, the shadow looming high above the crowd was now gliding slowly into place. Though difficult to make out in the dim light of the festivities, it seemed to be a repurposed navy ship, painted a glossy black, with stylized golden clouds adorning the observation tower and the deck's guard rail, culminating in a dragon's face breathing "fire" up the bow spike. A series of flags whipped around on the back of the smoke stack.
Once it was neatly wedged in the pier, metal cables shot out from enormous spools on the boat's deck, wrapping around short, rusty posts jutting out of the sea. The cables snapped together and held fast, the workers on deck using metalbending to wind the spools, throwing all of their weight into the circular sweeping of their arms. The boat drew closer to the dock despite the tortured shrieking of the gears. Though Aroma covered her ears, a groan from the boat still reverberated up her legs and bounced around inside of her head. Nonetheless, the boat was soon locked into place, and the workers leaped into the air.
A metalbending officer landed on each cable and skated down, sparks raining from their heels. However, their armor was much different from anyone in the city's department, sporting a primarily black coloration, but with red spikes just all over the place: Ridged gauntlets, upturned spikes on their shoulders, even the brows of the otherwise smooth helmets were shaped into a trio of large "horns." Recognizing similarities to the Fire Nation military armor, Aroma decided they must have been foreign metal police. Though she could not clearly make out their faces, she could tell from the odd goatee or drooping mustache that the skull masks were either absent or not used, presumably to project an image of friendliness.
In a single fluid motion, each one hopped off of the cable and landed on the dock, where they folded their arms behind them and stood rigidly at attention. Slowly, the bow began to descend. Aroma ground her teeth and looked around nervously, but nobody else was reacting to the imminent threat of a boat collapsing on them.
Of course, when the bow came to rest on the street with only a dull thud, revealing the cavernous interior, Aroma realized this was just a Fire Nation style entrance ramp. But no sooner did she wipe the sweat off her brow than an enormous blue blaze surged forth from the ship's innards, billowing out above the crowd like a halo.
Aroma jumped, dropping the remaining half of her cotton candy, whereupon it was promptly trampled by the cheering crowd. Smaller jets of cerulean flame followed the first, each arching upward and streaking through the sky like comets. Aroma turned her head to follow them and noticed that, instead of fading away after a hundred feet or so, they would suddenly scatter, the crackling sparks reflecting off the faint smoke behind them to make them look like blooming flowers.
So this is what Keter's bending is like? She must be a firebending genius.
Keter herself emerged soon after, a glowing white figure framed by dying blue embers, visible even before her approach was heralded by the steady clack—clack—clacking of her heels and the resounding din echoing off of the ship's walls. It was as if she herself was made of pure lightning, and she was every bit as imposing, with a build and height almost equaling Euryale's, even without the aid of her 2-inch heels. Though not quite as muscular, she made up for it with more of an hourglass figure and the compact, finely toned limbs common to dedicated firebenders.
Most of Keter's hair was unrestrained, falling somewhere in the middle of the back, but some was tied in a circular "crown" atop her head. When she stepped on the deck, the night breeze sent the silver strands rippling. Aroma had to admit, it really did match the moonlight.
She was surprised to see that the only red on Keter, aside from lipstick, was a ruby brooch nearly the size of a child's fist, wringed in silver "flames" that matched a choker and arm bands. But her shimmering shoes and rippling dress were both electric blue, matching her eyes. The dress was composed of finger-like ribbons of cloth which trembled with every sway of her hips, a slit cut up the left side to show off her glistening leg.
Little black "wings" of fabric kept her shoulder areas hidden, but save for those and the armbands, her milky arms were otherwise bare. Thus the crowd could clearly see when, with a coy half-smile and sinuous movement, she slowly began to draw her right arm across from her body and into an arch above her head, her dominant fingers pointing at the sky. Their cheers rose in pitch right along with it—though Binah limited herself to polite clapping—and her dress shuddered in anticipation. Aroma could also feel a tingle all over her body as strands of hair on her head and neck were gently swept upwards.
Thiera was not as impressed, scoffing, "Oh, I wish she would just move this along, it's as if she believes she's the only firebender in the world. Why does everyone think this is so incredible? I can manipulate plants! And Euryale, you can see through walls!"
She tugged on Euryale's arm, but Euryale just leaned over and put a finger to her lips, "Shh!"
Thiera turned away, crossing her arms and pouting. She was then thrown into sharp relief as Keter finally sent her lightning strike surging into the clouds, the shadows of the crowd seared away by the sudden deluge of light. Aroma wasn't sure why Euryale shushed Thiera, because at this distance, the sound wave immediately ripped through the crowd, causing them to stumble into one another. Thankfully it was pretty diffused by the time it reached Aroma, but she still felt it sweep back her hair. All present shielded their eyes, except for Thiera, who wasn't even looking.
Other than the waterbender, only one person's gaze wasn't fixed on Keter. Aroma looked at Euryale's weak smile, misty eyes, and wobbly knees, and felt her own chest tighten. Euryale said she wanted to tell me something, she wondered, so maybe it's not that far-fetched that we could be together?
She then looked over at Thiera. But how can I be sure this isn't just another false alarm?
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