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One: Hushed Mystery
February 19, 2013
Previously in Tempests
In a meeting with Emperor Mashita, Sohyon uncovers the Emperor's true motivations: to marry Empress Ichihara in order to unite their Empires against the Earth Kingdom as well as to produce an heir so that he can kill his corrupt firstborn son, Eiichi. Then, Mashita reveals to Sohyon his theory on the assassination attempt: that the perpetrator is none other than Lord Saromi. After returning home, Kanae and Eizo reveal that they have been working on a plan to seduce Lord Saromi...
The calm before the storm comes to an end
Hearing what Eizo and Kanae had been up to the past several weeks, Sohyon found that all he could do was gawk. Not only were they gone without explanation, but apparently they also had an elaborate scheme to practically prostitute off Kanae? "Before you say anything," Eizo quickly added, seeing that his friend wanted to contribute his input, "we've already done the research and set everything up, so nothing you say will stop us."
"That makes me feel a lot better," Sohyon replied with an eye roll. "What have you two been up to anyway?"
"I had to get myself assimilated into the culture," Kanae began. "A few weeks ago when we left, I was just a new girl at the brothel, but through hard work the past several weeks we think that Lord Saromi finally has his sights on me!"
"You're joking..." Sohyon's nose wrinkled and his brow furrowed. "You don't mean... that you've been...?"
"Soh, you're making one of those faces again." At his friend's words, Sohyon's face instantly relaxed. "She was fine with it—it was her idea, in fact! Besides," Eizo glanced away dramatically, "if I had it my way, I would have saved her blushing innocence for myself...!"
"Really, don't worry too much about that, Sohyon," the female Air Nomad reassured. "I can take care of myself and I promise you I wouldn't and won't do anything stupid."
Despite Kanae's words, Sohyon did not seem convinced. "So have you been... working... the past few weeks while Eizo has just done nothing?"
"I'm offended! I was working just as hard as Kanae the whole time."
"He was," Kanae added. "In fact, none of this would be possible without him."
"Okay, you've got me. What's the plan?"
At his friend's submission, Eizo perked up. Sohyon couldn't decide whether Eizo's enthusiasm was comforting or slightly alarming. "We've had the whole thing planned out for a few days now, but it's finally time to put it all into motion..."
Night fell and the plan was ready to begin. The cicadas lingering from summer chirped restlessly among the vibrant nightlife of Ishi Sentō. Per usual, Lord Saromi's home was the focus of the life of the city, as well as Kanae's destination. She took a long, deep breath, sucking the crisp air through her crimson lips. They had gone through the plan several times, but Eizo's voice still rang through her head:
"You might have already thought that it doesn't make sense for Kanae to seduce Lord Saromi, because of her tattoos and the fact that he already knows her. That problem has long since been solved! Being the makeup guru that I am, I have been able to do her makeup and hair in such a way that all of her tattoos are covered! You wouldn't even recognize her, I swear! The best part is, with the rabble she's been hanging around, it doesn't even look that strange. You see, we got her in with the classy prostitutes who wear the sort of posh makeup. You follow?"
Sometimes Kanae didn't even recognize herself on the rare occasion that she would catch her reflection at a glance. It was a shocking transformation, to say the least, and was especially surprising considering the fact that it was an Air Nomad undergoing it. Everything about her was completely different: her generally clear face was now covered in thick, white makeup with vibrant red lipstick and matching eyeliner; her usually let-down hair was now up; her typical modest outfit was replaced with a licentious and revealing outfit of vibrant colors. On occasion throughout the past few weeks, Kanae would hear Sister Liling's disapproval in the back of her head. Then, she would be brought back into reality with the realization that Liling wouldn't gift her with disapproval—only silence.
Per usual, Kanae guided herself to Lord Saromi's residence. The party was already in full swing, and no one looked twice when she joined the crowd. Out of superstition, Kanae checked the inside of her sleeve to be certain that it was still there...
"In this case, Soh, you don't need to worry about Kanae. For the past several weeks I've been practicing my potion-making skills and I have found a powerful substance which will knock Saromi out after she learns anything. And this gets into the real meat of the plan. During the majority of the party, Kanae will make sure that Lord Saromi gets drunk enough to either black out or be close to blacking out and—once she gets the necessary information out of him—she'll just knock him out. Nothing will happen at all, but Saromi will think that something did happen and have no idea that he told Kanae anything!"
The mixture was still there. Eizo's mixture was contained in a small vial, and all she had to do was find a way for Saromi to inhale the fumes and he would be unconscious within moments. There seemed to be a myriad of mysteries behind Eizo—such as how he came to know how to make such a mixture—and Kanae had the feeling that Sohyon didn't know any more than she did. Before entering the throng of people, Kanae subtly glanced over her shoulder, making eye contact with Eizo for a split second before redirecting her attention to the party. In the past few weeks, Eizo had taken to finding a place to lurk in the shadows so that if anything went t0o awry he would be able to jump in.
"Let's see what happens," she muttered as she put on her best pleasant smile and disappeared into the crowd. --- While Eizo and Kanae were out, Sohyon remained at the house. Instead of catching up with his journal entries or playing his flute, for now Sohyon simply sat meditating. The room around him was dark, and he simply sat taking several deep, calculated breaths. Something the past several days was off, though he found himself unable to pinpoint what exactly it was. For as calm of an individual as he has always been, meditating was never his forte, yet today he needed to focus on all of the details to try and figure out which one he had been overlooking.
For all the trouble he was taking, all he could hear were the gentle rebukes of Seijin from his childhood: critiques of his posture, his facial expression, his concentration. Try as Sohyon might to correct all of the little mistakes, he knew that there was something he was missing—the fact that he didn't know what only drove him crazier. Were his feet crossed poorly? Was he dosing off? All of the different possible errors raced through Sohyon's mind.
His instincts told him that meditating wouldn't work—that it couldn't work. To calm himself down, Sohyon deeply inhaled and exhaled. He knew that he would not be able to easily meditate while Seijin's voice was in his head, so he calmly tried to get rid of it. Sohyon's eyes shut—another inhalation and exhalation. Then, there was nothing. His mind did not even really think when he gave himself no voice. Naturally, this frustrated the airbender; if nothing else, he felt that he should be able to come up with something to use as a device.
In his disparity to be able to meditate, one person came to mind. He cringed at the thought, but closed his eyes so as to allow Madam Lao's voice to fill his head. It didn't take more than a moment for Sohyon to practically be brought out of his own mind and find himself in a hazy replication of his existing world. It appeared as though he was in the same room as before, but now a phantasmagorical Madam Lao was joining him.
"What is troubling you?" she asked as though these conversations between the two were frequent.
"I don't know. Something has been off the past few days and I can't figure out what." Sohyon had long since realized that this Madam Lao was not an actual person, and thus he did not at all feel bad about revealing everything he was thinking.
"You need to reflect."
"I know that much—that's why I called you. Isn't that what you do?"
"Sohyon, I am your brain." Madam Lao sighed. "I am only a personification of your subconscious, if you want me to give you something more than you already know then you need to try and tap into what you wouldn't normally think of looking at." She paused for a moment, as if thinking about how to direct Sohyon. "Think about what happened when Lady Saromi approached you."
Obeying Madam Lao's instructions, Sohyon closed his eyes and tried to remember the incident. She was in the house, not wearing much clothing... she advanced once and he refused... she advanced again and slammed her hand into the wall to corner him... "Wait... you don't mean..."
"I don't mean anything, Sohyon. You need to process everything on your own." Madam Lao vanished, leaving Sohyon alone in the home once more.
"I'm so glad to see you, my dear." The words nearly made Kanae jump out of her skin. She spun around to see none other than Lord Saromi leaning over her shoulder and pressing his mouth against her ear. "I'm afraid my wife could not make it tonight, but could I entertain you inside the manor?"
It remained clear to the airbender that this was all according to plan, but at the same time smelling the breath of the middle-aged noble so close to her skin made her stomach churn. Of all the nobles who she could seduce, Kanae found herself rather surprised to realize that she would rather seduce the creepy son of Emperor Mashita than this man. Everything about him made her sick, and even more revolted when she added in the fact that a little over half a month ago he had almost burned her alive. At least, she noted, that breath of his already smelled deeply of alcohol, which gave her one less task in completing her mission. "I would love to, my lord," she replied, leaning into the word "love" a bit to keep herself from faltering. "But I'm sure you're well aware of my profession's ways?"
Lord Saromi winced a little before removing a small satchel of coins, "It's always pay ahead, isn't it?" The nobleman slipped the coins into Kanae's gown, making her inwardly squirm and cast a quick glare towards where Eizo was hiding. She could see him smirk before ducking out of sight. "Shall we leave?" Saromi asked, following Kanae's line of sight.
Quickly, Kanae directed her attention back to Saromi and cast a fake smile. "Of course." With that simple confirmation, the two entered the manor.
For how many times Kanae had been to Saromi's manor the past few weeks, she found herself rather surprised at the realization that she had never actually been inside. It was unlike any building she had ever been in. The ceilings were high, like those of the Air Temple, but with ornate paintings covering them and ornately woven drapes hanging down until about halfway between the ceiling and floor. Fantastic tiles covered the floor, with occasional end tables holding urns or other ornate sculptures.
Save for Kanae and Saromi, the manor seemed entirely empty. Their steps echoed as Saromi lead the airbender through the winding halls; the further they delved into the manor, the more distant the lively sounds of the party became until it was barely audible at all. The emptiness was rather eerie—Kanae couldn't help but wonder where the servants and his wife were. "Where is your wife tonight?" Kanae asked in the most nonchalant way she could force.
"Ah... Lady Saromi has been out the past few days," Saromi responded vaguely without turning around.
"Could she have found out?" Kanae asked, trying to muster a flirtatious teasing tone.
"You really haven't been in Ishi Sentō long, have you my dear?" The smile following this comment served to further sicken Kanae. "My wife knows full well of my dealings with... those of your profession."
"Oh? Do you have an open marriage then?"
"No... no..." Saromi chuckled. "If my wife were to sleep with anyone other than me, it would ruin not only my reputation, but Emperor Mashita's as well." Before Kanae could further prod, they arrived at a large pair of closed doors, which Saromi swung open to reveal a large room holding nothing more than a bed. "Don't worry—this isn't where my wife and I sleep."
The nobleman's arm wrapped around Kanae, and she had to resist the temptation to lean away. "What do you mean 'it would ruin you and Emperor Mashita's reputation'?" she asked as he led her towards the bed.
"Oh, you know. It looks bad if a man can't even keep his wife in line. Especially bad for the Emperor if a man as weak as that is his strongest ally." While explaining this he sat down on the bed and began to remove his robes. "But all this talk of politics is boring."
Continuing to fake her promiscuity, Kanae reached for the belt of her robe as though she was about to undress. "It is rather dull." Before he could completely undress, Kanae sat on his lap and leaned in close. Just as he was about to try and kiss her, she removed the bottle from her sleeve and quickly uncorked it. He seemed surprised for a split second, before his eyes drearily shut and his body fell backwards unconscious. Once Kanae was sure he was unconscious, she muttered, "You are dull, I mean."
Waiting just the right amount of time, Kanae eventually left the manor and the party. Once she was a little ways away, and when no one was in sight, she ducked into an alley to undo her hair and makeup. There, Eizo emerged from the shadows. "Are you alright, Kanae? You seemed a bit uneasy."
"I'm fine." Regardless of her words, Eizo could see that her hands were shaking as she took the pins from her hair.
"Let me help." Eizo began working to remove her hair pins until her long brown hair fell below her shoulders.
"I—I think I figured things out," Kanae said tentatively.
Now, Kanae's weary expression made way for a slight smirk. "After I knocked him out, I stripped him naked and hung him upside-down. I think his mind can fill in the rest."
Her fellow airbender returned the grin. "Well, let's head back to tell Soh."
Their temporary house wasn't far from the alleyway. When they approached, they were met with a tired grunt from Meali, who seemed rather discontent with how little attention she had been receiving the past few days. For now, there was nothing they could do to help her, so they simply entered the home.
As the door opened, Sohyon stood from the spot on which he had been meditating. He opened his mouth to speak, but Eizo quickly started, "Soh! Kanae's got everything figured out."
Though Sohyon had something to say himself, the nod of confirmation from Kanae spiked his curiosity, so he remained silent. "Well, I didn't get the opportunity to look into your theories of him trying to kill the Empress, but I do understand why his wife was here: Saromi said that he and his wife had been growing distant, and that if his wife were to cheat on him it would ruin his image and through him Emperor Mashita's as well. Lady Saromi must be a supporter of Empress Ichihara! It's the only answer." With nothing to contribute, Eizo nodded along.
"I've done some thinking..." Sohyon began, "and I don't think that's entirely a... complete analysis."
"What do you mean?" Eizo tilted his head in confusion.
"Well... I... think that Lady Saromi is Empress Ichihara."
"Very good, Tiáotíng Zhě. Though you really should figure out how better to manage your security." All three airbenders spun to find a visitor in the home. Empress Ichihara wore a strangely twisted expression as she praised Sohyon. "I should have known you would have noticed the scar. That is what clued you in, wasn't it?"
"It's a very unusual scar. I knew something was off when I was able to catch that glance at your hand." At this point, both Kanae and Eizo appeared lost.
"Yes... I caught my mistake just a bit too late. But my deception did last this long, so I suppose it's at least a partial success." The Empress smiled and glanced over all three airbenders before her eyes settled on Kanae. "I'm rather sorry that you had to be in that situation with the repulsive Genkei Saromi."
Rather than reply, Kanae scowled. Thus, the Empress addressed Sohyon once more: "I must ask whether you have figured everything out, Sohyon. Believe it or not, there is much more to see."
"Wait a second," Kanae spoke before Sohyon could. "This is a bit of a longshot... but... was Lady Saromi your sister?"
"Very good!" The Empress smiled and clapped her hands together. "The Air Nomad whore is cleverer than the esteemed mediator."
The Empress's words stung Kanae, and she instantly flushed red with embarrassment. Seeing Kanae like this, Eizo turned angrily towards the Empress. "Watch it, Empress! You're in the room with three master—"
"Master airbenders? Please. Your aforementioned female friend aside, you and the mediator here are just shallow men—no better than the disgusting Saromi. He abused my sister since she was sixteen, and for what? For him to send an assassin that would kill her? She gave up her life to him and he sent someone who would end it."
Sohyon furrowed his brow in frustration. "Is that it, then? This whole conflict with Emperor Mashita is just over your sister and your apparent messed up vendetta against men?"
A wicked and contorted laugh came from the Empress's mouth. "Oh how shallow and confused you are. My motivations are my own, but just know that they involve me ending Saromi and Mashita along with him." After saying this, she began to pace. "I hear you had a rather strange encounter with Madam Lao a few days ago, Sohyon."
"What does that matter? I hardly even remember it, to be honest," the mediator replied.
Ichihara smiled a cruel smile. "It matters more than anything else, Sohyon. My plan masquerading with my sister might have failed, but what I did get was even better..."
"My, you Air Nomads are slow," the Empress smirked. "I took a part of you, Sohyon."
"You don't mean..." Eizo stuttered out the question, "Did you... could you have... Did you rape Sohyon?!"
"Ah, it seems you catch on quicker than they do." The Empress's commending served the opposite intention of most compliments, and Eizo found himself grimacing. "The vapors in Madam Lao's room were filled with a gas that put Sohyon into a daze. It was all too easy, really..." Empress Ichihara's smile quickly turned to one of strange victory, leaving the three airbenders even more uneasy. Carefully, she began to pat her lower stomach. "In a few weeks, it will begin to show..."
"That's right, Sohyon. I'm pregnant... with our child." Once again, Ichihara laughed maniacally. "It solves the problem of my heir and of you, Sohyon. You can say goodbye to your position as an unbiased mediator once word gets out that you slept with me. You will either leave or be forced out—I had the upper hand before you got here, and I will destroy Mashita and his pathetic Empire."
All Sohyon could do was shake his head. "I'll tell everyone the truth, Ichihara, and you'll be the one who will either leave or be forced out."
"Oh, but you really don't understand!" The Empress rubbed her stomach again. "The evidence is right here! And who would you be more likely to believe: a pregnant woman, or the person she accuses of charming and impregnating her? You and your pacifist Air Nomads know the answer. If I were you—I'd leave now. Maybe the Air Nomads wouldn't find out."
Sohyon shook his head. "No. I'm seeing this through. We're seeing this through, and we will stop you."
"I dare you to try." Those words and a mocking smile accompanied the Empress as she gracefully left the three airbenders in her wake.
And all they could do was stand in stunned bewilderment.
I have no idea why I picked the picture I did but I was drawing a total blank... And... that's hopefully the end of the awkwardness. I hope that it was at least a little funny awkward and not just awkward awkward? In case you haven't caught on yet, I have a really, really messed up sense of humor. Regardless, this is yet another editor-less chapter, so... I'm sorry D:
- The back-and-forth in the second section of the chapter was inspired by a very overused filmography device which does not translate as well into writing
- Most of the author's "entrepreneurial young women" plot-lines are inspired by her creative writing class Sophomore year, in which the majority of stories features at least one prostitute
- ... health class.....
- The author has a personal issue with calling women what Ichihara called Kanae, however felt that it was necessary to show what a b*tch Ichihara is
For the collective works of the author, go here.