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-1 (Blood & Steel)
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
The brunette officer with the tight bun standing in front of the line of recruits did not smile. In fact, her acid green eyes bored into Euryale as though she were a puddle of something foul. Euryale's lips trembled slightly.
"You're an earthbender?" the woman demanded snappishly, tapping her pen on her clipboard.
"Yes, Ma'am!" Euryale replied, somehow finding a way to stand up a little straighter and with her feet locked together a little more.
"Terra Team," she said simply, jerking her thumb at a door behind her. "I'll be in shortly for the entrance examination. Show me what you've got," she finally smiled, a look which caused the last of Euryale's mirth to drop heavily into her stomach, and added, "And I'll tell you exactly how little chance you have of making the Metalbending Force."
Euryale obeyed, trotting--at least until the drill instructor shouted at her to march--through the door. She noticed that most of her fellow recruits were big, muscle bound men, many sporting bushy sideburns or mustaches. Like Euryale and the instructor, they all wore black double-breasted uniforms with gold buttons, but only the instructor had a badge. The men were scrutinizing every inch of Euryale, skepticism slowly giving way to nods and smiles of approval.
Unsure of whether they were examining her muscles or her--other developed parts, Euryale tightly crossed her arms over her chest and looked away. Surveying the room, she could see that it sort of resembled a pro-bending gym. A rack of barbells sat at a corner, a mesh bag full of regulation clay discs just beside it. In the other corner was just a pile of variously sized rocks, and at the far end of the room, a rock climbing wall.
Seconds later, the drill instructor entered with her clipboard under her left arm, pen dangling from an attached chain, and a whistle around her neck. She explained that she would call a name, observe the candidate's performance, and whistle to signal the end of the test before calling another.
Euryale noticed that she would do various things to see how the candidates reacted; stomping to open up holes under them, bringing down rocks from the net above, challenging them to lift a certain amount of barbells as quickly as possible or hold them for as long as they could...never the same challenge twice. She paused in her torment of her recruits for only seconds at a time, as she scratched notes in her clipboard.
After another harsh screech from the whistle, it was Euryale's turn. The woman ordered her to the rock wall without even looking at her. Of course, Euryale jumped up and easily began scaling it even without her earthbending. Too easily, of course. Once she was halfway along the wall, the instructor began flicking her wrist, sending the handholds back in one after the other. Euryale couldn't pull them back out nearly as fast, so she had to strain to crawl flat along the wall, held up only by her bending, a sensation like being pulled by an invisible, tingling wind.
To make matters worse, the proctor began punching, causing the handholds to shoot back out, pounding Euryale's stomach over and over again. Tearing up, she gritted her teeth and continued on. She fell just a foot short of her goal, the proctor looming over her as she lay on her back.
"Well?!" she screamed, spittle raining onto Euryale's face, "Are you just going to lay there lollygagging all day long?!"
Euryale gripped her stomach and rolled over, shivers running up her aching limbs as she dragged herself to her feet. She thought she saw, just for a second, a nod of satisfaction before the woman turned around, blowing on the whistle again. Euryale returned to her spot, watching the rest of the candidates' tests.
After Wang Zhen's test, the examiner added, "Right then! For the next phase of your examination, we shall test you in a practical combat setting. The rules are simple: Subdue your nearest opponent by any means necessary. Begin!"
And then, without warning, she darted towards Euryale's side with a rapid fire haymaker, sending a clay disc soaring across the room and straight towards the cadet's jaw. The recruit dumbly slapped it aside, only for the proctor to kick her straight in her still aching stomach. As Euryale choked down its contents, another pair of discs slammed into her chest and thigh and she fell hard on her tailbone.
Her instructor paused only to look around and jot a few quick notes in her clipboard, which she held onto the whole time, before punching to send more discs whizzing over her shoulders towards Euryale. The cadet did her best to cross her arms like a shield and power through the assault. Though she pressed on and kicked wildly at the proctor whenever close, she never managed to make contact. Her instructor would always leap back and shift position to keep herself between Euryale and any kind of ammunition. Any attempt to pull a rock or disc to hit the sergeant from behind would just result in a last second dodge and Euryale getting nailed instead.
There were other tests that day, of course. Euryale could reliably lift about 300 pounds with earthbending for at least 10 minutes, but could only rapidly do bending reps of about 75, and could bench press about 100 pounds. On the other hand, she fell 11 times in the obstacle course, and had long ago stopped trying to count how many rocks she was hit with.
That night, she let out an agonized groan as she flopped onto a narrow, plain gray bed that she swore was harder than the floor. Half of her body still throbbing, the other half completely numb, within seconds she fell into an uneasy sleep.
The next day started a little better: As she passed the bulletin board on her way to breakfast, she couldn't help but notice that she ranked 3rd in her class. Next to this was a rack carrying small paper-bound books, each marked with the characters for "assignment schedule" and a name. She took the one labeled 實芡 羅剎, ignoring that her given name had been spelled out of order. She was to report for a class on holds, of course the obligatory introductory course on application of laws, and finally a class on detecting hidden earthen items--the 1st step on the way to metalbending.
Her grin returned to her as she set off down the hall, flipping to a labeled diagram of a pair of stick figures and reading silently to herself. To perform a choke hold, pin the target's arms either around their chest or behind their back...with your other arm, hook them below the chin and pull upward...kick their legs out and force your weight on them if it is safe (for you and your target) to do so....
The years seemed to pass instantly, and Euryale was swinging along the ceiling of the academy gym by way of an old fashioned cable belt. She gripped the cord extending from her waist with both hands and pivoted. With her foot, she sent a clay disc from below after a heavily padded firebender jetting around, dressed like a stereotypical burglar; swathed head to toe in dark clothes, with big black circles around his eyes.
The man was hit, but not hard enough to go down, so Euryale instantly swung forward and dropped on him. Wrapping her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck, she swung backwards with all of her might, unsettling the ground so he would flop back and she would land on top of him. Immediately, each of her brazen arms and legs was grabbed by a cable and she was spread out, completely defenseless in front of the examiner.
Saikhan, a man with receding black hair and a squarish head, shot his own cable forward. If it reached her chest, it would be as good as if she were run through. Pulling with all of her might, she was just barely able to yank the line binding her right arm in to block. The lines scraped against each other, screeching and throwing up a fine mist of sparks. With a final groan, the cord around her wrist snapped, allowing Euryale to grab the retreating end and swing the big male recruit holding the other side into the small female recruit pinning down her right leg.
She then fired a cable of her own at the recruits holding her left side. They ducked it easily, so Euryale vaulted over them and landed, producing a rippling wave in the earth to knock them over. A sudden movement at her side, narrowly batted away!
But Saikhan still had a 2nd arm free, whereas she did not. He plunged the dulled mock blade against her bosom, then calmly declared the end of the fight.
Euryale chewed her lip. She thought she had done well. She knew they didn't expect her to win, but would she be declared proficient enough in metalbending to train with the likes of Lin Beifong?
She didn't have to wait long for an answer. Saikhan grinned broadly as he announced that he would be recommending them all to the Chief of Police, sparing a not-at-all subtle wink just for Euryale.
A few days later, Euryale was walking home in the uniform she had been awarded as a recruit, a stack of books and pamphlets cradled in her arms. She had arrived with only the clothes on her back, basically an old suit of her father's, once a dark black 2-piece with a double breasted shirt, worn gray by the time she got her hands on it.
Obviously it had been uncomfortable wearing clothes proportioned for the opposite sex, but she just needed something to avoid accusations of being fussy. As neither she nor her father had need of it anymore, and she didn't particularly want to carry it, she had found a thrift store to donate it to along the way.
She was excited to see her parents and little sister. While she had been home for holidays, Stheno usually avoided her. She never quite got over the fact that Euryale had left home. Perhaps she blames me for losing both of her sisters....
This is just what you have to do to make money, Euryale heard the shrill screams rattle around inside of her skull, when you're just a normal person who can't throw rocks with her brain, or see ghosts, or any of that junk! Sorry I'm such a disappointment to the family name!
That's just some lame excuse! Euryale's inner voice shot back, Of course we're disappointed in you, we try to uphold the law and honor the spirits, but all YOU care about is making us look bad!
Spotting the massive, hanging cables of Kyoshi Bridge looming above the buildings, Euryale shook herself out of her unhappy memory. Near the end of the street, she turned and walked up the stairs of a small, green flat with a trapezoidal roof. Balancing her books on her knee, she reached out to turn the doorknob, and no sooner did she enter than she was nearly blown over by a massive roar of "SURPRISE!"
Her family had materialized from behind the dingy, earthy patchwork couches. All 3 of them had dark skin tones, her mother's slightly lighter than her own. Other than that, she looked very much like an older Euryale, only shorter and less-muscled. Her hair was worn longer, save for a tight bun on the back. This was secured by a kind of red crest in the shape of a flame, the color matching the long robes she was wearing.
Her father, a square-jawed man with dark, finger waved hair shadowing his grassy eyes, was wearing his freshly-shined police armor. He loitered near the squat, circular living room table, upon which a platter of small cakes with emerald and ruby frosting had been set, as well as 4 steaming cups of tea. Stheno's equally dark, bobbed hair with its tiny, inch-long twin tails was barely visible behind him. As well, her foot could briefly be seen kicking at the oaken floor beneath a tall, cast iron lamp with a verdant shade.
Ceto Rakshashi strode over to put her arms around her frowning older daughter. "Oh, honey," she consoled, "I'm sorry if this isn't the turnout you wanted. You're a nice girl, I'm sure you'll make new friends."
"Yeah, probably," she said. "I sort of knew this was coming. Everyone who wrote me said that they were going elsewhere to find work. It's not so easy to get across the city without a Satomobile."
"Well, you won't have to worry about that," her father said, pointing to his chest, "You'll be on the beat with me, starting tomorrow."
"Can we eat nooow?" Stheno whined in a lingering, high pitched tone.
"Stheno, don't be rude!" Ceto scolded her, "Euryale accomplished something very important, we're supposed to be celebrating to congratulate her!"
Stheno poked her bronze face out from behind her father to scowl. Unlike Euryale, she had green eyes—the only Rakshashi sister to inherit her father's irises. "We didn't have cakes when I got into school," she muttered.
Euryale set her books down on the table, her frown deepening. "Actually, I think I would like to eat now, Mom."
Ceto smiled brightly at her. "Of course, dear, if that's what you want!"
Stheno scoffed, "Of course we eat when Euryale says to." Whether or not her father heard what she said, he patted her on the head.
The family settled around the table, Euryale and Ceto each bowing their heads, while Phorcys waited patiently, and Stheno less patiently, fidgeting and kicking out randomly. Ceto raised her head and, when she saw Euryale look up, prompted, "So, tell us how your test went."
"Actually, I was kind of hoping to hear how Stheno's been doing," Euryale said, taking a small bite out of a cake.
"Why would you care about that?" her sister asked coldly, "It's just dumb kid stuff, isn't it?"
"Well...do you know if you can bend yet?"
"I doubt it. I'm no good at anything."
"I'm sure that's not true! Here—" she put a yuan coin on the table, Stheno raising an eyebrow as she continued, "This is the 1st training exercise for metalbending in the academy."
"Dear," her mother began, frowning, "Metalbending is far too advanced for—"
"The idea," Euryale said, speaking louder, "Is to move the coin without touching it."
Sure enough, when she held her palm over the coin and flexed her fingers, the coin rolled up, standing on its edge. She moved her hand side to side, rolling the coin along the table.
Stheno bit her lip and looked up at her. "Do you really think I can do that?"
"It's all about noticing details." She picked up the coin and tossed it at Stheno, who caught it in the hand she wasn't using to hold her cake. "Feel the changes in the coin's shape. The dirt on its face. Notice the discoloration. These impurities give you clues about how the coin was made."
"Well, what do you think?"
Stheno looked down at it, squinting. Then she held it to the tableside lamp, staring up into the light. "Well...it looks gold, but some of it is green. I think that's dirt."
"Can you wipe it off?"
"No," Stheno said, trying and failing to scrape it off with her fingernail, "So I guess it must be painted."
"But is it a painted gold coin, or is the coin made of something else?"
"It's...probably not real gold," Stheno said, screwing up her face in thought, "Because gold painting looks pretty, and takes less money?"
"Is it painted, though? Can you think of any metal, mentioned in your books, that looks gold, but isn't?"
"Copper," she said at once, "Or maybe brass." Her eyes widened with sudden realization as she bounced on the cushion, clicking her heels together, "Wait, I know, I know, it is copper! Because it turns green! Brass doesn't rust!"
Euryale nodded. Shivering with anticipation, Stheno set the coin back on the table, flexing her palm over it once, twice, then several times more. Slowly but surely, her ginormous grin was crushed under her falling face. "I—I still can't move it!" she choked out, clenching her fists in frustration. Ceto bit her lip while Phorcys watched Euryale quizzically, picking at his bangs.
"But just think about everything you figured out without bending it," Euryale countered, "I think you'd make a great detective. You don't have to bend to do that, and not everyone is smart enough to make the cut. So I think you're more talented than you think. Whether you turn out to be a bender or not."
Stheno smiled weakly at her sister. Euryale beamed back. Their mother gave them an approving nod, before she and her husband began thumbing through her class materials. Ceto squinted in confusion as she picked up Euryale's faded, beat-up old assignment schedule.
"Euryale..." she began slowly, "Why do you have a pamphlet about brown gravy?"
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