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|The Girls of Ba Sing Se|
May 1, 2012
Previously in Air
The Duke and Pipsqueak successfully avoided being brainwashed and have slipped farther into the Emerald Serpents trust. Tyro was sent back to Ba Sing Se to report to Kuei; he suggested a new source of information for Ru Yong to look into.
Chapter Sixteen: The Girls of Ba Sing Se
The Supreme Bureaucratic Administrator was far from living the high life, but you couldn't tell it by her broad smile.
Tyro had successfully requested access to the prisoner during his meeting with the Earth Kingdom royals. The prison guard opened the door for him and Ru Yong, locking it behind them. Their escort remained stationed outside.
The woman beamed at her visitors. "Welcome. I'm Joo Dee."
Ru Yong and Tyro exchanged smiles.
"We were hoping you'd say that," Ru Yong said.
Joo Dee's smile broadened, pleased to be of assistance.
"We'd like to ask you some questions," Tyro said.
Ru Yong pulled the only other chair out, sitting directly in front of her. He leaned forward, looking her in the eyes. His voice gentle and lulling, he urged, "You've been invited to answer them."
Joo Dee only nodded. "I'd be happy to assist you in any way that I can."
Ru Yong frowned.
"Was something supposed to happen?" asked Tyro.
Ru Yong leaned back, musing...He snapped his fingers. Leaning forward again, this time he said, "The Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai."
All expression slowly drained from Joo Dee's face; her large grin slipped at the seams, her bright eyes grew wide and vacant.
"Lake Laogai..." she repeated slowly. Her pupils grew unnaturally large. "I am honored to accept his invitation."
Pipsqueak and The Duke lounged in the lush sitting room, sprawled on divans and feasting on out-of-season fruit. Luckily for their charade, a friend of Ru Yong's was currently enjoying a Fire Nation cruise. He'd made a deal with the servants in the house to let The Duke and Pipsqueak stay for a few days.
When Li Fu had dropped them off the day before, The Duke had let it drop that his friends here had graciously put him up until his villa's remodel was complete. Li Fu had given him another oily smile because he, too, knew the owners of the house. They weren't exactly friends, although Li Fu often told people they were. He wasn't quite rich enough for their standards.
Now, there was a knock at the door, sharp and insistent.
The two friends didn't bother rising, but waited patiently as a servant escorted the caller in.
The Duke chewed on a cherry. "Li Fu, what are you doing here?" he declared, attempting to sound jovial. He was actually worried. There was another meeting scheduled in two days, but nothing before that.
"Duke, I'm afraid there's been an emergency meeting called," Li Fu said. "Someone's been watching us. You must come, now!"
The Duke hesitated. "Right now?" he asked. "As in, this instant?"
Li Fu stared at him.
"Well, I sort of had something planned..." The Duke tried. "So, you know, maybe next time..."
"Don't be a fool!" Ignoring a growl from Pipsqueak, Li Fu seized The Duke by his arm and began dragging him into the hall. "We have to deal with this now, before it destroys us!"
That was what The Duke was afraid of.
Li Fu felt The Duke pulling away and stopped to glare at him. "We're not a very trusting group, you know," he said, darkly. His eyes jumped about nervously. Sweat beaded above his upper lip. "If you're not there, they'll think you're a part of it!"
Was there no way out of this?
The Duke thought about it. He felt this could all too-likely be a trap if he'd been discovered, designed by Long Feng to draw him out in order to dispose of him. But if he wasn't suspected, and he didn't go, they would know he was hiding something.
The Duke knew there was nothing else he could do. "Come on, Pipsqueak," he said. "It looks like we've got a meeting to attend."
"How many of you are there?" Ru Yong asked.
Joo Dee's laugh was soft, distant. "Silly, there's only one of me!"
"The Joo Dees, then," Ru Yong pressed. "How many Joo Dees are there?"
"Twenty or so," Joo Dee replied, "Just enough to be of assistance carefully guiding narrow-minded delegates and influential individuals!"
Tyro raised an eyebrow. Even sitting in a cell in her hypnotic state the woman managed to remain vaguely cheerful and optimistic.
Ru Yong was just pleased this Joo Dee was being so blunt. Obviously, before the Avatar showed up in Ba Sing Se for the first time in a hundred years, Long Feng never dreamed someone might be able to stop him.
"And what exactly is it you Joo Dees do?"
"We assist in any way we can. We are Long Feng's humble servants. He has only to ask, and we will obey."
"And what about Long Feng?" Ru Yong questioned. "What does he do?"
"Long Feng is the wisdom of Ba Sing Se," she replied. "He is head of the Dai Li and protector of our great history and cultural heritage!"
Ru Yong smirked. More of Long Feng's vanity leaking through. "What else can you tell me about him?"
"Long Feng's only concern is for the city's well-being," Joo Dee recited. "He works hard to keep its streets tidy, to maintain the Rings' establishment and to ensure its peoples are properly ordered. He proved his unyielding devotion when he sided with the adored, ruthless and powerful Fire Princess Azula for the city's rewarded benefit."
Tyro snorted. "Is that all?"
Joo Dee mistook this for another question. "Many anarchists view the Ring separations as degrading," she informed them. "Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, because each person and their skills are highly valued –in the proper order. Nevertheless, for fear of his safety from such rebels, Long Feng never travels without protection."
Ru Yong frowned. "Protection?"
"Of course." Joo Dee tried to grin, but her mind wandered before her lips could stretch up that far. "The Dai Li is constantly at their leader's side."
Ru Yong stroked his beard. "Suppose Long Feng no longer had the Dai Li to depend on?"
Joo Dee managed a giggle. "Why would the Dai Li abandon their leader?"
"Just suppose," Ru Yong insisted. He didn't want to get into a whole history lesson with the woman. Obviously, in her controlled state, her mind was muddled between the manipulations of Long Feng and Azula.
"Long Feng always has his ways," Joo Dee said. "He is a clever man. If he did not have the Dai Li, he would think of something else."
Ru Yong's face darkened. "That's what I was afraid of." He looked up at Tyro. "This mission just got a lot harder," he said.
Tyro nodded. "We've only got two inside. If Long Feng has protection anywhere near as powerful as the Dai Li..."
Ru Yong rose. "The Duke and Pipsqueak are in danger."
Evening drew late as Iroh and Tyro made their way into Ru Yong's study. They found him seated before Cloe. He frowned deeply, glaring in concentration, stroking his beard. Cloe, for her part, gazed absently into the distance, completely oblivious to anything around her.
"She just came back from a meeting with Long Feng," Ru Yong said quietly. "It's not good news."
Iroh shook his head sadly. "Neither is ours."
"They're already gone," Tyro explained. "The servant said Li Fu came for them just before we did."
Ru Yong's face darkened. "Long Feng knows someone was watching him."
Iroh and Tyro exchanged glances.
"The good news is, he thinks it's only the Guild," Ru Yong continued.
Iroh didn't jump for joy. "And the bad news?"
Ru Yong rose, crossing his arms. "He thinks they've infiltrated his nobles," he said. "He thinks The Duke and Pipsqueak are the Guild."
For an 'emergency' meeting, The Duke was not impressed by their sense of urgency. Only Li Fu seemed truly on edge, casting about nervously as though he expected an army of peasants to come beating down the door.
The other nobles were not in such a hurry to arrive at Long Feng's home. They had to wait some time before all were assembled. Until then, Long Feng didn't show his face.
This did little to reassure The Duke. After all, he and Pipsqueak could have been made. There was no way to know that their cover was still in tact before it was too late. They were walking blind here and The Duke didn't like it.
Finally, all the nobles arrived. And they had all brought their Joo Dees, too. While the old men sat about the circular table, waiting rigidly for their leader to appear, the eerie servant women formed a larger circle around them, along the wall.
The Duke could sense them ringing the nobles and he couldn't escape the feeling of a cage. The thought made him shudder. He glanced about at the others to see if they felt the same aura of impending doom. The noblemen didn't even seem to notice their servants' existence.
That gave The Duke an idea. He nudged Li Fu. The poor bulbous nobleman was so agitated that the gentle touch sent him eight inches off his chair.
Li Fu gasped in surprise. "What?" he demanded.
The Duke ignored Li Fu's temper. "Have you ever noticed how alike they are?" he whispered.
Li Fu frowned, thoroughly confused. "What? Who?"
"All your servants." The Duke nodded at the women, lined against the walls.
Li Fu looked at him as though he were mad.
"Something about them has been bugging me," The Duke went on. "There are just a lot of similarities between them. The way they talk, the way they walk..." he suppressed another shudder. "...and their smiles."
Li Fu raised an eyebrow. Almost cautiously, he slowly turned his head to study the women himself. Two of them spotted his attention and, obligingly, beamed. Identical smiles. Li Fu blinked in surprise.
The Duke knew then. He knew he was right. Long Feng was using these nobles, just like he was using the Joo Dees. Sure, the noblemen probably weren't anywhere near innocent, but still. It was wrong.
"Gentlemen." Long Feng suddenly appeared in the room, treating everyone to a slick smile. "I'm so glad you could all make it on such short notice. I must apologize for that, but we have a most urgent matter to attend to."
The Duke glanced around at the other nobles, but they didn't seem to know any more about what was going on then he did. "So...what's the big emergency?"
Long Feng graced each of the noblemen with his gaze. Finally, his cool green eyes rested on The Duke. He smiled again. The Duke shuddered.
"We are being watched," Long Feng replied.
The nobles broke into an uproar. Several leaped to their feet; a few of the chairs were knocked over.
"Who would dare?!"
Long Feng held up his hands for silence. Grudgingly, they gave it to him.
"Please remain calm, my friends," he lulled.
The Duke's eyes flickered over the different noblemen. They relaxed almost instantly at the words.
"We are in no real danger," Long Feng assured them. "These spies are part of a rebellious group, formed by the peasants."
The noblemen chuckled at this, even scoffed. No wonder Long Feng wasn't very concerned. Those pesky peasants! What did they think they could do?
"It does seem, however–" Long Feng's eyes rested on The Duke once more "–that they've managed to creep into our organization."
Li Fu was the first to notice that their leader was staring The Duke down. His eyes bulged in shock and horror.
The Duke clutched at the chair arms, willing himself to return Long Feng's haughty glare. Pipsqueak moved closer to his friend, fists clenched. They were ready for a fight. The other noblemen would catch on any second, and the two spies would be done for.
That was when Cloe walked into the room.
Calm and assured, she waltzed in as if expected. The Duke and Long Feng spotted her in the same moment. The Duke blinked in surprise; Long Feng was so shocked he took a step back.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded viciously.
Cloe cocked her head at him curiously. "I am delivering a message," she replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Long Feng frowned. "What message?"
Cloe bowed her head to him. "Ru Yong says it's time to tell them the truth."
The Duke smiled.
A moment of baffled silence hung over their heads. It was Li Fu who finally broke it.
"What truth?" He spoke softly, nervously, and didn't dare look Long Feng in the eye. The Duke wondered if Li Fu's sudden courage and curiosity had something to do with his noticing the odd, smiling servants.
For an instant, Long Feng hesitated, uncertain. But then he smiled again. "The truth," he replied, "About the traitor in our midst."
Oh no, he wouldn't wriggle his way out of this one. The Duke leapt to his feet, crying, "He's right!"
Pipsqueak tensed, uncertain what his little friend was up to. It wasn't like he could convince Long Feng that they were still on the same side.
Long Feng, too, wondered what The Duke was about. He was amused by the futile attempt.
"There is a traitor here," The Duke assured. He looked over all the noblemen, but he rested his gaze triumphantly on Long Feng. "But it's not one of us."
Confusion erupted in the circle of noblemen.
"You can't possibly be accusing Long Feng!"
"What do you mean, 'one of us'?"
"Think about it!" The Duke cried. "Who among us lives in squalor? Who lives in despair in the Lower Ring? Who alone has neither money nor position?"
The noblemen paused. They shuffled uncertainly, glancing at one another, murmuring in low tones. Slowly, all their gazes were drawn to Long Feng.
Long Feng ignored them. "You have amused me," he told The Duke. "But surely you know you cannot win this battle."
The Duke gestured at the noblemen who now stared suspiciously at their leader. He crossed his arms and chuckled –a challenge, if ever there was one.
Long Feng did not look concerned. He merely leaned forward on the table and, in a voice so soothe and sweet, said, "I have invited you all here to protect our fair city."
The Duke noticed a heavy, honeyed emphasis on the word 'invited'. Around him, the other nobles instantly relaxed. Their muscles slackened, their eyes glazed over and –The Duke blinked in surprise. It looked as if their pupils expanded three times their size.
Long Feng now smiled in triumph. The nobles were completely under his control.
Or so he thought. The Duke didn't look too worried himself. He had expected Long Feng to pull his ace, but The Duke still had his up his sleeve. It was time to make some blood boil.
The Duke firmly planted his feet. "Long Feng has been lying to you!"
There was no reaction. Not even a flicker.
Long Feng chuckled.
That certainly made The Duke's blood boil, but that was not the point. He was a little disheartened his cry brought no reaction. Pipsqueak nudged him in the shoulder, his message clear. What are you doing?!
"He's using you!" The Duke tried again.
Long Feng smirked. "You are the city's protectors," he countered, his voice smooth as silk.
"We are the city's protectors," the nobles echoed instantly.
The Duke shrugged. Third time's the charm. "Long Feng doesn't care about putting the peasants in their place," he said. "He could care less about what they're doing, or where they are. He just doesn't want to be one of them anymore!"
To Long Feng's surprise, these words triggered a reaction. A rather violent one. In some of the older, weaker men, the only response were bulging eyes, a few pulsing veins as they heard these atrocious accusations. But in the younger men, the words broiled anger that ripped out in cries of rage. Several managed to jump to their feet, while others were content throttling their chair arms.
Long Feng took a step back.
"You're all concerned about maintaining the city's culture and proper place," The Duke went on, encouraged by the reaction. "But Long Feng isn't. He's only using you to further his own personal goals. He's going to raise himself up in society, gentlemen," The Duke announced, grinning in triumph. "And he's going to do it on our wealth and positions."
The noblemen rose in an uproar, all of them, angry enough to break free of Long Feng's hold.
Long Feng snarled at The Duke. How he managed to figure out a way under his control so quickly, he couldn't guess. What he did know was that it was time to go. The noblemen were not happy with him.
"Well played, Duke," Long Feng said darkly, glaring at him from over the table.
The Duke stared coolly back. "It's The Duke."
Long Feng raised his hand. If The Duke expected him to surrender, he was disappointed. Long Feng snapped his fingers.
Instantly, four women appeared at his side. They came from nowhere, standing stock still beside him, clad in loose dark clothes, with their hair pulled back tight. The Duke noticed an intense presence behind him. One glance showed him that the servant women had straightened to attention.
"Joo Dee," Long Feng commanded casually. "Attack."
Being attacked by a host of Joo Dees was not part of the plan.
The Duke was contemplating this as Pipsqueak tossed him behind one of the large wooden chairs, hoping it was sturdy enough to withstand an attack. The Duke ducked involuntarily as a series of sickening thuds pounded into the chair back just above his head. He could see the shiny tips of several small darts poking through the wood. He gulped.
Pipsqueak didn't wait for another attack. The giant hefted up a chair and tossed it across the room, directly at Long Feng.
One of the four Joo Dees leapt forward to meet it, a sword flashing into her grasp. Before the chair could strike her master, she sliced it through with one stroke. The pieces collapsed on either side of Long Feng and his puppet, but Pipsqueak was satisfied to see the arrogant man balk.
Staring at the chair's shattered pieces, Long Feng quickly decided this was getting a little too messy. Leaving his Joo Dees to deal with this unforeseen problem, he slipped out of the room, intent on escaping the house before anyone discovered he was missing.
The servant women prevented any escape, blocking the doors and windows, while Long Feng's four bodyguards provided incentive that they remain.
Most of the nobles gave up easily. They didn't know how to fight, and it was clear the four dark-clad women were experts with their weapons. A few others crouched behind sturdy furniture for protection, but there wasn't much else they could do. They had no weapons, and any object within reach had already been hurled at their attackers.
The fight was at a stand still.
The resisting nobles didn't want to die, and as far as the bodyguards were concerned, the longer they stalled, the more time Long Feng had to escape.
"Any suggestions?" The Duke asked his friend.
"Yeah." Pipsqueak nodded. "Don't start a fight."
The Duke chuckled. "Sure! Now you tell me!"
That was when the stone floor began to crumble.
- These were probably not the Girls of Ba Sing Se that Iroh had in mind... ;)
- Ah, the original Joo Dee; I had to bring her in sooner or later!
- Notice the subtle difference between the trigger words here and from the series. After Long Feng was taken from his position and Lake Laogai destroyed, he couldn't very well use the same command again, could he?
- I've always wondered what happened to the dozen or so other Joo Dees seen at Lake Laogai. This is my answer. :)
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