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|The Governess, Part 1: Uma|
24 December 2015
The confusing mix of emotions weighed down my shoulders while I trudged back to my apartment. I was crashing down from an inexplainable high. It was less than an hour before I stole artifacts from a government-run museum that supposedly once belonged to my father, their purpose contested by the two sides of the war at Taku. Given the rest of the bullshit spewed by the side proudly boasting their red flags, I was more inclined to believe the people left to suffer their unjust reign. I was one of them now, wearing green, the lack of rights so apparent that I wondered how most in Taku could even still feel human.
They were going to execute those waterbending rebels: people who sailed the ocean to defend their allies and were somehow swept up by the incessant tide of imposed dictators and disgruntled subjects. But I set them free. And I killed people who made Taku an unsafe place for her own people.
The door to my building was stuck, and I was almost too exhausted for the two or three thrusts it took to force it open. The stairs weren't fun either. I had only been in the city for a day, and I was already stealing shit and killing people. And then there was Sen, who told me to get lost right after I saved her life and fought by her side.
My bed creaked when I collapsed. I hadn't felt that rejected since Chang Lee asked that overweight simpleton Suya Tomaki to the Golden Dragon Dance. I just lay there with my face down. I thought they might suspect me of being the Lioness. In fact, I knew they would. It was only a matter of time before I heard the knocking. I thought about fleeing, but where would that put me? There was no proof I did it, so perhaps I was safe. The very idea of a slim chance of safety lulled me in. I could have either run or passed out. The internal debate didn't last long before my lack of energy overcame me.
The knocking did come, and I was jolted awake by a chilling rush of fear. I wiped the drool off my face, and tried to wake up the arm I fell asleep on. There was a window in my apartment. On the other side just another wall of a building but also a space just large enough for me to slide through.
"Hey!" called the familiar voice from the other side of my thin wooden door. "Hey! It's me from the stable!"
It took a moment for my terror to subside, and my heart to stop pounding. I turned from the window. "Okay," I called faintly. The door opened with a creak as usual, and in the hallway I saw the stable manager looking at me with a strange combination of confused and apologetic on his face.
"Uh, I'm sorry," he shrugged.
I stepped back, reaching into my pocket for a dart, but I didn't have any more on my person. The window was calling my name, but then so was the person who pushed the stable man aside.
"Tu Lin, where are you going?" asked Zhang calmly when he caught me about to throw my body through glass. "Certainly that's the fastest way to get to the bottom floor, but I'd say the stairs are less likely to leave you bleeding."
His- admittedly witty- sarcasm wasn't about to stop me, but his threats did.
"Jumping through a window would not put you in the best physical condition to confront the men I posted downstairs," he warned smugly. "Is there really somewhere you have to be that badly?"
I faced my latest master. "What do you want?" In retrospect, I should have phrased that more politely.
His expression went stern as he remained in the hallway. "In my country, we exchange a pleasant 'hello' before asking questions.
This isn't your country, I thought fuming, a sentiment he probably knew I was feeling.
"My apologies, Sir. Hello. What do you want."
He chuckle-grunted and waved to others in the hall. Without any words coming out of their skull masks, two soldiers entered my apartment carrying something covered by a white sheet. They placed it against a wall and left as Zhang nodded in their direction and invited himself into my humble abode. He strolled around, his hands folded behind his back while he checked out just about every corner of my small room. His eyes peered up and down, side to side, and he nodded slowly like he was looking to purchase.
I watched him uncomfortably. "Can I make you some tea?"
This time he gave a full laugh. "Oh Nalia, you are quite the character." He paused. "Don't worry, you are not in any trouble. I just wanted to check in." I suppose by 'checking in' he meant open my closet and inspect it, because that's what he did.
"Well can you check out soon? I think you can do that at the desk downstairs."
Zhang didn't laugh that time. "Are you sure you're okay? There was quite a scare in the city earlier. Have you heard of it?"
My heart sank, but the new mission was deny, deny, deny. "No, I've been here all day. I wanted to get some sleep."
He nodded, almost rolling his eyes. "Right. Of course. Well, someone decided to steal artifacts that belonged to your late father. This criminal interrupted a public ceremony and killed several Fire Nation servicemen."
When he said this, he looked quizzically at me. "Does this not phase you?" he asked with a feigned incredulousness.
"Nothing phases me anymore, I guess."
"That's certainly understandable." Zhang plopped down on his knees and actually looked under my bed. The only thing he could've seen was a dead bug or two. "These objects are still missing," he continued, rising to his feet. "A sword and a mask. Of course, you wouldn't know anything about their whereabouts, would you?"
I shot him a fake eye roll. "Do I look like the type of person who runs around in a cape-" I wanted to take back my words and choke on them as soon as they left my mouth. I couldn't believe the mistake I made.
"Well," nodded Zhang. "I didn't say anything about a cape."
"Oh," I needed something fast. "I passed by a statue of my father on the way here. I figured the cape on the statue was part of it. Your men explained his history."
"Ahhhh. And what a great history it was. It's a shame that someone is trying to defile your father's legacy, isn't it?"
The irony of his words was devastating and infuriating. "It makes my blood boil," I spat. "He needs to be remembered for his true actions."
"Agreed! Anyway, that is not why I'm here. I'm afraid I must add another task onto your busy schedule."
"If you want me to pick up your groceries, I'll expect to be refunded."
Another laugh from Zhang. I was getting pretty good. "I'll consider the offer, but it's much more urgent. A waterbending combatant escaped the event today, and we believe she retreated to somewhere on the coast, where we've suspected a rebel hideout for some time."
"One waterbending girl?" I scoffed, wondering myself how much I feared for Sentoki. "Doesn't sound like much of a problem."
"Neither did one firebending girl until you came along." He had a point. "Regardless, we don't know if there are more where she came from, or what kind of defenses they have in place."
"You need to send someone expendable to scope it out," I translated.
"We need to send someone stealthy. You are to locate her, and if there are others, report back to me with an approximate number."
"And if she's alone?"
"Like you said, shouldn't be a problem." As he said this, he ignited a small flame in his palm. "The general point of this operation is to ensure that whatever number of rebels there currently is on the coast becomes zero."
"I'll do what I can to see that the waterbender is taken care of properly." I was proud of my double-meaning.
I was surprised when Zhang took a moment to look me in the eyes, with a stare that almost came across as genuine pleading. "I'm counting on you."
The general turned and made his way through the door, looking back to add one last thing. "Also, Nalia, if this so-called 'Lioness' is with the waterbenders, avenge your father's proper legacy."
"I will," I seethed.
I closed the door behind him, and my first thought was to uncover my mysterious present.
But I nearly choked up upon seeing it, and I had to take a few steps back, then sit on my bed.
It was a portrait of my father just like the one from the museum. I sat there, trying hard not to cry. It was such a bizarre and sick mix of emotions. I wanted to be proud of my father. I wanted to be thrilled to be his daughter. I wanted to believe... but I knew men like Zhang were using that same portrait to instill fear and hatred. How was I supposed to feel about that painting when no one even knows what the man on the canvass did with his life?
For a moment I wanted to see the gift burnt to crisps in blue flames, but I was glad I restrained. My father's history was muddied, but with his mask and sword in my hands, I realized his legacy would become what I made of it.
I was awoken before dawn by the beast known as Clepsydra. No, that isn't a an ancient lizard living in the darkest trenches of the ocean, but rather a fancy word for my water clock. Ming could have explained how they work better, but I'm pretty sure the general concept involved something about the water level rising and setting off a bell.
Having fallen asleep so early, I was well-rested, but that insufferable bell sound made my head feel like I had spent all of the previous night and a good portion of the early morning drowning my pain in cheap wine. It was like a teapot going off, except my father wasn't there to force me to slowly drink scalding hot tea for an hour before lessons started.
No, that day I would be attempting a mission far less dangerous than training with my father- spying on the dictatorial governor that made an enemy out of Jirou, reclaimed her daughter out of her marriage, and apparently was so nasty she warranted the naming of a bhoarse in her honor. In my experience with mothers, they were unnaturally tough creatures, and Uma sounded like one mean mama.
I did not have to report to Uma's mansion until sunrise, but there was somewhere else I wanted to go first. I could feel my body screaming at me as I forced it out of my flat, hard bed, and I looked like utter shit when I illuminated the room with a blue flame to check myself out in my cracked mirror. The bags in my eyes were almost more terrifying than Zhang, but not nearly as pretentious. It was the first time I put on "Tu Lin's" work uniform too, a snug fit but it worked. Tu Lin must have been the most plain, indistinguishable human on the planet, but again, that was probably what made her the perfect choice.
I rushed out of my building. Barely anyone was in town, at least from what I could tell in the bleakness, but I still checked over my shoulder occasionally to make sure I wasn't being followed- my adoring fans were getting out of control with their pleas for autographs. Sign my tits, Nalia! they would scream... Okay, maybe I'm misremembering my many experiences of being stalked.
Like any stupid ne'er-do-well, I returned to the scene of the crime. The steps to Taku's Fire Nation-run "museum" were haunted, dim light reflecting off the mask of colonial propaganda and barely revealing the wooden stage that was used to take up to eight innocent lives at once. My stay was brief, and light on my feet I hustled down the same path Sen and I ran after the incident. I was ordered to spy on her by Zhang, and I was happy to comply, but I had no intention of reporting my findings.
When I came to the cave, I had a sudden hesitation. It was risky, maybe even wrong to be there. Zhang's goons could have followed me. It could have been a trap... but I had to go. I employed my powers of stealth Zhang boasted of in my apartment, and some latent climbing abilities I forgot I possessed as well. I found myself at the top of the cave's mouth, and I stopped crawling for a moment when I heard the crackle of a fire.
Peering over the cave and onto the slightly-glowing beach, I saw Sen. She was sitting alone on a rock, transfixed on the fire she had built. I was perplexed at first, as setting a fire outside your hiding spot had to be one of the dumbest things an exiled rebel could do, but I rethought my harsh assumption. Starting a fire was something a person without a real shelter had to do, and it was something Sen could get away with, as the cave and the hill behind it provided a shield between the light her fire emitted and any part of the city, the part above her being mostly devoid of residences. In front of her lay an ocean, with Kun Island far enough away that a speck of light wasn't really enough to draw attention. Her cave truly was a great hideout, except for the fact that the Fire Nation was onto it and likely planning its complete destruction as I sat there- watching her silently.
I couldn't see her expression. But I could tell she was miserable, confused, angry, broken. It was her posture as she sat, one I recognized all too well. Her emotions didn't matter to me as much as her pulse, however. She was alive, and I was going to do everything in my power to keep it that way.
The crack of her fire was intoxicating. I closed my eyes, breathing in and out with the flames. It was the first time I had participated in that kind of meditation in a while, and I was mesmerized. When I opened my eyes again, I was surprised to see rays of orange light streaming over the water.
I stumbled to my feet and spun around, my eyes searching frantically for the top of Uma's colossal palace peering over the city skyline. I was late, and if Jirou's bhoarse really was aptly named for his mother-in-law, I was screwed. I was a fool to never map my way to my new place of employment before hand, and I paid the price flailing around in the Taku streets looking for the right path. The stupid shoes I had to wear didn't make it easier, and I could feel my Earth Kingdom-style hair falling apart.
Finally, I was across the way from an ugly metal gate standing before what otherwise would have been a breathtaking palace. The gate, along with the other metal additions that must have come with the Fire Nation occupation was a horrific eyesore, but I wasn't there as an exterior home designer.
On the right side of the gate was a stone block of a room, three Fire Nation soldiers sitting inside and watching me through the rectangular hole cut on the wall. On either side of the gate was one spearmen, three Imperial Firebenders and a soldier on a komodo rhino. A few archers strolled the walls just behind it.
I approached what I assumed was a reception window, and I handed my identification paper to one of the soldiers.
"I'm new," I offered softly. "I'm working as a handmaiden to the Governor starting today."
The soldier said nothing; he just read a few things off my card then looked up at me, then back at the card. Then he flipped it over and stamped an unfamiliar seal on the back.
"You can go through." He didn't even look me in the eye with he handed me back my passport.
The gate opened, and I tried to hide my nerves as I walked through. "Did you see the ass on her?" I heard when I was still in earshot.
I found myself on a gorgeous, wide stone path leading up to impressive marble steps. There was a Fire Nation banner on both my right and left every two yards as I made my way down the path and up the steps to the grand palace doors, which were initially painted emerald but had two enormous red flags draped in front. I flashed my stamped paper to the soldiers, who nodded and opened the way.
The interior was bizarre. It was so obvious what was originally there and what was added when Uma assumed power. Beautiful, ornate buttresses, murals, and tiles were covered by atrocious, modern additions, many of which were made of metal. It was like seeing a girl with a naturally stunning face ruined by the application of cheap makeup. I glanced down, and a woman my age in the same uniform as mine looked back at me as she scrubbed the floor.
I jumped when I heard a voice behind me. "You're late."
When I turned on my heels I saw a weasel-looking man with a weasel-sounding voice. He was short, well dressed in dark lavender, and he held his nose so high it was like he was just looking at the ceiling when he spoke.
"I'm so sorry. It's my first day."
"I am well aware!" I tried not to laugh when his high-pitched voice squeaked up. "I am Sanjin, the Palace Administrator. It is my honor and duty to oversee the administrative functions of this estate and see to it that our governor's needs are fulfilled. You will report to me while here."
There was something unsettling about taking orders from a man who looked like he ate everything with his pinky out. But once again, what choice did I have?
"I'm ready to get to work," I smiled and nodded.
"Hmph! I would hope so, Miss..."
"Tu Lin, as punishment for being late, you have the last choice of tasks for the morning. Usually I allow the girls to sort out who performs which morning duty themselves, but seeing as you are new you may want to get used to the less desirable jobs."
I was fully prepared to clean a komodo rhino's dung for five days. It appealed to me much more than any interaction with fellow humans. "I will accept any task for which I am needed," I responded politely.
"Excellent. Right this way then." I presumed to follow him as he led me down a few corridors and across a courtyard. I was disgusted by the almost laughable attempts to cover up Earth Kingdom tradition with flags, banners, metal, paintings, anything to make the occupation complete I suppose.
We ended up in the kitchen. I wasn't thrilled, seeing as my last job in a kitchen resulted in an explosion and mass murder.
"Oh. I have experience preparing food. I can do this."
Sanjjin shook his head, I think, his mannerisms were strange and at times indecipherable. "No, no, no. You will be delivering the Governess her breakfast."
Whoa. I was stunned for a second or two. Surveying and later poisoning Uma shouldn't be too hard when I'm the one bringing her meals, I thought. Good thing I was late.
"That's not all," continued my rodent boss. "You will bring her breakfast too her chambers and wait outside her bedroom door until you hear her morning bell. You may then enter and leave her food on the table beside her bed. Then you will open her blinds. No conversation is required or encouraged. If she needs anything else in her chambers she will stop you before you leave."
"Alright," I nodded. "So is that it-"
"Then you will head to her office, directly down the hall from her room, and start a fire in the fireplace. Spark rocks can be found on the mantle-"
"Spark rocks?" I had no idea what those were, but I had an immediate feeling that I should have.
Senjin looked at me quizzically. "To start the fire..."
"Right, of course. Sorry."
"All right, after you have done that, wait by her desk for her to enter and ask her if she has any other requests from you. If she does, you will complete whatever task she may assign. If not, we could always use two more hands scrubbing floors or dusting.
"Um, okay." So you're telling me I'm going to her office too?
A fat, bearded man walked over time carrying a sizable trey of three covered dishes, stared at me until I put out my hands, placed it in my care, and walked away. It was surprisingly heavy, but after hauling food for Nightmare around the world I could handle it.
"Very good," prompted Senjin. "To the top floor with you." With that, he left through the kitchen door. "I need an earthbender to the back steps!" he called as he walked out, leaving me by myself.
The top floor of the palace was naturally lit through massive windows that spanned the walls. The view was gorgeous, a gross improvement from that of my apartment, one Uma certainly did not deserve. Her actual bedroom was at the end, a frame with a bell nailed to the wall next to the door. I stood there waiting for it to ring, assuming Uma would pull some kind of rope from within the room whenever she was ready for me, but I kept waiting.
Shit, did I miss it? I bit my nails. I was either late and missed my cue, meaning I should barge in and get to work, or she hadn't rung the bell yet and I would be intruding early. I decided to wait about one more minute before I was certain she must have already woken up. I knocked, took a deep breath, then slowly twisted the golden knob and pushed the heavy, jeweled door open.
The room was dark, light pouring in from the hallway, and it was empty. There was no one in the bed, and across from the luxurious mattress and luscious red covers were thick purple curtains covering three windows.
"Ma'am?" I called quietly, unsure of myself. "Hello?"
There was a shadow along the wall on the other side of the bed, coming out of the open door to a connected room. Examining the shadow, I concluded Uma must have been changing in her closet space. I watched her black shadow, the woman I was sent to kill. How fitting that I only saw the shadow of the biggest mystery of my career as a Shepherd. Was she a Crimson Wolf, I wondered. That would make her a good person, wouldn't it? Except she has rebels executed. She holds power in conquered land. She's Jirou's mother-in-law! Her true nature was as vague and uncertain as her shadow.
I left the tray of food where I was told, and I proceeded to open the curtains. More light filled the room, around which I presumed Uma navigated previously by utilizing her own firebending. Sanjin told me I would be stopped before exiting if there was anything else, so I walked back into the hallway and closed the door behind me. Not a peep from Uma.
Her personal office was located behind a door in the middle of the same hall, which made me question what the rest of the gigantic building was for. It, too, was a well-lit room with many windows. Certainly not a bad gig. There were already logs in the fireplace, which was made of very elegant dark stone. I made a fist and pulled my arm back, preparing to pass a flame onto the wood, but I stopped myself. Right. Spark rocks.
The tools for igniting a fire were indeed on the mantel, and after a few tries hitting them together I finally saw a spark hop onto the logs where it caught. It started with a small ember, then a tiny flame no bigger than one on a candlewick, then slowly turned into a fire similar to the one I saw Sen by that morning.
I went and stood to the right of Uma's impressive oak desk, my hands folded and my posture straight.
A few minutes passed... and I caught my eyes sliding their gaze over unto Uma's desk. There it was. A little snooping might have led me to a gold mine of information, useful to me and the Shepherds. If I was supposed to find something linking her to the Wolves, her desk wasn't a bad place to start.
But I couldn't risk getting caught. That would result in torture followed by execution at worse, and a failing of my mission at best- and failing my mission would also probably lead to execution. The point is, any sort of mistake equaled execution. So I didn't sneak around. Several minutes later, with still no one else joining me in the office, I wished that I had.
There's still no one else here, so maybe I at least have just one minute. I turned to the desk and bent down.
I snapped back when I heard the door opening.
"Governor!" I stood at attention like I was one of her soldiers.
"Why don't we say Governess spat the woman who swung her hips while she marched in my direction. "A proper title should reflect what's between our legs."
"Yes, Governess." Okay... that was weird.
Her walk connoted strength. She didn't stroll, she paraded triumphantly. She was tall- unusual tall for a woman- and her hair was pitch black and short. She must have been in her fifties, but her unwrinkled, flawless, pale skin and determined amber eyes gave the appearance of someone much younger. She wasn't necessarily attractive, with her overbearing stature, but she sure wasn't ugly for a woman her age, and her glowing appearance emitted power. Apparently at least one man found that sexy.
She stopped in front of the fireplace and inhaled before resuming her conquering of the room. She swung around her desk and seated herself in the decorated silver chair behind it.
"Forgive me, Governess," I squeaked, "First day."
She still hadn't looked me in the eyes, and she didn't bother to look up then as she retrieved a parchment from one of her desk drawers. "So, they sent the new girl to me, huh? I'm getting the sense the other girls don't think to fondly of me." Her tone was sarcastic, and I almost appreciated her obviously-feigned concern for others' opinions.
I smiled. "I wouldn't worry. They seem far too boring anyway."
That was the first time she looked at me, and she even smiled. But it was a weird smile, showing so much teeth but being so cold at the same time. It was like a I appreciated that, but don't forget I could punch through your chest and rip out your heart smile. The same one Nightmare had.
She laughed. "Now I see why they sent you! You've got a sense of humor. Finally! The others would just gawk at me with their dead eyes until I told them to do something."
"Oh," I forced myself to chuckle, "that's actually in the job description."
"Is it?" Uma laughed even louder and clapped once. "Oh I think I'm going to like you, um..."
"N- Tu Lin, Ma'am."
"Tu Lin? Wonderful. Go fetch me wine from the kitchen. I have a long list of insufferable briefings and meetings before I head to my throne room for Grievances."
Throne room? Well damn. "If you don't mind me asking, what are Grievances?"
"Oh I basically sit and listen to my citizens' community representatives and leaders ask me for more stuff. Once a month I hear them complain about how the market prices of food have risen, how taxes are too high, how one day was too cloudy, how someone had trouble taking a shit."
I laughed as she went on.
"Even Earth Kingdom subjects get a voice through a representative," she added.
Somehow, I didn't think their "voice" would carry much weight with her, but I was interested in this concept of Grievances. It meant that for a decent amount of time, Uma would be distracted in a different part of the palace.
"Tu Lin? My wine?"
"Sorry. I'll get right on that." I left the Governess to her work, and I made a peculiar discovery: there were no guards posted in that hallway, the same hallway where Uma sleeps and works. That doesn't make any sense, I thought. How could a foreign tyrant with subjugated slaves working in her palace not have close protection? Something isn't right.
There were guards, however, at the bottom of the steps that led up to Uma's wing. Two of them. Impressive ones at that. They were the two largest, most muscular soldiers I'd seen in Taku, and both wielded an axe that looked heavier than I was, the sunlight piercing through the window and reflecting off the sharp blades. They were two meatheads I didn't want to mess with.
The kitchen had already provided a considerable bottle of wine for Uma, so apparently her early drinking was quite ordinary, if not a daily affair. I was also given a chalice that could've been worth the estate I grew up on. If it had any more diamonds on it, it would've been fancy enough to shove up Sozin's ass.
I prepared my thighs for the walk back up to my Governess, but two axes on long shafts got in my way.
"Stop," ordered one of the guards.
I looked back and forth between them, both puzzled and nervous.
"Drink it," one of them demanded, gesturing to the wine.
I don't think I'm of a high enough status to bless my taste buds and eventually liver with a wine of this quality, I wanted to retort, but both my nerves and my reason prevented me.
When I didn't answer, the guard prompted me again. "Just a little. A sip out of the bottle."
They wanted to make sure it wasn't poisoned. Even if it was, it could've been anyone in the kitchen, but I suppose having an Earth Kingdom girl lose her life over it wasn't that high of a price.
"I served the Governess her breakfast," I protested, doing my best to remain polite.
At that, one of the guards took an intimidating step forward, and I complied.
One swig went down my throat with a heavy swallow, and when I didn't collapse to the ground after an awkward moment of waiting, I was allowed through.
In the time I was downstairs, three other people had joined the party on the top floor: another maid who was cleaning the windows, and two Imperial Firebender I wasn't thrilled to see. They paced along the hall in a militaristic fashion, passing each other at the center. The maid threw me a sympathetic glance, to which I responded with a nod before reentering Uma's office.
"Here's your wine Ma'am." She wasn't alone, but was conversing with an older man in a high-ranking Fire Nation naval uniform, who turned back and glared at me for interrupting.
"Never mind her," Uma regained his attention. "Our new girl will be sure to mind her manners in the future," she said with a raised voice, shooting me a look.
"Well," sighed the man, standing up, "that was it with my report."
Uma nodded. "Thank you, Admiral." He bowed and left, snarling at me when he passed by.
"My apologies, Governess," I bowed, "again..."
She again offered here bizarre expression, not quite a smile, not quite a grimace. "But you've redeemed yourself by providing me sweet release from these awful meetings." She waved me over and I felt it was the only time for some more inquiry.
"You can drink safely, Ma'am," I smiled. "The axe guys had me check it myself."
Uma rolled her eyes. "They wouldn't if it wasn't necessary. Someone did try to poison my beverage once. If our relationship continues to go as well as I believe it will, maybe I'll tell them to easy up."
"I would appreciate that," I chuckled. "After all, I can't keep depleting your valuable resources."
Her cackle was hideous, yet so good to hear. It meant I was scoring points.
"Also, Governess, if you don't mind me asking... Why weren't the Imperial Firebenders in the hall this morning?"
She was perplexed at first, downing her first glass of wine, but then she put a finger up and nodded. "Oh, those men were with the admiral. I don't allow guards on this floor when I'm here."
"Oh," I hid my pleasant reaction. "May I ask why?"
"I value my privacy," she responded simply. "That, and I can protect myself, frankly."
"That's the best way to do it." I wanted to reassure her idiotic confidence. "I'm sure your own firebending is ten-times as powerful as those guards."
"If not more," she concurred. She then laid back in her chair and squinted at me, her lips pursed.
"Tell me, Tu Lin, do you hate me?"
I was genuinely taken back by the question. "Um, no, Ma'am. I thought we were getting along..."
"Well, we are. But that's strange. I'm a Fire Nation-installed governor. You are a conquered person forced into my personal service. You may not have poisoned my wine, but how badly did you want to?"
"To be honest," I paused to mull my answer over for a moment, "I think Taku is better off now that you're here. People are safer, they have things to do, the war in this region is more-or-less over. I'm happier."
Uma's expression went blank, then sinister. "Even my propaganda ministers couldn't tolerate that level of bullshit," she spat, and shivers were sent down my spine.
She sat upright and folded her arms on her desk. "Let's keep the lies to a maximum of zero from now on, understand?"
"Excellent. I'm glad we have that understanding." She retrieved a sheet of parchment and a quill pen from her desk, standing up. "I've moved Grievances up so that I can get them out of the way."
Alright, I thought. Here's my first chance.
"You'll be following me downstairs," she strut to the door, indicating with her body language that I was to join her.
The two of us walked down to the lower levels of the palace together, and she stopped briefly when we reached the two guards with axes.
"I don't care if Sozin himself shows up," she told them, "no one goes upstairs until I return."
"Yes, Ma'am," they responded simultaneously.
I reluctantly followed my first female boss, biting my lip and pondering my next move. This isn't' going to be easy.
- Sanjin is named for san se jin, the Chinese word for "pansy."
|Prologue - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
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