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|The High Life|
Book 1: The Republic
|"My mother died a long time ago, when I was young. She was very sick."|
|— Colette to Fenn|
Colette smiled at Fenn. It calmed him down. Though compared to her he was filthy and scratched up, the boy did not feel out of place with her. The limousine, its comfy leather warm from the ride, stopped and pulled over.
"We're here," Colette said; her feminine, tenor voice classy. The driver opened the door and Fenn followed the girl into the Beyond building. It was pristine white and almost took up an entire block. Its peak was the highest among the mountainous skyscrapers of the Republic, rising almost to the cloud cover. Inside receptionists and computer technicians tapped on touch screens, bleeping and techno sounds tweeting with each touch while Clandestines marched through the foyer to storage rooms. The place was more bustling than the outside streets. Colette took him into a golden lift, the inside decorated with bands and twirls and gold and a large mirror on the back. She put her index finger on the pad then touched the 200 button. The lift began to climb and suddenly it came from the bottom floors into a glass tube. Fenn could get a view of the entire city and the magnificent blue ocean that started at the docks.
"Beautiful?" Colette asked. Fenn laughed. Seeing the Republic from above was a lot nicer than seeing it from the streets. The colours seemed to be more vivid from this angle and the sounds and smells were replaced with sight of breathtaking expansiveness. He then looked at her, and realised maybe she asked if he thought she was beautiful.
"Yes," he replied. She smiled and then looked back out to the cityscape. The lift the entered the upper floors, zooming past levels and levels.
"Here at the Beyond tower, we're more than just Clandestines," Colette began. "We've got people on traffic control, we've got people in advertising, people coming up with food products, cosmetics and kitchenware – everything you can think of. We've got people coming up with new water systems for cleaner sewage, new ways for flight. We do everything. We manage relationships with our domains, revise imports and exports and we come up with better defense mechanisms for the city." Fenn huffed. Beyond sure was of great magnitude. It seemed to be the cogs and gears of every working thing, system, way of life and necessity in the Republic – even having influence on the domains. The lift glided smoothly to a halt as they reached the uppermost level. The doors opened revealing a large room with gargantuan bookshelves on either side. At the far end was a desk neatly covered in files, notes, pens and a laptop. A burgundy chair was tucked under it. Behind the desk at the far end of the room was a window which took up the entire wall, giving yet another magnificent view this time to the north. Sitting at the desk was the chairman, Colette's father. Colette led Fenn to the desk and sat him down in the chair opposite the man.
"Dad," Colette said, diverting the man's attention from his work. "This is Fenn. Fenn this is my father, Tariq." Despite his age, Tariq had jet black hair that fell neatly onto his forehead in young waves. Grey lines grew on his sideburns but other than that there was no sign of age. His fair skin had barely any wrinkles and his body was lean and broad. He appeared almighty before Fenn.
"So this is the boy you were talking about?" Tariq said, his voice deep and royal. Fenn was taken back a little. He hadn't noticed Colette speaking to anyone over a phone during his time with her in the limousine. Colette nodded.
"Yes. He's marvelously strong." Tariq's eyebrows rose with interest and impression.
"Is he now?"
"Yes," came the voice of a man. Fenn turned around to see the Clandestine Colonel exiting the lift with a grin across his unshaven face.
"He'd make an excellent Clandestine."
"Colonel Leroux," Tariq began. "I wasn't expecting to see you here."
"Well I just had to tell you about him," Leroux said. "He took down an entire demon with his firebending. That's not something you see every day." Leroux smiled at Fenn, his eyes glistening behind his glasses, and Fenn smiled back. He was happy that somebody appreciated his firebending not just for the fact that it won them money.
"And I suppose you're here to tell me that too?" Tariq addressed Colette. His daughter laughed as she shuffled on the spot.
"He's pretty incredible." She looked over at Fenn, who blushed at the compliment.
"Fine," Tariq sighed, typing something into his laptop. "I suppose I can fit one more Clandestine into the building. Leroux, you'll be in charge of him." Leroux nodded and patted Fenn hard on the shoulder. The boy's body tingled with delight. A disaster seemed to lead to a fortune. He was almost lost for breath.
"Thank you, sir," he replied gratefully, walking over to shake Tariq's hand. "Thank you so much." Tariq looked him up and down.
"You really need to get some nicer clothes, kid," he said. "Now that you're living on the high end you've got to look the part." Fenn paused. His first assignment and he couldn't even complete it. He had no money; Otto had lost it all.
"You're getting paid," Colette assured the awkward Fenn. "A lot." Paperwork was finalised and he was given his identification card and Leroux and Colette escorted him away to the lift.
"He didn't seem very eager to hire me," Fenn said once the doors had closed and the lift began moving.
"He's got a lot on his plate, that's all," Leroux explained kindly, his beady hazel eyes gleaming friendly.
"Beyond is working to become more involved with the Council," Colette continued the reassurance. "But they just see Beyond as a commercial and materialistic company. He really is stressed by his campaign. I'm sure he'll love you." Once they arrived to the ground floor Colette went off to run some errands while Leroux led Fenn out of the main tower, across a small garden to the Clandestine Sector; a group of white buildings of different sizes and shapes. Leroux took him into the first building – the entrance to the rest of the training zones as well as the cafeteria to the left. They sat down at a table and ate from the tray they had collected from the canteen.
"These meals use foods packed in protein and carbohydrates," Leroux clarified through a mouthful of chicken. "So the soldiers can become the best they can be." Fenn started to eat. The chicken was tender and the gravy velvety; it had the perfect taste of roasted meat infused in it. It was probably the heartiest meal Fenn had had in his entire life. He dug into it like it was going to disappear as Leroux continued to tell him the logistics of the Clandestine Sector; training days, training zones, pay, duties and physical and mental examinations.
"Now I know Tariq didn't tell you," Leroux said after hours of Clandestine and Beyond talk, his rectangular glasses flashing with playfulness. "And I understand the commute from your area is quite a hassle." Fenn's cheeked tingled and his face was covered in an excited grin – he had to hear the man say it.
"You will be getting your own place," Leroux continued, Fenn almost jumping from his seat with joy. "It's closer to the hub of the city, in the nice area. But it won't be too big. All our Clandestines are given their own apartment spread across the city – but none as good as this." Fenn looked at him. Was he getting special treatment for some reason? Maybe Tariq knew about his curse.
"I suppose Colette pulled some strings for you." Colette, Fenn mouthed to himself. The girl continued to wonder and humble him. Her beauty was almost as profound to him as her generosity. Fenn looked at his Colonel, as hard as he tried he couldn't stop smiling.
"So when do I move in?"
The bedroom overlooked the city – but not in a bad way, not like his old apartment. From his window Fenn could see other fancy marble buildings with intricate and modern architectural designs that rose above the dingy hollows of the small buildings. From this height the air seemed fresh and breathable. His bedroom was massive. There were drawers, cupboards, stands, a desk and his four-poster bed – made up with fine linen and silk sheets - was king-sized and comfy.
"It's not the best," Colette said as she entered.
"No," Fenn stopped her. "It is the best. It's incredible." He turned to the girl and beamed at her.
"Thank you, again, for this. For everything really," Fenn said, stumbling at the sight of her attractive face.
"Well I'm happy you're happy," she replied, her voluptuous red lips gleaming in the clean sunlight that poured in through the large window. There was a pause when the two both stared at each other fondly.
"Um," she coughed, blushing with embarrassment. "You're first mission." Colette procured a clipboard and handed it to Fenn to read.
"My father is out tomorrow night continuing his campaign and he wants you to be my bodyguard," she rolled her eyes. "It's over the top I know, but, yeah, whatever."
"No, of course," Fenn replied nervously, trying not to come across as too eager. "I'll be there at..." He looked down at the clipboard.
"I'll see you at seven."
"Yes." Colette walked out of the bedroom and to the lift – there was no front door seeing as Fenn's new apartment took up an entire floor. She addressed him once more as the doors began to close, smiling cheekily.
"Oh, and if you're late by even a minute...my dad won't hesitate to kill you." The doors closed and the lift hummed away, leaving Fenn alone in his luxurious new home with nothing but the quick beats of his thumping heart to echo through the empty rooms. What a girl, he thought. And what a place. What a job. What a life! He could get used to free accommodation, an unlimited minibar and a high income. Some weight, like that of ten thousand bulls, lifted from his shoulders. He felt younger, more alive; happier than he had ever felt in his lifetime. Fenn would wear his smile for the rest of his life.
Fenn stood at the back of Tariq's room, waiting for his boss to finish his meeting with the Council. The Water Councilman wore a navy overcoat with a light blue collar striped, around the edges, with white. Under his coat was a dark blue shirt tied up with golden string and covering his legs were flounced shorts and long teal socks leading to shiny black shoes. The Fire Councilwoman was in a royal dress; comprised of different shades of red, golden streaks and black patches. The Earth Councilman had an olive green jacket and a yellow suit shirt on. The Non-Bender Councilwoman wore a white skirt and grey blouse – very business-like. With Tariq they discussed matters of protection.
"Following the recent attack on the Republic I think the city should have bigger walls," the Earth Councilman said.
"Well our cameras have pointed out the demon did not come from outside," Tariq said bluntly, as if he had repeated himself. "It just appeared."
"It's only a matter of time before they attack our smaller domains," the Fire Councilwoman continued the debate. "I say bigger walls for every city."
"We need to expand our cities across the Green," interjected the Water Councilman. "The Green is the place we have seen most of them come from. If we destroy it and make it ours they'll stop."
"We definitely need to keep them at bay. Perhaps they'll learn a little if we discipline them. Make them ours," the Non-Bender Councilwoman said. Tariq ran his fingers through his hair.
"We are expanding the Republic east," he sighed. "But there is a lot of land out there. It'll take a while." Fenn coughed, gaining the attention of the Council. He opened his mouth to speak, giving them his two cents.
"Well," started Fenn. "The demon attacks are getting more and more frequent. It's only a matter of time before we repeat our strategies and they, again, don't work." Tariq looked at him, squinting and smiling as if the boy was on to something.
"We know nothing about them. If we can get some more information on them maybe we can found out their weakness. Really hit them hard." There was a pause across the room. The Council stared at the Clandestine – a bit appalled at his interference.
"It's a bit hard to get information on them," Tariq said politely, breaking the silence. "We wouldn't have any starting point."
"What about the Green?" Fenn continued, his rage towards demons fuelling his determination to get his point across. "A team could do an expedition out there, try and do some research."
"Thank you, Fenn, for your input," Tariq said, frowning now from the boy's persistence. "But you can leave." Fenn stared at his boss, not knowing if he was serious or not, then turned and exited into the elevator. What a waste, he thought.
The Yamomoto household was enormous. Situated in central Republic it was hidden away behind magnificent green hedges and looming buildings. Clean-cut ivy grew up the walls and the verandas and pergolas were lit beautifully with chandelier-like lanterns. Inside Colette was resting in the lounge room, admiring the portraits and knick-knacks that presented themselves on the mantle above the fireplace. They shone with luxury, adorning any guest with admiration and jealousy. Fenn entered and sat down with her.
"We've got soldiers based around the entire block and around the parameter of the house," said Fenn professionally. Colette nodded and sipped her drink.
"Are you enjoying you new life?" she smiled, turning the straw through her beverage. Fenn nodded back, blushing. The lights seemed to emphasise her elegance.
"Yes. It's incredible."
"Like nothing you ever dreamed of?"
"Like nothing I've ever dreamed of, yes," Fenn laughed.
"What was life like before this?" asked Colette, shuffling across the coach closer to the seat Fenn where Fenn was sitting. Fenn stiffened. She was trying to break through his wall; a wall he had been carefully putting up for eighteen years. It was precious to him, fragile. He did not usually let people see through it – and was not really sure if we wanted Colette to see either.
"Oh, well," he spluttered, only making Colette more curious. "You saw for yourself. Underground street fighting. Crime and stuff." Colette nodded slowly, recounting when they first met.
"What about before that?" she persisted. "What about your parents? Aren't they worried about where you are?" Fenn began to sweat. Things were becoming too personal, he hated it. He shuffled in his chair uncomfortably. Colette could sense his discomfort and moved away.
"I'll go first then," she said, making away for him to still open up to her.
"Okay," sighed Fenn, relief crashing over his body like a cold wave of water. Colette scuffled in her spot too – it seemed she had some unease concerning her past as well.
"Well," Colette began. "My mother died a long time ago, when I was very young." Pain, from a distant memory, like a white flash – a smoke – seemed to waft over Colette's eyes as she recounted her mother's blurry face.
"She was very sick," the girl continued, her voice softer and less confident than usual. "She seemed to be stabilising but...I remember one night I was visiting her in the hospital. I couldn't go into her room because I had a cold and that would send her back into sickness again." Colette clenched her fists, her knuckles whitening.
"A demon came in a killed her," she said, finishing abruptly. "Just when she was getting better." A silence came between Colette and Fenn. The firebender had no clue what to do in order to console her. Colette wiped her eyes and finished her drink.
"So it's sort of in my best interest to stop these demons." Fenn's heart jolted and squirmed. At that moment he realised their intentions were the same because of their past. He didn't feel so terrified to open up to her.
"So it's my turn now, I guess?" Fenn asked her, stopping her from sinking back into her sad thoughts. She nodded with a smile. He sighed, still possessing some inhibition.
"It's a bit of a sad story, and I don't like people feeling sorry for me."
"Just go," Colette interjected, laughing. Fenn stared into her glistening brown eyes; they were inviting.
"Okay," he began. "My mum died giving birth to me, and my dad abandoned me when I was nine." He scratched a nervous tickle on the back of his neck and looked back at forth between Colette's eyes and his fidgeting hands.
"Why?" mumbled Colette. Fenn sighed. As much as he fancied the girl, he was not comfortable giving away this much of his life – especially such painful memories. Nevertheless the boy continued, for he liked having her interest; having her eyes make contact with his for fleeting seconds.
"Um – well – he," Fenn replied with discomfort, searching for memories of his family that were looked away in a chest at the back of his mind. "He said that when I was born he saw a demon next to my mother right before she died. And...yeah, I guess he couldn't bear to look at me so he threw me onto the street with a suitcase of money and drove away." Fenn looked into the simmering fireplace. The golden peaks of flame danced away like little ballerinas, rolling and spouting to the crackles of the roasting wood. He had never said his story out loud. He never fully realised how much he missed his family, or even just a family. He laughed at Colette to mask the building tears. She put a soft hand on his and squeezed it gently. A gesture of sympathy. Fenn laughed again as a tear trickled down his cheek. He felt so stupid when he cried.
"He blamed me for it," Fenn said, choking on his sadness as more tears came from his bleary eyes. Colette stood up and pulled Fenn from his seat, giving him a tender hug.
"No. Not at all," she assured him comfortingly.
"No?" Fenn repeated as the girl sat him down next to her on the couch.
"Of course not. If it were up to me, and if what your father saw was real, than I'd say it was the demon's fault," Colette said, trying to sway the topic of conversation to something more present to stop Fenn from wallowing in his melancholy. Fenn smiled and wiped the tears from his face.
"Yeah. I tell myself that too," he replied. She laughed and brushed aside a curl.
"You never told anyone that, have you?" Colette asked, referring to his family history.
"Have you?" smiled Fenn. The girl shook her head and the boy then shook his. It seemed some spark now existed between the two of them – at least from what Fenn could sense. They had shared something between them – something intimate, private and ultimately painful. Fenn felt as if he knew her entirely; or at least now wanted to. Upon realising that he opened up to her so much – laying bare before her like a skinned hare, wounds and all – Fenn's cheeks turned rosy. Colette blushed too. Obviously she felt something towards what had happened – be it embarrassment on her behalf, embarrassment towards him or perhaps, though the chance seemed impossible, it could have been out of affection.
"Well done," Tariq said loudly, grinning. "Colette tells me the night was a complete success." Fenn looked at Colette, who beamed at him, then back at Tariq.
"No hiccups," he replied, shrugging as if the task was easy – and it was.
"Not one," Tariq replied, nodding. "Which is why I've got something for you." From under his desk the man procured a box and handed it to Fenn.
"I wasn't sure about your size," Fenn heard Tariq say as he opened his reward. Inside were two glistening silver boots. They were heavy and metallic and straps were fitted across the front for tightening.
"It's the latest in Clandestine technology," Tariq explained as Fenn took his dirty, old shoes off to replace them for his new, heavy ones. "The sole has a Pheonite core so that Firebenders can use their firebending for flight as well as a magnetic rim for walking where others can't get to." Fenn looked at the Pheonite on the soles, remembering the Pheonite that was incorporated into his printer at Lee's Printing.
"Wow," was all he could muster. "Thank you." It seemed every day he thanked Tariq for something.
"Go on. Give it a test run," Colette said, skipping over to the window and opening the door onto the balcony. Fenn and Tariq followed her out. Still the view was breathtaking and the whistling wind instilled feelings of exhilaration inside all of them. Fenn was unsure what to do. Was he to just jump over the railing?
"Start bending then," Tariq uttered, patting Fenn firmly on the back. "It's not going to start on its own." Not wanting to disappoint his boss Fenn focused his chi to his feet. Suddenly his mark, of which he had almost forgotten about since his time at Beyond, seared immensely and his legs swelled inside his pants. The Pheonite glowed white hot and sudden flames burst from the core. Tariq and Colette had to recoil from the engorged fire as Fenn took off into the sky like a rocket. As his curse continued to throb and fire raged from his soles uncontrollably Fenn flew through the sky crazily like a ragdoll. He screamed as loud as he could with such wind and speed snatching the breath straight from his lungs. All of a sudden his firebending ceased and he plummeted downwards to the cityscape.
"Fenn!' Colette screamed, leaning over the railing. Fenn's eyes raced around to find something his arms could hold on to and his arms and legs flailed as he freefell. Taking control of his rapidly thinking brain he told himself to take control. He pulled his arms into his chest to stop them from floundering and pushed through the cold pain in his neck as he focused his chi into his legs. A burst of fire came from his feet causing him to go downwards even faster. To save himself Fenn tensed his throbbing abs to lift his torso up, changing the direction of his flight. Like a comet, a tail of fire trailed behind him. Fenn flew up past the glass tube and then past an enthralled Colette and Tariq. He twisted his shoulders to turn and had quickly gotten the hang of it, knowing this would surely help him gain better control of his firebending. He landed on the top of the building, clutching the white spire tightly, and the magnets on his soles allowed him to stand upright with ease. He looked out upon the Republic, breathless and heart pumping madly, admiring the tremendous city and all its glory.
"You must be bored," Colette said from behind Fenn. Fenn turned around and nodded at her, making an exaggerated face before laughing.
"Shouldn't you be in the ball?" Colette shrugged.
"I'm kind of sick of talking to others about how my dad would be a great addition to the Council," she replied, rolling her eyes. "I'm not really into socialising tonight."
"It's a nice place," Fenn said, looking up at the intricate pergola ceiling and admiring the flounced columns. The Crystal Hall was enormous and architecturally stunning. It had lush botanical gardens at the front, with a path leading to marble steps. The veranda was also of marble while the main building was made of sandstone and old wood. Dim lights set a fancy mood as large windows allowed starlight to twinkle into the giant hall.
"It is," Colette replied. "Do you want to come in and dance." Fenn stiffened. He had never received attention from any girl ever and now that it was her, and certain, he had no idea what to do or how to act.
"I'm working," he said, walking away around the corner. Colette followed, her frilly gown – golden with white lacing – tailing her.
"Tariq won't mind," she replied, make no room for excuses.
"I don't have a suit," Fenn rebutted immediately.
"You look smart enough as you are," Colette said instantly after him. There was a pause as the two smiled at each other. Colette knew she had won, the glisten in her eyes said so.
"Fine," Fenn whined, taking Colette's hand as she led him into the Crystal Hall. Inside many women and men – all dressed extravagantly – socialised around tables covered in lavish mountains of exotic fruit and platters of horderves, sipping expensive champagne from delicate glasses. The ceiling was hemispherical in shape and beautiful scenes of dancing and bending combined were painted in extreme detail on it. As music began to play, noble sounds of strings and woodwinds, partners made their way to the centre of the hall to begin the dance. Bobbing and swirling, spinning and stepping the guests collectively made beautiful movements to the eyes.
"Come on." Colette led him into the centre of the hall and they began to dance. Fenn's hand awkwardly rested on her hip as they danced. She smiled at him.
"Excuse me," came an unfamiliar voice. The two turned to identify the voice, and it had come from a boy their age. He had blonde curls and wore large sunglasses over his eyes. Fenn deemed him rather peculiar.
"Wasn't I to have this dance?" the boy said with a snobbish voice.
"Were you?" Colette asked, her eyebrows rising from his objectifying words.
"Yes, I believe so," the boy continued, unaware of his rudeness. "After the boy in the maroon suit. You said I was next."
"Well too bad!" Colette snapped at him. "I'm dancing with Fenn." The boy looked at Fenn, scoffed, then stormed off like a toddler having a tantrum.
"Who's that?" Fenn asked, grinning.
"I think his name is Strauss," the girl replied, rolling her eyes. "Another one of my suitors."
"Suitors," Fenn repeated, emphasising the plural. Colette shook her head.
"They're all organised through my father. I hate it." Fenn blushed. He was happy she found no joy from her pestering suitors. If they were anything like that Strauss boy it'd be like having mosquitoes around you twenty four seven.
"Good," he said.
"Good, is it?" grinned Colette. Fenn blushed again. He wasn't doing a very good job of hiding his affection and quite frankly, was tired of hiding it. He sighed. He was about to do something rational.
"I'm about to do something that I'm not sure if it's the right thing to do. Okay?" Fenn told Colette.
"Okay," she said, beaming at him with her petite, pink lips.
"I mean, maybe I shouldn't but I just don't kno-" Suddenly Colette's face came towards his and her lips came into contact with his. Her lips were soft and warm and tasted ever so slightly of strawberry. Fenn moved his lips to a less awkward position to let her know he wanted to kiss her too and held her nape in his palm. Things were really looking up for Fenn. Something was in his favour and it would only be a matter of time until he'd have to repay that something. But right in this moment Fenn was okay with just embracing Colette and keeping his lips pressed on hers.
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