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-1 (Blood & Steel)
Monday, August 15, 2016
As the sun was reduced to a reddish blur on the horizon and glittering on the ocean, Senthose and Netzach strode down to a deserted corner of the docks, untying a speed boat from its lashings as the sea spray lapped against it. Or, to be more precise, Netzach untied a couple knots, before climbing into the boat and reclining into the captain's chair, legs crossed and hands behind his head.
"You're doin' great, kid," he commented, jiggling his foot as if to some song only he could hear, as he watched the last of the sun sink below the sea, casting a wave of bluish shadow over the city that blended sea and sky together. "Just keep a rope secured until our 3rd wheel gets here."
So when Senthose had untied all but a single rope, coiling them and storing them in a small cupboard beneath the seats for safe keeping, he stepped into the wriggling, pitching boat, and slid down in a seat directly behind Netzach.
Soon, he heard a kind of snorting gasp—snoring. "He can't even stay quiet when he's asleep," he mumbled under his breath, glancing at the silvery white disc rising between the buildings.
"The full moon will give us an awful lot of power just to take out some small-time Agni Kai thugs," Senthose mused, "Are they perhaps planning on demonstrating bloodbending?"
"Do you always talk to yourself like this?" Senthose heard a soft, silky voice interject, accompanied by a steady clack-clack-clack. He turned to look at the woman emerging from the shadows. Obviously high-class, she wore a long sleeved blue flapper dress with matching cloche hat and heeled shoes, accessorizing it with a string of pearls hanging lazily from her neck and a pair of large, silver bangles inlaid with a sea of sapphires dotted by islands of more pearls. "Because we don't want some fool babbling our secrets into the night. Who knows who might be listening?"
"I keep the important things to myself. What about you? Do you always wear heels to a crime scene?" Senthose countered.
"You have a lot of nerve, a lowly number-runner talking back to me. Do you have any idea who I am?" she asked, getting into the boat beside Netzach and twisting to look back at the young mobster.
"Selene Voland," Senthose answered, studying the woman's azure eyes and black bob in the pale moonlight, "And I'm guessing those rings of yours are from your 3 ex-husbands." ' "Ooh, sharper than I thought, and with a tongue to match. Make a bit of money, and you just might be my type."
"No thanks. I've heard about the Selene Curse. Each of your ex-husbands drowned, leaving you with everything they owned."
"All ruled as accidents or suicides," Selene pointed out, drumming her cyan fingers against the back of her seat, "If anything, Selene's Curse is that she falls for the clumsy and tortured souls."
"Of course, it's completely normal for waterbenders to accidentally drown."
Her glossy, rosy lips twisted into a gorgeous but predatory smile, reminding Senthose of a tiger-lion licking her lips as she stalked her prey. "Well, to answer your question, I have a certain reputation for refinery to uphold. A murder is no excuse to forego that." She waved a pale finger in his face, as if scolding him. "Plus, you never know when you might run into the 4th Mr. Right. Maybe after this job is done, I hit a bar where a handsome but misunderstood and lonely railroad tycoon is looking for someone to celebrate his latest and last birthday with. It would be uncharitable to deprive him of that."
"Of course," Senthose said, keeping eye contact as he bowed as well as he could in the boat's seat, "I mean no disrespect. I am honored that you, of all people, took time out of your busy schedule to assess my performance."
"Of course you are, Sweetie," she said, before her honeysuckle demeanor evaporated and she practically growled like the aforementioned tiger-lion, elbowing Netzach viciously in the side. "Wake up, you lazy, idiotic waste of space!" she roared over his pained gasp with some unexpected bass behind her voice. "I don't want to be out here all night, so let's see if this kid kills as well as he talks!" she added, jerking her thumb back towards Senthose.
"You didn't have to hit me," Netzach grumbled, rubbing his side as he took his keys out of his pocket and started up the boat. Meanwhile, Senthose untied and stored the last line.
"Yeah, cry about it, that's so attractive in a man!" Selene snapped as he turned the boat about, heading for the mouth of the nearest river.
As the trio journeyed farther up the pearly stream, Selene's and Netzach's bickering withered away. It was rarely truly silent in the city, with the rushing and honking of Satomobiles echoing in the background, but far from the bridges and with the motor on low, it was pretty close.
The trio lazily watched the water. Searching for reflections was the trick to stay on the lookout while not appearing to be on-guard. Senthose made sure to keep an eye out behind him, as the most vulnerable point to attack would be their motor, but he kept his head tilted toward the bridges above.
Soon enough, he heard the sizzling, and knew his intuition paid off. Raising a hand, he summoned a pillar of water to block the descending fireball, and then jerked it aside to splash a wave over the next attack from the other side, extinguishing it.
Netzach whistled, "Didn't think he'd catch that. How 'bout you?" He looked over to Selene, who shook her head in answer.
Senthose closed an eye and held his thumb up. With the lights from the bridge blurred out, he could see the shadowy figure winding up more fire. In the same move, the waterbender pulled out his truncheon, slapping the water with it, before spinning his wrist and delivering an over-the-shoulder water strike that pegged the Agni Kai square in the chest, causing him to teeter and topple straight into the drink.
Whirling his weapon above his head, he gathered a spiral of water to protect from the rain of fire shots, then swung it towards the floundering gangster. The spout crashed down, throwing up a wall of white frost that solidified, trapping him in an awkward dog paddling position. Senthose promptly drew up another water shot, flinging it at an incoming fireball, both attacks exploding into steam.
"How long do you think he can hold up without our help?" Netzach asked, turning again to Selene. The duo were now turned around in their seats, leaning back against the dash.
She donned her predatory smile, watching Senthose buckle under the repeated shots, his water shield gradually being evaporated faster than he could recreate it. "Probably not long. The ash makers are too far away for any fancy moves, and Father himself couldn't launch water shots that fast. Not even in his prime."
Sure enough, the burning spears eventually broke through Senthose's defenses. As he fell, he gathered ice around his hand to press against the tiny flame tongues on his coat, raising his other hand to form another water spiral. His eyes flicked from the Monsoons to the Agni Kais.
If things keep up at this rate, it'll be hopeless. I can't abandon ship or they'll use bloodbending, but if I stay here I'll burn to death. The only question is if those 2 are foolish enough to believe that I'll go down before this boat does.
But there was no need to find out, as Netzach lazily kicked his foot over the side of the boat, generating a wave that pushed them away from the blasts. "Alright, let's stop screwin' with the kid and just get this done."
So they both joined Senthose in lobbing water balls, Netzach lashing out with aggressive jab-and-uppercut combos, with the occasional sweep of his leg for a feint or water shield, while Selene used sinuous, wavelike motions of her arms to send attacks shooting out of the natural motion of the waves.
For a while, the firebenders were adept at leaping aside: Being backlit made them hard to see, but eventually the steam permeating the river removed that advantage. The shots splashing on either side of them were frozen suddenly, and after a foolish gangster slipped, missed the river, and splatted against the concrete, they were forced to stand still and raise circular fire shields.
Needless to say, they were soon overwhelmed.
"I'm surprised," Netzach said, grinning back at Senthose and ignoring the Agni Kais paddling to shore, "Most newbies would've expected them to attack from the pipes."
"Which they might have done, if they were less experienced," Senthose answered, raising himself to a sitting position and readjusting his coat, "But if they knew we'd be expecting that, it would make more sense to strike at us from above, using the street lights to disguise their flames."
"Wow, Tonraq taught ya all that, huh?"
Selene, previously sneering at the fleeing gangsters, whipped around to look at Netzach, dumbfounded. "Tonraq?"
"I said he was a warrior from the south," Netzach said with a matter-of-fact shrug.
"Yes, but you didn't mention that he trained under the former Water-Prince. He used to be in charge of the entire Water Tribe Army, you do know that, don't you?"
"Yeah, but now he's just a washed-up has-been training basic recruits in the southern boonies," Netzach said, waving her off and laughing. "Get it? Washed—"
"Your stupid pun is not funny, and nobody cares, just do what we're here to do before they get away!"
She pointed, as if clawing prey, at the Agni Kais, who had pulled themselves out of the water and were running for the relative safety of the pipes.
"Yeah, yeah," Netzach said, holding his arms out before him and arching his fingers. Suddenly, the Agni Kais simply jerked in mid-step and moved no more, save for shaking madly on the spot.
"Your prediction was correct," Selene said, turning to Senthose with a bored expression, "You did well enough that we're going to take you in. But to be part of Father's inner circle, the elites of the Red Monsoons, you need to know how to bloodbend. Again, it's all about our reputation for being the best."
"So kill the motor, 'cause we're gonna practice a little," Netzach said with a nasty grin. With a flick of his fingers, he turned the red-coated men around, so they could see the moonlight complementing their deathly paleness, glinting off of their predominantly golden eyes. With what movement they could muster, they gasped. Having done as instructed, Senthose's gave them a jaunty wave for no real reason but to make them wonder.
Kicking her heel down, Selene raised a small wave that shaved off most of the boat's forward momentum, allowing them to drift quietly to a stop. Netzach tossed an anchor into the water to keep it that way.
"Y'know where the quadriceps are?" he asked their pupil.
"Of course," Senthose said, tearing his eyes away from taunting the doomed men, "Hunting and carving up meat is a big part of a warrior's job."
"Good. Y'see, the big muscle groups like that are easiest to control. So, to start, try twistin' a leg. Any of 'em, I don' care."
Senthose nodded, turning to raise his hand in an imitation of Netzach's posture. When nothing happened, he tried using both hands, grit his teeth, and even squeezed the air.
"Don't worry," Netzach assuaged him, gesturing vaguely to the sea, "You'll get it. You've got the movements and the mindset down, but ya gotta know how to seek out the waves."
"What in the world does that mean?" Senthose asked, squinting in irritation.
"Oh, for the love of—just speak normally!" Selene shouted. "He means you need to know where the blood is flowing in the body. Just listen to your own pulse and think of it as a road map."
So Senthose put a hand over his chest, following the beating down the side of his torso and to his leg. He twisted his arm and heard the sharp squeak of a man who could not open his mouth or flex his throat to scream.
"Well, that was more of a cramp than a twist, but it's a start," Netzach assessed with a nod. "I reckon you've got 10 minutes before we need to skedaddle, unless we're told to scram early." He patted the dashboard radio. "'Til then, just go to town. Selene and I'll take turns holdin' down these hapless schmucks for ya."
Senthose spent the next 10 minutes contorting the Agni Kais into various odd poses. He made a man act like a flamingocroc, then arch is back and roll across the ground like a tire, both of which he and Netzach had a hearty laugh over before Selene snapped at them to stop acting 12. After hearing a crack, they drifted over to confirm that Senthose had broken a finger, and he got through 3 of the man's remaining digits before Netzach grabbed his arms, forcing him to lower them while he addressed the Agni Kais.
"So—you guys had as much fun as we did?" When they merely stared at him, wide-eyed, tear-stained, and shivering, he turned to shake Selene's shoulder. "Hey—hey—make 'em grin and nod their heads, it'll be funny!"
"I told you to stop acting like a 12-year-old! Just give them the message!"
"Bah, you're no fun," Netzach complained, pulling a stereotypical message in a bottle from his coat. "Anyway, Voland wanted the rest of your little friends to know exactly what he thought about you attacking his merch shipments. I mean, it doesn't have his name on it obviously, but I think they'll get the idea. But just so it doesn't get lost—bottoms up!"
With a twitch of her left index finger, Selene forced a ponytailed man to open his mouth wide. Netzach grabbed his hair and forced him forward, before shoving the bottle into his mouth, ignoring the hollow rasping noise he was making, until something cracked. The man's eyes watered as the bloodbender jiggled it around to make sure it wouldn't be easily dislodged.
"Okay!" Netzach said, raising his arms. "Let's end this little team bonding exercise with—"
Selene brought her palms together with a sharp crash, followed shortly by the Agni Kais splashing into the water.
"I was going to say, 'A round of applause,' and then we'd all do it together. What do you have against good comedy and friendship?" Netzach complained, before he and Senthose held their hands over the water to help keep the thrashing Agni Kais under—the direness of their situation seemed to give them new strength to fight Selene's bloodbending grip.
"You really want to hear a funny joke?" Selene asked.
"There's someone out there who loves you for who you are."
"Wow—ice cold, Selene. Speaking of, Sen, care to do the honors?"
Senthose nodded, and when the bubbles stopped, blew over the water, which bulged outwards, becoming glossy and white. The remains of the slain Agni Kai would float in the iceberg, silent screams and cloudy eyes trapped behind layers of glasslike frost, until they wedged into the shallows. There would be no question who did this, and what would happen if the Red Monsoons were ever crossed again, but nothing the boars could do to find any specific suspects.
Meanwhile, Netzach hauled in the anchor and restarted the motor on low before he and Selene raised their arms, generating a wave to turn them around and carry them over the grim monument.
"Seriously, Selene," Netzach started as they puttered along back to the docks, "That was really mean."
"Then maybe you should listen to my advice," she answered shortly, "And stop whining."
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