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The Setup
Chapter information
Series

Republic City Renaissance

Book

0 (Void)

Chapter

13

Written by

Neo Bahamut

Release date

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Word count

3,384

Chronology
Last chapter

Sparks

Next chapter

Leaving the Nest

"Just got done talking to the Chief," Euryale announced as she strolled into the infirmary like she owned the place, "Keter agreed to donate funds and MPs to the operation. Told ya so."

"That proves only that she recognizes a good public relations stunt when she sees it," Thiera commented, allowing water to drip off of her fingers and into a sterile steel bowl sitting atop a medical cart with canvas stretched over it.

Meanwhile, Aroma wrapped a bandage around the finger of a young man with auburn hair tied in a tight topknot. "Waterbending has difficulties setting bone," she explained, "Because the tissue is so hard and mineralized."

Euryale threw her hands in the air. "Aw, come on, you find fault with everything she does! Just admit that you're upset she was too busy to talk to you after the party because she had that—"

"'Meeting at the embassy,'" Thiera finished for her. "As I told you then, that meeting simply allowed her to save face while—"

"'Not associating with her middle class constituents,'" Euryale said, pinching her nose as she imitated Thiera.

All the while, the man shifted his brown eyes back and forth between them, grunting vaguely at Aroma's continuing explanation, "So this splint will help hold your bones in place while they heal."

"So you have been listening," Thiera commented "You're just intentionally disregarding the facts. In any case, we shouldn't be discussing any of this in front of the patient."

Euryale pointed a quivering finger at her, squinting. "That's—I—you—ugh, fine!" She then turned, adding, "Just follow me!"

"One second!" Aroma called over her shoulder. Turning back to her armor-clad patient, she concluded, "Now, the next time you squish your finger in a drawer, come straight to us instead of trying to be Mr. Tough Guy and you won't need to have all of this treatment."

"Honestly!" he snorted, "I'm not a child, I don't need to be watched!"

"Considering you fainted from an infection, being watched by your superiors is literally the only reason I didn't have to cut off your finger," Thiera noted as she scribbled on a piece of paper and held it out for him. "So take this prescription before I have to reconsider."

Scowling, the young man snatched it away from her and shot up. Aroma passed him his gauntlet, which he also snatched away before storming out.

"What a sense of entitlement," Thiera spat, glaring at the door he left open, "And all simply because he can metalbend. But he's obviously not as skilled as he thinks he is, if he can't even close a file cabinet without being injured on the job."

"I'm sure he's just very stressed from the dangers of his job," Aroma assured her.

Thiera looked sidelong at her. "He is probably just a desk worker, and there is a fine line between being forgiving and making excuses for people who treat you like filth."

Thiera took no notice of Aroma's frown, having already turned to address the assistant filing papers at the back of the room, a pale Water Tribe girl whose raven hair was cut short and messy. Being a waterbender, she was of course wearing a uniform essentially identical to Thiera's, but with a white oblong badge on the helmet instead of a gold one.

"Excuse me," Thiera called, "But do you think you'll be fine here if we step out for a few minutes?"

The woman's head shot up, barely clearing the stack of forms, but she nodded, smiling wide. "Thank you for trusting me, Master Psyche."

Aroma looked around the room, empty but for a foot-high wall of papers on the desk of the "office," and wondered what exactly they were trusting her with. Nevertheless, she gave a reassuring smile and a jaunty wave before following Thiera out of the door. Euryale was waiting at the end of the hall, arms folded and tapping her foot impatiently.

"We can use this interrogation room," Euryale said with a nod of her head to indicate the concealed door. As the Healer duo came forward, she turned to place her hands on the wall, prompting it to slide away with a twist of her wrists. When they all passed through, she waved her hand behind her, slamming it shut. Then, with a snap of her fingers, the light flickered on, its low buzzing and wavering light suggesting it was not long for this world.

"We're going on 2 weeks," Euryale said as they each took a chair at the central table. "If we don't act soon, the Purists won't believe we're still fighting."

"Shoving me into the ocean at Keter's reception party probably helped," Thiera said bitterly, taking the paper that Euryale passed to her.

"I said I was sorry!" Aroma pleaded, "The crowd was just pushing so hard that I lost my balance! I was wearing heels!" She took the other crumpled up sheet that Euryale had pulled out of her arm guard.

"That's a good idea," Euryale noted, "We could always bicker about stuff like that at the apartment, that way the neighbors believe the story."

"You are certain that nobody will recognize the undercover officers?" Thiera asked, she and Aroma smoothing out the papers on the interrogation desk and pouring over their contents.

Euryale, slouching over the table to rest on her forearms, answered with a question of her own, "How? Some of them aren't even from this country, let alone Republic City."

"But won't it be suspicious if all of these apartments and hotels get rented suddenly?" Aroma asked, looking up.

"Not at all," Euryale answered, "It would be more suspicious if they were all in your same building. But the right metalbending officer can easily survey a whole block through a pipe or support beam. Meanwhile, the Dragon Flats is a pretty common place for new immigrants, the lousy neighborhood means it's always having rollover, and the upcoming Council Election offers us a good cover story."

"Wow, you guys thought of everything," Aroma complimented.

"That's our job," was Euryale's response.

"I would like to point out that an undercover investigation was Aroma's idea in the first place," Thiera corrected without looking.

"Which I am still against!" Euryale sternly announced, sitting back and folding her arms. "I still can't believe the Chief approved this mission, it's way too dangerous for civilians."

"We know," Thiera said, "You've been saying that for nearly 2 weeks. And as I keep reminding you, we work for the department as well. Technically."

"I know you're not happy about this," Aroma consoled, "And you could probably catch the Purist Leader without me. But Dr. Avici will still be out there, doing who knows what. If I can get them to take me to their base, you can catch them all. There will be no more Purists."

"But how can you be sure their leader still wants you? You've humiliated her twice now. What if she just kills you?"

"She'll want me now more than ever," Aroma said firmly, "Dr. Avici will need assistants. And everyone thinks I'm just some puppet who does whatever she's told, so they'll never even suspect me."

"We don't think that!" the other girls frantically uttered in unison, Thiera leaning closer to her briefing as Euryale leaned back over her own.

Aroma did not point out how shifty this seemed. She just smiled sheepishly and answered, "I know. But we'd better get back to work."

"Right," Euryale said, rising and turning to the door, "I've got a few witnesses to round up, so I'll see you guys later."

***

Some time later, Euryale entered another interrogation cell. Placing a clipboard on the table, she sat across from Roatha, wearing basically the same thing he did 2 weeks ago, a pale ghost who gaped at her as if she were a Dark Spirit.

"Am I in trouble?" he asked. "Did I say something wrong at the party? Are you an undercover officer who's been investigating me? Is that why you didn't tell me your job before?"

"No, I just need your help with something." She rested her elbows on the table, chin on her folded hands. "You said that you have been threatened by Triads, correct?"

"Uh, once or twice. Mostly I just hear rumors. Sometimes the plant gets threatened."

"Rumors are fine. As long as you can tell me anything at all about who might be in the Agni Kais or where they might be hanging out."

"Why, are you trying to arrest their boss?"

"The Agni Kais do not have a boss. They make their decisions democratically. That's why it's important that we locate as many of them as possible. We need their cooperation in relation to the Purist Investigation."

Roatha squinted at her. "So you're NOT going to do anything about them?"

Euryale leaned back. "I understand your concerns," she said with a sigh, "And I will see what I can do in negotiations. But surely you agree that the Purists represent the greater public danger. They burnt down a hospital and bombed the Council building. None of the Triads have been that brazen since Yakone was put away."

As he was silent for a while, she tried something sure to break any suspect: The pouting lips and puppy dog eyes. Sure enough, it wasn't long before Roatha squirmed and broke eye contact.

Finally, he looked back up at her. "I guess you're right," he sighed, "I'll tell you everything I know."

Euryale smiled warmly, her eyes twinkling. "Thank you. I would appreciate that."

The color returned to Roatha's face, but he resumed staring at his hands as he began mumbling off names and places, Euryale occasionally asking for a more detailed description or making notes. When he looked up and told her that he was out of information, Euryale stood up, opening the door by gesturing to it.

"You are free to go," she announced.

"Uh, okay," he said as he stood, "It was great seeing you again."

"Well—thank you," she said, taken aback.

They stood there, staring at each other blankly for a while, before Euryale asked, "Are you debating whether or not it's appropriate to ask if I've reconsidered your offer for a date?"

"Yes!" he exclaimed in relief, clapping once. "Thank you—so, uh, is it?"

"Would you still want it even if I told you there was someone else, but I'm not sure whether or not it will work out with them?"

Roatha's lips drooped for only the briefest time, then he grinned slyly. "I think it would be crazy not to take a chance on you."

Euryale drew back, glancing around in wide-eyed shock. She tried to conceal this by covering her face with a hand and giggling, but a nervous crack still gave her away. "Okay," she said finally, slowly sweeping her hand up through her hair, "Cool it, Hotshot."

Roatha's smile wilted slightly as he wondered whether or not this was a good thing.

"If we're gonna do this thing," Euryale continued, "We should do it before I get really busy with this case. Since I already know where you live, how 'bout I pick you up tomorrow at 8?"

"S—sure, that sounds great!"

***

Aroma and Thiera had been relegated to assisting their own assistant since their talk with Euryale. Aroma looked up from a form about the new malpractice policy, but just saw a black and white haze where the clock should be, even after rubbing her eyes.

"Hi, Euryale," she muttered when a red blur came through the door. When Euryale didn't answer, Aroma squinted. The girl's form became clearer as she approached the desk, and she was definitely not Euryale, considering she had skin almost as light as Thiera's and eyes as if jades had been set in her head. The only thing in common was their red hair, though the newcomer's had been styled in a long braid, which could be seen swaying behind her as she approached. Her bangs were kept free, hanging down a couple of inches to frame her eyes.

Not only was she not Euryale, she clearly wasn't even a cop. Her lithe build certainly made it unlikely she was a metalbender. She was wearing dark brown slacks, and a coat which looked exactly like Roatha's. When Aroma realized what that meant, she shot up, knocking over her chair and startling their assistant in her rush to salute.

"It's an honor to meet you, Sir!" she rambled out, "Aroma Gingiber, Junior Healer with the Republic City Police Department, reporting for duty!"

"At ease, soldier," she giggled melodiously. "And feel free to just call me Lilith."

"Yes Sir, Lilith, Sir!"

Lilith's brow instantly twisted into a glare, dropping a veil of shade over her eyes. "You know I'm a girl, right?"

Aroma couldn't help but show a little shiver. Her assistant set her chair back up for her.

"Yes, Ma'am," Aroma mumbled, "Of course, I didn't mean anything by it, people make the same mistake with me, but you're much prettier—I mean—oh, should I just stop talking now?"

"Probably," Lilith noted. When Aroma glanced to her right, she saw that Thiera was glaring at her as well.

"What's wrong?" she asked, sitting down again.

"Nothing," Thiera asserted, staring forward.

"Uh, okay," Aroma stuttered. Having been left to her thoughts, she wondered why the name "Lilith" sounded so familiar to her. It was as if she heard it before, but could not place where or when. Nonetheless, she and the assistant relegated themselves to looking back and forth between Lilith and Thiera as they conversed.

To Aroma's surprise, Lilith looked at Thiera with worry. "Did I do something wrong?" she asked.

"You should know that you can't just barge in here unannounced," Thiera said in a soft, even monotone that grated their ears even as they strained to hear her. "We need to maintain a sterile environment for our patients."

Lilith looked about, squinting and even turning around once. "What patients?"

"Is Mom aware that you are here?" Thiera asked in the same tone instead of answering her.

"Well, no. I told Dad not to say anything to either of you, because I wanted to surprise you."

"Oh!" Aroma exclaimed, eyes widening with sudden recognition. For good measure, she raised her hands slightly above the desk in celebration. All eyes turned to her as she added, "You're Thiera's sister!"

"Yeah," Lilith said with the characteristic Psyche smile, warm and full of pearly whites. "I'm not surprised you didn't see the resemblance. I look more like my paternal grandmother."

Aroma could see what she meant. She was a bit taller, limbs and digits less stout, thinner but with slightly wider hips, and a more angular jawbone. But there were also some similarities in their high foreheads and gracile facial features; slender noses width mouths and small ears.

"I've actually heard a lot about you, Aroma," Lilith continued with a wink, "Including how you put the moves on my sister, you sly dog."

Aroma's neck swiveled, lips pursed, and eyes bored into Thiera's.

The waterbender looked to either side before asking, "What, was that supposed to be a secret?"

"Oops," Lilith said, backing towards the door, "Maybe I should just introduce myself to your other friend while you 2 sort that out. Come along, Miss...?"

"It's Naakée, Ma'am," the assistant answered, scurrying out from behind the desk. She kept a wide berth around Thiera, glancing at her furtively as Lilith grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the door.

Thiera gave a half-nod to Naakée and added, "We might as well all take our lunch break now. There aren't many of us, so stay inside the building in case a Healer is needed."

When the door was shut, Thiera turned to Aroma. "I'm sorry, I really didn't know that you wanted it kept a secret."

"It's fine," Aroma relented, "Just a little embarrassing, that's all. What about you? Are you mad at your sister?"

Thiera turned away, crossing her arms over her desk and resting her head on them. "Not quite. It's just that she's been away for so long. Plus, you've seen how she is, she thinks she can just drop into my office unannounced and order my employees around."

"I'm sure she means well. She's probably just worried because your mom told her about the Purists."

"That's just it, I don't think she takes me seriously. I think she still thinks I'm just this little girl who can't take care of myself."

"Then why don't you just tell her that?" Aroma asked.

"I don't want to upset her, especially since I don't see her very often. And yes, I realize the irony that I'm probably upsetting her by being aloof, so please don't even point that out."

Aroma smiled at her and reached out towards her. Her hand hovered over Thiera's shoulders for a moment before she decided to pull back, her mouth drooping slightly.

***

Euryale strolled over to the front desk, a manila folder tucked under her arm. The desk was currently manned by a middle aged metalbending officer, leaning back with a dark green book in his hands, big blocky bronze characters spelling out Strengthen Your Seismic Sense. Aside from the typical green eyes, he had round, pudgy cheeks and equally pronounced lips and nose. Only dark side burns were visible under his helmet, suggesting baldness or at least a receding hair line.

"Evenin', Chan. How're the kids?"

He looked up at her with a polite half-smile and answered, "Fine, thank you for asking." A few silver fillings could be seen flashing as he spoke. He added, "You want me to tell the Chief you're punching out?"

"Yup," she answered, passing him the folder. "I also need you to give her this report."

"Okay," he acknowledged as he took it, "Hey, why don't I go get those Healer girls for you? Aromy and Siera, right?"

"Aroma and Thiera," she corrected, "But you don't have to do that."

"Maybe not, but someone here wants to meet you."

When he pointed over her shoulder, she craned her neck to see a young United Forces officer with a long crimson braid. Seeing the strange woman's quick salute, Euryale turned further to face her, locking her feet together and holding a stiffer, more formal salute.

"I apologize, Sir, I did not see you there!"

The woman winced. "It's fine, I'm here as a friend, not an inspector. And why does everyone keep calling me 'Sir'?"

"Uh, sorry, Ma'am," Euryale said, slowly lowering her arm. "...Do I know you?"

Lilith dropped her arm as well. "Sort of. I'm Thiera's sister, Lilith." When Euryale tilted her head as if trying to see her face from another angle, Lilith added, "I take after my paternal grandmother."

"Oh, I guess that makes sense. So, I take it you heard about the trouble that Thiera's in?"

"Yeah, Mom told me about the Purists, so Commander Bumi agreed to give me leave. But Dad couldn't come because they don't have an officer to replace him. So, how can I help?"

Euryale looked around the lobby. Seeing it empty, she leaned forward, cupping a hand over her mouth. Lilith followed suit, placing her hand behind her ear.

"We're planning an undercover operation," Euryale told her in a soft tone barely above a whisper, "To find and infiltrate the Purists' base. But I don't think I can let you go in. Depending on how much they know about the Psyche family, there's too much risk of you being recognized. But I'm sure the Chief will let you be part of the reinforcements once we're ready to storm the base."

She placed removed her hand from her mouth, placing on Lilith's shoulder, and the girls smiled at each other. Lilith grasped the hand on her shoulder with both of her own and gave it a single firm shake.

"I appreciate that," she said.

"Okay," they could hear Chan saying as he reappeared behind the desk, Aroma and Thiera bobbing along in tow. Aroma smiled brightly, but broke eye contact upon bowing to Lilith. Thiera mumbled a greeting, chewing on her lip and staring off to the side. Lilith just shrugged.

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