Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Mistress Dizzy
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Mistress Dizzy Fandom Auntie Dizzy

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Entering the Underground · Afternoon · |@Exit] & |@Mistress Dizzy] CollaborationEntering the Underground · Afternoon · @Mistress Dizzy & @Exit Collaboration
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Mistress Dizzy   
Jin approached the meeting coordinates, eyes sweeping left to right as they strolled through the city. It was an overcast, smoggy day. On any other day, they’d probably feel pretty low. But for a stealth mission, it couldn’t be better. That was good. They were going to need all the extra help they could get.
There had been a sense of unease they couldn’t shake since they’d learned what this mission was about. Hunang. Any Roach worth their yuans knew that name, and to fear it. Someone who had been operating for years, who ran certain parts of the Underground. Word was, he could get you anything for a price. Drugs, guns, illegal supplies, people… nothing was out of his reach. And yet – no one knew who he was. That was the scariest part of all. To be an unknown factor in this city was impressive beyond reasoning. Even the Flying Frog had only managed to stay anonymous for half a year. Either his pockets were deep enough to make the RSF blind, or his people were so loyal, or so terrified that they obeyed him without fault.
They exhaled a shuddering breath, before shutting their eyes as long as they dared. Every ounce of their focus would be needed to get the two of them down to the Underground, and up again in one shot.

As the man in the black coat waited, various people strolled by on the street below and paid him no mind. A haggard looking mother corralled a trio of energetic, skinny children. A slim woman in black strolled by and headed down the stairs before vanishing into the dark. A young couple held hands as they walked down the street, having no eyes for anything but each other. The smog, the dirt, and the crowds didn’t seem to exist to them at all.

The meeting time approached, and passed.

Evidently, there was no sign of Jin.

Then the man’s phone buzzed once, with a new message.
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”Hm…?” Nelu reached into the fold of his jacket and pulled out his device, quickly unlocking the screen and seeing the notification for a new message… from Jin. Light from his phone danced along the edges of his face, highlighting the slightest hint of concern as his eyes drifted from the still closed message to the time read out in the corner. Then, for the briefest of moments, his eyes shifted over the crowd before they returned to the phone and he tapped the notification. ”Where are yo-”
Mistress Dizzy   
The message simply read: “Coulda shot ya by now.”

From the near pitch darkness of the stairs, the woman in black that had passed by not ten minutes ago approached. At that distance, she was another stranger. But she got closer, and peculiar details slowly appeared. The dress that was black suddenly glittered with brilliant blue light. Sharp angles and circles marked the pattern of a motherboard. The dress was long, nearly brushing the ground, but the other side was cut high, showing a generous amount of lean brown skin wrapped in a translucent stocking. Chestnut hair tumbled in waves down the woman’s back, framing a slender face. Their eyes were a stark bright, almost inhuman blue – but the intensity of focus behind them would be quite familiar to the man in the coat.
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”A-...” Nelu’s breath caught in his throat and whatever worry or words or thoughts he meant to express were lost. Instead, everything became Jin. Jin unfolding from the crowd. Jin pulling away from the shadows. Jin stepping toward him in glittering patterned blue and silver lights. Before he’d even realized what he was doing, before he could stop himself, his eyes had begun to betray him. They traced Jin’s frame and gleaned the shape of their approach, following closely the shifting curves in their silhouette and allowing imagination to color in the secrets he wasn’t allowed to know. When Jin stopped only a few feet away from him, the hem flourished slightly, parting just enough to reveal a slender, stocking wrapped leg guiding him eagerly toward the high cut in the dress.
Mistress Dizzy   
With a wicked little grin, Jin pointed their finger at his heart, and said: “Bang.”
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It was enough to pull him back from that far off place Jin had sent him to against his will, and it was only then that he realized what he’d been doing. Where he was. Where his eyes had lingered to. By the time he felt the heat in his cheeks, it was already too late. His eyes snapped to Jin’s just as the slightest shade of red drained unnaturally from his cheeks.

He flashed an almost shy smile at them, playing at his defeat, the brief lapse in his composure having lasted for only a moment before disappearing completely. He was again Nelu, he hoped. ”You got me.” He raised an eyebrow, somehow maintaining his poise despite the brilliant blue in Jin’s eyes. This was all new to him. ”Did you get lost on the way to the gala?”
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin chuckled softly, as if amused at their own silly joke. Their eerie blue eyes didn’t linger long on Nelu’s. They flicked aside, left and right, reading the area in seconds. Then they refocused on Nelu without missing a beat, as if their heart weren’t trying to escape their chest.
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Nelu noticed too that his weren’t the only eyes lingering on Jin’s body. The Lower Ring was not the place to draw attention and whether or not Jin was aware, their stunt had done just that. Eager, interested parties were eyeing Jin like an object they meant to devour. They couldn’t linger. At least not on the surface. Underground however, a couple of idiots disappearing was just another day in the life.

Carefully, Nelu reached for Jin’s outstretched hand. His fingers wrapped around theirs and his thumb pressed gently into their palm before sliding down across their wrist. He guided Jin toward the stairs. ”Looks like you got someone else too.” He turned to face them as they continued down the steps. ”I can’t get you to the palace tonight but, how do you feel about a dance?”
Mistress Dizzy   
His hand was warm. “Who needs the palace? All the fun is down here.” Jin let him lead, as they stepped down the stairs side by side. Stepping even closer, they slid a slender hand into Nelu’s. Their index finger tapped a count of four against his palm, as together, they descended into the dark.
Exit   
Behind them, four men were following.
Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Fiber
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_______________________________........
Location · |@Fiber]Location · @Fiber
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Zhen and Xiaoxu were in the back of their AeroSato, each focused on their own tasks as they trusted the autopilot to guide them to their destination. Xiaoxu had rented a much nicer model than their normal vehicle for this occasion, one that would fit right in with the rest of the high end luxury vehicles. It wouldn’t turn heads, but it would save him from the embarrassment of showing up in a merely mid-range luxury vehicle, and made him hope for the future when he could actually buy a top-of-the-line model outright. He was checking over his appearance in the mirror, combing hair and applying product to every little fault; Zhen was satisfied with a short self-examination. What she had her attention on were her notes.

Kaye Xuoshi: Rising Star. Most opinions unknown, company has proved supportive of RSF. Noted to be an adept strategist, suspect that they don’t want to be too tied into any existing power block and are trying to remain flexible and cultivate many options. Outside of political aspects, Xuoshi can provide useful technology; their donations have funded many useful R&D endeavors. Kaye is often busy with company business; rumors say she is less technical than her youngest sibling. I will need to know where she stands, and if her previous commitments to the regime are still credible.

Her brother Reman is still missing after the accident at the Synergy storage facility. Note: Too soon to propose this formally, but if he is deceased this could be an opportunity to establish a new fund in his name; previous experience shows that Ultra High Net Worth Individuals frequently devote large charitable sums in the name of their deceased relatives during the grieving process, the Foundation would be happy to assist in memorializing him.

Lani Butakha: I see no evidence she cares about anything aside from Stickball, nor do I believe she holds any influence in areas removed from Stickball. Previous interaction was unpleasant; when one of the Varricks (who evidently was a dedicated Stickball fan) suggested the Foundation use some of his considerable donation to sponsor the Wolfbats, I explored the idea, but it proved to be an exceptionally poor value per impression for the price she demanded, and she refused to entertain any charitable discount. I had to personally apologize to the donor after this, convincing him to accept a series of TV ads during Stickball matches in place of the sponsorship after much work. Lowest priority at the table aside from Tamura.

Taiichi Sato: Lived a wild and fast life as a young man, but settled down in his late 20s, now in his forties and deals with day to day operations of Future Industries. Well-liked by most who have met him, runs things safely and efficiently, has a history of dealing with labor disputes without violence. Apparently enjoys scientific subjects and treats running operations like it’s an optimization problem, but the internal arrangement of the Sato family prevents him from having a say strategic and technological decisions.He is descended from Korra’s branch of the family line, as is customary in the family they aren’t given roles related to R&D, or strategic planning, the latter being reserved exclusively for those from descended from Asami and Korra’s adopted child. Does not like to talk about his heritage, especially hates discussions of Korra’s character and how harmonious her marriage to Asami was. Understandably touchy about politics and hasn’t revealed his positions, but with his father aging he will soon find himself occupying a stronger position inside the family. Worth at least probing his opinions even if he can’t be swayed.

Vyska Moon: The greatest opportunity at this table. Only twenty and one year away from inheriting the largest corporation in the entire Republic; she is already managing much of its affairs. Publicly supports our goals, but seems to have a curious streak inside her; it has never been confirmed but some sources suspect the Moon family has been accumulating a collection of ancient Bender manuscripts, and they may even possess texts missing from our archives. This one is of great interest.

Tamura: Possibly An? Unknown why she would be at this. My husband knows more but even he would be puzzled to explain what she is doing here. I doubt she is sympathetic to our cause; it doesn’t matter because she is utterly irrelevant in the overall scheme of things.
Hidden 1 yr ago Post by OddnessApproved
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OddnessApproved I'm passionate about hating people.

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_______________________________........
Gala· |@Exit]Gala· @Exit
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He was dressed like a shadow, black, everything was as dark as night. From the polished shoes to the t-shirt. Staring at himself in the mirror, he slid the blood red dress shirt. A second layer. He was a fan of checking himself out in the mirror, but he was not a fan of galas, especially mission based ones. Buttoning the dress shirt up and adding family crest cufflinks. Snapping his fingers at the thought, events in the upper ring were all about individuals and families flaunting themselves. The whole Soran family was known to be that way, then there is Katakuri Soran. The only and eldest son, a shadow to the family name, but a prominent pawn in the family company.

The more he was allowed to think, the more he swore that he could hear the anti-social parts of him whispering in his ear. Stay home. Don’t go. He wished he had that option. If he stayed home the LSF would be all over the Soran Estate. Watching. Questioning. Being annoying to what he needed to focus on and do. Putting himself in an out-of-place position would cause Chosah to be in danger, he couldn’t allow that. All the energy from his body felt like it drained at that thought, Chosah. Why did everything that did not include Chosah keep escaping his mind or disinterested him at the moment? Tying and untying, repeatedly – “God dammit” – he attempted to properly tie his tie once again. This was frustrating for no reason. Pinching the bridge of his nose and shutting his eyes, Katakuri sharply inhaled.

Holding his breath for a minute, he slowly blew out the co2 that was filling his lungs, “Hello it is so good to see you –” rolling his eyes “– we met before but nice to meet you,” he grabbed the shot on the side table and downed it.
Shrugging his shoulders, “Let’s pretend we like each other…” staring himself in the eyes as he put the shot glass down. He was preparing himself for the suffocating atmosphere that the Gala would hold throughout the night.

Approaching his vehicle, his tie was properly tied, and he was layered under a suit coat. Sitting down in the driver seat, he adjusted his mirror. Giving himself a once over before stroking his fingers through his hair. Thinking about everything and what this gala might entail.
Shortly after getting into the driver seat, Katakuri found himself arriving at the Gala. Looking at the building and all the lights on, the sounds, and the atmosphere. He felt his chest hollow and his stomach drop. Rolling up to the parking area, he left the vehicle to the valet. Giving them a decent tip before heading inside. Going through the doors was like playing eenie-meenie-miney-mo, who was going to approach him. Someone always had something to say to him about the Soran industries or financial side of the family company. Glancing around the room, he noticed that he was one with the earlier crowd. Noticing Zhen and her husband.

Making his way over to the tables, he noticed he was at a table with some interesting names. Two spots for Cheng, a spot for Xu, Gan-Lan, Varrick, Zolta and Kuem. This was a mixed table when it came to political opinions especially in the topic of benders. Katakuri decided to take his seat while he began to think about the different surnames at the table.
Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Exit
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_______________________________........
..Palace · |@Exit] & |@canaryrose] Collaboration · |@Katakuri] & |@Fiber]Palace · @Exit & @canaryrose Collaboration · @Katakuri & @Fiber
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The ride to the palace saw Vyska acting as An’s chauffeur, mostly as an excuse to allow her some time with her Aerosato; the blacked out and sleek cruiser that had been parked outside her house. Because Jack was always driving her around, she never really got the chance to drive herself and so, whenever the chance to take her car out for a spin arose, she took it. It wasn’t often, and not just because of her shadow. Her life had been nothing but business even before she’d graduated from school. But every now and then, business and pleasure happened to align. A trip with her and one other in a two seater on their way to a gala was exactly what that looked like.

”I’ll eject you from my car if you throw up in here.” Vyska had said calmly when they’d gotten in. Both of them were greeted by comfortable leather seats, room to stretch their legs and an interior that sounded as if they’d stepped into a vacuum. As Vyska put them into the air, the world around them soundlessly began to fall away. So isolated were they from the outside that even the typical vibrations felt in other aerosatos were undetectable. Once they’d cleared take off height, A number of digital displays of information began to populate the air around them, telling the driver some small amount of information concerning their vehicle, their surroundings and the path ahead. However, even to the untrained eye, the information given seemed minimal.

When Vyska touched the wheel, the display suddenly changed. ‘Manual’ appeared in the top right space of the windshield along with additional numbers measuring elevation, speed and fuel. She took note of what she’d been given, flashed An a quick smile, and then pushed on the wheel throwing them forward.

While short, the ride there saw a rare moment of Vyska being herself. In the safety of that space thousands of feet in the sky, she allowed herself to be the young adult she was still growing into. A person who didn’t have to pretend to know what she was doing, because she didn’t. However, the Moon family demanded it. Her father demanded it.

She was to be taking his place at the Gala.

---

Vyska and An arrived somewhat early, thanks in part to Vyska’s unrestrained flying. It was obvious to them as they were stepping out that the crowd was still sparse. It also meant fewer eyes for the woman which was both good and bad in their case. Good because at least they wouldn’t have to address any rumors immediately upon arrival. Bad because they’d dressed up and if nothing else, Vyska did like to look good while she worked. She wore a loose black top that was tied off around her neck and traveled to above her thighs. Slits were cut into the sides that flirted with the edge of her lower hip. The mid section was crimped, tied about her waist by a sash that hung down to her heels and flowed loosely behind her. There was a gradient in the interior that was black fading to an almost green color. The edges of her were etched in gold to accentuate curves and draw peoples eyes too and around them. Hanging around her neck and slipping through the high cut over her chest was a green jewel that hung in the center of a golden circle. To finish off her look for the night, she had on a pair of black gloves and a black boater hat.

An was in a white top and a wide black dress that swept across the ground as she stepped. The large folds seemed to billow on their own, carrying on winds that found only her, and while the dress moved, the top remained confined to An’s shape. It seemed as if she were gliding along the ground.

The both of them entered the hall ahead of their assigned attendant and into the ballroom where it didn’t take long to find their seats. As they approached, the two women who were already sat looked up at them both. The younger one stood and gave a respectful nod in Vyska’s direction. ”Ms. Moon. I don’t know if you remember me. I-”

”Kaye Xuoshi. It’s a pleasure to see you again.” Vyska quickly responded, eliciting a smile from the other woman. She then turned and gave a curt nod to the other who was still seated. ”Lani.”

”Vyska. Where’s Mynwa?”

”Personally overseeing repairs and improvements to our synergy plant. Ladies… I’d like to introduce An of the Tamura family. Recently promoted to Director of Operations of SynEn.” She turned to An. ”An, this is Kaye Xuoshi, heir to Xuoshi Enterprises, and the woman seated next to her is Lani Butakha. Director of the National Stickball League and owner of the Wolfbats.”
canaryrose   
“Kaye, Lani. Very nice to meet you both.” An offered a handshake to both women, smiling genially.
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”It’s nice to meet you as well.” Kaye replied.
canaryrose   
An inclined her head as shook their hands. She knew who both were, of course, even if they didn’t know her. Kaye Xuoshi was a prominent public figure, and Chu Hua had been complaining about Lani Butakha being up her ass with offers for years. Unsurprisingly, she had come out as one of the staunchest condemners of her fiancee in the last few days.

An searched both of their faces, realizing they both truly didn’t recognize her. Huh. She had always tried to preserve a certain degree of anonymity for her own comfort, but it had apparently worked to her advantage. Thanks to Vyska, she knew that her arrest had not been reported in the news, lost in the chaos, but she still felt nervous as she looked to Vyska for the cue to sit. Her scandals, unfortunately, had not been limited to becoming a violent criminal. She carried no hope that she wouldn’t be recognized as Chu Hua’s fiancee by some discerning or nosy person, and things would likely unravel from there. She had taken off her engagement ring, a reality that made her deeply uncomfortable, but it was inevitable that someone would know of their engagement, ring or no. It would just be a matter of convincing them she hated Chu. She thought that that was maybe the hardest thing she’d ever have to do. Probably not, though, given all the treasonous bullshit Vyska was saddling her with.

She had been shocked when Vyska had told her she would be coming. She had thought Vyska would want to hide her, not trot her out for all to see. It had made more sense when she had explained her true purpose, but An still did not entirely get it nor feel confident in their goals here. Still, she kept a face of stone, a fake smile flitting across her lips.
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”Hm… the Tamuras haven’t had a seat at the gala in years…” Lani took another sip of her wine glass.
canaryrose   
“Ha. You sound just like my mother,” she told Lani, a jesting tone in her voice. “Fortunately, I’m not here as a representative for my family. I’m attending at Vyska’s behest as her friend and colleague. She was kind enough to extend me an invitation.”
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"One earned, which can be said for few in this place." Vyska added.

"Yes. That's rather cute." Lani waved them off as they all took their seats, already having forgotten the pair when she noticed another arrival just walking in. "Quite like the tall and handsome Soran over there." Her eyes glinted when she noticed him taking a seat near their table.

"No 'plus one' for you tonight, Katakuri?" Lani was now leaned back in her seat, cradling her glass against her chest.

"And there is Professor Lun and her husband, Xiaoxu." Kaye was looking at the entrance.
Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Exit
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_______________________________........
Evening · |@Exit] & |@Mistress Dizzy] CollaborationEvening · @Exit & @Mistress Dizzy Collaboration
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Exit   
There would be no guards, signs or warnings to tip off wanderers that they were entering the Underground. Just the understanding that the world beyond the steps cared little about who you were or where you came from. The law in the sewers was survival and those who called this maze of place home knew exactly how to do just that. Nelu himself had a taste of the life but knew there was a difference between visiting and having been born into it. Having to carve for yourself a space in a world that was already too crowded to begin with. Having to find for yourself a name that others could remember in a sea of unimportant faces. While he could put on an act, he would be relying on the former ‘Flying Frog’ to get him in and out of there in one piece.

The bottom of the stairs fed immediately into a large market, crowded and well lit. The bleak silence and colorless streets they had just escaped was suddenly replaced by the white noise of a lively crowd and lights dragged down here from the surface. Burning incandescents and blinking fluorescent neon colored the world in direct defiance of the darkness that tried to encroach. The shadows were pushed back by ambient hues that tainted the walls and stained the air. The people too were similarly distinctly vivid. Much like the world around them held together by chewed up wire, metal sheets and rotting wood, they too were dressed patchwork attire. Entire looks fashioned from parts and pieces of discarded and well worn clothing that no longer looked like trash but something new and unique.

And it didn’t stop there. The Underground was the place to get anything in the Lower Ring. From Zen and sex to spirit water and body modifications. Despite the danger inherent from some of the available services, the business that handled them still boomed and it was obvious that many ignored the warnings and took advantage. There were signs everywhere. Glowing hair and teeth and eyes. People using in the open. Flyers and ads as stickers covering every available surface. Merchants were less than patient with thieves and so it was not uncommon to see in their employ muscle, some of whom were also augmented or carrying odd weapons. And because they were not the only ones who were armed, the RSF knew that entering here, despite the obvious rampant crime, was dangerous.

Nelu ignored the danger, the stares and the people in his way as he pulled Jin into the crowd. Although dense, he knew it would not be enough to obscure their movement and they would have to deal with their pursuers directly.
Mistress Dizzy   
As the two entered the Underground proper, the pair were quickly swallowed by the chaotic neon sea, contrasting shadows, and press of bodies. Any other night, Jin would have inhaled it deep and drunk it down. After the militant rigidity of the LSF environment, and the bleak nature of the Lower Ring, the Underground felt realer than anything else.

The blue light show on Jin’s dress suddenly made sense. In the Lower Ring, they stuck out like a shiny new credit card. But down here? That brilliance blended with the crowd. If they hadn’t been followed in, no one would have been the wiser. Unfortunately, they were being tailed, and were outnumbered at that. Nelu wanted to lead, and Jin was happy to let him, for now.

As the pair pushed through the market, old instincts rose to the surface and dusted themselves off. Perhaps the LSF had Jin Takashi chipped and leashed. But the Flying Frog would never die.
Exit   
Quickly looking around, he spotted a path to the left of the market that led away into a more secluded area. Letting go of Jin’s hand, he parted the crowd slightly creating for himself and them a path to easily thread themselves through and led them both out and to an exit.
Mistress Dizzy   
With a deft pair of hands, Jin plucked a few items from the open market stalls, and the nearby members of the thick crowd. Unfortunately, they didn’t have time or pocket space for more than three. They returned their full attention in time to see Nelu leading them into an alleyway. There wasn’t enough time to warn him, and even less to turn around. When they hit a dead end, Jin was less than surprised. The Underground was a natural maze even without the people and pop up shops.
Exit   
The alley they entered was dirty, dark and damp but out of sight. Puddles of unknown liquid were collecting in corners. Elephant rats, bigger than the ones on the surface, didn't even bother to scamper away, welcoming the sudden intrusion and the possibility of another meal. There was a body in the corner didn’t move and, of course beyond that, there was a deadend. In the dark, the wall ahead of them was nothing more than a pile of long forgotten and rotting trash. Nelu was sure there was probably a door on the other side that lead out but there was no way they were going to reach it. Not to mention the smell was already horrible. He didn’t want to know what other fumes the trash wall was sealing.

He shook his head, looking at the filth around them both. ”...This doesn’t count. I can do better than this for a first d-”

”Oops…”

Behind them at the entrance, a man flanked by three others entered the smaller space. Just like everything else in the Underground, they too looked hurriedly cobbled together. A band of misfits forced together in order to survive… or maybe to simply share in the thrill of what they were doing. The lead man was carrying a pipe in his metal grasp, not surprising considering where they were now. The machine work disappeared into the sleeve of his jacket and it was impossible to tell how much work he’d gotten done.
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin recognized the tone in Nelu’s voice as they both turned to face the quartet of idiots that had tracked them in. He was playing the Upper Ring hustle, and they’d have to give him props - it seemed to be working. Jin would just have to up the ante.
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”Got a little lost did ya?” He chuckled. ”Ya’ll ain’t from ‘round here, huh? Dressin’ all fancy like. You too…” The man eyed Nelu before looking again at Jin. “Don’t worry… We ain’t gonna hurt ya.” He pointed at Jin with the pole in his hand. The others behind him spread out as best they could considering the limited space. They were similarly armed and now blocking the only way out. ”Just give us the girl.”

...Shit…

Nelu smacked his face, shook his head and sighed. ”Nope. They’re not a girl.”
Mistress Dizzy   
“Please…” Jin stepped forward, subtly leaving Nelu space to maneuver around. “Let us go.” Their voice was high and sweet, and hopefully the proper tone for the Upper Ring idiot girl Jin was dressed as. Jin’s hands were clasped in front of their chest. Only Nelu was at the proper angle to see their fingers moving rapidly on something hidden in their hands.
“I’ll give you anything you want.”
Exit   
Nelu kept his eyes forward, not wanting to give away what Jin was doing in his periphery with a warning glance. The sudden shift in her tone of voice caught him off guard, however, as for a brief moment, he’d forgotten who he was standing behind. It seemed Jin had slipped right back into her old habits as the flying frog, disappearing completely into the woman she was pretending to be. It was flawless. Believable. More than enough to lure the men forward in a false sense of triumph and claim their prize. They each took a step toward the two, and were now only a few yards away. The metal pipe in the lead man’s hand hovered nearly within arms reach of Jin.

”Listen. I have money, okay? You can have whatever, ju-”

The pipe moved to point at Nelu. ”Yeah. We’ll take the money off ya hands after we’re done with her…” The man said, taking another step forward. Keeping the pipe on Nelu, he began to reach for the soft edge that was Jin’s cheek.
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin had long buried the reflexive urge to smile at a successful con. Still, the old rush came back, sharpening their senses. It was a high far better than any street drug.

There were certain unwritten rules that frequenters of the Underground learned quick. Don’t get caught stealing. Don’t go down an alley you ain’t been down before. Don’t bite a Glowworm and light up a cig. They’d already broken at least two rules in 5 minutes. Jin might as well break another.

As the first guy fell for the ploy like a Luna moth to a bug zapper, reaching out, Jin actually leaned forward, inhaling slow, as if to accept the touch like a charmed maiden.

Spreading their hands from their clasped position, Jin revealed two objects. A plastic open tube of Glowworm, used to create a neon effect on teeth and eyes. And a small, silver lighter. Three things happened in rapid succession. Jin flicked the lighter, and a teeny orange flame came to life. They exhaled their held breath, lips pursed and directed toward the fire. The flame hit the glowing liquid, and like an old circus trick, it caught, combusted, and followed the path of oxygen-

Directly into their opponent’s face.
Exit   
The man reared back as soon as he saw Jin put the lighter to their lips, but he was too close and too slow. Flames erupted in the small space between himself and them, engulfing him in fire that wrapped around his entire body. His screams were swallowed by the sound of fire eating at the air and then further obscured by the screaming of those behind him.
Mistress Dizzy   
“Move!”
Exit   
Two of the man's cohorts were equally burned. The last, however, reacted quick enough to shield himself from the attack by stepping behind one of the others.

”Fuck!” He screamed as both Jin and Nelu pushed by him, throwing him to the ground.

Nelu, still suffering from the earlier shock Jin had put him through, was reminded again why they had once been a prominent figure in the Lower Ring. He shouldn’t have been impressed, but he was. How they’d managed to pull that off was beyond him. He still wasn’t sure if they’d been carrying those items in their dress or had picked them off someone in the crowd. It was impossible to know and yet that was the law of the land down here. Moving in the shadows and in secret and using both as a shield and a weapon. This was Jin’s world and in their hands, Nelu remained but a passenger. His experience paled in comparison to theirs.

Without looking behind him, he could confirm that they were still being followed, this time by the one man who managed to survive the initial fire blast. ”Got one more.”

Like them, their pursuer was slipping through the crowd with ease as if he’d done this his entire life.
Mistress Dizzy   
“Yep.” Jin said simply. They had dropped the plastic tube of Glowworm before it decided to melt to their palm. As their legs pumped and half the dress flared, they made the lighter vanish into the dress. “The answer you’re looking for is-” They twisted gracefully around a zenned out woman dancing in the midst of the market, barely breaking stride. “The glowy shit on people’s hair and teeth? Highly fuckin’ flammable.” A beat. “Inflammable?” They shook their head. “Whichever, it lights up fast.”

The night was just beginning, and the market crowd was just getting started. The final pursuer seemed to have the most brains of the bunch. Between having sense and ruthlessness enough to use his cohorts as a shield, he clearly knew his way around the area. Nelu was out of his depth, Jin was out of practice. The pursuer was gaining ground, and fast. Something had to be done.

Jin’s eyes flickered across the area, trying to solve an equation with no numbers at all. “Don’t look back!” Jin instructed Nelu, then pivoted sideways toward one of the market tables. It seemed to be selling credit cards. From the hastily printed sign on the wall, it was quite clear they were all very much stolen. With a level of skill they hadn’t gotten to display since their training days, Jin tucked and rolled, vanishing under the black tablecloth.

“Hey! What the fu-” The vendor scowled, reaching out to move the table aside. He never got the chance. The table burst upward into the air, and the cards went with it, scattering absolutely everywhere.

Everything was still for a split second. Then Jin shouted, that sweet, fake femme voice carrying surprisingly far.

Free yuans!”

It was like dropping a slice of meat in a cage of hungry rats. By the time Jin got to their feet, the crowd was pressing in. They squeezed through, yanking the end of their dress from under someone’s foot. Already, a fight was breaking out.
Exit   
Nelu did as instructed and kept running forward, resisting the urge to look at the chaos he could hear unfolding behind him. Jin, who had left his side for only a moment was already back on his heel, he could feel, nearly pushing him forward through the surf of people pushing in the opposite direction. Already, the excited crowd had become so dense trying to clamber for the scattered cards that they were effectively now an impenetrable wall. Their pursuer had no hope of following.

The two of them continued through the market toward the other end where the crowd was already thinning. With Nelu still in front and some instruction from Jin, he made a left up ahead and then another right where the corridor led to a more open and mostly abandoned space. It looked to be a service tunnel for what must have been the subfloors of a building half buried in the streets and forgotten. There was a door that most likely led back to the surface; one of a myriad of entrances and exits to the Underground. He yanked it open and led Jin inside. On the other side of the door was a single fluorescent bulb screwed into a socket that was surprisingly still on and working. A broken metal staircase would have led to a trapdoor in the ceiling. It looked like it hadn’t been open in ages.

”The Flying Frog’s still got it.” Nelu said half out of breath. Down here, stretches of the world beneath the city suffered from poor airflow which heavily affected air quality, especially considering what fell down here from the upper rings and reamined. Breathing was often difficult but also meant that similar corridors were less likely to be occupied. A quick glance before they’d entered the room ensured that there were no prying eyes or ears to witness their flight. A second glance found Jin, her dress and hair and allure still intact despite the way she’d been moving. She didn’t even seem all that affected by the atmosphere.

He gestured toward them and nodded. ”That’s uh… effective.” He frowned, not liking the taste of the word or his lack of a better one. ”Doc Li?”
Mistress Dizzy   
Once it was clear they had gotten away clean, Jin leaned over and started to laugh. Soft, half-oxygenated, but absolutely pleased. "Still got it? Ain’t never lost it to start with." They peeked sideways at him, their pride obvious.

With Nelu’s impression of their getup, Jin shrugged. "I mean, yeah? Everything she makes is effective." They straightened up, fiddling with a silver clasp at the neck of the dress. "Though at first I thought she'd lost her fuckin mind when she showed me the kit. Guess I owe her an apology. And 50 yuans."
Exit   
”50 yuans, huh…?” The amount sounded vaguely like a bet. He could hazard a guess about what.
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin nodded. "Yeah. She said, 'this disguise is so perfect, you could walk by your best friend and not get caught.'." Their head turned aside, watching in the direction of the door. "And by the way you looked at me back there, it was pretty obvious she won."
Exit   
...Yeah… It was hard to admit but the accusation stuck. He had looked. He knew it. Far longer than he should have, and maybe it had only been for a couple of seconds but it was long enough for Jin to notice and that’s what mattered. It was getting harder and harder for him to keep the facade up and if they kept surprising him like they had, it wouldn’t be long before he had to make a decision.

The breath he took was laced with tainted oxygen and embarrassment. He snorted. ”Guess I was being really obvious.” He looked at them again, this time with less surprise and more intent. A curious, appreciative gaze. It wasn’t invasive or harsh, but soft. He tried not to let his eyes linger for too long but again, it was difficult. Sylara’s work was impeccable as always, a testament to her skill and an even bigger statement to her confidence in the bet they’d apparently made. It was no surprise really what a fool of him she’d made, and he’d promised he’d have words with her later… or at least he knew he’d hear about it later.

”So besides making me look like a complete idiot, I know Doctor Li always goes the extra mile with her work. What else can it do?”
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin snickered faintly. ”Like I said, I coulda shot you. And that was before I stepped out.” One hand was still in motion, the silver charm catching what little light there was. “I know this is… not the best time. But.” They turned, finally, meeting his eyes, their worry obvious. “Are you… okay, Cap? I mean, no way in hell would any disguise fool you, usually..."
Exit   
”Hey… Jin...” Nelu tried to interrupt. However, the first attempt fell on distracted ears as they continued down a hole they didn’t need to go down. Was Nelu alright? Far from it and although he would never admit it, Jin had been spot on with the assessment. A disguise shouldn’t have worked and yet it did. But his inability to pick Jin out of the crowd paled to the situation Jin had just pulled them out of, at least to him. Nelu was still alive and well in a place he knew very little about, and whether Jin was aware of it or not in that moment, it was only because of them. Sure he would have been fine in a scrap, but then he’d also still be lost in this endless maze.

The brilliant blue in Jin’s eyes were fixed on him, but he could tell they were looking through him to some answer they couldn’t see. Their fingers were still fidgeting with the silver clasp that rested over where the sharp edge of their collarbone curved down toward their chest. That small spot of skin below their neck. The small spot of skin teasing at him from above their dress.
Mistress Dizzy   
"...And I know if I feel like shit from not sleepin’, you probably feel worse cause you have to do all the fuckin’ papers and-”
Exit   
Their fingers continued to play with the small piece of metal, the physical tell of a person who was musing their worries. He reached for it and gently pressed his hand against theirs, interrupting the fidgeting and hoping his touch was enough to pull them from their thoughts and focus on the reassurance in his voice.

”Jin.” He tried again, this time choosing to say what he knew would calm them down. Unfortunately for him, his brain and his lips couldn’t agree on what that actually was and instead, the truth came out. ”You look beautiful.”
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..Palace · An LSF Collaboration · Part OnePalace · An LSF Collaboration · Part One
____________________________________________________________________________.
Fiber   
Both Zhen and XIaoxu took their time upon entering the gala. The slow pace allowed them to be seen in public, noticed by the important and also to absorb the information about who was sitting where. Each of them were dressed to the nines, Zhen in a slender black dress paired with a white coat and a smattering of jewelry, and Xiaoxu in a sharp white suit, clean and impeccably tailored. Finding their seat reminded Xiaoxu of the unfortunate error on the seating chart, listing him as merely Zhen’s plus one rather than granting him own seat. The conversation had already started when they sat down, and they came just as they heard Kaye refer to “Professor Lun and her husband”. Internally, Xiaoxu wanted to shout at her. Both of them were full professors, and he was not just any professor, but the 11th most cited legal scholar of all time. While he was distracted and fuming, Zhen started a conversation.

“Kaye, so nice to see you! I’m sorry to hear about your brother, I can only hope he will be found safe soon, moments like these remind us how the incident at the storage facility has taken a toll on all of us. I hope you’ve managing to recover well, I wanted to tell you about a monumental project that involved collaboration with some researchers from your R&D Department that my colleagues and I have just finished. The preprint of the paper was just published, the title is Pleasure and Pain Quantified: Population-scale Hedonic Calculus via Brain Computer Interface and Deep Reinforcement Learning. It was a true interdisciplinary effort. I worked with the best of the Neuroscience and Computer Science departments at the university, along with some researchers outside the academic world. The Ethics board was annoyingly persistent in their efforts to hamstring this research, but I think this will be the cornerstone of some truly great things in the future. I also must thank the Sato and Moon families for their generous grants, those also aided this greatly.”
Exit   
”I appreciate it, Doctor Lin.” Kaye said. ”My family is holding out hope that he’ll turn up soon. I’m optimistic…” The blue in her eyes seemed to dull a bit. ”My brother is known to be quite resourceful, although I fear at times his thirst for knowledge and passion for what he does sometimes drowns out his reason. He can be very hands-on if given the opportunity. Putting himself in unnecessarily risky situations.” Her eyes flashed to Vyska. ”It’s true that the explosion has affected us all but I am glad we can still find moments like this.” She gestured back to Zhen. ”Such as helping each other continue to make discoveries like this. I’m thoroughly looking forward to reading the paper.”
Fiber   
“Sorry if I was grim earlier, I have no doubt you brother is quite capable. I think it might be because the university has seen too many lost too young this past week. I remember one, Huanyan. She was only in her first year and already showing remarkable potential, I was looking forward to mentoring her until she met a tragic end. It saddens me to see and I’m going to personally petition the department to award her posthumous degree, it’s a simple gesture but I feel anything we can do in this trying time will help.”
Exit   
”That’s very kind of you.” Kaye said.

”I like to think it’s those gestures that make the difference. Money can only get one so far if the heart isn’t in the right place. It’s why we’re only too happy to fund your research. Advances like the ones you and the Xuoshi’s have discovered are necessary for a better tomorrow.” Vyska added. ”But besides all of that, It’s a pleasure to see you again. I know last time we met I was little more than a girl in my father’s shadow but he’s shown me much and taught me more. He’s been a huge fan of you and I look to continue as he did, funding your work in the future.”
Fiber   
“I am honored to hear that, Vyska. Your father is a true giant, a man of character whose donations have the whole city owing him a debt of gratitude. I don’t know if the Doing What We Can Foundation would exist without him, and it certainly wouldn’t have raised billions without people like the Moons. I have no doubt you’ll continue his legacy and improve countless lives.”
Exit   
Vyska turned to An. ”Doctor Lun, the woman seated next to me is none other than An Tamura. Director of Operations at SynEn. An, Doctor Lun here is a professor at the University of Ba Sing Se. You might know her? And this is Professor Zhang. The man next to him is Taiichi Sato.”
Fiber   
During the conversation, Taiichi Sato was listening, not entirely comfortable enough to chime in. It didn’t help that he was watching his phone, trying to see if the energy shortage would interrupt the production line or not. Whoever worked in operations at Future Industries always had to be ready to drop everything and get to work solving production problems, even if they were a C-level executive and at the royal gala like Taiichi was. Not being willing to get your hands dirty wasn’t the Sato way. He looked up briefly to say

“Nice to meet you, An. Welcome to the Gala, I promise it’s more boring than the tabloids make it seem.”
canaryrose   
“Very pleased to meet you,” An said to them both, smoothly extending her hand with a smile. Privately, she wanted to roll her eyes at how Vyska had introduced her, but she kept it to herself. What was this girl doing? She turned to Zhen. “You look too young to have taught me when I was there, but I graduated from the University of Ba Sing Se… six years ago, now? Your paper sounds intriguing. If I ever have the time, I might read it- but I have to admit I’m a bit more of a… paper-pushing girl these days. You’re a professor of… philosophy? And you, Dr. Zhang? I’m sorry to say I’m not very familiar with the faculty these days, but your name, Dr. Lun, has at least reached me. In the news and such.”
Fiber   
“I believe I was at the university when you were there, although my teaching load was sporadic at times. The research projects I was part of consumed a lot of energy, as did launching the foundation. I only got a more regular teaching schedule when I became a tenured professor, that was seven years ago. Of course, if your expertise is in Synergy that is a subject somewhat removed from philosophy, I know several professors from the hard sciences who never even set foot in the Philosophy department’s building, treating it as though it were haunted ground.”
canaryrose   
An chuckled good-naturedly at Zhen’s comment and took a sip of her wine. “Don’t worry, I’m no scientist, even though Vyska likes to talk me up. I was actually a mathematics major, which is… probably not much better in your eyes, if I think about it. I mostly learned about synergy through my work, and I do know quite a bit about it but I also have many actual scientists under my employ who know more. Like I said, I’m a pencil-pusher and a manager, among other things. I won’t bore the whole table with the technical details.”
Fiber   
When she was done, Xiaoxu saw an opening. He tried to sound casual, almost a little folksy when he spoke.
“Oh Miss Tamura, you can call me Xiaoxu, I’m a law professor, we don’t do that doctor stuff. I’m just a kid from the middle ring who studied way too much and wrote some law journal articles people thought were pretty nice, somehow I ended up the eleventh most cited legal scholar of all time. Can’t complain, I’m just happy to be here with all of these incredible people and married to such a beautiful and intelligent woman. I heard about what’s happened this week, it’s hard not to, but I couldn’t help but think about how you’re been feeling, An. With all that’s been going on I’m sure it hasn’t been easy to talk about your experiences.”
canaryrose   
She blinked at Xiaoxu’s comments, a bit confused… and then nervous. Damnit. He was hinting at knowing about hera dn Chu. It wasn’t exactly a very well-kept secret, but… she simply looked at him for a moment, before smoothly saying, “Well, it’s been a difficult few days for everyone. I’m not sure what you’re talking about, I’ve definitely been under a lot of pressure at work, but it doesn’t compare at all to what Vyska and especially Kaye went through during the explosion. So many people are dead or missing, chaos is still reigning with over half the city without power, and we still don’t know the cause of why all this happened. Excluding the obvious. I, for one, would like to find out why. I know a lot of people are working on it, but I’m anxious to find out. Aren’t you?”
Exit   
Kaye chimed in next. ”I think what we really want to know is how long we have until we run out of power? You’ve diverted energy to our production facilities, as I’m sure you have to Sato…” She gestured toward him. “But eventually, it will not be enough. Not until the pipe is repaired. I imagine balancing power distribution with the ramifications of cutting power to others is no easy task.”

”If it eases some concern, reports from our plant say that they were not similarly affected the way we were here. No loss of life. No appearance of… Benders. All hands are available and repairs are happening apace. Completion is projected within the next few days. Repairs to the pipe will take a little longer. A week at the least, but we have reserve energy for exactly these type of emergency situations.”
canaryrose   
“If you’d like to know more about the power situation in the city,” An chimed in after Vyska, leaning forward to face Kaye, “you should schedule a meeting with Vyska and me. I can tell you all about my distribution methodology. We’re trying to prioritize right now. It’s certainly not easy, but rest assured that we won’t run out of power any time soon if we use it wisely. We have other supplemental power sources and plenty of reserves.”
Exit   
"I think I might do that. There are a few things I'd like to talk to you both about actually." Kaye was once again staring at Vyska.
Katakuri   
At the designated table, Katakuri Soran glanced when he heard his name called out by a familiar voice in the room. First glance, he recognized who it was: Lani. Another prominent figure of the upper ring, and he put on a slight smile instantly within making eye contact. ”Why would I bring a plus one when I know I was going to surely see you here?” This question was more of a statement, but he purposefully let it linger in case she wanted to fire anything back.

Deciding to close the space in between them, he approached her, and noticed the wine glass which was hugged to her chest. Bowing in respect, ”I didn’t recognize you at first. I was almost disappointed when I thought you sent your daughter in your place tonight. Are you already enjoying yourself?” Katakuri’s words were spoken with a silver tongue. A waiter walked by, giving Soran a chance to snag a glass for himself. Taking a sip, he gestured to Lani.
Exit   
”As best as one can surrounded by present company…” Lani began with no regard to those around her. Kaye rolled her eyes. ”...although the night is improving by the minute.” Lani looked Katakuri up and down momentarily before she gestured with a hand toward An.

”Have you met a Tamura?”
Katakuri   
Katakuri couldn’t help the small laugh slip from his lips, ”I know what you mean,” his words were soft and maybe lower in volume than usual. There was one reason he was at the gala tonight, and that was to keep his only child safe. The LSF requested that he be here which meant his father wouldn’t be, and his father would have complained till he left the house in his place.

Watching the other’s eyes trace his figure, he smirked, and allowed his eyes to follow the older woman’s hand to a smaller figure. A woman with long raven black hair and dark eyes, his fading away from emotion. Approaching, slowly and gently, ”I do not think I haven,” he knew this face. The face of a significant other of a famous athlete that recently set themselves and a whole stadium on fire. He wouldn’t have been able to do it better himself, but he was keeping shady comments to himself tonight. ”It’s a pleasure to meet you Miss Tamura. I’m Katakuri Soran.” his words leaked with mystery along with a sudden change of tone. A tone that was professional and impersonal. One that said, I do not care to get to know you, but I will be nice anyways. His eyes focused on hers, as if he was trying to read her or was he looking right through her? Dark eyes traveled to meet who she was near, Miss Moon. Then he lost interest and took a sip of his drink.
canaryrose   
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Soran. I’m An Tamura. I’m the Director of Operations at Syn-En.” An met his cool, disdainful stare with one of her own, one that was almost meaner. I dare you, it said. She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. The man in front of her felt threatening, almost analyzing, but An was sure it was because of his height and the way he looked at her like she was simply dirt on his shoe.
Katakuri   
Katakuri Soran took note of An introducing herself with such a title: Director of Operations at Syn-En. Raising a brow at the thought, why would someone like the Moons keep this individual under their employment? Didn’t her fiance almost burn down a whole stadium with handfuls of people in it.
canaryrose   
As for Lani… An simply let the comment slide off of her like water. She didn’t even look at Lani, didn’t indicate she had heard her. Frankly, she didn’t give a shit what Lani Butakha thought of her family. It made her a bit annoyed, sure, but it didn’t anger her. They had been ignored for years. Honestly, An took a sort of delight in the fact that her mother and father had fallen so far in society. She didn’t care. Plus, An pettily thought being ignored completely would spite the woman more than responding. She took a sip of her own wine and wished she could take shots in respectable company.

“I assume you’ve met Vyska, Mr. Soran?” She gestured to her boss, resting a hand on her shoulder.
Katakuri   
”I do not think I have met Vyska Moon before,” he bowed his head in respect to both of the women.

”I’m Katakuri Soran. It’s a pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Miss Moon.” Taking the last sip of his drink and setting it down on a server tray that was gliding by, he had to ask, ”I have to ask. How does a family like yours keep someone linked to such a devastating occurrence under their employment?” his voice was filled with curiosity while he glanced over to An. This look that An got from him was not the harsh one upon meeting, it was gentle, almost connected to a feeling of pity. It was the opposite of what he was asking her boss. His words might have been accusing, but he couldn’t help showing how he actually felt in his eyes: he felt bad for everyone that burst into flames or uncontrollable conditions because of the explosion. It was saddening that so many lives were ruined
Exit   
”Miss Tamura is the only one keeping the devastation spreading to the other rings by keeping the power on…” Vyska stood again. ”...and the fuel in your car. And keeping your house warm at night for… guests. She understands the grid better than anyone in the city and without her, well… frankly, Benders would be the least of our problems. That is why she is here tonight, Mr. Soran. Why we’re lucky to have her at SynEn. So we can gather like this and enjoy conversation with such pleasant company.” Vyska extended a hand at the man.

”It’s nice to finally meet. My father has told me much about the Soran family… and about what happened. It’s good to see you were able to move on.” She then turned to An. ”As I understand it, Katakuri is the COO of Soran Enterprises. The life blood of the city’s economy dealing in finance and automatic banking.”

”That’s riiight…” Came Lani, finally peeling her focus away from Katakuri and turning to An with sudden interest. There was some light in her eyes as if a fog had been lifted off her ignorance. ”The Hua girl was… you were engaged to be married to that Firebender!” Although her voice was raised, it was not quite loud enough to reach the other tables.

...Oh you fucking bitch...
Katakuri   
Katakuri titled his head and chuckled at how Vyska took him, ”I think you understood me all wrong, do not get defensive, because I do appreciate your associate.” shrugging his shoulders. He was only curious as to why An Tamura was in such a place and he had to guess, she didn’t like attention on how she pushed him off onto her boss. ”I think your and my definition of enjoyment are different, Miss Moon. I do not care to dress up all prettily for people to look at me like a doll.”

He seemed to completely change when his deceased fiance was brought up, anyone could tell he lost his cool when Vyska’s comment about him moving on was vocalized. His eyes lost all light and emotion. He was chewing on his cheek and he was projecting a dark atmosphere around him now. ”It’s not moving on when your significant other is brutally killed by a fire bender, Miss Moon. Maybe you should learn how to think before you talk, not the brightest moon out there, are you?” Katakuri was staring at Vyska. He was clearly pissed off. Everyone that knew Katakuri, knew that he was extremely sensitive about Eko being brought up. With this, he decided it was better if he found better company or a bar. A bar would be so much better.
canaryrose   
An took a long sip of her wine. Then another. And another. Pretty soon, she had finished her first glass and had moved onto her second. She was trying to avoid talking about Chu for as long as possible- and drinking had allowed her to let Katakuri go on a long, glorious rant, drawing the attention off of her. A thick blush had settled on her cheeks and a rage had grown in her chest. What a fucking dumpster fire. Everyone looked mad and was either staring at Katakuri or her.

“How dare you call her stupid?” An snapped, drawing up a false indignancy. She stood. “You know nothing about her, Mr. Soran, and I’d advise you to watch your tone. She’s… what, 7 years your junior and has earned the equivalent of your position in that time? I’m sorry about your late wife, I really am, but you shouldn’t be so rude.”
Exit   
Vyska continued to smile as Katakuri's poise collapsed and he began to berate her. It took some effort but she refused to show any emotional change during the short exchange, instead opting to keep to the professional outward appearance she’d been trained to hold. However, when she did break, it wasn’t because of what he was saying or how he was saying it, it was An. She’d stood up and defended her honor and out of surprise, her smile dropped and she turned to the other woman. With the way they were seated, An couldn’t see her and when An stood, she’d inadvertently placed herself between Vyska and Katakuri. Vyska’s surprise was visible only to a few and only grew more obvious when An refused to give the man any ground as he leaned into her space. It was impressive to say the least, especially when considering it was her first time surrounded by people very clearly more powerful than she was. Katakuri was physically taller, more intimidating looking given his sharper features and was also very rich. Enough money could back any threats given, spoken or otherwise.

What she felt in that moment was fleeting, but she suddenly understood why An was supposed to be married to a world class Stickball player. There hadn’t even been a question in the air and yet she found the answer.

Then she saw the empty wine glass in her hand.
Katakuri   
Stopping in his tracks, he listened to Miss Tamura get defensive about her boss. Don’t fucking say a thing. Kata. Don’t… he started repeating those words or similar in his head. Don’t fucking do it, he whispered to hismelf, probably where no one else could hear.

Katakuri Soran could not help himself, An Tamura kept talking, and he turned right around. Dead stare. He was thinking about what he should and shouldn’t say, he was trying his best to not explode. Walking up to An, he got close, so close that he bent down with a few inches in between their faces. ”Don’t tell me false apologies, Miss Tamura. I know you and her, do not care,” he was staring An dead in the eyes, he was trying to keep his cool and not explode on An. An wasn’t the one that brought up Eko and he knew that she didn’t know him at all. ”There is something you need to know about me, Miss Tamura. When I have someone being rude to me. I do not give a fuck how I am back to them,” Katakuri stepped away from An, and he glared over at Vyska.

Instantly, his behavior changed, ”Good day ladies. It was a pleasure to meet your acquaintances. I hope you have a wonderful time at the Gala,” he didn’t care if they began to talk to him again. He stopped listening and walked as far away as he possibly could. He was going to go find a bar or at least another waiter who was carrying around alcohol. He was going to need it to get through this Gala tonight.
canaryrose   
An stared at him dead back, not cowed or cowering. She glowered. When he walked away, though, An had to take a moment to compose herself. For a moment, her hands shook, and her eyes widened with fear. He truly looked like he had been about to kill her.

“Well,” she commented as he walked away, “Someone has anger issues. Perhaps a therapist is in order? I’m… very sorry you had to see that, Vyska. Some people just can’t hold their alcohol.”
Exit   
”It’s fine.” Vyska had said after Katakuri left the table. ”He’s right. I touched on a sore subject and I shouldn’t have.” She shook her head. ”My father was always better at this stuff than I was.” She watched as Katakuri wandered to the bar. ”I should apologize to the man. It wouldn’t do to sour relations with the Soran house because…” She turned to An and threw her a playful wink. ”... because I don’t like him.” The last bit was almost whispered but she was sure the other probably overheard, not that it mattered.

”I think I like him more.” Lani muttered.

”Thank you, by the way.” She said before gesturing to the empty glass. ”Should… I get you another?” Before An could answer, she was waving down one of the servers wandering the tables
canaryrose   
“No, no, you don’t have to. Please.” An waved over the server herself, getting another glass.

Seating Chart

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Fiber   
Taiichi Sato was staring across the table, looking as Kata walked into the distance, trying to process what just happened. He said

“I wanted to say something but I didn’t think he’d react like that.”

Zhen said

“Kata hides it, but he is prone to bouts of burning emotion. He tries to keep it under control, I don’t hold these outbursts against him.”

After that Xiaoxu began to speak, doing his best to sound gracious, but coming off in a tone that had a layer of artifice to it

“Truly regrettable. He may have some strong feelings but that doesn’t entitle him to blow up like that. I’m sure he’s not the only one going through a difficult time right now, Miss Tamura. Talking about difficult subjects and relationships is always a better approach than bottling it up, lest we become like Mr Soran. I hope Miss Tamura and everyone else at the table knows that I’m always willing to lend an ear and help people through trying times.”
canaryrose   
An paused for a moment, trying to process what Xiaoxu had said. What? Why on Earth was he saying her name so damn much? “... Erm. Thank you?” She side-eyed him. What was this guy’s deal? Again, she tried to ignore Lani.

“Well, that’s tragic. I hope he gets over his… issues.” Her eyes flicked towards the balcony, where she had seen him go. Really, she did hate men like that. Entitled. Intimidating. They thought they could get respect because they were larger, physically imposing.
Fiber   
Xiaoxu felt he had been doing well so far, so he continued on, saying

“Some people get over their issues, but it takes honesty. When someone hides too much it takes a toll, they can have trouble forming healthy relationships. Even if one partner is trying to make it work, even going so far to make sure none of the problems reach the public eye, the unstable foundation will show its cracks eventually.”
Zhen was able to maintain a straight face through all of this only through years of practice.
canaryrose   
Oh, An knew exactly what Xiaoxu was hinting at. He had been trying to hint at it the entire time, but he was so bad at this that it made her almost want to laugh. Implying that her and Chu had an unhealthy relationship? It was laughable. “I’m sorry… what? I think Mr. Soran’s a widower, unless I’m mistaken and his dead wife is very much alive.” She chuckled at her own joke.
Fiber   
Xiaoxu felt there was no more time to beat around the bush. He continued on ignoring An’s joke and said.
“Oh, I wasn’t talking about Mr. Soran, though I see how someone could be confused. I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking this but, no matter how good it looked at first, and well, I’m not usually as blunt as some at the table, but Chu was” he whispered the next two words ”A firebender. That’s public knowledge now, but it doesn’t have to be the whole story. Anything else, anything that you’ve been keeping, you can share now, even if it hurts to say. It’s alright; we’re all here for you.”
canaryrose   
Ah. Here it was- the “big reveal”. Lani had technically already said it, but Soran’s freakout had distracted everyone from the truth. She found a deep blush coming over her cheeks as she received several stares. Flustered, she immediately took a long drink of her wine. She needed to stay sober, but it was convenient for pauses.
Vyska and her had discussed this. Her official directive was to seem like she hated Chu as much as possible. She hated that, because it wasn’t true. Her fiancee was gentle and kind, the sort of woman who never would’ve willingly hurt another. The sort of woman who never would’ve even made an unkind comment to the woman she loved without immediately apologizing. An felt that ache of missing her intensify as a dark look grew across her face. Quickly, she schooled herself into a look of neutrality again. She needed to keep her composure. This man sure was fucking annoying.

“Lani already said that,” An pointed out, almost petulantly. “It’s… true, yes. Mortifying and upsetting, but true. I was supposed to get married to her next week. Before… well. I’ll spare everyone the rest and I don’t want to talk about it. It’s still a fresh wound. Thank you for bringing very fresh, very painful memories to the forefront, Mr. Zhang, even if it was already quite obvious. I really appreciate it.” This was said venomously, angrily. An looked away, anywhere except the people around her. Her eyes found a painting on the wall. Despite herself, she looked quite upset.

She just couldn’t do it. She was a gifted liar, it was true, but she couldn’t lie about Chu. Not about that. It was too much. To go through with their plan… it made her stomach flip. Maybe if her life was on the line.
Fiber   
There was silence and a round of uncomfortable stares. Zhen was the first to break it. She said “I am truly sorry for all that you’ve been through and I think we all owe it to you to allow you some peace and privacy. Excuse me, I’ll be right back.” As she got up she shot a nasty look towards Xiaoxu and headed in the direction of the restrooms, which also happened to be close to where Kata had stepped out to take a smoke. Before she had left table, Xiaoxu started talking again, rapidly this time, clearly a hint of nervousness in his voice.

No, listen, I’ve got this, I just need them to listen to me.

“Well, uhhh, I’m sorry to bring that up. Well, I didn’t want to force you to talk about anything painful, but just, y’know I was thinking logically, are you gonna fault me for that? I’m sorry, it’s just the way my brain works, I’m based on logic, and I’ve read a lot about these things, you know a lot of my most cited papers are about issues like the link between bending and crime. I mean, have any of you seen the statistics? Especially for Firebenders, they’re sky high, and I’m told some psychologists have found some parts of their brains develop differently, like they’re evolved for aggression. That’s why there are animals like that one who killed Kata’s wife around, their brains are built that way. Look, if you do the research like I did you’d know. And y’know, you don’t even have to read the stats, just look at the history, what benders did, even stuff about Benders and how they view non-benders in relationships. Anyone remember the stories about Korra and Asami? Taiichi’s sitting right here, I’m sure he can tell them.”

Taiichi, who had been silently staring, said

“What are you saying about my Great, Great, Great Grandmothers?”

“Just the standard stuff, doesn’t everyone know about it? How Korra was abusive, controlling, she saw herself as inherently better, how Asami suffered for years but never got out?”

Taiichi grew insistent

“The situation is much, much more complicated than you’re making it sound and I don’t appreciate you dredging up my family history to score some points after making an ass of yourself.”

“Oh I’m sorry, guess I forgot which branch of the Sato family you’re from, sorry I don’t know every little detail of your family saga.”

“Are the ideas of owning up to your mistakes or saying anything that isn’t part of ‘winning’ the conversation alien to you? Of course, you’re a guy who thinks someone who wrote a symbolic logic textbook can’t put two and two together about the purpose of all your trips that somehow end at the monorail stop outside the Drunken Honeybee.”
Exit   
”What’s the Drunken Honeybee?” Vyska asked.
canaryrose   
“A brothel in the Lower Ring. Popular among elite men who like to have sex with prostitutes rather than their own wives. You wouldn’t know anything about it, Vyska, and only I know because it was popular among some of my least favorite classmates. I suppose healthy relationships are difficult to come by at this table?”
Exit   
”I wonder if that is where my brother is right now. The Drunken Honeybee.” Kaye finally said after having sat in silence. The laugh she gave felt half forced. ”I could almost be happy about that.”
Fiber   
Xiaoxu was fuming now, no one was spared. He said
“I can’t help it. Some people at this table have a habit of spreading false rumors about my marriage in between their passions of getting divorced again and firing their own kids from jobs with the team they own. Maybe if they spent more time working on theirs they wouldn’t feel the need to tear down everyone else.”
Exit   
Lani’s eyes snapped to Xiaoxu. ”Nobody in this life gets a free pass, dear. Not my kids, not my ex husbands, not even you. If they couldn’t cut it then they weren’t where they belonged. It’s a sad truth but it’s why there is only one seat to my name… and why your seat says ‘Lun’.”

Vyska’s eyes widened, the edges of her lip quivering as she struggled to stifle her laugh.
canaryrose   
An couldn’t help it. She laughed, a real laugh, grinning. Her blood was boiling, but God did this asshole deserve it.



_______________________________........
Palace Balcony · |@Katakuri]Palace Balcony · @Katakuri
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Soran could not spot a functioning bar or a waiter with an alcohol tray within arms reach of him, so he decided to travel down one of the many halls of the building and he went to find himself a balcony or some sort of access to fresh air. He needed fresh air and he wasn’t going back to the Gala any time soon. He hated these events… he hated most upper ring events. They only reminded him of his suffering and he took out a smoke from the inside of his coat pocket. There was that one person each and every time: sorry she passed. How are you doing? If you need anything… all bullshit.

Lifting the stick up to his mouth, he hit it hard and only began this bad habit after Eko left this world. The balcony doors were slightly left open to the balcony, so he could have a bit more light outside. Going over to the edge of the balcony and resting on the railing, as he allowed the cigarillo to rest weakly between his fingers. Glancing up to the skies, he was trying to cool off from getting so hyped up. Beginning to whisper to himself, he was picking out the astrological signs from the darkness overhead and the other important figures. The cooling air felt great on his overheated skin, it was relaxing. This meant he was hot to the touch, so he needed to cool down before going back to the party.

Soran noticed the cigarillo died quickly, it was practically gone, and he felt like he wasn’t out there that long. Dabbing it out on the stone railing. This sucked… as he flicked the butt of the smoke off of the balcony. He knew that he had to go back into the Gala, so he glanced over his shoulder at the faint light coming from the windows and cracks in the doors that he came from. "You could always smoke another." he was trying to talk himself into staying on the balcony longer, but he decided to stand up instead. Walking over to the exit of the balcony and making his way down the hall.

After his cooling off session, his expression was blank as he reentered the main area of the gala with all of the people. His table seemed to be practically empty when it came to guests, people must be socializing. Then his eyes roamed over to where Moon, Tamura, Lun, and others were. Everyone at that table had some type of negative expression and it looked like Zhen’s husband was not going to stop talking any time soon. Katakuri was considering going back out on the balcony for another smoke to ignore whatever was happening. Taking a look back to where outside was. He was really considering it.

Sighing and running a hand through his short hair, he went over to his chair and dragged it out. Taking a seat and trying to mind his own business. A waiter came back with a tray of food, little appetizers, so he grabbed a few to snack on, in the meantime. Only consuming alcohol and nicotine was probably not going to be good by the end of the night. They were hamrolls and they tasted pretty good.



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..Palace · An LSF CollaborationPalace · An LSF Collaboration
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Fiber   
Taiichi grinned at Kata as he returned to the table. He said
“Welcome back Kata you missed… a lot. Professor Zhang here has been teaching a masterclass on socializing, though I think we might be learning a different lesson from what he’s intending to teach. “
“I was just trying to help An. I don’t know why everyone is blaming me, I wasn’t the one who set her off in the first place.”
Xiaoxu said, clearly looking towards Kata.
Katakuri   
Only noticing the grinning face of Taiichi when they referred to him, he wanted to make himself smaller. He was having second thoughts on not taking out another smoke and coming back inside. Listening to the other, he sighed, "Why am I not surprised?" this was a rhetorical question from Soran. Glancing around for a moment, he noticed there was not a tray of alcohol within a comfortable range, so he sat up in his chair and listened to Xiaoxu. His expression was blank when the married man was spewing whatever he was thinking out of his mouth. This man was like a nuclear bomb, ready to go off, and was his own weapon of mass destruction… to himself…
canaryrose   
“Can you not shut up?” she finally snapped. “I already made my feelings clear on this topic, I don’t want your help or your opinions. It would be respectful of you to get off of the subject before you manage to anger everyone at the table.”
Exit   
Vyska couldn't understand it. Some interest was expected, but the man was targeted with his questions, almost worse than Katakuri had been. This was the second time he'd referred to the woman when addressing someone else. "Why are we so interested in how she is feeling right now?"
Katakuri   
Soran thought about what Xiaoxu said. Him being the one to set An off, and he stared at the other man. Exhaling sharply, "You really love to hear yourself talk don’t you?" he wasn’t really wanting an answer from Xiaoxu, but he might have wanted to drive the man up the wall, so he continued, "I don’t know how anyone can truly listen to you, especially your wife. She is so intelligent and then…” he trailed off with a smirk, “...and you just don’t have the mind to understand anything." Katakuri sat there staring. He wasn’t breaking his eyes from Xiaoxu until a waitress came by. Offering more hamrolls, he took a few with a pleasant smile, "Thank you," he stopped paying attention to the older man. Putting one in his mouth and enjoying it.
Fiber   
An’s and Vyska's words were completely ignored by Xiaoxu, he was only focused on Kata. Now bristling with rage and forcing every word out of his mouth, he said “Keep my wife out of this, if you’ve got a problem with me then you settle it with me, like a real man does, that’s how it works, in case you forgot. It’s real funny hearing you talk about understanding, talk about intelligence when you look at how you got where you are. Zhen and I worked for what we got, I’d fall asleep at the cram school, walk to class in shoes that were worn through because I needed the money for textbooks, stay up working so many nights I started to hallucinate, but what about you? Everything you ever got in life has been given to you, everything you’ve ever accomplished in life is worth less than what your name has given to you for free. The Soran name is worth billions and billions, but your life literally is as valuable as a summer ant. Your life is nothing, you serve zero purpose. If you want to settle this like men, I’ll be seeing you outside. Unless the thought having to do something with your hands makes you cower in fear, rich boy.”
Katakuri   
Soran relaxed back in his chair and listened to Xiaoxu spit out the words, attempting to insult him, and his smirk grew into a smile. That smile grew into a grin before he managed to force his expression down to a blank one. He wanted to laugh at the man’s words. This is exactly what Katakuri wanted from Xiaoxu."I would agree with you on your words, but we both would be wrong if I did that."

After being requested to go outside with Xiaoxu, he stood up without any hesitation, "In the land of the witless you would be king, so lead the way your majesty." gesturing towards the front doors. He was eager to see if Xiaoxu would be willing to actually go outside with him.
Fiber   
XIaoxu shot up out his chair and slammed it back in, the table, then pointed abruptly to the door to the balcony without a word. He was ready to go.
canaryrose   
An simply stared in disbelief for a moment before laughing. They couldn’t seriously intend to fight! But they were standing, fury on their faces, and she realized that these two men really were going to fight. At the royal palace. At an official function. She gaped, and then smirked. “You two are making fools of yourselves,” she said. “And here I thought law professors and bankers were supposed to be sensible. Not aggressive.” She couldn’t help herself from insulting them- she felt vindicated. And maybe a little tipsy. Men.
FunnyGuy   
“I'd say that's enough!” The deep authoritative boom of a voice Tao Xu, Director of the Republic Security Force shot out toward Xiaoxu and Katakuri. His entrance pulled the attention in the room toward himself, something he hadn't wanted from so many. Just to those who needed to be reminded of the order that would be enforced when he desired it.

The stern expression he gave them was enough of a warning but Director Xu couldn't always be certain with these types. There was a slight upturn upon his lips and his hardened expression soften just a tinge.

“As entertaining as it might be to watch you two flail on the balcony,” and just as easily, his face became serious again. “It would be a shame for the ‘Commander’ of the RSF to have to arrest two men of your stature for disorderly conduct. The gala has barely started. We can control ourselves and behave, yes? Right?” He was now addressing everyone in the room, his eyes scanning across both familiar and unfamiliar faces. He didn't expect an answer, knowing it was in everyone's best interest to de-escalate whatever tension was building, even if that meant forcing that de-escalation. As present as the tension still was, Director Xu would ensure that tension was all it would ever be.

Then the nice lady can come in. Yin and Yang.
dreamingflowers   
"Miss Cheng...can we go get some snacks before we sit?"

Lana looked down at the boy who tried his best not to step on her dress while they maneuvered themselves through the spacious hall. She squeezed his hand softly.

"Of course, Chey." He visibly cheered when Lana agreed to his plan. This was the first time he'd been to a party like this, or any party really. He'd been dreaming about it for almost two weeks, after Lana asked him to accompany her. The preparations were a lot of fun. They went to a tailor who made him the most beautiful set of clothes he'd ever owned. He wore them with pride.

They got to one of the decadent banquet tables. They browsed for a while. The spread of sweet to savory was incredible. There were things Chey had never seen before, let alone tasted. Lana was carrying him and he was holding a precious china plate. He clutched it tightly in his hands. Eventually they got a selection together. Lana made sure they brought some for the guests they'd be joining at their shared table.

Lana sensed tention as they approached and her mood shifted. Chey was still chattering away oblivious. She shushed him. She tried to get a read on the situation.
"Good evening everyone." The banker's wife attempted to diffuse to tension by having Chey cheerfully offer everyone a refreshment. They seated themselves at the table, Lana sitting Chey on her lap.
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_______________________________........
??? · |@Exit] & |@KillamriX88] Collaboration??? · @Exit & @KillamriX88 Collaboration
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Exit   
Chae opened their eyes to find themselves in what looked like a metal box or a holding cell of some kind. Fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling basked the room in a harsh white light. Chae was in a metal chair, that was quite uncomfortable, and was seated in front of a metal table. Her wrists were cuffed although the cuffs were not connected by a chain. Sitting across from her was a man in uniform. He wore light complexion, dark eyes and muddy brown hair that was pushed to one side. On the table in front of him was a manilla folder that was unmarked.

”Can I get you anything? Water? Some food? You’ve been out for a while.”
KillamriX88   
Chae-Won slowly looked around the room, getting her bearings. Yeah, this made a lot more sense. She looked back at the man sitting across from her and stretched before relaxing into the chair as best she could.

"Oh, yeah. Thanks, that'd be great. Oh, while you're at it, can I get a hot towel and a massage? Maybe some new boots so I can put my foot up your ass?"

This was going to be unpleasant for her, she was sure. Might as well make it suck for him too if she could.
Exit   
Nelu snorted and his mouth twisted into an amused smile. ”Right then. Straight to it.” He nodded. ”Let’s just start off with some particulars about what’s going on here so we’re both on the same page.” He gestured at Chae. ”You’re a Bender and as a Bender, you have no rights. You’re scheduled for execution. However, due to your… unique bending, we’ve put that on hold. Now, I’m here to ask you some questions but before we start. Obviously you can’t bend in here and even if you could…” He tapped the metal table. ”This is all platinum. Alright? And no, this isn’t some trick. You’re not cuffed. The bands are just stopping you from bending but they’re not doing anything else. You can get up and move around if you’d like. Stretch. I don’t care.”
KillamriX88   
Chae-Won stared back quietly for a moment as she considered her options. She really wasn’t tied down it seemed.

Her first imagining was herself jumping up, grabbing her chair, and smashing it into the man’s head. She took a deep breath and buried those urges for now. Even if it worked, which was a big if, so what? Instead of being locked in a box with an asshole, she’d be locked in a box with an unconscious asshole.

And also back on the execution block, most likely.

“You know, I knew all that, but it’s still funny to hear someone like you say it so serious-like.” She rolled her eyes. “And I really don’t care how expensive your table is.” She was vaguely aware that platinum was important for resisting benders, but she wasn’t sure what it had to do with her. Oh, wait, was it because of metal bending? She’d never even tried that, let alone seen it in action. She considered herself lucky that she knew it existed.

Then again, apparently her glassbending was even more special. At least according to this guy.

“Anyway, funny man, go ahead. Ask. I can’t stop you.” She really wished she could, though. “Keep making me laugh and I might even answer.”
Exit   
”Why’d you stay behind?”
KillamriX88   
“Dropping buildings on assholes like you gets me off. Next.”
Exit   
The light in Nelu’s eyes shifted. Brightened. ”So that was intentional.” He said, raising a brow. ”Even with what was going down that day, it would take some amount of know how to do what you did. A lot of practice I assume which… even then there isn’t much material out there to learn from. Self taught?”
KillamriX88   
“I had my ways. But yeah, not a lot of teachers to go around. So, you know, congrats on that one.” Chae-Won crossed her arms indignantly. “Take the cuffs off and I’ll show you a few more tricks I know.”
Exit   
Amusement and some slight surprise found Nelu’s expression once more. ”We were actually going to get to that but you know what… I’m okay with skipping to the good stuff.” Nelu pushed the chair back a bit and stood up. ”We tried to make sure you were well rested before we got to anything physical. We had some of our doctors look at your injuries and made sure your accommodations were as comfortable as possible. You look and sound like you had some rest. At least I hope you did. How was the Duster Hotel?”

When Chae-won blinked next, the room around her changed. She found herself standing in a much larger room than before. The ceiling above her was impossibly high and the room itself incredibly wide. The walls were again made of metal as were the ceiling and floors. Light filtered in from a skylight. In front of her was a block of dirt about as tall as she and twice as wide, a peculiar looking black rock that stood to just above her ankle and a pane of glass that was as tall and wide as she was and was fixed to a wooden frame that was standing up. Nelu was now at the other end of the room some fifty yards away. The objects in the center between them both. Chae also noticed that her wrists were no longer cuffed.

”I hear it’s quite nice.” He yelled out to her.
KillamriX88   
Chae-Won stumbled a little, disoriented by the sudden change in scenery. She rubbed her wrists, as she noticed she’d been let loose.

“All right, then…” She took a deep breath. “If you survive this, you’ll have to explain to me how you keep doing that,” she called back to him. Until just now, she’d been starting to think the Duster Hotel had been a hallucination of some sort, but now… now she wasn’t going to even bother trying to guess.

She began walking forward, running her hand across the pane of glass as she did.

“I’m sure you have some sort of plan, but… I really don’t have a reason to be gentle, so what happens, happens.” She knew the odds were probably horribly skewed against her in some way, but she had a lot of anger to let out right now.
She stomped down, only for the “rock” to… jiggle a little. She figured the boost to her bending must have worn off, but even so, that was just ridiculous. Nothing else felt wrong, though, so perhaps it was the rock and not her.

Well now she was even more pissed off.

“. . . fuck it.” She instead stabbed her hand into the block of dirt, and when she pulled it out, she’d gathered a fistful of gravel, leaving the softer earth behind. She then wound up almost like pitching a ball, and hurled the rocks at him. With her bending, it was more akin to a shotgun blast of stone flying at his face.
Exit   
Nelu moved almost too quickly, as if he had a read on the attack before it’d been sent. He’d ducked low and darted to the side, keeping toward Chae’s left and maintaining his distance while moving out of the way. 25 yards was not much, but there was enough space in between the two that any one else wouldn’t have been able to maintain control over the individual grains. The spread remained small enough that much of the force behind the throw was preserved and the impact against the wall was surprisingly effective. Nelu smiled.

In the middle of him stepping away, the round metallic device he was holding left his hand and as a second appeared from behind him, joining the first in an orbit around his person. He was making no obvious bending motions. ”Very nice!”

With a wide swing of his arm, one of the balls left its orbit and flew directly at Chae aiming for her wrist. It was moving about as fast as Chae's initial attack.
KillamriX88   
Chae-Won had no idea what the balls were, but she wanted no part of them. Maybe they were just his way of mimicking earth bending for the sake of the duel, or maybe they were zappy. Logic dictated that they probably wouldn’t affect her bending, as then what would be the point of this duel, but why take chances?

She didn’t have time for anything fancy as one flew at her so she did her best to side-step it.

With those things buzzing around, this would be annoying. She needed a moment.

She threw herself at the block of dirt, destabilizing it as she came into contact and sinking herself into it. When she was done, she found herself in a little pocket within it, doing her best to solidify it around her again. It had worked in the desert, hadn’t it?

She just hoped those metal balls weren’t strong enough to punch through.

What was even the point of this? Clearly this guy had some sort of interest in her. She thought back to the start of the conversation. He had clearly suspected she could bend metal, or at least had been prepared in case she could. She was an earthbender with knowledge of glassbending, so no doubt they were wary of her capabilities. They couldn’t know what she did and didn’t know, though by now he clearly knew she couldn’t metalbend if he’d been paying attention.

Did… he want her to? He actually seemed almost excited every time her capabilities were brought up. Was this some sort of twisted training?

That black lump of stone must have had metal in it. Perhaps it was a big chunk of unrefined ore. She just had no idea where to begin with it. Her bending wasn’t that good, especially now that the boost from the explosion was gone.

For now, metal was out, but she still had a few tricks. She remembered what that boost had felt like, so maybe she wasn’t back to square one exactly.

She slammed her hands against the inside of her earthen cocoon, and the whole thing crumbled to the floor. No longer compacted, she separated out the gravel from the soft dirt and spun it around her like the sandscreen she’d made in the desert… except much more painful to try and walk through.
It was hard, but the more she did it, the easier it got and the faster it spun. She’d never really had cause to push herself this hard in the past. Flashy shit like this was no go when you were trying to hide.

Today, she wasn’t hiding.

“Let’s try this again…” she muttered to herself. Her next move was to separate off a cluster of the spinning rocks and once more blast them at Tarnelu. This time, though, she had a lot more ammo in reserve to follow up.
Exit   
...That’s more like it…

Nelu’s smile widened as he looked upon Chae’s work, recognizing a hint of the technique she had used the other day. Although much smaller given the limited amount of dirt, and made entirely of small pebbles and gravel as opposed to sand, the power behind the attack was the same; her movements identical. A temporary boost in power from an explosion was no excuse for the skill involved in such a technique.

Again, as if too early, Nelu moved to the right, easily dodging the first of the volley of rocks. Before she could correct the rest of the stream, the metal ball that had been hovering above her head looped down and smacked her wrist, momentarily interrupting her. It flew back up into the air again and remained there.

”I’ve already seen that trick.”
KillamriX88   
Chae-Won hissed in pain as the ball struck her wrist, but in a way it emboldened her. So what if it hurt?. She’d had worse. It would take more than that to stop her.

The swirling stones began to wobble and drop, as she was interrupted, but she quickly spun, reaching out with her other hand to regather them and pulled them all toward her palm. She collected them between both hands and took a breath.

She’d done this before. She didn’t have to hide. This wasn’t the kid.

She could hurt him.

Once more she blasted the rocks at the man, but she fully put her anger into it. She fired them all at once, in a wide cone. He’d have to move real fast if he wanted to dodge them all this time. And this time she followed them, breaking into a run.

Even if some of the rocks hit, they’d have to hit something really important for them to put him down. No, she’d need to get closer and stop spraying gravel at random to do that. As she ran, she tried to keep an eye out for the metal spheres. She wanted to be ready this time.
Exit   
The attack was wide. Too wide. The cone spread so quickly and moved so fast that even with his early detection, dodging would be difficult. A dive had the potential to clear it but even then there would be risk for a follow up attack and he’d be too unbalanced to properly react. His options were slim.

The ball still orbiting him swung into position in front of his chest and suddenly burst, rapidly filling his side of the room in white steam. The released pressure was enough to repel the rocks back toward Chae and would have swept the room faster than she could react. She was thrown to the ground. Behind her, the rocks peppered the wall and broke the glass pane.

Although initially nearly scalding, the water vapor in the room quickly cooled until it was almost refreshing.

”That’s precision. Power… control, Chae-won. Noone should be this capable and yet here you are, forcing me to defend myself… and we’re not even in an open field.”

The water in the air and on the ground began to collect, drawing toward each other and to Nelu like the branches of a river. It snaked around him and climbed into the air, spinning into an ice ball that was hovering in front of him. ”No one gets this good by themselves so who taught you? Your father?... Your mother?”
KillamriX88   
Yep. There it was. The odds were well and truly stacked.

“Actually…” Chae-Won groaned as she slowly sat up. “It was your mother.” She pushed herself back to her feet and rolled her neck. “Or what, were you hoping I’d give someone up?” She chuckled darkly. “Sure. Why not? Want my home address? Or should I tell you where they’re buried?”

“Now come on. You’re putting me to sleep.” Of course he was a bender too. She’d have been disappointed if he wasn’t a hypocrite on top of everything else. A water bender this time? “You’re a bender too, right? Entertain me.” She stomped down on the ground hard, sending out a light tremor. All the scattered rocks from before leapt up and returned to begin swirling around her once again.

Maybe this was going nowhere, but she wasn’t going to be satisfied until she made him bleed.

”How about this…” The ball of ice began to rapidly melt and the released water began to spin around him. ”...You hit me just once, and I’ll tell you how I’m doing that ‘thing’. I’ll tell you about the ‘hotel’. ” The revolving water became a perfectly shaped orb that provided cover from all sides. ”You’re going to need a little more than a few rocks to get past this!” He yelled over the sound of water cutting the air. The speed of its rotation increased though it was hard to tell exactly how fast it was going what with how smooth the surface of the sphere was. Nelu stood in the center, waiting.
KillamriX88   
She fired a few stones at the shield, only to frown as they bounced off harmlessly. She knew she couldn’t just power through it the way she had against the air shield in the desert. Water had a lot more substance to it and would just grind anything she threw at it to dust.

Well, if he was just gonna sit there and wait…

She shut her eyes even as the rocks continued to orbit her, taking a deep breath to try and calm herself. Seconds ticked by, until finally she opened her eyes again. She fired off two more rocks, watching as they again deflected off the barrier of spinning water.

The swirling stones then dropped to the floor as she cut her control over them.

She took another deep breath, gathering her focus. All the rock and dirt from the collapsed block began to gather to her, forming into a large sphere before her. The sphere then contracted as she compacted it. Even then, it still stood about head-height before her, obscuring Nelu’s view of her.

A moment later she kicked it, sending it careening toward Nelu and his shield of water. However, right before it could collide with the shield, it came to a dead stop. A second passed, then another and another with it just sitting there… and then it began to spin.

On the other side, Chae-Won had dug her fingers into it and spun it, using her bending to increase the speed dramatically. It began to careen off sideways, finally allowing Nelu and Chae-Won to see each other again, but before it could get too far, Chae-Won swung it back into the shield.

The two spherical objects collided, seemingly to no avail… but then Nelu might realize part of her plan. The earthen sphere was rotating counter to his shield. She was trying to slow it down.

The next part of her plan was far simpler and more obvious. She cocked her other arm back and then smashed her fist against the shield. In any other situation, a simple punch would have been deflected, and even in the best case scenario, the flesh would have been flayed from her knuckles, if she didn’t just lose half her hand.

However, her arm up to just below her shoulder had been coated in a dark material. She’d found a way to bend, albeit crudely, the metallic rock.

Even so, the shield resisted her. Her own strength was nowhere near enough to break through. It was only her bending the material around her arm then held it in place and kept the hard coating from being eaten away by the surging water.

She could see plainly the gap between their skills. She could have been getting soaked as the water sprayed around her arm, but any loose droplets just got quickly absorbed back into the shield by his precise bending. Her own earthen sphere was already slowing to a halt, only its sheer bulk doing anything to slow the speeding waters, and even that was rapidly being eroded away.

But she was stubborn and, as her sphere was worn away, it just meant she could refocus her efforts onto her arm.

Finally, her fist broke through… but could come nowhere near close enough to reach the man within.
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It wasn’t until Chae had warped the metal rock around her hand and arm that he began showing any interest. Once the black material had pierced his shield, his eyes lit up and a smile spread across his lips that was less amused and more… enthused.

...Metalbending…

There it was in all its glory, protruding through the stream of water in defiance. A show of Earthbending he hadn’t seen in a long time. He wondered if his former teammate would have been as excited to see it as he was. Unfortunately for Chae, the victory was short lived as fighting against the quickly spinning orb was draining them of their strength. Shortly after breaking Nelu’s defense, Chae’s attack was repelled.
KillamriX88   
As her earthen sphere was worn down and cast aside, the surging water finally overwhelmed her, pushing her away and sending her tumbling.

She rolled to a knee and looked back up at the man, panting, one arm hanging limp, held imobile by the stiff, heavy armor she’d coated it in. Her fist, however, had now unclenched ever so slightly.

There was one place the surging waters did not cover. Directly at his feet where he had to stand. A place that should have been safe, as she could not bend it or reach it past the shield. Or at least, she shouldn’t have been able to.

Technically, she hadn’t. The object she’d dropped had.

. . . Moments Earlier. . .

Chae-Won shut her eyes. If he was just going to stand there and let her think, she’d take it. She knew nothing in her current repertoire could break through that shield, not with the limited resources given to her here. That chunk of ore or whatever it was could probably withstand it, but she couldn’t metalbend! . . . right?

She recalled the sight of him turning steam to ice and back to water again. It was like her glassbending, just bending two forms of one material. Except, it wasn’t really. Glass had undergone a permanent, chemical change from sand. It had been a huge pain to grasp that, but it was still earth.

Metal… wasn’t that. It came from the earth, but wasn’t earth. Yet… somehow it could be bent. Yet… not all of it. Why couldn’t platinum be bent? What was so important? Why had he left her that shiny, block rock like she could use it? What was the difference?

Maybe it was simple. Earth could be bent, metal couldn’t. A platinum table, or those cuffs, must’ve been refined to a level of purity that made it beyond her reach. A raw chunk like that? There must have been earth still within it, or even other types of more processed metal.

Metal came from the earth, and within it, earth must still remain.

If it was earth, it would answer her. She just had to make it listen. Just like glass, she would make it obey her.

She used some of her rocks to gauge the direction the shield spun, watching the direction they deflected off of it. She then dropped her own “shield” and focused, gathering all the earth at her disposal into one, large boulder-like sphere. As she sent it at Nelu, she called upon the metallic rock behind her. She found it, in between the metal, the earth; the impurities that she could actually manipulate.

At first, she wasn’t sure what she was doing here. What was the point of all this? Now she knew. The kid was out there, somewhere, and these people found her of enough interest to keep her around. As long as she was still there, someday she’d have a chance. Wherever he was in this world, she’d find her way back to him…

… and make them regret letting her evolve this much.

. . . Now. . .

She swung her free arm up, and a glistening shard rocketed toward his chin.
Exit   
Nelu sensed it only a second before it happened: An upward thrust entreated on something he wasn’t yet aware of. He looked down as Chae’s arm went up, just in time to catch a glint of something on the ground. There, near where his barrier met with the floor, was a piece of glass.

The small warning was the only reason why he didn’t end up with glass in his mouth. He leaned left, just as the edge of the shard was about to cut his jawbone. It flew past his ear and severed a strand of hair on his head before striking the interior of the barrier and ricocheting off of it. Immediately all the water in the room stopped. The orb. Any water on the ground. The mist in the air. Chae.

The orb was peeled open from the front and Nelu stepped through, holding a piece of glass in his and staring at it as if he were studying the thing. As he left the orb and it collapsed behind him, he turned to Chae, his smile looking as though it was on the verge of breaking into laughter.

That... was impressive.” He began. He moved closer to the woman and knelt down by her frozen figure. ”So not only do we have a Glassbender, we also have a Metalbender. Well… Kind of.” Nelu looked at the crudely shaped gauntlet Chae had made. It wasn’t perfect by any measure, but the fact that they were able to command the material to take any shape at all was impressive in itself. The implications were huge and the danger even more so.

He stood up again and dropped the glass on the floor. ”I don’t have any more questions.” He said, almost sounding as if he were happy about it. ”I actually have a date I’m looking forward to and I need to get going. I don’t want to keep them waiting. But… a deal is a deal. You didhit me so I owe you an explanation.”

”The uh… the hotel… the Duster Hotel”... Again, a strange sense of exhaustion came over Chae. Their eyelids became heavy and Nelu’s voice became warbled and hard to understand. ”It’s not a place.” Chae heard before blacking out.
Prompt:
Chae-Won awakens, lying on her back on a rather soft, comfortable mattress. Above her, a plain gray, cement like ceiling stares back. On all sides, plain gray walls. To the right is a stained wooden door that is slightly ajar and past it, white bathroom tiles are visible with a white fuzzy floor mat lying on top. To the left is a window with white sheen curtains drawn and outside, clear blue skies. The sounds of birds chirping can be heard. Past the foot of the bed and against the wall is a stained wood dresser about five feet tall and mounted to the wall is a large monitor. On top of the dresser is a remote with no buttons or markings, a small plant in a white pot and a small black pebble.

The room continues around the corner although what is down there is not currently visible.

There is a nightstand next to the bed, and on it is a tall asymmetrical cuboidal shaped lamp, a free floating digital time display, and a pen and notepad. 'Duster Hotel' is written at the top of the notepad. However, the 'T' on word 'Duster' is capitalized and looks like it's been slightly moved so that it is no longer aligned with the rest of the letters.

The bed itself is neatly made, beneath Chae, with two white pillows at the top and gray sheets tucked nearly perfectly underneath her. On the floor next to the bed is a pair of fuzzy gray slippers.
Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Mistress Dizzy
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The Underground · The Core · |@Mistress Dizzy] & |@Exit] CollaborationThe Underground · The Core · @Mistress Dizzy & @Exit Collaboration
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Mistress Dizzy   
Jin was mid-breath, about to continue with their worried ramble, when Nelu’s hand softly met theirs. The word 'beautiful' drifted to Jin’s ears. Between the low quality oxygen and the Captain's hand being so close to their heart he could have counted the beats, it was suddenly hard to breathe.

"...Seriously?" Jin froze up, obviously confused.

Like a computer with too many tasks to process, Jin’s mind ground to a screeching halt.
Exit   
Nelu gave Jin a carefully controlled nod, suddenly realizing what he was saying as his mind erupted into all out war. His mouth continued to move however, already satisfied with the way things were going. ”Not that yo-”

...STOP…

Nelu very quickly pivoted. ”...ooou know, I should be surprised. It’s Doc Li’s work. Of course it’s going to work. Even on me.” He removed his hand from its place just below her neckline and tapped his chest. ”I’ll be fine. Besides, I’ve got you with me. If all that time training with you taught me only one thing, it’s that I’ve got nothing to worry about with you around.”
Mistress Dizzy   
After Nelu spoke, there was nothing from Jin but silence. As the length went from "thoughtful pause" to "incredibly awkward", their eyes fluttered shut. Jin inhaled slow, and exhaled deep.

The Captain had lied.

But that wasn’t the unusual part. He was an interrogation specialist, after all. The man could sell hot tea in midsummer. Nelu could smile, frown, stare you in the eye, and spin bullshit with so much detail it was like you were there too. There was a reason they called the best ones "con artists", after all. Whenever Jin got to watch him work, it was like watching Hokusai paint live while they tried to follow with fucking fingerpaint. It pissed Jin off, every time.

The unusual part was that he had lied to Jin, directly in their face. Just as soon as they had figured out how to trust. Typical.

Jin opened their eyes, as if nothing was wrong. "The dress could make anybody look hot. Even a scrawny lil Roach." They grinned, and lied in their Captain's face. "I'll always have your back, Cap."

...

Exit   
It only took the pair a few hours of digging through the Underground to find the information they needed. Given that the tunnels and ratways were bereft of RSF and there was no shortage of criminal activity, sensitive information was not exactly kept secret. A few had been wary of the ‘strangers’ wandering around asking questions but eventually, thanks in large part to Jin knowing where to go and who to ask, a man was kind enough to point them in the right direction.

It was odd however. The attitudes they were given. The looks and responses. It almost seemed like pity. Like those in the know wanted to help. Like a curse such as theirs was a worse fate than being born into the darkness under the city.

It was impossible to tell the time down here. According to Nelu’s watch, it was late approaching midnight but the energy almost felt as if it could be midday. If anything, it felt as though time didn’t pass. He and Jin simply moved from one place to another. Now, they were standing on a platform cut into a wall under an unusually tall ceiling. Down below them, the entrance to ‘The Core’ glowed in lights meant to draw in the moths of the sewers. Promises of sin and sleaze spilled from the mouth of the club as men and women of the dirt clambered about outside. Most of them cared little about prying eyes in the sewer streets and continued galavanting around practically naked.

The rest were, again, dressed in extravagance. Like the market before, the trash of the world had been repurposed into something that could be called fashion and once again, Nelu found himself being treated to the lights and colors of another world. He was already beginning to acclimate.
Mistress Dizzy   
By the time the pair reached the Core, Jin was beginning to feel frayed. It had been a long time since they’d gone to the Underground for anything more than a quick visit or an off the books shopping trip. It was intoxicating, being back. And yet - it wasn’t quite a triumphant homecoming. Everything was different, and Jin couldn’t work out if the environment had changed, or they had.

And then there was Nelu.

It had taken Jin far longer than they had liked to work out the barest clue of his lies. If Captain Dermok had a consistent tell, Jin wasn’t good enough to spot it. But they had picked up a few things. Usually it was in his voice. Not what he said, but how he said it. The slightest little vocal hitch, as if he had to slip an untruth through his teeth.

Jin knew for sure, now, that the Captain was not okay. That lie had been less of a hitch and more of a hiccup. Clear as neon at night. But they had the sense that there had been a second lie. Unfortunately, they had no clear way of telling what it was.
Exit   
”Have you been inside before?” He had asked them as they watched the entrance.
Mistress Dizzy   
Blinking twice, Jin answered Nelu’s question as if they hadn’t been deep in thought. “Nah. Never had a reason. Couldn’t afford the cover price if I did.” They peered toward the club below. “I really hope we can get the info and just… bounce.” One hand went to the clasp, again. Instead of toying with it, they slipped a fingernail in the back, revealing a false back. Inside lay a nearly microscopic network of wires and the tiniest bit of glass Jin had ever seen.

Carefully, they pressed a small button. A red light began to blink within, and then Jin closed it up, setting it back on their neck as if it was just another bauble like any woman would wear.

“Say hi to the Doc, Captain.”
Exit   
Nelu turned to Jin at the mention of Doc Li and then looked down at the necklace. Of course it wasn’t the first time he’d seen it, but this was the first time he was being directed toward it for a reason and Immediately he understood what was going on. He felt a small piece of himself die inside.

”Are we sure that hasn’t been on the entire time?”

Of course there would be eyes on them, even down here. And given Li’s skill, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume she’d managed a live feed despite them being separated by layers and layers of dirt and concrete. When it was her, nothing was entirely out of the realm of possibility. He had to wonder what she’d already seen if the camera had indeed been on. His blushing? His touching Jin’s chest? The stupid shit that was coming out of his mouth?
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin gave him a curious look. Either they were misunderstanding his tone, or the Captain was nervous. “Hm? Yeah. The battery’s limited.” They turned their body toward the club, lifting a hand between them. In the dim light, they made 3 separate military hand signals. -Commander- -All Clear- -Follow-

And then they started heading down toward the club without further explanation. Maybe the Captain was just getting the subterflu or something. Whatever it was, Jin needed to be sharp and ready enough for them both.
Exit   
Nelu noted the hand signs and followed after Jin. They made their way down a sloping path that carved between stone and metal structures buttressed against bedrock. Stepping over wiring and loose stone and exiting into the open ‘street’ below: ‘The Bowl’ as it were or the very bottom of the known world. Here, a causeway of sorts kept feet dry and most out of the muck swimming along the sides. The trash and grim however was ignored. They were little more than embellishments in a place built around the filth. What was more pressing was the weight of the air. It was heavy and thick and somehow inebriating and as the pair approached the entrance to ‘The Core’, it only grew worse. Jin had already gotten used to it. Nelu was still… acclimating, but he was a quick learner. Despite never having been down this far and despite the lack of clean oxygen and the way Jin had been pulling at his attention all night, he was able to remain somewhat level headed and keep on mission.

Like before, his eyes weren’t the only eyes sticking to Jin’s form. Although the disguise was made to blend in, it was almost working too well. Jin was standing out in a crowd they belonged in. People weren’t eyeing them in scrutiny but in awe.

Nelu smiled.

He wasn’t sure if it was the sound of the bass, the lack of air, the way Jin had been messing with him or if it was because he knew Doc Li would be watching, but suddenly, he knew what he had to do. Their mission was intelligence and they were entering ‘The Core’ through the front door. He could have told himself it was part of the disguise but he knew it wasn’t true. They had time and he had Jin.

While onlookers were eyeing them both, some seeming like they wanted to move in and make a move on Jin themselves, Nelu stepped up first. He whispered into Jin’s ear as he approached them from behind. ”Hey.” He began, holding out his hand this time. ”Come on. It’s my turn and I have to make up for that ‘dance’ from earlier. Wanna give the doctor a good show?”

Besides when they entered the Underground, Jin had been leading them the entire time. Nelu was almost sure they would have gotten here all on their own, and much faster if he hadn’t been around to slow them down.
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin was acutely aware of the eyes on them as they approached the Core. They let their gaze sweep the crowd, not making direct contact with anyone. This disguise was maybe too good. Everyone wanted the platinum lady, and no one could see that she was just a silver floater. Just another lie.

Nelu’s voice caught them two steps from the front entrance. As he held out a hand, Jin hesitated. On one hand, they were supposed to stay under the radar as much as possible. On the other, what was life without a little dramatics?

And besides, it wouldn't hurt to pretend to be someone worth Nelu’s attention for a few more hours, would it?

Jin lay a hand in Nelu’s, grinning wide. "Whatcha got in mind?"
Exit   
“A date.”

Nelu winked at Jin and pulled them a little closer as they both stepped under the glowing arches of the entrance. Light fell over them like a curtain; a ‘hot’ orange that clashed with the brilliance in Jin’s irises and the lights embedded in their dress. The walls and ceiling here were made to look like molten rock and would have been an eye catching visual if not for the very obvious distraction. He held Jin’s gaze as he led them further inside. ”How does that sound?”

Around them both, the air began to vibrate to the sound of music pouring from inside.
Mistress Dizzy   
“A da-”
Jin blinked as their brain shorted, shut down, and reset in the span of a second. The lights lit their face orange-red. “...Damn. You really do want to make the Doc squirm.”

They had to work to tear their eyes away from Nelu’s. The longer he stared, the more Jin felt like diving into things headfirst, consequences and all.

Jin had to fight back a wave of tremors, ones that had nothing to do with the bass starting to rattle their eardrums. This whole mission was getting out of hand. There was a small part of them that wanted to leave Nelu and his pretty brown eyes outside the Core. It wasn’t as large a space as they’d thought. With the Flying Frog part of their mind back in play, Jin figured there would be plenty of ways to slip into Hunang’s little bender bash.

But, even with his increasingly bizarre behavior, Nelu was still technically in charge of this whole operation. Jin would catch all kinds of heat for going out of bounds, even if it did work. Perhaps one of these days, they’d get to plan it their own way. That was if the two of them survived the night in one piece. Frankly, there wasn’t much to work with. Apparently they were going to put some skills into play that were downright rusty.

Jin turned back to Nelu, flashing a charming smile. Their eyes peeked upward at Nelu through dark lashes. The expression was pure calculation; from the ever so slightly leaned posture, to the come-hither gaze. Lesser men would drop their last yuan, climb the walls of Omashu barehanded, commit a miracle or a murder - anything a lady asked when the move was used by a master practitioner of the bedroom arts. Jin was no master, but all they needed Nelu to do was follow.

“It sounds fantastic. Let’s go!”

Exit   
It was always interesting to watch how someone might handle surprise; what’d they say or do or the faces they’d make. Nelu saw it all the time when he was doing interrogations. The best liars could mask their emotions, take the new information and turn it around to their advantage. The worst froze up, didn’t know how to react and would spend the next few minutes stumbling over their own words to try and dig themselves out of the hole they’d been put in.

Jin was by no means an amateur… but even then, just like Nelu before, their body betrayed them. Nelu had frozen for far too long. Allowed himself to be enraptured in Doc Li’s work and let his eyes wander, giving Jin quite possibly the clearest picture ever to that part of him. When it was Jin’s turn, to their credit, they never actually froze, not like before. All Nelu was given was a stop mid sentence. Their pivot too was remarkably fast as if they’d sorted through what they were feeling and what they had to do in a matter of a second. It wasn’t a surprise really. Jin had always been good at calculations on their feet although recently it had become obvious that cracks appeared when they were around Nelu. Their small reset was not enough to tell him what he wanted to know. The blush, however, was. Despite orange stained cheeks, a slight red hue showed through… and would have been more than enough of an answer. But Jin didn’t stop there.

The slight lean and the way they looked up at him. Movements familiar to him but unfamiliar on the person whose hands he was holding. The imitations of a woman enraptured that was reflected and then worn like so many faces before. It was the innate skill of the person beneath the visage of beauty and perfection before him and one of the many things about Jin that Nelu found… attractive. He resisted an urge but his eyes sparkled.

Despite what he was hearing and seeing, the answer was in fact ‘yes’.

”No.”

But the timing was all wrong. Nelu knew it as he turned to see a man standing in between him and the rest of the club. He was tall and wide, standing at over six feet and nearly blocking the entire path inside that was at least two people wide. The man himself was built like a mountain. His muscles flexed easily as he waved the others in and began to try and usher Jin inside.

She can stay. You can leave.”

Nelu audibly sighed. For one, he knew walking right in was going to be too easy. Not just that, but every time he suggested something for them to do, playful or otherwise, the universe seemed to throw something back to interrupt. For another, the man, like everyone else they’d run into, was wrong. He fought the urge to correct him as it was Jin’s disguise after all. Saying too much might reveal the Flying Frog’s homecoming. She and I are together.”

”Not tonight, unless you can pay the entrance fee.”

Further behind the man, the light of the tunnel faded into darkness. Music continued to pour in from that direction but standing sentry were two more individuals. They were barely visible from the ambient orange glow that struggled to enter the dark. Those walking in were stealing glances at Nelu and Jin before continuing on inside. Each of them were similarly dressed up like Jin had been, though the look often paled in comparison.
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin pivoted calmly, ignoring the go-ahead from the massive bouncer. If Nelu was still paying attention, he might detect a shift in their behavior. Their posture and presentation flipped from sexy to sweetie, all in a three second turn. Subtle, strategic, well-executed. If it was a Chuiwan game, there would have been applause.

They stared up (and up) at the man, sighing and pursing their lips. “Why can’t he come with me? He’s my date. A girl like me can’t go in a club like that all alone.” Back again was that high voice and prim speech.
Exit   
”Oh don’t you worry. You won’t be alone, sweetheart.” The larger man gestured at one of the others and they peeled away from the shadows and began to approach Jin. ”You’ll have plenty of company tonight.”

Nelu’s eyes snapped over to them. This was a headache. Yet another one in a long line of them. ”How much is the fee?”

”A thousand Yuan.”

”A thousand Yuan?”
Mistress Dizzy   
It was a testament to Jin’s talent, the way they managed to keep the sheer irritation from showing. There was no time for this game, but what could they do but play along? "A thousand? That's… a lot." They scowled and sighed, looking back at Nelu. "I guess we'll just have to drink water, sweetie."
Exit   
”God you are good…”
Mistress Dizzy   
A placating smile was flashed at the bouncer. "Fine. We have a formal agreement? One thousand Yuan and he can join me?"
Exit   
”That’s right.”

It was Nelu’s turn to sigh as he reached into the fold of his jacket and pulled out a small wad of cash. ”Really bleeding me dry, huh?” He shook his head as he thumbed through a few bills, counting up to the desired amount before the man’s larger hand clasped down over his and pulled the entire stack out of his hands. A total of 2000 yuans, plucked away as if he were taking candy from a child. Nelu feigned surprise.
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin also played indignant, face screwing up into a pout that was actually kind of adorable.
Exit   
”That should cover it.” The man said, picking through his take and waving Nelu on dismissively. Not wanting to waste time with a door that could close on him at any moment. He simply nodded and moved to Jin.

Behind the bouncer, the other individual had by now closed the distance between himself and Jin. They placed a hand over Jin’s wrist as if they meant to take them aside, but before they could, they were immediately interrupted by Nelu. Nelu’s fingers wormed their way under the man’s thumb and as he pulled back toward himself, he torqued the man’s wrist in the wrong direction eliciting a yelp of pain. Nelu didn’t say a word. Only stared him down, but even from the side Jin would notice a fire in his eyes. An anger they seldom saw or never have that seemed to vibrate the air around them.

”Let them through.”

”Agh! What? Why?! The bitch is mine!”

Nelu applied more pressure and the man's face contorted as his breath caught in his chest and he dropped to a knee.

”He paid, yuh idiot. Let them through.” The bouncer waved the wad of cash in the air so everyone could see.

Nelu released his grip on the man and allowed him to nurse his nearly broken wrist. When he could finally focus on something other than the pain burning through his arm, he looked up and gave them both a curt head nod toward the entrance. ”Get on then. You two have fun in there…”

”Thank you.” This time, Jin would feel Nelu’s arms slip around their back and his hand grip just above their hip. He kept them close to him as they both continued onward.

”Sorry. I hope you don’t mind me being a little selfish and keeping you to myself tonight.”
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin was so startled by what had happened a few seconds ago that they didn’t seem to notice Nelu’s closeness or his touch at first. They were looking back over their shoulder, watching the two bouncers with a wide gaze. It was over, but for how long? “I coulda helped.” They murmured quietly, refocusing with a mild sigh.

Then the lack of space between Nelu’s body and theirs smacked Jin square in the base of their overworked brain. To Jin’s credit, they had been on high alert the moment that second bouncer had touched them. The Core was unknown territory - anyone could be an enemy. It was game on; neither of them could afford any more slip ups. They didn’t make a noise, and even managed to keep from blushing. The only reaction they couldn’t completely bury was a shiver that ran through them, from head to toe. It would be impossible for Nelu to miss the goosebumps, so Jin simply kept their eyes fixed ahead. If they registered anything else about the whole situation, they would not be able to complete the mission safely.

“Hope that wasn’t your cash back there.” Their voice was back to their usual octave, too low to be heard by anyone else. “I’ll pay you back later. Loving the overprotective boyfriend bit, too. You really sell it.”
Exit   
”Well considering I’m not…” Nelu shook his head and snorted, turning to Jin with a light in his eyes that seemed almost brighter than theirs. He could feel it. Feel them and their body reacting to his touch and their proximity. They were dancing on a cliff and Jin was skirting on the edge of it, anchored to safety only by Nelu’s whim. The mask they wore said they were fine even as they knew they could fall at any moment, but then so too did Nelu’s.

”Come on.”

Jin would never know how he felt. How every time their hand was in his, electricity burned across his skin. How every time they looked up at him, he felt his chest tighten and the air leave the room. How right now, their warmth pressed into the crook of his arm and into his side was everything to him. They would never know, because the blush in his cheeks was colorless.

Was colorless…
Mistress Dizzy   
“Yep. Lead on.” Jin glanced aside at their Captain, briefly, before facing toward the destination.

A thief’s eyes had to be sharp. A sniper’s eyes, sharper. Jin knew what they’d had seen, even in just a second’s gaze. The Captain was… blushing. Although they didn’t flinch or falter, their mind was in a sudden free fall. A dozen data points from over the past several hours started to puzzle into place behind Jin’s false blue eyes.

Things had been a little odd from the start, it was true. But the Captain was getting stranger and more erratic by the minute. The staring, the touching, the way he’d damn near ripped that bouncer’s hand off, and now the absolutely adorable anomaly of his blush…

Understanding clicked behind their brain, from one step to the next. Suddenly, everything made complete sense. Except, of course, why it had taken Jin this long to work it out in the first place.

As the two stepped into the Core’s interior, Jin could feel nothing but the overwhelming pulse of the bass, and the solidity of warmth of the man beside them. They let their hand slip into Nelu’s for the briefest of moments, and gave it a squeeze. A silent promise, to him, and themself. One way or another, they’d make it back out.
Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Exit
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Exit   
”Why thank you.” Vyska said to the boy as she took a small crumb cake from the plate, thankful for the distraction and the interruption. Although she’d secretly hoped both men beat each other into the ground, she knew the commotion wasn’t going to have a good effect on the rest of the attendees. Tensions were already high. She didn’t need someone else escalating things and further muddying the water she was treading.

After taking the cake, she turned to Lana and flashed her a greeting smile. ”And it is nice to see you, Lana.”

”Quite. Ever the ray of sunshine you are.” Lani commented. There was minimal effort to hide the disdain, however, when the boy offered her the plate, she smiled and took one of the sweets. ”And you, Xu. Here to ruin my fun as always?”

Kaye took one as well and thanked them both.
Katakuri   
When the young boy approached him and offered a small dessert plate to him, Soran offered a faint smile, "I appreciate the offer, but I have to kindly reject," he ruffled the young boy’s hair. Glancing over to Tao Xu, Director of the Republic Security Force – what an entrance… he thought in the slight remembrance of the director using such an authoritative voice.
He let his eyes wander over to the other figure, Miss Cheng, who was dressed beautifully. Most people that were attending this event were dressed pleasantly. Some more than others. Soran did not let his eyes stay on the woman or the Director too long, since he was not extremely interested in tonight's whole ordeal. He didn’t know exactly what was going down tonight, he had a slight idea, but he was realizing things kept getting more and more interesting. It was odd that An Tamura was still in such a high ranking position in the Moon company. Tensions were already high. He tried to talk himself out of coming, but he knew that the LSF would chew him out. Soran barely realized that he grabbed the full glass of champagne as a waitress walked by with a full platter of beautiful crystal glasses. Taking a sip was the realization that he had himself another drink. Sighing into the rim of the cup, "I hope this night starts to speed up," whispering as he took a sip before sitting down. He wondered if there was anything to read around here to keep him busy, a gazeta or something.
Fiber   
When it came to fighting, Xiaoxu’s mind went to what he knew best: the law. He had figured out his legal strategy before he had even made his first threat, his mind was firing off dates and cases like a machine gun, checking everything to make sure he couldn’t be charged for assault for the acting of kicking Kata’s ass. The doctrine of mutual combat, which holds that combat between two consenting adults and causes no collateral damage is not a crime and thus not triable as assault, dates back to earth kingdom customary law but was formally codified during the era of Yangchen when the Earth Kingdom moved to adopt a legal system inspired by the Fire Nation’s Code of Szeto, which also had statutes that recognize mutual combat. This remained on the books for several centuries, and was implicitly part of the law during the founding of the United Republic of Nations in Republic Year 1, but ambiguities remained particularly due overlap with a Fire Nation colonial statute that was also in place, until Mushi v. Korra was decided by Republic Superior court in Republic Year 60. The framework of the three part test involving mutuality, intentionality, and avoidance of collateral harm has been upheld through numerous cases over the years and was formally included in law during the criminal code reform of Republic Year 137 that followed the restoration of the monarchy and constitutional reforms; subsequent statues have carved out exceptions for scenarios involving pre-arranged fights, commercial or criminal enterprise, demonstration or use of techniques banned for national security purposes, but none of those would apply in this case. After all of that, it occurred to Xiaoxu that he should actually think about how to fight. The only thing he could call on were the fight scenes from Nuktuk: Blood on the Ice, the blockbuster mover that revived an old franchise with a darker edge and a storyline approved by the government. His violent fantasies ended abruptly when Tao Xu entered the scene and shut down their would-be fight, after that the only thing that raced into Xiaoxu’s head were the RSF’s incredibly broad powers to detain and punish individual deemed to be damaging to state affairs; he’d even helped write some of those statutes that Tao could employ.

Xiaoxu took a deep breath, and changed his tone of voice. He really did hate Kata, but now wasn’t the time to show, he had to put on an act like he was listening. There was still a chance for him to get a snipe in at An. He gave a full, formal bow and said “I apologize, Commander Xu. I don’t know what got into me. I’d truly hate for there to be another criminal at the table, I think having Miss Tamura is enough for us. If she objects, I’m sure she’ll have a good explanation for why she shot a RSF security bot while running from officers, or where exactly Chu went when authorities lost track of her just as she was running on a route that could take her to An’s apartment, or why exactly An’s access card was used in the tunnels during that very eventful afternoon. Don’t take my word for it, you all can look it up, case number 1529519, request the recor-“

Zhen interrupted him. “That’s enough. Is this really why we came here? I hope we can have some more productive discussions, I’m sorry about this, Commander Xu. I’m happy to see you here, Mrs. Cheng, I think we can all learn from your example and how you never stop finding ways to help the people of the city.” She had slipped back quietly, around the time Tao Xu had restored order. She didn’t know the exact events that had transpired in her absence, but even thinking about them made her embarrassed. Zhen Xiaoxu returned to their seats, both looking like they wished they could turn invisible.
Exit   
That man knew a lot. Way more than he should and it was obvious now why. Vyska hadn’t taken the time to check to see who An’s case was being passed to. It’d only been a day and her and An had a lot more to discuss than something she still figured could be easily handled. Now, it was clear that Xiaoxu had gotten the case and suddenly she was having a headache. This absurdity of his obnoxious ranting was driving her up a wall and the poise of calm and strength her family had hammered into her was waning.

”No please, don’t stop now. The man has already ruined one bit of fun for me. I’m not about to pass up on a good story. And trust, An. Believe me when I tell you that I too would like to shoot one of his roobutts. Complete buzzkills the lot of them.” She glanced up at Tao. ”Did it feel good?”

”She will not be discussing the details of the case… at the palace.” Vyska glanced from Lani to Xiaoxu. Lani rolled her eyes and leaned back in her chair. ”Incase everyone has gotten lost, we are not at a hearing and in case you’ve forgotten, Professor Zhang... innocent until proven guilty. Or did you misplace your law degree on the way here along with your last name? Perhaps we’re a professor short, tonight. I apologize, Zhang.”

”Wouldn’t be the first criminal in this room.” Another man suddenly appeared standing awfully close to An. He smiled down at her and winked from behind a pair of dark shades. Of course she couldn’t see it but his cheek did move a little. He wore a very clean, tailored black jacket suit that was open at the front, black dress pants and shoes, black gloves and a white button up with the top two buttons undone. Like the suit that looked as if it had been meticulously put together, his hair too had been carefully sculpted and was glistening in the low light of the room. It also didn’t seem to move much at all. ”But the real crime tonight is having to be seated so far away from a beauty like you… Miss Tamura.” One hand found the back of her seat and the other flourished in front of him as he introduced himself. ”Yuri Zolta at your… humble service.”

”Yuri. Please don’t touch her chair.”
canaryrose   
While Vyska was embarrassed and a bit frustrated, An was shaking with rage and mortification. Her face turned a mottled red, a vein bulging in her neck. She bit her lip to keep herself from screaming. How dare he? How did he even know this? It hadn’t been reported, it wasn’t known. Her embarrassment didn’t need to be screamed to the world. She felt the gazes of everyone at the table, looking at her like she was either a rabid animal or an amusing curiosity, and wanted to punch someone in the face. She didn’t comment, instead letting Vyska talk as she looked away, her anger and indignancy turning to tears welling up in her eyes. She was pretty sure that if she opened her mouth, she'd either start sobbing or screaming obscenities. Do NOT cry. For perhaps the billionth time that night, she wished Chu was sitting next to her. If only so she could have a hand to hold or a stalwart defender other than an ultra-rich blonde 8 years her junior. But Chu was the whole reason everyone was looking at her like this. She was the reason An was a criminal.

Then, a man entered her space from behind. She turned in her chair to face him, still looking upset. Yuri Zolta. A mobster, about as greasy as they came, and he was right in her space, his hand hovering just millimeters from her back. He smelled strongly of cologne. She felt trapped.

It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. An stood from her seat suddenly, shaking. “You’re not even remotely my type. I’m also nothing like you. Excuse me.” She made to squeeze past him, visibly distressed.

He grabbed her hand suddenly, bringing it to his lips. And then, just like that, An shoved him about as hard as she could muster, putting both hands on his chest and pushing him away from her. “Keep your hands off of me!” she practically shouted, shrilly, and then realized what she had done. She blushed a deep red and made to leave… but not before grabbing her wine glass and upending it over Xiaoxu’s head as she walked away. It dripped onto his white suit, staining it red.

“Whoops. Go fuck yourself.” She left the table.
Katakuri   
Katakuri Soran would be lying if he said he didn’t feel for An, she was the center of attention at her table. Zhen’s husband was spewing nonsense – maybe not nonsense – Xiaoxu was barfing words to make everyones else leave him and onto something else. He was good at making such scenes, why does anyone invite him to these things? Glancing over to Zhen, he could read the embarrassment on her face.

Rolling his eyes, he decided the best option was to stay out of it or try to. If he kept throwing the hook over to Xiaoxu, they would definitely get into a physical arrangement. Everyone at the Moon, Tamura, Lun, and others at the table seemed to be odd with tension. Everything that happened tonight was building up more and more tension. A pin seemed to be stabbed into the sore of tonight's conversations, Yuri Zolta was trying his best to compli– flirt? Flirt with An Tamura, and Katakuri couldn’t tell if the man was flat out stupid or never heard of the famous stickball player, Chu Hua Yuan. Maybe Soran had a very small, very annoying 4-year old that would tell him all about the stickball players, especially her favorite ones. If a 4-year old can catch on that An and Chu Hua swing a certain way…through a television screen. Does this man live under a rock? He never noticed before, but he was starting to consider that most people who attend these events have no common sense or life outside of themselves.

Taking another sip of the champagne, he hated the taste of it, but it was his only drink. Looking over his shoulder, he was trying to mind his own business, though he was too interested in what was happening around him. Nothing else was interesting. He looked right in time for An’s small, yet very understandable outburst towards the mobster. Chuckling at the scene unfolding, he covered his mouth and looked away, attempting to hide the laugh that was trying to escape his body from seeing Xiaoxu drenched in wine.
dreamingflowers   
Lana exchanged pleasantries when she was addressed , remaining aware of the lingering tension. Things seemed to come to a head when a glass of wine was promptly emptied on one of the guests. An Tamura, the woman she knew only by name and reputation stormed off. While Lana did not in any way support what Xiaoxu claimed, nor thought this to be the right time and place, she handed him one of the silk napkins as a sign of good will.

Chey watched the events unfold with wide eyes, all the while stuffing his face with snacks like he was watching his favorite cartoon. He spotted Tao Xu and tapped on Lana’s shoulder.

“Is that the police? Are they going to be arrested?”

Lana smiled and shook her head.
“Not exactly. I’ll explain it to you later.”
Exit   
”Although they should be arrested.” Varrick swung around the second table, completely avoiding the first and sat down near Lana leaving a seat between them empty. ”Mrs. Cheng. Mr. Katakuri.” He said to the others already seated, giving them both a simple nod in greeting. ”And who might this be?” He smiled at the child in Lana’s lap.

The ambient song came to an end in soft, scattered applause and Jie was ushered off the stage. Another person took their place, walking up to the mic and tapping it gently to get everyone’s attention once more. ”If we can have everyone please take their seats.”

Vyska stood, gave Xiaoxu another look of disapproval and left the table as well, following after An.

Yuri, who had nearly fallen on his ass, recovered quickly with a sheepish smile playing under his shades. He fixed his jacket and dusted himself off. ”Looks like I’m a little rusty. I’ve never had two women storm off on me before.” He pausd. ”Actually, that’s a lie.” He then flashed another smile at the table and when his eyes found Tao, he finger-gunned him. ”Don’t worry, officer. I’ll be on my best behavior from here on out.” He said before moving to the other table and taking a seat next to Varrick.

”Maybe this table isn’t so bad.” Lani commented. ”Everyone is usually so tightly wound up like a spring. It’s nice to see people let loose once in a while.”
Katakuri   
Giving the other man a faint smile, "Mr.Varrick" he politely greeted the other in the same way. Varrick was usually a pleasant individual or someone that he could withstand. Most people in the Gala were not people that Soran could personally stand or professionally tolerate — there were a few he could not tolerate in any situation, Xiaoxu. That man was annoying…

This second man was as annoying, in a different way, and he sighed. Rolling his eyes at Yuri Zolta’s comment. "Yuri Zolta, I have met a box of rocks smarter than you…" Soran’s tone was half-heartedly said with an underlying tone of coldness. Was this man serious? He found a second person that he couldn’t tolerate in most situations. He wondered if Xiaoxu and Yuri would become best friends, they were made for each other.

Katakuri glanced at Lani when she commented about the second table being better. Shrugging his shoulders, he truly did not have an answer for her, "Everything is subjective at this point." Soran chuckled at his comment while taking another sip from his champagne glass.
Exit   
”I’d very much like to meet those rocks.” Yuri flashed Kata a smile and waved down one of the servers. ”How’s the Soran family business these days?”
Katakuri   
The eldest children of the Soran looked at Yuri, trying to figure out if he was jokingly saying his words or if he was being serious – he hoped the man wasn’t being serious. His brows furrowed at the thought, I am surrounded by idiots…, and he let his gaze fall to the table with that thought.
Yuri pulled him out of the thought and mid-life crisis that he began to have under the realization that he had to be here all night long. All night. With people. With people who were like Xiaoxu… people like Yuri Zolta… those people. Shifting out of his thoughts and having a neutral expression, he sighed, "The Soran family business is currently doing very well. Our stocks increased by 5% annually and our SEO and marketing strategies have given a roadway to install a handful of more institutes in the middle ring. Along with those advancements, we have been able to improve modernization and automation for the majority of the middle ring." taking a breather for a moment. He remembered what his younger sister has been doing, "Aisonu Soran has been improving our growth by investing in paid search marketing and creating a banking app with crypto currency markers to effectively create a mobile presence in the banking world. The Soran family company has been going through a lot of advancements that are benefiting everyone," he informed the other man, doubting that he would understand any of this.
FunnyGuy   
Despite the attention Commander Xu received, he kept his replies subtle. Tao hadn't even taken a seat, choosing to stand for now with arms crossed at his chest. He gave a head nod here, a smirk there. Zuri Zolta had naturally earned a scowl of course. Tao wouldn't voice it but he was much more concerned with what Gala had to offer than playing enforcer for these types. That, and he was being pinged on his comms headgear. Before he took the transmission, his eyes found Lana. Another bout between us. As always when it comes to advising the king. He touched his head piece and walked away from the table.

“Commander Xu. Report.” His face remained neutral as he listened in until his eyes widened and reflexively looked at Katakuri. “Well, I have Katakuri Soran here with me at the Gala as I speak. I will deliver the news to him. Out.” Tao nodded to himself a few times. He and I both needed this news… He strode over to Katakuri, giving him a single nod before discreetly pointing over to a space where others could not easily pry.

“Mr. Soran. There is something I must share with you. It is both sensitive and pressing. Please.”


_______________________________........
Evening · Washroom · |@canaryrose]Evening · Washroom · @canaryrose
____________________________________________________________________________.
Vyska followed after An, out of the main room and down one of the side paths leading away from the dining hall. With the sound of voices, platters and laughter muted behind several layers of walls, she found the halls much more peaceful. The only sound here was that of her boots padding along carpeted floors and the slight hum of electricity from sconced lights. The people were fewer too and less talkative. A simple greeting nod was enough as she passed them to the washroom ahead.

Immediately on the other side of the door, she found An, sitting by herself on one of the couches. Vyska shut the door behind her… and locked it.

”I could have Jack murder everyone at that table for you.”


_______________________________........
Evening · |@Katakuri] & |@FunnyGuy]Evening · @Katakuri & @FunnyGuy
____________________________________________________________________________.
Katakuri   
In between his smart-ass comments and all the tension between everyone, he noticed the signaling from the commander. Raising a brow, did I go too far with that last comment? Soran thought he might get told to stop his comments since someone would be bound to react badly to them, so he slowly stood up. Walking over to where the commander politely asked him to go without vocalization.

Standing there, he slipped a hand in his pocket as he looked over to the commander – only a foot or two away from the other man. "I thought I was coming over here to get scolded about my commetering" Katakuri’s voice was playful, since he was trying to keep himself in a good mood, but he understand that important things could come up at tonight's Gala. He didn’t think that the commander knew about the LSF or knew that he was in it, so he was confused about what sensitive and pressing information that the man needed to tell him. "If I am not being scolded for being an idiot. What is happening that needs you to pull me aside?" Katakuri was trying to think of other things. What could be wrong or important to pull him aside? Neither of his younger sisters were having children or medical issues at this time. Most didn’t know about Chosah. His parents were fine when he left the house. Did someone steal the family car he was using? Is that broken? Money could fix that. His mind was going through all the checkboxes, nothing popped out to him.
FunnyGuy   
There was a slight drop in Tao's shoulders as he got ready to deliver the news. One was never prepared for something of this matter, especially someone thing like this. Who would be, unless they were involved in some way? This will crush him, and now of all times is…. It's almost poetic. He glanced around to again make sure their conversation was private.

“There's no way to sugarcoat this, so I'll just say it plainly.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Katakuri Soran, your father has been murdered…” He let his words sink in before delivering the killing blow. “...and your mother has been taken into custody as a prime suspect. The RSF is doing everything in our power to find out the direct cause and the motive.” He stopped there. Beating the man over the head with legal terms while he received the shocker of his life wasn't Tao's intention. He was there to inform, to perform his duty. The effect, however, now that was just something extra. The maliciousness wasn't personal. It was quite simply, convenient.


_______________________________........
Evening · Dining HallEvening · Dining Hall
____________________________________________________________________________.
”Everyone. We will begin momentarily. Please take your seats.”

The murmur of the crowd began to die down as everyone found their place in the room. Despite a few recently vacated seats and late arrivals, the entire floor of the dining hall was filled. A full display of the most powerful faces and families in Ba Sing Se.

After a few silent moments, the man on stage stepped to the side allowing the King to take the microphone. The sixth of his name, Wu was an elderly man in his forties with hair just starting to grey and a face that seemed far more weary than it should have been. His darker eyes held the slightest tinge of uncertainty as he looked into the crowd. On him was a long white gown embroidered along the edges with gold and along the front and back with swirling patterns that seemed like branches on a tree. As he walked toward the center of the stage, there was no further announcement or fanfare on his part, although those at the tables did begin to applaud him. He quickly held up his hand.

”Please.” He said softly, although his voice remained strangely commanding. Once everyone had finished settling in and were looking up at him, he continued. ”I want to thank everyone for being here today during such trying times. I know how disappointing it was to some that the Gala had to be rescheduled but it is truly a joy to see everyone here today. Truly… a joy.” He looked over the crowd, his weary dark eyes illuminated by the spot of light trained on him.

”Just a few days ago, our city suffered a loss unlike any in centuries. The sudden appearance of Benders across every ring of Ba Sing Se introduced chaos, fear… death on a scale unseen since the war. Since then, we’ve worked tirelessly to restore order and recover from the damage inflicted but even as we do and our lives continue moving forward, important questions remain unanswered.”

“Why?” He paused, looking over the room as if he were asking them directly. “Who are we to blame?” His eyes glanced toward the empty seat that was Vyska’s. At her table, a few faces already looked quite disappointed with the recent turn of events, one of which had a very prominent red stain covering his white clothes.

”Some might say it was SynEn, the very power company whose synergy facility was the center of the explosion. Some might say it was the work of terrorists or gangs unhappy with the living conditions in the Lower Ring enacting the first step in their plan. Some might say it was the work of Benders finally rising up and coming out of the shadows in an attempt to take over the city. And while these answers sound… right, they’re not the real answer. They’re ignoring a glaring truth. A truth about the day all of this occurred on.”

”One hundred years ago, we brought an end to the great war. A war that saw the Bending race extinguished. A war that promised a future of peace where we could live without fear of the next great threat to man. And for a hundred years we’ve told you that the world is improving. That there is peace. That we are healing. That is what my forebears promised you and what I have promised in the past. That we are better because of what we did.”

”But that’s not the truth. The truth is, the Lower Ring drowns in its poverty. A third of the population of my city dies in the streets and no one cares. The truth is, our system of power, economy, justice, all hang by a thread that is undone by a single accident. The truth is that my city continues to tear itself apart from disparity. From a rift created by our actions a century ago and that the world outside its walls is dying. That there has not been peace since the war. Not real peace, and if we want real peace, if we want to be safe again and heal from the scars of the past, we must make a change. I must make a change. What we're doing now is only hurting ourselves. We cannot control the destiny of the world and in trying to do so, we only condemn ourselves, our friends and our families. Because of a change that took them that they had no choice in, they have become that which we feared. No longer. I will not stand by and let Ba Sing Se continue to drown itself in ignorance only for it to fall to ruin. I will not follow in the footsteps of my father or his father before him. I won’t allow myself to be controlled as they were only to watch the people I love suffer."

”Tonight, I make changes to law, starting with those persecuting Benders.”
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_______________________________........
Upper Ring · |@Katakuri]Upper Ring · @Katakuri
____________________________________________________________________________.
Receiving the news from Director Tao at the Gala was an odd situation — did they expect any certain emotion to burst out of him? This kind of news was the type someone had a hard time processing, plus he didn’t have the best relationship with his father. He might have come off suspicious, since he couldn’t outwardly react with any emotion – or – maybe he wasn’t suspicious at all? “I’ll be going, thank you.” was the only thing he could focus on saying, as he was heading for the doors. He wasn’t directly talking to any one at this moment in time, but he was focused on what was happening at the Soran Estate.
The silence he allowed himself to be in might have spoken more than any words or actions, but he was in the beginning stages of processing the information – Mazu Soran was dead. and his mother was being brought into custody. He was surprised about that. Never thinking that his mother could have killed anyone, especially someone she was married to. Katakuri did not know how to feel about his father being deceased— What about my mother? This was the real catcher of the situation, was his mother going to be okay? A part of him did not want to believe that she was being brought into custody for killing her husband or his father. Another part of him couldn’t believe that his mother would actually commit murder.

All of his feelings and the thought process he was having about knowing this information was unreal, at least for the moment, since he was not face-to-face with the reality of what truly happened. Not yet. The more he thought about his mother being capable of murder, the more he realized that it could happen. Mazu and Urose Soran have been arguing since Chosah began to show her abilities. Mazu wanted to inform the RSF or LSF or something ~ he must have finally gone to do it. He knew his mother was terrified of losing her granddaughter. Practically another one of her children, since she raised Chosah more than part-time.

The brakes squealed upon arrival, throwing the vehicle into park and lunging out of the vehicle. He left the door wide open and began to consume the scene displayed in the front of the Soran residency. Katakuri found himself disgusted with the sight of the ambulance, the handfuls of police vehicles, and the handful of police – who were going in and out of the front door as they pleased. It might have been a personal opinion, but he felt like there were too many officers around the estate. His mother could not have caused all of this, could she?
In his eyes, the police were comparable to rats as they infested the house. Watching the officers go in and out as they pleased without taking their shoes off or closing the door was bothersome. It was disgusting. “Fucking rats…” the words slipped under his breath as he began to push through the crowd of workers.

Sir! Sir! You’re not allowed to pass the security tape!” a random officer shouted while Katakuri went under the crime tape without a second thought. He could care less if he was going into a crime scene, it wasn’t his first rodeo. He needed to go into this crime scene. Ignoring the officer and making his way through the front door with haste, the entrance hallway exposed what happened very quickly. A lifeless form was hiding under a white sheet. Around the deceased individual lay a flower vase shattered in millions of pieces with petals and stems flown everywhere, and puddles splattered around the wooden floor.

Going up to the body under the sheet, he assumed this was Mazu Soran’s lifeless body, and he crouched down to begin examining the scene. Lifting the fabric and throwing it off to the side. He needed to see his father. One. Last. Time. – Mazu Soran…

The police officer that attempted to flag him down finally caught up, “Sir, you need to not interfere with the investigation and the scene at this estate,” the officer was breathing somewhat heavily as if rushing from the safety of his police car to right inside the front door was a workout.
Peering down at the deceased man’s expression, the shock was written all over his face, and somehow this confirmed to Katakuri that his mother most likely committed the crime. Why would he expect his beloved wife to do such a thing? That would surprise anyone.
Gently reaching for the hairline of his father, he noticed blood was escaping the hairline and the damage had been inflicted on the head. Blunt force trauma was most likely the cause of death or maybe a heart attack from such a situation. Maybe both. The weapon of choice, is one of Urose’s beloved flower vases.

Petals were flown everywhere, flower stems scattered, and pools of water diluting blood – what a scene… Was it strange that the young man didn’t feel anything in particular? It was like looking down at any other dead body. There was none or little to no emotional attachment to the scene in front of him. The pressure of another person’s hand snapped Katakuri out of his thoughts, glaring up to see the overweight police officer was the one who grabbed his shoulder, “Sir, I will not repeat myself again.” The officer was clearly annoyed and rightfully so.

Being broken out of such an intimate moment was upsetting for Katakuri as he exhaled sharply, showing his annoyance while shrugging his shoulders away and standing a foot or two away from the officer's reach. Repositioning himself with an annoyance in his eyes and a fine line on his lips – “Do not touch me…” his words hissed out of his teeth while the look of annoyance began to narrow to the officer who was only trying to follow orders and do his job.
He was aware that this behavior would get him nowhere with figuring things out, so he decided to switch his tone before giving the officer a question, “Where is Urose Soran?” Was his mother safe? At least in the back of a cop car, maybe she was already in the investigation room, or maybe she was still in the estate. These thoughts made his blood pressure spike, why am I feeling like this?, a shaky inhale could be heard. He felt himself getting emotional – FUCK! – he felt his eyes begin to whelm with that salty liquid that would stain your cheeks red.

Katakuri Soran felt like he had no idea what was going on with his family. The police officer seemed to try and be the best help that he could be to the eldest child of the Sorans. He was talking over the intercom, trying to figure out where Urose Soran was without realizing that her only son was mentally deteriorating quickly. His mother was the one that murdered his father, but he still didn’t believe it. How could he believe that an oldy lady, his mother, wouldn't even kill bugs in their house… how could she do this? How could she fucking do this to the family!? Anger began to rush through his veins.

The officer brought Katakuri Soran out of his thoughts, “She is currently in the back of a police car, in custody, she is safe,” he informed the son with a forced smile. Trying to reassure the younger man that everything was okay even though it was clearly not going to be okay. It was not okay. Nothing would ever be okay in this house again.

He did not mean to come off snappy to the officer, but his thoughts had him riled up. “Was there any sight of two dogs and a little girl?” he asked in a snappy manner. He needed to know if Chosah and his dogs were safe. Did they find Chosah? Were they bringing her into custody or was she already taken away? Was he too late? He felt a tightening in his chest and a ball form in his throat.

The officer was quicker with this response, “Officer Kanahan is having difficulty with your dogs in a little girl’s bedroom. The dogs were with a little girl and we have sent officer Wen to help him out.” The man seemed pleased with himself that he was able to give Katakuri Soran a quick answer. Not making the man wait any longer.

Thank you, officer –” pausing for a second to look at the man’s name tag. “ – Officer Rehur.” He would keep the officer's name in mind. Katakuri began to run down the hall. He could care less about his father’s dead body or his mother being in the back of a police car. He had to get to his daughter and make sure nothing bad was going to happen to her or his dogs. Knowing that they were guard dogs, they were probably giving the officers trouble, so he had to hurry and get to them before anything bad happened. Like an officer shooting Archer or Duchess.

Turning down the hallway to another one that led to his room, his office, Chosah’s room, and a few others. He noticed one of the officers out of the room, holding something, assumingly a gun, and he noticed that it was directed in Chosah’s room. Most likely at the dogs. Chosah was there. They were pointing a gun into a room that has my baby girl. This thought made him fume. His blood pressure spiked again and he could feel his adrenaline kick in while he approached the officer. Quickly sliding his hand down the gun to its shaft before disarming the officer with one simple move and taking the gun into his own hands. “Don’t.Ever. Point a gun at my child or dogs again.” If a tone could kill, this officer would be on the ground by now. The officer seemed to panic for a second with wide eyes, surprise filling his expression as he was disarmed so easily.

Uhh…” Officer Wen seemed to be in the middle of processing what just happened. How he was disarmed so easily. Archer and Duchess were baring their fangs along with growling at the officer, officer Kanahan who was holding Chosah in his arms. Trying his best to get around the mutts. Archer was keeping the man at bay, mocking his movements before lunging in for a snap at the legs or any decent take down points. The officer seemed to not know what to do with the dogs.
Chosah appeared to be very uncertain with the whole situation. She was not used to the two sweet and loveable dogs getting so aggressive or protective of her. She was being held by a stranger, she wasn’t holding onto the officer for life, she had tears going down her face, and she seemed overly spooked by everything happening. Emotionally overwhelmed and confused about everything happening around her. This was not the world she was used to. Most of the noise came from her and the dogs. Not sirens and officers.

After a few seconds, she recognized her father and instantly began to reach for him, “Papa!” Chosah cried out for her father while doing the grabby-hands towards him. She wanted him. She needed him. She began to bawl her eyes out, this was the last straw for the child, seeing her father allowed the flood gates to release. He was her comfort person and she needed that.
The little girl began to find confidence in trying to get away from the officer, struggling out of his grip, but she was not strong enough to actually escape. She was feisty enough to keep trying to escape to get to her father. Katakuri sighed at the sight of his daughter, waving at her, and getting her attention to be put on him. “Just a moment, baby girl. I have to talk to this lovely officer before I can get you. Is that alright?” Chosah seemed disappointed with this statement, she was upset that she wasn’t snatched away from the police officer within that moment of demanding her father to grab her. With a giant frown. A frown that showed she was upset with his words. She slowly nodded to confirm that it was okay and she would be okay. Her tears began to try up from this realization that her father was actually here in the room with her.

Officer Wen seemed to be able to come into reality again and process everything around him, process that Katakuri Soran disarmed him so easily, and he was not stopping his dogs from potentially harming his partner. click!Katakuri Soran is proceeding with advanced skills, hostile behavior, and not calling his dogs off from Officer Kanahan.click! The clicking and man’s best to keep a whisper was more than apparent. He could still be heard by anyone within five to ten feet.

The officer was correct about Katakuri Soran not in any kind of rush to call his dogs off from the other officer. Why would he? They were doing their job. He wasn’t going to stop them until he got his baby girl. “I am going to give you an option, you get one answer and one minute to answer, Officer Kanahan. Give me my daughter.” A threatening tone was used by Katakuri Soran while his eyes locked onto the officer who was holding his baby girl. It was a request, not an option, with force to back that threatening request up. He had no patience for the man to tell him no, but he would give the man a chance. Agree or disagree. What do you do, Officer Kanahan? There was definitely a correct answer.
This was fair wasn’t it? Chosah being in the other man's arms was frightening, since she wasn’t safe with him. How could she ever be safe with a government worker? The RSF were like rats. No matter how much you beat them. If you at least fed them and gave them the bare minimum of happiness, they would listen. They never stayed loyal. The response from the man would pave the road ahead, how Katakuri Soran would react.

Archer began to close in on the officer, barking with a loud snap of the jaws at the man’s ankle. This caused the officer to jump. “Call him off!” the officer backed up into Chosah’s bookcase, causing multiple books to fall. This caused Duchess to be startled by jumping back and urged Archer to become more aggressive, actually latching onto the man’s leg.

Shrugging his shoulders, he seemed too calm to the officers in this situation. “Mister Soran, call off your dogs. I’ll give you thirty seconds before calling in for backup.” Officer Wen was using an authoritative voice or trying his best to. click! the intercom was left open for everyone to hear over their intercoms. They would soon learn who the real Katakuri Soran was.

Mister Soran, I apologize, but I cannot give you this child. She has been reported and officially confirmed to be a bender. A fire bender. We will have to tak—-” the man was interrupted by an extremely irritated Katakuri. He did not want to hear this from the officer. The officer could have said yes. The RSF love to turn the other way all the time. Why couldn’t this one do that? Just once.

Archer, Zzztk!” Katakuri commanded with the moment of his hand, pointing at Officer Wen. Archer instantly changed priorities. Dashing over to officer Wen, jumping on the man quickly, and pulling him down to the ground. A loud thud could be heard from the dog causing the man to collapse.

Get this fucking thing off form me!” the officer shouted.

With the spare officer being detained by the dog and no other officers around, Katakuri smirked while lifting his hand that did not have a weapon in it. Snapping his fingers and exposing that he was a firebender. A massive flame sat over his hand, “Where do you think she got it? You should have turned away and given her to me. Such a pity that you decided to choose the wrong answer.” The officer seemed frightened and instead of grasping onto the child tighter, he loosened his grip. This was when Chosah slipped out of his arms and ran right over to her father.

Keeping the gun safely in his hand, Katakuri lifted the small child up in one arm. Giving her a kiss on the forehead and rubbing his cheek against hers. Chosah seemed happy to be in her father’s arms and she tucked her face into the round of his neck and shoulder.
Officer Kanahan reached for his gun. Within the same second, the flame went out. He had to protect himself right? I have to protect myself? They are benders! I am allowed to protect myself. The gun began to point at Katakuri and Chosah without a second thought.

A loud echo of a gunshot was heard throughout the house.

A thud of a body could be heard from the little girl’s room.

Officer Wen could be heard struggling in the hallway calling for backup.

Slowly the man turned the corner of the room, glaring down at the other officer. “Your partner decided the wrong option was the right one today. You can blame him for everything that I am about to do to you and your squad.” A dead tone could be heard from Mister Soran as he walked over to the officer, struggling with Archer, and Katakuri opened his office. Setting down Chosah.
Making another noise, both dogs' ears seemed to perk up and they ran towards their master. Going into his office before he shut the door. Making sure all three of them were safe in there for now. Three more officers could be seen running down the hall to aid their partners.

Katakuri Soran went over to Officer Wen who was trying to get up, stepping on the middle of his back, he put all his weight down on the man. Causing him to crash to the floor. Smacking his head off from the wooden floor boards. “Get on your knees and put your hands behind your head!” Another officer shouted while pulling a gun out on Katakuri.
Still having a weapon in his own hand, he pointed the pistol to officer Wen’s head without hesitation. The officer who seemed to be in charge stared into Katakuri’s eyes, hoping that he could talk the man out of whatever he was considering. “Sir, we need you to cooperate. We understand that you are going through a difficult time, but we are not the enemy. We are trying to help you and your family the best we can. You do not want to add any felony charges to your list of tonight's problems, do not shoot the officer.

How convincing… Katakuri closed his eyes for a second while inhaling slowly, he was making a decision. He was going to kill all these fuckers. A chaotic grin appeared on his face while his eyes opened. Staring at the officer in charge. He pulled the trigger, shooting officer Wen through the head within seconds. He raised the pistol into an appropriate position before shooting once more and a thud could be heard behind the officer in charge. The unknown man seemed to glance back, to check on his partner, and realized he was dead before he hit the floor. Anxiety filled the man's face.
This was something that no one expected from the Soran family. Everyone knew that Mazu Soran did business roughly sometimes, but they wouldn’t expect this from his son. Would they? The commanding officer was still pointing his gun at the Soran son. Allowing one hand to click his intercom on, “We need back up in the back of the Soran estate. Copy. We need back up!” the officer stated while leaving his intercom on.

Within seconds, Katakuri’s foot was meeting with the underside of the man’s jaw and neck. Slamming him up to the wall and knocking the man out cold. Deciding it was his best bet, he began to move symmetrically. Hearing footsteps grow near. Grow louder. The man didn’t realize that the other officer that ran down in the group snuck into Chosah’s bedroom to check on the officer that was knocked out in there.
The static of this attack began to spark and sizzle throughout the house. Four men rounded the corner and he directed his aim to them. A large fiery blast of electricity consumed them. Screams could be heard before perfect silence. Multiple thuds from the electrocuted bodies hit the floor. “Officer Kanahan should have—” his sentence was cut short by a pressure to his face. He was being punched. This punch was hard enough to cause him to stumble into the wall.

Katakuri began to chuckle as he spit blood out. His teeth got the inside of his cheek. Placing his hand onto his face, he felt another jab. A knee to his side. This was somewhat unexpected. He might have been a little too cocky, but he really did not think one officer was going to place a punch on him, let alone two.
Another punch was coming his way and he grabbed it. Stopping it. “Why would you come out? You could have stayed wherever you were and you wouldn’t have died.” Katakuri quickly positioned himself, grabbing onto the man’s arm, and flipping the man over his side. Causing the officer to smack down on the ground and into the hallway wall. Putting a dent into the drywall. Within this motion, Katakuri grabbed the officer's gun and pointed it right at the officer. Without any other words. He shot him through the head. Executioner style.

It was really time to go. Going into his office, he found Chosah playing with the dogs and he closed the door behind him. Keeping the gun in his hand. He would hold onto this for now. Locking the office door. He didn’t know what route he would take to get out of the house, but he was finding the night to be full of surprises — I need to get Chosah to Tahedi… This was the main thought on his mind.

Here you go.” giving a princess a unicorn, bright pink backpack with a rainbow and princess unicorn on the front. Chosah seemed to grab onto it for dear life. When her father and her were packing their things about a week ago, she wanted to pack everything in that backpack. He was not going to argue.
Going into his safe, he needed to take out all of the items from there – two notebooks filled with his bending techniques, the most recent encyclopedia of fauna and another one of vegetation, an ancient fire-bending family crest, and two vials that were tagged as PETN and Max-Hexx – mannitol hexanitrate — just in case. Taking all of those things over to his desk. He grabbed a backpack that was already filled with emergency field rations, water, and water purifying powders, a set of clothes made for traveling, his training clothes, a set of nano puff cold temperature clothes that included a very nice coat and snow pants that were compactable, a small med-kit, a rope that was strapped to the side, a map that he made of when he traveled outside the wall, a compass, a set of running shoes and sandals, and hiking-snow boots. He even packed a roll of fishing line and a handful of fishing hooks. Throwing knives and a compatible grappling hook. A hammock was strapped to the side as well.

Making sure nothing fell out of the backpack or would come to lose any time soon. He went over and made sure Chosah’s backpack was on her, doing the front straps. He purposely got backpacks with double connectors, so they would say on when he was running or moving long distances without issue.
Are we going?” she quietly asked while looking up at her father. Katakuri nodded his head while checking her straps again. Then a loud bang could be heard on the door. Someone was trying to get in and he assumed it was more officers. Chosah seemed to jump at the sound and start shaking, doing a nervous face. She was not happy with what was on the other side of the door – Archer and Duchess were not helping the situation. They jumped up quickly and began growling.

Going over to his desk once more. He put on a front harness, so he could carry Chosah without having to carry her in his arms when he ran. It was better for moving and fighting if he had to keep a hold of her. Grabbing the young girl, he put her into the back-facing harness, so her head and the front of her body could rest on his chest. Grabbing his backpack and throwing it on his shoulders. He secured everything onto him. Chosah – Check. Both backpacks – check. Dogs – check. Everyone isn’t dead yet or in custody – check.

This reminded him, he had a small stuffed animal in the side pocket of his backpack. Grabbing it and gesturing over to Archer. “Archer. Find Chosah.” he said while giving the dog the pink stuffed animal. Archer seemed to understand and began wagging his tail. The dog kept the stuffed animal tightly in his jaws.

Katakuri kicked out the window of his office and decided to make everything burn. Within one swipe, all the bookshelves, his desk, and everything was on fire. This was when he jumped off the two-story cliff and used his bending skills to safely put him and Chosah on the ground.
Hearing the shattering sound of a lock, he glanced up and bolted down the back part of the Soran estate. Once he got to the stone wall, he jumped up. Pulling himself and Chosah up and going right over it. Disappearing into the darkness of the night and into the upper ring.

By the time the officers got the door opened, they realized everything was on fire, and both Soran's were gone. Archer took his chance to knock one of the officers over before bolting down the hall. Duchess followed. “What is in its mouth?” an officer questioned.
Another officer quickly demanded, “Stop those dogs!

All the officers except the one demanding and the other one who was knocked overran after Archer and Duchess. Archer knew what he was doing while the Duchess was only following. She wasn’t as trained. Officer Rehur was at the front door, ready to stop the dogs, but Archer quickly launched himself at the overweight man. Causing the man to fall back down the handful of steps to the front of the house. Duchess jumped over the man as they made their way to the front gates.

Archer noticed the front gates were closed, sliding in his tracks. Quickly he was analyzing his situation before he realized that he needed to get up high. He went over to the car, the Soran family vehicle, that was parked near the gates. Running up onto the vehicle and projectile himself off from it, he got safely over the gates without an issue. Standing there. He waited to see what Duchess was going to do.

Duchess, mocked everything that Archer was doing. She ran up to the vehicle and jumped. Slamming into the front gate. She quickly tried again and failed. She wasn’t able to projectile herself like Archer was. This was when Archer dashed off and Duchess began to whine in frustration. An officer grabbed the dog that couldn’t get over the gate and she began to fight with the officer frantically. Trying to get out of his grasp. This was when the dog decided to go for the man’s ankle. Biting down hard and pulling him off balance, causing them both to tumble over. With the loosened grip, she got away from the officer and dashed somewhere else. She was going to find another way out.

By this time, Katakuri was already halfway across the upper ring. Closing in on the wall that was separating the upper ring from the middle ring. Stopping in his tracks, he had to backtrack a few steps to hide in the darkness of an alleyway. A police car with sirens was rushing by, most likely heading to his house and two ambulances followed. One of the officers must have reported it to the outer world. “ I do not think they are looking for us quite yet, baby girl.” he said while stroking a hand through Chosah’s hair. Noticing that she was quiet. He had to look down to make sure she was alright. Chosah completely passed out. The overwhelming amount of stress and overall shock to her body probably fried her system. Shutting her down for a little bit.

Thinking that the area was safe, he noticed two police on foot patrol. Standing in the shadows, he watched and crouched down. Taking both throwing knives out of their holsters in preparation. One of them got an intercom connection, hearing the buzzing voices, but he couldn’t make out anything. His heart began to pick up the pace before the partner fell, thudding to the ground. The other was quickly cut off as blood ran down his throat. A dark knife forced its way into an external jugular vein. Both of the officers were dead before they hit the ground. Walking over, he grabbed both knives, wiping them clean on his black slacks and putting them back into the holsters.

He sprinted the rest of the way across the road into the next alleyway. He needed to get to the water drains or the sewer entrances that he knew about. He has taken this route before to see Tahedi, he has never brought Chosah along or thought he would actually be doing this. Trying to escape the city. Katakuri found himself at the wall, running alongside it.
He quickly found his exit out of the upper ring, lifting the manhole cover and going down the ladder. He slid the manhole cover back into place before starting to ascend. This was when he heard Chosah sneeze, “It smells bad…” she whined out from the awful smell of the sewer.

I apologize for the smell, but I cannot do anything about it. When we get to the underground. I promise. It smells better.” The underground did smell better since the people down there did keep things as decent as possible. At least where Tahedi lived. She tried to keep it manageable.
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Evening · Washroom · |@Exit] & |@canaryrose] CollaborationEvening · Washroom · @Exit & @canaryrose Collaboration
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canaryrose   
An sat on the white leather couch with her head in her hands, trying not to scream. She ground her teeth with a fierce intensity, her eyes shut tight. What a fool she had been, to even think that Vyska’s plan might work, that she might be of use here! And those people she had been forced to speak with… how had that man known what he did? To say she was mortified would’ve been an understatement, but she was also so furious. She mutely registered Vyska’s entrance and looked up, face red.
Exit   
”I could have Jack murder everyone at that table for you.”
canaryrose   
“I’d rather do it myself,” she said tersely. “It’s more satisfying that way.” She was only half-joking. At that moment, she would’ve liked to kill that Zhang man- not only for his comments about Chu, but for how thoroughly he had mocked her. An sighed. “Vyska, this was an awful idea. I’m a massive liability. … What are we going to do?”
Exit   
Vyska sat down next to An and leaned against the wall, resting her head against it as well as she stared up at the ceiling. ”I don’t know.” She said honestly. ”I had no idea they had assigned someone to your case so quickly. And to that man of all people…” She closed her eyes and ground her teeth. ”Ugh… he has no tact.” She opened her eyes and turned to An.

”I’m sorry. I knew the dinner would be difficult but I didn’t expect… this.”
canaryrose   
“It’s alright,” An finally said, letting out a shaky breath and leaning further back into the couch. “You couldn’t’ve known. I… honestly, I’ve been trying my hardest not to think about the trial. Or what I did, really. But I might need to fight harder than I thought.” She sighed again, heavy. Even thinking about the trial put a sick feeling in her stomach, made her blood run cold. “They can’t really know what actually happened- right? Or was he just trying to get under my skin? Being an ass?”
Exit   
”Being an ass.” Vyska straightened up. ”He’ll know about the Vanguard unit. Everything else is conjecture. But, I won’t lie to you…” She glanced at An. ”...Even with the family lawyer, the best we might be able to do is a reduced sentence. If we’re lucky, you might be able to serve it outside of a cell.”
canaryrose   
A long silence stretched after Vyska spoke. An couldn’t meet her gaze, instead staring straight up at the ceiling with a distinctly sad look in her eyes. As soon as Vyska said the word “sentence”, her stomach flipped. She felt ill, not out of guilt, but out of dread. “I…” What could she say? I don’t want to go to prison? I’m not sure I’d survive prison? I don’t deserve this? It wasn’t as if she hadn’t committed the crime she was being accused of. And she already knew what Vyska was saying. “I know. We’ll have to make arrangements, so you can continue our… projects for however long I’m away. But I’d need more than a few drinks to talk about that right now, mostly because I don’t look good in orange.” She chuckled without humor, leaning forward onto her knees as she spoke. “Changing topics: glean anything interesting?”
Exit   
”Actually…” Jack came through clearly on both of their earbuds. ”...I think An was right.”

Vyska furrowed her brows, still looking at An.

”I found a chamber down here… and a few guards. Infrastructure. Pipes leading toward something in the center. Looks like SynEn design, but… much older. Unfortunately I can’t get any closer to make out what it is.”

”SynEn?”
canaryrose   
An suddenly snapped out of her funk, a focused sheen coming over her eyes. “Did you get any photos?” she demanded. “Any way a drone or something could make it inside, you think?”
Exit   
”Possibly from the otherside. It’s a large structure but the chamber surrounds the entire thing. Give me a moment.”

”Wow. He’s actually using the drone.” Vyska said more out of excitement than surprise. ’I half expected him to find nothing at all. But…” She furrowed her brow as she looked across the empty room, her gaze seemingly lost on an idea. ”...SynEn?”

”Before our time. Maybe it has something to do with your father.”
canaryrose   
“Or maybe even your grandparents or great grandparents,” An supplied, resting a hand on Vyska’s knee as if it guide her back towards the moment at hand. “We’ve been around since the Great War. No telling what sort of things we’ve done since then… but if it’s that old, it is odd we just started getting signals from it now…” An furrowed her brow. There was more at play here than she had thought, it seemed. “Make sure to get the drone back, Jack. The footage transmits to a secure server, but we don’t want to leave it behind and show our hand.”
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The reassuring hand on her knee pulled her from her musings, just as the muted voices from the dining hall could be heard through several walls. She nodded and then turned to the door as if she could see through it to the people listening to the King’s speech. ”You’re right. There’s over a hundred years of history buried in the company alone. It’s just odd for something as old as it to still be drawing power. As far as I know, the palace’s energy infrastructure was upgraded only a few years ago.” She turned back to An. ”Nothing that old should exist and be turned on.”
canaryrose   
“Ba Sing Se is thousands of years old,” An refuted, although gently. “Whatever this machine is, it’s different from our usual infrastructure. The only two things emitting those kinds of waves are the plant… and whatever this structure is. My point is, we haven’t come across anything like this before. Whatever it is, it’s not in use across the rest of the city. It’s bizarre. And it’s connected to the explosion.” She tilted her head, then, thinking.

“Your father and grandfather never talked about any special projects?”
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Vyska shook her head, looking off again as she searched for anything she’d learned about her family’s company that may have seemed strange. She came up mostly empty handed. ”I remember very little about my grandfather, but my father… I mean If he was hiding anything, I didn’t know about it. The only thing strange right now is that he’s still at the plant…” She furrowed her brow again.

”Drone is in place.” Jack said. ”Small opening in the outer panels. I’ve followed some of the piping into the interior. Whatever this is, there’s definitely activity. Lights. I’ve seen a few people… lab coats. No markings.”
canaryrose   
Scientists? So it’s active!” An glanced at Vyska, face lighting up with excitement. “Can it see what they’re doing?”
Exit   
”It looks like they’re… monitoring pods… with people inside…”

Vyska’s face turned white.

”What?”
canaryrose   
Just like that, the excitement disappeared. An went silent in horror, her face turning white alongside Vyska’s. “Jack… you can’t be… people?” Her hand went to her mouth. “People? Are they…” An took a sharp breath. She wanted to say “benders”, but she couldn’t bring herself to. “I don’t understand. Those readings and this… how?”


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Evening · |@Exit] & |@MistressDizzy] CollaborationEvening · @Exit & @Mistress Dizzy Collaboration
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Exit   
The darker hall of the entrance opened up to a much larger and much more crowded space than anticipated; almost as long as a stickball field but only half as wide and much more packed. The ceiling was high, nearly disappearing into the shadows with the lights of the club just barely illuminating old pipes and aging metallic structure. Across the room was a column of what looked to be lava flow cascading from halfway up the wall and flowing into a basin behind the booth. Red orange and yellow lights flashed across the entire space while some neon greens and pinks and blues periodically cut through the monochrome hues.

The bar was situated to the right on a slightly raised platform and a drink wall outlined in white fluorescent light. Behind the counter were several bartenders, one of which looked to be a repurposed Vanguard bot. To the left, crowded booths with tables on which bare skinned performers danced. Above them was a level overlooking the club reserved for VIPs which was somewhat obscured from the ground floor.

The sound too was almost impossibly loud and even with Jin standing so close, Nelu knew direct communication was going to be difficult. He’d have to get closer.

With his arm still wrapped around their back and his hand hooked around their hip, Nelu leaned in again, this time close enough that they’d be able to feel his breath across their neck.

”What’s a good drink in the Underground?”

It was then that he noticed the dress they were wearing. The lights across the fabric seemed to respond to the music and pulsed with the beat. Each jump of the bass sent a wave across Jin’s body, dragging Nelu’s eyes across it with them and again, not just his.
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin was going to have one monster of a migraine when this mission was over. 15 seconds in and they could feel themselves getting overstimulated. Bright lights, and colors, and Nelu at their side. Sound so loud it wasn’t music anymore, so loud they could feel it under their ribs, right where Nelu’s arm was. Bodies everywhere, anyone could be against them, anyone could have a weapon or be a weapon and Nelu’s touch on their skin. Lights on their front, Nelu’s breath on their back, burning heat in their middle, Nelu Nelu Nelu -

Jin was going to murder the Doc for this dress idea, it was fucking cursed, did pretty chicks have to do this all the time, what the fuck-

“Drinks? Let’s see… For me? An Empty Ember. For you? Water.”
Exit   
”Why am I only getting water?” Nelu replied, sounding as if he were pouting. He carefully guided them both toward the bar where on the platform, he figured he’d have a better eye on the crowd despite how dense it was and could establish a place for them to start. They needed to figure out where to go and who to talk to and besides outing themselves immediately as another pair of Benders, the next and better option was to find someone to follow. However, they couldn't do that from the floor. There were too many bodies.

Nelu pushed through a section of the crowd with Jin in tow and as coincidence would have it, happened to find a recently vacated stool that Jin could occupy. He gestured for them to take it while he stood sentry nearby and waved down one of the bartenders. The repurposed robot came over and nodded them both a greeting.

”What. Can I. Get. You.” It said flatly.

”Empty Ember. Just one.” Nelu said somewhat loudly over the noise of the club.

”Anything. Else.”

”Just a water for me.”

”Zhu Li. Limited.” Jin interjected.

One of the patrons nearby half stifled a laugh. A woman in a blue cloak stole a glance at the two before turning back to her own drink.

”This. Only served. In. VIP.”

”Just water is fine.”

Nelu looked down at Jin, surprised that they were being serious about the water. Nelu hadn’t planned to drink, although he knew it could help his cover if anyone was paying too close attention. Water would have been fine and Lower Ring water was fine too. He was no stranger to it. Filtered water all the way down here, however, was expensive. Valuable even. They didn’t serve it to just anyone and he and Jin were… mostly nobodies. Jin’s dress begged to differ.

The robot nodded, grabbed a glass from under the counter and from a faucet, poured water into it. The water itself was polluted an odd gray color. It placed the glass close to where Nelu was standing and went about making the other drink. Nelu picked up the glass and downed half of the liquid before placing the glass back on the counter. It tasted like dirt.

He tried to ignore the way it left his mouth feeling as he scanned the crowd before him. It was chaotic to say the least. The noise itself was a blanket placed over one sense. The lights were messing with another. The warmth and the smells and the proximity of everyone was constricting his other senses making the task at hand difficult. To make matters worse, it was nearly impossible to tell who was ‘out of place’ in a crowd like the one in front of him.

”Here. You are.” The robot returned within the minute holding a dark hued, slightly orange tinted drink. The film of liquid layered at the top glowed slightly yellow as if it were ‘hot’ and seemed to dance in circles as the drink swam around the glass. From certain angles, it almost looked like fire. It was placed in front of Jin. ”Enjoy. Miss.”

Nelu glanced at the robot and then down at the drink as he fished in his jacket for another wad of cash. As he placed an amount more than what was needed on the counter for the bot to take, he again leaned into Jin.

”There’s too much going on here. We’d need a higher vantage point but I don’t think we’re getting into VIP.”
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin took their drink with a polite smile. They took a sip, and only Nelu would have noticed that no liquid actually left the glass. “We’re not getting in, no. I could, alone.” They paused. “It would be getting out that’d be the tricky part.” They looked around again, higher this time, scoping the building.

No cameras in the corners, at least none that they could see easily. That wasn’t really a surprise. Being anonymous was part of the appeal, after all. ‘What happens Underground stays buried’ and all that. But a place this fine had to have eyes. If they weren’t digital, that meant they were keeping tabs the old-fashioned way. Which left Jin with the same problem as before. The crowd and the lights and the noise made a proper recon absolutely impossible.

With the slightest look of defeat on their face, they leaned toward Nelu to speak as privately as they could manage. “And you get water because adding alcohol to what's already going on with you is a bad idea. I figured it out, by the way.” Jin smiled ruefully. “Sorry it took so fucking long. But don’t worry, once we’re outta here, it’ll be fine.”
Exit   
...It’ll be fine…

And there it was. The consequences to a momentary lapse in judgment. Nelu wasn’t so sure about things being ‘fine’ when it was all said and done. There were layers to it that he’d considered that he would have to face again when they were back on the surface. But then again, maybe he wouldn’t have to. Maybe things would be fine, but that was impossible to know in the now and even more difficult for him to ruminate on. The club was obfuscating not only everything outside but his internal dialogue too. What he did know for sure was that besides the blushing and the very clear surprise in their voice from before, Jin was taking the realization quite well.

He bit his lip as he turned over his options for both their next steps and how to respond to Jin correctly identifying what his ‘issue’ from earlier was. He didn’t really have answers for either. For one, they were a needle searching for another needle in a stack of needles. For another, he wasn’t supposed to be in a compromising position… ever. And now he suddenly was.

The woman to their right reached for her ear.

”What!... Another?... Yeah… YEA- Well maybe you shouldn’t have been acting stupid hustling the wrong people. I thought you were supposed to be good at reading… You know what? I. Don’t. Care. Just send him in and I’ll take care of them.” She finished saying before removing her hand from her ear. ”For spirits’ sake I need a vacation.”

Downing the rest of her drink, she suddenly got up and began making their way through the crowd toward an odd looking individual at the other side of the room. The two were the only ones who really stood out in any meaningful way. One seemed alone but moved with too much purpose, as if the club was just a thing that was in their way and not something they were here for. The other looked lost. They met up and after what looked like an exchange of words, both moved toward a side path that cut into the dark and out of sight.

Nelu turned to Jin, both of them now quite close. The tips of their noses only a few inches away from each other. ”I’m not so sure about ‘fine’…” He said, again holding Jin’s gaze. For a moment, he tried searching their bright blue irises for something that told him how they felt too. It was one thing to react positively but it was another to say it. Acknowledge it. ”But first…” He nodded toward the other side of the dance floor where the woman had gone. ”We’re supposed to be on a date… Have a dance with me.”

As he straightened out, he held out his hand for them to take. On the counter, his glass of water was also suddenly very empty despite having only been touched once.
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin's gaze slid just off of Nelu's, as the laughing woman in the cape caught their attention again. That little motion to the ear only meant one thing. That was at least one security member tagged. As the woman stood and slipped through the crowd, Jin found Nelu refocusing as well. Had he gotten closer, or were they just losing it?

Nope, he was definitely closer. They could see little golden flecks among the brown in his eyes. "I-" They cleared their suddenly dry throat, and spoke again, one octave higher and sweeter. "I would love to." Without looking away, they found their drink and tipped back half the Ember in two gulps. While it burned its way down their throat, they held the other half out to Nelu."Drink this. It'll get the silt outta your mouth."
Exit   
Nelu took the glass and quickly downed the rest, thankful for the wash that cleared up the grit covering his tongue and teeth. It wasn’t perfect but the smooth, warm liquid helped and lit a small fire in his gut that seemed to burn away any small bits of uncertainty. It wasn’t alcohol but it acted like it was. An appropriate drink for their situation.
Mistress Dizzy   
Once he was done, they grinned and put a hand in his. "I'll warn you. My dancing actually sucks."
Exit   
A familiar electricity danced across his skin as they placed their hand in his. He tightened his grip around theirs and gently pulled them from their stool and toward himself as he backed into the dance floor.

”That’s alright. Just follow my lead.” He said, giving them a confident smile. Like falling into surf, Nelu slipped under and pulled Jin in with them. Releasing their hand, he placed both of his on their hips and pulled them closer as he began guiding them to the other side of the dance floor. He clocked their destination with a single glance, worked out a path and then turned back to his partner, holding their gaze with his so they wouldn’t get lost. Everything from here on was simple guiding nudges and careful steps.

The music fell over them both; vibrations in the air creating a bubble of space that was open for just the two of them. In that space, isolated from the sea of bodies all around, only the two of them existed. Orange lights further drew out the golden spark in the brown of Nelu’s eyes. They glistened and beckoned Jin to follow.

In that space the club disappeared and the music changed.
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin hadn’t been lying about being a lousy dancer. They were self conscious when moving to music. Crowded places made them paranoid. Alcohol usually skipped the "fun buzz" part and landed straight on the "dizzy and puking" part.

Somehow, this was completely different. All they could see was Nelu’s eyes gazing down at them, with a look they couldn't quantify at all. It wasn’t the hungry sweeping stare they’d caught hours ago at the Underground steps. Jin knew what lust looked like in a man's eyes, even if it was new to be the direct target.

Nelu’s eyes, warm and brown and glittering gold, weren’t looking at Jin like that at all. Everything felt like it was falling away. The noise, the lights, even the mission…

Jin smiled up at him, blue eyes dreamy and lost. Their hands gently drifted up his chest to link around the back of his neck.
Exit   
Jin’s touch drew warmth and fire on his skin as their fingers carved a trail up his chest and hooked themselves across his nape, anchoring their body to his. In that moment, as their hand came to rest against the back of his neck, his whole world became that patch of skin.

It was different, their hand touching a part of him other than his own hand. It was a pressure that he was incredibly aware of. A spot of heat that spread to his shoulders and slid down his spine. A yearning for those hands to explore further and introduce other parts of him to their touch. He realized too in that moment that this was the closest the two of them had ever been, and as they continued to move around each other, that sliver of space between them only continued to shrink. Every now and then, Jin would press themselves firmly against him, describing the shape of them against his chest and abdomen and impressing a desire to know that shape more. To feel more, for in those brief moments of contact, despite the music drowning the air around them in vibrations and the sea of bodies pushing from all sides, he could actually feel Jin. He could feel their heart beating against their chest.

He’d always been able to feel it, but this was vastly different. WIth blue eyes latched onto his, hands clasped around his neck and their body pressed against him, it was as if they were giving that information to him freely.

His guidance remained gentle; soft steps in response to their more clumsy moves so as to catch them and reel them back in before they fell into the wash of bodies. Moves disguised as intentional instead of correcting so it never seemed like either of them were making a mistake. All the while, he continued to direct traffic. As he found a small crack in a wall of bodies before them and carefully pulled Jin through it, his hand slipped from their hip to their lower back and a small amount of pressure was applied. Jin’s hip was pushed forward as Nelu continued his backward step, effortlessly rotating the both of them so that Nelu was now moving toward Jin and they were moving backwards. From Jin’s perspective, as they continued dancing, it would be as if they were simply falling and Nelu was guiding the descent.

”Your dancing does not ‘suck’.” He began, leaning in so he could whisper into their ear and also so he could steal a glance ahead to make sure he was still steering them in the right direction. ”I think you just needed a better partner.”

One hand remained on their hip. The other began to crawl slowly, deliberately up their spine.
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin was weightless. Adrift in an endless sea of nothing but an expanding heat that wanted to swallow them whole. Any other day, they would have scrabbled back to the surface of control and order. Any other person would have found themselves on the business end of a pistol for invading Jin’s personal space.

Jin remembered, almost against their will, the first time they had been close to this man. They’d been cold and still - he'd been the one going in circles. The intense energy, ironically, was of an equal level. But the difference between the situations was so wide it might as well be antipodal. Even brushing against the memory of that day was like having the icy muzzle of a gun at their back-

And then Nelu was whispering, so close Jin could have counted the gold flecks in his gaze. The warning klaxon sounding in their memory was swiftly smothered.

"Well, I haven't really had partners. Kinda been dancing solo."
Exit   
”Not a single partner?” He asked, holding their piercing blue gaze with his.

”I find that a little hard to believe.” Then his gaze shifted ever so slightly, becoming less watchful and more searching. ”Although maybe it really isn’t. I guess anywhere else it’d be impossible to keep up with you. But what about the other way around?”

The fingers gliding along her spine hooked gently into the bottom edge of their shoulder blade, coaxing them to arch their back ever so slightly and drawing them just a little closer. Their weight would shift just so onto that hand, further adding to their weightlessness. ”Was there ever a lucky someone you wanted as a dance partner?”
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin's mouth opened to respond, but Nelu's carefully roaming touch caused a chain reaction up their spine. All that came out was a shivering gasp, in an octave that Jin didn't know they had. Their face went an intensely red shade. "Hey!" Jin seemed to recover in short order, though Nelu could likely still feel the flighty pace of their pulse.

"You first! You opened the door…"
Exit   
...Damn…

Even while under duress were they quick enough to turn his ask back around on him. He was impressed and only slightly disappointed by the reflect. He was, however, quite pleased with the sound that had escaped their lips. It spurred him forward.

”I guess that’s fair.” The gold in his eyes seemed to sparkle as he answered. ”Yes.” He said simply. ”I have. Now it’s your turn.”

His other hand left their hip and scooped lightly into the curve of their lower back, holding them so that they were now anchored securely to each other.
Mistress Dizzy   
"Wha-" Jin started, before letting out a tiny, slightly indignant huff. Then they giggled, giving Nelu a painless whap on the chest. "You tricked me! I can't believe you- well, I can, it's you, but-" They whapped him again, before going very still. Calculation was briefly visible behind their blue eyes.

Without taking another second to think again, or second-guess it, Jin gently lay their cheek against Nelu's chest. They spoke in a low, secretive tone, despite that being wholly unnecessary in the midst of the pounding noise.

"...I was 14. She was an older woman. Which meant she was 15." They smiled a bit, unseen. "Freckles. Brown eyes. Sweet as a summer apple. We were best friends. Then one day she laughed and hugged me, like she always did, and-" Nelu could likely feel Jin shrug slightly. "Guess I discovered girls a couple years after everyone else on the block."

"Lady Cho said some people were like Doc. Wouldn't dance if they wanted to, and they don't. And then there are people like me."
Exit   
Nelu felt his chest tighten. If he thought the thicker, dirtier air of the Underground was already difficult to breathe, he found it significantly harder with Jin so casually placing themselves against him. He was positive they could feel or even hear the rate at which his heart was jumping in his chest, despite the thumping of the music. Despite the images flashing in his mind’s eye of the other girl, their hug… Jin’s life before.

He realized that while he knew a lot about Jin, there were layers and layers of them that he didn’t. A whole life lived, no matter how short, before their time as the Flying Frog and before their time with him on the LSF.

He looked down at them, his eyes falling on the top of their head as they rested against him. He could feel the isolating bubble of space surrounding them shrinking as they remained connected to each other.

”What does Lady Cho say about people like you?”
Mistress Dizzy   
"That music is…" Jin paused, frowning slightly. "The dancing-" Another stop, as they mentally sorted through words. The metaphor was rapidly escaping them. Laughing softly, they pulled away just slightly, enough to look up at Nelu again. Yet they were still as close as possible.

"Fuck it, I'll just say it straight. What she says is, ⁵the bit that most people feel first, I guess she called it a spark? That happens for most people and it just means 'hey my body likes your body' I guess. But people like me don't feel sparks. Not unless, and until, someone becomes truly important." Their gaze darted aside. This was very suddenly too close to the truth.

"Don't ask me for the details in between, but instead of a spark, well… y'know what a Tiru Coil is? Bigass electrical conductor? Instead of a spark, you get hit with one of those."
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Nelu raised an eyebrow. ”That sounds scary.”
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin snorted faintly. "Scary? Try disturbing. Waking up in a sweat, an hour past sin, realizin you were dreamin' of-" In the half-second silence between one word and the next, Jin's train of thought reversed so hard they could almost hear brakes squealing. "-things that can never happen." They continued to meet Nelu's eyes, as if they hadn't just yanked the truth away like a purse-snatching amateur.
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The pause was short enough that it was as if it never happened, but the words were still there. They hung in the air and continued to float around Nelu’s head long after Jin had stopped and corrected themselves. They’d given him enough that he could almost finish the sentence for them.

Jin… was dreaming. Of things that couldn’t happen. Of him?

”That does sound... pretty disturbing...” Nelu said, his mind split between the realization of what that could mean and the latter half of the sentence. ”...Not knowing whether or not you can have what you want. Especially after getting your spark.”

Suddenly Nelu stopped moving and his hold on Jin tightened just a little.

”I can’t speak for whoever it is keeping you up at night, but at least for me… dancing with you is...” He smiled and leaned a little closer to Jin’s upturned gaze. That bubble of space surrounding them shrunk further. They were close enough now that they could almost taste each other’s breath.

”I like it… so maybe it can happen.”

Nelu fought the urge to close the small gap between them and steal for himself something he wasn’t sure was his. Instead, he pulled away and as he did, the world opened up once more. The noise and chaos of the club returned and with it, the realization that everything around them had shifted. They’d left the dance floor and the sea of people behind and were now standing next the path they had to take.

Nelu’s hands slowly slid down the length of Jin’s back, retreating from where they had hooked themselves onto their body. They came to rest on Jin’s hips. ”As much as I would love to dance with you all night like this...” Nelu nodded toward the corridor.
Mistress Dizzy   
For a brief second, Jin just stood rooted to the spot. Like someone waking in the morning, trying to cling to the scraps of an already fading dream. Their eyes were half shut, because Nelu had almost… almost…

Then they exhaled as everything came invading back. Sound. Light.

Reality.

"Got it. I'm right behind you."
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Exit   
King Wu rubbed at his temple as he listened to the others bicker in the room. The conversation was heated and the table was effectively split. As expected, those in the room and everyone back at the gala did not take the news of his intentions well. The precedence he was setting was unusual. A change from the narrative they’d previously set that was too drastically different from the last 100 years. It was unrealistic to expect everyone to be on board. As the meeting continued, it was becoming increasingly obvious that those in the room would not so quickly find a resolution. As far as they were concerned, there was no middle ground. Either Benders were good or they were bad.

”It’s not just the suddenness of it. This should have been discussed. There were better ways to announce such a change.” Nahalia was a woman of dark complexion, graying hair and green eyes. The former Chief of the RSF before Tao took over and had spent many of her later years establishing law and enforcing it from a desk. Like Tao, she was against the King’s new direction, seeing it as a dangerous first step in allowing more powerful people the opportunity to tear the city apart. She believed the fragile balance they’d managed to keep between the different rings couldn’t take the pressure.

The man sitting next to her was of similar mind. A younger male who had spent time developing the Lower Ring industrial sectors, investing in businesses he thought would help drive the economy and encourage growth, the creation of jobs and wealth. Despite his age, he was experienced as any at the table as the King’s Advisor and was advising strongly against his intention. However, he at the moment was more interested in what Vyska had to say. The explosion had affected him harder than most at the table. He put the blame squarely on SynEn and to further spurn his own suspicion, not only was Mynwa not at the table, his daughter looked as if she were somewhere else.

Vyska had been sitting quietly in her father’s seat, staring at the sheet of paper in front of her that outlined the points they were to discuss. More specifically, she’d been staring at the line of text that read ‘SynEn’.

”As unorthodox as it is, Vyska is representing her father. Representing SynEn. Are you absolutely sure he stands with the King.” Dai asked, addressing the girl.

She immediately turned to the man. ”Yes. Are you hard of hearing?” Her far away expression and lost look suddenly left her face, turning to pointed anger. ”The Moon family has and will continue to stand with the King.”

Dai shook his head. ”The Moon family has always been staunch supporters of anti-bender law.”

”And yet my father has seen fit to change direction, as the King has. As we all should.”

”Right, but it does make me question whether or not the ‘easy answer’ is the real answer after all. An explosion at your storage facility that brought hundreds of Benders out of the woodwork and now Mynwa suddenly has a change of heart.”

”Implying what?”

King Wu raised his hand. ”We’ll get to SynEn later. I want to hear where everyone stand on this once more.”

”Yes.” Vyska said, still looking at Dai.
dreamingflowers   
Lana was able to empathize with the parties opposing benders, despite being of a different mind. Accepting benders into all layers of society would mean the upheaval of the comfortable lifestyle the citizens of the upper ring were used to. Because of this they didn’t see or did not want to see the possible positive influence this change could have. They did not want to give up on a system that kept them at the top of the food chain for a hundred years.

The young woman was the first to speak up on the matter after the King regained control of the discussion.
“Your highness if I may, I do understand the apprehension, the hesitation and the complete rejection of the notion of benders. It will change society as we’ve known it for years.”

“What concerns me is that we also refuse to look at the possibilities.”

Lana faced the ones at the table who were against the notion and went on to share a statement.
“One area I believe could greatly benefit from the inclusion of benders is the medical field. The powerful healing ability of water benders could be the answer to many untreatable conditions and grim prognosis we are all facing, regardless of status.”
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Exit   
The corridor ahead was dimly lit and mostly empty, occupied only by those looking for a brief respite from the noise and the crowd… or a dark corner to indulge in their desires. The walls were cracked and ill-maintained, covered in a myriad of half faded stickers and posters. The floor was similarly littered in trash, needles, empty canisters and condoms.

The music continued to follow the two as they approached a stairwell, drowning out some of their conversation from the few ears in the hall. For now, it seemed like no one was paying them any mind beyond glancing at the ‘woman’ at Nelu’s side. Some stared longer than most, but everyone eventually returned to their own devices refusing to test the escort. He was still holding their hand.

”If it comes to it, I may have to… you know. It might feel a little weird at first but I promise, I’m not going to hurt you, okay?” Nelu turned to Jin to be sure they understood and gave their hand a gentle squeeze. ”It’ll be just like I’m holding your hand.”
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin passed through the corridor behind Nelu. Their grip was just strong enough to mark him as theirs for the evening. Whatever was on the ground got avoided with an easy, practiced step.

Luckily for them both, the music was now muffled enough so that Jin’s dress had faded back to black. Their blue eyes flickered, rapid-fire, from figure to figure. Unfortunately, the dimness of the area was hard to parse. Especially since their eyes hadn’t adjusted from the brightness of the club.

"Wait, hang on." With a sweet grin and a giggle, Jin stepped just ahead. They raised up on their tiptoes and hooked their fingers into Nelu’s collar. "Got something for you." With a surprising amount of force, Jin tugged Nelu away from the light.
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”Wha-?” Was all Nelu managed to get out before he was pulled to the side and into the dark. The shadows swallowed them both and once again, he found himself in a space all their own, this time not of his doing. ”What are you doing?”
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin pressed close against him as they were very suddenly alone. They giggled, again, leaning close enough to steal from Nelu’s pockets - or his lips.

Their body language wanted to talk just a little more about private dance lessons. But the tone of voice, once they were unseen, went from sugar to steel in a breath. "That's not a good idea. Not just because thinking about you bl- you doing that weirds me out."
Exit   
”Okay. Then that’s completely off the table.” He said, realizing all too quickly the charade they were putting on. He followed their lead, pivoting slightly and pressing Jin against a wall while keeping their lips dangerously close and matching their body language with his. At this angle they were out of sight but Nelu could see back to where he’d just been absconded from in case anyone accidentally wandered in their direction. To anyone who did, it would look as if they were simply making out.

”So, Flying Frog, how should we do this?”
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin flashed Nelu a quick grin. He was rarely more than a step behind. It was one of the very first things they had liked about him. "We just gotta get in, recon, and go. But we can't play by the regular rules. The Platinum Painted Penny got us this far, but for the rest, I'm thinkin'…" Jin paused, drumming their fingers against Nelu's chest in a subconscious motion.

"Sifu and Grasshopper, with a Triple Threat Twist."
Exit   
Even as his eyes remained fixed on the corridor, with Jin being so close, they would have been able to pick out the confusion in between the brown and the gold. He wasn’t understanding any of it but was once again chewing his lip and nodding as if he did.

”Uh huh. Seafood Grass with a Triple Twist.” He smiled as he turned to them. ”I don’t think I know this dance.”
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin rolled their eyes, but their lips twitched with the urge to smile. Nelu could likely feel the sudden rise of their pulse as well. That lip-biting habit of his got under Jin’s skin in a peculiar way. Sometimes they just wanted to- to-

"Cut it out." They muttered low. Only Jin knew which of them that command was for. "The Sifu and Grasshopper is like the PPP, but without the sex appeal. The 3T means it's a con versus a theft. Clearer now?"
Exit   
”Sorry.” He whispered back, not realizing the real reason why they’d said what they did or why their heart rate was spiking again. ”I’ll try to keep up.”

He suddenly became very serious, not wanting to further ‘irritate’ them.

”So no bloodbending and no drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves beyond the fact that we can ‘bend’. If they want a demonstration, how do you plan on playing the gras-.” Nelu paused when down the hall, he caught a figure suddenly stop and peer in their direction. Nelu, who had previously frozen in his struggle to translate what Jin was saying, realized he was just standing there awkwardly staring back. It clicked then that he was supposed to be doing something and he immediately leaned around Jin’s upturned face and pressed his lips into the crook of their neck and against their skin. The rest happened instinctively, a reaction to a role he was playing or a situation he was trying to sell. His hand very deliberately dragged along the ridge of their back, between their shoulder blades and across the more sensitive skin of their neck. From there, his fingers continued to climb, pushing under the mesh of the wig and intertwining with their real hair underneath. It wasn’t until after his warm breath was already unfolding against them and he inhaled that the realization of what he was doing hit him. The stench of the club was suddenly lost in the scent of jasmine blossoms and hints of vanilla. There were no other bodies around to mask it anymore. No sweat in the air or breath from a mouth that never knew a toothbrush sharing the same oxygen. His lungs began to fill with Jin.
Mistress Dizzy   
When Nelu went momentarily still, his gaze captured elsewhere, Jin realized that they had been spotted. Before they could put an escape plan into his ear (there were still a few unused items hiding in the gown), Nelu doubled down on the ploy that Jin had already laid down. It wasn’t a bad idea, especially given that there was no time.

That was what Jin liked about Nelu – the man had a criminal instinct that no uniform could hide.

That instinct was not running this play anymore.

As Nelu’s breath, then lips, pressed against Jin’s bare neck, several things happened concurrently. Jin realized that they were apparently ticklish there. The reflex to laugh hit the same millisecond Nelu’s fingertips grazed their actual hair beneath the wig. Jin’s lips parted – and their brain’s decision to laugh was overturned in the same second.

“Fuck-” Was the most eloquent thing that Jin could come up with. That was quickly followed with a soft, shivering, primal moan. Nelu’s hands were very warm, and almost rough, but not quite. Jin wondered if he wanted to be gentle. Jin wondered if they wanted him to be gentle. Everything was hot, and spinning - Jin could barely breathe. There was a voice in the back of Jin’s brain absolutely screaming for them to stop, because this was not part of the plan, this was out of control, this was trouble -
Exit   
”Someone’s looking…”” He tried to say into the skin of their neck, grasping desperately to some hope that it would be enough to excuse his suddenness. Yet even as the words left his mouth, the intensity of his touch seemed almost too genuine. His fingers scraped at them with a need. Pulled at them like he wanted to be closer. It felt desperate, but even Nelu didn’t know if he was desperate for control or to lose it.
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin felt Nelu’s words before they heard them. So there had been an onlooker after all. Rallying their remaining senses, they tilted away just enough to meet his eyes. Even still, their body pressed against him, sweet and flower scented. They spoke just barely above a whisper, mouth so close to Nelu’s own he could guess the words being formed.

"C- can… I…"

While what little logic Jin had left was trying to ask if the nosy nobody was gone, and if they could stop - the intense eyes behind the false blue asked Nelu something else entirely.
Jin trembled against Nelu, as the usual need to control warred violently against the fresh desire to let things happen.
Exit   
He could see it clear as day. An unspoken question rising to the surface under the faux blue in their eyes and spilling into the inch of space between their faces. He could feel it under their breath and against his chest as their body trembled under his touch. He could hear it, then and even now. There had been a word they let slip from their lips. An expletive uttered with every letter coated in desire. And now, their heart was racing and their breath was heavy. It was unmistakable.

Nelu stopped paying attention to anything else. Not the corridor or the stranger in it. Not the club they were trapped in or the miles of dirt above their heads. Not the mission or benders or the constant lies he had to spin for a world that didn’t want him. For a moment too, he forgot about Vasra. All that mattered now was the person staring up at him, their emotions having been laid bare willingly or not. This person who dealt death and thrived in the dark. Who had survived in the worst conditions and lived a life surrounded by the most dangerous of people, in this life and their last. A person who was looking up at them now with uncertain eyes, vulnerable for their wants.

His eyes drifted from the mesmerized gaze begging him for an answer, down across the bridge of their nose and over their slightly parted lips. In the low light, he could just make out the outline of their shape and the slight glint of orange from the ambience of the club. There was a sheen of wet there that he wanted to taste.

His answer to their ask was wordless. Thoughts and wants and desires became his hands and fingers as they pressed into their hair and anchored themselves again to the small of their back. Nelu could feel his breath catch as he pulled at them and the distance between the two of them disappeared. He could feel his head begin to spin when, for the very first time, he crossed that thin barrier of separation and pressed his lips against theirs.

What came next was mostly instinctual… mostly primal. Control was lost in the heat of their bodies colliding and the exquisite feeling of their lips pressed together; of their faces so close that their breath melded into one. His mouth parted slightly allowing Jin’s lower lip to slip in between his where it was pulled under his teeth and over his tongue. He realized he loved the way they tasted. He realized he wanted to taste more. Firm hands became clawing fingers that searched for skin under the dress and pulled at their hair as his body began to match his desires.
Mistress Dizzy   
There were certain pros and cons to having a mind that worked in the manner of Jin Takashi's. Whether they wanted to or not, they noticed everything their senses could take in. Unfortunately, that was a lot. Sensations, small and large, close and distant, and everything in between, were hitting their brain in a constant barrage. Part of the problem was that their brain couldn't work out what was ignorable and what was important. Their mind was always working. Always thinking. Always.

Until Nelu made the space between them vanish.

For a few precious, priceless, beautiful seconds, Jin simply ceased thinking.

Nothing else mattered but the heat welling up from their core. Nelu's kiss, soft to begin with, but fierce soon after. Even though Jin had never had a kiss quite like this before, their body seemed to have it figured out quickly enough. As their delicate hands roamed his chest, there was a tiny, distinct pop, as if something distant hit the stone. Jin's fingertips met Nelu's bare skin just after that, their fingers trembling. His hands were earnestly roaming their body as well, one of them slowly gliding up the inches of bare skin of Jin's exposed thigh.

Jin felt like their soul could leave their body in this moment.
Exit   
Nelu joined Jin in that sweet silence where the only sounds that mattered was their uneven breath and their fingertips scraping at exposed skin. There was no acting where they were now. No ploy or secrets. Just two souls expressing earnestly exactly what they wanted and how badly they wanted it. While Jin explored his chest, his hand began to fill in the blank spaces of his imagination as they slipped under the slit of their dress and glided up their thigh. Eager fingers described smooth skin and soft curves covered in silk; a part of them untouched by the hardened life Jin lived. Untouched by man or woman till now. He held them there, not like something he was meant to take but as a gift he had been given.

His other hand pinched a tuft of Jin’s hair and pulled, coaxing their already upturned face back just a little more and pulling their lips apart. He drifted away intending to find another part of them to kiss.
Mistress Dizzy   
The moment their mouths broke apart, Jin inhaled like a diver breeching the surface. They wanted more, and quickly, but they just needed to catch their breath. The space between them was small, but it was just enough to give Jin's brain a moment of thought. They could barely breathe, it was so warm…

They couldn't breathe?

Shit.

"N-nelu…" Jin tried. Their voice came out needy, pleading, encouraging. And while it was exactly how they really felt, it was the wrong message.

Jin shut their eyes, slipping their shaking hands away from where they'd been trying to work off the rest of Nelu's shirt. Then they pushed him backward, just enough. "Wait. Stop, p-please.”
Exit   
Nelu stopped. The words and the pressure pushing against his chest like a wall he’d just run into. His mind, drunk on the high of a release he wanted or needed, ground to a halt and he sobered immediately, freezing his hands where they were and his lips just above the edge of their jawline. As his eyes opened, the reality of what they were doing came rushing back to him.

”S-sorry.” He stammered, pulling away. ”Sorry, I didn’t…” He trailed off, looking at them. Looking for their eyes.
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin’s eyes were unfocused. There was a haze of thought behind the blue. That, and something that might startle Nelu more: the gleam of unshed tears.

"I'm sorry too. I shouldn't-" Finally, Jin sighed, looking at Nelu. "Before anything else happens - I need to make sure we're clear. Thought we were."

"The reason you're not you, why you've been doing things and probably thinking things you never would? It's cause you're a lunker." They stopped, realizing that might not be clear enough. This couldn't be misunderstood again.

"A spelunker, I mean. People from the other two Rings come here sometimes. The bad O2 usually marks them quick. Shortness of breath, dizziness, poor impulse control… sounds familiar, right?" Jin let out a soft little noise, suspiciously similar to a sob.

"Basically, you're compromised. It's my fault. If I'd been actually fucking smart, I would have worked it out before we got down this deep, and sent you back up. Apparently I'm just a horny idiot who can't work out when they're getting bad air - I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, I thought…"
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”Jin…” Nelu cut them off as he pulled his hand away from their thigh and placed it instead on the other side of their face, fingers nearly interlocked behind their head. His eyes lingered now on the sheen under their eyelids; on the uncertainty and guilt and fear in their eyes. He understood what they were saying but also understood that their worry was misplaced. If anything, the fact that he was ‘compromised’ explained a lot about what had happened, but not exactly in the way Jin had imagined it.

”...You’re not an idiot. You’re actually the smartest person I’ve ever met. It’s just sometimes…” He smiled at them as the second hand slipped under the mesh of the wig. ”Sometimes you’re so sure of yourself that you miss the simpler answer. The truth is Jin, you’re right. I am compromised. But I was compromised long before we came down here. Before the other men or the oxygen… or even this...” Slowly, he began to lift the wig off their head. There was a light tug around their ears as their real hair slipped free of its confines. All that remained once it was removed was a dress bound Jin with eyes, blue and watery, staring up at him.

Now that it’d been pointed out, he could actually feel it: the poor impulse control dictating what he wanted to say regardless of the consequences. ”This is me telling you that you are beautiful and that I’m the idiot. And I’m sorry it took this for you to hear that.”

He couldn’t really be sure if they understood what he was saying, however, or even if they would believe him. They probably wouldn’t, but he’d said the truth and if he needed to say it again, it wouldn’t be as difficult. It’d been placed in the air between them, as thick and hot as the air was. There would be no going back. ‘Spelunking’ could only excuse so much before it became obvious what was and wasn’t the truth.
Mistress Dizzy   
Jin's face was flooded with confusion. Even as Nelu’s warm hands cupped their face, and slipped their wig free. Even as he spoke the kind of words the girls back home sighed over.

A tear slid free, and another. Jin set their jaw. "I don't… I don’t think you get it. I've been conning you just as much as everyone else. Worse, probably. You're just confused. You don't mean any of that."

As desperately as Jin wished it could be true, they knew better. Nelu was as good as drunk, and Jin probably wasn't doing much better. If they weren’t so close to being done, they would have begged him to call off the whole thing. "Just try to stop talking, the best you can."
Exit   
...Con…

Nelu looked at the wig in their hands. It was only a small piece of the portrait Doc Li and Jin had painted. An effective disguise even against him, and when combined with the way Jin had been acting when in his space, it was only too easy to reach the vulnerable, oxygen deprived parts of him underneath. But when all the ploys and misdirection and sleight of hand played at Nelu’s expense was done, in the end, he still had bloodbending. He could still read a pulse. It wasn’t all a lie and he knew deep down that not everything he was feeling was one either. He just had to prove it.

”Wait just… listen...” His hand slipped from the side of their face and he rubbed away a streak of water on their cheek with his thumb. ”I know you think I’m out of my mind and nothing I say is believable, so can you do something for me? Before we go, can you promise me something?”
Mistress Dizzy   
"I owe you at least that much. What do you want?" There was a level of resignation in Jin’s voice that hadn't been there before. Everything was going to change in the morning. The only question was, how bad would it be?
Exit   
”Ask me again how I feel when we get out.”
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Fiber   
Taiichi spoke after Lana. He was shaking as he rose, and the first words came out uncertain. He was one of the less experienced members of the advisory council, and seldom spoke up. He said.

“I have some strong feelings, but I think it helps for me to explain some about why I feel this way. I had a half-brother. He came from my father’s first marriage, but he died before I was born. The first time my father told me about him he broke down crying, that was when I was ten; before then I had never seen him cry, nor had I heard even a word about my half-brother. When we went to the family mausoleum I looked for where his place would be, but I knew it wasn’t there. The ashes of generation after generation of Satos were around me, amidst the work of the finest artisans our fortune could afford, on a hill that stood tall over the rest of the city cemetery, but there was no room for him. He had died before his tenth birthday, and his ashes had been scattered in the city canal; even if we had collected them we couldn’t have interred him in the city cemetery, for he was a Bender.

You can tell something is off when you visit the mausoleum, how my branch of Sato family has so many blank spaces compared to the other branches. Family reunions are emptier, our history more sensitive, and we grow up learning there are subjects we will politely refuse to discuss. If you total up the “blank spaces” in our branch there may be more than official members, no one, not even my father knows the true count, but both of his siblings are among them.“


Sweat dripped from his brow and he clenched his hands to stave off the nerves. Taiichi looked the advisors in the eyes as he said the next part of his speech

”The next memory I’ll discuss is from when I was twenty, and some of you may have I heard the details. That day started with my parents and my younger brother walking through the concrete hallways of an RSF facility, until we reached the place where we would witness my elder sister’s execution. She was seven years older than me, and while she was alive I never heard anyone say an unkind word about her. I remember how my father was so proud of her, how he was actually excited to reach the day where he could retire and pass his title to her; it even made me a little jealous. That jealousy melted in an instant when I was with her, because one thing that Himiko never failed to do was figure out how to cheer someone up.

There were no goodbyes exchanged, no last rites, and whatever she tried to shout through the glass I never got to hear. I could see the tears rolling down her face when they put the blindfold on her, how they flowed even though she tried to stop them, but what I remember most was how she tried to smile at the end, even as she was about to die, she didn’t want us to be sad. After that day we hardly spoke of her again, all of our mourning had to be done outside the public eye. My father had spent tens of millions of Yuan to try and keep her alive, and all those bribes, faked records, and schemes managed to do was buy her time. After that I’d have nightmares about them taking my brother too, even after he was old enough for the tests to be reliable; it took years for those to go away.

I have many more stories, how I spent most of my twenties falling into a life of substance abuse and hedonism to forget all of this, how I grapple with all of the truths and lies about ancestors who died a hundred and twenty years ago, how I’ve spent millions of Yuan on genealogy studies and consultations just to try and figure out if there’s a way I could have a child and know for certain they wouldn’t be a bender, how I gave up on that hope but am still haunted by one question: if I had a child that was a Bender would I hate them for how they were born, or would I love them in spite of it?

What I’m left with at the end of all of this is one question: What have I done? Through all of this, through all of my life until now I’ve sat by and accepted this as the way things have to be, I’ve been afraid to bring any more shame by speaking up, by standing for something. That changes tonight, where I am putting my unequivocal support behind this new proposal. I don’t know if what I’ve said will change anyone minds, I know many are still set in their ways, but all that I am asking is that we let them live. How can we condemn them all to death, young and old, sinners and saints, snuffed out all the same, and still call ourselves a just society?”

FunnyGuy   
Tao cleared his throat as if he were reserving his turn to speak next. Seated strategically across from Lana and beside his predecessor Nahalia. His eyes had only been affixed to Taichi as he spoke for a short moment. Utter ignorance.

“Mr. Sato's words should not fall on deaf ears. What he and his distinguished family have experienced is something we should all acknowledge…” His eyes returned to Taichi while giving a respectable nod to the man who stood courageously before then. “Yet this should not be what supports the decision to allow the free roam and continued procreation of Benders. In fact, my honorable king, we should celebrate the sacrifice that the Sato family and many others have made to maintain our just society. We cannot fall into the mistake of placing the needs of the few over the needs of the many, and as a product of recent developments, we are all aware of what damage a single bender can do to the many. Our city is not perfect, all at this table can agree but we should be proud of how far we have come. Where are the warring nations? Where is the desperately sought after Avatar? Where is the fear of being under the thumb of men and women that can raze homes and slaughter many with simply a wave of the hand?” He shut his eyes and sighed. “Gone. Nonexistent to the world we now thrive in. We've made grand strides after the purge of Benders. We've maintained a peace the world hasn't seen. So I also ask this. Why jeopardize that? We did not make these laws on a whim. There was a reason for it, and if we have forgotten or grown complacent, allow the recent explosion caused by a Bender to return yourselves to reality. Allow the murders of our people to remind you why we remove the weeds from our garden of a city we are still trying to cultivate! It is my absolute duty to ensure the safety of our people and with all due respect King Wu, I am sure you wish to ensure the same.”
Exit   
”Well spoken.” Nahalia commented. ”We’ve laid the groundwork necessary to ensure a future as peaceful and as safe as the one we’ve enjoyed for a hundred years. Generations who will never have to fear tyranny at powerful hands and we enforce the laws we’ve created to protect that future. I will not see our work thrown away because of one accident, regardless of the cause. Regardless of the people affected. We can only ensure that our system continues to work if we trust it.”

”Trust that we’ve sent a good person to die?” The last to add their voice to the room finally spoke. A woman with piercing blue and glowing eyes. If one stood close enough, they could see the irises shift as she looked around the room. Mina was seated next to the one empty seat at the table. ”What did Xiu do to deserve that, hm? Her only crime being that on a random day in the middle of the week, she woke up a Bender. Xiu, who spent many years seated here with us, working to improve this city. Working to solve the issues that have plagued it since before her time.” She turned to Tao. ”We speak of sacrifice to protect our way of life but what of her sacrifice? What of the bright spot on this council that has been smothered. Tossed to the side and forgotten as if she never existed. What of those of us who refuse to forget?” She turned to Taiichi. Her bright eyes became empathetic. ”Those of us who are left with the loss. Truthfully… I mourn Xiu, I will not deny it. Xiu was a dear friend of mine as I’m sure she was to others here and yet, despite everything she did for us and for Ba Sing Se, we have condemned her for fear of an act she never committed. Worse still… I look around this table… I look at everyone outside this room and understand that anyone has the potential to cause others unimaginable harm.” She shook her head. ”But only Xiu had the potential to do as much good as she did. Imagine what our city would be like without her. Imagine what our city could be like if we consider everyone in the same light.”

She gestured toward Lana. ”Medicine for instance. Spirit water is limited to the Upper Ring and those in the Lower Ring suffer because of it. What good may come if there were more people who could effectively treat with it. Or industry, Over a century ago, Firebenders were employed to generate electricity. Imagine what a Bender could create today.”

Finally, Mina looked at everyone at the table. ”I too stand with the King in looking toward a better future. Of looking for change. If we don’t give it a chance, if we don’t give our people a chance… and I mean all of them, we’ll never be free of the world we created outside the walls. We’ll never be free of our fear and we’ll never know what could be.”

Vyska nodded, as did the king who turned to the man seated next to Lana. Song Cheng nodded as well. ”As we share this seat, it should come as no surprise to anyone that our opinion on this matter is shared. I think change is good. Allowing Benders to live within the city can help drive our economy.” He gestured loosely at his wife. ”Medicine, science, work…” Song shrugged his shoulders as his voice trailed off, struggling to find another thing to add to his list. However, he was saved when another entrance interrupted his shallow speech.

Double doors at the far end of the room were opened and a woman stepped inside holding a tray with a pot and several tea cups on top. As she approached and walked past some of those seated at the table, the air around them became tainted with the scent of roasted rice. She circled around to stand beside the king and placed the tray down nearby before pouring a cup and passing it to him.

”Thank you…” He said. He gestured at Song to continue before sipping at his tea. The woman rotated around, moving next to Lana and Song. Song declined the cup.

”I think it’s a good idea.” He stated simply.


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Evening · |@Exit] & |@MistressDizzy] CollaborationEvening · @Exit & @Mistress Dizzy Collaboration
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Exit   
”The hell?”

Like at the entrance to the club, Jin and Nelu were greeted again by two individuals, these ones standing ahead of what looked like a heavy steel door. And again, like before, one of the individuals was rather large. This one, however, clearly had some work done as one arm was metal in make. Rivets, wires and steel bars made up the skeleton and muscle of the man’s left arm. It was slightly unwieldy and longer than his right.

The person standing next to him was a woman, the same one with a blue cloak hanging off their shoulder from the bar. Or was it teal? It was hard to tell in the light.

”You lost?” Came the unusually deep voice of the larger male.

”Wait a minute… Aren’t you two the ones trying to get water earlier?” The girl tried not laugh. ”You’re not going to find any down here.”

”No. We uh… we’re… looking for someone? We’re….” Nelu hesitated for a moment and gestured at both himself and Jin. ”...We’re Benders.”

The woman raised a brow and the man next to her laughed. ”You expect me to believe you’re Benders? Dressed like that? You look like you’re from the Upper Ring and no one from the Upper Ring survives in the Lower Ring, much less all the way down here.” He said.

”Prove it.”

”Sonam…”

”Boss says anyone.” Her eyes bounced from Nelu to Jin. ”And that means anyone, no matter where they’re from.” She sighed and her eyes softened a bit. ”I’m sure it’s been rough for you, especially coming from the Upper Ring if… that’s actually where you’re from. Which regardless of where that really is, we’ll still need proof… Of course, if you can’t provide it…”

The man smiled. ”...Then you won’t be leaving this place.”

Nelu glanced between the two and then back to Jin, before giving them a confident and reassuring nod.

”We’ll need some water.” He said, turning back to Sonam.

Sonam moved to the wall where in the dark was a shelf and a bowl. She picked up the bowl and brought it over to Jin and Nelu before placing it down at their feet. The liquid inside was not clear but an opaque brown, nearly black. Sonam nodded toward it.

”Go ahead.”
Mistress Dizzy   
By the time the pair of them reached the area where the meeting was to take place, Jin had overcome their embarrassment - at least outwardly - and gotten back on the mission. After all - the sooner they got the faces and info the LSF wanted, the sooner they could get back to the surface and forget this night ever happened.

Jin had gone over a plan to get the two of them in the door without the risk of having Nelu bloodbend in the open. As soon as Nelu sensed the two figures they were approaching, Jin's persona shifted yet again, morphing like warm plastic in a shell. They stepped closer to Nelu as if trying to use him as a shield. Their shoulders drooped, and their body turned in on itself. It took a very short time for Jin to go from a relaxed stride to a nervous step. By the time they reached the door, Jin looked like an Upper Ring girl seeing her first taste of the real world on the outside.

While Nelu did the talking, Jin hung back in his shadow, silent. They were angled so that they could get a clear shot of both guards with the hidden camera. With their gaze looking this way and that, all but jumping at shadows and dust bunnies, the motions Jin had to make to scope out the scene were masked.

A name pricked up Jin's ears, and they almost made eye contact with the blue-cloaked woman on reflex before letting their gaze sweep though them to gawk at the large man's mechanical arm like it was bizarre. But their mind was kicking into a new gear.

Sonam? Things had just gotten… interesting. The former thief and the capable supplier were nearly the same age and had run in similiar, sometimes overlapping circles. Jin hadn't worked with the woman face to face since they were both skinny, no-name brats cutting their teeth in the criminal underworld. Thanks to the RSF snatching away 4 years of their life, almost everyone Jin had ever run with in the old days thought they were dead. They'd even found an old memorial shrine to the Flying Frog in one Underground tunnel. It would be impossible to be recognized after so long. Right?

As the bowl of "water" - honestly, it was more like wet silt than anything else - was placed down, Jin exhaled nervously. That was no act. These two guards had to buy what came next, completely.

"Right." Jin raised both hands, then moved through the motions that Nelu had described of an early waterbender. They made them grander than necessary, full of wasted energy and flourish. And they finished at the bowl of water with a "Ha!" to the effect of… absolutely nothing.

"Wha-" Their face screwed up into a girlish pout. They repeated the last steps in the routine and - the bowl stayed unbothered.

Tears began to glisten in the corners of blue eyes. "I-it was… it was working before. The day the power went out, that day with the pink mist… I busted a pipe at Daddy's house and-" A sniffle, and then, to really seal the deal - a sudden cough with a distinct, airy wheeze. It was one of the first signs that an Upper Ring idiot had wandered too low - a symptom of the subterflu.

Between the low quality oxygen, lack of sunlight, and carving out a living among other things that made their home in dirt, the Underground life could be hard on the lungs. Truthfully, the subterflu was less an actual disease, and more of an allergic reaction. But the effect was the same.

Jin gasped for breath before shooting a teary, weary look at Nelu. "Why doesn't it work? This water isn't clean enough! We need real water.”
Exit   
Sonam’s face suddenly turned serious, as did the man’s next to her. Nelu reacted by placing a reassuring hand on Jin’s shoulder.

”It’s alright.” He said, turning from Jin to the others. ”She’s been through a lot the past couple of days, trying to stay under the radar and not give herself away when she started bending. She… hasn’t had time to practice in between trying to get out of the Upper Ring and make it all the way here.”

”And what about you?” The man asked, focusing now on Nelu. Sonam kept her eyes on Jin, studying her carefully… almost too carefully. Her eyes narrowed.

”I’ve had time.” Nelu raised his hand above the bowl and spread his fingers wide while twisting his wrist and pushing his fingers to a point. It traced an invisible shape in the air like that of a circle and as he repeated the motion, the water in the bowl began to shift unnaturally before suddenly spiraling upward and into the air. It formed a spinning sphere and remained suspended above the ground. Almost immediately, both Sonam and the man next to her focused on Nelu, watching in surprise at the precise control he was exerting on the water.

”At least enough time to do that. And I’ve been careful enough to remain undetected for years but this…” As he continued to speak, the motion of his hand began to slow and the sphere began to drop out of the air. It floated down gently back into the bowl and resumed its original shape. ”...This is… it’s dangerous, especially where we’re from and we needed a safe place to hide or at least a safe place for her to practice enough so that she could control it. We heard that there were others like us gathering down here.”

”There are… but very few are as able as you are…” Sonam said, staring intently at Nelu.

”And there are none who cannot.” The man gestured at Jin. ”If you can’t bend, you’re not getting in.”

”Right…” Sonam turned back to Jin, studied them for another handful of seconds and then sighed. She reached behind herself and pulled out a small vial, placing it on the ground next to the bowl. The liquid inside was perfectly clear. ”Try again with this. I want you to push the vial. Even if you can’t do that, the liquid should glow if you’re trying. And you…” Sonam pointed at Nelu. ”You keep your hands down.”

Nelu nodded and then turned to Jin. ”You’ve got this.”
Mistress Dizzy   
While Nelu weaved a mastercraft of lies, then did his demonstration, Jin couldn’t help but watch. There was rarely time to just observe him when he was bending. It was actually kind of beautiful. Too bad that the same thing could be so deadly.

Looking at him kept them from looking at Sonam. They could practically hear this woman's mind working. One of the few people they knew from the old days was suddenly 5 feet away. Of course, it had to be one of the few people Jin could truly match wits with. But there was nothing they could do. No way to warn Nelu. If Sonam got even a hint that Jin recognized her… it would be trouble. Sometimes the spirits had a bad sense of humor.

So far, the story was believable. Now to bring it home.

Jin exhaled slow, noting the nervous shudder in their breath. It was quite real. "Alright. I- I can do this." They stretched out a hand, screwed their eyes shut and pushed at it, palm whooshing through empty air.
Exit   
As Jin pushed at the vial, the liquid inside began to glow, although it wasn’t very bright. It did however wobble slightly.

”Huh…”

”See?” Nelu said smiling. ”She’s got it.” He placed a hand on Jin’s shoulder. ”Good job.”
Mistress Dizzy   
"Oh… Thank you." The flustered schoolgirl look that Jin gave him back, dropped hastily as if they’d just remembered they weren't alone, was a subtle touch. The guard with the metal arm would miss it. Sonam, though, probably wouldn’t. That was the point, of course. Jin only hoped it would be enough to throw her suspicions to the side. The Jin that Sonam knew would never lose their wits over anyone.

Funny how things changed.
Exit   
The man next to Sonam looked a little disappointed but otherwise relaxed. Sonam, however, did not. For a moment, she continued to study Jin as if there was something else to see. Her eyes narrowed slightly as Jin performed her charade and it was obvious Sonam was a little confused and a little suspicious, but eventually she too relaxed. Whatever alarm had been sounding in her head was silence when she glanced back at the vial. It had moved and she had her orders. She nodded before picking up the vial. ”It’s probably better that way. Easier to hide at least. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone so disappointed that they couldn’t bend. Most of us… Well, you’ll see.”

She waved the man to the side. [color=whtie]”What are your names?”[/color] She asked, placing a hand on the door.

”Jasmine.” Nelu gestured at Jin and then at himself. ”And Nemu.”

”Jasmine and Nemu?” Sonam asked, raising a brow and slowly nodding her head as if the names were the strangest things she’d ever heard. ”...Okay.” She knocked on the door three times and a panel in the front slid open. Behind it, a pair of eyes appeared and bounced between the four people in the room. After a moment, the panel was shut and there was a mechanical click in the frame of the door as a bolt was undone.

”Come on.”

Sonam pushed the door open and led the two into the next room. The change was immediate. What little light had been filling the previous corridor was replaced by warmer brighter lights that echoed across a large chamber. This chamber was not made of metal or concrete and was instead entirely carved out of the earth. The ground was dirt and divided into various platforms raised to different heights at either side of the room. On top of these platforms were several groups of people. In total, Nelu counted a little more than a hundred heads. He figured there were more he could not see but there were far to many for him to count accurately with his bloodbending.

The people gathered here were from every ring of Ba Sing Se although it was clear that there were more here from the Lower than the Upper. Most were wrapped in well worn clothing, stained by a life lived in the shadow of the city. Some wore clothes that were more clean and kept and even seemed somewhat prepared for a trek. They had with them backpacks and food and water. A select few were like Jin in that they had arrived dressed up for the Gala in the palace. They too seemed rather lost and nervous but were otherwise safely tucked away in their own groups. All of them seemed tired and stressed and paid the two new arrivals no mind, save for one.

A woman, who had just finished showing the man Jin and Nelu had been following to one of the groups, turned to them as they arrived. Her bright green eyes regarded them curiously. Cautiously.

"Welcome." She said, standing up and making her way over. She hopped down one of the raised platforms in a smooth leap, her long white hair trailing behind her like a shadow of ice and snow. Her clothing was loose and left her arms and midsection bare. Part of it was because of the heat, Nelu was sure. The other he could only surmise was to show off the effort she'd put into keeping herself fit. The muscles under her skin were defined in the shadows cast by warm light. She looked as though she could snap a man in half.

"So... what do we have?"

"Waterbenders. Both of them." Sonam replied. She pointed at Nelu. "And this one seems rather good too... we might want to consider..."

The woman nodded her head as she studied the both of them. "Don't worry you two... you're safe now."


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LSF HQ · |@Dog] & |@Exit] CollaborationLSF HQ · @Dog & @Exit Collaboration
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Exit   
“Good Evening, 141.”

There was a tap against the capsule and from the other side of the frosted glass pane, a number of concealed faces could be seen. After a few moments of muted voices and a series of electronic beeps and chimes, there was a hiss of gas and the lid on the pod popped free from a latch. Another button press and it slowly began to rise, giving 141 an unobstructed view of a familiar room… again. He was back and surprisingly so soon.

“I hope you got enough rest. We’ve got new orders for you today. It’s a little different this time.” Came the familiar voice of the male doctor in the room.

”Are you sure this information is correct?” The female chimed in, same as before.

”If it is… then they’re going to need him.”

The male doctor pressed a button on the panel in the center of the room and an image of a familiar face populated the air in front of 141. Katakuri stared back at him.

”Katakuri Soran… is not joining you for this.” The male doctor began, filling in the missing information. ”He is the target. Now normally Captain Nelu would fill you in on the details but he is currently in the middle of his own mission with Jin. So, I’ve been tasked with catching you up.”

The man hit another button and the face of Katakuri was replaced with a render of the city. In the space below the city, the known corridors of the Underground were highlighted and about a third of the way down was a small red flashing dot.

”Katakuri’s last known location and…” The portrait of the rogue agent returned along with a picture of a little girl. ”... this is Chosah. A firebender who is accompanying him. Kill him. Capture the child. Understand?”
Dog   
Object-141 stands still as his body and mind starts to process the mass amount of data fed to him by screen and neuro-ports. In an instant, 141 understands what must be done. Katakuri must die. The firebender’s combat forms and manners were already being predicted by the monster. How fit the man was. How many steps he could take within the span of a few seconds and other hundreds of factors on combat with Katakuri were being calculated by 141. There were only thoughts of how quickly and effectively 141 could take down Katakuri. Nothing more or less.

Prompt:
End Chapter Two.
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