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guess i'll just step on you.
08.02.22.13:46


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The next two days brought heat and sand and a cold night. Feyi led the group across the endless desert, stopping only for short rests or during the night they had to make camp. She’d spend the majority of the day answering questions and catching them up on the world outside, or at least the parts of the world she knew about.

Outside the walls of Ba Sing Se, a world thought dead was still thriving, though it was very much changed. Pockets of civilization created by survivors of the war had sprung up, opting to take their freedom in the waste rather than live in the confines of the city. Trade flourished, people were happy and more than anything else, Benders were not so heavily persecuted. Places existed where they were protected and even worshiped. Hailed as protectors and sought after so as to find safety in their watch from the threats born of a changing world. Like in the city, they were few and far between, and while life was still difficult for them, it was not so oppressive as it was within the walls. There of course were still those who did not want for a Benders well-being, but Tu Zin was a place of safety. In fact, Tu Zin was home to two Benders.

The leader, Unye, was an Earthbender and had been for years. It wasn’t the most well kept secret but not all the ears out in the wild were not given to Ba Sing Se. Raiders and other dangers alike usually gave the place a wide berth for fear of his reprisal and in this way, Tu Zin thrived. Not so much as to draw attention but enough that those who knew it knew they could seek solace and a place to rest if needed.

The other was a recent addition to the settlement having arrived in Tu Zin nearly a year earlier. It was also someone quite close to Feyi. Feluna was Feyi’s little sister who at the age of seven, had discovered she was a waterbender.

---

Late into the second day of travel, the scenery began to change. Rolling hills of sand turned to flat, sunbaked land. Loose pebbles turned to gravel and eventually compacted dirt and the barren world of the Si Wong Desert slowly transformed into a land where flora could once again thrive. Dry bushes and small shrubs marked the landscape until eventually, some small amount of green began to stand out in the brown of a mostly dry world. There wasn’t enough to make shade or take the dust out of the air, but it was a noticeable difference from before. And, it was a sign that the riders could break their circle formation as the threat of attack by a sandworm passed.

Eventually wayward dirt became a trail and after two days of traveling, the first sign of civilization beyond the wall appeared under the horizon. A mountain pierced the darkening sky splitting the colors of a setting sun in two, and at its base were unnatural shapes crowding in the mountain’s shade. As they approached, these shapes became buildings made of stone and wood and metal and eventually, standing in and around and on top of these buildings were the silhouettes of people.

They were greeted with a mix of emotions. Some cheered, greeting the arrivals with shouts of joy and welcoming home the hunters and the food they’d returned with. Some gawked at the newcomers with awe and curiosity. Children ran up to the Kyoshi to try and peer through the metal shutters of the windows and see who was riding inside. Worried parents would run after them and fetch them away, admonishing them for being so brazen. Some stared into the distance behind the group, out into the desert in the hopes that there were others who were not far behind.

But no one else arrived.

To the side, standing atop a raised platform, was an elderly man with graying beard and white hair who held a striking resemblance to one of the drivers who had been at the outpost. He was wrapped in thick blue cloth and dark leather straps and held himself upright by the cane in his hand. He paid no attention to the Kyoshi or the returning hunters and only stared into the desert. The setting sun illuminated weary, sad eyes in golden light.

---

The group had been given rooms at the local tavern and a day to rest and gather themselves. Food was provided along with water and any amenities they needed. The following day, they were allowed to explore freely although they were informed that later that day, Unye would be returning and would want to talk to all of them. Although smuggling Benders out of the city was not new, the arrival of a group of Benders had never happened before. He would want words as their arrival was unprecedented. He was also currently away as Tu Zin itself was in the midst of its own celebration of the end of the great war. Their celebration differed slightly from the city. Hunting parties were formed to seek out and hunt the largest prey in the sand and the group with who returned with the largest kill was rewarded. Feyi had been in one such party before they were diverted, and although their rescue also rewarded them with a kill of their own, the worm was an adolescent and quite small. Word had been received that Unye had managed to get a kill early and was quite happy with the size. He and his group were already on their way back, but until his return, everyone was free to do as they pleased.

Tu Zin itself was rather large to those unfamiliar with it. The settlement was built into the base of the mountain and was also partially carved into it. Much of the remains of the expanding city it once was still survived to the current day. Buildings, streets, street lights and power lines from a bygone area remained frozen in time, scarred now by the elements as a result of disuse. Much of these structures became the skeleton and the veins of the settlement built over it, as those who moved in transformed it into the haven it was now. A safe place at the edge of one the most inhospitable environments in the world. Of course from the outside it was hard to tell. The outer walls were simply the old abandoned buildings of the original ghost town. These had been converted into a kind of ‘wall’ with towers and guards patrolling the perimeter on a regular basis. There was a main entrance, but there were also many other smaller entrances and it seemed there were no procedures or checks to enter.

Within the walls, the settlement was stained by the sea of sand it sat on the edge of. The streets were ever covered in a layer of loose dust and the town itself seemed covered in a brown haze that persisted. Despite this, life brought color toTu Zin by way of the people who lived within it and those people thrived. Families flourished and trade was good.

Prompt:
I want to open up the opportunity to allow for creation of part of this settlement from the players. Specific buildings and businesses exist, but you are free to add to Tu Zin. Keep in mind that people who live here now would have most likely migrated from cities nearby, including the now destroyed Gao Ling. Gao Ling would have at one point rivaled Republic City with a population hailing from various nations. Tu Zin will not have an identity to any one specific nation however, some people may have been able to keep track of their lineage and may present as still being a part of that nation.

The group has been given the day to do as they please. Players may interact with each other or explore and find more information about the world. There will be no joint collaboration doc for this posting period.

Places that currently exist: The Thirsty Cactus, the tavern where the group still has rooms and free food for the rest of the day although the proprietor insists he can’t keep giving out his stock for free even if it’s for Benders. There is a gun/weapon smith named Bartus who owns the Platinum Blade. A doctor named Sarah. A square where various goods are traded at stalls from vendors and peddlers. There is also a town hall where Unye resides that exists within the part of the city under the mountain. It is currently off limits.


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Morning · A TLA CollaborationMorning · A TLA Collaboration
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Exit   
Behind Feyi, the others were already securing the worm with ropes and tying the ends to the saddles on their ostrich horses. It looked as if they meant to bring the entire thing back with them. All of them were cloaked in similar garb: Long leather and dark outerwear that helped to protect from the heat of the sun but remained loose enough to breathe. Packs were strapped to their back as were weapons and gear, all in varying states of deterioration. It looked like a lot of what they had on them had been scavenged but held together well enough to get the job done. Besides the rifles, there were weapons, machetes, knives and a few handguns. At first glance, none of the firearms looked like they could be synergy.

Feyi dug into the folds of her jacket and pulled out a canteen. She tossed it up to Reman.

”You look like shit… as usual.” She said, her smile turning into a small laugh. As her eyes scanned over the rest of the group, her smile faded. ”Actually… you all do. Are you all that’s left of the caravan?”
canaryrose   
Chu Hua’s mouth opened into a small ‘o’ and her eyebrows contorted into something resembling confusion. She glanced between Feyi and Reman, and then took a step up to stand next to Reman. Who was this woman? Chu eyed her with some level of distrust. But then again, what did she know about Reman? Next to nothing, but she had no idea how he could’ve known this desert raider. She watched them cart away the worm. At least they could do that, she supposed.

Chu leaned in to talk to Reman, but made no effort to be quiet. Feyi could hear her, but she didn’t address her. “Um. Reman. Mind introducing us to your friends?”
Theyra   
” Uh…uh.” Reman wided eye, stumbled on his words and barely caught the canteen. Feyi was the last person he expected to see and he had many questions. “Feyi… her name is Feyi but I only know her. Not her friends and she is a friend of mine from the city.” Reman then tried to focus and stopped being eye wided. “Yeah we are the only ones that made it.” Reman looking back at the Kyoshi and then looking back at Feyi . “We got attacked while at the outpost, speed and a sandstorm saved us. But, I have many questions Feyi. I…. I do not know where to begin.”
Exit   
Feyi giggled, placing a hand on her hip. ”Reman is being modest. I’m really his only friend anywhere.” She threw him a wink and then once again turned to the others. ”Although I guess that’s changed, huh? And I know you’ve got questions but I’ve also got some of my own, starting with…” She turned again to Reman. ”Why didn’t you tell me you were a Bender, Reman!” She clicked her tongue and furrowed her brow looking somewhat disappointed. ”What the hell?”
Theyra   
”Uhh…..” Reman looked awkward at her and started to speak. ”Well, Feyi the truth is and this will surprise you but I am not a Bender.” Saying it as matter of factly. ”You see while I was at the Synergy Storage Facility for business when the explosion happened and one of the pipe runner Jin.” Reman turned to point at Jin before turning back to Feyi. “Turned out to be a Bender and while his plan was to escape into the wasteland I knew he would not last long and I know of one place out here. Granted the information about it is old and its looks like it is still good. I well did not want Jin to die out in the wasteland like that so I came with him as a guide and well, you know I always wanted to see the world beyond the city.”

Reman smiled weakly, “There is more to that but I think that is best for later and in a place where it is safe.” Reman looking back at the dead worm and Feyi’s friends messing with it. ”Are there more creatures out here we should be worried about? Nothing in the city said there would be sandworms out here.”
canaryrose   
Chu was still incredibly confused. She looked back at the others and shrugged, not sure what to say. Apparently Reman had a friend who got out. Honestly, Chu was jealous. She looked at him, reappraising and envious. Did this man even need to be here?

“So, erm, Feyi, Reman... care to enlighten the rest of us?” She crossed her arms.
Exit   
”That information is still good. It exists.” Feyi turned to Chu. ”And it’s where we’re headed, or where you would have been headed.” She paused for a moment realizing that there was a lot to cover and there was no real good place to start. Considering what she’d just walked into, she was sure they were all flustered having just fought for their lives and it wouldn’t do to hit them with more information all at once.

”The short of it is, I’m your rescue.” She flashed Chu a smile. ”Reman being here just happens to be a weird coincidence since… he’s not a Bender but I guess we’ll have to talk about that later. That just adds more questions…” She furrowed a brow at Reman.

”We were out on a hunting run when we got word that Tu Zin lost contact with Tikaani. They sent us to go find any survivors of the caravan and that’s when I ran into Mova. I was just…” Her eyes grew soft and a little disappointed. ”I didn’t know this would be it. But you’re safe now. We can keep the worms away and it’s only a couple days to Tu Zin from here. Maybe less since it looks like…” She pointed at the Kyoshi. ”...It looks like you’ve got a working vehicle. We’ve got plenty of food and water.”
vietmyke   
”Well, I’ll never complain about an excess of food and water.” Jin said gratefully as he pulled off his helmet, Sumire doing the same. ” Our situation wouldn’t have been good in a few days. Either way, we appreciate the save.” He relaxed a bit, though he was still a bit on edge as he glanced at the worm.

”Sand worm isn’t on the menu is it?” Sumire chimed in curiously, looking disdainfully at the fallen worm as she too removed her helmet.

”The others were killed or captured by RSF,” Jin informed the woman named Feyi, answering her unasked question. He decided it would be wiser to leave out the fact that one of their drivers had tried to shoot and rob him of his car. ”We only made it through on account of the sandstorm rolling in. Barely.”
Abstract Proxy   
Vasra followed the growing conversation with carefully guarded caution that soon shifted into a soft smile.. A happy meeting between friends was a welcome relief in between running from people trying to kill them and staving off deadly giant sandworms. The young doctor could not help but reflect with some surprise that she had not been seriously hurt in the insuring scuffle and by the looks of it neither had anyone else.

”Many thanks for the rescue, as the others have said, our journey was not an easy one, then again what is easy these days?”

Her lips pursed in a small frown as she looked at Chu, noting the state of the bandages she had wrapped around her hands and the sand that now covered the wounds, “Forgive me, Chu, but I must see to your hands when we have the time. An infection now would be far from idea and I hold little hope concerning the cleanliness of giant sandworms.”
KillamriX88   
Weiyuan found himself just so very tired. Relief at being rescued was making him realize that he still hadn’t gotten any proper sleep, food, or drink. For some reason all he could think about was that at any other time, his other half would be absolutely losing his mind over being this close to an ostrich horse.

It wasn’t really something you saw in the cramped streets of the Lower Ring.

The exhaustion was only held at bay as they were told that their promised sanctuary was real and they’d now be led to it. A few days away still, but as far as he knew, they had enough supplies to make it there, right?

. . . but then what?
Prompt:
Feyi escorts the group safely the rest of the way to Tu Zin over the next two days. The Kyoshi and the worm are taken with them.

End Chapter Two.


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__Evening · |@Exit] |@Fiber] |@DreamingFlowers] |@FunnyGuy]Evening · @Exit @Fiber @DreamingFlowers @FunnyGuy
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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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Morning · A TLA CollaborationMorning · A TLA Collaboration
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”Uuuuhh… Sumire began, adjusting her aim for the shadows standing on the ridge ahead. ”...More?! Am I… am I shooting them?”

”Reman is thirsty.” Came Mova who was still floating behind them. On Reman’s order, the drone was simply hovering slightly higher.
canaryrose   
Chu Hua looked at Weiyuan for a moment, considering, and then turned to the others. His voice was so quiet, but she had heard him. An ominous feeling spread through her. Something else. Could it be so bad as what they were already facing? Just then, before she was about to shout out, she heard Sumire’s voice and turned her head to the horizon, where she saw two things: the worm writhing about with its throat blown open and five human-shaped silhouettes on the ridge beyond. Well… her strategy had worked! She nearly cheered, but stopped when she noticed it wasn’t dead quite yet. Unfortunately, she was no use at a range.

She climbed onto the rock, completely ignoring Vasra’s hand (truth be told she didn’t trust the little woman to be able to help her up). Chu turned to Weiyuan once more. “Those people- they’re what you meant, right? “ She was pretty confident, just wanted to make sure. “How could you feel people walking? Or was it more than that?”

“Let’s see what they do first,” she said to Sumire. Her body was coiled with tension. This- this is what I live for, she thought. Despite the mortal danger, she was almost excited. “I’m curious.”
Theyra   
“I…I am not sure Sumire,” he said as he turned to face the new shadows on the ridge. Thinking are these new sandworms or something else? And Mova is not helping with the situation and is acting odd. Raising his voice to Mova. “Mova what are you talking about and do you know what these shadows are?” Still looking concerned and uneasy, one sandworm is one thing but now there are unknowns to deal with. He should have studied the area more when he had the chance but that is hindsight and does not help now. For now, they were stuck between a sandworm and five unknowns. But, the sandworm is the current threat and so Reman spoke. “Sumire, keep firing at the sandworm. Me and Vasra will watch the shadows on the ridge in case they attack.” Once again offering his spare pistol to Vasra and carefully watching the shadows’ next moves. Please not be a threat please not be a threat, Reman thought as he waited to see what these shadows will do.
Exit   
”The shadows are a friend.” Mova replied.

One of the silhouettes started descending the hill. As their form caught the light of the sun from a different angle, the silhouette became a human, cloaked in brown, riding an ostrich horse. They pulled a rifle from over their shoulder and began firing upon the worm. The bullets kept it pinned as they began to punch more cracks into the soft armor. The others behind the rider joined in, keeping a loose formation like that of a circle as three more riders appeared from over the ridge. In total, eight strangers began approaching the worm. Two more pulled out rifles while another pulled out a spear.
vietmyke   
”Just one thing after another.” Jin grumbled as he found purchase on the stiff rock formation, watching what appeared to be human riders on giant birds coming to their supposed rescue. Whether or not these folk would actually turn on them and shoot them afterwards remained to be seen, but for the moment they could be content in the fact that they weren’t actively shooting at them. ”How would you know if they’re friends or not?” Jin questioned the small drone- not entirely sure if it would answer him.
canaryrose   
Chu squatted down on the rock, gaze fixed on the horizon- at the people below. Who were they? She watched them defeat the worm with fascination. She had feared they were RSF or military, people following them, but no officer or soldier carried those kinds of primitive weapons. No soldier rode an ostrich horse.
vietmyke   
”At least they’re shooting at the worm.” He sighed. He held an arm to stop Sumire from aiming or firing the rifle, ”They seem like they have it handled. Best not waste ammo- or accidentally hit one of them while they’re running around this thing.”
canaryrose   
“Agreed,” she said, answering Jin Wei. They were focused on the worm for the time being, and Chu felt they shouldn’t get in their way. Besides, the little robot had said they were friends. Hopefully it was right.
Abstract Proxy   
“Is everyone alright?” Vasra interjected, taking advantage of the fresh help and welcome chance to breathe in between hurling rocks. She kept an eye on Chu, well aware that the outlawed athlete had taken the brunt of the damage from the monstrous desert worm.
canaryrose   
“I’m fine,” she told Vasra. Many injuries throughout her lifetime had conditioned her to both minor and major aches and pains, and she felt being slammed into the sand created a pain that was solidly in the middle. “No broken ribs or anything. Just some sand in my mouth. Blegh.” Truth be told, her hands, although bandaged and rubbed in salve courtesy of Vasra, had likely been rubbed raw from gripping the worm. They didn’t need to worry about that now, though.
Exit   
One of the riders broke away from the others and began to approach the main group, letting the rifle hang loosely to their side as they put their hands up in surrender. They kept them in the air until they were within talking distance and with one hand, pulled down the mask covering their nose and mouth and pulled back the hood revealing a woman underneath.

Mahogany hair, freed from the dark brown denim, fell loosely around her softer face framing her round lips and slender nose. An odd portrait of perfection against the backdrop of a desert worm being anchored in place with ropes before being run through with a spear. Her piercing blue eyes fixed on Reman as Feyi smiled playfully.

"I found you."


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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.”
Exit   
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?”
Exit   
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?”


_______________________________........
Evening · |@Exit] & |@MistressDizzy] CollaborationEvening · @Exit & @Mistress Dizzy Collaboration
____________________________________________________________________________.
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."
Exit   
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.
Exit   
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."


_______________________________........
Morning · A TLA CollaborationMorning · A TLA Collaboration
____________________________________________________________________________.
Exit   
”Hello again, Reman. I have found a source to quench your thirst.”
Theyra   
”Ahhh, Mova.” Reman turned around quickly to the unexpected drone. ”Mova, you are back.and that is nice to hear. I am betting it is water but, as you can see we are busy with a sandworm.” Reman taking a moment to watch how the others were faring against the sandworm and saw that while they seemed to have the upper hand. It was still touch and go. Turning back and speaking to Mova again. ”Right now, I need you to stay safe and away from the worm. So just keep your distance and stay out of its way, okay Mova?”
Exit   
”I have brought the source here.” Mova responded.

”Does that thing have a gun?!” Sumire asked, taking aim at the worm again.
canaryrose   
Sand filled Chu’s mouth as the worm slammed her into the ground, attempting to bury her. In that moment of sheer terror, all she could think of doing was to just keep holding on. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried not to breathe, although her ribs were screaming in pain.

… Maybe this had been a bad idea.

Just as Chu thought she was for sure going to suffocate, the worm suddenly brought its tail up once more, bringing her with it. Her fingernails were dug so firmly into the carapace that they were starting to hurt more than they already did. Chu screamed, this time in terror rather than exhilaration. “SOMEONE FUCKING KILL IT!” It was rather reductive, but it was all she could think to say while being swung around.

The worm fell onto its back with a bang, nearly throwing Chu off of it. She saw her opportunity then. “Weiyuan! Don’t let it get up!” she yelled, and, from the tail, vaulted off, landing on the worm’s exposed stomach. She had lit the stadium on fire earlier, right? Chu lit herself up much like she had done then, closing her eyes and forcing the fire out of her in a spherical space. Then, she directed a blast of flame at the exposed skin on its neck.
Exit   
The sphere of fire created around Chu was small and dissipated quickly, but was enough to light some of the weaker plates on its belly on fire. However, as a poor source of fuel, the fire here too quickly died. The blast of fire directed toward its weak point under its neck easily charred the exposed flesh, burning it away and further damaging the tissue underneath. It screamed again, thrashing about wildly with Chu on its belly and its legs flailing about. The plating around the opening began to crack further as pressure from the heat caused the boiling material underneath to expand.

In retaliation, it curved its tail into itself as it tried to position its pinchers around Chu.
KillamriX88   
Weiyuan could hardly stand to watch. All he had was sand to deal with a giant worm that… lived in the sand. If he was better at bending, that might not have been a problem, but as things stood he couldn’t hurt it and he could barely slow it down. Meanwhile, watching Chu try to physically wrangle the beast at point blank range was putting his blood pressure through the roof.

That said, it seemed they might have actually gained the upper hand. The worm was taking more and more damage and becoming more and more frantic. This was not necessarily a good thing for Chu who was still on top of the worm. The worm that probably hated her more than anything else right now. As it flailed, she was bound to lose her balance at any moment… so Weiyuan decided it might as well be sooner than later, while she was still free of its pincers.

With the worm on its back and her on its belly, it wasn’t a long fall, so he gathered up a ball of sand and took Chu’s legs out from under her, sending her tumbling to the ground where he turned the sand into a makeshift conveyer belt, dragging her away from it.

Once clear, he would help her to feet, but kept a firm grip on her wrist even once she was standing… not that he would have a say in the matter if someone like her insisted on making him let go. It was times like this he cursed his inability to speak properly.

All he could do was try to get across to her that they needed to get to the solid rock where everyone else was. The worm, presumably, couldn’t tunnel through rock to chase them… and, if it tried anyway… he might have a way to deal with it then. It and maybe whatever else he felt coming, but he didn’t have time to pantomime that information as well.
canaryrose   
Chu briefly panicked as she was forcefully pulled off of the worm and towards Weiyuan. She hadn’t seen the sand ball coming and hadn’t had much time to react, so by the time Weiyuan pulled her up, she was sputtering, incensed. “Kid, what the actual fuck-” she started, but then noticed his frantic gesturing and piped down, trying to figure out what he was trying to get her to do. Her heart was still pounding and she was breathing heavily. She didn’t try pulling away, instead letting her wrist hang limp. Her lips pursed- she was clearly upset. He wanted them to… go to the rock?
Exit   
From the rock, Sumire fired off another round at the worm. The bullet missed the already created hole but managed to crack another portion of the same plate. After some thrashing about from the still upturned creature, that section too fell away exposing more flesh.

One of its legs managed to find purchase in the sand and it began to roll back over in the direction of Chu and Weiyuan.
vietmyke   
”Oh no you don’t!” Jin barked as he saw the worm’s legs connect with the stand and start to flip itself over. Continuing his general strategy of blasting the creature with bursts of air, Jin changed up his strategy a bit as it seemed the creature was too large to be adversely affected by something as simple as wind. Sprinting a bit closer to the creature’s side, Jin skidded to a stop as he exhaled and sent an intense blast of air at the leg that had just connected with the ground. With any luck he’d knock it off balance and send it back onto its back where the others could do more damage to it.

He saw Weiyuan more or less pull Chu off of the creature, and saw the young man’s face turn towards the rock formation. Jin nodded to himself in affirmation, it seemed the two were on the same page. He called out to the two benders, hoping that he was getting across what the mute boy was trying to convey.
It can’t burrow through solid stone!” Jin yelled as he loosed another blast of air. The rocks probably go deeper than what they show, we can use the rocks for cover while we keep hammering its weak points!”

Sending one last blast of air at the worm’s ‘face’, Jin began bounding back for the rock outcroppings, where Sumire, Reman and Vasra remained. There was still the issue of getting the worm to reveal its weak spots to them while they were on the rocks, but it beat getting dragged under- not to mention it would be easier for them to move off of the loose and giving nature of sand.
canaryrose   
Jin Wei confirmed it and explained the decision. It made sense. Chu wished she had come up with it.

She nodded and started to dash towards the rock, following close behind Jin. Running in loose sand was difficult, but she managed.
KillamriX88   
It was only the nature of the sand that allowed Weiyuan to actually keep up with them while running. On more solid ground, he’d have been left in the dust. As they ran toward what was hopefully safety, he was glad Jin had been able to translate his idea to Chu Hua, or at least that the man had been of a similar mind.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too far of a run and the worm was still reorienting itself.

Once at the base of the rock, he once more grabbed Chu Hua, her shoulder this time, and forced her to look at him. They didn’t have time for him to be more polite. He hadn’t had the time for him to try and articulate why they needed to run to the rock, but now he could at least squeeze out two or three words that they all needed to know.

“Something else… coming…” he wheezed the words out of his dry throat. He then looked to Jin nearby, hoping Chu would get the idea to spread the word. He couldn’t make himself loud enough to do it himself.

Maybe if they lived through this he could teach them sign language… then again, who was to say they’d be sticking together much longer?

Well it wouldn’t matter one way or the other if the worm ate them, so he returned his attention to that. Just because it could swim through the sand didn’t mean it was trapped beneath it, clearly. It could still just walk over the surface to get them.

That said, as big as it was, it was still just an animal. Would it really press the attack after taking this much damage? Or was it so frenzied that it would risk further injury? If it was the latter… he figured he had one shot to stop it if it charged them… if he could even do it.
Abstract Proxy   
Uncertain of the value of hurling more rocks from her rapidly dwindling supply, Vasra hurled a final medium sized rock at the worm, before moving to the edge of rock formation. Shifting low, she leaned slightly over the edge, keeping her weight centered, and hold out an arm for any of the others still trying to reach the safety of the rocks.
Exit   
Air erupted around the worm in dust and sand as Jin blasted it with air powerful enough to push it away from him and once again pin it on its back. However, the rock that Vasra threw did fall short as when the others began to retreat to the rock, the worm retreated as well, carrying its new momentum forward into a roll. It recovered as everyone began to clamber onto the rock and as it reared into the sky once more, it let out another ear-splitting screech. However, this time, the sound was cut short. As the sands surrounding it began to vibrate, the damaged portion of its throat suddenly erupted. The weaker plates broke open and steaming flesh and sinew spewed from the gaping hole and piled onto the ground. The worm collapsed.
Prompt:
Despite damaged sustained, the worm is still very much alive but is currently only writhing in pain. It seems to be trying to gather its legs under it so it can stand back up.

Across from the worm atop a rolling sand dune, a silhouette appears. Its features are somewhat obscured as it stands in front of a still rising sun. A high pitched whistle that cuts through the still air follows its arrival, and four more silhouettes join the first on the ridge.


_______________________________........
Evening · An LSF CollaborationEvening · An LSF Collaboration
____________________________________________________________________________.
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.”


_______________________________........
Morning · A TLA CollaborationMorning · A TLA Collaboration
____________________________________________________________________________.
vietmyke   
With little difficulty, Jin plucked the small flower out of the ground. It appeared that a small patch of rocky soil was responsible for a small amount of plant growth in the area, allowing for small but hardy plants. The desert flower itself was a hardy plant as well- a thick stem, with small but large, bright red petals around a yellow core. Jin hadn’t seen many flowers in the desert- nor had he seen much in the lower rings of the city either, but it was pretty, he had to admit.

”Here.” Jin said plainly- but not unkindly, as he returned to Sumire, securing the flower in one of the loops on her harness. The shorter girl pulled her helmet off and shook her head, beaming a broad smile at him. Behind his polarized faceplate, Jin couldn’t help but allow a small smile on his face as well. Looking up, Jin spotted Weiyuan running towards them, his feet kicking up small bits of sand. Jin didn’t know much about the fellow, easily the youngest in their group- a quiet one. Weiyuan hadn’t made much effort to talk to Jin, though he hadn’t made much of an effort either. Sumire had said hi to him the night previously, but only to make sure he had enough food and water for the night.

The man was pointing and mouthing and waving at them- obviously panicked about something, but what? Jin cocked his head at the man, confused and not quite able to read what his lips were saying. Following the man’s finger, he was seemingly pointing at them, or rather at their feet. It was around then that Jin started to feel it, the ground trembling beneath them. Looking down, he saw the sand starting to shift under Sumire’s feet. Now sand shifting beneath their feet was normal- if there was a breeze, but the air had been mostly still this morning, and the shifting seemed to be centered on Sumire, as opposed to all around them.

”Uh… Mir…” Jin started cautiously, as he reached out for her. Sumire looked at him confused, but also reached out with both arms. ”Weird, you’ve never been much of a hugger-”

”No, Mir! There’s something in the ground!” Jin interrupted, quickly grabbing the girl and leaping back away from the shifting sands, a burst of air from his feet launching them back a few yards.
Exit   
The sand where Sumire had been standing suddenly bubbled, folded into itself and exploded, spraying bits of dust and sand in all directions. Emerging from within this dense cloud of dirt was a massive worm-like beast. It appeared out of the debris head first, mouth spewing sand and mandibles pinching angrily at the empty air having been robbed of its meal. It was a massive creature painted like the desert with a thick carapace covering its back and lighter plates on its belly. It was lined on either side with a distinct orange marker from which three pairs of legs ending in long talons protruded. They clambered together under the beast as it climbed out of the tunnel it had bore through, and as the creature reared to its fullest height, it began screeching at the sky. The noise was ear-splitting and the sand around it seemed to tremble from the vibrations of the sound alone. Granules shifted all the way out to past where the Kyoshi was parked.

Suddenly, the screeching stopped and the creature’s head turned violently toward Jin and Sumire. Its mouth opened and its tongue lashed out in their direction, the barbed tip falling short of Sumire’s back by only a few feet. Directly behind it, sand began to shift where its tail was still buried. This shifting sand began to move toward Weiyuan as if something small was moving toward him.
canaryrose   
A scream tore its way out of Chu Hua’s throat as the massive worm emerged from the sand. “Holy SHIT!” Although already far away, she backed away, heart beating like a rabbit’s in her chest. What was that thing? It seemed like she had been asking that way too much lately, but it was a good question. What kind of monsters lived in this desert? She stared slack-jawed in horror at Jin and Sumire as it seemed to look their way, doing… whatever it was doing with its tongue. Did it want to eat them?

Come on, Chu, think. They needed to kill it before it killed them. It was big, so she couldn’t wrestle it. Guns? No, she didn’t have any. Running it over? No, they wouldn’t get away in time. ...But she had fire. Chu realized it with a jolt, and then a rising feeling of… was that excitement? Her first smile in days crossed her face, and Chu squared her feet in her sand.

“Guys! Out of the way!” she screamed, and then tried something. She reached down into that place inside her where the fire came from, where that ember had always been. It was a burning well inside of her, one that she had always ignored or had tried to smother. She had never used it consciously before to this extent, but she had always felt it. Did it scare her? Thrill her? Maybe both could coexist. Surprisingly, it was easy to summon it, and even easier to send it out around her, expanding towards the beast. The flame expanded into a circle around her, and she shot out her hands, trying to direct it.
KillamriX88   
Weiyuan felt a surge of hope. It seemed Chu Hua might have actually had some ability to bend at will after all! He wasn’t the only one who-
canaryrose   
… But it didn’t work. Why the fuck hadn’t that worked? The flame fizzled out as soon as it had started, and Chu stared at the ground with the face of someone who hadn’t gotten what she wanted. Huh? Wait. “Can you not light sand on fire?!” she yelled, before trying something different.
KillamriX88   
And then it just sort’ve fizzled out and his jaw dropped as she asked one of the most asinine questions he’d ever heard. Of course sand wasn’t flammable! It was just crushed rock! Did she think rocks might be flammable too!?
canaryrose   
Okay. Okay, this time it would work. Chu Hua brought her hands to her side, trying to do the same thing she had just done.

Reaching deep into that long-buried place of hers again, she pulled at the flame, summoning it to her hands as a large ball of rippling heat. She felt the heat on her hands, but it was pleasant. In control. Copying a move she had seen from those tapes, Chu punched at the air as though she had a real opponent, directing a blast of flame directly at the worm’s face.
Exit   
The fireball erupted around the creature’s still open maw, wrapping flames and heat around its face and tongue burning the weaker exposed flesh. It screamed again, this time in pain, as it reared back and then shoved its head into the sand to extinguish the flame.
canaryrose   
Chu Hua could not believe that had worked. She stared in awe for a moment at what she had done with her power, and then briefly cheered. It clearly hated the fire, so maybe she should hit it with a few more of those. But before Chu got to create a stream of flame, it dug its head into the ground, extinguishing the fire. She glanced at the others. “Someone fucking sh- AGH!”

The tail of the worm burst out of the sand and whipped at her face, Chu had only a split second to think- but she always did.
KillamriX88   
Weiyuan was left slack-jawed and so dumbstruck, he almost forgot about the second tremor that had been approaching him.

Fortunately, Chu Hua got her act together enough to unleash a more competent display of firebending and distracted the worm. The worm now attacked her instead and-
canaryrose   
In a moment, she made a decision and ran and jumped at the tail, holding on for dear life. Chu let out a crazed laugh as she summoned the fire, digging her fingernails into a chink in its armor.
KillamriX88   
Again, Weiyuan was stunned by Chu Hua’s thought process. She decided to attack the worm physically, like it was some sort of insane rodeo.

Someone needed to do something before she was killed.

. . .
. . .
. . .

Oh.

He was going to have to be that someone, wasn’t he?

No doubt Chu Hua’s attack was making the worm terribly upset, and it was either going to smash her against the ground, or retreat back under the sands, possibly taking her with it.

Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for Chu Hua, recent events had forced him to dust off his Sandbending skills, so he had an idea. With the worm distracted, he hurried over as close as he dared, and then dug his feet into the sand before using his bending to tighten the sand around the worm’s tail, hopefully slowing its thrashing.
Exit   
As the midsection of the tail landed back in the sand following the swing, it becomes entombed by Weiyuan who hardened the earth around it, heavily restricting its movement. For now at least, it was no longer able to attack with its tail, nor could it move although already there are cracks appearing in the impromptu shackle. Chu, who managed to successfully jump onto and cling to the end of the tail, began to heat up the carapace from the outside. The impact of the tail against her was hard but not hard enough to break any bones.

Once again, desert sands began to vibrate as the creature’s head erupted from the ground, throwing more dust and rock in all directions. It turned toward Chu, opening its mouth to reveal smoldering flesh from where she had struck it. The barb tipped tongue was hanging slightly slack between its teeth.

”EW!” Sumire screamed from behind Jin. She threw a rock at its head where it bounced harmlessly off its armor plating doing little more than drawing its attention.
vietmyke   
Jin stared blankly at Sumire. She returned a sheepish smile.

”If you’re going to get its attention, use something that’ll actually hurt it.” Jin scolded his smaller companion as he grabbed her and bounded again, a burst of air sending them flying over to the top of the rock formation they had rested by the night before- something most likely a lot bigger underneath the sand than it was above the sand. If his thought process was correct, on top of the massive rock, Sumire should be invisible from the creature- unless it detected heartbeats or something too. ”Reman! Vas!” Jin called to the engineer and waterbender, though loud enough for everyone else to hear as well, Up over here! It doesn’t have any eyes, I think it detects motion in the sand!”

Unslinging his rifle from his shoulder, he pressed the weapon into Sumire’s hands. ”You still know how to shoot right?” the bunny ear flopped up and down. ”Wait for an opening- and don’t hit us or I swear to the spirits…”

Jin left the threat hanging as he bounded back into the sand, towards the worm, his bounds crossing twice the usual distance- plumes of sand billowing out as his feet contacted the ground. He had only spent a small amount of time experimenting with his airbending- out in the safety and relative privacy of the desert- so long as no one spotted him, Jin was safe to practice his airbending as much as he wanted. He didn’t have any formal teachers or training, not that he knew where he’d get any in this day and age- asking around might’ve gotten him arrested

Skidding to a stop in the relative front of the worm-beast-thing, a few yards back Jin took a deep breath, cool air filling his lungs as he squared himself in front of the monster. As the beast’s head drew itself out of the sand Jin threw his fist out in a hook, a compressed blast of air arcing from Jin’s fist and towards the monster. Jin didn’t wait to see the effect on the creature, he threw a pair of jabs in rapid succession before following up with another hook. The thing was large and armored, they might able to kill it if they were lucky, but at the very least they could rough it up enough to the point it had second thoughts about whether or not it still wanted to eat them.
canaryrose   
Chu wasn’t watching the others with any particular focus- she was too focused on keeping her grip on the carapace of the worm, desperately keeping herself from slipping. She did, however, hear Jin shouting and she noticed the sand around the tail hardening, keeping the worm from flinging her onto the ground. She would have given Weiyuan a thumbs up, but she was a bit busy. She yelped as the worm raised its head once again, looking right at her, opening its mouth, and roaring.

Using a significant amount of arm strength, Chu hauled her upper body upwards, almost as if she was doing a pull-up. She pointed her feet straight out, facing the worm’s mouth, and then summoned the flame. It came even easier this time, and she directed it downwards. It shot out of her feet with a loud whoosh, shooting right into the worm’s open mouth. Distantly, Chu noticed herself sweating from the heat, but she was grinning with exhilaration. She had just needed to get closer to pull this off- and it had worked!

Now she just needed to think about how to get off… Chu glanced at Jin Wei below, formulating a plan. “If I jump, catch me!” she screamed. She hoped he understood that she meant with air, not his arms. For now, though, she’d cling on.
Abstract Proxy   
Finding fresh purpose, Vasra ran towards the rock formation that Jin had indicated. She hoped the worm wouldn’t notice as she lept upwards, fingers smashing against the rock blindly as she scampered upwards. She had no weapons. The two vials of spirit water she had were too important to waste, besides she wasn’t sure what they would do to the giant…desert worm thing. Hunkering down next to Sumire, she nodded at the flailing worm, “Aim for the head! And not Chu. We need to distract it even more!”

Picking up a modest rock between both her hands, no larger than an eggplant, but far denser, Vasra hurled it at the head of the worm with an effortful grunt and a twirl that almost sent her stumbling onto the ground. It hadn’t worked for Sumire, but she had to do something.
Theyra   
Reman ran fast to the rock with Vasra and Sumire after Jin ordered them to. Watching from afar the fight with the sandworm and when Vasra throw a rock at the sandworm to distract but they needed more then a rock to attract its attention. Drawing his pistol and offering Vasra his second that he took from that man back at the outpost. ”I do not have a lot of ammo for both so make it count.” So with his free hand he shot at the sandworm’s head, maybe this will distract it.
Prompt:
The creature screams as flames erupt in its mouth a second time. However, instead of diving into the sand, it immediately shuts its maw. The rest of the flames roll harmlessly off its scales. In retaliation, it stiffens its tail and strikes the sand with Chu still clinging to it, knocking the air out of her lungs and burying her in the dirt. It intends to keep her there, but as it starts to grind its tail along the ground, air blasts from Jin distract the beast causing it to rear up once more and pull Chu back up. Although harmless, the balls of compressed air are strong enough to visibly knock the creature's head back and it is unable to concentrate on what it wanted to do.

At the same time, bullets begin striking the armor plating covering its face. From the rock, Reman continues putting rounds into the creature as Sumire shoulders the rifle and aims for the now much more exposed plates under its neck. She pulls the trigger eliciting a bark and a kick from the gun which she handles almost surprisingly well. The first bullet cracks the plate. A second bullet tears away a sizable chunk exposing pale flesh underneath.

The rock Vasra throws falls short of the body of the creature but does manage to land on one of its outstretched legs, pinning it as it is being pummeled from all sides. It begins to fall on its back just as the earthen shackle around its tail finally shatters.

Weiyuan: You feel a second tremor coming from the Southeast.

Reman: You suddenly hear something directly behind you.


_______________________________........
..Palace · An LSF CollaborationPalace · An LSF Collaboration
____________________________________________________________________________.
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
____________________________________________________________________________.
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.



_______________________________........
..Palace · An LSF CollaborationPalace · An LSF Collaboration
____________________________________________________________________________.
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.


_______________________________........
..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.

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