[Fic]: Terracotta Dawn (Prologue)|
Alak paused on his way to the private areas of the Dai Li Museum. He could hear Professor Thanh yelling from here, which meant that his assistant, a former Joo Dee, had screwed something up.
"…was an accident," he heard the Joo Dee — Ai Fulin, that was her name — say.
"My dear girl, when King Hung destroyed Gaoling, that was an accident," Thanh retorted. "You… are a catastrophe!"
Alak smiled. Ai Fulin would be looking for a way out about now. Obliging her need, he poked his head inside the room. "Professor?"
Thanh glanced at him. "Alak," he said as Ai Fulin made her escape, slipping sideways with her back to a wall until she reached the door behind the young man. "What do you need?"
The Dai Li agent grinned at the professor, picking up Ai Fulin's fleeing footsteps through the stone floor, and held up his bag. A few scrolls poked out of the top. "More items to be translated, sir."
The professor gestured, and Alak turned the bag over to him. He stood at ease as Thanh sorted through it and selected one of the scrolls, and felt another smile cross his face when his teacher's eyebrow rose. "From Han-Guk again, I see. Where are you getting these?"
Alak coughed. "I know a guy."
Thanh pierced him with a look that made the agent feel like he was a trainee again. "Really."
"I don't want to scare him off," Alak explained, fighting the urge to squirm. "He could be useful."
This earned him an eyeroll. "Not your job to recruit, boy."
"I'm not recruiting." Alak grinned. "But he's got skills Hyo-sir could use."
"Hn." Thanh spread his scroll on a table and looked at the characters. "Scrolls, statuettes, idols, rubbings of wall-carvings… you best not be trucking with a temple-robber, boy."
"Careful with that scroll!" Kouji hissed to his twin sister. He reached down as far as he could to pass the delicate object to her without dislodging himself from his hazardous position on the underground temple's ceiling.
"I know, I know," Yui replied, rolling her eyes and stretching out to take the scroll from her no-less-precarious spot hanging off of a wall carving. "We've been tomb-raiding long enough."
"We're archaeologists, Yui," the young man told her, carefully making his way back toward the adjacent wall.
She arched an eyebrow, watching him slide down to the ground, his earthbending keeping his fall controlled. "Uh-huh. And who sells the things we get?" she asked, tucking the scroll gently into a pouch that would protect it further.
"Alak gives me good prices!" Kouji protested, walking under her and opening his hands.
She dropped the pouch into them. "We're tomb raiders." When Kouji made a strangled noise, she smiled, and then looked around for a safe way down. It had been a long time since she and Kouji had run through the forests, and she wasn't sure if she still remembered how to properly fall. There! That statue looked strong enough to hold her, and it helpfully had an arm outstretched for her to catch herself on.
Beneath her, Kouji followed her line of sight. "—Wait, Yui, I don't think—" he began, but it was too late; she'd already flung herself across the space. He was entirely unsurprised when, after she caught herself, her weight dragged the statue's arm downward, accompanied by the sound of grinding stone.
"…oops," Yui said, clinging to the arm-lever.
Before her brother could retort, something else ground against stone, followed by the sound of rushing water. "Slag!" yelped Kouji. He stamped his foot down, creating a thin pillar that launched him from the floor to the top of the statue Yui still hung onto. "Why did it have to be lakes?" he wondered as the first wave splashed hard across where he had stood a minute before.
Had she not been hanging on for dear life, Yui would have smacked him. "Help me up!"
Kouji tucked their find into his bag, then crouched down. He dug his left hand into the statue and offered her his other hand. She grabbed hold and together, they got her to relative safety.
"This won't keep us for long," Yui said, watching the rising water.
"You should have known better than to jump before I'd checked it," Kouji replied.
She glared at him. "You said you'd got rid of all the traps!"
"The ones on the floor and in the walls!" he retorted. "I didn't think you'd go statue-jumping!"
Yui snorted in disgust. "And here you're supposed to be the smart one."
"Shut up," the earthbender said, eyeing an alcove directly across from him. It looked like it had been a rest area for the earthbenders who made this temple. Unlike his twin sister, he couldn't swim, so he'd have to jump across before the water got too high. Where was it coming from, anyway?
Well, he couldn't figure that out from here, and the water was rising— was it rising faster? "Slag," he said.
Yui hit him. "You've been in the Earth Kingdom too long," she informed him. "Stop swearing and fix it!"
He glared at her, but gauged the distance from statue to wall. It was all math, and easy math at that. "Okay. I think I got it. Give me the rope."
His twin stared at him.
"The rope's in my bag," she said
Kouji blinked. "And… your bag is…?"
Yui pointed to the water.
It was the earthbender's turn to stare.
"It's not like I had time to get it!" Yui said defensively.
"If I flub this and drown, it's your fault," Kouji informed her.
"Like you flub anything."
Kouji shook his head and checked the distance again. "Right. Here goes nothing." He backed up as far as he could, then dashed three steps across the head of the statue. He used just enough earthbending to propel him to the alcove.
He didn't need the rope. He did need to stoop so he wouldn’t crack his skull against the ceiling. Apparently the earthbenders who had built the temple hadn't had his height. Shaking his head, Kouji returned his thoughts to the present — unless he stopped this, both of them would drown.
"Hurry!" Yui called over to him; Kouji ignored her, though the water half-filled the room by now. Earth-tracking wasn't an easy thing for him, even if Alak had been helping him improve. Taking a deep breath, he knelt and settled his hand against the ground. He nudged his earthbending through it, trying to figure out where the water was pouring in from.
This would be so much easier if he'd been trained by the Fighting Lady.
Finally, he located the stone trapdoor, and shifted focus from feeling to holding. Slowly he dragged that door back down, cutting off the flow of water into the room. When he opened his eyes again, Yui was in the much-calmer water, swimming towards him with strong strokes.
He blinked; the water was scant inches from his feet. He really needed to work on his earth-tracking.
When she reached him, Kouji helped her out of the water. "Sorry," he said sheepishly.
Yui just glared at him, then leaned out of the shelter to wring out her long braid. "Don't be sorry," was her tart reply. "Get us out of here."
"Yes, ma'am." Still kneeling, he placed both of his hands flat on the ground, seeking the best way out of their current situation. Several minutes passed, during which he was dimly aware of his twin rifling through his bag, and then finally he opened his eyes. "Okay," he said, rising to a crouch. "I've got it. Move to the side."
Yui obeyed him a little more than he liked. She slipped into the water and turned onto her back. "I can do this without dropping the ceiling on you, Yui," he pointed out.
"I like floating," was her rejoinder.
Kouji drew back and began earthbending. First he strengthened the little roof to be sure it wouldn't collapse on him, then he raised it so he could stand upright. He needed space in order to do this safely and without destroying too much. From there, he forced some of the wall inward, making the start of a tunnel to the outside.
Yui didn't come out of the water until he'd got several feet in and had to stop to rest. "Don't overdo it," she cautioned him. "This isn't really your forte."
"Do I tell you how to sing?" he shot back at her. "Pass me the tú miàn bāo."
Yui gave him two of the pressed cakes, trying not to giggle at the faces he made while eating them. Kouji hated sickly sweet things, and the energy-restoring cakes were nothing but sweet.
"Why can't that inventor up North make some sort of portable icebox?" Kouji asked
"It wouldn't be convenient for us to carry anyway," Yui said. "And it'd probably cost everything we've saved up so far."
Kouji sighed. "You're right. We need that money." He finished the last of the tú miàn bāo, licked the residual sweet off his fingers, and then got back to his feet. Yui promptly retreated, and the process began anew.
It took several hours for them to reach the surface, and by the time they emerged into open air they were out of food. "That scroll," Kouji panted, "had better be worth it."
Chapter One →
Current Location: my old bed at Oma's
Current Mood: hungry
Tags: character: alak, character: dai li, character: kouji, character: yui, fic: terracotta dawn