[Fic]: Terracotta Dawn (Chapter Four)|
A faint whisper of sound disturbed Phoenix King Ozai from his thoughts, and he opened his eyes to see if one of his guards had changed routine.
No, the sound had come from above. An attempt at assassination?
He could do with some sport.
Ozai looked up to the high window and saw a very female silhouette perch on the window and pause, as if gauging the distance. After a moment, she slid inside, fingers clutching the sill. She dangled, then let go, using the wall as a means of friction to slow or control her descent.
Her landing was light, almost noiseless, and she rolled as she hit the ground. If she was as competent as her entry suggested, he'd need to hit her hard and fast, restraining himself just enough that he'd be able to question her. That way he could decide whether to kill her himself or hand her over to his idiot son to be executed.
The woman came up in a crouch, and their eyes met.
A look of startled apprehension crossed her face.
Intelligent as well as skilled, to fear him despite his current state. He took her moment of hesitation to look her over. Fine black hair pulled back in a child's braid; dressed in dark greens and browns, Earth Kingdom clothing that warred with how very obviously Fire Nation her features were. A war-child, most likely. Here to seek revenge for her mother?
And then she bowed before him, a full bow of supplication with her forehead pressed to the floor.
That was interesting.
She was very polite for an assassin. Or, perhaps, she wasn't an assassin at all. There were other possibilities for her presence — punishment for losing a bet, or a dare. Young adults were prone to stupidity, and he could see she was very young.
He would remain on his guard, however, because he wasn't stupid.
"You may rise," he told her, shifting his weight subtly.
The girl did not strike, but settled back so that she was sitting on her knees. "Phoenix King Ozai," she began, immediately catching his attention. "I am Yui, formerly of the New Sozin colony."
This was getting more and more interesting.
"And you've come to pay your respects?" he drawled, watching her face.
"My King, I could visit during the daylight hours for that," she replied evenly.
"Then what brings you to me at this hour?" Ozai asked.
Yui of New Sozin took a deep breath; he wasn't sure if it was unconscious or if she'd done it to draw his attention to her breasts. "I wish to ask you for advice," she said.
His late-night guest, it seemed, was full of surprises. He didn't allow that surprise to show. "And why would you think to ask me, Yui of New Sozin?"
Another breath; that had to be deliberate. "To be honest, my King, yours was the first name that came to mind."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Was it, now?"
She kept her head high. "It was."
"I met a man in the Earth Kingdom last year," Yui of New Sozin explained, "who grew up in the Fire Palace. He told me you were trained by the Fire Sages."
"I imagine you two conversed often," Ozai said, watching her.
A corner of her mouth turned up. "Only once. But it was rather… invigorating."
He abandoned that line of questioning. She wasn't rising to the bait. "What, then, would drive you to seek me out when there are sages all over this country?"
Now she hesitated, as if she needed that moment to marshal her thoughts. "My question is… somewhat odd, my King," she admitted at last.
"Too odd for a trained sage?" he asked her almost sweetly, and had the pleasure of seeing her flush slightly.
"I wasn't certain if they would believe me," she admitted.
Ozai smiled. "And you think that I will?"
She wet her lips. "I don't know if you will, my King," she said carefully. "I can only hope that you would grant me a hearing."
Yui of New Sozin was certainly polite, taking care to use his proper title when she spoke to him. She was also dangerous, breaking into a high-security prison at little older than sixteen.
Ozai favoured her with another sharp smile. "Why should I grant hearing to one who comes like an assassin in the night," she flushed again, "to share a tale she considers unbelievable?"
"I have brought three gifts for the favour of your audience," the girl replied, the colour in her face dying down. Slowly she reached into the bag she'd brought with her, making no sudden movements.
She first withdrew a small sack of cloth, tied and sealed with gold-coloured wax. This she slid closer to Ozai's cell, taking care to keep herself out of reach. He examined the bag and found that the wax was both unbroken and held the imprint of Daimyo Osamu's seal. "A pound of the finest coffee beans from Buyou no Long Shima," Yui explained, reaching into a bag a second time.
This time she took out an armband, and moved to where moonlight filtered through the window so he could get a better look at it. It gleamed copper-orange, the colour of old gold; red gemstones studded it on either end. "An artefact my brother and I discovered in the Earth Kingdom, near the old Kingdom of Huang-Dei. The gems are garnets. We suspect this was looted from the Fire Nation a long time ago." She set the armband on some cloth and pushed it closer to him as she had the coffee, then drew out the third article.
It was a scroll, likely of papyrus, and seemed to be as old as the armband she had offered him. "A scroll my brother and I retrieved from a buried temple in the former Earth Kingdom of Han-Guk. It's written in the most common dialect of Old Earth." This too was laid on cloth and slid closer to him, with the girl taking care to keep out of arm's reach.
Very interesting gifts she had brought him, and absolutely at odds with her rougher, much-worn clothing. He drew the scroll closer and opened it, eyeing the calligraphy inside. He could make out some of it — Old Fire and Old Earth shared a common writing system, but the forms had not been combined until Chen Dao Ming had conquered the world millennia in the past. Ozai carefully closed the scroll and took a look at the armband.
It wasn't easy to see in his cell, but he could and did run his fingers over the metal. Intricate patterns had been worked into the gold and around the gems; the armband itself felt almost warm. Yui-chan's suspicion of it having been looted was quite likely correct.
Last he picked up the bag, slowly running his hands over it. Nothing sharp, wax seal still intact, and the beans themselves smelled rich and bitter, almost but not entirely unlike chocolate. All expensive gifts — or perhaps, in the case of the artefacts, gifts that could have been sold for a lot of money.
However unbelievable she felt her question was, she was taking it very seriously.
"Very well," he said, laying the coffee aside. "Ask your question."
"Yes, my King," she said, then took a deep breath and let it out before speaking. "My brother and I stumbled upon a plot by Earth Kingdom radicals. They planned to kindle another war, only rather than using human soldiers, they planned to use terracotta statues they found deep beneath Ba Sing Se."
No wonder she hadn't gone to any Fire Sages.
"Terracotta statues," he repeated flatly.
She nodded. "I couldn't believe it either, at first. But we saw the statues move when one of the radicals spoke an incantation. I think it was originally penned by the first Earth King, so the statues could defend the city."
Ozai looked Yui-chan over carefully, but found no signs of a habitual drug user. Too, she had even stated how unbelievable her tale was; from what he understood, the majority of conspiracy theorists and the insane seemed convinced everyone would believe them if only they knew the truth.
And she had come to him — not to free him, not to demand that he help, but to ask for advice.
Ozai was fascinated.
"I will need more information before I can advise you," he said.
She tried to hide her relief. "Thank you, my King."
The tale she spun him now contained several references to things her brother or one of the radicals had said; apparently, while Yui-chan herself didn't understand Old Earth, the brother did and had provided the translations. She did a good job of editing her story, though Ozai could still tell she was leaving things out.
She also avoided naming her brother.
When she was done, Ozai considered what she had told him. A pity the tablet with the incantation had been destroyed, though Yui-chan was smart to assume that her radicals had made a copy.
He considered this problem for a long moment.
"The statues are creations of the First Earth King to defend Ba Sing Se," he said. "Since the tablet has been clearly ruled out as a source of spiritual power for them, the source is likely the First Earth King and the city itself." He smiled. "I doubt levelling the Impenetrable City is within your capabilities, Yui-chan."
From the startled expression on her face, levelling Ba Sing Se wasn't something she wanted to do regardless.
"This leaves the First Earth King," he continued. "You would need to cut off his ability to access and empower the statues."
Yui-chan nodded slowly. "Please, my King, would you instruct me in this?" she requested.
Still so very polite. "Salt," he said. "First and foremost, salt. Pour it in circles around either the complex or each statue; both for preference. Salt is a purifier and a neutraliser both."
The girl nodded, intent on his words.
"If you can, you should mix cinnamon and gold dust with some of your blood and add that to the circle," Ozai continued, his smile sliding into a smirk. There were other materials he could have suggested, of course, materials aligned with the elements that were not Fire.
But Ozai had his own points to make.
Yui-chan bit her lip. "Would it be acceptable without the gold dust, my King?"
He tilted his head at her. Everything about her said she was poor, and yet she had given such extravagant gifts… "The gold dust represents the sun. You might use amber or sunstone instead."
Another nod. "Thank you, my King."
"Shavings of rowan would also strengthen your circles," Ozai continued. "And, if you want to be certain, bring along some lava-stone to place at the compass-points."
The girl gnawed on her lip, deep in thought. Finally, she ventured, "The blood, my King… would animal blood be acceptable? Or does it have to be my blood?"
Given the magnitude of the task, he supposed he couldn't blame her for asking that. "It must be human blood," Ozai clarified. "You will be appeasing powerful spirits. You want them to be well-fed."
Yui-chan gulped, but nodded. "Yes, my King."
The fool of a girl was going to get herself killed. He would have to accompany her and her brother to make sure they did the damn thing right.
Kouji hadn't turned up for his classes.
Qu Hua paced his office, sweating heavily.
He had nearly had a heart attack when Rong had described Kouji and his twin sister as the pair who had overheard their conversation. He'd identified them, of course — how could he not? A mixed child attending the university on a scholarship was noticeable, and he'd warned Rong of that lest the brute think to take the twins out of the equation.
People would notice— the Dai Li would notice. Specifically, one former Dai Li would notice.
Qu Hua shuddered. "Professor" Thanh had likely used Dai Li influence to get his job at the university — the man was a vulgar thug.
Perhaps it would be for the best if Rong took the siblings out of the picture — after all, they were half-Fire, and Kouji took Thanh's classes every semester. Worse, he lived in the lower ring. If not stopped, the boy would clearly grow up to become the head of a criminal syndicate or worse.
Well, it would be easy enough to find out where the boy lived.
All he needed to do was have a word with the registrar, and then go handle the problem himself.
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Tags: character: ozai, character: yui, characters: earth kingdom, fandom: avatar, fic: terracotta dawn