Aug 17, 2020 21:45:42 GMT -6
Post by Deleted on Aug 17, 2020 21:45:42 GMT -6
I walked into the cafe and threw myself onto the closest empty seat I could find. I was exhausted from walking all day and was carrying several bags. In theory my days should have been leisure filled. I had completed my schooling some years ago. I was engaged, but my fiance was away fighting in the war so I didn't have any children or household to maintain. With any luck I never would! Nor did I have a formal job. In theory a socialite's life should be stress free.
In practice though it was filled with endless intrigue. No - I don't mean political intrigue. I was not spending my days trying to plot a way to claim the Fire Nation throne by marrying the crown prince. Nor was I trying to worm my way into the Ba Sing Se royal court to assassinate the Earth King and win the war. It was the sort of intrigue over what the latest fashions were and ensuring that I hosted the best parties.
I had just spent the morning searching for a hair ornament that had become all the rage among the social elite. After failing to find it in stock anywhere I had resigned myself. I felt as if I had searched the entire Earth continent from Yu Dao to Omashu. I could imagine the comments already when I returned home empty handed. Have you taken a vow of poverty? What would you fiance think if he saw you dressed like that? Is your hair ornament being cleaned?
I was dressed in the latest... correction I had been dressed in the latest fashions. Emphasize on the past tense. My outfit had gone out of style yesterday. I was wearing a navy blue dress. As of yesterday navy blue was out and periwinkle blue was in.
After regaining my composure I ordered a cup of tea.
"Wait a moment...." I spoke to myself, "Where am I?"
Had I walked to the middle-income part of town by accident? I would certainly hear endless comments from my peers if they saw me here.
Aug 18, 2020 14:00:30 GMT -6
Post by Ling on Aug 18, 2020 14:00:30 GMT -6
Ba Sing Se was her bread and butter, but every so often a break from the hustle and bustle of the lower ring and all its refugees was just what the healers ordered. She had been travelling for a few days with no particular destination in mind, staying at the local ryokan she happened across and eating at whatever establishments were most popular with the locals.
Today, she found herself outside a plain-looking teashop; above the door was a wooden sign embossed with the shape of a moonpeach, the presumably once-soft pink paint faded by years of sun and rain. She tugged the collar of her off-white tunic a little higher to protect her neck against the warmth of the sun.
Her stomach growled, and she immediately headed for the cafe. After a cursory glance at the menu, she ordered a pot of green tea and her number one vice: steamed pork buns, of the barbecue variety. As she waited for her order, habit took over and she cast her eyes around the room. It wasn't a particularly busy shop, but everything was in tip-top order. The decor was well loved, but not shabby and kept in good repair. There was a certain homeyness about it, as if you were in someone's living room as opposed to the local teashop.
The patrons were fairly nondescript. A mix of locals and passing travellers, she'd guess, in equal numbers.
One person stood out however; their black hair was done up fashionably, and the dark blue dress they wore looked to be worth more than some people in the lower ring made in a year. She blinked; the dress was too well made to be afforded by someone local, but the person didn't seem to be well equipped for travel.
She shifted so that she could catch the person's eyes —green eyes, she noted, filing away the likelihood of the person being an earthbender for later. With a broad grin that showed the gap in her two front teeth, she raised her teacup in their direction.
"Couldn't help but overhear," she said brightly. "Are you lost? I'm Ling, by the way."
Aug 18, 2020 15:28:15 GMT -6
Post by Deleted on Aug 18, 2020 15:28:15 GMT -6
I winced when a dentally challenged stranger spoke to me. They introduced themselves as Ling. It could not be... was I in a working-class neighborhood? Having accidentally walked to a middle-class cafe was a faux pas that would get me humiliated for months. Walking into a working-class neighborhood was the sort of thing to get me disinherited.
"Ye-yes..." I stuttered, "I fear I might have followed the wrong path."
I looked the person over. They weren't the sort of person I could invite to a dinner party. Their clothing seemed as if it had been made with recycled textiles. They did not seem to mean any harm though.
Oh what am I doing? I am always complaining about visitors from the Fire Nation Home Islands looking down at Colonists, but here I was doing the same. One had little choice if they were born into an upper middle class or a working class family. It was really wrong of me to judge someone on the basis of how much rice their family had.
After scolding myself, I picked my tea cup and moved towards Ling.
"May I join you?", I asked, "My name is Ho-Tin. I am from..."
It hit me then that I might not be among fellow subjects of his majesty the Fire Lord. I tried to stay close to the Colonies, but the borders were constantly changing due to the war. This place might have only been recently enlightened to the Fire Nation's rule.
"Well I am not from here. Let's say that my home has more dentists. Oh, but that is rude to say isn't it? Please forget I said that."
Aug 18, 2020 21:36:17 GMT -6
Post by Ling on Aug 18, 2020 21:36:17 GMT -6
Ling didn't miss the critical once-over and instant dismissal. Or the very poorly veiled insult.
Not that she minded. She dressed like the lower ring citizens she worked with, even though she was a middle-ring resident herself. Though, it looked like this young lady would have been upper ring if she lived in Ba Sing Se instead of... wherever she was from. She was being cagey, though Ling couldn't fault her as a young woman travelling alone; if she had to guess, she would put about a ten year gap between their ages with Ling being the older of the two.
Instead of getting upset, she laughed and flicked her tongue over the space between her teeth. Her face—a veritable snow-leopard caribou's coat of freckles—was probably not en vogue with the socialites either.
"Please, sit. And thankfully," she replied good-naturedly, "neither my physical ailments nor my social class are contagious, so you can rest at ease, miss. Thought it's worth noting that I've chosen to dress this way for comfort. It would take a lot of money to convince me to dress in one of those things."
Ling pointed to the dress, eyebrow arched in playful judgement. She couldn't remember the last time she wore a dress of any sort. Perhaps before she joined the gang? Regardless, she doubted she'd ever wear one again by choice.
The proprietor brought over her steamed buns and Ling eagerly reached into the bamboo steaming basket to pull one out to cool down. She sipped her tea and gestured for the young woman—Ho-Tin, apparently—to help herself to the buns.
"What brings you out of your home, miss?" Ling reached into her tunic where her mother had sewn a secret pocket, whipped out a card, and passed it over to Ho-Tin. It looked like a family seal, but rather than her family's crest it was her name in the tradition of last name first: Yao Ling. The calligraphy was beautiful and hand-brushed by her sister with glittering gold ink. Under, smaller calligraphy declared: Private Investigator. Below that, the words: City of Ba Sing Se.
"If you're searching for something, I could help you look."
Aug 19, 2020 10:46:43 GMT -6
Post by Deleted on Aug 19, 2020 10:46:43 GMT -6
I laughed awkwardly at Ling's comment assuring me that she was not contagious. Fair enough - I deserved that much. I sat myself as we continued our conversation.
I was surprised to hear her claim that her clothing was her own choice. Then again, I wonder how I would dress if I were really given the choice. As a member of Yu Dao's elite there were expectations about how I dressed and groomed. Failure to live up to those expectations would lead to mockery against my family and I. I imagined things were worse in the Fire Nation Home Islands. Rumor had it that the Fire Lord had banished more than one person who failed to live up to their expectations. I used to think it was just gossip until the former Crown Prince had been banished...
I sipped my tea when buns were brought over. I took one of them at Ling's offer.
It was then that the woman showed a document declaring her a 'Private Investigator'. I lifted my eye brow when I saw the words 'City of Ba Sing Se'. Had we liberated Ba Sing Se recently? I thought the armed forces had pulled back from their siege? Had General Iroh returned and taken his revenge on those savages? I made a mental note to ask my fiance for an update on the war's progress the next time I sent him a letter.
Private Investigator? I had never heard of a title like that before. Is that what the new city guards in Ba Sing Se were called? I allowed myself to relax at the thought. This meant that, even if the cafe's inhabits had some reluctant new Fire Nation subjects, I could at least trust this woman.
"I am looking for something, but I am sure it must seem trivial compared to your work." I said. This woman probably dealt with rooting out terrorist cells after all.
"As you may know Northern Water Tribe fashions have been gaining popularity because of their Princess. She is said to be a real beauty. It is a real shame I can't meet her because of the wa..."
I stopped myself. It was one thing to like the aesthetics of the other names. Yu Dao had incorporated the good parts from the Earth Kingdom. I have to be careful to avoid sounding as if I oppose the war though. There was an unsavory element to the war, but it was for the greater good of bringing civilization to the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes.
"Anyway, Northern Water Tribe headpieces have started becoming popular. The trouble is its the sort of thing only Northern Water Tribe migrants to the Earth continent would have to sell. I could buy a knock off, but I want a real one."
Aug 20, 2020 10:30:06 GMT -6
Post by Ling on Aug 20, 2020 10:30:06 GMT -6
Ling blinked, then laughed.
"Is that all?" she asked. "This is serendipity, indeed."
She grabbed a steamed bun and started gently peeling off the wax paper on the bottom.
"It doesn't seem like you'll need me in the capacity of an investigator. My mother was originally from the Northern Water Tribe. I'm sure she'd be happy to make a headdress, for a price."
In truth, Ling wasn't at all sure of such a thing. But, her mother hadn't been herself since father passed away; of course, she put on a smiling face for years. But Ling was certain she was going through the motions and trying to put on a show for her children. Ling couldn't prove it, but she swore that on some nights she had heard a soft keening coming from her mother's rooms. The next morning, though, her mother's eyes were clear and exhibited no tale-tell signs of crying...
Perhaps her mother needed a project. Ling finished peeling off the wax paper and set it on her plate before taking a bite. An idea began to form in her head, something to keep her mother occupied and give her a sense of purpose.
Swallowing, Ling looked up and grinned again.
"A reasonable price, of course. Cost of materials, plus, say, an additional twenty percent craftsmanship fee? It would be done to your specifications, of course, in the traditional style."
Aug 20, 2020 17:10:50 GMT -6
Post by Deleted on Aug 20, 2020 17:10:50 GMT -6
Ling laughed after I told her what I was searching for. To my surprise she claimed that her mother could make the hair ornament.
A Ba Sing Se private investigator who had family ties to the Northern Water Tribe. I had heard that Ba Sing Se was a cross roads of different cultures, but I did not expect it to be so diverse. I would have to make a visit to Ba Sing Se one of these days.
"Yes I would like that if it would not be a bother. You and your mother have my deepest thanks. Money is not an issue."
I racked my head. I was grateful for Ling's help, but there was something I could not let stand.
"I do not suppose I could convince you to get one made for yourself as well? And maybe some new robes too? I know a tailor who makes the best robes. I understand that you've selected your clothes for comfort, but fashion requires pain sometimes!"
I put my empty tea cup down and motioned for a refill, "I know it sounds silly, but can you imagine if the the Fire Lord wore pajamas all day? He'd be comfortable, but who would respect the Nap Lord?"
Aug 21, 2020 17:23:21 GMT -6
Post by Ling on Aug 21, 2020 17:23:21 GMT -6
Ling bit her cheek at Ho-Tin's concern for her appearance. She's young, Ling reminded herself. You were a little snotty at that age too. Instead of taking offense, Ling waved her hand in an easy, pleasant dismissal.
"If it so bothers you, miss," she said, still grinning, "I'll make sure to put on my temple-best clothes when you come to visit. We're not as wealthy as you—" here, Ling allowed her eyes to flicker over Ho-Tin's wardrobe, "— but I clean up nicely, if I do say so myself. Being a private investigator though, it's work that requires you to be able to move quickly and quietly, without drawing attention to yourself."
She sipped at her tea and pointed her index finger at Ho-Tin.
"Be honest, if I hadn't said hello, would you have even noticed me?"
Ling chuckled again, and continued without waiting for an answer.
"Probably not, right? That's valuable in my line of work. I find things. I hear things. And, depending on who you are, things that I find and hear may be worth their weight in coin. In this part of the world, you stick out brighter than the Fire Nation's standard. Whereas I? If you blinked, I'd disappear."
She waved her hand to the proprietor and ordered a lotus seed cake for dessert. While they waited, she continued.
"Of course, one must adjust for the situation. If I am among such high class people as yourself, I would have to look the part. But I promise you, miss, if you come to Ba Sing Se looking the way you look now, you'd lose all your money and probably the clothes off your back before you even made it to the gates. Not because they're bad people, miss, but they're desperate. They've lost everything, and the city doesn't have the resources to care for them all."
Aug 22, 2020 12:56:31 GMT -6
Post by Deleted on Aug 22, 2020 12:56:31 GMT -6
I allowed myself a pout at having my advances rejected.
"No I suppose I would not have noticed..."
I could understand Ling's explanation intellectually. Unless you were a member of the royal guard, most security forces dressed for practical purposes.
I rolled my eyes thinking of the Fire Nation Princess Azula. She was hardly ugly, but compared to the Northern War Tribe's Princess her clothing were wanting.
Emotionally I could not understand it. If you were part of the elite you were meant to stand out.
On the subject of Ba Sing Se I nodded as I heard Ling explain the situation. Yes, I could only imagine the poverty Ba Sing Se was in. The other nations had already been decaying at the start of the war. After all that is why the great Fire Lord Sozin had made the selfless decision to bring the Fire Nation's prosperity to the other nation.
"I wouldn't be useful in the military, but I'm not defenseless you know? I am a Earth bender."
From a hidden pocket in my dress I took out three marble sized rocks and levitated them in a small circle around my left hand. After my demonstration I grabbed them and whisked them away back to the hidden pocket.
"But you bring up a good point. Something should be done to help out Ba Sing Se's poor. I've heard the rumors. Is it true that the Earth King's ate cake while his people went hungry? Or that he fed dissidents to a Gopher Bear? I hope he gets what he deserves for treating his subjects so poorly. Nobility should use their wealth to help, not to grow fat."
Aug 24, 2020 14:32:01 GMT -6
Post by Ling on Aug 24, 2020 14:32:01 GMT -6
Ling held up her hands in playful surrender.
"I didn't say you were defenceless, miss. Just that there's only one of you, and your outfit would stick out like a face covered in pentapus sucker marks."
She neglected to give a demonstration of her own skills. For starters, she couldn't bend at all. Secondly, she found it unlikely that either the proprietor of the tea shop nor Ho-Tin would be grateful if she suddenly vaulted behind the young woman and let her spring-loaded dagger slip out from under her sleeve and across Ho-Tin's neck in the blink of an eye. Not that Ling would ever consider such a thing, of course. There was simply no equivalent exchange of skill exhibition.
Unless, of course, Ho-Tin felt like gambling away her undoubtedly hefty purse over a game of mahjong or cards.
Speaking of proprietors... Ling accepted the lotus seed cake with a smile of thanks before turning back to Ho-Tin. She wrinkled her nose and titled her head, confused.
"Where did you hear such a thing?" Ling shook her head. "No, that's not true. Well, the part about the Earth King, anyway. He's... very reclusive, but that only makes that rumour more confusing. He's never in my experience said anything about the refugees or anyone who spoke out against him. He's never said anything about... well, anything. He's a pretty hands-off kind of guy."
The Dai Li, on the other hand... Ling was fairly confident that the Earth King had no idea, or at least had a very limited idea of what his Dai Li agents got up to. They were Ba Sing Se's local law enforcement, but in the lower rings there were no end of rumours of people just... temporarily disappearing. They always came back, though, perfectly fine, with no idea that they had gone missing. Rumour had it that the Dai Li were responsible for these things, but no one seemed to be harmed, and there was no way Ling could prove it—yet.
She decided not to tell Ho-Tin. Instead, what she said was:
"But it is true that there's probably wealth accumulated in the upper rings that would be better serving of the people in the lower ring and all the new refugees."
Then Ling grinned again.
"But talk is cheap, miss. What would you do with your pocketful of coins, to help the needy?"
Aug 24, 2020 21:00:03 GMT -6
Post by Deleted on Aug 24, 2020 21:00:03 GMT -6
I tilted my head.
"I learned about it from my tutors of course."
The stories about the Earth King weren't true? I received top marks in mathematics and the sciences, but my social science knowledge were middling.
I could only shrug and sip my refilled tea, "But I could be wrong. My history tutor was not a fan of Ba Sing Se. Something about being rejected from Ba Sing Se University."
I nodded along at Ling's words.
"Isn't the Earth King still an awful person though? It is the obligation of the nobility to care for the poor. For example my family runs schools for the needy in our hometown..."
At this I looked at my clothing and made a mental note that it was worth more than ten laborer's annual wages and my closet was filled with dozens of them. Was running a few schools really worth mentioning if I had the luxury to purchase such clothing? My sin was made worse because I had been concerned over buying a headpiece only moments prior. The wealthier you were the larger your obligation to do your part to help the poor.
"... I could do more though. What would you have me do? Establish an orphanage for war orphans in Ba Sing Se?"
Aug 25, 2020 19:34:10 GMT -6
Post by Ling on Aug 25, 2020 19:34:10 GMT -6
She shrugged, noncommittally. She didn't know the Earth King and quite frankly she didn't care to—it was enough that he was apparently spineless enough to not understand what was going on in his own city, nevermind his entire kingdom.
"I never met him," she replied blandly. "Can't really say someone is terrible when you don't know them and they don't do anything to really make themselves known."
Ling refrained from disparaging the Fire Lord; it was pretty clear where Ho-Tin's loyalties lay.
But, the girl seemed to have her heart in the right place, even if her head was a little behind on catching up. Ling watched keenly as Ho-Tin examined her clothes and seemed to reflect on their conversation. She grinned and nodded at Ho-Tin's next question.
"It was really more rhetorical, miss, but if you're really interested there are refugees from all over. I won't comment on politics, but the fact is a lot of people are poor and in need, wherever you go. Schools are great, but what about the people who can't afford to send their children to school because they need working hands to bring food to the table? What about the people who cannot afford medicines for their ailments?"
Again, Ling was speaking rhetorically; she took another bite out of her cake and spoke around her mouthful, her words a little muffled.
"I know this lady in Ba Sing Se. She's pretty wealthy, one of the waterbender types. She opened up a free medical clinic that she runs solely on donations and her family's private funds. Treats anyone, regardless of nation and regardless of ailment. She always needs supplies—bandages, herbs, cleaning materials, furniture—you name it. But it's not just her, there's people like that all over the world."
Ling took another sip of her tea.
"It's not just money, either, it's time. It's really easy to throw money at an issue, but helping hands are needed too. My sister volunteers in open kitchens to cook for and feed the hungry refugees."
Ling finished off her cake and drained her teacup, then looked at Ho-Tin pointedly.
"I should get going, but if you want to meet my mother and talk about that headdress, you can send me a letter, my information is on the back of the card. And miss, if you really want to help people, look to your own town first. I think you'll be surprised at how much happens there without you noticing."
Aug 29, 2020 15:41:43 GMT -6
Post by Deleted on Aug 29, 2020 15:41:43 GMT -6
I nodded along to Ling. She was right that money alone would not fix the problem.
I did not however doubt that those of us from the Fire Nation could rise to the challenge. We were the greatest and wealthiest civilization on Earth. Our armed forces had already liberated the western Earth Kingdom from its petty warlords. We would liberate the Water Tribes, Ba Sing Se, and Omashu from their backwards tyrants soon too.
Military victories were only the start though. The second phase would require us to share our wealth with our cousins. The Fire Nation Army would have to change its focus from liberation to salvation. Instead of using fire bending to burn down enemy fortifications it would have to be used for warming up soup.
"You have given me a lot to think about," I said as I gave one final nod, "Thank you Ling. Yes, I will be in touch about the hair ornament and about other things."
I took out several silver pieces from a hidden pocket and left them at the table as I took my leave.
Aug 29, 2020 17:28:46 GMT -6
Post by Ling on Aug 29, 2020 17:28:46 GMT -6
Ling waved at Ho-Tin before turning to the proprietor with her thanks and a generous amount of coin for her services. It was more than what was required, but Ling grinned and pressed the coins into the woman's hand firmly.
She hadn't been exaggerating when she said times were tough all around. Being in a state of war for a century would do that to any country, really.
After a moment's hesitation, she brought out a few more coins and murmured a request. The proprietor smiled, slipped into the kitchens, and came out with a bag of steaming hot pork buns.
With a happy grin, Ling gave a mock salute and sauntered out of the shop.
Oct 8, 2020 18:43:10 GMT -6
Post by Xiaoyu on Oct 8, 2020 18:43:10 GMT -6
Ah, the Moonpeach Café was a sight for sore eyes. She had gotten uncharacteristically lost, and the higher the sun grew in the sky, the louder her stomach rumbled. Her navy blue kimono—furisode, to be precise, since she had opted for the long-hanging sleeves—was draped in a way that exposed her bare shoulder and décolletage, contrasted sharply by the pristine white of the collar of the haneri she wore under. The silver embroidery depicting water lilies and lotus pads complimented the orange and white cranes that decorated the sleeves and bottom half of her kimono. Her obi was also orange, to match the cranes, with a silver obijime to tie it all together.
She drew looks, she knew. Her shock of red hair hung loose, but tucked behind her ears in order to show off her rather large, ornate jade earrings, carved with an intricate design depicting a coiled dragon. Her matching jade pendent hung around her neck, its chain length carefully selected in order to place the pendent in such a manner that drew attention to her... attributes. It was a carefully crafted look, one that highlighted the best of her features and also caused people to undermine her intelligence and sharp wit.
Xiaoyu put her hand on the café door, paused briefly to ensure the bright red lip paint she had applied earlier hadn't faded or smeared, then opened the door and let herself in.
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the café's dimmer lighting. Though its windows were large, the proprietor had very smartly put in rice paper coverings to dim the brightness of the midday sun.
She seated herself, placing her matching navy blue bag on the table next to her, and examined the menu placed in front of her. She was just about to place an order when the bell above the door jingled, signalling another customer. Reflexively, Xiaoyu looked up to see who had entered.
Oct 8, 2020 21:03:48 GMT -6
Post by Deleted on Oct 8, 2020 21:03:48 GMT -6
The door of the tea house opened to a figure that looked like they should by no means belong in a teahouse. From the dark boots that looked as if they had gone through a dozen trips across the Earth Kingdom, to her long messy hair barely held manageable in her haung baung, the tall broad shouldered woman still managed a slight air of confidence as she strode in.
Taking a seat at the counter she offered a grin and took a menu, quietly going about the listing of teas quietly w9th the expression of someone who had rarely if ever ordered tea before.
Oct 8, 2020 23:51:25 GMT -6
Post by Xiaoyu on Oct 8, 2020 23:51:25 GMT -6
Xiaoyu wasn't quite sure what kind of person she had expected to walk through the doors, but a big burly person with bright blue water tribe eyes somehow wasn't it. Intrigued, she watched them hunker down at the counter and pore over the list of teas like they were a child in a classroom.
The proprietor looked at her expectantly, pen poised over her pad of papers. With a winning smile, she ordered some oolong tea and some pork belly bao.
While she waited for her order, Xiaoyu looked back at the new patron.
"Don't drink a lot of tea, I take it?" she asked.
Oct 9, 2020 7:46:10 GMT -6
Post by Deleted on Oct 9, 2020 7:46:10 GMT -6
The woman glanced up from the paper, and offered a shrug, "More of rarely within the actual setting of a tea house." She gestures back at the rest of the area with her free hand. "I've traded and delivered tea, and I try to get a sample or two if I need to sell it so I can give customers an idea of what they are in for." She gives a grin at this, "You can never trust a merchant to actually say a full truth without a few embellishments to sweeten the deal, anywho, names Kaho, tradeswoman, sailor, captain, explorer, and master trader at your service ma'am." She never breaks that cocksure grin on her face as she rambles on.
Oct 9, 2020 14:28:41 GMT -6
Post by Xiaoyu on Oct 9, 2020 14:28:41 GMT -6
Xiaoyu nodded politely at the person's rambling; she was somewhat "in the business" herself, since she managed her father's finances and business dealings so he could concentrate on the actual blacksmithing he so loved, but she wasn't really in trade so the person's words were mostly meaningless.
She did, however, know a fish out of water when she saw one, and the little something that she called 'motherly instincts' (though she likely would never be one) kicked in.
"A tea shop isn't so bad," she said, putting herself onto more familiar conversational ground. "There are quite a few options; if you look, under each snack there's a suggested tea pairing, if you're not sure what to get. There are sweet, savoury, and salty snacks if you have a preference."
The proprietor appeared as if by magic and placed a pot of tea in front of her, along with her bao. Xiaoyu smiled delightedly, eager to eat.
"If I may," she continued, "the pork belly bao is always a good choice if you're looking for something that sticks to your ribs and it goes nicely with the oolong."