I have a message from another time...
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
The Federation Lives Forever!
by Benjamin D. Hutchins
© 2016 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
"In the Hall of the Mountain King"
With a finely honed instinct for the dramatic, Korra, Yamato, and the two airbenders started the grand tour in a fairly low-key fashion. The door their guests had entered by was in the part of the house that stood only a single story high, apart from the tower rising from the far back corner, and the entryway itself was nothing particularly spectacular. From this, doors led off to a coatroom and a corridor on one side, while the other side was dominated by a large, open archway that gave onto a room with a cheerful black-and-white-checkered tile floor.
"Might as well start with the kitchen," Korra observed with a grin. "Nerve center of the house, you know." She led the girls of Hōkago Tea Time through the arch and gestured around. This was indeed the kitchen, large and well-appointed but not containing any particular surprises at first glance—although Mugi, who had an eye for that sort of thing, noticed that all of the fittings and appliances were top-of-the-line, discreetly but unmistakably expensive.
"I had just finished stocking the pantry when you arrived," said Yamato pleasantly. "You should find all the provisions you'll need."
"Oh hey, check it out," Ritsu called from the entryway to the pantry, which was literally a second room attached to the kitchen. "There's an old-fashioned soda machine in here. Does it work?"
"It certainly does," Yamato said with a smile. "That's my own personal touch," she explained as the others crowded around Ritsu to look. "My special Ramune formula, not available from anyone else. Have one! You must be thirsty from the flight up here."
"This is really good," said Azusa, after Ritsu passed around bottles and she'd had the first drink from hers. Falling back on old habits, she bowed to Yamato and added, "Thank you!"
"Yes, thanks a lot!" Yui agreed, wiggling her bottle so the glass marble jingled merrily in the neck.
"It's my pleasure, believe me," said Yamato. "You go and have the rest of the tour, now, and when you're finished with that, I'll have lunch ready."
"She seems really nice," said Mio as Korra led them all out of the kitchen through the matching arch on the far side. "But why did she call Corwin-senpai 'Admiral'?"
"It's, uh, kind of a long story," Korra replied. "The short version is that she sort of works for him now. Part of the outcome from a little adventure he had on Earth recently."
Further curiosity was forestalled as the girls passed through the arch and realized that they'd entered the two-story part of the house—and that this was even more exceptional than they had thought it would be from the air. It wasn't just the south end of the two-story wing that was glazed like a greenhouse, they could see now, but in fact the entire wing, at least on the ground floor. The whole level was one giant room, and on three sides, the walls were glass from floor to ceiling, letting in a flood of daylight and providing a spectacular panoramic view of the lake, the mountainsides sloping down into it on all sides, and the waterfall cascading down the central peak to the east.
"Oh wow," Yui breathed, going to the nearest pane to get a closer look.
"Are we actually out over the water?" Ritsu wondered, noticing the sliding door that seemed to lead out onto a sort of pier extending into the lake.
"That's right," Korra confirmed, nodding. "The wing we just came from is on shore, but this one is built on pilings."
"Amazing," Mugi said.
"This area is the dining room, obviously," said Nyima, indicating the table and chairs. "If you'll follow me this way, the other end is even better."
She was quite right about that, for the other end of the long, open room was just as obviously the living area. There was a big, comfy-looking leather sofa positioned for an optimal view of the falls, a foosball table, and a cozier arrangement of couch, loveseat, and armchair in the corner, grouped around a shiny-new Future Industries flatscreen TV. Above, the second floor ended partway along in a sort of mezzanine, beyond which the whole southern end of the wing was one great, high-ceilinged, glass-walled space.
They lingered for a while in the living room, exclaiming over the view, the vast expanses of glass, and (in Ritsu's case) the presence of a GameCenter to go along with the TV, before Korra and the airbenders herded them gently upstairs to continue the tour. The mezzanine overlooking the living room seemed to be set up as a kind of office/study, with a desk, bookshelves, and a reading chair; beyond it, down a short hallway, were two large bedrooms, mirror images of each other, sharing a palatial bathroom between them.
"You're going to have to figure out your own sleeping arrangements, but these aren't the only bedrooms," Ikki pointed out. "There are two more in the tower wing."
"Speaking of which, that's our next stop," Korra added, opening the door at the end of the hall and ushering them through. They'd seen what lay beyond from the air on their way in; the door led out onto the roof of the single-story wing. This was finished as a deck, complete with patio furniture, a barbecue grill, and an outdoor pai sho table, and there was a separate entrance up here into the second floor of the tower.
"You five should be especially interested in what's in here," said Nyima with a smile as she opened this door. "It was originally intended to be a dojo," she explained, "but we thought you might prefer it set up like this."
The room beyond, octagonal in shape, had no fixtures in it besides the spiral stairs leading down to the ground floor and farther up into the tower—but it did feature an array of amplifiers, a drum kit, a couple of stand mics, and a range of guitar stands ready to hand, arranged roughly as Nyima had seen the band's usual layout to be when she'd helped them set up for their impromptu concert for Kate before finals. It was about the same size as the part of the club room they actually played in, less the area with the table and the storeroom off to the side, which gave it a pleasantly cozy and familiar feel as the band members took up their positions and unpacked their instruments.
"I hope the drum setup meets with your approval, Ritchan," said Ikki. "It's my own rig from the Serious Avatar Business days; I dug it out and gave it a quick overhaul when I heard you guys were coming up here."
Ritsu sat down at the drums, made a couple of quick adjustments, and then rose and gave her a firebender salute, which she returned with the airbender equivalent and a playfully grave smile.
"It'll be perfect," Ritsu said. "I, wow. Thank you. It's really an honor."
"Oh, heck, don't worry about it," said Ikki with a grin. "You're better than I was anyway. I ought to be thanking you."
"If I can interrupt the mutual admiration society," said Korra dryly, drawing a giggle from Yui, "we still have to get on to the best bit."
"You're kidding, the giant room with the lake view wasn't the best bit?" said Ritsu.
"I can't wait for this now," Mio agreed.
"Well, that is pretty cool," Korra agreed, "but in my humble opinion, there's still one thing in the house that's even better. But first, let's finish off the tower."
The level above the practice room was fitted out as a third bedroom, smaller than the others but very pleasant; above that, through a hatch in the ceiling, was the open-sided aerie at the top of the tower, perfect for meditating on the sunset beyond Republic City to the west. This, Korra assured the five, was not the best bit either, though Yui—perhaps feeling a gentle tug from the Air Nomad in her genetic makeup—might have begged to differ.
Korra was smiling half to herself, enjoying the politely restrained but obviously deepening puzzlement of her charges as she led them down the stairs into the basement. This was... well... the basement, a large, plain, mostly featureless room into which had been placed all the mundane but necessary machinery that made the house work—electrical generator, water purifier, furnace, air conditioning plant, and so forth. The laundry machines were down here, too, as well as a few pieces of equipment whose function the girls could not readily divine, but which were not particularly impressive to behold. The lighting was ample but basic and industrial, the walls and floor of creamy, unadorned sandstone.
The members of Hōkago Tea Time glanced in mutual confusion at each other as the Avatar led them through this space, around a corner, and to a large, dark-stained wooden door. Here she paused, hand on the knob, and asked with a mischievous grin, "Are you ready?"
"Uh... I guess so?" Ritsu replied.
"Well, then, prepare to have your minds blown," said Korra, and with a flourish, she swung the door open and gestured them through.
Beyond the door lay a fourth bedroom, large and comfortably appointed, with pleasant blue walls, its own ensuite bathroom tucked away in a corner, and a half-wall dividing off another bit of it into a little seating area. For a second, as they entered, the band members couldn't figure out what the big deal was...
... until they realized, almost as one, that the walls weren't blue. The color was that of the sky, because they were transparent... and the slightly shimmery quality of the light in here was because the eastern end of the basement, where the room was situated, reached a good dozen feet into the lake. The top of the floor-to-ceiling windows was at least two or three feet below the surface of the water.
"Oh. Spirits," said Azusa, her cat ears springing up, and she absently reached up to touch Yui's arm as her senpai automatically embraced her from behind, making a soft sound of enchantment as she did so.
"My goodness," Mugi agreed, sounding entranced. "My, my, my."
"... OK... you were right," Mio conceded, not taking her eyes off the view. "This is better than the living room."
"I know, right?" Korra replied. "I have to admit, as one of the architects, that this wasn't in the original design. It was an idea our general contractor had during construction, and wasn't it a good one."
"I hope he got a bonus," agreed Ritsu.
"He did all right," said Korra with a grin.
They all stood there in silence for a few minutes, watching schools of lake fish cruise by and marveling at the crystalline clarity of the water. Then, slightly to everyone's surprise, a very large white shape suddenly swam into view from off to one side, then turned and peered in at them, its long tail swishing slowly back and forth behind it.
"Oh wow!" Yui cried, delighted. "Look, Azu-nyan, it's a polar bear dog!"
Korra rolled her eyes in cheerful exasperation. "Niri! C'mon. Why you gotta upstage me that way?"
Niri was waiting just outside the entryway to greet them when they arrived back upstairs, and only the Avatar's lightning reflexes and command of waterbending saved those nearest the door from a drenching after a truly epic wet-dog shake.
"You saved that just for us, huh," said Korra with another eyeroll as she dismissed the water with a sardonic flick of her hand, leaving the polar bear dog as dry as if she'd spent the last half-hour lying out in the sun. "Get in here and quit causing trouble. Everyone, this is Niri. Don't worry, she's harmless. Mostly," she added with a wink. "C'mon—I'm pretty sure lunch is ready."
Lunch was, indeed, ready; the tour group entered the dining room to find the table they'd seen earlier meticulously set for a formal meal. The main dish was a variant on a perennial favorite in their coastal hometown, steamed rice topped with glazed strips of grilled eel, with all the accoutrements to be expected in the best class of establishments; the whole offering was lavish without being overdone.
"This unadon is amazing," Mugi said, to immediate agreement from her bandmates.
"Thank you," said Yamato pleasantly. "My colleague Kaga caught the unagi for me just this morning."
Azusa glanced thoughtfully at the morsel she'd just been about to eat, then asked, "It's not the Unagi... is it?"
"No, no," Yamato assured her. "Kaga did offer to catch the Great Unagi for me, but even I don't have a recipe that calls for 100,000 tons of eel meat. Besides, it's a Kyoshi Island national treasure," she added with an impish smile.
"After an opening like that, I can see I'm going to have my work cut out for me feeding this crew when you're gone," Ritsu observed wryly after the meal was complete.
"Don't make it sound like you're going to be doing it all alone," Mio objected.
"Ritchan is the best cook of all of us, though," Yui pointed out.
"It's true," Mugi agreed, nodding, then added sagely, "Whoever she marries is going to be very lucky."
"You just made it weird, Mugi," said Ritsu, more casually than the remark's wording really seemed to call for.
"Well, before I go, I'll walk you through the provisions I've laid in for you," Yamato said.
While they did that, the others adjourned to the living room, where Korra and the two airbenders were amused to see that Yui eschewed all the furniture in favor of curling happily up on the floor with Niri. Her bandmates seemed to find this entirely unremarkable; they all knew well that Yui was a great friend of dogs, and this was likely to be the grandest specimen she had encountered by far. The seven of them chatted for a little while, mainly about the band's plans and what Korra knew of Kaitlyn's.
"She's gone home to New Avalon to take care of some things, but she should be back midweek," Korra told them when Mio raised the question. "I think she and her band will be up sometime after that, maybe next weekend, to see how you're getting along."
"How are Corwin and his family holding up?" asked Mugi.
"I feel a little guilty that we're up here enjoying their house while they're dealing with... everything," admitted Azusa with a downcast expression. From the floor next to the chair she'd taken, Yui reached up and took her nearer hand, concern on her face.
"They're... surviving," Korra said carefully. "But you shouldn't feel guilty. They made the offer, after all, and I'm sure it helps knowing that someone's getting some enjoyment from the place."
Nyima nodded. "What they're going through is tough," she said, "but they'll welcome any chance they get to..." She paused, weighing words, for a moment, then went on, "... to push back against the dark a bit."
Before anyone could respond to that, Ritsu and Yamato returned from the kitchen, the former bubbling over with her customary enthusiasm. "You guys are not gonna believe what I can do with that kitchen. This is gonna be amazing."
"Well, then, I guess our work here is done," said Ikki. "What do you say, kids? Let's get out of these ladies' hair and let them get on with their business."
"Works for me," said Korra.
"If you find we missed anything, just call the number on the board by the phone in the kitchen," Nyima told them. "My sister runs a courier service in town, she can bring up anything you need."
"Thank you for all your help," said Ritsu, bowing, before Mio could rise and beat her to it. The others all seconded her sentiments immediately, not to say profusely.
"You're very welcome," said Yamato. "I hope you have a very pleasant and productive stay."
"Absolutely," Korra agreed. "I'll let Corwin know you're settled in when I see him tomorrow. I'm sure he'll be pleased to hear it—and that you were so impressed by his design," she added with a grin. Then, whistling, she called, "C'mon, Niri!"
Niri raised her head and looked at the Avatar, then put it back down with a muted ursocanine grumble and made no move to get up, her body language replying clearly, Nah, I'm good. You got this.
Korra put a hand on her hip and glowered. "Niri. C'mon, girl. It's time to go."
Niri gave a deep sigh, in the manner of one who is being unduly harassed, and remained where she was.
"Really? Is this the way you want to play this?" Korra wondered, hamming it up a bit for the increasingly amused band members' benefit. "'Cause I'm leaving, and if you don't come with, then you're up here until whenever I get back."
At this, Niri moved, but only insofar as she turned her head slightly to glance at Korra, then returned to her original position, as if to say, Great, see you then.
"... OK, seriously now," Korra said. "I'm pretty sure none of these girls knows how to look after a polar bear dog, or has any interest in learning."
"I don't mind," said Yui brightly.
"So long, math skills," Ritsu quipped, making Mio stifle a laugh and slug her.
Korra considered the magnificent inertia of her spirit guide, the brightly willing face of the girl she'd curled up with, and the cheerfully bemused looks of Yui's colleagues, then gave a good-natured sigh and said, "All right, fine. If nobody minds and you promise to be good, I guess you can stay. I'll just write down a few tips..."
"That dog sure can be stubborn when she wants to be," Korra observed from the "pilot's seat" of Mogi as she and the two Air Nomads cruised in leisurely formation back down to the city.
Ikki, up on the bison's saddle, laughed. "Well, they do say dogs resemble their owners."
"Do you think it'll really be OK, leaving her with them?" Nyima wondered from Vayu, a few yards off to starboard.
"Oh, they'll be fine," Korra said. "Niri's not very high-maintenance. Heck, she'll be good security for them, not that I'm expecting any trouble. If I'm not back from Outside before they leave, though, will you make sure she gets back to Air Temple Island, Nyima?"
"Of course," Nyima agreed, then added with a chuckle, "If I can convince her to leave the Hirasawa girl's side by then. You might lose your spirit animal, Avatar."
"I noticed that," said Korra with a laugh. "Well, Niri's a pretty good judge of character. I didn't realize you knew her, Ikki," she added in a that-reminds-me tone.
"Neither did I, until I saw her," Ikki replied. "Tsering was one of my brightest students in her acolyte days. It's a shame neither of her daughters has the gift."
"Sounding a little like Meelo there, Ikki," said Korra dubiously.
"I didn't mean it like that," Ikki said, reddening. "It just means I haven't seen either of them since they got old enough to look after themselves at home." She folded her arms and gave the Avatar a grumpy look. "Sounding like Meelo, indeed."
"Yui," Mio observed in a tone that split the difference between exasperated and admiring, "only you could talk the Avatar into lending you her dog."
"More to the point, I can't think of anyone else who would have," Ritsu put in, then grinned and leaned out of her chair to offer the guitarist a high five. "Respect, Miss Hirasawa. Respect."
"Thank you, thank you," Yui replied, managing to maintain an airy tone for all of a second or two before they all broke up giggling. The silence that followed lasted for a minute or so, as the five sat and gazed out the living room's vast windows at the panoramic view of the lake and the falls.
"You know what I'm thinking," said Mugi speculatively.
The girls of Hōkago Tea Time glanced thoughtfully around at each other, then broke into matching, spontaneous grins.
"Yeah," they all agreed, then jumped to their feet and scampered upstairs to christen their new practice space.
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
The Federation Lives Forever!
"In the Hall of the Mountain King"
Benjamin D. Hutchins
The EPU Team
Based on K-On! created by
E P U (colour) 2016