I dreamed of writing a hundred-drabble series. Then I woke up, and realized that with my way of writing, I'd be able to make a real drabble only by writing a real story and then cutting lots of it out, which is just too painful to bear. Therefore, I decided to write a oneshot-series, based on one-word prompts. They will be drabblelike when the prompt allows, or when I'm not feeling particularly wordy, but otherwise they'll be oneshot-length.
Oh, did I mention they're all Tophcentric, with Tokka when I can work it in? Because Toph is neglected, in fanfiction and in the show. She's too awesome to go unwritten-about.
(This fic bears no intentional resemblance to any persons living or dead. If I'm doing my job right, it should bear a very great resemblance to persons made up and not owned by me. That's as much of a disclaimer as I'm putting up, so let it suffice.)
Thanks to all my lovely reviewers, of past and future. Enjoy!
Chapter 1: Introduction
The dress, Toph thought, was probably beautiful. It draped over her small frame in rippling waves of silk, it was weightless on her shoulders like spun light, and if she was still and quiet she could hear past the sounds of her own breathing its quiet serene whisper as it shimmered and swirled about itself. She grasped its long skirts in both hands, gathering fistfuls of material in clumps and handfuls, only to have them trail out between her fingers again, like water. Like sand.
The dress was probably beautiful. It sounded beautiful, it felt beautiful; every sense available to her told her that it was lovely and exquisite and fit for the highest queen or noble countess of any nation. It had been precisely designed to exacting specification, calculated in every way to please her – that is, to please the high-ranking duchess she was supposed to be playing the part of.
But Toph had studied the shape of the thing against the good solid earth. Before she had allowed the many twittering maids to engulf her in its silky confines, she had commanded them to take it outside and lay it out on the real, thick dirt. After this had been met with various states of shock and outrage, she had compromised by having it laid out on the stone floor of the ballroom, and examined it minutely before she allowed it to touch her skin.
The dress was beautiful. It was so beautiful it was unearthly, especially to Toph, who had found that it made almost no impression on the ground; it was almost impossible for her to even sense that it was there. Even accounting for the fact that it was cloth, and therefore lightweight, it had seemed to be literally woven from spun light. And what she had been able to sense of it, she hadn't liked; all flowing skirts and trains, it seemed, nothing real or solid, not a metal buckle or realistically proportioned section to be seen. And therefore, while Toph was certain that the twitchy twittering maids had arranged the dress to perfectly complement her physical appearance, the dress could not be further from suiting the actual Toph, the girl who had flourished in the heat and shimmer and roar of a fighting arena, the Greatest Earthbender Ever.
Toph had never been much concerned with physical appearances.
Also, she told herself as she went about her private scheming, alone in her new chambers, the dress symbolized greater issues, issues of honesty and integrity. To let the world see her as such a bizarre reversal of who she truly was, wouldn't that only be the worst kind of deception? To lead them into believing she was delicate and proper, these people who might someday depend on her and rest their lives in her hands (feet, really), wasn't that a crime of the lowliest sort? The war had only just been ended, the world was at the edge of a new era of peace and openness, and it certainly would not do to found that new glorious age on a beginning of lies. No, it was her duty to take the measures she had taken, her duty to creep into Sokka's room in the middle of the night and hold a flagstone above his head until he agreed to help, her duty to send all the stupid screechy maids away, because they would never understand the urgency of so noble a quest…
First, the belt. Her hands encountered and old moth-eaten bundle of cloth and twine, its surface a strange mixture of the rough caress of burlap interspersed with clinging clumps of smooth, thick fur. She deftly found knots in the gnarled strings of hemp keeping the thing together, and it sprang open with alarming alacrity, freeing a number of things that clanked and clattered to the floor. Making sure to keep the loop of justification running in her mind, Toph reached down and found what she was looking for.
Questing fingers found that its surface was marred by rust and dust, the grooves filled in and the smooth parts scratched; she set about cleaning it, rubbing with the hem of her dress where she could feel particles of grit clinging to the metal. Her only thought as she was drawn into the absorbing task was that the fine fabric of the dress made an excellent tool for polishing copper.
After a few moments during which a faint hubbub and noise began drifting up through the flagstone floor, even Toph's sensitive fingertips could find no more marring dirt on the belt's surface. Satisfied, she clasped it around her waist, unable to contain a contented sigh as its familiar weight settled down onto her hips. The dress was scrunched and twisted under the smooth leather strap of the belt, and Toph turned to where she knew the mirror was and frowned at what she guessed was its reflective surface, playacting without an audience. She pretended to examine the dress with its new addition, half-turning and sighing as if in deep displeasure. She knew that the dress was beautiful without the belt, but with it… she just couldn't be sure, could she? She had no way of knowing what the dress looked like with this unanticipated change, and she certainly couldn't risk appearing in public looking at all unseemly… a conundrum, indeed.
A wicked, wolfish grin spread across Toph's face as she contemplated the solution. The dress couldn't be trusted, but she knew what could…
Fine fabric, she discovered, ripped apart as easily as air.
A new hall had been built in Earth King's palace for the night's revelries, sculpted carefully by the nation's finest Earthbenders and lined with interlocking plates of marble that had been left brashly unaltered, their seams showing, creating dazzling geometric patterns that swirled across the floor. Several guests (prominent among them a retired Fire Nation general with a rather portly frame) had compared it to, among other things, forms of poetry, autumn leaves, and bird wings. And while the floor was indeed beautiful, it was utterly surpassed by the living, glowing tapestry formed by the guests who moved across it.
Colors abounded among the crowd, as all had agreed was proper, this night being a reception bordering on celebration. Rubies and sapphires, ice-glows and wind-chimes appeared in flashes, in flickers, in abundance. The exuberant hues were an indication of the minds of those who wore them, for although the actual mood in the room was one of austere dignity and half-feigned caution, all could feel the undercurrent of joy frothing, seething, ready to burst forth.
Outside the building, in other palaces and courtyards across the Earth Kingdom and other nations, fireworks were lit and burst against the darkness, ice sculptures woven effortlessly out of air, snowballs tossed and monuments erected and drunken parties begun. Even inside the stately hall, the dignitaries of all four nations that made up the crowd, while striving hard to retain their stateliness and dignity, could not help gaping from time to time. Servants in dark crimson livery slipped quietly in and out of the crowd, lighting candles with snaps of their fingers, while a dragon made of water slithered above their heads, near the ceiling, where it was joined by a dragon of stone. Banners hung from the ceiling and walls, combining the emblems of all four nations into a circle, glorious symbols of the new Avatar's reign (a word which the Avatar himself had violently protested, seeing as he did not intend to reign over anyone, but a word which was being used in abundance nonetheless).
That selfsame Avatar, casting a glance over the crowd, could not contain a broad grin before turning back to an argument with a grizzled old Waterbender. The topic of their dispute, which took up one entire corner of the vast hall, was a great twisting hulk of copper tubes and water-filled canisters which stood dormant, apparently useless. In fact, it looked as though it had been made from one of the Fire Nation's war engines, after that engine had been smashed and flattened by several irate Earthbenders, then melted down and poured into a heap; the guests were casting it nervous sideways looks, and the Waterbender with whom Aang was arguing seemed just as unenthusiastic about it.
"I'm telling you, it won't work," he snarled, banging his fist against the thing's metal flank. "It's just a bunch of junk, smashed together in some run-down smithy or other, mark my words! The principles you used here, these hydraulics – this is impossible! Look, kid, I don't know who you are, but when the Avatar catches wind of this stupid hunk of junk you dragged into this ceremony, he'll have your hide!"
Aang grinned, tugging on the brim of the wide hat which hid his blue arrow tattoo and gave him a welcome resemblance to the servants scuttling about. "Somehow, I doubt the Avatar will be too angry with me," he replied, reaching out a hand to cover the opening of a tube which jutted out and then ceased, as though made expressly so that he could rest his hand on it. "And as for this not working… well, let me tell you, I've seen quite a few impossible things happen. You're thinking about this the wrong way. Just using the water alone, it won't do anything. But water in conjunction with something else – say, a favorable wind…"
Aang flexed his hand over the opening of the tube, sending a gust of air into the depths of the metal structure. Water frothed and bubbled and leapt up in its tubes, and a great harmonic humming suddenly filled the room, saturating the air and cutting off all conversation as the guests turn to look at the metal thing, now alive with the movement of water in the pipes and the one great note which it struck, and held, like some giant offspring of a flute and bell. Another gust, this time with his fingers in a different position, and the music rose a pitch, eliciting gasps and exclamations from the guests.
Then, with a carefully measured suddenness, Aang jerked his hand from the opening, and there was a deafening silence. Into that silence, like a clap of thunder, came three resonating booms. As one, the guests turned to behold a man in Earth Kingdom livery standing at the foot of a set of wide marble stairs, a scroll between his hands.
"I am pleased to introduce Bumi, former King of the Earth Kingdom," cried the herald, and the guests burst into applause as the hunchbacked madman himself descended the stairs, his green robes trailing behind him, a crown of peacock feathers arching upwards from his head.
"I present Her Grace Katara, of the Southern Water Tribe, Companion of the Avatar," the herald continued, and the crowd burst into most undignified whispers of awe as Katara descended into their midst, clad in a radiant dress of silver that gleamed like ice. Aang, standing comfortably unidentified at the back of the room, thought fondly that the only thing more radiant than her attire was her smile.
"I present His Grace Sokka, of the Southern Water Tribe, Companion of the Avatar," the herald continued, and Sokka managed to make it down the stairs in his sister's wake without tripping once – thanks, Aang knew, to many hours of practice with pointed icicles following him doggedly at every step.
Sokka reached the bottom of the stairs, but instead of moving off into the crowd as his sister had, he stood beside the herald, waiting. Aang had no time to puzzle over this, however, for the herald was speaking again, his voice bursting out into the sudden inexplicable stillness in the room.
"I present Lady Toph Beifong, of the Earth Kingdom, Companion of the Avatar!"
The crowd stood for a moment, waiting; then, when no distinguished figure descended the marble steps, they began seething, whispering among themselves in tentative confusion. The herald, apparently as shocked as the others, fumbled with his scroll for a moment, then cleared his throat and tried again. "I present Lady Toph Beifong, of the Earth Kingdom, Com—"
Before he could so much as finish the word, a boulder crashed through the window. The whispering turned to screams; Aang ripped off his hat and leaped into the air, propelled by a gust of wind, old battle instincts kicking in and beating a furious thunder in his skull, but before he could attack or the crowd could panic he heard a familiar voice, shouting down the frantic movement in tones of a stadium announcer.
"Laddieees and gentlemen, of all ages, from all nations, may I have your attention please!" Sokka, taking his cue, had leaped up onto the boulder -- which Aang suddenly noticed had a perfectly flat top -- and was shouting out over the crowd. "I bring you the Ruler of Rock, the Duchess of Dirt, the Greatest Earthbender this world has ever seen, the Greatest Earthbender of All Time, in fact… Ladies and gentlemen, The Blind Bandit!"
The marble steps exploded, shards of stone flying out over the crowd and sticking in the walls high above their heads. Then, riding on a wave of earth that carried her down where the stairs had once been, came Toph. Aang only had time to see that she was clad in her green sackcloth fighting outfit instead of her fine silk dress before he collapsed, doubled over with laughter, and Toph slid down onto the solid earth, both fists raised in a victory salute.
Then Katara was at Aang's side, pulling him up by the elbow, hissing in his ear as guards (who were under strict orders from Katara to arrest anyone causing trouble including, she had told them, the Avatar's companions) converged on Toph and Sokka, who allowed themselves to be arrested without complaint, grinning from ear to ear. "I think it's time to make your grand entrance now," Katara snapped; still laughing, Aang could only nod, desperately trying to catch his breath.
The crowd was no longer frightened, but curious, craning their heads around to catch a glimpse of the two celebrities-turned-miscreants, and a few pockets of startled laughter could be heard resonating in the rafters. Aang, disguise discarded, stamped his foot and drew a dais up out of the floor, stepping up to catch the crowd's attention and allow Toph and Sokka to be dragged away in peace.
As he began to repeat the words he had memorized long ago, the words about truth and love and peace and harmony, he thought with a grin that Toph had been the only one all evening to be introduced for who she really was.
The End. Wordy, yes. Fun? To write, definitely. To read, I should hope so. What do you think?