Valrick has a new business venture, Desna wants to become manlier and you, a fire bender, are stuck freezing in the North Pole as a diplomat. (DesnaxReader)

Make A Man Out Of You

Chapter 1: Business Trip

You briskly entered the Fire Nation throne room with no clue of what fate awaited you. You had been working in the palace for nearly a year and had only seen the Firelord a few times from afar. She had a very intellectual look to her, but also a firm gaze that denoted strength, and perhaps stubbornness. You gave only a passing glance to the elegant decorations, as your mind remained occupied in recalling what you had done wrong. Though you kept drawing a blank and were sure you had properly finished your chores, you could think of no other reason to be called before the ruler of your home nation other than being in trouble.

You marched before the throne, remaining at what you calculated was a prudent distance and suppressed the need to proclaim your innocence at the top of your lungs. You were a semi-decent fire bender at best, so you hope she wasn't planning to challenge you to Agni Kai. The flames that danced behind the throne made the lady's golden glasses glow, giving her eyes a mysterious and threatening quality. "Your highness..." You bowed nervously.

"I have called you here for a very important reason," the Firelord began, her voice ringing across the spacious throne room. "Chief Eska of the water tribe will be visiting our nation soon and as a gesture of good will, I wish to send a trustworthy member of my staff to assist her in her preparations." The voice of the ruler came closer and by the time you dared to peek up from your bowing pose, she was right in front of you. She gestured for you to stand as she continued in a secretive voice. "Eska is... She's viewed as being intimidating, but I would like to strengthen the friendly diplomacy with the North Pole. After their war with the South, I fear their people are being judged unfairly, as it happened to the Fire Nation following the end of Ozai's rule. My father, Firelord Zuko, had to work very hard alongside Avatar Aang to foster good will."

You stared at the Firelord, or Firelady rather, her voice had become caring and understanding without losing its strength, it was soothing and secure. "I will do my best to create a good impression of our nation." You smiled, finally relaxing. You were given a pretty important job and the chance to travel far away and see new places. You were so excited that you weren't immediately concerned about Eska's cold and intimidating reputation.

The Firelord nodded, "try to be her friend," you agreed to the request without a second thought. Being friendly should be easy enough, especially when your mind was filled with thoughts of delicious sea food dishes and delightfully sweet popsicles, in an icy city that glittered as if it was made of diamond. Who knows, maybe you would meet a handsome Water Tribe warrior who would steal your heart. They were said to have the deepest blue eyes, well built tanned bodies, soft brown hair... and the eyes, the looked so hypnotic in magazines. They were all probably built like Nuktuk from the movers, which were in black and white, so you didn't even notice that the main actors' anatomy was distinctly Earth Kingdom. With thoughts of being swept off your feet by a handsome Nuktuk look alike, you happily returned to your room to pack for the trip.

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Chapter 2: Cold and Confused

A soft whine escaped your lips as you tried to suppress the sensation of pain. You didn't pack any sunscreen, who would pack sunscreen on a trip to the North Pole? Toph grunted and muttered something about wimps under her breath, while Kai gave you a sympathetic glance and offered a quiet "we're almost there," which you did not believe.

You assumed you would be traveling by ship or maybe even by airship if you were lucky, but you never would have guessed the trip would be by sky bison. Kai, one of the new air benders that were perhaps not so new anymore by now, was the chauffeur. Katara was visiting the North Pole, presumably as a representative from the South in a gesture of good will, and Toph, after disappearing for some time, decided to leave her swamp and go visit Katara. Never the patient one, instead of waiting for the water bender to return home, Toph decided to catch up with her at the North Pole. She stopped at the Fire Nation to find another ship to hitch hike on further up, and ended up joining you in your transportation.

Kai had only been passing by as an air nomad, but offered to take you to the North Pole. What was at first a cool ride, soon turned into a scorching death trap with no overhead protection from the burning sun. Toph had commented it was pathetic that a fire bender would get sunburn so easily, you were in too much pain to reply.

As the climate became increasingly cold the further north you went, you found yourself debating between the discomfort of the cold or the extra layers of fabric against your skin. You changed your mind about which was worse so often that you caught a cold and were nothing but a sniffling pile of misery by the time you reached the North Pole.

You stumbled off the bison, sneezing and sniffling, with a gust of wind from Kai saving you from falling off the animal and cracking your skull. You heard the faint echo of words spoken around you and miserably stumbled after the group, while some attendants carried your bags.

Toph ran off somewhere, muttering something about the freezing cold floor and hopping around with more energy than a woman her age would be expected to have. She returned soon after, dragging you away by the arm, which caused you to yelp as her bony hand pressed the fabric of your sleeve against your tender skin.

The next thing you knew you were being shoved into a room and Toph was pulling off your coat. " I found you a healer," she explained as she tugged on the red clothing underneath.

You actually liked blue better, but your culture insisted that you wore red. "Cold," you tried to bat her hands away, but she was fast.

"Quit whining and let the healer have a look," with one last tug of fabric, the spunky old woman left you in the cold in your under garments.

"I'm freezing!" A moment later the embarrassment also sunk in. At least the healer in question was female, you thought. The situation was marginally less mortifying since you were all girls as far as you knew.

"Well? Heal her?" At Toph's insistence, the girl in blue robes nodded wordlessly.

She was tan, like the water benders from the poles, had long brown hair and bright blue eyes. The water bender called upon some of the ice from the walls, it became water at her command and covered your tender skin. She almost flinched with slight apology as you yelped at the cold sensation, then relaxed into the healing glow.

Your skin was left as good as new, but you were still cold and sick, so you hurried to dress, shivering all the while. "She's a wimpy one, this one, but she has potential," Toph told the healer. "Well, I'm gonna go say hi to Katara, she should be ready to leave by now if my mental calendar doesn't fail me. I guess we'll both catch a ride, it'll be faster than a boat."

You were too sick to comment on the fact that Toph had traveled all that way and now she was leaving along with Katara, apparently on Kai's bison. Your skin felt renewed and the coat was much more comfortable against it, but you were still lightheaded and it was getting dark...

xoxox xox xoxox

"How is your health, visitor from the Fire Nation?" You opened your eyes to a female monotone voice.

"Better," you muttered. You noticed that the one who spoke was the young woman who took care of your sunburn before. "Thank you for the healing. What's your name?" You sat up but remained under the covers, timidly admiring the decorative carvings on the icy palace walls.

"Eska," the girl replied with an expressionless face. "And I did nothing."

"What a coincidence," you smiled, assuming that by did nothing she meant it was no trouble. "The same name as the chief."

"I am the chief," Eska revealed.

You stared at her, your mouth agape. "Chief Eska?! Your highness, I'm so sorry!"

"I see nothing that requires an apology," Eska spoke in that unreadable voice of hers. "Rest and when you have recovered, we will have a diplomatic discussion in preparation for my trip to the Fire Nation. Make sure you drink the healing water." Without waiting for a reply, Eska left the room.

You sighed and laid back in bed, unwilling and maybe unable to leave the warmth of the covers, despite feeling much better. You glanced at the icy nightstand, most things seemed to be made of ice in the castle, and spotted a bottle of shiny liquid. It was beautiful, as if it was meant to be left there as a decoration, undisturbed. You gingerly reached for it and took a zip, it was cool, sweet and soothing. Though you started your trip by making a fool of yourself in front of the local monarch and had her serve you instead of the other way around, maybe the diplomatic disaster could still be salvaged.

A knock on the door interrupted your thoughts and you called for the person to enter. You watched with puzzled curiosity as the icy door slid aside by the power of bending, momentary wondering how heavy it would feel to a non-water bender such as yourself. Yet your mind soon focused on more important matters, such as the fact, the so called fact, that Eska had returned. "Chief Eska?"

She tilted her head in confusion and opened her mouth as if to speak, only to think better of it and close it with a shake of the head. Wordlessly she exited the room and you couldn't help it but to focus on the bizarre occurrence and muse that there was something different about her. You couldn't tell exactly what it was, but for a moment her features seemed almost imperceptibly different and she carried herself with an air that you could only think to describe as tomboyish.

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Chapter 3: Fangirl Vision

You were feeling much better and ready to actually go do your job and assist Eska, instead of being assisted by her staff. 'It's a miracle I haven't been fired.' You were not looking forward to explaining the happenings to the Firelord.

After leaving your room, you went in search of Eska, only to be pulled into a room without warning with a loud exclamation of "she can test it!"

You yelled in surprised and pushed away the man who had shouted the unexpected proclamation. A small flame materialized in the air in front of your hand and you recoiled away from it, even if it had not come into contact with your glove.

"Woah there, I can understand you're excited, but try to contain your enthusiasm!" The man exclaimed. He looked as if he might be from the water tribe, in terms of ethnicity at least, though his enthusiastic behavior and energetic atmosphere seemed better suited for someone who lived in one of those big cities where pro-benders and movers stars thrived. Though he wasn't a bender, that or he wasn't a particularly talented one, you could tell by the lack of fluidness of his movements, as if he was hopping from one place to another, rather than flowing like a current.

A woman whose origin you couldn't quite place sighed in exasperation and adjusted her small glasses. She was another non-bender, you guessed, as benders tended to have strong genetic ties to their nations, which often manifested in identifiable physical traits, though that might become less common as the nations continued to mix. You relaxed, you liked non-benders, they didn't care about your lack of bending skills. The man had startled you, but upon giving him a second look, he seemed harmless enough, just hyper. "What is this about?" You inquired with some degree of curiosity.

"My new invention!" The man exclaimed. He picked up an odd device from a table near by. As he took a moment to admire the odd thing, you couldn't help it but to glance around the room. It was a mess, tools, wires, nuts and bolts were tossed all over the place. This wasn't like the organized chaos of your room back home, this was simply pure chaos. "Try it on!" You were brought back to reality when the man placed the odd contraption in your hands.

"I could test it..." The woman offered.

"No," the man insisted and the woman rolled her eyes in response. The man cleared his throat, as if he himself did not understand the logic behind his behavior. "I mean... You should take a break, Zhu Li," the name sounded somewhat Earth Kingdom to you.

You had always wanted to experience an international environment like Republic City, though you didn't expect to find it here. You poked at the contraption in your hands. It looked like goggles with thick glass and a strange machine framing them. "Are these supposed to be binoculars?"

"These are fangirl vision goggles!" The man exclaimed. "They allow you to see what could be! This will be Valrick Industries' invention of the year!"

"Valrick?" You thought there was something familiar about the strange man. "The one who wrote, directed and produced the Nuktuk movers?"

"The very same! Now put on those goggles and go look at men, then report your findings to me!" Before you could inquire about the possibility of a new season of Nuktuk movers, ask if he could get you Nuktuk's autograph, or voice any other words, he pushed you out of the room, while simultaneously fastening the goggles on your head with two belts on the sides and another on top to support the machine's weight.

You stumbled dizzily before regaining your balance and trying to pull the goggles off, they made everything too wavy and strange, as if you were dreaming. Unfortunately, you couldn't get the belts untangled and Valrick's door was closed, with the sound of random clings and clangs coming from the other side, as work began on some other crazy project.

Telling yourself to endure it in hopes of being rewarded with Nuktuk merchandise, you stumbled down the icy halls, unsure of what you were supposed to do. Valrick said to look at men, did that mean you were responsible for finding a new protagonist for his next mover? Such thoughts were quite exciting, but they soon vanished from your head, along with everything else. Your mental train derailed into a rush of adrenaline, as you found exactly what you were looking for.

You hardly noticed Eska's presence, for you could only focus on the man next to her. You didn't even take a moment to wonder if he was cold walking around in nothing but shorts, you just stared. You took in everything from his well toned body, six pack included, and smooth bronze skin, to his soft brown hair and deep blue eyes that threatened to give you a heart attack there and then.

The pair turned towards you, with Eska commenting, "it seems you are still not well, your face is red with a fever."

"Perhaps you should not volunteer to assist Valrick in these conditions." The man added, while you could only smile like an idiot. It was clear to him that the contraption on your face was from Valrick, but he didn't know what it did. The business tycoon and his crew had arrived while you were bedridden accompanying Bolin, whose presence in the North Pole you were unaware of, in a tour to promote Valrick Industries.

"She might be in a worse state of health than before, she seems to have been reduced to a completely unresponsive state," Eska commented. "My water bending is better suited for combat," she hinted.

The handsome man nodded, "I will make sure no harm comes to the Fire Nation diplomat." You weren't sure if it was the excitement, or if the goggles messing with your vision and squeezing your head were to blame, but you really did faint.

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Chapter 4: Pyrotechnics

When you woke up, you were no longer wearing the oversized goggles and the world no longer looked like a dreamy haze. Your consciousness connected with your memories and you sat up on your bed, you had been carried to your room. You spotted Eska next to your bed, which was odd considering she claimed to be better at combat. You thought she was a very skilled healer, though she was no doubt a strong fighter as well. "Eska?"

The water bender let out a frustrated breath. Though no words were spoken by the monarch, you thought she sounded kind of rough, as if that breath belonged to a deeper voice than hers. You immediately attributed it to anger and apologized. "I'm so sorry, chief Eska. I'm supposed to be helping out, assisting and being diplomatic, but I've been nothing but a burden." You could feel tears in your eyes as it hit you that you were making your nation look terrible. This wasn't just an impression of yourself, it was representative of your whole nation.

Eska stood without a word. You could still see some annoyance in her eyes, which were devoid of her usual eye shadow, making them look less fem... er, angular. Yet the look softened as she reached out and patted your shoulder in reassurance. She smiled, then left without a word.

You interpreted that she had forgiven you, but you still felt bad. You resolved to do everything perfectly from this point on, with no distractions.

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After you were sure you could leave your room without making a fool of yourself again, you did. Upon searching for Eska to ask if there was anything you could do for her, you instead found Valrick. You froze and considered running back to your room, but he spotted you before you could escape and it would be rude to openly run away.

"Ah, there you are," Valrick approached, the young man he had been speaking to before walking beside him. "This is the lady I was telling you about, the one that will discover the next movers star if you don't hurry up and sign a contract for a Nuktuk sequel!"

Albeit you were determined not to be distracted, you couldn't help it and asked. "Are you Nuktuk's agent?" The young man with green eyes was handsome enough to be an actor himself, and there was something familiar about him.

"Um, no," Bolin blinked, actually surprised. "I am Nuktuk."

You laughed, "of course you are. Nuktuk is a water bender, he's tan and has blue eyes and walks around shirtless to please his fans." He used to be a pro-bender, you read in a magazine, though you were never into pro-bending for personal reasons, thus the details eluded you.

Bolin just stared in shock, as if he didn't know how to react, his jaw ajar. Valrick nodded, taking mental notes of everything you said. "Right, right, the next movers star should walk around shirtless to please the fangirls, makes sense. It's decided, it's time to move on. Next time I'm casting a water bender as a fire bender!"

Zhu Li approached the group at the hallway and announced, "everything has been loaded onto the ship."

Bolin took that as his cue and headed out of the palace towards the port, muttering "I'm a has been." The whole way.

"Thank you, Zhu Li," Valrick cheerfully replied, letting Bolin go about his business, mind occupied in other matters. "You're the best wife a man could ask for."

"I also made tea," she added. Valrick hugged his wife and pulled her into a kiss, though he ended up being swept off his feet and held at an angle while they both melted into the embrace.

Looking past the PDA you mused about how you never understood some men's fascination with tea. The now retired Firelord Zuko loved it, a habit he picked up from his uncle Iroh, after whom his grandson was named. The legacy of Iroh's tea was still strong and some said that a man wasn't a man if he didn't know his tea. Women drank tea as well, but to them it was just a beverage.

Honestly, there was nothing inherently manly about a cup of tea, though that was just your opinion. You heard they used to market little tea sets as toys for girls decades ago, but despite tea being a unisex drink, you were doubtful about that. Tea parties were such a stereotypical boy thing, not that it was in any way wrong for girls to have them, it just wasn't as common.

The loving embrace ended and Zhu Li cleared her throat. "We apologize the fangirl goggles made you ill," she elbowed her husband.

"Yes, sorry about that," Valrick recited, before continuing with genuine interest. "Before we head out to Republic City, let me ask, did you observe anything peculiar while wearing the goggles?"

Your face turned scarlet at the memory. You could hardly find your voice, but the man you saw needed to be in a mover, such perfection couldn't be hidden from the world. "There was a man, he was walking with chief Eska. I don't know his name but... He was... He looked like he could totally be a movers star!"

"Could be," Valrick mused, rubbing his chin in thought. "Could be," he repeated as if the condition was critical. "Zhu Li, let's do the thing!"

"Alright, I'll have our things unloaded and have the ship continue the tour without us," the woman agreed. You couldn't help it but to stare. What just happened? When was this decided? Was she a mind reader?

What exactly was decided anyway? What was making them stay? "The thing?"

"Yes, you can be a part of it too," Valrick sounded as if he was doing you a favor, or maybe more so bestowing a great honor upon you.

The alarms in your head went off. "I don't think I should be getting involved. I mean, I have a job to do and I'm already so behind!" Far more behind than you thought, as you realized you still didn't know the specifics of your job.

"You're doing the diplomatic thing with Eska and Desna, just do more of it with Desna." Valrick resolved, in an explanation that left your head spinning.

"Huh?" You stared in perplexity.

"Desna, Eska's brother, he must have been the man you saw walking with her, or rather a version of him," Valrick explained.

You weren't sure what he meant by a version, but the image of that perfect man was too distracting in your memories. "He did look like he was from the water tribe."

"Exactly, which is why we're going to make his character a fire bender, gotta bring out his acting potential, Nuktuk was an earth bender after all. You didn't even recognized him a while ago." Valrick continued talking about his project and discussing plot ideas, but it was all list to you.

That was Nuktuk? The real deal? You tried to imagine him in black and white, without the tan, or the brown hair, or the blue eyes that water benders from the poles often had. The basic shape was there, the hair style was there, the facial features were... mostly there. The nose looked bigger in person, but movers stars were known to wear make-up on the set, even the men, so the slightly smaller nose on the screen could be attributed to that.

"Nuktuk..." You kept muttering the word repeatedly in a soft whisper under your breath, mentally kicking yourself for your missed opportunity. You considered running out of the palace and into the port, right into the ship, but Zhu Li's approach directing a multitude of hired servants carrying various supplies could only mean the ship had sailed.

You remained unresponsive throughout Valrick's speech until the very end when he spelled out your doom, "and you'll be in charge of the pyrotechnics!"

"What?!" You shouted in shock, all color drained from your face.

"That's movers speak for fire effects," Valrick calmly but excitedly explained. He walked off to tell Zhu Li about his plot ideas, mentioning something about how fortunate it was that they happened to have a fire bender in hand, as if you were part of the supplies.

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Chapter 5: Illusions

You had to find Eska, you had to get her to assign you a job. You desperately needed to look busy, feel busy and just be busy. You shuddered at the thought of having to firebend. Lack of practice due to trauma fueled fear made you a mediocre bender at best and combined with your inevitable nervousness it would be a recipe for disaster. Your only escape, without appearing to be rude, uncooperative, or revealing your lack of talent, was to become so occupied in more important official matters, that you couldn't possibly find the time to assist Valrick.

After inquiring of the guards, you were directed towards an ice garden at the back of the palace courtyard. You looked around in wonderment at the detailed ice sculptures of flowers. Elegantly carved pillars stood with icy vines wrapped around them. The most impressive part was that unlike the silvery white palace, the garden was filled with color.

The water had been tinted with various shades before being crafted into ice by skillful water benders. You admired the detailed red roses tempted to remove your thick gloves to touch them, though you knew it was a bad idea. The cold would be very unpleasant against your bare skin and you didn't want to break any of the ice flowers.

The sound of an echoing voice nearby caught your attention and you approached the structure at the other side of the garden. It was similar to a hedge maze, except it was made of ice. They must have put some metallic particles in the ice or something, because it was far too reflective, like mirrors.

You didn't want to get lost in the icy mirror maze, but the voice sounded close, a gentle female monotone. "If you want to participate in the mover, I will support you, just as I did when you expressed interest in learning healing techniques."

You hurried to catch up with whom you assumed to be Eska and called out to her. "Chief Eska!" You stopped a few feet inside the maze. Mirrors reflected mirrors and it was very confusing. You saw Eska, but you didn't know which one was real. Oddly, there seemed to be twice as many reflections of Eska as there were of you, and some of them seemed different from each other, though it was hard to say why.

Seeing your helplessness Eska approached, her reflections moving in pairs, as if there were two of her. "Is there something that you require?"

"Um... Actually..." You looked down in embarrassment, ashamed at the job you had done thus far. This prevented you from further observing the odd phenomenon of the mirrors that reflected Eska twice as many times as you. "I was hoping I could do something for you."

There was a pause, as if the water princess was considering what to say. Then she came up with something you were not happy to hear. "Assist in the process of the mover."

That was it, you received a direct order from the person you were supposed to be assisting. You couldn't very well refuse, it was your job to be useful to Eska and you did feel bad that you had been taken care of but were yet to give anything in return. "Yes, princess," you replied sadly.

"You may call me Eska," the chief voiced. You didn't lift your head and didn't question it when she said, "you may call my brother Desna. You will be assisting him as well, if he decides to partake in the mover."

"I will do my best," you nervously replied. "I will prepare immediately, excuse me," you bowed, though you hadn't lifted your head in the first place. Though Eska just basically asked you to drop the formalities, this was the only way you could think of to hide your panicked expression.

You hurried out of the maze, which wasn't too bad since you had only walked in a short way, not quite enough to get lost, though you were sure you would get lost if you went any further. Glancing back at the structure, it seemed that Eska had continued her stroll. Who was she talking to before? She was alone as far as you could tell. Maybe she was practicing what she intended to tell someone, her voice echoing off the walls and helping her measure her words. You supposed it wasn't all that strange if she wanted to say things just right. She mentioned the mover, maybe she was practicing what she would say to her brother.

The selfish part of you hoped Desna would refuse Valrick's offer, whatever it might be. At least then maybe you'd be off the hook as the pyrotechnician. You thought of Desna and wondered when you would see him again. You had only met him once, as far as you knew, when you were wearing the goggles that made your vision wavy. He certainly looked handsome enough for a mover but that would only mean you had the opportunity to embarrass yourself in front of the next mover star.

You sighed hopelessly as you made your way back inside the palace en route to Valrick's lab.

"You okay, pretty lady." You gave the question no mind, you didn't think it was directed at you. Then one of the guards stood in front of you, making it impossible to ignore him. "Lost in thought, beautiful?"

You looked around confused, "me?"

He grinned and a rush of heat washed over you. He was handsome, quite a bit taller than you, his hair was in a short ponytail, shaved at the sides in a more southern warrior style. It was different from the long haired half ponytails that northern water tribe men had come to favor, but it suited him. Yet the heat wasn't a blush rushing to your cheeks, it was an alarming kind of heat. It was as if your body had decided of its own accord that you were in danger and had to fight.

It was stupid, you mentally chastised yourself. You were in no danger, you were inside the palace, with a guard right in front of you. You shifted uncomfortably, "sorry... I..." Your fingertips tingled and you tried to hold it back. Your natural element wanted to manifest itself and you couldn't allow it.

"A bit shy? Oh pardon me miss diplomat. Far be it for this humble warrior to overstep his place," he bowed, a hand over his heart. He slightly looked at you, now closer to eye level since he was bent over. His eyes were such a pale blue, almost silver. His hair was a dark brown and his skin a perfect bronze.

"It's nice to meet you..." You tried to calm your wildly beating heart, refusing to allow a single spark of fire to manifest.

"Kalok," he supplied with a seductive tone that was almost lost to you in your stress.

At least you managed you give him your name, which he already seemed to be aware of anyway, but in your defense you could say that you weren't used to being recognized. "I must be going..." You clenched your fists and wondered what you looked like to him, shifting your weight nervously.

"Of course, I hope we can speak again during your stay here." Kalok moved aside, allowing you to pass.

You scurried away, feeling your out of control bending starting to settle down. Kalok probably assumed you needed to go to the bathroom, badly.

To be Continued

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Make a Man Out of You

Chapter 6: Colors

Your feet carried you, after a few wrong turns around the palace halls, to the room where you had met Valrick during the goggles incident. You still didn't understand the full functionality of the device, but decided not to question it too much. It only seemed to be good for giving headaches and messed up vision.

You were standing in front of the door, procrastinating knocking when you heard someone approaching from the opposite side of the hall and caught a glimpse of Eska. She didn't seem to have any makeup on and was walking in her somewhat tomboyish stride. You dutifully knocked, you didn't want her to see you slacking off.

Valrick opened the door after a clatter of noises and pulled you into the room, flooding the sound waves with special effect ideas, fire based special effects of course. Making a dragon out of flames could be done, but only by someone of exceptional skill.

In a final attempt to escape your fate, you made an innocent suggestion, which Valrick reacted to as if it was a terrible crime. "A fire bender, playing the part of a fire bender is unacceptable!" The writer, director and producer snapped, as if to make sure you wouldn't dare to suggest it again.

In a calmer tone, Valrick went on about how the hero's eyes wouldn't stand out if they were the classic fire bender gold and that blue would be a better contrast to flames. Besides, having a star with bronze skin would help him sell the tanning beds he invented. They weren't selling very well in the poles, mostly because people were already tan, but they would be a big hit at the Earth Kingdom, never mind that using the actual sun was a lot cheaper.

Zhu Li handed you a cup of tea and showed you to a chair, an indication that she knew her husband's rant would go on for a while. You sat there, sipping tea who Valrick spoke of the tanning beds. Ginger, the heroine from Nuktuk was returning to the movers, sporting an artificial tan and platinum blond hair. Blond hair was extremely rare, but not for long if Valrick could help it, he was going to launch a line of hair dyes in every color the eye could see, according to him at least.

"From the perspective of a fangirl willing to spend her life savings on merchandise, you like that, right?" Valrick asked. "I wonder if we should bleach Desna's hair too, after he lives up to his potential that is."

You weren't quite ready to get a word in when you were finally asked to. Then you thought of Kalok, him being the last tan man you saw, and imagined him as a blond. Before you could pass judgement on the image, you thought of how he acted. You were distracted by your suddenly malfunctioning bending, which you still couldn't explain, but you knew he was flirting, probably only because you were the supposed fire diplomat and he had the impression that you were more important than what you considered yourself to be.

You remembered your platonic crush on prince Iroh and how you would go on and on about his golden eyes. One of the guards from the fire palace asked you out some time ago, he had amazing golden eyes and was very handsome. But you were just getting into Nuktuk and, assuming he was actually of water tribe ethnicity, you got over golden eyes and liked tans and blue eyes instead, so you politely turned down your potential date.

You recalled a conversation you had with a friend who was a maid at the fire palace. You couldn't recall her exact words, but she said something that rubbed you the wrong way and made you adamantly clarify, "I'm not racist," let alone against your own race.

"Of course not," your friend had retorted. "Racism implies discrimination and you're afraid of all men equally. That's why you change what you like so often."

She was wrong, there was nothing wrong with being a little picky. Everyone had physical traits that they preferred, it was simple, no need to over think it. It was also natural that those preferences would change over time. You told yourself that over and over until you believed it.

"Tan and blond?" Valrick prompted, tired of waiting for your answer.

You snapped awake from your little flashback and shook your head. "I prefer a lighter tone and green eyes," that was what the real Nuktuk looked like. Kalok just wasn't right for you, as a friend yes, but not as a potential boyfriend. Seeing Valrick's disappointment you added, "blond hair is good, very handsome." You had never seen a natural blond person before, though you knew they existed.

Black was the most common hair color at the Fire Nation capital, where the fire ethnicity was still mostly pure after years of restricting immigration during Ozai's rule and years of not getting many foreign visitors despite welcoming them during the difficult first few years of Zuko's rule. You supposed that people might enjoy looking different just for the sake of standing out, so you weren't lying when you told Valrick the Fire Nation would probably be a good market for hair products. However you had to wonder, "what does it matter what is what color? Movers are black and white," and gray if you wanted to get specific.

"Not for long! My next mover will be in color!" Before you could get over your surprise at the genius' ambition, Valrick declared, "give her the thing!" and watched with great excitement and anticipation as Zhu Li gave you the aforementioned thing.

The thing in question turned out to be an old book detailing techniques to make fire take on distinct shapes and how to keep it in those shapes while moving it. The book was ancient, fragile, expensive looking and above all else, extremely flammable.

You wanted to return the book to Zhu Li's arms before you accidentally damaged it, but Valrick interrupted with a vague, but still very excited, "do the thing!"

You realized after a moment that he was not talking to Zhu Li, he was talking to you. You looked at Valrick, looked the book, at Valrick, at the book... Finally you held up the book, "this thing?"

"Yes! The thing!" Valrick insisted.

You gulped and looked through the pages. Nothing made sense, you quit fire bending a long time ago and had only really studied the basics. This book was far too advanced for you to even understand in theory, let alone perform, paralyzing fear aside. "I can't..."

"Maybe we should give her time to practice," Zhu Li suggested in well intended gesture.

"Oh right..." Valrick mused with moderate disappointment, but without completely losing the creative spark in his eyes. "Not everyone's a genius. Alright, go prepare miss Pyrotechnics, I'll call on you when we're ready to film."

With that, you were dismissed, pushed out to the hallway book in hand. Eska was still standing there, much to your surprise. She had rolled up the sleeve of her coat a little and was observing her forearm and wrist critically, though you didn't notice anything on her arm that would merit observation. You did notice her wrist was kind if thick for a girl, not very delicate looking. As soon as she saw you, she pulled the sleeve down and stepped aside, as if granting you passage, or inviting you to go away.

You decided not to question her odd behavior and left. From the corner of your eyes, you discretely watched her enter Valrick's lab. You couldn't hear the conversation behind the closed door but as you continued on your way you Valrick's loud voice went beyond the closed in an exclamation of "skin bleach?!" Then the conversation became once again too quiet for you to hear beyond the closed door and increasing distance as you walked.

Skin bleach, what an odd thing to yell. Maybe it would be another of Valrick's crazy products. Artificial tans for the pale and skin bleach for the tan. Everyone always wanted to look exactly how they didn't, personally you didn't care what color you were. Your sensitivity to sunburn was annoying, but not unmanageable. Colors aside, you just wished you were undamaged.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 7: Delays and Apologies

You stood on the set, a replica of Ozai's throne room, and you were a nervous wreck. Valrick decided to do something daring for his color mover. The world was at peace, so there wasn't much to be done in terms of propaganda. The whole Kuvira incident was over. It was recent enough that people didn't need a retelling, but not present enough for people to be affected, as they would inevitably recall that the battle was already over. Valrick needed something that would resonate with people's emotions and the lack of current controversies meant it had to be something timeless.

The self proclaimed greatest writer, director and producer of all time went with the obvious answer, forbidden love. Then he took a route that he himself described as daring, he would set the story in the past, during the time when the Fire Nation was taking over the world. That wasn't the only daring aspect of the mover, which he intended to be a trilogy. The first mover would present the hero as the antagonist, a successful member of Ozai's elite guards, who, after a defeat at the hands of his sassy co-star, fell in love with her and joined the resistance. Of course, people wouldn't know they were supposed to root for him until the second mover, during the first they would only root for Ginger's character. Then from the second mover onward, they would root for the couple.

Ginger would have a more active role in the trilogy, her character was more so a badass than a damsel in distress this time around. She was under a contract, so she was a safer investment for the production of fan merchandise. If Desna decided he didn't want to be in a second set of movers, Valrick would just come up with a tragic death story and center the second trilogy on Ginger's quest to avenge her lost love... He might actually do that anyway.

Eska arrived on the set and you felt a cold chill run down your spine. You noticed several other people shuddering, some more visibly than others, and wondered if her entrance had the same effect on everyone. You felt cold despite your warm clothes.

"My brother will not be in attendance today," Eska informed Valrick, sounding a tad protective amidst her indifference. You also sensed a hint of what you could only describe as murderous rage.

Valrick took a moment to stare at Eska's eyes and gulp, but he was a brave man, foolishly brave some would say. He looked away from her face, unable to compete with Eska's icy glare, a feat you didn't think anyone could achieve. Then he dared to speak, "why?" You could have sworn the temperature dropped when that one word was spoken, and this was already the North Pole.

"His skin is blue," Eska's voice took on a clearer tone of accusation as she emphasized every word.

You didn't know when it started, but through the short exchange Valrick had inched away from the angry princess and now his back was up against a wall. "I'm sure he'll be fine in a few days..." the frightened business tycoon finally managed to reply.

Eska didn't say anything more. She turned around and walked away with such grace she gave the appearance of floating. It was quite different from the tomboyish stride you'd seen her use before, but the anger was never the less palpable. The temperature seemed to return to normal, which was still cold, but at least your coat was doing its job.

While Valrick let out a breath and sat back to finish watching his life flash before his eyes, probably making mental comments about the editing and directing, you took a moment to ponder Eska's words. Desna's skin was blue... Well, if he walked around in the North Pole wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, no matter how used to the cold he was, he would turn blue eventually. You weren't sure why Eska was so accusing though, it's not like Valrick had anything to do with it, did he? Eska was the one asking about skin bleach and she seemed to be the same shade of tan as the last time you saw her.

You shook your head and told yourself not to over analyze things that weren't your business. What was very much your business was the fact that the production would have to be delayed. "So I guess this means you won't be needing any pyrotechnics today," you smiled.

"No, not today," Valrick half replied and half thought aloud. "I'll have to revise the entire schedule."

"Well, in that case, I'll go take care of my other duties," which were not specified at the moment.

xoxox xox xoxox

After escaping from the mover's set, you were unsure about what to do. You should ask Eska or Desna for direction, but Eska was angry and Desna was ill. You weren't sure you'd be allowed to see him and you weren't sure you wanted to see her. Plus you didn't want to pester Desna about work, though you did want to see him, maybe apologize for fainting when you first met him during the goggles incident.

Your feet carried you to the royal chambers. You had more or less learned to get around, though you occasionally still stopped to ask a guard for directions. You didn't run into Kalok though, you wanted to see him, but at the same time you didn't want him to see you.

"It wasn't her fault, it was my idea," a calm male voice was heard from behind a large door. You carefully got closer, listening. You were sure eavesdropping was a diplomatic no-no, but you couldn't resist.

"You shouldn't have concerned yourself with what she likes or doesn't like," Eska replied, with a clearer hint of emotion than what she had shown since you met her. Perhaps the man she was speaking to was important to her.

There was a pause, then the man agreed, "you're right, sister." Desna, it was Desna! "I just found it vexing that she wouldn't acknowledge me." You couldn't imagine what kind of girl wouldn't want to give him attention.

"Brother..." Eska let out an unsure breath, but pressed on. "People know who you are when they hear my voice and know who I am." You wondered if there was a metaphor somewhere in there. Eska was the better known monarch and Desna was just the chief's brother.

Desna didn't sound bothered by it though. "I know, I am your brother, that is who I am, it is my identity, but to not even be granted that... It shouldn't bother me so much, I am content being your shadow if that is what I must be." This was not sounding like a typical dispute between heirs...

"Good," in any other context, you would think Eska to be selfish, even a little cruel, but she sounded protective. You didn't understand how anyone could be content in the shadow of another, not even being acknowledged as an individual, never mind a prince. Yet Desna really did sound like that was enough and Eska sounded as if she was keeping him safe from... Well, the whole world. It didn't make sense.

The Desna you remembered was strong and independent, that is until you realized you didn't really know him. You saw him, confidently walking around shirtless in the cold, well tone muscles, bronze six pack, piercing pale blue eyes, and just assumed that he was every bit a warrior on the inside as on the outside. But you wouldn't make the same mistake again. Your short meeting during the goggles incident was not enough to judge him and neither was a single stolen conversation.

The icy door opened, moved by bending, and you jumped back, quickly excusing yourself. "I was just wondering if there's anything I can do!"

Eska gave you a critical look, she was displeased and you worried she was going to tell the Firelord that her improper diplomat was eavesdropping. The Fire Nation would be known as the land of gossips that had no respect for privacy.

"I also wanted to apologize." You forced yourself to look up, worried that if you didn't meet Eska's eyes, she would judge you as insincere.

Surprisingly, Eska seemed to be somewhat appeased by your apology. "Very well," she stepped aside. "You may serve my brother during his recovery as a way of apology."

You had the nagging feeling that you and Eska weren't quite on the same page, but she just offered to accept your apology in exchange for a job that was far from being a punishment. With those terms, you weren't about to complain. "Yes! Thank you!"

You entered the room and felt the door close behind you as Eska left you to your task. It was easier to be around Desna than Kalok, you subconsciously mused, because Desna was a prince, an unreachable platonic interest, so you didn't need to remind yourself that you were into green eyes now, it's not like you were looking for a date, you would just enjoy the view and try to make a good impression on behalf of the Fire Nation.

The only problem was that you couldn't enjoy the view with all those blankets covering it. You could see a basic silhouette and a bit of brown hair peeking out, but other than that, Desna was covered from head to toe. It was reasonable, you reminded yourself, he had been exposed to the cold until his skin turned blue, he had to stay warm. "Um... Desna..."

"I heard," his voice came from under the covers. "You are forgiven."

"I'm glad, thank you..." You weren't sure what he was forgiving you for. Was he also aware of the eavesdropping just now? How embarrassing.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 8: Diplomatic Meetings

You had been given the task to serve Desna, you were currently in his room while he rested, the blankets covering him from head to toe, but he was yet to tell you what to do, so you asked shyly. "So, um... Is there anything you need?"

A short silence transpired and then he spoke, calm and regal, unfazed, or in the habit of appearing unfazed. You wondered if this was a water tribe royalty thing. "Do you believe that skin color is important?"

You were transfixed in listening to the quality of his voice, trying to drink it in as much as you could beyond the muffling of the covers, and imagining his handsome face, reconstructing it from your memories of the scene that would forever be known in your mind as the goggles incident. You were so focused on the sound in fact, that you almost missed the actual words and were close to automatically responding that yes, everything he said was important, before you took a moment to actually interpret the question.

Your voice got caught in your throat, you didn't think you'd be dealing with any ethnic tensions. Besides, people tended to make a bigger fuss about bending elements and the lack there of, more so than the color of skin, or eyes, or anything else, except for maybe artistic reasons in the magazines. It wasn't racism though, everyone was just used to wearing their patriotic colors. Red for fire, blue for water, green for earth, yellow for air... And maybe brown for non-benders. Maybe people should be encouraged to wear different colors, you heard that in Republic City they did and the streets looked like rainbows.

You realized you were taking too long to answer and quickly blurted out a "no!" That sounded more indignant than you meant, but it did ring of sincerity at least. "I mean... No, it doesn't matter, and neither does the element a person bends or if they don't bend." You weren't ready for these kinds of sensitive questions. You knew what you believed in, but you didn't know how to communicate it in a way that couldn't be twisted or misunderstood. "Everyone is equal, we're all human beings!"

Your mind flew to that time when one of your friends back home claimed that you were afraid of men. You didn't think much of that though, you couldn't be afraid of men with your tendency to spend long hours looking at full color cologne ads in magazines, even if you had no one to buy any cologne for. Yet you had recently decided that green eyes were a vital requirement and that tans were out, it made you feel kind of shallow. Ok, so maybe you did like green eyes, but you never truly stopped liking blue or gold, and a good six pack was something that you could appreciate in any color.

"I'm sorry... It's hard to explain, but I just realized something." Unplanned and uncensored, yet still vague, you shared your epiphany. "I used to think that this or that quality was more pleasing to the eyes than any other, but then I saw someone with an entirely different appearance and changed my mind about it. I guess what looks good is what you make look good..." Or what the media says is the in thing. But if you confessed to yourself, even in the privacy of your own mind, that you had no elemental or ethnic preferences in men, you would be out of a way to easily rule out men who were not platonic enough to be a safe crush.

You pushed your thoughts away and forced yourself to focus. Suddenly, the sensitive diplomatic question placed before you wasn't so bad, it was at least less scary than your self analysis. "Does that make any sense?" You quietly asked, hoping you haven't said anything that was terribly wrong.

"It does," Desna's hidden voice replied, much to your relief. Another paused stretched out, longer than any previous ones.

"So... Can I get you anything?" You asked when the silence became unbearable. You wondered if you should instead be asking if you should have another diplomatic discussion, but you really didn't want that.

"A glass of water," the request was simple and you fulfilled it easily. Sensing the water, a blue hand reached out and beckoned it to join its owner under the covers.

You stared, when Eska said Desna was blue, she meant it literally. That was not the blue tint that skin got from being exposed to the cold, it was a bright and vivid blue. "Are you ok?" You couldn't help it but to ask, then thought the question was stupid, he was blue for crying out loud, that wasn't ok. Maybe he wasn't even talking about race before, just about colors. Well, you were sure that he'd look handsome with blue skin as well, but he seemed determined not to be seen.

"Reasonably so," Desna replied, you were so curious to see him all blue, but you knew better than to pull the covers off him. What if he wasn't wearing anything under the blankets? Your face started to turn red and you were suddenly thankful that he was completely covered so he couldn't see you. "My healing instructor recommended repose, but I can't sleep in a bed." If not in a bed, where else would he sleep? You wondered about it, but didn't want to sound like a nosy spy asking too many personal questions.

"I can't sleep in the tub either," Desna continued, answering one of the enigmas by creating another, maybe it was a water bender thing. "The water will slow the process of the defective skin dye fading away, I'm only allowed to bathe once a day and I must dry myself immediately.

"Oh," you weren't sure what else to say. He was laying on his side, judging by the shape under the blanket. "Are you still thirsty?"

"No, I had enough to drink before you came in, I only wanted to hold the water." He didn't drink the water you brought him, you realized. He seemed to be holding the liquid in a ball floating on his hand. His other arm was positioned with the elbow on the bed, the hand holding his head. His head held the blanket up creating a little area under it where he could hold the water in a small space where it didn't bump into the blanket and was absorbed by the fabric. Although, he could retrieve that water from the fabric too, you were sure, he was a highly skilled water bender no doubt, he was a prince after all.

You were still uneasy about having diplomatic conversations, but you had to do something. Part of you wanted to leave and part of you wanted to stay. It was always thrilling to be in the presence of a prince, though you had seen the handsome prince Iroh on more than one occasion before. Being near a prince was different from being with a regular guy, it was so platonic, so safe. It was ok to get a crush on a prince, everyone did and nothing ever came of it. You decided to be brave and offer further discussion. "Is there anything you want to talk about? I mean so you're not bored, since you're supposed to rest and you can't fall asleep."

He appeared to consider the suggestion. "People do entertain themselves by speaking to each other at times," he acknowledged. You wondered if idle chat was too much of a peasant activity for a prince to be interested in, though even nobles and aristocrats seemed to do it. "Very well, choose the starting topic."

You weren't sure what topic to choose. You didn't want it to be too mundane, but if you picked something too political then you wouldn't know what to say. You decided to take the safest route, complimenting your host nation. "The Northern Water tribe is a very majestic place. I saw the ice garden with the roses, they're very beautiful."

"They were made for the ball," Desna replied, short and to the point.

You worried you were already boring him, but you had to ask, "the ball?"

Desna paused, as if reminding himself that short simple answers, albeit effective for communication, would defeat the purpose of a prolonged conversation that was meant to occupy time more so than inform the participants. "There will be a ball in a few weeks to wish for peace and success during our diplomatic visit to the Fire Nation," something that you were supposed to be helping with, you mused. "The ice was dyed red to commemorate the Fire Nation with its national color. Mother has heard there are many red roses planted at the fire palace and thought it was fitting to sculpt the garden that way."

"Your mother did that?" You were surprised to hear it. "She's so talented!" Eska seemed to be in charge, which would mean her mother was retired, or authority went straight to the heir after their father passed away. He was involved in quite a scandal with the evil spirit Vaatu, though you weren't sure how much of it was real and how much was the doing of Nuktuk's rival who was based on Unalaq. You haven't heard anything about Eska and Desna's mother and felt bad for assuming she had passed away during the north versus south war.

From then on, the conversation turned more animated. At times you could feel that Desna was trying to make himself speak, but when you didn't bring up any follow up questions, wondering if he was just tired of talking to you, he would bring them up himself.

Thus went the next few weeks, as the dye took longer to fade away than expected. You spent long hours talking to Desna and even told him the story of when an unusually large turtle duck chased you around the fire palace garden when you were given the task to feed them. The only drawback was that he never let you see him, still too self-conscious about his blue skin.

When you weren't with Desna, you were eating with Eska, at a long table with all sorts of dishes, some more appetizing than others, or sleeping. Thus you spent most of your days with Desna. You were in a good mood, though you knew it would be time to go home after the ball, when Eska and Desna traveled to the Fire Nation. You told yourself that even if your adventure was over and you never saw Desna again, you would still treasure your time with him. He was so calm and could be very sweet, though he seemed somehow unaware of it, which made it feel genuine.

You ran into Kalok in the halls sometimes and made small talk. You couldn't stay for long because your fire bending seemed to go crazy when he was around and it scared you. It wasn't fair to him though, he was a nice guy and when it sunk in that you'd be going home at the end of the month you decided to talk to him, but not get attached. Kalok was from the North Pole, you couldn't get a real crush on a man who lived so far away, but you could still be pen pals or something. As for Desna... You didn't think a commoner could be pen pals with a prince, you would have to let him go completely when your little diplomatic mission was over... Which was all the more reason to let yourself get attached, distance and lack of communication would take care of letting go for you.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 9: Broken Diamond

The ball of diplomatic good wishes drew ever closer. Though it took some time, Desna recovered, and by then you felt you knew him pretty well, despite not having seen him during the whole recovery process. You didn't think he actually needed repose during the ordeal, and you were fairly certain he knew that, but he didn't want to be seen all in blue and you weren't about to complain about spending time talking to him. He always had a calm, serene and utterly unaffected tone to him despite his refusal to be seen.

The fact that he hid made Desna feel more human to you. It was the same basic principal behind how Eska had been making an effort to be less tomboyish lately. During all of Desna's recovery, every time you saw her she was wearing her makeup and little ornaments in her hair. Even royalty had times when they got concerned about their looks, you thought.

The day of the ball Eska took you to meet someone. The chief introduced you to a woman in the garden, whom you were surprised to find was Malina, Eska and Desna's mother. The woman had a kind look to her, a large contrast from the serious face of her daughter. She smiled gently and hugged you as a greeting, thanking you for befriending her children and watching over her son during his recovery.

You could feel Eska watching you during your interaction with Malina. She was pleasant, but she didn't have the authority her daughter carried. You didn't mean to sound cruel in your own mind, but it was understandable that the position of chief was not passed to her after her husband's death. She wouldn't be strong enough to run a country, especially not one that had recently been through turmoil and was still being resented by the world.

It dawned on you that part of that resentment was Valrick's fault and only Valrick could fix it, which was why he was being allowed to come and go as he pleased and the tribe didn't entirely reject Nuktuk, it would make then look bad if they denied what had happened. You also realized something else, something problematic, it seemed that Valrick was going to smooth the North Pole's tensions by comparing them to the tensions of the Fire Nation. Maybe he wanted to say 'we got over that, so we'll get over this,' but as a fire diplomat, you weren't sure you should be allowing it.

With the spread of radio and the increased accessibility of print, news traveled faster than ever across the now open borders. What if your participation on the mover was undiplomatic? You could use that as an excuse not to participate...

While your mind was occupied with such musings, Malina was talking about hair. She improvised some styles on her own hair and by the time you were back in attention, she had several different braids, which you stared at in amazement. You didn't even know hair could be weaved like that and especially loved the braid around her head that looked like a tiara. Upon hearing your sincere compliment, she offered to do your hair. Her face darkened for a moment as she subconsciously added, "he wouldn't let me do Eska's hair..." Her voice lowered more as if in a trance. "He said not to distract them, not to make them soft..."

At that point Eska, who had never stopped supervising the meeting, interrupted. "You seem tired, mother. You should get some rest." Malina nodded, opposing no argument and allowed Eska to guide her into the palace, presumably to her chambers.

You stood at the garden, noting that the mirror maze was gone, likely melted away, the materials stored elsewhere for later. You thought of the garden, of the missing maze, of the mover, or rather you tried to think about those things but couldn't. All that truly occupied your mind was Malina and her family. The he in question must have been Unalaq, he ran her life and the twins' lives. The twins learned to keep their emotions in check and Malina's life was drained away with worry.

Suddenly, Desna's charming calm serenity took on a whole new meaning, one born out of past hardships. You thought it was cute how he seemed partially disconnected from ordinary life, assuming it was a part of being a prince. Though you had seen a prince before, you had never held long conversations with one. You had a feeling that talking to Iroh would be very different. A prince wasn't any different from an ordinary man at heart, unless he was forced to be. The things he didn't experience, the stories of your childhood games he listen to with fascination, they weren't a part of his world because he was a prince, he missed out on that because his father wouldn't allow him a childhood.

Malina had mentioned Desna told her about you. He was getting ready for the ball too, scrubbing the last bits of blue off with a dry rough sponge, Eska had commented on it when Malina asked why he wasn't there. You realized that few people got to meet Malina and never without proper supervision. You were a foreigner, so Eska herself supervised, but Desna had trusted you and gotten a positive impression of you enough to tell Malina about you. No doubt, he convinced Eska to allow you to meet her.

You looked at the ice palace. Eska now stood at the entrance by herself. "The staff will attend you when it's time to get ready."

The ice palace glittered like a beautiful giant diamond, but inside things were not so sweet and simple. "Thank you... F

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