An hour passes.
Korra yawns deeply, and stretches out. She’s started to lose the feeling in one of her legs, and shifts her position slightly with a low grunt. It’s a hot, sticky day, she’s been hiding away in these trees for hours now, and she’s starting to get the horrible, nagging feeling that her current employer, Mr. Sato, might be losing his mind, or suffering from paranoia.
She wonders, and not for the first time, if this one is really going to be worth the reward. She pulls out her spy glass again, holds it to one eye, and as she looks around she can see that yet again, absolutely nothing is happening within the Sato holding.
She breathes out a frustrated sigh.
Day after day she sees the villagers peacefully make their way to the rice fields, converse with each other and exchange their usual pleasantries. There’s been nothing out of the ordinary at all, really, apart from the overly confident woman that comes out to help in the fields occasionally.
And there she is again, helping everyone, as usual. There’s definitely something different about this one, but Korra can’t place it. The woman always turns up wearing the same light grey worker garb as everyone else, a short sleeved tunic and a skirt that cuts off above the knee. There’s a certain grace, or elegance there that the other workers don’t have, and everyone smiles, laughs and chats with her whilst harvesting the fields.
Yeah, that’s the pretty little daughter. Korra tells herself. Has to be.
Suddenly, something blurs in the corner of her eye, and she switches focus towards it.
Wow, looks like the old man was actually right, she muses, as the first silhouette of what she hopes to be her mark appears, just on the horizon. She watches just a touch longer to confirm. Yup, definitely bandits, she thinks, as she sees the usual display of crappy, makeshift blades and leering, over-confident faces.
She leaps from the treetops to the floor, pats down her dark blue kimono, and checks that her daisho is positioned such that she can comfortably draw one of the two master-crafted blades if she needs to. It’s a precaution this time, since the peculiars of the job mean she won’t be getting up close and personal.
She grabs her yumi, an expertly crafted bow almost as tall as herself, from the base of the tree.
Next, she’ll need to get in range and find a good vantage point. She heads as close to the estate as she dares, sprinting through tall grass to keep herself well-hidden.
She’s close now. She scans the area... The Sato mansion in the distance has the tallest rooftop, but it’s very public, and she can’t risk being seen. Or, she can be seen, but that’d waiver her contract, which would defeat the whole purpose of her being here in the first place. She sighs, and wonders how the hell she keeps getting involved in these kinds of things. If only I hadn’t been in that damn bar…
“Mmmm, this is great...”
Korra closes her eyes as she sips at the warm sake, it’s her fourth, and she’s feeling mildly inebriated.
“It’s my brother’s recipe, I’m glad you like it!” the barkeep is very attractive, with messy, short hair, amber eyes, and unusually thick eyebrows. He looks to be around her age.
“Oh? Then your brother has quite the talent.”
“I’ll tell him you said so!”
“Where is he, anyway?” she’s not usually so inquisitive, but this guy has a friendly face. It’s a rare sight, for her at least.
“He’s out and about, exploring the lands, trying to find ways to add new flavours to his sake recipe.”
“Flavours? As in, flavoured sake? Hah!” she laughs, despite herself, thinking it a ridiculous notion. Thankfully, the barkeep looks every bit as amused, rather than offended.
“Anyway, I’ve not seen you around here before. I’m Mako.” He smiles, holds out a hand, which she takes. It’s a firm grip, and the man has calloused hands. Sign of a worker, or a warrior. She isn’t sure which in this case.
“Korra. And I’m just passing through.”
“Did you want to stay the night? It’s getting late… I could put you up.” there’s a slightly suggestive tone to the voice, and she’s tempted, but she’s not looking for that kind of attention right now.
“Thanks, but I’ve got to get moving.”
She’s got a long journey ahead, so she finishes off the last of her sake, and winks at Mako as she drops a few yen onto the counter. She’s sure that there’s a small blush forming on his cheeks, and maybe it’s the sake but she starts to have second thoughts about staying. No, bad Korra! She chides herself, as she turns and heads toward the door.
No sooner has she taken her first step than two burly, tough looking guys stand from their table and stare her down, hands at their hilts which they’ve put on obvious display. A third, scrawny and mean looking man stands with them.
“Ronin Korra.” he declares smugly, his voice a high pitched, wavering annoyance. He holds up a small parchment, displaying a badly-drawn version of herself and a not-insignificant number of yen on the bottom.
Great, not this again. Korra rolls her eyes. Bounty hunters. She grips her upper hilt and stares fiercely at them, hoping they won’t be stupid enough to take this any further.
“You’re coming with us! Get her!” he commands his hired muscle.
“Fuuuuck.” Korra hisses under her breath. She’d just wanted one night of peace. Just one.
The big one to the right closes in first, his stance a clear sign of an amateur, his sword wavering in hands that are too big for this style of blade. She feels some relief that she won’t have to cause bloodshed tonight.
In one swift movement, she draws her blade then butts her sheath into his fist, jolting his sword clean out of his grasp, then rams the edge of her hilt sharply between his ribs, severely winding him. He’s out of the fight, he can’t breathe.
As she kicks him to the floor, she swings her torso backwards to avoid the second blade, which whips past her forehead, taking the ends of a few strands of her hair with it. This assailant evidently has a little more experience, but nowhere near enough judging by the huge opening revealed beneath his wide and clumsy swing. She thrusts her hilt and sheathe into his gut, straightens herself as he doubles over, then slams her knee into his face, breaking his nose.
He grunts and falls backwards, taking a table with him as he crashes to the floor in a clearly pained heap.
“Get out, or I’ll use the pointy end next time.” she warns the men with a growl, drawing her second blade as they glare at her.
The skinny one has apparently lost his voice, along with his bravado. He turns to flee, followed by the first, still winded guard and then the second bloody-nosed one.
A few quiet moments pass, and Korra sheathes her blades as she takes in the sight of the destruction around her.
“God damn it!” Mako exclaims. “I’d just gotten this place cleaned up, why did you have to fight them inside?”
She puts her hands up “Whoa, whoa! Maybe you should be a bit more careful about who you let in here in the first place!” She folds her arms, pouts, “And you’re welcome, by the way, for me getting rid of them!”
“Getting rid of... what? They were here for you!” Mako exasperates, looking around the bar, and his face falls, “How am I ever gonna afford this...”
At those words, she feels a pang of guilt. She does tend to bring trouble wherever she goes lately.
She’s travelled way beyond the borders of the Empire, but frustratingly, still finds herself hunted. She supposes it’s one the perks of being leaderless, a wild mercenary that scares most officials enough that they’ll hunt her down for the hell of it. Or just for the sport, since her head would no doubt make a nice trophy for a wealthy noble.
“Look I’ll…” Korra pauses, knowing full well she’s too broke to pay for this, “is there any work you have? I mean, I can take it on, and we can split the reward?”
She’s aware that bars in these parts usually accept work contracts. Mako looks at her, thoughtfully.
“Well… you do seem to have a bit of fight in you.”
Korra stifles a laugh, thinking boy, you have no idea…
“Alright then, I just had something come in from Lord Sato, Daimyo of the Sato estate. Bit of a weird one.” He pulls out a parchment from a shelf beneath the bar, and hands it over. “Here. He thinks that bandits will attack his estate, wants some extra hired protection for their little community.”
“And the weird part…?” Korra asks.
Mako raises an eyebrow, points to the lower part of the contract, “Says here that he doesn’t want his daughter to know about it. You’re to protect her, and the village, without being seen.”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure you’ll work something out.”
It’s another bright, warm day.
Asami wipes the sweat from her brow. She hopes there’ll be rain soon, otherwise the fields might begin to dry out.
As she works outside in the fields, she talks with the villagers, most of them close friends by now. The Beifong family in particular are making short work of today’s harvest… though Lin’s mainly just barking out orders whilst Suyin rolls her eyes. They’re sisters, though Su in particular has been more like a mother to her these past few years.
Then there’s Su’s three children, all fully grown, and all currently doing exactly what Aunt Lin tells them to, lest they feel her wrath. The two boys, Wing and Wei, are starting to really fill out now. They’re strong, they’ve become excellent archers, and if only they’d argue with each other less, they’d be a formidable team. Their sister, Opal, has also matured a lot recently, and tends to be the one who breaks up any internal Beifong battles.
They were one of the first families to move into the estate, and they’ve shown nothing but loyalty to her father once he helped them to build their new homes here. She’s not completely aware of their history before they arrived, but judging by the vacant, almost despairing looks she sees on Su’s face from time to time, she knows it isn’t something she should pry about.
She takes a moments rest, stretches her arms upwards and inhales a deep breath of fresh air, peering out at the golden and green flat slopes of land around her, full of villagers busying themselves with today’s tasks. Sometimes she’s taken aback by the notion that her father owns most of this… land which stretches out as far as the eye can see. To the north, mountainous expanses which protect them from the harsher elements. To the south, bountiful rivers where they can fish freely.
All in all, the location is pretty much perfect, and her father has told her on many occasions how it all came to be. How decades ago, he traded everything he owned to buy a plot of empty, dead farmland, at the insistence of her mother. Then together, through months of hard work, they’d turned it into one of the best rice farms for miles around, and their export had been in constant demand, even back then.
The success of their humble little farm soon attracted talented people to join them, such as the Beifongs. The populace grew and grew, and before long the farm had flourished into a thriving estate and community, soon after that, a small holding. Not long after that, her father had attained formal recognition as Lord Sato – Daimyo.
She smiles to herself, remembering that her Father always blushes a little at the last part, still humble despite his success. Much of what he’s told her actually happened whilst she was growing up, though she’d been too young to remember. She’s had a good life, in fact most of her memories are filled with happiness. She just wishes her mother were still with them…
Before she can dwell on that particular thought, a panicked young girl runs towards her, yelling and waving arms in the air. Asami tilts her head to better hear.
“Bandits! Bandits are coming!”
She throws her rice stalks to the floor and sprints up to the mansion, flinging open the arms cabinet and grabbing her sheathed katana. As she turns to leave, she notices her father stood in the doorway to his bedroom.
“Asami…” he says, clearly concerned.
“Go back into your room father, I’ll take care of this.” She approaches him, places a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t leave me…” he says, his eyes glazing over, as if caught in long forgotten memories.
“I’m not going anywhere, Dad” she places a kiss on his forehead, then leads him back to his room and into his favourite chair. She closes the partition behind her and looks ahead, steeling her resolve.
She sprints back down the path, yelling at the townspeople to find safety and shelter. Lin and Suyin chase after her, their own blades at the ready, followed by dozens more villagers armed with swords, sickles, shovels or even pots and pans. The Beifong twins have taken to the rooftops, bows at the ready.
She’s conflicted about people risking their lives like this… they’re always putting the defence of the estate first, as much as she begs them to stay safe. Then again, it’s not the first time they’ve had to fight, and she knows it won’t be the last.
She slows her sprint to a walk as she approaches the leering men. It’s a relatively small, but well-armed group. She counts around fifty, and depending on their fighting prowess she can see it’s a dangerously even match.
“Asami Sato.” The oldest one snarls, “Stand down. We’re here to claim this land for Draxx.”
Asami frowns at the man as she draws her blade, “Why don’t you tell this… Draxx… that I own this land, and you’ll have to get through me first?”
The bandits laugh. It’s a wretched, filthy sound.
“You’re going to stop us, girl?” chokes a younger man to the side, tears forming from his laughter.
Su and Lin are suddenly at either side of her, all three of them pointing their blades towards the threat.
“Why don’t you come and find out?” Asami growls, projecting as much confidence as she can muster, though really, she’s terrified, scared that her people are going to get hurt.
“Ha! Get ‘em lads!” The leader shouts, “And keep the pretty one alive for me!” He grins menacingly, staring at her whilst holding his crotch. It makes her stomach turn.
Blades are drawn all at once, metal glinting against the sun. There’s but a moment’s pause, before Wing and Wei let loose their first arrows, which whisper through the air and take down one of the bandits immediately. He gargles, and claws at the shaft protruding from his chest as he falls to the ground.
The bandits charge, yelling and screaming, even laughing. Three bandits to the rear kneel down, drawing their man-sized bows to fire back at the rooftops, and Asami, the Beifong sisters, and the other villagers hurl themselves forwards, clashing metal against metal.