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Instincts of a Fearful Body

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Chapter Three: Rebel Spirit
(Nobody Ever Does What They’re Supposed To)


“Are you sure  there’s nothing I can do right now?”

“Stop pacing,” Ghazan responded. “It’s distracting me from these fascinating newspapers from last year.”

Korra shot him a glare. “I’m serious,” she said. “Everybody else has something to do. I could, uh, try to find the Asami girl from yesterday?”

“To seek her out this soon would likely be suspicious,” P’li said. She didn’t look over from the candles she was lighting. “But that may be a prudent course of action later.”

“You did your duty last night,” Zaheer said, carrying a book and a handful of incense from his room into the common space.

Korra walked over to the window, examining the screen for tears and the edge of the frame for cracks. “What about the apartment? Will you be safe visiting the Spirit World so deeply?”

Next to Ghazan on the couch, Ming-Hua laughed and glanced away from the radio. “Korra, we’re living in the safest apartment in Republic City!”

“Yeah, but last night—”

“Is over.” Zaheer stepped in Korra’s path before she could start pacing again. “I am as troubled by Amon’s revelation as you are, but you are not in a state to accompany me to the Spirit World right now. Instead, it would benefit you to go over the core poetry of Guru Laghima.” He placed the book in her hands. “I want you to review the key passages on airbending, then meditate before going to Air Temple Island.”

Korra brightened. “Wait, you mean I can go today?”

Zaheer smiled. “I think you could benefit from some serenity,” he said. “Air Temple Island will be one of the safest places in the city, after this apartment, and we’re all going to be busy here. Blend in with the crowd and refrain from drawing attention to yourself.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Non-bender, act generic while gathering information.” After Amon’s revelation, Korra felt less inclined than ever to draw attention to herself, as a bender or otherwise. “You act like you don’t trust me.”

“We do,” Ming-Hua said, “but these are unfamiliar environs. Caution and reminders are just because we can’t give up being your teachers.” She smiled before returning her attention to the radio.

Zaheer sat down inside his meditative circle. “When you’re done meditating, head to the island. I believe they do tours, which would set you up with a basic understanding of the island as well as some additional history.”

“Gotcha.” Korra plopped down with the book on the smaller couch. She could hear Zaheer and P’li say a quiet goodbye before he slipped into the spirit world. She stuck her tongue out and made a face at the sound of them kissing, which made Ghazan snort.

A moment later, Korra felt Zaheer’s spirit depart from the physical plane. P’li sat down beside the circle with a book. Protection duty was essential, but it was generally less exciting than it had been the previous night.

She refocused her attention to Ghazan and Ming-Hua. “What are the two of you working on anyway?”

“Research,” Ming-Hua said, focused on the radio.

Ghazan finished making a note, then set his pen aside. “This Equalist movement is an interesting sideshow, and they may provide some interesting distractions, but our primary goal with this visit is to take out Republic City’s leaders and liberate the city.”

“Like... listen to this.” Ming Hua nudged Ghazan and he turned the radio up.

“—council voted to increase the size and scope of Tarrlok’s task force, as well as extending his charter. Councilman Tarrlok had this to say outside of city hall this morning!”

“Just listen to this Tarrlok guy,” Ghazan said. “What a slimeball.”

A smooth, political voice cut in. “I just want to reiterate that Amon, this terrorist, will be stopped. Everyone should feel confident in continuing business as normal. For several weeks, my task force has been monitoring and responding to Equalist activity. Regardless of Amon’s recent announcement, we do not intend to stop now. You can rest your confidence in me, Republic City.”

The newscaster continued, “The decision to extend Tarrlok’s temporary task force came after the police received a tip to a secret Equalist gathering last night from—”

Ghazan turned the radio back down. “Can you believe that guy? He’s basically the big fish of Republic City politics. Stomps on those who oppose him, locks up those who push back.” He smirked. “I’d like to take him out.”

“Aw, but it’s been so long since I got to have a real nasty waterbender fight,” Ming-Hua said. “From what you’ve said about this guy’s politics, I bet he fights dirty too. You know how much fun I have with those.”

Ghazan smirked before leaning over and kissing her on the cheek. “Fine, just make sure the scumbag suffers for me, alright?”

Korra rolled her eyes at them, but couldn’t quite keep a smile off her face. “Get a room already, but try to finish your explanation first.”

“Alright, alright.” Ghazan sat forward. “The research helps us put together the timetable of what actions we take when. You’re already familiar with our usual methodologies once we’ve made the schedule up, but the schedule itself is important. He tapped his finger against the pad where he’d been taking notes. “Hits need to happen in a specific order, combined with other actions, in order to get the citizens of Republic City to embrace their freedoms and act on the opportunities we provide.”

Korra blinked. This was a lot more paperwork than she was normally exposed to. “Sounds... fascinating. Call me when it’s time to scope out their houses. That’s more my speed.”

“Every mission has its boring parts,” Ming-Hua said, shrugging. “Like how you’re supposed to be working on your poetry right now?”

She sighed. “Yeah, yeah...” She went back to reading for a few pages. She was familiar with most of Guru Laghima’s work, if only because Zaheer never stopped quoting it.

Soooo she did more skimming than actual rereading, then meditated for about twenty minutes before she popped up to her feet. “I’m gonna head out now,” she said.

Ghazan, Ming-Hua, and P’li all leveled her with the same look.

“That was fast,” P’li said.

Korra grabbed a small purse of coins and crossed her arms. “I did the reading. I can quote poetry at you. Don’t test me.”

“Oh no, more poetry!” Ghazan recoiled in mock fear, then laughed. “Oh just get out of here already,” he said.

“Okay, see you, bye!” Korra didn’t wait for Ming-Hua or P’li to potentially disagree before dashing out the door.

She enjoyed a leisurely walk to the Air Temple Island ferry, receiving directions from a few helpful passersby. About halfway there, she fixed her overcoat so it sat properly instead of slouching to cover her tattoos. Zaheer wasn’t there to notice, and wearing it improperly was just annoying.

Nearing the docks, she stole a kebob out of the back of a food stand before blending in with a group of tourists on their way to the ferry.

“Naga,” she murmured under her breath a few times, trying to keep her alias in mind in case someone asked her name. Nobody did, however, and she arrived to the island after a few pleasant-but-empty conversations with a few other members of her tour group.

The island itself stood apart from Republic City in its design. Aside from a single tower, the buildings were primarily one level. Most of the island’s vertical structure came from the steep stairs leading up from the docks. Korra couldn’t help but note that the rocky seaside cliffs would make the island fairly defensible from assault from the water.

Stepping from the boat to the dock, however, analysis faded from her mind.

Everything grew light and, for half a second, she felt distinctly taller. And bald. A sea breeze cooled the back of her head, carrying with it the fresh scent of salt water. The step felt familiar, like coming home.

Then, as quickly as it began, the vision ended.

Korra stumbled slightly on her second step, but didn’t fall. She kept to the rear of the tour group, however, as they made their way to the island proper. ‘Blending in’ and ‘potential visions from past Avatar lives’ didn’t exactly mesh well.

With every step, however, the island felt more and more familiar, like it rose up to meet her feet. She felt a rush of warmth and fondness for the place and, after a brief hesitation, let herself fall into the feelings. Aang had clearly spent a lot of time here. His other flaws aside, she could sense there was something special about the island, that he’d invested a lot of his spirit here in building the place.

She was so caught up she barely noticed when they reached their tour guide. Granted, their tour guide was also rather short and looked like she was about ten, with a cute bobbed haircut.

“Welcome to Air Temple Island,” she said. “My name is Jinora, and I’ll be your tour guide. I have lots of interesting historical and cultural facts to share on our tour, and you are more than welcome to ask questions on the way if you want to learn more about anything I’m covering.” Her expression shifted slightly. “Before we get started, I’d like to offer a few frequently asked questions so we can move on.”

“I’m eleven years old. Yes, I am an airbender. Yes, I am Avatar Aang’s granddaughter.” She rattled off the answers from a place of clear practice. “No, I do not have my tattoos yet, because I am not yet an airbending master. No, I do not know when I will get my tattoos, that requires demonstration of mastery.” She took a breath and smiled.

Someone in the tour group raised their hand.

“I am a tour guide because members of the Air Nation, both acolytes and airbenders, are called to service and to study our culture’s history. This position is a way for me to exemplify and demonstrate those qualities.” She paused. “Are there any other questions before we start?”

Nobody raised their hand. Korra smiled. She rather liked the kid’s attitude already.

Jinora smiled. “Let’s get going then!” She turned and started walking up the steps. “The island was originally little more than a large rock in Yue Bay. Avatar Aang and former Police Chief Toph Beifong worked to terraform the island and make it suitable for habitation over the course of a week in the year 110 AG.”

About halfway up the stairs, someone asked Jinora why there were so many. Out of the group, not everybody was handling the climb quite as well as others were.

“That’s because Avatar Aang wanted to leave the island as close to its original height as possible,” she said. “In the past, the Air Nation resided in four temples in various remote locations. Most were inaccessible without airbending or the ability to ride a sky bison.” She chuckled. “Compared to that, Air Temple Island is fairly accessible while retaining the feeling of the original temples.”

The tour itself was fairly interesting. Korra was aware of most of the Air Nomad’s history, from conception to the genocide by the Fire Nation. It was fascinating, however, to see how those traditions had been reincorporated and reinvented by Aang on Air Temple Island.

Jinora was a fun teacher as well, clearly bright and enthused about the topic. She answered every question with ease, and more than kept Korra’s attention. Frankly, it was nice to get information on airbenders from someone who wasn’t Zaheer or one of his incredibly dry books.

And listening to Jinora was calming. Though an engaging speaker, she had a fairly steady voice that made everything feel normal.

“Here is where we’ll take a slight break from our tour,” Jinora announced eventually. “This is the training ground, authentically recreated from one at the Eastern Air Temple.” Korra stepped off to the side of the group so she could see a little better. Jinora gestured to an odd structure made of tall rectangular panels. “These are the airbending gates, designed to test a person’s proficiency in circular movement, the most fundamental aspect of airbending. The goal is to weave your way through the gates and make it to the other side without touching them.

“Please stay there.” Jinora stepped over to the spinning gates and raised her arms. Korra furrowed her eyebrows and watched the movement carefully as Jinora circled her bent arms in front of her body, sending a strong gust of wind toward the panels, making them spin.

After setting them spinning, Jinora quickly moved forward into them with her hands at chest-height. Korra studied her movements and tried to follow how she pivoted and moved her feet as she navigated through the gates.

A moment later, Jinora exited on the far side and walked back over. The tour group applauded. “Feel free to wander the training grounds for a few minutes,” she said. “We’ll be wrapping up the tour shortly. If you’d like to try a hand at the spinning gates, come get in line here with me.”

Korra desperately wanted to try her hand, but she’d been told too many times to blend in for her to ignore it now. The tour group dissolved and spread out. Korra followed behind a group heading to the gates, even though she didn’t plan on trying them out.

Jinora sent a mild gust of wind through the gates, setting them spinning at a much slower rate than she’d gone through them. The first volunteer from the tour group charged right in, made it past one gate, and promptly smacked his face on another.

Korra winced as she watched him repeatedly crash into them on his way through to the other side. Maybe not trying the gates was a good idea after all.

Jinora wore an expression of barely-concealed amusement as she gave the gates another spin for the next volunteer.

Korra could always try the gates out another time, maybe a windy night when they would be unused. She wandered over to stand next to Jinora. “You moved your feet in a really distinct way when you went through,” she said.

The younger girl looked up at her. “I’m glad you noticed,” she said. “Airbending depends on circular movements, which means there’s a lot of twisting and pivoting in the footwork.”

“Huh.” Korra rubbed the back of her neck. “With airbending involving so much, you know, time off the ground, I never thought the footwork would be as critical as that.”

“Oh absolutely.” Jinora perked up at the line of questioning and absently set the gates spinning again. “You have to flow with the movements of the gates, which means you have to be ready to shift and adjust your stance as you go.” She put up her hands like she did before going in. “You might not have been able to see, but I cycled which of my palms faced forward with every step.” She took a few steps in that stance, demonstrating what she meant.

Korra put her hands up. “Like this?”

“I’m afraid not.” Jinora chuckled and set the gates spinning again before turning back to criticize Korra’s form. “Don’t tuck your chin,” she said. “You’re not trying to protect your neck by putting your arms up, you want them up in part so you can sense and anticipate the gates by feeling how they push the air around you.”

Korra relaxed her shoulders and lowered her hands slightly. “Okay...” She adjusted her feet and took a few steps, trying to imitate the effortless circular walk Jinora had demonstrated.

“That’s better,” Jinora said. She smiled up at Korra. “You’re putting a lot more thought into this than most people do.” She glanced at the last volunteer going through the gates, a woman who promptly smacked into the first one and sheepishly wandered off without trying again.

“Oh well, it’s just really fascinating, how the airbenders move.” Korra shrugged. “You see plenty of waterbenders, earthbenders, and firebenders around. They all have their own styles, but I’ve never seen airbending before.”

Jinora circled her hands in front of her again, sending a fresh gust through the gates. Korra watched her hands intently. “Well now you have!” Jinora tilted her head. “Did you want to have a go at the gates?”

Korra wavered on her feet, but shook her head. “No thank you,” she said.

“Watch me one more time then,” Jinora replied, stepping over to the gates. Korra was glad she hadn’t pressed the issue, because it was hard enough to refuse the first time.

Now that she’d received a basic lesson on the form, it was much easier to follow Jinora’s movements. Korra kept her hands up and tried to mimic the steps as she watched them happen, but Jinora was very quick and the spinning gates made it hard to see her.

A moment later, she circled back around to where Korra was. “That’s incredible,” Korra said. “You’re an airbending master!”

Jinora winced. “Not yet,” she said. “Dad says I’m not ready for my tattoos, which are the mark of an airbending master.”

“Well you seem like more than a master to me.” Korra smiled.

Jinora seemed pleased at that. She glanced at Korra’s crossed arms. “So do your tattoos mean anything, or are they just decoration?”

Korra laughed. “I guess you could call them an expression of freedom,” she said. Even Zaheer couldn’t put up an argument when she and Ghazan came back with them. It was, after all, her body and she could get it tattooed if she wanted to.

“Huh.” Jinora opened her mouth to say something else, then winced at the sound of a high-pitched scream.

Korra turned with her toward the sound, which was coming from a pair of smaller children, a boy and a girl, who were zipping toward Korra and Jinora on a pair of spinning air balls.

“Hi Jinora!” The boy, who was shorter, hopped off his air ball and leaped toward Jinora’s head.

The older girl dodged deftly, with circular footwork. “This is Meelo,” she said. The other girl came to a stop beside them and immediately began talking. “And this is Ikki,” Jinora continued, louder. “They’re my younger siblings.”

Jinora took a breath and Ikki immediately filled the space with a ramble that started with, “So Jinora I know you’re busy with your tour group but I really really really wanted to tell you that—”

Korra smiled at the younger siblings before returning her attention to Jinora, who looked ruffled for the first time since the tour began.

“You guys, I am trying to be responsible! I’m running this tour, and—”

“Well you’re not talking to anybody right now!” Meelo picked his nose and squinted, skeptical.

Jinora’s eye twitched. “That’s because you two came up and interrupted! Before that I was talking to this nice woman, who was asking me about airbending—”

Ikki jumped up, flipping neatly over Korra’s head with a gust of wind. “You should ask me about airbending, I’m—”

“No ask me!!” Meelo spun his hand and jumped on another spinning air ball. “I’m the BEST airbender there ever—”

“Would the both of you stop it?!” Jinora stomped her foot.

Ikki and Meelo glanced at their sister, briefly. They were about to turn away again when Korra stepped forward. “Hey, so you two are both really great airbenders, right?”

Jinora opened her mouth to object, but Korra shot her a glance. Ikki ran around to stand next to Meelo in front of Korra.

“Totally!”

“I can be the best for you, pretty lady!”

Korra chuckled. “Well I’d really like to see some awesome bending. I like that air ball—”

“Air scooter,” Ikki interrupted.

“Invented by Avatar Aang when he was—” Jinora cut herself off when Korra held up a finger.

“I like your air scooters,” Korra continued. “But I’m really curious how fast they can go.”

“SUPER FAST!”

“Faster than Ikki’s!”

“How fast could you use them to race around the whole island?” Korra tilted her head.

Ikki frowned. “Umm...”

“Readysetgo!” Meelo spun himself a new scooter and took off.

A beat later, Ikki went racing after him. “NOT fair, Meelo! No headstarts just because you’re younger!”

In a few seconds, they were out of sight. Korra turned back to Jinora, who was looking at her in wonder. “How did you do that?” she whispered. “Are you an older sister too?”

Korra shook her head. “No, I’m an only child, but I’ve always liked kids.”

Jinora wrinkled her nose. “Why?”

Neglecting to point out that, at age eleven, Jinora was also  still a child, Korra hummed for a moment. “Guru Laghima once wrote that ‘Children are the truest incarnation of freedom.’”

Looking at her curiously, Jinora seemed suddenly familiar, as though Korra had known her forever. “That’s very wise,” Jinora said, “and you’re clearly more well-versed on Air Nation culture than most of our visitors, in addition to being observant of the airbending techniques.”

Korra regretted saying the quote; it was far too noticeable, too memorable. It had felt normal to her because she spent all her time around Zaheer. It wasn’t normal though.

She snorted. “Read it in a book once,” she said, brushing the compliment off. “So how old are your siblings anyway?”

Returning to that topic made Jinora sigh. “Ikki is eight. Meelo is six, and Rohan is our baby brother. He was born just a few months ago.”

Korra raised an eyebrow. “Another airbender?”

Jinora shrugged. “Not sure yet, but we think he might actually be a nonbender.” She smiled apologetically. “This has been a really great conversation, but I need to round my tour group back up.”

“Don’t let me stop you.”

Jinora turned away and started gathering her tour group back together. Korra was waiting with the others and mentally plotting which route she’d take to get back to the gates another time. Glancing around, however, she noticed a tall man in orange robes making his way toward them. Blue tattoos marked him an airbending master.

For a brief moment, Korra thought she was having a vision of Aang, but further study proved her wrong, especially as he came closer. She drifted toward the back of the crowd. He could only be Tenzin, which meant evading notice was of paramount importance.

“This is my father.” Jinora started to introduce him. “Tenzin is an airbending master and the youngest son of Avatar Aang.” Jinora took a breath to continue, but Tenzin cut her off.

“I’m terribly sorry, Jinora, but I just wanted to come and tell you I will be off the island on urgent personal business.”

Jinora frowned. She glanced briefly at the tour group before saying, “But you just got back from urgent council business.”

Tenzin’s smile tightened. He struck Korra as a rather serious person, not unlike Zaheer. “I’m afraid it can’t wait.” He waved briefly to the tour group. “I’m terribly sorry not to meet you properly, but I really must be going.”

Someone to Korra’s left held up a camera and called out, “One picture?”

Tenzin hesitated. Jinora opened her mouth. Before they could object, the flash went off. The bright light overwhelmed her vision as Korra squinted at Jinora.

And then she wasn’t squinting at Jinora, but an elderly airbender with faded blue arrow tattoos and a drooping white moustache. “Air is the element of freedom,” he said. All around them, the architecture looked like that of Air Temple Island, but as if it was suspended in the sky.

Korra stepped back, and the vision pulled her off to the side so she could see a young Aang sitting cross-legged across from the old master. “Air is the element of peace,” he said. Aside from his bald head, Aang looked and sounded remarkably like Jinora.

“Air is the element of fun.” The old man smiled serenely and winked.

Aang shifted how he was sitting. “Air is the element of... SURPRISE!” He whipped his arms around to fling a nearby pie right at the old man’s face.

But, as Korra looked to see it strike him, the old man wasn’t there. He effortlessly dodged aside and, with a simple flick of his wrist, sent a dollop of cream off the top of the pie right onto the center of Aang’s forehead.

“Monk Gyatso!” Despite being bested, Aang was laughing. “How did you know?”

The old man, Monk Gyatso, laughed. “Because, Aang, air is also the element of friendship.” Mischief twinkled in his eyes. “And I know you too well by now, my young friend, to be caught off guard by such trickery.”

Aang smiled broadly and Korra felt herself smiling too. Then everything seemed to grow paler and brighter until the vision changed.

She was flying through the sky—airbending!!—on a glider. Immediately, she tried to focus the vision on the sensation of airbending, on what that felt like to Aang, but it refused. The memory was so effortless for him, and his focus was on a small lemur flying next to him.

After another struggle to focus the vision on what it felt like , to airbend, she gave up and let the emotions wash over her. More than anything, she took away a feeling of fun and laughter, of effortless freedom that came from gliding.

She blinked and rubbed her eyes as Air Temple Island reappeared around her. For a beat, her feet on the ground felt oppressive and limited. Korra had fallen about twenty paces behind her tour group, and she jogged to catch up.

As she listened to Jinora’s last few comments, Korra couldn’t shake the implacable thought that Jinora was familiar, that Korra knew her beyond the nice conversation she had earlier.

Getting on the ferry and waving goodbye, she decided not to overthink it. She had past lives, but so did other people. If Jinora had a spirit she’d known in a past life, it wouldn’t be entirely unheard of.

Brushing off the connection couldn’t relieve Korra of the sadness she felt as the ferry pulled away. Leaving a friend, and leaving a place that felt, more than anywhere she’d ever been before, like it might have been home.

She tried to shift her mental paradigm as she thought of airbending. Less detachment, more freedom. She smiled out at the water and wished that Monk Gyatso had left behind some poetry to read too. It would have definitely focused more on fun and less on earthly tethers or whatever.

She shifted her feet, trying to commit Jinora’s steps to physical memory. She’d try them out once she got to the apartment and could practice properly. Until then, she enjoyed the sunny afternoon.

 

* * *

 

Asami yawned and glared up at the sun as she punched in her code on the side gate to the Future Industries factory. A beep sounded, and she pushed the door open. Compared to last night, the factory courtyard felt excessively normal.

Asami pushed the feeling aside just in time for her to start wondering if she’d see the Naga girl again from last night. Probably not. It was a large city, but... it had been nice to meet her, it had been uncomplicated.

She held back a sigh as she made her way to the smaller side garage. Helping Naga, she didn’t have to stop and second-guess herself. She’d just seen something wrong happening, stopped it, and been able to move on with relative simplicity.

She stepped into the garage and winced at the sight of the medical supplies on the floor. She’d forgotten to pick them up last night, but nobody seemed to have noticed them out yet. Asami picked them up and put them away just as a knock sounded at the door.

“Miss Sato?”

“Yes?” Asami turned toward the door and smiled politely as the factory manager walked inside.

Asami wasn’t especially fond of the woman, but her Equalist ties made her the ideal overseer for their factory operations, especially with their recent production schedule. “I’ve got the numbers for you,” she said. “I saw you out the window and came right over.” She handed a folder of papers to Asami.

“What are we looking like this month?” Asami asked, taking the folder and flipping through the reports.

“Suspicious and less than financially-stable,” the manager answered. “It’s for a good cause, but we’re having trouble keeping the factory viable with market production at half pace.”

“Are workers questioning things?” Asami asked.

“No. Saying the secondary factory will take care of the imbalance shuts most people up. The rest I just yell at until they get back to the assembly line.” Asami curled her lip in distaste at the image, but the other woman didn’t seem to notice. “Everything is justified under our cause, but it might behoove us to adjust the ratio a bit, make things a little less obvious.”

Asami nodded slowly. “I’ll speak to my mother about it,” she said.

“She’s in the main factory office in the other building,” the manager said, opening the door. “I’m gonna get back to the floor.”

Asami rushed forward and grabbed the door. “Wait, she’s here?”

The manager gave her a strange look. “Yes. I assumed you came to see her and discuss things.”

“Er, well, yes.” Asami really hated getting caught off guard. “I had just assumed I’d review these matters with her later.” That and Yasuko was off more often than not, lately, working on Equalist business in the underground bunker behind their house. To hear she was back in the office, doing Future Industries work, was heartening. Maybe getting the ratio adjusted wasn’t such a lost cause after all.

“I’ll head right over and discuss them with her,” Asami said. “Thank you for getting me the papers.”

The manager gave her a nod before they parted ways and Asami started hurrying up the stairs to the main office. She gazed out over the factory floor for a moment before continuing up from the landing. At the top of the stairs, her heart swelled at the sight of the name ‘SATO’ on the office door’s plaque.

Her mother hadn’t been the most involved lately, but Future Industries was a family company and they would continue it together.

She opened the door. “Hello, mother,” she said.

Yasuko looked up from a stack of papers. “Asami,” she said, “it’s good to see you.” She patted the table and Asami took a seat across from her. “I’m so sorry we couldn’t talk last night,” she said. “We both got back so late, and I disappeared this morning because I had an idea and I just couldn’t wait.”

Asami smiled wryly. “It’s a feeling that runs in the family,” she said.

Yasuko laughed. “We married for love. The genius was a convenient side bonus.” Her expression refocused. “Tell be about The Revelation. How was the reception? How did it go?”

“Well about halfway through, the police—”

Yasuko waved a hand. “I read the news. I know what happened, in a literal sense. I want to hear your impressions.”

Asami summoned a smile. “Well, the stage lift worked perfectly. The effect was dramatic and suited Amon’s introduction. The lights did well, and the mood was very cohesive with the crowd.” She thought back to the event a bit more. “Reception was positive. I didn’t catch sight of any hotheads who were at all dissatisfied with the revelation itself. I think Amon’s announcement met the fervor of even the most dedicated recruits.”

Her mother nodded, but her eyes studied Asami in a way that seemed to read something else out of what she said. She tilted her head. “Is it hard to hear Amon’s testimony?”

She hesitated before answering. “It’s... too familiar,” she said. “Even if it’s a story I already know, it feels too similar to ours. A dead father, a firebender...” She trailed off and sighed.

Yasuko got up from the table and walked around. Asami looked up right as her mother pulled her up into a hug. “I’m sorry it was hard for you,” Yasuko whispered. Asami hugged her mother tightly. “Sometimes it’s hard to be a part of a movement where I am constantly reminded of the night Hiroshi was murdered.”

They sighed in unison, then pulled back with matching sad smiles.

“I think of dad sometimes,” Asami said, “and wonder what he would be building, what he would be working on.” Most of her memories of her father involved him tinkering or building something, explaining what a tool was for, letting her make small repairs or asking her how she thought something should be fixed...

“If your father were here, he would be right in the thick of all this.” Yasuko gestured around her. “But he was taken from us that night, robbing you of a father, me of a husband, and the world of a genius.

“And that  is why we fight, Asami,” she whispered. “Because people like us deserve to live in safety. We deserve to keep our families together, our businesses safe from bending extortion.”

Asami stepped toward the table. “If dad were here,” she said, “he would be astounded at the leaps Future Industries has taken in the past twelve years.” She grabbed the folder off the table. “But right now our primary factory is struggling. It’s wonderful that we’re able to manufacture the mechasuit interiors here for the movement, but we’re behind on filling our forklift orders.” She pulled out a page with their projected expenses and handed it over. “We need to stop overproducing forklift interior units so we can get back on schedule for Future Industries’ production schedule.”

Yasuko was frowning, and Asami handed her the current month’s ledger. “It would just be temporary,” she added. “We could get right back to producing the mechasuit interiors at the end of the month, once the company is back on stable ground.”

Looking over the papers with a deep sigh, Yasuko closed her eyes. “I’ve pushed Future Industries to the limits of its financial and production capacity, trying to support the movement.” She met Asami’s eyes steadily. “And I know the company has suffered. I know we’re not as strong as we have been.”

Asami blinked as her mother put a hand on her shoulder. “We’re not lost yet,” she said. Her mother’s tone was far too resigned for comfort. “We just need to adjust our production for the month to recoup lost capital and make sure we meet this Earth Kingdom order.”

Yasuko walked them around to the other side of the table. “The future is... uncertain,” she said, gesturing for Asami to take a seat. “And you’ve only just started coming into more responsibility within the movement, but I think it’s appropriate to tell you that, frankly, Future Industries’ orders, from the Earth Kingdom or otherwise, won’t mean much by the beginning of the next month.”

“What?” Asami reached forward and pulled her mother’s paper’s closer, trying to figure out what Yasuko had been working on before she’d been interrupted.

“In Amon’s vision for the future,” Yasuko continued, “We won’t need to worry about filling business orders. The Revolution is upon us, truly now.” She smiled. “Future Industries is going to become a part of the  future, the Equalist’s future.”

“You’re... embezzling?!” Flipping through the pages, Asami started piecing together a false money trail. “We don’t have enough,” she said. “You can’t funnel this much to the Equalists, mother. If we don’t get this order filled we literally won’t have enough to pay the factory workers next month.”

“Asami...” her mother reached over and pulled the papers away.

“Dad wouldn’t want this,” Asami snapped. She snatched the top paper back. “From what you’ve said, we’re plenty funded for the revolution. We’re already supporting the tech production mostly out of our own pockets. What do you even—”

“Quiet.” Yasuko took the paper back from her, setting it neatly on top of the stack. “If you refuse to reprioritize, step back until you can see things with a clear head. The company is not  as important as our revolutionary agenda.”

Asami stood abruptly. “So father’s legacy isn’t—”

“—as important as avenging his death and overturning the system that took him from us?” Yasuko’s voice was cool. “No,” she said, “it’s not.”

Asami stared at her.

Her mother sighed. “Go cool off. Work on your own projects. We’ll head back to the house in an hour or two.”

Dismissed, Asami refrained from storming out of the room and shut the door behind her as gently and distinctly as possibly.

She didn’t look at the factory workers on her way out, unable to fathom that they might not be there in a month. Most of them had been working for Future Industries since her father had opened the factory. She knew dozens of them by sight, growing up running around and watching her parents’ inventions come to life under their hands.

Back in the garage, she calmed down slightly and let herself indulge in total focus on her work. Engineering was simple. There was a problem, and infinite ways to come up with a wrong answer. There were usually a few ‘right’ answers, and the process of determining which one was best was generally simple enough if you had education and determination.

She was in the middle of sketching a seventh option, a seventh path to the solution, when a knock sounded at the door. She turned and smiled when Liu walked in.

“Hey there Asami,” he said, smiling.

“Hey Liu!” She was happy to see him out of uniform for once. It was reaching the point where she felt she never saw him without the goggles on. “It’s so great to see you.”

“Same here,” he said, giving her a quick hug. “It’s nice to see you here in your natural element too.”

“What brings you out here,” she asked.

He waved some papers. Asami recognized them as some of the ones she’d scanned earlier. “Just picking up a few things from Yasuko to bring to Amon,” he said. “Budget stuff.”

“Oh,” she said. “Are you heading out now then?” It didn’t make sense for her to expect Liu to have some sort of loyalty to Future Industries. He’d joined the Equalists when he was seventeen or so. Just because he felt like an older brother, however, didn’t mean he actually  had ties to the company, or an investment in its future.”

“So what happened with you and your mom,” he asked, crossing his arms. “You’re both quietly fuming-while-still-being-productive in that way you both do.”

Asami smiled wryly at the observation. It was true. She set her project sketches in a drawer to work on later and nodded toward the door. “We have different priorities,” she said. “I value the company more than she does, while she thinks the movement is the only top priority to have.” Asami huffed. “I just want to live and work in a world where being a nonbender doesn’t matter, where it doesn’t set you off at some distinct life disadvantage.”

“That’s a world we can only live in if we win,” Liu said. “That’s what we’re fighting for, and...” He grimaced. “Sometimes that means sacrifices along the way.”

“I know,” Asami said. “I just wish it didn’t have to be that way.”

“What project were you working on when I came in,” he asked as they walked outside. She was glad of the subject change. “It didn’t look much like a car to me.”

“Just some prototype sketches,” she said. “I’ve got this idea for an invention and the basic science works fine. It’s just figuring out application and scale.”

Liu chuckled. “I’ll leave that stuff to you. My job is to hit people with sticks that go bzzt and make sure missions go well.”

They were nearing the gate when Yasuko ducked out of the main factory building. “Wait up a moment,” she called.

“Let’s walk back together,” she said, drawing closer. “Asami, are you available tomorrow afternoon through the evening? I need you to prepare and then monitor the next shipment of interiors to the underground factory.”

Asami shook her head. “I’m afraid I can’t, actually,” she said. “I’ve scheduled more observation time and tomorrow is the pro-bending quarterfinal.”

Yasuko stiffened. “Haven’t you done enough observation?” she asked. “Is there really a need to spend more time and money on that bender-glorifying trash entertainment?”

Liu stepped between them gracefully. “It’s extremely important work,” he said. “We need to collect more crowd dynamics observations to put the final touches on our plan for the finals match and Asami’s reports have been extremely useful so far.” He smiled. “Plus, pro-bending is the current dominant style employed by our bending opponents. Observing them is still the best way, short of actual combat, to learn how to counter their techniques.”

Asami nodded along, thankful that Liu had come to her defense. Frankly, she was still a little too upset to come up with something quite that eloquent. Plus, it wasn’t quite  a full breakdown of her justifications. “Thanks for clarifying,” she said to Liu, who gave her a brief smile. “I’m sorry I can’t monitor the prep,” she said. “I could head over right after the match, however, to supervise the shipment itself.”

Her mother took a deep breath. “I suppose that would be acceptable,” she said. “I’m glad we could find a compromise.”

Asami’s smile was starting to feel stretched and artificial, but she widened it anyway. In the pit of her stomach, she was starting to feel convinced that compromise only happened in certain directions, and Future Industries was on the wrong side of the line.

 

* * *

 

Mako kept his guard up: arms close, chin tucked. “Final assault,” he called out. “Are you ready?”

Bolin and Sakari got into defensive stances. Bolin called back, “Come at me bro!”

Mako grinned. He kept his bodily telegraphing to a minimum as he sent off a series of quick jabs, light fireballs that were less about a solid hit and more about speed. His training partners were drilling on linking dodge movements into retaliating attacks, so Mako kept up a steady stream of punches and the occasional kick to keep the rhythm varied.

His brother wasn’t the best at dodging. Solid and grounded in his stances, Bolin was more likely to buckle down and absorb the hit than to dodge out of the way. He’d come up firing strong when he did, but Mako wanted to see him try. He sent a few stronger fireballs Bolin’s way, to force him out of his stance.

Bolin responded with a series of discs that curved in the air to make dodging them a pain. Mako managed, but he shot his brother a grin.

Focusing more on Sakari, he sent off a volley of lighter attacks. She was short—easily the shortest pro-bender in the league—and that made her a small target. Mako ducked and rolled away from a joint response from Bolin and Sakari. After a few matches and practice sessions, he’d stopped holding back against her. Even if she was thirteen, she was a more than competent bender.

That and she was really  hard to hit. Mako sent off a series of quick jabs before following up with a harder cross. The younger girl didn’t hesitate as she flowed around the attacks and right into a response. Of course, if she took a hit, she was so light she’d almost certainly lose a zone.

Mako focused his attacks lower, trying to force Bolin into movement and get closer to hitting Sakari. Most bending happened at Mako’s shoulder-level in the arena, which meant Sakari barely needed to dodge if he didn’t adjust his attacks.

They exchanged volleys for a few minutes until Bolin and Sakari’s counter-attacks coincided to hit Mako at once. He flew backwards and landed on the pads with a grunt. “Nice work,” he called out, groaning as he got to his feet. “I think we can call it a day now,” he said. “You guys were on fire this session.”

Sakari pulled off her helmet. “Um... Mako?”

“I think you mean we were totally not  on fire,” Bolin cut in. “Except in this case that’s a totally good thing.”

Mako rolled his eyes. “Whatever,” he said. He smiled at them though. “Let’s get this place cleaned up so we can hit the showers.”

They started picking their equipment up so the space would be clean for the next team. “You’re really quick on your feet,” Bolin said to Sakari. “Did you even take a hit once this practice?”

“A couple,” she answered. “But I prioritize dodging over holding my ground and setting up more solid attacks like you do, so there’s a trade off.” She shrugged as she put some pads away. “I just know that, frankly, I can’t take much of a hit, so I try not to get hit.”

“Where did you learn, anyway?” Mako asked. “Your form is clearly coming out of traditional waterbending, but it’s not quite what I usually see.”

“You’re probably used to Northern Water Tribe style,” she said. “I’m coming out of the southern school of training.”

Mako put away the last target they’d used earlier and looked around the gym. Thankfully, there hadn’t been much to clean up. He waved his teammates over to follow him out the doors of the gym.

“So who were your teachers?” Bolin asked. He gestured between Mako and himself. “You already know we learned on the street.”

Sakari’s expression tightened. “I learned from my father,” she said, “and Master Kat—”

“THERE YOU ARE!”

Mako looked up to see a tall man in orange robes storming down the hall toward them. He exchanged a glance with Bolin and they wordlessly closed ranks in front of Sakari, crossing their arms.

“Is there an issue, sir?” Mako asked.

At a closer distance, it was clear the man was an airbender from his tattoos. That meant he was one of the councilmen, someone whose name Mako couldn’t remember. He generally didn’t pay much attention to politics.

“Who are—oh you must be the pro-benders.” The councilman said the term with disdain. He clearly wasn’t a fan. “Please stand aside.”

Mako swapped another look with Bolin. They didn’t move. Behind them, Mako could see Sakari shrink a little from the corner of his eye.

“I’m so glad I found you.” The man’s tone shifted to genuine concern as he addressed Sakari. “It’s time for you to go home now. Your parents are worried sick.”

Mako was halfway to turning to look at Sakari to see her reaction when she pushed up in between him and Bolin, glaring up at the man. “I’m not going back,” she said. “And I’m on the Fire Ferrets now. These guys are my family too.”

The man’s eyebrows had drawn together and he was looking a little red in the face, so Mako stepped forward and tried to keep his voice level. “Look, she came to us and we’ve been taking care of her since she joined the team, Master...?”

“Tenzin,” the man said stiffly. He still seemed to be processing events, his gaze shifting between Mako, Bolin, and Sakari.

“Master Tenzin,” Bolin cut in, drawing his voice out, “what is your relation to Sakari?”

“Well I’m not—” He cut himself off and adjusted his robes. “I’m a friend of her parents. They wrote to me several days ago, saying that she ran away and she might have come here. They’ve been scouring the Southern Water Tribe for her. It’s time she went home.”

Sakari scowled. “I’m not  going back just to get locked up again.”

Mako frowned. “Master Tenzin, she clearly doesn’t want to go with you, sir.”

“You can’t tear a family apart!” Bolin dropped to a crouch and pulled Sakari into a hug. “She’s our little sister now.”

Tenzin’s eye twitched. “Her family is in the south pole!”

Mako put a hand on Sakari’s shoulder. “Well she has family in Republic City now too. We’ll arrange a family reunion later, one that doesn’t involve anybody getting locked up.”

He glanced down at Sakari with concern, but she wasn’t looking at him. She’d crossed her arms and had leveled Tenzin with a determined glare. Mako recognized the expression from when Sakari had first walked into the training room to try out for the Fire Ferrets. He’d initially tried to discourage her from going into the one-on-one matches against the other waterbenders. She hadn’t backed down then, and he didn’t think she’d back down now.

“Your father has written letters in case I find you, hoping to reach out and explain.” Tenzin huffed. “When I realized you’d managed to join a pro-bending team, I thought it would be best to go after you on my own, but I’ve already sent an urgent missive back to your parents. They know where you are now, and I’m expecting an urgent reply. Your mother is heartbroken.” Tenzin took a step forward and Sakari stiffened, but didn’t step back. “How could you do this to them, Sakari? You know how devastated they were by your sis—”

“Thank you, Master Tenzin,” Sakari cut in, “for coming to check in on my whereabouts.” Her tone had shifted and she didn’t sound... ungrateful, exactly, but Mako wouldn’t have called her thankful. “Thank you for sending word to my parents and relieving their anxiety over my abrupt departure. I’ve only met you a few times, but I know you’ve been a good friend to my parents, especially after the issue with my sister.” She paused; Mako briefly wondered if talking about her parents was enough to make her change her mind.

Tenzin seemed to wonder the same thing. Mako could hear him holding his breath.

Sakari continued, “And it is with complete respect for you that I’m telling you I’m not going with you.”

Mako grinned and turned back to Tenzin just in time to see his jaw drop. Tenzin closed his mouth and cleared his throat. “Wait, Sakari, but—”

“I’m not going.” If Sakari could have further  crossed her arms, Mako was certain she would have.

Tenzin’s eyebrows snapped together. “Sakari, your parents are worr—”

“I’m aware.”

Staring at her in disbelief, Tenzin took another moment to gather himself together. Mako gave Sakari’s shoulder an encouraging squeeze. Tenzin shook his head. “You are too young—”

“She’s only three years younger than me,” Bolin cut in. “And we were living on the streets before even that.”

Tenzin’s face was starting to grow red again. “You are a child,” he snapped, “and I am going to—”

“Republic City has no legal age of adulthood or pro-bending cutoff.” Sakari smirked.

“But... in the Water Tribes, it’s fourteen!” Tenzin crossed his arms. “You’re not fourteen yet, young lady.”

Mako took a half step forward. He didn’t want to threaten the man, but if he could come off as a bit intimidating, he wouldn’t complain. “Yeah, and this isn’t the Water Tribes, Councilman.” He crossed his arms. “Are you going to kidnap her or something?”

Tenzin seemed to swell up, his face going redder, before he sighed and deflated. “Spirits, I hope Jinora doesn’t end up like this,” he muttered. Squaring his shoulders, he continued at a conversational volume. “I will write to your parents immediately on what course of action you’ve chosen to take. I am, of course, not going to kidnap  you.” He shot an annoyed glance at Mako. “I would, however, like to make sure you know I am available to help, and I would like to remain a presence in your life.”

Now that he’d given in, Sakari’s shoulders slumped a bit. “Please, um, in your letter, tell them I don’t hate them?” She looked away. “I just needed to escape, and I didn’t see any alternatives to running away.”

Tenzin’s expression softened. “You’re welcome to write them yourself,” he said.

“No thank you.” Sakari’s mouth pulled into a tight frown.

“At least come to Air Temple Island to visit,” he said. “You can pick up your parents’ letter and meet my family. I have a daughter about your age.”

“Um, I guess that would be alright.” Sakari glanced at Mako and Bolin. They both nodded. “But only if I can take Mako, Bolin, and Naga.”

“Who is Naga?” Tenzin asked.

“My pet dog,” Sakari said. She had a completely straight face.

“Of course,” Tenzin said. He didn’t notice Mako exchange a smirk with Bolin, who was holding back a giggle.

“We drew the first slot for the quarterfinal match tomorrow,” Mako said. “So we’re going early and, one way or another, we’ll have some time after that. How about we head over afterwards?”

“Perfect.” Tenzin looked thoughtful for a moment before adding, “And... I will try to be there for your quarterfinal match tomorrow,” he added. “I still believe you should return to the South Pole, and I expect your parents to feel similarly, but I will support you and keep tabs on your... activities here in the meantime.”

Sakari smiled. “We’ll see you then,” she said.

“Until then.” Tenzin nodded and smiled. Mako thought it was still a bit stiff, but the older man seemed slightly less tense than earlier. The thought of him at a pro-bending match was still a funny image, however.

Tenzin disappeared back around the corner and Mako turned to Sakari. “You okay, kid?”

She nodded. “Yeah.” She glanced down. “Sorry about that. I didn’t think I’d be tracked down that quickly.”

“It’s not your fault,” Bolin said. He patted her shoulder. “He probably found out because we’re the ones who called in the tip to the police about the Equalist meeting last night.”

“Oh.” Sakari blinked. “That probably makes sense.” She wrung her hands slightly and Mako narrowed his eyes. The comment about being ‘locked up’ concerned him, but he wasn’t sure whether to take it literally or if it was just her being a rebellious thirteen year old.

Mako would ask about it later. “That was a fun diversion, but we’re all still sweaty from practice.” Bolin pretended to smell his armpit and threw a hand to his forehead in mock-distress. Sakari giggled and Mako rolled his eyes. “Let’s split up and hit the showers,” he said. “We can make dinner back at the loft when we’re all done.”

“Race you to the showers!” Bolin took off down the hall.

Mako took a couple steps after him, then paused and turned back toward Sakari. She was a determined, fiery personality, but she was just thirteen and looked smaller than usual. “You okay?”

For a beat, she looked considering, but her usual grin returned a moment later. “Just tired after a long practice, Team Captain.” She raised a hand and turned to head the other way down the hall. “See you for dinner.”

“See you for dinner.” He watched her a moment before heading after Bolin.

 

* * *

 

Korra cleared out space in the middle of the living room and put the radio onto a jazz station. Zaheer was out with P’li, trying to get him recruited with the Equalists, so he couldn’t criticize her forms.

She took a deep breath. Firebending came from the breath. Maybe airbending wasn’t so different. Breath and freedom. She’d left on a self-planned research trip, avoided one of the Red Lotus’ core enemies, and witnessed airbending firsthand. Here in the city, despite her fears, Korra had never been so free.

She recalled Jinora’s movements to mind and imitated how she’d circled her arms to set the gates spinning. She’d watched the airbender do the motion at least a dozen times.

Stance loose, elbows bent, Korra inhaled and imitated the move.

No airbending resulted.

She huffed and did it again, but to no avail.

She practiced the circular stepping, although it felt odd. Resisting the urge to tuck her chin proved more troublesome than she’d thought. She wasn’t sure what sort of motion to cap the steps with either, to take the technique and add some airbending onto it. Eventually, she came up with a drill involving six circular steps and finishing with the arm motion she’d seen Jinora use. It worked well in time with the jazz on the radio, and repetition made her body adapt to the strange stances.

And, as she practiced, the moveset felt better than the movements she’d tried under Zaheer’s direction. She couldn’t actually airbend, but it felt similar to the motions she’d experienced during visions from Aang. Familiarity was, if nothing else, a reason to think she was going in the right direction.

The radio buzzed, crinkling with static.

Korra finished out her move (still no airbending) and glanced over right as a familiar voice began speaking.

“My fellow Equalists,” the radio crackled, “this is your leader, Amon.”

She stepped back, eyes wide.

“As you have heard, the Republic Council has voted to make me public enemy number one, proving once again that the bending oppressors of this city will stop at nothing to quash our revolution.”

Korra clenched her fist and noticed that her hand was shaking.

“But we can not be stopped,” Amon continued, voice gaining strength. “Our numbers grow stronger by the day. You no longer have to live in fear.” He paused, and Korra felt a bead of sweat run down her forehead. “The time has come for benders to experience fear.”

The radio buzzed with static again for a long moment, then returned to the jazz it had been playing earlier. Korra stared at it, waiting for Amon to interrupt again.

The front door opened. Korra jumped.

Ming-Hua gave her a strange look. “Korra, are you alright?”

Trying to compose a more reasonable expression, Korra nodded and swallowed the lump in her throat. “Y-yeah,” she said. “Just fine.” She crossed her arms.

Ghazan appeared in the doorway behind Ming-Hua. “What’s going on? Who isn’t fine?”

“I said I’m fine,” Korra snapped.

Ming-Hua exchanged a glance with Ghazan. “Give us a few minutes?” she asked.

He shrugged. “I’ll just be putting groceries away. Don’t mind me.” Stepping around her, he walked into the kitchen area.

“Step outside with me, Korra,” Ming-Hua said. She jerked her head in one direction before walking back out the door.

Korra hesitated, then sighed and followed her outside.

Their apartment was on the top floor of the building, which meant they had fairly decent access to the roof. Korra jumped and used the railing of the fire escape to vault herself up. Ming-Hua was sitting on the edge of the roof, looking out around the neighborhood.

“Did you hear that radio broadcast?” she asked Korra. “Ghazan and I paused outside someone’s window when we heard it come on.” She paused. “It must have been something to see him speak in person. The Equalist’s Amon is quite the orator.”

Korra shrugged and sat down beside her. “He’s got his theatrics down, that’s for certain.”

“Very convicted way of speaking too. He really believes everything he’s saying.”

Korra shivered. “He can back it up too.”

“It must have been something, seeing him last night. Zaheer described his performance with the benders before you got home.”

Korra grunted noncommittally. She didn’t really want to think about Amon or his unsettling abilities.

Ming-Hua tilted her head. After a long moment, Korra met her gaze.

“It’s okay to be afraid,” Ming-Hua said.

“I’m not afraid,” Korra said carefully, “but I can’t fight a power like that.” He’d dodged around the benders onstage so effortlessly. She’d grown up around unusual bending techniques and learned from the best, but she’d never seen someone move like that.

“You don’t have to,” Ming-Hua stated. “You’ll never have to face him alone. As in everything, the Red Lotus works together. Set aside his strange abilities, no matter their source. He’s just like any other dictator.” She shrugged. “He’s just not in power yet.”

“Do... do you think he will be?” Korra tugged on her ponytail. “Republic City’s council seems fairly dedicated to keeping his movement down.”

“Eh, they can fight it out all they want.” Ming-Hua smirked. “In the end, we’ll take out whoever is left, and probably thin the ranks along the way.”

Korra leaned against her shoulder. “Thanks,” she whispered.

Ming-Hua chuckled. “We live in the safest apartment in Republic City, remember?” She pushed back against Korra. “And you’ve got me, Ghazan, Zaheer, and P’li all watching your back.”

“And I’ve got yours.”

Below them and around them, Republic City spread out in all directions. Mountains encircled the city by land, leading right out to the bay to the west. She could even see a bit of Air Temple Island in the distance.

Korra took a deep breath and smiled. She knew the Red Lotus would change the city. It was odd to realize that the city had already changed her.