Chapter Nine: The Aftermath
(But the Dust Never Really Settles)
Korra woke up sluggish. She blinked away the blurriness in her eyes and squinted at the light filtering in under the closet door. It most definitely shouldn’t have been that bright.
She winced as she sat up in her bedroll and stretched, reaching for her toes. Part of her definitely wanted to lie back down, but she didn’t let it win. Her primary goal was to grab some food and get out the door to track down the Fire Ferrets.
She’d tailed them out of the arena, hiding before they met up with Naga. They got ahead of her then, but tracking the dog to their hiding spot was simple enough. By the time she arrived, Bolin and Sakari were already asleep, with Mako keeping watch. She hadn’t wanted to leave them, but it was enough to know they had a safe place, or at least a safe enough place. She suspected that the group would seek shelter on Air Temple Island. The Arena was both clearly unsafe and not in the best condition, considering the attack.
The trick to getting out would be getting out the door. Once dressed, Korra leaned against the closet door and stilled. She could hear a few voices in the apartment. All she had to do was make it out the front door without getting snagged aside for a conversation.
She opened the door. “Morning,” she said. Without hurrying, she started moving for the front door.
Ghazan said, “Good morning, sleepyhead,” and smiled. Around the room, Ming-Hua, Zaheer, and P’li all turned toward her.
Just a few more steps. Once Korra made it out the door, she could pretend not to have heard anybody trying to call her back.
“Korra, wait a moment,” Ming-Hua said.
Korra took the last three steps to the door and paused, turning around. “Yeah? What’s up?”
“We need to have a talk this morning.” Zaheer set down his tea.
Korra resisted the urge to cross her arms. “About what?” It came off a little defensive despite her efforts. She took a steady breath. So Zaheer wanted to talk. That didn’t mean that they knew she’d snuck out last night.
“I assumed you would want a recap,” Zaheer said. “Ghazan and I have been waiting to tell everyone about the Equalist attack until you woke up.”
Korra winced. “Oh yeah,” she said, “I, uh, forgot.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “I guess I’m just not quite used to being a ‘full’ member of the team yet,” she said. It wasn’t quite a lie, but it wasn’t the reason she’d forgotten. The only reason she’d want a recap is if she hadn’t been there herself.
Thankfully, her guardians seemed the buy the excuse. P’li didn’t look up from her book as she gestured to a chair. “C’mon then,” she said.
Korra sat down and blinked. She hadn’t realized there were so many newspapers on the table. At a glance, it looked like every one of them was open to a page covering the Equalist attack.
“Last night Ghazan and I attended the final match of the pro-bending season,” Zaheer said. “We noticed some minor suspicious behavior on our way in. We later confirmed this to be part of the Equalist plot. From the beginning, however, there was definitely a tension in the arena. The match-up between the Fire Ferrets and the Wolfbats was not a friendly one.”
Zaheer went on to summarize the match that Korra had seen, with a few of his own perspectives. Of note was his opinion on the Wolfbats’ and Fire Ferret’s abilities: Korra nearly interjected when he named Tahno’s team the superior benders, regardless of the obviously bribed referees. Zaheer mentioned the one-on-one matchup between Sakari and Tahno as evidence of this point and Korra bit her lip.
Ghazan, at least, seemed to agree with her. He spoke more favorably about the Fire Ferrets and had clearly been bothered by the fixed nature of the match.
Korra kept her expressions controlled when they reached the topic of the masked bender.
“Even at a distance,” Zaheer said, “I recognized the Blue Spirit mask. It’s not an uncommon one, though Love Amongst the Dragons has fallen out of style lately. In any case, there was some sort of scuffle near the roof, above the stands. We weren’t at a good angle to see it, but we saw one of the Equalists fall and catch a banner. After that, the attacking firebender leapt from the ceiling and flew down to the Fire Ferrets’ side of the arena.”
“The firebender clearly has some firepower under her belt,” Ghazan interjected. When everyone else shot him an exasperated look, he held up his hands. “I’m serious. It takes a lot of strength to direct flight like that.”
Perhaps more important, it takes skill to safely land,” Zaheer mused. “We saw her land on the platform where the Equalists had apprehended the Fire Ferrets, but not as much after that. The view was unfortunately obscured. There was some sort of fight between the Blue Spirit and the Equalists. This eventually resulted in the Fire Ferrets escaping. The Equalists escaped shortly after, before the arena erupted into a frantic exit-rush.” His thin lips pulled into a frown. “We were unable to make it out before the Republic City police started a queue and insisted on checking everybody at the door.”
Ming-Hua furrowed her brow. “Ghazan, were you noticed?”
He shook his head. “I angled toward a line with a younger cop. Between that and my new facial hair, I don’t think they recognized me. It was fairly chaotic. Captain Saikhan wasn’t doing very well at maintaining order.”
“And Chief Beifong,” Zaheer said, “was up in the air. She went after Amon when he and the other Equalists took a wire up through the roof. They seemed to be escaping by airship. I’m not sure how that confrontation went, but Beifong didn’t make an appearance for the rest of the evening while we waited in line to leave.”
P’li was the one who leaned forward and raised an eyebrow. “Okay then, a packed night for sure. What are our takeaways from this?”
“The police are incompetent,” Ghazan scoffed.
“They lack an understanding of scope,” Zaheer amended. He hummed. “And I do not fancy their odds against the Equalists in the future. The attack was precise and well done, but the real advantage came from the staging. Amon arranged an event where everyone was hanging on his word.”
“Even with the firebender and Fire Ferrets fighting the Equalists down below?” Korra asked. She hadn’t been able to get a general sense of the crowd while she was fighting.
Zaheer considered a moment, then nodded. “There was a murmur, certainly, when she went flying by. But Amon didn’t even pause and, since she didn’t attack him, it didn’t derail things too much.” He considered for a moment. “Still, I would like to know more about the Fire Ferrets’ mysterious ally.”
Ghazan pulled one of the newspapers out from the stack. “And we’re not the only ones. Despite the crowd's fixation on Amon, our resident spirit vigilante got some mention from the press.”
Korra snatched the paper from him, and scanned for the information on herself. “It seems like a lot of people are aligning themselves with the spirits lately,” she said. “First Amon claims that’s where he gets his powers. Now this vigilante person is wearing a Blue Spirit costume.” She pointed to an article with a blurry photograph of her flying.
“Maybe vintage spirituality is in again,” P’li remarked drily.
“The people are looking for spiritual validation. Their leaders have neglected that need in building their cities and civilizations,” Zaheer said. “It’s merely more evidence of the trend. This is why we need to remain focused on Harmonic Convergence, even as we observe the situation here in Republic City.”
Korra ducked her head and focused on the newspaper, skimming over headlines to distract herself. She could explain everything to them later. They would understand then.
Some days she almost forgot Harmonic Convergence was coming. Which was pretty bad, since connecting the spiritual and physical worlds was basically her purpose for living, her destiny as the Avatar. It’s why the Red Lotus had liberated her, why they’d been traveling the world to show her its necessity.
But everything about the city was distracting. From the airbenders and the pro-bending to her sister and Asami Sato—
Korra stopped and blinked. Several pages into the paper, she’d caught sight of a familiar face by the headline, “Future Industries in Financial Trouble?”
Upon squinting, she realized it wasn’t Asami, but an older woman who looked remarkably like her.
“One more takeaway,” Zaheer said. “The Equalists are going to change the city for the better. Their chaos has already given birth to another exercise in freedom.” His gaze swept the group and Korra thought his eyes rested on her a beat longer but couldn’t be sure. “I am certain their actions will prompt more anarchy in the future.”
Korra thought about the non-benders she passed in the streets at night, hurrying home before Tarrlok’s task force descended to enforce curfew. Her lips tightened. Those people had missed the ‘increase in freedom’ memo unfortunately.
She would use her mask to help those people now, limit the impact of Tarrlok's corrupt government, and explain her Blue Spirit actions later. The Red Lotus would take out Tarrlok and Korra could explain everything then. Once they understood, they would approve and forgive her for the secrets.
The conversation started wrapping up. Korra’s eyes drifted back down to the newspaper in her lap. The article about Future Industries questioned some recent decisions by the woman in the photograph, apparently ‘Yasuko Sato.’
Most notable to Korra was a paragraph about the increasing role of Yasuko’s daughter, one Asami Sato. Korra’s eyes widened.
The conversation ended, but she barely heard it. She stood up and moved to the door, newspaper in hand.”
“Where are you going?” Ming-Hua asked.
Korra shrugged. “I dunno, I just really want breakfast out today. I like those Water Tribe fish balls they sell from a stall down the street.”
She vanished out the door and down the stairs before anyone else could question her. She checked that they hadn't followed, then peeked under the loose board she’d stashed her mask and stealth clothes under. She didn’t want them on her now, but they’d be easy enough to go back for later.
And she did drop by the fish ball stand, munching on the snacks as she read the paper. Making small talk with the stand-owner proved quite enlightening too. A few careful questions revealed to Korra that anybody from Republic City had a passing familiarity with the Sato family. Hiroshi: the inventive father, murdered too soon. Yasuko: the enduring mother who continued to run their company. Asami: the brilliant daughter, now inheriting quite the legacy of innovation.
And yes. The Satos were definitely connected to the Satomobile.
On her way to the manufacturing district, Korra tried not to beat herself up about that fact. There’s no way she could have known.
Thankfully, strangers she passed were especially helpful in directing her to the Future Industries factory. And by the time she arrived, Korra was pleased to see she recognized it as the place Asami had taken them the night they met at the Equalist rally.
She situated herself in a spot across the street to wait. Given that she’d kicked Asami in the face last night while rescuing the Fire Ferrets, it was only polite to try and check up on her.
Korra frowned. She was more than curious about what exactly her friend had been doing at finals, going after the Fire Ferrets with the Equalists. In particular, they’d seemed to be targeting Sakari, which worried her. Korra settled her back against the wall and hoped Asami’s answers proved satisfying.
* * *
Asami bit back a yawn and squinted to make the screw-head come into focus. Once it was clear, she tightened it a few turns, then gave the whole piece a shake.
It was mostly not coming apart. Kind of like her, actually
Asami yawned. She’d forced herself up this morning when the sun rose. She wouldn’t sleep well on the cot in her workshop anyway. After that, it had been natural to get right to work. And if she was maybe a little tired still, maybe a little sore with a serious black eye... well, at least she was still making progress.
The door to her workshop slammed open. “ASAMI!”
She jumped at the sound. “Mother?” She turned and saw Yasuko storm into the room. The door slammed shut behind her.
“What are you doing here? I swear you couldn’t get to where you’re supposed to be if I invented a car that took you there,” her mother snapped. “Why didn’t you come home? I waited up for you and worried about you.”
Asami blinked, making her black eye pulse. She should probably take something for that. “What?” She wasn’t sure how to process her mother’s anger. Nothing was making sense. Maybe she was more sleep-deprived than she’d thought.
Her mother’s glare broke as she came closer. Asami saw tears watering in her eyes. “I was so worried about you,” Yasuko said as she wrapped Asami in a tight hug. “When I heard things didn’t go as planned, I got so concerned about you.”
Asami blinked again. “Oh.” It took her a beat to relax into the embrace. “I… I’m fine, mother. Our mission failed, but I made it back okay.”
Yasuko pulled back and looked Asami over from head to toe. “Are you?”
“Yes.” Asami took a half-step back and crossed her arms. There was no way her mother could know about how Asami had attempted to sabotage the mission. “I did my best last night at finals. Things went badly off plan, but we got all our people home and that’s what matters. I’m just at the factory because it’s so much closer to the safe house than the mansion. I was tired.”
“Oh, I’m certain you did the best job you could,” Yasuko said, moving forward to put a hand on Asami’s shoulder. “I just want to see you and make sure you were okay.” With a gentle pressure, Yasuko guided them to go sit on a bench against the wall. “Now let me take a look under that bandage.”
Slowly, Asami relaxed against the bench. Her mother wasn’t suspicious. She was just… worried. Concerned about her. Caring for her. “Yeah,” Asami said. “I, um, cleaned it up earlier, but the swelling makes it look much worse than it is.”
Yasuko chuckled. “I’ll be the judge of that,” she said. She walked over to the workbench and pulled out Asami’s medical kit. “You know I don’t use the skill much anymore, but I remember collecting quite a few bruises in my chi-blocking courses.”
A smile tugged at Asami’s lips as she carefully pulled her bandages off. “I remember,” she said. As a child, she’d watched her mother’s lessons from the sidelines until she was old enough to take them herself.
“The media is butchering this portrayal. It's horrible,” Yasuko said. She touched Asami’s face gently, fingers skimming close to the cut from her goggles. “Half the newspaper articles I read this morning are portraying that… that firebending brute as some sort of hero.”
“Oh?” Asami watched her mother’s hands quickly snip a length of bandage and apply some ointment to it. “I haven’t had the chance to read the papers yet today. What are they saying about our actions in general?”
She closed her eyes as Yasuko cleaned the area. “The reviews are mixed, but there are a few highlights. I noted the Republic City Post in particular. They said that, since the Wolfbats had so obviously cheated, that they kind of deserved to lose their bending.”
Asami opened one eye and tried to look over toward the door where the papers were delivered. “Oh, wow! Really?” Yasuko put a firm hand on Asami’s shoulder to keep her from moving.
“Not in so many words,” Yasuko said, “but the vibe was there.” She sighed, but the sound was lighter than it usually was. “Now all that’s left is to show them how all benders are, essentially, cheating at life. Once they see that, they will understand our mission.”
Asami didn’t reply. Once the wound was cleaned and dried, Yasuko went about applying a fresh bandage. Her mother hadn’t patched her up in years; it reminded Asami of scraped knees and the first time she’d burned herself soldering. Reminded her that this was how things were supposed to be. She relaxed against the bench again, unaware she had another layer of tension to shed.
She and her mother were speaking civilly. Yasuko thought she’d done her best. She wasn’t lambasting Asami for the mission having failed. Asami had Yasuko’s full and undivided attention as her mother pulled back and looked over the bandage she’d secured.
All it had taken was a couple injuries in the name of the cause.
Asami rubbed her arm and winced.
Yasuko frowned. “Are you sore?”
“A bit.” Asami shrugged. “This is the arm I landed on after getting kicked in the face.”
Yasuko’s eyes narrowed to slits. “I will have this ‘Blue Spirit’ if I have to drag her from the Spirit World myself,” she said. “Let me put some bruise balm there.”
“Okay,” Asami said. She rolled up her sleeve. “Do you think we’ll make another attempt on the Sakari girl?”
“Probably, but not soon,” Yasuko said. She shook her head in frustration. “I’m not sure why Amon seems to think she’s so important anyway, but I will defer to his judgement here.” She scooped out a small amount of the bruise balm and started rubbing it into Asami’s skin. “But let’s not talk about that now.”
“No?” Asami frowned. “Why not?” They always talked business. Equalist business or family business, not that the two were especially distinct lately.
“I want you to take the day off,” Yasuko said. Her gaze drifted toward the engineering project Asami had been working on when she walked in. “The rest of the day, anyway.”
Asami’s jaw dropped. “W-what?”
The late-morning light softened her mother’s features as it filtered through the skylight. “I want to apologize for being harsh with you,” Yasuko said. Her fingers were gentle as she finished applying the balm. “I have seen you too much as a comrade in the movement and not enough as my daughter lately. There are also moments I know I’ve treated you too much like my daughter and not enough as my comrade.”
She eyed the bruise, which was a fetching shade of violet, and wiped her hand clean before closing the balm. “With the Equalist movement so close to success, it’s been difficult for me to keep things in perspective. To remember that you are both my daughter and an adult. Both a comrade and my long-time student.
“This is everything we have fought for. We are so close and you know that this movement means everything to me.” She sighed. “But I don’t want you hurt. I want you to be safe and okay, even as you grow into being your own woman in the midst of our revolution.” Yasuko squeezed Asami’s hand. “I couldn’t be prouder of you, even if it’s hard for me to say it sometimes.”
Before Asami could find the words to respond, her mother stood up. “Go home,” she said. “Or take a walk. Whatever you need, but take the rest of the day off. We have a few days before the Tarrlok strike. Please, take some time to rest and heal.”
They gazed at one another for a moment. Then Yasuko nodded and turned. Her heels clacked on the floor as she strode toward the door.
As her mother reached for the doorknob, Asami tripped over the words, “I love you, mother!”
Yasuko paused. A tension dropped from her shoulders. She glanced over her shoulder and smiled. The expression was not warm, but it wasn’t as tight as usual. “I love you too, Asami,” she said. Then she left.
Asami cleaned up her workshop in a daze, glad of her habits. She had no attention otherwise for the world as she played her mother’s words over in her ears.
“What’s a day off?” she murmured to herself as she unlocked her scooter. Asami got on and turned the key, but wasn’t even sure where she was going as she drove out the factory’s front gates. She only made it ten seconds out before nearly crashing.
“Hi Asami!” Naga had practically materialized in the middle of the road.
Asami slammed the brakes and skidded, narrowly missing her friend. In fact, if Naga hadn’t dodged, they probably would still have connected. She steadied her scooter and put a hand up to her racing heart. Her daze evaporated.
“Naga? What are you doing here? Are you okay?”
Her friend had leapt out of the way and landed with one knee on the ground, but she quickly popped up. “I’m fine,” Naga said. Her eyes landed on Asami’s bandaged face with concern. “But you’re not looking too hot yourself. Are you okay?”
Asami blinked. “I have a day off,” she said. It didn’t even make sense, but she wasn’t sure how to explain everything to Naga, so she didn’t try. She glanced back over her shoulder at the factory gates. Her mother was likely going to be working for some time, and the window in the front office could see the goings-on in front of the gate.
“That’s, uh, that’s great, actually,” Naga said. “I was wondering if, uh, maybe you and I could spend some time together today.”
Getting Naga out of sight of the factory felt important for some reason. Between lack of sleep, soreness, and the conversation with her mother, Asami felt outrageously out of it. She got the sense that Naga and her mother wouldn’t get along. Despite meeting her at the Equalist Revelation, Naga hadn’t exactly been asking how to join the cause.
And, maybe, Asami was okay with that. But her mother wasn’t a fan of unknown factors.
Naga was in the middle of asking some long-winded question about how Asami’s eye was feeling, but this wasn’t a good place for them to catch up.
“Get on,” Asami said, interrupting.
“I said I’d show you around the city a bit more, right?” Asami pulled a second helmet out of the compartment under the second seat. She held it out. “Let’s go. Hop on.”
“Right now?” Naga took the helmet.
Naga put it on and clambered on behind Asami. “I’ve never ridden one of these before,” she said. “Where, uh, where do I put my hands?”
“Wrap your arms around my waist,” Asami said. It would have been fine for Naga to just hold onto her shoulders, but if she’d never ridden a scooter before it was best to be safe.
Naga fit comfortably behind her and hesitated as she slipped her arms around Asami’s waist. “Like this?” She gave Asami a little squeeze.
She’d noticed that Naga had rather well-muscled arms, but the fact was a bit more noticeable in this position. Asami patted the back of Naga’s hand. “Yeah, uh, that’s good,” she said. “Let’s go.”
She started her scooter up and off they went, zipping down the road.
They’d made it a few blocks when Naga shouted, “So where are we going anyway?”
Asami could take them all over the city on her scooter, but she couldn’t deliver a coherent tour while doing so.
“Uh…” They’d ended up in a familiar neighborhood. Asami cast her eyes around, unsure what she was looking for until she found it. “A park,” she called back, turning left as she directed them to a familiar grove of cherry blossom trees.
Asami parked her scooter. “This is Sakura Park,” she said. “It’s the one we passed by the other day, when we were nearby for the semifinals.”
“Oh, okay,” Naga said. She looked around, probably trying to place where they were. “We’re just on the other side of it now, right?”
“That’s right,” Asami said. She looked out over the park. She hadn’t been here in ages. “I used to go to school near here,” she said, hanging her helmet on the handlebars.
Naga removed her helmet and stowed it under the seat. “I remember you saying that the other day. Where did you go to school?”
“Republic City Preparatory Academy,” Asami said. “But only until I was fifteen or so.” They started to walk down the path into the park.
“Why did you leave?” Naga asked.
Asami paused as she considered her answer. “My interests turned more toward mechanical engineering as I got older. My mother thought a better use of my time would be studying with her personally. I kept up my general studies with a private tutor until I was eighteen, but stopped attending school.”
“Hm, that makes sense,” Naga mused.
“Why do you say that?”
A sly smile tugged at the corners of Naga’s lips. “It just makes sense. Of course you would be focused on engineering. Got that Sato family legacy to continue, huh?”
Asami almost chuckled. Then she remembered that Naga hadn't known about her family history and her blood ran cold. “Wait, what do you mean by that?” She wanted to smack herself. It had been awfully fortuitous to run into Naga right outside the Future Industries factory. She’d just been too preoccupied with her mother realize how convenient.
Naga reached out and squeezed Asami’s hand. “I mean, there was a feature in the paper this morning on the future of Future Industries. I figured there could only be so many ‘Asami Sato’s in the city. I posed a few questions to pedestrians. Turns out it's more than mere coincidence that connects you to the satomobile.”
Asami’s steps felt stiff as they walked together down a hill. She was glad the park was almost empty. The only other people there were sitting on a bench on the far side of the trees. “I… I am sorry to have lied to you,” she said. “I just wasn’t sure… we’d only just met and I generally don’t meet people who know me as an Equalist and then find out I’m, uh, the Asami Sato.” She cleared her throat. “It’s not exactly, um, good PR.”
Naga squeezed her hand again. “No apology necessary. I… I understand that sometimes you have to keep some secrets. I brought it up because I just wanted you to know that I know. That way you don’t have to keep it a secret with me if you don’t want to. I’m here if you want to talk.”
After a beat, Asami leaned her shoulder against Naga’s. “That… might be nice,” she said. “I will consider it.”
They walked a few more steps, then Asami pulled away and Naga’s hand slipped out of hers. Above them, the clouds were forming dramatic shapes that spanned the Republic City skyline. Asami tried to remember the last time she’d simply been present enough to notice the sky. It might have been the last time she was out walking with Naga, but she couldn’t say for certain.
Naga cleared her throat. “So… how was finals? I mean for you personally? I, uh, read about the general sequence of events in the newspaper this morning.”
“You didn’t go?” Asami could hear the relief in her own voice. She hadn’t let herself think about it much, but she’d been hoping against hope that her warnings had made an impact on Naga. Her friend opened her mouth to say something else, but Asami turned and swept her into a hug. “Thank you for listening to me,” she said. “Thank you so, so much.”
Naga’s cheeks were slightly pink when Asami let her go. “Um, yeah.” Naga was looking at the ground and unsuccessfully trying to hide her blush. “That. Of course.” She cleared her throat again. “You clearly were in attendance though. How... how did that go?”
“Not great,” Asami said. “I was among those assigned to take out the Fire Ferrets and, uh, it didn’t go so well. But it’s okay. It’s actually fine.” Her thoughts drifted to her mother for a moment, approving despite Asami’s failure. “It’s probably for the best anyway,” she said. If they’d successfully apprehended Sakari, Asami wasn’t sure how she would have lived with herself.
“Hm.” Naga’s curiosity seemed sated, but only just. “Sounds like an... eventful evening on your end. So how was the match?”
“Rigged.” Asami pursed her lips. Bribing the refs had been effective, but that didn’t mean she’d enjoyed it. The results hadn’t been pretty either. “The match was dirty from the start. Someone must have paid off the match officials.”
“How bad did it get in the ring?” Naga asked.
Asami hadn’t exactly been watching the match, but she’d seen how Sakari, Mako, and Bolin had looked flying off the stage. She sighed. “The Fire Ferrets seemed to sustain at least one minor injury each round, if that gives you any indication,” she said. Asami’s fingers brushed the bandage under her eye before she ran a hand through her hair.
The motion caught Naga’s attention and her gaze locked on Asami’s injury. A complex flicker of emotion crossed her face, but Asami couldn’t identify it. “This is likely jumping forward in the evening’s events a bit, but what happened to your eye?”
Asami chuckled. “Oh. You know. I got kicked in the face later that night.” Naga winced and Asami added, “Whoops?”
Naga frowned. “‘Whoops’ doesn’t seem to cut it in this case.” She took Asami’s elbow and guided them to a bench. Once they were sitting, she gingerly brushed her fingers along the edge of Asami’s bandage. “I’m so sorry you were hurt,” she said. “Is it just a bruise, or are you cut…?”
Earlier that morning, Asami had picked out a new pair of goggles to add to her uniform. “Just a small cut,” she said. “My goggles mostly flew off my face when I was kicked.”
Naga’s hand shifted and cupped Asami’s cheek. “Can you go see a healer?”
Asami blinked. “A healer… as in a waterbending healer?”
Naga pulled her hand back. “Yes?”
“Um…” Asami resisted the urge to pull Naga’s hand back to her face. “I’ve never been to see a waterbending healer.”
She watched Naga stare at her blankly for a moment, uncomprehending. After a beat, Naga asked, “Why not? If you’re The Satos, then surely you can afford it.”
“It’s not a matter of price,” Asami said. “It’s a, uh, bender thing…”
If she hadn’t felt conflicted about the exchange herself, Asami would have found Naga’s expression humorous. Her friend had clearly forgotten to keep certain facts in mind. She stammered, “Oh, uh, yeah. That,” and cleared her throat.
Naga seemed to take the slip-up as a cue to continue, however. “Sorry for forgetting,” she said, “You just don’t… seem especially Equalist-y.” She glanced away as she muttered, “Not most of the time anyway. Pro-bending matches and all.” She chewed on her lip for a moment. “I forgot that small things like that would be significant.”
Asami pursed her lips. “I’m… a special case, in some ways.”
“Oh?” Naga tilted her head, but still didn’t look at Asami.
Around them, the park was bright with late-morning sunlight. The cherry blossom trees for which the park was named had just begun to bloom though it would probably be another week or two before petals overtook the park.. The people she’d seen earlier, on the other side of the park, had moved on out of sight. Despite the sight of buildings beyond the edge of the park, the two of them were as alone as they were likely to get.
“You’re not an Equalist,” Asami stated. Naga opened her mouth to respond and Asami raised a hand. “Let me finish. Answer later.”
Naga’s lips tightened into a frown, but she nodded.
Asami continued, “I knew from the start that you weren’t a part of the organization. What I meant is… you’re not philosophically an Equalist. You were at The Revelation, but not as a supporter, even a casual one. You haven’t expressed any interest in wanting to join, even though you’ve had a couple different openings to ask me about it.
“Maybe because you do work for… someone. Something.” Asami’s eyes narrowed. “I ran into you scouting Tarrlok’s house. You’ve probed me for information. Subtly, but still.” Naga’s eyes dropped. “Between your comments at the pro-bending matches and the slip just now about waterbending healers... I take it your group doesn’t have an issue with benders?”
Asami had intended to keep going, to list all the small pieces of evidence. But, when her statement stopped partway and turned into a question, she let it hang there. Yes, she wanted to air all her suspicions, to clarify all her points. But… if she got just one answer out of Naga, she wanted it to be this one. From the start, her friend hadn’t proposed anything overly in favor of bending. She hadn’t voiced much anti-bending sentiment either. The neutrality grated against the polarized world Asami lived in day-to-day.
Naga seemed to measure her words carefully before responding. “It’s… complicated,” she said. “We… we don’t have an issue, in particular, with benders. You’re right in saying that I’m not philosophically Equalist, but…” She trailed off and chuckled. “I don’t know, we kind of have a problem with everybody, it feels like sometimes. Not infrequently with benders, though that’s on an individual basis.”
Immediately, Asami thought of Tarrlok. You didn’t need to be an Equalist to have issues with him on an individual basis. “I see,” she said. Her list of evidence came back to mind, a dozen different pieces she wanted to ask Naga about. But… she had to prioritize. The cut on her face throbbed and she grimaced. “Do you have a problem with Equalists?”
Naga put a hand on Asami’s shoulder. “Oh no,” she said. “No no no, by ‘everybody’ I really meant more like… worldwide. We have a lot of issues with a lot of people.”
Asami was still trying to parse out that answer when Naga hurried onward. “We’re, um, we’re anarchists. Basically. We’re largely anti-government and anti-structure.”
“So…” Asami mused, “you don’t have an issue with the Equalists right now. You probably have more issues with, say…” She thought of the moment she ran into Naga a couple days ago as she was escaping Tarrlok’s house. “Councilman Tarrlok, the council in general, and the police?” She hadn’t missed how Naga’s eyes always tracked the metalbending cops they passed in the street, or how she stiffened a little under the security check outside the pro-bending arena.
“That’s fairly accurate,” Naga said. A smile twitched at her lips. “We’re for freedom,” she said, “above all things. We believe in freedom for all, no matter the cost.”
Freedom. Asami pondered the word a moment. It was a principle she could agree in, absolutely. She supported the freedom for non-benders to live without fear in a world set against them. That was the point of the Equalist mission. However… the point of Equalizing the world was not in freedom for all.
Though Naga had said she didn’t have an issue with Equalists, Asami could sense a distance in her friend’s words. Right now the Equalists were the rebels. After the takeover of Republic City, she wasn’t sure she and Naga would feel the same anymore. Frankly, Asami wasn’t even sure how she’d feel about the rebels becoming the government.
“May I ask you a question?” Naga asked.
“Do you have a problem with Equalists?”
Asami hesitated a moment, then leaned her shoulder back out from under Naga’s hand. “I have a lot of problems with Equalists,” she admitted, “it… it comes with the territory of working together in an organization.” Her mother’s face came to mind, as well as a dozen people within the organization whose personal philosophies were just… too extreme for her.
She didn’t want benders broken. She just wanted them to stop oppressing non-benders. Amon’s mask came to mind, and the glint of eyes she could sometimes see behind it. Was that too much to ask, or too little to demand?
Naga sat back and pulled one knee up to her chest. “I meant organization-level conflict. Personal conflict will always exist, no matter how well-balanced a group.”
Asami didn’t answer for a long minute. A chill breeze swept through, rattling the tree branches. Around them, the sounds of city bustle felt distant. The park wasn’t that large, but it felt as though they could be alone there, completely apart from the rest of the world. Just for a moment, an hour maybe.
Decisions loomed on the horizon like Republic City’s skyline, waiting to sweep her away with their necessity and conflict.
Asami had already defied her orders once in sabotaging the Fire Ferrets’ capture. The arrival of the masked firebender had been a convenient cover, but but the actions she’d taken still stood out as treason in her mind. She’d criticized her mother the other day for laundering money from Future Industries for the Equalist cause. Was Asami much better, taking funds from her personal account, to bribe the pro-bending referees on behalf of the Wolfbats?
“Sometimes,” she began to speak. She stopped and cleared her throat, unable to meet Naga’s eyes. “Sometimes causes change,” she found herself saying. “I have been a part of the Equalists since I was a child.” Now that the answer had started, it felt like the right one, even if it wasn’t a direct response to the question. “After my father was… was murdered, my mother was broken and completely distraught. I was just a child, six years old, and suddenly my world had collapsed.
“Joining the Equalists, helping found the Equalists, was part of what saved us and pulled us out. At first, it was just us and a few others. Liu was there almost from the beginning, seventeen and hurt like we were. The group became an extension of our family…” She trailed off. It hadn’t felt that way for years, but she couldn’t have said exactly when the change happened. Was it with the arrival of Amon, or the steady drift from ineffectual political protest to their current strategy of highly effective terrorism?
“If you could be anyone,” Naga said, “who would you be? What would you be out there doing, if there was nothing in the way, no rules you were breaking, none of that?”
Asami pursed her lips and tried to imagine a world in which she wasn’t an Equalist. Honestly, she wasn’t sure what she would do with such an abundance of free time. “I’m not sure,” she said, “but if I were to hazard a guess, it would probably involve a lot of engineering.” Her mind drifted to the last invention she was working on for herself. It was the only ongoing project left of a dozen she’d scrapped along the way for lack of time. Maybe, in some other life, she had more time for them.
But she wasn’t about to spend the morning reflecting on a life she didn’t live. At least not alone. Asami’s eyes narrowed. “And what about you? If you weren’t a… what, traveling anarchist?” She paused and Naga made a face that said, ‘close enough’ and nodded. “If you weren’t living that life, what would you be doing with yourself?”
Naga’s eyes shifted slightly, focusing on a spot over Asami’s shoulder. “I… I can’t say, but probably… probably just lessons of a different kind.” She shrugged. “I’d still try to help people…” She rubbed the back of her neck. Asami got the sense that her friend had a more specific vision in mind, but didn’t feel like sharing it.
“How would you help people?” Asami asked.
A smile quirked at the corner of Naga’s lips. “Any way I could,” she said. “I would stop ‘observing’ and get out there to actually help people…” she trailed off. Asami though she’d leave it at that, but then Naga’s gaze hardened. “I’d help non-benders—fellow non-benders who aren’t Equalists or anyone special—evade the curfew police and stay out of the fight.” She leaned forward. “Don’t you worry about them too? The average citizens caught in the middle here? The non-benders who can’t help but get lumped in with you guys?”
A gust of wind rolled through, cooler than before. Asami shivered. “Yes,” she said, “I do.” The words came out more terse than she’d intended, but she didn’t correct her tone. “I worry about them all the time, and that’s why I’m an Equalist. Once we’re done, once everything is as it should be, those people will be safe. The city will be in balance.”
Asami noticed Naga twitch at the word ‘balance’ before she sat back. “Do you… truly and honestly believe that the Equalist culminating action will bring balance?”
It took effort to fight the jerk response to say, ‘yes,’ without thought. But… Asami paused, and she thought about it. She had so many moral compunctions with the Equalists’ slow drift into extremism. With the kidnapping and torture they subjected to captured benders, mostly average citizens, could they call themselves a rebellion of the people? Even if they rid the city of benders, what was the end-result? The nations of the world surely wouldn’t stand for it.
They’d been out of balance since Amon joined. Under him, the Equalist agenda started spiraling farther and farther away from their original purpose. When she was a child, Liu had told her that he hated benders, sure, but more than that he hated how their world had been shaped to cater to them. At least at first, he hadn’t wanted equality by cutting down benders to the non-bender level. The Equalist goal was to raise awareness of inequalities so they could be fixed. The goal was to make society adapt and start treating non-benders the same as benders.
“No, I don’t think so,” Asami whispered. She hugged a knee up to her chest. “Things… things got off-track at some point. Less about fixing societal problems and more about hate.” She closed her eyes. “And there is a place for hate. I hate ‘benders’ as a group because they discriminate against me and hurt me, because my father was killed by one.” She ran a hand through her hair, processing her feelings as she voiced them aloud. “But you know I don’t hate Sakari, Mako, or Bolin. I’m even glad that they got away. They’re good people, benders or not. I hate Tahno, but that’s because he’s a bully who abuses his powers for his own means. If he were a non-bender, I’d still hate him on virtue of him being an asshole…” She trailed off.
If her mother could hear her now… Asami shuddered to think of it.
“I’m not saying this is what you’re saying,” Naga began, “but, um, if you ever need an ‘out’ or something, if you ever need help with anything outside of your control… I would help you?” Her voice ended the statement on an upswing, but then she cleared her throat and continued firmly. “If you need to go, if your disagreements take you too far, I would help you get out,” she said. “Or if you just needed help with one thing you disagreed with them on. Anything.”
Asami’s first reaction was to disavow any possible inclination she had toward running. But… Naga had already seen through that. There was no point in pretending everything was fine. She sighed. “I… am in some ways disinclined to carry out our plans to their eventual extreme, but I have to trust in the plan.” She paused. “Thank you for the offer, I should have said. But… I don’t even know what this anarchist group of yours is about. If you helped me escape, where would I go?” Asami pulled her knee closer to her chest. “My whole life is wrapped up in this movement, for better or worse. My family, my job, basically all my acquaintances.”
“Except me,” Naga added. Though she brightened while she said it and flashed Asami a smile, the grin didn’t reach her eyes.
“Except you,” Asami said. “And… thank you, truly.” She chewed on her lip for a moment. “For you, Naga… you can tell me anything. No matter what.” She sat forward and put a hand on Naga’s shoulder. “Our friendship is… complicated. I’m not really in the position to make friends right now, but you and I have anyway and I don’t want to let go of that.”
Naga put a hand over Asami’s. “Me neither,” she whispered.
“You can tell me anything,” Asami said. Her smile tightened. “Even if it’s something the Equalists would disapprove of. Your secrets will be my secrets.”
After staring at Asami for a long moment, Naga opened her mouth. She breathed in, but words seemed to catch in her throat on the exhale. Asami saw something stir in her friend’s blue eyes, but the moment extended with nothing said.
Asami withdrew her hand and sat back. She turned and tried to focus on the park, but Naga occupied her thoughts. She resisted the urge to turn back and take the statement back. If it was something important, could she really trust herself not to say anything.
A harsh blush streaked across her cheeks. Asami hadn’t kept Sakari’s secrets, to disastrous effect. Who was she to claim she could keep Naga’s?
She only noticed Naga had moved closer when she leaned her head against Asami’s shoulder, looping a hand through her arm. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Asami’s muscles relaxed after a moment. She wasn’t sure whether she would be able to keep Naga’s secrets, but damn if she wouldn’t try, whenever her friend started sharing them with her. “You steady me,” she said impulsively. “When I’m around you, I remember that there’s more to life than just fighting all the time.”
It wasn’t until she said it that Asami realized that was her own sort of secret. She was still puzzling that when Naga cleared her throat.
Her voice seemed to catch on the wind, coming breathily to Asami’s ears. “When I’m with you,” she said, “I feel more free.”
They sat in comfortable silence for a long minute. Asami watched a distant figure cross from one side of the park to the other. Eventually, she asked, “Is that a secret?”
Naga nodded into her shoulder. “I think so,” she said.
Asami smiled and pulled her arm out of Naga’s grasp so she could loop it over her shoulders. “I won’t tell a soul.”
* * *
“Is this everything?” Mako wasn’t sure if he was relieved the packing was done or if the feeling was more like disbelief. Surely they owned more in the world than the small pile of boxes and patched bags by the door.
“I think so,” Bolin said, carrying over their one good pan. It had a dent in it, which was why the seller had agreed to lower the price. Pabu popped out of a box and scurried up to perch on Bolin’s shoulder when he packed the pan away.
Mako was almost sad to say the apartment didn’t look all that different, now that they’d packed up. He and Bolin had never been much for decorating, but he’d thought the place would look at least a little changed by their presence and, now, departure. Instead, the barren room just seemed to emphasize that they’d never really belonged there.
“I’m all packed,” Sakari said. She had even less. While he and Bolin had packed up the apartment, she’d spent the time repeatedly rearranging her rucksack, the same water tribe bag she’d brought to the city in the first place.
Mako bit his lip. He’d taken the kid into his care. From the weeks she’d stayed with them, she didn’t have anything to take away but her pro-bending uniform, carefully folded and placed on top.
Everyone jumped at the sound of a knock on the door.
Mako hand-signaled for Bolin and Sakari to align themselves along the inside wall as he approached the door. If an enemy came straight at him, they would be out of line of attack.
Mako kindled a bit of flame in his hand and braced his foot just an inch back from the door. In the corner of his eye, he saw Sakari pull a stream of water from the bottle she’d strapped to her belt.
“Who is it?” he called.
The visitor hesitated a moment before answering, as if they expected Mako to open the door first. “I’m a messenger from Tenzin,” she responded.
Mako heard Bolin and Sakari breath a sigh of relief. Before coming to the arena for their things, they’d stopped by the docks and sent word to Air Temple Island that they were safe after the attack on the arena, but out of a home. It stung his pride a bit to come begging at Tenzin’s door for help, but Mako knew it was the best course of action at the moment.
If no message had come back, either because they weren’t welcome or because Tenzin hadn’t fared so well after the attack, well, Mako would have figured out somewhere else for them to go.
Thankfully, he didn’t have to. Mako unbolted the door and extinguished the flame in his hand. He opened the a crack to reveal an air acolyte, one he distantly recognized from their last visit to Air Temple Island.
After a beat, he opened the door all the way. “Sorry for the caution,” he said. “Tenzin sent you?”
“Yes, and with the utmost haste,” she said, stepping inside. “He says the three of you are welcome to stay on Air Temple Island under the hospitality of his family and sent me, along with some others downstairs, to help move your things.”
Bolin gestured at the small pile. “We probably don’t need more help than you, actually.”
If the acolyte was surprised at their lack of belongings, she didn’t show it. “Are you ready to go then? Master Tenzin asked me to conduct you there with all haste as these are dangerous times.” She nodded toward Mako, and he smiled, glad she hadn’t taken his caution at the door personally or anything.
“I think so,” Mako said, glancing around the room as he picked up his stuff. Sakari had picked up her bag, but seemed anxious, bouncing on her toes. Mako frowned. “You okay kid?”
She nodded, paused, then shook her head and turned toward the acolyte. “Sorry Ms. Acolyte, but is Jinora okay?”
The words fell out in a tumble, but the acolyte seemed to understand well enough. She nodded. “Jinora is fine,” she said. “Though a bit shaken from last night. I do not know specifics.”
Sakari heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” she said. “I’m ready to go.”
“Me too,” Mako said.
He glanced at Bolin, who was absently petting Pabu. His brother was looking the other way, across the place they’d called home for the past several years, the place he’d earned through honesty and perseverance. The view of Air Temple Island and the bay was great from here.
“Bro,” Mako called softly.
Pabu made a noise and tilted his head at Bolin, who turned back slowly. “I’m ready,” he said.
Mako didn’t believe him, but they had to leave anyway. “Let’s head out then.”
The acolyte led them downstairs, where Naga refused to let any of the acolytes touch her until Sakari introduced them. From there, it was a short enough trip to the docks, with their few belongings parceled out to the accompanying acolytes. Then everybody piled in a boat and they set off on their way.
As they approached the island, Mako recognized Tenzin and Pema standing on the docks and the dust clouds from three air scooters racing down the steps. By the time they arrived, the airbender children were all standing with their parents. Jinora leaned anxiously against her mother until she caught sight of Sakari, half-hidden behind Naga’s bulk.
Sakari started racing toward the airbender family even before the ship had finished docking. She nearly tackled Jinora with her embrace, a stream of words racing from her mouth. Mako caught “Are you okay?” and “I was so worried” before turning his attention to Tenzin and Pema.
“Thank you so much for letting us stay here,” he said.
“It is no problem at all,” Tenzin responded.
“We were so worried when we saw that Equalist airship hovering over the arena,” Pema added. “Naga raced off before we could stop her. I’m glad that you she found her way back to you unharmed.”
“We’re lucky she found us,” Bolin said. “Helped us make our dramatic escape.”
Mako managed a strained smile at that. He could do with a little less drama in his life. And fewer escapes too, while they were at it. He wasn’t sure how they’d have managed without Naga’s help last night.
Sakari and Jinora were still inseparable, speaking in hushed tones a few feet away.
Tenzin cleared his throat. “If you’ll follow us, we will show you to your new quarters.”
“Right.” Mako nodded and turned to retrieve his belongings only to find that the air acolytes were already in the process of carting them up the stairs to the temple. A part of him wanted to protest, but the others were already following Tenzin up the steps.
At the top of the stairs, Tenzin hesitated and exchanged a few quiet words with Pema. She corralled Ikki and Meelo with a few words, but failed to snag Jinora, who glared and looped her arm through Sakari’s at the suggestion she leave. Pema pursed her lips, looked at Tenzin for a moment, then sighed and started herding her children back toward the main building.
Tenzin turned to Mako and Bolin. “The two of you are welcome here,” he said, “but Sakari should really go home now, back to the South Pole.” He sighed. “Republic City is not a safe place at the moment, especially considering what I’ve heard about the events down below during the Equalist assault on the arena.”
Sakari opened her mouth to interrupt and Tenzin held up a hand. “Wait a moment,” he said. “I also have a letter for you. Your parents have written again. They are not able to easily leave the South Pole, considering your father’s position, but they will come north to collect you soon, if you do not return of your own volition.” He pulled an envelope out of his robes and held it out.
Snatching it, Sakari grimaced. She skimmed it for a few moments, then crumpled it up. “So when are Pema, Jinora, Ikki, and Meelo leaving?” she asked.
“What?” Tenzin blinked.
“We’re not,” Jinora said firmly.
“If it’s so dangerous here, then why aren’t you sending your family to the South Pole to be with Master Katara?” She crossed her arms. “And if my parents come to Republic City, I’ll deal with them then.”
Before Tenzin could respond, Mako cleared his throat. “If Amon wants to rid the world of benders, this tidy pile of the Last Four Airbenders would be quite the target,” he said.
He felt bad a moment later when Tenzin’s face paled. In the corner of his eye, Mako saw Jinora shrink back a little. He really hadn’t meant to suggest there was a direct threat to their family.
“Events… have not yet reached a point where I would send my family away from me,” Tenzin admitted. He tugged his beard. “Though… should it reach that point, could I count on you to go with them?”
Sakari’s mouth pulled into a deeper frown, and she seemed disinclined to agree with him until Jinora tugged her arm. She cast Sakari a questioning look.
“If it gets that bad, I would go with them,” Sakari said.
Tenzin nodded. “Thank you, Sakari.”
Bolin nodded. “And not to butt in here, but Mako and I would be up to go along too, help protect everybody.”
Mako smiled. “Definitely.”
A layer of tension dropped from Tenzin’s face. “Thank you both,” he said.
“The White Lotus guys on the island are cool and all,” Bolin said, “but having some extra security around, out of uniform, hanging out with the kids… see, we’re super useful to have around!” He grinned. “Undercover, and we don’t even need disguise mustaches.”
Tenzin chuckled before explaining to the group how the men and women slept in separate buildings on the island and dividing their party up. Mako wondered however, as Tenzin led him and Bolin to their room, if his brother’s suggestion had been a joke or a statement of security. Tenzin and the folks on Air Temple Island were nice enough, but Mako and Bolin had been tossed more than a few times when their usefulness dried up.
If guarding the airbender kids kept a roof over him and Bolin, Mako was more than happy to do it. Thankfully, they already liked the kids well enough, and it would basically be double-duty with protecting Sakari too.
Mako cleared his throat. “I’m a little concerned actually, with having Sakari so far away in the other building. Is she gonna be safe?”
Tenzin laughed outright. It was a strange sound. “Oh she’s very safe,” he said. “When Jinora found out the three of you were moving to the island, she insisted that she and Sakari share a room. Between the two of them, you probably won’t find a more protected pair of 11 and 13 year olds.”
“You’re probably right,” Bolin said.
It was the work of a few minutes for the three of them to unpack Mako and Bolin’s belongings into the room. At first, Mako felt a bit self-conscious about their lack of property. But Tenzin didn’t express even the barest hint of judgement and then Mako remembered that the Air Nomads were kind of minimalist anyway. The room he and Bolin were sharing wasn’t the largest thing, but it easily fit all their possessions.
Tenzin hummed to himself as they finished unpacking. “I read the news and received a variety of reports last night after the attack,” he said. “So I must ask: what do you know about this… Blue Spirit who aided you last night?”
Mako and Bolin exchanged a glance, then shrugged in unison. “Nothing,” Mako said. “I mean, she was… maybe a bit shorter than Bolin?”
“She was a firebender,” Bolin added. “If we knew any more we’d be writing her a thank-you card.”
“Yes…” Tenzin mused. “Thank you. I am… concerned about the Equalist threat. I would be lying to say I was not also concerned about this Blue Spirit character, who seems to be a fan of former Fire Lord Zuko’s early work, but I am also grateful for her role in protecting you and Sakari last night.”
“Same,” Mako said. They started walking down the hall. “So what happened up the stands with you and Jinora last night?”
Tenzin’s steps faltered a moment, but he pressed on. “I was standing with Police Chief Beifong when we were ambushed by Equalists with electrified gloves.”
“That sounds uncomfortable,” Bolin said. “We didn’t even get hit directly and I can tell you that.”
“Indeed,” Tenzin said. “No direct harm came to Jinora, but… she was sitting in the stands right behind us.” He sighed. “The events from last night have… shaken her. My family has not been exposed to much direct violence, living as we do on the island.”
Bolin opened the door to the courtyard. “Makes sense.”
“It was incredibly frightening for her,” Tenzin continued. “As best I understand, she sat, frozen, after I went down. She came to my side at some point, as I woke up several minutes later with her clinging to me, crying.” He sighed again, deeper this time, and stopped walking. “May I ask the both of you a favor?”
Mako stopped walking and paused. “Sure,” he said.
Bolin nodded. “What can we do?”
“Since last night, Jinora has expressed interest in more… practical training.” Tenzin pursed his lips. “The two of you seem to be a natural fit for such a course of study.”
“So… you want us to work with Jinora on pro-bending combat drills?” Bolin asked. A smile hinted at the corner of his mouth.
“Noooo,” Tenzin said. His frown deepened. “Just… advanced practical dodging techniques.”
Mako saw Bolin’s half-smile widen a little and he interjected before Bolin could push the issue. “We’ll be working with both the girls on a little more self-defense,” he said.
Tenzin’s shoulders dropped some of their tension. “Thank you,” he said. He tugged his robes. “Now, I need to get back to Republic City. The Council has a meeting and I suspect I will be arguing with Tarrlok from now until past dinnertime.”
They said goodbye and parted ways. Around the back of the main building, by the spinning practice gates, Mako and Bolin found Jinora sitting with Sakari. The girls had clearly been talking and, while they still seemed upset, Mako thought the both of them seemed a bit more settled.
“Hey you two,” Bolin said, sitting down beside them.
“Hey,” Sakari said. She leaned against his shoulder.
Mako sat down on Jinora’s other side. “You okay, kid?” he asked.
Jinora averted her eyes, but nodded.
Mako opened his mouth, but before he could start bringing up some sort of lesson, Sakari stood up. “We should practice together,” she said. She strode forward a few steps before turning around. The wind whipped her bangs to the side. “The pro-bending season is over, but the real fight is just beginning.”
Beside him, Jinora shrunk down and hugged her knees to her chest. “I doubt this is the last time we’ll be up against the Equalists,” she said. “I want to be ready. We should be ready.”
Bolin jumped up and slung an arm around Sakari’s shoulders. “Let’s get started on some drills then!” he said. “Next time, the Equalists won’t know what hit them.”
Mako’s heart weighed heavily as they walked toward the open training grounds. Jinora and Sakari were just kids. But, when he saw their expressions, it gave him pause. Mako remembered that face on himself, too young.
He’d give anything to keep them out of this situation somehow. And yet… they were asking him for instruction, for guidance and ways to fight back against a world that had it out for them.
Kids shouldn’t have to fight. Not outside of the arena. But he would never deny them the training to do so, not when they were asking for it.
“Alright, Jinora,” he said, “what are you looking for in this training. What do you want to get out of this?”
She paused, uncertain. After a long moment, her expression hardened. “I saw my father taken down, right in front of me. I was too shocked to move. I… I don’t ever want to freeze up again. If I’d been ready, I could have taken out the Equalist before he got to my father.”
“Reflexes and instincts,” Mako said. “Got it. Pushing past the freeze response.”
“If… if I’d protected him,” Jinora continued, “then we could have fought off the Equalists together.” She looked down. “I don’t want to fight alone.”
Sakari threw an arm over Jinora’s shoulders. “You won’t ever have to,” she said. “We’ve got all four elements now. The Equalists won’t see it coming!”
Jinora sniffled, but she was grinning. “I think we’re the first four-element team since my grandfather’s original Team Avatar,” she said.
“Then clearly, we’re destined for great things,” Bolin declared, ruffling both girls’ hair. “Let’s get practicing! Maybe by next pro-bending season, we can get you in as an airbender!”
* * *
Korra crouched on a rooftop, away from the edge so the streetlights wouldn’t catch her. Her fingers picked at the Blue Spirit mask and she had to resist the urge to put it on just yet.
She didn’t want to arbitrarily attack the police, anarchist or not.
As she watched the scene unfold below her, however, the possibility felt less and less arbitrary. Tarrlok’s task force had been called down on an after-curfew meeting of non-benders. They’d been gathering in the basement of a teriyaki shop for weeks now, according to the conversation Korra had eavesdropped on.
Apparently they weren’t Equalists either, which had intrigued her enough to investigate further. Unfortunately, the police seemed to have a heads-up about the meeting as well. While Korra was approaching the shop, she spotted some task force members closing in and moved to the roof to observe.
Her frown tightened as the task force, led by Tarrlok himself, signaled each other to break into the shop at three different points. They stayed silent inside for a long moment, followed by screams of terror as she heard them breach the basement.
Korra closed her eyes and scowled and she raised the mask to her face. As she tied it, white light started waxing through her closed eyelids.
She blinked her eyes open and found herself in a vision. A younger Sokka, maybe 15, was shaking his head. “No, we can't waste our time here. We have a bigger mission that we need to stay focused on. These people are on their own.”
Katara chased after him and grabbed his shoulder. “These people are starving! But you'd turn your back on them?” She put her hands on her hips. “How can you be so cold and heartless?”
Her view shifted, and Korra could see Aang approaching them.
“I’m not turning my back, I'm just being realistic. We can't go around helping every rinky-dink town we wander into.” Sokka’s voice firmed. “We'll be helping them all by taking out the Fire Lord.” The vision jittered, jumping to another point, and Sokka continued, “You know our mission has to come first.”
The next images came in flashes, bits and pieces that seemed to suggest a mysterious person was helping the town. The townspeople referred to ‘The Painted Lady’ as their savior.
When the vision steadied again, Korra could see Aang standing with a disguised Katara, who had hidden her face behind a broad hat and veil.
Aang’s jaw had dropped open. “You're the Painted Lady? But how?”
“I wasn't her at first, I was just trying to help the village.” Katara took the hat off. “But since everyone thought that's who I was anyway, I guess I just kinda became her.”
The vision jumped, and then Katara’s hat was on the ground. “I can't believe you lied to everyone, so you could help these people,” Aang said.
Katara looked down. “I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't have…”
Aang’s voice brightened, and the vision drew Korra closer. “No, I think it's great! You're like a secret hero!”
The words lingered with emphasis before the vision faded out into white, then back to the nighttime streets of Republic City.
Korra grinned. “Glad to know you approve,” she whispered.
Down below, Tarrlok’s task force was corralling the non-benders from the meeting away from the building, using an earthbender to make barriers.
But they’d only left two to do that. The rest of the task force was still in the building, probably sorting through evidence and trying to fix it to look like they’d nabbed some Equalists.
Stopping an unfair arrest seemed like something a secret hero would do. Korra grinned as she checked her mask. The task force would never see her coming. And if they did, well, spiritual retribution was something she’d like them to think on a little bit, once they woke up.
She dropped down from the edge of the roof. Unseen earthbending silenced her landing. Fire kindled in her hands as she rushed up on the guards. The only warning they had was the widening eyes of the non-benders they were guarding, but the task force had proven itself more than capable of ignoring that segment of the population.