Chapter 17: The Runaway
( everyone where they chose to be; nobody where they ought to be)
Korra woke up in the dirt and pushed herself off the ground. A hazy sunrise reflected off a nearby building. She sighed. Time to move.
Grabbing her bag, found yesterday in a dumpster, from under a porch where she’d stashed it, Korra straightened her clothes and tried to look presentable.
At some point in the chaos of her fight with Amon, her sleeve had ripped across her bicep. Korra had attempted to keep the black shirt together, but it didn’t seem to be doing so well on that front. After a moment’s hesitation, she took out her knife and cut the rest of it off, tugging what remained of the sleeve down over her tattoo.
Zaheer’s warnings about recognizability drifted through her mind and she steadily ignored his voice as she trimmed the other sleeve to match.
Just because it was good advice didn’t mean she had to imagine it coming from him.
Yesterday, she’d traveled around the city easily enough, mostly by rooftop. The United Forces and police had been mopping up Equalist cells all over the city, and nobody really had time to take note of a black-clothed figure who wasn’t bothering anybody.
Korra unconsciously reached into her bag, fingertips brushing the energybending scroll. It had taken her hours to get to its hiding spot, but she needed to have it with her. There would be no point to stealing the thing if she couldn’t try to use it. Try to fix everything.
Before she pulled her hand out of the bag, Korra’s hand bumped against the Blue Spirit mask hidden there too. She stiffened, as if someone were watching her, then forced herself to relax.
Blending in today would mean fewer rooftops and more sidewalks. Korra ducked down a few side alleys into the Dragon Flats borough. Here, her torn clothing meant she fit in well enough, but the black stealth clothes felt conspicuous on the street.
A couple blocks in, Korra spied a water tribe woman carrying a basket of laundry home from the cleaners.
After a little cajoling, Korra managed to spend a few coins and buy a robe that wasn’t too tattered. The woman was a bit shorter than her, but Korra relaxed as soon as she pulled the robe on over her black shirt and pants. She didn’t look so different now from the people around her. Plus, it was getting colder and the extra layer was a welcome addition.
Next, she’d need a base of operations. Between the weather and the police, she’d be better off inside than outside. In most of the cities the Red Lotus passed through, she and Ghazan would pick the house they’d squat in. Korra was scoping out an abandoned house and steadily refusing to think about the Red Lotus when a sound gave her pause.
Listening closer, Korra frowned. It sounded like… music.
She made a note of the house’s location and set off toward the noise. Something about it felt irresistible, this small sign of humanity and celebration in the midst of the chaos.
It was a thin sound, not overly polished. Still, it was… festive. The melody seemed at odds with the run-down neighborhood, with the city’s broken spirit. As Korra drew closer, she recognized the sound of a Water Tribe-styled flute.
She rounded a corner and found the source. A child (maybe seven?) sitting in front of a rickety house, was playing the tune. Up on a ladder, a woman in her 30s was hanging a row of paper lanterns across the house’s porch.
It felt absurd. Korra stopped and watched them for a minute, trying to figure it out. They were clearly preparing for a celebration of some sort. In the middle of the city’s tragedy, they were decorating and playing music. Passersby would glance at them, then hurry on their way.
The woman on the ladder leaned over, reaching out to try and place one more lantern. Her balance wavered and Korra’s heart skipped a beat as she watched the woman yelp and grab the roof for balance.
Before she quite knew it, Korra was across the street. “Do you need a hand?” she called, reaching out to steady the ladder.
The little boy stopped playing his flute and looked up at the woman. The woman on the ladder glanced down at Korra, surprised, before clambering down to greet her, lantern still in-hand. “For a moment, perhaps,” she admitted. “Would you brace the ladder for me?”
“Of course.” Korra dropped her bag by the porch and helped move the ladder over so the next batch of lanterns could be hung. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather I climb up instead…?”
“No, no, that’s just fine.” The woman collected the lanterns on one arm as the boy started playing his flute again, the same tune as before. Korra suspected it might be the only one he knew.
Korra braced the ladder as the woman climbed up. At the top, she nodded. “Oh that’s much better.” She smiled down at Korra. “Thank you, stranger. What’s your name?”
“Uh.” Korra blinked. “Naga,” she said, unable to think of a better cover. “How about you?”
“My name is Jia,” the woman replied. She nodded toward the boy playing the flute. “And that’s my son, Hai.”
He stopped playing the flute at the sound of his name, looking up at Korra curiously. “Naga sounds like a dog’s name,” he said.
“Hai! Apologize!” Jia sounded mortified.
Korra chuckled and smiled at the kid. It took all of her concentration not to think of Sakari. “I get that a lot, actually,” she said.
Hai’s prompted apology segued into a lecture from Jia on not making fun of people’s names. By the end of it, Hai seemed genuinely sorry, correcting his earlier statement by saying that Naga sounded like the name of a really nice and great dog.
Before Jia could correct him again, Korra cut in. “So what are you decorating for, anyway?”
They’d finished hanging the last batch of lanterns. Jia climbed down and looked up at her work with approval. “We’re getting ready for the Glacier Spirits Festival,” she said with pride. “My wife is from the Southern Water Tribe and has celebrated every year since she left. We’re not about to stop now.”
Korra blinked. She felt short of breath. “Even… even with everything that’s happened?” she heard herself ask.
A shadow passed over Jia’s expression. “Sometimes it’s when things are darkest that you most need the guidance and light,” she said. “I’m not sure if the festival can give it to us, but if we stop seeking it out, we give up.”
The wind shifted, a chilly breeze, and Korra caught a whiff of cooking from the house. Her mouth immediately watered at the scent of seaweed noodles and five-flavor soup. Unsure how to respond to Jia’s statement, she found herself asking, “do you, uh, need any more preparation help?”
Jia breathed in, and Korra saw a smile touch her face at the smell of the cooking. Her eyes appraised Korra, lingering on the blue trim of her worn robe. “Anyu could probably use another pair of hands in the kitchen,” she said. “Why don’t you come in?”
A weight Korra hadn’t noticed lifted from her chest and shoulders. “Thank you,” she said, grabbing her bag from in front of the house.
“Please don’t mess up mom’s food,” Hai said gravely as he put his flute away in an old seal-leather sleeve. Looking at it again, Korra guessed that the instrument was far older than the child playing it. She’d developed an eye for Water Tribe original pieces over the years. Mostly from stealing them.
“I won’t mess up the food,” Korra said, chuckling. “Or at least I’ll try not to.” Jia cast an amused eye back as she opened the door and waved the two of them in.
The inside was shabby, but well-loved and with good bones. From what Korra could recall, the Dragon Flats used to be a nice enough neighborhood during the first wave of Republic City’s development. Since then, it had run downhill. That the house had a main room and two bedrooms marked it a cut above the abandoned shack Korra had been scoping out earlier.
At a thick wooden table, a young girl, a year or two older than Hai, was cutting seaweed into strips. She looked up sharply when the door opened and her expression tightened at the sight of Korra. Fear and anger passed over her face before she ducked her head back down to focus on her task.
The kitchen took up one of the room’s walls with lots of counter space, although not all of it was level. An older woman, maybe 40, turned when the door opened. Cooking steam had set her hair in a faint frizzy halo around her face, which crinkled with a smile towards Hai and Jia.
The woman, who must be Jia’s wife, tilted her head as Korra followed sheepishly behind them.
“Naga, this is Anyu, my wife. Hai’s sister, Hotaru, is the kid at the table.” Jia gestured to the two of them in turn. Hai ran in and immediately grabbed for a piece of seaweed his sister was cutting. She pulled it out of reach and cast him a glare.
“A guest?” Anyu chuckled. “It must be a festival then,” she said.
“Naga here was helping me hang the lanterns,” Jia explained. Korra smiled and tried to project helpfulness as she debated if she should set down her bag or not. “Could you use another pair of hands in the kitchen?”
A note of exasperation touched Anyu’s face. Jia struck Korra as the type of person who routinely brought in stray animals off the street. Korra felt very much like a stray dog of some sort, unsure where she should go without her usual family at hand.
“If she’s already helped out, she’s more than earned an invite to the table,” Anyu said after a beat.
Jia smiled and skipped over to place a kiss on Anyu’s cheek. “Thanks darling. I’ll be back in a moment.” And then she swept back out the door on some errand, pulling Hai away from the seaweed on her way, leaving Korra alone in the house.
“Can you cook?” Anyu asked Korra. Her gaze touched on Korra’s water tribe robe, her hair and complexion. A smile touched her lips. “It’s alright if you can’t very much, I just need to know what I can have you do.”
“Oh, uh,” Korra cast an anxious eye toward the various dishes in the midst of being prepared. “I’m a fair hand in the kitchen I just, um, don’t have a lot of experience making Water Tribe food.” She dropped her eyes. Ming-Hua did the least amount of cooking in the Red Lotus. Lots of fishing though.
“I’ll take care of the hard parts,” Anyu said. No trace of judgement touched her face. Korra was grateful for that. “In the meantime, you can cut the octopus. We want bite-sized pieces.” She thrust an octopus, a knife, and a worn cutting board into Korra’s hands.
Hotaru was still solidly ignoring Korra. A wave of anxiety and mistrust rolled off the child, giving Korra pause as she set up to cut to octopus at a corner of the kitchen counter. Once she’d set up a good rhythm of chopping, Korra pushed her mind toward the spiritual plane on a hunch.
Immediately, she winced. Her own spiritual self was wildly out-of-balance. Zaheer would be so disappointed. But Korra could hardly stand to look at herself since coming out of the Avatar State.
In the physical realm, her hands faltered. Korra took a breath to steady herself. She didn’t need to do painful introspection in order to take a peek at Hotaru.
Like Ming-Hua, Hotaru’s spirit seemed oddly contained. Korra could see the flickering core of earth and stone within the girl, but something had rendered it out of reach.
The sound of Anyu’s voice and Korra’s aching heart pulled her back from the spiritual realm. She pushed Hotaru and Amon out of mind, giving all her focus to the task at hand and Anyu’s voice.
“—always reminds me of home. I’ve lived here over twenty years, believe it or not. Jia and I took the kids south to see my mother one year and we could hardly recognize the festival.” She chuckled.
“Was it weird to see the tradition had changed?” Korra asked, sliding a pile of finished octopus pieces to the side.
Anyu pursed her lips. “Yes and no,” she said. “Traditions change. It’s foolish to resist time, although I think it could use a bit of guidance sometime.” Her gaze felt piercing as she met Korra’s eyes. “Do your folks celebrate the festival away from the south?”
Korra shook her head. “Not really. I… I can’t even remember celebrating it as a kid. I was too young when we, uh, left.” Ming-Hua’s family was from the Southern Water Tribe, but she’d grown up away from it too, and they’d never visited Water Tribe lands on their travels, so it didn’t exactly come up much.
Anyu peered around Korra’s shoulder—she was too short to peer over—and nodded in approval at her cutting job. “Nicely done so far,” she said. “I hope you enjoy your first Glacier Spirits Festival. We don’t have a glacier here, and not so much in the way of games like the festival down south is sporting nowadays, but we do light a couple candles for the spirits. We scrounge up some music and lanterns every year. Hai only knows his one song, but it’s nice enough.”
“The music is actually what brought me here,” Korra admitted. “I heard it and couldn’t help but walk over… It just seemed impossible, I guess. Everything is…” she made a vague hand gesture.
“Chaotic?” Anyu supplied.
Korra glanced away. “Yeah… it’s so messed up. But there was music, coming from somewhere, and it made me think that there must be something right, something good and okay, somewhere in the city.” She finished cutting the octopus and her shoulders sagged.
This was all her fault. Republic City, the chaos, the haunted looks in the people’s faces that she’d passed.
“Alright next step,” Anyu said. Her tone had warmed since Korra finished prepping the octopus.
As kitchen prep continued, Korra found she couldn’t wallow too long. Anyu just kept her too busy to do so. When she did manage a stray thought, she spared them for Sakari, wondering if her sister celebrated the festival. Where was she? Was she safe? Had Sakari ever seen the festival the way it was now, with games and carnival rides? What was Korra supposed to do, show up at Air Temple Island and say, ‘hey sis, it’s me!’
Then Jia came back with candles and Hai played his one song again as they set the table. Hotaru dashed into the room that she and Hai shared to put on her one nice robe for dinner.
Lighting the candles, Anyu led the offering. She placed aside some of the food they’d prepared, along with a few handmade items. Standing while the rest of them sat cross-legged at the table, she began.
“Though we are far from the glaciers, we know the spirit world is closest on the solstice.”
Korra blinked. She’d hardly realized it was the solstice already.
“As our worlds pass each other, close but out of reach, we present these offerings and an invitation to our feast for any spirits passing through,” Anyu continued. She glanced again at the offerings clustered around the candles. Korra thought she caught a flash of self-consciousness cross the woman’s face.
“We don’t have a lot to offer,” Anyu said, ad-libbing hurriedly, “but we still offer our hospitality and warmth. A blessing on visitors to our house.” She turned and bowed toward the door, which prompted the rest of them to get to their feet and do so as well. A gesture to honor the spirits who might come by.
They sat down and began to eat. Korra’s stomach had been grumbling for hours at this point. The food was twice as good as she’d hoped it would be while she’d been helping. As she spooned warm five-flavor soup into her mouth, the tension seemed to melt off of Korra’s shoulders.
“Are there any other blessings we would like to invoke?” Anyu asked, breaking the silence once they’d all been eating for a minute or two.
“A blessing on you, my darling, for the amazing food!” Jia leaned over and kissed her wife’s cheek.
A charming blush touched Anyu’s cheeks as she smiled and shook her head. “In that case, a blessing on kind strangers.” She looked across the table and Korra. “For being part of our celebration today and for helping with the preparation.”
“For reminding us,” Jia added, “that this darkness will pass. That our visitors need not be spirits in order for them to bring a blessing to our house.”
“And keeping mom from falling off the ladder,” Hai added, giggling. Jia wrinkled her nose at him.
For a moment, Korra couldn’t find her words. “I just… no, but.” She took a breath. “All the thanks should be to you,” she insisted. “You’re the kind strangers. You don’t know the first thing about me, but you’ve taken me in and fed me and made me feel welcome.”
“The festival is meant to welcome visiting spirits, passing close to our world,” Anyu said, “but we would be ridiculous not to welcome guests on the physical plane too.”
“A blessing on your house and family then,” Korra said. The shabby residence felt resplendent now. Korra could hardly remember the last time she’d felt so at-home.
Anyu and Jia thanked her, and then it was Hai’s turn. He smiled hesitantly across the table at his sister. “Can I do a blessing for Hotaru?” he asked.
Hotaru glanced up. Though she’d been as quiet as the rest of them, she hadn’t eaten nearly as much as Korra would have thought. She shrugged at her brother.
“Of course you can,” Jia said, casting an encouraging look toward Hai.
“Then… a blessing for her too.” His smile wavered, but he forged on. “It’s really hard right now, but it’ll get better.”
Hotaru managed a ghost of a smile, and Anyu thanked Hai for his blessing. Jia reached out and patted Hotaru’s shoulder.
Something about their response felt odd. Briefly, and abruptly, Korra found herself reminded of Zaheer.
Before she could push him from her mind, she remembered how he’d looked the morning after Amon took Ming-Hua’s bending. Not callous, but uncomprehending.
Hotaru was the only bender in the family. Had been the only bender in the family.
Her deep-seated rage against Amon, the desire to see him crushed to dust, stirred in the deepest oceans of her feelings. Korra took a breath and let the emotion settle.
“Would you like to offer a blessing, Hotaru?” Jia asked. Her voice was gentle and kind.
The girl looked up from her food and briefly glared at Korra.
If it had been within her power, Korra would have vanished from the house. Jia and Anyu had been kind to her, kind beyond measure, but Korra wished it hadn’t come at the cost of invading Hotaru’s safe space.
Then, in a blink, Hotaru’s whole demeanor changed as she glanced at something behind Korra. “I do have a blessing!” she said, eyes alight. “A blessing on the Avatar!”
Korra felt as though she’d been dunked in icy water.
“The Avatar?” Anyu asked.
“Yes,” Hotaru said. Her mouth tightened. “A blessing because she came back and, and she killed Amon!”
Though her voice trembled, the triumph in Hotaru’s tone was unmistakable.
Korra’s skin went from chill to blazing. Fragments of memory, blazing white like an overexposed photo, flashed across her eyes. Amon flying out the side of the arena. Amon, de-masked, reaching out to her. Fire racing along her skin and a thousand voices echoing behind her own. And then Amon’s corpse.
She took a shuddering breath and found herself back at the table.
Jia had pulled Hotaru over and was having a quiet conversation. Something about it being inappropriate to celebrate death at a festival. Or maybe it wasn’t okay at the dinner table. Hai looked on, expression caught between concern and confusion as he slurped at a noodle.
Something about the scene felt absurd. Children weren’t supposed to glory in someone’s murder. Okay, sure Korra had as a kid, celebrating the Red Lotus’ victories, but that was different. Children like Hotaru weren’t supposed to be hurt like she had been. Hurt so much that she was happy he was dead.
The blessing fell like a weighted shawl around Korra’s shoulders, and she found herself quiet as dinner resumed with a more normal conversation. Somehow, they managed to avoid current events as a topic altogether. Korra couldn’t have said how.
When she stole a peek behind her, to see what Hotaru had been looking at before her blessing, Korra saw a stack of newspapers. From the look of them, they were current.
It was only as they started cleaning up that Korra glanced out a window and noticed the darkness. “Oh, I… I should probably be going soon.”
Anyu swept over from where she’d been helping Jia clean the table. “Before you do, could I have a word, Naga?” she asked.
Korra nodded and followed Anyu out onto the porch. “What is it?”
“Do you have a place to stay?” Anyu’s eyes crinkled with concern.
The temptation to lie crossed her mind, but Korra resisted. No stealing. No lying, except about her name. She refused to add to the city’s chaos. “I… do not,” she managed. Admitting to vulnerability felt… surreal, almost.
Anyu nodded, as though Korra had confirmed her suspicions. “I thought not. Nobody goes wandering around the Dragon Flats unless they have to.” She pursed her lips. “Next question: are you a bender?”
Was it better if she answered yes or no? Korra debated, briefly. Then she thought of Asami’s face, of how she’d been so betrayed by that lie especially. Korra couldn’t even have said if it was safer to be a bender or to not be one, at this point in the city.
Either way, it should be the family’s decision whether or not to take her in on that basis too.
“I’m a waterbender,” she admitted.
Anyu sighed. “That must make doing the dishes easier,” she muttered. “In any case… I was just talking with Jia. We have a small space in the attic of the house. It’s hardly glamorous, but it’s indoors. You could stay awhile, if you’d like.”
“That is so generous and kind of you.” Korra bowed her head. “But I’m afraid I don’t have money to pay any rent. I couldn’t possibly impose on your generosity like this.” Korra had taken the coins she’d hidden with her energybending scroll, but half of them had gone toward buying the water tribe robe off the woman from earlier.
“If you’re willing, we could use a hand around the house.” Anyu smiled wanly. “As you noticed earlier, our ladder is none too stable. And Jia, though I love her, is less than coordinated. If you could do some basic repairs, I think that would serve for a time.”
Korra hadn’t done much home repair, but she and Ghazan were usually the ones to construct the Red Lotus’ outdoor shelters. The basic principles couldn’t be that different.
“I can probably manage that.” Korra smiled.
Anyu mirrored her expression. They heard the house creaking above them and Anyu chuckled. “I told Jia to wait before prepping the space, but she seems to have gotten started early.”
In the distance, Korra could just make out the sounds of a raid. Sirens and shouting. A crash, like a door breaking inward.
Anyu looked away and a shadow crossed her face. “And I think it will be good to have a bender around as well. A little extra protection, maybe.”
“I’ll do my best,” Korra said.
She would see half the city in flames before she let anything happen to this family.
“And Hotaru… If you are able to talk to her at all, please do.” Anyu turned back to her and looked up at Korra with concern. “You may have noticed her… outburst earlier. Hotaru is an—was an earthbender. During the Equalist sweep of the city, she was among those taken. Thank the spirits one of our neighbors was taken at the same time. He made sure to bring her home after… after they were stripped of their bending.” She shook her head.
“It’s all beyond me. My grandfather was a waterbender, and I know Jia’s sister is an earthbender. It’s hard to comprehend what she’s lost. The nightmares she has, of the line of people being led to him… I cannot imagine the feeling…” Anyu trailed off and regarded Korra with tired eyes. “We’re trying to keep things as normal as possible, and that’s why we celebrated the festival today, but these past three days have been a lifetime.”
“I know exactly how that feels,” Korra said. Three days ago, this time of the night, Zaheer still hadn’t come back, still had yet to reveal his plan for her to kill Amon.
Anyu opened the door and ushered Korra inside. “Is there anything we can do for you before we settle you in the attic?”
Korra was surprised to find that Jia, Hai, and Hotaru had finished the cleaning while Anyu and Korra had been outside. “Um, I don’t think so… Maybe a pillow if you have one spare, or at least a blanket to roll up?”
“Of course. I suspect that Jia already put one up there for you, actually.”
Korra grabbed her bag from beside the door. Her eyes lingered on the newspapers as she did so. “Actually, one other thing. Could I bring a couple papers up to read? I’ve been, um, a bit out of touch with the news.”
“Take them all if you want.” Anyu waved a hand as she set the rickety ladder from before against the entrance to the attic. “I can hardly stand to look at them any longer than it takes to read them.”
Anyu even gave her a couple candles to take up with her. Once Korra was settled in the space, she kindled a flame in the palm of her hand. Burning their candles when she didn’t need to felt further wasteful to Korra. She’d have to burn a couple so they wouldn’t get suspicious, but she’d save what she could
Yesterday, she’d avoided the news as much as possible, unwilling to look at the front cover. The handful of blurry photos of her, in the arena, and then in the Avatar State outside of it, had been plastered across every front page.
Korra took a deep breath and skipped past them. She didn’t need to read what she’d been there for. She needed to know what she hadn’t seen.
Riots, all across the city. And enduring Equalist cell that refused to give ground, holed up in an underground bunker lined with platinum. The triads, taking advantage of the disorder to seize territory and launch a gang war.
Tarrlok found dead on Air Temple Island from an explosion in one of the towers.
Korra narrowed her eyes and paused. Explosions didn’t just happen for no reason. And P’li had been there with Korra when Zaheer mentioned where the Equalists were holding Tarrlok.
She shook her head. Maybe she’d find out later. Maybe she wouldn’t.
She felt no satisfaction in his death. She’d expected to feel alive and vengeful, but she just felt numb. After Amon… death didn’t feel like a victory anymore, however justified.
Turning to another paper, Korra froze. For once, it wasn’t her (masked) face on the front page.
It was Asami, standing tall by the police station by a man in a United Forces uniform. Her hand gripped half a handcuff as if it were a lifeline. Korra’s eyes flew to the headline.
THE ASAMI SATO STORY: HOW REPUBLIC CITY’S DARLING INVENTOR WENT FROM SECRET EQUALIST TO HEROIC REBEL
“What,” Korra hissed, eyes flashing down the page. Asami was, apparently, in prison.
* * *
Asami had thankfully never had reason to visit the Republic City Prison before, but it was far more crowded than she had envisioned.
Most of the cells were filled with men and women who had been part of the Equalists. Faces that Asami recognized even if she didn’t know their names.
They recognized her as well. Somehow word of her arrest had gotten to the newspapers. The Asami Sato story was apparently front page news.
“It’s the traitor,” someone said, voice carrying across the cells.
The other prisoners shifted to catch a glimpse of her. Those who had been Equalists sneered at her. Even the other prisoners, bender and nonbender alike, regarded her coldly.
Asami squared her shoulders, keeping her gaze fixed ahead. She remembered her mother at a gala shortly after her father’s death, moving across the room with an impassive expression to fend off the whispers about the young, tragic widow. Asami would need a similar fortitude here.
“Acting all high and mighty like you’re above us,” another prisoner spat. “But look where you ended up. Colluding with the benders got you arrested just like the rest of us.”
A laugh came from somewhere to Asami’s left. The woman matched the description of an Agni Kai Triad leader arrested months ago. “Maybe she’s a bender too,” the woman said, lips twisted in a vicious smirk. “Maybe all of your leaders were benders.”
“He wasn’t a bender!” someone to Asami’s right shrieked.
“The whole thing was staged,” another voice yelled. “A lie created by your runaway Avatar.”
“Well at least she’s not dead!”
Several other enraged shouts joined the argument from both benders and nonbenders alike. The aftermath of Amon’s fight against the Avatar had left more questions than answers, particularly in regards to the revelation of Amon’s secret bending. Eyewitnesses like Councilman Tenzin were good enough for most of the city’s benders. Various non-bending civilians and a few arrested Equalists had reported the same story. Some others insisted it was a setup, that the Avatar had just made it look like Amon had been bending. But the largest group, by far, were those too shocked by events to give an accurate recap.
What was certain that Amon was dead.
Asami had read about his downfall in the newspaper that Iroh had provided while she had been under the United Force’s custody. She hadn’t truly believed that Amon was dead at first. The man had seemed untouchable while leading the Equalists. Every bender he had fought had fallen. His powers seemed, truly, gifted by the spirits. His very death seemed farfetched.
Then again, so did the idea that he was secretly a waterbender, a bloodbender no less. That had been a hard claim to swallow at first, but Amon’s bending would explain how easily he had resisted Tarrlok during their confrontation. And it wouldn’t be the first time Asami had seen a waterbender pose as a nonbender.
Korra’s face flickered through Asami’s thoughts, but she forced the image away. She didn’t know enough about what had truly transpired at the arena or Korra’s role in the events, and she couldn’t afford to focus on those thoughts on the way to her own interrogation.
She’d have time to process everything once she was installed in the prison here.
The officer walking in front of Asami rapped her baton on the bars of a cell. “Quiet down, the lot of you,” she barked.
Asami’s eyes followed the movement, and her eyes landed on a figure in the darkness of the cell. Amber eyes, full of blazing hatred bore into her. She stumbled on her next step, and the prisoner smirked.
It was Kin. Asami hadn’t expected to see any of the Equalist leaders, especially not one of their most talented chi-blockers. Once upon a time, Asami had trained vigorously under Kin, hoping to earn one of the woman’s rare compliments.
Now, she was deeply grateful for the bars separating them and the police officers escorting her. Without both, Asami was certain that Kin would have tried to kill her.
A hand settled on her shoulder for a second, a silent show of support from General Iroh. She flashed him a grateful look. He continued to go out of his way to show himself as her ally, even throughout her time under the United Forces’ custody.
They passed the rest of the cells without incident, though Asami could feel Kin’s gaze on her the whole way.
Her escort led her to an interrogation room beyond the cell block. Inside was a single metal table and three plain chairs. A stern woman with a scar on her right cheek stood inside with her arms crossed. Asami recognized her as Chief Lin Beifong.
“Sato. So you’re the famed Equalist Traitor,” the woman said.
“Chief Beifong,” Asami said with a faint bow of her head.
The police chief appraised her in silence for a moment before motioning to the chair by the table. “Have a seat. We have several questions for you.”
Asami nodded, expecting as much. The United Forces had questioned her about Equalist plans and technology at several points over the last two days. She took the indicated seat.
“If you are uncooperative or initiate a physical altercation, you will be restrained for the duration of your questioning.” The chief’s voice was flat. She clearly said this to everyone.
“Understood, Chief Beifong,” she replied quietly. Asami absently ran a hand over the metal restraints on her chair. If this metalbender wanted, Asami would be bound to the chair in a blink. She resisted old habits of thought, justified fears of benders, as Iroh sat forward.
“Lin, I told you that won’t be necessary,” he said.
“It’s standard procedure, Iroh,” Lin said. She waved a hand and the two police officers from Asami’s escort posted themselves outside the door and shut it. Iroh sat down to the side while Chief Beifong remained standing.
Lin picked up a folder from the table, absently opening to a page in the middle. “You’ve become quite the celebrity overnight, Sato. Already I’ve received calls from nearly every major newspaper requesting an interview with you—as if the police department functioned as your press secretary. Lau Gan-Lan had some choice words for you upon his release. I’m half-tempted to set his lawyers on you so they get out of my hair.”
Asami remained quiet, unsure of how to respond.
“The city seems ready to deem you either a hero or a traitor,” Lin continued. “And yet you’ve turned yourself in, and the reports from the United Forces indicate that you’ve been cooperative throughout everything.”
“Miss Sato has been extremely helpful with all of her assistance,” Iroh remarked. “Thanks directly to her information, we’ve located and disabled two major Equalist bases.”
Lin gaze flickered toward him for a second before she returned her attention to Asami. “I’m curious how a nineteen year old becomes a leader within the Equalists to have access to such information.” Her gaze fixed expectantly on Asami.
Asami blinked. She had expected further questions about the Equalists’ plans or her inventions, not about herself. “I’m afraid it’s a bit of a long story,” she said. “But I was raised in the movement from its earliest days. My mother has long been one its primary supporters.”
“Why did you and your mother join?”
Asami swallowed. “When I was six, a firebender broke into our home, looking for valuables. In the process, he killed my father.”
“I remember the case,” Lin said. “The man was caught and sentenced to life in prison. Died two years later.”
Lin seemed unaffected by that detail. Yasuko had raged for days. She’d wanted him to pay for what he’d done, and he’d skipped out on the consequences.
“After my father’s death, my mother was so lonely and empty. It felt like our family was just barely holding itself together. My mother was left with a deep mistrust of all benders, and in her grief, she met others who felt the same way. Families and friends who had been harmed by benders in some way. They could see that the laws greatly benefited benders, and too many were able to get away with harming or exploiting nonbenders.”
“And so these people began making plans to take out all benders?” Lin asked. Asami was grateful she’d said it as a question, not a statement.
“The Equalist movement wasn’t about removing benders from the world,” Asami said. “Not in the beginning.” The movement had originally been about justice, not revenge. “It started out as a political protest. We just wanted equal rights for nonbenders. More job opportunities. Equal pay. Representation on the council. After Councilman Sokka died, nonbenders could never get a seat.”
Her mother, Liu, and the other original members had been young. Filled with a passionate enthusiasm at making a change. It had been electrifying to Asami as a child.
But that idealism hadn’t lasted. “When nothing changed, the Equalists began contemplating other measures. Then Amon arrived and the movement transformed rapidly from there. He galvanized everything to greater heights, farther extremes... At some point, a line was crossed, and the cause I fought for was no longer recognizable.” Asami sighed. “And I wasn’t willing to see it until it was too late.”
Lin regarded her with an impassive expression. If even a part of Asami’s story had moved her, she didn’t show it. “So I can assume that Future Industries has been financially supporting the Equalist movement since its inception?”
“Yes.” Despite Asami’s best efforts.
“And all of the factory workers were confirmed Equalists?” Lin asked.
“No.” The word left Asami’s mouth empathically. “No, only a small portion of our employees were directly involved in Equalist activities, mostly at the management levels. I can give you the names I remember, and if I had a list, I could provide more. The majority were kept unaware of where the parts they constructed were heading. We developed a system of interchangeable units. The assembly line workers would construct forklift interiors, some of which we did install into forklifts. But some shipments were diverted to a separate plant where the Equalists would install the interiors on mecha tanks.”
“I’ve already opened up an investigation into Future Industries,” Lin said. “We’ve searched your mother’s office and the secret factory beneath your house already, but it seems that someone arrived before us and took a great deal of paperwork with them, including information on the finances and employees. Until we have more information, I’m afraid that anyone under your mother’s employment is under suspicion.”
“I understand,” Asami said, dropping her gaze. Her mother and Liu must have raided both locations after they had escaped from the airfield. The documents they had stolen would make it harder for the police to conduct any kind of thorough investigation. Asami would provide what information she knew, but even she hadn’t been privy to every detail of the Equalists’ plans in the way her mother had been.
She hoped that the employees who had not been involved with the Equalist work could at least start rebuilding their lives though. Losing their jobs would be hard enough without the adding burden of police suspicion.
Lin turned a page in the folder. “So you were the primary inventor of all the Equalist tech?”
“My mother was the primary inventor,” Asami said. “I worked as her assistant on most projects because I was young. It was only in the last few months that I was given my own assignments, primarily overseeing the work in the main factory. But I was also sent to gather intelligence and scout out locations for attacks.”
Lin nodded. The interrogation moved away from personal questions and shifted toward inquiry about the Equalists as an organization. When had the Equalists began developing weapons? Estimates on the number of electrified gloves and mecha tanks that had been produced. Estimates on the number of active members. Even a question about how the explosion that had killed Tarrlok had happened. (Asami hadn’t even known that he had been killed.)
Eventually the questions ran out. Lin snapped the folder close with a grunt. “That’s all for now. I’m sure I’ll have more once my investigations turn up more information.”
“I’ll answer anything you ask,” Asami said.
Lin regarded her for a moment as if unsure what to make of Asami’s compliance. “Hm. All that leaves is the matter of your placement. Given that the story of your betrayal has already gone public, we can’t exactly place you with the other Equalist trash, so you’ll get a nice, cushy cell all to yourself, Sato. We finally got the clearance to place you there until your sentencing.”
Asami remembered Kin’s gaze fixed on her, and she suppressed a shudder. She would be very grateful not to be placed in a cell with other Equalists.
“Chief Beifong,” she said as the woman started walking toward the door. “If I may ask, what happened at the arena with Amon? I’ve seen varied accounts in the papers, but I have yet to hear the official story.”
Iroh had answered what questions he could, but he’d been too busy with the city to talk to her outside of information-gathering sessions.
“The Avatar arrived to prevent Amon from removing the airbenders’ bending,” Lin said, tone matter-of-fact. “They fought, and the Avatar unmasked Amon as a waterbender before killing him.”
So Korra had been the one to kill Amon. Too many emotions raced through Asami for her to say what she felt at the confirmation.
“I don’t suppose you would have any other information on Amon as an Equalist leader,” Lin said, an unspoken question in her words.
“I had no idea that Amon was really a bender,” Asami said. “I don’t think anyone in the Equalist movement knew.” He would have never risen to power had that secret been discovered. Liu... Liu would have been devastated. He’d devoted years of his life to the man, looked up to him as a father.
“Then if you have no new information at the moment, we’re finished here,” Lin said. She opened the door to the interrogation room and ordered the guards to escort Asami to her cell. She continued down the hallway, a briskness to her steps that hinted at a great deal of work to be done before the day’s end.
The two officers led Asami down a series of short hallways and up a set of stairs to a surprisingly spacious cell. She blinked. The space looked more like a hotel room than a prison cell. Plush, burgundy carpeting covered the floor. A vanity with a polished mirror sat against the left wall by a four post bed covered in blue sheets. An upholstered armchair sat near the front beside a small mahogany table to greet visitors. She spied an en suite bathroom to the back.
Asami frowned at the sight of it. She hadn’t thought luxury prison cells were a thing, and she certainly didn’t expect to be placed in one if they were.
One of the officers unlocked the door and motioned her inside. “Enjoy your stay, prisoner,” she said with a sneer. The woman locked the door behind Asami and left with her partner.
Asami stood in the middle of the cell, glancing around her surroundings. The room reminded her of one of the guest rooms at her house. If she kept her back to the bars, she could almost forget that she was in prison. It didn’t feel right, being assigned to this cell after everything she had done.
“Not a bad set of circumstances all things considered,” Iroh remarked.
Asami turned to face him. “Did you arrange for this?” she asked, motioning to the contents of the cell.
Iroh shook his head. “I had nothing to do with which cell you were assigned to. To be honest, I didn’t even know they had a cell like this here.” His lips quirked in a wry smile. “But perhaps it might be best not to look a gift ostrich-horse in the mouth. Perhaps they just had no other solitary cells available. I doubt Lin is extending it out of a personal kindness.”
“I doubt that too,” she muttered. Asami sighed, but he had a point. She eyed the bed for a moment. The thought of sleep tempted her. She hadn’t gotten much rest under the United Forces’ custody, woken at odd hours to confirm some new information or answer a new set of questions.
“I’ll speak with Lin more about your situation,” Iroh said. “I won’t let your contributions to our victory just get swept under the rug.”
“Thank you, Iroh,” Asami said. “You’ve really done more than enough for me.”
He offered her a faint smile. “The way I see it, I owe you my life. We had no idea that the Equalists had built planes to ambush our navy. I would have led our troops straight into an ambush. I would have lost most of my troops and probably my life. I have no intention of downgrading your contributions to our victory. So thank you.”
“I was only trying to do what was right,” Asami said. She sighed, running a hand through her hair. “I assume from what Chief Beifong said that no one has found my mother yet.”
“I am not at liberty to give you any details as it’s still an ongoing investigation,” Iroh said. “But I will let you know what we find as soon as I am able to.”
“I understand.” She sighed again, wondering where her mother and Liu could be. If they were still in the city somewhere, they had likely seen the story of her arrest. Did they take some small victory knowing that she wouldn’t be walking away free anytime soon?
“I’ll let you get adjusted to your new quarters for now,” Iroh said. “I may not have much time to visit over the next few weeks, but Commander Bumi may drop by in my stead. He’ll keep you informed of events while you’re here. And we may have more questions about the Equalist technology. I’d like to start implementing some of it with our nonbending forces if possible, so we’ll need a better idea of how to construct and operate the weapons.”
“I’ll tell you what I can.” Her mouth pulled to the side. Almost a smile.
“One last thing,” Iroh said. He pulled a folded newspaper from his uniform jacket. “I brought you a current newspaper to get a better idea of what the situation is like. Don’t worry, this issue doesn’t feature anything about you.”
Asami accepted the paper, glad that she didn’t have to read whatever sensationalized version of her story was circulating through the press. “Thank you for everything, Iroh. I really mean it.”
“You’re welcome,” Iroh said. “I’ll see you when I can.” With a brief bow, he turned and left.
Asami sighed and sunk into the armchair. She unfolded the paper Iroh had given her and scanned the front page.
AVATAR RETURNS! KILLS AMON, BREAKS EQUALIST HOLD ON CITY!
Asami closed the newspaper back up, setting it on the side table. A grainy photograph of the Avatar sat under the title, blurry flames flickering around her. Though the Avatar wore a mask and dark stealth clothes, Asami recognized Korra’s physique.
A part of her wanted to escape and track down Korra. Ask her what had happened during the arena fight, without all of the embellishments and distortions from the various news stories filtering events. Asami couldn’t reconcile the friend who had laughed beside her at pro-bending matches with the omnipotent figure pictured in the paper, eyes glowing from behind the mask.
Amon had to be defeated. Logically, Asami could see the need to eliminate him. Amon’s powers likely made it too difficult to just capture him, and he had a long list of crimes to answer for. With his death, the Equalist movement had been struck a harsh blow.
But the thought that Korra had been the one to kill him left Asami wondering just how well she knew her friend.
Still, she wouldn’t know exactly what had transpired on Korra’s end unless she asked Korra herself. And as much as she wanted to track her friend down, she wasn’t sure Korra would want to see her at the moment. Besides, even if she did manage to find Korra, she would probably lead the police straight to her. And Korra definitely didn’t need to deal with that.
In the meantime, she would do what penance she could. Serve her time. In luxury, but in solitude. Asami forced herself up from the armchair to look around the cell.
She would answer any questions the police had, anything to mitigate the impact and help her atone. She would tell them everything she could about the Equalists, about her mother and Liu and where they might have gone.
She’d hold back just one secret: the identity of the missing Avatar.
* * *
After dinner, Jinora slipped out to the pagoda so she could finally meditate. It was the first time since returning to Air Temple Island that the White Lotus guards allowed her out of the main complex.
Everything was wrong, all over the island, all over the city. Around her, new horrors seemed to rise and make themselves known every day. From the body they’d discovered in the charred remains of the tower to the nightmares that had begun to plague her and Sakari again. In the two nights they’d been back in their room, they seemed to take turns every few hours to wake up crying.
But there was something else. Something on the spiritual plane. Setting the pain aside, she closed her eyes and let her shoulders drop. The tension fell away slowly, reluctant to leave.
Jinora crossed her legs and exhaled as she settled into the pose. She breathed through her nose and caught the saltwater scent off the bay. With her eyes closed, the sounds around her seemed nearly the same. Although she could see the smoke rising from different parts of the city, she couldn’t hear it from Air Temple Island.
She focused on the physical sensations. The press of the wood under her legs. The sound of the waves, crashing against the island. The smell of the seawater and the faint scent of incense from the temple complex.
The odd feeling grew, a thread tugging at her from the spiritual plane.
When the stress and tensions of the city had faded, Jinora let go of the sounds and smells.
When her focus had narrowed only to her breath, she fell into the in-between place.
She couldn’t meditate into the Spirit World, not yet. Her father had been evasive whenever she tried to ask him about the subject. So Jinora couldn’t go all the way, but she could reach this in-between place.
The strange tug was stronger now. She reached out and tried to grasp it, but her hand passed through as if she were made of air.
The spiritual tie felt almost like a beacon. And it felt familiar.
Jinora reached for it again, willing her spirit to let her grasp and follow it. Her spirit wouldn’t leave her body, but as she passed her hand through the tie, she felt a semblance of a path.
The tie was connected to… something, or someone, in the city. She could feel leading across the water.
And it felt strangely familiar.
She’d felt this presence before. Once? Maybe twice?
As Jinora applied more effort to the mystery, she felt her grip on the meditative state slip as she overextended herself.
For a scrambling second, she tried to regain her balance, fall back to focus on her breathing.
A breath later, she was no longer in the in-between place. She was just Jinora, sitting in the pagoda and staring at the city in consternation.
“Oh hey, there she is.”
Jinora turned at the sound of Mako’s voice. He was walking over with Bolin and Sakari. Naga padded along behind. She hadn’t left Sakari’s side since they’d been reunited yesterday.
“Hey, what’s up?” Jinora asked. She turned around as the three of them sat down in the pagoda with her, forming a small circle. Sakari leaned back against Naga when the dog curled up behind her.
“I’m glad you asked!” Bolin said. Pabu popped up from inside his collar. “Now that we’re back on Air Temple Island, safe at home base, I think it’s time we put our heads together and see what we can figure out about Korra. We may not be able to track her down or something, but we can pool our knowledge for sure.”
Mako nodded. He seemed a little self-conscious, but supportive. Jinora wondered if he was feeling insecure without his bending. She was never sure how to bring it up with him.
Sakari hunched her shoulders and tugged at a bit of Naga’s fur. “I want to find her so bad but… what if she just doesn’t want to have anything to do with me? I called out after her and she ran away.”
“I… don’t think that has anything to do with you, to be honest.” Jinora reached out and rubbed Sakari’s shoulder. Jinora had only just staggered out of the Arena with her family when the Avatar had blasted Amon out into the bay. Her father had grabbed Meelo and Ikki, pulling them back inside and covering their eyes. But from what Jinora had seen, Sakari wasn’t the only one in a lot of pain right now.
“We have no idea what she’s been through, the Equalist confrontation aside,” Mako added. “She was kidnapped by some anarchist group when she was, what, four?”
“And she did show up to rescue you.” Bolin absent pet Pabu, who was making faces at Naga from his perch on Bolin’s shoulder.
Sakari nodded. “I guess it’s frustrating because… she was right there, within reach.” She opened and shut her hand. “And now she could be anywhere. How are we supposed to find her?”
“Let’s start by assuming she’s still in Republic City.” Mako sat forward a bit. His voice grew more animated. “The United Forces have sealed the borders and hardly anyone’s been able to get in or out.”
“Uh, powerful bender? Waterbender in particular?” Bolin gestured to the bay. “The border patrol can’t exactly stop deep sea divers.”
“But she’s not alone.” Jinora frowned. Her father had mentioned the Red Lotus a couple times, but she didn’t know much about them. “She was kidnapped and raised by a group of anarchists. And they’re not all waterbenders. Some sort of water escape would be possible, but not exactly an easy trip.”
Sakari furrowed her brow. “And it’s not like they keep her locked up or something. She was out and operating on her own against Amon. So… whoever has her must expect her to come back on her own. If that’s the case, I don’t think she’d leave town without them.”
“So she’s in the city. Somewhere.” Mako glanced over the water at the skyline, then back to the group. “There was, uh, a lot going on the other day. But does anyone remember any details about her that might help us narrow down who she is?”
“Okay, to clarify.” Bolin cleared his throat. “Details aside from the fact that she was outrageously kickass and mega insane powerful?”
There had been so much going on, but Jinora remembered the overwhelming heat of the fire she was bending. The way the arena had shaken, the sight of the water rising up.
Mako was in the middle of estimating Korra’s height when the details clicked together.
Jinora blinked. “Korra can’t airbend."
“What?” Sakari frowned. “Are you sure? There was so much going on… maybe we just missed it.”
“She had everything going at once,” Bolin said. “Maybe we missed it. Air is kind of the least visible after all.”
“No, I… I’m pretty sure.” Jinora ducked her head a little. She was the youngest one in their group, but she was also definitely the foremost expert on airbending. “And it makes sense that she wouldn’t be able to. She doesn’t have an airbending teacher.” Jinora shrugged. “We’re kind of all here in one spot.”
For half a second, Jinora flashed back to Amon, to her dad, Ikki, and Meelo tied up with her on the stage. They were all in one place, and they’d nearly been wiped out.
She shivered, but it was cold enough nobody really noticed.
“No, that totally makes sense,” Mako said. “Airbending teachers aren’t exactly easy to come by. And wouldn’t that be, like, the last element she should learn? If she’s supposed to be going in the old order or something.”
Sakari nodded and opened her mouth to say something, then froze. A flash of realization crossed her face. “I just remembered something,” she said.
“What is it?” Jinora leaned forward.
Her sleeve ripped. During the battle with Amon.” Sakari touched her upper arm, just below the shoulder. “I could see that she had a tattoo here.”
“That’s fantastic,” Mako said. “That’s a surefire way to narrow it down. Do you remember what it looked like?”
Sakari’s smile faltered. “Maybe? Everything was happening so fast… It was black, or maybe dark blue. it seemed to be mostly straight lines…”
“Idea!” Bolin grinned and made a series of quick gestures. Pabu squeaked in alarm and jumped off his shoulder as Bolin bent a chunk of earth over to himself from outside the pagoda. He caught it deftly, then crushed it between his hands to make a layer of fine dirt on the floor in front of them. “You can draw it here,” he said. Pabu sniffed the dirt curiously.
“We could have ran in and gotten some paper,” Mako muttered.
Bolin pouted. “This was quicker.”
Sakari leaned forward. Her hand hovered over the dust for a moment, then she traced a couple hesitant lines. A few horizontal, some vertical. It was a poor rendering, but it seemed oddly familiar.
“Sorry it’s not a better picture,” Sakari mumbled. “I only saw it for a moment. Maybe we should head inside? I can re-draw it.”
The four of them got up and started making their way back toward the buildings, Naga in tow.
Jinora frowned. An upper arm tattoo. A girl about eighteen or so. Water tribe.
Mako said. “We have a general idea about what the tattoo looks like now. So if we see someone with one like that, we’ll know.”
Jinora stopped walking. “I... I think I already have.”
“What!” They all shouted at once.
“When? Where?” Sakari grabbed Jinora’s arm, yanking her a little.
“Twice, actually!” Jinora was certain of it now. A grin crossed her face. The pieces fell into place faster than she could place them. “I saw her here, on Air Temple Island. Once as part of a tour group, once when she came to visit the library.”
“What did she look like?” Sakari’s grip tightened on Jinora’s arm. She didn’t let go as they started walking again.
Mako tilted his head. “Did she say anything to you?”
“Wait but… why did she come here…?” Bolin frowned.
Everyone turned and looked at him. He shrugged. “I mean… if she’s kind of undercover or something, not supposed to be keeping a low profile and stuff, then why show up where you know people would be interested in identifying you?”
“She was looking for airbending instruction the first time,” Jinora said. She flashed through vague memories of the conversation they’d had. “She came on a tour and asked about the gates and about footwork. She seemed interested in how airbenders moved.”
“Because she doesn’t have a teacher! That totally makes sense,” Sakari said, opening the door to let them in.
“And the second time was at the Air Temple library?” Mako asked. “Was she looking for books?”
“Nah, she was definitely looking for a pot of sticky rice.” Bolin poked Mako’s shoulder and Mako slapped his hand away.
Jinora nodded. “She was looking for some specific volumes from The Complete History of Avatar Aang. One was the book on the end of the Hundred Years’ War. The other was from when my dad was just a kid. It mostly had to do with various social order things in Republic City.”
“But why did she want those?” Mako stroked his chin. “We should check the books out and see if it has any clues.” Though he hadn’t seemed the type, he was actually nerdier than Jinora first thought. With unspoken agreement, they started heading toward the library. One of the acolytes had hidden all the keys before the Equalists took over. When the United Forces retook the island, they’d found the door broken down, but the books hadn’t been touched yet.
“Anything else?” Sakari asked.
“Yeah… she took a look through one of Aang’s original writings, a scroll on Energybending.” Jinora paused to see if the others had understood, but they were looking at her blankly. “Energybending,” she prompted again. “That thing that grandfather used on Fire Lord Ozai to end the Hundred Years War? He took away Ozai's bending?”
“Oh yeah,” Bolin said. “I always forget that part.”
Mako’s eyes widened. “If it can take bending away… could it give it back?”
“I don’t know,” Jinora admitted. “But it seems like Korra thinks so.”
“If she does figure it out… if we find her, do you think…?” Mako’s question trailed off, as though he couldn’t stand to even voice the distant hope.
“She will figure it out,” Sakari stated. “And we will find her.” She turned to Jinora. “Can we get a general description? You’ve seen her out of the mask. And in normal clothes too. What does she look like?”
Jinora paused in front of the doorless library and considered Sakari for a moment. “Like you,” she said. This brought a smile to Sakari’s face. “But older. Taller.” Jinora paused and glanced at Mako and Bolin. “Not that much taller though. She’s Bolin’s height? Maybe a bit shorter. She has longer hair than you. She had it in a loose ponytail that hung over one shoulder.” Jinora frowned and tried to remember. “She was wearing a tan robe over a green shirt?” She shook her head. The clothes were fairly generic. Nothing very nation-specific.”
“Generic clothing makes sense if you’re trying to lay low,” Mako observed as he followed Jinora into the library.
Naga whined when Sakari made to enter. She sighed. “I’ll stay out here.”
The other three went inside. Mako pushed a pile of newspapers to the side of a table, and Bolin absently grabbed one to read. “We can keep the books over here to read through them,” Mako said.
Jinora pulled the heavy volumes off the shelves and set them on the space Mako had cleared.
His eyebrows rose at the sight. “Okay, maybe I won’t read it all tonight.”
Jinora laughed. “I honestly wouldn’t recommend it.”
Bolin yelped. “Guys, I think I figured it out!” He shook the newspaper in his hand, eyes alight. “And I think we’ve met her too!”
“What!?” Sakari raced into the library, ignoring Naga’s whines of protest. “When? Where?”
“Look, remember her?” Bolin pointed to a photograph on the first page.
The picture was of a young woman standing next to General Iroh at the police station. The article was about the arrest of an apparently famous Equalist. Jinora frowned, studying the woman’s features. She didn’t seem familiar.
“Asami Sato?” Mako asked, reading the headline with a frown. “Like the Satomobile? What does that have to do…?”
“No, but we’ve met her before,” Bolin said. “Sakari invited her backstage, remember?”
“Oh, after the semifinal match, right?” Sakari asked.
“I don’t think I was here for this,” Jinora said. “Was this after Dad and I left?”
“Yeah,” Sakari said. “I ran into a pair of teenagers a couple weeks ago when Naga dragged me down an alley. Naga just tackled this one girl and started licking her face. I invited them backstage and offered to give them a tour to make up for it.”
“And apparently we were giving a tour to one of the Equalists,” Mako said, having finished skimming the article. He frowned. “We probably showed her how to sneak into the arena undetected.”
Bolin’s expression fell. “Okay, maybe, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Her friend! Remember, the girl with Naga’s name? That’s got to be Korra!”
Mako frowned. “No way. That’s dumb, Bolin. Like, what are the chances…?” He trailed off, expression shifting into one of contemplation.
“Think about it,” Bolin said. “I bet Naga recognized Korra’s scent in the alley. That’s why she attacked human Naga. I’ve never seen Naga just randomly tackle anyone. Plus, what are the odds that some random girl and Naga have the exact same name? I mean, Naga’s more of a dog’s name anyways.”
At the sound of her name, Naga whined from the doorway, sticking her nose inside. Sakari walked over to pet her. There was a hesitant, growing hope on her face. “Naga did match Jinora’s description.”
Mako had taken the paper away from Bolin entirely. He was reading intently now, no longer skimming. “So we sat down with an Equalist and the Avatar? What are the chances?”
Jinora’s head was whirling. “Wait, so did she know who you were when you met?”
Sakari’s expression went from triumph to a steadily deepening hurt. “Not… not at first… but then… then I told them and she knew.” Sakari slumped to the floor and turned to lean into Naga. “She knew who I was. She was sitting right there and didn’t say anything to me.”
“Maybe she couldn’t.” Jinora said, kneeling down beside Sakari. She reached out a hand and rubbed her shoulder.
“But no one was there to stop her… why couldn’t she—“
“Hey, Sakari!” They all looked up to see Ikki running down the hall toward them. She took in their expressions and asked, “Is this a bad time?”
Jinora scowled at her sister. “Yes. Go away, Ikki. We’re busy with important stuff.”
Ikki’s smile faltered and Jinora immediately regretted her words. After everything they’d gone through, she should be nicer to her sister. After a beat, Ikki regained her attitude and pouted. “I actually was asking Sakari,” she said. “Because my news is important too and it’s for her and not for you.” She glared at Jinora.
Sakari answered before Jinora could figure out what to say. “Go ahead, Ikki. What is it?”
“I was listening to dad on the phone and I kind of maybe wasn’t supposed to, but I thought Sakari would wanna know since he was talking to her parents,” Ikki said. “Apparently they had some festival thing, but it’s over now, so her mom is on her way to Republic City.”
“Now?” Mako asked.
“Right now!” Ikki piped.
She watched their shocked faces for a moment, then skipped off down the hallway. “You’re weeeelllcooomme!” she called back.
It was only after she’d rounded a corner that Bolin replied with a faltering “Thank you…”
“Mom’s coming here,” Sakari said, placing her head in her hands.
“I guess it makes sense,” Mako said after a moment. “Your parents have probably heard the news about Korra’s appearance. Plus, they’re probably worried about you as well.”
“Maybe... we can arrange a healing, relationship-restoring, family reunion?” Bolin offered.
Jinora rubbed Sakari’s back. From her friend’s expression, Bolin’s idea didn’t seem likely.