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The Other Side
Chapter 1: Enlistment
The breath caught in Korra's throat as she entered the dimly lit, back alley meeting room. This was finally it. This was why she had come to Republic City, smuggled in inside a tiny fishing boat's hull, leaving behind her training and her family and her best friend. After this was all over, she could bring Naga to the city, but for now, it was too risky. It would give too much about her away.
Turning the collar of her grey coat up against her neck, she reflected that perhaps for the first time in her life, being so isolated from the rest of the world would be a benefit for her. No one knew what the Avatar looked like, no one knew the Avatar's name. Without the title, she was nobody, and with her false backstory, she was just another frustrated nonbender who was looking for change.
Glancing around the room, Korra noted the nervous looking people sitting in the rows of folding chairs. They looked like normal people, not evil and dangerous criminals. They looked like people's mothers and brothers, not the murders and vigilantes that she had been told they would be. There were about twenty people, and only a few open seats. She took a seat next to a woman who's knuckles were white from her intense grip on her purse.
"Hello," Korra said, looking at the woman, who looked up anxiously.
"Good evening," she replied, glancing sideways at Korra.
Korra opened her mouth to continue the conversation when suddenly, the room burst into applause.
He was there.
Standing in front of the rows of seats was the reason that Korra was here: Amon. So he really did wear that mask. She had thought that maybe it had only been around outsiders and the enemy that he hid his face, but she had been wrong. The cold porcelain smirk was visible even from her seat in the back, and it sent shivers down her spine to think that Amon was actually there, in front of her, a tangible person, rather than just a voice on the radio or a name on a piece of paper. He was more than a target now; he was real.
"Welcome, my brothers and sisters."
As soon as Amon spoke, silence fell upon the room. Everyone's eyes were glued on him as he strode towards the seats.
"We come here tonight to speak as equals. Tonight, it does not matter from where you come, for tonight we all come from the same place. For too long, we have been abused and oppressed by those who have received what they would call gifts from the spirits. The tyranny of benders has ravaged the world for far too long, tearing it apart with wars, passing over the nonbenders of all the nations in favor of those who have been given an unnatural advantage over the rest of us," Amon paused, and looked out at the group of people.
"I have told my story before; it is nothing special. I am sure that many of you have experienced the same sort of horrors that I have."
There was a murmur of agreement that rippled through the crowd, and Korra nodded along. Amon stopped, waiting for someone to speak and tell their story. The woman next to Korra was the first to answer him.
"A waterbending triad has been extorting my husband for months, and when he would not pay, they bloodbent my daughters. All three of them are still in the hospital after three months, and the doctors say that they will never wake up again."
The woman was shaking with quiet fury, her back straight and her eyes straight forward. Amon nodded at her.
Soon, others began to call out, each story more horrifying than the last, until all but Korra had spoken.
"You, girl," said the man standing next to Amon, who Korra could only assume was the Lieutenant, "They have all shared their stories. Now it is your turn."
Korra's heart was racing. This was her test. She opened her mouth and shakily began her false story.
"I didn't speak before because next to what everyone else has said, my story seems insignificant. I don't have much to complain about," her voice was small and unsure, "But I was born in the Northern Water Tribe, to parents who were both benders. I have a sister and brother, both benders. My family is made up of warriors and healers. I am nothing. There was nothing that I could do, except wait to be married to some man and produce babies who could bend. I ran away, thinking that here, things would be better. But they're not. And I think that things need to change."
She finished, guilt rising in her throat as she looked around at all the people who had experienced real brutalities, who had never lead the privileged life that she had. I'm sorry, she thought.
"No story is insignificant, nor is any trauma at the hands of benders justifiable," Amon said, addressing both Korra and the rest of the audience, "You have all been abused, both your bodies and your souls. It is time for you to reclaim yourselves, your city and your world. Tonight, you are taking the first step on that journey as you join the Equalists. I will now let my Lieutenant say a few words."
Amon stepped to the side, and the Lieutenant looked out over the crowd. He cleared his throat and spoke.
"We will not be keeping an official record of all those involved in our movement, however you will all be assigned unit numbers and specific identities within those groups. No one is forced to share their real name with anyone, but if any of you do, please bear in mind that if any of us should fall into the hands of the police or council, they are not above torture and will scrounge up any names that they can, and use those names to round up more of us. You will also all receive uniforms and instructions for when you should report for your next instructions."
Korra gulped. If she could just get through this, everything would be in place for her to complete her mission. She still couldn't believe that the White Lotus and Tenzin had agreed to let her do this, especially when she had not even begun her airbending training. They almost hadn't, but after much bullying on the part of Chief Lin Bei Fong, and the Republic City Council, they had finally conceded, agreeing (albeit reluctantly) that if the world was that badly out of balance, only the Avatar could help restore the peace.
So Korra had come to Republic City, alone and unknown, to infiltrate and wreck the Equalists from the inside. She had given up her true identity, she had moved into a new home with two boys that she didn't know, and she had ended up here, in the den of Amon's revolution, pledging her allegiance to the cause.
As she stepped forward in line to get her instructions and uniform, she shivered. Amon was staring at the newcomers as a whole, not her in particular, she reminded herself. There was no reason for him to be suspicious of her. He was merely sizing up his new recruits.
"Next," said a masked Equalist woman, and Korra moved to the table.
"Do you have any fighting experience?" she asked Korra.
"Yes," Korra nodded.
"Good. I'm assigning you to Unit A Subdivision five. You will meet with your team the day after tomorrow, in the basement of Ami's Fish Dinners by wharf 49," the woman glanced up at Korra, rummaged in a box below the table, and drew out an Equalist uniform, "Do not wear this to the meeting, but bring it with you."
Korra took the uniform from her, rubbing the material between her fingers. It was light and much softer than she had expected.
"Thank you," Korra said.
"Have a good night," the woman replied, "Next."
Slipping the uniform inside her bag, Korra got out of line. Amon was still standing against the wall with the Lieutenant, both completely silent. She looked at the two of them out of the corner of her eye, and her breath quickened. She'd be lying to herself if she said that they didn't scare her. In fact, they terrified her. What they could do and what that meant for the world fueled her nightmares. The thought that he could take someone's bending away was horrifying.
If Korra lost her bending, she would be completely unmade. It was everything to her, her lifeblood, her past, and her legacy. Losing it would be a death sentence. Even just pretending that she couldn't bend was agonizing. Hiding who she was from the world was horrible, and almost impossible.
She wrapped her coat around her body, shuddering from the cold. It was a long way to the pro bending arena, and it was late. They were probably worried about her. Her pace quickened as she made her way down a dark street. She hated the city at night. Without her bending, Korra could still fight and protect herself, that was for sure, but it was difficult, and she had to repress her instincts to firebend at anyone who tried to do her harm.
The walk back passed without incident, however, and Korra made it back to the attic of the pro bending arena at one in the morning. They were both still up.
"Hey, where've you been, Korra?" asked Bolin, peaking down from his bed up in the loft.
Korra took off her coat and sat down on the couch.
"I had a date," she lied, curling her feet up under herself.
Mako looked at her incredulously.
"With who?" he asked, walking over towards her.
"No one you know," she mumbled, "Why're you still up anyways? Isn't it past your bed time, Mr. Mom?"
"We were worried about you! All this stuff with Amon-"
"Yeah, and I'm not a bender," Korra said, "I'm not in danger."
"Yeah, exactly, you're not a bender. You know the police are suspicious of everyone," Mako finished, glaring at her.
Korra felt bad lying to the two brothers, but she had to. No one could know her real identity, not yet. She had slipped up and told the boys her real name on her first day in the city, but reminded herself that it wouldn't be unusual for an Equalist to give a false name, so she hadn't bothered to cover it up.
Living at the pro bending arena also made it less suspicious for people like Tenzin and Lin to come see her. They could come on other business, but stop by quickly to get information without having to set up a secret meeting.
"Well, I'm fine," Korra grumbled, "Now, I'm really tired, so I'm gonna go to bed. You should too. I know you guys have a game tomorrow."
She got up from the couch and stretched before heading to her little area of the attic. Korra put on her pajamas and crawled into bed, staring out the window at Air Temple Island. If things had been different, she could have been sleeping out there, staring from the middle of the bay out at the twinkling lights of the city.
But things were the way they were, and she was here, up to her ears in lies. As she buried her face into her pillow, Amon's face danced in front of her eyes. She could hear his voice, low and dangerous in her ears.
"Welcome to the Equalists, Avatar Korra."
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