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No one wanted to acknowledge the slums of Republic City. Most of the inhabitants were non-benders from small cities or villages of the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation hoping to make a better life for themselves. Sure, there were a few benders residing in the slums too, mainly orphans. But they didn't stay for long. Once they honed their bending skills, they could find work in factories or energy plants.
They had a chance of get out.
Non-benders were not as fortunate. There were fewer job opportunities for them compared to benders. Many were worse off than before they'd moved; finding food and clean water was a constant struggle. Amon never understood how people could turn the other way. Had the slums been mostly benders he knew something would be done to better the situation.
But he had to admit the lack of attention worked to his advantage. Long before the Avatar arrived he purchased a shack, located directly in the middle of the slums, from a family of four. He never thought he would need to use it, but he preferred being over-prepared to the alternative. The place wasn't stocked with much: a change of clothes, a first aid kit, and a pouch filled with enough yuan for a month's worth of food.
That was where Amon was headed. Even if the people here were too preoccupied with other things, surviving being the most important, he knew better than to push his luck.
Nothing had changed since he last visited a year ago. The buildings were barely livable. Some of the worst were little more than pieces of board shoddily nailed together into a box, a sheet serving as a door. Trash littered the streets, the water, people's homes—everywhere. But perhaps worst of all was the sense of hopelessness that poured out of every corner, every person.
He hurried to his destination, and in no time found himself in front of the shack. He was surprised the thing was still standing. From the looks of it, a light wind could blow it over.
Amon walked in and then closed the door. As soon as his eyes adjusted, he moved to the crate resting in the center of the room and pried off the lid. Inside, lying in a pile, was a white shirt with a stiff, square collar, a tattered bluish-gray vest, and a pair of boots. He grabbed the items and placed them beside him, revealing a pair of threadbare trousers.
His dampened clothes and boots were quickly shed and replaced with the ones in the crate. He pulled at the collar of his shirt. Everything was more fitted than he was accustomed to. He tossed the dampened clothes to the side for the moment.
In a corner of the crate was the first aid kit. He didn't have need for it now, but there was no telling if he would later. He made a mental note to take it with him.
All that was left was the coin pouch. He thumbed through the contents, verifying nothing had been taken, then shoved it into his pocket and rose to his feet. As he turned, something on the far side of the shack caught his eye.
A red and white mask. His mask. He pulled it from the wall and held it in his hands. In a way, now "Amon" was as dead as Noatak. What a sobering thought. He dropped the mask into the crate along with his old clothes and replaced the lid.
There was just one last order of business. Once he was out of Republic City, he was willing to risk exposing his face, but until then he needed a way to cover it. Another mask was out of the question. The police would be expecting that.
But perhaps he could hide his face another way.
Amon opened the first aid kit and took out a roll of bandages. He started wrapping his head beginning with his left eye, to the top of his head and over his ear, until the left side of his face was completely covered. Then he reached for another roll and covered the skin above and below his mouth, leaving enough space for him to eat, drink, and talk, if necessary.
It wasn't comfortable, but he didn't mind being half-blind. As long as he could fool the citizens of Republic City into believing he was someone from the slums. They would immediately understand he was in too rough a condition to get proper medical treatment—if they paid him any attention at all.
He searched the shack for anything useful before he left. In the back of his mind he wondered if he should've destroyed the evidence revealing he'd been there. He was half a block away when he decided it was best he didn't. Even if the police somehow thought to search there, it was just as likely someone from the slums had raided the place.
The rest of the day Amon spent catching up on what he'd missed during his time in the Spirit World. He learned from a street vendor outside the slums that nearly a week had passed since he was exposed as a bloodbender. The boat he and Tarrlok escaped on—or what was left of it— was discovered a couple of days later. His chest tightened when he heard his brother's body had been found, though the spirits more or less told him as much. Not surprisingly, the police didn't consider he had been with Tarrlok. Their best officers were tasked with finding him and the rest of the Equalists within the city, with plans to expand their search once they finished their sweep.
That didn't leave him much time. He needed to rid the world of his Equalist revolution, or so the spirits said. But what if he decided he didn't want to? Maybe he could use this opportunity to create a new revolution, a more successful one. And now that he had a better gauge on the Avatar and her friends—
An unbearable pain coursed through his body, almost as if . . . as if he were being bloodbended? He nearly doubled over from the pain. No, it couldn't be. The only other bloodbenders who could bend during the day were dead.
This had to be the work of the spirits.
Consider this your retribution, if you wish. Amon scoffed as he remembered Wan Shi Tong's words. As if he had a choice in the matter.
Maybe some had abandoned the Equalist cause once they learned he was a bender, but the majority wouldn't, particularly those outside Republic City. It was easy to lose faith in a leader. The idea of equality, however, was much harder to destroy.
He needed to disable the outposts first if he wanted to cripple the revolution. The planned second wave of manpower and supplies were held at these posts. It wouldn't be an easy task for him to do alone. There were nearly two-dozen sites scattered across the Earth Kingdom, as well as a handful in the Fire Nation and Water Tribes.
Then he could concentrate on Republic City. The police might find some of the Equalist's hubs, but not the core. He had no doubt the new leader would move it to somewhere new, to establish themselves from his former leadership. At least, that's what he would do, if in that position.
Finally Amon had a plan of action, albeit a rough one. He didn't waste any time gathering the supplies he would need for the long journey ahead: a satchel, a water pouch, some dried meat in case he couldn't find anything to hunt. The last item he needed was a weapon. It wouldn't be easy to find in the slums, despite what one might think. He could find something easily in the heart of Republic City, but . . .
"Hey, mister." He felt a tug on the back of his vest and turned. A young girl of no more than seven, dressed in red and yellow robes, stood before him. Her grey eyes widened as she looked up at him. "Your face!" she gasped. "What happened?"
It took a moment for him to understand her shock. The bandages. Although he changed them daily, he'd grown so accustomed he forgot about them.
She continued staring at him, concerned. Why did this girl look so familiar?
Another girl, older than the first, came up to him. "It's okay if you don't want to talk. Or can't," she said. "But if you want, we can help you! The Avatar is our friend."
"She can heal you!" a young boy added, hovering on a sphere of air.
"Please, sir." The older girl's hands were clasped together, almost pleading. "You don't have to suffer anymore. Let the Avatar help."
Of course. How could he have not realized sooner? The red and yellow robes were a dead giveaway. But what were Councilman Tenzin's children doing in the slums? He decided the reason didn't matter. They couldn't be there by themselves, and he had no desire to face the airbender.
Amon shook his head and pushed them to the side. With any luck they would get the hint and not follow after him. It seemed to be working. When he glanced back, they merely stood there watching him disappear into the crowd.
He was nearly out of sight when the pain returned, more intense than before. This time he did double over, nearly tripping as he went. A fine sheen of sweat broke on his forehead. Even the act of breathing was more difficult than it should be.
What did the spirits want this time? He nearly groaned, though whether from pain or frustration he couldn't tell.
Out the corner of his eye he could see the three children rushing toward him. "Mister!"
"Ikki!" The youngest girl stopped at the sound of the councilman's voice. "Jinora and Meelo too! Come on, kids. We're leaving."
The three regarded each other, as if debating whether to ask their father for help. Amon sincerely hoped not. Finally, they began to walk away. Ikki lagged behind, glancing back at him every so often. Before she was completely out of sight, she ran back.
"If you change your mind, go to Air Temple Island. That's where the Avatar is staying," she said quickly. "I would do it if I were you. You don't look too good, mister."
Then she and her siblings were gone. Thank the spirits.
He was able to pull himself up with some effort. So much for gathering the rest of his supplies. It would have to wait until the pain subsided. Every step of the way was hell, but he managed to find his way back to the small shack to rest.
That night sleep eluded him. He took some herbs from the first aid kit to help him relax; it didn't help. Then he used another herb to help ease the pain. Still nothing. The sharp stabbing sensation seemed to grow more intense instead. Out of desperation he took a larger-than-necessary dose of some kind of root to knock himself out.
Eventually Amon gave up. The next morning he found himself watching the sunrise, his hands gripped onto the doorframe for support.
He had to be in pain for a reason. The last time he experienced it was when he considered foregoing his mission. This had to be the spirits way of reminding him he was on the wrong path—or, more accurately, not on the path they wished for him to take.
So where did he need to be? He tried remembering what he was doing before the spirits decided to give him some "guidance." Gathering supplies, about to head out of the slums to get a weapon, stopped by—
The Councilman's children. The offer to get help from the Avatar.
Air Temple Island.
Amon shook his head in disbelief. Had the spirits lost their minds? The place was filled with people who probably wanted him dead, or at the very least imprisoned until the end of time. And if that happened, that would make completing their mission a bit difficult.
Maybe the pain affected him more than he anticipated, but the longer he stood there, watching people rise and start another day, the more he realized there was little point fighting against the will of the spirits. The idea didn't sit well with him. He'd been treated as a pawn once already, and had promised he would never allow himself to be used again.
But if the constant pain didn't drive him to insanity, the lack of sleep would.
He tossed the satchel over his shoulder and headed over to the other side of the city, directly across from Air Temple Island. The ferries were still docked when he arrived, even though it was already past noon. Eventually he convinced—with nearly half the money in his coin pouch—one of them to take him across.
As he stood on the empty deck, he prepared himself for the inevitable meeting with the Avatar and her friends. He figure out halfway through the city what the spirits intended, but couldn't bring himself to linger on the thought. It left a sour taste in his mouth.
The ferry reached the coast of the island in less than half an hour. Amon stepped onto the shore, nearly pain-free, and stared up at the temple. He took in a deep breath and readied himself for the worst.
Deep down he knew this meeting would not end well.
No need to delay the inevitable. He was surprised by the lack of security around the temples, considering the events of the last few weeks. Then again, as he learned firsthand, the airbenders were more than capable of defending themselves.
He didn't know what to expect when he reached the temple. What he found was the Avatar's little group in the courtyard across from him. Councilman Tenzin's children were playing tag—using their airbending, of course—while the councilman and his wife watched, their newest child in hand. The Avatar's earthbender friend had joined the kids, and was trying to convince someone—Hiroshi Sato's daughter?—to do the same. The Avatar herself was a little further back, talking with the firebender who had somehow resisted his bloodbending.
Ikki was the first to notice his presence. She created a sphere of air and bended her way over to him. "You came!"
Suddenly everyone's eyes were focused on him. There wasn't a hint of recognition on their faces.
And these were the people who defeated him?
The other kids were the first to move. They made their own air-spheres and hovered over to join their sister. It took a little longer for the Avatar to collect herself and run over to their side. "Who is this, Ikki?" Her gaze shifted to the older girl. "Jinora?"
"Remember the guy we told you about in the slums, Korra? The one who couldn't talk?"
"This is him!" exclaimed the boy.
"Well, I'm not sure I can do anything for his speech," Korra said, smiling warmly. She reached her hand out to him. "But I can heal the injuries on your face. Could you take off your bandages, sir? I need to see how bad the damage is."
Amon reached for the bandages and began unwrapping them. Korra's expression shifted slowly from worry to confusion with each layer removed. It wasn't until the last of the bandages fell to the ground that he received the reactions he anticipated.
Fear. Then anger. And finally hatred.
Her eyes narrowed. "Amon!"
"Avatar," he said without ceremony. "I believe there are some important matters we need to discuss."