A Dangerous Game
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The Darkest Flame



Written by

The Scollard

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Interest Piqued

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Crime Scene Investigating

Korra, Lin, and Tenzin walked through the busy city streets on their way to Qin's Famous Noodles. The street was crowded with vendors, hoping to make extra sales due to the holiday. The sheer volume of people caused the police to block the road off to Satomobiles, which caused the three benders to abandon Lin's police vehicle. They made their way through the crowd to the restaurant where the waterbender said she and her friend went the previous night. When they eventually reached the place, Lin glanced behind her to the vendors' stands.

"After we check this place out, I'm going to see if any of the vendors who set up early saw anything," she said.

The three of them entered the restaurant, glancing around to get a feel of the place. The place seemed to be crowded, though quite a few of the tables were empty. The majority of the customers seemed to be crowded around something near the back of the restaurant. Before doing anything else, they walked over to the crowd to see what the commotion was. In the middle of the crowd was a Pai-Sho table, with a game going on at the moment. One of the players was a man who seemed to be in his 30s, though they couldn't really tell. He was wearing a black suit, with a black fedora. The other player was an old man, probably in his 60s, who was wearing a blue vest, with gold waves threaded through the fabric. The younger man seemed to winning the game, as his demeanor was calm compared to fluster exhibited by his opponent. The three of them were being pushed closer to the table by the crowd, and eventually, they were in the front row to witness the game.

"Is it someone new?,," the man in black said, acknowledging their presence without even looking up from the board.

Suddenly, the man smiled. He placed a tile down near the center of the board, causing the other man to suddenly slap his forehead, and winning the game for the man.

"Seems not even you can break my winning streak, though I have to give you credit for trying," he said.

The two men stood up and shook hands. The older man was just about to leave when the younger man spoke up.

"Here, catch," the man said, tossing a Pai-Sho tile to his opponent.

After the older man studied the tile for a bit, he headed to one of the tables. The crowd started to clear away, there was probably not going to be another game in a while. The man in black studied his new spectators.

"Councilman Tenzin. Chief Beifong. Avatar Korra. I am honored by your presence here," he said.

"Well, we aren't here on purpose," Korra said, "We were, well, just investigating something here when we decided to see what all the commotion was back here."

"What is it you are investigating?" the man asked, "I am usually here from the afternoon to the night all days of the week, and could help you if you're looking for information concerning this restaurant."

"Uhh, okay," Korra said, "Now we can't give away all the details of case we are investigating, you must understand Mr...."

"My name is Mr. Smith," the man said.

"Smith, ancient surname of the western Earth Kingdom, used to be extremely popular," Tenzin interjected.

"It seems you know the history of my surname, Councilman" Smith said.

"I strive to be a learned man," Tenzin replied.

Smith turned his attention back to Korra.

"What information are you looking for?" he said.

"Well, we were wondering if you saw a group of three teenagers in this restaurant last night," Korra said, "An earthbender, a waterbender, and a firebender, each wearing their element's colour."

"I believe I did see a group of kids that match you description," he said.

Korra and Smith locked each with each other for a split second as he said that to her, allowing her to notice something about him she missed the first time.

"Why are your eyes red?" she asked.

"Oh, no specific reason," Smith answered, "These eyes have been red for as long as I can remember. I consider it a gift, to be touched by Agni, the goddess of fire herself. It also helps bring me closer to my element."

"So you're a firebender," Korra said.

"Yes" Smith answered.

Korra looked in the eyes, trying to figure out if they were thinking the same thing, that Smith seemed a possible suspect. However, she couldn't tell.

"Councilman Tenzin," Smith suddenly interjected, "as a learned man and a member of the city council, you must know how to play Pai-Sho."

"I do," Tenzin said, "My father taught me when I was young."

"Well," Smith said, "then how about we play a game. I can give you your information as we play."

There was a sinister edge to his invitation that Korra picked up on.

"Of course," Tenzin said, "I would like to hear what you saw and break this little winning streak of yours."

"The thing is, Councilman Tenzin, I never lose" Smith replied.

Tenzin sat down at the table. The people in the restaurant took notice and started to crowd around the game. Thankfully, Korra and Lin already had front row seats. The men began talking as they collected the pieces left on the table from the last game.

"As you aren't able to see, Councilman" Smith said, "From my Pai-Sho table where I quite often spend my time, I have a good vantage point over the rest of the restaurant."

"And that is how you saw them," Tenzin said.

"Yes" Smith replied, "They came. They ate. They left."

"So, the girl wasn't mistaken in what restaurant she visited last night," Lin muttered, "That's a good start."

"And that's all," Tenzin said, surprised at the dearth of information the man offered.

"No, I can't be sure, you see, but I believe the waterbender and the firebender were arguing about something. From where I was, they were pretty loud and... expressive."

"Smith doesn't seem to be lying,," Lin whispered to Korra, "but that doesn't necessarily mean what he saying is true, or was misinterpreted."

"Okay," Tenzin said as the men began their game.

Tenzin place his first tile onto the board. Smith smiled.

"Interesting move," he said, "I can't say I've seen it before."

Smith's eyes moves about the board, scanning for every possible move. He seemed different playing this game then he had before, he seemed to be more nervous.

"You didn't seem as invested in your last match as you are in this one," Tenzin said.

Smith looked up at him.

"I have never played you before, Councilman," he said, "Unlike the others, whom I have played tens of times."

The crowd gasped, as the last match was apparently the first time those two had played and large bets were made on that assumption.

"Sorry, what I meant to say was there are several strategies people will use, sometimes connected to what element they belong to. Due to these common strategies, it feels as though I have played people like my last opponent tens of times," he corrected himself, "But your strategy, it seems... new."

The crowd calmed themselves; after all, what he said made sense.

Smith placed down his first tile with a newfound air of confidence.

"Though, as I said before, I never lose" Smith said, "However, that isn't an excuse for me to let my guard down, despite your hopes that I will."

The two men continued their game, placing tiles with various symbols on the board. Korra had trouble following as she had never bothered to learn the rules of the game. However, she tried to figure out who had the upper hand by analyzing the two players. Both Tenzin and Smith seemed calm, which didn't tell her anything. Smith, with her confidence shining through his smirk, seemed to be calculating and setting up some plan. He seemed rather devious in fact, which made Korra realize that he seemed to be rather suspicious. Tenzin placed down a tile, a smirk appearing on his face.

"I believe your winning streak is at an end," he said to Smith.

The crowd gasped, they hadn't expected Smith to lose. Smith, on the other hand, kept his calm demeanor. He studied the board, and picked up one of his own tiles. As he placed it down, his smirk opened up into more of a grin.

"I believe you know what they say about snatching victory at the edge of defeat" Smith said, "I have won. None of the moves you can make will be able to beat me."

The crowd gasped again, as Tenzin studied the board. Korra knew that he wasn't beaten yet, he must still have something up his sleeve. However, Tenzin stood up instead and shook Smith's hand.

"Thank you, Councilman" Smith said.

The crowd dispersed after that, as the game, with its predictable outcome, was over, leaving the four of them alone.

"That was refreshing" Smith said, "I have played this game many times before, and that added some excitement to it."

"What do you mean?" Tenzin asked.

"When you play as much as I do, all the similar events fused together, leaving you unable to remember specific parts" Smith said, "The parts you do remember are the different experiences, different strategies. I never lose, so the ending stays the same, but the story itself changes, and that is what makes things exciting."

"Speaking of which..." Smith said.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, blank Pai-Sho tile. He borrowed a pen from a waiter and wrote something down on it.

" you go," he finished, tossing the tile to Tenzin.

"What is this?" Tenzin asked.

"A memento" Smith said, "A reminder."

The group moved away from Smith's table after that, stopping in the aisle just out what they thought was Smith's earshot.

"What does the tile say?" Korra asked, whispering.

"It just has the number 1 written on it," Tenzin whispered, "I don't know what it is supposed to mean."

"What?" someone said.

The group looked over. The person who spoke up was the man in blue who had lost to Smith when they came in. He walked over to them, fishing through his pockets.

"That's strange," he said, showing them a tile like Tenzin's, "Mine has the number 83 on it, and so does the ones he seems to give to everybody he plays. What makes you so special?"

"I have no idea," Tenzin said. "Now, we must be going."

"Wait, Tenzin," Korra said, "Shouldn't we speak to the guy at the counter? Maybe he knows something."

"That would be a good idea," Lin said.

They walked up to the counter where a waiter was waiting for take-out orders. He immediately greeted them.

"How may I help you today?" the young man said.

"Were you here last night?" Lin asked.

"No," the man said, "However, the waiters are working the night shift will be here tonight. You can ask them then."

Korra and Lin looked at each other. They couldn't get any information on the group which contained the victim. Korra got the idea to ask about Smith and see if the waiter could give them more information on the mysterious man.

"Do you know anything about the man at the Pai-Sho table in the back?" Korra said, motioning towards Smith.

"Yes, I can tell you a bit about him, though I'm afraid Mr. Smith is just about as mysterious to me as he is to you," he said.

"Mr. Smith visits the restaurant almost every day, having at least two meals here. He spends lunch and the evenings at the Pai-Sho table. Occasionally, he plays games of Pai-Sho, which he never loses. He never told me anything personal, nobody knows about his past or his profession, where he gets the money he gives away so freely, and though he may have let a little information slip out to a waiter, it is unlikely," he said, "However, we do enjoy having him here."

"Why is that?" Korra asked.

"One, he tips well. I believe I heard his waiter last night got a very big tip from him," he said, "Also, when he is around, there seems to be this nice, calming aura, filling you with energy and making your job easier."

He motioned towards the kitchen.

"In fact, the cooks complain when he isn't around because they feel as though it is easier to bend and control the stove fires when he is here," he continued.

Korra stopped for a second to think, she did seem to sense the aura the waiter was talking about, but only a tiny bit. Interesting, very interesting.

"Okay, thanks," Korra said, "Now, I would like a bowl of your classic noodles. To go, please."

Tenzin grabbed her arm and started dragging her out of the restaurant.

"Korra, this is no time to be eating," Tenzin said, "We have important things to do."

"But Tenzin,," Korra said, "I'm hungry."

"You can get a quick snack at one of the vendors outside," he said, slightly flustered, "But we are not staying in this restaurant."

She let out a quick apology to the waiter as they exited the restaurant, with Lin following right behind. When they were outside and slightly away from the restaurant, Lin stopped them to talk.

"I'll talk to the vendors while you and Korra can do some shopping," Lin said, "The merchants set up shop early, so maybe one of them saw what happened last night."

Lin turned to leave.

"Wait, Lin," Korra said, "I need to talk to you about Smith."

"What is it?" she said, turning to face her.

"There something about him, I don't know what exactly, but something about him makes him very suspicious. I don't trust him," she said.

"You're right," Lin said, "There's something off about him that showed itself during his game with Tenzin. That cold, calculating nature, not to mention the utter glee he had when he outsmarted his opponent. It's very suspicious, and suggests that, if he is our killer, we should be careful while dealing with him."

Lin turned directly to Tenzin.

"Tenzin," she said, "I don't know what, but something is eating away at me. This case seems familiar, and I'm trying to figure out why. It's gnawing at me, I feel that I recognize the some of the elements of the case from somewhere, but I can't seem to figure out where exactly from."

"I agree," Tenzin said, "Something does seem strangely familiar."

He shrugged.

"Perhaps it will come to you as we investigate more," he said, "Me and Korra will find you when we're done."

"Yes, I suppose we should start looking around," she said, "One of these vendors might hold the key to solving this case."

Author's Note

Ahh, another chapter up. Due to the change in Republic City's government that was mentioned in Book 2, as well as the changes in status that a few characters have gone through, I am planning to add some mentions to them in order to keep this fic as canonical as possible. You will see in some later chapters just exactly where Republic City is in between the one we saw in Book 1, and the one we saw in Book 2. Please review if you have any questions, I will try to answer them to the best of my ability without spoiling the fic. Also, review even if you don't have any questions and like the fic, I love hearing feedback and constructive criticism.

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