Recruiting Drive Part 3
Chapter information

Shadows of Equality



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Release date

December 27, 2013

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Chapter 3: Recruiting Drive Part 2

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Chapter 5: The Gathered

"What's this all about mom?" Binh asks as he looks confusedly at the four who obviously know something he doesn't.

His parents take a long pause before answering, take a look at one another, then turn back to him. "Honey you know we love you and we just want you to be happy," his mother, Juma says in her usual soft voice.

"We just think you've been spending too much time with those girls" Binh's father, Meza says seated with a lit pipe in his mouth.

"The Rabaroos are my friends. We just hang out and practice and I've known Adi for years. What's wrong with me spending time with them?"

"With what's going on in the city it's just not good for you to be spending so much of your time around those benders." Meza takes a puff of his pipe after speaking.

"Your mother's right you know.," Sun speaks up, leaning forward in her seat. "These benders are dangerous people and everyone needs to be careful. Benders run everything in this city. They run some of the biggest businesses, the best restaurants, even the Council is made of all benders."

"But I'm a bender! My best friends are benders. None of them have done anything bad." The young man jumps to the defense of his fellow benders.

"Yes, but look around you. The triads are a prime example of what benders are capable of. They've turned this city into a cesspool and the police haven't done a thing about them. Even the council members are only concerned with protecting benders. Just look at Tarrlok and his task force, hurting people because they have the power to. Give them a chance and benders will do whatever it takes to keep themselves on top." Haga leans back in his seat, impressed with the level of skill in which Sun is defending their stance.

"That's a lie!" Binh lashes out, accidentally unleashing a burst of flame in his frustration. The fire latches onto the rug in the center of the room. He calms down and looks around the room, seeing the alarmed look of his parents, also noticing the bizarre stares of the two guests. Both look ready to leap into action by their posture. The young firebender quickly pulls it away before dissipating it completely. He looks nervously at his parents then back at the two guests. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."

Juma walks over to him and puts her arm on his shoulder. "Binh, we just want you to be happy, we've always wanted that for you. That's why we want you to go with them, so they can help you." He instantly looks up, slowly realizing what is going on.

"Help me? Who are these people?" he removes his mother's arm, slowly taking a few steps out of the room. " guys are Equalists."

"Just calm down, Son. We'll explain everything on the way there." Haga says as he and Sun approach him and his parents attempt to calm him down.

"Don't touch me!" Binh unleashes a wave of fire that separates him from the others, allowing him enough time to bolt for the door. He stumbles down the stairs before darting down the street, sure that, from what he has heard, the two visitors are giving chase. He moves as fast as his legs will take him until he stumbles into an alleyway and takes cover behind several garbage cans, cowering in terror as he can hear voices calling his name in the distance. The firebender stays in the position for what seems to him like hours, until he is certain that they must have given up. He cautiously takes a few steps out of the alley, uncertain of what waits for him.

A few hours earlier

Firuz, accompanied by the newly recruited Tafari head to one of the cities many low rent districts. As they head into a building with a sign that is clearly on the verge of falling of its hinges, the earthbender stops to confirm the address on a piece of paper in the palm of his hand. After making sure the information given to him by Kiri is correct, the two make their way up several flights of stairs. Noting that Tafari hasn't spoken a word since leaving the station, he decides to spark conversation on their way up. "What made you join up with us anyway? I can understand Ota, he's a pretty easy puzzle to piece together, but you...I'd be surprised if you didn't have your own reasons for coming along so easily."

The dark skinned man turns his head toward Firuz with dead eyes before speaking. "Understand this, I hold no love for this city or the citizens in it. That given, I know that this Amon will not stop with this city, he will spread his cause to the entire world and I will not leave the fate of my entire race in the hands of this incompetent child who calls herself the Avatar. We made that mistake once before and I refuse to let it happen again."

"But you do work with Ota?"

"Ota shares my views on much of this city and the Republic. He sees the injustices that befall many and takes a stand against them. He may not be the smartest man I've met, but he is the most staunch in defending his stance. He is one of the few people I would consider a friend." The two end the conversation as they reach the top floor, which is more of a floor with three and a half walls and half a ceiling, completely exposed to the elements. They look around the dilapidated level with its weathered, cracked floors, paint chipped walls, and leaks coming through what's left of the ceiling. A small covey of birds startles them as they take off from a corner where they had been roosting and into the night.

"You fellas here for something or you just wanna scare my birds away?" a man, no older than thirty appears from around the corner of what's left of one of the interior walls. A scruffy mustache-beard combo, mud-covered boots, and dirt stained cloak draped over his shoulders doesn't do much to convince Firuz that this is the man they are looking for.

"Captain Saburo I presume?" The earthbender awaits his answer as the man takes a few steps back, seating himself on a wooden crate, rubbing his unkempt black hair. He suddenly begins chuckling before finally addressing his visitors.

"Oh wow, that rank takes me back. How did you find me?"

"I have some very reliable sources that said you were living in the city. I have to admit, this isn't the kind of place I envisioned the famed revolutionary to reside."

"Famed huh? The Fire Lord seems to have a very different name for me. 'Delusional lunatic' they called me. 'A danger to the nation and her interests.' that's what she said." Saburo gets up and walks over to what's left of a ruined bar. He grabs a bottle from under the counter as the two follow. He places three small, old, dirt stained glasses on the table and pours the contents of the bottle into the three. He offers his guests the other glasses, taking the final one himself turning away from them. Firuz gives Tafari a salute before drinking his, only for his accomplice to toss out the contents over his shoulder. "I used to be one of the up and coming young officers in the Fire Nation military, then a symbol for our return to glory." He stops and sucks down the drink. "One loose lip and suddenly I'm fleeing my homeland, and now everyone knows me as the crazy guy upstairs that feeds the birds."

"Truly a sad fall from grace my friend. One moment can change your life for the worse. But I believe it was fate that you happened to land here out of all the cities in the United Republic. You are aware of Amon's revolution, yes?"

"How could I not notice? He blocks the airways every other day. Guy has a plan but he's effectively killed a good amount of support. For every non-bender that joins him there are at least five others, bender and non, that think that the system needs to change as well. To me this guy has half a sense of what he's doing and too much hate to use it effectively." Firuz is now fully confident this is the man they are looking for, his keen analytical skills being one of his many valuable traits.

"That's precisely why I and my associates have come together to put a stop to his supremacist movement. And we'd like you to join us." The comment catches the former captain's attention as Firuz continues. "It would be in a command role of course, I know how you like to do things."

"While I appreciate the offer, I'll have to decline. There are a lot of people who know my reputation. If the council found out I was here I'd be shipped back to the Fire Nation in a heart beat and between you and me, I 'd rather not spend the remainder of my sad life in the Capital City Prison. Now if you and your friend here would be so kind as to...." He stops himself, taking a careful look at Tafari. "Wait, your one of the Sarranid people aren't you?" He receives a simple nod in response to his excited question, this confirmation sending him into a strangely happy frenzy as he begins shaking Tafari's hand. "Such an honor to finally meet one of you, I've read all about your struggles and the injustices you've suffered because of the United Republic and the Avatar. Are you actually a part of this whole resistance movement? You'd throw your lot in with this guy?"

Tafari himself is skeptic about answering the question. He stops and looks over at Firuz before looking back to Saburo with his usual serious demeanor. "I believe we have to try, not just for the benders but for everyone. I may hate this city and what it stands for but the stakes are too high to let this madman succeed."

"Well, I'm sold. Congratulations, you've got yourself a commander sir." Saburo shakes the earthbenders hand. "If this guy is willing to risk his life for this city, then I'll risk my freedom for it."

"Glad to have you on board Saburo."

Saburo reaches under his cloak and pulls out a brimmed, black hat with the Fire Nation insignia in the center, placing it on his head. "You can just call me The Captain."

Back at Task Force headquarters Soza and the other recruited members are making themselves at home, setting up the few belongings they've been allowed to bring. The firebender sits against the railing of a small bridge that gaps a long tunnel with a small waterway which is overgrown with vegetation, holding a letter in his hand. Hasook notices the worried look of his friend and makes his way over. "Hey buddy, what's up?" he leans over the railing looking down the tunnel as the small stream of water runs down it.

"Nothing, it's just a letter I got."

"Come on, you know you can tell me anything without the loudmouth brothers knowing." Hasook mentions Husam and Seok's inability to keep secrets as he slightly nudges Soza, giving a light smirk.

The firebender lets out a sigh before answering. "Alright. You know I'm from the Fire Nation. Thing is, when I left my cousin Doda was pregnant. The baby was fine, healthy little girl. I had a friend of mine keep an eye on them just in case they needed my help with anything. I got a letter from her that Doda passed about five years ago and her daughter Azla is living with my aunt."

"You planning on heading back home?"

"No." Soza stands up handing Hasook the letter. "I got this last week." The waterbender opens the envelope and reads the contents.

"All it says is 'Watch out!"

"Exactly. I don't know what she means, unless someone else knows I'm here." Hasook looks at his friend and notes the dark bags under his eyes. "I'm alright just haven't been sleeping that well, for a while actually. I'm fine, it's just a lot of stuff's hitting me a once. Thanks though."

"Anytime. Just remember If you ever need anything, I got your back." Hasook says as he leaves his friend, handing him back the letter as Soza continues to look at the two words.

Across town in one of the many Triad safe-houses, the Agni Kai Council, the group's six highest ranking figures, meet to discuss the current situation. With them are the under bosses and about two dozen lower officers. Among this horde is Zhong, a very popular member among the street level operators. He sports a customized red jacket with gold trim in place of the standard white as well as a pair of custom made shaded glasses. He is accompanied by his right-hand man, Jori and girlfriend, Ina. As he makes his way to the Council chamber many of the younger members flock around him, asking questions attempting to get his attention. As he walks in he joins the other bosses in the middle of chamber which consists of a large rectangular room with four, seven seat rows. Seated on the far side are the council on throne like structures built into the wall, the seating curved outward to allow the members a view of each other.

"All rise." The eldest council member, with a long gray beard and white hair in a topknot says as the bosses rise. As the elder prepares to speak the proceedings are interrupted as the main doors to the chamber open, the two posted guards falling hard against the floor. A young girl wearing a pair of black pants, a similarly colored shirt with a red and gold sleeveless jacket over it, walks over their unconscious bodies. Her black hair sports the traditional topknot of the Fire Nation, two long bangs hanging from either side of her face, her amber eyes completing her pure appearance. "Hello, everyone. Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, I demand to speak with whomever among this shamble of a gang is in charge."

Her first words are met with a furious response from the men in the room. "How dare you!" one of them shouts.

"This is unheard of. You dare taint our sacred meeting." the councilman to the farthest left points a finger at the young intruder as she continues to advance casually.

"A bunch of old fogies talking about day-to-day blah di blah? You call that sacred? Makes feeding the turtle ducks seem like a dragon ride." She walks passed the bosses, ignoring them completely. Zhong is the first to react to this insult, snatching the girl by her left arm.

"You little brat. You have no idea who I am do you?" she responds to his comment by using a backhand chop from her right arm to burn part of his suit. He jumps back, observing the damage to his clothing then angrily slaps her across the face, knocking her to the ground. "I think it's about time you learned." He attempts to kick her, only for the girl to catch his foot, twisting it and forcing him to the ground as well. Zhong leers at the girl, furious that some child would disrespect him of all people.

"Enough!" The lead councilman shouts as the two stop short of each other. "Girl, I don't know who you are or where you came from, but this is the Agni Kai meeting chamber reserved for the council members and our highest agents."

The girl picks herself up, wiping away a spot of blood from the corner of her mouth. "Okay, I'll take his job then." she points directly to Zhong who looks on with an insulted look.

"Councilman you can't be serious."

"What say you gentlemen?" the council deliberates for a moment before turning back.

"I say let her fight."

"She does seem to possess great skill. I will allow it."

"I say go on."

"She got in her. I'm curious to see what she can do."

"Let's give her a chance."

Zhong laughs hysterically at their decision. "Councilmen, this is surely a waste of time. She's a little girl."

"Then you should have nothing to worry about."

A short time later the group has convened in the dueling chamber, joined by the entire Triad. The seating for the council is very much the same, the only difference being the wall of fire that obscures the members from the rest of the gang. As the two combatants take their places at the opposite ends of the arena floor, just about every spectator is either cheering on Zhong or cursing the young girl who they know stands no chance against the experienced triad boss. Zhong takes the time to showboat, waving to his adoring fans and blowing a kiss to Ina, while the girl is still bowed, kneeling with her back facing her opponent. He then points a finger at her before putting it up. "One minute," he then points toward the ground. "and you'll be laying down for a nap." The council finally signals for the duel to start as Zhong confidently pushes his shades up and the young girl turns to him.

"One good shot and she'll run home to her mommy." he thinks as he unleashes a flurry of fire blasts that purposely skim the girls sides and just above her head. Zhong performs a series acrobatic flips and kicks that unleash a flashy display of years of firebending. His army of followers cheer the attacks, enjoying every moment of the spectacle. He finds that his attacks were simply a waste of energy as his opponent hasn't even bothered to take a defensive stance, not even flinching.

"Are we going to fight or play circus?" she says with a smirk. Zhong responds by unleashing a shot directed at her chest. The girl shifts to the left, dodging the blast. She continues to evade the next few shots, ever advancing by shifting herself forward slightly as her opponent tries to keep the distance between them. As he finds that his fire has no effect on her, Zhong pulls out his trump card, using his quick lightning generation to catch her, culminating in a cloud of smoke. He takes a sigh of relief as he takes a step back, instantly feeling something behind him. Spinning around he finds the girl laying on her side, supporting her head with her hand, clearly board.

"And everyone talks about you like you're something special. I've been in kitchens that put out more heat than you." She jumps up as he backs away and shoots a fireball at her again. The girl again weaves passed the attack, moving under his arm and pushing it to the side. She then kicks him in the crotch forcing him to temporarily drop his guard as he tends to his wound. "I think I'll show you some real lightning." She begins to go through the traditional motions, building up her charge just as Zhong regains his composure and lets off a furious stream of fire. The lightning effortlessly smashes through his attack, exploding just short of his feet, sending him flying several yards back. He slams his back hard against the floor, his pants singed from the heat of the blast. Attempting to stand but still dazed from the attack, he falls on his hands and knees, panting heavily. The Agni boss looks around slightly as his once energetic fans are silenced by seeing their star in such a predicament, before looking forward where the girl is now leaning down to his level.

"Your make-up is running." she says quietly as Zhong looks down as the liquid drips down from his face onto the ground. He looks at himself in the reflective surface of the floor and can see the dark spots of his skin begin to show. "Is there something you want to tell your adoring fans?" She chides as Zhong tries one final attack, thrusting his arm forward, only for her to parry his efforts, blasting him with an explosive blast of lightning that once again sends him to the ground. "Ladies and gentlemen, if I may turn your attention to your so called hero." She casually walks over and picks up his custom shades, then turns back to the Agni boss as he barely manages to sit up. He hears everyone in the crowd murmuring and pointing toward him. He once again turns his attention to the floor seeing that his dark skin and blue eyes are now visible for everyone to see.

"Water Tribe, disgraceful." the girl looks at him with contempt as others have the same reaction. The firebender shifts his eyes into the crowd where Jori and Ina have turned away in shame. "This is the type of person you let into your proud society, this mixed blood scum?" She turns to the council, ostracizing them.

Zhong angrily launches another fireball. "You miserable little..." The attack is abruptly stopped as she takes the flame and fluidly twirls it in her hands. The crowd is shocked as the orange flame turns brighter and brighter, passing through the intense high level blue into a blinding white light that she returns, charring much of Zhong's skin. Several of the council members take notice of this feat, at least one of them getting out of his seat. He falls to his knees, screaming out in pain as she approaches him. "What....what" as he questions she sticks two fingers into his open mouth, preventing him from speaking further.

"What am I? I am perfection, pure Fire Nation blood. Not some cobbled together half breed like you. But you may call me Azla, or rather you would if I weren't about to..." she flexes her muscles slightly as many in the crowd turn away while others look on anxiously as she finishes her work. She takes the newly acquired glasses and places them on her face as one of the members approaches her, bowing before her.

"Boss, I'm Shoren. I was your predecessors' second in command. Anything you need I can get for you."

"Very well. I need you to get me as much information you can about a certain person." She pulls out a picture of a clean cut young man dressed in the clothing of nobility and shows it to him as he gives a nervous look. "Is there a problem my trusted second?" she says glaring at him.

"NO, no problem at all. He your old man or something?

"Yeah, something." Azla turns from him and heads toward the door, giving the council a fiery stare the entire time. "Now come. We've got a lot of work ahead of us."

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