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|Chapter Five: The Unbelievers|
Lu Taising liked to fancy himself charming, witty, flamboyant, and fun to be with. In his own mind he was the hero of every story, the man that everyone wished to be. The truth was that Taising was none of what he thought himself to be but he did have one particular talent that was undeniable and unbeatable.
Lu Taising was magnetic.
When he was very young, Taising found himself envious of his few friends that could earthbend. This was a talent that was denied him by a circumstance of birth, and he rallied against the universe for not being able to extend his will over the ground. He was petulant, surly, and quickly gained a reputation as a bully; striking out against those weaker than himself in his rage at the world. He likely would have become nothing, a mere thug on the streets had not he one day actually paid attention in history class and listened with rapt attention to the story of the Equalists and their leader, Amon.
The very idea of Amon is what drove him to investigate and to research his new found idol. The more he read, the more intrigued he became and the more intrigued he became the more he wanted not just to worship Amon, but to be Amon. Thus he learned a very spectacular sort of 'bending': Manipulation.
The right way of dressing, the right way of standing, and just the right words in just the right ears and by the time he was in middle school Lu Taising had it made. He surrounded himself with followers from all walks of life: Athletes, brains, starry-eyed cheerleaders, benders--anyone frail enough to seek a leader and anyone susceptible enough to fall in line after being told exactly what they wanted to hear.
By high school, Taising's gang had grown by leaps and bounds and began to dabble in the underworld. Clandestine deals were made with established criminals and sorties, promises made and kept, enemies shown the error of their ways. By the time he graduated, Lu Taising knew that he would never have to work a day in his life.
As an adult, Taising was the streets. Anything someone needed he could obtain, and he grew in the ranks from being an aid to the criminal element to an equal and finally to a boss. His perfect smile, his good looks, and his seemingly boundless generosity--and absolutely the most choice words--made him a recognizable name for those seeking that which was otherwise unobtainable. He was arrested and charged by the Dai Li of Ba Sing Se a record seven times, and seven times he walked out of court after charming judges and prosecutors alike. But in time, Taising found himself growing bored of his lot. He no longer wanted to be behind the scenes, evading the law and dictating what happened in Ba Sing Se's underbelly. He wanted the spotlight. Like Amon his idol, he wanted to be known.
Then the news broadcast came, and he watched raptly as the name and photograph of the Avatar was announced. He grinned, knowing his time had come. In less than four days he had his small army which was now spread out before him, clapping and cheering in the plaza as he took his place at the podium.
He looked out over the crowd, both his followers and normal citizens who were gathering to see just what the commotion was about.
"Ba Sing Se," he said into the microphone, "is the greatest city on Earth."
The crowd erupted in cheers. He let the cheers go for a moment, then continued.
"In Ba Sing Se, you can take your date to a mover and dinner and walk without fear of being mugged. In Ba Sing Se if you get sick you can go to a hospital and get the best doctor to be found in the world to treat you. In Ba Sing Se, you can get into your car, drive to work, and get paid to do what you do best. In Ba Sing Se, you can live."
The crowd surged with cheers again, many bystanders swelling the crowd and clapping for the man on stage. They didn't know him, but they liked what he was saying, and they liked looking at him: Tall, tanned, dressed in trousers and a vest, the latter without a church so his muscular physiology could be admired, and flowing black hair down to the middle of his back that the gentle breeze stirred around and played with like a fascinated lover.
Taising paced, not looking at the crowd as he spoke.
"So now, they tell us, the Avatar has returned. The bridge between the worlds, the keeper of the balance. But I say, do we need the Avatar?"
There was some scattered clapping, and some murmurings of dissent, and much confusion. The crowd wasn't sure where their leader was going with this. Taising, sensing the insecurity, pounced to keep it at bay.
"In the past twenty years, our medicine has advanced to the point that something that would kill you two decades ago is now no more serious than a case of the sniffles. We did it without the Avatar. We have televisions, trains, airplanes, and major movers. We have air conditioning when it's hot, and heat when it snows. We have roofs over our heads and food for our children. And where was the Avatar? Who knows?"
The crowd was beginning to warm, the cheers and clapping becoming stronger and louder.
"Some people look at everything we have, and everything we've accomplished, and they say it's wrong. They say that the world is out of balance. Our inventions, our discoveries, our advancements, and have tilted the universe in the wrong direction and chased off the spirits. They're leaping for joy that the Avatar has come, and will put the world in balance. Are we really going to let some fifteen year old kid take everything away from us?"
Shouts of dissent, loud boos, and angry outbursts rippled through the crowd. The speaker's words were hitting home, making people suddenly think about what they had and what might be lost. Taising kept his smile to himself, because none of it was directed at him. At his signal, two members of his gang marched out to stand beside him. They unfurled a large banner, which when opened fully was revealed to be a screen print of a smiling Nanaki. The crowd began to boo louder. Out of the corner of his eye, Taising saw the news van arrive, saw the cameras point in his direction. He launched into his final assault.
"So here she is. Your Avatar. The girl who will take away your medicines." The negativity among the crowd grew louder, "The girl that will look at your possessions, your family, your home, and who knows maybe even your pet raccoondog and say that you. Can't. Have. It."
The crowd was a coiling knot of rage now, shouting curses and epithets. Taising faced the crowd now, and looked directly at the cameras. He pointed.
"We don't believe the world is out of balance. We don't believe that the world needs the Avatar. We don't believe in letting some brat tell us what to do, and we don't believe she has the right to take away everything that we have, every one of us, spent the last twenty years working so hard to accomplish. So to the Avatar I say...we say...that we, the Unbelievers, don't believe in the Avatar. We don't need you! No more Avatar. No more Avatar!"
The crowd exploded with cheers, and then in unison began to chant along with the magnetic speaker.
"No more Avatar! No more Avatar."
Taising urged the crowd to chant louder and more forcefully. Inside, he was boiling over with the thrill of success. He knew that he had just become a leader. Lu Taising was like Amon. He was Amon! He was finally somebody.
In the very heart of the crowd, his fist pumping the air and his throat going hoarse for all of his shouting, caught up in and swept away by the excitement, was Otoshi.
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