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Typical. Just typical, snorted Buyuk to himself, trying to keep out of the light. The guy wants a "special rendezvous", he picks the most public area of the city besides the swirling City Hall, in the daytime. How much of a drifter does he think I am?
You are a drifter, said his inner voice. You're lucky he's taking time for you at all.
So being leader of the Avalanche Triad counts for nothin', huh?
Very little, against Yakone.
Buyuk shivered even at the thought of the name. Sure, he was no speck in the underworld of what was being called the Greatest City on Earth, but that guy...
And it was odd, come to think about it, that he would ask to see Buyuk at all. There was no knowing where Yakone (shiver) was actually from. He'd been here long enough that any trace of an ethnic tribe accent was missing from his speech, but he sure as grit hadn't been born here. He was older than most of the founding generations, but young enough to be spritely and mean. And he'd found a niche catering to the...less civilized side of Republic City.
Much like Buyuk.
But there were some major differences here. Buyuk, uniquely gifted though he was, had no talent that some ten thousand others didn't possess. He just happened to be a sand shark out of the dunes. But Yakone had talent, rumoured talent that nobody had fully probed the extent of.
Still, he was paying him, and he was speaking to him. Not that many people actually wanted to speak to him.
A rush of steam covered up his goggles. Buyuk grunted in annoyance, reaching up to clear them–
Something stopped him. Something that felt eerily like what his uncle had called "cactus madness". His arm literally halted on the way to his eyes, and exploded in pain. It felt as if every muscle in his arm was fighting against itself.
Buyuk grimaced. Then, just as suddenly as the pain had appeared, so it went. Deeper down the alley, the small shaft of daylight that Buyuk had consciously been avoiding glinted off an array of perfect teeth arranged in a smile that would have a sand shark diving for cover.
"My guess is this is Bug-Eyed Buyuk," said the teeth. They sounded grating, but also very smooth in some strange way.
"You looking for Bug-Eyed Buyuk, you got him," said Buyuk, trying to retain a sliver of his attitude.
"Well, that's a nice bit of luck there, to be sure," said the teeth, gleaming in the dark. "'cause I need Bug-Eyed Buyuk for somethin'."
"You got guts to pull off a stunt like this," growled the gangster.
"So do you," purred the teeth. "Such lovely, lovely guts."
Buyuk stopped dead. Hê was sure his heart rate was loud enough to cause an earthquake.
The teeth split apart, and started laughing like a madman. Then they started to fade as, slowly edging forward, like a dandy on a stroll, came an oldish man–maybe in his fifties, maybe less. His skin was dark, but not so dark as to be ethnic tribe–he could have come from a dozen places across the Earth Kingdom. His hair was a nondescript shade of light brown, his chiseled features were striking but without region, and his build was bulky. As he walked forward, leaning lightly against a cane made from a walrus-yak tusk, his light-grey suit–easily one of the best-looking suits Buyuk had seen in his life–moved easily with him, like a fish in scales.
Only now, as he stepped out of the shadows and calmed down, did Buyuk see the bright blue eyes that marked him as Southern Water Tribe, and as something else as well–a madman.
"Yakone," he said. He spat at his feet.
But Yakone only frowned. "That's some way to waste water," he said. "And a bad idea if you get caught in an alley with a Waterbender."
"It's tradition," said Buyuk. "Anyway, any Waterbenders in this alley, you could take 'em."
Yakone grinned, and started laughing again. This time, it didn't seem quite so menacing.
"We both know you could take 'em by yourself, kid," he said. "Ya got your palook on tight, you do. But I never honestly believed you lot would crawl out of the dunes."
Distracting me, thought Buyuk. It's like he can get inside me and start pulling strings.
Testing you, said his inner voice. He's wondering if you'll blow his way. Keep it going, but turn it around when you need to.
"There aren't many of us around," he said. "But there's a place for everybody here in Republic City."
"Even Sandbenders," said Yakone. "But you guys have about as much kin in this town as us Water Tribers. Walk with me, will ya? I wanna show off my new suit."
Yakone slid around Buyuk–which was no easy feat–and gestured outward, his fingers curling his petals on a moon flower.
"I'm not so sure," said the Sandbender. "Nobody goes around the docks in daytime."
"Please," scoffed Yakone. "I got all my own people around here. Those iron sides in the force consider this place neutralized in the day, 'cause there's not much a half-frozen Waterbender can do. We take care of ourselves, and that means getting some perks. C'mon, I won't bite. It ain't even full moon."
Was it just him, or were those last words said with a slight tinge of boasting?
But pay was pay.
Buyuk shrugged, and stepped out onto the docks.
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