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|The First Airbender|
A D+. Jinora could hardly believe it. She couldn't even remember the last time she failed a test, if she ever failed one to begin with.
-"And remember class, pages 104 through 111 for next Tuesday. If you don't prepare it, you won't be able to keep up with what I'm going to explain," Mr. Karu said right after the bell went. The entire class groaned, and packed up their stuff to leave. "Jinora, could you come over here for a minute?" He stopped her right before she walked out.
"But I have to go to my next class, Unalaq will have my head if I'm late."
-"This won't take long."
She hesitantly walked over to his desk, taking the seat directly opposite of him. "I imagine this is about my grade?"
-"Correct. Jinora, you're not the type to get D's. In my experience, if you're in it, you're in it to win it. Now if it was just one grade, I wouldn't have worried about it. Everyone has an off-day every now and again, but that wasn't the case here. I've done some asking around, and other teachers are reporting the same sort of thing about you. Your grades have been plummeting, and Mrs. Beifong is telling me that while she used to keep the library open longer so that you could stay, nowadays, you hardly ever show up there anymore. Is there something going on in your personal life that's making this happen?"
Yeah, you can say that again. Jinora sighed. "I've just had a lot to wrap my head around as of late, and haven't been able to find as much time to study as I used to."
-"Look, if you don't want to talk about it with me, that's fine, I'm your teacher, not your best friend. But that doesn't mean I don't want to see you succeed, so I will urge you to work past whatever it is that's pulling you down. You can do this, Jinora, you've proven as much in the past. You are more than capable of passing my course, so I sincerely hope that this is the last time I have to fail you for a test." He briefly paused, and Jinora nodded. "Alright, you run along now. And blame me if Unalaq gives you trouble."
Jinora made for her algebra class quickly, just in time before the next bell rang.
Later that day, her classes were over, and she was on her way to the library to study until dinner, determined not to get another D for her next test. That was when she heard a phone ringing, and it took her a while before she remembered that it was hers. Korra had got herself a new one, and given Jinora her old phone so they could stay in touch, and didn't have to do everything in person.
"Hey Korra, what's up?"
-"We need you, at the den, now."
This struck her dumb. Normally, Iroh planned everything ahead, he wouldn't throw this stuff on her without some prior warning, not to mention time to prepare. "But I'm still school, I have to study, not to mention that I'm not packing now. Can't this wait?"
"No, we have some business to discuss, and this can't wait. Not if we want to get on top of things now, so get your ass over here."
"Alright, I'll be there as soon as I can." She hesitated. On the one hand, she had been forsaking her studying already in order to be on the streets, and so far, the reward had been minimal. On the other hand, Korra sounded serious, and she wouldn't have called her over if it wasn't truly important. There might actually be something to this. Jinora took a deep breath, turned around, and made her way to the den at a considerable pace. When she stepped inside, Korra and Iroh were studying a map of the Dragon Flats Borough. "Ah, Jinora, glad to see you've made it," Iroh said. "Well, I'm a man of my word, and here's what you asked for." He threw her a bag of powder, and it looked just like what she had already been selling, but apparently it was something else.
"What am I supposed to make of this?"
-"It's the newest thing from the Western Air Nation, and they call it Glide. It's supposed to have the same effects as smack, only it makes you feel like you're flying. This is what I had been working on, and you're going to sell it. What Korra and I are trying to do is figure out where you should stop." He turned back to the map, pointing out something on it. "So no others between the banks?"
-"No, as long as we keep it over 86th, there shouldn't be any trouble," Korra informed him. "Heavy Terra Triad activity over there, and they won't like us poking around out there. Then we have the Agni Kai's who are calling the shots from 110th up, so as long as we stay within this part of town, we should be fine."
Jinora joined them around the map. "I take it you're trying to figure out where to sell this stuff?"
-"Yes, now pay attention, you're taking point on this."
"Taking point? What do you mean?"
-"Military jargon. Means you'll be the first one of us to try and sell this. With a bit of luck, you'll be the first to all the crackhouses, and you'll be making big bucks without so much as breaking a sweat."
This is certainly a step in the right direction. "Are you being serious here? You really did come through for me?"
Iroh smiled. "Yes of course I did, like I said, I'm a man of my word. Now, it won't be as easy as before, since this is more addictive, meaning the people you're selling to will be in worse shape. They'll also be more likely to try and take it by force, so you gotta be on your toes, and never go out without packin' heat."
"I already do that. Korra assured me that it would be a bad idea to do otherwise."
-"Damn straight I did," Korra said. "Now come take a look at this map. Everything between these lines is where we can safely sell without having to worry about the other major triads. There are a few splinter groups here, and those are the people that tend to stir up a lot of trouble for us."
"Splinter groups? I don't follow."
Iroh stepped in. "Minor gangs, sometimes consisting only of a few people. They are often absorbed by bigger ones, like I did with a bunch of people calling themselves The Red Lotus. Four people, and they are very productive for me. Bunch of assholes maybe, but they are lucrative."
"Goodie. But what does this really matter to me? I take it they won't be my competition, given that even you had your fair share of difficulties getting this stuff here."
He hesitated for a moment. "Yes I did, but let me worry about supplying you. You worry about not getting your ass shot."
Jinora nodded. "I'm on it. So when do I start with this?"
-"Tonight," Korra said. "We're going to do a quick sweep of the city together, see if we can dig up a few places that might be interested. I'll leave the sales pitching to you, but I'm not above helping you out a little."
This made her smile. Always looking out for you. "Thanks Korra, I appreciate that."
Korra smiled back. "Don't mention it. Now go eat something, and be back here at eight. Remember to bring the rain."
"Will do, Korra. See you later."
Now we're getting somewhere. That was the thought most prevalent in Jinora's mind on her way home. If Iroh was telling the truth, which he almost certainly was, this might very well be the break she had been waiting for. She would finally start making enough to get her mother out of Toza's grip. Last week had been the only time they had talked about him since Jinora walked in on them, and by all indications, he wasn't going to stop any time soon.
When Jinora stepped inside, Pema was already cooking their dinner, much to her surprise. "Hey Mom. Are we eating early today?"
-"Yeah, Tu just called, asked me if I could cover his nightshift at the restaurant. I said yes, we could really do with the money, but the trade-off is that we eat early. Small price to pay, if you ask me."
"I guess so. Actually, this is good for me, hang on for a moment." Jinora turned around and pulled out her phone, texting Korra that that they could meet earlier, get even more of a head start.
-"What is that?" Pema asked, but she soon realized it. "Is that a phone?!"
Jinora sighed. "Yes, Mom, it is. Korra gave me her old phone so I could go along with the times. You know, keep in touch with people." She ignored her mother's disapproving sigh, fled into her room, and spent the next half hour pouring over bone-dry chemistry, fairly successful at comprehending what it was about. She knew what she was doing, but that didn't mean it was easy. Eventually though, Pema called them all over for dinner, and Jinora looked at the clock. Half past six. Perfect. Means you still have some light while scoping out the city.
Dinner went over quick, and her mother soon made for the restaurant, leaving Jinora free to go back to the den without having to lie to her. Once she was fully ready to go, she made sure to give her sister some last minute instructions. "Now Ikki, I expect you to put Meelo and Rohan to bed in time, unlike the last time I left this to you."
-"Hey, it's not my fault they didn't listen to me! And where are you even going? You keep leaving at night, but you're never saying what for," Ikki said, getting frustrated with her older sister.
"I have a life, you know. I don't owe it to you or anyone here to tell you about my every move."
Ikki groaned loudly, making no attempt at hiding her displeasure. "Fine. But I will tell mom about this."
"Go nuts." Jinora paced away, leaving a frustrated sister in her wake.
Korra was already waiting for her at the den, and was ready to go. "Here, she said, while sticking out a small pouch of the new stuff. "Stick it in your bra, make them feel special when you hand it over. You're going to need it at some point." Korra smirked. "I've already got one, so let me use mine first." Jinora raised an eyebrow at her friend's weird habit, but decided not to question it.
"So do you have any idea where we should go? I mean, Iroh said it, completely different market, right?"
-"I know a few people who went from bad to worse, but they are not so far gone that you can't get anything sensible out of them. They can point us in the right direction, maybe we can even make a few sales."
They came up to a bridge, and Korra 'took point', as Iroh very efficiently put it. Apparently it's contagious. "Yo, Gommu! Are you here, I want to make a deal with you!"
A bum came walking out, and to Jinora it looked like he had been on the streets for a while. His beard had become quite impressive, if disgusting, and by the looks of things, he hadn't changed out of those clothes since he put them on. "Hello there Avatar, what do you want?" he asked.
Korra looked at Jinora, who took over. "What we want is a bit of information. In exchange, you get this," and right on cue, Korra pulled the pouch from her bra, sticking it out to Gommu. "Should be your thing," she simply added. "Put it in a needle, and the rest you can figure out."
He reached out for it, but she pulled it back before he could grab it. "You get this if you can tell us where we can sell more of this shit."
Gommu looked disappointed, but gave in. "There's an old motel on Omashu, closed down a few years ago. There are always people there who would be happy to buy." He reached out again, trying to take the pouch from Korra. Jinora found her hand once again gripping her gun, even if it happened subconsciously.
Jinora knew he was holding back on them somehow. She didn't know how, but there was something he wasn't telling us. "Look, this is new stuff, it's expensive, it'll make you fly, and we're prepared to give it to you for information. Do better."
He sighed again. "Alright, there are two more I places I know. Do you know the Little Ba Sing Se Mall?" Jinora and Korra nodded in unison, as it was pretty much the place to go, whether it was to hang out or do some shopping. And add dealing drugs to that list too, apparently. Though come to think of it, that might just explain their loyal clientele. "Once you in, take your left, and walk all the way to the back, to the emergency exit. Behind that, there are usually some people on the lookout to buy, and no heat to worry about."
Jinora raised an eyebrow. "That's more like it. What's the last place?"
-"It's a crack house on the corner Gaoling and 95th, but I know them guys. They have a supplier, and they are them loyal types, you know? You can scope it out, but your chances there are not good."
"I'll keep it in mind," Jinora replied, and Korra handed him his pouch.
-"So who is working with you, Avatar? Maybe I could be interested in... more business?"
Korra smiled. "She's working on it. Good seeing you again Gommu, and take it easy on the new shit."
Korra and Jinora walked away from the bum, making sure they were out of his earshot before Jinora started talking again. "What was he talking about, and what did you mean by 'she's working on it'?"
-"That's the one thing you still need: a name. You can't go by your real name, or even by the fake one Iroh got you on your ID. And even if, you don't get to choose your own nicknames: you have to earn it, just like your reputation. So if you spin this new business with Glide right, you could get something out of it."
"So how did you get yours?" Jinora asked, curious how Korra would ever end up as 'The Avatar'.
Korra scoffed. "Some religious nutjob fell off the wagon, and I supplied him with a weekly doses. He became obsessed with me, and was convinced I was some sort of divine incarnation of some god. Not really my thing, but it stuck, and it could be a lot worse."
"And what about Iroh? Everyone knows him as The General, right?"
This got Korra a little doubting. She took a moment to collect her thoughts, and took a deep breath. "Well, he wasn't a general, but he is ex-military. He was a captain if I'm not mistaken, but the details is something he'd rather I didn't tell you. All you need to know is this: I am reasonably certain this stuff will get you one for yourself in the very near future. You just have to exercise a touch of patience." Korra smiled. "Your father taught me that."
"I was just about to say, that doesn't sound like you at all," Jinora laughed with her.
They were quickly coming up on the old motel. It had closed down a few years ago, when the City had rendered the building in too poor a condition to keep open for business. They had ordered the owner to demolish it, but without any money to do so or to make renovations, it had been rotting there ever since, becoming a refuge for all sorts of people the City denies existing. It was a U-shaped building, stretching out around them, with gantries on all sides. Jinora saw a few curtains open and people peeking out of them, and suddenly felt uneasy. "How do we know we can trust these people?" she whispered, more concerned than she was about to let on. "They have the high ground, and there's only two of us."
-"Most of these people are too high to even hold a gun, let alone aim one. Just wait."
They sat down on a bench, softly illuminated by the lantern on the street, a good 30 yards away. Once again, Korra proved that she knew what she was talking about. A door in the far corner opened, and someone who looked to be in terrible shape walked out. On closer inspection, it was a woman, but for the life of her, Jinora couldn't tell how old she was. She was far too thin, and even in the dim light, she could tell that her skin was breaking. "Evening," Jinora opened flat.
-"Have you got some smack for me?" the woman asked, her voice shaky. "I have money..." she proved this by producing a few bills from her pocket.
Jinora took them from her, counting them, and contently nodded. "You're talking to the right people." She took a pouch of Glide out of her backpack, making sure to keep it out of the line of sight from the street.
-"Thank you," she quietly murmured, and shuffled back to her room in the corner.
"Just like that, huh?" Jinora said to Korra, raising an eyebrow.
-"Just like that," Korra smirked back.
Clearly a few people had seen them, because soon, people came out of rooms left and right, all asking them for the product. They made a large amount of money in a small amount of time, but there was a flip side. All the people they did business with looked exactly alike: all with sunken cheeks, hollow eyes, bad skin, and clothes that should have been replaced years ago. It was rubbing Jinora completely the wrong way. Ever since she was a little girl, she had wanted to be a doctor, helping people wherever she could. Now though, the only thing she was helping these people with, was getting high on their one-way ticket to death.
She sighed as she looked into her backpack, with only a few pouches left, but there were no more junkies coming to them. "Want to try the Mall?" she asked, trying to keep her voice steady. Jinora really wanted to go home, but she was committed now, and she didn't have a choice anymore.
-"Nah, that's all the way on the other end of the borough, and it's closed anyway. We could give the den on Gaoling a shot, maybe they can be swayed if you make a little investment."
Jinora nodded, deciding once again that she'd better listen to Korra.
The den was easy to find, even with Gommu's vague description. Once they had the right building, all they had to was follow their noses. They let themselves in, given how there was no lock on the door. The two-story building was somehow in even worse shape than the motel they had just come from, and the only occupants seemed to be asleep, given that it was dark and they were probably high off their ass already.
"I don't know about this place, let's split," Jinora said, nudging Korra in the elbow. But by the time they had turned around, there was a man standing in the door, holding a gun in his right hand. "What the fuck are you doing here?!" he yelled, raising his gun to them.
"Whoa, no need for that thing!" Jinora said, raising her hands. "We're here to look for some business. Perhaps you would be... interested?"
He lowered his gun, but raised an eyebrow. "Well, you're talking to the right guy, but you don't look like you're here to buy, which means you're here to sell. I already have someone to do that for me, so get lost."
-"Just hear us out for a moment," Korra tried, in a calmer tone. This gave them a moment to properly eye him up. He was a large man, with long hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. In spite of the state of his house, he looked like he took proper care of himself, making sure he was taken seriously. "We're not exactly selling the usual stuff. This is a brand new import." She nodded over to Jinora, who took the pouch Korra gave her earlier out of her bra and handed it over to him. "Free sample," the younger girl simply added. "Should be enough for a four or five hour flight."
-"I never fly out of here."
"I don't mean on a plane."
He smiled, understanding what she meant. "Thank you. I'll consider it, but I make no promises. I'll have someone try it out, and you can come back tomorrow to see if we can make an arrangement."
"Gladly," Jinora replied, happy to learn that she might actually make some money. "By the way, what do I call you?"
-"You can call me The Innkeeper, if you must." Jinora looked confused, and he put her at ease. "Now off you go. I have some business to take care of."
"You know what, we should," Jinora remarked. "I'll be back tomorrow to hear what you thought." With that, she turned around, and quickly walked out, totally done with the place that smelled like vomit, among other things. Not only that, but this man just made her feel uneasy. He wasn't impolite, or even in bad shape compared to most people she had come across tonight, but it still didn't feel quite right to her. Korra soon followed her, and they went back to Iroh's den, eager to distribute the profits and see what they made.
It turned out to be good.
Korra informed Iroh of the motel, and decided it'd be best to keep the den on Gaoling quiet, just in case it turned out to be nothing. They each got their fair share of cash, which was always nice. If this was the first of bigger paychecks to come, she would finally get something out of it.
The girls were walking home again, and Jinora felt hesitant. "Korra, I kind of want to ask you something..."
-"What is it?" she asked, sounding concerned.
"To come with me again tomorrow to Gaoling. I know, I'm probably being paranoid, but that guy, The Innkeeper... he just made me feel uneasy."
Korra sighed. "Look Jinora, I agreed to watch your back, but I'm not going to hold your hand all the way through. You have to stand on your own at some point."
"I know, I know, it's just... I don't know, it just doesn't feel right to me." She fell silent for a moment. "Will you do this for me this once? Please?"
Korra thought for a moment, before nodding. "Alright, but don't make a habit out of this. If you can be his regular, I'm not going with you every time."
The next day was a doddle. Saturday meant Jinora could actually relax for a little bit, and managed to spend some actual time studying at the public library. It wasn't as good as the library at school, but still a better place to study than home was for her.
But Jinora could only half focus on her work. Today was kind of going to be a make-or-break situation for her, and she was very curious to see what The Innkeeper had to say, even if there was that niggling little doubt in the back of her mind telling her to walk away while she still could. The motel is risky enough as is, not to mention that you are ruining plenty of lives there on your own, no need to cut in a middle-man.
When she met up with Korra towards the end of the afternoon, they slowly slumped over to the corner of Gaoling and 95th, enjoying a late fall sunny day. When they walked in, they fortunately weren't met with a gun in the face again, but instead with The Innkeeper waiting for them. "You kept your word, little lady, so I'll keep mine, he said, inviting them inside again. In there, they met a junkie, who seemed to be spouting nonsense, until he spotted Jinora.
-"Whoa, are you the chick who sold him the new stuff?"
Jinora nodded, and this sent him over the edge. "DUUUUUDE! That shit was totally awesome, I mean, I gotta get more of that, you gotta get me more of that, I mean, shit, that is just sick! I was totally flying man, like shit, you took me gliding, you were like an airbender, lifting me up, it was like awesome, dude..."
He continued on like this for a while, but when Jinora looked over to Korra, she saw a faint smile ghosting over her lips.
-"I'm gonna stop you there," Korra eventually said, breaking his rant up. "It's not up to us, but apparently, we do have at least one fan."
-"Exactly," The Innkeeper continued. "Even though your product seems to be good, I can't just turn my back on my current suppliers, so I'm afraid I have to decline. Sorry ladies."
-"Well, that's too bad," Korra said, and Jinora felt very disappointed. She really did have high hopes for this place. "But in that case, we don't have business here anymore. Come on, let's get out of here," she said as she turned to Jinora and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. "But it wasn't a total waste of time, trust me on that," Korra whispered into her ear.
Once they were outside again, Jinora faced her again. "What do you mean?"
-"Your name. That junkie was spouting a lot of bullshit, but there was one thing that made perfect sense to me: from now on, you're The Airbender."
Jinora thought about it, and the longer she did, the bigger her smile became. "The Airbender," she repeated. "I like it."
For the collective works of the author, go here.