When Asami is eight, she lives through her fourth kidnapping attempt.
But only just.
She’s barely conscious through it all; scared and bewildered because this isn’t like the first three times. Then, the kidnappers were stopped before they even got her out of the mansion. But now her hands and feet are bound and there’s a cloth around her mouth and the man on the other end of the room are screaming that if you want your precious daughter back then you better be ready to ante up ten million yuans, Mr. Sato.
Her dad’s name clears her head, and she repeats the lessons her teachers taught her, rolling the words over carefully in her mind. You are the heiress of Future Industries, Asami Sato. Men will come after you, want to use you against your honourable father. Don’t struggle. Wait for rescue. Your life is the most precious of all.
You have to be strong, she tells herself over and over. Dad’ll save you. Dad’ll save you.
The man stops yelling and slams the phone down. He grabs her and waits against the back wall, knife in one hand. They wait like that in the dark for hours until the door opens and that’s him, that’s Dad silhouetted against the light, holding a briefcase. “I have the ten million,” he says in a quavering voice. “Release my daughter to me.”
Something nudges her back, the point pricking like a needle against her skin. The knife. Her kidnapper opens his mouth to speak before his head jerks to the side. “What’s that noise?!” There’s nothing. The room is completely silent. But the man continues on. “Those are the cops, aren’t they? You broke our deal! You brought them!” He’s screaming, crazed.
“What are you talking about?” Dad’s eyes are round with fear behind his glasses. “Please, I have the mone–”
“Say goodbye to your daughter, Sato!” The knife against her back jerks forward. The last thing she registers is the cold cement against her cheek before she blacks out.
It is pure luck that Lady Kya of the Southern Tribe, the greatest healer in the world after her mother, is visiting her brother Tenzin on Air Temple Island. Thanks to her, Asami lives.
A month after her full recovery, Dad introduces her to her new Sifu, a beautiful woman in warrior paint garned in an armoured green dress. “Tell me, Asami Sato. Do you want to learn how to defend yourself?”
She nods mutely.
“Then pay attention, my little lady. Your father can’t always be your saviour.”
When Asami is sixteen, she sneaks out of the mansion to go to the track. It’s one of her favourite things to do, and Dad encourages her hobby because he’s glad she’s found something she’s passionate about and because she’s perfect for advertising the speed and ferocity of Future Industries’ engines on the track.
But the race goes on longer than usual, and when she gets on her moped to head home, the sun has already been down for hours. For the fastest way home, she has to go through Downtown Republic City, and it’s when she’s thick in the middle of these empty streets that her moped chooses to break down.
The engine rattles pitifully before coming to a full, abrupt – and noisy – stop. She sighs, dismounting. I can’t believe this is happening. She takes off her helmet and takes a breath, trying to calm her frustration. She’s exhausted and covered in grease and wants nothing more than to get home and lay in bed for at least twelve hours.
Out of the corner of her eye, she spots a Satomobile roll to a stop a few feet away and she freezes, unease creeping slowly in her gut. Because this is not a normal Satomobile. It’s one that’s been modified, adorned with a lion-turtle so everyone would know that when that vehicle rolled down the street, trouble followed after.
The door opens and out stroll three men. No, three thugs. There’s no other way to describe them, to describe those expressions on their faces and those hulking postures. One’s wearing red, the other blue, and the third green.
Her chest suddenly feels too tight. The Triple Threats.
This is it. This is what her father’s workers have warned her about; benders extorting and abusing non-benders, simply because they were born with the power to. Something she sympathized with but never understood, because it was just so far from her world she never had to worry about it.
They approach slowly and while every nerve in her body is screaming at her to run, run while she still can, she’s frozen to the spot, fingers gripping her helmet so tightly the knuckles have turned white. The thug sporting red gives her a missing-toothed grin. “You know, a pretty little thing like you shouldn’t be out so late. It can get pretty dangerous around here.”
She says nothing.
“Miss, for your safety, I suggest you come with us. But don’t worry, we’ll protect you from the bad guys.” He extends an open hand towards her.
She doesn’t move.
He scowls, anger flashing in his eyes. His other hand is too quick when it reaches out to grab her arm. She cries out, knocked off balance. Her helmet slips from her grasp and rattles on the ground. The open palm extended towards her is now holding a flame.
His grip is bruising on her arm. She tugs, trying to pull free, but it’s too late. “You know, I’d hate for anything to happen to that pretty face.” The flame in his hand is growing even larger.
A wave of helplessness washes through her. All those hours of self-defense training - the expensive lessons, the expert teachers, the best money can buy. But what does it matter? She had thought she was done being afraid, done being saved. That she could handle herself. Trapped in this situation, at the mercy of these benders, she realizes just how wrong she was. How does it help her to know how to fight when all this man has to do is wave his hand to burn her to a crisp. All because he was born with an advantage, and she wasn't.
Just as she’s given up, eyes sliding shut, a rustling noise startles them open again. And like shadows come alive, a group of dark-clothed men and women jump out of the alleys and attack the Triads. Their glowing green eyes light the area around her. With a series of quick strikes the firebender’s friends are on the ground, limbs twisted in positions they shouldn’t be in.
The firebender jerks her towards him, drawing the flame closer to her face. “Don’t get any closer!”
From among her green-eyed rescuers, a man steps forward, authority clear in his every step. His mask is unlike the others; white with a red disk on the forehead, and she can’t help but get the feeling she’s seen that somewhere before.
It’s obvious the thug recognizes him, because he squeaks before shoving her to the ground and taking a fighting stance. She lands on the street with a grunt and spots appear her vision. But when her eyesight clears, she’s treated to one of the most amazing sights she’s ever seen. The masked man is dodging the firebender’s blasts like they’re nothing, and in a split second has closed the distance between them. Before she can register what has happened, the firebender is flat on the ground, his eyes rolled into the back of his head.
When Asami looks up, her masked rescuer is there, looming above her. He offers a hand, and her dazed mind absently notices that his hands are the only part of his body that don't seem to be covered up.
Asami hesitantly takes his hand - warm and broad and calloused - and he hauls her up easily. She glances behind the man in the mask to see her attacker, unconscious on the ground. “Thank you,” she chokes out, relief flooding her so powerfully she feels faint.
“Are you alright?” the masked man - the leader - asks. His voice is deep and reassuring, and it reminds her so much of her dad that before she can help herself she’s sobbing hard, tears flowing steady down her cheeks.
“Who - what-” she starts to say before the man steps closer and puts a warm hand on her shoulder. She looks up, startled.
“I’m sorry you had to live through this, child. But now you’ve experienced, firsthand, the oppression of non-benders in this city.” He is close enough that she can see his eyes through the mask. There’s real passion in them. Earnestness. “Join me. We can end the corruption, make it so this will never again happen to innocent non-benders like you.
“Join me. Join me and stand up to oppression. Join me and you’ll never have to feel the fear of being useless against a bender again. “
He lifts his hand off her shoulder and turns around, ready to disappear back into the night. She, still mesmerized by his words, has to take a second to break from her reverie before she can cry out:
“Wait, please.” He stops in his tracks. “I don’t even know your name.”
He walks back in front of her and wordlessly offers a poster. She accepts it, taking a second to admire how magnificent he looks, raising a hand, a striking figure behind the letters JOIN THE EQUALISTS. JOIN AMON. But when she looks up again, he and his men are gone. All that’s left is a small puff of green smoke.
“Amon,” she whispers to herself, the name of her saviour comforting on her tongue. ”Amon.”
For weeks, her mind keeps going back to that night, the thugs, the chi-blockers, and Amon. She can’t stay away. A protester in the Park tells her where to go, and she sneaks out again, finding herself in an abandoned warehouse with hundreds of non-benders, all reaching out towards their hero on the stage. The Equalist rally takes her breath away, and Amon’s words, like they did the night they met, resonate deep within her.
With some yuans slipped into people’s hands, she makes it backstage, heart pounding in her chest as she keeps her eyes peeled for any sign of him.
“I knew we’d meet again,” says that familiar deep voice. She whirls around, and finds herself face-to-face with the man who saved her. That frown on his mask almost looks like a smirk from here.
“Amon,” she says, voice unsteady, eyes to the floor. “I-“
He gently places that familiar calloused hand underneath her chin, lifting her head up. “Tell me, Ms. Sato,” he says, “Are you ready to stop living in fear?”
“Yes,” she whispers, unable to tear her eyes away from his. “I am.”