Mark of Humanity
Light came to a landing in the tree, placing the piece of fruit he’d picked down amongst the others. It was getting to be quite the pile now. His plan had been to continue to pick fruit until he came back and found that the Avatar and her friend had finished their meditation, but he already had a pretty good meal here for them. This would probably be enough.
Shifting into the white puppy form that the Avatar seemed to adore so much, Light walked over to the two of them and sat down near their legs. He spent a moment looking at each of their faces in turn, wondering how they were doing. In meditation like this, no emotions showed through at all, so it was probably useless to try to glean anything from their expressions.
After a minute of watching over them, Light felt the instincts of the form he’d taken on begin to pull at him. Deciding not to resist, he hopped up onto Korra’s lap, lay down, and curled up. He made sure he had a good view of the entrance to the tree, just in case anyone else came by. If this was going to take a while, he might as well get comfortable. Thankfully, the Avatar’s lap was quite good for that.
Sixteen months ago, Asami Sato’s memories…
It’s taken some time, but I think the people of Republic City are starting to realize just all that you’ve done for them. I talked to a couple people today, just to take a not-quite-random sample, and you came off quite positively in both of their eyes. I’ll make sure to keep spreading the word. You can trust that I won’t rest until your approval rating in Republic City is higher than mine.
Um… Not that I’m bragging about the recent 86% rating I got from my shareholders. I’m just saying: 87% is our target for you.
Unfortunately, while my wingsuit design is working great for Opal, Bumi’s first test flight was… Well, let’s just say it was unauthorized and he’s lucky to be alive. I’ll chew him out once he’s fully recovered.
I really do miss you, Korra. I just don’t have any friends as close as you here, though at least Opal and I are beginning to get a bit closer. Perhaps I’ll be able to make some other friends as well. You’d better come back soon though, if you don’t want someone to overtake you as my best friend! ...Heh, as if I’d actually let that happen. Just say the word Korra, and I’ll come running for you - even after all this time, you still come first for me.
I hope everything is going alright for you at the South Pole. If it isn’t, you can let me know, okay?
Asami let out a sigh. For some reason, this letter was a bit harder to write than the last one. Usually this came easily to her. But right now, she found herself watching her words, trying to make sure she didn’t accidentally slip up and say something that might sound like she was guilting Korra into replying. Perhaps the time apart was getting to her. She didn’t want to drift apart from Korra, but her friend’s silence was more worrying with every passing month.
She would keep writing though. If it wasn’t helping, Korra could just ignore her letters. If it was, then Korra would have her letters to read. She would bear that weight for Korra. That was the promise she’d made to herself, and she intended to keep it. It was just that… perhaps it might be a bit better for her own sanity if she stopped expecting a reply. Maybe that was the right lesson here.
Maybe. She wasn’t ready to give up quite yet, though. With a nod, Asami folded up the letter she’d written. It was about time for her meeting.
“How familiar are you with how the Equalists’ electrified gloves worked?” Izin asked. Despite the fact that he’d come into the meeting room with a briefcase, he hardly looked professional. Part of it was that his left arm was in a cast, but there was also the fact that his hair seemed to be even wilder than Bumi’s normally was. As Asami pondered this, Izin lifted up his briefcase and placed it on the conference table. After opening the combination lock on it, he pulled out a binder of notes.
“Intimately, I’d say,” Asami replied. “I’ve kept one around for self-defense, and I’ve had to repair it on more than one occasion. So I know how they work.” She approached the table, watching as Izin opened up his binder. She had to admit, this wasn’t at all what she was expecting when Izin had asked to meet with her, saying he had something for her. She’d already rehearsed a way to delicately evade his advances without hurting his feelings if he turned up with a bouquet of flowers or box of chocolates as thanks for talking to him earlier when he was down. She hadn’t rehearsed what to say if he came with a locked briefcase full of notes.
“Okay, so we can skip the basics,” Izin said. “What I wanted to talk to you about is that type of capacitor it uses. It’s sub-optimal by design - by my design.” Izin focused his gaze on the notes in front of him, and he took a deep breath. “I’ve got everything you need here to optimize it - along with the capacitors used in the radios you produce, which suffer from the same flaw. It’s yours. I did the work while under the pay of Future Industries, so by all rights, you own it.”
“Hold on,” Asami said. She was still trying to adjust to what was going on here, and she wasn’t sure she’d heard all of that correctly. She placed the palm of her hand on the table and turned to face Izin. “You worked for Future Industries?”
Izin turned to her. “...Yes,” he said, with a stiff nod. “Up until a couple years ago, with the rebellion.” His eyes didn’t quite meet Asami’s gaze, but they were still quite easy to read. There was definitely something awkward there.
“Alright,” Asami said with a nod. So, back when her father ran the company, then. For a moment, she pondered whether or not she wanted to get more into the details behind this. She glanced over at the notes Izin had laid out on the desk. Sub-optimal by design, he’d said. Eventually, Asami let out a sigh. “...Okay, tell me the whole story.”
Beside her, Asami heard Izin take a deep breath. “The whole story? That… could take a while.”
Asami shook her head, and she waved a hand at him. “I’ll clear my schedule if I have to.”
I pull away. The scene isn't pausing on its own like before, but once I start to pull myself out from Asami, the world does seem to grind to an awkward halt around us. I step away from Asami's body, taking a moment to center myself and remember who I am.
After a moment of concentrating on myself, I turn back to Asami and say, “Sorry Asami. I just need to make sure I don’t get too lost in your memories. When I was in Avatar Varina’s memories earlier, I actually thought I was her for a bit after coming out of them. It’s a bit easier here, since you aren’t a past life of mine like she was, but it’s still a good idea to play it safe.”
Plus, this gives me a good opportunity to reflect on what I’d seen, and try to piece together some of the clues I’d gotten so far. I’m going to get more on Izin’s story soon enough, so there isn’t much point speculating on that. No, what I’m curious about is what he meant to Asami. There was one moment where I thought I felt something from her. Just when she’d realized he hadn’t come to see her with romantic intentions, there was something almost like disappointment in the back of her mind.
Asami was planning to turn him down, but she was disappointed for a moment that he didn’t ask. Logically, it didn’t make much sense. But logic wasn’t behind it. I let out a sigh. I find myself turning away from Asami, pacing for a few moments. Maybe it was indeed a date I’d seen her go on with Izin in the vision before. It didn’t look like it had gotten past the starting line, though. And she’d never mentioned him in any of her letters, or since I’d gotten back.
If Asami is showing me these memories, she must think they have something to do with why she’s lost her voice. I have no idea how, though. But still, it’s worth seeing it through. The part that worries me is what Asami might end up feeling. I don’t exactly relish the thought of living through Asami developing feelings for a guy, and then the possible heartbreak of however it ends. I do owe it to her, though. For one thing, there was that memory of me kissing Mako I’d accidentally dragged her into. That had to have been far more awkward for her than this would be for me.
With that in mind, I nod. I turn back to Asami. “Alright,” I say. “I’ll trust that you know what you’re showing me here, and that this is important. Just understand, this is a bit awkward for me, so I may need to pull out again.”
The world around me slowly begins to move again. Taking the hint, I step back toward Asami. I reach my hand out to her, once more joining her for the ride.
Izin took a sip of his tea. “Mm… thanks, that helps,” he said. He gave Asami an awkward smile. He’d protested when she’d offered to get him some tea, but he’d eventually given in. Apparently he wasn’t very used to speaking for long periods like this, as it hadn’t taken very long before Asami could hear his voice beginning to get a bit scratchy.
“It’s no problem,” Asami said. She took a seat across from Izin, and put her own teacup down on the table between them. “Let me take a guess at where this is going: Your father exiled you because you weren’t a bender, and you come to Republic City in search of a new life. You end up working for my father, who at the time was running a massive secret supply operation for the Equalists. With your revelation today that-” Asami cut herself off. Just for a moment, she’d seen a flash of distress in Izin’s eyes. She wasn’t quite sure what had caused it, but it was probably better that she stop talking. “Well, never mind. I’ll let you tell the story,” she said, trying not to let on that she’d spotted anything amiss.
“Alright,” Izin said. He took a breath, possibly to steady himself, and then he resumed his story. “I got a job in research here, but I ended up rather bored with it. I started to work on other ideas of mine in my spare time, sounding off ideas against other people there on occasion. I ended up with a string of four papers that I managed to get published the third year I was working here; they caused a bit of a thing.
“Your father got interested in my paper on generating electricity from light, and before I knew it, I was in his office, being given a big speech about pulling oneself up from nowhere to achieve greatness with a kind benefactor. I was pretty sure he was going to offer me a promotion – and he did – but that only came after he did some subtle digging about my politics. I ended up over-sharing with him, not really knowing anything about the Equalists myself, and before I knew it, I was in deep with them.”
Asami nodded. It wasn’t hard to see that coming, after he’d brought up his involvement with the Equalist gloves earlier. She took a sip of her tea as she waited for him to continue, but he seemed to have stopped for now. “Well, from what you tell me of your history, I suppose I can’t really blame you for being sympathetic to their cause… at least at that point,” Asami said. She held her tongue on trying to convince him away from them; she wasn’t sure how necessary that would be now. From her experience with him before, how he definitely seemed to regret his past, and the fact that he’d now told her he’d done something to ensure the Equalist gloves were sub-optimal, it was likely he’d already started walking away from them on his own. She was still a bit wary, just in case there was something bad she hadn’t heard yet, though at this point she wasn’t really expecting something like that to come up.
“At that point,” Izin repeated. His gaze turned downward. “And right up until two years ago. The Revelation.” Izin paused. His fingers played with the rim of his teacup for a few seconds. “...I know you were at the heart of the counter-revolution,” he said at last, “but did you ever see it in person? When Amon took someone’s bending away?”
“...Just once,” Asami said. “Tahno, in the pro-bending arena.” Even two years later, it was hard to get that image out of her mind. “I was seated in the VIP section when Amon did it. I can still remember the way Tahno pled with him.” Asami found her own gaze dropping down as she spoke, and her own fingers began to play with her teacup. “I can’t pretend Tahno was a nice person, but he never deserved anything like that. In one moment, I saw him stripped of the skill he’d spent his life refining, which he made his living off of. When he collapsed… I have to admit, for a moment, it felt like he’d been killed.”
“A public ‘execution.’ Just to make a point. Tahno was just the poor soul chosen as a sacrifice,” Izin said, his voice heavy. “Us Equalists got our own public execution to show off Amon’s power a bit earlier: Lightning Bolt Zolt, the leader of the Triple Threats. A man with far fewer redeeming qualities than Tahno, but also one who defined himself around his bending. If I’d had the heart of a true Equalist, I’d have cheered at seeing him stripped of it. But I was horrified.”
Asami looked back up at Izin. His gaze was still buried in his tea, though his eyes reflected memories of that night. She knew that Korra had witnessed the Revelation as well, though she’d never talked about it with her. She must have been horrified in much the same way when she’d seen it. And yet, she’d fought back, knowing the risk she was taking. Even when the worst had happened to her, and she actually did lose her bending, Korra hadn’t given up, and so she’d managed to win in the end.
Asami grinned slightly at this memory. Even at a distance, perhaps Korra could spread a bit more inspiration. From what she’d seen of Izin before, he might still need a confidence booster, and a better way to reframe his view of the world. “But you didn’t give in to fear, did you? You did something to fight back in your own way, with the gloves. Perhaps it even helped turned the tide against the Equalists. What was it you did, exactly?”
“In short? I lied my ass off,” Izin said, cracking a half grin. His eyes glanced back up at Asami. “I was in charge of finding ways to improve the capacitors used in the Equalists gloves, to make them more compact with the same capacitance. I could do the math on my own, though. Either this would cut costs and make gloves more lightweight and easier to wield, or it would let them pile more capacitors onto a single glove, making it possible to deliver a fatal shock.
“Neither was something I wanted to let happen. After seeing what Amon was willing to do, I knew an Equalist victory would just be leading us into tyranny. We might be on top in the new regime, but it wasn’t a price worth paying. And so I worked overtime, making it look like I was trying everything possible to help out, when I was actually spending the extra time rerunning any experiment that showed positive results so that I could sabotage the second run and make it look like a failure. In the end, with the hours I was working, Mr. Sato just thought I was working myself to death to find a solution for him, and he never suspected I was working against him the whole time.”
“You went through all that?” Asami said. “I’m surprised you didn’t simply quit, so they couldn’t benefit from you.”
Izin shook his head. “No. The stuff I was working on was easy. Anyone in my position could have run the same tests. They might have been a bit less efficient at it, or tried a few different things, but they would have been able to help. Staying where I was was the only way.” Izin leaned back in his chair. After a moment, he let out a sigh. “Anyway, you have the real results now. I… guess I really have no good excuse for not coming clean right after the revolution. I just wanted nothing more to do with Future Industries.
“But I guess even that wasn’t to be. The universe doesn’t play dice with us,” Izin’s gaze finally met Asami’s again. A quiet confidence had reappeared in his expression. It was the same confidence she’d seen briefly when he was helping save Bumi. “There was a reason I was born a nonbender to a family of firebenders. I’m starting to figure out what that one is. And there was a reason I was in Avatar Korra Park the same day you were, and I’m not talking about the simple fact that I was waiting for a date who never showed up. I may not know what that reason is yet, but I’m going to make it a good one.
“So,” Izin raised his teacup up. His eyes met Asami’s, a strange expression in his gaze. “I want to thank you, Miss Sato. The universe may not bring us together again, but once has been enough for a lifetime. It’s been a pleasure meeting you. I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me.” Izin brought his teacup back to his mouth, finishing it off. He placed it back down on the table in front of him, and moved to get up.
“Wait. One moment,” Asami said, standing up. She gave Izin a smile, trying to pull him back into the conversation before he ran off. “If you’d like to come back to work for Future Industries, I’m sure we could find a suitable job for you.” As she spoke, Asami strolled toward the door, making sure Izin couldn’t easily get to it without moving around her. She wasn’t blocking him from leaving; she was simply trying to discourage it.
“That’s alright,” Izin said, shaking his head. He stood up, though he didn’t move to leave quite yet. “I’ve got a good job at the patent office. It pays enough, the hours are good, and I’ve finally got enough free time on the job to figure out a problem that’s been nagging at me.”
Asami was about to raise her offer, but that might be getting a bit too blatant. Instead, she simply smiled. The patent office. She could work with that. “Alright. In that case, I’ll wish you the best of luck with solving this problem of yours.”
Izin returned her smile. “Thank you, Miss Sato,” he said.
Izin let out a brief chuckle. He stepped toward her and reached out his hand. Asami took it, returning his handshake. “Thank you, Asami,” he said.
After Izin departed, Asami returned to her office. She headed to her desk and sat down behind it, letting out a sigh. It was probably time to get back to work now. She reached down to pull her out her schedule for the day to see if there was anything planned soon that she had to worry about. As she pulled it out though, her eyes fell upon a folded letter in front of her.
Asami reached for the letter. It was alright, she hadn’t-
An explosion of blue filled the world. I feel myself moving, though I have no idea in which direction. Unlike the previous times I was pulled out of Asami’s memories, there isn’t even a single moment in which I still wonder if I might be her. I’m the Avatar Korra, and I’m being forcibly ejected.
“Asami!” I cry out, reaching forward, though I don’t even know if forward is the right direction - all I can see is blue, all around me. This can’t be what she wants, can it? “Are you there? Give me a sign if you can hear me - anything!”
-actually done anything with Izin. She hadn’t invited him on a date. She might have briefly felt something, and she might not have closed the door on any possibility with him, as perhaps she should have, but she’d done nothing wrong. There was no reason for Asami to feel guilty.
Black lines shoot through the space around me. It’s a bit too delayed to be a response from Asami, but it must still mean something. One line traces out a small circle around my feet, and then another traces a triangle around it. A second circle is traced out, surrounding the triangle and touching its tips, and when it completes, the line begins to trace out small triangles around its edge. I count them up as they’re formed - any small piece of information might be useful here - counting sixteen in total before the line returns to its origin.
The blue outside the pattern breaks away, replaced with black, and the circle beneath my feet tints white. Something tells me I should recognize this pattern. I’ve seen it before, somewhere, but I can’t pull up the memory. Was it in a past life? Is that why I can’t recall it?
Maybe it’s just a memory of a memory, but I might still be able to get something. There’s no time to waste if I want to get back to help out Asami, and so I sit down, assuming my meditative pose. In her memory, Avatar Varina was able to meditate even when she was already projecting herself into the spirit world. Perhaps I could do the same here, and meditate to find this answer somewhere inside of me. I press my fists together, close my eyes, and let me mind drift wherever it might need to go.
It wasn’t even as if she and Korra were actually in a relationship of any sort. She had no idea if Korra returned her feelings, or if she even could. It was easily possible that Korra simply wasn’t interested in women. It would probably be easier for Asami to brace for that possibility, so that it didn’t catch her off-guard again, like it had with Kei-Lin so many years ago. That revelation had shattered Asami, and she couldn’t bear to let that happen with Korra.
Asami let out a groan, and she leaned back in her chair. Logically, she had nothing to feel guilty about. That didn’t stop her from feeling guilty, however. “I suppose I’m in too deep…” she muttered to herself, shaking her head. Well, her heart was set. At least an unrequited love for the Avatar was far from the least productive emotion she could be feeling. She just had to be ready to accept that it might never be returned.
Blue fills my vision. I can feel chi moving upward through my body, concentrating in the back of my throat. The blue coalesces into a shape around me, reminding me of the outermost petals of a lotus flower. Inside the petals, a symbol is etched: a downward-pointing triangle surrounding the full moon. A symbol of truth.
Wan’s voice pierces through the darkness. “You have now unblocked the chakras of earth, water, fire, and air, Vrihnu,” he says, “the four elements. These chakras are present in all living creatures. It is the final three chakras that are unique to humans, and so they are the most difficult to unblock. But I have faith in you. I was able to do this, and so I trust that you will be able to do so as well.
“Of the final three chakras, the first is the sound chakra. This chakra deals with truth, and it is what gives humans their voices, to allow them to share truths of the world with one another. It is blocked by lies, but most greatly by the lies we tell ourselves. In order to unblock it, you must find this lie, and you must admit the truth to yourself.”
A lie to myself. Even as I begin to consider this, the world around me begins to shake. I consider exiting meditation this moment; if I’m lying to myself, I have a very good reason for it. But if I give up now, I’ll be sealing off my access to Raava’s power. Perhaps it is a sacrifice I can make, though.
But it is not a sacrifice worthy of the Avatar of Raava. It would be a selfish sacrifice. I must speak my truth, even if it leads Wan to abandon me. I take a deep breath, steeling myself for what I must do. “Wan,” I say. “Moments ago, you addressed me as ‘Vrihnu.’ The name my parents gave me at birth. When they saw me, they saw someone befitting of that name. But they did not look inside my soul. You’ve seen inside my soul, Wan, more than anyone else, but still you only see Vrihnu.
“The truth is, Wan, we are both lying to ourselves. My soul was born from yours, into the body of a boy. This is what everyone saw. But this is not the truth. My body may never represent my truth, but I can admit it to myself, and I can let my name represent it. …‘Varina.’ Woman, in all but body. That is the truth.”
As if water bursting through a dam, the blue light around me explodes upward. My chi is released, free to flow through the fifth chakra. There’s no going back. Even if Wan cannot accept it, I do not regret this admission. The flowing energy is all the proof I need that I’m finally telling myself the truth at long last.
Moments pass by, without word from Wan, but at last, he speaks. “Well done. You have opened the sound chakra, Varina.” Even though I cannot see him, I can sense the smile in his voice.
The world flickers around me, but the scene doesn’t shift as I expect it to. “Wan?” I say. I give it a minute, but no response is forthcoming. Perhaps this is something I need to do on my own, then. This might be some form of test that I must pass in order to unlock the sixth chakra.
Perhaps, though… just one moment to relax. The final two chakras can hardly be more significant than this one to me. The road ahead may be difficult, and I don’t know how many people will accept me as I am, but I would rather fail to convince people of the truth than convince them of a lie.
Alright. I should move on. I’ll proceed on the assumption that I must figure this next chakra out on my own. Wan told me that the final three chakras are unique to humans, and are the most difficult to unblock. The difficulty would fit in with having to do this one on my own. Perhaps I must discern what else is unique to humans, in order to identify this chakra and unblock it.
Communication was first. Perhaps wisdom? Culture? Art? No, culture and art are too constructed; they aren’t innate. Culture comes down to communication, art to creativity or inspiration. If the next chakra is creativity, then having to find my own solution to unblock it would make sense. So, what blocks creativity? Complacency perhaps. An unwillingness to explore that which is new.
And at this moment, being complacent is exactly what I’ve been doing. I haven’t moved on to the next chakra; I’ve been waiting patiently at the last one. I stand up, then tilt my head back and look upwards. Each chakra was higher in my body than the last, so I should rise up to find the next. I reach my hand up to the sky, willing myself to rise to the next chakra, to open it up and allow my chi to flow further.
I begin to rise, but something is weighing me down. I look downward, trying to discern what it is. I see nothing but the sound chakra beneath me, and it continues to shrink as I pull away from it. Yet something still pulls me back. Only when the chakra has shrunk to the size of my fist does the force pulling me back take form. A red haze coalesces in the darkness behind the chakra. The haze slowly takes the form of a human body, and the chakra moves to its proper place in the throat.
Images flash in the background of the body and quickly shatter. The first two are gone almost too quickly for my mind to take in; all I can see is a boy and a girl in the first, and two girls in the second. The energy flowing through the chakra pulses with the appearance of each image, and the hazy figure winces as if in pain as each image shatters.
The third and fourth images show a young woman and man. The young woman looks familiar to me. I’ve seen her before. Asami Sato. I don’t know how I know her, but I know her. And the young man she’s with is named Mako. She speaks to him. The energy flows through the chakra. The image shatters, and the figure winces. The fourth image repeats this cycle, and once more I see the pattern of energy flowing through the sound chakra, followed by pain in the hazy figure.
Another image appears: Asami is with a brown-skinned woman of about her age, someone else familiar to me - perhaps even more familiar than Asami. At the sight of this woman, I feel something trying to draw me out of myself and into her, but I resist it. I finally made my claim to being Varina, and I’m not going to give it up so easily. Even if it means having the body of a woman, this woman isn’t me. I won’t lose myself to her.
After a moment, the threat of losing myself passes, and I look back at the hazy figure. The energy flowing through the chakra is restrained, and I never see the pulse of energy like before. Nor do I see the image shatter. Instead, it pulls away, until it’s enveloped by the darkness and can no longer be seen.
The scene is stable for a long while. I realize that I never actually stopped trying to ascend away from this, and so I stop myself. Whatever is going on here, it must mean something, even if I don’t understand it quite yet.
At last, another image appears, showing Asami a few years older, looking hesitantly at a man dressed in red and black, with piercing eyes. Her energy is still hesitant, and once more the image begins to move away. I see a sudden burst of energy flow through the chakra before the image has departed. Almost immediately, the image shatters, and the figure doubles over in pain. From where the image was, I see a pale red ghost of the man Asami was with in it. He too is in pain, even worse than that of the hazy red figure below me.
But from somewhere, an image of the brown-skinned woman from before has reappeared. Slowly, the pain is eased, and the figure relaxes. Her sound chakra is blocking much of the energy trying to flow through it, though. No pulse of energy, but no images shattering, and no pain.
“I choose not to speak,” comes a voice echoing through the darkness. Asami. It’s Asami’s voice.
Something about the sound of her voice resonates in my mind. It’s been so long since I’ve heard it. The sound of it was exactly what I needed right now to remind myself of what I came here for. I’m here to help Asami find her voice once more. But who am I? I’m the Avatar. This is beyond doubt - but which Avatar? Not Vrihnu… but not Varina either. I used to be her, in some sense at least, and her identity was real. I don’t have to throw it away. I can let it be part of my own truth.
But right now, I’m Korra, and my friend needs my help. I flip my body, extending my hands toward the red figure and dive toward it. Hopefully it’s not too late to get back to Asami’s memories, to see the rest of the story she’s trying to tell me.I still have no idea what we might be able to do to help Asami, but at least now I’ve got an idea where the problem is. “Trust me, Asami,” I say just before I reach the hazy red figure, hoping she might be able to hear me, if my instincts are right and this is indeed her. “We’ll figure this out.”