That man of loneliness and mystery,
Scarce seen to smile and seldom heard to sigh—
He knew himself a villain—but he deem'd
The rest no better than the thing he seem'd;
And scorn'd the best as hypocrites who hid
Those deeds the bolder spirit plainly did.
He knew himself detested, but he knew
The hearts that loath'd him, crouch'd and dreaded too.
Lone, wild, and strange, he stood alike exempt
From all affection and from all contempt.
"Corsair" is a tale in verse by Lord Byron
* * *
~ ONE HOUR BEFORE PARALLEL ~
Republic City, the grand haven for equality, or so it has been called by the rest of the world. A nationwide prosperity has engulfed the planet ever since Avatar Korra and her friends brought down the Equalists, and rendered a much needed balance between this world and the land of the spirits. For fifteen years this city has longed through a really boring era of peace, happiness, and safety.
“Help! Police! I’ve been robbed!”
Well---not too much peace and safety...
One woman’s shrill cries echo throughout the distant streets as a mugger runs through the alleys with her snatched handbag and a handful of her hard-earned yuans. He runs his hardest through the brick maze of buildings, his feet pounding and blood pumping; he takes a sharp turn as he runs and then scales a fence twice his own height. The mugger is swift, agile, but smart? No, he isn’t very smart at all. If this robber were a smart criminal, a true con artist and a master at larceny, then he would obviously realize that one more misplaced turn and he would run head first into a blockade of Metalbending officers.
He just made the turn.
Now everyone can only sit back and watch as nature takes its rightful course...
“Put the bag on the ground and get those hands in the air, now!” the officer bellows.
The mugger only has time to make one attack and he goes for it like the fool he is. One simple blast of fire and the next thing this guy knows is that he’s licking the dirty concrete wrapped up in a constricting full-body casing of metal cables. It’s over.
“Well that was a bore,” Arsen scoffed. He collapsed from the edge of the roof and stared up into the overcast gray sky as the metal clanking of officers grew fainter. He had watched the entire series of events from his high ground on top of the old apartment complex; abandoned and unstable it was the highest peak in the slums of Republic City, and also the greatest place to watch crime foil beneath the hands of law abiding citizens like the Metalbenders.
Oh sure, Arsen could have stepped in to help the woman retrieve her purse, but why do that when there were a group of benders getting paid for that exact purpose? ‘’Besides,’’ Arsen thought, ‘’it’s not exactly like my face is the most beloved around this area. Here, this was my part of town, my people, and my reputation. There is a certain way I do things in these parts, and most of them aren't exactly what the law would define as "legal".’’
He waltzed over to the other side of the building and peered over the ledge only to see a man stepping out of a very exquisite looking Sato Mobile. "Now that was a rich man in a poor neighborhood, he has two body guards---fit, tall, mean looking; he is definitely a class act where he hails from up town. He’s wearing a council badge," Arsen noticed, "so that explains the money, the muscle, and the snobbish demeanor, now…"
Arsen snickered to himself, “Why are you here, old man?”
“Dad Stop!” a girl shouted. Suddenly she came into view, a girl, long black hair, red and gold attire, just like him. Fire Nation---or at least a former citizen. She rushes out of the Sato Mobile and oh, now they’re arguing…lots of shouting going by now, and he is noticing the passersby are starting to stare.
The store they are parked by, the owner is cowering from the blinds. This all reeks of a bad transaction between a fat cat and a pauper with a debt. Rebellious teenager, power crazy father, oh yeah…now this was the sort of attention that requires a certain style of skill, a bit of bad luck in order to bring some good fortune to a family that was just begging to be drawn together by a terrible travesty. "I will be happy to make that happen," Arsen pondered cynically, "If it will help mend a broken home..."
Arsen grinned and scaled down the rickety fire escape, swift as the wind and just about as subtle. He landed on the concrete and snuck a peak around the corner as the father and daughter were still going at it.
“Get back in the car, Akira, or so help me…” the father threatens, his voice full of humiliation more than anger.
She scoffed and stomps, turning on a dime to return to her seat, her glare in daggers sharp enough to pierce the tires on her daddy’s car. One of the good councilman’s body guards holds open the door for her, and the other averts his attention back towards the store.
"Boss?" the big guy wonders.
“Get back in the car, all of you!” the representative ordered, “I have a meeting at noon! I don’t have time for this. Young lady when we get back to the decent part of town, you are going to be in so much trouble!”
“Well darn…This one will require a more subtle approach,” Arsen whispered.
The car took off with an angry squeal and Arsen shot across the road and took a short cut down the opposing alley. He knew this part of town better than anyone. In forty minutes time, that clock would strike noon and the councilman would need to be at his meeting already adjusted, that’s twenty minutes. In a car it would only take ten minutes to get to City Hall, that’s thirty minutes.
“If my math is right, then you still got ten minutes old man,” Arsen was confidant in his ploy, “Plan for a setback and I’m happy to oblige. Oh yeah,” he laughed once and swallowed hard. “This one might hurt a little...”
The car came screeching around the corner, just as Arsen predicted it would and he had everything timed out perfectly...without a second thought---“Now or never…” he rushed into the road and jumped right in front of the councilman’s Sato Mobile; it thundered once as the steel made impact across Arsen's skin, and he rolled across the front of the car as the tires screamed to a dramatic halt.
Flat against the road Arsen grumbled the pain away and continued on as planned. "The daughter," he plotted, "Naturally, she was the first to rush out, followed by the father, and finally the two guards."
She rushed over and placed her hands on Arsen's chest as he thought with a pleased smirk to himself, "---and cue the dramatic girly swoon over another helpless victim…"
“What the hell is your problem!?” she screeched.
"Okay, so daddy’s little girl isn’t a dainty flower then?" He thought, eyes wide as he watched her golden gleam cut into his face like a sword. "A rose with thorns, but no matter, my brilliant plan will still work wonders. Time to act the part, Arsen---car victim...here we go!"
“Oh!” Arsen groaned loudly, “I th---I think you bent my spleen with your car…”
“Yeah right,” Akira spat, unamused.
“Akira, hush!” the father snapped, “Son, are you alright? Can you move?”
“I---I think so,” Arsen hissed. He sat up and yelled in pain before falling back into the streets, “Oh jeese…I don’t think so, sir. Ouch...”
“We’ll drive you to the hospital,” he offered; meanwhile Akira muttered in contempt from afar. The councilman snapped for his guards and he added, "It is the least I can do."
“No!" Arsen argued, his teeth gritted, "That would be terrible for you---a council---” Arsen took a few dramatic breaths and winced, “---a councilman who ran over some dumb kid in the slums. What would that do for your political career? I can't mess that up for you, sir!”
“He’s right,” one of the guards nodded.
“Then they will ask why you were in this hole in the first place,” the other guard added, “They’ll figure out about the solicitations.”
The councilman scoffed and cursed under his breath and took out his wallet. He handed Arsen not coins, but whole paper bills of money and leaned down to whisper in his ear. “Take this and go get fixed up. And this bit of extra is to keep your mouth shut! Understand?”
“C-Crystal,” Arsen moaned. The body guards lifted him by the arms until he was hobbled over and standing back on his own two feet. Arsen nodded and got a bright gleam in his eye just before he suddenly sprung back into a full stand and shot off into the alley with a snickering laugh accompanied by the speed of a man in no apparent need for a hospital.
“Hey!” the councilman shouted.
"Stop thief!" a guard ordered, stomping after him as he roared, "Delinquent! Scoundrel! Hoodlum!"
"We can't go after that punk, it'll get the police involved!" The other guard bellowed, stopping his partner cold in the middle of the street.
"Damn him!" The councilman cursed.
“That rotten sneak!” Akira suddenly exclaimed, “He took my bracelet!”
With a sigh, her father motioned everyone out of the road... “I’ll buy you some new ones," He snapped, "Now everyone get back in the car!”
“That was all I had left from Mom!” Akira bellowed, “You can’t just buy me a new---”
“You’re still in trouble and we are taking you straight home while I go and make an honest buck in a part of town not dripping with urchin street rats! In the car!”
“Oh yeah, like swindling store owners out of their money is an honest living, Dad!” Akira spat.
“Not another word out of you,” the father grumbled---and with that, the lot of them got back into their car and drove off towards the middle city.
Meanwhile, Arsen scaled the building all the way back to his base and counted his profit. “Oh, 300 yuans and an armband made with solid gold and ooh, a red ruby---that will fetch a pretty buck out here.” He leaned back and let out a relieved sigh as he continued gazing high up into the gray and white clouds, the city silence echoing through his ears. Arsen let out a satisfactory grin... “And that dear public is how a pro works to earn his living, hope you all took notes.”
After a few minutes of enjoying the simple clouded bliss, Arsen's stomach grumbled profusely and he grabbed at it with his hand to cease his body's ferocious roaring before shooting up to his feet with a brisk sigh and a stretch.
"Lunch time," he snickered, "And with this payload, I could afford to eat practically anywhere in the United Republic!"
Arsen once again flipped over his rooftop hideaway and his feet slammed into the metal bars of the rusty fire escape. He slid down the ladder all the way to the broken chunk of bars on the abandoned second story, and he released his grip, falling down the bricks before he kicked off from the wall and used the narrow alley as a parachute to slow himself down before hitting the ground.
"That never get's old," Arsen thought with a quick breath. He walked across the street and noticed the small shop owner that just ten minutes ago was being harassed by that bigot of a councilman. The shop owner was a butcher---he actually had a pretty decent haul for someone in this part of the city, and at the moment, he was barbecuing something that smelled absolutely irresistible to someone who hadn't eaten since this time two days ago!
"Hey buddy!" Arsen greeted and waved.
The man jumped and shot around in fear, eyes wide before realizing he was in no danger and his tense body eased slightly. "Oh, it's just you," he almost laughed, "How can I be of service to the block's very own vagabond?"
"I'll take that as a complement, and I want whatever you're cooking there," he pointed.
"You want it," the shopkeeper gave him a look, "Or you'll buy it?"
Arsen scoffed and rolled his eyes, "I'm buying today, don't get your spatula in a twist!"
"One barbeque pork-beef sandwich, coming up then!" He flipped the meat patty over the grill with some pizazz that actually brought a tiny smile to Arsen's face before he frowned and took a look out the butcher's window blinds.
"So, what was that Councilman doing out here earlier?"
The burger patty sizzled as the store owner pressed it firmly into the grill with an audible growl of contempt, "No business involving the likes of you, kid. Leave it be."
"They said something about solicitations," Arsen continued, "Is that true? He's taking your money. I'm no expert on these things, but I think that would be a good thing to tell the police..."
"It was nothing---I just owe him---never mind son, just let it rest," he sighed, "The only thing that comes of talking of this is a bad future for my establishment. The councilman has done a great deal to protect my investments."
"By stealing you profit?" Arsen retaliated with a glare.
The cook looked Arsen from head to toe and with an annoyed scoff, he placed Arsen's lunch on a bun and was just about to hand it over when the butcher stole his arm back, "On second thought, It's bad business selling to you. Everyone around here knows you're nothing but a good for nothing thief! You're what is bad for my establishment at the moment, and I'm going to ask you once to kindly leave this place."
"Hey buddy, don't get mad at me! I was only trying to help," Arsen snapped.
"I don't need help from any street rat! Now leave my shop at once before I really do call for the police!"
"Ugh!" Arsen groaned, his gold eyes in daggers. "Whatever, but I'm taking this!" he snatched the sandwich away and darted out of the shop as the owner angrily followed at his heels and chewed him out for almost an entire block.
Escaping, Arsen thought it best not to head back to his hideout for a little while or else that snobby store owner would see him scaling the fire escape. No, instead, Arsen wandered out of the slums all the way to the center square of Republic City; the whole stroll there, he was eating his barbecue with a grin to every passerby who stared oddly at him and his patched up clothes. These people weren't from the slums; these were the rich folk---like where the councilmen and socialites lived. To them, Arsen looked like a walking dust bunny, but he didn't pay them any mind, he simply strode into the park to finish off the remainder of his food in peace.
"Even when I try to be the good guy, people still look down on me," he thought gruffly, "Well who needs them? I can see the way they stare at me---they all think I'm worthless and dirty; a common criminal, a street rat. Spirits do I hate that word!" He wiped his hands on his pants and leaned his head as far back over the bench as it would go, his feet sprawled out into the grass. He scraped his brown bangs out of his eyes and gazed back up at the cloudy skies, still lost in his thoughts... "Like I'm the only one who's ever had to steal to survive? Like I am the only one who has bent the law a little---these hypocrites! So, maybe I am a thief, but I'm not such a bad guy if people would give me a chance---get to know me a little, you know? Ugh!"
Arsen shot to his feet, "Look at me, getting all sappy!" he snickered and cracked his knuckles, "I'm in the mother lode of all pickpocketing areas---the promised land for a guy like me! Instead of loathing, I should be looting! After all, I AM a thief..." He took notice of a rather large, well-dresses woman walking her mongoose-hound on a leash made of velvet and satin. She wouldn't even see him coming!
"Be a shame if her dog just spontaneously took off? Bet I could get a decent reward out of her if I just so happened to catch him," He plotted devilishly, taking a step towards the unsuspecting woman in order to enact his ploys.
One step was all it took and suddenly Arsen felt the earth trembling beneath his feet. He adjusted his balance just as he heard an uproar of loud screaming in the distance---the strange noises were growing louder by each passing second; the ground never stopped shaking. Animals were screeching, barking, cars crashed in the distance, and oh how people were screaming, running now in mobs, cluttered together like Ant-Roaches as many passed through the distance in a frenzy. Arsen looked past the skyscrapers into the sky only to see the massive black plume of smoke and the red glow of fire erupting from down the block. Buildings were falling, scrapping against other buildings as debris clashed together in the streets.
He heard a loud explosion from behind and turned around only to see another bomb going off in the opposite direction. All around the city it seemed, the noises blended together---the eruptions were so loud that they actually made no sound at all as one after another the city was consumed in smoke. Republic City was under attack! It was actually happening around them and everyone was helpless to lift a finger to do anything about it. The soundless screams and explosions meshed together as Arsen saw travesty unleashing in every direction, his entire city suddenly falling into a dreadful state of chaos, anarchy, and a bone-chilling silence...