Boiling Point, Part II
Asami is pretty sure she has tinnitus now.
Part 4 - Faith and Pragmatism
Section 9: "Boiling Point, Part II"
"This is Kuvira. Give me your location."
"We landed on one of the airship ports, southwest side of the island. Met some resistance, but we cleared them out. Area is secure for the moment."
Kuvira grimaced and looked around the torn apart interior of their Satohawk. It would take a miracle for it to fly again, by her best guess. "Status of your Satohawk? Ours is---"
Asami kept low to the floor and shook her head. "Hydraulics are gone. Rotors and blades, too. Back ramp won't open."
"---damaged beyond repair."
"All but pristine, ma'am."
"Fortify that position as much as you can. That craft is our only reliable way off of this rock. After that, take half of your team and---" Right, no earthbenders. "---scout for viable entry points."
"Understood, and that won't be a problem, ma'am. We'll make our own hole."
"Hey, uh, guys? We've got company!" said Bolin.
Kuvira peeked out of the cockpit and narrowed her eyes down the tarmac. Two teams of nine. Statistically, fire and earthbenders. VarriMechs and retrofitted mecha-tanks. Must have been offline when the electromagnetic pulse was deployed. "We can't take them head on, and if we stay here we'll be sitting turtle ducks." She motioned for the rest of them to move aside. "Opal, set charges on the doors." She reached down into the belly of the Satohawk and metalbent it open, revealing the platinum armor plating crushed against the airstrip. "Mako, Bolin; cut through the armor. We're going below." Kuvira stepped aside to allow the two brothers to work, lavadisks and superheated flames performing in tandem. No sense in wasting what little thermite they had. "Asami, do we still have power?"
She pointed to the door-mounted cannons and the cockpit. "Rig them to fire by radio."
Asami nodded and slid underneath the instrument panel, peeling back the access plate and rewiring the internal systems.
"I don't know how to plant explosives," said Opal.
Kuvira took the pack from Bolin's seat and smacked a piece of plastic explosive on the door. "Stick." She armed it. "Click." She tossed Opal the detonator and mimed squeezing the air. "Squeeze, and flip. Understood?"
Opal repeated the process on the other door. "Stick, click, squeeze and flip...got it." She hoisted the bag over her shoulder and looked down at the brothers below, sparks and heat rising up into the cabin. "You sure this will work?"
Korra flew through the air, rolling onto the top wing of a biplane and metalbending its tail into the fuel tank. She ripped the propellers out and took off once more, the aircraft spiraling out of control and slamming straight into the wall of the base behind her. The wall cracked and fractured, but remained.
She swooped down along the lake and grabbed hold of the water that she splashed up in her wake. She slung giant icicles at plane after plane, cutting through their frames and destroying their wings, sending them into a fatal nosedive.
Korra dropped back over the boiling lake and caught an odd shimmer in the water. The air sang, and she spun around onto her back, airbending the barrage of glass away at the last moment. She spotted the sandbender overhead, perched on a plane soaring past the wall and unleashed a flurry of massive fireballs, detonating the bombs strapped to the wings.
Way too close. One slip and she'd be gutted. The glass had been all but invisible, and if not for the sun, it would have been. As long as she focused, and remembered the sound, she should be able to-
As if on cue, she heard a sharp singing sound and banked up and to her flank, narrowly dodging a barrage of glass shards from one of the watchtowers. Korra growled and arced toward it, spiraling through the air and blasting it with wind and fire. The air knocked the sandbender off of the tower and into the base itself, and the fire set the overlook ablaze.
Korra dove and landed on the wall, peeking out over the edge to search for some sign of the sandbender, yet all she could find was an abandoned motor pool. She scowled and pushed herself back into the air, leaving a trail of flames in her wake.
If the sandbender wanted to play cat and spider-rat, she'd just have to follow along. He'd slip up, and when he did, she'd take him down.
Korra circled back around to the airstrip and narrowed her eyes at the soldiers, mecha-tanks and VarriMechs converging on the downed Satohawk. She clicked on her radio and shot a cable into the nearby wall, anchoring herself. "Took care of most of the planes. Everyone okay?"
"Thus far," said Kuvira.
"We're fine! Stay off the tarmac!" said Asami.
Korra raised a brow and looked back over the crash site. The Satohawk's lights flickered on and it unloaded its electrical cannons at the advancing battalion, bright blue lightning arcing and slicing through man and metal alike. The VarriMechs managed to dodge the attack and rushed over to the side doors, their platinum-lined hands tearing them open. As soon as they did, the entire Satohawk was consumed by a deafening explosion, melting through the heavy armor plating and the concrete below. The dozen or so benders that survived were then pulled underground, two by two in a matter of seconds. And then, almost immediately, they were tossed back out on to the strip, bound and gagged.
"...don't see that every day."
Asami hauled a particularly heavy earthbender over her shoulder and up the earthbent ramp. Attacking from below had been, admittedly, a brilliant move, and not one she'd have readily thought of herself. But then, that was exactly why Kuvira was in charge. For the moment.
She tossed the large woman on to the concrete and took stock of her surroundings. The airstrip was all but bare, save for a few unused planes and a decently sized dock with a cargo ship. Asami unhooked her binoculars and looked out over the boiling lake, toward the northeast. Sure enough, there was a large, partially concealed sea tunnel in the basin's wall. "Smuggling routes," she said, pointing toward it. "In the rock wall." She focused on the cargo ship and screwed up her face. "...Varrick Industries International."
"It's not his. Ordinary steel wouldn't hold in the boiling lake," said Kuvira, dragging a body out of the pit.
"That's not exactly proof…" She took a closer look at the bow. "...though the glaring lack of an icebreaker certainly is. Every Varrick ship has one. Can't make the Water Tribe routes without them." She put her binoculars back on her belt. "And he is very adamant about making those."
Opal followed Asami's gaze and shrugged. "Not much we can do about it right now." She sighed and kicked the growing pile of captured soldiers. "Or these guys, come to think of it. We can't just carry them around, let alone leave them here."
"We can load them up in one of those trucks," said Mako, gesturing toward several park cars off the dock. "Come back for them later."
Kuvira sighed and tossed a spasming, foaming-at-the-mouth corpse on to the pile. "Leave them. There's nothing we can do."
Asami's eyes widened and stepped backward. "What? Wait, why---" Then, the rest of them followed suit, white drool and foam seeping out of gagged, seizuring mouths. She made a disgusted face and looked away. "Nevermind, I understand."
"Interrogation is no longer a viable option. Any intel we collect will be inside the base. Your priority should be to wipe them out, and incapacitate only when possible."
Korra came swooping down out of the sky and rolled into a landing. She hopped up to her feet and grimaced at the pile of dead bodies. "Glad you guys are okay, not so torn about them, but who wants to bring me up to speed?"
Bolin pointed to Kuvira. "She's in charge."
Korra looked to Asami. "...really?"
Asami nodded. "Yes."
"All right, then. What's our next move?"
"Forward." Kuvira lowered the dead bodies into the ground and smoothed the hole closed. "The Satohawks were supposed to provide air support, Korra. You're our alternative. Until we get into the base, I want you in the air. Keep them occupied."
"On it." Korra took a deep breath and launched into the air again, blazing heat crackling where she lifted off.
"The rest of you, get to the dock. Bolin, anything gets too close, melt it. Opal, Asami, you're on point. They won't know how to fight an airbender with some semblance of military experience, let alone that suit you've built. Flank and tear them apart. Mako, you're with me." She turned to him, eyes hardening. "Ours is the simplest role."
Mako raised a brow. "Being?"
Kuvira raised a wall of concrete to their left, blocking a flurry of metal strips and fire. "Kill." She crouched down next to the barrier and set her jaw. "Opal, give us some cover. Everyone else, keep moving."
Opal handed off the bag to Bolin and pulled the wind toward her, bending a cyclone around them that grew larger by the second, marring itself grey from the gathered dust and debris. She pivoted out from cover, her feet gliding across the ground, and released her air, sending her cyclone hurtling straight toward the docks.
"Move!" barked Kuvira.
Asami ignited her afterburner, the heat rising up on her neck, and boosted forward with Opal, staying within the advancing twister. The wind rattled the windows of the small barracks and the shipping cranes as it passed through them, five blasts of fire and metal shattering them from the inside. Opal glided inside and airkicked in a wide arc, tossing two of them, and several kinds of large furniture, into the back of the room, scratching the steel walls.
Asami leaped through the window and smashed one of the firebender's heads into the ground, electricity crackling off of his prone body. She rolled over a large steel plate aimed at her head, and deflected a series of fireballs with her fan as she weaved her way toward the next two benders. She ducked and swung her blade up, slicing into their chests in one motion. They crumbled to the floor in a bloody mess and Asami spun around to see Opal blasting another man out the window, straight into the boiling lake.
She leaned back, dodging more blades aimed at her head, and snapped forward, boosting into the last bender, dropkicking him straight through the front door, shattering it to pieces. She sprinted outside just as Bolin, Mako and Kuvira passed by, slinging lava, fire and metal as they moved towards the cars.
Bolin dropped low to the ground and extended his arms, melting the concrete below the nearby crane. The giant machine sunk into the ground and Kuvira tore the support beams to pieces, causing it to fall in massive, terrorist-crushing chunks. It collapsed entirely, cracking the earth beneath it along the full length of the dock. The top of the crane landed straight on the cargo ship, fracturing the hull and slowly sinking it. Mako filled the rest of the area with fire, burning through the few that had survived the destruction.
VarriMechs stomped forward from the compound, and Korra swooped down out of the sky to airbend them all off of their feet, straight into the boiling lake. They flipped through the air and crashed into one another before hitting the water.
They were...surprisingly efficient, under Kuvira's command. Lethal. Asami was unsure how to feel about that fact.
"Asami, Opal! Secure a vehicle!" ordered Kuvira.
Asami boosted over the remains of the crane and toward the parked cars, Opal gliding at her flank. She rounded the corner of a shipping container and instinctively blocking three streams of fire with her fans in front of her as she advanced. The fire licked across the metal and she slid under the flames, seamlessly electrocuting one bender with her fan and cracking the second's skull open as she bounced off the container wall and smashed his head into another.
Opal airbent the third firebender on top of the container, landing just long enough to send him hurtling head over heels into the boiling, sinking ship.
Asami sprinted toward the cars, bounding above and between the fallen pieces of crane. A duo of metalbenders leaped out from behind a nearby truck and bent the car straight at her, fully intending to crush her. But Asami was faster. She had always been faster. She spun, slicing her way through the steel like it was paper, and used their brief frozen bafflement to cut them down. One through the neck, the other in the chest.
Asami looked away from the bodies and blood, burying all of those pesky feelings of guilt and shame as deep as they would go. There would be time for reflection later.
She hopped into the driver's seat of the jeep and...well, she could either hotwire it, or---Opal landed in the backseat and tossed her a set of car keys. And that answered that. The engine stalled, over and over again. She growled, blocking out everything but the car, and slammed her fists into the steering wheel. With an awkward beep, the car roared to life.
She'd slaughtered those tanks not an hour earlier, so why was...why was this so different? It was just like fighting in her home, except the Boiling Rock wasn't her home, it was someone else's home, that she was invading-
"Asami, Bolin, Mako,---Team Avata---" said Korra.
"Team one, Korra," interjected Kuvira.
"Thank you. Team one, you've got mecha-tanks headed your way. I can clear 'em out, but there are still a few planes up here."
"Kuvira," said the Fire Nation squad leader. "We can take care of the rest of the air assets."
"Do it," said Kuvira.
Asami shifted the car into first and pulled into a hard turn, racing back to the rest her team. She took a peek up at the sky and saw the remaining biplanes erupt into flames, screeching out of the sky. Most landed in the boiling lake, a few slammed straight into the base wall, and one was---
"Plane! Plane, plane, plane!" said Opal.
Heading straight for her.
Asami veered out of the way as the wreckage rolled past her and into several abandoned trucks, setting them ablaze. The mecha-tanks at the edge of the airstrip doubled over and were catapulted into the lake in an almost comical fashion by a sudden gale.
"Aircraft neutralized," said the squad leader. "We're coming up on the blast doors---."
"Commander Rin, say again," said Kuvira. "Commander Rin---"
"BE ADVISED THE SANDBENDER IS---" Static, again. "---UP THE LEFT SIDE, KEEP THE BASTARD PINNED!"
Asami rolled up to her team and they piled in. Mako in the front, Bolin, Opal and Kuvira in the back. Kuvira motioned forward and Asami slammed her foot down on the gas, shifting up gears as they sped toward the wall.
Kuvira scowled and searched the sky. "Korra, give them some support!"
A bright red flame streaked through the air, towards the other side of the island.
"Kuvira, they look fine to me," said Korra. "Wait...hold on, they're signaling me. Their radios are broken. Sandbender got to them before they drove 'em off. Oh, and guys, you're not gonna believe this..."
Korra held the radio to her ear as she worked on healing the deep shoulder wound on the commander's back. "They're combustion benders."
Each third-eye tattoo was slightly different, though they appeared to be based on a single design. It looked similar to eye with the Fire Nation sigil in the center, with a few accented parts for...most likely style.
"I know. I read the briefing," said Kuvira.
"Well, yeah, but all of 'em? It didn't say that in there."
Commander Rin winced and leaned forward. "That's because it's supposed to be a secret."
"I was unaware it was supposed to be a secret."
Korra frowned. "I think she meant for this mission specifically."
"We had intelligence suggesting that Kuvira could be the sandbender, but apparently that's not the case," said the commander. "However, one of our suspicions was confirmed about him."
"Which is---Bolin, make a hole there. Excuse me, which is?"
"The sandbender is vulnerable to lightning and combustion. Each time he blocked our assault, he stopped doing everything else. Focused entirely on defense."
"Great. Can't do either of those," grumbled Korra. She returned the water back to her skin and cracked her neck. "...but I can keep 'em on the run. Try and lure him back to you guys."
"If you see an opportunity, take it. We'll be through the wall momentarily. Commander Rin, what's your progress?"
Commander Rin stood and grabbed Korra's radio. "Got some giant, platinum blast doors. We can burn through them, though." She snapped her fingers and motioned toward two of her team. They ran up to the door and began applying some sort of odd substance to it. "They lead straight to the landing zone, so it'll give us a quick exfiltration route."
"Any idea how thick the doors are?" asked Asami.
"At least a foot, but it's nothing thermite can't handle."
"The doors look like they go straight into the facility, and not the open yards on the surface, too," said Korra, studying them closer. "Thinking it's a perfect place for an ambush."
"Most likely, but I was thinking more about the platinum itself..."
Asami furrowed her brow at the massive, platinum wall in front of them. It had been hidden so well behind layer after layer of stone and steel that she never would have guessed that they'd have the resources, or the necessity, to build such a thing. Or rebuild, as it were.
Bolin pouted and tossed away another chunk of concrete. "Everything's always gotta be platinum…"
"The outer walls are platinum, too," sighed Asami. "Off the top of my head, I'd say this doubles as---"
Kuvira placed a trail of thermite across the wall in the shape of a door. "Mako, on my mark."
Asami turned away from the wall and back towards their jeep, and beyond it the smoldering airstrip. "---a spirit bomb shelter. The walls are thick enough to protect against a direct hit."
"Now." said Kuvira.
Asami heard a hissing sound and flames crackling behind her.
"Either that, or it's for keeping the energy contained for testing purposes," added Commander Rin. "The Red Lotus don't do things half way. They'd need facilities like this."
"That'd make sense," mused Korra. "Couldn't sense the bomb at Raiko's press conference, even though it was active. That platinum container must've masked the energy," she said.
"Wait, hold on..." Bolin's eyes widened. "So, you're telling me that they could have spirit weapons in there, and we'd never know until they either blew up, or there was a purple glow everywhere?"
"I wouldn't worry about it."
"It's a little difficult not to!" said Opal.
"We'll be fine, just stay focused. Now, I'm off to flush out some terrorists, make your jobs easier," said Korra. "But before that..."
A bright red streak flickered above them and dropped out of the sky, landing right beside them. Korra took a deep breath and held out her hand. "Team two needs a radio."
Bolin tossed her his and she took off once again, circling back toward the first team, and then flying into the large courtyard of the facility, crashing down with so much force that it shuddered through the ground around them.
The section of platinum clattered inward into the base interior, which was oddly illuminated. Asami exchanged a look with Kuvira. "...looks like the base still has electricity. Must've had a backup generator."
"Which means they could be listening in," said the commander. "Though just because they have backup lighting systems and power, doesn't mean that their communications are functional. Their radios should still be broken, even with a new power source."
Kuvira motioned for them to advance and entered the base herself, followed by Bolin, Mako Opal and finally Asami. They'd lucked out. Their point of entry appeared to be a decently sized storage room, packed with cables, power tools and spare parts of every variety. She even spotted a set of plasma saws off in the corner.
"This wasn't in the blueprints," said Mako. "And I have a feeling the rest of this place isn't either."
"That's the assumption I would make," said Kuvira. "Moving forward, we will most likely be exclusively engaged in close quarters combat, so stay alert." Kuvira metalbent some of the spare parts into a metal sheet and set it against their entry point. "That door is platinum. Asami, can you use those plasma saws? No sense wasting thermite."
Asami inspected them closely and checked the power source. "Still active. If you give me a few minutes, I can make this portable." Just like dad did.
Kuvira nodded and grabbed her radio. "The internal doors are platinum as well, so make this work. Team two, what's your status?"
Asami cracked open the saw and started to jury-rig it, remembering the over-sized version she'd made during the Third Battle of Republic City. It wouldn't cut as deep, but it didn't need to.
"Blast doors are open, ma'am. It leads to a large transport tunnel that goes all the way to a loading dock on the surface. Has a motor pool close by. Jeeps, motorcycles, trucks---lots of police and military variants, too."
Asami made the finishing touches on her mini-saw and slipped on her welding mask. She motioned for her team to turn around and got to work cutting through the platinum door.
"Korra?" asked Kuvira.
"Little busy!" Korra slid down the inside of the prison wall, dragging two streams of boiling water along as the stone earth cracked beneath her boots. She kicked off of the stone and propelled herself over the yard, bending giant slabs of concrete into group of mecha-tanks, crushing them outright. Korra spiraled, airbending a deflective barrier around herself as she was peppered with blades, fire, and the odd electrified net.
She dropped to the ground and landed powerfully, cracking the earth with rapidly expanding fissures, soldiers and tanks alike tossed being tossed like rag dolls into the pits.
The air around her sang, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Glass.
Korra back flipped away from barrage after barrage of glass. She looked up at the main watchtower and saw him. The sandbender. Standing there, arrogant with sand flowing around him like water, that stupid cloak blending in with their element.
Nowhere to run.
Korra set her jaw, bent her boiling water around her, and launched herself back into the air, her flames broiling what was left of the yard as she charged straight toward the sandbender, dodging raging stream after stream of sand, metal, and glass by less and less. She reached out and waterbent the river straight at him, steam rising from the tendrils of water. The sandbender leaped backwards off of the watchtower, avoiding it entirely, the water splashing harmlessly against the metal structure.
Korra landed on the roof of the tower and looked out over the edge, only to barely dodge a long glass shard aimed at her head. She rolled away, and straight into a smoke grenade exploding in her face. She stumbled backward and coughed violently, clutching her stomach, before airbending it out of her lungs and away from her entirely.
Wait, where did the---
The sky turned dark, and Korra gaped.
Floating above the yard was the sandbender, bending a massive, roaring thunderous sandstorm that actually darkened the sky. And she had a pretty good idea what was about to happen next. Korra leaped off of the watchtower and called upon Raava's light, her eyes igniting in white fire. She ripped the tower off of its foundation, spinning it below her with all of her strength.
The air sang louder, hundreds of enormous glass shards falling like rain. She drilled the tower into the ground and through floor after floor of concrete, steel and platinum. Korra fell along with it, landing at the bottom with a roll, and shattering what remained of the tower walls. She bursted out into a wide metal hallway, broken glass scattering across the floor.
Korra took a moment to catch her breath and her eyes cooled, returning to blue. She leaned against the wall and ran her hands through her sweaty hair. She grabbed her radio. "I'm fine, just a little winded. Took out some armor, made a hole into the..." Korra spotted a nearby map, bolted to the wall next to an office doorway. She trailed her finger over it and found her position, which was very clearly marked with 'You Are Here' in large red characters. "...second floor basement."
"Status of the sandbender?" asked Kuvira.
"Around here somewhere. He loves playing cat and spider-rat." Korra walked back into the wrecked, upside down watchtower and grimaced. There might've been important information in there, not that she'd really had a better option. She couldn't bend glass. She carefully moved around the shattered desks and electrical instruments, picking her way through the mess.
"You mean he fights like a guerrilla."
"Yeah, and it's really starting to piss me off. Bad enough that---" Korra blinked as she heard something clatter. She looked up and saw the sandbender descending through the giant hole, slinging glass blades and metal down the shaft.
Korra scowled and dove back into the hallway, rolling on her shoulder, barely avoiding the shattering glass and metal barrage. The sandbender landed where she'd been standing and rose to his feet. Korra spun and filled the hallway with wind, sending the sandbender flying through the cracked wall of the watchtower and out the other side. The air sang behind Korra, and she pivoted, frantically deflecting the shattered glass and sand on the floor from striking anything vital. A few shards got through and stabbed her in her arm, another across her cheek.
Korra roared and ignited the air she'd just filled the hall with, consuming it all in flames. She ground her teeth and released more and more fire, intent on burning every single inch of the area. There would be no escape. No more glass.
No more terror.
Korra exhaled and walked through the flames, ignoring the calls on her radio. On the opposite end of the hall, before the split, was a glowing metal shield rising out of the floor. Bright red and close to boiling. Korra metalbent it apart and---nothing.
The sandbender was gone.
Korra grunted and made her way back to the map, tearing it off of the wall. "Had another run-in with the sandbender," she said into her radio. "Glass in my arm, but I'm all right. How're you?"
Asami finished cutting through the door and extinguished her torch, clipping it to her belt. She should have thought to make something like that years ago, if not right after her father had come up with the basic principles. "About to move into the base. Get that glass out," said Asami.
"Will do once I get the chance. Gonna check around these offices, first. Think I know where you guys are, too. Be there soon."
Kuvira tilted her head. "Opal, on my move, get the door."
Opal positioned herself to the side of the door frame, her hands flowing around a growing sphere of wind, Mako and Bolin beside her. Asami pressed up against the opposite side, and grimaced as Kuvira moved behind her.
Kuvira brought down her fist and Opal blasted the door off of its hinges, sending it flying across the hangar and smashing two terrorists into the far wall with a loud crack. She spun through the opening and opened her suit, propelling herself into the air and above the stone, metal and fire being pelted at her. She banked left, away from the door, and spiraled into a sequence of airbending kicks, toppling several large shipping crates into the ambush squad.
Asami rushed out of the door next and closed the distance between her and the terrorists, swatting away metal and dodging stone without the slightest hesitation. She leaped over the growing pit of lava beneath two of them and landed on a third, palming his face and slamming him into the ground, electricity surging through his body.
With no warning, water slammed into her side and pinned her into the wall, freezing over. Asami growled and struggled in her ice prison, glaring at the waterbender who'd gotten the better of her. Or so she thought. Asami pushed outward on the ice, slightly reorientating her posture, and managed to automatically ignite the afterburner on her back to far higher levels of thrust, melting the ice just enough.
She flexed and it shattered, much to the shock of the waterbender. Wasting no time, she launched herself at the terrorist and knocked her unconscious with an electrified uppercut to the jaw.
Asami turned back to the battlefield and---
Blue light blinded her, knocking the wind out of her lungs and forcing her to collapse on to the ground. Her body armor sizzled and crackled, lightning arcing around it. She struggled to breath, clawing her way up on all fours. Asami groaned to her feet and stumbled forward, straight into someone's fist.
She tasted blood and her ears were ringing, but that didn't matter. She could still see. She could still fight. She'd never stop.
Counter and overwhelm.
Instinct took over, and she was a blur. She caught the attacker's arm, shattered it with her elbow and caved in his windpipe by slamming it into her knee. She grabbed a second by the waist and neck, electrocuting him, and smashed his head into the steel wall.
Number three; broken neck. Fourth, stab through the shoulder, electrocution. Five, six, seven; sliced open spines. If they survived, they'd never walk again. Nine, kicked into the wall and with her sword in their stomach. Ten. Crushed ribs.
Clinical. Brutal. That was what she needed to be to win. To survive. To beat them. To kill them. To wipe out every single one of them---
Asami froze, rational thought snapping back into place. Her suit was singed in the front, and her nose was bleeding. She wiped away the blood and jumped at the hand on her shoulder.
"Take it easy," said Mako. "You okay?"
Asami took several shallow breaths before returning to a more regulated rhythm. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Must've gotten hit with a bolt of lightning and then...I don't even know."
"Fight or flight response," said Kuvira, checking over the bodies. "Combined with over a decade of grueling physical conditioning, you can't expect anything less."
Asami sheathed her blades and swallowed. "I---"
"You can reflect on this when we're home. For now, push it aside."
"After what I just---"
Asami growled and felt the rage bubble in the pit of her stomach, but managed to silence it. For the moment. She exhaled and brushed her hair out of her face. She was still angry. After all that time, it was still within her. Rage. Waiting and listening for just the right moment to take control.
That wasn't her. It was something, but it wasn't her. Not...all of her, at the very least. She was stronger than her anger, she wouldn't let it---
"Asami, focus." said Kuvira, lowering her voice.
Asami blinked and nodded. Yes. There would be time later. She'd lost count how many times she'd said that. She looked around the hangar and consciously stepped away from the disturbingly large pile of bodies. Several oddly shaped watercraft were suspended above water, and with no obvious exits to the lake itself. "I think I've seen these somewhere before."
Opal knocked her knuckles against one of the craft. "Yeah, me too. I just can't quite..." She gasped. "Asami! It's a submarine!"
Asami raised her brows and approached it, inspecting it closer. The angles, the view ports meant to be below sea level, the top hatch. "You're right. I thought the Fire Nation were the only ones to still have this technology..."
"Maybe someone's been selling them to the Red Lotus?" asked Mako.
"Unlikely. These appear to be adapted from an older model design, and there's only a single torpedo launcher." said Kuvira. "This was built for infiltration and smuggling, not war."
"This must be how they can move around undetected," said Asami.
A massive explosion shook the hangar, and dust fell from the ceiling.
"...speaking of undetected..."
The ceiling cracked and a giant piece of steel drilled into the hangar. It slammed into the ground, rattling the submarines. The five of them warily circled the metal beam.
The metal split apart and Korra, bloody from her own wounds, stumbled out of it, tossing a duffle full of papers to the ground. She rested her hands on her knees and gave them all a tired wave. "Hey guys."
Asami stared at her in disbelief. "...what...did you just drill through the ground with a building?"
"Elevators are out; platinum doors." Korra wiped the sweat off her brow. "Sandbender is...well, y'know how it's hard to see a glass door if it's really clear?"
Kuvira frowned. "You can't avoid what you can't see coming."
"Yep. I can barely hear it, but that's about it. So keep your ears open."
Bolin looked up at the ceiling. "Can't he just metalbend his way here?"
"He can, but he won't. He's done this cat and spider-rat thing like twenty times now!" said Korra, throwing her hands up in the air. She winced and grabbed her bleeding forearm. "Little help?"
Asami sighed and carefully inspected her arm, pulling the bloody sleeve off entirely. Several lacerations and even more shards dug deep into her flesh. "I can get these out, but I need some tweezers."
Mako handed her a pair.
Asami stared at him incredulously. "Why do you..." Eyebrows. "Nevermind. Thank you."
Korra handed him some sort of metal map with her good arm. "Here, take a look at this. Found it a few floors up."
Asami carefully removed each and every tiny shard of glass from Korra's arm and frowned at the cut on her cheek. "What's on the papers you found?"
"Not sure, just grabbed as much as I could. Figured it'd be better to sort that out later. Focus on the mission and the wannabe-Avatar running around."
"Probably for the best." Asami picked out the last piece of glass. "There we are."
Korra flexed her arm and used her waterskin to close her wounds, the soft glow illuminating the dried bloodstains on her side. "Can't help but notice you're covered in blood. You okay?"
"It's not mine."
Korra bent the water back into her waterskin and slipped her sleeve back on, pulling her hands through the fingerless gloves. "I know. That's what worries me."
"Guys!" said Mako. "Looks like there's a command center in the center of this floor. A massive one."
Kuvira handed Bolin the dufflebag full of documents and looked at the map. "That's our target." She clicked on her radio. "Team two, status?"
"Made our way into the level four basement, cleared out some low-lifes on the way. Exfiltration path is secure for the time being and we just found a map of the base."
"Good. We're on that level as well. We'll rendezvous with you in the command center." Kuvira motioned towards the large door at the far end of the hangar. "Let's keep moving. Korra, you take the rear. The rest of you, same formation."
Asami used her plasma saw to cut through the door, which was thankfully much thinner than the last one, and kicked it open, the heavy metal crashing loudly to the ground. She moved inside, sword and fan at the ready, with Opal right beside her.
The hallway was narrow, packed with side rooms and windows. All of them burned. They came across a larger room filled with instruments and batteries. And Vines. Asami kicked down the door and sifted through the workstations while the rest of them kept watch.
Asami sighed and looked through the documents scattered throughout. "Nothing new. Just the same research we did on the vines." She shoved the cache of Spirit Vines into Bolin's duffle. "...but at least we found these. We'll have to dispose of them back home. Controlled detonations."
"...why?" asked Kuvira.
"Burning them doesn't always remove their conductivity of spirit energy.'
Bolin raised a brow and looked at his bag. "When did I become everyone's pack camel-yak?"
"You're good at fighting with a bag, bro," said Mako.
"This is true. Okay, I accept my new role, and the praise that goes along with it."
Asami rolled her eyes walked back into the hallway. They advanced quickly, but the entire floor seemed to be deserted. Room after room was torched. Trying to cover their tracks, no doubt.
Kuvira motioned for them to halt, just in front of the command center's doors. "...footsteps approaching," she whispered. "Eight. Four front, four back." She pointed down the hall and behind them, near the fork in the hallway.
Asami drew her blades, Mako dropped into a lightning stance, Bolin readied a lavadisk, Opal took a deep breath and Kuvira grounded herself.
"Kuvira, we're---is that me on the radio?" asked Commander Rin.
Commander Rin marched out from the corner down the hall, half of her squad behind her, with the other half moving in from Korra's direction. "Well, this is a welcome surprise! Thought we'd have to fight off another wave of chi-blockers."
Asami relaxed her stance and sheathed her blades. "You fought chi-blockers here?"
"Not too many. If I had to guess, I'd say most of the non-benders are manning the armor."
Kuvira pointed to the large command center door. "Asami, get that open."
Asami nodded and quickly cut through the door. She walked inside and raised her brows. It was almost entirely untouched. No signs of fire or trashed documents. In the center of the room was a big round table, and maps of major cities were scattered across the walls. All in front of a massive window overlooking a large platinum shield. Odd. "Think we might've caught a break here."
The rest entered behind her and searched the room. Asami perused through the drawers and piled papers onto the desk, skimming through them as she went along. There was a pattern, and not a good one. "Everything I've got here is dated almost twenty years ago. 158 AG."
Korra turned to her and frowned. "...that was the year they tried to capture me. But they've got to have records after that. There are hundreds of people here."
"The maps are current," said Opal. "This one of the world is weird, though. Lots of marks everywhere, and really random." She shrugged and rolled up the map, stuffing it into Bolin's bag.
Mako pointed out the window at the platinum shield. "The important stuff could be in there. Looks like a vault to me."
Bolin raised a brow. "Why would they put a vault in a command center?"
"Because it's the most secure part of the facility? How should I know?!"
Asami tentatively reached for the lever, settling her hand on it. "Well, whatever's in there, they want to keep it, which means we need to take it from them." She bit her lip and pulled.
The giant platinum dome folded backward, drowning them in blinding purple light and a warning klaxon. She shielded her eyes and caught Korra doubling over as she looked away. There, outside the massive window, was an enormous Spirit Vine generator. Purple lightning arced over it and was caught by the electrodes in the base of the machine. It pulsed like a beating heart, in tandem with Korra's wincing.
Commander Rin looked on, baffled. "What the hell is that?"
Kuvira stared, mouth agape. "A Spirit Vine energy generator. And it's..."
Bolin's eyes bulged in his head. "At least three times as big as the last one!" His head snapped to Mako, glaring. "And don't even think about it!"
"I---I wasn't!" stammered Mako.
Asami helped Korra to her feet. "This must be the backup power source. We need to shut it down. Come back to dispose of it later."
Korra shook out her head and clutched her forehead. "...and it's giving me a huge headache. How thick is that platinum?! I should have been able to feel this well before we even got here!"
"It doesn't matter---" Asami blinked, calculating the math in her head. "No, wait, it might. If I can rig this thing to blow and close the shield, it should contain the blast. Barely."
"The alternative being that you destroy this entire volcano and a square mile of ocean," said Kuvira. "If you do this, will there be enough time to exfiltrate?"
"In the event that I can't shut it down, we should be able to. The generator won't overload instantaneously."
"Then do it."
Asami nodded and jogged over to the security door, using her plasma saw to cut it open. "You guys head to the Satohawk! I'm right behind you!"
Korra shook her head vehemently as the rest of them sprinted out of the command center. "What if---"
Asami ripped open the door and extinguished her saw. "Korra, I'll be fine. I know this tech better than anyone. Go and clear a path for me."
"Just..." Korra balled her hands into fists and sighed. "Just be careful."
Korra nodded and ran out the door, leaving Asami alone with the monstrous generator. She glared up at it as she descended the stairs. It was odd, though. Why would a base need that much electrical power? They wouldn't. So the only reason for having the generator there would be as a proof of concept, or...
Asami paled. "It's a self-destruct contingency," she muttered. She dashed over to the control panels and her eyes scanned through the readings. MegaVarricks. Of course. They weren't constant, though. The feedback gauge was slowly decreasing, while the power generation was building higher and higher.
That was the timer, and it was already set to blow. Someone warned them about the attack. The Red Lotus had known they were coming. They'd banked on it.
Asami tore the access panel off of the control panel and ducked inside, searching through the wiring and circuit boards faster than she thought possible. Something was off, even more than it already was. The vines would overload, destroying everything, assuming she couldn't shut it down.
But she could. It was so obvious. She found the intermediaries, the wiring for them, and hesitated. It was too easy. The Red lotus weren't stupid. Which meant they'd assume she'd try to shut down their generator, rather than risk detonation, especially since it was already rigged to blow.
She dug deeper and found her answer. Every intermediary part of the generator was connected to vines themselves, which meant if she tried to shut it down, it would instantly overload.
However, that wasn't her only option.
She could always slow the timer.
Asami clicked on her radio. "Can't shut it down, and the Red Lotus rigged it to overload in the next two minutes. They knew we were coming, but I can buy us some time. On my mark, we'll have ten minutes to get to the Satohawk."
"We're ready," said Kuvira.
Asami rewired internal systems and bit her lip. "Mark." She pushed herself out of the access panel and went to work re-configuring the controls, setting the degradation rate to match the changes she'd just made. It all looked stable, but she was still cutting it close. She sprinted back up to the command center and yanked the shield control lever.
Asami paled and pulled the lever back and forth. She heard the motors groan and shudder as the left side of the shield started to cover the vines. It creaked to a stop and a large panel of platinum sheared itself off, falling straight into the active generator.
Lighting and purple energy surged over it and shot into the command center, cutting through the ceiling and destroying half of the room. Wiring and steel beams fell to the floor and Asami scrambled to avoid them, barely avoiding a blast of lightning as she rolled.
Spirit energy exploded beside her and threw her into back wall of the room, slamming her head into the metal. Once again, the last thing she saw, her eyes dazed, was not darkness, but blinding purple light.
Korra ducked under the mecha-tank's arm and pivoted, airbending it into the sky and over the prison wall. "What's our time?!"
Commander Rin blasted a VarriMech in half with a concentrated burst of combustion, disabling another two with the tell-tale pop-pop of her bending. "Eight minutes!"
The floor below them cracked and pillars of sand sliced through the ground and into the sky. The sandbender shot out of crater and bent a dozen streams of razor sharp sand at them all, glinting glass scattered through it all.
Korra and Opal worked quickly, deflecting the attack with a massive gust of air, sending the sandbender to the other side of the yard. He rolled to his feet and bent another barrage of glass filled sand at them.
And then it all stopped. The sand froze in the air and glass clattered harmlessly to the ground. Kuvira and the sandbender stared one another down, neither moving an inch as the sand shuddered in place. Blood dripped down Kuvira's nostrils and she scowled, a large vein throbbing on her forehead as she held him back, forcing the onslaught into a stalemate.
A flurry of lightning and beams of chi surged through the air at the sandbender, forcing him on the defensive. Mako and the combustion benders were relentless in their assault. Kuvira dropped to her knees and the sandstorm kicked up again, but quickly vanished.
Once again, the sandbender was gone.
Kuvira struggled to her feet and motioned toward the tunnel, dazed. "Come on! Move out!" She stumbled and Korra caught her from falling forward on to her face.
Mako hopped into the driver's seat of a troop transport and the engine roared to life. Korra helped Kuvira into the back as everyone else piled in as well. The truck sped off down the tunnel, narrowly avoiding bolts of lightning and nets from the mechs and benders they passed. The combustion benders retaliated in force, turning dozens to meat in an instant.
They drove through the blast doors and on to the airship landing zone, the Satohawk ahead of them. Mako rolled the truck to a stop beside the Satohawk, its rotors already spinning at full capacity.
Korra threw Kuvira's arm over shoulder and walked her up the cargo ramp of the Satohawk, strapping her in to her seat. "Everyone else accounted for?" she asked.
Commander Rin gave her a thumbs up. "Just waiting on Sato!"
Korra clicked on her radio. "Asami, we're ready to go! You're cutting this a little close!"
"Asami?" She smacked her radio. "Asami. Hey, Asami!" She stared ahead, her eyes glazing over. There must be some interference. Maybe her radio broke. Yes, obviously. She was fine. Totally fine. "Asami?!" she yelled, ignoring her head's more rational way of thinking. "Damnit, Asami, do not make me come back and get you!"
"---make me come back and get you!"
Asami awoke, her head swimming and throbbing. She felt blood seep through her hair and down her cheek. She opened her eyes, only for them to be filled with purple light. She squeezed them closed and slowly got to her feet, reaching out to half a burnt desk for stability.
Asami's heart pounded in her chest and she felt her foggy mind clear almost instantly, adrenaline pumping through her faster than her own panic could overtake her. She sprinted out the door, stumbling the first few steps before regaining her bearings.
"ASAMI!" yelled Korra, her panicked voice cracking through the radio.
Asami clicked hers on as she engaged the turbofan on her back, propelling her forward. Faster and faster. "I'm okay! The shield controls malfunctioned and the command center is toast. Can't contain the blast!"
Asami shouldered open the door to the emergency stairwell and began leaping up the railings. "Stay right there! I'll make it."
"I can block the blast!"
Asami bursted out into the afternoon sun and looked around frantically. The motor pool was junked, and the fires were still burning. Except for an overturned satocycle. Perfect. "And make a new spirit portal? Here?" Asami righted the motorcycle and mounted it, revving the engine. She squeezed the gas and charged forward through the complex, zipping through the main yard and into the tunnel system.
"It's that, or you die," whispered Korra.
Asami zigzagged around a debris ridden road block and shifted into a higher gear. "Trust me. I'll make it."
Kuvira's groggy voice cut through the radio. "Asami, you have less than three minutes. We can't get to a minimum safe distance after that."
Asami drew her blade and spun the bike, cutting her way through a jammed security gate and slipping below it. "Got it. Should be coming up on the blast doors now, just following the path of destruction."
"Wait, Asami there's---"
Asami redlined the bike, forcing it further and further. She sped through the blast doors, and into the light once more. And then her heart stopped.
An entire platoon of VarriMechs, mecha-tanks, tanks, trucks and troops had their backs to her, racing toward the landing pad and the roaring Satohawk. There was no other route. If anyone left the Satohawk to help, there wouldn't be enough time to get back.
Asami narrowed her eyes and flourished her blade. "I see them. I'm coming, just be ready." She sped toward the advancing platoon and grit her teeth. She rode straight through the center, slicing a VarriMech and the tires of several trucks on her way. The trucks spun out and flipped on to their side, crashing into the tanks and troops around them. She looked over her shoulder as she passed in front of them all and paled.
It looked so much worse from the other side.
Lightning exploded and sprayed around her as she got closer and closer to the Satohawk, a constant volley by the platoon at her back. She maneuvered expertly, dodging each blast by less and less. The popping of combustion sounded closer every second, the Fire Nation forces tearing through the platoon once it came within range. They fired out of the back ramp, beams of concentrated chi streaking through the air and detonating on top of the Red Lotus.
"We have to go! Now!" barked Kuvira. "Korra, cables!"
Asami locked the satocycle at its top speed and balanced herself on the seat, looking up at the landing pad. "This is the worst idea ever!"
"Do or die!" said Korra.
Korra leaped out of rapidly rising Satohawk and snagged her cable around the back hook. Asami leaped forward off of the bike, pushing her afterburner to its absolute limit and felt the second cable wrap around her waist. Korra retracted it and slung them both inside, bowling over Mako and Bolin.
The back ramp sealed shut and Asami reached for Korra's hand, counting down the seconds. They'd made it. They had. She hadn't miscalculated. Even with the Satohawk's platinum armor, it wouldn't withstand a blast so powerful. She'd cut it close, sure, but they'd make it.
They'd be okay.
No one spoke and Asami felt the tension nearly suffocate her.
The shock wave shook the Satohawk, and Asami closed her eyes, waiting for the blast to overtake them. She squeezed Korra tightly until her arms gave out and...they were okay. Asami blinked her eyes open and slowly made her way toward the back of the craft. She opened the ramp again, light splashing over the hold and...
It was gone. The Boiling Rock was gone. A massive, empty pocket of air took its place, surrounded by a mile wide waterfall in a perfect circle, pouring steaming ocean water into the crater.
Asami closed the ramp. "Kuvira," she said, turning back to her. Swallow your pride and do what's right. "Thank you."
Kuvira massaged her forehead and nodded.
Opal scowled at her. "Kuvira. Hey, look at me." She nudged her shoulder. "Hey!"
Kuvira looked up at her, her expression dazed. "What?"
"I can't believe I'm saying this, but after today...you can come to the wedding." She jabbed her finger in her face. "But only if you promise to stay on the edge of the photographs! I want to be able to fold those over."
Kuvira blinked and sat up straighter. "Thank you, Opal. You and Bolin deserve every happiness---"
Mako cleared his throat. "Opal, not to interrupt, but…Your reception is gonna have an open bar, right?"
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