Earth, Fire, Water, Air. The four elements which bind the world and its people. And yet the four which are constantly at war, both with themselves and each other. In previous times, the Avatar, master of all four elements, brought balance to the world. Brave men and women fought alongside the Avatar to restore balance. But as time passed, their deeds faded into legend, and their sacrifices forgotten. And again, the world set to fall out of its natural balance. But what happens when those charged with maintaining the balance...are responsible for its disruption?
The train went through the suburbs rapidly, giving the passengers a rapid view of the houses, stores and roads that had begun to populate what was empty space a mere 50 years prior. It was quite a dull sight to be frank, most of the men and women on board the train more interested in their destination than the repeated sights outside, save some occasional view of the nearby mountains. Luckily for the passengers, the train service had seen fit to place televisions in the cabins, the audio present if one plugged headphones into the seats.
Fighting in the Earth States continued unabated today between forces of the Earth Kingdom and Earth Republic as both sides claimed victory in separate skirmishes along the armistice border. In a speech today, Emperor Xing declared his policy of "One Earth Kingdom" would not change and that despite protests from the United Republic and Avatar Korra for both sides to resume honoring the armistice, he would not rest until quote 'We are united as one nation, as is Earth Kingdom birthright' end quote. In response, President Zhang Bahl repeated his insistence that the Earth Republic would defend it borders, and called on the Kingdom forces to abandon their assault.
Then again, the view of the shops and houses would be preferable to yet another story about the war, which had occupied television for six months. A man in one of the seats couldn't help but sigh.
"It never ends, does it?"
The green t-shirt clad man, despite his seemingly grim demeanor, could not have been more than 21 years old. His brown eyes darted towards a list of names kept in a small book, lost in thought.
Last stop – Republic Central Station. All passengers must exit. Repeat; this is the last stop. All passengers must exit. This train is going to the yard.
The man followed other men, women, and children as they grabbed their belongings and made their way off the train onto the nearby platform. From there, a staircase would lead them to the inside of Republic Central, a massive complex with several floors both above and belowground. In addition to the standard train platforms and ticket vendors, there were shops of all sorts, an information booth, and numerous ticket stands. It was nothing if not a preview of the actual city outside the station.
The sight in front of him was bustling. Cars and trucks crowded the streets as hundreds of people passed by. It was a bit too much for him to take. Even having lived here during his pre-teen days, one could never completely get used to the horns and other forms of noise. The man briefly ran his head through a head of black hair, and then turned to the screen on his cellphone.
We'll meet up at 2pm. There's this great little restaurant away from Convergent Square. Don't worry; they serve meat. Kushina's coming too. I think you'll like what you see.
He never did get the whole vegetarian thing with the official members of the Air Nation, and although studying air bending with them for the better part of four years made him appreciate their culture and techniques, he still disagreed with some of their teachings, particularly the whole no meat taboo. Smiling, he put the phone away and began walking towards his destination.
The streets, while never completely losing people, became less noisy and crowded as he moved away from Convergent Square towards midtown. Finally, he found the place; a small restaurant lined up in a row of shops next to a bar and a bakery, respectively. Your average tourist would likely dismiss the place in favor of a larger chain restaurant, which is probably why Shing chose it as the meeting place. Walking inside, a bell tied to the door announced his presence as he saw the greeter come to him.
"How may we help you today?"
"I'm actually here to meet someone. I believe they've already sat down."
"Very well sir."
The greeter stepped aside as Tong went through the back, only to find who he was looking for, a man wearing the uniform of an Air Temple acolyte. His bald head and arrow tattoos marked him as an experienced member of the order.
"W…Tong! You came!"
The pair exchanged a hug, paying no mind to the other patrons. "It's been forever! What were you doing up there?"
"I just never had the time man. You think I didn't miss everyone?"
The reunion was cut short by a third voice. "Are you two going to stand there all day? Not that it doesn't look adorable."
"What's it to…"
The words died on Tong's lips as he looked at the beauty in front of him. A black haired woman, said hair flowing down her back, with soft, creamy white skin and ruby red lips, looked on at the pair. Her features were those of a Fire Nation Citizen, even though both Tong and Shing knew she was a native of Republic City. The black blouse and red skirt she wore only seemed to accent her relatively slender frame.
Several sentences went through Tong's head. After realizing saying any of them aloud would likely lead to him being slapped, the man settled for nodding dumbly and extending his hand. Smiling, she returned the gesture, the three sitting down at the table.
"You better have not ordered before I got here," Kushina noted as soon as she sat down. Shing shook his head.
"I wanted everyone else to come in first. So, how's everyone doing?"
Over meals of fish, poultry, and in Shing's case, a stir-fry with large mushrooms instead of the more traditional meats, the three recounted old experiences. The one that immediately came to Tong's mind was their initial meeting, a time they raced Kushina on a hill over in the Southwest borough, her soapbox racer able to keep strides with the boys and their air scooters (and Shing about to win the race when he lost balance thanks to a patch of rocks). Kushina recounted the time the pair was invited to play in a boys vs. girls ball game, only to find out when they attempted to cheat with air bending that Kushina had performed some strategic chi blocking earlier. Shing couldn't help but add that despite that, the boys still ended up winning.
The conversation soon turned to the present, particularly what the pair had been up to while Tong was away in college.
Kushina nodded as she showed the pair an employee ID with her face on it. "Engineering division. Test pilot work is fun, but I want to make machines then drive them! Not just drive other people's stuff."
"Didn't your dad want you to take over the chi-blocking school?" Shing asked. Kushina shook her head.
"I love chi-blocking, but it doesn't pay the bills. I can't get a job teaching it the way you can bending for the military. Can't say Dad was too thrilled, but it's my career."
"So, building anything fun?" Tong asked. Kushina just shook her head.
"Confidentiality agreement. They'd have my head if I told you before the rest of the world."
"Fine", Tong answered with a disappointed huff. "And what about you Shing? Or is it Master Shing now?"
"Not just yet," the young man answered. "I have the tattoos, but no formal position. Besides," he added excitedly "I'm too young to get tied down by a desk job! Air Nomads are nomads for a reason! We need to see the world, visit the four nations!"
"You might want to avoid the Earth Republic," Tong added jokingly. "I'm allowed to say that, I was born there." The trio chuckled at the comment, all too familiar with the ongoing war.
"Although now that you mention it," Shing continued, "Grandmaster Rohan has been getting ready to retire for a while now. He hasn't named a successor just yet though."
"Any candidates?" Kushina asked.
"Well I know Yuza has been pushing for it…"
"Yuza?" Tong asked, confused. "Didn't he leave while I was still there?"
"He did, and he founded his own school for air benders based on the wind razor style he was teaching. The Grandmaster didn't like it. He felt wind razor ran counter to air bender teachings. Remember how upset he got when he found out Yuza was giving us lessons?"
"I remember. Yuza was really popular with the kids. We all thought he was so cool before he got kicked out. So why is he back now?"
"I don't know. I just know yesterday he showed up in front of the grandmaster and challenged everyone else there for the spot, then left."
"I'm actually supposed to speak with Grandmaster Rohan," Tong announced. "I was hoping we could head to Air Temple Island after this."
Sighing, Tong reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a note. "Dad…wrote that before he died. He said if anything happened, to bring this to Grandmaster Rohan."
"Is that the only reason you came?" Shing asked. Tong shook his head.
"Hell no. I promised I would meet you guys once I got back, remember? It's just…an errand I have to do while I'm in town. So, who's covering the bill?"
"I figured Kushina, she's got the nicest job oW!"
The "out" turned to "ow" when Kushina pulled on Shing's ear, causing him to hastily rethink his position. "I'll cover it. I offered, after all, right?"
"I have come to take my place as the rightful Grandmaster of the Republic City Air Temple! Anyone who dares challenge me will fall!"
The challenge was made as the Grandmaster stood in front of an old obstacle course, looking on at the lesson being taught to a group of child acolytes. The other instructors all looked on at the man arrogant enough to declare such a challenge, ready to strike him down. The old man, bald save the arrow tattoo on his head, with a gruff demeanor and no facial hair stared at the sight of the intrusion with disdain. His wrinkles only served to accent his emotions, in this case annoyance at the arrogance in front of him.
"Yuza, I told you the same thing I have for the past week! You left our order when you said you lost all respect for our ways!"
"I have no respect for the ways of the Air Nomads", the blonde man replied, his white uniform and long boots hiding an imposing figure. "Which is exactly why I should lead the order! To bring it into a new age of progressive thinking and advancement of air bending technique!"
"Your techniques emphasize death and destruction, the exact opposite of what Air benders are supposed to represent! If you were to take a position of power within the Air Nation, you would lead it to ruin."
"You'll find my leadership skills can be quite…persuasive."
"Is that a threat?"
As he walked towards the ferry leaving Air Temple Island, flanked by two masked bodyguards in blue and white uniforms, Yuza turned back, a smile curling his lips.
"No, it's your guilt. You know I should be the next Grandmaster, but are too tied to the temple's outdated ways to see it."
After paying the bill, the trio began heading towards the subway system to get to Air Temple Island. They were stopped however, by the sounds of screaming and crackling electricity two blocks away.
"Someone's in trouble!"
"Tong!" Both Kushina and Shing's pleas fell on deaf ears as Tong ran through the streets towards the noise, a bank with the sounds of gunfire. The pair was unaware how Tong could even hear the noise given all the activity, but soon ignored it as they ran after.
"OK ladies and gentlemen, this is a stickup! Anyone tries anything funny and they eat a Shocker blast! You! All the money in the front, in this bag, now!" Emphasizing this point, he pointed the metallic weapon and its short black barrel at the teller, who hastily began to retrieve money from her desk and the surrounding desks.
Undeterred by his friends asking what the hell he was doing, the man pointed out what he saw from outside the building. "Four bank robbers. Three have shockers; one's a fire bender. There's at least twenty hostages."
"Cops won't be here for about five to ten minutes. I think we can stop them."
"Are you nuts?!" Kushina asked. "I didn't come out to lunch to get shot at!"
"We can't let innocent people get hurt!" Shing nodded in agreement.
"So what's your plan?"
"And how does it keep me from getting shot?" Kushina added.
"I don't have all day!" the robber shouted, his suit and tie doing nothing to hide his brutal demeanor. "If you don't have all the money out by the time my friends get back, there's gonna be a hole in your head!"
The single floor of the lobby seemed to lack any position that the two robbers could be surprised by, at least without noticing the numerous windows that allowed light to pour into the lobby. Which is why they were all the more surprised when two powerful gusts of wind shattered the glass and knocked the assailants to the ground, while a third gust kept the shards away from the civilians.
"What the hell was…"
Two men leapt through the windows, landing two equally forceful kicks, one to each robber in the head and chest. The kicks knocked the robbers out cold before they could react, while in the back, the remaining two were startled by the racket. Rather than finish cutting the bars, the fire bender abandoned his task to head out front, only to see his friends out cold.
A third gust of wind knocked his compatriot into the wall, rendering him unconscious. A look of anger on his face boiled as he readied two fireballs in his palms.
THWACK THWAP THWACK
The flames immediately vanished as the thief felt several powerful blows all over his body. Looking up, he saw a black haired woman smiling at him, right before she drove a kick into his temple, knocking him out cold.
"Guess we put that fire out."
The crowd began standing up and cheering for their rescuers as the trio looked on. "Well, that's my good deed for the day," Kushina began as she went towards the exit. "Can we not risk our life foiling any more bank robberies on the way?"
"Oh come on," Shing protested, clearly enjoying the crowd's adulation. "We make a great team!"
Tong just smiled as he walked out the door. "I like helping people. Can't help it."
"Well let's go before we have to spent the next couple of hours giving a statement."
After a brief subway ride, followed by a something lengthier ferry ride, the trio had arrived on Air Temple Island. Kushina hadn't been here since her preteen years, the island being a popular tourist destination, but when her two friends left, there was no reason for her to hang out there. Once off the boat, a stern looking man greeted them, clad in the traditional robes of the Air Nation.
"Who is it at this hour? The last tour ended an hour ago!"
"Is that any way to speak to a former student?"
"Tong? Just in time for dinner! Shing, I see you bought company!"
"Tong mentioned that he had to talk to you." As soon as Shing mentioned this, Tong handed the Grandmaster a letter, which he pocketed.
"Your father, correct?"
"There's much to discuss. But we can do it in the morning. Who wants dinner? The chefs have made a lovely raw vegetable wrap platter!"
All three nodded at the invitation. Tong had learned the hard way not to question the Grandmaster's culinary choices as far back as his first night at the island. Coincidentally, it was also the night that he learned how high a single gust of wind could propel a person into the air.
Dusk soon became night, which soon became morning. The influx of students and guests meant that there were numerous spare rooms available on the island for guests and live-in students. Rohan would hear none of Tong's insistence on getting a hotel, practically demanding he stay in the guest rooms and save the money. Kushina however, living in one of the boroughs, did leave, but not before leaving her phone with the group in case they needed her.
During the night, Tong looked over the list his father gave him, separate from the note meant for the Grandmaster. The names were none he knew personally; some were politicians, some masters of bending, and some famous names in business. But as he continued to look through the list, one name was notable.
However, when he ran to the Grandmaster's room to present his findings, he noticed a large group present, Shing included.
"They've taken him!"
"We don't know!" an air bender shouted aloud. "Someone has taken the Grandmaster!"
Tong clenched his fist. "Yuza." Looking on at his friend, Shing could only ask "What do we do?"
"We need to call Kushina."
"Her dad's school did some work with Yuza's, right? We need to give him a house call."
"You think Yuza came in here during the night to kidnap someone?"
With the expansion of Republic City, land was becoming increasingly rare closer to the heart of the bustling metropolis. Plots were bought as soon as they were available, and every effort was made to use the land in the center that they had. Those who wanted larger homes either had to be very rich, or live in one of the outer boroughs, where land was far more plentiful.
This made the home of Yuza all the more unique. His home, along with a few others, was on a small island known as Sokka Island (after a former councilman from the early days of Republic City) between the northwest borough and the central island. The estates that covered the island were spacious and private, with a bridge and a subway system allowing people to journey to the mainland. Because of the privacy and affluent owners, the police rarely visited, the island kept safe by private security.
It was the perfect cover for the owner of the Wind Razor schools, Yuza, who sat in a chair in his backyard as he looked on at his prisoner, bound from both feet and legs while two men in uniforms pointed Shocker rifles at him. He smiled at his prisoner, drinking a glass of wine while waiting for his response.
"I do not fear death any more than I fear the coming of the seasons. If you plan to kill me, then kill me."
"I want to be Grandmaster," Yuza declared. "You saw how easily my men took you from your precious Air Temple Island without detection. They will do the same with anyone that objects to my appointment."
"And you don't think the police will find you?"
"The evidence surrounding your death will point towards the Raging Ones gang, who I believe your students have had numerous issues with following their attempts to vandalize the statue of Avatar Aang. I can assure you that no trail will get back to me, old man."
"What happened to defeating any challenger for the right to be Grandmaster?" Rohan's reply earned him a sharp slap from Yuza, who appeared infuriated.
"My Wind Razor technique is flawless and my school has hundreds of students! My students will be opening schools outside Republic City as well. I am a success!"
"You never did see the inherent flaw in your style, or in yourself," Rohan answered with a huff. "Money and a nice house do not a Master Air bender make."
Instead of showing fury, Yuza picked up a large stone from the ground and threw it into the air. Then, with one motion he put his hand in the shape of a claw and swung it towards the stone. "No, but power does!"
A powerful gust of wind emanated from his hand, splitting the stone in four pieces, further accentuating his point.
"I would challenge any Air bender that your pathetic academy can place in front of me!"
He had almost no time to gloat. Over the roof of his house emerged three figures, including one uniform he recognized.
"What about us?" Shing asked as the trio descended into the back.
"Air bender? How did…Well, do you want this whelp to fight me in your stead?"
Before anyone could say anything, however, Tong stepped forward. "This one is mine."
"He's challenging members of the Air Nomads!" Shing shouted. "Last time I checked, your dad didn't let you…"
"Shing, let him!"
"You have no idea what this is part of! This is Tong's fight!"
Tong was undeterred, stepping forward. "You don't remember me, do you? You instructed me when I was a child."
"I had many students. I can't say you stuck out."
"Then you remember my father, Dr. Mao."
"Dr. Mao? Wait…you?"
"I'm the son of the man you and several others murdered", Tong answered. Yuza smirked, assuming a fighting stance, rooting his feet into the ground and forming his hands as if they were claws. Tong responded in kind, taking a classical air bender stance in defense.
"We were looking for you as well as your father. Lucky you came to me! And Rohan, when I kill this whelp, you will honor our agreement, yes?" The old master chuckled.
"You won't win."
"YES I WILL!"
Immediately, Yuza took the offensive, blades of wind rushing towards his opponent. Tong countered in kind, currents of air attempting to neutralize the blades. Unfortunately, one blade went through the defense, cutting Tong's cheek. He winced, but did not fall.
"Not bad, for an adept of an inferior style."
"The Air Nomad style is not inferior!" Shing shouted, although Tong motioned to him to stay back. All through this, Kushina couldn't help but look on.
"This is the second time I've been asked to go into a situation where people want to kill you guys. Did you both get a death wish since the last time we all hung out?"
"You seemed happy enough dealing with those two guards in the front."
"Yeah, but they kidnapped the guy who gave me dinner," Kushina protested.
The pair was interrupted by a loud kiai from Yuza, resuming his attack on Tong. This time however, the air bender was ready, leaping into the air and coming down with a powerful wind gust assisting him. The blow knocked the wind razor master back as he staggered, but likewise did not fall. Rather than resume his distance assault, he rushed forward, attempting to claw at his opponent up close.
"My blows split stone and shatter bone! Air bending is powerless before me!" His hands were met with Tong's defensive strikes, neither able to find an opening on the other.
Before Yuza knew what happened, he was looking up at the ground, Tong quickly mounting him and delivering several unblocked blows to his grounded opponent's face. In a fit of panic, Yuza placed his hands in front of his face, blowing Tong off with a powerful gust of air, the young man riding it and landing on his feet even as Yuza rose up from his knees to his feet. All the while, a single man's laughter could be heard.
"You see now the weakness of your supposed 'superior' style of air bending, 'Master Yuza? Surely your vast knowledge of unarmed combat could have seen a simple foot sweep coming!"
"SILENCE!" Yuza shouted, even as he resumed sending razor winds at Tong. "It was a lucky blow!"
He was expecting Tong to jump into the air again and attack. What he instead saw was the man slide underneath him, feet first into Yuza's right leg, knocking him down. He stood again, only to eat a knee into his chest, followed by a wind gust assisted toss, which forced Yuza into the pavement of his patio face first.
"Truly you are worthy of being the grandmaster!" Rohan guffawed even as Yuza covered his bruised face. Tong stood above him, his eyes narrowed.
"You can't win. So let's skip the pretense and start answering my questions."
"I'll do no such thing!" Yuza shouted, rising to his feet once more, with his claws set to carve right at Tong's face. However, a powerful blow to the inside of his thigh followed by a clean strike to his jaw again knocked the Wind Razor master to the ground.
"Do you finally get it?" Rohan announced between laughs. "Your 'superior' Wind Razor style roots itself into the ground and only uses the legs as support! Delivering your strikes requires you to be heavy and flat-footed! You're fighting in the exact opposite way an Air bender should fight!"
Tong was nowhere near as jovial. "Give up."
Yuza was indignant. "ENOUGH OF THIS! MEN! KILL THE OLD MAN AND THEN KILL EVERYONE ELSE HERE!"
The two men immediately raised their weapons, pointing them at Rohan, who closed his eyes. Shing and Kushina ran, not knowing if they could get to him in time. Tong looked, on, and did the only thing he could.
Two pillars of stone rose from the ground, hitting both guards in the face. Two more appeared, striking each guard in the chest, knocking them to the ground. Everyone, save Rohan, gasped at the sight.
"YOU'RE AN EARTHBENDER?!" Shing shouted. Rohan laughed.
"He is no mere Earth bender! Only one can master all four elements and bring balance to the world!" Both Shing and Kushina were stunned at the revelation.
"Tong…is the Avatar?" Tong didn't bother acknowledging his friends, instead looking down at his defeated foe. With one quick movement, stone rose from the ground, binding his arms and legs.
"You knew, right, Yuza? That's why you had my dad killed. That's why you wanted to kill Grandmaster Rohan. You and your friends wanted to take out everyone who knew, then take me out."
"I…I don't know what you're talking about!" Yuza shouted in protest. "There is only one Avatar now, Avatar Korra, and…"
"The Korra that's been guiding the world is a fake," Tong declared. "And you're part of the order that's been keeping up the façade. Now…" he continued, a small stream of fire emanating from his finger like a blade, "you're going to tell me everything. Names, dates, locations, all of it."
The blade of flame slowly lowered itself towards Yuza's face, at which point he cracked. "OK, fine! White Lotus! They've been…"
He never said another word. His expression tensed and the light drained from his eyes, his eyelids sealing shut, never to reopen. Tong looked on, finally noticing the small dart in the crown of his head.
"What the? Who did that?"
The group didn't notice the man, dressed head to toe in a black skin-tight uniform save the breathing apparatus on his face and the small tank of oxygen on his back, fall into the earth, the ground itself swallowing him up. It was as if he was never there.
This is Observer. Yuza mentioned White Lotus, but was silenced before he could say anything else.
Understood. The priority of the target has shifted. Designate Target 09 as Target 01. Designate his friends as Targets 02 and 03 respectively. Orders are to follow but not engage until further instruction is given.
The police, while not normally involved in patrolling Sokka Island, came quickly when news of the kidnapping and murder was reported. Fortunately, the two bodyguards of the late Yuza confessed to their crimes of their employer as the police sealed off the estate.
The revelations were a bit too much for Shing to process.
"You're the Avatar?"
Tong shook his head.
"I don't care about being the Avatar. I care about bringing the people who killed my father to justice."
"And what about the fake Avatar?" Kushina asked. Tong looked at his friends, and then answered in a deep sullen voice.
"I'm going to kill her last."