Duel In the Rising Sun
The gas station and storefront that stood outside Garsai was long since abandoned, its humble stores emptied, the tanks of fuel long since emptied and removed. No one paid the eyesore any mind save a few people who contemplated buying the plot. None would have guessed that this humble line of buildings would have played host to a duel involving the Avatar.
Korra was prepared to move and use her blood bending, but as soon as the duel started, Tong ran forward, right in front of the Water Tribe native. Rather than bend, he instead ducked low and delivered a powerful left hook to Korra's right ribcage, causing her to gasp in pain and stagger backwards.
"Keep it up man!"
Korra was undeterred by her opponent striking the first blow. Reaching by her belt, she revealed a water sac, using water bending to release its contents and strike Tong with the force of a hammer. The water floated in the air as it rained down in the form of icicles, barely missing Tong as he dodged and moved out of the way.
"That will show you some re...UGH!"
Korra's moment of victory was short lived as Tong went back in with punches to the face and hard kicks to the legs, causing her to buckle and throw her hands up to defend and strike back. The barrage continued for a few more seconds before a wall of stone, at least twelve feet long on each side, rose between the two, separating them. Slowly, Tong began to move to the right, Korra moving in tandem towards her left.
On the sidelines, Shing looked on at the battle, seeing Tong slowly move down the wall, listening intently. He sighed.
"Well, so far so good."
10 hours earlier:
"What are you doing?"
Tong was sitting on the bed in the hotel room, ready to rest heavily before his duel with Korra. Unfortunately for him, what followed in the room wasn't Kushina with a glass of milk and a goodnight kiss, but the entire group, all pointing to a tablet that Leena seemed to have bought with her. They all looked on at the screen as it activated, revealing video of Korra.
"You really plan to go into a duel tomorrow and just 'wing it'?" Leena asked. "You really are an amateur."
"What I am is kinda tired," Tong answered, only for the Fire Nation agent to shake her head.
"You can bet if Korra planned to fight you in a duel that she's done her homework. She's probably studied everything from your fighting style to how thick your neck is. And if you're going to win, you need to know what you're up against."
Tong groaned, but nodded in agreement. The tablet screen was then shifted to a scene in a garden, in which two masked assailants were lifted into the air and tossed to the ground before they could attack.
"Korra's greatest strength, and one that she doesn't use that often in hectic situations, is her ability to blood bend."
"She didn't use that the first time we fought," Tong answered.
"Well, according to that footage, you caught her off guard. You see, blood bending requires complex, precise movements for it to work, and only the strongest water benders can use it without the power of a full moon. Korra, plain and simple, needs time to set up her blood bending attack."
"Ok, and what do you suggest?"
"Don't give her an inch. The fact is, Korra relies a lot on her bending, and she likes being far away from people. And if the two of you trade punches, who's going to win, a 21 year old who knows Fire Nation boxing and Earth State 8 limbs striking, or a woman who's physically in her mid forties?"
Two feet from the end of the wall, Tong stopped moving. Instead, he waited. None of the bystanders on his side knew what he was doing. Then without warning, Tong drove his fist through the stone wall, only for his arm to meet with Korra's. His left arm drove through as well, meeting Korra's. The wall itself collapsed around them as the pair was locked in a test of strength, both desperately trying to gain the advantage.
"You're pretty strong," Tong grimaced even as he moved forward, "for an old lady."
"Well it's time that this old lady taught you some manners, brat!"
Out of nowhere Korra launched a kick towards Tong's crotch which he barely avoided. However, his movement caused Tong to lose his balance, letting Korra snap the younger man down to the ground. She used the opportunity to run and get distance before raising her hands, a mist surrounding the battlefield that was the lot.
"Great," Tong mused. "She's using my tricks." Still, he didn't move. In the middle of the mist, he stomped the ground, hoping to feel something.
Two bodies were approaching from behind, but they soon met fireballs to the face and a gust of wind which blew away some of the mist. As it cleared, there were no people present, just stone limbs.
"Golems?" Tong mused, only to feel an arm snaking around his neck.
"You think I'm just an old lady so you underestimated me," Korra remarked, trying to choke Tong. Instead, he shook his head, keeping his chin tucked in tightly.
"No, you're sloppy."
Slowly, Tong took the arm and with two hands, controlled it, spinning into Korra and landing a powerful elbow to her face. She reeled from the impact, barely staying conscious as he again moved in forward, refusing to give her even an inch of pressure. He was so focused on his attack that he didn't notice the metal bola tie him up and knock him to the ground. Briefly, he looked to her henchmen, but they didn't appear to be moving, much less bending. If they were helping, they were doing so extremely subtly. This did not go unnoticed by Tong's friends, as Amit readied himself to attack Korra's henchmen. However, an arm from Shing stopped him.
"But they're cheating!"
"And they're hiding it," Shing answered. "Unless they're being blatant, we shouldn't move in."
"Because this is probably the closest we'll get to capturing Korra and getting answers about what White Lotus is up to."
Kushina however, had another question about this plan.
"And what makes you think Tong won't just kill her?"
Shing looked on at the battle sternly, thinking back to Tong's first attempt to confront Korra, and answered "because he knows that route will only leave him further in the dark."
Unaware that people were talking about him, Tong began focusing on the bola binding him in place, trying to force it off.
"Can't tie up a metal bender with a piece of metal," he mused before opening his arms and causing the bola to fly off. As he did, Tong looked up and noticed that Korra was again charging forward, this time with jagged icicles on her arms pointed right at him. He was confused for a moment, but then took advantage.
A massive gust of wind stopped Korra's assault, while a streak of fire caused her to stumble backward and the icicles to melt. It was then he realized what the issue was.
Why didn't she fire bend when he was on the ground tied up? He was a sitting duck for fire or lightning!
Tong had little time to think it over, though. From out of the ground by Korra emerged a spear pointed directly at him.
"Oh hell, I can do that too."
Focusing, from the ground Tong created a large two-handed sledgehammer. Gripping it with both hands, he swung it around for dramatic effect.
"Korra has done exhibitions to demonstrate her skill with weapons as part of several 'cultural exhibits.' Her favorite seems to be the two handed Dao sword and the qiang spear."
"You think she'll use spears and swords?"
"If she can earth bend, she can create those weapons pretty easily. Tell me you have a weapon you can use."
That spear gave Korra a significant advantage in range. She knew it too, moving forward slowly so as to press her advantage. Tong was fully aware that she was hoping to close the distance and finish her off as quickly as possible, and that his opportunity to counter would be minimal. With a shrug, he lifted the sledgehammer up, holding it as if it were a two handed sword.
"This is an elegant weapon," Korra taunted. "Where did you learn how to use that thing?"
Tong smirked in response. "Construction work in high school. Dad always said I had to work if I wanted to get money to play."
Korra scoffed at Tong's mentioning of his father. "The Red Lotus scientist?"
"THE MAN YOU KILLED IN COLD BLOOD!"
"Then go join him!"
Korra charged with the staff as Tong stood, hammer at the ready. He waited, and waited, and then finally moved.
Moving to one side, he avoided the initial strike and swung the sledgehammer, cracking the spear in two. With it broken, Tong moved in to deliver a killing blow when a wall of stone emerged, the impact shattering both it and the hammer. Korra used the opportunity to attack, striking with an icicle-covered fist that cut Tong. Her victory was short lived, as she soon met Tong's flame covered fist, burning her.
"This is starting to seem wrong," Tashi remarked. "It's so…brutal."
Leena couldn't help but scoff at Tashi's concern. "It's war. If your opponent shows sympathy for even a second, then you pounce and make them regret it. If Tong lets up for a second, Korra will kill him."
"How do you know?"
"It's what I was trained to do."
The sight on the battlefield seemed to echo Leena's sentiments. Neither fighter let up in a relentless physical assault, bending primarily being used to increase the power of punches, kicks, knees, and elbows. Finally however, Tong saw his opening, ducking a stab from an icicle fist and throwing an overhand right with a gust of wind behind it. The combined force sent Korra reeling into the wall of the long abandoned store. Still, Tong stood firm, his eyes alerted to his opponent.
"You're not done yet," he mused. "You still have the Avatar state. You won't trick me again!"
"That still leaves out the biggest problem."
"The Avatar State?"
"She can use it. And when she does, it enhances her power, strength, and speed ten times over. How do I beat that?"
"Easy. Don't let her use it."
Fireballs were launched at Korra, but another wall of stone rose to protect her. Tong ran forward, knowing he was only going to get one shot at his attack, smashing the stone. He was set to finish Korra with one decisive blow.
Only to see himself raised into the air, unable to move.
Looking down, he saw the white glow in Korra's eyes, the power of the Avatar state combined with her blood bending ability. Emerging from the rubble, she grinned maliciously. Tong tried to aim his gauntlet, only to see and feel his right arm point right at his head.
"You're a fool Tong! Did you really think punches and kicks were going to be of any use against the Avatar state? Look at you. I could snap your neck with a gesture. I think I will too, after I deal with your friends."
Tong struggled against the control of blood bending, seeing Korra raise her hand. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his friends rise into the air, struggling to move. Shing desperately attempted to grab his staff while Kushina tried to reach for her Shockers, but to no avail.
"So which one should I kill first for defying me? The spy? She lied to my face after all." The sinister grin was accented by Leena's leg rising into the air as if Korra intended to rip it off, but it fell at the last second.
"How about the Air Nomads? I always hated Air Nomads. So self-righteous and annoying. It's sickening." Tashi and Amit's hands were wrapping around each other's necks while Shing began to place his staff alongside his neck.
"Don't you touch them!" Tong shouted.
"No, I know who I'm going to kill first. The girl. It's always about the girl, isn't it? Well here's some advice, it never ends well for her."
Kushina struggled as her hand emerged from a holster on her pants, drawing her Shocker. She slowly began moving the weapon towards her head as she closed her eyes, desperately hoping something, anything would save her.
A primal scream echoed throughout the battlefield, stunning even Korra, followed by an incredible bright light. As she looked on, she saw the source of the light and screamed, the people she was holding up with blood bending falling to the ground.
It was Tong, his eyes glowing white and his expression one of pure rage.
"YOU DISGRACE THE TITLE OF AVATAR!"
Two pillars of stone and a gust of wind accented the punch that hit Korra. The force of the blow sent her flying through the wall of the storefront and disrupting her blood bending. She stood, only to see Tong in front of her, water from the pipes in the store flowing into his hand. The voice that emerged from Tong was both his and another's at the same time, sounding remarkably similar to the way Korra did.
"YOU'VE USED MY FACE AND MY NAME TO COMMIT COUNTLESS ATROCITIES AND TO ENSLAVE THE WORLD! YOU WILL PAY!"
Korra tried to water bend the torrent approaching her, only to be hammered with it right outside of the storefront again as everyone looked on aghast. Everyone except Shing who smiled at the sight.
"What the hell is going on?" Amit asked.
"He's embracing who he truly is."
Kushina meanwhile, could only stare at the sight in front of her, confused. Was this her childhood friend? The same man that told her she was the only thing he cared about? Was this…the destiny he was meant to fulfill?
Korra saw the water on the ground and relentlessly tried to water bend it. She desperately threw icicles and water at Tong to keep him away, only for the attacks to literally evaporate in front of him. With water bending not working, she drove forward and tried to punch him, only for Tong's fist to hit her clean. This time however, when he hit her, a torrent of memories flooded through her mind, as if she was processing an entire lifetime in an instant.
The memories and emotions that assaulted Korra were relentless. A lovely hill in the spirit world. The kiss of another woman. The scorn of countless eyes at the fact that Avatar Korra was bisexual. The blunt refusal of every government to recognize them as officially married. Fire and brimstone hurled at her and her partner, Asami Sato.
Asami Sato. My partner.
The pain of all the hours away from her. The shame and loneliness of never being able to start a family. Korra defending Asami from the barrage of abuse, both physically and verbally. The small pieces of time, where she was tempted to forget the world and being the Avatar, and just be Mrs. Korra Sato. The necklace Asami made in the spirit world, wrapped around her neck that served as a symbol of their love, a pure love forged over decades, forged in moments grand and small, whether they were battling dictators or sharing tea. The love that echoed in all the things they did together, congratulating Bolin at his wedding, standing by Asami's side as she broke ground on her new company Tomorrow Technologies just to spite Chanming, and even when they enjoyed ice cream together on a hot summer day in Republic City. The words she spoke to Asami in the spirit world, and echoed countless times over the decades.
The world might fall into 10,000 years of darkness. It might reject me as the Avatar. But if you're by my side, I don't care. I will always love you Asami.
You're so sweet.
And then one night, a mysterious shadow ripped through their bedroom and stabbed Asami, the woman she cared about more than life itself, and then stabbed her. The attacker wore her face.
Overwhelmed, completely and utterly, Korra fell unconscious. Her men noticed and ran to her aid, only for Tong to swipe them aside with a maelstrom of fire. A woman with fiery red hair and a brown haired man with a carbine ran forward. Behind them, a black haired, dark sinned man with a bola, a dark skinned woman with a water whip, and a pale bald man with a bladed staff followed.
"You three distract the Specialist! We have to evac Korra now!"
"On it!" the woman with the water whip responded, shooting the water forward in an attempt to freeze Tong and give the group safe passage. Unfortunately for her, the water evaporated before even reaching Tong. The man with the bola found a similar result, as the metal weapon flew apart into pieces before it even got close. Even the blade that the last warrior swung at Tong shattered, as a barrage of metal and stone battered the man. The distraction however, was all they needed, as the helicopter began taking off, although Tong's friends weren't about to let that happen. The group charged forward only to meet the water whip wielder, who quickly froze their feet to the ground in the hopes of buying a few more seconds. She sighed when the Specialist, no, the Avatar faced her.
"I will die for the Realignment. Go ahead!"
Her answer was a pillar of stone knocking her into the air. As the ice shattered, Shing looked up and saw her flying in the air. Unwilling to let her die, however, Shing, Amit, and Tashi used wind to slow her descent, letting her land unconscious, but alive. The helicopter flew off as Tong stood among the three battered bodies, finally falling unconscious himself.
"Point Blank, what's going on with her?" the woman asked even as she kept flying the helicopter. It appeared that the Specialist had not followed them, meaning that her men had done their job. It also sadly meant that they were either dead or imprisoned.
"She's alive Paralyzer," the man responded, "but her brainwave activity is off the charts! We need to get her back to Republic City!"
"Then that's where we're going. We'll take the command truck to the nearest base and then fly her back on the double."
As the helicopter flew off, between bouts of unconsciousness, all Korra kept muttering was the same name over and over.
Light pounded Tong's eyes as he opened them. He looked up, and saw a group of people smiling.
"You won!" Shing shouted joyously as Tashi and Amit helped Tong to his feet.
"Yeah!" Amit added. "You beat Korra senseless and you sent her and her henchmen running! It was awesome! You were all like…BOOM! And then the fire came down like…FWOOSH! And then…"
"Ok, back up!" Tong yelled. "I remember Korra blood bending you guys, and then I screamed. Everything afterwards was a complete blur."
"Korra escaped," Leena recounted, "but we got three of her closest henchmen. The police are going to arrest them, and then I'm going to pull some strings and make sure they get extradited to Fire Nation custody."
Tong however, was focused on the first part of the statement. "So Korra got away? That's what happened?"
"You saved me again. That's what happened."
Kushina stood next to him, smiling, but also confused. "What…what did you do? Your eyes glowed like Korra's, but a lot brighter, and well, a lot more powerfully."
"I…I don't know. I think it was, no, I know it was the Avatar state. But…ooh…"
Tong clutched his ribs, looking on at Kushina. "I'm OK. Just…pushed myself. We still on for tonight?"
"Depends," Kushina answered flatly.
"On if I can get enough tickets for everyone," she answered, gesturing towards Leena, Amit, and Tashi, who all smiled at him. "Come here you big dummy."
"Dummy?" Tong shot back. "I won!"
"Like I said you were going to," Kushina answered with a snicker, before pulling the Earth state man into a kiss. The group all grinned at the sight of the victorious Tong kissing the woman he cared for, all except Shing. He looked on with a sense of concern. True, he had something to protect, but how close was he to embracing his role as the Avatar?
Somehow, he didn't think that mattered much to him as he kissed the woman he loved, the woman that he vowed to protect from any danger. But the world needs an Avatar, he thought, and Tong will need to be that man. The battle was won, but the war far from over.