Today on 'Before the Nations' – Has Avatar Korra declared war on the entire world?! Joining us now is senior minister Wuji Shen of the newly formed Earth Regency, and Cha Qiu ambassador of the United Republic to the Earth Republic. Um, well, I guess the first question here is, why is she doing this?
This was a mutual agreement, between two governments.
Since when is Avatar Affairs a government unto itself?
Not Avatar Affairs, Ambassador, the Avatar Nation. It is independent of Avatar Affairs and the other nations of the world. We saw an opportunity for our people, and we took it. This will hopefully allow us to bring an end to a bloody civil war and save lives.
By annihilating everything in the way towards Zaofu? That Avatar Army Korra is commanding is leaving nothing but death and destruction in its wake!
We're following the rules of war, but as we've said for years, the Earth Republic is a brutal hegemony that has tricked people into believing we are the villains! We are fighting back through a proper alliance that benefits the entire Earth State.
To call the mood in Republic City tense was a gross understatement. Although no formal declaration of war had been made on any nation other than the Earth Republic, the hotheaded speech from Avatar Korra had a clear message – Join us or die. And with Avatar Affairs' main headquarters in Republic City, the city itself was now ground zero for protests, with police patrolling the streets and a curfew having been initiated to prevent violence. This didn't stop a near constant stream of protests from both benders and non-benders, although so far, the situation hadn't descended into violence.
Air Temple Island, isolated from the mainland, was still somewhat safe from the tension. Shing, Amit, Tashi, and Kushina all sat inside a building with Rohan, thinking over the events of the past few days while the television played in the background.
"There's no getting to the Spirit Portal," Kushina lamented. "The whole city is on lockdown, and we have no way to stop what's coming. Not to mention, we have no idea where Tong is."
"And our allies are running thin," Shing added. "Leena went back to the Fire Nation and Ulva stayed behind at the fort."
"And I need to see my dad," Kushina replied. "He took all my stuff home after the lease on the apartment expired."
"But we know who the mastermind is behind all this," Rohan answered. "This…Han, correct?"
Tashi nodded. "Yes, he's seen as Korra's personal bodyguard and confidant. He also went and claimed during that call that he was Korra's fiancée as well."
"And with the Super Secret Council of Secretness dead," Amit added, "he's the one pulling the strings."
"Where is he now?" Rohan asked.
"Well away from the front lines," Kushina answered. "Right smack dab in the middle of Avatar Affairs headquarters."
"Then our next move is obvious," Shing began. "We have to deal with Han. If we can defeat him and reveal Korra is an impostor, we can end this war before it begins."
"And how do we do that?" Kushina asked. "You know, with Tong trapped in the Spirit World?! We don't have an Avatar to prove he's lying!"
The group sat silent, Kushina's piercing gaze ripping through Shing, until he stood up and announced his plan.
"I'm going to go to Avatar Affairs, find Han, and kill him."
"What did you just say?" Rohan asked, furious. "You are a member of the Air Nation!"
"I failed my mission when I thought putting Tong in the Spirit World would make him the Avatar! I didn't realize he wasn't going to return! I didn't know they created something to kill him when he got in there! This is the only way to fix things."
"No member of this order will resort to murder! Even Avatar Aang, when…"
"I'm not the Avatar!" Shing yelled. "And if no member of this order can kill, then I quit the order!"
This took the group aback as Shing stood up and walked out, Rohan following after. The pair eventually found themselves in front of the garden, adorned by statues of former grandmasters of the Air Nomads. Rohan looked on at them forlornly.
"If what you're saying is true, then these men killed my family for the crime of being Korra's friends. And we have the name of the sole puppet master. But that does not make us killers. It should never make us killers."
"What choice do I have?" Shing answered. "A Lion Turtle isn't going to appear out of thin air and teach me energy bending. If I kill Han, and leave the Avatar Army directionless, I could save millions of lives. The war has started; the destruction in Ba Sing Se is proof of that. But I can end it here."
"At the cost of your own soul?" Rohan pondered. "You don't think that my grandfather, or my father, or my sister, or any of them had the opportunity to kill countless times to end a problem, to end a threat? They didn't, because that stain never goes away. It never heals. You will have to live with the fact that you ended a life for the rest of yours. And it is not something that is done lightly."
"I already sent my best friend to die."
"We don't know that," Rohan countered. Shing however, only shook his head, putting his hand at the feet of the Aang statue.
"I was so scared of failing to bring Tong to his destiny that I may have sent him to a thing made to kill him. I didn't know! I swear! Now they all hate me, hell, Kushina outright pulled a Shocker on me when she found out what I did, and the only reason that we didn't go into the spirit portal was because of that death ray!"
Rohan extended a hand to Shing, which he took. "Just do me a favor. Not as the Grandmaster, but as your grandfather. For your parents' sakes, just, take the night; think about what you're going to do. Don't rush into something you'll regret for the rest of your life."
Shing nodded, hugging Rohan. Even confused, he still needed to offer his grandfather the courtesy of thinking this over.
"Now gentlemen, as you can see, the Black Petals were destroyed along with the Grand Archive. Luckily, nearly all the information in the archive was backed up to the Star Flower so we haven't lost anything. Furthermore, as Avatar Korra's loyalties lie with me, I believe that this makes me the best candidate to be Grand Lotus. Although personally, now that we have made our move into the public eye, secret councils and fancy poetic titles have gone the way of badger mole cabs."
Why should we make you Grand Lotus? Shouldn't we elect a new council of Black Petals?
And what about us?
Han was having a very good day. The Black Petals had been annihilated thanks to the Spirit Vine Cannon he had installed on the Star Flower, a weapon now capable of striking any place on the planet with a few commands. In order to keep the day going smoothly though, he had to address the concerns of his partners.
"You will all be given your positions in government contracts and business dealings, as promised. We're all on the same team. The only difference is that we now do everything openly, rather than slinking in the shadows."
"Zaofu will fall by week's end at the rate of our army's advance. Once the world sees what they're up against, and realized that Avatar Affairs has buildings in every nation, they will all fall in line, hopefully without bloodshed."
Hopefully. Very well then, 'Grand Lotus', we will follow you, so long as you keep your promise.
"Good men. Then let's turn our attention to the future, shall we?"
The city streets were as tense as the news described them. When people went out, they did so only to secure essentials like food and water. Braver citizens were out in force with signs and megaphones, protesting a war that everyone assumed would be inevitable.
"Amon was right!" a protestor shouted through a megaphone in front of a public building. "The Avatar is a symbol of corruption!"
"GO HOME! GO HOME! GO HOME!"
The frustration was mounting to Kushina as she passed by the protestors and their various signs. She knew that the Korra leading the army was a fake. But with the Grand Archive now a crater of scorched metal and slowly freezing liquid, there was no way to prove it.
Other than the protestors and the police, traffic on both the roads and the sidewalks was minimal until she reached the location her dad was at, a rather comfortable high rise on the 14th floor. The doorman waved her in without issues once she showed an ID, presumably recognizing her father's name. One short trip on the elevator later, she found herself in front of the door, ringing the bell.
"Who is it?" yelled the gravely voice of a man as he opened the door. The man's stocky, short frame, an inch shorter than his daughter's, radiated a kind of power that Kushina never felt the equal of, and considering the enemies she had spent the last few months fighting against, was saying quite a deal. But once the man's narrow, sharp eyes caught his daughter's image, the stern face melted away, and replacing it was a face filled with relief.
"Kushina! You're OK!" he shouted, reaching to embrace her.
"Hi Dad," was Kushina's sole reply as she hugged her father, Tae Chun.
"Come in! I'll make you some tea! I thought you were working for that company in the Fire Nation!"
"It's a long story Dad," was all she could say as she walked inside.
Standing in front of the state of Avatar Aang, technically his great-great grandfather, Shing felt a moment of pause. Aang's deeds were legendary among the new Air Nation, not for ending the Hundred Year War by defeating Ozai, but by doing it without violating the principles of the Air Nation. The order valued his commitment to their ideals, the restoration of his people more than his deeds in battle. Even the quote at the base of the statue reflected this, as Shing read it aloud.
"I will not kill. There has to be another way. There is always another way."
He sighed heavily, kneeling before the statue.
"I know you can't hear me. I know you, wherever you are, aren't connected to the world anymore. If you're sleeping or if you even exist as you, whatever. My point is, is that I'm not you. I can't do what you did. I can't magically learn energy bending from a random Lion Turtle. I can't become detached after I sent my best friend to die. I just want to say, that I'm sorry. Because I can't live up to the standard you set for our people. I'm sorry for wearing these tattoos when I'm about to commit the greatest sin an Air Nomad possibly can. And if I survive, I'll remove my tattoos and go into exile, so as not to stain the Air Nation."
Standing up, Shing bowed respectfully to the statue. "I have failed the Air Nation. Please forgive me."
He went into his room to prepare. The temple had a selection of black wing suits to be used for stealth missions when asked, so what to wear was easy enough to decide. What wasn't part of the uniform was a belt of throwing knives. Easy enough to use, wind propelled them towards a target. But they were only at the academy so people could practice guiding objects with their air bending. They were never meant for this.
Grabbing a file used by the kitchen to sharpen cooking knives, Shing began to sharpen the blades. The target in his mind was clear. All he could do now was wait for nightfall.
He would kill Han. And then he would disappear into the shadows, to never be seen again.
Kushina had been relieved when she walked in. It had been a whole five minutes and there hadn't been one mention of the dojo. Mostly her father had been focused on the ensuing crisis and how worried he had been about her. She had done her best to ensure him that she was fine, and there was nothing to worry about, mostly because she had been moving around for the sake of her career. Nor did she bother mentioning her friends. That was not a conversation she wanted to have with her dad any time in the immediate future. Hell, even if Tong was here, she wouldn't want to have that conversation.
"I'm sorry," Chun lamented. "But you left so fast, and well, since your mother died, you're really all I have left as far as family."
"I know," she reassured her father. "But I have to have my own life too, right? It was complicated, and I was lucky enough to get a referral."
"Well you could have…'
Here it comes, she thought, nearly rolling her eyes.
"Taken the job here."
Kushina sighed. It always came back to this. Even as the city was set to collapse into full scale rioting, it ALWAYS came back to this.
"Dad, I love chi-blocking. I love you. But it's not what I want to do for a living."
"But you're great at it! What could you possibly do as an engineer that you couldn't do as the heir to the dojo? Sit in an office?"
"Build something," Kushina replied. "I'm good at making things! I want to create something that the whole world can use! Something that contributes more than just one guy beating up another guy!"
"Is that all I do?" her father protested. "Teach people how to beat up others?"
"No, that's not what I…"
"Do you have a good reason?"
"I want to build!" Kushina yelled. "I want to do something with my name on it, and it's not chi-blocking! But that doesn't mean I hate chi-blocking or hate you! Why are you making this so hard?"
Her father looked outside the window, his expression heavy. "That school is my legacy. And I don't trust anyone else with it."
"Then you should know that I should want to make my own legacy, right?"
For once, her father had no words, only sitting down, deep in thought.
"Besides, you're a great teacher. There aren't any of your other instructors that could teach?"
Her father smirked at this. But as he did, he sat down to address her.
"I will make you a deal."
"Provided the school is even intact after all of this war nonsense, I want you to help me pick a successor from the instructors I have now. Help me with that, and I promise I'll stop asking you to take it on yourself."
"I'll help," Kushina replied, hugging her father again.
"It's no problem Dad."
"Now let's just hope we do survive this ensuing mess. The Avatar's gone insane. What does she think this is going to accomplish?"
"Yeah," Kushina replied half-heartedly. "The Avatar."
The darkness that covered the city only heightened the eeriness of it being virtually empty. Even the protestors had departed, peacefully thankfully when the curfew had taken effect. It wasn't going to be long before that peace was completely shattered. But maybe if he could get to Han, he could stop the carnage before it started.
Guards were present on the rooftops, but alternating between stealthy glides and occasionally stopping to knock out a guard who wandered too close, Shing was able to approach the Avatar Affairs building without being discovered. The monolithic fortress stood in the middle of the city, guarded by dozens of masked soldiers wearing the blue and white logo that the Avatar Army had adopted as their emblem. Shing recognized the pattern, although he was sure the meaning would go over most of the people.
It was a painting of Raava. Emblazoned across their flags, their uniforms, and their vehicles, as if that would offer them some sort of legitimacy.
He said nothing, but instead began to look for an opening into the facility. On the flat surface of the observation deck he found one, an entrance into the building proper. Silently gliding, he went towards it, stopping to take a guard from behind and choke him out as soon as he landed. The unconscious guard was laid near the door, minus his keys, which allowed Shing unrestricted access.
The inside of the building itself, unlike the four story outdoor with the classic curved front roof, was strikingly modern and utterly massive, with offices, meeting spaces, and a full service cafeteria. The building itself was packed, but luckily, none of the people inside looked up long enough to notice him moving through the hallways.
There was no sign of his prey, at least not until he found what appeared to be a key operated elevator. Luckily the guard's key ring had the appropriate key for it, and Shing soon found himself down in the sub basement, one of what appeared to be four. The sub-basement itself seemed to be a physical fitness complex, with both a padded room for martial arts training, as well as numerous cardiovascular and weight machines, alongside a notable array of free weights.
Unlike the bustling upper floors, the sub-basement seemed relatively empty, with a single man in a green rashguard and black shorts doing pull-ups on a bar. Shing recognized the man immediately from the conference call.
Wasting no time, he drew the knife, watching as he continued to work through his routine. Two-handed pull-ups soon gave way to one-handed as he continued to go up and down the bar. Not wanting to give his target a time to turn around, he placed the knife on his hand, and blew on it, sending it forward.
With one swipe of Han's arm, the blade was shattered into dozens of unrecognizable pieces as the arm's owner looked on at the stunned assassin.
"Air Nomads kill now? Things have changed since I was kicked out of the order."
"Han," Shing stated.
"Grand Lotus Han, now," Han announced. "Leader of White Lotus and now the de facto ruler of the world. And exiled member of the Air Nation."
Rather than question his declaration, Shing tried throwing several more knives at Han, who shattered them instantly with simple swipes of his hand.
"Your throws have accuracy," Han began, "but they lack conviction! Then again, that's why Jinora threw me out of the Air Nation to begin with!"
"Jinora threw you out?" Shing asked, allowing the goateed Grand Lotus to walk towards him.
"Oh yes, for the crime of revolutionizing Air Bending no less."
Han, what have you done?
I figured out how to make the currents turn into blades! My air bending is unstoppable now! This is the greatest innovation ever!"
"An abomination! You've turned Air Bending into a tool for killing!"
It's better than what I've been taught!
"Jinora's dead," was all Shing could say as a reply.
"I know," Han answered. "I ordered the hit. "
"She was my great aunt."
Han could only laugh. "So then you weren't even that closely related. I presume you don't mind that I ordered the hit on great-uncle Meelo either." With Shing silent, looking deeply at his opponent, Han continued.
"She was just furious I was even stronger than she was. Stronger than her father, hell, my Air Bending is stronger than Aang's!"
"Is that what this is all about?" Shing asked. "Your martial arts being stronger than theirs? That's why you killed your own master?"
"Of course not," Han answered. "When I came into White Lotus, it was to free people from the stupidity that the four nations infected them with, such as my FORMER master. Things like the Air Nomads refusal to kill, blood oaths about honor, and all the other nonsense that's dragged down the world. I was given the opportunity to change the things that ruined my place in the Air Nation, and ensure no one else's creativity is stifled!"
"And what gives you the right? To kill, to change how people think?"
"I control the Avatar," Han answered.
"You control a clone. The woman leading an army across the Earth Republic isn't Korra."
"No, she's not. We had Korra killed slightly after I joined White Lotus. But I still love her, and she loves me. What do you care?"
"I care that you're going to kill millions!"
Han smiled, but rather than walk towards Shing, who had his hands raised in defense, walked towards the matted sparring room.
"Look, I appreciate the effort, violating your 'sacred' traditions, but I've killed countless Air Nomads since I've joined White Lotus. Believe me, one more to the list isn't going to make me sob up. Still, I'd rather not destroy the gym. How about you come into my little workshop in the practice room, and we can settle things like gentlemen?"
Realizing that his knives were useless, Shing nodded in agreement, walking into the room where Han was waiting. The red mats were utterly pristine, only adding to how high class the facility was.
"Well, do what you came here to do boy," Han taunted. "Kill me. If you can get over that Air Nation brainwashing."
Shing gritted his teeth, getting into a fighting stance, one that Han matched in kind. The pressure from his opponent felt overwhelming.
How can I beat this guy?