It's coming right at us! Fall back! Fall back!
The pillar of flame danced through the city, controlled by the precise movements of fire benders, expressed in the machinations of the massive mecha-tank that had fired the flames to begin with. The few surviving benders and machines that had been put in place to defend the town were overwhelmed by the pillar of flame, forced to retreat in the face of the fire.
From her viewpoint inside the massive purple mecha, Korra smiled. After this, nothing would stop her forces from marching directly into Zaofu. And the hatred she had for Zaofu would make it the most satisfying conquest of the entire lot.
Saying Zaofu was in the midst of panic would have been a massive understatement bordering on ridiculous. Anyone without a weapon or the ability to bend was taking cover from the ensuing storm. Those willing and able to fight were organized into militias to supplement the exhausted forces of the Earth Republic, which were organizing outside the city.
Most realized that the upcoming battle was not likely going to be won. But considering the Avatar Army's policy during their advance seemed to be to shoot anything that didn't surrender on the first ask, the decision to fight was clear. The command center that had been set up outside of the city perimeter, with tents and various forms of mobile equipment, was facing that harsh reality head on.
"We don't have the forces necessary to hold them off. Especially that…thing Avatar Korra is piloting," an older man with white hair and a short beard lamented.
"That thing has been responsible for most of the long range attacks," another man responded, holding his clean-shaven chin in contemplation. "That monstrosity opens up and then she sends in her grunts to perform cleanup."
"Then what do we do?" a man asked, holding the cap over his head while breathing heavily. "Surrender?"
The older man looked at the maps in front of him and shook his head. "No, this isn't about that. This is about humiliating us."
"What? How can you say that?"
"Avatar Korra's greatest humiliation came in Zaofu when she was defeated in a duel by Kuvira the Uniter. Making Zaofu beg for mercy is her way of getting payback. And I don't think a simple surrender will suffice."
The ferry came back to Air Temple Island with a man holding his head low. Rohan immediately recognized the passenger and came out to meet him, wearing a black Air Nomad glider suit.
"Shing! What…what happened? You were gone for two days, and…"
"I failed," was all he could say, stepping off the ferry in front of Rohan. "I tried to kill Han, but I couldn't. And now everyone is going to suffer."
Rohan would hear none of it, instead choosing to embrace Shing. "I'm so glad you're alive. I was so worried when you didn't return that something had happened."
"It's difficult, I know," Rohan interrupted. "But you can't take the burdens of the world on like this, much less think killing someone is going to solve them. I'm just glad you survived."
"I had help," Shing confessed. "There was someone there who saved me, patched me up, and sent me out."
"That's not important," Rohan reasoned. "What's important is that you're here and alive. Now let's go inside. The chef should be serving lunch soon."
Shing nodded, walking inside the mess hall. All the explanations of what he tried to do, why he couldn't do it, they all were pushed to the side. There was nothing he could say at this point that would mean anything.
He didn't want to tell his grandfather about how Leena finally forgave him either for how rashly he acted prior. Because…it would blow her cover. And that would be bad.
Korra sat in the chair, somewhat annoyed as the stylist began to apply the makeup to her face. Normally the strong willed woman could care less about frivolous things like makeup, but given that she was being filmed constantly during press conferences and the like, it was important to her image to keep up appearances. In addition, her new, younger visage had unlocked feelings of vanity and pride in her looks, feelings she had not had concerning her body for some time.
She was happy that the call she was on didn't let anyone see her in the middle of the application.
"The troops are going to reach Zaofu by morning," Korra began. "They don't have enough forces left to do anything but surrender."
So you plan to let them surrender?
"I want to humiliate them," Korra answered. "They're well aware of what happened to Zaofu between Kuvira and myself. I'm going to make them bow like the bugs they are, and then the war will be over."
Excellent. Your return to Republic City will come with a hero's welcome.
"Are you sure?"
We will explain, and it will make sense. It's just a matter of showing people the good we're doing.
"I'm looking forward to what happens next," Korra responded, before clicking off the phone. "But not as much as what I plan to do to Zaofu."
The army's approach towards the city began as a whisper. Then it escalated into a dull roar. And finally, it was a quaking torrent of noise.
Soldiers, vehicles, mecha tanks, and aircraft all began moving towards Zaofu. In the lead was the massive purple mecha that had come to be identified as the Icon, Avatar Korra's personal battle mecha. The machine stood in front of the army, looming over Zaofu and the forces that had been mustered to defend it.
The arrival of the army wasn't just noticed by the forces defending Zaofu. Press from every nation, every corner of the globe had been mustered to cover the event, many having gone out of their way to get footage of what most assumed was going to be either a public humiliation or complete slaughter. Most were smart enough to get views from outside the city, hidden from where the fighting would begin.
As Avatar Korra's mecha stepped forward, every news station in the four nations focused on her and what she was about to say. Televisions from the Earth State to Republic City to the Water Tribe to the Fire Nation were all focused on what was about to happen.
Citizens of Zaofu, Korra began. Your feeble armies have prepared themselves to defend themselves but they know that they can't win this battle. So rather than slaughter you all, I'm going to do what this city did to me all those years ago. Humiliate it.
Over 80 years ago, Kuvira challenged me to a duel here, knowing she had cheated to win, and tried to make me look like a fool. Well now it's my turn! I'll let any one 'hero', yes, hero, the way Kuvira was portrayed back then, fight me one-on-one for control of Zaofu. All you have to do is fight me, and my machine. So, is there a champion in this dump brave enough to step forward?
No one answered the challenge from the opposing side, most having expected Korra to try and humiliate Zaofu, but not in this way. The men on Zaofu's side of the lines stood, unsure of what to do. Their silence was only broken by the formation in front of the army.
"Are those clouds?" a man asked.
"Yeah, it almost looks…wait, what?"
Massive clouds began to gather in front of the city, confusing just about everyone watching. Even Zaofu's forces were confused.
"Is this some smokescreen?"
"No one told me about it."
The clouds continued to form until they resembled a human. Korra gasped at the sight.
Sure enough, the cloud resembled Avatar Kiyoshi near perfectly. Next to her, other clouds began to form into humanoid forms, one with the trademark beard and face of Avatar Roku, and one of Avatar Aang with his Air Nomad tattoos. But it was the last one that stunned the army in front of the clouds.
It was a perfect representation of Avatar Korra. All four of the cloud 'Avatars' raised their hands and pointed them at the machine that stood before Zaofu. Their voices boomed throughout the battlefield.
"YOU ARE NOT THE AVATAR!"
The camera crews and armies on both sides were confused as to what this meant, when the four 'Avatars' spoke again.
"YOU WEAR KORRA'S FACE, BUT YOU ARE AN IMPOSTOR! A CLONE CREATED BY MEN WHO MURDERED AVATAR KORRA!"
"HOW DARE YOU?!" Korra shouted, pointing towards the army in back of her. "I changed my mind! Attack! Don't leave a single thing alive!"
The armies of benders and machines charged forward, with the clouds taking fighting stances. The advancing forces smirked at this. It was just an illusion, they reasoned.
That illusion was quickly shattered when gales of wind rushed towards the army, pushing men and machine backwards and blowing even anchored mecha tanks to the side like dolls. Korra's eyes widened as she looked on at the crew of the Icon.
"WIND! FULL POWER!"
The mecha's hands extended forward, creating a gale to match the hurricane being directed at it. But its victory was fleeting, as the force of the wind against the machine knocked it off its feet, causing it to crash in front of the army.
"That's impossible!" Korra protested. "Unless an army of air benders are here, they couldn't have done that." Turning to the intercom by the control panel, she yelled aloud "WHO ARE YOU?" Once again, the clouds 'spoke' in unison.
"I AM THE ONE WHO YOU TRIED TO HIDE FROM THE WORLD. FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS, I HAD TO HIDE MY FACE AND MY NAME OR I WOULD HAVE BEEN KILLED. BUT I WILL NO LONGER STAND ASIDE AND WATCH YOU KILL INNOCENT PEOPLE IN THE NAME OF THE AVATAR!"
"What gives you the right to say what the Avatar can't do? WHO ARE YOU?"
The clouds dissipated into nothingness, revealing a massive humanoid spirit, blue in color, with the symbol of Raava, no, the spirit of Raava across his body. Korra gasped at the sight.
"MY NAME IS TONG MAO, AND I AM THE AVATAR!"
2 hours earlier –
The tree that stood before Korra, Asami, and Tong lived up to the description given. It towered over any skyscraper Tong had ever seen, its branches extending in all directions. Spirits of all shapes and sizes congregated by it, most staring at the three humanoids curiously before returning to their own business.
"It's actually grown quite a bit since I was here last," Korra noted. "Its branches weren't allowed to bloom for over 10,000 years because its power was keeping Vaatu in check. With Vaatu gone for oh, about another ninety-nine hundred years, it can bloom."
"So I just go inside it?"
"Well, you go inside it and meditate," Korra explained. "The tree itself isn't so much a source of energy so much…it's so much, right Asami?"
"Yeah, it is," Asami reassured her wife. Nodding, Korra continued.
"So much as it is a conduit connecting to the energy of the universe itself. The power you're going to connect to is massive and can't be taken lightly, so be prepared."
"Are you sure about everything else we discussed?" he asked. Korra nodded.
"You're going to need to make a big entrance. It'll announce who you are, and what she is. Not to mention, it'll psyche the fake me out. Throw her off of her game. Besides, it'll look really cool. You do remember how to do it, right?"
"It'll be fine," Tong answered, putting his hand through his hair. "I have you helping me out, right?" The silence from Korra and Asami indicated otherwise, which slightly unnerved him.
"A part of me is always going to be here, with Raava and yourself," Korra explained, putting her hand on her reincarnation's heart. "But my spirit, my essence doesn't live in the back of your mind for all eternity. I'm not just part of Raava, and neither are you. Besides," she continued, holding Asami close, "I need to spend some time with my wife."
Tong nodded, breathing in deeply. "Then this is goodbye."
"Only for now kid," Korra reassured Tong. "You need anything, don't be afraid to ask. Just…knock first, OK?"
And with a friendly wave, the pair disappeared, presumably to their honeymoon. Before they did though, Asami's voice echoed in the wind.
Tong? Thanks. For everything.
With the pair gone, Tong sat inside the tree, attempting to meditate the way he was taught. To say he was rusty at it was a grand understatement, as he was used to seeing the Spirit World as a place he was forbidden to go. Still, now he was on his own.
No, you're not alone.
"W…who said that?"
We have never spoken directly like this, but I have always been here. You seem finally ready to take on your burden.
We have little time. I will guide you through this process. Just relax, and try to feel the connection to the greater energy. I promise all will become clear in time.
The conquest of an entire city shouldn't have been treated like a sporting event. But that's exactly how the announcers treated it when the army approached. From the television in the community room on Air Temple Island, Rohan, Shing, Amit, Tashi, and pretty much any Air Bender in the immediate vicinity viewed the challenge that Korra made in her massive war machine to Zaofu.
Then they saw the clouds resembling past Avatars literally blow Korra's army away. And finally, they saw the gigantic blue spirit ready to battle Korra's mecha on equal footing.
"Tong's alive!" Shing yelled.
"But how?" Amit asked.
"Who cares?" Shing answered. "He's back and he's…blue!" Rohan looked on at the screen, stunned.
"It's just like when Korra fought Unalaq. He is the Avatar."
"Can he win?" Tashi asked. "You saw the footage of that robot!"
"He can win," Rohan calmly answered. "He must win."
"Not on the TV!"
Mr. Chun could only look on at his daughter performing a spit take at the sight she saw on the television, first annoyed with the fact that she nearly got the tea on his television, and then confused as to what could have caused such a reaction.
"It's him! He's alive!" Kushina yelled, pointing at the TV.
"Who? What the hell is that thing anyway?" he asked, looking on at the massive blue spirit facing Korra's giant robot.
"Tong?" Mr. Chun asked. "The kid you used to hang out with? Wait…wasn't he in town when you left?"
"It's a very long story Dad," Kushina confessed. "How do I put this nicely?"
"Put what nicely? He's somehow become a spirit that's going to fight a tyrannical Avatar. Nothing else you tell me about him is going to surprise me."
Breathing in deeply, Kushina tried to explain the absurdity of the situation even as a battle for the fate of the entire Earth State was about to be fought. "He's…kinda my boyfriend now."
"That's not possible."
From his office in Avatar Affairs headquarters, Han had hoped to see the final triumph of his future wife over Zaofu. Instead, he saw the true Avatar alive and well, and worse, announcing that he was the real deal to the entire world. Looking on at his mostly healed arm (the water healers had repaired the bone to the point where a sling was no longer necessary, he reached for the phone at his desk.
"Prepare me a helicopter. I'm going to Curive. Yes, I need a shuttle to the Star Flower. Something urgent has come up."
There was no way that Korra could lose to this man. Not after all the time, effort, and funds that were sunk into the Icon. But still, if there was even a slight chance that Korra would be defeated by the Spe…the Avatar, he would have no choice but to initiate his final backup plan.
"Hopefully you're not needed."
"You're not the Avatar!" Korra yelled from inside the Icon. "I am!"
"Is that so?" Tong taunted. "Would the real Avatar need a battle robot to fight? Unalaq would argue otherwise!"
Korra was set to go into a berserker rage at the spirit in front of her, but soon calmed down. "So then, you're Zaofu's champion?"
"I'm going to stop you, no matter what it takes," Tong answered. But Korra had heard enough.
"Not when you burn along with it!"
Two pillars of flame launched from the flamethrowers on each of the Icon's arms, clearly aimed at the city like the fireballs she had used before. This time however, a massive wall of stone and dirt rose to block the flames from their advance, while a boulder flew off, nailing the machine in the head.
The head mounted cannons began firing at Tong immediately, who raised a shield of stone to deflect the barrage. A few errant bullets, however, hit Tong, causing him to wince, almost as if being stung by a bee. Unfortunately, that meant he could be hurt in this form.
Behind the shield, he charged forward, hitting the machine twice and driving it back. The mecha's pilots were undeterred however.
A bright purple blade of light emerged from the right arm of the Icon, slicing the shield in half and nearly taking Tong's head off. Off balance, a wind gust from the Icon knocked the giant astral projection to the ground as the machine moved in.
"You have tricks, but you're no match for the ultimate bending weapon!"
Tong tried to get back to his feet as the machine charged forward, moving back as it continued to slash and fire steel, wind, and flame at the target. Dodging was all he could do, as the assault was relentless. Korra was noticing this as well, and was prepared to end this.
"All troops, prepare to fire on my mark! We'll end this duel in one blow!"
This was bad. All those cannons from the various mecha tanks fired at him would be VERY painful at best, likely life ending at worst, considering that the astral projection felt pain and could be harmed. Even if he somehow dodged the barrage, Zaofu was right behind him. The damage to the city, and the people…
Tong, a voice began in his head. From this distance…
But I don't know how to do that!
I can't connect with the Avatars before Korra, but do you think I just instantly forgot how they performed their techniques? Trust me!
Breathing heavily, reassured by the fact that he was talking with the embodiment of light and not some mere charlatan, Tong readied his right hand, his index and middle fingers pointing forward as his eyes began to glow.
Wait for it, wait for it…
From Tong's right hand emerged a massive bolt of lightning, the sound of thunder booming throughout the battlefield. While Korra's mecha dodged out of the way, the same couldn't be said for her forces, as the lightning bolt ripped through the front lines, utterly decimating anything in their path. Men and women abandoned their vehicles as the lightning incinerated anything in its path; leaving the front line of the 'Avatar Army' nothing but charred metal and destroyed vehicle parts. Tong's face was one of fury as the blue astral projection continued to guide the bolt of lighting through the ranks of the army, focusing on destroying machines and weapons. When the lightning finally ceased, nearly all of the advanced troops behind Korra were destroyed, the rear saved if only by the machines in the front acting as a shield. Breathing heavily, (a concept he didn't think about too heavily being an astral projection) Tong turned to face Korra's mecha, which had its laser blade drawn.
" You can lightning bend," Korra mocked. "But even your power has limits."
"You don't even have power," Tong shot back. "You need a machine to fight because you aren't the Avatar! And now the whole world will see your lies!"
"I've had it with your tricks!" Korra yelled. "If you're so tough…"
The sound of machinery whirred as the front panels of the Icon swung open, revealing two huge cannons, purple energy gathering around them.
"Then try and stop me from leveling this hole in the ground!"
They looked like Spirit Vine cannons. Even if they weren't, they would level Zaofu. Seeing this, Tong grabbed a massive pillar of stone and began running towards the machine.
"You're insane! If you shoot that at Zaofu, you'll kill thousands of people!"
"I AM THE AVATAR!"