The explosion could be seen across the battlefield as both the Icon and the astral projection of Tong were caught in the middle of it. But its bright light as fleeting, as both spirit and machine were tossed to the side, Tong fallen to the ground, struggling to move, and the Icon without its right arm, standing still as a statue. The ruined arm of the Icon stood before it, the machine leaking oil and other fluid from the scorch marks on its metal body.
"Avatar Korra!" a man began inside the machine. "He's down! He took the blow for Zaofu!"
"Then he's an idiot," Korra responded. "Let's finish him off!"
"We can't! Everything's offline!"
"Nothing is working?"
"No ma'am. Engines are shot, the flamethrower and water hoses have been disconnected, the Smasher Cannons are utterly fried, and the computers have crashed! It's going to take at least several minutes to get her walking!"
"Useless machine!" Korra yelled. It was becoming clear to the crew that the normally calm Avatar was letting anger take control. They didn't have long to ponder her reactions before she barked another order.
"Send in all available troops! Finish him off! Have the rest take Zaofu!"
With the order given, benders and mecha tanks charged the fallen giant as he struggled to move, their weapons firing.
Only for a massive wall of stone to block the assault.
"Defend the Avatar!" shouted a group of earthbenders as they continued to erect defensive walls around Tong.
"The Avatar?" another soldier asked.
"The real one!"
Mecha tanks from Zaofu moved in to defend Tong from the assault of Korra's forces, but they appeared badly outnumbered, several being destroyed immediately while Benders were helpless against the sheer volume of artillery fire. From her vantage point in the dormant Icon, Korra grinned.
"I guess we're going to have that massacre after all."
"Madame Avatar! We're picking up a group of airships dropping forces onto the battlefield! They're Fire Nation!"
Sure enough, jets and mecha tanks, all with the Fire Nation emblem, entered the fray, attacking the forces of the Avatar Army. From one of the aircraft, a voice spoke.
I am Commander Hiroji Zan of the Fire Nation military, and we are officially offering our formal support to the Earth Republic in this war. We will not allow an act of senseless aggression to be initiated against an allied nation, especially by a woman falsely claiming to be the Avatar!
"How dare you!" Korra yelled, her rant cut short by the men inside the Icon.
"More signals! They're…Water Tribe!"
The question of "From where?" was answered as Korra's troops began to approach Zaofu, only to meet a line of Water Tribe mecha tanks, firing at the advancing forces, and bringing the advance on Zaofu to a crashing halt. A large ground carrier next to the tanks began blaring a message even as Korra's forces were forced to run for cover.
This is Commander Ulva of the Joint Water Tribe Defense Force. As of this moment, the Water Tribes are at war with the Avatar Army and the false Avatar. And this means helping our allies in the Earth Republic resist the aggression of a tyrant!
With the entirety of the Avatar Army's advanced front having been wiped out by Tong's lightning bending, and the arrival of significant reinforcements to bolster what were the outmatched defenses of Zaofu, what was supposed to be an easy victory turned into a massive battle. The remaining forces of the Avatar Army were more than capable of putting up a fight, Smasher Cannons from Skull Knights blasting apart mecha tanks from a distance as the remainder moved in for the kill. But with the positioning of the mecha, and their full awareness of the situation, the usual blitzkrieg tactics Korra's forces employed were nowhere near as efficient as they proved to be prior. Refusing to budge, both sides locked horns, attempting to drive the other back.
"Madame Avatar! We have movement again! All weapons still offline!"
"Fine!" Korra shouted, the machine moving to grab a large jagged piece of stone. "I only need one weapon to end this! Zaofu won't be so eager to resist once I kill their champion for good!"
"Oh no, no, no no!"
Kushina gasped, her hands over her mouth as she saw the footage of the battle, Korra completely willing to blast Zaofu to nothingness in order to goad Tong, and the ensuing explosion knocking him to the ground, and leaving Korra's machine damaged.
"Get up you idiot!" she yelled at the TV, only for her father to restrain her.
"It's a television. He can't hear you."
"He can't go down like this! We've been through too much for it to end like this! GET UP!"
Her father looked on, offering a hand to comfort Kushina, even as he stared on at the screen. An entire city, no the entire Earth Republic's fate depended on this battle. But his little girl wasn't a fool, right? No, if she saw something in this man, then he had to be more than capable of doing what he set out to do. Because if he didn't, no, he didn't even want to think about that.
This new 'Avatar' is down! Ladies and gentlemen, the sheer force of the explosion could be felt even here! But it appears Zaofu is safe. I can't say the same for the two combatants however!
Rohan and the others stood at the television agape at the sight of Tong taking the blow for the city, and the ensuing destruction that followed. The Grandmaster was disgusted at what he saw.
"Shooting civilians! This…can't be the same Korra that came here!"
"Korra came here?!" Shing asked, but Rohan shook his head.
"A Korra came here. A clone. It appears Han threw that one away, and upgraded to a more sadistic model."
"But that mecha's trashed!" Amit protested. "She took it just as bad!"
"Yes, but the pilot is likely fine. I only hope Tong can get up before what happens next!"
Shing meanwhile, looked on at his friends' declaration and his sacrifice. He was stunned into silence at first, but that silence was soon replaced with a grin.
"He's finally embracing it."
Maybe his stupidity would have a positive benefit after all.
It was difficult to move. It was difficult to even think straight.
The last thing he remembered was trying to block that cannon with a pillar of summoned stone.
That was a mistake, but the damage inflicted on Korra's death robot ensured it wasn't in vain. Looking around though, he didn't see the machine, but hundreds of tiny men and machines engaging in a fierce battle.
"I can't get up," he confessed. "Is this all I can do?"
The whole world is counting on you!
"They look like toys," he mused, still unable to get up. "If only I could get up."
OPEN YOUR EYES!
Looking forward, Tong saw the battered but still functional form of the Icon with a jagged piece of stone, ready to end the battle. Out of sheer instinct, he put his hands forward, a gust of wind driving the machine back but not with enough force to knock it down.
"Stop resisting!" Korra shouted, her frustrations more evident by the sentence.
Tong again struggled to lift his body, but to no avail. There had to be something, anything that could get him moving again.
You should know by now 'One with the elements' isn't just a saying.
He could feel the water inside a tank on Korra's mecha. Presumably it was there so it could be used a weapon like a water sac. But perhaps he could use it for something else.
Moving his arms, the water began to bounce to and fro inside the tank until it burst through the holes created. It surrounded Tong like a cocoon, hiding him from view.
"Missiles are back online Madame Avatar!"
"Then blast him!"
From the left arm, missiles fired at the water cocoon. They raced towards their target, the pilot of the Icon ignorant of the bubbles that emerged from the water. Each one surrounded a missile before it could hit its intended target, floating in the air harmlessly before gently reaching the ground, unexploded.
"He's taunting me!" Korra shouted. "Get the Smasher Blade online! Let's see his stupid bubbles stop that!"
From inside the cocoon, Tong felt the restorative powers of the water clearing his head and allowing him to move. But as he looked forward, he didn't see just the Icon.
He saw millions of people looking on at the battle, hoping, praying that he would be able to conquer the threat before him.
He saw the people that White Lotus had made suffer. Directly or not, people died because of their actions. It was unforgivable for him to see.
And he saw, finally, the hope that he had given them in the face of this tyrant and her army. Not just his friends, not just her, but entire nations that wanted to be free of tyranny. It made his quest to avenge his father's death seem so petty in comparison, so small scale, that he couldn't help but be humbled.
I really have been just feeling sorry for myself this whole time, haven't I?
Does it matter? Humans are flawed. Spirits are flawed. But you have a chance to fix those flaws now! So get up and fight!
Well, I have an idea.
…Bold, even for one as powerful as the Avatar.
This has to be decisive! I need to stop the fake Korra and her army at the same time!
Unaware of the conversation going on inside the cocoon, Korra looked on, waiting for the signal so she could finish the fight. Sure enough, it came.
"Blade back online! But that's all we're getting! Everything else is damaged beyond repair!"
"It'll be enough!"
The bright purple blade extended from the machine as it charged its target, prepared to end the battle decisively. As it did so, the water cocoon finally broke, the water racing into the sky, black clouds forming over the battlefield. Even the soldiers, preoccupied with their own battle, couldn't help but notice the darkening skies. Korra however, was too preoccupied with her target, having revealed himself, again standing tall.
"Now you're mine!"
A bolt of lightning emerged, not from Tong, but from one of the clouds, then from another until five of them struck the giant. To Korra, it looked like the man was conceding defeat, prepared to destroy himself, but Tong knew better. Relentlessly she charged forward, blade at the ready.
"DIE, AVATAR TONG! DIE!"
Tong's arms shout out straight ahead, his hands cupped forward towards Korra as he looked on. He knew what needed to be done. He was calm. Raava would guide him, and so would Korra. The real Korra.
An bright streak of white lightning emerged front Tong's hands, striking the Icon dead center. Its blade shimmered out of existence, its parts burned and scorched black, and the machine itself was slowly being turned into nothing but a pile of molten slag. She screamed in rage as computers and other equipment exploded around her, taking the rest of her crew with her. She was completely unaware of the other benders on board that aided her 'bending' and that they too had met their end. With nothing left on board the Icon, Korra ran for an escape hatch and leapt out, the water from a water sac breaking her fall. Looking on, she saw the machine falling to the ground, nothing but a charred torso. The noise of the thunder was loud enough to stop the battle as all sides looked at the destroyed war machine.
The clouds cleared on the battlefield as Korra looked on at the blue giant, the spirit of Raava inside him and not her. She screamed.
"You think I've lost? I'M THE AVATAR! ME!"
Tong looked on at his comparatively diminutive opponent before responding.
"Then fire bend."
"Fire bend!" he shouted, loud enough so that everyone present could hear it. Korra grimaced, swinging her arms, but nothing emerged. Two soldiers from Korra's army, a waterbender and a man with a rifle, looked on at their leader.
"You can't…can you?"
"I WILL KILL YOU!" Korra shouted, raising her arms in Earthbending, Airbending, and Firebending techniques, but all to no avail. Murmurs began to echo among Korra's men.
"She's a fraud!"
"She's not the Avatar!"
"They hired us to do her dirty work!"
Soldiers threw down their arms, removed the emblems on their uniforms, and refused to help Korra. Watching all of this, her only response was pure rage.
"I AM THE AVATAR! YOU GOTTA DEAL WITH IT!"
Grabbing the rifle from the soldier next to her, Korra began firing it madly at the blue giant before her. It was as effective as trying to fight a tank with a wood stick, the tiny bolts amounting to little more than bug stings.
"It's over!" Tong shouted. "Your army has abandoned you! You're not the Avatar! Throw down your weapon!"
"I AM KORRA, AND I AM THE AVATAR!"
It was that last sentence that finally drove Tong over the edge. The two soldiers next to Korra ran as Tong balled his fist and sent it crashing towards the earth.
"YOU'RE NOT KORRA!"
The fist of the Avatar struck the ground, annihilating everything beneath it as Tong looked on. He felt no guilt over destroying the insane automaton. Korra, the real Korra, deserved better.
"This war is over!" Tong shouted to the collected armies. "The Avatar is not a conqueror or a tyrant! Throw down your weapons! You've all been tricked into following a false Avatar! I won't let this senseless battle go on any longer!"
Anyone from Korra's army who was on the fence about surrendering was convinced not by the speech in and of itself, but the fact that Korra and her terror weapon were destroyed by a blue giant that actually could bend all four elements, and proved to be powerful enough to take on an entire army in this form. The allied defenders of Zaofu moved in to detain the members of Korra's army, who were no longer willing to resist. Once Tong had satisfied himself that Korra's army was no longer a threat, he left the battlefield, his spirit returning back to the spirit world.
"I am the Avatar, and the Avatar is not a tyrant." The words echoed even as the surrender and detaining of the soldiers continued.
The former Emperor of the Earth Kingdom panicked when he saw the Korra he had willingly surrendered the entire country to outed as a fraud. But he only had a few minutes to ponder what he saw before members of the Dai Lee burst into the room, flanked by commanders in the army.
"What are you doing?" Xing asked, only for the Dai Lee to restrain him to the wall with hand-shaped stones, their favored weapons.
"You're under arrest for high treason!"
"Treason! I am the Emperor of the Earth Kingdom!" The military uniform wearing man would hear none of Xing's protests, however.
"You sold our country out to a fake Avatar! Take him away!"
The stone restraints were adjusted so that Xing's arms were behind him as he was taken to prison. All the while, he continued to protest.
"I had no idea she was a fake!"
Across the nations and the United Republic, the situation was the same. Police, soldiers, and figures of authority raided Avatar Affairs buildings, most of the rank and file in various states concerning 'Korra's' reveal as an impostor, but few willing to resist. The ability to resist decreased significantly when the few still loyal to the cause faced benders and weapons.
The amount of information found was staggering, and yet significant pieces of the puzzle were missing. Information concerning bought off officials, integration into governments, and military production were all present and accounted for. The military machines, abandoned by soldiers unwilling to fight, were taken by the various nations to use for their own forces. But the mastermind behind the charade was nowhere to be found.
The group waited at the Spirit Portal like they had for the past two days, coming a few times a day to see if he would finally return. So far, he hadn't shown. Regardless, knowing how time in the Spirit World operated, Rohan, Shing, Kushina, Amit, Tashi, and Leena (who, other than Shing, kept her presence in the city hidden until it was safe) continued their vigil, knowing he would come back.
"Are you sure he's going to take this portal?" Amit asked.
"He'll take this one," Rohan answered. "The alternatives aren't exactly easy to travel in."
Peace had returned to Republic City with the diffusing of the obvious tension. The people who a few days ago were ready to riot in the streets had returned to normal business, meaning that traffic was just as congested as ever. The Spirit Portal Park was opened as well, with the various spirits and tourists mingling by the portal.
The group had been ready to head home for the day when finally, a lone form emerged from the portal, wearing a green shirt and a somewhat confused expression.
"You guys...knew I was coming?"
Kushina's voice rang out through the forest as she ran forward to embrace her boyfriend, his strong arms holding her tight even as he appeared surprised at their presence.
"You dummy!" she yelled. "How could you scare me like that?!"
"I'm sorry," Tong answered. "It wasn't my idea, but I had to keep my promise."
The pair was all but set to kiss when they felt the observing eyes of the others watching their every movement. Looking on at the group, Tong offered a friendly if somewhat confused wave while Rohan stepped forward.
"It was obvious the South Pole portal was out of the question considering how far it is from civilization. And the North Pole is still a significant travel to the main cities. Not to mention, once you're there you need to book a flight, and I doubt you had your wallet on you. It was easy to figure it out from there, especially after that stunt you pulled."
"Saved the world," Tashi noted. "You're really the Avatar."
The group looked on at Tong, who only smiled. "Yes. I am. But…"
"But?" Rohan asked.
"Can we get something to eat? I'm kinda hungry."
"You met Korra?"
"The real Korra," Tong explained, even as the group sat down in the mess hall to eat. Tong of course, was regaling the group with his adventures in the Spirit World, while Kushina explained what happened to the others at the Grand Archive. "She helped put everything in perspective for me. But you're saying these Black Petals are dead?"
"Yup," Amit answered. "Got blown up by Han's death ray. Speaking of…"
"The raids didn't find Han," Leena noted. "He skipped out, but to where I don't know."
"Well the important thing is that White Lotus no longer has an army to lead," Rohan reasoned. "We've won the day."
The whole while, Shing stood silent, unsure of how to explain himself. Clearing his throat, he finally began.
"…I'm so sorry."
"Sorry?" Tong began, Kushina practically glaring a hole in the Air Nomad as he began his confession.
"When we were at the Spirit Portal…I kinda…pushed you in."
"I…I was so worried about making you the Avatar, and my idiot brain thought 'Send him on a spiritual journey!' I wasn't thinking straight! I swear! And I almost…"
Tong shook his head when he heard this. "I should be pissed off, but…if I hadn't gone to the Spirit World, I wouldn't have met Korra. I wouldn't have figured out how to beat the fake and her Colossus knockoff. Your plan kinda worked. So, thanks. Really."
Shing said nothing, tears slightly forming in his eyes. "I just felt like I doomed the world! And everyone around me, and…"
"Han," Amit grimaced.
"Well, yeah, I almost broke my most sacred vow to…"
"No, the radio! Han! Turn it up!"
Wasting no time, Kushina turned up the radio, as an all-too-familiar voice began blaring.
…Most of my men have abandoned White Lotus, most of the nations believe me to be a fraud. This was for your own good! And if the nations will not be guided by my gentle palm, they will be guided by my iron fist! And to demonstrate what will happen to any nation that resists me, I will show my power against the constant scourge on this planet, the Air Nomads! Namely, Air Temple Island! The Air Nomads are scum and must…
The blood drained from Rohan's face as soon as he heard that. Smashing a fire alarm, he ran out of the building, yelling as loudly as he could.
"EVERYONE EVACUATE AT ONCE!"
Any acolyte or teacher within earshot took the immediate cue and leapt off the island for safety. Non-benders were taken with benders and headed into the ocean for safety, while others took the docked ferry and quickly began moving it. Tong and the others all leapt for their lives off of a cliff, using bending to slow their descent, while Tong made it a point to hold Kushina in his arms as they leapt off the island.
Not three seconds after they hit the water along with dozens if not hundreds of other Air Nomads, they saw it. Emerging from the heavens like a hammer of divine wrath, a beam of purple energy struck the island, annihilating anything still on it, buildings, artifacts, and those too slow to make it off the island itself. The look of horror on everyone's face as Air Temple Island was flattened into nothingness was unrelenting.
"No!" Rohan cried, seeing his family's home annihilated by a beam from the heavens. "NOOOOOOOOO!"