The Blooming Flower
Han looked on at the clones and Tong, now prepared to battle to the death. Instead of attacking himself, he stepped back, while the trio of clones stepped forward to attack. Tong answered in kind, leaping forward with a spinning kick surrounded by a trail of flame. The fire rushed forward, causing all three of the clones to scatter and attack from different sides.
The first clone, using airbending, kept her distance and fired gusts of wind, which rattled the walls but thankfully weren't able to break the reinforced glass of the window. Tong danced between each gust, shooting fireballs as he did so until he got close enough to the clone. A powerful four strike combination soon followed, the jab and cross driving her back, the hook snapping her neck, and the flaming kick to the head knocking her down and causing her to collapse into a heap.
"These clones weren't as well trained," Tong taunted, only for the waterbender clone to launch water from a sac by her waist that hit his feet. Quickly, the water turned to ice, freezing his feet to the floor. Unable to move his legs, Tong saw the second clone create a dagger of ice and charge forward, ready to run him through. He looked at his arm, and did the only thing he could do before she reached him.
Smoke emanated from his gauntlet as the second Korra fell to the ground. The third however, wasted no time attacking, landing a hard kick to Tong's head that caused him to stagger backwards, unable to fall due to his feet being placed in the ground. Barely dodging a fireball by bobbing and weaving, Tong tried to punch the ice shackle, only for the clone to grab his head and deliver a powerful knee for his trouble. He reeled, but still couldn't fall. The other clone moved in for the kill, when Tong saw the fallen sac of water.
A powerful blow of water, careening like a comet towards the firebender clone, sent her back, allowing Tong to shatter the shackles of ice that held him in place. Wasting no time, he tackled the clone to the ground, following immediately with several strikes to the head. The raining blows continued until she was no longer able to move. He rose and turned to Han.
When he did so, he screamed in agony. It felt as if razor blades went across his entire body, slicing his skin and opening cuts on his arms and torso. Falling to one knee, he grimaced.
"The only ones who do not fear you, Avatar, are those who have not heard of your power. And I, the one who can equal it. My true razor wind slices your skin apart like a cantaloupe. Not even you can stand against it."
Tong's fists clenched, even as he remained kneeling.
"What, no witty comeback? No demand for justice? I must admit I'm surprised how quickly you defeated those clones, even if they lacked the experience of the real Korra. Perhaps I'm going about this wrong. Perhaps I need to clone you. Yes, kill every one of your friends here, and you can watch as you're replaced. Watch as everyone you care about is killed by someone wearing your face. I think I'll make that girl I've seen you with your first victim."
Again Tong said nothing, but he rose to his feet, his teeth clenched.
"You still think you can win?" Han asked. "You think you can defeat my genius with force of will alone? You only have regular airbending, not Tìdāo Fēng Quán."
Tong looked on at his opponent with a deep stare, his grimace worn fully on the Avatar's face.
"My will…cannot die. Not by…your hand."
An absolute brawl had broken out between the Air Nomads, the firebenders, and the various Korra clones, each of which seemed capable of bending their own element. People were smashed into the walls, others were choked unconscious, and others were shoved out of the way just to get a strike in on the opposing force. The clones attacked savagely, but said nothing other than the occasional grunt or groan.
Leena wasted no time with her offensive, attacking the green shirt clad Korra before she could use her metal bending cables to attack. Instead, she was forced to use the cables to deflect the fireballs heading towards her, constantly being forced back. This proved to be her undoing when a pair of fireballs broke through, burning the clone and allowing Leena to move in for the killing blow, a three strike combination that ended with a pillar of flame that burned the clone. But she had little time to admire her work.
A powerful blow soon hit Leena in the back, sending her crashing to the ground. Above her, a clone wielding water tentacles on both her arms loomed over, ready to strike.
A leaping kick cracked the clone across the head while a gust of wind knocked her down. As she stood up, Leena found herself back-to-back with Shing, surrounded by the legion of clones.
"We're so close!" Shing yelled, even as he continued to fire wind gusts at the advancing forces. "But there's just no end to them!"
Firing at the advancing clones, Leena had a similar assessment. "We're pinned down!"
"Look," Shing began, knocking an advancing clone aside before kicking another, "if we don't make it through this, I just want to say…"
"Don't finish that sentence!" Leena shouted. "We're getting out of here, we're going back to the Fire Nation, and I am damn sure getting a two-rank promotion!"
A Korra clone lunged towards the pair, but a tattooed Air Nomad kicked her out of midair, landing by the pair's side.
"We're all pinned down! Do you have a plan!"
Looking on for a second, Leena asked, "Can Air Nomads kill clones?"
"What? You want me to kill?"
"Not humans!" Leena shouted even as she caught a strike from a clone and threw her with an arm toss, knocking her down. "They're pretty much robots! They don't think! They just attack!"
"Robots we can make a rare exception for!" the monk answered, "since we're not killing a living being!"
"Then I've got an idea," she began, looking on at the firebenders engaged with the clones. "Men, form up!"
"Put the gun down!"
"You're perfectly safe Ayumu," Kushina began, aiming her Shocker directly at one of the tubes. "It's these things that I have an issue with."
"If you move one step…"
A lone bolt went through one of the tubes, shattering it and hitting the body dead center as liquid seeped from the tube. Ayumu appeared livid.
"Or?" Kushina asked.
"Whoops," she taunted, looking on at another hole created by her weapon. It was obvious to both of them that Kushina was goading Ayumu to attack, waiting for her to charge forward. So far, she hadn't taken the bait, but the look of frustration was clear as day on her face.
"Is this all for your parents? Come on. We could both just walk away, and you can escape this little space fortress before everyone here is bought in."
"I can't do that," was Ayumu's reply.
"Well then, I guess I'll need to keep doing this!"
Another bolt fired into a tank, and that was when Ayumu finally cracked. Hurriedly, she ran forward, attempting to disarm Kushina.
YOU ARE OUT OF TIME! EITHER TAKE OUT THOSE SENSORS OR REPUBLIC CITY WILL GET TURNED INTO A CRATER!
While the majority of the enemy mecha tank force had been destroyed, the cannon fire from the Star Flower itself still proved too thick for the allied squadrons to even get near. From this distance, the chance of connecting was far too low. One pilot spoke up even as time ticked away.
"I've got an idea!"
JWT 4, what's the plan?
"All allied units, concentrate your fire at this point! If we can do that, we can cause the cannon to misfire by throwing it off its target!"
There's no telling where that cannon fire will end up if we do break it down!
"Better that than right in Republic City!"
No one could argue the point. With that said, all the machines formed up into a single formation, aiming their weapons at the exact area suggested. Even as they did so, a purple glow began to emanate from the bottom of the space station.
Cannons, missiles, and everything else available headed for the single spot on the Star Flower, colliding with the space station.
Is it moving?
Rohan looked out the window at the bright flash of purple energy, terrified of its destructive force. Yet, despite how bright it was, he was relatively safe.
The beam went into the ocean. Waves kicked up from the impact, but they dissipated before hitting the shore.
"Those fools did it."
"Then we still have a chance," Zuko answered.
The bridge of the Star Flower was a maelstrom of activity. A minute ago, the crew had dedicated themselves to the total destruction of Republic City. Now they had confirmed that the fire from the spirit vine cannon hit somewhere in the ocean instead. The commander grimaced.
"Our ranging data is compromised from that adjustment. It's going to take a few minutes to properly target Republic City!"
The front door banged repeatedly as the crewmembers ran to arm themselves, looking at the door, while the commander hastily began punching commands into a console.
"Do not let them in!"
"If the bridge is invaded, it was the Grand Lotus's order to engage Death Bloom firing protocol."
The space station shook, throwing Ayumu off-balance as she charged forward. Kushina smiled at her luck, moving in towards the enraged woman and landing a knee to her stomach, followed by a plethora of chi blocking strikes towards her arms and legs. Ayumu did her best to counter the onslaught, but her precarious position, coupled with the fact that she wasn't thinking straight, left her vulnerable to attack.
Kushina said nothing, but the relentless assault continued even as Ayumu did her best to fight back. She soon found herself unable to lift her arms, falling as consciousness left her. Kushina smiled.
"Well, that's one down. Heading outside, she found the unconscious man from earlier, hoping he had something she could use. Looking on at the fallen armor-clad man, she found he had a sidearm, a rapid fire Shocker pistol. Looking on at the tubes, she knew what had to be done.
"I shouldn't enjoy this so much," Kushina mused to herself as she raised the weapon, "but after the last time I met Korra, I think I can be forgiven."
BANG BANG BANG!
Both the Firebenders and Airbenders were taken to one side by the shockwave that reverberated through the halls of the space station, but they did not falter. Having quickly explained her plan, Leena and her firebenders stood side by side with the airbenders, preparing to attack.
"First step, cyclone!"
The Air Nomads moved forward, sending out a collective gale of wind towards the clone. The Korra clones stood firm, their own airbenders pushing back against the onslaught of wind.
"Now! Fire Tornado!"
The Firebenders took the cue to launch flames forwards into the create winds, the flames being pushed forward and spread by the winds. The combined fire and wind soon created a fiery maelstrom that enveloped the clones, unable to fight back. Airbenders were burned and Firebenders tossed to the side.
"Keep it up!" Shing yelled. "We have to destroy these things completely!"
"You sure they're not alive, right?" an Air Nomad asked.
"They're basically machines!" Amit yelled. "We're good!"
The flames ceased as the gust finally died down, leaving nothing but a clear hallway covered in ash. Everyone gasped, but the words "they're just automatons, they weren't alive" reassured all involved.
"The bridge is just ahead! Let's move!"
Neither Tong nor Han stumbled even as the Star Flower shook. Tong, still covered in cuts, looked on at his opponent, who moved in for the finishing blow.
"It ends now, Avatar Tong!"
He had little time, and made it a point to take advantage of it. His eyes glowed an unearthly white as his right hand moved forward, sending out a concentrated gust of wind. It whipped through the razor wind Han sent out and hit his right hand, causing his arm to break in three places from the sheer impact, the wind launching him into the roof, leaving a dent in the thick metal.
As Han had done hundreds if not thousands of times, he dove off the roof, using airbending to propel himself towards his opponent, using his free hand to strike him down. He could still win. Tong however, disagreed.
A second gust of wind hit Han's free arm, breaking the wrist and several bones in the arm, while launching him into the wall by the entrance. What followed were numerous gusts of wind, hitting with the force of a hammer, driving him deeper into the metal of the wall. Finally, with one last hit, he went through the wall, barreling into the hallway, bleeding.
Tong stepped through the hole, looking on at his opponent, the fury on his face terrifying the Grand Lotus.
"St…stay away from me!" Han yelled, his entire body aching in pure agony as he attempted to rise to his feet, the pain making it difficult to even see. He tried to kick Tong, only for his leg to meet Tong's shinbone, risen up in a defensive posture. His bones, already battered and cracked by the onslaught, reached the breaking point and shattered, the Grand Lotus falling to the ground.
"That…is the power of Air Bending, the Air Bending of your grandmother and your father. The airbending you spat on and wanted to destroy."
Still conscious, but in insurmountable pain, he raised his useless arms in a defensive posture.
"Stay away! I…I'm the Grand Lotus! This wasn't supposed to happen!" Tong's eyes, still glowing white, reflecting Han's terrified face even as he was lifted up towards the ceiling by his neck.
"Han, you used my face and my body to bend the world to your will. You will never be forgiven!"
"The REAL Korra," the voice answered. "Not your dolls. The ones you tried to make love you. I HATE YOU HAN! Hate you for what your order did! Hate you for trying to gain power in my name! Hate you for creating those abominations to use as your personal dolls!"
"P…please…don't…don't please. Please don't."
After a few moments, to which Han felt like an eternity, Tong/Korra let him go, collapsing to the ground in an agonized heap. His eyes returned to their normal shade of brown as they looked on at the fallen Grand Lotus.
"No. You won't die by my hand today. You're going to face judgment for every life you've taken, every life you've ruined. Every last person who you tricked into following you will see you answer for your crimes."
The doors held for the moment until the sight of metal bards going through the cracks in the middle became evident. They soon split the doors apart, allowing the troops to go inside. The men on the bridge did their best to resist, but the few who weren't shot were quickly restrained by metalbending cables. All the while, the commander laughed at the invading force.
"You fools are too late! The whole world is going to be wiped to ash!"
The combined forces of the various nations burst into the room, everyone looking on at the targeting computers. What they found certainly backed up the commander's words.
"The spirit vine cannon is firing nonstop! It's in the ocean now, but it's going to cut right through the United Republic in a minute!"
"Out of the way!"
Turning around, everyone saw Kushina barging through the soldiers, looking on at the cannon firing.
"Are you familiar with this?" one of the soldiers asked. "They've locked us out from this terminal! We would need to get to the actual cannon itself to destroy it and we don't have time!"
"Maybe that's not necessary," Kushina answered. "The cannon has a separate power source from the rest of the station. So maybe if I cause a reaction with the main reactors…"
Kushina quickly began moving through the controls, watching as monitors showed spikes in energy. The soldiers all wondered what was going on until they felt a shaking, followed by a violent jolt that sent everyone flying into the walls.
"Everyone OK?" Kushina asked, holding onto the bars nearby the terminal.
"What happened?" Tashi asked. When she did however, something unexpected began to happen.
Everyone started floating. While unharmed, everyone was confused.
"The gravity stabilization must have gotten shut off," Kushina reasoned. "But look!"
Pointing to a monitor, the group saw, breathing a collective sigh of relief, that the cannon had stopped firing. The world was safe.
Unfortunately, a rumbling indicated that they wouldn't be.
"Kushina?" Shing asked. "What's going on?"
"Well, to stop the spirit vine cannon I overclocked the spirit vine reactors on the space station itself. They caused a very interesting reaction with the dedicated reactor on the cannon, overloading it with energy that couldn't be dispersed, which destroyed it. Sort of like a pipe bursting due to too much pressure."
"Why is everything shaking then?
"The problem is that I can't shut the other two down. They're both overloading and they're going to eventually implode like the cannon's reactor."
"Meaning?" a soldier asked.
"Meaning RUN AND DON'T LOOK BACK! THIS SPACE STATION IS GOING TO TEAR ITSELF APART!"
Exploding monitors soon proved that statement true as everyone ran out the way they came, hurrying towards the shuttles. Unfortunately for Kushina, as she attempted to run out the door with everyone else, an explosion destroyed it, leaving nothing but a heap of metal, and a hole going away from the shuttle bay.
"Terrific," she thought, floating through the space station, looking desperately for a space suit she could wear and a way out.
Explosions ripped through the hallway that Han and Tong were in, the Grand Lotus floating past one, into the fires. He laughed all the while. For Tong, this meant two things.
One was that the others were successful. The other was that he needed to run like his life depended on it. Not even the Avatar could survive without air.
Explosions rocked the station as he continued to swim through the low gravity, finding holes that went deeper and deeper into the facility. He was in bad shape, covered in cuts, with no space suit, but he pressed onward, looking for any way of escape. Looking down, he saw a lone figure floating up, prepared for a fight.
Floating forward, he hugged the woman briefly, who gasped at the cuts on him.
"W…what happened to you?"
"I had to stop Han. What's going on?"
"The Star Flower's coming apart! We need to get out of here!"
Another explosion accented her concern as the pair floated through the various decks, looking desperately for some, any method of escape. Finally, a brief bit of light poked through, and Kushina saw something that could have let them escape.
"A mecha tank! There's one in the hangar!" "But we can't fit through that hole!"
"Stand back!" Tong answered, looking on at the metal. "I'm going to try to force it open!"
"But it's covered in chemicals!"
"It's not platinum!" Tong yelled. "I can do it!"
Desperately reaching out, Tong tried to metalbend the wall in front of him. It was akin to trying to grab a greased dragon pup, with no grip available.
"Come on, come on!" he shouted. This was the only way out. He had to open it. For her sake. He made a promise, and dammit, he wasn't going to break it now.
It's like my teacher told me. You're reaching deep for the earth within. Ignore everything else.
You can do this. There's no limits to your bending if you focus!
Breathing heavily, Tong finally felt a grip on something. With one dramatic pull, the walls of the hangar started to bend and contort, until finally they opened on both sides, leaving an opening large enough for both of them to go through. Once inside, they saw the answer to their cries for help.
"A mecha tank!"
"A gold-plated one!" Kushina added, shocked. "It's a Gunner-type. Two-seater. But why is it gold?"
"I think this is Han's personal mecha tank."
AND I'LL ASK YOU TO STAY AWAY FROM MY PROPERTY!
An explosion rattled the hangar, although the door leading out of the Star Flower itself was mercifully unharmed. Behind them, Han, bleeding, battered, and half-dead, looked on, breathing heavily, his one good leg ready to attack.
"Get behind me Kushina! Go!"
"You think you can escape, Avatar?" Han mocked. "I didn't think the girl would follow you here. But that's fine. I'll take your prize from you, the same way you took mine from me!" Raising his leg, Han prepared to strike.
Looking to his right, Tong saw the shot came not from Han, but from Kushina, who was raising her pistol right at the Grand Lotus, her face one of fury.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Blood emanated from Han's torso, the Grand Lotus leader floating outside of the hangar, meeting another explosion. Tong looked on at Kushina, who was busy opening the cockpit of the gold-plated Skull Knight.
Wasting no time, he did so, finding a second seat behind Kushina's. The cockpit closed, at which point the pilot went to work.
"OK, see that stick? That's for the cannon. Target the center of that door and fire!"
Shuttles and mecha tanks cleared the proximity of the Star Flower as explosions continued to rattle the space station. Aboard a shuttle, Shing looked on with Leena as one final explosion ripped the Star Flower apart, destroying the space station and the spirit vine cannon completely, along with the ambitions of White Lotus. Shing only had one question.
"Ma'am! We have a single unit flying out from the Star Flower wreckage! It's a Skull Knight!"
"All weapons, target that enemy!"
"Wait!" Shing shouted. "What if it's not an enemy? Contact them!"
Going to a console by the pilot's seat, Leena reached for the radio. "Attention, pilot! Identify yourself or be shot down! This is your only warning!"
Hello to you too Leena.
"Tong!" Shing yelled. "He's alive!"
Hey, I'm the one that destroyed the cannon!
"Pilot," Leena began, "prepare to dock. Let's go home."
The grin on his face was in pure defiance of the cuts and bruises on his body. Someone hurt that badly shouldn't have been smiling that much.
"What are you so happy about?" Kushina asked, looking behind at the grinning Avatar. Unbuckling her harness, she turned around to see him still grinning.
"I saved the world," Tong boasted.
"No," Kushina answered. "I saved the world. You just…helped."
"I beat the big bad."
"I destroyed the spirit vine cannon. And drove us out."
"Which you wouldn't have done if I didn't force the doors open and stop Han," Tong shot back.
"But I shot him."
"After we fought."
Both looked at each other, and then started laughing.
"You're beautiful when you're determined, you know that?"
"You don't look so bad yourself," Kushina grinned, running a finger on the shirtless Tong. Both smiled at each other, but were interrupted by a magnificent sight.
Over the Earth, the sun began to rise, as if to signify a new day for the pair. The sheer scale of the rising sun caused both to gasp.
"It's beautiful isn't it?" Kushina asked. Tong smiled.
"Everything I'm looking at right now is beautiful."
The moment was interrupted by a beeping noise from the nearby console. Sighing, Kushina reached for said console to answer the call.
UR 2, this is Commander Zuko II. We have confirmed complete destruction of the enemy installation. What is the status of Grand Lotus Han?
"Deceased, sir," Kushina responded. "Avatar Tong is right by me, he can confirm the kill."
The world is in your debt Avatar. We have some people that would like to speak with you before you return to Earth.
"Can it wait?" Tong asked, only to be shushed by Kushina.
"Hey, 'Avatar'. You need to answer that call."
"I have something I want to do first," he answered, only for the woman to playfully shake her head.
"What? Half an hour."
"Commander, the Avatar is a little busy. We'll call in about fifteen minutes."
What? What do you me…
"She hung up on me!"
"It's alright Commander."
"Alright?! How is this alright Mr. President?"
"They just saved the world. I think they're entitled to breathe just a bit.
Somewhere over a cliff in the Spirit World, two women looked on at each other, smiling.
"He's going to be OK."
"So then we can have that honeymoon, right Korra?"
"I've waited too long Asami."
Clicking the console off, Kushina smiled, going up to Tong. The pair embraced, placing their lips to each other, passionately kissing as the rising sun shone on the planet and their machine.
"I love you, Kushina."
"I love you too, Avatar Tong."
"That's why we keep ending up like this, huh?"
"We have to keep each other safe. Like you said, right?"
"True. We both made a promise. And as long as I'm alive, I'm going to keep it."
"So, what now?" Kushina asked.
"You have a job at the Fire Nation, right?"
"Well, I don't really have a place anymore, so I was wo…"
"I didn't even finish asking."
"It's obvious. Come here, you big dummy."
Grinning, the pair continued to kiss, the countless stars of the cosmos shining above them. None of that mattered. What mattered was that they had each other, and they would never let the other go.
She would never let another control her destiny.
And he would never deny who he was again.