The room Minister Qin was in was rather well decorated, with lush carpeting, several bookcases, and three couches by a large window, allowing its occupants an excellent view of the spirit portal in Republic City and the surrounding park. Still, he felt a sense of terror having been summoned to the main headquarters of Avatar Affairs following the incident with the masked man. As if to confirm those fears, the twin doors swung open, revealing one of the Avatar's highest-ranking assistants, his green cape flowing behind as he sat down.
"Welcome Minister. Forgive the wait; I had to see to some matters quickly. Do you need anything? Water? Tea? Pop?"
"Inquisitor Han! To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Sitting down on one of the couches, the Inquisitor began. "I understand you were assaulted by a man dressed as Amon. What did he ask you about?"
Pausing for a moment to wipe the sweat from his brow, the minister replied "A Dr. Mao. The joint investigation concerning illegal spirit world artifacts."
"I'm not entirely familiar with that file. I'll look it up later. What did you tell him?"
The minister paused again, before replying, "That it was a joint investigation. He then asked about the Avatar."
An eyebrow rose from the mustachioed Inquisitor. "He intends to target Avatar Korra?"
"That appears to be his intention, yes." Han nodded.
"Excellent. You may go now. Do not repeat a word of this to anyone, is that understood?"
"Of course Inquisitor."
As Qin got up and left, Han went into another room, this time in the basement of the building. It was a facility designed to act as a training ground for soldiers, with a barracks for quick deployment in case any issues occurred on the floor above. It was there where six people were waiting for him.
"Hello Huang. I read your report. The Specialist escaped."
"Yes Inquisitor. It will not happen again."
"The report," Han continued, "called out a specific agent. Tsu Gan-Lan, code-name Point Blank. Where is Mr. Lan?"
"Here sir," replied a dark skinned man, his expression blank.
"You had cornered the Specialist at which point you were disarmed by an accomplice. Correct?"
"After I wounded him, sir," Lan responded. "I was moving in to restrain him when I was attacked and disarmed.
"And how would you have done things differently?"
Looking on at his superior a minute, Lan replied, "I would have carried a different weapon."
"I normally go into the field with two pistols for versatility. However, they were easy for her to disarm despite the plastic wire I keep on me to prevent such incidents, and were later taken."
"How do you plan to fix this?"
"My new load out only has one pistol as a sidearm while I use a defense carbine as my primary weapon. It's far more stable to hold and difficult to disarm."
Han stood silent for a moment and then said "Very well." Turning to address the rest of the assembled team, he continued.
"I have a new mission for all of you. We know the Specialist plans to target the Avatar, likely during the speech she will be making at the Republic City Art Gala. You will be part of a sting operation to bring him in when he engages the Avatar directly.
"You plan to let the Specialist engage the Avatar?" a man with brown hair asked.
"Yes. The Specialist has no idea what he's up against. By the time he realizes it; the trap will be sprung. Oh, and Mr. Lan?"
"Everyone gets to make a mistake. But there is a notable difference between a mistake…and incompetence. I can tolerate the former. Not the latter." His words were cold, direct, and emotionless. Nevertheless, Lan was chilled to the bone.
"I understand Inquisitor."
"Then let's get to planning. The speech is In 30 hours. We need to be ready."
Multi-tasking was a skill any grandmaster had to learn in his or her years of experience. The late Grandmaster Jinora was renowned for being able to do a multitude of things at once and do them well, everything from teaching a class of elite students to ensuring her daughter didn't run off from her sight. The skills of multitasking among Air benders were once again on full display, as Grandmaster Rohan oversaw a class of students practicing form on the island while addressing what, to him, was an utterly ridiculous proposal.
"You want a team of Airbenders to assist you in assassinating the fake Korra? Out of the question!"
"But I need someone to cover the…"
"That would be tantamount to an act of war!"
The sounds of yells and grunts filled the air even as Tong looked at the Grandmaster, whose face remained unchanged.
"If you want to get yourself killed, I can't stop you. But I won't support you or say it's a good idea!"
"What choice do I have?" Tong answered. "She's the best lead I have, and I know she's a fake. I can beat her easily!"
"And then what?" Rohan snapped back. "All you will have done is shown people you're a murderer, not the Avatar."
"I'm not the Avatar!"
"As much as you try to deny it, you are. And all you want to do is kill the impostor when that will just make Korra a martyr and those who masterminded the plan will be no closer to being found."
"I have to do this."
"Because killing the fake Korra will cause all the answers to fall into place, won't it? It will make the death of your father go away, won't it? I can't stop you, but I will not help you in pointless murder."
The stare from Tong was cold and sharp. After several minutes, he only replied "Very well," and walked off.
The crowd present at the Republic City Art Gala was bustling with movers and shakers, men and women of wealth and prestige who looked over the various exhibits with interest, both real and feigned. Security was tight, with clothed police officers patrolling the outside of the building and men in suits observing the inside. In the midst of all this fervor was Avatar Korra, who calmly greeted guests, never staying in one place too long as she looked on at one of her advisors.
"Is everything ready for the speech?"
The man, a short, stout man and his associate, a tall, muscular female, both nodded at the request.
"It won't be for another fifteen minutes though. Please, enjoy yourself. I hear the stewed sea prunes are quite good."
"Fine." Taking the cue, Korra went along the crowds, most of them art enthusiasts and other wealthy types, all of whom were eager to speak with the Avatar about various issues from the mundane to the (in their eyes) life threatening. Among them was a man with Air Bender tattoos, although his suit seemed to blend in the same as the others.
"The Air Temple sent a representative? I was hoping one of the Grandmasters could…"
"I apologize, Honored Avatar," the man began, "but I was sent in their stead. They desperately wanted to be here but were unable to due to prior commitments, especially given the nature of much of the art here."
"Yes," Korra answered with a chuckle. "A good portion of the art here belonged to the old Air Nation prior to the genocide. Avatar Affairs has spent years trying to rescue it from criminals, Fire Nation families that took them as spoils, or just destroyed temples."
"The governing bodies of the Air Nomads appreciate all you have done for us," the man answered, shaking her hand earnestly. The gesture was returned, politely if not as earnestly.
"The late Grandmaster Tenzin was the one who taught me Air Bending," she replied. "It was always his dream to see the Air Nation flourish, and I hope that recovering this art helps to restore the culture lost during the genocide."
"It was you who made the resurrection of the Air Nomads possible," the man reminded her, before Korra took her leave. Nodding as she walked away, the man spoke into a small speaker that he placed on his ear.
"I'm no good at events like these. I feel ridiculous in this suit."
Boy, you're here because you're surrounded by art that was thought lost during the genocide of the Air Nomads! Pieces that the nations and Avatar Affairs spent decades trying to recover! Have some appreciation for the art and culture of your people!
"…I'm here to make sure Tong doesn't do anything stupid, aren't I?"
Shing, no power in the mortal or spirit realms can prevent that boy from doing something stupid, especially considering how angry he is. No, I just need you to keep him from doing something irredeemably stupid, like revealing his identity.
"I understand. I'm going to go try some of the stewed sea prunes. At least the food at gatherings like this is supposed to be good."
Enjoy the arts, my boy.
Nodding, the young man went towards the buffet table, unaware of what was happening outside. As he sat down to a helping of the stewed sea prunes, the Avatar took to the podium, presumably to deliver her speech.
Shooting a pistol was different from piloting a machine that shot a rifle.
It seemed logical enough that using a machine to do a task would be different than doing it with her hands, but Kushina had still thought that her experience firing weapons in a mecha suit would apply to firing actual weapons in her hand. As it stood, her shots tended to be way too far off the mark, frustrating the woman to no end.
"You know, you can't hold something like that with such a loose grip."
A man, no older than his 20's, looked on at her holding the pistol. Nodding, she lowered the weapon onto a nearby table and looked at him. "What do I need to do?"
"Hold the weapon with both hands. You need a tighter grip, but not so tight you can't move it." Picking up the weapon, Kushina attempted to follow the man's initial advice. The next two shots were closer to their target, although still not dead on.
"See? Now I could give you some lessons and turn you into a real sharpshooter if you'll allow it."
"…You observe people to see who needs help to sell your lessons?"
"I tend to have a good eye, as you can see. And if you want, my other clients can vouch for my skills as an instructor."
"How much are we talking per lesson?"
A mixture of clapping and "Ooohs" greeted Avatar Korra as she took to the podium set up in the art museum. The setting was quite elaborate, with the various exhibits on the side with a water fountain taking the center of the main gallery room. The water flowed from a statue of a past Avatar, Kuruk of the Water Tribe, or more specifically, a "barrel" the statue was holding.
"Thank you all for coming. We are gathered here to celebrate the past, while looking forward to the future. Gathered here are works from all four nations, many thought to have been lost in war, lost in disaster, or merely lost to time, rescued, restored, and on display for all. The various scrolls, portraits, and paintings are all representative of a larger culture that we hope to show, even as society continues to advance."
Polite clapping from the audience supported the Avatar's speech even as she stopped to catch her breath. Everyone's eyes were fixated on the Avatar, paying no mind to the masked man looking in from the outside.
"When Avatar Affairs was first founded, many questioned the motives. They did not see the good that formalizing the position could do for the world. But I believe that this exhibit is a tiny example of that good, to meet the demands of a changing world. When I first started, the world was only starting to come together. Pro Bending was a bunch of a small sponsor driven teams, now the IPBL encompasses all the nations. The Air Bending position didn't even exist when I was playing, because of the significant lack of Air Benders to actually play. Avatar Korra's pro-bending career will likely be just a footnote in the record books."
Relaxed laughter met the Avatar as she paused for a moment. The crowd was fixated on her every word, paying no attention to the masked man on the roof, and with no knowledge of the unconscious guards outside.
"But it's true. The world has changed. International flight, once only possible with sky bison, is now commercial with airlines. Computers and phones are present to all, with communication possible around the world. Avatar Affairs is building a space station, the Star Flower, so that we may study what exists beyond this world. But for all these positives, we must deal with the negatives. Corruption, war, greed; these things all fester with the aid of our progress. Weapons of terrifying power are now commonplace among the nations. War and strife have claimed the lives of many, including friends of mine. Those in the Earth Republic probably still remember the assassination of President Bolin and his wife. And this is why Avatar Affairs must continue to strive for balance in the world. If we do not take a more active…"
The speech was interrupted by the sound of wind shattering the windows of the building as a form leapt inside. Guards raised their weapons but were quickly tossed aside by the windstorms. Others were tossed aside before they could even hope to use bending. Among the crowd, people gasped while one man just put his palm in his face, setting aside his bowl of stewed sea prunes. The man, wearing a red and white mask with a yin-yang symbol on the forehead, pointed at the Avatar.
"You killed my family imposter! Prepare to die!"
A blade emerged from the masked man's hand as he charged forward to strike Korra down. However, before he could, a wall emerged to prevent him from doing so, followed by a powerful blast of water from the fountain in the center of the room. The man wasted no time sending his own stream of water at Korra before she could capitalize, standing to his feet. Both had the same reaction.
"That's impossible." Korra was the first to respond.
"How can anyone else wield all four elements?"
"How can the false Avatar do so?"
"Who are you?"
"I already told you," the masked assailant replied even as a ball of fire formed in his hands. "I'm the one who's going to kill you."
"I've heard that before," Korra scoffed. "You're not the first to try." The man charged forward, blade in hand.
"Lucky then you won't hear it again! Because after this, no one else will be able to!"
Walls of stone attempted to stop the masked man as he leapt over them, shooting a stream of fire down at Korra. She countered perfectly, using water from the fountain as a protective barrier. The water was soon split apart by two currents of wind, leaving the masked man free to hit his prize. Or at least it would, had a stream of fire not leapt out to meet him, forcing him to dodge.
As the two continued to exchange blows, guards in the audience raised their weapons.
"Take the shot!"
"They keep moving! What if we hit the Avatar?"
"We'll have to take that…" THUNK.
Neither guard got their chance to raise their weapons as they were disarmed by two people behind them, knocking them unconscious with quick blows to the back of their head. Once done, one spoke into a device on his ear.
"Good. Wait for your opening. Don't let the guards interfere."
As the watchers looked on, the rest of the crowd stood agape at the sight at two people wielding all four of the elements against each other. Even more shocking, the masked man appeared to be getting the upper hand on Korra, countering her moves with increasing speed and ferocity. Finally, a stream of fire broke through Korra's defenses, blinding her and causing her to fall to the ground. The masked assailant stood over the Avatar, a metal bent blade in his hands.
"Any last words, murderer?"
No response came in words. Instead, Korra's eyes turned completely white as she stood forward. The masked man gasped, lowering his blade in shock.
Korra stood, her eyes white and her expression blank, as a thunderous torrent of water struck the masked assailant. He dropped his blade, only to be pelted by rocks and tiles of increasing scale, some being ripped from the walls of the museum itself. He did his best to bat them away as a stream of fire approached, one a wall of earth barely came up in time to deflect. The crowd, horrified moments earlier, was now cheering for Korra to defeat her assailant.
"Get her Avatar!"
"You can do it!"
"No, no, no, NO!" the masked man yelled. "I didn't come this far to lose to an impostor! Korra, you WILL DIE!"
A stream of flame surrounded the man's fist, slamming into Korra's face. She however, did not fall, responding with a maelstrom of ice and stone, knocking him down and slightly cracking his mask. From within the crowd, several people began to move.
"He's down! Take him!"
What happened next in the midst of the confusion was difficult for anyone to process. Men and women ran through the crowd to arrest the masked assailant, only to be blown back by powerful wind gusts and a formation of fog. Korra herself went through the fog looking for her opponent, only to collapse into a heap on the ground. The assailant was gone.
"He had help in the crowd! Call it in!"
"Control to headquarters! This is Entangler! Target escaped and the Avatar is unconscious! She's breathing erratically! We require an ambulance for the civilians as well!"
Clutching his ribs inside the car waiting out back, Tong removed the cracked mask as the passenger next to him looked on, face full of disapproval.
"Shing, I was winning. How does an impostor have the Avatar state?"
"You caused a frenzy, a mass panic and that's about it. You haven't solved anything. All you were trying to get was some personal satisfaction, and look where it got you."
"Get me to a hospital," Tong flatly stated. "You can lecture me when I'm better."
"There's a medical facility on the island. We can treat you there without tipping off the police, who are sure to be looking for you."
"And the driver?"
"Leung? She's one of the Grandmaster's more trusted agents. There were about four of us running interference. When the smoke clears it's going to look like you escaped under your own power. You know, besides the steam trick."
Tong nodded, nursing his injuries as the car went towards the waiting ferry, disappearing into the night.