Taming of the Spirits
In comparison to the festive mood outside, the inside of the Maeda dojo was quiet. Halls that would normally be full of students were empty, and the building itself was silent. It was a perfect place for Tong to discuss matters with Maeda.
"I started Fire Blade when I was younger, since I felt that Fire bending wasn't evolving in the same way as the other bending arts. Metal bending, Ice bending, Wind Razor, all of these arts came from their base element in ways that their masters wouldn't dream of using. Meanwhile your average Fire bender essentially just has a flame thrower and if skilled, a Shocker at their disposal. The great skill of the Fire Nation in war was using Fire Bending to invent, to build, to create. But as an art, its evolution lags."
"So you created, a fire sword?" Shing asked.
"It's much more than that," Maeda answered. "By focusing the heat in a blade, they can use it more creatively, to launch fire, but to use heat as a defensive mechanism. A true master of Fire Blade can attack and defend seamlessly. Funaki?"
The student bowed, then stood up and drew his flaming sword. Reaching into a bag nearby a storage closet, Maeda threw several stones at his pupil. The man reacted immediately, slashing two, while one seemed to be repelled by a field surrounding the swordsman.
"Unfortunately, the shield is far from implacable. It redirects using heat, not stops."
Both nodded at the demonstration while Funaki sat back down. Maeda continued as his two guests observed him closely.
"How did you get my name in the first place, if you don't mind me asking?"
"My late father," Tong began, "left a list of names to contact. You were among them." Obviously it made sense to leave out how a man dressed as Amon was torturing people for information.
"I see. Yes, I was an associate of your father. You see, we knew…"
Both Tong and Shing stared at the man wide-eyed. They knew Tong's secret?
"…that Avatar Korra is secretly building an army under the guise of her authority as the Avatar."
"We've seen some of their products up close," Shing answered, hoping to dispel any awkwardness. Maeda nodded.
"I'm aware of the machines of war they're building. But until I have concrete evidence, I can't exactly make it public. Till then I can train Fire Nation citizens and try to hunt for the truth."
"Which is why we're here," Tong answered. "Do you know who would have wanted my dad dead? Who in White Lotus was responsible?" Maeda eyed him very sternly.
"That depends. Do you want to know who killed your father with their hands, or who's trying to build an army to start a world war by using the Avatar as a puppet? What's more important to you, vengeance, or saving the world?"
The room grew silent before Tong asked, "Is this a trick question?"
"No trick. But come, there's still plenty to enjoy here! Tonight there's going to be a massive fireworks display, and then tomorrow I can bring you some actual paperwork. Just relax for right now. We're all on the same side, after all."
The trio had went out to explore more of the city, presumably while discussing sensitive matters. Funaki knew this. Still, no one suspected his ulterior motive when he told people he needed to stay and look at his email for an hour or so.
Please give me the pictures of Target 01, 02, and 03. We may have a problem.
A response soon appeared in his inbox, with three distinct pictures. The woman wasn't present, but the two men were instantly recognized as the Air bender who made a scene during the competition, and the Earth bender asking about his dead father.
The Specialist is here. Target 01 and 02 are present, and Mr. Maeda seems sympathetic to their plight…and suspicious of us. However, everything is in place, so rather than dealing with him, he can die in the ensuing riot. He'll be so busy dealing with my little surprise that even if he is aware of my plans, he will be far too late to stop them.
A message replied back in a mere minute.
Do you what you will, but DO NOT FAIL ME.
Kushina had been ready to follow Tong to yell her brains out at the Not-Avatar over following her, but she had seen something far more attention grabbing.
It was in fact, a box laid down by a man who was joining a crowd. Dressed in all black, the box was white with numerous markings surrounding it. Unsure of what he had planned, she followed the man to a small storefront. Once there, she looked on at the group, doing her best to stay hidden from the crowd.
"Gentlemen, the time has come to dispose of this false line of leadership. Our 'surprises' have all been left. They will be fierce and rabid."
"Surprise?" someone asked. "We were never told what kind of surprise could lay waste to an entire city, or hold off the Fire Nation military."
"Fine. Our benefactor has provided us with contraptions that capture the essence of spirits. The boxes we've been spreading across the city contain dark spirits, angry, rabid and powerful. They will cause chaos, overwhelm the locals, and force the military to take action. When the skeleton crew of the carrier is forced to send out its personnel to battle a threat of spirits, including a very large leader spirit, we will make our move."
"Once that happens, Group A will mine half the ships while we meet up with the sympathizers in the second half. We will have control of the Shield and enough firepower to make the Fire Nation BOW to our demands, to ensure a restoral of the Fire Nation as a true superpower!"
"IN THE NAME OF OZAI, HAIL THE PHEONIX KING!"
She gasped. Luckily no one heard. The group quickly left the building, heading for small boats. She followed, unaware of their "surprise." She was more interested in the boats and where they were going. Hiding behind a small hut by the beach, she saw what a group was planning.
A group of four men revealed their boat, a rather small motorboat that would slip by the massive fleet with ease. With dozens of these, going past ships with skeleton crews due to the festival, it would be easy for them to board.
"Hey, who's there?"
They had found her out. Breathing, she revealed herself.
"Hold the gun tightly with two hands," she whispered.
"Who are you?"
BANG BANG BANG BANG!
The fireworks masked the sound of her pistol firing. It was cold, and it was cruel, but it was either her, or them. As far as Kushina was concerned, it was self-defense. But she took no pleasure in it.
Still, they had weapons, a map indicating where they were going and uniforms. Chewing out Tong could wait. As much as she hated to admit it, she couldn't let them do this.
"He's rubbing off on me," was all she could think as she put on the uniform of the New Ozai society, hiding the bodies behind the hut, and starting up the boat.
Fireworks lit up the night sky, as crowds looked on at the docks. Even those in the city saw bits of the display, at least those that weren't covered by the skyscrapers. Tong and Shing were but two of thousands viewing the show, waiting for the next set of explosives to burst in the air. It truly was quite the sight to behold.
"Makes you forget about all the craziness, doesn't it?"
The crowd by the docks oohed and ahhed at the various shapes in the night sky, all of varying scale and color. They continued to observe until without warning, a massive flash occurred by the fireworks.
"What was that?"
Similar flashes were found all over the city, even where there were no fireworks to be found. When the light vanished, people gasped in terror. Black apparitions, all in various shapes and sizes began charging at people.
Screams of terror were heard as the dark spirits charged the crowds, only for two to be blasted into nothingness by patrolling Fire Nation officers. But twenty additional dark spirits soon replaced those two; while in the skies and the ground, more appeared everywhere. Panic spread even as the police and soldiers did their best to fight off the invaders.
"What the hell's going on?" Tong asked, right as he was accosted by a spirit resembling a feral jaguar. His hands touched the dark spirit, and for a moment, he understood. Right before a gust of wind knocked the beast away.
"Pain? Tong, what are you talking about?"
"They're in pain. All of these spirits are. Something drove them to this. They're not being malicious because they want to."
"Your friend talks to spirits?" Maeda asked. Shing nodded.
"A spirit speaker," Tong finished, making quite sure Shing didn't say "The Avatar". "They are all in pain. Driven mad by other spirit speakers. Turned loose like rabid beasts."
"Hundreds, maybe a thousand. I don't know. We have to calm them. We have to find their leader. These spirits don't deserve destruction any more than the civilians deserve death. We have to end this before it gets really bad."
Looking on at the mayhem encroaching the city, none of the trio had any idea how to do so. A pair ape-like spirits were among them, one smashing a car as another began stalking towards the trio."
"You two go," Maeda announced. "I'll deal with these things."
"Are you crazy?" Tong asked. "I need you alive!"
"I may be a businessman these days," Maeda answered as he drew a piece of wood from his jacket, "but I'm not exactly rusty."
The pair nodded and ran off as a fire blade formed inside the old master's hand, as he invited the creatures in with a gesture from his free hand.
"You two have no idea who you're dealing with. Come on!"
"Firelord Kaede, we need a decision now."
"Our first priority," the Firelord declared as she looked on at the various screens in the palace bunker, "is to ensure that the civilians are evacuated safely. What are our options to counterattack?"
"Usually the enemy doesn't just spontaneously appear in the middle of Capital City," a man in a uniform answered, "but while the 5th fleet is operating at reduced capacity due to the holiday, there are still two ships with mecha tank and fire bender battalions on standby, and the wing on the Shield is ready for deployment.
"Isn't this a matter for the Avatar? We shouldn't attack spirits with a military response!"
"At let innocent people die? Get our men on the island immediately!" the Firelord ordered. "The Fire Nation does not bow to any enemy, human or spirit. Have command in the palace direct operations."
The boats headed towards the carrier were numerous but small. The one Kushina piloted alone was but a speck alongside the massive naval vessels. As she looked up, she saw jets flying towards the island, buzzing in the air, while other ships sailed away from the carrier and towards Capital City.
"The spirits," she mused aloud. "They've taken the bait!" Hurriedly, she followed the boats towards their true target, the absolutely massive carrier. As the men began to board with grappling hooks, claws digging into the hull, and other tools, she followed intently, hoping to get to the bottom of their sinister plan. Perhaps more of Tong's desire to help people was rubbing off on her than she cared to admit.
A couple and their child ran for safety while being pursued by a legion of angry spirits. Unfortunately, in the midst of the chaos, they soon found themselves surrounded, ready to be ripped to pieces.
"Please, don't hur…AH!" The mother's pleas for the safety of her son fell on deaf ears as she was slapped aside; the spirits ready to strike the family dead.
At the last second however, the sound of Shocker cannons and fire being bent was heard, as the spirits were sent scrambling. Two large humanoid machines, red in color, stood in front of the family. Their stylized heads, resembling old Fire Nation war helmets, clashed with the concerned, almost desperate voices of the pilots.
"Get out of here! All civilians are to evacuate to the nearest designated shelter! We have soldiers ready to escort you!"
The family, after blurting out a few "Thank you"'s, ran to where two soldiers were waiting. With the family safe, the pilots turned their attention to the infuriated spirits, charging the machines. Flame and powerful electric bolts awaited them.
"This is getting ridiculous," one of the pilots muttered. "There's a whole army of them!"
"Well we can't let them destroy the city! Let's move!"
As this was said, two cars of all things attempted to ram the vehicles. An errant soldier viewed this and blasted the cars with fire bending, revealing spirits emerging from them. They too were destroyed.
"We need to keep it up until every spirit is destroyed! Let's move!" The two machines sped through the city streets, joining up with a battalion of red mecha tanks as they fired at a legion of dark spirits.
"Let them have it!"
Shocker cannons drove the creatures back even as more descended from their air. Men and machine were swarmed but stood their ground as civilians were evacuated inside buildings.
"Where the hell did all things come from?" a soldier asked even as he kicked a massive spider spirit square in the face. Unfortunately for him, the only answer he got was its web trapping him and several of his compatriots against a building wall. The spider descended towards them, when a new squadron of mecha tanks drove towards the creature, firing and ripping it apart. Combined with support from helicopters that swarmed in, the dark spirits retreated into the city.
"It doesn't matter where they came from," a soldier holding a rifle answered. "What matters is we send these freaks back where they came!"
Cheers rang out as the groups pursued the enemy, cannon fire and fire bending soon following their engagements.
The battle between human and spirit was fought on the ground, and in the air. Jet aircraft flew against legions of dark spirits in the guise of eagles and dragons attempting to rain fire on the city, many destroyed by precision guided missiles, some falling to black flame and the corruption that spirits could inflict upon technology.
On the ground, mecha tanks and fire benders continued to drive the spirits back, even as inhuman monstrosities clawed and burned at the human military. Explosions could be seen and felt for miles. As Tong and Shing looked at the chaos from their gliders, they continued to look for what, if anything could be leading the dark spirits.
"So much pain, they don't know what they're doing," Tong remarked. "They just see humans and think that they're the enemy. Most of them can barely think straight."
"So if we find the leader, we can calm them?" Shing asked.
Near the main city, they saw something that fit the bill.
A massive spirit, humanoid in shape, covered in metal armor formed from destroyed vehicles and buildings, began marching towards the Firelord's palace. Its face was a still mask with a look of pure rage. Two jets attacked it from overhead, causing the being to respond with a powerful surge of energy from its eyes, which annihilated the aircraft. Ground forces fired relentlessly, stunning the giant, but it soon responded by drawing a gigantic sword and striking the men and machines on the ground. The tiny blades that the Sun Fang mecha tanks carried were nothing compared to the sword the size of a three-story building.
"HUMANS! YOU BANISHED ME ONCE BEFORE AND NOW YOU BRING ME TO WAGE WAR? I WILL HAVE YOUR HEADS FOR THIS INSOLENCE; ALL WHO WOULD MAKE WAR AGAINST THE SPIRITS! SO SWEARS GENERAL OLD IRON!"
"That's the leader," Tong declared, heading right towards the dark spirit.
The bunker was a flurry of activity as men and women barked out orders to troops in the field, while others relayed messages to members of the command team.
"Armored bull turtles? Get the anti-armor helicopters there immediately!"
"Drive them into the isolated areas!"
"Unit 1, meet up with Unit 6 and continue pursuit of the enemy!"
While the type of invader was unprecedented, the methods remained the same. And in the building itself, there was not a single sense of panic. Just a deep desire to perform their duty, for the sake of everyone in the city. However, as the Firelord looked on at the monitors, one advisor broke that air of calm, worriedly relaying news.
"Most of the civilians have been evacuated Honored Firelord, but we have a new problem," one of the officers in the bunker announced. Pointing towards a screen, the image of a massive humanoid spirit clad in metal armor began heading towards the palace. The Firelord however, was unafraid.
"Their leader," the Firelord responded. "Have all troops form a perimeter around the palace and when it's in range, annihilate it. Understood?"
"Honored Firelord, someone's in front of that monstrosity. It's a civilian!"
One human. One human stood in front of a dark spirit that stood as tall as the buildings that covered Capital City. Although the mask it wore had no expression, it looked on in disdain.
"ARE YOU PREPARED TO DIE HUMAN?"
"General Old Iron, is it? We never met, in this life, but stories of you still persist."
"YOU…" the spirit began with the clear sound of disdain in its voice, "YOU AND I FOUGHT…IN A PAST LIFE. BEFORE THE HUMANS BROUGHT ME TO WAGE THEIR WARS."
"Then you remember," Tong answered, "that I beat you before."