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|A Rider in Full Part 1|
Book 2: War
October 5th, 2013
John begins to live out his family legacy as the final battle for Republic City begins.
The cool early morning air that flowed from the semi open window and the clatter of a radio in the next room did little to distract John as he sat next to the bed. Cradled in his hands was Korra's own soft, yet limp hand. Her skin was still cool to the touch as her body burned off the after effects of hypothermia.
Standing, the firebender double checked the amount of blankets that was piled on top of the bed before he rounded to Korra's left side. He gingerly lifted the covers and examined the bandages that covered the gash on her side, looking only long enough to insure that the wound wasn't bleeding in order to keep the Avatar's otherwise naked form from being exposed to the cool air.
Across the room, Korra's wet clothing sat in a laundry basket. John didn't like undressing people, especially since he knew Korra wasn't going to be in the best mood when she awoke and her finding out that he had undressed her would more than likely send her into a homicidal frenzy. But he had done when he did to save her life, nothing else, and if that meant her ripping his head off in anger rather than being dead, he didn't care.
Closing the window, John returned to his chair by Korra's side and resumed holding her hand. It wouldn't be long now until she awoke. The bruises on her face from the night before had subsided, and the cuts were already closing up. Behind him, the door slid open and footsteps approached from behind.
"Here. Leon said you would like this," Asami said as she handed him a steaming tin cup of coffee. John took the cup without so much as flinching at the hot metal.
"Thanks Asami." The non bender turned her attention to Korra's sleeping form.
"Any idea how much longer she'll be asleep?"
"She should be waking up any time now. Once she gets some warm food in her she'll be right as rain," John said, his eyes never leaving Korra's face and his hand remaining attached to hers. Asami silently excused herself and left the room, leaving the pair alone again. John took a sip of the coffee before setting the cup on the nightstand, sighing, and closing his eyes.
He was exhausted, having been up for the past forty eight hours straight. Before she had fallen asleep, Korra had told him about Tarrlok running into Amon. In response, he had spent all night putting the Borough on high alert. A radio center had been set up in the next room, the transmissions from which he could hear right now.
"John?" Opening his eyes, John found Korra's sapphire blue eyes looking at him. She was propping herself up on her elbows, but John stood and placed his hands on her shoulders.
"Easy, easy. Move too fast and you'll tear your bandages," he said. Korra didn't resist as he laid her back down onto the pillow. He took a moment to brush some stray bangs from her face before he smiled.
"You had me worried there for a while," he said as he sat back down in his chair. Korra returned his smile.
"I'm stronger then that. I'm the Avatar, you gotta deal with it," she replied, earning a chuckle out of both of them. For what felt like forever, the two of them sat with their hands intertwined, neither one of them willing to let go of the other again. Finally, John kissed her hand and stood again.
"Come on, get dressed. Let's get some warm food in you," he said as he picked up his cup again. Korra's eyebrows went up in confusion before she lifted up the blankets. Instantly she snapped them back down, her face turning a deep shade of red. John motioned to some spare clothing that sat on top of a dresser, his own cheeks turning a shade of pink before he quickly left.
Poking his head into the radio room, he double checked if anything had changed before he made his way to the dining room. Tenzin's children were long gone, having run off to play while Tenzin, Lin, and the others sat around eating. Plucking an apple from a basket in the middle of the table, John took a seat across from Tenzin.
"Korra is awake. She will be joining us shortly," he said before he bit into the apple. As if to prove him right, Korra appeared in the doorway, wearing her usual attire. She took a seat next to John and began to dig in on the plate of food that was sat before her. Both Tenzin and Lin waited for her to come up for air before they began asking questions.
Through mouthfuls of food Korra recounted the events of the past forty eight hours, recounting everything from her confronting Tarrlok to her escape from Amon. Both of their eyebrows went up in surprise when they heard the connection between Tarrlok and Yakone.
"Yeah, our problems are worse then a father/son effort to take control of a city. Amon attacked a councilman. That means he's getting cocky, and his final attack is coming," John said, speaking up for the first time after Korra had finished.
"You and the Refugees fought off the Mecha Tanks in Sato's factory, are you sure you won't be able to fight them off now?" Lin asked. John shook his head and took another sip of coffee before he responded.
"Amon's next move will be his endgame. A final, all out attack on the city. The Borough has five hundred men and women to match an Equalist force of thousands, not counting Mecha Tanks or anything else Sato developed."
"I've called an emergency council meeting. We might be able to organize a defense and help the Refugees," Tenzin said as he stood, ready to leave for city hall. After some arguing with John, he allowed Roland to accompany him as a body guard.
With his meager breakfast eaten, John returned to the radio room in order to monitor communications. The airwaves were quiet, marked only by the occasional check in from a guard station. After what felt like hours, his attention was turned to Korra softly knocking at the doorway. Turning the radio back over to Leon, he followed her into the next room.
Closing the door behind him, John turned right into a forceful punch from Korra. The firebender reeled from the strike, knocking a vase off of a small table.
"Ow?" he said, rubbing his jaw as he turned to face her again.
"You saw me naked, not just in wrappings, but naked!"
"Alright I admit I probably deserve that, but in my defense," he was cut short as another blow landed on his jaw. This time the blow was more forceful, but he braced his legs to keep himself from falling into something. Popping his jawbone back into place, he faced her again.
"In your defense what? You stripped me down without so much as consoling me!" Korra drew back to hit him again, but this time John caught her wrist before the strike landed. She fought against his grip, but everything stopped when he pulled her into a soft kiss.
"Hypothermia is nasty stuff Korra. If I hadn't of done what I did, I would be burring you instead of doing this. I'd rather have you be mad at me for the rest of your life then loose you when there was something I could have done." Korra finally broke down in his arms, sobbing into his chest. The strain of the past few days was wearing down on both of them. John held her close and tight, allowing his hug to sooth her.
After a few minutes, Korra looked up and wiped the tears from her eyes. She saw a small smile on John's face, a rare sight since the war had begun. Reaching up, she gripped the back of his head and pulled him down into another kiss. It wasn't short lived or rushed, but rather a long drawn out passion filled one.
"Sorry to interrupt but, whoa." Leon's voice interrupted the silence. The two quickly pulled apart to find the airbender standing in the doorway, struggling to regain his composure.
"But what, Commander?" John asked, both his and Korra's cheeks gaining some color.
"Um, right. Radar has spotted some large blips, looks like airships coming down out of the mountains," he said. John took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He had wanted a few days of peace before all hell broke loose. Fate, it seemed, had other plans. Opening his eyes again, he gave the order.
"Deploy all troops Commander, Amon's attack is beginning." Leon snapped a hurried salute before he hurried out of the room. Turning, he placed his hands on Korra's shoulders.
"Get the others, and go get Tenzin," he said.
"You're coming with me."
"I've gotta stay here and man the defenses. Without Tenzin we have no way of getting reinforcements." Korra gritted her teeth as the rumbling of an explosion shook the room.
"Be safe," she said.
"You two," came the reply before the two of them hurried out of the room. John ducked into the radio room and slid on a pair of headphones.
"So about what I saw."
"You saw nothing until I say so, Leon," he replied, shooting a glance to the airbender. Leon nodded before he picked up the microphone and began to communicate with the Borough. According to the reports, at least a dozen Equalist airships had descended from the mountains to the southeast. Explosions were occurring all over the city and massive Equalist forces had taken to the streets.
The Refugees on the other hand were in the process of setting up barricades in the streets surrounding the borough. A small reinforcement group was on its way to the police headquarters in order to evacuate any remaining officials.
"Central communications to Isabella, do you copy?" John said into the microphone. He took a breath and hoped what he was doing was right.
"Isabella to central, we read."
"Equalist forces are attacking Republic City. You are authorized to sail into Yue Bay and fire upon Equalist units."
"Authorization code requested, central." The two looked at each other before John pressed the transmission button again.
"Lee," he replied. Airwaves cracked for three heart pounding filled seconds before a reply came in.
"Rodger. Isabella moving in for close fire support. Hold on to your hats gentleman."
"Radar station to Central, you guys got two Equalist airships bearing right down on you," a new transmission cut in. The woman on the other end of the radio sounded close to panic, and John could understand why. According to the reports, already half of the city had fallen. Taking off his headphones, John grabbed his shotgun from the corner and made his way outside of the temple.
Lin, Pema, the children, and several Air Acolytes were watching the airships approach. Smoke was rising into the sky from the city, and the orange fireballs from explosions sprang up. The dull thud from the blasts sounded like short claps of thunder. Accompanying this was occasional, unmistakable rat-tat-tat of a machine gun burst.
Suddenly the lead airship's side detonated, causing the craft to list violently before it crash landed into the harbor. From behind them, out in the direction of the open sea, came two short claps of artillery fire. The second airship's stern exploded as the shells made contact, causing the bow to pitch up before it crashed into the island's cliff base.
Looking in the direction of the shots, they spotted a twin mast, twin funnel pre-dreadnought battleship. The Isabella's forward duel twelve inch guns belched again, this time sending shells into the city itself.
"And that, ladies and gentleman, is how wars are fought where we come from," said John proudly as he watched the ship steam into the harbor. Behind him, Pema let out a scream as she clutched her stomach.
"Keep it together Pema, the battleship is on our side," Lin said, looking back toward the other woman.
"The baby's coming!" came the reply. Pulling his shotgun from his shoulder, John muttered a few choices curses, followed something that sounded like the phrase 'this always happens'. He made a few gestures with his hand, motioning for Lin to follow Pema inside and keep an eye on her. An hour later, Oogi touched down in the courtyard carrying everyone who had been at the police station.
John quickly informed Tenzin about his wife before he turned his attention to Roland and the others. The sandbender's face wrappings were gone, torn away in some fight. His tan face and dark eyes held the haunted look of a shell shock victim.
"They used gas on us, gas, of all things," he muttered. John gripped him by the shoulders and looked him deep in the eyes.
"Go in and tell Leon to relay the message for everyone to wear gas masks. Then you can take a break," he said. Roland nodded before he proceeded inside, still in a daze. Turning back, he found himself tackled by Korra, lifting the gunfighter into the air and setting him back down again.
"I was expecting a lot of things, but a battleship? Really?" she asked. John grinned as he rubbed his ribs slightly.
"When I go to war, I like to make sure I've got a lot of firepower," he said. His grin quickly faded as he saw three more airships approaching. The Isabella was on the other side of the harbor, to busy dealing with Equalist speedboats to react.
"Go get Tenzin," he said, not taking his eyes off of the airships. As Korra and Asami hurried inside, John quickly handed his shotgun to Mako.
"Mako, I need you to get Korra to the borough, it's the only place left in the city that's safe," he said.
"Wait, I don't even know how to use this thing, much less fight with it," Mako said, testing the weight of the weapon in his hands.
"Pull the action back, slide it forward, light up your sight with the target, squeeze the trigger and hang on," John instructed as he pulled his pistol from its holster and worked the slide. Behind them, Air Acolytes ran about, loading up supplies onto a pair of sky bison as well as Oogi. Following this came a pair carrying a stretcher with Pema and the new baby on it.
Leading Korra, Tenzin, and Asami came Leon, who was unwinding a set of wires from a reel as he came. Tenzin and Leon appeared to be in a sort of argument while the latter continued his work.
"John, what's this about setting off an explosion in my home?" the airbending master asked, his usually calm face was plastered with stress.
"I've already told ye, we got no time to move the radio before Amon gets here so the next best thing is to blast it to hell!" the Irishman shot back as he stopped laying wire and began to strip a few of them.
"Tenzin, when this is over I will personally pay for the damages. But right now the island is in danger of falling into Equalist hands. Personally I'd rather blow up a bedroom then hand over Republic City on a silver platter," John said, effectively ending the argument between the two airbenders. Roland came up behind them, tossing Leon a small plunger before he turned to look at the airships.
"They're getting a little too close for comfort boss. It might be the best time to head out," he said.
"Right, all of you, get. I'll finish here," John said, taking a knee as he began to connect the wires to the plunger. As the rest of them began to spread out and leave, Korra knelt next to him.
"You're coming this time."
"Never planned on it any other way."
"Ya know, you got guts," she said.
"I'm the Avatar's boyfriend, it's in the job description." Korra cocked an eyebrow at him.
"What makes you think your my boyfriend, Mr. big shot?"
"Well, like it or not, we did kinda make it official this morning. Fire in the hole!" John twisted the handle on the plunger clockwise. Instantly rubble and dust erupted from a window and the blast blew out all of the glass on the temple. With that, the sky bison sprang into the air and slit up, each one heading in a different direction.
"Let's go people, they're right on top of us!" shouted Mako as the lead airship fired a grappling hook, securing it to the island. Rather than stay and fight, the group turned and ran down the path to the docks, hoping to use a boat to escape.
Half way down, The Lieutenant appeared, sliding down the cliff face toward them. He jumped away from the cliff face, landing on the path in front of them. His stance was short lived as Naga swatted him aside with a swipe of her paw, sending him tumbling toward the surf below.
"Bitch slapped!" John cried out in glee, pointing toward where The Lieutenant had disappeared. Arriving at the bottom of the cliff, the group quickly boarded the only ship left and began to said toward the Borough, watching as Air Temple Island fell to the Equalists.
"We are broadcasting sir, you may begin when you are ready." John stood before the vintage microphone with his eyes closed as he gathered his thoughts. Behind him he could sense Korra's presence, and felt relief that she was there rather than somewhere else.
"People of Republic City, this is Colonel John Rider, commander of the Gunslinger Rebels. War has come to your doorstep, brought on by a masked man who claims to seek an equal future. I have seen what kind of future that holds, and I will have none of it. This battle will get as bloody and will be as drawn out as Amon sees fit, I leave the next move to him." John paused, looking back toward Korra, partly for support and partly for reassurance. The Avatar smiled as she stepped forward and he placed his arm around her.
"To any non benders out there who have not allied themselves with the Equalists, I assure you that we have no fight with you. But to those who have already made their choice, there will be no mercy. We've given you that chance time and again, and you didn't take it. As for Amon himself, who I know is listening. A few months ago Avatar Korra gave you a challenge for a fight. Now I am issuing my own challenge: throw everything you've got at us, this city will not fall! And Amon, you've never faced an enemy like me."
"This is Colonel John Rider, signing off."
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