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|A Rider in Full Part Three|
Book 2: War
October 23, 2013.
As the Battle of Republic City rages, Korra, John, and Mako confront Amon.
"Okayay. One, two, three!" Once she heard three, Korra pressed her boot into John's armpit while pulling on his arm. With a sicking pop, his arm slid back into place. John yelled out, and then took a breath of relief. Acting on impulse, Korra bended a blob of water onto the joint and began to try and sooth it with her healing abilities.
They were sitting in a rather large underground room. A shantytown had been built here by the city's street urchins. In return for a place to stay, the Refugees had agreed to provide food, building materials, and protection from Equalist forces. The group had found them rather quickly after descending into the tunnels.
A message had been sent to both the Isabella and the United Forces, warning them about the danger of the biplane. In response, General Iroh, commander of the United Forces had split his force in two and was proceeding to Republic City with his half of the force. The Isabella had retreated to the bay entrance, intending to meet United Forces and provide an anti air escort.
"Does that feel better?" Korra asked, feeling the swelling go down under her hands. John's eyes were closed, but his face held a peaceful look as he savored the relief from the pain.
"Oh yeah," he replied, opening his eyes and looking at her. They both smiled as Korra continued her work. After a few more minutes, she removed the water and returned it to the canteen sitting next to her. Walking up with a few bowls of soup, Mako handed the bowls to each of them before he returned the shotgun.
"I'm not very good with it, I think you could use it better," he said. John nodded in thanks before he began to eat the soup.
"So what do we do now?" Korra asked.
"Now we need to find away to turn Amon's numbers against him, get them to lose faith in him," John replied.
"And how do we do that? He's got a force of thousands under his control, not to mention he's almost constantly on the move," Mako said.
"Just shoot him. You did it before, you can do it again," Korra suggested. John shook his head.
"At this point, killing him will only add fuel to the Revolution. His followers' faith must be shattered, and then he can be killed." As they talked, Roland came trotting up with a few glass bottles of dark liquid in his hands. Taking one that was offered to her, Korra looked the bottle over. The glass had a greenish tint to it and a red and white label was rapped around it.
"What is this?" she asked, unable to read the markings on the bottle.
"Coca Cola," John said pointing to the words as he spoke, translating them for her. Sighing in response to her blank look, John used his knife to open the bottle.
"It's like lychee juice, just drink." Lifting the bottle to her lips, Korra took a cautious sip. Instantly her eyes brightened at the taste and she took another drink.
"Where did you get these?" John asked, turning back toward Roland. The sandbender smiled.
"One of the crates that was brought over contained it, same with the coffee," he replied before walking away, continuing on his route. Mako looked after the young man, twirling a bottle cap through his fingers like it was a coin.
"Where's Bolin? I figured he might enjoy these," John said as he sat his bottle down and began to resume eating the soup.
"He got a hold of a handburger, says they're his new favorite food next to noodles." Mako's eyebrows went up in confusion and annoyance when John began to laugh.
"Hamburger, not handburger," he corrected. With that, silence fell between them as a seriousness began to resume. They knew that it was only a matter of hours before General Iroh arrived. John already had Leon ready to backtrack the biplanes to their base.
After their meal was finished, Mako stood and walked off into the shantytown, leaving John and Korra to themselves. They sat in silence, enjoying each other's company. Tilting her head, Korra rested it on his shoulder. John didn't seem to mind as he wrapped his arm around her.
"So, what are you gonna do when this is over?" she asked. It wasn't like he hadn't thought of what he was going to do when the war ended. His plan for a simple quiet life had been shattered when he and Korra started dating. With the hotheaded young Avatar in his life, things certainly wouldn't be simple.
"I've got a place in mind that I'm going to settle someday, a ranch. I don't know what it's called, and I don't know where it is exactly, but I do know that I'm going to find it." She looked down slightly, disappointment in her eyes. This didn't escape John's notice, and it prompted what he said next.
"Korra, I know we haven't been together that long but...if you're up to it I'd like you to come with me," he said. Her eyes brightened when she heard this, and she threw her arms around his neck.
"John I'd love to!" With a wide smile, John kissed her. But their moment of happiness vanished when Leon appeared before them.
"It's time," he said.
"Either this general knows what he's doing or he's got very poor choices." The harbor was covered in a thick blanket of fog. Even from this distance, Aang Memorial Island was obscure. Here on the shoreline, a line of Refugees stood with their weapons at the ready. A Vickers was set up as well, its crew ready to open up on anything they saw. They all wore gas masks and stood like silent, faceless statues.
Among them stood the group, each of them lacking the masks. John had traded his shotgun for an M1 Garand, choosing to use its range out in the open over the closeness of the twelve gauge. All of them were studying the fog, but only Bolin was using a spyglass.
"I think this thing is broken," he said. Mako took the object, turned it around and began to use it himself. His patience with his brother was thin, and the stress of current issues wasn't helping.
"I don't seen any airships or Mecha Tanks," he said, studying what part of the shoreline he could see through the fog.
"Alright people! Eyes to the sky, this is it!" John shouted, looking out over the city. The sun was finally starting to burn off the fog. Lumbering shapes of the ships started to appear as the mist began to dissipate. Even the buildings of downtown began to appear as gray skeletons. From the ships, a low thud of an explosion coupled with a plume of water indicated that one of the ships had struck a sea mine.
Then, the sound of rumbling began to rise out of the calmness. It was coming from the direction of the city center, and growing louder by the second. From out of the fading mist, two squadrons of three engined biplanes dove. They swarmed toward the fleet like a hive of angry bees.
"Open fire!" Instantly, the thunder of gunfire opened up. A few of the trailing biplanes fell away from the swarm, their engines smoking or a wing missing. The planes that had made it to the fleet dropped their bombs, smashing apart the outer ring of ships with relative ease before turning away to prepare for a second run. Any remaining ones that still hadn't reached the fleet danced about, surrounded by tracer fire.
Then they rolled and dived, dropping to wave top level in order to release their torpedoes. Who ever was leading these planes obviously knew what they were doing. At this height, The Refugees had to watch their fire as the planes got in among the ships. If they weren't careful, they could easily hit a sailor as well as a plane.
"I'm going to help!" Korra shouted over the noise, taking off for the water.
"What?!" John shouted in disbelief, but Korra was already in the water and heading toward the fleet. Looking up, he spotted the first wave of planes that had circled around. They were coming in over the fleet, this time they were on the opposite side from the Refugees. Without a doubt, as soon as they passed over the fleet they would drop their ordnance on the exposed troopers.
"Shift up! Shift up!" he shouted, leveling the rifle at the incoming planes. Taking a breath, he lined up a shot with where the pilot sat. Squeezing the trigger, he felt the rifle buck against his shoulder. To John, it was like time had slowed. He saw everything in slow motion, the ejected casing from his rifle tumbling through the air, the tracers being sent toward the aircraft, even a bomb being dropped from the open underbelly of a biplane.
The feeling was familiar to him. Most in the Order experienced this in moments of intense combat. Their senses were heightened, increasing their chances of surviving a battle. As if to prove this, the plane he had fired at suddenly nosed over and sailed right into the harbor. But not even his heightened senses could save them from what happened next.
The planes released the last of their bombs over the heads of the Refugees. Blasts erupted from the lines, sending the Refugees sprawling or flying through the air like rag dolls. Through the noise and the dirt, John heard Leon yell out with a few choice words.
As quickly as it had begun, the attack ended. Screams filled the air from the wounded, although most of it was muffled and distorted by the gas masks. Leon was clutching his hand to his neck as blood leaked from between his fingers.
"You alright?" John asked, pointing a finger at him as he began to go into damage control mode.
"Took a piece of damn shrapnel," came the muttered reply. From the waterline came Korra, using her body to support a brown haired officer.
"Get all the wounded inside!" John shouted before he trotted down to the pair. He was happy that she had survived, despite the haunted look that was in her sapphire eyes.
"Yeah." The officer that she was supporting raised his head and stood on his own.
"Thank you Avatar," he said. The officer looked similar in appearance to John. In fact, with their serious demeanor, Korra would have mistaken them for brothers.
"General Iroh," the officer said, extending his hand. John shook it with a firm grip, the corner of his mouth turning upward into a small grin.
"Colonel John Rider, commander of the Refugees. Welcome to Republic City General."
"I had heard rumors of the new weapon carried by your men, but now that I've seen it for myself I know that the rumors do you little credit." Out in the harbor, one of the boilers in the sinking battleships detonated, making it sound like another bomb had been dropped. John's face dropped with the sound in the background, as if to reflect his mood.
"You haven't seen anything yet General. Let's get that burn treated."
"Such craftsmanship," Iroh said as he looked over John's pistol. After another moment of admiring the weapon, he returned it to John.
"Yeah, a real piece of art," he said with sarcasm before he returned the pistol to its holster. They were back underground with Korra wrapping a bandage around Iroh's arm. The Refugees had taken a beating when the Equalists dropped the bombs on them, and now many were hungry for revenge. John could understand the potential blood lust, but he knew that only calm rational thinking would win this battle and this war.
"So what's the situation?" the General asked, choosing to go right into battle mode. John had already taken a precaution and rolled out a map of the city and surrounding areas on a small crate.
"Amon controls the entirety of the city. He seems to have based most of his time here on Air Temple Island. Commander Reynolds, despite having a hole and a hunk of shrapnel in his neck, managed to backtrack the two squadrons that attacked the fleet to these two airfields in the mountains. The current plan is this: Asami will accompany the Commander into the mountains and attack the southern airfield. "General, you will stay here and launch an uprising. Make it a good one cause we're gonna need a good distraction. Korra, Mako, and myself will be here at the Equalist Victory rally. We expose Amon as a fraud, turn the crowd against him, and then kill him," John explained, pointing to various points on the map.
"How do we expose Amon exactly? We have no way of disproving that what he's doing is bending," Korra asked.
"How do you?"
"Oh come on guys it's obvious. The power to take away someones bending comes in three forms: energybending, chi-blocking, and bloodbending. Energybending has a glow to it, chi-blocking is temporary no matter how hard you try, so that leaves bloodbending as the only logical answer," John explained, grinning in order to rub it in.
"When do we attack?" Iroh asked, studying the map.
"In one hour. If we wait, that will give the Equalists time to prepare. But if we strike back right away Amon won't expect it. So say your goodbyes, write your wills, and get ready to go to war." Time from that moment on was painfully double crossing itself. It seemed to go by fast, and ran as slow as ice at the same time.
Mako and Asami spent the majority of it by hugging and saying goodbye. Given the nature of their missions, John couldn't blame them. He spent a majority of it jury rigging a small scope to the rifle. But even while doing that, he made it a point that he wasn't very far from Korra's side. As for General Iroh and Bolin, they were busy arming both the Refugees and the homeless people for the uprising that was needed.
Encoded messages had been sent to both the Isabella and the Second Division, alerting them to what was about to occur. At John's insistence, the messages had been encoded in English lettering. The sheer amount of difference between it and the Chinese like characters that this world was used to was enough to stump even the best translators for months.
Finally, the time came for them to depart. John and Korra gave each other one final kiss and hug before they set off for the Pro-Bending Arena along with Mako. The two natives to this world had donned Equalist uniforms in order to easily blend in. John, on the other hand had donned a gas mask and dark clothing. Being the sniper of the trio, it was only fitting that he could blend into the shadows.
"John, good luck," Korra said, coming to a halt. The only thing of John's face that she could see was his eyes. He simply nodded in response, the look in his eyes returned the wish of luck. Then, he melted into the shadows, leaving her and Mako to enter the Arena alone.
John set himself up on one of the two platforms that Pro-bending refs stood upon. Most of the lights in the arena had been shifted to a stage that sat on the far side of the room, giving him plenty of shadows to hide in. Behind the stage sat a massive Equalist poster of Amon with Chinese lettering he couldn't read. Below, a massive crowd had been jam packed into the arena, all of them waiting on Amon.
Across from himself, Korra and Mako set up acting like two more guards. Unslinging his rifle, John took up a kneeling position and waited. Finally Amon, The Lieutenant, and a few other Equalists appeared on a small platform that raised from the stage. John rolled his eyes at what had become Amon's signature entrance, and was eager to get this over with.
"Thank you all for joining me on this historic occasion," Amon said, using the natural shape of the arena to amplify his voice. A cry of approval went up from the crowd, and John used the noise to hide the sound of him cocking the rifle. Amon waited for the noise to die down before he spoke again.
"When I was a boy, a firebender struck down my family and left me scarred. That tragic event began my quest to equalize the world."
"That's a lie, Amon!" came Korra's shout. Out of the corner of his eye, John saw Korra and Mako ripped off their masks. Instantly, Equalists were moving to capture the pair, but John was on his feet, firing a single shot. The bullet grazed Amon's hood and skimmed along the edge of an Equalist's goggles. He quickly adjusted the cross-hairs so that they pointed at the middle of the red circle on the Equalist leader's mask.
"I'd let the girl talk Amon, unless you want me to repaint that poster behind you!" Amon remained where he stood, looking up toward the trio.
"Go ahead then, Avatar, speak." Korra turned from Amon to the crowd.
"The spirits haven't granted him anything. Amon uses bloodbending to take away a person's bending!" Cries of disapproval went up from the crowd, showing that they didn't believe her.
"A valiant effort, but I will prove to you that my story is correct," Amon said calmly. He lowered his hood and began to untie his mask. John tightened his grip on the rifle as he watched through the scope, eager to see what lay behind the mask. As it came away, a fire scarred face was reviled. A general outline of flames could be seen, showing that some sort of fire based attack had struck his face.
With this, yells of anger and cries for Korra's downfall went up. But behind it all, there was only a deep menacing chuckle. It continued until the noise died down and all eyes turned toward John. The gas mask coupled with the amphitheater like structure of the Arena made his laugh sound like it did.
"What's so funny?" Amon asked, looking up at him.
"Ya know, for a bloodbender I would have figured you would know more about what an attack does to the human body," he said. Amon's eyes bulged a bit.
"This is what a firebender did to me!" he shouted, pointing at his face.
"If that's true then why did he perform an uppercut on a child!" Silence filled the arena, and through his scope John could see Amon's eyes narrow.
"I wouldn't know, I do not pretend to understand the inner workings of such an impurity," he said as he reapplied the mask.
"But I do. You said you were a boy when you were attacked by the firebender, that means you were shorter then him. He would have preformed a downward strike, not an uppercut to the chin." John argued. Confused murmurings circulated amongst the crowd. This didn't escape Amon's notice as he began to side step.
"It would seem the Avatar and her friends need to be reminded of the power I possess." With that, another section of the stage began to raise. This time it revealed Tenzin and the three children, bound and gagged to individual wooden posts. John's one open eye blinked. He had seen Tenzin and the children escape, it was next to impossible that they had been captured.
Yet here he stood, looking at proof that Amon had indeed captured them. Rather than panic, he lined up another shot at the masked man.
"Amon, let them go."
"You're welcome to come down here and try to stop me Avatar." With that, the hum of electricity and an explosion filled the air, blinding John through the scope. Mako had shot a bolt of lightning at the stage. He looked away just long enough to see Korra and Mako running along the wall, using firebending to keep themselves aloft.
With expert possession, John took aim and fired again and again. The bullets slammed into various Equalist members, cutting them down and thinning out the opposition to the pair. Then a ping filled the air and the action locked back, showing that he had run out of ammunition. Behind him, two Equalists jumped down onto the platform. He didn't have time to reload.
John slammed the butt of the rifle between the eyes of the first Equalist before turning and using the barrel like a baseball bat on the second, sending the man toppling backwards over the railing. The crowd was already fleeing as the battle raged. Putting the rifle across his back, John ran forward and bounded off of the railing with his foot.
With a powerful downward fire blast, he slowed his fall and landed in a roll. He was up again in less than a second, charging the battle on the stage. Mako was doing a decent job of holding off the remaining Equalists while Korra worked on undoing Tenzin's restraints. Then John preformed an acrobatic jump, his foot sending out a fire wave as he landed.
Amon leapt back and took a stance, ready to duel with John. The firebender reached up and tore his gas mask off, allowing him to breathe and see without a restricted view.
"Now you know who you've been fighting all this time," he said coldly before he tossed the mask aside. They charged each other, closing the distance in order to begin the fight. Amon's dodging skill was good against a standard bender, but against a skill set such as John's it only made things worse.
The firebender danced and circled about, dodging any attacks and countering with one of his own when he could. He landed a hit or two, but continued his posture. Then Amon lunged out with his shoulder. Leaping high into the air, John twisted his body around in an effort to land on his feet. But the Equalist leader had anticipated this. He rested his hand on the floor while he kicked upward and to the side, striking John's legs and sending him sprawling.
Skidding away, the rifle slid well beyond John's reach. Pushing himself up, he began to go after the rifle, but Amon delivered a swift punch to his kidney's, causing his back to arch. Realizing that Amon was about to take his bending, John reached out his hand and used matterbending to bring the rifle to him.
"This ends now!" Amon declared, bringing his thumb down on John's forehead. The firebender's body stiffened, and the rifle's course suddenly changed, sending it sliding off of the stage. Inside him, he felt like something was suddenly severed.
"No!" came Korra's cry, but it was too late. Amon released his hold and allowed John to fall face first to the stage. Over his head, John felt a rush of air and Amon was sent flying off of the stage by Tenzin's blast. Weakened, he raised his hand and tried to use the bending again. But nothing happened, no mist, nothing sliding to him.
"Get up, I'm not leaving you here," Korra said as she rolled him over and picked him up, throwing him over her shoulder. It wasn't comfortable for either of them, but they didn't have time for John to recover from the after effects of his bending being taken. They made it into a hallway before John demanded that Korra set him down.
"Listen to me. You and Mako need to get out of here," John said. He was resting next to the double doors with his back against the wall.
"No, not without you." John placed his hand on her cheek.
"If Amon gets you, I don't know what I'd do. Both of you need to get out there and stop him. Besides, I'm not totally useless just yet," he said, drawing his pistol. Reluctantly, Korra left, running down the hall after Mako. Tenzin and the children ran a different direction, looking for Pema and the newborn. Then the door flew open again. Amon gave chase, running after the benders.
Pulling himself up, John hurried after them with his pistol at the ready. Scorch marks lined the floor and walls, indicating that one of them had set a fire trap in order to slow Amon. Making his way along, John passed a pair of doors. The sight beyond the windows showed that it was a storage room, but that's not what caught his attention. He saw Amon take Korra's bending.
Anger surged through him, and the gunfighter kicked open the door before leveling his pistol at the back of Amon's head.
"I'll kill you!" he shouted, any thought of the mission or the consequences lost. But before he could pull the trigger, the familiar grip of bloodbending came down on him. His body was lifted into the air as Amon turned to face him.
"You just don't know when to quit do you?"
"Amon! Everything they said is true isn't it, I see you bloodbending them!" John recognized the voice from behind him. It belonged to The Lieutenant. Hearing a crunch that sounded like someone stepping on glass, John realized what he was about to do.
"You traitor! I dedicated my life to you!" he shouted. But Amon raised his other hand, trapping The Lieutenant as well.
"You served me well," he said before he flung his former second in command into a stack of timber. With that, he returned his attention to John.
"It's a shame, I could have used someone as dedicated as you under my command," he said before he flung John into the far wall, knocking him out cold.
When he came to, he was lying on his back and staring at the ceiling. Taking a few breaths, he sat up and looked around. Amon and the others were gone, leaving only the Lieutenant struggling under the pile of wood. Getting to his feet, John recovered his pistol and trotted over to the Lieutenant. The man's goggles were gone, smashed on the floor.
He froze when he heard John cock his pistol, looking up into the black hole that was the barrel. This was it, his chance to end the bitter rivalry between the two. But rather than fire, John lowered the gun and cocked his head toward the far door, indicating to him where he should go. The Lieutenant then ran, off to tell others about his discovery. Taking a breath, John flicked his wrist. To his surprise and delight a puff of fire sprung into existence.
Amon had severed his matterbending, but his firebending was still intact.
"I can airbend? I can airbend!" Korra cried defiantly. With that she sent strike after strike toward Amon, battering him further and further away from a down but not out Mako. At the end of the hallway, a window sat overlooking the main walkway connecting the arena to the shoreline. With every strike, no matter how sloppy, she sent Amon closer to that window.
She was angry to say the least. Not only due to her losing most of her bending, but because of him taking John's bending as well. That struck a cord even deeper than when she had learned of Lin's capture. Now, Amon was next to the window, a single strike away from being blasted out of the building. But the grip of bloodbending returned, causing her to freeze in mid strike.
No, it couldn't end like this. She had to move, send the last attack, do something. Amon got back to his feet, using hand movements to tighten his grip on her. Then, the sound of a finger snap came from behind Korra. A small explosion detonated in Amon's face, reeling him backward and causing him to slam into the window, cracking the glass.
"That's impossible," Amon said in disbelief. Walking up next to Korra, John had his left arm raised with his fingers poised to snap again.
"Get the hell away from my girlfriend!" With that he snapped his fingers again. This time the explosion sent Amon through the window and tumbling into the harbor. Putting Korra's arm around his neck, the trio made their way to the window. A crowd had gathered outside, looking back and forth between the shattered window and Amon's mask that floated in the water.
Shouts of anger against Korra went up. John even heard the protester call her an evil Avatar, and knew that if these people had seen what they had just gone through their tone would be very different. As if the universe wanted to answer him, a pillar of water erupted from the harbor, being ridden by Amon.
His scar was gone, washed away by the water. Judging by the look of shock on his face, Amon wasn't expecting all of these people to be here. His now former followers looked on in awe and horror, pointing and muttering amongst themselves. Then he moved to use his bending as an escape, but eight successive gunshots rang out.
The bloodbender's now lifeless body toppled from its perch and landed in the water, floating face down in the surf. Smoke poured from the barrel of John's pistol with the action locked back to signify that he had just emptied it into Amon.
It was over. The Equalists were leaderless, demoralized, and on the run. The Battle of Republic City had finally ended, with the Refugees and United Forces being the victors.
"So is that it then?" Korra asked, her voice barely above a whisper. "The war's over?"
"No. There is still one more madman left to muzzle. He's here, I don't know how he is but he's here," John said. Korra looked at him, her weary eyes silently asking.
"My family's sworn enemy, The Grandmaster of the Gunslinger Loyalists: Ethan Alexander."
The Author choose October 23rd as the release date as a reference to the popular series Fallout.
For the collective works of the author, go here.