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2 (of Book 2, 17 overall)
Air. Water. Earth. Fire.
After a long, fulfilled and yet exhausting life, Avatar Korra passed, being succeeded by Sari of the Earth Kingdom, who died early and didn't play a role in history.
The current Avatar is Asura of the Fire Nation, who mastered the elements quickly.
Although she thought she would never play an important role in history, she was proven wrong when the black ships arrived. The first one came in peace, but all the following carried a deadly load: WAR.
A war even the Avatar and her allies can barely end, one that threatens to consume the worlds involved.
And the question everyone asks is: Will there still be a world, a mankind to save?
Previously in Avatar: The War of the Worlds
The Team evacuates the Legion from Full Moon Bay due to the nearing 8th Shock Army, using their and the Earth Kingdom's immense force of submarines, and encounter the serpent of Serpent's Pass on the way, as well as Fire Navy ships, but manage to get to the Lake's obverse shore.
As centuries before
The Team walked up to the ticket booths of the Ba Sing Se monorail. The Legion may have built a camp in the Agrarian Zone, but the Team wanted to take a, as Luo had described it, traditional way into the impenetrable city. Now the woman at the ticket booth was shouting at them, "Grand Admiral or not, I won't take a passport I can't even read! Get out of the line, now! SECURITY!"
Four soldiers closed in while Mike used his passport to facepalm himself, as a woman in a green cloak moved in from behind, telling by the looks she originated from the Lower Ring. She passed the soldiers that were nothing more than policemen and showed her passport to the woman there, who cried at the former, "IMPOSTER! Get her out of my sight!"
The young cloaked woman shot the Team an annoyed glare, revealing her identity to everyone except Luo, who tried to blend in. The young woman decided to break free of the soldiers' grip and jumped, using shut metal fans to increase her leap, behind Luo, who turned around in shock and assumed a fighting stance, steady as ever. However, the cloaked woman took one of her fans and poked the steady earthbender from the south into the chest with a little giggling, which knocked him over and let him see the cloaked one's face, who revealed herself as an old friend of Luo's. Before he even reacted to his contact with the ground, he shouted annoyed, "Oh come on, I thought you'd grow up!"
Everyone else who had overheard and watched it rose an eyebrow, wondering who the young woman was in fact. She offered the metalbender a hand to grab on, but the latter rose using his gift of bending, before making his way to the ticket booth, where he showed his passport, one of the nationwide famous Beifong family. The woman there looked at him in disbelief and asked, for how many do you want tickets?"
The woman prepared seven tickets, but found a telegram on the way, and said to him, in a voice as if begging for mercy, "It seem most of the monorail's tracks have been destroyed in the bombing... "
Luo took his passport and went to the cloaked one, asking her in a voice no one of the Team had ever heard before, "I don't assume you possess a travel device, Noki?"
The cloaked one nodded and guided them out of the building into the blinding, merciless sun of the Agrarian Zone, where a big, camouflaged car stood. Mike rushed to Luo, asking rhetorically, "That girl's name's not 'Noki', is it?"
"Nope. In fact, Noki's just an alias of mine for my time in the Lower Ring. I'm Shen-Lin. Oh, Princess Shen-Lin.", the latter's friend answered, somehow starting the car with a katana.
"She was trained by the Kyoshi Warriors and even was part of them till she turned nineteen, when she came back to the capital. She is - oh, I mean was - a friend of Fire Nation Crown Princess Arzowa, who was born in Ba Sing Se and... Never mind.", Luo elaborated, continuing, "And how does it come you now have to hide in the Lower Ring?"
Her expression darkened as the car neared the Inner Wall, where she asked, intending to change the topic, "Don't you want to know what I did down here?"
As no one answered, she continued, "Let's say the AA-guns have a shortage of personnel lately... Also, I lent my car from there. Well, lent."
They drove through the slums of the Lower Ring, buildings that could be called skyscrapers built of wood stretching to the sky, some burned, some burning, but most of them unharmed. To their bases, huts had been made from junk found on the streets, every square metre being inhabited - except for the street. Even now, when bombing raids hit the slums almost daily, the people lived crowded. Few things, Mike assumed, had changed for centuries, except that now, mineral oil was being used in masses as never before. As they approached a second wall, Mike finally asked, being a complete stranger to, in fact, the entire planet, "What's that wall for? I mean, we've already had two! If an enemy can break through two, a third won't hinder him!"
"The walls separate the three rings of Ba Sing Se. In the Lower one live peasants, workers, et cetera. Lower class, in short. Then, there comes the Middle Ring, where, let's say, for example, scholars live. Middle class. In the Upper Ring live people like... Let's say I would live there, as a noble. You know, this's, like any other state besides the URN, a monarchy. And then comes the Royal Palace, a city within the city. It is forbidden for any ordinary citizen to enter it, although it was loosened in the past two hundred years, for example after the Earth Kingdom civil war, in which rebels tried to create a... they called it communist republic, whatever this means. But whatever Earth Kings like Kuei and, more recently and still reigning, Ruyi, tried, it was futile. Here, we still live as centuries before."
The car had stopped beneath the wall separating the Middle and Lower Rings, where a squad of soldiers searched the car and asked the Team and Shen-Lin to identify themselves. Malu, Asura and Kiruya showed their respective URN passports, Luo his Earth Kingdom one, Mike his European and Zolu, realising he had forgotten his URN one in Republic City four months ago, his Fire Nation one, while Shen-Lin held out hers where she clearly was identified as the Princess of the Earth Kingdom. A sergeant walked before them, paused for a second to bow to Asura, before he saluted to Luo, and, at the sight of his Fire Nation passport, ordered the arrest of Zolu. He passed on to Mike and Shen-Lin, checking the latter first.
"Yeah, sure, I too am sometimes the Earth Kingdom Princess! You scum, identify yourself!", he demanded, wanting to punch her into the face, but his fist was confronted with Mike's bare hand which held the former up, while the Grand Admiral's other hand showed the Sergeant the passport.
"Of course, Grand Admiral! Looks like we've got some imposters here! Arrest him!"
Asura looked at the three now arrested ones in pity, crying out, "Wait! I'm Fire Nation too!"
"True, but you're the Avatar. That doesn't count."
"But Zolu's my brother! And Mike's one our side or else he wouldn't have risked his life for us that often! And Shen-Lin... "
"Sergeant, I demand you to release the three suspects, or else, you'll face me."
The Sergeant fell silent and looked to his soldiers, his glance ordering them to release the three.
"Nonetheless, we have to search you for weapons... ", he said, but as he caught sight of Shen-Lin's arsenal, Mike's guns and Zolu's sword and glove, he continued, "Uh, never mind. Just don't cause any trouble."
A small part at the walls base divided from the surrounding wall and shifted out, revealing a gateway to the Middle Ring. Shen-Lin drove the car through, observing the barely damaged stone buildings that, save for the cars, hadn't changed in centuries. Everyone except Shen-Lin looked back at the Lower Ring, where, just by the wall's base, a burnt down house had stood, and then back at the wall's other side, where not even a scratch could be found.
"The Fire Nation bombards the Lower Ring to demoralise the population. And as if it wasn't enough, the Dai Li are back."
Everyone, except, as expected, Mike, gasped in shock, having heard terrible stories about the organisation. Seeing the question written over the Grand Admiral's face, Luo explained, "The Dai Li were, or are, a secret police force in Ba Sing Se, known for terrorising the entire city with their legendary earthbending and their brainwashing, oh, and controlling the 52nd Earth King, Kuei, and Ba Sing Se for the first twenty years of his rule, keeping the Hundred Year War secret from him until the Fire Nation kind of marched in. Yeah, that's pretty much it. Oh, and they had a secret headquarters beneath Lake Laogai in the Agrarian Zone."
Mike leaned back into his seat, muttering something about the Dai Li reminding him of a secret police in a book he had once read, while the others fell silent, lacking of things to say, before Mike, running his finger over his jaw, thinking aloud, "Now we're in town, I finally can shave properly!"
Luo turned to him, rising an eyebrow, before silently facepalming himself, muttering, "This guy's got problems in the middle of a war... "
However, the passage to the Upper Ring wasn't nearly as controlled as to the Middle Ring, as there, everyone believed that the Team - and Shen-Lin - really identified themselves, and even knew their names after the recent battle around Full Moon Bay. Another gate opened and revealed a pompous world behind it, the Upper Ring, world of the nobles. Shen-Lin took off the cloak, revealing the Kyoshi Warrior uniform beneath it and hit the accelerator pedal hard, racing with a velocity of almost one hundred kilometres per hour through the broad boulevard, straight to the Royal Palace, before which she put on the hand brake, which sent the vehicle drifting, before it finally came to a standstill after half a minute of rotating.
"You drive as I fly in battle!", Mike commented, climbing out of the car, before running to catch up with the rest, who followed Shen-Lin's voice, "Come on, my dad's waiting for you!"
"Dad?", Luo asked, "You mean Earth King Ruyi?"
The Royal Guards, even now still a unit good for nothing but parades, let them in without hesitation, guiding them to the Throne Room and "protecting" them on the way. The tall and wide corridors made anyone feel small and insignificant, even Mike who had seen hundreds of star systems on his reconquest against the Fyell' Shan two years ago. The group walked through a corridor at whose walls the Earth Kingdom history was painted, from its unification centuries ago to its civil war just a few decades past them. The corridor which was dominated by green and gold came to an end in an enormous and elaborate door, if it could still be called so. At once, the door's two halves shifted and swung, leaving the doorway open, the speed and the abrupt beginning and end indicating that metalbending had opened it. Behind it and the risen dust stood the person who was responsible for the action, just to the Earth King's right hand: Earth Kingdom Crown Prince Rong. Shen-Lin gritted her teeth in secret at the sight of her brother, Luo balled his fists while everyone else just stared into the imposing and pompous room they were walking in. When they had arrived before the throne, everyone bowed to Ruyi but Shen-Lin and Mike. As he witnessed his sister staring at him, Rong shot her a death glance, before he noticed Mike, shaking his head while petting his Lee-Enfield's trigger and magazine. The whole visual interaction had ended even before the Earth King had realised that not everyone had bowed to him, which he met with an order, "Why my daughter doesn't bow to me is something whose reason I know, but you... Grand Admiral, was it? ...You're not royal, not noble at all, you-"
"Well, genetically speaking I would be the current King of Bohemia, not that you've ever heard of it, your majesty, but I'm of noble blood nonetheless. Not that it would matter in modern times... ", Mike cut him off mid-sentence with a wry grin, angering Rong much more than the Crown Prince's father. The Crown Prince's blood seemed to boil, his head became red as a tomato, before he shouted, possibly audible all across the Upper Ring, "You filthy peasant, talking of non-existent countries, calling yourself king of it and even defying the utmost importance of nobility! One is born with the right to rule, one can never obtain it, remember this!"
"No. People give you the 'divine right to rule', not your ancestry, this goes not only for democracies, but also for dictatorships, for monarchies, et cetera. You must earn it through actions!", Mike struck back bluntly, continuing just when the angry Crown Prince intended to start talking, "And how? Any type of armament, be it words, stones, nuclear bombs... Oh, wait you don't even know the latter... "
Witnessing the escalating argument, the Earth King decided to shout for himself, "Shut up idiots!"
Both fell silent, looking at each other, narrowing their eyes, before the Earth King spoke again, "Now, let's get to business, the reason I ordered you here. Rong, please leave."
In defeat but also looking somewhat victorious, the Crown Prince rose and walked off into the corridor the "visitors" had come through. At the sound of closing doors, the monarch spoke, "So here we are now. The commanders of the Four Nations' Legion, as I've heard, and my daughter. I have very important business for you to attend whilst you stay in the impenetrable city. Also, I want news directly from the frontline, oh, and I've provided you seven a home up here, near the greatest collection of books in the entire Earth Kingdom, not counting the submerged Library of Wan Shi Tong. However, you will need the first one for your task... Let's say... ", the ruler paused, gathering the seven of them below the throne, joining them and continuing merely whispering, "The Dai Li are back."
The past's shadows
The metalbender battalion stood in file in front of the slope at whose base the shore of Lake Laogai was. This one, the 501st, had been founded by one of Earth King Kuei's generals to hunt the Dai Li down and was one of the deadliest units on this world by the time, only comparable to the Yuyan Archers in lethality and efficiency. Now, the 501st was indeed undefeatable, being able to sense and stop bullets mid-air. Powered from the inside by earthbending, the slope opened and a man in a Dai Li uniform stepped out to the commander of the 501st. There, he ordered the unit to leave just the two of them. This colonel seemed to be a different one, such as the previous had had deep brown eyes, while this one had emerald ones, and relatively pale skin as opposed to the previous one's tanned. The Dai Li's leader was careful not to let the colonel catch a glance of his whole face, but his voice was something he could not hide. So, as the head of the Dai Li spoke, he revealed himself to the fake colonel across him, who just barely hid the wicked smile of his. He was eager to end the inapprehensive conversation as soon as possible, and managed to do so within five minutes that gave the undercover agent more information about the Dai Li than he would have gotten any other way. As the imposter left the Dai Li's head without any sign of his true identity, a group of hidden and camouflaged observers stood up and prepared any mean of weapon to fight if necessary, before the "colonel" arrived, taking off his narrow helmet.
"That's some info... But too little to be able to fight them... whatever, where's the true colonel?"
"Calm down Luo, you're a Beifong, you're not meant to fear any fellow earthbender. I think Zolu and Mike have found less in the library.", a woman wearing red robes beneath the ghillie suit reassured the fake colonel, "We now at least know the Dai Li's leader's identity... "
"Well, I could've told you that, but... It was too risky. And it still is.", another young woman, this time clothed in a Kyoshi Warrior uniform beneath the camouflage suit. The four camouflaged ones merged into the woods again as the fake colonel went back to his unit.
While one of the two military officers climbed the enormous and dusty shelves of books and scrolls, the other searched the finds for information sitting by a table atop which their heavier equipment laid.
"I believe to know what the Dai Li, a secret police in general would be able to do, you must know what they do... Let's see... Secret police forces and the impenetrable city by Professor Sung Lee... catch!", the former shouted to his bored companion.
"Seriously? This book must be 'bout something way before the Dai Li! Just look how it's falling apart! Pages, even the book cover!", the latter cried out, trying to catch several pages of the past book that now was dissolving.
"Then we don't need them! Oh, wait... ", the searching one said, grabbing one page of the "book" he just had thrown down, reading the caption of a wood block print, "The flag of the Four Nations' Liberation Alliance... sounds almost communist... "
"You can't steal this piece of paper! It's centuries old! Aargh, why do I even try to convince Michael Přemysl, Grand Admiral of I don't care, you're just... "
"Brilliant. Exactly. Uh, that one looks promising: The Hunt for the Dai Li by ... is it even possible? Another 'Lee'. ... by Lee Anyi. I'm tired of hanging up here like an ape, I'm coming down with it!"
"Finally. Something useful."
Mike looked at Zolu, giving him the book and noticing a small moustache he was growing since they had left Republic City, commenting, "I want to be a firebender! Then I could burn people's moustaches! Man, would I be annoying... "
Zolu looked at him with a risen eyebrow, as a sirene's sound resonated from the Lower Ring, taking the Grand Admiral back into reality. The United Forces captain opened it and searched several sections, while Mike looked at the page he had cadged, especially at the illustration in its centre, a flag representing all Four Nations united, thinking aloud, "If I change the flag a little, it would do more than great for the Legion... "
Zolu didn't bother to listen to the annoying Grand Admiral, who now looked over the captain's shoulder to see what was so interesting.
"The Dai Li were almost extinct, but always rebuilt, they're decentralised, impossible to locate. And one thing's for sure: they always were on the winning side.", the former told the now much more serious officer, who stared at the library's entrance, where Crown Prince Rong marched in a uniform a picture at the page they had opened depicted, a Dai Li uniform.
"I believe you two are surprised to see me like this?"
Notes and Trivia
- A small tip if another less experienced author's reading this: if you want a character to act like you, just write down what you would do, such as I did in the passage Mike wants to be a firebender. Why did I write this again?
- And another reference to my upcoming fanon The Red Lotus Rebels: the Four Nations' Liberation Alliance. If "Alliance" would be swept with "Front", it could be the name of some radical communist paramilitary organisation.
For the collective works of the author, go here.