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Book 3: Doorways
April 19th, 2014
John and Korra escape with Jacob's help, and discover more about John's family.
Desna and Eska approached the swirling pillar of golden light, searching for their father. Their faces were emotionless like usual, even when Unalaq and Alexander stepped out of the portal. Alexander had become the Chief's constant companion in the past several weeks, advising and explaining various bits of the mystical they stumbled across.
"Father, were you just in the Spirit World?" Desna asked. Neither he nor his sister had stepped into the portal, and therefore had no idea what truly lay on the other side.
"Never mind about that. Where is the Avatar?" Unalaq asked.
"A massive dark spirit attacked during our attempt to catch her. Both she and her soldier boyfriend are dead," Eska said.
"The Spirits are out of control," Desna added.
"The Avatar is dead?!" Unalaq asked, confronting his children. Only Alexander's hand stopped him.
"Calm yourself my friend. The Avatar and Rider are alive," he said calmly.
"How do you know this? They both saw them die!"
"My sources detected a demoniacal tear. Rider used his Device to escape."
"And do your sources have a way of capturing them and bringing them back?"
"They are already closing in on them now."
Jacob lay squirming under the covers as his mother applied a cold towel to his forehead. John and Korra stood outside of the open bedroom, looking in at the young man. What he had screamed before he passed out weighted on their minds. Although Korra suspected that John knew more than he let on.
"What is Columbia?" she asked, barely whispering as she looked into the bedroom.
"Technically it's the name of several locations, but none that I know of in your world," he replied.
"What about the Trees? You think he means the Twin Trees you were talking about?" John merely shrugged, continuing to watch as Ms. Kyle worked on her son. Korra grabbed his shoulder and spun him around so that he was facing her.
"Don't even try to blow this off. I know you know more than you're letting on so spill it," she said, jabbing her finger into his chest for added effect. The firebender sighed and looked down. She knew him way to well.
"He's saying that the fate of all creation will be decided on the 15th of April. When the Moon has turned red with a Lunar Eclipse and the Aurora are dancing in the sky."
"Harmonic Convergence?" Korra asked, trying to keep up. John nodded.
"Important Astronomical events that occur in one world usually effect it's neighbors in some way. The last time Sozin's Comet passed by in your world there was a meteor that exploded in this world," he explained.
"Get off me, I got work to do." The couple turned toward the sound of the farm hand's voice. Jacob was pushing his mother aside as he forced himself to sit up, gritting his teeth in pain as he went.
"Jake you really should be resting," his mother insisted.
"I'm fine, mom, really. I've got some things to work on," he said as he stood and slowly put on his gun belt.
"She really is right, you shouldn't strain yourself after an episode like that."
"Moonrise is in twenty minutes, I need to get you two prepared before that happens," he said as he looked up. The farm hand's eye was drawn to a light moving along the bedroom wall, signifying that a vehicle had pulled up to the house with its headlights on. Ms. Kyle opened the curtains and looked out into the dark night.
"Sheriff Bradly is here with two extra vehicles of deputies," she said, reporting what she was seeing. Jacob moved to the side of the window and stood with his back pressed to the wall, moving the curtains ever so slightly so that he could peek out as well.
"All of 'em are strapped to the nines. Somethin' tells me this ain't a courtesy call." At that moment, the high pitched whistle of a bullhorn being activated pierced the walls.
"This is Sheriff James Bradly of the Morris County Sheriff's Department! There are two wanted federal fugitives inside this house, we have the place surrounded so come out with your hands up!"
"He ain't lying, I see at least two teams headin' around the shadows on the edge of their lights," Jacob reported.
"Got another vehicle parked behind us up on the main road to," Ellis added from behind them. Ms. Kyle bent down and slid open the window before sticking her head out into the cool night air.
"Jim Bradly! What the hell do you think your doing down here disturbing the peace? I got little kids I'm trying to tend to!"
"Ms. Kyle, you are harboring two federal fugitives, now I advise that you send them out or."
"Oh tell that crock to someone else, Bradly! You ain't got feds to back you up, why are you really here?" The sound of a shotgun blast filled the air, followed instantly by the window above Ms. Kyle's head shattering. Jacob quickly grabbed his mother and pulled her out of harms way while John forced Korra down and turned off the lights.
"Just send them out, no one has to get hurt." John scrambled on his hands and knees over to the two who were taking cover in a corner. Jacob has his revolver drawn while his mother was tending to a gash on her forehead with the same towel she had been using on her son. Drawing his pistol again, he slid the action back ever so slightly to conform that a round was in the chamber before he stood and placed his back against the wall.
Glancing out the window, he saw three dark blue trucks with their headlights trained on the house. Behind them, he could make out the figures of several deputies, all looking up toward the house with a weapon. In the center of it all was the man with the bullhorn, presumably Sheriff Bradly. Shifting so that he could turn on a dime, John cleared his throat.
"Sheriff Bradly? John Rider. I'm assuming that I'm one of the ones you want, care to tell me what exactly the charges are?"
"Give yourself up Rider! You are clearly outnumbered!" Spinning around, John fired three quick shots out the window and took cover again just as quick. The first bullet tore into Bradly's left foot, the second into his kneecap, and the third sent the bullhorn flying from his hand. John smiled to himself as he heard the other man scream, knowing that he had hit his target.
"That's true, but you're clearly outmatched!" More bits of window and window frame were blown out as several of the deputies fired into the window. Crawling on all fours, Jacob avoided glass and splinters from the shattered window as well as the headlights, only standing when he was on the opposite side of the opening from the firebender.
Outside, several of the deputies began to talk amongst themselves, noting a light snow that was now falling. Jacob looked to the nightstand by the bed where a clock stood, its electric angry red numbers glaring back at him.
"Well I'll be, time really does fly when you're being shot at. Alright, listen up, the two horses we left tied off out front will be your two's best bet of putting some distance into the storm. Getting past those deputies is another story. We got enough firepower here to fend off coyotes attacking our herd, not break a siege."
"And what are we suppose to do, ride off into a blizzard and pray we find the other end before we freeze?" Jacob gritted his teeth with another headache.
"Someone you know will find you in the storm, that's all I can tell you."
"Korra and I can break out of here, it's getting into position that I'm worried about," John said. Returning his pistol to its holster, he stood up straight again.
"This is John Rider, we're giving ourselves up and coming out with our hands up!" he shouted. With that he walked out of the room and began to start down the stairs. Korra quickly cut him off however.
"We're giving up?" she asked in a disbelieving tone. John merely smirked.
"Of course not. Once you get my signal just do what comes natural." With that he led the way downstairs. In the living room, Ellis was sitting with the boys, guarding them with a shotgun. John ignored this as he continued into the kitchen and onto the back porch.
"There's one thing that still doesn't make a whole lot of sense Kyle," the firebender said as he noticed a small propane tank sitting next to a grill.
"What's that?" Jacob asked as he couched next to the kitchen sink, watching the other exit as John pulled the tank from its place under the grill.
"If there was a Crack in the fabric of Reality, why was it there? Things like that don't just pop outta nowhere," he said, twisting the nozzle on the tank ever so slightly. He was rewarded with the fowl odor of propane. Satisfied, he re-tightened the nozzle and tested the tank's weight in his hand.
"From what I could tell the silo started a nuclear war in an alternate time line. Showing that kinda stuff to a seven year old without any censor, you can bet money he ain't gonna be right in the head for a while." Taking a breath, John stood and gripped the door knob in his right hand and held the propane tank with his left.
"Well I'm not going to lie, it's been real Jacob," he said.
"Wait!" Both of their heads snapped around as the sounds of shuffling in the kitchen reached their ears. The Farm Hand appeared in the doorway, having crawled across the kitchen in the dark in an effort to reach them.
"John, when you get back to Republic City, be on your guard. One of your closest allies has betrayed you to the ones who would end everything," he said. John nodded once before he prepared himself again.
"And Korra," he turned to the young woman before sliding her a coat, "Be careful with him. In the old stories, the Gunfighter didn't always stick around after the job was done." He let that sink in before he continued.
"You two have proven to me that I'm not crazy like everyone says. Thank you for that. Hell, I might write a story 'bout you two someday."
"Right. Well like I said, it's been real Jacob. Thanks for the hospitality," he glanced back at Korra, "Ready?" Korra grinned and cracked her knuckles.
"Let's do this." John twisted the knob and opened the door, stepping out into the blinding array of headlights. Holding both hands aloft, tank included, he stepped down the wooden stairs while straining his eyes to see past the lights. The light snowfall had turned to a heavy one, with the wind starting to pick up as well.
Behind him, he could hear the wood creak as Korra followed him down the steps.
"Drop your...Propane!" came the shout from one of the deputies, but John kept his hands aloft, still trying to assess the situation. Then the sound of a gunshot rang out. The propane tank suddenly began to spray the gas with a loud hissing noise, causing John to roll his eyes.
"Amateurs," he muttered. Spinning his arm in a circle, he threw the tank into the air as hard as he could. It sailed up and over the heads of the deputies, causing everyone to look up and watch it. None of them saw what happened next. John trust his fist outward, sending a fire bolt at the tank. The flames engulfed the metal canister, igniting the gas that was leaking from it in the process. Instantly the propane tank detonated in an air burst over the police, causing them to duck for cover from fire and flying shrapnel.
One of the deputies recovered quickly, firing a shotgun at John. But Korra reacted first, bending the snow into a wall of ice to protect him. Just as quickly as the wall of ice appeared, it was turned back into liquid water as John snapped his fingers at the truck farthest to the left. The vehicle he was aiming at, and the one next to it, were pitched into the air by the resulting explosion. Lawmen scattered and horses reared as the two flaming hunks of metal crashed down in a fantastic fireball.
John raced to the closest deputy, who was swinging an AR-15 around toward the couple. He kicked the lawman's gun belt, causing his collapsible baton to launch into the air and putting the man out of balance. The firebender caught the baton with ease, extending it with one simple fluid motion. He struck the deputy once across the face, dislocating the man's jaw. Reversing this motion, he struck the man again on the other side, breaking his jaw and knocking him to the ground.
Collapsing the baton, John sprinted to the horses and bounded into the saddle. Korra was waiting on the other horse, having already unhitched them. Spinning the horse around, he dug his heels into its flanks, causing the horse to rear and take off at a gallop. With Korra on his heels, they ran into the night, leaving the flaming farmyard behind them.
How long had it been? Hours? Days? John didn't know. He was blinded by the blizzard, unsure of what lay ahead. Having tethered himself and Korra together, they rode through the storm following only a subtle hint given to them by the Device. Why the ancient artifact had chosen to awaken now was beyond John's understanding. It still refused to transport them back to the Sixth World, but now at least it showed signs of life.
"What's that?" Korra asked, raising her voice so that she could be heard over the wind. She was wearing the coat that Jacob had given her, holding it tight around her body while she pointed ahead of them. John followed her line of sight to where she was pointing. There, resting upon the crest of a snow drift, was a single stacked steamship. It was approximately four hundred and fifty feet long and mostly buried in the snow with ice dangling off of most of the exposed parts. Her smoke stack, resting roughly mid-ship, was lying on its side. Curious, yet cautious, John inched his horse forward. The ship was clearly old, although his knowledge of ships was low and he couldn't tell which world it had originated in.
"Let's check it out and get some shelter," he said, motioning toward a rather large open gash in the hull near the bow. As they drew closer, John was able to make out the name panted on hull: Waratah. Dismounting from his horse, John readjusted the scarf over his nose and mouth before he took the reins and led it inside the hull, taking care to insure that the horses could actually fit.
Korra followed his example, and followed him into the bowls of the frozen ship. Ahead of them, in what appeared to be the galley, a warm orange light glowed. John stopped long enough to tie his horse to a pipe before he drew the revolver and began to inch closer to the galley. Korra, having seen the light as well, tied her horse and followed John, her hands held at the ready. The firebender entered the galley, the revolver raised as he waited to blow away whatever man or spirit lay in wait. But the sight was not what he had expected.
A small campfire had been built using one of the old stoves. Like the rest of the ship, ice coated the walls and ceiling. Sitting by the fire was a man dressed in a large leather duster. A dark wool scarf had been wrapped around his neck and up over his ears and a brown leather hat sat upon his head. Either out of habit, or caution, John cocked the revolver.
At the sound, the man by the fire looked up from what he had been doing. At the sight of his face, John made a corking noise and nearly dropped the gun. Even Korra hesitated when she saw the man. Although she had never seen any pictures or met him in person, Korra still knew who he was because of the visions from Avatar Aang. The outfit, the face, the goatee, none of it had changed.
Before them stood Liam Rider, John's father.
"Dad?" John asked, his voice cracking as he blinked a few times to insure that his eyes weren't tricking him.
"Hello son," Liam replied, his face cracking into a smile. John slowly eased the hammer forward and lowered the gun, but he didn't holster it.
"I see you have found the items I gave to Aang to hide," Liam went on, noting the revolver.
"But, how?" Liam glanced around the room.
"Time has no effect this close to the center of Creation. It is obvious to me that you have aged several years. You were but a boy when I last saw you."
"It's been several years since I've seen you," John replied. Liam's face sank as he studied his son.
"Something has happened in your past, something in my future. Whatever it is, I cannot know about it." John clenched his teeth as he looked away, tears in his eyes. He wanted so badly to warn him of what was to come, to stay away from Italy and to return home. But his instincts and his training were kicking in, and he allowed himself to regain some composure.
"Dad, we need information, and since I got you here I might as well ask. What is so important about our family? Why did Alexander call me a Child of Hector?" Liam placed his hand over his mouth in thought.
"I've wondered what my former second in command has been up to. He refers to your ancestors, our ancestors. The Rider Family line can be traced through the paladin Roland all the way back to Hector of Troy. But if he refers to you then he must have found out about your special condition." John clenched his jaw out of frustration.
"No one has given me a straight answer, so please just tell me what you are talking about."
"You have more than just one family line in you, John. Through me, you are the descendant of Hector of Troy, Tamer of Armies. But through your mother, you are the descendant of Achilles, Hector's rival and the greatest warrior our world has ever known."
"How does this help us now?" Liam gave his son a look of patience.
"Born in you is the ability to defy fate itself. Even now, in my time, the boundaries between worlds are starting to collapse. It will be up to you to stop fate and repair the damage that has been done."
"Mr. Rider, the spirits are loose as well, they're nearly impossible to kill even with bending," Korra said, stepping into the conversation. For the first time, she felt the studying gaze of Liam upon her, as if he was analyzing every secret she had ever had.
"Weapons that have altered fate and time enough have the ability to kill spirits. Durundal is one such weapon. Your husband will be the sword, but you must be the key, Avatar." With that he returned his attention to John.
"My time has ended, son. It is now your time to rise. I'm afraid that is now time for us to part ways."
"Wait, we don't even know how to get out of this god forsaken storm!"
"Follow the Device's lead. Once you reach the boundary of the storm you be able to use it again," Liam said, as if he knew all of the trouble they'd been having.
"Dad, what happens if the boundaries collapse?" John asked.
"It will be as it was in the days of old, before the Ancient Ones ruled over all. Everything will blend together, Worlds and Spirit World. Mankind will be prey to the spirits as we were then. Chaos and imbalance shall reign, and everything the whole of mankind has accomplished will be undone."
Trivia and Notes
The Waratah was an actual steamship that vanished in a storm off the coast of South Africa in 1909. To this day nothing has been found of the ship or anyone on board.
Achilles, made famous by the Iliad, was said to have a rage so strong that he had to be held back by the gods themselves or else he would defy fate itself. This is the trait that Liam refers to when he names John the descendant of both Achilles and Hector.
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