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Book 3: Doorways
January 25th, 2014
A mission to the Fire Nation results in an unexpected turn of events.
The shouting and yelling of men was almost deafening. Noise echoed off of the metal walls of the cargo hold, the sound of fists making impact with flesh slipping through the yelling. A mixture of sailors and soldiers were lining a catwalk that ran around the upper end of the hold, all of them brandishing various amounts of yuans. It the pit below them, a shirtless and barefoot John and Iroh curled each other.
"Come on Johnny! Stars and bars don't mean nothin' in this pit!" Carter shouted from somewhere overhead. John ignored him as he held his hands up, his eye's never leaving Iroh. The white wrappings that sat on his palms and knuckles were there for protection, mostly so that the strikes he landed were softened.
"Any time now, Captain," Iroh said, trying to bait him into rushing.
"By all means, rank before skill, sir," John replied with a grin. The General returned the grin before he moved in, aiming to strike John's cheek. John leaned back and countered, using two quick jabs to strike at Iroh's ribs. This was met with a glance on the jaw from Iroh's left hand, followed closely by a full on punch with the right in the same place. John staggered back slightly from the strike, shook his head to clear his vision, and then proceeded to do a slow clap as a mock.
"Twenty Yuan on Captain Rider!"
"Thirty on General Iroh!" The two attacked again, but only landed glancing blows on each other. Above them, Korra slipped into the room and watched from the catwalk unnoticed by anyone. She watched as Iroh managed to get behind John and lock his arms above his head. John fought back, slamming Iroh into one of the metal walls, the outer hull echoing with a clang.
Iroh quickly reversed, spinning around so that he could slam John into the wall. The firebender saw this coming, bracing his back and legs as he was moved forward. At the last possible second, he jammed his feet outward and ran up the wall, pivoting against the General's body so that he could flip through the air and land behind him.
The two circled again, looking for an opening. After a moment, John glanced up and noticed Korra leaning against the railing. She had returned to her old attire of a tight gray shirt. That sight alone was enough to turn him to mush, but he didn't dare admit it.
"Your winner!" he declared sweeping his hand towards the General. A lot of the shouts turned sour at that, but some turned happy due to the money that had just been won.
"We'll have to do this again, when you have enough time," Iroh said, glancing up at Korra.
"I look forward to it, sir," John replied as they shook hands.
"You know, you really should head over to the Fire Nation when you get a chance. My grandfather and mother look forward to seeing you again."
"I'll be sure to do so first chance I get," John said before he began to climb out of the pit. In truth, he wasn't in a rush to see the Fire Lady again. The two hadn't gotten along very well when they were younger, and it had been almost forty years from her view since she had last seen him. Best case, he would be invited for tea and old stories, worst case he would be challenged to an Agni Kai.
Korra and Carter met him at the top of the ladder, the latter of which looking displeased that he had just lost a bet. Unlike his older brother, Carter was hotheaded and had one hell of a fiery temper. He countered almost everything that traditional airbenders stood for. Being a child of the Irish airbending clan, one of only three such clans back home, he had been taught to love life but never refrain from fighting when necessary. Unfortunately, that also meant that he wouldn't hesitate to beat John bloody for the loss of money.
"Looks like you got some fight problems," Korra said.
"What can I say, I'm a sucker for beautiful women," he replied with a grin. Carter's look of anger hadn't lessened one bit.
"Why didn't ya finish it, you had him dead to rights!"
"If you feel so strongly about it Carter, why don't you fight him?" Carter looked down into the pit at the General, weighing his options. After a short time the airbender decided against it and followed the couple out of the hold.
They were in the depths of one of the standard United Forces battleships, moored in Yue Bay. A few ships in the fleet, mainly from the second and third divisions were being upgraded with guns like the Isabella. The former Refugee battleship had been donated to the United Forces when the Refugees had returned home. Engineers worked day and night trying to copy the design into their own fleet.
The Isabella itself had been attached to the newly rebuilt First Division, the only division on the planet that had ships with guns mounted on them. General Iroh used the Isabella as his flagship, as it still reigned supreme with firepower, armor, and speed. Carter, who had started out as a simple radio operator six months ago had quickly rose through the ranks to become Iroh's second in command. There were even rumors that he would be offered command of the newly formed United Forces Air Force.
As for John, his future was darker and far more uncertain. He faced the very real possibility of court martial and dishonorable discharge for tricking the United Republic and Northern Water Tribe into going to war. Of course, that was only if the President didn't find out about his true intentions. The official story was that John had sent out a distress call to the Isabella after a small riot had broken out, the Water Tribe ships had attacked when they had attempted to respond, and the crew of the Isabella had been forced to defend themselves. Technically it was the truth, except for the fact that John had been well aware of what would happen if the two sides had gotten that close too each other.
Right now, John and Korra were on their way to give their view on what had happened in the south, and possibly even convince him to enter the war on the side of the rebels. John showered and put on his best dress uniform before the two made their way to the President's office. Out of the two, John looked overdressed for the occasion. But it was military policy, no matter how uncomfortable the uniform was.
The firebending Captain had only met President Raiko in person twice before, once after his election and once during a commemoration for his actions against the Equalists. To him, the President physically resembled the Emperor of Japan just prior to the Second World War. But overall, he got the feeling that Raiko was a good man who had the Republic's best interests at heart.
"Do you really think we can convince the President to help the rebels?" Korra asked, bringing him out of his thoughts.
"What happened between the two sides should be more than enough for a deceleration of war from someone, be it Unalaq or Raiko," he replied as they entered City Hall. Inside they found a small number of reporters along with the President waiting on them. At the sight of his superior, John instantly saluted.
"Mr. President, sir." Raiko returned the salute.
"Captain Rider, it's a pleasure to see you again. And Avatar Korra, thank you for meeting with me today," he said, shaking hands with Korra. The flash of cameras was almost blinding as the reporters eagerly photographed the moment. One thing that never changed between worlds, politicians were still politicians. John had grown up around politics due to his mother's position as the Avatar, and in all that time he had learned one thing: politics gave people headaches and at times got people killed.
He kept all of that to himself as he followed President Raiko and Korra into a small room, away from the press. Now that he was away from the eyes of the media, Raiko looked far more tired and aged. His job clearly weighed down on his shoulders far more than he let on.
"Well you both know why I called you here today, so lets have it out then. What happened down south?"
"You have my official report, sir."
"Yes I do, Captain. But your official report shows that I have almost no choice but to go to war with the Northern Water Tribe. I would prefer a diplomatic solution to the problem at hand."
"Aid needs to be sent to the Southerns, Mr. President. It's only a matter of time before Unalaq wipes them out," Korra said.
"I am well aware of the matter, Avatar. But the fact remains that we are in a very delicate situation here. If we rush right into a fight, what's to stop the Fire Nation or the Earth Kingdom from getting involved as well? What starts as a civil war could very well turn into a world war."
"Sir, the fact remains that out of all the other nations, we are the only ones that have a valid reason for getting involved. United Republic citizens and United Forces personal were attacked by Northern troops. That alone is more than enough to start a war." Raiko sat silently with his fingers gripping his chin in thought. John technically wasn't lying. Mako, Bolin, and Asami were United Republic citizens, and he himself was apart of the United Forces. All of them had been attacked by Northern troops without discrimination.
It was clear that their arguments were winning him over to their side, even though he didn't want to go to war. Finally, after several minutes of silence, he spoke.
"Very well. I shall call a press conference and tell the world of the United Republic's deceleration of war against the Northern Water Tribe. In the meantime, I have a special assignment for you two," he said. The couple leaned forward, curious about this assignment.
"The Fire Nation controls a majority of the waters in the Western Hemisphere. I want you both to go on a diplomatic mission and convince the Fire Lady to close the waters of her nation to any ships from the North. If we do that, we will strangle Chief Unalaq's supply lines and speed the end of this war."
"We will get it done, sir," John said, standing and saluting the President. Raiko returned the salute before the couple turned and left, hurrying out of the building and away from the prying eyes of the press. It wasn't until they were halfway back to the docks that they began to talk.
"That went better than I expected," Korra said, her voice upbeat.
"I wouldn't start celebrating just yet, our job is only halfway done," John replied, his voice containing a hint of bitterness. He had been hoping to avoid going and seeing the Fire Lady, and now the President had just ordered him to go and personally see her. But it wasn't just that. Something told him to expect trouble on this trip.
Rather than pack for the trip, the two simply went to the docks and took a speed boat. John double checked to ensure that he had both handguns, his father's journal, and the device on him before they left. They didn't bother to tell anyone that they were leaving as the trip wasn't expected to take that long. John sat at the wheel, driving the boat out to sea while Korra sat beside him.
This was the first time in a long time that the two had a peaceful moment together alone. They sat with their hands entertained, the openness of the sea calming them despite the roar of the engine. John took his eyes off of the endless horizon and looked at Korra. Her hair was flapping with the breeze, her eyes wide and bright as she looked to the horizon, like she was looking at their future.
It had been the assumption amongst their friends that the reason John had joined the United Forces was to gain his citizenship in the United Republic. In reality it had been in order to secure financial support to make his dream of living on a ranch come true. He wanted a place of peace not just for himself and Korra, but for their children that they would one day have.
A wall of water raced past the boat, snapping John out of his thoughts. He looked back over the stern and took notice of two separate plumbs of water. At the base of each plumb was a single person, both of them dressed alike and looking almost exactly the same. Desna and Eska, Unalaq's twins were coming after them.
"You ruined my wedding!" Eska shouted before she sent another blast of water toward the boat. John spun the wheel, causing the boat to miss the attack. He quickly handed control of the boat over to Korra as he dove into the back.
"Let it go, you crazy bitch!" he shouted before he opened fire with his pistol. The twins zig zagged back and forth, avoiding the shots and gaining on the boat. Even at full throttle, the boat couldn't outrun two waterbenders of this skill. One of the twins, Desna, brought a pillar of water down on the bow. The boat was smashed into a thousand pieces as John and Korra were sent flying through the air.
Being a born waterbender, Korra bent a pillar of water around herself and rose above the waves in order to fight her cousins. John wasn't so lucky. He skipped off of the waves once before sending a powerful sustained burst of fire out of the heels of his boots in order to stay out of the sea. It wasn't as easy as it looked. Using that amount of firebending to keep himself aloft required all of his balance and almost all of his attention.
The twins circled back and forth like lions waiting to get their prey. They traded blows with Korra, well aware that she was more of a threat out of the two. John quickly returned his pistol to its place before assuming a bending position to the best of his ability. He was out of his element here, but that wasn't about to stop him from fighting back.
He sent two quick bolts of fire at Eska before dodging a counterattack from Desna. Every ounce of his training was being put to the test as he used his bending to guide himself around in a spaceship-like manner, using a combination of fire bursts from his hands and feet to stay aloft and steer. But it was quickly becoming clear, unless something happened, the twins would win this fight.
As her last trump card, Korra entered the Avatar State. Her eyes glowed and her attacks increased in power and ferocity. Desna and Eska quickly backed off, knowing that they had just lost the upper hand. John diverted his attention from attacking to keeping himself aloft, aware that Korra could easily wipe these two off the face of the planet.
Behind them, no one noticed a radioactive green light rising from the depths. The sea suddenly exploded as a massive dark spirit rose out of the water. It was in the shape of a sea monster and its interior glowed with the green light. Korra snapped out of the Avatar State, spinning to see what was going on. Even the twins watched as the thing rose higher and higher into the sky.
Korra wasted no time, quickly bending water around the body of the spirit in order to purify it. For a moment, the lines of water glowed gold, making it seem that she was succeeding. Then, the spirit broke free and dove toward Korra, intending to swallow both her and John whole. Time seemed to slow as John watched the massive spirit plunge toward them.
No. He had not come this far only to be eaten by an imbalanced sea creature.
With an increased blast of fire, John shot himself forward and hooked his right arm around Korra's midsection. In his other hand was the device, his thumb pressing down on a button.
"This might tickle!" he shouted into her ear before the two of them vanished in a flash of emerald light. An instant later, the spirit smashed into the sea where the two had just been, vanishing back into the depths like nothing had happened. From the point of view of Desna and Eska, the couple had just been eaten by the spirit and dragged to the bottom of the sea.
After a short moment, the twins turned and headed for the horizon, intending to give their father the news that the Avatar and the Gunfighter were dead.
Korra gasped like a fish out of water. Her body felt like it had been covered with lava and liquid nitrogen at the same time. She could only see white and hear her ears ringing. After a moment, her vision and hearing began to return, and the pain subsided, leaving a cold feeling behind. The first thing she noticed was that she was lying on the ground, not floating in the sea like she should have been. In front of her, the sky was a deep rich blue, not the gray overcast it had been on the boat.
A young man appeared in her field of vision, looking down at her with concern. He wore a gray ball cap, had a rust colored beard, and wore glasses. He turned and motioned behind him before he headed to a nearby John, who she could see was blinking rapidly in response to his own effects. Behind the first person came a younger man. He was broader then the first, wore a leather cowboy hat, had a tanned completion and black hair.
"Are you okay?" he asked, his voice followed by an echo. His eyes, a green color mixed with brown around the pupils, were filled with concern. Korra nodded and blinked trying to get the ringing in her ears and the pounding in her head to wear off.
"This one's awake too," came a voice off in the direction where John lay. Korra assumed that this belonged to the first person she had seen.
"Alright Ellis, let's get 'em back to the truck. George, water," the one kneeling over her said. As he returned his gaze to her, Korra noticed that he was wearing a tan shirt and faded blue jeans. Behind him stood a tall man with tousled black hair and a pair of glasses, holding a deer rifle at the ready. This one tossed a thermos to the one kneeling over her before going back to guard mode.
"What's your name?" he asked, concern still in his voice as he let a trickle of water flow into her mouth.
"Korra," she managed to answer after swallowing, her dry throat savoring the cool feeling of the water. Her hearing still hadn't quite returned to normal.
"Nice to meet ya, miss Korra. My name's Jacob, 'n' this here is my cousin Ellis 'n' my friend George. We're going to give you and your friend here a ride back to our place," he said as he began to help her to her feet. Korra stumbled a bit, but Jacob caught her and looped her arm around his neck so he could support her weight.
"Where are we?"
"Kansas. 'Bout twenty miles outside of Council Grove," Jacob said as he helped Korra into the bed of an old farm truck. They were in the middle of some kind of grassy field. Brown stocks of grass moved like waves with the wind.
"Still don't know where we are," she mumbled. Jacob laughed at that, using his hand to hold his hat on his head while a gust of wind blew by.
"You two must be a long way from home."
"We are," John said, propping himself up next to Korra. The after effects of the jump had worn off far faster for him, probably due to his usage of the device before. Jacob's cousin, Ellis, climbed into the driver's seat and started the truck. The old vehicle roared to life while Jacob closed the tail gate and George jumped into the bed with them.
"John Rider," John said extending his hand as Jacob went to climb into cab.
"Nice to meet ya. I'm Jacob Kyle," he replied, shaking the hand and climbing into the truck, leaving John to catch Korra as she passed out cold.
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