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Book 3: Doorways
November 27th, 2013
John and Korra head south for the Glacier Spirits Festival.
Six months have passed since the end of The Gunslinger Civil War. Since then many things have changed. The Refugees returned home, with John naming Leon the new Grandmaster. Carter Reynolds, one of Leon's younger brothers, chose to stay and become a radio operator in the United Forces Navy. Before their departure, The Refugees held a trial for Tarrlok dealing with his actions during the war. In the end, the former councilman was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad.
Bolin returned to Pro-Bending, becoming the captain of the Fire Ferrets. Mako became a police officer in Republic City, keeping him close to his new fiancée Asami, who has been rebuilding Future Industries. The Council of Five was disbanded and in its place a President was elected, making the United Republic the first democracy in history.
Viewing the power of matterbending as something that was too powerful and dangerous for a person to wield, John allowed Korra to strip him of the ability, leaving him as just a firebender once again. As for the young couple, their relationship has never been stronger. The two agreed to keep the relationship hidden from the eye of the public to avoid any problems they may encounter.
John accepted a commission from the United Forces as a Captain and began to train the soldiers in the usage of firearms. The Refugees had agreed to trade a few Lebel model 1886's and MAS 1873 revolvers with the Republic. Aside from Carter, John was the only one who could train the troops to use the now mass produced copies. Still, he always was always the happiest with Korra at his side, and that's where he dedicated the most of his time to being.
Air Temple Island, and Republic City in general looked amazing in the summertime. The trees were green and full of life. John himself was enjoying the warm weather. His maroon uniform made him stand out as he climbed the steps toward the temple. On his belt sat his pistol along with various pouches for ammunition and other equipment. He was clean shaven, his hair was cut short and he carried himself a little taller than before he had joined the military. This wasn't the only change though. The thin ghost of a scar ran its way from just below his eye, curving down across his left cheek, to the edge of his jaw.
Korra didn't seem to mind the scar much. She never commented on it, and he was okay with that. As he reached the top of the stairs, he took notice of a small collection of people not to far away. Tenzin, his brother Bumi, Tenzin's children, and Korra were having a conversation near an archway. Although he had retired, Bumi still wore his United Forces uniform. He wasn't very well kept, and his hair was wild like that of a mad scientist.
"Ah Ha, the Conquering Captain graces us with his presence!" Bumi cried, breaking out from the group and rushing the firebender. John took a half step back and braced in preparation for the former commander to tackle him. To his surprise though, Bumi slid to a halt and stared him down, leaning well into his personal zone.
"You're not treating the troops like dirt are you?" John inhaled through his nose and took another half step back.
"It's classified Bumi. I tell you that every time I come here," he said with a hint of annoyance.
"I have clearance."
"You HAD clearance, six months ago, before you retired." Turning his attention away from the former commander, John set his sights on the one person he had come to visit. Korra was standing a short distance away with her arms behind her back and a small smile plastered on her face.
"Avatar Korra," he said, standing at attention before her. After a moment, his emotionless face broke down into a grin. Korra threw her arms around his neck and John picked her up and spun her around in a full circle, causing her to laugh. John's days of training the military often took him away from her, but that make visits like this even more special.
"I've got enough leave built up, so I'm gonna be able to go to that Glacier thing with you."
"The Glacier Spirits Festival? Yes! This is going to be so fun!" Korra said, radiating excitement. John smiled before he led the way toward the temple. He had paused for a moment to hand a new book to Jinora before following Korra inside. They were soon to leave on a steam ship for the south. Not to his surprise, Mako, Asami, and Bolin were joining them.
Future Industries had rebounded much better than he had expected. Of course, the fact that the factory was the only one to produce the new guns for the Republic helped. Asami alone had been given the secrets behind the weapons and ammunition. Personally, John didn't like the fact that the weapons had been handed over at all. If handled incorrectly, it could lead to a huge amount of imbalance amongst the nations. But it was the hand he had been dealt, and it was something he would have to live with.
It finally came time for them to depart. The ship sailed south at a steady pace, unslowed by any storms. John found some comfort in the timeless gray of the sea. There was no past, no future. The troubles in his life became distant as he leaned against the rail, watching the waves as the sunset cast an orange glow over them.
After a while, he turned and headed for his cabin. Korra's cabin was next door to his, and he didn't mind very much. Flopping down on the bunk, he began to bury himself in thought. Since Mako and Asami's engagement, he had been thinking about his future with Korra. Water Tribe custom stated that both he and Korra were of marrying age. Granted, he wasn't Water Tribe, but a lot of his culture still meant something to him.
After a moment, John reached into his pack and pulled out a small chunk of ivory. Taking a knife, he began to whittle the chunk down to a small, smooth disk. Once that was completed, paused. He had no idea what to carve. While he thought, he carved out a small hole so that the disk could be attached to a necklace. Blowing off any shavings, he placed the disk back into his pack before he kicked off his boots, placed his pistol under the pillow, took off his belt, and went to sleep.
The dream started off as inky blackness surrounded him, causing John to instinctively slow his breathing and listen for anything.
"Bayu Bayushki Bayu." The woman's seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, sending a chill up John's spine. He instinctively reached for his waist, but groped awkwardly as he found the lack of a weapon. The voice continued as a corridor began to light up, leading him toward the source of the noise.
Following the hallway into a large room, John peered into the darkness, straining to see where the woman's voice was coming from. Then, the center of the room lit up, revealing a woman that was sitting in a rocking chair with a bundle of a child in her arms. Looking closer, he realized that he was looking at his mother, Isabella.
"Does it remind you of what you left behind, Jumper?" asked a male voice that seemed to echo on itself. John sensed darkness that came with the voice.
"My mother was Irish, not Russian," John answered, turning on the spot and looking around him.
"Do you not miss your mother?" the voice asked, like John had been put on trial.
"The dead are dead, let them stay that way and get out of my head." The voice chuckled, a hollow sound that sent chills up his spine.
"If you will not think of your past, perhaps you will think of your future." At that, the woman's form shifted, and the lullaby changed as well. Now it was Korra who sat in the chair, singing the child to sleep. John felt his stomach flutter at the sight, and deep down wondered if this really was his future with Korra. But he kept his cool.
"Is there a point behind all this sometime in the near future?"
"The convergence is coming Jumper, and the Twin Trees at the center of all shall sink. Darkness will prevail again. And your futures shall be ended." With that, the voice broke into a cackle. The room fell apart into darkness. Then several images flashed by. He saw four children playing in a yard outside of a stone house, a rough looking young man standing on an airship, a teenage girl with a Jian sword, and a man with black hair wearing a metal helmet and a United Forces uniform while crouching in a trench.
With a jerk, John awoke and shot up in bed, his gun appearing in his hand.
"Whoa whoa, John it's me!" Korra said in a panic. The firebender froze, his finger a hair away from pulling the trigger. Easing the hammer forward, he sat the pistol on the nightstand, his breathing coming in heavy like he had just run a mile.
"Korra?" he asked, unsure of himself. The presence in the dream was unlike anything else he had encountered before. It seemed dark, ageless almost, and it had tried to use her against him.
"Come on, you look like you could use some air." The pair made their way out to the railing along the port side. A chill was starting to creep into the air, showing that they were getting closer to the south.
"You changed," he noted as he leaned against the railing. Instead of her usual gray, Korra was wearing a dark blue shirt with matching arm bands.
"Just trying a new look," she replied as she leaned next to him.
"So what was the nightmare about? I could hear you muttering from my cabin." John proceeded to recount the dream, though he left out the visions at the end. He had seen them before, and often wondered what they meant. The voice in the darkness reminded him of stories involving demons back home. But beyond that, it was what the voice had said that reminded him of a story that was known by far more people.
"What are the Twin Trees?" Korra asked after he had finished recounting his tale.
"According to a lot of myths and religions back home, there are one or two trees that lie at the center of all creation. One bore fruit that gave knowledge, the other immortality. The trees sat in a garden that was impossible to find."
"Did this garden have a name?"
"Depends on the story. To the Greeks it was known as The Garden if the Hesperides, The Sumerians called it Dilmun, The Norse called it Yaggdrasil, and the Christians, Hebrews, and Islamic called it the Garden of Eden."
"Has anyone actually found it?" Korra was surprised when John laughed.
"No one has, it's just an old legend. Many men from my world have gone insane searching for it." They fell silent and watched as the sky began to turn pink over the horizon.
"Sometimes I wonder if I've gone insane," he whispered. Korra leaned her head on his shoulder.
"You haven't gone insane. Amon is dead, and the Loyalists were wiped out. The war is over," she said in a reassuring tone.
"Sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake by setting off that blast. Whale Tail Island is going to be uninhabitable for years because I wanted to wipe out the enemy camp."
"That camp was the base for an invasion. You saw the weapons and equipment we recovered, you even said yourself that we would have been slaughtered in seconds if nothing had been done," she reminded. Korra was right. The Gunslinger Loyalists had somehow managed to get around the natural law that destroyed advanced technology. Their weapons were at least a hundred years newer then what the Refugees had been using. If the explosion hadn't been set off, the nations would have been overrun in a matter of hours.
"I still get the feeling that he's out there. That Alexander somehow survived," John said.
"There's no way. I saw that explosion, nothing that I know of could survive it," Korra replied, confident that John's arch enemy had been vaporized six months ago. But John found that hard to believe. His position in the United Forces gave him a unique ear to the ground. In the Northern Water Tribe, a small outbreak of a mysterious illness had been quickly contained. The symptoms reminded him of type of sickness that wasn't really a sickness at all, but a condition that killed if left exposed for to long.
Ethan Alexander had escaped the blast. Maybe not unscathed, but alive at the very least.
The Southern Port was always a sight to be held. It had modern buildings, docks, and a lighthouse that stood at the entrance to the harbor. A far cry from what it had been seventy years ago. John and Korra stood along the gang plank with the others. The former was wearing his fur coat with a brown leather hat on his head to protect his shortened hair against the cold. Korra was slightly concerned when she noticed the scarf he had pulled up over his mouth and nose.
Standing on the dock, amongst a crowd of people were Katara and Kya. John hadn't seen Kya since his first visit. Needless to say punches had been thrown, although it been several years so it was possible she didn't remember.
"Korra, John, you two never visit enough," Katara said as she hugged the pair one at a time.
"Wouldn't miss this for anything," Korra replied as she hugged her mentor. Surprisingly, Kya didn't say anything. But she did give a knowing look, and that made John nervous. He didn't have time to think about it as Korra looped her arm through his and dragged him down the dock toward her waiting parents.
"I missed you guys so much," she said as she hugged her parents. As she moved to hug her mother, John stepped forward and offered his hand to Tonraq.
"Sir." Tonraq crossed his arms.
"I hope you haven't been getting my daughter in trouble up in the city," he said. John used his free hand to reach up and pull the scarf down.
"She has no problem doing that herself," he replied with a grin, glancing at Korra. After a moment, Tonraq burst out laughing and shook his hand. Turning his attention to Korra's mother, he dipped the brim of his hat.
"It's nice to see you again, John," she said in a sweet tone. John draped his arm around Korra's shoulders, who in turn wrapped her arm around his middle. Mako and Asami walked up behind them, with Bolin in tow.
"Wow, I can't believe how many people turned up to see us," the earthbender said as he looked around. The dock had grown significantly more crowded since they arrived.
"They're not. They're here for them," Korra said, motioning to a much larger steamship that was sailing into port. It was a gray color and flew Water Tribe colors. The ship pulled up to the dock and lowered a gang plank. A weathered man flanked by a pair of identical twins descended towards them.
"Whoa, who are they?" Bolin said, staring at the twins in a hypnotized manner.
"That's Desna and Eska, the chief's children," Korra replied.
"They look beautiful."
"They look like something out of 'The Shining'," John said with an uncomfortable look as he watched the twins.
"Desna is a guy, Bolin. The Shining?" Korra asked, cocking her eyebrow. John shivered against the cold as he pulled his scarf back up over his nose and mouth.
"You don't want to know." The Chief made his way down the docks toward them. He walked with his nose in the air, as if to show his position of power.
"The great Chief of the Northern Water Tribe comes to grace us with his presence," Tonraq muttered under his breath.
"Relax Tonraq, he'll be gone soon enough," Senna replied.
"Good to see you again, Avatar Korra," the Chief said as he bowed his head.
"Good to see you too," Korra replied, returning the bow. The Chief turned his attention to Korra's father.
"Brother." The group made their way into the town, toward the festival grounds. Venders offered food and games. Various colored paper lamps hung from wires overhead. Even a Ferris Wheel rose from the tents like a metal beacon.
"It's a shame the Southerners have abandoned all connections to the spirits, even during the most hallowed times," Unalaq said as they walked through the festival.
"I've always loved the Glacier Spirits Festival. It's fun," Korra said as she stopped to pick up a fried arctic hen for herself and John. The firebender sniffed the meat cautiously before he took a bite. Instantly his eyes lit up and he took a larger bite.
"This festival use to be a time of fasting and meditation. Now its just a chance to watch someone stick an entire arctic hen in his mouth." The group stopped as Unalaq shot a glare toward Bolin, who had a massive hunk of meat hanging out of his mouth.
"Traditions change. It's not the end of the world," Tonraq said. John nodded in agreement at that. He had seen traditions change back home. It wasn't an end, just a way to incorporate the new generations with the old.
"Tell that to the sailors being attacked by spirits in the Southern Sea," Unalaq shot back.
"It's only a few days to the Solstice. Not the first time spirits have broken through and attacked," John said, stepping in between the two. The Northern Chief looked at him with a passive face, showing that he was either going to praise him for his knowledge, or reprimand him for interrupting.
"You know your spirits," Tonraq said, giving the firebender a surprised look.
"I know my planes of existence." With that, he and Korra set off into the festival. The couple looked over the various food and games. For John, the sites brought back memories of fairs and festivals he had attended when he was younger. The sounds and smells were almost exactly the same, the only difference was the cold.
Glancing to his side, he noticed that Korra was studying the scarf he had over his mouth and nose. Being as it was a military scarf, it was a thick wool olive color. Compared to Mako's old red one, this one was far more suited to the colds of the South Pole.
"Somethin' on your mind?" he asked as he stopped and studied a stuffed flying bison.
"Yeah, I was wondering why you have that scarf up like that. You look like you're about to rob someone." John sighed. He had been expecting her to make a comment ever since they landed. But he decided that it was better to tell the truth then make a scene.
"You remember that deployment I had three months ago?" he asked. Korra nodded.
"Yeah. It was to help the Fire Nation deal with an eruption of one of their volcanoes, I read about it in the paper."
"I was helping evacuate this little fishing village, and I got caught in the ash cloud. Unless I have something to protect my lungs from direct contact with the cold air, things won't be pretty." News like this was something John regularly made an effort to hide from Korra. He didn't care for the idea of her losing sleep over something that wasn't life-threatening.
As they continued to walk, Korra looped her arm through his again. On her wrist was a silver bracelet what John had given to her for her eighteenth birthday. It wasn't overly fancy or shiny, but it was a symbol of their bond that she never took off.
John's nineteenth birthday was coming up as far as she knew. Due to the time difference between worlds, it was hit and miss on what exact day it occurred. The command decision had been made that a date would be picked and that would be the birthday. She didn't know what to get him, as he never made any sort of indication as to what, if anything, he wanted. As they walked, she thought to herself about what to get. Maybe a radio would work. A reminder of when they had first met and he had stolen one from the White Lotus Guards. He would get a kick out of that.
"Are you going to play music at the Royal Feast tonight?" she asked, coming out of her thoughts. John blinked and looked at her as if she had suddenly slipped into German and grown a second head.
"You are aware that almost all of the music I know how to play is Irish Rebel and American Classic Rock, right?"
"So playing a song about rebellion at the ROYAL Feast probably wouldn't be the best idea." Korra shrugged.
"You're the Avatar's Boyfriend, do you really think that they'll arrest you just because of something you play?"
"I don't know Korra. Something about your uncle and his eerie ass kids put me on edge," he replied. Korra broke down and laughed at that, but John wasn't laughing. In fact, his face had slipped back into a sense of seriousness. The nightmare slipped across his mind again as they began to make their way toward the banquet hall.
"Just be on your toes tonight, okay? I've got a feeling that something's going to happen."
"I'm not worried. I've got the big bad gunfighter looking after me," Korra said with a smile as she leaned her head on his shoulder. In his mind, the ageless voice echoed again.
"Darkness will prevail again. And your futures shall be ended."
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