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Book 3: Doorways
January 8th, 2014
John reluctantly abandons his peace as full scale war erupts between the Water Tribes.
"In order to verify the testimony of Chief Unalaq and Avatar Korra, I call forward Captain Rider to give his account of these recent events," the Judge said, his voice resonating over the courtroom. The crowd remained silent as John walked forward, his footsteps echoing off of the stone floor. His maroon uniform stood out from the browns, blues, and grays that the crowd wore.
At the defense table sat six handcuffed people, Korra's father and mother among them. As he walked, his thoughts ran over what had happened in the past seventy two hours. Opening the spirit portal, stopping Unalaq's kidnapping at the hands of a band of rebels, Unalaq arresting anyone he considered to be involved, and now a trial that had six people's lives on the line.
As he came to a halt and stood at attention before the Judge, one last thought brushed his mind. The identity of Unalaq's so called Top Adviser, the man who had fired a gun at the rebels as they tried to kidnap the Chief. A faint chill ran down his spine as he considered one possibility for the man's identity.
"State your full name and rank for the record," the Judge said, bringing him out of his thoughts.
"Objection!" came Bolin's shout from somewhere behind him in the crowd. John fought the urge to cringe as the Judge reprimanded the earthbender for speaking out.
"John William Rider, Captain, United Forces," he answered, ignoring Bolin. He shot a glance toward Korra before returning his attention to the Judge. Her look was a serious one, but he could tell that she was worried about her parents.
"Captain Rider, Avatar Korra's testimony states that you were present at a meeting of Water Tribe citizens regarding Chief Unalaq's arrival here in the south, is this correct?"
"This meeting was held in the residence of Tonraq and Senna, correct?"
"What was discussed at this meeting?" Behind him, Bolin shouted again. John silently hoped that if Mako was anywhere near his brother, he would smack him upside the head before trouble started.
"Many of the citizens of the Southern Water Tribe were worried about Chief Unalaq's actions regarding the blockading and occupying the Port by military means," he said.
"The possibility of rebellion brought up during the meeting correct?"
"Varrick made an argument for that, yes." The Judge fell silent as he read through a set of files. An uneasy feeling settled in John's stomach when he noticed the symbol of the United Republic on the cover.
"Captain Rider, you have quite the military record during the Anti-Bender Revolution in the Republic. You led the charge to take back Republic City, personally killed Amon, and that's just barely scratching the surface." The Judge lowered the files and stared down the firebender.
"The man who reddened the Tam River would be a valuable leader to any sort of Rebellion." Korra watched as the color drained out of John's face. The Battle of Tam River had happened six months ago, right after the incident on Whale Tail Island. It was the last engagement between surviving Equalist members and the Refugees, and it was also the bloodiest.
"Your Honor, the actions of my men on the banks of that river have nothing to do with the actions what had transpired here. Varrick proposed the idea of rebellion. Avatar Korra, Ms. Senna, and myself argued against it and suggested a more peaceful approach to the situation."
"Captain, Chief Unalaq's testimony states that Tonraq was involved in the attempted kidnapping. However Avatar Korra's counters this, saying that he had no involvement. Which was it?"
"Tonraq was present at the meeting and he made no argument either for rebellion or against it. He had no involvement in the kidnapping either as he was not aware of what transpired until Korra told him the following morning." The Judge silently flipped through some more files and paperwork.
"No more questions, Captain, you may stand down." John clicked his heels and marched to Korra side silently. His history being brought up had effected him more than he let show. The screams of dying men and women still haunted his dreams and rang in his ears. As he stood now, only Korra could tell what was wrong by the look in his eyes.
After what seemed like forever, the Judge motioned for the accused six to stand. For the first time, John could see that not only had they been handcuffed, but they had also been chained together as well. The Six stood before the Judge, looking up at him as they waited for their sentence.
"Senna is found innocent of all crimes and is to be released at once." A guard quickly undid her handcuffs and feed her shackles. When she was out, she ran to her daughter and future son in law.
"For the remaining five, I find all of you guilty of treason, and sentence you to death." With that, the judge stood and began to leave, like he had just given the day's weather report. Senna broke down into tears while all the others looked on in shock. Before he could react, Korra had John's pistol out of its holster and was aiming it like she had seen him do a million times, lining up a shot with the back of the Judge's head.
"You take their lives, and I'll take yours," she said, adding her other hand to steady the M1911. John hesitated to take action. With the way she was holding the pistol, it would go off if he tried to take it from her.
"Chief, I would talk to your man if I were you," he said.
"And why should I do that, Captain? You heard him give his verdict."
"Well it's either that, or I let your untrained niece start shooting in a crowded courtroom." Unalaq could clearly see that John wasn't bluffing. If he felt it was right, he would let Korra do whatever she wanted.
"Judge Hotah, perhaps the death penalty is a little too... steep for this kind of trial," Unalaq finally said. Hotah, who was nearly out of the room by this point, turned and looked back at his Chief. His eyes went wide and his face paled when he noticed Korra aiming the gun at him.
"Very well, their sentences will be changed to life in prison." he replied before turning and quickly leaving the room. The prisoners were led out of the room as well by the guards, Unalaq following after them. Korra lowered the pistol and breathed a sigh of relief, allowing John to pry his gun out of her hands.
The Avatar began to comfort her mother while John inspected the weapon. He pulled the slide back ever so slightly and peered into the chamber. If a round was ready to fire, he would have been able to see the shiny brass top of the cartage right now. Instead, he saw only the black inside of the weapon. Korra had just saved her father's life with a pistol that wouldn't fire.
As he let the action click forward, a thought crept into John's mind. Hotah had two witnesses against one that had stated Tonraq had no involvement with the attempted rebellion, yet he had still sent him to prison. He hadn't given his or Korra's testimony a single thought, and he had obeyed Unalaq's order to change the sentence. This all led to one single possibility.
Hotah was a crooked Judge acting on Unalaq's orders.
"We have to get them out!" Korra shouted. Twenty minutes had passed since the end of the trial. Korra was currently pacing back and forth in her parents' living room. John was sitting a short distance away, poking a small fire with a stick.
"You got a way to break five men out of a high security prison, I'd love to hear it," he replied as he turned a log over, watching the swarm of sparks that flew up the chimney as a result.
"Me? You're the plan guy."
"Do you really think I have a plan for busting five men out of military custody?"
"You always have a plan." John sighed at that. Korra knew him far better than he'd like to admit.
"Well I have one, but it's dangerous and it would kinda involve starting a war," he said. Korra cocked her eyebrow and sat on the floor next to him. The flames cast a warm glow on her mocha skin, making her shine in John's eyes. He allowed himself a smile before he returned to staring into the flames.
Fire was his element, his ground, the thing that he was master over. He had never been afraid it, it made him fell warm and alive. But he had always respected it. Reaching out his hand, John dipped it into the flames and withdrew it. The flames danced harmlessly around his skin as he looked at it.
"You know what one of the great ironies of life is? It's the fact that the one thing that has driven the rise of civilization more then anything else, is the one thing that threatens to destroy it," he said before he allowed the fire to go out.
"Korra, I've fought two wars, watched my childhood home burned to the ground, seen innocent civilians executed in the streets, all before my nineteenth birthday. I had hoped that once Amon was gone we could finally live in peace. Now here we are, on the edge of another war," he said. John didn't look sad, but rather resigned to his apparent fate.
"What do you need?" Korra asked. He looked up at her and smiled, a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
"I need a radio."
A single Water Tribe guard walked down the hallway past the sliding metal doors of the cells. He tapped each door with a baton as he passed, causing a metallic ring to echo down the hallway. As he reached the last doorway, a rope suddenly draped around his shoulders and yanked him up into the ceiling, silencing him before he could yell out. An electric hum filled the air before total silence fell.
After a moment, John dropped out of the ceiling with the keys in his hand. Korra, Mako, and Bolin followed, eager to get to work. John drew his pistol as he tossed the keys to Mako.
"Alright Danthay, get to work," he said.
"Just open the damn doors, we'll cover you." Mako shook his head, choosing to ignore the other firebender's comment as he went to work unlocking the doors. As the third of the five slid open, a deep resonating chuckle filled the hallway. Everyone froze as John tightened his grip on his pistol, aiming at the shadows at the end of the hall.
In the darkness, a single flame from a lighter came into existence. It lit the tip of a cigarette before the owner of the lighter extinguished the flame with the soft clink of a lid closing. The glowing end of the cigarette moved for a bit as the gray cloud of smoke rolled into the light.
"You have grown, Marcach, yet your tactics have failed to change," the voice said.
"Dlus a chur isteach ar an fhealltoir bhfianaise!"
"Traitor? Hm hm hm, oh John you still have so much to learn." With that, the man stepped into the light. He was wearing Water Tribe apparel, and a C96 Mauser hung in the belt on his holster. His pale skin was cover in patches of red scars, burn marks judging by the raised bits of flesh. The man's grizzled appearance made it clear that he had survived some recent extreme heat.
"So I was right, you did survive that blast," John said. Behind him, Mako went to work on the next door, choosing to let the two talk it out rather than waste time.
"You know me, Johnny, I've never been one to let the odds beat me. Speaking of odds, Mr. police officer, your odds of opening that next door are very slim," the man said, drawing his pistol and aiming it at the firebender. Mako froze, just inches away from opening the final door.
"John, who is this?" Korra asked.
"Ethan Alexander, Grandmaster of the Order."
"And Top Adviser of the Northern Water Tribe," Unalaq interrupted as he stepped out of the shadows behind Alexander. John switched his aim back and forth between the two men, waiting for one of them to make a move. Behind him, Mako slowly handed the keys to Bolin while Korra assumed a bending position.
"Uncle, why?" Korra asked.
"This man has shown me so many wonders, and so many truths. I've seen your future husband's past, even the parts he tried to hide from himself. Balance between worlds can only be achieved if purveyor of war such as himself are gone," Unalaq replied. The prisoners were sticking their heads out of their cells, watching the exchange go back and forth.
Bolin was ready to turn the key in the last cell door, but he remain frozen due to the gun that was pointed at his head. The tension in the air was so thick that it could almost be cut with a knife. So much as a twitch from either side would instantly result in bloodshed.
"He's right, you know. Your father's gun; Durendal, haven't you ever wondered where it came from? Where your bloodline comes from?" Alexander asked.
"I know all I need to know about my bloodline."
"Do you really, child of Hector? Do you really? Why don't you put down your gun and I can show you all you'll need to know about your family."
"You got it pal," John replied, dropping his pistol in the process. The firearm discharged a single shot as it landed on the metal floor with a clang. Unalaq cried out and gripped his foot, hopping on the other while he screamed in pain from being shot.
In a flash, John drew the revolver and fanned the hammer, causing the weapon the fire all of its shots in a rapid manner. Alexander reacted almost as quickly, firing his pistol once blindly before he grabbed Unalaq and dived into an empty open cell for cover. Bolin yelled out as he jumped up and down in place, holding his hand. A single red line ran along his palm where the bullet had grazed past.
The earthbender blew on his palm like he had burned it, forgetting everything and leaving it to Korra to open the last cell door and free her father. John held the revolver at an angle as he spun the chambers, allowing the spent casings to fall to the floor. Using the tip of his boot, he flung the pistol into the air and caught it with ease while holstering the revolver.
"I assume you have a plan," Tonraq said.
"A risky and dangerous one, which is all I seem to be good for," John replied before the group hurried back to the hole in the ceiling. Asami was looking down at them through the gap, her electroglove at the ready. One by one, they slipped back into the ceiling before closing the hole behind them.
The group made their way to a ridge overlooking the prison and the Port. A light snow whipped through the wind, making it difficult to see at long distances. But they could still see the hulking shapes of the blockade, and that only dampened their moods. Alarms suddenly sounded throughout the prison, showing that their time of waiting was over.
"You have to get out of here and go get help, we'll stay here and conduct the rebellion," Tonraq said as he placed his grip on his daughter's shoulders.
"Where do we get help?" Tonraq shifted his gaze from Korra to John, who was currently wearing his uniform and studying the blockade through a pair of binoculars.
"Start with the President of the United Republic, convince him to come to our aid. John's position in the military should be enough to gain you some leverage. John, I hope you have a way to get past the blockade," Tonraq said.
"I spoke to Carter personally, we'll know when they get here," he replied without lowering the binoculars. Korra hugged her father goodbye before the two groups split up, heading in two different directions. Asami led the way down the ridge and into the city, only coming to a halt when they reached the main street.
Soldiers were swarming over the streets, kicking in doors and searching any space possible for where the escaped rebels could be. John looked over the situation before he pointed to Mako, Bolin, and Asami, motioning for them to get to the rooftops. Mako and Bolin nodded in response before they led Asami deeper into the ally they were standing in.
Korra cocked her eyebrow at him, silently asking what he had planned. He merely smiled in response as he went back to looking at the soldiers. As he watched the soldiers start to get brutal on the civilians, memories flooded his mind both from Nepal and Ireland. The only difference between now and then was that this time, it felt like HE was at fault for it.
"I hope what we're doing is right," he said, turning away from the soldiers and leaning against the wall. With the light snow falling, the scene would almost be peaceful.
"You said that you wanted to keep people from being oppressed, if not through peace then through war. What we're doing is right, I'm sure of it," she replied before hugging him quickly.
"Then why do I feel like I'm about to start another world war?" he muttered under his breath. In the distance, what sounded like a fog horn echoed through the night. This was followed by another and another. Soldiers on the street paused and looking in the direction of the harbor, the source of the noise. It took them a moment to realize that the horns belonged to the battleships in the blockade. They were signaling that some sort of outside presence was approaching.
For a moment, the horns and everything else fell silent, like someone had pressed a mute button. Then, several short claps of thunder filled the void of silence. A high pitched whistling filled the air as John quickly grabbed Korra and spun her around so that his body shielded hers. The whistling ended with a tremendous explosion.
Dirt and snow flew everywhere while the earth shook, nearly throwing the couple to the ground. Sticking his head out of the alley, John noticed the scattered bodies of the nearby patrol that had taken a direct hit from the shell. Survivors were stumbling around, blinded, deafened, or both by the blast. Grabbing Korra's hand, the firebender took off a sprint up the street, heading for the harbor.
The closer they got, the more the claps of thunder sounded like actual cannon shots. Yellow flashes of light lit up the sky ahead of them. A giant fireball even rose up into the darkness, a sign that a ship had taken a rather nasty hit. Stray shells landed in the city from the battle occasionally, usually either blasting apart an empty building or decimating a patrol on the streets.
"John! The whole harbor is on fire, what's going on?" shouted Asami as she appeared on a roof nearby. Another shell whistled overhead, cratering a Satomobile that sat down the street in a fantastic fireball.
"Find us some water based transportation, preferably something that's not military!" John shouted back over the noise. The Sato heiress vanished over the side of the roof again, leaving the couple to continue their flight alone. Finally, they emerged from the buildings along the edge of the harbor. Before them was a sight that neither of them was prepared to see.
The lighthouse that stood near the entrance to the harbor looked like it had been cleaved in half. Waters that had not long ago been dark were now lit by the flaming wreckage of several Water Tribe battleships. In the heart of it all, the few remaining warships slugged it out with only one attacking ship. The Isabella's twin twelve inch gun turrets were blazing, smashing apart the remaining ships with far more firepower then what her enemies could dish out.
Even now as they watched the battle before them, they could see the conning tower on one of the Water Tribe ships tilt and then fall like a massive iron tree, the screech of metal being torn from metal briefly drowning out the sounds of battle.
"Oh my," Korra whispered, her hand covering her mouth in shock and horror. The full furry of the Battle of Republic City had done nothing to prepare her for this moment. For her, it all suddenly fell into place. This was why John had clung so hard to the peace they had, this was why he used war as a last course of action. This was why he spoke of war from his home not with pride, but with fear and sadness.
John pointed down the shoreline to a set of docks where the others were loading up a speed boat. They started in that direction, but came to a halt when a group of soldiers emerged from the buildings. Leading them was Eska, her usual emotionless composure replaced by pure rage.
"Sweet merciful God, what happened to her?!" John asked.
"I think Bolin broke up with her." At Korra's voice, Eska turned and looked at them, her wild eyes lighting up.
"You ruined my wedding!" she screamed before she sent spikes of ice at the pair. They dogged and countered, sending blasts of fire back at her. Drawing his sword, John smashed any ice spike that got close, turning the remains to steam with his bending in the process. Eska's rage only increased, causing her bending to become sloppier and forcing Korra to help keep John from being encased in ice.
Out in the harbor, a shell bounced off of the hull of one of the ships with a clang. The shell whistled through the air and smashed into a shop front. Both Soldiers and Eska were thrown like rag dolls due to the resulting explosion. John smiled and led the way forward, pausing to shock Eska with a short blast of lightning before they raced to the boat.
They didn't even pause to untie the ropes keeping the boat tied to the dock with John slicing though them with his sword. Asami instantly slammed the throttle forward, sending Bolin tumbling into the backseat with a yelp. They weaved around the sinking remains of the battleships, watching the flames in silence.
"Welcome aboard the Isabella, the most advanced warship on the planet!" came a shout from overhead as they came alongside the ship. Looking up, Korra could just barely recognize Carter Reynolds standing along the railing. Asami brought the boat to a halt next to a rope ladder that was dangling over the side.
Each one of them grabbed their own individual bag before they started up the ladder. At the top, John turned and looked out over the scene from the ship. Pillars of smoke were rising up over the city from fires that were started due to the stray shells exploding. After a moment, he sighed and turned away from the scene.
"Oh the day is comin' fast, and the time has nearly passed, when each shoneen will be cast aside before us! And if there be a need, then me kids will sing 'Godspeed!'" Carter paused to raise both middle fingers toward the city.
"With a bar or two of Stephen Behan's chorus: Come out ye Black and Tans, come out and fight me like a man! Show your wife how you won medals down in Flanders; tell her how the I.R.A made you run like hell away from the green and lovely lanes of Killeshandra!" John sighed and his shoulders sunk.
"Oh yeah, we're defiantly back in the trenches," he muttered before he and Korra went below decks as the ship turned north and began to sail back to Republic City.
Notes and Trivia
Danthay is Nepali slag for cop.
Irish is the main language other than English that is spoken.
Durendal is the legendary sword of Roland, A paladin who died fighting invading Islamic armies along the Spanish/French boarder. This is not the last time the legend will appear in the series.
Come out ye Black and Tans is an Irish Rebel song that dates back to the 1920s.
For the collective works of the author, go here.