Actions

Work Header

Book 5: Harmony

Chapter Text

 ~
“Far, far back in the mists of time, the land lived in peace.
In these lands lived the hero of our tale: a valiant young man named Kuan…”
~

 

The spirit world has a thousand beautiful groves, each quite unlike anything you can find throughout the four nations. In one, giant green-veined lily pads tower over a lush, sweet-smelling meadow. In another, mountains resembling smooth shards of ice surround a carpet of fluorescent pink flowers. In a third, a forest of every shade of blue and green imaginable lines the shore of a sunset-orange lake. In spots such as these, it’s hard to imagine who could not find peace in the spirit world.

Unless you’re a young couple running for their lives.

Korra and Asami crashed through the brilliant aquamarine foliage, running full pelt towards the shore. “Keep going!” yelled Korra. “If we can get past the trees I can use my glider and airbend us to safety! She won’t follow us if she has to leave her babies!” Behind them, something let out an unearthly shriek. If they had dared to look back, they would have glimpsed a dark, feathered form fast approaching.

“Are you sure about that?” panted Asami, her eyes wide with fear.

“Nope, but it’s the only chance we’ve got!” said Korra.

They kept sprinting towards the orange glint in the distance, dogged by thunderous footsteps. Asami grabbed the stitch in her side. And this was supposed to be a vacation… she thought wryly to herself. Suddenly-

“Nuktuk, brave and handsome water tribe warrior hero, leapt out of the bushes, tackled the evil marauding spirit and saved the Avatar and her beautiful travelling companion!” yelled Bolin exuberantly.

Laughter pealed across the courtyard, turning the heads of passing air acolytes heading to meditation. “Want to let us tell our own vacation stories, Bolin?” asked Korra, smiling and raising an eyebrow.

She and Asami had returned through the spirit portal earlier that day, barely setting foot on Air Temple Island before their friends mobbed them. The air temple kids had practically knocked Korra down jumping onto her for a hug, and Bolin hadn’t been much better. After a while Opal and Jinora succeeded in calming the others’ chattering, and once someone had noticed the travellers’ fatigue, refreshments had been found. Now they sat on a flight of steps above a courtyard decorated with a yin-yang symbol, looking out over Yue Bay, listening to, and often interrupting, the couple’s stories.

Korra lounged casually near the top of the stairs, her head resting against Asami’s shoulder, whose long legs stretched down several steps. Bolin and Opal cuddled to Asami’s right, and Mako sat a few steps down from them, a little ways from the group. The airbender kids crowded around Korra, Jinora holding Kai’s hand, and Ikki, to her chagrin, sat next to Meelo.

“Ahh, I’m sorry! It just sounded so exciting! Like a mover! Hey, maybe if you tell Varrick your stories he really would make this the next Nuktuk installment - Nuktuk in the Spirit World!” Bolin declared.

“I think Varrick is a little busy right now, Bolin. I doubt possible business ventures are what he’s thinking about on his honeymoon,” said Opal. “He was pretty jealous once he heard where you guys were going,” she added, nodding at Asami and Korra. “He wanted his trip to be the most impressive, we almost had to stop him chasing in there after you!”

“How’d you stop him?” laughed Asami.

“Zhu Li convinced him it would be more romantic to leave you two alone,” said Mako. “I mean, uh, to have some time to themselves, so they could be alone!” he hastily added, turning red.

Korra and Asami smirked at each other, their mutual ex’s nervous formality was a source of great amusement for the pair.

“So they’ve gone on a world cruise on Varrick’s boat, which is still pretty impressive if you ask me,” said Kai.

Bolin sighed, “I guess Nuktuk won’t be venturing into the spirit world anytime soon.”

“I thought you’d given up on acting,” said Opal, ruffling her boyfriend’s hair. “You’re supposed to be coming back to Zaofu with me to help rebuild.”

“Rebuild? They still haven’t recovered from Kuvira’s attack?” asked Korra.

“Well, you guys have only been gone a couple of weeks… It takes a lot more time than that to repair a whole city.”

“Besides that, nobody’s really been able to leave Republic City yet,” Mako added. “The streets are covered with wreckage, the citizens are still in temporary shelters until homes can be rebuilt-”

“So it’s a terrible time for the Avatar to disappear on a little jaunt!” A harsh, familiar, voice interjected. The Chief of Police stood looking down on the happy young group, arms crossed and a frown on her face.

“Hi, Lin!” said Korra breezily. “You’re cheerful as always.”

“Sorry, kid, but you left at a real time of crisis. Raiko’s been busting my ass to find you two ever since Varrick’s wedding. And I don’t like having my detective skills questioned, especially by that puffed-up bureaucrat!” Lin scowled.

“We both just needed a vacation,” said Asami, gently squeezing Korra’s hand.

“Yeah. Perhaps you could use one too, Chief!” teased Korra.

“Yeah, yeah… Congratulations on escaping this chaos, but no more ducking out for you two. Come on, the President wants to speak to you at City Hall.” Lin grumbled, turning to leave.

“Me as well?” asked Asami.

“Sure. You redesigned the city around the spirit vines practically single-handedly. Who better to try and fix the mess Kuvira caused?”

Asami rose to stand, a subtle smile on her face. Korra grasped her hand. “Hang on a sec, Lin. We just got back! We’ve barely had time to tell everyone about our trip,” she said, gesturing towards the airbender kids.

“Actually…we’d best be going too.” Jinora smiled apologetically at Korra. “The airbenders are needed. Cleaning up the streets, getting aid to the evacuees, trying to keep everyone calm… there’s a lot to do.”

“Aww, man! I wanna stay! All those spirits hate Korra, I wanna hear if she got in a fight!” shouted Meelo. Jinora sighed. Ikki rolled her eyes.

“I’ll have to tell you later champ, sounds like the city needs you,” said Korra. Meelo stopped pouting.

“I guess I am kind of a hero…” he mused. “Alright!” He jumped up and started heading towards the buildings with the other airbenders.

“Wait, Opal,” called Lin. “Your mom wants to see you. Sounds like she’s finally happy with the conditions of Kuvira’s temporary imprisonment while she’s awaiting trial. You’ll be able to head back to Zaofu in a couple of days.” She turned on her heel, gestured to Korra and Asami - “Come on, lovebirds” - and marched briskly away, the pair following behind arm in arm.

Mako had just been standing awkwardly as he watched the group disperse. He made to call out to Lin, but held himself back at the last moment. She had a lot on her plate, and Mako doubted his mentor had time for a conversation right now.

“Finally! Come on Bolin, let’s go!” Opal beamed, grabbing her boyfriend’s arm pulling him up.

“Wait, Bolin, you’re going too?” Mako asked his brother.

“Well yeah, I’ll be as much use over there as I am here. Plus, even though there’s a lot to get done, Zaofu will be less hectic than Republic City. It could be nice for me and Opal to relax a little after all this craziness. Korra and Asami aren’t the only ones who need a romantic getaway, you know?” Bolin grinned, waggling his eyebrows. Opal sighed exasperatedly, folding her arms, but Mako could tell she was joking.

The firebender’s forehead crinkled slightly. Everyone seemed to be in a couple, suddenly. “I just thought… we’d been apart for a while before the last few weeks, so it’d be good to hang out.”

“Yeah, I know… But same goes for Opal. It was hard being apart when I was working for Kuvira. But don’t worry, we don’t need to hang out twenty-four-seven, we’re brothers! Bonded for life!” Bolin cheered, clapping his brother on the shoulder.

“I guess,” said Mako, rubbing the back of his neck. He tried to hide his disappointment.

“Hey, I’ll make sure we hang out before I leave the city. In the meantime you can do whatever you want! You’re off-duty until your arm’s recovered, make the most of it!”

“I’ll try.”

“Okay, well see you later, bro!” Bolin hooted, running towards the harbour with Opal, who also waved a cheery goodbye.

Mako sighed. Just five minutes before he’d felt happy, surrounded by friends. Now, as he stood alone in the empty courtyard, a feeling he’d found hard to escape since being injured seeped back in. Everyone had important duties to attend to. Korra and Asami with the President, Lin with the police force, Bolin and the airbenders…and his one other friend in the city was the busiest of all.

He was a spare part.

He trudged away.

 

~ ~ ~

 

The corridors of City Hall hustled and bustled; Asami and Korra might not have made it through the crowded building to the President’s office without walking in Lin’s wake. The Chief of Police cleared a path with her determined, unflinching walk, scattering bureaucrats and minor officials as she went.

They reached the large, ornate door of Raiko’s office. Outside a harried-looking secretary was juggling phone calls. She acknowledged the presence of the Avatar and the head of Future Industries, gesturing with a hand that they could go right in.

“Here you are, kids. Sorry about before… There’s a lot going on for me to deal with. I cannot understand what would possess Raiko to order me to personally fetch you two… But anyways.” She flashed them a brief smile. “Now I can get back to the real police work. Good luck,” she said over her shoulder, already walking away.

“Do you think we’ll need it?” Korra asked Asami.

“Hmm… Sounds like Raiko is pretty angry we skipped town, you especially. Maybe the timing for our vacation wasn’t as good as we thought.” Asami replied.

“Do you think we shouldn’t have gone?”

“Not at all! It was perfect - I wouldn’t change a thing,” Asami smiled.

“Me neither,” agreed Korra. “Now come on, the city needs us!” She pecked Asami quickly on the cheek, and before her girlfriend had time to react, opened the door and entered Raiko’s office.

“President Raiko, I believe you wanted to see us?”

Raiko sat at his desk strewn with various documents and files, looking cross. He was bowed forward, head in his hands. Upon hearing Korra’s voice, he looked up, eyes narrowed beneath the wiry frames of his glasses.

“So you finally deem fit to show your face in my office, Avatar?” Raiko said coldly. “You rip Republic City apart with spiritual energy, forming a probably highly dangerous portal in the middle of downtown, attend a wedding and then completely abandon the city?! And I’M the one who has to deal with it!” The girls shared an unimpressed glance at Raiko’s outburst.

“Well I didn’t abandon the city, I just took a vacation for a few days. And the portal doesn’t seem dangerous to me, as that’s how we left. Finally, I think I deserve a little break after neutralising a warmongering dictator, who you appointed, and who would have conquered Republic City - if not wiped it off the face of the planet!” Korra retorted hotly. “You may not like how I handled it, and I’m sure this war impacted the city in ways that have been difficult to deal with, but you certainly wouldn’t be sat here as President if it wasn’t for me.”

There was a brief silence before Raiko grumbled under his breath. “That may be. But there’s still an unprecedented spiritual force at the centre of Republic City… It’s like Harmonic Convergence all over again! Do you really expect there to be no effects of this? Spirits have already poured out into the city. Who knows what else could come out of there!” A vein at his temple threatened to burst.

Korra took an angry step forward but Asami put a soothing hand on her shoulder. Korra paused, and took a breath. “I don’t appreciate your accusatory tone. But I suppose you’re right. Right now, we don’t know what the effects of the spirit portal will be, especially so close to the city. It seems stable, and it was safe enough for Asami and I to enter and exit freely with nothing going wrong. But nothing like this has happened before and the important thing is to ensure the safety of the people of Republic City.”

“Thank you. So what are you going to do about it? You’re the so-called bridge between the spiritual and physical worlds.” Raiko looked at her expectantly.

Korra paused thoughtfully. She didn’t know at all. Perhaps if I still had a connection to my past lives I may have been able to use some of their spiritual experiences, she thought wistfully. But it probably wouldn’t have been that helpful. I doubt anything that happened in the past was similar to accidentally creating a new entrance to the spirit world with a super-weapon powered by spiritual energy.

“I’ll have to consult with Tenzin, and maybe other spiritual leaders,” she said to Raiko. “Investigate the portal, on this side and in the spirit world… maybe even try and communicate with some of the spirits.”

“And if it’s dangerous… Will you be able to shut it down?” Raiko asked, darkly.

“I imagine so. Though I hope it won’t come to that.”

“Hmm. Very well. Now that you’ve finally returned to fulfill your duty to this city, I can get the press off my back. This kind of thing doesn’t look good with an election coming up. Expect a press conference soon.” Korra rolled her eyes in response.

“Now, Miss Sato,” he said, turning to Asami with a less stern look on his face. “After Harmonic Convergence, the city struggled to adapt to the presence of spirit vines. Thankfully, due to your involvement, the city was restructured to accommodate these changes. The government of Republic City would once again like to contract Future Industries to help redesign and rebuild the city, in light of recent events.”

“Thank you, President Raiko,” said Asami. “I’d be happy to accept. However, at least one of my factories was destroyed by Kuvira’s weapons. I assessed the total damage briefly and believe I would have enough resources at my disposal to make a start, but I’d need to conduct a proper inventory before beginning such a large project.” Korra looked over at her girlfriend, smiling as Asami’s eyes lit up with excitement. She’s such a nerd.

“Very well. In addition the city intends to recruit Cabbage Corp as well as several other companies involved in technology and construction. You would head up the whole operation, but others would be there to for you to delegate to, providing labour and resources and so forth.”

Wow, Asami thought. This was the biggest-scale contract she’d ever been involved with. That Future Industries had ever been offered. And the President of Republic City wanted her to lead it. Already her mind whirred with ways to improve the city, and plans to accommodate the spirit portal. She was sure she would squeal with excitement in private later, but for now she mustered her calmest, most professional-sounding voice. “That seems agreeable. Of course we’d have to discuss several matters: priorities for rebuilding, sourcing materials, funding… etcetera. If you set up a meeting in the next few days I could-”

“Frankly, Miss Sato, the city is in desperate need of reconstruction, and we’ve already been delayed by your and the Avatar’s absence.” Raiko interrupted, his words polite but his tone stern. “I’m expecting Lau Gan-Lan presently - your attendance at that meeting would be greatly appreciated. Then, later in the day we could discuss other matters in more detail.”

“Looks like I’m going to be in meetings all day, Korra. Is that okay?” Asami turned to ask.

“Of course! Seems like I have my own duties to take care of as well,” said Korra, giving her a small smile. She drew in close for a farewell embrace. “I’ll see you later.”

“Bye,” Asami said a little wistfully as Korra released her. Their vacation was officially over.

“Yes, yes, Avatar. Go and get a handle on the spirit portal situation,” blustered Raiko, apparently oblivious to the newfound intimacy between the two women. Korra shot him a sideways glance as she made for the office door.

“Now. as for my plans, I’m sure you’ve heard instead of rebuilding the downtown area, I thought it wise to expand outside the current limits of Republic City.”

Korra heard Asami start to respond as she left the office. She sighed softly, thinking it would have been nice if their jobs hadn’t separated them quite so quickly. “At least I’m not the one stuck inside with Raiko for the foreseeable future,” she joked to herself.

Korra made her way back to Air Temple Island, feeling relieved. The peace and quiet of the island was a welcome change to the commotion of the city. Before long, she found Tenzin in the meditation pavilion.

“Ah, Korra. I’d heard you’d returned. Welcome back,” he said. Korra greeted him with a hug.

“Hi Tenzin. I’m sorry - I meant to come and tell you in person, but Lin dragged me away for a meeting with Raiko.”

“I completely understand… I know how chaotic things have been around here lately. Is there something I can help you with?”

“Yes. I need some advice.” They moved to the edge of the pagoda and looked over the water. “It’s this new spirit portal. Raiko wants me to ensure that it’s not a danger to Republic City. For now I think it’s safe, but nothing like this has ever happened before. It would be a risk to just let it lie. The problem is… I have no idea how to go about investigating it.” She looked up at Tenzin.

“Well, any assistance I can give is at your disposal. But you’re right - this is an unprecedented situation.” Tenzin stroked his goatee. “Perhaps spiritual leaders from other nations will be able to give you some insight - your cousins in the Northern Water Tribe perhaps.” Korra pulled a face. Eska and Desna were not high on her list of people to turn to for help. “After all, it was their father who taught you how to open the portals at the North and South Poles. And, I’ll ensure Jinora remains in Republic City for now. Her spiritual connection is most impressive, I’m sure she will be of great use to you.”

“Remains in the city? Why wouldn’t she be?”

Tenzin exhaled deeply. “Since the fall of Kuvira, unrest in the Earth Kingdom has been on the rise. I’ve yet to announce this, but I think it may be necessary to send the Air Nation back out to help establish peace and order once again.”

“Wow, Asami was right. We probably shouldn’t have been missing in action…is there anything I can do to help?”

“It’s a rather delicate political situation… I’m not sure your involvement would help in this case. For anything to progress, King Wu and his advisors need to return to Ba Sing Se.”

“Ha, I almost forgot about Wu,” Korra chuckled.

She looked out at the bay, the late afternoon sunshine danced on its waves. She remembered sailing away across the same water to recuperate in the South Pole, years ago now. At one time she would have wished bitterly that her recovery had been swifter, that she could have helped re-stabilise the Earth Kingdom herself after the assassination of Earth Queen Hou-Ting. Part of her still wished she could join the airbenders, but she knew that this responsibility had been placed in good hands. Besides/And now, she had her own task to deal with.

She turned back to the airbending master. “Right. Let’s take a closer look at this portal, shall we?”

 

~ ~ ~

 

Mako traipsed away from the City Hall, each of his footsteps more lethargic than the last. He had spent much of his day hopping from one place to another in search of something – anything – to do. As if it wasn’t enough that both Korra and Asami, two of his closest friends, had been asked to attend their own matters, even Wu had been conspicuously absent, likely trawling through meetings with political leaders from the city.

Mako’s injured arm hung in its sling like a lead weight. Stretching from his fingertips to his shoulder blades were marred rivulets of scarred tissue, standing out starkly against his otherwise pale skin. As he walked, he slowly curled and uncurled his fingers as a reminder that, although he couldn’t bend using that arm, he had not lost it completely. Not wanting to ruin the atmosphere of Korra and Asami’s return earlier in the day, he had kept to himself the events which transpired during their absence. When the calamity of the siege on Republic City had calmed somewhat, Mako had seen one of the city’s finest healers. He was lauded for his valour in the fight against Kuvira’s monstrous mecha-tank, and his arm had been bandaged and given a sling for support just in time for Varrick and Zhu Li’s wedding party. But the appointment abruptly ended with a devastating conclusion. We’re sorry, Mako…your skin will heal more over time; we have done what we can for now. But…there are complications under the surface. We are unsure if you will be able to bend with this arm for a while. He replayed those words repeatedly. His healer had suggested a treatment for his chi, as that seemed the most likely of remedies to succeed if their waterbending methods could not accelerate his recovery. However, each time Mako had tried, the medicine rendered him unable to leave his apartment, wrought with the symptoms of a violent fever. And, each time, his arm was still left unable to produce even the smallest of flames.

Almost to his surprise, the Headquarters of the Metalbending Police Force suddenly came into view. He nervously ground his teeth as he entered the building.

“Chief!”

Mako hadn’t expected to find Lin on the office floor, but was pleasantly surprised when he saw her standing in a corner over someone’s desk, with her back turned and arms crossed. Although Lin had come to Air Temple Island earlier, she was clearly in a rush to get back to the city. Mako hoped that it would be easier to talk to her now. Much to his dismay, however, the faces of the few officers she was talking to were whiter than the snow at the North Pole. Lin finished spitting at them before whipping around with a scowl on her face.

“Oh, Mako,” she huffed, looking exactly as she had earlier in the day: disgruntled. He noticed a few hairs straggled and out of step with the rest as she walked over to him stiffly. “What do you want?”

“Oh, umm, I was just wondering, uh – is there anything I could maybe help out with around here?” Mako goaded his lips into a smile. In that moment, he felt painfully aware of his injured arm, curling his fingers into a fist as heat rose to his cheeks.

Lin’s eyes softened briefly as she regarded the firebender. He stood awkwardly. Although his shoulders were pushed broad and his back was held upright, his head tilted meekly to one side and his gaze flitted during the silence. His eyes, usually sharp and percipient, seemed clouded. It was likely he hadn’t been sleeping well, as deep lines ran under his eyes, and his breaths came up short and shallow. He seemed anxious – not a trait which she was accustomed to seeing so openly displayed in his behaviour. She closed her eyes and smiled regretfully. Mako raised his eyebrows prematurely, thinking that she might be the source of some good news – but in the blink of an eye the smile flashed out of existence, leaving him to wonder if it was even a smile at all. Lin let out a prolonged sigh before speaking.

“I’m sorry, Mako. It’s bad enough that we are having to deal with riots thanks to some of Kuvira’s minions who will just not shut the f*** up. But ever since that bloody cannon ripped half the city open, scum have been crawling out of the cracks and causing mayhem everywhere as well!” She gesticulated violently, her voice raised. “I’m up to my greys in reports of petty crime and those territorial piece-of-s*** triads are terrorising everyone again… And you bet there will be a s***storm from Raiko if I don’t divide my men up correctly…look, I know you mean well. But I can’t put you out there, and there is very little to be done sitting around in these offices!”

Mako heard a plate smash on the other side of the room as Lin bellowed and several officers took the hint and scuttled out, the muted din instantly reduced to a thin silence.

“Oh, ummm…are you sure there’s nothing I could do, Chief? Maybe there are some leads I could chase up on-”

Lin cleared her throat, cutting through Mako’s plea by raising her hand. She started in a lower, friendlier voice. “I’m sorry, Mako, but there’s nothing for you here right now. You need to just go home and rest. An injury like this is not something to play around with.” Lin talked slowly and carefully. “I would be happy to get you going again once I know you’ve recovered and…taken some well-deserved time off the beat.” She reached over and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Uh, yeah…sure thing, Chief.”

Mako smiled, but underneath his respect for Lin’s empathy his heart sank. Nothing made him feel worse than the thought of returning to his unremarkable apartment and whiling away the hours doing nothing. And yet, for the foreseeable future, that was exactly his fate.

He left the Police Headquarters and ambled back to his apartment, flopping onto the sofa and kicking off his shoes when he finally arrived. The air in his apartment was stale and warm; he had forgotten to leave any windows open before setting out for Air Temple Island in the morning. For a few moments he stared at his blank ceiling, dazed. What do I do now? He mulled to himself, his mind heavy. However, his brooding was not given the chance to take hold as someone rapped on his door hurriedly. Struggling to think of who it might be – and if he could just ignore it – Mako hauled himself up and answered.

“Mako! Thank spirits you’re here!” Wu’s shrill greeting gave Mako no time to respond before he flounced into the apartment, bouncing onto the sofa with a grunt. Mako, startled and slightly flushed, checked the corridor outside his door before closing it. Wu appeared to have come alone.

“Wu- what are you doing here?” Mako asked, sitting down opposite Wu. On account of his injury, Mako had been discharged as Wu’s bodyguard and so the two had been seeing relatively little of each other for the past weeks.

“Oh, well, it’s good to see you too, buddy!” Wu jibed with a cheeky wink. “I’ve been waiting for you to turn up for ages. Ah, Mako, tough guy. I have had a hoot of a day.” He leaned back and exhaled. Despite his usual exuberance, Wu sounded exhausted.

“And that means…?” Mako responded warily, deciding to ignore that Wu had probably been spying on his apartment for some part of the afternoon.

“So…you know I mentioned that I was thinking of stepping down as King, right? And, just, getting rid of the monarchy altogether?” Wu looked directly at him, deciding to skip the pleasantries. He leaned forwards now, elbows resting on his knees, fidgeting.

“Uh, yeah…you told me,” Mako said. He nodded but avoided eye contact, scratching the side of his head.

“I’m not so sure about doing it anymore.” Wu spoke abruptly and sighed, turning his attention out of the window. It was a perfectly pleasant day, despite all the commotion.

“Oh…why?” Mako looked at Wu.

“All I want is for the people of the Earth Kingdom – my people – to be safe. To have homes to return to, and to not have to fear for their safety.” Wu leaned back and stared at the plain ceiling. “But right now, the Earth Kingdom is so…divided. There are royalists and revolutionaries around every corner. If I stay King, there will be rebellion – but if I step down, the fighting won’t end until there are new leaders. Gun and the Royal Ministers think that I need to return to Ba Sing Se and return to the throne, because it will give the people strength that their leader has returned. I’m beginning to think that maybe that is the best thing to do as well.”

“If there’s going to be fighting either way…” Mako started, but Wu interrupted him with a worried glare. “I just mean that, if there is going to be conflict – and it sounds like there will – why not do what you think is best?”

“Because I don’t know what I think is best, Mako!” Wu ran his hands through his hair, although it immediately sprung back to its characteristic coiffure. “Today, the ministers planned out an entire course through the Kingdom back to Ba Sing Se…by airship! I really wanted to stop them and say, ‘hey guess what I’m going to get rid of the monarchy ha ha ha, byeee’ – but I just couldn’t. They’re even writing me a big speech to read in each state! Urrrgh, I’m scared, Mako.” Wu frowned and buried his head in his hands.

“I think I would be too. I mean, those Earth Kingdom airships are nothing like the ones in Republic City…” Mako half-laughed dryly, though his eyes betrayed no signs of amusement. Wu snorted.

“What!? Well, this just keeps getting better…”, he wailed. Mako, stony-faced, interjected to try and calm him down.

“No no, it was just a joke. Umm, why don’t you just tell your ministers that you don’t wanna be king. And say the same thing to the people when you’re going back to Ba Sing Se.” Mako was trying to be helpful, but his mind was swimming in a puddle of his own preoccupations. As a result, his advice came out facile.

“But I do want to be king!” Wu exclaimed. “Well, I don’t want to be…but I do!” Wu whined. “What do you think I should do?”

“I don’t know, Wu! It’s not my problem.” Mako stressed the word, but it sounded impatient. He shrugged his shoulders before continuing. “I’m a detective, not a politician.”

“But I thought you thought that getting rid of the monarchy was a good idea!” Wu pouted, indignant. He was staring directly at Mako now, distressed and frustrated.

“Well yeah, I do!” Mako yelled, his voice raising to match Wu’s. “But I’m not the heir to the throne, am I? What do I care if it goes or stays?”

“Mako!” Wu looked hurt. “This is not an easy decision for me to make, y’know? Look at everything the Earth Kingdom is. Centuries of great kings and queens did that! How can I-”

“Oh, yeah – ‘great’ kings and queens, like your ‘great’-aunt?” Mako cut across him. “Conning her own people out of their money just so she could put some fancy bushes in her backyard? And kidnapping airbenders to make them fight for her!? Yeah, she was great.” Mako pulled a sour face as silence gripped the room.

“Well I am nothing like my aunt!” Wu squealed.

“Psh, yeah.” Reflexively, Mako snickered under his breath and another silence fell over the room. Mako noticed that Wu had finally stopped fidgeting with his hands, and then turned his head to look out of the window. It had started to get dark now, and the light that entered was dwindling.

“What?”

Mako’s blood froze as he realised that Wu had heard him mutter. What… No! He wasn’t meant to hear… I didn’t mean it like that! Mako thought to himself, panic snapping him out of his sulking. He whipped his head around only to see the younger man standing up, cheeks puffed out.

“I came here to ask for your advice, because I’ve spent nearly every waking moment with you for the past three-and-a-little-bit years, and I thought I could come to you for anything!” Wu blurted, bunching his hands into fists, tears brimming. He sniffed before resuming in a pathetic half-sob. “I was even going to ask if you would come with me. But, you know what, Mako? I’m glad I didn’t. Wu out!

With that final shout, Wu blasted through the door, slamming it in his wake. Mako noticed that his apartment smelled faintly of Wu’s cologne, and the air was cold. Mako noticed that the warmth from before seemed to have left his apartment, and in the chilly air lingered a hint of Wu’s cologne.

 

~ ~ ~

 

A slow breeze rippled through a thicket of coniferous trees outside the city of Senlen, just south of Ba Sing Se. In and amongst the trees a constellation of Earth Kingdom citizens – men, women and children alike – bunched themselves around several dimly glowing torches. They murmured to each other, anxiously. Some of the children raced around the adults, or playfully flicked pebbles at each other to amuse themselves.

“Yan, stop it!” One mother reprimanded her fidgety child as a rock hit her shin. “It’ll be here soon.” She pulled him to her side, shivering as another breeze washed over everyone. Grumpy, he folded his arms wondering why his parents had dragged him into the forest in the middle of the night.

Immediately, the ground quivered, and from the distance came the faint, but characteristic, sounds of earthbending. The adults drew in sharp breaths and the children immediately ceased all movement; the flickering shadows cast by the fires now danced around their immobile bodies. Out of the darkness of the woods a figure emerged, raising themselves above the ground onto a makeshift earthen podium. The firelight glinted off their eyes.

“Greetings, followers. I am The Prophet.”

An ethereal, male-sounding, voice wafted over the crowd. The adults released their baited breaths, whilst the children gawped in awe at the sight. A few whispers made their way around the crowd, but immediately hushed as the voice rang out again.

“I have to come to liberate you, the people, from the clutches of your despotic rulers.”

“Who are you!?” Someone towards the rear of the crowd yelled out. As they did so, a gust of wind blew through the trees, enlivening the fires which lit the crowd. A few gasps emerged as the firelight illuminated the entity before them further.

Upon its stage was what appeared to be a statue, perfectly carved out of stone. Its surface was smooth and bronze in colour, contrary to the muddy brown rock beneath it. The statue appeared to portray a young man wearing old-fashioned, imperial-looking, armour. The attention to detail was immaculate; a lamellar cuirass which adorned the statue’s torso bore intricate lines depicting triangular scales, and the cheekguards of a helmet atop the statue’s head took the shape of soaring wings. Beneath the helmet sat a pair of jade orbs. The firelight shimmered along the surface, giving the pale green stones the essence of real eyes.

“I…am neither man, woman, nor spirit.” The voice bellowed, pausing on each word for effect. “I am the earth itself, and I have been called to reveal the true path for the land.” Some men and women in the crowd exchanged nervous glances, whilst others gripped their partners in excitement.

“Many of you will have once been loyal to the Royal Family. But, you will know of the corruption and unjust crimes against you – their own people. Many of you since may have turned your allegiance to Kuvira, who was hailed ‘The Great Uniter’. But Kuvira deceived you. She, too, was distorted by power, and failed where she could have succeeded.” The words of the statue captivated the crowd, and not a single sound was made as it spoke.

“These lands have been ravaged by too many. You, the people, deserve a country which is united. Altogether. Harmonious.”

A small boy crawled through the legs of some adults at the front of the crowd and, despite warnings from his elders, walked tentatively to the stage upon which the statue stood.

“So…what do we do?” The little boy asked quietly, eyes wide.

“Come, child. Give me your hand.” By an unknown force, the stage collapsed in the middle to reveal a flight of stairs. Step by step, the statue walked down towards the boy, evoking astonished gasps from the crowd. When it reached the bottom, the statue bent onto one knee and offered both its palms forward. Unafraid, the child put a palm onto the statue.

“To all who wish to have their freedom, take this symbol of the earth.” The statue swiftly closed one palm over the other, and the boy gulped. A few at the front of the crowd heard what sounded like trickling sand, when suddenly the statue opened its hands and stood. Raising itself and the little boy onto a new platform, the statue held out the boy’s hand for all to see. On his index finger, a small ring had been crafted. It was a simple band which shared the hue of the statue’s stone. At its head was a circular symbol, not very dissimilar from the current symbol of the Earth Kingdom.

“Lend me your hands. And I will reveal the truth.”

Chapter Text

~

“Kuan was a tall and handsome man, and a wise and strong leader.

He was loved far and wide by all, none more so than by his closest friend: the Avatar.”

~

 

“Bubuuuu!” A muffled scream rang down the metal hallway, bouncing off the walls before echoing into obscurity. Being met with no response, the voice wailed out again.

“Buuu-buuuuuuu!”

The second shriek was answered by a tall woman, who burst through the door which hid her caller. She was faced with a sullen-looking teenager lying in bed, surrounded by woolly pillows.

“Your Highness! Is everything alright?” The woman answered in a reticent voice, despite the seeming urgency with which she had flown into the room. She wore a pantsuit in shades of olive and forest green, fixed on one side with gold buttons. On her chest proudly sat a lacklustre, yet ornate, Earth Kingdom brooch.

“Bubu… Could you bring me some tea?” Wu yawned, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“It is my pleasure to serve, Your Excellency,” she replied. His bodyguard bowed with a curt smile before turning on her heel and clacking down the corridor.

Such was the typical start to the past two mornings aboard a remarkably intact airship of the royal fleet, charged with ferrying Wu to Ba Sing Se. Bao-san, or ‘Bubu’ as she had been affectionately nicknamed by Wu, served as the Earth monarch’s new bodyguard. She had been conscripted as soon as news of Kuvira’s stand-down hit the rest of the country; her services had been graciously offered by the Governor of Jin as a means to foster good relations between the King and his state. Without a moment of delay, she was brought into employ and had seldom left Wu’s side since.

“I have picked a yellow and red rose tea for you this morning, Your Excellency. I hope it is to your taste.” Bao-san returned quickly and placed a small white cup and saucer on Wu’s bedside table, which Wu wasted no time in raising to his lips and taking a long gulp.

“Oh, just delightful!” He said contently. He tilted his head sideways and gave Bao-san a winsome look with wide eyes. “What would I ever do without you?”

“It is my pleasure,” Bao-san replied. She bowed so deeply it would’ve been impossible for her not to spot the scuff marks on the toes of her boots. The door closed with a soft click, leaving Wu alone with his thoughts once again.

He kept his hands wrapped around the porcelain cup, the hot tea breathing warmth into his bones. Despite falling asleep under a sizeable pile of quilts and pillows, he had woken up cold and startled – again. His mind was abuzz with toiling, conflicting thoughts. He took another deep sip of the tea, inhaling its sweet aroma and savouring the delicate flavours – gentle and lingering – of the flowers which could only be found on the smaller islands of the Fire Nation. I wonder if Mako has ever been there… His mind wandered back to the firebender, left behind in Republic City. For the past few years, Mako had been his sole companion. Wu would be lying to himself if he didn’t admit to feeling a certain way about him. Isn’t that why you chose him? Wu asked himself wearily. However, despite their constant proximity, Wu really tried to keep himself in check during his reclusion in Republic City. He tried directing his attention elsewhere – some rambunctious behaviour here, a little extravagant flirtation there – after a while it became second nature. But of course, he gave in to himself every now and then as well – an arm around the shoulders here, a touch on the arm there. Anything to grant him, if only an illusion of, intimacy.

Wu laid the cup down briefly so he could pull his legs up and sit cross-legged under the quilts, taking the cup back in hand once he was settled. He took a deep breath in through his nose, and blew out through his mouth. It had never been easy to tell himself that his feelings were likely unrequited – and now, with his return to Ba Sing Se, the finality of it was harder than ever. Wu admitted to himself reluctantly that Mako had his own life in Republic City, and to that end he was just a visitor.

“Oh c’mon, Wu!” He psyched himself up, with a tiny laugh to himself. “You have more important things to think about right now.” He gulped the rest of his now lukewarm tea, setting the cup down slightly too sharply onto its saucer. He flinched at the noise it made, and lifted the cup back up gingerly. To his dismay, a small fracture snaked its way through the saucer and neatly cut through an Earth Kingdom symbol at the plate’s centre. How poetic , he sighed. Wu lowered himself out of bed and padded over to the front door. He prised it ajar and called down the corridor; in seconds, Bao-san was walking towards him.

“Yes, Your Highness?” She nodded.

“Ahh, c’mon Bubu. You can stop being so formal, y’know? Just call me Wu! Like my old bodyguard did.” Wu smiled up at her, attempting to sound cheerful.

“To ask that would be to ask that I do my duty improperly, Your Excellency," she replied respectfully. “I cannot do such a thing.” She paused momentarily before continuing.

“If I may, Your Highness… You look a little troubled today," Bao-san questioned, but averted her gaze when Wu looked up. “Is something the matter?”

“Ah, not at all," Wu had replied quickly. Perhaps a little too quickly.

Wu was always in good spirits, ensconced in his own little world. Even withstanding the enormous pressure regarding his belated ascension to the throne, he had seemed bright and hopeful until the day before they departed. Today was the first he showed visible signs of fatigue and unkemptness. Maybe he just needs a haircut , she mused.

“Well. I am confident it is nothing that Your Excellency cannot overcome," Bao-san praised him, offering a small smile and another bow.

“Haha, yes, well…” Wu trailed off, his eyes searching the corridor for words he couldn’t bring to his lips. “Ahhh, right. Tell Gun and the others to meet me on the observation deck. I will be there shortly," he uttered quickly before pulling the door closed. There was a gilded, circular mirror fixed at eye level; he peered at himself scrupulously. The clicks of Bao-san’s boots faded into silence before he spun around, straightening his spine and looking as officious as possible.

“Time to sort yourself out, Wu!” He muttered to himself. “Your face looks terrible. You have pimples. Wu of the Hou-Ting dynasty! Pimples ?! Ridiculous.” He flounced into the adjoining bathroom suite and busied himself with a rigorous grooming routine.

Several moments – and a few wardrobe changes – later, Wu was sat on the observation deck with Gun and three ministers of the Royal Court. They sat in tall-backed chairs arranged in a semi-circle around a low oval-shaped table, allowing their eyes to drift from the ring of stern faces to the windows, where a sea of cloudless blue stretched into the distance. Wu had given Bao-san a temporary break from duty, and she waited on the level below.

“Your Highness, although we will only be arriving at the capital of Zhan in several hours, we thought it pertinent to discuss some details with you," a short, white-haired minister named Cang declared. Officially, he was the Minister of the Interior, responsible for managing and maintaining the vast collection of records which detailed the intricate workings of the monarch and the Royal Court. But with very little left to protect once Queen Hou-Ting had been assassinated and the palace ransacked, Cang had followed Wu to Republic City with few royal duties remaining. He pushed a sealed brown envelope, tied closed with green string, towards Wu.

“Ministers Mian, Tao and I took the liberty of writing Your Excellency a speech," he said, glancing at the other ministers as he spoke. “It is only appropriate to make your arrival a celebration: a speech, a procession…”

Wu drew apart the strings and perused the speech that unfolded. After reading a few lines, his attention wavered and absent-mindedly recounted the last-minute meeting he had called in Republic City just before leaving. Waves of regret washed over him as he reminisced. If I hadn’t been so temperamental… Maybe I wouldn’t have sounded so pathetic . Wu’s admission to thinking about abolishing the monarchy had been met with intense incredulity from his ministers, although Gun remained conspicuously neutral in the ensuing tattle. Even before then, Raiko – who had overhead Wu talking at the Varrick wedding party – was quick to dismiss his idealistic view, claiming that the risk was too high and that it presented other revolutionaries opportunity for conquest. And we all know how that worked out last time , he remembered Raiko saying. However, the support of his friends was enough for Wu to continue holding onto his idea – and besides, it wasn’t like he paid Raiko’s opinion much mind. But the unmistakable and unyielding weight of responsibility was tougher to carry on a single, small pair of shoulders.

“A procession?” Wu asked. He fancied that idea. “But… Are you sure this is the best thing to do, right now?”

“But of course! The people will surely respond well to such a rousing occasion!” Tao, Minister of the Trade, shook his hands towards Wu fervently. He was a narrow-eyed man with two black tendrils of a moustache.

“Your Highness, we appreciate the concerns you have regarding the choice to take the throne, especially in light of your recent thoughts on the matter. However, let us assure you that it is the right decision, and one best for the people .” Minister Mian stressed the words he knew would keep Wu attentive. “There are royalists gathering numbers all over the country, fearless now with the knowledge of Kuvira’s capture. We must use this momentum, gather their sparks and light a roaring flame to illuminate our once-illustrious Kingdom.”

Mian was a newer member of the Royal Court, assuming the title Minister of the Affairs after his predecessor had been killed after the Queen’s assassination. He was much younger than the other ministers, with a clean-shaven face and light brown hair. Certainly a refreshing face compared to the rest of his court. Wu had only met him once before Kuvira’s subjugation, on the day of his official coronation – but he chose to wipe that day from the timeline of his life. Mian’s bejewelled fingers glinted as he drummed them together.

“Kuvira’s forces were massive – they covered the entire Kingdom! And they’re all still out there… Surely they are the biggest problem right now?” Wu asked.

“I was told that a great number within Kuvira’s forces were coerced into action… It is my belief that these people will not find cause to continue her fight," Tao replied, fiddling with a strand of his moustache hair.

“But that still leaves the people who do want to kill me?” Wu cocked his head to one side and raised an eyebrow. He recounted his various past experiences with Kuvira supporters. Gun looked at him, worried.

“For that, Your Highness, we have a plan," Cang said, producing a hefty dossier and sliding it along the table towards Wu. “We can take advantage of the reform Kuvira inflicted upon our country and use it – build, develop, strengthen it. Although the throne lies in Ba Sing Se, you will be able to touch the lives of everyone in the country with unprecedented ease.” Wu regarded the cover of the dossier as the others continued talking.

“With a stabilising hand, the states can be united under the royal banner once more. We will welcome those who were exploited by Kuvira’s tyranny, and use their support to stand the remaining rebels down. To this end, Your Eminence," Tao paused imperceptibly, “we proffer a list of individuals to… Aid , the state leaders to achieve this task.”

“But… The states already have governors," Wu responded, forehead creased.

“And it has been their poor leadership which caused the state of disarray we have seen in the last few decades. But, with the full force of the Earth King behind them, we can newly exact righteous change across the land. In the way that your great-aunt never could.” Mian delivered the final words slowly, and to his satisfaction Wu remained silent.

“But… We can’t just replace the current governors," Wu exclaimed after some thought. “That seems totally unfair!” He pouted.

“Indeed, Your Excellency, it is unwise to replace the governors outright," Cang said, folding his hands together. “But that is not to say that we cannot work directly beside them.” He waited for Mian to conclude their argument.

“We will use the men we have found to officiate alongside the current governors, as ‘Guardian Prefects’," Mian rolled the words off his tongue proudly. “A new royal status, the Guardian Prefect answers directly to the King and the Royal Court. In each state, they will both supervise and instruct stately business – and their word, Your Eminence, will carry your will and authority alone. This way, the connection between the states and their King will be stronger than ever.”

“With the Guardian Prefects, we will be able to react to, and deal with, mutinies and uprisings vastly more quickly than before," Tao responded to the question Wu had forgotten about. “They will be of utmost importance in safeguarding the good, common people from the rebel remnants of Kuvira, and any others who wish to revolt against us.”

“In short, Your Eminence, they are men of their title: prefects of the Royal Court and guardians of the people of our Kingdom," Mian concluded.

Wu tasted the words, impressed. Even Gun, who appeared as if hearing this for the first time, looked less doleful than usual.

“Hmmm… Guardian Prefects, you say? I like it!” Wu grinned. Maybe everything will okay, after all! He thought excitedly, relief soothing his stiffness. He let his imagination loose, conjuring up images of adoring citizens crowding him, chanting his name. He imagined his assembly of Prefects, dressed in regal uniforms, lending their ears to the common people. Although still far from the ideal, it was a step in the right direction at least. Through the Guardian Prefects, Wu would be able to interact with his people more directly and ensure that he could make their lives the best they could be.

“Your Highness, when we set foot in Zhan you will be delivering a resounding message to the people: Behold, your King is returned!” Tao cheered. “And with this message, your first act as King will be to appoint the Guardian Prefect by royal edict. The first in the history of this Kingdom.”

“Oh I do like the sound of that," Wu admitted.

“Our candidate for Guardian Prefect of Zhan is there now, waiting with Gwai.”

Time caught up to Wu. Immediately, his smile faded. A silence settled over the observation deck.

“So… Will this really work? I mean…” Wu’s excitement dissipated as he trailed off. “Appointing these Prefects… This is the plan? My first commandment as King…” He ran a hand through his quiff nervously, speaking in a hushed tone soft enough he could have been talking to himself. My first royal decree… And what if this makes things worse? He agonised, his relief now superseded by all-too-familiar anxiety. Following Cang’s gaze, he looked out over the arid landscape, as if searching the ravines for his answer. Maybe I am being naïve, he thought. The ministers are right… The people need someone to look to. To give them strength and stability. If I really want to help them, maybe this is what I need to do. A suppressed laugh from Mian drew Wu back into reality.

“Your Highness… We of the Royal Court are learned in the art of politics. Would we be in your employ if we were imbeciles?” Mian gestured towards the other ministers, with eyebrows raised and a smile twisting his lips. Cang and Tao glanced at each other, their eyes grinning, but otherwise devoid of emotion. Wu couldn’t help but snort in response.

“How dare you speak in such a way!” Gun spoke up abruptly. He narrowed his eyes at Mian, recalling the conditions under which the young man had been appointed. Mian simply smirked back at him.

“Ah, there’s no need for that, Gun," Wu said, looking back towards them all. “He has a point, after all.” Gun nodded wearily, averting his gaze downwards.

“I meant no disrespect, Your Eminence," Mian said as he bowed his head towards Wu. “It was only to reassure you. And, if I may… Appointing the Guardian Prefects is a perfect step towards your vision for the country. Be the hand that guides now, so they can one day guide themselves.”

“What do you think, Your Excellency?” Cang interjected.

Wu looked at the speech and dossier laid in front of him. Everything was flawlessly presented, thoroughly well-researched and meticulously arranged – clearly, this was not a plan which had been pulled from the air at the drop of a hat. Cang was a perspicacious minister, and although he excelled at his administrative duties, was clearly less inclined towards political discussion. The same could be said for Tao. But Mian, on the other hand, resounded an effortlessness which belied his age, and Wu found it near-impossible not to be seduced by his charisma. There was no doubt he was instrumental in the creation of the Prefect edict.

“Let’s do it," Wu said with confidence, the eagerness of before seeping in again. He had no time to second-guess himself – it was time for action. “Let’s do it!” He hopped out of his seat and the ministers rose with him, bowing their heads.

“We are humbled, Your Eminence," Mian said reverently. The ministers shared a celebratory laugh, grinning, before Mian continued. “Why not use the time we have left to spruce up a little? I’m sure the people would love to see their King at his finest .”

“What an excellent idea! You’re the man, Mian," Wu professed. With a call for Gun, he promptly marched away. Gun scrambled up the documents on the table, shooting the other ministers a glare before scuttling after Wu.

“Well, best we prepare for arrival as well," Cang stated. Tao hummed in agreement and followed suit, leaving the younger minister behind. Mian settled back down into his chair and smiled to himself contently.

 

~ ~ ~



Korra was pacing up and down in the entrance way of City Hall. She had snuck in an hour or so earlier to avoid an ambush by any keen journalists. Unfortunately this had allowed them to swarm around the building, effectively trapping her within. Korra could hear chattering voices, and knew that a large group of them was lying in wait for her at the bottom of the steps outside.

This press conference had been arranged faster than she expected. Maybe it was Raiko’s urgent need for the papers to blame someone other than him, or a general lack of information about what was going on, but the city’s writers had flocked back through the ruined streets with rapid speed to get a chance to ask the Avatar some questions.

Korra wished she’d had a little more time to find some answers to these questions. Immediately after Raiko’s summon she, Tenzin, and Jinora had investigated the area surrounding the portal on the Republic City side together. Jinora had looked sadly around what had been the spirit vine grove, which had been her favourite place in the city. But the explosion had blasted the forest of twisting vines into oblivion, leaving only a crater in its place.

“I wish we could have protected it,” she said. Korra hugged her.

“I know how you feel, this place was pretty special. But look: the vines are starting to grow back,” Korra pointed out, “and there’ll be even more spirits around Republic City now.”

“You’re right,” agreed Jinora. “There’s definitely a lot of spiritual energy here. It’s even stronger than it used to be.”

“I feel it too,” said Korra. She and Jinora circled the portal, both trying to sense its power. “Does it feel dangerous to you?”

“I… Can’t tell. Anything as powerful as this has the potential to be dangerous. But think about benders, we can hold amazing power, but it’s only dangerous depending on how we use it.”

“Very true, Jinora,” said Tenzin, with a proud smile. “But this portal isn’t a sentient being; we have no idea if it can control itself.”

“So in other words, if it’s stable,” Korra added. She frowned. The portal’s energy didn’t feel unstable to her…

Korra had returned alone the next day with a water skin, and bent a thin stream of water in a complicated pattern around the portal. The water coiled and twisted in a way that reminded her of the laces on a pair of Asami’s boots. She channelled her spiritual energy into the water, breathing deeply, trying to sense anything useful about the portal. Its power felt different to the portals at the North and South poles, almost surging rather than flowing. But as the water kept spiralling, mimicking the movements of the portal’s green and yellow bands of energy, she couldn’t tell if that was the nature of this portal, having been torn into existence, or due to its newness. And to her annoyance, she still couldn’t tell if it posed a threat. She let the water fall to the ground with a grunt, and trudged away.

Remembering her frustration over the past few days Korra knew more time wouldn’t have helped, but that didn’t make her feel any better as she steeled herself and pushed open the door. She squinted at the camera flashes that greeted her. The low babble she could hear from inside instantly transformed into shouts to get her attention.

“Korra!”

“Avatar Korra!”

The noise didn’t stop as she approached the podium and began speaking.

“Hello, I- Hello? Excuse me…?” She attempted, tapping the microphone, trying to be heard over the calls of photographers to “Look this way!” and journalists all loudly launching into questions, shouting over each other.

“QUIET!” She bellowed, doing her best impression of Lin. This shut everyone up. “Thank you. As you know, I am here today to answer your questions about the new spirit portal that was opened in downtown Republic City. So… One at a time please? Yes,” she said, nodding at a female reporter in a blue hat.

“Miku Wen, United Daily News. I think a lot of people, myself included, would like to thank you for your involvement in defending Republic City and defeating Kuvira.”

Korra smiled. This is a pretty good start! She thought. Maybe this press conference wasn’t going to go as terribly as she’d anticipated.

The reporter continued, “How was Kuvira taken into custody? And where did the spirit portal come from?”

Korra could answer this one. She gave a quick summary of the events of the battle, explaining how Kuvira’s spirit weapon had landed in the former spirit grove.

“Kuvira fired the spirit cannon at me, but lost control of it. She couldn’t shut it down. I entered the Avatar State to stop her from being hit, and something about me being in that state, trying to force all that spiritual power away, must have created the new spirit portal. I’m not exactly sure how it happened… I came around in the spirit world with Kuvira. We had a conversation and she surrendered when we crossed back over into the physical world.”

Upon hearing her response, several journalists shouted from the crowd:

“Do you have anything to say about Kuvira’s actions?”

“Can you tell us anything about the punishment she will face?”

“Do you think the reinstated Earth monarchy will do a better job of upholding stability than Kuvira’s forces did?”

Korra frowned slightly. She wasn’t sure how to answer any of these questions. In fact, she thought guiltily, most of these things hadn’t even occurred to her. She hadn’t been thinking too deeply about political affairs while she was in the spirit world. “Um… I have no further comments to make about Kuvira at this time,” she said awkwardly. “Are there any questions about the spirit portal?”

A squat, moustachioed man stuck his pen in the air. “Oi Yu, Republic Radio News. After Harmonic Convergence your decision to leave the spirit portals at the North and South poles open created a lot of changes for Republic City. Should we expect similar changes now there’s another one open right in the heart of town?” he asked.

“My decision did lead to a lot of changes,” Korra agreed. “And not all of them were welcome at first. But the people of Republic City adapted, pretty admirably in my opinion. I think we all remember how much havoc the spirit vines caused at the beginning. But we reshaped our city and our lives to include the spirits, and wonderful changes followed too. I’m not sure what this new portal will bring, but if it’s as exciting as the return of the airbenders I can’t wait to find out.” Korra grinned. She was pretty pleased with how she’d answered that one.

“Excuse me, Avatar Korra... Did you just say you’re not sure what the effects of this new portal will be?” A shrill voice called.

“I, uh-” said Korra, taken aback.

“Does this mean that you have let a powerful force of spiritual energy sit in the middle of our city for several days now without knowing the consequences?” The reporter continued.

“I suppose that is true, but-”

“While you yourself were not even present in Republic City?” she finished.

“Um. Yes. But I was in the spirit world, and I entered through the new portal. So I think that-”

“Isn’t it irresponsible of the Avatar to leave Republic City undefended from any ill effects of this thing? Especially after an absence of three years?” Piped up a scrawny reporter near the front of the crowd.

Korra was speechless.

“If- if you could all settle down, I can explain!” She cried. But the sea of journalists did not give her any chance as a relentless barrage of questions flew her way:

“How dangerous do you think it is?”

“That battle already wrecked half of Republic City, do you mean to tell us we should expect even more destruction?”

“How many times will we have to rebuild our homes because of these spirits you’ve let loose?”

“Please!” Korra yelled. “I’ve investigated the portal the best I can. Its spiritual energy is incredibly strong - the same as the two portals I opened at the poles. It’s true... It does feel a little different - I don’t know why; maybe nobody will ever know. But it seems to work the same as the others… And so far it hasn’t posed any danger to the city. Personally I think a beautiful opportunity has been given to the people of Republic City to become more connected to the spirit world. But if you’re concerned, well… Most people are still outside the city where they were evacuated, so the citizens should be safe from any danger.”

This displeased the journalists, who started up their incensed questioning once again.

“So you do think there’s danger!”

“How long do you expect the people to remain outside the city? Their livelihoods are more important than some glowy sky beam!”

“What was your reasoning for abandoning the United Republic to this potential danger?! Would you like to explain your absence for the past few days?”

“For the past few years?!”

“You claim to love Republic City yet you’ve consistently been at the root of the need for massive rebuilding operations! What do you have to say to that?”

“Care to comment on your relationship with the CEO of Future Industries, Miss Asami Sato?”

Korra felt like she was drowning, questions and accusations being thrown at her from all sides. Part of her wanted to rage against these people: what right did they have to judge her decisions? To question what she’d done to protect them? A younger Korra would have yelled and defended herself, but she hesitated. She didn’t really consider the impacts of her world-saving on the day-to-day life of the common person… Some of the journalists had made valid points.

“Uh, that’s my final comment on the matter. No more questions! Thank you!” Korra declared, not as strongly as she would like. She turned her head about for an exit but the journalists and photographers were crowded around the steps of city hall, and they were still clamouring for her attention. Korra groaned to herself. Guess there’s only one thing for it…

She grabbed the staff from her back, and switched it into glider mode in one fluid motion. She ran forward and leapt over the crowd, to cries of astonishment. The scrawny reporter fell over trying to duck out of her way. Korra floated gently over them on a current of air, then landed gingerly on the other side of the press.

She raised her arm, and called “No more questions!” again as she ran down an alley. Once she was a few streets away, she leant against a wall to catch her breath. I hate press conferences , she thought.

After a few moments she carried on, turning onto a quiet street that led her further away from City Hall. It wasn’t long before she spotted a familiar figure on the other side of the road.

“Oh hey, Mako!” Korra waved over at the firebender who appeared to be making his way home, crossing over to join him. He was carrying a brown bag, presumably groceries, and although the weather was pleasant his red scarf seemed wound a little tighter than usual.

“Oh, Korra…” Mako said, turning around with a surprised smile. “How’s everything going?”

“Ugh," Korra sputtered as she rolled her eyes. “I thought it was annoying enough dealing with Raiko… Turns out, the people who actually come to these open conferences are just like him. They’re an army of Raikos. ” Her eye twitched. Mako just laughed in response.

“But anyways, how are you feeling? How’s the arm?” Korra enquired, quick to change the subject and prevent reliving what had happened just moments ago.

“Oh, uh… Yeah, it’s getting there," Mako said slowly, with a long exhale. “It doesn’t hurt or anything, but…”

“Yeah?” Korra looked perplexed.

“Uh, it’s still just a bit weak, y’know? I can’t really move it much," Mako mumbled quickly. He gritted his teeth behind a tight-lipped smile, involuntarily flexing the fingers of his slung-up arm.

“Riiight… C’mon, Mako, I know you," she said, her eyes narrowed. “You’re really bad at hiding when there’s something on your mind, you know.” Korra put her arm around Mako’s shoulders playfully, settling into a rhythm next to him as they both started walking in the direction of his apartment. “Let’s walk and talk.”

“Korra, nah… I’m fine.” Mako gave his best attempt at a smile, but the corners of his lips didn’t quite curl enough.

“Pssht, yeah, like I believe that.” Korra countered, taking her arm off him to give him some space. She knew Mako pretty well, and he was never one to lightly express any serious emotions. It usually ended with something or someone being set on fire. She stayed quiet and paced alongside the firebender, knowing he would start talking when the silence gave him no other option.

Mako just watched the pavement as he walked. He knew that the longer he didn’t say anything the more suspicious it would seem, and the less likely it would be that Korra would leave him alone about it. But despite his turbulent feelings – and admittedly the fact that he still felt a little awkward around her – she was only trying to help, and he trusted her.

“Mako, you know you can trust me, right?” Korra said softly, appearing to read his mind. Her voice didn’t give any allusion that she was goading him to talk. He sighed deeply, turning slightly red as he spoke.

“It’s about Wu.” The words jumped out before he registered what they were. His heart raced. Oh, f***.

“Oh.” Korra paused before responding. Not what she had expected, she struggled to identify the possible course of the conversation. When Mako had ever spoken of Wu to her personally, or when he wasn’t around, it was never really substantial . She knew that the two had gotten closer since the attempts on Wu’s life, and during Kuvira’s attack on Republic City – so much so that Mako would even defend Wu on occasion. But, even the notion that they were friends would still be somewhat surprising, given the huge difference in their personalities and Mako’s strict adherence to his role as bodyguard. On all accounts, the former prince and his bodyguard were just that. However, she did also acknowledge that, despite all of Wu’s shortcomings, he had really matured since she had first met him. Clearly his egomaniacal exterior protected a more good-natured disposition, although it did serve quite the challenge for anyone attempting to break through his façade.

“Yeah… I, well, we , got into a fight last week," Mako said sombrely. “I- he , came to my apartment to see me before leaving. You probably know he’s on his way back to Ba Sing Se.” Korra just hummed in agreement, allowing Mako to speak freely. “Well…frankly, he was quite torn up. And not like all his stupid ‘ Wu down ’ moments – he was actually upset.” Mako looked uncomfortable as his mind replayed the scene without consent.

“I guess that’s understandable," Korra started, “after all, the guy is planning to get rid of the monarchy…that’s gonna be a pain, for sure. And he’s going to be the last Earth King the world will see…can you ima-”

“I miss him.” He blurted out the words softly, but to them both his voice cut through the city’s humdrum. Korra glanced at him, but her gaze shifted back when she realised he wouldn’t return the eye contact. He was still intently focusing on the floor in front of them, his stare immobile. Without breaking the silence, Korra linked arms with him and squeezed his bicep gently. Using those three words, she assembled the missing pieces in her head. The tone of his voice only made her surer of the conclusion she reached, understanding all too well why he felt this way. Conflict resolution is my speciality, after all , she thought.

“And when you see him again… What do you want to happen?” She asked, although she was sure that he wouldn’t have an answer for such a question. She couldn’t blame him – she understood the complex collection of feelings he was trying to reconcile. After a minute of thought, Mako cleared his throat.

“Honestly, I- I don’t know.” His response was unsure, but steady. “But I know that I do want to see him again… I don’t want that to be the last time… And I don’t want it to be ages before we do … I- I guess.” The sentence felt too short and too protracted all at once – but Mako said no more.

“Why don’t you go to him?” Korra looked up at him and smiled reassuringly. He smiled back timidly. “You know where he is headed. I’m sure Asami could fix you up with a ride… We could make it happen.”

“Heh, I suppose that would at least give me something to do…” His voice rang with uncertainty once again, and his eyes flicked down to his arm in its sling. He continued quickly. “But I don’t think I would really be much more than a burden to him right now.”

“Aw, c’mon Mako – don’t you think he would be happy to see you?” Korra switched up her tactics now. “You said yourself that he came to see you in your apartment. I mean, I’m no expert on you two, but to me it sounds like he thinks a great deal of you. Especially since he came to see you before he left the city…  And for who-knows how long.”

“But… I’m still injured.” He looked at his slung-up arm, dejected. “What if he needs help and I’m just sat there, not doing anything?” Mako finally took his eyes off the pavement and looked down at Korra.

“You still don’t get it, do you?” She couldn’t help but let out a laugh. “Here’s what I think, Mako. Wu clearly wants you for who you are to him – not what you are. You started off as his bodyguard, but became a friend. A friend he trusts deeply – with his life ! You are right though – you are injured, so you may not be that handy in a fight. But that’s not your job anymore.”

Mako thought deeply about what Korra had said. Even if that is the case, I still haven’t told her why we had the fight. Friend, or not… Would he want to see me after the things I said?

“So… When I see him, then – what do I do? He’s probably still mad at me…” Mako trailed off. He finished the sentence in his head. Would he forgive me? Nonetheless, he voiced his concerns despite knowing that Korra did not know the whole story. He looked at her helplessly.

“Well, Wu may still be a little bit of a brat…” Korra poked Mako. “But I have no doubt that you two will be able to work past whatever you fought about.”

“Yeah… I hope so.” Mako frowned, upset at himself. Wu had come to me for advice about what is probably the biggest decision for the Earth Kingdom in hundreds of years… But he has to be the one to make it, not me. How could I be so selfish? He thought, reaching up to adjust his scarf.

“Just be honest with him. And with yourself, too.” Korra looked at him, her lips turned into a small smile. “And, y’know, you should never feel like you have to do this alone. Don’t let it eat you up. Come talk to me next time!” She squeezed his arm to make her point clear, but chose her words carefully.

“Yeah… Thanks, Korra.” Mako flushed, a wave of some inexpressible feeling rolling through his skin. He realised his eyes were watering and laughed, wiping a hand across them quickly to prevent Korra from seeing. He was unsure if it was relief or feeling utterly ridiculous – or a combination of the two – which made him react that way.

“You okay?” Korra glanced at him sideways.

“Yeah," Mako said, barely able to contain a small smile. “So… What do I do now?”

“Hmm. I’ll talk to Asami and we’ll find the fastest way to get you into the Earth Kingdom.” Korra looked up at him with a determined grin. “You’ve got packing to do!”

“It appears I do," Mako replied. Uplifted, he waved bye to Korra and strode quickly back to his block of flats.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Wu stood at the window in his makeshift chambers aboard the airship, nose pressed to the polished glass. Watching the beautiful scenery drift by below him had been his favourite pastime since climbing aboard. Taking some time alone to admire the view gave him a rare sense of peace, or at least let him convince himself the butterflies in his stomach were due to being so far above the ground.

Wu had been confined in a meeting when they had passed over the Ruins of Taku the day before. But, to his pleasure, today he had returned to the large windows just as the Great Divide came into view. He had jubilantly dragged Bao-san up to them, bouncing up and down with excitement. She had dutifully acquiesced, and stood next to him, straight-backed. But her face remained impassive as they crossed the largest canyon in the world, and she had excused herself after a polite amount of time.

Now, they had reached the flat desert on the other side. To the east Wu saw a glimmer of water, and a green smudge of forest on the horizon. They were truly back in the Earth Kingdom now.

The young king closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to the cold glass. Part of him was glad, excited to be back in the Earth Kingdom. But there was another part of him - a small pit of worry in his stomach. He glanced at his bed. An ornate scroll lay haphazardly on top of a pillow, where it had landed as he threw it aside upon re-entering the room with Gun. This tour was a formality, he knew, and he had never had issues with public speaking before. And yet he was nervous. The announcement of his plan to dissolve the monarchy had not been entirely effective. He hadn’t done a good enough job. Should he summon them again, command them to do his bidding, take him seriously? A good king wouldn’t have to order people to take him seriously… But should he be worrying about that? He wanted to free the country of the monarchy. And on that note what about his ministers’ new plan? The idea of Guardian Prefects had appealed to Wu, but the position was still ultimately designed to serve under a King... Should he even be doing this tour, then, if he wanted to step down as ruler? How would his people react to his return, especially as he came to announce he was about to abandon them?

He sighed, fogging up the glass. I wish I had a friend on this airship , he thought, his mind drifting back to Republic City. But no, he doesn’t want to be my advisor. He didn’t even want to accompany me back to Ba Sing Se in the first place. He’s probably glad to be free of me… I’m on my own. Wu’s fists clenched as he dug deep to find some resolve.

“I’m not alone!” he declared to the empty room. “I have my ministers, my new bodyguard, a whole country of loving subjects! I bet dames’ll be throwing themselves at my feet when we land. And my ministers know what they’re doing!” he said, recalling the briefing earlier today. “The governor of Zhan seems capable, and they say he’s well liked. And if I want to make sure he’s treating my people correctly, I do need someone loyal to me to keep an eye on him. Why it’s only sensible to appoint Guardian Prefects!”

He nodded to himself. In all honesty, he wasn’t sure if he believed what he’d just said - but it did make him feel a little better. Wu wandered over to the ornate mirror to fiddle with his hair. He wondered how he would feel when he finally set foot back home.

There was a sharp rap at the door.

“Yes?” called Wu, smoothing his hair with a drop of panda-lily scented serum.

“Your Highness,” said Bao-san, bowing as she entered. “The Grand Secretariat wished me to inform you we will shortly be landing outside Chengchi. Is there anything I can do to help you prepare for your first official visit?”

“Aww, thanks Bubu! That’s sweet. Nah, think I’m all set. Unless you think my outfit needs anything to make me look more, I don’t know, kingly ?”

The bodyguard’s face did not change. “Your Highness cuts an elegant figure. Shall I run through the security arrangements? There will be a short processional drive to to the home of Governor Shun via Satomobile. The vehicle will be flanked by mounted guards, and I will be sat next to you of course-”

“No need for that Bubu! I’m sure you’ve got it covered! This is exciting huh? Our first stop!” Wu found his spirits had lifted a little more. He’d been out of action in Republic City for weeks, not even allowed to continue helping with the evacuees. Followed by the last few days cooped up in the airship, he was ready to feel solid ground beneath his feet and talk to someone outside his official retinue.

“Yes, Your Highness. I’m sure the people of Chengchi are honoured to be the ones to welcome you back to your Kingdom.”

“I’ve never been to Zhan! I’m not sure I even left Ba Sing Se while my aunt was on the throne. Now I’ll get to see so many different places! Hey, Bubu! You ever visited Chengchi before?”

The statuesque woman opened her mouth to answer, but before she could say anything there was a loud thud and the gondola shook. She took a step back and planted herself firmly, but Wu was caught off guard and toppled forwards. Bao-san caught him and righted him easily.

“We’ve landed, my King. I’d best ensure the preparations are in order.” She turned on her heel and marched off. Wu, after a moment’s thought, followed her out of his chambers, heading in the direction of the meeting room. Maybe I can catch the ministers before this tour starts.

As he crossed the galley an oily voice called out to him. “Ahh, your Royal Highness,” Cang said, bowing. “Ready for the procession I see. A fine Satomobile you’ll be travelling in; I’m really quite envious. But you shouldn’t be wandering about by yourself, where is your bodyguard? Come along, we’ll-”

“Actually, Cang, I wanted to have a word with you and the other ministers before we set off,” Wu interjected.

“Oh?” said Cang, raising an eyebrow. “Is there something you’re unclear on about your duties this afternoon? I’d be happy to explain again.”

“No, it’s not that,” Wu said, a little disgruntled. He took a deep breath, drawing up his courage. “I… I’m not sure you and the other ministers really took what I said before seriously. But I really meant it! Maybe what we’re about to do is not what’s best for the country.” Wu saw the minister’s mouth begin to open, and hurried to speak before he did. “Just like taking this tour, officially recognising all these governors, appointing Guardian Prefects... Shouldn’t we just go straight to Ba Sing Se and-”

“Your Highness, Your Highness!” interrupted Cang, in what Wu thought was meant to be a soothing voice. “Please don’t overexert yourself. I assure you, the other ministers and I took what you said quite seriously. But the fact remains: this tour has been planned. You can’t back out of official engagements such as this, especially not minutes before they are supposed to begin. It’s simply not done. We can worry about all that dissolution business when we reach the capital, and if you truly feel that is what’s best for your people we are duty-bound to assist you in any way we can. But for now, in my learned opinion, the best thing you can do is continue along with the tour and appoint the prefects we’ve chosen. They’re the best for the job! The peaceful situation the Earth Kingdom has reached is very tentative. Without strong leaders the country may collapse into chaos again! I’m sure that’s not what you want for these people, hmm?”

“I guess not… But-”

“Then don’t fret, my King! I guarantee this is the best move for the future you envision. If you do step down, the Prefect system will allow you to rapidly communicate your will to all corners of the country. Thus, it will ensure a smooth and stable transition to whatever new order you imagine will follow.”

Wu fidgeted with the gold buttons on his jacket. It was true: he didn’t really know what would come next when the monarchy was gone, or how it would be achieved. Having capable men under his command in each state would surely help in the interim.

“Alright. I suppose you’re right, Minister Cang. Thank you for your counsel.”

“It is my duty and my pleasure, Your Highness. Ah, here is your bodyguard; your carriage must be ready for you. Please escort King Wu to the Satomobile,” Cang ordered.

Bao-san nodded, and saluted Wu. He smiled at that. She’s even stiffer than Mako.

They walked to a cargo hold at the back of the gondola, where a shiny gold and green Satomobile stood waiting. A chauffeur in a freshly pressed uniform opened the door for Wu. He climbed in, relaxing into the soft leather seats. What did I expect? This king business isn’t all so bad… he thought as Bao-san joined him, her posture alert. With a flick of her wrist, a large metal door slip upwards, revealing a ramp leading down to the ground. The engine growled into life and the Satomobile drove smoothly forward, braking a few metres away from the airship. Four ostrich-horses pulled into formation around the vehicle, two at the front and two at the rear. Muscular earthbenders in military uniform sat astride them, scanning the surrounding area.

“At your command, Your Highness,” said Bao-san.

Wu looked ahead. The road they would join was bordered by forest, but he knew that just around the corner the trees would clear and they would approach Chengchi. He thought he could hear the sound of a crowd. He gulped, before calling out assertively.

“Drive!”

The car rolled forward and joined the dirt road into town, bumping over the uneven surface, engine purring. The trees along the roadside began to thin and a large wooden gate marking the entrance to the city came into view. Beyond this Wu could see wooden shops and houses, and in front of these, lining the streets, were crowds of people. As they spotted the shiny vehicle a cheer went up. Wu felt a weight lift off his shoulders.

The townspeople waved and smiled at the King; he reciprocated, grinning widely. Adoring crowds, I can deal with , he laughed to himself. He basked in the applause and cheerful shouts as the Satomobile made its way through the centre of town. He blew a kiss to a little girl perched on her father’s shoulders. He elbowed Bao-san, who was surveying the crowd for threats like an eagle-hawk perched high, scouting its prey.

“Isn’t this great?!” he exclaimed.

The bodyguard nodded graciously. “A greeting as truly befits the returning Earth King, your Highness,” she replied.

They continued through the city, rolling along happily. Some people threw flowers onto the road and into the car. Wu spotted a group holding banners and signs welcoming him, he craned his head around to be able to read them all. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of the carriage carrying his ministers. They would join him once he had greeted the governor.

Before Wu could turn around again there was a shout of “Halt!” and the Satomobile jerked to a stop. “Step away from the vehicle!” Bao-san ordered, glowering down at the perceived threat. Wu popped his head out and saw who had approached the car. He giggled when he saw a small girl, not older than seven.

“Bubu!” He laughed. “I think you can relax your security protocol a little. I’m sure this little lady isn’t a Kuvira-supporting assassin, are you?” He smiled down at the girl, and saw that she had tears in her eyes. Being shouted at by the King’s personal bodyguard had obviously scared her. “Aww, don’t cry!” Wu said gently, leaning out of the car to stroke the girl’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about Bubu, she’s just here to protect me. Hey, what’s that you’ve got there?” He asked, noticing the girl was holding something. Bao-san started forward, but Wu held her back with gesture. The girl blushed and looked down at her bare feet, but shyly held out her palms to the young King. Inside there was a simply carved wooden pendant, a circle with a square at the centre: the Earth Kingdom symbol.

“For me?” Wu asked. The girl nodded, and Wu smiled down at her. “Wow, thank you so much! It’s beautiful!” He took it gently from her, and she grinned back at him. “This is so special, I’m going to put it on right now and not take it off until I get to Ba Sing Se, okay? Even when I’m in the bath!” The girl laughed, and ran back to her family at the side of the road. Wu stood up in his seat, and raised the necklace for all to see before slipping it over his head. The crowd gave a loud cheer.

Bao-san commanded the procession forward with a scowl. Wu laughed at this and joked, “Aw c’mon Bubu, you wanted to turn that little girl away ‘cos you were jealous of me getting a gift?” The bodyguard did not respond, and Wu quickly turned back to waving at the crowd.

The car trundled along, pulling to a stop outside a stone house with a tiled roof. The mounted guards ushered the curious crowd away from the car, forming an intimidating barrier.

The house was moderately sized to Wu’s eyes, but much larger than any other dwelling they’d driven past. The pale stone walls were smooth and clean, and there was neat topiary decorating the wooden verandah at the front of the house. Several servants stood in a prim line facing the road, and a young footman rushed to open the Satomobile door. Standing at the bottom of the steps leading up to the front door was a middle-aged man. He was round-faced and balding, dressed in fine robes of deep brown and forest green. He gave a low bow as Wu left the car and approached the house.

Wu greeted him, “Governor Shun!”

“Your Highness, it is the highest honour for the people of Chengchi to welcome you to the state of Zhan,” the man said, head still lowered. “It is my particular privilege to host you myself during your stay here. I hope to serve you well as governor of Zhan.”

“Thanks, the people here have been really welcoming!” Wu and the governor exchanged pleasantries as the carriage containing Gun and the three ministers arrived. This was followed by another carriage, from which two men exited.

“Ah, Gwai! You’ve joined us at last,” Mian called.

Gwai hurriedly introduced himself to Wu as the Minister of the Law, then beckoned the other man forward. “Your Excellency. This is Jinyi, the intended Guardian Prefect of Zhan.” Jinyi bowed deeply. When he straightened up Wu saw that he was about Minister Mian’s age although not as handsome.

“It is an honour to finally meet you, King Wu. I am so looking forward to working for you to ensure everything is running smoothly here in Zhan,” Jinyi said softly.

“It is a pleasure. I hope we can work well together,” Wu smiled. Now, Shun, how about some local delicacies? Royal processions really help you work up an appetite!”

The governor led Wu and his ministers into the house to a tastefully decorated sitting room. After being joined by some influential Zhan locals, they were beckoned into the dining room for a sumptuous feast. Wu hadn’t been joking about being hungry, and he ate ravenously. “Spirits, I forgot how good real Earth Kingdom food tasted!” he exclaimed to the table. “My compliments to the chef, Shun!”

After several delicious courses, evening fell like a blanket over the town. As the plates were being cleared away, Wu noticed the sky outside was deep velvety blue, embroidered with silver stars.

The meal was followed by a traditional dance performance from some of the young women of Chengchi, accompanied by musicians on the flute and liuqin. A maid came out to serve tea as the performers took their final bow. Wu grinned and smoothed his hair back as he crossed the room to congratulate the dancers. Some of the girls were quite gorgeous, and he hoped they’d indulge him in coming back to the airship for a little party. Conversations about local trades and tax policies hadn’t particularly been to Wu’s interest. Some drinks with a couple of beautiful dames ought to liven things up around here… he thought instead.

But, as he approached the troupe, his path was blocked by Governor Shun. “Your Highness, I hope this evening’s entertainment has been to your satisfaction,” he said, bowing his head once more.

“Yeah... It was great Governor Shun, you did a wonderful job,” Wu replied, a little annoyed. “If you can run this state as well as organise such a fantastic dinner then Zhan is in safe hands,” he continued, craning his head round Shun’s shoulder to try and catch the lead dancer’s eye. This action caught the eye of Bao-san, who was stood immobile at the perimeter of the room.

“That’s just what I wanted to talk to you about, my King,” Shun said, placing a hand on Wu’s arm and leading him to another corner of the room. “If you would grant me a private word in my study, it would ease my mind on a certain matter… Please?” He gestured out to the corridor.

Wu pouted a little, but caught the eye of Mian who had been watching these proceedings while he sipped tea. Mian gave him an encouraging nod. Wu rolled his eyes and reluctantly agreed to follow Shun to his study. He glanced longingly back at the dancers as he passed through the door. Bao-san witnessed them exchange glances and made her way towards Wu, who noticed her begin to storm over. He smiled and shook his head, signalling that she could wait there. She stopped abruptly, acquiescing to his request, and made her way to a closer edge of the room.

“What’s this about, Shun?” Wu asked, as they entered the room. It was furnished with a lot of beautifully lacquered wood, one of Zhan’s main exports, and there were shelves lined with scrolls and books. A large map of the modern Earth Kingdom was spread out on a desk in the corner of the room.

The governor gently shut the door behind them. “Your Highness, this is a delicate matter… But I suppose there’s no other way to broach it. There have been rumours that you are intending to step down as King.”

“Yup. And more than that, I want to abolish the Earth Kingdom monarchy. It’s a pretty outdated system and I think the country would benefit from being run more like the United Republic,” Wu retorted. He hadn’t expected word of this to travel as far as the Earth Kingdom so quickly, but then again, he supposed telling his friends at Varrick’s wedding wasn’t exactly keeping it secret. Any number of people could have overheard and spread the news.

“It’s as I feared… Sire, I hope you don’t think me impertinent to say this - I do not mean to speak above my station, but I implore you: please do not do this,” the balding man pleaded.

Wu furrowed his brow. So many people seemed to be against his idea, but surely this is what would be best for the Earth people?

“And why shouldn’t I, governor?” he asked, deciding to at least hear the old man out.

“Please, Your Highness. The past few years the country has been in turmoil, with lawlessness and fear at every turn. The return of our king represents a return to normality; to harmony. Please do not cast that aside so easily…” The governor entreated.

Wu hesitated. “But the monarchy hasn’t always ruled well… My aunt taxed her people so much, and abducted all those airbenders!”

Shun nodded sadly. “It is true that not every Earth monarch has ruled wisely. But it is also true that all leaders make mistakes, and that it is important for future generations to learn from those mistakes. Do not think that you have inherited the flaws of all past monarchs, my king. And the forthcoming appointment of the Guardian Prefects will assure such mistreatment should never happen again. This will truly improve people’s lives! If it is not too bold of me, I think you have already done more good than your aunt ever did, Your Highness.”

Wu’s former bravado melted away, and his feelings of uncertainty grew. Could he be a good King? “I- I still think this will be what’s best for the people of the Earth Kingdom, governor,” he said quietly.

“If that is your decision then it is not my place to question it, my King. I only meant to give you my counsel. If it pleases you, can I make one request of you?”

“What is it?”

“Your heart seems to be set on this course of action, and if anyone can sway you it is not me. But please do not announce your plan to remove the monarchy at the ceremony tomorrow. You saw how the people of Zhan came together in Chengchi to welcome you. Many of them travelled for miles to do so. Your return has certainly brought excitement and hope back into their hearts. When I speak to the people, they say they do not fear to think of their children's futures anymore, with a wise young King back on the throne. If you must go forward with this plan… Better to announce it upon your return to Ba Sing Se. The blow will not be as strong, and I will have had time to prepare for whatever comes next to protect my people. Please let them have at least a few weeks more of hope, Your Highness?” The governor implored Wu.

Wu faltered. He thought of the smiling, cheering crowds that lined the road on his journey here. Would he really be dealing them such a heartbreaking blow? He had thought that there would still be those loyal to Kuvira, but the way the governor presented it, Zhan was united in their support for him as King…

“I… I won’t announce it to the people of Zhan,” Wu agreed. “I’ll acknowledge you as governor, appoint Jinyi as Guardian Prefect, and say that you both have my support as King.”

“Oh, thank you, Your Highness! You have no idea what this means to me - what this will mean to my people!” Shun cried jubilantly.

And so, the next morning, Wu took to a wooden stage in a large square in the centre of town. He wore a freshly pressed emerald coloured suit and golden-coloured silk cravat, both generous donations from a tailor whom Wu had helped get to safety weeks ago in Republic City. A large number of townspeople had come to watch the ceremony, and the sense of excitement in the air grew as Shun and Wu’s entourage ascended the stage alongside the King.

Wu fiddled with his wooden pendant as he prepared to speak to the crowd. The queasiness in his stomach could not be attributed to the altitude with his feet planted firmly on the ground. Wu turned to accept the scroll with his ministers’ speech written on it from Gun. A quick speech, and then I’m done, he thought to himself with relief. He steeled himself with a deep breath.

“Greetings, people of Zhan. I am King Wu-”

Wu did not make it through the first sentence without a round of applause and joyful hooting from the crowd. His shoulders relaxed, and he held up a palm before continuing.

“Thank you,” he said, smiling. He glanced down at the scroll before continuing. “It is with great honour that I officially recognise Shun as Governor of Zhan,” Wu took a fine wooden box from an attendant, opened it to show a carved stone seal inside, and presented it to the new governor. The crowds were enraptured.

“May you take this official seal, use it to protect and defend the people of your state, and serve as a paragon of virtue under the Hou-Ting dynasty,” Wu read, half-facing Governor Shun. He turned to face the crowd before continuing. “I hold Governor Shun in the highest esteem, and look forward to him working closely with myself and my government. I trust him to represent the monarchy’s interests and act in my stead, remaining ever loyal to his King,” Wu proclaimed. Huh , he thought, I probably should have read this more closely… It doesn’t sound much like me.

“Thank you for this honour, Your Highness,” Governor Shun said, making his lowest bow yet. “I hope the spirits bless your reign.” Wu bowed briefly in return, and the townspeople cheered in response. Wu held up his palm again and the crowd fell silent immediately, eager to hear more from their King.

“Now, I would like to make an announcement. One which will, hereinafter, permanently strengthen the ties between you,” Wu paused at this moment and involuntarily extended an arm towards the people, “and myself.” He closed the statement by gesturing to himself.

“The country has been through hard times, but it is nature for a glorious land such as ours to sprout seeds of discord. However, in this new age, I will endeavour to bring us together, once again.” At this, Jinyi was urged towards Wu by Mian. Wu looked to his ministers nervously, but they smiled back encouragingly.

“I hereby appoint Jinyi, a noble retainer of the monarchy, as Guardian Prefect of Zhan,” Wu continued. The crowds remained quiet. “As Guardian Prefect, Jinyi will work alongside Governor Shun, under my command. In this way, though I will remain in Ba Sing Se, I will be closer to you - my people - than ever before.” Mian strode out to centre-stage and presented Wu with a similar seal as he had been given earlier, but one made of glistening gold metal, with a red string laced through a loop in its intricate design. Wu took it and held it up for the crowd to see, receiving awed gasps in return.

“May you take this official seal; a symbol of your purpose as a faithful instrument to strengthen the connection between me and the people of my Kingdom.” Wu gulped as he handed the seal to Jinyi, who lowered his head.

“It is the highest honour to serve Your Excellency in this manner,” Jinyi said as he raised his eyes to meet Wu’s gaze. Cang then beckoned for Jinyi, who walked to the side of the stage and showed his respect for Shun. This act inspired a small roar of adulation from the crowd. Feeling a rush of courage, Wu grinned and raised his voice towards the crowd, choosing to ignore the rest of his speech, having already rolled up the scroll.

“I thank the people of Zhan for their most heartwarming welcome. I am grateful for your hospitality, and for giving me a reception worthy of a King. I leave you now in the capable hands of Governor Shun and Guardian Prefect Jinyi. I am confident they will do an excellent job governing the state: listening to my people’s concerns, and maintaining our hard-won stability.” Wu talked with a passion that rallied the townsfolk, but their squalls of support were not enough to drown out a few dissonant cries. “With leaders like Shun, and the guidance of the new Guardian Prefects, I promise to do my utmost in guiding our nation forward from its fractured state. With your support, the Earth Kingdom will stand strong and united once more.”

Most of the crowd cheered at this, but Wu noticed some people frowning, and others exchanging dark looks. Smiles slid off a few of the faces in front of the stage, and a wave of muttering passed through the crowd.

“Kuvira fought for that unity!” screeched someone from the crowd. Various other people make loud cries of agreement.

“How dare you!” called Governor Shun. “Please be quiet, the King demands your respect!”

“Shut up, Shun!” someone else grunted.

The rumble of discontent throughout the crowd had been building, and at this burst into yells and violent shoving. Several people chanted “Free the Great Uniter!” while others shouted “Long live the Hou-Ting dynasty!” Wu heard boos and angry roars, whether directed at him or other members of the crowd he did not know. The din became so loud he could barely tell what anyone was saying. He made out snippets:

“- king has returned!”

“- Kuvira!”

“- remember the Prophet-”

“- King Wu!”

He backed away across the stage, desperate to leave. He bumped into something and jumped, terrified, as arms grabbed him. He screamed, but it was only his bodyguard.

“Bubu! Thank spirits, I-”

“No time, Your Highness, we must get you to safety,” Bao-san interrupted sharply. She flicked her wrist again and the metal cuff she wore was bent into a staff. With one hand grasping Wu firmly she brandished this in front of her, protecting him. She bundled him into the Satomobile and barked at the other guards.

“Keep the crowd back from the king! Once we’re out of sight try to break this up! We don’t need this turning into a riot!” She jumped into the back seat and slammed the door. “Drive!” she ordered and they raced off.

Wu lay stunned in the position he had fallen onto the seat, sprawled on his back. He pulled himself up slowly. As the car sped down the road, he looked back at the town sadly, the yells of the crowd echoing in his ears.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Walking a familiar path, an old man dressed in rich green robes strolled through a network of collapsed tree branches. His silver-grey hair hung loosely around his shoulders, unswayed by a breeze wafting through the trees. The woods were enshrouded in a fine mist, but each step the man took seemed to part sections of the translucent fog around him. A large swarm of ugly bat-like creatures screeched overhead, having seen the man walking, and made a concerted dive towards him. Unfazed, the man strolled to a halt and waited patiently. The leader of the colony, slightly larger than the rest and with orange-red eyes, opened its jaws as it swooped into the man’s shoulder where it subsequently passed straight through. The man continued walking, smiling to himself as the rest of the bat spirits followed their leader and flew back overhead into the dense foliage. It had become quickly apparent to him that this region of the Spirit World was not friendly to outsiders, and the spirits that lurked between the leaves did not deign to identify friend from foe.

The swirling mesh of tree branches coalesced on a crystal-clear pool, whose whirling waters shimmered under an ethereal sunshine. One edge of the pool took the form of a waterfall, however the water travelled upwards into the sky, skimming the surface of a sheer cliff face. Leaves fallen from the trees spun in the water and followed its path upwards, sometimes falling out of the skyward stream and slowly floating back to the main pool. The old man stepped onto the water and walked to its centre, revelling in the tranquillity of the pond. Faint chiming carried through the air, which abruptly ceased when a low voice reverberated from beyond the waterfall. The water of the pond turned orange, its surface trembling.

“Announce yourself, visitor of the cradle," the voice boomed.

“In stone and sacrifice, a friend to the slaves of the free," the man said in response. Seemingly satisfied, the water calmed and lightened to a pale yellow-green. The gentle ringing returned to the air.

“You have returned to us quickly, Lih," an elderly feminine voice lilted, again coming from behind the waterfall.

“The time for action is nearly upon us.” Lih’s words were calculated, cutting the quiet noise and commanding the attention of those who were listening. “The King has finally come out of hiding. As I speak to you now he makes his way across the land, headed for his capital and the seat of his power. I do not intend for him to take it.”

“Finally! It is finally time for us to leave…” Another female voice spoke, gleeful.

“What do you intend, my friend?” The deep voice interjected, cutting the other off.

“Now, I must wait and watch," Lih replied, measured as always. “The King is but a child; young, brash, and vain. There is no doubt he will follow in his ancestors’ footsteps.” Lih recalled in his mind the events which he had heard transpired earlier in the day. King Wu had made a grandiose display of his intentions to lead the country towards a better future, yet fled shame-faced from the crowds when the people turned on him. Such a spineless act inspired little confidence.

“Why wait? We can strike now!” The female voice was impatient.

“No. It is too soon," Lih lamented. “We must let the King draw closer to his home. And there is much work I have yet to perform – to set the stage for this telling. And you, my friends, will play a very important part in the culmination of this tale.”

“How much longer do I have to wait !?” The voice hissed in retort after an exasperated sigh.

“I just need a little more time," Lih responded. “And if everything follows according to the plan…”

“There are those who do not believe that this is the way," a sharp voice rasped, but a pause between words betrayed a sense of apprehension.

“We have been given no other choice!” Lih raised his voice. “Already, the King has revealed a new device to keep the country under his thumb. Not to mention the others who seek power for themselves. We cannot lose to those who do not possess the right. It shall be our hand which restores harmony to the land… And there is no time for incertitude. Our window of opportunity will not repeat itself, and we must act as I have spoken. It is the only way to free the land of its festering rot.” He spat out the last words, brow furrowed and eyes closed.

“We understand, Lih. And you have our support," the sharp voice said, seeming more complacent.

“We will play our parts," the impatient voice stated.

“Thank you… I can assure you, it will not be long before I return," Lih bowed his head towards the waterfall. “Until then…”

“May the circles guide you.”

Lih smiled, and his spirit flickered and vanished. The fog which enveloped the surrounding woods slowly crept over the water of the pond, hiding its glow once again.

Chapter Text

~

“The Avatar, a man called Lei, was a fearsomely talented bender.

A true master of all the elements, there were none who could rival him…”

~

 

Korra pushed open the main door of Future Industries Tower and strode into the lobby. She knew she should really report back to her mentor at Air Temple Island after that disastrous press conference, but after bumping into Mako she just had to share what he’d said with Asami. Tenzin would just have to wait until later.

The lobby was busier than normal. A large proportion of Asami’s workforce was down here, poring over plans, conducting inventories and hurrying back and forth with teetering stacks of paper. Korra couldn’t see Asami anywhere in the crowd, and everyone seemed too busy to stop and ask. She grabbed a harried-looking secretary by the shoulder as he passed by.

“Excuse me, do you know where I could find Asami?” she asked.

A disgruntled look crossed the man’s face. “ Miss Sato is on the third floor, currently incredibly busy with-”

“Third floor, got it,” Korra interrupted and immediately took off.

“Wait!” the man spluttered, “You can’t just walk straight in here off the street! This is an important government project! You’re not authorised to…”

But his protests fell on deaf ears as Korra sauntered towards the stairs. She smiled a little as she thought about the secretary realising later he’d tried to tell the Avatar she didn’t have the authority to enter. Not that it mattered; even if Korra wasn’t the Avatar, nothing could get in the way of her seeing her girlfriend.

As she reached the third floor, Korra realised why so many people were crammed into the lower floors. Sunlight streamed into the stairwell from above. Korra could see huge holes and cracks in the remaining walls, and thick spirit vines constricting the building from the outside. A small frown creased her face. Is it safe for people to be working here?

She pushed open the door to a corridor, and followed the sound of agitated voices to a large office. Korra tapped on the door, which stood ajar, and stuck her head into the room.

“Asami?”

“Korra!” Asami beamed, looking up from a large schematic laid out on the conference table before her. “What a pleasant surprise, come in!”

“Do you really think it’s an appropriate time for a little visit, Miss Sato? Implementing these plans quickly is imperative for the future of Republic City,” blustered a large man standing over Asami. Korra could feel him grinding his teeth through an incredibly bushy moustache.

“I am fully aware of that Bing, but as I’ve raised before, every solution Future Industries has suggested has been vetoed by you,” Asami replied. Her tone was civil, but Korra could tell from the look in her bright green eyes that Asami was annoyed. “I hardly think the Avatar dropping in is a bigger obstruction than that .”

Bing puffed up his chest and glared at her.

“I cannot sign off on a plan that is not in the interests of Ren’s Renovations. To do so would be simply-”

“Mr Ren, please. We’ve been going around in circles all afternoon. I understand your reasoning; I am sure I don’t need to remind you that I am a businesswoman too. But personally, I feel that the safety of Republic City’s citizens should be more important than protecting our own business interests.”

The businessman started to interrupt, but Asami cut him off with a raised palm. “That’s all I have to say on the matter. We’ll continue this tomorrow with the other members of the Republic City Revival Taskforce. Until then, good day.”

She rose to shake his hand, which he did begrudgingly. From the look on his face, Korra thought he was trying to think of something clever to say as he left, but he passed through the door without comment, shooting a nasty look through his moustache over his shoulder.

Asami sank back into her chair with a sigh. “Good timing... I’ve been trying to get rid of him for the past hour.”

“What’s his problem?” Korra asked, moving to stand behind Asami and hugging her shoulders.

“Oh, don’t worry about him. Just one of the other old-timey industrialists Raiko hired to help rebuild the city. I’ve been dealing with men like that since I took over Future Industries,” Asami replied, snuggling into Korra’s arms and breathing a sigh of relief. “And he’s not the only one on the team like this… Of course, I know what people in this industry can be like, but I hoped in a crisis like this… There’s a lot more pressure from the companies than I expected. Obviously we need the resources of the big construction and tech businesses to get anywhere, but the longer we take clearing the streets, assessing building stability, reconstructing offices, the longer everyone will be stuck in the refugee camps. I just can’t stand people like Bing putting their profits first over - oh!” Asami cut herself off abruptly, and turned to look up at her girlfriend. “Korra, I’m sorry! I’ve just been offloading everything, how did the press conference go?” She smiled but Korra grimaced in return.

“It started off great! But I lost it when everyone started asking me about Kuvira,” Korra grumbled. “And don’t even get me started on the portal… So I flew away.”

“You literally flew away?” Asami laughed.

“Straight over everyone’s heads,” Korra said, feeling a little proud.

Asami smiled. “Come on, I’m done for the day. I’ve got a place just around the corner, we can commiserate there. Hey! Maybe you can try and persuade the spirit vine outside to let some natural light into my apartment.” Korra laughed and bent down to kiss her girlfriend on the forehead.

“I think the city’s had enough destruction for the time being.”

They walked out of the office building hand in hand, joking as they went. Korra grumbled about the awful questions the reporters had thrown at her, sending Asami into a fit of laughter with her impressions of the journalists.

“And then - guess what? I ran into Mako!”

“Oh, what a coincidence!”

“Yeah a lucky one for him! There he was, moping along - you know Mako-”

“Moping? About what?” Asami felt a pang of guilt for their friend. She hadn’t really seen him since Zhu Li and Varrick’s wedding, and couldn’t help but feel that while most people had moved on with their lives after everything that had happened, Mako had fallen by the wayside.

“Here’s the thing! I thought it would be about Lin, or the Police force or something like that but it was about… Wu!”

“Wu?” Asami furrowed her brow. Then her eyebrows raised slightly. “You don’t mean…”

“YES!” Korra yelled, jumping excitedly. “Can you believe it: Mako likes Wu!”

Asami chuckled at her girlfriend’s antics. “Well, I wouldn’t say they were the most natural fit… but I can’t say I’m that surprised.”

“What?! Serious Mako and flashy playboy King Wu? There’s no way you knew something like this was going on! Mako had barely figured it out himself!”

“No,” smiled Asami. “Of course I didn’t know, but it makes a certain sense don’t you think? Mako has spent most of his waking moments with Wu for three years… spending that much time with someone makes an impression. Especially something as intense as a bodyguard position, constantly protecting him from danger…”

Korra scoffed, “He sure did like to be the one doing the protecting when we dated.”

“Well isn’t it good fortune you’ve found someone who knows you’re more than capable of protecting yourself then?” teased Asami, pecking Korra on the cheek. “I think it’s kind of sweet.”

Korra blushed slightly. “So anyway, I said to Mako if he missed Wu so much he should just go to the Earth Kingdom and tell him.”

Asami frowned then. “But how is he going to catch up to Wu? That airship moves quickly, and most travel between Republic City and the Earth Kingdom is completely shot thanks to Kuvira.” Korra could practically see the gears in Asami’s head turning as she began thinking of solutions. As Asami mulled it over, Korra noticed how lovely she looked in the afternoon sunlight, with that small frown line between her eyebrows that appeared when she was deep in thought. Just as she leaned in to whisper this in her ear, Asami exclaimed “Wait! I’ve got it!”

“You have?”

“Yes! I have one of my operations team going out to the Earth Kingdom in a couple of days. Obviously their situation isn’t very stable right now, but Republic City doesn’t have a lot of resources and we need rebuilding supplies. He’s going out to check the train line is still navigable evaluate the transport situation and make contact with some of our suppliers. We need all the hands we can get back here so he’s going alone, but there’s a spare seat in the bi-plane. Mako can tag along and Shin will make a landing to drop him off, no trouble!”

“You’re a genius, Asami!”

Asami chuckled. “So they say…” she said, leading Korra up the steps the the lobby of her apartment building. “Now come on, my brain’s been working hard all day and I could do with some time to relax.”

Korra grinned. “Sounds perfect. You know it’s not just your intellect I find incredible…” she teased as the door closed behind the young couple.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Wu stared pensively down at the canyons through a tall window as his airship sailed away from Omashu. The magnificent city was a sight to behold from the sky: it rose out of the sandy plains around it like a glistening jewel; its shimmering, cascading roofs and passageways intertwined liked the coiled roots of a great tree. It seemed perfectly fitting that this was the birthplace of the art of earthbending. The people of Omashu had become the architects of the Earth Kingdom, and Wu fondly remembered hearing tales of the craftsmen and women, and their beautiful creations, from his parents when he was still a child and they were travellers of the Kingdom. In particular, he recalled a set of stunning rings crafted by a group of common jewellers, unaffiliated with the Royal Family, presented to his parents on a stately visit in a similarly exquisite lacquered box inlaid with opalescent stones. It was a magnificent collection, in which each ring was finely sharpened to the likeness of one of the major cities of the land. Seeing the city spring from the earth below him reminded Wu of the Omashu ring as it nestled on his mother’s hand, embedded amongst the other lustrous miniature cities. When his parents weren’t looking, or wearing them, he used them as board game pieces – one by one, he would capture each of the rings and add it to his realm.

It was only at the beginning of the week that Wu had been in Zhan, and had for the first time truly felt the chaos that Kuvira left in her wake. The longer time drew by, his recollection of the pandemonium twisted and exaggerated itself further. Unbeknownst to Korra, Mako and the others, the energy and vivacity Wu had carried himself with when he departed Republic City had been steadily chipped away, and he was utterly exhausted. As it would turn out, Zhan was a loud and rude awakening, and the states which followed only echoed in unison.

After the first day, each following morning started with an earlier wake-up call from Bao-san, at the behest of Mian, Cang, Tao and now Gwai, with whom he was travelling. It took more and more energy to drag his wiry, enervated frame out of his protective pillow fort and draw open the curtains – even the beautiful views below piqued his interest less. He was granted a single measly hour to prepare himself for the Minister’s counsel, during which the Ministers divulged speeches with layers upon layers of waffly prose for Wu to read, written in an incredibly archaic - but nonetheless beautiful - style. I sound like my grandmother, and she was totally a few branches short of a topiary, Wu remembered thinking.

After their discussions, they arrived at the next cities in the Royal Court’s master plan,  and Wu was immediately processed down viridescent runways lined with cacophonous townsmen and women. In Guang-Yoon, the promenade was lined with wicker baskets filled to the brim with bright flowers and incense, and through the air floated the gorgeous smell of nilgiri tea. The processions culminated with a staged presentation of the Governor and the newly appointed Guardian Prefects with their royal seals – symbols of the royal power vested to them – at which point an unsettling mood simmered in the crowds. Crying and cheering merged seamlessly with leers; smiles and frowns rippled over the jostling faces, and detached fists wrestled for space in the air with open palms and frantic waves.

It felt like months ago that Wu was thinking about abolishing the monarchy. Seeing and experiencing the state of the country firsthand, it dawned on him that returning to the throne and restoring himself as King was the fastest way to a more certain future. The royalists in each state rose in unison at his arrival, fluttering banners of green and gold embraced him as he strode through each town, and they chanted his name long after he left. The implementation of the Guardian Prefects also seemed to be popular. But each state left a bittersweet aftertaste, and Wu had to try hard to believe that he was doing the right thing.

To make matters more difficult, every step taken towards the throne was accompanied by the silent mirrored movement away from his life in Republic City. Friendly faces turned to blank impressions left for him to fill in the colour. Being the reigning monarch, Wu was sure he would see Korra and the gang again. But Republic City had unmistakably outgrown him. Or maybe I overstayed my welcome?

Bao-san approached the observation deck on the airship quietly, carrying the dossier belonging to Wu’s Ministers, her boots leaving small tinny reverberations to linger in her wake. The Ministers weren’t due to brief the monarch for at least another hour, but they had insisted on her presenting Wu with the files now, pin-eyed and smug-faced. Even now as she unceremoniously clambered up to the viewing area she could hear the impatient rapping of various lurid pieces of jewellery over the sounds of her shoes, punctuated by hushed whispers and occasional titters. But she was just a bodyguard, just hired muscle, and had no place in interfering in their business. Besides, the ministers are not the people I want to make my enemies .

She perused the frowning monarch as he watched the clouds drift past. One hand held his chin, while the other swirled and knotted a small tendril of hair behind his ear. The political situation seemed to be easing the closer they got to Ba Sing Se, and although Wu seemed in happier spirits about his return to the throne, he spent increasingly more time alone. This was unlike him, but after all she had heard about his incessant antics with the former bodyguard – the one she’d replaced – she began to wonder.

Reaching the viewing room door, she waited anxiously for Wu to permit her to peep in. He must’ve heard me coming . After a few seconds, she cleared her throat ever so slightly and moved to set down the dossier on the long, low glass table with a bow.

“My sincerest apologies for this interruption, Your Highness,” she started, “Minister Mian asked for me to bring this to you ahead of this morning’s assembly.” As she bowed, Wu noted her lapel pin glisten in the clear daylight.

“Oh, Bubu – don’t worry about it,” Wu said protractedly, without questioning the Minister’s decision to bother him so early. When Bao-san lifted her head and began shuffling out of the room, Wu called after her.

“Wait! Actually, Bubu… I was wondering if I could get your opinion on something. I need a fresh view.” He chuckled briefly as his eyes lazily took in the landscape below. His expression was casual and breezy, but his eyes betrayed a deep intrigue.

Bao-san gulped and lowered her gaze before responding. “Of course, Your Excellency, although it may go without saying I am only a bodyguard… What good might I do in the way of counsel to a great leader such as yourself?” She blushed slightly.

“Ahh, no need to worry!” Wu sounded cheery and clearly interpreted her bemused reply as invitation to proceed. “I want to ask you, because – well, frankly – you are a true citizen of the Earth Kingdom. Well, more so than any of the Ministers who counsel me day-in and day-out.” He turned towards her and beckoned for her to take a seat. She refused with a curt bow.

“What can you tell me about… The Prophet?”

Their eyes locked for a long second. Bao-san read his face for signs of accusation or judgement, but found none. It seemed the King could care less about her view of his return to throne. In this moment, he was simply anxious, and sought a new voice of reason.

“Your Highness, I… I firmly stand by what the Ministers have said previously. Parlour tricks; a spooky tale for the weak-minded… I don’t really know what else there is to say.” Bao-san felt uncomfortable, and betrayed her stance by throwing a quick glance towards the door, as if checking for onlookers. Wu caught it and pursed his lips into a small smile.

“Bubu, please? I am the King , aren’t I? The Ministers will not hear of this.” Wu coaxed her gently, but she seemed unsure.

Wu sighed. “Since leaving Republic City… I feel like you’re the only person around here I can actually talk to, y’know? The Ministers are just doing their job, and they think it’s not in my interest to talk to me about anything other than my royal duties… But I just want someone to talk to.” He looked downtrodden.

Bao-san blushed again, before she cleared her throat and clasped her hands tightly at her waist. “With such a personal invitation as this, Your Highness… How can I refuse?” Wu beamed when her when her shoulders relaxed.

“Now, please, tell me what you know!” Wu sounded more genuinely excited now than he had at all for the past two days.

“The first I heard of ‘The Prophet’ was that it was a shadowy creature which would just… appear , out of nowhere, all over the place,” she began. “Everyone who saw it thought it was a spirit, then they thought it was a person pretending to be a spirit, and then they thought it really was a spirit after all, perhaps just masquerading as a human.” She broke eye contact.

“I’ve never seen it myself, so I don’t know how much of this is even believable really…” She faltered.

“Please please, carry on,” Wu hummed and nodded, eyes unwavering. He was rapt.

“For a while, I didn’t even know that this Prophet was a preacher of some kind. It is said that it travels around, spreading tales… It’s all very mystical…” Bao-san trailed off, a grimace running down her face. She glanced at the door and stairway again furtively.

“What can you tell me about these tales?” Wu sounded anxious, but as if he already somehow knew the answer.

“I’ve not heard much about it, I… I’m sorry, Your Majesty.” She fiddled with her clasped hands. “But, I have heard that this Prophet, whatever it is, is – much like yourself, if I may be so bold, Your Highness – seeking to restore some sort of… Harmony , to this country.” Bao-san cleared her throat once again.

“Is that so?” Wu almost scoffed. “If there was a different way to bring the Kingdom back from the edge of chaos, inciting rebellion definitely does not sound very… Harmonious .”

“Quite how it is intending to do this, Your Majesty, I don’t know…” Bao-san lifted her palms in apology. “I’ve heard some say it has come to life since the end of Kuvira and her empire, speaking in riddles and tongues. But I think, no one really knew what was going on until-”

Bao-san stopped mid-sentence.

“Until what?” Wu pressed her.

“Well…” Bao-san looked out of the window, scratching the back of her head. She could see Wu waiting on her every word through the polished reflection. “Until you made the first announcements that you would return to the throne… Your Highness.” Her ears reddened, and she berated herself for expecting a more visceral reaction from Wu, who only pouted his lips and sighed abruptly. His next gaze was cutting, but diverted swiftly toward the clouds.

“And why might that be?” The words drawled, again in the anxious voice of before. It was as if he was simultaneously calculating the deciding moves of a pai sho game, each syllable echoing the final tiles being slid into place with exacting accuracy, and floating haplessly amongst and between the myriad possibilities afforded to him by the pieces of his opponents. Bao-san could not decipher which was the truth; the game was too complex for her to play.

“I can only assume, Your Eminence…” She hesitated, realising that Wu was not staring haplessly into the sky, but into his reflection. “That, this being – whether human or spirit – thinks there is a… Different way to bring back the peace the land once had.” Bao-san sealed her lips and directed her eyes towards the floor. She was all too aware any words beyond that point may – in the eyes of some – amount to treachery.

“It is true… Now that the Earth Empire has been put to an end, there is a void,” Wu spoke quietly, as if Bao-san had long since left his company. “Kuvira was supposed to unite the Kingdom, and establish a new order. But her tyranny has landed us in exactly the same place. Rampant chaos, driving people from their homes, and- and confusion and panic.” He looked at her now. “There are many others, Bubu, who want to rule this country. They killed my aunt for it. And I am very sure there are people out there who would do the same to me to get what they want.”

Wu closed his eyes and suppressed a surge of emotion. This was unlike him: he used to be so good at hiding the depth of his feelings.

“It’s no secret the path I’m taking now is not what I envisioned for the future of the Earth Kingdom… But in times like these, what can I do? There is no time to think, to deliberate, back and forth… I need to be decisive.” Wu continued to himself again, nodding to himself in affirmation. He puffed out his chest slightly. “If there are things I can do now , I must do so, for the people.”

“Your Highness…” Bao-san raised her voice. “I took an oath to protect you. And it is an oath I will honour with my life.” She brought a clenched fist to her chest. “The Kingdom needs you; their King . I am only a lowly bodyguard, but I have no doubt that the people are turning to you now for strength in the coming times.”

“Thank you, Bubu,” Wu looked at Bao-san and smiled. “You have given me the confidence I needed. Whoever, or whatever, this ‘ Prophet ’ thinks it is, I am going to take him down , Hou-Ting style.” Yeah, you still got it, Wu.

Wu giggled to himself as Bao-san bowed deeply and slowly clanged her way down the staircase to the viewing area.

He felt ready to meet the Ministers, but took a little while longer to enjoy a soothing cup of nilgiri tea before he called upon them. After the tea-leaf pockets – a remarkable contraption from Asami which saved his staff much ire considering the volume of tea he drank – had cooled down sufficiently, he pressed them to his closed eyes and felt soothing droplets of pink pearl jasmine fall under his lashes. Spirits have mercy, Wu, you have got to get rid of these bags.

Wu pushed himself up and grabbed the dossier at the other side of the table.

“Ah Your Highness, preparing for our arrival in Chu, I see?” Mian’s voice wafted in gently as Wu turned around to see him standing alone outside the observation deck already.

“Ah, that was quick,” Wu said. “Where are the others?”

Mian entered the room and they both sat down opposite one another. “Since the journey to Chu is longer than our previous visits, the other Ministers thought it might be best to take a proper rest; we have been moving at incredible pace, Your Majesty.”

“Ha, you don’t have to tell me that twice,” Wu snorted, and then smiled wearily at Mian. “How long will it take to get to Chu?”

“We’ll be flying straight through until tomorrow morning, Your Majesty,” Mian replied.

Wu considered this. If they changed course, they would probably reach Ba Sing Se in just over the same amount of time.

“Why don’t we just set a course for Ba Sing Se?” Wu asked. “It would take us the same amount of time - roughly - and once I’m back there I can actually start sorting things out properly.” His talk with Bubu had inspired him.

“Your Eminence, you are at the forefront of a new and mighty age for the Kingdom,” Mian sang in praise. “You are the very first King in the entire history of this glorious country to have graced their people with as much magnanimity as Your Highness has, and in such a short space of time, not-forgetting.”

“And the state visits are an absolutely crucial part of your return to the throne. With so much having happened since the fall of Kuvira, it is of the utmost importance that your presence is felt throughout the land.”

Wu peered at his Minister of Affairs, who was only a few years older than he was. It made sense: how would he have been received if he had suddenly just appeared after years of hiding, having the excuse of waiting for another to do the job for him? Leading the country was his responsibility.

“Alright, Minister Mian, I hear you.” Wu reclined in his seat. “But: I am demanding a change of plans.”

Mian turned to look at the King now, slightly startled. “Your Highness, whatever do you mean?”

Wu looked at him, marked determination written all over his face. “These airship visits are fun, don’t get me wrong, but while this is happening the world is still moving out there” - Wu gesticulated to the sky outside - “and we need to be doing things that are actually going to help!”

“So, I want us to cut the number of visits short. It is more important that I get to Ba Sing Se.” Wu pointed a finger into the table.

“But, Your Excellency, this will come as crushing news to those who are yet to be graced by your presence,” Mian pleaded to Wu. “The remainder of the trip will only require a few weeks; during that time, the Prefects will have had time to fully immerse themselves in stately business, and be absolutely ready to execute your commands.”

Wu hesitated. Am I rushing this? What good would it be to use the Prefect system if it is not ready?

“Your Highness, I understand the position you are in - truly,” Mian continued, “but as your advisor I must argue against this. The deployed Prefects have already been given instructions to work closely with the Governors and ensure that all matters regarding the state are coordinated with the Royal Court. It is in the best interest of all involved that you continue the visits as planned. Who best to lead the people into their new future than their King himself?”

“I just want to feel like I am actually making a difference,” Wu said, sounding a little dejected. His confidence from before had run down. “Just in this last week, we have gone from states with so much to others with so little .” He sighed deeply into his hands.

“Each visit thus far has been a resounding success, Your Majesty!” Mian cooed. “By simply showing your intent, you are providing inspiration .”

Wu remembered some of the happier moments from the past few days. Parents with their children hoisted up onto their shoulders, waving and screaming in adoration. The hushed whispers of dissent were drowned out.

“Alright… Fine,” Wu consented and pulled the dossier on the table to right under his chin. “I want all the remaining Guardian Prefects to be stationed immediately. The sooner the Prefect system is ready to rumble, the better.” Wu declared, nodding affirmatively.

“If it is absolutely your will, Your Eminence, I will see that it is done,” Mian replied reposefully. “We will deploy the Guardian Prefects to the remainder of the states immediately, and perform all the necessary introductions once Your Highness has been officially reinstalled.”

“You’re the man, Mian.”

Wu seemed content with the outcome of his rather unplanned talk with Mian. They exchanged farewell pleasantries, and Wu retired to his chambers for another cup of tea, calling for Bubu as he reached the bottom of the stairs. Mian remained on the observation deck, surveying the sky out of the windows, absentmindedly fiddling with one of his rings.

 

~ ~ ~

 

That same morning, Korra woke up in Republic City. Daylight softly streamed in through the gently wafting curtains of Asami’s bedroom window. Korra closed her eyes, rolled over and stretched, snuggling into the soft bedding. A few days had passed since the press conference, but she had made no progress with the new portal during the week, and it seemed unlikely any would be made today either. So why not have a little lie in?

“Good morning, Korra,” called Asami from the other room. Korra pouted. Apparently Asami had other ideas. Cooking smells and sounds floated in through the door. Korra’s stomach rumbled slightly. The Avatar sighed. Traitor , she thought to herself, sitting up and glaring at her belly.

“Good morning pretty lady,” she yawned as she wandered out of the bedroom. The main room of Asami’s city centre apartment housed a sitting room, dining area and a small kitchen, where Asami was dishing out food onto two plates. Asami glowed with affection and amusement at the sight of Korra’s bleary eyes and messy bed head. “Sorry, it’s just eggs again,” she said “Even if I could find the ingredients I can’t make much else.”

“Ha, don’t worry. Your eggs are delicious. I guess there wasn’t much need for Miss Sato to learn to cook, with a butler and a whole house of staff,” Korra replied.

Asami smiled. “That’s true, but you know how I like to fend for myself. The kitchen staff taught me to make a few things.”

“Well, not to brag, but I’m pretty good in the kitchen myself. When things are more settled how about I cook you up a big Southern Water Tribe meal?”

“I’ll look forward to it,” said Asami, sliding Korra’s plate towards her. “Just go easy on the sea prunes.” She poured them both a glass of fruit juice and sat down. The dining table was strewn with papers. Korra nodded towards them.

“Is that why you were up so early?”

Asami nodded, sipping her juice and glancing towards them. “I got word the newspapers had finally gotten their printing presses up and running last night. You might want to brace yourself before you read them.”

Korra rolled her eyes and grabbed the pile of newspapers. A simple glance told her that her press conference was front page news, and a quick scan made it clear the picture being painted was not good. Alarm about the spirit portal, uncertainty about the future, a mass sense of disquiet among the people of Republic City, and the blame laid at Korra’s feet.

Korra groaned, and began to angrily shovel eggs into her face. Asami winced. “Sorry, I tried to warn you.”

“It’s not your fault!” Korra exclaimed, her mouth full. “It’s the f***ing press! So much of this is complete tigerbulls***, did they even listen to anything I said?” She yelled, spraying egg across the table. “Anyone who was on the fence before reading this is going to be in total panic mode now! People are so afraid of anything new in this city! I-”

“Babe, calm down,” Asami said placing a soothing hand on Korra’s bicep, and discreetly wiping a fleck of yolk from her own cheek.

“It just makes me so mad, you try and do some good and it just gets twisted around-”

“I know, I understand. I’ve had my fair share of bad press too, you know.”

Korra paused, and took a breath. Asami did understand. In fact she was probably one of the only people to have been in a similar position in this regard, at least at such a young age. Despite her irritation, she felt a warmth in her chest as she realised something. As a kid, training to be the Avatar in isolation, she never dreamed she could find someone who would understand her as well as Asami. Korra reached up and took Asami’s hand.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have blown up like that… I guess being back in Avatar mode is tougher than I thought it was going to be. If only we could be back in the spirit world, huh?”

Asami smiled softly, reminiscing about their vacation. Having lived her whole life surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Republic City, she could hardly believe anywhere could be so beautiful; from the bottom of crystal clear pools she and Korra swam in, to the highest clouds they reached on the dragon bird’s back surveying the tapestry of vivid colours below. Asami had never felt so free. She ran her fingers gently through Korra’s hair as she replied.

“Hmm, that would be lovely. No schedules or other people to deal with, just wandering around as we please…”

“Taking in all the sights, exploring where nobody’s ever been before…”

“Eating spirit fruit right off the vine…”

“Trying not to step on any spirits…” Asami jolted out of her reverie. Despite how inspiring she found being in the Spirit World, she also recalled being flung angrily by a rock spirit they had accidentally climbed on, being chased by an angry mother bird spirit, and the occasional uneasy feeling of being watched by something out of sight.

Asami sighed. “Korra… I know we both think the spirit world is wonderful, and I had an amazing time with you and wouldn’t change a thing about it, but we did have a couple of close calls in there. It’s not totally idyllic.”

“But it’s not like our world doesn’t have dangerous stuff in it too!” Korra protested.

“I know, I know… but working on repairing Republic City has shown me that more than anything people want to get back to normal, to what’s familiar. The Spirit Portal is anything but… Leaving it open is really going to shake up everything in the city.”

“But there’s so much good that could come with that! Humans and spirits living in harmony, it’s so exciting!”

“I agree! But not all spirits have good intentions. I think people are right to be a little apprehensive…”

Korra paused. Before the connection with her past lives had been severed, she could have called on the previous Avatars for guidance about matters like this. She had often sought the guidance of Avatar Kuruk, her waterbending predecessor. He had lost his love to Koh the Face Stealer. Korra hadn’t liked to worry Asami while they were exploring, and she was reluctant to admit it to herself, but throughout their vacation there was always a small part of her on alert, ready to protect her from harm. Perhaps if she could connect with her past lives now she would be less enthusiastic about spirits.

“Okay… You’re right, you’re right,” Korra groaned.

“Maybe instead of getting harassed by the press you could talk to the people? A lot of them are still in the refugee camps, perhaps a visit from the Avatar could bring them some comfort or reassurance? Listen to their concerns, try and make them understand what we see about the Spirit World that’s so wonderful,” Asami suggested.

“Ha, in my experience the people on the street can be just as infuriating as your average journalist,” Korra joked. Asami laughed, and Korra pulled her into a hug.

“Thanks, babe. You always give me great advice, maybe talking to some regular folks one on one is what I need to do… I just hope I can persuade them to give this a chance. I don’t want to have to close the portal,” said Korra. The Avatar felt a pit in her stomach at the thought of this, like she’d be shutting a book at the beginning of an exciting chapter. If it did come to pass, she felt it was something she would regret forever.

Asami squeezed her in reassurance. “If anyone can persuade them, Korra, it’s you.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

A sleepy dusk settled over the Earth Kingdom. The Royal Airship would be flying for the best part of the next day, crossing the vast expanse of the Si Wong desert. The Ministers consulted Wu on the Governor of Chu and discussed the following day’s proceedings. The young King was tired, and could not wait to turn in for the evening. He closed the curtains in his room for the evening, shutting out the black of the night.

Little did he know that, in the darkness, the Prophet was following his every move. The mysterious being flitted through each state, safe in the shadow cast by the King’s absence. Followers amassed at every sighting, and went forth and spread word of its prophecy. A movement was starting, and it was gaining momentum.

Behind the city of Xin Xin, a line of people snaked their way up a mountainside path. They joined a large congregation of other townsfolk in a cliffside clearing, the entrance to which featured a beautiful red gate. The newcomers were welcomed jovially and the crowd was a frenetic mixture of anxiety and excitement. The previous visits from the Prophet were always surrounded with an air of secrecy, as if a clandestine operation was taking place. But tonight was different.

The ground trembled and a podium raised itself up along the cliff edge of the clearing. In the dim mauve light, the onlookers stood in awe as the Prophet materialised. The brilliant bronze colour of its stony surface starkly contrasting the ashen-grey earth of the mountainside. The pearlescent jade green eyes were piercing, and mesmerised all those who looked into them.

“Greetings, my followers,” came the otherworldly voice. “Thank you for joining me, and for those who are new to the circle, I welcome you.” Every word vibrated powerfully through the ground.

Hushed whispers of delight suffused the crowd.

“For the last decade, the land has suffered. Not only has it suffered at the hands of the crown, whose very purpose is to serve and protect the people, but also the usurper, Kuvira.” The crowd agreed, and some people booed at the mention of the Earth Empire. “Now, His Royal Highness - King Wu of the Hou-Ting dynasty - is returning to the throne in Ba Sing Se, surely to continue the legacy of the late Earth Queen.” There was more booing.

“The King is a child,” the statue’s voice reverberated, “and he is unfit for the throne. To him, the fate of the land cannot be entrusted. But, my followers, the problem runs deeper than just King Wu.”

“For centuries, the leaders of our Kingdom have been building you into a proud nation. But what is built upon rotten foundations cannot last.”

“I have known about the decrepit core of the Earth Kingdom Royal Family since it began. Some rulers were just; some cruel. And now, the earth itself has brought me here, to reveal the true nature of your history, and wipe the slate clean for a new era.”

The crowd was stunned into silence.

“It all began in Ba Sing Se, the seat of power of the Royal Family… Have you ever wondered, my followers, just why our capital city is known as The Impenetrable City?”

“To protect us from the Fire Nation!” A child answered.

“Alas, my child, the walls protecting the city are far, far , older,” the Prophet continued. “The walls of Ba Sing Se were constructed for protection, it is true. But… They were not made to keep invaders from getting in. No, my followers… They were made to keep the First Earth King’s secrets from getting out .”

People in the crowd launched question after question at the immobile statue. It surveyed them with its sharp eyes.

“My followers… Our journey will take us to Ba Sing Se. Where our tale starts, and will ultimately end. Together, we will expose the Earth King and his dynasty of perjurers.”

“But to travel all the way to the capital…” One woman looked devastated at the thought of leaving her home behind.

“I understand, my people, that this is not an easy decision to make.” The Prophet raised itself again, and extended an arm towards the back of the clearing. “But it is a noble and righteous cause, I assure you. And you will not be doing it alone… My followers, I am honoured to welcome to our circle the honourable Governor of Bai, Yaushi,” the shadowed figure called. A mixture of voices called out in panic, startled that their Governor might be witness to their blatant infidelity towards the crown. But the crowds softened to a murmur as the Governor, Yaushi, eventually revealed himself from the back of the clearing.

“Good evening, followers of the Prophet,” he began. Yaushi was a stout man with short silver hair and an equally silver goatee. “I am here, not to judge your character or allegiance to the throne, but to applaud your bravery - and make it known that I am a fellow follower.” A few gasps could be heard, and some men standing near Yaushi nodded solemnly at him in agreement.

“Everything I have heard about King Wu and the Royal Family appears to be true, and it is time for us to exercise our right to govern and thrive in our own country.”

“We were hearing rumours that the King intended to step down!” A voice cawed from the middle of the gathering. “And then suddenly, we have a ‘Guardian Prefect’ in our village.” There was uproar in agreement.

“King Wu has installed a Guardian Prefect in Bai, it is true. We were all assured that this man was to serve as a direct link - a conduit - between the throne and the people. But since he has arrived, our Prefect has caused us nothing but trouble.” Displeased murmurs circulated and some loud men booed aggressively.

“These Prefects aren’t here to help us,” Yaushi raised his voice, “they are spies! Individually chosen by the King to keep his eyes on each and every one of us.” The Governor stroked his goatee. “My fellow statesmen and women, tonight we must answer to the Prophet. We must rid ourselves of our Kings and Queens, who have held us under their thumbs for too long.”

“I ask you, my followers, to lend me your hands, and I shall guide you,” the Prophet raised a hand towards the crowd and another towards Yaushi.

“Join me in Ba Sing Se, and together we can usher our land into an era of peace and harmony unseen for thousands of years. And when the time comes, my followers, I ask each and every one of you to join me in giving our King the welcome he deserves.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

That same night, miles away, Republic City was quiet. Still in the wake of Kuvira’s destruction, downtown was silent, the ruined buildings softly lit by the portal’s luminescent glow. Even if the people of Republic City had any reason to venture here, the portal’s potential danger kept them away. So there was nobody to see a group of shadowy figures lurk out of the portal.

“The world has certainly changed, Lih was correct about that…,” one of the shadows hissed, as they surveyed their surroundings.

“It looks no better off since they locked us away,” came a growled reply.

“Do not forget this was a battlefield, we may not even be able to imagine what this place looked like intact,” hissed the first voice again.

“Are these buildings? They’re taller than full grown trees!” piped another voice.

“Hush, Kinyi. We are not here for your foolish observations,” snapped the hissing voice.

“You will become acquainted with this world in time, young one,” added the growl.

“Now, let’s go.”

The shadows moved off swiftly and powerfully towards the mountains. As they crossed the circle of spirit vines re-growing around the portal, a low rumble sounded and they seemed to disappear into the earth. For a second, the ground glowed faintly orange. And then, it was as if nothing had happened at all.