Fan Fiction Avatar: The Journey of Lian

Darth Ultor

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I had this idea since 2009, but I obviously had to abandon it because of Korra, but I've been fumbling with the idea of resurrecting this ever since the finale aired. Ergo, instead of a Waterbender named Kasumi, our Avatar is an Earthbender named Lian. The Yi family's names are taken from another fanfic, the Agnishima Trials, which is on hold for now (Agnishima is the capital of the Fire Nation, a name I made up). As always, show no mercy and nitpick the hell out of it.

Disclaimer: I'm not Mike, I'm not Bryan, nor am I anyone else on the creative team behind Avatar and Korra. Copyright belongs to Nickelodeon and Viacom. I just own the plot, characters, and other things within this story.

Fire

An elderly man shooting a jet of flame from his fist.

Air

A boy of twelve creating a gust of wind with a wave of his arms.

Water

Streams of water swirling around a young woman executing flowing movements with her hands.

Earth

A teenage girl stomping her foot on the ground and sending a boulder flying through the air.

My grandfather Bolin often used to talk of his younger days; a brighter time when the Avatar, master of all four elements, always restored balance to the world no matter who tried to devastate it. Weeks after arriving in what was once Republic City, Avatar Korra, Grandpa Bolin, Uncle Mako, and Asami Sato had defeated Amon's Equalist Revolution. About a year later, on the day of Harmonic Convergence, Chief Unalaq of the Northern Water Tribe merged with Vaatu, the Spirit of Chaos to become the Dark Avatar. Despite him cutting off Korra's connection to her past lives, she still prevailed and ten thousand years of balance would reign. These events were a catalyst for the reintroduction of spirits into the mortal plane. Due to Harmonic Convergence, the Airbenders had returned in huge numbers including the anarchist, Zaheer of the Order of the Red Lotus. Although Zaheer and his followers were defeated, Avatar Korra was horribly wounded and fell into depression. Kuvira of Zaofu took advantage of Korra's absence to take over much of what was, at that time, the Earth Kingdom. In time, Korra had snapped out of her depression and once again, Team Avatar rose into action. My family – the Beifongs – and Tenzin's family had assisted them in finally defeating Kuvira and her hordes.

Once everything had settled down, Korra had hoped to spend the rest of her life in peace with her wife, Asami Sato. The world was at relative peace for a while. During that era of peace, my grandfather married my grandmother, Opal. Earth King Wu abdicated his throne and decided to divide the Earth Kingdom states, but the land ended up becoming two separate republics after a much-heated debate. The two most popular political camps were democratic republicanism in the south and a new philosophy known as communism in the north. What originally had begun as a political disagreement over territory had soon escalated into a civil war ending in a stalemate and the highest number of casualties since the Hundred-Year War. After all the bloodshed and suffering the Earth Republic and the Earth People's Republic had to endure; the two countries – with Korra's urging – willingly reorganized into a federation of twelve semi-independent states and renamed this land the Earth Republic. The world was at peace once again for many years, but it was not to last.

Unknown to the world, an ancient evil not seen for thousands of years had risen from the shadows of time. Harmonic Convergence had reawakened much of what was lost, and this evil was Shadowbending, a dark perversion of Energybending originating from Water and Airbending techniques. In the United Republic, internal corruption and global influence had led to the rise of separatists. In the National Assembly, the ambitious Senator Donghai worked for more proactive measures to quell the revolution. Eventually, after pulling all the right strings, he was elected as President.

In the years that followed, the world's nations began to crumble as the Separatist Revolt grew, and as a result, the nations were forced to pledge their loyalty to Donghai, who took them under his so-called umbrella of protection. What was once the Four Nations became satellite states of the Republic, eventually leading to the end of the Separatist movement. Little did the world know this entire conflict was a front for Donghai to bring the entire world under his rule.

In what was to be the final battle between the Alliance and the Separatists led by the Shadowbender, the Dark Lord Shang, the conspiracy was unmasked. President Donghai, revealed to be the Shadowbending master, ordered his armies to purge the lands of the vast majority of benders above childhood age. As the massacre was being carried out, Donghai declared himself the Emperor and the free lands of the world fell under the rule of the United Empire of Nations.

Avatar Korra, furious that she and nearly the entire world had been duped, confronted the Emperor while her friend, Fire Nation General Kenji Tomohiro, had faced Lord Shang in Wulong Forest. The duels were fierce, but both the Avatar and the General were overpowered by their foes. General Tomohiro was killed, and Korra was forced to retreat after being critically wounded. With the spirits' protector in the mortal world defeated, many of them returned to the Spirit World, and along with Korra, using the last bit of strength that she had, closed the portals to ensure that the Shadowbenders could not use the spirits' powers for their ambitions. The old, broken Avatar returned in shame to the Southern Water Tribe, where a fortnight later, she succumbed to her wounds and even more so, her grief. The mighty Avatar Korra, five-time savior of our world, was dead.

Avatar Korra had left behind a world where bending is forbidden to everyone except those in the Imperial Forces. The Empire examines all children born into our era of darkness: those born as benders are seized to be raised as soldiers, whereas nonbending children are conscripted at adulthood. The Empire enslaves the bending population as lifelong soldiers. Parents refusing to surrender their bender children are executed along with their babies. It is a desolate world, but there are those of us who resist. Scattered across the globe is the Restoration, a network of revolutionaries wishing to restore our world to its former glory – I myself am among their leaders.

Thus far, we are merely insects compared to the tyranny machine of the Empire, but a glimmer of hope keeps us fighting. Many believe that the Bender Genocide had ensured that the Avatar would not be reborn, but our hope would never die. We the Restoration will always hold true to the belief that the Avatar is out there somewhere and would return to restore balance to the world.

Avatar: The Journey of Lian

革命

Book One: Revolution

Chapter One - Hope Rekindled

The freezing winds were biting as the snowflakes flew around them and the powerful winds echoed in a mournful cry. A group of four men, each clad in a white fur-lined jacket, stood at the edge of a cliff overlooking the small coastal city of Qing, a city virtually unchanged by time. Nearly all the buildings were of the ancient, traditional style from the Earth Kingdom days. The only modern style building was the enormous nuclear power plant that could not have been more out of place in this city that was slow to accept change. From the cliffs, the men could see the compound of blocky buildings, barren fields, barbed wire fences, and guard towers of a prison camp only a kilometer away from the city. The camp was brightly lit, and several agents of the Guoanbu* patrolled the grounds to make sure the prisoners did not try to escape. This harsh reminder of the Emperor's ruthlessness was one of the many reasons these men were journeying in search of a new hope. Lucky for them, their five-year search was about to come to an end. Hope would be found just over the cliff.

The shortest one of the group, a Waterbender, urged his ostrich horse forward, and even though the animal's thick fur and feathers provided a natural defense against the elements, one could easily see that it was uncomfortable in the storm. "Are you sure about this place?" he asked. "I'm frankly not in the mood to get into any Imperial entanglements down there if it can be avoided."

The rider in the front, an Earthbender, gave him a reproachful scowl. "This is definitely the place," he assured them. "I can feel it. Have I ever steered you wrong before?"

"Yes!" his three companions shot back in unison.

The Earthbender shook his head in exasperation. "All right, fine, that Zhongjing* thing was a bit of a fiasco!"

"That's putting it mildly," the third rider, a Firebender, grumbled. "Strolling into the capital of the Empire wasn't a very smart move. There was also Yu Dao, where you almost got us all hanged." The Earthbender had to grudgingly acknowledge that failure.

"And then there was the time when you got us lost in the desert and led us into that nest of buzzard wasps," the Airbender amended with a dry laugh. "You know you're allergic to their stings." Now that was just hitting below the belt.

"And then there was that fuck up in-" the Waterbender began, but the Earthbender cut him off.

"All right!" the Earthbender shouted, making his ostrich horse snort in annoyance. "Fine, I've made some navigational errors - shut up!" he snapped when his companions snickered. "But I'm sure of it this time. If not… you may hold it against me."

Without another word, the four companions rode along the path down the cliff leading to the city below. The blizzard would normally be a deterrent to any traveler but not to him. On the contrary, it gave him more of a drive to press on and nothing, not even an entire division of the Empire's elite Special Forces, would get in his or his companions' way.
__________

A rapping on the door could only mean one thing to Zheng Yi at this time of night; he or his wife had somehow offended the Empire. Nodding curtly at his wife Ling to leave the hallway, he turned on the entryway light and opened the door. To his surprise, these were not military police, but four men in identical white jackets. He surveyed them in bewilderment as to why four regular men - well into their middle ages - were out at all in this weather, let alone at his house.

"Can I help you, gentlemen?" Zheng asked them.

"Mr. Yi," the enormous man in the center said, taking Zheng aback. How did he know his name? Could these men have been Guoanbu agents? What would they want with a poor fisherman like him? "We've come on very important business, but it's too dangerous to talk about it here. May we come in?" Blinking in confusion, Zheng moved aside to let the men inside, and as custom dictated, they removed their boots.

Zheng's home was decent enough for his income. He motioned for them to the comfortable living room where flames crackled merrily in the fireplace. Ling, who had been in there reading a book on a Cabbage tablet computer, looked up with an expression to match her husband's. "Uh, hello. May I take your coats?" The tall man, the apparent leader of the group, waved her down politely when Zheng could not hold back anymore.

"I don't mean to be rude, but who are you?" He strode into the living room and sat beside his wife. "Please, have a seat." He nodded at the sofa across from theirs and the four visitors sat down.

"We are members of the Order of the White Lotus," said the man on the right. Judging by the arrow tattooed on his forehead, this was an Airbending master. Zheng and Ling exchanged glances, a feeling of dread coursing through them. "We've been traveling across the land, searching far and wide for five years now, and our friend led us here."

"And what are you searching for?" Ling asked cautiously even though Zheng had no doubt that she knew their reason for being there. The Water Tribesman leaned forward, looking them directly in the eye.

"May we see your daughter?"

Their worst fears had been confirmed, Zheng thought, feeling as though his insides had turned to ice. "W – We don't have a daughter," he stammered. "We never had any children. It was a stillbirth." It was no use. The visitors knew he was lying.

The tall leader of the group stood up, lowering his hood and unzipping his jacket to reveal a blue robe with the White Lotus symbol placed in the center. "My name is Liu Beifong," he announced with pride in his green eyes. "I'm humbly asking to meet your child." At loss for words, the couple gaped at the men. Taking his wife's hand in his, Zheng nodded and Ling stood up to leave the room.

"Are you… here for what I-" Zheng stopped short. He could not bring himself to say the words. His own little girl could not be…

"We'll find out soon, sir," said Liu grimly

"What makes you think it's her?"

"Your family's history," said Liu. "Your great-great-great-grandfather was the one who-"

"Convicted ex-Firelord Ozai and the other top Fire Nation war criminals in the International Military Tribunal after the Hundred-Year War," Zheng finished. "I know, I was named after him. Coincidentally, he was also married to a woman named Ling and he had a daughter named Lian."

"Your family's always been associated with the Earth people with justice and peace, especially here in Qing."

"But did you check Zaofu, Omashu, Ba Sing Se?" Zheng sounded so desperate. "Your own family has much more of a history with-"

"We have," said Liu. "Believe me. The doctor who delivered your daughter; he's one of us. You wonder why he didn't accept your bribe to keep his silence, that he seemed too willing not to tell the Empire?"

"Yeah, Dr. Nakamura even showed up at our house a few months later to administer her vaccines. We…" Zheng's voice trailed off as footsteps approached the living room. Ling had returned with a little girl in her arms, whose head lay sleepily against her mother's shoulder, Ling cradling the back of her head. She was a tiny little thing with a long, slightly tousled mane of sleek black hair and bright brown eyes that matched her mother's. Zheng's daughter gazed at the strange men with the same confusion as her parents, giving a light sleepy moan as she snuggled closer to her mother.

Ling kissed the girl on her forehead before gently setting her on her feet and she stood there, leaning back against her. Liu stood up towering over the child, smiling warmly. It was almost laughable how short their daughter was compared to this giant man. She was not even a meter high and barely reached the middle of the Liu's thigh. The girl placed her left fist into her right palm and bowed to him. "Good evening, sweetheart," said Liu quietly, returning the bow. He kneeled in front of her, and even in this position, he towered over the little girl. Now her head barely reached his solar plexus. "My name is Liu Beifong, what's yours?"

Much to Zheng's surprise, his daughter returned a sleepy smile, broke from Ling's embrace, and stepped closer to the man as though she had met him many times before. "Good evening, Mr. Beifong," she said fixing her hair as if to make it look more presentable to their guests. "My name's Lian, Lian Ming Yi. It's a honor to meet you; we hardly never have guests." Being only five, she could not quite be expected enunciate all her words properly or use proper grammar in her speech.

"Lian?" Liu repeated with a light chuckle. "What a pretty name for a pretty little girl." Lian smiled shyly and bowed low again in gratitude. "Okay, Lian, do you know what the symbol on my robe means?"

Lian's brow furrowed as Zheng walked over to his wife to wrap an arm around her. "The White Lotus, but… why are you here?" Zheng's heart sank as he absentminded held Ling tighter. They had never told Lian about the White Lotus. They never so much as allowed her to go out into the public. As if reading their minds, Liu spoke again.

"Do you know why your parents never allowed you to leave the house?" he asked, placing his huge hand on her shoulder. Lian bent her head sadly, her curtain of raven hair hiding her face.

"They don't want the Empire to take me away, Mr. Beifong," she mumbled. "I'm a Earthbender, but I don't want to be a soldier! I don't want to go away and have to kill people for that monster!" She broke down crying, her shoulders shuddering with each sob. With a commiserating sigh, Liu took her in his arms and rubbed her back. "I... I hate th-the... I hate the Emperor!" she cried into his chest while Zheng and Ling could only watch them helplessly. "I hate him! I hate him so much!"

"Shh... I know," Liu whispered, cradling her head to his chest and stroked her hair softly. "We all hate him, sweetheart, and that is why we want to talk to you." Lian's cries subsided and she pulled away from Liu, wiping her eyes to rid away the remnants of her tears. "Please, come and let's sit down, this is very important."

Lian sniffled, wordlessly taking Liu by the hand and leading him to the fireplace. "You and your friends should all sit by the fire," she said. "It's awfully cold outside, you all are probably freezing! Did Mommy and Daddy get you tea? I can make some. Or how about some baijiu*? Daddy likes a big glass of baijiu after fishing in the ocean in the winter. You'll get warm right away." Zheng could tell his daughter's sweet, sincere concern for their guests was winning all four of them over, especially Liu.

"Thank you, Lian," said Liu smiling as he placed his hand on the side of her face, "but we're fine, and we really shouldn't be drinking something so strong when we have a long journey ahead of us. We will take your offer of sitting by the fireplace though." Once they were both seated, Liu's three companions joined them.

"These are my friends, Xing Li Han," Liu gestured at a black-haired man with kind golden eyes. "He's a Firebending master, and is the great-great-grandson of the graphic novel writer, Tomonobu Han, who was the brother in law of the great Firelord Zuko the Reformer."

"Mai's little brother, Tom-Tom?" Lian inquired with interest, and Xing nodded. "He was so cute!"

"Oh, you know your history," said Xing smiling. "They only called him Tom-Tom when he was little. When he grew up, everyone called him Tomonobu or Tomo. He wrote some of the most famous comics and graphic novels which later became animated TV series."

Liu then nodded at the shortest man of the group (though he was still pretty tall), a thin man with a brown complexion, long dark brown hair tied into a wolf tail and a few thin braids. Like most Water Tribesmen, his eyes were a deep blue. Even if the man was old enough to be Lian's grandfather, she found him to be incredibly handsome. "This is Hiroyuki Sato," said Liu and the Waterbender recoiled instantly.

"My name," he said with narrowed eyes, "is Hiro. Only my mother and wife may call me Hiroyuki, and only when they're angry at me." He turned with a mock glare to Lian. "You understand, kid? My name's Hiro. If you ever call me 'Hiroyuki', I'll Waterbend your little butt over the horizon." He winked at Lian who giggled.

"Okay, Mr. Sato," she replied.

"There you go making me feel old," he said in mock offense.

"And lastly," Liu interjected impatiently, "Dr. Kunal Patel. He's an Airbending master and our physician in case we get hurt or sick." The Airbender nodded at Lian with a kind smile.

Lian and her parents, however, were still focused on Hiro. "Sato?" said Ling. "Do you mean-"

"Yeah," Hiro confirmed. "Korra and Asami were my grandmothers." He turned to smile kindly at Lian. "And if you're who we think you are, then... well, I hope to get to know you a lot better, little Miss Yi."

Lian looked slightly confused as Kunal lowered his hood to fully reveal his arrow tattoo, removed his traveling bag, and placed it in front of Lian.

What are you doing?" said Zheng, finally able to speak as the Airbender unzipped the bag.

"A few tests," Kunal replied. "No worries, Mr. Yi." How could he tell them not to worry? If Zheng was correct, they were about to place an extremely heavy burden on his daughter. Kunal reached into the bag and pulled out three items: a shiny black stone, a plastic flying disc, and a small bottle of water. Lian looked up at him in curiosity. "Now, Lian," said Kunal. "What we're going to do is give you a few simple tests."

She silently stared at Liu who obligingly explained, "First, Lian, I want you to close your eyes and focus on the stone." She shifted her gaze to the beautiful shiny stone and closed her eyes tightly. "Very good, kiddo," Liu praised. "Now I want you to concentrate hard and imagine the stone in your mind. Make sure it's a strong imagination." He waited for a moment. "Are you seeing the stone in your imagination?"

"Yes!" Lian squealed in excitement.

Liu laughed and ruffled her soft hair. "Very good," he praised. Under normal circumstances, Zheng and his wife would've been very uncomfortable with a stranger touching their daughter, but somehow, they felt that they could trust these men. Lian somehow seemed as though she felt a connection to the giant Earthbender, and both her parents could feel that this was not simple childhood naïveté, but genuine trust. "Now I want you to put your arms out in front of you and make claws with your fingers like a tigerdillo." She followed Liu's instructions; even making a roar that under other circumstances would make her parents laugh. "Now you're going to have to concentrate very hard," said Liu seriously, "and imagine the stone circling slowly above your head three times. Then imagine it falling gently to the floor."

Scrunching her little face in concentration, Lian stretched out her arms, curling her fingers like claws and raising them above her head. The stone floated above her like a feather, circling three times before it dropped onto her lap. Her eyes shot open and the adults in the room applauded.

"Very good, Lian!" Ling praised, kissing her head. "Your first time Earthbending!"

However, Lian looked uncertain. "But the stone fell."

"It's okay," Liu assured her, patting her back. "You'll get better."

Once the applause died down, Xing made his way to her. "Now, Miss Yi, I'd like you to turn to the fireplace and close your eyes again." The room fell silent once again. "I now want you to take some deep breaths. In through your nose," he and Lian inhaled. "And out through your mouth." They both exhaled. "Now, when you breathe, I want you to slowly and gently flap your arms like wings. In... out... in... out..."

The world around Zheng seemed to disappear as he could only watch his daughter slowly breathing and flapping her arms. The flames in the fireplace slowly began to rise, and then suddenly, the flames shot up the chimney sending a wave of heat sweeping across the living room. Though she had her back to Zheng, he knew Lian's shocked eyes were fixed on the fireplace.

"Did…" Lian said in a barely audible tone. "D-Did I just… Firebend?" She looked up at Liu who was now looking at her seriously as he stroked his goatee.

"We must continue," he told her firmly. "Please go to the other side of the room."

With trepidation, Lian ran across the living room in front of her parents who both placed their hands on her shoulders. Kunal bent down and grabbed the disc. "I'm going to Airbend this to you, little one. I want you to send it back here without touching it! Ready?" She nodded, lifting her left hand in a chopping motion. "One, two, three… go!" He hurled the disc towards the nervous Lian who chopped at the air, sending the disc flying back at the man who deftly caught it.

Nobody applauded this time, only standing there focused on the little girl. Lian slowly made her way back to Liu who grinned approvingly. As if she knew what was next, she sat back on the floor as Hiro kneeled in front of her, opening the water bottle. He tipped the bottle over, spilling some water onto the wooden floor.

"The last thing we want you to do, Lian," said Hiro, "is close your eyes again, put your hands over the water, and pretend you are swimming, but don't touch the water with your hands." This time, she did not even spare him a nod. She only shut her eyes and mimed swimming to the best of her abilities, sending drops of water flying into the furniture. Zheng could not even bear to meet his daughter's eyes as she stood up, looking around at each adult in the room.

The members of the White Lotus rose to their feet, standing side by side in front of Lian. "It's an honor to serve you," said Liu as he and his three friends bowed to her, "Avatar Lian." It was only hearing those words that had finally caused something to snap in Zheng and Ling.

"Now just a damn minute, Beifong!" barked Zheng. "Lian is only five! She's a child!"

"You will not use her to fight in your war!" added Ling, striding over to Lian and pulling her daughter to her side protectively. The visitors gave them sympathetic glances that made Zheng want to kill them. "Our daughter is an innocent little girl, not cannon fodder for your fruitless rebellion!"

The legendary Beifong temper that Liu had been holding back was finally lost. "Fruitless rebellion?" he repeated, his voice rising with each syllable. "Cannon fodder? Is that what you really think?" Ling opened her mouth to retort, but Liu cut across her, now yelling at the top of his lungs. "Do you understand that the entire world's been waiting, no, praying for the Avatar's return? Your daughter's our only hope!"

"So you're just going to take our daughter away from us regardless of our approval?" Ling shrieked back furiously. "We, her parents, get no say in the matter? Over my dead body!"

"Stop it," said Lian quietly.

"What's the alternative then, Mrs. Yi?" Liu retorted, throwing out his arms in rage. "You plan on just imprisoning her here in this house for the rest of her life like it's still the Hundred-Year War and you must shamefully hide your child that society is shunning in order to save face?"

"How dare you insinuate such a-" Zheng snapped but was cut off by an angry voice.

"Stop it!" All eyes turned to Lian, angry tears filling her eyes. "Just stop it, all of you!" Zheng felt his heart sinking at the sight of his daughter in this state, guilt coursing through his body. "Mommy, Daddy," she said firmly to her parents. "I know you want me to stay home 'cause you love me and you're scared. I'm scared too, but…" Tears began to silently fall down her face as she continued to speak. "But I gotta to go with Mr. Beifong and his friends, I just... I gotta. The Emperor can't keep taking bender kids away and grow them up to kill people he hates. He can't keep doing whatever he wants because it is just… it's wrong! The Emperor is a monster! He's doing terrible things to the world! If I'm the Avatar, I have to stop bad people like him, it's my job."

Both Zheng and Ling dropped to their knees, hugging onto Lian tighter than ever. How could they have been so selfish? Like it or not, they had to let her go. They both knew their daughter was special and sooner than they could have hoped, they found out why. How many more families would have to be broken before Donghai would be satisfied? How many more people would have to die?

"We're going with her," Ling insisted but knew from the strangers' faces that this was not possible.

"We can't risk that," said Xing. "Traveling in large groups is dangerous and the Empire knows you're here. If you disappeared from your work, they'll suspect rebellion. Who knows what they'll do to Qing if you leave? But, we can arrange for you to see her sometimes. The maximum we can arrange is twice a year for a few weeks each time, but we can't promise anything, Mrs. Yi."

"In that case," Zheng whispered in defeat, rubbing his daughter's back as his eyes filled with tears. "Let us just have a moment with our little baby girl. Just give us an hour with her, that's all we ask. Just one more hour."

"That's fine."

"Just swear to us one thing, Mr. Beifong," said Ling, tears streaming silently down her beautiful face as she hugged Lian from the side and rested her head on Zheng's shoulder. "Swear on the graves of your ancestors. Swear to us that you'll always protect our daughter no matter what. Guard her with your life - all the way to end - until she's… ready to face her destiny. Swear that you'll raise and protect Lian the way she should have been from birth; swear to us that you'll always love and protect her as if she were your own."

"I swear it," said Liu with a firm nod. Turning to Lian, he repeatedly stroked her hair as he continued to speak. "We'll wait here, sweetie, and I'm very sorry, I hate to have to make you hurry, but we need to leave under cover of darkness and be far away from any cities, towns, or villages before morning. Take only what you need. We have a coat for you, so you don't need to worry about that, and we have food and water for three days."

"Okay," said Lian, leaning against her father's shoulder as he picked her up. Ling gently ran the back of her hand across her cheek. "I'll be ready to go soon."
Liu nodded as Lian and her parents out of the living room, breaking down in tears once again. Another family broken by the Empire, the White Lotus members bitterly thought.

__________

Lian had always loved the snow. It was almost magical the way the snowflakes would fly around and then cover the world in a pure white sheet. She rode dressed in a heavy white winter jacket with Mr. Beifong on his ostrich horse, watching the whitened landscape in a fascination one could only find in a child. It was only after she left home and they had made it into the wilderness that she realized that this man was the grandson of Bolin and Opal and… wow! By the Spirits! He was the great-great-grandson of her favorite Earthbender in the world, Toph Beifong! As soon as Mommy and Daddy told her that she was an Earthbender, she had wanted to be like the powerful hero from her bedtime stories. Little Lian swore to herself at that moment that she would be like Toph one day. She would be the greatest Earthbender of all time and she would make sure that the wicked Emperor would pay for everything he did to the world. He would pay for all the people he had killed, for all the benders he was using as slaves so he could control the world. Even if Lian would have to kill him herself, he would pay big time!

"Where are we going, Mr. Beifong?" Lian asked, lowering her hood so she could feel the cold yet refreshing wind on her face, her long black hair flying behind her.

"We're going to a faraway place where benders like you and me can live and practice our bending safely, my little snow flower," said Mr. Beifong, wrapping his arms tightly around her torso as she opened her mouth to catch snowflakes on her tongue. Now that was an odd nickname, Lian thought. It was odd, but she really liked it. "It's time for you to take the first step in becoming the Avatar. I'm going to teach you Earthbending."

Lian sprang around, her face lighting up excitedly. "You are?" A Beifong was going to be her Earthbending teacher? She would be a great Earthbender like Toph one day; she could hardly believe it!

"Absolutely," he confirmed and pressed his thumb on the tip her nose affectionately. "Then you'll learn fire, then air, and then water."

"And then will I have to fight the Emperor?" Lian asked excitedly as she stroked the side of the ostrich horse's neck.

"War is not fun and games, little one," Dr. Patel said with a grimace and Lian gave him an offended scowl as he continued to speak. "It's a very terrible thing and has to be taken very seriously. I hope the Emperor falls before you have to experience war."

"I know it's not fun and games!" she yelled. "I am taking it seriously! I just want to make everything back to good again, Doctor, I'm the Avatar..." Lian's voice trailed sadly as she turned to face forward, continuing to stroke the ostrich horse's neck.

"Hey," Mr. Beifong replied, absentmindedly playing with her hair. "I'm going to train you hard like my Great Grandma Su trained me, but I still want you to be a regular kid. There are other children there and you will have the chance to make friends and play."

"Okay," said Lian, not sure what to think.

"But make no mistake, my little snow flower," Mr. Beifong laughed. "I'm a very, very, very, very, very hard master. Even though I want you to play and have fun, I still expect you to practice hard, focus on your Earthbending, and listen to everything I teach you because as my friend here said, war has to be taken very seriously. We want our Avatar to be strong and ready when the time comes."

"Okay," Lian replied, fully intending to listen to everything Mr. Beifong told her. "Dr. Patel, Mr. Han, Mr. Sato?" The other men turned to her smiling. "Are you going to teach me Airbending, Firebending, and Waterbending?" The three men laughed good-naturedly. Despite Lian being a little annoyed that Dr. Patel did not think she understood war, she still liked him, Mr. Beifong, Mr. Sato, and Mr. Han. All these White Lotus men were very nice to her.

"No, little one," said Dr. Patel. "As the Avatar, only the best of the best masters should teach you. I am not worthy enough to teach the Avatar."

"When you turn sixteen," Mr. Han added, "you will be a full grown woman and you'll begin your journey to learn the other elements. I believe nobody should teach you Firebending, your next element, but the Crimson Dragon - ah, he's not an actual dragon, kiddo," he clarified upon seeing the excited look on Lian's face. She responded with a slightly disappointed sigh. "However, he's the leader of the Restoration and the best damn Firebender to ever live after Firelord Shinji thousands of years ago. He wants all the nations of the world to be free and independent, and I know he's going to be very happy to have you fighting for the Restoration."

"The Restoration?" Lian repeated, confused.

"It's a network of people who want what you want," Mr. Sato explained, as Mr. Beifong continued to hold her tightly with his arm. "We want to restore peace and balance to the world. We want families to stay together. We want nobody to live in fear of any government or anybody else who would take away the fundamental freedoms and human rights from others. People should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people. In order to do this, we must defeat the Empire, but all in good time, sweetie." Lian let out a yawn as he spoke. "I will teach you Waterbending when you're ready. I need to return to headquarters since I'm one of the Restoration's leaders, so after we get you safely to the valley, I'll be leaving."

"Oh," Lian responded sadly. "Before you go, can you tell me a little bit about Avatar Korra, please?"

Mr. Sato looked at her for a moment and then laughed. "Sure thing, gran-gran."

Lian's jaw dropped. "I'm only five! How can I be your gran-gran?"

"You were in your last life," laughed Mr. Sato, winking at her and making her giggle.

"He can tell you all you want about Korra in good time, my little snow flower," said Mr. Beifong, still stroking her hair. "But now, my young pupil, your first assignment is to call me 'Master Liu' from now on and your second is to get some sleep. We've got a long way to go, so I want you to be strong for tomorrow. I'll tell you what, if you get a good night's sleep, we'll begin learning Earthbending after breakfast tomorrow; you have my word, and a Beifong never breaks his word."

That was an exciting idea, but Lian was way too sleepy to really think about anything else. "Okay, Master Liu," she murmured, put her hood back on, and settled her head into his stomach. Master Liu held her tightly with his strong arm the same way her parents did when she was scared or sad. It made Lian sad thinking about how she would have to leave Mommy and Daddy, so as if to remind herself of their comforting hugs and kisses, she began to softly sing Daddy's favorite song, Mo Li Hua*. He was very proud of the old Earth Republic and the history of their country before the evil Emperor took over, thus he and Mommy would always sing what they called "folk songs" about it before bedtime. Daddy often told Lian about the history of their country all the way back to before Avatar Kyoshi, and learning about how great the land was had made Lian love her country as much as her parents did. She would free her beloved Earth Republic as well as every other nation the Empire took over!

Too sleepy to keep singing, Lian let out a yawn as Master Liu continued the song quietly. She was soon lulled to sleep just as Master Liu placed a kiss on her forehead. The hours passed on, darkness giving way to light seeping through the cracks in the clouds as the five travelers pressed on.

* Republic City's new name after it was rebuilt. It's Mandarin for "Central Capital". Obviously taken from Beijing (Northern Capital) and Nanjing (Southern Capital). It can't be called "Republic City" anymore because the "Republic" part of the United Republic of Nations has been changed to "Empire" and to be perfectly honest, "Empire City" sounds kinda dumb. Sorghum wine, really strong stuff.

*Mo Li Hua is a Chinese folk song, which was featured partially in the City of Walls and Secrets.

* Guoanbu is an abbreviation of Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquánbù, the Chinese Ministry of State Security or to put it bluntly, the secret police agency.

*Baijiu is sorghum wine.

A/N: Yes, I did make a Pokémon reference even if I don't like the franchise at all. Yes, a big, tough Beifong has a soft spot for little kids, but we'll see how that changes when she's a teenager. As for the technology, I was originally going to go cyberpunk but I decided to have it like we do in our world nowadays. Before anyone asks, yes, Liu's tests were based on the ones in the-movie-that-shall-not-be-named. It wasn't all crap, just 99.9%. Lastly, no this will not be Star Wars: The Avatar Edition. And yes, Cabbage is that world's version of Apple.
 

Darth Ultor

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A/N: I should inform you, fellow Avatards, that I had originally planned a major fanfic saga. I was going to start with a novelization of Avatar, then have a Korean War-like situation like I described in the previous chapter, and then the rise of the Shadowbenders. All of these would have involved Aang. Then LOK came along. While I loved the show and the character, I didn't bond with them enough to write fanfiction about them, so this is all that's left of the saga I planned. XD

The Legend of Lian

革命

Book One: Revolution

Chapter Two – Valley of the Fallen Star

The Valley of the Fallen Star, named so thousands of years ago because of a massive asteroid crashing there, was a breathtaking location in the southern regions of the former Earth Republic. The name was obviously a misnomer as science was unknown to those of ancient civilizations. However, to rename it now would have been as unforgivable as renaming Omashu or Ba Sing Se. Not even Emperor Donghai himself would dare to try that.

The land was fertile with rolling green hills, and a vast crater lake fed by a thundering waterfall. The lake led to a river that flowed gently into the cliffs. Steep granite cliffs surrounded the valley on all sides, shielding it from the view of anyone who did not make a point to look for it. This was a natural self-sustaining fortress, and what better place could one think of for children in hiding to grow up? This was where Lian had lived since the tender age of five.

Almost eleven years had passed since that fateful winter's night when Lian had to leave home with Master Liu. No longer was she the vulnerable little girl that the White Lotus had rescued from a life of confinement because of a government that would have killed her and her family without any hesitation. No, now she had grown into a strong young woman just two days away from coming of age –sixteen years – and had become a powerful Earthbender under the relentless tutelage of her master. She now had a petite and slender yet toned figure, though Master Liu still dwarfed her by nearly a meter. Her lustrous raven hair fell gracefully down her back, now reaching her hips and gleamed in the sunlight. Lian generally let her hair fall loosely around her shoulders, but for training or any kind of physical activity, she tied it in a ponytail to keep it from getting windblown.

"Let's try this one more time!" Lian raised her head slowly in frustration at Master Liu, pushing a strand of her hair away from her sweaty face. While she loved the old man like a father – possibly even more than her real father – she could not deny that he could be a monumental pain in the ass true to the Beifong name when it came to training.

"Can't we take a break, Master Liu?" Lian protested as she massaged her aching shoulders. After perfecting regular Earth, Sand, and Lavabending, Master Liu had her move on to Metalbending. While she did manage to bend it by hand, doing so without touching the object was much more difficult. Looking wearily at the busted, ancient car in front of her, she added, "I'm getting hungry."

Lian's innocent smile had no effect on Master Liu who stood there scowling. "You had your chow this morning and a very liberal amount," he said sternly. "And don't try that wide-eyed little girl look on me, it hasn't worked for years. Now spare me the drama, get your skinny ass squared away, and assume your stance, Lian!" She groaned in response and shifted her body into a horse stance, applying pressure to her feet to better feel the earth. "You shouldn't have any problems with this, it's made of raw steel."

Gritting her teeth, Lian cupped her hands and stomped on the grass. Okay, Lian, she thought, you can do this. Determined to only focus on the minerals in the car, she bent down. As if lifting a heavy weight – an action that would have been hundreds of times easier – she straightened her body and was surprised to see the car beginning to hover above the ground. "I'm doing it!" she exclaimed, the car rising several meters above them. "Master Liu, I'm doing it, I can't believe it!"

"Not bad, kiddo," said Master Liu with an approving nod. "Now let's see how you handle this!" Before Lian knew what was happening, her master executed a roundhouse kick, sending a clump of soil flying at her, making her instinctively jump to the side and the car began to drop. "Don't let it fall!" Master Liu instructed sharply. Lian was barely able to keep the heavy vehicle in the air. She gasped as a rock was hurled at her. However, she managed to keep the car stable in the air, leaping out of the way. "All right, that's enough!" To Lian's ire, he scowled at her. "Your performance today is unsat!" He just loved to use that term when he was displeased with Lian in some way, and he knew it annoyed her when he used it.

"What did I do wrong?" she said in a voice she hoped was not disrespectful.

"Oh, nothing at all," Master Liu replied shaking his head. "I was just under the impression you're learning Earthbending, not Airbending." His eyebrows contracted as he continued to stare her down. "What's this avoiding and evading?" His voice rose with each syllable. "Stand your ground like any respectable Earthbender, and take control of your situation!" Lian had to admit that he was right. Since she had begun her training, Master Liu always emphasized that the most important rule of Earthbending was that the bender did not adapt to the earth, but the earth adapted to the bender.

"Let's try that again!" On cue, he raised both his arms and a crack from the cliffs echoed in the valley as a granite boulder twice his size tore away from the side of the cliff. With a furious roar, Master Liu launched his fists towards Lian and the boulder flew swiftly at her. Lian kept her left hand raised and holding up the car, getting an idea. With her right, she slammed her fist into the boulder sending razor-sharp shards of rock and a cloud of dust flying around them both.

Silence took over the field for a few brief seconds before Lian heard a slow, dramatic clap. "Outstanding!" Master Liu exclaimed, his grinning face visible through the clearing dust. "A bit off at first, but you got your shit together in the end as usual." Lian tried to smile in return but could only manage a pained grimace as her aching arm began trembling. "Oh, you can put that down now," added Master Liu as an afterthought. With a relieved sigh, Lian dropped her arms and the car plunged to the ground with a resounding crash, the windows shattering from the impact.

The smile immediately vanished from Master Liu's face as he approached Lian who began to feel apprehensive seeing her master shifting his gaze from the old car to her. "That was a first edition Satomobile!" he said exasperatedly. "Oh, that's right, just drop the valuable antique car on the ground like a piece of scrap metal! It's not like it was valuable or anything!"

Lian's jaw dropped in outrage when she surveyed the wreckage. "Valuable antique?" she repeated, glaring at Master Liu. "That 'collector's item' of yours was rusting away out here anyway! It's already scrap metal; if you really thought it was so valuable, you'd keep it inside and preserve it, not use it for Metalbending training!"

"Oh, a smartass, aren't we?" he retorted and ran a hand through his gray hair. "We'll see about that, young lady!" Lian had a pretty good idea of what was coming next and braced herself. "You're going to run me five miles on an earth wave starting now! Move it!"

Grunting in exasperation, she stomped on the ground to cause a light quaking beneath her. Suddenly, the ground began forming a hill that rose several feet above her Master who watched her unimpressed. With that, Lian began running in place atop the hill, letting the earth carry her along the field.

It was as if all the frustrations of Lian's Metalbending training had melted away. Now she truly felt at home with basic, genuine Earthbending. She did not know how long she had been riding her wave, but she eventually came to the vast, dense forest of the valley with tall trees and vines shading her from the blazing sun. She reached up to untie her hair, letting the wind blow through it as she sped up her pace.

It was then that Lian began to feel a strange presence in the atmosphere as though she was not alone. Granted, there were always animals running or flying around the valley, but that would not bother her. No, this was definitely a human presence. Stopping in her tracks, the earth beneath Lian flattened as she stomped the ground to send a seismic wave around her. Nothing… that was weird, her feelings were usually right.

Shrugging, Lian prepared to start running again when her attention was drawn to a swishing noise – a blade being unsheathed from somewhere above her. "Show yourself!" Lian shouted, launching a rock into one of the trees. Almost immediately, a figure in black flipped from the branches, landing gracefully on one knee in front of her with a katana in hand.

Her hooded attacker rose to his feet, the hilt of his weapon clutched tightly in his hands. Lian had only a brief moment to take in his appearance. He was clad almost entirely in black, save for his red t-shirt bearing the Blue and Red Dragons of the Fire Nation. Most peculiar was that he kept his lean muscular right arm out of his jacket sleeve.

With a furious roar, the man raised his sword as he charged at Lian. Immediately, she clawed her fingers, the ground on either side merging to form two boulders, which she sent at the man. Lian did not expect these blows to land, and her attacker easily dodged them as he advanced towards her. Panting, Lian thrust out her palm, the earth sending out a stalagmite that just barely avoided impaling the Samurai.

Though his face was hidden, Lian could sense the smirk on his face as he sliced through her earth column. Panting, she dashed off the path to a denser part of the woods as the Samurai sliced through the bamboo. Lian glared at the man, hissing, "Dodge this one!" Taking advantage of the situation, Lian stomped her foot on the sloping ground, a fissure advancing towards her enemy who swung out of the way.

"Too easy," he countered in his low, slightly raspy voice and gave a dry laugh. He stepped aside in an almost bored manner as Lian tried striking him from behind with a rock. "How predictable…" he shook his head sympathetically. "But now it's time to get serious."

Without waiting for a response, he charged at Lian who could only think of one thing to do. She crossed her arms in front of her and the ground immediately softened as she sunk into the earth's crust, leaving the Samurai both impressed and confused. Before he could make head or tails of what was happening, Lian burst out of the ground sending a cloud of dust into the air surrounding them both.

He could not see; Lian now had the upper hand. She immediately began executing a series of Earthbending forms sending rocks and earth flying relentlessly at her foe, who had barely managed to parry them with his blade. Lian continued her assault as the roar of the waterfall began growing louder, which meant they were approaching the lake.

The two fighters were finally out of the woods and on the lakeshore where the sun reflected off the water. However, all Lian could focus on was the Samurai who was regaining his earlier momentum. He twisted and ducked out of the way of every rock and manipulation of the ground around her. It was time for some drastic measures.

Lian closed her eyes for a brief moment and drew in a breath before executing a deft jab to fire a large flaming orb at the Samurai and another one to follow afterward. Though she was by no means a decent Firebender yet, she did have some practice in the other elements. The only one that Lian was unable to bend was water.

"A little off our game, aren't we, Avatar?" the Samurai commented, finally reaching her. Before Lian could even react, she found herself swept off her feet and landing roughly on the ground. The man stood over her, raising his sword above his head and swiftly sliced downwards towards her neck. Lian, with her eyes tightly closed, clenched her fist, and heard a surprised exclamation of, "Shit!" She shuddered as she felt the flat end of the blade fall harmlessly onto her chest.

Lian shifted her gaze to see the young man buried up to his neck into the ground, the hood of his jacket fallen off his head from the impact. His short black hair was styled into a mess of spikes and he had a lean, chiseled face with stubble, and piercing golden eyes. While Lian lay there catching her breath, the Samurai just laughed coolly. That was enough for her.

Pushing herself to her feet, she strode over to the man furiously. "What the fuck, Akira? Are you nuts?" She hated when her friend messed with her like that. Being raised by a Beifong for almost eleven years had had quite an effect on Lian's language. Granted, she did not swear as much as Master Liu, but when angry, she was capable of dishing out more than a few expletives.

Much to her annoyance, Akira laughed again. "The 'fuck', as you put it, is called an ambush; it's training. Now, could you get me out of here?" Snarling in frustration, Lian launched him out of the ground and face first into the cool lake. Akira resurfaced with a lopsided grin as he swam back to shore and shook the water out of his hair like a dog.

"Nice work," said Akira, patting a still glaring Lian on the head, an action that made Lian immediately forget her frustrations.

"You could've told me you wanted to train with me today," she said rolling her eyes and plopped down against a large boulder by the lake where he soon joined her. Her statement was only made out of frustration. Akira Tomohiro always did have his own way when it came to combat training, she marveled as she untied her hair.

Lian hand Akira had been close friends since she arrived at the Valley of the Fallen Star almost eleven years ago. Although he was a Nonbender, his family was known enemies of the Empire ever since the Dark Lord Shang had killed his father, just as Avatar Korra dueled the Emperor sixteen years ago. Yes, as Lian had anticipated even as a little girl, the hopes of Dr. Patel - the local Restoration medical officer – that the Empire would fall were in vain; it was as powerful as ever. However, Akira was always so strong and sure, thus he took Lian under his wing. Being torn away from their families at very young ages was something both Akira and Lian had in common, so that strengthened their friendship.

With a heavy sigh, Lian slumped backward to lay on the grass, the sun reflecting in her raven hair that spilled out behind her. She closed her eyes and let the sun warm her face as she sensed Akira following suit. "You're an ass, Akira," she whispered, unable to conceal a smirk.

"Well," he countered, sheathing his sword and frowned, clearly not finding her joke funny in the slightest. "Suppose this wasn't our safe, pleasant little valley, which we grew up in, but a warzone. You're on patrol in the mountains, or a forest, or in a city and you sense the enemy just as you sensed me in the trees." Lian could only listen as Akira was also preparing for the inevitable time when they would go off to war. "Only instead of one man with a sword," he continued, "it's a dozen Imperial troops armed with machine guns, assault rifles, and RPGs. They start firing on you, taking you by surprise. Will you complain to them that they never told you their positions? No, you'll just be dead because you didn't act fast enough when you could've turned those weapons to scrap with your Metalbending before they could fire a single round." He shifted his gaze to Lian, placing his hand on top of hers, sending a shiver of pleasure down her spine. "Not even Toph herself would've been able to stop ammo from automatic weapons."

"I hate when you're right," said Lian in resignation, rubbing her feet along the soft grass.

"Which is always?" Akira deadpanned with his usual half grin.

"Oh, shut up." She tapped the ground with palm, causing a slight quake beneath Akira. Now this was Earthbending, she thought to herself again. Perhaps it was due to being cooped up in a house for the first five years of her life, but Lian had always enjoyed being outdoors, barefoot and able to connect with the earth. She even enjoyed sleeping under the stars in clear weather. Many times as a kid, Master Liu had to put his foot down, insisting that she and Akira could not sleep outside because it could potentially get too cold at night during the winter months. It was much warmer there than in Qing, but it was hardly a Fire Nation island.

"You nervous about tomorrow?" inquired Akira breaking the silence.

Lian clicked her tongue and grimaced as she answered, "A little… very, actually." Master Liu was going to give her a final test in Earthbending tomorrow at daybreak. They were going to traverse a massive cavern without any safety equipment or sources of light. She would have to rely entirely on her Earthbending to reach her goal. Aside from being a location of natural wonder and beauty providing a natural fortress of a refuge, the valley was home to a cave system where an Earthbending spirit resided. The only Avatars required to face his judgment (according to tradition), were natural born Earthbenders. Since Lian was the first Earthbending Avatar since Kyoshi, she could not disobey the precepts.

"You'll do fine," said Akira with an encouraging smile as he ran his hand down her arm. "I believe in you; we all do."

Lian smiled in gratitude, placing her hand on top of his arm. Akira always had a way of encouraging her, of getting Lian to trust in herself. "I do wonder how my predecessors felt when they started out like this… not counting Wan."

"Well," Akira mused, "I'm sure you've been studying them more than me, but from what I gather, Kuruk was a bit full of himself, so he was probably very confident in his abilities even if his heart was in the right place."

"Talk about a sad story," Lian agreed. He may have been lazy and inattentive, but he was not a bad man. His wife certainly did not deserve that terrible fate. "While Kyoshi was a great Avatar," Lian decided on changing the subject, "she obsessed over her duties." Akira looked at her confused. "I think it overwhelmed her and that was why she made some of her more… controversial decisions like the creation of the Dai Li.

"Roku was a noble guy. He gave everybody a fair chance; he saw people as inherently good."

"Reminds me of someone I know," said Akira, making Lian blush. "Most people deserve the benefit of the doubt, but others are rotten from the start, like a certain fuckwad who I still say you should've let me-"

Lian snapped, "I don't want to talk about him, and don't ever dishonor Roku's memory by using his name in the same sentence as that lying, cheating son of a..." It was then that Lian realized something. "Wow, I'll be the first Avatar since Roku to take the journey and learn the elements properly!" At least she wasn't on a deadline, though she wanted to take down the Empire sooner rather than later.

"Yeah…" said Akira slowly. "You've lucked out with that. The universe wasn't exactly on Aang's side, though he'd probably be my favorite historic Avatar. I can't think of anybody who can think back to history lessons and say they don't like Aang, but the universe had a way of sideswiping him."

"Aang was a great Avatar and a great man," said Lian. "But what do you mean?" she exclaimed, her brow furrowing. "The universe seemed to work to Aang's advantage!"

Akira looked at her incredulously and began a finger count. "He was only twelve when Sozin was preparing to launch his takeover campaign and the pressures of being the Avatar were so great that he ran away and got trapped in an iceberg for a century. And before you tell me that you were five when you found out, both you and Korra had the advantage of learning about Aang." Lian closed her mouth and continued to listen.

"When Katara and Sokka found him, he finds out that not only had Sozin started the war the monks told him about, but that it's been going on for a hundred years. After that, he learns that all his people were wiped out. Then he learns that he has until the end of the summer to defeat Ozai. Along the way, he nearly gets killed by that sociopath, Azula who finds out about the eclipse plan; the entire invasion goes to shit, and they barely escape with their lives-"

"But he always managed to find ways around all his obstacles," Lian cut in as she stretched out her legs to dip her toes into the cool water. "Got captured by Zhao? Blue Spirit 'saves' him. Bumi can't teach him Earthbending? Well, the universe literally gives him a vision of the one who could. Azula fatally wounds him, and just on the brink of death, Katara saves him with the Spirit Water she happened to save for months. The Day of Black Sun goes to shit; the entire fate of the war now rests solely on a bunch of kids. And who appears to help them? Zuko; the one they thought to be their enemy. Aang's feeling conflicted about killing Ozai? Well, when all hope seems lost, he just happens to sleepwalk and swim onto a lion turtle that just happens to have the solution."

Akira blinked slowly and laughed. "Yeah, you're right. Things did go his way unlike Korra." He shook his head sadly.

At this, Lian's head twitched irritably. "You know, I think history's really unfair to Korra, thanks to that TV series by Varrick Studios, as much as I love it! Think about it; she spent her entire childhood getting it drilled into her head that she was the Avatar. That became her life. Being the Avatar was her everything." Lian breathed deeply to compose herself. "At least I was able to grow up here as normally as possible. Korra was always living under the shadow of her identity and was determined to live up to her predecessors, especially Aang who most of the prominent middle-aged adults of her time met if not knew personally. You know, I suspect Korra told the White Lotus before she died to not make the same mistakes as they did with her when they'd find me."

"You're saying she was a mass of complexes?" Akira demanded with a raised eyebrow.

"No," Lian assured him. "Well, maybe at first, but either way, she lived up to her title and was true to her friends and family. She didn't lack any more oversight with Donghai than Roku did with Sozin."

Akira sat up and turned his firm expression to her. "Well, at least with the Emperor, it's been sixteen years, not a hundred. We'll take him and all his henchmen down one by one if they refuse to surrender."

"When we do eventually encounter Lord Shang…" Lian's voice trailed off. That had been a subject Akira had only brought up once when they were kids and they never spoke of it again until now. His face darkened at the name.

"My answer now is the same as it was when I was twelve," Akira replied, his voice suddenly cold. "When I meet Shang, I'll challenge him and before I take him out, I'll tell him that it is for my father, Kenji!" His expression softened as he turned to the water. "You talk to Korra since that one time?"

"No," said Lian sadly, sitting up, and edging closer to Akira. "I really should. Could use her advice now."

__________
The Valley of the Fallen Star was the most beautiful place Lian had ever seen, even more than some places in her picture books. It had been a week since Master Liu and his friends brought her here, and she was still awed by its wonders that were as seemingly endless as the valley itself. Colonel Han -it was not "mister', it was "Colonel" - and General Sato both went back to the Restoration Headquarters to tell the Crimson Dragon that they had found the Avatar, and to continue the fight against the Empire. Master Liu, who was also a "General" and Dr. Patel who was a "Lieutenant Colonel" but preferred to be called "Doctor", had both lived here in the beautiful valley.

Lian loved the rolling fields, the vast forest, the high cliffs, the thundering waterfall cascading into the big lake, the river flowing down the middle of the valley through the fields and the forest… she wanted to stay there forever. Maybe when she grew up and beat the Emperor, she would get married to a nice man, have kids, and build a nice house right on the island in the middle of the lake. Someday when there would be peace in the world, Lian would stay in this gorgeous land for her entire life.

The nighttime was just as beautiful as the daytime. Even though it was winter, it was still nice and warm here. After begging Master Liu if she could sleep outside, he laughed and said it was okay as long as he was with her, that she dressed warmly, and that she would sleep in an earth tent. She absolutely loved Master Liu; he was so strong, so strict, so brave, but also very kind and understanding. She loved her Earthbending lessons and learned right away that she should not see the rocks and ground as friends, but as bullies who thought they could get their way with her. Like all bullies, they easily sensed weakness and fear. "Therefore, my little snow flower," Master Liu told her in her first lesson, "as Earthbenders, we must teach these bullies a lesson in respect and show them who's really in charge here. They want to get tough with you, so you'll show them who the real tough guy - or girl in your case - is!" She giggled at his serious joke. "They may be heavier, but with a strong enough will and connection to the earth, you could even lift the highest mountains in the world." Since then, Earthbending came quite naturally to her.

Master Liu was asleep in his earth tent while Lian stayed in another tent with her new friend, Akira Tomohiro, a little boy two years older than Lian with bright golden eyes and black hair styled in the shape of a bowl. Akira was nice, but very quiet most of the time. Despite that, Lian sensed a lot of strength and determination in him. Lian didn't like it when her other friends like Nanuk the Waterbender, Minh the Firebender, or Chen, another Earthbender would pester him to play sports when he obviously wanted to be alone. Lian soon learned that Akira liked to do other things for fun like read books, write calligraphy, write stories or haikus, play video games, and train for hours with his wooden sword that he called a bokken. "No real sword until you've mastered the forms with the bokken, son," his elderly master told him. Akira's sword (or kendo) master had a hard name to remember. Akira wanted to be a Samurai like his daddy, General Kenji Tomohiro of the Fire Nation, who was killed fighting the Emperor's apprentice, the Dark Lord Shang. Some people like Lai, an older girl Earthbender who was a soldier in the Restoration, said that the Dark Lord was… freaking (Master Liu didn't like her saying swear words even if he said them all the time) insane! Shang simply enjoyed killing people; it was his idea of fun, not even the Emperor did that! Yes, he killed many people, but not just because he was bored! Lian closed her eyes to try and expel thoughts of the enemy from her mind.

The starry sky was so clear that she just had to wake up Akira so they could go play by the lake. He was cranky at first, not really wanting to play late at night, but eventually conceded and followed her. Instead of playing, he just sat by the water with his legs crossed and arms resting in his lap with his eyes closed. "What are you doing?" Lian asked him curiously as he made a humming noise.

"Meditating," Akira explained, sounding very relaxed. "You should try it, Lian, my master says it helps you feel better spiritually and relax. Dr. Patel told me that it can even make you better when you get sick." He patted the ground on his left side. " Come on, I'll show you." Lian did not quite understand, but she knew the Avatar had to be 'spiritual'. She sat down beside Akira and closed her eyes. "Now," he whispered, "relax your face… now your shoulders… your arms… your hands… and the rest of your body. Now breathe slow and deep and try to listen only to the sound of the waterfall." She followed his instructions. "Now, while you breathe out, say 'ohm'."

Lian breathed slowly and steadily for a moment, humming along with Akira until she felt her mind drifting, the darkness fading away. She was no longer in the valley, but on top of a tall pagoda standing on top of a cliff in a lush, green island in the middle of an ocean, the dark blue, almost purple waves crashing on the white sand. It wasn't night, but sunset, the sun shining an orange and golden light on the world. It was almost as if the sky was on fire. She could stay up there forever and be happy. Both in her imaginary world and in the real world, she felt herself lying on her back, her hands resting behind her head, her hair spilling out behind her.

"Hello, Lian." Lian looked up startled as an ethereal white glow appeared above her. The voice was that of an old lady's and at that realization, her dream world instantly faded back to the valley. She let out a gasp of horror at the sight of a thin, ghostly, but beautiful old woman floating above the water, smiling kindly at her. "Don't be afraid," the spirit said as Lian clung tightly to Akira, hiding her face in his shoulder. "I'm a friend."

"Who are you?" Lian whimpered.

"My name's Korra," the spirit replied and then Lian surveyed her. "I've been wanting to meet you for a long time, my dear." Her clothes were blue and distinctly traditional Water Tribe garments. Her white hair was tied in a thick braid that was slung over her shoulder, and her deep blue eyes seemed to be searching Lian's very soul. Lian could feel the powerful presence of the old Avatar's spirit, but it was also strangely comforting.

"You were the Avatar before her!" Akira exclaimed springing to his feet and quickly bowed. Lian got up and bowed too, realizing it would be respectful to bow to any spirit, especially past Avatars. "You knew my daddy, Avatar Korra! His name was Kenji Tomohiro!"

"Just 'Korra' will do, half-pint," she replied and her smile faded. "And yes, kiddo, I did know Kenji. He was a good friend and the best swordsman I ever laid eyes on. I guess it runs in the family. You look like your father. I know one day you'll grow up to be as handsome as he was and just as skilled a swordsman. I just hope you won't inherit his mouth. He swore worse than an angry Beifong even when he was happy." Akira blushed at Korra's compliment and Lian laughed at her joke. Master Liu did swear a lot. However, she stopped laughing when Korra turned her attention back to her. She looked so sad. "Speaking of things that seem to pass down, it looks like the new Avatar is once again destined to fix the mistakes of the old."

"W – What do you mean?" Lian stammered. Avatars couldn't make big mistakes; Lian always thought that once an Avatar finishes training, he or she does almost everything right.

"How much do you know about the Emperor, sweetie?" Korra asked and Lian scrunched her face in disgust.

"He's a monster!" Lian shouted, slamming her fist on the ground, making it quake lightly underneath Akira and her. "He takes kids who can bend away from their mommies and daddies and uses them as slaves forever to hurt and kill people! I hate him!"

"If you can believe it," said Korra "he's a lot worse." Lian gasped in horror. What could he possibly be doing that was worse than that? Korra seemed to be reading her mind. "Emperor Donghai and his apprentice, Lord Shang are Shadowbenders. This is not a natural bending art, but a dark perversion of Energybending and Spiritbending. I have no idea how it came about, but they can use it to drain spirits' powers… their very life force."

Lian felt her insides turning to ice as she clung to Akira who rubbed her back comfortingly. "Do you know what the Avatar is supposed to do, Lian?" She lifted her head from her friend's shoulder and once again met Korra's cerulean eyes.

"Bring peace to the world?"

"That's true," said Korra, "but you're also supposed to be the bridge between the Spirit World and the Mortal World. The Avatar's supposed to protect the spirits as well as life on earth…" She floated there silently for a moment as if pondering on what to tell her young successor. "I made a terrible mistake, Lian. You know the story of the last Harmonic Convergence, right?"

"When you fighted UnaVaatu?" Akira piped up excitedly.

"Fought," Korra corrected him, "not fighted, and yes. Well, after everything was over, I decided to leave the spirit portals open so that the humans and spirits could live together in harmony, but everything seemed to just go downhill from there."

"But why's that a bad thing?" asked Lian confused. "I think it's a good thing if people and spirits are living together."

"Because all the wrong people were not ready for it," said Korra. "Harmonic Convergence led to some good things, like the return of the Airbenders, but it also set a domino effect into motion." The two children did not understand what that meant, so Korra elaborated. "You know how when you set up a row of dominoes and knock one down, the next one keeps making the others fall? A domino effect is a chain of events that starts with one thing that has consequences leading to another thing, and so on, and so forth.

"Anyway, in the wake of Harmonic Convergence, Zaheer of the Red Lotus got Airbending powers, and with his closest friends, tried to overthrow all of the world's governments. From the mess he left in this land, Kuvira of Zaofu tried to take over the Earth Kingdom and United Republic lands as Empress and she nearly succeeded. She even managed to all but decimate Republic City. Well, we had peace for a while after I stopped her. Then there was the War of the Earth Republics, which resulted in millions of pointless deaths. Then years later, the Shadowbenders returned, and this helped Vaatu gather enough strength to separate from Raava once again-"

Lian and Akira both gasped. "How?" Lian whimpered. "Is Vaatu back?"

"No, Lian," said Korra gently. "Vaatu thrives on chaos and discord. With the Red Lotus, Kuvira's Empire, the War of the Republics, and especially the return of Shadowbending, this gave him the strength to be his own spirit once again. But, it's not enough for him to become a true threat. Vaatu is imprisoned deep within the Spirit World, and only I know where. We won't hear of him for another ten thousand years."

Lian sighed in relief as Akira put his arm around her. "What happened, how did this all start?"

"Well, after Kuvira's defeat, one thing led to another until – seventy-two years later – an insurgency started to spread throughout the world under the command of Lord Shang, who was expelled from the Order of the Red Lotus. Shang took advantage of the chaos and organized the Separatists into a powerful terrorist network. He has a lot of charisma, I can tell you that.

"Donghai was only a Senator in the United Republic at first. He seemed like a kind enough man - well, all politicians, except for a very select few, are dirty snakes, but I never suspected him to have fangs." It was no different from the little that Master Liu had told Lian about the Emperor, how he managed to trick so many people into trusting him. "He was a strong presence in a crumbling government. The citizens of the Republic elected him as President after he promised to bring the chaos under control.

"We all knew that there was another Shadowbender out there pulling Shang's strings, and eventually, as every nation began to fall under Donghai's so-called protection, Shang ordered one last assault on the Republic. That was when Hiro Sato, the grandson of Asami and I-"

"I met Hiro!" Lian exclaimed. "I mean, General Sato. He brought me here with Master Liu and his friends! He wants to teach me Waterbending when I grow up!"

Korra smiled in response. "I expect he would," she said. "He's one of the best Waterbenders in the world, so pay attention to him when you're ready to learn it, and I think he'd just want you to call him Hiro. Anyway, he realized the truth about the President. He worked as a military advisor on Donghai's staff-"

"Wait," Akira cut in, frowning slightly. "How did you and Asami have a grandson? You'd need to have a kid and you were both ladies." Lian had to agree, but would never have thought to ask that question. Korra looked at him for a moment before smiling broadly, Akira still looking confused. "What? For a lady to have a baby, a man has to… you know..."

"Ever hear of artificial insemination?" Korra replied and laughed at the confused looks on the children's faces. "I got pregnant and we had a boy. He got married and had Hiro along with his twenty-one siblings." The children nodded in understanding. "My grandson confronted Donghai with some soldiers – including your Earthbending master, Liu Beifong, and he was right. The President was a Shadowbender. They fought him and Donghai killed everybody except Hiro, Liu, and one young United Republic General named Vinh Phuong Nguyen. They rushed back to warn General Tomohiro and I, but before we could act, Donghai's purge of the benders was already underway…"

If it were possible for a spirit to cry, Lian was sure Korra would have. Her own eyes filled with tears and placed her head back on Akira's shoulder as the old Avatar continued to speak. "They killed not only soldiers of the alliance, but women, children, the elderly… in your hometown, Lian, they forced children out of shelters, lined them up against the wall-"

"Stop!" Akira exclaimed, absentmindedly running his hand through Lian's hair. "Please..."

"I'm sorry," Korra whispered. "I'm sorry you have to go through this because of me."

"It's not because of you!" Lian shouted back in a tone that was almost unnatural for a child her age, her eyes burning with tears. "It's because of that… that monster and I'm going to kill him for this! I'm going to kill him!" Akira put his arm around her and she immediately relaxed. "Sorry," she whispered, her head bent. "I-I always hated th-the Emperor, but now I just…"

"I know," said Korra softly. "It's okay to feel this way, but the Emperor is a very powerful Shadowbender. I was just as angry as you are now during the purge so I went to fight him," she turned to Akira, "and your father went to fight Shang. He was more powerful than anybody I've ever fought and he mortally wounded me. I escaped with my life barely intact, but Kenji… Shang killed him brutally. Didn't even leave your poor mother a body to cremate. I went back to the Southern Water Tribe on the verge of death. Donghai declared himself the Emperor and Shang became the top commander of the Imperial Armed Forces. I died two weeks later.

"It's all my fault," Korra muttered. "I should have done what I originally planned after defeating Unalaq, and closed the spirit portals right away instead of nearly an entire century later." Lian could not say anything, but she swore to herself to set things right so that Korra could rest in peace. The dead should not have to be sad.

"However, you have an advantage, Lian," said Korra. "You have the advantage of time to travel the world and master all four elements as well as the Avatar State. Unlike Aang, you're not bound to any time limit and unlike me, the enemy doesn't know who you are yet."

"I'll practice hard, Korra," Lian promised. "I'm listening to everything Master Liu says, but will you help me too?"

"Of course, Lian," said Korra, raising her hand reassuringly. "All your past lives are there for you whenever you need our help. If you want to talk to me, Aang, Roku, Kyoshi, or even Wan, we'll be there. I was sure Unalaq cut off our connection to our past lives forever, but once the Shadowbenders re-appeared to throw the world into chaos once more, I knew that we were facing an enemy unlike the world had seen for thousands of years. I spent weeks in the Spirit World meditating under the Tree of Time after I re-imprisoned Vaatu. The spirits helped me reconnect to them once more. Now, Avatar Lian, we are all here with you."

"Thank you, Korra." Lian and Akira bowed respectfully as the old Avatar vanished into thin air.


__________

Lian and Akira simply lay there for a while longer until Akira broke the silence. "We'd better get going. I'm probably going to get an earful from Master Goshiro." He sprang to his feet and Lian followed suit.

"Lucky you," she muttered. "Master Liu's probably going to have me Metalbending all night."
 

Darth Ultor

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Disclaimer: The name "Kihan" belongs to Autumn from The Korra Connection (Summer Sweetheart on Fanfiction.net), who allowed me to borrow it. If I use her real name on the interwebs, I'm dead XD. Her Kihan is one of Aang's kids from before LOK was announced. I just thought the name sounded badass.

The Legend of Lian

革命

Book One: Revolution

Chapter Three – The Cave

"Lian," a soft voice spoke in the darkness. She responded with a wearing groan and turned on her other side, resting her head on her palm. "Lian?" the voice was more insistent now. "Wake up, Lian!" This time, the source of the voice shook her shoulders. Lian only responded with a moan and turning on her left side, her face buried in the pillow. "Okay, I didn't want to have to do this."

With a rattle of bamboo, the blinds shot open, the sunbeams shining in Lian's face. "Okay, okay!" she shouted in annoyance. "I'm up!" She rubbed her eyes and her annoyed scowl matched Master Liu's as she smoothed her hair roughly with her hands.

"It's your test today," he said without preamble. "Let's hurry it up and get ready."

"Ugh, fine!" Lian grumbled sleepily. "Good morning to you too, General Beifong." Master Liu chose not to respond to her cheek. "You mind getting out of here while I get dressed?"

Master Liu surveyed her for a moment. "Fine, but if you fall asleep again, I'm dumping a cup of ice water on your face." With that, he exited the room muttering something under his breath about teenagers these days before he closed the door behind him. Lian stretched out her arms and legs with a dramatic yawn, rolling out of bed.

As Lian made her way to the dresser to find fresh clothes appropriate for caving, a low purr made her look down. Xunsu, the cheetah lynx that Master Liu had given her as a tenth birthday present when it was a cub, stared up at her with her unusual icy blue eyes, clearly wanting her breakfast. She had a slender, agile body with long legs, smoky gray fur with black spots, and black tufts of fur on her ears. "You," said Lian sharply, "scram! Go bother Master Liu if you're hungry!" As if responding to Lian denying her demands, she began to claw at her carpet. "Why do we always have to do this the hard way?" Lian grabbed her pet by the collar, making her look up in surprise, and led her out into the hallway. Her eyes narrowed reproachfully as a giggling Lian shut the door on her.

Several mover posters hung on the wall along with posters of Lian's favorite singers and bands. There were also personal photos of her with Akira (who never took a photo with a full smile), Master Liu, some of her other friends, and her family, which now included a nine-year-old brother named Fei. She could not wait to see them again after her test. The shelves, which used to hold a wide assortment of toys, were now filled with books (especially fantasy novels, romantic fiction, guides on the various bending forms, and biographies of past Avatars), video games, and Fire Nation graphic novels that she got into thanks to Akira. Most prominent were the two large flags on the walls. The first was of the Earth Republic, which consisted of a large lime green Earthbending symbol in the center of a darker green field surrounded by twelve Earth discs representing each of the provinces. The other was the Restoration Banner, a black flag consisting of the Yin Yang in the center surrounded by the symbols of each of the Four Nations. Written in silver on each corner of the flag was the Restoration's creed: "Balance, Liberty, Justice, Harmony." A huge poster of the Xifangjing United Football Club hung on the wall above Lian's desk. This poster was the source of many amusing arguments between her, Master Liu, and Lian's family when they would come for their yearly visit, which coincided with the Earth Republic Football League Championship. Master Liu would always bicker with Lian's dad, Fei, and Akira about their favorite teams, much to the amusement of Lian and her mom. Another poster was of the Suribachi Dragons, a pro-bending team from the Fire Nation, which on the other hand, everybody was a fan of.

With a sigh, Lian looked around the bedroom that had been hers for nearly eleven years, taking in all its details. It was silly of her to feel so attached to this room, she knew that, but like everywhere else in the valley, this was where Lian had her happiest memories. This was the room she had first slept in as a free girl. This was where Master Liu would read her stories or sing to her every night when she was little. This was where she'd have sleepovers with Akira and they would play games or watch a Fire Nation animated series all night. Shaking her head, Lian continued to search for clothes. This was no time to get sentimental.

Finally, Lian grabbed some new clothes from her dresser and exited her room humming 'Love is in Your Heart' absentmindedly as she was met with the heavenly aroma of dumplings, soup, and some noodle concoction wafting from the kitchen. "You up yet?" Master Liu's voice rang out over the clanging of pots.

"Yes, Master Liu," Lian answered innocently, entering the bathroom to take a shower.

Lian turned on the water as high as she could stand it and let the stream massage her shoulders. Not for the first time, the reality of the situation hit her like a charging komodo rhino as she massaged shampoo into her hair. These were going to be the last days she spent in the valley. Things were peaceful and pleasant there all the time. Lian had grown accustomed to the pleasant monotony of the place. However, the fact remained that beyond those majestic cliffs was a world in turmoil under the control of a despot who was clearly not content with simply ruling every civilized nation on the planet.

Lian and Akira would soon have to leave the safety of their refuge and go to war against the Emperor's legions. Master Liu would have gone with them, but the White Lotus members and the Restoration sentries had to stay behind and protect the valley. Tears filled Lian's eyes as she reflected on how Master Liu had trained, loved, protected, and raised her as his own daughter for nearly eleven years. She would miss him so much. Akira was also sad about having to leave his master, even if he tried to hide it. However, Akira was more than prepared for the moment they would leave on their journey, wherever it would take them. Lian would never be lost with Akira. They would work together to bring peace to their lands and to the masters that raised them.

__________

Liu had just finished setting the table in the dining room when Lian had entered, smiling brightly. "Morning," she greeted and threw her arms around him with surprising strength for a girl almost ninety kilos lighter than him, and leaned her head against his chest. Liu let out a short chuckle before returning the embrace. She then broke the embrace, kissed his cheek, and plopped to the floor to grab her chopsticks from the side of her plate.

"Excited, aren't you?" Liu observed, sitting across from her and filled a small bowl with steamed rice.

"Ib err a oive aru," said Lian, shoveling liberal amounts of noodles and chicken into her mouth.

"Hey," said Liu sternly, "don't talk with your mouth full."

She swallowed heavily. "I said it's best to have a positive attitude."

"So, you're okay?" Lian shrugged and took a sip of her tea. Liu knew his student better than that. She always put on an excited front before she faced challenges that made her nervous. However, Liu knew better than to press her about it. Even when Lian was little, she rarely showed that she was afraid or nervous. Well, it was best to get the bad news out of the way, he thought.

"Nanuk will be here to pick us up soon," Liu announced, making Lian look up at her master with an expression that made her look as though she was suffering from a toothache.

"Can't we just walk?" she said through gritted teeth and Liu tried not to laugh.

"Absolutely not. The cave's a two-hour drive away and we need a motorcycle to get through the area. Believe me, you'll need all your strength for this." Lian harrumphed in annoyance and continued to eat. Nanuk, a Waterbending boy about Lian's age, had once been her boyfriend until ten months ago when she dumped him after finding out he had been using her all along to make his ex-girlfriend jealous. His ex-girlfriend was considered by many of the boys to be the prettiest girl in the valley, and while Lian had grown into a very beautiful young woman, this other girl would probably have made Asami Sato in her prime envious.

By dumping Nanuk, that meant Lian launching giant boulders at him, and leaving him to hang upside down from the side of the cliffs for half the day. When his ex-girlfriend found out, she punched him in the nose. She was not exactly a friend of Lian's, but she did have a lot of respect for her as the Avatar; not to mention that the reason she broke up with Nanuk, to begin with, was because he was just using her for his own sexual desires. To this day, Lian kicked herself for allowing Nanuk to charm her with his stupid jokes and making her believe that he actually cared about her. Now a muscle twitched in Lian's face whenever she and Nanuk crossed paths.

"Well, he'll keep his damn mouth shut and his eyes away from me if he knows what's good for him!" Lian spat.

"Like you'll ever be able to hear him over that annoyingly loud motorcycle of his," Liu said, trying to ease the tension. It didn't work.

"I hate that lying, cheating son of a motherless hog monkey!" she growled, and Liu knew that 'hate' was not a term she used lightly. The lecherous young Waterbender was probably the only person in the world that Lian hated who was not affiliated with the Empire.

"Dumplings?" Liu gestured to the basket. Lian looked at him appraisingly for a moment, and then burst into laughter.

"You always know how to make me feel better," Lian sighed, shaking her head.

"Been there and done that, kid." Liu patted the back of her head affectionately.

Her eyes widened in curiosity. "Tell me," she insisted.

"Well," Liu laughed dryly, "let's just say I've had my share of failed relationships. Worst of which was my fault when I was seventeen."

Lian sighed and rolled her eyes. "Okay, what did you do?"

Liu sat there silently for a moment before grumbling, "I pulled a Mako as historians would say, even though I really hate that spirits-damned allusion. Uncle Mako only did that once - once, dammit - and he was very faithful to my Great Aunt Lai when they finally got married, not to mention a fucking hero, the way he helped save Korra from those Red Lotus maniacs and almost sacrificed himself to take down Kuvira's superweapon. Yeah, you could say I have a major beef with Varrick Studios with the way they misrepresented my family." He paused to refill his tea and declined to mention how throughout most of the series, they made Grandpa Bolin look like a clown and Grandma Opal look like a generic air-headed teenager; that would just end up pissing him off, so he decided to get back to the point. "But yeah, you get the point. Screwed things up big time with two girls."

Lian responded with an aggravated "Ugh!" and slapped her forehead. "Guys are such idiots when they're young! Let me guess, you and one girl met in college, majoring in the same thing and became friends, but after a while you started to have stronger feelings for each other, right, Master Liu?"

"Close," said Liu. "It wasn't in college; it was in the Army when I was enlisted. I met my wife – may she rest in peace – in my sophomore year of college and never so much as looked at another woman since."

Lian looked at him sympathetically and placed a hand on his shoulder. "What happened to your wife?"

This was not something Liu talked about too often. Sighing sadly, he answered, "Xiu and I were on business in Agnishima. I was a Captain in the United Republic Forces at the time, there with my wife to visit Princess Yuki, a good friend of hers. Well, she was on her way back to the hotel in the Underground while I waited in our room. There was a derailment…" His voice trailed as Lian edged closer to him and leaned into his shoulder. "She died instantly," Liu finished, running his hand down her arm. "She was five months pregnant with our son."

"I'm sorry," Lian whispered sadly, hugging onto him. "That's so horrible!"

Liu gave an incoherent sound in response. "Yeah, well… about eleven ago during a terrible blizzard, my friends and I happened to come across an adorable five-year-old girl in a small coastal city in the Earth Republic. She quickly became the only girl I'll ever need in my life, and now she's grown into a beautiful young woman and a strong, selfless, talented Avatar."

Lian smiled warmly, tucking her head under Liu's chin. "I love you."

Smiling, Liu held her tightly to him, resting his chin on top of her head. "I love you too, my little snow flower." They broke apart and Lian resumed eating. Anyway," Liu continued, "in the Army, I met this girl named Hua-Mei. We were in the Black Berets; this was the elite of the elite in the United Republic Forces. This was before Donghai took power, but was already making a name for himself in the Senate. Anyway, this Hua-Mei and I shared a lot of mutual interests, we'd go out drinking when we had liberty, cause trouble for our commanding officers; we were friends for a while, and then we started developing feelings for each other. But then…"

"A new girl came along," Lian finished in a monotone. "She was gorgeous, had a similar background to yours…"

"We both had famous grandparents," Liu finished and helped himself to another serving of his noodle dish. "I had Bolin-"

"Nuktuk, hero of the South!" Lian sang, making Master Liu roll his eyes. It was common knowledge that he had no use for people bringing up his grandfather's short-lived mover career, let alone quoting them or singing their themes.

"If I ever meet Iknik Varrick," he said tersely, "I'll 'do the thing' all right! Earthbend that dumbass mustache right off his dumbass face!"

"He died almost forty years ago," said Lian smirking.

"So I'll revive him and kill him again," he replied. "Anyway, can I please finish?" Lian gestured to him. "I had Bolin and Opal, she had Jinora and Kai."

Lian nearly choked on her rice and gaped at her master astounded. "Damn, you dated one of Aang's descendants and screwed up a relationship with her?"

He frowned at her, starting to feel annoyed. "I was only seventeen, and got in way over my head!" Liu breathed heavily to compose himself. "We were having lunch together; Priya was new and had not just Avatar Aang to live up to, but also those who came after him like I had with all my ancestors up to Toph. Well, I kissed her… it seemed right." Lian smirked at him and twirled her finger, indicating for him to continue. "Well, the thing was, I still had feelings for Hua-Mei too.

"Anyway, things got complicated when it was clear to Priya that I had more than friendly feelings for Hua-Mei. Yes, I even kissed her and didn't tell Priya, but my dear friend and platoon commander, Hiro Sato accidentally let it slip. Needless to say, Priya broke up with me and it could've ended there, but I was so distraught that I blamed it on Hua-Mei. She really let me have it; broke my nose."

"Wow," Lian replied. "I'd never think you'd get yourself into a mess like that. But at least you made peace with both girls, right?"

"Eventually," said Liu. "After I suffered the wrath of Priya's great uncle Meelo, that is. Let's just say, the way he's portrayed in that f... that TV series about Korra from thirty years ago is underplayed, even when he was a kid."

"Okay," said Lian as she put her teacup down. "Why do you hate it so much? I think Varrick's team did a great job telling Korra's story. I mean, it's all factual. The same historians who did that series about Aang worked on Korra's."

Liu glared at her and said, "It's factual but misleading. I'm pissed at how they portrayed my grandfather and great uncle and even Korra herself at some points. With Aang's story, we learned a lot about not just Team Avatar, but all the major players in the Hundred-Year War. Korra's felt like a romanticized version of history. Perhaps, I'm just biased because I knew Korra, Mako, Bolin, Asami, and everyone else since I was a baby. Anyway, we're getting off topic here. Meelo… he threw me around the temple like a ragdoll with his Airbending fury. 'Make my little great-niece cry, asshole? I'll teach you how to treat a lady, you stain on the Beifong name!'" Lian roared with laughter and Liu could not help but join her. "Jinora was there too, and she was generally a peacekeeper in that family. This time though, she just gave me a sympathetic look and I could tell from her expression that I was getting what I deserved." He paused to laugh dryly. "I didn't truly know how Master Meelo felt until after Nanuk did what he did to you, my little snow flower. Let me tell you, that cheating creep got off very easy by you hanging him off a cliff by his ankles. I was going to Lavabend him into a statue to decorate our garden."

Lian exhaled sharply. "Akira was going to, uh... make sure he could never have children," she recalled, managing a grin despite herself. Akira had a way of making her feel better instantly no matter what upset her. Indeed he was the one she actually allowed herself to cry in front of after what Nanuk did to her. "But no, he was mine and-" A roar of a motor and beep cut her off. "Can't he get a muffler for that thing?" she shouted. "Let's get this over with! If he so much as makes eye contact with me, I'll crush his... I'll do what Akira originally planned!"

__________

Master Goshiro's dojo was a wide room with candles set on the floor in a semicircle around him. Hundreds of swords were displayed on the walls and on sword stands against the walls. The dojo always had a scent of incense.

Akira always felt humbled entering his master's dojo. Goshiro was not like Liu Beifong, who trained Lian like a drill instructor; he was very much a traditional master who clung to the ancient way of the sword that he learned decades ago. Then again, a Samurai was supposed to have radiated an air of one who was calm but strong. Beifong was, well, a Beifong. When training under Master Goshiro, Akira felt as though he were in the presence of a wise, enlightened old guru, which he was technically.

The older man was tall and thin with a beard reaching his belly. Akira bowed to his master who motioned him to sit. "Well, Akira," he began in his frail voice, "the day has finally come for the Avatar to take the next step in her journey. As we speak, she is on her way to Tudigong's Cave to face his trials."

"Yes, Master," said Akira in barely above a whisper. He had been worrying about Lian all morning. Was she ready for it? Was she in tune with the earth enough to actually feel her way through the cave? Who was he kidding, of course she was!

"Have you been following what's been going on?"

Akira blinked at Master Goshiro's question. "Yeah, I heard of the recent Restoration raid on an Imperial arms factory." These small strikes on the enemy were definitely morale boosters, but something told Akira that his master was not talking about anything good. Cautiously, he asked, "There was another purge, wasn't there?"

Master Goshiro shook his head and Akira felt relief wash over him. "The Empire is getting restless. From what our spies tell us, the Emperor is beginning to get paranoid about plots to overthrow him. The nations of the United Empire have been allowed a certain degree of autonomy, but we fear he's going to take more control over them soon. This will make travel difficult for us, and thus the time for the Avatar's departure will have to be sooner than we thought. That means you must leave with her."

"Master, uh, what exactly do you mean when you say 'take more control'?"

"We believe he's going to do something drastic to make an example of how insurrection won't be tolerated," Master Goshiro explained. "Therefore, it's vital that you and Lian depart for Omashu soon."

Akira cocked his head in confusion. "Omashu?" he repeated. "Why there?"

"King Junseong may sell his oil and petrol to the Empire," said Master Goshiro, "but the vast funds his company receives; three quarters goes to funding the Restoration and all but less than a percent of the last quarter goes to running the country. You and the Avatar must meet with him, and then he will arrange for you to be transported to the Restoration where she will learn Firebending under the Crimson Dragon."

"Yes, Master," said Akira, bowing his head. The Crimson Dragon was the leader of the Restoration. He always kept his face hidden and only a very select few knew his actual name.

"Today, however, you are going to start making a new sword. Tomorrow, when the Avatar comes of age, you will pledge it in her service in the name of the Firelord."

"But I have a sword, Master Goshiro," said Akira louder than he had intended. "This katana belonged to my father, Master. He died fighting Shang with it. It was the last thing my mother left me before the White Lotus took me in. It's the last possession I have left of my family, Master!" He absentmindedly held on the sheath as he spoke and Master Goshiro looked at him sympathetically.

"Yes," he said after a moment's silence. "The sword at your side belonged to your father, but a Samurai's sword must be a staple of who he is. It cannot be passed down."

Akira gazed around the dojo at all the swords on the wall in doubt. "Will you give me one of yours?"

"No, son," said Master Goshiro. "A Samurai's sword must be a staple of the Samurai himself. Today, you will make your own katana."

"M – My own katana?"

"Yes," Master Goshiro confirmed and rose to his feet with incredible speed for a man so old. "Come with me, lad, we're going to find you the best minerals for your sword."

"Can I forge my own symbol in it, Master Goshiro?" Akira inquired.

"Yes, it's yours, you do with it what you will, but I insist on only the best materials for my pupil's weapon." With that, he led Akira out of the dojo and in his car.

__________
Lian strode furiously over to the waiting motorcycle, taking a seat in the sidecar while Master Liu sat behind the jerk driving it. Nanuk was a tall young man with brown hair styled in a stupid looking faux-hawk (that she hated even when they were dating) and blue eyes. "Well, hi there, babycakes," he drawled, his eyes shifting to Lian's chest area.

"Shut up and take us to the cave!" she snapped back at him. He had the nerve to call her that even when… Lian was determined to keep her gaze in front of her.

"As you wish, Ahvatar."

"Stop saying it like that!" Lian screeched, slamming her fist on the vehicle's side, creating a dent. "Just don't talk to me, okay?"

Nanuk laughed in such an annoying manner that it took all of Lian's strength not to launch a jagged boulder into his stupid face.

"Touchy today, aren't we, babes?"

"Go fu-" She stopped short when Master Liu punched Nanuk in the back of the head.

"Knock it off and let's get moving!" Nanuk shrugged and the motorcycle sped off.

The residents of the Vale of the Fallen Star lived in a village of small houses and buildings used for other purposes. However, it was more of a settlement than a village. All food was grown or hunted. There were barely any families living there; children generally lived under the care of their masters or guardians. A village of families and small businesses would attract the attention of the enemy, and not even the defenses above the cliffs could hold off a large enough Imperial assault.

A dense jungle rigged with landmines and other deadly booby-traps protected the valley. Trained snipers hid in the trees while machine gunners, riflemen, and benders lay in wait in the undergrowth. Somewhere in the jungle was also anti-aircraft weaponry ready to take down enemies from above. In addition to the Restoration forces, there was also a very primeval society of hunter-gatherer Earthbenders; some believed they were descended from the original Earthbenders that had left the lion turtle city ten thousand years ago. To this day, they had rejected modernity and had very little contact with the rest of the world. However, the tribe held Lian in very high regard as the Avatar, whom they had only met once when she was brought to the valley almost eleven years ago, and had no love for the Empire.

The three of them rode quietly, the roar of the engine being the only sound to break the silence as they made their way to the cave. That was when Lian began to wonder, "Master Liu?" He turned to her. "What's so important about this cave? Like… why do Earthbender Avatars have to go through it?"

Master Liu's brow furrowed in thought for a moment. "Well, all I know is that the spirit within the cave has been there for thousands of years."

"Oh," Nanuk cut in with a creepy grin, "so you want to know about Tudigong's Cave, do you, babes?"

"Did I ask you?" Lian responded coldly. "Wait, Tudigong? Is that the spirit's name?"

"Yup," said Nanuk, his strange grin broadening. "A long time ago, in time of Avatar Kihan, the fourth Avatar and the first to be known by the actual title, the world was plagued with war. The Dark Lord of the Shadowbending Clan was trying to enslave the spirits remaining on Earth and use their powers to achieve his ends. Yup, my master had me do a lot of historical research."

"But how did he discover or invent Shadowbending?" Lian demanded hastily, earning a patronizing stare from the Waterbender.

"Nobody alive today or in the past nine thousand years knows, babycakes, you should know that."

"Call me that again," Lian said through gritted teeth and grasped his sleeve. "Call me that again, and I'll gouge your eyeballs right out of your head and-"

"Skull-fuck me?" he finished. "Being a girl, you lack the ability to do that – ow!" Master Liu punched him in the back of the head again.

"What kind of way is that to talk in front of a woman, you prick?" he barked, glaring at the back of his head in disgust. "It's not enough for you to rip out Lian's heart, you also have the balls to call her these nicknames and speak to her in this manner?"

"You'd know, Beifong," he shot back with a smirk. "You're quite the profanity poet; not to mention word is that you broke a lot of hearts back in the day, slick."

White-hot anger coursed through Lian's body. How dare he speak to Master Liu that way? She immediately raised her fist and punched Nanuk's shoulder so hard that her knuckles ached. "What're you, cra-"

"Shut your damn mouth!" Lian interrupted, her body trembling. "Don't you ever speak to my da- uh, master that way! You will call him 'General Beifong' or 'sir' when addressing him! You'll show him the proper respect or I'll teach it to you! Master Liu has more honor and integrity in his smallest toe than you do in your whole body! You're not even worthy enough to lick the soles of his boots!"

"Anyway," Nanuk drawled as Lian muttered a few choice words under her breath. "Kihan, who many here believe came from that savage tribe in the jungle, was discovered as the Avatar and had to go into hiding much like you did. He left his village and family and spent a long time in the jungle. Eventually, he found himself in our pleasant little valley. While hiding from the Dark Lord, he found himself inside the cave.

"The cave was dark, so he used what little he knew of his Firebending in order to see. Then he hears this disembodied voice," Nanuk screwed up his face into a menacing glare and raised his voice, speaking with a strange accent. "'Who enters my domain?'" Lian involuntarily clenched the armrests of her seat. "Kihan looked around, but saw nothing. When he didn't answer, the voice thundered, 'Speak, human!' and there was a rumbling of rock from behind Kihan. Before he knew what was happening, the entrance to the cave was blocked. It was only rocks, he could easily have gotten out, but he couldn't think clearly.

"He meekly answered, 'M – My name is Kihan. I'm the bearer of all four elements.' The cave rumbled once again.

"'So you bear the spirit of Raava... And she has appeared as one of the Earth People, no less? If you are who you say you are, if you truly are the incarnation of Raava in the material world - her Avatar - then you must do exactly as I command!'

"Kihan answered, 'Anything, O Wise Spirit!' The voice told him to put out his fire. If he were really the Avatar, again using this title, which was at the time unknown, he'd be spiritual enough to feel his way through the cave. He was naturally terrified, but could not disobey. He knew that whoever this was, he could see his every move. He extinguished his fire.

"'Now, son of mortal man, you will make your way to me! You will rely only on your Earthbending to find me; with a strong enough connection to the earth, you should be able to feel your way through my cavern!'

"Gulping, young Kihan made his way through the first tunnel like a blind man feeling the damp walls." He snickered as he turned to Lian whose face was drenched in cold sweat. "Caves are extremely unforgiving places even under normal circumstances. Forget Aang and his friends spelunking through the Cave of Two Lovers, the worst thing they had to deal with was adolescent hormones and annoying, singing stoner nomads who wouldn't shut up. No, in most other caves, you have tunnels, tight crawl spaces, pits, and lakes… one misstep and you're dead. That's when you're with a group, with adequate lighting, and safety equipment. Just imagine going into one alone, unprotected, and inhabited by a pissed off spir-"

"Could you just continue with the story please?" Lian interjected; her voice higher than usual.

Nanuk chuckled mockingly, earning another strike in the back of the head from Master Liu. "Anyway, Kihan's instincts kicked in and he managed to feel his way to the first pit. With his Earthbending, he created a slide that he took to go further into the depths. Well, after crawling through tunnels, swimming through lakes, and so forth, he eventually came to a shrine of sorts. That is where he met Tudigong, the Spirit of Earth." He stopped short as if waiting for questions.

"Well?" Lian pressed.

Nanuk simply shrugged. "Nobody knows," he said in a tone of one telling a ghost story. "But when Kihan emerged, he was a changed man; more serious… enlightened even. Tudigong insisted for Raava to bring all her Earthbender reincarnations to him in order to face his judgment. Soon after emerging from the cave, Kihan managed to defeat the Dark Lord, and nobody heard of Shadowbenders again until Shang appeared about twenty years ago as the new Dark Lord. The Shadowbenders were defeated, and thus the title 'Avatar' was born."

Nanuk slowly turned his eyes to Lian again. "Not all Earthbender Avatars succeeded, though. According to legend, Avatar Lao ventured into the cave centuries later." He paused to laugh. "This guy was an arrogant asshole-"

"Takes one to know one, doesn't it?" said Lian venomously, glaring daggers at him.

"Whatever," said Nanuk dismissively. "Anyway, this was a guy who'd go up against something really nasty like a saber-tooth mooselion with his bare hands. So, this idiot enters the cave, disrespects Tudigong, and tries cheating by creating a tunnel to go all the way down to the shrine. Well, nobody knows what exactly happened. Some say Tudigong trapped him in the walls. Others say he injured himself and died. All we know is that a Firebender Avatar was born three days later. Who knows, babes? We'll just have to see how he judges you today." He finished with a ghostly whistling, and Master Liu cut him off with a powerful jab to the back of his head.

"Shut the fuck up!" he barked and Lian whimpered.

They drove on for a while until they finally arrived in front of the face of the five hundred meter cliff. An opening in the face led into a narrow dimly lit path. This was where Nanuk parked the motorcycle. With trepidation, Lian exited the sidecar and Master Liu approached her, placing a firm hand on her shoulder. "Let's do this."

"See you later," Nanuk drawled with an unnerving grin, "Ahvatar." With that, he sped off laughing maniacally, leaving the two Earthbenders glowering at his back.

"You want him to have a little accident, my little snow flower?" Master Liu asked as he put his powerful arm around her shoulders. "Another broken nose would do him wonders."

Lian sighed heavily in response. "No, let's just get this over with." They began walking into the narrow path and it was only then that Lian had realized the deathly silence around them. There were no birds chirping; the air was stagnant and heavy. The sounds of their footsteps on the hard, gravel ground and Lian's own breathing somehow seemed magnified in the silence.

After a few minutes of walking, Lian and Master Liu came to a large crevice in the cliffs. It was not pitch black, but Lian did not fail to notice how the sun did not light this area up. Casting her eyes downward, she finally saw it; the black pit that would take her to her destination. She approached it slowly, as if in a trance and gazed into the chasm below.

Who enters my domain? Lian's heart skipped a beat. Nanuk was not lying, she thought as she tried catching her breath. She had felt the voice, not heard it. It was as if the spirit's deep voice was speaking into her very soul. Speak, humans!

No, she could not show fear. She had to show strength and humility. "My name is Lian Ming Yi, Good Spirit," she said. "I'm the Avatar here with my Earthbending master, Liu Beifong to face your judgment."

You are not here to be judged, daughter of mortal man. That is up to the universe to decide after you have passed on to our world! My purpose for millennia beyond your reckoning is to test the Avatars of Earthbending origin to see how much they have grown spiritually!

"But why only Earthbenders, Good Spirit?" Lian replied, finally hoping to get some answers. "And I can honestly say I'm a grown woman tomorrow."

The voice thundered into her thoughts once again: It is not enough for you to have grown in body, Avatar; that much is evident! You must prove that you have grown in mind and in soul! Earth is the element of substance and endurance, but also of growth! The trials ahead will determine your connection to the earth and subsequently, your growth as a person! Are you prepared, young Avatar?

Lian breathed deeply. "I am." The ground beneath her feet rumbled as a platform shot out over the pit.

Proceed, young Avatar! Your master may accompany you, but he may not do anything except prevent you from injuring yourself! It is up to you and you alone to navigate your way through the cave to me! Lian nodded meekly as she and Master Liu made their way onto the platform hovering over the side of the hole. Without warning, the large slab of rock shuddered and began its swift descent into the darkness below.

A/N: And we're gonna stop here for now. The chapter's getting too long and I really want the cave itself to have its own chapter. Yeah, if you're wondering, Liu's feelings on LOK kinda reflect my own. For example, I like Bolin, but I'm not happy with how Bryke handled his character throughout most of the series. Oh, by the way, you could call the existence of the two Avatar series in this story a fourth wall joke, but hey, we have plenty of history series in our world XD.
 
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The Legend of Lian

革命

Book One: Revolution

Chapter Four – Tudigong

The Golden Office in the Grand Palace in Zhongjing stood as one of the few remaining relics of the United Republic of Nations. From this lavish study, democratically elected Presidents of the Republic would address the nation, sign or veto bills from the National Assembly, and receive foreign heads of state and government. The average Chan, Kim, Yoshi, and Nguyen of the Republic, who would watch the man or woman behind the desk on TV or in later years, the Internet, would either nod in approval or shout in disgust at the President's weekly address. Nobody would dare do the latter these days or for nearly the last two decades of Imperial rule.

Now the Golden Office was the place where Emperor Donghai would issue his decrees; where all his obedient followers received their orders that eventually landed on the citizens of the Empire. Gone were the days of a representative government of the people. No legislative body met and argued in the National Assembly on what was best for the citizens according to the Republican Constitution. Regional Governors reporting directly to the Emperor now had direct control over everything, keeping their leader informed at all times of the daily lives of the citizenry, allowing him to crush all enemies of the state.

The Emperor sat on the crimson and gold throne behind the desk in the office waiting expectantly. He was a tall, imposing elderly man of Northern Water Tribe descent, but lighter-skinned than most of his countrymen due to partial Earth Republic ancestry. He had the fierce, yet majestic appearance of an elderly wolf, with thick gray hair that fell to his shoulders and a long beard, streaked with black. Though he was an old man, the Emperor's pitiless blue eyes radiated a power that would instantly invalidate any misconception of frailty that would usually accompany his ninety years of age.

He wore his formal uniform consisting of a black coat with gold trimmings and an aiguillette braided along the right side of his tops. His coat was decorated with numerous medals and badges of honor. Pinned to each shoulder was an insignia consisting of a large five-pointed star, the Imperial Seal set into a cluster of leaves, and two crowns. A golden stripe ran down each leg of his trousers. His black barracks cap with gold lining sat on top of an armoire.

The Emperor began drumming his fingers on the desk impatiently. It was not like his apprentice to be late when he called for him. On cue, there was knock on his door from which his adjutant poked in his head. "Your Majesty," he announced, "Lord Shang has arrived." The Emperor lifted three fingers and began a countdown. As he had expected, there was a curt throat clearing from behind the door. The officer squinted his eyes before correcting himself. "Your Majesty, the Honorable Grand Marshal of the Armed Forces of the United Empire of Nations, the Dark Lord Shang has arrived as per Your Majesty's orders, sire."

"Send him in, Colonel Lee," said the Emperor curtly and the door opened. Lord Shang did not conform to the appearance one would generally believe an Imperial General to have. He had a tall, lanky build with a bald head. Shang's gaunt, angular, almost feminine face looked as though it was fixed in a permanent sneer, and, contrary to the Emperor's icy glare, his golden eyes blazed with malice.

Shang's attire was also outlandish. His lean, muscled upper body was almost completely exposed, save for thick, black leather shoulder guards with suspenders that held them to his matching trousers. Both articles of clothing were adorned with symbols and writing that the Emperor could not even being to decipher, except for the symbol of Shadowbending: a distorted yin-yang with the darkness overpowering the light; the same symbol was tattooed onto his toned chest. Shang's katana, Murasame, hung from his belt in a glossy black sheath, and was also adorned with strange symbols in gold.

"I must say, my Liege," Shang began as soon as he entered the office, "your adjutant could be taught a lesson in military protocol." His voice was higher-pitched as if he were at least twenty years younger, smooth, and almost slippery in tone. "I suggest immediate dismissal and possibly receive fifty lashes if he cannot show proper respect for a superior officer."

The Emperor surveyed Shang with disdain. "Are you questioning my judgment, sir?" he said, affronted. "Do not forget that it was I who made you Grand Marshal, Lord Shang, and I'm quite certain I made the right choice for my adjutant as well. Might I also add that you should not be lecturing anyone on protocol when you appear before your Emperor dressed as you are!"

Shang's grin broadened and he bowed low. "My humblest apologies, my Liege," he said. "How may I be of service to you?"

The Emperor frowned, shifting his gaze over Shang's shoulder. "Close the door," he ordered. "I do not wish to be overheard-" Shang immediately closed the door and locked it "-or watched." The Emperor pulled out a remote from his desk and pressed a button to lower the blinds. Tilting his head in confusion, Shang strode over to the Emperor's desk. The two men held gazes for a moment before the Emperor spoke. "Have you felt it?"

"Felt what, my Liege?"

The Emperor scowled at his apprentice. "You do meditate every night before bed, do you not?" Shang nodded in response. "Well, while meditating, I felt a powerful presence in the astral plane."

"A presence, sire?" said Shang. "Was it human?"

"Yes," the Emperor confirmed. "Yet at the same time, it was spiritual... it felt female." It was best to just get to the point. "Are you absolutely certain the Avatar has not been found?"

"If she were in the Armed Forces, sire, we would know," said Shang with utmost certainty. "There is a chance the Avatar may have been executed more than once now." He gave a quiet laugh that the Emperor knew very well. Shang did not believe that for a moment. "However, that's what the Fire Nation believed in the Hundred-Year War, did they not? I won't be surprised if the new Avatar will soon emerge from the iceberg, to coin the phrase.

"To answer Your Majesty's previous query," Shang added as an afterthought, "yes, now that you mention it, I have felt an odd presence. However, I admit I overlooked it. One strange feeling was not enough to raise any flags, but now that you have felt it too-"

"I want the entire military on alert," the Emperor cut in sharply. "They are to be on the lookout for any young woman traveling alone or in a small group. Particular emphasis should be placed on the smaller roads. The Avatar would know we are after her and would avoid the main roads."

"Are you quite certain it's a girl, my Liege?" Shang inquired.

"Yes, I am absolutely sure of it. We know Korra died very soon after our duel sixteen years ago, which means the new Avatar must be nearly sixteen by now. Be sure that the Guoanbu know as well."

"Yes, my Liege," said Shang with another dramatic bow. "Is there anything else I can do?" The Emperor frowned at his apprentice's cheek.

"Yes, actually." The Emperor's scowl told Shang that he was about to hear some very bad news. Well, that would teach him that insolence would not be tolerated. "Our annual meeting with King Junseong of Omashu is coming up in ten days. You will go over there and sign our business deal for next year."

Shang looked positively outraged. "I am the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Armed Forces, not some goodwill ambassador!" he shouted as he grabbed the desk.

The Emperor sprang to his feet, towering over the younger Shadowbender and staring him down in cold fury. "And you refuse an order from your Emperor?" Shang closed his eyes as if to compose himself.

"No, my Liege," he said in a much more respectful tone. "Though may I ask Your Majesty why you're sending me on this tedious assignment?"

The Emperor sat back down frowning. "For the outrageous price he charges for his crude oil, I wish to make sure of where his loyalties lie. Your presence there will remind him that he works for me. Make all your necessary preparations and arrange a detail to take you there. I'll be expecting a report when you get back."

"Yes, my Liege," said Shang. "I shall also look into this… Avatar issue." With another low, theatrical bow, Shang turned on his heel to exit the office, leaving a less than pleased Emperor behind.

__________
The rock platform halted abruptly after what seemed like an eternity of descending into the hole. Complete darkness now surrounded Lian and Master Liu as they stepped off the platform. She felt the air becoming colder and damper. Dammit, she should have brought a warmer jacket! It would probably get even worse as they – no, she could not panic. Panicking in a cave could be deadly and Tudigong was probably seeing every drop of cold sweat on her face.

This is it, his voice rumbled in her mind. The entrance to my cave lies ahead. From here on, you are on your own. Remember that you are to take nothing from this cave; it belongs to me, no matter how wondrous it is. All Lian could do was nod. Proceed, child.

Lian stomped her foot onto the cold, damp, stone floor sending a seismic wave around her. Yes, she thought, there was something, all right, something massive beyond the east wall. "Master Liu!" she exclaimed. "Are you seeing this?" She darted over to the wall, raising her arms out in front of her blindly. Master Liu just laughed good-naturedly and strode over to her. "Hmm…" She continued running her hand along the wall until she tapped on it lightly with her fist. Lian immediately felt a vibration behind the rock. There was a crawl-tunnel behind it, a long one!

With a power stance, Lian clenched her fists and separated her arms; a crack of rock echoing in the cave as part of the wall separated to reveal the entrance to the tunnel. Before you go any further, the spirit said, know that this cave may not be altered unless the ability to pass through one area to the other is not possible for your kind to do so without human creations.

"Yes, Good Spirit." He did not respond. Drawing in a deep breath, Lian dropped to her hands and knees, beginning to crawl on the cold stone floor through the tunnel entrance. Even with Lian's small frame, it felt tight and cramped in the damp, narrow passage. The walls and ceiling were only inches away from her and there were insects crawling all over her; she could not even fully stretch out her arms as she struggled through. Lian could not help but worry about Master Liu and how hard it would be for a huge man like him to crawl through that tight hole in the earth.

"I'm fine," he grunted as if reading her thoughts. "Just keep moving!" However, his continuous grunting and swearing did little to ease Lian's tension. The two Earthbenders continued onward until Lian finally felt something odd. The path divided into a fork. "What's happening?" Master Liu asked.

"There's a fork in the path," said Lian. "I'm not sure where to-" She stopped short and struck the wall in front of her with her palm. Great, she thought angrily. Both paths led to a dead end, but the path to the right had a much stronger vibration as if there was something- "Very clever, Tudigong," she thought aloud and shook her head with a dry laugh. "Oh, you're good… you are good." Wordlessly, Lian crawled to the right, continuing down the tunnel as quickly as she could. When they finally, got to the end, Lian slammed her fist through the rock; there was an exit!

As soon as Lian crawled through, she found that she could stand. She was in complete darkness, wherever she was, but she could stand! "Shi... ugh!" Master Liu's voice grunted. With a few more grunted profanities that Lian became accustomed to over the past eleven years, he had managed to break out of the tunnel with a resounding crack of rocks. A howl of pain told Lian that a fragment had narrowly missed his head, but fell on his shoulder

"Fuck!" he roared as Lian carefully felt her way to him. "Damn you!" He furiously kicked a stone away. "Fucking asshole!" After a moment, he stood up. "Damn, that was the worst." Lian felt him place a hand on her shoulder. "You okay, kiddo?"

"Yeah," Lian gasped. "You? Are you hurt? Do you need to go back?"

"No, I'm fine," said Master Liu with a dry laugh. "That tunnel's sure as shit not meant for a big guy like me." He whistled in relief as Lian stomped her feet and punched the wall once again. The vibrations were so intense that she could feel every detail of the massive chamber where they stood.

"Master Liu," she gasped excitedly. "Are you feeling this? The rock formations, they're beautiful, and there's a river a little ways on the other side of this cliff and… there's something down there!" Yes, among all the stalactites, stalagmites, and amazing rock formations that Lian wholeheartedly wished she could see properly, something unnatural lay at the bottom of the chasm. It felt like a temple or a shrine of some kind. Hundreds of statues flanked a path leading up to a giant statue whose shape Lian could not make out, and were those torches flickering down there?

"It's amazing," Master Liu agreed, "but we have to move on."

"This must be where Lao tried to cheat his way down to the spirit," said Lian, lowering her head. "He probably tried to jump down there."

Master Liu scoffed at her statement. "Don't listen to that worthless shitbird. He was just trying to scare you."

Do you speak of that foolish boy who thought he would disobey me in my own dwelling? Lian flinched at the contempt in Tudigong's thoughts. Avatar Lao broke through the entrance so that he may breeze through without crawling through the tunnel as you had. Then I warned him not to jump into my shrine; that he is to enter it properly, and then he disrespects me. He tried jumping into the chasm before you in the hopes of making a safe landing. He ended up impaling himself on a stalagmite.

"Yes, Good Spirit," said Lian, trying to keep her voice calm. "With your permission, may I Earthbend a bridge to cross the chasm? I haven't started Airbending yet."

You may!

Immediately, Lian set her jaw and threw out her fists. The crack of rocks echoed throughout the cavern as Lian continued to bend the limestone. It was not until she completed the bridge that she realized just how massive the chamber was. Lian and Master Liu began to slowly cross the smooth, slippery stone, Lian taking good care to not look down at what would be her final destination in the cave.

It was now more than ever that Lian was grateful to have Liu Beifong as an Earthbending master. The seismic wave was a lifesaver in the darkness. Lian had always wondered what Toph had 'seen', feeling the vibrations in the earth all her life the way Lian felt every detail of this wonder of nature. Finally, they reached the platform at the other end, leading to another tunnel, but thankfully, one she could walk through. As soon as Master Liu stepped off the bridge, Lian was greeted by a loud rumbling from behind her. Tudigong was collapsing the bridge; for whatever reason, he did not want her leaving the way she came.

The passage was narrow and uneven. More than once, Lian and Master Liu had to squeeze through the tight spaces. To make matters worse the walls were not damp, they were drenched with freezing water. It was as if this area of the cave was prone to flooding during the wet season. Lian's body shook from the cold as she mentally cursed herself for not bringing gloves, a hat, or anything that could have shielded her from the cold. The hood of her sweatshirt was absolutely useless.

Master Liu was faring no better than his student was. His bigger frame made it harder for him to get through the tighter areas of the passage. More than once, he stated that he could easily bend his way through the rocks, but that would probably anger Tudigong, who was a little too possessive of his cave.

You think I am too overprotective of my cave do you, Avatar? Lian was really beginning to wish he would stop with that. You would be too if you had seen billions of years of natural history all over the planet get destroyed and violated by humans in only a matter of a few thousand years! However, I am not a bitter spirit like Wan Shi Tong, who shamelessly took his library of knowledge – some knowledge now lost forever to your kind – back to the Spirit World! That pseudo-intellectual bird had committed a crime against nature by taking his library out of the mortal plane! He was its guardian, not its owner; it was not for him to decide whether humans were worthy of that knowledge or not! Now one of the only means humans had for a spiritual return is lost forever! I, on the other hand, still see humans as inherently good beings; they are just too easily influenced and corrupted by the dark side!

Images flashed through Lian's head as she continued on her way; one of a diminutive, but influential warlord leading hordes of soldiers into a farming village and burning it to the ground. Another was of a regally dressed Fire Nation General looking on with a sick sort of pleasure as his legions mercilessly slaughtered overly a million people in the Earth Kingdom city of Xu Qiang during the Hundred-Year War. Another was of a young woman leading her massive forces into city after city and state after state of the ravaged Earth Kingdom to build her empire. The last was of a younger man in strange attire obscured by shadow, hovering in the air like a god of destruction, raising his arm with dark energy forming above him. Whatever he was doing, he was clearly enjoying every minute of it, as if thriving in the chaos.

These are the extremes of how far humanity can fall. Tudigong sounded more forlorn than menacing that time. However, you will find that the bane of humanity lies in everyday life. You see how humanity has lost touch from its spiritual, primal roots and became a materialistic species that places personal gain over harmony with one another and their neighbors who share this planet. The advent of monetary value, getting the edge over your neighbor in how you succeed in life; such thing leads to envy, envy leads to hate, hate leads to violence. The desire for monetary gain and power has led to the destruction of environments, of entire species, and yes, entire civilizations.

Lian felt her heart break for the spirit's sadness and disappointment. That is why the world will always need the Avatar. You, daughter of mortal man, can stop humanity from going too far, and perhaps someday, humanity can learn the true meaning of balance. In the meantime, I shall defend my cave from the possible destruction humans can bring to it, as it is one of the last locations from the genesis that remains untouched by humanity, but I will not be like that fool and give up on the human race. Lian had never heard of a spirit holding so much resentment against another spirit before, and she could not help but wonder if this ran deeper than that one incident.

You would be correct, young Avatar. My rivalry – for want of a better word – with Wan Shi Tong goes back tens of thousands of years. We never exactly saw eye to eye on anything. He was more into quote-unquote logic and proven facts, whereas I always looked deeper into everything. However, what he did on that day – sinking the library – was truly unforgivable. If we ever cross paths again… I know not what I will do.

Lian said nothing in response as she and Master Liu finally made it out of the tunnel. As soon as they entered a narrow chamber, Lian was greeted by a familiar gushing of water. There was a river just over the wall ahead. From what Lian felt, it was not very high, only about twenty feet. Thrusting out her hands, she grabbed onto the wet rock and began climbing with Master Liu following in her wake. When she got over the edge of the low cliff, she squinted her eyes as rays of sunlight temporarily blinded her.

The light came from an opening just a few meters away from where the two Earthbenders stood. A wild river surged from the opening, flowing as far as the eye could see into the darkness. This must have been where the river from the lake ended up; the current did get stronger the further it flowed away from the lake. Lian took this time to properly admire the rock formations around her. Hundreds, possibly thousands of stalactites of various sizes adorned the ceiling like icicles. Towering stalagmites ending at razor-sharp points were scattered along the floor. Billions of years of nature's influence had also done wonders on the walls of the cave. "Lian," Master Liu's curt tone brought her out of her reverie. "We've got to move on. What do you see?"

After another seismic wave, Lian slowly turned to him. "Uh, I've got some bad news," she began hesitantly. "Across the river is nothing but solid rock, which we're not allowed to break through. The river leads to the next chamber, but there's a problem-"

"And that is…"

"We have to jump in the river and go over the falls!" Lian exclaimed quickly. "Very high falls!"

Master Liu dragged his palm down his face and massaged his temples. "Dammit!" he grunted. "Okay, Lian, I'll go first and see if I can prevent us from getting smashed in there."

"Master Liu, wai-" Too late, he had already jumped into the river, allowing himself to be carried over to the other side before disappearing into the darkness. "Ugh… dammit!" Lian hissed. She hesitated, but only for a moment, but then she too dove into the icy, rapid water of the river. Her muscles tensed from the cold, but she ignored it. She was too busy trying to swim with the current without smashing herself into a boulder.

Sooner than Lian could have wished, the river swept her into darkness, and this time, she was completely blind. She did not even have the advantage of a seismic wave. From what Lian could tell, she was swimming through a tunnel and from what she felt before, the waterfall was not too far off. Praying that Master Liu was not hurt or worse, Lian braced herself for the imminent drop. When it finally came, Lian instinctively screamed, but to her shock, was cut off by feeling her body splashing into another stream of rapidly flowing water. That was strange, she was sure she felt a much longer drop. As if the universe itself was working against her, she felt herself being dragged diagonally down another waterfall, and it was a miracle that Lian did not sustain any injuries.

Lian cried out in horror as she suddenly fell through thin air. The force of the current had thrown her out of the water that she heard thundering several feet behind her. With what little Airbending she knew, she sent a wave of wind below her to break her fall into the lake below.

She could see, she thought with a sigh of relief as tears filled her eyes. She could see! Yes, light shined into the vast chamber that held the lake. Half laughing, half crying, Lian felt a surge of energy and swam towards the opening to find the most amazing thing she ever lay eyes on.

The lake emptied into a much slower creek that led to the outside where birds chirped animatedly. Some time eons ago, an earthquake had caused the roof of the cave to collapse, creating a deep chasm where a jungle grew on both sides of the stream. All kinds of trees and undergrowth had adapted to the lesser light of the pit, but this was a thriving jungle! Sighing with relief at the warm air on her face, Lian floated on her back with her eyes closed, reveling in the sun's rays.

"Lian?" Her eyes shot open and she turned to her left, to find Master Liu standing on the bank, relief in his green eyes. He looked a little scratched up, but he was otherwise unscathed. Lian immediately swam to the bank and threw herself into her master's arms, burying her face in his chest. "It's all right," he whispered, running his hand down her back soothingly. "It's over now." He pulled away, cupping her face in his hands.

Unable to meet his eyes, Lian leaned into him once again. "That was…" she gasped. "That was the worst! I – I never…" Master Liu pulled her into his arms once again. After a while, Lian managed to compose herself. "Are you okay, Master Liu?"

"I've been through worse," said Master Liu dismissively. "Try being pinned down by Imperial Rangers firing on you for five days straight while waiting for reinforcements. Let's move on, there's another entrance at the other side of this area. I believe this'll take us to the shri-" He stopped short at the unmistakable clicking of rifles being cocked.

On top of the cliffs, several figures covered in leaves cautiously approached the edge. Camouflaging paint obscured their faces and they were all armed with QBZ-95 assault rifles aimed directly at Lian and Master Liu. It was obvious that these soldiers were not happy to see them. "Raise your hands very slowly!" one of them barked and the two Earthbenders immediately obeyed. "Who are you?" he demanded. "What're you doing down there?"

"This is a test," Lian responded.

"How do we know you're not Imperial spies?" a woman countered.

"My name's General Beifong," Master Liu responded curtly. "I'm accompanying my student on her final Earthbending test in this cave. This is Tudigong's cave, you should know that."

Though Lian could not hear them, the troops huddled together muttering amongst themselves before turning their attention to her. "Are you the Avatar?" a younger woman asked.

"Uh, yeah," said Lian. "Lian Ming Yi."

The soldiers placed their fists into their right palms and bowed. Lian was used to this occasional treatment from the Restoration troops, but it never made her comfortable. "May the Spirits be with you, Avatar," a boy probably younger than her said. "We'll pray that Tudigong judges you favorably."

"Right…" Master Liu stepped in, glaring upward. "Now, if you could go back to your posts and watch for Imperial troops on the surface, that'd be great, because no Imperial spies would get through this cave alive."

"Yes, General," the lead sentry replied with a salute. "We'll take out any Imperial trash trying to come through our jungle."

"We will fight and if necessary, die for you, Avatar!" the boy amended fervently, making Lian feel very uncomfortable. "Freedom for the Four Nations! Death to the Empire! Long live liberty!"

The commander turned to his comrades. "Let's move out!" The others saluted him and disappeared into the trees. Lian personally did not agree with the Restoration's 'kill all they send' policy when it came to battle, considering that many of its members were former Imperial troops who betrayed the enemy at great personal risk. However, they could not risk the ones who ran away giving the locations of the refuges to the Empire. Enemy troops who willingly surrendered were kept in undisclosed locations under very secure yet humane conditions. Torture of any sort was strictly forbidden by the Restoration Constitution, according to its creed of never sinking to the iniquities of the Empire. Acts of torture, Lian knew, resulted in execution just as they would hang Imperial prisoners of war who were guilty of atrocities against civilians. Many of their prisoners ended up switching sides and fighting for the Restoration after being under their care and coming to the realization of what the Empire was doing was wrong.

"Let's go, Lian," said Master Liu and she followed him along the stream until they arrived at another crevice in the cliffs.

The chamber was wide and circular with a pond in the center. Lian stomped on the ground, adrenaline rushing through her once more. The walls were completely solid, but there was another tunnel, a narrow one… right under the lake. "Dammit," she hissed. "No! No way!"

"I second that," said Master Liu. "That first one was bad enough and that was where I could breathe. There's no way I'm squeezing through an underwater tube where I can't even Earthbend!"

"Spirit, do we need to dive through this tunnel in order to reach you?"

Yes.

Lian's heart sank. "I can't Waterbend, though. How are we supposed to breathe down there, let alone see?"

You have done it before in many lifetimes, said Tudigong. Each time, you have asked me this question, and my answer remains the same. You are the Avatar before anything else, daughter of mortal man. You must be a beacon of light in the dark even when all other lights have faded away.

What did that even mean, Lian thought. A light in the dark… Firebending would not work underwater. "What does he mean?" she said aloud this time.

"The last time I heard him," said Master Liu, "was when he ordered you to speak.

You seem to have a better temperament than the last one to face my challenges. Kyoshi was much less spiritual than you, and she could figure out what I meant.

Lian frowned in thought at his previous statement. She was the Avatar first before anything else. Earthbending would be virtually useless in that tunnel and she couldn't Waterbend, so he must have meant… "I don't know how to go into the Avatar State! I haven't even finished Metalbending training yet! How do you expect me to do this?"

You have done it before, Avatar! He said no more. This was ridiculous, Lian thought. Why did she have to go through this stupid trial? She needed help. Maybe she would call on Korra, but Lian decided against it. Korra was a Waterbender. Kyoshi would probably not be of any use considering how little she helped Aang. She couldn't call on the other Earthbender Avatars anyway; they had to figure it out on their own. The spirits were so mysterious in their methods. Wait a minute… spirits!

"Raava," said Lian softly closing her eyes as she continued, "can you hear me?"

At that moment, a softer feminine voice echoed from within Lian. I can, Lian. Trust in yourself, in your past lives, and in me. Tudigong has always been set in his ways, but that can work to your advantage. Just dive and you'll know where to go.

Lian breathed deeply. "All right… Master Liu, stay close to me." They both made their way to the edge of the pond.

"On three then?" said Master Liu and Lian nodded. "Okay… one, two…"

"Three!" They said together and both jumped into the cold water, diving down to the bottom. Lian swam to the direction of the tunnel; it was just large enough for a full-grown man to swim through. Lian tried very hard not to think about the dark or the cold. They both had to just get through the tunnel as quickly as possible! It was very straightforward; there were no dead ends, but the tunnel twisted and turned in all directions. Time seemed to disappear as both Lian and Master Liu swam through it, until finally, they emerged into another circular pond. At last, they both swam as fast as they could to the surface, Lian gasping for air. Shivering, she struggled to get out of the water. Master Liu soon followed and for once, Lian saw true fear in her master's face.

Wordlessly, they both looked around the chamber. On the left, there was an opening to let in light. On the right end of the chamber was huge double door made of solid iron. The door was blank save for the Earthbending symbol in the center. "Is this…" Lian slowly made her way to the door and ran her hand along the cold metal. "Tudigong, are you behind this door?"

I am! You have made it past nature's trials, and thus have proven your connection to the earth is strong! An even bigger challenge lies before you, Avatar! You may have passed the challenges of nature, but now you are going to face my own trials! The cave began to rumble as the doors slowly began to part, sending dust particles flying around them. Enter, Avatar Lian! The spirit beckoned. You are to come by yourself; your master will have to wait outside! She figured as much.

Master Liu smiled encouragingly, stroked the side of her face, and kissed her forehead. "Good luck, my little snow flower." Taking one more breath, she turned around and made her way through the doors.

Lian was walking resolutely through a long chamber of the cave. She could not feel it from above, but now that she was there, she saw how unnatural the bottom of the chamber was. Two rows of torches flanked the path, illuminating the chamber brightly. Lian could only ponder how high the cliffs were if she could not see a thing up there. Suddenly, there was a clang of metal, making her heart skip a beat. The doors had closed behind her; Tudigong was waiting at the end of the path. Intricately carved statues were placed along the walls, all of the previous Earthbender Avatars.

Finally, Lian arrived at a flight of stairs leading to an altar where the statue of the most fascinating yet terrifying creature Lian had ever seen was placed. It was an absolutely massive creature with canine-like features with a long muzzle and two prominent fangs protruding from the front of its mouth. At the sides of his enormous muscled body was a massive pair of wings and on its head were two deadly looking horns. Around its neck and down the length of its back was a thick, lion-like mane. Its four legs had razor sharp claws. The statue's wings expanded at least three meters on either side.

In fascination, Lian bowed before the statue, but before she could speak, light had suddenly filled the entire chamber. Lian could only look around in awe as the torches sank into the ground. Where was this light coming from? Every detail of the cave both natural and unnatural crossed her vision. No words in any language could describe how beautiful it was.

We meet again, Raava! Lian sprang around. In place of the statue stood the creature it depicted, very much alive. Its fur was a very dark blue, save for its white mane. Its regal face was ageless and its yellow eyes seemed to be searching Lian's very soul. It has been centuries, has it not? Though a live spirit stood before her, his mouth remained closed, still speaking into Lian's soul.

It's been over five hundred years to be precise, my old friend. Raava sounded quite agitated. Still quite the loner, are you not? Still so unyielding in your attitude… How very becoming of an earth spirit.

Question not my ways, and I will not question yours! Tudigong responded curtly. Very well, Raava, I trust you remember how this must be done!

Raava sighed. Yes.

Tudigong's focus seemed to now be directly on Lian herself. She knew for a fact that he was now looking at her rather than through her. You and I shall duel! His lips still didn't move, but Lian knew he was talking to her. You will use only Earthbending to try to defeat me! You may not use any other kind of bending art, nor may you use any craft made by your kind! Failure to obey these precepts means death, do you understand? Lian could only nod. The mortal is granted the first move!

Lian and Tudigong's eyes met in a brief battle of wills before she stomped her foot onto the cavern floor sending a stalagmite at the spirit, leaving a fissure in its wake. The spirit was struck in the leg, but he showed no visible signs of pain. Interesting! With surprising speed for a creature his size, Tudigong charged at Lian raising his massive foot and stomped it on the ground. Immediately, the ground beneath Lian's feet began to rumble.

Almost immediately, Lian found herself having to struggle to maintain her balance, her arms flailing wildly as the ground began to quake. With no other alternative, she jumped up into the air raising her fists, allowing herself to fall forward, striking the ground to send a shockwave towards the spirit.

The rocks hit home, striking Tudigong square in the face, making him yelp. In rage, he let out a roar, wings beginning to flap menacingly. He was ready. "Hiyyah!" Lian screamed as she raised her arms, aiming two boulders at him. He deflected the attack with no effort.

Sure, just keep chucking rocks at an Earthbending spirit. I'm sure you'll win eventually!

Anger began to bubble inside Lian. She had trained in Earthbending for years waiting for this moment. Twice now, she and Master Liu had almost died. With another roar of fury, she stomped on the ground, the cracking noise echoing in the cavern. The ground around her began to rise. Yes, if she could not beat him in a direct Earthbending duel, maybe she could outsmart him.

As the boulder Lian stood on rose into the air, Tudigong launched himself off the ground towards her. Immediately, Lian swung her arms in swift movements reminiscent of Firebending, stalactites raining on the spirit. He was gaining on her! Soon he would be under her! Instinctively, Lian sent a stalagmite from the ground up at Tudigong, just as he clasped his front legs together. It happened suddenly; the platform Lian stood on crumbled into dust.

Lian had little time to react as she began to fall, and before she could even think of Earthbending, she had landed right on top of her opponent's neck. Knowing he would try to throw her off, Lian made to grab his horns but stumbled falling forward on his massive head. Then everything went black.

__________

Steam rose from the tank of cold water as Akira dipped his finished blade inside to cool it off. His entire body was drenched in sweat, having worked all day by the intense heat of the flames of Master Goshiro's forge. Taking one more deep breath, he drew his new sword from the water to admire the final result of his work.

This was indeed one of the finest weapons Akira had ever seen. The blade gleamed like a mirror, reflecting the red firelight. The curve was absolutely perfect and the balance just right. Carved into blade's flat ends was the creed of the Restoration in Fire Nation characters, and in the blade's belt, he had carved a lotus in full bloom. The golden cap at the end of the hilt depicted a flame.

Tightening his grip on the hilt, he took a few swings in the air. The balance was perfect and the sword was so light! After executing a downward slice, he was brought out of his world by someone clearing his throat. Akira turned to Master Goshiro who stood there with a small wooden box under his arm and the scabbard in his left hand. The scabbard was mostly black save for the golden lotus in the center and the rising flame at the tip.

"That is a fine weapon you've got there, my son," said Master Goshiro and Akira bowed in gratitude before approaching a table where the older man waited. "Now, let us clean it." Wordlessly, Akira opened the box to take out two pieces of rice paper, a velvet cloth, a bottle of oil, and a powder ball. It took him a good fifteen minutes to clean and oil his new sword. Such a fine work of art needed proper care. Finally, Master Goshiro handed him the scabbard and he sheathed the sword.

"You have my gratitude," said Akira before bowing low, "Master."

Master Goshiro looked at him with a grave expression. "Always remember, Akira," he said, "a sword is merely an extension of the man who wields it no matter how good the quality of its craftsmanship. I have trained you since you were four, my young pupil. For all this time, I feel that I have merely guided you in swordsmanship skills. You've always had a strong, independent personality, and thus you have honed your skills on your own." His brow furrowed as he surveyed his student. "Always remember, Akira Tomohiro, skill and a good sword alone will not overcome true darkness."

Akira sighed in response. "Shang…"

"Yes… What makes Shang so powerful? What makes him so feared that even the bravest of us flee from him? Is it his Shadowbending? Is it his swordsmanship? While those two abilities are exemplary, what truly makes him such a dangerous foe is his drive. His hatred, his nihilism, his desire for power and fear… his complete lack of empathy and the way he uses his enemies' weaknesses against them makes him more dangerous than the Emperor himself.

"Your will must be stronger than his. You must not let anger or vengeance be your drive."

"It's not!" Akira protested tersely. "My drive is justice, Master Goshiro, not just for my father, but for the millions killed by that-"

"You are in denial," Master Goshiro cut in flatly. "Your anger and your hatred towards the Empire is justified, but it could also be your bane. Remember what you're setting out to do the day after tomorrow."

Akira sighed in resignation, running a hand through his hair. "Fulfilling my vow to protect Lian on her journey," he recited. "A Samurai is a defender of the peace, not a soldier. A Samurai's sword is for protecting his comrades and for defending those who cannot defend themselves."

"A Samurai's sword is to remain sheathed," Master Goshiro continued.

"Until all avenues of diplomacy have failed," they finished in unison.

He was right, Akira thought. If he and Lian were going to make it through this war, they both needed to keep a cool head. They were about to go up against an enemy far worse than Ozai or Kuvira. They had to be ready, especially Akira himself. "I suggest you put your shirt and jacket back on and go wait for the Avatar," said Master Goshiro with a smile.

"Where, Master?"

"Oh, I'm sure you two have your 'special place'." He winked at his student. "Now, don't keep the Avatar waiting, it's very bad manners to do that to your girlfriend."

Akira's jaw dropped in outrage. "She's not my girlfriend!"

"Sure, son," Master Goshiro laughed. "Now run along."
 

Darth Ultor

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__________

Darkness gave way to strange ethereal light. The ground was soft and there was grass! The heavenly smell of flowers and grass filled her nose. She was sitting down in a lush, green meadow adorned with unfamiliar trees stretching for miles on end. The grass was pure green and scattered across the field where an endless array of flowers that could not have existed in the Earth Republic.

Lian rose to her feet to truly take in the scenery around her. It was then that she had noticed the thundering of a river a short distance away. The water looked so clean as it gushed through the meadow all the way to the widest and tallest waterfall Lian beheld, creating a double rainbow. A majestic cliff towered over her, hundreds of feet into the air. She just had to get up there! Turning around, she assumed a horse stance, clenched her fists, and swung them out in a swimming motion to create a platform that would take her up the cliff. However, the rocks would not respond.

"What the…" her voice trailed off as a new realization dawned on her. "I'm in the Spirit World! I…" she wasn't alone! Right behind her was Tudigong, stern-faced and serious, yet his demeanor was much kinder.

Lian bowed before inquiring, "What is this place?"

Tudigong closed his eyes in contemplation and turned his head to take in his surroundings. I do not know, Avatar. He spoke in barely above a whisper, yet still, he radiated a tremendous power. I have never been to this part of the Spirit World. In fact, I believe that you brought us here. When Lian only looked at him bewildered, he continued to speak. When humans pass on to this world and have led a life of good, they create for themselves a place of eternal peace.

"Like General Iroh having his teashop here," she piped up.

Precisely. This must be your own image of peace and enlightenment. However, there must be another reason why we are here. He lay on his belly and met Lian's gaze. Climb on my back. We will fly to the top. She felt rather reluctant considering their duel. Our duel is one we had thousands of times, and each time, we ended up in the Spirit World. I believe things will be made clearer at the top of the cliff.

Nodding, Lian climbed on the enormous spirit's back. Tudigong's wings stretched out and began flapping. With a kick of his hind legs, he took off soaring into the air, making Lian gasp and cling to his neck. She had expected it to be a turbulent flight, but it gentle; smoother than any means of flight known to man. Lian opened her eyes, and for what had to have been the hundredth time that day, she was breathless.

The strange land stretched out for miles and miles around them. In addition to the river surging through the middle and the lake to the right, Lian realized that they were on an island! Turquoise water surrounded the fields, crashing onto the white sands of the shore. However, Tudigong was flying on what seemed to be a set path. As they continued their ascent up the cliff, Lian spotted a strangely familiar pagoda that dwarfed any skyscraper in her world.

Tudigong stopped his ascent at the top of the tower, hovering in midair. The top of the roof was flat and wide enough for one to walk on. Somebody was already standing there as if waiting for them. He was tall and heavily muscled, much like Master Liu's stature. His thick gray beard reached his waist and his hair was kept in a topknot. He was clad almost entirely in animal hides, but his feet were bare.

"Fancy seeing you here, my old friend." His voice was deep and filled with the wisdom of the ages.

Avatar Kihan, it has been nearly ten thousand years. How long have you been waiting for us?

"Almost sixteen years," said Kihan grimly and then turned to Lian. "Korra told me so much about you, Lian. It's been so many years since we had an Earthbender Avatar."

If it were possible to go pale in the Spirit World, Lian would have done so being in the presence the first Avatar from her nation. "It's an honor to meet you, Avatar Kihan," she said, bowing her head.

"You know," he said with a slight grin, "this isn't the first time you were here." He gestured for her to look around the landscape. Lian had recognized the pagoda, the island, the ocean, and the sunset.

"I imagined this place when I first meditated as a kid!" she exclaimed. "It was a lot smaller then, but… is this even real?"

Kihan stroked his beard in thought. "A child's heart is pure and when meditating, you imagined yourself in the most peaceful place you could think of. In the last eleven years, you have built on this through your training and growth where it matters most. Yet, fundamentally, it remains the same, much like you." What did that even mean? Was he saying she was still a kid? Kihan seemed to read her thoughts. "I do not mean this as an insult. I am saying that you enjoy the security of the familiar, the monotony of the expected. Sudden change does not come easily for you, especially if you are happy with the way things are.

"In my life, I was very much like you, especially when I was young. Think about it, we both found out we are the Avatar at an innocent age; you were younger than me, but still. We both grew attached to our Earthbending master. We both have unspoken feelings for one skilled with a blade."

Lian slapped her forehead in annoyance. "Not you too! I'm not in love with Akira; he is my friend!"

Kihan merely shook his head. "Sadly, this is not the only fate we share. You too are up against the evils of Shadowbending and must defeat them in order to protect both mortal and spirit."

They finally got to it, Lian thought, her heart sinking. "What is Shadowbending exactly, Kihan? How was it discovered?"

The older Avatar's head hung in sadness. "Shadowbending has been around for as long as bending itself," he said. "After Avatar Wan trapped Vaatu in the Tree of Time, there were groups of benders from each of the former lion turtle cities that refused to conform to the new way. These were benders of all sorts trying to reach spiritual enlightenment. Seeing how countries were developing worldwide, they feared that humanity would revert back to the old way, and thus they had become a Vaatu worshipping cult.

"With much meditation and personal spiritual growth, they had reached Nirvana, the highest level of spiritual enlightenment. You're wondering how this is a bad thing. You're thinking that Airbenders also rejected formal governance, lived a nomadic lifestyle, and tried to reach Nirvana." Lian really wished these spirits would stop reading her mind like an open book.

You make it too easy for us. Lian frowned at Tudigong. You wear your heart on your sleeve. An admirable trait, but also a dangerous one. If we who serve the light can read your feelings, the dark side can too, and the dark side, by its very nature, feeds off our feelings and manipulates them to the enemy's advantage. Humans and spirits are both susceptible to it, no matter what form it takes, which is why all of, especially the Avatar, must struggle to maintain balance within ourselves as well as the world.

"He's right, you know," said Kihan.

"When you've both stopped analyzing how easy I am to read," said Lian, "could you please tell me about the Shadowbenders?"

"Very well," Kihan replied with a shrug. "Reaching Nirvana is generally a good thing. You understand the world, those who inhabit it, and even the Spirit World. You find inner peace, and that is something that bender and Nonbender alike should strive for. However, it can also be used for evil. This cult had reached this level of spiritual enlightenment and discovered how to bend their spiritual energy... how to use it as a weapon. They could use this dark energy to drain the spiritual energy from both human and spirit, and many spirits on this planet were destroyed. For years, the Dark Lord Zalrak and his apprentice Narong threatened to throw the world out of balance."

Lian's heart skipped a beat. "But he can't be broken free!" she said. "Harmonic Convergence won't happen again for another nine thousand and nine hundred-some years!"

"I do not believe initiating a premature Harmonic Convergence was in their plan," Kihan said, his expression grim. "I don't even believe they wished to break Vaatu free. What they wanted was power and I believe he could have shown them how to achieve it.

"As time went on, Zalrak grew paranoid that his army of Shadowbenders would overthrow him, so he had them all killed save for his apprentice, thus starting what became known as the rule of two. There would only be two Shadowbenders at a time; a master and an apprentice. Several decades passed, and generations of Shadowbenders continued to oppress the world until I was born. At the age of sixteen, I entered Tudigong's cavern, passed his trials, dueled him, and then ended up here.

"I soon returned to my body, and in time, managed to defeat the Shadowbenders of my time and destroyed all records of it having ever existed. However, it appears that Harmonic Convergence had reawakened Shadowbending and now the Avatar must stop both the master and his apprentice before they achieve whatever sick ambitions they have." He stopped short and turned to Tudigong.

The Avatar has passed my tests and has shown spiritual growth. Though she still has much to learn, I am sure she realizes that there is no end to spiritual growth.

Lian felt her heart leap. "I – I passed?"

Yes… and I have come to an even more important conclusion. I am going to leave my cave, I am going to join you on your journey, and help you defeat this evil plaguing our world once and for all.

She was breathless with shock. This powerful spirit was going to be her guide? It is time for you to awaken! Before she could respond everything went black once more.

__________​

Lian woke up in a daze on the cold stone floor of the shrine. When her surroundings came into focus, she noted how everything was virtually back to normal as if no duel had ever taken place. As she slowly pushed herself up to a sitting position, a voice rang out, "Lian, are you all right?"

That wasn't Tudigong! Heavy footsteps echoed throughout the chamber and soon, a large hand grabbed her by the shoulders, hoisting her to her feet. "M-Master-" Before she could continue, Master Liu pulled her into a crushing embrace.

"I was so worried," he whispered. "What happened? I could feel the two of you fighting. Where is…" He stopped short, as the familiar flapping of massive wings grew louder. Tudigong was descending upon them.

The two Earthbenders broke apart and bowed to him. To their surprise, he closed his eyes, returning the gesture. Well done, Avatar. You may be wondering why I chose to aid you in your journey.

"I am, Good Spirit," said Lian. However, Tudigong was not the one to answer, but Raava.

The spirits sense a time of great evil about to descend on the universe, an evil that will threaten to devastate the balance of your world and ours. Like the humans, we spirits will have to make the choice between doing what is right and what is easy.

We know not when this time of reckoning will come to pass, Tudigong observed. But it is not too far off. We who wish to keep balance must all stand together to vanquish this enemy and send Shadowbending into the oblivion from whence it came! Raava, let us join together.

I will be proud to fight alongside you once more.

Lian, you and your master climb on my back. It's time.

Wordlessly nodding, she turned to a stunned Master Liu and gestured him to follow her. Lian mounted the spirit's back once more and helped her master up so that he may sit behind her. "Yip-yip!" she said instinctively.

Do I look like a sky bison? His head twitched irritably.

"Sorry," said Lian sheepishly. "Let's go!" Once again, Tudigong unfolded his wings and launched himself off the ground in a swift ascent. With a resounding crack, the ceiling opened up, and they continued their flight out of the cave and into the sunlight.
 
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