Water. Earth. Fire. Air.
Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony.
Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.
Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished.
A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang.
And although his airbending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he's ready to save anyone.
Perhaps the most important lesson that he will have to learn... is how to deal with the Spirits.
Everyone knows of the Spirits: they direct our world, controlling vital aspects in order to keep us alive and the world in order. The Avatar serves as the bridge between our world and theirs, so that neither side might be separated.
But they are far more than that.
Spirits are dangerous beings with dangerous powers, and motivations that no mortal can even begin to fathom. It is the Avatar's duty to safeguard our world from these nigh omnipotent beings, to keep them in check, for he is the only one who can hope to match their might.
For should he ever fail in his task... the consequences would be devastating.
Hei Bei snorted despondently as he emerged from the thicket of bamboo he'd summoned and into the familiar murky, mottled and muggy area of the Spirit World that he called home.
That... had not been a smart move. The ethereal panda growled darkly to himself as he padded through the lush and varied vegetation around him. Flying into a rage after what the Fire Nation had done was one thing. Attacking a nearby village and abducting its citizens was another. Attacking the Avatar, a whole new scale of stupid.
But emerging from that situation unharmed...
The implications were horrifying.
Hei Bei ground his teeth together as he tilted his head back and forth searching for any and all signs of life. With any luck, his transgressions had gone unnoticed. With any luck, this day would never have occurred, and with any luck, everything could continue as usu-
"He-llo there, Hei Bei. It has been a long time, old friend. Too long."
Oh lion turtle shit.
The Nature Spirit's claws dug into the stone around his feet as he slowly looked up, staring at the dead tree rising high into the fog before him.
Staring at the massive insect whose beautiful feathered face was staring down at him.
"Honestly now..." Koh crooned from its borrowed beak in its usual tenor. "Where could you have been? People have been worried..."
Hei Bei snorted briefly before starting to move forwards again, soft soil giving way beneath his paws...
"One would almost think you had gone to the Mortal Realm..."
Before his massive white fist cracked the stone beneath his feet. The infuriated Spirit growled darkly as he pushed himself onto his hind-legs, snarling up at the trickster demon.
"Oh my! So defensive!" Koh jerked back, blinking her frightened brown eyes, blonde hair streaming down her cheeks. "My apologies, oh great and mighty Hei Bei, it's just..." He raised an insectoid limb to his face, adjusting the glasses on his thin nose. "After what happened to your precious forest, you've been so horribly agitated..."
Hei Bei worked his jaw for a moment... before clenching his teeth together, drawing in a deep breath through his nose and walking forwards, stepping over lush greenery and roots as he continued into his jungle abode.
"Still though, something does confound me..."
He continued onwards, despite the ever-present musings of the infernal insect behind him.
"Why did the Fire Nation cause such undue damage, hmm?"
Hei Bei halted in his tracks. But not because of the Spirit's words.
"After all... the firebenders are at war, are they not? They require food, materials, resources... so why burn it without harvesting so much as a single tree, hmm?"
His voice. His voice had shifted. Changed, altered, warped from the norm.
"And the village... why leave it be? Shouldn't it have been razed to the ground as well? Why would the ruthless Fire Nation spare them?"
Hei Bei didn't dare turn. He didn't dare face the visage of the one he knew held that voice. He didn't dare to gaze upon the face of pale skin, with its trimmed, if slightly singed beard and arrogant holier-than-thou smile.
"Quite peculiar, wouldn't you say? Quite peculiar... ah well, we'll never know, seeing how they mysteriously disappeared. Such a shame, is it not?"
Hei Bei shook and growled beneath his breath. His muscles tensed... and then he just walked on, staring resolutely forwards as he marched into his home.
Koh chuckled darkly as it stared after the giant panda, its pale, bone-white lips set in a cruel smirk. "And so the pieces fall into place. Check..."
Avatar Roku sighed heavily as he watched the nostalgic form of the Fire Temple fade away from sight, replaced by the ever-dreary rocky peaks of its Spiritual counterpart. "And so it begins... with any luck, Aang will have the strength to succeed where I failed."
"Do not despair, Roku." A voice stated solemnly from behind him.
Roku nodded in agreement as he turned to face the speaker.
Sitting behind him, seated around a simple wooden table with varying cups and bottles placed on it were three individuals.
The speaker was a tall woman in dark green armor. Her face was covered in pure white facepaint, her eyes highlighted by streaks of crimson. A fan-like head-dress was prominently displayed on her forehead. Avatar Kyoshi muttered darkly under her breath as she took a sip from the steaming cup of tea she was holding. "Should anyone deserve to be chastised for mistakes during their lives, its me. Not only am I responsible for that damnable 'Avatar Day', but my Dai Li... ergh!" The cup in her hand cracked beneath her grip. "Not a day goes by that Kong doesn't remind me of what they've become..."
"Now now, Kyoshi..." The woman sitting next to the Earthbender Avatar stated calmly. She was an Airbender of a meager build, with long black hair running down her back, cut short enough so as to expose the arrow running down her forehead. "None of us are truly innocent of past sins," Avatar Yangchen exhaled mournfully. "Or at the least, mistakes. I should have ensured that the festival was known by more than the Nomads. The general grows restless, and Zhengfu has been far from quiet about his dislike for us and ours..."
"Ah c'mon! That's normal!" A large dark-skinned man in blue Water Tribe furs with a saber-toothed polar bear's head acting as a form of hood chuckled grimly as he held up a wineskin in mock salute. "After all, if there isn't one person alive somewhere in either here or the Mortal World that doesn't hate our guts, then me and Koh'll sit down together to down a cup of ale!" Avatar Kuruk snorted as he took a swig from the skin. "Him and every other Spirit whose ass I've kicked up and down the length of this realm."
Roku shot a scathing look at Kuruk as he sat down alongside his predecessors, pouring himself a cup of tea. "Our situation would be better if you hadn't accrued us so many enemies, Kuruk. We had enough troubles with the Spirits before a great many of them suddenly held grudges against the Avatar."
"In fact..." Kyoshi narrowed her eyes accusatorily at her predecessor. "I would go so far as to say that the Clan's resurgence was your fault!"
"Hey!" The Waterbender slammed a fist down on the table and jabbed a finger at his opposite. "That would have happened anyways! The Clan is practically guaranteed to show up if you let one of its members go so far as to conquer a continent! And running away from him sure as heck didn't help!"
Kyoshi grit her teeth angrily as she yanked a rod of metal from her waistline and snapped it open into a fan. "Why you..."
Kuruk spread his arms invitingly. "Bring it, you-"
The two Avatars jumped at the shout that originated from between them.
Yangchen breathed deeply for a second, switching her gaze between her two successors before calming herself and folding her hands in her lap. "Now is not the time for conflict."
"Yangchen is correct," Roku nodded sagely. "With tensions and tempers rising, now is the time for unity. We must all be prepared for whatever ploys the Spirits might utilize, lest the Clan decide to take action now, of all times."
Kyoshi and Kuruk glanced at each other meaningfully before sighing and nodding.
"As you suggest, Roku. I will direct my animosity elsewhere." Kyoshi bowed her head respectfully.
"I'll drink to that!" Kuruk agreed, raising the wineskin high into the air. "And hey, who knows? Maybe we'll get lucky!" He tilted his head back, taking a long swig of his drink... before suddenly sitting upright and spraying his drink all over Kyoshi.
"ARGH!" The female Avatar yelped, wiping at the wine before snarling furiously at the Waterbender. "That's it you drunken-!"
"Kill me later, look!" Kuruk yelped, jabbing his finger towards the sky.
The Avatar's followed his gaze... and gaped in shock.
Splayed across the simultaneously starry yet sunny sky was an image in motion: a boy, no older than twelve with tattoos running down his forehead and a staff in hand, speaking calmly to a large snarling black and white creature.
"Roku..." Yangchen breathed in horror as she watched the boy hold out a hand with acorns in it. "I am begging you, tell me that there is some way that is not who I think it is."
"I dearly wish I could..." The elder Firebender stated gravely.
Kyoshi bit her lip nervously as she watched the creature sniff at the boy. "Maybe... maybe he attacked? Blinded by rage, he forced Aang to attack?"
The creature morphed into a panda and turned to walk away.
"We're fucked." Kuruk stated calmly. "For the record, gramps, why didn't you tell Aang how to deal with Spirits in the Mortal World?"
Roku clenched his fists furiously, "I was unaware that Aang had even encountered a Spirit in the first place. And I hoped that they would all have the sensibilities to restrain themselves during such a time of crisis, so I did not deem it relevant at the time! But that is the past. For now..." He narrowed his eyes up at the images. "It looks like they're composed of... northern lights!?" He clenched his fists in realization. "This is Jiguang's work. And one of his closest allies..."
"Is Koh." The Tribal Avatar's grip on his wineskin tightened drastically. "That slimy million-faced bastard! He must have known that Aang was coming to meet you and withheld the information until the last second! I swear, the next time I see him I'll-!"
"There'll be enough time for vengeance later, Kuruk!" Kiyoshi cut him off hastily, her fans open and held tight in her hands. "Right now, we must mitigate damages before the unthinkable happens!"
The Avatars turned to look at Yangchen, who was staring away from them all with a haunted look in her eyes. "It has already begun."
The three followed her gaze for a moment before they too gaped in horror.
Upon the horizon, a giant, nay, a titan of stone and earth was marching forwards at a steady pace upon four massive, bulky limbs. Even with the distance between them, the Avatars could feel the creature's footsteps.
"Tu-Di-Gong..." Kyoshi breathed in a mix of reverence and horror. "He is putting out the call?"
"Not just him," Kuruk raised a hand and pointed next to the earthen behemoth. "Look."
Alongside the massive Spirit, three equally impressive beings slowly faded into existence.
The first two were amorphous masses of energy, neither with any true form. They were similarly yet opposingly colored, with one a pure silver, whilst the other was the deepest of blues. The two danced and twirled around one another. Neither faster, neither slower. Both equal.
The third being was bright, immensely so. Practically a sun unto herself, the Spirit appeared to be a woman, her entire being radiating an aura of caring and compassion. She was tightly wrapped in a cloak of blazing flames, but did not appear to be bothered the least bit bothered by the heat.
Kuruk swallowed a gulp from his winebag before continuing to observe the celestial beings. "Tui, La, Agni of all people... and if they're here then that means-"
He was cut off by the crash and rumble of thunder high above. Without rhyme, reason or warning, a massive cyclone descended from the abruptly storm-ridden sky. The cyclone engulfed the horizon, making it so that all who looked upon it could only see one thing: the figure within the storm, a colossus of a man whose entire body language screamed nothing less than absolute wrath and fury.
"Izanagi." Roku growled. "Of course he would be the ringleader. He's been waiting for this for over a century. And now... his demands are met."
Kyoshi shot him a desperate look. "What do we do?"
"What can we do?" Yangchen retorted morosely.
"The nun's got a point, Kyoshi," Kuruk agreed somberly, sipping from his drink. "This is just a formality. Only one thing we can do now: Lean back and think of the North Pole."
And so they watched.
The Avatars watched as the massive Spirits of Earth, Fire and Water reached out with their limbs, and grasped ropes of pure, undiluted energy from nothing.
They watched as, slowly, painstakingly, the divinities pulled back on the ropes, reeling them back in a relaxed pace.
They watched as, at the ends of the ropes, a massive disc of earth and water and fire and air and elements inconceivable to the human mind was hoisted high up into the air, drawn out from unseen and inscrutable storage and held in place by the might of the Spirits.
They watched as the being within the cyclone held his hand outwards, his palm upturned. They could only watch as, in a flash of power, an ornate rod of metal the size of a tower coalesced in his hands.
They watched as he reeled his arm back and high...
And they watched as he brought it down.
They did not need to watch the effect.
They felt it.
A pulse of energy, massive in scale, rippling outwards from the gong and extending as far and wide as could possibly be conceived.
A pulse that would surely be felt by all, both in the Spirit World... and the Mortal.
'Rock surge coming from the left, just sidestep and blast.'
Toph Beifong, AKA the Blind Bandit, sighed heavily as she rolled her sightless eyes. It was an average day: wake up, get pampered, sneak out, kick ass in the Earth Rumble ring. Spirits above forbid, but there was a chance that sometime soon things might actually get boring.
'Well, might as well enjoy it while I can.' Toph's body tensed as she slid out of the way of the pillar of stone that emerged where she had been standing moments ago and raised her leg. 'And retaliate in three, two...'
Toph's eyes shot wide in shock, her foot slamming down on the floor like a sledgehammer. To the shock of the cheering spectators, it appeared like the entire half of the arena opposite her simply exploded outwards, sending her opponent careening out of the arena and into the stands, along with several tons of rock and dust.
Toph ignored all of this. Instead, she stood still. Deathly still, her unseeing eyes staring off listlessly.
"Ha... hahaha... hahaHAHAHAHA!"
She began to laugh. She laughed and laughed, a bellowing, hearty laugh, tinged with only the slightest sliver of what had to be insanity.
"HAHAHAHA! FINALLY!" Toph cackled uproariously. "OH YES! FINALLY! COME ON, YOU SONS OF HOG MONKEYS! BRING IT ON! I'LL TAKE YOU ALL ON, ONE BY ONE! HAHAHAHAHA!"
Suddenly, the cavern housing the tournament began to shake. The arena and stands started to crack, and chunks of the ceiling broke off and plummeted to the ground.
Patrons screamed, Earthbenders fought to keep the roof up...
And Toph continued to laugh.
And the earth laughed with her.
It was a beautiful day on Kyoshi Island. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing the waves were glistening...
And one of the famous Kyoshi Warriors was riding on the head of a massive, hundred-plus foot long sea serpent.
On any other day, this would have been good cause for alarm. Kyoshi Island's aquatic guardian, the Unagi, was infamous for just how much it hated being ridden like a common animal, much less allowing anyone to attempt to swim in its bay.
Today, however, seemed to be an exception.
Both the sea serpent and the fully-armored female warrior seemed to be laughing as they swam together through the bay.
Yugao laughed joyously as she felt the wind rush past her, the spray of the waves kissing her as it flew up all around her. Today was perfect! Ever since Suki had taken about half of the Warrior's ranks to assist with the refugee efforts in Ba Sing Se, the remaining members of the squad had been forced to work overtime to make up for the lost numbers. She'd barely had any time to visit her precious Unagi or the other local aquatic fauna, so she was treasuring every second she could get.
"Alright, Uni!" She called out, pointing out towards the mouth of the bay. "Let's do a lap of the island, alright? And fast, before anyone notices!"
The Unagi bobbed its head lightly, a squeal of joy escaping its maw.
Yugao chuckled adoringly as she pet its slippery head. Yes, today was a perfect-!
A jolt of unabated panic shot through Yugao's heart...
And through the Unagi's as well.
Without so much as a noise of warning, the Unagi dunked its head beneath the water, undulating its body as swiftly as it could in order to escape the surface, escape the exposed space, to just escape-escape-escape!
And through it all, through the gallons of rushing water and the suddenly absolutely frigid temperatures and the lack of oxygen...
Yugao held on. She held onto Unagi's slippery skin, remaining crouched without worry as she frantically rubbed her hand over the sea serpent's head.
"Shh, shh, it's alright, it's alright..." She crooned nervously, her voice ringing clearly through the water like a bell. "Don't worry, it's fine, it's fine... please, calm down!"
The Unagi ignored her, continuing thrash and writhe and-
"I said calm down!" Yugao's eyes and palms glowed a neon blue as her voice took on an ethereal quality.
Almost instantly, the Unagi's eyes glowed the same shade of blue, and its panic subsided in less than a second.
Yugao continued to rub it soothingly. The water had yet to affect either her make-up or apparel, but she was still distressed nevertheless.
"It's alright, it's alright... they won't come here... they won't call for us... it's alright..."
She wished she could believe what she was saying.
If she could, she would pray...
But considering the circumstances, the action appeared to be fairly redundant.
With a great amount of clicking and clacking, the massive segmented body of Koh the Face-Stealer hauled itself up into the air, hauling its girth up as it tilted its head back and chuckled darkly into the air. "Yes..." It crooned eagerly. "Checkmate. Finally, at last..."
His body slowly lowered itself to be parallel to the ground, scuttling to and fro as his liver-spotted and wrinkled brow furrowed in thought, his lips parted to expose a gap-toothed grin. "It's been far too long since I've had a chance to properly influence the Mortal Realm. So many secrets to be shared, skeletons to be unearthed... yesss..." She let out a grim, cruel chuckle. "So many strings to be pulled. At last... things become... interesting."
Suddenly, a flash of silver flew out of the darkness, passing through Koh's forehead and burying itself in the wall behind him.
"Will you be quiet already?" A tired voice groaned. "I'm trying to get to sleep here."
The Spirit growled darkly under its breath, gnashing its massive ivory, nigh mask-like teeth together before sighing heavily. "Very well. I shall attempt to refrain from the majority of my gloating. But please..." It snickered eagerly, scrunching up its snout as it leered at the origin of the voice. "Do attempt to get some sleep. For tomorrow, things shall begin to become very... active."
The girl's eye twitched once before she groaned, flopping back into her bed and pressing her face into her pillow. "Oh joy, wanton violence and chaos. How fun."
"Oh it will be, my dear..." Koh leered as it slowly withdrew into the shadows, its grim chuckle slowly fading behind it.
"It will be."
'Form 23-ZRT, petition to allow livestock to be sold still alive in the Wu-Tan marketplace... denied. Too much chance of contamination.'
Skritch, skritch, scratch.
'Form 14-TBI, request to have live entertainment at Bosco's party... approved. Anything to keep his highness content.'
Scratch, scratch, skritch.
'Form 157-Pythonaconda, request to torture prisoner 138-475 for information on the 'White Lotus Society'... approved. They've been thorns in my side for too long.'
Scratch, scratch, scratch.
'Form 59-NGI, request to bolster the number of Doll operatives, codename "Joo-Dee"... denied. We have enough of them as-'
'...approved. Double the ranks, both overt and sleeper alike. And initiate code "Testament". Place city on high alert. As of now, zero-tolerance policies are in effect.'
Scratch, scratch, scratch.
'Form 71-VDX, expansion of Five-Seven-Five Society Headquarters...'
Far out in Fire Nation-occupied Earth Kingdom, in the middle of a field well away from any and all forms of civilization... was a person. A woman.
The woman was clad in a simple red robe devoid of any and all decorations. On her back, she carried a light pack with only a few meager essentials within it. In her hands she clutched a simple rod of wood, little more than a tree branch that she used to help her walk with ease.
For the longest time, she walked. She walked and walked and walked, for hours on end, without pausing even once.
No pause, no rest, and no distractions.
Suddenly, the woman stopped dead in her tracks.
She didn't move, didn't flinch, didn't speak. She just stood there.
Slowly, she tilted her head back, stared up at the sky... and smiled.
The woman slowly breathed in a deep breath of air...
And then she slowly breathed it out.
For a full minute, she simply stood there, smiling contentedly.
Finally, still smiling, the woman continued onwards.
The only thing left in her wake was a leaving a 20-yard wide ring of blazing grass, slowly smoldering away into ashes.
"Please, Yue, slow down!"
"No father, you hurry up! Please!"
Arnook panted heavily as he tried his best to keep pace with his daughter, his movements somewhat impeded by his heavy furs and the befuddled looks the guards he was passing by were giving him.
The Water Tribe Chief groaned as he followed behind Yue. He was willing to make a lot of concessions for her, but having her wake her up in the middle of the night in a full-blown panic and all but dragging him to the Spirit Oasis?
"Yue, listen to me," He pleaded. "What's wrong? Why are you so afraid!?"
The Water Tribe Princess shook her head, less focused on him and more on the way ahead. "I-I don't know! Call it a premonition or-or-or a hunch or something! All I know is that something is very, very wrong, and it's coming from the Oasis!"
"Listen, Yue, I'm sure that everything is just fine-!"
The Chief couldn't help but groan as he heard the normally welcome but currently unwanted voice of Hidata.
Hidata was an older woman, not an elder, but aged. Barely wrinkled skin, only slightly grayed hair, by all means very pretty. Her face was its usual airy serenity, eyes shut calmly, but there was an obvious undertone of serious worry and befuddlement in her body language. Perhaps the oddest feature about her was that unlike most women her age, she did not wear an engagement necklace.
And with good reason: Hidata was already married to her job as the Spirit Oasis' caretaker.
"I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say that everything is not just fine?" He questioned tiredly.
"Hmm?" Hidata tilted her head at him lightly before shaking it loosely. "Oh no no. I'm sure that most everything is fine, yes, but... there's a small issue with the Oasis, that's all."
Yue shot the caretaker a nervous look. "How bad is it?"
"Hmm..." The woman hummed contemplatively to herself as the three reached the wooden portal that led to the hidden sanctuary. "Well... I'm not entirely sure..."
She reached out, and with little pomp or circumstance, pushed the door open. Yue and Arnook leaned forwards and gasped at what they saw.
"How bad is that?"
The Spirit Oasis was... the most accurate word would be 'a disaster zone'. The lake surrounding the Oasis proper was in utter turmoil, the normally serene surface shaking and rippling, unnaturally tall waves and sudden whirlpools coming into being. The once-serene waterfall behind the island had whipped itself into a frenzy, a violent cascading torrent of merciless liquid.
Perhaps most telling of all was the pool in the middle of the Oasis. If the lake was in turmoil, then the pool was a contained typhoon. The water thrashed and writhed like a living creature, all but forming a self-contained vortex. The koi that had long lived in the pond were racing about to and fro, jumping and wriggling in the liquid, both chasing the other in a maddening frenzy of energy.
"Hmm..." Hidata hummed idly to herself. "Well... at least the koi are having fun..."
Arnook's mouth snapped shut with a click before he hastily reached through the portal and slammed the door shut. He was silent for a moment before scrunching his eyes shut and speaking. "Is there... any precedent?"
Hidata pursed her lips in thought before shaking her head. "Not that I can think of. I'll check the records, but at a guess, I think I'll have to go beyond Avatar Roku." She gave Yue a curious look. "By the way, princess, are you alright? You're looking rather pale, and for once I don't mean your hair."
Yue's eyes were scrunched shut as she slowly kneaded the bridge of her nose, doing her best to control her breathing. "I... I don't know. At first, I felt an inherent sense of... of wrong coming from here but now that I think about it... it's not bad. Not-not necessarily. Just... different. Very, very different..." She gave her father a desperate look. "What does it all mean?"
Arnook bit his lip hesitantly, watching the door with dread before giving his daughter a forlorn look. "I think it means... that change is coming. Whether good or bad, I do not know... but I do know this."
He focused on the door once more. On the storm raging within.
"Nothing will remain the same in its wake."
Aang jerked awake in a flurry of motion, his limbs flailing wildly as he snapped his head around, searching for the source of the- the...
Aang blinked in confusion as he stared into the darkness around him.
Nothing. There was nothing there. Appa, Katara, Sokka and Momo were sound asleep and the surrounding area was devoid of life.
So... what had woken him up? And... why had it woken him up. And...
Why did his head hurt so bad? It felt like a bunch of jackaroos were jumping around inside his skull. And the pain... the pain brought a message with it. A feeling, a... an instinct.
Like something was wrong. Very, very wrong.
"Why do I get the feeling things have just gotten way more complicated?" Aang muttered to himself before closing his eyes, laying down, and attempting to get back to sleep.