First of all, the disclaimers: Avatar belongs to Bryan, Mike, Nickelodeon and Viacom, while Animorphs is the property of Kathy Applegate and Scholastic books. I have no such claims to these worlds or characters.
Similar to Avatar as a cartoon series, Animorphs rates as one of the best, most exciting and intriguing book series I have ever had the pleasure of reading (Yes, even though Applegate did have some of the books written by other people.)
Like many fellow fans though, I was left both disappointed and bummed by the last final book in the series, including by what happened to a certain bad-ass female character that we'd come to love. I feel it goes without saying that things would very likely have gone a lot differently if she'd had backup on the ship, and recently I thought of the perfect animated character to help out with that...Thus, this crossover was conceived.
P.S. There are some refrences here to the sequel comic book for Avatar, The Promise by Dark Horse and Gene Yang. While I have not actually read it nor have plans to (based on what I've read/seen of it on the web, it's something I can take or leave) I have inserted references to it in this first chapter.
It was a gorgeous evening on the outskirts of the great city of Yu Dao. Although she couldn't see the sun, Toph Bei Fong, founder and instructor of the first ever metalbending academy, could feel its luxurious warmth on her skin. She could smell the perfume of the blooming flowers and hear the sounds of the bees as they gathered nectar.
Coupled with her growing hunger, the temptation to go for an evening walk was just too strong to ignore. As she crossed the stone of her courtyard, the blind earthbender decided The Jade Sawfish would be a great place to have dinner tonight. Its menu offered all kinds of excellent meat and seafood dishes, many prepared in the wonderfully spicy Fire Nation manner to cater to the colonists.
The restaurant was also located about three and three-quarters great li away from her home and in a relatively open spot, meaning she would have plenty of time to enjoy her journey there.
Barefoot as always, Toph strode down the same path she'd taken to the restaurant several dozen times before. The sun felt great, and Toph lightly curved her lips in pleasure. She wondered how Katara and Aang were doing, if they were thinking seriously about marrying, or still content to just be boy/girlfriend.
Abruptly, the blind earthbender realized with a shock that she'd wandered off course while heading toward the restaurant. Way off course.
Somehow, she'd veered onto another footpath entirely and walked at least two great li into the farm fields surrounding the city without even realizing it. Obviously she must have zoned out.
Pulling with her earthbending, Toph caused two mounds of earth to appear under the soles of her feet and began to rapidly ride on them back to the main path, moving her legs in a skating motion.
Her little detour had needlessly wasted her time, and it filled her with embarrassment and bewilderment at once. Unlike Twinkletoes, utterly zoning out simply wasn't her style. The very idea that she'd allowed it to happen frustrated her.
After gliding along on the earthen mounds for a few minutes, Toph, to her complete astonishment, realized that the same thing had happened a second time. And instead of getting closer to her destination, she'd actually gone deeper into the countryside!
"No freaking way," she said in slow bafflement, as an eerie chill gripped her. Was she becoming ill? Had something gone wrong with her brain, with her sense of perception?
Or...was it the work of some sort of powerful spirit?
POWERFUL FOR SURE, BUT I AM NO SPIRIT, TOPH BEI FONG.
"Wwaaaaahhhh!" Toph yelped, uncharacteristically nearly jumping out of her skin as she whipped around, blind eyes darting wildly.
The voice that had addressed her came from everywhere, from all three dimensions. But it wasn't being transmitted through air. It filled her skull, like whenever a thought came to the earthbender, and resonated through her body. Each word felt like a soap bubble bursting, like a stone cracking, among her personal thoughts.
She drove the sole of her right foot hard against the packed dirt, sending a wave of bending outward in all directions, trying to discover the speaker's location.
But there was nothing to BE located!
Yes, it had to be a spirit addressing her.
"Where are you?" Toph demanded, her apprehension rapidly growing. "How do you know my name? And why are you here?"
HOW ABOUT WE FIND SOMEWHERE MORE PRIVATE TO SPEAK FIRST?
And in the next instant, the entire world dropped out from underneath Toph's feet. She found herself floating. It certainly wasn't in water, for there was no feeling of wetness or of coolness. But nor was it air, either. She could still breathe just fine, but her senses still told her she was suspended in a different sort of-something.
There was a gentle heat around her, soothing, delightful warmth that caressed her skin. It came from all directions, and in some way she couldn't quite pin down, Toph understood it was not sunlight.
At the realization that she was apart from solid ground, rendered truly blind and helpless without her seismic sense, panic knifed through the earthbender. Although it didn't seem like she was in danger of falling to her death at the moment, she wildly kicked and scrabbled, searching for anything solid at all.
DO NOT BE SCARED TOPH BEI FONG. I SHALL GIVE YOU A SOLID SURFACE.
The nothingness below her feet just solidified then, to form a circle of sandstone about eight paces in diameter. It was as if the air was water, and it had just turned to ice.
"How-how did you just do that? What is going on here?" Toph asked shakily. Her feet were back on solid rock, a welcome little island in this ocean of nothingness, but her mind was reeling. And in the presence of such an incomprehensibly powerful and mysterious spirit, the very first one she'd ever had dealings with, her body was now quivering.
THERE IS NO NEED TO COWER EARTHBENDER, the voice soothingly assured her, FOR I MEAN YOU NO HARM. I SHALL APPEAR NOW IN A FORM YOUR SENSES CAN GRASP AND YOUR MIND SHOULD BE COMFORTABLE WITH.
And then, Toph felt another presence join her on the disk of stone. It was as if someone had lightly leapt down out of a tree and landed just a couple paces away from her.
Cautiously going into one of her stances, Toph sent out a gentle wave of bending, not to be aggressive, but just to analyze.
The being had a similar physical form to hers. Two legs, two arms, a torso and head.
His body felt wizened, scrawny, like that of an old man. But the sheer force of energy she felt flowing from him, flowing into the stone itself, flowing into the whole universe, was far from vapid.
Toph had been around Aang at least twice when he'd gone into the Avatar state, and knew too well the gripping shock and terror of its savage, grim, uncontrollable power.
But the energy this spirit was giving off...well, this was at least ten times greater than any Avatar ever born could have mustered.
Fear of that power made her shy like an ostrich horse encountering a sulfurhead, and Toph backed to the edge of the stone circle, palms facing upward, fingers splayed as she uncertainly got ready to defend herself, tottering on her knees.
"It is all right, Miss Bei Fong," he spoke with an actual human voice. "You do not need to fear me."
His voice sounded nothing like the chilling, discordant bray Aang spoke with in the Avatar state. It was ancient and vast to be sure, but also soothing, kindly...grandfatherly.
At the same time, Toph felt a gentle throbbing in the stone underneath her, in the warmth surrounding her. It traveled through her ears and feet to act as a balm to her nerves. It filled the blind girl with an inexplicable contentment.
On a subconscious level it was intimately familiar, yet even as it caused much of the tension to drain from her muscles, Toph had no idea exactly why it was so soothing.
Then it struck her in a rush. She knew this throbbing better than anyone. Amazed, she told him, "You-are you seriously imitating my-my mom's..."
"Yes Toph," he confirmed. "I thought the feel of your mother's heartbeat would help put you at ease."
For a time she was silent, completely at a loss, dumbfounded in the extreme.
When she found her voice again, it came in an awed, atypically reverent sigh. "What are you? Are you-are you a god?" she asked.
"I am neither spirit nor god," the being replied. "What I am is beyond even that, beyond your ability to understand. If I was in the mood, I could cause your entire world to vanish or explode, obliterate your entire race's ability to bend the elements, even the memory of bending, in an instant-but I am hardly that harsh or capricious in my actions."
"I can believe that. And yeah, you feel like a good person, from what I can tell. Anyway, you obviously know my name somehow," Toph went on as she walked back to the center. "What are you known by? Do you even have a name at all?"
"I am simply an Ellimist," the being replied. "That is as good a way as any to refer to me."
"Ellimist," Toph thoughtfully repeated, trying the word out on her tongue.
"So why did you bring me to-uh, here?" the earthbender indicated with a sweep of her arm. "I hardly think you're the type to interrupt someone's evening just to chitchat."
The Ellimist gave a good-natured laugh, and the universe laughed with "him." Growing serious, he said in that grandfatherly voice, "I am here to ask a favor of you, Toph Bei Fong."
The request was so ridiculous Toph couldn't help but chuckle.
"You're joking, right Mr Ellimist dude? Sure, I may be the greatest, most fantastic earthbender ever, but why would you, someone who pretty much claims they could make the entire Earth Kingdom disappear without breaking a sweat, who has to be to me like I am to a cicada-cricket, want me to do something for you? What could you possibly want or need from me?"
"Because we cannot directly interfere in such a blatant way," the Ellimist explained.
Toph regarded him skeptically. "Riiiggghhhttt."
"I know what you are thinking earthbender," he said idly, "but while it is true that I possess power that not even ten thousand mature Avatars would be able to approach, my omnipotence merely seems that way from your limited human perspective."
"Well, you sure seem powerful enough for my purposes. But why exactly can't you directly interfere? Is it like some sort of rule you'll be punished for breaking?"
"We have nothing to fear when it comes to direct punishment," the Ellimist dismissively replied. "But yes, it is a rule that neither I nor my opponent may break in good faith, as part of our contest."
"Wait, did you just say opponent?" Toph interjected. "There's someone else who's just as powerful as you out there?" The imitation of Poppy's heartbeat had ceased now.
"Even more than I."
"I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that he's evil."
"To his very core," the Ellimist said grimly. "To be in his presence would likely tear your mind apart with fear, earthbender-and he takes great delight in such fear."
"Is he anything like...like Ozai was?"
"In too, too many ways, young earthbender. But even on the day of Sozin's Comet, the amount of King Ozai's savagery and lust to dominate when compared to this being, who calls himself Crayak, is like the difference between a paving stone and a mountain. His ideal universe is one ruled by terror, submission, agony and conflict, one where only the nastiest and the cruelest survive, where species and nations exterminate each other until only one supremely vicious race survives, which will in turn be controlled by him."
The very idea of it made Toph gasp in disbelieving horror. "Wow. You're saying that's his goal in life? To make life meaner and to destroy itself! That-that's sick Ellimist! It's like taking Ozai and making him a thousand times more screwed up in the head and hateful than he already was to begin with!"
"Even more than that," the Ellimist stated. "You see, Crayak desires the ability to control the very laws of space, time, and reality itself, to transform them to his own liking."
"Oh Tu Gong," Toph heard herself groan. "Ellimist, that's not right! Why are you even allowing something like him to exist? Don't tell me you're letting him get away with this!"
"How do you feel we should deal with him then, Miss Bei Fong?" he calmly asked.
"I don't know!" Toph snapped, flinging her hands into the "air." "Take his powers away, kick his butt until he slinks away like a beaten dog, or just do away with him!"
"We-Crayak and I-tried that last option once, long, long ago, so far back into the past you couldn't possibly comprehend it," the Ellimist said mournfully. "The results were neither pretty nor worth it for either of us."
"So, to keep such needless destruction and loss of knowledge of the universe from ever occurring again, we came to an agreement that we would oppose each other not through violence, but through cunning, by influencing events as part of a strategic game."
"Like Pai Sho," Toph replied. "Or Go."
"Exactly. We counter each other's moves, working to adjust the balance in our favor."
"Um, is my world part of this game, Ellimist?" Toph asked apprehensively, not really wanting to know the answer.
"No-at least not yet. Your world is located in a different part of the universe than the one where Crayak and I play our game."
Immensely relieved, Toph exhaled before asking, "Then why have you come to me in the first place if me and my world aren't in any danger from this nasty Crayak guy?"
"There is an extraordinary planet very similar to your own, earthbender, yet also different in many ways, which has been occupying a great deal of both our time and energy over the past few years. Like yours, this planet is home to human beings, who know it as Earth."
"You mean there's actually a planet with people just like us out there in the universe?" Toph exclaimed in wonder. "That is so awesome! And I like the idea that it's called Earth," she grinned.
"More or less," the Ellimist said. "But to answer your previous question, the humans of Earth have recently been in the process of being silently, stealthily captured and conquered by another intelligent race, born under the skies of another planet."
"So what are-or were-these things called?"
"Yeerks," Toph repeated thoughtfully, her lip corners twitching back in something resembling a gesture of disgust. The name meant nothing to her, and yet...well, there was something just inexplicably foul about it, a harsh, gravelly, spiteful utterance that offended her ears and tongue alike.
"For nearly all of that time," the Ellimist went on, "the only humans who knew of the Yeerks and fought against them were five young men and women, none of them older then the Waterbending siblings you came to know as friends while training the Avatar. Their struggle was long, bloody, lonely, tiring and testing, filled with as many defeats as victories, taking a terrible toll on their minds and souls alike."
"So, what happened?" Toph prodded. "Did they manage to beat these Yeerks?"
"Yes. It was a desperate, savage, brutal business, accomplished at terrible costs, but there was a decisive last battle where they finally forced the Yeerk hordes into submission."
"Sweetness. Good for them," the earthbender commented. "Sounds like those brave fighters won't be requiring any help from me then. Give them my regards, won't you Mr. Ellimist-Grandpa-Spirit Guy? Now could you please bring me back to Yu Dao so I can get on with my night?"
What the Ellimist said next completely surprised her.
"Toph," he said softly, "do you remember Jet?"
She went stock still at the sudden reminder.
"Yeah," she whispered quietly, regretfully. "I remember him all too well."
"If you could have had the ability to save him, to heal his wounds, would you have done so?"
"Of course I would!" Toph exclaimed simply. "I mean, yeah he'd been brainwashed into tricking us and I didn't know him all that well and he was probably too driven by revenge for his own good. But he was also a brave, awesome guy who fought alongside us against the Dai Li, had a good sense of humor, was loyal to his friends, and found the strength to defy Long Feng at the end. He deserved so much better then to die in that cavern Ellimist," she declared sadly. "I wish I could have done more."
"Understandable. As for me, I know of a human girl on Earth who was about Jet's age, who also deserved better then what happened to her during that last battle against the Yeerks...and like you, her four comrades deeply wish they could have done more to prevent it."
"Wait a moment, Ellimist," Toph said, holding up a hand. "Are you hinting that this girl was one of the five kids who fought the Yeerks?"
"That she was," he confirmed.
"And she got killed during that last battle?"
"She was someone whom I wanted to see survive, but it was not to be," the Ellimist said simply.
"That's really sad to hear," Toph stated sympathetically. "It really stinks whenever one of the good guys dies, and I'm sorry this messed-up Crayak guy wouldn't allow you to help her."
Then she felt a wave of wry amusement come off of the being as he said, "Crayak doesn't wield as much power as he likes to think he does though, and sometimes I can bend one of the game's rules now and then."
"You have already asked why I have chosen to bring you before me and for what purpose," the Ellimist continued. "Troubled by her fate and the effects it had on her friends, I have looked into both the future and the past, manipulated both time and space and so found a way to possibly save this girl, known as Rachel-but without using my power directly. Instead, I intend to put another girl-experienced, fearsome, clever, and fearless in battle-in a position to save her life...if she so chooses," he added.
Catching on, the blind earthbender coolly stated, "And that girl is none other than me, right? I'm the one you've picked to help you twist the rules of your game and save this 'Rachel.'"
"Yes, earthbender. This is the task I offer you."
Lots more to come!