By: The Hatter Theory
Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to Legend of Korra
I am tumbling and falling and being held and choked and I am glutted on air. It is everywhere and it is poisoned and filled with ash and the ash reminds me of a life I didn't live and it's so disgusting and filled with hatred. Charred bits of something brush against my mind and I can feel the charred oily slickness of it. It's filthy and tainted and it will destroy EVERYTHING.
“Korra, Korra, what's wrong?” A voice asks.
And I am choking and gasping for breath and it will never be enough again, not here, maybe not anywhere. I can't breathe because all I can feel is ash filling my lungs and clogging them with sticky tar like ooze. Panic sends my blood burning through my veins and every element I command is trying to fight it but it can't can't fight what it can't see and I CAN'T BREATHE. Everything around me is heavy and thick and oppressive and it's pouring into my nostrils and through my pores and plugging up my veins and arteries and dimming my vision and I CAN'T BREATHE.
“Children, leave now.”
The words are echoing dimly, barely heard over the sound of my pulse crashing in my ears as I gasp again, throat closing as the thick smog that the air is penetrates and encapsulates and drags me under and I CAN'T BREATHE! Hands at my throat I'm trying to force away the choking claws of the miasma knowing that it will never go away again and darkness is hazing and I CAN'T BREATHE.
“Korra,” A voice sighs. And then the heat of the contamination is washing away and there is freezing, blessed relief. The hand on my forehead is cool to the touch and I grab it, keep it close to my flesh, hot as the poison leeches away into the atmosphere. The smog clears and for the first time in an eternity of minutes my lungs fully expand and I can breathe.
“What was that?” I finally ask, too scared that the relief will leave if I let go of the hand, if the palm on my forehead suddenly breaks contact.
“It is the air of the city. It is why I didn't want to teach you here.”
“Why doesn't everyone realize it?”
“They aren't air benders,” He sighs, looking down at me with something akin to pity. “They can't feel the poison choking them slowly.”
“I've been protecting them, as I'm protecting you now.”
I stare at him, understanding then what he lives with every day, day to day. That choking, stifling miasma threatening to invade his being, to choke both him and his children.
“How can we stop it?”
Because it is as evil as Amon and even more pervasive, more chillingly damning.
I cannot believe that there is no way to stop it. There has to be something we can do, something that can filter the poison from the air, anything.
“Humanity will not give up it's comforts. It will continue with it's progress at any cost.”
“Automobiles, factories, refineries.”
“Those did this?” I ask. And I cannot believe that people would trade the air they breathe for simple creature comforts that didn't even exist a century before. “People have to be told-”
“They have been told, and they will not listen. They think only a few will not destroy the earth.”
I think of that choking, maddening, blanketed feeling. I remember being smothered and I rub my face, push myself up and look to the sky.
Darkness tinges the blue day. I can see the poison in the clouds, the creeping taint and I cannot stop the shudder that wracks my form.
“Why am I feeling it now?”
“Because you touched the air as an airbender would and recoiled because the air here is tainted.”
“I'll have to learn how to protect myself.” It isn't a question.
“It'll be the end of bending.”
“The end has already begun,” He sighs, and I can hear the world weariness in his tone, the exhaustion I have never heard before and it hurts because he is such a proud man, a strong man. And I know that he has tried to fight it and that he has lost the battle more than once.
“Is it the price of technology?”
“People call it progress.”
And because he is a spiritual man, I understand the nature of his disconnect. Even from his own children, his wife, perhaps me. Especially me. He has no place in this world, not as it is now, perhaps not as it has been for hundreds of years. But what choice does he have? He is the only person that can represent his people, a race that had just been given a chance only to lose it.
Ashes in his hands. I see it and something inside of me cracks, the fracture running down the center of me.
“It's why Aang began training the air acolytes. To carry on the traditions.”
It is not a question, again.
His silence is the only confirmation I need.
“I understand why the air people were nomads now,” I sigh. And I do. It isn't just because of worldly concerns. It is because of what results from them. It is because of the poison and the need and the overreaching, endless gluttony.
The world becomes ashes. I see it in my mind's eye, a waking dream that adds pressure to the crack and sends spiderweb lines through the whole of me until I am unsure if there is a point in trying to save it all. Perhaps Amon should win and take bending away from the world. Perhaps people should be allowed to be out of balance and to war and wreak havoc. Maybe they should be allowed to destroy the world they had because they are too stupid to appreciate it.
“Someday they will learn the error of their ways,” He tries to assure me, although it is hollow and rings false. He doesn't believe it any more than I do.
“Too late. Like always, they will learn too late.”
And we both know it is true.
There is little relief in our sudden kinship. There is only weariness. Moments that shift perspective for a lifetime. I don't feel any sort of peace, but when I slump against him and feel him slump against me as we stare out into the blue sky, already filling with the smoke that will eventually turn rain into a poison and clouds into miasma, I know that there is a comfort in not having to hold the knowledge alone. It is a small comfort, perhaps a selfish one. I don't begrudge him in the least, knowing what he feels beyond his shields every day, what I will be facing each waking moment I am in the city.
We know the world is counting down, a slowing ticking lost to the ears of everyone, even those that have the means to listen.
Except to us.
Defeat has never been so complete, so swift and absolute and irrevocable.