It is the 70th Year of the Fire Imperium.
A corpulent red sun blazes over an arid landscape choked with bleached bones and dead cities. It drifts aimlessly about the sky, rarely setting, and then never for long. Perhaps in some beached hulk on a salt-encrusted shoreline, you might find an antique compass. Its needle spins and spins.
This is the world unbalanced. This is a world of Fire.
There are but two great citadels left to mankind in this hellish world. All around them? Barren waste. A howling, gritty wind steadily erodes every trace of man's former dominion. There are scattered outposts where pitiful scavengers and barbarians cling to life in the shadows, fearful of the horrors that now share this world with them.
Like the unquiet dead, carrying banners from the nations they fought for in life, roaming the land whenever the diseased sun approaches twilight, seeking to add fresh recruits to their shadow legions. Or the rusting tanks, airships, and ironclads that continue to patrol the world for enemies to smash. These machines are captained by nothing and no one; death and war alone animate them. Ancient spirits, warped by this new world order, freely walk amongst mankind; feeding, playing, tricking, and punishing as they see fit. Worse yet are the abominations spawned when these spirits lie with humans: mutants, demons, witches -- and worse.
In the far east, the sandblasted Outer Wall of Ba Sing Se stands tall against an enemy that will never against assail it. The war ground to a halt long, long ago. The sands have taken the bones of the armies that once clashed at the wall's foot, and here, at least, the unquiet dead contentedly stand sentry for a living liege.
For from the crystalline heart of his city, the Earth King holds court with an anemic nobility and takes counsel with pretender sages garbed in their ancestral White Lotus cloaks. The kiss of the sun is for slaves and peasants. Aboveground, metalbenders maintain a rusting shield against the sky. It moderates the sun over what was once the majesty of the Inner Ring, now reclaimed as precious farmland. In the ghettoes that cling to the shadows of the city's inner walls, peasants dutifully line up for their daily water ration. They are drawn from the Laogai Aquifer, the last great labor of the fabled Bumi, now claimed by the government as the father of King Kuei and the grandfather of the current Earth King. Few know the truth. None care, for what value has any truth in such a world?
In the far west, Imperial City clings to a coastline whose waters retreated long ago. Earthbenders vigilantly maintain the Grand Azula Dam, which holds in Azula Bay, whose vital waters are partly replenished by the annual trickle conducted from the city's surrounding mountaintops by the Azula Aqueducts. Metalbenders see to the city's all-encompassing steel dome, constructed from the warships, cargo haulers, yatchs, and miscellaneous craft of the desperate exodus that fled the volcanic ruins of the Fire Nation. Down where the briny ocean lingers, firebenders desalinate the waters and work-gangs of waterbenders stream it back uphill to the city's reservoir. Every year they have to go a little further.
From her throne, Phoenix Queen Azula dictates orders to phantom prefectures and paper armies. Her grand secretariat, Hiroshi Sato, has carefully managed his liege's descent into madness since Prince Azulon's abdication and flight into the wastes, doing his best to ensure that the realm does not suffer from any vain attempts to re-conquer a dying, exhausted world. He balances on the knife edge of Azula's whims, for her insanity is matched only by the blind fanaticism she instilled in her citizenry during her healthier days. But what choice does he have when the dark aura of the elderly Pheonix Queen is all that holds the city together?
In the gladiatorial pits, a young Imperial Army officer named Mako battles to the death for his liege's amusement, hiding his tainted blood and earthbending brother from the authorities, for his queen prizes -- and rewards -- purity from members of her own race.
In the corridors of power, Water Minister Tarrlok whispers to his fellow benders of their necessity to the city's survival, and how non-benders should be properly rewarded for how little they contribute.
In the city's slums, a masked man offers the powerless something they have never had: hope. For, Amon claims, the spirits have empowered him to lead humanity back to righteousness and harmony once society has been purged of the impure.
And at the outskirts of Imperial City, in the distance, two rides approach against a gathering windstorm.
One is the long-lost Prince Azulon, unrecognizable with his shaved head and tattooed skin. His blood sings in harmony with the wind, a birthright stolen from his father's living corpse by a mother hungry for the power it could offer her bloodline.
The other, a dark-skinned girl, stares and stares at the megastructure of the city's dome. She has journeyed far from the twilight valleys of the iceless South Pole, where the last remnants of her people eek out a living on the allege scum and mutant fish farmed from a half-dead sea. She is Avatar Korra, a living relic whose duties ended along with the world seven decades ago. She is the would-be master of Imperial City by the will of the last airbender, and intended master of mankind by the collective might of a thousand and one lifetimes. She is a seventeen year old illiterate.
To live in such times is to spit in the face of sanity itself. Forget restoring the balance, for that has been lost, never to be regained. Forget peace and kindness, for the human race can only endure by the iron will of tyrants. There is no future for humanity, only an eternity of degradation and slavery, and the laughter of thirsty spirits.