Chapter 1: The Seeds of Hope
The first tear slipped down her cheek as she stood at the edge of the cliff and wondered, just for the briefest instant, if the world would be better with a new Avatar. Then the rest of the tears came and Korra sank into the snow, sobbing earnestly as she buried her face in her arms.
Quiet footsteps crunched the snow behind her. Korra lifted her head, seeing the telltale yellow and orange out of the corner of her eye.
She rubbed at her face. “Not now, Tenzin. I just want to be left alone.”
“But you called me here.”
She knew that voice. Korra inhaled swiftly, her eyes widening in surprise as she turned. “Aang?” she breathed.
“You’ve finally connected with your spiritual self.” He inclined his head to her with a smile. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
“But--but how?” she said. “Why now?”
“When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change,” he said serenely.
“I... don’t know what that means,” Korra admitted.
Aang’s calm didn’t waver. Behind him, she saw shadows of green, of blue, of red, stark against the snow. “You’ve only stumbled. You can find your way again.”
She hesitated, hardly daring to hope. “You mean--you mean I can get my bending back? I can become the Avatar again?”
“It will be a long journey.” Aang touched a finger to the center of her forehead. His touch sent energy rolling straight down her spine. “We’re here when you need us, Avatar Korra.”
Then they were gone, brushed away by the wind.
It was a long, slow trudge through the snow back to her parents house. Korra dismounted Naga only once, near the water’s edge. She flung the force of her will at it, hoping--Aang had said--maybe, just maybe--but the water was calm.
She buried her face in Naga’s side in despair.
The house was still full of people when she returned. She ignored the concern on their faces.
“I found Aang,” she announced. “He told me I haven’t completely lost my bending.”
And with that, she turned and headed to her room, where she curled up on her bed and cried some more.
Eventually, there was a sharp knock at the door.
Korra sniffled. “Go away, Tenzin.”
She stiffened, hesitating, but the next knock was insistent. With a sigh, she dried her eyes on her sleeve and went to the door. “Chief Bei Fong?”
Bei Fong stood frowning in the doorway with her arms folded across her chest. “May I come in?”
Korra stood back to let her pass. For a moment they stood there and regarded each other in silence. The corner of Bei Fong’s lip quirked upwards. “Rough week, huh, kid?” she said finally.
“I would say you have no idea,” Korra said, “but I think you do, in fact, have some idea.”
“That’s why I’m here.” The woman had an... intense stare, even when her eyes were dark with exhaustion. Korra wondered if Bei Fong felt as wobbly as she did, as if her entire center of balance had shifted and she hadn’t yet learned to walk again. “Aang told you that you haven’t truly lost your bending?”
“He told me I just have to find it again.” Korra shook her head. “Whatever that means.”
“Did he--” Bei Fong pursed her lips. “Do you suppose it’s the same for the rest of us, then?”
“I don’t--maybe?” Korra hesitated. Which would be worse, to say yes when there was no hope, or to say no when there was?
“Maybe is... enough.” Bei Fong was still frowning, but thoughtfully. “I know an earthbender. She will train me. If you wish, she will train you too.”
“Train me?” Korra repeated.
“Train you,” Bei Fong said firmly. “Unless you know another way.”
“Tenzin would say meditation,” Korra said, after a moment’s consideration. “And patience.”
Bei Fong snorted, the corners of her lips curving into the smallest of smiles. “That’s the first laugh I’ve had all week,” she said. “It might work for you, though. You’re the Avatar.”
“If that’s all, Aang could’ve told me.” Korra frowned. “It’s going to be harder than that, isn’t it.”
“I’m afraid so,” Bei Fong said, not unkindly. She laid a hand on Korra’s shoulder. “You don’t have to come with me but I promise you, there is no one who can teach you better.”
“But--” Korra bit her lip. But what if it’s not enough? What if I’m not enough? But Bei Fong wasn’t Tenzin, and Korra couldn’t confide in her.
“Just think about it,” Bei Fong said. “I mean to return to Republic City with Tenzin and his family in the morning and begin this little adventure directly afterwards. I know it’s not much time for you to decide.”
“No, I--I--” Korra squared her shoulders. “I’ll do it. I’m coming with you.”
“That’s the spirit.” Bei Fong smiled, pleased, and somehow Korra found it in her to smile a little, too.
When they told the others, Tenzin was worried.
“Lin,” he said, turning her name into a sigh. “Are you sure that this is--”
“Quite sure,” Bei Fong said firmly.
“Oh, hush, dear.” Pema laid a hand on her husband’s arm. “I think it’s a great idea, and they don’t need your permission. Stop fussing.”
“The Earth Kingdom,” Bolin said, stroking Pabu’s tail. The fire ferret was curled around his neck. “I’m jealous. All the greatest earthbenders come from the Earth Kingdom.”
“You don’t say.” Asami rolled her eyes, but the effect was ruined by her smile. She leaned back against the far wall of the house.
Bolin shrugged. “Hey, can we all come?”
“I, um--” Korra glanced at Bei Fong. The woman looked decidedly unpleased at the prospect of an international field trip with three extra teenagers in tow.
“No,” Asami answered for them. “We can’t. Or at least, I can’t.” She straightened, lifting her chin. “My father nearly destroyed Republic City. I owe it to the people there to help rebuild it.”
“You aren’t responsible for what your father did,” Mako protested.
“Maybe not,” she said, in a tone that held no room for argument. “But I’m staying in Republic City.”
“Then you two should stay,” Korra said to Mako and Bolin, as much as she wanted to drag them all along no matter what Bei Fong said. “Republic City needs all the help it can get.”
“Just... be careful, will you?” Tenzin looked at her and Bei Fong in turn. Behind his back, Pema rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“Nothing will happen to Korra while she’s with Lin,” she said firmly. “They’ll be fine. Now get some rest, all of you. It’s a long trip back to Republic City.”
Chapter 2: The Journey
Bei Fong wasn't the easiest traveling companion. Oh sure, it could've been worse. She could have nattered on incessantly about how fascinating she found the endless expanse of rock below them. She could have set the airship down every five minutes for a bathroom break. She could have refused to allow Korra to bring Naga with them, and Korra suspected she had wanted to when they'd realized how cramped they would be.
And it was certainly faster than riding Naga halfway across the Earth Kingdom. She was lucky that Bei Fong knew how to pilot an airship.
So, again, Korra reminded herself: It could have been worse.
But as the third hour of solid silence crept by, she wondered how much worse.
"So," she said, clearing her throat. "Were you born in the Earth Kingdom?"
Bei Fong stared straight ahead out the window. "No."
"Oh," said Korra. "Right. Your mother was chief. I guess you'd have to live in Republic City for that."
More silence. Great.
Korra sighed and went to cuddle Naga for awhile. Maybe she could nap some of the time away. She hadn't had a very peaceful night but even now, she was too restless to sleep. Too many thoughts tumbled through her head. What if Aang was wrong? Katara was the best healer in the world, and she hadn't been able help either of them. What would she do if Bei Fong brought her to the greatest earthbender in the world and they, too, failed? Where could she go from there?
She tried reassuring thoughts next. Aang was a spirit now, right? So he must know. If he said there was a way, then there must be a way.
But still, the doubts lingered. Korra pressed her face into Naga's neck.
"I was born in the Fire Nation," Bei Fong said quietly. "Twenty years and a day after Zuko was crowned Fire Lord."
Korra raised her head.
"My mother and the others had gone to the Fire Nation to celebrate the anniversary of his coronation. I was born at sunrise the next morning." Bei Fong was silent for a long moment after that. "My mother told me she knew I would be a great earthbender when she set me down to crawl and I sank into the ground right up to my chin. That was always her favorite story to tell."
"My mother told me I breathed fire when I was angry," Korra said, twisting so that she could lean against Naga and comfortably watch the back of Bei Fong's head. "That's when they knew."
She wondered if her mother wished it had been someone else's daughter, for the Avatar belonged to the world.
"It came easily to you, then?" Bei Fong said.
"Well, airbending was kind of an accident, but yeah," Korra admitted. "I... never realized how lucky I was."
"Same," said Bei Fong. "It was..." She made a quiet sound, and shook her head. "Like breathing."
Korra hesitated, her lips pressed together to flatten the words that wanted so desperately to shape themselves. They were bonding now, her and Bei Fong. Right? Maybe it wouldn't hurt to ask for a little reassurance...
She cleared her throat. "Um. Chief Bei Fong?"
"It's not 'Chief' anymore."
"Right. Sorry." Korra winced. "So... just Bei Fong, then?"
"Just call me Lin."
Korra thought she heard the edge of amusement in her sigh.
"Oh," she said. "Okay. Lin."
Korra wrinkled her nose. Awkward.
"Didn't you have a question?" Bei Fong—Lin—prompted.
"Right," Korra said. "Um. I was just wondering... do you really think she can help us? Your earthbending friend?"
"If she can't," Lin said, "there is no one on this earth who can."
"And if that's what happens?" Korra insisted. "What then?"
"I've considered the possibility," Lin said, after a long and painful quiet. "I suppose you'll go on to master airbending. Maybe your past lives can help heal you. And as for me... I'll need to remember how to hold a sword."
"That's what I was afraid you'd say," Korra muttered. She clenched her fists in her lap and swallowed hard around the lump forming in her throat. "What use is an Avatar that can only bend air?"
"That's enough," Lin said. She turned, finally, to fix Korra with a sharp-eyed glare. "Self-pity will get you nowhere, understand? Think. Remember your earthbending training. What did they tell you?"
"You have to be stubborn," Korra said, lowering her eyes. Meeting Lin's stare head-on made her nervous.
"Earthbending is about endurance," Lin said with a nod. "Remember that."
"Endurance," Korra repeated, still bleak. Could she endure anything more?
Aang did, her mind whispered and her heart knew it was true. Aang had faced a thousand times what she had and emerged triumphant.
"Meditate on it," Lin advised, settling herself back in her seat. "We'll be there soon, anyway."
"Really?" Korra frowned. She pushed away from Naga to get a good look at the landscape. Still not a town in sight. "But we're still in the middle of nowhere."
"She prefers the middle of nowhere when she's not traveling," Lin said. "Look. Up ahead. That dot way off in the distance, near the hills. That's where we're going."
Korra leaned closer, watching in silence as the dot slowly grew larger. The rough edges of a roof appeared. She squinted and thought she saw a shrub or two. Lin brought them lower, allowing Korra her first good look at the house. It was a modest size, but sturdily built. The walls were smooth, the same rich brown as the earth.
Korra's eyes widened. "It's... The whole thing. It's earthbending."
Lin nodded once. Her smile was full and genuine this time.
"It's beautiful," Korra said, and tilted her head. "There are no windows."
"Oh, there are a few," Lin said, as she guided them ever lower. "Mostly around back."
"You've been here before?"
"I helped build this place," Lin said. "Now, quiet and let me land this thing."
Korra let out a long breath as they settled down fifty feet from the house. Naga growled as the airship shuddered. Korra shushed her, stroking her fur as all the temporarily forgotten doubts crowded their way back into her mind. This was it.
"Wait." Lin laid a hand on her shoulder. "If you'll do me a favor?"
Lin pressed her lips into a thin white line. "Wait here."
Korra frowned, following Lin's gaze towards the front of the house. Someone stood in the doorway now, watching. Waiting.
Something flickered, that same jolt Aang had sent through her when they had touched. "It's not... dangerous, is it?" she murmured.
"No," said Lin. She unbolted the hatch. "Nothing like that."
"I... okay," she said, still puzzled.
"Thank you." Lin pulled the door open and stepped down into the sunlight. "I'll be back in a moment."
Korra shielded her eyes with one hand as she watched. Her other hand she kept on Naga's back, fingers buried in warm fur.
Whatever she'd expected, it certainly wasn't what followed.
The woman in the doorway folded Lin into her arms as soon as she was close enough. Korra could see nothing of their faces, but the sound carried over, helped by the wind—Lin crying the keening, grieving cry of someone with a broken heart.
Even as she turned away, feeling guilty even for watching, realization dawned. Korra felt hope blossom, almost against her will. She should have known. Lin had brought them to Toph.
Chapter 3: In the Dark
Night darkened the main room before they finished the story. Lin rose from her chair and returned with a lamp. It burned low as Korra reached the part of the tale that made her falter.
"And then he—" Korra hesitated. She looked to Lin for help, but Lin leaned against the wall near the window, her eyes closed. "He touched me and he—he took my bending."
"Go on," Toph said from beside her. "What happened next?"
"I'm not sure," Korra admitted. She stared down at her hands, curled into fists on her lap. "I felt all woozy. Mako grabbed me and we were running, but then Amon had him to and I just... airbent. I didn't think about it."
"And you can still airbend?"
"Yeah," Korra whispered. "That's all I can do. Katara did her best, but there was nothing she could do. But afterwards, I had a vision of Aang. He told me I could find it again."
"Your bending?" Toph prompted.
"I'm blind, remember?"
Right. Across the room, she thought Lin's mouth twitched into a half-smile.
"Yes," she said. "He said I could find my way again. Lin said you were the best."
"Hmm." Toph sat back, arms folded across her chest. "Okay," she said, after a moment's thought. "I've made strong metalbenders out of less. I don't know what that bloodbender did to you, but we'll start at the beginning. Bare feet and blindfolds for both of you. You're going to get reacquainted with the earth.
"Now," she said. "Outside. We'll sleep there tonight."
"Will that help?" Korra asked.
"Listen, princess," Toph said. A smile took the edge off her words. She laid a hand on Korra's arm, fingers old and so, so strong. "I'm a hundred years old, and that means I'm wise, understand? If I say we're going to do something, then there's a reason for it and we're going to do it."
"You're not going to scare her, Mother," Lin said. "And you're only eighty-three."
"Don't spoil my fun," Toph said, hand still firm on Korra's. She swiveled her head to frown in Lin's general direction. "And as for you, my little badgermole, the next time some mask-wearing fool runs around determined to destroy the city I built, my daughter, and the reincarnation of my oldest friend—I expect you to inform me, do you understand?"
Korra swore Lin actually cringed. Not that she wouldn't have done the same in her place—Toph had all but barked the last three words, and on the recieving end of Toph Bei Fong's anger was not somewhere Korra ever wanted to be.
"I'm sorry," Lin murmured.
"You should be," Toph said gruffly. "Now, outside. There's sleeping bags in the closet if you want one, princess. You're both going to need your sleep. First thing in the morning I'm chucking giant rocks at your heads."
"You can quit pretending to sleep now," her mother whispered into the silence between Korra's snores. "Your breathing is wrong. You're out of practice.
"What," she added, as Lin turned over onto her side, "you thought I was asleep all those nights you snuck out to visit Tenzin?"
"Yes, actually," Lin admitted, smiling ruefully despite herself. She could hardly remember being that girl. "You never stopped me."
"Of course I didn't," Toph said. "My parents tried to keep me safe, and I ran away to fight a war at the age of twelve. I was afraid to think what you would do. Now come," she added quietly. "Walk with me before we wake her."
And maybe Toph didn't spring up quite the way she used to, but she still stood straight-backed and as tall as she'd ever been. She slid an arm through Lin's, guiding her into the night. "Trust me," she murmured, when Lin hesitated. She'd never feared the darkness before, not when she could feel the earth singing to her bare feet. "I can see where we're going."
"Mom," Lin whispered. "Be honest with me."
"I don't know." Toph slowed to a stop. "Her, I think yes. Twinkletoes wouldn't say it if it weren't true. You... I don't want to promise you. But Aang also said this," Toph continued. "Energybending—true energybending, not this creative bloodbending—is a battle of wills. And your will, my girl, is unbendable."
"I had the best teacher," Lin said.
"That you did." She could hear the smile in Toph's voice. It faded as she asked, "How long has it been?"
"Nine days." Grief cut her like a knife through the heart.
Toph squeezed her arm. "We'll figure something out. If there is a way, we will find it."
"I'm not sure he was lying," Lin said abruptly. "Amon. He must have been, but I couldn't sense it."
"I did always hate when that happened." Toph paused. "Did you consider it?"
"No." She had hesitated, before leaping from Oogi's back. After that, her mind had been made up. She'd known the risks. But she hadn't known what emptiness would feel like.
"You did what was right," Toph said. "I would have expected nothing less from you."
Her only regret was that it hadn't been enough. Tenzin, the kids, the last airbenders. Her sacrifice hadn't been enough to save them. It was a small consolation that they hadn't lost their bending. Perhaps if she'd stayed with them she would have kept hers, too.
"You're not the only one here who's taken down an airship, you know," Toph said, pausing to wiggle her toes in a patch of fresh mud. "Did I ever tell you about the time—"
"You and Sokka and Suki destroyed the Fire Nation fleet the day Sozin's Comet came? I know the story."
"Don't interrupt me." Toph pulled her along. "Did I ever tell you I thought I'd die?"
Lin frowned into the night. "No."
"When we fell, Sokka had hold of my hand," Toph said. "But I was slipping. I don't know where I would have landed, in the water or on some Fire Nation ship, and it probably wouldn't have mattered. But in that moment, Sokka's hand was the whole world, and when he said it was the end I knew it was true because I could feel the way his heart beat."
She paused for breath. "And that's when Suki saved us. But all that time I was dangling, the earth had never felt so far away."
"It's like that," Lin whispered. The world had become still and silent and hers was the only heartbeat. She had closed her eyes to see one last time, and that moment was slipping farther and farther away.
"Don't you cry," Toph murmured, arms sliding around her. "I'm too old to cry."
Lin buried herself in her mother's strength, the strength of an earthbender. "Protecting your city was all I wanted."
"It's your city, too." Toph cupped the back of her head, stroking her hair. "What happened?"
"I thought my metalbenders and I could stop them," Lin said. "I thought they were a nuisance, not a threat."
"Because they weren't benders?" Toph released her with one final squeeze. "You should've known better. You will next time."
They walked in silence awhile longer before Toph added, "And if you're thinking I never made a mistake and never let anyone get away, you can stop that right now. I knew that would happen when they put up that stupid statue."
"You love that statue," Lin said, but one of the knots in her chest loosened.
"Zuko wouldn't let me make it bigger," she complained. "It should've been at least as tall as the one of Twinkletoes."
"First thing we do together, then," Toph said. "We'll bend that statue of me a little higher."
"No, not about that." She could just see it now: Toph Bei Fong, Republic City's first chief of police, arrested for destruction of city property. Lin winced at the thought. "I gave the Avatar a lecture on self-pity."
"Good. She'll need another one to snap her out of it."
"You'll like her when she's back to being herself," Lin said. "She reminds me more of you than Aang. Don't ever tell her I said that. She'll take it as permission to destroy the city again."
"What's the story?"
"The day she arrived in Republic City, she went after the gangsters." Lin shook her head. "Smashed up half a city block and then outran my metalbenders on that polar beardog of hers. After that, she and her friends became vigilantes."
"Oh, I do like this one." Toph laughed softly. "She sounds exciting."
"That's not the word I used," Lin said, but she was smiling now. "The city is still standing, at least."
"We made it strong," Toph said, and gave her arm a tug. "We should turn back. It's late, and I wasn't kidding about the giant rocks, you know. In fact, calling them rocks at all is probably misleading. I'm thinking large boulders would be more... educational."
Chapter 4: Earth
Two days later found them sitting down to a cold breakfast. Toph and Lin were used to waking near dawn, but a handful of early mornings weren't enough for Korra to acclimate herself to her new routine. In retrospect, her early morning training with Mako and Bolin wasn't so bad after all.
Korra picked sleepily at her food, and tried not to dwell too much on how complicated everything had become between them all. But it was a welcome distraction from dwelling too much on how much progress she wasn't making at earthbending, so she allowed herself a few moments for it. It wasn't that she didn't love Mako, because she did, and she loved Bolin, and Asami. It was only that... well, she didn't know quite what. That was the problem.
"What's the matter, kid?" Lin asked, breaking off the conversation she'd been having with Toph to frown at Korra. "You've hardly touched your food."
"Nothing," Korra mumbled around a yawn, and took another bite. She couldn't even imagine bringing her romantic troubles to Lin Bei Fong for advice. The thought of doing so caused a giggle to swell up in her throat. She swallowed it back with another mouthful of breakfast, and tried not to choke.
"Good." Toph sounded satisfied. "Eat up. You'll need your strength."
"Tenzin will be happy to see you," Lin said, taking a sip of her tea as she and Toph returned to their conversation. "It's been awhile since you've come home."
"A year, at least," Toph said. "It's about time I surprised my nephew and his Twinklebrats. I did mean to visit Republic City last summer, but then you and I had our little adventure in Ba Sing Se... "
It must have been a good story because Lin actually laughed, but Korra felt dread slowly brew in her stomach. "We're going to Republic City?"
"Soon. Tenzin will have been doing his best, but with the other council members still... indisposed..." Lin frowned. "I don't trust just anyone to look after the city."
"Yeah," Korra said, pushing her food around on her plate. "Yeah, you're right."
Lin sighed. "All right," she said. "Why don't you want to go back?"
Korra stared down at her bowl, her appetite long gone. This problem, at least, she thought Lin would understand. "I just... don't know what use I'll be," she admitted. "I don't think I did enough good when I was the Avatar."
"That's not a good enough reason to stay," Lin said. "And you brought down Amon in the end."
"But he got away."
"We'll find him." Lin folded her arms. "Believe me when I say I want nothing more than to bring him in. But you are the Avatar, bending or no, and Republic City needs you."
There would be no winning this argument. Korra nodded and finished her breakfast before joining Lin and Toph in the yard. Lin had already tied a scarf around her eyes. Korra bowed to Toph and did the same, taking a few careful test steps. The ground was cool this early in the morning. It clung, wet, to her bare feet as she moved across it.
"Remember," Toph said, and the earth rumbled beneath her feet. "Remember to listen."
She waited, turning slowly. It was out there, somewhere—there, on her right. Korra planted herself firmly in place, eyes closed behind the blindfold. It was coming towards her, steadily, yet not so fast it would do her serious injury when she again failed to stop it.
"Face it," Toph cried. "Stand. Your. Ground."
It knocked her over anyway. Korra landed hard, wincing as her weight pressed a pebble into her palm. Beside her, she heard Lin grunt as she too was pushed aside by her rock.
The rest of the morning went no better, and the afternoon was worse. Korra stayed in the garden long after Lin and Toph had gone indoors, letting the tears roll down her face. She knew Lin had been right, the other day on the airship, when she'd said that Korra feeling sorry for herself would help nothing. She knew that, and she knew she shouldn't let herself think like this, but—she was hurting and scared and nothing anyone had said had helped yet.
She couldn't stay out and cry all night, though. As the sun set at her back, Korra returned to the house, where Lin sat quietly on the porch steps. After a moment's hesitation, Korra joined her.
"Hey, can I ask you a question?"
Lin eyed her over the rim of a teacup. She took a careful sip before replying. "I don't suppose you'll go away if I say no."
Korra took that as permission. "Is Sokka your dad?"
"Not that I'm aware of," Lin said calmly. "Why do you ask?"
"Because," Korra said, rearranging herself so that she sat cross-legged beside Lin, "then you and Tenzin would be cousins."
Lin took another sip of tea and narrowed her eyes at Korra. "We're not discussing that," she said. "But I can assure you that when my mother refers to him as a nephew, it is an honorary title."
They sat in silence awhile, Lin drinking her tea and Korra staring idly into the fading sunset. Her bruises ached now that she had a chance to sit still and feel them. Korra took a quick glance at Lin. Her left hand was bandaged, the right one bore the same scrapes as Korra's. There was a matching gash on her cheek, just below her eye, though not so deep it would leave a third scar.
"Do you think the others are all right?" she ventured.
Lin pursed her lips. "There's a reason I want to return to Republic City as soon as possible," she said finally. "But I'm sure your friends are well."
"I hope so," Korra whispered, but worry swirled around in her head. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad returning to Republic City, after all. At least that way she would know.
She stood abruptly. "I should brush Naga."
Lin raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Nodding to her, Korra walked away without another word.
Lin drained her second cup. She left it empty on the steps, limping her way back to the rocks. They'd rested there, perfectly silent, since the early afternoon when Toph had declared enough. She laid her hands on them, eyes closed, and caressed the stone. Solid, firm, coated in fine particles of dirt and grit that clung to her fingertips. She took a step back.
Her body would have known what to do without her, after a hundred thousand times. But she thought it through from beginning to end, every motion she made careful and deliberate down to the spread of her toes in the dirt. And then she moved, one smooth, uninterrupted step forward, her hands stretching through empty air. Forward, she insisted, pushing with everything she was. Move.
In the distance, before the roaring in her ears swallowed her whole, she thought she heard her mother whoop with joy.
The next thing she knew, she was on her hands and knees, and unbearably dizzy. She hung her head, breathing deeply through her nose because she feared she'd be sick if she opened her mouth. Her fingers curled into the dirt as she ground her teeth and fought for control of herself.
Slowly, the nausea faded. Lin exhaled through her mouth and chanced opening her eyes. The first few blinks were wobbly, but she waited, and the ground solidified once more.
A hand touched her back. "Are you going to just lie here all night?" her mother demanded in a gentle voice, rubbing brisk circles between her shoulder blades.
Lin found she wasn't too drained to smile. "Thinking about it," she murmured, carefully lifting her head. "Did I..."
"Take her other side," Toph said over her head, and Lin felt another hand slide beneath her shoulders. "Come on, we're going to get you up. Stand with us. That's my girl."
She tried to lean more heavily on the Avatar (she would have preferred not leaning on anyone at all, but that was quickly established as not being a viable option with her knees threatening to buckle). They helped her to the porch, where she tilted her head back against the earthen house and closed her eyes. Her left hand throbbed. The cuts must have opened up again. She would have to change that bandage.
"Get her something to drink," Toph ordered.
"I don't—" Lin started to wave away the suggestion, but she could taste dirt in her mouth and her throat was parched. When Korra pressed a cup into her hands, she drank from it gratefully. "Thank you."
Korra stared back at her in obvious concern. "What happened?"
Lin let her eyes wander back down the path. The rocks still stood. "Nothing," she said bitterly.
"Not nothing." Her mother beamed at her. "Didn't you feel that?"
Her gaze slid from Toph to the rocks and back again. "Are you sure?"
"You think I don't know what I'm talking about?" Toph huffed, and Lin felt her heat skip a beat. "You moved that rock, my little badgermole. You earthbent.
Chapter 5: Despair
Thank you, everyone, for your advice, comments, and suggestions. I kept them in mind as I wrote this chapter, and there are a lot of little things I'll try to slip into future chapters. An answer to a few questions: yes, they're going to go back to Republic City, but I have little to no interest in writing about Korra/Mako/Asami drama. I'm a shipper at heart so I will eventually (like... in part three) pair people up, but that will be a subplot at best. I will say that it will be neither Korra/Mako or Asami/Mako. If you really really want to know, PM me. ;)
Korra abandoned the pretense of sleep sometime before dawn. She crawled out of her sleeping bag as quietly as she could, inch by careful inch, palms and knees wet from the morning dew that gathered on the grass. She left the sleeping bag in a crumpled heap as she snuck away, leaving behind the quiet, still forms of Lin and Toph. She envied them their peace, the way Toph burrowed herself beneath the earth, and the way sleep smoothed the worry from Lin's usually solemn face.
She had no desire to wake them.
The front door of Toph's house faced the sunset. The grass grew thick only on this side; sparse patches of it were scattered around the remaining three sides, but most of that space was taken up with Toph's impressive collection of rocks. They ranged in size from harmless pebbles to worryingly large boulders (Korra imagined she was eagerly awaiting the day she could introduce those into their training...), and each and every one was a cutting reminder of her failure.
Korra laid her palm against one of the taller rocks. It was smooth and cold from the night air. She had watched from a distance the day before as Lin had done this. Maybe it had even been this rock. Maybe it was a lucky one.
She couldn't help her jealousy. It didn't matter that Lin had only nudged the rock forward ("Not far—yet," Toph had said, but her smile had been so proud and she'd added, "It will come.") and so slightly that she couldn't even see it ("Trust me, it happened.") Nor did it make much of a difference that doing that little bit had left Lin exhausted for the rest of the night.
All she could think was that she was the Avatar. It should have been her.
Wetness clung to her fingertips as she pulled her hand away. She rubbed her hand dry on the leg of her pants. Perhaps she should have stayed in the South Pole with Katara and begun with waterbending, as she had done the first time—waterbending was in her blood, after all, and maybe that would have made a difference, but that was exactly the reason she'd been afraid of it.
She was simply unready to face the idea that her waterbending was gone for good.
Airbending was a different matter. She should be practicing, she knew. She had wanted it so badly, but now that she had it she couldn't bear using it. Not now, not until... And what if your bending never comes back, what then? Korra had no answer for herself. She hoped Tenzin—and Aang—would forgive her.
That was Lin, moving stiffly towards her. In the gray light, Korra could see the tiredness on her face.
"I didn't mean to wake you," she murmured.
"You didn't. My mother did, to complain about the vibrations you're making." She yawned and rubbed a hand over her face, but smiled. "I knew she would like you."
"She came to the South Pole a few times," Korra said. "Every once in awhile, she and Katara would come and collect me from the White Lotus. I was a kid the last time I saw her, though. I think they took me to see the penguins."
"She's stayed mostly in the Earth Kingdom the last few years. Still looking for metalbenders." Lin yawned again. "What are you doing up so early?"
Korra shrugged. "Just thought I'd get in some extra practice."
"I may be currently unable to use bending to detect lies," Lin said quietly, "but that wasn't even a good one. What are you doing, Korra?"
"I—I just..." Tears welled up without warning. She swiped an angry hand across her eyes.
Something in Lin's face softened.
"I don't—I can't—"
"I'm really not very good at this," Lin warned when Korra sniffled, but she drew Korra into an embrace and held her close as she cried. "You'll be okay, kid."
"No, I won't," Korra wailed into Lin's shoulder. "It's not getting better. It's not coming back."
"Mmm." Lin patted her back. "I didn't understand a word of that. Cry first. We'll talk after."
She couldn't have formed words through her sobs, anyway. Korra buried herself in the hug and cried herself raw. Lin held her silently, save for a few awkwardly whispered words of comfort.
When she raised her head again, it was true dawn. The sunshine burned her tired eyes. Korra shrugged off Lin's arms and stepped back, drying her face with her armbands. She took her time doing it, in no hurry to finish and find herself on the end of Lin's knowing stare.
"Thank you," she said at last, because there was going to be no avoiding it. "I didn't mean to do that."
"I understand the need." Lin offered her a tiny smile. Korra remembered watching her cry in Toph's arms, and some of the shame faded. "Now. Talk."
"I just feel so... useless." The words bubbled out of her before she could stop them. Korra hugged her arms to her chest and turned away, glaring at the mountains and mountains of rocks.
"I understand," Lin said. "Does it help any to know I feel the same?"
Korra frowned as she looked back. "But you shouldn't," she said, unable to keep the bitterness from seeping into her voice. "You can bend again."
Lin bent to pluck a rock from the many scattered near their feet. It was a small one, more a pebble than a boulder. She set it on her palm, extended towards Korra, and closed her eyes. The rock twitched, and Lin trembled visibly with the effort.
"Would you be satisfied with that much?" she asked quietly, almost out of breath.
"No," Korra admitted. "But you've found a way."
"Maybe," Lin said. "I hope so. But until I know it will come back, I share your frustration."
Korra was silent. It still wasn't fair.
"I'm sorry this happened to you," she said finally, because that much was true. "I wish I had been ready to face Amon sooner."
Lin sat herself on a rock, resting her palms on her knees. "I knew the risks," she said. "My only regret is that it wasn't enough."
Korra frowned. "What exactly happened to you, anyway? Until Mako and I confronted Amon, we thought you'd all gotten away."
Lin pressed her lips together. She'd been vague on the details before and for a moment, Korra thought she wouldn't answer now, either. "The bison weren't going to outrun the airships," she said at last. "I had to stop them."
"You..." Korra tried to puzzle it out. "You metalbent an airship?"
"Two." Pride flickered across her face. "The first was useless. The second... They turned back after they captured me, I'm sure of it."
"Don't look too impressed," Lin told her. "It wasn't enough."
And that was the thing that broke her heart, knowing that everything she was wasn't enough. Korra settled herself on a rock opposite Lin. The sun hadn't risen far enough to warm the rocks and she shivered a little, though it was far warmer here than it had been at home at the South Pole.
"It would have been worth it," Lin said. "I would do it again, if I knew it would mean something."
"It meant something to Tenzin and his family," Korra started, but Lin cut her off with a shake of her head.
"I know it did," she said. "That's not enough for me. I meant to see them somewhere safe, and I failed."
"Do you think they turned back for you?"
"I hope not." Lin's face hardened to stone. "Tenzin and I have forgiven each other many things in the years we've known each other, but if he did, it may take me the rest of my life to forgive him for being so thoughtless.
"You need to understand," she added, seeing the confusion on Korra's face. "We grew up with stories of a world without the airbenders."
"Without the Avatar," Korra said, and Lin nodded.
"I couldn't let that world happen without doing everything I could to stop it." Lin fixed her with a steely stare, but there was no anger behind it, only intensity. "I will protect Tenzin's family, and you, with all that I am."
Korra lowered her eyes. "You don't have to say that. I'm not the Avatar anymore."
"Yes, you are." Lin frowned at her. "You know Aang's history. If he couldn't escape being the Avatar, you certainy can't."
"I feel like..." Korra hesitated. "Like I've let him down. He had a vision for Republic City."
"If you think Avatar Aang never failed or made a mistake, you ought to sit down with my mother," Lin said wryly.
Korra didn't smile. "I'm nothing like Aang."
"You remind me more of my mother than you do Aang," Lin agreed. "But you don't need to be Aang."
"Look," she said, when Korra stared steadfast at the ground. "I'll admit that I... misjudged you, at our first meeting. But I have become... fond of you. And I believe that you, not Aang, are the Avatar that Republic City needs now."
Korra looked up. "Really?"
Lin's unwavering stare was her answer.
Korra found a smile threatening to form. "Thank you," she said at last, though there were other things she could have said, had she the words to say them.
"Don't mention it." Lin stretched her arms above her head as she stood, the muscles in her arms flexing as she twisted from side to side. "We should get going. I'm sure my mother has something planned for us today."
Korra could only imagine.
Chapter 6: Aang
Toph awaited them on the front porch, arms folded across her chest. "I'm taking a day off," she said without preamble. "But I expect you to work today and we'll be training twice as hard tomorrow, so don't you go thinking that this is some kind of vacation. Or worse, that I've gotten too old for this or gone all soft."
"Mom?" Worry tinged Lin's voice.
Toph waved away her concern. "It's for your own good," she said. "I've been thinking about the progress you've made—and I mean both of you, so you can stop that sulking, princess."
Korra glanced sideways at Lin, who shrugged. "I don't know how she does it, either, but don't look at me for pity," she said. "I spent my childhood with this woman."
"I trained you well," Toph said, nodding in satisfaction. "No matter what you thought during your teenage years."
Korra took a longer look at Lin. She was barefoot, feet and ankles wearing splashes of brown from drying mud. She still wore her sleeping clothes, and her graying hair fell unbound around her shoulders. Since their departure from the South Pole, Lin had shed her armor in favor of lighter clothing—in colors other than black and gray, even. And while Korra looked at her now and thought Lin instead of Chief Bei Fong, she couldn't quite imagine that this woman had been a girl, once.
It was easier with Toph, but then, she had still been a child at her entrance into Katara's life, and there was no one in the South Pole who didn't know Katara's story.
Korra swayed where she stood, as the ground rippled beneath her feet. "I hope you're paying attention, because this is important."
"Hmph." But Toph smiled. "You first, my badgermole. You know your forms. Start at the beginning, with the first ones I taught you as a child. And as for you, princess—" She turned towards Korra. "There's something you've been avoiding."
Korra flushed, lowering her eyes. "Yes."
"Well, that stops now," Toph said, stern but not unkind. "You're going to face this like an earthbender faces anything. Head on, understand?"
She supposed she couldn't have avoided it forever, but she felt nerves and a whole mess of more complicated emotion coil in her stomach. "Yes."
"Good." Toph's mouth crinkled into a sad smile. "When you see him, say hi to Twinkletoes for me."
She took Naga. They rode fast and far, across the endless earth. To the horizon, the landscape was the same—a ravine that stretched far beyond what she could see, framed on both sides by canyon walls so high Korra could scarcely see the tops of them. The river that had once flowed through this spot was long gone; it was arid and dusty, trees scattered few and far between. The rising sun forced them to slow before Naga grew too hot. Korra smoothed a hand through Naga's fur, turned a pale brown from the dirt she'd kicked up.
"Good girl," Korra murmured, as she dried the sweat from her face with her armband.
"It's funny," she said awhile later, as they ambled slowly onwards. "You'd think that this place wouldn't remind you of home, not with the way it looks like the last time it rained here, I was Kyoshi."
And yet—for someone like Toph, for Lin, she imagined it must feel like it did for her when she raced across the endless snow plains of her homeland, when she was surrounded on all sides by her element. The thought stayed with her as she guided Naga towards the nearest tree. The shade was sparse, but it would shield them from the worst of the sun.
"Hold on, girl." Korra slid off Naga's back, and unbuckled her saddle and the pack she'd brought with her. She dug through it, removing a water bottle and a shallow bowl. Filling the bowl, she said, "Drink up."
She took a few swallows from her own water bottle before settling herself as comfortably as she could with her back against the tree trunk. "Keep watch, all right? I'm not sure how long I'll be gone."
Naga came forward to nuzzle against her. Korra smiled a little at the reassurance. She sat cross-legged with her hands on her knees, closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and—nothing. She cracked an eye open in annoyance.
"Really?" she said.
Naga stared back at her.
Korra closed her eyes, but the wind ruffled her hair and Naga made quiet noises as she paced circles around Korra. She took another moment to calm herself before trying again. She'd done this before, after all. Surely it wouldn't be that hard. She'd managed it while prisoner after being bloodbent.
Slowly, she let her surroundings fade away. She forgot the wind and the roughness of the tree at her back, the way the dust clung to her sweat-dampened arms and itched. She forgot even Naga and the sound of her own heartbeat, until all that remained was being.
A quiet growl made her start. Sighing to herself in disappointment, she opened her eyes expecting Naga's familiar face—and yelped in surprise, scrambling backwards on her hands and knees as she found herself eye-to-eye with a different beast. It took her several panicked heartbeats to recognize it was a sky bison.
"Aang?" She took a cautious step forward, extending her arm palm-forward to the bison. "Is that you?"
"Were you expecting someone else?" His head appeared from around the bison's side, eyes alight in amusement.
"I—er, no," she said, calming as she laid a tentative hand on the bison's fur. "I was looking for you."
"This is Appa," he said proudly. "He's my very best friend."
Appa made a quiet sound of approval as Korra stroked his face, and she smiled a little. "It's nice to meet you, Appa."
"I knew he would like you." Aang smiled. "Would you like to go for a ride?"
Korra found herself laughing in spite of herself as Aang swung her up onto Appa's neck as if she were weightless. He settled himself beside her and gathered up the reins. "Where to?" he asked, and Korra blinked in surprise.
"Is this the spirit world?"
"I don't think so. Can you bend?"
She was tempted to remind him that was the problem, but instead she curled her fingers into a fist and punched forward. Wind rippled Appa's fur as she relaxed. "Yes."
"Then no." Aang shrugged at her confusion. "Somewhere inbetween, maybe. You tell me."
"And how should I know?"
"You called me," he said, and flicked the reins. "Appa, yip yip."
"I didn't know I could do that," she said, curling her fingers into Appa's fur as they took off. "I mean, I thought I had to be somewhere extra spiritual for that to happen."
"I once became Avatar Kyoshi in an Earth Kingdom village to confess to murder." Aang chuckled when she gaped at him. "Katara will tell you the story, if you ask. But, I think, much knowledge of the Avatar was destroyed during the Hundred Year War. It will take many cycles to regain that understanding.
"I didn't come here to trouble you with that, though," he said, as Appa turned and the mountains of the Earth Kingdom spread out before them in the distance. "What's bothering you?"
"I feel..." Korra stared determinedly forward. "Stuck."
"I can't bend!" she burst out. "I'm the Avatar and I can't bend! You said it would come back, but it hasn't."
"Patience," Aang said gently.
"You sound like Tenzin," she grumbled, releasing her hold on Appa to fold her arms across her chest.
"He's a good kid."
Korra had to smile at the look that crossed his face. She knew it well. Tenzin wore the same expression when he looked upon his children. "He's the best airbending teacher I could have hoped for."
"Which reminds me," Aang said, "you should be practicing your airbending."
"I know," she admitted. She cringed at the mild reproof. "But... it reminds me that the others are gone."
"You're angry at their loss," he said.
"Of course I am."
"Understandable." Aang nodded. "But you'll need to let go of your hurt and your anger in order to find balance."
"How can I be balanced?" she demanded. "I'm missing three of my elements."
"Spiritual balance," Aang said. "Before you can heal yourself, you need to accept what's happened."
"I don't want to accept it," Korra protested. "I want to fix it. I want my bending back."
"There's always one aspect of bending that we find particularly challenging," Aang said, calm as ever. Appa grunted. "For me, that was earthbending. It was, physically, the opposite of airbending. Toph worked hard to teach me to think like an earthbender."
"She's—oh," Korra said, remembering. "She says hi."
"I miss her, too."
They rode silently for a few minutes after that. Aang's face was expressionless, but Korra found herself wondering—what was it like for him? What would Tenzin say, when she told him of this later? Would it hurt him, to know that she spoke to his father and he couldn't?
Aang's quiet sigh drew her attention. Humor touched his face again as their eyes met. "Toph," he said. "She's still calling me Twinkletoes, isn't she?"
"Why does she do that, anyway?"
"Don't ask," he said with another, long-suffering sigh. "Has she given you a nickname yet?"
"Princess." Korra wrinkled her nose. "Lin calls me 'kid'."
"You were lucky," he said, and sobered. "Lin plays a part in what worries you."
"It's not like I didn't want her to be able to bend again," Korra murmured. She found she couldn't quite look at him. "But why can she when I can't? I'm the Avatar. I thought it would be easier for me."
"There are two components to bending," Aang said.
"Physical and spiritual."
"The spiritual is where you struggle," he said.
"I thought... maybe I didn't need it," she admitted. "I was wrong."
"The disruption to your bending was both physical and spiritual, as well," said Aang. "Amon is responsible for the physical, when he bloodbent you. But the spiritual, that one comes from within you. Do you understand?"
"Wait." Korra frowned. She turned towards Aang as his words sunk in. "You're saying that Amon—he bloodbent in my brain? That's how he took our bending away?"
She took his silence as confirmation, and shuddered. She wrapped her arms around herself as her skin crawled. "But it can be healed?"
"In time," he said. "You have to—"
"Be patient," she finished, unable to keep herself from sounding sullen. "I know."
"Exactly." He turned to smile at her. "But it's not enough to heal physically. You need to heal spiritually, too."
"And that's why Lin can bend and I can't?" Korra considered that as she watched the flat ground. She thought they were flying a little lower than they had been. "She doesn't seem very spiritual to me."
"Toph never was, either," he agreed. "But... in this instance, maybe."
They were definitely descending now. Korra gripped Appa's fur hard instinctively, though she knew Aang would let no harm come to her. (Could she even be hurt, in this not-quite-spirit world? She was afraid to ask.) "So... that's it?" she pressed, as they circled lower. "If I work on the spiritual part, I'll be able to bend again?"
"That's not quite what I said..." Aang looked at her, and shook his head. "More or less. You're well on your way, but the road ahead of you is still long."
"I know." Korra let out a deep breath as they touched ground again. "Thank you."
"Good luck, Avatar Korra." Aang smiled at her proudly as she swung her legs towards Appa's side and slid down. "Practice your airbending!"
When she opened her eyes, her back was to the tree again and her legs were numb. Korra shook herself, carefully straightening her legs out before her. She winced as the circulation returned, gritting her teeth through the worst of the pain as Naga nuzzled her in concern.
"I'll be all right, girl," she said quietly, stroking Naga's face. "How long was I gone?"
She squinted at the sky. The sun was still high overhead, but on its descent. Middle of the afternoon, then. She'd lost several hours and yet it felt like hardly any time had passed at all.
"Whoa," she said, rubbing her eyes. "I'll tell you all about it on the way back."
Naga sniffed her face in response.
Korra smiled, and stood.
The idea struck her at twilight, as Toph's house appeared as a far-off shadow. Korra squinted into the distance, not sure at first that it wasn't just another tree. But it grew larger as she drew closer, and when she was sure she was close, she grinned and nudged Naga forward in excitement, kicking up the dust behind them as they picked up speed. She dismounted in the yard, racing towards the house.
Lin stepped out the front door as Korra approached, followed closely by Toph. A smile appeared on Lin's face as she took in Korra's expression. "You seem pleased."
"You found him, didn't you?" Toph demanded.
Korra nodded eagerly. "I'll tell you all about it, I promise, but—I had this thought. I'm the Avatar, right? And I know I needed Aang's help, but what if he's not the right Avatar for this? What if I need an earthbender?"
"Oh!" Toph understood immediately, and clapped her hands in delight. "We're going on an adventure!"
Lin eyed them warily. "We are?"
"Yes!" Korra nearly bounced up and down as she stood, feeling hope for the first time in days. "We're going to Kyoshi Island."
Chapter 7: Kyoshi
I AM SO SORRY. I'm not even sure why this took so long to write. :( But I do thank everyone who PM'd to make sure I was still alive or stalked my journal. <333
As a general note, I haven't been following the information that's come out about Book Two (general laziness, not a desire to avoid spoilers), so I'm just going to point to the AU tag and expect that this won't look anything like canon by the time I'm done.
"Where'd you learn to fly an airship, anyway?"
Lin twisted around in her seat. Korra lounged with her back against Naga's flank and her legs stretched comfortably before her. She'd fidgeted constantly, brimming with excitement, and yet—there were moments when Lin saw a calmness in her. Moments where Korra's face hinted at serenity, moments where Lin remembered her uncle Aang.
"My aunt and uncle taught me," she said at last. "I've found it useful."
"So you used to be one of the officers flying around arresting people who were just trying to help?" Korra raised an eyebrow in an amused challenge.
"Yes, in fact." Lin turned forward again, lest her stern face slip. "And make no mistake. Whatever affection I've come to feel for you, I stand by what I said at our first meeting."
"Some of us weren't there," Toph complained. She'd refused to take one of the available seats and instead sat cross-legged on the floor. "Are we there yet?"
If she squinted, Lin thought she could see the the ocean rise up to meet the horizon. "Almost," she said to her mother. To Korra, with some elaboration for Toph's benefit, she said, "You, more than anyone else, can't go running wild dealing out your own justice willy-nilly."
"No buts about it," she said. "You're the Avatar."
"Think, Korra." Lin pinched the bridge of her nose and smothered her frustration. It wasn't Korra's own fault she'd grown up as sheltered as she had, but there were things about the world that Lin needed her to understand, and quickly. "Think how it looks when you show such flagrant disregard for the laws you're meant to uphold."
"Oh," Korra said. She sounded as if she were frowning, but she wasn't deflated. "But I'm not one of your officers, and they were criminals. And sometimes the laws are wrong, like Tarrlok's were, or not enough. You thought so too. That's why you resigned to find your officers."
"Which is exactly my point," Lin countered. "It had to be clear I wasn't acting as chief of police."
"You're both right," Toph said. "As the Avatar, you have to do what's right. But you're not going to make any friends if you act like you're better than the law, and right now you're going to need all the friends you can get." She yawned. "Seriously, are we there yet? I want to ride the unagi."
They didn't ride the unagi. Korra was only mildly disappointed when Lin marched them away from the beach towards Kyoshi's shrine with a muttered, "For pity's sake, Korra, don't encourage her."
"I heard that."
Korra was wise enough to hide her smile. She wondered idly how Lin had come to be so serious when Toph was adventurous and fun-loving. It seemed that the years of serving as Republic City's first chief of police hadn't sobered her. Perhaps Lin had felt the need to ground her mother. Korra's mind wandered. Was that a thing families did? Had Bolin always been so open and warm, or had he done it consciously, for Mako's sake? She wondered the same about Tenzin's children. So different, yet together they just... fit.
She'd always wished for a sister or brother.
Her melancholy thoughts faded as the trees parted, awarding her a glimpse of one of the Kyoshi villages. She'd expected another Republic City, roads filled to bursting with satomobiles and at night, the whole city awash in a shower of light. It was broad daylight yet, but the single road ahead of them was narrow and traversed by people. Well-tended homes in a neat line framed the street. Each was topped by a steep roof.
"Not quite what you were expecting?" Lin said dryly.
Korra shook her head.
"They've modernized some—I believe there's a telephone somewhere on the island now—but on the whole, this place hasn't changed much since I was a girl."
"It's hardly changed since I was a girl," Toph said, on Korra's other side. "And believe me, that was a long time ago."
"So..." Korra looked from mother to daughter. "Does that mean the Kyoshi Warriors are still around?"
Toph clapped a hand against her shoulder. "Come on."
There were few people on the road, and fewer still as they moved inland. They passed an impressively tall statue of Avatar Kyoshi herself. Korra slowed for a better look. It had been painted recently—the white on her face was clean still, not weathered to gray, and her kimono was the dark green of the forest.
Korra stared up into the face that towered over them all. "She's beautiful," she said in quiet awe.
Lin nodded appreciatively.
"She might've been an even better earthbender than I am," Toph said, folding her arms. "I think it's cheating to use all four elements, but she made Kyoshi Island and that's pretty sweet."
"They said it was cheating when I started earthbending during my first pro-bending match," Korra said.
Toph rounded on her with interest. "You're a pro-bender?"
"Yup," Korra said proudly. "One of the Fire Ferrets."
"New team? I haven't heard of you."
"We made it to the championships," she said glumly. "We lost when the Wolfbats paid off the ref."
"That's because pro-bending has too many rules," Toph said with a wave of her hand. "If you were at Earth Rumble—"
"I've told you before, pro-bending is not Earth Rumble," Lin said, equal parts amusement and frustration. "There are rules—"
"And that," Lin said, "is why you're banned from coming within fifty feet of the pro-bending arena."
"Banned?" Korra eyed Toph curiously.
"For bad behavior."
"You make it sound like an accomplishment," Lin grumbled, but she was smiling. "Walk her the rest of the way, Mom. I'm going to sit here awhile."
"She's not mad, is she?" Korra whispered, once they were out of earshot.
"Just tired of our company," Toph said, as they came to the bottom of a hill. The path was stone here. "Don't take it personally."
The ground rose up before them. As they started to climb, Korra turned for a look over her shoulder. Lin stood where they'd left her, staring up at Kyoshi's face in silent contemplation. Korra hoped there were answers enough for them both.
"Don't tell her I said this," Toph said, "but I think you've been good for her."
Korra frowned at her skeptically. "You do?"
"She's been needing a friend." Toph strode ahead briskly. "Almost there."
Warm from the praise, Korra followed. The hill leveled out until they were on flat ground again. Up ahead, the path widened into a small circle of stone. In the center of it stood Kyoshi's shrine. Like the statue, it was well-cared for-the wood was clean, the roof clear of leaves from the nearby trees. The steps, a lighter wood than the rest, looked to have been replaced recently, but the rest of the building was clearly centuries old.
"This is where I leave you." Toph nudged her forward. "We'll come find you later."
Korra waited until Toph was out of sight, descending the hill again, before she turned and faced the shrine again. Kyoshi awaited her, she hoped.
Taking a deep breath, Korra walked forward.
Toph found her in Kyoshi's shadow. Her head bowed, Lin rubbed a pebble between her palms and waited for... something. Her mother's name alone hadn't been enough to make her great. She had been a relentless taskmaster, accepting nothing less than the best Lin could do, and Lin had resolved to uphold the Bei Fong legacy.
"I'd hoped it would be... more," she said as Toph came up beside her, closing her fingers around the pebble. "I wanted to bring hope back to my officers."
They weren't, strictly speaking, hers anymore, but her mother wasn't one to correct her. In her heart, Toph Bei Fong still thought of Republic City as hers.
"Do you remember," Toph said quietly, "the way you and Kya would pretend to be Kyoshi Warriors?"
"I remember." Once, they had gotten ahold of Aunt Suki's fans. Lin smothered a smile at the memory. "Are you suggesting that my contingency plan be becoming a Kyoshi Warrior?"
"You'll have to do something." Toph punched her gently in the arm. "The best you can do for your officers is to set an example for them. Might as well pick something cool."
Lin turned the rock over in her hands, rubbing it against the rough pad of her thumb as she thought. "Bending is one core part of my identity," she said finally, frowning up at Kyoshi. "And until recently, it was also my job. At this very moment, Republic City is filled with countless citizens in the same position. I saw their despair up close in prison."
Toph tightened her fingers round Lin's arm when she paused for breath. "Did they harm you there?" she asked sharply.
"No." Lin covered her mother's hand with her own for reassurance. "Nor did they harm anyone else that I saw. I stayed to make sure of it. No matter, though," she added. "The benders of Republic City know they know they were wronged. They'll be hungry for vengeance. And the Equalists are feeling equally wronged, now that Korra's exposed Amon as a fraud and a liar. I'm not sure how long the United Forces will be able to keep order."
"Do you have a plan?"
"Not really." Lin grimaced. "You know what I think of the council, but I'm afraid now they'll be more harmful than ineffective—Tenzin's the only one who still has his bending, and I'm not sure he can keep them calm indefinitely."
"Let's hope Twinkletoes Junior can stall them," Toph said. She said it lightly, but Lin could feel the concern in her iron grip. "Guess we'll be hurrying back to Republic City, then."
"Korra concerns me, too," Lin said. "She's too inexperienced and personally involved. I'm not sure it's responsible of me to bring her back to Republic City, but there will be no convincing her to go back to the South Pole."
"Leave Korra to me." Toph gave her arm another squeeze. "I'll keep her out of trouble."
Lin almost smiled despite herself. "I'm not reassured."
"Hmph." Toph was frowning. "You're right, though. She's reckless—which I like, reminds me of me—but it concerns me, too. She's angry, and people will want to take advantage of that."
"Exactly." Lin sighed. "I wish I knew what to tell her."
Toph had no answer for her.
Carefully, reverently, Korra touched Kyoshi's things. Her fingertips, rough and calloused, caught on the fine silk of the kimono. Korra winced and pulled her hand back quickly. The boots and fans were sturdier. She stroked the smooth gold surface of one fan and wondered about the woman who had wielded it. Kyoshi had been the tallest and the longest-lived of all the Avatars, if the stories were true.
Her White Lotus instructors had taught her what they knew of her predecessors, what little they knew. It had been bits and pieces, scraps of information that couldn't be stitched into something whole. She wondered if Kyoshi Island had a longer memory.
It was time.
Korra sat cross-legged on the floor, resting her palms on her knees as she relaxed. She felt less uncomfortable in the position than she had the last time. Maybe Aang (all right, and Tenzin) had been right to fuss about her lack of spiritual anything. At the time, it had seemed so unimportant.
She could re-evaluate her priorities later. Korra closed her eyes.
Kyoshi, her mind whispered. Kyoshi.
A breeze tickled the back of her neck. Korra frowned and opened her eyes; she'd shut the door behind her when she'd entered the shrine. She found herself sitting in a patch of sunshine, the sky blue overhead and the grass soft and green beneath her. Bamboo trees grew around her in a ring.
Slowly, she stood.
"Kyoshi?" She spoke aloud this time, but quietly.
Not having expected a response so quickly, Korra jumped, and then whirled around, only to stop in awe. Kyoshi's size hadn't been an exaggeration, then. Sunlight glinted off the headdress that added a bit to her height, but she easily dwarfed Korra without it.
"Avatar Kyoshi." Korra bowed.
"I'm glad you've come to me." Kyoshi's face was impassive beneath the makeup, but the corners of her lips turned upward.
"I need your help," Korra said.
Kyoshi regarded her in silence.
"Please," Korra whispered. "I can't bend."
"I can't restore your bending," Kyoshi said at last, and Korra's heart sank. "Only you have that power."
Korra raised her head. "Really?"
"I keep hearing that, but I—I don't know how."
Kyoshi's face was solemn. "I'll make you a bargain, then," she said. "You listen to what I have to say, and I'll prove to you that your bending is still within you."
Korra would have agreed to near anything for the chance. The thought of raising the sea, the earth, the flame made her palms tingle and her breath hitch. It was what she had been aching for ever since Amon had touched her.
"There is trouble brewing," Kyoshi said. "You'll be returning to a dangerously unbalanced situation."
"Republic City's in trouble?" Korra frowned at her. "But we just saved it."
"Your work there is far from finished," Kyoshi told her calmly. "There are many wrongs still to be set right. This is what I need to tell you: you must listen. Each voice is worth hearing. You must listen, and you must do what's just. Only then will there be peace."
"That's all I have to do?" Korra asked. "Listen?"
"It won't be so easy," Kyoshi warned. "There will be truths you won't want to hear, but you need to hear them. You are the Avatar, and it is your duty. Do you understand?"
Korra nodded. "I think so."
"Remember this," Kyoshi said sternly. "It will be important."
"I will," Korra promised.
"Very well, then." Kyoshi drew out her fans, bright, gleaming gold in the sunlight. "It's time for my demonstration, then. Close your eyes."
She felt the hard wooden floor of the shrine beneath her again as she did so. Korra stood shakily and blinked. The colors were all wrong—too bright, too dark, too harsh, as though she were looking through someone else's eyes. She walked forward, larger steps than she was used to, towards the outdoors.
She heard Kyoshi's voice, quiet and reassuring. There is nothing to fear.
Korra had only watched Jinora and Ikki with their gliders. She'd envied their skill and their grace, but she'd never given much thought to what it would feel like to soar herself. Kyoshi carried them high, the air a twisting cyclone beneath them. Korra looked past the treetops and saw the ocean stretch to the horizon.
Korra raised her—their?—arms, twisting through motions more familiar than the beat of her heart. Trembling mountains rose up in her wake. She breathed flame and called the water out of the sea, twisting round and round atop the world to see what she had wrought.
Enough. Kyoshi's mind-voice was gentler than Korra would have expected. Take hope from that. Your power is within you, as it has always been.
When Korra opened her eyes again, she stood on firm, solid ground. The shrine stood as she'd last seen it. Not a single blade of grass was out of place. Korra blinked a few times, vision normal again. She sat quickly before her knees buckled beneath her, hanging her head as she rested on her knees and palms. Deep breaths, she told herself.
She almost wondered if it had been real, but she knew better than that. Kyoshi had shown her that Aang had been right—her bending was hidden within her, and she could—she would—reclaim it. Hope made her dizzy. "Thank you," she whispered.