Crossing the Rift: Episode 2-The Last Heirbender

Chapter 1: Open Fire

You wouldn't know Fire Lord Zuko to look at him. Sometimes even he found it hard to believe that someone as young as himself was running an entire nation. The burden of command was constantly felt, weighing him down as physically as the heavy ceremonial robes he was constantly forced to wear.

That's why he was taking a short break. Zuko's uncle, Iroh, was a retired general from the Fire Nation. Iroh loved tea, and so in his retirement he set up a tea shop in the city he had once laid siege to, Ba Sing Se. There was a certain irony to that. Any resentment or misgivings the residents of Ba Sing Se had towards Iroh had been washed away by the magnificent tea he brewed.

That very same tea was calming the nerves of one very stressed Fire Lord. Things had been hectic lately. Especially that whole ordeal with Yu Dao, which had nearly thrown Fire and Earth nations back into a war that had just ended. Enough was enough, and Zuko wasn't sad at all to see the peace return.

Zuko had had enough stress to last for years, and was relishing his downtime, as he sipped the last of the tea from his cup.

"So what do you think?" Iroh smiled at his nephew, "It's a new blend I came up with."

"It's quite good, uncle," Zuko smiled slightly, setting down his cup, "I'm sure your customers will love it."

"Well then I have nothing to worry about!" Iroh laughed happily, "I was worried that this blend might turn out badly, but it looks like I now have a new type of tea for my customers to enjoy."

"What new blend of tea?"

Iroh and Zuko both turned to the very familiar voice. Their good friend from the water tribe, Sokka, had just entered, looking quite famished.

"It's something uncle came up with," Zuko smirked at Sokka, "I'm afraid it won't help your hunger, though."

"Do you have anything to eat?" Sokka almost pleaded of Iroh, who chuckled.

"I'm sorry," Iroh answered, amused, "I only sell tea here. Down the street, there's this vendor that sells the best bāo you'll ever taste. He sells out quickly, though, so you better catch him soon if you want any."

"Thanks," Sokka quickly shot out the door. Iroh and Zuko shared a look before returning to their conversation.

Or they would have, if they didn't hear Sokka scream in an unmanly high-pitched voice, "What is that?!"

Zuko and Iroh both dropped what they were doing and ran outside, as did most of Ba Sing Se.

High in the sky above the magnificent Earth Kingdom city, a massive, roiling tear in the fabric of reality churned. It was an unearthly rift, through which chaos could be seen. Energy swirled and collided. It looked like hell.

From that hell, something leapt out. A massive battleship, gilded in gold, jumped out from the rift, which promptly slammed shut. The battleship spewed flames from its underside, and smoke out of the side of the hull. Green lightning periodically danced over the hull. It hung over the city like a yellow vulture, kept aloft by fire and flames.

"That is something you don't see every day," Iroh muttered in shock. Zuko thought that was probably the understatement of the century.

Zuko and Sokka immediately snapped into tactician mode, and conferred with each other.

"Zuko, do you recognize that? There's an awful lot of fire coming from that thing." Sokka asked The Fire Lord, who shook his head.

"No," Zuko answered, disturbed, "If the Fire Nation had something like that, we wouldn't exactly be parading it over Ba Sing Se."

"Of course," Sokka pondered, "So we don't know where it's from. Should we try to talk to whoever is piloting it?"

"It's too high to shout," Zuko answered, "but I came here in a small courier ship. I could order them to try and establish communications."

"You do that," Sokka nodded, "I'm going to send Aang a message using Hawky."

Zuko raised an eyebrow, "Hawky?"

Sokka rolled his eyes, "My messenger hawk."

Zuko mentally noted to ask Sokka where he got a Fire Nation messenger hawk, but that wasn't important.

Both young men set off in separate directions, as the battleship slowly began to descend.

"What the hell did you just do? My head is killing me." Vriska groaned as she picked herself up off the floor. John was trying his best not to be sick, and Jade was leaning against the wall, coughing.

"Dimensional hop," Jade managed to cough out, "really takes it out of me."

A fit of hacking seized Jade, as she slid down to the floor. Her hand, which had been covering her mouth, came away bloody.

"I think I'll be out for a while," she moaned, "make sure we don't die, okay?"

With that, the Witch of Space passed out.

John stumbled his way over to the helm, jiggled the controls, and nothing happened.

"Controls are still unresponsive," John frowned, "This is going to be a problem. We're descending."

Vriska tapped away at the Fire Control station, getting a big ERROR message.

"Weapons are on automatic," she reported, "and I don't think we'll get control of it again anytime soon."

John messed around with the external cameras, and the view-screen sparked to life, evidently damaged during the dimensional hop.

A grainy picture of a grand city appeared. It looked like something out of a fantasy novel. A massive city of stone with a gargantuan outer wall was shown. Throngs of people occupied the streets, and there was even what looked like a monorail. That brought back memories of Seattle for John.

"John, something is approaching us," Vriska said, pointing out the window.

An impressively-sized zeppelin was ascending towards them, its spiky red and black metal surface clashing with the cool tan and green of the stone city. It looked menacing.

"That looks like trouble," Vriska said in apprehension.

"I'd have to agree," John nodded, opening a window.

A voice boomed over from the jet-black metal blimp, "Cease your descent or we will fire upon you!"

"Crap!" John exclaimed, rushing over to the helm controls and trying to get a response out of them.

"Not gonna work, John!" Vriska unhelpfully added, "Stop the ship with your windy powers!"

Taking Vriska's advice, John whipped up the air around the ship, their immediate airspace now a navigation hazard for the other airship.

A fireball lanced out from the beleaguered blimp and splashed out across their hull, doing no appreciable damage.

However, the onboard Fire Control station didn't ignore it.

"John!" Vriska cried out in alarm, pointing out the screen, which was adding the profile of the zeppelin to a list of enemy ships, which up till that point had been occupied purely by Dersian ship schematics.

As the station proclaimed TARGET DESIGNATED, FIRING, John stared in horror as turrets emerged from the deck of their battleship. The twelve heavy cannons swiveled to face their target.

The twelve cannons spoke, as high caliber artillery rounds streaked away from them at high velocities.

That blimp never stood a chance.

Zuko stared in horror as the unknown battleship opened fire on his airship. Projectiles punched right through the armored hull, continuing out over the walls of Ba Sing Se. His airship plummeted, consumed by fire as the inner engines broke apart.

The flaming carcass slammed into a cluster of nearby houses, smashing them and sending chunks of stone and flaming metal flying for a few blocks.

What in the Spirit's name could do such a thing? Not even the most advanced Fire Nation prototypes was capable of such destruction… okay, maybe there were some that could rival it, but those types of weapons were just unheard of! Sure, the Earth Kingdom launched stones, but what about that resounding boom right before the projectiles were launched? Earthbending didn't make such a noise! No, this was something new.

Turning on his heel, Zuko barked out orders to the remaining soldiers on the ground, "Contact the capital! I want our airship fleet here yesterday!"

"As you wish, my lord!" the soldiers snapped to attention and went off to carry out their orders.

The Fire Lord's day of relaxation just went to hell in a hand basket.

Elsewhere in Ba Sing Se, a quiet back-alley was ceasing to be quite so quiet.

The air rippled and tore open, unceremoniously dumping three people on top of a cart, crushing it, before sealing back up like an alligator's mouth.

The three figures were draped over one another in a pile. The person at the bottom of the pile groaned as he lay on crushed wood and vegetables, trying to extricate himself.

"Goddamn it, Kanaya," he moaned, "that was just as bad as last time."

Kanaya, who was on top, pushed herself off, dusting her clothes off, "Dave, it takes an extraordinary amount of energy to stabilize the rift. You should be glad that we are in one piece."

Rose rolled off Dave and flopped onto the ground, "Not one of my more graceful moments," she complained.

Before anything else could be said, a certain salesman rounded the corner. He thought that this back alley would save his wares, but no, it looked like fate really was out to get him.

"My cabbages!" he wailed in sorrow, collapsing and withdrawing into the fetal position as three teenagers stared at him.

Authors Note: Welp, that's a great start to a new episode in Crossing the Rift! As always, review please!