Where were they? He had never seen anything quite like it. Of course, there were those big balloons that seemed to fly over the villages every other hour, but he'd never been inside one. In fact, he'd never imagined there would be an inside. But here... It was just so big! The inside alone was almost two entire houses, and he'd yet to examine the monstrosity in its entirety. But the machine itself wasn't the only marvel. Onboard lay a great beast, unlike any he had ever seen. It had six legs, yet did not seem to walk on them. Its tail lay flat on the floor (was it a floor? It floated like the rest of the machine) like the round head. The creature seemed to be asleep, and wasn't disturbed by his climbing all over its fur. This did seem to disturb the people around him, however. "Are you sure he's it?" "Am I ever wrong?" "Persistently." There was the nice lady, hair as black as rich soil and skin as white as clouds. Her eyes were soft, yet seemed to peer down into the depths of his soul, trying to find something that just didn't exist. Then there was the man dressed in the robes of the mean people trying to debate with the scary woman. About what, he could not know. He was too preoccupied tugging on the monster's horns. "Come on, Asami! I spent six months with the Dai Li. Do you know what that takes?" The man started pacing back and forth across the floor. "Five months of earning their trust, and then only one to go over all the intel they'd gathered across the Earth Kingdom. Kuvira might have cut them off at the waist in regards to intelligence gathering, but they still have connections. And he's the one at the center of all the reports of multi-bending." "Do you actually have evidence that he can, Bolin?" This stopped the pacing. Another yell came from deeper in the machine, a harder voice. "Well? Are we good? We have tanks coming up behind us." Both of the people in the room (Asami and Bolin? Were those their names?) muttered curses. "Kuvira." Another lady sprinted down from the top of the balloon (what was on the top? He'd heard noises, but couldn't figure out what was what) and shouted "They're shooting!" A second later the balloon was rocked by explosions on both sides. The rest was mostly a blur of sound and light. The child heard someone shouting "We're going down!" There were screams as people were tossed back and forth while the balloon rocked and some of the glass windows crashed inwards. The beast roared and rose into the air, tossing the boy to the side. His head crashed into the wall of the room. The last thing he saw was a woman in obscenely warm clothing walking towards him. "Jinora, take us up!" "Too much weight!" Suddenly, the floor righted itself. The three in the room brought themselves to their feet. "Thanks for that." Jinora looked at Bolin. "I didn't do that." All three turned their gazes towards the figure in the corner. "Korra...?" The body of the former Avatar disappeared as soon as it was there, replaced with a four year-old boy, eyes glowing as his hands rose above him. The booms fell away into the distance as the wind whistled past the ship. "Mako, how're we doing?" It took a second for the pilot to respond. "Engines are damaged, hull's taken a beating. That's just the obvious stuff. I can't tell you how we're moving, especially at this speed." "I think I can." Asami turned to Bolin. "Go figure out how far we can go with what we have. We cannot land in the Earth Kingdom." "On it, boss!" He rushed off to the cockpit. Asami turned to Jinora. "Can you, Ikki, and Meelo take over? I don't know how long he can keep this up." The only response was a nod as Jinora ran back up to the top of the airship. After both of them were gone, she sat down next to the concentrated child, who completely disregarded her arrival. "Can you hear me?" No reaction. "Korra?" No reaction. "Hmm... I'm sorry for this." She swept the boy's legs out from underneath him, hoping that it wouldn't prompt a hostile reflex from the Avatar. Instead, it served to awaken the boy, who quickly fell back into a deeper sleep. Several hours later... He awoke with a start, sitting up straight in his bed. My bed? I don't have a bed. Where was he? It was yet another strange place, yet this one didn't seem to fly. But the older boy next to him was. He jolted out of bed, rushing to the door, only to get blocked by the girl Jinora. "Rohan! You scared him!" "Sorry! I'm just so excited!" The boy named Rohan rushed over, and it became obvious to the youth to see how he flew. Rohan sat, perfectly balanced, on a circulating ball of air, visible only because of the disturbances of dust on the floor. "So you're him! Asami and Jinora keep saying you're him! Please say you're him!" The girl kicked open the door and ushered her brother out with a blast of air. "I should never have let you stay in here in the first place. If you aren't going to calm down, wait outside!" She barely managed to keep him out before both were quieted by the appearance of the woman Asami and a new man that the youth didn't recognize. "Is he awake?" "If he hasn't been scared to death yet, yes." Before the two could step into the room, she blocked their path. "Is now really the best time? He's just a kid." "Better now than he figures it out when it's too late." Brushing past Jinora (who muttered "Too late? What is this, one of Varrick's films?"), Mako moved to the far end of the room while Asami knelt in front of the boy. "Hey little guy. How are you doing?" Unwilling to interact, he buried his head in his knees. The coaxing went on for a few minutes before Mako lost his patience. "Look you brat. We just broke into enemy territory, caused an international incident, and risked our lives on a hunch. A hunch that you were the Avatar, that you were the reincarnation of our friend. The least you could do is cooperate a little bit!" Frightened by this sudden outburst, the boy seemed to shrink in on himself. Asami shot a look at her companion before turning back to the boy. "Come on. Don't you want to come outside? I swear he doesn't have to come if you don't want him to." It didn't work. "We have food. Are you hungry?" This seemed to resonate deep in the child, whose head jolted up. "Food?" Excited by her success, Asami prodded deeper. "Yes. We have plenty of food. It's actually just down the hall. You want some?" Nodding his head, Asami extended her hand. Though hesitant, he accepted the invitation. Together, they started to the kitchen (followed closely by the others, Rohan desperately trying to get the boy's attention). "If you don't mind me asking, do you have a name? It would make it easier to talk with you." Looking up at her, the boy felt that he trusted her enough, she who offered him food, to care for his only valuable possession. "Shen. My name is Shen." Years later... He still couldn't fly. And that pissed him off. How is it that one of the greatest benders alive can't fly? Shen had managed to learn the air scooter technique pretty quickly (he'd insisted on staying with the airbenders first. His little four year-old brain labeled them as the nicer people, second only to the food lady. He'd gone to Bolin next and learned that the two of them shared a lot of traits in common, enjoying pranking Mako and pretty much everyone else. And finally, he'd gone to Mako. It had taken a few years, but the firebender had warmed to Shen and soon became a close confidant and friend) and after reading of Avatar Aang's battle with Fire Lord Ozai started working on the air sphere. But he had yet to learn self-sustained flight, a goal placed when he found that air spheres, while effective, were clunky and weren't as smooth as flight was rumored to be. "Maybe it isn't worth it, Shen. I heard from Ikki that you're really vulnerable to air movements if you fly unprotected." Shen climbed up the rock overlooking the sea, panting from the effort. Rohan was levitating off the ground in front of him, eyes closed. "Quiet, baldie. I have to concentrate." Calming his breathing, Shen concentrated on the goal: Fly. Taking a running start, he leapt off the rock. Only to start plummeting to the ground a few meters below. Come on, come on! The ground kept getting closer. Finally giving up, Shen erected an air sphere around himself, halting his fall just inches shy of the water. Regaining his composure, he rose back up to the cliff edge. Rohan's eyes opened and his mouth widened into a grin. "Any luck, Guru?" Shen's glare answered the question. Rohan fell to the dirt laughing. "Hey, at least I didn't hit the water this time." Bringing himself back to his feet, Rohan made a conceding gesture. "True, true. Not a drop of water on you. Your reflexes are getting better." He tossed Shen a canteen, with which Shen drowned his mid-length black hair in water. "You excited about the field trip?" "Can hardly call it a field trip. I get to go back as much as I want if it goes smoothly." Dropping the canteen to the ground, he collapsed on a rock, taking in the light of the sun. "But yeah. I'm pumped." His response was halfhearted. Mostly because Shen was exhausted from the number of times he'd run, jumped, and climbed back up the cliff. His legs were getting chafed. But there was a small part of him that just wasn't too enthusiastic about this little adventure. Why now? Twelve years he'd been on Air Temple Island. Twelve years, and only today would he get to go to the mainland. What was the point? Shen had heard Asami and Mako's warnings of how Republic City wasn't all it was cracked up to be, what with the Triad, underground bending matches, and the general disturbances being caused by Earth Kingdom royalists and revolutionaries. But still. Better than being surrounded by monks all day. So why had they never let him leave before? It was just strange. Come on, Shen. Keep it together. First time in your life that you get to leave this island. Don't mess it up. But it wasn't enough to dispel the thoughts in the back of his head. "Go on inside, Rohan. I'll be right behind you." "Be careful. You might be able to levitate, but you still aren't getting the whole inner peace side of airbending. You lack focus." Shen ignored him and got up off the rock. "Or don't listen. Whatever." Taking another running start, Shen felt the flow of air around him. And instead of plummeting to his death when he jumped, he rapidly rose into the air, the sphere around him causing his body to levitate. Already Shen was able to maneuver in it fairly well and spun up and up, so high that any child would have expected him to knock the sun from its perch. And from there, he had a view of everything as far as the eye could see. But specifically, he gazed down upon the buildings and soaring skyscrapers that had begun construction throughout the winding streets of Republic City. This was the only place he had where he could view it perfectly. Shen had been forbidden to actually set foot on the mainland by Jinora, and had followed her commands out of respect for her and the monks present on the island. But the view wasn't the only reason he flew up there. It was for the sheer show of power, the ability to use his power that got the adrenaline pumping. Shen was the Avatar. "And it feels good."