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The Legend of Korra
Korra and Koh the Face Stealer
Suddenly Korra sensed a familiar presence behind her. Turning around she sees an image of an airbender who is not Tenzin.
“Aang,” Korra calls in relief. Running towards him, she reaches out her hand toward him, her hand passing through vapor, only touching air.
“W-what?” she stutters. “What’s going on?”
“You’re in the Spirit World, Korra,” the familiar apparition explains.
“Is that why I can’t bend,” Korra said, not really asking.
Aang nods solemnly.
“Why am I here? Where’s Mako?” Korra asks her spiritual past life, dreading his answer.
“He’s with Koh, the Face Stealer.”
Korra, the brave pugnacious Avatar who was ready to face any fight head on, felt her breath leaving her, drowning her in a flood of turbulent emotions of confusion, anger, and fear.
“No”, she whispered. This time more strongly, “No!” She punched the tree’s trunk in her blind rage, the vibrations shaking a myriad of flying spirit creatures out of the many crooks and crevices of the tree.
“Korra, you need to calm down.” Aang advised. That’s the only way you can face Koh and retrieve Mako.”
His words washed over Korra like a balm, subduing the angry Avatar. Korra falls back on instinctive meditative breathing, until she can distinctly see Aang’s face again.
“But what if I can’t?” Korra asks more calmly, thinking of the time when Tarrlok asked her to join him on his task force, asking her to face her greatest fear.
Aang looks wisely at Korra, showing some of the sage-like gaze that he was eminent for in his lifetime. “Korra, I know your fear, and I know you can.” This time more strongly, “You have to.”
Korra feels the severity of Aang’s words hit her directly in the heart.
Aang continues, “Don’t let your emotions control you. If you become angry or scared, then you’ll lose everything: your discipline, you identity, your face, even the ones you love.”
Korra is silent with these words.
Aang face softens with compassion for his reincarnation. “Koh stole the love of our past life, Avatar Kuruk. Don’t let history repeat itself.”
Korra nods gravely at Aang’s words, knowing what she needs to do. Even as the spirit of Aang fades from sight, she still feels his presence. Facing the entrance of the cave, her mind travels back to the day she had lost her bending from Amon, and watched in absolute horror as Amon tried to do the same to Mako
As much as she had been afraid of Amon, and dreaded facing Koh, the idea of losing Mako, her best friend, her partner, the love of her life was more important and terrifying than her fear.
“Show no fear, show no emotion at all,” she says coolly, her voice and spirit combined with those of past lives before her, and moves into the cave
Korra climbs down the spiral in the tree, breathing deeply in and out, as the present enthuses her to continue with every step. The light gradually withdraws as Korra descents deeper into Koh’s lair, and a strange pulse begins beating, until it mixes with the vibrations of Korra’s own anxious heartbeat. She stops, stopping a breath, and calls with a straight face to the creature, Koh.
Though she can barely see in the nightmarish lair, she feels a nefarious presence crawling behind her, a prevalent rustling as mysterious and cold as the wind, though there is no breeze. She feels her heartbeat quickening; her breath catches in her tightened throat, re-experiencing the same sensation she was facing Amon. Yet, she thinks of Mako, and breathes.
Korra puts on a cool face, imagining ice freezing a wall over her face, becoming a second skin, a mask. She lets out a breath, one she hadn’t realized she had been holding, and turns to face what she knew as the incarnation of fear and calls out his name.
“Koh. Where are you?”
“Well, if it isn’t a old acquaintance of mine. I said we would meet again, Avatar.”
A slow being slides into one of the beams of light bleeding from the ceiling, as a white face, pale as death emerges from the shadows.
“And yet again, you have a new face,” Koh the Face Stealer says.
Korra straightforwardly speaks. “Hello, my name is…”
“Avatar Korra,” Koh finishes. “Daughter of Senna and Tonraq. Pupil of Katara and Tenzin. Master of all four elements. Vessel of a thousand lifetimes of wisdom, pains, joys, and sorrows.”
“How do you know all this?” Korra inertly asks, wondering how the spirit knew so much about her life, never having met her before.
Turning to the Avatar, Koh replies,
“Oh, when you lived as long as I have, you learn a few things. I’m really quite impressed, a fully realized Avatar at such as young age and one with such as young face. And such a beautiful face.” Koh slithers closer to Korra, staring contemplatively at her face.
“Where’s Mako?” Korra calmly demanded, even as her rage boiled under her skin.
“So quick to get to the point. You should learn to be more respectful to an all-powerful spirit like myself,” Koh countered bemusedly.
Korra realizes that Koh is right, and takes another calming breath, bowing to the ancient spirit.
He chuckles, a perverse kind of laughter, circling creepily around Korra.
“You’re not a very patient Avatar, are you? Nothing like your predecessor,” Koh affirms observably. A sadistic smile grows on his blood-red lips. “This should be interesting.”
“Please, spirit. Tell me where Mako is?” Korra reiterates.
“Mako” the dark spirit echoes, spiraling above the Avatar’s head. “You’re not the first Avatar to come looking for a loved one.” While saying this, Koh’s faced changes to that of a beautiful woman’s, dark flowing hair spilling out of Koh’s body. Korra blinks, undeterred as Ummi’s face smiles, before reverting back to Koh’s Noh mask.
Koh circles around Korra once more.
“You do realize,” he says, “that you can’t bend here.”
Korra’s face remains straight. She thinks back to Avatar Aang’s wisdom. “I came here with that knowledge,” she replies seriously.
“Hmmm,” the sound vibrates in the empty cave. “And you’re still here. Brave girl.”
Suddenly, Koh’s face shifts again to that of a handsome firebender’s with eyes the same golden color as Mako’s.
“He’s quite handsome, you know,” Koh states matter-of-factly. “But then you must already know that.” Turning around, “I wonder what it would be like to add his face to my collection.”
Korra felt as if her heart was being bloodbent, breaking her frozen expression.
“Don’t touch him!” she shouts angrily at the turned spirit.
Koh rotates violently, his face transforming into an angry Wolf-bat’s snarl. Korra’s face is immobile again.
“I’m sorry,” Korra says evenly, while hiding a clinched fist behind her back.
Koh’s face returns to his usual appearance.
“You should really learn to control that temper,” the pacified spirit replies. He slithers past Korra’s ear, whispering, “It could cost you a face.”
Behind Korra’s back Koh states, “I’m not evil you know. Nor I am good. I didn’t steal the face of Avatar Kuruk’s love out of spite. He was a rash youth, quite as pugnacious as you, actually. He lost his fiancé because of his arrogance, and if you don’t restrain yourself, you,” pausing, “might as well.”
Korra confused asks straightly, “What do you mean?”
Koh smiles nefariously. “I found your Mako, was it, at the Spirit Oasis, waiting for you.”
Korra curiosity is peaking, though she does not reveal so. “Why did he come there?”
“Always asking questions,” Koh bemusedly retorts. “If you must know, he had a rather strange necklace with him. Maybe you could tell me what it means.” His tail sneaks up behind her, leaving a very cold trail from the base of her spine to her neck. He releases something above Korra’s head, causing a resounding clink resonate through the cave as it hits the ground. Without moving her face, Korra bends down to the object at her feet, then covering her mouth in repressed shock.
Still bending down, Korra traces the crescent symbol on the betrothal pendant, unable to make a sound. She closes her eyes, fighting to prevent the warm tears from coming.
“He was going to propose,” Korra says inanimately.
Koh’s face shifts again to a canyon crawler, another creature that strikes from dark places. “It appears so.” He leisurely creeps to Korra’s once again stationary face. “Don’t worry, I haven’t taken his face, yet. He became unconscious upon entering my realm. Though if I were to wake up him here, would his love for you appear on his face.”
Korra stands up, her voice strong and solid. “He never did anything to you.”
“No,” he agrees. “But you could. Everything you do, everything you are directly affects this world and the world around you. If a normal human were to do something, then the consequences of his actions would merely touch the contents of their small domain, a small ripple in a pond. Yet, you, as the Avatar, have the incredible and dangerous ability to change the world. One error, one blunder could disturb the universe. I would advise you to continue learning, Avatar.”
“Why am I here?” Korra asks.
“Just passing some wisdom to enlighten yourself,” the spirit ambiguously replies.
Hiding himself in the dark, the spirit calls out, “you’d best be on your way.”
“Wait,” Korra calls out, confused. “Why does it sound like you’re saying goodbye?”
Koh laughs mischievously. “Consider it a warning. Maybe I’ve gotten more kindhearted with age.” Koh laughs again.
“You’ll find Mako back in the mortal realm. Only the Avatar is a natural link between the mortal world and the spirit world. It is best not to disturb the balance.”
“Oh, and one more thing” dwelling ominously, “ I suggest you to be aware. There’s a rather ominous presence that doesn’t seem to belong to your world right now. The rest you must find out on your own.”
“Thank you,” Korra bows.
Facing Korra again, the spirit smiles.
“You know, maybe you’re not as arrogant a youth as I thought.”
Portentously, Koh finally recedes back in the shadows, his white face becoming black.
“I’ll see you again, Avatar. Maybe with another face.”
Korra sees a bright light, as inconceivable and rare as hope in the dark cave enter. She reaches out toward the light, and touches it triggering a luminous glow that fills the whole cave. She is blinded by the light, and finds her spirit rejoining her physical body, shaken by a strange hand. As Korra fully regains consciousness, she turns around to find the face belonging to the shaking, and finds Mako.
She looks at him without a word. Then she grasps her arms around him, holding tighter than she ever had before. Korra takes the necklace out of her pocket, and fastens the choker around her neck, a perfect fit. Mako tenderly touches her face, taking Korra again into his arms. And for a moment, Korra simply is, savoring being back where she belongs, before the plaguing apprehension propagates from the back of her mind, wondering what’s to come.