|"Satoru's right. This place is the future. You really want to sacrifice the future for a stupid, backwards holiday?"|
|— Toph Beifong to Aang about the Earthen Fire Refinery and Yangchen's Festival.|
The Rift Part One is the first installment of The Rift trilogy. It was released in comic book stores on March 5, 2014, and in regular stores on March 18. It was later released with its counterparts in Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Rift Library Edition HC on February 11, 2015.
Aang asks his friends to help him celebrate Yangchen's Festival, an extremely sacred Air Nomad holiday that has not been held in over a hundred years. However, visits from the spirit of Avatar Yangchen herself lead Aang to discover a jointly owned Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom refinery that is operating on - and polluting - land sacred to his people.
In Yu Dao, Avatar Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Toph meet with Iroh for a ceremony in which the colony's new government is to be announced. Iroh tells them that Fire Lord Zuko was unable to attend because he was supporting Ursa and her family, who were visiting the Fire Nation Capital. Katara asks Iroh how his time as interim Fire Lord was; Iroh states that it was fun, and though with National Tea Day was a success he still misses his teashop. A short time later, Kori appears and announces the new government, comprised of four people, two Earth Kingdom and two Fire Nation representatives. Toph voices her doubts about the workability of the system, though Aang assures her that the colony will make it work as it is to be an example for others to follow.
Following the announcement, the gathered crowd moves inside for the banquet. However, before Aang could reach the table, he notices a hooded figure in Air Nomad attire waving at him, causing him to question Xing Ying if she knew of another Air Acolyte arriving late, to which she answers that they are not. Aang chases this figure out to the palace balcony, only to find it is the spirit of Avatar Yangchen. She begins to speak, pointing to nearby mountains, but Aang cannot hear anything she is saying, and she disappears before he can establish any further communication.
Back at the banquet, everyone found a seat and is enjoying a meal in celebration of the successful election. While Sokka attempts to convince the vegetarian Air Acolytes to eat some turtle duck, Katara asks Toph how her metalbending school is going. She explains that there have been so many new students that she has had to resort to building earth tents for them to sleep in as she does not have the money to expand the building. Sokka proposed to charge the tuition, though Toph refuses, as she does not want her school to be a business, but rather something important, since they are doing "something new". Mentioning that she did not charge Aang tuition either, prompts Katara into wondering where he has gone. She finds him on the balcony of the building, attempting in vain to meditate to connect with Yangchen. Although she recognizes that meditating is important to him, she reminds him that celebrations like the one they are supposed to attend are also important. Katara's words remind him of an old Air Nomad celebration, and struck with an idea, he returns to the party and announces to the Air Acolytes and his friends that they would be going on a field trip the next day.
Flying on Appa the next day, Aang explains that they are traveling to a sacred Air Nomad site where they are set to bow to a statue and enjoy a meal on a meadow in order to participate in Yangchen's Festival, one of the most important Air Nomad holidays. Upon arrival, Sokka wonders about the identity of lady to whom they are supposed to bow, having expected it to be Yangchen, though the statue did not sport arrow tattoos. When Aang has to admit that he does not know, Sokka asks if he does not mind bowing to an unknown person, to which Aang simply replies "that [is] just how it [is] done". Toph, who had been listening to the conversation, is reminded of how her parents used to give her that as a reason for justifying every rule and action they imposed on her, such as praying to ancestors, donning noblewoman fashion, using etiquette, and disallowing her to play outside with other children, making her lonely. She subsequently refuses when Aang asks everyone to bow, denouncing the festival entirely as unimportant when he tries to convince her to participate. Although visibly upset by Toph's refusal, Aang uses the situation as a learning opportunity for the Air Acolytes to impart a lesson about Air Nomad custom onto them: a true Air Nomad lets insults pass them by in order to maintain their inner peace.
After bowing to the statue, Aang asks the Air Acolytes to take out their instruments to provide traditional Air Nomad music while they walk to the meadow for their ceremonial meal. Moving through a relatively dense forest, Yee-Li is perfectly content clanging her cymbals together, much to the annoyance of Toph, who eventually metalbends them crooked to stop the noise. She demands to know the point of the whole ritual, although visibly tense; Aang only suggests that they keep moving. Xing Ying asks if the meadow is beyond a town that lies ahead, to which Aang reacts with surprise as the town is where the meadow used to be.
Walking into the town, Aang is dismayed at the sight, a sentiment not shared by Toph and Sokka who are excited by the smell of meat and go off to find the source. Suddenly, Katara is approached by a young woman named Niyok, who knew her before she left the Southern Water Tribe. When Katara realizes that Nutha, Niyok's sister, is also there, she excitedly calls out to her, though is met with a noncommittal gaze, much to her surprise. Meanwhile, the Air Acolytes express concern for Aang, who has missed the exchange between the Water Tribe natives after noticing Yangchen's spirit, who drew his attention to the Earthen Fire Refinery. Aang leads the group to a fenced-off area from which a repugnant smell rises. He uses his earthbending to get everyone over the fence, reassuring Yee-Li that what they are doing fine since it is the fence that is not supposed to be there as opposed to them. Following the stench, they discover a heavily polluted river, causing Aang to conclude that the defiled water is part of the reason for why Yangchen has been reaching out to him. Before they can explore further, however, they are cornered by four earthbending guards, who attempt to expel them for trespassing. Katara uses her waterbending to block the earthen projectiles flying in their direction while Aang airbends the Air Acolytes to safety. Before Katara can defeat the guards with a massive wave, Aang stops her, turning the situation into another learning opportunity for the Acolytes: an Air Nomad never engages in conflict, unless absolutely necessary, and even then, their direct attacks should be limited. Aang demonstrates this by jumping out of the way of the incoming guards and using his airbending to direct the guards' attacks against one another so that they knock each other out.
Aang is subsequently approached by a young man, who introduces himself as Satoru. He is very pleased to meet Aang and Katara, stating that the Avatar is "even more impressive in person". When Aang finds out that Satoru runs the refinery for the time being, he tries to set up a chance to talk to him about the grounds the refinery is built upon. Sokka and Toph return at that moment, however, and the engineer is left starstruck by the blind earthbender, having admired her for a long time. He rushes over to introduce himself, praising how she saved the world and invented metalbending, before offering to give her a tour of the refinery. The rest of the group is allowed to tag along on Toph's request.
During the tour, Satoru explains that his uncle, Loban, had discovered the area to be rich with natural resources years prior. Due to the political impact of the Hundred Year War, however, Loban, a Fire Nation citizen, had to wait until after the end of the conflict to find himself an Earth Kingdom business partner to exploit the land on Earth Kingdom territory together. Aang attempts to interject, but fails to draw Satoru's attention, who continues his story, proudly telling Toph that the refinery is the first joint business between the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation. Satoru shows everyone a massive room filled with machinery and benders. He explains that there are jobs for everyone, from firebenders heating giant furnaces to earth- and waterbenders working to separate and purify the rocks and gems. When Satoru showcased a second assembly line, which is completely automated as to enable even nonbenders to work in the refinery, he proudly claims the factory to be the future.
The tour continues as they walk back outside, where Sokka discovers a forklift and drives it around as Satoru discloses the refinery's expansion plans to the rest. The engineer is interrupted when Sokka tries to test the forklift's speed limit and ends up breaking the machine. After taking a look at the engine, Satoru apologizes to the group, telling everyone that he will have to ask someone else to continue the tour, as it will take some time for him to fix the forklift. Toph brushes him off and uses her metalbending to find and fix the dislocated gear within seconds. Satoru praises her abilities, and after learning that she runs a metalbending academy, he offers to let Toph frequent the factory at regular times with her students to help out with the machines in exchange for payment. Toph accepts, though tells him that she would rather appreciate the funding of a new school building than a regular payment. When Satoru states that it would be a partnership between the refinery and the school, Toph muses that she would love to be in a partnership with him, though quickly corrects herself my saying she meant with the refinery. On the side-lines, Sokka complains about all the "oogie-osity" between Toph and Satoru, although Katara thinks it is nice being able to see Toph's softer side.
Meanwhile, Aang notices Yangchen's spirit again and a sudden vision of a monstrous creature destroying a settlement appears to him. Yangchen's apparition disappears, however, leaving Aang to wonder whether his vision was of the past or of the future. Regardless, the image of the being has strengthened his determination to talk to Satoru and he approaches him, explaining to the engineer that the refinery should not have been built on land sacred to the Air Nomads. Before Satoru can react, Toph interjects, telling Aang that the area was abandoned and that Satoru and his uncle had every right to build there and make the area useful again. Aang tries to explain that Yangchen tries to warn him, leaving him to believe something bad will occur in the near future. However, when he fails to pinpoint an alleged imminent threat, Toph brushed off his concerns with open skepticism. Katara backs Aang up, however, reminding everyone of the polluted river. Satoru acknowledges the defiled state of the water, but claims that the refinery was not the cause of that. No one believes him until Toph puts her hand on his chest and asks him to repeat himself, using her seismic sense to detect a possible lie. When Toph claims Satoru is telling the truth, she is pulled to the side by Aang, who wants to have a talk with her.
Convinced that Toph is siding with Satoru due to a crush, Aang starts to tell her that he knows what it is like to have a skewed perception of someone due to an attraction toward them. Toph counters by asking him whether it was similar to having a skewed perception due to an affinity to cultural rituals. Pointing to the refinery, she continues by saying that it employed the same ethic as the one they want for Yu Dao: a place where people worked and lived in harmony, regardless of where they came from. She ends her reasoning by asking him if he really wants to sacrifice it for a "stupid, backwards holiday". Aang takes the insult personally and yells at her. At that moment, however, the ground rumbles, and both Katara and Sokka run over, pleading for them to calm down as they are scaring the workers. Aang announces that it was not him, heavily implying that Toph was to blame. The earthbender is heavily offended by his implication of not being able to control her bending and grows angry again, which is when an even larger rumble cuts her off and tips over several crates of refined crystals from the refinery. Not convinced that Aang and Toph had nothing to do with the shakes, Satoru asks them to leave. Before they can heed the request, however, cries for help reach them.
Team Avatar and Satoru immediately run toward the source of the sound, discovering a machine has gone haywire and is catapulting rocks all over the factory. While Katara and Sokka work to clear everyone from the area, Toph and Aang venture further into the building to try and save the person who cried for help, discovering that the man is trapped underneath some metal debris. As they move in, Satoru shouts that there is a power cord they can unplug to shut down the machine. Toph ignores him, however, and as Aang earthbends the machine away from the man, thereby freeing him, she punches the machine, effectively destroying it. With the crisis averted, Aang apologizes to Toph for his earlier words. She forgives him, apologizing as well, though asks him if he is not trying too hard to hold onto the past. He concedes that perhaps he is, although he retorts by asking if she is not trying too hard to escape hers. Toph tells him, however, that some people have to run away, just to live.
Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Colonel Mongke and his Rough Rhinos. Aang immediately assumes a defensive position, asking what they are doing at the refinery. The colonel enlightens him that they were hired by the owners of the refinery to be their personal security guards. At that moment, Loban walks into the factory, demanding Satoru explain what happened to the machine. When Satoru cannot provide a decent explanation beyond a promise that he will sort everything out, Loban turns to his business partner, Lao Beifong, telling them that he knew his nephew was too "scatterbrained" to shoulder the responsibilities that came with running the factory. Lao does not react to Loban's outburst, but merely steps forward with a face blank as he looks at Toph, who addresses her father with everyone looking on in shock.
- Main article: Transcript:The Rift Part One
- Main article: Writing in the World of Avatar
- Aang's meditation beads lack a Fire Nation amulet, which he removed and burned to sever his connection with Roku in The Promise Part Three.
- After Sokka complains about not being given the chance to buy a "manly, manly bag" before leaving for the festival, Toph tells him that they will find him one to match his "manly, manly belt". This is a nod to "The Blind Bandit", when Sokka took Toph's Earth Rumble championship belt that coincidentally matched a bag he had bought earlier.
- When Sokka expresses his admiration about the prominent presence of machines in the refinery, he mentions the mechanist's workshop, which Team Avatar visited in "The Northern Air Temple".
- On the cover, Katara's water skin is white and blue; however, it is gray and blue throughout the graphic novel.
- The direction the head of Lady Tienhai's statue faces changes throughout the graphic novel.
- In the top panel on page 8, Yangchen is missing her tattooed arrow on her left hand.
- Similarly, Aang's hand tattoos keep disappearing and reappearing.
- On page 13, Aang's tattoos are missing on his hands.
- In the lower panels on page 24, the colors of Katara's legs and shoes change.
- The patterns on the ribbon of Lady Tienhai's statue are missing on page 26.
- In the top panel on page 38, the top part of Katara's armbands are white instead of blue. This same mistake also happens on page 53.
- The separation of Yu Dao's citizens during the announcement ceremony of the city's new coalition government closely parallels how people of all nations were arranged during Fire Lord Zuko's speech during his coronation at the end of the Hundred Year War.
- The uniform worn by the factory guards resembles the uniform of the Metalbending Police Force in Republic City.
- The uniforms worn by the earthbending and firebending factory workers resemble the clothing of Bolin and Mako in the first three books of The Legend of Korra.
- For the week of March 8, 2014, The Rift Part One was number one on The New York Times Best Sellers list.
Library Edition reveals
The Rift Library Edition compiles all three parts of The Rift trilogy as well as interjects trivia- and production-based notes in the sidebar of many pages. These notes were written by Gene Yang and the Gurihiru team. The following are notable points from the Library Edition that pertain to The Rift Part One's early production phase and trivialities as attested by the aforementioned crew members.
- Gene Yang (author-perspective, storytelling trivia):
- Yu Dao's coalition government consists of two citizens from the Fire Nation and two from the Earth Kingdom. This governing body will eventually evolve into the United Republic Council (p. 8).
- Yang teases a possible relationship between the refinery guards and the Metalbending Police Force (p. 41).
- There was difficulty developing a possible love interest for Toph. Given that she took the most drastic action to get away from her past, Yang figured that the only sensible direction would be for one of her romantic prospects to represent the future (p. 46).
- Yang admires the comics of Don Rosa, who always incorporated jokes in his panel backgrounds. The pages in which Satoru takes Team Avatar on a tour are meant to reflect Yang's attempts to imitate this technique (p. 51).
- Yang believes that the story of what happened with Toph's parents is arguably the "second-biggest dangling thread" left by the series, making it intimidating to address (p. 78).
- Gurihiru (stylistic and artistic trivia):
- Xing Ying's design was based on Avatar Yangchen (p. 9).
- When drawing food, the creative team does not draw plates until the inking stage and the actual food is not added until the coloring stage (p. 13).
- Historical design elements from both the United States and Asia were used to develop the industrial town (p. 32).
- It was difficult to design how modern the factory should appear given that the story predates the use of electricity in the Avatar World (p. 50).
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Rift Part One Hits #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List. Dark Horse Comics (March 20, 2014). Retrieved on March 21, 2014.