|"General Old Iron was wrong as well. It is not human nature to dominate, but to create."|
|— Tienhai to Aang|
The Rift Part Three is the third installment of The Rift trilogy. It was released in comic book stores on November 5, 2014, followed by regular stores on November 18. It was later released with its counterparts in Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Rift Library Edition HC on February 11, 2015.
Those trapped in the mine are rescued through the help of Aang and Toph's metalbending students. However, among the iron ore is a large mask, which Loban attempts to remove from the scene and take back to the Fire Nation. Meanwhile, after restoring his connection to Yangchen, Aang discovers that the only way to hold off the return of the vengeful spirit Old Iron is to destroy the town, but Toph and her students defend the refinery against him, particularly because of the international bond it represents. During the battle, Old Iron approaches and Aang battles him. He is able to defeat the spirit with the metalbenders' help, but much to his regret, Old Iron leaves the mortal world because he believes humans have overwhelmed spirits. After meeting Old Iron's old friend, Lady Tienhai, Aang decides to create the Spirits' Friendship Festival to show that the spirits still have a place in the world.
At the Beifong Metalbending Academy, the classes are being run by The Dark One, Penga, and Ho Tun. The class is interrupted by Sokka, who requests that the metalbenders follow him. The three waste time at first speculating the reasons for Sokka's arrival, however when he drops Toph's name, they do not waste any more time.
Back at the Earthen Fire Refinery, Avatar Aang is keeping an eye out for Sokka while talking to Katara through the earth. Beneath the earth, Katara tells Satoru to give the last of the water to Toph; if she fails, there would be no point in giving it to anyone else. After drinking the water, Toph asks Satoru to stay with her to talk. He correctly surmises that she ran away from home and tries to connect to her by telling her his past. After his parents joined the New Ozai Society, Satoru ran away to Ba Sing Se. He spent months on the streets before his uncle found him and took him in. Satoru realizes that Toph was right in calling him a "snivelling flunky" and, ignoring her claim otherwise, praises her.
The two are interrupted by Lao, who approaches Toph. Afraid of dying without telling Toph how he feels, he begins to explain what happened after she left. Xin Fu and Master Yu gave up their search and the relationship between him and Poppy disintegrated; she did not want anything more to do with Lao and so he left Gaoling to begin anew. Tearing up, he expresses his love for his daughter and apologizes, not knowing if he would get another chance. Toph resolutely tells him that they will not die, since she is the greatest earthbender of all time. Shortly after, her students arrive.
Aang explains to the three metalbenders that they need to dig out their friends by metalbending the ore in the earth. Toph offers some advice to her students through Katara, though it only brings back painful memories of metalbending exercises. When they begin to dig, they uncover a massive mask buried beneath the ground. The sight shakes Ho Tun and he begins to doubt himself; however, a word of encouragement from Aang convinces him to try again. The three students, with the help of the Avatar, manage to remove all the dirt trapping the group. Toph manages to give her students a thumbs up before collapsing against Lao. Katara and Aang share a kiss as Jingbo offers assistance to those who may be injured. The Dark One and Penga approach Toph, worried, and Ho Tun notes that she looks almost fragile. Lao introduces himself to the three students while Katara and Sokka reunite. Nutha thanks Katara and while everyone is distracted, Loban orders Kahchi and Vachir to round up the Rough Rhinos to haul the uprooted ore to the beach. He states that he will ship it to another refinery in the Fire Nation to ensure that Lao cannot earn any profits.
At this point, dark clouds begin to fill the skies and the wind increases, prompting Katara to state that a storm is approaching, but Aang does not think it is anything usual. He sees Yangchen but is again unable to hear her, thus, he turns to the Acolytes and says he still needs to finish the ceremonial meal, asking for the necessary items. Jingbo, however, reveals to him that the ceremonial vase is shattered. Aang seeks another way and remembers that Yangchen told him that like his meditation beads, the Avatars are linked, one to the other. Katara asks if she can help, but Aang tells her and the Acolytes that he just needs peace, quiet, and a rock. The Avatar takes a rock, bends it into a new fire medallion for his meditation beads, and attaches it. Upon entering meditation, he sees Roku again and tries to explain what had happened last time, but the old Avatar only offers him a hug, which he returns while apologizing for his past actions. Roku tells him that his past lives can only advise him from their own perspectives and that Aang must find balance between them and himself, the past and the present, adding that he should remember this as he looks for a solution to his dilemma.
Going down the line of his most recent past lives, he reaches Yangchen and asks her to finish her story. She tells him that in exchange for General Old Iron never taking up his armor against humankind again, she built a statue to honor Lady Tienhai while promising that the land would return to its natural state and remain undisturbed as a sign that humans could preserve the balance between their world and the Spirit World. She also led the Air Nomads on a yearly journey to the land for a festival and thus humans would not defile it as they knew of its sacred status. After she died, the celebration became known as Yangchen's Festival and the Air Nomads kept it faithfully until they were wiped out. Aang asks if the iron dug up was Old Iron's armor, to which Yangchen replies affirmatively and notes that her promise has been broken, meaning the old spirit will return. Aang further asks if he can turn the land back to its natural state to unbreak the promise, but his past life tells him only to go back as his friends needed him. The young Avatar exits his meditation and rises up on a tornado as rain begins falling; before returning to the town, he notices Old Iron beginning to rise out of the water.
When Aang returns, Katara and Sokka approach him. The former asks what Yangchen told him and Aang informs her that the iron was an ancient spirit's armor which needed to be returned to the ground and the land must be returned to its natural state. Sokka asks if that means the destruction of the refinery and the town, which Aang confirms. He asks Katara to ensure everyone gets out of the buildings and decides to see Toph's students for help with the armor, but he soon notices that the mask missing. Satoru returns on a forklift and informs Aang that he saw Loban and a couple of Rough Rhinos taking it down to the beach, who tells him that they need it back. Sokka and Satoru head down, though not before the warrior's request to drive is turned down. In the town, Katara takes aim at the cabbage merchant's restaurant, much to his horror, though she promises him new cabbages afterward. When he sees the forklift passing by, however, he brightens and calls the machine remarkable.
At the beach, Loban orders the Rough Rhinos to move faster and dismisses Kahchi's concerns about the stormy weather, but Loban tells them that waiting to travel would be the same as losing. Vachir turns to notice Sokka's boomerang cutting into the ropes they were using to haul the mask. Sokka shouts that the Avatar needs the mask returned while Satoru tells his uncle that his greed had nearly cost him his life in the mine. Loban tells him he does not have what it takes to be his successor and orders the Rough Rhinos to attack them.
Back in the town, Aang asks Katara if everyone is out, which she confirms. He looks to the sea and sees Old Iron continuing to rise, which she also notices before asking if he will turn back upon the land being returned to its former state. As Aang hopes this will happen, Katara tells him to hurry, to which the Avatar sighs regretfully about needing to destroy things; the waterbender comforts him with a kiss on the cheek. He asks her to make sure the townspeople stay safe, to which she assures him that she will handle it. Aang enters the Avatar State and forms an elemental sphere before rising into the skies.
Lao and Toph's students surround the earthbender, who remains unconscious. One of the refinery's workers call out for Lao, who indicates to him that Aang is targeting the factory. Horrified, Lao urges that they need to stop him; at this point, Toph awakens. He first tries to get her to continue resting, but Toph does not want to be treated like a "delicate house flower" and demands to know what is happening. Lao tells her that Aang is set to destroy the refinery and adds that not only would this ruin him, it would remove a symbol of international cooperation, something that could exist only in a world of peace. After he pleas for her help, Toph smiles and calls on her students to help him.
As Aang reaches the factory and fires three large fire balls at it, Toph and her students raise an earthen wall to block the blasts. When he asks what they are doing there, Toph tells him they are there to stop his assault.
Back the shore, Sokka blocks an arrow launched by Vachir and hands Satoru his battle club, though the engineer is not sure what to do with it as he runs from Kahchi. The warrior advises him to outthink his foe, something he does all the time. Proving his point, he uses his boomerang to knock Vachir's bow and arrow out of hands and taunts him over his lack of hand-to-hand combat skills. When the Rough Rhino tries to throw a punch, Sokka grabs his fist and flips him over, throwing him to the ground. Satoru runs to his forklift and smacks its engine with the battle club, throwing the buttons back at Kahchi, who is hit and also falls to the ground. Satoru subsequently asks if the strategy applies to bigger enemies; when asked how big, he points to Old Iron, who has entirely emerged from the water.
Loban tries to move the mask by himself and demands the komodo rhinos help him, but they run from the sight of Old Iron; he yells out that he will have them made into steaks if they do not come back. He soon turns to notice the threatening spirit, scaring him. As Old Iron lifts the mask toward his face, Loban, still gripping the ropes, rises with it. Satoru, desperate to save him, jumps onto his uncle's body and Sokka follows suit. The three are carried to the town with the spirit, hanging on for their lives.
Back at the refinery, Aang tries to explain why he needs to destroy the factory, attempting to convey who Old Iron is and Yangchen's now-broken agreement with him. He asks for Toph's trust, but she refuses, believing it just to be for the sake of a return to old times. Aang says that while it is true, reverting the town is also to show that humans can preserve and protect, but Toph remains angered at the idea of destroying everything people built and a sign of the future in the refinery. Aang tells them to get out of the way, but she simply demands he "make [them]". The Avatar fires air rings, knocking the students off the wall, but Toph holds her ground and raises a smaller wall, using it to fire chunks of earth at Aang. One of these hits him, but he is able to recover and block one last shot headed right for him. With the students back on their feet, they all metalbend at him, but he dodges all the attempts. Toph asks if he realizes how ridiculous the situation is and Aang tries to convince her that he would find another way if there was one. At that point, Ho Tun and Penga interrupt, pointing out the arrival of Old Iron.
As the townspeople watch Old Iron's arrival, Katara notices that Sokka, Loban, and Satoru are still clinging to his mask. She bends up a vortex of water which will allow the three to slide down; Loban is initially hesitant, but Satoru calms his uncle, telling him to breathe out slowly and let go. The three make their way down the slide; afterward, Loban thanks his nephew while Sokka remarks that he does not like water slides better than those made of dirt.
Aang tries to talk to Old Iron about how he works to maintain balance between the physical and Spirit Worlds, but Old Iron refuses to hear it, deciding to attack the humans instead. Katara blocks his fist with a jet of ice while Aang constructs an earthen being equivalent in size to the spirit and punches him. The Avatar and the spirit duel, attempting to throw punches at the other.
Toph watches the duel and calls on her students to help, noting that Aang is unable to break through its iron armor. She tells them that they will need to peel it off scale by scale, much like the "forest bowing to the east wind" technique. The four metalbenders take their stances and quickly rip the iron from the spirit's body, exposing Old Iron's form to a direct blow. Aang comes out of the Avatar State and notices what the metalbenders are doing; Toph directs him to take his shot at Old Iron's exposed chest. Aang does not comply because he fears the shot might be too much for him to take. As Toph tries to direct him again, Old Iron notices that she and her students are the ones responsible for the loss of his armor. She tells her students to run but they decide to stand by her. Aang jumps in front of him and tries to grab his attention, but with the spirit adamant on going after his friend, the Avatar re-enters the Avatar State and fires a jet of all four elements into Old Iron's chest.
The spirit is knocked down and left with a large hole in his body, much to Aang's dismay as he exits the Avatar State. Old Iron sadly remarks that it is too late for his kind and humans are now more powerful than the spirits, unlike how it used to be and says he was right all along, unlike how Lady Tienhai believed. Aang tries to convince him that he could be healed, but Old Iron continues his speech as he tears up, adding that his agreement with Yangchen only staved off the inevitable - there was no place for spirits in the world. The young airbender tries again to state his role as a balance between the worlds, but Old Iron only tells him that he is fooling himself and because the Avatar is a human, he will always side with humans in a conflict between them and spirits. Unmoved by Aang, he adds that at the core of human nature is the will to dominate and thus there can be no balance between the worlds. He pays homage to Aang before disappearing below the ocean in a stream of spirit creatures.
As Aang sadly watches the spirit disappear, Toph walks to the shore and approaches him. She says that attacking Old Iron could not have been easy for him and thanks him for saving her and her students. The two share an embrace as the clouds give way to the sun once more.
Lao addresses the refinery workers at their makeshift camp while the Air Acolytes help serve them food. The cabbage merchant tells Satoru that he had heard about how he made the forklift while Katara sits down with Nutha and Niyok; the girls share memories about their time in the Southern Water Tribe. The waterbender soon notices a saddened Aang on his own and she leaves to tend to him. Before that, however, Nutha stops her from apologizing, saying that she acted stupid and Katara and Sokka made Southerners proud.
As Katara approaches Aang, she notices that the statue of Lady Tienhai has been destroyed, which the Avatar speculates was the result of the earthquakes. He wonders if Old Iron was correct about spirits no longer having a place in the world, but Katara dismisses this, saying that if the Avatar has a place, the spirits must as well and adds that he should consult one of his past lives because the past and the future are connected by today and people like him and her.
As Aang starts to meditate, he notices several cranefish descend toward him. He soon realizes they are not normal birds and, at that moment, the form of Lady Tienhai emerges from one of the birds and appears before the young airbender. She explains her former role as caretaker and goes on to tell the rest of her story: after Old Iron left her, she took on a human form one night per year and ventured through the city, marveling at what the humans had created. It was on one of those visits that she met the city's prince and fell for him, so much so that she gave up her immortality and made her human form permanent. The two eventually married and he became king, but after she passed, he blamed himself for seducing her into giving up her spirit form. Tienhai goes on to say that spirits do not die but instead take on new forms and Old Iron was wrong; it is human nature to create instead of dominate. Aang is still worried because the humans failed to preserve the land, but she assures him that while humankind does falter, he knows how to learn from past mistakes and has done so before. She ultimately believes that Aang will create a civilization that preserves and protects as it grows and spirits will always have a place as long as humans create one for them. As the spirit returns to her cranefish form and flies away, the Avatar asks if he is sure this will happen, to which she only states that she hopes.
Three months later, a parade takes place in the town while work begins in a new factory operated by Toph and Satoru. The earthbender punches the industrialist in the arm, wondering why he has not invented anything, to which he comments that he was expecting her to "waltz back in whenever [she] felt like it". Toph remarks that her father raised her better than that. As Sokka sells meat kebabs, Katara looks on at the events in shock, telling Aang that it does not seem Air Nomad-like at all. He says it is not, but also kind of is, calling it the Spirits' Friendship Festival – the same tradition in a new form.
- Main article: Transcript:The Rift Part Three
- Xin Fu and Master Yu survived being trapped in Toph's metal cell in "The Guru" and subsequently gave up on their search for the earthbender.
- Noticing Satoru driving his forklift, the cabbage merchant became inspired, which would eventually result in him founding Cabbage Corp.
- Aang restored the connection to Avatar Roku he had destroyed in The Promise Part Three by re-crafting Roku's medallion.
- After his parents joined the New Ozai Society, Satoru ran away to Ba Sing Se, where he lived on the streets until he was taken in by his uncle, Loban.
- Lady Tienhai never truly died, but actually took on the form of several cranefish after taking on a human form, which eventually died physically.
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 Three's early production phase and trivialities as attested by the aforementioned crew members.
- Gene Yang (author-perspective, storytelling trivia):
- Yang sees parallels between Sokka and Hawkeye, as well as Toph and the Hulk from Marvel's Avengers (p. 158).
- The beginnings of Cabbage Corp are shown when the cabbage merchant notices the factory forklift (p. 182).
- The tension between the mortal and spirit realms was difficult to address. Yang uses the plot to foreshadow the conflicts that arise in Book Two: Spirits of The Legend of Korra (p. 215).
- Loban relented for his actions by joining the Air Acolytes (p. 225).
- Gurihiru (stylistic and artistic trivia):
- There were difficulties drawing General Old Iron's armor, which was a time-consuming process (p. 196).
- General Old Iron dissipates into serpent lobster spiritual energy, which the Gurihiru team decided to leave uncolored and depict only with light (p. 217).
- The absence of rain after the defeat of General Old Iron was meant to further emphasize the page in which Aang and Toph reconcile (p. 218).