No one would ever accuse Korra of being a strategic planner. The most strategy she’d put into this rescue was to leave Mako with the hot air balloon so they could make a faster escape. But, hey, among the many perks of being the Avatar was the ability burst into a scene and still pretty much defeat anyone who came her way.
In her defense, she did at least look around before she threw the first fireball. She saw Bolin in the cage –now that seriously hacked her off– two fire ferrets, (when did Pabu find a friend?), and two opponents.
She’d dealt with the first guy already. He was wriggling back and forth mumbling something that sounded like, “Eh, wur the Avalar!” Now she just had to take care of–
Korra gasped. The woman standing next to the guy she’d metalbent into submission displayed the same eye-shaped forehead tattoo that P’li had. Her breathing sped up.
Okay, calm down, Korra. It’s one-on-one. You can handle this.
Bolin’s cage was strategically placed on some pretty sandy ground, but he was doing his best to climb through the convenient gap in the bars she’d left. If she could get a few rocks closer to him, all the better. Then it’d be two-on-one.
Unless this woman calls her friends, she thought. The combustionbender still hadn’t made a move; she seemed intent on watching what Korra would do first.
Do I use bloodbending to keep her from yelling? Strategically, it made the most sense, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
Then she lost her chance to think any more. As soon as Pabu’s ferret friend ran out of range, the combustion woman shot a ray of energy in Korra’s direction. The impact hit the edge of Bolin’s cage, leaving it broken and singed. Bolin squealed like a terrified kid as he toppled out of the cage and onto the ground. Pabu followed quickly behind him.
“Leave my friend alone!” Korra demanded. Then, just to prove she meant business, she sent a burst of wind in the combustionbender’s direction. The woman sidestepped it easily.
“I don’t miss targets that are only ten paces away from me,” the woman said. “That was a warning shot. Your friend can go.”
“Yeah, well, if you want to play it that way, then– wait, what?” Korra didn’t drop her stance per se, but her defenses lowered. Since when did the people she attacked actually do what she asked?
“My handler only captured him to lure you here,” the woman continued. “Here you are, so he is free to go.”
“But I want Korra to be free to go, too!” Bolin exclaimed.
The woman narrowed her eyes. “I’m afraid that’s not possible. I have my orders.”
“Yeah?” snapped Korra. “Well, your orders can bite my–”
“Why are you even fighting us anyways?” Bolin jumped in. He pointed to the guy wrapped in the bars of the cage, who was struggling to get his hands free enough to do some bending. He wasn’t having much luck. “I mean, that guy was a total jerk to you! Why do you want to be on his team?”
The combustionbender narrowed her eyes, and Korra thought this had to be the most ridiculous attempt to resolve a battle she’d ever been involved in. Even more ridiculous when it seemed like it was working.
“I don’t want to be on any team. I’m a weapon. I perform as my handler commands.”
“That’s sick,” Korra spat, getting into an attack position again. Okay, she wasn’t going to try bloodbending right now, but she was pretty sure she could take this woman with her air and firebending.
Only she didn’t get the chance to try. Just as she readied a fireball, Bolin ran past her, screaming incoherently. He was headed straight for the combustionbender.
“What the–?” she exclaimed. Her forehead mark started to glow, but Bolin tackled her as she fired, sending the beam blasting off into the sky. Korra heard it connect with something nearby, but she couldn’t see what right away. This was bad. As the two of them rolled along the ground, Korra ran up to defend her friend. Then she felt her arms being yanked backwards. She looked over her shoulder to see that the bloodbender she’d trapped in the cage bars had managed to pull his hands partially free. He couldn’t do much, but he could do something.
Tenzin would murder me for dropping my guard like that, she thought. Probably Izumi, too. I’d get murdered twice.
Still, the fact that she was thinking about her teachers’ wrath and not falling into complete panic meant some degree of progress. She focused on her arms. The bloodbender’s lack of full movement left him pretty weak. Compared to Izumi holding her still, this felt like Korra was being held back by a toddler. She focused her powers and ordered her arms to move back into her command. They did so easily. The bloodbender’s eyes widened in shock. Just to be on the safe side, she tightened the bars around his wrists and his fingers this time. Then she sprinted in Bolin’s direction, hoping she wasn’t too late.
The two had rolled past the sand on onto more sturdy ground, where a few trees had taken root. Bolin was struggling to get the upper hand.
She hasn’t fired at him yet, Korra thought with surprise and relief. She shot a blast of wind that was supposed to push Bolin away from the combustionbender and leave Korra with a clear shot. Instead, the two combatants turned at the last second, and the combustionbender was hit with the blast instead. She flew backwards into the tree. Then Korra finally figured out where the stray beam had gone. A sizeable limb felt from the tree straight onto the combustionbender, smacking her on the shoulders and head. Bolin squealed as he rolled back. Korra ran up to their opponent. She appeared to be knocked out cold.
“Aw, man!” Bolin said, getting to his feet. “That was scary!” He ran over the woman and pulled the limb away.
Korra inspected the woman’s limp form. There was some bleeding on the shoulder, and the obvious loss of consciousness, but she seemed all right otherwise. Korra could heal her shoulder if she had some water, but–
She heard footsteps approaching. “Um, I think this is about to get scarier,” she said. Silhouetted against the setting sun, she could see a group of armed ruffians headed right for them.
Bolin had scooped the combustionbender up in his arms. “Run for it!” he cried.
Korra didn’t argue. She should have; there was no reason to take along extra weight. The woman’s comrades would have tended to her injuries. Maybe she was just too focused on escape to argue with him.
The two of them kept running as fast as they could until Korra reached the grove where Mako had the balloon waiting for them. With a quick bit of airbending, she hoisted Bolin, the unconscious combustionbender, and herself into the basket.
“Go! Go!” she called. Mako didn’t have to be told twice. He blasted one plume of flame after another above their heads. Within seconds, the trio had floated into the air, far out of range of even the most skilled bloodbenders.
“What. Were. You. Thinking!” Korra snapped as the night wind whipped through her hair on the way back to the palace.
“What Korra said,” Mako echoed. “Bolin, what made you think that capturing the combustionbender was even a remotely good idea?”
Bolin shrugged, still holding the woman in his arms. Sweat ran down his face from his effort of running with her. “She said she was a weapon. Doesn’t that bother either of you?”
Korra hadn’t really thought about that. Then again, she had been trying to dodge explosions at the time. Mako spoke. Good, logical Mako.
“She was still working for the bad guys, Bolin.”
“Not by choice,” Bolin insisted. “Now she’s free of those guys. Who knows, maybe we can even get her to help us.”
Korra looked at him like he’d turned into a flying bison.
“Oh, right, that’s how it works,” she said. “So when the Red Lotus was trying to murder me, all we needed to do was kidnap P’li and politely ask if she would be on our side now. What was I thinking?”
Bolin made the sad face. She couldn’t stand the sad face. “They were being jerks, Korra,” he said. “You should have seen it. One of them even used bloodbending on her.”
Korra shivered. She knew they weren’t dealing with a nice crowd, but she’d have thought at the very least, they’d save the worst offenses for their enemies and not their allies.
Maybe Bolin is right. Maybe she wasn’t anything more than an object to them. She looked at the woman’s shoulder. The bleeding had slowed, but still hadn’t stopped yet. Korra reached into their water supply and drew some out, letting it rest overtop of the woman’s injuries. As she focused and moved her hands, the water glowed and the bleeding ceased.
“So, how exactly do you plan on explaining this to Firelord Izumi?” Korra asked as her hands moved rhythmically back and forth. “We can’t just let this woman walk free in the capital.”
Bolin shrugged. “I was hoping you would take care of that part.”
Korra groaned and splashed some of her water in his direction. Of course, everyone always thought that as the Avatar she had a great relationship with world leaders. Hadn’t anyone noticed when President Raiko kicked her out Republic City? Or when the Earth Queen sent an army after her?
I’m not exactly friends with Firelord Izumi, either. Korra shifted uncomfortably against the rough wicker basket. Even with Bolin safe, she still couldn’t get Izumi’s last words out of her head. “You think that no battles arose during my father’s reign in which bloodbending could have been a powerful asset?” Korra gritted her teeth. She knew next to nothing about Lord Zuko’s battles, but she still knew which of Zuko’s battles she cared most about — the one when he failed to contain the Red Lotus after Zaheer’s escape. Just thinking about it ate away at her.
Of course, the only way to know for sure how that battle had played out was to ask someone who had been in it. That meant asking either Zuko, who she was pretty sure wouldn’t be fully honest on the topic, or asking Zaheer, the man she could always count on to be way too honest. Also, the man that had tried to murder her.
No way. That is not an option. Bolin is safe now. I just need to focus on… Korra turned around to see the still form of the combustionbender lying behind her. She tightened her grip on the basket’s edge. …to focus on giving Firelord Izumi a really, really good explanation for all this.