“So, wait, why are we going to the Fire Nation again?” Mako asked, a large backpack slung over his shoulders. Granted, most of the stuff in it was his brother’s — maps, mover posters, and some weird lotion of Varrick’s creation that Bolin insisted would keep skin from burning no matter how sunny it got.
Korra glanced over her shoulder to the waiting sky bison. Though Tenzin had offered a ride on any number of the sky bison, they had somehow ended up with Opal’s bison, Juicy. Big, dopey, booger-nosed Juicy.
The animal looked at her now with lulling, saggy eyes.
Geez, Tenzin, she thought. Of all the flying bison in all the nations, why, oh why did it have to be that one? Of course, she might very well end up swimming her way to the Fire Nation if the two brothers didn’t hurry themselves up. “I’m going to have an im/portant diplomatic meeting with Firelord Izumi,” she finally answered Mako. “I have no clue why you two are here.”
“I’m going on a tour through the Fire Nation to promote, ‘Nuktuk: Hero of the South!'” Bolin announced proudly. Did you know the movers just now started to gain popularity there? It’s insane!”
“Uh-huh,” Korra said. Her gaze fell to Mako. “And why are you tagging along, again?”
“You want me to leave this guy wandering freely around the Fire Nation while you meet with Firelord Izumi?” Mako asked, pointing to Bolin, who was now opening one of the Varrick-Lotion bottles and rubbing it all over his face. The stuff smelled like rotten sea prunes.
“Fair point,” Korra said with a shrug. Lousy cover-up that you’re just tagging along because you’re worried about me, but fair point, just the same.
“Where’s Asami?” Bolin asked suddenly. “Shouldn’t she be coming to?”
“Yeah, unlike us, Asami has an actual job,” Mako reminded him.
Firelord Izumi got a great number of visitors from time to time, but Avatar Korra’s arrival was a surprise to her. So much so, in fact, that when one of her guards came and announced Korra’s arrival, Izumi asked him to repeat himself twice just to be sure she’d heard correctly. He then stepped aside and sure enough, there was the young waterbender standing in the throne room’s doorway. She looked around like a lost child and Izumi could not decide who seemed more out of place — her guard or the Avatar.
“There’s.. something else, your highness,” the guard said nervously. “The Avatar specifically requested to have a conversation with you in private.”
Izumi gave a wry smile. “A private conversation, hm? That should be interesting.” She raised a hand and motioned to the palace staff around her. “You may leave us. I will call you when you are needed.”
“B-but, your highness–” the guard stammered. Not out of rudeness or defiance, but that was the infuriating part of it. There was a look in his eyes that Izumi just knew past generations never gave the Firelord. No one ever thought Ozai would get hurt if he wasn’t being watched 24/7. But she was the nonbender, the helpless one. Even alone with the Avatar, her guards still worried about her. Especially with gangs of bloodbenders about the capital city.
“I understand your concern, but my father taught me to defend myself perfectly well, and besides, I’m here with the Avatar. If anyone could get through her, I’m quite positive you’d be just as useless.” She smiled politely as the guard’s face fell from the blow to his ego. Hanging his head, he walked out of the room. The doors echoed as they shut behind him.
“Now then,” said Izumi, settling into her throne. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”
Korra twisted her fingers. She’d thought Republic City was big when she first visited, but this palace took things to a completely different level. She wished she could have Asami here. Asami talked to important people all the time. Even Mako with his weird way of babbling when he got nervous would probably botch this up much less than she was about to. Still, she’d promised to keep this secret, and the best way to keep a secret was to go it alone.
“It’s… about the new bloodbenders. Iroh says there’s been some issues with them.”
Izumi frowned, but nodded. “My son is correct. We’ve had several gangs of bloodbenders causing issues in the capital. Most of them are still too unskilled to handle more than two or three officers at a time, but they do drain our police resources.”
Korra swallowed hard. “Yeah, so… Iroh, Lin, and Toph had a talk with me. They wanted to know what ideas I have for, um… y’know, for stopping these gangs.”
“And you have an idea? Or you’re asking me for an idea?” Izumi said. Her voice had gotten softer now. Korra had no clue if that was a good or a bad thing.
“I… have an idea. But I need your help with it.”
“With manpower? I just explained to you, we’re barely containing the problem here as it is. I have little resources to offer you.”
“No, no. I mean, I want you to teach me bloodbending. So I can use it to defend people.”
Izumi went silent. No widened eyes or raised eyebrows, just an impassive, focused stare, like Korra had done nothing but annoy her. Korra was now fairly sure that the soft voice had been a bad sign.
“And how do you expect a nonbender to teach you an advanced waterbending technique? Ask Katara if you’re determined to learn that dark nonsense.” She rose from her seat.
No, Korra thought. Don’t let her call the guards back in now.
“Katara doesn’t know it anymore,” Korra said quickly. Maybe if she just revealed that Izumi had nothing to hide from her, she’d listen to reason. “Zuko told me. Aang used energybending to move Katara’s ability to bloodbend to Zuko, and he…”
Korra stopped and Toph’s words flashed in her mind. “She detests that fact more than she ever lets on.” Bringing it up might just make Izumi more upset with her. But at this point, what did she have to lose?
“Zuko passed it onto you. He didn’t tell me. Not on purpose, anyway. He was trying to teach me to help with my healing and just mentioned he’d had another student, and–”
A crash resounded throughout the room. Bits of shattered glass started raining down on Izumi and Korra. On instinct, Korra started to run forward to protect Izumi, but felt her body jerked backwards. This wasn’t the floating sensation she got when Zuko had demonstrated his bloodbending skills on her. This was someone who had no issues with hurting her. Or worse.
Her breathing picked up speed. Not too long ago, this sensation would have sent her into a panicked frenzy. It threatened to now. But she had to fight it. She was the Avatar.
Korra looked up to face their attackers. There were three of them, two men and a woman. None of them bothered wearing masks to obscure their faces, and Korra realized when one of the men got closer that he was actually a teenager, no older than fifteen. His comrades looked closer to Korra’s age. The woman had Izumi pinned to a wall, while the man and the kid had their arms raised, attention focused on Korra.
When did I get old enough to think of a fifteen-year-old as a kid?
She tried again to step forward, but the attempt sent pain shoot through her body. She struggled to remember some of what Zuko had taught her, even a hint would help right now, but everything felt like a blur in her mind.
Meanwhile, Izumi remained calm and didn’t look the least bit upset that someone was in a good position to snap her neck. “I would exercise caution, if I were you,” she said to the woman. “The Avatar has mastered bloodbending herself, and I doubt she plans to wait much longer for the group of you to come to your senses.”
“Shut up!” the woman snapped. She moved her arms and lowered Izumi’s body slightly, only to shove her hard against the wall again. The impact knocked Izumi’s glasses to the ground. “We came here to give the demands, not take them.”
Izumi gave an exasperated sigh. If there was any pain, she didn’t show it. “Very well, then. Avatar Korra, do what you need to do.”
“You’ve got it.” The words didn’t come from Korra. Or, rather, they did, but not of her own free will. She could feel her lips moving, the sound coming from her throat, but she had no more control over it than she did her own feet right now. And then, suddenly, her arms felt free again. She stepped forward, flexing her fingers, just to make sure her attackers weren’t messing with her somehow. But when she looked up, all three of them were tensed up, grunting with frustration. She knew that look. Knew it better than anyone. Someone had used their technique back on them, freezing them in place. Izumi collapsed into a sitting position, but never took her eyes off the battle.
Now sure she had full control of herself again, Korra shot a blast of fire into the air and announced, “Get out of here, all of you! And if I see you threatening so much as a beetle-moth, you’ll get much worse than that. You understand me?”
None of them answered her. They were too busy scrambling up the ropes.
Later, when the palace guards had been assured that everything was fine, that their leader would not have their heads for being absent during the attack, and that she could not be safer than when she was with the amazing Avatar, Korra finally had the chance to spill out everything on her mind.
“F-Firelord Izumi? What you did today… that was unbelievable,” she whispered. “Your hands barely moved. And you still controlled three people. In the middle of the day.”
Izumi shrugged her shoulders, though she still managed to look regal doing it. “I keep telling my guards my father trained me to defend myself, and yet somehow they never do believe me.” She turned to Korra. “I now find myself in the awkward position of reconsidering your request,” she said. “As this gang has clearly seen what the Avatar is capable of, I have no doubt they’ll attack you again.”
“I’m sorry,” Korra said, hanging her head. “If anything I said before brought up memories, I mean.”
Izumi shook her head. “I am not upset that my father told you what I am,” she said. “Aang knew about it, and had your connection to your past self been left un-severed, you could have learned that fact anytime you wished. But let me be clear. When my father taught you, I’m sure he was quite gentle about it. I am not gentle. The technique is violent and dangerous and I’m going to treat it as such. Do you understand?”
Korra nodded nervously, wondering if it was too late to just go back to Lin’s first idea of letting Toph kick her around a room.
“Very well, then. Let us move to a space that is not full of broken glass, and we will begin.”