Izumi had to admit, she hadn’t really expected the best idea offered in the war room to come from Bolin. In fact, when he’d started to talk, she’d been tempted to suggest leaving him behind. Now they were following his plan essentially to the letter.
Of course, following Bolin’s plan also required letting herself, her son, and the Avatar be bound and gagged and marched through the streets of Sunport straight to her insane uncle who wanted them both dead. She couldn’t exactly say she was comfortable with that. Still, she kept walking, one foot in front of the other, doing her best to look furious and defeated.
The citizens of Sunport were easy enough to distinguish from the bloodbenders who’d taken control of the place. When a citizen saw their leader captured and being marched to certain death, their eyes filled with fear and desperation. The bloodbenders, however, grinned when they saw her, like they’d just been told a marvelous joke.
Izumi coughed beneath the gag. Tenna had made the knots so that they looked convincing but could be undone quickly and easily. Still, Izumi decided she quite hated acting. Especially acting like she had no control.
“Okay, move it, people!” Bolin announced loudly, giving her arm a tug. “We got some VIKPs we need to get to Sir Tomas right away!”
“Master Tomas,” Tenna coughed behind him.
“VIKPs?” Mako muttered as he clutched Iroh’s arm and kept walking.
“Yeah. Very Important Kidnapped People. Keep up with your evil lingo, bro.”
Mako rolled his eyes, but kept walking. They got a good distance with no questions, but Izumi started to notice that the deeper they got into the town, the more the ratio of bloodbenders to normal citizens increased.
She saw some genuine unease in her son’s eyes, too.
At last, one of the bloodbenders did step in front of them and held out his hand to stop Bolin. “You say you’re going to the boss?” he asked gruffly.
“Um, yeah, obviously,” Bolin said, nodding his head towards Izumi. “Since we’ve, y’know, captured the Firelord and General Iroh and the Avatar.”
The back of Izumi’s neck started to sweat. This suddenly felt like a terrible plan. She glanced over her should as a few more people began to gather around. Including, from a building they had indeed just passed a few moments ago, a man who bore the combustionbender’s tattoo on his forehead.
“Yeah, ‘obviously‘,” the bloodbender grunted back to Bolin. “Except I assume you’d know when you just passed the boss’s place.”
Izumi’s breathing sped up. This had been an awful idea. She should just use her bloodbending now and get them all out of here. But she had to hold back. Had to trust them just a bit longer. She had to suppress that desire for control.
“Why would we know where the boss stays in Sunport?” Mako said. “We’re part of the boss’s… um, secret elite group. That was sent to…” He glanced at Korra, who despite her bonds, still looked quite eager and able to murder him. “…to capture the Avatar. So, we’ve been out of town because we had more important stuff to do than you. Like… capture the Avatar.”
The man blocking their path didn’t say anything to that. Instead, his eyes fell to the back of the group, where Tenna had been following silently behind. Now she stepped forward so everyone could see her tattoo clearly.
“Another weapon?” the bloodbender asked.
“That is correct,” Tenna said with a nod. “And my handlers here are telling the truth. Though it is not my place to say, I would certainly advise that you direct them where they ask, lest they are forced to prove their bloodbending skills to you.”
“Skills, huh?” the man spat. “I ain’t heard of no ‘elite group,’ and I say there’s no one better at this skill than me.”
Tenna shrugged. “I did issue a warning.” She then turned, bowed to Bolin, and stepped to the back of the group once again.
“Well,” said Bolin, puffing his chest up. “I say that the stuff you say is wrong.” He got into an impressively accurate bloodbending stance. Izumi was impressed. She’d only had about an hour to go over the basics with him before they moved out. Bolin’s opponent took his stance as well, narrowing his eyes. There was doubt in those eyes now. Not much, but it was there. He shifted into a more defensive position.
Izumi exchanged glances with Korra and Iroh. The three of them stood in a triangle, insuring that Izumi’s hand movements would go unseen. It looked convincing enough like they were trying to step out of the way of the upcoming fight.
Mako stood next to them. “Don’t try to run,” he said, louder than necessary. “Don’t forget that I, too, am a very skilled and evil bloodbender.”
“Bwa-ha-ha!” Bolin laughed, even more unnecessarily loudly. “Not as skilled and evil as me! Eat this!” He swung upwards. Izumi flicked her wrist. Even though Bolin’s opponent had prepared himself to fend off an attack, against Izumi, he didn’t stand a chance. The man went flying into the air about five feet. Izumi sensed some meager attempts on his part to bloodbend Bolin down to his knees, but she focused and kept him standing straight. Then, when Bolin brought his arms down, she brought his opponent down too, slamming his face into the dirt.
His comrades watching quickly backed away, looking terrified. The combustionbender had no change in expression and stepped forward.
“I believe that is enough of a demonstration,” he said. He glanced at Tenna. “843.”
She nodded, though her voice was a bit shaky. “459.”
Their weapon numbers, Izumi thought with a shiver. The combustionbending man apparently needed no more of an exchange than that and led the group a few houses back. Why wouldn’t he? What reason would he have to think she’d ever turn traitor?
Izumi supposed, in hindsight, that which house her uncle was staying in should have been fairly obvious. He was never a subtle man, and never one to settle for anything less than the best in life. The home he’d taken over was only the most luxurious in the neighborhood. Izumi allowed herself to be led through a set of elaborate iron gates and up a long pathway that led around to the back of the house. Or, more accurately, the mansion. The combustionbender made a series of knocks on the door, though Tomas opened it when it seemed like the man was only half finished.
“Oh, enough of that nonsense. Did you find out what was causing that commotion out in the stree–” His eyes fell straight to Izumi. A hungry grin spread onto his face. “Is this… I can’t really have this much good fortune, can I?” He held Izumi’s chin and studied her face. It took all her control not to pull herself free and send him flying across the room. Patience… patience…
Tomas stole a sideways glance at the rest of the crew. His eyes lingered on Korra and Iroh. He did not seem to notice Mako, Bolin, or Tenna’s existence. Suddenly, he burst into laughter, getting spit on Izumi’s face as he did. Now she was ill and barely containing her desire to bloodbend him across the room.
“Little Izumi,” he said when he’d gotten control of himself. “Precious, little, nonbending Izumi. Oh, you really are a foolish girl to let yourself out of that palace. I thought you had more sense than that.” He stepped to the side and, at his signal, the combustionbenders (both of them, Izumi noted), shoved Izumi, Korra, and Iroh into the mansion’s entrance hall. It looked to be about the size of a small ballroom, with two sets of staircases in the far back leading up to a loft. Bolin and Mako stepped into the place last, doing their best to look as unimportant as possible.
Korra and Iroh crumpled to the ground and didn’t attempt to get up. Izumi stayed standing. She had to do at least that much. And her uncle seemed more than happy to keep it that way.
“Why did you attack my father?” she asked, and for some reason, her voice sounded muffled, her jaw stiff. The gag. In her fury, she’d forgotten it was even there.
Her uncle smiled. “I’ll assume you’re asking about your daddy. Well, if you came looking for him, I’m afraid he’s not here. He’s already been delivered to… a certain creditor. But don’t worry. I’ll make sure you see each other before your deaths.”
He looked over the group, and for the first time, his gaze fell to Bolin and Mako. “Ah, you must be new recruits. Don’t think I’ve seen you around before, but nice work.”
Tenna stiffened. The man she’d called 459 narrowed his eyes. “They claimed to know you already, sir. Said they were part of an elite force that I and your underlings were unaware of.”
The gleeful expression on Tomas’ face quickly turned sour. “And you believed a ridiculous lie like that?”
“I… they had a weapon…” He locked eyes with Tenna. For a moment, Izumi saw the regret in her face. She didn’t want to fight him. But they had to. There was no other choice. 459’s face contorted with anger.
“Defective weapon,” he hissed. “You’re just another Pike, aren’t you?”
Now Tenna’s face filled with rage. “Her name was P’li. And she was not an object.” She gritted her teeth. Then, with a single pull of the correct rope, she undid all the knots that held her supposed captors still. “And I am no object, either.”
“Kill them!” Tomas screamed. He reached forward and grabbed Izumi’s arm, presumably to pull her out of the fire or use her as a hostage. A blast of fire from Iroh blocked his move.
Izumi backed up. Iroh was already trying to get her to the door. “I don’t need you to–” she began.
“I know,” he said. “But you’ve kept your secret this long. You shouldn’t have to reveal it for a creep like him.”
She disagreed. Her son meant well, but by this time, she’d had enough. Enough of trying to hide her powers. Enough of giving up control. Iroh tried to lead her towards the door, only to just barely miss a combustion blast that shattered a hole in the marble floor at his feet. He backed out and tried for the staircase in the back instead. Bolin ran up beside them and created some helpful cover by turning a line of marble into… was that lava behind them?
She shook her head, hardly in a position to question what the ever-widening limits of what bending could do. Instead, she and Iroh hurried up the stairs while Mako, Bolin, Tenna, and Korra tried to bring down the combustionbender.
Her uncle Tom-Tom didn’t seem to have the sense to get out range himself. Instead, he kept himself by the combustionbender’s side, sometimes peeking out from behind the huge man to yell an obvious command like “get them!”
With so many elements against him, the combustionbender really should have started losing quickly. Only he didn’t.
Tenna got off a good shot, bending one of her beams around her former comrade to aim straight at Tom-Tom. The weapon jumped back, shoving his master back with him. He then fired back a blast that did not bend, but left a hole in the floor nearly twice the size that Tenna’s had.
His number was much lower than Tenna’s, Izumi realized when she reached the loft. Does that mean he’s been training that much longer than her?
It didn’t seem to be an inaccurate assumption. The combustionbender was adept at taking advantage of his bending range while keeping his opponents at a distance. Mako’s firebending couldn’t touch him; he quickly resorted to lightning strikes. They were all deflected. Bolin sent a crack through the flooring, tinged with glowing red lava, but 459 jumped away from it before it even got close. Bolin tried a second and a third time, with the same result.
“Knock it off!” Mako snapped. “You’ll bring the house down at that rate.”
“Well, I’m doing the best I can!” Bolin yelled back. “Where’s Korra?”
An excellent question, though with less-than-excellent timing. The Avatar had been trying to take advantage of the distraction and get close enough to the combustionbender to fall within bloodbending range. As Mako and Bolin were pushed further and further back, finally forced to start retreating up the staircase, Korra made her move. Feet planted firmly, she reached forward and gritted her teeth. Izumi could see the shock in 459’s face as his arms were yanked backwards. But he quickly fought back. Izumi could see Korra struggling to maintain her grip. 459 was able to turn his head just enough. His tattoo began to glow.
Thankfully Korra didn’t miss it. “Whoa!” she yelled, using airbending to hoist herself up and avoid the blast. Tom-Tom began cursing up a storm at this turn of events, ordering 459 to “just keep shooting ’til she’s dead!”
A series of rapid-fire shots pounded into the floor, each one barely missing Korra as she leapt and avoided them in a way that certainly would have made Aang pound.
Then, one shot went over Korra’s head. Izumi looked over to see Tenna balancing on the railing. When had she even gotten up there? She wasn’t as fast as her former comrade, though, and not nearly as accurate. He returned a beam that she had to tumble to avoid. A shattered chunk of railing pummeled her in the side, and she cried out in pain.
“Okay, stopping this guy from blasting us to bits would be really useful right now!” Bolin yelled at Korra.
“I tried!” Korra yelled back. “He still fires, even when I hold him still!”
She had backed all the way up the steps now, and Tenna moved to whisper in her ear, “He has to take a breath first. The longer the breath, the farther the beam will go.”
“So you’re saying… I have to make him stop breathing?” Korra hissed. “I can’t do that!” Another blast shattered a chunk of railing. Izumi winced. This was the problem with Korra, the problem she’d had since the beginning. She said she wanted to master bloodbending, but she was never willing to use it, really use it, when she needed to. She didn’t have the confidence that she could disable without killing, and that made her hesitate.
But Izumi was confident. She had to be.
459 was moving closer towards them now. With nothing but a line of huge windows at their backs, and only two skinny staircases as a way to get back to the bottom level, they were effectively trapped. Iroh stood beside his mother, still trying to shield her. She stepped out from behind him.
“Mother…” he began, but she shook her head.
“I appreciate what you’re trying to do,” she said. “But I think the Avatar was right.”
“I was?” Korra said, confused.
Izumi nodded. “I can’t keep holding onto my secret at the expense of others.” She nodded at Korra. “Don’t worry. He’ll be okay.”
She stood out in full view. The combustionbender was still just out of bloodbending range for Korra. But a few more steps and Izumi was perfectly in range. She held out her hands.
At first, his whole body tensed, confusion rushing over his face. Then she heard the small, shallow gasps as he tried to expand his lungs for air, but couldn’t. He froze in his place, grabbing his throat.
“What the–?” Tom-Tom ran up. It didn’t take him very long to look between his weapon and Izumi to figure out what was going on. But instead of expressing shock or fear, he just laughed. So hard Izumi thought he might choke on his own spit. “Oh, your daddy passed on that little trick to you? And you’ve been hiding it all this time?” He threw his head back and somehow managed to laugh harder. “Oh, this is too precious. I can’t wait to bring your corpse to your father.”
He pointed and yelled at 459, “Shoot her!”
But of course, the man couldn’t. Izumi watched him stumble as he kept trying to draw in more of a breath, but he failed every time. He’d been getting dizzy soon. Just a little bit longer and he’d pass out from the lack of air. But Izumi wouldn’t let him die. He’d been used, just like Tenna had. She wasn’t sure how, but they’d find a way to help him.
Seeing his best defense not acting on command made Tom-Tom shake with rage.
“She’s right there, you fool!” he screamed. He jabbed his finger in Izumi’s direction, as if he could kill her just by proving her existence. “Shoot her! Shoot! Her!”
Izumi watched her uncle’s hysterics with a bizarre fascination. Was the man completely mad? Didn’t he realize he’d already lost? Tenna’s attention, however, didn’t seem to be on Tom-Tom. She was watching the combustionbender, and whispering in a horrified voice. “He’s going to… he can’t be trying…” Izumi took a quick glance at the combustionbender. His tattoo had started to glow.
“Get out!” Tenna screamed. No one took any time to doubt her. Each person dutifully threw themselves back against the window. Glass shattered around them and Izumi felt herself falling. She had to slow herself down or she’d be hurt. Had to slow everyone down or they’d be hurt. With fleck of glass sprinkling past them like snow, she focused her powers on herself and the five bodies around her.
Fall slower. Fall slower.
She felt like a waterbender trying to hold back an ocean. And yet she seemed to be having some success. The shards of glass seemed to be going past them more quickly, the ground approaching more slowly. Every muscle in Izumi’s body strained; her mind felt as if it were aflame. She looked around to see that the Avatar was struggling as much as she was. And it brought just the smallest sensation of relief. Eventually, though, she couldn’t maintain her hold anymore and had to release everyone. They all fell about four feet at most to the soft grass while an explosion erupted from the mansion’s shattered windows.