“Okay, I confess, I know I might be a bit out of the loop here…” Bolin said. The motorboat was bumping across the waves, and he was trying to strike a balance between maintaining some element of surprise and still talking loud enough to be heard over the motor. He pointed at the vast ocean ahead of them where a small warship could be seen holding its position a few miles out from the Sunport dock. Behind it sat a smaller vessel. The two flew the same flag — that of the old air nomads — but the smaller one was tucked in the bigger one’s shadow.
“So, um, could someone tell me how we know that Zuko’s on that little guy, and not that big guy?” He pointed to each one in turn.
“The bloodbender said a boat, not a ship,” Mako reminded his brother. “That’s a ship.” He pointed to the larger vessel, not only bigger in size, but also bigger on the weapons. Bolin could see gun barrels glistening from here.
“Yeah, and above it…” Bolin said, pointing to the sky. “That’s an airship. I think we’re getting in way over our heads here.”
Izumi had to admit, seeing that their enemy had some method of air travel, even if it was only one machine, didn’t make her feel terribly confident. Not to mention the flags of the Air Nomads. Who would use those old designs? Did they think that putting up the symbols of the pacifist monks would stop anyone from attacking them?
Korra punched her fist. “We didn’t come this far to leave Lord Zuko behind. We’re going in.”
Bolin nodded nervously, but he still didn’t really very confident about this whole thing. Though, by looking at Tenna, neither did she. She at least had some companionship in Shadow, now.
“All of you will distract the main ship,” Tenna said, patting Shadow’s head and then scratching him under the chin. I’ll try to make this quick.” She glanced at Izumi, for a second, taking in all the worry etched in the Firelord’s face. “I will bring him back safely,” she said. “I promise.”
Watch yourself out there,” said Izumi in her best Firelord voice. “And remember my father is ninety-one years old. He’s not as strong as he used to be.”
Tenna nodded. “I understand.”
“Good luck,” said Korra.
“Yeah, what she said,” Mako chimed in. He cleared his throat. “Oh, and don’t do anything stupid. Like get yourself killed.”
“Same to you.”
She made a quick check of Shadow’s halter and saddle, both barely visible against his jet-black hide. Then, after a final, lingering look at Bolin she urged Shadow into the water and quickly followed after him. Clinging to his back in her dark clothes, she was barely visible, even to everyone on the boat. The eel-hound hurried off to the boat where Zuko was being held, while the big baddie ship that Bolin was supposed to help distract loomed closer and closer.
Okay, Bolin time. Bolin time.
Bolin wasn’t insulted that he’d been asked to join the group in charge of distracting the guys on the ships. Lord Zuko’s actual rescue party was only one person large, and it was Tenna. That made total sense.
But those enemies they at least had some information on. He had to admit, he was a bit nervous about going in and grabbing the attention of a bunch of evil dudes he knew nothing about.
He slapped both his cheeks and shook his head. He’d been the one to come up with the plan that defeat Sir Tomas, hadn’t he? He could come up with something for this, too. It just needed some flair. Some drama. In the movers, Varrick accomplished these things with lots of props, harnesses, and off-screen voice actors. Bolin would have to make do with what he had.
“Hey, Firelord, ma’am?” he whispered to Firelord Izumi. She glanced his way, looking slightly annoyed, but nearly as much as she had been before the whole defeating-her-evil-uncle thing.
“Well, I was thinking…” Bolin began. “That was a pretty cool thing you did back at Tom-Tom’s… stopping us all from falling to our deaths and whatnot.”
“Wait a sec,” Korra hissed, “I was helping with that, too.”
“You were? Oh, well then, both of you guys were cool. Girls. Women… were cool. Anyways, my point is, could you do it again?”
“Do what again?”
“Y’know…” He made a soaring motion with his hands. “Whoosh! Big entrance!”
Korra looked at him like he was a moron, and Izumi readjusted her glasses. He was pretty sure Tenna had mentioned something about that being a good sign.
“Well, we’ve already had one of your ridiculous plans work today,” she said. “Let’s try it.”
While the rest of the group stayed on their boat for the time being, Bolin flexed his muscles and prepared a classic Nuktuk pose. Korra stood behind him, ready to boost him up on a geyser of water, while Izumi readied herself to bloodbend him into flying across the deck like… like a lemur. Or a dragon. He liked dragons.
“One… two…” Korra whispered. “Go!” The water erupted beneath him. It wasn’t easy to keep his balance, and he almost toppled backwards. Then he felt his body righting itself. The water fell back from beneath him and he was floating a few feet above the deck with no less than a dozen crewmen staring wide-eyes at him.
This was, he had to admit, pretty epic.
Bolin cleared his throat and began to sing at the top of his lungs, “Ohhh… who’s gonna fight for friends and freedom? Nuktuk!”
He stuck his fist out and went flying forward.
“He’s the biggest, baddest, bending-ist man I know!”
The crew screamed and took cover.
“Who protects the Fire Nation? Nuktuk!”
Another series of geysers erupted behind him.
“Battling baddies wherever they may go!”
One by one, Mako, Izumi, and Korra were boosted onto the deck. Bolin pointed at the closet sailor, who was still cowering on the deck floor.
“When, um… When whoever-you-guys-are start trouble, I’ll punch you in the mouth!”
Korra made a flourishing series of waterbending moves that caused a wave to grab the cowering guy and yank him over the edge of the ship.
“I’m Nuktuk, Hero of the Souuuuuth!”
Bolin flexed his arms one last time for good measure. Looking around it seemed the performance had mixed reviews. Several of the crew were trying to help themselves off the boat, while more seemed interested in taking up the part of Unalaq. Oh, and there were boats. More boats turning in their direction. Bolin took a deep breath. He had a few rocks in his pocket that Tenna had helpfully suggested he take with him. Time to put those rocks to good use.
Scaling the side of a wet ship while it was rocking in the harbor was not the easiest feat in the world. The layer of moist grime felt like it was trying to pry Tenna’s fingers off each time her hands found a new hold. Then there was the ship itself, which groaned and shifted like she was some sort of biting leech-flea it need to shake off.
Still, she’d managed more difficult things in her life. With a final push of her muscles, she hoisted herself up over the edge and got a clear look at the situation.
Three of Zuko’s original five guards had already moved far enough from the posts to watch Bolin that she could easily sneak in and cut the ropes without them even noticing. All of the guards were tensed, well aware of the fact that their charges were exactly what the attackers were after. Fuse experimentally tried to direct her chi to fire a combustion beam, but no energy flowed. Made sense; the voidbender was still very close. She needed to know the girl’s precise range. Fuse continued to shimmy along the side of the boat until she felt the heat pulsing in her forehead, ready for her to fire at will. The girl’s range was actually shorter than she expected. She could use this as well. For now, she needed to get those last two guards away. She looked down at the ship’s side and fired a blast as far as she could. It hit the water, shooting a plume of water into the air. She then pulled herself up onto the ship as one guard ran to see what had caused the explosion.
Never leave only one guard, she thought. Then, with a solid blow to the back of the head, he brought him down without a sound. She then quickly pulled her dagger and began slicing through the ropes that bound Nanami and Zuko.
Zuko looked terrible. She’d never seen the man up close herself, though she recognized his infamous scar quickly enough. Zuko was well known for his diplomatic missions throughout the nations, riding around on a dragon, and twice putting up a battle against Pike and her allies. The man in front of her now didn’t look like he could go for a stroll without collapsing. His breathing was shallow, his skin sickly pale. His lips were dried and cracked, even though his whole body reeked of sweat. Still, he managed to lift his head enough to look her in the face. His eyes narrowed at her forehead.
“That mark…” he said in a whisper. Not as if he needed to keep low for the distracted guards, but as if it was as loud as he could speak. “Did my daughter hire you?”
Hire me? As if weapons get payment for anything? She shouldn’t have let his words sting so much. Maybe he really didn’t know all the details of where her mark came from. But he needed to know.
“I volunteered,” she hissed back, working her blade through the last strings of the rope. She caught it in her hands as it fell, dulling its thud against the deck. Bolin’s voice still rang out on the other ship, and she could see the guards pointing and chatting amongst themselves. She wouldn’t be lucky forever. At some point, they’d walk back here. She had to get out quickly.
With the rope loose, the voidbender stood and stepped away, seeming perfectly aware how far she had to get for Zuko to be out of her range. Without the rope holding him against the mast any longer, however, Zuko began to fall forward. Tenna caught him by the shoulders.
Dehydration, Tenna quickly realized. The technique used to disable waterbenders works on his bloodbending, too.
“It’s not me,” Nanami whispered, taking a few more steps back to emphasize her point.
“I know,” Tenna said, reaching for her water skin.
Zuko’s fingers flexed and he clawed at the empty air as if trying desperately to pick up some invisible object. He started to get to his feet, only to have his legs give out from under him, forcing Tenna to catch him again.
This time, the noise was too much. The four guards turned, quickly noted their fallen comrade, and all four of them reached for their weapons. One looked poised to bloodbend. Fuse gritted her teeth.
“If we survive this, you and I need to have a little talk,” she said in Zuko’s direction. “You, there!” This time, she called to Nanami. “I could use some help here.”
The girl was already in motion. She sprinted far enough forward that she could block the guards’ bending, but left enough space so Tenna was free to use hers.
Under Tenna’s careful aim, the deck railing exploded, knocking two of the guards out and sending splinters of wood raining down all around them.
That’s going to draw some attention, she thought bitterly. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go down. But she had to work with what she had. She prepared herself for hand-to-hand combat with the last two guards, when suddenly, someone else did it for her. It happened so fast, an untrained eye might have seen a black pool of oil slipping itself onto the deck and knocking the guards cold with the force of its blow.
Only this wasn’t some supernatural goo. It was the slick, muscular body of Shadow.
“Good boy,” Tenna said, grinning. The eel hound gurgled with self-satisfaction. It wasn’t quite time to celebrate yet, though. She still hadn’t completed her mission.
With no one trying to murder her this time, Tenna removed one of the two water skins from her belt. She twisted one open and held it towards Zuko’s lips.
He made the grasping motion again and, with a great amount of effort, it seemed, lifted his arm enough to grasp the water skin and guzzle from it greedily. Some of the water escaped in lines over his cracked lips and dripped into his matted beard. He took no notice. By the time the water skin had been emptied, Zuko’s breathing seemed a bit more normal and he was able to lower his arm with a much smoother motion than before.
“We need to get you out of here,” Tenna said. She could already hear scrambling footsteps from below deck. They were about to have a whole lot of company. “Do you think you could hold onto my eel hound while he’s in the water?”
“Get me out of this robe that’s making me look like a red and gold cactus, and I should be fine,” Zuko muttered. His hands moved with a bit more fluidity, but he still stumbled as he tried to get to his feet. Tenna rolled her eyes. She could see now where Izumi got her stubborn streak.
“I have another water skin,” she said, reaching for her belt. “Why don’t you take that first?” Zuko grumbled, but took her offering nonetheless.
“You won’t get too cold in the water, will you?” she asked.
“Cold?” Zuko asked with an insulted tone. “Try swimming through the ocean in the Northern Water Tribe. Now that’s cold.” He went back to downing the rest of her water supply.
“I want to help, too,” Nanami announced. Well, Tenna could hardly say she was opposed to that idea. She just needed to figure out where the girl could work at her best.
“Think you can drive this ship?” she asked.
Nanami crossed her arms. “Uh… not unless you want me to crash it.”
“Believe it or not, that is precisely what I’d like you to do.” Tenna couldn’t resist a grin as she added, “Also, if you’re feeling generous, I think there’s a certain United Nations general who could use your skills.”