Mica’s mind was racing so quickly that she barely felt the shoves of the crowd around her. Suddenly so many things made sense now. The nights her mom would wake up the whole house screaming when Mica was little. Or why she would always insist they take the stairs even when an elevator was faster. And that uncanny way her mom always knew what Mica was doing or feeling.
Mica plunged on, straight through a fire-escape exit, not caring if she got in trouble for using it. The weather outside was a hot and suffocating as the air inside.
Mom trusted them! They were our friends! How could Uncle Varrick do this? How could Lady Izumi, Mom’s best friend, do this? And the most painful question of all. Why didn’t mom tell me? Mica trembled, remembering the cold in her mom’s eyes when they had argued last. They tortured her! Stole her humanity! Killed my grandparents! And now the whole world knows!
Mica’s stomach turned, hard. She released Shyu to dart for a nearby shrub and heave violently. She rose, trembling and dizzy. Her hands clenched. She wanted to blow something up with every fiber of her being and to flames with the consequences. But her insides were shaking so hard she couldn’t even hold a basic earthbending stance, let alone focus enough to make an explosion.
But she couldn’t sit by and do nothing either.
She found Shyu hunched over, pressing both palms on the rim of the fountain. His entire body shook.
“I hope you’re happy!” Mica yelled at him, causing Shyu to whip around and face her.
“Me? How is this my fault?” He sounded as furious as she did, which was an odd tone coming from him.
“My mom never would have said any of that on camera except to make your stupid family look good.”
“Hey, I didn’t–” Shyu’s face flushed with rage. but Mica cut him off.
“Her career is ruined now! Ruined!”
“Don’t act like your mom is the only one who got hurt!” Shyu snapped. “The people will never trust my dad again thanks to this! And Grandma–” he stifled a sob. His grandmother hadn’t just lied, she had broken the law. “She could go to jail!”
“Good!” Mica spat. “After what she did to my family, it serves her right!”
Shyu’s eyes flashed with anger. And not normal anger either. This was something violent, like the way her mom got when she slipped back to her weapon training.
Shyu brought up his hand as if to slap her. He actually tried to hit her! but Mica stepped back and blocked the attack with her forearm.. She felt his hand clamp down on her wrist next, hot as an iron. Instinct and reflexes, all the things her mother taught her, brought up Mica’s other fist fast as a thunderbolt. She clocked Shyu in the nose, sending him staggering backwards in shock. Mica had missed his glasses, but there was dark blood pouring out of his nostrils. Her wrist throbbed. Mica glanced aside at it and was stunned to see blisters forming.
She didn’t hear Zarah’s car pull up. Didn’t even know she was there until she yelled, “What in the name of dragons–Get in! Now!”
Her order was oddly sobering. Mica blinked, really taking in her surroundings for the first time since they had come outside. Other students were filing out of the building now and clustering in groups to gawk and point at them. She looked to Shyu next and he looked back slowly, as if waking from a bad dream.
Maybe it was. Maybe this was all just a bad dream and she was going to wake up any minute…
Zarah beeped the horn. The harsh sound shattering all hope that none of this was real.
Aunt Zarah’s pressure on gas pedal did not lessen as they pulled onto the highway. “Now before either of you two idiots ask me,” she said as Shyu pulled his seatbelt on, “no, I did not know about my mother.” Shyu closed his mouth and tasted blood. He rubbed his hand across his nose and came back with a good red smear across his fingers.
“My nose is still bleeding,” he said. His aunt showed no sympathy, aside from reaching into the glove compartment, grabbing a pack of tissues, and throwing it at his head without looking.
“You two want to explain why you thought punching each other was a good reaction to this disaster?”
“Of course I punched him!” Mica spat. “He burned me!”
“Don’t be dense. Shyu can’t create enough heat to fry a hotcake.”
“Yeah?” Mica held up her arm, where the skin was still blistered and red, “Because this sure felt like a burn!”
Shyu winced. He hadn’t realized he’d hurt her that much. Hadn’t even realized he was capable of that.
“I’m…sorry,” he said, for lack of anything more creative.
“Shut up,” she shot back.
He did. Not because he was done being angry with her. Far from it. But given both their injuries, it felt at least worth the effort not to hurt each other more in the back of his aunt’s car. Mica cradled her arm and went back to staring out the window while Shyu went to work pinching the bridge of his nose and holding it over a wad of tissues. He hoped, at the very least, the adults had dealt with this disaster better than he had.
Varrick wasted no time in making sure everyone except himself was safely on their way out of the theater. Oh, the press thought they had every corner of this place covered, but they didn’t know Iknik Blackstone Varrick.
Once he was confident the others had gotten a strong enough head start, Varrick finally ordered the staff to open the doors so he could speak to the reporters. He set up a podium in the lobby (who didn’t have at least a few podiums hanging around, after all?), and let the vulture-hawks swarm in, all holding up their microphones like they were little electronic lifelines. The lobby hummed with tension, buzzed with the fervor of a bunch of people trying to get their own words out all at once; he could just eat it up.
“Now, now, one at a time,” he said, pressing his hands down in a calming motion. “I know you’re all excited to hear the inside scoop of the mastermind behind this movery, but I don’t take kindly to–”
A series of camera flashes went off in his face, and he had to shake his head a bit to make the little spots go away. In his moment of weakness, the laughing jackals descended with their barrage of questions.
“Did you know that Lady Izumi was a bloodbender?”
“What do you think should be the punishment for her crimes?”
“Do you believe Firelord Iroh has bloodbending abilities too?”
“Hey, hey!” Varrick said, waving his arms. The reporters kept talking, and Varrick realized the podium didn’t have a microphone. What kind of cheap podium did he keep in his closets without a microphone. Apparently, he had to do this the old-fashioned way. He put two fingers in his mouth and whistled with a volume that would have been heard over an active Fire Nation volcano. The room went silent, and Varrick grinned.
“That’s better. Now, I will answer all your questions, but we’re going to do it Varrick-style. And Varrick style means I start at the beginning and end at the end.” He cleared his throat, then raised his hands in a dramatic stance. “So, there I was, sitting in the editing room, the precious raw footage at my fingertips. I had to make sure that every micro-second of this movery was nothing but pure magic, and I dutifully examined each frame we had shot. On the first frame, there was darkness. On the second frame, there was darkness. On the third frame…”
He continued talking, and noticed that the reporters hadn’t moved a muscle and still clung to his every word. This was going to be easier than he thought.
“This way,” Zhu Li whispered as she led the group down a slim, dark corridor. The hallway had opened up from a secret door Varrick had revealed behind the concession stand. Sometimes, Izumi thought, the man was entirely too prepared for a mob to attack him.
“Are you sure we won’t be followed?” Bolin asked as he and Kaja tried to get around a tight corner at the same time.
Zhu Li smiled. “Trust me. My husband has his ways.” Kaja managed to push past Bolin, but started to lose his balance as he stumbled forward.
“Where exactly are we going to, anyway?” Yuki wanted to know as she caught her son before he face-planted on the floor.
“We’ll head to my and Bolin’s home,” Tenna said. “The security there is…well, you’ve met my hounds. If that’s not enough to scare away an angry mob, I don’t know what is.” Izumi noticed a wry smile on Tenna’s face as she spoke. A polite effort to defuse some of the tension. She wished she could find it in herself to smile too.
“…and then when I got to the 347th frame, I realized we’d left the lens cap on!”
Varrick listened with deep satisfaction to the collective groan of the reporters as they got clued in on the obvious fact that he’d been talking them in circles. Really, did any of them even pay attention when they interviewed him? When in his long and healthy lifetime had he ever given them a straight answer about anything.
One of the reporters seemed to get over her frustration more quickly than her fellows and held her microphone forward. “Mr. Varrick, please tell us. Prior to the creation of this mover, did you know that Firelord Izumi is a bloodbender? A yes or no answer, please.”
Now here was a girl who knew her stuff. There was no beating around the dreaded “yes or no” ultimatum without looking like an idiot. And Varrick wasn’t about to look like an idiot. At least, not any more than he could help.
“That…” he said, raising his finger as if to announce something very important. The other reporters all leaned in anxiously. “…is a question I will not answer without a lawyer present,” Varrick quickly slipped out. Then he stepped down from the podium and made a rush for the door. “Press conference is closed!” he called back at the stunned crowd. “Thanks for your time!”