Aunt Zarah, Shyu soon discovered, was not messing around. A drive out to the docks, a quick jump into one of the princess’s waiting motorboats, then he and Mica found themselves on what had to be the most uninhabited island in the whole Fire Nation. Nothing but piles of volcanic rocks and the sad remains of some broken-down pyramids. Even the trees seemed determined to hug the shoreline, like they were contemplating their odds of swimming away. If anywhere was unlikely for people to be living, this was surely the spot.
Still, Zarah led them up the beach, around the piles of rubble, and into one building that was actually still standing, although Shyu had his doubts about the sturdiness of the whole structure.
“I remember reading about this place,” Shyu whispered. “Wait!” He reached out and took a hold of Mica’s hand, pulling her to a stop and making Bandit bark with alarm. He let go quickly when she gave him an odd look. Shyu rubbed his fingers. “Aren’t there supposed to be tons of traps to stop outsiders from getting in?”
Zarah rolled her eyes. “Well, sure. If you go in the front way.”
She brought the group to a stop in front of a huge granite door. Etchings of dragons and firebenders covered its massive surface. With a smirk, Zarah knocked on the granite door with a rhythmic pattern that Shyu couldn’t have copied if his life depended on it. At first, it didn’t appear to do anything other than make a catchy beat on the scratched old rocks. Within a few moment’s however, there was the grinding sound of stone against stone; the massive door slid open as slowly and majestically as a lion turtle. What it revealed made Shyu lose his breath.
The place beyond the door was nothing like they’d walked through. It had the same kind of buildings, to be sure, but they weren’t relics or ruins. They were whole, clean, and beautiful.
“Oh…wow…” Mica whispered. She sounded as out of breath as he was.
The man who’d opened the door was dressed in simple brown pants and a decorative neck piece. His hair was done in a high ponytail. Zarah clasped her hands together and bowed. The man returned the gesture.
“It is good to see you again,” he said with a smile. Then his smile fell as he looked at Mica and Shyu–not so much threatened by them as annoyed at their presence.
“And these are…your children?” he asked.
Zarah laughed. “Me have kids? Come on, now. This is my nephew Shyu and his friend Mica.”
“And is she of the Fire Nation?”
“Sure, on her mom’s side.”
“And my grandmother’s on my dad’s side,” Mica offered. “So…I’m more Fire Nation than not?”
The man blocking their way did not seem at all impressed.
“Oh, come on,” Zarah groaned. “She’s with me. She’s cool.”
“You’ll forgive me if I worry that our Sun Chief won’t be appeased by endorsements such as ‘she’s cool.'”
Zarah shrugged off the formalities. “Don’t be silly. Lily loves me. So can we go in now?”
The guard shrugged. “Very well. It’s your funeral pyre.”
He led them out of the doorway and into the full view of the ancient town. No, more than a town. It was a whole city down here. They walked down a street of stone houses with children kicking balls back and forth and markets full of fresh fruit and salted meat. This was insane. Completely insane. He elbowed Mica.
“Hey,” he whispered. “You know a lot about plays, right?”
“Um, yeah,” she hissed back. “Kinda my thing.”
“Right. So, in your semi-professional opinion…we’re , um, not in the middle of some really big stage production here, are we?”
As they walked, the man who was leading them signaled at another guard nearby. Shyu might not have noticed it if it hadn’t been for Mica pointing to a stall selling musical instruments. The guard nodded at the signal and disappeared into the crowds. The man leading them continued onward until they reached a building that, while it didn’t tower over its neighbors, certainly looked taller. More detail built into it, too. The doorframe bore the same types of etchings as the wall they’d passed on their way in.
“You will wait here for Sun Chief Pandalilly,” the guard announced, making no movement towards the door.
So that’s what that guy earlier was going to do, Shyu thought. Sure enough, within a few moments, the door to the building slid open and a figure, a woman, stepped forward to greet them.
The woman looked ancient. Really ancient. As in, if Great-Grandfather Zuko were still alive and standing next to her, it would be questionable which one of them was older. Her face was covered in colorful red and yellow paint that cracked along the deep wrinkles of her skin as she smiled at the two of them. Shyu felt awkward standing in front of her. He’d always thought of himself as mature, but to this woman, he probably looked like an infant.
She stared at him with a warm smile. “We were wondering when you would show, young prince.”
Well, that wasn’t what Shyu was expecting. “Um, excuse me?” he asked. “I mean, you know who I am? And you were expecting me?”
“Hey, just because they’re an ancient secret civilization doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s going on in the world,” said Zarah.
The chief smiled. “I’ve seen many from your family pass through our gates, little prince. Firelord Ozai’s brother Iroh sought our knowledge over a century ago. His nephew, Firelord Zuko later came for the same reason. He returned later still with his grandchildren. Your father and aunt, I believe.”
Shyu nodded tentatively. He noted that the chief never mentioned anything about Grandma Izumi. Or Kaja and Kiki, for that matter. Was he actually the first one of his siblings to be here and witness this?
But there was something off in the old woman’s story. Shyu turned to his aunt. “Wait, you visited here too?”
“Yep,” Zarah said, not too enthusiastically. “Back then, Dad thought he was keeping me from feeling left out. But all it really ended up being was a chance to Iroh to show off again.” She folded her arms and ended the topic there. Mica looked at her expectantly, but for Shyu, there wasn’t any more explanation needed. How many times had he been through the same thing with Kaja? He felt like he suddenly understood his aunt on a whole different level.
“So, then, tell me,” the chief went on. “What is your purpose here? Do you wish to visit the eternal flame? Or perhaps study the origins of firebending?”
“Um, actually,” Zarah said, rubbing the back of her head, “there’s a bit of a ruckus going on back at home, and I mostly just wanted to get the kids away from it.”
“Oh.” The sun chief–Lily Aunt Zarah had said her name was–looked sorely disappointed. “Well, in that case, you should at least go to the pyramid and appreciate some architecture while you’re sitting here wasting my time.” There was a touch of bitterness to her voice but not the deep kind. More like a playful punch that could only be shared between old friends.
“I want to know about that…origins of firebending thing,” Shyu said, but no one seemed to hear him.
Mako did not like what he was about to do. Not one bit. But it was part of the job. He didn’t like it when he had to tell Raiko about Korra and Iroh’s plans to take troops to the Southern Water Tribe against the president’s orders. He’d still done it.
And it cost me my relationship with Korra, he reminded himself but quickly shook off the memories. That was a long time ago. He had to focus on the now. Izumi seemed like a reasonable person. She would understand why this was for the best.
Then why did his hand shake so much when he knocked on the door?
“Hello?” It was Bolin’s voice. Thank goodness for small favors. He couldn’t have handled Tenna. The door cracked open, and Mako watched his brother’s face light up. “Hey, Mako! Come in!”
Mako did so, and the two of them shared a quick embrace before Mako took a seat in the living room. Tenna was there, too, though he didn’t see Mica anywhere around. He wished the room was a little more crowded. He didn’t like the way Tenna was eyeing him at all.
He cleared his throat. Time to get this over with. “Listen, there’s a lot going on right now,” he said. “Is Izumi here with you two?”
“Oh, yeah, she’s–”
“No,” Tenna snapped quickly.
Mako pressed his lips together. So the former Firelord was in the house somewhere. The place wasn’t huge, but it wasn’t exactly tiny, either. Going through a search if Tenna didn’t want him to would be no easy task.
Bolin looked between Tenna and Mako with complete puzzlement on his face. “What’s the matter?” he asked his wife. “Why are you so edgy? It’s not like Mako’s gonna arrest her.” Mako didn’t have to confirm or deny that accusation. As soon as the words left Bolin’s mouth, his eyebrows rose, and he gasped dramatically. “Mako! You are not!”
Mako held up his hands in defense. “What am I supposed to do? The whole city’s in a panic. If they don’t see some order restored, there’s going to be riots. And besides that, like it or not, she did break the law.”
“Oh, so saving my wife was against the law?”
“If we want to get technical about it, yes.”
It wasn’t the response they were expecting, and it stung to watch the shock in their eyes as he said it. Bolin’s expression hardened and he pointed to the door. “Get out of here, Mako. This is very…very un-bro-like of you.” It was a pretty typical Bolin thing to say. The angrier he got, the more his vocabulary shrank.
“I didn’t come here to ask permission,” Mako said. “I came here to make an arrest.” His muscles tensed. He didn’t firebend exactly, but after so many years of being on the force, his body shifted to be ready for it without conscious thought. And of course, Tenna with all her ability to read people, noticed right away.
“You seriously want to start a fight in here?” She positioned herself, too, a widened stance, slightly parted lips ready to inhale and expel a combustion blast at the slightest notice. He had no good counter for that. He’d have to sidestep. But there wasn’t a ton of space to move around in, and–
“Stop right now, both of you!”
Mako dropped his guard. He knew that voice. A door hinge squealed, and Izumi walked out into the living room, calm and collected and not the least bit threatened. She turned to Bolin first. “Your brother makes a compelling argument. Whether it’s for good reason or not, citizens are panicking. And if I expect to show people that bloodbending isn’t something to be feared, I can’t very well use it to skirt the law, can I?”
“Sure you can,” Tenna snapped.
Izumi ignored her and turned to Mako. “Go ahead and do what you came for. I’m not resisting.” She held out her exposed wrists, and Mako could feel a line of sweat running down his face. He wanted a way out of this. Stupid Bolin and Tenna. Why didn’t they fight him? They were ready to just a few moments ago. If there was a fight, maybe he wouldn’t have to go through with this.
He felt sick to his stomach at the thought. This needed to happen to restore peace. He couldn’t just wish for an easy out when people were depending on him. His shaking hand steadied as he grabbed the handcuffs from his belt and pulled Izumi’s hands behind her back.
“Lady Izumi,” he said. “For the crime of performing bloodbending in United Republic territory, I am placing you under arrest.”