Three years later…
Kuvira was defeated. Everyone knew it had been coming. The Earth Kingdom was too vast, too varied, too enormous for even the great uniter to pull it together. But Eli didn’t really care about the Earth Kingdom’s fate. His only disappointment lay in the fact that Kuvira had not had the chance to turn her great weapon on the Fire Nation. For all the crimes of its past, why had that not been her first target? The woman was a fool and deserved her fate.
But no matter. He would deal with the Fire Nation himself. He’d pay it back for all the pain it caused, no matter how long it took. He smiled with the thought and turned back to his task at hand.
His subject sat tied to a chair, head ducked down as if that would protect him. Eli’s son, Eagon, stood nearby. At Eli’s nod, Eagon cracked his whip and made a sudden, satisfying crack, and the howl that followed it was even sweeter. Eagon hadn’t even struck that time, just terrified the quivering man so much that the room now stank of urine.
“Now, I will ask you one more time,” Eli said. “We know you’ve traveled with Lord Zuko countless times. He’s got to have a weakness. I want to know what it is.”
“Nothing,” the man cried. “I never saw any weakness.” The whip cracked again, still hitting nothing and still igniting the same agonizing cry as if it had.
“M-maybe one time… but it was years ago.”
“One time?” Eli’s mouth watered. This was exactly the breakthrough he’d been hoping for. “What are you talking about? Explain, now!”
“I don’t know what happened!” the sniveling man sputtered out. “We went to visit this one village… this girl came and sat down in the front row of the meeting… and Lord Zuko collapsed. I… don’t know what she did to him, exactly. He was fine afterwards. That’s all I know. I swear, that’s all I know!”
Eli grinned and nodded at Eagon to ready the whip again. “Tell me more. Where you were, what you know about this girl. I want to hear everything.”
Korra entered the meeting room about as happy as she knew how to be. She’d finally gotten a well-deserved vacation, Asami’s business was doing better than ever, the Earth Kingdom was stable, and if Varrick announced this afternoon that he’d invented joy in a bottle, she’d completely believe him.
Probably he’d call it “Varrick-Joy”, she thought. “Only twelve hundred an ounce, people! Don’t miss out on these bargain prices!”
She laughed at her own joke while she took her place at the table. She’d been the last one to arrive. General Iroh sat at the head of the table. Lin was beside him and, to Korra’s surprise, Toph was there too. Maybe this was serious. In truth, she had no idea why she’d been called here. General Iroh had just said it was very important and they needed the Avatar to attend. She’d made her best attempts to glean from his tone what he meant, but seeing as how it was Iroh, she’d failed pretty badly on that.
Even if it was something bad, she could handle it. She was the Avatar and this was the start of the rest of her completely awesome life.
“Nice of you to join us, Avatar Korra,” Lin said.
Toph coughed loudly.
“Fine, fine.” Lin sighed and turned to Iroh. “An obligatory congratulations on the small helpless human who has now entered your family through the miracle of reproduction. Now if we can–”
“Y-you’re a dad?” Korra stuttered. The whole table stared at her like this piece of info had been printed in every Republic City newspaper and only she could’ve been clueless enough to miss it.
Iroh nodded. “Erm, yes, I am.”
“Since when?” Korra asked.
“Since five months ago.”
“Hang on, so…” she counted out the months on her fingers, “your wife was expecting during our battle with Kuvira?” Korra suddenly realized that her voice had gotten far too loud, but she couldn’t help it. There was no way she’d been this oblivious to Iroh’s family life.
“Erm, yes, she was, but calm down. It’s not as if she was in the battle with Kuvira.”
“I know that.” Korra crossed her arms, wishing she could explain her thought process better. Having a wife at home with a child on the way. What had Iroh been thinking, being off in the middle of a war like that? Shouldn’t he have been off doing… well, she didn’t know what exactly. Some sort of dad-like things?
Korra lowered her head. “I’m sorry. I just can’t believe I was standing there talking to you and didn’t know.”
“Yes, yes, congratulations all around,” Lin said loudly, waving her hand. “Now, if you don’t mind, we have some urgent issues to discuss.”
“Oh, everything’s urgent to you,” said Toph, leaning back in her chair. Lin pounded the table (as if that would prove the urgency of anything), but it was Iroh who finally brought the conversation back to its point.
“Quite frankly, Korra, we’ve got some issues with new benders. Most of the citizens who acquired airbending from the spirits dealt with it in a healthy way. Many of them are training under Tenzin right now.”
Korra nodded her agreements with the facts that everyone knew and Iroh continued, “But the fact of the matter is that it wasn’t just airbending that the spirits awakened in people. We’re starting to see new benders of all sorts — water, fire, and earth alike.”
“Well, that’s… good. I think?” Korra said.
“Iroh’s dancing around the topic,” Lin snapped. “These aren’t just general earth or waterbenders. They know some very specialized techniques. And that’s all they know.”
“So, wait. Metalbenders who can’t earthbend?”
Lin nodded. “Exactly. And lightning benders who can’t firebend. And the part where we’re having trouble right now. The bloodbenders.”
Korra felt a chill go down her spine, even though she was fairly sure the windows were all closed. Toph picked something out of her ear and tossed it on the ground.
“You’ve got… new bloodbenders?” she asked.
“Whole gangs of ’em,” said Lin, crossing her arms. “Mostly in the United Republic and the Fire Nation. They don’t seem limited to the full moon, and I’ve gotten reports that a few can even bloodbend in the daytime. I haven’t seen that for myself, though.”
“None of our officers can handle them,” Iroh said. “They can counteract just about anything we do. And I know my mother won’t admit it, but her forces are strained as well. We were… hoping the Avatar would have a suggestion.”
Korra breathed slowly. The most obvious opponent to a bloodbender, of course, was another bloodbender. Maybe she hadn’t finished her training with Zuko, but she knew that much. “I’m not sure what help I would be,” she said carefully. “Amon used bloodbending against me pretty easily.”
“And you kicked his butt just the same,” said Toph. “Go figure.”
“I got lucky,” Korra said. “Your best bet against bloodbending is someone who knows the technique themselves and can counteract it.”
“Oh, right. I’ll just round up these gangsters and ask if any of them want to work for the police. I’m sure that will go over well,” said Lin.
“Hang on, hang on,” said Iroh, waving his hand in the middle of the table to draw everyone’s eyes. “Korra, doesn’t Katara know bloodbending? I know it’s technically illegal, but perhaps she would make an exception and teach you just enough to use for defensive purposes?”
Korra glanced around the table. Everyone was leaning forward to listen to her now. Even Toph. “Katara’s the one who pushed to ban bloodbending to begin with,” Korra said. “I can’t imagine her making any exception to teach anybody. She… might not even remember how to do it anymore.” It wasn’t a total lie. Katara had not forgotten, but she couldn’t do it anymore, just the same. Unfortunately, Zuko was back to traveling the world again, and Korra was at a loss for who else could teach her. Unless…
“My last student hated these sorts of analogies,” she remembered Zuko saying. “She wasn’t a firebender, so she said they did nothing but confuse her.”
So Zuko had had another student at some point. But who would it have been? Someone female. And not a firebender. Well, obviously, not a firebender. Who besides Zuko and the Avatar would have two abilities at once?
She glanced around the table again. Lin had taken to massaging her forehead, while Iroh was deep in thought, stroking his chin. Toph stared forward, yet seemed to be focused on Korra.
“Hey,” the old woman suddenly announced. “Why don’t the two of you give me and Twinkle Toes some thinking time alone?”
“What are you going to do?” Lin asked skeptically. “Kick her around the room a bit until she gets an idea?”
“Now, if I did that and it actually worked, wouldn’t you be so proud of your mother? Go on, now. Get out.”
Iroh shrugged his shoulders while Lin walked out the door with a dramatic sigh and insisting they would be back in just a few minutes. Only when the sound of their footsteps had completely faded did Toph turn to Korra and ask, “Okay, spill. Who do you have in mind to teach you?”
“I-I–” Korra stuttered. Toph had been leaning forward while she spoke, feet firmly planted on the floor. How could she have been so stupid as to miss that? “No one. I–”
Korra groaned. What was she supposed to say? Sure, Toph probably knew about Zuko’s power, but what if she didn’t? Zuko had said it was a closely guarded secret, so maybe she shouldn’t mention anything about–
“I think it’s very sweet of you to try so hard to keep Zuko’s secret,” Toph said. “But give me some credit. I’m the one who first suggested that bloodbending might help him.”
Relief swept over Korra and she let out a long sigh. “Okay, good to know,” she said. “But I don’t know where Zuko is right now. He can’t teach me if I can’t talk to him.”
“I’m aware of that, but you’re thinking of someone else, aren’t you?”
Korra bit her lip and refused to answer. Whoever else Zuko had taught, she was sure he’d had a good reason. Just the same, he had taught it when it was illegal. Who would he do that for?
“He said he had a student,” she said hesitantly.
Toph nodded, like a teacher waiting for her dense pupil to come up with the right answer. Korra gritted her teeth. If the old woman knew something, why didn’t she just say so? But since she was pretty sure she would lose the waiting game, she tried to think of the answer Toph was waiting for on her own. A student… a woman… a nonbender. Obviously, someone close to Zuko. He wouldn’t do that for just anybody.
Korra’s eyes went wide. “F-Firelord Izumi?” she stuttered. “She’s a bloodbender?”
Toph smiled. “Way to use your intellect, Twinkle Toes. Thought for a second I really would have to kick you around to get those brain cells working.”
“B-But… why–” Korra cut herself off. She knew exactly why no one had told her what Firelord Izumi could do. For the same reason no one had told her what Zuko could do.
“So can she firebend, too, or…”
Toph shook her head. “Unfortunately, no. And she detests that fact more than she ever lets on. Quite frankly, if Katara still knew bloodbending, you’d probably have better luck with her than with Izumi.” She let out a long sigh. “But the way things are now, I think she’s your best bet.” She glanced at the door. “Seems our audience is about to return.”
She waited until the door opened and Lin and Iroh retook their seats.
“The Avatar had a brilliant idea,” Toph announced way more loudly than necessary. “We need a full analysis of this situation. We know what’s going on here, but our information on the Fire Nation is limited. Korra is going to visit Izumi and see what she can learn.”
Lin raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Wait. You and Korra were left alone to plan something, and doing an analysis was your first solution. Who are you and what did you do with my mother?”
“I’m getting crazy in my old age,” Toph said. “I’m sure it’ll wear off soon.”