Korra was making progress. She fell on the floor a lot less now. Actually, she hadn’t fallen on the floor once all afternoon. She was very familiar with the floor right now; its slick surface made falling easy. She always tried to work her way towards the few areas of the throne room that were actually carpeted, just to give herself a bit more traction.
“Watch your left side,” Izumi commanded. Korra had fallen for that trick before. She focused her efforts on her right arm instead, making sure to keep it within her control as Izumi tried to hold it down.
The Firelord smiled. “Not bad. You’re learning.”
“Yeah, but…” Korra rubbed her arm. “This is going to sound weird, but isn’t there anything you can teach me about bloodbending that isn’t all… um…” She never had much of a flare for words, so she circled her hands around and made the type of noises she imagined came from creatures under her bed when she was four. Izumi gave her the eyebrow raise for the fifth time that day.
“Clarify,” the Firelord said.
“Creepy,” Korra finally summarized. “I mean, I get it. I know it’s really awful that you can control another person’s movements. I’ve gotten the receiving end of that way more times than I would’ve cared to, all right? But I mean, it’s really awful that you can burn houses down with firebending, too. And we’ve got all this technology that depends on firebenders.”
Firelord Izumi steepled her fingers. “You want me to demonstrate something positive that could be accomplished through bloodbending?”
Izumi stroked her chin thoughtfully for a few moments. “Well, I can demonstrate how effectively I can keep your lungs moving when they otherwise would refuse to do so, but I gather you don’t care to nearly drown yourself for the sake of that demonstration.”
“Erm, no,” said Korra.
Izumi’s expression softened and she walked over to the red carpet in the corner where Korra was standing. The two of them knelt down, the huge portrait of Firelord Ozai looming behind him.
“There is… one thing I trained myself to do as a child,” Izumi said. “I can see if I still remember it.”
Korra nodded. The Firelord stood and positioned herself in a basic waterbending stance. She breathed deeply, like she was going into some sort of a trance. Korra was about to ask what exactly was happened when she suddenly realized that Izumi’s feet no longer touched the ground.
“No… way…” she whispered. She couldn’t help it. The little girl inside of her, who always watched any kind of flying animal in wonder, completely took over her brain. She remember how she couldn’t wait for the day she’d learn airbending, just so she could glide wherever she wanted. As she had to confess, as much as Zaheer had terrified her, something in her envied the skill of flight that he’d mastered.
Izumi’s arms were shaking now; a line of sweat rolled down the side of her face, and her feet lowered to the floor. She sat down instantly, panting from the effort.
“To lift a whole body into the air is much different than controlling just a few muscles in it,” she said. “But the effort is worth it sometimes.”
“Let me try,” Korra said, jumping to her feet. Izumi offered no objections and demonstrated the waterbending motions she’d used, slower this time so Korra could follow them in more detail.
“Let your whole body relax,” she advised. “It’s much more difficult if your muscles tighten up.”
“Got it,” said Korra. She closed her eyes and breathed slowly, imagining herself in one of Tenzin’s meditation sessions. Her muscles felt loose, but ready. She went through the motions Izumi had showed her, letting her arms move as if a strong wind simply happened to be blowing them that way. Then, finally, she focused all her attention on her own body and pictured it floating. The floor she’d slipped and fallen on so many times… she suddenly could no longer feel it beneath her feet.
“Very good… keep your focus…” she heard Izumi saying. There was some other voices far off in the distance, but she didn’t pay attention to them. Didn’t open her eyes, either, for fear it might all end the moment she did.
It ended soon just the same, though. Mako burst through the door.
“Korra, it’s Bolin! You have to–”
Korra’s face found the floor again. She grunted and sat up. Mako was standing in the open doorway, with several of Izumi’s guards rushing in behind him.
“Your majesty!” several of them stuttered at once, until one finally took charge. “We apologize! We knew this young man was with the Avatar, so we let him enter the palace freely, but then he suddenly ran for this room, and–”
“It’s fine,” Izumi said, pushing up her glasses. Korra could tell from her tone that it was the opposite of fine. She eyed the look of shock on Mako’s face. How much had he seen? How much it could Korra explain away? She’d had her eyes closed; was Izumi bloodbending at the time Mako burst in?
Calm down, the guards aren’t acting like anything is weird. It must have just been me they saw.
“Were you just… flying?” Mako finally asked.
“Y-yes?” Korra said. Then, she cleared her throat and said much more firmly, “That is, uh… yes. Yes, I was. Empty the wind! Enter and become void! I mean–”
“Okay, that’s great, congratulations,” Mako said. “Korra, we need your help. Some of those bloodbenders just kidnapped my brother.”
“What?” Korra asked. She thought she heard an echo in the room and looked back, realizing that Izumi had voiced the same thing.
“I think they were trying to get to you,” Mako explained. “Someone recognized him from the movers and thought you were a big Nuktud… I mean Nudtuk… I mean, arg!”
“Okay, okay, calm down,” Korra said, feeling more than a little strange at the idea of telling someone else he needed to cool off. “Do you know where they took him?”
“I think so. They’ve pretty much taken over this one town… Sunport, it was called. So I think if you go there, you’ll find them easily enough.”
“All right. I like easy.” Korra pounded her fist into an open palm. Izumi stepped forward.
“Sunport contains one of the Fire Nation’s largest harbors,” she said. “It’s a very strategic location, but one that would be difficult to keep. They’ve either got some asset we don’t yet know of or they’re idiots.”
“Well, they’ve definitely got idiots,” said Mako, rubbing the back of his neck. “But they’re pretty organized, too. I don’t think whoever’s running this operation is anywhere near as stupid as his subordinates.”
Izumi nodded thoughtfully. “All right, then. The two of you go and rescue your friend, and report back to me what you find.”
“What do you mean?” Korra asked. “You’re coming with us, right?”
“Um,” said Mako, “why would the nonbending leader of the Fire Nation come with us?”
The look Izumi gave Korra for that little slip up strongly implied she wanted to go back to demonstrating just how painful bloodbending could be. Korra quickly tried to cover her tracks. “Um, she wouldn’t. Obviously. But we were doing important… um, meeting stuff before you came in, and–”
“More important than rescuing Bolin?”
Izumi stepped forward and cleared her throat. “If one of my towns has been taken over, my army will need to plan a counterattack,” she said. “I hope you understand why this information is quite sensitive and why I would rather not discuss it with everyday citizens, however close they may be to the Avatar.”
Mako stiffened at the word “close”, which irritated Korra to no end. How long did she and Mako have to officially be not-an-couple before their friendship could go back to normal?
“I assure you,” Izumi went on. “I am putting your brother’s rescue at the top of my priority list. Go with my guards and prepare a hot air balloon. They’re a common sight around the Fire Nation, and I imagine they’ll draw less attention than a sky bison.”
Finally, Mako brightened up a bit and left. Korra thought she heard something about, “Where can I get a balloon guy” before he was out of earshot. She shut the door and turned to Izumi.
“Come with us,” Korra whispered before Izumi got the chance to scold her. “We need you.”
Izumi looked at her, not so much like she was shocked at the suggestion but more like she was shocked that Korra had been stupid enough to make it.
“If I were willing to reveal my powers to deal with these bands of ruffians, don’t you think I would have done it by now? You’ve been training for almost a week now, and you clearly retained some skills you learned from my father. You can save your friend just fine.”
Korra gritted her teeth. She knew the answer might be no, but she’d at least been hoping for some hesitancy on Izumi’s part. “These bloodbenders are causing chaos in your kingdom, you’re one of the few people who can counteract them, and you won’t come?”
Izumi shook her head. “Korra, you miss the larger picture. You think if I go into this battle and start bloodbending that my citizens will be grateful? They’ll be terrified of me. My father spent his entire life trying to show the world that the Firelord was someone who could be trusted. Not a tyrant, but a partner in world peace. You think that no battles arose during his reign in which bloodbending could have been a powerful asset? I refuse to sacrifice all his hard work. You will go without me.” And with that, she waved the Korra, making it clear that the conversation was over.
The words stung. Not so much because Izumi was refusing to help; Korra had kind of figured that would happen the first time she asked. But the sting came from all the other possibilities that whirled around in Korra’s mind as she left the throne room and headed after Mako. If it was really true that Zuko had mastered bloodbending seventy years ago, then how many times had he refrained from using it in battle, just to keep it secret? And was one of those times his battle with Zaheer?
Would I have ever been poisoned if Zuko had used bloodbending on the Red Lotus? She shook her head. Now wasn’t the time to get caught up in the what ifs. Bolin needed her help.