The nerve of him… Tenna fumed. The absolute nerve! Mako’s words were still roaring through her head triggering the start of what was going to be one heck of a migraine later. Or maybe that was just from the wine. She wasn’t sure and didn’t really care either. She was too busy being furious to care.
He’s lucky Bolin is his brother. Otherwise… otherwise… I would have blown him straight to the moon.
Okay, maybe nothing quite that drastic, but she would have done something. Maybe punched that bossy scowl off his face? Yes. In a crowd.. no…in front of General Iroh and his troops so everyone could see. That would teach him some respect.
She stomped on, mentally playing out Mako’s theoretical butt-kicking. She would have stomped all the way back to the palace if she could. But the capital was large and foreign to her, and after circling the same block twice, Tenna finally had to force herself to calm down enough to ask one of the local street guards for directions.
The moon was halfway across the sky by the time she was finally back on palace grounds. The Fire Palace looked eerily empty at night. No surprise really. The only ones up at this hour, aside from, well, her, were the nightshift guards that got to sleep during the day. Tenna could just imagine the snarky comments she was going to get when she came strolling into the barracks… all fancy in her dress, and pompom boots, and tiara. She probably reeked of wine too, which wouldn’t help either.
A horrible thought struck her. What if the guards snitched on her to Griff? Or Firelord Izumi for that matter? She’d be punished for sure.
Well then, only one way to avoid that. And that was to dodge the guards altogether and slip into her bed right under their noses. No easy task. To do it, Tenna would have to become a weapon again. Just for a little while. Not to hurt anyone, of course. Just to use some of those honed sneaking-about skills. It would be faster if she cut directly through the palace, instead of going around the long way to the barracks.
Only a few stray window lamps were still lit in the palace itself. Tenna made for the closest lighted one, a room on the top floor. Because thumping her way through a strange room in the dark would just wake up whomever was staying there. And she didn’t want that. There was a risk of the room’s occupant spotting her of course, but if that happened… she’d just put on an act like she had at the theatre. Something tearful. With Mako being an insensitive jerk, perhaps? Yes. That would do fine.
Tenna didn’t expect the climb to the third floor balcony would be that hard. But for some reason, the wine maybe, it was. By the time she finally reached the balcony her headache had escalated into a full-out migraine and she was drenched in sweat.
On the good side, the room she had chosen to sneak through was actually more like a suite. The room with the lit lantern was a study area. Along one wall there was a finely carved antique desk, several ornate bookcases stocked to the brim with volumes, and several comfy looking, padded chairs. Along the other wall was a fancy couch and a table strewn with more books and a tray of tea. Not a bad setup, actually. Whoever was staying here must have been important. Best do her sneaking quickly and not bother them.
Lucky for Tenna, the guest was nowhere to be seen.
Probably in the bedroom. Tenna noted the large doors across the room. One was only just slightly ajar. Silent as a meadow vole, Tenna crept through the window and tiptoed towards the exit. Easy as can be. Until she banged her hip into the end table she hadn’t noticed in her scouting and nearly sent a framed picture crashing to the floor. She caught it just in time, lost her grip, caught it again and hastily replaced it on the table. It was a family picture. A father, mother and two kids, one boy and one girl. The man had his arm lovingly around his wife. Tenna could tell from his face that he had a kindly disposition. Much like her own father.
My father? Pain flared, seemingly out of nowhere. Tenna bit her lip focusing on the picture to try and force away tears. The kids were far apart in age, at least a decade or so. The boy was maybe fourteen in the photo. He looked like a polite young man, standing there quietly beside his parents with only just the vaguest hint of a smile. The girl on the other hand had a grin out to her ears. A true spotlight grabber, that one, even in diapers.
I bet their mother is proud. Tenna’s eyes flicked up to the mother in the picture and widened. Was that…?
Footsteps sounded somewhere behind her, to close to avoid. Flames, her reflexes were crap tonight. She started to bolt towards the exit. Someone grabbed her. And not the way she was expecting they might. This was an invisible grab over her entire body.
She made a little squeaking noise as she watched her own feet rise from the floor.
Bloodbending? Here? Tenna was whipped around to face her attacker and she was startled to see Firelord Izumi standing there. Izumi was startled, too. Her grip slackened, lowering Tenna to the floor.
“Fuse?” she asked. And it took Tenna a second to remember that “Fuse” had been her old name. “What are you doing?”
“I uh…got lost.” Not exactly true, but not exactly a lie either.
Tenna could see Izumi studying her, making note of her outfit, her disheveled appearance, and the late hour. For a second her eyes even flitted to the door, wondering, perhaps, why her guards would have allowed Tenna to come barging passed them at this time of night. Then she raised an eyebrow.
“How did you get in here?”
That was an easy one, at least. “Oh, through the window, milady.”
Izumi’s mouth opened a little. “I’m on the third floor…”
“Yeah, I know. I climbed two floors to get here.”
“You climbed two floors to…” Izumi trailed, seeming to realize something. “Are you drunk, Fuse?”
Odd, Izumi didn’t sound angry. Or even annoyed for that matter. She looked tired though. Tenna could see bags under her eyes and the kind of strain that could only come from anxiety and sleep deprivation. “I am,” Tenna said, deciding Izumi was probably in no mood to deal with the excuses she was originally going to use. She smiled a drunken smile. “Or at least I hope I am. Otherwise milady should really get some new floors. These are a bit…uneven.”
Fuse wobbled backwards and sat down on the couch She was startled when she sank into it. Leave it to the Firelord to have the comfiest couch ever. She leaned her head back, closing her eyes halfway as her head pounded.
“So. Now you know my reason for being up at this hour. What’s yours?”
Flames that came out rude. Oh well. To late to take it back now.
Izumi’s mouth quirked and she inched up her glasses with her index finger. “Official Firelord business. Nothing to concern yourself with.”
Tenna snorted. She couldn’t help it. “Come on now. I’m drunk not stupid. It’s obvious you’re worried about something.” She opened one eye, searching Izumi’s face for clues. The Firelord was busy carefully readjusting the photo on the end table. “Is it… about what’s going to happen with Sunport? About your son going into battle…” The Firelord didn’t need to answer. Even intoxicated, Tenna could see the answer as plain as day across Izumi’s face. “Don’t be ashamed. You want to keep him safe. That’s what mothers are supposed to do. Protect their kids.”
Tenna felt her chest tighten, remembering Izumi’s happy family portrait. She had had a family too, once. Pain blazed through Tenna’s head, forcing her to close her eyes.
“My mother was killed trying to protect me when the bandits came. Grammy too.” She swallowed hard. Something told her she shouldn’t be talking about this. About before… Or maybe it was just the wine.
“They were fierce firebenders, Mom and Grammy. They learned how from dragons since Grammy used to raise hatchlings at her wildlife sanctuary. Even Dad tried to fight, when the bandits found where we were hiding. He wasn’t a bender but he knew herbs better then anyone. He hit three of the bandits with stun-powder. But they were too strong. They took me from him… dragged me outside… and burned my home to the ground with my Dad inside. Then the bandits threw me in a crate and a woman took me to start my training at the facility. I haven’t seen my home since. If there’s even anything left.”
Tenna’s head was raw agony but she forced her eyes open. Izumi had taken a seat in one of the chairs. She looked a little pale.
“How long ago… was this?” she asked.
“I was seven, so…” Tenna had to concentrate to make calculations over her headache. “Almost twenty years ago.”
Twenty years. The number echoed in her mind, That meant she had been a weapon almost as long as she had been alive. The room spun. Tenna let herself slump to her side, let the couch enfold her in its comfort. She was so dizzy all of a sudden…
“You want to know the really messed up part?” she asked, not waiting for an answer. “My family died trying to protect me… and I don’t even remember what they looked like.” She tucked her head to her chest, snuggling her cheek into the velvety fabric, which was damp for some reason. Eventually the room did stop spinning just long enough for her to fall asleep.
Zuko was reading a rather interesting book when he heard a knock at the door. The book was part of a trilogy entitled, “The Maze Benders,” and although he had quite enjoyed the first novel in the series, he did wonder by midway through the second installment where the plot was going. He set the book down on the table and went to answer the door. His body moved easily, almost as if he floated through his steps. A full moon tonight. No matter how skilled at bloodbending he became, he could still feel the phases of the moon and their effect on his body.
He pulled open the door, expecting it to be one of his servants with some sort of change in his schedule tomorrow. He certainly didn’t expect to see family.
“Tom-Tom?” he asked, wondering if his eyes were playing tricks on him. But no, it was Tom-Tom. In case Zuko had any doubts, the irritated look on the man’s face at the mention of his childhood nickname confirmed it.
Zuko stepped back to allow his brother-in-law into the room. It wasn’t exactly a huge space, but the citizens of Ember Island had decorated the space with masks from all of Zuko’s favorite old plays. Tom-Tom walked forward quickly, as if there’d been a chill in the air outside he was rushing to get out of. Strangely enough, however, he did not walk far enough to actually close the door behind himself. Zuko thought he spotted some movement behind Tom-Tom, but in the darkness of the surrounding night, it was difficult to tell.
“Well, it’s good to see you,” Zuko said. “How long has it been? I don’t think you’ve visited me in decades. Can I get you some tea?”
He motioned toward the table where a hot teapot was already waiting, but still Tom-Tom didn’t move. Perhaps he hadn’t come to chat and only had some important news to deliver. Getting married in his old age?
At that moment, Tom-Tom stepped fully into the room. Now Zuko got a perfect view of the person standing in the darkness. In fact, there were two people. One was a teenage girl, bound in ropes and gagged. The other was a young man with a combustion tattoo on his forehead. He pushed the girl forward.
“No!” Zuko gasped and stumbled back, hitting the table and knocking the teapot aside. It shattered and bled a crimson stain into the wooden floor. No, it can’t be. Not her. Zuko recognized the girl at once, of course. Nanami. He had visited her town a couple years ago. She’d been quite frustrated that he’d inadvertently discovered her ability to neutralize any bending around her. They’d come to a mutual understanding, each one vowing not to mention the other’s existence. He’d kept his share of the bargain as much as he could, though other voidbenders had since been discovered elsewhere. But if someone knew her, had found her, and was trying to get him near her, that could only mean one thing.
He knows. This is an attack. Zuko tried to step further away, but his back hit the wall, sending several displayed masks clattering to the floor. There were no other options. He had to push Nanami away. They already knew his power, or they wouldn’t have brought her here, so he had nothing to hide from them. He would find a way to break Nanami away from her captors once he got a safe distance away, but for now, he had to–
The combustionbender acted too quickly. With a forceful shove, he sent the bound Nanami stumbling into the room. She grunted as she fell on the ground only a few feet from Zuko. In an instant, he felt a wave of numbness wash over him as his bloodsensing faded.
His hands fell from their bending stance first. Then his legs quickly gave out from under him. He mentally screamed at his muscles to at least turn enough to let him fall on his back, but he collapsed onto his arm instead, face smashing onto the floor.
Tom-Tom laughed. Zuko could not see his face, only the movement of his legs as he approached and rested the sole of his boot against Zuko’s face.
“Well, well… I heard the rumors, but even I didn’t think it would work this well. You really are helpless without bending, aren’t you?” He drew his foot back and kicked Zuko in the arm, rolling his limp body over so he now faced the ceiling. “I’m still trying to figure out the details. Why would you lose your ability to walk, even to stand, just because your bending stopped? Would this little trick have worked on you forty years ago, I wonder?”
Zuko gritted his teeth. Somehow, it still felt like he should be able to will his way out of it, to call on the bending that had served him so well before. But he had nothing.
Tom-Tom knelt down, getting within a few inches of Zuko’s face. “My sister would have lived a long and healthy life if it weren’t for you. Why should you still be alive when she was taken so early?” He spat. The glob of saliva rolled down Zuko’s cheek and into his hair. Was that it? That’s what his brother-in-law had held against him for so long?
“I loved Mai,” Zuko said, chocking on the memory. “I was devastated when she–”
“Liar! You never loved her. She was just a means to an heir for you.” Tom-Tom grinned and straightened. “Well, pretty soon you won’t have an heir anymore. Or a nation for your precious little daughter to rule over.” He turned to the combustionbender. “Bind them together. You don’t have to worry about my brother-in-law, but be sure the girl’s hands are secure. It would be… problematic if she got free.”
The combustionbender nodded and did as he was told. As Zuko was pulled into a sitting position and placed at Nanami’s back, he felt like he was trapped in a dream. This nightmare had to be happening to someone else, somewhere else. Not to him. All he’d ever wanted to do was protect Izumi. Now, it seemed, he was to be used as bait for her demise.
“Tom… please, don’t do this,” he begged. “Kill me if you need revenge, but leave Izumi alone.”
“Kill you? I can’t watch you suffer if I kill you,” Tom-Tom replied. “Just like always, old man. Your suggestions are laughably useless. Kind of like you.”