Korra couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing. Her first theory was that she’d banged around a few too many heads, and somehow in the process, her own noggin had taken far too hard a blow.
Assuming it hadn’t, though, she was staring at something she had no way to explain. An airbender, no one she recognized from Tenzin’s recruit’s, flew in on a glider just like Aang had in all the old paintings. When he landed on the deck, it was like his presence commanded silence and attention. All the crewmen who’d been trying to bend away their invaders paused and looked at him as if to ask if they were doing it right. Mako, Bolin, and Izumi stopped what they were doing, too. Korra would theorize after the fact, that she should have taken the pause as an opportunity to set a bunch of things on fire.
“What’s going on here?” the man who had landed demanded. He was definitely a monk; probably looked her part even more so than Tenzin did. And were those… Korra squinted and gasped.
“You’ve got airbender tattoos!” Now she knew something was weird. Maybe she’d been away from the fledgling Air Nation a bit, but if someone else had earned their tattoos, she’d definitely have heard of it.
The airbender glanced in her direction like someone would glance at an annoying hummingbird-fly. Mako decided not to waste the opportunity. He readied a bolt of lightning. The airbender took notice and let lose a gust of air that shoved Mako firmly onto the deck. He grunted in pain, and the electricity he’d been building up shot harmlessly into the sky.
The airbender turned to the ship’s crew and pointed someone out. “You there!” he said. “How many aboard this ship?”
“Um…” the man stuttered, barely able to stand upright, he was shaking so much. “F-fifty-three, sir.”
“Fifty-six,” the monk mused. “Interesting. And how many crew do we have aboard both ships total?”
“Sixty. Now isn’t that interesting.” He began to pace about the deck now, arms behind his back. Korra had no idea if she should attack the man or not. She never thought she could contemplate attacking any one of the Air Nomads. But this guy didn’t act like any other nomad she’d ever met. He even seemed to be in charge of the ship. But that didn’t make any sense. It couldn’t be an airbender behind all this mess. It just couldn’t.
“Now, if my elders educated me in mathematics correctly,” he went on. “I would say that having sixty crew total with fifty-six of them on this ship would leave… oh, let’s see… only four guarding the hostage. Is that correct?”
The crewman looked about ready to wet himself. “I-it is correct, sir. But we were attacked. Had to get everyone available to…”
He motioned wildly at the soaked deck, all the damage from to the floors and edges since Korra and her friends had arrived. The monk did not look sympathetic. didn’t act it, either. Another air blast, equally as strong as the one that had hit Mako, pummeled the man into the ship’s railing. His head slumped, though Korra suspected it was largely a defense tactic so that he didn’t get hit again.
“What I need ‘everyone available’ to do right now,” he said. “Is to get back to that ship and make sure Zuko doesn’t get away.”
He is our enemy. Korra felt like such an idiot for hesitating as long as she had. But even as she started to move into a waterbending stance, she saw Izumi moving beside her first. The Firelord, for all her fears about showing her bloodbending before, seemed to have no issues with it now. She readied her hands to pull him into submission. But he caught the motion a split second before she could control him and blasted himself backwards out of her range. With a small jump, he floated into the air, his feet resting on the ship’s railing. Around him, the scarred crew had started preparing small boats to leave their main vessel and go back to protect their prize.
“Interesting,” the monk said with a grin to Izumi. “But you’ll have a tough time getting close enough to bloodbend me.”
He knows what she was trying? Even with that small bit of movement? Korra felt her skin grow wet and cold. He could read bending with pinpoint accuracy. Almost like… well, exactly like Tenna.
“If you’re here, that means you’ve probably faced one of my combustionbenders already,” the monk went on, still speaking to Izumi as if no one else existed. “You want to protect your father? I’ll see you over there.”
It was one of those speeches that would have left each of them with a slice of cold terror in each of their hearts. But before the monk could open his glider and fly again, one of the crew screamed. Then the entire boat shook with the force of something If they’d been on land, Korra would have said that Toph was clearly practicing her earthbending nearby. Actually, she might have still suspected that. The groan of metal against metal certainly sounded like Toph’s doing. But when Korra ran with everyone else to the ship’s side to see what had happened, she found the shaking had nothing to do with bending at all. Whoever was at the helm of the smaller ship, a young girl by the looks of it, had steered the thing right into the bigger warship. The whole deck shivered again.
Korra looked to see Tenna standing right besides whoever was steering the ship.
“Hey!” the combustionbender called out, waving. “Can a girl get a lift here?”
Korra grinned. “You bet!” She motioned for a gyster of water to shoot Tenna upwards. The monk saw her motion and tried to counter with another air blast. It knocked Korra off balance for a second, along with the gyster, but it got Tenna close enough to the side of the ship that she quickly scaled up its side and pulled herself onto deck.
“What are you doing?” Izumi exclaimed. “My father? Is he–”
“He’s safe.” Tenna said back. Her eyes found the monk’s eyes. For a second, Korra watched Tenna’s whole body stiffen, almost like she was bracing herself for a blow. But then her resolve seemed to return. “He’s a bit roughed up. But safe.”
He’s not the only one, Korra thought, looking over Tenna’s bruised arms and legs. She seemed to be doing even worse off than after the battle with Tom-Tom. Korra knew Tenna could take a hit, but she wasn’t anxious to see exactly how many hits it took to knock her down permanently.
Meanwhile, the monk seemed just as shocked to see Tenna there as she had been to see her.
“Another traitor…” he said, gritting his teeth.
“Why does everyone keep saying that?” Bolin moaned. “I mean, seriously, just because someone decides to think for themselves–”
He didn’t get to finish his speech. Another wave of vibrations pounded through the ship, this one much larger than the last. The ship actually started to lean on its side, leaving the crew (who seemed unsure as to what they should do before all the wild crashes started), scrambling in fear once again.
Korra was also pretty sure she heard the sound of wood crunching from the boat’s opposite site. Then she realized what had happened.
We’re back at Sunport! She stared over to see the shore they had left behind now right in front of them again. The smaller ship was tough and heavy for its size, and it had managed to push the larger one right into the port. The girl who had been steering it immediately abandoned the wheel and made a break for one of the lifeboats.
Well, now, this made things interesting. Korra, now brimming with confidence, looked back in Eli’s direction. The airbender was certainly disoriented from the look of him, but he was far from out of the fight. In fact, and Korra’s stomach felt a bit ill at this, seeing his ship crash into shore seemed to give him a renewed sense of confidence. He turned his sights to Tenna.
“Weapon 842.” It was a calm command. And the fact that he wasn’t yelling or screaming it at her seem to irritate Tenna all the more. Her eyes widened at his nerve.
“My name is Tenna,” she said firmly.
“Weapons don’t have names.”
Korra watched as Eli stepped carefully. He wasn’t moving towards Tenna, or any of them, actually. Instead, he was shifting towards the center of the deck.
“Stop moving or I’ll fire!” Tenna commanded. It was a full threat; he was still well within range of one of her blasts.
“Will you now?” Eli asked.
Korra scowled. Whatever game this guy was playing, she’d had enough of it. She was just about ready to run to the edge of the boat and call up a wave of water when Tenna fired a shot across the deck. Eli clearly was not expecting this and jumped out of the way. The beam left a small flame on his sleeve, which he quickly patted out.
“Somebody has been tampering with you,” he growled, with surprisingly dignity for someone who smelled like smoke.
“It’s over,” said Tenna. “You’ve lost.”
Eli raised an eyebrow. “Such defiance. I knew we should have scrapped you the moment you were brought in. But father wouldn’t allow it. He honestly believed that strong willpower is a key ingredient to forging the most powerful weapons.” He sighed and shook his head, like this was a tragedy barely above having bad taste in shoes. “Fortunately, I am not so foolish.”
His muscles seemed to tighten, putting everyone else on edge.
“Wha–” Tenna began, but Eli spoke first.
“Initiate failsafe. Authorization code: Black Sun.”
Tenna gasped. Korra couldn’t quite tell what had happened at first. But when she looked over, Tenna had lost that look of fierce determination in her face. In fact, she had lost any kind of expression on her face at all. Her eyes were glazed over, vacant. Like someone who had seen such horrible atrocities that the only thing the mind could do was shut itself down.
“Tenna?” Bolin asked shakily. She didn’t respond. Korra had never known Bolin to have the kind of fierce hatred that filled his eyes as he turned to Eli. “What did you do to her!”
Eli shrugged. “Turned on the safety, of course.”
This was too much. Korra understood what he was saying, factually. Katara had told her many strange tales about Aang’s travels, including how they had lost a friend named Jet to some kind of hypnotist in a place called Lake Laogai. “You brainwashed her!” Korra yelled. “Just what kind of sick twisted creep are you!”
“Twisted?” Eli looked bewildered as to how she could possibly say that. “No. What’s twisted is that this nation of murderers and its tyrant rulers has been allowed to carry on for so long without facing any consequences. Well those days are over. You see, all this time you’ve been distracted by a gang of dimwits and their pompous windbag of a leader, I’ve been placing my weapons in strategic locations all over the Fire Nation. As soon as I give the order they will reduce this land and everyone in it to ash.”
Distracted? Korra could’ve sworn she felt her heart stop. All those gangs of bloodbenders… the kidnapping of Bolin, the takeover of Sunport… all of that was just a distraction? She couldn’t have been that clueless. She couldn’t have given this man the opportunity to destroy an entire country.
Apparently Izumi felt the same way. Korra’s eyes caught the Firelord flexing her hands, starting to step forward.
“Don’t,” he snapped before Izumi could complete the movement.
She hesitated, but did not lower her hands.
“Do not attempt to bloodbend me, your majesty,” said Eli. “I guarantee I can resist it long enough to order your friend to kill herself.”
Izumi gasped. The rage in her face mirrored Bolin’s, and Korra wondered if she was about to watch Eli’s head explode. Unfortunately, either he was fighting off her bloodbending and Korra didn’t see it, or she wasn’t willing to take the risk that Tenna would die if she tried it.
“Only a deluded fool would think murder justifies murder,” Izumi spat.
“And only an egotist would think that her family’s past crimes would never come back to haunt her. Do not blame me for this, Firelord. It was your great-grandfather Sozin who set this fire… your family who fanned the flames.”
“My family didn’t kidnap and torture innocent children,” Izumi yelled. “Yours did.”
“Izumi’s right,” Korra heard herself saying. She’d been quiet for far too long now. “Don’t you dare try to justify what you’ve done!”
“What I’m doing,” said Eli, “is finally setting the world right again. And thanks to my weapons not a single airbender life will be lost. But enough of this nonsense… The truth is I have no quarrel with you, Avatar. In fact, out of respect for Avatar Aang, I’m even willing to offer you an exchange. Release the Firelord into my custody and you and your friends will be returned to Republic City, unharmed. I’ll even throw in ownership of 843. Consider it a gift. In return, you let me do what needs to be done.”
A gift? Like human beings were things that could be passed around. “No. I don’t make deals with murderous slavers. That’s all you and your people really are now.”
She said the words, but she didn’t feel too confident about them. And as much as her frazzled brain clawed desperately for an answer, she didn’t see any good way to get Tenna out of this alive. If it came down to risking Tenna (or herself, for that matter) to save her entire nation, Korra had a pretty good idea of what Izumi would do.
“Well,” Eli sighed, “don’t say I didn’t try to be reasonable.”
Izumi didn’t wait any longer. With reddened eyes, she acted exactly as Korra expected she would and made another attempt to bloodbend Eli. He seemed to know her intentions, however, just a split second before she executed them. She saw his legs and arms stiffen, but he still got a huge breath of air and blew out an airbending blast to push himself far out of Izumi’s range. Once he was safe, he opened his glider and began taking to the sky.
“Weapon number 843!” he called as he hovered above them.
“Yes, Master?” Her voice was a complete monotone. She didn’t shout to be heard, didn’t lift her face to make eye contact. She stared and spoke into nothingness.
“Destroy them. Starting with the Firelord. Then,” he flashed a grin of pure evil in Izumi’s direction. “Then kill yourself.”
The glider flew upwards. Korra tried shooting some fire at it, even though she could see he was out of range. She thought quickly about searching the ship. Maybe there was another glider somewhere, so she could follow him. But before she could even think about that, she had to duck to avoid a combustion beam from Tenna. Izumi jumped away from the blast, higher and faster than any nonbender could and landed at Korra’s opposite side.
Mako dove immediately into the battle, firing off a series of quick-fire blasts in Tenna’s direction. She swiped each of them away like they were nothing but annoying bull-flies. Frustrated, Mako prepared a lightning bolt instead. Tenna couldn’t counter that; her twisted chi prevented it. Apparently, Bolin knew that, too.
“Don’t!” he cried and grabbed Mako by the arm. The shot went sideways, missing Tenna by a mile. It did almost hit Korra, though. She wasn’t too happy about that.
“Bolin, this is not the time!” Mako yelled.
“You can’t kill her!” Bolin said. His eyes were as red as Izumi’s. But the difference was, she was defending herself. She tried to run up to Tenna, only to be forced back by blast after blast. Her ability to use bloodbending to hoist herself into the air threw off Tenna’s judgment of where to aim the beams. But if the battle went long enough, Tenna would learn Izumi’s limits and adjust to them. And then, when Izumi fell, she would…
“Bolin, I think I’m kind of with Mako on this!” Korra yelled as she tried to distract Tenna with an air blast. It worked momentarily, but Tenna wasn’t easily swayed from her target. Korra could already hear the airship above them moving farther and farther away. “We at least need to disable her!” Korra yelled. “We can’t let her keep going like that!”
Looking closer at Tenna, it was a wonder she had made it onto the ship at all.
Mako let out another bolt of lightning at the same time Korra tried airbending again. The combined attack blasted a chunk of the ship’s railing. A shred of metal flew by Tenna’s side, ripping her clothing and worsening her injury from her battle with that other combustionbender. Korra watched in horror as a thick line of blood trickled down Tenna’s side and leg. Tenna noticed it too, but only look annoyed at its presence. She hissed and, looking around, her eyes fell on the crow’s nest. She jumped out of Korra’s range again and began scaling the mast.
No! Korra ran to the base of the mast and whipped up an air current she hoped would yank Tenna down. But the combustionbender only tightened her grip, moving slower when the wind was pulling on her, all the more faster when Korra took a break. Korra gasped as her winds pulled down drops of Tenna’s blood with them.
I can’t do this, Korra thought. I can’t hurt her anymore. She’d be lying if she tried to say that her battle with Zaheer didn’t effect her anymore. It was always with her; it had just become something she could work through now. Except when it came to using airbending to potentially kill someone.
Korra shook her head, suddenly conscious of the fact that Izumi had run up to her side. “Let me get up there,” the Firelord said. “I can fly up and get her in range of my bloodbending.”
“You can fly up there and control her fast enough that you won’t get shot out of the sky?” Korra counted. Izumi gritted her teeth. Korra knew the look. It was the look of, “I know this is a dumb idea, but it’s the best I’ve got.”
Mako and Bolin ran up as well. “We have to keep you safe, your majesty,” Mako asserted. “You’re Tenna’s main target.”
“Maybe I can get up there,” Bolin said. His tone sounded every bit as desperate as his words.
“You think you can climb–”
“No, no, not climb.” Bolin looked pleadingly at Izumi. “You could fly me up there, right? Maybe Tenna won’t pay attention to me, if I’m not so important to her. Maybe I can talk her out of… of whatever this is.”
There was an explosion right behind them, forcing everyone to leap forward. The ship seemed to quiver with the blow.
“Looks like she’s made it to the top,” Mako muttered, squinting up. Another beam of energy came down towards them, and they had to make a run for it again.
Whatever other action they took, fleeing across deck like helpless insects didn’t work. Eventually, Tenna wasn’t going to miss.
“I’ll see what I can do to get you up there,” Izumi said. “If we go straight up the mast, we’ll have an advantage. The crow’s nest will prevent her from getting a clean shot at us.”
“She’ll still take shots,” Mako countered.
“Yeah, well, she can take them at me.” Korra pounded her fists together. No more of this. Was she the Avatar or not? She punched her fists together and she could feel Raava’s energy bubbling up inside her. Not that she could see them, but she was pretty sure her eyes were glowing, too.
“The Avatar state…” Izumi whispered.
Right, she’s never seen me like this before, thought Korra. Not up close, at any rate.
“Do what you need to do,” she told Bolin and Izumi. “I’ll cover you.” She ran over to the side of the ship, calling up a massive wave. It pulled itself up to her, grasping her like a giant watery hand and pushing her up towards Tenna’s position. Not too close, just close enough that Tenna had no choice but to defend.
Meanwhile, Korra saw the tiny figures of Izumi and Bolin floating slowly up the mast to the crow’s nest.