“Everyone comfortable?” Varrick asked. The front row of the theater was filled up with the royal family, Bolin and Tenna, as well as Nanami, Zhu Li, and of course, the man who’d made the mover they were about to watch and couldn’t stop talking about it.
“We’re quite fine,” Izumi said, leaning over in hopes that making eye contact would assure him she was being honest. He’d asked if they needed anything about twenty times already.
“You sure?” he asked again. “I got the works. Fire Gummies, Flameo Cola, Agni Fries–”
“She said she’s fine.” It was Iroh who’d spoken. For some reason, Varrick actually listened to him and backed off. Izumi sighed with relief and leaned back in the plush theater chair. Aside from the incessant pestering, the theater itself was quite nice. She could smell the freshly cleaned carpet alongside the tempting scents of the concessions. In the seat directly behind her, Tenna declined the snack offer as well. She sounded anxious.
“Any luck contacting Mica?” Izumi asked.
Tenna shook her head. “No. Apparently she’s off at a school function.” She rubbed between her eyes, which prompted Bolin to rest an arm across her shoulders.
“It will be okay, hon. We were just trying to protect her. She’ll understand.”
“I know. I just wish Mica could have heard everything from me and not like this…”
Varrick checked his watch. “Looks like it’s time,” he said, then snapped his fingers. Nothing whatsoever happened, and it was Zhu Li who had to stand up in her seat and call out to whoever was running the projector, “Do the thing!”
The lights dimmed, the protector hummed, and some scratchy but very triumphant-sounding music began to play.
“This is it,” Varrick said, stuffing his mouth full of Fire Gummies. “This is a piece of genius, people. I think you’re all going to be really surprised with how it turned out.”
Shyu should have been proud of himself. He’d done a lot to get this event organized. It was strange. Every time he kept getting hit down with something (the people setting up the projector screen had tried to cancel no less than three times), he kept reminding himself who he was and where he came from. I’m the son of Firelord Iroh, grandson of Lady Izumi, and great-grandson of Firelord Zuko, he told himself every time. I deserve their respect. The self-confident attitude did wonders for getting his way. Maybe that was how Kaja worked things so well all the time.
He just wished that self-confidence would translate into stronger nerves as he sat next to Mica and waited for the mover to begin.
I guess it makes sense, he told himself as he tried to get comfortable in the metal folding chair surrounded by the smells of a bunch of high school students crammed together in a small space. It’s easy when I’m talking to someone in person. If things aren’t going right, I can adjust how I talk and try to improve things. But with this docu-movery, I can’t change anything. Everyone’s just going to judge my entire family all at once.
He swallowed hard as not only this realization sunk in but also the realization that it was Varrick, not himself, who was doing the talking here.
Then, before he had the chance to work himself up with worry anymore, Mica’s sharp elbow poked him in the rib. She pointed up; the lights slowly dimmed. Here it came.
The mover opened with some big dramatic music, showing sweeping, but pretty generic shots of the towering volcanoes that the Fire Nation was so well known for. Then the images cycled quickly as a deep-voiced narrator (thankfully, not Varrick) began to speak: “The Fire Nation. Long known for its beauty, its majesty, and its majesties.”
There was a collective groan across the group of students, which Shyu and Mica largely contributed to. The image changed to one of the royal palace.
“This is the story of the Royal Family. Its ups…”
A picture of Iroh the Elder serving tea in his teashop.
A painting of Azulon setting fire to pretty much everything around him.
“Some of its other downs…”
A painting of Ozai doing pretty much the same thing.
“But mostly its ups!”
A picture of Zuko shaking hands with Avatar Aang in the city of Yu Dao. The narrator then took a break, and the still images shifted to a video of Korra sitting against the backdrop of a Fire Nation banner.
“What do I think of when I think of the Fire Nation?” she asked. “Well, um…I think of… fire? And, uh…red stuff?”
The interview was interspersed with images of flames and some rather lovely red roses blowing in the wind. Then the camera cut back to Korra.
“What does Avatar Roku think of how the Royal Family has evolved?” she asked. “I’m not actually sure.” She looked off-camera, clearly listening to someone ask her another question. “Uh, I can’t contact Avatar Roku or Aang anymore, but–” Her eyes flitted to something off screen, and her tone took a more upbeat turn. “But…I’m sure he would have said that they’re awesome!” She grinned, too widely, and gave the camera a thumbs-up.
Shyu buried his face in his hands. It was a packed room, but he started to theorize on how difficult it would be to climb under all the seats and escape. “This is bad,” he muttered. “I mean, this is really bad.”
Mica crossed her arms. “I won’t give Uncle Varrick credit for his humor,” she said. “But aside from the awful pun at the start, I don’t think it’s as bad as you’re thinking.”
Shyu glared at her. “You mean it’s worse than I’m thinking? Not sure that’s possible.”
For this, she gave him a punch in the shoulder. “He’s being honest. That’s his thing. Let it unfold before you say you hate it, okay?”
He nodded at her, then settled back in his chair. For all of Mica’s frustrations with the mover business, she seemed to keep a positive attitude about this whole mess. He wondered if she was just acting that way for his sake; she was an actress after all. But then, he figured, if she was trying to stay strong for him, that made the encouragement that much kinder. He resolved that if he was going to think about how terrible this movery was, he would at least keep his opinions to himself.
He was rewarded, to an extent. As the mover continued on, the scenes touched only on the terrible deeds of Azulon and Ozai enough to show just how amazing it was that Zuko had chosen to defy his ancestors and take the Fire Nation down a brighter path. Varrick even managed to snag interviews with some of the Fire Nation’s oldest citizens, who actually remembered the early years of Zuko’s reign. Shyu smiled warmly as he took it all in. Up until these last few days, his great-grandfather had always felt like some distant figure–someone that the whole nation respected but nobody actually knew. Through the mover, Shyu felt like the man had been a real person, a teenager his age, once, who’d succeeded and failed just like him and still managed to do things right in the end. Shyu was proud to have a lineage like that. The mover touched briefly on the life of his dad’s namesake, too, which was a nice change from the histories that always focused on the actual Firelords and no one else. From there, it moved onto “Iroh the Younger” and the events leading up to his current reign as Firelord. That was where things started to get uncomfortable again. The battle of Sunport was described in detail with eyewitness accounts; only the way most people told it, it sounded like Nanami had more or less saved Iroh’s sorry behind by bravely choosing to fight alongside him with her voidbending powers. The narrative went really dark when it talked about how the combustionbenders had been rescued.
Shyu glanced over at Mica as the interview with her mother began to roll. Mica went from looking nonchalant, to shifting uncomfortably in her chair, to just plain looking sick to her stomach as every gristly detail of Tenna’s early life was laid out on the screen.
She never knew any of this, Shyu realized, feeling a chill on the back of his neck. At least, not to this level.<,i>
The crowd reacted, too, muttering and gasping. Glances shifted to Mica. Shyu saw the full gamut of emotions in them from pity to fury–pity that her mom had endured such horrible things. Fury that Tenna was still defending the Royal family even after they had let the facility, let innocent Fire Nation children, suffer and die for decades. There might even have been a little rage for the things Tenna had done when she was still a weapon.
By the end, Mica couldn’t bring herself to watch and stared at the floor until the interview was complete. “How could he let her talk about all that?” she whispered. Then she jerked up and glared at Shyu, actually glared at him, like he had personally orchestrated her mother’s torture.
She can’t be blaming me for this? Can she? he thought, jaw tensed. That was her mom’s choice to go on camera, wasn’t it? No one forced her. He reached under his chair for a water bottle, trying very hard to drink it without crushing it too loudly.
The images had changed, and now the camera was showing some old news footage back from Harmonic Convergence.
Where are they going with this? Shyu wondered, then leaned back in his seat before he and Mica started throwing chairs at each other.
“Harmonic Convergence turned a new page in Fire Nation history…” the narrator went on. “One that would ultimately lead to the first bloodbending Firelord, Firelord Izumi.”
Shyu choked on his drink. The sounds of several coughs around him indicated he wasn’t the only one. He could hear the murmur of confusion passing like a wave over the worried crowd. No one was leaning over to whisper to their friends anymore. No one was looking for a good excuse to sneak off to the concession stand. Everyone’s attention was fully and completely locked on the screen.
He can’t back it up, Shyu thought. There’s no way he can back it up. But apparently, Varrick could. The next footage showed Izumi rescuing Tenna at the coronation. Then it changed again to show her demonstrating what were obviously some waterbending-style moves in front of a group of students. Shyu narrowed his eyes. The background was fuzzy and difficult to make out; it almost looked like the footage had been taken from a bad angle. But there were definitely a bunch of kids in her grandmother’s listening audience, ranging in age from (at his best guess) eight or nine to young adults. After his grandmother demonstrated the motions, she closed her eyes and seemed to be focusing on something. Then her body lifted off the floor.
Gasps filled the audience, followed by a scream. Shyu could hear the whispers all around. The questions, then the confirmations. Lady Izumi was a bloodbender. And she’d taught children how to use it as well. It was vile, evil…worse than Firelord Ozai.
Shyu covered his ears and gritted his teeth, trying to drown out the whispers. Then he heard Zuko’s voice: “You should get out of here. It’s not safe.”
He jerked up, and Mica grabbed him by the shoulder. “Come on, let’s leave,” he told her. She glared at him, but didn’t argue. The two of them stood up in their seats and started to walk down the row towards the exit. But the chaos in the room had already started to break out. A chair tipped over some rows behind them. Someone screamed again. Other people were shouting and shaking their fists at the screen. Shyu felt himself shoved this way and that, pulled through the sea of people by Mica’s strong arm and unbreakable grip.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. This thing was supposed to help us. All it’s done is terrified everyone. It was all he could think about as he held fast to Mica’s arm, letting her drag him along.
Yuki and Nanami left the mover during the scene of Tenna’s interview. Izumi didn’t blame them; they both had known next to nothing about Tenna’s past. Nanami suggested taking Kiki out as well, and even though the little princess insisted she was old enough to stay, her mother turned the invitation into an order. A blessing in disguise; the three of them were out in the lobby when the footage from Harmonic Convergence began to roll.
The first moment that her class appeared on screen, Izumi gasped and covered her mouth. As the footage rolled, she tried to think of of some way this couldn’t be real. First she thought it might be a dream, then a hallucination, and she even entertained the possibility that this wasn’t the real mover at all and that Varrick had just played a very elaborate prank of them. But as the images continued to flicker by, the shock wore off, and her body became numb. Ninety years. Ninety years of keeping this horrible secret away from the public, and Varrick had just undone all of it in about ninety seconds.
There’s no covering up this time. This is all over the Fire Nation right now. All over the United Republic.
The footage of the practice sessions was followed by a shot of Izumi steadying Tenna in the aftermath of the coronation attack. It then cut to scenes of Iroh being crowned with his children alongside him, as if the events had actually happened in that order. When the mover’s credits began rolling and Izumi found herself able to breathe again, she searched the room to gauge everyone else’s reactions. Bolin looked pale, as did Tenna and Zhu Li. Iroh had jumped up in his seat, gripping the back of the chair in front of him like he intended to crack it in half. Kaja looked like he wasn’t sure what to do, but without any ideas of his own, mimicked his father. Varrick was the only one smiling as he leaned back in his chair and used the seat in front of him as a footrest.
“I see I’ve got a silenced audience,” he said, grinning as he looked around. “But, come on now. Be honest. What did you think?”
“What did we think?” Iroh whispered. Izumi felt ill. Her son never whispered anything.
“Well, yeah,” Varrick said. “What did–”
“What did we think?” Iroh bellowed. His grip on the chair in front of him released and he pounded it with his fist. Flames burst up at the site, and Varrick let out a very childish-sounding yell as he leapt backwards.
“I think you just sent my country into complete chaos! Do you have any idea the ramifications of what you just revealed?”
“This is… about the bloodbending bit, isn’t it? Knew I should have asked about that first. Zhu Li?” She leaned forward timidly, still eyeing the smoldering chair. “Why didn’t I ask before using that footage?”
“I guess…because you’re an idiot?” she suggested.
Varrick snapped his fingers. “Yes, that’s it! I am an idiot!” He grinned and turned back to Iroh, apparently in hopes that the Firelord could still find some humor in the whole thing. From Iroh’s expression, it wasn’t working. He gave some nervous glances to Izumi now as well. Meanwhile, the mover reel had run out, and the sound of the film spinning in the projector whirled to a slow stop. The lines of sweat coming down Varrick’s face became all the more prominent as the overhead lights flooded the theater once again.
“Look, okay, I’m sorry, all right?” he said. “But I still don’t get why you’re so worked up. You’re clearly helping those kids, not hurting them. The narrator in the mover says as much.”
“This is just conjecture on my part,” Izumi said, massaging her forehead, “but I’m guessing that once you get to the part where I can bloodbend, the audience has probably tuned out whatever else your narrator has to say.”
“Bloodbending’s been illegal in the United Nations for nearly a century,” Tenna explained. Her voice was controlled, but just barely.
“Huh,” Varrick said as if she’d pointed out some interesting trivia, like which nation had the highest ratio of turtle-ducks to hippo-cows. “No kidding.”
“‘No kidding’?” Iroh’s eyebrows furrowed. In his confusion, he let his fists lower a tad from their ready-to-burn-down-the-theater position. Bolin took the opportunity to lower them all the way to Iroh’s sides.
“So, wait a sec,” Bolin said to Varrick. “You mean you seriously didn’t know that bloodbending’s outlawed?”
“Why would I know that?” Varrick said. “I’m not a bloodbender.” He stroked his chin thoughtfully for a moment before adding on, “So…when you say it’s illegal in the United Nations, you’re saying it’s legal in the Fire Nation?”
“Correct,” Iroh answered.
“Well, then, no harm done!” Varrick said with a nervous laugh. It devolved into a nervous whimper when he realized that no one in the room shared his sentiment.
“Our people are terrified of it,” Izumi said. “Bloodbenders are still heavily persecuted in our country and the royal family has been under pressure for a long time to ban bloodbending like other countries have.”
“Not to mention,” Tenna added, clenching and unclenching her fists, “that the footage you showed of Lady Izumi bloodbending at Iroh’s coronation took place in the United Republic.”
“Well, I’ve… gone and made a, uh…a real mess of things, haven’t I?” No one answered, and Varrick wiped his brow with his sleeve and began pointing to each person in turn. “Look, aside from the fact that you two,” he pointed to Kaja and Iroh, “can set me on fire, you,” he pointed to Izumi, “can give a heart attack, you,” he pointed to Bolin, “can sink me into a pit of lava, and you,” he pointed to Tenna, “can make my head explode, I really do feel horrible. And I want to do something to fix this.”
Before anyone got the chance to explain how completely unfixable the situation was, the sound of someone (more like several people) banging on the theatre doors echoed around them. Dino, who had been running the projector, disappeared for a moment and then descended the balcony a few moments later with Nanami, Yuki, and Kiki behind him.
“Hey, boss?” he said as Kiki ran up and clung to her father. “We’ve got, um…a lot of news crews trying to get into the lobby. I think they want to talk to you.”
Varrick’s not the only one they want to talk to, Izumi thought. While her presence at this showing hadn’t exactly been front page news, she had heard Varrick bragging about it several times to the papers. Only a completely incompetent reporter would not know where she was right now. The banging continued, and Kaja got himself into a classic firebending stance while Nanami backed up to allow his firebending to actually work. Izumi was about to scold them for even thinking of fighting at a time like this, but Iroh cut her off.
“You want to fix this?” he said to Varrick through gritted teeth. “You can start by getting my family out of here and away from the press.”
“Hey, no worries there,” Varrick said. “Avoiding people happens to be my area of expertise!”