When the time man next appeared, I was only half surprised — as annoying as it was, I’d come to expect his coming and going.
“Korra,” he greeted. “I’ve come to check in. The time pollution here has gotten worse, not better — what are you doing to remove the pollutants?”
Well, of course the time pollution had gotten worse — I’d added two additional interlopers to the mix. That made four of us — me, Raf, Nora, and Kylo.
For once, I was glad to see the strange man, though, because I needed his help. “You seem to travel freely between times,” I said. “Can’t you rid this item of the pollution and bring us home?”
With a week’s delay between the start of the ritual and the end, I had no guarantees that I’d be able to complete it successfully even if I did get my powers back — and that was assuming Raf would recover in time.
“Sorry, Korra,” he said, but his deadpan voice ruined the sentiment. “I can’t interfere.”
He must be joking. He traveled without any visible consequence between decades, and he wouldn’t extend the same favor to anyone else? That was a selfishness even I couldn’t comprehend. What did he want — to see me suffer?
“Seriously? But it would be helping yourself! You want this world cleaned — you said it yourself!”
He shook his head. “Remove the pollutants!” he said again and winked out of existence.
“Who were you talking to?”
The voice was sharp as a whip and laced with venom. Kel. I’d avoided the vampire at all costs during the past few days with Nora’s group, and the woman had seemed content to return the favor.
“Who were you talking to? I heard you, so don’t deny it!” she hissed.
Fear left a bitter taste in my mouth. “You’re mistaken,” I said, keeping my voice level. She was dangerously close; I could see the venom glistening on her sharp fangs. One bite, and I was a goner. Should I yell for help?
No, with her speed, she’d kill me before the first syllable left my mouth. The course of action here was not to flee but to fight.
“Admit it — you’re a spy, aren’t you? One of Kylo’s people!”
I blinked, and this time righteous indignation fueled my response. At least she’d said people rather than witches; I suspected if she even had the slightest reason to believe I was a witch, I’d be dead already. “Help Kylo? You mean the man who took my sister from m-”
“Yes, yes, Nora was kidnapped, boo hoo — we’ve heard this a thousand times. Answer the question. Are you a spy?”
She curved her fingers, and her eyes glowed even brighter than usual. Shoot — she was going to compel me. Without my magic, I was helpless under her hypnosis. I felt my lips part, the traitorous words begging to flee the cage of my mouth —
I’m a witch. I’ve hurt vampires. I would do anything to save my sister because, if I fail, it would mean facing my actions and I am a coward.
“I’m-” I began, my face turning purple from the effort to resist. Was this how people felt when I used truth serum against them? It was an awful thing, to lose control of myself.
We both turned, looking at Victor with twin expressions of disbelief. Why was he defending me? The vampire was the first to recover. “What?” she snapped, but I noticed she backed away slightly at his stern look.
“Take a breather,” he ordered. “You’re still hyped up on adrenaline from the last mission.”
“But-” the vampire’s hand snaked around my arm, gripping it in a vise-like hold. My lips parted in pain, but I refused to make a sound. I couldn’t show weakness in front of her — or Victor.
“Fine,” she spat, shoving my arm away. I resisted the urge to clutch it to my chest. I was sure to see a ring of bruises the next morning, but I couldn’t waste time thinking about that now.
When Kel had stormed away, I turned reluctantly to the man, saying, “Thank-“
“Were you talking to someone?” he demanded, and the anger in his voice made me stumble back.
“What — but–you said –” I stammered, surprise making an utterly fool of me.
“I only defended you because Kel would have killed first and asked questions later. Korra, answer me. Who were you speaking to?”
“No one!” I bellowed. “No one but my goddamn self. I do that when I’m nervous, okay? Are you happy now?”
Victor scowled, looking like he was going to press on —
I felt sweat pool under my arms and dress. There was no way I was going to make it out of this situation alive, and if I was dead, no one would be able to help Raf. Raf, who had come along on this fool’s journey only to help a friend — and I’d let him.
“Lay off her, Victor,” Nora called in passing. “Korra wouldn’t do that. She wouldn’t side with the magic wielders.”
“Right,” I echoed, feeling my stomach twist. “I wouldn’t do that.”
Victor sighed, pinching the bridge of his hooked nose, and shook his head. He left the room without another word.
When I was alone, I let my shoulders droop. Magic wielders, indeed.