Media: Fic
Title: Solar Winds (Avatar: The Last Airbender Fusion, 48/?)
Rating: PG-13 for innuendo, swearing, violence.
Spoilers: None for either series that I am aware of.
Warnings: Those squicked by vomit are warned—there is some grossness in this chapter.
Word Count: ~15000
Summary: When a usurper sets eyes on the Fire Nation throne, Avatar Kurt and friends find themselves on the run with the deposed Prince Blaine in a country gone mad. Can they escape Lady Sylvester's wrath? Or will her minions snuff them out for good? Fusion fic!

Author's Note: It's the beginning of the end for Act 2 at last! It's been a long time coming, but I've been doing my best to build to everything that's about to happen here. Surprises, revelations, and major developments all lie ahead. Oh, and action. Plenty of action. Trainwreck will be two parts, and then we'll hit the finale of act 2, the title of which could be considered a spoiler and thus will not be revealed here. I think you'll like it, though. ;D Enjoy!


CHAPTER 48 Trainwreck Extravaganza, Part 1: Escape from Sho Fa

"Stop!" Blaine shouts. "We don't want to hurt you!"

"Well, what if we want to hurt you?" one of the guards shouts back.

"Yeah!" another one chimes in. "Avatar-backing scum! No one kills the Fire Lord and gets away with it! I'm pretty sure that's a law!"

"AVATARRRRRR!" another one howls, beating his chest.

"Yes?" Kurt responds.

This takes the guard… well, off-guard. "Oh, uhhh… I didn't really have anything to say, I was just… you know… psyching myself up." He pauses to think for a second. "If I did have something to say, it'd probably be along the lines of 'we're gonna make you pay!'"

"Duly noted, thanks for the memo," Kurt nods, lashing a few of his water tentacles for show, even splashing some light rain on the guards, making them flinch.

"Last chance!" shouts a guard with a slightly spikier helmet. "Surrender or die!"

"Neither," is Kurt's succinct reply.

"Fine then! CHARGE! FOR THE FIRE LORD!" shouts Spiky Helmet, drawing his sword and thrusting it ahead.

Spiky and his brigade barrel towards the gang from the left, bellowing a battle cry, brandishing their weapons, fury and grief at the fall of their leader providing them with ample fuel for a knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish.

Kurt sprawls them out whence they came with a single sweep of his liquid limbs.

"Damn, that was dumb," Artie observes.

"They're city guards. Fighting the Avatar isn't exactly something they're trained for," Blaine comments.

Unfortunately, the other two groups of guards aren't quite as straightforward. The front group's firebenders start pumping out fireballs to keep Kurt busy while the melee users wait for an opening. The group on the right starts a similar strategy… except their firebenders are primarily used as cover so their archers can draw their bows.

Kurt skillfully maneuvers his tendrils to block the fireballs that look like they might be a danger, letting the others fly past them. "Artie! Mercedes!" he says. "Get the guys to the right!"

"On it!" Mercedes says. She and Artie both move to the edge of the waterline. Mercedes stomps up a stack of boulders. Artie raises a single rectangular stone block that sits just lower than his head.

"Ready?" Kurt says, blocking a couple more fireballs.

"Ready!" Artie and Mercedes chime back.

Kurt waits for a moment between fireballs, and…

"GO!" he shouts.

At that point, the Avatoctopus opens up on the right side, allowing Artie and Mercedes to attack. Artie begins to demolish his stone block with rapid punches, breaking it into bits and sending a chaotic stream of shrapnel at the guards. This is mainly to keep them off-balance while Mercedes actually aims her stones, punching and kicking several hefty boulders at her opponents and taking them down one-by-one.

Meanwhile, Kurt draws all the water in his octopus into the front tentacle, quadrupling its size. The guards don't quite have time to react to Kurt's newly extended range, and are summarily flattened when it falls and floods the street.

The guards on the right (the ones left standing anyway), finally get tired of being peppered with pebbles and bashed with boulders, and call a tactical retreat. "SEND FOR REINFORCEMENTS!" they cry as they run.

Kurt smirks. "Are we clear?"

"Yeah," Finn says, looking around. The only guards around are in no condition to fight.

"For now," Blaine adds. "There are lots more where this came from."

Even as he speaks, more guards begin to filter into the roads around them.

"Oh gosh," Rachel says, sounding slightly nauseas. "I'm going to die. They're going to poke holes in me!"

"No, you're not," Kurt says emphatically. "Alright, everyone, pop quiz! What's the shortest distance between two points?"

"Oh!" Finn says. "Ummm… I know this one… it's… you have to take the square of the first number, and…"

"A straight line," Mercedes sighs.

Finn glares at her. "I was getting there!"

Kurt rolls his eyes, lifting some up of the spilt water in the area, bending it into tiny, sharp icicles, and hurling them at the guards to keep them at bay. "Settle down, children! Yes, Mercedes, a straight line is correct. Artie!"

"Yo!" Artie says.

"You're our navigator. Take us in a straight line to the train station. Anything we have to go through, we'll go through it. You just keep us pointed in the right direction. Rachel, stay in the middle and hold on to that rock for dear life. Blaine… you look after Rachel. Everyone else—you know your jobs. Ready?"

"Ready!" Finn, Artie and Mercedes chorus.

"What about you? What's your job?" Blaine asks.

With the smile of a satisfied housecat and the grace of a crane, Kurt gathers as much water as he can around his arms, swirling it and compacting it until a massive amount of fluid only takes up enough space to encompass Kurt's arms.

"I'm the Avatar. My job is to be wherever I'm needed the most," he says proudly.

"They're over here!"

"We've got them surrounded!"

"Alright, no more talking. Let's go!" Kurt shouts.

The guards reach them just as Mercedes and Artie turn to the wall behind them. Combining their efforts and unifying their hand motions, they carve open a door just large enough for them to file through. Kurts tentacles move through the air like hungry snakes, striking out at any fireball or guard that comes too close for comfort, expanding and contracting as needed.

What an amazing element, Blaine finds himself thinking as he watches Kurt move.

"Come on, Blaine!" Finn shouts, as everyone else has already gone through the hole.

The Prince dashes through watching Kurt cover their escape like a pro. Once everyone else is through, Kurt spends an arm's worth of water to lash out and flatten every guard on the front lines with a single sweep. He dashes through the door as they fall, keeping the water on his other arm nice and compact.

"Mercedes!" Kurt says as he steps through.

The lady earthbender nods at him, stepping forward and slamming up a stone slab to plug the hole.

"We're polite guests," Mercedes says simply. "We never leave a door open if we can help it."

"I approve of your manners," Blaine smiles.

The wall is rocked with an explosion even as he grins.

"Still moving, people, focus!" Kurt says.

The yard they've barged into is a pretty posh affair, with an elaborate hedge maze, and several fountains spewing water into the air. Finn and Kurt are inordinately pleased at the fountains, taking a second to refill their water pouches to augment the water they keep 'on hand.' (Better to have water and not need it, than to need water and not have it, Kurt says.)

Meanwhile, Artie has taken the liberty of helping everyone solve the puzzle of the hedge maze by wrapping himself in a sizeable ball of solid rock, and rolling straight through it. Literally, straight through. The leafy walls barely slow him down at all as he flattens them. The roly-poly earthbender breaks open like an egg at the end of the maze, and seems only slightly dizzy from the effort.

As Blaine runs, he finds himself next to Rachel, who appears to be teetering on the verge of outright panic. "Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, I have no idea what I'm doing here. BLAINE!" she yells. "WHAT AM I DOING HERE?"

The Prince knows he need to answer carefully. "…helping a righteous cause because you are a brave, talented and honorable young woman?"

It works like a dream. "Oh," Rachel says, looking a little calmer. "Of course! Thank you for reminding me."

Another explosion rocks the yard, and a look back reveals a smoking hole in the wall, leaking a steady stream of guards to chase after them. Mercedes, at the rear of their group train, raises a quick wall or two to slow them down.

As they pass the house, Blaine spots young boy and girl having a tea party on a porch. The boy is sitting between a stuffed gopherbear and camelephant, each with their own pretty pink cup. The girl stands bent over the table with the teapot, pouring it dutifully. Both parties stare gape-mouthed at the intruders, which probably explains why the girl is pouring tea all over the boy's lap and neither seems to have noticed.

"Hi!" Blaine waves cheerfully. "Hello there! Sorry about your yard! Umm… be nice to each other!"

"Blaine!" Kurt shouts back at him. "Please focus!"

"Sorry," he says sheepishly.

They move single file—Artie in the lead as navigator, Kurt right behind him as chief offense, Blaine and Rachel in the middle, with Finn behind him and Mercedes bringing up the rear. It's essentially a sandwich—earthen buns, with water sauce on both sides of a delicious Fire Nation patty.

…okay, he probably should've eaten before he left the party. Focus, Blaine!

Artie cuts through the yard with ease, slamming into the wall near a corner and carving open another door. The earthbender is not the first through, however—that honor is reserved for Kurt, who boldly steps through the door before the dust has even settled.

"Hey, there he is!"

"FOR THE FIRE LORD!"

Blaine can only watch through the hole as Kurt deflects two more fireballs with his water tendrils, countering with a powerful spray. Artie quickly slides out to join him.

His pace quickens as the fight outside continues. Both Kurt and Artie step out of view, and for a few seconds, Blaine can only hear the battle. He does spot one guard as he sails through the air past the hole from Artie's direction.

Then he hears Kurt cry out in pain. And suddenly, Blaine Anderson never knew he could run that fast. Impulse overrides common sense by a factor of twenty, and he bursts out onto the street just in time to duck another flying guard (this one courtesy of Kurt).

They're on a fairly narrow side street, and it looks like all the opposition is down for the moment. Artie sets about to slamming open the next wall, while Kurt clutches his arm to his chest and breathes.

"Kurt!" Blaine shouts. "Are you okay?"

"Just a little singe," he says lightly. "I'll be fine."

"Let me see," Blaine says, trying to get a look at the burnt limb. Kurt's right sleeve is burnt off, and the elbow is blackened.

"I said I'll be fine!" Kurt snaps. "Now get going, before someone else spots us!"

He knows that Kurt doesn't mean to snap at him, and that he definitely didn't mean for it to hurt, but that really doesn't take much of the sting out of it. He doesn't let it show, however—he simply complies. Rachel makes a mad dash across the road just in time to join Blaine in entering the next yard. Kurt follows behind him, Finn behind Kurt, and Mercedes last of all, closing the way behind.

"Medic!" Kurt calls out.

Finn snaps to attention immediately, sprinting to his brother's aid. Kurt, without even being asked, shows him the reddened skin on his arm, and Finn gently works his water over it, the familiar blue glow settling onto the broken flesh as it repairs itself. When Finn pulls the water away, Kurt looks good as new, and Blaine feels as useless as ever. He tucks his sword into his belt, seeing no point in keeping it out. It's not like he'll get a chance to use it.

"Better?" Finn asks.

"Much," Kurt says with a grin. Yet another explosion rattles dust off the stone wall, which is apparently now thin enough for them to hear the chattering guards on the other side.

"…keep chasing them like this!"

"…get that one guy… with the hand thing…"

"They're not talking about who I think they are, are they?" Blaine asks, looking at Kurt.

"I don't suggest we stick around to find out," the Avatar replies. "Onwards!"

Their next foray into the lifestyles of the rich and famous has them in a yard full of animals. Or at least, things that look like animals. Clipped hedges, statues, fountains, and other things in varied shapes. There are gazellebra bushes, platypus bear statues, flamingo fountains… there's even a dragon, sculpted with alarming realism out of a multitude of colorful flowers.

And there's at least one real animal, as well—a small yappy dog that takes loud offense to their presence and seeks to drive them away.

Its bravery falters, however, when a cacophonous blast from just ahead of them heralds the crumbling of another wall. This one isn't Artie's doing; in fact, Artie is steadily backing away from the hole with wide eyes, having just missed being taken out by the blast wave.

Through the swirling cloud of dust steps an enormous beast, combining the best and worst features of lizard and rhinoceros. It bears three riders—two females in identical sets of light, white-and-red armor, and a male with a sickeningly familiar face.

The six of them skid to a halt as the rider blocks their path.

"'sup?" Puck says, smirking. "Long time, no smash."

"You!" Blaine hisses.

"Hey!" Puck says, like he's happy to see him. "Didn't I kill you once?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing," Kurt counters icily.

"Please. You can't keep the Puckasaurus down. And now I've got two lovely ladies and my buddy Kilgore here to help me out," he smiles, patting the komodo rhino a few times. "So who's up for round two?"

"Bring it," Blaine says, stepping forward with his hand on his sword, but Kurt pushes him back.

"No," Kurt says. "You can't fight him."

"We have to fight him!" Blaine says. "We can't run. His rhino is faster than we are, and he can smash through any barriers we put up!"

"No, Blaine," Kurt sighs. "I meant you can't fight him."

"Kurt," Blaine sighs. "I'm not a baby, okay? I can still fight!"

"We don't have time for this, Blaine!" Kurt says. "We need to get out of here before the whole freaking city surrounds us. Stop arguing with me and just go!" he says, pushing Blaine ahead. This time, the Prince balks at the contact, opening his mouth to argue some more. The roar of a rhino distracts him, however, and before he knows it, Puck is charging at them.

Kurt squares his stance and softens the earth the beast is charging on, sinking its claws into the ground.

"Hey, no fair!" Puck shouts. "You can't do that Kilgore! That's like… that's just… mean!"

"Seriously? Seriously? You are lecturing me about being mean?" Kurt scoffs.

"Hey, I can… you should… shut up. Ladies, toast this mother!" Puck orders. With that, the two Chi-Ryu lean out from behind Puck and begin buffeting Kurt with a steady stream of fireballs.

"Come on," Blaine says as he grabs Rachel, who seems somewhat distracted by the spectacle of the Avatar's battle with the assassin. "We have to go."

"But, Kurt is…"

"Kurt is fine," Blaine says, leading her around the fight.

Meanwhile, Kurt has pulled up a rock wall to block the Chi-Ryu's fiery fury. "Artie, Finn, go on ahead and take care of Blaine and Rachel. Mercedes, you're with me on pest control."

"Done, and done," Mercedes says simply.

"On it!" Artie confirms.

"Be careful," Finn says.

With that, Artie proceeds to burrow underground as Mercedes and Kurt get into position, lift up the rock wall and punch the whole thing at Puck as a counterattack.

Finn ducks and scrambles to get to the other side of Puck and his ride without getting roasted—fortunately for him, the Chi-Ryus are pretty much ignoring him entirely. Strangely enough, they're paying lots of attention to Blaine as he runs towards Artie near the wall, to the point of stopping their attack on Kurt.

Meanwhile, Puck easily shatters the rock wall with one of his megaton punches, sending its remains back at Kurt and Mercedes much faster than it came. The earthbender kicks up a rock wall just in time to avoid most of it, but still finds that both she and Kurt have a few scrapes from the shrapnel storm.

"Damn," she says. "Was not expecting that."

"Puck is kind of a pain, but I think we can manage," Kurt says, shaking off the light battle damage. "You bring the pain, and I'll bring the heat. He can't punch in two directions at once."

"Got it!" Mercedes says.

Kurt leaps from behind cover, using a spring-loaded piston of earth to launch himself into the air and punching several fireballs at Puck. The Chi-Ryus have his number, however, and counter by forming an expanding fire screen which absorbs the attack. Mercedes tries to kick another boulder at Puck, but he just punches it into gravel again, forcing her to duck and cover to avoid being shredded.

As Kurt lands, the Chi-Ryu begin laying down another rapid fireball assault. The two time their strikes—in the small space between one's fiery punches, the other attacks. His attempts strafe them are quickly thwarted when the girls actually lead their shots. He nearly eats an explosion for his trouble, and has to note that whoever they are, these ladies clearly have more training than the average Fire Nation rabble. Turning back to offense again, he punches a few fireballs to put them on defense, and stomps up another earth shield so he can think.

"Kurt!" Blaine shouts from near the wall, where Artie is currently boring another hole. "Try to keep him off balance! Keep the pressure on! Puck sucks under pressure!"

The next doorway crumbles open, and Artie and Finn share a look and a nod before heading out into the street together. Rachel clutches at her mouth and looks close to passing out, but Blaine seems relatively sure about his advice.

"Okay!" Kurt says with a nod.

The Prince nods back, and exits.

As he goes, the two Chi-Ryu share a look. One of them forms a fireball between her hands, taking a second to charge it up and hurling it into the sky. The second thrusts two fingers at it when it reaches its apex, piercing it with a line of fire and detonating it in mid-air.

And at that moment, Kilgore gives a mighty roar of frustration and shatters the ground around him, freeing himself from his prison.

"Good boy," Puck says, patting Kilgore approvingly as the rhino gives an angry snort.

Kurt and Mercedes share a short look of 'oh, crap,' from behind their respective shelters.

"HYAH!"

And Kilgore charges.


The street is mostly empty when Finn and Artie make their entrance. The only person around is a poofy woman in a poofy dress, and her skinny attendant, who shelters her with a parasol with one hand and pushes a stroller with the other.

The pair gasps in shock as assorted ruffians pour through into the street before them. The woman whispers something to her attendant, who nods gravely as they both stare.

"Hey!" Artie says, challenging them with a glare. "You got something to say?"

The two immediately perform a wide-eyed about face, and march away.

The woman's baby gives Artie a stink-eye from the stroller. Artie, bastion of maturity that he is, makes a mean face, and the baby starts crying.

"Thought so," he says, crossing his arms and sliding to the other side of the street.

"How much further?" Finn asks as he gives Rachel and Blaine the all clear.

"This is the last house between us and where we need to be," Artie says. He slides to a stop on the sidewalk, staring up at thick, black metal bars. "Unfortunately, we seem to have hit a wall here."

"That is not a wall," Rachel points out. "That is, in fact, a fence."

Artie rolls his eyes. "It's a metaphorical wall. It's metal. I can't bend it. And it's huge, so I can't just knock it out of the way."

"We could go over it," Blaine suggests.

"You could go over it. I'm not much of a climber, and a jump that high would not end well for me," Artie says flatly.

"No way I could do it," Finn agrees. "I'd probably just stab myself on the sharp, pointy things at the top."

As the others ponder the mystery of the fence, Artie watches the woman and her attendant reach the end of the street, whereupon the woman lets out a spectacularly melodramatic wail, and faints. The attendant shouts urgently and points to them. Even the baby gets in on the act, wailing loudly and thrusting his pudgy little fingers in their direction.

"Tattle tale," Artie grouses.

"Guys, whatever we're gonna do, we need to do it now," Finn says.

"Oh!" Rachel snaps. "Earthbender! Can we go under?"

Artie thrusts his hands at the ground and scoops them apart, bending just enough of a hole for Rachel to see that the fence has fairly deep roots.

"Ah, that is a 'no,'" she says.

"Maybe we should just wait for Kurt," Blaine suggests.

"Oh yeah," a familiar voice says. "Stick around. I've got lots of fun things for us to do."

The recognizable snort and heavy footsteps of a komodo rhino fill Blaine with dread. Turning around, he spots two more Chi-Ryus, riding with another old foe.

"Hola, Principe," Santana says with a smirk. "How's it hanging?"

Blaine is stuck between exploding with rage and imploding with grief. Being confronted with these two is not good for his calm. "You killed my friends," he growls.

"Did I?" Santana says with a casual shrug. "Must not have been too hard. I barely even remember them."

"You bitch," Blaine seethes, drawing his sword.

"Dude, no!" Finn says, grabbing Blaine by his shoulders and holding him back.

"Let me go!" he roars, straining against even the considerable strength of Finn.

Artie slides up to block him as well. "She's just baiting you, dude. Don't fall for it!"

"Oh, now I remember!" Santana says with a snap. "The chocolate one and his buddy, duck sauce? Yeah, they were a barrel of laughs. Screamed the whole time."

A primal roar tears out of Blaine's throat as he breaks Finn's grip and tries to charge Santana. Artie betrays him in this moment, tripping him, grabbing him by the ankle, and sliding him along the ground so that he skids to a stop behind Finn.

"I said don't fall for it!" Artie shouts. "You and Rachel go over the fence. Me and Finn? We got this."

Blaine punches the ground in frustration, feeling as useless as ever as Finn bends his water supply out of its pouch, and Artie readies his hands. He grinds his teeth the entire way over to Rachel.

Meanwhile, Santana seems strangely distracted by Artie. "…no. Freaking. Way," the dark-haired assassin says, staring at Artie disbelievingly.

"Problem?" Artie asks.

"Oh, no-no-no," she says with a grin, reaching for her weapon. "Total opposite, actually—you just made my day!"

She lashes the whip at Artie. The earthbender is just as fast as her weapon, and raises a gloved hand to block it.

The crack echoes through the street.

Santana smirks as Artie curses and clutches his hand. The earthbender succeeded, more or less, in blocking the attack, but the cost was fairly high—the palm of his glove was shattered, and his hand is now bleeding like a motherfucker.

"Medic!" Artie grunts.

"On it!" Finn shouts, kneeling next to him and using his water to close the cut.

Artie glares at Santana. "…damn crazy bitch," he grumbles.

"Oh, it ain't even close to crazy up in here," she smirks. "Ladies! Demolish these losers."

The Chi-Ryu at the reins takes lashes the rhino forward, prompting it to charge Finn and Artie. Finn has a minor freak out, but Artie keeps his wits about him. His vengeance is swift and merciless—taking advantage of his low ground clearance, Artie waits for just the right moment, charges between its legs, and quickly confirms its (male) gender with a devastating punch where the sun don't shine.

That's right. Artie cock-punched a freakin' rhino. He's never been more thankful for his gloves.

The rhino groans, wobbles, and falls to the side mid-charge, spilling its riders onto the street.

Blaine takes advantage of the scuffle. "Can you climb?" he whispers.

"What?" Rachel says, trying to look around him to see the fight.

"Can you climb that fence?" Blaine repeats, pointing to it.

"I… I don't think so, especially not with this," Rachel says, nodding to the tablet.

"Alright then," Blaine says. Without even asking, he snatches the tablet and shoves it through the bars of the fence, letting it fall on the soft grass.

"Hey!" Rachel complains. "What are you—"

Blaine cups his hands and crouches in front of her. "Step on," he says. "I'll throw you up as high as I can, and you can climb the rest of the way."

The girl seems hesitant even as she complies. "I'm really not sure if this is the best idEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAA!" She squeals as Blaine launches her without warning, heaving her up with all his might.

He expects her to make it to at least 3/4ths of the way up. He is completely shocked when she—flailing and squealing—sails clean over the fence by a fair margin and flops on the other side.

"Owwwww," she whines as she picks herself up. "Why did you throw me so hard?"

"I… umm… didn't mean to," Blaine says, taking a second to examine his arms to see if he has suddenly grown much more muscular. He hasn't. Rachel must just be really light.

Santana and company don't take long to recover, so Blaine quickly starts climbing the fence himself. Unfortunately, the assassin spots him. "Oh, no," she says. "Uh-uh, we are not doing that chase scene shit again."

She tries to toss a rope trap at him, but Finn comes to his rescue. "Back off!" he shouts, lashing a water whip and forcing her to dodge, throwing off her aim.

The Chi-Ryus look to pick up where she left off, getting ready to throw some fire at the Prince, when Artie slams their legs right out from under them with rock-covered arms. Blaine scrambles the rest of the way up the fence, swings over the sharp spires at the top, and lands in the perfect roll next to Rachel, who has the tablet safe in her arms once more.

"Come on!" Blaine shouts, grabbing Rachel's hand and leading her forward.

"But Finn," she says, straining to look back.

"Finn is fine. He can take care of himself," Blaine says.

Incidentally, Finn chooses this exact moment to strike at Santana with another whip attack. The assassin tries to dodge, but in this case, Finn's lack of coordination actually helps him—she dodges where the attack was supposed to go, and winds up leaning right into it. She reels from the assault.

This satisfies Rachel. "Okay," she says, smiling at Finn's heroics. "We'll keep going."

It's a good thing she misses Santana's response to that little offense. Finn's attack hit her face, resulting in a sizeable red welt. Blaine can tell you from experience—Santana does not fuck around when it comes to her face.

Her glare would make most men wet themselves. "Waterboy, you are fixing to sprout several leaks."

Finn gulps.

As Blaine escapes, the Chi-Ryus again take notice in a big way. In a surprisingly smart move, they begin spreading fires on the ground near Artie, forcing him to flee or get fricasseed. With the earthbender occupied, the Chi-Ryus set off another mid-air explosion, conjuring up a fireball, hurling it over the fence and detonating it.

Artie is about to take advantage of their distraction when he notices Finn getting the crap beaten out of him.

"Uh-oh," Artie says. He starts to slide over to help his buddy, but another fireball blasts the ground in front of him, and he has no choice but to turn and face the Chi-Ryu.

"I always wind up on the wrong end of hot chicks," he sighs.


A short distance away, the third rhino rider marks the second mid-air explosion of the day, knowing exactly what it means.

She lashes her rhino onwards, driving it faster and harder than ever.

The Prince has been found, and he is escaping.

That simply will not do.


As Blaine and Rachel charge across the latest yard—an expanse of immaculately maintained grass—Rachel starts panting and heaving in a manner so dramatic that Blaine almost accuses her of acting. Then, he notices he's feeling a little winded himself. This yard goes uphill until the house, so it's a bit more taxing than most.

"Can we…" Rachel gasps, "please stop… for some water…?"

"Well, I am kind of tired. And we don't want to go too far from the others," Blaine says.

They head for the house. Blaine is all for politeness under most circumstances, but this is life or death, and he is really thirsty. He resolves to leave his manners at the door the second he kicks it open.

"Oh, my!" the middle-aged maid on the other side of the door says. "What is the meaning of this?"

"Sorry!" Blaine cries immediately. So much for the manner-drop. "I'm so sorry, I'm just… we were just…"

Rachel stalks in behind him. She assesses the situation, makes a decision, and cries, "He's holding me hostage!"

"He is?" the maid gasps.

"I am?" Blaine whispers.

"YES!" Rachel says emphatically to both questions. She immediately wraps Blaine's arms around her, drawing his sword with his own hand and holding it to her throat. Blaine is horrified.

So is the maid. "Scoundrel!" she cries. "Fiend!"

"Umm… yes!" Blaine shouts. "Yes, I am both of those things," he says, attempting to scowl and looking about as threatening as a baby moose-lion with a bow on its head.

Fortunately, the maid is very much inexperienced in these matters, and finds him to be quite intimidating indeed. "Agni protect me!" she cries.

"Water," Rachel says.

"What?" Blaine asks.

"Ask for water!" Rachel whispers.

"May I have some water, please?" Blaine asks.

A stomp on his foot makes him reword that.

"OW! I mean… get me some water, right now, or the girl gets it!" he growls, pressing the sword against her throat.

The maid wails in exquisite horror and dashes into the kitchen. "Oh, please! I'll do anything you want, please, just… not on the carpet. I just shampooed!"

Blaine holds Rachel steady, keeping the sword at her throat as he follows the maid. "I'm not hurting you, am I? Is the sword too close?"

"No," Rachel assures him. "The blade is actually quite dull."

"Huh," Blaine says thoughtfully. "It is pretty old…"

The poor maid scrambles to pour a glass of water for him, setting it down on the counter with shaking hands.

"Thank you," Blaine says automatically, prompting another Rachel-stomp. "OW—I mean… ummm… pour another glass! I'm really thirsty!"

She does as ordered, wailing the whole way.

"Thank you—and GET OUT!" Blaine shouts, adding the second part when Rachel raises her foot threateningly.

The woman flails and wails and cries "OHHHHHHHHHHHHH" all the way out.

When she is gone, Blaine releases Rachel and finally takes a moment to breathe. "Whew," he says. "This is hard work."

Rachel nods in agreement as she sets down the tablet and hands him a glass of water. "It's one thing to watch other people perform these epic adventure stories. It's quite another to live through them yourself," she comments. She takes several deep gulps. "I never imagined falling in love with a Prince would be so much work."

The aforementioned Prince gives a wince. "Rachel… I am so sorry. About… everything. Dragging you into this, getting you in trouble, not even… not even realizing you were in love with me." He takes a long drink of his own, mostly to plug his mouth before something stupid comes out.

"Oh, psh," she says, waving him off. "Water under the proverbial bridge. Most of what you mentioned isn't even really your fault."

Blaine sighs. "Still…"

"If it makes you feel better," Rachel says quietly, "I'll forgive you. But really, you've nothing to be sorry for."

He can't help but smile at her. "Thank you. I really do appreciate that."

They drink in silence for a few seconds, resting, wondering how their friends are doing, wondering if they should go back and try to help. Wondering if they could help—if they could even make a difference in the battles being waged. Rachel, the Unbending Actress, and Blaine, the Fireless Prince.

"Are you always oblivious?" Rachel asks suddenly.

"What do you mean?" Blaine counter-questions.

"When people are in love with you," she elaborates.

He thinks back to that morning, that wonderful, horrifying moment when he awoke with Kurt as his pillow, safe and loved in his arms.

"Not always," he whispers.

Rachel nods. "What about when it hurts them?"

"What are you trying to say?" Blaine asks.

The young actress looks at him with gentle eyes. "I'm trying to say… I think that Kurt… might be—"

She is cut off when an explosion rattles the house from roof to foundation. A bloom of fire engulfs the living room, and Blaine shields his face from the heat.

"Ohmygosh," Rachel breathes, grabbing the tablet.

The Prince draws his sword. "Go!" he says, pointing. "Out the back! Find the others!"

Without even waiting for a reply, he dashes into the burning room, feeling ready to face whoever he finds there.

His feelings betray him when he sees her standing in the flames, casual as you please. She saunters towards him, arms crossed, lips in a smirk, long blonde hair flowing behind her as the heated air rushes out of the room.

"Hello, Blaine," she says. "It's been a while."

"Not long enough," Blaine growls. "Who are you? What do you want?"

"My name is Quinn Fabray," the girl says haughtily. "And I want you."

"Well, here I am," he says, brandishing his sword. "Now what?"

"Let's step outside," Quinn says simply, pointing to the backdoor.

"I'm not going anywhere with you," Blaine growls. "If you want to do this, we're going to do it right here, right now."

The blonde girl whistles. From the kitchen, two Chi-Ryus step into view, and Blaine's heart sinks when he sees Rachel held tightly in their arms. Two fingers point at her neck, ready to end her at any moment.

He was her last line of defense. He had one job. One job, and he couldn't even do that correctly.

Quinn nods to the backdoor. "Let's step outside," she repeats.

Like a kicked dog, Blaine follows her.

The backyard is comprised of a small stone courtyard, a rather nice collection of plants, and a sizeable swimming pool. Quinn steps into the courtyard, takes a deep breath, whips her arms around and thrusts her hands to the sky, creating a huge, whirling pillar of flame streaming to the heavens.

"What was that?" Blaine asks.

"Just calling some associates," Quinn says simply.

"To help you with the execution?" Blaine asks.

The Chi-Ryu Captain shakes her head. "No, Blaine," she says. "This isn't an execution."

The Prince is baffled. "If you aren't going to kill me, then what are you going to do?"

"I never said I wasn't going to kill you," Quinn says with a shrug. "I am. But not execution-style."

Blaine narrows his eyes, and says nothing.

"Ah," Quinn says. "Right on time, Chi-Ryus. You'll be my witnesses."

Out of the corner of his eye, he spots a flash of the Chi-Ryu's light, white and red armor. Without him even noticing, four more of them have appeared. The six of them form a perfect hexagon, with Blaine and Quinn in the middle.

Suddenly, Blaine understands what's about to happen, and his heart begins to pound even before he hears the words.

"Blaine Anderson… I challenge you to an Agni Kai."


Kurt dives out of the way of yet another charge from Kilgore, jumping up to avoid another fireball assault and panting like a marathon runner as he dives behind another of Mercedes's earth walls.

"This is insane!" Kurt shouts, annoyed. "We can't keep the pressure on because of the fire ladies, we can't just haul off and wreck them because Puck just punches everything back at us, and we can't stand still because of that stupid rhino—what can we do?"

Mercedes thinks for a second. "What if we blind them with a dust cloud?"

"Pretty sure Puck can punch the air if he needs to, but I don't have any better ideas," Kurt sighs. "On three, ready? One… two… three!"

They leap up and stomp the earth together, thrusting their hands towards Puck and the girls, kicking up a huge dust storm. Kilgore seems mildly distraught, but Puck, sure enough, punches the air itself in front of his rhino, blasting a hole in their smoke screen with a gust of wind.

"See?" Kurt says. "I told you.."

"Don't give up yet," Mercedes says. "We just need more coverage."

With that, she jumps up and stomps up another dust cloud. Kurt catches on quickly and follows suit, and soon, the entire yard is more ensconced in a minor sand storm.

"The fuck?" Puck shouts, blinded by the cloud. "Hey, if you think a little dirt's gonna slow me down, you don't know Puckzilla. I love playing dirty."

Kurt crouches near Mercedes, tearing off part of his sleeve. With extra water from his pouch, he wets it and ties it around his mouth. "There was a fountain back there somewhere," he says. "I'm going to find it."

"Gotcha," Mercedes says, tearing off a piece of cloth herself and letting him dampen it. "I'll keep you covered."

As Kurt runs off, Mercedes ties the cloth around her mouth, and puts her hunting skills to good use. She might not be as good as vibro-sight as Artie, but she doesn't really need to be. After all, it's not like something as huge as Kilgore steps lightly. Every so often, when the rhino puts its foot down, Mercedes punches a rock at it. Puck can't see it coming, so he can't stop it. Instead, he guides Kilgore into charging wherever the rock came from. By the time he gets there, however, Mercedes has dodged into the cloud, ready to attack again. Puck coughs and sputters, punching at the air every few seconds to try and clear the cloud away.

"Hey!" Puck shouts between coughs. "Lay off my rhino!"

"Tell your damn rhino to quit trying to ram me, and I'll think about it!" Mercedes counters. Puck charges at her again, but Mercedes once again dashes into the dust, missing him by a mile. She's so focused on Kilgore that she almost runs smack into a platypus bear statue. "Huh," she says, staring up at it as an idea begins to form in her mind…

With the assassin occupied for the moment, Kurt dashes through the dusty yard, looking for that darned flamingo fountain. He stumbles into a gazellebra-shaped bush, nearly trips over a long flower pot in the shape of a rat-viper, stubs his toe on a stone dragon frog, and winds up setting the lovely flower dragon on fire out of sheer frustration.

It burns enthusiastically. Very enthusiastically.

Kurt watches it burn for just a second before bending it out. His mind flashes back to his little adventure in infiltrating the Fire Nation fortress, and suddenly, he, too, has an idea.

Water first, though. Taking a second to calm himself, he stretches out his senses, tuning out the sounds of battle and the rest of the world.

There it is.

Stifling a shout of triumph, he follows his inner divining rod to the bird-shaped waterspout, taking just a second to admire the fine craftsmanship. Then he blasts it apart with a fireball and gathers all the water on one arm. He then heads back, uses the water to chop the head off the dragon, and convenes with Mercedes to discuss strategy.

Kilgore doesn't deserve this shit, Puck thinks. He tries to shield his eyes, his mouth, and everywhere else the damn sand can get, but it's no use. The shit's everywhere and there's not a damn thing he can do about it. The fact that the Chi-Ryus barely seem bothered by it just pisses him off even more. He's looking around for signs of the Avatard and Big Sassy, when another rock smacks into Kilgore's hide.

"Stop it!" Puck shouts, frustrated beyond all measure.

"Make me!" Mercedes shouts back.

Puck drives Kilgore towards the sound of the voice, but he still misses Mercedes by a longshot.

"This is animal cruelty!" Puck cries as another boulder bounces off his buddy. "You're gonna pay for this!"

"I'm standing right here!" Mercedes calls out. The dust is finally starting to settle, and Puck has a plan. This time, he punches towards her, and then charges. The path clears just enough for him to see her outline, and the assassin smiles.

"Got you now!" he says, ready to give his buddy their first combined kill.

He should've known from the fact that she wasn't even moving that it was a trap. Kilgore slams his head full-force into the hard, compacted stone of a Big Sassy-shaped statue, and the impact is enough to daze even his super-tough buddy. Kilgore stumbles, and Puck struggles to keep him from hitting anything.

At that moment, Kurt strikes. The Avatar leaps at them from behind, taking even the Chi-Ryus off-guard, kicking all three of Kilgore's riders off with a watery tentacle around his leg.

When Puck picks himself up off the ground, the dust has cleared enough for him to see the Avatar jamm some kind of weird flower thingy onto Kilgore's horns. He has no idea what the dude is thinking. Kilgore is a manly rhino. He doesn't like girly shit like flowers and rainbows. Puck knows the dude is so gay he probably has glitter poop, but seriously, decorating his rhino is taking it a little too far.

He's just getting ready to tell him that when suddenly, dude sets the flowers on fire.

Which, while much cooler than non-flaming flowers, is totally not cool at all.

Kilgore panics like crazy and starts charging all over the place. He demolishes three statues, four rows of a really nice garden, part of a porch, a small pagoda, and the rest of the flower dragon (which incidentally just makes things worse, as it also catches on fire).

"Shit!" Puck shouts, running after him. "Kilgore, stop! Whoa, boy! You're just making it worse!"

The Chi-Ryus pick themselves up and dust themselves off.

"Hey!" Puck says. "Give me a hand, here! Put it out!"

Eying the flaming rhino, the girls seem poised to act when suddenly, a large, whirling pillar of flame streams up into the evening sky from a little ways away. The girls share a significant look, and promptly abandon Puck and Kilgore to their fates. Kicking off of the ground and propelling themselves via explosion, they sail to the top of the wall and run to where they saw the pillar.

"FINE! FUCK YOU GUYS! SEE IF I LET YOU RIDE HIM AGAIN!" Puck shouts as he tries to chase Kilgore down. The rhino soon finds the hole it came in through, and leaves the same way. Puck charges right after him, forgetting the mission completely. "COME BACK, BUDDY! I'M TRYING TO HELP!"

"Well," Kurt breathes as the dust settles. "That was entertaining and educational. Now we know if we want to get rid of Puck, all we need to do is go for his pet."

"When a boy loves his rhino, it's best not to come between them," Mercedes comments, taking off her mouth covering as they walk to the wall.

Kurt nods in agreement. "Let's catch up with the others. The spirits alone know what kind of debacle they've gotten themselves into…"


Finn Hudson is getting the crap beaten out of him by someone who is about half his size.

Nothing new, all things considered.

He wasn't lying when he said he kind of sucks at fighting. Maybe he should get more practice.

Santana lays into him with a furious flurry of punches. She slams him, jams him, and rocks his world, driving him against the wall. All he can do is hide his face behind his arms—any attempt to shield his torso just results in her punching him in the face, which hurts even more.

"You never…"

Wham.

"…ever…"

Bam!

"…touch…"

WHUMP.

"…my FACE!"

At this, she hauls off jams her fist into his stomach, squeezing the breath out of him like a squeaky toy. He falls to his hands and knees, in so much pain that he actually throws up a little on the ground. Fortunately, it isn't too gross, 'cause it's mostly water, and…

Huh.

Could he…?

Santana backs off like she's about to punt his head off. When she charges forward, Finn lashes out, bending the nastiness that just burbled up from inside of him and splashing it right in her face.

Finn scrambles to his feet, takes one look at the shocked, horrified, disgusted, homicidally enraged expression on Santana's face, and decides that she needs a hug.

So before starts kicking his ass again, he runs up and gives her the biggest, tightest bear hug he can manage.

"You are disgusting!" she spits, kicking and squirming in his arms like crazy. "I am going to rip your nipples off!" That just makes him squeeze her tighter (mostly because he's afraid of her arms getting free enough to actually try that). Sure she's kicking the crap out of his shins and her head comes dangerously close to smashing his nose in, but at least she's working new areas now. Finn can take a beating, but you have to spread it out. Even he has his limits.

Meanwhile, Artie is having troubles of his own with the hot chicks, who are annoying the crap out of him by spreading fire allover the ground, making it harder and harder for him to move around effectively. He can put it out by burying it in dirt or occasionally just flipping the earth over, but he can't put it out nearly as fast as they can set it, so it's kind of pointless.

So, he decides to stop fighting fires and start fighting firebenders. With all the speed he can muster, he punches up two rocks and socks them at the ladies. It's very little trouble for them to shatter the rocks with fireballs, but they fail to realize that the rocks are just a diversion for Artie's real attack—no sooner than the stones take flight, Artie crosses his hands and shoots off his gloves, both of which are purposely aimed to go wide of their targets.

By the time the Chi-Ryus have shattered the rocks, the gloves are right where Artie wants them. Curling his open palms into fists, he uncrosses his arms and thrusts his hands out to the side. The gloves follow his path on a wider scale, curling into powerful stone fists and flying in from the sides. The Chi-Ryus have no idea what's coming, so both take full hits. One girl is hit in the face—the other is smacked right in the gut.

They glare at him as Artie smiles and beckons them forward. "Come on, girls," he says. "Wanna dance?"

The Chi-Ryu look ready to oblige, when suddenly, their attention is called to a giant fire pillar behind the house where Blaine went. The two nod at each other, kick off the ground with downright explosive force, and sail over the fence. Shortly thereafter, two more Chi-Ryu jump across the street, having abandoned the fight with Kurt and Mercedes to join their sisters. "That's… probably not a good sign," Artie says, watching them go before turning back to the fight.

Finn is having serious trouble with Santana, who is kicking his shins with what sounds like bone-splintering force, and trying desperately to cave his nose in with her forehead.

"Hey!" he says. "Quit bullying my buddy!"

Most of the ground between him and Finn is still on fire, so Artie slides back, back, and back. As a true earthbender, he waits for the right moment, when Finn turns his back, and then, he strikes.

Santana is so caught up in the midst of her furious flailing that she doesn't see Artie. She doesn't see him sliding towards them at full speed, bending a ramp into the ground right in front of the fire. She doesn't see him until he sails over the fire, over the downed rhino, and lands on Finn's back.

"Back off, hoe!" he cries, socking her hard enough to make Finn let go. She stumbles backwards, her world a little swimmy from that hit and from slight oxygen deprivation, giving Finn time get himself together.

"Hey," Artie says softly, gently wrapping his arms around Finn's shoulders. "You okay, big buddy?"

"Yeah," Finn grunts with a wince, "I've definitely been worse."

The earthbender chuckles. "Well, I'm sick of watching you get beat up. What do you say we pull out all the stops?"

Suddenly, Finn's day brightens up. "Really?"

"Really," Artie says.

"Alright!" Finn says, pumping his fist. "Let's do it!"

And then it just gets ridiculous.

"LET OUR POWERS COMBINE!" Artie shouts with a matching fist-pump.

"WATER!" Finn shouts, reaching behind him to grab Artie's legs and loop them around his waist.

"EARTH!" Artie shouts, raising his hands to levitate some rock fragments from the ground. As Finn puts his feet together, Artie molds the rocks into a single stone cast, fastening his feet to each other like a belt loop.

The end result, essentially, is that Finn is wearing Artie like a friggin' backpack.

"Together," Finn says, his voice low.

"We form…" Artie adds seriously.

And then it gets FUCKING ridiculous.

The two of them strike a dramatic pose, finishing in unison.

"THE MAGNIFICENT, MULTI-ARMED MUDBENDER!"

Santana cannot even. She is physically incapable of such. "You're joking," she says flatly. "You are fucking kidding me."

"Oh, Hills, no," Artie says, leaning forward. "She did not just call the Mudbender a joke."

Finn crosses his arms, shaking his head sadly. "The Mudbender is not a joke. He is not funny at all."

"Laughter makes him angry," Artie says.

"You wouldn't like him when he's angry," Finn adds.

Santana honestly cannot help it. She starts laughing. Cackling. Howling. She laughs so hard she can barely stand.

Artie and Finn look at each other sadly. Artie shrugs. "Well, she can't say we didn't warn her…"

Before she can recover, his rock gloves fly out, grab her by her top, and pull her forward. As she flies towards them, Finn and Artie shift their weight together and rear back their fists. The second she is close enough, both of them haul off and give her a single unified punch with enough force to send her flying.

It hurts like a motherfucker, but rage and the sheer humiliation of actually being hit by this… conglomeration of goofiness makes her land on her feet.

"Fuck this shit. I've had enough. It's about to get real messy up in here," she says, pulling out her whip.

"The Mudbender loves messy!" Finn says brightly.

"He is mess," Artie adds, philosophically.

Finn leans over just enough so that Artie can see and attack over him, and they prepare for combat.

It's about two seconds from being on 'til the break of dawn, when suddenly, the wall behind Santana crumbles. When she turns to see who comes through it, Artie rock-fists her in the back of the head.

"OW!" she shouts. "Motherfucker, you do not strike a bitch when she's not looki—"

And then someone else hits her from behind. She finds herself slammed into a wall in front of the Avatar, who breathes some kind of weird mist that encases her in ice, pinning her there.

"BITCHES!" she cries, enraged. "You are all bitches! Let me out, I'll take you all on!"

"Oh, you're here too?" Kurt says casually as Mercedes walks behind him. "It's like a family reunion! Only we all hate each other. Although depending on your family, that might not be much of a distinction."

"I will claw your eyes out!" Santana shrieks.

"Yes, yes, it's nice to see you too," Kurt replies, not even looking at her. "Lovely chatting with you, dear. Ta!"

And he just leaves her there.

"Hey, we were just getting worried about you guys!" Finn says.

"We were wondering if you needed our help, seeing as we clearly have it on lock down in our neck of the woods," Artie says cockily.

Mercedes gives them a weird look. "Y'all doing that again? Seriously?"

They look at each other and shrug. "Why do people hate what they don't understand?" Finn sighs sadly.

Mercedes is about to respond when Kurt steps between them.

"Where's Blaine?" he asks.

"He and Rachel climbed over the fence and went to… that… house…" Finn trails off, pointing at the house.

Kurt gapes at the sight. "That house. The house that I am looking at now. The one that's on fire. That house."

Finn gulps. "Yeah, that house."

Without even looking, Kurt immediately calls up all the available water on the street, using it to slice clean through the bars of the metal fence. It only takes him a few swipes to cut a hole large enough to fit through. He starts to gather the water around his hands, but abruptly drops it and makes a face. "Ewww. Finn, this water stinks. Where did you get it?"

"You… really don't want to know," Finn replies sheepishly.

Kurt sighs in frustration. "Whatever. Come on, let's go!"

With that, he dashes through the fence.

Mercedes continues to give Artie and Finn the stink-eye. Unable to come up with any other way to respond, she finally settles on saying "Y'all are weird," and heads through the hole behind Kurt.

"She envies the power of the Mudbender," Artie says, shaking his head at her.

Finn shrugs, walking through the hole. "Honestly, who can blame her?"

Artie holds out his open hands, and Finn gives them both a high five.

"No. Fucking. Way." Santana shouts. "There is no way that I just lost to that!"

As he walks, Finn turns around and blows her a kiss. From his back, Artie bites his lip and proudly flicks her a double-deuce.

"COWARDS!" she shouts. "Get back here!"

But they're already heading to the top of the hill, no longer paying her any attention. Because now that he thinks about it, that's a lot of fire, and Rachel was with Blaine.

Whatever's happening here, he hopes he isn't too late…


The violent, angry crackling of the burning mansion behind them sets the mood perfectly.

"What if I refuse?" the Prince asks, trying and failing to stare down his enemy.

Quinn flicks her head towards Rachel. "Then we light a fire under your friend."

"You don't even know who she is!" Blaine shouts, outraged.

"You do," Quinn says. "That's all that matters."

"I can't firebend!" Blaine says, near desperation. "I lost my bending."

"So find it again," Quinn grinds out, stepping into firebending stance. "Now stop stalling. I have challenged you to an Agni Kai. Do you accept?"

The Prince takes a deep breath, and closes his eyes.

A moment of silence hangs over the courtyard.

"Yes," Blaine says, getting into his own stance.

"Ready?" the Chi-Ryu near the edge shouts.

Blaine and Quinn nod.

"KAI!" the Chi-Ryu shouts.

Quinn wastes no time, punching a fireball at him right away. Unable to block it, he sidesteps and tries to rush her. She kicks a crescent wave of flame at him, forcing him to jump to clear it. He lands next to her, but she is ready. With two fingers extended, she slices a thin line of flame towards his chest. He raises his arms to block it instinctively, his father having taught him well, but all this succeeds in doing is getting the crap burned out of his arms. Quinn cuts a second slice into his shoulder, and he cries out, staggering backwards.

Rachel looks flatly horrified, and near tears.

"Come on, Prince," Quinn says. "All you need is a little drive. A little motivation. Do you want your little friend here to watch you embarrass yourself before you die?"

Blaine charges her again, adrenaline driving off the pain from his burns. Quinn thrusts out a stream of flame towards his torso, but Blaine goes into a slide, slipping under it and kicking Quinn in the sternum before she can react. The attack knocks her back a few steps, but Blaine's victory is short lived. As Blaine kicks to his feet, Quinn sweeps a fire-wave along the ground. He tries to jump, but only one leg makes it in time; the other one takes the attack full on, burning him and knocking him on his back. He scrambles to his feet before she can finish him, but his legs and arms are both starting to throb a little louder, clamoring for attention even as he desperately tries to ignore them. His steps are unsteady, his stance is broken, and even worse, the head wound from Keros is starting to ache as well.

"This is pathetic," Quinn spits. "Come on! Don't you hate me? Don't you want revenge? Get mad! Use all that anger! Do something!"

He won't. He can't. He would never, ever, and yet… desperate times call for desperate measures. Someone's life is at stake here, someone's besides his own. Is it really right for him to ignore a weapon at his disposal because of his little moral hang-up? Would it be better for him to just… do it? To do what must be done?

He is distracted from answering this question by the sight of a swimming pool's worth of water floating into the air behind Quinn and her minions. The shock on his face must be fairly obvious, as Quinn quickly turns around as well. She sees it just in time to watch it surge forwards, sweeping the lot of them off of their feet while mysteriously flowing around Blaine and Rachel.

Kurt steps into the courtyard, his face all business as he washes Quinn and her minions to the edge of the yard before freezing them to the ground. "Seven on one? Really?" Kurt says. "You guys are such bullies."

"Kurt!" Blaine shouts, overjoyed, taking a step towards him before his leg suddenly reminds him that it is still too hot to eat, having just recently been cooked. "Ah!" he hisses, stumbling forward. The Avatar runs to the kneeling Prince as quickly as he can as the rest of the gang spills into the yard.

"Blaine!" he shouts. "Oh La, what happened to you?"

"Fire," he says with a wince. "Apparently, it burns."

"Medic!" Kurt shouts. "Get over here!"

The tall waterbender dashes over, seeming slightly more cumbersome than usual. The reason for this becomes clear very quickly. Blaine squints at the sight. "Is that… is he... is Artie…?"

"It's this… thing they do. I wouldn't question it," Kurt says quietly as Finn reaches and kneels down.

"Whoa," he says, getting a look at Blaine's rather crispy leg. "Dude. You've got to stop this," he says, bending up some water and applying it to the peeling, swollen skin.

"Seriously," Artie says from his back. "You're like an injury magnet."

"Always have been," Blaine says lightly, hissing as his leg tingles at Finn's fingertips. "You'll get used to it."

"I'd really rather not," Kurt says, soberly. "I don't like seeing you hurt. Can you please leave the fighting to us from now on?"

"I didn't have a choice!" Blaine insists.

"Is he okay?" Rachel asks, running over. "Are you okay? Oh Blaine, you were so brave…"

"Hey!" Mercedes says. "I hate to break up your game of 'Ring Around the Royal,' but we've got trouble."

She gestures over to the Chi-Ryus and Quinn, who are marching towards them in a V-formation with Quinn as the spearhead. Where a large patch of ice once held them to the ground, there is now only a wide column of steam rising into the air.

"So," Quinn says, annoyed. "Tweedle Dick and Tweedle Dominatrix couldn't even slow you down. Why am I not surprised?"

"Look lady," Kurt says, standing up and stalking towards her. "Banter is fun, and all, but I am fresh out of patience for the evening. Stand down, or get smacked down. Your choice."

"Ah… no," Quinn says flatly. "We're not like the usual morons you deal with. This is a whole new ball game."

"You wanna play?" Mercedes asks, stepping into stance next to Kurt. "Let's play."

Finn finishes healing Blaine's leg and arms. "There," he says, "your leg shouldn't give you too much more trouble. We've gotta go help Kurt."

"Stay back, man. This could get ugly," Artie says from Finn's back as the two of them head over to stand beside Kurt.

Blaine almost mentions his throbbing head, but since it's mostly just an annoyance, he decides to keep silent. With nowhere else to be, he stands between Rachel and the impending fight.

"Oh, for the love of—what is that supposed to be?" Quinn says, skeptically eying the Finn-Artie combo.

"We're the Magnificent Multi-Armed Mudbender!" Finn and Artie say together, as though they've rehearsed it a thousand times.

"I am so embarrassed to know you right now…" Kurt sighs, shaking his head.

"This just gets more ridiculous by the minute," Quinn says, exasperated. "This joke is no longer funny. I've had enough." She raises her hand. "CHI-RYU!" And she thrusts it towards them. "ATTACK!"

With that, all seven girls move in perfect unison, cupping their hands, looping them around, and thrusting them at the gang.

Kurt, Artie, and Mercedes all combine their efforts into raising a rock wall. Then, the three of them (well, Artie via Finn) step forward and slam the stone slab at the girls.

They respond by crouching and sending a unified fire wave at the bottom of the wall, flipping it over them and crashing it into the fence at the edge of the estate.

"AERIAL ASSAULT!" Quinn commands.

Four of the Chi-Ryus act as spotters, hurling Quinn and two of her compatriots into the air, where they proceed to rain a punishing barrage of fireballs down on the gang. The Chi-Ryus on the ground join in the fun, assaulting them from two directions at once.

Finn raises his water to shield them from above, while Artie conjures up another earth wall to protect their front. Mercedes creates a curved earth shield to intercept both attacks. Kurt tries to respond with a higher rock wall, but it's not structurally sound, and is quickly blasted in half, with the top part nearly landing on him.

"KURT!" Blaine shouts. "You can block them!"

"That's what I'm trying to do," he says as the Chi-Ryus land.

"No," Blaine says. "I mean you can block them! You can bend their fire just like they can! Like this!"

The Prince demonstrates, whirling his forearms as though intercepting an attack.

"Oh," Kurt nods. "Gotch—"

At that point, all seven firebenders throw a charged fireball towards Kurt's wall, blasting it to bits and sending the Avatar flying backwards.

"KURT!" Blaine and Finn shout in unison.

The Avatar flies directly at him, so Blaine does the only thing he can—he shoves Rachel out of the way, and catches the boy.

Of course, by 'catches' he means he stands there and acts as a slight cushion when Kurt slams into him and they both slam into the wall of the burning house.

Mercedes responds with the swiftness and fury of a slighted badgermole, stomping forward and looping both fists in the air. The earth splits in a line from Mercedes outwards, and a huge rock wall rises from the ground, splitting the Chi-Ryu group in half. Three on one side, three-plus Quinn on the other.

The Finn-Artie fusion surfs along an Artie-fueled wave of earth until they reach striking distance of the three firebenders. Finn handles the defense, skillfully bending his water supply into a variety of shapes to intercept the oncoming fire attacks while Artie levitates rocks and decks them at the agile warriors.

Mercedes, on the other hand, covers her entire body in a thick layer of rock, and propels herself along the ground towards Quinn and the others. She tanks their fire blasts as best she can, but Quinn coordinates their attacks. "All together!" she shouts. "FIREBOMB!"

Knowing what's coming, Mercedes breaks open the back of her earth armor and stops herself, letting the armor slide right on. The girls blast it to smithereens, thinking they've got Mercedes. She takes advantage of their presumption, and slams some rock spikes underneath them.

Meanwhile, Rachel attends to the Avatar and the Fire Prince, who are both stunned from the impact. "Oh my gosh, are you okay? Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, all of this violence is just tearing me apart. Why can't we all be friends?"

Her prattling annoys Kurt to full awareness much faster than he would like. "I'm pretty sure I've been asking myself since the very first Avatar cycle," he says, picking himself up. He turns around to see Blaine weakly trying to sit up. "Oh La," he breathes, kneeling next to him. "Blaine, are you okay?"

He hit the spot.

When Kurt slammed into him, and Blaine hit the wall, he wound up slamming the same spot Keros hit with the stupid candlestick, blinding him with pain and momentarily making him black out. Even now, his journey to full consciousness is slow. Kurt's voice sounds like a distant echo from some far-off mountain, and his concerned face looks like it's being filtered through the surface of the ocean. "…aiiine… you understannnnd? Please sayyyyyyy… anything"

"I'm okay," Blaine manages to slur. "Go," he grunts. "Help."

Kurt squeezes him tight. "Stay with Rachel. Please, Blaine. Just… stay out of this. I can't lose you again."

He wants to hug him back, but his arms are too slow. Kurt is off again to join the fight, and Rachel is helping him stand up, providing him with a shoulder to lean on, looking at him with tears in her eyes. Her voice echoes loudly in his ears. "…such horrible things… happen… to such niiiiice…"

The young actress leads him away from the burning mansion, to the lawn at the side of the house.

"Need…" Blaine starts, still trying to put his jumbled thoughts into an order than makes sense. "We need… to go…"

"We can't," Rachel says. "Not without the others."

"No," Blaine says, shaking his head, unscrambling himself. "We all need to go. Need to leave… quickly."

"Oh. We need to escape," Rachel says, nodding sagely. "I understand now." Her eyes scan the yard for a bit, and she spots something very interesting. "Blaine."

"Mmmm?" he says, looking up at her and being immensely thrilled that her face remains mostly the same shape as she speaks.

"Hold this please," she says, handing him the slab. "I have a spectacular idea…"

Meanwhile, the Magnificent Mudbender has realized something awesome.

Namely, that Kurt's big swimming pool washout created a rather large amount of mud for the two of them to play with.

"Mudshield!" Artie shouts. The two of them move their arms in unison, pulling up a large glob of mud and spreading it in front of them to intercept the Chi-Ryu's fireballs.

"Mudslide!" Finn shouts, and the two of them work together to whip up a wave of mud for Finn to ride on, Artie shifting his weight carefully to make sure Finn keeps his balance. The pair slides around the Chi-Ryus with shocking speed, making it almost impossible to track them. They skid to a stop on the other side of the Chi-Ryu's, being sure to splash a little mud at them just for kicks.

"MUDBATH!" they shout together, putting their entire bodies into motion. They crouch low, perform a smooth scoop to lift the mud into the air, dangle it for a second like puppeteers holding strings, and then blast it apart in all directions.

The Chi-Ryus go flying. Most people don't realize how dense mud is. It carries a lot of weight—hence why actual mudslides are so dangerous.

With the downed Chi-Ryus covered from head to toe in mud, Finn draws the water out of the water/dirt mixture, while Artie hardens the dirt into a thick shell. "Try melting your way out of this,"the earthbender says as he finishes casting them in place.

"The Magnificent Mudbender strikes again!" Finn says with a grin, and the bros perform another two-handed high five.

On the other side of the fence, Mercedes has her hands full with Quinn and the Chi-Ryus. It's all she can do to defend against them once they get into a rhythm, let alone strike back. She'll raise a boulder only to have it smoldered. She'll lift up a wall only to watch it fall. She'll kick up a spire only to lose it to fire. They're steadily pushing her back towards the house, and help is nowhere in sight.

Until Kurt sprints along her rock wall, jumps off, lands in front of her, and starts dispelling all of their fireballs with shocking ease.

She smiles. It's just like the earthbending lesson she gave him. He doesn't have to block or deflect things with strength alone. When fighting a bender of the same element, it's usually easier just to bend their attacks apart. And Kurt is the same element as everyone.

"Get 'em, baby!" she says. "Bend that fire!"

Kurt responds by dashing straight up to Quinn and engaging her up close and personal.

The Chi-Ryus no longer have their leader coordinating them, but they're still a force to be reckoned with. But Mercedes is a force herself, and now that she has a chance to breathe, she's ready to start her counterattack. She jumps high and slams into the ground with hands and feet together, causing the ground to ripple towards the girls like the stricken surface of a waterbed. The rolling wave of earth prompts the Chi-Ryus to leap into the air to avoid being knocked over, but Mercedes has their number. Pulling her hands out of the ground as hard as she can, she lifts them into the sky, causing a column of earth to jump up and smack into each girl's bottom. Then she pushes her hands down, causing the columns to sink back into the ground, and leaving the stunned girls at the mercy of gravity.

Which, as we all know, is not merciful.

Finally, the Avatar himself engages the Chi-Ryu captain in a fearful display of bending prowess. The two strike rapidly, and strike hard. Quinn's fiery punches, chops and kicks are blocked, parried, and detonated against Kurt's own. The two shoot fire over, under and around each other, both taking advantage of their close range to deflect limbs and misguide the others' attacks. The ground around them quickly becomes dried and blackened from the combustive combat. Kurt keeps up admirably, but Quinn has far more firebending training, and she is dedicated, focused, and determined.

But just as it becomes obvious that Kurt is outmatched in terms of sheer firebending, he starts switching it up. One of his fists is suddenly encased in rock, making it much more difficult to block. The earth shifts beneath Quinn's feet, breaking her stance and putting her on the defensive. As she tries a counter-kick, Kurt responds with a kick of his own—but his leg is encased in water drawn from the mud. As their feet meet, the water moves to engulf Quinn's leg, thwarting her firebending attempt and trapping it. He lifts her into the air with the tendril, and she just barely manages to cut the watery cord with a slice of fire before being slammed back down again.

She lands a short distance away from him, and is just getting ready for a counterattack when a ball of mud slams into her face. She starts to wipe it off, when suddenly it hardens into a clay mask, sticking to her face. Thoroughly blinded, she doesn't even see Mercedes's boulder until it slams into her, knocking her aside.

The mud mask is broken, but Quinn is reeling from the hit. She picks herself up slowly, taking a survey of the battlefield. Her Chi-Ryus are all trapped or downed. There are four combat-ready benders in front of her, three of which are surrounded by abundant amounts of their native elements, and one of which is the gods-damned Avatar. This would be troubling, if it weren't for one little thing…

"Never," Kurt hisses, "ever come near Blaine again."

"Oh," Quinn says with a smirk. "You're making demands now? You think you have leverage?"

"I think you just got your pretty little ass kicked," Kurt says cattily. "And unless you want an encore, you will back off."

"Fine," Quinn says, holding her hands up. "I know when I'm beat. A warrior surrenders with honor. I'll back off." She flicks her head to the side. "But they might be a little more difficult to convince."

At this, Kurt looks past Quinn, through the see-through fence to the streets outside. It's positively swimming with guards. All of whom stand ready to attack at a moment's notice. All of whom can see exactly where they are, thanks to the aforementioned stupid see-through fence.

"Surrender! You are completely surrounded! There is no escape!" shouts a guard with a metal megaphone.

"Yeah, surrender!"

"Murdering scum!"

"FOR THE FIRE LORD!"

"Shut up, Phil, you didn't even like him."

"DID TOO!"

"You won the battle," Quinn says, "but you've lost the war. Not even you can fight this many at once."

The Avatar and his friends stare out at the clamoring throngs of guards surrounding them.

"She's right," Artie says quietly. "We're screwed."

"We can't be screwed," Finn says. "We were awesome! We fought so hard to get here…"

"Doesn't matter," Mercedes sighs. "None of that means a damn thing right now."

"Well, I'm not giving up without a fight," Kurt says. "If I have to go down, I am going to make it an historic event. It will be the subject of horror stories told for centuries."

"As much as I love a good story," Rachel says, "I hope that won't be necessary."

The gang turns around to see Rachel and a slightly less delirious-looking Blaine at the reins of a large komodo rhino.

Kurt grins, delighted. "I might just grow to like you," he says, jumping up onto the saddle and securing the wobbling Prince to himself.

"Thanks," Blaine says. "I was starting to feel a little woozy from everything going back and forth."

"It wasn't everything, Blaine," Kurt says, holding him tight. "Just you."

"Oh. Well, thanks anyway," he says with a smile.

Finn and Artie remain attached for the time being as they rise on a column of mud and jump onto the mount.

"What are you doing?" megaphone man shouts. "Stop that! Whatever you're planning, I assure you, it will not work!"

"People once said the same thing about cross-gender fashion and… well, I think we all know how that went," Kurt says with a smile.

Quinn's triumphant smirk has melted into a scowl, and she looks ready to attack when Mercedes encases her in a tight cone of earth, with only her head sticking out.

"Stay sweet, honeybuns," she says as she climbs onboard. "Don't hawk us. We'll hawk you."

"It's not over," Quinn warns.

Rachel lashes the reins, and the rhino trots around and heads through the yard towards the gate Quinn left open when she came in.


"Do you really know how to drive this thing?" Kurt asks Rachel from atop the speeding rhino.

"Yes!" she insists loudly. "I learned by… sitting on top of it and doing things with the reins until it moved. I feel very confident in my ability to guide this mighty beast to our destination."

"We're dead," Artie deadpans.

"Everybody hold on!" Rachel says as they head through the gate, into the streets, encountering their first contingent of guards. Fortunately, they encounter shockingly little resistance. Most of them are smart enough to move out of the way when they see a huge, horned animal charging at them. The ones that are not, well…

"Sorry!" Blaine says as they fly over head and smack into the ground behind them.

"It's their own fault, really," Mercedes says, shaking her head sadly.


She is infuriated. Outraged. Incensed. Boiling over with contempt and anger. She needs to vent.

So she takes her own advice, grabbing onto all of that anger and doing something with it.

The explosion that shatters her prison can be heard all across the city.


"Are we going the right way?" Rachel asks.

Artie pulls himself higher on Finn's shoulders to look at their surroundings. "Ummm… yes and no."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Kurt sighs.

The earthbender points at a long building directly ahead of them. "That's the train station," he says. "Unfortunately, it looks like they knew we were coming," he adds, shifting his finger over slightly to indicate a large throng of guards surrounding some horrifying giant metal contraption.

"What is that?" Finn asks, horrified but also intrigued.

"A firebending tank," Blaine says. "The tank doesn't firebend, but the people inside of it do, so it's pretty dangerous."

"Of course it is," Kurt sighs. "Could this day get any longer?"


She moves with purpose and determination. If a Chi-Ryu is knocked out, she forces them awake. If they are entrapped, she blasts them free.

Her warriors will not so easily be silenced.

She will not be so lightly thrown off.


"I guess we'll just have to go through it," Rachel says with determination.

Artie looks at her aghast. "Fuck that noise! We'll go around it."

"There's nowhere to go, Artie!" Rachel cries.

"You're not thinking like an earthbender," he counters, leaning around Finn to grab at the reins. "Here, give me those—"

"You can't just take the—"

"Give me the freakin'—"

"Stop shoving me—"

"Give me the damn—"

"If you can't ask nicely—"

"WATCH OUT!" Kurt says, pointing to the wall that their squabbling has just guided them towards.


There is a rhino in the street near the house. It seems to be in pain.

She does not care. She isn't allowed to care. She lights a fire under it and gets it on its feet.

The female assassin frees herself from her icy prison just as Quinn is getting ready to do the job for her.

They ride out into the city, their minds on one thing and one thing only.


Mercedes shatters the stone wall with earthbending just as they are about to slam into it. The wall separates the train yard from the Upper Level, so now their rhino is dashing along a set of four parallel tracks, heading towards the train station from behind the engines.

"Great!" Finn says. "Now all we need to do is steal a train."

"Show of hands—who knows how to drive one of those?" Kurt says.

No one raises their hand.

"I thought so," he sighs. "This was a stupid idea…"

The sound of a much louder whistle makes several of them cringe. It seems to give Blaine an idea, however. "What if we just jump on one that's already moving?" he says, pointing to a freight train on the leftmost track. It's pretty far ahead, but it's just started moving.

"If we can get to it before it picks up too much speed, we'll be golden," Mercedes says.

"But wait! Don't we need to know where it takes us? Shouldn't we figure out where we're going beforehand?" Rachel asks.

Kurt puts a gentle hand on her shoulder. "If there is one thing you must learn before traveling with us, sweetie, it's this; the answer to that question is 'no.'"

"Always?" she asks.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time," Kurt says with a shrug. "Now let's go!"


The male assassin finds them shortly.

He guides his own komodo rhino into step beside theirs.

The beast is scorched and blackened.

The assassin himself carries a few wounds from the flames, but his eyes do not betray his pain.

His eyes hunger only for revenge.

He joins them in all ways.

They barrel through the guards just as easily as their foes.

They will not be stopped.


As they approach the platform, they can see a passenger train boarding on the rightmost track, with all sorts of people on the boarding platforms watching them as they pass. A few guards make a cursory attempt at fire-blasting them, but their rhino is a regular speed demon, and they miss by a longshot. The gang catches up with the freight train just past the station, pulling right behind the caboose, which only has a few mechanics and maintenance workers inside of it.

"Alright," Kurt says. "This is where we get off. Or… where we get on. You know what? It's the end of the day, and I'm tired. Screw the quips. Just get on the damn train."

The Finn-Artie fusion makes the jump first, with Artie having to reach out and grab railing to keep them from falling backwards due to his added weight. Once steady, they move to the side and wait for the others.

Mercedes is next. She makes the leap without too much trouble, though Finn and Artie still reach out to make sure she's steady once she's onboard.

Kurt helps Blaine to his feet. "We're next, Blaine."

Blaine smiles at him, clutching the tablet. "I might need your help. But then… I always need your help. You're so helpful. Why are you so nice to me?"

The Avatar doesn't think he can answer that question without breaking someone's heart, so he doesn't. Instead, he looks to the three already onboard. "Ready?" he asks.

"Ready," they say.

And then he bodily lifts Blaine and tosses him to them. They catch him and sit him down behind them. "Thank you," Blaine says.

Kurt jumps over next, and needs no help to steady himself.


"All aboard!" the conductor shouts. "ALL ABOA—ack!"

He is yanked of the train with casual disregard.

"Out," she commands.

The passengers stare at her, uncertain.

A window explodes as her fireball slams into it.

"OUT," she repeats.

They do not need to be told again.

She finds the driver easily.

"What is the meaning of—"

The heat of the flame tickles his ear as she holds it steady at his neck.

"Drive."


Finally, it's Rachel's turn. "Hurry, Rachel!" Finn shouts. "The train's getting faster!"

He's right. The rhino is steadily losing pace. The gap between the beast and the train gets wider and wider. Lashing it a little to try and give it a final boost of speed, Rachel stands up, gathers all the courage she can, and makes a flying leap towards the train.

Or, at least, she tries to. Her foot slips at the last second and, though she makes an admirable recovery, she still misses the end of the train car by a decent margin. Her hand clutches towards the cart in vain as she falls short.

Fortunately, hers isn't the only hand available for clutching.

"RACHEL!" Finn shouts, reaching out and grabbing onto her, taking advantage of his lengthy arms. Artie grips the overhang to keep Finn from falling out, and Kurt starts pulling at Finn's waist to help him reel the girl in.

"!" Rachel screams at the very top of her lungs.

For the record, Rachel's lungs have a very high top.

With Kurt, Finn, Artie, and finally Mercedes joining in, they manage to pull the girl onboard as the train rounds a bend, the lot of them nearly squishing Blaine as they fall backwards.

The six of them take a second to look at each other.

"Well," Kurt says. "That was… harrowing."

"That is an excellent word to describe it," Rachel says, breathing heavily.

A mechanic sticks his head out of the back of the car. "What in the blazes is going on back here?"

The gang gives him a pained look.

"Sorry," Blaine apologizes in advance.

"For what?" the mechanic asks.

Ten seconds later, the car is two mechanics lighter.

"Hey," Kurt shrugs. "Look at it this way. At least we got them off before the train reached full speed."

"They'll be alright," Artie agrees. "Mostly."


Back in the lower levels of Sho Fa, a familiar warrior is waging a pitched battle of his own. He deflects several more fire blasts with a well-placed gust of air, and is getting ready to counterattack, when…

"!"

The warrior looks to the sky, his spirits falling almost immediately. His heart constricts, and he remembers a broken promise.

"Rachel…" he says.

He abandons the fight.

He has to get to her… now.


And so the six of them watch as Sho Fa fades into the setting sun, heading east on an outbound train to La-Only-Knows where. They each take a moment to breathe and collect their bearings.

Finn detaches Artie and sits him in a comfy-looking chair towards the front of the car. Rachel fans herself near the front doorway while Mercedes sprawls out across two seats and catches her breath. Kurt guides a still-slightly woozy Blaine to a seat near the back of the car.

"My head hurts," Blaine complains.

"Did you hit it?" Kurt asks. "Is that why you're a little… off-kilter right now?"

"You would look good in a kilter," Blaine says, which is pretty much all the answer Kurt needs.

"Right," the Avatar says. "Medic!"

Finn bounds over to his brother, pulling out his water supply before he even gets there. "What's up now?"

"Pretty sure Blaine's got a head wound," Kurt says.

Finn moves around to get a better look at Blaine's head. "Dude," he says, taken aback. "This is gnarly. How are you even still awake?"

"Don't question miracles, Finn," Kurt says, teasing. "Just heal him."

The waterbender smiles and gets to work.

"You always take care of me," Blaine says with a hazy smile.

A smile that fades as he quietly adds, "I wish you didn't have to."

"Oh, Blaine," Kurt sighs. "I know how you feel. I love… having you here with us, but the cost has been so high… for both of us. I wish it didn't have to be that way."

His eyes are so sad when he looks up at Kurt, at a momentary loss for words.

But Finn's healing seems to relax him a bit. Soon, he finds himself smiling again, staring at Kurt with soft, warm, firelight eyes.

And then, he says it.

"I love you."

And everything stops.

Kurt kneels in front of Blaine, mouth in the perfect fly-catching position, eyes filling with water far faster than he can drain it.

Finn stands above Blaine, looking down at him in awe, the water around his hands glowing softly.

Mercedes sits up, staring wide-eyed at the boys, the tension in the air making it hard for her to breathe.

Artie leans over in his chair to get a better view of the action, his expression anxious as he steadies himself with his hands.

Rachel clutches her hand to her chest with a small, tearful smile on her face.

"What," Kurt says, his voice cracking and forcing him to repeat himself. "What did you say?"

And Blaine…

Blaine looks amazed. Shocked, even at his own words, like he had no idea what he was saying until he said it. Like that was what it took to bring him to full awareness. "Kurt …" he breathes.

It's a beautiful moment. Quiet, but powerful, so peaceful, and yet so earthshattering. It's gravity is impossible to deny—none of them can look away from it.

Which is why no one notices what's coming to break it, until it shatters right in front of their eyes.

Blaine's eyes lock on Kurt. "I—"

And the back of the car explodes.

Kurt, Finn, and Blaine go flying towards the front of the car as Rachel, Artie and Mercedes shield themselves from the heat and debris. The Avatar, the Prince, and the Healer all slam into the back wall, two of them falling stunned to their hands and knees.

For the third, however, it's just too much. Finn hadn't quite finished healing Blaine when the blast hit, so when he slams into the wall and hits his head for the second time that day, his mind and senses are overwhelmed, and he has no choice in the matter. As Kurt and Finn fall to their hands and knees, Blaine stumbles forward, his limbs beyond his conscious control, grasping at nothing in particular, as his eyes roll back into his skull, and he falls.

And another little piece of Kurt dies as he watches it.

From the hole blasted in the end of the cart, a second train can be seen, chugging fast along a track parallel to their own. A handful of passenger cars with the windows knocked out are its only cargo. A collection of guards and Chi-Ryus lean out from the windows, taking aim at them from afar.

Standing on top of the frontmost car, framed by the light of the setting sun, are the dark outlines of Santana, Puck, and Quinn.

The blonde-haired girl's expression is a stone mask as she fixes her eyes on her target.

"It's not over."

TO BE CONTINUED

A/N: COMING UP NEXT: They don't give up, do they? With Blaine down for the count, Kurt and friends must face their pursuers in a hostile environment: surrounded by metal, with precious little water to spare. The high-speed showdown takes quite a few unexpected turns—truths are revealed, wildcards make their triumphant returns, love is lost, love is fought for and won… and help from an unexpected source leads to an ending that will blow your mind.

The extravaganza continues in Part 2: Battle of the Eastern Line.