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The darkness presses in on him; he presses in against the door, straining to hear the sounds filtering through the crack. "Likely hasn't eaten in a few days."
"I don't give charity."
"A boy like that could be raised properly the way a grown man can't. He's only nine. He's malleable as a ball of clay." Beat. "A ball you could shape however you desire."
"All you need is an incentive. He's lost his brother. I know that you 'just so happen to have found his brother and would love to reunite them on the condition that he fulfill a few, eh, tasks for you."
"Why, yes. Naturally I have this brother."
Mako's breathing increases to an impossible pace.
"But where am I having him, now?"
"I'll care take of that. Give him the offer."
Footsteps. Dying steadily away. Then more footsteps, coming closer, shoes tapping outside the door. The wood creaking as it slides. Light bringing pain into his world, his eyes watering.
When Mako is let out of the closet, Wulin is gone. Lightning Bolt Zolt remains, his radio still going loudly enough for the firebender to try to close his ears. The man snorts. "You know, it takes someone with serious—" He says a word that Mako blocks out, his memory of his parents telling him it is a word he should not hear. "—to run into a closest because a mobster told you to. Or stupid."
His flesh crawls. Smoke curls in wisps around him. "Wulin said you know where my brother is." Trying to swallow, Mako feels the haze burn his throat, tears springing to his eyes, though he isn't whether it is from the smoke or the fact that he of merely nine years of age is standing here bargaining with a ruthless man who could kill him at any second. He can't quite wrap his head around kill. "Where is he?"
"I have him." Zolt sits up in his chair. "For now. So what are you going do for him?"
Mako hates how the man peppers his speech with phrases he cannot repeat. "Do for him?" He tenses, his heart rate slowing to nearly a stop, his world concentrated on that single sentence. "Do for him?"
"Yeah. Do for him. Don't waste my time, kid." A scowl distorts Zolt's features. "You don't get to be a Triple Threat by wasting time."
Before Mako can reply, the door bursts open, and another man sprints in carrying a briefcase. "Sir, we got a—"
"How many times do I have to tell you, dumbass?" Zolt slams himself to his feet in a less than a second, his hands moving so quickly they appear blurred. A flash of a blue light streaks from the tip of his finger; Mako finds himself unable to see beyond the veil of cobalt that hangs over his eyes like a death-shroud, but the shriek pierces his eardrums even beyond.
Lightning. Streaming. Blue. Noise. Fury. Fear. Death. Stench. Cold. Ice. Frozen. White. Blank. Nothing.
Except the remains, all blackened char, like two ashy forms lying on the street, his cries muffled by the scarf, his tears soaking into the fabric.
The man is dead, dead without one drop shed over his expiration, dead without one spirit caring, dead without cause, without justice, without pity.
Like the little girl in the reeds.
Run. Run. Run. Every part of his body tells him, screams at him, demands that he run, run as he did from the stranger danger man, run as did from the beast, run as he did when Bolin was missing and there was nothing, nothing, nothing he could do, nothing he could do but run.
But this time Bolin's life is at stake.
He can't run.
He comes to with a start, disorientated, the room about him spinning. Stumbling, he bashes his hip against the desk and comes face-to-face with the ground, his upper teeth crashing into the stone, his upper jaw and skull singing with pain.
"You have to knock," Zolt finishes, settling himself back into the chair. "Get up, kid. Don't make me do the same for you."
"You k-killed him," Mako stutters, shivering as though in the most freezing blizzard, every iota of heat drawn away from his core and transformed into terror.
"Welcome to real life." Lifting his hand, he blasts a cone of fire from his palm, engulfing the corpse of the man, turning him into soft sable ash that drifts to the jet-black rock floor and is swallowed by the black.
Run, his spirit begs. Run far away, and never return.
"I'll do whatever I have to do," he says, his voice flat, "as long as Bolin is safe. Where is he?"
"You'll see him after you prove your loyalty." Taking an object from his pocket, Zolt flashes a knife, the silver edge serrated and flecked with red. "So, we got a deal?"
Mako closes his eyes. "Deal."
"Blood's the only way to make deals." To Mako's horror, the man pulls up his left sleeve, slashes himself just below the elbow, and draws the blade down in a serpentine line, scarlet seeping from the wound, coating his arm. Then he tosses the knife to the nine-year-old, who catches it, but not without cutting his palm, the metal frigid and inhuman. "Your turn."
For Bolin. Gritting his teeth, he hesitantly tugs at the fabric, revealing pale skin. He can feel his pulse beneath his fingers where he braces the tip against his flesh. His eyelids flutter; he bites his lip; and he presses the serrated edge, agony threatening to destroy him, and traces out a street, the street on which he lost Mommy and Daddy. Shaking, his knees about to give way, he drops the knife onto the desk, iron on his tongue.
Zolt grabs his elbow and jerks him close, cuts touching, their blood mingling, winding dragons of destiny holding them as one.
END OF PART ONE
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