Lazar of the Fire Nation stared commandingly at the guards outside the cell. They quickly made way for him and he strode into the darkened prison cell, leaving the men outside the door waiting for him to call them in.
The prisoner inside had been in his custody for two weeks, having been delivered from a settlement in a Earth Kingdom town. This captive had been causing problems for him for months, and despite being the leader of his group of rebels, they had yet to finally weed out the infestation of the remaining members. Lazar was a tall, dark haired man with hard eyes and an ever present sardonic cast to his features, even when he was pleased like he was at the moment.
For the boy showed signs of nearing his limit, and today after the questioning Lazar had ordered, he was sure he would be more willing to cooperate. The brat's resilience infuriated him—if things continued unchanged, he was going to have to send him to the Boling Rock and prove he and regent were incapable of dealing with him.
"Enough, you can take a break now." He ordered the men standing over a slumped form on the ground. They backed away from the young man, eyes lowered respectfully. The chained teenager looked up, his black eyes expressionless, his shaggy black hair tousled and shaggy, his thin body slightly trembling.
Lazar appraised the boy as he slowly stood up, tall enough to be eye level with himself. Despite being withheld food and water and having just received a beating, he held himself straight and proud with his trembling body, chin lifted high as he stared at the man in front of him.
"Have you rethought your decision?" Lazar asked him, pressuring him with his gaze.
The teenager kept his face passive, dark eyes shuttered with a burning intensity behind them. "Yes, and my answer remains unchanged."
Breath hissing out sharply, Lazar immediately lashed out and brutally kicked him in the side of his ribs, fire heating his boot hot enough to give him a first degree burn. Staggering, the teenager struggled to steady his breathing as he hunched over, gasping for air.
Turning away in disgust, Lazar began to order the men to continue when the teenager interrupted him.
"I could offer you information that would be more beneficial to you than the whereabouts of the Freedom Fighters."
Unwilling to play his mind games, Lazar glanced over his shoulder with a sneer and called his bluff. "No such information exists. You're out of luck."
He smiled callously, slightly grimacing through the pain he was unable to conceal. "Information that could enable you track down the Avatar, and bring him back alive to this base."
Truthfully, he was startled. That wasn't something he would have expected to hear from him, but then he had been a rather exceptionally formidable nuisance. The fact that he might be aware of the Avatar's movements shouldn't be so surprising considering both of them were fugitives.
Recovering his composure, he met the boys gaze, trying to pry any signs of lying from his demeanor. "Interesting. However, I've had several other petty criminals try to strike a similar bargain when they were cornered. There is no way for you to prove your information, true. If you had such a bargaining chip, why not mention it earlier?"
He smiled mirthlessly, the corners of his mouth turning up sharply, the glint of his eye tooth flashing white against his skin. "I tend to try and exhaust all options before resorting to betraying a comrade. On his journey, my men and I rescued the Avatar from a small party of troops. If you check your records from that particular outpost, you should find mention of it."
The sarcastic smile playing around his lips instantly disappeared into a thoughtful frown. Silent, Lazar continued to stare penetratingly until the air became claustrophobic with tension. He stared back unwaveringly, black eyes confident and bold.
"And if those records are there like you say…what of it? You've been here for over two weeks. The Avatar is out of your reach, the chances of tracking and finding him are too slim to chance what with the entire Fire Nation already on watch for him." Lazar waited for whatever he would say in response; even if it was a lie, he couldn't help but wonder just how convincing he would make it.
"Because when I was in his confidence," He began without hesitating, "He mentioned the goal he and his followers are traveling to despite the many detours they take. I was also asked for my opinion on which towns would be ideal to stop at for traveling supplies." He paused momentarily, and when there was no immediate interrupted he smirked slightly. "And as I'm sure you must be aware, I'm one of the best trackers in this part of the country."
Lazar let out a short harsh bark of laughter that caused the quietly observing guards to flinch wildly. "So we finally get down to it—you mean to con me into letting you out of prison and then you escape, leaving me to demoted and made into a laughingstock." He waved a hand scornfully at the silent teen. "I've heard enough."
Turning his head around sharply, he opened the door and had one foot stepping out when he spoke.
"The Avatar is in love with one of his companions, the water tribe girl he's reported to travel with. If you choose competent men you're confident I couldn't escape from, I could easily lead the tracking and direct the capture of the girl, who would far easier to capture and subdue and then lure the Avatar to this tower."
Despite himself, he hesitated, glaring across the hallway at the wide spread stain on the wall. "And you think that would be enough to convince him to willingly come into what he would know is a trap?" The longer this went on, the more Lazar doubted it would work. So why was he considering it?
"The Avatar is still only a child, a child in love at that. The older boy is the girl's brother and he would insist that they rescued her. Especially if they knew it was me." For the first time, his eyes glanced away, glowering momentarily at the stained floor before returning to Lazar's face and regaining their persuasive composure.
Lazar couldn't help but raise his eye brow at his last muttered statement, but decided to ignore it. "People in this situation don't make deals like this with no benefit for themselves. What do you want?"
His eyes glittered darkly, the look in them unnerving. "You control the troops situated in the Earth Kingdom town we are protecting. Withdraw them permanently and ensure no troops under the command of another officer replace them and I'll cooperate with anything you ask of me after that."
The silence in the room was oppressive, neither of the two looking away from each other. Finally, Lazar closed his eyes smirked in disbelief at himself. "If the records are there, it will be as you've said. You will have a month to find the Avatar and bring him back here. You and twenty men of my choosing start the day after tomorrow at dawn." Suddenly the two torturers who were standing discreetly in the shadows found themselves pinned under the intense stare of their captain.
"This will be a great honor to the people of this division if this plans succeeds. See to it that it does not fail because of you." Lazar intoned coldly, including the guards standing outside who had overheard their conversation. Swallowing hard, they immediately nodded and assured him of their loyalty.
"Come and research those records for me! We have work to begin!" Lazar barked and finished walking out of the room, ignoring the gaze following him and others out of the room.
The door creaked shut, bringing the room into total darkness as the voices echoed and disappeared down the hallway. The teenager left in the dark remained sitting, head bowed to the floor and quietly listening until the sound of human life was completely absent.
His lips curved up sharply and a disturbing laugh echoed throughout the chamber.
Final draft: August 2nd 2008
First draft: October 8, 2005