A/N: I decided to try my hand at another AU fanfic about my favorite Legend of Korra characters Mako and Bolin. I'm uber psyched about the upcoming finale so I hope you guys enjoy this!

Summary: Not all Benders are born equal. Some can Bend metal; others can Bloodblend in broad daylight. Unique Benders are classified as 'Special Bender' or 'Spec' for short and are sought by ruthless people willing to stop at nothing to gain power.

Over half a century after the Hundred Year War, a Spec named Bolin is born. When his unique ability to Bend earth with his mind is discovered, a price is placed on his head. Now it is up to Mako, Bolin's only brother, to protect him from the unknown forces that seek ultimate control.

Part I

Chapter One: Ashes of Death

The father was the first to fall, the first to scream out in pain when the heat became too intense, when the assailant refused to release the grip on his throat. Soon the pale flesh was black and the father screamed no more.

Then, it was the mother's turn. She struggled and raged, screaming at her sons to flee, to escape. But the dark alleyway was a prison, a cage, trapping them like fish in a net. The eight-year-old boy watched in shocked silence, clutching his sobbing younger brother to his chest.

"MAKO! BOLIN!" their mother shrieked as one hooded man restrained her arms while another approached, a hand reaching out to pull her head back by the roots of her brown hair. With a mighty effort, the mother retaliated with a swift kick to the man in front of her. He grunted but grabbed her by the chin. He was ruthless but efficient. Mako watched his mother's body slump to the ground next to her husband's.

Mako stood stalk still, unable to breathe, unable to swallow. His sweater was soaked through now with his brother's tears. The two men, wearing identical black jackets with their hoods up, approached the boys slowly, taking their time, relishing how defenseless and weak their prey were. Mako felt something wet against the legs of his trousers. He couldn't tell if it was his urine or Bolin's.

"Well, well, well…" said the man on the left, kneeling down to Mako's eye level. "What do we have here?" He removed his hood and Mako couldn't help but stare at first.

The man was a gruesome thing, his face scarred and burned, one side of his head completely shaved. A set of broken brown teeth was bared in a sinister smile. Several earrings and silver studs adorning the man's face glinted in the light of the ember he was holding in his gnarled hands. Up close, Mako could see that the ring finger was missing.

"Two little youngsters but room for only one," said the scarred man, clucking his tongue disappointedly. He reached out his free hand to cup Mako's chin. Mako jerked his head back as though burned.

"Look at him!" crowed the man to his companion who hadn't said a word so far let alone removed his hood. "What's the matter, boy, afraid I'll bite?"

Mako did not reply. He was too scared to even look at the man directly. Bolin whimpered slightly, his face still buried in his brother's chest.

"We don't have much time," said the second man. It was the first time Mako had heard him speak. The voice was deeper yet more eloquent than the scarred man. "The police will be here soon enough. We need to take the Spec and get out –"

"All right, already!" snapped the scarred man, scowling at his companion. "Tight schedule, I get it, I get it, sheesh…" he muttered, getting up again. Turning back to the boys he said, "Sorry, kids, I'd love to play more but we're on a time limit."

The flame in the palm of the man's hand grew stronger, illuminating the cramped alleyway, the dead bodies on the ground. Mako tried backing away into the wall but it was useless. He could feel Bolin shaking, his erratic heartbeat thudding against his own.

"Give us your little brother, kid," the scarred man commanded, addressing Mako. "Come on, send him over to us. I promise I won't hurt him; he's worth a lot more than you'll ever be."

Mako let go of Bolin who refused to release the front of his brother's sweater. The hooded man stepped forward to pull Bolin away but then Mako quickly pushed his brother behind his back, standing as a barrier between Bolin and the two men. Mako's heart raced, thudding painfully against his ribcage as he faced the two men. Bolin was now hugging Mako's back, his whole body quaking with fear.

"The stupid boy thinks he can stop us," chuckled the scarred man as his companion tried to shove Mako out of the way. "Get back, I'll deal with this squirt."

The hooded man stepped back as the scarred man came forward, a ball of fire in his hand. An insane grin was stretched across his pockmarked face as he brought the flame closer and closer.

Mako felt like his body was ablaze, his blood boiling, sweat pouring down his face. His heart hammering, his head aching, he watched in a daze as the fire was brought within an inch of his face. The flame flickered and danced, mesmerizing him, whispering to him. Mako, it seemed to sing, take me. Take me.

"Not ready to give up your Spec brother, kid? I can help you with that," the scarred man said, relishing the way the boy seemed fixated, almost dazed by the ball of fire. "This might hurt a little." The man drew his hand back along with the flame, preparing to strike –

An earsplitting cry of anguish – like the sound that accompanied broken bones and flayed flesh, only a thousand times worse – shattered the night. The drawn out scream of terror and agony ended abruptly as though someone had turned off a radio. Like a domino effect, lights were turned on and curtains ripped back – up and down the streets, people peered outside in fear, wondering what the source of the sudden yet terrible scream was.

A few blocks away, a police patrol car came rushing to the scene of the crime: a dark alleyway which reeked of the unmistakable stench of roasted flesh. The police officer retched slightly as he entered the alleyway with his partner close behind him, a flashlight and baton at the ready.

"Who's there?" the officer called out, moving his flashlight across the ground. The beam of light landed on something heaped on the ground. "Holy spirits…"

The bodies of a man and a woman were lying neatly side by side on their backs in the middle of the alleyway. The man was dressed in a traveling coat and brown trousers, a small suitcase lying discarded near his hand. Parts of clothes were scorched, the sleeve of his coat mostly burned away. His neck was blackened, the skill melted away to reveal the burned tissue of his throat.

Next to the man, the woman lay with her hands folded on top of her stomach, her brown dress and traveling cloak in the same wretched condition as her male companion. It was difficult to tell what sort of expression she had for half her face and hair were badly burned, the charred remains of her hair scattered around her. Most bizarre of all, a hat - unmarked and clean – had been placed over her head as though to hide some of the damage.

"Lee, I've found something!"

Wrenching his eyes away from the two bodies, Officer Lee turned to his partner who was farther down the alleyway and crouching over something. With of feeling of foreboding, Lee went over to take a look.

"What've you got?" Lee asked. His partner did not answer, merely pointing his light at what lay on the ground.

At first, Lee thought it was large pile of soot and bits of blackened wood but then he noticed something white sticking out and leaned forward. "What the –"

Lee nearly jumped back in shock, the taste of bile filling his mouth as nausea swept over him. He glanced at his partner who was still staring fixedly at the dark mass on the ground, his face pale and rigid.

"This is…" Lee began, unable to find the proper words.

The black pile was not bits of wood at all but the charred remains of a human body – a body so severely burned that there was nothing left except ashes and bones. In all his fifteen year on the job, Lee had never seen such a grotesque murder.

"Who would do this?" asked his partner in a barely audible whisper. "Who could do this? Agni Kais?"

Lee shook his head. "I've seen Agni Kai kills before. The two bodies back there, definitely Agni Kai's doing – but this? No, this… this is something else."

Unknown to the officers who stood in silence, the perpetrator responsible for the pile of soot was running as fast as he could, through the empty streets with little Bolin fast asleep on his back. Mako ran blindly, his only source of fuel the strange burning his heart, the same sensation he had felt back in the dark alleyway when the fire had whispered to him, begged him to take it, to wield it, and –

Fire. Smoke. Screams. That was all he could remember now. Everything had moved so fast, so fluidly as though he were dreaming. When it was all over, Mako was the only one standing – standing in the alley with ashes strewn all around him, Bolin passed out on the ground at his feet…

Fighting back tears, Mako remembered his parents lying on the ground. He knew they were dead, that he had little time to flee, but he didn't want to leave them just lying there, broken. His father, so tall and wise; his mother, so kind and strong – they were both gone, stripped of this world.

But Mako knew what had to be done. He'd known since his Bolin's birth when his mother had gently taken his hands, had made him swear to protect his little brother. When he heard the police siren, he acted instinctively, escaping the alley with Bolin on his back just as the patrol car rounded the corner. He had no idea which way to go but far, far away.

To be continued...

A/N: To clarify, Specs are Benders with unique Bending powers that cannot be learned by all Benders. For instance, not all Earthbenders are capable of Metalbending and Bloodbending without the full moon is almost unheard of. While Metalbenders are more common than Benders like Tarrlok, there are even rarer Specs like Combustion Man and, in this alternate universe, Bolin. Rare Specs usually have to live in hiding for fear of being taken by triad bosses, corrupt politicians or generally anyone who wishes to abuse the power of a Special Bender.

Questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome! Thanks for reading :D