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For the sake of this question, the firebending is set similar to the one of Avatar, except firebender cannot be a lightning bender. The setting is medieval, with villages, castles and such.

There are fire, earth, water, and air bender. Bender can manipulate only existing element, however firebender can always "summon" fire from his bodily heat and waterbender can extract water from the moisture.

Firebender can shoot jet of fire from any point from his body and maintain it. He can also fly with the jet. The strength and direction of the fire can be controlled when directly in contact with his body, while remote fire cannot be controlled (unlike other bender), so no reusing shot fireballs.

The protagonist is a firebender. He is about to join the intelligence team of the A kingdom. He is a natural fighter, street-proven as an orphaned child. The firebending ability is discovered just before he join the team, just as he reached 20.

The firebending ability is extremely rare, and so is other kind of bending in this world - usually a country only have 1-2 bender, so if utilized properly this can be a great asset to the intelligence team.

However, firebending techniques are a little bit... flashy, thus although unquestionably effective, not so well suited for assassination missions that requires stealth and anonymity.

Note : main concern is the undeveloped world means on pitch black night, if he used his firebending ability, it will notice people as it is easily mistaken for a fire breakout.

Update: It is important to hide the fact the assassination was done by a firebender. Benders are extremely rare. If the assassination method is only possible by benders, it can be traced back to kingdom who own a firebender (or other bender).

Due to politic (damn you politicians!), the intelligence team still want to keep him as part of the team, but unsure how to train him to utilize his firebending techniques while keeping his effectiveness while maintain the stealthiness when performing missions.

How can a firebender become an effective, but stealthy, assassin?

I'm looking for ways, including, but not limited to, techniques (limited to what firebender in Avatar can do) and equipment to achieve this.

Additional info: It is very unusual for benders to work together. Once a bender is discovered, different groups will try to recruit him/her and won't let go. In this case, this firebender is recruited to the intelligence team. Note that this does not invalidate existing answers, just additional info.

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    $\begingroup$ A while ago I started a meta-thread concerning such questions that still lacks a clear guide on how to improve "controlling/bending/whatever the/one particular element" questions. Please feel free to contribute and help me keeping threads like these open and possible to answer. Also consider the advice from Mr sphennings on how one might ask such a question properly. If you know another/better way, please consider answering in that meta thread. worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5216/… . $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 23 '17 at 8:58
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    $\begingroup$ Related, but I asked about a different kind of fire bending: The role of anthropomorphic foxes in a medieval army. The answers there might be useful for you $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Aug 23 '17 at 8:59
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    $\begingroup$ I think Magneto (Marvel) is a pro fire bender, he can easily strips all the electrons of the surrounding air creating super hot plasma and control them at will! He just need to keep a low profile when committing massacre... $\endgroup$ – user6760 Aug 23 '17 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ I guess someone with more knowledge could run the math for it but I doubt you could safely extract enough energy from a body to be able to do significant damage. But I could be wrong of course ;) $\endgroup$ – AxelH Aug 23 '17 at 10:49
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    $\begingroup$ He could vaporize instantly a solution that contains poison. Pooring liquid Under someone door, vaporise it. Walk away. If he is immune to it he can have it in his mouth and blow it into a target face like a cigarette. $\endgroup$ – Drag and Drop Aug 23 '17 at 12:24

13 Answers 13

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I think you might look at this problem from the wrong angle.

Being an assassin does not require your characters ability to bend fire nor does being able to bend fire hinder your ability to be an assassin. There are plenty assassins that do their job without bending anything in fact.

I'd rather look at it like this: What typical assassin problems can get easier if you can control fire?

  1. You can seal wounds with fire to prevent infections.

  2. Depending on your climate and job you can defrost stuff and that way create water from snow, cook anywhere if you have water/ice close by.
    I'm not sure about this, but maybe neutralize some poisons or bacteria by cooking it. In medieval settings this might be a good way not to die of food poisoning.

  3. This also works for disinfecting blades to do some field surgery.
    Heat the blade to remove an arrowhead from a leg without introducing tons of bacteria to the wound. Sure it's painful but removing the whole leg later is way worse.

In general, if your intelligence team works in a group your fire bender might be the ideal camp support.

  1. He can cook/heal/heat and create shelter/illuminate.

  2. He could even smith without a forge or burn pottery without an oven.

  3. Dry the muddy floor for a good nights rest.
    The drying the floor could also be used to prevent footsteps, but that might be a little far fetched.

  4. You can give signals in the night. Not very stealthy, but a big advantage for coordinated night missions with multiple persons where you need quick signals that can be seen from afar by other members.

  5. Another thing that might be very handy is the ability to read stuff at darkness without a candle.
    Maybe you don't have to kill, but just need to steal information. Breaking into a warehouse to get a manifest might be easy enough, but finding the correct document in pitch black night might not.

  6. You can ignite arrows and thus fire at burnable stuff like hay for distraction. E.g. set a barn on fire and break into the next building.

  7. One other thing that comes to mind is breaking and entering.
    If you want to enter a locked wooden door in pitch black night, wear a black cape. Stand in front of a door and burn the lock out of the door with one hand while holding your cape in front of it.
    Maybe get a fire resistant cape too? :)
    Unless of course you ability allows such precise control, that you can stop the fire from burning the cape.

  8. If you got time on your hands you could also suffocate people in their sleep leaving no traces in a medieval world.
    Get a small opening to their room and burn stuff in your hands that produces smoke, then let them suffocate and open the window for the smoke to float out. Maybe carry some perfume to remove the smell too, but in medieval times the streets might not have smelled all to well, opening the window might be enough to cover that.

  9. You can also free yourself from most bindings. If your enemy thinks you are helplessly lying on the floor just burnt he ropes.

  10. Another thing that's kinda cool, you can get rid of evidence.
    Let's say you shot down your victim with a bow from a tower. The guards are alarmed and enter. Now you can burn the bow and arrows leaving no evidence. Might depend on how good your legal system is though...

  11. A pretty specific but cool other feature would be heating enemies armor/weapons. Maybe not during combat but before.
    You know there are some barracks around and you know reinforcement will come from there once the job goes sideways. Heat the sword hilts and once the reinforcements come they burn their hands, rendering them useless.

  12. For stealthy kills you could grab the victim from behind. Holding its mouth shut shooting a beam of fire from the palm.

  13. Last but not least, you can burn a cool logo on anything wooden to leave behind in case you want to leave a flashy message to the guards finding the corpse.

That's a few things that come to mind when thinking about an assassin with fire bending abilities.

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    $\begingroup$ Very well thought. When I saw the "heating enemies armor/weapon" part, I immediately play the scenario in my head and laughed hard. +1 $\endgroup$ – Vylix Aug 23 '17 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ Heating an enemy's weapon in advance can also be used to sabotage duels or battles. A weapon heated to the right temperature can either lose its edge, making it less useful for fighting or become hard and rigid, making it easier to shatter. This could probably be used to manipulate events. $\endgroup$ – Valthek Aug 24 '17 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ The point I see everyone is missing is that you can do assassinations in broad daylight! Methanol flames are invisible in the sun or bright lights. If your firebender is capable of producing the same type of flame and control it in a thin "rope" to burn a carriage wheel spoke then he can cause the carriage to fall from a cliff and the wheel spoke is lost in the vegetation. It would look like an accident. $\endgroup$ – workoverflow Aug 24 '17 at 18:20
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Unlike an assassin, the firebender needs no weapons

Your firebender can be disguised as a regular person and will never need to worry about being searched since he has no need to carry weapons. This also means that he can make long journeys and not have to carry lumps of sharpened metal around, making travel a little bit faster.

Since he can dress normally and won't need to conceal weapons, your firebender can take on any role and act as a regular person. He can hide in plain sight and observe his target.

Assassination

With his only weapon being fire, it may be difficult to kill his targets without attracting attention. One way to avoid this is to use a very small but hot flame produced from the hand to "stab" the target like a knife. This flame will give off a dim blue light (depending on what it being burnt, as pointed out by @TBear):

enter image description here

In perfect darkness, there may be a small flash of blue visible. This will be very out of place in your setting, and anyone who sees the colour will want to investigate.

Alternatively, maybe this super-hot flame is just your average yellow colour, or even a deep red (which is difficult to see since it isn't "bright"). It depends on how your firebender abilities work in this world.

Accident

Fires are not uncommon and in a time when the main source of light was flames, it is easy to pass off a death as an "accident". Your fire bender could sneak into a target's house, kill them, and burn the house so that by the time people get to the body it is seen as a "house fire" and not a murder. Of course, everyone will know that that person has died, but they will have no idea that it was deliberate. If your assassin escapes without being spotted, no one will have a clue and the mission will not be compromised.

Your character could also start forest fires to trap and kill groups that are travelling long distances. It would be an "accident", of course. Maybe their camp fire escaped and set fire to the forest?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't know if they really want to investigate. If it is moving very slowly, relatively large and so on maybe - I hope the guy can just make a smaller and faster flame though. But a faint blue shimmer at night, I've seen those quite often and I'm sure the cause was never a fire bender. I didn't investigate them once $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 23 '17 at 9:19
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for "make it look like an accidental house fire". If they do it right, there won't be any of the typical signs of arson, like traces of accelerant, and since firebenders are so incredibly rare, people won't immediately jump to that conclusion either. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Aug 23 '17 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 but we live in an age where any colour is possible using electric lights. In a medieval fantasy setting, the only light sources are flame based and therefore yellow. They do not have the technology to make hotter flames of different colours. $\endgroup$ – Aric Aug 23 '17 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Vylix I like your line of thinking $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Aug 23 '17 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ Just to note, flame color is not directly connected with its temperature - it is an indicator of what is being burned. The blue part of a stove flame is hotter because that is the color it burns when natural gas has complete combustion. Alcohol burns blue but is very low heat. Thermite burns orange and is extremely hot, enough to melt through an engine block in seconds. Not sure how this relates to firebenders (what do they burn? energy?), but the color of their flame might be independent of its intensity. $\endgroup$ – BlackThorn Aug 23 '17 at 15:16
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There is no smoke without fire...

With his fire, he could produce a large amount of Carbon monoxide.
This will make him a really at sneak kill. With a good control he can channel his fumes under someone door and kill everyone.

If he finds a liquid that is poisonous once vaporized he can add it to the mix, because carbon monoxide don't kill fast enough.

If you want it to be ironic, make him a an assistant of a prelate.. The prelate will easily find witch that can manipulate fire in public...
And burn them ...

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If you have read the War of the Worlds, you might remember the deadly weapon of the aliens - invisible infrared ray so hot that it could evaporate parts of targets while setting them on fire.

There are many parts of human body which when damaged, cause fatal condition. One of them, easily reachable just under the skin is the spinal cord. Damaging it with a tight jet of fire might have almost instant fatal consequences. Even if it does not, the odds of the target telling anyone what happened are low.

So basically all your assassin needs to do is sneak up on your target and lightly touch their neck. The target will flinch, maybe make a light sound and fall dead.

Bonus points if you decide for one target to survive it and become paraplegic, unable to tell anyone who almost killed him.

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    $\begingroup$ The downside is that you leave behind a corpse that is intact except for a very suspicious smoldering hole in the back of his neck. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Aug 23 '17 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak you could.... burn the corpse.... ? $\endgroup$ – Aric Aug 23 '17 at 13:56
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There is a good bit of overlap here with Morfium, however to much original content to just make a comment.

Home Alone style of defense. Heat up door handles behind you. When someone touches the handle you hear their response and you know your time is up.

Set distractions for other teams. Arson is incredibly easy for a fire bender. The amount of sheer damage that can be done in a short time is amazing. Burn a ton of stuff up. Then while the village/city/castle responds to it the rest of your team if off doing something important and you make your get away.

Destruction. Did I mention sheer destruction? Assassins have often been used for many types of clandestine operations. Destroy an important bridge. Set a supply camp on fire. Torch a grain warehouse. Burn up a supply ship.

Fly to a difficult to reach spot. This could be long distance, or simply to take a more direct route that gets you there quicker than the enemy expected. Use flight briefly to enhance jumps (Matrix style get away).

Command and Control. Signal fires where mentioned. However this should be emphasized more. The bender and or commander stays out of the target at a distance. Uses a telescope/eye glass to keep an eye on multiple teams/individuals (targets, guards, onlookers). The bender than uses fire signals to give orders. If the teams are briefed and know right where to look for the signals they can be small and brief to remain hidden. No one else will have the time to see them and recognize them. Once the action goes down if further orders are needed (in emergency situations) then large fire signals can be sent. Command and control from a point of better observation cannot be underestimated.

Hot air balloon. Did I mention observation points? The bender could fuel a hot air balloon (though they may or may not be available depending upon your setting). They could use the hot air balloon for observation or for fast (though sometimes unpredictable) travel or to drift over walls. Humans tend not to look up so you can probably drift around at night unseen.

Chemical reactions. There are many things that chemical reactions and catalysts can do with the correct application of heat. Get together with your countries alchemists and see what can be wiped up. Better smoke bombs, poison bomb, better explosives, faster acids.

Survival skills. Some of these where mentioned. However you could also travel in the most extreme of winters. Melting paths through the snow (or traveling with your water bender) and keep people from freezing to death.

Bend steel bars. Not sure on the specifics required of this. But if you heated a metal high enough it becomes weaker and you might be able to bend it with a lever. Enough rapid heating and cooling might just cause the metal to become brittle and easily shattered as well.

Quick kills . Sometimes it’s ok to be seen, or you’ve already been discovered. Quick kills might get you out of there anyway.

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Damn, you sure aren't afraid of challenges...

But this time you're aiming high, I give you that!

Fire is a very energetic phenomenon, and it's thermic energy. While a transfer of kinetic energy stops when all the energy is gone, having been spent in moving/breaking/reshaping masses, heat will be spent by heating masses nearby, which may burn themselves if their burning point is reached, taping into even more potential energy. Combustion sustains itself. So, without getting to spiritual/aristotelian stuff, fire brings:

  • Light
  • Chaos

Once again, I don't mean chaos as a primal D&D style drive or spiritual force, but as entropy. Ignite something, and order in the vicinity will decrease over time, it will happen rather quickly and the concerned area may also expand at an accelerating speed depending on the setting.

Given how much we value order - because we want the things we craft and build to keep their shape - we tend to be concerned about unwanted fires, not to mention that it also makes people die.

That's why we are wired to give a lot of mind to the signs fire brings, light and chaos.

In other words, the more intensely your character will use his ability, the more noticeable and a cause of concern it will be.

In fact, fire is so much opposed to discretion that the only way to use the basic abilities related to fire that would help achieve goals which require stealth that I can see is by diverting attention.

Otherwise, my best bet is on your character specializing in surgical use of his ability:

  • Nothing that runs the risk of setting the surrounding to fire, except to trigger intended panic as a cover/distraction. Forget about throwing punches and kicks as a fire storm.

  • Avoiding emitting bright lights: either low energy/smoky flames that will appear dark orange/red or high energy flames that will appear bluish. The later kind will be bright, but at least won't trigger the usual reaction to fire since people aren't accustomed to blue flames in that kind of context.

  • Moves based purely on heat: a lot of materials have a relatively high burning point, which means that you have often a good range before reaching combustion levels. For example, generating heat from touch can go from quickly kill targets to melting locks without torching the whole building.

The list can be expanded, but the point is made: I believe you should take your distance from the traditional Avatar setting, which is quite graphical, and follow your own path. Since your story involve stealth, focus on subtle stuff. Make your character focus on moves that help his purpose and allow his power to work in relevant ways. By the way, you don't even have to follow the classic distribution of personality traits according to elemets that is present in Avatar.

Besides, if your character was disciplined enough to be hired as a spy/assassin in the first place, there should be no reason for him to not be disciplined enough to learn to use his bending in a way that helps him doing his job.

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    $\begingroup$ "not to mention that it also makes people die" +1 $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Aug 23 '17 at 9:45
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the last paragraphs. I feel Avatar is a good starting point for my story, thus constrained my imagination on firebender fight in Avatar. Your suggestion might not fit an assassin, but still useful as a member of intelligence team (hence it is not required to strictly stay stealthy) $\endgroup$ – Vylix Aug 23 '17 at 10:24
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Kill using arson

In medieval times, open fire was the only way to create artificial light or to cook. So accidental fires were not uncommon. So when you want to kill a person, just torch the whole building they are in. If you want to make it look like an accident, shoot the fire beam at some place where a sudden fire is plausible, like a stack of firewood next to the cooking place or a table with a candle on top.

Kill openly using a fire jet, then use it to get away

Political assassination are sometimes not supposed to be stealthy. Sometimes you want to demonstrate power and incite terror by killing someone in public. In that case your firebender could strike and then use his flying ability to escape from the scene.

Regular soldiers would be ill-equipped to prevent him from escaping. Drawing a bow takes a few seconds. They won't be fast enough to shoot him before he flies away. Even someone with a loaded crossbow in hand would be unlikely to hit a moving target that fast. The only people who might be able to chase him are other superhumans who can fly at least as fast as he can. When any of these are around, he might have to fight them before he can escape. But unless the opponent has many such benders (or at least one who is a lot more powerful than him) among their vassals, that's a calculated risk. Or maybe killing someone to draw out the enemy benders so he can fight and kill them is in fact his plan.

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Touch of death

Your assassin (is that the best way to use a fire bender? anyway...) jets fire from his hands. Maybe it does not need to be through air. If he touches a person and jets fire through them, the person would cook.

If he does it fast the victim would cook so fast there would be a steam explosion. Sort of the polonium signature of this particular assassin. But if it is not that hot they would die, possibly with minimal marks on the outside. Your brain shuts off at just a few degrees above body temperature. If he is careful he might be able to just knock the person out then spirit them away; added value for this character.

Cooking a person from the inside out would be noticed if the victim exploded. If cooked on low heat, that would make no sound and no light. It would be tricky to figure out why the person died at all.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe this is the secret behind the vulcan nerve pinch $\endgroup$ – Aric Aug 23 '17 at 11:17
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A lot of interesting things have been brought by people to help you with your main problem, but I saw nobody talk about your character not working alone:

You said that a country usually had 1-2 benders, let's say his country has a second bender (air type). Being part of an intelligence group if he had the help of an air bender he could create some sort of firegun prototype. I mean with the help of the team they could understand how there is no fire without oxygen, and with the airbender make some sort of oxygen ammo.

As you probably know some gas are highly flammable, so if some airbender could isolate and compress one of theese gas (like N2O for exemple which is naturaly emmited by earth) it would be a good start to replace black powder. (Even though compressed air could be a good start to build weapons, and could be known by every airbender, this could be improved)

This could make him (or an ally) the first real sniper which is not realy the type of medieval assassin you seem to look for, but could still be a great assassin.

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    $\begingroup$ If air bender, and if the compressed air is Dioygen difluoride .. no one need a fire blender... You know FOOF! $\endgroup$ – Drag and Drop Aug 23 '17 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I don't know about the energy created with Dioygen difluoride, if it can propel some bullet faster than flamed compressed oxygen (I said oxygene for the exemple but here again some gaz may be better suited) then you're right, the fire bender isn't needed. But if flamed gaz is better then it can be an advantage in a war between countries with this "technology" $\endgroup$ – Rolexel Aug 23 '17 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ @DragandDrop Plus from what I just saw dioxygen difluoride needs extremly low temperatures to be manipulated (-100°C) $\endgroup$ – Rolexel Aug 23 '17 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ Here is everything you need to know on FOOF blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2010/02/23/… $\endgroup$ – Drag and Drop Aug 23 '17 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ But hight tech chemical like this one are out off topics on this medieval context, I got carried away by your 'compressed oxygen'. $\endgroup$ – Drag and Drop Aug 23 '17 at 14:41
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How about some fire bending adaptation of techniques to assassin?
For instance:

  • Heating a grain of sand to the point of incandescence and shoot it to the brain of the victim
  • Boil the victims blood
  • Increase victims body temperature to the point of heat stroke?
  • etc.

This is more of a character design approach but might work.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Carlos! This looks similar to already existing answers like this one or this one. It would be nice if you could edit you answer to show why yours is better than and different from the existing ones. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Aug 23 '17 at 12:47
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Lots of good answers for potential means of turning your fire bender into an assassin. I wanted to touch on a reason the intel team would consider the bender to be an asset even though their particular talents tend to be a bit flashy.

The bender is (literally) built in fire support. When the mission is blown and the team switches from stealth to bug out mode, the bender can let loose as a distraction and or deterrent for pursuit.

Have an operative that needs to get out of a stronghold that is now on alert?
Throw a few fire balls at the main gate or ignite some out buildings while the operative slips out the back (or the rescue team slips in).

Town watch closing in on your base of operations?
Instantly torch the evidence and sneak away elsewhere.

Soldiers in pursuit of the team?
Set the street or a portion of the forest ablaze to force them to detour and give you more time to make your getaway.

Someone getting to close to where you are hiding out?
Bright flash in their face causing disorientation and night blindness for a few minutes while you slip away.

Need to pin the teams activities on someone else?
Let someone see and follow you to another faction's base/embassy. Now they suspect someone else of having a secret fire bender and working against them.

Not to mention the psychological effects on pursuers seeing someone using fire in hand to hand combat.

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    $\begingroup$ Note: answer should not contain a question for clarification. I've removed it and put it here as a comment. "How important is it for others to not know the bender exists vs. not knowing who it is and who they are working for?" $\endgroup$ – Vylix Aug 24 '17 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ It is not actually that important to hide the fact that the intelligence team owns a firebender, however it certainly gives an edge if no one knows they have a firebender. To your question: the second. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Aug 24 '17 at 19:23
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As far as how to be stealthy...

  1. Shadow Illusions: create shadows or remove his own shadow by simulating the original light source
  2. Snuff out Torches (distance): he shoots out a thread-thin flame to the target in order to connect the flame to his body, but once connected he can purge it
  3. Breaking and Entering: once metal is heated up, bending it shouldn't be too difficult... allowing any metal lock to unlatch, leaving nearly no evidence

As far as how to be deadly...

  1. "Laser" Eyes: Shooting a thin beam of fire from the eyes can do serious damage, and if subtly is required I would suggest pinging the horse instead of the rider
  2. Sharpened Weapons: running fire down the blade bends the metal so that its perfectly sharp, including swords, throwing stars/daggers, arrows, etc
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I made the suggestion that a firebender could bend the victim's bodyheat, and cause it to (e.g.) boil their blood, causing an embolism. I was told that the bender can only bend their OWN heat into fire.

Next question is, how fine can you make the fire? If you can make it microscopic, you can still apply the same mechanism. There might be a small mark on the victim, where it entered. How small? 1 millimeter? 1 picometer?

I would not expect a hole of 1mm (1/25 inch) to be found under normal circumstances (human skin is about 1.5 - 2 square meters, 16 to 20 square feet to . It would be a huge coincidence if a tiny burnmark was found, AND identified, by someone not expecting it).

Human pores are 30 micrometers (1/900th inch) diameter) - you might be able to "sneak" the fire in through a pore.

Images of firebenders have an airgap between their hands and the fire (most of the time? all of the time?) perhaps an inch/2 centimeters? So controlling the fire at this range is definitely feasible. Once it's in the victim's body, ideally in the bloodstream, increase the heat, boil some blood (only a tiny amount!) to start an embolism, then walk away. It takes time for the embolism to break off, and get into the lungs or brain.

This could easily (I think) be done by a touch on the back, shake of the hand, or the like.

I was unable to find any information about the delay (from blood clot to death), but I found a reference to someone who had an air embolism, who survived (not without symptoms) for 12 hours.

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  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, no. The reason I put that line is to put restriction on controlling remote heat. Firebender is different from other bender. He can "summon" fire while others can't summon their element, but he can't control fire remotely while other benders can do that. I like your method, though, but sorry it won't work here. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Aug 24 '17 at 3:46

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