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April 19, 2010
Tengu's childhood as a Fire Nation colonial in a small mining town.
The Inn Keeper
He took a final look at his naked torso in the mirror. He saw the scars again – meditating on each one's origin: the knife wound from that bar brawl in Gaoling. The cut from the run-in with the Sandbenders in Si Wong. The burn from the Fire Nation guard who discovered him that time in Ba-Sing-Se. And all the others in between... The stories flowed from each ripple in his bruised flesh.
He finished dressing, picked up his knapsack and his money bag and closed the door behind him, making sure it was locked. He took out two gold pieces to pay the inn keeper. This inn keeper was a mean sort. As soon as he dropped the coins on the counter, the inn keeper took them to his teeth. He then eyed the mysterious stranger who had spent the last month secluded in his room, emerging only to grab an occasional bite to eat at the market down the street. He said, "I should really charge you more, you know – but I guess this will do..."
The cleaning boy came in behind the desk. He was carrying an incredibly large load of clean sheets. He accidentally dropped one on the dusty floor. The inn keeper blew his lid "You clumsy oaf! I must have told you a million times to sweep the floor before carrying clean laundry across the lobby! And look at that basket! Two extra trips won't kill you!" He slapped the boy furiously as he scolded him. "That was just an accident, you shouldn't be so hard on him, he's just a boy." The inn keeper snapped right back "What's it to you? You would do well to mind your own business!!"
The boy picked up after himself, but the inn keeper, infuriated by the stranger's reproach, took out his anger at him and slapped him again, this time making him bleed. The stranger took out a three-sectioned staff and knocked the man out cold. The boy rushed to his side. The stranger told him "There must be better jobs, and certainly better people to work for around here." The boy angrily replied "He's my father!" as he tended to the man's wound. The stranger's face was expressionless, but he was only concealing his surprise. His father was certainly never like that to him.
Memories of Guzheng
He walked out onto the street and turned towards the mountains in the horizon. The day was gray and cold – a soft, chilly breeze came from the snowy peaks to the valley below. He set his sugegasa straight and started his long walk. He thought about the inn keeper and could not help but think about his own father. He had loved him so much. His father had always been an honorable man, dedicated to his family. People accused him of being a traitor, since he never saw the point of taking sides in The War – he just wanted his family to be well and survive. He had been a well respected police officer in Guzheng. The town was somewhat off the grid, so The War missed it for a good 80 years. However, the nearby coal mine was eventually found by Fire Nation intelligence, so they quickly moved to colonize the town. Tengu was only six.
His older brother was drafted into the mining crew by the new Fire Nation government. He was 15 at the time. His father had been imprisoned upon the occupation. He pledged obedience to the new government so he could enroll as a mine security guard, wanting to be closer to his son, as well as securing a means to provide for his family. His mother was a seamstress, but her income alone would not provide for all four children (Tengu had two older sisters, 12 and 8). Things got better though, with time, as the noblemen of the new regime began entrusting their tailoring work to her. They were far from rich, but managed to live modestly and peacefully. At least for a while...
He remembered the day his father returned from prison. He was ecstatic. His older brother, however, was furious. He was, as every other teenage earthbender, a passionate enemy of the Fire Nation. Being forced to mine for them was bad enough. Having his own father renounce his ties to The Kingdom to serve them was beyond humiliating. He was the object of constant harassment and humiliation at the mine. He was branded the son of the traitors by his former friends. Twice they assaulted him on his way home from the mine. On both occasions, when Tengu's father had returned home, all hell broke loose. His older brother would accuse their father for selling out and for bringing shame to the family.
Tengu turned seven. His mother threw him a little birthday party. She made his favorite, egg custard tart. They all sang and laughed. His father gave him a sugegasa that would shield him from the sun on his walk to school. After they had all gone to bed, his father went to his bed and woke him. He took him to the backyard and gave him something wrapped in a soft cloth. "Whoa!" Tengu exclaimed as he open his real gift. "SHHH!!! Quiet!" "What is this, father?" he asked. "It's called a sansetsukon – and I will teach you to use it." "Coooool!". "Go grab a few hours' sleep. We will begin practicing before dawn." And so it went on for two more years. His father would not teach him to earthbend, as it was forbidden outside of mine work. However, he needed to give little Tengu a means to defend himself, if push came to shove...
Tengu the Menace
It was almost noon when he noticed he was not alone on the lonely winding road up the mountains. He did not change his pace, nor did he turn around to get a look. He took care of making it look like he was blissfully unaware of their presence. They were three: one was hiding behind the big boulder to the right while the other two were behind him, on the high ground. When they came out from hiding, he recognized them from the market. "Hello there, stranger! I see you got your gold with you." He had not done a great job of hiding his money back in the market. He really had stopped caring. He looked at the money bag. He had planned to give it to Aang at the temple, but it was blood money. He figured it would not be well received. He tossed it to the mugger. "Help yourself." "Very kind of you, sir!"
One of the guys from behind him said, "I could use your hat..." "I'm sorry – it's a gift". The man teased him "Aww – come on!". Tengu turned around: the man had a knife. He dodged it, grabbed the man's arm and sent him flying against his partner across the road. "We don't have to do this. I gave you all the money I had – I just want to be on my way." The first man pulled out a sword. "What's the big hurry? We're just getting started..." Tengu took out his sansetsukon. He knocked them all out in under three minutes. He took the money bag back from the bruised mugger, and threw each of the robbers a gold piece. He was on his way once again.
Muggers. Inn Keepers. Contract targets. School kids. All of them were made equal by his sansetsukon. Tengu had gotten into a series of nasty fights at school. All of them over his father working for the Fire Nation. All of them began the same way: three or four kids would start teasing Tengu and calling him and his father names. All of them ended the same way too: someone would lay a hand on Tengu, and the staff would come out. His mother had to plead constantly to the headmaster not to send him off to the coal mines. Eventually, she forbid him to take the staff to school. No matter: Tengu was just as vicious in hand-to-hand combat. At night, she would roar at his father "You have been training our son to be a killer!" "I'm not training him to be a murderer – I'm showing him how to protect himself and his family!" Those words stabbed his memory. Not only could he not protect his family, but he had also become a cold-blooded murderer...
A Tragic Farewell
A group of rogue teenagers had been raising hell around town. They called themselves The Badgermoles. They were, in fact, no more than the grown up bullies who had attacked Tengu's brother years earlier. They targeted Fire Nation government installations and "Fire Nation friendlies", provoking mysterious, freak "accidents". For whatever reason, Tengu's brother had managed to evade their radar screen for quite some time now. He had earned his peers' respect at the mine following the same work ethos as his father: being disciplined, a hard worker and a team player. He figured he would be in it for the long haul, so he would just ignore the fact it was work done for the Fire Nation – it was just work. One day, someone in one of The Badgermoles' secret meetings remembered the mine's security guard's son. They planned an ambush at the mines.
One day he was sitting outside of the mine having lunch by himself when a boulder fell from the mountainside. He didn't even see it coming. He died on the spot. The town was small and news of any mining accident would spread like wildfire. Tengu remembered that he ran from school to the mine as fast as his feet would take him. His father had earthbended the boulder from off his brother's dead body and was holding him against his chest. He was rocking his brother's body and crying. Tengu had never seen his father cry. He was frozen in place. He did not know how to react: he did not cry, he did not scream... He just stood there....watching. His brother was 19.
That night the Fire Nation guards raided his house and arrested his father for treason. Some of the slaves had used the distraction created by his brother's murder to escape. As the mining site's head of security, his father was deemed responsible. His mothers and sisters pleaded with the guards. They screamed, cried and begged. Finally they threw themselves at the captain's feet. They were all arrested for obstruction of justice and assaulting a Fire Nation officer. Tengu, still in shock, was motionless and speechless. An unusually compassionate guard hid him from the captain.
The sentence was carried out next morning. Tengu's entire family were to be publicly executed by lightning as a lesson to the rest of the mining townspeople. Tengu, hidden in a nearby mountain, gripped his sansetsukon waiting for the right moment to attack and save his family. His father saw him from afar. He shook his head as he shed a lonely, single tear. A hooded bender took his stance and began the circular motion with his fingertips. All was over in a blinding flash of light. His mother and father would have turned 40 that fall. It would have been their 20th wedding anniversary the next spring. His sisters were 16 and 12. Tengu was 10 years old.
Tengu stopped walking. The mountainside was below him and now, the winding, narrow, road became steeper. It was cold and nightfall was upon him. It would be best to rest and continue the following morning. He hoped for better weather tomorrow...
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