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October 24, 2010
"An enemy is made twice as strong by the element of surprise..."
They had been up since before sunrise, slipping and sliding silently within the shadows of the temple.
"A well planned ambush is almost always twice as effective as a direct attack."
They found their targets and silently took them out, one by one, all three of them.
"This is why you must be alert, always aware of your surroundings and how they change."
They had fallen prey to boredom, and had begun chatting with one another. It was easy as pie...
"Things that are imperceptible to others might be your greatest indicator that danger is near – they could mean that you are moments away from an attack."
They managed to avoid being seen by the sentinels that stood guard at the towers. The new security measures were well-intentioned, but were not as effective as they should have been...
"In my previous line of work, stealth and surprise were my greatest allies, whereas slack, carelessness and overconfidence were my greatest enemies"
Once they had neutralized them, they finished readying their gear.
"If you remain focused, alert, conscious and stay prepared, you will maximize yours chance of overthrowing any opponent."
They slid on their black masks, with only a small slit for the eyes, and stood at their posts, waiting for the signal.
The Secret History
Aang called for Tengu immediately after breakfast the following day: "Come, we need to talk."
They headed for a secluded spot, near the moon peach orchard, away from prying eyes. Some children were playing hide and seek and Aang asked them to play somewhere else. They whined a bit, but agreed to relocate without much protest. Once he felt it was sufficiently private, Aang began asking Tengu the questions that he so longed to ask:
"What are we up against?"
"The Black Lotus is a very old organization, dating back centuries. Some say it's as old as the Four Nations. There are bases covering most of the important geographical regions."
"I know! But my question is: why would a guild of assassins grow so large?"
"Human greed, lust for power, hate, revenge...there are as many reasons for the killer to exist as the human mind can give us. And – it's incredibly lucrative – when you know the trade well and you have the proper customer base."
"Okay, but what you are talking about is pure business talk. There must be something more."
"The killer is seen as a superior being. Someone not bound by the restraints of moral or social law. The assassin is a predator, a superior animal, a god among insects."
"Really? Was that what you believed, too?"
Tengu hunched his shoulders, "To me it was always and only a job - a way to go from one day to the next. I was numb anyhow, so to me it was all hogwash. I just did the work – simple as that."
"It must have changed at some point, no?"
Tengu stood up and took a deep breath. He knew that Aang would not stand for half truths any longer.
"Everything changed when Fire Prince Ozai contracted me to finish off his brother and nephew during the siege of Ba Sing Se."
Aang sprung up "Wait! Are you telling me that you're the one who killed Lu Ten?"
"Well - I was supposed to, but I just couldn't. We became friends in the army. He died saving my life, in fact..."
Tengu's voice trailed off...
"Then, when it came to The General, I just respected him too much and felt too sorry for his loss to do the job. The General, he's just..."
"I know – he's a wonderful man."
"When I reported back to Ozai, he said I 'owed him a death'...he wanted me to kill his son Zuko."
"So it was true! I never believed Zuko: I thought he was exaggerating about Ozai being evil and stuff. Man!"
"Ozai was not pleased with the outcome of the mission. He was forced to maneuver around Iroh's survival in a most awkward way. Ozai would ask for a little more than a refund if the second target was not destroyed immediately. Lu Ming sent me back to Ozai for a "damage control" meeting. The Black Lotus' reputation was at risk, which meant I had to deliver this time if I wanted to keep my life..."
"Is any of this related to what happened to Zuko's mother?"
"Very much so. You see, Ozai approached his father, Fire Lord Azulon, to ask him to revoke Iroh's birth right to the throne. Azulon was appalled by Ozai's disloyal and dishonorable request, so he sentenced Ozai to lose his oldest son, Zuko. Since I had returned from the front lines unable to dispose of Iroh, as per our earlier agreement, Ozai decided that I would dispose of Zuko to square off my debt. The deal was nearly concluded, when Ursa stormed into the room."
"Pretty mad, I guess..."
"I've never seen a woman so angry," Aang went for a chuckle, thinking back to images of his upset wife but Tengu seemed to read his mind, "...ever."
"Ozai then offered barter for Zuko's life: he would desist of killing her son if she helped me dispose of the Fire Lord. So, later that night, we broke into the Fire Lord's room and slew him using poisoned daggers."
"Wow! Zuko always described her Mom as being so kind and gentle. I wouldn't imagine from what he's told me that she would kill someone in cold blood just like that."
"Well, I gave her a choice of three daggers, each laced with a different type of poison – she used all three. She was devastated over the loss of contact with her children, but she showed no remorse after killing the Fire Lord."
"If I remember correctly, when that crazy firebender was here you didn't exactly hand him his hat either..."
"I guess you're right – having a child changes you, I guess... So you actually had her join the Black Lotus?"
"I reasoned she had no way of going back to any kind of normal life after what happened. I knew of nothing else, so I really had nothing else to offer. Besides, I figured she would at least be safe from Ozai in there."
He stopped and sighed, "Not my finest moment and certainly not my proudest memory. After that, I definitely wanted out. The stakes had been too high for too long. I tried to convince Lu Ming that I had found him a better killer – someone who had access to and knowledge of the upper echelons of Fire Nation royalty. He wouldn't have it. I managed to escape that day, but he sent asset after asset to finish me."
"Wow, so you were a target for how many years..?"
Aang wanted to keep talking, but Tengu motioned for silence.
"I guess I still am... Quick: to the courtyard!"
The Old Enemy
Aang and Tengu came in rushing to the courtyard, only to find a platoon of assassins, about ten strong, all dressed in black. The lead man took off his mask and whistled. Three men fully dressed in black, appeared at the top of the towers. Each one of them lowered a prisoner, gagged, hands tied behind their backs, suspended from their feet. The dangling men, struggling to free themselves, their shaved heads occasionally knocking into the Temple's walls, struck horror into Aang's heart.
"Caught you off guard, little brother?"
"I'm no longer your brother, Han."
"Aw! You hurt my feelings!" Han allowed himself and his cohorts a laugh before going on, "So that crazy Gao was right: you did join the Air Nomads. I knew it took someone special to get rid of all the people we sent here. It just never really occurred to me that you were so desperate to be like Lu Ming."
"I am nothing like Lu Ming."
"Nothing like Lu Ming, heh? I bet you're nothing like them either! Just look at Siwang! I mean: nailing his hands to the floor while literally peeling his face off? That would be one sick, little twisted monk, wouldn't it?"
Han made sure his voice carried over the courtyard and found as many sensitive ears as possible.
"That part of his life is over and in the past. I suggest you leave now." Aang shouted right back at the head assassin. He then muttered under his breath so only Tengu would hear him: "We need to talk about that later..."
Han bowed mockingly to Aang "I beg your forgiveness, O Mighty Avatar..." He then turned to Tengu:
"..but you see: Tengu and I, we never left a job unfinished."
Han took out his katana and charged at Tengu. Tengu began blocking all of the man's blows with his sansetsukon. The man went for a roundhouse kick, and Tengu captured his ankle between the staff's segments, and with a strong pull threw him to the ground. On the ground, Tengu kicked Han once to the ribs, but Han grabbed Tengu's standing leg and threw him on the ground as well. They exchanged a series of kicks while down on the floor, but none had an edge.
The remaining men charged at the airbenders. They were agile and extremely good with their swords, but they seemed unable to bend. Therefore, the airbenders managed to repel them fairly easy at first. Then, the one fighting Kuen Yin took a stance. Chang screamed: "Jump!"
Kuen Yin elevated a good 10 feet in the air, dodging a sizable fireball, which would have surely finished her otherwise. She was scared, since she had never fought a firebender (and had been terrified of them as a little girl). Chang, on the other hand, a much seasoned fighter, was keeping his two earthbenders at bay. He had learned to recognize the various stances and forms, so he was virtually dancing around their attacks. In an amazing display of coordination and skill, he warned Kuen Yin about every move the firebender made:
Three boulders shot at him in succession – jump, skip, deflect with an air jet – '''"Sweeping kick! Go high!" Kuen Yin jumped and avoided the kick.
A sand trap was waiting him on his landing – he blew the sand onto his assailants, neutralizing their eyesight – "Front jab! Go around it!" – Kuen Yin twirled in the air, using the air currents to dissolve the blast.
Her confidence built up to the point in which she started taking the offensive. Eventually, she created a whirlwind vortex, picking up the killer and slamming him against the Temple wall. She then pulled her right hand back making a fist, and extended her left palm forward. The assassin's air supply was cut, and soon passed out.
Chang eventually managed to put himself between his two assailants. He created a whirlwind around his body which carried the attackers up into the air. He let them climb a good 15 feet up in the air before letting them fall. Both were left unconscious.
Tseng and Huang were dealing with a particularly resourceful waterbender. Aang soon came to help and neutralized the man, freezing him inside his own water. The brothers then left off to help their parents subdue two other firebenders. They were on the verge of besting the elderly couple, whose agility was undermined by old age. However, things proved vastly different when their offspring became involved. Tseng and Huang blew on each of the firebenders, forcing them to hold their ground. They let up for a brief moment, in which Lin and Yao seized the opportunity to create a vacuum around them. No air left them both unable to firebend and breathless. They soon collapsed.
Tengu and Han had resumed their fight back on their feet. Han had managed to give Tengu a flesh wound on his right lower leg using a blade concealed in his boot and had thus regained his confidence. Tengu had not let up, and was still one move ahead of Han's katana. Aang had spent the last few minutes with Chang engaging three of the remaining assassins. Tengu dedicated one split second to survey the situation: "Master! Watch out for the chains!"
No sooner had Aang heard Tengu shout something about some chains, the three assassins were each twirling a razor covered weight at the end of a chain. Aang's mind raced for ideas as the assassins released their projectiles. He quickly encased him and Chang in a stone dome. Once he had heard the weights bounce off, he split the dome in three sections, sending one to each assailant with blinding speed. As if on cue, the three remaining men descended from the towers and started charging at some brave young benders who had decided they would join and help repel the Black Lotus.
The youngsters were agile and quick, but the three assailants in black were just too fast and efficient hand-to-hand. Using a series of well placed hits in specific pain and pressure points, the youngsters were soon done with. In a few moments, the three men from the towers had knocked out all of the young benders, and were now working their way across Tseng and Huang. As hard as the warrior brothers tried to subdue the three cloaked men, everything they tried seemed to bounce off them.
Moments later they had gone past them and had Masters Yin, Lao and Kuen Yin neutralized, holding blades to their throats. Tseng and Huang dropped their staffs and raised their arms, lest their parents were hurt. Master Chang dropped his staff too. Only Aang was still trying to find a way to free the Council. Meanwhile Tengu had finally bested Han and had his foot to his chest. Han allowed himself a pained, bloody laugh at the expense of Aang's frustrated expression.
"What now Avatar? Your elders are but a slice away from the Spirit World! Bet they've never been so close!"
Tengu's staff bashed him across the face once again. Han was now enraged at Tengu: "You stupid idiot! One word and I'll have your Council beheaded!"
"You were always better with your mouth than with your sword...or your head," replied Tengu, gesturing with his hand.
The three assassins dropped their swords, freeing the Masters. Then they removed their masks. Aang could not believe his eyes: Lu, Wu, and Shu took two steps back and bowed to the Council and to Aang.
"If you had allowed yourself the time to examine the prisoners that were hanging from the towers, you would have noticed that their heads had just been shaved and that their skin was still tender and pale. Not typical of those who have it as a custom. Furthermore, them being alive was an elemental breach of the stealth protocol."
Lu continued addressing the warlord "Your people did good on intruding the perimeter, but they were noisy and careless. We bested them easily and then switched clothes. From then on it was all about giving you a false sense of advantage."
"What now? Are you going to kill me and my men in front of all of these people?"
Lu spoke again: "We sent our fastest young glider to the nearest Earth Kindgom outpost at dawn. They should be here in one or two hours to collect you and your men as prisoners of war."
"We have found ways to deal with the likes of you without sinking to your level. Now, sleep." Tengu's staff then sent Han on a trip to dreamland...
Of course, one would expect such a resounding victory to bring joy and jubilation to the Nomads. However, conscientious as they were, they had become more troubled than ever. True, assassins had come before, but the size and nature of this attack brought about for them the crude realization that war was indeed upon them – again. Opinions were once again divided around the Black Lotus and the best course of action. Questions were many:
If Aang and Tengu left would the attacks stop, or had the Temple itself become a target? Would Lu Ming stoop so low as to destroy the budding Air Nomads, just to hurt and confuse his targets? The boys had proven resourceful and agile, but were they a robust enough front line? Would they now have to train others in hand-to-hand combat, or even prepare a formal military?
After hours of discussion, controversy and dissent, opinions were split right down the middle: A conservative faction, led by Kuen Yin, Lin, Yao and the other teachers, were in favor of drafting only able-bodied volunteers for the war effort and keeping Tengu in the Temple as head of security. A more radical faction, led by Chang and the young warriors were in favor of deploying a more formal military that included at least some form of basic training. This party believed, of course, that Tengu was a key asset in the battlefield, and argued that the boys could help prepare others to make the Temple a safer place.
Aang's head spun with all of the ideas, proposals, arguments and explanations. In the end, he dreaded the idea of turning the Air Nomads into something he never knew them to be and sided with the conservatives.
As the meeting came to a conclusion, people returned to their chores and places, making ready for Master Aang's last supper with the Nomads in the foreseeable future. After eating his meal, Aang made ready to start his long, strenuous journey to the South Pole. All goodbyes were heartfelt and emotional, but Tengu's was the hardest.
"How can I ever repay you? Is there a way I could take everything back?" Aang asked.
"What's done is done. However, I am once again home, and I belong once more. I am whole, and lacking nothing." And with that, Tengu bowed to his Principal Elder.
All waved goodbye as Aang took off in his glider, slowly disappearing into the long shadows cast by the obtuse light of the setting sun.
Tengu stared intently at Chang. Master Chang returned the stare, nodding ever so slightly...
Tengu slid in absolute silence through the darkened corridors of the temple. He was certain most everyone was fast asleep, but he did not feel like risking his escape. He managed to reach the edge of the courtyard, and stood for a brief while on the wall that stood at the edge of the precipice, feeling the wind in his face. He refused to take one last look at the Temple, fearing that his love for the place might weaken his resolve at the last minute.
Yet, he stood, as if frozen. He would not move. One could only guess that he would not leave without giving her the chance to at least say goodbye:
"You're leaving, aren't you?"
"I must. They do not know how to fight this fight. They need me."
"I guess you're right."
She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to shield herself from the chilly night air.
"You could at least stay the night – it's terribly cold."
Tengu felt her yearning latch onto a tender fiber, deep in his heart, yet he knew he could not afford to give in.
"You know it would only make it harder. I have to go."
Tengu whipped his glider open.
"Make sure you avoid the rocks on the right hand side. Also, if you stay parallel to the mountains, the currents will work for you. You won't have to bend as much."
Tengu only turned halfway, avoiding her eyes. "Thank You. For everything."
Her voice quivered, ever so lightly: "I must be crazy to love you like I do."
He jumped off the ledge and flew quietly into the night, blending into the shadows and letting the cold mountain air dry his tears.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Honor Thy Father Chapters|
| Hope Against Hope - A Change of Pace - Tainted Sanctuary - A New Home - Recovered - Empowered - When In Doubt - The Hunt - Full Moon - Reckonings - Sora
The Love of the Daughter - The Wasted Warrior, Part 1: Cycles- The Wasted Warrior, Part 2: Regrets- Daddy - The Charade, Part 1: The Shadow - The Charade Part 2: The Beast - The Charade, Part 3: The Fool - The Breakthrough - Redemption, Part 1: Dejection - Redemption, Part 2: Dominion