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April 19, 2010
Tengu's prison years.
The Demon Bird
The night was windy and very cold. Tengu found an empty cave in the mountainside and lit a fire there. He took a small blanket out from his knapsack to cover himself. Sitting with his legs crossed and his back against the cave wall, he caught a glimpse of his leg, lit by the fire. He saw his tattoo, partially hidden by his pant's leg. He had gotten it in prison, then had it re-worked on when he got the gig. He sighed as he thought that maybe some things never really go away.
Young Tengu did his time, five years, not a day more. But it wasn't because his behavior was exemplary, but rather because the prison staff dare not risk having him in there any longer. Many an ex-convict leaves prison a changed man. Not Tengu—he went in a changed man. He had had enough of being good with nothing to show for it but hurt and pain; of being singled out for walking his own path. Everybody wanted him to take a side, but what about what he wanted and needed out of life? After hearing his ex-patron's lies at the courthouse, he vowed that no one would hurt him without they themselves getting hurt in return. No one would be able to tease him, laugh at him, step on him, or scorn him anymore. He would show people the true meaning of confidence and power. He would turn his body into a weapon, and his mind into a trap.
Time passes slowly in prison. Tengu used up his for only two things: exercising and reading in the library. One day at lunchtime, another inmate began picking on Tengu for being a bookworm. Other inmates joined in the taunting by laughing. Tengu, always expressionless, swiftly and with only a couple of moves, stuck his chopsticks into the man's eyeballs, then into his ears before snapping his neck. He then took the man's chopsticks and kept eating quietly. He was sent into solitary confinement for one week.
Tengu got quite used to being in solitaire. He decided he would make his spirit impervious to the punishment. He would not let petty grievances like cold, rats, cockroaches or complete solitude change his life plan. Once, after one week in solitary confinement for breaking both of an inmate's arms for insulting his mother, his guards decided to have some fun and rough him up. Tengu's hands were cuffed, but his feet were unencumbered. With a back kick, he threw one of the guards to the floor, put his handcuff chains around the other guard's neck to choke and restrain him while he brought his foot down on the first guard's neck, breaking it and killing him on the spot. He immediately earned two more weeks in the hole.
The Dark Father
Eventually people learned their lesson: leave the quiet boy be, or else... His resilience and toughness was admired by the older crime lords, so they began befriending the boy. He eventually became untouchable when Kyung Ji took him under his wing. Rumour had it that Kyung Ji was the right-hand man of one of the biggest crime lords in Earth Kingdom history. The government broke his legs when he refused to give out the identity or whereabouts of his people. He had been in prison in Ba Sing Se, but he was eventually brought to Gaoling when his connections to the outside world proved too powerful in the Earth Kingdom capital.
Under the old crime lord's tutelage, Tengu learned to play Pai Sho. He learned not only the game, but its real-life parallels of strategic thinking. During their long conversations, Tengu learned about hustling, tricks, signals, innuendos, threats, bluffing. The young boy became a scholar of everything strategic, military, criminal, governmental, and even religious. If there was a way of getting an edge on a rival, Kyung Ji knew how to work it, and Tengu took it upon himself to learn, too. The kingpin was proud of his new, evil pupil, and baptized Tengu with a new name: The Demon Bird. Tengu liked it and had the prison tattoo artist imprint an evil-looking sparrow hawk in his right leg.
The day of his release from prison, Kyung Ji gave Tengu a Pai Sho tile, saying, "You're good to go boy – head for Ember Island and tell Kang that I sent you."
"Who is this Kang and how will I find him?"
The old man chuckled in his wheelchair and said, "Don't worry. He will find 'you'."
Tengu studied the tile. It was a white lotus tile that had been painted black. "This gig...the money any good?"
Kyung Ji, an evil spark in his eye, replied, "It's to die for."
When he left the prison, Tengu was returned his sansetsukon and his sugegasa. He walked two blocks and looked for the panda lily patch on the right hand side of the street. Once he found it, he proceeded to dig up the money Kyung Ji had managed to secure for him using his outside contacts. He decided to head to the local bar one last time for a drink before heading for the docks. He asked for a shot of rice wine and was enjoying his drink when he heard a familiar voice.
"Well if it isn't the ungrateful little wretch!" Lo had become a bona-fide wino in dirty clothes, messed up hair and a long, filthy beard.
"Your father was cursed to have a liar and a pervert for a son," Tengu replied calmly, returning to his drink.
The tailor's son crashed his bottle against the chair, ready to attack Tengu, who easily evaded the bottle, and sidestepped his assailant face down on the floor. He calmly bent down, picked up the bottle with his right hand, then pulled the man's head up by his hair with his left. Without so much as a flinch in his eyes, he sliced the man's neck from side to side, spilling his blood on the barroom's floor.
"May your father rest in peace now."
Tengu was about to return to his drink, when he felt a powerful sting in his upper right arm. The bartender had slashed him with his knife. "Get out you demon! Out!" Tengu would have done off with the man, but he had been a good customer and friend of the tailor. He could see the pain and disappointment in his eyes. His old friend Feng did not deserve to raise these two devils. Tengu picked up his drink and splashed his wound, grimacing in pain as he fled the bar. In a back alley he dressed the wound with a rag torn from his pants before speeding towards the dock. Soon he heard the cops after him, but they were too slow.
Once at the docks, he studied his options rapidly. He saw a pirate ship and headed for it. His sudden entrance startled the first mate, who pulled a saber at him.
"Parley!" Tengu shouted, the tip of the blade nearing his neck...
The first mate motioned for one of the deck hands to go get the captain, but there was no need, since the old man had overheard perfectly. He was intrigued by the young boy's knowledge of the corsair's etiquette. He could see the guards were inspecting the shipyard, and he saw Tengu's badly dressed wound, so made the connection immediately.
"Betwixt a rock and a hard place, son?"
"I need safe passage to Ember Island. I can work and fight as hard as your best man." Tengu was resolute.
"Ember Island, eh? Those are Fire Nation waters, lad. Those who play with fire are bound to get burned."
"If the guards make it to this ship, they will be happy to catch me, but they will be thrilled to find out who's been stealing the Bei Fong's spark rock shipments meant for Ba Sing Se." Tengu had seen some hastily covered crates bearing the flying boar seal.
The captain raised an eyebrow. "Quite perceptive the young lad... And what would your business be in Fire Nation territories?"
"My business is mine and no one else's, as is yours..." Tengu said, his voice terse and free of inflexions.
The captain laughed a hearty laugh. "Very well! Liao, make ready for departure!! Xiao, take the lad below deck!" The first mate and his twin brother quickly carried out the captain's instructions. The boat was out to sea before the guards could make them stop. The captain went below deck: "We be a hard working crew. No freeloaders here! Everyone here answers to Xiao. Xiao answers only to me. He can send your body to the depths and show me naught but your blood on the steel of his blade if he needs to, so make yourself useful to him!"
The pirates were making way to Merchant's Pier, so they dropped Tengu on a smaller sailboat near Crescent Island. From there, he sailed his way to Ember Island.
A sophisticated enclave, Ember Island was unused to receiving little sailboats such as the one carrying Tengu. It was a rare sight indeed, yet no one paid any mind to the arrival. Only one person noticed the odd incursion. A man in a black robe watched from atop a nearby mountain. He was wondering if this young lad was, in fact, who his old comrade had mentioned in his last message. The boy looked scrawny and in no way special. At the very least, it would be fun watching him handle himself in a fight. Kids always found themselves in a fight in Ember Island. He would keep close.
Now, as it was then, the objective was clear within sight. The final push was decisive...
- References to PanterA
- I do love my Captain Barbosa...
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