|By Dragon of The West||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Dragon of The West||Drama||PG - 13||None||None|
July 25, 2010
The perfect killer hits rock bottom...
The View From The Bottom
So Tengu waited.
And while he waited, he drank.
The first couple of weeks, it was a round of shots every evening at the local bar. In about three months' time, he had begun buying and consuming by the bottle. It was a slow descent into a sick spiral of regret, blackouts and hangovers. By the time the Black Lotus found him, he was practically living on the street on the lower ring. He felt sick when he didn't drink, having to down close to half a bottle to stop the shaking and the hallucinations.
If Des had had a heart, it would have most certainly been broken to see his former pupil living out on the streets like a bum. Since a conversation was beyond Tengu's capabilities at the moment, Des decided to carry him to a nearby inn. There, he and Lian spent the night watching Tengu sleep off his most recent binge, cursing and howling at the demons that inhabited his nightmares.
Tengu did not wake up proper until about noon. Des opened a window to let the sun and the air in. The clarity stabbed Tengu's eyes and made his already pounding headache even worse. He slithered and squirmed in the sweat covered sheets, trying to recapture sleep when Lian bended some cold water on him. Tengu screamed a curse and fell hard on the wooden floor.
"Just look at you" Des held up a mirror.
"What's it to you?" asked Tengu in a loud voice. He wondered why Des had to shout.
"Your affair with the bottle has bled Lu Ming dry. I don't know why he keeps sending you money. You're obviously of no use to us – probably to anyone – anymore. You're just a filthy bum."
"You've come halfway across the world just to insult me? You're pathetic.." Tengu knew Des was not there for a mere intervention and tried provoking him into finishing the job, thinking it would finally bring about some peace for him.
"Let me just finish him, so we can be on our way," said Lian.
Des motioned her for silence. He came closer to Tengu, who was sitting on the floor with half of his back against the wall, just beneath the window sill. Tengu raised his eyes to meet Des'. He could barely keep them open. They were bloodshot and swollen. His stare was listless and hollow. Des crouched down on the ground, took out a dagger from his cloak and put it in Tengu's hand. Tengu looked at the shiny blade reflect the high noon sun.
"Spare us the shame of having to kill a worthless bum," he said as he got up.
He turned to the door and motioned to Lian to leave. Lian made a gesture, as if to ask Des if they were finishing the job or not. Des just rolled his eyes, sighed and crossed the door, adjusting the hood of his cloak. Lian eyed Tengu one last time before following Des. In all reality, she could not bring herself to believe that all the amazing stories she had heard about The Black Lotus' Demon Bird had anything to do with the drunken, sorry-looking hobo they had run into. Nevertheless she was apprehensive about leaving the job unfinished.
"Are you sure we can just walk away?" she asked Des for the last time.
"How would you feel about killing him?" Des asked.
"I would like a little fight better." Lian answered.
"Well, you would have had a blast getting the job done if he had not been pissed drunk"
"Was this guy really that good?" asked Lian.
"Better." was Des' dry response. "We were lucky he was like that."
"You must be exaggerating – that guy doesn't look like he could hurt anyone – Only himself if he keeps drinking..." Lian replied.
Des stopped walking and turned to Lian. "You have just answered your own question. This guy is not who we were sent after – at least not anymore."
Angels of Mercy
Back in the room, Tengu stared at the blade feeling like a total coward. He wanted to end the pain and the suffering, but he could not bring himself to end his own life. He angrily threw the knife across the room, and started banging the back of his head against the wall. Eventually his headache became too strong and he stopped. He felt the warm trickle of his own blood falling down his neck and his back. He was about to black out again, when he saw two hooded figures come into the room – Lian had not closed the door behind her. One of the hooded figures rushed to help him sit while the other figure closed the door. His helper pushed back the hood, revealing the biggest, warmest, most beautiful green eyes he had ever seen. Her head was half shaven and she had an arrow tattoo on her forehead. The other stranger was a middle-aged man. His head was also shaven and he had a similar tattoo on his forehead. Tengu smiled. He thought the airbender spirits had come to take him home with the rest of the Air Nomad people. His suffering was finally over.
"I always knew you'd come for me," he said, while trying to caress Kuen Yin's face. He blacked out, still smiling.
"Chang, some water, please."
Chang found a half-spent bucket of fresh water in the boudoir and carried it over to where Kuen Yin was tending to Tengu. They washed and bandaged his head and lay him back on the bed.
The war was over, but crime in the outer ring of Ba Sing Se had remained as bad as ever. The White Lotus had freed the city from the Fire Nation's grip, but the separation of the classes was something nobody had really found the need to address, so it was business as usual for all of the riff-raff that made a living in the slums of the Earth Kingdom Capital. A new kind of mugging had surfaced of recent, where the perps would strike deals with unscrupulous inn keepers. They would attack unsuspecting people, drug them and drag them to the inn. There they would strip them of all of their valuables and, sometimes, even their clothes. The victim would wake up in a drugged haze. The inn keeper would then call the authorities and have the person arrested for not paying for their stay.
The airbenders were in the city buying special spices to carry back to the Northern Air Temple when they saw Des and Lian going into a nearby inn carrying an unconscious Tengu. Kuen Yin had spent several years living in the outer ring, so she believed this was another mugging. Something about this stranger stirred her chi greatly, so she convinced a reluctant Chang to help. They gilded discreetly on the inn's roof and waited for Des and Lian to leave. Hours passed and nothing happened. When nightfall arrived, Kuen Yin had to practically beg Chang to stay with her on the room next door and wait there.
Kuen Yin was worried for the hurt stranger's well being. She hesitated for a moment about what to do.
"Chang, should we not take him with us?"
"He's pretty banged up and his head wound has just been dressed. The altitude change could make him bleed to death. I think it is best that we leave him here to recover." Chang still spoke with all the authority he had when he was a Fire Nation Sargent.
"What if the man and the woman return" asked Kuen Yin.
"I don't think those two will come back. Whatever business they had with him must have already seen its course. Besides, I have a feeling about this man – he may not be the happiest camper if he wakes up in strange surroundings. For all we know, he could be just another thug."
Kuen Yin could see the tip of Tengu's tattoo showing from beneath his pant leg. She raised the fabric to reveal a demon bird in a fighting stance. She was especially intrigued when she noticed the bird had arrow tattoos on its wings, legs and head. A strong gust of wind was drawn around the bird's body. Her chi was once again stirred inside of her. Chang came in closer to inspect the tattoo. He was usually a very practical and restrained man, but he had a sensitive spirit and he too felt a strange energy surrounding this man. His eyes met Kuen Yin's and it was undeniable: this man was special and this mark was a sign. They both felt much pain and despair within him, so they agreed to try and find a way to help.
A Rude Awakening
Tengu woke up at sunset, finally sober. He saw the room and started to put together the bits and pieces that made up his memories of the day that had just gone by. He walked over to the boudoir and found two parcels there. One had a fresh change of clothes, along with his sugegasa and his sansetsukon (Kuen Yin had picked them up in the alley where Des and Lian had found him). The other had fresh groceries and a note:
"We did our best to heal the wounds of your flesh. We would like to help with with the wounds of your spirit. If you care for a fresh start, life anew can be found in the Northern Air Temple." - The Air Nomads
Along with the note was a map showing the way to the Northern Air Temple.
Tengu began shaking. He had not had a drink in 24 hours. As the thirst and the aches began to hit, he realized that he had hit the bottom. He had cheated death by a hair, and only because his former earthbending master had taken pity upon him. He could now stand because of the mercy and goodwill of a pair of strangers. He had lost all control of his life, his will, and his destiny. The saddest part was that, the more he thought about it, the clearer it became that what he called "control" was only an illusion: he had been on the run ever since he had been 10 years old, and a criminal ever since he turned twelve. He was only seventeen when he became a full-time, professional killer and his only true friend ever – who had been one of his targets - died saving his life. He had then himself become a target, thus dragging his own incipient family into his custom-made, personal hell.
Tengu continued doing his moral inventory and was startled by the irony: if Lu Ten had somehow survived, he would have had to kill him. It was his job. Furthermore, he had seen Iroh crushed by Lu Ten's death, and, as much as he felt for him, he was forced to deliver the final blow to his spirit, by helping end Fire Lord Azulon's life. What else could he have done? Kill a ten year old child? Life had been a real bitch – a downright whore...
He looked at the handwritten note, left behind by the angels of mercy. The promise of a fresh start felt right. He decided he would clean up, cold turkey. He would stay in this inn and kick the bottle, even if it killed him. That would be better than dying in the gutter, either mugged or run over by a carriage. The following two days were hell: cramps, tremors, hallucinations, vomiting and even soiling his own clothes. However, Tengu remained steadfast and avoided the bottle at all cost. By the third day, he had regained his lucidity, so he washed up, cleaned the room and threw away his old clothes and the messed up sheets. He ate some fruit and ventured out to town. He needed some money and he had a plan to get some.
The Last Job
There was a bar owner to whom Tengu owed some money. In his previous visits, he had noticed that the bar was in the middle of a gang district. Asking around Tengu learned that the gang charged all shopkeepers in their district a hefty sum for "protection". He asked the bar owner for a chance to clear his debt. The man was reluctant at first, but Tengu managed to convince him to have shopkeepers from all over the district meet with him that night. During the meeting, he offered to remove the gang for a lump sum payment. Most people laughed at him, since he was only one and was surely no match for the entire gang.
Tengu negotiated: he would charge each shop owner the gang's fee for a month's protection in exchange for him taking out the gang permanently. He would not charge the bar, since he had not cleared the tab, and he would only collect his pay if and when he eliminated the gang. Some shopkeepers were reluctant, since Tengu failing the task would achieve nothing but make the gang angrier and have them tighten their grip. Tengu asked when the gang was to collect their "fees". It would be at the end of the week – it was Monday. Tengu thanked them for their time, and asked to meet again in exactly one week's time.
Over the course of the following three days, the gang's members began to perish in a series of inexplicable, and (apparently) unrelated "accidents". Friday came and the remaining members were collecting their money. Several shopkeepers refused to pay, "How will you protect my shop, if you can't even protect yourselves?" The gangsters were angry and vowed to punish the shopkeepers severely for not paying. They met at their secret lair that night to plot out their revenge. A fire broke out. All doors and windows had been barred from the outside. No one could escape. On Monday night Tengu met with the shopkeepers as agreed and collected his reward. They were all very grateful, but had too many questions. He turned to the bar owner, who was wearing a puzzled look on his face, and paid his debt in full.
Tengu bid everyone a good night and left for the inn.
That night, he prayed for the first time in his life. He asked the Air Spirits' forgiveness for his crimes, and vowed to be an obedient servant from that night on. He packed his belongings in a small knapsack, and went to sleep. In the morning, he would start his journey towards a new life, at the Northern Air Temple.
- The chapter and the title were inspired by this song.
- "Life had been a real bitch – a downright whore..." is from this song...
For the collective works of the author, go here.