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May 26, 2010
Tengu commits to the mission that will change his life.
The Perfect Killer
Tengu was a rare bird in the Black Lotus clan. He was not a powerful bender like most of them were. However, if sheer destructive power could be removed from the equation, he was head and shoulders above the rest. He was cool, level headed, methodical, precise, and incredibly smart. If the job required finesse and complete untraceability, he was Lu Ming's "go-to" man. As a professional, he was respected by most of his peers. However, he was also a loner - an outsider who kept mostly to himself, and worked almost always alone. In addition, most other assassins in the organization boasted about their missions, showing a near-sadistic pleasure in their killings. He did not. He was efficient, lethal – even brutal, if needed – but he never showed either pleasure or displeasure regarding his missions. He was just as impersonal as he was ruthless. "It's just a job." he used to say.
It was precisely this attitude that allowed Lu Ming to keep making business in the Fire Nation. Most assassins had qualms about doing work for the Fire Nation. Tengu did not care whether it was work done for the Fire Nation, the Earth Kingdom, or the Water Tribes – it was just work. Consequently, he spent the better part of two years doing various missions for a series of high profile Fire Nation aristocrats. The rich were willing to pay handsomely to have their dirty work done for them and Lu Ming was more than happy to oblige.
Tengu had managed to secure a small, unassuming apartment in Fire Fountain City. He worked from there, often visiting the Fire Nation Capital, where most of the gigs were. He had bought a messenger hawk he used for corresponding with Lu Ming. Each message brought forth a meeting with yet another customer who wanted to shift the balance of power in their favor. It was a sick, evil, no-holds barred, chess game of sorts – everyone seeking a better place in the board, hoping to take every possible advantage of it once the Earth Kingdom finally fell. This is probably why Tengu thought this new assignment would be no different.
But he was wrong – very wrong...
My Brother's Keeper
He received a message that he was to meet with a gentleman outside the wall of the Royal Palace. The next day, Tengu showed up disguised as a cabbage merchant, and a tall, handsome gentleman approached him:
"Those look like good cabbages," said the gentleman.
"The best in the land, sir," replied Tengu, playing his part...
"I sure hope so, for your sake. See – I only buy from the best," replied the customer, handing Tengu some coins. Among the coins was a PaiSho tile with the lotus painted black.
"There is no better, sire," said Tengu, handing him a head of cabbage with a similar PaiSho tile jutting out of its side.
The man motioned for him to follow. Tengu left the cabbage cart in the same back alley he had stolen it (the cabbage merchant was tied and gagged on the floor). A black, unmarked carriage picked them up at the end of the alley. They moved swiftly to the outer rim of the city and made their way to the surrounding mountainside. They got off the carriage and the customer opened a secret door that led them into a maze of underground tunnels. They passed a series of large, metal doors, and finally reached one with a large Fire Nation emblem in the front. Tengu knew right then and there, this was no regular customer. Having entered the room, the customer lit a series of candles with his fingertips. Tengu was then able to see a series of family portraits, the kind only royalty can afford. In the middle of the room was a makeshift office with a large elegant chair and a more modest one placed at both sides of a large table with all sorts of plans, drawings and papers. The customer pulled the elegant chair for himself and motioned for Tengu to sit down.
The man handed Tengu an envelope containing two pictures. One was of a distinguished man in his 40s, the other one of a strapping young lad, probably around his age, but sporting a truly regal look. Both men were dressed in uniform.
The customer was good at reading faces - "I can imagine what is going through your mind right now. I can assure you, this is not a misunderstanding. Those are your targets."
Tengu was no fool "You're contracting us to dispose of a top general. Royalty, no less." Tengu pushed the papers back to the man.
The man smiled "Your master was right: you look young, but you are informed, well read, cautious... I can understand your apprehension. However, your end is simply a business proposition." The man pulled a bag out of his robe and placed it on top of the envelope. It was filled to the brim with gold . He leaned forward as he spoke, pushing both the bag and the envelopes back to Tengu. "I will deal with the political implications.". He finished, and laid back into his seat again.
Tengu was good at hiding emotions, but had never seen so much gold together, so he could not hide the surprise.
The man smiled and asked rhetorically, "Will that cover it?"
Tengu was impressed, but he was also loads sharper than his customer expected "My Master is right: I am a professional. I do my end, take my part, and then I'm gone. Memories or regrets are no concern of mine." He took the gold and put it in his pocket. "He is your brother, not mine."
Ozai's smile faded and his tone became dry and severe: "I have my reasons. You have your money. Do we have a deal?"
Tengu noticed he had made the prince uneasy, so he decided to be on the safe side and play nice. "If you have money you can make the ghosts and devils turn your grind stone."
"It's settled then: there are national roll calls going out at the beginning of next week. My brother wants to strengthen the lines for a massive invasion of Ba Sing Se. You will enlist in the drafts and my people in the military will place you close to him."
Tengu got up from his seat and bowed to the Fire Prince. As he turned to leave, he heard the prince addressing him once more:
"One more thing: I am laying it all on the line, so I expect you to live up to your reputation. I will be waiting for news from the front – anxiously."
Tengu had been in close contact with Fire Nation aristocracy long enough to know his bit about the Royal Family. He knew about the illustrious Dragon of The West, about his military exploits, his legendary fight with the last of the dragons and, quite especially, of his amazing fire bending prowess. He had also heard stories about his clever and conniving younger brother, who had even sought the hand of Avatar Roku's granddaughter to increase his pedigree. Rumors of his lust for power and his desire for the throne had reached his ears, but only a select few were in on the secret. He had now confirmed all of the gossip in the most inconvenient of ways.
In most respects, Tengu was a fearless young man, but he felt that the consequences of unbalancing a monarchy had a resonance which could potentially come back against them in the worst of ways. Also, there was something about this Ozai character which made him especially uneasy. He reasoned that a prince willing to betray his brother for the throne would feel no loyalty towards those who did the dirty work either. He immediately readied a message for Lu Ming, once he had reached his lair:
"Twisting the tiger's tail: royalty. Advise."
The next day, he got his response: "The money is simply too good to pass up. Try not to get eaten."
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