|By Dragon of The West||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Dragon of The West||Drama||PG - 13||Positive||None|
|The Pursuit of Peace|
July 25, 2010
Tengu finds a family, and loses it.
The Face Stealer's Children
There were eight of them, probably all benders. They'd been shadowing Tengu for days, too obvious to be elite but too skilled to be rookies. That left The Sons of Koh, self-proclaimed execution squad of the Black Lotus. Of the eight members only one was dangerous enough to merit concern, his real name was Wei Zhong, but everyone in the order called him Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu, Death's Hand. He was the closest thing Tengu had to a rival in the Black Lotus. While Tengu believed that only the target should be harmed, Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu preferred to cause as much collateral damage as possible. Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu had a particular hatred of Tengu because many of the assassins believed Tengu was better than him.
"Lu Ming must really want me gone if he's sent them." Tengu muttered as he started walking away from Senlin Village he was staying at. He'd been on the move for several years since he left the Black Lotus. He'd try to settle down several times in small out of the way towns, but the assassins would always find him. The result was always the same, they'd find him, he'd kill them, and the town he was living at would kick him out. He generally could take care of the assassins before any innocent people could be hurt, but the Sons of Koh went out of their way to hurt others. Tengu doubted even he could keep the fight contained. He wouldn't fight them in Senlin for two reasons, one was he didn't want anyone to get hurt, and Tengu hadn't lived in Senlin long and he wasn't in the mood to move yet. Tengu stopped once he was at least seven miles from the village. He crossed his legs as he sat down and patiently waited.
He didn't have to wait for long, Tengu opened his eyes and found himself surrounded by the eight assassins. Each of them wore long black robes that hid most of their features, their faces however were uncovered, seven bore matching tattoos that made their faces appear as a Noh mask, however Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu's face bore a much more elaborate and savage tattoo, signifying him as the leader. The Sons of Koh worshiped the face stealer and tattooed their faces in order to please the malevolent spirit when they came before him with their "gifts".
"I see you still value the lives of the weak." Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu said as his "brothers" drew their swords. "It would've been better for you if you had stayed in the village. Then my brothers and I may have been distracted by all the potential kills." The assassins all snickered as Tengu stood and brought out his sansetsukon.
"Still using that old piece of junk?" One of the children of Koh laughed, his laughter was cut short however as Tengu's sansetsukon struck the assassin in the throat. The assassin choked as the other Sons of Koh moved in to attack. Tengu turned and planted his foot into the gut of one of the assassins and forced him to the ground. Using him as a spring board Tengu launched himself in the air, over the others. While he was airborne Tengu lashed out with his weapon and caught one on the back of the neck, exactly where the shoulder met the neck. As the assassin howled in pain Tengu landed behind him and quickly snapped his neck. As the body fell Tengu saw two assassins stabbing for his torso, before the corpse could hit the ground Tengu dropped his sansetsukon, grabbed the corpse and held it in front of him. Assassins stabbed through the corpse to get at Tengu, but the body stopped the blades a few inches short. Without hesitation Tengu tossed the skewered corpse to the side, taking the assassin's swords with it.
Before the two assassins could react Tengu grabbed their throats. As Tengu squeezed the life out of the two tattooed warriors, Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu came up behind him and blasted him in the back with a fireball. Tengu spun around as Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu swung his sword to decapitate him. Acting on instinct Tengu ducked under the blade as it passed over him, and cut the throats of the other two assassins. As Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu brought his blade down on top of Tengu, the former assassin grabbed his three sectioned staff off the ground and blocked the blade with the middle section, while wrapping the other two sections around the blade. Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu smirked as he kicked at Tengu while blasting fire from the sole of his foot. Tengu slid back a few feet from the blast before he sprung to his feet. As he stood the other assassins attacked while Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu waited for the right moment.
Left to Die
Tengu had gotten sloppy, too preoccupied with his enemies in front and forgot about the enemy behind him. While Tengu was holding off the assassins in front of him Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu struck from behind. He slashed Tengu's back from his left hip to his right shoulder. Tengu was spun around by the force of the attack and Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu slashed him again across his stomach.
"I always knew I was better than you Tengu." Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu taunted as Tengu dropped to his knees as blood poured from his wounds. "But even I was expecting a better fight from you." Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu spat in Tengu's face before he shoved him to the ground. "Look at you, you're pathetic." He scowled his heavily tattooed face. "You used to be a fearsome warrior. If you were anything like your old self, I'd be the only one left alive here." Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu said pointing at the four remaining Sons of Koh.
Tengu stared up at Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu's tattooed face as he waited for the death blow. "Finish it." He managed to say before coughing up a large amount of blood. The assassin chucked before he sheathed his blade and turned his back to the bleeding man.
"No I don't think I will." Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu said, the others snickered as they began to depart. "It's much more fun to let you bleed out here. Give my regards to my father." Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu called as he left Tengu lying there.
Tengu stared up at the sky as rain began to fall. He passed out from blood loss as the drops came down on his body.
Bodies in the Rain
"Of course it starts raining." Xaomian complained as her cart made its way from Senlin Village, back to her farm. Xaomian lived on a farm with her grandmother, Shianbou, and younger cousin, Shuo. Every few weeks they would make a run to Senlin to trade. Unfortunately Shuo had taken sick recently so Shianbou had to stay behind and look after him, leaving Xaomian to make the trip by herself. With a grimace she pulled on her cloak and pulled the hood up. The ostrich-horse started fidgeting a little as they got further down the road. Xaomian paid the creature no mind until it just stopped in the middle of the road.
"What's wrong girl?" she asked the beast of burden as she got down from the cart's driver's seat. "By the mercy of Hei Bai." She gasped when she saw them. Four bodies lay strewn across the road, three wore cloaks and had tattooed faces and the fourth was wearing typical Earth Kingdom commoner clothes, excepted they were drenched in blood. Xaomian rushed towards the nearest body only to find he was already dead. The neck was bent at an unnatural angle, telling her it was broken. The next two had their throats sliced open. The fourth had a large, deep cut going across his stomach. Xaomian knelt down and checked the man's pulse. She felt a very small pulse. In a panic Xaomian tried to pull the man on to his feet. While she tried to pull him up her hand brushed against the large cut going across his back, causing the man to groan in pain. It took about ten minutes but Xaomian managed to pull the guy into the cart.
She immediately took some of the blankets she kept in the cart and wrapped them around the man's there." Xaomian called as she got the ostrich-horse moving again, "My mother should be able to fix you up no problem." She said with a false smile, "Is it him I'm trying to convince or myself?" she asked herself as the cart now raced down the road.
"Am I dead?" Tengu asked himself when he was finally able to make a coherent thought. "Is this what the people I've killed went through in their final moments?" He couldn't give himself an answer. He didn't feel like he thought he would, he felt warm as opposed to the coldness people often associated with death. What confused him more was that his whole body seemed to be aching? Tengu was under the impression that people didn't feel anything in death. Then Tengu felt something cold being pressed against his forehead. "I'm alive!?!" Tengu finally realized as his eyes shot open, surprising the woman pressing a wet cloth against his forehead and a small boy around 11 years old.
"Well look who's awake." The woman said "Grandma he's awake!" she yelled.
"Where am I?" Tengu asked as he tried to lift his arm, but it was too heavy for him. "Still too weak."
"You're at a farm a few miles away from Senlin Village." The boy answered before the woman could. "My cousin found you bleeding in the middle of the road."
"Yeah along with three other guys." The woman cut in before her cousin could continue. "But they were already dead. Were they friends of yours?"
Tengu considered the best way to answer the question without revealing that he was the reason they were dead before saying, "I used to work with them." Not the whole truth but not a complete lie either.
"Oh I'm sorry." The woman said. She was silent for a few minutes before she turned to the boy. "Shuo could you go find Grandmother? And then feed the animals." The boy, Shuo, nodded before he rushed out of the room.
A few minutes of awkward silence passed before the girl spoke again. "I'm Xaomian, what's your name?"
"Tengu." He responded as an older woman walked into the room. She was middle aged probably around 60, her features were worn and wrinkled, and yet soft and comforting at the same time.
"Xaomian are you bothering our guest?" she asked with a strong voice. She turned to Tengu and placed her wrinkled hand upon his brow.
"No Grandma we were just talking." Xaomian replied with a slightly annoyed face. "And besides considering I saved his life, I'm pretty sure I'm entitled to ask him a few questions."
"You saved his life?" the mother repeated, "Who was the one who spent three sleepless days trying to bring the lad from the brink of death?"
"Excuse me, but how long have I been unconscious?" Tengu interrupted before Xaomian could throw up a counter argument.
The two ladies seemed to notice Tengu laying there for the first time. "Oh my apologies sir." The older woman said, "My name's Shianbou and I'm the one who tended to your wounds."
"How long?" Tengu asked again as he tried to sit up. The effort caused his wounds to ache but Tengu ignored the discomfort. The sheet that was used to cover Tengu fell to his lap revealing his heavily bandaged torso.
"About two weeks." Shianbou answered. "And I must say it was nothing short of a miracle that Xaomian managed to get you to me in time. You're an incredibly lucky man, most normal people wouldn't have survived."
Tengu smirked at Shianbou's praise, before remarking, "Story of my life. I should get home." He tried to rise from his cot, only to have Shianbou push him back down.
"Oh no you don't." Shianbou said as she placed the wet rag on his forehead. "You need to rest a lot more than that. So you just lay back and rest" With that the two ladies left the room. Tengu lay there for hours as he waited for his strength to return. He turned his head and found several cups of water at his bedside. Feebly he reached for the cups.
Always Lucking Out
"Alright I hope you're hungry." Xaomian said as she entered Tengu's room with a plate of food and a cup of tea. When she didn't hear Tengu respond she assumed he was asleep. She set the food on a table and lit a candle. The candle flame illuminated the room, revealing an empty bed where Tengu should've been laying.
Meanwhile a few miles down the road Tengu limped his way back to where Xaomian found him. By the time he arrived the sun was began to rise, illuminating the road making it easier to find his way, the smell of the rotting corpses helped too. It didn't take long to find where he had fallen, the dirt was a darker color from all the blood that had been spilt. He started searching for his sansetsukon there he highly doubted anyone had taken it because the other three bodies were still lying there undisturbed, aside from a couple of small scavengers that had started picking at the rotting flesh.
Three weeks and nobody's been around to clean this up? Tengu thought as he spotted his sansetsukon a few feet away. As he stooped down to pick it up he heard the sound of a cart coming his way. Tengu had a pretty good guess who it was. He decided to wait. A few minutes later Xaomian rode up in her cart.
"Where are you going?" she asked as the cart slowed to a stop.
"Home." Tengu answered as the girl got down from the cart. "I'm going back home. Thanks for all of your help, I owe you and your grandmother a favor."
"Where do you live?" she asked while moving to help Tengu support himself. The man wouldn't accept her help though.
"Senlin." He answered while trying to continue. Xaomian grabbed onto Tengu's arm to try to keep him from going. Normally if anyone else tried to grab him he'd tear their arm out of their socket, but Tengu knew she meant well and he was too tired to try. Instead he just turned to face her.
"Do you need a ride?" she asked, still holding on to his arm. "It's still a pretty long way from here." Tengu looked from her hand to her eyes. Her eyes were pure, unlike his own. Tengu tried to pull away from her but she held tight, "I'll consider us even."
"Fine." Tengu said while pulling his arm away from her. He deftly climbed into the cart after Xaomian. During the ride Tengu was mostly silent while Xaomian talked.
"My father went to fight in the war." Xaomian responded after Tengu asked where her mother and father are. "Mother died a few years ago." Tengu was about to ask if the Fire Nation was involved, before she continued. "She was constantly sick after her brother died, even grandma couldn't do anything to help. Every day she would get worse. At one point she was unable to even leave her bed. Eventually the disease won and she passed on. I was only 14 when she died." She paused to wipe a tear away.
"I'm sorry." Tengu managed to say before looking up to see that they'd arrived at Senlin.
"So what's your story?" Xaomian asked as Tengu as he climbed out of the cart. Tengu didn't answer as he limped toward his home. Xaomian got down from the cart and followed him. He stopped in front of a large pile of rubble that had once been a building. Tengu just stood there blankly staring at the rubble that had been his home.
"Tengu." Xaomian started as she placed a hand on her shoulder, "Are you okay?" At that moment one of the villagers passed by, faster than Xaomian thought it was possible for a human to move Tengu grabbed the villager and yanked him towards him.
"What happened to my house?" he asked simply. The villager gulped, whether in fear or to clear his throat was unclear, and spoke.
"The spirit Hei Bai came to the village and went on a rampage. Your home was one of the ones destroyed. I'm so sorry sir." Tengu merely nodded before he let the man go and walked into the rubble. Tengu started to dig through the rubble, trying desperately to move giant pieces of debris as if he was searching for something.
"Tengu what are you looking for?" Xaomian asked as Tengu literally started throwing the pieces of rubble. Tengu hadn't even noticed the blood that started to seep from his wounds. "Tengu!" Xaomian cried as Tengu struggled to move a support beam. "Tengu what are you doing?" Xaomian asked as she ran to his side.
"I left it in this room." Tengu almost yelled as he pushed the fallen support beam out of the way. Almost immediately Tengu crawled through the small gap between the floor and collapsed roof. Xaomian waited for a few minutes until Tengu emerged with an old, worn, sugegasa in his hand.
"You went through all of that for a hat?" Xaomian asked as Tengu propped himself against a piece of rubble. "What's so important about that hat?"
"It was a gift from my father." Tengu panted as Xaomian knelt next him. "It's one of the few things I have left of him." Xaomian almost asked him what happened but felt that the question would get her nowhere. Xaomian helped Tengu get back to the cart. Before the cart left Tengu gazed around and his eyes fell on a group of three children talking to the village leader. Two of them were from the Water Tribe based on their clothes, but the third wore orange and yellow clothes, a shaved head and blue arrow tattoos. I must be going insane. Tengu thought as the cart pulled away. The Air Nomads are extinct, save one. At that moment Tengu started to feel light headed. He looked down at his stomach to see he was still leaking blood, before long he passed out. As the cart continued to the farm Tengu awoke and placed the hat over his eyes to shield them from the sun, and leaned back in his seat without so much as a word. Xaomian opened her mouth to ask him a question, but thought better of it.
"He was killed." Tengu suddenly said. "He was killed, along with my mother and sisters."
"What happened?" Xaomian asked, growing even more curious.
"Fire Nation came to my town, Guzheng. My brother was drafted into the mining team and my father decided to work for the Fire Nation of his own free will so he could be close to him. A local gang killed my brother in a rock slide and my father was blamed for the resulting prisoner escape. The Fire Nation executed my entire family for treason. I was 10."
"How'd you survive?" Xaomian asked surprised that Tengu was talking about this so calmly, she nearly broke into tears every time she talked about her mother. And Tengu just talked about the death of his entire family and he sounded like it didn't even bother him.
"I was found by the one decent guard in town. He hid me away and I escaped." Tengu answered, "I lucked out. I always luck out." When they returned to the farm Tengu limped back to the room he woke up in hours earlier and sat on the cot. Xaomian stood by the door, she glanced at the plate of cold food and the cold cup of a tea.
"Do you want me to make you something?" she asked.
"No just hand me what's over there. No need to go through the trouble again." Tengu said pointing to the cold food. Xaomian handed him the cold meal and watched as he ate it without hesitation.
"Are you going to stay here long?" Xaomian asked, stopping at the door.
"Might as well. That is if you and your family will have me" Tengu said after swallowing a bite of the food.
"Oh it's no trouble at all. Well, see you in the morning." Xaomian whispered before leaving the room. As the young woman excitedly headed towards her room she failed to notice Shianbou sitting in the main room, clenching something in her fist. With an almost angry glare towards Tengu's room she placed a pai sho tile on the table, it was a white lotus tile, painted black and red.
Tengu wiped the sweat from his brow after he finished plowing the fields. A few weeks had passed and Tengu had started working around the farm in order to pay back Xaomian and her family for their hospitality. Today Shianbou had him preparing the fields for spring. Xaomian had offered to help but Shianbou had told her to help her gather herbs. Tengu had a feeling that Shianbou didn't really need help. He didn't really blame her for wanting to keep Xaomian away from him. Once Tengu returned to the house he sat on a bench on the porch. While he sat there and thought about where he would go next, Xaomian suddenly appeared next to him.
"What are you doing?" she asked taking a seat next to him.
"Thinking about where I'm going to go next." Tengu answered.
"Is there any place in particular you were thinking about?" Xaomian asked.
"I was thinking Omashu. I went there once on business, it wasn't a bad place." Tengu said while leaning back.
"Why don't you go back to the army?" Tengu had told them that he used to fight in the war and they took that to mean that he was an Earth Kingdom soldier. "Or better yet, why don't you just stay here?" Xaomian asked, "I'm sure grandmother wouldn't mind." At that moment Tengu felt a great moment of dread
"For some reason I doubt that." Tengu said unsure of why he was feeling a massive amount of killing intent. Tengu looked around, trying to see if any assassins were hiding nearby. All he saw was Shianbou walking towards them with a basket full of herbs.
"Xaomian could you go prepare dinner?" Shianbou asked while giving Tengu a subtle glare that was not lost on him.
"Sure thing Grandma." Xaomian said, unaware of Shianbou's hostility. "Tengu, do you want to help?"
Tengu was about to get up when Shianbou moved between them. "I need his help in the stable." Without protest Tengu followed. When they got into the stable Shianbou suddenly turned around and jabbed Tengu several times with her fingertips. Tengu's limbs suddenly went limp and heavy as he dropped to the floor.
"What's going on?" Tengu asked as Shianbou shoved him onto his back.
"I've blocked your chi." Shianbou said, "It's a little something I learned in order to keep my family safe from people like you."
"What are you talking about?" Tengu asked as he tried to regain control of his limbs.
"I've tended to the wounds of hundreds of soldiers during this war." Shianbou began, "And there are two things about you that tell me that there is no way you were an Earth Kingdom soldier. The types of scars you have are nothing like the wounds of soldiers I've treated. You have multiple burns like several soldiers, but you also have clear evidence of smashed bones, cuts, physical trauma. I could go on but you have way more wounds than your typical Earth Kingdom soldiers, and most of them aren't the kind of damage dealt by Fire Nation troops." Tengu remained silent as Shianbou continued. "Secondly is that lovely tattoo on your leg. An Earth Kingdom soldier wouldn't have some type of evil bird person. Every soldier who had a tattoo I've treated had a badger-mole. So are you going to tell me you were an Earth Kingdom soldier now?"
"I never said I was an Earth Kingdom soldier." Tengu simply said, "Your family assumed that." Shianbou's look of triumph suddenly faded as she realized that Tengu never specified who he fought in the war.
"Then what were you? You aren't Fire Nation, so were you a mercenary?" Shianbou asked. "Is that what this is!?!" Shianbou almost yelled as she pulled out Tengu's black lotus tile.
"How do you know about them?" Tengu asked slightly surprised that this old lady knew about the Black Lotus.
"Because you bastards murdered my son!" Shianbou yelled. "Shuo's father and mother were killed by people who left a tile just like this on their bodies! It's because of people like you that my daughter took ill and died." Shianbou's eyes seemed to soften a bit after that. "But I know you are no longer part of the group that killed my son and daughter in law."
"How do you know that?" Tengu asked as the feeling started returning to his limbs.
"Your eyes tell me your whole story." Shianbou said, "I can see that your entire life you've had to fight to survive, and do countless acts that you are not proud of. But you're not ashamed of them either. You've done what you felt was necessary to make it to the next day. Whether it involved fighting, or killing, or anything in between. Now you just try to live your life in peace but whenever you get comfortable your past comes back to haunt you."
"If it makes you feel better they think I'm dead right now." Tengu said. For a moment Tengu thought he saw Shianbou stifle a laugh before she turned serious again.
"Now listen well, I'm going to allow you to stay here, but if you make even one move against my family, I will end you. You would be surprised how many accidents happen on a farm." Shianbou warned before she left Tengu in the stable while she went back into the house. Hours later when Tengu's chi unblocked itself he went into the house.
"What took you so long?" Xaomian asked as Shianbou shot him a warning glance.
"Your grandmother showed me something I need to work on." Tengu answered.
A few more weeks passed as Tengu continued working on the farm. During that time Shianbou kept a close eye on the former assassin. She wasn't as hostile towards Tengu as she had been earlier. Probably because she had been able to vent her anger at him earlier. All the same she wasn't pleased to see that Xaomian seemed to try to spend as much time as possible with him.
One day while Tengu was out in the fields by himself Shianbou decided to talk to Xaomian about him.
"So what do you think about Tengu?" Shianbou asked rather straightforward.
"What do mean?" Xaomian almost stuttered.
"Oh come on dear. Don't think I haven't noticed how you try to spend every moment with him. Now what do you think of him?"
As Xaomian was about to start telling Shianbou what she liked about Tengu, an Earth Kingdom soldier was riding an ostrich-horse up to the farm. As the soldier passed Tengu, he handed Tengu a letter to give to Xaomian. Without even opening it Tengu knew what it held, he'd seen hundreds of letters like it sent out at the siege of Ba Sing Se.
"He also..." Xaomian was saying as Tengu approached, "Oh hi Tengu, are you done in the fields?"
"No but a soldier gave me a letter for you." Tengu said slowly handing the letter to her. "I'm so sorry."
"Why's that?" Xaomian asked as she opened the letter and started reading it. Shortly after her eyes began to tear up as her hand covered her mouth. "No, no it can't be."
"What is it honey?" Shianbou asked. Xaomian couldn't answer and she dropped the letter and ran into the house. Shianbou picked up the letter and read it to herself.
I regret to inform you that your father, Fùqīn, was killed in battle. He died with honor and valor, as well as a hero. The army deeply regrets your loss and sends you our condolences.
When Shianbou looked up from the letter she too was on the verge of tears, but Tengu was gone. Meanwhile inside the house Tengu walked up to the door of Xaomian's room. She was sobbing heavily when Tengu entered. Without a word he sat next to her on her bed and she started crying into his shoulder. As she cried Tengu said nothing to try and console her, he merely rubbed her back as gently as he could. Hours passed before she finally stopped, though she did not remove herself from Tengu's side.
"When my family died I never shed a single tear." Tengu said softly, "When my best friend was killed while protecting me, I still couldn't shed a tear." Xaomian removed her face from Tengu's shoulder and looked him in the eyes, "I was born broken, a bender who can't bend, an orphan who can't mourn, a friend who can't lend assistance, a man who can't experience any of life's pleasures."
"I doubt that." Xaomian said with a slightly hoarse voice from crying. Tengu turned to her with confused look as she leaned forward and lightly kissed him on his lips. Tengu stared at her a moment as blood rushed to his cheeks. Then he kissed her back. Four months later he proposed to her, she said yes.
Ghosts of the Past
Tengu awoke with a start. He looked to his side at Xaomian, who was sleeping soundly. He wished he could be as comfortable. He'd been having more nightmares recently, always about the same thing, the Black Lotus finding him and his new home. He passed these dreams off as nothing but foolish fears, after all as far as the Black Lotus was concerned he'd been dead for years.
"Something wrong dear?" Xaomian sleepily asked. No matter how quiet Tengu was when his nightmares woke him Xaomian always seemed to be able sense he was awake.
"Nothing's wrong honey." Tengu replied, "Just a nightmare."
Xaomian knew better than to dig any further than that. He would tell her what he wanted to. She crawled closer to him and draped her arm across his chest as his arm went over her shoulders. They lay there in silence as they watched the sun rise from there window.
"Oh I found something interesting in your laundry yesterday." Xaomian said causing Tengu to turn to his wife. She reached over to the nightstand next to the bed and grabbed something. She showed Tengu a White Lotus pai sho tile that had been painted black and red. Tengu barely managed to keep his surprise hidden. "I didn't know you played pai sho."
"I haven't played in years." Tengu said taking the tile from his wife's hand. "I stopped playing even before I met you."
Xaomian rested her head on Tengu's shoulder, "So were you any good?"
Tengu allowed himself a small smirk before he replied "I was the best."
"Hmm. I didn't know there was a Black Lotus tile." Xaomian said as she took the tile back.
"My friends and I played a customized version." Tengu explained, "The Black Lotus was the best tile on the board. We called it the assassin. It was never played until the last moment and when it was played victory was assured"
"Maybe you should teach me to play." Xaomian suggested placing the tile back on the night stand. Tengu stifled a laugh at the suggestion.
"Somehow I don't think you're cut out for my version of pai sho." Tengu said before giving Xaomian a small kiss and got out of bed to dress. A half hour later Tengu was loading the cart as Xaomian brought the ostrich-horse to the cart. The creature was being uncooperative and was getting riled up. The creature pulled the reins from Xaomian's hands and was about to make a break for it. But before it could get running Tengu grabbed the reins and tried to calm the creature down. The ostrich-horse resisted a few moments before it calmed down.
"You might want to be careful." Tengu said as he hooked the horse's harness to the cart. With a smile he pulled Xaomian closer while gently placing his hand on her slightly enlarged belly. "After all you don't want to upset your little passenger." Xaomian grinned as she moved in to kiss him.
"Get a room you two." Shuo said as he rushed by and disappeared into the fields. The two smirked and gave each other a small peck before they separated. Tengu hopped onto the cart and turned to his wife saying.
"I'll be back in a few hours. Try and keep your cousin out of trouble."
"Hey he's your cousin too you know." Xaomian countered.
"Only because of you." Tengu said as he leaned down for another kiss.
"Oh no," Xaomian said backing away, teasing him, "No more kisses until you get back."
"Alright," Tengu said slouching his shoulders in mock despair, "But now I have something to look forward to" For once in my life. He added to himself.
Xaomian waved goodbye to Tengu as he drove the cart away. When he was out of sight she went back into the house and made some tea. According to Tengu her tea was almost as good as his mothers, though nowhere near as good as an old friend of his. Sometimes his constant honesty was a bit annoying, but she never had to worry about him lying to her. As she sat down with her tea she heard Shuo grunting outside. "Probably trying to lift something too heavy." Xaomian remarked, right before he came flying through the door.
Xaomian rushed to her cousin's side as seven men wearing dark cloaks stood in the doorway, only two of them weren't hidden by their hoods. Xaomian glared at them while she cradled Shuo's head on her lap, but the boy was already dead. One bore very elaborate tattoos all over his face, giving him a somewhat savage appearance. But his partner's appearance was the stuff of nightmares. His skin was covered in what appeared to be diamond shaped scales, with cracks running throughout, his eyes were a solid blood red color that seemed to pierce Xaomian with their stare, and his mouth was pulled back into a cruel smile revealing teeth that had been sharpened to fangs.
"Is Tengu home?" the tattooed one asked. Xaomian's only response was a silent glare.
At that moment Tengu was in Senlin attempting to sell the crops he brought from home. This one old lady was being somewhat of a hassle and wouldn't accept Tengu's established price for a head of cabbage. Suddenly Tengu felt like something literally tore his heart out. His mind blanked out for minute as a wave of terror rushed over him. When he regained his senses the old woman was trying to get him to accept an offer of 10 copper pieces.
Tengu stared at the woman for only a moment before saying "Yeah whatever, it's free." With Tengu shoved the cabbage into the woman's hand. "Everything's free!" he yelled before he moved to the ostrich-horse, he quickly unhooked it from the cart. With a feeling of dread he rode the creature as fast as it could go back home. A dark sense of foreboding hovered over Tengu the entire ride. Tengu leapt off the horse as soon as the farm was in sight. The first thing he noticed as he ran to the farm house was the door had been knocked off its hinges, and Shuo lying in the door way. Tengu rushed to the boy's side and checked him for a pulse. He knew he wouldn't find one due to the unnatural angle of Shuo's neck, he slowly closed Shuo's glazed over eyes. The boy was 13.
"Xaomian!" Tengu yelled as he realized that his wife wasn't in sight. He searched the house in a panic as he tried to find her. "Xaomian!" he screamed as he dropped to his knees, frustrated that he was unable to find her. Tengu felt a warm liquid on his hand, when he lifted his hand to his eyes, he saw his palm was smeared with blood. His eyes went from his hand to the floor where he saw a trail of blood leading to the back door. Tengu followed it outside and into the stable, that's when he saw her. She was lying in a pool of blood as Tengu sprinted to her side. She had several bruises on her body, what appeared to be a large bite mark on her shoulder, and a large stab wound in her stomach. He took her in his arms as he brushed the blood covered hair from her face. Despite the condition she was in her face looked rather peaceful.
"Tengu?" Xaomian whispered as her eyes slowly opened. Their once radiant glow was dulled and almost lifeless.
"Xaomian," Tengu almost gasped while pulling her closer, "Don't worry, you're going to be fine. Everything's going to okay." It was the first lie Tengu had told in his life.
"Liar." Xaomian said with a weak smile, "I guess this is good bye my love." Her eyes closed a final time. She was 24 and with child.
"Xaomian? Xaomian!" Tengu cried trying to shake her awake. "Wait, don't go! Don't leave me!" Tengu was on the verge of tears when a noise from behind grabbed his attention. Tengu turned to see a man in black robes and face tattooed like a Noh mask walking towards him. Tengu gently lay Xaomian's body down and faced the assassin. Rage took over.
Drums of the Damned
When Tengu regained his senses he found himself sitting in the entrance way of the stable. He was covered in blood and something was constantly dripping on his scalp. When he looked up he was slightly horrified by what he'd apparently done. The assassin had been strung up in the rafters and his gut had been cut open and his intestines ripped out. Tengu then noticed the "rope" used to hang the assassin in the air, his intestines. Tengu managed to pry his eyes away from the sight, unfortunately they fell upon Xaomian's body. He tried to force his eyes away from her but couldn't. He walked over to her and knelt down. The sight of her mangled body filled Tengu with more anger and pain than he'd ever felt in his life. He clenched his fist, crushing the piece of paper he'd been holding the entire time.
Suddenly aware of the paper's existence, Tengu unfolded the paper and read what was written on it.
Tengu if you're reading this then you must've killed poor Xiāohào Pǐn, I wish I could've seen what you did to the poor bastard. Anyway by now I'm sure you've discovered what we've done to your beloved wife. I'm sure you'll come after us with all the ferocity you used to be known for. Allow me to make it easier for you, we're at Taku. I look forward to our happy little reunion. Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu
"I'll kill them all." Tengu said rising to his feet. He took one final glance at his wife's body. Before he left he buried Shuo and Xaomian's bodies next to Shianbou's. "Guard them well on their journey Hei Bai." Tengu prayed as he finished. Without another word Tengu took a torch and threw it into the farmhouse. He walked away as it burned to ground.
As Tengu walked into the ruins of Taku he paid no attention to the assassins hiding in the abandoned building or the small group of construction workers. After the war ended the Earth Kingdom began reconstruction on the towns destroyed by the war, Taku was near the top of the list. That being said process has been slow, currently the only thing the crew had working was an old water mill. This was where Tengu found them. Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu stood surrounded by his brothers.
"Glad to see you could make it my old friend." The tattooed killer said spreading his arms. "I'm so sorry to hear about your beloved. Such a shame." Tengu only glared at him as he pulled his sansetsukon out. "Hmm, well in the interest of protecting my kin here I must point out that most of them had nothing to do with the ugly business. It was all me and my newest brother here, Yìng Pífū." Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu gestured to one of the cloak wearing assassins, the only one without a tattoo. His face was horribly disfigured with diamond shaped scales and hideous cracks running throughout his face. His mouth was pulled back into a scowl, showing off his sharpened teeth. But the worst of it was his eyes, blood red and lacking any discernable pupils and seemed to be formed inside out.
He must be the one who bit Xaomian, Tengu thought before he coldly replied "I don't care. I'm killing you all, regardless of involvement."
"Such a shame. Kill him." Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu said stepping back as the other assassins except Ying Pífū stepped forward.
As they surrounded Tengu, he calmly noted their position and stances before deciding on how to take them out. "I'll kill you all in four steps." He declared while putting his sansetsukon. The four laughed at him, the memory of how Tengu failed to defeat them still fresh in the mind. While they laughed Tengu took a giant step and attacked one of the assassins. Using both hands he struck the man in the chest with enough force to break several of his ribs, unfortunately for him the broken rips, as well as several bone shards, stabbed into his heart and lungs. The man died as one of his companions moved to attack Tengu. Tengu took a single step to position himself correctly and punched him in the side of the neck with the same amount of force used earlier. The man's neck snapped. As an assassin approached Tengu from behind, he took another step while bringing his elbow back into the assassin's nose. The nose broke and sent several shards into his brain, causing instant death and simultaneous bowl evacuation.
The last assassin hesitated, the last exchange had moved so fast that the three assassins hadn't even dropped as Tengu took a single step towards him before leaping in the air and caught the man's head in a scissor kick that caused brain trauma and snapped his neck. The entire fight lasted no longer than ten seconds and only took four steps.
"Impressive." Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu said mockingly clapping his hands, "Very impressive my old friend. But don't get too confident, because compared to me and Ying Pífū those four were amateurs. Ying here is truly blessed, he's strong, powerful and absolutely blood thirsty. Did you know I literally had to beat him so he wouldn't eat your wife's corpse?" Tengu felt a familiar rage build up in side of him as Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu went on about Ying Pífū's special skin condition. "But I digress," Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu said moving to Ying, "I leave him to you."
Ying Pífū smiled, flashing his fangs, as he let his robe drop to the floor as Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu walked into the water mill. Ying's body was covered in the same scales that covered his face. Ying wore only pants, no shirt, no shoes, his head was bald, and a large machete hung at his waist. Ying roared as he charged forward. Tengu stepped out of Ying's path and punched him in the gut. The blow seemed to have no effect on Ying as he drove Tengu to the ground with a clothesline. Tengu lay stunned for only a moment as Ying raised his foot to stomp on his chest. Tengu felt his ribs threaten to snap under Ying's foot. Ying raised his foot again, this time Tengu caught it as it fell. Tengu twisted Ying's ankle sending him to the ground next to him. The two quickly got to their feet and Ying took a wide stance while Tengu assumed his normal stance. It had been several years since Tengu had taken any kind of fighting stance, but his muscles remembered exactly what to do. Tengu attacked with every ounce of his former skill. Ying was barely able to block the attacks that Tengu rained down on him. Tengu eventually caught Ying in the jaw with a powerful blow. Tengu felt the scale's crack under his fist as Ying dropped to the ground. Tengu waited a moment for Ying to get back up. When he didn't Tengu turned to enter the mill.
Suddenly Ying leapt onto Tengu's back and sunk his teeth deep into his shoulder. Tengu screamed as he tried to pull Ying off of him. The entire time Ying never let go. When Tengu finally got Ying off him, the assassin took a large chunk of flesh with him. Blood seeped from Tengu's shoulder as he turned to Ying. The scaled man chewed the chunk he'd torn out of Tengu and swallowed it. He made a slightly disgusted face as he licked the blood off his face.
"You taste terrible." Ying complained, "Way too bitter for me. Your woman though, your woman tasted wonderfully sweet. It's a real shame Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu wouldn't let me finish eating." Tengu felt himself being consumed by rage again, he tried desperately to fight it back. "Maybe I'll go back to that farm and finish her once I'm done with you." That was the final push as rage completely consumed Tengu.
With a bloodthirsty roar Tengu launched himself at Ying, who was drawing his machete. Tengu rained his blows down on Ying, who's hard skin prevented him from taking any serious damage. Meanwhile Ying Pífū proceeded to cut Tengu in several places with his blade. As Tengu ducked under the machete as it was swung at his neck Ying brought his foot up and caught him on the chin. As Tengu went sprawling on his back he also regained his senses.
My attacks aren't working on him. Tengu realized as he got to his feet. He's either been trained to ignore pain or that damn skin acts as armor. Either way there are two spots on the body that can't be trained to ignore pain.
Acting fast Tengu caught the arm swinging the machete with one hand while he used the thumb of his other hand to gouge out Ying's eye. Tengu felt the squishy organ be pulverized under his thumb as Ying let loose with an ear shattering roar of pain. As he howled Tengu pried the machete from his hand. As he was about to bring it down on Ying's scalp, the assassin grabbed Tengu's wrists and tried to wrestle the blade away from him. Tengu decided to strike at the second area that couldn't be trained. With deft precision he brought his foot up and caught Ying in the groin. As the assassin doubled over Tengu brought the machete down on his neck and decapitated him.
Taking a deep breath Tengu turned away from the headless corpse and walked into the mill. Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu stood waiting for Tengu with his back to giant mill cogs. Tengu couldn't tell whether Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu was happy or disappointed to see him. Without waiting for him to get ready Tengu pulled out his sansetsukon and launched it at Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu. The assassin moved around the attack and rushed toward Tengu while pulled out his sword, slashing at Tengu at the same time. Tengu dodged to the side as he pulled back his weapon. Tengu swung his weapon as his opponent made the same movement. Tengu caught Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu's sword arm as Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu tried to block Tengu's sansetsukon with his forearm. Unfortunately he forgot about the flexible nature of the sansetsukon and the weapon arced around his forearm and struck him in the side of his head. Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu back away from Tengu, holding his throbbing head, when he removed his hand he saw it was stained with a small amount of his blood. He suddenly started laughing.
"This is much better than last time Tengu." He said wiping the blood on his pants, "Last time you couldn't even hurt me. Where did the change come from?"
"Just a difference in what I'm fighting for." Tengu replied, "Last time I fought you I was only fighting not to die."
"Oh, so what are you fighting for now?"
"Now I'm fighting to kill you." Tengu said as he readied himself again.
"I knew we were the same." Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu said with a savage grin as he readied himself and pulled out another sword and spun them around, "We both march to the same set of drums. Now let's see whose face shall have the honor of seeing my father's first."
The two charged each other again. Tengu was able to keep Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu at a safe distance thanks to his weapons length, but Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu's proficiency with his two swords was able to keep Tengu on the defensive. Now it was only a matter of who slipped up first. As luck would have it Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu slipped up first, he left a large opening that allowed Tengu's sansetsukon to slip through and strike him on the collar bone. Taking advantage of his enemy's pain Tengu charged forward and grabbed Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu by his throat. Tengu squeezed as hard as he could, trying to strangle the tattooed assassin. Unfortunately Tengu left himself open this time and Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu took advantage, plunging one of his swords into Tengu's gut. Tengu let go of Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu and clutched at the sword in his gut as Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu kicked him onto the floor.
Tengu lay there as Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu pulled the sword out of Tengu. He was in pain but he knew no vital organs had been injured, he'd live. Provided he stopped Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu from ending him right now. As Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu brought his two blades down on him, Tengu scanned the area for anything that could save him. Tengu noticed the ropes that surrounded Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu's feet were attached to a heavy box filled with stone bricks.
If there was ever a time when I needed to earthbend it is now. Tengu thought as he reached out. Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu hesitated as he realized what Tengu was trying to do.
"Ha! You think you'll be able to save yourself by earthbending?" Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu laughed, "Fat chance Tengu. You can't bend, you're broken, remember?"
No Tengu, you're not broken. Xaomian's voiced called in Tengu's head, Your strong willed and you never give up. Now survive my love.
Tengu gritted his teeth and gave one final push. The box flew into the mill cogs and rapidly pulling the rope. The ropes wrapped around Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu's feet as they were pulled into the cogs. The assassin was pulled off his feet and dragged him towards the cogs.
"Help me Tengu." Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu begged Tengu as he hung on to the floor boards while the mill cog pulled him in. Tengu stared at Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu before he took out two small spikes. Taking one in each hand Tengu drove the spikes through Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu's wrists into the wooden floor. As the man screamed out Tengu grabbed his hair and pulled out a razor sharp dagger.
"You take such pride in your face." Tengu said as he placed the tip of the dagger on Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu's forehead, with just enough pressure to draw blood. "Your gift to your beloved father." The assassin glared at Tengu as the blood trickled down his face. "If your father wants this face..." Tengu said as he dug the dagger deeper and dragged around the face, causing his enemy to scream out in pain. Tengu dragged the dagger back to the point where he started and dug his fingers into the fresh cut. "... He'll have to come get it himself!" Tengu yelled as he pulled Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu's tattooed face clean off.
"MY FACE!" the assassin managed to scream as Tengu turned and walked away from the faceless assassin. "GIVE ME BACK MY FACE YOU BASTARD!" At that moment the spikes holding his wrists to the floor broke, allowing the mill cogs to draw in the rest of him, slowly crushing his entire body. Tengu never turned back as the screams grew louder and louder before they ceased.
Tengu walked into a bar in Ba Sing Se. It was the first time he'd been to the city since Lu Ten was killed. It felt a bit weird just being able to walk right into the city after he'd spent so long trying to bring the walls down. He took a seat at the counter and signaled the barkeeper. He knew Lu Ming would send more assassins. He knew it would be Des. All he had to do was wait.
"What'll you have sir?" the barkeeper asked while cleaning out a small cup, "Some Tea?"
Tengu smirked, all he had to do was wait, and while he waited he gestured to the ale. "No. I'm going to need something a lot stronger than tea."
- Ying's skin and eyes were based on the disease harlequin ichthyosis, and his cannibalistic appetite was based on Reptile from Mortal Kombat.
- Sǐwáng Zhī Shǒu | Death's Hand
- Fùqīn | Father
- Xiāohào Pǐn | Expendable
- Ying Pífū| Hard Skin
For the collective works of the author, go here.