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One Shot: Famous Monsters
Famous Monsters is a short side story in the Wanted Universe. It takes place during chapters 1-3 of Book 1. As the title suggests the short revolves around key characters in the Black Lotus Order.
A special caveat: This is not meant to be "Wanted Canon", althoughhas been thoroughly involved in the consulting process. This is a speculative version of how things could have happened. The final say on this work's fit within the "WantedVerse" lies with .
That had been one really close call...
For a moment it had seemed as if he had underestimated the difficulty of the job. He raced to the shore trying to ignore the searing pain of the fresh burn in his chest. The wound not only stung like hell, but it also made it hard to breathe. He finally made it to the dingy he had hid on the coast. He jumped aboard, hurriedly loosed the lines, and began to row out to sea. The exertion made him feel like the center of his chest was about to explode, but he could not afford to stop now. If the tales about the Fire Lord were even half true, he would soon have a mean, hungry hunter on his trail...
In all honesty, he had never really been afraid of dealing with any particular target he'd come across. He didn't even think much of assassinating the Fire Lord, since it had been done before, in fact, by the Order itself. He was probably more afraid of the one colleague who had managed to pull it off before than of Fire Lord himself. However, even after having successfully eliminated two of his targets, this mission began to seem more of a handful than what he had calculated.
Ironically, according to his research, since the Fire Lord was really not too much of a firebender, he was not supposed to be too much trouble. Even so, he was still aware that Zuko was no pampered primrose either: this guy had to claw and fight for it ever since he was 13. He had been burned in an Agni Kai by his own father, who later banished from his homeland and sent him on a fool's errand around the World: to go find an Avatar that everyone was pretty sure would no longer reappear. But, he found him, and then captured him, and then joined him and helped him defeat Dear Old Dad. The guy did not sound deadly, but it looked like whatever he lacked in skill, he made up in guts and sheer determination. It was therefore a matter of keeping things quick – a one-two punch, no chance for recovery. Too bad it had not happened that way...
So he was ready to handle Zuko – or so he had thought - but the Avatar... That was a whole different matter. First of all, he had never fought a master airbender before: it was as if the guy were everywhere at once! He was now clear as to why no one had ever been able to grab power from under Lu Ming – fighting an airbender was no walk in the park. And how about having to deal with all of the elements at the same time? It had taken all of his skill to deal with the changing fight, right up until his targets' coup de graçe: sending his lighting back... Who even knew you could do that? This was clearly more than he had bargained for.
Once he had ascertained the direction of the wind was favorable, he allowed himself to let the sails do their work and finally collapse from pain and exhaustion on the shallow deck of the small vessel. The ship continued to sail for the rest of the day and the night. He was ready to give into sleep, but he would not risk drifting out into the open sea, so he fought the pain and the drowsiness and managed to stay awake, committed to adjusting the course every now and then.
It was almost dawn when he finally made out the coastline of Ember Island under the fading moonlight. He maneuvered the tiny boat around the coastline until he reached the shortest point from the coast to the base. Using the long shadows cast by the rising sun, he managed to evade the guards and make his way inside without being detected. He didn't feel like giving explanations – at least not right now – it was too early to come to any conclusions. It was early enough in the assignment, so he chose to play it close to the vest for now and solve things on his own. In the meantime, his wounds were serious and he needed to treat them...
Meanwhile, Lian had heard the faint sounds of someone trying to pick open her door's lock. She was ready to act, but feigned sleep, waiting for the right moment to surprise her intruder. The assailant lit a candle to compensate for the lack of windows in the base, at which moment Lian turned; ready to stab him with an icicle. Nero stumbled back and fell, sitting down on the floor, able only to hold up his hand to protect himself.
"Are you crazy? I could have killed you! What are you doing here?"
"I'm sorry Lian, but I just had to see you."
"Well – could it not wait? Is it so urgent that you had to come forcing my door in the middle of the night?"
"Same difference!" Lian's drinking binges would often run into the wee hours of the morning, making her a late, foul-tempered riser. However, this was Nero, so she quickly recovering from her indignant surprise, whence she briefly surveyed her friend's condition.
"You look like crap... What happened?"
Nero just closed his eyes as he winced in pain, trying to get up from the floor. Lian helped him up and had him lie in her bed. As his muscles began to relax, the stress on his bones and spinal cord began sending all sorts of pain signals to his brain. He would have likely passed out if it had not been for Lian's conscientious attention:
"Don't fade out Nero, stay with me, buddy, okay?"
Nero grabbed her hand and looked square in her eyes:
"I'm sorry to drop in on you like this, I know it's not the right way to approach a lady, but I feel like my chest is going to explode and only you can make it go away..."
Lian was perplexed, but only for a moment – then she leaned forward and kissed Nero passionately. Nero almost returned the kiss, but then brushed her away:
"What are you doing?"
Lian, almost dead from embarrassment, was quite contrived – "What are you doing?"
Nero then revealed his chest, showing a ghastly burn, right in the dead center.
Lian rolled her eyes and sighed softly. There were other times in which she had felt like dying. This one beat them all.
"It's okay" he replied, as he closed his eyes.
She took some water from her pouch, and had Nero lie in her bed as she healed the burn...
The toil of the workers, the laughter of children, the smiling eyes of lovers, the smells, the sights, the sounds of the burgeoning city – all gone. Once a prosperous landmark, Taku was now a ghost town, nothing more than a makeshift hotel for dark travelers like him. It was quite the reversal of fortune for the once rich enclave. Not that he really cared for or remembered any of it, but it still managed to put a certain chill in his bones and a measure of reverence in his step.
His line of work required him to constantly keep his conscience in check, but these places always managed to somehow boost its strength, giving it a breath of fresh air. Dead men tell no tales, but the bones never lie. And there were plenty of bones around the mossy ruins: some belonged to animals, most were of adult men and women, and some of them belonged to children. He came across an entire family of skeletons, crouched together in a final embrace, the wall of stone scorched all around them. The child must have surely been about the same age as his Nikki. His breathing turned deep and hot, as a question gnawed at his soul: Why?
He shook his head and took in a fresh breath of the cold mountain air to clear his head. He began looking for a more or less sheltered place inside a home whose roof had been shot down. Once he found a spot to his liking, he unpacked his stuff and went to rest. He constantly reasoned with himself that The War had never given him anything or taken anything from him. This train of thought allowed him to remain neutral. Nonetheless, every now and then, during his travels, he would come across the scars, the wounds, all signs of the rueful aftermath, and he would ask himself – why?
Unable to find the answer, and finally beat by exhaustion, he closed his eyes.
He woke up convulsing violently, reality melting around him while a sharp, excruciating pain spread from his right leg on to the rest of his body. Protruding from his right thigh was the butt end of a poisoned dart.
Then, in the middle of the now whirling darkness, someone lit a small lamp and spoke to him:
"It's two-headed rat viper. I'd say you have about four minutes..."
The poison's effect wreaked havoc on his senses, but he was able to identify the cloaked figure. It was Lady Sa.
"Lu Ming sent you..." he managed to blurt, with no small effort. He knew of the stories of how Lu Ming used her to dispose of unruly assets and help keep the house in order.
"Wrong. I sent myself." She answered coldly.
He tried to firebend, but all he could muster was a small, feeble flame, quickly fading from black to orange, and eventually disappearing into the surrounding darkness.
"Trying to bend is useless. Pulmonary function drops to about 30% in the first 15 seconds. No breath, no fire..."
"Why...?" Nero contorted from the pain.
She removed her hood and leaned over the lamp, its glow revealing her features and the royal crownpiece.
"You killed my baby."
Nero was now both emotionally and physically in shock. Long lost Fire Lady Ursa was now before him. He had heard the stories of her banishment as a child growing up in Ember Island. He could not believe his eyes.
"You're the Fire Lady."
"Wrong. My daughter-in-law Mai is. She has two children. I want to see them grow, and I want them to have a father. Therefore, you will abort the mission."
Nerves were searing all along Nero's body. His mental state was rapidly deteriorating, but he still managed to respond to his assailant's outrageous request:
She just shrugged and gave out a dry chuckle as she stood from the rock she had been sitting on:
She turned around to address him one more time:
"You know: I would have thought that having a daughter yourself, you would be more sympathetic. It would be a shame that you were not around anymore to see after her."
Nero's eyes flashed fiercely, as he was now unable to speak. She had gotten through.
She pulled out a small, black bottle as she knelt beside Nero. She opened the bottle, forcing the entire content down his throat. Nero gasped for air, as the venom began to relinquish control of his body.
"You will need a day to recover. You will meet me the day after tomorrow at the tavern that's in sandbender town, next to the Si Wong Desert. I will be there at dusk."
Just like that, she was gone.
Nero gasped for air as he lied on his back, watching the star-studded sky.
- As with all my recent work, this was produced in close collaboration with .
- Twilitlink suggested the double-entendre between Lian and Nero.
- Ursa's methods of coercing Nero are my idea of what happened. Please read the caveat at the introduction.
For the collective works of the author, go here.