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One Shot: Famous Monsters
Twilitlink, The Bos
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 .
The Misty Palms Oasis was the last excuse for a town before the sprawling Si Wong Desert. It had plunged into a perilous descent since the last remains of its once wondrous iceberg had finally been shaven off into an overpriced mango drink a year and a half ago. It had now become a run-down, "rough-and-tumble", "watch-yourself" kind of place, about as sinister and perilous as the vast expanse of barrenness that stretched beyond it.
Its secluded location made it the perfect place for any kind of evil business. Stolen goods and livestock were sold according to black market's going rates. The transactions were prompt; either there was an agreement or a death, never anything different.
The town's bar was the most colorful establishment in the entire pitiful settlement. Thieves, bounty hunters, muggers, hooligans and the occasional assassin made this business a place for the feeble to avoid. The bar was a dark hole, a treacherous space where ruffians, roughnecks, and desperadoes converged for a drink, but possibly for worse.
After a number of sour experiences, Nero had made it a point to avoid Misty Palms Oasis as much as he possibly could – especially the bar. This time, however, he had been made an invitation he could not turn refuse, so he obliged. The first golden tones of sunset were painting the buildings with vivid orange and red hues when Nero slid silently into town. In two minutes, he had reached the bar. At the far right end, there was an old man with a Pai Sho board, and right next to it, Lady Sa sat at a small table with two poured drinks, obviously waiting for him... He reached the table, but did not sit down.
Lady Sa had the glass to her mouth, but motioned for Nero to sit and drink up.
"I don't drink when I work."
"Consider yourself off-duty. Sit. Drink up – you're gonna need it."
"How do I know it's not poisoned?"
Lady Sa glared coldly at him. She took up his glass and drank from it, gulped down, and raised it towards him, as if to toast.
After a moment of hesitation, Nero sat down and pushed the glass.
"I appreciate the demonstration, but I don't drink when I work."
"Nero, how much do you know about this bar?"
"I know enough to avoid it as much as I can."
"Clever boy! You see, my business has taken me to this place time and again. I've closed many deals here. So many, in fact, that I am considered a regular. And the locals, they can read body language like you could not imagine. For example, when the customer and I are both drinking, everything is going smoothly. If one - or both of us - cast the glass aside before the drink is over, that means trouble. Now, if you're half as good as Lu Ming says, you must have seen three full tables at the eastern end of the bar."
"I might have..."
"Well, the robust gentleman in the purple hat is Feng Xiao – I terminated his butler for him for stealing his livestock. The tall, dark gentleman with the eye patch is Mu Shi – I took care of his stepfather, who had taken over his family's estate and thrown him and his brothers out on the street. That helped clear up the legal issues surrounding the estate's ownership and earned him a clean shot at his inheritance. Good business decision. Big money – paid me very well. The young gentleman with the flashy jewelry is called Quon, the largest food and beverage purveyor in all of Ba Sing Se. He had an issue with looters raiding his shipments – most of whom, truth be told, were sent by competitors. The police were not doing such a great job of assuring him protection, so he hired me to protect the convoys. Smooth sailing ever since..."
And just then, by some inexplicable whim of fortune, Quon looked across the tavern and saw Lady Ursa. His eyes gleamed and a smile came across his face as he immediately raised his glass to Lady Sa. She raised hers back, but Nero just stared. The man kept his glass raised, his eyes locked coldly with Nero's. Nero then let his gaze travel across the room. Feng Xiao had his glass raised, as did Mu Shi and his kin. The message finally sank in: Lady Sa had lured him into her dominions. The patrons were not anything he could not handle, but he wouldn't be able to just walk away from her. Not without at least fighting his way through a good-sized bar brawl.
Lady Ursa sat back, delighted at the confused look of the young firebender. She could almost hear the gears turning inside his head. He had already missed his two most important targets, and had purposefully avoided debriefing Lu Ming. All he had to do was let out one little; itty bitty black spark in this hell hole, and Lu Ming would be alerted of his presence. His criminal web was wound all around the World: one tiny tremor in one of the strands was all it took for him to locate his people. Nero knew this all too well. He didn't want to get into a mess just now, so he reached for his glass and raised it back at Quon. Quon gave Nero a slight smile, made a quick bow and then rejoined his entourage in their merriment.
"I'm all ears, Your Highness."
"We will drop the titles. To you, I will continue to be Lady Sa. You are the first person inside the organization who knows my real identity. It cannot be known yet, or my plans will fall apart."
"Lips are sealed."
"Second, as I mentioned earlier, this mission cannot continue as planned."
Nero raised his eyebrows as he sipped his drink. "Well, I'd love to comply, but missions can't be dropped just like that, you know that too well."
"I know. This is why you and I must work together towards making it seem like is business as usual."
"So you want me to spare your son, is that right?"
"No. I want everyone to live."
Nero began shaking his head, "My Lady, I cannot commit to that – it would be my head on a platter, you know that."
"Nero, do you have any idea who you make up your roster this time?"
"Of course I do."
"Well, then you know you are meant to deliver a blow that could effectively decapitate the leadership of three of the World's major settlements, not to mention taking the lives of heroes loved and respected the World over, including the Avatar himself!"
"I'm hearing you say that you understand, but this means plunging the World back into chaos! Can you not see that there's more at stake here than just your life, or even my son's life, for that matter? The new Avatar will not be ready to resume its duties for at least 15 more years. We do have peace now, yes, but it's still budding and frail. It would be gone in a flash, trust me."
"Well ma'am, in all honesty, I fail to see how this applies to me..."
"Tunnel vision: a common ailment within our trade. A most grave fault when it comes to royalty though." She put down her glass with visible disdain towards Nero's apathetic attitude. "Son, this applies to everyone."
"I'm not your son." Ursa's condescending tone was beginning to irritate Nero.
"You could very well be. You're almost the exact same age as Zuko."
Nero looked up from his glance and came upon the unmistakable scowl of an angry mother. He thought of his own mother, eaten alive by the tumors, spending the nights screaming in pain, as the metastasized beast devoured her body. Then he looked at this woman: strong, steadfast and resolute. Yet there was something in her eyes he had not seen in a long time. Something like what he used to see in his mother's eyes – a yearning, a passion...maybe even love...
He struggled with her stare for a moment, and then looked down unable to sustain it. Then, something inside him spoke to him. It was like a still, small voice: Maybe it's her – maybe she's come back to save me...
Ursa's voice softened: "Nero – do you want the War to return? Do you want that? Again?"
He was shaken, but his pride and his anger were strong...
"The War never was of any relevance to me. My life would have been the same with or without any war going on..."
Ursa had trained herself not to feel her own sadness. Night after endless night, she practiced with her daggers in the training arena at the base in Ember Island, suppressing the tears, the pain, the burning desire to be with her children once again – the unyielding need to hold them, to caress them, to kiss them, to press them against her bosom and tell them everything would be alright.
She remembered hearing the news about Zuko's banishment and how it had rent her heart in ways she had never fathomed possible. She remembered having heard that Azula had been sent to hunt him and her dear brother in law down, and hearing the assassins at the base placing bets on who they thought would prevail. Finally, when she heard Azula had been institutionalized, she almost lost her sanity herself from the pain. Through it all she had learned to contain the sadness and the tears – but never her anger...
She took out a dagger and planted it in the middle of the table, her eyes ablaze with the fire of her own personal hell. She hissed her words, spitting them out like venom into the ears of the young, smug assassin:
"Okay – let's just engage the subject from your idiotic, selfish, whiny perspective. Let's forget how it starved entire towns, how it made entire families into slaves, how it crushed the hopes and dreams of millions of people for over a century. Let's even ignore my pain. Forget that I'm sitting in this very table with you. Let's forget that the War turned my son into a wandering fugitive, let's forget that it drove my daughter into madness. Let's even forget that it turned my husband and almost everyone in his family into a monster. Let's forget about the fact that it separated me from my children, which were the only thing that made my life worth living... We'll let go of all of that, okay? And, we'll focus now on the only thing your sorry ass has ever cared for which is, of course, yourself."
Angry tears were beginning to show in Ursa's eyes, as she struggled to keep her voice down. Her face had turned red, the veins in her neck and forehead throbbing furiously, threatening to explode and soak Nero in her blood as she leaned forward over the table. The patrons looked on nervously. No one could ever remember seeing Lady Sa so angry ever before.
"Not true." was all he could answer.
"Prove me wrong." Ursa leaned over the table, her fiery golden eyes fixed on Nero's languid green ones.
"I care about Miko," a brief silence ensued "and Nikki."
"Enough to go back to them?" she said, as she sat back again in her chair, her arms crossed defiantly.
"I can't do that," he said, taking a sip from his glass, eyes fixed on the bottom.
"Why do you think that is?"
Nero stared daggers, looking up from his glass, not feeling like having to overstate the obvious. Ursa arched up her left eyebrow – she had caught him in his own argument.
"Do you realize what we've become? We're shadows – we're no one. We have families and loved ones that we cannot go back to. Are you okay with that?"
"Things are what they are..." He replied absent mindedly returning to the safety of his glass.
Ursa breathed deeply as she closed her eyes, trying to contain her rage at Nero's apathy. When she had collected herself, she tried to change her approach, seeking to strike a chord in the young man's heart.
"You know? I have just about made my peace with the fact that I won't ever be able to come close to them again, but I just can't accept that they have to die and have the World once again spiral into chaos just to make Lu Ming richer. We're destroying people's lives – not only our targets' but people's lives all over the World - for a few coins and not giving it any second thought. We're about to tear nations apart – we're causing wounds that will never heal. This time ..."
"Well, I already apologized for your family..." He interrupted, although he knew the words were stupid and hollow. Nero felt himself become too large for his glass to hide him anymore.
Ursa leaned menacingly towards the table, staring Nero dead into his eyes:
"What are you going to do? Apologize ahead of time for killing my son too?"
"The contract is underway – you know things can only finish one way."
"What will happen if one day someone decides he or she will be better off with Nikki dead? Will you accept it just as willingly as you expect me to accept it? Are you willing to let that happen?"
Nero struggled with these words, as his eyes studied the bottom of his now nearly empty drink. His breathing became irregular and harsh. His heart beat faster, and he felt a strange burning in his face and on his lips. For years, he had compartmentalized his life into neat little packages. Separating one reality from another had been the only way he had found to cling to sanity. It had taken Ursa less than 24 hours to destroy a lifetime of cognitive effort. The mental and emotional barriers that separated the estranged orphan, the loving father, and the heartless killer were now suffering irreversible damage. The resulting collisions were creating fractures and fissures in his soul and his conscience. After a deep, prolonged silence, he lifted his eyes from the table - the human emerged:
"Good. Now let's talk."
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