Hey hey heeeey XD Welcome readers XD Pheeeew! Been out of the fanfiction world for a while now, but I am excited to share this new fanfiction with you. Please rate and review. I hope you enjoy XD

And of course, Disclaimer, ACIII belongs to Ubisoft :3


CHAPTER ZERO

~ Pulling the rug from under ~

The salty and earthy smell of sweat filled the air, mixed with a hint of mildew from the concrete walls. Blue mats stretched out all over the floors of the spacious room, bodies collided with the mats sending wisps of dust into the air. Grunts, groans, growls, voices and occasional chuckles and cheers filled the often meditative silence. Daylight poured from the rows of large industrial windows illuminating every corner of the spacious room, so no artificial light was needed in the daytime. Throughout the mats, pairs of two dressed either in loose fitting clothes ranging from loose black shirts and black trainers or loose high collar black buttoned up shirts with black cotton trousers sparred with each other practicing the recent lessons.

"Work on your stance, legs parted, arms held this way – yes, that's right."

A lithe and athletic middle aged Chinese man walked from pair to pair correcting and advising his pupils.

"Meryl,"

"Yes, Master?" A tall and slender woman responded calmly, her grey blue eyes awaiting his orders.

She stood beside her master, her 5ft4 [~1m75] frame towering his by just a few inches. She was of light and elegant build almost close to that of a dancer. Her stance was disciplined and straight with no slouching. Her natural light and straight blond hair was tied back in a tight high pony tail. She had light porcelain skin with a high nose, high cheek bones and deep set grey blue eyes.

"Check on the boys over there, they are again fooling around."

She responded with a bow and went to the boys. The Master watched her leave to join the noisy teenage boys at the far end of the room. When the boys spotted her, they immediately became rigid with nervousness and discomfort. The Master witnessed this and sighed. He had told her many times to relax not only her facial features but also her body, there was a limit on being serious in life and she was relentlessly serious everywhere she went. Her calm, strict and reserved demeanor always was mistaken for hostility and arrogance, when actually she was the opposite.

Even though her smiles were rare and sparse she was attentive, polite, and caring. Those who knew her for years came to respect her for what she was while the new students were constantly mystified by her behavior.

The master smiled. It had been 5 years since he had taken her under his wing. He was proud of her, of her achievements and the positive changes in her life. The 5 years under his guidance changed her for the better. However, recently in the past few weeks he noticed a few jarring issues about her and it bothered him.

Within a few minutes after he had sent Meryl to the boys, he rallied everybody into a line and they kneel down facing the kneeling master. They bowed with respect, their foreheads briefly touching the matt and with a few words of praising their hard work today all pupils were dismissed for the day.

Now only the Master and Meryl were left. Meryl was straightening the matts that were out of line with the others when the crisp voice of her master halted her actions.

"It's been already 5 years, how time flies." he mentioned casually.

Meryl looked in the Master's direction. He stood there with his arms folded behind his back bearing a peaceful expression on his face. He was generally a happy human being, content with his life and his situation. He was also relatively laid back. Unlike the Asians Meryl knew as the martial art school was in China town, he didn't even bother to dye his hair black. He proudly displayed the grey hairs on the sides of his head claiming they were badges of experiences and wisdom. With each grey hair, he said, he became wiser and it always managed to make Meryl smile.

Her insides twisted with a mix of glee and anxiety; the implication of his innocent words sending a shock wave of memories back into her system. Meryl stood up stiffly, facing her Master.

Although he was shorter by a few inches, in his mid-fifties (Asians were in general Gods of youth – he was no exception), skinny in built, charming if he needed to be –he was terrifyingly powerful and agile. Meryl always thought that her master was a mix of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, never too serious and never too funny, he struck a perfect balance between the two with a twist of his own identity.

"Yeah… 5 years." She mumbled.

Tension seeped into the room, pressing down on Meryl's shoulders. She didn't want to remember the life she had 5 years ago and beyond that, because she had moved on.

"Have you been-

-in contact with them?" she interrupted him in a steady voice, her grey eyes sharpened with an icy expression.

"Have you?" he reinforced his tone almost challenging her.

They stared at each other, the tension brewing some more, and when it was about to achieve its climax Meryl sighed to diffuse it. It seemed like her past would never let go, no matter how much she changed herself or ran away from it. Why, why did he have to bring this up?

"No." her answer was firm and direct, leaving no shred of doubt.

Her Master sighed in disappointment.

"You have to confront your past. It is the only way for you to find inner peace."

She had to prevent herself from rolling her eyes. This was almost comical and cheesy; here we have a middle aged Chinese martial artist lecturing life lessons – Mr. Miyagi, much?

As if reading her thoughts, he threw a jab of his hand at her which she deflected with her right hand. It was an expected trait of his when he knew she was going off course with her thoughts and actions. It was one of his weakest but take-me-serious jabs which served more as a reminder.

"I know what you were thinking! Don't you dare compare me to Hollywood stereotypes!" he barked and withdrew his hand to pace around her with scolding eyes, "I am telling you this because something is distracting you! You have become sloppy with your form, your rhythm is off, your breathing is off – everything is off!"

"..."

He sighed with irritation, but then took a deep steady breath, seeing how quiet and attentive Meryl had become although he knew she was smoldering on the inside.

"Kung Fu is never about fighting fire with fire – if I catch you internally rolling your eyes at my analogy once more I will physically disable you for a week – while I understand the physical appeal of Kung Fu brought by Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, it is deeper than this. It is about control, maintaining inner and outer peace with oneself. That is why my school's philosophy. We first properly train your chi and then secondly work on combat forms. In part Kung Fu's purpose is to cleanse, heal and create peace with oneself. But you, Meryl, are not at peace anymore for several months now and you are openly thwarting my peaceful principles by allowing your past training to destroy the peace I have created for you."

Her body stiffed some more, she clenched and loosened her fists to try to calm herself but it only seemed to fuel her anger. What did he mean by this? Did he forget where she came from? Did he really expect that she would overcome her past? Overcome it all by mere Kung Fu?

"You expressed a desire in pursuing Kung Fu under my guidance with the possibility of succeeding me. While you are my assistant and my most accomplished pupil – I cannot afford to have your careless and often avoidable mistakes make a fool of my school."

"I am not even sure what mistakes you are talking about anymore, Master Kang." She responded as civilly as possible, but her biting tone did not go unnoticed.

"I am not the only one seeing your mistakes, Meryl, those who've been under my tutelage for 10 plus years are painful aware of them too."

"Then why the fuck don't you have Brendan in line! He is more competent than I am with all his years of training and Asian!"

Master Kang cringed at the curse word, his lip curled with disgust at her. He was about to counter he words, but she waved her hand at him to silence him.

"You preach about peace yet you are instigating a conflict over matters that you cannot understand! Do you expect that mere Kung Fu will heal years of my life? I thought my case was clear to you before you decided to take me in!"

She took a few deep shuddering breaths, not proud that she exposed her vulnerability to him all over again. She saw something brewing in her Master's face and she felt the unease weighing down on her stomach, something bad was going to happen.

"Meryl… I will terminate your employment indeterminately."

"Whaat?!" she croaked in disbelief, as if he had punched her in the gut.

"You heard me, I want you to sort yourself out, reevaluate your life. Do some soul searching."

"Whaa –why?! Where will I go, what will I do?!" she exclaimed, the panic seizing up her insides.

"You will still receive salary, I just… Enjoy your life, get a college degree, settle down with Kazuma, be happy and make peace with your past."

The fact that Master Kang had dragged her childhood friend, Kazuma, into this, incited her anger even more.

"What the fuck?! This will take me a lifetime to do this!"

"MERYL BRIAR!" Master Kang snapped back at her reproachfully, "How many times have I forbid you from swearing in this sacred place! I don't want your filthy tongue tainting the peaceful atmosphere of my school!"

Grudgingly her body had stiffened up in response to his shout, her posture straightened, her eyes dead set ahead with her head raised. An unaffected expression settled in her face. Master Kang witnessed that reaction and it appeared to anger him more, but he sighed with a mix of irritation and helplessness.

"I took you in because I saw your potential." He began with his stern expression growing relaxed and calm, "When I found you in the backstreet fighting off 5 muggers using your bare hands and previous training, I was shocked by your destructive nature but also in awe by your strength."

The raw images of that day still haunted Meryl, because it was the lowest point in her life. It was a time where she felt useless, helpless and in despair. The uncontrollable rage she had garnered throughout the years had come to an exploding point on that night. It was only a year after her honorable discharge from the Marine Corps.

She had become a decorated Lance corporal earning the respect of her brothers in arms on the soils of Iraq. She saved lives of her brothers and Iraqi civilians, and killed the so-called terrorists. Whenever she heard the word "hero" she would scoff at it. Heroes never existed in the wars, heroes never killed. She lost most of her Marine Corps brothers and never a day goes by where she wished she could have saved each one of them. Those frenzied years of the Iraqi war between 2004 and 2008, all lines were blurred even from a moral standpoint, war and politics created a nasty and inescapable cesspool. The worst part was whenever you wore a uniform the cesspool followed you.

Anyway, her superiors applauded her service and honorably discharged her – most likely because she was too good for them and felt threatened that she was a woman. She was climbing up ranks faster than her male counter parts and as the armed forces are still working to catch up with the modern era – they felt threatened by her and got rid of her to make way for other "competent men".

Either way, the Marine Corps taught her more about life than all the years she lived on Earth. Meryl learned about brotherhood, friendship, loyalty, and duty. She learned about the inner workings of politics and to some degree she was relieved that she was discharged as she became continuously disgusted by it. Her supervisors could have done a better job for her "send off" rather than using the discrete sexist and demeaning approach of "you being of the weaker sex" and "we must ensure that you can still reproduce" bullshit.

But those days have passed, she admittedly misses the days she spent with her brothers, the excitement with each mission, the stability it provided and the gratification it gave her, but civilian life was better. She was not ashamed of her title as a war vet, she followed orders and save her country (and herself most importantly). She had no regrets. She just didn't want the attention, very simple as that.

On that night that Master Kang found her she was defending herself against the muggers. It was a stupid mistake on her part. She lived in Harlem renting out the cheapest room she could afford in the upper part of New York City. She lived temporarily in that rickety apartment with the left over salary she had as war vet plus the meager pension she received with it. One night in her out-of-character moments and maybe she was feeling cocky as well, she ventured out in one of the least safest areas at night. She bumped into a group of 5 male thugs in their 20s or maybe teens, consisting of two African Americans, two Hispanic and one of mixed race. All were dressed up in the trademark gangster look, but they all wore some hints of blue on their shirts or pants. Meryl knew immediately they were gang affiliated.

"You were brilliant, tactful yet ruthless - trained to kill," Added Master Kang deep in thought interrupting Meryl's thoughts. "You were also different back then, just a year out of the Marine Corps, probably also rattled by what the war did to you."

Meryl's memory was hazy. From the moment these thugs had shoved her in the backstreet, the vivid images of Iraq had taken a hold of her body. Whenever the fear for her life and survival kicked in, Iraq was back in front of her eyes. The muggers turned to the insurgents, spouting curses at her in Arabic and Kurdish. She was overpowered by the sensation of her eyes prickling from the hot sands, the scent of dirt, sweat, burning flesh, and hearing the deafening whistling missiles and impacting and agonized screams.

When she came to, she had been straddling the last surviving mugger, punching his bloodied, bruised face left and right repeatedly. If it weren't for Master Kang, she probably would have killed him. Thankfully all 5 muggers were out cold, but all still breathing.

After quick introductions and friendliness Master Kang dragged her away from the scene and they took several subway trains down into China town. Even now Meryl found it unbelievable that she trusted and followed this handsome older Chinese man down to his martial art school. He had promised shelter, food and care, which he did. He took care of her like she was his own. That kind of attention, this parental kind… it had been a while.

When Meryl turned 8, her grandparents had gained full custody of her as her drug addict mom had gone completely out of control. The life she spent with her grandparents were the best years of her life, she had the perfect idyllic life that all kids had. But by the age of 18 when she graduated high school, her grandparents tragically died in a car accident caused by a drunk driver.

The raw emotions prompted her to join the Marine Corps, because she had nowhere else to go. She refused to let her mother in her life, because she only brought anger, misery and sadness. The Marine Corps saw her potential; they encouraged her, pushed her hard and rewarded her with praises. She gained respect from her peers, her unit. And she learned more about life through the Marine Corps.

Master Kang had offered her a spare room near his class room. She had begun lodging there while he tended to her physical or psychological wounds. It was also where she grew some interest in Kung Fu which ultimately turned her into his pupil.

She owed him her life. He was always respectful of her ways, he never judged her. But this time, he was stepping over the line. He was being unreasonable.

Despite still seething with anger, she decided not to act on her feelings and instead turned away from him and walked towards her room. She slammed the door in his face and locked it. He had followed her half way and huffed with annoyance. He rolled his neck once more, feeling so brittle in his shoulders. It was obviously the tension created by this entire situation.

Within a few minutes Meryl barged out of her room with her rucksack slung over her back and dressed in a pair of dark skinny jeans, a dark grey North Face down jacket which was form fitting and extended to her thighs and a pair of black leather boots with a few inch heels. It was actually close to the end of October and knowing the blistering cold of New York City, it was always better to layer up.

Meryl gave him one long and angry glare then turned around and stormed out of the room.


"Hey Meryl, wait up!" called out a familiar voice which made Meryl stop in her tracks and turn to the source.

"Hey Kaz." She said with her voice faltering.

A young Japanese man in his late twenties pushed himself away from the wall he was leaning against and came over to her. His name was Kazuma Maeda, Kaz for short. Unbelievable as it was for a Japanese he was 6 feet tall [1m85]. He was slender in built, but recently had more muscle definition in his torso and arms. He was dressed smartly with a pair of Levi dark jeans, a dark leather jacket unzipped revealing his blue striped buttoned up shirt and a nice pair of dark shoes. His hair was black and straight, cut in the same length everywhere but done in a way to highlight the shape of his face and his defined cheek bones. He had the habit of brushing his hair back with his fingers. He usual wore light framed glasses, but today he had contacts, showing his calming brown eyes.

As he had begun to lose weight, he had begun to take care of his appearance; he had truly become a striking and fashionable young man. His work must have brought on these remarkable changes.

He grinned in her direction with the boyish charm he had since they met in elementary school with his eyes crinkling. Meryl's heart gave a pleasant squeeze. He was usually known for his reserved and often calculated looks, but once breaking through that shell he was a very pleasant person who possessed infinite patience and understanding. He was always there for her.

"Where are you off to?" he said with an amused tone which Meryl responded with narrowed eyes and a pout.

She stood there, her eyes cast glumly to the concrete ground below her feet.

"Can I crash at your place?" she asked him quietly with uncertainty in her voice, her eyes still lowered to the ground.

He studied her for a moment, reading her overall body language and expression.

"You had a fight with Master Kang?" he asked her, his voice appropriately toned down as he knew it was a serious issue for Meryl.

She didn't respond, but it gave him all the answer he needed. He remembered Meryl and Master Kang having many disagreements with each other. The last incident was 3 years ago when she was still getting used to Master Kang's ways. He knew Master Kang as he was a family friend since his parents had moved to the United States. It was purely coincidental that they met again and so old school friends have been reconnected again.

Kazuma had lost touch with Meryl since the death of her grandparents and her graduation from high school. It was like she had disappeared from the world entirely. He was gripped with worry when she had gone, but college and then work took over his life. Then one day during his parents' usual tea time banter, Master Kang spoke so glowingly of his new pupil. This was a year into Meryl's stay with Master Kang. He told them that her name was Meryl and that she was an Iraqi war veteran. Kazuma's attention was immediately piqued by the sound of Meryl's name and something told him to visit Master Kang's class to see.

He was shocked to say the least. Sparring among the pupils was Meryl his childhood friend, looking fierce, powerful and intimidating with her killer moves. She was completely different to the Meryl he had grown up with who was shy and vulnerable. This Meryl was strong, centered, confident and, well… extremely beautiful. When they first met after all these years, Meryl had jumped into his arms in utter glee, something she would have never done. He was startled by her reaction but also thrilled beyond belief that she felt that way for him. It was comforting for him to know that after all these years of absence, he was still important to her.

After their first encounter, they started hanging out a lot like old times, reminiscing, playing video games, watching movies and simply chattering away. They met on a regular basis, so he was up to date with her life and so was she with his. She told him she was a war vet, gave him the overall picture of her Marine Corps life while sparing him of the gruesome details and he told her about his career as a programmer. However, the one topic that never was breached was their relationship status. As far as Kazuma could gather she was not in a relationship and she probably gathered that he wasn't in any as well.

"Sure, you can come crash at my place. I have a sofa bed in my living room." Kaz said with his boyish grin on his face.

Meryl looked at him, her blue grey eyes misting over with gratitude. She quickly looked away and cleared her throat to repel her emotions.

"It's getting late. Let's go get some dinner," he suggested perceptive of her mood, "I know that awesome Japanese restaurant just a few blocks away."

"Okay." Meryl smiled at him with gratitude.


I hope you like this chapter so far :D This chapter serves as a prologue, but don't worry more action will happen in the following chapters :D We need a good build-up before jumping in, right? ;P I will try to update regularly, but I am a full time college student and a mommy, so yeaaaah... But I will try my hardest! XD Take care and have a wonderful week XD