Colonel Goldberg stood behind the police line and scowled. He didn't like this in the slightest. It wasn't enough that the terrorists had managed to make their way past the border guards. It wasn't enough that they were able secure weapons inside the country, and then somehow take the Prime Minister's mansion, making him, his family, and a number of political leaders hostage. It was the fact that that the higher ups actually called in for outside help that irritated him to no end. And this godforsaken heat.
"Have any demands been made?"
Colonel Goldberg started slightly and turned to face the leader of this so-called help. He was a tall, gaunt man with lank orange hair, most likely an American from his accent.
"No, they're just holding them there. The Mossad reports military movement from Iraq and Syria. The terrorists are just keeping the Prime Minister and his executives to freeze decision making power while the armies make their move," Goldberg said, loosening the collar of his jacket. He muttered a few choice curses under his breath. It never ends. Damn this heat.
Goldberg turned his head to look at the other man while he stared intently at the third floor of the mansion. His dress wasn't military; black clothing, black duster, black boots. The only thing that might be taken as military was the communications earpiece he wore, but besides that, his appearance was definitely not that of any special forces unit he was familiar with. But what annoyed him the most about the man, besides that he was an outsider, was the fact that he didn't sweat, even with all the black he wore.
The gaunt man nodded slowly, still gazing statue-like at the darkened third floor window while an occasional spotlight passed by, illuminating the room inside and revealing patrolling men with rifles slung over their shoulders. "My men are in place. I suggest giving the order soon."
Goldberg snorted. He had seen these 'men.' Boys would have been a better term for them. The oldest couldn't have been out of his teens and all five were dressed like their leader, looking like something out of a comic book. They weren't even carrying any weapons.
"Very well. Your men will move in at twenty-three hundred hours," he said, putting emphasis on the word men. "That gives you ten more minutes of prep time. I don't have to tell you what this means to us. We can't afford to lose a single hostage."
The man nodded again, as though he didn't notice the barb in the colonel's words. Instead he brought a radio up to his mouth. "We move in ten. Get ready."
Goldberg stared. Where the hell had that come from? When he looked again the radio was gone. He shook his head. The heat must be worse than he thought. There was no way he could have slipped the radio out and back into his coat so quickly. Even if it was kept in his sleeve there would have at least been a bulge where it was hidden.
The colonel was still trying to reason out what he just saw that he didn't notice that the man had suddenly gone tense and the radio was back in his hand.
"What do you mean you saw someone? Where!?"
Goldberg snapped his head back up. "What? What's going on?"
The man didn't answer. Instead he froze, staring at the top of the mansion roof. The colonel followed his gaze and squinted. Someone was walking on the roof. Even with the moon out, nothing much could be seen against the night sky.
"Dammit, someone get a spotlight up on the roof!" Goldberg shouted. An unused spotlight was immediately lit and a beam of halogen light was trained on the figure standing on the roof.
The colonel gaped. It was a boy, dressed in black like the others he had seen earlier. The only feature he could see on the boy was long, black hair flowing out from behind him as he strolled along the roof. The boy didn't even acknowledge the spotlight's glare as he stood on the roof's edge directly above the window leading into the room where the hostages were being held. Suddenly, he stood on his hands, legs in the air, pivoted, and swung in feet first through the window. An instant later, a shout rose up from the room followed by the flash and staccato sounds of gunfire. A man flew through the window, screaming, before he hit the ground with an audible thud. The gunfire had stopped but screams could still be heard.
Infuriated, the colonel turned to the other man, only to find him already running toward the mansion at an unbelievable pace, his long legs a blur, shouting something into his radio. What the colonel saw next caused the words to die in his throat. Halfway to the mansion, the he jumped into the air three stories, headfirst through the window where the boy had made his entrance.
Sounds of chaos swirled around the colonel as armed men shouted orders to each other and stormed the entrance to the mansion. However, he could only stare at the window as one thought went through his mind. Who are these people?
Corbo tapped his pen on the desk, studying the boy standing in front of him. The boy stared back impassively.
"Do you know why I called you here, Mousse?" Corbo asked.
"Yes, sir," Mousse replied. "You need help with your paperwork."
Corbo nodded, leaning back and steepling his fingers. "Yes, I was hoping you could tell me how one of my agents who was supposed to be fifteen hundred miles away on assignment decides to drop in and disrupt a highly sensitive operation."
Mousse shrugged slightly. "I finished early and I was bored."
If he was angry, Corbo gave no sign. Both continued to stare at each other unblinkingly while the silence stretched on.
"This is the fifth time in as many months you've done something like this," Corbo said. "Your brothers must be disappointed in you."
Mousse shrugged again. "They've come to expect it. I think they were taking bets on whether or not I'd show up this time."
Silence fell again between the two.
Corbo was again the first to break it. "What is it you want?"
"Let me go."
Corbo's face tightened. The same damn thing again. "You know I can't do that."
"Why? You know I'll come back."
"Even so, I can't."
"Then it continues."
Corbo scowled and swung around in his chair so he faced the wall. A long moment passed before he spoke again. "Fine. I'll give you six months and full access to your bank account. And try to keep a low profile. I don't need the UN or anyone else knowing one of my men are loose without supervision."
He swung his chair back around to see Mousse with a slight smile on his face and a glint in his eye.
"Thank you sir," he said, turning to leave. "I'll go pack my things."
"Wait," Corbo said, raising his hand.
Mousse stopped and turned back. "Yes?"
"I'm curious. What is it you have to do?"
Corbo watched as Mousse's smile turned sinister, his hand coming up to stroke the scar on his throat. He always wondered where that came from.
"I just need to take care of some old business."
Corbo leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on the desk. The boy was going to kill someone, that much was obvious. Not that he was worried. Mousse was good at it, he could take care of himself. It was just that revenge killings tend to be messy. Too many secrets.
Corbo frowned to himself. When he had found Mousse all those years ago in China, he had the feeling the boy was hiding something, but he never said a word. He just wanted to get away. Now it seems he wants to go back to the settle score with someone.
He shook his head. Mousse was only a kid when he found him. Whoever it was must have done something to him, something bad enough that he still kept a grudge after all this time. When he catches up with the poor bastard, whoever it is, it wasn't going to be pleasant.
The village was much as Mousse had remembered it. Small and picturesque, nestled comfortably in a small valley between two mountains covered with lush forest. Children played in the dirt streets lined with old fashioned clay houses while the men worked the fields the same way their ancestors had for generations before them. And of course the training grounds where the women of the village trained in their millenia old fighting arts. Sounds of combat could be heard even from the hilltop where he stood, high pitched battle cries overlapped by the sharp sounds of weapons striking against each other.
Mousse felt one side of his mouth curl up into a sneer. "Primitive," he muttered, brushing the dust off his coat. It had taken him a week of trekking through forests and mountain trails before he finally found the Amazon village and his clothing didn't look any better for it. The trip would have taken less time if he had gone through Jusenkyo, but he was not about to take unnecessary risks. He knew only too well the dangers of even passing close to the area, where freak accidents involving cursed springs were a normal occurrence.
Mousse frowned. He could almost see it in his mind, the mist that rose up from the springs in the early morning, the slender bamboo poles that rose dozens of feet in the air, the way the sun looks from under the water… He shuddered for a moment before straightening up and sneering at himself. No time to dwell on the past.
The women had just begun coming back from the training grounds when Mousse entered the village. Mousse didn't bother to hide his entrance, walking casually through the main road with his hands shoved in his pockets. He didn't let the abrupt silence that fell across the village surprise him.
Children stared with wide, curious eyes at the black-garbed stranger before being ushered into houses by the men. Occasionally one of the men would look up from the ground while gathering the children, but would turn his gaze down just as quickly when he thought he might meet the stranger's eyes.
The women stared openly; some were suspicious, others were challenging, but all were appraising. This one didn't look like he came from any neighboring villages; from the way he dressed, he probably came from a large city. City people are soft and weak, allowing their bodies to waste in what they call civilization, but this one moved like a fighter. A fighter who may know a completely different martial art than what is taught out here, miles from civilization. New fighting styles always strengthened the tribe. Of course, men from outside the village tend to be difficult to deal with. If they hadn't already fallen prey to the charms of the amazon they had defeated, there was usually a 'breaking in' time; the stronger the will of the fighter, the longer the 'breaking in.' New males rarely lasted very long, as the whole amazon community makes a group effort to bring them into the fold. Many of the women were thinking the same thing. This one seems promising enough, but there was only one way to accurately gauge his potential.
"What brings you so far from the city, boy?" Mousse suddenly found his path blocked by half a dozen amazons, all still carrying weapons from their practice session. The one who spoke, the leader, eyed him critically while leaning casually on a long spear. She looked him up and down, then smiled slowly, a predatory gleam in her eye. Very nice. Especially the eyes and hair. Even if he loses I may still have some fun with him.
Mousse almost laughed. Typical amazon behavior. Already looking for a fight or a possible mate. He grinned when he recognized who was talking to him. Mei-yin, a few years older than him and one of the stronger children when they were young. It seems she had only gotten stronger in all the time he was gone. She had already gathered a group of followers, all of whom were giving him that same appraising gaze she was. A crowd of the warrior women gathered around them, lining the streets and the area behind him, giving him plenty of room, but effectively cutting him off from retreat.
His grin widened. I wonder when they will recognize me. I wonder if they will scream when they do?
Mei-yin now moved to stand in front of him, still smiling. "What's so funny, boy? You know something I don't?" She paused suddenly, as if noticing something about him she hadn't before. The smile disappeared from her face and her eyes narrowed as she leaned in closer to better examine the grinning boy in front of her. She gasped and her eyes widened in shock as recognition finally registered in her mind. She leapt back as though burnt and desperately fumbled for her spear.
There was a blur of motion from Mousse and he was suddenly standing in front of Mei-Yin, a gloved hand tightly gripping the shaft of her spear. He smiled and stepped closer until he was almost touching her. "What's wrong Mei-Yin?" he asked softly, stepping closer until they were cheek to cheek. "Don't you want to play?"
Mei-Yin froze when he appeared so close to her and began to pale as he whispered in her ear like a lover. "Mu Tzu," she whispered hoarsely. "What...?" Mousse raised a finger and held it to her lips.
"Hush," he said, staring her in the eye. "Don't try to understand, it would be a waste of time."
"Mu Tzu," she repeated louder and more than a little dazedly. The crowd stirred as they heard this, whispers and similar shocked expressions exchanged by all the amazons present. "But you... you're..."
Mousse laughed warmly, as though sharing a joke with an old friend, but his eyes still held the malicious humor that arose when he first saw them. "Dead? You always did underestimate me Mei-Yin." He turned his head slowly to look at the women surrounding him, many now brandishing their weapons. He noted with pleasure that most of their expressions were ones of fright and the rest still too dumbstruck to even take a proper fighting stance. He turned back to face Mei-Yin. With her eyes bugged out and mouth opening and closing in utter shock, he couldn't help but compare her with a landed fish.
He reached out and gently patted her face. "Don't worry yourself too much over this." He smiled. "I wouldn't have made you a good husband anyway."
Pausing to savor the sick expression on Mei-Yin's face when she heard this, he turned to face the crowd. "Thank you for your time, but I must be leaving now. Don't worry though, I'll be back." With that he flourished his coat and bowed. Explosions resounded through the village as clouds of smoke erupted from the ground around Mousse. When the smoke had cleared and the shouting had died down among the amazons, he was already gone.
Mousse stopped in front of a small house on the outskirts of the village. It was an old house. The paint was flaking where there still was paint and the wood used to build the house looked old, ready to give in under its own weight. The fields behind the house was overgrown with weeds, slowly returning to the wilderness from which it came. He walked up slowly to the front door and gently ran a hand down its frame, as though afraid it would break or disappear if he tried to open it. Home. My home.
He pushed the door in and stopped, looking around and taking in the sight of his home. Everything was there as he remembered it. The same sparse furnishings, the same curtains at the windows that filtered the sunlight and dimmed the room, the same black and white ink paintings with verses of poetry written on the bottom. He paused at one, a beautiful painting depicting a waterfall pouring into a misty valley below.
...I keep my memories stored in the treasure box of my past...
He smiled sadly. My father, the artist.
He moved on, examining everything about his home. It was smaller than he had remembered, but that was to be expected. He paused at a wooden cabinet as tall as he was. He reached up and ran his fingers down to the keyhole that kept it sealed. A set of lockpicks and a moment later and it was unlocked.
Mousse opened the doors and stepped back. Inside was an incredible amount of weapons. Knives, clubs, swords, spears, chains, hooks, and a variety of other weapons were mounted neatly inside. The cabinet seemed almost too small to carry such a huge array of weapons, but such was the way of Masters of Hidden Weapons.
He smiled again, this time proudly. My father, the warrior.
The smile disappeared from his face as he continued looking around. The place was dusty. He looked at the hand that touched the cabinet and wasn't surprised to see a thin layer of dust on his fingers. His mother would never have allowed this.
He wiped his hand on his pants and continued looking around. He was amazed that no one had come to loot the place. But then, considering its former occupants, the Amazons probably thought the place had bad feng shui and avoided it as much as possible.
Unpleasant memories began to bubble up to the surface of his mind, dark memories he knew he would be better off without. This place was full of them. He grit his teeth. Do what needs to be done and leave.
The amazon elder Po-Hsin hobbled along the dirt path leading to the outskirts of the village as quickly as she could. She gasped and leaned heavily on her staff as she stopped in front of the house where a sizeable crowd of the warriors had gathered. At over one hundred and fifty years old, she was not as spry as she used to be.
The elder tapped her staff on the shoulder of the warrior closest to her. The warrior turned, eyes widened and bowed deeply. "Honored Matriarch…" she began.
Po-Hsin cut her off with a wave of her staff. "What's happening here, child? Why are the warriors gathered around the house of Sun?"
The warrior paused and licked her lips, nervously casting glances back at the house as though expecting something horrible to emerge. "Honored Matriarch, a ghost has come back to our village!"
A feeling of apprehension formed deep in Po-Hsin's gut. She could see the rest of the warriors were also nervous, sweating and gripping their weapons tightly. It couldn't be him.
"And who is this ghost, child?"
"It is the ghost of Mu Tzu, Honored Matriarch."
The apprehension suddenly turned into a black hole, and she gripped her staff tightly to keep from falling. The younger woman came forward to help, but the elder waved her off sharply. He's alive. Ancestors, but he's still alive.
Po-Hsin looked up to see the only other elder in village besides her coming down the path. Lo-Hsin was the youngest of the elders, inducted into the amazon high council a bare three decades ago, but quickly became the most feared. As tall as the tallest man, she was renowned throughout the village for her hot temperament as she was for her martial ability. Her hard, hawk-like eyes caught the gaze of the younger warrior.
"Go back to the others," she said with a sharp motion of her head. "I wish to speak with my sister alone."
She waited while the young warrior bowed deeply, and was out of hearing range until she turned to Po-Hsin. Her features softened as she looked down on her fellow elder.
"Po-Hsin, you must not strain yourself like this," she said softly. "What would this village do without its finest healer?"
Po-Hsin waved her hand in dismissal. "My health is not important now Lo-Hsin." She turned her head to look down the path. "Did you hear the news?" she asked quietly.
Lo-Hsin nodded. "Yes, something about a phantom returning to take revenge on the village. What is the meaning of this?"
"It's Mu Tzu. He's alive."
Lo-Hsin drew in a sharp breath, and let it out in a hiss. "Ku-Lon, you fool." She looked back toward the house. "Has he done anything?" she asked softly.
Po-Hsin noticed that her sister matriarch had paled considerably and shook her head. "No, not yet," she said. Her brow furrowed. "It's strange, but I couldn't feel his strength."
"Then maybe it really is a ghost."
Po-Hsin shook her head. "Not likely. Ghosts don't leave bootprints. And if it were a ghost, I would have at least sensed something, but it is as though nothing is there." She frowned slightly, and stared into the distance. She snapped back to reality. "But that's not important. We must accept the fact that Mu Tzu has returned, alive and well, and more than likely come to take his revenge on us."
Lo-Hsin nodded. "What do we do about it?"
"The only thing we can do. It is unlikely he will listen to us, so we must kill him." She sighed heavily, feeling the weight of her age settle across her shoulders. "Organize the warriors. Surround the house and make sure no one escapes. Hide the men and children and tell them no one comes out until the fighting is over."
Lo-Hsin nodded sharply, her hardness returning. "What will you do, sister?"
Po-Hsin sighed. "I must go and prepare the infirmary. If he is anything like I remember, there will be many wounded after this battle."
Mousse stood in the center of the now empty house. Everything, the paintings, the furniture, even the curtains, were gone. Motes of dust floated lazily on beams of sunlight streaming in from now unobstructed windows. He paced the room slowly, making sure he didn't miss anything. After today he wanted there to be no evidence that he or his family was ever a part of this tribe.
Satisfied with his inspection, he nodded and turned his attention outside. He was aware that all of the village warriors had surrounded the house during the past half hour.
He grinned. Time to have some fun.
"The demon is coming out!"
The warning cry went out among the amazon warriors, immediately followed by the sound of weapons being drawn. Like jungle cats on the hunt, every woman stared intently as the door opened, waiting to pounce on the intruder.
Lo-Hsin nodded in approval. All traces of fear were gone from her warriors as soon as she had taken command, replaced with righteous anger for their indignation at the hands of this male. There was no way he was leaving this place, ghost or no.
The battlecry that began among the amazons died as the intruder stepped out. He swept his eyes over the amazons facing him, grim as death itself, and they all stepped back involuntarily whenever his gaze fell upon them. Even when outnumbered and surrounded, the aura of danger around him was almost palpable.
Lo-Hsin could only stare in wonderment. This is Mu Tzu?
"Let me pass," he stated simply, his voice as cold as the north wind. The amazons, hearing him speak, seemed to realize what they have done and stepped forward again, howling battlecries and brandishing weapons.
His lips curled up into a cold smile. "If that's the way you want it."
He stepped forward slightly so that his right foot was slightly in front of his left and leaned back on his heels. He shoved his hands into his pockets. "Well then," he said. "Shall we begin?"
He was still smiling as the amazons screamed, surging forth as one to kill him.