Preface:This story was written in response to JDCorley's one week Jade Empire fanfiction challenge. My prompts were: the Black Whirlwind; the striking, organized barbarian; Demon's Hand of Winds; and a character becomes relaxed during the story. Not everything made it in, and the story itself was very rushed from conception to execution (one week). For the full details on the challenge, check out the JE Forum.
SCARS: A Black Whirlwind Fanfic
He could remember the origin of every mark, of every scar.
His body was a map of all the places he had ever been, and been made to bleed. Ridges of skin like mountain ranges roaming freely from left elbow to his wrist, dark tan and brittle peaks which linked his arms and fists in patterned stitching across a fault-lined landscape of skin. Brown skin so dark and rich like dirt; smelling of buried, moist, and decomposing earth—the earth of his fathers and their fathers before that, the earth of his grave and the dead beneath his feet. On the back of his right hand a pale crescent sickle cut from the knuckle to the wrist. A river of white flowing from palm to back, where a blade had gone clean through; fire in his palms that – he still remembered –burned dully on rainy days.
He could not forget, because it was one of the few things he still had.
Over his shoulder he boasted a triangular stamp of a scalding iron, proudly displayed like a badge of honor, a permanent a patch sewn into the fabric of his skin, an abstract ideal captured in the shape of surfaces. He was considered no soldier, but the survivor of a broken-mouthed neighborhood. Crosscut weave of thin lines linked the map of his weathered body, interlocking patterns that colored the brownness of his skin with intermittently pink and silver nets, a web that did not do so much to capture as ward away. Some faint, some long, some running like crooked rivulets from when he was very small – his scars stretched along places where the skin had aged and grown but the scars had not: mementos of his father, a brutal, surly, indiscriminate man who believed in corporeal punishment at the end of a metal bar and practiced his daily art upon the blank slates of his children. Across young arms and legs were scrawled the lessons of countless beatings, accompanied by the endless litany of his father's woes for each blow… never enough money, enough drink; his foreman was a demon, and he accused his wife of cheating. His children were ungrateful—wretched creatures from a fox spirit's womb sent to plague him with the ranks of Hell, and once he threw a scalding iron which was meant for his wife, but missed, and imprinted his anger on his son, who had gotten in the way.
He was seven when his father died.
He had run away once in the middle of one of his father's "lessons," and was hit on the street by the cart of the tofu man hurrying home from the morning market. The frightened merchant fled as soon as he saw the father running, twin axes in hand, and abandoned his cart. It was a piece of luck. That night, the whole family all ate their fill for dinner.
The next week, he helped his brother kill their father.
It was the day his childhood ended.
Perhaps out of shame, or perhaps it was the mountain of debts that his father had acquired, his mother disowned both children, and they were sold to the highest bidder. When he was old enough, he took one slaver's whip, his brother the other, and together they strung the barbed cords around their master's necks and left the bodies hanging from the city wall. Thereafter, they kept alive on the streets by their wits and their blades, by small axes held in even smaller hands that learned to cut men in ways that made them squeal like a pig.
But whatever happened, they still had each other.
As they grew older, they sought work in the docks and found jobs as hirelings for pudgy lords. Their skill brought them some small measure of fame, which translated into more work, which meant becoming mercenaries and freelancers, moving between one bloody conflict and another, bouncing between the petty warlords who could afford to hire, pale faces like curdled soy milk with sour mouths hidden under black, stringy hats and cultured, thin-plucked eyebrows. In time, they were even invited to fight in the Imperial arena.
His enemies feared him, and called his blades the Demon's Hand of Winds.
Black Whirlwind stood watching the familiar, ancient stone walls of the Imperial Arena, knew its dents and cracks better than the backs of his hands. And as he watched, he recognized the inimitable move as soon as he saw it, the patterns of the air shifting with the speed of the blades cutting down, an echoing glimmer of movement like the shinning of a scar on the wind. His axes had only ever been taught to one other person. Only one other knew the secret of the Whirlwind's Demon's Hand of Winds. But his brother was dead.
He had delivered the killing blow himself.
"What… have you done with my brother?"
"Your brother was a useful tool. After you cut him down while he defended me, I decided it was too much bother to let him go. In the process, I saved you from charges of fratricide. And so the Ravager was born. The perfect, unquestioning enforcer of my will. And I owe it all to you, Whirlwind."
"I should kill you here and now!" he growled, "But first…"
The Black Whirlwind brought the blade of his axe fiercely down upon his brother's head, the same Demon's blow that had killed him the first time, years ago. Beneath the mask, the metal gauntlets, the splintered mail… he could remember the origin of every mark, of every scar. The rotted skull split like an overripe melon, and the Ravager twitched once, twice, and then was still. Whirlwind wiped his large palm across his face and let drop his shoulders with the weight of his axes. For the first time in many years, the beleaguered hatred in his eyes relaxed.
"You have done nothing!" shrieked the Serpent, "I still took your brother!"
"And I took him back and repaid the favor."
He turned his eyes upon the Serpent, and then hate returned. He raised his axe again… some stories can only end in death.
Notes: For those who might be confused, there is a "trick" to reading this story. The italicized portions are flashbacks which is a pretty conventional way of signifying changes in time, but the pronoun "he" referred to in the italicized sections is actually Black Whirlwind's brother, and the portions that are unitalicized represent Black Whirlwind's point of view. Ambiguous pronouns are often misused by amateur writers, but in this case, it was used to deliberately confuse the reader about the identity of the "he." Did this create an enjoyable reading tension or was it just plain confusing? Feedback is really appreciated, and I hope you had fun reading.