Chapter 16: Dragons' Play
For Karai, the night went from bad to worse.
She could have taken a cab. She could have called someone to come and pick her up. But she wanted to walk. She wanted to be alone with her thoughts and the stale chill of the night air. With her head down and her shoulders hunched, she watched the pattern of cracks in the sidewalk pass by under her feet, her shadow stretching and shrinking from streetlamp to streetlamp on her way back to the Foot HQ building.
When she realized that she was being followed, her first thought was that one of her own Foot ninja patrols had found her and decided to escort her home. But moments later, she caught sight of a clumsy shadow on the ground, and knew that she had been wrong.
Her eyes narrowed. How many were there? Instinct told her that it had to be a fairly large group. She could sense them closing in around her. They would jump her any second now. She froze, and slowly, deliberately, clenched her hands into fists. Someone snickered at her from a lightless alley just ahead.
Fight or flight?
The source of the snickering revealed himself then, swaggering out onto the sidewalk with a crowbar in his hands. He was young, barely twenty, wearing an unzipped leather vest with no shirt underneath, showing off nicely curved biceps—one of which sported an unmistakable tattoo.
Karai jumped to conclusions, angry fire shooting through her veins. Hun wanted her out of the way. He had ordered this ambush—she was a well-known personality in the New York underworld by now, and surely the Purple Dragons wouldn't dare interfere with her unless they'd been given explicit instructions to do so. The youngster approached, smirking as his buddies began to step out of their hiding places. Karai glanced from side to side. Twelve flunkies, all of them even more eager-looking than their young ringleader.
Her pride writhed at Hun's audacity. It was an insult, an absolute insult, for him to send this ill-disciplined gaggle of fledglings to dispose of her or run her out of town. And it was one insult too many. Her pride had suffered multiple blows already that day, and now it flared up into an inferno, merciless and wild, like a wounded tiger with its eyes on its enemy.
She would fight.
Scarcely five minutes later, and on the other side of town, Hun heard the desperate call for backup over the radio in his limo. He frowned, and reached for the transmitter to figure out what was going on. Half a dozen seasoned Dragons who had earned the right to cruise the city on motorcycles were already roaring towards the incident, promising to get it under control.
The next report made it clear that the distressed initiates were dealing with a solitary female combatant. In all of New York, Hun could think of just one person who she could be. He mulled over his guess for a moment, letting the full significance of the situation sink in. If he was right…
The black limo reached a deserted intersection and swung around, tires and brakes screaming, and raced to the scene.
The six biker-Dragons wasted no time jumping into the fight. Along with their motorcycles, they had earned the privilege of carrying more sophisticated weapons, including chemicals and some ray weapons made with alien technology.
Karai stood her ground, refusing to run. At her feet were several young gang members who would probably never walk again. The remnants of the group who were still standing all seemed to be in shock, most of them disarmed and trembling with outrage or plain old fright. Even the veteran thugs approaching her now seemed to falter a bit at the deadly aura she was projecting. But one of them came to his senses and pulled a trigger.
She sprang out of the way, but the beam tracked her movement and caught her mid-air, stunning her. As soon as she hit the ground three pairs of rough hands grabbed her, wrenching her up into a kneeling position. She felt her right shoulder dislodge from its socket and cried out.
The thugs grinned at each other. "That sounded nice," one said, mockingly.
"Let's hear it again," said another.
Karai felt her arms twisted behind her back, felt a heavy boot pressed into her injured shoulder. She clamped her lips together, refusing to make another noise.
"I love these little Asians who think they're so tough," growled a third thug. "They're dumb enough to think they're safe from us 'cuz they know kung-fu or some shit."
Realizing that the fight was over, the survivors from the original group of Dragon initiates gathered around. As a heated discussion began concerning what to do to her first, Karai became aware of another presence in the area.
Weakly she raised her head and scanned the alley behind her captors. Nothing there. But somewhere nearby… she was certain… someone was watching her.
Instinct brought her gaze up to the rooftops where, sure enough, a pair of eyes were gleaming at her from the dark.
Raphael. It had to be. She knew it was him. The thugs reached some kind of consensus and pushed her to the ground. Her anger overflowed. Glaring up at those eyes, she screamed. "Don't just watch! Do something!"
Unnerved, the thugs spun to see who she was talking to, but the eyes had already vanished. For a minute the alley was quiet except for the ragged breathing of the shaken-up punks. "Gas her," one of them suggested. "She's freaking me out. Somebody gas her."
There was a general murmuring of agreement, and despite Karai's efforts to hold her breath, the last thing she was aware of was the quiet hiss of the gas from the canister sprayed in her face, which quickly grew even quieter, and then faded to nothing.
"…Ok, she's out," one of the younger punks declared. "Let's—"
His enthusiastic proposal was drowned out by the arrival of a sleek black limousine. All the Dragons looked up in surprise as the door was thrown open, revealing the formidable form of their boss.
"M- Master Hun!" exclaimed the senior biker-Dragon.
Hun's coal-black eyes smirked as he saw that he had correctly surmised the identity of the female fighter. But his expression quickly darkened as he looked around at the mess she had made of his initiates.
"I heard you dogs were having some trouble." Hun looked sharply at each survivor. "Does anyone care to explain what happened?"
One youngster swallowed nervously. "She was, uh, she was really good, Master Hun. Had some skills. But, um, we got her down now. Gassed her."
Hun gave a slight nod. "Let me see," he commanded, and obediently everyone moved out of his way. Unconscious on the dirty asphalt, her hair in her face, it was hard to believe that she had taken on so many men all by herself. But Hun found that he did believe it, and even more than that… he respected her for it. He looked around again at his Dragons. "…Who is she?" he demanded, as if he expected an answer.
"I said, who is she? Do any of you know?"
The nervous youngster spoke up again. "Uh, well, I don't know for sure, but I was thinking, she might be some kind of chinese movie star. Or maybe like, an FBI agent?"
Several of the others nodded solemnly. Hun couldn't believe it. Not one of them knew who she was? The ignorance of the new initiates didn't surprise him, but surely some of the older, more experienced Dragons had at least heard of her. He waited a moment, searching their faces for signs of withheld suspicions.
Nothing. They really didn't know. They were just standing around now, tensely awaiting some sort of judgment from the big man himself. Hun grinned. It pleased him that his subordinates were so afraid of what he was going to say.
"Well, well, well," he started off, speaking slowly. "Normally there would be some serious repercussions for such sloppy work. But luckily for the lot of you, this is one of the prettier stray cats I've seen in a while. And your inspiring testimony about her 'skills' has me intrigued." With one hand he lifted Karai off the ground and slung her over his shoulder. "So why don't you slobs just take the rest of the night off. Since you all did such a good job catching me this feisty little prize, we'll forget that this…" he stuck out his hand, disdainfully indicating the pile of casualties "…embarrassment ever happened."
There was a collective sigh of relief and several mutters of "Thanks Master Hun." Convinced that his men felt they were being let off the hook rather than deprived of their prey, Hun turned back to his limo and threw Karai into the backseat. Then he settled into the car himself, and sped away.
On the abandoned top floor of the apartment building adjacent to the alley, Raph sat down beside the window he'd been spying out of. He ran a hand over his head, trying to force himself to calm down. His heart was pounding. He'd been perched on the ledge, prepared to jump into the fray at any second when Hun's limo had interrupted. Obviously, Hun had saved Karai with his little act. But Hun hated Karai… didn't he? Try as he might to convince himself, Raph wasn't sure that Karai was safe with Hun. Damn it, he couldn't even convince himself whether or not he should care if she was safe. Do something. Was it his responsibility now to follow her, to save her from her 'rescuer'? He almost reached for his shell cell, before remembering that he'd made a point of leaving it on the kitchen table these days just to spite Donny.
Heat rushed to his face and he slammed a fist into the floor. He told himself that Karai would be fine. If Hun had wanted Karai hurt, he wouldn't have saved her like that. Do something. But what? Sure, he could finish the work that Karai had started with the Dragons below him in the alley, and then borrow one of their motorcycles and race off to save the day… or he could get his brothers involved and conduct the rescue less recklessly, with a much higher probability for success… but then he would have to endure the silent forgiveness from Donny on the subject of the left-at-home shell cell.
The responsible, mature thing to do would be to call the payphone in the lair, apologize outright for not having his shell cell with him, and go save Karai. But the truth was… Raph didn't want to save her. He squeezed his eyes shut. She's fine. Hun saved her. Better she was saved by another villain anyway.
When he opened his eyes again, they were a little colder than before. Just this once, he swore silently to whoever might've been keeping score of such things. Just this once I'll let it go. Next time, no matter what, I promise I'll do something.
The first thing Karai became aware of was a very faint scent. She recognized it from somewhere… from someone… but couldn't remember who. The next thing she became aware of was that she was lying on a bed, with a pillow under her head. Slowly she opened her eyes, and found herself in strange surroundings. Without moving, she took in all she could: a spacious room, most likely a luxury loft apartment of sorts, with austere but aesthetically pleasing furniture, all black. She was laying on her back, all the way to one side of a huge bed— it seemed even larger than king-sized. There was a lamp on the bedside table, shedding dim yellow light on a roll of bandages and a pair of scissors.
She realized that her right arm was resting in a sling and in a rush she remembered what had happened. The Dragons had dislocated her shoulder— but what had happened after that?
She heard a sound of movement, and quickly grabbed and hid the scissors. Then she immediately pretended that she was still asleep.
Hun appeared in the doorway, and regarded Karai carefully. He was impressed. It honestly appeared like she hadn't moved an inch since he'd last looked in on her. He smirked. "Know how I know you're awake?" he rumbled in an amused-sounding voice a moment later. Karai didn't move. Hun's smirk spread a little further. "The scissors are gone. That's why I left them there."
Karai opened her eyes. Suddenly it clicked—that faint smell was what Hun smelled like. This was his bed. Rather than kill her, the Dragons had delivered her to their boss. It went without saying that she was a prisoner now. But why? And even more urgently, why here instead of in a regular old cage or cell? What could he possibly want, other than to humiliate her? She felt threatened. Her grip tightened on the scissors.
It was as if Hun read her mind, because a dark, disapproving look crossed his face. "Relax, little girl. If I'd wanted anything from you, I would've taken it already."
Somehow, that didn't do much to calm her nerves.
"No one knows you're here," Hun continued, stepping back out of her line of sight. Karai listened closely and heard him walk a few steps, stop, and open a cupboard as he spoke. "Those morons who jumped you were actually dumb enough to think that you were some kind of secret agent. They had no idea they'd picked a fight with the ninja princess herself."
Karai pondered that information as she heard the sound of a faucet being turned on and then off again. Was it possible that Hun hadn't ordered that ambush? She bit her lip. She wasn't sure. Hun reappeared in the doorway, holding a glass of water.
"I saved your life last night," he informed her, in no uncertain terms. "And I put your shoulder back into place for you."
Karai gave him a scathing look. "…and I'm to believe you did all that out of the kindness of your heart?"
Hun chuckled. "Such cynicism!" Her eyes fell from his and settled on the glass of water in his hand. "Thirsty?" he asked.
"…yes," she admitted quietly.
Hun smirked and drank the water himself in one gulp. "Cups are over the sink. Make yourself at home."
Half an hour later, showered and feeling much better, she found him sitting in his living room watching the news. He didn't acknowledge her as she tucked herself into an oversized armchair across from him. She noticed a rumpled pillow and blanket on the couch, obvious evidence of where Hun had spent the night.
"I apologize for my apprehension earlier," she said smoothly. He looked up at her in vague surprise. "The Purple Dragons are not exactly known for their chivalry. But it seems I underestimated their leader."
"Heh." Hun smirked, and turned off the television. "I hate to admit it, Karai, but I underestimated you too. I was wrong yesterday when I said you should turn the Foot over to me."
Karai narrowed her eyes, her mouth a skeptical frown. "Let's be clear. Did you send those Dragons to take me out?"
Hun's eyes lit up. "So that's why you stayed to fight instead of disappearing like a sensible little ninja," he realized. "I can't believe you thought I would be stupid enough to send my own organization after you if I wanted you dead."
"Seems quite a convenient coincidence," she mused, "that you were able to rush to my rescue in the nick of time."
Hun was a pretty good liar, but being called one when he wasn't lying tended to piss him off. "Yes, it was a coincidence," he said gruffly. "And thanks to that coincidence, you are quite conveniently still alive. I actually wasn't sure what I would do with you when I realized it was you that those punks had tangled with. But once I saw what you'd done, I made up my mind. And I thought it over all night."
Karai was quiet for a moment, giving Hun the initiative to explain further.
"Here's the deal, Karai. Dragons and Foot ninja aren't interchangeable," he said with conviction. "Ninjas need a ninja for a leader. Keeping you in charge of them will be the best way to keep them sharp."
"You want what's best for the Foot ninja?"
"Don't sound so surprised. If they fight like you, your ninja will be a valuable asset to me."
She detected the unveiled admiration in his voice as he said 'if they fight like you', and it made her defensive. "What makes you so sure we won't be your enemies?"
Hun grinned. "Don't be stupid, Karai. I'm the only friend you've got."
Taken aback, her mind raced over images and memories of four ninjas who could have -- maybe even should have-- been her friends. Leonardo, who she loved and hated, who was gone. Donatello and Michelangelo, who would've shown her kindness that she didn't deserve and would hate herself for accepting. And Raphael in the shadows, on the rooftop, looking down at her.
Looking down on her.
Something terrible trembled in her heart. Leonardo was the only one she wanted-- she had no use for his brothers. She was no friend of theirs.
"What you really need is a sense of direction for the future," Hun was saying. "You need a path to focus on."
She swallowed, and hoped that her voice wouldn't quaver. "What do you envision?"
"Mercenary work," Hun said simply. "Like you've done in the past, only… more exclusive. Higher-class. Let the underworld know you're looking for clients. Lead the missions yourself."
"So we would be satisfying the needs of others, rather than pursuing our own destiny," she muttered, unconvinced.
"Your destiny is to train and lead the best organization of ninjas in the world," Hun said matter-of-factly. "For you, it will be all about status, not money. You can leave the money, and all the other dirty things, to me."
He explained his plan, and at last she agreed to it.
She wouldn't leave the Foot. But she would refocus her energy into fulfilling mercenary contracts. At least it would keep her busy.
Yes, she reaffirmed to herself. I will train my ninja. I will be a mercenary. That is what I will do until--
She stopped herself. The thought had washed up against her mind like the ghost of a wave from a distant sea. No. Not 'until'. That is what I will do. That is who I am.
…to be continued!
A/N: Just as Leo had to be doing his own thing on his training mission apart from Karai, Karai had to find her own path apart from Leo. Instead of donning the Shredder's identity as she does in the cartoon, she turns the Foot into the sleek, sexy ninjas-for-hire that we see in the new movie. Yay! This chapter was hard to write, mostly because having the Purple Dragons jump somebody in an alley wasn't exactly the most original idea I've ever had, but I still wanted it to be tense and interesting. Oh, and incurable fangirl that I am, I couldn't resist throwing in my very own version of the old 'what-did-Raph-see-or-almost-see-that-started-the-Nightwatcher-thing' plotline. Debated for a long time whether I should cut that out, but figured I could use it.
Leo's been conspicuously absent from this story for a while… but that's about to change! Thanks so much to everybody who's stuck around to read the past few chapters! I love you guys!