A/N: The characters I write about often seem to be the ones who go unnoticed on FF. This time, it's Death's Hand/Sun Kin, told partly from his perspective and partly from Wu's. She was my CF character (mostly CF, anyway), so I'm using her.
Chapter One: Temporary Freedom
"Arise, Death's Hand."
The puppet felt his body being dragged to its feet. The magic that sustained his meant that no mortal wound could kill him, not if it interfered with his master's will.
"Do you honestly think you can save the remnants of Kin still swimming in that helmet?" Li spat.
"You bound him using a stolen Spirit Monk ability, freely given to us by the Water Dragon – my command over it is stronger than yours ever will be."
"You would challenge me? Pit your will against mine? So be it."
The female Spirit Monk was resolute. His Master balled his fists, his malice and rage clamping down on Death's Hand's deadened thoughts. Independent movement was no longer his. Every twitch of a finger belonged to his Master.
However, he felt something else – equally strong, but subtler. Where his Mister's will was stone, this presence was wind. It seeped into him through the cracks in his Master's hold, drawing something out. It pulled more firmly, and he – and by extension, his Master – felt the treacherous defiance of Sun Kin as the defeated prince latched onto this new energy.
Death's Hand felt an agony that he had thought relegated to memory. It was the same wrenching feeling that he had felt as Kin, when he had first tried to resist Hai's control. Subservience had deadened it, but now it was revived.
Sun Kin was torn free from Death's Hand, who now stood a completely empty husk, the malevolent influence of his Master pouring in and consuming him.
Kin revelled in the momentary freedom as the new presence – that of the Spirit Monk – prised him free of his prison. He felt an independence and strength he had not felt for years. He wasn't a weakling, cowering in the crevices of his own mind whilst a tyrant used his animated corpse for evil; he was a survivor, and salvation was at hand.
He would destroy this mockery of life and maybe ... he prayed ... the Spirit Monk would reward him with peace.
Kin brought his incorporeal sword up to block an attack from Death's Hand's very solid blade. He could move much more freely as a spirit than he ever could in that armour. Rolling to avoid another strike, Kin sliced at his enemy's leg. Death's Hand let out a grunt and stepped backwards.
Kin frowned. His attacks truly harmed it? Glancing towards his brother, he saw the true opponent before him. Li had assumed complete control of Death's Hand, and every blow against it harmed him.
Fury fuelled Kin's attacks now. He would crush Li's will just as surely as his brothers had crushed his. Hai had been the one would first enslaved him, but it had been Li who tricked and betrayed him. With the force of revenge and the Spirit Monk's power infusing him with strength, Kin attacked Death's Hand.
Each strike weakened Li a little more. The youngest Sun drove his spirit blade through the non-existent heart of his foe, briefly satisfied by Li's howl of rage and defeat. Kin offered the Spirit Monk a bow of gratitude, before he felt himself being pulled back towards the armour – the cage. Without the Spirit Monk's force of will to counteract the binding, his soul had no choice but to return to Death's Hand. His mind, however, remained his. Li's taint was purged.
Within the body of Death's Hand, the pain returned. It wasn't the agony of resistance, but the painful longing for peace and his inability to attain it. It was the wrongness of being inside his own corpse, which was so corrupted it didn't even resemble him anymore. It was the memory of twenty years of slavery, and committing horrific acts against his will. Kin had never claimed saintliness, despite his status as spiritual advisor, but independently he would never carried out the Emperor's orders. Or so he hoped.
As the projection of Li dispersed, the Spirit Monk turned her attention to him, studying him with a mixture of wariness and pity.
"Please, Spirit Monk, free me," he rasped. "Let my spirit find rest."
Her expression hardened. "And why do you deserve rest? You may have suffered as Death's Hand, but you helped attack Dirge! You are just as responsible as your brothers!"
Vengefulness – he had feared this. Desperation filled Kin's voice, "I was responsible, but I didn't truly know what they were planning. I thought my brothers' wise beyond my understanding. If I had known, I would have stopped them!"
"The same lies Li fed me. You only say this because of your fate!"
"I've paid for my mistakes for twenty years."
"Twenty years spent spreading more chaos. You do not deserve peace, not yet." The Spirit Monk's face settled into grim resolution. "You will help me kill Li."
Kin felt his hopes for freedom crumble as he realised what she was saying. She would punish him further for Dirge? Enslave him again? He doubted he had the strength to even keep himself going if she bound him again. it had taken so much energy just to seal a portion of himself safely from the corrupting influence of Death's Hand.
Would her control be just as oppressive and evil? If her actions were any proof, she was Li's student through and through.
"You have your slave, Spirit Monk," he gasped, the last thread of independence he could muster. "But you walk a path perilously close to that of your master. Remember that."
The Spirit Monk began the binding, and Kin felt the horror of it as his spirit was rent apart once more.
This bond to her followers allowed Wu to feel their unfiltered emotions towards her: Silk Fox's outrage, Hou's resignation, Dawn Star's disappointment and betrayal. It also allowed them to feel a whisper of her reaction. Perhaps they realised she was sorry. Perhaps it didn't matter.
She had already explained that she needed them for the coming battle. Already, Wu had proven herself easily beaten by her former master. Returning to Dirge in death and in life had strengthened her, but allies would make all the difference. In retrospect, perhaps binding them had been a mistake and she should've let them walk free. Wu had feared their disloyalty – they didn't trust her judgement and she couldn't allow a traitor to interfere in her plans. Ever since Sky had revealed how Death's Hand had tried to coerce him into betraying her, she had wondered about the loyalty of other members of the group. She didn't put it past Silk Fox to stab her in revenge at this point. If Wu couldn't inspire loyalty, she would have to enforce it.
The Black Whirlwind seemed to be the only one who appreciated the necessity of her actions. It was a sad and troubling day when Whirlwind was the voice of logic and reason to her ears. Kang and Chai Ka hadn't challenged her, but they clearly disapproved. Sky meanwhile seemed almost perversely enthusiastic about these bindings and Wu had to wonder what kind of effect their relationship was having on his temperament. In times past, he would have declaimed her as a slaver, but had now developed a ruthless that surpassed her own.
It was watching her. Death's Hand. Whilst the minds of her comrades were laid bare, its head seemed devoid of emotion, except for this... disturbed feeling. It was almost as though Death's Hand's mind was chaotic and empty at the same time. Maybe it was the effect of her suppression of Sun Kin's will in favour of Death's Hand's. Did it even have a separate will? Despite controlling it, she still didn't understand quite how it worked.
Wu approached, resolving to speak to it before Kang flew them into battle.
Wu suppressed a shudder at being addressed thus. It wasn't the title a student gave an honoured teacher – it was what a slave called his captor. Composing herself, she asked what it knew of Li's plans.
"I am merely a puppet, I act as my orders direct me but I am given no insight into my master's intent."
She had expected as much, but she hadn't kept Death's Hand alive for insider knowledge. It was an indestructible killing machine, an unquestioning tool, and – despite what her allies thought – it could tip the odds in their favour. That said, she still felt responsible for the spirit imprisoned within. Despite his crimes against her people, the youngest Sun had suffered for twenty years, and she was just perpetuating that. Besides, she didn't think she could look Dawn Star in the eye anymore, after all she had done. Wu felt obligated to make it right, somehow.
"Is Sun Kin still in there?"
"No," Death's Hand replied, slightly more vehemently than she would have expected from an automaton. "That weakling was forced out when you bound me. He would have broken this body, and is of no use to you, Master."
"If he's gone, then what consciousness drives you?"
"I am not an independent being, but an extension of my master's will. I am sustained by your evil."
Wu couldn't repress a shudder. Her 'evil'? She had thought – somehow – that her binding wasn't as cruel as Hai and Li's because her intent wasn't to cause harm, but to correct the imbalance in the world and return the Water Dragon. However, it seemed to have achieved the same result. Sun Kin was forced into some dark corner of his own mind, replaced by this soulless creature that thrived on evil.
Despite being responsible for many deeds that some would condemn as cruel, she had never felt as disturbed by them as by her corruption of a soul and enslavement of her friends. Always, she tried to force people to stand up for themselves – to find independence and strength. Instead, she was forcing dependence on them by linking them to her. Wu hated being connected to Death's Hand, it made her feel tainted by association. This was too similar to the actions of her old mentor. But she wouldn't release her friends yet, and certainly not her new tool. Whatever Death's Hand's faults, it had a point – a soulless killer was far more use to her right now than a broken man.