Author's Note: With Halloween just around the corner, the practical jokes are abounding in my house. Thus, I was inspired to write this tale.
Happy Halloween! :D
It was a sunny afternoon in October when eighteen-year-old Bi-han set Bomani up for a joke. The Tswanan boy, under orders by Oniro to patch a wall he and Jiao-long broke while fighting with Kuai Liang, came to the unusually dark corridor where the hole was located, and found it covered with a thin layer of plastic sheeting. Inside, eerie yellow candlelight glowed, flickering around something large and dark. Nervously, he peeled back the sheet. His eyes immediately rested on the severed head of a Tibetan macaque, its simian face contorted in surprise and anguish.
Bomani promptly screamed and ran away.
When he returned with Master An Zhi five minutes later, the monkey head was gone. The Cryomancer personally whipped him for his cowardice, and then watched him as he fixed the wall as he'd been ordered.
Bi-han, who'd watched the whole thing from the shadows, stifling his laughter, felt vindicated. Kuai Liang not only got his butt kicked by the two bullies, he'd also been sentenced to sleeping by himself in the dank, spooky Temple basement for a week. Though, the older Cryomancer really wished he could've gotten Jiao-long because as usual, the Grandmaster's son got off scot-free; Bomani was just his puppet, and now his scapegoat. Still, Bi-han would take what he could get, and he proudly showed Kuai Liang and Tomas the macaque's head as he explained what he'd done.
The three couldn't contain their laughter as they sat in the empty chamber, and Kuai Liang said, "That was great, Bi-han."
"Yeah, I'm pretty proud of myself," the older of the two agreed. And then, at Kuai Liang's behest, his brother regaled him with the tale a second time.
Later that evening, Bi-han was walking to Sifu Halsey's quarters to ask a question about his footwork, and he heard his teacher yell loudly in surprise. That was followed by the sound of Kuai Liang and Tomas snickering, and a moment later, both boys bolted from the room. They ran so fast that neither one even saw him approaching. The Cryomancer arched his eyebrow in curiosity, and then proceeded into Hydro's room as planned.
The older man stood by his wood stove, clutching his chest, breathing raggedly, clearly startled by something inside of it. Bi-han crossed the room to him and glanced at his teacher expectantly. Sifu Halsey, still trying to recover his breath, leaned on his desk as he gazed at the door on the wood stove, which was hanging open. The teenager peeked inside. His macaque head stared back at him, its face even more contorted than before. And it had been slightly mutilated as well; there was a new crack in its skull, and brain matter squeezed through like sausage through a casing.
Bi-han calmly straightened and looked at Hydro. "Well, Sifu," he began, "you burst the skull again. You're supposed to poke holes in a severed monkey head before you cook it."
"I'm gonna kill those two gits," the British man growled. "They nearly gave me a heart attack with that disgustin' thing."
"And they didn't wait for me?" the young man replied, slightly wounded. Now that he was technically an adult, Kuai Liang and Tomas had been leaving him out of more and more things.
"It's not funny," the teacher barked. "They put a tarantula in little Narayan's clothes. And then, they mixed up a batch of slime – where the hell the little buggers got it, I don't even want to know – and they pumped it through the slats of one of the bathroom stalls while Sifu Dimitri was usin' it."
"And they didn't wait for me?" he asked again, his voice even more agitated.
"What am I gonna do about them?" Hydro asked after he threw his hands up in the air in exasperation. "It's only a matter of time before Oniro or your father catches them, and if they do, those boys' names are mud."
Bi-han thought about it. "Well," he started, "I think we should do what any responsible adult would do. We've got to scare the daylights out of them."
"An eye for an eye is not the mature answer I was lookin' for, boy."
The Cryomancer raised his eyebrow and crossed his arms. "Alright, look," he said. "I know being an adult is your area of expertise, and I'm really new to the whole thing. But let me explain to you a bit about these two's psychology."
Halsey chortled. "This oughta be rich."
Bi-han raised his hands. "Just bear with me for a minute," he said. "When a child such as Tomas or Kuai Liang puts a severed monkey head in their Sifu's wood stove, they're not doing that to scare him. They're doing that to reach out."
The British man struggled to contain the laugh that threatened to escape him. "Oh, really?" he replied. "Is that a fact?"
Bi-han gripped his teacher's arms in earnest. "They're saying, 'Sifu Halsey, we love you. Please, please scare us back'."
Halsey burst out laughing. "It would mean a lot to ya if I went along with this, wouldn't it, ya idjit?"
"It's not for me," Bi-han responded, his face stone-cold serious. "It's for the children."
A few days later, after they'd snuck out of the Temple through the broken drain in the basement, Tomas and Kuai Liang were discussing new ideas for pranks to play on Jiao-long and Bomani. They walked towards the secret fort they'd built when they were much younger, about a mile from their home, nestled deep in the Himalayan forest. Only Bi-han and Halsey knew of its location, but both kept it a closely guarded secret. That is why, when they saw a ghastly pale Chinese man standing by the rocky hut and tree house, both boys felt both shock and fear.
"Can you help me?" the man asked in Mandarin in a strange, eerily deep voice. "My name is Jun. I'm traveling to Tingri for a funeral at a temple."
"You, uh, need directions or something?" Kuai Liang nervously asked, shifting from one foot to the other, not liking the vibe that emanated from Jun.
"No," the other answered. "I was on my way to town and I just happened to pass by my old home, and I was wondering if you could help me sneak in and take a look at the place."
"The Lin Kuei Temple. You boys are Lin Kuei like I was, so I know you can help me."
"You used to live in the Temple?" Tomas cried, unable to contain his shock. "How did you escape? No one escapes."
"Oh, yes, I lived here for many years with my younger brother. Until the, uh…Well, you know…"
"What?" Kuai Liang prodded.
"Hey, Kuai Liang, Tomas, Oniro's noticed you two morons have gone missing!" Bi-han called, clearly unaware that they had a visitor. He found the two boys quickly, and then did a double-take when he saw Jun standing before them, regarding them all with a creepy, half-vacant expression.
"Yeah, and he's thinkin' about tannin' your hides with the cat-o-nine-" Halsey added but immediately stopped when he joined Bi-han's side.
"Who are you?" Bi-han demanded to know, scowling.
"He said he used to live in the Temple and he was just about to tell us about some 'incident' that happened when he lived here, Bi-han," Kuai Liang explained as he turned and looked at his older brother. He was not reassured by the other's fierce, almost anxious, expression.
Halsey promptly stepped between the boys and the outsider. "No 'incident' ever happened here," he growled.
"If that is what you say," Jun agreed. "Say, is that crazy man, Xiao-Ping, still living in Tingri?"
"We don't know, we don't talk to the locals!" their Sifu snapped. "And I think it's about time that ya left, Jun, or whatever ya said your name was."
"Very well. But, before I go, could I at least take a look at the Temple basement?"
"The basement?" Kuai Liang cried. "That's where I'm sleeping!"
The man took a moment to register the news. And then he sympathetically cocked his head. "Oh." He paused. "I am sorry."
"We're busy," the British man said. "And I'm sure ya have other things to do. I suggest ya go do them before ya get into trouble ya don't like."
With that, he promptly grabbed both boys by their arms and yanked them back towards the Temple, glancing over his shoulder every few seconds. Behind them, Bi-han walked backwards, but Kuai Liang and Tomas both noticed the chilly fog wafting from his hands, indicating the presence of his powers. The two exchanged puzzled, worried looks.
"Geez, what was that about?" Tomas asked after they had nearly reached the drainage pipe leading back into the basement.
"It was eight years ago. And it's no big deal." Halsey nudged them towards the giant drain, silently indicating that they needed to climb in to sneak back inside.
"Why did Jun want to see the Temple basement?" Kuai Liang asked him.
"He probably wanted you two chuckleheads to get him inside so he could assassinate the Grandmaster," Bi-han said. "I'm just glad you didn't fall for it."
He and Sifu Halsey nodded in agreement and headed towards the main entrance while the boys climbed into the pipe and silently made their way through the drainage system. When they came to the broken grate that let them escape the Temple, the Cryomancer finally plucked up the urge to talk.
"That was weird," he said. "What do you think that was all about?"
"Kuai Liang, you poor fool, don't you get it?" Tomas admonished him.
"Of course I get it!" the other cried defensively as they climbed through the grate. "Wait, what have I got?"
"We put the head in the wood stove, so Sifu Halsey and Bi-han thought of something to get us back."
"I don't know. That guy Jun seemed pretty believable." Kuai Liang shuddered at the thought of the man. There was something not quite right about him.
"Yeah, I've got to admit, he was pretty convincing," Tomas confessed. "But I still think this is a total set-up."
"Easy for you to say, you're not the one sleeping in the basement," Kuai Liang muttered.
"Look, the guy said he knew Xiao-Ping, so let's go talk to Xiao-Ping. If Xiao-Ping says he's never heard of him, we'll know it's a big scam."
"And if it isn't, I'm sleeping in the fort."
Bi-han waited behind a thicket of trees with Halsey as they watched Kuai Liang and Tomas predictably disobey orders so they could go rushing off to Tingri to interrogate Xiao-Ping. Suddenly, a twig snapped behind them, and when both men turned to look, they saw Mu, better known as Jun, Xiao-Ping's grocery supplier, stepping towards them with an amused grin on his face.
"Hello, Mu," Bi-han greeted as Halsey bowed.
"How'd I do?" the Chinese man asked, eager to hear feedback of his acting performance.
"You gave me the creeps, and I thought up the story," Bi-han smirked.
"Me too," Halsey agreed as he handed the man a small leather drawstring sack. "Here's your money."
When Kuai Liang and Tomas reached Tingri about a half an hour later, they found Xiao-Ping mixing up a strange, bubbling concoction in a pot hanging over his hearth. He was humming cheerfully to himself, and when he saw them step into his home, he smiled brightly at them.
"Why, hello, boys! What brings you here on this fine day?" he greeted.
"What's that smell?" Kuai Liang said, making a face, ignoring the question.
"Well, I'm making a cardamom-based brew. I'm a bit bound up and can't take a poo. You boys want a slug?"
The Cryomancer and his best friend both made faces of disgust. "No thanks," the younger said. "I'm trying to cut back on my cardamom intake."
"Um, Xiao-Ping, have you, by chance, ever heard of a guy called Jun?" Tomas asked a second later, changing the subject as quickly as he could.
Suddenly, the color drained from the old man's face. He looked at them in such earnest shock that Kuai Liang immediately felt fear swell in his heart. He swallowed hard.
"Jun? From the Lin Kuei? Who wants to know?" His ice-blue eyes anxiously fluttered back and forth over both boys.
"So, you're saying you've heard of him?" Kuai Liang asked.
"Unfortunately, I have."
"Well, then you know all about the…"
The Cryomancer waited a long moment as Xiao-Ping stared into his eyes. Any trace of mirth that the old man possessed was long gone. "The incident," the other finally finished. "So Halsey finally told you."
"Yeah, he told us everything about the incident," Tomas jumped in, trying to trick the old man into spilling the beans.
"Horrible thing, that incident," Kuai Liang followed his lead. Though he wasn't really certain he wanted to know. "One of the worst incidents of all time, don't you think?"
"For years, that night has haunted me," Xiao-Ping declared, his voice distant. He put down his stirring spoon and walked to the rickety wooden table where he sank onto a bench and held his head in his hands. "The night that the Lin Kuei Elites returned to the Temple after a mission, and they discovered that Jun's little brother, Rui, was missing. And I don't think we'll ever know for sure whether he ran away or Jun murdered him."
"Murdered him?" Kuai Liang yelped, unable to hide the surprise in his voice.
"You didn't know about that, Kuai Liang?" Xiao-Ping lifted his head and stared at the boy in an almost accusatory manner.
"No, of course I did. It's just that every time I hear it, it's so shocking."
The old man sighed and shook his head before he continued. "Jun swore that he was innocent, but he was so appalled at the accusations that he actually went insane. The Grandmaster tried to kill him, but he got away. Nobody really knows how. But he came to Tingri and…well, he killed my business partner, Chang. Jun's been on a killing spree ever since, but no one can seem to catch him."
"Jun's back!" Tomas cried.
"Yeah, he stopped us on the way to our fort today. He wanted to see the Temple basement," Kuai Liang chattered.
"Oh, dear, Kuai Liang, isn't Oniro making you sleep in the basement?"
The Cryomancer frantically nodded. "This is way too weird," he mumbled.
"That's exactly what people said at the time. Would you boys like to see a newspaper clipping I saved about the first person he killed after he left the Temple?"
"Yeah," Tomas replied. He didn't sound so certain that this was a set-up anymore.
"Go on into the store," he ordered them. "I've just got to take my pot off the fire."
As Xiao-Ping helped a customer, Kuai Liang and Tomas sat at the kitchen table and examined the newspaper from Hong Kong, eagerly showing it to one of the shop-keeper's sons, Narayan.
"This is Jun," Tomas said as he pointed to the man's faded picture, aged brown with time.
"And this is the first man he killed," Kuai Liang explained, pointing to a picture of a plump European tourist from Germany. The man's neck looked like a package of sausages.
"The one he murdered," Tomas added.
"Yeah, right," Narayan muttered as he rolled his eyes.
"Look, Narayan, you've gotta believe us, alright?" the Cryomancer urged. "His brother's body might be buried in the basement. Oh, by the way, do you want to go camping in our fort with me?"
"Forget it!" the Tibetan boy cried as he got to his feet. "You guys are just trying to scare me." Suddenly, there was an abrupt knock on the wooden door. "I've got it!" he yelled as he ran to answer the door.
Both Tomas and Kuai Liang exchanged a look of panic and then sprang to their feet to stop him.
"No, don't get the door!" Kuai Liang yelled just as Tomas screamed, "No, don't get it!"
Narayan ignored them and opened the door. Both boys leapt to the side with terrified shouts before they had a chance to see Xiao-Ping's oldest son standing there, clutching two cords of wood in his arms.
"It's just Anil!" the younger Tibetan child scoffed and then ran outside to play.
"Hello, Kuai Liang and Tomas," the young man greeted with a snort of laughter. He was a socially awkward person, and it showed in the uncomfortable silence that followed after he stacked his load by the hearth. Anil patted them on the arms for ducking away from him, continuing to snort like a happy pig because he truly believed it had been a joke. "Good one!" he finally said.
And then he saw the Hong Kong newspaper still sitting on the table. "Hey, look, there's an old picture of Mu."
"Who's Mu?" Tomas asked as if the man were crazy.
"That's my father's supplier."
"No, that's Jun." Kuai Liang argued.
"That wasn't what he's been calling himself since I was a child."
Sudden realization hit both boys, and they stared at each other knowingly.
"I cannot believe we just fell for this," Tomas grumbled. "Isn't this a little too cutesy for them?"
"We're idiots!" Kuai Liang muttered to himself as he smacked himself in the forehead.
"What did I tell you? It was all just a set up!"
"And we're idiots!"
"Oh, I feel like I just messed something up," Anil said slowly and sheepishly.
"Oh, just a teensy prank," Kuai Liang said as he and Tomas sank onto the benches once more. "Sifu Halsey and Bi-han wanted us to think there was a homicidal maniac out there trying to get us."
Anil snorted again. "That's a good one!"
The boys shook their heads in disgust at the entire situation, still unable to believe they'd been tricked. "Now we've got to think of something just as good to get back at them," Tomas said a moment later.
"Well, you're Lin Kuei," the young Tibetan man said as he headed towards the front door once again. "I'm sure you inherited their penchant for torture."
Kuai Liang half-smirked as he and his best friend exchanged a mischievous look that went unnoticed by the adult. The Czech boy winked and then said: "Hey, Anil, how would you like to help us with this little prank on Bi-han and Sifu?"
The other's jaw dropped in astonishment. "Well," he began, "I wouldn't feel so bad about scaring your brother because he's always been kind of mean to me, but no, I wouldn't feel right about scaring Sifu Halsey."
"Really? Even after what he said about ya?" Kuai Liang added as he got to his feet and flanked the man.
Anil's face grew markedly insecure. "What did…what did he say about me?"
"Oh, I, uh, believe he said ya'd never have to worry about the Lin Kuei kidnappin' ya because they have no use for half-wits who sit around in their yards eatin' dirt," Kuai Liang said in a faux British accent to imitate his teacher.
"Halsey said that?" he said, his eyes wounded and full of disbelief.
"That's what I heard. What about you, Tomas?" Kuai Liang looked at his best friend, who flanked the man's other side.
"Yeah, I heard him say that," he agreed. "And I also heard him say that your mother's boobs are so saggy, people mistake them for nuts."
A storm cloud crossed the Tibetan man's face. "I'm in!" he cried angrily.
As the sun was beginning to set, Anil rushed on the path towards the Temple to find Bi-han and Halsey. Thankfully, he caught them walking towards Tingri to retrieve the boys, who were now in genuine danger of getting caught missing. That would be a whipping for sure.
"Sifu! Bi-han! You better get down the path!"
"What are you doing here?" Bi-han demanded to know, not wanting to think about how close the young man came to getting attacked and detained by a squadron of Lin Kuei Elites.
"My father wanted me to walk him and Tomas to the edge of your territory because it's getting dark."
"So what's the matter?" Halsey asked. "Where are the boys?"
"It's…it's…it's Kuai Liang. He's really scared."
"Alright!" Bi-han immediately cheered. "I got the little brat!"
"He keeps babbling something about a murderer coming to get him," Anil added.
"Yes!" the other triumphantly cried and looked to his Sifu for equal excitement. But the British man scowled, slugged his student's arm, and then stormed down the path in search of his even younger students.
"I knew this was a bad idea!" he bellowed. "It's stupid to stoop to the same level as your children. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" Halsey's face was red and angry.
"That man misses the whole point of having a little brother," Bi-han muttered in disgust as he stamped after his teacher.
"No, well, wait a minute," Anil softly said as he grabbed the Cryomancer's arm and stopped him. He looked at the younger man in earnest. "Kuai Liang is reallyscared. He's talking about wanting to move in with me."
"Are you serious?" Bi-han asked in disbelief as he raised an eyebrow. His kid brother could be an infant sometimes, but even he wasn't that big of a baby. Slight pangs of guilt crept into his heart.
The Tibetan man nodded his head solemnly, his eyes full of sincerity. "Would I lie to you?"
As Kuai Liang sat perfectly still on a large boulder along the path, Tomas carefully dragged a melting ice ball across his friend's face, coming close to his sapphire blue eyes. He bit his lip in concentration, and the younger of the two boys might've laughed at him had he not been in such a precarious position. Then the frigid water met his cornea, and he jerked in surprise.
"Ahh! Ack!" Kuai Liang yelped.
"Alright! They look like real tears," Tomas announced a moment later as he threw the ball of ice into the dark trees.
"They are. You just poked me in the eye." He tried to stifle the urge to wipe the water from his cheeks, which tickled his skin.
"Kuai Liang, Tomas?" Sifu Halsey's voice called a moment later. He came into view, saw them as well, and hurried towards them with Bi-han and Anil in tow. Perfect timing. "Lads, everythin's okay." The British man bore a look of profound concern on his face.
"I don't know, Sifu, he's really scared about this Jun guy," Tomas reported as he patted his friend's shoulder to console him.
Kuai Liang looked up so that everyone could see his tears. "What are you crying about?" Bi-han immediately asked, his voice disgusted, for a second sounding just like An Zhi.
"I'm not staying here!" the littlest Cryomancer whined. "I know Jun's gonna come back. He's gonna kill all of us."
"Oh, ya silly donkey, no he's not," Halsey said gently. "This was just a stupid joke that we played on ya gits to scare ya."
"I didn't want to, but Halsey made me," Bi-han quickly said.
"You guys really made this up?" Kuai Liang looked at them skeptically.
"Yes! He did," their teacher replied as he cast a wayward glance at Bi-han. "Look, I swear it's just a big mistake. I am so sorry, Kuai Liang. I really am, boy."
"Not unless you're just saying this so we won't be scared of Jun," Tomas said.
Panic crossed Kuai Liang's face. "I want to go home with Anil where it's safe!" he cried as he jumped up and ran to the Tibetan man.
Now it was Anil's turn to speak: "Oh, now, come on, Kuai Liang, you heard Sifu. There is no such person as Mu."
"Yeah, come on, listen to Anil," Bi-han reprimanded. "There's no such thing as…" He abruptly stopped mid-sentence when he realized what the man had just said. "Mu? You mean, as in your father's supplier, Mu?" he hissed.
"Uh, no, Jun! Jun, the murderer."
"Supplier, murderer, what difference does it make? Guys, I'm really scared here," Kuai Liang tried his best to keep it going even though he knew it was now a lost cause.
"The difference is that Anil just blew your stupid little joke," Bi-han snapped as he slugged his brother in the arm.
"But we almost had you!" the Tibetan man cried in undeserved triumph. "We almost got you. We…" His voice suddenly changed when acceptance hit him. "Oh, man, I'm a third rate prankster," he muttered in dejection.
"Don't flatter yourself," Bi-han hissed.
"Listen, we'll just call a truce before we all get caught and punished by Oniro," Halsey said. "We all had our fun."
"Of course, not as much fun as we had," Tomas smirked.
"Oh, how's that?" Bi-han grumbled.
"Well, scaring children? That's easy. But scaring the adults? That's huge!" The Czech boy gestured wildly through the air.
"Sifu Halsey, I'll never forget the look on your face," Kuai Liang grinned and started talking in an accented baby voice. "'It's okay, ya silly donkey, it was just a joke. I made it all up. Ya don't have to be scared.'"
Hydro scowled and half-smirked, but then promptly sprayed him in the face with a thin jet of water. Then he sprayed Tomas, who was snickering at his friend's side, with water too.
The following day, on his way to Tingri to pick up some supplies to make arrows, Halsey dropped Tomas and Kuai Liang off at their fort.
"Will ya gits be okay by yourselves?" he asked. Even though he knew perfectly well that they would be, he always felt compelled to make sure. It was something of a running joke amongst them now.
"Gosh, I don't know, Mommy. What if I get scared?" Tomas chided.
"Yeah, what if the murderer comes to get us?" Kuai Liang added, smirking. He and the Czech boy started laughing.
The British man raised an eyebrow. "Tell him not to make a mess," he replied matter-of-factly as he continued to walk down the mountain.
About an hour later, as the two boys worked on adding rocks to their fort to fortify it, the loud crunching of leaves alerted them to someone's presence. They looked up and saw Mu walking towards them.
"Hello," he greeted, his voice nowhere nearly as affected and deep as it had been when they'd seen him the day prior.
"Oh, hi!" Kuai Liang said, dropping his rock and brushing off his hands. He sauntered up to the man. "Hey, Tomas, look, it's our old friend, Jun."
"Mind if we talk?"
"Yeah, sure. Mu. Come to look around for your brother's dead body?" Tomas teased as he joined them.
"Ooh, scary!" Kuai Liang added as he trembled his hands in fake fear.
Mu scoffed and crossed his arms. "Your brother short-changed me. I want the rest of my money. Where is he?"
"Well, right now, he's on patrol, but we'll give him the message. I'm sure he'll get back to you tomorrow," Tomas replied, his amusement rapidly fading.
"No, I'm leaving Tingri today. I want my six hundred Yuan now," he said angrily.
"Well, we don't have it," Kuai Liang announced. He and his best friend exchanged worried looks.
"Yeah. See? Everybody thinks they can kick me around just because I'm a simple merchant." He wrapped his arms around both boys in an almost threatening manner. "Well, merchants have feelings too, and right now, I don't know, this merchant's feeling kind of angry!" He squeezed them to his body, gripping the scruffs of their necks. For a thin, short man, he was surprisingly strong.
Tomas immediately fished inside his training robes for something. "Well, you know what might make you feel better? A ginger candy." Tomas immediately held the sweet up to Mu for him to take.
"Cash." The supplier's voice was firm and no-nonsense. "Or I'm going to start taking pounds of flesh."
"But, we don't have it," Kuai Liang insisted. The man looked at him with daggers in his eyes. "Okay, um, doesn't Sifu keep some money in his bedroom somewhere?" the Cryomancer asked his friend.
Tomas quickly nodded. "Sir, I believe it's up in the Temple, so we'll go get it right now," he said hastily.
"No tricks," the man hissed as both boys ran up the mountainside. When they were out of sight, Mu chuckled to himself and then cut back into the forest.
"Do you remember where the money's hidden?" Kuai Liang asked as they trekked through the dense woods. Above, the canopy of the trees blotted out much of the sunlight so that the forest was dim and shadowy.
"Yeah, I think it's inside the lining of Sifu's old foot locker," Tomas replied.
A few minutes passed, and they came across a gully shrouded in fog. It was invasive on a molecular level – or so it felt. It tenaciously clung to both boys, enveloping them in mist, blinding the way ahead.
"Man, what is this stuff? I can't see a thing!" Kuai Liang complained.
"Cold air must've mixed with some warm air to make fog," Tomas explained. Then he chuckled. "Wow, I just remembered something from science class."
"That's pretty miraculous since you always sleep through it," his friend mumbled. He stepped wrong and fell onto the hill. A shrill squeak escaped into the air as his hands found something fat and furry. "Aghh!" he yelled. "Rat! Let's get out of here!"
"Hold on, I hear something over there," the other replied as he pointed to a small, foggy clearing. Both strained their ears and heard the dull thuds of punches being thrown, grunting and groaning, and more. The sounds of fighting. With a puzzled, somewhat worried expression, he crept towards it with the Cryomancer in tow.
"I'm sorry, I don't have any more money!" they heard Bi-han yell suddenly. That was followed by a hard, hollow whack. In a panic, both boys bolted towards the fight. When they emerged, they saw the older Cryomancer pinned to a tree.
"I don't like being played for a fool!" Mu screamed back, holding Bi-han in place with a dao. "I'm gonna make an example of you!"
"Bi-han!" Tomas yelled just as the merchant stabbed his victim. The Cryomancer howled in pain, and then gurgled as brilliant red blood spilled from the wound.
"No!" his younger brother cried. His hands surged with power, but his best friend didn't let him use them. He grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and yanked him towards the Temple where they could get help against this madman.
They ran for a minute, with Kuai Liang crying for real now, until they stumbled onto Halsey tied to a tree. His head sagged down to his chest, his longish brown hair hanging like a mop around his face. Blood was drying down the front of his purple tunic, the source a large stab wound through his chest. He was dead too.
"Sifu?" Tomas asked nervously, now shaking. Tears were welling in his eyes too.
"I'm coming to get you boys," Mu called in a sing-song voice. His voice was closing in.
Suddenly, something black and hairy catapulted through the air at them and hit the young Cryomancer in the chest. He accidentally caught it and juggled it for a moment until he realized he held Bi-han's macaque head in his arms. He screamed and flung it at Tomas in surprise, who also yelped and dropped it to the ground.
And then a hand slammed onto Kuai Liang's shoulder from behind. Both he and the Czech boy shrieked as they whirled around. There, Bi-han stood triumphantly, a huge, evil smile plastered across his face.
"If I'm not mistaken, big brother just scared the two little twits, didn't he?" he arrogantly said as Mu approached them, laughing.
"We got ya gits good!" Halsey chided as he joined them.
"That wasn't funny, Bi-han!" Kuai Liang yelled as he dried his eyes in embarrassment. "I was gonna kill Mu for real!"
His older brother scoffed. "Please. You couldn't hit the broad side of a barn."
Hydro chuckled and rested his hands on either boy's shoulder. "Now, that'll teach ya donkeys to stick a monkey head in my wood stove. And don't ya ever forget it."
"I have to commend you people," Mu declared. "I've been everywhere in Asia and I've seen a lot of sick, psychotic things. The Lin Kuei's reputation for torture is legendary. But from what I've seen, the lengths you'll go to just to torment people you like? Your reputation doesn't do the real thing justice."
"You should see us on the Chinese New Year," Halsey joked as he bowed to the man and then faced the boys. "I do expect ya two to help with this mess," he said as he pointed to his and Bi-han's tunics, the ropes strewn about, and the puddles of fake blood pooling on the ground.
Tomas grinned. "Hah!" he cried. "It would be one thing if we played a part in this prank, Sifu. But since we didn't? You're on your own." And with that, he became invisible and ran off into the trees.
Kuai Liang, who'd picked the macaque head off the ground, looked at the men in agreement. "You know what?" he began. "Tomas is right. Think fast!" He promptly threw the monkey head at his brother and bolted after his friend.
"Ingrates!" Halsey called after them.
"Don't worry, Sifu," Bi-han said with a smirk as he tossed his macaque head, which was terribly ripe and smelly by this point, to the side. "I'm already cooking up another prank for those two."