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Square Peg [MAY2015]

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posted on May, 12 2015 @ 07:41 PM
They say that something as insignificant as the single flap of a butterfly's wings can create an entire thunderstorm halfway around the world, and the weather was foul that day. It was only raining, however. The gray, muggy persistent rain that won't quite quit but never exactly works itself up to a self-respecting downpour, either. Instead, it just drizzles away, dampening everything. Certainly, it didn't help Jun's mood as she strode up the walk past the huddled rows of Chinatown shops. Everything was subdued and grubby looking, and there was nothing to lighten a mood that was otherwise as foul as the weather.

Despite the rain, people still packed the walkways gamely carrying out their business of the day. Most of them had the sense to get out of Jun's way. On any other day, she would have noticed her demeanor and softened it so that she would have had to weave her way through the obstacles presented by all the others, just one more anonymous Chinese woman, but today she was careless, betraying herself with a smooth, strong stride and flat level stare that everyone else avoided.

A day that had started out gray and rainy hadn't improved. Jun's job was frustrating at best. Working as a fitness trainer had seemed like a natural fit, but playing the female fitness trainer in a roomful of men who would like nothing better than to prove that they really weren't as pathetically out of shape as they were next to their short Asian trainer was unnatural. She knew what she was, and she knew what she could do any of them. But, circumstances prevented her from acting out to stem the tide of wandering hands or from beating the smirk off those sweaty faces.

As she ducked under the awning overhand that led to her own apartment building, she reflected that maybe she should never have left her old life behind. In the past, she had enjoyed respect, and no one had dared grope her ass in the misguided belief that she would be grateful for such an advance. Here Madam He stared at her suspiciously as though she didn't belong, as though she hadn't been coming and going out of this very same building for the past six months. Here she was expected to mince her steps and keep her gaze lowered like a proper and modest Chinese girl.

Madam He glared at her through the smeared glass of the herbalists shop windows before Jun threw her flat stare back, something she didn't ordinarily dare do. It didn't take long for Madam He to shudder and drop her gaze. Jun tried to take some enjoyment out of having just added to the local gossip chain, but even that fell flat. She was just a fish out of water, a tiger trying to impersonate an alley cat, and her instincts were starting to reassert themselves.

The narrow entrance to the apartment levels above always smelled of stale urine. Jun wasn't sure if there was a plumbing problem in the walls or if Bulldog's thugs got too drunk to find a better place to relieve themselves than the dark corners under the stairwells. Like so much else about the day, it was one more thing that irritated her offending an innately orderly and disciplined soul demanding she extend her nightly meditation to try to get impose order once again.

posted on May, 12 2015 @ 07:41 PM
The stairs were dark with burned out light bulbs in every other fixture. Bulldog's father may have been the head of the local Tong, and he may have owned the building, but he was completely indifferent to its maintenance. Only the top floor which was commandeered by his son received any real attention from the building's superintendent who was technically Bulldog's employee. Everything else was stained, cracked, peeling and in an otherwise marked state of neglect. Jun was pretty sure that several of the apartments were packed with far more people than they could legally hold, too, but so long as rent was paid on time and in cash, no questions were ever asked.

At least the building wasn't used to house sex trade workers whose existence was confined to their studio rooms and nail and massage parlors. Her own mother had lived that life, and Jun's first years had been spent living in a cramped closet whenever her mother had brought “work” home. It would have been Jun's life, too, had she not been different, and useful to her mother in other ways. Whatever had ultimately happened to her mother, Jun hoped the sale of her own daughter had been worth it in the end.

Jun's own small apartment was at the end of the hallway on the third floor. To get to the door and put her day behind her, all she had left to do was negotiate down a length of burnt orange carpet that would not have looked out of place in a third rate motel. Usually, no one else was in the hall at this time of afternoon, but today for some reason, one of Bulldog's thugs was loitering. Jun recognized him as one of the newest of the gang. Perhaps one of the newly arrived migrant families had a young daughter unlucky enough to have caught his eye.

Jun stopped to survey the situation for a second as he glared at her in silent challenge. She forget herself for a second and met his stare levelly before dropping her gaze and adopting the proper submissive expression posture expected of a proper Chinese girl. It was a small mistake, but with an overly proud teen not sure whether he was a man or still a boy, it was all the difference. She didn't really care about preserving his masculine pride, but if she was to continue hiding here, she had to maintain the illusion that she was just a meek, overly tall and not terribly attractive woman of questionable heritage.

There was a graceless collision of shoulders with no subtlety. Or more accurately, his shoulder colliding with her upper arm, and it was clearly a challenge of her space, recognition that he'd seen something in her gaze and attitude he hadn't liked, a threat. A not-so subtle shot designed to intimidate and put her in her place.

Her response was unsatisfactory. She should have staggered or fallen, maybe apologized profusely and let him rough her up a little to reassure him that he was dominant. But she just couldn't. Instead, she pulled herself up and used her natural stride in all its sinuous, predatory grace. She deliberately slowed her walk instead of scuttling forward at a run mumbling hurried, tearful apologies. A warrior of any experience would realize that he was on the block with a bigger, meaner animal, and act with caution.

Bulldog's newest flunkie wasn't any such thing. Jun had gone forward almost to her door when the 15-year-old hit her from behind with all the physical force and fury he could muster spitting invective. She staggered forward a half step before catching her balance. He really was a lightweight, and while he was landing lots of

posted on May, 12 2015 @ 07:43 PM
blows, it was plain no one had taught him how to really hit someone to do damage. Most of his punches were glancing blows, or there was no follow through to transmit power. They stung, but they weren't in any way debilitating.

After being called a whore for the fifth or sixth time, Jun spun around quickly using his own power against him so that all the sound and fury carried him awkwardly past her and off balance. He windmilled, trying to regain control of limbs that still hadn't finished with adolescence. A collision with the end of the hallway stopped his stumbling. When he turned on her, the level, flat stare on her face obviously confused him enough to cause him to pause for a second or two. He wasn't used to attacking people and having them respond with such apparent indifference, especially not a woman.

Then, he charged her again. This time she caught his arm and twisted it behind him, slamming him face first into the door with bruising force supplied by his own momentum. Then she slammed in behind him grabbing the hair on the back of his head to pull it briefly back before driving it forward into the door again in a brief, vicious slam. Something in his face cracked, and he shrieked.

“Let it go, boy,” she hissed into his ear giving his head another brief shake before she let him drop.

She spun around and saw the heads of curious onlookers poked out of their rooms. She gave each of them a flat stare. One by one they dropped their gazes. None of the sheep would say anything. They knew word would get back to Bulldog soon enough about what had happened, and not one of them wanted to be associated in any way with this if he looked with any favor on this newest member of his gang.

She walked deliberately into her apartment as though she hadn't just beaten up a member of the resident gang. In her old life, no one would have dared touch her, but here she was a different creature at least until today. It felt good to flex her old muscle and tap a sliver of that old power, even if it was only to beat up a pimply teen.

Once inside the confines of her apartment, she allowed herself the luxury of some regret. There was no way to predict where this incident would go. She should have used some of her other talents to at least get some idea of what possible courses of action the child might pursue, but instead, she had let it go and walked away. She chided herself for lack of practice. She had been soft and it could cost her if she failed to anticipate Bulldog’s reaction. He might let it go, choosing to let the boy take the shame, or he might decide to take it as a personal insult and retaliate to reinforce to the denizens of the building that he was in charge and not to be messed with. Whatever was going to come, it was too late to do anything about it now.

About all there was left to do for the day was to try to drown her mood. A pad of sketch paper and her pencils along with a seat at the window were her answer. The soothing scratch of pencil on the heavy, creamy paper drew her in creating a world for her restless psyche to wander.

* * *

posted on May, 12 2015 @ 07:44 PM
The landscape was blurred by windblown dust or maybe smog. You could see that the hills were arid, the plant life parched or comprised of plants suited to the environment they found themselves growing in. Instead of a pure blue, the sky hinted at khaki yellow tones associated with heat and lack of moisture in the middle of a long dry spell, hues that faded into and subdued the natural blues. The only sign of animal life was a single, soaring bird of prey … perhaps an eagle from the look of its wingspan and profile.

With a few quick swipes, the eraser rubbed at the bird, and a pencil altered its lines.

No, not an eagle … perhaps a vulture, heavy bodied and low-hanging. It circles over the landscape having found a meal that it prepares to enjoy at its leisure.

“Jun?” The voice interrupted. “I knew I’d find you up here. Lotus is ready. They’re waiting.”

The artist put down her pencil and closed her sketch pad. She didn’t like it when others invaded her only private space. Granted, it was only private because none of them saw the need to spend time alone in the dusty, cramped attic space. Jun felt almost driven to fold herself into the tiny window seat away from the others as much as she could.

She merely shot an irritated glance at Yu Li as she climbed out of the narrow crawlspace dropping to the floor below. Yu Li simply grinned. She was as used to Jun as only a sister could have been, both of them having been raised and trained together, and both were outsiders here in their own ways. So Jun could scowl and seem to ignore Yu Li all the wanted, but it meant nothing.

“What do you think the test will be like?” Yu Li asked as Jun stalked off toward the Lotus’s gathering room, and she fell in alongside like an eager puppy. “Will it hurt?”

“I don’t know. They only say it will accept you or reject you,” Jun said.

The two went on with Yu Li chattering amiably even though Jun offered nothing else. It was the pattern by now in their lives. Jun wasn’t even sure if Yu Li noticed that she was carrying on a one-sided conversation. If she was, she never said anything about it. Both were mismatched personalities, allied through their exclusion from the larger group in the Clan. Jun was a half-breed, and Yu Li was a Latina whose name was a bastardized version of Yuliana, not properly Asian at all. For the other fully Chinese girls who found their way into Lotus’s Clan, they were cultural aberrations and barely tolerated even though both had clearly earned their places.

No one could shoot a bow better then Yu Li, and if the hit required a true long-distance touch, she was the one put on the job, and Jun was one of the top young assassins in the Clan. When it came to stealth

posted on May, 12 2015 @ 07:46 PM
and knives, no one could match her. In a straight fight, only one other of the younger group was a close match, and when they faced each other, the bouts were often a draw.

“They’re all saying it’ll choose you or Wei Long,” Yu Li was saying. “I hope it’s you because that’ll set those traditionalists right back on their collective ass.”

“It won’t be me.”

“It could be. It could even be me. No one knows! That’s the point,” she continued.

“It’s an old bo staff. The game is rigged.”

“It’s an Artifact. No one knows how old it is. They say it has power. They say it chooses, and so long as the Clan has it, we will never die.”

Jun snorted, but Yu Li kept chattering as though she hadn’t heard. Maybe she hadn’t. It wasn’t in Yu Li’s nature to hear things she didn’t want to.

The Clan was gathered and waiting as they entered the long hall at the center of the building. Master Lotus wasn’t so obvious as to scowl at them or mark their tardiness, but Jun could see the brief, dark look that passed over her otherwise smooth features. The Head had a good game face, but it wasn’t good enough to fool Jun. She and Yu Li would suffer for being the last ones into the hall; they were marked.

The students found their place. After maintaining her silence just long enough for proper intent, Lotus spoke. “The Clan is without a Hand,” she announced, and the watchers all settled into the absolute obedient still Lotus always demanded, not even the rustle of an errant fidgeting child broke the silence. “Let the test of Hand begin.”

The youngest members of the Clan, the trainees and those who had not yet completed their first assignments, rose and bowed silently before filing out of the hall. Not for them the deeper secrets of the Clan. Jun remembered being among their number in the past and wondering just exactly she was missing. Now, she was about to find out. She wished she could feel as eager as Yu Li looked.

The first of the assembled women, a scarred veteran, rose, bowed deeply to Lotus, and entered the room where the Heart was waiting. There was nothing spectacular about it. It was just another training hall, but today the doorway loomed large at its end of the room. Everyone outside the room waited. It seemed to take a long time, but the woman left looking shaken and staring at her hands.

posted on May, 12 2015 @ 07:46 PM
“There’s someone who really wanted to be the Hand,” Yu Li remarked under her breath with a slight smile. She kept her head ducked. It wouldn’t do to be seen talking about what was going on. They had all been warned that the test was a solemn thing and not to be talked about with anyone. If anyone caught Yu Li talking about it and mocking her sisters’ failures, they could make her life difficult in the days and weeks to come especially with Yu Li being an outsider.

Jun watched the women enter and leave the room carefully. They gave away little about what had happened to them inside. Most simply entered and left betraying little except disappointment. Some rubbed their hands, but that was all. As their turn to take the test approached, Jun had no real clue what was happening behind the door.

When her age group came to be tested, Jun was a little surprised that Lotus held Wei Long back. Usually, Lotus favored Wei Long in everything, and it was normal for her to put Wei Long first for every honor and status. She was the golden student held in highest regard. Perfect, precious, pure Chinese Wei Long. She who loathed anything having to do with Jun and never wasted any time putting the half-breed whore’s daughter in her place. But this time, Lotus signaled that Wei Long was to wait and let Jun go first. This set off murmurs in the assembled Clan. All of Jun’s alarm bells fired off.

With a determined stare, she rose from her seat. She could feel the eyes on her. She approached the room cautiously, not sure whether she should expect to receive an attack from in front or behind. Whatever was in there could not be an advantage or else Wei Long would be taking this walk right now. Through the door was the familiar small training studio that was empty except for an old bo staff sitting in a place of honor on its plain but well-made stand. She approached it carefully surveying it from all angles looking for the trap.

It appeared to be a simple wooden weapon of high quality upon close inspection although it wasn’t richly ornamented or even decorated. It was a plain weapon, meant to be used. Worn areas spoke of generations of warriors who had held it. It had been well taken care of. She felt a momentary stab of regret that the staff wasn’t her most practiced weapon because this one looked like it could sing in the right hands. Finally, she concluded that she couldn’t put it off any longer and picked it up …

… and nothing.

Nothing happened. For such an awe-inspiring object, the experience was completely underwhelming. She had expected some sign of either acceptance or rejection, but this complete indifference was almost insulting. Maybe she was right, and the Heart was just an old staff after all. If that

posted on May, 12 2015 @ 07:47 PM
was the case, then how were the Hand and the Head chosen? They had all been taught that it was this staff that chose, not any of the Clan members or right of combat. That had to be crap. There was no rejection here and obviously there was no acceptance either. It simply was just like her favorite knives, and as much as she loved, used them like extensions of self, they were only knives.

With a sigh of regret, she carefully set the old staff back on its stand. Even if it wasn’t the awesome magic weapon of legend they’d all been taught it was, it was still a fine piece of work and worthy of respect for that. Whatever mechanism they used to choose, she had little choice but to continue the game. Lotus was likely holding Wei Long back just to make the announcement more dramatic when it came. Jun no longer had any doubt that Wei Long would be the Hand.

She never should have fooled herself into believing she might have a chance at earning the position of Hand. She was just a mongrel, not a true daughter of the Clan at all. Lotus would never allow someone like her to climb so high no matter how good she might be. The only thing that had ever made her worth anything to the Clan had vanished long ago and showed no signs of returning, so Jun’s only remaining value lay in her ability to kill silently, ruthlessly, efficiently.
Jun left the room with the same demeanor as she entered it and pretended she didn’t see Yu Li’s curious looks. She didn’t pretend to be unsettled or rub her hands or any of the other little pieces of theater others had employed. She didn’t see any point in playing that game and really didn’t understand what others thought they’d gain by it. And still later, when Wei Long emerged triumphantly holding the Heart, she also didn’t pretend to be surprised like some of the others.

In all the general excitement over Long’s good fortune and new status, Jun missed Lotus’s stare of burning into her back.

posted on May, 14 2015 @ 07:42 AM
a reply to: ketsuko

This is a great read so far, and I will keep abreast of further developments within this thread! The atmosphere created in the story, the way the characters internal struggle to remain unexceptional in appearance, while being exceptional in every way is fantastically depicted, and the way the climate of fear is created surrounding the gang presence in the neighbourhood is just brilliantly done.

Top notch!

posted on May, 14 2015 @ 07:48 AM
a reply to: ketsuko

I agree with TrueBrit - very good mastery of the atmosphere!

posted on May, 14 2015 @ 08:28 AM
a reply to: ketsuko

I liked it ...easy read that puts your mind in the picture.. Well done

posted on May, 14 2015 @ 02:14 PM
Thank you all for the kind responses.

This is one of the hardest things I've ever set out to write. This is a very old character and she's lived in my head and notebooks for a very long time. I really want to do her justice so I agonize over just about every paragraph of this.

posted on May, 17 2015 @ 05:02 AM
a reply to: ketsuko

Wow, this is really good. I love your anti-hero, and as TrueBrit said the atmosphere slowly pervading the scenes is beautifully done.


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