Shooting the Messenger

From the Story Arc: Scholar, Soldier, Superhero

Previous Story in the Arc: Counterbalance by Crimson Tao (Thursday, July 21, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Rising Suns by Crimson Tao (Friday, October 07, 2005)

(posted Monday, August 15, 2005)

Fear. Complete and utter terror. Adrenaline pounded through Sun Kai’s veins as he scrambled to back to his feet and bolted over the warehouse flooring littered with incapacitated Tsoo.

“Stop!” Tao screamed. His body refused to listen.

Why am I running? What do I have to be afraid of? Death? For an officer who has led thousands of men into battle across four wars, fearing death from a single enshrouded swordsman is insane. Unforgivably insane.

Tao skidded to a halt and sprung back towards the direction of his pursuer. “I will face my enemy!”

The captain dug his heels into the floor, and wiped the cold sweat from his brow.

What am I doing? I faced these Tsoo without any apprehension. Why is this one different? The closer I got to that room, the more uneasy I felt. And when I opened the door, it was just there… waiting, patiently… for me. A silhouette that stole out of the shadows.

“It would have been wiser for you to have kept running,” a disembodied voice offered in heavily accented Mandarin.

“Who are you?” Tao shouted.

Stepping under a fluorescent lamp, the shadowy figure emerged. Enveloped in a black cloak, every facial feature was obscured. The hilt of a katana jutted from the shadowed cloth. “I am the messenger, Shinobi Tengu.”

The shaking of Kai’s clenched fists intensified as the self-proclaimed messenger moved closer. With each step, the panic doubled, until Shinobi stood within arm’s reach. Kai knew he should attack first, but he couldn’t will his hands to act.

“Can you still hear the screams of Jiangsu?”

Tao unsuccessfully tried to force a smirk in spite of his mask. “That was over sixty years ago.”

Shinobi cocked his head quizzically. “Then why do those nightmares continue to haunt you?”

A nervous chuckle in response. “How would you know?”

“Why do you choose to ignore them? Are you so weak that you refuse to see the innocent bloodstains on your hands?”

“I made a command decision. It was the only available option. Now if you have a message, deliver it already.”

Shinobi took a few steps backwards and silently melted into the shadows. A few exhales later, and Tao began to relax his tense muscles. He would return to his apartment, and he would call his contacts with the Paragon City Police, and investigate exactly who this –

“Remember…” the whisper slid across the back of his neck.

Tao whirled, facing Shinobi, but before the captain could react, a terrible force impacted his chest, launching him into a pile of crates. On top of the victim before he’d even hit the ground, Shinobi slammed a jade amulet against Tao’s forehead. “You will remember.”

“Captain! Captain! It’s an ambush!”

“Take cover! Return fire!”

The gunfire had erupted without warning, mowing down almost a dozen fighters. Sun’s soldiers scattered, hiding behind whatever cover they could find to shoot back at their former allies.

“Lieutenant! March a platoon to defend the Party headquarters! We will cover the flank and hold back the enemy until the Party officials can be evacuated!”

“Stop! Stop this!” Images flooded through his mind, overwhelming the senses. An eerie reddish hue emanated from the Tsoo tattoos as Tao fell back into the memories.


The gunfire had lulled for the moment, and the lieutenant’s broken voice pleaded across a field of destruction. The Party headquarters was in flames, corpses of civilian workers scattered across the grounds. The KMT had driven through the other Red Army defenses and destroyed most of the surrounding encampments, entirely overwhelming the platoon.

“I’m not ready. Don’t let us die, Captain,” the voice begged.

Kuomintang soldiers had already reached the lieutenant’s battered body. Sun looked at his remaining forces. Seventeen. Nowhere near enough to take on the dozens of advancing Nationalists.

“Don’t leave me.”

Sun’s remaining soldiers waited anxiously for an order.

Captain Sun Kai closed his eyes. “If we don’t meet up with Xiang Ying’s detachment, we will be cut off. Company, fall back.”

A splitting scream ripped the vision apart… and then there was nothing but a comforting, silent darkness.

Crimson Tao woke in a cold sweat, lying on his apartment floor. For a brief moment, he believed he’d just experienced another nightmare… until he felt the jade amulet dangling from a chain around his neck. A new war had begun.