Disequilibrium

From the Story Arc: Scholar, Soldier, Superhero

Previous Story in the Arc: Rain by Crimson Tao (Friday, December 23, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Politically Expedient by Crimson Tao (Monday, January 29, 2007)

(posted Wednesday, January 04, 2006)

Vietnam – March, 1965

Two People’s Army of Vietnam soldiers stepped through the partially open tent flaps and saluted the Chinese military advisor inside. “Quan dan nhat tri, Dai Ta!”

Colonel Sun Kai returned the soldiers’ salute and repeated the army slogan. “Unity of Mind, People and Army. How can the People’s Liberation Army be of service this day, Trung Si Nguyen?”

“Dai Ta,” the sergeant began, trying not to stare at the advisor’s glowing white eyes, “the Village Forces captured a suspicious person outside Thanh Hoa today. He has asked to speak with you. By name.”

Sun Kai motioned for them to bring the prisoner inside.

Another pair of Vietnamese soldiers dragged a mostly limp, blindfolded figure into the tent and dropped him on the dirt floor.

The colonel squatted and stared at the man’s face. Though battered and bloody, most likely from a Viet Cong interrogation, the prisoner’s face still held a condescending smirk, despite his inability to see. A small piece of jade dangled from his makeshift necklace.

“Not Vietnamese, not Chinese, and quite obviously not American.” Sun mused aloud. “Can you understand my Mandarin?”

Without the slightest trace of an accent, the prisoner laughed, “I understand far, far more than you would believe.”

“Then let us understand each other. I would tell you my name, but I believe you already know it. Let us then ask you for yours.”

“I have no name that holds any meaning, neither for me nor for those around me. I am called the wanderer, the nameless, the exile.”

“How do you know me?”

“We have never met, but our fates are intertwined.”

Sun stood up and dusted his pants. “I have no time for riddles. If you have something to say, say it quickly.”

After a short pause, the man smiled. “I have seen the face of the demon that follows your footsteps.”

“Jiangshi,” Sun breathed.

“From the massacre of Nanjing… to the battlefields of Seoul… he follows you even here, with slaughter in his wake. Not even your dreams provide you sanctuary. The blood you have spilled calls out to him.”

“Enough!”

“Do not pretend you disbelieve. I can feel your terror of him. The very reason you hide your face behind a mask is to hide your Tsoo tattoos from that demon.”

“You know nothing!” Sun screamed in his face.

The prisoner leaned back and laughed coldly. “They call you ‘metahuman’… but I know the truth. I know what you are, Sun Kai.” His voice dropped to a condemning whisper, “Yaoguai. A demon freak who belongs neither in hell nor on earth. A demon hunted by a demon.”

Taking advantage of Sun’s stunned silence, he continued, “How do I know this, you wish to learn? Twenty-four years ago, a dying soldier was brought into my village. Our Tsoo elders saw he was fated to bind a terrible monster that lusts for death and slaughter.”

“But the soul binding cast by my brethren was interrupted, and the sorcerers killed. With the incantations unfulfilled, the chains that kept this monster from walking among us have been severed. He walks… but he is not free. His spirit is consumed with following the twisted chi that ties him to his immortal warden. For him to truly be free… he must kill the one to whose soul he has been bound. He must hunt his keeper.”

He leaned forward in anticipation, “Do you understand?”

“I understand…” Sun began, his face clouded over, “that it is a mistake to let a Tsoo live. Especially one with the audacity to call ‘fate’ what was done to me.” With a quick motion, the colonel’s sidearm was unholstered and steeled against the prisoner’s forehead.

“I am disappointed in you,” came the downcast reply as the prisoner rose to his feet, “I have been exiled from my clan for reasons you cannot understand at this time… but if you will not listen to my words, then I must leave. Your path will show you your fate.”

“I would say it is presumptuous to speak of leaving when you are my captive, Tsoo. Tham tu.”

“Do not speak to me of presumption, yaoguai.”

Sun took a deep breath. Click.

“Dai Ta!” Trung Si Nguyen pleaded, “The report will be turned in on time! Please don’t shoot Binh Nhat Tran!”

Kai jerked the gun back in shock. Where the exile had been standing in defiance a split second ago, a very terrified Vietnamese soldier quivered in fear. “Where did he go?” Sun demanded.

“Dai Ta, no one else has entered in the past ten minutes.”

Of course. Simply another Tsoo trick. The exile had never been there to begin with. Or had he? The jade talisman that had dangled from the exile’s throat now lay forlorn in the dirt floor. “Damn Tsoo.”

“Sir?”

“Nothing, Trung Si. Dismissed.”

* Translation Notes *
Dai Ta: Senior Colonel
Binh Nhat: Private
Quan Dan Nhat Tri: Unity of Mind, People and Army
Tham Tu: Suicide
Trung Si: Sergeant