Here’s a new fanfic piece I wrote for a holiday competition. Warning: Disturbing Imagery Ahead. You may never hear Christmas carols the same way again…
A Tale of Mi’s Cross Past
His name was Niku. To his father, he was Niku Laos. To the villagers, he was Sinan Niku. To his victims, he was a nameless dread.
He had a simple assignment. King Mi of the Shojan province had hired him to eliminate his enemies. Niku had twelve nights to end the reigns of twelve kings. He was to send a message to twelve princes that they would not force the hand of Mi, or else they would suffer the same fate as their misguided fathers.
The price? A handsome sum. Though not gold, in this harsh winter, it was as valuable. The children of Sinanju would not go cold this season–not on Niku’s watch.
The First Night
Quietly, Niku sneaked past the guards at the gate, practically walking directly between them with such stealth that they never knew the night air had been pierced. Crossing the courtyard, he paused to admire the orchard in its splendor, particularly the pear trees. He was surprised to see that somehow the king’s servants had managed to keep them blossoming well past their season.
Silently, he passed among the trees, stepping into the inner courtyard. Gliding from statue to statue, he sneaked past each of the guards on patrol. Methodically, he made his way to the king’s bedchamber.
Gently, he pulled the covers over the king’s sleeping concubine, sneering at her unfortunate figure.
“Why, she could hardly bear him six children with those thin hips!” he thought to himself.
With one motion, the master pulled on the king’s hair, flipping him onto his back, and poked him sternly in the center of his chest, paralyzing him from the neck down.
“You have offended King Mi. Your death will serve as an example for your son’s life,” whispered the master, pulling a small bird from the green velvet pouch hanging about his waist.
Terrified, the king stared, wide-eyed, as the master stuffed the bird into his mouth. As he gasped for air, he watched in horror as the master produced a length of red ribbon. The last thing he saw was the man in the white trimmed, red kimono, chuckling to himself, “ho, ho, ho.”
The next morning, the prince recoiled in exasperated terror as he made his daily tour of the orchard. There, hanging neatly from the branches of the ornamental pear tree hung the shocked face of his father, the king.
The Second Night
The king of the Ning-Pong Provence was known throughout the land as a great lover of birds. His aviary was talked about throughout the neighboring kingdoms with great envy and admiration.
Niku stole silently into the king’s aviary, hiding among the cages. Patiently, he sat, waiting for evening, when he knew the king would personally inspect the cages.
On schedule, the king entered the hall, telling his guards to wait outside. He liked to talk to his birds, but feared that if word got out, his subjects might lose faith in his leadership.
Niku gently reached up, flicking open the latch on the cage holding the king’s most prized possession.
Startled, the king fell over avoiding the escaping turtledoves. As he craned his neck, following the escapees, his eyes fell on the smiling, bearded face of the fabled master of Sinanju.
He knew his time on earth was over.
The master chuckled to himself as he pushed the dying man backward into the cage. He smiled at the thought that the king’s heart had done his work for him.
The prince was summoned only fifteen minutes later, when the guards realized they had been infiltrated. Understanding the message, he summoned the royal accountants immediately, to begin arranging a tribute for King Mi.
The Third Night
Niku strolled right through the city gates of the capitol city of the Kang Chow Province, nodding to the guards as he walked past them.
It was the time of the two week festival of the solstice, and the very liberal king had declared it a time of extravagant excess.
There were vendors on every corner handing out fireworks and rice. As a gesture of obscene wealth, there were royal guards on hand distributing hens, imported at great expense, from France. Everyone in the kingdom would eat well tonight.
Everyone but the king.
Niku grabbed three hens, on his way to the square, where the king was scheduled to address the cheerful crowd.
Unable to see over the heads of the gathering throng, the master climbed to the top of a nearby awning, his kimono blending nicely with the silk fabric of the shade.
As the king stepped up to make his announcement of good faith, he felt the cold stare of ill-intent. Scanning the horizon, he locked eyes with the bearded assassin.
“Surely, he will not strike in such a public place!” thought the king.
He thought wrong.
Nearly two thousand people stared in wonder as, out of nowhere, three dead, plucked birds flew over their heads, and straight into the king’s mouth.
He fell dead, collapsing into the arms of his only son, who looked out above the crowd, and nodded in understanding.
The Fourth Night
As fond of birds as the second king had been, the king of the Ning Province, was every bit as afraid of the feathered beasts.
Niku had done business with the king in the past, and used his relationship to gain an audience with the king.
“Sinan, my old friend, what brings you here?” smiled the nervous king.
“You know why I have been sent.”
“So, how shall it be done?”
“The House still owes you a service. I will allow you to choose the method of your dispatch, as a completion of our debt to you.”
“Hmmm…” pondered the king, stroking his chin, “I think I should like to go in my sleep.”
“You know, as a stipulation of my contract with Mi, I must instill terror in your heart upon your death.”
“Of course, try your best, now that I know what’s coming, it will no doubt be a great challenge to you.”
“We shall see.”
The next morning, the prince was startled by the sound of four nightingales singing in perfect harmony echoing from his father’s chambers. He broke down the door, rushing into the room to find his father hanging from the rafters, his hands clasped to his ears. In his pocket, was a note that read, “No more.”
The Fifth Night
Everyone knew the king of the Hunin province to be full of greed and lust. One of his favorite pastimes was to parade through the streets of the poorer regions of his kingdom, escorted by a full regiment of highly trained soldiers, bedecked in gold and jade armor.
On his left hand, he wore five rings of gold, each representing an heir.
Foolishly, the king preferred to dine alone.
His last meal was his own severed hand. It had been curled into a fist, and arranged neatly in his mouth, wrist first, so that the golden grin sparkled a somber warning to the sons of the corrupt leader.
The Sixth Night
The king of the Nigon Chi Province had made his fortune on the backs of his farmers, and was known throughout the world for his vast expanses of livestock, representing every variety. The most amazing accomplishment was his huge flock of geese. Eggs from his geese were considered to be unequaled in size, or quality throughout the land.
Niku slipped past the royal guard, and startled the king as he began his afternoon inspection of the pens.
The guards came running as the heard the geese calling out “HEN-RY! HENN-RY MAR-SHA! MAR-SHA!”
What they saw would haunt them to the end of their days.
The king lie on the ground, six black heads protruding through his chest, his body shook as the wings of the still living birds beat underneath him, struggling to break free.
The guards quickly cut the throats of the birds, trying to save what little dignity the king had left. As they rolled his body over to extract the birds, they noticed the golden puddle he lie in. He had been killed by birds who were in the process of laying eggs. This deliberate message was quickly relayed to the prince, who knew what he must do.
The Seventh Night
The king of the Chin Chin Province was a lover of great beauty. He had paintings from the greatest masters, statues by the greatest sculptors, and a library stocked with the greatest poetry in the world. His concubines were revered the world over for their exquisite beauty. He had separate ponds on either end of his courtyard, one reserved for the most beautiful Koi from the kingdom’s river, and the other was home to his fleet of swans.
The master arrived early in the morning, perching in a cherry tree. He sat quietly watching the swans swim gracefully to and fro, and contemplated his challenge.
As a matter of respect, Master Laos would attempt to make this his most beautiful dispatch ever. To a master of Sinanju, killing was an art, and each kill bore the signature of the artist. Niku considered this at great length and devised a plan.
This king had grown old and feeble. Every day at dusk he would be carried out to the eastern end of the courtyard, where he would watch his swans and meditate on their beauty. Some suspected that his love for the creatures extended well beyond nature’s intent.
Waving his attendants away, the king leaned back in his seat.
He noticed that his swans were swimming in an unusual pattern, making wide circles, and purposely avoiding a particular spot in the middle of the pond.
The king strained his eyes in the fading light to see what lie just beneath the surface of the water.
He raised himself up, leaning on his walking stick. He edged ever closer to the pond, peering at his reflection.
Startled he tried to call to the guards for help, but the surface of the water was broken by a hand grasping his throat.
Silently, he was pulled into the water, where his son found him later that evening, seven swans circling him in gentle, wide arcs.
The Eighth Night
Second only to the Nigon Chi Province, were the stockyards of the Lao Poi Province, known for their dairy goats.
Every day, the royal virgins would descend from the monastery and drain the goats of their life-giving fluids.
The king had grown accustomed to making a show of having his guards pour the milk out onto the streets in front of the starving children of his land.
Niku met this challenge with the greatest of ease. He quietly stole into the king’s bedchamber, where he found the man lying alone in a drunken stupor. Wrapping him in the obsidian silk bedsheets, he made his way through the house, stealing his way from corridor to corridor, with the limp, sleeping man draped over his shoulder.
Sneaking into the dairy, he eased the parcel into the milk tanks, the sudden moisture caused the slumbering drunkard to jerk awake. His eyes filled with terror as his lungs filled with the souring milk of his tyranny.
The next day, the daughters summoned the prince, who promptly had the tanks drained along with the royal coffers.
The Ninth Night
Born on the Winter Solstice, the king of the Phai Ling Province used the holiday as an excuse to hold a grand feast, inviting only the most wealthy of his landlords, and the most beautiful of their daughters. A man of great lusts, he had devoted his life to experiencing all of life’s pleasures, and he was known for destroying anything that interfered with those desires.
He had recently had nine of his best guards “retired” so that he could claim their daughters as his own, intending to experience their treasures, only to pass them on to his nine sons as gifts on their eighteenth birthdays–just as his father had done.
As part of the celebration, he had arranged to have his adopted daughters provide entertainment in the form of poetic dance. He had spared no expense in their training, and their exquisite dresses were laced with the finest gold fibers in the east.
Midway through their dance, there was a commotion from within the crowd.
A small Korean with a long wispy white beard stepped through the crowd and onto the stage. Throwing his arms out to his sides, his white-trimmed kimono glistened with glory as he spun about on his toe. Thinking it some unannounced surprise, the dancers widened their spacing, giving the new dancer room to perform.
The old man gracefully glided around each of the dancers, plucking a single ivory pin from each of their tresses, causing their hair to fall gently, framing their faces as they sashayed around the stage.
No one noticed as the king gasped in silence, an ivory pin piercing his vocal chords.
They also failed to notice as his scarlet robe turned three shades darker, eight ivory dragon heads peering out of the centers of the eight red chrysanthemums that adorned his coat.
Everyone also failed to notice the mystery dancer slipping off the stage amidst the screams of the distraught prince, who sat cradling his father’s head.
The Tenth Night
The king of the Ru Do Province had heard news of his contemporaries’ unfortunate demise, and so he called forth his finest guards, selecting only those with the highest rank. As a reward for their loyalty, he promised each a parcel of land, and stewardship of his finest homes. Each of the ten houses sat perched atop a peak of the ten hills surrounding the royal palace.
He settled into his bed with his mind at ease, dreaming of flying among the clouds. As he skipped from mountain top to mountain top, high above the bamboo forest, he sought the Monkey King. Leaping from peak to peak, he called out to the Monkey King, laughing with glee at his new found gift of flight.
Far off in the distance, he saw a figure playfully waving. Reaching out, he stared in awe as his body rushed through air, drawn to the figure by some invisible force.
Coming to a sudden stop in front of the shadowed figure, he cried out, “Monkey King, is that you?”
“No,” said Sinan Laos, “it is not.”
“What is the meaning of this?” cried the king, waking suddenly.
“You will atone for your sins,” whispered the master, fading into the night.
When the servants of the ten lords found their masters missing, they sent runners to the royal palace to inquire about the king’s safety.
The royal servants found his highness buried underneath the splattered remains of their lords, crushed by the bodies as they crashed through his ceiling from on high.
The Eleventh Night
Growing weary from his travels, Master Niku contemplated his next task. He knew that the king of the Phi Khan Tao Province was a great lover of music, often enjoying the playing of the eleven greatest flute players in the world. He also knew that the king was a champion of science.
Niku contemplated the notion of the king’s new irrigation system, and wondered if laying pipe would help the people of his village.
“Bah, we are on the coast, why would we need more water?” thought the master.
It was the king’s custom to stand on the bridge high above the royal capitol and observe his pipe layers far below as they labored over the process of creating channels leading to the eleven major cities of the kingdom.
As he looked on with awe at his own accomplishment, he waved for the royal band to begin playing their flutes.
Always at the ready, his pipers raised their instruments. Looking onward, they began a rousing rendition of his favorite tune, “The Twelve Flowers of Spring.”
Just as they reached the climax of the piece, the rope bridge tremored slightly, causing the king to lose his balance and fall forward toward the sagging rail. Leaning over the edge and grasping for safety, he gawked in fear at the sharp edges of the pipes that stared up at him below.
Niku watched in amusement at the show that was playing out before him. He began to ease out onto the bridge, fully intending to pierce the skull of the king with his fingernail, when suddenly, to his surprise, the eleven musicians rushed the king, flinging him over the edge.
“What are you doing!?!” shrieked the master as the king plummeted to his death.
“We grow weary playing these same children’s tunes, day-in-day-out,” replied the troupe, in unison.
Angered at being denied his glory, the master swiftly swiped at the ropes on either side with his outstretched fingers.
It is said that the princes of the province learned of their father’s death by the gentle whistle of his pipers as they followed him to the grave.
The Twelfth Night
The king of the Nor Po Province build his royal house on an island in a lake three miles wide. The lake lie dead center in the middle of his twelve regions. Leading from the lake were twelve roads, each going to the major city of each region. At the start of each of these roads was a large drum, fifty feet across and two miles deep. They served as an early warning system throughout the kingdom.
Every day, the king would have the guards strike each of the drums once, in five minute intervals until they had all been sounded. This was a test to ensure their functioning properly.
Niku watched for a full hour as the drummers played their tune, noticing the ripples in the water surrounding the island.
The will of man is weakest when his life is in danger. Master Laos used this to his advantage. It took surprisingly little coercion to convince the drummers that it would be in their best interest to strike the drums in unison at sunset, twelve times.
As Niku sat on the shore, he stared intently, focusing his eyes on the front step of the royal house. In the golden light of the setting sun, he watched as the king ran onto the lawn, waving his arms frantically at the music that rumbled around him.
With each stroke of the drums, the waves reached higher into the air, ripping apart the small island.
Niku silently nodded to the prince who had appeared at his side to watch his father be torn asunder by the crashing torrent.
“Who?” inquired the prince.
“Mi,” replied the nameless dread, slipping off into the night.
The Thirteenth Night
“It is done,” said the master.
“So it is,” replied the emperor, waving his hand, signaling the men to bring in the bags.
The master hefted the twelve bags onto his shoulders, and stopped short in his tracks.
“One of these is short.”
“Surely you cannot be serious.”
“When it comes to the children of Sinanju, I do not jest,” hissed the master, his cheeks matching his ruby red coat.
“I have no ide–” sputtered the emperor, the life draining from his body.
The emperor looked down, to see a lump of black coal embedded into his chest. Looking up at his attacker, the last thing he heard was, “Never cheat Sinanju!”
The new emperor looked on from the shadows, tossing the missing lump of coal to the master, plus two more to cover the ones used as missiles.
“Thank you for your services, Master.”
“Thank me when you are outbid,” muttered the master, slipping into the night.