Down the Dark Path– by Victor Moore
DISCLAIMER: Marvel owns everyone, except Sakura, Agent Li, and the old woman, they're mine. No money will be made from this. This is for enjoyment purposes only. Yada, Yada, Yada.
In the South China Sea, a small island chain was silhouetted in the moonrise. On the tallest of these, was a structure built into the cliff face. The interior of the jutting rock was hollow. Inside was a central core nearly a thousand feet tall. A series of floating platforms ran the length of the structure. They were sustained by an intricate anti-gravity system, arguably, the best on the planet. Towards the bottom, were the control facilities, and dormitories. The base was known only to a select few. It belonged to the Hand. Twenty members were combating one in the core. They had swords while he had some metal claws seemingly attached to the back of his hands. Leaping from platform to platform, he began to attack the members. This was not a mock combat. Both parties received mortal wounds, but where the members died due to theirs, he did not.
Rubbing his brow, the sharply dressed young Japanese man motioned the young Hand to step forward. Matsuo Tsurayaba, who had be watching the fight with little interest, turned his attention to the newcomer.
"Jonin," the young man said while bowing. He spoke in Japanese.
"Report genin." He recognized the ninja as one of the party that was sent out after the run away, Psylocke.
"My Lord, the renegade was struck a mortal blow. But before senpai could deliver the killing one, he was stopped by three gaijin. He sent me to report back."
"Three foreigners, one girl, and a woman against fifteen genin. And you lost?" He said arching his eyebrow.
"Sir, two were of the American team of the Fantastic Four. The third was a young ninja. Not a member of the hand though, her techniques were different."
"I see. And your brethren?"
"Senpai sent me back, and they covered my escape. They preformed ritual suicide, sir."
"Arigato, genin. See the old one for a full debriefing."
"Sir?" At Matsuo's nod, the young man continued, "am I not allowed to perform the same ritual as my brothers did, now that my task is completed?"
"No. There is no loss in honor for this. The loss would be if you did join them. No, you will honor them by gathering as much information about those three, so that the Hand can pay them back for their interference."
"Domo arigato gozaimasu, my Lord."
As the young ninja started to leave, Matsuo asked him a question. "Mortally wounded, you said. Is she dead?"
"Unknown, sir. Her blood was black, and she did not have much life left in her. But with the advent of the Fantastic Four, it's possible she survived."
After dismissing him, Matsuo looked back into the monitors showing the fight. As he expected, it was over. The single man had won, though two swords were sticking out of him. He would have to get him to rely more on his techniques more than his recuperative powers. "The Fantastic Four…" he thought to himself. Vengeance on them would have to wait, there were too many plans already in motion and much to do, than waste time with them. Maybe in a year or so, but not now.
The ringing of the telephone on the desk interrupted his thoughts. "Yes? Tell him I'll be there in thirty minutes." Sighing, he told himself, "the Master will not be happy with these turn of events. Not happy at all."
"Have you captured the girl yet?" The Mandarin asked in his usual regal tone and in Cantonese. Reaching out to the cup of tea on the low wooden table, light from the ceiling lanterns glanced off the gold rings on all of his fingers. They all had different colored gems of various makes, but somehow it accentuated the green robes trimmed with yellow designs of dragons. "The woman I care not of, but it was a shame to lose the girl. I want her retrieved."
"They have proven to be… elusive, my Lord." Matsuo stated as he watched him carefully. If he gave the wrong answer, he knew he would die. "Already, they have bested over twenty of my people."
"Excuse me, my Lord?"
"That means that she will be more than worthy as one of my subjects." Putting down his tea, and looked at Matsuo perplexed reaction. "Don't worry, you'll capture her in time. But that is for the future. What news is there of your newest assassin? Will he be as good as the telepath you promised me?"
"We ran him trough some easy tests and a few low-key assignments. He has preformed better than expected. In some ways he will be harder to kill than Psylocke, and he is more tenacious."
The Mandarin looked out the window into the elaborate garden below. A statue of a lady had water spilling forth from her raised bucket into the pond surrounding her. The moonlight played on the surface only to be broken occasionally by a fish tail as it glided through the water. "Will he break the condition as the telepath did?"
"No sir. The old ones said that his process was complete. Somehow Psylocke had barriers against total reconstruction of her mind, but he does not."
"Is he ready?"
"Yes, my Lord."
Walking back to the table, he grabbed a manila folder upon it. Handing it to Matsuo, he said, "Recently, my operations have received a serious blow by an old friend of mine. I would like to return the favor."
The young Jonin opened the folder and took out three items. One was a sheet of paper with data typed out on it, and the second was a picture of red haired woman with green eyes. Some freckles dotted her cheeks. The last was a gaudy toy ring like one would find in the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.
"That is the target. She is one of Tony Stark's most entrusted employees. Your assassin has fourteen days. He is to kill her and put that ring on her finger. Have him be neat.
"It will be done as you say, my lord. I have a question though."
"The ring?" As he saw Matsuo nod, he stated, "a calling card. Oh, there is one more thing. When Stark's bodyguard arrives, and he will show up, your assassin is not to kill him. That I shall do when the time comes."
The Mandarin watched the young Jonin leave, as his manservant entered the room with a tray and more tea. It did not matter to him if the assassin succeeded or not. Would the killer follow orders? There was the importance of the assignment. That is why he gave Matsuo this test. He needed to know.
Turning his attention to his manservant, he said, "Ah Li Fong, what would I do without you."
"I shudder to think, my Lord." He refilled his master's cup and stated, "your entertainment has arrived, sir."
Li Fong clapped his hands and a young Chinese woman entered the room. "May I present, Ling Ling."
He eyed her approvingly, but was unsure about her garments. "Again you choose well, Li Fong. But why these clothes and not a more traditional garb of our people?"
"It is called a school uniform for a girl, a 'sailor suit' is the slang for it, I believe. You looked like you were in a domineering mood today, so I had her wear an outfit of the decadent western culture."
"So that I may conquer the west. You know me too well, Li Fong. Excellent choice." He motioned the woman to join him.
The servant closed the doors behind him as he exited the room. He knew he would not see the girl alive again.
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