Flash Fiction: The Path of Crows – A Kung Fu Fable
The boy’s sorrow was a mask and buried deep within his glossy eyes were the smoldering embers of vengeance. Zhang, the old teashop owner, pitied him.
“You’re not here for tea leaves,” Zhang said.
The boy shook his head. “I am Wu. I ask for your help.”
Zhang sighed. “I can only help in recommending tea leaves.” He gestured for the boy to sit at and old wooden table where a ceramic pot and two cups rested. He poured steaming tea for both of them and offered one cup to Wu.
“Meaningful discussions should always occur over tea,” Zhang said. “For tea is symbolic of wisdom and patience.” Wu took the tea graciously and drank as Zhang nodded with approval.
“Now, tell me why you’re here,” Zhang said.
“Ten years ago, you were the master of Wing Chun School of Martial Arts, the most respected school in the country. One night, one of your students offended the Bandit King so he and his disciples murdered everyone in your school while you were away,” Wu said. “You hunted and killed both the Bandit King and his disciples, avenging your pupils and your honor.”
“Ancient history,” Zhang said.
“Help me with my vengeance,” Wu said. “I seek to avenge my father from a villain as vile as the Bandit King.”
“Revenge is the thief of one’s humanity, and because of this I cannot help you.”
“That is cruelty,” Wu said. “Why should you be the only one allowed the gift of revenge?”
Zhang set his cup down and closed his eyes before finally speaking. “I shall tell you my story, and if your desire for vengeance still burns like the sun, I’ll help you.”
Wu nodded and the teashop owner began his tale.
“My students were butchered, bodies scattered in a river of blood. I drank in that horrible scene and cursed the god that I loved for abandoning my students. Instead, I turned to the forbidden god of vengeance and prayed for the means to avenge the dead. The dark god heard my prayers and in a dream, I was instructed to follow the Path of Crows and kill everyone I met on this path, for they were the disciples of the Bandit King.
I awoke to the sounds of a crow, cawing outside my window sill. As I approached it, the bird flew away, but I followed those dark ominous wings until it led me to a path where dozens of the black birds lined the sides of it, all eyes watching me.
The Path of Crows.
I walked for five days along the path in solitude, stopping only for food, water, and rest. Whenever I came upon a fork in the road, it was the crows that were my compass. I surrendered my faith to these winged omens as they led me to my first encounter.”
“The Red Gambler,” Wu said. “The tales of the fight are legendary; an epic battle lasting three days and nights.”
“Three minutes,” Zhang said. “He failed to hit me with his Palm of Eternal Bad Luck and I countered with an elbow to his jaw, shattering it.”
“What was the name of your move?”
“An elbow-to-the-jaw. Naming a move is foolish vanity,” Zhang said. “The Red Gambler was defeated and begging for mercy while pleading his innocence. I stained the path red with his blood.
After his death, more crows joined the flock, their black eyes fixated on me as I cleaned the blood off my hands.
When I was done, they led me deeper down the dark road. For six months I walked with only the company of birds and enemies.
Every time I came across someone, I killed them, and like the Red Gambler, they too professed their innocence and begged for mercy. Ten men died by my hands, including infamous warriors such as Iron Claw, Jade Scorpion, and Brass Foot. I became an avatar for the god of vengeance, killing all along the path he had shown me. Each death drew me closer to the Bandit King, but also brought more crows to the flock until the shadow of their wings eclipsed the sun and the sky. I was covered in darkness.
The path ended at the home of the Bandit King, where I stood outside, screaming his name and challenging him to a fight to the death.
He never came.
It wasn’t until an hour later that a young girl, his daughter, came out of the house and led me to the back of the home. She pointed to a mound of dirt and a headstone — the Bandit King’s grave.
He had died of pneumonia months ago. I cursed the heavens for robbing me of my revenge. When I told the girl that I had killed ten of his disciples, what she said haunts me to this day.
‘He only had two disciples.’
When I left the house, I saw thousands of crows standing before me and they were making such a terrible sound. It took me a while to realize that they were all laughing; as if the corruption of my humanity was a twisted joke.
The god of vengeance had fooled me into murdering innocent men — good men — and in my quest for revenge, I lost both my honor and my soul.
I often wonder how long it is before someone walks along another path paved by the god of vengeance that leads straight to me?
That is the Path of Crows. When one path ends, another begins.
“And this brings me back to you,” Zhang said as he looked Wu in the eyes. “You’ve come under false pretences.”
“Yes,” Wu replied.
“I will not ask you to spare my life. I deserve no such mercy. But tell me, what path has he led you down?”
Wu replied with sadness in his voice. “My path is filled with the tears of ghosts and decaying tea leaves.”
Thanks to http://terribleminds.com/ for hosting the flash fiction contest! My requirements were Wuxia, revenge, and a vengeful god.
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