The Turk Files

File 1 ~ Tseng

while dreaming of peace
storms come with softly harsh winds
destinies must change

Part 1

The Monastery of Kami-te, Fourth Aspect, She known only as War to the uninitiated, Wutai

The southern region of Wutai was still fertile, even after the destruction of the protracted war with the Shin-Ra Corporation, a war in which Wutai had come a painful second. Tseng sat back on his heels, not bothering to wipe dark soil from his hands as he enjoyed the breeze on his bare chest and face. He smiled, for the breeze brought with it a sharp tang, and yet a gentle warmth; the promise of light spring rains.

Early, he thought, smiling his thanks to the young initiate who handed him a ladle of water from a cane bucket. The nectarines, of course, were late-season flowerers, but even the early plums, their branches gnarled with age, had not yet budded.

This time of year was definitely verging on his favourite, given a couple of weeks and a slightly warmer temperature. Once the buds appeared and the bees started humming around the fruit blossoms, the days went by in meaningful routine, made ever more pleasant by the thrum of life. The onset of winter, on the other hand, simply made Tseng sad. Death may have been his business; his religious life, and that of his Order; but it was not his love. His heart beat for a warmer time of year.

The monastery garden, full of elderly fruit trees and willows bent by time, wind and sun over fish ponds crossed by bamboo bridges edged with oak and cedar, had always been a place of peace to him, even as he learned the Arts of Kami-te, Goddess of War and the Fourth Aspect of the Five Gods. Despite being a city boy by birth, "meaningful routine" suited Tseng just fine. Yet, occasionally, he could not shake the niggling sensation that something was missing.

He didn't think of that often, though. Mostly, he followed his routine: work, training and meditation, strictly formal and carefully familiar. It was a great blessing to live without doubt.

Speaking of meditation... Tseng didn't need to hear the soft gong of the mid-afternoon bell to know it was time to go to the dojo to do just that. He'd been a part of the Order since he was five years old. He could continue the daily routine in a soundproofed dark room with no idea what time it was. He smiled briefly. Not that he would enjoy that, at all. He was not fond of the dark. It was silliness, he knew, and he had spent many nights working on his fear; meditating on it and looking to subject it to his own will and that of Kami-te's; but he had never been able to fully banish it.

Perhaps, today, he would be able to fathom why. Or, perhaps not. It was of no matter. It had never affected him so badly that he had not been able to complete jobs for the Order, during and after the War. He could do without the bother, however. Energy spent dealing with fear--minor though it was--could then be used elsewhere.

Either way, there was no rush. Now that the war with Shin-Ra was done, Tseng imagined that missions outside the monastery would be few and far between. He would not be needed for anything other than heavy lifting, some gardening and to teach the initiates in the dojo.

At least, in theory. Tseng was not so naïve as to believe that Shin-Ra's alleged victory spelled the end of the uncertainty, and Jorani, the Head of his Order, was not known for her ability to stay out of politics. Not that Tseng was prepared to crticise her for that, even privately. It was, after all, a large part of her role within Wutai society, to be quietly, secretly political. Shin-Ra would not--could not--change that, no matter what dispensations Godo had delivered. What those were, Tseng had no idea; he was not high enough to know. He did not dwell on this, however. Curiosity was not in his nature, and he had always known he was not built for leadership. He simply did what he was told, when he was told to do it, and felt no rancour at the concept. It made life easier.

It did. Resentment was a waste of time.

Something... he paused in the act of washing his hands at one of the outside washbasins, before continuing what he was doing. There it was again... Tseng could never catch whoever it was at it, but he knew. He'd been in the business of Death long enough to know when he was being watched.

Whoever it was, they were good. He flicked his hands of excess water, irritated. If this was a training exercise, it was hardly necessary. And if it wasn't... well, that was something he wasn't going to tolerate further. Two hours of pretending he couldn't feel the hairs on the back of his neck rise in warning was enough.

Of course, if it was an exercise, he may very well have failed it, he thought ruefully. He didn't think it was, though. It was probably just Niate, trying to get a rise out of him. He'd never understood why his parents had sent her to the Order when they'd already given him; it made no sense. He smiled, then. She was still an Initiate, barely sixteen years old, and she did like to take advantage of their familial relationship to tease him, knowing that there would be no repercussions.

Hm. That would have to change. She wasn't taking her training seriously, and if she didn't start doing so, there would come a time when her nonchalance would get her--or someone else--killed.

Either way, he tired of the game. Cupping his hands under the flowtap at the basin, he filled them with water, splashing his face, then turned to where he thought the person would be standing, fully expecting to see Niate's teasing face, her tongue stuck out at him.

Instead, he met a pair of deep, startlingly green eyes. Jade green, in a world of brown, dark brown and ebony.

Wait. I know you...

No. No, he didn't. And yet, the air was very still, so Tseng stood quietly, watching; waiting for the moment to pass.

It was only then that he realised that it never would.



Tseng opened his eyes, recognising Jorani's voice. She was probably there to chide him for being out of his bed past the time he should have been in it. He suppressed a sigh--he did not want to explain that he could not, yet again, sleep. He raised himself up from his knees, carefully placing his incense in a holder in front of the Da-Chao Statue intended to represent Kami-te.

He bowed to her. "Jorani-te-ko," he said, formally. It was only then that Tseng noticed that she wasn't alone. She had with her a man, of a height with Tseng, dressed in the same robes Tseng was wearing. He was not someone Tseng knew. Except... he felt his spine tingle, knowingly. Tseng said nothing, however, instead waiting for the Head to speak.

"You have been without a Soul Kin since the death of Shun. It has been too long. I have come to remedy this."

Tseng inclined his head, keeping his face carefully neutral. Jorani had made it very, very clear that she blamed Tseng for Shun's death, and he had presumed the long months without a Spirit Mentor had been intentional... that he, simply, did not deserve another.

Tseng knew her blame of him was not fair, but he could not fault her for it. She only had his word that he had not intended to get her brother killed. Shun had been the last family left to her after the war. Tseng knew that he could not possibly grieve Shun more than she did, and yet, it was so.

Perhaps he did blame himself, somewhat.

He pushed all thoughts of Shun out of his mind, for now, and concentrated on the young man--they were of an age--in front of him. The man who would be his new partner, in matters spiritual and practical. The man who he would need to trust; to learn to trust; with his life, and his secrets. The man who would have to trust him, from that moment until the day one of them died.

The man with the jade green eyes.

The man with the jade green eyes who was talking to him, now. Once again, Tseng had to force himself to pay attention, but he missed the greeting.

"--has come to us recently from the field of silent battle," Jorani was saying. "He is also in need of a new Spirit Mentor, and shall not be... in danger... from one such as you."

Tseng allowed himself a frown. Danger? Could she really think that of him?

The man's eyes watched him steadily. "Perhaps... tea?" His voice was low, quiet... a balm on the ragged wound of knowing the worst of one's own faults. He turned and bowed lightly to Jorani. "Many thanks, Jorani-te-ko," he said. Tseng noted that, while the man's farewell was, strictly speaking, formally correct, it was a clear dismissal. And the lighter bow showed more than an ounce of contempt, although it was done subtly enough that Jorani appeared not to notice.

Tseng could not help but wonder how a simple monk, such as he, could be so... superior... to his Head. What was his name? What had Jorani said? Keiichi. That was it.

Keiichi turned to Tseng, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "Now, with that noise taken care of, shall we?"

"It is very late, Keiichi. I would be happy to wait until the morning, if you would like." Tseng found himself savouring the name. Kei-i-chi.

"Not at all."

Tseng smiled, carefully. "Then I hope you will allow me..."

"Of course."

Tseng led Keiichi away from the Da-Chao, through the practice dojo and along the path that lay adjacent to the fields. The night had fallen damply, bringing with it a green, mossy scent. The first Spring crickets were starting their calls, and they sang in concert with the crunch of gravel as he and Keiichi walked down the path to the tea rooms.

There was always boiling water available, so it did not take Tseng long to make them a small pot of light, almost tasteless tea.

Tseng put the pot and two small cups on a low table and invited Keiichi to kneel on one side of the table, as he took the other. Then... he didn't know what to say. What is wrong with you? He didn't answer himself, of course. Instead, he sat quietly, inhaling the sweet, gentle aroma from the tea.

Keiichi took a mouthful and nodded appreciatively. "Tell me of yourself." His voice carried with it a subtle aura of command, and yet, Tseng knew that answering the question was entirely optional.

He wanted to, though, even though, "there's not much to say. I am very unimportant here, and have led an uneventful life."

"I am sure that there is a lot more than you think. Many would say that the missions you completed during the war count as 'eventful'."

Tseng steadied his mind, determined not to give in to this... thing... that he did not understand. "No more than any of the others here, like me. I am, simply, who I am; no different from you, I suspect."

"'We are none of us the same, and yet, all alike'."

"That is so."

"It is the part of you that is not the same I am interested in."

Interested in? Tseng was momentarily confused. No, that was not what Keiichi meant. As Tseng's new Spirit Mentor, the other man simply needed something to work with. Tseng supposed it went both ways. Yet, he could not think of a single thing to say; a single thing that he could imagine Keiichi would be remotely interested in.

Keiichi's gaze was steady. "Perhaps it will be easier if I go first?"

Tseng nodded, relieved. "I would very much like to hear of you." Very much? Improper. Calm yourself.

"I was a warrior in the Wutai conflict, just as you were. We have more in common there, than not."

Tseng sipped his tea, frowning momentarily. "It occurs to me to wonder why we have not met before."

Keiichi smiled. "Does it?"

"Of course it does. We are of the same Order. I know everyone here. Yet, I have never seen you before. Why is that?"

Keiichi stayed silent, an eyebrow raised.

"You are not going to answer me, are you." It wasn't really a question.

"Perhaps I will. It just remains for you to ask the right questions, Tseng."

It was the first time Keiichi said Tseng's name, and it reverberated through Tseng like a wind through bamboo. He sighed, lightly. Clearly, questioning further at this time would do him no good. "What of us differs, then, Keiichi?"

Keiichi watched Tseng for some moments, his face thoughtful. "Only those things... those moments... we hide in the dark," he finally said.

Tseng snorted.

"You disagree?"

Tseng blinked. "I apologise, Askaya. That was rude of me."

Keiichi shook his head. "It is of no consequence. What is it?"

"It is simply..." Tseng paused, unsure of how to proceed. "I do not trust in the dark. It... bothers me."

"Why is that?"

"I do not know." Tseng dropped his gaze, ashamed. "Perhaps it is only that I fear to die."

"You do not strike me as a man who is afraid of something as insignificant as death."

"Isn't that the basis of all fear?"

Keiichi inclined his head thoughtfully. "Perhaps. Some, I feel, fear to live."

Tseng considered that, carefully, for a moment. "I do not feel that is the case."

"Do you not?" Keiichi leaned forward slightly, his face intent. "Are you safe here?"

Tseng didn't understand where Keiichi was leading him with the question, but he decided to follow. "As safe as I can be, given anyone's life, I suppose."

Keiichi's eyes glinted, like Tseng had walked into some sort of a trap. "Ah. But is your safety your most important priority?"

"I have risked death, greeted death, many times."

"That is not an answer."

Tseng lifted his chin, indignant. "If I am called to serve by my death, I will go."

"As I said. You are not a man who fears that end. But if you are called to live, will you do that also?"

Tseng frowned. "I already live. My life is devoted to Her."

"You are happy here?"

"I... am." It was only a small hesitation, but Tseng knew Keiichi heard it by the way his eyes narrowed.

"There. You follow. You do not live."

"I live. We are called to follow."

"We are called to embrace all life, including the Night. If we cannot do that, then we do not live."

The Night. He meant the Second Aspect of the Five Gods, of course. Nothing to do with them. Tseng shook his head slowly, his irritation growing. "I am not sure I understand," he said as patiently as he was able. He did not like not understanding. Why was this man being so cryptic? What purpose did it serve? None, at all, as far as Tseng could tell. "What amuses you?" This said with less patience as Keiichi smiled broadly.

"When you are annoyed you suck on your back teeth."

"I do not," Tseng snapped back without thinking, before he—oh. He did do that.

Keiichi's amusement travelled to his eyes, lighting up his face as he leaned back onto his heels. He did not reply. There was, apparently, no need.

To his shame, Tseng felt a further surge of annoyance before he willed it gone. He inclined his head with a smile, acknowledging his fault. "So, this, then, is my task? Learning patience?"

"Apparently so."

"What, then, is yours?"

Keiichi did not answer for such a long moment that it made Tseng feel like the timing was calculated. "Who convinced you that you were not fit to lead?"

The question was so unexpected that Tseng blinked, unsure what to say.

"You, in all likelihood, will sort out your own patience without any assistance from me." Keiichi unfolded his legs, stood and donned his kimono in one smooth movement. "I have enjoyed our talk today, Tseng. I will see you at the same time tomorrow." He bowed, then left.

Tseng did not watch him go, instead staring at the teacups in front of him, perplexed that his question had not been answered. And yet... yet. Beyond any seeming capability of his own to control it, Tseng wanted to know more of this man.

Perhaps curiosity was in his nature, after all.

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