Life in Interesting Times (Bulletproof's Origin)




So. After some persistent poking, it's finally happened. I guess this might be the closest thing to an 'official' origin for Bulletproof, aka, Brendt Hudson, so darn it, it's gonna be *very* long-winded. The man did live through some very... interesting times. So here we go.



Northern China, 1890s

Master Wu Han, revered emissary of the Forbidden City and the legendary Scholar of Caoxu, was not impressed. He had been sent to educate the barbarians of the far north, to lands where grass was sparse and the climate intolerable. He had left the Forbidden City with promises of a royal escort and a lavish residence upon his arrival. He was greeted by a tired old pony and, when he finally arrived at the site of his 'luxurious manor home', a pile of sticks and clay.

No, yesterday was not at all a good day for Master Wu Han. Yesterday, Master Wu had to complain bitterly about the laziness of barbarians and cobble together his own stick-and-clay shanty. Master Wu fancied himself a learned man, but yesterday, he learned how not to build a house.

Today, Master Wu would have been on the road to yet another neighboring barbarian village in desperate need of his tutelage. Trouble was, there was no road. "Lazy barbarians," complained the renowned imperial scholar to his fat pony. "To think that we have anything to fear from such slovenly, oafish, uneducated-" he paused. Few things could have caused Master Wu to pause in the middle of one of his passionate speeches. And the sound he heard, the sound of a distant song ringing like a bell-charm across the mountains, was one of those few things. In fact, it made Master Wu pause another a moment longer to listen. It was a girl's voice, and though she sung in the barbarian tongue, Master Wu had never heard a song so beautiful and yet so haunting. "I must meet this songbird," Master Wu assured his pony, who wheezed in eager agreement. "So lovely a nightingale must not be wasted on singing barbarian anthems!" And so Master Wu left his pony near the freshest-looking rain puddle he could find and took to the clouds.

In the air, even amid the roaring of wind and clouds, the mountain girl's song was heavenly. It seemed to touch Master Wu even as his Sparrow-strides took him past the highest peaks, across the darkest cloud banks, and it was with him still as he lighted down on a desolate mountain trail leading up from the banks of one of the very few rivers to cross the northern lands. From the air, he had spied the bearer of that voice: a young northerner girl, her hair curled into dark, winsome little braids, her skin tanned and yet not roughened by a life of physical labor. Two large buckets hung from a wooden pole flexed across her shoulders, and in each was the weight of water that could have easily overpowered a girl of her stature. And yet, she continued to haul her burden up the steep mountain slope, singing her song and balancing her water all the while. For just a moment, the sight made Master Wu's heart ache, and he went to greet the girl the only way he knew how: by standing in her way.

The trail was wide enough to accomodate only either Master Wu or the girl and her burden, and so the girl stopped, just as Master Wu expected. However, Master Wu had also expected the girl to lower her eyes and at least make some adorable pretense of stepping aside, perhaps even spilling some of her water in the process. And at that point, Master Wu had expected to use his secret Shadows-over-water technique to rescue her from spilling a single drop. But not everything, of course, came out as Master Wu expected.

The girl did stop, but instead of casting her gaze downward in deference to the Master's superior status, she looked straight at him. The fire in her eyes not only startled Master Wu, but it also made him forget how indignant he had felt mere moments ago. In fact, it even made him forget a good portion of his upcoming lecture on Confucius's analects on feminine propriety. So the girl spoke for him.

"Strange man, you must be blind, and so I must point out that this trail is not wide enough for you to be walking in the middle. Please, step aside and I may lead you to safety."

Master Wu made an attempt at a haughy chortle, but it came out only as a startled gasp. "I humbly beg your pardon, lady," he addressed her in her native dialect. "But I must point out that it is you who is in my way."

The girl looked around, down, up the mountain side, and finally back at him. "These must be strange lands to a strange man like you."

"Oh? Why do you say that?"

"Because only strange men think such strange thoughts."

Master Wu was reminding himself he should be livid, and so he was a little sterner in demanding, "And what do you mean by that?"

"Only a strange man would think that the ways of the mountain belong to anyone else. And so I could not possibly be in 'your' way." She sighed a faint breath of vapor. "I will ask you one more time. Please stand aside so I may return home. You can come along behind me. I will walk slowly and step loudly so an old blind man will not lose himself in the mountain again."

Master Wu could not have seen the sudden look of furious consernation on his own face then, but the girl will treasure the sight for the rest of her life. Master Wu had only managed a garbled imperial curse and an angry "Silly little girl!" before he found her heel planted squarely in his jaw. The blow was an unexpectedly forceful one and it threw the taller man a few paces back, but he caught himself and wiped the dust off his clean-shaven chin. "Blood?" Master Wu did not startle easy, and this was the second time today that he was startled. It was not a good day.

"Humble apologies," the girl had swung herself into a surprisingly graceful fighting stance, bent at the knees and still shouldering the weight of the water buckets. "I had not been able to stop to get that pebble out of my shoe for miles."

The girl obviously knew how to fight. She faced him not with her front but her side and, armed with her heavy burden that she wielded like twin shields, she was virtually unassailable... from the front. Master Wu saw this and literally leapt at the opportunity, soaring into the air above her and planning to plant only the teasing nudge of a foot to the top of her head, where he thought she was vulnerable. Hovering as if standing still in mid-air, he yelled, postured and certainly made an effort to frighten the girl into acknowleding who was the superior martial artist, before launching at her in a full-bore flying kick.

And then the peasant girl, who really must have been more than a foot smaller than the wizened Master in every dimension, did another unexpected thing. In an act that would have required the strength and balance of a skilled warlord three times her size, she hoisted her burden off her shoulders and, with but a flick of her wrist, flung it high above her head. The impromptu pole-and-buckets weapon twisted vertically upward like disembodied helicopter blades before catching the airborne Master Wu completely off-guard. Thankfully, it was the pole and not the weighty water buckets that struck him out of the air. Before he knew it, he was hanging off the mountain side, dazed and clinging onto the girl's outstretched hand as her opposite shoulder cushioned the full weight of the descending pole and its attached water buckets, with naught but a slight bounce to her step. She hadn't lost a single drop of water.

"You know," admitted the suddenly very beleaguered Master Wu. "All I wanted was to hear you sing..."

"You could have asked." Her tiger-shaped eyes gave but the slightest snarl of a glint. "Even barbarian girls respond well to compliments."

"Well... Perhaps I am but a strange man, with strange ways."