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Avengers Infinite Wars Chapter 82: Ta Lo
Tony ran over to a nearby trash can, upchucking his lunch, a number of glowing symbols on his armor subsiding.
"What the hell happened just now?" Hector Ayala asked, feeling none too good himself, staggering where he stood. Like Tony, he also had symbols on him that faded seconds later.
The White Tiger looked over to see the rest of the Avengers team all showing signs of disorientation. They too had the same markings, all lifting off their bodies and dissolving into particles.
"Phew, that was a close one."
The Avengers all turned their heads towards the three Sorcerers who looked a bit winded, arms lowering with their usual magical spells dissipating.
"Is that all of them?" Wong questioned, appearing a bit winded.
Strange did a quick sweep of the team, nodding with a relieved sigh. "Yeah, all of us are accounted for."
"What was that just now?" Walters asked, feeling a bit woozy, having even reverted back to her normal state.
"Banishment spell." Wong revealed. "It would have sent us scattering across the Earth had we not acted."
"Too powerful to counter but at least we were able to make sure that we all were together and sent to a place we know." Strange tacked on, flicking his hands. "Does a number on your arms for some reason."
"Least we got back in one piece." Iron Man grumbled, plucking a tissue from a tissue box on the table in the room they were teleported into to wipe his mouth. "I need some mouthwash."
Before any mouthwash could be retrieved or any further comments made, several groans were heard coming from voices the team wasn't familiar with.
Earth's Mightiest Heroes soon turned towards three individuals that they sorta recognized but didn't really have a clue as to who they were.
"Wait, who are these three?" The Immortal Iron Fist asked, looking at Xu Shang-Chi, Xu Xialing and Katy Chen -who were still coming to- arrive with the Avengers.
"They," Karl Mordo stepped forward, "were asked to be brought here. Well… she specifically -with the Dijiang- asked me to bring them along."
"Dijiang." Mordo repeated with more emphasis on the syllables. "An ancient creature from Chinese culture.
"And what's that?" Clint asked, eyeing the trio who were now just realizing who they were in front of.
"That." The master of the Mystic Arts simply said, pointing at the multi-winged and limbed creature lying beside Katy.
"What the fuck is that?!" Jen nearly screeched, almost jumping back.
The others immediately looked over, seeing a big ball of fur on the ground. It soon got onto its feet and-
"Where's its head?!" Hector asked in alarm, hand on his own head.
"Que Carajo!" Robbie swore, hand reaching for his chain.
"A Dijiang." Wong said in slight wonder. "I never thought I would see one in person."
"Whoa." Shang-Chi whispered, almost not believing who he was looking at.
"Alright." Stark gave Mordo a pointed look. "Before we get to the thousand questions we all have, mind telling us why ya brought them back with us Karl?"
"That is what I would like to know." The Mystic admitted. "I know not who these three are but this young woman here told me they wanted to escape from their clutches."
"Y-Yeah." Katy was the first to speak up, feeling a bit wobbly as she stood to her feet. "It's a bit of a long story but we wanted to get out of there cause well… Shaun, help me out here."
"Huh?" Was his dumb response. "Why me?"
"Come on." She said, feeling rather intimidated to be in the presence of so many heroes. "I can't do this alone."
"This was your idea." Xialing quietly said, eyeing Earth's Mightiest Heroes with trepidation.
Taking a nervous gulp, Katy gave the Avengers her best-disarming smile, holding Morris in her arms for comfort.
"Uh, ok, look, ya see… um…" Chen felt herself cringing at her stumble of words, her mind and mouth unable to coalesce into a cohesive manner. "We uh… we were, or kinda not and… I uh…"
She could only laugh weakly after her fumbling of an explanation.
"Ok." Strange gave her a pointed look. "Just take a moment, we're not gonna hurt ya or get upset or angry or whatever. Mordo wouldn't have helped you otherwise. Just, tell us the deal with you guys here."
"Right." Shang-Chi spoke up, coughing into his hand to try to ease his nerves. "Ok, so, uh… I'm Xu Shang-Chi, this is Katy and this is my sister Xialing. We are or were in this case, going to help our father go into Ta Lo."
"Your father." Tony repeated. "And him being?"
Shang-Chi let out a defeated sigh, hands running down his face.
"Xu Wenwu, founder and leader of the Ten Rings." He revealed. "The Mandarin, Immortal Khan, all those annoying, stupid titles."
The Avengers were tense now, eyeing them warily.
All but Tony, who held a more neutral expression on his face, walking forward to stand in front of Shaun who was now nervous at the hard gaze the Avenger was giving him.
Without warning, Stark clapped the younger man on the shoulder, an easygoing smirk on display.
"Daddy issues huh? Yeah, well, what else is new? We've all been there at some point. Some more than others." The Avenger remarked, lightly shaking the man. "Come on, bet you three have a lot to tell us, huh?"
"Uh… what?" Was Shaun's response, one echoed in the mind of Xialing who was thrown off by such a casual dismissal.
Sensing this, Tony gave the siblings an expectant look.
"What? You two thought you were the only ones with daddy issues? Honey, I wrote the rule book for that."
"Wenwu's a thousand years old." Katy pointed out. "He probably was Genghis Khan's idol."
"Yeah and I don't see any books with his name on them." Stark countered.
"No, not that." Shang Chi spoke up with a shake of his head. "I thought you were gonna have issues with us because-"
"Afghanistan and what happened some years ago? They were just a splinter cell and frauds respectively."
"No, no it's just-"
"The past and this is what we need to focus on now, yeah?" Stark interrupted. "Now come on, Miss Katy there vouched for you guys so start talkin'. You're on Avengers business payroll now."
"He seems to be taking this lightly." Mordo commented.
"It's Tony." Clint said expectantly. "When does he ever take things seriously other than the fate of the world?"
The siblings, Katy and Morris soon got situated, explaining more or less everything to the Avengers.
Wenwu and his plans, Ta Lo, the visions of their mother and so on and so forth.
Some time passed with the trio finished up the discussion, letting the heroes digest everything.
After all that, Katy, Shaun and Xialing were able to head off to somewhat explore the compound to unwind. As for Morris, well, he was wandering all over and doing his thing.
"What do you think about all this?" Clint asked, looking at the resident sorcerers who were all silently taking in what they heard.
"Worrisome. Troubling." Mordo murmured, rubbing his chin in deep thought.
"Ta Lo is an ancient sight and realm with a deep wealth of arcane and mystic arts known only to them." Wong revealed. "Before her passing, the Ancient One spoke of visiting it only once and that was over two hundred years ago bringing back only a single dragon scale."
"She went there?" Strange spoke up in surprise. "How do you know about this?"
"Her personal journal and collection." Wong stated.
Steven rolled his eyes a little. "Of course."
"Even then she had trouble finding a way in." Wong went on. "This place is guarded for a reason but she could never figure out why."
"Or maybe she knew and didn't reveal it." Stephen countered.
"With good reason, I believe." Mordo argued for her. "She did do much in bending the rules for the sake of the protection of our universe."
Rather than refute it, Strange just nodded, knowing this to be true.
"So what do we do then?" Hector asked, curious as to their next move. "We already raided the place, right? Can't we go in and finish the job?"
"Unlikely." Karl waved off. "The Banishment spell enacted would take too long to remove from us and by that time, they would have likely already departed for Ta Lo."
"Ok, then what are we gonna do then?" Jen asked the group collectively. "This feels like we're missing a lot of pieces."
"Well, what else are we supposed to do?" Danny said in a rhetorical fashion. "We go and protect Ta Lo. That place is an ancient realm for good. We can't just let those Ten Ring bastards walk in and take out the people there."
"You heard what they said." Clint said, gesturing his head to the trio who kept themselves separate from the team. "That Katy girl is the only person who can guide anyone there through this apparent maze. As much as I'd like to leave them behind, Katy is essential in getting us there and the siblings are a package deal at this point."
"Better have them tag along then." Stark plainly said. "Best they resolve their own daddy issues."
The other Avengers gave the billionaire a particular look though they disregarded it a moment later.
Jen, however, was not so quick to ignore this. "What is up with you lately?"
"What?" Tony airily said.
"At least I don't have mother issues as well, unlike some people."
"Speaking of which, what's that whole thing of their mother's spirit being entrapped there?" Hector brought up. "Kinda find it farfetched."
"Wenwu is desperate for his departed wife's safety." Said Wong. "Dreams aren't always clear on the messages."
"I've heard stranger." Stephen commented. "And didn't Celeste talk about her Order having a way of communicating with their dead?"
Mordo nodded. "She did, but not the means of necromancy or anything outlandish. Just their spirits coming and going in peculiar situations."
"Where is Celeste?" Clint found himself asking. "Thought she and Bucky would be coming with us to Ta Lo."
"She's busy with her boyfriend." Wong said.
"Oh my god, really, they can't keep it in their pants?" Stark said, throwing his arms up whilst the Avengers all gave him a flat look. "What?"
"Tony, you of all people are the last one to be saying anything admonishing about 'keeping it in their pants' you know." Clint deftly countered.
"Hey, I don't think you should be saying that especially with four kids, Mr pants keeper." Tony rebuked. "And besides, who knows how many gremlins I've got… yeah, I should have stopped right there."
"And if you're wondering," Wong deadpanned at the former playboy. "Celeste is helping Bucky cleanse his mind of all the HYDRA mind manipulation they implanted on him."
"Well get her over here or take her place." Strange instructed, arms crossed. "I got a feeling we might need her for this."
"How can you tell?" Robbie inquired.
"Call it a gut feeling." Strange elaborated. "If we're dealing with all this mysticism about other realms and nature and all, it feels like we'll need her for this. Wong can stay behind, help finish with Bucky's spell and keep things running here."
"You are good at multitasking." Mordo added on with a thoughtful frown.
Wong gave off a surprising look of bashfulness at such praise from his friends and contemporaries, nodding at them both before departing to retrieve Celeste.
While they waited for Celeste, the Avengers continued their discussion.
"So what's the play here?" Jen asked, looking at her teammates. "We go in with those three to Ta Ta and then what? "Hey, we're here to protect you from some thousand-year-old assassin organization". Think they'll go for that?"
"They did say their mother is from Ta Lo." Danny reminded them.
"Yeah, and their dear old daddy is a thousand-year-old warmonger." Strange dryly countered. "And that sister of his keeps giving us a stink eye that would put the Grinch to shame."
"We're pretty much against her, given her little organization; a diet Rings group." Tony said.
"Are we going or not?" Hector asked. "I mean, should we even? This feels a lot more personal to them than it is for us."
"Well, I'd rather the asshole partially responsible for this," Stark tapped on his glowing armor chest piece for emphasis. "Not get any more power than he needs to. Besides, did you not see the people he has running his show? You really want them to get more power?"
"I don't know." Robbie murmured, eyeing the siblings and their friend. "Zee ain't acting up much but he keeps glaring at the sister. Did a lot of unsavory shit."
"All to make daddy proud." Iron Man said dismissively. "Nothing new there."
"What is your deal man?" Reyes asked, now giving a piercing look at Stark. "You're taking this a bit too lightly. What? All 'cause of their dad?"
"If you really are an Avenger then you need to do your research on us buddy." Tony said, patting him on the back.
"Dude, I have a spirit of vengeance in my body. I got better things to do than digging into my teammates' personal lives."
"See, that's why I like ya, Robbie." Tony cheerfully stated. "You're not as judgmental as the raging matchstick in your head. That's his job."
A brief flicker of fiery ash escaped from the top of Robbie's head, making Stark chuckle.
"What, did I hurt his feelings?"
Reyes snorted, holding up his index and thumb. "Just a bit."
"There is something else that has been on my mind." Mordo spoke up, gaining the attention of the team, seeing him point to Shang-Chi who didn't notice the gesture. "He mentioned something else. Something about a dream of a creature of some kind that frightened him. The apparent guardian keeping his mother imprisoned. His sister didn't say anything but I saw her face. She looked like she knew what he was talking about."
"You picked up on that too huh?" Strange inquired, though the tone was rhetorical. "A lot they're not telling us."
"Well they did tell us about their dreams so…" Clint shrugged. "Who knows."
"Relates with the whole dead mother apparently being entrapped by her people." Robbie said.
"This is all so, so weird." Jen muttered.
"Welcome to the club." Barton said.
"Obviously there's much to learn once we're at Ta Lo." Said Mordo.
"Alright," Everyone turned to see a slightly annoyed Celeste Morne walking in with a huff, arms crossed. "This had better be damn important for you to call me away from Bucky. What's going on?"
The forest was large and dense. It was somewhat hard to somewhat see through it after some dozen feet through what appeared to be a naturally made path. It looked rather normal from any perspective, but it was anything but ordinary.
To the mystics present, or those attuned to such nature, the forest gave off a unique feeling.
Presently, the group was situated within a large vehicle in order to fit everyone sent to Ta Lo. In appearance, the vehicle was essentially a tank in both size and defensive capabilities.
The occupants inside were Katy, Shaun, Xialing and Morris for obvious reasons. As for the Avengers, it was Iron Man, Hawkeye, Iron Fist, She-Hulk, Ghost Rider, White Tiger, Doctor Strange, Mordo and Celeste.
Shuri would've come, but she had commitments with her kingdom that she couldn't ignore. Luke and Jessica stayed behind as they still needed at least some kind of defense for their base at home and plus, they were still trying to track down the Punisher. Wong wasn't present, due to him still working on Bucky's mind-cleansing spell while also running the three Sanctums and Kamar-Taj in the absence of the Masters of said Sanctums
"Gotta ask, but can't we just fly our way to the actual entrance?" Hector asked. "Skies look clear."
The Dijiang shook the front of its body in denial. He let out several squirms and trills with Katy frowning at him, who presently sat in the front passenger seat.
"We won't be able to find the entrance above this forest maze." She translated. "We have to go through it."
"And why can't we just mystic our way through?" Danny then asked, thumbing to the Sorcerers.
"There are powerful barriers placed around Ta Lo. Nothing can penetrate them unless allowed to."
"Was thinking about that as to why no one could breach it sooner." Strange muttered, holding up his sling ring. "Even with that mystic in Wenwu's pocket."
"Records state it was a safety precaution. The only way to get in is through Ta Lo residents, given knowledge of said realm or a mystical guide like Morris here." Mordo pointed out.
"This whole place is positively humming with the Force." Celeste whispered almost reverently.
"I thought it was some cosmic thing?" Strange asked.
"It is but the force of… ok that wasn't intentional but you know what I mean." Morne then placed her hands on her hips with an expectant look. "Speaking of, why ain't we goin' in already?"
Katy gave up the response. "Morris says the way through is all about timing."
"Okay, but how long are we talking? Hours? Days?" Asked Shaun.
"We don't have days and our father can be here with his men at any moment." Said Xialing.
"Didn't you guys tell us that you had time to prepare?" Jen pointed out.
Katy became frustrated and voiced her frustration. "Hey, I'm just playing telephone here. If any of you can have this weird mental link with Morris here, then by all means have at it. But if he says to wait then-"
Morris started to squirm and emit some sort of sound.
"Oh. We can go now." She plainly said, surprising everyone.
"Go. He says go." She urged forward.
"Well alright then." Tony said, standing behind the seat Clint occupied.
The archer nodded at him and placed pressure down on the acceleration and the tank entered the forest, driving through the shifting bamboo grove.
"Alright, that guy is our guide and you're our translator." Barton said, looking at Katy who occupied the seat next to him with Morris on her lap. "Call it out."
She simply nodded silently, anxious but determined to deliver.
"Ok, ok." She whispered to herself, hearing Morris let out a coo. "Yeah, keep going straight and after twenty meters turn right."
Clint just nodded at her instructions, driving a little faster before making the turn.
"So this is a magical forest." Danny commented, gazing out his window.
"What do ya mean?" Hector asked, going over to him.
The Martial artist silently leaned away and pointed outside with Hector, Jen and Robbie now curious as to what he meant.
Looking through the windows, the team could see the trees swaying gently. Yet it didn't seem like it was done naturally through the wind.
"This forest is alive." Celeste said with open wonder. "It's as if a living spirit resides over it."
The Dijiang let out a small squeak from the front.
"Uh yeah, apparently it's magic from their guard, protector, something." Katy said aloud.
"The Guardian." Mordo mused to himself. "What power he must contain to be able to influence things beyond the realm of Ta Lo."
As they continued down their path, the forest, what was once a gentle sway in the "breeze" now began to pick up on its speed and movement.
"You should speed up." Katy translated, though she looked down at him in confusion. "Speed up?"
"Boss, picking up movement from behind!" Friday spoke up worriedly.
Tony brought up a rear view of the tank and the answer became clear. The trees were swiftly moving and closing up the trail behind them. And it was happening rather fast and violently.
"Go, go, go!" Stark urged forward.
With that, the accelerator pedal was floored.
The entire group jolted in the vehicle, all now clutching to whatever they could hold onto.
Strange, Mordo and Celeste readied some defensive magic, enchanting the vehicle as a precaution.
"Morris says take a hard right on three."
"What?" Clint looked at her in bewilderment.
"Hard right where?" Hawkeye demanded.
"Katy!" Shaun yelled.
The vehicle took a sharp turn, having it skid on the dirt path. It went back straight moments later, trying to keep up at its present speed in order to avoid the trees trying to harm the vehicle.
Another sharp turn was made, having the vehicle's occupants lurch to the side once more.
"Can't we go any faster?"
Katy heard Morris thrill and squirm.
"He says it's all about staying in the pocket. As long as we follow the path, we're good"
"We're in it now." Katy said, nervously holding Morris closer.
"What happens if you don't stay in the pocket?" Tony asked though he had an idea as to what may happen.
Morris made several sounds, making Katy pale slightly. "Th-the forest eats us."
"Eats us?" Robbie repeated incredulously. "What the hell does that mean?"
"What do you think it means? We get eaten and-" Morris gave out a quick thrill. "Oh and go left now."
Clint made a veering left, making nearly all in the vehicle almost fall to the ground.
"Dammit Clint, watch with the turns!" Walters complained aloud.
"Scuse me for not wanting to get eaten by a forest!" He shouted back, not taking his eyes off the road, grunting as the side of the vehicle was struck hard by the shifting forest.
"Watch it!" Katy warned nervously. "You gotta stay in the pocket."
"How close is it?" Clint asked.
"Five meters." Xialing called out from the back.
"Stay in the pocket." Katy said again.
"And coming in way too fast." Shaun tacked on unhelpfully.
"Stay in the pocket."
"Will you stop saying 'stay in the pocket'? I get it, already!" Barton snapped, seeing all the shifting bamboo around him somehow get even more chaotic.
"One last right, then straight." Chen urged on. "And we can speed up now."
"What do you think I'm doing?" The archer barked back, practically slamming his foot on the accelerator.
The trees were swiftly closing in behind them just as fast as the ones before them were opening up.
"We're not gonna make it." Jen worriedly said.
"Please don't say that. Nothing really works if people say that too much!" Hector nearly yelled, clutching his seat tightly.
"We're almost there, Morris promises." Katy shouted over the pandemonium.
The trees finally closed in on them, practically making it difficult for any to tell if they'd actually survive.
As luck would have it, their vehicle burst out of the grove of trees and landed in a shallow pool of water connected to a waterfall.
Things were relatively calm now after exiting the maze.
"Are we dead yet?" Danny asked, hugging Jennifer, who hugged him back.
Katy slumped in her seat, letting out a breath and part of her soul. The Dijiang on her lap cooed happily, almost jumping off her, inclining its "head" in the direction of a waterfall in front of them.
"Morris says 'great job, everyone'." Chen shook her head a little, hearing Morris communicate with her. "Okay, he says we just need to go through the waterfall-"
"Is there gonna be another maze or some dangerous passageway we have to go through to get to Ta Lo?" Tony dryly asked, Morris making what sounded like assuring trills.
"No. The waterfall is the front door. Nothing else."
"Good, 'cause I don't wanna go through another elaborate deathtrap to get there." Clint grumbled, urging the tank forward.
Getting closer, the team tensed for anything that might happen, though thankfully, they passed under the waterfall without anything attacking them. Once within the cave hidden behind a waterfall, the water stopped falling and appeared frozen mid-air.
"What's going-" Was all Danny managed out as the water began coalescing in front of them.
Once reaching the size of the tank, the water washed over them. The space around them seemed too brighten up and swirl considerably.
Moments later, they appeared out of a swirled portal composed of crystalized water.
Nothing was said after this spectacle, only having Clint drive the vehicle onward and exit the cave tunnel.
Once the light shined on through, the occupants saw something spectacular.
"This place… this is it." Celeste muttered. She felt a shiver run down from head to toe, the Force washing over her.
They were now in Ta Lo.
Driving through what appeared like untouched land, everyone saw mountains nearly touching the sky. And through most of the forestation, they saw animals coming and going. Yet these animals weren't any ordinary ones.
"So this is where Pokémon came from." Clint murmured, taking in the litany of creatures that they had seen.
Phoenixes, nine-tailed foxes, creatures that can only be described as some kind of horse.
"This is interesting." Karl murmured, rubbing his chin at the sight of the nonstop slew of new creatures they all saw.
The Dijiang thrilled, coming up to the window and looking around excitedly.
Katy paid attention to what her furry companion was saying. "Well, he's happy in coming back home." She said to the group before turning over to eye Mordo. "Also Morris says this is normal."
"Yeah, normal for him." Danny commented, in awe of what he was saying. "All K'un Lun had was just one dragon. This place has everything."
"And now normal for us." Mordo said, a look of wonder that matched Rands as he took in the sights of this realm.
"It's beautiful." Jennifer said. "Look at this place. I need to set up a vacation home here."
"Oh look at that, more Morris'." Tony pointed out.
Sure enough, on the left-hand side, there was essentially a grove composed of Dijiangs.
They were outright distracted from the adorable sight, the driver almost crashed into one of the native, mystical animals. It looked like a mixture of an elk with an eastern dragon.
"Let's not perform any roadkill's while we're here, please." Shang Chi spoke up since they first arrived here.
"Seeing all these here, I'm wondering if any of them are the apparent guardians."
"None of them seem nefarious as Shang described them."
Before long, Friday spoke aloud.
"Guys, picking up on lifeforms ahead and building structures." The AI said. "I believe we're close to a settlement."
"I see it." Clint said, eyes narrowed with his impeccable vision spotting said settlement on the horizon.
The vehicle took a stop some distance away from the nearby village, appearing to have settled at the bank, a lake or an inland sea. In the far distance, there was a peculiar mountain range with something faintly glowing from underneath the shadows.
Exiting the vehicle, the group surveyed their surroundings.
It was so serene and tranquil. The air was crisp and clean. The waters in the distance were relatively clear. A landscape entirely untouched by the modern world. Essentially a paradise of nature.
The air was fresh and buzzing and the wildlife was tranquil and extraordinary.
As the Avengers drew near, Jen halted in her tracks. "Wait, do you guys hear that?"
In the distance, they heard chatter of some kind yet…
"Hang on…" Strange strained his hearing, thrown off by what he was hearing. "Is… is that Shakespeare?"
"Hamlet, to be specific." Mordo spoke up, equally as bewildered by what the group was hearing. "Is there a British theater in Ta Lo that we didn't know about?"
"Mom never mentioned that before." Shaun muttered aloud.
"Maybe they're… maybe they're fans of the world arts." Katy suggested with a clear unsure shrug.
"I thought they don't get out." Hector pointed out.
"Hey, I'm just guessing here." Chen shot back, the group continuing forward until they at last reached what was a village on the edge of a river.
"This must be the place." Xialing quietly said, an unusual chill running down her spine, one shared with her brother.
This was her place. Her home.
This was where her mother once lived before meeting and marrying their father.
It was… surreal and almost unreal that they were standing here.
"Is that them?" Jen spoke up, looking towards a large gathering of people around what appeared to be a makeshift stage. It wasn't grand, but it was more built into the surrounding nature. "The people of Ta Lo?"
"Looks like it."
It wasn't long before the Ta Lo residents took notice of them. One by one, they whispered to each other, turning their attention towards the new arrivals and getting into some form of defensive measures.
Wanting to dissuade the potential confrontation, Shaun stepped forward and spoke.
"Uh hi there! I am Xu Shang-Chi. This is my sister, Xu Xialing. We're Ying Li's children." Shang soon gestured to the others with him. "And these are our friends-"
"Not really." Said Stephen, making some of the Avengers deadpan at him. "What? We barely know each other."
"And we aren't friends." Xialing bitterly said, shooting the Avengers a small glare.
Shang gave his sister a look before going to Katy. "This is my friend, Katy."
"Get back in your car and go home!" Yelled one of the Ta Lo residents, slamming the staff he held onto the ground.
"Hey, we're not your enemy." Hector spoke up, holding up his hands to convey peace. "We're the Avengers. We help people, protect them, save them. That kind of thing."
The same old man who spoke before shook his head. "That matters little to us. You do not belong here."
"Please. You don't understand." Shang Chi almost pleaded. "We're here to help, honest."
"What's going on?" Spoke a British accent, not at all in line with what they were expecting.
From behind the group of Ta Lo residents came someone who clearly did not belong here.
Several of the Avengers were certainly surprised by the man but one, in particular, froze on the spot, his brain short-circuiting as to who he was looking at.
"Oh." The bald brit said airily, an odd smile in place. "Hello there."
"You have got to be shitting me." Were the first words out of Tony Stark's mouth upon seeing just who it was they were all looking at. "You have got to be fucking shitting me."
Some of the Avengers looked at the Brit and then at Tony in confusion whilst others squinted their eyes at the man, finding him unusually familiar.
Clint Barton, however, blinked in disbelief and couldn't help but guffaw.
"What the hell is he doing here?" The Archer managed out, still not comprehending how this person was here.
"Wait, you know this guy?" Danny asked, pointing at the odd man out in the village of Ta Lo.
"Damn right I do." Stark stepped forward, eliciting a small flinch from the man. "This guy caused hell for me three years ago. Called himself The Mandarin. Ring any bells?"
The children of the Immortal Khan gaped upon fully recognizing just who it was that stood before them. The rest of the Avengers followed suit as all were quite silently astounded at the sight of the man who played the role of the false Mandarin.
"Hello." His voice came out in a friendly manner. "I'm Trevor. Trevor Slattery. Good to see you're doing well, Mr. Stark."
"Uh… we're clearly missing something here." Danny spoke up. "What happened with you two?"
"How do you not know about him and the whole Mandarin business?" Jennifer asked in slight bewilderment. "This guy pretended to be an asshole terrorist that nearly sent the US into a tizzy!"
"I was still in the mountains of K'un Lun, remember?" Rand retorted dryly. "A little isolated from the rest of the world."
The mention of K'un Lun made a number of the inhabitants of Ta Lo murmur in surprise and recognition.
Rolling his eyes, Stark gave a brief explanation. "Long story short, a struggling actor got hired by Killian to pose as the Mandarin to distract the world of AIM's actions." Tony crossed his arms, looking at him accusingly. "I thought you were still in prison."
"I was, until Wenwu had his men get me out so he may punish me himself for identity theft."
"By killing you." Clint said.
"Exactly." Said Trevor, oddly cheerfully. "Just when his men were tying me up for my execution, I launched into a performance of my Macbeth. 'Whence is that knocking? Wake Duncan with thy knocking. I would'st though could'st…' They couldn't get enough of it. I've been doing weekly gigs for Wenwu's men ever since."
"You mean you're his court jester?"
"I was. Now I am living my dream." Slattery extended his arms out a joyous smile on his face. "Teaching and entertaining."
"Shakespeare." Stark deadpanned.
"Only the best for this place." Trevor remarked a dreamy smile in place, looking up as more phoenixes flew by.
"Uh-huh." Tony drawled out.
"And how did you get out of Wenwu's compound and wind up here?" Mordo questioned.
"I… have no idea."
"I just sort of stumbled my way here." He knelt down, scratching the back of a Dijiang that waddled up to him with another butting his other side. "Sherlock and Watson here found me at the compound, led the way and I've been here ever since."
"That explains nothing, weren't you on the other side of the- you know what, not important right now." Stark held both hands up, managing to get himself under control.
Better save them the headaches of trying to figure out this horrid mystery.
"I can imagine there is much you have to talk about." A woman that was older than Tony by several years stepped forward, eyeing the siblings in the group. "To the both of you."
She moved to stand in front of them, making them feel rather nervous until a loving smile bloomed. The pair was engulfed in a tight hug, thrown off by the gesture until they heard the woman speak.
"You both look so much alike. My sister always wanted to bring you both here." She whispered, startling the siblings. Pulling away, her smile seemed to grow even wider, her hands on their shoulders. "I'm so sorry you never got to see this place without her."
"Who… who are you?"
"Ying Nan." She introduced herself. "Your aunt."
Their newly met aunt came between them, wrapping her arms around their shoulders. "Come. Let's get you and your friends situated."
The Avengers soon dispersed in the village of Ta Lo, each finding a spot for themselves as they took in the sights of the place.
Though some of the villagers were hesitant to interact with these outsiders, some were more forthcoming and curious, having rarely met anyone that came from beyond the realm of Ta Lo. It soon turned into something of an exchange of cultures.
Whilst they were relatively familiar with the modern world technology, there was still much they didn't know about the outside world.
Danny found himself right at home, taking in the many customs and practices of Ta Lo, being surrounded by a group of martial artists whom he chatted with excitedly. They were aware of K'un Lun, which they affectionately called their cousin village and wanted to know how things were there. An honest means, given they haven't communicated with each other in years.
They soon began practicing moves, teaching each other katas and other exclusive fighting styles native to their homes and overall got along well with one another.
Jen, surprisingly enough, rather than trying to "soak up some rays", wound up in the company of what appeared to be giant lion dogs. At first, she was hesitant due to their somewhat intimidating appearance but then one gave her a sniff, warbled at her and licked her hand. That broke down any barriers she had with them as she immediately found them her new favorite animals in the world.
She was apparently "playing" with them, but it appeared to be like she was wrestling.
Being able to grow to their size, relatively speaking, and match them with their strength, the Shishi, as they were called by the people of Ta Lo, grew too quickly like Jen. They either lounged around next to her or opted to go in for a quick tumble, which she gladly obliged. She soon had her own "pride" of Shishi around her which she basked in.
She wasn't the only one enjoying the hospitality of the Shishi. Hector Ayala was surrounded by the younger pups of the creatures, his own tiger abilities drawing them in. With his own powers, he mimicked their postures and played around with them as Jen did.
"Wonder if they wouldn't mind if we took some home with us." Hector remarked, scratching the belly of a young Guardian Lion with its feet kicking about in enjoyment. "My daughter would love one of these guys as a pet. Would make for a hell of a guard dog at home."
Next to him was Jen who was making googly sounds and faces at an adult red-furred Shishi who was soaking it all in.
"God I hope so." Walters admitted, rubbing her face into the furry mane. "These guys are adorable."
The Guardian Lion preened at the praise, nuzzling his face into hers.
"Oh yes, you are adorable, oh yes you are, yes you are." Jen encouraged it even more.
The Shishi purred aloud, falling onto its back as Walters rubbed its belly, legs kicking about in glee.
Over on their end, Celeste, Strange and Mordo were a bit disappointed. Don't get them wrong on them being here of all places. Ta Lo was brimming with magic in the air and due to her deeper understanding now of the Force and mysticism, Celeste could feel that the whole place was alive with the Force in one of its most purest forms.
What made things seem a tad lackluster was there being no archives of mystic practices, no practitioners to do exchanges with. Everything pertaining to the subject was no doubt locked away in their archives.
All that could make up for this was seeing the various armor and weapons made out of dragon scales of all things.
Yet upon testing the power and magical capacity of the dragon scale weaponry and equipment, that quickly turned around as most of their magic effortlessly bounced off and the durability was something to behold.
The Sorcerers were also quick to discover several denizens of Ta Lo that had latent potential in the mystic arts.
"I understand your need for keeping yourselves in secrecy and isolated from the rest of the world but why not an exchange program." Mordo offered, displaying some of his magical prowess. "The dragon scales can be a great boon to our order and having Sorcerers in your midst tapping into the magic of your home can add to your defenses."
This of course piqued the interest of several individuals, only drawn further in when the three sorcerers performed more magical acts.
Strange displayed the most creativity whilst Mordo showed a more direct, simplified version that can be the easiest to grasp.
Celeste proved to be the most unique due to her implementation of mixing her knowledge of magic and knowledge of the Force.
For many in Ta Lo, they had never heard or experienced anything like this, the Jedi Shadows' experience of the Force giving them new insight on their homeland that they never actually considered.
Robbie sat apart from all of them, taking his time at the bank of the lake, ocean or whatever, the body of water near the village.
Zarathos was content, almost silent entirely as the aura that emanated in this realm was simply sublime.
He was joined by some of the creatures of this place, the many-tailed foxes and Phoenixes, in particular, finding him to be good company. One phoenix perched itself right on his shoulder, exuding some fire that Robbie found pleasing. He was hesitant to do the same as his fire was… hellfire.
God knows how the phoenixes would react to such potent flames.
So he was content with the fires they gave off. Only focusing on nothing else, but relaxation.
Elsewhere, there was an archery range in Ta Lo, and naturally, one could easily find Clint Barton among all the other archers. He displayed his perfect sharpshooting skills, drawing in many impressed looks from those present.
The man couldn't help but also instruct some of the newer additions, showing them posture, footwork, arm adjustments and all.
The elder present smiled at this, giving the Avenger an appreciative pat on his arm.
"Kids." He simply said, a knowing look in his eyes, eliciting a laugh from the old woman.
This laugh fell upon spotting an outlier watching them all from afar. A frown marred her features, walking away from her archers and over to the lone Katy Chen who stood apart from everyone.
"Oh," She looked at the older woman awkwardly. "Uh… hi?"
The older woman simply gave her a look, looping her arm with Katy's and dragged her to a nearby forge. Without any prompt or comments, she grabbed a quiver of red arrows with a beautifully crafted bow.
Katy looked unsure when she felt something nudge the back of her calf. Glancing behind her, she saw that it was Morris egging her on, letting out encouraging trills to take them.
Slightly hesitant, she took the bow and arrow set, inspecting it for a few moments until she was once again dragged by the elder, taking her to the archery range.
Clint saw this and crossed his arms, a glint in his eyes that Katy caught.
"Come on." He said invitingly. "I'll show you the ropes."
Katy was surprised by the gesture but found herself smiling at his offer.
He pointed at the spot in front of him, waving her over to stand there. Following his instructions, she got into an awkward pose which Clint was quick to correct.
With some more separation between the legs, squared shoulders and proper arm technique, Katy let loose her first-ever arrow… and hit the edge of the target.
Katy instantly slumped, Morris rushing over to cheer her up whilst Clint patted her shoulder.
"Hey, no slouching here." He admonished. "You hit the target on your first try. That's a hell of a start compared to most."
Chen smiled at the compliment, taking a moment to look at the other archers on the range. She tried a few more times, hitting the edge several times until striking closer to the center.
"There we go." Clint said approvingly. "Nice job Hawkeye."
Katy couldn't help but laugh, blushing at the praise.
"Aw shucks." She remarked, kicking the ground slightly.
Her expression then shifted abruptly, a stray thought going through her mind as she looked up at her latest arrow.
She released a self-loathing sigh, her posture slouching forward a bit. "You know, I just love how you guys know exactly what you wanna do, and you spend your whole life getting really good at it. I wish I was more like that."
Clint regarded her for a moment. "And why haven't you?"
She shrugged sheepishly. "Every time I get moderately good at something, I just quit and start something new."
"Is that how you do your current job in San Francisco?"
"The valet gig? Yeah."
"And with Hank Pym?"
"How do you-"
"He's the Avengers' consultant. How do you think we found you and Shaun in Macau so soon?"
"Oh! I didn't know that. And as for the job, that came up by chance." Said Katy. "But I just know my own limits, and I'm not gonna waste my time chasing something that will ultimately be a disappointment for me. That's not me, at all."
"It would be if you keep changing jobs and not being committed."
"It's just… that's how it's always been." She lamely defended. "How I've always been. Me and Shaun against the world."
"And how's that going for ya?" Clint dryly asked.
"Uh… well… we wound up here, didn't we?"
Barton snorted at the comment, not faulting her on that matter.
He then saw her fiddling with her next arrow, trying to notch it in differently simply because she wanted to goof for a moment.
"Gotta ask, Katy, but do you know how to use a weapon?" He asked suddenly.
"Uh… No? Does this count? Why? What is it?" She said in return.
"Given what's about to happen with Wenwu and his men, you should at least know how to fight. If not with martial arts, a weapon is a good option for some defensive measure."
"Oh uh…" She paled somewhat, nervously laughing. "Yeah, good idea."
He started with some basic moves and such, a simple punch, kick, grappling, that kind of thing.
She flopped onto the ground when Clint performed a hip toss, the girl letting out a groan.
"You alright there?" He asked, slightly amused at her state as he helped her up.
"Fine." She moaned, rubbing her bum. "Just… I dunno."
"Don't know what?" Clint urged in confusion.
"I don't know about me being here." She admitted, frowning at herself. "I… I sorta threw myself into this whole thing cause I was worried about Shaun. Now being here? I just…"
Before she was able to speak, the elder who brought her to the range came over to them, having kept her eye on Katy in the midst of training the others.
She gave the young woman a piercing look before she took her hands into her own.
"You are a young girl who still has much to learn." She spoke in Mandarin, Katy managing to understand her well enough. "But if you aim at nothing, you hit nothing."
Katy wasn't sure how to respond to this until he felt Clint's hand on her shoulder.
"Come on, let's try this again."
All the while, rather than taking in the sights, people and culture of Ta Lo, Tony Stark was conversing with a man he never thought he'd see again.
Slattery seemed nonplussed by him being there, instead focusing on drawing what appeared to be the next set for his show here.
Around him were a litter of Dijiang with one with red-tinted wings having taken a liking to Tony simply because his wings matched the armor's color.
"So, what, you're a Shakespearean teacher now?"
"Yes, yes, quite lovely." Trevor said happily.
"How did that happen?"
"The residents here perform plays and stories of their ancestors, even ones native to the regions. Though once I came along, I brought along my Shakespearean knowledge to help change the occasional lineup." Trevor let out a dreamy sigh. "It made me happy. Though I wish I had the written works instead of working through my memory. The residents here won't let me begin production until then."
"Can't imagine why." Tony deadpanned, looking down at the Dijiang at his legs, the faceless critter looking right back at him.
Kneeling to its level, he patted the top of its head, the little guy cooing happily.
"And… you somehow communicate with these guys?" Tony asked, unsure how such a thing is possible.
"Oh yes." Trevor responded with a joyful smile, his two favorites of Sherlock and Watson around his legs, wearing funny outfits in conjunction with the plays they participated in. "Believe my shock when that happened. I thought I was on drugs again or they finally made me lose my mind with my sense of isolation."
"Uh-Huh…" Stark then turned back to the Dijiang he was petting. "And this guy… girl… what is-"
"Boy." Trevor said.
"How can you tell?"
"Wing size. That and only males get that color on their wings."
"Right~" Tony deadpanned, smirking at the happy purrs the red-winged Dijiang let out. "Hmmm… I'm gonna call you Balthazar. How's that sound?"
The Dijiang trilled happily, appearing to enjoy the name.
"He likes it."
"Clearly." Tony rubbed his belly, declaring here and now. "That's it, I'm gonna take you home."
As the Avengers got themselves situated, the other two newcomers were having a more personal experience.
Led by their newly met Aunt Ying, the Xu siblings were escorted to what appeared to be a memorial shrine. Many small portraits of dead residents lined up the walls, tables, shelves. Young and old. Incense was in the air with several flowers to help decorate the space.
Coming to a particular corner, their aunt showed them a small placement where their mother's portrait was kept.
It was haunting for Xialing and Shang-Chi to see their mother's face again after nearly twenty years. Nearly forgetting what she looked like on top of her voice.
"I never knew what happened to you both after her passing-"
"How do you know she's gone?" Xialing quietly asked, her eyes not leaving the portrait of her mother.
"Her spirit came here after her passing." Said Ying Nan. "You were everything to her. Even wanted to bring you both here to know more of your heritage."
Shaun felt his heart clench up, a flood of memories washing over him. All those childhood memories he's been keeping at bay just came rushing back, remembering the times before their mother passed.
Ying Nan saw her niece and nephew, a sympathetic look coming over her, wrapping an arm around Xialing's shoulder and reaching out to take Shang-Chi's hand.
"After losing someone like her, it's easy to feel alone in this world. But you are not. You are children of this family, and I welcome you home." She kindly said. "No matter what happens, the two of you will always have a place here."
That certainly helped the two with Shaun giving her a strained but appreciative smile. Xialing, whilst being unemotive, leaned into the embrace her aunt gave her.
They soon walked away from the shrine, the siblings giving one final prayer to the portrait of their mother.
Ying Nan led the two around a building with many stones inscribed on the wall.
"How is your father?" Their aunt inquired, curious about the man her sister fell in love with. "Your mother spoke a lot about him before leaving with him for good."
Xialing and Shang-Chi shared a look, not knowing how to properly answer the inquiry.
"He's alright." The latter answered in a downplayed mood.
Ying Nan scoffed good-naturedly. "If that isn't the greatest lie I ever heard. I know how much losing your mother hurts you both. I think of her every day and I can only imagine the grief your father endured."
The siblings didn't respond, the sound of "HA's" And "YAAHS" being heard nearby. They turned to see a group of the Ta Lo residents performing martial arts. It wasn't on the factor of both men and women practicing the craft. No, it was how they were moving that drew their eye.
They were moving and fighting just like their mother.
Catching their eyes, Ying Nan put on a thoughtful look. "Has your father ever told you how good of a practitioner your mother was?"
"Yeah. He said she was the only person he could never beat, even in their spars." Shaun stated a faraway look in his eyes.
Ying Nan smiled, bearing a sense of nostalgia.
"Your mother is humbling. But to me and various others here believe she was the best practitioner in our generation; perhaps in several." Their aunt's smile seemed to shift and grow. "Would you like to learn it?"
Both siblings looked at each other in surprise, Xialing shrugging before they nodded in agreement.
The pair were escorted to a dirt arena surrounded by bamboo with their aunt standing some distance away from them. Shang-Chi and Xialing stood before their aunt who gazed at them with her moving about in a casual pace.
"Before I teach you, I wish to know what I'll be working with. How your skills fair." Said Ying Nan. "Before such lessons start, I want to see if you two can knock me off my feet."
"Two against one ain't really-"
"Say that again afterward, my nephew."
Shang and Xialing shrug before moving in to take down their aunt.
Ying Nan simply put one foot forward and another foot back as the siblings ran forward.
Their moves were quick, sending out a series of punches, kicks, swipes, sweeps and leaps.
Yet neither one of them could land, due to their aunt being able to parry and block them. It also didn't help that like back in Macau, the siblings began getting into each other's way.
Every time they moved at the same time to get a hit in on their aunt, they shoved into each other. Rather than course correct themselves, they glared at each other angrily, resuming their spar with their Aunt who kept blocking and deflecting everything they threw at her.
In the end, with one final sweep of her leg, Ying Nan was the one to knock the siblings off their feet and have them on their backs.
The experienced fighter raised her brow and contemplated as her niece and nephew got back onto their feet.
"Well that sucked." Shaun declared, patting off some leaves that got stuck on him .
Xialing simply glowered, more at herself it seems rather than her brother or her aunt.
Ying Nan let out a sigh, shaking her head at the pair.
"You two fight with such rage and pain. Clearly the work of your father." She commented, walking around them. "Fighting isn't always about breaking bones and force. The fighting style of Ta Lo is how you share the battlefield with and how one makes a connection with your opponent. Only by truly learning about your foe is how you can defeat them."
Ying Nan looked at Shaun and gave her evaluation. "You fight like a man who second-guesses himself. Never really sure of his actions. Therefore you can't fight with a clear conviction and purpose." She then focused on Xialing. "As for you, you merely focus on showcasing your own strength, not focusing on anyone else on the battlefield. This makes you inflexible, rigid and unadaptive. The two of you are held back by your own sense of inner turmoil."
She removed a leaf that wound up in Xialing's hair, holding it in front of the girl.
"You must allow yourselves to let go of what plagues your hearts and minds." The leaf fell from her hand. "It is not easy as it's not meant to be. But taking the necessary steps to confront your own selves will make you stronger. Your mother knew who she was. Same with your father. But do you?"
Shaun and Xialing shared an uncertain look with each other as their aunt moved to stand in front of them again.
"Fight me again. But instead of fighting like your father, fight like your mother." She instructed. "Don't focus inward, but outward with your surroundings and those present. To let go of the painful past that informs your fighting style and only focus on the present and how to know more deeply those who stand against them and who stand beside them."
Both Shaun and Xialing allowed the words to digest, thinking intently about them. They closed their eyes and focused, thinking hard on what they can remember of their mother. How she talked, how she laughed, how she moved.
"Lead with your breath. Look into your heart, the light and the dark. To know yourself, you must face them both."
Their mother's voice echoed in their heads of what was her last lesson to them before her death all those years ago. A phantom feeling of their mother standing behind them, guiding their movements as she did when they were kids.
When the siblings opened their eyes, the pair now held a more determined gaze which made their aunt smile at them both. She nodded at the two, this time initiating the sparring session and the siblings did their best to recall everything about their mother's movements.
Unlike before, they were better in sync. Fighting in tandem rather than getting in each other's way.
They stumbled a few times, still trying to find the right groove with one another until Shaun caught a kick from Ying Nan that was about to strike Xialing's face.
Gaping at the gesture, the sister shook her head, refocusing her attention on the fight, capitalizing on the opening her brother gave them and now began their advance.
Ying Nan grinned at seeing this, easily falling back into a more defensive posture, now on the back foot as the two found their synchronization. Their movements morphed into one of a graceful, almost wind-like fighting style.
Eventually, they were able to sweep Ying Nan off her feet. Such a task would've been difficult on their own, but together they were able to overcome the challenge.
Seeing this, the siblings practically cheered in their own manner and high-fived one another. They blinked at each other, laughing, unsure of what just happened before their aunt stepped between them, a look of pride for them to see.
"Good. Very good. Much better than before." Said Ying Nan, giving her niece and nephew their desired praise. "You are a product of all who came before you. The legacy of your family, the good and the bad, it is all a part of who you are." She placed a hand on their shoulders. "You don't have to hide any longer. It only prolongs the pain if you keep doing it."
The siblings were uncertain on this matter as… hiding who and what they are is what they've been doing for a long time now. It has basically dominated their lives since their mother's death. And with that came pain, the pain of that night and the day their father changed so drastically.
"I understand such habits are not so easy to break, but what you must know is that you are not alone in tackling them." Ying Nan assured them, a kind and loving smile for them to see. "You still have family and friends more than willing to help you."
They both had appreciative looks on their faces upon hearing this.
Their aunt then went between the pair, hands on their backs and urged them out of their training ground.
"Come, we can be able to continue later with your lessons." Said Ying Nan. "For now, I believe you should eat."
The Xu Siblings, Katy and the Avengers were gathered in an area outside the shrine of the fallen, all eating various types of foods served to them by the Ta Lo people.
Ying Nan, along with another village elder named Guang Bo, stood before all of them with a more serious demeanor.
"While I enjoy seeing new faces take in our home, along with my little family reunion, I've put this question off long enough." Said Ying Nan. "Tell me, after all this time, why have you both finally come? With others, no less?"
Shaun and Xialing didn't respond at first until the latter spoke. "He's coming."
Their aunt tilted their head at them. "Your father? Why?"
"He thinks you're holding our mom's spirit captive here." Shang-Chi revealed, earning a flabbergasted look from Ying Nan.
"Why would he think that?" She asked, thoroughly thrown off by such a matter.
"She told him." Confusion reigned over their aunt and Guang Bo. "He says he can hear her asking for help."
"Not just him, but us as well." Xialing said, gesturing to herself and her brother.
The silence was present. Their aunt was quiet, contemplating and pondering. Several emotions were seen as if she was coming to a conclusion.
"That's troubling. Very troubling." Ying Nan's voice was low and troubled.
"I'd like to have everyone follow me. It is time I told you all what truth has been lost to the outside world."
Eventually, the siblings were able to get Katy and the present Avengers assembled at the beach where their aunt wanted to speak with them all.
"Our people have been here for over four thousand years. For generations, we have been preparing for something we hope will never happen again. A day when warriors will be lured here."
"Lured here? For what?" Asks Jennifer.
Pointing towards the mountains on the other side of the body of water, the group saw something glowing on the far end. It was a bit more noticeable now as they were closer.
"We are the keepers of the Dark Gate, sworn to protect this realm and yours from the evil that's locked behind it."
"And what evil is that?" Asked Steven Strange.
"It's better to show you." Ying Nan stated.
She gestured for the assembled group to follow her back into the village.
Entering a large building, the group was presented with a large stone mural that spanned for dozens of feet.
"The realm of Ta Lo stretches far beyond the shores of our small village. We have cities that surpass any in your universe, rich with culture and history. Thousands of years ago, all of our people lived in peace and prosperity, until the attack of the Dweller-in-Darkness."
Seeing the carved depictions of the eldritch bat-like entities, Shang-Chi and Xialing froze.
This wasn't noticed as their aunt continued with the history lesson.
"He came with his army, devouring every soul in their path, and with each kill, they grew stronger. After decimating our largest cities, they were headed to your universe to do the same. The leaders of Ta Lo sent their strongest warriors here to stop them from reaching the portal to your world. But our ancestors were no match for them. Until The Great Protector joined their fight and turned the tide."
The group saw a carving of a large eastern dragon battling it out against the Dweller-in-Darkness in what could perhaps be described as a kaiju battle with the Ta Lo warriors assisting The Great Protector.
"Oh look at that, Danny, they also have a kickass dragon guardian." Hector pointed at said dragon, Danny grinning at the sight of it.
Ying Nan smirked slightly in amusement before becoming serious once more. "Together, they pushed the Dweller and his army into the Dark Gate and locked it behind them. Our people have guarded that gate ever since, empowered by the magic of The Great Protector and the gift she gave us."
"Your dragon-scale armor and weapons." Mordo said, holding up his arm that now had a dragon scale wrist plate on it.
Ying Nan nodded.
"Those soul suckers with their boss. I've seen those before." Shaun muttered, earning his aunt's full attention. And this drew in everyone else's varying bits of curiosity.
"Excuse me?" She said in disbelief.
Shaun pointed at the largest of the soul-suckers on the mural. "My dad made a painting of it back at the compound. And I've been dreaming of them for a while now."
Their aunt looked from her nephew to her niece.
"Have you seen them as well?"
Xialing hesitates but eventually nods.
Ying Nan muttered aloud. "Not just the voice, but their true visage."
Katy spoke up, wanting to get back on track. "You said something about warriors…"
"Their father hasn't been the only person over the millennia coming here to seek the Dark Gate." Ying Nan elaborates. "Many have tried and failed. And they all had one thing in common: them being lured here by a voice of something on the other side. A voice that promises them their greatest desires."
"So you think these soul eaters are talking to our dad?" Shaun asks.
"And us?" Xialing finishes off.
"They know the Ten Rings in his possession have the power to break them free."
"But why now instead of-"
Celeste was quick to give the answer to the siblings and everyone else present. "Back then, his will was strong and firm. But after your mother's passing, it wavered. Him unknowingly opening himself up to the Dweller and being easy pickings to be manipulated."
Such a thing was quite similar to how the Dark Side and their practitioners operated in the past.
"But how were they able to see and hear these soul suckers?" Clint asked. "You said they're from another world."
The aunt didn't answer right away, only asking a question.
"Did you have these dreams at any point before or after you had the rings in your possession?" She asked her sister's children.
Shang answered first. "I had one after."
Xialing spoke next. "Same here."
"And your father had the other eight, which meant he had a far stronger calling over the years than what either of you experienced." Said their aunt with grim features. "Ever since I knew about your father and the possession of his Rings, he'd be susceptible to the Dweller-in-Darkness one day. And now my fears are becoming reality."
"Our dad is coming here, thinking you all have our mom imprisoned." Shaun stressed out. "So is it-"
"A lie." Ying Nan sorrowfully said. "She is long dead and gone. All that's behind that gate is the destruction of not just Ta Lo, but your world as well."
She then turned and walked away, leaving a bewildered group of people. "Where are you going?"
"Informing everyone, getting them prepared for invasion."
Shang was quick to grab his aunt's arm.
"Fighting won't be necessary." He elaborates. "We can talk to dad, explain to him the truth. He'll understand."
Ying Nan had a sympathetic look on her face and shook her head. "He won't."
She gently pried her arm away from her nephew and walked off at a hurried pace.
Tony had a flat look on his face. "Yeah, should've seen that coming. So, you guys ready to face your dear old daddy?"
Xialing glared at the Avenger whilst Shaun gave him an odd look.
"Hey, I know this isn't the best of times right now but I gotta ask. Why were you so gung ho about helping me and my sister?"
"What, you thought you two were the only ones who had their father's shadow hanging over them like a bad thundercloud? Kid, I wrote the book on that with my dad. Never even said he loved me, if ya can believe it." Tony said with a faux heartbroken look. "But with your dad, he's still here. He's still alive. And well, if ya have a chance to make it right or set things straight, I'll vicariously live that experience through you guys. Plus this is a cool place and Balthazar would hate for anything to happen to his home."
"And now the fate of the world is at stake again." Strange tacked on. "Being Avengers, well, you should know our response to such a matter now that we have the full picture."
"Well thanks for coming then." Katy happily said, a thumbs up at the Avengers. "Really appreciate it, don't we Shaun?"
Her friend shuffled awkwardly. "Oh, uh, yeah, yeah we do."
"That didn't feel earnest in the slightest." Robbie commented.
"We do appreciate it." Shang-Chi emphasized more. "It's just-"
"A lot on your mind, we know." Clint said expectantly. "It comes with the territory kid, you'll get used to it."
"I kinda don't want to." He slightly complained.
"But you will." Hector remarked, walking past him, patting his shoulder. "I know I did."
Shaun could only stare at the Avengers in bewilderment as they all walked away, leaving him, his sister and his best friend alone.
"You know, I always thought they were glory hogs." Xialing spoke up. "But now I just know they're weird."
"Yeah…" Katy said, perking up a moment later. "I like em!"
The siblings shook their heads at their friend's comment before they too left the mural, wanting to get some rest.
The next morning, Shang-Chi and Xialing were sparring under their aunt. They are trying to learn everything about their mother's fighting style. They knew it would be impossible to master it in a short amount of time, but as long as they got a good grasp of the basics, they might have a chance; even if it was extremely slim.
"You've progressed well in such a short amount of time." Ying Nan praised. "Give it some more time and you will be masters just like your mother. If not greater."
Shaun was bashful in response. "Well, I don't know about that. I mean you did say mom was the best and-"
He heard Ying Nan chuckle at him, a fond smile for him to see. "So much like your mother. The both of you."
"I don't think humbleness really applies to me." Xialing muttered a slightly downcast look.
"But you have her beauty as well as her indomitable will." Ying Nan assured. "The strongest of our people, physically, mentally and spiritually. You just need to bring it out."
"Any suggestions?" Xialing jokingly asked.
Their aunt ignored the tone, taking the question in stride. "Outside of fighting with a ring, like your father, were there any weapons you have trained with in the past?"
Her niece became more contemplative now that she thought about it.
"A lot." Was Xialing's response, in which Shaun nodded as well as he too trained with every weapon as well. It was a means for Wenwu's children to be flexible with every martial arts weapon out there.
"Any preferences?" She asked the both of them.
"None, actually." Came Shaun's admittance. "Neither of them really suited my tastes."
Ying Nan nodded before focusing on her niece. "And what are your tastes?"
"Rope javelin." Xialing gave a shrug. "Unconventional, but it suited me."
Their aunt gave a brief nod. "I believe we have just the thing." She beckoned them to follow her.
Rather than going into the armory -despite Ying Nan talking to someone rather briefly- they were led to a small hut near the memorial shrine of the village.
"This was once your mother's home." Ying Nan said, making them stop in their tracks. "We moved it here after her passing. Come, there's something else you two need to see."
The two followed their aunt into the small hut, finding a simple little place, a bed, some clothing and a table with two bundles on them. On it were their names in Mandarin.
"What are these?" Shaun asked, going over to the bundle with his name.
"Consider them a gift from your mother. She wanted you two to have them when you arrived someday."
Unwrapping the bundled clothes, Xialing and Shang-Chi saw a pair of outfits made out of dragon scales. The brothers were crimson red while the sister got one similar in silvery blue.
They heard a knock soon after with Ying Nan going to the source. Moments later, she came back with something in her hands before handing it over to Xialing.
It was a rope javelin -a shéng biāo- like she preferred. A glowing red dagger was tied to a silvery rope with a large metal weight at the end.
"I believe this will suit you best." She said, holding the weapon out for her niece to take.
Gingerly, she took the dagger from her aunt, allowing the rope to fall to the ground.
With a quick snap wrist, the rope wrapped itself around her arm and she grinned at the ease with which she was able to do it. Xialing swung each side for some experimentation and got the feeling of them.
"It's perfectly weighted."
"Made for you in design, my dear." Said their aunt.
"What? I don't get anything?" Shaun joked, pretending to be offended at the lack of a weapon.
"You said you don't have a preference." Xialing shot back, though none of the usual snark or bitterness she would normally possess.
Ying Nan only smiled at the pair who began bickering good naturedly, without any sign of resentment or anger towards each other. Just two siblings having fun in a simple argument.
Time passed in the land. People were tense with what's to come. No one knew when Wenwu and his forces would appear, but they were preparing themselves.
Sitting on a large rock by the beach, Shaun looked on towards the Dark Gate with a lot on his mind. Xialing was by his side, the siblings sharing a rare moment of content silence between the two.
Whilst they had a flurry of emotions and thoughts since coming here, right now, they found a moment of respite from it all, staring at the gate that housed a great evil.
Generic, yes, but if it ain't broke don't fix it.
Looking over, they saw Katy there wearing the traditional Ta Lo attire for the apparent archers. It was a little odd for her to wear, but it appeared she didn't mind.
"What? If I'm doing most of this training, I might as well look the part." She said, puffing her chest out. "Clint also helped pick it out."
"What, you're already on a first name basis with an Avenger?" Shaun asked in amusement. "Explains the purple on your arm."
Katy simply grinned, patting said purple armband.
His smirk fell slightly, becoming more melancholic after a moment. This didn't go unnoticed by his best friend, a worried frown marrying her features.
"You okay, Shaun?"
"Just a lot on my mind." He admitted. "Too much really."
"I get it." Katy looked towards the Dark Gate slightly before focusing back on her friend. "What you, your sister and dad thought was some quest in freeing your dead mom was all a hoax by these soul-sucking bat things. Rather convincing with how well they did it. Clearly not something that'll be cleared up willy nilly."
Shaun appeared deeply conflicted, looking down slightly at his right arm, the arm he always wore one of his father's rings on when he had it.
After a few more moments, Shang-Chi let out a withering sigh. "It's not just that, Katy. It's… I'm not who you think I am."
She got the vibes of what went on during the trip toward Macau and knew where this was going. "You already apologized for that. We're good-"
"That's not what I'm talking about." He interrupted, making her jolt somewhat.
"...Okay. Then what is it?"
Her friend sighed again, was quiet for some moments before speaking. "When my dad sent me to find the man who helped kill my mom… I told you I couldn't go through with it. I lied."
He didn't look at her but could tell she bore a bewildered look. He soon elaborated. "After my mom died, my father wanted justice for her death. He asked me for help in doing so, which I agreed to. He took me to this casino, in order to confirm the faces of a number of people who were there. After that, he killed them. From there, he trained me for years in order to help collect the blood debt."
Shaun could still see how it all happened back then, being a naive, scared child who was worried for his father. A man who was so happy became a miserable mess. He wanted to help him. As a result, he witnessed his father kill several people for the first time.
"After a decade of training, my father tasked me in killing the leading man of my mother's killers. What I told you of me stealing my father's ring was a lie. In truth, he gave it to me; a sign of how much he trusted in me." Shaun licked his lips a little before resuming. "I broke into the man's house in the middle of the night, stood above his bed and was ready to fulfill the promise I made to dad and avenge my mom, but I couldn't do it. No matter how many attempts I made as he was soundly asleep, I just… let him live."
Shaun finally looked toward his friend to see a number of things crossing her features.
"I just couldn't go back home after failing in killing him, breaking my promise to my father, turning my back towards avenging my mother. So I never went back, changed my name, started a new life and pretended it never happened." Shaun sighs. "I have never been more ashamed of anything in my life, abandoning my family -both alive and dead- because of what happened back then."
Katy was about to speak when both she and Shaun heard Xialing finally speak after all this time.
"So you really are a coward." Xialing said with a snide, derisive tone. "I always knew that but I was starting to forget about that since coming here. Thanks for reminding me how pathetic you really are, brother."
"Hey!" Katy said, standing with a fierce gaze. "What the hell is that? Why'd you have to go and say something like that? What do you even gain from it?"
"Just needed that reminder of how much of a coward my brother is." Xialing said, sneering at Shaun. "Knowing that he can't-"
"Is that really what your mother would want?" Katy cut her off, now glaring at her. "Cause I'm pretty damn sure your mom would hate to see her two kids acting like this in her home no less. What the hell was the point of you guys coming here and learning about her home only for you to wind up like this again? Shaun was being honest but you're just being a bitch for no reason other than to justify yourself."
Xialing was stunned into silence by Katy's rant, as was her brother and it appeared that she wasn't finished.
"Your brother didn't kill that guy. So what? That actually takes a lot more "bravery" not to kill than to do it like you did. And you didn't even do it cause you wanted to, it was only cause you wanted to make your dad proud. None of it was for yourself, instead, it was all for your dad! Only for him. Hell, I bet he never acknowledged any of your accomplishments. Even your fight club you made was for him, if I recall. Have you ever done anything for yourself? Anything at all?"
The sister was silent, staring at the bus driver in silent astonishment, never expecting such a tirade out of her.
"Hey." Shaun softly said, hand on Katy's shoulder. "Ease off, it's alright."
"No it's not Shaun, and you know it!" She rounded on him now. "I mean you and I saw how her ring glowed green with envy. She's completely consumed by it and-"
"Seems I wasn't the only one to lie." Xialing said with a strained voice, making her brother and his friend look at her.
"What are you talking about?" Shang asked in confusion.
She shrugged non-committedly.
"After you were gone for so long, I too trained. I thought you might've slipped and got caught. So once I knew I was ready, I took one of father's rings and tracked that man down. I interrogated him, seeking to know that not only did he kill our mother but you as well. But to my surprise, he was outright confused about you. It made me realize you never bothered to complete the quest our father gave you. So I finished it for you."
Shang-Chi was silent, stunned by this revelation until he became more solemn.
"And what did that accomplish?" He silently asked.
Xialing scoffed, her eyes becoming glazed momentarily. "Nothing… nothing at all. I didn't get his attention when I came back home to tell him what happened. I didn't even get a proper thank you. And it didn't bring back mom. It felt good… for two seconds. But then I felt nothing."
She let out a haggard sigh.
"Like you, even if I didn't know at the time, I soon left the compound and started a new life to be who I am today."
Shang-Chi stared at his sister for a few seconds until releasing an over dramatic sigh, going over and hugging her.
Xialing was bewildered by the gesture, not responding.
"What are you doing?" She asked, her body uncertain about how to respond.
Shaun chuckled, rocking left to right slightly. "Hugging you now. Hug back. Would make mom happy."
Awkwardly, she reached back and patted him on the back with one hand.
"No, no," Katy admonished with a shake of her head, going over to grab Xialing's arms and placing them around her brothers' back in a proper hug. "There, now it's a hug."
The sister could only bear such a thing for so long before retreating her arms and shoving her brother back who only laughed at her gesture.
"It's not a virus, you know." Shaun spoke good naturedly but all he got was an annoyed stare from his sister, eliciting further laughs from Katy and Shaun.
"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up." She said with a roll of her eyes, slumping in her seat.
A moment of comfortable silence befell the trio, until Xialing sighed aloud.
"Well… since we're sharing." She said, making Katy and Shaun look at her in confusion. "Back then, dad was in so much pain, I too just wanted to appease him in hopes I could take most of it away. What kind of daughter would I have been to turn down his sense of desperation for justice for our family."
It was there that Katy immediately responded from the side. "That's the exact problem: it's what you're crazy dad wanted. You never considered what either of you wanted and made your own decisions that are best for yourselves. Instead, you only thought about what your father desired, who practically robbed you of both of your childhood."
Katy turned to Shang-Chi first.
"Shaun, as your best friend, I can tell you now that I'll always stand by your side, but you've gotta live life for yourself." Then to Xialing. "And Xialing, even though that fight club was made for your dad to notice, you can make something of yourself without him. You just gotta figure it out."
Neither sibling said anything when Katy went in for the kill.
"I think this is a question you never considered. You always did what your dad wanted and expected out of you. But ask yourself this, what would your mother want out of you?"
Before either sibling could voice anything…
"Oi, Katy." The trio heard the marksman of the Avengers voice from behind. "C'mere, I got a bow that I think'll work best for you."
"Ooooh~ Cool!" Katy said, jumping up. "See ya guys later. Remember, no fighting."
And with that, she turned her heel and rushed off, leaving the siblings alone with a shared look of bewilderment.
Katy's words hung around the pair, letting it stem and simmer as it began being digested.
"She is so weird." Xialing remarked.
"Yeah, well, what else is now?" Shang-Chi said with a chuckle, the duo falling silent once more.
"You were still right in being mad at me." Shaun said after some moments of silence, Xialing turned to him. "I abandoned you back then. It was definitely wrong. I can't take that time back to make it right. But now we have to stick together."
His sister said nothing.
Looking towards the Dark Gate, Shaun exhaled a small sigh of frustration.
"You know, I really wish mom's spirit was actually there. It would've been nice to see her one last time."
"Me too." Xialing freely admitted.
"Though she would question us why neither of us are married or at least in a relationship after all these years."
Xialing snorted. "Marriage might not be for me. But you have Katy if things get too hard."
Shaun rolled his eyes. "For the last time, we're just friends."
His sister begins to laugh. "I'm kidding. But you should at least consider yourself lucky in having a friend like her. She's a good person who actually cares."
He smiled with her, jokingly shoving her slightly.
"She's a good backup pla-"
*GOOOONG* *GOOOONG* *GOOOONG*
Shang-Chi's expression fell, looking at his sister who became tense but determined. She nodded at his brother and he returned it, the two jumping up to run towards the town that was in a frenzy of activity.
They have come.
It didn't take long for everyone to prepare themselves with the villagers, the Avengers, everyone in the area were quickly forming a defensive line at the front of the village.
The Guardian Lions were outfitted with dragon scale armor, the Avengers getting pieces of their own.
She-Hulk and White Tiger stood amongst the Lions, the former holding the mane of the largest red one.
Tony had suited up, Clint's quiver was full, Iron Fist bore a red suit this time around with his fists already glowing.
Strange, Mordo and Celeste either enacted a spell or had their weapon at the ready with Robbie nearby, head steaming, fire literally in his eyes.
Katy stood nervously between her new mentor and best friend, clutching her bow with both hands.
"Just breathe kid." Clint spoke with an ice cold voice. "Just breathe. Don't overthink it. You got your friends by your side."
She shot him an appreciative look, turning over to Shaun who held a strained smile, patting her shoulder and nodding.
Soon enough, the sound of driving cars were heard in the distance.
Everyone began tensing up, the growling lions heard by all as the cars were soon seen. There were at least a dozen of them coming right toward the village.
Moments passed before a convoy of armored hummers arrived. One by one they parked in a manner of cutting off the village from the way out.
With the last one arriving in the middle, the area was tense with every Ten Ring member coming out of the vehicles.
Exiting from one of the hummers, Wenwu stepped forward to survey the land around him.
It was truly as the stories say. Of how his wife, Ying Li, told him and described in detail. It almost took his breath away.
But now wasn't the time for sightseeing.
Behind him were his top enforcers, all equipped and ready for battle.
Right now however, the leader of the Ten Rings sought out two people in particular.
Looking onward, Wenwu was quick to spot his children and called out to them.
From the crowd, Shaun and Xialing looked at each other before deciding to come forward.
"You've finally come here at last." He said with a smile. "I was worried you were lost after what happened."
"Father." They both said at the same time.
Ignoring the tense atmosphere, he walked towards them, meeting them in the middle between his forces and those of Ta Lo.
He placed hands on their shoulders, gripping them tightly.
"It's time for our reunion. It's time to set her free." He said with an almost beaming smile, unlike with how they had last seen their father.
Things didn't go as he expected, seeing his children were more visibly upset.
"What is wrong?" He asked, looking between them both.
Shaun wondered how to properly voice out a proper means of having his father surrender peacefully. Yet nothing seemed to work at all in his head.
The son of Wenwu soon decided to go direct.
"The gate guardians we've been dreaming about, they aren't the ones occupying our mother's home. The monsters are behind the gate, entrapped there. It's all a ruse to lure us here and set them free, not our mother."
Xialing steps in, voicing her concerns. "It's true, father. We've been manipulated from the start. If those monsters are released, we're all doomed."
Confusion takes over Wenwu's face as his eyes soon lock onto the Dark Gate at the mountain across from the lake.
He then asks, not breaking eye contact with his target in Ta Lo. "Where did you learn this from?"
Shaun responds, "Our aunt lives here. She told us the truth."
Hearing this, Wenwu shakes his head. "Don't you think it's a bit strange that you would conveniently meet your aunt for the first time just outside of the gate and tell you to not open it." His features hardened slightly. "This is all a trick by them in keeping us away from freeing your mother now that we're so close." His features softened for mere moments. "Don't worry, I'll handle everything from here."
Taking some steps forward, Wenwu spoke aloud so perhaps everyone in the village may hopefully hear him. "If you leave, surrender and step aside, none of you will be harmed. But if you keep me from opening my wife's prison, you will receive no mercy."
The village elder, Guang Bo, stepped forward and spoke to the Ten Rings leader. "We have defended the gate for generations and will not abandon it now."
Ying Nan spoke up, finally addressing her brother-in-law for the first time. "I miss my sister as much as you do, but this is not the way to honor her memory."
Wenwu looked over and saw her. He can clearly tell she is indeed Ying Li's sister. They shared similar features and might bare more if his wife was still alive.
As much as he'd like to stand down now and perhaps speak with his wife's blood, he couldn't now of all times.
"Did you honor her when you turned her away?"
"You fool." Guang Bo yelled out. "We turned you away. The sins of your past would have destroyed this place."
"Be careful how you speak to me," He gave Guang Bo a pointed look. "Young man. I lived ten of your lifetimes."
Shaun and Xialing stepped in between their father and the village, beginning to beg their father to stop.
Wenwu looked around to the village, seeing the women and children, the old and fragile. He even saw his son's friend and his wayward "court jester" was amongst them. His resolve softens as the seconds ticked by.
Before he could speak, he heard something in the wind. It was the voice of his beloved wife, which the wind carried from across the lake.
"My love, please. I need you. Save me."
A moment later, Wenwu clenched his fists with the rings around his arms glowing.
"I've come too far to give up now." He said, a deathly glare to his visage.
With this said, the Immortal Khan looked back to his men.
"Burn it down." He coldly ordered.
With this said, the Ten Ring members began their attack. An action that was reacted with the villagers moving in to collide with their adversaries.
Shaun and Xialing stayed at their spot, looking onto the chaos. The siblings remained silent on how to act and where to fight.
No doubt their father gave strict orders to not have any of his men harm either of them. Yet such orders would be ignored once fighting either of them.
"And that's our que." Tony said, helmet snapping around his helmet.
He rocketed forward and with that, the Avengers jumped into action.
Their powers and skills were quick to overwhelm the grunts of the Ten Rings, Wenwu seeing them in annoyance.
"Avengers?" His eyes then widened and his head whipped around to his children. "You were with them?!"
"Surprise." Shaun said, twirling his bo staff, Xialing readying her rope dart.
Wenwu's expression was briefly struck ashen before he steeled himself and without hesitating, fired his rings at the two.
Shaun and Xialing jumped away just in time but the shockwave of the rings still sent them flying.
They landed on the ground, going in for a back roll to get themselves back up and were ready to fight their father but it appeared he was already busy.
Iron Man had swooped down and their father immediately engaged the armored Avenger in a fierce duel.
The pair fought viciously against each other, exchanging strikes and blows with every attack.
Wenwu managed a hit on Iron Man's gut but was met with a beam blast to the face in retaliation.
The Mandarin snarled aloud, enforcing his head with the energy of the Ten Rings and headbutted the Avenger who reared his head back… and then countered it with a headbutt of his own.
This stunned Wenwu momentarily but his centuries of combat experience made his body reflexively shoot out his arms, firing his rings into the Avenger. Stark was sent careening back but managed to expunge the rings with an energy shield he disbursed from his armor.
The rings immediately returned to their owner, Wenwu cocking his fist back with Iron Man mirroring the posture and their fists met at the same time, a small shockwave bursting out from the contact.
Before either sibling would go in and assist the Iron Avenger, they heard a scream from someone familiar to them.
Looking over, they saw Katy was backing away and defending herself from their former mentor, Li Ching-Lin.
Shaun's old friend was swinging her bow left and right, which the Death Dealer was avoiding with utter ease. He wasn't even trying, due to how inexperienced Katy was. Didn't help when she soon tried to punch him, yet Ching-Lin caught her arm and tossed her away.
Seeing this happen, Shaun was quick to move and go right toward his friend's attacker with Xialing following right behind.
Just as Death Dealer was about to finish the job, his instincts kicked in and he raised his arm in time to block a red bo staff. A moment later, he shoved it back, whipping out kunai and retaliated with a spinning corkscrew
Shaun spun his bo staff around, deflecting the attacks.
Death Dealer was relentless in his assault but his motions were halted when something caught his wrist. He was then violently tugged back yet he managed to land gracefully on the ground.
His head whipped up to see Xialing standing by her brother, both glaring at the man with heated looks.
There was an odd glint in their former mentor and tormentor's eyes as he twirled his kunai about.
"Don't expect a repeat from Macau." Shaun plainly said.
Ching-Lin said nothing but his eyes conveyed enough smugness to annoy the siblings yet Xialing shook her head.
"Stay focused brother." She quietly said. "Let's teach this asshole he can't toss us around anymore."
Shang-Chi couldn't hide his grin at his sister's words and readied his staff.
This time, it was Death Dealer that moved to strike first but his attack was immediately parried by Shaun.
With this opening, Xialing jumped forward with a flying knee, one their tormentor hastily blocked. He then threw his own knee up which was swatted aside by Shang-Chi with his staff followed by one strong jab to his stomach.
Death Dealer stumbled back yet his instincts helped him in blocking a flurry of kicks directed at him from Xialing.
His arm was then caught with her rope dart and with a mighty pull, enhanced by the magical properties of her weapon, Ching-Lin was thrown toward her. She simply stepped aside as her brother came in for a spinning strike, his bo-staff cracking against the man's chest.
Their old mentor crashed onto the ground, groaning aloud in pain, clutching his chest
The siblings grinned at their victory, this high fiving each other in full force over this long-awaited feeling over the man who brutalized them in their younger years.
If they were perhaps attentive towards their surroundings, they would've noticed their father seeing this happen in fragmented bits when he wasn't focusing more on Stark.
A frown marred his features upon witnessing his children defeat Ching-Lin.
Whatever sense of pride he had of seeing this was quickly squashed down with the anger he felt of them essentially betraying him further.
He didn't have further time to dwell on the topic as he was grabbed by Stark and the two flew up into the air, re-engaging in their battle.
With the man's children, them defeating the Death Dealer gave them a sense of accomplishment swelled within the siblings.
Their aunt was truly right in her assessment. Working together is far better than getting in each other's way.
Shaun looked around and spotted Katy leaning against the wall of the nearby building. He came up to her with a worried look.
"You okay, Katy." He asked in concern.
She gave off a weak laugh, trying to stand upright, chest puffed out. "Yeah. Nothing I can't just walk off."
"Like you crashing that one client's car?"
"That was one time and it was a stupid dog's fault for getting in the way." She immediately rebuked, any semblance of fear or exhaustion vanishing.
Shaun shorted in humor.
Katy looked around and cringed on the ensuing fight all around.
"Things are getting outta hand."
To prove this point, she and the Xu siblings saw She-Hulk collide with Ravage, who was using debris from nearby buildings to strike Banner's cousin over and over. The Ghost Rider was scorching several Ten Ring assassins before being struck from the side by D'Kay. The sorcerers were duking it out i brawl before they separated elsewhere. Every other Avenger was elsewhere in the area as it was hard to keep track of them with how chaotic everything was.
Though hearing the familiar, iconic sounds of metallic rings colliding with repulsor blasts made the trio quickly locate their source.
Gazing over yonder, Katy, Shaun and Xialing saw Stark was still battling Wenwu as their bout was getting closer to the beach.
Sharing a look, the Xu siblings knew where they needed to go now.
Katy saw them leave before she went off to try and recover for the time being until going back into the fight.
If Shaun's friend stayed any longer, she would've seen the Death Dealer get back onto his feet. The trained assassin saw where his master's progeny went off to with a narrowed glance.
Before Ching-Lin could go after them, he was struck from the side by the Iron Fist.
"Can't have you ruin family therapy now." Said Danny, striking the Death Dealer once more with another punch, one glowing with yellow chi. "It's long overdue."
The chi-empowered punch sent Death Dealer flying back, crashing through one of the buildings of the village.
Elsewhere, Clint was bobbing and weaving around the sword arm of Razorfist, the man frustrated at being unable to cut down the Avenger.
Nearby was Crusher who was getting beaten back by the onslaught of the White Tiger with his green ethereal tigers assisting in overwhelming the man.
She-Hulk fought viciously against Ravage, the Guardian Lions assisting her.
Modred was using every spell he knew to ward off the combined duo of Doctor Strange and Karl Mordo, the man almost ragged as both men were relentless in their attacks.
Celeste ran into the Devil Slayer and saw him using the shadows to combat her.
Yet the response he got from this was a rather chilling phrase.
"I pity you." She said, igniting her lightsaber. "You use the shadows. I am a Jedi Shadow. Fighting people like you is on my resume."
Shaking off the phrase, he glared at her beneath his hood. "I don't even know what that is."
Celeste smirked, twirling her saber. "You will."
With quick use of the Force laced with the magic she had mastered, Devil Slayer's eyes bulged out, finding himself flying towards her. He hastily utilized his cloak to escape but the man didn't have time to breathe as Morne was instantly upon him.
"You can't hide." She said, "Just surrender."
"And besmirch the name of the Ten Rings?" He shot back. "Like hell."
"So be it."
As the two battle against each other, the hooded Ten Rings demonic member fought against the Avengers' demon.
D'Kay fought savagely, constantly trying to tear Ghost Rider apart yet the Spirit of Vengeance was persistent in retaliation.
"A demon freed from his cage." Rider grasped his fiery chain in one hand which was linked to his emblazoned ax in the other. "That simply won't do. Make this easier for yourself and bury your head in this ax here."
D'Kay only screeched back in response, getting the Ghost Rider to huff with a pleased look in his fiery eyes.
"Good choice. I need to test this thing's sharpness."
The fighting went on all around the village, chaos reigning.
Yet in spite of it all, the villagers and the Avengers were beating back the Ten Rings one at a time but the fight they were putting up still proved difficult.
In the midst of the battle, Wenwu successfully managed to repel Iron Man with a combined blow with the use of all ten of his rings. With that attack, the two had violently separated, crashing on opposite ends of the village.
Iron Man on the outskirts and the Mandarin…
Right in front of the village memorial shrine.
Getting to his knees, the first thing Wenwu saw was a portrait of his wife and his heart stopped.
The fighting in the village was tuned out, the man's focus solely on the picture of the woman whom he loved with his heart and soul.
Standing in front of the portrait, the corner of his eyes caught sight of some unlit incense.
Wordlessly, he took one, lit the edge and placed it on the small bowl in front of the picture. He held a solemn gaze, eyes becoming glazed as he clasped his hands together into a small prayer.
"Soon, my love." He whispered. "Soon."
He heard footsteps from behind and saw that it was his son that entered the shrine.
Rather than glare or say anything negative, Shang-Chi's eyes were focused on his mother's shrine.
"Father." He quietly said. "Please. You don't have to do this. This is her home."
"And it's stopping us from reuniting with her." Wenwu deftly retorted, turning to face him.
A pained look crossed Shaun's face, the young man shaking his head.
"She's not back there, dad. She's gone." He became more resolute. "And if you're not gonna stop then I'll stop you myself."
Wenwu's expression was difficult for Shaun to read as the man approached him.
"And are you planning to stop me? Even with these Avengers?"
"I'm not afraid of you." He managed out, making his father smirk.
With a quick look down at the trembling hand and the hesitation in the eyes, Wenwu could see right through his statement. "Yes, you are."
Clenching his teeth, Shaun swung first though it was immediately blocked by his father's wrist. With a ring-enhanced elbow to his chest, Shang-Chi was sent skidding back, his bo staff managing to stop him from flying back.
Shaun mentally thanks his aunt and mother for the dragon scale suit as it absorbed a great deal of the damage of the rings.
Still hurt like hell though.
The two traded attacks, back and forth with Shaun on the offensive though his father's defense held strong.
Shaun went for a horizontal swing which Wenwu easily jumped over and kicked his son down hard.
Seeing his son lying on the ground, he stood above him and glared.
"You've spent your entire life afraid. Always running, always hiding." He berated his boy. "Never finding any semblance of courage to face your past like a man."
With Wenwu distracted in fighting his son, he didn't notice his daughter come in with a strike from behind. Not in close combat right away, but with her rope dagger.
The heavyweight side crashed into his blind side, making him stumble back. This left an opening for Shaun to quickly get back onto his feet, grab his bo-staff and deliver a few thrusts. With the Immortal Khan avoiding the hits, Xialing soon came in with several swings of her weapon, having the blade nearly cut Wenwu's face if he didn't duck away in time.
Xialing maneuvered around quickly, kicking the heavy weight of her weapon right at her father. He kicked it right back, prompting his daughter to swerve and continue swinging her rope around.
The rope swiftly furled around the arm, having it pulled down by Xialing. Yet Wenwu was quick to pull back to send his daughter flying over, leaving her exposed for a condensed ring blast to send her outside of the shrine.
"Xialing!" Shaun cried out, now aggressively attacking his father, getting several hits in on Wenwu's chest.
The man grunt, the dragon scale tipped staff proving to be a formidable weapon.
Yet with a quick counter, his rings went into their whip mode, grabbing the staff and its owner and he tossed Shaun to where his sister was.
The siblings groaned in pain but forced themselves back up just as their father came at them.
Wenwu attacked with little restraint, Xialing rolling out of the way whilst Shaun deflected his attacks.
"You were there when they came for her, and you did nothing. You stood at a window and watched her die!"
He felt his arm get ensnared once more. He was pulled back before he was struck hard with a knee strike to his spine. Wenwu fell to the ground but performed a recovery roll. Looking over, he saw Xialing pull her dagger rope back to her with a glare aimed right at him.
"He was just a child!" His daughter yelled at him. "And so was I! How could we have fought so many adults back then?! We would've been slaughtered and you would've been alone!"
Wenwu was momentarily taken aback by the venom in his daughter's voice, proving to be the needed distraction for Shaun to smack him right in the jaw with his bo staff.
He tumbled to the ground, righting himself on one knee and massaged his bruised cheek which healed moments later thanks to the rings.
Seeing this, Shang-Chi glared spitefully at those bands around his father's arms.
"She was gone and we needed you. But you chose those damn rings over us." he shouted,
In response, Wenwu began firing his rings at them both, the pair spinning their weapons around to swat and bat away each ring that went right back to him.
Each sibling went to attack from either side of their father as he grew closer to them. Their efforts were driving Wenwu back more and more to the water banks before holding him in place with the staff on one side with the rope pulling on the other.
In mere moments, the siblings coordinated their movements to properly knock their father away and lie on the ground.
"You trained your son and daughter to be killers." Shang-Chi marched towards him, staff at the ready. "Is this what you wanted?"
Wenwu didn't get a chance to respond, his children refusing to let up on their attacks.
"Mother wouldn't have wanted any of this." Said Xialing, rage filling her senses and voice. "She would've wanted us to be better."
With a combined attack, they brought their weapons down, striking their father at full force. He fell to the ground, grunting at the impact before he forced himself back up to one knee.
Both Xu siblings now stood above the crouched man with their weapons aimed right at him.
"Even if you could bring her back, what makes you think she'd want anything to do with you?" Shaun's tone was cool and unfeeling, something that caused a snap in his father.
With speeds they couldn't follow, Wenwu tripped up his daughter whilst delivering a five-ring powered uppercut to his son's gut.
He hovered in the air momentarily just as Wenwu recalled all his rings onto one arm to deliver a devastating punch that sent him careening through the water.
"SHANG!" Xialing cried out in horror, eyes wide in disbelief at seeing her brother get submerged in the depths of the water.
She went to retaliate but received a similar treatment. The rings swiftly collided against her and sent her flying. Instead of landing in the lake, she tumbled a good distance away on the shoreline.
With his children incapacitated, or worse, Wenwu looked onward to where the Dark Gate was at.
The voice of his beloved wife called to him, having the immortal man shoot his Rings of Power into the earth and propel him into the air.
He crossed over the lake in mere moments. Shooting out his rings once more from his arms, he softened his landing before stumbling in his step.
Gazing up, his eyes landed on the gate that was his final obstacle.
He was right here. He was so close.
"I'm coming, my love." The man whispered, adopting an unyielding look of determination.
Calling upon his rings power, he reared back his arm and began punching the gate's surface. Energy rippled all over, courtesy of the rings enhancing his strikes. One after the other, he slammed his powered up punches against the gate with each strike loosening the dragon scale barrier.
As he was breaking through the dragon-scaled gate, Wenwu pauses at an unusual warbling screech coming from on high. Looking up, he froze up at what he saw.
Winged, bat-like eldritch creatures were coming through the cracks of the gate.
The same creatures similar to those he's been seeing in his dreams.
Wenwu wasn't sure what to make of what he was looking at until he heard her voice again.
"Save me, my dear. Save me."
Hearing his wife's pleading voice once more, almost like a haze coming over him, Wenwu resumes his task in breaking down the gate.
Over in the village, the defenders of Ta Lo with their new allies with the Avengers were beating back the Ten Rings soundly through their enforcers remained the most difficult of enemies to dispose of.
Crusher and Razorfist managed to pair up and proved to be an effective team in keeping Clint, Hector and Danny back.
Death Dealer had been thoroughly beaten, the man lying in a heap of buried rubble, slowly coming to but feeling pain course through his body; courtesy of the Iron Fist.
Celeste remained engaged with Devil Slayer and his demon D'Kay was fighting viciously against Ghost Rider.
Ravage was finding She-Hulk to be a severe annoyance, the Guardian Lions proving to be sturdier creatures than anticipated with how much damage they were able to tank.
Modred was proving to be the biggest hassle of the Ten Rings, constantly teleporting around the battlefield with a spell different from the sling ring.
Short bursts of teleportation's, similar to the ones the Mystics of Kamar-Taj utilize though his left an after image.
Strange and Mordo were in constant pursuit of the man yet he remained elusive.
Ying Nan was standing in the midst of a fallen foe when she heard a screech in the distance. Looking to the source her eyes widened when seeing something flapping away from the Dark Gate.
"He breached the gate!"
Iron Man landed next to her, his eyes affixed on the oncoming bat creatures flying toward them.
"Are those the little freak shows from the other world?" He asked, Ying nodding.
"They're coming from the gate." She said, "Wenwu is there."
Without another word, he blasted off at full speed towards the gate, ignoring the cries of protest from Nan.
To her surprise, the man's suit proved effective enough to at least repel the creatures though it didn't kill them.
He blasted through them all, making a beeline for the gate where the Mandarin was.
Shaking her head, Ying Nan turned back to her village, yelling at the top of her lungs.
"TA LO." Her voice broke through the battle. "Cease who you are fighting! The gate has been breached! We must prepare to defend ourselves."
Without another word, all the residents of Ta Lo immediately disengaged the people they were fighting, rushing to rally around Ying Nan.
The Ten Rings were left in a state of confusion at being abandoned so suddenly though Ying did not forget about them.
"Those things are gonna kill us all if we don't work together." She spoke in grave seriousness. "Whatever feelings you have for us must be abandoned now for the sake of the world."
Razorfist gave her a bewildered look with anger still ever present.
"You think we're going to fall for that?" He asked in rage.
"Your weapons are useless against them." Ying Nan coolly stated.
The one armed man snorted, throwing his arms wide open.
"We don't need your help." He boasted. "We are the mighty Ten Rings and any-"
One of the Soul Suckers went directly to Ching-Lin who only just stood back up from his injuries.
It swooped down, latching onto the man and he struggled in a futile effort before having an orb of energy, his soul, be pulled out from where his mouth was behind his mask. He was promptly dropped to the ground and he landed there, unmoving and dead.
Others went elsewhere in the village.
She-Hulk tumbled across the ground, whipping her hand across her mouth where blood was coming out of.
The Guardian Lions were injured and still recovering, their moans of pain enraging her.
"You're dead you bastard." She growled out.
"Is that all you have to say?" Ravage smugly asked, arms out wide despite the litany of bruises, bites and claw marks he had despite his healing factor. "Come now, Jennifer. Where's all that bravado you and your cousin have in your blood?"
"Don't worry, Crawford, I'm getting my second wind."
Before Jennifer could properly prove her point, something dived in from behind the man and interfered with their fight.
With how they were positioned, Crawford was snatched up by one of the little Soul Suckers and was hoisted up into the air. The gamma-enhanced professor struggled to free himself from the eldritch creature. No matter how hard he tried, it was a wasted effort. And in that struggle, the Soul Sucker did its namesake and sucked the soul out of Crawford's body before depositing him to the earth.
As this happened, Jennifer could only look on with various emotions.
Even if he was an enemy, she didn't wish this fate to befall on him.
Seeing this happen to many Ten Ring operatives, especially a few of their powerhouses, made things get worse and worse.
Razorfist tried in vain, seeing his partner get snatched up by several of the Soul-Suckers.
One of the archers of Ta Lo tried helping, managing to shootdown several of the creatures yet one remained latched onto the man and pulled out his soul. The man's body fell to the ground, his comrade and friend rushing over to check up on him only to see the worst had come to pass.
"We… We should work together." Razorfist quietly said, in disbelief at the sight of his brother-in-arms being taken by these creatures.
Elsewhere, Ghost Rider stood over the charred husk of D'Kay, the flaming skull appearing smug when it heard screeches coming right for him. Looking up, Robbie saw Soul-Suckers flying right for him.
With a roll of his shoulder, he flung his fiery chain and ax and it cleaved through the beasts, the hellfire scorching them into ashes.
Celeste, having beaten Devil Slayer, stood in front of him as the Soul-Suckers descended on her.
Enacting a coating spell around her lightsaber, she swung her blade around in a series of arching sweeps, taking out some whilst beating back others.
Seeing Crusher and Ravage being taken and killed by these Soul Suckers, along with many of the Ten Ring members essentially giving up, Modred let loose a growl.
He soon used his magic to take him and several others away from Ta Lo and back to the compound.
"So much for friendly cooperation." Strange dryly said, Mordo nodding absentmindedly.
"What are they doing?" Clint asked, standing close by to Kate protectively.
"Stealing souls to feed the Dweller-in-Darkness. If it grows strong enough, it will break right through the gate. That was just the beginning." Ying Nan informed him and the others, unaware of what their intentions were.
"Where the hell did Tony go?" Jen asked, jogging over to them, the Guardian Lions by her side.
"To the gate." She said, "Hopefully, he can stop Wenwu from causing any more damage to the gate."
"They're still coming through." Celeste pointed out, holding her lightsaber in the direction of the gate and from it was a nearby army of Soul-Suckers.
"Re-arm yourselves!" Ying Nan ordered.
Immediately, everyone was assembling. Residents of the village were acquiring every weapon in their stores, distributing them to the Avengers and their enemies.
"Everyone to the water now!" Clint ordered. "Archers to the back, shields up front. Avengers, pick your targets, do not fight alone, stay back to back and watch each other's sixes. Strange, Mordo, you two gotta keep them all rattled. Portal, illusions, all of it. Rider, just go wild."
Once everyone got into formation, a brief moment of silent anticipation came over the group.
The soul-suckers drew closer and closer, their unearthly screeches unnerving some.
"Aim at the sky, to win or die!" Guang Bo order, slamming his longbow hard on the ground for emphasis, nocking an arrow in a second later.
Clint looked over and gave a brief instruction to Shaun's friend. "Deep breaths, Katy."
Katy gave a hesitant nod before doing what was needed.
From behind them all, Xialing stood, torn and conflicted.
She wanted to get to her brother but also she needed to stop her father and she could do neither.
As these thoughts plagued her mind, her own brother drifted further and further down into the depths of the water.
He was unresponsive, small bubbles of breath drifting out from his mouth. He should be thrashing, flailing, doing everything he could to escape this watery grave.
Yet he felt… strangely content.
Shaun was cognitive of where he was and made no efforts to swim up.
"Shang-Chi, you have nothing to fear." The memories of his mother echoed in his mind. It was like a warm blanket draped over him "You have the heart of our dragon. I will always be a part of you. And your dad will too. Take everything we've given you and make it your own."
He felt a soothing sensation well from within his chest, the water around him beginning to shift about.
"I'm so proud of you. Our family needs you. Now go."
Eyes snapping open, Shaun wildly looked about his surroundings until he saw a shadowy, snake-like creature swimming around him.
Eventually, the being revealed itself to him and Shaun felt a surge of power within him.
The being looked into his eyes before going under him and he latched onto the large head, straining himself against the pressure of the water.
On the surface, the soul-suckers were just a few feet away from the protectors of Ta Lo when everyone froze at the sight of rippling water.
The water's surface exploded upward. From it, something unexpected was shown to many present in the village.
It was a massive eastern dragon with silvery white and red scales. It began chomping and tearing many of the soul-suckers with both its mouth and tail as it spun about.
It was the Great Protector!
"Holy shit!" Several of the Avengers exclaimed.
"Guys!" Hector excitedly said. "It's fucking Shenron!"
"My word." Mordo muttered in amazement.
"He's amazing!" Iron Fist exclaimed before snorting. "The one in K'un-Lun is better and more intimidating."
"Uh, huh. Sure." She Hulk dryly said.
"Oooo." Ghost Rider managed out in his demonic voice. "...I wanna watch Dragon Ball Z now."
"Oh my god, you damn children." Barton said aloud. "Focus, people!"
The village elder nodded and gave out a resounding order.
The soul-suckers drew closer and closer by the second. Anticipation was rising far more than before.
A hail of arrows came down on the demons, the front force of the creatures being killed in rapid succession. The next one, however, flew at them unfettered.
They came down on the defenders of the village and several managed to quickly take some souls whilst others were killed off.
Ghost Rider was the first to act of the Avengers, jumping into the air to whip his hellfire chain around, killing any soul-sucker that flew within his vicinity.
White Tiger unleashed several jade dragons, the spiritual animals grabbing soul-suckers out the air and bringing them down. Some were ripped apart to shreds whilst others nearby killed them off.
She-Hulk, garbed in dragon-scale gloves and bracers, jumped around, punching the demons out of the air or snagging them to rip them apart. The Guardian Lions also proved to be effective, the beasts being able to tear into the eldritch demons.
Celeste used her Lightsaber though on it was a dragon scale ringlet. With the use of her magic, the Force and some creativity, she managed to imbue her saber with the properties of the dragon scale, managing to kill the soul-suckers more easily.
Strange and Mordo were working overtime, either killing the bat freaks or moving about the battlefield, saving any who were about to have their souls taken.
Clint remained close to Katy, shooting down any Soul-Sucker that came close, constantly instructing Katy where to shoot whilst keeping her safe, something she greatly appreciated.
Iron Fist was wearing dragon scale vambraces of his own, both his fists alight with chi. He was bashing away any Soul-Sucker that drew near, grabbing a red sword in the middle of the battle for better range.
Whirling her weapon about to and from, Xialing was able to destroy many of the eldritch bat creatures.
"Xialing!" Shouted a familiar voice to her.
Twisting over, the daughter of Wenwu had found her brother. Not only was he not drowning in the lake but was riding the Great Protector.
"Get on!" He called out to her.
Taking off in a dead sprint, Xialing used her dagger rope to quickly latch onto the resident dragon. It soon went higher, causing her to swiftly climb to the end. Her brother hoisted her up a second later with her furling up her weapon with a quick flick of her arm.
"We have to stop father!"
It was rather obvious to say, but Shaun knew what needed to be done.
Flying through the air, the Great Protector was bringing the two humans to the Dark Gate. The dragon was destroying more of the small soul-suckers during the small journey.
Nearing the Dark Gate, the siblings saw their father was battling against Tony Stark once more.
The Iron Avenger was doing his best to hold off Wenwu from striking the gate several times over.
The Mandarin fought like a man possessed, not letting up whilst Stark refused to give him any more ground.
Problem was that there were the Ten Rings of Power to deal with.
So while several kept Tony distracted at times, Wenwu used those distractions to fire his rings at the gate. They weren't as strong as his fully powered punches but they still managed to damage the gate with their small shockwaves.
"I can say one thing." Iron Man remarked, firing a beam at Wenwu who conjured a barrier to hold it back. "You are relentless. Kinda like me."
"Do you know you talk too much?" Wenwu said through gritted teeth, an annoyed glare directed at the billionaire.
"No, since when was that an issue?" Stark asked, feigning ignorance.
Before they were able to continue their battle, a powerful roar was heard followed by a gush of wind.
Both men looked up to see Shang-Chi and Xialing landing behind Stark, a dragon flying overhead.
"What the hell?" Tony said in awe. "What's with Dragon Ball Z?"
"That's the Great Protector." Shaun answered, eyes on his father.
Stark whistled appreciatively, hands on his hips as he admired the great beast that swooped in momentarily, eating a number of soul-suckers at once.
"Mr. Stark." Shang spoke up, making the man turn to him. "This is our fight. Ours to settle. Please…"
Whilst Iron Man wished to continue the fight, he recalled the conversation the two had prior to the battle.
"Daddy issues suck, don't they?" Was all Tony said before flying up into the air and heading back to the village, the two siblings snorting at the comment.
Wenwu stood silently, observing his children who soon walked towards him.
"Are you truly that determined to have your mother trapped behind there?" He rhetorically asked, gesturing to the gate.
"She's not back there, father." Spoke his daughter.
Wenwu's jaw clenched. "Get out of my way."
"We won't." Said his son.
Wordlessly, his children got into fighting stances and the man let loose a disappointed sigh.
Then, without warning, he attacked.
Two rings were shot from his arms, his children dodging both times when they came at them and when they returned back to their father.
He got in close and it became a display of high-level martial arts from all three participants.
Wenwu was so skilled that not only was he able to hold off against his own against his children but was able to make the occasional strikes against the Dark Gate, releasing more soul-suckers in the process. As this happened, either of the siblings would come in and knock him away to resume their fight.
It became such a cycle, one which needed to be broken but in Shang-Chi and Xialing's favor.
Before long, the Xu siblings realized that whatever they were doing wasn't working.
Shaun looked towards his sister and spoke quickly. "We can't fight like we used to. Remember what our aunt told us."
Xialing simply nodded in agreement.
Jumping back, both remembered their teachings, their aunt's words and their mother's memories.
They were no longer going to fight like their father but like their mother. Both got into fighting stances different from what they were used to but their father immediately recognized it.
A wave of nostalgia struck him, seeing their mother briefly before he snapped himself out of his daze.
Teeth clenched tightly, the Khan ran at them, the battle resuming.
Back in the village, things were in an utter state of disarray. Losses were slowly piling up. Everyone was starting to get exhausted, little by little, leaving them open for the soul-suckers to take them down.
Amongst the wreckage in the village, Sherlock and Watson of the Dijiang waddled about.
They were worried as the one person they knew best was nowhere to be found.
That was until they found him.
Coming across Trevor, they trilled sounds of whimpering sorrow. He wasn't moving. They began knocking against him, hoping he wasn't dead-
"Calm down, mates." Trevor grunted out, holding his head up. "I'm not dead, it's just a performance. Now get down here and play along."
Seems it was rather convincing with all of the wounded and dead people lying around.
Before long, the two Dijiang played "dead", lying on their backs and trying to sleep it all off.
Over yonder, Katy saw this and groaned.
"God, I wish I can join." She muttered as she kept firing one arrow at a time from her cover.
Morris, who hid beside her, made a trilling sound.
"Me too, buddy, me too." She muttered, managing a quick pat on his head.
Back at the Dark Gate…
The Xu siblings continued working in tandem. They were doing their best to block and avoid the Rings of Power whilst blocking their father's attempts of getting back to the Gate.
Even though they've been getting some form of advantage by changing to their mother's fighting style, it wasn't enough for the most part.
Their combined efforts had, at last, kept the man back from the gate and in their battle, both now possessed two rings, one on each of their wrists. Their opponent now only has six in total in his possession.
In several clashes, they were havin tug-o-war match to see who can regain or take whatever rings from the other. Other bouts had the rings clash with each other over and over again, having their metallic sounds ring out in the mountain area.
Wenwu held a conflicted look. On one hand, he was angry and frustrated at having his own blood hold him back to such an extent.
But on the other, there was an unquestionable feeling of pride at seeing his children fighting together so effectively, and in a style that was a mixture of his way and their mothers. Their actions kept him on his heels, overwhelmed by the synchronized flurry his children were unleashing.
What they once taught their children before her passing.
"I have to save her." Wenwu says with desperation in his voice. "She's calling to me."
"I wish that were true."
"Father, please. Just stop. We need you." Shaun implored. "We can't change what happened but please. We can still be a family."
For a brief moment, the strange haze that swirled in the mind of the Mandarin lifted.
"Let me out!"
And like that, it locked him back in. Overwhelmed with desperation and fury, Wenwu lunged at his son. He struck him hard first. In the process, he stole back his rings from Shaun before repeating the same action towards his daughter.
"DAD!" Shaun cried out in vain, seeing what he was about to do.
Having all rings back on his arms, he reared them back and unleashed everything he had, striking the Dark Gate right then and there with the strongest smash yet.
The ground shook.
Not just on the mountain, but on the ground across the lake as well.
The soul-suckers immediately stopped fighting, which a number of their enemies used to their advantage to slay them.
Everyone else froze and turned to the mountain, subconsciously realizing what had happened.
Silence more or less reigned over the land.
All that could be relatively heard was picked up by Wenwu.
"Thank you, for freeing me."
After this was heard, the Dark Gate burst open. The debris went everywhere as a monstrous entity was unleashed. It was far more menacing and intimidating as it was ugly in appearance. It was just as large as the Great Protector of Ta Lo. And it was a large, frighteningly enlarged version of the regular soul-suckers.
It was the Dweller-in-Darkness.
"Oh… Shit…" Was all Shaun drawled out upon seeing the monstrosity escaping its prison.
Wenwu's eyes widened and in an instant, the haze, that unusual pressure in his mind that had plagued him for so long abruptly vanished.
All that hope was replaced with utter terror.
'What have I done?'
This terror was soon redirected when he saw the Dweller-in-Darkness focus its attention on his children.
"Oh Fuck!" Shaun exclaimed, instinctively grabbing his sister protectively.
Using his rings, Wenwu propelled himself forward, crashing into his son and daughter; knocking them a good distance away.
Tumbling to an eventual stop, Shang-Chi and Xialing saw their father was hoisted into the air by the giant soul-sucker's tentacles. They sought to reach him, but the Dweller-in-Darkness was ascending higher into the sky and beyond their reach.
Their breaths got caught in their throats upon seeing the expression he gave off to them.
One of regret, sorrow and acceptance.
He wasn't going to fight back. Their father accepted his fate.
They could only watch on as their father's soul was being sucked from his being. Him growing weaker and weaker by the second as his very essence was siphoned away.
Before it could proceed further, with the last dregs of his life being dragged out his body, the Great Protector swiftly appeared and collided against its ancient adversary, crashing them right into the mountain.
The action caused the eldritch entity to let go of Wenwu, having him fall to the ground from quite the height.
Yet the man did nothing to slow his descent. He just allowed gravity to take its course, his children running too late as he crashed to the ground.
Neither stopped moving, they kept getting closer to their father.
Skidding down to his sides, the Xu siblings saw their father was hardly moving.
Wenwu's breath was shallow, his eyes distant.
In spite of that, his gaze held firmly on his two children that were on either side of him. Just seeing them was enough to trigger a flood of memories that consumed his entire being.
He was there, watching them train, analyzing them from afar as his men conditioned them into weapons that he would use for his vengeance. How he became what he once walked away from after losing his beloved wife.
And upon thinking of his wife, as if a haze that has clouded his mind for so long, he remembered her vividly.
That smile she would always send in his direction, the way she held him closely when the two would simply sit in content silence whilst their children dozed off.
"All that wasted time." He weakly whispered, his children barely hearing that. "All I should have been instead of what I was. All for nothing."
Shang-Chi and Xialing shared a look with each other, completely thrown off by what their father just said.
"What?" The former said in a low voice.
Wenwu didn't respond, looking at his daughter first. He had a pained smile on his face, clutching her arm with all his remaining strength.
"You look just like her." The dying Khan said quietly. "So much like her. But that hatred. That anger and envy, that was all my fault. I instilled such traits in you because I couldn't bear to look at you longer than I had to lest I suffer pain. My own weakness turned my little girl into a killer. Forgive me, Xialing. Your mother would have never wanted you to go down this path and I forced it upon you."
Lifting up his arms, he had five of the rings go up Shaun's right arm with the other five going up Xialing's left arm.
A moment or two after he felt the connection of the rings leave him, the last bit of his strength left him.
"Funny. Who would've thought dying would reunite me with her after all."
His vision began to blur and darken.
"My Love. My children."
Shaun and Xialing snapped their heads in the direction of the familiar voice and their breaths got caught in their throats.
Wenwu, who had been fading, felt a moment of life surge through him, his hazy vision clearing just enough to see…
"M-mom?" Shaun weakly said.
In front of the three of them stood an ethereal, translucent figure they all knew very well. The figure glowed with a golden hue, one of warmth, comfort and love and it knelt down to them.
Ying Li said nothing to either of her children, only bringing each hand to either of their faces. Rubbing her thumbs across their cheeks as she gave them a smile.
Her subtle actions were enough of a conversation to understand.
Xialing shuddered, unable to hold back the tears that freely flowed from her eyes, her mother being able to wipe them away. She leaned forward, placing a chaste kiss on her daughter's forehead before leaning hers on Xialings and smiling lovingly at her.
She then did the same to Shaun who was still in a state of shock at what he was looking at until he felt his mothers' forehead on his.
Breaking contact with her children, she focused more on her husband.
"Come, Wenwu." Ying Li softly said, a loving smile for her family to see.
Her spirit reached forward, grasping his arm. As she pulled on him, what came up wasn't his body but his own spirit, the man looking down in stunned disbelief with his children mirroring his expression.
He was about to question just what was happening until he felt his wife's hand on his cheek. She simply smiled at him, then turned to their children. Wenwu's spirit did the same, mirroring his son's state of disbelief moments ago. That changed when he felt his wife rest her head on his chest, holding him close.
A look of peace washed over the man, the spirit trembling as he embraced his wife and looked close to weeping after being reunited with her after so long.
Ying Li only hummed happily, gazing up at her husband before resting her eyes upon her astonished children.
"We leave the rest to you." Was all their mother said in full confidence before both their parents' spirits faded from the cliffside. And with them gone, their father's body slumped motionless right after. The last thing they heard was his final breath exiting his body.
They almost couldn't believe it as they stared down at their father's body.
He… he truly was dead.
The Immortal Khan who ruled for a thousand years had at long last moved on from this physical realm.
Too many questions swarmed their mind but right now, they had something far more important to deal with.
With his passing, Shaun and Xialing stood up and looked towards the distance to where the Dweller-in-Darkness was battling against the Great Protector.
Whirling towards where the Dark Gate was, the Xu siblings reared their respective arms back. The Rings of Power in their possession flared to life in the process.
With a thrust of their arms, the Rings shot out and struck the mountain face. The rocks fell down and closed off the breached opening, sealing off whatever Soul Suckers remained.
The Rings came back to Shang-Chi and Xialing's arms. Looking over, they saw the Great Protector coming back to them. This was due to the Dweller-in-Darkness having broken away and going right toward the village.
Seeing the opportunity, the pair took off at a dead sprint before using their Rings to propel them into the air, land on the dragon's back and run toward the head.
Over at the village, the Avengers and protectors saw the Dweller-In-Darkness, the gargantuan demon flying right towards them.
"Santa Mierda, that's the stuff of nightmares." Hector exclaimed. "How are we supposed to fight that?"
"That's not our job." Strange said, summons electrically charged ethereal snakes that ripped through a number of soul-suckers. "Our job is still taking care of these little ones."
"Their Great Protector will keep the monster at bay." Mordo said, whipping the staff of the living tribunal about, killing multiple creatures at once.
"But for how long?"
"As long as it takes." Celeste yelled, stabbing her saber through a Soul-Sucker, killing it.
As the DID drew closer, the Great Protector with the Xu siblings were in hot pursuit.
The dragon flew down to the surface of the water, skimming the top of it and its orange eyes began radiating brightly.
A moment later, its scales began glowing, the energy transferring into the water. A blue light traveled at high speeds to the shore of the village.
Those at the village saw the Dweller coming in closer and they all braced themselves for battle and death…
When a plume of water erupted, launching the demon into the air. The Great Protector flew in from below, flying around in a spinning path with more water erupting and trapping the DID in a swirling tornado of water.
From atop the head of the dragon, Shaun and Xialing watched all this in amazement.
"Ok, so we got it trapped." The former commented. "So now what?"
"We kill it." Xialing said.
"Yeah, and how the hell are we supposed to do that?"
In the midst of all this, Iron Man had joined in, firing beams and missiles at the monster, testing its durability and seeing that it had no effect.
"Well that did nothing." He commented, flying by to get next to the Xu siblings. "Alright, how do we kill it?"
"We're working on that." Shaun lamely said.
In the midst of their conversation, they soon noticed Soul-Suckers flying toward their progenitor. Within their tentacles were the many souls they managed to capture and quickly moved to drop them into the mouth of the beast.
The souls were absorbed by the Dweller-In-Darkness, the beast empowered with violet lines running down its body.
Once sufficiently powered up, it expunged a shockwave that dispelled the water that trapped it.
"Ah fuck, it's juiced." Stark commented, hovering alongside the dragon, with Shaun and Xialing staring at it in fear. "Now what?"
The Dweller and Great Protector circled each other in the air, both glaring at each other before they rushed one another.
Their heads bashed into each other and both siblings were flung from the head.
They were caught by Iron Man who flew around the two gargantuan beasts.
The Dweller ensnared the Great Protector with its tentacles, grabbing the dragon by the throat and head with its clawed arms. It bashed the face several times and pried the mouth open.
"If it gets our dragon's soul, it will be unstoppable!" Ying Nan said from the village shore.
"Oh Shit!" Strange said close by. "Mordo, Celeste!"
The other two Sorcerers saw this and were quick to spring into action.
Using the cloak of levitation, the vaulting boots of Volthoom and magical platforms, the sorcerers went airborne.
Getting around the monster, the three Sorcerers called upon their mystical knowledge. Strange created a dozen copies of himself and they threw out magical hooks that latched themselves onto the Dweller's face.
Celeste and Mordo, meanwhile, moved behind the Great Protector, ethereal enlarged hands coming from their arms, grabbing onto the soul of the dragon and pulling it back.
The DID thrashed about violently, trying to free itself from these chains.
Doctor Strange held the monster back as much as he could but the damn bastard was bigger than him and it was powered up.
Many of his copies were getting destroyed by the demon's power that it was expunging to rid itself of the sorcerer.
"Cut its throat!" Strange yelled at the top of his lungs, seeing that the Dweller was using its mouth to draw out the soul of the Great Protector.
Down below, Guang Bo was with Katy and Hawkeye, the trio trying to get into position.
They watched as the tentacles of the Dweller managed to swat away Celeste and Mordo and freed themselves from Strange.
"We must shoot now!" Guang Bo readied an arrow only for a Soul-Sucker to swoop in and grab him.
Clint reacted fast, shooting down the creature and running to catch the elder before he fell.
Several more Soul-Suckers descended on him as he protected Guang Bo, the archer managing to call out to his latest student.
"Katy!" He yelled, slicing through one of the bat creatures. "Take the shot."
"What? I'm not Legolas, not like-"
Jolting at the tone, she shook her head and aimed.
The arrow wouldn't be able to make it far, especially with her brief day and a half time of training.
Luckily for her, she had assistance in the magical variety.
Her bow and arrow glowed brightly as she aimed at the neck of the Dweller-In-Darkness. Suddenly, around her came hellfire that burnt any Soul-Sucker that came after her.
"Just focus and shoot." Said Robbie, appearing behind her, using his ax to slice one in half.. "I'll provide the 'oomph'."
Letting out a sigh of relief and gratitude and refocused on the Dweller as Robbie soon placed his hand on her shoulder. She felt a unique warmth travel through her shoulder, down her arm and to her hand.
Right after, the arrow was then let loose.
Instead of the typical speed of the arrows she previously shot, this one was enhanced by the Spirit of Vengeance. The power from the Ghost Rider went through the projectile and went at the speed of a rocket.
With the extra power behind it, the arrow Katy shot ripped a huge chunk out of the eldritch entity's neck. Hellfire combined with the magical scales of the Great protector scorched the inside of its throat, the beast releasing a demonic wail of pain.
"Holy shit…" She said in amazement, looking back at Reyes who grinned at her face.
The impact from the arrow caused the DID to flail in utter pain and agony. This soon caused the assisting magical practitioners to let go of their gigantic foe in order to return to the village and take care of the little soul-suckers.
Iron Man flew by and dropped the Xu Siblings back atop the dragon's head before taking off to assist his "magic buddies".
Now free from the Dweller-in-Darkness' hold, the Great Protector flew down towards the lake. Its ancient adversary was in hot pursuit.
Flying to the water, it caused the lake to react and seemingly become animated through magic.
Aquatic tentacles began ensnaring the eldritch entity bit by bit, exposing itself further. The tentacles resembled smaller versions of the Great Protector, constantly whirling around the Dweller in Darkness and slamming into it to keep it disoriented.
It didn't take much guesswork on what the Xu siblings needed to do.
"Those things needed the power of the Ten Rings to free it, right?" Shaun asked, looking at his sister who nodded. "So let's use them to take it down. All of the rings need to be used at once. It's the only way."
"One idea is better than nothing." Xialing said in approval.
At that moment, Shaun sought to give his rings over to his sister. She was more capable of using them to their full capacity than he.
To his surprise, Xialing beat him to it and sent her rings to him instead.
It was perhaps the biggest form of respect she could give him at this time.
He wanted to ask why but she instead turned her attention to keeping the Soul-Suckers at bay. Accepting this responsibility, Shang-Chi went into action.
Running across the length of the Great Protector, the son of Wenwu soon leapt and began striking the Dweller-in-Darkness with everything he had. The Rings of Power were slowly carving through the monster's flesh, bouncing off its body rapidly.
Coming in from one side, Xialing still rode the Great Protector. Unfurling her dagger rope, she whipped its length to reach as far as it could go. Entangling with one of the horns of the entity's head, Xialing tugged hard before the Ta Lo dragon gave its assistance by biting onto the rope and giving it an extra "oomph".
Strange, Mordo and Celeste rushed in to help her, with eldritch ropes holding it down on all sides.
With the throat exposed, Shaun fired all of the rings into the body of the monster. They were soon swallowed, just as he was forcefully sent flying into the air by one of the Dweller's tentacles.
Miraculously recovering airborne, Shang-Chi hovered in the air, the rush of the power of the dragon coursing through him. He fell into the air but he made the wind whip around him whilst he focused as much as he could to connect with the Rings of Power. As he felt them, he began to do what was necessary to finish this.
With the ten rings traveling through the body of the Dweller-in-Darkness, it soon reached its chest. Once in position, Shaun held out his arm and twisted it slowly. They began to spin and glow rapidly. Their shine grew more predominant as the seconds went on by with Shaun rapidly descending.
The eldritch monstrosity, meanwhile, felt the utter pain as the internal assault was occurring, burning away everything from the inside out. It kept on fighting to free itself, but it was all for naught.
With everything reaching its apex, Shang-Chi ignited the rings through his connection. He clenched his fists and thrusted them back.
At that instant, the vicinity exploded.
From the village, everyone there could see a massive explosion of wind, water, light… and eldritch gore going everywhere.
The force of the blast vaporized any of the little soul-suckers that were still out in the open.
Still falling from up high, Shaun recalled the rings back to his arms. He repositioned himself in order to hopefully fire off the rings in order to soften his upcoming collision with the lake.
Luckily for him, he was soon caught by the Great Protector, who snatched him away and ferried him off to the village.
Climbing up from the side, Shaun struggled but was hoisted up by his sister, who gave him a small smile. She then surprised him by leaning her head against his, the two closing their eyes as the dragon flew to the village.
Once there, both of the Xu siblings saw the devastation that happened due to their father's actions.
After all, no victory could ever be achieved without loss.
They heard the sound of thrusters and soft *thmp* behind them, seeing Iron Man coming up to stand with them. Strange, Celeste and Mordo returned as well, surveying the destruction with a somber look.
Shaun felt terrible for what befell his mother's home but he felt the armored hand of Iron man on his shoulder.
"It comes with the territory sometimes kid." Tony said, unusually serious. "What matters is there are still people you saved and can still be saved."
Shang-Chi and Xialing were struck by such sage words but nodded all the same in thanks as they moved forward to help the wounded, prepare the dead for burial and patch the place up.
It was a long day.
Ok, that took…. Somewhat long but really, not that long of a wait.
At long last, we're kinda, sorta, almost done here.
We wanted to finish this arc this chapter.
But then we hit 25k words.
And that was when we decided, alright, let's finish this next time.
Next chapter will be the conclusion to this arc though it shouldn't take long to do.
Fallout mostly so not that much to cover. Maybe 5k words, probably more but nothing too crazy.
Oh and Return of the King Omake next time.
And quick rapid succession, or really one thing to say.
To my Argentina Readers cause I saw on the graph that I actually have some which is awesome.
That was one of the greatest FIFA World cup finals I have ever seen. Picture perfect end and Messi the Goat has got the gold. France has nothing to be ashamed of, amazing comeback but this year was Argentina's. Great match.
Rate Read and Review and as Always Have Nice Day.