[AN: Almost didn't post this since it didn't really further the plot of anything, but I was encouraged to do so by the other members of the Wapsi Writer's Guild.]
Crickets chirped as the sun began to set on the horizion over the estate. And under the shade of trees, a campfire burns in a cleared area. While the elves who originally created it were not in residence, a large cloaked figure was leaning over the pot resting on the coals, stirring a game stew.
"W-what are you doing here? T-this isn't your place!" A small girl glared at the large figure with all the fury of a child.
The cloaked figure looks up from the stew and over at her. The hood fell back from the cloak to reveal a felinoid face. "You are correct, it is not. However, I have been graciously been given permission to use it. Are you, perhaps, looking for the elf who made this residence? I'm afraid she is not in at the moment."
"Y-y-you're a big cat man!" she exclaimed, pointing at his face
His muzzle twitched and he gives her a smile "And you are more than you seem as well, little sakura."
"Sakura? W-what's that?A-a-are you trying to tease me?" Her glower uncertain, but still fierce
"Not at all. It means 'cherry blossom' in Japanese. It is a term of endearment, but I suppose it is particularly appropriate for you."
"I-if that word means what I think it means, then maybe you should use it on my sister instead. Every guy can't take their eyes off of her. Probably because she's got knockers that could be used as life rafts." The hand gestures the little kid used appeared to be greatly exaggerated, but it still brought a chuckle.
"Very well then, how about Little Rose? A cute little flower with hidden thorns." This, offered in a calm tone of voice.
"B-but I'm supposed to keep my thorns hidden." She tilted her head in confusion. Momma's orders were very strict on that topic
"So, cherry blossom it is, then." Prroul wasn't talking down to her, but nevertheless, it was stated as though it was the final step in a chain of logic that was unassailable.
"W-why are you here?" She was still suspicious of the stranger.
"That's a complicated question. I was invited to stay here temporarily by Emerald and by..." he thought for a moment before proceeding "Al. It is his place, after all."
"Oh, so Grampy Al let you stay here?"
"Yes, he invited me to stay until I could return home."
"So you aren't staying? Lotsa people seem to be staying these days. Lotsa new friends."
"No. I do not belong here. Cute little flowers like yourself belong here. Retired veterans like your Grampy Al belong here. Even annoying sisters with knockers that could be used as life rafts belong here. But this place is not my home, although I appreciate the temporary space."
"Where is your home? Is it far?"
"Mmmm... yes. Quite far, unfortunately. In another land, on another continent, practically half-way around the world. You could say it is about as far away from here as it could possibly be without playing with dimensional boundaries."
"You're strange. Even the way you talk is weird. A-a-and you're talking like a grown-up who's trying to not say something in front of a kid."
That gets another smile from him "You are a very observant little blossom, aren't you? Yes, I am, on all three accounts."
"Wait, what?" She blinked as she tried to parse his answer. It took her a moment to realize that he was admitting to a) being weird, b) talking weird, and c) avoiding a topic She decided to focus on the last part for the moment "So you're admitting that you're tryin' ta not talk 'bout somethin'?" This was certainly unique in her experience.
"Of course, why not? It's the truth, after all. Mind you, I'm not going to tell you what I am avoiding talking about, but there is only dishonor in dishonesty."
"M-most adults would try to change the topic or somethin'." Her snort was one that came from 'eternal suffering' at adults changing topics on her
"Which, I believe, has been neatly done. Don't you think?" He gave her a smile, sans teeth. It took her another moment to realize his implication, and another somewhat longer moment before she realized what he had done
"I..." she thought for a moment, then glowered at him again "You're sneaky!" she accused
"It is the beginning principle in the Art of Peace, to sidestep conflict and redirect force." He adopted the calm and reasoning tone of voice he uses for teaching very young students. Similar to the low and steady voice used around nervous animals, actually.
"You say that like it is a title or somethin'." Her expression was dubious, the last thing she wanted was anything resembling 'homework' during the holiday season.
"It is, as a matter of fact. I believe it is also referred to as Akido. It has also been translated as Way of Peace, but I prefer the translation Art of Peace."
"So, if there's an art of peace, does that mean there's an art of war too?" It only took her a moment to make the logical leap
"Yes." His answer was unusually blunt.
"W-w-what's wrong?" While not particularly afraid, he wasn't really being threatening so much as blunt, he was acting like a grown-up when you mention bad topics.
"Oh, my apologies little blossom, I did not mean to be abrupt. I just think the Art of Peace would suit you much better than the Art of War. Even Sun Tzu would agree with me, I think."
"What is war?"
He sighs and shakes his head "That's a very complicated question, and one that doesn't have a simple explanation. It is much like a fight, only moreso."
"L-like what happened a year ago at that wedding?" She had heard bits and pieces from overhearing conversations, and tried to frame it within context.
"Not precisely, but closer. That would be seen as more of a battle than a war, which would consist of many such battles."
"Y-y-you sound like you don't approve. B-but if they didn't fight, then more people would have been killed."
He takes in a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "This is really a better conversation to have with your Grampy Al. I'm sure his answer will be much better than mine. After all, I wasn't here a year ago." He was fairly certain this was a topic Al would NOT thank him for broaching with this little thing.
"But you're the one who sounds like he's gettin' mad over somethin', not him." Her youthful logic was impeccable, so Prroul simply shrugs.
"I do not know if I can explain it in a manner in which you could understand, little blossom."
"Try." She crossed her arms stubbornly and glowered with all the fierceness of a child. She did not like being kept in the dark, and wasn't going to stand for it in this instance.
"Very well." he sits in lotus as he gathers his thoughts. "Fighting is the last resort of the desperate and the first resort of the fool. Fighting to save someone's life? That is a good reason. But fighting because they said something you don't agree with? Is not. Last year, your Grampy Al fought with honor because he was fighting to save lives and to stop a great evil. That is because he is an honorable man. But there are few like him left in this world. All too often, people are so concerned with who is right that they fight each other, even when it won't prove anybody right or wrong."
"Why not? I-I-If I punch some doofus in the nose, it proves he's a doofus and I'm right, doesn't it?"
"No, it proves that you are being mean and something of a bully."
"Hey, you're changing the topic and dodging the question again."
"No, I am merely coming to my point in a roundabout manner. War does not show who is right. It only shows who is left. War should not be about proving something, it should only be about protecting someone, lots of someones, and only if talking things over have already failed. The Art of War is how to make sure that, if you have to fight, you win, eventually, although perhaps at a steep cost. Because if you fail, not only do you die, but so does everyone whom you are protecting, which is worse. The Art of War is making sure that, no matter what else happens, you win. "
"Wow, that sounds really strong." She didn't entirely understand everything, but was a past master at pretending she did. Some things she'd just file away for future reference.
"It is. But the Art of Peace is even stronger."
"How can you be stronger than always winning?"
"By making the fight never happen in the first place and making the Art of War obsolete. That is the Art of Peace, to deflect and to redirect. Only when you have made your foe a friend is he truly defeated."
"S-s-so you're saying that it doesn't matter how strong you are, or how many people you can beat up... if you can keep them from fighting in the first place?"
"Precisely. A bully is simply someone who is so scared of losing that he always makes the first strike to make sure he never gets hurt, never knowing that by striking first, he loses the chance to make a new friend. They are a lonely, afraid, miserable person.Why make their life even worse? Wouldn't you want to help them instead so they don't feel the need to strike out in the first place?"
"That sounds like one of those 'easier said than done' things. And it sounds like that silly stuff in school that sounds good in class but doesn't work very well when a bully has you pinned up against a locker." She had a few teachers try to tell her something similar about 'being a friend to a bully makes them not a bully', but in her practical experience, that never worked.
"Mmmm. Some are so scared that they feel they can't risk letting their guard down. It is, indeed, easier said than done, you are correct. After all, it is a perfect technique, once mastered. It only makes sense that it is something that isn't easy. After all, if it was easy, no one would ever fight, and this world might be a better place."
Since she was starting to get out of her depth, she shifted topics slightly to try and get some context "Most grown-ups don't talk like this. They just pat me on the head and walk off. Why are you telling me all this? I-I-I'm pretty sure that Grampy Al wouldn't have told me. But I bet that's because Mom would be pretty upset with him if he did."
Prroul made a noise that was a cross between a purr and a hum as he temporized "I can't speak for him. However, I have, for many years now, been something of a teacher. It is part of my nature to educate, particularly on such a sensitive topic. It is my hope that if enough people learn this lesson, the world might be a better place."
"Yea? I mean, no offense Mr Big Cat, but every time I hear 'leave the world in a better place', it generally is some stupid impossible thing, or something that is really a bad idea posing as a good idea."
"In general, yes. And, I suppose, this falls under the 'stupid impossible thing' category, to be honest. However, it is an important 'stupid impossible thing', because it proves that I choose my nature, rather than my creators."
"Wait... you... you were..." her vocabulary, or lack thereof, failed her. The only words she knew for what she was trying to say were on her mom's list of 'don't use to describe others'.
"I was created as a weapon of war by a very unscrupulous individual whose... goals exceeded his grasp. Fortunately, for everyone." He gives her a piercing look "It is something, I believe, we share in common, yes?"
"Ummm... I think, I mean, maybe... er..." suddenly, a light bulb turns on, and she takes a step back into a more aggressive stance, although still retaining her human form in a hostile gesture "Whaddya know about that?"
He raises both hands slowly, palms open and out "At ease, little one. I mean you no harm. Part of my business involves finding such unscrupulous individuals and... putting them out of business. Permanently. A report of your creation... how do you say... 'crossed my desk'. Although by the time I got the information, the MIB had already stepped in. I was, I suppose, a 'day late and a dollar short'. Since the bad people had already been shut down, and MIB had stepped in, I left it in their very capable hands. Remember, I was over on the other side of the world at the time. And unlike you and your sister, I don't have access to the Library and the portal system. It would've taken me months, if not years, and MIB already had already put you and your adopted sister together in an orphanage. So there wasn't really much for me to do at that point. However, I'm just as glad that my teacher is not present."
"Oh yea? Why not?" It was a novel concept that an adult had a teacher, but it was a concept she could readily relate to.
"I'm afraid he would be most upset with me, because I'm quite amused by the fact that they tried so hard to make a weapon, and instead their project has become a cute little blossom. It... how do you say... puts one in their eye. Speaking from personal experience, I find I take, perhaps, too much joy in seeing a project which tries to turn a person into a weapon fail so spectacularly."
"So... like a bully trying to steal my lunch money ends up getting busted, then I laugh about it and get in trouble too?" Several of the concepts weren't quick clicking, but she thought she had it.
"In a manner of speaking, yes, you can think of it like that. So please, do continue to live your life however you want. Mother permitting, of course. Every day you live your life with your sister, with the protection of others as your only reason for fighting, is another small part of the payback for what they did. Live your revenge. I very much doubt you will ever hear an adult say this on virtually any other topic, but just this once, on this one topic... go ahead and laugh at them. They deserve it."
"I... I think I get it." her brows furrow as she tries to process it "So, why do ya make the exception for 'the protection of others'? Isn't that still fighting?" One of the things she knew was that Mom did not approve of fighting, period.
"Because a true warrior is one who only fights to protect the weak from injustice."
"Just like Grampy Al?"
"Exactly. Just like Grampy Al. And his compatriot Howard is another example as well. They are both true warriors, and I have much respect for them. However, your Grampy Al has moved beyond that and has become something far greater than a warrior."
"A Grampy for a cherry blossom."
After a few moments, she gives him a Look "You're weird."
"I suppose I am."
"W-w-wait. You're not suppose to agree with that!"
"Why not? It's the truth. To you, I must be very strange. And I am quite glad for that."
She scratches her head for a moment, then shrugs and changes the topic "Please tell miss Emmie that I missed her."
"I shall do so the next time I see her." And with that, he went back to stirring his stew.