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The Stony Path

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"Inside the viper's nest, you must be a viper, too."

*

Revenge is a discipline.

Like any martial art, like any military body, it begins with boot camp.

Amanda has never pushed herself harder, driven her body and mind beyond their limits, fought back so many hot tears.

And yet each day she survives her training she grows tougher, diamond hard on her path to unbreakable.

Hate is fuel. Rage is to be controlled. Love is not an option.

All efforts must be in service to revenge. It is a merciless master, allowing no missteps, no hesitation and never a moment of doubt.

"Who said 'Discipline in war counts more than fury?'"

"Machiavelli."

"Very good."

*

For months she keeps finding her back on the mat, staring up at the ceiling, defeated. Every throw that puts her down she learns from. She keeps getting back up again, more determined than ever.

Then, for the first time, she successfully throws her sensei to the mat. Progress.

Her goal is to beat him every time and she does not rest until she matches him move for move, her focus crystal clear.

When he bows low to her she knows: she has mastered this skill. Yet it is only one of many that her discipline requires of her. One step in a journey that may take decades.

Meditation teaches her patience. Studying great minds teaches her strategy.

"Have you finished reading the Analects of K'ung-fu-tzu?"

"Yes. Tell me the story again, Takeda-san - about your grandparents' village."

"You do not need to hear it again."

"I want to."

Satoshi Takeda is more than her sensei, he is proof it can be done. His systematic destruction of the company that ruined his grandparents and their village is like a bedtime story to her, full of greedy villains and a brave samurai who plots his revenge in secret.

Later she will remember that Japan was beautiful: the views of Mt. Fuji alone breathtaking. She will come to recognize that she has become fluent in a language she never intended on learning. She will realize she now moves in the upper echelons of society like an eel in a koi pond: sleek, graceful and deadly.

Yet she is not ready.

*

He holds her most prized possessions in his hand, out of her reach, and carries them to the fireplace. She had cloistered them away in a rarely used jacket pocket, but somehow he found them, found her weakness.

"You must let go of what your heart holds dearest. There can be no room in the heart for emotion. Just revenge."

"Takeda-san..."

"None..."

He holds up each much handled photograph one by one for her to have one last look. A picture of her, young Jack and puppy Sammy goes first in the the fire. Then her mother, the only image of her that Amanda holds in her memory. Finally a picture of her father smiling, the face she remembers most in her mind. Ashes.

"Let them go. They do not serve you."

She succeeds... In letting the pictures go. She hides the remaining evidence of emotion from her mentor. She's getting very good at hiding; he's taught her well.

She cannot control her dreams though. In them she remembers believing the lies about her father, she envisions him hurt at knowing she failed in trusting in his goodness. She tries to tell him she's doing this for him, to get revenge for all they lost.

But he always turns away in the dream before she can reach him.

She washes her tear-stained cheeks before breakfast and steels herself to erase the emotion from her face before morning tea is served.

She can do this; she can be the statue who feels nothing.

*

"Sun Tzu!"

"'All warfare is based on deception.'"

"More!"

Today they are fighting with weapons: kakushi buki. She knows he has weapons concealed on his person. It is her training to spot them, neutralize them and if possible, use them against her foe.

"'To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.'"

She reveals a dagger, smirking. She picked his pocket on the way to the mat.

This earns her a chuckle and a little nod of acknowledgment.

"'If you do not know your enemies nor yourself...'" he continues, pulling a second dagger out of the folds of his robe.

"'You will be imperiled in every single battle.'"

It takes two moves to disarm him and while she leaves the tiniest opening, she still moves fast enough to escape without a scratch, brandishing her newly won weapon along with its partner.

"Never forget that it is not enough to know all about your enemy," he warns. "You must know all that is in your heart and your head. You must have full control."

She focuses her attention on the blades in her hands, her opponent poised to attack across from her and her objective. She cannot, will not fail.

"I won't forget."

*

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

*

The ice queen approaches through the party throngs and she feels the coldness rise within herself as well.

"Emily, my dear. I'm glad you could make it."

"Why hello, Victoria! So nice to see you... And Mr. Grayson..."

The face of the man her father trusted, the one who orchestrated the betrayal.

"Please, call me Conrad."

"Well thank you, Conrad. That's very kind of you."

The man in the shadows discreetly appears - invisible to all others save his employers and Amanda's trained eye.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Mr. Grayson, but there's something you need to see."

"I'll be right there, Frank." The man she is sworn to destroy tips his champagne glass at her. "Enjoy yourself, Emily."

She's in. She has all the access she needs. Revenge is sweet on her tongue and she ignores the champagne as she revels in the taste of victory, so close. She knows it won't be easy, but she will not be swayed from her goal of complete destruction.

"I shall."

*

"Revenge is a stony path."