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Thunder King

Eight Thousand Miles From Home

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June 17-24

Mali Benjawan stepped out of the Suvarnabhumi Airport, along with her father and mother.

"Wow..." She said, staring out at the city of Bangkok. It was her homeland, it was part of Thailand.

"Remember your first visit, honey?" Her father, Annan said, turning to her mother.

"Yes, I had the same reaction." Apsari said with a smile.

Mali looked out into the city with a smile. She'd seen pictures, she'd heard stories, but this was like a living history.

Annan spotted the car intended to take them to their destination. "Good, here we are. Let's head to the hotel first, then we can go visit family. I need to unwind for a bit anyway."

Mali nodded, though her energy and excitement were still fresh, even she was feeling jet lag.

About a half hour later, they had unpacked their things and were living it up in the Prince Palace hotel. Mali was stretched out on a bed and trying to make sense of Thailand tv.

"I understand what they're saying..." She mumbled to herself. "Doesn't mean I understand what's going on."

"Mali?" Her father said. "I see you're settled in well." He looked at his daughter, remote in hand and laying down on the bed.

"Yeah, this place is great."

"I wanted to talk to you about something."

She nodded and watched as her father sat on the bed next to her. He sighed, tried to think of something to say, and sighed again.

"Mali, I love you, and I am very happy that you are such a strong, confident young woman." Mali nodded slowly, confused."It's just that...well, in Thailand, sometimes things are done differently. Women have..."

"Dad..." Mali interrupted. "I get it, it's not like the States. Some people here think women should have a lower status."

"Eactly. With that in mind, please, don't fight. I'm not saying you couldn't take some of those guys. I'm not saying that you're in any danger. It's just that, if you beat up someone here, well, they may not take being beaten by a girl very well..."

"So play the good girl, hide my muscles, and act like a sweet Thai girl, not a headstrong American girl."

"Exactly. I am sorry to ask this of you, but a girl who's as good of a fighter as you could get some unwanted attention."

Mali nodded slowly. It made sense. She could take one, or even a dozen, but she might end up with more challengers than she wanted. Aggressive, pig-headed men who wanted to be known as the one who taught the American girl 'her place'. That wasn't the kind of attention she wanted for her family.

"I understand, Dad." She said with a smile. "Don't want to make myself a target and all that."

"Exactly."

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And Mali was good to her word. When they visited the family later that day, she was all smiles and politeness. She was respectful and kept her opinions to herself. Not just as a woman, but as a teenager.

Her great uncle, Somchai, instantly took a liking to her. After a week of steady visits, he had asked to speak to her.

"You wanted to speak to me?" She said in Thai.

"Yes, yes, come on in, sit down child." He said with a smile, waving over to the seat in front of him. Respectfully, she did as she was asked, though she was confused.

"I know they do things differently in America." He said with a smile. "I want to thank you for being such a good sport."

"I'm sorry, what?" She asked, confused.

He smiled and laughed. "American girls are so spirited. America is a land of equals, yes? That is not how it is here."

She didn't have anything to say to that. She merely nodded. Nothing she could say would sound like anything less than disrespect of Thailand or her host.

'Anyway, you've been very respectful, trying to honor your host. You look like a Thai girl, but we both know you're not as comfortable here as in America, are you?"

She shook her head. "In America, things are so different. I've been told all about Thailand my whole life, but it's not the same."

"You know of the Black Tiger, yes?" Mali nodded. "The Black Tiger was my father, you know that, right?" Mali's eyes opened wide. "Well, he always taught me that one day, Thailand will be more like America. Everyone will have an equal opportunity. Everyone will have an equal say. That is why he was not mad at your grandfather for moving there."

"That's...wow." She didn't know what else to say.

"Anyway, I wanted you to know that I appreciate you being so nice and sweet to an old man like me. It does my heart good to know that our family is prospering in America. You are welcome in my home, Mali, and you do your family proud. My father would be happy to know that his great grand-daughter grew up to be such a strong girl." He gave a quick wink.

It was then that she realized it. He knew, somehow, he knew. Had he been paying attention? How did he find out. However, no less authority than the son of the Black Tiger himself had said so. She smiled, not the sweet, kind smile of a Thai girl, but the energetic beam she normally had.

Somchai grinned. "With that said, I want you to meet someone. He's your cousin, my grandson. Anuman is a minor businessman in Thailand, a real prodigy. Graduated from Chulalongkorn University at 18. He does good work. His father and mother, well, I raised him when he was a boy, so he is like a son to me."

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As he finished the sentence, a young man, somewhere between 18 and 25 years old, entered the room.

"Hello, Mali." He gave a smile and nodded. "Thank you for attending to my Grandfather and keeping him company. My name is Anuman, nice to meet you." He said in good, but somewhat rough English.

"Anuman." Somchai said with a chuckle. "Her Thai is better than your English."

"Oh." He said. "Sorry, I didn't know what to expect. How's my English?" He asked her.

"Very good." She said, and that was that.

"I would like to take you to a local restaurant, cousin." He said. "Best place in Bangkok, my treat."

"Okay, let me call my parents, first, okay?"

"I understand." Anuman said.

Later that night, after permission, the two of them found themselves at Bo.Lan, one of the finest restaurants in Bangkok.

"This is all so expensive." She mumbled to herself. Still, Anuman didn't seem to care. She imagined that he had saved up a bit to afford it. Perhaps he had heard about their visit and intended to take her here as part of 'showing off' Thailand. Either way, she wasn't going to complain.

About an hour later, the two of them were walking to his car when four men stepped out of the shadows.

"Pretty date you have there..." One of them said offhandedly, drawing a knife.

"You don't want to do this." Anuman said. Mali froze. If Anuman didn't know how to fight, she'd be forced to defend herself. She didn't know how her cousin would take that.

"What do you mean?" One of the men said. "You look rich, give us some money."

One of the men lunged at Anuman. Anuman jumped back out of the way of the knife and delivered a fierce snap kick to the side of the man's head, sending him sprawling to the ground.

Mali was grateful that her cousin didn't need her help, but only for a second. Five more men came out from the shadows and lunged at her.

She apologized to her father under her breath, and went to work.

The first man met a kick to the side of the head. The second got a knee to the midsection. The third recieved an uppercut to the chin and kicked into the fourth man, while the fifth got a swift kick to the back of the legs, sending him sprawling.

Anuman turned and stared at his cousin. Mali smiled nervously, waving.

"I see your father has trained you well." He managed.

Mali nodded. "He wanted to make sure I could handle myself if I got attacked or something..."

"Good." Anuman said, walking towards the car.

For the rest of the night, Anuman was stand-offish and strange. Something about the way Mali handled the attackers seemed to upset him.

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Finally, on the second to last day she was there, she arrived at their house to find Anuman standing there. Her parents were out to eat that afternoon, and she had taken a taxi to the house.

He was dressed in a pair of fighting trunks, with his arms and feet wrapped. He had his arms crossed.

"Dressed for a fight?" She asked.

"Come,I want to test the extent of your training."

"No thank you..." She said.

"What do you mean?" Anuman said, his voice a low growl.

"I want to see how well your father trained you. Spar with me."

"No thank you." She said, smiling.

"Come on, it's just a little fun, why not?"

She didn't want to embarass her cousin,for one. She was a superhero, and she shouldn't be showing off,for two.

"I just don't want to." She said, trying to walk past him.

His fist whipped past her head, and she barely dodged. "Whoa!" She said,backing away from him.

"Come on." He said, raising his fists.

She shook her head, and he lunged again, this time, nearly hitting her with a snap kick to the side.

"Hey!" She said. That was it, the last straw. He wasn't going to stop until he got his fight. She was going to give it to him.

He didn't seem to notice her change of mind, because he lunged again, this time, with another punch. She deflected the punch with relative ease and delivered a fierce kick to his side.

He tried for a kick, but she ducked beneath it, and delivered a vicious punch to the stomach.

He gasped for breath. "Not bad." He said. She didn't see the strike coming, his hand slammed into her abdomen, sending her stumbling back.

"What's wrong, cousin?" He asked. Through blurry vision, she saw his face. Outwardly, it was the same calm, passionless look he had always maintained. His eyes, however, were pure malice.

He reared back, ready to strike again. Mali stared upwards, the blow to the stomach still too disorienting to let her defend herself.

Suddenly, a blur passed by her, sending Anuman away. She looked over to see Anuman rolling on the ground.

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She felt a pair of strong, but gentle hands reach for her, helping her to her feet. Her mother smiled, happy to see her daughter was okay.

She glanced over and saw her father standing there, hands raised. His foot delicately perched, his knee in the air. Her parents had apparently just arrived, and neither she nor Anuman had seen them.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Mali had never seen her father this angry before.

"We were sparring." Anuman said, crossing his arms.

"You were about to hit her when she was down! Apsari, we're leaving."

Mali waved her mother off with a reassuring smile. She was getting her bearings back.

"Little girl needs her daddy to save her, huh?" Anuman said.

"ANUMAN BENJAWAN!" Came a bellowing voice. They all turned to see Somchai standing there, clearly enraged."This is not how we treat guests."

"Stop treating me like a child, grand..."

"I treat you like I see you!" Somchai growled. "Annan, Apsari, Mali, I am so sorry for my grandson's stupidity. Please, I'm so sorry."

"It's okay, Uncle Somchai..." Annan said, relaxing his body. "Still, we're leaving for home tomorrow."

Somchai nodded, still said. He walked down off of the porch and towards Mali.

"Are you okay?" He asked the scared, bewildered sixteen year old.

"Y-yeah..." She'd fought superhuman foes before, but there was something...personal in it for Anuman. She was angry at herself for her weakness.

The old man pulled her in for a hug, and whispered into her ear. "That was the best I've seen Anuman give in quite a while. Maybe he'll cool down in a few days and realize how stupid it was to attack you."

Mali nodded and managed a small smile as she headed for the taxi.

Within a week, she was back home. Still, Anuman cast a shadow over her for a while. She still didn't know what made him snap like that. She honestly hoped never to find out, either.

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