Read The Awakened: Book One Online

Authors: Jason Tesar

The Awakened: Book One (31 page)

BOOK: The Awakened: Book One
5.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

As Ukiru ended his introduction, the group split up and each person found his own space at the edge of the arena.  The sand crunched beneath Kael’s feet as he walked away, his footsteps producing an intriguing rhythm.  He tapped the soil with the wooden staff he held in his right hand between each step and watched as it left a dimple in the soft earth.  When he reached the edge of the arena, he turned to find his adversaries following at a short distance.  There were eight monks in all, dressed in their usual attire and carrying staffs of their own.  He looked around and noticed that most of the others had only five enemies, except for Soren, who had eight as well.  When starting a new training session for a particular fighting concept, they always used wooden instruments, eventually moving on to bladed weapons when a level of proficiency was attained.

Kael gripped the staff firmly in both hands. 
So we’re supposed to carry a weapon, but we can’t use it?
  He always liked how weapons felt in his hands, like they were alive and just wanted to move.  He had the urge to twirl the staff around his body.  He had done so a long time ago and was chastised severely for it.  Ukiru used him as an example that day to explain that a weapon was not a toy and should never be treated as such.

The enemies stopped twenty feet away and gathered in a bundle.  Everyone looked to the center of the arena where Ukiru stood with his hand raised in the air.

“Begin,” he shouted and his hand dropped.

Immediately the group in front of Kael spread out into a line and started to advance.  Kael quickly moved to the left.  The men on the left side ran wider to flank him and he quickly doubled back to the right, slipping past the men who waited to trap him there by the wall of the arena.  Slowly at first, but with increasing frequency, he could hear the crack of wooden sticks hit each other as the other students tried to defend themselves.  The sounds of combat meant that the others were not faring as well, as the purpose of this lesson was evasion.

Kael now had his entire group of enemies lined up behind him and closing in fast.  He slowed his pace and turned out toward the middle of the arena so they couldn’t use the wall to their advantage.  Again they fanned out, hoping to encircle him and he backed away from them, dodging to the side of the group and closing the distance before they could use the advantage of their numbers against him.  It became a dance after a while and his body moved through the evasion methods he had learned so thoroughly, allowing his mind to wander as his enemies chased him to no avail.  After several minutes the sounds of struggle and wooden staffs beating against each other dwindled to nothing and Kael realized that he was the only one left who had not been defeated.  Somehow, he didn’t take any pleasure in the thought.  He was beginning to get frustrated with the concept of evading the enemy.  He knew what Ukiru was trying to teach by this exercise, but he didn’t find it very efficient.  He was also starting to get fatigued from the monotony.

Suddenly one of his enemies lunged forward and Kael realized that he had let the man get too close.  He dodged to the side as the man swung his staff in an overhead motion, trying to bring it down on Kael’s head.  Kael raised his staff and deflected the blow to the side, sending his enemy tumbling past him into the sand.  His knuckles ached as he realized the blow glanced off his hand.  Kael quickly swiveled around and jabbed the man in the back with his staff.

“You’re out,” said Ukiru to the monk from a short distance away.  The monk stayed on the ground and pretended to be a slain enemy.

Kael turned back to the group only to find that two others were advancing at a run.  It was too late to run away from them.  He instantly made the decision to run at them and try to break through, which would place him, once again, beyond the reach of the other five enemies.  It was only an instant before the two were upon him.  The man on the left swung his staff at waist level and the other man jabbed for the chest.  Kael spun to the left and blocked the jab, throwing the enemy’s staff in the way of the second adversary.  The two blows met each other as Kael used his spinning momentum to dodge to the right of both men.

“What are you doing?” Ukiru yelled from across the arena.

Kael decided that there wasn’t enough time to stop and defeat the two men.  Instead, he ran for the safety of the open area behind the other five men.  Ukiru was shouting something in the distance, but he wasn’t paying attention any more.  The pain in his hand fueled his frustration with this exercise. 
I guess I’m just supposed to run around until one of them wounds me enough to slow me down.  That’s no way to fight.

As he ran to the edge of the arena it occurred to him that he just didn’t trust any of the things he was being taught. 
Is that what’s bothering me?
  As the thought came, it triggered a memory from two years ago when he pointed out a flaw in one of the attack stances that Ukiru was teaching.  The awkward position left the attacker unable to step backwards quickly and, therefore, the attacker would not have enough time to react if the defender decided to rush him.  He had never seen Ukiru lose his temper the way he did that day.  After being scolded and belittled in front of the rest of the young men, Kael was sent to his room without dinner and was not allowed out until the next morning.  Ever since that day, Kael began to find problems with many other things about their training.  It eventually bothered him so much that he devoted much of his personal time to developing his own methods of combat, though he would never have the chance to use them anywhere other than in the privacy of his own bedroom.

The seven remaining enemies stopped in the middle of the arena at Ukiru’s command.  Kael could see the instructor’s face, flushed red with anger.  “You men,” he shouted at a group of other monks who were standing nearby.  “Join in with the others.”  At his command, twenty other monks joined the ranks and Kael’s enemies almost tripled.  “If you insist on disobeying me, this will indeed become a painful lesson.”

The rest of the students were watching intently.

Maybe I will get the chance to put my private studies to good use.
  Kael closed his eyes and breathed deeply.  He tried to put everything out of his mind but the awareness of his own body.  Ukiru’s yelling voice slipped into silence.  The vision of twenty-seven monks with wooden staffs blinked out of sight and quickly gave way to silence and darkness.

Kael could feel his heart beating heavily in his chest.

He could feel his lungs expanding and contracting as air rushed in and out of his body.

The sand moved beneath his feet as he shifted his weight from left to right.

There was another sensation as well, just at the edge of his perception, but still out of reach.  It nagged at him until the sound of approaching footsteps caused him to open his eyes.

Suddenly, in that instant, he saw and felt the position of every man in the approaching group.  Not only could he see and hear the enemies approaching, but he could actually feel them as if they were an extension of his own body.  It took only a fraction of a second for him to know where the weakest point of the mob was.  And that was where he ran.  The faces of the monks dropped as the young man charged willfully into the insurmountable odds.

Kael closed the gap on the group before they had the chance to shift their order around to meet him.  Even if they had the time, there was hardly any reason for twenty-seven men to think about the perfect way to approach one young man.  And that was the weakness that Kael planned to exploit.  As he came within striking distance, Kael twirled his staff above his head in open rebellion against the instructions of Ukiru, and brought it down at the limit of his reach on the head of the closest man.  The blow caught the monk by surprise and shoved his head downward toward the sand, causing him to topple forward.

Kael kept his forward momentum and stepped onto the monk’s back, springing off of his defeated enemy in a spinning motion.  His staff flicked outward as he spun through the air, smacking into hard surfaces in rapid succession.  Kael didn’t have time to notice what he had struck until he landed in a somersault and came to his feet again.  Turning around, he saw the group now trying to deal with the changing direction of their prey.  Four men were lying on the ground, holding various parts of their bodies in an attempt to soothe their pain.

He had just broken through the thinnest part of the mob and would not get the same opportunity again.  The remaining men split into two groups and began to circle back on Kael, trying to flank him on either side.  Before they could get into position, he sprinted to the left and watched as their ranks broke formation.  The men in front ran as fast as they could to keep Kael from getting around the left side of the group.  As the closest man approached he swung his staff in a level arc aiming for Kael’s head.  Kael ducked under the attack and rolled onto his back, sweeping at the man’s leg with his staff.  The counterattack caught the monk on the knee and brought the man to the ground as well as two others behind him who tripped over their fallen comrade.

Kael tried to keep his momentum, but was too slow in getting to his feet.  By the time he regained his footing and spun to meet his attackers, they were too close to run from.  He crouched into a defense position of his own making and waited for the men to advance.  The rear group spread out to encircle him as the group in front attacked to keep him from running.

Three monks advanced and the one in the middle jabbed his staff out at Kael.  Parrying the jab with a two-handed block he struck the monk in the face with the same motion.  Before the attacker on the right had time to bring his staff up to protect himself, Kael spun around and jabbed his own staff into the man’s stomach.  The third monk swung for Kael’s head and Kael dropped to his knee, spinning his staff once above his head and smashed it into the man’s chest, driving him backwards into his group.

Kael could feel a blow coming for the back of his head and spun to block the attack, but he was too late.  The staff knocked him on the side of his head and dazed him for a moment.  Then he was jolted by another blow to his back.  Several more strikes crashed into his body before he fell over to the ground.

“That’s enough.”  Ukiru’s voice stopped the attackers and they slowly backed away.  Ukiru stood over Kael and stared at the defiant young man.  After several seconds of silence, Ukiru spoke.  “Take him to his room.”

Kael felt his arms lifted as two monks dragged him from the arena.  He could see all of his fellow students watching in stunned silence as the men removed him from the training area.  Even though he had taken several hard blows, Kael didn’t feel very much pain.  He decided that it would be best, however, to let the monks continue dragging him as if he couldn’t walk.  When they reached his room, the two men laid him down on his bed and left without saying a word.  Kael rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.  He couldn’t remember now why he had done what he did.  He only knew that it was important at the time.  An appropriate emotion might have been regret, or even anger, but he just felt numb.  One day, those buried emotions would come boiling to the surface, but for now he took a deep breath and closed his eyes.


When he awoke it was to the sound of the others returning from their meditation the following morning.  Loud footsteps pounded down the hallway as each of his fellow students came back to their rooms for a change of clothes before breakfast.  Kael looked down at his own body, still dressed in the dirty clothing from the previous afternoon.  A soft knock at the door came as a surprise to Kael who rarely had anyone else in his room. 
Not lately anyway.
  Usually, the others would gather in Soren’s room if they wished to socialize.

“Come in,” he called.

The door opened and Ukiru stepped inside, carefully closing the door behind him.  Kael’s heart, which was so willing to defy this man yesterday, now trembled at the coming confrontation.  Ukiru walked over to the bed and sat down slowly next to Kael with a calm look on his face.

“Are you hungry?”

The question seemed out of place to Kael.  “Yes,” he answered, not noticing his hunger until Ukiru mentioned it.

“You may come down to breakfast after we are finished talking.”

“Okay,” Kael responded, still unsure of how to read the man’s body language.

“Are you hurt in any way?”

“No.  They’re just bruises; they’ll heal.”

Ukiru breathed deeply and exhaled.  “What were you doing yesterday?  I was trying to teach you all how to stay out of danger and you ran straight into it.  I don’t understand why you disobeyed me.”

BOOK: The Awakened: Book One
5.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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