Read The Awakened: Book One Online

Authors: Jason Tesar

The Awakened: Book One (33 page)

BOOK: The Awakened: Book One
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Chapter 19

 

Saba
sat in the corner of the cell that had become his unwilling home for many years now.  His hair and beard that had been shaven before his encounter with the cloaked man, now hung well past his shoulders.  His body was thin and weak from inactivity and lack of proper nourishment.  The guards only brought one meal a day, no longer concerned with keeping him unharmed.  He tried his best to move around the cell and stretch his limbs every day to keep his body from becoming completely useless, but there was only so much he could do.

For all the years he had spent in this cell, there were only two things that occupied his time—the coming of his meal brought by a guard at dawn every morning, and the thoughts in his own head.  The latter proved to be the more exciting of the two lately.  When the cloaked man, or the being that was contained in his body, searched Saba’s memory, he brought images and sounds out of a place where they had been forgotten.  Most of them were forgotten once again, as Saba was unable to hold on to memories that had no connection to his present life.  But a few lingered with him still and had actually grown more vivid with the passing years.

One such memory was an image—the symbol on the shaft of the arrowhead that Adair had given to him so many years ago; the symbol that took him to
Orud
where he was captured.  All he had to do now was close his eyes and the memory came instantly to him.

 

Saba stared at his own hands, the skin smooth and healthy.  In his hands he held a scroll.  The edges of the discolored parchment were ragged and worn, as if they had seen many years of use.  On the page in front of him was a sketch, drawn in the same ink as the surrounding text.  Ten winged creatures, vaguely human, with their arms and wings outstretched, formed a circle.  His hands reached down and placed the scroll into a small stone sarcophagus and slid the heavy lid over the top.

Saba
walked through a cave with a rough dirt floor and arched stone ceiling covered with stalactites.  The tunnel of the cave widened as it turned around a bend and stopped at a wall of water.  It was the backside of a waterfall.  Saba ran toward it and jumped.  For a second, there was a muffled cacophony of sounds, until Saba’s falling body emerged from the waterfall into the sunlight.  He continued to fall a short distance until he splashed into a pool of water.  Swimming back to the surface, his head broke free and he drew in a few quick breaths.  All around the pool was dense vegetation and a forest of a bright green color, suggesting regular, heavy rainfall.  On the bank of the pool stood three men of a primitive culture.  Each brown-skinned native wore only a loincloth and carried a short spear.  They were barefoot and had no adornments aside from the white bones that pierced their noses.  Saba swam in their direction as one of the men waved his hand, beckoning him to come closer.  Just as Saba reached a shallow area where his feet dug into the soft sand, he stood up and looked behind at the waterfall.

 

Saba
opened his eyes and was confronted by the drab jail cell once again.  No matter how long he dwelled on the memory, he couldn’t make it tell him anymore.  It started with seeing his hands, and ended with the waterfall, no matter how many times he revisited it.

 

* * * *

 

Kael stood in calf-deep grass, which was now green from the spring rain.  The breeze made the grass sway and ripple like ocean water.  Sweat began to bead on his forehead as the sun beat down on his body.  He stood firm on the ground with his arms extended, holding a bow stretched taut and ready to fire.  On his left, a few paces away was Soren, and on his right, Jorn.  All of the students were standing in a line and each held a bow, waiting for the command to loose their arrows.  Kael closed his eyes and imagined his surroundings, trying to recreate the strange event that happened on the bluffs and again during his encounter with the monks.  Since that day, he attempted to bring back the sensation at the start of each exercise, but it proved to be elusive.  It was like trying to train a muscle that he wasn’t even sure existed.  He steadied his thoughts and concentrated on his breathing.  In his mind’s eye, he could begin to feel the grass waving in the breeze as if each blade were a hair on his arm.  He could feel the targets made of hay and canvas lined up out in the field in front of them.  Each student had his own set at varying distances based on the limit of each student’s skill level.  Kael’s own target was set at almost twice the distance of the others, next to Soren’s.

Ukiru’s voice spoke softly.  “Fire when ready.”

Almost immediately, Kael felt seven bolts fly at their targets, all striking their mark, some more accurately than others.  The eighth arrow was loosed only a second later by Rainer who missed his target.  The other students scrambled to restring the second in a series of three arrows.  Soren and Kael still held back waiting for a break in the wind.

“You first,” Soren whispered, when the breeze died down.

Kael opened his eyes and saw his target.  Even at its great distance, Kael could feel it as if he were asked to reach up and touch his own nose.  He aimed for the fist-sized red circle painted in the middle and loosed his arrow.  It flew quickly to its target followed by Soren’s.  Both arrows struck inside of the circle.  Immediately, Kael plucked another arrow from the quiver at his right leg and set it to the bow-string.  In one motion he raised the bow and pulled the arrow back, resting his hand just below his cheekbone.  The rest of the students and their attempts had disappeared now and the only thing in Kael’s mind was his own target.  He aimed and released his second arrow just as a gust of wind blew.  The arrow struck the target only inches to the left of the red circle, blown off course by the wind.  He grabbed his third and final arrow and aimed while the wind continued to blow.  Closing his eyes, he could immediately feel the path that the arrow should take.  He didn’t stop to question it, but aimed almost a foot to the right of the target and several inches higher than the last shot.  He released his last arrow and quickly opened his eyes, watching the bolt arc through the air, fighting the wind.  It struck the target with a loud crack.

“What was that?” Horace yelled.

Kael couldn’t see his third arrow and began to question whether or not he missed completely.

“Let’s go see,” Ukiru suggested and everyone ran out to the targets to see the results.

As Kael got closer, it became clear what had happened.  His third arrow struck the center of the red target and split his first arrow in two pieces.  The split pieces of the first arrow were still lodged in the target so that they looked like one arrow.  Kael looked to the left and Soren was staring at him.

“You know…you’re making us all look bad,” he said with a smile.

Kael smiled in return just before noticing that Soren’s target had all three arrows inside the red circle.  “Not with a pattern like that…” he countered.

Kael felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Ukiru behind him.  “Good shooting, you two,” he said in a quiet voice so as not to make a scene.  “Kael, what happened is very interesting, but you must work on your consistency.”

Kael nodded, his joyous feelings immediately deflated.

“Soren, excellent job,” he congratulated the young man.  He searched for something more to say, but there was nothing for him to critique.  Instead he patted his student on the back and turned to address the rest of the students.

“Are you pleased with your results?” he shouted to be heard over the sound of the waving grass.  A few mumbled words were the only replies he received.  He waved for everyone to follow him back to their starting positions and addressed them on the way.  “It is easy to reach a high level of proficiency with bow and arrow when shooting once.  It is quite another matter to be consistently accurate when shooting multiple times in a row.  In a war setting, archers must shoot one arrow after another and it is not enough to simply let one fly.  Each arrow must count as if it were your last.”

When each student reached his starting position, Ukiru pointed at the targets in the field.  “The target in front of you is your enemy.  He is charging at you and you have no other weapons but your bow.  Visualize the small red target on his chest and fire three more arrows.  Don’t try to hurry.  Don’t panic.  Simply pull an arrow from your quiver, set it to the string, pull back, aim, and release.  Do this three times until your enemy is defeated.”  Ukiru raised his hand and each student readied himself.

Kael was already visualizing the target in his own way.  When Ukiru’s hand dropped, he pulled an arrow from his quiver and began the fluid process of firing once, twice, and three times.  When he released his last arrow to join the other two inside of the red circle, he looked around and noticed that he had finished before all of the others, except for Soren, who was enjoying the competition.

 

The next day, Kael found himself waiting on a bench in a hallway.  He was staring at the floor when the door opened.  He rose to his feet and walked into a room where Ukiru and three other monks were standing around a table.  As he walked closer, he could see a large map spread out on the table covered with small wooden statues.  It was an elaborate game that Ukiru had devised to teach his students the principles of warfare strategy.

“One day has elapsed.  Your scout has just returned to inform you that the enemy has breached the northern wall of the city.”  Ukiru leaned over the table and pointed to a black statue on the map to indicate the new information.

Kael looked over the pale statues representing his own forces, most of which were still far to the east.  The objective of this game was to take the abandoned city in the center of the map and use the advantage it offered to defeat the opposing forces.  It looked like he was going to have to take the role of the attacking army in this game.  Somehow Soren, who was waiting outside another door, had managed to move his army to the northern wall fast enough to take the city while most of Kael’s forces were waiting for the foot-soldiers to catch up.  He had already put himself at a disadvantage by his lack of aggression.

“Pull the army back from the wall and set up a camp until the other soldiers arrive.” 
I’m already committed to a siege.  I might as well wait until the full force of my army is ready.

“Very well,” Ukiru nodded his head.  “Please wait in the hall.”

Kael walked out to the hallway and resumed his position on the bench.  After a few minutes, he was summoned back into the room.  The map looked very different from when he had seen it last.

“Half of the enemy’s army has taken up residence in the city and is guarding the walls with archers.  The other half has come out of the eastern gate and is attacking your unguarded camp.”  Ukiru’s face was unreadable, but Kael knew that he must be disappointed.

Kael looked to his foot soldiers in the east and saw that they were now close enough to attack.   “The archers will retreat from the camp and the foot soldiers will attack.”  Once again, Ukiru nodded his head and Kael left the room to give Soren his turn at the map.

Long moments passed before Kael was let into the room.  When he came back and looked at the map, he saw that Soren’s forces were now all inside of the city.  “What is the status of my army?” he asked immediately.

Ukiru pointed to the map.  “Your foot soldiers pushed the enemy back into the city, destroying a quarter of his forces.  But most of your archers were destroyed in the process.”

Kael shook his head and tried to think of some way to take a defended city with only a few archers and the rest of his army.  This game required an active imagination to understand how each stage might progress.  Kael thought that the northern gate must have suffered some damage when Soren’s forces broke through.  “All of my forces will move to the northern gate.  The archers will provide cover for the foot soldiers to attack the gate.”  Kael turned and left the room before he had the chance to see Ukiru’s expression.  It didn’t matter anyway; Ukiru hadn’t shown one bit of emotion since this game had started.  He was obviously doing his best not to show favoritism.

As Kael waited in the hallway, he became aware that Soren was taking longer and longer on each turn.  He must be choosing his actions very carefully.  He had always been the best at this sort of competition.  He had a way with people and knowing what they were capable of.  Kael, on the other hand, had long since lost the patience for this sort of game.  There was so much speculation involved that it became difficult to make decisions.  Kael preferred to confront an enemy face to face, study his actions, and react.  That is why he enjoyed the physical combat training the best.  The principles and actions were all real and substantial.

BOOK: The Awakened: Book One
7.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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