Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Calm Before the Storm

“Come on, Cyril, hit me!” Damon Red yelled. His twin brother took a swing at him, but Damon ducked to the side and countered. The two went back and forth as their spar continued. Meanwhile, Ander watched them, hidden in a tree on the outskirts of the field. The two boys had cleared out a small circle in the forest, making a makeshift practice arena.
            Seeing the boys getting into their training brought a smile to Ander’s lips. They were fifteen, but in Ander’s eyes they were still children. He briefly thought back to what he had been doing when he was fifteen and his smile vanished. His own training had been… more intense.
            Refusing to think about the past, he analyzed his brothers’ fighting styles. Both of them were better trained than the average person, but they were far behind the strength of a soldier. Damon moved fluidly, but his technique had too much of a flourish to it, like he was concerned with how good he looked while fighting. And Cyril’s offense was little more than him swinging his big arms like a windmill.
            Ander took a step forward, letting himself fall out of the tree. Just before he hit the ground, he let energy flow to his feet and knees, which easily absorbed the impact. “Damon! Cyril!” he called, waving to them.
            Cyril immediately stopped and started waving back. “Hey, it’s Ander!” He started to say something else but Damon took advantage of the distraction to trip his brother, who landed with a thud. “No fair,” Cyril complained.
            “Who said we stopped?” Damon pointed out, while simultaneously helping his brother up. He turned to Ander. “Are you here to help us train?”
            “Train?” Ander asked. “Are you two finally ready to become Hooded Apprentices?”
            Damon’s face fell. “I was thinking more for a tournament. We missed the registration this year, but I want to get a head start for next year.”
            “Tournaments?” Ander thought back. He’d heard about the tournaments in the city. They were a sport where contestants battled with dulled weapons and basic techniques. A single hit scored a point. But he’d never actually bothered to watch one. “You want to do tournaments?”
            Cyril nodded vigorously. “Tournament winners get really famous. If we can get good, it can be our full-time job.”
             Ander chuckled. He could practically see Damon’s fingerprints all over Cyril’s statement, but it intrigued him anyway. It made him feel a sudden wave of conflicting emotions. On one hand, his brothers were living the life he’d always wanted them to live, a life where they didn’t have to fight to survive. They could spend their days chasing tournament dreams in peace.
            On the other, he knew it was a tenuous peace at best. The day was rapidly approaching when they would have to confront hardships and struggles just like he did. Ander himself had already fought through two wars, and they were the least of his problems. If something happened, tournaments wouldn’t mean much.
            “I really think joining the Hooded would be better for you guys,” he said, ruffling Cyril’s hair. Cyril grinned, but he could see Damon wince.
            “Maybe next year,” he said for the second year in a row. “We’ve still got time.” A sinking pit opened in Ander’s stomach when he said that, but he decided to ignore it. Damon seemed just as keen to move on. “Watch this,” he said, holding out his hand.
            Ander watched with a smirk as green light coalesced into Damon’s palm. The energy, morar, flowed from his fingertips and started crackling around itself like a ball of lightning. Once it had formed into a small sphere, Damon took a step forward and threw it. The morar sparked and swirled as it flew, eventually hitting a small target with a soft crack. Overall, it was a solid use of the morar pulse technique.
            “Not bad,” Ander noted. “You have been training. It’s looking a lot better.” Only a few weeks ago, the boy had struggled to even use that technique. “Although you could still tighten up your morar.”
            Now, Ander held out his hand and formed his own morar pulse. Visually, they were the same, but the two orbs were fundamentally different. Ander continued, “Morar is naturally destructive and want to tear itself apart. It takes control to keep it together.” He didn’t bother throwing the pulse. Instead, he held out his hand and let it fly from his palm on its own.
            The difference between the brothers was immediately noticeable. While Damon’s morar pulse had arced towards the target, Ander’s flew like an arrow, barely losing any height between his hand and its destination. And it perfectly retained its shape and size, crashing against the bullseye with much more energy intact than Damon’s had.
            “If you want to hit harder, you have to keep your morar in control,” Ander finished. “It takes time.”
            “But why bother hitting harder?” Damon asked. For a moment, Ander didn’t know what to say. The question baffled him. Damon continued, “A hit is a point in a tournament whether it’s hard or soft.”
            Ander didn’t have a reply. He paused for a moment. He had to admit, in a tournament, having more control wouldn’t matter much, but a well formed morar pulse had saved his life before. In real combat, not having that kind of control was the difference between life and death. But how could he explain that to his brother?
            “More control is always better,” he decided. “I’d work on it if you have time.”
            “Do you want to spar with me now?” Cyril asked, playfully punching Ander on the arm.
            He ruffled Cyril’s hair again. “I wish I could, but I’ve got work to do. A lot of Hooded missions have been coming in recently.” Cyril’s face fell. “But I’m free tomorrow. Let’s all do something then.” 
            Ander listened to his brothers’ excited voices as he walked away. They went on and on about everything from dinner to training to plans for tomorrow before Ander was out of earshot.
            As soon as he couldn’t see or hear them again, he felt a pang in his chest. An irrational worry about his brothers. They were fine and he knew it, but it was his job to worry about them. It was why he wanted them to join the Hooded. He had no idea what the future held, but he knew that he couldn’t shield Damon and Cyril forever.
            But he was torn. Were they safer if they were strong or if they were just a couple kids playing tournaments? He had no idea. When they were younger, he had thought that not training them would prevent them from becoming a target, but the older they got the more they were at risk.
            And some things even Ander couldn’t protect them from.

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