Force of Nature

by

OhOrpheus

Book 1: Chapter 3 - Know Your Place

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Authors Corner:
Gah. Fight scenes are pretty tough. It's a good learning experience for me though. Hope you enjoy.

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Kieran approached with a smug walk. His golden Glory enveloped his head, causing many villagers to stare at him in awe. He wasted no time at all boasting of his Glory and strutting around the village, showing it off to everyone he sees. Many of them call out to him, hoping to curry favor with him before he leaves them too far behind. To them, he looks like a fresh, new hope. To Johan, he just looks like the embodiment of trouble.

Johan doesn't dignify the remark with a response. He continues to walk towards the library as if he never heard anything. This kid doesn't know how to let things go.

Kieran ran in front of him and stood a couple of feet away. He was just a hair shorter than Johan, but they had similar builds. He crossed his arms and stared at Johan with quiet intensity. He pointedly looked at his dim red Glory and chuckled.

"I called you, Red Peasant. I don't like how you spoke to me earlier. Apologize." he demanded.

The mature thing to do would be to apologize.

"Go fuck yourself, clown." he said icily.

Kieran flinched, then clenched his fists. The nearby villagers already began to form a crowd. Kieran's temperament was widely known in the village; the fact that he now had a golden Glory made him the hot topic. He looked around at the spectators frantically, feeling the pressure. Johan stood stone still, staring holes into Kieran's head. Kieran flushed.

"You piece of trash!" he snarled.

Kieran lunged at Johan. Johan bent his knees and raised his hands, getting into a defensive posture. Kieran planted two hands on Johan's chest and shoved him with all of his might. He staggered backwards and fell over a nearby crate; landing on his back with a thud. His white shirt got tattered and dirty from the excitement. He felt a stinging pain from his elbow. Some of the onlookers gasped while others laughed.

"Why would he try to fight someone with a Golden glory?" they chuckled.

Johan laid on his back for a while, staring at the deep gray clouds in the sky that threatened to rain any minute. Kieran stood there wearily, not sure what to expect. Johan got up slowly, then ran towards Kieran. He flinched, not expecting him to continue.

Kieran threw a hasty telegraphed punch, screaming out in effort. Johan slipped the punch and rammed his left fist into his nose with a sickening thud. Kieran's head rocked back, blood spurting down his nose and onto his shirt. He stumbled backwards, fighting for balance.

Johan grimaced; his knuckles were throbbing in pain. Even so, he didn't let Kieran gather himself. He ran and tackled him, his shoulder catching him in the pit of his stomach. Kieran doubled over, gasping for air. Johan wrestled him down to the ground, Kieran struggling in vain. He sat on his chest, repeatedly pounding down on his face. Kieran threw his hands in front of his face in an attempt to ward off the blows but it did no good.

"This kid is getting wrecked by a Red Peasant," a young onlooker laughed.

"Well, they haven't learned how to manipulate mana yet so I guess it makes sense. The little one picked his fight a little too soon." another said with pity.

Suddenly an angry figure shoved through the crowd. His strong hand gripped Johan by the collar and threw him off, nearly ripping his shirt off in the process. Johan was sent sprawling towards the crowd. The crowd shrieked, leaping out of the way before they got hit. He gathered himself and frantically looked for the interference. It was Kieran's father, Arsen. Arsen regarded Johan with a cold, hard look for a moment. His deep orange Glory hung behind his head like the flames of an angry god. His face was red with rage. He turned around in a huff, scooped up Kieran's limp body, and walked off.

Johan got up and stood there. The adrenaline left his body, leaving him shaking uncontrollably. His hands throbbed; punching someone in the head without protection can be a very painful experience to an untrained person. I won't be able to study like this.

He walked back to his home, ignoring the jeers of the villagers. Everyone looked at him with either pity or contempt. His dim red Glory was a constant reminder of his status as a Red Peasant. Johan took it in stride. As far as he was concerned, anything was possible. He would find some way to strengthen his soul; after that, it would be a matter of time before he shakes the world with his insight and discovery. He lives more for himself than the whims of others.

He entered his home, and headed to his room to find a spare shirt. His mom and dad were there snuggling in bed. Their jaws dropped as they saw him walk in with a tattered, dirty shirt and blood on his knuckles.

"Who did it?" Adamaris asked. It sounded less like a question and more like a demand.

"Calm down, Adie..." Johan's father, Baldwin, said.

Baldwin looked like a war-torn giant. He was 6 feet 2 inches of hard, rippling muscle. Soft pink scars marked his arms and chest, speaking of the danger he's been through in life. The bright yellow Glory encircling his head made him look like a mythological figure.

"What happened, Jojo?" Baldwin asked.

Johan explained what happened during the test. Only then did their parents seem to notice the red Glory hovering about his head. They flinched; they knew how red Glorys are treated. This wasn't something that would go away with age, follows people for the rest of their lives. Then Johan spoke about his squabble with Kieran.

"You want me to talk to his father, Jojo?" she asked.

"Nah, it's fine. No major harm done." To me, anyway.

"As they say, a little childhood drama builds character" Baldwin said.

"Are you okay... you know, about the test? I know it must have been hard on you," Adamaris asked.

"Well, yeah," Johan said. "I wasn't too confident about it to begin with. Maybe there's still a chance for me. Who knows."

"To be honest, the chances are extremely slim. But you're an intelligent kid! If you still want to be involved in magic, you can try to become a Mana Theorist." Adamaris said.

"What do they do?"

"Mana Theorists help practitioners come up with new, more efficient ways to use their mana. Most of the skills you see today, like healing or walking on water, were proposed by these theorists. The geniuses in this field are usually hired by a powerful family, or even the king. They want to have complete rights over any new innovations that are put out."

Johan went silent as he considered that option. That didn't sound too bad to him. With his knowledge of science, and even the little he knows about mythology and video games, he felt that he could come up with some formidable new ways to use mana. He fondly recalled the scientific method, something he was all to familiar with from his  university days: come up with a hypothesis, test it, draw a conclusion, rinse and repeat. It definitely played to his strengths. But how can he come up with tests around something that he can't use or understand himself?

"That... isn't a bad idea. I'll consider it. I need to go for a walk to clear my head though, I'll be back soon."

"Be careful." his parents said gravely, in unison.

Johan picked out a random shirt and draped it over himself. He was never one to care about fashion. He remembered how he would get frequent complaints from his friends about wearing the same clothes every day. Books and studying were far more important to him than the fit or color of his shirt. As long as he had his intelligence and was in good shape, he was happy with himself.

He left the village and ran to an empty part of the forest. The hilly terrain and winding path proved to be a challenge for him. He plopped down and rested for a bit, trying to catch his breath. After a few minutes, he started practicing the asanas, quickly feeling the agitation and anxiety leave his body. After an hour, he sat down and meditated. He had a lot on his mind and he wanted to tackle each issue with extreme clarity.

Another hour passed while he sat in silence. Suddenly he heard the ruffling of leaves nearby and a twig snapping. His eyes swung open and darted around, looking for the source of the disturbance. He took no chances in this forest. Though he didn't have to worry about any dangerous animals in the area, because there weren't any, he couldn't forget that ghosts prowled around invisible to the naked eye. He got to his feet and put his back to the tree, crouched low and ready to run at a moments notice.

Kieran stepped out from behind a tree, wearing the same bloody rags Johan last saw him in. His nose didn't bleed anymore, but it had a large red mark that threatened to become a bruise. Parts of his face were swollen from his earlier beating, some turning a shade of purple-black. His look was venomous. His chest was heaving in and out, and his eyes red. It looked like he had just been crying.

Two other youths stepped out alongside him, cockiness exuded from their every step. They were at least six feet tall and well muscled. They had a slight smirk on their face, as if they expected to enjoy what was about to happen. Hands lazily hanging in their pockets, they stood by Kieran, staring at Johan with a steady gaze.

Johan's heart skipped a beat. This kid really doesn't let a thing go.

"What's wrong, Kiki?" Johan said with believable false bravado.

"You fucker!" he spat, rolled up his sleeves, and stomped towards him.

Johan was about to say something until he saw the black and blue bruises that ran down Kieran's arm. Arsen's treatment of his son was no secret. It wasn't hard to guess that Arsen beat his son the second they got behind closed doors. Not only did he cause a scene and get into a fight in public, but he got beat up and embarrassed by a Red Peasant. For an ambitious family that deeply valued respect and public image, this was unforgivable.

"Wait a minute..." Johan said.

Kieran was shaking with anger. He was already passed the point of talking this out. The two followers left Kieran's side, trying to surround Johan.

Johan dashed towards Kieran, dipping and weaved right just as he was about to reach him. He threw a quick jab, sending Kieran into a panic. Kieran leaned backwards, narrowly avoiding the punch. He lost his balance and stumbled backwards into a tree. Johan took advantage and put his full body into a kick. It connected with his stomach, making Kieran double over and fall to one knee, fighting the urge to vomit.

The two followers rushed in. Johan ran to meet the closest one and sent a hard kick to his knee. A loud pop rang out. He shrieked and his face contorted in pain. He fell forward, only to have a knee connect cleanly with his face. His limp body fell to the ground, groaning and bloody.

The other follower was on him; he tackled Johan to the ground and restrained him with a bear hug. Kieran straightened himself with effort, his face red with rage and eyes bloodshot. He ran over and kicked Johan in the head. A loud ringing resounded in Johan's head, like someone just rang a bell.

The follower restraining him let go and got up. Kieran and the follower began ruthlessly stomping on him. He tried to curl into a ball and protect his head, but it was useless; he was too groggy. They were generous with the pain. They trampled him for at least a minute, snarling obscenities. They stopped to catch their breath, staring daggers into Johan's limp body.

Kieran spat on him. He brought a thick rope out of his pocket and tied the weak Johan to a nearby Oak tree. Johan tried to struggle, but his limbs weren't listening to him. Kieran fastened the rope, and stooped in front of Johan. He slapped him across the face three times, making sure to keep eye contact.

"This is what happens when you fuck with me. Don't let me see you again you fucking Red Peasant. You need to know your place," he snarled.

He watched them pick up the downed follower, who wailed and writhed in protest. They left his sight, and the forest was quiet again. Johan's brain was muddled and his body ached; he had two or three cracked ribs, a bloody nose, and bruises all over. But he was alive. Fights were more than just scuffles to him, they were a desperate life and death struggle. He grimaced, and slowly let himself fall into a deep sleep.

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OhOrpheus

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