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Chapter 4: Majority part 1

Nath lowered his center of weight, spreading his legs for balance before moving in the first steps of the pattern. The regular practice of combat patterns was apparently essential as it develops the proper body mechanics, helps builds muscle memory, develops mindfulness, and favors the adequate execution of breathing. He started in the fool's pose, pointing the quarterstaff away behind himself like it was a tail, and then flowed through the twelve stages of the Oracular dance of blades. It was a flowing dance that was more to free and flex muscles than a true fighting style, the dance consisted of impossible bends and twists and fast footwork as he followed a circular path that spread out into an oblong shape before forming back up into a circular one.

The only sound was the soft breeze that ruffled the trees and the sharp sound of displaced air as he went about the pattern, keeping his footwork light and fast. Nath did twelve rotations before falling back into the starting stance and then into a relaxed position. Opening his eyes he noticed that he was not alone in the training yard.

Jorona stood there propped against the wall with arms crossed as he watched with a critical eye “I will admit, you are learning these things much faster than I expected,” he said gruffly, with a shrug of his shoulders, that was high praise coming from him, but Nath felt like he really hadn't earned it. Sure he had spent the past two months working with the master at arms, but the body, Nath’s body was already worked, already trained with all the muscles that normally would need to be strengthened, already used to such a point that it felt natural to do moves like these even if Nate himself had never held a weapon before in his previous life. As such, he only needed to mentally memorize the actual moves, and even that seemed easier than it should be, almost like he had done each one a million times before, it felt like he was cheating, but then again there was that saying about if your not cheating then your not trying hard enough.

“It's a good pattern,” Jorone said with a nod as he pulled himself off of the wall and walked over to the rack of training equipment, pulling another one of the ash quarterstaffs off and turning back towards Nath. “Let's see how naturally you take to actual combat shall we?” He asked, dropping into a lowered stance, his feet set a little wider than shoulder-width apart with one foot in front of the other as he faced Nath. He held the butt of the staff in his left hand and had his right hand about a quarter way up the staff, pointing it towards Nath, who mirrored the stance back at Jorone. They stood there for a moment before Jorona rushed forward, intent on delivering a downward strike.

Nath stepped inside the strike zone, avoiding the potentially devastating blow. At the same time, he dropped his top hand so that he could deliver a blow with the quarterstaff in a blow that was parallel to the ground. The key to an attack like that was to deliver your blow and avoid your enemy's attack in one single smooth motion. Once you have attacked your enemy's mid-section, it is instructed that you deliver an overhead blow to the back of your enemy as they crouch over in pain.

Jorona however was well versed in combat and saw right through this and instead of the overhead strike most people started with he feinted to his left, Nath’s right, intending to strike the arm and take Nath out of the fight quickly. Nath stepped to his left half a step and put both of his arms up, angling the staff so that the tip brushed the ground and covered his entire right side. The blow struck with a loud crack of wood on wood, and before Jorona could react Nath shifted his right hand from an inner grip to an outer grip, sliding it further down and pushed forward with it as Nath pulled back with his left hand. The result was a quick movement that sprayed dirt in Jorona direction as well as a blow towards his inner thigh on his left leg. Jorona was able to avoid the blow pivoting on his right foot, bringing his stance back. He was however unable to avoid the dirt that Nath had flung his way.

It was a natural instinct to close your eyes when something was flying at it, a natural human instinct to protect the eyes, and Jorona did what everyone else did in that situation. Nath used that to his advantage, shifting his right hand back into an inner grip, he brought the staff up and over his head before bringing it down in an arc across his body from left shoulder to right hip, his right hand sliding down the staff to gain momentum.

Still blinded Jorona brought his staff up to protect his head from a direct overhead strike. Nath’s hit however was lower than his guard and landed on his arm with a blow that caused him to step back and to the side with its force, thrown off balance. Stepping forward Nath used his lapse in balance to his advantage, putting the quarterstaff between Jorona’s legs and behind his leading foot, Nath levered it up across his body and shoved him to the ground.

Jorona fell with a wounded huff, his staff across his chest, and Nath stepped forward and placed a foot on the man’s chest, pinning the quarterstaff and the man down before placing the tip of his own staff against Jorona’s throat. “I give,” he croaked out, and Nath stepped back off of him, reaching down and grasping him by the forearm as he levered the master of arms to his feet. “That was dirty,” he growled as he wiped the dirt out of his eyes. Nath didn't say anything and as Jorona blinked and rubbed them clear he looked at Nath and gave him a pleased smile. “Good job,” he said with an approving nod.

“Thanks,” he moved to wave Nath off but winced as he attempted the gesture with the arm that had taken the initial strike.

“Damn,” he hissed through clenched teeth, “remind me to not fight against you again hmm?” he said with a smile and shake of his head.

“Nah, you'll just not have to go easy on me next time,” Nath said with a smile.

“Sure, that's what was going on here,” he said with a derisive snort. Nath laughed, and an answering smile played on the master of arm’s face even as he messaged the bruised arm.

“So,” Nath said, putting up not only his own ash quarterstaff up but also Jorona’s. “We have been doing this for a little bit, how am I, in terms both of progress in general as well as in what I was like before I lost my memory?” he asked leaning against the wall and looking over at the other man.

“May I speak frankly young master?” Jorona asked, and Nath simply nodded to him. “In some regards, you are better, in others, you are worse, you have this, hesitation, before you strike, almost like you have to remember what you are doing, its something I see often in newer recruits to whom the act of fighting has yet to become really second nature, in your case I simply think you are overthinking everything,” he joined Nath on the wall leaning there. “You need to simply feel the move, not think about it, just do, which no doubt will come with time, but for now, I would avoid any real fights, you are good, but there are always better that will exploit any weakness they can find.”

“I see,” it wasn't really a surprise to Nath, after all, no matter how conditioned this body was, Nath himself was not used to combat in anything other than the odd game on his pc. “How do I go about losing this hesitation? Especially if you want me to avoid any fights?”

“I said avoid real fights, you know, like the kind where one or the other, or both, wind up dead at the end of it, duels, practice bouts, and sparring are going to be the best thing for you,” a smile formed on Jorona’s lips. “Don’t worry, I’ll find a way to beat it out of you yet.”

“I’m sure you will,” Nath laughed, clapping the man on his uninjured shoulder. “And that covers how I am worse, so, pray tell, how am I better?”

“Fishing for compliments is unbecoming of one such as you,” Jorona said with a straight face that quickly began to crumble as the smile fought to breakthrough. “No, but honestly, you have improved in many ways, before you seemed, brash, full of yourself, which is to be expected from a young man make no mistake, but now you seem more mature, attentive and don’t take constructive criticism as a personal attack, it makes teaching you not only more enjoyable I must say, but also easier when you ask me why it is because you want to know the underlying reasoning for something, not because you are complaining, which is a nice change of pace when compared to most young men I must say,” he smiled and Nath smiled back.

“Well, I am glad to be of some use,” he said, “now, would you like to try with practice blades instead of staffs?” Nath asked pointing over at the wooden replicas standing in their holders in the training yard. He laughed when Jorona winced and rubbed his arm while he shook his head.

“I think not today,” Jorona said with a chuckle, “I feel as though I have accumulated enough bruises for the afternoon, in fact, I do not think you have time for one either, your father has asked me to inform you that the two of you shall be going out on an afternoon ride,” he pointedly looked up at the sun’s position overhead before looking back down at Nath. “Seeing as that the afternoon is not too far away and you need to get washed up and changed...”

“Say no more,” Nath said with a laugh. “I shall go and avail myself of the baths, though I do not really know why I should change my clothes, there is no dirt on them, and I hardly broke a sweat.”

“Pfff,” Jorona huffed out, crossing his arms despite the obvious pain the injured arm caused him. The very motion nocked some dirt and dust off of his clothing, “you best be off boy before my pride requires I make you taste the ground,” he growled, though there was a smile twinkling in his eyes. Smiling back Nath bowed to him and took his leave, heading back towards the manner propper.

 

***

Nath sighed as he looked at the vista spread out before him, like on his version of earth in central Kansas, the fields of Baron Longgrass’s Barony was covered by the golden stalks of tall grasslands that seemed to sway and murmur in the light wind that was blowing, like a rippling ocean. The Baron Longgrass wasn't actually named Longgrass, that was simply the name of the Barony, therefore it was more of a title that he passed down to his heir.

“It's beautiful,” Nath said, looking out across the vista, and his father turned in his saddle to look at him. “But this view isn’t why we are out here are we?”

“Yes, it is,” his father sighed, “And no, that isn’t why we are out here,” he gave Nath a wry smile. “You know, a few months ago you would have been bored to tears at a view like this,” he laughed. Nath nodded, carefully applying his heels to the horse he guided it to move forward and stand next to his father’s mount. Not two months ago he had never ridden a horse, but as with the weapon practice the task of learning was made easy for him, it was almost enough to make him believe that muscle memory was actually stored in muscles. He leaned forward and gave the paint a pat on the kneck before looking up at his father.

“People change,” he said simply, looking into his father’s eyes.

“Yes they do,” his father nodded, and looked back out across the vista, “normally not so drastically over such a short time, but change they do,” he sighed. “And God forgive me, but I am thankful, despite the loss of your memories,” there was a pregnant pause, the only sound the rustling of grass and the shuffling of the horses.

“Did you not like the old me?” Nath asked, looking straight ahead and not at his father.

“I loved the old you,” his father said, “before the accident you reminded me of, well me when I was younger,” he laughed. “That was the problem, as they say, everything is clear in hindsight, and you were so like me that I felt I could change things that I did wrong in my youth through you, sort of live vicariously through you. It led to quite a few altercations and eventually led to me and you being rather estranged,” he shook his head and Nath could see the pain in that small movement. “I fear I was not the best of fathers, but I did love you, both then and now,” he looked at Nath, his eyes shining with unshed tears. “I love both of you,” he said, and Nath felt a shiver run down his spine, his father might not know that Nate was really from another world, another earth, but he felt that the son he had raised was gone, and despite his lack of understanding he was right.

“I have come to believe that memories make the man,” Nath said softly. “If you strip away memories and personality then you are simply left with a husk, a shell, and the loss is the same as death,” the words were blunt, and he saw his father’s shoulders stiffen at them. “So, yes, your son is gone,” it was the closest that Nath would ever get to telling the truth, of that he was sure, and while incomplete it was still truthful. “And while I don’t know for sure, I am sure he loved you as well despite your differences, I know I do.” A shudder seemed to run through his father as he said that, and he reached out to rest his hand on his shoulder. After a second his father’s hand came up and rest on top of Nath’s and gave him a single squeeze. With a nod, Nath removed his hand and let the man have time to recompose himself.

“Well,” his father said, his voice slightly strained, but after clearing his throat he went on. “Clearing my conscience was not the only reason we are out here,” he smiled at Nath. “Five more days and you will come to your majority,” he said, and it took Nath a few seconds to realize he was saying that in five more days he was going to turn sixteen. He hadn’t asked what age he was, he had just assumed he was around seventeen, it was good to know exactly how old he actually was. “As such,” he reached into his saddlebags and pulled out a small crystal, clear and around the size of his thumb, it looked relatively normal, except that it glowed misty sort of inner light, and that a series of lines and grooves seemed to have been carved into its surface. “This is an essence crystal,” he said, tossing it over to Nath who caught it and looked down at the clear crystal in his hands.

“So, this is from inside of a creature?” he asked, looking from it up at his father.

“No,” he shook his head. “The mist inside is the essence, that crystal itself is a glass shard created and cut, then engraved in order to capture essence, and before you ask no, I don’t have a clue how they make them or even why essence can be drawn into them.” he held up a hand to forestall Nath’s questions. “Before we knew how to make these a man needed to hunt his own beast, slay it, and then breath in the essence as it dissipates quickly after death, now however a hunter can simply put this shard in his mouth, and when he breathes the essence in it gets trapped in the shard, and to draw it out all you need to do is put it up to your lips and breath it in,” he paused, “Well, it's not really breathing in, its sort of like willing it into yourself?” the last part seemed more like a question than a solid answer. “It is hard to explain,” he shrugged with a smile. “Anyway, essence is in itself a dangerous substance if improperly used, you can overdose on it, and unless you are a deviant it will kill you, perhaps not right away, but death is inevitably the outcome and cost of consuming too much essence, as such it is against the law to give children essence as they have not yet come to their majority and as such are not fully responsible for their own decisions,” that made sense to Nath, after all, according to what he had read essence was a very powerful substance, and giving a child it would be like handing a kid a loaded gun and not ever being able to take it back.

“Wait, you said that a normal person would die if they consumed too much essence, what would happen if a deviant were to do the same?” Nath asked one eyebrow-raising at the grimace on his father’s face.

“A deviant that consumes too much essence changes,” he paused gathering his thoughts. “The mutation that changed them progresses, and it is not simply their body that is changed this time, but also their mind, they become a sort of hybrid between man and beast, with the beast’s savage nature becoming the creature’s driving focus, this paired with a human’s intelligence often makes abominations much much more dangerous than any natural beast,” he shook his head as if to clear the thought out of his head. “Listen, Nathaniel,” he used Nath’s full name to make sure he was paying attention. “Some fools think they are special, that they can go past the limit of essence, and others choose to do it because they need the power right then and there and damn the consequences, and as such each and every one of them dies, so if you ever find yourself in a position where there is no other option, you need to realize there is no coming back from that decision.”

“You're not going to tell me not to do it?” Nath asked, one eyebrow raised in surprise.

“In five days you will be at your majority, you will be your own man and as such you will need to make your own choices, especially in something like this, there are valid reasons to ignore those limits despite the cost, sometimes a man needs to lay his life down for his family, or his country that is what being a man means after all, just don’t ever do so lightly, understand?” Nath nodded his understanding, his face as solemn as his father’s. “And if you become deviant then you do not have that option, overdosing as a deviant is the worst sort of sin, it always twists, and the people you wanted to protect will inevitably be hurt or killed by you.”

“I see,” Nath said, looking down at the essence shard in his hands.

“Keeping all that in your mind, I want you to try to consume that essence,” Nath looked up at his father. “Technically I am not supposed to give that to you, not until you become sixteen, but you will need the practice for the hunt,” he said with a shrug.

“Hunt?” Nath asked.

“Yeah, like our forebearers you are supposed to hunt your first beast and consume the essence of that kill, but like I said, the essence dissipates quickly so you need to know how to do it so that the essence isn't waisted, go on, try.” Nath lifted the shard to his lips, placing it there and focusing on it he tried to breathe it in while willing it to enter his body. Nothing happened, he pulled it back and looked down at the shard thinking. “Yeah, it's hard at first,” his father laughed slapping him on the back. “Keep working on it, you have five days to figure it out I'm sure you will get it,”

“Thanks,” Nath said his fist closing around the shard...

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Markious

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