The Creator's Eye: Mover of Fate, Part I, page 11
Michael awoke to green forest light filtering through his windows. He could hear the sound of water running downstairs, dishes clinking, and breakfast cooking. The delightful smell of elk sizzling in a pan wafted under the closed door and tickled his nostrils. He had not been away from home for more than a few days, but it seemed like ages since he had these comforts.
Michael found his clothes cleaned and placed in a folded pile by his door. No one had washed clothes for him in years— he had to do all of the chores at his house. Even if he had not been on the lam, he would have appreciated this small luxury.
He dressed and went downstairs. Maya was already awake and sitting at the kitchen table watching Sefu cook.
“Good morning, Michael!” announced Sefu as he shuffled hunks of meat, onions, and potatoes about in a frying pan. He was still bedecked in a plaid shirt, although of cooler colors than the one he wore the night before. “I was planning to wake you up much earlier, but I figured that you needed the sleep. How do you feel?”
“Better,” he said as he stretched his arms over his head and cracked his knuckles. He somehow managed to sleep through the night despite Sefu’s revelations clogging his mind like a wad of hair in a shower drain.
Sefu smiled graciously. “I was up most of the night keeping an eye on the wisps. So far we’re okay. No other demons showed up.”
“What if they do?” asked Maya.
“Well, if my wisps don’t take care of them, then we’ll have the old choice— fight or flee. Either way, we have important work to do today. You need to learn how to defend yourselves.”
After breakfast, Sefu took them to the far corner of the living room where a square hatch was cut into the floorboards. He lifted it by a small brass hook to reveal a hidden staircase.
They descended into a dark stone basement. Sefu placed two fingers against a crystal globe set into the wall and suddenly a dozen other globes flickered on, illuminating the room.
The walls were lined with racks upon racks of weapons and armor. There were swords, knives, spears, staffs, bows, whips, maces, and a slew of boots, chest plates, helmets, and gloves.
“Wow!” exclaimed Michael taken aback by the extent of his uncle’s secret armory. “You have enough here to arm every man, woman, and child in New Canaan!”
“Well,” said Sefu, “that was my plan. I was never confident that Arimbol was a sanctuary. Even if Acheron never came after us, one of the other Dark Creators would eventually find us.”
“Where did you get all of these?” asked Maya.
“I bought most of them and made others. I even brought a few of them with me from Geminon.”
Michael walked along the racks looking at the swords. Most appeared to be made of steel, but there were several carved from wood, probably for training purposes. Several swords were inlaid with jewels and had ornate flowers, faces, and animals carved into their hilts.
“It is possible,” began Sefu, “to only use your hands or even just your mind to Move an attack, but if you have a weapon, your strike can become much more focused. Weapons are often easier to use in close range than Moving. While a master can Move energy very quickly— as fast as thought― it takes time and concentration for a novice. The right weapon might save you if your enemy has you pinned down in close quarters.”
Michael picked up a lengthy broadsword with a golden hilt in the shape of a ruby-eyed dragon. He felt its weight as he hefted it back and forth between his hands.
“Your sword acts like an extension of you,’ Sefu continued. “Your power stems from the universe. It runs to your mind, through your hand, to your sword, and back out to the universe again. Through your mind, energy flows from thought into action― from immaterial to material and back again. Look through these weapons. Find one that you are drawn to, that feels natural for you to use. It should feel heavy enough to be powerful, but light enough that it is not a burden. Remember that we may be traveling and you will have to carry it. You don’t want to be exhausted before you even arrive at the battle.”
Michael carefully put the gaudy dragon sword back in place and pulled a simple steel sword from the shelf. It had a long double-sided blade that came to a sharp tip. The guard was not very wide, but it had a long hilt wrapped in a black leather band.
“That’s a good one for you,” suggested Sefu. “It’s long enough to keep your enemies at a distance, sturdy enough to be swung with two hands, but light enough to be used with one.”
Michael held it out in front of him and swung it a couple of times, careful not to hit anything in the tight basement. It seemed good enough to him. He certainly did not want to walk about with any of the more ornate swords.
Meanwhile, Maya browsed the bows and arrows.
“Don’t bother with those today,” said Sefu. “You already have Moving for long range attacks. You need something to fight close up.”
“To be honest,” said Maya, “I can’t picture myself plunging a blade into someone’s heart, even one of those demons. I mean, I’m studying to be a healer. This is kind of counter to everything I’ve worked for.”
“It can be used for healing, too. It works the same as a healing wand.”
“Not exactly the same,” argued Maya. “A sword is for killing. It’s kind of hard to concentrate on closing a gash with something that was also used to gouge holes in peoples’ bellies.”
Sefu smiled, impressed by her logic. “You make a good point, but we’re at war. You’re going to have to get past things that make you uncomfortable. A sword is not just for offense. It also serves as a shield. You can parry with it, or block most anything a Mover can send at you. You may not intend to be some famed demon-slayer with a hundred heads to your name, but you need to be able to defend yourself.”
Maya reticently acquiesced by selecting a light, single-sided short sword that curved slightly at the tip. “This one seems good,” she said half-heartedly.
“Excellent,” said Sefu. “Now I want you to choose some light armor and wooden swords for practice and go upstairs.”
They stepped out onto the grassy lawn of the house. The great sphinx bear was now locked in a large wooden pen tucked into the edge of the nearby forest. The pen was almost as large as the house, but seemed barely strong enough to contain the massive animal. It sat on its haunches in front of a wooden trough filled with water. A wisp still hovered in front of its face, but seemed to be just holding it in place. Michael suspected that without it, the bear would easily smash through the flimsy-looking cage whose bars were no thicker than one of the beast’s formidable foreclaws.
“You both know the basics of Moving,” said Sefu, holding his staff out in front of him with both hands. “There is almost nothing different when using a sword. In fact, for what we are doing, having a sword or any other relatively straight weapon will make it easier.”
Sefu strode over to a dead tree at the edge of the clearing and drew a knife from his pocket. He carved an X into its trunk about chest height. The tree was blackened as if from a fire and had several large branches broken off. Michael guessed that his uncle had been using it for target practice for many years.
Sefu walked back to them. “That’s your target. I want you to aim your sword like this,” he said, standing with his right shoulder pointed towards the tree. “You should always face your enemy with your side. It gives you the longest reach and makes you a thinner target for them to hit you.”
Michael and Maya did as he said.
Sefu gestured towards their feet, and instructed them to stand with their legs shoulder width apart. Keeping their knees slightly bent, they pointed their lead foot ahead and turned their hind foot perpendicular to it. He checked to make sure they were doing it right, correcting their positions by tapping their heels with the end of his staff.
“Raise your sword arm towards your enemy keeping your elbow slightly bent. If it’s locked, you can’t do anything.” He explained that this was their ready p
Michael shut his eyes and imagined energy flowing from the air around him through the crown of his head, warming it, filling it with light. It coursed through his neck and shoulders, down the length of his arm, expanding and stretching the muscles. He could feel it now, no longer just imagination, running through his finger tips into the steel of his long sword. The blade vibrated more and more with his power until it felt ready to burst. He opened his eyes as a beam of red light erupted from the tip of his sword and shot past the tree, flying wide and disappearing into the forest beyond.
“Excellent!” cheered Sefu. “But you’ll fare much better if you learn to concentrate without closing your eyes. You need to see what you’re aiming at, plus whoever might be aiming back at you.”
Pleased with his first attempt, Michael stood up straight.
“Stay in ready position!” Sefu corrected him sternly.
Michael returned to form, suddenly aware of his uncle’s military background.
“Maya, you’re next.”
Maya did as Sefu advised and kept her eyes open as she fired. A ball of red light fizzled towards the tree, striking it with a sullen ‘clack.’
“Commendable aim,” Sefu critiqued, “but you barely blew the grass back. You’re going to need to focus much harder to do damage to an armored soldier.”
“Sorry, but it’s hard to concentrate with my eyes open,” she complained.
“You’ll get used to it. The most important thing is to be convinced of your strength and believe that your strike has met its target before it even leaves your hands. Now,” he said, tapping his staff against the ground, “both of you try again.”
They practiced all morning until both Michael and Maya were able to consistently hit the target. Still, Michael was troubled. He had not done much damage to the X. It was barely scorched.
“Don’t worry,” Sefu said encouragingly. “Being the son of a Creator, or even a Creator yourself, does not give you any special aptitude for Moving.”
“Actually, I am disappointed because I was able to do this before, when all of those dogs were attacking me. I blew them apart.”
“That’s because you were in the heat of battle. Your life was at risk and so was that of your friends. For some people, facing death is a terrifying distraction, but it sounds like it only made you stronger.”
After a short break for lunch, Sefu showed them the basics of fencing. They practiced against him using wooden swords. He showed them how to advance and retreat, to stab and swipe, and how to parry.
“The essence of the parry,” explained Sefu, “is to use the base of your blade against the tip of theirs. Although your swiftest cutting edge is at the tip of your sword, its greatest weight and thickness lies at its base.” He gestured towards Michael, “Swing at me.”
Michael obliged, swinging his wooden sword at Sefu’s torso. Sefu caught the tip of Michael’s blade with the base of his. “See how I can control your blade now?” he said as he easily pushed it aside.
Michael nodded, impressed.
“Now try and push my blade out of the way.”
Michael tried to press with the tip of his sword, but couldn’t. He put his weight into it, but his sword was useless in that position.
“Now,” Sefu directed, “try and hit me.”
Michael swung his blade again at Sefu, who brushed it aside with a slight flick of his weapon. “Do you see how easy it was to knock it aside? It only requires a small movement on my part. Just a tap, really.” Sefu explained that they should not parry too hard. They should stay as close to center as possible so they could easily repost. They practiced parrying until Sefu felt they had a reasonably good understanding.
Sefu lay his sword down and picked up his staff again. “Now, I want to show you how to parry a Moving attack,” he said, swinging his stave from side to side. “Surround your weapon with the conscious force of your will to deflect the shot. It is swift and works well against focused attacks such as the bolts you have been firing, but does little good against heavier attacks.”
“What constitutes ‘heavier?’” Maya asked, wiping her brow. They had worked up a bit of a sweat from their training.
“A spray of fireballs, ice, lighting― it doesn’t matter what form it takes, but if it’s too big to swat away with your blade, a simply parry won’t work. While many demons cannot manifest more than a poorly aimed shot, others are quite deadly, especially the long-horned officers. They are well-trained and can Move a great deal of energy. In which case, you will need to Move a field of protection around you. You can also use that to protect others.”
“Why not just use a full shield all the time?” asked Michael.
“Because it takes much more concentration than a parry,” explained Sefu. “It’s inconvenient to walk when you’re holding a shield over yourself and it’s even harder to fight back. Of course, if you are fighting in a group, some soldiers can Move shields while others direct attacks at the enemy.”
“To be honest,” said Maya. “I would feel much more comfortable doing that than shooting at people.”
Sefu nodded. “Healers often make excellent defenders and we may need you for it. Moving takes concentration and it is hard to concentrate on something that you do not believe in. Focus on your passions. Consider defense an extension of healing.”
“Prevention is often the best medicine,” Maya smiled.
They spent the next three days practicing with Sefu. After his time with the demons, Michael was in heaven. It was not that he was particularly passionate or skilled at sword play, but just that he loved learning about Moving. He had wanted to go to the Academy so badly and had been so close, only to have his dreams squashed by the invasion. He despaired that his dream would never manifest, but now, unexpectedly, he had a chance to study Moving, and even better, his mentor was the man who had supported his learning all his life.
However, the bliss was short lived. On the morning of the fourth day, Michael was shaken awake.
“Get up!” he heard his uncle calling though his contented slumber. “We have to go!”
“What’s going on?” Michael asked groggily.
“My wisps haven’t returned. The demons are on their way.”
Michael sprung upright as his sleepiness instantly evaporated.
“Get your clothes on. I have bags packed for you and Maya. We must leave immediately.” With that, Sefu departed to rouse Maya.
Michael dressed in a frenzy, putting his shirt on backwards and stumbling over his shoes in the process. The room was dark and he did not have the wherewithal to think of turning on the light. It felt like it was still the middle of the night.
Once dressed, he hurried downstairs. Three green canvas packs lay by the front door reminding him that Sefu had prepared for this day for years. Michael’s sword leaned against one so he knew it was his. He pulled it over his shoulders, cinching the straps. It was heavily laden with food, water, clothes, and tools they would need on the lam. He was not sure though how he was going to be able to run away from the demons wearing something so cumbersome. As Maya and Sefu descended the staircase, he clipped his sword scabbard to his belt.
“Here’s yours” said Sefu, pointing to a bag for Maya. “We have everything we need in there for the next week.”
“It sure feels like it,” she grunted as she lifted it onto her shoulders.
“Don’t worry,” said Sefu. “We’re not carrying it far.” He guided them out the door. It was not as late at night as Michael imagined. Turquoise flecks of dawn broke just over the tree line. As Michael stepped onto the dewy lawn, he was startled to see the bear was out of its cage and facing them, or actually facing a wisp just in front of its glazed over face. Several ropes were tied securely around its
Sefu pointed his staff at the wisp and commanded the bear to lie down. Even on its belly, the bear’s shoulders were still well above Michael’s head.
“Do you expect us to ride that thing?” Maya desisted.
“Would you rather carry the packs yourself?” Sefu answered curtly. “Just grab a rope or patch of fur and climb on!”
Maya stared at him reticently.
“Look, we have to hurry,” he urged her. “Those demons could be here any moment.” He walked back towards the house and proclaimed, “I’ll join you in a moment. I just have to take care of something,” and he disappeared inside.
Michael and Maya gave each other disconcerted looks then proceeded to the bear. They took off their packs. Michael kneeled and cupped his hands, making a step for Maya to lift herself onto the massive beast. Michael then passed her the backpacks before hoisting himself onto the animal as well. Its fur appeared coarse, but was softer than it looked. Its back was so wide that without their packs there would have been enough space for several more people to join them. As it was, they would be quite snug once Sefu climbed aboard.
“Do you suppose we’re the first people to ever ride a sphinx bear?” Michael asked.
“From the look of these straps your uncle has had some practice,” she said, tugging at one of the ropes.
Sefu emerged from the house and shut the door behind him, but left the lights on inside.
Michael smelled Sefu’s cured meat. “Did you start cooking something?” he asked.
“Yes,” Sefu smiled deviously as he passed Michael his pack and staff. He climbed onto the bear with ease and took the front seat.
Michael handed him back his weapon. He was impressed by the old man’s agility. His hair was white and his hands pocked with liver spots, but he was strong and limber.
Sefu snickered, “I’m making breakfast for the demons.”
“What do you mean?” Michael asked with a raised a brow.
“I want them to think that we’re still at home, snuggled up, getting ready for a tasty meal. I rigged the house to explode as soon as that door is opened. If it doesn’t kill them outright, they’re going to think twice about following us. They’ll be checking every bush and boulder for booby traps.”
Sefu turned and grinned widely at Michael. Then with a flick of his staff the wisp rose into the air, making the bear lurch to its feet. Michael grabbed onto one of the tethers to keep from tumbling off. With a forward flick of his staff, the wisp took off with the hypnotized bear loping behind it.
They lumbered southward through the forest. Branches cracked and splintered as the sphinx bear drove through the trees. Red-breasted thrushes and fluffy, long-eared cottonwells scurried out of the way. Michael kept expecting to hear an explosion from the distant house, but none ever came. Their black dogs were good trackers. Michael wondered if the demons realized they had departed and simply bypassed the house.