From Dirt

It’s been weeks since Scarius defeated Narus on the cliffside in the Ikatanuan town of Berethenian and yet somehow Narus has not only managed to survive but awaken and more shocking still, walk. The defeated and disgraced warrior doesn’t understand how it can be possible that he still breathes, yet that is not the most pressing of questions on his mind. The most pressing of questions afflicting him and demanding answers are: where is he? And why is he here? Neither has been answered but that should soon change now that he is soon to meet with someone who will apparently be able to give him all the answers he seeks. Narus is sceptical of such promises even if that is exactly what they are. As a tribesman he was brought up to believe that if something sounds too good to be true and is given without a cost then it always, undoubtedly, is.

So, when a black eyed, light grey skinned man comes almost gliding into the room that Narus is currently calling his own, dressed in robes of brown and with his black hair pulled back in a ponytail, Narus feels a need to start talking. But he doesn’t. Instead, he watches and listens as the man introduces himself in a manner that clearly suggests that he is of no threat to Narus and yet the defeated warrior does not feel capable of letting his guard down to trust this person either. Why he cannot say. After all, Scarius did not betray Narus. They had never met before that day in Berethenian near the cliffside. The Tribesman just knew the warlord by name and reputation and just the thought of that monster grates with and disgusts him.

“Greetings warrior, I am Liege Eron of the Arci Order. And first order of business… Would like refreshment?” The one hundred and eighty centimetre tall man says with an even and calm tone of voice unlike Narus has ever heard before in his life.

Instantly Narus is confused. It’s why he blinks several times rapidly unable to determine what his response should be. The most confusing part for the Ikatanuan being the fact that this visitor, to the room Narus is currently occupying, is treating him as though he is a guest. And while that is true, it strikes Narus as odd that someone who has visited another’s space would offer refreshment and not the other way round. Yet, Narus cannot argue that the man before him, though shorter, is just like him. That only confuses the warrior further and why it takes Narus almost a full minute before he finally realises that a question was issued to him which requires an answer.

“N-no…th-thank you…I…don’t need refreshment.” Narus says stumbling over himself before his brain slams into coherent thought, gathers itself and sees him quickly continue. “What I need is to know where I am and how I got here?”

Eron smiles before issuing a nod of understanding and then offering, “You were found…at the base of a cliff by members of our order.”

“The Arci Order. I remember you saying the name when you introduced yourself just a moment ago.” Narus says butting in to prove that he isn’t damaged mentally in some way after his faltering start.

“Well…at least that means you have no permanent cognitive damage.”

“What?” Narus replies confused.

“Nothing. I digress.” Eron answers without giving an answer as he then quickly returns to the subject of their conversation before this tangent.

“You were brought here…Penseleg. It’s the Order’s home.”

“Penseleg…Can’t be. It’s a cursed place filled with monsters, ghosts and demons. No one lives there.” Narus replies thinking this Liege before him might be mad.

“And yet here we are. There are no monsters here. At least not the kind I’m sure you’ve heard of.” Eron replies with a smirk.

“Right.” Narus utters unconvinced by the Liege’s words as he casts a wary glance this robbed man’s way.

“You think me mad?” Eron replies with a wry smile before continuing.

“But I speak only the truth. Accepting it is not my task. It is yours. You can either accept the words I speak, or you cannot. Either way it does not change the validity of what I say. But I know you wish to ask more, so why don’t we move on?”

“Ok. Why did you save me?” Narus asks.

“I did not. I was not present. But my brothers determined that you were dying and in pain. Not a fitting end. Not even an end really. However, what they did was right and so you were brought back here to our haven in the mountains.” Eron explains in a manner that Narus has never heard before.

“So what is the Arci Order?” Narus questions warily. He fears the worst but has no basis as to why that might be.

“We are monks. Humble and truthful.” Eron replies as an expression of scepticism spreads across Narus’ face.

In the warrior’s experience those that claim they are humble and truthful are not. Such things are arrogant claims meant to trick and draw attention away from things that those that speak such words wish to keep hidden.

“I see you are not a believer of such things.”

“My experience has taught me men that claim such things are more often than not lying.”

“And yet do you doubt my words?” Eron queries.

Narus does not answer. Eron doesn’t expect the warrior to and so moves on as he continues to answer the recovering man’s previous question.

“Penseleg is our haven but we do tread beyond its borders from time to time. Seldom but we do. And we have heard of the violence is the lands beyond our borders. The suffering has been glimpsed but we have avoided it.” Eron concludes swifter than Narus had been anticipating.

“And yet you do nothing about it?”

“Interference of what lies beyond is not our mandate at this time.” Eron informs.

“What does that even mean?” Narus replies.

“No, never mind. I don’t want to know.” The Ikatanuan says right after to stop Eron from having the chance to speak.

“Instead, answer me this: Are the fields still aflame?”

“They are.” Eron replies without giving anything away.

Narus hasn’t a clue how the man is as calm as he is when talking about such things, but he does not care. He knows what he has to do and with confirmation that the war is not yet over and Scarius not yet having consumed all the lands the Ikatanuan warrior demands, “Show me the way back to my lands. I must face Scarius and cut his rot from this world before it takes hold.”

“You hope to fight this man. Is he the same one that did this to you?” Eron queries as his black eyes probe unnervingly at Narus.

“He is, not that it matters. Now do as I say. I do not belong here. I am not one of your Order.” Narus fires back right after with little thought as to where Eron might be guiding this conversation.

“You are in no fit state. What do you hope to achieve against this Scarius if you could not best him in your prime?” Eron counters with a slow blink and far more logic than the Ikatanuan likes.

“I have to try. Accepting defeat is failure. And failure is not my tribes’ way.” Narus replies without actually answering the question that has been posed to him. Because Narus knows what Eron is getting at and that he is right. But if by some madness Scarius had been telling the truth when he’d announced that Narus was the last Ikatanuan warrior, then it falls to him to stop the bloodshed.

“True. You do indeed have to try…” Eron replies much to Narus’ surprise.

“…But to defeat this Scarius you will need to train.” Eron adds right after without so much as a pause.

Narus chuckles as he queries, “And who is going to aid me in that?”

Eron does not answer. Rather, he tells Narus, “Follow me.”

The Ikatanuan obliges and follows Eron out of the quarters which Narus has not left since he awoke to find himself here. Instead, he has been using the wide and simply decorated stone wall and floored space to rebuild the strength that he had lost in his legs from the apparent weeks of lying unconscious in a bed.

Even with that regular exercise Narus is still slower than he had been before the battle against Scarius and yet as he crosses from a plain hallway and out onto a set of unsheltered stairs the Ikatanuan cannot stop himself from staring wide eyed at the beauty of the hanging vines and rainbow coloured flowers that blanket much of the rock walls several hundred metres away.

What makes the beauty of the place more astounding is the fact that above the sheer rock faces is thick white snow unblemished and still as it clings desperately to every nook, cranny and ledge, much like the flowers, trees and vines do all around him. And yet the rock faces are not the only places the beauty of nature insists on frequenting as all around him are hanging baskets and massive stone pots delicately emblazoned with figures that seem to tell stories. While vibrant colourful petals a myriad of shapes and shades glitter in the diffused light from the heavens.

As Eron and Narus pass back into an interior space the Ikatanuan feels the beauty of the place disappear. It saddens Narus but when they find themselves on an exposed long and narrow bridge barely wider than a single person the defeated warrior does not feel the same as he did before now that he is able to see the spectacle that is Pinseleg, allegedly.

Rather, Narus’ eyes dart back and forth, up and down as the Ikatanuan seeks something, anything really, that might afford him the opportunity to escape. Not because Narus is a prisoner but because he does not believe that Eron or this Arci Order are indeed inclined to aid him in any meaningful way. And how can they, he wonders. After all, they are monks, by their own admission, and monks are peaceful, unaware of the necessities of war and combat. That is no doubt why they reside in this place, this haven. Narus had wondered before why Eron had called it such but now that he has seen more than a simple stone room he understands.

The tour around Penseleg concludes lasts almost an hour and comes as Eron and Narus step out onto an open flat area. It is possibly the first flat space Narus thinks he has seen of this size and yet he wonders what the purpose of them stopping here is. There doesn’t seem to be anything of note present as the space is just a grassy disc.

“Here you can train?” Eron informs with a sweeping arm gesture meant to tempt but in no way succeeding.

Narus is sure Eron wishes him to stay so that he might forget the world beyond this place, perhaps even join the Order to which he and all the others here are a part. But that is not Narus’ life, his path, his destiny. Narus has responsibilities, chief amongst them being to bring an end to Scarius and his Veserhen’s tyranny and murder. That is why the Ikatanuan shakes his head and assures, “This place is not for me. Show me to my lands. I have a destiny to fulfil.”

“And how will you fulfil it without strength?” Eron asks quizzical.

“Honour will lend me strength now as it always has done.” Narus replies reciting one of the truths of the Ikatanuan.

“Honour cannot bring strength. Honour is a concept.  It offers nothing more and nothing less. You require training.” Eron retorts with his ever even tone of voice. However, in this open air it takes on a more musical note than had been present when the pair had been in the confines of stone walls fashioned by hands Narus cannot guess at. It is possible it was the hands of the monks that built this place and yet from what he has seen the Ikatanuan doubts it.

“Your solution is not one. It is a stay of execution. Scarius and his Veserhen must be stopped. If they are not they will surge across the lands like a plague leaving a trail of bodies in their wake. Now show me my route back to my tribes’ lands.”

Eron sighs. He had hoped to get through to Narus. To make the Ikatanuan see the truth and reality of what is needed, but it seems his approach has not been conducive to such things. So he will need to attempt a different approach, and not one that he relishes the idea of.

“You may leave and will be shown the way back to your lands, if you can best and past me here and now without a weapon in your hand or mine.” Eron declares without a hint of emotion.

 “Fine.” Narus replies succinctly as he plods toward Eron. His fists ball ready to fight and once he is within striking distance, following a very brief moment of hesitation, the Ikatanuan pulls back his arm to throw a punch. This isn’t what Narus wants but the monk is leaving him no option and yet has thus far refused to react in anyway. That was the cause for the tribesman’s hesitation. An allowance to make this a fair fight, but the monk did not take it and with Narus so determined to return to the lands that had once belonged to the Ikatanuan he unleashes the punch.

The swing is wide and arcing, yet perfectly on target as it races through the empty air toward the monks’ cheek. However, the punch never reaches. Not because Narus misses but rather because Eron grabs a hold of the Ikatanuan’s fist before wrenching him forward and swinging his leg to take Narus’ out from underneath him. It happens so fast that Narus cannot comprehend what is going on until he is on the floor, looking up, blinking in shock, disabled.

“How do you hope to best this Scarius is you cannot best me?” Eron utters as he cocks his head to one side while looking down at the again defeated Narus.

The tribesman is lost for words at first. And though his mouth is open and his jaw moving, all that comes out are heavy breathes and silence.

Finally when Narus find his voice he manages, “How does a monk…possess such skills?”

Eron smiles as he looks down at Narus and then admits, “While we are indeed an Order of monks, we are also warriors who are trained in all forms of combat.”

Narus sighs seeing now how much of a fool he has been. He judged this man and his Order by their appearance as well as the self-imposed moniker that brings forth connotations of peace along with a perceived abhorrence to violence. The Ikatanuan has to admit it is as clever as it is devious but demands, “Help me defeat Scarius.”

“I and the order will not aid you in this fight.” Eron informs bluntly.

“Then why are you an Order of warrior monks if you will not fight?” Narus wishes to know incredulous at the refusal.

“This war is not ours. And while my brothers and I will not fight against Scarius alongside you, I have been permitted by the council of Liege’s to train you.”

Narus’ face lights up. He feels hope course through his veins. He’d forgotten what it felt like but now that it is returned to him he can scarcely believe it. However, Eron is not finished and adds, “However, there is one condition.”

“I accept. Wholeheartedly, I accept.” Narus blurts without thought or care. Not because of the hope he feels. In fact, he can’t explain why it is that he so recklessly accepted and yet feels that he was right to do so.

“Good.” Eron says in the seconds before Narus then wishes to know, “What is the condition?”

The Ikatanuan doesn’t sound concerned as the question left his lips, rather he sounded inquisitive.

“There will be a time and a place for the condition and once that is met the condition will be revealed.” Eron states with more mystery than Narus would like.

However, the Ikatanuan does not dwell on it; instead he has a more pressing question. “When will training begin?”

Narus is eager to get to work for a great many reason, though he would be lying if he didn’t admit that chief amongst them is so he can bring Scarius low sooner rather than later. The thought of what havoc that monster might be reeking makes his blood run cool.

“Your retraining has already begun Narus.” Eron announces before continuing, “And the first lesson you must learn is to expect the unexpected. Anyone could be an adversary, even if they are inclined to call themselves a friend from the get go.”

“What do you mean?” Narus queries suddenly feeling as though he might have wrongly requested and agreed to terms and help perhaps he should not have.

Eron smiles but does not offer an answer to the query. Rather, he beckons Narus to follow him across the flat expanse of green to a set of well worn steps. The pair descend the steps quickly only to step out onto a paved platform that hangs off the side of the mountain. The Ikatanuan would not have guessed that Penseleg was high up if he was not now seeing it with his own two eyes. He had been inclined to believe that the town, he doesn’t have another word for it right now, sat at ground level surrounded by the mountains. But that could not be further from the truth, which makes the marvel of this place all the more exceptional in the tribesman’s mind.

“Why are we here?” Narus asks with a furrowed brow as he gazes around at the bland sand coloured plinth that clings desperately to the dark rocks of the mountain wrapped and shrouded by the green hanging vines that seem more like vertically growing grass than anything else. Part of him wishes he could reach out and touch it but he doesn’t dare for fear of falling to his death. And this time Narus is sure that he would die. Not because the platform is higher than the cliff in Berethenian that he was cast from, though it is, but because he doubts fortune, especially in his weakened state, would favour him a second time.

“We are here to fight.” Eron announces as he stands with his hands clasped behind his back.

“But I have no armour or weapon.” The defeated Ikatanuan warrior exclaims.

“Hmph. If you cannot fight without aids then you will never succeed in fighting with them.” Eron retorts casually.

Narus considers the statement but cannot say that he understands or agrees with the reasoning. However, he drops into a defensive stance nevertheless to prepare for a fight that he knows nothing about.

Eron makes no attempt to attack. Rather, he simply smiles as if content by what he is casting his gaze upon. This confuses Narus who frowns in response as he waits for an attack that will never come. After all, they are the only two present in this space so the only possibility of an attacker has to be Eron. Or so the Ikatanuan thinks. However, such a notion is soon torn asunder when without warning shadowy figures birth themselves from thin slivers of darkness found where the light in the heavens cannot reach.

“What trickery is this?” Narus announces feeling fear take a hold of him in a manner he can only explain might be similar to if a giant hand were to wrap its spindly fingers around him and squeeze.

“This…this is your retraining.” Eron replies a blink of an eye prior to the figures bursting forward to attack in unison.

Their speed is incalculable, and within seconds Narus finds himself not only swarmed but also overwhelmed. The shadows that are his attackers beat down on him as though they wish to crush his body flat. It’s harrowing and riddled with shots after shot of short sharp pain that quickly fills Narus’ head until he feels the need to vomit. He doesn’t. Not because he refuses to but because there is nothing for his body to expel. Instead, his mind whirs and spins as he asks how this is supposed to be training. This is battery, not a fair fight. If it were fair then he wouldn’t have been beset upon by multiple attackers. Instead, he’d be facing a sole adversary.

Suddenly and as if Narus’ mind has been read by the monk, Eron roars, “If you hope to defeat your enemy then you must first defeat the perception that combat is fair.”

“How?” Narus questions in a demanding tone as the pain points continue to consume ever greater sections of his already bruised and battered body.

“Only you can know that. The journey is a personal one and you must find your way through that fog to discover the answer.” Eron calls back.

“Then maybe you should attempt trying to decipher some mysticism while being beaten to death, like I am.” Is the sarcastic reply that slips from Narus’ thin dark lips.

With that Eron snaps his fingers and the shadows disappear as if they had never been there in the first place. Narus is sure he did not imagine them, yet as he raises his head to confirm his safety he notes that in place of the trio of shadows Eron is now flying toward him.

The Ikatanuan recoils in shock but cannot react in time to evade the incoming fist of Eron, who punches the injured and defeated warrior in the jaw. It’s the second such blow Narus has received in as many fights and like the last this impact sends him spinning away with throbbing pain that serves as a reminder for his failure.

However, Eron does not stop there. Rather, he pursues Narus relentlessly while querying, “Is this more to your liking?”

“No.” Narus blurts angrily.

“Why not? Did you not ask for a fair fight? And what could be fairer than one adversary pitted against another?” Eron questions as he continues to press the attack, fists jabbing at points all over the Ikatanuan’s body.

Narus does not answer however and so after a short verbal silence Eron presses again as he promises, “This will not end. I will not relent.”

And true to his word the monk of the Arci Order continues to press his attack. With each strike Narus can feel the pain mount and him grow ever closer to his threshold. Though, whether each of Eron’s hits is harder than the last the Ikatanuan cannot say. Something tells him they are not. After all, the monk is not hoping to break Narus. At least the tribesman doesn’t think he is. But how can he be so sure, Narus asks himself. He doesn’t know. He just doesn’t believe Eron is. Yet, his body and the screaming agony that it is in is proof to the contrary and begs his conscious mind to accept that perhaps this monk does indeed wish to inflict harm upon him and that it may be not for a reason he can grasp.

Suddenly Eron speaks again. The monks’ voice, his words bring Narus out of his thoughts.

“If you cannot stop me, a sole aggressor, then how do you intend to bring low Scarius?”

Immediately, Narus hates the question that has been directed toward him. It isn’t fair. Like this fight isn’t fair and yet the Ikatanuan quickly descends into a spiralling pit that ultimately leads him to scream, “I don’t know!”

Instantly Eron stops. His attacks terminated with perhaps even more speed then they began or were delivered. That confuses Narus who queries, “What…I don’t understand…”

Eron smiles at the broken speech used by the man before him in the moments before he states, “This was your first lesson.”

“But what was the first lesson?” Narus questions confused as he continues to feel the now lessening stings of pain all across his torso.

“To not believe that what you know is always going to be the best way of defeating all opponents.” Eron replies with a raised index finger that is pointed toward the heavens high above their heads.

With the uttering of those words Narus feels something. Not anger or fear or joy, but a change. It comes from within and begins a shift. It’s enlightening. The Ikatanuan has no other word for it.

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