Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew 6:34 KJB
=The Last Night=
“Give it back!”
The sobbing yells of the first year girl echoed off the largely empty school hallways. While only a single voice, it carried over the laughter and the taunting of the four upper classmen. Judging from their voices, the four where playing keep away with some family heirloom the first year had failed to hide from their eyes. Sora guessed they had snuck up on the girl while she was alone and homesick. She had likely been taking some comfort from the totem that represented a happier place when it was taken away from her. Sora didn’t understand such things, one place was much as another to him.
“It belonged to my mother!”
“It belonged to my mother,” two of the boys parroted back mockingly. The girl was starting to openly cry, which, if these four followed their normal routine, would mean they would soon see how far they could push things by breaking the object. Turning the corner, Sora could see it was a sliver locket of some sort. The four easily tossed the locket back and forth above the out stretched arms of the girl who was nearly half their height.
“Jun, you still have those pliers on you?”
Sora wanted to sigh. He knew he was a little slow and dense about people, but it amazed him how predictable some bullies where. But he repressed making any sound. At just short of 7 foot, and nearly wide enough for two people, he was easy to spot. And that wasn’t counting the fact his skin had a texture much like the bark of a pine tree and green unkempt hair that stuck out about his head like pine needles. Or that the positioning of his nose and eyes where just a little off to most people’s eyes. As good as he was at staking about unseen in the woods, moving up silently to keep the ears from drawing the eye in his direction was the only option open to him in the empty hallway.
Jun caught the locket with one hand and set to applying the pliers to the hinge. The first anyone knew of Sora presence was a second later when Jun’s hand with the locket suddenly shifted and a large meaty hand closed around Jun’s other hand and the pliers. The crunching sound of a breaking finger in the metal pincers brought the heads of the other three up fast.
“It’s the ogre!”
“What the hell is he doing out!”
“I thought you where suppose to be watch—”
The forth cut off as the wind was knocked out of him as Jun was suddenly thrown six feet though the air into him, crushing both to the ground. Sora knew for some time these four waited till Sora was in class or in the Dojo like he normally was at this time in the evening before preying on the students in order to blow off steam.
Unfortunately— for the four bullies that is— today Sora’s Sifu was entertaining a representative from the Cloister of Wisdom. All Sora had to do today was spar against two students and go though the more advanced katas to impress the rep. All and all, it only took an hour to complete before being dismissed. It had been one of the rare occasions Sora had seen the old master smile.
The third bully tried to run past Sora, but Sora simply put out an arm and caught his face with one hand, the massive fist nearly wrapping about the bully’s head. As the bottom half of the boy tried to keep going, he suddenly found the only thing keeping him upright was the death grip on his temples and jaw. His body twisted about from his neck like a wind chime in a strong breeze.
“What did I say last time?” Sora asked slowly, his voice sounding like a bunch of large rocks being mixed about in a large wooden bucket.
“Come on, we weren’t doing anything!” The last bully pleaded while slowly backing away from the steadily advancing Sora. The other bully tried to kick at Sora in an attempt to get free, but with one graceful fluid movement, Sora caught the leg with his free hand and twisted it upward. Bouncing about on one leg, the bully was forced to hop backwards to keep from putting too much strain on his neck. In a panic the bully started to wave his arms about wildly to no real effect.
“I said, the next time you take something that doesn’t belong to you, it would take a month before your hands could even handle a quill.” Sora went on, never slowing his stride forward.
The bully in Sora’s hands, unable to get any air past Sora’s palm covering his mouth and now broken nose finally pasted out from oxygen deprivation. Counting to two in his head once the body went limp, Sora dropped the boy and continued on without a backwards glance. He would wake with a headache and a need for visit the nurse sure, but he would live. There was no honor in doing permanent damage… well, not too permanent anyway.
“Come on man! I’m sorry!” The last bully pleaded with Sora while trying to hunch protectively over his hands. “Ok!? I’m sorry! I got a game after next week! You’ll hurt the school’s chances against Eagles Launch!”
Sora stopped his advance at that. He hadn’t considered how he might harm the school and other students, innocents, by breaking their Keeper’s thumbs. But before he could ponder the thought much the bully lashed out with a quick jab-cross-jab. Without thinking, Sora moved back and forth like a blade of grass on the planes in a steady western spring wind, avoiding the punches that made whisking sounds though the air, before countering.
No, breaking the Keeper’s thumbs would get the school angry with Sora. Not that they didn’t dislike him already, but Sora didn’t want to give them a good reason for it. The rivalry between Eagle’s Launch and Bright Obelisk was legendary, or at least it would be if the two schools where not everyone’s “fall back” primary schools. Sora didn’t care that much about the rivalry, but he at least respected the other’s opinions.
Instead, with an arm that wiped forward and then back again like a swaying tree branch, Sora broke the bully’s nose on the downswing and then his jaw on the backswing. The doctor at the school could set and wire it good enough for him to play in a week once Calibration was over, but not enough to keep him from having to spend a few weeks taking all his meals though a straw. The bully spun awkwardly from the hit before spitting out a lose molar and crumpling to the ground.
Sighing, Sora turned about and walked back to where Jun was laid sprawled out atop his friend and scooped up the sliver locket from his open hand. Crouching down, trying to be less imposing, he slowly held the keepsake out in one hand for the girl to take.
“Sorry about that. They won’t bother you anymore. I hope I didn’t—”
Abandoning the locket, the girl let out a long scream and took off as fast as she could down the hallway away from Sora leaving him alone in the hallway.
• • •
After finding the Faculty Adviser to turn in the locket, Sora made his way back to his room. He had expected after the speech she gave last week to the student body about fighting that he would be at least be yelled at. However she seemed just as frightened of Sora as the girl had been. He had been let off with a less than stern warring, she had gone as far as saying “I’m sure you didn’t mean it.” He had heard her exhale in relief when he left the faculty office.
In truth, he had wished to be yelled at. Yes, he did mean to do it and would do so again if need be, but it was still against the rules. And at least then it would mean they didn’t think he would be so dishonorable as to strike a teacher for doing their job.
At least it would mean they weren’t scared of him.
The mortals all looked at him as if he was some kind of monster who was seconds from violence. Sure, he would attack in an instant if need be, but not against an innocent. There was rules about when and whom you should attack, to do otherwise was dishonorable.
The Dragon-Blooded where the only ones who weren’t scared of him. Well, some of them weren’t. But each and every one looked like they had just bit into something very tart when they looked at him. Only his Master treated him with any amount of respect, but then again the old earth aspect looked at every student as if they where clay to be molded by his teachings or be discarded. Well,.. him and the wilderness studies and geomancy professors,.. but all the students thought they were odd so it was hard to tell.
The truth of it, as Sora saw it, was that he was frightening and disturbing looking. Even before Exalting, he had few friends. None really, most where to put off by something about him and didn’t even want to speak with him. The only real friend he had, he had met just before starting primary school at the going away party. Cousin Sidney was hesitant at first like everyone else, but the two shared a common interest in the terrestrial martial arts. After going to school, the two had taken to writing one another. Being able to leave his face out of things, he found he could open up much easier to her and the two became like a little brother and a big sister.
Though, as Sora normally told himself since exalting shortly after getting to school, it was worth it not having to put up with people. It let him focus on his studies of essence and martial arts. He was only two charms away from mastering Ill Lily Style, and at such a young age. And after his performance today at the Dojo, he would be admitted to the Cloister of Wisdom and would be learning one of the Greater Elemental Dragon styles a full two years before most Exalts. And there, in the Immaculate Order, there would be no need for all the absurd social interactions the other students held so important. Most where discouraged anyway in order to prefect and shape the Exalted’s Essence in order to learn the pentacle styles and forms of martial arts. To be more like the Dragons; to be enlightened.
It didn’t bother him what he missed out on. Not the dances, or getting into trouble with people he would likely never see again after graduating. It didn’t bother him that no one asked him to join their clubs (even the Martial Arts club had tried to turn him away until they saw how good he already was). Besides, so many of the social butterflies seemed only interested in how to use each other and other people in their schemes, not for the people around them they called friends. So disgusting. It was better just to never deal with them. And as a Monk he wouldn’t be allowed such things like a girlfriend or a lover, so there wasn’t any point to getting attached. Not that he was able to attract one anyway. So when he passed by club rooms or dormitories where a group of students could be heard laughing, it just didn’t bother him.
Surly it didn’t..
After meditating for a few hours in the middle of his room (he had the entire place to himself shortly after exalting, none of the other students where comfortable being his roommate for long regardless of how much room he gave them) he went though his normal nightly routine. He removed the Tonfas from his belt and placed them on a weapon stand next to his mat. He still gave a slight grin when he regarded them. These where a new pair made from a rare black wood from the east that had scroll work engraved into them, a gift from Sidney sent to him a few weeks ago for his birthday and to wish him luck. She said he needed to smile more, that he didn’t seem so severe when he smiled. He then bathed, folded and put away his clothing and made a prayer to the Immaculate Dragons before climbing into bed.
For once he found sleep easily come by tonight. For once the experiences of the day slid away more easily, and for once he looked forward to the morning. By noon tomorrow, the first day of Calibration, he would know if he had been accepted or not. In six days he was sure he would be packing his few belongings and moving onto better things.
Tomorrow would be the start of something better. He was sure of it.