Tuesday, 29 November 2011 17:43

Imperial Odyssey - The Kae Featured

Written by  Austin Craft
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I was born into this life. Some may say it's dark or murderous. But it's my life, and our traditions and customs are the only thing I've ever known. I don't question my role. I carry out my orders without hesitation.

My mother was a priestess serving in the Temple of the Prophets. I never knew my father. He was killed on mission, jettisoned from the hull of an airship where the Zintonian Queensmen were conducting a mission. Or so I am told. So my mother raised me by herself. I know it must have been hard for her, although she never complained about the loneliness.

I was chosen at a young age to train at the temple, which only a select few have the privilege, nay, the Honor of undergoing the trials that make one into an Eloth' Naka. Naturally, I was scared. I had never been away from home before but I didn't have a choice in the matter. One does not simply refuse the training. I could see the sadness in my mother's eyes as they took me away from her. The last thing she said to me was "Be strong my son." That's all I've ever tried to be.

To my surprise, there were other children there as well. One was about my age, and because of that, we became training partners. We did everything together. We ate together, trained together, even slept together. When one moved, the other moved. When one swung the sword, so did the other. It was like seeing a mirror image of yourself and everything you did, it copied flawlessly. I knew his thoughts and so did he.

When I was about ten, by Human standards, it was required that we go to Sarnisia's northern most pole and sit in the frozen water for days. I lost count after a week in the water. When we arrived, we were told to take a weeks rations with us. The only rule we had was to remain in the water neck deep until our teacher returned to us. There we had to meditate for a stronger mind and body.

Most Sarnisians that attempt this act freeze to death or leave the water and are punished for it. Out of 100 students, an average of two complete the task. Knowing this, I undressed down to my shorts and walked in the freezing water. Immediately, I felt every cell in my body scream at me. As I looked back at the rest of the group, I noticed there was only one other moving to the water with me; my partner. His body reacted the same way as mine. Eventually, everyone with us descended into the bitter cold water.

In the first ten minutes, we had our first fatality. The frigid waters had claimed their first of many. My body was numb. I'm sure that if my skin wasn't already blue, it would have been by the time I got out of the water. It ached with a pain I had never before felt before. I closed my eyes trying desperately to push all physical feelings out of my mind. There was no warmth left in my body so trying to cling to that idea was useless. "Be strong my son." That is all I ever told myself. It was my only motivator, the only power I had left. The words continuously echoed in my mind and rang even louder every time the water claimed another victim.

My rations had just ran out and I wasn't sure how much longer I'd be out in that frozen wasteland. I saw darkness all around me. When I opened my eyes, it was no different. Just when I thought I had nothing left to feel, a revelation came to me. This was not a test to see if I could stand the cold. This was a test of if I could push all physical ailments aside. If I was strong enough mentally to take any pain and act as if there was no pain. No sooner did I realize that than our teacher had returned. The only thing he said was "Get out." I waited to be the final one out before leaving the water.

As I looked around at the group left, I noticed that there were only six of us remaining. And with them, my training partner.

The ride home was silent, no doubt some of us were feeling guilty, or sad about those who had failed, or those who wouldn't be coming home at all. I do not remember thinking anything. No remorse, or guilt. Nothing. There was a part of me that was numb, dead almost, but still alive. I can't explain why but I smiled. At least, I didn't know it at the time, but that is what the ice training was meant to do. Wipe your emotions clean out so you wouldn't feel sad for those who die. Dying is as natural as living is. You cannot have one without the other. It is this teaching that makes the Eloth'Naka and this teaching would mean more as time when on.

When we arrived at the training site, we were give little time to rest before our next lesson: Teleportation; the art of disappearing and reappearing again in a different location. This technique was the hardest one to master. There are a few elements that it requires, all the time keeping a clear head. We had to clear our mind of all impurities that would cloud it, such as fear, death, sadness, pride. That was step one. Seems easy if you think about something good or kind. however, those thoughts will still slide in you mind and will keep you from the second step. Envision your target location. The instructors secluded each of us in different rooms away from anyone else with literally no escape. The rooms were just big enough to sit in. So I did the only thing I could. I sat and meditated trying to clear my mind.

For myself, this task was tedious. For the most part, I was able to clear my mind save one thought. The thought of my father's fate. I wrestled with the thinking he had to go into battle and not look back at those he cared for. For me. For my mother. He probably knew ahead of time that he would most likely not make it home. And yet, still he went into battle. So dedicated to the Kae, to his home world that he went anyway. Why? How was he not afraid to die? I mean, I rather enjoy living. I didn't think I would be able to do that so willingly. He fought with everything he had and more to his last breath. Could I do that? Could I live up to that expectation?

I meditated for weeks fighting between the Sarnissian and the Eloth'Naka in me. My Sarnissian side was telling me to live, to go on living. But my Eloth'naka side was telling me to fight. Fight for all I have, all I will have. This constant struggle kept me in meditation through sleep and hunger. Mind games are worse when they are played by yourself. They are more destructive than any natural disaster. You have all the power in the world in your mind, only you have control of that power. And after several weeks of intense mind games, it dawned on me. To be Eloth'Naka does not mean to give up being Sarnissian. Rather they are one in the same. If I am to fight, I need to find that thing worth fighting for and it's something that makes us who we are. Love. Love for others, love for your race. Some have even call it love for country. That's why my father did it. That's why he went into battle even knowing his fate. He wasn't this battle hardened war hero that mother made him out to be. He was just like me; scared, uncertain, but very aware of what had to be done. He had to fight and put all of his inner turmoil aside for his family. But bigger than that, for his home world. He devoted his life to protecting the Prophets and the Kae. Putting all else aside, he was able to do his duty as a Sarnissian Eloth'Naka, and figuring that out, so was I.

Suddenly, I felt my entire body swell with a tingling sensation. It felt like my entire body had been sat on for hours then allowed the blood to rush back into it. I did what I could to remain concentrated on the task at hand. Step two, envision the teleportation point. I wasn't able to see much of the corridor outside my cell, because it was dark when we arrived, so I pictured the only place I had spent a lot of time in for the past however-many years I had been here. The Training Hall. I focused harder than I thought possible, but to my surprise I succeeded. I was vaporized. I still to this day don't know what it looked like from outside my body. I do know however, that instantly my body felt as if someone just poured icy water over me. I could see the fabric of time and space around me in a vibrant array of purple and black as I warped through dimensions. All that time my body never lost the icy cold or numbness sensations that covered it. After what seemed like days, my body felt normal again. Warm and stable. I opened my eyes to see many students staring at me like I was growing a second body part. Someone walked up behind me and put their hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see that my partner had already beaten me there. He smiled and tilted his head to the left. As I looked, I saw that I was the last one there. I lowered my head, not because I was last for place did not matter. I was relieved to pass and continue to the final phase. The hardest phase.

We were given one week to rest, and gather our strength. A time I chose to work on my sword technique. I practiced every chance I had because it was going to be key in the final test. The following week everyone in the training grounds was at attendance for the final test. Everyone there was going to watch the six students do their final evaluation, but if I failed I wouldn't be trying again.

Our master got up and spoke to the crowd. "This is a momentous occasion for us all. It is rare indeed that we get the chance to see so many take the test at once, but these are no ordinary students. Today they take the final test in becoming true warriors among our people. Unfortunately only three will pass to see the title of 'Eloth'Naka', for the final test is one to the death. One on one, for as long as the match needs to take. Will the first two students come forth?"

The first two moved forward into the ring, drew their swords and bowed. Immediately, they began to fight their souls out. One was a boy about my age, the other a girl slightly younger. Both fought vigorously for about half an hour. Their movements were swift, graceful even. I studied their movements trying to see which one was going to win. They were both so fierce, so dedicated to moving on. I thought for sure the boy was going to win. It felt like he wanted it more. But then something happened that neither he nor I had expected. In the middle of their fight as he swung for her throat, she teleported. He was no doubt surprised as he dropped his guard leaving him exposed on several sides. She quickly reappeared behind him and thrust her sword through his back. She held her position to ensure her victory. We all stood there watching him draw his last breath as he fell to his knees. She pulled her sword swiftly from his body and allowed him to finish his decent to the ground. There, she bowed respectfully to her fallen opponent then turned and bowed to the master.

He stood up and bowed back. "Next two." As the next two moved into the ring, I noticed that they had been partners since getting here. Two boys like myself and my partner. I glanced over at him, but all he did in return was say "Watch." I returned my attention to the two in the ring. They also bowed to each other and began their battle. Their moves were not as swift as the ones before them. They were leaving openings in their defenses all over the place. As one attacked, the other blocked and left one side open to another attack. Master Kwanis seemed very unimpressed by this display but allowed them to continue uninterrupted. Both students seemed to have rehearsed this fight. It looked too clean. Then one landed his sword on the back of the others knee slicing it open. Purple blood began pouring out on the ground. The injured student dropped his sword and as the other moved behind him, he kicked it away from him. The standing one raised the hilt of his sword over his head and put the point on the injured one's neck. But before he delivered the final blow, he stopped and spoke. "Oh Master Kwanis! Spare his life for he has fought valiantly." Master Kwanis stood up abruptly. "You will kill him!" The one holding the sword was shocked. He dropped his sword. "I...I can't," he said softly. Master Kwanis then spoke, "You have no place in this arena. You have dishonored us. You have dishonored your family. You have dishonored yourself. You must pay for your insolence!" The crown began to murmur. The guards began to close in on him. I was surprised to see him drop his sword rather than pick up a defensive stance and defend himself, but not as surprised as he was when his partner picked up his sword and turned it against him. He thrust it upwards into his chest killing him instantly.

Master Kwanis called off the guards. "An interesting move you just made there," he began.

"Tell me, why should I allow you to live when you were ready to fake the fight?"

"Master," he hesitated for a second, then regained his composure. "I was ready to die just as we are trained to be. But you know just as I, that if you are weak, you do not belong here. Given the opportunity to die honorably is the greatest reward anyone could ask for, but not willing to take a life for it is disgraceful. I admit that the fight was staged. However I was unaware that he was not willing to kill me as planned, so I decided for you. It was clear at that point he did not have what it took to be an Eloth'Naka."

"And what of your leg?"

"My leg, Master?" He stood up. "I can still fight Master. I would fight if I had no legs to stand on."

Master Kwanis pointed to three other guards. "You three kill him. As for you my student, this is your test. Kill them and pass. Die and get the honorable death you claim to be ready for."

The student bowed. "Yes Master." He drew his sword and took up a defensive stance. The first guard moved in and swung for his waist. The student moved and hit his sword in the same direction throwing the guard off balance then swung his sword upwards slicing deep into his back, then thrust his sword into the nape of the guard's neck. Seeing their comrade fail the task, the two others moved in and began attacking from both sides. Each swing the guards threw was blocked or redirected. The guards moved in towards the student closing the distance between them which was foolish. The guard to his right thrust his sword forward as the guard on his left moved forward. The student spun out to the right and hit the underside of the right guards hilt, giving it extra force as it missed him and found a new target. The left guard. The only living guard at this point was now defenseless as the student spun once more and swung his sword into the back of the guards leg, dropping him to his knees. He brought his sword above his head once more and let it fall once more. The blade found rest on the ground, as did the guards head. Purple blood stained the arena floor and the student turned to Master Kwanis and bowed.

"Well done my student. Well done, indeed. I see you are true to your words." Master Kwanis returned his bow and gestured for him to take his seat. "Will the final two come forth?"

After seeing the first two battles, many scenarios came to mind. I looked at my partner, who was now my enemy. I saw that he too was going through is own version of mental struggle, but as he looked back up at me I knew that if I gave him the opportunity, he would take my life. I hope he got the same message from me. I took a deep breath and bowed. He bowed back and smiled. A trait he did often. Then it faded and he dashed forward taking the first move.

His blade move quickly and with every swing I heard the sound barrier testing its speed. I blocked and evaded to the best of my abilities. My footing was all over the place, almost as if I were a drunk trying to find the way home. Our swords collided many times, each one failing to find their mark. Finally, there was an opening. Not for me, but for him. He deflected my sword upwards and followed it with a side slash across my chest, right below my pectoral muscles. It cut through my clothes as well as cut about a centimeter into my flesh. As I tried to regain my backwards momentum he lunged again. I did the only thing I could think of. I shut my eyes and cleared my mind.

When I opened them again, I was behind him. He turned and dashed again but this time before he got to me, he vanished as well. I had the image of the earlier fight come to mind as I felt him reappear behind me. He swung and again I vanished. This time when I appeared, I swung at his side with all my might. And he vanished. I could tell this was going to be a long violent game of cat and mouse. When one appeared and attacked, the other vanished and appeared in another location and swung. And the other would vanish again. I lost all track of time as we attacked one another repeatedly. I kept thinking that all I have to do is catch him off his guard once and I could end this eternal game of tag. I focused my mind to try and predict if i could tell where he would appear with no luck. Then something happened that I was unaware was even possible.

As I was traveling through dimensions I saw a quick flicker of black that was unlike the rest of the area around me. As I reappeared, so did he. I decided that this is going to be my final assault. My last try, and it is all riding on my assumption that he will attack where I am right now. I readied my sword as he vanished. I waited for a second and before he appeared I swung my sword and vanished. I wasn't able to see Master Kwanis' face, but I assume he was very interested in this fight. As I moved through space I saw that streak of black again and it was moving to my last position.

As I reappeared, my slash had finished its route. Purple blood had been thrown to the floor. I felt a pain in my arm. As I looked at it, I saw the tip of his sword embedded in my arm. My arm was supported by his sword in the air. My other arm still held firmly to my sword. It too was saturated in purple blood. I followed my arm to my sword and found that it had rested deep in my opponent’s neck, between his throat and shoulder. My wound would heal. His would not. He looked up at me and smiled. Blood stained his face and teeth but he never stopped smiling. Then he fell to the floor, his eyes shut never to be opened again.

I didn't feel the pain in my arm anymore. perhaps it was his smile that pushed it away. Or maybe it was my mother's words "Be strong" that made it fade. Whatever the reason, I bowed to his lifeless body and turned and bowed to my master. He rose and called all of us to the arena floor. "Well done to you all. You have all proven that you are worthy to bear the title of Eloth'Naka, our highest honor. And so shall it be, that hence forth you will no longer be students, but full fledged warriors of our people." He pointed to us and said, "You. Come speak with me a moment." We bowed and left the arena floor.

When I reached Master Kwanis' quarters, he said, "Tell me, do you know why we have our rituals, our specific ways of doing things?"

"The only thing I can think of Master, is that we have a duty to do, and if anything betrays us, we endanger everything that is Sarnissia."

"What do you mean by 'betrays'?"

"Look at those who fought today. Everyone betrayed something that the Kae teaches. In the first fight, the boy betrayed his feelings for his opponent. He thought he had the fight from the beginning, as did I, but when she turned it around and killed him I then realized that pride was his enemy.

"Hmmmm... interesting. And the second fight?"

"Even you caught that one Master. He betrayed himself by knowing that he had to fight to the death and yet was unable to do so. Cowardice. How many times will we be called out for the same thing, knowing we will never return and still have to do our duty to save our land? I admit that the issue has been plaguing my thoughts for years now, until I realized that it is not about me. It has never been about me. It is about those I hold dear, my family, my beliefs, my home land. Protect them at all costs."

"Hmmmm... and what of your fight?"

"That is one I was unsure about until my blade delivered the final blow. I did not see it until it was over. Sadness was what part he was guilty of. We had always been together since the day we got here, and I never caught it until now. Out of all our conversations of home and life on the outside and how it was going to change for us, he never once spoke of his family or his friends. That's because he never had any. For all intents and purposes, he was an outcast. I saw it in his eyes just before he died that he could finally be rid of all the sadness he had because nothing could hurt him anymore. He had a great life here, but I think he knew he had nothing outside of his training."

"Do you three think our methods are barbaric or pointless?" he asked pacing back and forth through the room. We all said no. The female in the group spoke up.

"We are Eloth'Naka, Master. Other civilizations say they are only of legend, others fear us. But how do our methods differ from those of the Zintonian Queen's Queensmen Corps? Their methods are just as unforgiving as our if not more in some respects, yet no one calls them barbaric. Our methods are effective." Then the other boy spoke up.

"That's right, Master. Besides, as we are taught, we shall do whatever it takes in order to secure our land from the enemy. If there is a fight to be fought and we are not there to answer the call, who will be? For the sake of our homeland. Remember hearing tales of the Queensmen , Xeno who laid his life down for his home? We do not differ. We do what is correct by us. That's all I need to know."

"You all bring very valid points. When you get back to your rooms, your uniform will be there." He bowed as did we and we left his quarters.

Over time, there have been many groups that fight for what they believe in. Some in radical ways like wars, beatings, homicide, and mass "cleansing" of entire groups. Others in more peaceful ways such as the Nuns, Monks, or certain environmentalists. Without a way to go, we are all lost, hoping that one day we will get to see our long lost father home from his mission. We also have to realize that not everyone's father will be coming home. We all need to find our own path, our own strength, our creed. I am a feared entity on many worlds, a hero on my own and a transport for the Prophets. But I started out a normal Sarnissian who thought mom's kisses solved everything. As are we all, until you choose your Kae.

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