This chapter 7 of Dragon’s Fall: Book Three of the Dragon Spawn Chronicles used to be chapter 5. Two new chapters have been inserted before it and it has been slightly modified. Give it a read and let me know what you think. I love getting feedback!
Clack. Clack. Jin Jeruko’s bō clashed with the young prince’s weapon.
They stepped back and circled one another in the center of Jeruko’s private dojo. He looked for a weak point, but Terkeshi’s guard remained strong, as did his stance. The youth’s dark eyes sparked, and his brow furrowed with intensity.
He’s a good warrior. Not great, but still better than most.
Terkeshi swung his staff from the left.
Jeruko deflected it easily. “You’re telegraphing again. Step at the same time you strike, not before.”
“I can’t hit you if I don’t step forward first,” Terkeshi replied irritably.
“You can. Just aim in such a way that moves with you.”
Terkeshi growled and attacked again.
Jeruko parried. “Good. If you can do that three or more times in quick succession, then you’ll have me.”
Terkeshi struck four times, but his moves were too slow.
“Faster,” Jeruko said. “Mushin—no mind. Don’t hesitate to think. Just do it.”
Terkeshi growled again. His face reddened but probably not from exertion. The youth had been too sensitive to criticism lately. He’d always had a hot temper, but it had gotten worse since Jori’s death.
“Keep your anger in check, boy. Mushin applies to both your moves and your emotions.”
Jeruko doubted his words had any influence. Terkeshi’s expression tightened as he advanced. He swung, snapped, thrusted, and feinted with his bō, not once landing a blow. As his anger flared, his moves turned desperate and careless.
An opening came for Jeruko to lay the boy on his back, but he didn’t take it. Humiliating the youth wouldn’t make him better and would only serve to feed his darkening emotions.
Jeruko sighed with an inward sadness. Though younger, Jori had been Terkeshi’s anchor. He’d been the one thing that kept the elder prince from going down the same dark path as their father. Now he was gone and Terkeshi was lost to the storm.
Jeruko stepped back and planted the butt of his staff on the floor with a clap. “That’s enough for now. We’ll resume later.”
“Getting winded already, old man,” Terkeshi said with rebuke.
Jeruko didn’t take the boy’s surliness personally. “I may be getting old, but I can still hold my own, young one.”
“Perhaps you could ask Father if he will let you get the enhancements,” Terkeshi said.
Jeruko soured. “I am a true warrior. I don’t need any trumped-up abilities.”
Terkeshi grunted as he plunked his staff in place.
Jeruko frowned at the mistreatment of his equipment but didn’t comment on it. “I take it you don’t like the idea of enhancing soldiers either.”
“No.” Terkeshi crossed his arms and looked away with a scowl. “Those cyborgs are up to something, but Father won’t believe me. He treats me like a child yet expects me to do everything as well as an adult.”
Jeruko agreed but still found it hard to speak against the emperor, his old friend. “He’s under a lot of stress lately.”
Terk huffed. “That’s his own fault. He shouldn’t take it out on me.”
Jeruko put his hand on the youth’s shoulder. “I understand, Terke-chan. Don’t let his criticisms get to you, though. You do exceptionally well at your martial skills, better than I was at your age.”
Terkeshi’s mouth tilted into a dubious expression.
“It’s true,” Jeruko continued. “Better than even Dokuri had been at fourteen.”
Terkeshi lowered his head. “But not as good as Jori,” he mumbled.
Jeruko’s heart wrenched. He wanted to offer words of comfort, but they caught in his throat. He turned away to hide the wetness filling his eyes. “You should return to your duties. Come back in a few hours for another session.”
Terkeshi stomped off. Jeruko reigned in the hardest of his emotions, but a deep ache remained. He faced his dojo’s central mantle and stepped into commencing form.
The flowing movements of his body as he practiced the tai chi forms usually calmed him. Not this time, though. Troubled thoughts plagued him.
The emperor’s temper had deteriorated since his eldest son Dokuri was killed in battle. Montaro, his next son, had matched his older brother’s level of cruelty, but nothing close to his martial prowess, and his intellect had left much to be desired.
Jeruko’s gut tightened. Montaro’s murder shocked him, but Jori’s had been a devastating blow. He loved that boy almost as much as he loved his own sons. He’d loved the emperor once, too, but how could he continue to revere a man who had murdered his own children?
He stepped back after performing the Repulse Monkey and staggered. With a sigh, rather than a deep relaxing breath, he continued. He was supposed to be practicing no-mind, but he couldn’t help reflecting on the good man the emperor used to be.
Jeruko had been twenty-two when he entered the Senshi Dragon Academy. He’d kept up with the intense training well enough but made a dangerous enemy. He had forgotten the man’s real name, but everyone called him Buru because of his raging temper.
After weeks of tolerating Buru’s bullying, Jeruko had finally gotten the chance to face the big man in the practice ring.
He took measured side steps while keeping focused on Buru’s bared teeth and clawed hands.
“I’m gonna turn your insides out, little man.” Buru’s eyes blazed.
Jeruko didn’t bother to reply. Making threats wasn’t his style. He’d rather save his energy for when it mattered.
Buru lunged. Jeruko noted the man’s weakness of telegraphing his moves and deflected two punches and a crescent kick. Buru followed with more attempts only to have them all foiled by Jeruko’s swiftness and dexterity.
“Fight me, coward!” Buru bellowed.
Jeruko continued to react defensively, biding his time for the right moment. Buru’s anger got the best of him. The large man’s moves grew more aggressive, but also sloppier. When he swung wide, Jeruko ducked and jabbed the man in the kidney. He followed with another punch to the gut and a hook to Buru’s temple.
Buru’s head snapped sideways. Spittle flew from his mouth and he fell with a thud. A thunder of whoops and hollers broke out from the onlookers, many who had also fallen prey to Buru’s bullying.
Buru recovered quickly and charged. Jeruko expected such a childish move. He dodged easily and smacked the big man in the back of the head as he passed. The erupting laughter that followed sent Buru into a blinding rage. Jeruko ignored the numbing pain that had spread over his forearms from blocking all the strikes.
Buru side kicked. Jeruko grabbed his leg and twisted sharply. Buru tumbled with a yell, then jumped back to his feet with a roar.
“Enough!” The drill sergeant stepped between them and glared at Buru. “Face it, soldier. You lost.”
Buru purpled. The cords of his neck strained. “This isn’t over, little man,” he said to Jeruko with a jab of his finger.
He hadn’t lied. A few days later, the students had been dismissed early and given permission to leave the grounds. While everyone else headed to a nearby tavern, Jeruko went another direction. This was the best time to call his father and tell him how well things were going. He should have known to look out for Buru, but the pride of his success had made him overconfident.
Jeruko turned the street corner. Buru stepped out from an alcove. Two other men approached from behind. Jeruko swallowed the lump in his throat but faced his attackers with grim determination.
Buru cracked his knuckles. “I told you it wasn’t over.”
Jeruko should have tried to break free and run, but the foolishness of his youth didn’t let him. He stepped into a defensive stance and braced himself.
The three men attacked at once. He did well at first. Block. Parry. Block. Block. Punch. His fist struck the jaw of Buru’s lackey. Jeruko earned jab to his gut in return, but the hit spurred him on.
Jeruko landed a blow upon each of his attackers before losing his ground. One of the men caught him by the crook of his arm and twisted it behind his back. Buru struck him in the nose, rendering him momentarily blind. Another fist to his sternum knocked the wind out of him and he doubled over.
Kicks and punches wailed on him. He tried to regain his wits but found himself succumbing to pain.
“Leave off, cowards!” a voice hollered.
Jeruko shook his head to regain his senses and identified his rescuer. Kenji jumped into the fight with a fury that matched Buru’s, except faster and harder.
With their combined skills they quickly overwhelmed the three bullies. One of Buru’s lackey’s ran off. The other could barely stand. Buru backed off, leaving Jeruko and Kenji standing victorious.
Jeruko had swelled with elation. The Mizukian heir had stood up for him, the fourth son of a lowly lord. No soldier could ask for a better leader.
Jeruko returned to the present with a deep sigh. Back then, his loyalty had been unyielding. As the years wore on, though, he found his faith diminishing and his doubts multiplying. Jori’s death had dealt the final blow. He was left with an expanding emptiness and the heavy burden of a wasted life.
He sunk to the floor, the sound of his knees hitting the wood of his dojo preceded his choked cry.
If Terkeshi lost his way, Jeruko would too. Without the elder prince, his life of service would mean nothing. After some time wallowing in his misery, he sucked in a breath and hardened his resolve. He must stay strong—not for the emperor, but for Terkeshi. The young prince needed him. And if he was to be honest with himself, he needed the boy just as much.