A bell tolled from down in Westguard. Just the one.
Loud and dolorous and clear, all the more so for being the only one audible. In Etzos, there was a great many of them, every break. During the night, of course they were limited to only a handful, sparing the citizens their sleep, but during the day... it was magnificent, in a way. Roaring, cracking, sky-splitting peals of noise clanged against the clouds, and each other. All the sounds seemed to join up together and envelop the city from highest spire to lowest tunnel, so that all may know that Time had been marked, and called, and bound by the city of Etzos.
It wasn't like that out there. There was but that single candle of timekeeping against the wilderness, and Kasoria rather preferred it.
His stomach growled slightly, knowing that lunch was in order. He could have sworn he heard the boy's from six feet away. Probably not his imagination, either. He remembered what a ravenous furnace of a gut he'd had when he was a boy; if his son took after him in anyway, he'd be much the same. But as much as both generations may have wanted their food, they were not done until father said so.
And Kasoria had not finished.
"Come at me again."
The boy looked back to him and hunger seemed to have given him fresh courage. His hands were bare, but wrapped in strips of leather his mother had prepared. No point in scuffing the boy up. Kasoria had forgone the option: his knuckles were cured like pig trotters, anyway. Martyn dropped into the guard his father had showed him: knees bent, shoulder-width apart and no further-
"Don't want yer feet too close, or too far. Balance. That's what you need."
-with his hands up in fists, one closer to his face than the other-
"Defending, and attacking. Y'need both, and y'need to be able to do both, in any moment. So you keep one fist cocked, and the other close."
Then the boy let out a grunt and came at him. Came at Kasoria, The Bloody-Handed. Kasoria, The Raggedy Man. Kasoria, Bloodhound and Wrath of Bangun Vorund. The older man enjoyed the incredulity of the moment, perverse as it was. If he prayed, he would give thanks to whatever gods may be for the beauty of ignorance. That his son did not know him as any of those street rumors or gutter fables. He was simply his father, and he'd been teaching him all morning.
None too gently, either.
The boy cried out and snapped a left jab at Kasoria, who threw up his forearms to block it-
-skinny hand smacking into it, almost bouncing off, but he was learning-
"Jabs keep your enemy off-balance. Keep his guard up. Keep him defending, not attacking. So you can, so you can win."
-then he grimaced as another jab spat against his forearm, followed by a harder whack-
Not nearly hard enough. That was Martyn's right, a straight, the real key to doing damage. Married to a flurry of jabs, it could end a fight. But only if it had power behind it. Which his son was currently lacking.
"Hips! Twist yer hips" He barked from behind his guard, circling away from the boy. "Jabs can be light, but yer straight? Yer cross? They have to be strong
! Don't just punch with your arms!" He demonstrated with his own, slowing down to half his "working" speed, letting the boy dance away. Making sure he saw the way his whole side seemed to twist into the blow, all flowing into his flying knuckles. "Like that!"
"I didn't say stop
He surged forwards, forcing the boy back. No, not back. On the defense. Showering his guard with half-speed jabs and straights, knocking Martyn around... but watching him, too. Seeing the shock and confusion and sheer "what do I do?!" expression from a few breaks ago replaced by... many things. Annoyance. Pain. Low, simmering anger. Before them all, however, rising to the head of that pack of swirling emotions, was determination.
Use it. Let it cool everything else down. Use your head, boy. Wait for an opening...
Which Kasoria made for him, of course. He didn't want the boy battered and bloody and hopeless after their first training session. So he stopped moving. He planted his feet. And he let Martyn see it. Let him see his left guard go down... his right arm draw back... opening up his-
Martyn's eyes nearly popped from his sockets as his jab connected with his father's jaw. The old man swayed back, tottered, making use of his usual "drunken beggar" act as much as he dared. The boy wasn't an idiot, of course. He'd know if Papa was just playing with him, pretending, mocking him
and his childish efforts. He didn't need Martyn's injuries pride sullying the lessons of the day. So he staggered a little, then shook his head and growled.
Emboldened and embattled, the boy came on this time. Jabbing out and launching a few body shots before coming in with a big right-
Time for something new.
His father just seemed to... flow
. Beady eyes snapped to his hand, then there was a blur of movement, the sky was underneath him for a moment, and then-
The world was a painful stain across his eyes. His torso was on fire from neck to arse. When he tried to move his right arm... it was like it was hanging in the air. Caught on a branch, maybe? But the trees were too far away. Then his eyes fluttered open fully... and he saw the smiling figure of his father above him... arm gripped in both hands... and more than that-
A foot pressed lightly against the side of his head.
"Wanna learn how t'do that?"
So Kasoria showed him. One of the last vestiges of his training with the Blackguard, a way to take down your enemy without crippling or maiming them... so of course, he'd added his own little touch. He yanked the boy upright and planted him in front. Then he backed up and nodded.
"Okay. Come at me again, like you just did. But slow, a'right?"
Martyn did as he was told. He lurched in like a sleepy drunk, right arm cleaving through the air and-
"First you step in to the blow, move your hands as you do. Stop the punch, like that
He spoke as he acted. Left hand coming up, forearm smacking into the inside of Martyn's flying arm. At the same time, he burst forwards a step, right arm already moving, snaking under-
"-then slide your right hand and arm under his armpit on the other side, like this
Again he practiced what he preached, side pressed to his son's chest as he did.
"Key is to get sideways to him, y'see? That way you can pivot him easier. Now, while yer getting' yer arm under, this hand? That just blocked? Well now it grabs-"
Martyn's gaze snapped to his father's left hand, now gripping his bicep.
"An' this is where you pivot
, which is like twistin' really hard and fast-"
The world moved again, just like it had done before. Only now it was slow, and Martyn was an observant passenger. He felt his father's hip push into his gut, and the weight of his upper body turning, twisting, dragging him along... and pulling him over. Soon he was off his feet, as his father-
"-and duck down at the same time. That'll send 'em flying up and over you-"
There was a thud
, again, but softer. Controlled. Martyn didn't lose a blink, and immediately fixed his gaze back to his father. Who was still above him, still holding his wrist, and looking down at him.
"Now... what do you do now? If it's a real
The boy paused. How many "real fights" had he been in, after all? Just schoolyard scraps, really. An old, unwanted eel of worry uncurled in Kasoria's stomach and he shooed it away. Not allowing it to gain purchase in this stolen morning. Yes, he'd fought when he was younger. More viciously and with less hesitation. But this was not
the South Oh'Pee, and this boy was not
"Um... kick 'em in them head?"
Still... good lesson to learn.
Kasoria grinned, and one finger shot up from his grip. "If... that's what's called for. If it's a battle, a real fight and y'might die, then stuff the rules, son. You stomp them good and hard here
-" he touched the side of the boy's neck with his toe "-or here, to knock 'em out fer good-" again he gestured, this time to Martyn's temple "-and you move on to the next."
"Don't worry." He pulled the boy back up and Martyn was already skittering away from him, getting back into guard position. "We'll practice a few more times."
They moved through the grass and across the dirt, lit by the suns atop the hill. Not until the bell rang again, lone and proud in its tower, did they finally halt. Panting and sweating and stinking, boy and son wandered back down the hill, bellies empty and minds full of delicacies to be enjoyed. Halfway down, Martyn griped and grumbled and Kasoria punched him lightly on the shoulder.
"Oi? Don't be mutterin'. Speak up, lad."
"I wasn't able to throw you," Martyn said, and yelped when he got another dig. "I said, I wasn't able to throw you! I'm not strong enough."
Kasoria stopped. It took Martyn a while to realize this, and he looked back to find some unreadable emotion on his Dad's face. Finally the older man just sighed and closed the distance, clapping both hands on his shoulders.
"You've got four years to learn, boy. Four years to get bigger, get stronger, like you've seen older boys do."
"And you'll be here to help me, right?"
The killer smiled, for that was what he was, and did: smiled right up until the moment he plunged the knife. He did not know if he'd live the year; it was always a chance, a possibility, and accepted risk of the life. But he would try. Fates knew he tried harder, fought smarter, thought sharper, ever since his boy had been born. Because he wanted more mornings like this. He wanted to be there
for the boy, even if it was for mere trials in arcs, like drops in a bucket. But right now, he could be there.
In that moment, he could cup the boy's chin, then rudely, lovingly push it away with a protruding tongue.
"Maybe y'won't be so ugly, eith-OI?!"
A stinging jab on the breastbone nearly made him jump, and the cheeky little turd was already running away from his victim. Kasoria chased after him. Hunted his quarry with no intent to harm. Chased his son down the hill, and home.