"Maintain the fire, Justin. Do not let it burn out of control." The Jeweler told me. I did as he said, holding the glowing ball of flame suspended in the air in front of me. I could feel the heat of the fire on my face, but did my best to concentrate and hold it still as The Jeweler walked a slow and steady circle around me. "Close your eyes."
"You will know whether or not you are controlling the fire by the heat. Feel the burn of it through your emotions, not your vision." I closed my eyes, and he continued. "Tonight, I would like you to concentrate on your mother."
Surprised, I opened my eyes and asked, "My mother? What's she got to do with this?"
He slowly reached over to put his hand over my eyes and close them again.
"Tell me...what were your feelings towards her, just before you left home?"
"I love my mother..."
"That's what you feel you're supposed to say. I want you to be honest. The night you left...what did you really feel?" He asked. "What is your last memory of her?"
I didn't like this game. I don't like having him inside my head like this. But the sooner I can satisfy his curiosity, the sooner I can get this 'training' thing out of the way and get some answers. "I remember..." Thinking back...it all seemed so long ago. Ancient history when compared to everything that's happened to me ever since. "I remember her being passed out on the living room floor. She had been drinking. She drank a lot."
"So...what were you feeling when you saw her like that?"
"I told you, I LOVE my mother!" I felt the heat increasing on my face and attempted to get my focus back.
"You're using 'love' as a very vague term, Justin. In that one moment...you looked down upon her, unconscious...uncaring...how did you feel?"
Goddammit! Him and his dumb questions. I gritted my teeth, and thought back to how pathetic she looked. How I had been bullied and beaten up that night, how I had my best friend wasting away in a hospital all alone, and how the most beautiful boy that I had ever laid eyes on...made me give him my word that I wouldn't jump from the end of that Pier...and how I was too weak to keep that promise. And yet, she was too drunk to care. She couldn't help me. She couldn't comfort me. That's what mom's are supposed to do, right? They're supposed to protect and care for their offspring. And that night, she just didn't have the capacity to give a damn about me.
So...I answered the Jeweler with the truth. "I was disgusted."
I couldn't see the Jeweler's face, but I could swear he was smiling. "Disgusted. Much more descriptive..."
"But that doesn't mean I didn't love her!"
"I never said you didn't. Why would you assume that I would? Is this accusation directed at the doubt in my mind...or in yours?" My hands began to tremble as I fought to keep the ball of fire still, the flames calm. "What lingering effects do you think her behavior has had on you, Justin. The neglect. The dismissal."
"She loved me..."
"Yes. But she loved the alcohol more, didn't she? That's what you wonder from time to time, isn't it? That if it came down to choosing between you and the bottom of a liquor bottle...you might just lose."
"This doesn't have anything to do with ANYTHING! Get on with it! You're supposed to be teaching me about the Vampire Dawn!"
"I'm here to teach you about yourself, Justin. So you can discover the dawn for yourself. For all of us. I don't have the key, you do. And it is hidden. Hidden deep within your unwillingness to hear its message. In order to find the path, you have to hack and slash your way out of the vines." He said. "I told you in the beginning...you will have to break. But you're still using the chains that bind you to hold yourself together."
"She wasn't the problem! My asshole father was the problem!" I said, the fire now burning hot enough to cause beads of sweat to roll down my cheeks, and my hands to burn to the point of discomfort.
"Are you still blaming yourself for the destruction of your family, Justin?" He asked.
"WHAT??? That's ridiculous! I don't know what you're talking about!" A giant flare up nearly singed my eyebrows.
"I know you think about it. I know it haunts you, night after night. How long did that abuse go on? Why did you allow it? Did you want it? Did you ask for it? Did you tolerate your father's savage beatings in order to hold your family together...only to fail miserably in the end?"
"And when your mother found out what had happened...what had taken place in her own hous, on a mother's watch...she turned to substance abuse, didn't she? Your father was gone, your mother was drowning herself in alcohol, and when the other kids at school told you that you were worthless...you believed them, didn't you? Because...in the back of your tortured mind...you wonder if maybe, just maybe, things could have been different...if only you were a better person. If only you were good enough to hold it all together." He said. "At the very center of your being...you are forever wondering if it was all...your...fault."
"FUCK YOU!!!" I shouted! The sudden impulse surprised even me, and as the fireball in my hands blazed until it turned white, my blood red eyes shot open...fangs shooting down from my gums, and in an outburst of rage, I shot the fire in The Jeweler's direction with all of its intensity!
I'm not sure how he was able to move so quickly and yet so gracefully, but with a wave of his hands he was able to pull the fireball apart in mid air and have it dissipate into the air around him. My attack didn't stop there, however. The fire was reborn in my palms as fast as I released it, and I threw one handful of solid flame after another, hoping to strike an angry blow to the very heart of him for what he was saying to me. But he dodged them all. It was almost as if he were moving in slow motion and double speed at the same time. Spinning and ducking and using his arms in a circular motion to snuff the flames out one at a time. Then, when my turbulent storm of emotions had built up enough juice...my brain geyser burst forth from my head with a powerful scream...
...And he CAUGHT it!
I...I don't know how, but...he reached up with both hands, and actually caught the invisible brain geyser energy in his hands. It was powerful enough to cause his feet to slide back a bit across the floor, but he pivoted slightly to come to a complete stop, and I watched, amazed, as his trembling hands contained the massive blast, crushing and condensing it, until it became almost nothing at all. Then he lifted his hands, and the one extra that I possessed, a blast that would have leveled an entire mob of your average vampires...vanished with a slight 'pop', as The Jeweler straightened his robe, put his hands behind his back, and slowly walked towards me as if nothing had happened at all.
Physically drained from my explosion, I found myself getting dizzy, and breathlessly dropped to my hands and knees. I was completely fatigued. Out of options. Emotionally drained.
That's when The Jeweler looked down on me and said, "I would assume that your irrational outburst felt good to you...but what did it solve?" Panting, I looked up at him with teary eyes. "Had I been an enemy...this would be the end of you. All of your fighting would have been in vain, and any hope of finding the Vampire Dawn would have been lost."
"I told you to stay out of my head..." I whimpered softly. "Those memories...those feelings...they're mine. They belong to me."
"There are a great many things that we don't want to know about ourselves, Justin. But it is those very elements that we must explore if we're ever to conquer or own demons...before they conquer us." He said. The Jeweler suddenly sat down in front of me, legs crossed, and he lightly petted the damp locks of my blond hair. "I know it hurts, child. It is much more painful to break yourself down than it is to rebuild. But you must believe in me when I tell you that everything that has happened to you, thus far, is another brick in your foundation. A vital part of the very structure that must be broken. It rules over you...even though you don't realize it. It is the parts that we deny the most about ourselves that are the most dangerous. Hanging on to our most damaged pieces, defending them even when they are doing us harm...that is what leads to madness. That...is what leads to rage."
"I'm sorry." I said, still trying to catch my breath, my equilibrium wavering, even while I was on all fours.
"Don't be sorry for what is already done. Your attack, while reckless, was honest. That truth will be needed if you are ever going to get to the root of your aggression. Those feelings of helplessness, disgust, rejection...that feeling that you'll never be good enough no matter what you do for the people around you...they linger. They are the bloodstains that have seeped deeply into the very fabric of who you are. Find them. And wipe them out. This is the very first part of starting over. Building a stronger foundation. A set of personal laws that you willfully control in every situation, instead of merely reacting to the horrors that surround you. Stop taking orders from dead memories. Start creating your own orders, and leave the pain behind you." He said. Then, he stood back up on his feet and offered me his hand. He helped me up and held my shoulders to steady me as I was still weak in the knees. "It seems you have some prior aggressions to work out tonight. So...let's work them out, then. Perhaps a more 'physical' series of exercises would be more helpful. At least for now. So take a ten minute break to rest. You'll need it."
Ten minutes is exactly what he gave me. Not a minute more. Before I could fully recover from my outrage, he had me sparring against for more of his well-trained human protectors, and two vampires that I had never seen before. They were both nearly twice my age, and dressed completely in black and red suits. The kind that looked like they came right out of comic book somewhere. The Jeweler introduced them as 'Brooklyn' and 'Haze', and added them into the mix for this particular sparring session. I guess he was assuming that my abilities had stepped themselves up another notch, and that sparring with regular humans wasn't going to be enough to challenge me this time.
'Brooklyn' had dark skin and super short haircut. Almost bald, but not quite. 'Haze', on the other hand, was very pale with ginger hair...and his pupils were completely white. He must have been blind, but his movements would have suggested that he could see twice as good as I could. They allowed the humans to do most of the sparring, but they stepped in when they found an opportunity to strike.
"Maintain your focus, Justin..." The Jeweler called out. A feat that isn't at all easy when people are literally swinging their fists at you! I HATE it when he says that!
I fended off their attacks efficiently, moving and dodging, blocking whenever I didn't have enough time or space to commit to either of the first two options. For humans, they were pretty damned fast. I thought my vampire make-up would keep me ahead of the game in terms of defending myself, but I took a few harsh blows every now and then, regardless of my skilled defenses. And even when I successfully avoided taking a hit, The Jeweler seemed dissatisfied.
"You're not thinking, Justin. Don't rely on your habitual techniques to mindlessly save you from harm. Concentrate!"
"I AM!" I said, and felt my feet being swept from under me, causing me to fall back on my shoulders and roll to the side while hoping to soothe the pain for a few seconds before they were all over me again. What the hell was I doing wrong here? Does he want me to get hurt or does he want me to concentrate? I can't do both. I'm not some great fighter! A couple of high school bullies dusted me on a public street before my crossover! I'm supposed to take on four guards and a couple of vampires by myself??? What the hell is he thinking?
I felt a punch in my ribs, and circled my arms around to knock his arm away from me, taking a step or two back to keep him from landing another blow. Two more guards came at me from both sides, and my only way to evade their attacks was to quickly turn around and run up the wall for a few steps before flipping backwards and landing behind them. However, I caught a harsh kick to my spine and yelped in pain as I was pushed forward from the impact. I didn't even realize that I was airborne until I felt a forearm clothesline me across my chest.
I hit the ground with a thud, the wind knocked out of me as I coughed and wheezed in pain. And to think...this is just them sparring with me.
"Feels helpless, doesn't it?" The Jeweler asked. "Sometimes, no matter how hard you fight...you aren't guaranteed to win. The odds aren't always in your favor."
Rubbing my chest, I quickly got back on my feet, pushing two of the guards aside while continuing the fight. They were quick, but I was quicker. More determined. And I watched as the two vampire combatants waited patiently for their next opportunity to step in.
"You believe that your strength will be enough to push your way through to victory, Justin, but you have yet to release the anchors that I holding you back. Let go. Don't fight as a boy with a past of abuse and neglect. Fight as if you stand at the nexus...no lingering past, no evasive future. Just this one moment. Find the circle. Feel it's immediate design, and create your own path."
I felt a kick swing around to hit me in the face, but followed the momentum of the spin to deliver an equally harsh spin kick to the guard behind me. Rolling back to my feet, I began trading lightning fast blow with one of the guards, blocking every strike, and eventually I swung my elbow around to catch the bridge of his nose, knocking him back on his shoulders.
"You have the power to succeed, Justin. But do you have the courage to fail?" The Jeweler said. Constantly watching and analyzing my every movement. Waiting for me to lose my cool...but I refused. "Many a night you suffered through the self torture of a life that you felt simply didn't want you anymore. You lay awake...wondering if there would ever be a day when someone would come along and 'save' you. But no one came. No one." I found myself taking on two flurries of attacks at once, and I kept trying to block the Jeweler's words out while I concentrated at the task at hand...but some of his comments continued to cut deeply. "They couldn't save you, Justin. You had to be inspired to save yourself. This is what you must remember when searching your soul on your journey towards the Dawn." I felt a hand on my shoulder and swiveled around to quickly roll to the side and flip him to the ground beside me, then reaching back with my leg to sweep the legs out from under two more guards behind me. "You must understand, Justin...the same holds true for you. You can't save them all. Those closest to you will fall. You will have to be emptied so that you may start again. So those in darkness can start over with you. The structure must be torn down. Let it go, Justin."
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep him out of my head. It frustrated me to know that he had invaded so many of my memories without my permission. But as all four guards began to press their attacks on me even harder than before, I found myself taking more damage. Perhaps I was getting distracted.
"Loss is a part of growth. It is the seed planted in the ashes and the dirt...necessary for the flowers to bloom." He said, just seconds before I took a sucker punch to the stomach, dropping me to my knees instantly. I scooted backwards on the floor, trying to get myself back up...but The Jeweler wouldn't let me focus. "You will learn to embrace the pain, Justin. You will learn to harness it, and channel it into something that you can use to positively effect everything and everyone you touch. It is that loss that will create the beacon of light you need to draw others to your cause like moths to a flame."
Ignore him, Justin. Just...just fight! I know what he's trying to do. He wants me to fail. He wants me to surrender to another outburst. But I won't do it. Even though I could feel the anger tying itself into a tight knot in the center of my stomach. One that hurt much more than the sucker punch I took just a moment ago.
As I fought harder, The Jeweler circled the area, watching my technique...slowly instigating another temper tantrum. "Your power becomes your greatest weakness when you rely on it as your only option in truly making a difference. If you had this power before...what would you have done to your father? What would you have done in that moment when you saw your mother with eyes of disgust. What awful crimes would you have committed if your abilities were as limitless as they are now? Many people claim to be righteous and just...because they don't have the power to be anything else. Now that you possess the strength to wipe away your every problem with rancor and violence, your moral boundaries are more important than ever. Your moral high ground must be a deliberate choice now, and not merely a reaction to the circumstances surrounding you."
"I know what you're trying to do..." I panted.
"Then why are you having such trouble defending yourself, boy?" He asked. Suddenly, I was caught off guard, and with a few punches to my chest and a jump kick from the guard in front of me...I found myself on the floor again, sliding all the way back to the wall. "Let it go, Justin." He said again.
"I AM!" I grunted.
"You're still basing your attacks on who you were before this moment. You pull punches when you shouldn't. You strike hard when you should be dodging. You run away when you should be standing your ground. These are not high school bullies, Justin. These tactics won't help you."
"If you'd just SHUT UP and let me think..."
"Thinking is all you need!" He he said with a grin. "These pointless punches and kicks mean nothing. Bruises heal, broken bones mend, blood can be mopped up in a matter of minutes. The physicality is but an expression of who you truly are. What moves will you make on this chess board when pushed to your limits. What deepest, darkest, parts of yourself will you express when you are forced to act 'in the moment'. There can be no masks worn during a fight, Justin. No rehearsal, no apologies, no open wounds that you've allowed to fester over time."
My hands were beginning to shake with anger. "I don't understand what you WANT from me!"
The Jeweler politely helped me back up to my feet as a ball of emotion got choked up in the back of my throat. My vision began to blur with the beginnings of tears, but I didn't let the adrenaline take over. I kept them at bay as best as I could. "I want you to fight as if your true identity was worthy of its true expression in this one moment. Here and now, in the nexus of combat." He pointed me in the direction of the four guards, who were already adopting a strong stance as they prepared to dish out more punishment. "Despite everything youâ€²ve been through...you're worthy of facing this challenge. Nothing can take this from you.Nothing." He stepped behind me and lightly massaged my shoulders. Speaking softly in my ear, "Stop merely 'reacting' to what they give you, Justin. Move deliberately. Fight with choice...with purpose. They have no power over you other than the power you give them. Take it back. This is YOUR action to control, not theirs."
Something about what he said clicked...and it seemed to clear my mind. It's difficult to explain the sensation, but...it was like a fog was being lifted. My heavy breathing began to calm itself. The ache and fatigue in my limbs began to fade away, and as I took a stance of my own...giving myself over to this one moment in time...I felt relaxed. Still determined, but somehow liberated from the fear of not being strong enough to win. I didn't think about what happened to me in the past, and I didn't worry about what might happen in the future. The fight is here. The fight is now. And I know that I'm worthy of walking away from this with a victory.
I thought about the advice that the Vampire Zero had given me while staring at the goldfish in his tank in his final moments. I 'remembered to forget'. And suddenly...the emotional chains were broken.
I began to slowly step forward. And that's when The Jeweler said, "Create your moment, Justin. Tighten the circle. Remember...you've already had this 'conversation'."
The four guards prepared themselves, but I felt like I could see the circle completely. More clearly than I had ever seen it before. And not just one circle, but multiple choices for every possible outcome. Movements. Mistakes. Weapons. Thought patterns. Oh my God...it was almost like deja vu...but nowhere near as vague.
The guard on the right has always been the most aggressive. He'll attack first. The second attack will come from the one in the middle, while three and four will attack in unison. It was almost like solving a simple mathematical equation. I felt like I could see and predict...'everything'.
Just as I thought...the first attack came from the right. Right punch, left punch, then a double low/high kick combo from the right. That combination must have been one of his personal favorites. He used it a lot. I was prepared for the pattern. One combo, one circle, one defense. With my right hand alone, I blocked the first, lightning fast punch, then the second, and I brought my elbow down hard on his knee before his leg as fully lifted off the ground to deliver the rest of his rehearsed assault. The pain caused him to grab his leg with both hands...leaving his head a wide open target. Thrust forward with a punch of my own...connect!
The second attack was from a more varied fighter, but as soon as I saw him draw his right arm back, I was able to anticipate the blow and figure out exactly where he expected it to land. I leaned out of the way and he hit nothing but air. Right arm extended, weight from his hips put behind the strike, his only other option from that position was to bring his attack back from the left side this time. Another punch that I was easily able to avoid. His hands moved down to attack my center, but as fast as his hands were moving, I could feel his next ten moves coming, and was able to block them easily. He'll attempt to change his strategy now. I notice his stance changing, and I duck as he brings a harsh kick up from the ground. He missed. I spin underneath him, and while I needed both of my legs for balance, my arm was free to swing forward and knock his standing leg out from under him. Holy smokes! This shit just became easy!
As the first two tried to regain their footing, the second two approached. I moved in between them, calculating every motion with precision and a sense of calm that I had never really felt before. Complete the circle. That's all that I had to do. Visualize it, see it for what it is, and then follow it through to its most logical conclusion. Once the circle was closed, it left me all the room I needed to find the next one. And the next. And I found myself able to choose which one worked best for me. This is mind-blowing.
One guard grabbed me from behind to pin my arms down to my sides as the other approached from in front of me. But it took that guard both of his arms to hold me...leaving his head and ribs wide open. My legs were free to kick out at the gurad in front of me, the force knocking us back a step or two, and I used that one disorienting moment to slam my head back into his face, following that with a few elbow shots striking him on the left and right sides of his ribs. He released me immediately, giving me the freedom to spin around with a roundhouse kick to the face of the guard in front of me.
Another attempted to kick me from the side, but I spun out of the way. He'll have to redistribute his weight before he's able to strike again. Take advantage. His left side is weak. Head exposed. Connect!
The first guard is swinging wildly now. Desperation and anger has tainted his focus. Dodge right. Spin left. Duck the swing. Pivot behind him. A well delivered back kick can exploit the lack of defense to the back of his head. Go for it. CONNECT!
The second guard favors his right hand to his left. Block, block, catch the wrist. I have a hold of his strong arm now. I lift it up to drive my elbow twice into his ribs. Then I lower the arm to deliver a blow to the side of his face. I'm smaller than he is, so I duck under the arm and twist it behind his back where I kick him behind the knee and force him down on the ground. And that's when I feel it...that reactive impulse. That darker side of me, instructing me to brutally thrust upward and break the arm. But I don't recognize that inner voice of being a part of me. It's like...I could almost 'hear' it...telling me to do something awful. To cause pain. To teach him a lesson. But that's not me. It never was and it never will be.
I ignore the impulse and push the guard forward without causing him any more damage than I have to.
Even without looking in his direction, I just knew The Jeweler was smiling.
I found myself spinning from one guard to another, and they never landed another punch. If anything, my speed and accuracy had them so twisted up that they had to restrain themselves from hitting one another instead of me. Something inside of me began to flow into my fighting style, and the very truth behind it made me stronger and faster than I ever thought I could be. I wasn't even using my extras to compete. I simply...knew the answers to what was going on. How crazy is that?
While the vampires, Brooklyn and Haze, stood back and waited for their turn to jump in at The Jeweler's command, I took the four guards to task, causing them to hit the floor two at a time!
The large double doors to the room opened up...and I saw Strings walk in, yo-yo in hand, with a small crowd of The Jeweler's security detail. And when I saw what they were carrying...my sense of calmness vanished. My focus left me. My eyes widened and a fire began to burn in my gut as I saw three soldiers enter the room...and they were holding TARYN!!!
His lip was bleeding, his face bruised, his clothes torn, and his legs so weak that they actually had to hold him up on their shoulders to keep him from crumbling to the floor in front of them. Strings gave me a bratty grin, and I suddenly snapped my look in The Jeweler's direction! "What the fuck is the meaning of this??? What did you DO???"
The Jeweler merely gave me a smirk, and said, "Are we feeling distracted yet, Justin?"