Power Awakened Chapter 7
“This isn’t working,” Art grumbles.
“No, you’re not working. Now put your hands up.”
Art sighs, raising his hands up obediently. That doesn’t stop him from shooting me a sullen glare though. I roll my eyes.
“Great. Now do it like a man.”
“What? Like you, you mean?” he retorts.
I roll my eyes again, resisting an urge to sigh with exasperation.
“Stop whining, and get ready!”
Art grumbles again, putting up his hands to protect his face like he’s been taught. I feign a blow to his ribs. His hands don’t move.
“I’m sorry, I keep forgetting!”
“Well, don’t!” I snap.
He sighs. “Em, I’ve just got to get rid of the crutches. I’m not ready for this yet.”
“No one’s ever ready for an ass kicking. Now get your hands up!”
Art’s jaw tightens, his eyes clouding over with a mutinous look. I can tell his stubbornness is about to kick in.
I jerk my chin in the direction of a couple of young kids that are sharing a cigarette with an older boy down at the end of the street. The two smaller kids are from Art’s class. “You see those three?” I ask him.
Art rolls his eyes. “Of course I see them. And they see me, being trained to fight by a girl. Can’t we at least go somewhere more private?” He gives me a plaintive look.
I shake my head, and instruct, “Ignore them. Art, you’ve gotta learn to stand up for yourself, or this world is going to eat you alive. And there is nowhere private, unless you want to have George join in.”
“Of course not,” he grumbles. But he puts his hands back up again, before lowering them just a hair to protect his ribs.
I nod in approval. “Good. Now stand more sideways, so you’re less of a target. Like this.”
I demonstrate, twisting my hips to the side, and aligning them with my shoulders. I watch him, my gaze critiquing as he complies with my instructions.
That’s exactly what he is. He always has been. His trick has always been to keep moving. To keep running away. Staying still meant learning to stand up for himself. It was easier to run.
Still, even if he never uses any of this stuff I’m teaching him, it makes me feel better knowing he’s learning it. It gives me confidence he will survive this crazy world. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. Always have a back up plan, right?
“You know, you don’t have to do this,” Art grunts, as he blocks a blow. “You’re not responsible for what happened to me.”
I drop my guard a little, distracted. I brush a strand of hair from my face with my shoulder and shoot him a hard stare.
“Nothing like that is ever going to happen to you again. Ever.”
“I know you still feel like it was your fault, but it really wasn’t, Em.”
“Get ready,” I say, ignoring his chatter and repositioning myself into a fighting stance.
Art glances over my shoulder, his eyes darkening. “They’re coming,” he mutters.
I bounce from one foot to the other, giving my head a little shake. I lift a brow. “Is this a trick? If so, it won’t work on the street. Most people aren’t that gullible.”
Art grimaces, frown lines marring his forehead. “No, it’s not a trick. Those jerks are coming over now. I warned you they would try to mess with us.”
I drop my fists down to my sides and sigh. Those kids keep knocking at his confidence. It’s making training him entirely too difficult. I watch him as they approach, and it’s like he wilts right before my eyes. I can feel his mood plummet as surely as if someone just doused me in cold water.
“Why don’t you hit one of them,” I suggest. “It’ll make you feel better. Me too,” I add.
“I’m a pacifist,” Art mutters.
“Well, there are lots of dead pacifists. How about this? Don’t be one.”
He glares at me. “What, you want me to be like George instead?”
I give a tiny shake of my head at his dramatics, before turning to face whatever is coming.
“Practicing for the ballet?” asks the older boy. I study him. He looks to be a couple years younger than me. Spotty in the face, with bad hair. I wrinkle my nose. And equally bad B.O. He pulls a cigarette from his pack and lights it, eyeing me through the smoke. Great, a wanna-be james Dean or something. Just my luck.
The two younger kids stand on either side of him, mouths open in readiness to speak, but knowing the older one is going to do it all for them so they can just stand back and enjoy the show.
“Ju-jitsu,” I drawl.
The three boys crack up with laughter.
“I was explaining,” I continue, ignoring the cackling, “that most people move away when someone throws a punch. You have to train yourself to move forward, into the danger.”
I move back into a fighting stance, raising my fists and squaring my hips. The three bust up laughing again.
“Throw a punch,” I suggest, smirking. There’s nothing I can’t stand more than an over-inflated ego. And nothing more I love taking down a notch or three. The older one blows a cloud of smoke into my face, hoping for a reaction. I merely lift a brow.
He smirks back. “Nah. I don’t want to hurt a girl.”
I snort. “Yeah. I’ve heard that one before.”
“You do it,” he says, pointing his chin at one of his little goon boys. He’s the older-looking of the other two, probably about 14, while I estimate their leader to be closer to my age. Maybe 16. Both of the younger boys are pimply and gangly, like they are still growing into their bodies and sport long hair pulled back into raggedy pony tails.
The older of the swaggers up in my direction, affecting a limp as he does, like it makes him look more bad ass or something. I resist the urge to roll my eyes, and just stand there, staring him down.
“What kind of punch?” he asks, grinning at me like a gleeful idiot. This time I really do roll my eyes.
“Any punch, dude. Please, take your time.”
The boy’s cheeks redden, and he glances over at his buddies. They exchange smirks and he puffs up, before he takes a deep breath and leans back, throwing a jab in my direction.
I can’t believe how much he’s telegraphing his move. For a second, I think it’s a clever attempt at a faint, but no, he throws a straight, right-handed jab square at my face, with no attempt to camouflage his intent.
I tilt my head to one side to avoid the punch, then take a swing of my own, striking him straight in the face. Satisfying. But truth be told, the blow is only intended to disorient him as I flow into my next move. After shooting my fist into his face, I grab his wrist with my free hand. A split second later, I chop his extended arm at the elbow joint and turn my hips. His legs give way and I throw him to the ground, still holding onto his wrist. I finish him off with another blow to the face, my fist making a nice thwacking sound. The boy moans, his nose bleeding and his eyes watering.
I step back, out of the punk’s reach, my lips twisting in a triumphant smile. The entire altercation took less than three seconds.
“Holy crap!” his friend yelps.
“Enough!” the older one bellows, before closing in. He makes the mistake of grabbing me by my shirt. In seconds, his cigarette flies one way, and his body flies another.
“My neck!” he groans, hunched on the ground. Art busts out laughing, and I shoot him a dirty look.
So not helping.
The third kid comes running now, right at me. Even after watching me take down his buddies, he still clearly underestimates me. I shake my head. Time to send a message so people will leave me and Art alone for awhile. Unfortunately, to send that message, I’m going to have to take things a little further than I intended.
He comes at me swinging, and use my longer reach to seize him by the throat. His eyes widen as he grabs at my hand. I give him a hard stare, squeezing tighter. I know half a dozen ways to get out of a choke hold, but this kid doesn’t have a clue. I hold him firm while the kid wastes precious seconds clawing at my hand, trying to pry my fingers from his throat. By the time he realizes he needs to change tactics, he’s already weakened enough that I’m able to trap him easily.
His eyes flicker, and something inside me flickers too. My fingers tighten as I narrow my eyes at him.
“You learnt that in class?” Art asks, his tone pitched higher than normal.
“Oh yea,” I mutter, a grin breaking out across my face. “Knowledge is power, baby. Knowledge is power.”
Adrenaline pumps through me, and I almost laugh. This feels good. I feel more alive than I’ve felt in a long time. I’ve never been much for flying, so I guess this is my “thing”. Fighting is my drug.
“Em,” Art says, breaking into my thoughts. “What’s going on with you? This isn’t you. Come on, let him go.”
Funny that. I feel as if I’m connecting with something that’s been buried inside me for a long time. All the frustration and rage I’ve bottled up over the years now has a target. Somewhere to go. I can express myself perfectly, not in music, not in painting, or some other creative expression, but in battle. By smashing a few skulls.
“Em?” Art’s voice raises another notch.
I ignore him, giving the kid in my grip a shake. “Look at me! Don’t pass out now, look here, in my eyes!”
He does, his own eyes bulging, his face turning red.
“You and your friends are going to leave Art here alone, from here on out. Otherwise? I’ll kill you.” I smile at him, and he attempts to nod his head, his hands pulling once more at the fingers I have wrapped around his neck.
I feel a twinge of regret. If I’m being honest, I don’t want to let the kid go. It would be so easy to just finish this, right here, right now.
“Em… please, let him go. Do the right thing.” I can feel Art standing behind me, the fear emanating from him. I feel the boy’s body sag, his eyes fluttering closed. I glance to my left. The first kid I felled seems to have broken his arm. Damn it. Well, it was unfortunate, but at least that would send a message alright. Buy us a few weeks of being left the hell alone.
“Em! For freakin’ sake, let him go!” Art yells, and I flinch, the weird rush I was feeling moments ago receding a bit, at least enough for me to feel a flicker of awareness at what I was about to do.
I release the kid and he drops to his knees, sucking in a rasping, rattling breath, and then going into a coughing fit. I give him a once over, unimpressed with the theatrics. I look over at the other two boys, and they stare at me, keeping their distance. I feel another pang of regret, wishing I could give them another beat down.
I back up a step, clenching and unclenching my fists as the adrenaline fades out. My mind turns to Manesh and my training. I can’t wait until the next class. I can’t tell Manesh about this, of course. He’d boot me out of the class for sure if he got wind I did something that was an abuse of my power.
It’s not often I feel as though I have any power to abuse. Knowledge is power. The phrase resonates inside me, and I take a deep breath. It feels as though when I inhale, the air is entering a new body. My knowledge of martial arts isn’t the only thing growing. My knowledge of people is growing, too. My mind and my abilities feel more powerful than ever.
On impulse, I reach out, looking into the minds of the three boys. I do so without hesitating, with a certainty, simply sending tendrils of my mind into theirs and feeling them out. I wait for it, but there’s no migraine, no pain of any kind.
I’m just about to smile with delight, but deflate almost immediately as my thoughts connect to theirs. I can sense their shame and fear and humiliation. I shudder. It’s an awful feeling.
I glance away, withdrawing my mind from theirs. Serves you right. See how you like it.
“Em… we should go home. Training’s over for the day.”
Art stares at me, his expression unreadable. I redirect my thoughts toward him, reaching out and into his mind. Immediately, I sense his disappointment in me, like a punch in the gut. It’s like someone hands you a shiny new pot, and it slips from your fingers, shattering on the floor.
“Art?” I frown.
He gives an abrupt shake of his head. “Let’s go.” He starts walking, limping along, his hands stuffed in his pockets.
He spins back to me, his eyes glittering. “What’s got into you, Em? You’re as bad as they are.”
I scoff. “There were three of them, Art. I’d hardly call that bullying.”
He scrubs a hand through his hair and gives me a hard look. “You wanted to kill them, I could see it on your face.”
“And so should you!” I yell, anger flooding me. I glare at him, my chest heaving, my hands balled into fists. Art stares at me for several moments, and then backs away.
“Sometimes, I don’t think I know you at all.” He spins awkwardly on his heel, wobbling on his crutches, and shuffles off.
I stare at his retreating back, struggling to get myself under control. I’m equal parts exhilarated and afraid. In that moment, I’m not sure I know myself anymore, either.