The children of Knight fight hard, live alone, and die young.
It had been raining that morning of my first combat lesson. The new spring grass was gleaming and cold against my ankles as I tread across the field beneath the afternoon sun. My trainers; stretched out and patched up once for each brother I had- and once more just for luck- were as good as sandals for keeping the wet off my feet and worse for stopping me slipping in the mud and grass.
We had our lessons on the Sandbank, so named because the top six feet of earth was mixed with sand to stop the field from becoming a pit of mire and sludge. On the summer days the ground was grainy and abrasive, but softer to fall onto. In the winter sometimes we would be sparring through the dirt, traipsing back into the building covered in mud. Sometimes it would take four or five ear scrubs to get the sand out of our ears.
In winter it got into our shoes and socks and in between our toes, across our legs, down our shirts, up our noses. We'd drag our feet back in looking like mud monsters from the depths of some twisted children’s fairy tale, slouched in exhaustion and grunting with effort and the knowledge that when we were finally done and showered we'd have to grab the mops and brushes and clear up the trail of grime that we'd leave in our wake.
Only when you know how debilitating winter is and how unrelenting the summer sun can be do you appreciate the damp, squelch springtime grass and the clear, humid air.
In our quiet, hillside village we were kept far from the peculiarities of the world, and I’d never before met a man like Ceros, our combat teacher.
His right arm gleamed in the light- metallic from tip to shoulder and right across to where the metal wove itself into the skin and around his ribcage. His left leg was metal, and a significant portion of his skeleton had been fortified with it to help carry the weight of it all.
His strength wasn‘t just in his mechanical parts though. He had the strength of an ox and the will of a steamroller.
He barely seemed to acknowledge me at the beginning of the lesson, but began with the words that still ring in my head to this day: ‘What some see as inhumane, others see as necessary.’
The Ethics Division at Quarters knew this well enough. They spent endless hours arguing over the riddles and knots of Vincent’s new toys- that’s what they called the kids in the Youth Recruitment Sector.
‘You have to learn to fall before you learn to pick yourselves back up. You have to be lied to before you learn how to lie. You have to hold your breath before you understand why you need to breath. Partner up. Howl I want you with Rusty, Mew, take the new boy.’
Everybody separated out with their respective partners. Howl was my newly appointed roommate and in time I would train with him, but for my first lesson it was Mew who became the victim.
‘We’re the parasites of the scourge of this world.’ He said. ‘We are not Knights like those of the round table or the of the royal guard. We cause havoc where there is peace and imbalance where there is balance. We’re the vigilantes of a dark and twisted world. We’ll trek across mountains, fight beasts from the most wicked pits of the earth, trample criminals, conquer armies. We will be the voice of the silenced and shout when we should be quiet, march when we should be still and fight when the world tries to beat us into the dust - and all the while they’ll hate you for that look in your eyes.
‘You may call what I do to you inhumane, but compared to what they’ll do if they find out what you are, what I do will become your last hope to retain your own sense of humanity.’
Mew was my first and last opponent of that session. Like most all of the Never Weather boys he was lean in stature. His skin was fair and his hair was as white as moonlight. He was always kind even when everyone else was against me. He looked at the world as if seeing it for the first time, and regarded every person as he would an old friend. His eyes were bright blue and always seemed to be laughing- except today. I would like to give him a more suiting introduction but I said I would speak only truth and this was in truth the first I saw of him.
I felt the wind of his fist as it grazed past my cheek before I even realised that he had lunged forward. He frowned briefly when our eyes locked and stepped back away from me.
‘How am I supposed to fight him if he won’t move?’
‘He’ll move,’ Ceros said.
Mew winced and turned back to face me. We bowed together again.
This time he came straight forward. I felt the air hit my face and the warmth of his fist when he halted just milimetres from my nose. He stepped back again. He should have hit me. It would have ben better for him.
There was no sound at first. I saw the flash of metal as Ceros stepped in front of me. Then came the noise like a dog devouring the bones of a dead animal: the crackle and crunch as the pieces fell apart. I’d never heard it before.
The heavy metal fist smashed into his ribs.
From his lips escaped an audible gasp, raspy and windbroken. He hit the ground knees first and no matter how hard he tried to maintain his composure the force of metal against his bones and the drain of oxygen from his collapsed ribcage left him down for the count. He doubled over and a wave of scarlet bled into his fair cheeks.
‘Don‘t try to pull that again,’ Ceros said. He flicked his head and Howl moved stiffly towards us. He grabbed Mew by the arm and lifted him up despite the reluctant protest. They left for the Healing Ward with slow, crippled steps.
My heart was pounding. I wasn’t afraid, but I was young and naïve. The force of it- the intentional and uncontrolled violence- left me breathless and confused.
I kept my eyes downward for as long as I could before he came to stand in front of me.
‘Look up.’ He ordered.
Right then I couldn’t have even recalled my name if he had asked me. Not that my name mattered anymore.
I lifted my eyes to meet his and he held my gaze for a few seconds before continuing with our lesson.
When you become a part of Knight you leave everything behind and find yourself stripped to the bare fragments of identity. The first stage is breaking.
There are always regrets at the Never Weather. There’s always someone who breaks too hard, someone who changes too much. There’s always someone who becomes something dangerous.
His words spun around inside my head over and over again. Was what Ceros did to Mew necessary?
It all depends on whose side you’re on.
Welcome to the world of Knights and Terrorists, dear friend.