Growing Pains

“Stop it!” Somei clenched his fists helplessly as his father’s open hand swept across Unmei’s cheek, knocking the younger boy to the ground. Unmei collapsed against a fine Nexian oak table, jarring it and sending the Sijani vase wobbling and careening toward the edge. Iyun, moving like lightning, just managed to catch it at the edge of the table.

“You’re lucky, boy,” he muttered as he stabilized the decoration. “I’d have had to take that out of your hide, too.”

When he turned back to Unmei, he found Somei standing between them, his eyes shining with unshed tears. He lifted his hands into Scorpion Strikes the Goat, eliciting a raucous guffaw from Iyun.

“Your kata is sloppy, and you’ve chosen poorly.” Iyun lazily lifted one hand straight forward, Rock Splits the River, folding his other behind his back. “Your intent to harm is obvious. With a desire so plain, you should use Bull Rushes the Farmer!”

Somei’s cheeks flushed at the insult, and with an enthusiastic kiai, somewhat ruined by the crack in his voice, he charged at his father, lashing out with Heron Spears the Frog. Iyun contemptuously slapped the strike aside and retaliated with a closed fist to the teen’s jaw. Surprised, unprepared for Iyun to deviate from the forms they had been taught, Somei went crashing backward into the table, the weight of his body shattering both it and the vase. Iyun laughed.

“Clumsy. Predictable.” He leveled a thick finger at Somei. “You will be eaten alive when you leave these walls. I will have to pay to bury you! Can you imagine the shame?”

Somei struggled to stand, ignoring the pain radiating from his spine. A stream of blood ran down his cheek, and he lifted a hand to the matted crimson stain in his hair. He was surprised to find his hands shaking.

“You’re wrong, father.”

Iyun’s eyes narrowed. “Boys should have more respect for their fathers. Especially ones who pay for their schooling, their food, the roof over their heads!”

Unmei, barely twelve, clutched at Somei’s sleeve, but Somei shrugged him off. “You are wrong, father!” He looked up at Iyun from beneath his matted bangs. “I would be safer out there, with all the thieves and drunks and killers, than here with you!”

Somei fell again, hard, when the back of his father’s hand struck him like a whip, and he choked back a sob. “The world is a hard place, Somei. You are soft, like your mother. It destroyed her… do you want it to destroy you, too?”

“The hardest thing in this world, father, is you.” Somei pushed himself up to his knees, wiping a trickle of blood from his lip. Carefully, wincing, he bowed, placing his forehead on the floor. “Thank you for your hospitality, Saffuran Iyun, but I am no longer inclined to accept it.”

“You joke as poorly as you fight.”

Somei lifted his eyes to meet his father’s. “I am not joking. I am leaving.”

Iyun barked a short, derisive laugh. “You will die before sunset.”

Saffuran Somei nodded. “Perhaps that is so, father. Perhaps I will die on the road to Cherak. Perhaps I will be mugged and beaten in Cherak. But I would rather do either than remain here.”

Iyun’s lip curled, and he looked to Unmei. “I suppose you want to leave, too?”

Unmei looked back and forth between Somei and Iyun, tears streaming down his cheeks. Somei extended his hand to his younger brother.

“Come with me, Unmei. I will take care of you.”

Unmei looked to Iyun, who merely crossed his arms across his barrel chest. “Go on, then, if you are as ungrateful as your brother.”

Unmei, sniffling miserably, slowly crawled across the floor to Iyun, where he hugged his leg tightly. Somei lowered his hand as Iyun laughed and laughed.

“Go on then, ungrateful boy. Go crawl into the gutters of the world and wallow in the filth of all the people. And when you are cold and hungry and wet and beaten, you may slither back to me, and I will show mercy. Like a stray dog, I will take you in, though you do not deserve my kindness.”

Somei stood, bowing again. “I am sorry, father. I will not come back. Though I be cold or hungry, wet or beaten, I will not return. I will not let the world hammer me into a heartless thing. I will not become you.”

Somei turned on his heel, and left his home. He would not return for seven years.

Growing Pains

Exalted: Northern Skies Octopoid