Ringing Bells

Summer: 17 years at the Monastery, six weeks after the assassination attempt

Sunar walked down the hall with his friends. Last bell had just sounded, and the Temple was beginning to settle down for the night. This meant, of course, that the Titans had freedom to roam the grounds and get into things with impunity. Their girlfriends all had early morning duty, so they had some time ‘for the guys’, as Gorshun liked to say. Their debate over how to spend the time was cut short when the bells sounded again.

They stared at each other wide-eyed for a moment, and Gorshun spoke, “We are past Last Bell. This can’t be good. They don’t sound right, either.”

Lenar frowned, “That is not the bells. Not exactly; it is a recording.” He stopped and listened for a moment, “No, it is a series of recordings, being played so they form a pattern.”

All three of his friends froze and stared at him in horror as they all remembered. Recorded bells playing in a pattern could only mean one thing. Sunar pushed the emotion aside, only to have aggravation replace it. Here we go again. He grimaced, listened to the pattern, then spoke, “Second tier, Hall of Swans, moving inwards, all clear. At least everyone is out of their way.”

Seben’s eyes turned hard, “That is clear on the other side of the temple, and many levels down. You will have to face them alone, at least at first. Go!” Seben gestured to the window. Sunar nodded to his friends, who all three took off at a run, and he leapt forth into the late evening air.

He angled his wings back and dove for the Hall of Swans. He flew past, silent as an owl, and banked hard so he could see in. Two assassins this time, trying to sneak through the temple as if they thought night gave them some sort of cover.

He dove through an open window, pulling his wings in with a sharp movement, landed on his feet, and roared at the lead of the pair. The sonic blast slammed into the man, who went from a sneaking-crouch down to his knees. He seemed out of play for a moment, so Sunar…

Ducked. A throwing knife had come from the hand of the other, smaller, man, and only a combination of his superb night vision and finely-honed reflexes saved him. Sunar did a rabbit-step to cross the thirty feet between himself and his opponent without having to actually move through the space.

The man – a Halfling judging by his size – had brought a blaster out while Sunar ducked, but found himself pointing at empty air after Suanr’s step. The blaster fired, leaving a trail of light in his vision and a feeling of heat in one wing where the shot just barely missed.

A white-hot forge of fury welled up from somewhere deep within and tried to push him into animalistic rage. He rode atop the rage, used it to pour strength and speed into his movements, but kept his mind under calm control.

The Halfling tried to back up and bring his blaster on target, but Sunar lashed out with a foot and caught him in the stomach. He heard a sound behind him as the man kneeling on the ground began to regain his wits. No time to pull punches. He put all the ki he could muster into a fist to the head, and felt bones crack beneath his hand as the Halfling went down.

He turned to the man on his knees, and saw him fumbling with something on his chest. He rushed forward to find the man trying to pull a grenade off a bandolier. A new wave of fury, fueled by fear, rose in him, and he rode it straight to his hand. He grabbed the top of the man’s head and jerked back sharply while he brought his knee into his neck. Another loud crack, and it was over.

Sunar stood there in the hall, panting slightly, two men dead at his feet. Anger, regret, guilt, elation, all these emotions and more swelled within him and clambered for attention. He allowed the emotions to flow through him, but kept his thoughts apart from them as he checked to make sure there was no third assassin. Satisfied, he turned his attention inward to examine his feelings. One subset of threads in there disturbed him; elation, joy, pleasure. He did not care for the idea of feeling positively about killing other sentient beings.

He had barely started to process his emotions when a light footstep sounded in the corridor. He had to stop himself mid-spring when he opened his eyes to find Master Ikthan staring at him, his face even more devoid of expression than usual, “These men brought their deaths upon themselves, Sunar. I do not tell you this to provide comfort to you – taking a life should never be comfortable. I tell you this to reinforce what your mind now tells your heart: that what you did here was necessary.”

“I know Sensei, but – as you say – the heart does not always listen to the knowledge.”

“Nor should it. Sometimes our heart processes things, and makes decisions, far faster than our mind.” A shadow seemed to pass before the Master’s eyes, and the tiniest of smiles played across his lips for a brief moment, “Your mother’s heart made such a decision on the day you came to us, and that decision has proven to be correct time and again.

“However, when the heart needs time, it needs time, and the only thing we can do is gently remind it of what must be.”

Sunar nodded, and let the turmoil within him rage, but moved it to the side and kept himself calm. “I believe I understand, Master Ikthan.”

“Well, that makes one of us, then.”

The joke startled Sunar, and his surprise cost him some of his hold on his emotions as he turned his eyes sharply to his master. He found another small smile on the man’s face, and eyes which twinkled with amusement, “Good, you have not locked yourself away where you can not feel. And, you should not be so surprised that the Old Man has a sense of humor just because I do not share it with most of my students.”

Sunar blinked a few times, and felt an odd pride rise within him, “I feel proud that you would tell me this, and would share humor with me. Why?” Master Ikthan cocked his head slightly at him and waited, “Ah, I think I see. Because a student must learn to teach himself before you can share that much of yourself with him.”

Ikthan gave him a slow nod, “You begin to see. More you will learn in time, but that is another matter.

“You have done well this day, Sunar.” He bent to inspect the bodies, and directed Sunar to do the same. They found a few tattoos and weapons, but nothing else. “As I suspected. These men are street toughs, Sunar. Hired out of convenience and with anonymity, probably from somewhere local. It is unfortunate that they had to be killed to be stopped, but you acted rightly. They were unlikely to be discriminating in whom they harmed.”

Two pairs of running feet came at them, one from either end of the corridor, and a third pair of feet hit the wall behind Sunar. He spun around to see Gorshun, who had obviously come through the same window he used, bounce off the wall and hit the ground ready to fight. At the same moment Seben came up behind Gorshun, and he heard Lenar come to a halt behind him. He gave a half smile and a nod to the two friends before him, then turned and nodded to Lenar. They had timed it perfectly, and arrived at the same moment. He had to hand it to them for that.

Master Ikthan spoke without looking up from his examination of the bodies, “Ah, the other three Titans arrive, in good time and together, to come to defense of their friend. Well done. Gorshun, find the nearest phone and call the Menki police department – yes, the Menki police, not the sheriff in the Valley – and tell them we have two dead bodies for them to investigate and pick up. Seben, go to the bells and tell Hanna to sound the all-clear. Sierra, drop down from outside that window and go to the front gate. Tell them an air-car from the Menki police will be arriving shortly. They need to make sure the landing pad is clear, that the police are shown every courtesy, and are brought here directly.

Sunar blinked in surprise that Ikthan had noticed his sister. He’d noticed her climbing to the edge of the window to get a look, but he always seemed to be able to sense her presence. A small hand on his shoulder almost found its owner tossed across the hall in his surprise, until he realized who it belonged to.

Ikthan spoke again, still without looking up, “Meesha, good. Take Sunar down the hall and sit with him. He has done a hard thing, and needs time to process. The strength of Thorn and Rose will be good for him. The rest of you Roses, cordon off this hall at fifteen paces from either body. Only the police should come through here until the bodies are removed. Lenar, please go and make some cinnamon-ginger tea for everyone.

Everyone moved to their assigned tasks, and Sunar felt the strength fall out of him as air from a balloon. He let Meesha guide him down the hall, past the Rose on sentry duty, and let her guide him to the ground. She wrapped her arms around him, and guided his head to her shoulder. She said no words, just provided her gentle touch. They were soon joined by his parents, who knealt to either side of him, hands on his back and shoulder, and lent their support.

He released his hold on the many conflicting emotions and let them flow through them, and allowed himself to weep silently into Meesha’s shoulder

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