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Knights: Reign of Hellfire
By Adam D. Levine
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Adam D. Levine
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA New Adventure
"OK, Dan, you're up!"
Daniel Rubin walked a few steps, then turned and faced the wall. He was facing away from everyone in the room but was still told to close his eyes. He heard a faint rustle behind him as people shifted their weight or pointed at one another. He could have heard more if he wanted to, but he was content with waiting. After a few seconds he was asked to turn around. He opened his eyes and looked out into the room.
He was looking lengthwise down a long room, the floor of which was covered with mats. On either side of the room there was a row of black belts holding wooden knives, all facing the center of the room. While his back was turned three attackers had been chosen. Daniel would have to walk in between the two rows of black belts, and as he walked past the attackers they would come at him with the wooden knives. He would have to defend himself cleanly, without hurting the other person, which is the trademark of Ju-Jitsu, the martial art that he studied.
Before he moved, he looked out at the other people in the room. They were of various ages and sizes, ranging from thirteen years old and up, from small and light to large and muscular. They were all wearing black hakamas over their pants, the ancient formal wear of the samurai worn by practitioners of Japanese martial arts on formal occasions. With their hakamas they wore thick white tops traditionally worn by judo players, thus the name "judo top." Every Thursday was black belts only at the dojo, or martial arts school, and they all had to dress formally.
Daniel was dressed the same way, and looked at ease in his formal wear. Daniel was not tall, about average height. He wore his black hair short but spiked up, and his light green eyes shone as the light danced off them. He had a muscular build, though when he wore a shirt it was difficult to tell. He was nineteen years old and a third degree black belt and had been training in the martial arts for fourteen years. Daniel began to walk through what he referred to as "the pipe."
He walked warily, knowing that at any moment he would have to defend himself against the other skilled people in the room. While the wooden knives would not necessarily break skin, they would strike hard enough to leave a large and painful bruise, so Daniel had to be on his guard. He passed four black belts, and then was attacked fiercely. The attacker was Jacob Raines, his longtime best friend. Jake was taller than Daniel, and he had a similar build to Daniel. He wore his brown haircut very close, slightly longer on top than on the side, in a military haircut. Jake was doing ROTC, or the Reserve Officer Training Corps, in order to go into the Marines right after college. His brown eyes were deep and seemed to possess a knowledge that never made it to the surface. He was also a third degree black belt; in fact, he and Daniel had tested for their belts on the same day.
Jake attacked by bringing the knife down in an overhead swing, straight for Daniel's forehead. Daniel sidestepped the attack, threw a punch past Jake's face and then turned under the arm twice, sending Jake flat on his back. Daniel took the knife and laid it on the floor out of Jake's reach, then kept walking.
The next attacker was Gabriel Rubin, Daniel's brother. He was very similar to Daniel in appearance, had the same colored eyes, wore his hair the same way, and was the same height as his brother. People often thought they were twins, while in fact Daniel was five years older. Gabe was a second degree black belt, the youngest in his dojo's history by two days.
Gabe attacked his brother by lunging straight for his chest with the tip of the knife. Daniel sidestepped and brought his hand up in case of a second attack. Then he grabbed Gabe's wrist and threw a kick past his ribs. He turned Gabe's palm toward the floor and pressed, sending Gabe flat on his back. He moved the knife and walked on.
The final attacker was Robert Raines, his brother's best friend and his best friend's brother. Robert was exactly Gabe's age, only two days older. He had tested for his second degree black belt the same day as Gabe, making him the second youngest in dojo history by two days. Robert was almost Jake's height, although other than that the two did not look like brothers. Robert wore his black hair longer than Jake, though still not past the tip of his ears. Although he was almost as tall as Jake and still muscular for his age, Robert had a thinner frame than his older brother. But if there was any doubt of his relation with Jake it disappeared once you looked into his eyes; they were the same deep, rich brown.
He attacked with an upward swing, meant to cut into his victim's belly. Daniel blocked, and then threw a quick back-fist that stopped a quarter inch in front of Robert's face. He quickly put Robert on his back like he had the others. When done full force the moves could break bones, dislocate joints, or even render an opponent unconscious. But full force was rarely necessary; the mere performance of the techniques could temporarily incapacitate the attacker. And, since this was practice, the attacks were much lighter than they would be in combat, and both sparring partners knew how to avoid the injuries. When Robert hit the floor Daniel knew that he was finished, so he faced the room of black belts. His sensei, or teacher, was standing at their head. Daniel brought his feet together and straightened his back. Then he placed his hands on his legs where they met the torso and bowed low. In return his sensei bowed his head. Daniel turned to his three attackers, now all back on their feet, and bowed to them. They bowed back.
The class lined up, facing the front of the room. Daniel and Jake, the two highest ranking students, stood at the front of the first line, with all of the lower ranking students either falling in line next to them or forming their own lines behind the first. They all bowed, saying "Arigato, Sensei." This was a thanks to all those who had taught them something throughout their lives. It signified that all are students, and that learning is an integral part of life that never ends. After this they went into the dressing rooms.
"Whoa, Dan, go a little easier next time!" said Robert. "I thought you were gonna rip my shoulder out of the socket!"
Jake grabbed his little brother and put him in a headlock. "Yeah, Dan, twig-boy over here can't handle the pain! I'm surprised he didn't just snap in half!"
"Jake, come on, let me go, your armpit stinks," Robert said, laughing in spite of his hairy situation.
Gabe decided to help out his best friend, and pinched Jake in a very sensitive spot behind the arm. It worked, and Jake released Robert.
"Don't pick on him, you know he's too scrawny to fight back," said Gabe, laughing.
Daniel silently snuck up behind Gabe, grabbed the elastic on the jock strap that was sticking up out of Gabe's pants, and pulled it back. "Yeah, we should pick on people our own size," Daniel said as he released the elastic, which snapped back and cracked against Gabe's lower back.
They finished changing and went out front to the waiting room. They threw their bags on the floor and sat down in some of the chairs. The first person to walk up to them was their friend, Ryan Reilly. He was shorter than Daniel, and had light brown hair with crystal blue eyes. He was a year younger than Daniel, and a year and a half younger than Jake. He was not as muscular as Daniel or Jake, though he was not scrawny. And he was still an outstanding martial artist.
"Hey, guys. Dan, Jake, do you guys have to leave?" Ryan asked.
"Yeah, buddy, we do," said Jake. "But we'll be back in a few months."
"It's just not the same around here without you guys," Ryan said.
"That means a lot," Daniel said. "Why don't you come and visit us, though? I mean, the three of us hanging out in Paris? That'd be awesome."
"Yeah, that would be cool," Ryan said, smiling. "OK, have a great trip; see you when you get back."
With that he shook both of their hands and walked out.
"I'll never understand him," Jake said, shaking his head.
"Yeah, you gotta love him," Daniel said. "Anyway, I'm guessing we're going to be waiting for our moms for a while, so why don't we say goodbye to Sensei?"
"Good idea," said Jake.
When they walked into the office, they saw their sensei sitting at the desk getting ready to close up for the night. They had known him since they were five years old, and he had been like an uncle to them. They had a great deal of respect for him and, though they were his best students, they knew there was still a great deal that they could learn from him. He stood up as he saw them come in.
"Stay out of trouble," he said, hugging them both. "Have a great time, and I'll see you both when you come back."
Almost as one they replied: "Yes, Sensei."
They walked out, and found their mothers there. Lillian Rubin stood waiting for them when they walked out. She had the same features as her sons, but they were soft and beautiful. Jake's mother Marie was waiting next to Lillian. Both were black belts, having followed in the footsteps of their sons. Both were tough, but as mothers, none better could be found. The two families walked out the door together, parted ways and then prepared for the short ride home.
A few minutes later the Rubins walked through their front door and heard the scurry of clawed feet on their tile floor. It was their dog, Roxy. Roxy was a bearded collie, a long-haired black dog with white spots. She was also a champion show dog. Excited to see her mother and her brothers, and forgetting that she was not a small dog, she leaped up to greet them. Gabe, first through the door, was nearly knocked down as she pounced on him. They hugged the dog hello, and then proceeded through the kitchen into the den.
There they saw the youngest of the Rubin brothers, Shane, on the couch watching TV. Shane was still wearing Ju-Jitsu clothes, having gone right before the others for the advanced kid's class. At nine years old, he was the youngest black belt in the dojo. He was small, even for his age. He had lighter hair than his brothers, and brown eyes. He was quite handsome, but because of his size he was most often referred to as "cute." He hated being called cute. He was most noted, however, for a smile that could brighten a room, and a laugh that could bring out the sun on a cloudy day.
Next to Shane on the couch was their father, Ken. Ken was nearly ten years older than his wife, and his gray hair showed only the slightest hints of the reddish brown that it had been. His gray beard showed even less of its original color. But underneath, his face was exactly the same as Shane's. He had the same brown eyes, and the same bright smile that could lift any spirit. Daniel and Gabe brought their food into the den and plopped themselves down onto the couch. Most nights they all ate dinner together, but on Thursday nights whoever went to the dojo ate whenever he got home. They would generally all sit together anyway.
After dinner Daniel laid down on his own bed for a while, just staring at the ceiling. He had never had an experience like the one he was about to have, and he was nervous. It was there that his parents found him. They walked in and sat on the edge of his bed, and he sat up next to them.
"So, you nervous?" Lillian asked.
"No, not really," he lied, but knew that she saw through it.
"Well look, you are going to have a great time," Lillian said. "Studying abroad while in college is a great experience. And remember, we're just a phone call away; you can call us any time you want."
"Absolutely," said Ken. "Day or night."
"Thanks, guys," Daniel said. "I just don't know if I can do it."
"Why not?" Lillian asked. "You've faced challenges before. You're a black belt, you've done harder things."
"Yeah, but this is going to be the biggest one yet," Daniel answered.
"Well, of course it's going to be the biggest you've ever faced," Lillian said, smiling. "If it wasn't, it wouldn't be a challenge at all."
"Yeah, you're right," Daniel smiled. "But what if I can't do this?"
"Then so what?" said Ken. "At least you gave it a shot. And I know you; I've known you your whole life. I've watched you grow up into an incredible young man. And I know that you can do anything you set your mind to. I know you can do this."
"No question," Lillian nodded.
"Thanks," Daniel said, and then let out a small laugh. "Man, I just don't understand why I'm afraid!"
"You don't have to understand it," said Lillian. "All you can do is accept it, and deal with it."
"Mom's right," Ken said. "It's OK to be afraid sometimes. Just don't let a little fear keep you from doing something extraordinary!"
"Thanks, Dad," said Daniel, feeling the strength that his parents had given him.
That evening they met up with Jake's family on the way to the airport. They arrived at Kennedy International Airport with plenty of time to spare, but all too soon the time came for them to go to their gate. They reached the security checkpoint, and it was time to say good-bye. They gave a quick good-bye to each other's family, and then moved on to their own. As Daniel was hugging his family good-bye, his sadness overcame him. He tried to tell them that he loved them and would miss them, but the lump in his throat prevented any words from escaping. And all the while he was fighting back the tears, holding them in at least until he walked away, so his family wouldn't have to see him cry. But try as he might, he could not stop the tears. Though he made no sound, the streams flowed freely down his cheeks. And then, in what he would always consider one of the hardest moments of his life, he turned and walked away, dragging his small carry-on suitcase behind him.
Once they had passed through security, Jake put his arm around Daniel's shoulders and said with a smile, "It's all right, you'll be fine."
Daniel straightened himself up just as Jeanne, his best friend from college, walked up.
"Hey!" she said with a big smile on her face. "So, I am, like, jumping out of my skin here. Aren't you?"
"Yeah, definitely," Daniel said. "Oh, by the way, Jeanne, this is my friend I told you about, Jake."
"Nice to meet you," Jeanne smiled.
Jeanne had dark hair and brown eyes, and was very pretty. She had on a backpack so large that it looked as though it came with a headrest. She was smiling wildly with excitement; in fact she very nearly seemed to be actually jumping out of her skin. She lived in Queens, only about a half hour away from where Daniel and Jake lived on Long Island. Like the boys, she was in her second year of college.
Although most people studied abroad when they were in their junior year, Jake would have been unable to because of his ROTC training. He was supposed to go back to school for training exercises in the beginning of the following August, and then not come back home again, even for breaks. So Daniel had decided to go abroad a year early, when Jake could go with him. When Jeanne had learned that Daniel was going his sophomore year, she decided to as well.
About halfway through the plane ride Jake turned to Jeanne and said, "Hey, want me to tell you a joke?"
Daniel laughed, warning, "Watch out, they're really bad."
But Jeanne agreed to hear the joke, and so Jake began. "OK, so two muffins are in the oven. One muffin turns to the other and goes, 'Man it's hot in here.' Then the other one looks back and says, 'Ahh! Talking muffin!'"
Jeanne stared at him dumfounded as he began to laugh. His laugh was possibly the loudest and most obnoxious and contagious laugh in the history of the human race, and in the close quarters of the airplane it seemed even louder. Soon Daniel began to laugh, then Jeanne caught it, and the three of them laughed hysterically, waking nearly everyone on the plane.
When their laughter subsided, Daniel said, "I told you they were bad."
"Hey!" Jake replied. "My jokes are hysterical. You're laughing, aren't you?"
Daniel ignored Jake and kept talking to Jeanne. "You know, my dad actually banned Jake from telling jokes in his presence?" he said.
"Really? I didn't think it was that bad," Jeanne laughed.
"Oh, he's gotten better," Daniel said. "Tell the one that got you banned."
Jake cleared his throat, as if ready for a long speech. "OK," he said. "So an owl and a pigeon fly into a bar. One of them orders soup."
Jeanne waited for the ending, but that was it. Jake, of course, was hysterically laughing once again. "OK," said Jeanne. "Yeah, if you had told me that one, I would have banned you, too."
Excerpted from Knights: Reign of Hellfire by Adam D. Levine Copyright © 2009 by Adam D. Levine. Excerpted by permission.
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