Chapter III

"Focus!" he shouted. At the sound of his harsh voice, I almost lost my balance and fell backwards to the hard concrete I was sitting on. Master Kirin frowned at me, clearly displeased at my clumsiness. Quickly, I forced myself back into Lotus position: feet crossed on opposite thighs. Even after months of sitting in this position, I could still feel the slight prick of discomfort on my legs.

I breathed inward, trying in vain to shut out any distractions. This morning seemed like every other since we began training. Any pity that Master Kirin had shown for me months ago when he had talked to Nana vanished the moment we entered the red room. Every morning, he forced me from my bed before the crack of dawn to meditate. Then the real challenge began. We trained from dawn to dusk in the red room, pushing my body to the brink of exhaustion. I began to hate that room, the way that Master Kirin would scold and lecture me every time my posture slipped, the way that the guards and their sons would laugh as I continued to struggle on even the most basic forms, and the way the breathing exercises we did during meditation made me too alert to fall asleep but too tired to move. Every night after yet another session of meditation, Nana would have to bring her medicine container to heal my aching wounds. But when the old scars faded, new ones would form the next day and this brutal cycle would repeat itself once again.

At least the nightmares stopped. In fact, I did not dream at all. I slept the instant I laid down on my sheets and woke up moments afterwards. Vaguely, I remembered that my twelfth birthday had passed but was too drained to care much less celebrate. My eyes became puffy and my mind would constantly wander. But whenever I became distracted, Master Kirin yelled at me in his irritatingly low tone. I was too busy to realize that this tiredness would soon grow into a more dangerous emotion. So it was to my own shock that after several long months of torture, I finally snapped.

"No!" I stood up defiantly. My bare feet curled uncomfortably at the uneven floor but I held my stance.

"No?" he repeated, as if he didn't understand what the words meant. He narrowed his dark eyes at me in warning and stood up, using his height to intimidate me. But I refused to budge. Not this time.

"No, I cannot focus Master Kirin. I can't think. I can't sleep. I can't do anything but train and meditate and even those I can't seem to properly because you seem to want to control every aspect of my life. I am not a horse that you can just whip into submission." I was shouting now, my face turning red with rage. My hands turned white and formed into tight balls. All I could think of was red. Red, like my face. Red, like the room. Red, the color of my eyes. Red, the color that my knuckles turned when I punched Master Kirin on the face. Red, the color that Master Kirin's nose turned when it began to bleed.

Blood red. My mind cleared out of its foggy haze as I saw the image of Master Kirin on the floor with a bloody nose and a clear red indent from where my knuckles connected to his face.

"Master Kirin! I-I'm so sorry. I don't know what came over me," I bowed my head down in shame, unwilling to see the anger and disappointment in his face. A student should never defy their master. The fact that I was upset did not excuse my behavior. I was sure that he would punish me, most likely beat me with a rod or force me to stand for hours with my knees bent holding wooden bricks on my shoulders. I was not sure which was worse.

I waited for him to shout at me, to hit me back in the face, to make me pay for my defiance, but he never did. Instead, he lifted my chin up to his face so I had to look him straight in the eyes. The fine lines of his lips twitched upward a bit, but he continued to access my gaze in a curious manner. It was like he transformed into a completely different person, much like a face-changer who took off his mask; though I was uncertain which face was the mask or the man. It was unsettling. The lines of his forehead relaxed for the first time since we began training.

"Good. I see you have come to your senses. I was getting tired of this charade. It took you long enough, mind you. Your father went on a rampage after only a few days…I swear he was tempted to bite my head off. Nastiest temper I have ever encountered. I never got through to that one, no matter how extreme the punishment. Although, even he did not inflict quite as much damage as you did," he laughed while wiping his nose carelessly on the sleeve of his grey robe "at least not in the beginning. I should applaud you for your strength though. Few have ever managed to touch my face much less a student as young as you. Though that should be expected, I suppose, given your abilities."

"What abilities?" I asked, suspicious and entirely confused as to why he was not punishing me. I doubted that I had any special abilities. The bruises on my arms and legs were proof that I was average at best in my training. Even some of the younger guards that entered the red room were able to beat me at a sparring match.

He shook his head, purposely ignoring my question and instead motioned for me to sit down again with him in a meditative position. He closed his eyes, chest rising and falling steadily as he inhaled and exhaled. Inhale. Exhale. I tried to mimic his breathing patterns and concentrate. Again, I urged my mind to shut down but the questions plagued me. What abilities do I have? Why didn't Master Kirin punish me? Why did Father force me to train with him? Why me? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

Master Kirin sighed, "You are not focusing, Ren. Your questions will be answered in due time, but now is not that time. Tell me: What do you feel right now?"

Confusion. Fear. Loneliness. Frustration. Anger.

"Everything and nothing. I am…weak," I couldn't cry. I wouldn't. Not in front of him.

He shook his head. "You are not weak, your mind and body only feel weak. You are attached to your emotions that much is clear but you need to learn how to concentrate and control them rather than let them control you. Your reaction to me, though admittedly well deserved, was out of these emotional attachments."

"But how do I do that? Control my emotions, I mean."

"By letting go. Our spirituality is the clearest and most vulnerable when we are at our lowest point. That is why we meditate: to clear the mind of such distractions. Though I cannot fully replicate that situation, we have gone close enough now haven't we?" he winked, pointing at his left cheekbone, where the redness was.

Inwardly, I winced. He was mad to push me to this level just to get such a reaction. If I were a grown man with more experience, I could have injured him or done much worse damage. I could have killed him, like I killed Lien. Out of spite, anger.

But it was the same anger that brought me to this point. Lien had died because of my anger and now Master Kirin was bruised. I shuddered to think how many other people would be harmed from my anger. The lingering shame and guilt and unhappiness were direct results of my uncontrolled emotions. He was right, though I would never admit that to him out loud.

He nodded, as if sensing my thoughts. "You see now, how these emotions can take its toll on yourself and others…and now the real training can begin."

I nodded numbly. Perhaps he was not as mad as I had originally thought.

A/N: Thank you for reading everyone. :) As per previous comments, I tried to make some minor adjustments just so the writing flows a bit better. I'm sorry if the chapters are a bit sort and/or slow but it will pick up soon...and hopefully Ren will become less angsty over time (I make no guarantees though ;)) On another note, I will be taking a bit of a hiatus from writing (around 2 weeks) as I have some personal things to take care of in the upcoming weeks..so don't be alarmed if I don't update next Saturday/Sunday. As always, reviews are welcome.