Chapter 1:

Having A Good Day

The Blood Of Palken

  Alex found himself whistling as he arrived at the dojo that morning. Usually the sky was overcast and there would at least be a light mist in the air, if not a complete downpour. That day was bright and beautiful. The treacherous trek through the city to work that was commonly filled with near misses by cars and their aggressive drivers, was surprisingly smooth. And his first class as sensei was earning their belts. He was having a good day.Bookmark here

  Back in the office, Sensei Tainaka was drinking tea just as Alex knew he'd be. Alex had studied under him for more than twenty years and he'd learned his sensei was a man of rigid discipline and his daily schedule was absolute. It was one of the qualities he most respected in his teacher. He smiled as Alex sat across from him. Bookmark here

  “Good morning.” The sensei poured another cup and slid it towards Alex. Bookmark here

  “Thank you Sensei.” Alex lifted the cup and drank gratefully. Over the years he'd truly come to appreciate the taste of freshly brewed green tea and made sure to arrive early enough each morning to join his sensei.Bookmark here

  The tea was served in what Alex could only remember as yunomi, though he couldn't be absolutely certain of the name. Terra would know, she always had the better memory of the two, but she was not there. They were definitely tea cups though, not tea bowls.Bookmark here

  A few years earlier when Alex was first developing this interest, Sensei Tainaka attempted to teach him a traditional tea ceremony. They did drink from bowls then but he'd be hard pressed to remember what they were called as well. They did this a handful of times before the invitations stopped coming. When Alex asked why he was simply told he had no grace. Wisely, he chose to never revisit the subject.Bookmark here

  Sensei Tainaka still smiled with his great wide grin. He was in his fifties and clean shaven, both his face and head, and he always had that Cheshire grin. Alex thought he looked a great deal  like Pac-Man. Bookmark here

  “Are you excited for today?” They are your first students after all.”Bookmark here

  Alex took another sip. “ I don’t know if I’m necessarily excited Sensei, I certainly feel proud.”Bookmark here

  Sensei Tainaka laughed. “You should be proud! Of them and yourself, you’ve done a great job.”Bookmark here

  Not even the two terrifying monsters walking through the room could stop Alex's mood from rising. Bookmark here

                                                                           ~~~Bookmark here

  Across town, Terra was already two hours into her shift at the diner and hating every single minute of it. She was having a bad one.Bookmark here

  “Ralphie, the oh so polite woman at table four wants this bacon crispier.” Bookmark here

  The cook took the plate from Terra and frowned. “What does she want me to do, burn it?”Bookmark here

  “I won't presume to tell you how to do your job.” She walked away from the window. Bookmark here

  Terra’s impatience was getting the better of her. While she was waiting for the bacon she began bussing her last dirty table. Once it was clear Terra grabbed a rag from the sanitizer bucket and started back. Her stride was interrupted by an obnoxious “ahem” and she cringed. It was table four. Terra gritted her teeth and walked over. Bookmark here

  “Yes ma’am?”Bookmark here

  “Is my bacon ready?” Table four asked with all of the condescension reserved for the service industry by those who’ve never had to work in it.Bookmark here

  “I was just about to check ma’am.”Bookmark here

  “I’d like my bacon now.”Bookmark here

  “I understand that.” Terra hurried over to the window. Ralphie saw the hustle in her step so he quickly put the plate up. The bacon was black. “Ughh... I don’t know Ralphie.”Bookmark here

  Ralphie giggled perhaps a little too unprofessionally. “It’s crispy.”Bookmark here

  Terra took the plate with a sigh and headed for table four. The woman’s displeasure was apparent long before she arrived. Bookmark here

  Table four looked disdainfully at the charred mess that was set before her. “Is this supposed to be funny?”Bookmark here

  “No ma’am, I assure you that I find nothing funny about this.”Bookmark here

  “Then why would you serve me black bacon?"Bookmark here

  “It’s what the cook gave me.”Bookmark here

  “Would you eat this?”Bookmark here

  “Ma’am the bacon was crispy before you sent it back. It couldn’t be any crispier without burning it.” Table four looked aghast. Terra knew the next words out of the woman’s mouth would be more than she could handle and she refused to hear them. She wasn’t cut out to be a server. “On second thought. You know what ma’am? I would eat it, it looks delicious.” Bookmark here

  Table four gasped and Terra could hear Ralphie laughing in the kitchen. She could also hear Sensei Tainaka’s voice in her head telling her to walk away. Terra couldn’t help herself though, there were far too few opportunities to put on this kind of show. Laughing to herself, she picked up one of the unappealing pieces of bacon and stuffed it into her mouth. “I was right, yum!” Table four spit and sputtered as the manager ran over. Bookmark here

  Ralphie howled with laughter. Bookmark here

  “I’m so sorry ma’am,” The manager squealed before rounding on Terra. “and you, you’re fired!”Bookmark here

  Terra already held her apron in her hand. “Yup,” Bookmark here

  She could still hear Ralphie laughing as the diner door closed behind her. It was eight thirty in the morning and Terra was unemployed. “Yay...” she said to nobody at all as she walked with nowhere to go. Bookmark here

  For a moment she considered whether any bars would be open that early but then shook her head. That would be irresponsible, even for her. Bookmark here

                                                                              ~~~Bookmark here

  Alex drained the last of his tea, then respectfully took his sensei’s cup and the pot to the sink to wash them. Sensei Tainaka waited for him, still as stone in the dojo. Bookmark here

  The hour and a half between tea time and opening was for their personal training. Bookmark here

  “I think we'll spar this morning.” Sensei Tainaka said. Bookmark here

  Alex nodded and began his stretching routine. He knew they'd be sparring, the sensei liked to start the day by knocking some sense into him. When he was younger, Alex used to wonder if his teacher was a bully but as he became more proficient in his ability he'd come to realize that Sensei Tainaka just liked to fight. Simple as that. But honestly, Alex would be a liar if he said it didn't help motivate him to improve. Bookmark here

  Twenty minutes later Alex was flat on his back and gasping for air. Sensei Tainaka jogged in place. Looming above him was an opaque, insect-like monster eating a lumpy arm. Bookmark here

  Alex shrugged off the uneasy vibe he always got when he stared at the creepy things too long and got to his feet. “I barely saw that kick coming Sensei.”Bookmark here

  “Ha! You can’t fight with your eyes closed Alex.”Bookmark here

  “Thank you for your sage advice. Shall I get a staff?”Bookmark here

  The sensei waved this off. “I don’t feel like getting hit with a stick right now.”Bookmark here

  Just then there was a knock at the door. They could see Terra on the other side of the glass. Bookmark here

  “Are you going to let your fellow student in?”Bookmark here

  “Yeah, yeah.” Alex clicked the lock and pulled the door open for Terra. “Didn’t you go to work this morning?”Bookmark here

  “I quit.” Terra walked in and bowed before Sensei Tainaka. “Good morning Sensei.”Bookmark here

  Sensei Tainaka groaned. “You've always lacked discipline.”Bookmark here

  “You sound like an old movie Sensei.”Bookmark here

  “If I was a movie then perhaps you'd pay attention to me. You still lack discipline. And respect.”Bookmark here

  Terra grinned mischievously. “I respect you Sensei.”Bookmark here

  “Yes I know Terra. Even so, if you were less skilled I’d have expelled you from my school years ago.”Bookmark here

  Alex laughed. It was always like this with those two. Both he and Terra enrolled at the dojo when they were five years old and they became instant friends. They quickly proved themselves to be talented and determined, and by pushing each other they were able to become the top students in the school. Bookmark here

  In fact, Terra was offered an instructing position alongside Alex but she refused. A clearly misguided decision as far as he was concerned. Especially considering how often she found herself without a job. Bookmark here

  “So how are you going to pay your half of the rent next month?”Bookmark here

  “You are, and always have been a most compassionate friend. Thank you for your support Alex.”Bookmark here

  Alex gave another laugh. “What did you do, punch someone again?”Bookmark here

  “No,” it was Terra’s turn to laugh. “I yelled at a table and ate their bacon.”Bookmark here

  “Oh my... so disrespectful. My second best student.” Sensei Tainaka mocked. Bookmark here

  Alex was nearly crying. "You ate their bacon! That’s a new one, I bet Ralphie was dying.”Bookmark here

  “He sure was,” Terra deflated “I shouldn’t have burned that bridge though, I loved that diner.”Bookmark here

  “I’ll have to bring you something back next time I go.”Bookmark here

  “Thanks Alex.”Bookmark here

  “Seriously though, what are you going to do?”Bookmark here

  “I don’t know. I was hoping to just spar with you guys for now.”Bookmark here

  Sensei Tainaka clapped his hands together and turned to Alex. “Perfect! You can hit her with a stick.”Bookmark here

  “Wait, what?” Terra was rightfully confused. Bookmark here

  “I wanted to get in some staff training today.”Bookmark here

  “Sounds great. I’m sorry in advance though, I’m going to be aggressive.”Bookmark here

  Alex gave his friend a cocky smile. “You’ve never beaten me before.”Bookmark here

  “Yeah but I'm really annoyed this morning.”Bookmark here

  “Not so fast,” The sensei interrupted “Terra, first you'll do fifty push-ups, seventy five sit-ups, and a hundred squats.”Bookmark here

  “Sensei!” Terra shrieked. Bookmark here

  Alex again had to laugh and the sensei himself didn’t do much to hide his mirth. Bookmark here

  “You represent the Tainaka school, such disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated.”Bookmark here

  “Aren’t you the one who was arrested for public indecency, Sensei?”Bookmark here

  “That was New Years!”Bookmark here

  Alex struggled for breath and wiped a tear away. He was having a good day. Bookmark here

  Though far away, on a world called Palken, roamed the very monsters that haunted Alex’s vision. And before the sun sets that very day, they will bring war to his peaceful city. Bookmark here

Joe Gold
The Loner
You can resume reading from this paragraph.