Catlow Credence sat on the steps that led to his father’s workshop. The basement of their house had become his father’s domain long ,long ago. He could hear the whir and creak of the grinding wheel .The smell of oil and steel and leather saturated the room. His father was at his work bench . He had a long narrow piece of steel in his hands. He bent his head downward as he ran the steel along it’s edge against the rapidly spinning grinding wheel. Sparks flew as the metal made contact with the wheel. Again and again his father pressed the steel to the wheel. The sound of metal meeting metal filled the room. A sharp metallic ripping that scraped against Catlow’s ear drums.
Finally his father put the metal down and leaned back in his chair. He took off his dark goggles and his soiled and weathered work gloves and ran his hands over his face. It was then twelve year old Catlow began to allow himself to hope that his father was done with work for the night. If he was done (and it certainly appeared that he was) then it was possible that they could maybe take a trip to the Tasty-Freeze and get a couple of milkshakes . Tasty-Freeze was second only to Kings Dominion as Catlow’s favorite place to go in the whole wide world. On hot summer nights like this Pretlow Credence would sometimes ,if he wasn’t too tired ,take his only son to the Tasty-Freeze and buy the two of them huge delicious chocolate shakes. The kind that can only be found at an old mom and pop eatery in the South. Pretlow did not turn his head but spoke to his son .
“I suppose someone wants to ride to the Tasty-Freeze .Am I correct in my assumption?” Pretlow said as he rolled his head on his neck like a fighter stretching before a bout.
“Not someone Daddy ,me!” Catlow said then laughed hysterically. Pretlow stood and turned to face his son. He was a tall man with large knarled hands. His frame was thin but packed with lean ropey muscle. His tawny skin was stretched tight over his body. His black kinky hair was cut into a tight flat top fade. He put his hands on his hips and cocked his head to the right.
“I guess someone should go jump in the car then.”he said quietly. Catlow leapt up and ran up the stairs tow at a time. Pretlow went to the sink and washed his hands . His son was so full of life and laughter. He thought what it a pity it was that we could not always stay children. He thought what an even more profound pity it was that some of us must grow up quicker than others.
Pretlow and Catlow climbed into the family car . A hulking green Ford LTD that was big enough to rent the backseat out as an apartment.Pretlow backed out of the driveway and merged into the slow rural traffic of downtown Mathews Va. The two of them rode in silence .Not an awkward silence but a comfortable silence that didn’t need to be sullied with words. Soon Catlow could see the red and blue neon lights of the Tasty-Freeze illuminating the dark country road. Pretlow guided the large car into a parking space right in front of the door. Catlow had jumped out before the car had come to a complete stop. Pretlow watched him run to the screen window where customers placed their orders. He was a lithe coiled spring of energy . He had his fathers caramel complexion and his mother’s shock of dark black wavy hair. The hair fanned out behind him as he ran. He was a marvel of natural athleticism and intense training. Pretlow trained his son for the battles to come with exercises that masqueraded as games. Tossing tennis balls at him full speed ,Jungle gym races in the rain ,teaching him how to walk on his hands. All just a prelude to the real training that would begin next year. The year he actually had to hold a blade. Catlow ordered their shakes anPretlow paid for them and then they sat on a metal bench that was still warm from the heat of the sun earlier in the day. Father and son sipped the cool chocolate goodness that is a Tasty-Freeze shake in more comfortable silence . Finally Catlow spoke.
“So when do I get to use the sword Daddy?” Catlow asked between sips. Pretlow was taken aback for a moment. He was shocked how his son’s thoughts were so similar to his own. Pretlow sipped the last of his milkshake and then wiped his mouth.
“Next year .We will start with the scimitar because it’s smaller and easier for a you to handle. Then we move to the rapier ,then the katana . Why do you ask Catlow?” he said as he peered at his son over the edge of his cup.
“Cuz I wanna do the cool stuff you and Uncle Shian do! I wanna slice grapes in half in mid-air and smack golf balls and do backflips with two swords in my hands and-” Pretlow held up his hand and Catlow closed his mouth with a soft plop!
“Catlow ..what we do is not for fun or tricks in some sideshow attraction. You are too young to fully understand but what we are doing is training .Training for something monumently important. It is not something to show off to your friends at school.”Pretlow said quietly.
“Aw dad I know that .” Catlow said sullenly. He had no idea what his father was talking about but he tried to pretend he fully understood. All he know was that his Dad was cooler than Spiderman or Batman or Superman because he was real. He had seen his Uncle Shian toss a golf ball at his dad using one of the baseball pitching machines and his Dad had sliced it in half .Every time. Over a hundred times. He had counted from his perch on the third step in the basement. He had seen his father and his uncle pretending to fight with swords in each hand and had watched in awe as his father had run up the wall done a backflip and landed behind his uncle with his sword at his throat. His dad didn’t understand . What they did was cool!
“Come on let’s get home. I’ve got to stop at the 7-11 and get your mother some cold medicine. That woman is the love of my life but she is such the big baby when she gets sick. Don’t tell her I said that Catlow.”his father said with a smile playing around the corners of his mouth. Catlow smiled a little bit too. His dad was a quiet man who was not prone to jocularity but when he did say something even remotely funny Catlow seized upon it and held it close. It made his father seem less robotic. They climbed back into the car and started on the way home. Pretlow pulled his long black trenchcoat around him so it wouldn’t get caught in the door. They drove along blacktop roads through a moonless night until the darkness was broken by the yellow glare of the 7-11 sign. The store sat at the intersection of rt.14 and 198 and was a way station for most people that lived in the county. It was the last place to get gas or cigarettes or cold medicine for miles. Usually a rag-tag crowd of regulars were milling around in the parking lot or leaning lazily against the counters. Not tonight . Tonight the parking lot was almost empty. Catlow saw a small green two door hatchback car parked around the side of the building and a dilapidated pick-up truck parked around the front. Pretlow parked the car. and opened the door.
“Can I come with you dad?” Catlow asked. Pretlow hesitated for a moment .
“Why not ? Come,hurry so we can get back to you mother.” Catlow bounded out of the car and ran to the door. Once inside he made a beeline for the candy aisle. He grabbed to candy bars and a lollipop. Pretlow went to the medicine aisle intent on getting his wife something to soothe her aching chest and quiet her incessant cough. As was his nature he noticed the pale sallow faced clerk behind the counter . A woman who looked as if life had kicked her ass so much she had learned to enjoy the beating. However so intent on his task he did not pay much attention to the two men that came in after he and his son had entered the store.
The two men were nondescript white gentleman . They both wore black hoodies and watch caps. They milled around the store for a few seconds. Then the heavier of the two nodded at his partner. They both pulled their shirts up in unison and pulled out semi-automatic pistols.
“Give me the fucking money bitch!” the heavier one screamed at the clerk. For a moment she didn’t react so lost in her reverie of sadness that she barely heard his request . The man moved forward and smacked her in the forehead with the butt of his gun.
‘Money Now!” he yelled . His partner pointed his gun at Pretlow . Catlow was behind the second man frozen in place. His candy had fallen to the floor ,forgotten now as fear gripped his very core. Pretlow raised his head and gazed at the second man.
“Sir we don’t want any trouble but my son is behind you and I am sure he is very scared .Could you allow him to come to me?” Pretlow said evenly. The second robber whirled on his heels and grabbed Catlow by the arm.
“Get your fucking ass over there!”he yelled as he pushed Catlow toward his father. Catlow grabbed his father around the waist and held him as tight as he could . It was then he felt the weight of his father’s scimitar against his right arm. The second man bounced from side to side on the balls of his feet. He was biting his lip and his eyes darted around like a caged weasel. His skin was red and scaly and had a greasy film over that gave him a slight tan . Catlow heard the clerk crying as the man hit her again.And again.
“I-I-I can’t open the safe and I only got ….twenty dollars in the drawer I swear!”she moaned between sobs.
‘You got five seconds to give me the fucking money .I am not motherfucking playing with your ass bitch! ” he screamed. The man hit her again . Catlow could hear the sound of the gun meeting the woman’s flesh. Her cries became more frantic . Catlow could feel his father’s abdomen tighten . Catlow loosened his grip on his father. He wanted to scream at the men with the guns that his father was BAD! That they were in trouble now because you didn’t want to mess with Pretlow Credence . He waited, with his breath coming quicker and quicker ,for his father to pull his scimitar out and make these dirty bad guys sorry they were ever born.
But it didn’t happen .
Pretlow just held his son and looked at the second robber with a cool impassive visage. The second robber stared back Pretlow and began scratching his face.
“What the fuck you looking at ? You know what hoss give me your wallet.”the man said with a deep southern accent. Pretlow didn’t move at first. The man came forward and struck Pretlow in the forehead with the butt of his gun. Pretlow didn’t move or stumble. The man struck him again and Pretlow grunted deep in his chest.
‘Give me your fucking wallet nigger!” the second man screamed.
“Stop it !” Catlow howled. The second robber looked at him as if noticing him for the first time. He pointed his gun at Catlow’s face. He then raised the gun to strike Catlow
“Do ….not…..strike …..my …..son.”Pretlow said. Blood was dripping down his check from the wound on his forehead . He said his statement through clenched teeth. The second robber looked at Pretlow and without saying a word he pointed the gun at him and turned it sideways like he had seen on Dead Presidents. Catlow started to cry.
Pretlow moved his right hand to the left side his of body under his coat. He move so fast and so smoothly the second robber did not register that movement on with his periphery vision. In one fluid motion he grabbed the handle of his scimitar and pulled it out of it’s cracked leather scabbard and swept it up and to the right like a tennis player hitting a backhand shot. The blade sliced through the first four inches of the gun like it was made of butter. The bright Damascus steel had been tempered by the swordsmith Garn Whiteborne with an ancient technique known only to the men of the Brotherhood. He had taught Pretlow this technique when he was just a young man . Common metals of modern design were no match for the blades of the Brotherhood. The barrel hit the floor with a loud clatter. Pretlow let the scimitar go and it spun on an invisible axis for one complete turn. He grabbed the silver and black handle and brought the blade down over the second robber’s wrist. The man’s hand fell to the floor with a soft slap.
The second robber opened his mouth and peered at his hand . The limb had been amputated so cleanly and quickly that for a moment he still held his arm extended as if he was still holding the gun. One beat ,then another then blood began to spew from his stump. Catlow watched the blood flow like a geyser. It was so different from the blood he had seen on movies. It was not thick and viscous . It was watery and thin and it splashed across the white tiles like rain.
Before the second robber could say or do anything else Pretlow brought the scimitar back again in a backhand motion and slid it through the man’s neck . The blade was so sharp and the blow so strong the man’s head did not immediately tumble off his shoulders. The second robber’s body crumbled to the floor in a kneeling position. His torso fell forward. His head tumbled backwards.
Catlow was mewling into his arm. He was covering his mouth with the inside of his elbow. Pretlow moved toward the counter . The first robber stopped beating the cashier just long enough to shoot her in the leg. The sound was like the thunder of Thor inside the 7-11. Catlow’s ears popped . As the first robber looked up Pretlow advanced upon him.
“What the fuck?” he yelled then began firing.
Pretlow swept the scimitar in front of him. He turned it sideways so the broader part of the blade was in front of him . As the first robber fired Pretlow swatted the bullets aside. His arm moved in a blur of motion and concentration .Catlow could see the sparks when the bullets hit the blade . Yellow sparks that glowed for a moment as the blade made contact. The first robber was grunting and howling in the language of fear. His last bullet was not deflected. Pretlow flipped the blade and split it down the middle .The two halves pierced two bottles of soda behind Pretlow. The sugary contents escaped their containers with a low hiss.
Pretlow sliced through the first robbers wrist as easily as had the second robber. The first robber let out a bloodcurdling moan. Pretlow’s blade silenced him as he decapitated him as he had done his compatriot. He flew past the falling corpse and went to the door marked employees only. Once inside he found the dvd drive for the recording system that was connected to the cameras he had noticed when he entered the store. He slammed the scimitar into the drive and cut it in half. He grabbed the bisected dvd and put the pieces in the pocket of his trench coat. He came out of the room and grabbed a handful of napkins from the hotdog counter and wiped the blood off his blade. He returned it to the scabbard and walked toward Catlow. He grabbed the youg boy by the hand and pulled him out of the store. Pretlow opened the driver side door of the LTD and tossed Catlow inside .Catlow scrambled into he passenger seat. Pretlow jumped in the driver’s seat and started the car. The old rolling tank came to life with a roar and Pretlow squealed tires as he left the parking lot.
Silence. Now an oppressive cloud that filled the car. Catlow looked out the window and Pretlow stared straight ahead. The moon chased their car as they traveled home. Pretlow pulled in their driveway and shut off the motor.
“My son. We will be leaving this place soon. We…we can’t stay here now. ” he said quietly. Catlow didn’t look at him. However he spoke. His voice was a weak quavering whisper.
“Why didn’t you help that woman? Why did you let them beat on her like that? I’ve seen what you and Uncle Shian can do!! You’re like ……like Batman or Hawkeye.!! She was crying Dad!” he said . Pretlow rubbed his eyes with his huge fists.
“Catlow.What you have seen Uncle Shian and I do is not a game. It is deadly serious . We are heirs to a duty that you cannot yet fathom. There are questions that police officers will want to ask me that I cannot answer. I don’t have a real social security number ,I don’t have a birth certificate. I did not want to intervene because I have a responsibility that is greater and more significant than the life of one cashier in a gas station or even my own life. Soon I will be called upon to engage in a battle that literally will decide the fate of all humanity. I am a soldier in a war that has raged since before Jesus was born. Your uncle Shian and I ,we are not heroes. We are members of the Brothehood. The skills that we have acquired are not just for us ,they belong to the world even if they don’t know it. If I am imprisoned for my actions in that store tonight and the Judges call us to be present at the Confrontation I will have dishonored my father and his father and all the houses of the Men of the First Order. There are things that I have not told you yet .Things that you are not ready to understand but believe me when I tell you I am no coward . But we are yoked to the fate of the all mankind. It is not something we can shirk. “Pretlow said his voice never rising .
“Then why did you kill them?” Catlow said. His head was leaning against the car window.Pretlow turned and grabbed his son by the shoulder and pulled him close until their faces almost touched.
“Because they were going to hurt my son. I tried to do what fathers are supposed to do without pulling my blade. I took the brunt of their violence so that they would not touch you. The world is a cold and cruel place and you will bear your own beatings soon enough .But I will do my best to save you from the pain of this world as long as I can. We are fated to a higher purpose Catlow. There may come a day sooner than I would like where we will be asked to put our lives on the line for billions of people who do not know us ,do not care about us,do not love us the way I love you my son.”Pretlow said his voice finally cracking. Catlow looked away from his father.
“I am tired. I want to go to bed. “he said softly. Pretlow released his grip and the boy opened the car door and walked to the house. Pretlow sat in the car a few moments more. He would have to call Shian in the morning to help them pack. The robbery would make the local paper and the details would surely catch the attention of the Men of the First Chaos. The rules dictated that each Order wait until the call of the Judges to engage each other but the Men of the First Chaos were notoriously bad at following rules. He had lost something tonight . He could see it in Catlow’s eyes. Not for the first time he wondered ,what did it matter if you saved all of humanity but lost your own?