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While he was exhausted, Josh was simultaneously buoyed by his excitement.  Only a month ago he had finally completed a sufficient level of training to finally receive the call to accompany a FIST into battle for the first time.  Just a few weeks later, here he was in the locker room after a 4 hour training session with one of the greatest swordsmen the Templars had ever produced: Crowder.  He couldn’t help but surreptitiously glance every so often at his hero, thrilled to not only be training with him but to have actually accompanied him into combat.

Crowder recognized the hero-worship – very little escaped his notice: in battle or elsewhere.  He gave no outward indication.  His job, his calling, was with melee weapons.  While he appreciated what pistols, launchers and rifles could do in skilled hands, they were not for him.  True, the Templars employed them and they provided something that swords could not, Crowder simply felt a kinship with swords.  It wasn’t pride that made him practice and hone the skills he had. He didn’t care about the comparisons people made about him and the greats from the past. Frankly, he didn’t care for it.  He truly wished people would simply spend that time and mental effort working on their own skills and contributions to the cause.  Shaking his head, he went back to cleaning his armor.

Crowder had just plugged in the power cord to recharge his suit and was putting his helmet on the shelf when Josh approached.

“What’s it like?”
Without looking at the boy, he replied, “What’s that?”
Josh was embarrassed.  He didn’t really know what he was asking.  He waved his arms a little bit and replied, “To be able to do what you can.”
Crowder paused in his armor maintenance routine and turned his head slightly to look at Josh.  “I suppose no differently than anyone else when they do something they are trained and expected to do.”

Josh stared at the ground.  Here was his hero.  He had engaged him in conversation and now he had nothing to offer in the way of conversation.  

Crowder felt a tinge of sympathy.  He knew the kid was looking for validation – to hear some word of encouragement from him.  He couldn’t do it.  Not that he didn’t want the boy to be comforted, but it just wasn’t in his nature.  In his mind, he was not the one deserving of the respect and awe the kid offered.

He sat down and looked at the kid and spoke, “Josh, is it?”
“Yes, sir.”
‘I am gonna tell you something that should be common knowledge, but isn’t.  The greatest swordsman among all the Templars is in this FIST.”
Josh looked at him.
 “It is not me.”
Josh chuckled, until he saw the expression on Crowder’s face.
“In combat, Gideon would beat me every time we fought.”
Josh couldn’t stop himself from glancing across the locker room to the large, but middle-aged man who was wearily stripping off his own powered armor and plugging it in.  Sweat streaming down Gideon’s face and torso, Josh couldn’t help but think that Crowder was really playing with him now.

Josh, smiling broadly now that he got the joke, nodded and said, “Yeah, that old man’s giant shield would really cut you in half.”
Crowder looked down and shook his head slowly.  “How long did this training sessions run?”
“About 4 hours or so.  Six hours if you include the calisthenics at the start and the run at the end.”
Crowder nodded, looking at the ground.  In the periphery, he saw Gideon pulling on a shirt as he left the locker room.
“Josh, go over and look at the remaining power level on Gideon’s suit.”

Tentatively, Josh walked over toward Gideon’s armored suit, glancing back at Crowder a couple times to see if he was serious.  When Crowder gave no further word or sign, Josh flipped the cover on the readout.  Then his blood went cold.  He looked again at the readout, then over at Crowder who had turned back to attend to his equipment.

Josh came back over to Crowder’s locker.
“How is that possible?”
Josh saw that Crowder paused in his activity before replying, “In practice and during workouts, I don’t think he has ever turned the power up over 50% except on a few occasions.”

Josh was stunned.  He had sparred and trained with/against Gideon many times over the last month.  On several occasions, he had nearly scored hits, but that shield of his was always one damnable inch beyond where Josh expected it to be.  His sword always clanged off, quite often leaving him vulnerable to a simple riposte that would gut him.  He had always thought that he was getting close to besting the old man.

“Do not judge someone’s ability, skill, power or talent on appearances.  I have a skill that can readily be seen.  People see me in combat or practice and can see what my speed and skill level are.  However, to look at Gideon, is to only see the tip of the iceberg.  I have sparred with him enough to know that his skill level with a sword is only minimally below mine.  Yes, if we both equipped dual swords, I could take him better than 50% of the time.  With his shield and his suit at full power, I would have an empty tank before he got winded -- then I would be finished.  I kill demons rapidly and efficiently, but that man is a wall.  He is a natural protector, strategist and still a deadly fighter.  Have you ever noticed where he is with respect to you in our combat forays?  Next time we are out, have a look.  Better yet, playback any of the battle records and watch his position with respect to you.  While I can engage multiple opponents in combat, he is able to engage in combat and simultaneously keep tabs on everyone’s position and the threats they are facing -- positioning himself to lend aid before things become too dangerous.  Our FIST has had one of the best casualty and injury rates because of that man.
Josh, I just gave you a lesson.  Probably one of the most important you will ever receive.  The samurai of feudal Japan did not go into battle thinking of victory or death.  They knew that thinking of such things diminished one’s ability to respond with the speed necessary.  You will always have incomplete information in battle, so to make assumptions is to create further danger for yourself.  If you judge a demon type you have never before encountered based upon its appearance, you may not live to fight another day.”

tl;dr (adding this to my post list, so i remember to read it when i have the time to)

That was an enjoyable read PeeterMcG, my only disappointment was when I went to turn the page :) ...move over Mel Odom.


--- Quote from: "Warmark" ---That was an enjoyable read PeeterMcG, my only disappointment was when I went to turn the page :) ...move over Mel Odom.
--- End quote ---

Weeks passed.  Josh was part of a team that rescued a few survivors out in the Lower Thames area.  That was a hornet’s nest….  In fact, he had experienced a few moments of claustrophobic anxiety out there on that one.  Everywhere he looked, they were surrounded by the demons: blade troopers in front, gremlins on all sides and those damned, half-invisible, flying things.  He couldn’t see the exit through which they had come, and could see no end to the hordes around them.  Several times, he would have been overwhelmed, but other Templars would turn a blade or slice through a demon about to impale him.  Sandra, the team leader repeatedly yelled, “Stay with us!”  Now what in blazes did that mean – he wasn’t running off anywhere.  He was breathing heavy, arm-weary, surrounded and losing all hope of getting back to the base.  He suddenly realized that Gideon was there.  He and that damned shield that seemed to taunt him while sparring.  He heard Gideon’s boots anchor to the ground as he let out a howl that seemed to enrage the demons.  In a flash, Gideon could no longer be seen, swarmed by a shrieking and howling mass.  Yet, in the center of it, Josh realized that dead demons were being flung in every direction – every one of them crushed or horribly battered.  Gideon’s voice, almost conversational, came over his comm., “One at a time, Josh.  One at a time.”  

     Gideon’s taunt had, for the moment, thinned the mob attacking Josh.  Nearly overcome with despair, Josh resignedly decided, “Fine.  One at a time.  Don’t know how many I will get, but THIS one will go before I do.  And THIS one….”  Peripherally, Josh was aware that Gideon was back up fully, a gap separating him from a circular mass of demons that were either stunned or dead.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the smooth as silk movements of Crowder and the demons that seemed to simply impale themselves on his swords.  Sandra was leaping over an imp’s attack and rolling to slice the leg off a vortex goliath all that while maintaining verbal contact with the survivors.  As Josh fought, he became aware of the other Templars: Jason, Claudia, Stephen, Brandon and Eric.  Each one seemed to be engaged with multiple demons.  He could hear tension in some voices over his comm., but it didn’t seem to affect their battle skills.  He settled in for the fight.  He might die in the next minute, but he wasn’t alone in this and he was gonna make sure he took out a few more before he went down.  It was only later that he realized that he was “in the zone.”  He was not even thinking about the demon he just ran through with his sword, he wasn’t even trying to calculate the proper angle of deflection to take against the blade slayer swinging at him.  The physical aspect of the battle took care of itself.  Instead, he was thinking about his path to regroup with the rest of the team – there was a gap in the group, he could occupy that spot and fill the near complete ring that they had formed.  

     After he had rejoined the group, he realized that the team was moving as a group in a general direction.  And so it went.  The team moved like a large, terrible scythe of death destroying any of the demonic aberrations that got close.  He remembered the screams and cries of the terrified survivors as the team made its way back to the base.  Seven more people had been saved from the hordes that day, including an electrical engineer who would in less than a month help redesign the power system in Templar Station.

     After that mission, it was Sandra who approached him in the locker room and congratulated him on “pulling himself together and getting back into it.”  Josh merely nodded his head, acknowledging the simultaneous rebuke and compliment.  She gripped his chin with a steely hand, looked him in the eye and said, “Look at me!.  It is a moment that nearly everyone of us has experienced.  All of us, whether we speak about it or not has felt the dread.  Not knowing if we would see another day, wondering how we could possibly make a difference in the face of the demons’ seemingly infinite numbers.  It is now something that we seek out for all new Templars.  The individual needs to confront it.  The Order needs to know as well.  Will the new member have the mental fortitude to stand in the face of such things.  Bravery is NOT the absence of fear.  Bravery is doing what must be done IN SPITE of overwhelming fear and despair.  If you didn’t know it before today, you know now that you have heart.”  She dropped her hand, stared at him a moment longer, gave a curt nod and strode off out the door.

     Josh sank down onto the bench.  Only now did he realize how wiped out he was.  He took his time stripping off his gear and attending to it.  Crowder had finished with his gear, had showered and was on his way out.  As he passed Josh, he patted him on the shoulder and without looking back simply said, “Nice.”  Each of the others also clapped him on the back or shoulder as they left – Claudia giving him a sisterly squeeze of the shoulder.

     Josh turned as he closed his locker and Gideon was across the room looking at him, an amused twinkle in his eye.  “Nice to see you made it, kid.”

Nodding, Josh said, “Thank you, although I am somewhat confused by it all.”
“If I might offer a suggestion?’
“Please do, sir.”
Waving dismissively, Gideon chuckled, “First, drop the ‘sir’.  Second, when time permits, try to find some of the writing of Morihei Ueshiba.  It might take you a while, but I think you will find it interesting what he had to say about relaxation and performance.”
“Ok, I will.”

Gideon turned and walked out.


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