Virtuous Sons: A Greco Roman Xianxia - Interlude 3.1 [Myron Aetos]
The Little Kyrios
The first day after Lio left the Rosy Dawn was the longest, and the most difficult. There were tears, anguish, frustrations, and above all else a horrible fear. After that first day, they stifled their tears and hid their anguish, putting the fear for their cousin out of their minds as best they could. The second day was not easier, but it passed quicker.
The third day was even quicker than that. Finally, they made it through the first week. And then, in no time at all, two. Suddenly three.
It helped to have a goal.
Myron ducked beneath a senior mystiko’s lashing strike, the wooden practice blade whistling over his head. From an early age he had been taught to leverage every advantage that his body provided, no matter how old he happened to be, or what size his body was. Against an opponent like this, nearly twice his height, his stature allowed him to dodge certain attacks more easily. His speed allowed him to maneuver through the older cultivator’s guard.
And child or not, he still carried the strength of a seventh rank Civic cultivator within his soul. Myron spun into the opposing cultivator’s guard rather than away from his sword, and drove every ounce of his momentum and the full force of his pneuma into an elbow to the kidney.
The senior cultivator, an eighteen-year-old in the sixth rank of the civic realm, dropped his practice blade and collapsed, wheezing. Myron caught it out of the air and tossed it from hand to hand, changing grips until it felt comfortable enough to use. The opponent before this one had fought with his fists, and so Myron had done the same upon beating him. Now, he would try the blade.
“This lowly sophist thanks you for your guidance,” he said formally, bowing to the gasping mystiko. He offered him a hand.
He took it and rose, holding his side. “And I thank the little lord for his instruction.” Myron rolled his eyes at the nickname, and the older cultivator chuckled, patting his shoulder and staggering out of the marble octagon.
Myron turned to regard the gymnasiarch and his audience, a collection of boys his age as well as older cultivators that had been drawn first out of curiosity, and then by the novel prospect of trading discourse with a young pillar of the Rosy Dawn. He waved invitingly, and after a moment another young man with his arms and hands wrapped in scarlet bandages took to the octagon.
The gymnasiarch leaned his elbows on the edge of the octagon, the upraised platform standing nearly at chest height for a grown man. He raised an eyebrow at Myron.
“Are you sure, son? You’re due a break.”
He mastered his impatience, brushed damp curls of hair from his eyes, and nodded firmly.
“I’ll be fine, sir.”
He’d only fought a couple dozen times so far, and most of those early on had been boys his own age. Uninspiring opponents, if he was being honest with himself, though he hadn’t said that to their faces. They had given him all they had and didn’t deserve such a blow to the ego.
Myron could keep going. Myron had to keep going. He knew that Lio could have fought this entire gymnasium without faltering. And he would have won every time.
“I offer my greetings to the little lord,” his opponent said, bowing his head deeply. Myron rolled the blade of wood in his hand and nodded.
“Raise your head and greet the dawn.”
His opponent flashed him a grin and they both erupted into violence.
A minute later, maybe two, the older cultivator flew off the side of the marble octagon, a straight thrust that would have skewered him through the heart if it had been a live iron blade instead pushing him firmly out of bounds. Myron caught the leading edge of the wrap on his right hand as he went, unraveling it from the cultivator’s arm and wrapping it around his own. He tossed the practice blade aside.
“My thanks,” he said again, exchanging polite words with the mystiko, who seemed caught between indignation and amusement, before turning once again to regard his audience.
Cultivation is the sum of lived experiences. Lio and Sol had told him that almost a year ago, and it had been exactly what he needed to learn at the time. Now he found himself falling back on that advice, searching out new opponents, new weapons, new styles of fighting. Anything it took, he would do. Lio had shown him the difference between heaven and earth on the night of Nikolas’ wedding. If they wanted to bring him back, Myron would have to bridge that gap.
But they were so weak.
“Cousin,” a deep, concerned voice said to him sometime later, breaking him from a trance he hadn’t noticed himself slipping into. Myron panted for breath, dragging a hand down his face and coming away with so much sweat it was as if he’d dipped it in a pool. At his feet, two cultivators of the fourth and fifth Civic rank respectively lay crumpled and beaten.
Myron looked at the blunt daggers in his hands, each forged of rounded bronze, and dented from the impacts of his attacks. They clattered to the surface of the marble octagon as he knelt to help his opponents to their feet.
Only once they were shuffling off to the baths on the other side of the gymnasium, their arms slung around each other’s shoulders, did Myron turn and greet his cousin.
“How long have you been at this?” the new young aristocrat of the Rosy Dawn asked, approaching the octagon with a frown. Mystikos hurriedly parted from his path, gazing with naked admiration at the sight of a truly heroic body. Niko still had a tunic wrapped around his waist, but he made for an impressive sight nonetheless. Myron sized him up, compared his physique to Lio’s, and then to his own.
His father had always said that the body was a divine reflection of the soul. That every chiseled muscle was the work of countless hours in the gymnasium and on the battlefield. Lio had the physique of someone who had put in far more hours than Myron, who had cultivated his soul in earnest for longer than Myron had been alive. Niko was a level beyond even that.
Niko waved a hand in front of his face. Myron blinked, realizing that his mind had been wandering. How long had he been in the gymnasium, anyway?
He glanced at the gymnasiarch in askance, and the old man shook his head in stern disapproval.
To Niko, the gymnasiarch said, “He’s been here since this morning.”
“This morning- Myron, it’s nearly dinner time,” he said, the concern redoubling. Behind him, closer to the baths, Myron spotted his cousin’s male companions, currently in the process of bathing while initiates of the Rosy Dawn drifted around and worked up the courage to speak to them.
“I’m fine,” he said belatedly. His limbs felt heavy and weak, and he still hadn’t quite caught his breath, but he could keep going. Griffon would have kept going.
This much was nothing.
“I think you’re done for the day,” Niko said, not unkindly, and held out a hand. “Come on, let’s get you washed up and fed. I don’t have any obligations for a few hours; how about I tell you a story of my time in the Alabaster Isles?”
“Not yet,” he said, gritting his teeth. “I’m not finished yet.”
Those clear blue flames behind his cousin’s eyes flickered. He considered Myron, seriously, and that meant more to Myron than he could put into words. It was why he had always looked up to Lio and Niko so much. Even when he was hardly a cultivator at all, they had never treated him like a child.
“When will it be enough?” Niko asked him, in that heavy, layered tone of voice that Myron had learned early on meant there was more than one thing being said. In the privacy of his own thoughts, he called it the Lio voice.
Myron gathered back up his daggers of blunted bronze, squaring his shoulders. “It’ll be enough when I’ve grown.”
Niko smiled ruefully. “No. It won’t.”
“Just one more, then,” Myron pressed. “One more and I’ll take a bath.”
Niko exchanged a glance with the gymnasiarch, and Myron silently pleaded with his eyes for the old man to agree. After a long moment he sighed and shook his head, scratching at a long gray beard.
“He’s got enough left for one,” he allowed, and Niko nodded.
“One more, then. Who will face the young terror?” Niko glanced around, his good humor turning to puzzlement when no one raised a hand. He looked over the mystikos of the Rosy Dawn, following their shocked gazes all the way back to Myron.
Back to the finger Myron was pointing at his cousin.
“Nikolas Aetos,” he said in his most demanding voice. He would have pitched it deeper, but whenever he did that people tended to smile rather than shrink. “Step into the marble octagon with me.”
His cousin got the strangest look on his face.
After the first initiate laughed, the rest of the crowd was soon to follow. There wasn’t any cruel intent behind it, Myron could tell, but it still made his teeth grind. This was the reality of things. This was how far his cousin was above him, that the suggestion alone of a fight was laughable.
Over at the baths, his cousin’s companions leaned on the edge of the pools and put their hands around their mouths, calling out to him and to Myron.
“Someone’s finally called you out, Niko!”
“Your hubris ends tonight!”
“Send him to Tartarus, little Lord!”
The taunts and the jeering flew throughout the gymnasium, drawing the eyes of those that hadn’t already been watching. The crowd grew. Myron ignored them all, ignored his exhaustion, and continued to steadily point. He met Niko‘s eyes without hesitation.
Finally, just when he had begun to doubt himself, his cousin nodded and jumped up onto the octagon. The gymnasium erupted in cheers, naked boys and men alike rushing over to watch the spectacle up close. Only Niko‘s companions remained in the baths, content to heckle and watch from afar with their heroic senses.
The gymnasiarch was frowning severely, staring hard at Niko. Myron‘s oldest cousin settled into a stance across from him, taking up the wooden practice sword that Myron had dropped several fights ago.
Disguising the motion with several flashy twirls of the practice sword, Niko leaned in and spoke quietly enough that no one but Myron could have possibly heard him.
“Are you sure?”
Myron nodded once, with finality. That night, Lio had shown him the difference between heaven and earth, the vast difference between the two of them. But it wasn’t enough to bridge that gap. Myron knew Lio. He was certain, down to his bones, that the former young aristocrat had already grown in the weeks since he’d left. Myron knew he wouldn’t stop.
It wasn’t enough to know how far he had to go to reach the man that Lio had been. He had to know where Lio was headed, the man he would be.
Niko searched his eyes for any hesitation, and when he didn’t find any he sighed and nodded in return. Myron bowed his head in thanks.
“Rise,” Nikolas Aetos commanded, “and greet the dawn.”
Myron inhaled sharply, gripping his daggers tight, and looked up. The scarlet flames behind his cousin’s eyes erupted like bonfires, and his heroic pneuma flooded the gymnasium. Myron tensed, leaping back-
He woke up in a feather bed, surrounded by his cousins. Rena was slumped halfway onto the bed, asleep in her chair with Myron‘s left hand held in both of hers. Castor was right there with her, one arm precariously propping his head up while he dozed. Heron sat with his arms crossed, bags under his eyes as he glared across the room.
Lydia was over by the door, trying and failing to calm his mother down while she screamed in Niko’s face.
Heron noticed that he had woken up first, calling their mother’s name and holding hesitant hands over Myron’s arms and chest, which ached horribly. Then his mother was there, brushing her eldest aside and assaulting him with frenzied questions about what happened, who was to blame, what he had been thinking. Rena and Castor snapped awake, sagging in relief when they saw him awake. It made Myron feel horribly guilty.
But not regretful. He met Lydia’s eyes over his mother’s shoulder, and though her expression was stern, he knew she understood. Then he looked past her, to Niko at the door, and smiled weakly in gratitude. He had already known the distance he needed to travel to stand where Lio had stood that night. Now he knew how much further he needed to go beyond that to get to where he was going.
Niko stared at him for a long moment. Then he turned, and walked out the door.