Sanzai stopped in the middle of the taunting crowd, breathing as slowly as he could. A rock about half the size of his fist thudded into his right shoulder, while blobs of spit landed on and around him. The jeers and taunts of the circling crowd of enraged people sounded more and more like a pack of rabid dogs.
“Not my people, not my people.”
Sanzai clenched his jaw tight, feeling tension circle under his jaw and constrict his throat before breathing slowly out, letting his muscles soften and release.
There was magic in what he did. Sanzai had been born and bred to fight. It was what he knew, what he did, what gave him meaning and purpose.
He had grown up knowing the ecstasy of the winning blow, of the tearing in his vocal cords as he screamed victory to his enemies, of having mastered all his fears.
Until the long-robed priests took him away.
They had a use for him, they said. A need. For a protector. For one who was stronger than the torments which would be dealt him as he worked to save a people who would never know or appreciate what he did for them.
Sanzai briefly closed his eyes, accepting the blow with the stick behind his knees. He lurched, nearly fell, and continued to move forward, through the shrieks and howls and blows.
The priest’s required Sanzai to unlearn the emotion while preserving the skill.
For weeks, he labored under the priest’s tutelage, in blazing hot suns of endless sand testing his ability to endure thirst and a callous burn, learning to burrow in the sand and conserve precious saliva.
For many weeks more he shivered high above on the granite cliffs in thin air, climbing, always climbing, mastering a new learned fear of falling as priests stood high above, watching, always watching.
From the mountains he was taken to the dim, green recesses of perpetual sound and humidity, of slitherings and smells and a new oppressive heat that made him long for the arid desert or acrid mountain air.
And always, there was the challenge. The challenge of battle, the thrill of warfare, the need to conquer and win and cause the other to despair. The challenge to survive, to live was not the challenge. That was the skill to preserve. The challenge was to avoid the fight. Whether with beast, nature or man.
Sanzai rocked backwards and then fell to his knees, placing one hand on his temple. The hand came away with blood, and Sanzai looked at the rock that had fallen to his feet. It was bigger than his fist. His head rang and he panted.
“I am Sanzai, not beast nor man. I am Sanzai, sent to cleanse this land. I am Sanzai. Through me, you’ll live. I am Sanzai.”
He grunted, pushing himself upright. The crowd around him was silent.
In the distance, Sanzai could see the fluttering of the priest’s robes. They stood silently, arms folded across their chests, watching, always watching. For weakness. For failure. For signs of humanity.
Sanzai had struggled against the teachings of his youth, at which he so excelled. If it was possible to bleed in mastering his impulse to lash out, to defeat the enemy, to win against all odds, he had bled. He had gone without, had made himself humble, small and grateful. Had given in to the force of nature, to the care of the animals.
He would beat the priests. He would win against their odds, their unnatural challenges, the bizarre battles and tests they tasked him with each day.
This was his final test.
To turn away from the fight when attacked by his brothers and sisters, by the people he was chosen to protect.
Sanzai knew what he had to do.
With a snarl, he swooped low grabbing rock and stick, and watched as the now silent crowd fled.