Chapter 6

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Batu swayed to his left. Clenched in the man's hand, the rock passed a fingers-width from Batu's cheek. He pivoted, allowing the man's momentum to drive him on. Now was his chance. Batu balled the fingers of his right hand into a fist and punched it hard into the man's gut.

The man wheezed out a breath and stumbled to the ground. Batu raised his right foot and stamped on the man's back. The man let out a cry and his grubby fingers released their grip on the rock. On hands and knees, he scrabbled to push himself up from the floor. Batu flicked out his foot and kicked the man's left arm from under him. The man sagged down face-first into the mud.

Batu took a breath. The hand and foot that had delivered the blows were beginning to grow heavy, and a gnawing sense of imbalance was roiling in the pit of his stomach. Familiar images of Kolo whimpering in pain danced at the fringes of his mind. He sighed. Soon they'd be all he could think about. He had to act now. He had to make things equal.

The man's head was still slumped in the dirt. He seemed to have lost the will to get back up and was almost completely still. Batu's left arm throbbed. With every pulse, it seemed to be demanding the same impact received by its counterpart.

Batu crouched down next to the man. He made a fist with his left hand and cocked back his arm. He picked a target on the man's torso and hammered his fist down.

What was he thinking? Batu stopped mid-swing. He dropped his arm to his side and stared at the lank hair on the back of the man's head. Unarmed and face down, he didn't pose any threat at all. He simply couldn't strike him.

Batu uncurled his fingers. His left arm twitched then started to shake, and his ears rang with his sister's tortured sobs. He had to do something, and fast. He lifted his left hand again and smashed it into the sodden earth. The impact jarred up his arm and mud splattered his face. He flexed his fingers and his arm stopped shaking.

He stood up and lifted his left leg, then stamped it against the ground. Almost immediately, the sense of dread began to subside. Everything was equal. Everything was balanced.

He stepped back, first with his left foot, one, then with his right, tw...

His heel slid in the slick mud at the pool's edge. He frantically flailed both arms, but couldn't regain his footing.

Batu staggered backwards. His feet went from under him, then he toppled over and splashed into the pool. Submerged in the cool water, he allowed himself to sink deeper and drifted towards the pool's center. He stared up at the sky. The sunlight, fractured and distorted, filtered through the water like shards of silver. He reached up with both hands. The movement altered his descent, and he stretched down with his feet. He couldn't touch the bottom.

His chest tightened, and a wave of panic flooded his mind. The ethereal light now seemed forbidding and inhospitable, and, all of a sudden, the weight of his sodden clothes seemed to be dragging him down. Batu paddled wildly and thrashed his legs. His lungs were heavy. He kicked out again. His left toe touched against something firm below him. The bottom of the pool. He brought his right leg in line with his left, bent his knees and pushed off with both feet.

Batu's head broke the water's surface and he gasped, drawing in great gulps of air. He trod water for a few moments, then struck out for the bank, first a stroke with his left arm, one, and then a stroke with his right, two.

"No closer," said a voice from in front of him. "You'll be able to stand where you are now."

Batu stopped swimming and put his feet down. His soles touched against the pool's bed. The water reached his midriff. He scanned the trees skirting the pool's banks, but he couldn't make out who was speaking. The man who'd attacked him was still face down in the mud and hadn't appeared to have moved.

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