Callindra sighed and buckled her sword on. The walk back to the trees was short and she was soon cutting through another log. To her surprise it was much easier to make the precise final cut without scoring the tree trunk underneath. Even so, the sun was falling behind the hills before she had finished.
Her triumph over the task gave her a burst of energy and she ran back to the house to tell Glarian. When she approached, she found him hanging something in the lean-to.
“Master!” She called and he whirled, his sword seeming to appear in his hand. Without thinking she had drawn her sword and moved to parry a blow but he stopped before their blades could touch. She could see he was hanging a pair of whip handles next to an array of sword hilts none of which had more than six inches of blade left on them.
“Sorry Callindra, it has been an interesting day.” His voice sounded tired. He sheathed his sword, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the broken weapons.
“It’s you! You’re the great mage he was looking for?” She still held her sword in her clenched fist. “He came to take your Title but you killed him instead.”
“You’re partially right Apprentice. I am the Titled mage he sought and he came to take that Title from me. As you can see though, I do not take the lives those who come to challenge me. I instead kill their weapons and send them on their way.”
“Why did you keep this from me?” Callindra backed away and a gust of wind cut between them, actually scoring the ground. Her eyes widened in fear and dust began to whirl about her. The wind tugged at her hair, moved the scabbard over her shoulder and ruffled her shirt. “What are you doing this for?”
“Ssshhhh, quiet now.” Glarian’s voice was low and the winds calmed themselves. She could see him through the dust now; he was sitting cross legged on the ground. “Callindra, control yourself. What you’re doing is dangerous, the winds are my domain but as with everything else in my life you seem to turn it on its head.”
She still held her sword, but Callindra managed to get her breathing under control using the exercise he had taught her. As with Daleus, she had to believe that if he was going to harm her he would have done it long before. She sat a few feet away from him and laid her sword across her knees, mirroring him.
“What is your Title then Master?” She asked, hoping it would help her to better understand.
“I am The Master of the North Wind.” He replied, and Callindra gasped. She had read about him. Nobody knew his real name; he was a master of Masters, had fought in countless battles and defeated a multitude of opponents. Then one day he had simply vanished, taking his Title with him and leaving the balance of the Compass of the Winds off kilter.
“What are you doing out here? Why did you leave The Order? What is someone like you doing teaching someone like me?” She was trying to make sense of it all but the idea that he might not be telling the truth never crossed her mind.
“I have been exiled. I had a … disagreement … with the other Masters about how and when our power should be used so they attempted to strip me of my Title. When that failed, they did the only other thing they could.”
“When that failed? What does that mean?”
Glarian sighed sadly, pressing his palms flat onto the hilt and flat of his sword. “I had to kill a few of them. They left me no choice; when they attacked one after another I couldn’t defend myself without taking lives. Killing their weapons would have tired me to the point of defeat. When they realized they couldn’t defeat me in single combat, they surrounded me and forced me to take oaths never to practice or teach magic again.
“From the moment we met, some part of me knew you would bring me to break those oaths Callindra. They were taken against my will and therefore I do not regret breaking them, although doing so will likely cost me my life. You are my most worthy student and the one who shall inherit my style and my Title.” He let that sink in and she gradually realized what he was trying to say.
“What do you mean? I’m no mage, I don’t like magic Master, I just want to learn The Sword.” She started to feel the fear encroaching on her calm again, a breeze tousled her hair and she nearly jumped to her feet.
“You are an awakening mage Callindra, nothing can stop that. Your unfortunate contact with Daleus seems to have accelerated your body’s ability to channel the Weave. Even as we speak the winds have been reflecting your mood. If I hadn’t gotten you to calm down you very well might have summoned a tornado right here in the courtyard.”
“WHAT?” She was trying hard not to panic but this was too much. Winds tore through the clearing and with each gust they grew more violent. Glarian didn’t bat an eye; he sat like a boulder in the middle of a stream. The winds seemed to slow as they neared him.
“Remember your training Callindra. The first Korumn is of the breath.” He began the breathing exercise and she joined by reflex. To her amazement, she could see tiny shining threads flowing into his nose as he breathed in and then arc gracefully out of his mouth when he exhaled.
He opened his eyes with a smile “So you can see it? Being able to see the Weave is the beginning. I will now teach you the second Korumn. It is of release.”
Glarian led Callindra through the Stances slowly, one at a time. He was much more strict than normal, correcting even what appeared to be inconsequential mistakes; the position of her foot a few inches to the left or the angle of her arm down slightly.
The last rays of sun had gone and the practice yard was now illuminated by the full moon. Callindra felt an uncomfortable tightness in her entire body, as though she was swelling from within. She looked at a hand that shook from exhaustion.
“I know you’re tired Apprentice, but now you must perform the entire second Korumn from start to finish without making a single mistake. You have built up too much power within yourself and since it’s rooted in fear it is the most dangerous of all. This Korumn will allow you to safely let go of the Weave you have gathered without injuring yourself or others.”
Callindra nodded slowly, noting the myriad of glowing threads that seemed to be swirling around and through her for the first time. All those times she had wondered at the wind gusting around her… had been this? An involuntary shiver coursed down her spine as she moved her body to assume the Ready Stance. To her surprise, Glarian moved to stand next to her.
“Let us do this as one Callindra.” Together they moved through the intricate motions of the Korumn of Release. She could feel the pressure building even further as they linked each of the Stances together; it burned inside her like a forest fire. Her steps began to falter, her weak leg shook with the effort of holding her upright and sweat poured down her body.
“You must complete the Korumn Callindra, all the way to the end.” The tension in Glarian’s voice spurred her on and she pushed through the pain and fatigue; if she couldn’t do this she might die. She might take him with her. The final Stance was the most difficult, but also her favorite. A leaping spinning motion that ended with a powerful downward strike, the blade stopping inches from the ground. Her left leg crumpled underneath her as she completed the landing of the last Stance, driving Callindra to one knee.
Instead of the gentle feeling of relaxation she had been experiencing thus far when performing it, a violent torrent of wind exploded from the tip of her sword, striking an ancient elm tree that shaded the house. The elm exploded into splinters, no piece of the tree remained that was larger than her palm. What remained of the trunk looked hacked off at a hundred angles as though slashed with a myriad of impossibly hard and unbelievably sharp blades. The blade of her sword ended in a jagged break a mere hand span from the hilt.
“Absent Gods.” She collapsed, completely drained. “What was that?”
Glarian helped her stand, a look of pride warring with concern on his face. “Confirmation that I was right to begin your training now, with that much power built up inside of yourself you could have leveled the house in your sleep.”
He didn’t say that she likely would have killed them both, or mention what could have happened if she had released that torrent in a direction other than the tree.
“Now you realize the importance of using the correct positioning when performing a Korumn.” He said as he helped her back to the house.
“My sword is gone. How will I train now?” She felt tears begin to sting the corners of her eyes. That blade had been her companion for months.
“I was hoping that one would last a little longer but we’ll try again tomorrow.” Glarian’s voice had a strangely gentle timbre. “Fear not my apprentice; nothing will keep me from completing your training.” She scrubbed an exhausted hand across her eyes and followed him. Was that resignation or something else in his voice?
Once in the house, she attempted to go straight to bed, but Glarian forestalled her. He made her sit before the fire and while he filled the tub from the cistern he ordered her to stay awake.
“I don’t want to bandage your hands while you sleep; it’s much easier to get them tight when you’re awake.” He explained, “You can set that hilt down on the table too. We can start a wall of failed steel for you tomorrow.”
Callindra sat numbly and looked at her hands. To her surprise, the right was still clenching her sword hilt. The left was raw and bleeding, each of the lines on her palm that a fortune teller might use to tell her future was bleeding as though cut with a razor. She set the sword hilt on her lap and saw her right hand was the same.
“That is what happens when you lose control of your power Apprentice.” Glarian was carrying an earthenware pot of some lightly fragrant substance and some clean linen bandages. “This salve is made from the pollen of Brightstar flowers; it’s a healing balm that will help your hands.”
He took her hands and carefully dabbed the salve into her abused palms. It did sting as she feared, but it faded quickly from the feeling of being jabbed by needles to something akin to the sun shining on her skin.
Glarian had finished bandaging her hands and was holding a cup of warm tea out to her. “Drink this while you are in your bath. Don’t worry about scrubbing, this is to soak the soreness out of your muscles. It’s important not to get your hands wet while they are healing.”
He gave her privacy to strip and clamber awkwardly into the bath, he had put some herbs in the water too. Presently she smelled burning tac and knew he was on the front stoop smoking. She sat in the tub with the water all the way to her neck, holding her hands on the sides to keep the bandages dry and let the tension soak out of her muscles. Her mind was completely blank but something tickled on the outside of her awareness.
“Belach. How comes the work?” Glarian’s voice echoed hollowly.
“It is heating for the one thousand sixteenth and final fold.” A rough voice rumbled like thunder. “I am using metal from a fallen star and it is reluctant to melt even under the fires of Majiera. Every time it takes longer and if the temper is to be properly completed perhaps another month.”
“I will make do for a month. You have my thanks.”
“You can’t come pick it up yourself you stubborn bastard.”
Callindra seemed to fly away from her body, feeling winds rushing past her face. She spun faster and higher, crossing unknown lands with vast forests, a tree reaching past the heavens themselves, over rivers so wide they seemed to be lakes, across an unending sheet of ice to a mountain with cinders and ash issuing from its summit.
She plunged down the cone and there stood an impossibly large creature. It stood taller than a keep in the center of a pool of molten rock, with horns twice as long as a man protruding from its head and wings that were larger than the sails of a ship, even when folded against its back. The creature’s skin was black but cracked all over and in the seam of these cracks the light of magma gleamed forth. Enormous black chains, each bigger around than a wagon ran from a thick spiked collar around its neck to the four points of the compass, their ends looping around pillars of sheer ice.
Standing at a forge that was on a shelf of rock level with the creature’s head was a man with arms like tree trunks. The ground beneath his feet was covered with half-finished and broken weapons, each one appeared to her eyes to be a flawless masterpiece and yet he trod on them as though they were trash. Above his head, a myriad of delicate shapes fluttered and flitted in the heat from the forge. Callindra realized these were butterflies made from razor thin sheets of metal, each one blackened by the smoke of the fire that burned beneath them, suspended solely by the heat coming from below.
The smith spoke, “You can’t come pick it up because The fucking Order watches this place. You know they have been waiting for the day that you would break your oath. I will bring it to you my friend.” He paused and looked right at her, “You don’t need to check up on my work you crazy bitch, you can see he is making himself ready for your hand.” He gestured toward the forge and she saw a slender arc of metal heating in the fire. It called to her, seeming to pulse as though it had a heartbeat.
“This is a dangerous thing you’re doing. I see you’ve come further along than he anticipated though, I’d better hurry. Take her the hell home.”
One of the metal butterflies from the air above the forge left the company of its fellows and fluttered around her head. One after another followed until she was surrounded by a cloud of them that obscured her vision. She felt a strange falling sensation in her gut and opened her eyes, sitting in the bath before the fire. Perched on the edge of the copper tub was a perfect black steel butterfly.
The door opened and the butterfly started into the air, circling once around her head before flitting out the window. Glarian entered and gave her a stern look.
“You’re still in the bath? Time to get to bed apprentice, tomorrow is going to be a very busy day.” He held a towel for her and she climbed out, too tired to be shy. Her leg buckled under her again and Glarian picked her up as though she weighed nothing and deposited her gently into her bed.
“Master?” He paused at the door, “Thank you.” She was asleep before she could hear his response.