The explosion burned the hilt of her sword into her palm through the leather gloves she wore and Callindra let off a string of curses that would have made a sailor blush. The spells seemed to fail as often as they succeeded and the failures were always painful. Carefully sheathing her sword she removed the tatters that remained of her gloves and reached gingerly into her belt pouch for a container of salve.
“I think that’s enough for today Callindra; you’ll need a full nights rest to recover. Your mental stamina is at its limit and pushing that too hard is very dangerous.” Said Glarian, looking at her with a concerned frown on his face.
Grimacing as she rubbed the stinging ointment on to the burned palms of her hands she replied, “I don’t think I can even hold him anymore today anyway. I’m getting sick of constantly failing but I won’t stop until I master it.” With her mouth set in a determined line she sat cross-legged with her sheathed sword sitting across her knees, “At least I can practice meditation, that seems to help somewhat.”
As her meditation began he could see sparks of Weave like fireflies circling her in rhythmic patterns, matching the speed of her breathing and the pulse of her heartbeat. Her connection was stronger than any student he had taught in the past and while she was in a meditative state she was in complete control. It was when she attempted to bend the weave to her will that things went all wrong. There had to be a way to break her block, before it was too late.
Leaving his Disciple to her meditation Glarian walked back to the house, lost in thought. Much to his surprise there was someone waiting for him outside his house.
“Dear Master Sol’Estin. It’s been far too long.” The man was wearing the green and gold of Inquisitor and held a wand at the ready. The short sword sheathed at his side had a ruby on the pommel that seemed to gleam with inner light. “I’ve been feeling some rather unnerving disturbances in the Weave and my search leads me here.”
“Inquisitor Shojin, it has been a long time hasn’t it?” Glarian kept his eyes on the other’s face as he spoke, “Come in for a cup of tea perhaps?”
“Sadly no, I must attend to the business at hand. Where is she?” He hissed, “I know that fool Thaeran has made a deal with you or been somehow manipulated into feeding us false information. I know you are teaching that strange girl who seems to be a hole in the fabric of the Weave although I cannot imagine to what end.”
“A hole in the weave? I don’t know what you are talking about Shojin.” Glarian said, trying to buy some time.
The snap of a breaking branch captured the Inquisitors attention and Glarian seized the moment to draw Sakar in a blurring silver arc, running his hand down the blade and summoning forth a spell. The spell took effect and his enemy began wandering aimlessly around humming to himself, his mind momentarily clouded.
He looked up and saw Callindra standing at the edge of the clearing, her sword in her hands. Now he saw what Shojin had seen, her power was turned completely inward and she appeared as a negative shape against the glow of Weave around her.
“RUN CALLINDRA! They found me out, you have to run! Get as far away from here as you can, don’t look back! Find yourself another master to finish your training, for I won’t be able to do it from here on out. I’m sorry Callindra; my past has caught up to me but there’s no need for it to ruin your future. “
”I won’t leave you here to face this alone, I finally feel like I’m worthy to be your disciple.” Callindra said, her voice wavering between proud and afraid.
“I know you don’t understand but you must learn to trust your weapon, your magic and yourself. Until you do you won’t be able to move forward. I don’t intend to die here, this fool may be more than my equal in magical power but he’s no match for me with a sword.” When she still didn’t move he took an amulet from around his neck. The heavy gold cylinder that hung from it made it easy to throw towards her.
“This is the sigil of a Blade Mage Callindra, what we call a Focus. Go forth from this place and survive using your wits, your magic and the edge of your blade. Return in a year and I shall give you the sigil I have forged for you and reclaim my own.”
Her back straightened and she swept her sword in an elaborate salute. “I will return in one year Master. I will prove myself and claim my reward.” She sheathed her blade and turned to run from the clearing, not looking back even when shouts of pain and explosions of power rang in her ears.
Callindra crouched, easing forward carefully through dead leaves and dry twigs. She had been surviving thus far on snared rabbits but if she was going to survive the winter larger game was going to be needed. The deer lowered its tail but its ears kept twitching, obviously knowing something wasn’t quite right.
She stilled her breathing, using the breathing exercises she had learned from Glarian. The deer turned its head to nibble on a twig and Callindra sprinted forward, sword in hand. Using him like a wolf would use its fangs; she hamstrung the animal as it attempted to flee and smoothly sliced its throat before it could escape.
Her sword shone in the sun as she whipped him sharply to remove the deer’s blood from his blade. He was so bright, her beautiful fang. As she thought this, something clicked in her mind. Brightfang was his name, she was as certain of that as she would have been if he had whispered it in her ear.
“Brightfang? Aptly named, well chosen.” She set about gutting the deer using the only sharp thing she had around; the pace-length, razor sharp edge of Brightfang. It was easier than she anticipated it being to her pleasant surprise. Before long she was dragging the animal back to the rough lean-to she had built in a copse of sweet-smelling fir trees.
The familiar cries of the ravens that roosted above her makeshift home greeted her arrival. Mindful of scavengers, Callindra poked her fire into life and set about skinning and butchering her prize. She didn’t have as much experience preserving food as she did hides, but drying meat didn’t seem terribly difficult. Keeping it safe from forest creatures would likely be more of a problem.
The sun was falling behind the horizon by the time she had finished cutting the venison into strips and hanging them over the fire to dry on a lattice of green willow trees. For her supper she sliced up the deer’s heart and roasted it, knowing it wouldn’t keep and that it had the most nutrition.
With a sigh, she decided she could allow the skin to sit until the morning and after carefully cleaning Brightfang climbed into bed.
It was a year to the day since she had left and it was not without some trepidation that Callindra approached the homestead. Her clothes were tanned hides of various animals as the thin wool she had been wearing when she left Glarian to his fate had long since disintegrated. Although initially she had thought to make some sort of breeches she eventually adopted a short skirt out of necessity; she couldn’t make the stitching durable enough without proper thread.
Besides, she had to grudgingly admit it was a lot easier to move when your legs were totally free. After her soft boots had fallen apart over the winter she made an attempt to make a pair of shoes but her attempts had failed. After a month she found her feet had become accustomed to standing up to the abuse.
After another month she figured out how to cushion her feet slightly with air and began to spend entire days sitting on the peak of the tallest bare hill she could find meditating and listening to the winds as they blew around her. Once or twice while moving through the Stances she thought someone was watching her, but if they were actually there she never saw them.
With her nerves on edge she walked into the clearing and towards the silent house. Upon not seeing any signs of life she squared her shoulders and opened the door, “Master I’ve returned…” her words were softened by the layer of dust on every surface, no one had set foot in this room for months. The door closed behind her as a breeze curled around her ankles swirling the dust into the air.
With a sneeze she walked through the house, searching for any sign of Glarian but to no avail. Despite the doors and windows being closed a slight breeze moved the curtains, catching her attention. She calmed her mind as she had been taught and the breeze changed to a whisper.
“Callindra I am sorry I am unable to be here to witness your return and personally bestow your reward upon you. I have instead left it for you in your hidden place to keep it safe. Keep my sigil against the day we meet again. I will find you; refrain from looking for me, the path I must now travel is far too dangerous for a young pup like yourself even if you are a wolf cub.”
“Like hell I’m not looking for you Master.” Callindra shook her head ruefully as she went into the tiny room where she had slept; he knew about her hiding place the whole time did he? Using the first piece of magic she had learned to reliably control she unsheathed Brightfang and ran her hand up one side of his blade to the guard while inhaling. Turning him over she ran the same hand down the other side while exhaling and pointing the tip of the blade at a small crack in the wall.
Arcane energies sparked from the edge and a sudden razor thin gust of air rushed off the end of her sword; forcing a stone in the wall to move out a fraction of an inch. Sheathing her sword she knelt and pulled the stone out the rest of the way revealing a small cubbyhole. Lying inside was a silver cylinder a little smaller than her fist holding down a piece of parchment.
“Replace the pommel of your sword with this; it shall serve as a spell receptacle until you have used your blade enough that he can hold your magic for you. Eventually the affinity will grow and he will take on a life of his own. Meditate with him after you join the two and you will understand.”
She carefully unthreaded the counterweight on the end of Brightfang’s hilt and attached her Sigil in its place. When it seated completely there was a minute ‘click’ and a jolt of Weave crackled through her body and her blade. Although she was a little frightened, Callindra cleaned off the hearth, laid a fire and unrolled her mat of tightly woven reeds to sit upon; the rituals of the past coming back to her with ease. Laying Brightfang across her knees with one hand on the Sigil and one hand on the flat of his blade she let herself slide through the Korumn Glarian had taught her and a new world blossomed in her mind.
“We know you’re in there Sol’Estin, come quietly now or we’ll have to resort to force!” A man’s voice shattered Callindra’s reverie and she realized she had been sitting for hours. Rising stiffly to her feet she stretched in an attempt to work the kinks out of her legs and strode to the door. She felt her anger begin to rise; these people were the reason her master wasn’t here to meet her. It was THEIR fault and she was going to make them PAY.
“He’s not here.” She had opened the door and cast a disparaging glare at the man standing in the yard. Sheathing Brightfang with a flourish she went on “I think you’d better leave before he comes back though; unless you don’t value your pitiful life.”
The man roared in laughter, “Those are some strong words from a little wench hiding inside.” He threw his cloak back and drew a thick bladed short sword, “Let’s see if your bite matches your bark.”
Callindra stepped through the door and as the man approached whipped Brightfang from his sheath making the blade sing. The man rushed forward confidently, aiming a strike at her head. She contemptuously sidestepped his swing and carved a bloody line across his torso with ‘West Wind Blows.’ He snarled and turned to attack again, however she was too fast for him, her blade biting into his sword arm, ‘Lightning Strikes First’. Two more men came into the clearing, surprised to see their companion in combat with a young girl.
“Having trouble with that little chit Shojin?” Her opponent took two quick steps back; whirling his blade over his head and chanting but Callindra didn’t hesitate. She jumped forward stabbing him just above the knee ‘Kingfisher Dives’ and the spell scattered.
“You might be fast little girl, but you can’t hit all three of us at once.” The other two men began closing on her, each holding their weapons at the ready.
“Care to make a bet on that?” Callindra spun her weapon in a complex series of flashing arcs, first stopping pointing at one, then the other two men. Knowing full well she couldn’t handle all of them, it’d been a miracle that she had done as well against an experienced opponent this long, Callindra used her fancy weapon swinging bluff to move her back to the house. She kicked the door open and stood in the doorway, “Bring it on boys.”
“I’ve had enough of this bullshit. I’m taking the house apart; you two just don’t let the little bitch get away.” The man began calling mystic runes up on the blade of his sword, and as he touched each one, they burst into flames, their fires flowing up to form a large sphere. She was bracketed on both sides by the other men, so Callindra took a quick step back through the door, closing and barring it behind her.
As soon as he had begun casting she recognized his face. He had come and forced her to answer questions about Glarian. Callindra bit her lip; she couldn’t remember if she had told him anything incriminating or not. Was it all her fault they had come? Had she betrayed the man who had saved her life?
Thinking quickly, she decided to run to the other side, but when she arrived at the window she sought to leap out of there was one of her enemies waiting. It was the same on the other two sides that had windows large enough for her to escape from. She was trapped as surely as a rabbit in a snare. Not knowing what else to do she moved to the innermost room of the house and waited to see what would happen.
She could feel something terrible building outside the house. The entire room seemed to blossom all at once into flame. As the rafters collapsed and the whole house caved in, she screamed in frustration, “Cowards!”