The official repeated the rules in a bored voice and once again stepped aside and allowed their contest to begin. Genric immediately pressed the attack and Callindra was only barely able to dodge to one side in order to avoid being hit. The rapid strikes didn’t cease, she found herself desperately defending from swing after swing, completely unable to return even one single attack. Just when she was backed up to the edge of the ring, Callindra saw an opening in his uninterrupted series of attacks.
Dropping to one knee, she swung her practice lath sword to connect soundly with Genric’s ribs. Moments later, his sword slammed into her left shoulder. She bit back a cry of pain; he had nearly broken her collarbone. But how had he managed to strike such a blow with a loosely tied bundle of lath?
She rolled sideways and came up in a defensive crouch. The answer was clear when she saw the look in Genric’s face; his practice sword had a steel core. Callindra’s mouth thinned into an angry line, there was no way she was going to give up when facing someone who resorted to breaking the rules to win. This called for drastic measures.
Rising from her crouch, she assumed the Earth and Sky Stance, left hand nearly touching the ground sword pointing towards the heavens. She looked him straight in the face, “You have talent Genric, why in the nine hells would you lower yourself to this?”
“You know little about the world girl. I can take no chances.”
“Even with your preparations you will fail. Doubting your own skills shall be your undoing.” She held the awkward Stance perfectly, knowing it would allow her to explode into action without warning the instant an opening presented itself. Either Genric was familiar with the Stance or it confused him because he kept a safe distance, circling her slowly.
Callindra altered her footing slightly in order to keep him in her threat range. She faltered slightly when her right foot encountered a rock and Genric sprang forward, swinging his sword at her head with a snarl. In near panic, Callindra swept her practice blade in a wild arc from the apex, nearly scraping the ground and coming into shattering contact with the steel-cored sword threatening to fracture her skull.
Instead of merely breaking apart, her sword exploded, an unexpected and uncontrolled burst of Weave breaking free as a result of her panicked loss of control. Slivers of lath flew in all directions from the epicenter of contact, showering everyone sitting around the ring. Genric’s lath sword didn’t fare any better and the steel core was revealed as it flew from his grip to fall in the sand, bent at an angle where the power of her strike had bent it. Hardly anyone seemed to notice it shining in the sunlight.
“What in the name of Gode was that?” Asked the official.
“You have the gall to accuse me of being dishonest?” Genric said incredulously, “That power… I would kill for that kind of power.”
Callindra looked around and saw the glow of Weave surrounding a man in robes who was making his way towards the ring. Without thinking, she ran to the edge of the ring, snatched Brightfang from where he sat leaning against the low bench and sprinted out of the courtyard. The sound of confusion erupted from behind her as she fled into the afternoon traffic outside the gate.
The door to the cathedral building where she had last seen Tryst was still thankfully open. Callindra burst through, surprising some men in rough robes as she ran inside, breathing heavily from her mad dash.
“Do you know if Tryst is around?” She managed, catching her breath.
“Slowly child, this is a place of rest and peace.” One of the men said, reaching a hand towards her shoulder.
Callindra slid sideways, avoiding his touch. “I need to find Tryst Te’Chern. I believe he was going to leave tomorrow morning. I’d like to join him.”
“Come, sit for a moment and I will see if young Tryst can be found.” The monk said, leading her back to the public area she had sat in before. She let him settle her at a table with a mug of sweet white wine. After he had gone, she shifted to have her back to the wall and waited nervously.
People came and went, largely dressed in the simple robes of monks although she could tell some of them had military background by their bearing. None gave her more than a passing glance though and gradually she began to relax. Her wine cup was empty by the time she was joined by Tryst.
“So, you’ve come back?” He asked, his voice heavy with exhaustion.
“Yes. I’ve decided I want to leave with you tomorrow.” Callindra said.
“Whatever trouble you have gotten yourself into is unfortunate Callindra. However, I will not have it jeopardize my mission.” Tryst looked at her gravely, “If you cannot leave here in peace you are unwelcome, regardless of how useful your talents would be to my cause.”
“I did not come to this place in peace Tryst, yet you asked me before.” She looked at him with haunted eyes, “I will not say that I am of no danger to you. The men that are after me will kill me if they are able to catch me, but first they will torture me for information that I would not give if I had it. Please, at least let me stay with you until I’m strong enough to defend myself.”
Tryst listened pensively. “Maybe it’s the will of the Gods that I haven’t been able to find any others willing to join me. I had wanted an army or at least a reasonably sized fighting force, but perhaps a small group would be less obtrusive. We leave tomorrow before sunup, why don’t you stay here tonight? You could meet the others who will be traveling with us.”
“Sure, I don’t have any reason to go back to the Empty Keg anyway, except for maybe to say goodbye to some people. I think they’ll understand though, life can change without warning. I’ll see them again someday.”
“Very well Callindra, come with me. You aren’t the only one who needs shelter from something. Vilhylm is an interesting person, I think he hides more than he reveals about himself. Maybe that’s why he wears the masks. Cronos seems to be fairly straightforward but I do occasionally catch him muttering to himself in some guttural language that I don’t understand. Regardless, both of them are trustworthy and willing to undertake this mission of mine. Of ours.”
Callindra left her half glass of wine on the table and stood to follow Tryst further into the halls of the cathedral. As they walked, the tapestries grew sparser, the bare granite walls revealing the austerity the monks and priests who lived here subjected themselves to. After a few turns, he arrived at a nondescript door and after knocking twice entered.
A young man or possibly boy sat at a low table, polishing a hand and a half sword that looked two times too big for him. Barely visible in the shadows near a slit of a window was a cloaked individual, the hood pulled over its face as it carefully sanded a thin strip of wood.
“Cronos, Vilhylm, I wish to introduce the last member of our party. Her name is Callindra.” Said Tryst in a bright voice.
“Her? You’re bringing a girl onboard?” The boy asked, his voice nearly cracking, “Tryst really, you must be joking.”
“Welcome Callindra.” Said the hooded figure in a raspy disused voice, “I trust you are able and willing to use that toothpick?”
“Come now gentlemen, this is hardly the way to greet a new member.” Said Tryst, “Callindra is a true warrior. She is fearless, I saw her face down three opponents without flinching. She will be a good addition.”
“A hooded recluse and a little kid? Tryst, I can’t believe you thought twice about bringing me with.” Said Callindra with a laugh, “Really, we are the best you could do? Well I suppose nobody else is desperate or foolish enough to think about throwing their lives away for nothing.”
“Cronos is my brother and Vilhylm is a friend. They have their own reasons for doing what they do.” Said Tryst with a sigh.
“Well I’m tired and more than a little sore from my day in the ring. If you don’t mind, I’d like to turn in early tonight, especially if we’re leaving before sunrise.” She said, “I need to run the Korumn tomorrow before we leave to make sure I’m ready for anything that comes.”
A look of surprise flickered across Cronos’s face but before he could say anything Tryst led her to a small room with a bed against one wall. “If you wish to wash I can show you to the women’s bath.”
“Yes, it would be good to wash the dust and sweat of the day away. Unfortunately I don’t have clean clothes but it will be better than the alternative.” Callindra said, “Who knows when we’ll see another bath house once we are on the road.”
“I fear the robes most wear here would not suit you or I would offer.” Tryst said with a wry chuckle.
Callindra rose earlier than usual, responding to a mental exercise Glarian had taught her. He said it was useful when traveling or on a battlefield and had been surprised at how easily she had learned to use it. Thinking of him gave her a pang of regret which she quickly suppressed.
“Bastard thinks I’m just going to sit here and wait for him?” She muttered, angrier at him for making her worry than anything else. She rose and frowned at her sweat crusted underthings. “I don’t think so, not while he’s out there running for his life because he taught me how to fight. I owe him and I owe it to both of us to become strong enough to pull my weight.”
She pulled on her clothes with a sigh and padded barefoot out through the common room with a sheathed Brightfang slung over her shoulder. Her hair moved as furtive gusts of air tugged at it. “Yes, good morning.” She mumbled, walking to the staircase Tryst had pointed her to the night before when she asked for a place she could practice.
The light of the setting full moon illuminated the small courtyard that was at the end of the stairs. A whiff of burning tac caused her to look over the carefully groomed shrubs and combed sand to see a man sitting on a bench. He was wearing the simple robes that the rest of the monks here did but he was older. A gnarled walking stick sat next to him and he gave her a nod in passing before returning to the simple pleasure of his early morning smoke.
Callindra put him out of her mind and stepped onto an area of manicured sand. Facing north she began the first Korumn, breathing the power of creation and exhaling that of destruction. Once she was calm and focused the remaining six beginning Korumn flowed naturally, Brightfang whistling cheerfully through the air.
The final Korumn, Marking the Compass completed the set and Callindra sheathed her sword with a flourish. A light sheen of sweat beaded on her forehead but her breathing was slow and even. The ever-present capricious breezes had ceased to pester her, all was at peace.
“You’ll need to rake that sand lass.” Callindra jumped at the old man speaking from the shadows, “You don’t seem to have left many footprints but we don’t need a compass rose in the center of our tranquil garden.”
She looked and saw that the release of Weave and winds at the end of the Korumn had all but erased the marks of her feet and instead a perfect compass pointed in eight directions radiating out from where she stood.
The scent of tac reminded her of Glarian and the surety of his voice automatically engendered respect, Callindra didn’t even think of questioning his authority. “Sorry about that, I just needed a quiet place to practice.” She said, walking to where the coarse-toothed rake leaned against a large rock. “I’ll put it back the way it was.”
Closing her eyes, Callindra tried to remember what the pattern on the sands had been. Something with circles, moving around the few large stones that were arrayed on the sand in a seemingly random fashion. After a short time, she managed to get a fair approximation of what she thought it should look like, set the rake down and nodded to the man.
“Thanks for letting me practice here.” After she left, the man studied the patterns she had traced on the sand with an inscrutable look on his face.
“That one. She is going to be trouble. Even so she was able to put the tumult that surrounds her on the sand so artfully.” He mused, drawing on his pipe, “The patterns she has left are exquisite, perhaps there is hope for her yet.”