“You aren’t telling me everything.” Callindra said, “How about we make a bet? If I beat you then you have to tell me what you’re hiding.”
Ellyn’s smile came back and she laughed, “If you beat me I won’t be able to tell you anything. Because the day you beat me I’ll be dead!”
“We’ll see about that!” Callindra said, springing to her feet and drawing Brightfang from his sheath. “Let’s go!”
A candlemark later, Callindra finally fell and couldn’t force herself to rise. She was simply and utterly exhausted. Although a dozen cuts were healing with tiny tendrils of Brightstar vines and a dozen more had already healed, Ellyn was unmarked. The woman fought with a pair of narrow blades, shorter than swords but longer than daggers and she wielded them with a brutal and ruthless efficiency. Despite her age, she moved like nothing Callindra had ever seen. Not since Glarian.
She lay there, trying to slow her breathing and feeling the sting of Jorda’s gift as it stitched her cuts together. Although she wanted to talk, to ask Ellyn questions, to try and understand how she had been so hopelessly outclassed, it was all she could do to keep from losing consciousness due to sheer overexertion.
“You fight just like he did.” Ellyn said with a smile, “You don’t hold anything back. As much as I admire that, it isn’t a good way to fight. As you can see, when your enemies use your enthusiasm against you it’s only a matter of time before you are defeated.”
“Almost. Had. You.” Callindra managed.
“Oh, I’ll admit that you’d have done a serious amount of damage if you had managed to hit me.” Ellyn said, “But that wasn’t the exercise here was it? We were sparring you silly girl, this wasn’t a battle. You spent all your energy trying for a kill stroke and completely ignored dozens if not hundreds of chances to get a touch.
“I’m guessing you’ve never sparred before. Not really sparred anyway.” She tucked a slightly sweaty strand of hair behind one of her ears. “This isn’t supposed to be life and death, it’s a chance to improve your skills by testing them against someone else’s.”
“If that was the… case…” Callindra panted, “Why did you… have to… cut me?”
Ellyn smiled, “Because you fought with all your spirit little one.” She said gently, “It was all I could do to keep your blade from touching me, and not all of us have the strength and resilience of youth. Or those… peculiar gifts you seem to have. Tell me, where did you find such an exquisite item?”
“Jorda gave it to me.” Callindra said, finally managing to get her breathing under control by relaxing fully against the reed mats on the floor.
“Jorda? The Goddess?” Ellyn asked, raising an eyebrow. “You’ve been to The Grandfather Tree?”
“Oh yeah. Just about burned it down.” She said, trying to make her tone light but feeling the bitterness twist her words.
“I’ve heard about the fire.” Ellyn said softly, “I had hoped it was just a rumor.”
Callindra found herself telling the woman everything. How they had moved from one place to another, always seeming to be one step behind. How it felt like for every good deed they tried to accomplish, two worse things seemed to happen. About how she had been kidnapped and tortured. How she had lashed out after, trying to be stronger, to be harder and faster. Worst of all, how Brightfang had begun to bear the effects of her fear and anger.
“When we brought that evil into the High Forest.” She said, “When we were just trying to help a woman… and then she tore her own throat out, summoned a demon from her blood and set fire to everything…” Callindra’s voice trailed off and she was surprised to find tears on her cheeks.
“I have been through much in my life.” Ellyn said, looking at her with sympathy on her face, “But never so much all at once at such a young age.” She reached out a hand to Callindra, “We have long been searching for the answers to questions regarding Dergeras. And his master, a being we only know as Morde.”