• Matt Brown

Chapter 35

The weight of the Aetharian blades was different from the vision. They were lighter and almost felt as if every stroke were being guided by some unseen force. They were sharp though, Eadra could feel it with each motion as she practiced. It was as if they were cutting the away the air itself.

Eadra took a breath and held her stance. In the weeks she had spent here, there had been little time to practice. To make up for what Issfang had done she had offered to help with the underground farms in the caverns below the grove. The druids were grateful for the help. The techniques she had shared with them had made her a welcome addition to the community.

As her thoughts turned toward the dragon, Eadra couldn’t help but find it strange watching Issfang and Naya play together. While he was still quite unstable, the girl had oddly become his anchor in the sea of loss and vengeance that had utterly consumed him for so many decades.

The soft, tender side he showed toward Naya was surprising. All she had to do was ask him for something and Issfang would do it without question. It was safe to say he genuinely loved her.

Issfang had wasted no time to start teaching her magic either. Naya was like a sponge, soaking in every word. His methods appeared similar to the druids, at least upon first glance. The pair would sit meditating in the snow outside the grove’s protective canopy.

Sometimes the two of them would argue all the while Issfang insisted he knew better. Naya would often pout, as only little girls could, and say he was wrong. At times she would even quote Kala, much to his chagrin.

The dragon would often sit back quietly, cross his arms, and brood for a moment in response, then change the subject. It was almost adorable. His expression made him appear more like a child than Naya.

Still, his knowledge of magic left many questions. He would often say: Magic is not what everyone thinks it is.

Eadra paused, her heart pounding in her chest as she held her stance. I’m over-committing. Wallen was a much heavier blade than Tienutef. The Aetharian longblade made her feel like her old sword had been no better than a club, both in weight and balance.

Grimmear was similar. As a scramasax, it was equivalent in length to an Absonian short sword. It was also heavier. Wielding Tahaseahin, her Aetharian shortblade, Eadra constantly found herself adjusting her stance to compensate for the lack of weight she had grown accustomed to in the past. As weapons, they were designed with finesse, not force behind them.

“You look frustrated.”

Eadra broke her stance, turning to see Mrina step out from behind the trees. “And you should stop lurking behind trees to observe others,” she replied.

The young Tender smiled. “Habits,” she replied. “The panther is one of my totems.”

“I imagine you don’t use it much this far north.”

She shook her head. “I do not. The cold chills my paws far too much for my liking. The terrain is vastly different here compared to home as well.” She reached out touching one of the evergreens. “I miss climbing the great redwoods of The Wood. Even if I use magic to keep warm, it still isn’t the same.”

“Daeshal is leagues away, it must be hard being so far from home.”

Mrina nodded. “Sometimes, but I am needed here.”

It was easy to see she was still troubled. Eadra could sense that, in her heart, Mrina wanted to fight, but felt honor-bound by her oath.

Vala chose well. “I have something for you,” she said and stepped toward her pack at the base of a nearby tree. “I’ve thought about it long and hard.”

When she glanced over at Mrina, Eadra saw she seemed curious. It made her smirk. The young Shaylin’s age was showing. She knelt, reached into her pack, and pulled out two long wooden swords and tossed them toward her.

“What are these?”

Eadra shifted her attention to the wood swords, then back toward Mrina. “Your blades.”

“But how am I supposed to fight with mere sticks?” Mrina asked. “Any keen edge will cut them.”

“Will it now,” Eadra replied. “I hadn’t thought about that.”

Suspicion suddenly shone in the young elf’s eyes and she knelt down picking them up. “Ironwood?!”

Eadra nodded. “Ironwood.” She smiled, noting how oblivious Mrina was to the fact that she was unconsciously testing their weight and balance.

“But where..?”

Eadra closed her pack and stood. “There was an old tree deep in the grove. Kala said that it was dying,” she replied. “One of the elders brought it from Daeshal decades ago as an experiment to see if it could survive in Sokoras.”

Mrina looked up in surprise. “So you cut it down?” she asked.

Eadra nodded. “It was sick, so we took what was healthy and fashioned it into those.”

To Eadra’s surprise, Mrina drops the wooden blades.

“I can’t,” she said stepping away. “A blade is a blade, even if it is made out of wood.”

This is getting us nowhere. Eadra took a stance and reversed her swords. Mrina instinctively tensed in response. “It’s time to choose.”

She stepped in and thanks to Vala’s training, the young elf easily tumbled out of the way. Eadra smiled. Mrina had managed to grab the wooden swords before tumbling away. The Tender was already in a defensive stance, wooden swords ready.

“I cannot, Eadra!”

The look in her eyes, the expression on her face, all of it screamed conflict. Her body was tense, Eadra could see it in Mrina’s stance. She knew what needed to be done, but couldn’t act on it.

“There are times when we must fight, Mrina. This is one of them. We are sisters now, either we stand together or we fall. Vala chose you to take on her mantle.”

She came in and Mrinna easily parried her attacks. In moments, the exchange between them evolved into a deadly dance. But through it all, Eadra could see tears in the young druid’s eyes.

I’m sorry for this. It was just as painful to watch, but Mrina needed to let go and fully embrace who she had become. Vala had such a tender heart. Hellena’s memories had shown her that. Vala had always hated conflict and fighting but knew there were moments when it had to be done.

As the duel continued, Eadra saw Mrina had slowly moved past tears. Her expression and movements had changed, becoming more deliberate and focused. There was only anger written on her face now.

You might hate me, but there is so little time.

Kala had enchanted the ironwood swords. They were stronger and more durable, not that ironwood wasn’t already. Their carved edge would never blunt, neither sword would rot away. The elder druid believed in Mrina, now Mrina just needed to believe in herself.

Mrina’s steps quickened as did her movements. Eadra was struggling to keep up. Mrinna was true to her race, graceful, lithe and agile. It took a conscious effort for Eadra to prevent instinct from taking over and reversing her blades so their edges would be able to cut her opponent.

It was a good sign, however. Mrina was growing more serious. Vala had always been the better swordswoman. Now, it was just a matter of keeping up.

The dance continued and Eadra felt her arms growing heavy. She shifted her weight just as Mrina came in. The lack of resistance forced the young elf off balance just enough for Eadra to counter. With the flat of her shortblade, she wracked Mrina across the abdomen for what would have normally been a killing stroke.

Mrina gasped as the breath was forced from her lungs. She stumbled, then quickly recovered. Eadra was caught off guard at how quickly Mrinna found her footing and landed a blow of her own.

Even with Hellana’s armor, she felt everything. It seemed Kala had enchanted the ironwood blades with something else too. She gasped and doubled over as the world spun for a moment.

When her vision cleared, she was looking up at Mrina and the groves protective canopy above.

“That shouldn’t have hurt nearly as much,” Mrina panted.

Eadra winced. “Kala enchanted the ironwood. She believes in you, sister, just as I do.”

Mrina dropped the ironwood swords and fell to one knee. Eadra watched as the young Shaylin placed her hands on her side and closed her eyes.

They glowed softly with a green light and Eadra felt the pain vanish. The was a harder edge in the young elf’s eyes. “You win,” she said. “Whatever you need me to do I will.”

Eadra sat up and hugged her tightly. “I know this painful for you, but sometimes to become more than we are, we have to accept the changes ahead of us.”

“Are you sure you are not Shaylin?” she asked.

Eadra pulled away and grinned. “I may have a bit of Aetharian in me.”

Mrinna smiled. “And I as well.”

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