A book on chess lay atop frozen ground and a neatly folded cloak, page marked four in with a leaf. Beyond it, a mass of muscle and red fur moved to excise her restlessness. Reading was hard, much more so for her than she thought it ought to be; but it was what it was, and Cael, frustrated with her inability, sought solace in the one thing she could do.
The series of strikes and blocks and footwork was nothing formal; Cael could count the amount of formal training she’d had on one large hand. But it was… different, much more so than any form or pattern used by those at Westguard. A slippery twist of her blade struck at the ribs raising her shield in a circular sweep and pivoting as she did so, dropping down in a duck to slide back up two steps forward into an enemy’s invisible guard. Smooth flowing movements that rose and fell, a defense that focused on letting the enemy slide off her shield and redirecting his energy while conserving your own, and bladework like crashing waves all strangely evoked the mental picture of water, living water, as Cael danced in the empty training yard without stopping. The constant stream of movements, never pausing, each leading fluidly and easily into the next, never stopped. Confusing, almost blurry, slippery continuity was a key.
She could almost feel the cold salt spray of the water elemental she had ‘danced’ with there on the small craggy beach by the icy sea.
After Sielic’s escape…
Cael almost missed a step but didn’t as her stomach clenched.
…I- that was hard. Very hard. To think he’s still out there- still planning- still trying to kill us…. If Mosur hadn’t found me and talked to me, I’m not sure what I would have done, except stay away from people forever, maybe. Even now it’s bad, worse than it used to be. I haven’t been human in over a month. Buildings and walls make me twitchy instead of making me feel safe. I’m always looking over my shoulder. I almost… I almost hurt that kid. For wearing a Templar tabard. Nothing else, just- And I know that’s stupid and just playing into what he wants, but I…. I dunno if I can help it.
I can try though.
I am trying. After all, I sent him the white pawn, even if, well, according to Mosur, he threw it away and got really angry. Mosur talks like they used to be friends- GOOD friends. I can’t imagine it. That kind of betrayal. I think I would probably die. I didn’t know any of the other Templars who- I was lucky, like that. She cut off that thought as she spun and sliced up, then down, the crashing wave from before, a powerful blow meant to cleave. The white pawn on a simple thong around her neck twirled with her. Somewhere, it was mirrored by a second one she’d requested Mosur give to Sielic. In the game of chess, the older draeni explained some days ago, there was such a thing as called a ‘promotion’. If a pawn -small, expendable, numerous pieces who could only move forward one square at a time- crossed to the edge of the other side on the board, could be turned into a more powerful piece, generally a queen. There was a message there.
And there was one with the pawn she’d sent him. Because… she had to try. Enough Templar blood had been spilled, she’d told Mosur, her gold eyed exhausted but serious and sincere. They didn’t need any more. Maybe it wasn’t for Sielic, specifically; Cael didn’t know him and, as he was now, didn’t want to. But for Mosur- for Ari, betrayed more times than she could count now- for any other friends Sielic had before- for the Templars- it was absolutely for them. For them all.
For Sielic, the message was clear, or ought to be if he was half as sneaky and clever as he had to be to orchestrate this kind of chaos.
Rebirth. Rebirth into something better. If he wanted.
Likely, he didn’t.
I know that too. Pivot, turn, block, slam her shield up under an opponent’s chin, parry with her blade. But…. At least I can say that- that I wanted it to happen. That I tried. After all… I helped Wei keep him alive before. The Justicar had orders.
Cael stopped, in a resting position, holding it for a few moments before relaxing and stretching, breathing a little bit hard.
Sielic has been…. really quiet lately, too. He escaped, yes, but- it worries me. A lot.
At least we have the Justicar back. And all the Templars that were traitors have been found out.
You hope, hissed the beast in her, paranoia and suspicion dripping from that thought. Cael clenched her sharp teeth and rose again, determined to put such thoughts out of her head. Those were the kind of things that could drive a girl crazy.
Taking a deep breath, in, out, in, she settled into a long, solid, deep stance with her shield up and in front, defensive. This new practice form was entirely different. Where water flowed from one movement to the next, these were more jagged, defined, and primarily defensive- but not in a way that involved being evasive or slippery. Instead, they resembled much her usual style: incredibly solid point blank blocks that broke the attack and staggered the attacker, pushing back, throwing them off balance. Movement was involved but to a much lesser degree. This was clearly a stance for holding ground and taking damage. What offensive attacks peppered the dance were hard and heavy, to crack other tough defenses and create holes in enemy formation: take ground, give none, foot by foot. What Cael liked about it most was how easy it seemed to incorporate a lot of shieldwork into the form.
“Your most important weapon is your shield, Caelryn,” the Justicar had told her, and she remembered.
Slamming blows with the blunt face or attacking with the edge under the chin or on sensitive shins, knees, elbows, forearms, all found their way into the form.
Pawns became queens or kings one step at a time. Endurance.
Briefly, she smiled, remembering the way the water elemental enjoyed her dance. Apparently it was a somewhat unusual thing, to thank them personally like that. But the show it and Mosur had given her, rainbows in the spray like a diamond dust, joyously leaping and swirling, was, to be frank, the most beautiful thing Cael had ever seen in her life. I didn’t think that kind of thing existed outside of- of dreaming. The image of it stayed with her even now, and she thought of earth and water as she danced. Water, she’d met, and fire as well. Earth and air he had yet to show her. Shamans are amazing. That kind of power over the elements… I wonder why it makes him sad.
I think he’s sad, at least. He’ll… droop some, and try to laugh it off, but it doesn’t reach his eyes, not really. I wish he wouldn’t be. I wish I knew what to do to help.
After all, we’re friends. Not just comrades but… friends. Maybe he isn’t actually my first like I thought, if, well, if Koryander thought we were friends all this time, and maybe that means there are others? But- still. I won’t let anything hurt him, not now, not ever. I think he’s been hurt too much before.
Even me. Even if something happens and I….
I’d rather jump off a cliff than hurt another Templar, Cael thought, with such complete unbreakable sincerity the words may as well have been chiseled in the hardest steel.
With that thought, of Mosur and earth, how his steady, strong, gentle hand on her shaking shoulders felt that day on the cliffs of Westguard, she inhaled and shifted to the third element, one she hadn’t met yet.
A wolf can jump straight up from a standing position anywhere from eight to twelve feet high, depending on the species; they can leap distances of up to sixteen feet. Now, Cael sprang into the air, stabbing upward with her sword -for a moment, sunlight shined off the scratched steel, a blazing beacon- and began the form she was considering giving to air.
Air had more flow than earth but far more acrobatics than water, something of a feat when it came to an eight foot plus furry worgen in plate armor. A leg sweep as she landed, crouched, cut a circle around her in the grass and then she was popping up and attacking. Speed, speed was everything here; what the strikes lacked in sheer brute power they made up for in surgical precision. Behind the knees, at the elbows, at the junction of the greaves and the chestplate, across the fingers, where metal might protect to a degree but many fighters didn’t wear fully armored gauntlets and in those cases, it would result in broken or amputated digits. More hand to hand things were incorporated, though not many, because Cael didn’t know many- but an elbow to the gut there, a knee to the groin here marked the style as well, creative tricky kinds of flourishes and combinations. The fast pace had her breathing hard and ragged by the end of it as she turned, a great pirouette to slash all surrounding enemies.
The warrior halted, chest not quite heaving, yet, but definitely breathing hard.
Maybe these were silly- focusing on something that could be considered frivolous at a time so fraught with danger from within and without. Yet- to be able to give her own form of thanks to a creature who provided her with a timeless memory of beauty…
That made her happy.
Happy, for Cael, was a rare and special thing, now more easily shattered since it had been broken once.
And thinking on Sielic, thinking on the potential threat- it made her wolf snarl, raised her hackles. But Arialynn, and Mosur- they said I couldn’t be rash. I have to think. Like chess. So I need a clear head. These work strangely well for that. Maybe they’re dumb. But I like them, and they made the spirits happy, and they made Mosur happy, and… and they made ME happy.
I don’t know if I deserve happy, but- but I’m going to try. I think I might deserve to try.
Cael stretched again, gathering herself for the final form, the most difficult. Perhaps it would not be to another, but for her, it was less the mechanics of the thing than it was the mental state it required from her.
Fire, after all, was a double edged sword, and Cael knew something about those.
She rose, sword ready, the fur on her arms standing up from goosebumps as a little shiver went through her, from cold or something else was unknown. Those eyes glowed gold, then molten copper, unnatural, and not something before seen in the previous pattern dances.
…Then, she began.
Fire looked a bit like air, in the little hops and steps and jumps that were in her footwork now, in the speed, not quite as fast but faster than the others for sure- with bursts of explosive speed. Her shield was less involved; this was a primarily offensive form, and it showed. The bladework looked like licks and flicks and tongues of flame, serrated with a sort of savage and primal joy as her wolf worked with her just a little bit, just this once. Keeping her concentration was difficult. Fire didn’t like control, and neither did wolves, and everything seemed sharper, brighter, more distracting, colors and smells and sounds invigorating her despite this being the last of the four forms. Harsh wind and her own movement made that red mane fly as she cut a circle in the earth with the tip of her sword, shield out defensively, sending sod flying to blind an enemy (though dust would work better). For a moment, it echoed a memory, eyes bright like sparks against the indigo of coming night. The form ended with an all out assault of hacks and slashes that stopped just as suddenly as they had begun, her blade buried throat-deep in a nonexistent enemy.
Now breathing hard and heavy, puffclouds of white contrasting sharply with her riled, wild burning gold eyes, Cael shivered again and sat to do another set of stretches, giving herself time to make sure that the wolf was back in his box before she tried to go inside. As indigo turned a deeper, darker blue, the stars turned out to play.
But they were distant, if beautiful. And the cold seeped into her bones as the rush faded. No. She would need to be inside tonight, sooner rather than later. Cael wilted a bit at the thought of the barracks with their press of sentients.
…Maybe I will just sleep in the stables tonight. I’ll wash tomorrow, before I have my lesson with the Justicar. Then maybe I can ask Mosur about some- some easier to read books for chess. Ones with smaller words, or less pages. …Or both.
As she rose, finished with her cooldown, Cael looked up.
The Templars flag had not been replaced yet. It hung, half-burned and limp, from the flagpole inside the walls, reminding her: this wasn’t over.
I have friends, though. Mosur, and Kory, and all the rest- friends. I’ll… manage. Somehow.
I will find a way, she vowed, and took her book and cloak with her as she entered the fort.