The stables were quiet, private, and happily, indoors. 

For these reasons, she chose them to use as a place to work out when the cold and wind and snow was too much to be outside. 

Icy howls through knotholes cooled the air as it whistled through the wood. It made the lantern flicker in front of her. Despite that, Cael is dressed in her usual armor, and a bit of sweat drips off her nose. Her arms quake a little. A little white pawn on a simple leather thong dangled beneath her. The last few weeks were one long montage in ‘how hard can I make this formerly simple exercise and how many of them can I do before I pass out’. 

She lowered herself down on shaking arms, letting out an explosive exhale, and held the pose while her arms screamed at her. In full plate, as an eight foot plus worgen, tall even for the species, it was impressive. Most people did not realize the leather bands she wore on her ankles and wrists, thighs and biceps, and the leather belt, were enchanted to mimic the weight of a second set of armor, evenly distributed across her frame. 

A bit extreme, perhaps.

But maybe extreme measures were called for. 

A memory, from training, one that played in her mind even now, worrying her like a loose tooth.

Koryander crossed her arms and glared at her. Cael’s teeth hurt, blood rushing in her veins, the flare of her beast seeping through. Kory’s haymaker of a punch landed solid and square making the whole right side of the face hurt, but in taking that blow Cael struck out quick as a snake and latching onto the gauntlet right by her face with her bared teeth. She’d used that to try a strike while Kory was immobilized, holding her close and open. Kory was right; that was incredibly dangerous, both for Koryander, who if unarmored may have lost her arm, and for Cael, who could have lost her teeth at best. 

“Maybe it would have worked, Cael, but it’s a one shot. You might be able to kill me, but you’re not going to survive the attempt doing shit like this,” she said. “Do you know what would happen if we really fought? I can tell you. I can tell you exactly what would happen. You’d charge in, and you’re good, but you’re impatient and you go right for the kill, and I’d defend, and we’d trade for a bit, and then you’d do that damn thing you do where you take some blow to get a blow in. Except that blow will be coming from me, and I won’t hold back, and I will knock you on your furry ass, out cold. At best. What if I’d had a knife in my fist when I punched you? You’re going to get killed.” 

Cael blinked. “….W-Well… If, if I stop- if, if, um, if I-I-I-I protect p-people by it, and, and, a-a-and, um, if I stop the- the b-bad guys- that’s worth it. S-Sometimes you, you d-d-don’t have, have much of an option e-e-except- except t-t-taking them with you. But, but, but it’s w-w-worth it. …..Isn’t it? I-I mean, that, that’s my j-job.” And it was. Death was a very real possibility, even a likelihood, and she knew that going in; she knew that from the very beginning. Death, messy and bloody and probably young, was never going to not be an option for her, it seemed, and she’d made her peace with that some time ago. She was expendable. Soldiers were all expendable, and she was a soldier. (Better a soldier than a monster. That trade was one she would make in a heartbeat, no hesitation at all, and she embraced the term wholeheartedly.) “…R-Right?”

The look on Koryander and Mosur’s face told her she made some sort of tactical error there, with that particular little exposition. More than mildly horrified was an accurate term for it. Mosur had buried his face in his hands when she repeated what he said to her, that time before, about a meaningful death. 

But how? 

How did you get better, improve, be useful- in the only way she knew how, in the only way she had– when she couldn’t outclass an enemy, someone who had more technical skill and training (which was most people), and couldn’t outsmart an enemy (also most people), and you couldn’t outfight them because the enemy was gifted with the Light, or magic, or something similar (which was more people than she previously assumed)? 

What did you do then? 

Kory told me to think on it, to try to figure out a way, but- but I don’t know. I don’t know, and maybe I should but I’m not smart and I don’t have that training that they have and I just- Isn’t that my job? But…. Kory was really upset when she said I wasn’t expendable. But I am. I’m not the Justicar, and I’m not Koryander, and all I have is a sword and being stubborn and not dying. I don’t have the Light. I can’t heal. I’m not trained a lot, even if I am trying- trying so hard. And Goldrinn’s fucking teeth, I don’t know, I don’t- I just-… 

…I don’t know what she wants. I don’t know. 

Up, slow, agonizingly slow. Her legs started to drop and she wobbled, almost losing her balance for a second, but recovered after a long moment. 

She’d been quiet, lately. Intense. Focused. Trying, trying so damn hard to be better, get better, do better. Runs every morning and evening, per Koryander’s training, again in full plate, though none but Cael knew about her weights; one armed pullups using a particular tree just inside the Westguard walls; one armed handstand pushups; squats with one leg folded behind her, heel touching buttocks; more normal squats with a pail of rocks and metal scraps held in each hand; using a bucket on its side and a spare plank as a balance board for many of her exercises; and so many rounds with the training dummy she’d gone through yet another sword, trading in her old one to the quartermaster when it finally chipped. 

There was some socialization with a few particular people, but Mosur had been hard to find lately. Today she couldn’t seem to locate him at all. Cael had wanted to ask him how HE would handle the conundrum. He’s wise and old and stuff- he’s seen a lot of fights. Maybe he knows. But I can’t find him at all, and everyone was really wierdly tense. I didn’t want to ask for help looking. Maybe I’ll find him tomorrow. I probably just… just missed him, or something. 

Down. Her arms trembled. Cael grit her teeth, eyes like molten copper glowing in the lantern lit-stall, all feral gold, all molten copper. A snarl made it through her gritted teeth. And, so very slowly, back up. Nails dug scratches into the wood. Abdominal muscles threatened to give out on her, but still, she held. Blood pounded in her ears. 

The stall she occupied currently was the only thing supporting her. Cael had levered herself up, hands on the sides of the wood, and swung herself so that she was parallel to the ground, spine straight as a board, legs and paws extended out behind her. From there, her pushups began: down, all the way till her nose was level with the edge of the stall’s side wall, arms bent at an acute angle that, had this been on the ground, would likely leave her chest pressed against it.  And then, up, holding when her elbows were at a ninety degree angle, before continuing to rise as high as she could make herself, and repeating the process. 

I don’t know what to do but this, but train and try to be better, but I don’t know if this is working. I don’t know if it will be enough. What if I face someone like the Justicar someday, except they’re bad, and trying to hurt people? How do I fight someone with magic, when I can’t even close the distance to get to them? What am I missing? 

Kory gave me that… that homework. To try and figure out a way. But it- it’s Koryander. I can’t beat Koryander. There’s no way. The best option I could hope for if I ever had to fight her for real is to try to take her with me. But then she got upset when I said that. 

I don’t know. 

The only thing I do know is to just…. work really hard. If I work harder than anyone else, ever, in like the history of the Templars, maybe that will be enough. 

I’ll ask Mosur. Tomorrow. 

He’ll know. Right? He’s always got good advice. 

Cael exhaled slowly, raggedly, through her nose, and inhaled as deep as she could. 

One hundred. 







Cael gasped for breath, chest heaving. But her eyes narrowed, and she began again.

One hundred and one. 

Author Cael
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