Ice and pines give way to rocky trails leading down the mountain. They descend from the Shiverpeaks and the Pass, working south then north agian, to the great bustling chaotic metropolis of Lion’s Arch. There, they stay a few days. Rain insisted Chiro rest; thier route down had been dogged by one heavy snowstorm after another, making the going especially slow and difficult for small asura easily engulfed by snowdrifts.

 

The last day before they reached the lowlands Chiro finally got the hang of running on the snow versus falling into it. The warrior’s fire, the Will, her aura, the magic- whatever it was called, she touched it for the first time there, an inner wellspring of energy and courage and strength. The small pleased smile Rain gave her warmed her heart, but she was still exhausted by the time they reached the city. So her teacher insisted on shopping for supplies, while Chiro was ordered to take a nice long rest.

 

Which she did! Truly! She slept for ten hours, and woke refreshed and feeling energetic in the morning. Rain must have come and gone again, judging from her neatly made bed, and her gear was gone.

 

Chiro’s stomach growled. Well. Rain would be back soon, right? The asura nodded to herself, ears flopping. Yes, she would. She wouldn’t just leave. So that meant… food.

 

As she got dressed and did a quick series of warmup exercises and washed her face, Chiro debated on the merits of ice cream for breakfast. There was a shop down the way…. Rain might protest, true, but if she got two…. And she encouraged her sometimes to state what she wanted clearly, no hemming or hawing. (Which was weird, but whatever; Rain was a direct sort, so it made sense, and Chiro still wasn’t used to being allowed to ask for things.)

 

The inn was on the outskirts of the city, close to the Gendarran Fields- a little more affordable for the distance. A series of large boulders and geographic configurations made it difficult footing for hooved assailants and gave the place a surprisingly defensible position, almost mesa-like. The hill was large enough and the sides steep enough that two generations of family working together had exacerbated that and made one road up the big hill with steep fifty foot sides lined in fieldstone, two of the three almost sheer.

 

There was a tall lamppost, fifteen feet up with three arms holding six lights total, and she used a combination of her training and a touch of the clumsily handled inner fire to scale it like a squirrel. She’d always been agile and quick. Months of being Rain’s student had taken that and honed it to an edge that quickly was becoming quite keen indeed, even without the magic of a warrior.

 

She stopped at the top, sitting and looking out into the fields beyond for a moment.

 

From below, comes a gruff – “I leave you alone for a few hours, and you’re already climbing things.  Are you part monkey?”

 

Chiro looks down, grinning, and hops from her place on the pole, landing neatly as Rain taught her.

 

“We do have a lot in common! Hello Shifu! I was looking for you. Have you ever had ice cream?”

 

“Yes. Have you done your morning run?”  Rain raises a brow and hands her a sandwich of eggs, bacon, cheese, and some sort of sauce on bread.

 

“Oh! Uh. No. I wanted a better view of the city, then I was gonna. Did you know they sell ice cream around here? I got a sample. It’s really good. Do you want to go get some later?  I was thinking about getting you some as a surprise but you surprised me instead,” Chiro says between bites.

 

“Mm.  No.  When you are finished, two laps around the big mesa, twice up and down the road- full speed.  I will meet you on the north path, behind the traveling leatherworker’s tent- the one with the vats.”  Rain shoulders a bit of long, whippy timber – a sapling, denuded of branches. “I suggest you do not keep me waiting, mouse.”

 

Chiro grinned, nodded enthusiastically, and turned without further ado to run.

 

It was more difficult than usual, with horses and wagons and other obstacles, and a few deep potholes on a steep incline, but it wasn’t wet or slippery either, and that was good. Long since used to this, she felt her second wind kick in about 2/3 of the way there, just when she was starting to flag, and pushed herself to speed up even more, leaping and bouncing where needed over obstacles.

 

The clear blue sky above seemed to stretch forever. Clouds dotted it, white and fluffy, and a cool breeze was the perfect compliment to the mild weather.

 

She rounded the corner at full gallop, nearly skidding, but recovered well into a controlled slide as she approached the leather-worker’s tent.

 

Chiro is dressed as normal, in that sleeveless, lightly armored training outfit with the hood she often used for mild climates. The dagger and its mate, those so-called “butterfly swords” according to Rain, were at her hip.

 

On the far side of the tent Rain has .. built.. something?  It’s a narrow platform of springy saplings – thin ends hanging out over empty space, woven together with a thin, fibrous rope, and held in place with large stakes that have been pounded into the hills rocky top.  Only a couple of feet is on the hill side – they extend fully six feet over what is largely empty air.

 

As Chiro comes running up, Rain is tying off the last of the saplings – considering the ‘construction’ with a weather eye.   “… well.  The Temple it isn’t, but it will have to do.”

 

Chiro slows, huffing a bit, working on slowing her breathing deliberately, in control of her body and it’s functions like Rain says. When she can speak, she says, “Wow, Shifu- what’s all this?”

 

“Balance.”  Rain sits there, on the ends of the saplings attached to the mesa. “The Art is, at its core, all about balance.  Balance in your heart and your mind, balance in what you do – and most of all, balance-balance, as falling over is both ridiculous and embarrassing.”  She raises a brow. “Balance comes from focus and knowledge – and a great deal of practice.  From balance comes your inner fire, what they call magic, or aura, or what have you.  From balance comes flow – and from balance comes understanding.  We’ve worked on simple things – power, endurance – but balance brings these things together, and gives them a platform from which to work.”

 

She nods at a nearby coil of rope. “Now.  Unless you have suddenly learned to fly – bring that over here.”

 

Chiro does, suddenly very focused- even ice cream is forgotten in the face of the Art. She eyes the platform with delighted interest. “Do we bounce on it, or?”

 

“Patience, mouse.”  The rope is tied in a sort of seat around Chiro’s waist – then tied off to the spikes holding down the platform.  Rain nods – then looks to her.  “Go ahead.  Step out as far as you feel comfortable.”

 

The farther Chiro goes, the more the saplings bend, and the harder her balance is to keep – the ends will in no way support her weight.

 

Chiro takes the first two steps confidently, but that quickly changes. Soon the saplings beeeeend under her weight, threatening to drop her off the cliff if that rope wasn’t securely fastened around her waist.

 

About halfway to the edge, she stopped, hearing the wood creak in its bindings. After a moment she actually took a step back, conceding the ground.

 

“Hehehe, wow, okay then. Um. I think… this might be as far as I can go….”

 

Rain nods – “Face me.  Snow heron- ” And she demonstrates, drawing her blades, one leg up, swords moving in a gentle circle only hinting at the speed she was capable of- watching Chiro. “Beware of your footing – earn your confidence.”

 

Chiro swallowed. Oh. Oh. Well then.

 

“Probably should have seen that coming,” she said, half cheerful and half nervous, as she slowly, carefully pivoted in place to put her back to open air. “Yes, Sh- crap!- no, got it, I got it. Yes Shifu.”

 

That wobble nearly sent her into the void, but she corrected it, though a little tremor here and there told how hard this was.

 

Oh, spirits, Eternal Alchemy- I’m in for it now.

 

Rain nods – “First form.”   She moves through it easily – first form of air.  A wide movement of the arms, drawing them in – a forward strike with her blades cutting air smoothly, a simple front kick, a turn – all fluid motions, easy, where she stands on the rock.

 

Of course.

 

Luckily, the rope will theoretically keep Chiro from falling several hundred feet.  Just.. ten or so, then a swing into the wall.  Ow.  Joy!

 

Ooooh, this will be probably-

 

She didn’t get much farther than the turn. The strike, the kick, she got, though it was shaky, but that pivot send the platform bending beneath her and SCHLOOP!

 

“Ohcrap no-!“

 

She managed to grab the rope instinctively at the end, but then her grip slipped too, sending her off completely and bouncing like a yo-yo with a stern whack and a yell from below, out of sight.

 

Rain’s head appears over the edge, with a raised eyebrow.  She shouts down, “That looked like it hurt.”

 

Chiro dangles, upside down and pinwheeling. “I’m okay!” She shouted back. The rope thunks her somewhat gently into the hillside’s cliff face. “C’mon now-“

 

It takes her a second to get situated the right way, but eventually she starts to shimmy back up the rope and drag herself across the platform to the side close to the cliff that would support her. “I’m good, Shifu!” She assures. “Just a bump! Lemme try again.”

 

Rain nods – sets herself – “I will follow you, mouse.”

 

It requires going slow- painfully, painfully slow for Chiro, who exists in a permanent state of go. The bendy platform exaggerates every wobble, every uneven part of the stance. Even the motion of a simple water style slash can be improved on.

 

It shows though. She gets four and a half moves in before she falls again, and this time she grabs the edge with one hand and dangles before hauling herself up and over.

 

Rain nods. “Again.”

 

And again.  And again.   The concentration is /ferocious/ – every bad move, every moment where her balance isn’t perfect?  It sets Chiro to wobbling – and once the wobbling gets too bad, the saplings bend, and there’s just nothing for her feet to grab onto.

 

“Breathe,”  Rain repeats. “In-out. Do not worry about speed now – worry about making each movement precisely.”

 

Drenched in sweat and shaking, with a scrape above her eye stinging from the salt, Chiro nods and gets back up for the umpteenth time. There’s a wobble, and a cramping feeling in her leg.

 

“Is there some water, Shifu? I’ll do it right after. I just don’t wanna cramp up.”

 

Rain nods – holding out a waterskin.   “Careful, mouse.”   She nods to the ground.  “Sit and rest a moment.”

 

Once Chiro is off the platform… and Rain’s certain she’s settled and drinking… she moves out onto it herself.  Not as far -she’s larger, far heavier than Chiro… but it seems to be a calming thing, going through a far more advanced form on a platform that shivers and sways out over nothing at all.    It is a simple ballet of motion – every movement precise, focused, the flick of her blade almost beautiful in thier violent intent, so natural and perfect. She had her heirloom weapon out today, the one she was best with, though Rain greatly emphasized flexibility in a warrior.

 

Chiro watches, avidly, allowing herself a brief moment of envy.

 

Her Shifu is so damn good. Every movement smooth, snapping at the edges of the strikes; she keeps her balance, just like a dance, just like as if she was on solid stone. And she seemed…. calm. The little bit of sadness, that ever-present kernel, was mitigated here.

 

Frankly it was kind of inspiring, and she stood suddenly, ready to get back to work but loathe to stop watching, as she drank a few more hasty gulps of water from the skin under the bright mid morning sun.

 

Rain inclines her head –

 

It’s an odd motion.  A thump of one foot against the saplings, a surge  up with her entire body – seemingly without effort, she launches herself twenty feet into the air, almost seeming to float a moment at the top of the jump – then she tumbles, dropping with an overhand strike with her long sword to land on the rock.

 

It *thooms* like a tight drum – faint and quiet.  Behind her, the saplings barely move. In front of her, the rock cracks in two down the center, loud in the silence.

 

She stands.. bows to Chiro.. and moves aside to make room for the girl. “Be careful not to go out too far.”

 

Chiro just stares in awe. “…Will I be able to do that soon?” She asked, almost quiet. “You barely seemed to move but you were flying. And the rock!!!”

 

Rain’s eyes seem to smile, even if she doesn’t. “Give it time, my Chiro.  My master could leap like that from water, and barely cause a ripple – while his blade cut through rock twice as thick as that. Once you’ve found your Will, that inner fire I speak of?  It is easier than it looks.  One thing at a time.”

 

Gruffly – “Be eager to learn – be discontent with where you stand… but be content in yourself, and trust your teacher.  One day, Chiro.”

 

“On water?! Youve gotta be-“ she stops, though, because Rain wasn’t a kidder. “I wish one day was now- but! The more I practice the sooner it will be so scoot, my turn!”

 

Surprised, Rain is thus ordered out of the way – and complies – with a faint cough that /might/ be a chuckle.

 

Might.

 

Chiro falls, because of course she does- but she gets back up, because of course she does, and the second time is better. Much better. Having seen Rain do it helped, apparently, because she lasts ten extremely slow, measured moves in instead of six.

 

There’s a slash-strike combo that betrays her though, and she goes down again. When she clambers back up, she asks, “Hey Shifu, will I be doing this on water when I get the wood down?”

 

“Let’s worry about wood, shall we?”  Rain pauses – “Can you swim?”

 

She hmms – and this time, when she gets to that combo, Rain stops her – steps forward. “Flow, Chiro – the movements are not discrete.  Let yourself flow forward into the move- all one motion.  Like so – ”  A touch from her sheathed sword straightens out the girl’s hip.   “Then rotate.”

 

“No one ever taught me but I haven’t sunk yet, there was a stream by the farm where I worked for a while and we often took a dip in there at night when no one was watching- oh, like this?” She asked, trying to smooth the movement. The wood creaks and jitters dangerously. Chiro stiffens, then tries to move with it instead of fighting it, and that seems to work a little better. “Then rotate. Hey, that is better. And rising sun, and hipstraightdontbend,” she said, out loud reciting the form to herself as she did, “and cut the throat- whoa!”

 

She got impatient again, and a large wobble nearly dumped her, but somehow using her knees and it seemed gripping with her very toes she held on.

 

“…Okay that was too fast.”

 

“No – it was unbalanced.  Too much weight to your front foot – your strike would have overextended.”  Rain raises a brow.   “Every strike is a balance – offense and defense, risk and protection.”

 

She sets herself up opposite Chiro – in reach.  “Like so – again.”

 

And this time – for each move, Rain ‘counters’, at Chiro’s speed.  The form naturally leads from strike to block (or even dodge) – and she catches Chiro’s  wrist on the overextension.

 

She pulls, not hard at all – and it sends the girl stumbling forward.

 

“Yeep!”

 

How Rain keeps her balance on the wood holding both of them is a mystery. Chiro is too busy trying to keep from sliding off on her hands and knees. Only when the platform stops shaking does she get up again, very slowly, very careful.

 

“Okay, I think I felt that, Shifu. Lemme set back up and try again.”

 

And she did, trying to listen to her body and the way the platform wiggled, slowly using the strike in question- and stopped. “There? That bit? That’s too far then?”

 

“Mm-hmm.  But not too far – /out of balance/.”  Rain steps back – “You can reach as far as you like /if/ you maintain your balance.  Let your body move as it needs to – you cannot force it to be in balance.  You must move with it.”

 

“….Okay,” she said, a bit confused, but game to try anything. “So if I move my foot then maybe that balances?” She tried. “….Feels better.”

 

The leather worker walked by, did a silent double take, blinked, and then hurried past, taking his wares-laden horse with him.

 

“Close your eyes.  Stop staring at your hands.”  Rain crosses her arms. “Again.”

 

For a moment Chiro  looks at Rain, but…. She’s hard, but she would never ask me to do anything she didn’t think I was capable of. I trust her. 

 

Chiro closed her eyes.

 

The wind was here, the sun. She felt her body, the lungs, her heartbeat. She felt…

 

The young girl frowned, and slowly, slowly adjusted herself, finding that balance that Rain had perfected. Her body relaxed as she did, and the platform merely trembled, instead of shaking.

 

“Better.”  That gruff voice is approving. “The art is an /art/ – as much feeling as it is skill.  The skill is easy – the /feeling/ is harder, though both come from the inside.”

 

“It’s an art,” Chiro repeated, moving through the form agian unprompted, eyes still closed. “Skill is easy, but the feeling is harder. Is this the feeling, then?” Slow, slow, careful but not too much, as smooth as she could make them… slash and pivot-

 

She wobbled just a bit, but didn’t fall.

 

“Anyone can cut with a blade. Hold it like so, strike like such, thumb here, pivot with the hips for power – but not everyone can know when it is the right time to strike, or how a strike should feel, or what their body is seeking to say to them as they perform the action.  When your mind and your spirit are one, when they are your Will made manifest – you -become- the motion, the form. You no longer practice them. ”

 

When everything is one…. 

 

Slow, slow, careful- and she’s one move past the last place she fell. Two, three, four.

 

Eight-

 

Oh spirits. The jump kick.

 

She tried anyways.

 

The kick was good, the flick of her swords through the air nicely done, but the platform jumped and writhed like a living beast on landing. Chiro’s eyes flew open- the springy wood bucked under her-

 

-and off the side she went.

 

Again, Rain’s head appears over the side, as Chiro dangles and swings below – “Of course, practice helps!”

 

There’s faint, pained laughter.

 

“Just- lemme dangle for a second- catch my breath,” she yelled back, swinging gently for a minute before she could use her rubbery arms to haul herself up the rope. It was hard now. Harder every time, and her grip almost slipped with exhaustion. Instead she grabbed the rope with her teeth for a moment to help get a better handhold and then continued, wheezing a bit when she finally got on solid land.

 

She’d kept hold of her swords. One of the first things Rain drilled into her was never drop your weapon and she’d trounced Chiro for weeks until she learned it.

 

Rain nods – “I have permission to leave these here for a while – get some water, Chiro.   Then?  We’ll work on water lifting.”

 

She ruffles the girl’s hair, awkwardly. “All things in time.”

 

Chiro grins at her breathlessly when she ruffles her hair. It was such a small thing, but for them, it said more than the motion implied. After a moment, she rolls over and gets up to a sitting position. “Where is the well around here?”

 

“Oh.  You think you’re doing that from the well?”  Rain raises a brow. “Oh, no, my Chiro – ”  She holds out a pair of bowls.  And there’s a /faaaaint/ smile.

 

“You’re smiling. That’s usually very bad for me,” Chiro says, but she can’t help a grin of her own in response, tired though it may be. She stands, doing a series of cooldown stretches that Rain showed her previously. “Alright, Shifu. Where is the water then?”

 

Rain points to a nearby thick pole embedded in the ground.  At its base?  A half-barrel of water – she’s already filled it.  Isn’t that nice of her?

 

Up top is a bucket… and a bar.

 

It turns out that ‘water lifting’ is hooking your feet into the bar, dipping the bowls into the cistern, and doing a vertical sit up to pour the bowls into the bucket.  Rush, and you spill water everywhere.  Go too slow, and the situps are absolute nightmares.

 

And Rain?  Rain makes it worse by sitting nearby and plying her dagger to a bit of raw acacia wood – apparently she needs to carve a new staff.

 

Chiro can’t help it- it starts as giggles, then laughs, and finally she’s fighting to keep from full blown fits. “Of course! Of course. Eternal Alchemy! I love you, Shifu. Your creative exercises are the best ones. Alright!” She stood, one more stretch high to the sky, as much as her tiny arms can take her. “I can do this. Sure!”

 

Taking the bowls with a determined expression, she trotted off to the pole, not even realizing the words that lingered in her wake.

 

I love you.

 

Not any kind of romantic love, but a different one, no less profound for all that, and stated as the obvious. Chiro pushes sweaty hair out of her eyes and dumps the first two bowls on her head to cool off before starting. She has to leap and flip to hook her feet into the bar (it’s far beyond her height otherwise).

 

“Count them off, or?”

 

Rain’s voice is … rougher. “Just.. fill the bucket, little mouse.” She moves it closer and onto a large flat rock so Chiro can reach despite her size if she’s fully extended.

 

“Gotcha!”

 

One.

Two. 

Three…

 

Up and down and up and down. She’s too hasty the first few times and sloshes; by the sixth she’s gotten the hang of it but damn, the slow ones hurt. On fifteen she drops a bowl and grits her teeth to get off the bar and pick it back up.

 

The worst part is getting back up on the bar.

 

Is… is Rain /singing/?

 

It’s not /great/ singing – it’s rough and rusty and quiet – something about meeting again after the sky falls?  But it’s there, and her whittling is at best distracted.

 

She watches Chiro more than she works – the half-hummed, half-sung thing doesn’t seem to be something she’s fully conscious of doing.

 

It’s weirdly invigorating. Chiro’s able to time herself to it, and that helps, and she starts to hum along- well, she doesn’t really have the breath for it, but the grunt on the upswing is almost musical.

 

Forty nine, fifty. She pauses at the top to breathe, folded in half like a pretzel, and goes back down. I didn’t know she sings. Maybe she will give me the whole song later tonight. Maybe we can have ice cream and sing together sometime? Would she like that? I’d like that I think.

 

The bowl sloshes. Chiro mutters a curse in a breathy exhale, a phrase she’s heard Rain use in the snow when confronted by Sons of Svanir barring her path and thoroughly annoyed by the occurrence (it was the fourth time that day!).

 

Down, fill, up-

 

Her abs tremble.

 

Up! 

 

“Up!” She growls, and nearly doesn’t make it.

 

She likely doesn’t see – but Rain raises a heavy paw, as if to go to her, and catches herself.

 

Her Shifu is definitely watching… and rooting for her.

 

One more. One more. One more.

 

It’s ten whole one mores later that utter disaster strikes. Chiro can’t quite make it up and half-kicks out a leg for counterbalance by instinct, almost losing her grip. She managed to hook the foot back around the bar, but in the process…

 

It hits the bucket.

 

Fully half the water sloshes out, drenching her, and a look of utter abject horror crosses her face as she flops back down, realizing what she had done.

 

There’s a moment where she looks like she might cry.

 

But… instead, it turns into a thunderous expression, and a right as iron jaw, and Chiro takes one breath, then two, then three, shaky, steadying and mastering herself as best she can, before she scoops the bowl again to start refilling the god damned bucket.

 

Rain waits until the rage passes – until Chiro is struggling, but working – and then offers, gruffly. “I’m hungry.  I think the inn has these flatbreads you may enjoy- ”  She stands – “and I think we can spar a bit after dinner.”

 

Chiro just flops to the ground, almost boneless, and rolls over onto her back to stare at the sky. It’s a testament to how tired she is that the idea of sparring just makes her smile instead of asking a million questions and bouncing around Rain, wondering about dinner.

 

“….Oh good,” she says, faintly. “S’real good. One second, Shifu- lemme just-“

 

Slowly, she rolls over, and slowly, she stands, using the pole to help. “Are they gonna care that I’m wet?”

 

The first step is a stagger, but she shakes herself a little and hobbles over, looking a bit more alert and aware.

 

Rain … doesn’t say anything, just offers an arm to lean on. “I doubt it.”  Gruffly – “I hope you like spicy things.”

 

Dinner is, indeed, a flatbread with spicy seasoned meat and cheese and vegetables. Chiro is so tired she falls asleep at the table when Rain leaves to use the ladies room. She doesn’t remember strong arms picking her up and carrying her to their room. There’s a moment where she wakes briefly, but, being safe and secure, and somehow knowing this even three fourths asleep, she closed her eyes again with a mumble and went back to sleep.

 

Rain sleeps less, per her usual, staring moodily into the fire and looking at her massive, scarred, tattooed hands with an inscrutable expression, and occasionally at the small asura on the bed.

Author Cael
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