They traveled slowly from the foothills of the norn homeland to Heolbrak and then Lornar’s Pass. The two were an odd pair, bear-sized red headed norn woman and tiny, energetic blonde asura girl, neither dressed or acting typically for their species. Chiro didn’t notice the looks when they drew them, and any lingering stares were met with flat hazel eyes returning the gaze with an unfriendly expression.

 

The Sons of Svanir remained a threat all throughout the Shiverpeaks. Their handiwork was on display in slaughtered merchant caravans and corpses left to freeze, in unnaturally tall and malevolent icicle spires leeching foul energy, in corrupted animals and plants near the vicinity of such. They fought them where they found them, a testing of Chiro’s fledgling skills, with Rain keeping her close the entire time.

 

“It is early,” she said, “for such testing. But the Sons of Svanir did not consult me in the matter. Stay close, little mouse.”

 

Rain does not tap into the feral power of her bear, not for these enemies; instead here is a cold, precise fury, and her swords -she has a number of weapons,but the  two great heavy cleaving swords she wields at once and a longer, thinner, more elegant blade in a style Chiro doesn’t know, the one she called her family heirloom, are used the most- cleave flesh with the same ease as a hot knife through snow. To say they are outmatched is like saying the ocean is wet and big: technically accurate, but failing to grasp the true scope of things. Chiros smaller butterfly swords should in theory do less damage- but with Rain’s training and her own speed, she finds herself able to cut throats and stab eyeballs and inflict terrible damage on weak points and vulnerable areas.

 

(She freezes, the first time. It’s not the same as before, it’s not the first time she’s killed to protect herself, but that was a fight for her life forced upon her. This… was a deliberate decision to end a life, and she jerked when a warm steady hand rested on her shoulder.

 

“….Do not let it get easy, little mouse. If you are- if it is- ….I can handle-“

 

“No. No. I’m- I’m ok, Shifu. Just… startled.” But Chiro leans into the touch, and stays close the rest of the day, a little quieter than normal.)

 

It’s two days later, midday; a storm is brewing according to her teacher, who sniffed the air then declared that they had a few hours at most. Somehow she led Chiro to a cave, occupied only by the massive skeleton of an unfortunate dolyak. Then she showed her how to cut and layer sapling pine trees to block the opening in such a way that the impending blizzard would be kept out, but they would not suffocate when they lit a fire.

 

Chiro set about making soup as the storm rolled in.

 

“….How do you apply the Art in a bad place, Shifu?” She asked, after a moment of quiet, with the sort of seriousness that said she’d been mulling this over for a while. “If it’s in everything, I mean?”

 

“You practice until it is instinct, and then you practice more.  Hopefully, you avoid the bad situation entirely – where you cannot, then hopefully your practice makes it instinct.”   Rain reaches out and touches Chiro’s wrists – “The push-ups we did hurt, I know.  You could barely move your wrists to eat – and your wrists will grow stronger.  If we do this exercise tomorrow, some part of you will know the pain that will come – like all things, it is a test of yourself as well as an exercise to grow stronger.  When the pain begins, you know what to expect – will you fear it, or will you breathe?”

 

Rain pauses. “I think you have seen more than I – you have been beaten. The Inquest expected you to die. This could cow you – it could become a thing of fear.. or it could drive you to focus.  To perform your tasks as well as you could, without losing your spirit, and help those around you.  How many around you broke, instead of bending?”

 

“….A lot. Nearly me, before I figured out how to be…. To make them not see me. To… be a little like water, and change my shape without changing what I was made of,” she replied, leaning into that rare contact as Rain carefully unwraps and rewraps the linen strips there.

 

“Always.  Life is pain, Chiro – it is many things, but there is always pain.  Sometimes, it is burned skin from your own fire, or the ache in old scars, or the pain of cold air in your lungs as it freezes you from the inside. Sometimes it is a broken bone or a bloody nose.  Sometimes?  It is the darkness in the soul that corrodes us.   I will disappoint you.  You will fall in the mud.  You will be alone in the dark and no one will be there.   It in no way lessens the joys – the good moments.  But pain is a strong teacher – as the spirits of the world tell us, “the darkness before the dawn exists so that we see the glory of the sunrise.””

 

Chiro’s frowns grows, unhappily, as Rain speaks; but at the teachings of the spirits of the world it stops, smooths into contemplation. She burrows deeper into the coat Rain got her, setting her twin blades (daggers for a norn, full size swords for her, and mirrors of one another in that butterfly blade style) down as she thinks.

 

“…At first that sounded super depressing, Shifu. But… it’s actually really, really hopeful, isn’t it? Life is pain. But that’s ok, because we keep breathing.” She stirred the soup as the wind picked up outside.

 

“More than that.”  Rain’s hazel eyes focus on Chiro’s.  “When you were alone in the dark, every blow, every tear – it led you here.  I am no… mother.  I am little more than a teacher – but perhaps, in time?  This will be worth all of that pain – and the pain to come.    You are already unlike most other asura – they have not seen or felt what you have.  I see the strength within you – the steel at your heart.  Would you be /this Chiro/, right now, right here, without what had come before?”

 

“No. I couldn’t be. I never would have survived the first year. Let alone the rest of it.” The answer comes immediately. So does the smile, only a heartbeat after.

 

“I guess this means you’re my new sunrise, Shifu!”

 

Rain inclines her head. “I hope to be worthy of those words, my Chiro.  Most of… many others dreaded me.  I.. was not always …”

 

She shakes her head.  “It does not matter.  I am .. I will try.”. She.. winces.  “Now.”. It comes with renewed focus. “Tomorrow, we will work on the first air form.  If you awaken before me, you should stretch, and eat only lightly.  We will have much to do, and you will appreciate not being full.”

 

There’s a moment of confusion, but it’s overshadowed by the joy of new form! New form! “Stretch, eat lightly. Yes Shifu. You should put some stuff on those places the Svanir got you with that ice spell thing too if we go out.”

 

“I shall.  Now. Pay attention to the soup, or you will be running in the deep snow tomorrow as payment for burning it.”

Author Cael
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