Cael hissed a bit as she gingerly unbuckled the steel forged pauldrons. They THUNKed heavily to the wooden floor there in the barracks. Gauntlets followed; then boots and the rest of it. Each hit the wood with a dull noise, until Cael was left in only the thick tunic, layered wool and cotton, and the simple leather pants she typically wore under her greaves. It hurt to take them off, the sort of hurt that came from a severe sunburn. The young warrior half expected to see her  skin blistred and peeling, despite her fur. But as it stood in worgen form, only the care which she moved and the winces gave away the pain. 

It could be worse, though. A lot worse. 

The first round she did ok. 


Rules were simple: if the Light touched her, the lesson was over. Arialynn, Justicar of the Templars of the Rose, stood like a mountain planted there on the grey stone courtyard steps opposite the ones Cael stood on. Both had weapons and shields drawn; both faced each other. The goal was simple, except Cael knew it wouldn’t be: to land one good blow on the other woman. Arialynn would be keeping defensive for now. All she had to do was get past it. 


Simple, of course, never meant easy. 


Closing the distance on the paladin was difficult. Arialynn didn’t hold back, which she was grateful for. In return, Cael fought with her usual intensity and focus. After a few testing attacks that were rebuffed, Arialynn countered by slamming a hammer made of Light into the ground, lighting up the area with crackling gold energy. Cael only just got out in time and slowed at the fizzling borders of the area, circling, thinking. Arialynn seemed as unfazed as always. The circle extended at least ten feet our from her, blocking avenues of approach. 


Normally, Cael would look at that and then just- bulldoze through, because people rarely expected that and hopefully she would be fast enough that it didn’t kill her entirely before the she reached the mage, paladin, or whoever her opponent happened to be. But this was not normal, there were rules, and so she circled for another moment before it occurred to her. 


She back up a few paces, still circling. Then- 


Muscles, tendons, sinews in powerful legs coiled and tensed, bunched, released their energy in one explosive move as she bolted forward and JUMPED, using a slightly raised portion of the dirt courtyard as a leaping point. Nearly four hundred combined pounds of combined worgen and plate armor catapulted through the air. If she were anything but what she was -an astoundingly fit young worgen warrior- it probably wouldn’t have worked. As it is… 


Cael simply went over the area of energy on the ground, not touching it at all, flying toward the Justicar with incredible force. She reacted immediately, throwing up a protective sort of bubble-sheild thing. There was no way to alter course midair. Cael slammed into it with enough force to make it flare and send a shockwave of tingling pain up her sheild arm, but it held firm even as the impact dissipated and she was thrown by the rebound to the now normal, non-glowing or crackling dirt of the courtyard. 


The landing hurt, of course. Her arm throbbed. But it was worth it to look up and see a tiny smile grace the Justicar’s face as she looked down at where Cael had plowed a small furrow into the dirt. 


But the second round…. 


“I won’t go easy on you,” Arialynn said in that blunt sort of way of hers. Cael nodded, adrenaline seeping into her, hair on the back of her neck prickling at the words. Now the Justicar would attack as well as defend. 


That turned out to be an entirely different fight. 


‘Difficulty’ closing the distance between them because ‘nearly impossible’ as Cael was forced on the defensive almost immediately. She half expected it, the Justicar being, well,The Justicar, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating. Embarrassingly short, the round ended when Cael tried a diversionary tactic that backfired spectacularly. Throwing her sword at the Justicar (but keeping her shield, the most important weapon) she then leaped at her, aiming to land behind her and strike at her unprotected back. Unfortunately, Arialynn got off her shield in time to intercept both. Then she fire a- a flying golden hammer at Cael, something she’d neer seen before. She only just got up her sheild in time to intercept it but the force was something akin to say, a meteor, and it drove her back even as she leaned all her weight on her sheild to stop it. Steel clanked on stone as it pinned her to the wall behind them, and it threatened to flatten her agianst it. Only a snarl and sheer determination made her hold her ground, struggling to keep it blocked as the force of it pressed and pressed and pressed and her arms shook with the effort, sweat dripped off her nose, the Light around it burned and crackled and-


-Suddenly it was gone, and she nearly pitched forward like a hapless idiot, overbalanced. 

All things told, that could have done… a lot better. 


Cael sighed as she painstakingly began to take her gear, piece by piece, and put it on her bunk. Then she sat with a cleaning rag. Still… She wasn’t mad. That I failed, I mean. Or didn’t fail. She said it wasn’t a failure. Learning happens, it takes time, right? I had thought I disappointed her but- but she wasn’t mad. I’m so glad she wasn’t mad. I can’t- I just can’t handle that. A weakness, a glaring flaw, but it was true. Raised voices made Cael want to tuck tail and run, froze the breath in her chest, sent her heartbeat speeding up. Nothing good ever happened to her when people were angry, after all, and while the Templars would never hurt her, not like that, not like she was used to… The reaction remained. She wasn’t wrong, I do need more endurance. But the meditation…. being more- whole, she said? At peace with myself? I’m not sure… I dunno if that will ever happen. Even the elves said there was only so much they could do with my kind of lingering… trauma. That was the word. 

Dirt flaked off onto the floor. A bucket of oily rags, one of cleaner ones, and a third waiting and empty for the moment testified to her almost-faily ritual of this. Gear was important. She couldn’t protect anyone if she was not protected enough by her armor, right? So, without fail, every day, Cael cleaned and maintained her gear. 

It helped clear her head, too. Sometimes it felt like there was too… too MUCH going on in there for peace or quiet. Like her biggest concern these days. 

What if practice, her endless practice, wasn’t enough- enough to protect people, to stop Sielic, to… to do what she needed to do? To be good?

No. It has to be, Cael thought stubbornly. She wasn’t a paladin, with the Light, or a death knight with unholy abilities, or a mage with the arcane at her fingers. All she had was practice, and a stupid sort of stubbornness. It would be enough. It HAD to be enough. 

I’ll just do more. Do better. Spar with more people, she thought, as her arm hurt with every careful rub of the oily rag. I can do that. I CAN do that. She said Koryander would be helping- now that is SURE to improve me. Koryander has been- well. She….

Never had Cael expected to find someone else like her, another escapee, in the ranks of the Templar Never had she expected it would be one of the inner circle. Koryander was fire, warmth and warming, with a temper just as hot and determination that burned like a beacon, lighting the way. 

Never had she expected to find a scar on a throat that mirrored her own, lighting the way for her. It was faint, but she remembered it, remembered seeing it during the time Koryander fitted her for this exact armor. The older woman was amazing. Proof that Cael could be what she wanted, if she wanted. Right? 

Right. 

And Koryander is- they all talk about her like she’s a training badass. She’ll be super hard on me. Which is great. I want that. That is exactly what I need. If I am going to protect these… these amazing people, I have to be amazing too. At LEAST amazing. And maybe she can help me with the meditating thing too, though I’m not sure-

Suddenly she paused.

Wei. 


Wei might can help. She’s a Pandaren. They do all that meditating stuff, don’t they? I don’t know much about them but she won against Murdhoc, and- no, wait. A frown crossed her face. Wei is… really nice. And kind. And a healer. If something happens in training- 

Memories, the taste of blood in her mouth like a unique psychosomatic pain, the sudden twitch of her hands around the rag as she felt again the resistance of flesh against her claws and heard the phantom echo crack of bone in her teeth. Cael swallowed. 

She had control. Mostly. Usually. But if the cave and those damn visions had shown her anything, it was confirmation that her greatest fear was losing control of herself and becoming the thing she had once been. 

Arialynn was the Justicar and, if need be, if Cael ever lost control, she would put her down. (And she would deserve it.)

Koryander was a fierce warrior and also a paladin. She, too, was capable of putting her down, and would if she had to, to protect other people, other Templars.

But the tea serving pandaren, for all her skill, was…. kind

She might hesitate, and if something happened, if she lost control, and Wei didn’t strike, Cael knew without any illusion that she would rip out the monk’s throat in that half-second of inaction. 


….I’ll have to think on that, then. 

She shook herself, trying to clear thoughts from her head. No. NO. Stop. There was no point in dwelling on those things. She had armor to clean, a guard shift later, and the, practice. Her Light-burn still hurt, fiercely, but she wouldn’t vary her schedule because of it. She had to be better. 

And it was only pain, after all. It wasn’t even permanent. The Justicar said she would heal it tomorrow when they discussed what she’d done wrong. 

Even if, right now, it lingered, along with thoughts about Sielic, the Templars, her own fighting ability, and the nebulous future. 

Author Cael
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