Rowan stood in the training grounds, a gentle breeze caressing her face. She held Elan Fiir in her hands. It was an exhilarating feeling; difficult to describe. Stronger and more nimble. Weightier and more graceful. The Resonance of the sword ripple through every inch of her body.
“It’s bizarre, isn’t it?” Tyris asked from where he was standing, just across from her near some training dummies. “Even with only the familial Resonance, I could still feel the latent power. You must be experiencing that tenfold; if not more.”
Rowan looked at Tyris with a pensive expression. “Maybe? It’s kind of like an extension of myself? Or maybe I’m an extension of it?”
“Well pondering on the matter isn’t going to answer your questions. Let me move out of the way and you can try out some practice swings. I want to make sure you still have proper form after all these years.”
Rowan grimaced at that last sentence. She had forgotten how strict and proper Tyris was with martial skills and she hadn’t exactly prioritised conventional techniques over the past five years. There wasn’t much she could do about it, however. And realistically, the forms that Tyris had taught her were designed with normal people in mind. Surely Ardents and Stoics would fight differently?
She looked around, hoping that someone would answer her silent question. Instead she was treated to the sound of sparring and combat drills. Rowan didn’t recognise any of the other people training; they were all from the myriad armed forces and were very much focused on looking prim and proper for their audience.
On the edge of the training grounds, Seres, the prodigal princess sat with the Awakened Pair from yesterday standing at her flanks. It was clear which one was which from the way they stood, even at a distance. The Stoic of the two was standing to attention with his bow strung and ready for action while the Ardent leaned casually on his spear. They were there to observe Rowan to ensure that she wasn’t dangerous whilst keeping Seres safe. They also made Rowan feel very nervous, as if she wasn’t yet fully trusted. It was painful feeling and even made her a little bit angry.
“It’s just a precaution,” she mumbled to herself as she got into position.
She kept a low guard with a light grip while holding her left hand back far enough to be out of the way but forwards enough to be useful in its own right. Then in one graceful movement she twisted the sword and cut upwards before bringing it straight back down. It was a bizarre feeling, as if she was swinging with the strength and mass of two people. In that moment, she felt a familiar touch guiding her hand amongst a sea of tears.
Then it was over, and the sensation eased, leaving Rowan somewhat confused as it seemed like she had missed what should have been a near perfect cut. There had been very little in the way of noticeable resistance as she swung. Even Tyris looked like he wasn’t quite sure what had just happened.
Doubting herself, she poked the dummy inquisitively. In response to her touch, it collapsed, thrice in twain.
Tyris looked at Rowan, wide-eyed as she staggered back in shock. “Did I really just do that?” she asked.
“You were amazing,” Tyris replied. “Well, the results suggest you were. It all happened too fast for me to follow. How did it feel?”
“Heavy? No, that isn’t the right word. Massive, perhaps? Yeah, that works. It was like I was swinging something as massive as a person but as light as a sword. I also felt more than twice as strong and you already saw how fast I was.”
“Are you sure that’s what you felt?” Tyris asked quizzically.
“As sure as sure can be. Why?”
Rowan looked at her brother with no small degree of doubt before turning to the princess and calling out to her. “Did you see that, Seres?” she shouted.
“I did,” Seres called back. “Keep up the great work, Rowan.”
“This is just the beginning.”
The exchange caught the attention of the group of soldiers who had been sparring with the hope of impressing Seres. They didn’t do anything overt to show there frustration at being overshadowed by a diminutive stranger, but they did keep an eye on her while they continued to train.
Too exhilarated to feel their baleful gaze, Rowan turned back to look at her brother expectantly. “So, what’s next?” she asked.
“Good question. Well I don’t think that we’ll make much progress with the testing dummies; you’ve already proven that you’re more than a match for them. How about this? Stand in the ring over there and show me what you’ve got.”
“Any particular forms?” Rowan asked.
“No,” Tyris replied quickly. “I want to see you as you are now as opposed to the adolescent you that I taught. As much as I wish it were so, you are not that girl anymore and I want to know how you’ve changed.”
“Okay…” Rowan responded hesitantly. It felt uncharacteristic of Tyris and she didn’t like how it brought attention to the distance of time between them. Even though she knew that he wanted to close that gap as much as she did, it still hurt. Even so, she also knew that this was an opportunity to speak with more than just words. In the ring she had a chance to paint a picture of her experiences.
The ring was a simple design, delineated by raised earthen border painted a deep, slightly luminescent blue. It contrasted well with the light dirt floor and any potential blood from sparring accidents. Granted, that last part was largely conjecture as the ring was free from any and all blood, much to Rowan’s surprise. She was far too used to the bloody arena in the caves. The lack of blood was a larger comfort than Rowan expected as it chased away the slight anxiety as she stood into the ring.
Taking a few breaths to ready herself, Rowan adjusted her grip and let her feelings guide her. Instead of taking a standard guard, she adopted a stance somewhere between the starting position of a dance and an open guard. She felt more limber than ever, as if a monolithic burden had been vanquished. It was an exhilarating feeling, one of trust and faith. And then she remembered. She remembered every fight she had been in from the caves to Bragi’s fall to the snowball fight all those winters ago. She remembered the night her mother died. She remembered how her mother fought; how she danced. She remembered her mother. A single tear hit the ground and the song began.
Rowan danced and fought with every last memory, guided by her emotions. In her heart she found strength. In the depths of her soul she found harmony amid the chaos of everything. She danced with a radiant desire that touched the hearts of everyone that watched as Elan Fiir whistled a song of hope that shined brighter than the sun. And with light came the darkness of hate that brought retributive condemnation to the eidetic phantoms that would bring her pain. But even in the darkest shadow the way can be lit by a sword engulfed in the flames of anger. However, treading such a path requires love to shield against the darkness and courage to face the dangers. Rowan’s heart cried out as all of her emotions permeated every fibre of her being.
She lost herself in the dance. With each movement she sensed everything and nothing. With every step she found grace beyond reason; fear and serenity acting in oxymoronic unity. She left no openings as she swept from phantom to phantom, cutting each one down with great and terrible beauty.
When her dance came to a close, she breathing heavily. Her battle was over, she had conquered her phantoms and won their hearts. To call it a flawless performance would be disingenuous as that would suggest that there was something to compare it to. In truth it was a one of a kind performance, an immortal moment known only to those who bore it witness. Rowan knew that she would never again be able to replicate it, especially as she wasn’t even sure exactly what had happened. It was all in the moment. Even capturing the feeling would be difficult beyond imagining. One aspect she would never forget, however, was her mother’s presence. It was with her the entire time and remained even now.
Rowan wasn’t sure how much time had passed and she hadn’t noticed the exceptionally large audience that she had managed to acquire; she was focused only on her brother and Seres. She didn’t have the energy to do much more than that. She smiled at them and hit the floor.
“It’s okay Rowan, you can sleep now.”
The last thing Rowan heard before she passed out was her mother’s voice.
Rowan woke up in the overly soft bed in her quarters to an extremely unexpected visitor. Queen Elarin sat in a chair across from her, accompanied by a maid and two guards, both female.
“I see you are finally awake,” said Queen Elarin as Rowan clambered up and shyly brought the blanket around herself.
“Indeed. You gave Seres and your brother significant cause for alarm when you collapsed.”
“You don’t need to apologise,” said Elarin, shaking her head. “It was clear that you were just exhausted. I must say it was a truly impressive performance?”
“You saw it?” Rowan asked with considerable surprise.
“The latter half, yes,” the queen replied. “From what I’m told, the runner that informed me of the performance was sent around ten minutes in.”
Rowan gave her a look of shock. “Ten minutes?”
“Indeed. And I was present for the last fifteen.”
“No wonder I was so exhausted!”
“Do you think your strength has returned?” Queen Elarin asked.
“I guess? That is to say, I feel more awake, Your Majesty.”
“Excellent. With the aid of our healers and chefs, you’ll make a full recovery. For now, let’s start with some water.” With that, Queen Elarin motioned to her maid to pour Rowan a glass.
Rowan accepted the glass with a smile. “Thank you, Queen Elarin.”
Queen Elarin looked at her with a smile of her own. “It is the least we can do, Rowan. I saw the truth of your emotions in that performance. Even at a distance it was vivid beyond compare, visceral even and Seres saw far more than just emotion. In her own words, the Resonance was thick enough to be tangible and painted a song of experiences like a beautifully awful cacophony.”
“That’s…” Rowan wasn’t really sure how she was supposed to respond to that. “Where is Seres?”
“In the reading room with your brother. It was almost impossible to get her leave your side. She was never like this as a child. Not exactly at least. You really made an impression on her.”
“I just did what I could,” said Rowan, shaking her head. “She did much more for me.”
“I’m sure she would say the same about you. I for one believe that you benefitted each other pretty much equally. If anything, you both formed a gestalt of mutual aid.”
“You really think so?” Rowan asked with a pleading look in her eyes.
“You have my word as queen.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
“Think nothing of it.”
“I think that’d be impossible,” Rowan sighed.
“Such a dramatic sigh,” Elarin laughed. “Unfortunately, the time has come for me to take my leave. However, before I go, I have one last thing to say.”
“In three days there will be a ball to celebrate Seres’ return and honour you and your friends who made it happen as well as all those who have suffered because of the foul operation you fell victim to. I intend to show my gratitude in full and will be greatly appreciate it if you would attend as a guest of honour. Your friends have already been invited.”
“Yes, of course. It’ll be a massive honour to accept. That was probably a redundant comment considering the position. There is something I must ask though.”
“My friend, Amran. His ankle was injured in the escape. Is he okay?”
“He should be. I sent our best healers to see him after Seres told me about the escape. They had to remover the foot, but he has been provided with a prosthetic and a more functional one is being crafted as we speak.”
The news filled Rowan with joy and sadness as well as a little bit of guilt. On the one hand, Amran was in good hands, but he had lost a foot because of her. She gave Queen Elarin a sad little smile. “Thank you, Your Majesty,” she said, “I won’t keep you any longer.”
“Shall I send in Seres and your brother? I’m sure they’d like to speak to you.”
With that, Queen Elarin took her leave with the maid and guards in tow. Meanwhile Rowan readied herself for the conversation that was bound to follow with Seres and her brother.
Author’s Notes: Hello everyone. First off, I wanted to apologise. I know it’s been a couple of weeks since I released the last chapter and I explain why and assure you all that this won’t be a common occurrence. To put it simply, I had a severe mental health episode that bordered on being a crisis. For those of you that don’t know, I have BPD and it hit me like a truck while I was working on this chapter. I won’t go into details here but it was bad. Unfortunately, even when the crisis was past, I kept feeling like I couldn’t do the chapter justice which made the break much longer than I hoped which made everything so much harder. But I finally managed to bite the bullet and get it done. I hope that the finished piece is to your liking. We should be back to regular posting again. On top of that, I’m going to be working on my buffer and patreon chapters so that this doesn’t happen again.