A Woeful Melody
I wake up to the sound of birds chirping. The air holds a pleasant chill, one that foreshadows a hot day. I glance to the left and see that Gwynn is gone, along with her bag and bedroll. I stand up and stretch, feeling my back and neck popping. I’m unaccustomed to sleeping on the ground with such thin bedding. Leaving the tent, I look around and everything is gone. The fires, the tents, the people, every sign of life from the night before has simply vanished. The sun is low in the sky, indicating that it’s early morning still.
Everyone left while I slept? Why? Where did they go? I glance around the clearing, but there truly is no sign as to where they might have gone. What can I do now? If I’m left alone out here, I’ll probably die. I don’t have the knowledge to survive in the wilderness.
Just then, I hear the muted sound of someone walking over leaves. I turn to face the noise as a man emerges from the trees. He wears the white shirt and brown pants of the group, his figure lean and muscular. He has a strong jaw, short brown hair, and light blue eyes that border on grey. He stands half a foot taller than me and I can see the hilt of a sword over his shoulder. He has the look of a pure military man.
“Cerc has put you in my care for training.” His voice is a smooth baritone, softer than I’d expect, but despite that, it carries an unmistakable tone of command.
“There are two ways we can do this:
One, I command and you obey, no questions, no hesitation.
Or two, you don’t listen, you hesitate, and are punished accordingly. I take no pleasure in dealing out discipline, but I’ll do what’s required to ensure you’re trained properly. Do you understand me?”
“Yes sir.” I say meekly. I’m not entirely sure what to make of him. His voice is gentle, but monotone, his eyes apathetic.
“Good. Now, take down the tent quickly. We’re running behind schedule.” I move as fast as I can, though I’m unsure how to disassemble the tent. Luckily, as soon as I begin I realize that it’s fairly self-explanatory. Still, I feel like I’m moving too slowly for the man. He watches silently until I have it wrapped up to the best of my ability. He walks over and points at the bundle.
“Unfold and refold it correctly.” I unfold the tent at his word, and try to puzzle out what he means. Almost immediately, I note handles built into the fabric, which I assume are straps to carry it on my back. I refold it with straps facing outward now and place it on my back. The man moves away a few steps, then turns to face me.
“Copy what I do.” He says and begins to pump his arms and legs in place. I follow, feeling awkward at first, but getting the motion quickly. Then he goes into stretches for the front and back of the leg, and upper body as well. He transitions quickly from one to the next and I frantically work to keep up. He doesn’t say anything, and I bite my tongue to stop from asking him one of the many questions I have.
“Now, we run. Keep up with me.” I note the command and the unspoken ‘or else’. He starts out at a light jog with me following at his heels, my heart picking up quickly. We maintain the pace for maybe five minutes before he begins to accelerate. My muscles are loose and responsive from the stretching, but I can feel their lack of strength from years of working in the archives. I widen my stride to keep up, my legs pumping twice for every one of his. I stare at his back and feel my thoughts go blank. The fatigue and pain that was building in my legs and lungs is pushed to the back of my mind and ignored. All that’s left is moving forward.
My foot snags a root and I tumble to the ground, too surprised to properly cushion my landing. I feel a sharp pain in my right shoulder where it makes contact with the ground. Looking up, I see the man continuing through the forest. Whether he saw me or not, I don’t know; however, I don’t want to be left behind, so I get up. Pushing off the ground with my uninjured left arm, I stand up and run to catch up with him. I have to cradle my right arm to my body, and even then it still stings painfully from being jostled around. The man doesn’t turn to look at me, nor does he slow his pace at all. I can’t ignore the pain as we run, and, instead of distracting from it, it makes the muscle pains in my legs that much more pronounced. Everything is colored red in a burning haze. Eventually, the man slows to a walk, which I’m thankful for. I catch my breath as best I can, and have a brief respite from the stinging in my shoulder. The sun is high in the sky by now, and the heat that I anticipated before is in full force. Sweat pours from me in rivers, and I shake my head to get rid of some.
“Take a five minute break.” He tosses me a canteen, which I catch clumsily in my left hand. “Drink lightly, or else you’ll vomit.” Even though I’m thirsty, I only take sips. We sit on some rocks to rest.
Should I mention my shoulder? What if he’s already noticed, but doesn’t care? I don’t want to seem weak. While I don’t care for fighting, I understand the importance of what he could teach me.
“Come here.” He gestures me closer. I obey and move over to where he sits. Without another word, he grabs my right arm, gently but firmly and pushes it in, popping my shoulder into place.
“Ow!” I exclaim loudly as a sharp pain digs into my shoulder for a moment, then it’s gone. I rotate my shoulder and it feels normal again.
“Thank you.” I say and he nods.
“We should move now. We need to catch up to the group.” Well, at least that somewhat answers where we’re going. The rest of the day passes in a blur. I’m able to run thoughtlessly again, and keep up surprisingly well. When the sun is at the horizon, we stop for the night. The air has gone from unbearable warm to frigid, but it’s nice against my hot skin. I don’t unpack the tent, instead using it as a pillow to rest my head.
“Gather some kindling wood.” He says, as he rips up some grass. I go out and come back with what I think is a sufficient amount of wood. He takes them and arranges them into a pile with grass interspersed. Then, rather than using iron and flint, he simply puts a hand over the pile and it bursts into flames.
“Is that also vitality?” I ask in wonder.
“Yes. Which brings me to the other part of your training.” The fire catches fast and he feeds it more wood, before speaking again. “Do you have any idea how vitality works, or how to use it?”
“No. I’ve only ever seen it used twice. One of them being right now.”
“Okay, then we’ll start with the basics. Look here,” he says and lifts his arm. His veins pulsate with a light from his fingertips to his elbow. “Vitality is the life energy that exists in everyone. It’s something that can be harnessed to do a variety of things. What you just saw me do was use vitality to create heat. It can also be used to create light, sound, electrical shocks, and to amplify your senses and physical capabilities. As a trade off, you’re using up the very thing that gives you life. It can replenish after a while, but you have to be extremely careful. If you use too much too quickly, you’ll exhaust yourself, and were you to use all of it, you’d die.”
“How do I use it?” I ask, excited despite the warnings. Who wouldn’t be excited at the thought of magic?
“The first thing is I need to see how much vitality you have.” He says sternly, and places a hand on my forehead. I feel an uncomfortable sensation, like invisible fingers digging into my brain. “Hmm...you have a good amount of it naturally.”
“What determines how much vitality I have?”
“Luck, mainly, and physical fitness. You seem to be lucky, and naturally athletic.” The compliment coming from him surprises me.
“How does physical fitness change your vitality?” I ask, my curiosity getting the better of me.
“Like I said, vitality is your life energy, so if you’re in better health, you have more life energy flowing through your veins. However, don’t think that just because you have a lot of vitality, you’re any better off. If you can’t use it properly, you’re just as likely to kill yourself. Now, I want you to try and channel it. The life energy originates in your head, and is channeled through your veins to where you need it to go.” He grabs my hand and turns it face up. “Try to light up your palm.” Letting go, he settles back to watch. I hesitate, unsure how to go about it. Closing my eyes, I focus my mind. After a while, I can sense it. The vitality swirls around like thoughts just out of reach. I attempt to gather them, but they slip from my grasp. I try again and again, but with no luck. Finally, I open my eyes.
“I can sense the vitality, but I can’t control it.”
“That’s a good start. Try to clear your mind and focus on only the task at hand. Extraneous thoughts can hinder your ability to direct the energy.” I struggle to do so, my thoughts preoccupied with Tern, Tef, the church, Gwynn, and my doubts as to whether I can actually help anyone. How is Tef doing now? Is he even alive anymore? I take deep breaths to steady myself, but to no avail.
“It’s no use.” I blurt out, frustrated with my failure.
“Work on it. That’s good progress for your first time.” The man says. He rummages around in his bag for a bit and pulls out dried meat and bread. We eat in silence and settle down for the night. Before I give in to my exhaustion, I work up the courage to ask one of the questions in the forefront of my thoughts.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your name sir?” There’s a beat of silence before he answers.
“Kyne,” he says, then I can tell by his breathing that he’s asleep, or at least, he pretends to be. Fatigue takes me soon after, and I accept it pleasantly, falling asleep.