She split the rays of the early suns with her well-cut figure–hands planted at the base of her hips and her shoulders squared against trailing storm winds. She had taken her hair out of her braid, and the auburn locks lifted with the breeze. With my arms hugged around my head, I peeked with sleep-winked eyes from beneath them. Her shadowed face split into a grin.
“Morning,” Elmiryn said.
I groaned and curled in on myself, hiding my face. “Already?” I whined in a low voice.
The woman warrior sighed and I heard her walk a few steps away, probably to put on her bracers and shoulder guards. “Wake up, Nyx. I won’t have you wasting precious daylight, y’know. If I’ve gotta drag you, I’ll drag you.”
I stiffened at this declaration and jerked myself upright, my eyes trained on her as she adjusted her gloves.
“Besides,” Elmiryn added as she went to pick up her other things, laid neatly out on a blanket. “We need to get out of here before the farmers wake up. They might still feel the need to look around the area with daylight on their side. I don’t want to hurt peasants if I don’t have to.”
She tightened the straps of her shoulder guards and gave them a firm pat to see if they were well secure. Satisfied, she looked back at me and quirked an eyebrow. “Well? Come on. We need to get your things. I imagine you don’t want to walk around barefoot all day.”
I rubbed at my eyes and stood, somewhat unsteady, and gave my shoulders a roll. The arm I dislocated didn’t ache anymore. I picked up the arrowhead I had saved from the night before, which I placed near my head while I slept, and held it between my teeth as I grabbed the blanket Elmiryn had let me use. With a sigh, I folded it awkwardly.
I snuck some looks at my new companion as I did so. She was strapping a belt around her waist, with two blades holstered on it–one a six-inch knife on her right hip, the other a long sword. From what I could tell from the shape of the sheath, the blade wasn’t very pointed–that told me it was a sword meant to be swung, not to stab with. It also had a red-jeweled pommel and a gilded cross guard–the crescent moon variety that faced the direction of the blade, of which a phrase was etched in an ancient language. My mind tickled with recognition at the design, and I paused in my actions with a frown.
Elmiryn caught me staring and followed my line of sight. She smirked. “I got it through combat,” she said, bending to pick up her own blanket. “I liked the sword, so I took it. The other guy didn’t need it anymore.” She looked at me again, an edge to her gaze, as if daring me to question further.
I blinked at her, and looked down. She thought I knew where the sword was from. I wanted to ask her, but feared what would happen if I did. I handed her the blanket and she took it, along with hers, and placed it in her satchel. She came up again and turned, tossing me an apple.
Startled, I caught it.
“That’ll have to do until we find some food later. Right now, let’s go get your things before the village wakes up.” she said. Elmiryn shouldered her bow and quiver, grabbed her satchel, and began walking away.
I looked at the apple, then her. I rubbed it on my gambeson–trying not to think about the futility of that action considering the cleanliness of my clothes in general–and bit into it. Juice dribbled down my chin. After a few quick strides I had caught up with the woman and we walked in silence.
Dawn. A creeping warmth on a cold land. I thought about these things when dream and reality hazed together in my head. Light was peeking past the hills and splintered through the leaves in shafts. Mist carried the rosen glow about our shadowed forms as we marched over the damp leaves and tender roots. My breath came in light fogs before my face. The hark of a bluejay made my ears perk. It felt incongruous in this sleepy setting.
I didn’t walk quite alongside Elmiryn, but rather, just a little behind. I didn’t want her to think I was calling myself her equal. She was a warrior, a strong one, and had clearly experienced enough in life to walk as surely as she did now. But of what class was she? Was she a noble on a quest for enlightenment? Was she a soldier following orders from her king? Was she a simple peasant, a common person, making a name for herself through brave deeds and other such heroic acts in the hopes that she could escape the banality of normal existence?
…Was…Was she like me?
This last thought brought me no comfort. Instead, it made me nervous. The apple in my hand dwindled like my certainty as I gazed at Elmiryn’s back. I didn’t want to mingle with thieves, murderers, or charlatans. I stole, yes, but only from those who could afford a loss. I only resorted to theft out of necessity, not greed.
I told myself these things often at night.
I scrunched up my nose and frowned down at my apple. I had finished it–even eaten half of the core. I tossed the thing away, thinking firmly, “And what would an evil person be doing saving kittens and fighting demons?”
The answer eluded me.
“Hey, Nyx. As much as I like having you staring at me like the answer to life is hidden in my backside, d’ya think maybe you could lead? You’re the only one who knows where your things are.”
I gave a start and looked at Elmiryn, who stared back at me with an expectant look. Blushing, I mumbled an apology and went ahead of her.
My back tensed as I felt her gaze on my back. Did she have to stare? …Oh, well I suppose it was only fair. I peeked a glance at her over my shoulder and our eyes met. Nervously I looked forward again. Elmiryn started to hum. I felt like she were teasing me for my skittishness. The tune was a curious one, and at first I was a little perplexed that someone like her would know it.
It was too innocent and frivolous to come from such a source, I thought with pursed lips. I hadn’t even seen the woman draw her sword, and I was certain she could incapacitate me permanently with one strike–TWO if she wanted to draw it out with some flourish. But she had as much reason to trust me as I did her…right?
“Your clothes are enchanted, aren’t they?” Elmiryn asked me suddenly.
I looked back at her, then turned forward to properly duck beneath a low branch of a bay tree. “Yes,” I said.
My mother’s clothes were specially made by an Ailuran tailor, who knew the spell roughly known as, “Second Skin.” It allowed a therian to shift into any form, and not tear or lose his clothes in the process. Whatever shape I took, my clothes would fit to my body perfectly. It was practically a necessity in therian cultures to have clothes blessed with Second Skin. The lives of shape-shifters had many risks and dangers, the kind that other sentient creatures couldn’t possibly comprehend. They were expensive, and in the case of the poor, were treasured items that were passed down from generation to generation.
I thought of my mother, and felt a surge of audacity channel through my veins. “You put a hole through my gambeson,” I said in a churlish tone.
…The fact that Elmiryn saved my life by doing so, not withstanding.
I could hear the smile in her voice when she asked, “Well, considering the state of your clothes I didn’t really think a–”
“It belonged to my dead mother.” The amount of force I put into those words surprised even me. I stopped and glared back at Elmiryn, my hands clenched at my sides. Inside my chest, my heart pounded hard against my ribs–but my fear was overshadowed by anger. There were certain things that I just couldn’t ignore.
To my astonishment, Elmiryn actually winced at my harsh look. Then her face went blank and she looked away. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you…or your mother.” She rubbed the back of her neck and gestured at me with her chin–a habit of hers it seemed. “I’m no tailor, but I’ve some needle and thread with me. I can sew it up if you’d like. That won’t mess with the enchantment, right?”
I stared at her. She knew how to sew? I guess even warriors cared whether their clothes were torn… “It won’t.” I said. I really was establishing myself as quite the lengthy speaker, wasn’t I?
She smiled and nodded. “Okay, then.”
I gazed at her for a moment longer, then continued walking. I felt more certain of myself somehow, and the tension in my back eased.
…Evil people don’t care about dead mothers