There was a pain that accompanied fighting monsters out in the world, and there was a pain that accompanied the resurrection at the bindstone. Then there was the pain that followed a training session with Razeriem. She'd met him at the Arms while waiting around for one last hope of her mother showing up. He knew her, though said he probably wasn't her mother's favorite person. He talked a lot, but he seemed to know what he was talking about for the most part.
He had requirements for teaching her, though. Originally he said there were three, but then he forgot one. "Do what I say," and "No quitting." Apparently, the third requirement was clothing related.
It didn't take long to realize once the first training session started, that there was very little chance she had of even making contact with her blade against him, let alone standing a chance of hurting him. The thought was both daunting and comforting. She simply had to try. Every time she attacked him, though, she would end up with a slap of his wooden blade against her hip. Each time, nearly the exact same spot on either side depending on which side was exposed. He adjusted her footwork, and had her repeat the movements over and over again. Each swat of his blade stung as her own blade was knocked aside and her footing off-balanced. She wore no armor, and he examined the way her muscles moved beneath her clothes and then instructed her in how to keep herself centered, and how to keep herself from leaving openings as he knocked her attack aside as if it was nothing but a simple insect attempting to land.
Maybe the first session took hours... maybe it took days, but by the time the elf finally decided to tell her that they'd done enough for the day she felt like her arms and legs were filled with lead and her hips were bruised through the bones. She managed to drag herself back down the stairs to the door and dragged her cloak beside her as she trudged across and down the street to the Leringard Arms. She sat down on one of the couches, intending to order something to eat and drink, but instead, her eyelids closed and she was thrown back into her all too familiar nightmare world filled with mist, monsters, and demons. But now, instead of being entirely alone against these phantasms she was joined by unlikely allies and long lost family. And somewhere in her dreams and memory, a blonde girl watched, and she smiled.
Movement. That's what they were working on this week. Moving forward, moving backward, moving at angles. They were changing direction to avoid being into too much rhythm with the opponent. It was like a dance: Advance, retreat, step side, duck, turn, step, repeat, change direction, change pace. Appel, Ballestra, Check Step Forward. Each of the moves were fluid, and she caught on quickly. The bruises and pain didn't seem to matter quite as much and she realized, much to her chagrin, that she appreciated the time and attention that was given. It wasn't a group of people, thankfully, and while she still didn't feel quite comfortable in her skin, as they practiced and as she learned, she was able to stop worrying about things that didn't matter in the moment, and concentrate on the task, the dance, the battle at hand. It cleared her mind in a way that meditation hadn't ever seemed to work before. She actually managed to hit him once while practicing a new move. It had surprised her, and while part of her felt badly for possibly hurting him in any way, and she stumbled backward as he knocked her out of the way. She'd startd to ask him if she'd actually made contact, and he swatted her hard against the leg for having her feet off balance. But she had hit him. He was proud of her, and the rush of triumph she felt chased the sting from the blow from the cane away quickly, giving her the desire to continue even more.
This time, though, a boy showed up during her training. The presence of someone else, offset her balance and distracted her. Suddenly, she was self-conscious again. It wasn't just Raz watching her or judging her, it was a stranger. A smack hard against her leg brought her back to awareness. She rubbed the spot and focused again on her teacher. He spoke to the boy while she practiced the movements, trying to block out the knowledge that now there were two people watching her instead of just one.
When Raz came back, though, training wasn't over. Sparring time to practice the moves she'd learned. In and out angles, dodge, strike. Angle the body, strike. Swat. Ignore the sting, move in again, Appel, Ballestra, sweep the blade aside, angle the body, strike below... hit!
She stumbled backward, surprised and apologetic again that she might have hurt him.
"Sorry, for the gods sake, why?" Raz beamed at her. "That was magnificent! You performed exquisitely! The footplay on your stomp lunge was very nice, but the clean out parry to shadow your offhand attack was inspiring."
She felt her face color with the compliments and a surge again to continue her practicing. She knew the boy was watching off to the side also, which again distracted her a bit. She performed for Raz again, working on everything she'd learned, but she felt the sting of his ripostes as he blocked her attacks, stinging more on top of the already tender areas where he had swatted her before with each blocked attack and opening she'd left. She'd have bruises again for sure.
Finally, she was released, given what she was to work on before she returned and the outline of the clothes she was to wear for the next session- he did seem overly concerned with clothing for some reason.
The boy, who she later found out was named Whisper, offered to buy her dinner after the practice, and she'd gone with him back to the Inn.
They were joined by Tharivian, and Rebecca felt a bit relieved to see a familiar presence while trying to talk to the new person.
Whisper knew Viper. Viper had been training him. An instant wave of jealousy hit her. It made sense now why Whisper had said that she looked familiar. She finished her dinner with the other two and went up to her mother's room again, which was still empty.
Rebecca looked around at the room and couldn't help the tears that started to flow down her cheeks. Because she was broken, her parents had sent her away for her safety, so that she could heal. But each of them had replaced her in her absence. Her father had adopted three other children, and her mother had found Whisper. Maybe that was the real reason she wouldn't teach her. She already had a student.
She wiped her cheeks, furious at herself now. She already had a teacher, and she could learn from many more. Shora, the man she'd met in the tavern the other day, and maybe even Steel if she decided to brave the demon again. Raz had told her that she should learn to fight not to try to gain the approval of someone else, but to make sure that if she headed down that path that it was because she wanted to.
She lit a fire in her mother's fireplace and sat down on her mother's couch. She pulled out the jar of salve Whisper had given her and sniffed it, nearly gagging at the pungent smell. When she rubbed it into her hurts, though, it did seem to help a little. She leaned against the back of the couch and stared at the crackling fire.
She thought of why she wanted to fight and she closed her eyes.
The mist surrounded them quickly. Rachel screamed. "Run Becca! RUN HOME!" She screamed again and Becca felt her sister's blood on her as the scream was silenced and Rebecca ran. She ran to the cave and hid behind the large rock, praying to the only god she knew, the Great Protector, to protect her, to bring Rachel back, to save them all. She hid and trembled for what seemed like a lifetime before the mist finally cleared and she carefully tiptoed out again. Rachel wasn't there. She looked around and finally saw her sister's golden hair streaked with red. Rebecca ran over to her sister, slowing as she got closer. Her body had been shredded. Rebecca tried to call out her sister's name, but in her fear she couldn't make herself make any sound. Rachel wasn't moving. There was red everywhere.
Rebecca got down on her knees next to her sister and then laid down beside her, wrapping her arms around her big sister's mangled form and hugging her, closing her eyes as all of the sounds and motions around her turned into a blur of screams and anguish and a sea of red. Rebecca held on to Rachel tightly, and she shut it all out except for the still warm, but still body of her sister.
Her eyes fluttered open for a moment, and in that brief moment between asleep and awake, she saw her sister again, perhaps as she would look now had she still been alive. She held her finger to her lips to Rebecca, and Rebecca felt her eyes closing again into a deeper and more restful sleep.
Choosing the weapons. Part of the process was choosing the right weapon to develop her own style, and part of the process was that she'd need to know how to use them all in order to understand the strengths and weaknesses of those she would eventually be fighting against. Shortswords, longswords, maces.... She had given him a look of disbelief when he'd presented her with a greatsword that stood taller than she did. Raz rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically. "I'll cast a strength spell on you..."
"C...ccan you mmmmmake me ttt..taller?" She'd responded halfway sarcastically.
Her balance had certainly been off with that one, and she gave him another look when he brought out every other large weapon and then proceeded to show her how to use each one. After each new weapon, they discussed the uses, and what she liked, and how she could use her small size and speed to get around the techniques. Then he would switch to using the weapons while she learned to fight against them.
After several weeks of training, she was starting to see a difference in her muscle tone, her posture, and the way she started to look at different things. She started to take note mentally when she saw new people on their height and their body movements in the way Raz would see them, and she started to make it a game she played with herself to choose which weapon she would pair them if they were to fight.
Each day while Raz was ashore, she would meet him for training first thing in the morning, though about half of those days she started the training on her own, practicing all that she'd learned so far, and working through the previous day's soreness before he showed up an hour or two later with a cup of coffee or tea in hand as he recovered from his previous night's revelry.
He had her wear padded armor, a new stipulation on her attire, so that they could practice through unarmed fighting techniques to incorporate with her movement and added in throws, spins, turns, and dodges. In the hand to hand combat, they worked on grappling holds and how to escape them since her size would never lend itself to holding down a larger opponent. She found herself being thrown on the ground more times than she liked, and each time she landed hard, they would do it again until she found a way to move with the momentum to roll and get back on her feet to recover.
After weeks of working through weapons and trying all of them that seemed suitable and unsuitable alike, though, they decided that the weapon she was best suited for was the same that had been suited for her mother and her grandfather. They discussed her experience with fighting with the quarterstaff after her time with the Aeridinites. As a nonlethal weapon, she would be able to bring it anywhere, but in terms of effectiveness, the short swords would serve her better in a fight.
Each day, as they cooled down and discussed any questions or comments she had, Raz would also help her try to overcome her stutter in a way that she wouldn't have to rely on it. He started to teach her hand signs and a method of sign language that her mother had long ago attempted to teach her when she had been lost to the world, and now she would learn it again from a new source. He showed her the sign for each of the things that she had learned as well as other signs as he spoke to her. He told her that she would have to decide what she wanted to show in her own personal sign for her name, but she hadn't yet decided the way to show something unique to her, as she was still struggling to truly discover who she actually was.
As the weeks went on, they slowly worked on developing her own fighting style that incorporated a style of constant movement.
But soon, it was time for him to return to his ship. He said that while he was able to leave them to themselves for longer periods of time, as their captain, he did have to return and spend time with his crew so that it remained, in fact, his crew. He invited her to go with him to continue her training. Among his crew were more people of different sizes and techniques, and she would be able to test her new skills against each of them as they traveled across the sea through likely pirate-infested waters to deliver shipments of spices and silks.
Though the idea of meeting and having to spar with that many new people was daunting, she swallowed down her trepidation, and agreed.
The first trip out to test out her new skills in the real world went rather well. Tharivian had asked if she was ready to try sparring with him again, and she teased him that she might beat him this time. She didn't know if she truly believed it, but she knew she'd been working hard enough on her movement that she might not completely embarras herself.
Raz told them they could use his loft, so they went up, joined by the old man, Toby, who came to watch. Tharivian abandoned his shield, but he kept his armor, mostly, she thought, to preserve his identity. She knew, though, that she could use it to her advantage. She considered a moment, if she was going to use both blades as she had been learning, or simply one. She opted to start with one as her nerves started to get the better of her. She wasn't sure she could pull off the more complicated techniques yet with two.
Tharivian started off with the attack, moving in with a heavy strike, but Rebecca, already jumpy, moved quickly out of his way, stepping to her right to attack his exposed left side. He moved slower than she did, so when she struck out at him on his side, his reaction was just a little too slow and her blade tapped his armor for the first "blood" hit. Feeling a surge of confidence, Rebecca winked at him, only to have his blade come around and poke her in the shoulder. Don't get overconfident, Becca, she told herself.
She started again into her movement patterns, making him have to contantly shift his own body to meet her quicker one. She stepped quickly to get around him again, striking him to the back of his side before dancing out of his way again. Feeling just a bit braver, she drew her second blade.
Tharivian chuckled. "You've gotten a lot quicker."
"Two," she said, pointing at herself. "One." She pointed at him.
Tharivian stepped in with a slashing motion from his longer-ranged longsword. Becca blocked, but Tharivian's strength far outmatched her and he pushed her backwards. He attacked again while she was regaining her balance with a palpable hit to her shoulder. Somewhere in the background, Toby clapped.
She grunted at the touch and they both turned to regain their footing. Becca didn't pause long, though, and she went into the combination of moves that she had practiced so hard. She stomped left, but before committing to the movement, she took a small hop forward, landing low with both feet and moving up and into a lunge with both blades. Tharivian was caught off-guard as she slipped under his defenses and was able to strike with both blades.
Rebecca beamed, thrilled that the move went off the way it was supposed to. "It wwworked!" she exclaimed excitedly.
Tharivian didn't let her rejoince in her small victory yet, though. He struck hard against her blade, aiming to disarm. He knocked her arm backward, but she held on, backing up to regain her balance. Rebecca attempted to rush him, but instead rushed in to his own attack as he blocked her, pushing her longer blade against her to tie up both. Quickly, he moved again to try to strike her side, but she was able to slide free her shorter blade quickly and block him low. "Close one there," Tharivian noted.
She backed up quickly again and tried to hop one way and then the other in an awkward attempt to distract him with a feint, but her moves were too obvious, and when she tried to get in close for a strike, she ended up rushing in on his own attack. Grunting again, she stepped backward again. All she needed was one more hit and the duel would be over. But if he continued to anticipate her actions, it wouldn't take him long to score the last two and she would lose. She watched him, studying his movements. He was getting slower. She took advantage once more and used her quick steps to move around to his weak side and tap him again before he was able to move his own blade to block her.
"Five," Tharivian panted a little. "Good job, Becca. I'm impressed."
Rebecca beamed as Toby clapped from the other side of the room. She looked at Raz. "You did well," he said. "And now we know what to focus on. Your feinting. An actress, you are not." This, was very true.
Rebecca exhaulted about how the move worked. Which... she found out was a word that Raz refused to let people utter in his house. She laughed harder than she had ever remembered as she continued to speak the word and he used magic to try to stop her. She didn't care anymore. She had worked so hard and it had paid off at least in this small way. She hugged her teacher and kissed him on the cheek. He mentioned something about her needing a new blue dress- yet another clothing requirement- so that they could work on her feinting skills. At this point, she didn't even mind his oddities where clothing was involved. She was learning, she was getting stronger, and the feeling of triumph and pride in herself was something greater than she had known before.
Being on the Ravenwind was unlike any other ship she'd ever been on. When she'd first arrived on the docks, Raz had looked at her and her small back of belongings in momentary disbelief. "Is that all?" he asked.
She looked at her pack and shruged at him with a nod.
Raz stepped aside to reveal a larger crate. "Not to worry, then. I packed for you. This should cover any of the occasions we might have."
He wasn't joking. Inside the crate were various different clothes from slop trousers to skirts, from billowy blouses to leather jackets. For someone who was supposed to be teaching her to fight, he was unusually obsessed with her attire. She had to admit, though, the more she became accustomed to the things that he chose for her to wear, the more she started to feel her confidence increase. The things that made her uncomfortable, he seemed to notice, and he changed what he thought she should be wearing based on her own reactions to each ensemble. For the most part, though, she could see that the clothing was designed to fit the task.
For the most part, she found herself wearing a somewhat stylish version of the crew while aboard ship. For someone as carefree as Raz tended to be most of the time, as Captain Razeriem of the Ravenwind, he was strict about certain things, and whereas on other ships she may have to worry about her safety, among the crew here, it was widely understood that any sort of questionable offense towards her or any other woman would have them taking a quick visit into the depths of Shindeleria's realm.
The first few days were rough, of course, as with any sea voyage for one unaccustomed. The sailors did tease her and a few other "newlies" as they "cast their offerings to Mist" over the side of the rails. But once she was able to get her sealegs, out on the open waters, it became an experience of a lifetime, learning exactly how a ship worked. She wasn't actually part of the crew, of course, but as the Captain's apprentice, several of the older lifelong seamen had been more than willing to show her the ropes, in quite a literal fashion. She learned more names of sails than she even knew existed. She learned how to tie a knot that wouldn't slip free when the wind snapped the sails and the ropes were pulled taught. She practiced climbing the ropes with the midshipmen, who were all boys about her size, but far younger.
Each morning, provided there were no other ships in the area that might pose a threat, there was time for them to work again on her fighting style as they developed it more to suit her own strengths. Others on the ship were skilled with blades such as cutlasses, scimitars, throwing knives, dirks, boarding pikes and longbows, and during the long hours between drills and watches, they seemed only too accepting to have something to do to pass the time.
Drills seemed to consist of a sort of mock battle with an invisible foe or trailed barrels out to see so that when the real thing did actually show up, they had the movements memorized and absorbed into their muscles so that fear would not keep them frozen on deck and lead to their deaths. Ballistae were loaded and reloaded and archers fired arrows off the bows in the direction of the mock enemy ship to practice their accuracy. Once the drills were completed, though, and the ballistae were once again rolled aside and tied down, the bosun would pipe a tune to give the signal that they were free to do as they pleased, save for those who were set to be on their appropriate tasks at the time.
It took a while for her to figure out exactly what a Dogs Watch was, and how many of them there were, and why it was always the windward side on the quarterdeck that was left to the Captain whenever he chose to be there. There were superstitions galore among the shipmates, more abundant than old wives could ever have a care to tell. As one of the "Ship Daddies" had told her and some of the other newcomes, they were never to whistle aboard a ship. Ever. Whistling on board a ship would stir up Mist's wrath faster than a Xeenite could drink a shot of Tilmarian brandy, and the storm that followed would likely drown the vessel into the depths for the offense. Every sailor had a different tale to tell about that one ship that they knew of that had committed that offense. On the Ravenwind, fair seas were attributed to Shindeleria's benevolence, but anything bad was due to Mist's unpredictable and violent temper.
The food on board was bland for the most part, consisting of a lot of boiled meats, boiled pea soups, boiled potatoes, and dry biscuits. She'd been notified, however, that it was probably the best food on board a ship that any of the lifelong sailors had ever had. Most ships did not have a wizard for a captain who could use magic to preserve their food and keep it from becoming home to weevils and other such vermin. After days upon days of pea soup, though, she was grateful to be able to share a cabin with one of the captain's female officers rather than sleeping in a hammock with the majority of the crew and the overwhelming stench of pea-soup induced flatulence that followed.
As the weeks on board the ship went on, her hands grew tougher and her skin tanned from sun exposure, and her brown hair bleached slightly with streaks of blond. She abandoned the short bow that she was accustomed to in favor of learning how to use the elven long bow, and occasionally participated in the drills either by joining in the ranks of the archers, or climbing up the ropes with the topmen, relying on her balance and strength to keep her from falling to her death on the deck below. Quite often, Raz had her climb up to the crow's nest to spot for sails in the distance, and while it was always a terrifying climb, the view from the top was spectacular.
Some nights, Raz would invite her to sit with him either on the quarterdeck or belowdecks in the captain's quarters, and he taught her how to play chess. He explained the names of each piece, and he showed her how they move. He explained the names for each notable move, and how it related to battle tactics, to seeing the moves of the opponent before they happened. He started to show her how to play the simple board game in relation to her own style of fighting as well. When Raz would play chess with another experienced player, he would use a feint, and instead of calling the piece by their rightful names, would call them silly little names to make the opponent think that he didn't know how to play, all the while lulling his opponent into a false sense of security and leading them to make a mistake. It was a brilliant strategy on the whole, and though she could not even come close to winning against him, he helped her see the game board as a whole so that she could anticipate at least a move or two in advance by where she moved her piece on her current turn.
When they finally made port and she disembarked, the land felt strange and hard below her feet. It took a few days to regain her "land legs" again, and at least for the first couple nights, her body tried to make her believe she was still rocking on the waves as she laid down to sleep. She may not have been born to the sea life, but it was something that she wanted to do again.
Armor training was by far the worst in the list of "outfits" that Raz had given her. They started with chain and worked their way up, discussing both how she could move in each kind of armor and how she could use the knowledge of those armors to her advantage when fighting against them. They were heavy, unweildy, and uncomfortable. Raz said that if she did have to use them at any time, she should definitely make sure that the pads underneath were made of silk to minimize some of the discomfort and chaffing.
Shields were awkward as well, given the size of some of them. She had to laugh when he presented her with what looked like a door with straps to hold. She could see how it would be useful if someone was firing arrows, provided she could lift it or duck behind it. It hampered her movement, though, and she didn't see herself using it unless in dire need, but at least after a while, she could see how she would be able to use the information she gained from working with it. (Yes, Raz, working.) The movements with heavy armor were slow, and they were tiresome. She could use her greater speed to wear down an armored opponent, similar to how the duel went with Tharivian. It was also hot, and she could feel her body wearing out much faster just from the heat and pressure and sweat.
Only in case of extreme emergency, she thought to herself. But even still, she felt a little stronger and a little faster when the armor came off and she was once again free to move as her body was best suited.
Dancing. It was awkward at first. For one, very rarely had anyone ever been that close to her in that kind of a way. The old man, Toby Jenkins, who had become a good and trusted friend, had tried to teach her, but as she looked down at her feet, she kept stumbling and stepping on his toes. She kept apologizing, but the steps were unfamiliar and she was embarrassed that it had been so difficult for her to master it.
They'd broken into her father's house. She knew where he kept a spare key and no one was home. They didn't take anything, but they needed somewhere that Tharivian could remove his mask without judgment. He was, after all, also learning to dance. Toby showed him the steps as well, teaching him to lead, and he seemed to pick it up faster.
Toby stepped aside and had Rebecca- Becky, he always called her even though no one else ever did- and Tharivian dance together. But he told them instead to fight, not a real fight, but the movements of a fight, the steps of moving backward and forward, sideways to evade. In between the movements of combat that came easier to each of them, he told them to dance the steps that he'd taught them, and little by little, Rebecca felt herself relaxing into the moves and her confidence grew. As her confidence grew, the steps became easier, more fluid, and more natural. Then, she was no longer supposed to attack, but constantly evade. Then, she wasn't supposed to evade quite so distantly, but instead always stay close, but just outside of his reach, to remain in control of the movements but always just out of Tharivian's reach. Their movements became closer as Tharivian moved his leg around hers and she fell backwards only to be caught by him, just barely around the waist and pulled back up to him. The moves between them of attack and evade became more and more dancelike as he "attacked" and she spun away to avoid the touch and then moved back just into his smallest circle of attack.
When they finished, Tharivian joked that she had now beaten him twice. She went over to Toby and offered him her hand, trying the dance again with him as he treated her like a lady of stature and this time, she managed to not bruise his feet with her awkwardness.
She hadn't realized her father had a cat, but as they finished their dancing, the cat that had been hanging around inside the house, somehow managed to activate the portal to Arnax. Terrifying events followed as Toby tried to help Rebecca with her apparent inability to lie or bluff in any way. It was a game, he said, and everything that she said was supposed to be untrue. How that led them to a temple of Corath, and an undead cat that had to be killed again, and a not-so-veiled threat against her father, she wasn't even entirely sure. But as she sailed again on a ship bound for Leringard, she worried about something the Blue Demon had said about how Rebecca had been sent to Leringard for her own safety. Perhaps being the daughter of a Dread Blade and a High Protector was actually a dangerous thing after all. She didn't even know what enemies she might have simply because of who she was. And it worried her.
She'd made a deal with the devil. He'd told her that if she brought him a case of three hundred and fifty holy waters, he would arrange a meeting face to face with her mother. She'd asked her father, and he'd made helped her. But as she had sat there listening to Steel tell her how exactly he intended to trap her mother into seeing her, a plan involving selling her to dark elves as a slave so that her mother would have to come and rescue her, her stomach turned into knots. It wasn't only the fear of what it actually meant if she would be sold into slavery, the marks she would end up bearing from the ordeal, and the sheer terror of what could happen to her that made her back down from the deal. Steel had the utmost faith that her mother would come to save her, but she didn't have the same faith that he did. And part of her resented the idea of once again being the damsel in distress that everyone believed her to be at all times. No, what sealed her refusal was the look in the demon's eyes when she asked him what would happen when her mother learned the truth, when she learned that it had been a set up, and that he had sold her daughter to dark elves.
"She'll hate me," he said.
She couldn't do it. She apologized for wasting his time. He asked her what she would do then instead.
"I'll l..let her g..go," was her stuttered reply.
He told her that she was free. But freedom was painful. And at the same time, he was right. She was free. She would always wish that there had been something more with her mother, but that was something that was holding her back, not propelling her forward. Her mother had refused to teach her, but she'd learned anyway. And she'd learned to sail, and even to sing, though the tune was not always perfect. She'd made friendships along her path, and she had learned more about herself. Perhaps one day she would meet her mother, and perhaps she wouldn't. But she felt a peace along with the pain in knowing that she wasn't relying on lies and traps to do so. If her mother chose to let go of her own problems and confront her, then that would be a day when she would be welcomed. And if that day never came, she would fill it up with others who may not take her place, but would be her family nonetheless.
The sun peeked in through the window and Rebecca groaned as she rolled over away from the light. Her head was pounding. She looked around and found herself on the chaise in Razeriem's living room. The events from the previous night were fuzzy. She remembered being cold and wet from the rain, she remembered Toby Jenkins and Jenna and and Steel and... oh... dancing... and whiskey. She groaned again. No more whiskey. Ever.