Promise of the Lost Gods

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Meditation

After Zarkarius left I simply sat with my legs tucked in lotus position and breathed as I watched the sun rise.

In... and... out, in... and... out...and...

Yet.

The old tutor hadn’t been surprised by what had just occurred, that was certain. He had probably known I was of all elements since my birth.

I tried not to fixate on Master Zarkarius’ words, his cryptic tone. Something deep inside me knew they held truth.

Supposedly, immediately after a babe is born there is a sign of their element. If so, the only people who knew about me had been in my mother’s chambers. That meant my mother, of course, but I had never known who else was present. I had simply accepted my mother’s order never to reveal myself to anyone, including my own family. Nobody had ever indicated they knew.

Yet, if there was anyone my mother would have told, it was Zarkarius. I could not help but wonder, if he had known, why he wouldn’t have formally trained me to wield Earth, Air and Water just as well as Fire? Why allow me to struggle to teach myself in secret, as I had done all these years?

I shivered, feeling isolated. I could never truly be myself, never truly be completely honest, with anyone. I lied to more than half of my family. I lied to everyone I met. I could never tell anyone my secret.

My mother had made it clear I would be taken away and most likely exploited if anyone ever found out about my magic. She provided little comfort, and she had refused broach the subject with me since I was about five years old.

I just hoped...

Am I a fool?

..to one day...

Most definitely.

...to have just one person in my life who would accept me, cherish me, and love me enough to keep my secret. Someone I could trust enough to share it with.

I will always be alone.

I felt the sun peek over the arena wall and kiss my skin. I physically shook my head, trying to knock my worries loose.

In... and... out, in... and... out...and...

I closed my eyes against the early morning glow and meditated in the manner Master Zarkarius had taught me. It had been one of his first lessons, meditation. While my sisters hadn’t started displaying their magic until six or seven years of age, I had begun around three, my battle for control over myself commenced at four.

Master Zarkarius’ philosophy was if you can control your body, your heart, your breath, then you can control your mind, and finally your magic.

Breathe in for a count, pause, breathe out for the same count, pause.

I focused on the memory, my breathing automatic after many years of practice. My breath was as slow and steady as the suns’ ascent into the azure expanse.

I straightened my spine and relaxed my shoulders, rolling my stiff neck once before I withdrew from the world. The birdsong grew muted as I visualized my swirling thoughts in various shades of grey, my magic proud, bridled in yellow, blue, green and red, bouncing around, barely tamed lightning bolts in my mind’s eye.

In... and... out... and... in...

I imagined a crystalline orb, and all of the whirling eddies of thought and the feeling of fear slowly receded and my magic flowed toward the globe, absorbed, contained, focused. Although the contents of the sphere were practically identical to the storm of magic that had nearly overwhelmed me, I felt my body sigh with tranquility as I gained full control.

With a still mind, the outside world was vibrant and vivid. I unspooled a tendril of earth magic, a thread of air. I cast them out, a web of feeling, and instantly I could sense the ebb and flow of the breeze as it danced with the banners, I felt the flora surrounding the arena stretch toward the invigorating rays of sunlight.

The world came alive around me, the suns bringing a slight sparkle to the sand as the minerals reflected the beams. The coloured banners flapped gently from their posts in the early morning breeze. I tried to keep my mind clear. I sensed motion.

My ears pricked toward the soft crunch of footsteps in sand and I withdrew from the meditative state.

“Lady Serena, what a grand surprise!” a familiar deep male voice hailed my attention.

A welcome voice.

I looked toward the gate and found a group of Rourke knights, guards, and soldiers trickling into the arena. Lord Gareth was with them. One corner of my lips lifted slightly.

So this is where he goes each morning.

I unfurled my legs and stood as Gareth strode toward me, greeting him with a smile. He was clearly happy to see me as well, grinning ear to ear. I drank in his physique, outfitted in black pants and a loose navy shirt topped with a sleeveless leather jerkin. The lines of his pectoral muscles peeked through the untied shirt, delighting the animalistic appetite buried at the back of my conscious thoughts. His sword swung at his side. I noted a two daggers in his belt and another in his boot. He swung an old, dinged, practice shield casually from one hand by the arm strap.

“Have you come to watch morning training?” Gareth called to me.

The men who were following Gareth halted in their tracks and burst out laughing, some even so dramatic as to clutch at their middles and lean forward hooting and hollering.

I tilted my head, smiling up at him mischievously.

“Well...not quite,” I answered honestly. A lively, impish idea floated through my mind and I decided a bit of sparring was exactly what I needed.

When he was a few strides away, I dove to his right, snatching the dagger from his left boot as I somersaulted past. I quickly rose, pivoting on my heel to face him. Before he could turn, my sword was drawn and his dagger was tucked into my own boot.

“Lady Serena ‘ere never sits on the sidelines!” one of the guards called to Gareth, as another added, “An’ she usually forces a few of us to retire o’er there when it’s our turn to cross blades with ’er!”

The soldiers plopped on the stands, some putting their feet up while guards placed wagers. I smiled to myself as Gareth slowly drew his sword, glancing to the knights who laughed, then at me.

While my sister sought men for their swords of flesh, my training time was spent wielding real steel against men who simply, mistakenly, thought themselves just as adamant. Yet, not a one of them had proven as resolute as I. Well, not since I had reached sixteen years of age. Many, many moons it had taken, practicing nearly every day for several hours, to achieve such skill.

The sword, bow, axe, staff? All simple tools, all easier to master than my own elemental powers, so I had mastered them first. And occasionally used them as conduits.

Gareth began to circle. I fluidly mirrored his steps. I felt sparks crackle to life among my curls and our audience whooped.

Gareth’s eyes roamed my lithe form, appraising me for weaknesses, his eyes distracted by my curves. I smirked and lunged, having sensed he wouldn’t be the first to strike. Lord Gareth was a gentleman on all occasions.

Gareth was larger and therefore slower. I feinted to the right, sword raised in plain attack, and when he moved to block the strike I jerked left, spinning behind him, I jabbed and landed a punch on his firm, unprotected flank with my other fist. He grunted in surprise, his cerulean eyes lit up, latching onto my face. A hint of the challenge glinted in the cobalt, and something like a flash of lust.

Riselle didn’t understand that it was easier for me to duel a man rather than flirt with him. She found my lack of experience with men a weakness, same as I viewed her inexperience with the blade.

I danced around him, taunting him to come and get me. Gareth obliged, charging, swinging his sword high to low, his shield over his chest a battering ram. I dodged the lunge, tapping the shield with my sword, and danced away again.

He spun and we locked steel, my sword raised over my head. He advanced, I retreated, parrying his blows.

Fuck.

He was strong. Very strong.

I quickened the my pace, my blade flying, and my defensive maneuvers turned offensive. It was all Gareth could do to block me as. I used the flat side of my weapon to land a couple taps before Gareth swung his sword in an arc, crashing it down against my own. I barely met the force. A bead of sweat dripped down my temple, stinging the raw cut there.

I ducked away and released, allowing the tip of my blade to be pushed down, nearly into the sand as the edge of Gareth's sword grated against my own. I spun away and raised the gleaming steel vertically, its length rising up to the sky from beside my jaw.

Gareth, ever amazing me, threw his sword and shield to the ground and charged again. I wasn’t far enough away and he knocked me to the ground by kicking my legs out, my sword fell from my fingers.

Damn.

I guess I had been a bit overconfident. But just a tiny bit!

I regained my feet, quickly recovering, and dusted at the seat of my pants. Gareth’s body was tense, poised, slightly forward as if to spring. He was going to lunge again.

I conjured three plum-sized fireballs and began to juggle them. He hesitated, his center off balance. I launched all three flaming spheroids at his chest. His hands were instantly up, palms feeding a shield of water hovering between them. The flames sizzled loudly as they evaporated the shield.

“Isn’t that against the rules, Lady Serena?”

“I’m sorry, milord, are we not in Calarel? Land of elemental mages?”

“Fair,” he retorted, before blasting me with a jet of water.

I stumbled back a couple steps. My clothes were plastered to my skin, my hair to my skull. The soldiers cheered. I glared at him.

Fire engulfed my body, instantly drying my garments. My hair fluffed up as the flames shrunk and tucked into my curls. My hands blazed as the heat concentrated in my palms. I lifted my hands to the sky, flames spouting and hissing, before hurling twin fireballs into the air.

Gareth fell for the distraction and I rushed him. I attempted to clothesline him, but his lack of momentum worked against me.

We stumbled back from each other. I instantly went forward once more, changing tactic. With inhuman speed I leapt at him and, springing off of his own bent leg, jumped onto his shoulders hooking one leg around his neck as I tugged my weight to the side. We toppled and I rolled away, retrieving the knife from my boot before pouncing on his midsection and holding his own dagger to his throat.

His eyes widened in surprise again as he recognized the blade and my men cheered, a few booing while handing over their coin to the applauding men. I smiled as Gareth allowed his limbs to flop in surrender.

“I should’ve known,” Gareth chuckled to himself, “but you never stop surprising me.”

I lowered the dagger as I heard the men jump down from the stands, already talking amongst themselves, the skirmish already forgotten as they spread out throughout the arena. Gareth propped himself up on his elbows.

I shifted, to move off of his body, as his hands flew up and held me in place. I grew rigid as a bit of the memory of ghostly silver eyes and iron hands flashed across my mind.

“Serena?” Gareth’s voice broke through the fear, “how is it that you are so very accomplished in everything you do?”

We were alone now, the guards sparring at the far ends of the ring where the practice weapons and targets were more concentrated.

“Ha. You haven’t danced with me yet.”

Gareth smiled at me, his blue eyes sincere and warm, and pulled me into a kiss.

I relaxed into his lips for a moment, falling onto his chest as a ripple of bliss flitted through me. Then, very aware that I was kissing him and straddling him in the training arena where anyone could see.

I scrambled off and stood, offering him a hand. Gareth took it, not letting go once he was back on his feet. Instead he raised it to his lips and planted a soft kiss on the dirty knuckles. A hint of a blush colored my cheeks.

“I suppose we should, err, freshen up for breakfast?” Gareth laughed as he looked down at our dusty duds.

“Yes, I suppose so,” I grinned, “unless you’re ready for another round!” I tapped him with my fists as mock punches and made for the gate as he gave chase.


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