It wasn’t until late that evening that Reniko started to feel her body again. The lack of movement had made Reniko rather drowsy and not long after Malik had carried her away from the battlegrounds she had fallen asleep. She woke up when her leg twitched. The movement felt like a blessing and she was relieved to know that the paralysis wasn’t permanent. Malik had reassured her that it would not be, but she had still been uneasy. He had never been affected by the toxins and that put in the seed of doubt.
She smiled and warily opened her eyes, testing out the extent of damage the atrophy had done to her body. She was weak, weaker than she had ever felt in her entire lifetime. Though she could feel her body, she felt that movement was not yet fully restored.
The rustling of her small movements woke Malik who had been asleep nearby and he crossed the room quickly to stand by Reniko’s bed.
“It’s good to see you moving again,” Malik said, smoothing down the covers so that Reniko caught a glimpse of his face. She looked Malik over; his face looked black and blue and portions of it were covered in bandages.
“You look terrible,” Reniko said, her words slurred from sore vocal cords. She winced and placed her hand to her throat.
“I’ll live. So will you. Don’t push yourself too much. You still have some of the toxins in your system. Give yourself some time.”
“What happened back there?” Reniko asked, ignoring the searing pain and the slurred words.
“Well after Rimca showed up and took care of one of the Rük, Jarnen and I had an easier time with the last two –”
“Rimca?” Reniko asked.
“She’s a friend of mine. I’ll introduce you in the morning.”
“No need, we’ve met,” Reniko said.
“You have? When?”
“In Rownie. She paid me a visit in the bath house.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?"
“She never mentioned she knew you, and I wasn’t exactly pleased with our conversation. Never mind that. Finish telling me what happened.”
“We saw you and what Kruok did to you. I’ve never seen someone still lift a sword with the amount of toxins you had in your system. Watching you nearly got me killed, but Jarnen saved me, as did Rimca. We tried to get to you, but by the time we had taken care of the Rük, Kruok was galloping away. That’s when I saw Penumbra. He’s fast as the wind! When he caught up with Kruok he took her down. Knocked you and Kruok of the horse and stabbed right through Kruok with that horn of his. Pierced right through her armoured hide like it wasn’t even there. That’s about all there is to tell. Rimca took care of the wounds that Kruok left you with. She did a fine job of it too.”
“I’ll have to thank her. So Kruok is dead?”
“We believe so. We didn’t have time to stick around and see. There was a large group of Rük headed to the farm. I’m not sure how they found out about our fight but they were coming and we couldn’t stay. With our best fighter full of toxins we didn’t stand a chance. The farm is probably gone by now, burned to the ground. I’m terribly sorry I brought Jarnen and his family into this.”
“So am I,” Reniko said, easing back the covers and gingerly sitting up. She noticed the fine work that Rimca had done on her wounds. They were all sewn up and healing nicely. She winced as the pain from movement hit her, feeling it deep within her legs.
“Rest some more, Reniko, you don’t have enough strength yet,” Malik said, pushing lightly on Reniko’s shoulders forcing her back into bed. She didn’t have enough strength to resist and instead sank heavily into the covers.
“You know, that’s the first time I have ever lost a fight,” Reniko said, disheartened. “Well, I mean, Dertrik thoroughly thrashed me on many occasions, but when it really mattered, in all the tournaments and honour fights, I never lost. All those were nothing, nothing compared to what I faced today. I wasn’t prepared for it, not for a real battle.”
“Everyone loses at some time or another. Any battle you can walk away from is one you have won is it not?”
“Maybe here, but I learned a long time ago that you can walk away from a battle defeated. I’ve done it to too many people. I had too much pride, I guess. Yes, you’re right, I’m alive,” Reniko said, turning onto her side facing away from Malik. “But you know, you definitely have some things to learn about fighting and I could use some more practice.”
Malik stood up from his chair. “You mean to train with me?”
“If you’d like,” Reniko said, turning back to face Malik, “Not as a master with a student, but a friend helping a friend?”
“I’d like that.”
“You’ve been waiting for this, haven’t you?” Reniko asked looking at Malik’s eager face. Malik nodded slightly. “Why did you never ask?”
“I couldn’t bring myself to. You looked like you were in so much pain when you held Imako. I could not bring myself to ask you to train me in something that brought you so much pain.”
“I’m sorry, Malik. Sorry I waited so long, sorry that I’ve kept so distant from you when you have tried so hard to help me. I’m sorry for the way I’ve acted. I have so much to learn.”
“We all do. Get some rest, Reniko. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Thank you, Malik. Thank you for everything.”
Malik made no response, just dimmed the light and slipped out the door, leaving Reniko alone. Reniko closed her eyes trying to regain the sleep she had held moments earlier, trying to ease past the pain – the pain of her wounds both physical and mental.
When Reniko awoke the next morning, her body felt stiff and sore, but her strength had returned to her. As she dressed she noticed that someone had mended her clothing. She slipped into her clothes with slight discomfort and headed out of the small sleeping room.
She realized when she stepped out of the comforts of the bedroom that she was underground. No natural light filtered in through any window. She was instead greeted by the light of fire bouncing off rock and earth walls. Amma stood next to the fire tending to a simmering pot. Mattus was sitting nearby watching his three brothers play.
“It’s good to see you up,” Amma said, smiling at Reniko as she gently closed the door.
“I’m sorry, Amma,” Reniko said.
“Nothing to be sorry about. Jarnen and I knew the dangers when we joined the resistance. It’s why we have this place, this sanctuary.”
“Will you stay in Mistfall?”
“No, we plan on going to Mountain Side. Most of the resistance members are gathering there. The last remaining Teoko on Edonal Eclith are there as well.”
“Is Malik here?” Reniko asked, feeling uncomfortable in the confines of the secluded shelter.
“He’s outside with his friend.”
“Thank-you,” Reniko said.
She made her way down the narrow tunnel that led out to daylight. When she stepped outside, she saw Malik and Rimca before the two friends spotted her. She came in the middle of a conversation and with piqued interest she stood out of view to listen.
“You have to go back, Malik. Orric said they’re getting close and no one is listening to him,” Rimca pleaded. Her voice was soft and innocent, so unlike the fiery woman Reniko had encountered in Rownie.
“Don’t tell me my place, Rimca, when you defy your own as well. I’ll go back when I can. Right now I have other things that need to be taken care of.”
“It’s that girl isn’t it? What’s your fascination with her?”
“You haven’t seen her fight, Rimca. She could teach me things that may help us win the war.”
“She didn’t look that great to me. She lost to that puny female Rük. How good can she be?”
“She didn’t know about the toxins. She was injured before the fight even began.”
“I can fight just as well as she can. Learn from me.”
“Rimca I –” Reniko leaned forward and caused a small hail of rocks to descend from a nearby ledge, Malik stopped mid-sentence and glanced in her direction.
“Sorry to intrude,” Reniko said, stepping out of the shadow of the cliff and into the midst of her comrades.
“It’s better than listening in on our conversation,” Rimca said glaring at Reniko.
“I didn’t mean –” Reniko hesitated since she had been doing just that.
“Rimca, what is your problem?” Malik asked.
“Nothing, I’m just tired. I had a long journey to get here. I’ll be in the shelter if you need me,” Rimca said, as she started back toward the entrance of the hidden shelter.
“Wait, Rimca. I need you to do something for me,” Malik said, catching her hand in his. She stopped and turned back to Malik, pleased with the contact and attention. Reniko watched with curiosity. I think Rimca’s in love with him and he doesn’t know it, Reniko thought as Rimca stopped walking and turned back with glassy eyes.
“Reniko and I are heading to Reflaydun and we need you to tell Orric. Get Orric to meet us along the way. I’ll give you a map, and show you where we will be. It’s very important that Orric get this message.”
“Reflaydun! You know where the ancient capital is? The lost city of the Levanith! I’m coming with you,” Rimca said, regaining the childishness in her voice.
“You can’t, you’re the only one I can depend on to get word back to Orric.”
“I’m always just the messenger,” Rimca said, as she stormed back to the shelter.
When she had left, Reniko looked to Malik. “Is she always like that?”
“Most of the time,” Malik said, sighing.
“Where is Jarnen?” Reniko asked as she took a seat on a nearby outcropping of rock.
“Arranging our ride to Mistfall Caverns.”
“Will he be all right in town?"
“He seems to think so. He does know the town better than I do.”
Reniko nodded. “So how did you and Rimca meet?”
“I met her three years ago on Mo’an Delar. She ran away from home and straight into trouble. I helped her out in a tough spot and she’s kind of clung to me ever since. Orric and I teased her all the time when she would follow us around, but now she’s become a great friend. You can always rely on Rimca.” Malik took a seat by Reniko and began staring off into the waves of the lake that could be seen in the distance.
“I did come out here for a reason you know,” Reniko said, interrupting Malik’s thoughts.
“What?” Malik said, confused by the playful tone in Reniko’s voice.
“You ready to face my blade?” Reniko asked, pulling free a pair of wooden bokken from amongst the folds of her cloak.
“Are you serious? Now? But you’re hurt,” Malik said.
“I’m stiff and sore, yes, which just means I need to warm up. Just go easy on me,” Reniko said with a grin as she tossed Malik one of the bokken.
“Me go easy on you?” Malik said with a laugh tossing aside his cloak. Reniko followed suit and soon the two were facing each other in silence.
“Just show me what you know. We’ll work from there,” Reniko said.
Malik stopped and gave her an incredulous look. “You make it look like I know nothing,” he said gesturing to Reniko’s left arm where she held her bokken.
Reniko looked and shrugged, “I don’t mean to offend you, Malik, it’s just my right arm is still a little too tender to fight with, and it will give me a chance to work on my left handed fighting skills.”
Malik glared at her and got back into position. Reniko observed his every movement, watching the way he handled his weapon and the way he moved his feet. She attacked first after she realized that Malik was hesitant to start the mock battle. When they had finished their round, Reniko came out the victor and Malik’s chest was heaving from laboured breathing.
“Not bad,” Reniko said, controlling her breath. “However, you have a lot to learn. First things first.” Reniko came up beside Malik and stood at his side.
“First off, you rely too heavily on strength. The point is not to use all your strength at once but use as little as possible, conserve your energy until you have figured out your opponent. In time instead of relying on just your energy you will be able to use the energy that your opponent uses against you to your advantage.”
“So, less strength?”
“Yes, you have to have more endurance and patience. Don’t be so aggressive, that’s a Rük tactic.”
“Endurance, less aggressive, I can do that.”
“Okay, saying it is one thing, doing another. Do as I do,” Reniko said as she laid aside the bokken. Malik watched as she began working her way through a series of stances. It didn’t take Malik long to learn them and soon he was following Reniko’s movements in perfect unison.
“All right, now everything you just saw, try to do it slower, prolong each movement and gesture. Carry out the movements with calmness and patience,” Reniko said. She showed Malik the first form in a slow exaggerated way. Malik followed her example. Three motions later, Malik was beaded with sweat and his concentration was broken.
“This is harder than it looks. Will this really help me fight?”
“It will if you do it every day. In the meantime, we’ll still have our mock battles. It’s not like we have the ten years I need to teach you.”
“Longer, actually, but don’t worry, you don’t need to master Rumeum’antra.”
“Guess not, I just need to survive the battles,” Malik said.
“All right now for the most important lesson. This you should always keep in mind.”
Malik nodded listening intently to Reniko.
“It’s not just mastering the body, it’s about knowing your body, feeling the energy and letting it help guide you in the way it should be directed. A fight is not just physical, but mental as well. When you have mastery over your mind, the rest will come. Ready for another round?” Reniko asked picking up the bokken and turning to face Malik once again.
“Master my mind and the rest will come. I’m not ready, but let’s do this anyway.” Reniko laughed and the lesson began once again.
Rimca watched the two of them from above, perched on the grassy cliff. She was disgusted by her. Repulsed by the way she moved and acted. She couldn’t understand why Malik was helping her at all. She was careless. In Rownie she had let her guard down completely. I could have slit her throat and she would never even have opened her eyes. Rimca clenched her hands: They were shaking slightly from her anger. Just a messenger girl, nothing more. Why do I put up with this? The laughter from below filtered up to Rimca and she glanced at the two. Reniko had defeated Malik again. She does have skill, I give her that. She watched a few moments more and, tiring of the affection between them, she stormed away from the cliff and back toward the entrance to the shelter.
On her way, she passed Penumbra and with an appraising glance decided to stop.
“What do you all see in her?” Rimca shouted at the unicorn. Penumbra glanced at Rimca with a stony gaze.
Your eyes are clouded with jealousy, child, Penumbra spoke. Rimca scowled at him and stormed away.
“I’m not jealous. Not of her anyway.”
“I think that’s enough for today,” Reniko said, tossing the bokken on top of her cloak.
“Where did you find these anyway?” Malik asked as he made his way over to his possessions and sat down to rest.
“The bokken? They were in that room I was sleeping in. There was quite an assortment of weapons in there. When I saw the bokken I thought it was a perfect time to prove good on my word.” Reniko sat as well, wincing in pain. Malik caught the pain on her face and became concerned.
“We didn’t overdo it, did we?” he asked.
“Maybe just a little, I have a habit of overdoing it,” she mumbled as she clutched her leg.
“Let’s go back inside. Rimca can take another look at it,” Malik said as he began to gather his things.
“I’ll be fine. I’m not so bad at treating wounds myself,” Reniko said. Malik looked taken back at the bitterness in her voice.
“Is there something I should know?”
“It’s nothing. I just don’t think Rimca likes me all that much and I don’t want to trouble her when I can do it just fine.”
“I can talk to her about it if you’d like. I don’t know why she’s acting this way toward you, it’s not like her.”
“No, it’s fine Malik. I’ll talk with her, we’ll work it out.”
“If you say so.” Reniko grabbed her cloak and bokken, and carrying them in her arms, headed back toward the tunnel entrance.
“Now it’s my turn to thank you, Lyss.” Malik said as he walked behind Reniko.
Reniko stopped and turned. “Lyss?”
Malik just grinned and brushed past her.
“Lyss? Malik! That’s not fair, what are you talking about?” Reniko shouted as she ran after Malik who had already disappeared into the tunnel.
Jarnen was waiting for them as they entered the room. Rimca sat silently in the corner watching as Malik came in laughing, Reniko chasing him. He used to tease me like that, she thought and glared at Reniko.
“Jarnen.” Malik stopped laughing as he noticed the older man.
“Well, everything has been arranged. You’ll be leaving in two days’ time. I suggest you gather what supplies you need before then. Be careful though. There are more Rük than ever roaming the streets after what happened at our farm. I don’t think you will be recognized. As of yet, no one really knows what happened there. But I heard rumors that that white Rük Kruok is still alive.”
Reniko stopped smiling and instead looked sombre. “She’s alive?”
“Not really sure where she is though. She may have left town, no one is really sure. They were talking so much about her ‘cause it turns out she comes from Cralay. Sent here by Edonal Eclith’s Rük Lord, Orborok. His word is law on this continent, so when one of his representatives comes to town, they supersede the laws here. This causes a lot more trouble than if we were just dealing with the local Rük authority. Orborok is known for his vengeance.”
“Not that it really changes anything. This Orborok has been after me from the start. I originally slew a few of his Rük trying to save my life. It’s what started this mess,” Reniko said, taking a seat at the table that took up most of the small room.
“Aye, might not be too different, just be wary that the local Rük are more –” Jarnen stopped and grimaced.
“I get the point. We’ll be careful when we go into town, Jarnen,” Malik put in.
“Well, lunch is ready,” Amma said setting a pot of steaming soup in the centre of the crowded table.
“That late already?” Malik said. The smell wafted to his nose making his stomach protest its hunger.
“I guess we got a little carried away,” Reniko said as she began to help herself.
“Guess you did,” Rimca said, sliding into the chair between Malik and Reniko. Reniko looked in Rimca’s direction, only now aware that the girl was in the room. Rimca gave her a sour look and dished up her food. Rimca remained silent for the remainder of the meal, content with the fact that her presence made Reniko uncomfortable.
That evening, tired of the stifling heat of the underground shelter, Reniko headed into the open air. She found Penumbra at the top of the cliff. He was lying in the grass staring off into the reaches of the salty lake. Reniko took a seat near him and watched the first of the moons rise.
“You plan on coming with us to the Mistfall Caverns?” Reniko asked.
I have no reason to leave you, and every reason to stay, Penumbra said, still gazing into the moonlit water.
“That’s reassuring,” Reniko said. The two companions fell into a comfortable silence.
The silence was only broken when Reniko heard noise coming from behind her. Penumbra turned to look at the source and with a suddenness jumped to his feet and trotted away. Reniko confused by the sudden change in her companion turned as well to look at the source of the noise. Rimca stood only feet away, a hard expression on her face.
Reniko was the first to speak. “I’m trying to understand why you hate me so much,” she said, turning her attention back to the rising moon the second satellite just now peaking over the horizon.
Rimca sat beside Reniko without saying a word. The two of them sat in a calm silence until the second moon had fully risen. Rimca turned to Reniko suddenly and sat staring at her. Reniko looked back feeling uncomfortable under the young girl’s gaze. After sitting with unspoken words, staring at each other for a few moments, Rimca finally broke her gaze, brushing her hair behind her ear as she did so. It was then that Reniko noticed something unusual about the girl; her ears were pointed severely.
“You’re not human, are you?” Reniko said, again breaking the silence between them.
“Nope,” Rimca said. She fixed her gaze on her feet dangling over the cliff’s edge.
“What are you then? On Earth you’d almost be considered an elf.”
“You heard of the Le’a’to?” Rimca said, her voice soft and strangely sad.
“Vaguely, when I was at Savonly. No one ever really told me what they looked like.”
“You’re looking at one.”
“Does Malik know?”
Rimca gave Reniko an incredulous look. “Of course he knows, everyone knows.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Sure, whatever.” Again the silence persisted. Reniko began to get annoyed and finally stood up to leave.
“Why do you do that?” Rimca said, halting Reniko in her tracks.
“Dress like a man?”
Reniko looked down at her clothes. She could find nothing wrong with the way she looked. “Where I come from, women and men can wear similar clothing. I’ve never really felt comfortable wearing a dress. Besides, it’s impractical when fighting or training.”
“Well I don’t seem to find anything inconvenient about it, and I fight just as well as you.” Rimca stood and Reniko looked the girl over. The light from the two moons highlighted the two of them with remarkable clarity and she saw that Rimca was indeed wearing a dress. It was a muted purple, glowing with the pale moonlight. The skirt was short sitting well above her knees and Reniko could see a pair of short black hose peaking from underneath. Rimca’s deep brown leather boots reached to her knees and were laced with lighter leather. The colours of her clothing set off her auburn hair, which was framing the cocky smirk that she now wore. “You might want to follow the customs of the land better if you don’t want to stand so far apart from it.”
“Why do you care so much?” Reniko asked annoyed by this girl’s demeanour.
“It annoys me to see a woman acting like a man.”
“Well you won’t have to see it for much longer.”
“You’re the one that wanted to know why I disliked you so much. That’s the reason. I hate seeing women that hate being women.”
“I don’t hate being a woman, Rimca. I like who I am. I’m not trying to be a man. I’m just being who I am. You should respect that.”
“Come here, and let me look at who you are,” Rimca said a hint of annoyance still hidden in her voice. Reniko took a step closer to Rimca. She nearly jumped when Rimca suddenly grabbed her hand and began examining it. Rimca traced over the lines in Reniko’s palm, the act of which eased the tension from her. When Rimca finally looked into Reniko’s eyes, Reniko was already slightly dazed. Her guard down, Rimca began searching her eyes for something.
“They say you can see the truth in the eyes of a person. Do you believe that, Reniko?” Rimca whispered drawing Reniko deeper into Rimca’s gaze. Reniko felt light headed and began falling backward, anchored only by Rimca’s hold on her hand.
“What are you doing?” Reniko asked almost incapable of forming the words. She tried to look away from Rimca but couldn’t. Locked in Rimca’s gaze Reniko’s barriers broke. Rimca watched her eyes flood with a thousand thoughts and feelings and, suddenly wide eyed, Rimca let out a short gasp and released Reniko’s hand. Reniko stumbled backward as the strange spell was broken.
Shaking her head she looked back at Rimca whose back was facing her. “What was that?”
“A Le’a’to skill. We are able to draw the truth from a person.”
“I don’t understand,” Reniko said, still unsteady on her feet.
“I don’t expect you to. I have to go,” Rimca said, running past Reniko toward the path that led down to the underground shelter. Reniko watched her go, still unnerved by the effects of Rimca’s gaze.
She is older than she lets on, Penumbra said as he came up beside Reniko.
“I saw that,” Reniko said.
It’s a rare thing for a human to be able to see the truth in a Le’a’to, though they do become vulnerable when they are drawing on you.
“Malik doesn’t know does he? Doesn’t know that Rimca is far older than him.”
I don’t think so. I believe he only sees the child that she lets him see.
“What do you think she saw?” Reniko asked as she watched the last moon rise into the sky.
What the rest of us all see: you.