The banging on the door made her roll over and pull the covers over her head. There was no way it was morning, she had just gone to bed or so it seemed. The banging didn’t quit. Crawling sleepy eyed out of the bed she looked out the door at an overly happy Gaby.
“Morning. Are you ready for a busy day?”
“If I say no can I go back to bed?” Andrea motioned her to come in, and flopped back on the bed.
“Nope don’t work that way. Better get used to being up early. Classes start around two cycles after daybreak. And if you go to weapons training you’re up even earlier.” Gaby pulled her arm trying to get her to stand up. “Come on lazy get dressed.”
“Ok, I’m going. I’ll meet you at the table in a few minutes.” Stretching she began to dig clothes out of her dresser.
Gaby laughed, and walked out shaking her head. Andrea splashed water on her face trying to wake up. Perhaps Gaby could show her the bath before meeting with Master Sturat.
Thinking she should dress a little better than she was when she first meet Master Sturat she took her time getting her clothes together. By the time she was done she was wearing black leather pants, top a dark green trimmed with vines done in white on the cuffs of the sleeves, all in decent shape. She’d be fine if Gaby could take her to a bathing area and she could clean up before seeing him.
Gaby was waiting at the door for her, “Wow you look nice. Wanting to make a good impression during your meeting?”
“Thought I could make the effort at least. Any chance I can get a bath before we go to that meeting?”
“Sure we can go after breakfast. It’s a self-heated spring, fantastic for your skin and so wonderful to relax in. Thought I’d wait on you because it’s packed and you’d never find the table.”
Packed was an understatement. People were standing waiting on tables to clear as the girls made their way through the line. Eggs, bacon, biscuits with honey, and a huge bowl of thick porridge with chunks of fruit filled her plate as they found the guys waiting at the table.
“Mornin’ to you little one,” Rista welcomed her with a huge grin.
“Certainly is,” Andrea laughed, as she sat the tray down and went to go get her drink. She was filling a glass of milk when she felt someone next to her. Looking over it was Valr. Not wanting to argue about the run in last night she half smiled and walked back to the table.
“Looks like you made a new friend,” Jerick laughed, as she sat.
Andrea blushed a bit and, smiled sheepishly. She shrugged, and started to enjoy her meal. Jerick wasn’t done yet. “What’s the matter Andrea? Make an enemy on the first day here?”
“Oh stop it. I ran into him in the hall, was a total accident, although I might have snapped just a bit.”
“Just a bit? I wasn’t that far behind you in the hall. You bit his head off! It was great! No one ever stands up to him.” Jerick was laughing so hard he nearly fell out of his chair.
Valr was standing not too far from them when Jerick spoke. He walked up to Jerick, and you could see the anger in his eyes. “I’m glad you find my humiliation a funny thing good sir. I personally don’t appreciate it and think you owe me an apology. I’ve given the lady two opportunities to apologize, obviously that isn’t going to happen.” He glared at her, then turned back to Jerick.
“Valr, I don’t mean to be rude but you’re a pompous ass and you know it. You’ve got an attitude that’d make a stubborn mule seem friendly.” Jerick smiled the whole time he talked. Leaning back in his chair he seemed unthreatened and carefree. “Will that do?”
“You don’t know me, nor know why I’m the way I am, and I’d appreciate,” Valr leaned into Jerick’s face, “if you didn’t act like you do.”
“Maybe people wouldn’t act that way if you weren’t such a snob.” Jerick got back in Valr’s face.
Andrea knew this was looking ugly, so she stood, and walked around the table. “Guys come on. We’re here to train, let’s concentrate on that and not killing each other at breakfast.”
Valr’s glare turned to her, and Andrea held up her hands. “Look I didn’t know you wanted me to apologize. Seemed to me you had a look on your face like you wanted a fight. I tend to stay clear of stuff like that. Now I know, and if it will prevent you to from coming to blows before our stomach’s settle, I’m sorry I snapped at you last night. I was in a bad mood, won’t happen again.”
Valr opened his mouth to smart off, but there was nothing he could say and not come out looking like the bad man in the situation. Taking a deep breath he nodded and walked away.
“Where’s he going? Is he too good to eat with everyone else?” Andrea asked, as he left the dining area with his tray.
“No one wants to deal with him. He goes and sits out in the practice field to eat,” Gaby explains frowning at Jerick for the show he had just put on.
Jerick’s eyes glinted with mischief as he finished his breakfast.
Andrea couldn’t help but smile thinking, ‘Had been funny, perhaps training wouldn’t be so bad after all. If nothing else I’m making new friends and a new life for myself. All I have to do is take care of the loose ends of my old one, namely Stefyan.’
Gaby finished her breakfast all the while fussing at Jerick for making bad situations worse. Wanting to know why he couldn’t act like Andrea and make peace. Andrea smiled as he winked at her, and kissed his sister’s cheek before he left the table. Gaby shook her head, and motioned for Andrea to follow her.
Once they were out in the halls again Gaby began to laugh. “If I let him know I thought what he did was hilarious it’d just make him worse.”
Smiling Andrea shook her head. Following Gaby she had her mind more on the upcoming bath than anything else. The room Gaby led her to was at first glance a tiny room full of steam from the natural springs. As soon as the door closed she heard a hissing sound and slats in the roof opened letting some of the steam roll out. Once the area was clear Andrea could see the room was gigantic. The walls were painted in a blue starting out pale then darkening to a black near the ceiling, giving the room a feel of being on the ocean at night. Even the pool the water fed into was tiled to appear as if the ocean floor.
It brought back memories to Andrea, of her family and one of many trips to the coast near Dover, always one of her favorite things to do in the summer. Swimming was something she loved, but when Kerick taught her brother and her how to dive she thought she’d found heaven. Being able to go underwater and see all the animals and the different world that existed was amazing.
“You ok?” Gaby asked.
“Yeah, just thinking back.” The girl gave her a skeptical look, and Andrea nodded. “Seriously, I’ll be better after I wash a week of dirt off me.”
“If you say so,” Gaby pointed, “towels and robes are there. You’ve got about a half a cycle before we have to be there.”
“Better than nothing. Thanks Gaby,” Andrea sighed, “I really appreciate you showing me around.”
“No problem Andrea, my pleasure. I promise things will get better for you, you just need time to heal.”
“I need more then that, but we’ll see what happens. I’ll meet you outside in half a cycle.” Slipping off into one of the changing rooms she closed the slats to let the steam build up. When she came out she had to feel for the edge of the pool. Dropping the robe she slipped in sighing blissfully as the warm water flowed over her tired body.
The water seemed to be scented lightly with a flower scent. Andrea couldn’t put her finger on it, but whatever it was, it was very pleasant. Turning back to the edge she found the rose scented soap, and began to wash the dirt from the last week or so off her body. She was almost done when there was a sound on the other side of the pool.
Rinsing quickly she turned to reach for her towel, so she could climb out before other people got in. It was gone, but certain she’d laid it right behind her when she slipped in. Two booted feet appeared in front of her face, and she slipped back under the edge of the water.
Looking up, Valr glared down at her. “Looking for something?”
“Can I have my towel please? Already told you I was sorry for last night.” Andrea really didn’t want trouble, she had enough already.
“This isn’t about last night young lady,” his condescending tone grated on her nerves. “If I can call you a lady?”
“You can just not talk to me at all for all I care.” Andrea rose up a bit. “Now give me my damn towel.”
“Language please, I have yet to curse at you.” He curled his upper lip, and looked down his nose at her. “I’ll give you the towel when I’m done with you.”
Walking closer to the edge he looked down at her with a sick smile. She tried to cover herself with her arms, and sink under the water as much as she could and be able to breathe. “Could you at least back up?”
“Why should you care? Someone like you has surely shared herself with any willing man going down the road.”
Anger filled her, and her head began to ache. Taking a deep breath she refused to let him get to her. “What do you want? You’re wasting my time, and taking up precious air. Say what you have to say, and save the childish insults for someone who gives a damn!”
“Not my fault all the women they bring here are all boobs and little brains.” He snorted, “Looking at you I figured you were all boobs and no brains.”
That was it, her temper got the best of her. Grabbing the robe he had forgotten about she slid out of the water, covered her body and attempted to walk away from him. She hated to ruin this soft silky robe but he hadn’t left her much choice. She hated it when men commented on her looks. He had stared openly when she slid out of the water not seeming to care what he saw.
At five-ten she’d always stood out, long red hair and light skin always a source of amusement for the boys at home. When she had become a woman and her body began to fill out it moved to lewd comments. Her mother called her a striking beauty, but Andrea always just wanted to be one of the boys. Her curves had put an end to that, all the boys ever wanted her to do was show them her body. Her brother was the only one who never teased her. They hunted together and practiced their weapons daily until he left to go train his blessings.
“Don’t leave I’ve something to say to you,” he ran up, and grabbed her arm turning her to face him, “I don’t need a girl to fight my battles. Next time mind your own damn business and let me handle mine. Understand?”
“I understand you should get your hand off me sir,” her words were more of a growl, “before I have to remove it for you.”
“You’re no threat to me. Stay out of my way, and all will be fine.” He was still holding her arm. “Interfere again, and you’ll pay. I’ll have you out of here so fast you’ll never know what hit you.”
“I asked you to let go. Do it, or I’ll remove it for you, at the elbow!”
Valr started laughing, and let go of her arm. Smile on his face was smug, and he seemed so sure he won this little round. He walked away with a sarcastic wave, leaving her shaking with anger, reaching the door he turned back. The look in his blue eyes was one of disgust. “Stay out of my way, and you’ll have a pleasant stay.”
He turned away, big mistake as she grabbed the washing cloth, he didn’t have any idea she was the best rock thrower she ever came across. With her hitting him in the back of the neck, he quickly got the idea. Red-faced Valr turned back, just in time to duck the flying soap, then high-tailed it out of the room.
Andrea stomped her feet, mad at herself, as well as him, then the door creaked open, and he peeked his head around it. “Out of things to throw? Just remember what I said.”
Turning away she refused to answer him. Both muttering there was an exchange of words at the door, but Andrea headed to the changing room. Slipping her boots on there was a knock on the door. Still angry she threw the door open to find Gaby looking at her surprised.
“Sorry, I was expecting that ass Valr.”
“Why is the floor soaked?” Gaby seemed concerned. Looking over at the soaked robe hanging on the door she looked back at Andrea confused.
“Let’s just say Valr and I had a not so pleasant talk, and I had to get away from him quickly. He took my towel, and I didn’t have any other choice. It was walk away or get kicked out for getting in a fight.”
Gaby shook her head, and started towards the door. “No wonder he was grinning like an idiot, explains the towel he tossed at me. Master Sturat has gotta do something about him. Don’t let him get to you, he’s not worth your time.”
“He’s not worth the space he takes up. Not the way I wanted my first full day to start out.” Andrea sighed, as they headed down the hall to Master Sturat’s office.
“It’ll get better. I’m sure of it.” Gaby stopped outside the office door, and knocked.
“I suppose, depending on what Master Sturat has to say.” Andrea shivered with dread. “We’ve got a lot to talk about.”
A voice called for them to enter. Master Sturat was sitting at his desk with several large books making notes as he read. Looking up with a smile at Andrea he motioned for her to sit in one of the chairs at the desk. “Thank you for bringing her Gaby. Once we’re done I’ll need you to come back to the office, have some things I need you to work on for me.”
Gaby bowed in respect, and waved bye to Andrea as she left.
“You came to us at a good time, we are just getting ready to start a new set of classes.” Master Sturat closed one book he was making notes in, and opened another. “We have much to discuss Andrea of Krisive, starting with your parents? I know it’s hard, but perhaps talking about it would help.”
“Not much to say sir, they’re dead.” Andrea gripped the chair arms so tight her knuckles went white. “What more can be said? Admit part of me blames Lyota, but as you and some other said last night, there was a reason. Swear the man that did this will pay though, if it takes my whole life to do it he’ll pay.”
“Child, listen to me, vengeance is not something worth living your life for. What you should do is look to the future, learn your powers and help others. Keep something like this from happening again.”
“If you knew what I’d seen you wouldn’t say that, you’d understand how hard it is for me to let it go.” Andrea took a deep breath trying to stay calm. No need to get angry with this old man, he was only trying to help.
“Do you really think I don’t know who you are?” He smiled. “You are the spitting image of your mother Andrea.” He bowed his head, and made a holy sign. “I heard of the tragedy. Your uncle is an evil man, his heart has become black with the need for power.”
Such a calm statement shocked her. “Y-you k-knew?” Andrea choked back tears not knowing what to say.
“Yes child, when something evil is done with the goddess’ power we all know about it. When I saw you and heard where you were from I knew who you had to be.” Master Sturat walked around the desk, and leaned against it standing in front of her. "Surprises me not you are thrice blessed, your entire family is powerful. I know now the goddess didn’t guide you to your powers sooner to keep you safe. If your uncle knew what you could do he would have killed you years ago.”
He handed her a slip of paper. On the paper were three columns, each had a name and below them a list of the classes she would need. In shock she looked at him, then back down at the paper, the three powers listed were more than she ever dreamed she could have.
“Do you understand them?”
“Understand the names,” Andrea scrunched up her face, “but what exactly do they do?”
“Very good question.” He held up a finger. “Let me explain, your most dominant power is elemental control. I know you’ve seen this power used child, but it can be used for so much good.” Sturat held up his hand. “If there is a drought you can bring rain, if there is a flood you can clear the skies. This is what we strive for, the good we can do.”
Andrea nodded as he talked. Sweet justice, she had one of Stefyan’s powers, he could die the same way her parents did. Glancing up she saw Sturat looking at her. “Child please, listen to an old man, this will eat you alive if you let it. You will get pulled to the darkness just as he was, you are too young and too strong to let that happen.”
“Of course Master Sturat, I promise to do my best. Can you explain the other two?” She promised to do her best all right, her best to kill that murderous bastard.
“Certainly Andrea, your secondary power is object exploitation and empathy. With this power you’ll be able to move objects with just a thought. The weight you can move will depend on strength of your mind. More you strengthen it, more you will be able to do. The empathy is tied into this power so that if you have to move someone to help them you can calm them. Seems strange, but has worked out well for the others blessed with this power.”
He took the list from her hands, and smiled. “Your last, but not least power, I think you will enjoy. Most of the students who can do this love it, shape changing is your third power.”
Andrea moved to the edge of her seat. “You mean I can change my physical shape? Be someone else, or something else?”
“Depends on the strength of your power. Normally just animals, but some of the strongest shifters can do humans as well.”
Plans rolled through her mind, if her uncle didn’t know it was her, how could he stop her. A dark voice laughed deep within her mind, shaking her head she dismissed it as her imagination.
“When do classes start?” With the plans rolling through her mind she was suddenly eager to start. The sooner she learned, sooner she could end it.
“You have about a turn,” he pointed, “list of your classes are there. You will have five. Two basic classes covering rules, letters and numbers. I am sure you have had a fine education, but we do not want to single people out. If you can already read and write then you can help some of the struggling students in class. I have been honestly surprised at some of the students who have had issues. Have to believe their station in life makes them think they don’t need to learn basic fundamentals.”
Master Sturat turned back to his desk, rambling more than he was really talking to her. Shuffling through the stacks of papers on the desk, obviously searching for a specific paper, he knocked several off before finding one he handed to her.
Andrea picked up the papers, then she glanced over the one he gave, which seemed to be a list of places in town. Wrinkling her nose she met his gaze. “It is a list of people in town,” Sturat smiled, “who are hiring, and will work with you around your class schedule. They all know the temple fees, paying you sufficiently to cover your fees and give you some spending money as well.”
He turned his back to her, and she read the next paper, instructions on object exploitation, which meant moving things with her mind. She could barely stifle a giggle as the old man droned on and on thinking, no way did she have such powers. Never in her life had any of these powers manifested themselves.
She sat there reading about focuses, clearing one’s mind, as Sturat kept talking about whatever. “Hm-m,” Andrea mumbled, eyeing a small orb on the desk, “let’s see focus,” she read more, “there to over there,” she read the last paragraph, “go now.”
The orb flew across the room, not exactly where she intended, and knocking over a picture on the table. Andrea jumped as Master Sturat turned, and frowned at her.
“Andrea it is good you are eager to learn but you need to do exactly that before you try something like that again. We have rules to keep you safe, no using your powers till your teachers have given you permission. No use of them outside the temple until after graduation. Now, clean up the picture please.” He watched, as she picked the pieces of the broken picture up. “Do you have any special skills or things you excel at? Might make it easier to decide where to ask at for employment. Jerick takes a shift every other turn as a gate guard, and he works at the silversmith. Gaby works here in the library helping me.”
Andrea smiled, Gaby in the library? Wasn’t a place she could picture the happy talkative girl. It dawned on her he must have been paying attention to who she had been talking to since he mentioned the siblings specifically.
“If you do not have any questions you can go enjoy the rest of your day. I am sure you are tired from the traveling you did. Around midday there is a class if you want to practice your sword or bow.” He smiled, as she stood and got ready to leave. “Oh and Andrea you should really take the time to help out with your horse in the stable. Rista has a lot to do, and if you can help any I am sure he would appreciate it.”
“Sure, I need to check on Destry anyway. Thanks for the list Master Sturat, I’m sure it’ll be of great help.” Andrea bowed in respect, and smiled.
Gaby was just headed back towards the office as Andrea closed the door. The young girl smiled, as she neared, “I’d ask you about what all he said but he’ll be waiting on me. We’ll catch up at lunch.”
“Sounds good to me. Which way to the stables?”
“Goodness I totally forgot about your horse. Go to the dining hall then turn right, all the way at the end of the hall is the entrance to the stables. Rista should be down there. He’ll be delighted to have you stop by.” Gaby opened the door to the office, and slipped inside.
It didn’t take her long to find the stables. Once inside she was surprised at the size of them. Outside of the temple didn’t convey the true size of the temple, appeared once the temple touched the city walls it opened up onto a huge open field surrounded by a seven-foot stone wall. City guards patrolled these walls along with the rest of the twenty-foot wall surrounding the city. The enclosed field was at least three acres, with an area for horses set off next to the stable. Looking around she could see the targets and area set aside for the weapons practice. Heading further to the right she made her way inside the stable to the stalls.
Rista was leaning against a pitchfork. His shirt gone, and Andrea grinned seeing that the red hair covered his body just as thickly as his head. “Hey Rista! How goes the day my friend?”
He jumped. “Little sister I not be hearin’ you come in. Welcome to me stables lass.” His smile was infectious.
“Needed to check on Destry. Do you know which stall he’s in?” Andrea grinned back at the big mountain of a man.
“Third one from the end lass. Wern’t sure that big monster that came in last night be yours? How do a wee lass like you be handling such a monster?” He was scratching his head, as she walked past him towards the stall he had mentioned.
“Destry is very easy to control. My mentor has him specially trained to be a warhorse. Once he got him home the damn beast wouldn’t let him near.” She shrugged. “I was the only one he’d let near him, I needed a horse so here I am. I’ve got a monster of a horse that can fight like crazy, but is a huge baby. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
“This here be a baby?” Rista laughed, as he watched her enter the stall. “More like a monster to me.”
Destry stepped to her, and nuzzled her neck. He happily blew hot air through her still damp hair. Rista moved, and she felt him stiffen. “Shhh boy it’s ok, Rista’s a friend. He’ll be taking care of you some when I’m not here.” The horse relaxed. Her thoughts drifted to the pieces of paper in her pocket. Andrea had to wonder if this was connected to her ability to shape change.
“He be a beauty all right. Goin’ to be eatin’ a lot.” Rista laughed, and walked back to the hay pile he’d been working on.
“I should really buy some extra food for him, just have to find a job here first.” Andrea followed him out and grabbed another fork. The big man smiled, as she helped him toss fresh hay in the stall.
“Got any idea where you be startin’ at?”
Andrea stopped pitching hay and dug in her pocket for the paper the master had given her. “I’ve got this list, but nothing else.” Holding it out to him he took it, and sat down on the haystack.
The paper looked tiny in his huge hands. Rista read over it for a few minutes, then handed it back. “Forget Lee’s Weapon house, that man be hatin’ women. Thinks they be no good for nothin’ but cooking and breeding.”
Andrea glanced down at the list after he stood back up. Suddenly she laughed. “That just makes it a challenge Rista.”
“Challenge be it?” Rista snorted, “Hah, you be getting that bastard to be hirin’ ya I be makin’ sure yon Destry get double rations for a week, and be treating ya to a meal in town meself.”
“Deal. I’ll head down in the morning and see what I can do.” Laughing she finished helping him out around the stables until close to time for midday meal. Someone came into the yard as they finished up.
“Who’s that Rista?”
“That there be Master Guard Milak, he be trainin’ and helpin’ people study weapons for once they be leaving the temple to travel. Classes be free. You be interested in learnin’ little one?”
“More like practice. It’s been months since I’ve had a good workout with my sword and bow, think I’ll go talk to him. If you’ll excuse me my friend.” She waved bye to him as she ran across the field to the man who had just entered.
“Master Guard Milak?”
“At your service young lady. What can I do for you?” He turned and smiled at her. He was six foot with curly blond hair, pulled back in a ponytail, and his blue eyes sparkled as he talked.
“Was wondering if it’d be possible for me to join your class sir?”
“Most certainly Miss, doesn’t start for another half cycle.” He beat his short sword on his shield, and gave her a bow. “Perhaps you’d care to show me what you know?”
“I don’t have my weapons with me….” She trialed off, as he held up his sword.
“No problem, we’ve practice weapons here.” Turning he pointed to the rack of swords behind him, “Please take your pick, would like to see what you’ve learned before you join our class. I’m sure you know something, or you wouldn’t be here asking to join my group.”
Nodding Andrea went to the rack, and looked through the blades, picking up this or that short sword. Wrinkling her nose, she slyly looked back. “And if I wish to forego the shield, fighting with a long sword instead?”
Milak raised an eyebrow, placing sword and shield on the table. “Naming your poison is fine by me, young lady.”
She went to the rack of long swords, again picking up each to test it. Kerick had taught her the importance of a balanced blade and how it could save your life. Finding one suited to her hand she returned to Milak, who already waited with his own sword.
Smiling he bowed to her, and she returned the motion. As Kerick taught her she raised immediately into a defensive stance with both hands on the pommel of the sword, feet square with her opponent. He wove a figure eight in the air, then came to a defensive stance right foot in front of his left, blade pointed at the enemy.
She in turn wove a figure eight in the air in front of her, passed the sword behind her back, wove a reverse figure eight, then did a double thrust before pulling back into a defensive position. Andrea’s stance was now right foot in front of her left, both hands on the sword, blade straight up.
Ten feet of open ground was between the two. Milak nodded impressed she knew even that much. “Well met, my lady, shall we dance then?”
Andrea took her left hand off the pommel, extending her arm out, palm up, then taunted him by waving him forward. They circled each other for a moment before he came at her with a side-sweeping blow. Turning her blade to meet his she held him off. He was much stronger than her, but that didn’t always mean anything in a fight of skill.
“Very nice,” Milak said, as he circled her again. He knew she had some skill now he just had to find out what.
As he circled to the right she watched his eyes and shoulders. They would give away his movement before his blade did. Glancing left he spun and brought the sword overhead. Bringing her sword up to block the blow she felt the strength of the blow deep in her hands. They felt almost numb.
Milak stepped back yet again this time smiling. Suddenly he came at her with a flurry of blows. Quickly she blocked swing after swing. They locked swords overhead, stepping face to face, then Andrea felt a dagger’s blade under her chin.
“Two hands, little lady,” the warrior chuckled, “watch for two weapons.”
Andrea was panting for breath, as he removed the blade from her neck. The heat in her cheeks was from more than the exercise.
Milak sheathed his sword, then crossing his arms he walked around her. “I’m impressed, you’ve a lot of talent. Come to sword class first thing in the morn, bow in the afternoon. I don’t have time to test you before my next class. If you want that class as well then I’ll test you after sword practice tomorrow.”
“Thank you sir, I’d indeed like to work on my bow skills as well.” She was breathing hard from the practice. The Master Guard was fast and strong, she’d feel even this little bit of practice in the morning.
As she turned to return the sword to the rack she noticed they’d gathered a crowd. Jerick smiled, and waved at her from the doorway. She returned the wave, and started to head over towards him. Rista yelled from the stables cheering her performance. Turning to smile at him she saw Valr watching from the shadows.
Andrea couldn’t help but wonder if he was thinking of challenging her after the incident in the bath today. Laughing to herself she thought, ‘more likely a cowardly ambush.’
Jerick patted her on the shoulder. “You’re pretty handy with a sword. Most people don’t make it that far before he gets a blow in, and he rarely uses his sneaky tricks.”
The young brown haired boy seemed to know a lot about this place. “How long have you been a student here Jerick?”
“I start my first classes next turn. I’ve been at the temple for almost six moons. We came in the middle of a class so Master Sturat asked us to wait till the next. Gaby and me didn’t mind, we’ve never been this far from home so we’re enjoying the experience.”
“What about Rista? He’s not in classes right now either.”
“Rista got here about four moons ago. He settled right into the stables, and they were short handed so he’s had plenty to keep him busy.”
“Not to sound rude,” Andrea laughed softly, “but I can’t believe Gaby works in the library.”
“No, I understand, Gaby’s got a great mind. I’m just glad she’s able to use it and keep her sense of humor. A lot of smart people like that get bogged down in facts and can’t see past the book they’re studying. Not my sister, she’s too full of life for that.”
“I don’t know about you but I’m ready for lunch,” she smiled, and pulled her now sweaty hair up off her neck.
“Sounds good to me. Shall we?” He held his arm out for her to take.
Smiling she took his arm. Jerick was very much a gentleman, and not bad looking either. His brown eyes sparkled as he talked and laughed.
They headed down the hall talking, as Rista came running up, pulling his shirt over his head. “Andrea, little one you be a talented lass. Not be seein’ a lot of women that can be handlin’ themselves that good. You be usin’ a bow too?”
“Yes,” Andrea blushed with the praise, “but I’m not as good with it as I am the sword. My parents made sure I was trained well.”
“Well little one you be seemin’ like a good student.” Rista winked. “Bet you be taking to lessons like a duck be taking to water.”
They managed to beat the crowd into the dining hall, and got a corner table. Gaby finally showed, as they were finishing their meal. “Sorry guys can’t stay and chat. Master Sturat has me working on a huge project.” She nodded at Andrea, as she grabbed an apple and headed back towards the office.
“She’ll be absorbed in that for days.” Jerick laughed, and finished his ale. “She loves stuff like that.”
“Ya seriously gonna to be tryin’ to get on at Lee’s shop?” Rista asked between bites of roast chicken.
“I accepted your challenge, and don’t back down,” Andrea laughed, as the big man grinned, his chin covered in grease from the chicken.
“Wait whoa, what did I miss?” Jerick was leaning close to Andrea. It was nice to have him so close, but made her nervous too.
“I’ve got to find a job. Rista told me Lee doesn’t like women, he bet me double feed for Destry I couldn’t get on working there.” She snickered. “A wager I couldn’t pass on.”
“Andrea, you’re going to fit in just fine around here,” Jerick was laughing hard. He patted her on the shoulder, and stood. “Is something I’d dearly like to see. If you all will excuse me, I’ve guard duty, see you at dinner tonight.”
Rista downed his ale, and stood as well, “I be havin’ a feeling that I be gonna be out some coin after the morn.”
Andrea laughed as the big man walked back to the stables. She really wanted another bath after her workout with the master guard, but didn’t like the idea of running into Valr again. As if just the thought signaled him he appeared at her shoulder.
“I’m surprised, you handle a sword well,” he paused for a moment, “for a woman. Just remember, stay out of my way and you won’t have to find out how good I am.”
“I’m not in the least bit worried about you and your skill. If you care to notice you came to me.” Andrea snorted, “What’s the matter? Me not bowing at your feet and swooning over your good looks bothering you?”
“Woman I can have any female I want with but a snap of my fingers. If I wanted you I could have you, so don’t flatter yourself.” He stormed off in a huff.
Andrea laughed, and finished her drink before heading to the bath. After that little exchange surely she could bathe in peace. She actually felt good after the practice. Traveling, which should have had her honing her skills, had in fact left her soft. She concentrated on surviving from day to day and not practicing as Kerick taught her.
After her nice quiet bath she headed to her room for a much needed nap. Stretching out on the bed she quickly dozed off. It wasn’t but mere moments after she closed her eyes the dream started. Standing on the balcony of her room she watched Stefyan walk below. Twisting her hand he went flying backwards across the courtyard.
“Felt good didn’t it?”
Turned to look for the voice, but there was no one to be seen. Shaking it off she went back to extracting her revenge on Stefyan. A sick joy flowed from the pit of her stomach.
“That’s it, make him suffer. You’re more powerful than him, vengeance is yours if you wish. AVENGE YOUR PARENTS!”
Spinning to look behind her she realized finally the voice was coming from inside her mind, “Who are you? What do you want?”
“I’m your friend, I’ll help you avenge your parents. I’ll help you murder Stefyan like the monster he is. If you join me I’ll increase your power tenfold.”
“Join you? I don’t even know who you are.” Looking down on the courtyard of her home she thought for the first time what her parents would think of her actions. Stefyan was struggling to rise, but she held him in place. The reality of what she was doing began to sink into her heart.
“No! You must destroy him!”
The voice screamed, but as it did she was filled with calmness. Closing her eyes her mind filled with a soft blue light. “Leave me be, I’ll not harm another.” Dropping her hand she released her uncle. This was no way to honor her parent’s memory. Justice would be served, but not like this.
“You’ve made a mistake this day. You’ll pay for not joining me!” The voice screamed, as it faded from her mind.
Andrea sat up with a jerk. That was more then any mere dream. Shaking and feeling drained she tried to think this all through, vengeance wasn’t the answer, she would turn into Stefyan.
“So,” she said aloud, “what does he fear, that’s the question.”
Shaking off her tiredness she paced the floor thinking of what could possibly be his biggest fear. She came to an abrupt halt, facing the mirror, and smiled at her reflection. “Justice, is his biggest fear, holding him accountable for his actions.”
Staring into the mirror she grunted, “Justice, what a joke. If the old man here knows, then others know, and Stefyan wasn’t even questioned.”
Andrea stood there a bit longer, then a thought came to her, and she too the papers out. Scanning them she made her way back to the bed, sitting she saw both were on transformation. “Hm-m,” she turned the pages over, “two and three, no one, and there are five. Um-m, sweet, he’ll never know I’m there, gathering evidence, for justice.”
She lay back, closed her eyes, thinking, ‘What animal would be best, a fly? Sneaky, but I could be swatted, squished even. A mouse? Too many cats. Cat then? No. Dog? Maybe, but needed protection. Wolf? Yeah, that’s it.’
Bolting upright she looked at the papers. “Wolf would be perfect.”
Running her finger across the page, she read about the focus again, but there was no orb to focus on. Reasoning it out she concluded she was the focus, so the power should be channeled inward. “Hah,” Andrea giggled, “this will be even easier, if I can do it. No,” she held up both forefingers, “I can do this, I can.”
Closing her eyes she thought of a wolf, long bushy tail, teeth, big ones, piercing steel gray eyes, and four feet, silver-gray fur-
“Oh,” clutching her belly she rolled over, and curled up in a ball, “by the goddess, this can’t be right.” Shaking like a leaf in a gale, she clutched at the blankets. “It burns, oh please, stop.” She massaged her lips, feeling an unfamiliar bump. “Oh no, what’s this?”
Crawling off the bed, still hunched over she raced to the mirror, picking up her upper lip to find fangs long enough to pass her lower teeth. “No, how did this happen?”
There was a bit of air passing to the side, getting her to turn, but was nothing to see. Turning back she saw her eyes, or what used to be her eyes, now steel gray orbs were peering back at her. Before she could mouth a protest there was another gust of air, from the other side. Andrea turned, again finding nothing, but getting her to growl, which startled her.
Thinking there must be a dog in the room, Andrea looked under the bed, but nothing. Again the breeze sprang up, instead of turning, she peeked under her arm, producing a scream, her scream. “Oh no.” She scrambled out from under the bed, grabbing the tail behind her, tugging on it, only to find it was her tail.
Back to the mirror she flew, looking at the tail, eyes, fangs, back to the eyes, the tail, and the fangs. “I can’t believe this is happening, how?”
“Grr-rr.” Andrea definitely knew where the noise came from, and snatched the papers up off the bed, quickly scanning them. “No, the pages aren’t here. How do I turn it back?”
She lay back on the bed, “Focus,” thinking me, “yes, I want to be me.” Breathing heavy she repeated under her breath, ‘me, me,’ then Andrea reached back and found her tail. “Damn.”
Closing her eyes tightly she fell back asleep. Her dreams no longer filled with darkness and the need for revenge. Memories of happy times with her parents came to her, and a peace settled on her she had been looking for since the accident happened. This was the first peaceful sleep she’d had since the light of the fire.