As time passed, Rakesh taught Jason several stances and approaches. He kept most of the lessons focused on defensive postures, explaining to the eager young man that it was for more than just his safety. Today they were working on a stance called the Wheel.
“In a sword fight you must never make the first cut. Test your opponent’s patience, bait him, but never commit before he does. Force him to make the first move and you have won.”
“Alright,” Jason said, sword held out behind him. “That’s fine and all, but the guards I saw had pistols. Waiting with a sword is no help there, so what then?”
Rakesh smirked as he aimed a swing at Jason’s torso. It was easily deflected with a swift upward arc, the movement this stance took its name from. When the echo of the bronze blades faded, Rakesh answered, “Pray to whatever god your family worships for mercy, and curse yourself for taking up the art of swordsmanship.”
“Way to inspire confidence, Rak,” Jason muttered, reassuming the Wheel.
“No, that’s enough for today, Jason,” the elf said with a shake of his head. “Let’s wash up and head back upstairs.”
“You can’t be tired already,” Jason said. “Something wrong?”
“A little anxious, truthfully,” Rakesh answered. Having hung the sword back on the rack by the door, he ambled off toward the dressing room. Jason followed just behind, unsure whether to ask his mentor for further explanations. Much to his relief, Rakesh needed no prompting.
“Aurok should have been back days ago,” he said when they were out of the hall and into the dressing room. Rakesh fumbled with the buckles and ties of his leathers, his mind clearly someplace else. “It’s very uncharacteristic for that man to have fallen silent.”
By the time Rakesh managed to remove all his leathers, Jason had already moved into one of the showers. It had been strange to him the first time – there was no shower head to speak of, rather the water fell from small holes in the ceiling, like rain.
“You think something happened to him?” Jason called back.
The sound of falling water beside him alerted Jason that Rakesh had been quicker than he anticipated. Jason had known the elf just over a week, and their daily sparring matches always ended with a shower by necessity, but he still felt a tinge of awkwardness next to the much larger man. While he had the height to match the iron elf, he was beat nearly twice over by the breadth of the other man's shoulders, back, and chest. Jason had never been insecure with his looks, but he couldn't help but feel inferior next to Rakesh.
“It's the only thing my mind can focus on,” Rakesh answered.
Jason let the statement hang in the air, unsure of what to say next. The silence remained between the two even as they returned to Aurok's apartment, clothed in fresh silks. It hung about them for a few minutes within the apartment, until finally Rakesh broke it.
“That pendant, Yulevi told you to hide it?”
“It's the thing that killed Lukesh, isn't it.”
Again Jason nodded. He had seen Rakesh eyeing the necklace a few times during their practice, where it would come free of its confines. Jason thought he detected some unease, a hesitation before striking when the pendant had come loose.
“What is it?”
“Jade,” he answered simply.
“I have never heard of that stone outside of legends,” Rakesh said, shaking his head. “No, what is it to you?”
“Ah,” Jason said, understanding. “A gift from my girlfriend. Back home.”
A few seconds of silence, and then, “You want to go back, don't you?”
Rakesh had caught Jason staring out the window. He hadn't even realized it, but his unfocused gaze had never once rested on Rakesh while speaking to him. His thoughts were outside the apartment, outside this world.
“Tell me,” Rakesh continued. “What is your world like?”
Not breaking his gaze from the window, Jason answered, “I live in a city of glass, much like this one. I see a lot of my home here, but I also see a lot that is different, foreign. We have towers and trains at home, but no king. At least, my country has no king.”
“It is the same here. Not all nations bow before kings. The glade elves elect their elite, though infrequently.”
“We elect ours every four years,” Jason said.
“Only four years?” Rakesh seemed surprised. “Four years is hardly enough time to lead a nation.”
“True,” Jason laughed, before continuing his earthly tales. Rakesh took great interest in his descriptions of far-away countries, global conflicts, language and communication. He was in the midst of explaining the concept of motorvehicles when Yulevi burst into the apartment.
“Get the grab bags,” she said in a harsh whisper. Her cheeks were flushed red, her lungs working like bellows. “Aurok is dead.”