The Obsidian Sword: An Unusual Quest - Part Three
Chapter 3: The Trail
"It's only me!" exclaims a brilliantly blinding faerie at the same time that I release a startled shout. "I sensed that something was wrong and came to investigate. I heard the earthquake at the palace, and I think I could be of assistance."
"Why are you here?" I ask, shading my eyes. "What kind of assistance?"
"The only assistance I can at the moment. This task is, I'm afraid, dependent on you. But I shall do what I can." Without another word of explanation, she thrusts both hands out in fists.
There are so many questions, but the faerie seems uninterested in answering any of them in any way that isn't vague. When she turns her fists over and opens them, I squint to see what she holds.
"What is it?" I ask, temporarily blinded.
She gives a tinkling laugh. "I forget your mortal eyes aren't as strong as ours. Just a moment." She dulls faintly. "Any better?" I blink the spots out of my eyes. Her form is still bright, but not as blinding.
Now I can see two things, one resting in each palm: a chain holding a golden teardrop, swirling with what looks like its own soul inside, a perfect piece of the sun; and a chain that holds a night star so perfectly formed and warm to the touch, it seems as if it must have been plucked from the sky itself. I can feel power in both. The star is brilliant, but lonely. Somehow it seems as if I'd end up caring for it rather than it helping me. And loneliness is a feeling I've gotten tired of. The teardrop is so perfectly formed, vibrant, and... alive. With a start, I realize it's releasing a humming vibration through the air that seems to reach deep into my soul. It feels warm. Friendly. Fearless.
"What are these? What do they do? Why are you giving these to me?" I ask, one question tumbling on the heels of the next.
The tinkling sound returns. "So many questions. And you will have your answers in time, perhaps from unexpected places." I don't tell her that this doesn't help me at all, because before I can, she continues. "You must choose one, however, not both. Choose wisely, as your choice today shall greatly alter your path."
I muse that all choices greatly affect our paths in one way or another, but the thought vanishes quickly with the thought of the task at hand. I can't even begin to wonder what she means -- what any of this means -- but I decide to obey and make a choice.
I stretch a hand out to take the teardrop, but pull back quickly, another question spilling out of my mouth. "What does the humming mean?" I ask the Faerie. This is magic, and magic must not be tampered with without all the information you can gather.
"That means it is your stone," the Faerie replies, a slight smile on her lips. "I am not surprised. It seemed to suit you, but I thought I'd give you the option." Her shoulders lift in a shrug.
"What does that mean, that it doesn't surprise you?"
"If you weren't ready for the journey - if you clung to the dark and the loneliness still - you wouldn't have reached for something more."
Her words strike a chord. "What do you mean, 'still' clinging to it?" I never clung to the dark. It followed me.
The Faerie smiles pityingly, as if reading my mind, and shakes her head. "No more questions. You must choose. Only know that once you choose, you cannot turn back. No matter what the consequences or difficulties you must face because of it."
I hesitate for only a moment before my hand unfreezes and continues its reach. The pull is almost magnetic, my hand snatching up the teardrop necklace as if some part of me is afraid it will disappear. How strange it is that I could possibly reach for and take hold of some small part of the sun's soul. No sooner than I look up and open my mouth to thank the blinding Faerie and ask if it really is from the sun as it appears to be, she bursts in front of me into shimmering light, hanging like dancing dust particles in the air before slowly dimming and fizzling out. It's a moment before I can close my mouth again, a moment before I can take in what happened. This entire day has been so -- I shake my head. There are no words to describe this day.
Soon, it sinks in that I am alone now, except for my necklace - this object that gives proof that the sun holds its own soul outside its body. I wrap the chain around my hand a few times, thoughtfully, trying to decide what to do next. With a shrug, I unwrap the chain and settle it against my neck and over my shoulders, the sun soul hanging by its delicate thread at my neck. I can't tell which way I came from anymore, as I was in such a rush getting here - wherever here is. I can just imagine how my teacher would berate me for that. I can feel my mind tugging at a memory, urging me to let it wander instead of attempting to remain relentlessly focused, as I know I should be doing.
There are times that I wander off in my own mind, something that can be fine if I'm trying to make time move by more quickly, but it's not very productive for most things. My teacher reprimands me for this often, but still it happens. With everything that's happened in the past twenty four hours, though, the thought of my training is a comforting, familiar territory. I give in and let the memory unspool. It's so vivid, it's as if my trainer is actually here.
"No time to stop and think, to gather your wits," I can remember him saying. "The past has come and claimed the moment as its own. There is time to take it in," he snapped his fingers. "That much time. Just like that. And then you ACT!" He always puts such emphasis on the word, it becomes something more powerful than it is. Or maybe the way he says it makes me realize how powerful it has always been. "If you take too long, your opportunity is gone. Focus. Now, try again." He got into position, raising his eyebrows expectantly. My eyes took in the angle of his fists, the balance of his feet, the sense of coiled urgency in his body that deceived me by looking calm. My mind ran calculations, probabilities, likelihoods of his attacks if I attempted certain ones of my own. One by one, I discarded them as unsuitable, and settled on one attack in particular, dodging his reactionary defenses until I made contact. And he was down. When he rose, he was rubbing his side and his jaw. His yellow eyes were alight and his teeth flashed at me, as if he had enjoyed the experience very much. "Perfect," he said. "Now. Again."
In the present day, I shake my head, remembering. My trainer is tireless. That much I've learned since I began the Ninja Training School. When I first started, it was almost a feat just to make it to the school on top of the mountain - much more of a feat to actually train once I got there. But he was always merciless. "No time to sit," he would say. "No time to dawdle. Time to ACT."
As I walk along the forest trail, my mind wanders back even further, back to when I trained at the Krawk Island Training School, with the boisterous and broad Eyrie there who liked to tell stories of how he lost his leg. I'd trained after that at Mystery Island Training School, in which pomp seemed to ooze out of the teacher as he taught his strict methods. It bothered me to no end at the time. My habit of channeling my anger and impatience into training came in especially handy, because I was almost constantly annoyed at him. But once I got out, once I ended up at the Ninja Training School, I had to mentally thank him. Without his hours of rigorous, strict, no-room-for-error training and his relentlessly unsatisfied attitude, I would never have made it at my new school. There really is no room for error - both when I climb the treacherous mountain, and when I'm against an opponent who has been training longer than I've even been alive.
But no matter how tough it is, I know I will never regret coming this far.
For years I acted out, always spoiling for a fight. I scared my sister Aryll, who gave me concern I didn't deserve. My youngest sister Baby didn't know how to act around me. With her timid mindset, I was a ticking time bomb in her eyes. With how she still looks at me, I often wonder if I still am that way to her. Or maybe I only imagine it. Dolly was my closest companion because she idolized that side of me - the part she sees as strength. She idolizes me in general. All I can hope is that she's too smart to get into any actual trouble by following in my footsteps. Even if I've got a while to go, I can at least appreciate the fact that I realize I had a problem. At one point, I didn't. But eventually, even the most stubborn have to come to terms with who they are.
It was after a particular fight with a Lupe that I realized I needed help. It wasn't because I had lost. It was because I had won. I fought him and won, and there was no reason for it other than the fact that I'd woken up on the wrong side of the bed. My first thought upon waking was of a test I hadn't studied well enough for, and so I was in a bad mood from the start. All I could think after the fight was that now I had to go home. I had to tell my mother, and see her disappointment. I had to face Aryll and see her concern for me. I had to deal with gentle Baby looking disapproving and frightened, and with Dolly excitedly asking me all the details as if it was a noble thing I'd done. I knew it wasn't. I'd always known.
I was a bully, and there is no honor in being a bully. I was ashamed of what I did, but I knew that just being ashamed wouldn't get me anywhere. I had to act. I had to change myself, because I was the only one who really could. So instead of walking in and ashamedly admitting to what I'd done, I strode through the wondering eyes of my siblings in the living room straight to my mother. I humbly told her what had happened, and asked if I could enroll in Training at the soonest possible opportunity. She was worried at first, thinking it would make things worse, until I explained to her that as it was, I had no control. I needed that. I needed to learn it, or eventually I'd explode or implode, and I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to keep on being a bully. I knew I could be something else, if I had the right tools. She nodded with understanding, a thoughtful and - I dared to think, proud - look in her eyes.
That weekend, I had my first lesson. After a while of that, I got a job. I did over 650 jobs and only failed once. Even that once was too much for me, as my standards for myself had risen considerably after I had learned some self-control and become a better person. I ran into the Lupe at work one day, and apologized. Thankfully, the Lupe was a truly kind soul, and he found it in his heart to forgive me. Once I started the Ninja Training School, I decided to focus primarily on it instead of work. Maybe one day, I thought, I could become a knight. Maybe helping others would make up for how badly I'd treated people in the past. It would be a new start. But to do that, I had to learn all I could in the Ninja Training School. Knight standards are high, and eventually I hope to reach them, both in the training department and in the department that matters most: to honor and to care for those you protect.
I may not be all the way there yet, but I'm better than I was, and that's what counts. I wonder now, walking along in the forest, what I would have become if I hadn't had a wake-up call. With a shudder, I wade out of my dark thoughts and back into the present. Looking around, I realize the trees are thinning and receding like an Elderlyboy's hairline. In front of me is a field with a seemingly-abandoned shack sitting quietly right in the middle of it. It's old and decrepit, but it looks as if there is life enough in it still to hold up for the night - or at least, I hope there is. In any case, with nowhere else to go and dusk falling fast, it's my only option for shelter. Tomorrow is another day, and I'll need all the rest I can get if I hope to help the duke with the mission he's entrusted me with.
To be continued...