Training
By: Stephanie Bardy

Celeste sat in the rocker on her porch watching Merrik. She slowly moved back and forth as she wove herbs together, suppressing a smile as he cursed, yet again.

"We have been at this for weeks! I don't see how this is going to defeat Ren Daul, and it's impossible!" Merrik railed stomping around in frustration.

He had been in front of the fire pit for hours, trying to light the kindling, and had failed, every time. He had cursed, yelled, stormed off, cursed Celeste, and sat down on the step to the porch in childish frustration, many times over the last few weeks. This was his first task in his training and he felt like he was failing miserably. She kept telling him he was over thinking it, he was trying to hard, but he hadn't accomplished the goal so he felt like he wasn't trying hard enough. The only instruction she had given him was light the fire.

"Try again." Celeste said, keeping her eyes down on her task. If he saw the mirth in her eyes, she would not hear the end of it.

Merrik grunted and approached the pit again. He stood motionless, staring at it. Still nothing, not even the smallest wisp of smoke. He furrowed his brow, widened his stance and glared even harder. After about twenty minutes he screamed in anger.

"I'm done! This is pointless! Give me a sword, a bow, a blade! Let us train with that, I will kill him with that. Magic is just not going to happen." he spat as he turned to look at her.

Celeste gently laid her herb bundles aside and slowly rose from her chair. She caught his eyes and descended the stairs towards him. "Ren Daul is more than sword and bow. More than a blade, or human battle methods. He is ethereal, created from and for magic. He wields it like a weapon and you must fight the same."

She raised one hand waist high, palm up. "I have told you, you over think, you need to feel. Feel the ebb and flow of the energy around you." Her eyes never left his. "You do not control magic, you do not control energy, it is ever present, ever changing. You gather that energy into yourself, then focus it and shape it to what you need. The only control you have is over yourself and that gives you the ability to wield magic."

She broke contact with his eyes, and he staggered forward slightly, only then realizing that she had held him there. His gaze fell on her hand. He watched as a slight glow began just above her palm. It seemed to swirl and dance, flicker almost. As he watched intently, looking for some small sign as to how she was doing this, the glow grew, took on shape and substance, until it was a burning ball pulsing above her skin, small flames licking out around her fingers. With a flick she sent it into the pit and the kindling erupted in fire. His eyes flew to her face, which was still calm and held a slightly amused look. With a slight wave of her hand the flames vanished. "Now, you do it."

Merrik planted his feet firmly, raised his hand and concentrated on it. After a few moments he looked up at her. "I feel nothing. No ebb and flow. No vibration, no heat. What am I doing wrong?"

Celeste sighed, "Overthinking."

She came and stood beside him, touching his arm until he faced her. She searched his face and saw only confusion and frustration. She had hoped this would have come naturally, easily, with all the knowledge, but it had not. She had not wanted this, regardless of what it meant. They were to have a bond in order to be able to work as they should. Silently she cursed the Elders, once more, for pushing here limits and forcing her to do things she had turned from long ago.

"Close your eyes." she said, barely above a whisper.

"What? Why?" Merrik asked.

Frustration now began to unfurl in her. "Do you trust me?" Merrik nodded. "Then for once, just do as I ask without question." Merrik immediately closed his eyes.

"Breathe deeply. Listen to the birdsong, the wind rustling the leaves. Feel that wind on your skin, as it brushes across you. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face, shoulders. Pull that warmth, that wind, into yourself. See it in your minds eye flowing into you like water. Magic is created from the energy around us, what we can draw from nature. You pull that energy into yourself and give it life, shape, and power." Celeste raised both her hands until they hovered beside his face. His expression changed immediately from one of wonder and awe, to almost fear. Gently she laid both hands against his face and he jumped like he had been stung. His eyes flew open and met hers. As they did, something inside him crashed open. His heart beat faster, his blood raced through his veins, and he could see that her breath had quickened at the contact as well. She dropped her hands, stepped back and suddenly he felt like a piece of himself was missing.

"What did you do?" he whispered.

Celeste needed to put some distance between them and turned to walk back to the porch. Merrik grabbed her arm to stop her. "DON'T" she screamed as she lashed out instinctively. Merrik landed a few feet away.

"What the hell?!" he sputtered as he clamored to his feet. Celeste stood motionless, a blank look on her face. A look Merrik had come to recognize as one that meant she was fighting within herself.

"I am sorry. I never had any intention of touching you. Ever, but the Elders have seen fit to change that. I will not do it again, but I needed to show you that you are just as full of magical energy as I am. We are connected. You can take energy from me, and I you. We can also combine our power. The only way you would see that is to feel it. Now, light the fire, it grows dark, and I grow weary with this." Celeste returned to here chair on the porch and didn't look at him again.

Merrik spent the next few hours creating his own fire and then running around putting it out as he tried to send it to the pit but missed. Each time he would stamp it out and return to his spot, trying again. He knew not to push Celeste, but he was determined that they would talk about this connection she said they had. He needed to know what that meant. What sort of connection it was for her, because he sure as hell knew what he had felt. All of him had felt it.

"Enough." Celeste's voice broke his thoughts and he looked to see her entering the cabin. Looking back at the pit he decided to give up for the night. His accidental misfires were getting bigger and harder to stamp out.

Merrik entered the cabin to see Celeste retreating behind the curtain that surrounded her sleeping quarters. Meat, cheese and some bread sat on the table. Merrik sat and ate his fill, put the rest away and stretched out on his cot in the far corner.

"Celeste?" he said quietly. She did not answer but he could hear her shift on her cot so he knew she was awake.

"I need to know what it was that I felt when you touched me. It hit me like lightening and then you just pulled it away." Still silence. "Please? Help me understand. I won't touch you again, but I need to know."

Celeste lay in her cot staring at the ceiling. She knew he was right. In order for them to create the magic needed to defeat Ren, he needed to know how deep and how far their connection went. Yet, to tell him could hurt them both.

"Divine Keeper and Warrior have always had a bond, a connection. One stronger than anything in this world or any other. It is what makes the magic stronger. What you felt were the remnants, the memory of centuries of that bond. Nothing more. Who we were before we became Keeper and Warrior, had no such bond. This was bestowed upon us with our gifts, our magic. It does not change anything. Now sleep, tomorrow it seems we must work on your aim before you burn my home to the ground."

Merrik smiled and knew that it changed everything. He would do as she asked. He would train, listen to her, to the ebb and flow around him, but he was not finished with this conversation. Not by a long shot.

The sun had barely risen when Merrik awoke. As he looked around the cabin he could see that Celeste was already up and gone. He rose, splashed some water on his face and stepped outside into the cool mist of dawn. He saw her on the edge of the garden, dressed in flowing white, arms raised, hair blowing gently behind her even though there was no breeze. He stood watching her as she began to sway slightly. A gentle glow seemed to emanate from her skin and surround her. Within moments she was completely surrounded by the white light and as she pulled her arms down to her sides he felt a ripple in the air around him, like someone had slammed a door and rattled the walls of the cabin.

Celeste finished the shielding spell. She had felt him come out, felt his energy reach for her. The spell would protect him from feeling hers but she still had to feel him, it was her duty. She had to be able to tap into his energy to find him should they get separated. Feel his life force in battle, and be able to help if he needed her, but he did not need to feel hers. Steeling herself for the barrage of questions, she returned to the house. She walked past Merrik and he didn't say a word, didn't reach to touch her, he just let her pass and made his way to the fire pit. She entered the cabin, closed the door and let out the breath she had been holding. She made her way to her sleeping area and dressed for the day.

"You can not do this." said the three Elders. Celeste yanked the curtain aside and saw them standing in front of the hearth.

"I can, and I will. I will not feel that deeply. Not ever again. You knew that from the start. You can not ask that of me. My heart is the one thing you can and will not control." Celeste was spitting mad and they were the very same ones she was angry with. She did not hold back but spoke angrily at them for several minutes. When she was done they spoke again.

"You know there is only one way to defeat Ren Daul. Only one. Where the others have failed, where we have failed to see, you must."

"NO! I will train him to be better, stronger, faster than the others before him. That is how we will win, and the only way I am willing to do it."

The Elder's faded with one parting remark. "Only one."

Celeste stormed out of the cabin and straight into Merrik's chest. His arms came up to steady her and she screeched and pushed past him.

"Celeste! Wait!" Merrik called after her. She stopped running but her body continued to vibrate. "What?" she ground out.

"Talk to me. I heard the Elders. What did they mean there was only one way? Why are you so angry?" He asked gently.

She spun to face him, her emotions finally overriding her hard kept control.

"Love. Love is the only way." She spat out before running into the forest leaving Merrik still stuck behind her garden gates.

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