It was still dark when Akurin woke. He had to sit and blink for a moment until he remembered that he was in a comfortable room in an inn, not camped out under trees–or in one. That seemed unfair, somehow: the first decent rest he’d gotten in days, indeed, his first since the Change, was cut short by restlessness or…something.
He was too wide awake to go back to sleep, so he dressed and left the room quietly. The inn’s stables were open at all hours, to accommodate any traveler’s schedule, and he found Waterfall waiting for him, as wakeful as himself.
“Up early too, huh?” he asked her in a whisper so as not to disturb the others. Waterfall nuzzled him, and he gave her an apple he’d saved for this purpose. “You did so well yesterday,” he whispered, running one hand through the flowing mane that had inspired her name. Her mane and tail were white, and against the black of the rest of her body, they looked like a waterfall spilling over rocks.
Akurin let his mind drift back to when he’d purchased Waterfall. He’d had his eye on a stallion at first, but the black and white mare had taken a liking to him instantly. Plenty of that dealer’s horses had spirit, but Waterfall wanted to be his, and that had settled the matter. Hindsight was looking good this morning: she’d been completely unfazed by Arturia’s pets and the Mata-Yadh, and had found him after the adventure underground without any serious mishaps.
He looked her in the eyes for a moment. She’d always had a little white star-marking on her head, but it seemed especially relevant now. “I wasn’t the only one who changed back there, was I?” he asked her.
She shook her head, and Akurin didn’t know if she was just being a horse shaking out her mane, or if she had somehow understood him perfectly.
There wasn’t really any good space to ride in the crowded city, so Akurin bid her goodbye for the moment and set out for a walk on his own, finally reaching a public park with some nice grassy areas sheltered by trees and bushes, planted in a careful arrangement.
After checking that he was alone, he sat on the grass and unsheathed both swords.
His brother’s, with the red handle, was still quite new. His own, with the blue handle, had taken a bit of a beating in the fight with the obsidian Mata-Yadh. The metal was showing some slight discoloration where the creature’s magic had twisted its composition.
The swords no longer matched. One was carefully preserved, awaiting one proper moment to strike again; the other had seen heavier use in the past week than in all its previous existence. He and his brother had stopped matching: one dead, the other still alive. And now, one had lived and died a mortal, and the other was…something else.
The stars were starting to fade.
He put Jiron’s sword away and went through a round of practice with his own. Each kata was very short, reflecting his art’s discipline of ending fights quickly. But to make up for their lack of length, there were a lot of them.
Black clouds began to turn silver. Somewhere in the distance, a songbird woke early and tuned its voice. The grass smelled green where he’d stepped on it, lending flavor to the chilly morning air.
Breathe in, sheathe the blade. Step, turn, breathe-out-strike.
Grey clouds turned gold at the edges, like paper just catching aflame.
Akurin’s opponents had been a little strange lately, and he still didn’t understand the power that kept the cold air from stinging his throat, and his feet from slipping on the wet grass and his arms from aching, even without his thinking about it. But he still remembered these steps, and remembered how he intended to finish the steps, someday, when he found the one he was looking for…
A blue handle slid home against its sheath, but when Akurin unsheathed a blade again, the grip in his hands was red.
Breathe-out-strike. Sheathe the blade.
A slight singing sound of steel against air hung in his ears a moment. That was as it should be. That sword would not cleave anything solid until it had found the one it was meant for–until Akurin had found him.
The sky was much lighter now.
Feeling suddenly warm, Akurin set both swords aside and went through a slower, unarmed form that Master Kendrin had insisted he learn before ever picking up a sword, many years ago. An exercise to calm and center the mind, he had called it. You cannot master the blade until you have mastered yourself. But once you have mastered yourself, you can master anything.
It had just sounded encouraging at the time. Encouragement, mixed with discipline.
At the moment he ended the form, the sun found an opening over the distant hills and between the city buildings. Long shadows appeared across the grass, and the light shone right in Akurin’s eyes, but it didn’t hurt. His old instinct of blinking and turning away was gone.
The words were suddenly clear in his memory. They felt heavier, and he wondered if perhaps he should have listened more closely.
Maybe the sunlight had affected his vision. For a moment, he almost seemed to be holding a sword after all, made of the same golden light that was shining right in his eyes. But when he finally did blink, it was gone.
The sun slipped behind a tall tree as it rose, and Akurin stood still, catching his breath, feeling as though he’d been inspected at the end of a lesson and knew that it had gone well. He felt warm, from the inside, much as he had on the day he had Changed.
As the Sun busied Himself with painting and re-painting the clouds, Akurin gathered his gear and headed back towards the buildings. He had a trail-scent to catch, but first he’d need to get his own sword professionally sharpened. And then, all things being equal–which they never were, but still–he preferred to stick close to the others he’d met. As much as it seemed a recipe for bizarre adventures, it was also the best and perhaps only way to understand his new situation any further.
Ah yes, and it was the new moon tonight; Liana would be naming her daughter today. Wouldn’t miss that for all of Creation.