Just an FYI, this is a bonus update earned from Eikasia’s facebook fans! This one is unusual because, unlike its predecessors, it is a direct “add on” to the main storyline. This scene takes place between Chapters 9 & 10, and will likely be slipped into the chronological order of the final draft.
— Illise M.
I was getting into a foul mood. Not so out of line, as I was now very familiar with the local ant population. Face-plants into the ground tend to make discourse with insects much easier. I had Elmiryn to thank for that.
The walnut tree murmured over us, and I could feel the sweat roll between the shallow valley of my breasts. The wind whistled about us, and its intimate touch made my damp skin sticky. I gazed at my hand. It looked like a livid creature tensed against the dark ridged bark of the tree. Her shadow swallowed me from behind.
I turned to squint at her over my shoulder and Elmiryn smiled at me with long warm lips. She had straight, white teeth. For all of her wiliness, the warrior was a big fan of routines, and part of her daily checklist was dental hygiene. A few small cloths, some herbs, some fine string, and water. Remarkably simple. I found myself envious. I had an overbite, and what was understood to be “white” by society at large, could not be attributed to my shade of smile. It was no wonder the warrior smiled so much. She had something to show off, and so long as I stood by her, there would always be someone to admire it.
Today Elmiryn didn’t wear a braid or a ponytail. It was rare that I ever saw her with her hair down and loose, and I took in the sight of her long, fiery locks trailing over her strong arms. She held out her hand and said, “All right, here, let me talk to you a bit. I think you did all right, but let me explain in detail.”
I sighed and turned in full, placing my bandaged hand in hers, but not before noting that scar in her palm. It was a prize earned a little before our adventure in Gamath. Elmiryn, the braggart, had made to catch an arrow with her hand. She did it, but not without the arrowhead slicing her. My tawny eyes flickered to meet her cerulean ones and I knew that if this journey kept up, that would not be the last of her spoils. I felt a little guilty. Being an Ailuran meant I didn’t suffer the same damage as a human did. Then again, my Mark was all the scarring I’d ever need.
“So do you get it, Nyx?” Elmiryn held out her hands, palms up as we resumed our positions in our little sparring area. “A person can do damage not just with their hands and feet, but with every other part of their body as well, provided they are well positioned, strike the right places, and use good timing.” She wrapped her arms about her head and hunched so that her shoulders came up near her ears and her spine curved at the top. This made her just a little shorter than me. Through her arms, she said, “See, when you do this, it looks like you’re just cowering. Keep your legs coiled under you, with your feet planted beneath your shoulders diagonally from your opponent. Dig the balls of your feet in. You always want to have that back leg to support you. When you come rising up, you’ll be steady on your feet. Go on. Make like you’re going to hit me.”
I did, and I thought I saw where she was going. My grumpy mood seemed to breed something of a wickedness in me, for I let loose a slow right hook, like I was trying to catch her in the ear. I did it on purpose as this was a pet peeve for her. I hadn’t been aware of it that time I struck her in the side of the head, just out of Dame, but Elmiryn has a fear of developing what is called a ‘cauliflower ear’. That’s when strikes to the ear causes it to swell up and look…well…like a cauliflower. I wouldn’t call the warrior vain, but rather, unwilling to lose her charms.
“Oh, you’re cute, kitten,” Elmiryn said as her eyes squinted at my smirking face. “Very cute. But look,” She shifted forward a step, then threw herself to the left where her forearms knocked into the inside of my arm, effectively knocking it away. “If you move in close, then ram the inside of the arm, not only do you avoid a blow, but you leave your opponent to this–” and here she rose slowly, and swung her elbows up as if to catch me in the nose and chin. “If, for some reason, you are dealing with an opponent that is wearing a helmet or face guard, you can at least use this opportunity to push him away from you.” She then demonstrated how, instead of rising up, I could continue to press forward, using my forearms and elbows as battering rams on the stomach and ribs. She straightened, then stepped back. I stepped back too, and allowed myself a moment to indulge in a slouch.
I missed being able to sleep in during the mornings. Elmiryn was an early bird, damn all my luck. We’d been at this since just after dawn.
She ran her fingers through her hair once and my surly attitude turned to bashfulness. Her hair was mostly straight, but I suspected this was the weight of it pulling it down that way, for at the ends the locks curled lightly. The fine hairs about her ears made bright ringlets against her sun-kissed skin. I had the thought of curling them around my fingers…
“Okay, Nyx.” My eyes snapped back onto Elmiryn’s. “You’re right handed, yes? Assume the starting position. Put your right arm up and make sure it covers your temple, and let your right hand rest at the base of your head. It’s like you’re making a pillow from your arm. Now your left hand should come around and hold your right arm about the upper forearm, not too close to the wrist, but up there. Hold it at almost a right angle. There you go. See how the left arm protects your nose? Now since the side of your face is exposed, you’ll want to shift your body so that it favors the right. That’s the main arm you’ll be putting all your force into anyway.”
Now I was in the right pose. I held the position, bending my knees as I looked up at Elmiryn for what to do next. She started with a smirk, “So you saw how a hooked punch works. What about this…?” I bared my teeth and braced myself. The redhead had a thing for throwing completely new situations my way after a few rudimentary lessons. Thankfully, she came at me slow, and she was aiming for the top of my head with her elbow. Her other arm was blocking her upper chest. I thought about the possible counters she could execute, then struck.
As I had nothing to block with my forearms, I settled on striking first, moving forward to catch the warrior on her exposed ribs, then shifting my body up as I moved my right forearm to receive her elbow, then brought my left elbow up to catch the woman in the right cheekbone. I moved as slow as she did and settled for a soft touch. We fell still that way. Her long lips curled into that infamous smile, and I became conscious of our proximity. Blushing, I skipped backward.
A leer to her gaze now, the woman began to dress down my performance…Elmiryn nod–what? Pardon? …Oh for heaven’s sake, there was no pun intended! Do I look like the sort of person who would resort to puns? Sweet Aelurus…
Elmiryn nodded at me. “That was good. You were confident in using your arms both as a shield and as weapons. I especially liked the last touch there, with the final strike. You’d have to be very quick to get that last move, as most people would instinctively flinch back or move to protect the face if someone got in too close. It’s like a dance. For every one beat counter, anything following that has to be an immediate two beat.” She illustrated this by clapping loudly once, then snapping in two short claps afterward. “It’s always great when a counter takes the heat off you and lets you slip away. It’s even better when you can use it to turn the fight to your favor!”
“You know much about formal dancing?” I asked, my brow quirking at Elmiryn’s mention of beats and rhythms. She made it all sound like choreography for a moment.
The warrior crossed her arms and shifted her weight to one foot. “Oh? You thought the most I knew were country jigs? Raunchy peasant stomps?”
I sniffed and turned my head. “I know a few jigs myself. There’s nothing wrong with that. Raunchy stomps, though, as you’d put it…”
Elmiryn placed the back of her hand on her brow and feigned despair. “How low you must think of me!”
“So you do know ballroom dances?”
“Of course I do!” The woman shook her head, her auburn tresses swaying gently with her lament. “Yes…I’d been to my fair share of balls. But the bastards always made me wear a dress, even when I was a Dragoon Captain–!”
“No!” I said, pretending to be appalled.
“Oh, yes! And get this,” and here she leaned forward with a furtive glance to either side, as though fearing what the squirrels and the chickadees would think. I leaned in too, ear cocked, and she whispered to me. “…They made me dance with men!”
I squealed, hands going to my mouth as I fixed Elmiryn with the most astounded look I could manage. Actually, it wasn’t that hard. The idea of Elmiryn letting a man touch her was shocking. “Oh, Elle, no! You couldn’t have!” I was only half-joking. That was the sad part. I really couldn’t see it, but then again, she did come from nobility, and such things were expected of people her…
…Gods, it’s always odd when I think of it, but Elmiryn is a noble.
“I did!” She straightened and laid a dainty hand on her chest, where she then looked off into the distance with a pained expression. If it weren’t for the fact that she was only wearing her chest wraps, I would’ve found myself believing she were still a maiden. She could look quite innocent when she wanted to. “I soldiered through it, and for all my troubles suffocating in clouds of cologne, having my toes stomped on, and knowing the horror of men far too old standing at attention–” I did a double-take on that one. “–It was worth it! You want to know why, Nyx?”
“Why?” I asked with an open smile.
She held out her hand, “Because now I get to show you the thrill of those dances!”
I stared at her, now flaring red. “Oh!” I took a step back and shook my head. My smile was gone. “Oh no, no, no! I can’t–!”
“Please kitten?” She said, pouting at me, “Do I lack the stateliness of a prince?” Then Elmiryn dipped low into a bow and looked up at me through her eyelashes. With her fiery hair spilling forward, I think my head was ready to pop from all the blood and heat that clouded my brain. She took my flabbergasted behavior to mean a yes, and without another word, took my hand, pulled me to her by the waist, and smiled merrily down at me. “There. Better!”
Ever the graceful one, I set into my usual sputtering. “E-Elle, now really–!”
“Don’t think we’re taking a total break from our training this morning. You’ll see how this is related. Just follow my lead okay?”
“Elmiryn, I don’t–!”
“Take one step back with your left foot as I step forward with my right.” She stepped forward, as she suggested she would, and I mirrored her…belatedly that is. We stumbled, but Elmiryn’s hand firmly pulled me back to her and she gave me a stern look. “Hey, are you paying attention?”
“Of course I am, but–”
“Okay, we’ll try again. Just relax Nyx, and for the love of the gods, quit squeezing the life out of my hand! Relax your fingers and lightly press your palm into mine. There you go. Think of it like this, you want to receive your partner with open hands, not crush them in your attempts to make a fist.”
I was startled enough to forget my situation for a second. I looked into her eyes and I could see myself reflected in them. With a swallow I relaxed my hand. My tunic was already rather sweaty. I had to keep it on due to that inconvenience with my Mark and Elmiryn’s curse. With the dancing, I found myself soaking it anew. Elmiryn hummed out a song–not Meznik’s, of course–but a waltz.
“One, two, three…and step!” I mirrored her step as she moved forward. Then again, and again…in a rhythm, in time with her humming. I wasn’t lying when I said I knew a few jigs–not all of my life was spent miserable and in exile. So while this dance was very different for me, I found myself quickly finding the way of it. Elmiryn never pushed me or pulled me, but her body “suggested” my next move, and by anticipating the steps, I kept it up.
Elmiryn hummed something jocose and light. I could feel the music flood into me, and I wanted the song to stay with me forever.
We slowed to a stop, hips together, foreheads together, lips–
“I thought you said we weren’t taking a break,” I breathed. My eyes were half-closed.
She gave a light shrug. “I said we weren’t taking a total break.”
I bit my lower lip in a failed attempt to keep my smile down. Then said, “So this is a partial break?”
“Mm hmm. You were getting grumpy. To the point where you didn’t want to play with me anymore.”
Elmiryn chuckled. “You know what I mean.”
I did. “If you’re referring to the cat and mouse games you like to instigate, then perhaps I have an inkling of what you mean.” I said this with all the perspicacity in the world. I looked away, jaw relaxed, and my eyes hooded–cat body language. I may have had rocky relations with my animal counterpart, but the mannerisms of a cat were still well a part of my life, both in fur and in skin.
Elmiryn pressed her hand against the small of my back, squeezing me to her. I let out a choppy exhale. She still held my right hand aloft as my left flexed against her bare shoulder.
…Wait, how did I get into this position again?
“But you like my games…don’t you?” Elmiryn murmured, pressing in so close that her lips brushed my ear. My eyes slipped shut and I turned my face so that my cheek brushed hers. I breathed in the scent of her hair. There was that wild smell–all the scents of untamed nature and freedom that made my heart feel like it was doing a marathon in my chest.
My skin was flushed and hot. And there was that ache…It reminded me of being on the verge of shifting. Maybe that was being drastic, but I did not like the idea of being swept up into the situation. I needed to get my head back into the moment. I was determined not to become just another conquest. When I spoke, I did it with as firm a voice as I could manage. “Elle, you said this was related to your lesson. Show me how.”
Elmiryn pulled back enough to gaze at me, her eyes holding something of the sunlight in them. My eyes fluttered at her.
“Steady you dolt…you forget, there is an unwilling third party to this unscrupulous scene!” Ah, my Twin. Never one to miss an opportunity for an insult.
The redhead grinned. That was before she stepped back and slid her right foot forward, so that her hip brushed against my left side. Suddenly, her right leg was crossing behind me, and with a strong twist of her shoulders, I was sent to the ground. She could have been rough, but Elmiryn made sure my descent was slow. With her well-positioned leg, my stability was compromised, so I could do nothing as I tumbled over her thigh. The warrior held onto me as I touched the ground, and all the while she didn’t let go of my waist or hand.
She smiled at me, showing all teeth.
“You can do damage with more than just your hands and your feet. You have to cease thinking of your limbs independently. As isolated parts. They’re attached to the same body, they work as a unit. Be conscious of everything. You take power from the earth when you block a hit, and you can spend that power through your fists when you throw a punch, but that energy has to travel to get from point to point, doesn’t it? Can’t it exit from more than one place? Must a successive hit mean a bruise or a cut? Here you are. Using my shoulders, legs, and torso in harmony, I got you on the ground, and now…” Elmiryn tilted her head to one side. “And now, Nyx, I can do what I want with you.”
I blinked at her. The woman’s smile turned gentle as she seemed to consider something. Then she leaned down and kissed me. She tasted like peppermint. My eyes closed and my hand squeezed hard around hers as Elmiryn moved her lips against mine. My hand went to her shoulder and I thought of pushing her back. What a rogue! Had she thought to do that the whole time?
Only I didn’t push her away. My hand went to touch her cheek, then to brush back her hair, which was like a halo around me. The warrior pulled back with a quiet smack to grin at me. I blushed and let my hand fall back onto the grass. I looked off to the side, with a “Humph.”
My hand lay open and relaxed as she laced hers between my fingers.
The woman kissed my neck and I shivered at her moist lips on my skin. After that, Elmiryn spoke close to my ear. “Nyx, listen to me. You can do so much with your body as a whole. Everything has to move in harmony. Every inch of you plays a part in a successful move. Including,” she tapped my head, “This,” and then she trailed her finger down to my left breast, over my heart, “And that.” Her voice was a husky murmur now. “You’ve already got more than half of what you need to become a great warrior.” She unlaced her hand from mine and used it to turn my head so that I faced her.
“So I want you to know…you’d beat me with open hands every time.”