The clang of metal echoed in my ear as my blunt sword collided with the one of my opponent.
“We’re getting there,” said Garfas. “You’re trying to kill me, not shoo me away.” I reared back and swung my sword with more force. “Good.”
It had been a week since my encounter with the flame legion. My injuries were healing nicely, nothing would be permanent, and any scars or abnormalities that would be left behind would be something my healer could take care of. Overall it was not too bad. It did leave some hideous welts on my face and it hurt to talk, but it was all a temporary discomfort. A few more sessions with my healer and my face would be as good as new.
Since I had taken quite a beating in the last mission, Garfas and Thoc had managed to convince Itan that I could use a bit of rest. The request was rejected at first but once they lied and said that my legs were broken, he had little choice. He gave me two weeks to heal up and be ready for duty. Even with magic, no one would be well enough to go back into battle by that time. It was expected however, either way two weeks of rest were welcomed for me. I spent most of the time practicing with my sword and heading over to the Gladium Canton, and lounging, a lot of lounging. I asked Garfas to give me more sword lessons since I had the time to spare, so practice became a daily thing between us. I was pleased to hear from him that my skill was improving.
It was the end of the training session, both Garfas and I were sprawled on the floor of his training room and recovering from the rigorous activity. I could hear his heavy breathing, feeling the heat radiating from both of us out into the cold winter air, bruises were all over my arms and legs where I had failed to parry. it was a good day.
“We’ll have to end this lesson early,” I said sitting up. Garfas followed suit as his ears perked up.
“So soon?” he asked getting back on his feet. “Is something wrong?” The white charr walked up to me and helped me stand up.
“Not at all,” I said. “I just need to meet with my healer, that’s all.”
Garfas tilted his head as he looked at me curiously.
“You’ve talked about your healer a lot,” said Garfas. “But you’ve never actually said anything specific about him.”
“Her,” I corrected. Garfas’ eyes widened in surprise.
“Oh,” he said as he stirred uncomfortably. I could tell that there was something he wanted to ask. It took me a few days to realize that Garfas was a very shy charr. Even when talking with me, he would be reluctant to express his sentiments, or what was really on his mind. I always had to pull it out of him.
“You should come along,” I said. “I will introduce you two.” suddenly I saw Garfas light up like a cub that was receiving his first training sword.
After gathering my things Garfas tagged along with me deeper into the citadel. Going through the cantons and different houses I lead the way as Garfas followed me closely. I noticed a wide smile on his face.
“What are you so excited about?” I asked with a chuckle.
“Not much,” shrugged Garfas. “Being with you is fun, that’s all.” I rolled my eyes as I continued the path. We were getting closer to the area, and I noticed Garfas’s smile slowly vanishing.
“Cub,” he said looking around the area. “This is the Gladium Canton.”
“Yes,” I said rounding at him inquisitively. “What about it?” I could notice that his mood was worsening. This was something that was expected however. Gladiums were charr that did not belong to a warband, be it they left, were kicked out or the whole warband just died out. They were mostly old charr, but you would fine a few young ones that would not join a new one for whatever reason, that or no one wanted them.
This place was my childhood however, I was always welcome here and I owed it to Mara.
“What are you doing hanging out with this lot?” he said nearly growling at me.
“And what is wrong with gladiums?” I asked crossing my arms.
“They’re disgraces!” he spat. “No warband, they make no attempt to aid the citadel. They just sit there and rot like trash!” I narrowed my eyes at Garfas, he seemed to noticed that he had angered me. It looked like he wanted to take it all back but he didn’t know how.
“Mara is my friend,” I said with seriousness. “And she is a gladium. I’m fine if you’re not alright with that, but if that is the case then I suggest you go back to Hero’s Canton. I don’t want us to end up fighting over something as trivial as this.”
“I-I’m fine with it!” stammered Garfas. I could tell that he was not. “I just don’t think too highly of gladiums, that’s all.”
“Then keep that to yourself,” I said as I continued. “I expect you to behave, Garfas.” All I heard was a loud snort, it was good enough.
We walked up to a small hut by the far corner of the canton. There was a curtain of beads that you would have to go through to enter, Mara would tell me that it was a good disguise for an enchantment. I was not sure what the enchantment was, but so long as it did not hurt anyone I was fine with it.
“Mara, are you home?!” I called into the area. We were now in a small living room. A few lounge chairs that were either stolen from other areas or crudely built with makeshift padding were around the room. A small tea set was placed on an old coffee table, it was one that I remembered all too well.
“Cub,” said Garfas as he drew closer to me. “I feel like we’re being watched.”
“That’s because we are,” I said. “Mara normally has a myriad of booby traps all over the place.”
I noticed Garfas stir uncomfortably as he looked around.
“You brought someone,” both Garfas and I shot our gaze towards the couch, where we saw an old charr lounging as she placed her feet on the coffee table. Her graying fur was ruffled and unkempt, it was all underneath a snug outfit that was a bunch of rags sewed together. I would always offer to bring Mara some clothing that didn’t look like it came from a dumpster, but she would always say that it would not be able to protect her as well.
“Good afternoon, Mara.” I said as I continued to look around the room. “Where are you?”
“She’s right there, Cub.” said Garfas as he gestured to the couch.
“That’s not her,” I said. “You can come out Mara, this is my friend. He can be trusted.”
Suddenly the image of the old charr shattered into into little shards of pink glass, the shards then turned into small butterflies and they flew into the ceiling and vanished into nothingness.
Garfas jumped as the illusion fell apart.
“Where’d she go?!”
“I’m over here,” Garfas and I turned around once again and found Mara standing behind us. Her hands we crossed as she approached Garfas, eyeing him suspiciously. She began to sniff the air around him and she narrowed her eyes. Garfas took a step back, I could not blame him, Mara was usually intimidating.
“Anavari says you’re trustworthy,” said Mara as she moved over back to the couch. “So I’m fine with you being in here. Try something however, and I’ll make you think you’re a little girl and have you wear a pink dress.”
I gave a dismissive chuckle.
“Do not worry, Garfas.” I reassured. “that means she likes you.” I motioned him to sit by me in one of the couches scattered across the room, Mara exchanged glances between Garfas and I. It was no surprise to me, this was the first time bringing someone over, she knew about Thoc but they had only seen each other while strolling around the citadel. The older charr moved closer to the coffee table to pick up the teapot and set aside three small cups with saucers underneath them, she poured an emerald green liquid into them and added a few teaspoons of sugar. Garfas looked at me awkwardly as the cup of tea was placed in front of him.
“Uhm…” He paused as he stared at the steaming cup. “I’ve never had this kind of drink before.”
“Bah!” said Mara as she raised her tea cup to her mouth and gave it a gentle blow. “Typical charr.” She drank from her tea as Garfas shifted uncomfortably in his seat. I must admit it was a bit amusing to watch him in a situation that he was not accustomed to, though it was unlike him to stand around and take the banter of other people, especially of those who he just met. Mara was out of character as well, it was not like her to jab at others, something was going on between these two. I decided to ease a bit of the tension in the room, and showed Garfas how to properly drink from a cup of tea. I told him how to raise the cup, which fingers to use, to be mindful of his claws, and not to have any fingers raised or stretched out. Garfas blew at his tea before sipping a bit of it. I gave a faint chuckle as he jumped from burning his tongue.
This was a common tradition between Mara and I, always take a drink of tea before we would start our usual routine. Of course there was a change from the norm the day, I arrived with my face looking like it had been trampled on by a hundred centaurs. Instead of tea she bashed me on the head for being so reckless, then she got to healing my wounds. I had been returning to her every other day, with our usual routine changed by her making sure that my face would return back to normal. She refused to use magic because I would not “learn anything from it”. I knew her though, she wanted to accelerate the process but it would probably not heal correctly. She could only use her magic in small doses for this one.
“So,” began Mara as she placed down her cup. “Garfas is it?”
“Yeah,” nodded Garfas. “I’m in the same warband as Anavari.”
“I have heard much about you,” Mara raised her tail over her lap. It gently swayed as she looked at both of us expectantly.
“Garfas wanted to meet you,” I said. “I’ve been mentioning you around him and he got curious.” There was a pause between us.
“I see,” Mara finally broke the silence. “Well it’s nice to see that you’re making friends…albeit ones that lack intellect.” I could see Garfas’ eyebrow twitch from the corner of my eye.
“Garfas is a genius in his own way,” I said. “I’ve never seen anyone fight as well as he can. And if it were not for him I would most likely be dead.” Mara did not seem very impressed, it was expected. Mara was quite cynical. There was yet another pause between us, I was starting to think that maybe it was a bad idea to bring Garfas along.
“So, how did you and Anavari meet?” asked Garfas. I sighed in relief, thankful for a topic that Mara would be happy to talk about. I could see a wide smile on her face.
“It was back when little Anavari was still in the fharar,” began Mara. The memories were coming back to me, bringing me back to my days as a cub. To say that it was a day that changed my life would be an understatement…
It was a warm summer day, barely past noon. I was walking through the streets of the citadel, scampering through areas I didn’t know, avoiding where I should be. I was vigilant however, for I knew that I was not the only cub shirking his duties. Like always though, I would end up cursing my luck. Three young charr cubs stood before me, I knew that I was at least a year older than them; they were however at least two heads taller than me, and had much more muscle as well.
“Hey look!” said one of the cubs. “It’s that Ana weirdo!” I was quickly surrounded by them, with no escape in sight. Before I knew it I was being pushed around, my ears and hair were being pulled, they were grabbing me by the horns and shoving me aside. The reason I would avoid the fharar was so that Garfas would stop bullying me, and now I only ended up with three slightly smaller versions of him. Their mocking would ring through my ears as I was shoved into the floor.
“Ana’s a weirdo! Ana’s a weirdo!”
I had heard enough. I gathered a fist full of dirt in my hand and spun to the nearest charr behind me. I threw the dirt into his eyes and he staggered back, I then punched him on the nose and stomped my foot on his groin. The charr cub was on the floor crying and I had the opening I needed.
Now I was running deeper into the citadel trying to run from the bullies after me. I knew that the moment they would catch me they would have my hide mounted on their wall. After a bit of running, I found myself in a strange area of the citadel I had never seen before. Shanties were scattered about a floor that looked like it was made of scrap metal melded together. Old charr were lounging about, with nothing to do in particular. There was no time to sight-see however, I was still being chased.
I was sprinting through the shacks and makeshift huts, my eye caught the entrance of one of the shacks. It was a curtain of beads in front of a flimsy metal door. Then I noticed that I was launched straight into it, by the cub that had caught up to me and tackled me. We both crashed into the door, it bent and tore in several areas. Sharp needles of metal poked at me and the bully while we crashed into something behind the door. Once I opened my eyes I found all three charr standing over me, they were coming closer, rage was in their eyes as they balled their hands into fists. Suddenly I saw a larger figure looming over them, pink glow came from its eyes. It raised a large wooden staff and brought it down on the three charr.
“GET OUT!” It roared. “GET OUT, YOU STUPID CUBS!” as the other cubs rushed out while they were being struck by the staff I remained on floor, next to the ruined door and broken trinkets. The old charr returned to her hut, she looked angry but she did not strike me for some reason.
“You too!” she spat. “Go on, out with you!”
I gave a quick nod as I tried to stand up. In the effort, I felt an overwhelming pain shoot through my foot. I released a sharp cry as I looked at the large shard of metal that had lodged into my heel.
“Now what’s wrong?” asked the old charr with frustration.
“M-My foot,” I said as tears streamed down my face. The old charr moved several of the broken trinkets aside. She rolled her eyes as she moved over to my face.
“Look into my eyes, cub,” she said as small purple butterflies danced around her fingers. I felt a strange sensation overcome me, the pain had left me and instead was replaced with a calming sensation, I felt absolutely nothing as she shard left my foot.
“What…” I asked wiping the tears off my face. “What did you do?”
“Magic,” answered the charr as she raised me and took me into her hut. She placed me down on one of the couches in the room and left into one of the deeper areas of the hut. I looked around and noticed all the odd trinkets and furniture that did not appear to have come from Ascalon. I remained seated on the couch and placed my hands on my lap as I waited. I saw the old charr return with a silver platter. On it was a white and gold teapot, by the side were several bandages and a bright green container with some sort of viscous salve.
The charr placed down the platter on the table in front of me and took some of the salve into her fingers and moved up to me. I winced as the cold substance ran through the open wound.
“Try not to squirm,” said the charr. “I have to make sure this stuff settles in good. Or else the wound will fester and you’ll lose your foot. It’s about to burn, look into my eyes.” I obeyed and once again I felt the calming sensation enter me, fooling my mind into thinking that there was no pain. I looked at the charr curiously.
“What’s your name, cub?” asked the charr. I showed a bit of reluctance upon answering, but she was healing my foot so I owed her at least that much.
“A-Anavari.” The charr simply looked into my eyes with a blank stare.
“That doesn’t sound like a normal charr name.”
“That’s what everyone says,” I pouted. “then they make fun of my name!”
“…Do they now?”
“Yeah, but they’re all stupid. Especially Garfas, he tried to take my amulet!” I then took the amulet around my neck and showed it to the old charr. Mara gave it a casual glance before placing it back inside my shirt.
“It’s very nice, Anavari. Best to keep it to yourself though. People tend to take away our nice things.” the charr then took the bandages and wrapped them around my foot. “There we go, you might get a scar though, but you can show it off and people will think you’re tough. I’m Mara by the way.”
“Mara doesn’t sound like a char name,” I pointed out.
“Then we have that in common,” that was when I saw Mara smile for the first time.
Mara had taken her tea pot and a few small cups from a small compartment under the coffee table. I watched curiously as she poured a bright pink liquid into the cups.
“Ever had tea before, Anavari?” I shook my head in response. Mara handed me one of the cups and I took a sip, I jumped when the piping hot liquid burned my tongue, but I enjoyed the sweetness.
“So, what was that magic you used?” I asked as I kicked my feet while they hanged on the edge of the couch. Mara took a seat next to me as she casually drank from her own cup.
“People call my kind mesmers. Focusing on magic that can influence the mind.” I looked at the older charr in awe.
“Can you teach me how to use magic?” I asked with a smile. Mara had told me before that what I had going for me was my bright blue eyes.
“Maybe,” said Mara. “If you have the talent for it. Why do you want to know so badly?”
“So Garfas and the other bullies can leave me alone!,” I said. “I’ll scare them with magic, and they won’t make fun of me anymore!” I felt a large hand pat my head.
“I’ll accept that answer for now,” said Mara. “But you need to find a better one once you get those bullies off you. In the mean time you’ll have to read, a lot. Can I trust you to do that, Anavari?” The way my face lit up was all the answer she needed.
That was how I had met Mara. I would visit her whenever I could and she would try her best to teach me mesmer magic, after realizing that I was no good for it, we tried elemental magic, then nature magic, and finally, she found that I had quite the talent for necromancy. She would help me with whatever she could despite her not being proficient in the same craft as me. We ended up discussing magical theories every time I would visit and enjoyed each other’s company. She even taught me all the little mannerisms and vocabulary that she would describe as “appropriate for a charr gentleman”.
“And that is how I met Anavari,” said Mara setting down her cup. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get this cub his medicine.” While she was gone, Garfas gave me curious look.
“What?” I asked.
“She’s strange,” said Garfas. “But it’s your kind of strange, so that’s good.” I simply raised an eyebrow with a slight smirk.
“Good to see that you’re not at each other’s throats though,” I said finishing my tea and placing the cup on the table. Garfas was taking his time with his drink.
Mara returned with a familiar container of green salve in her hands.
“I changed the formula,” said Mara as she sat besides me. Taking a dab of slave, she placed it on my healing wounds. “It’s going to burn any minute now, look into—”
“No,” I said calmly. “I want to feel the pain.” I gave Garfas a brief glance as I smirked. He smiled in return. The burn came seconds later, I felt the burn stab into my still healing wounds. It felt as if my face was radiating heat, like the bruises on my face were set on fire. I winced as I did my best to power through the pain. After that we spent the rest of the evening with small talk, discussing recent events, how Garfas was training, and how we fooled Itan. After saying our goodbyes, Garfas decided to go ahead and be on the look out for any of our warband. It would be bad if they saw me walking about, especially if it was Itan.
“It was nice talking to you, Mara.” I said as I rose from the couch.
“Anavari,” Mara rested her elbow on the armrest and held up her shin with her palm. “He calls you cub, in what way does he mean it?” There was a pause between us.
“It is just a term of endearment,” I answered. “fret not.”
“Endearment to what degree?” continued Mara. “And where do you plan on taking your relationship with Garfas?” I should have expected her to look far too deep into things.
“I will tell you when I figure it out.”
“That is fine, Anavari.” said Mara with a smile. “Do what you so desire, just remember to proceed with caution.”
“I know,” I said with a chuckle. “I am not a cub anymore.”
“You should remind Garfas of that then, and say hello to Thoc for me, it’s been a while since he’s visited.” With that I left the hut and rejoined Garfas. Together we returned to Hero’s Canton and spent the rest of the evening together.