“Heavier than expected?”.
“No,” I lied, lifting the brutish greatsword onto my shoulder, the frigid cold of the steel biting through my clothes. “Easier than I expected, actually.”
“Perhaps…” She looked me up and down, shamelessly studying me as she had done so often in the past, and I gritted my teeth against the discomfort that always blossomed in response. “Core strength seems to be good, but you are not used to carrying this kind of weight.” Her hand reached out, squeezing my upper arm, fingers pinching the muscle there. “You’re clearly still in shape, at least, considering last night’s performance.” There was an edge of mischief to her tone, and I bit back my grimace. The last few nights had resulted in more than a few mistakes, and Elsif bringing them up only served to further sour the already bleak morning.
We were out just past dawn, and as had become the daily routine we’d spent the first hour with basic drills before breakfast. Normally, this would be followed by sparring, then illusion crafting and a form of deep meditation she’d taught me, years ago, to focus my vision, but today things were different, and after our initial drills, Elsif had lead me behind the lodge, where we now stood in the shadow of the pines.
“Now pay attention.” The norn lifted her own sword, a monstrous thing half-again the size of mine, and I watched as sparks of the bright pink characteristic of her magic danced all around the weapon until they coalesced into tiny streaks of energy. Minuscule bolts of pink and purple lightning that linked her hand to the hilt of the weapon climbed up along her arm. She whipped it up into the air so the pommel hovered a finger’s breadth above her palm, its tip pointing up at the clouds as the weapon spun lazily in place, crossguard parallel to the snow.
“The weight is not important,” she explained. “Not once you’ve made the weapon yours, once you know how to use it. Don’t think of it as a blade to hack or slash with – it’s a catalyst for your magic – a tool to help you channel.” She lifted her other hand, brushing her palm through the air just above the blade. Sparks danced from her fingertips and she drummed her fingernails against its steel. “Remember that. It’s no more a thing to cut with than a gun is the same thing as a bullet.” Her eyes turned towards the bundles of sticks and twine, set up two dozen metres away, and with a flourish of pink bolts she turned the blade till its tip was pointed at them. “You see? The weight truly doesn’t matter.”
Her hands never came in direct contact with the weapon, the pommel and blade suspended in the air, and I stepped back as a bolt of pink energy traveled up the length of the weapon and shot out of its point, surging across the distance and blasting into the target.
The dummy ruptured like an overripe fruit struck by a mallet, the pieces crackling with energy, and I took a sharp breath of cold, welcome air.
There it was. The power I needed.
Once I had explained that the only reason I was taking a leave was to train, the Order hadn’t made an issue of my prolonged absence – not that I had expected any, not really. I wasn’t sure what manner of report Moravel had submitted following the Lion’s Arch operation, but given what I knew to be her prejudice against me I doubted it had painted me in a positive light, and I had further doubted that I’d be missed from the field for some time thanks to it.
I suppose they – or at least Moravel – had expected me to crawl back to my estates and lick my wounds, but it just went to show how little they understood or, for that matter, appreciated my potential. Were I in a position to have set my own curriculum and select my own missions things would have been very different.
I often had the impression that the Order didn’t know what to do with me. They’d been eager enough to recruit me at an early age – a young noblewoman was always useful to them- but rather than a highborn ally, my particular abilities were perfectly suited for the role of a sneakthief or spy. My penchant and accompanying talent for combat, however, made me better suited as an operative or even an assassin, but in Kryta, and Divinity’s Reach in particular, the chance that I would be recognised was too high, threatening the secrecy of any operation I took part in. I wondered, sometimes, what the higher ranked members of the Order wished I would be to them in an ideal world – spy, assassin, or informant?
Preceptor? Master of Whispers, perhaps?
I couldn’t deny that in my private moments thoughts of myself as “Preceptor Varr” had conjured more than vaguely pleasant fantasies.
In that regard, Elsif had always been nothing but simple and consistent. She wanted me to be a better mesmer. To be stronger – a better fighter, a better survivor, a better killer. Her approach to this was similarly straightforward – training, the more aggressive, the better.
As I rolled across the snow and came unsteadily to my feet, however, I had the feeling she had been pulling her punches up until this point.
“Again!” Suppressing a groan, I hefted the greatsword up, letting violet energy spring to life around it.
Weeks of practice had given me at least this much control. It wasn’t as smoothly as I would have liked, not nearly as smoothly as when she had done it, but with a few starts and stops power began to hum and crackle along the blade. Taking a deep breath, I let the magic flow to let the hilt drift from my fingers until it hung, suspended, above my palm.
“Good,” Elsif said, nodding in approval. “Now, again.” She raised her own greatsword and levelled its point towards me, effortlessly holding the massive weapon one-handed. Power crackled around her entire arm in pink bolts as too let her blade hover in the air.
I took another breath, then, aiming my sword at my mentor, forced the energy outwards.
It ripped through the air, a bolt of deep violet lightning that lanced towards the norn. It tore a furrow in the snow beneath it as it went, sending up a flurry of sodden pine needles and wet dirt that sparked with power – my power.
A similar light shot from Elsif’s blade, brighter, to meet mine head on in a coruscating shower of sparks, and tor a moment, the two beams strained against one another, the full force of my power against her’s. But the old norn’s was more focused, with fewer sparks and splashes of wasted energy than mine. It tunnelled through my bolt, devouring it, shattering my concentration, and I went hurtling back into the snow with a shout as it struck the end of my sword.
“Good,” Eslif said, lowering her blade. “A solid effort.” I pushed myself, for what seemed like the hundredth time, to my feet. “You’re getting stronger.”
“Why do you always congratulate failure?” I asked once I’d gathered enough of my breath.
“I don’t,” she replied coolly. “I congratulate progress. Effort.”
“Insufficient effort,” I spat, bitterness welling up in me. “How many times has it been now?”
“Not enough, apparently,” Elsif answered dryly, “but that’s not an ill thing, Kaede. You need to be more patient.”
“I need more power, is what I need.” I snapped back, gripping the hilt of my sword till my hand hurt. “Again.” Elsif was silent for a long moment, then shook her head.
“No,” she said. “We eat, we bathe, we rest.”
“I’m not tired.” I lied.
“Yes, you are, and your willingness to work through it is admirable, but counterproductive.”
“Kaede, stop.” She cut me off, her tone firm but oddly and infuriatingly bemused. “You have more than enough power, raw and untapped, to master this, but I am sensing that this approach might not be the best. I promised I would help, and I will, but while the weeks that have passed have served you well, I promise you that on the morrow we will try something very different.”