I watch the crowd as they cheer loudly after Kat’s more than superior display. She really does know how to impress a crowd, no matter how shy she feels about being the centre of attention. I couldn’t help but be impressed as she expertly wove the bands of fire without harming a single person. I guess this jump wasn’t such a bad idea after all; she’s really learned a lot. I wish I could say the same for myself.
My eyes slide over the crowd and settle on the group of ladies who I prepared today’s main course with. They make eye contact and smile excitedly, waving and laughing. I chuckle under my breath. They were quite the group of women, talented with food no doubt. I can’t believe they managed to get me shirtless, a feat even Kat would struggle to achieve back home at the Guild. If I’m not mistaken, I think they just wanted to see me cooking with no shirt on.
I still feel a little awkward sitting here without my shirt, despite the heat. As my eyes move, I spot some of the other warriors eying me with looks of doubt and scrutiny. They lean in close, whispering to each other as they look in my direction. I wonder if they’re commenting on my scars.
Their gazes shift and I follow them to Kat. Their faces immediately change to one of admiration and awe. I find myself grinding my teeth in slight jealousy. Sure, she says I’m not normal… but I have no awesome display like she does. I doubt they’d be impressed by a fencing blade, and besides, I can’t show that here. It would conflict with historical timelines. They aren’t likely to run into other Caucasians for another sixty years anyway. No one is going to look at me like they do Kat… not even her.
I slouch in my seat, my pride feeling slightly wounded. As Kat heads toward me and the head table I look up, but she’s immediately swarmed by the locals and warriors wanting to meet her and talk. They all reach a hand out, eager for a touch of the daughter of fire. I can barely see her as the people gather en mass. I sigh, chewing the inside of my cheek. I should be happy, shouldn’t I? She’s doing well with people for the first time, and no one’s hurt. We’re safe. So, why do I feel so glum?
I suddenly hear an inhuman scream erupt from within the crowd and everyone shifts. A few people fall back, knocked down by an unseen force. I peer into the crowd, trying to make out where Kat is, but it’s still difficult to see. I stand up, trying to get a better look. Perhaps someone tried to touch the dragon. I shift my weight to go around the table but the crowd starts to part and Kat stands in place, glaring at them, protectively holding Scoria. The people back off, returning to their seats as they grumble.
She looks like an animal cornered – angry and nervous. I suddenly don’t care about the rest of the crowd and feel an urge to go to her. I hop the table, jogging to her side. Her large amber eyes look up at me before she leans into my chest. I wrap my arms around her and feel her relax under my touch.
“You did great. Let’s have a seat, hmm?” I offer, taking her hand and pulling her toward the table. I try to ignore the eyes on us, feeling strangely conscious of the scars. I walk her to the empty seat next to me and Rōpata. She hardly says a word as she takes her seat.
A group of warriors walk past behind me, approaching Rōpata as some locals start playing traditional instruments and others begin to dance. Food is then passed around with joyous energy. I turn back to the chief and glancing out of the corner of my eye, I see them lean in close and whisper in his ear.
“You, forgive me, I don’t remember your name,” Rōpata speaks, looking at me, “Husband of fire.”
I blink, taken aback. “Me?” I ask stupidly, pointing to myself. Figures he’d address me like that – not special enough to have a name.
“Yes,” He nods and smiles. “The men wonder how it is you earned these scars and how you have won the heart of this one,” He gestures to Kat. She rolls her eyes. “They ask if you would demonstrate your ability, if you have it.”
I feel a sting to my pride as he asks ‘if’. “Of course I have an ability,” I grumble. So they were looking at my scars. “I doubt it would be a fair fight though if I used it.” Weapon or not, my speed would give me a huge advantage against an opponent in a duel.
“Fair is not an issue. They do not believe you earned these badges of honour. They want to see for themselves,” Ropata shrugs. “If you are willing.”
I scoff, “I can’t really say no. If I did, they’d doubt anything I say.” I look to Kat, searching her eyes for encouragement. Will she approve?
She smirks, shaking her head. “You worry a lot about the opinions of people you’ll never see again.”
“Of course I do. I don’t want to go down in history as the fraud who showed up looking like a warrior. I have seen the result of my actions in the future, if they remember me at all that is,” I point out.
She glances at Rōpata, silent for a moment. When she looks at me, she smiles, “You don’t need my permission. You’re the expert.”
I pout. “What if I want it?” I ask her.
She frowns, “Why would you want my permission? I’m the one who makes bad choices.”
“Because… You’re my wife,” I whisper in her ear. I pull away as I stand, winking as I move. It’s way too much fun pretending to be married. She turns bright red, biting her lip as she looks down at the table.
“Alright, I’ll comply. What are the rules of this… demonstration?” I ask, stretching my arms as I stand behind Kat.
“Try not to kill each other?” Rōpata chuckles.
“That’s it?” I raise an eyebrow.
“They each would like a turn to best you,” Rōpata waves to a dozen men. “They certainly won’t be holding back. I suggest you don’t either.”
My smile grows wide with anticipation, “Alright, I won’t hold back.” I think back to a jump I made when I first learned hand to hand combat. This oughta be interesting.
Kat catches my arm as I step away. I stop, turning to look into her amber eyes, questioningly. “Don’t die,” She mumbles, still quite red.
I almost laugh, “I thought you said only I could do that to myself?” I wink with amusement.
She scoffs, “So far. Remember what I told you when we got here.” Her eyes drop to my neck. “Be careful.”
I lose the smirk and nod, “Right.” The gravity of her response hits me hard. Turning to Rōpata again I hold out a hand, “Let’s see if you can figure out what my ability is.”
He chuckles, “Alright.”
I move around the table into the centre area, swinging my arms to loosen my muscles. The first man steps out from the crowd as the eyes of the locals turn to us with intrigue. The music quiets to barely a whisper, more of a background effect if anything. My eyes scan over my opponent. The man is broad in the shoulders, head shaved clean and body covered in black tattoos. He crouches low before me, eyes training on me.
I mimic him, crouching low, elbows on my knees. I almost feel like a sumo wrestler. I shift my feet in the grass, feeling the blades against my soles as they bend under my weight. I’ll start slow. Like in a duel with blades, It’s always more fun to start with the left hand than the right. I nod, signalling for him to advance.
He stomps his feet letting out a battle cry as he charges toward me. His size is already his disadvantage against me. Although he could easily knock me over, I doubt he’ll catch me. I hesitate, waiting for him to get close before I spin sideways, swinging my arm around to tap his shoulder as he stumbles past me. I dance back with a smile as he turns, eyes narrowing. The tap was more of a playful touch. No warrior would just tap another in combat. He might be angry about that.
He comes again and I dance backward out of reach, laughing. The crowd doesn’t seem to like that. I guess avoiding the battle isn’t impressive, so I change tactics. I run at him, ducking with a little speed as he swings his hand out to grab me and I punch him in the ribs. My hand connects with a solid thunk. He’s thick with muscle. He steps back, reaching for my head but I engage my speed, jumping to the side and bringing my arm down hard on his before his eyes can follow me. The crowd gasps. There we go.
He shouts, and our hands meet. Time is all about evasion and striking first. I can’t really attack him head-on thanks to my size, but I can catch him off guard. I pull my hand away, ducking under his other fist and rolling to the right. As I come up fast he’s not aware of my position. I can’t physically knock him down, but what if I used time?
I don’t know if it’ll work – I’ve never tried it before, but I might as well try. I focus my attention on the space around his right foot, slowing it down while I speed up his left. He goes to turn but his right foot lags as his left moves into position extremely fast. I watch with a smirk as his eyes widen in shock and he falls to the ground. He hits a little harder than I expected but I shrug that off as two men step up.
My eyes dart between the two. Unexpected, but I feel a thrill in my chest as I anticipate the challenge of two opponents. It’s been a while since I spared like this.
They stomp and yell, coming at me. My mind whirs with the possibilities. I glance at the one’s feet as he passes his buddy, reaching me first. I leap into the air, pushing against his arms as I jump higher than even I expect to. He grunts, sagging to his knees as I come down behind him in a blur and rapping him across the back as his companion reaches us. His thick arm swings past my head as I lean back, feeling the breeze across my face. I engage my core, pulling myself upright and landing, one, two, three punches to his ribs before he even completes his swing recovery. He doubles back as the warrior behind me finally stands, a strained look on his face.
I spin, meeting his fist with both my arms crossed. I create a time bubble around him, slowing him down three-quarters of the speed of regular time as I turn to face the other guy again.
With each set of opponents, I miraculously wear them down. They come at me in pairs, in threes, and even a group of four! I’ve never faced so many at once, but with each group I speed up, their eyes barely able to follow me as I zip through their arms. Somehow, they seem slower than I thought they’d be. As I look around, I see deep footprints in the grass. They must be heavy men. Did they make such footprints in the forest before? I can’t recall. I even cheated – if you can call it that considering Rōpata asked me to display my ability, and skipped space behind the tallest warrior, kicking him behind the knees to drop him to the ground.
The last warrior sags to his knees, hands on his face as they all sit on the edge of the ring. The crowd is silent, all eyes on me. I suddenly realise how heavy my breathing is now that the fighting is done. I turn to the chief and Kat, worried I outdid myself, or worse, embarrassed the chief and his warriors by besting them. It’s been ages since I practiced hand to hand combat, and never have I faced so many in a row. I feel the effects of using my time energy, feeling more than a little drained.
Kat’s eyes are wide with what looks like worry instead of awe. I tilt my head, curious as to why, and a little disappointed. I wanted to make her proud. Rōpata then stands, his hands applauding loudly. The sound echos around the ring of people until eventually, they join in, even the fallen warriors. I cough a laugh, smiling. I really did it? I look around in disbelief.
“Well done, husband of fire!” Rōpata speaks up. “You have proved yourself quite worthy of those marks. Come, let us continue to celebrate!” I wave to the crowd, stumbling wearily back to the table and flopping down beside Kat.
“Are you okay?” Kat whispers, her palm resting against my arm. “You used a lot of energy there.”
“Yea,” I huff,. “I think so. That was a lot of dudes. Can you even believe it?”
She laughs, shaking her head. “Well, I hope you’re satisfied. Now they know you’re a great warrior, and I’ll have to beat off the girls with a stick,” She sneers playfully. I like the sound of that. I look out at the crowd and notice now that more of the woman are looking my way, not just those I cooked with earlier.
Kat shifts in her seat, her hand resting on my cheek and turning my face back to her. She presses her lips firmly against mine, lingering for a long moment. When she finally does pull away, her amber eyes seem to sparkle. “Too bad for them,” She smirks. “You’re my brave warrior hero.”
I blush from the public display of affection. She always catches me off-guard in that respect. I need to learn to anticipate her if only to save myself from the embarrassment. I give her a loving smile though, and a quick peck in return. “You’re absolutely right. I am yours.”
“As I am yours,” She nods, reaching to grab a piece of food. She holds it up to my lips with a cheeky smirk. “We’ll have to make that clear to others, somehow.”
“Oh?” I chuckle. How did she know I didn’t have the strength to lift my hands? I take a bite, keeping my eyes on her. “Mmm, thish ish good,” I say with a full mouth.
She takes another piece, trying it herself. She chews and swallows before speaking, much more polite than I was. “It is. I bet that’s cause you helped,” She winks at me, turning to hide it from the others. “I hope you’ll have some energy left when we get back to the house.”
“Hmm? Why’s that?” I ask, lazily raising a hand to get some more. I find it a struggle. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken on so many.
Kat doesn’t hesitate to take the food, lifting it for me. “For one more spar,” She hums casually.
“One mor-” I cut myself off when I realise just what she means by that. “Ohh, haha, a spar, eh? I might have the strength later.” I hope. Damn it. I really want to! I eye the table, looking for anything to eat that might help give me strength and energy.
The music picks up and the dancing continues later into the evening. If there’s one thing for certain, Rōpata’s tribe sure knows how to throw a party. The moon is high when all the food is gone and the last few stragglers stumble off to their huts for some sleep. It’s only now that I realise we’ve technically been up since the day before if you don’t count that nap we had before we left England.
The four of us stand in the remnants of the party as Rōpata approaches. “You are leaving,” He states. I look to the others, weary looks on their faces.
Charlotte steps up. “It is time. We have duties to attend to. The young ones need rest,” She says, resting her hand on Kat’s shoulder.
“The old ones too,” Edward jokes.
I chuckle. “It has been twenty-seven hours,” I muse. “Oh, that reminds me, were you able to guess my ability Rōpata?”
Rōpata chuckles, “I have not seen anything like you before, young warrior. I couldn’t begin to guess.” I tilt my head with curious amusement. Is he for real?
I shrug. “Might as well tell you then. It’s time!” I smile.
His thick brows crease, “Time, you say… I saw many things today, but time… That would not have been my guess.”
“Aye,” Charlotte agrees. “Nor mine.”
“What? Are you guys serious? I was speeding up and slowing down time the whole… time! What did you guys see?” I ask doubtfully. The massive man and the intimidating woman share a look.
Kat wraps her arm around mine, leaning close. “Andrei… You used more than time. Did you… not know?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m a time mage, Kat. I used time. What else would it have been? You guys must be tired,” I dismiss their confused looks. “Come on, we all need rest. Let’s get jumping.”
Kat looks at the chief, she looks worried again. He nods to her with a smile, “Remember what I told you, daughter of fire.” She glances at me, “There is nothing to fear from your magic.”
“The large man is right,” Charlotte agrees. “Are we ready?”
“Thank you, Rōpata,” Kat smiles back at him, holding onto my arm firmly.
“Yes, thank you,” I wonder curiously about their time together while I was cooking.
Charlotte nods and the space starts to shift around us as I wave to farewell to Rōpata. The field vanishes and we stand within a familiar four walls. I immediately sag onto the couch behind me with a sigh, unable to hold myself up. Man, I’m tired.
“Don’t get comfortable here,” Charlotte scolds. She waves her hand and suddenly I’m sitting in a chair in front of a cold hearth. When I look around, Kat stands next to me, and we’re in the room the Halsey’s have given us.
“Woah, how’d she do that?” I remark, pulling off the leafy armbands.
“She did say she could, before we left,” Kat reminds me, leaning down to help me pull off the native garb. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yea, yea. I’m fine. Just-” I yawn, bringing a hand to cover my mouth, “Tired,” I finish.
“Not surprising,” She mutters. “You were using at least three elements earlier. Maybe more.”
I raise a lazy eyebrow. “What do you mean? That’s… impossible. I’m a time mage,” I insist. “Sure I skipped a little, but that’s all.”
She pauses, looking into my eyes, “Nothing is impossible, apparently.”
“You can’t seriously think I was using other elements. I don’t even know how!” I ask, aghast.
“I don’t know what I think,” She snaps. “I know what I saw.”
“And you’re saying I was using something other than time. What was it?” I cross my arms. How can this conversation even be happening? I’m a time Guardian! I look down at my chest to look at the mark. Just a time Guardian. How can a Guardian use more than one element? What other elements are there?
I watch her jaw clench, and her gaze drops as she kneels to help me take off my shoes. “Forget it. It doesn’t matter right now. You need to get into bed before you slip into a coma.”
“Yea, like that’s going to happen. The last time I did th-” I yawn again, “-at I went into the veil to get you back. And the time I space skipped the eight of us at once,” I add.
“I know, I was there,” She grumbles without looking up. “Your energy is almost as low as it was then.” I focus on my time magic as soon as she brings it up only to find she’s right, it’s extremely low. I let her help me, but I can tell it still bothers her.
“We need to talk though,” I pout, realising she’s stripped me naked without even touching her own garb. I must be really out of it.
“It can wait,” She pulls me to my feet, pulling my arm over her shoulders as she helps me stumble over to the bed.
“But-” I yawn, “But what about you? You’re still dressed,” I mumble.
She raises her brows, “What of it? I still have the energy to undress myself. I’ll get to it when you’re comfortable.”
“Hmm? But what about -” I yawn again as she lowers me onto the bed. I lay back, eyes watching her as she starts to undress. Her skin seems to glow like embers and her hair shines. I love the way it cascades down her back. My eyes start to feel heavy and I struggle to keep them focused on her.
She wanted to, spar… didn’t she? I was… looking forward to… it… Maybe after…. I close my eyes… I’ll spar… then…
By Kayla West