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When I woke up in the morning, my body felt as if I had tried to block an avalanche, only to be buried by it. While there were no outward markings anywhere, I felt as if I had bruises on my bruises, or maybe as if I had run a few marathons, back to back. Everything hurt.

The night before, after I had managed to get Sigmir’s heart beating in a steady rhythm, we had exchanged just a few words before falling into a deep sleep, still clinging to each other, as if the other was the only thing keeping us from drowning.

Now, in the morning, I was quite happy to look into her face, trying to keep myself from thinking how close it had been. It was no great intellectual challenge to understand what had happened, I was quite sure that, once Ylva had noticed me coming back from the depths of unconsciousness, Sigmir had somehow channelled her own aura into my body, giving me the physical jolt that pushed me back to consciousness. But her aura was not supposed to be used that way - it was merely a way to strengthen her own body. When we had overcharged it, during the fight against the elemental-boss in the glacier-dungeon, she had paid the price for it in physical exhaustion and pain, just like I was doing now. But forcing the power out of her own body had cost her, thus the collapse afterwards.

 

The question of why she had done it was even easier to answer, I had messed up, badly. I knew that she was taking her word seriously, never mind her sworn oath. I had to face it, the dangers when I recklessly experimented with magic were not limited to myself, Sigmir was just as much as risk as I was. Part of me wanted to scold her, to make sure she wouldn’t try something that reckless again, but I knew it would be pointless. She was stubborn enough to give a rock lessons and she had given her oath to protect me, even if I did something stupid. Or if I hurt myself. And she would try to help me, even if it meant killing herself. As her actions the night before had shown.

I would have to do better, be better, or I would lose her. Not to outside influence or actions, but because my own recklessness or stupidity killed her.

And that was not acceptable.

 

I kept watching the light play over Sigmir’s features, enjoying the way the morning sun refracted in the thick ice that made up the igloo we were in. It was fascinating, in these last months that I had spent in Mundus, I had had more contact with Ice and Snow than in the entirety of my life before, and still there were things that surprised and awed me. At its base, it was merely frozen water, but with the help of the sun, it turned into a spectacle of glittering light, worthy to decorate even the mightiest cathedrals.

There was a lesson there, a lesson about seeing your surroundings for what they were, about not letting familiarity breed contempt. Even in something as simple as the Ice I had conjured for our nightly shelter, for a simple place to hide us from the wind, there was beauty.

I gently caressed Sigmir’s face, trying to memorise every contour, every edge of her sharp features, even the small, tiny, imperfections that marred her complexion, reminders of a past spent in the great, cold, outdoors.

 

Not wanting to wake her, not after my foolishness last night, I looked up, checking up on the rest of my group, my friends.

Adra and Rai had cuddled up, not quite as close as Sigmir and I, but sharing a blanket and a closeness that I thought was more than just for warmth. I had to smile at that, they were a slightly unlikely pair, but I was happy for them to have found some warmth. I was less worried about Adra; she was strong, both mentally and physically, having managed to shrug off nearly getting sacrificed by her own species and soon after turning around and hunting those people down with little remorse. But maybe she simply didn’t care about species, simply dividing the world into friends and others, or some other groups. But even before that, she had set out alone, to find her place in the world.

Rai on the other hand, I worried about him. If I wanted to keep my word, I needed to train him, to make him truly strong. The funny thing was, to me, keeping my word mattered little. I hardly cared what some village somewhere in Mundus thought about me, I wouldn’t care even if I were to live permanently here, not just as a travelling visitor. But Sigmir, she cared, she thought in such concepts as honour and keeping one’s word. For her, it was important and I had a feeling that she would be greatly disappointed it I didn’t live up to my word. So, I had to train Rai. I would have to step up that part, we had practised practically every day after dinner but only for a short time, I would step that up and come up with some exercises to train up his magic.

Next, my gaze settled upon Ylva and Lenore, the two of them an almost comical picture. Lenore was sitting her head tucking into her feathers, the bone-white feathers starkly standing out in the contrast, and Ylva had almost wrapped herself around her smaller friend. The two of them were an even less likely pair now than when we had started out together, Ylva’s form, after crossing the first divide, was all about physical strength, especially thanks to the divine bloodline I had extracted for her. She had absorbed it, but as of yet, I had no idea what effect it truly had.

Lenore on the other hand had evolved in the opposite direction, her physical attributes only slightly enhanced by crossing the divide but her magical aptitude had soared. After the fight in the village, if you could call our massacring of it that, we had discussed what she could do. It seemed that now, she had something similar to my runic mastery, only for death and wind. As she was unable to simply draw them, her way of using runes was more akin to the way I used them in my normal magic, holding them in mind to anchor a concept.

 

She must have felt my attention, or maybe she simply woke up, ruffling her feather for a moment before stretching her wings and looking over to me. I felt her mind reach out and we made the connection, allowing us to talk without disturbing the others.

“Good morning. We were foolish, yesterday.” I stated, contrition flooding over our bond.

“Good morning to you, too. And I agree. How is Sigmir?” came the answer and I could tell that Lenore felt similarly guilty to me. We both had been too curious and almost suffered the same fate as the cat.

“Not yet awake. But I’m relatively sure she suffered no lasting ill effects, this time. There can’t be another!” I strongly stated, making sure that Lenore knew of my conviction. No more reckless ‘let’s see what happens’ experiments with magic. Every experiment, from now on, would have to be carefully planned and if we were unable to plan some sort of protection, I would refrain from experimenting, especially when it came to things I didn’t understand in the slightest, like powerful, ancient magic that seemed to influence a whole region.

Lenore cooked her head, as she often did, and just looked at me questioning.

“I want you to help me; remind me that this can be the result if I’m reckless again. I will try to be better but I’m not sure I can rein in my curiosity at all times. So, I ask you, my dear friend and partner in crime, to hold me back.” I continued, causing her to laugh over our connection, but I felt her agreement within the laughter.

I looked back down, into Sigmir’s face, once again engraving her features in my mind and wondering what I had done to deserve her company. Somewhere, deep inside, I wondered if I truly did, she had shown just the night before how much importance she placed on my wellbeing. More than on her own, that was certain.

It was a sobering realisation, knowing that my own wellbeing was no longer just my concern, if I hurt, or got hurt, Sigmir would blame herself, causing herself more pain than I could likely imagine. I would have to make sure that I took just as much care of myself, as I would take care of her. I had to giggle at that thought, that we both were willing to go further for the others wellbeing, take more care to keep the other from harm, than we were when it came to ourself. For me, it was likely because, no matter how much time I spent in Mundus, it was just an avatar I was controlling, not truly me. But for Sigmir? It boggled my mind.

I pressed another soft kiss to her forehead and stood, training my sneak-skill in a new way: Preparing breakfast without waking anyone.

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Tsaimath

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