Essairyn returned the container of water to her inventory and lowered her head while turning to face him. With narrowed eyes and forearms resting on her thighs, she asked, “Didn’t we already discuss this? Why are you bringing it up again when I already decided to go?”
Darren’s eyes twitched as he grimaced at her hostile tone.. “I see. Never mind.” Throw your life away for all I care. He shot up from his seat and stalked off.
As the boy strode away, Essairyn sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so harsh on him. He’s probably just looking out for me… She pressed down on her upper legs and heaved herself up from the rock. Looking at Darren’s backside, she ruffled her hair in discontent. Ugh, is it really too hard to understand? I guess it really is a dangerous mission, but how can I explain this feeling? She clasped her hand over her thumping heart and breathed in deeply. … I want to go. Something is telling me to go, that I’ll discover something exciting, that it’ll be the start of something new. Just thinking about it makes my heart race. I want to know; I want to continue being impulsive, acting on this gut feeling, this calling… For all her life on Earth, she had used her head and not her heart or gut. The feeling of release was still something she hadn’t gotten used to, and she desired to grasp onto it more—to claim that freedom and mold it into something spectacular. That something she had always been missing.
“Hey!” A group of boys approached her. “How was sparring with Knight Hætherin? Do you think you can teach me some moves?” One of the boys punched several times into the air for accompanying effect. Then they all turned to Essairyn with expectant, eager expressions.
“Umm,” murmured the girl who was at a loss. “I didn’t really… get a handle on it much to teach anyone anything..” She scratched her head sheepishly. If only that damned knight tried teaching me some moves rather than bombarding me round after round!! She furtively gritted her teeth behind slightly pursed lips that curled up into a forced smile.
“Oh, that’s okay!” laughed the boys. “It’s only the first day. Besides, that you can even last against him is pretty amazing!”
Essairyn blushed a little inside without it showing on her face. “Haha, thanks. I have a lot to learn.”
“By the way,” interjected the boy in front closest to her, “where did you get that water container? It doesn’t look like the bottles you get at the store!”
“Yeah, it almost looks like it was crafted!” agreed the boy next to him.
“Oh, now that you mention it, it does! Do you know how to craft things, Essairyn?”
Her eyes widened a bit as she gazed slowly at the boys. “Uh yeah. I made that container out of wood…”
“Wood?! And then you painted it over? That’s pretty cool! How did you do that?”
“Stupid, she obviously carved it using magic.” The boy elbowed his overly enthused friend.
“I meant the paint, stupid!” His friend made a face while accentuating his last word.
“That, I covered it with a waxy, colored paint,” said Essairyn quickly before the friends could start bickering. She wouldn’t go into the details of it of course. Even though she now learned that magic users could also be “crafters,” she wasn’t going to mention that the ‘paint’ was actually plant dye, wax, and oil mixed together. Merely staining the wood with plant or berry-based ink wouldn’t be enough to really dye the container a color. Also, it wouldn’t look good. In truth though, Essairyn just had fun experimenting with ‘making paint’ and decided on this particular blend.
On that note about crafting, she asked after a breath’s hesitation, “Is crafting that uncommon?”
“Hm?” grunted a boy with a raised eyebrow. “Well sorta. It’s hard to control your magic to that degree of dexterity. Why? Is it common where you come from?”
He was referring to her hometown as the trainees didn't know that she was a traveler. But put on the spot without knowing exactly what he meant, she hastily answered, “No, I was just curious why my water container was that eye-catching is all…”
With the focus reversed back onto him, the boy simply replied, “We just thought it looked pretty well made since we didn’t believe at first that you were a rank B mage.”
“Rank B? Since when was I that rank?” Essairyn’s head tipped to the side.
“You’re not?” chorused the boys in surprise.
“I didn’t take any test.” She blinked.
“Huh, I guess it was just a rumor then,” said the boy who first brought up ranks. “But you’re definitely strong! So that rank is probably pretty close!”
“Ah, thanks,” murmured Essairyn. Is it really that amazing though? I guess I still need to get used to how important magic is in this world. It’s like if the importance of academics or skills came together with money, then that’s how important magic is. The power of education and financial sufficiency rolled into one…
Her musings were broken by Hætherin’s booming voice. “Everyone, regroup! It’s time for three versus one training!”
The trainees collectively groaned while rushing to gather in front of the senior knight. For the next hour or so, they rotated fights so that everyone fought as the outnumbered one, once. When it came time for Essairyn’s turn, however, Hætherin increased the number to ten. At first, she felt overwhelmed for various reasons. One being it was an abrupt change that caught her off guard, and another being it made her bashful. She didn’t deny that was self-gratifying to receive special attention, but overall, it didn’t settle well into her stomach. She just wanted to live life easily without being singled out.
After three versus one sparring, Hætherin immediately moved onto the next training session, garnering further hatred from the trainees. Their unanimous loathing was what fueled them to persist together. Unbeknownst to them, this was exactly the kind of situation that Hætherin was hoping to achieve. Hardship naturally could form bonds. But while it went according to plan, he wasn’t so satisfied on Essairyn’s end.
Peering at the girl who was currently sitting out of group combat for overall fairness, Hætherin pondered what the girl’s future would hold. Everyone would face hardships, and knights training would help in dealing with it by exposing cadets to simulated difficult situations. But Essairyn would have to face challenges with higher degrees of intensity in order to be instilled with that necessary sense of urgency, distress, and determination. This meant that those around her could be involved in unduly danger. Will you choose to walk your path alone? Or will you have the power to protect those that accompany you on that path? Seeing her solitary figure propped up nonchalantly against a tree trunk, curiosity mixed with concern glimmered in the depths of the man’s eyes. It might take something dire to open your eyes to this world. You can’t stay relaxed like that forever. I only hope that nothing bad will happen in the process… Hætherin couldn’t help poring over the possibility of a catastrophic mission happening like last time in Farinheld. Unlike the ignorant trainees, as a senior knight, he knew about the deal she made with the Academy in order to receive free training. He also was briefed on her and Darren’s status as travelers from Earth. Hætherin merely connected the information received yesterday to faces today.
His eyes flickered over to Darren within the clashing mob of trainees. His mind flashed back to when he eavesdropped on their conversation. Is it good or bad luck for you to have met this girl? Although Darren possessed no extraordinary abilities, he was still above average considering he was the most novice out of all natives present. He could live a successful and comfortable life without Essairyn. It was early enough for them to go their separate ways.
He shook away the rumination and issued the trainees to stop fighting. It was enough for today. They would return home for supper now. Jubilant cheers resounded in the forest, startling the birds out of the trees. The way home felt quicker than going to the hills.
Back in the dorms after dinner, Essairyn was currently standing resolutely in front of Darren’s closed door. Since their conversation about the Farinheld mission, they hadn’t spoken a word with one another again. She didn’t want any bad blood or miscommunication between them, so Essairyn confidently rapped on the wood. A few seconds later of footsteps approaching, the door cracked open.
“Darren! I just wanted to talk about today in the forest! I—” she began quickly but then halted abruptly after seeing who opened the door.
It was Aispin. He leaned languidly on the doorframe and tipped his head to the opposite side. The middle section of his bangs drooped in the same direction, obscuring his right eye slightly. The leisurely pose was charged with charm and sent a strange tingle through Essairyn’s center. Dang it, I can’t handle this level of attractiveness so close to me—! … On second thought, it’s no big deal? It’s not like you haven’t seen handsome guys before.…on television. She inwardly laughed and waved her nervousness away from being caught off guard.
The boy straightened his pose slightly and faced his head forward. His ocean blue eyes glittered like sun-struck waves as he greeted, “Hello, Sairyn.”