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A note from FirstKnight

We are slighty under six thousand in this chapter, which annoyed me when I went to do a bit of light editing this morning. Thankfully, this seems to be the only one that drops below that mark.

Anyway, back to Orin for this chapter.

Thank you all so much for reading and I hope you enjoy!

I had never felt so much rage.

 

I remembered nothing up until the point that Tessa was thrown off of Elora. Before that, I knew I had been standing before Dumas, ready to begin our fight anew. Then came the pain, an overwhelming and all consuming agony that threatened to destroy my very consciousness. My only goal was Elora's safety, to protect her even at the cost of my own life. Was this what the Princess felt after Beatrice had touched me? If so, I could understand why the experience had frightened her so much. It felt like my mind was pulled out of my own body and rattled around before being injected with a dose of pure, unbridled emotion. I could feel the impact of Tessa's fists on Elora's body, could feel the confusion, shock and fear of the Princess as she tried to defend. I would save her.

 

I would break Tessa.

 

Though I was conscious and once again in control I didn't let up for a moment. I doggedly chased my would be friend, who scrambled backwards, trying to get away. I desperately wanted to check on Elora, but Tessa was dangerous. I was well aware of how skilled she was with the daggers at her waist and should I allow her to draw them I would be at a disadvantage in terms of her speed, which trumped my strength and size considerably. Every opponent Tessa had ever faced in combat was bigger and physically more powerful than her. They were dead now, rotting in a hole in the ground or on some Spirit forsaken battlefield. No, I couldn't stop now even if I wanted to. I may be in control, but the anger remained and not all of it could be attributed to the machinations of the Bond. She had hurt my Princess, hurt my Smith, and she would fucking suffer for it.

 

Tessa managed to find her feet but I was already upon her, my sword in hand as I brought it down towards her head. Her eyes widened, clearly not expecting me to go for the kill and threw herself backwards, avoiding being cut in two by an inch.

 

She was off balance when she landed and in that second I lashed out, changing the direction of my sword and scoring a furrow across her unguarded side. She should have worn her armour.

 

The young woman hissed in pain, but did not attack as I had expected her to. Instead she moved backwards again, one hand holding her side, her eyes filled with tears that could only be because of the broken nose that Elora had given her, as well as the large bruise on the side of her face that was a result of me striking her with my knee.

 

I told you before, Tessa. My Princess isn't weak.

 

I gave her nothing, hounding her and trying with all my might to put her down. Tessa had gone too far this time, pushed me past the limits of what I was capable of understanding. Not agreeing with me, or Boldrin, was one thing, but she had attacked Elora, something that I and the Bond would not allow.

 

Tessa's leg almost gave out from under her as she avoided yet another of my attacks and I lashed out with a kick, hitting her in the side I had just cut. She cried out in pain and pushed me back, still not attacking as she continued to retreat. What the fuck was she doing? This was a fight, not sparring. Fight me!

 

I attacked where I could, my sword singing along with the flames of my black soul. I could almost feel them burning within me, glowing with righteous fury at the thought of this insignificant creature who dared to attack my Smith. I struck whenever possible, leaving myself dangerously open to a counter-attack should she be so inclined. But not once during the fight did she strike back. Her eyes were wide and panicked, as though she was physically at a lose at what to do.

 

This went on for a few seconds, Tessa trying to use her superior speed to try and outmanoeuvre me while I took advantage of any openings she left in her defence. There were many, which confused me even more. She didn't attack and she barely defended, was she leading me into some kind of trap?

 

It didn't matter, she was too weak at this point to be of any real threat. Whereas before she had been moving gracefully and athletically, now she was sluggish. The wound in her side must have been deeper than I thought, if her pale face and flushed cheeks were anything to go by.

 

Eventually, Tessa made a mistake. She stumbled after avoiding a jab I had aimed at her abdomen and I pounced on the chance. I hammered my sword hand into her face, catching her with the pommel and sending her thundering into the ground. She lay there, breathing heavily and barely moving. I would put her down right here and now.

 

“Orin! Enough!” A shout came from behind me. I snarled and turned to face the speaker.

 

Boldrin stood at the ready, in his hands he carried his sword and battleaxe, but was without armour. His eyes were narrowed and focused on me warily, his grip on his weapons easy, but tense. What was he here for? Was he a threat? Was he here to hurt Elora?

 

I noticed that Padma, Dumas and Tacitus were standing slightly behind him, their weapons in their hands as well, all looking at me like I was some kind of feral animal. So they were trying to take her as well? Let them try, I'll kill them all!

 

“She hurt what is mine!” I roared, the words coming unbidden from my lips and , in my surprise, I drew myself short. My mouth falling open in abject horror as I suddenly became aware of where I was, what I was doing. No... Tessa is my friend. She's family.

 

I looked inside myself, something that had been coming easier and easier since the Forge was built, and looked towards the Bond. If I focused hard enough, I could almost see it now, unlike before when I had practiced compression in the palace. It was a thin line of golden thread that started at my black flames and went off into the vast void that surrounded my soul. It was agitated, tremors running through it's form that looked like ripples in water. It was still affecting my mind, but I was aware of it, just like during the wedding. Spirit knows what I must look like to Boldrin and the others right now, if the seething anger, born of the Bond, could be seen on my face.

 

“Orin, I'm alright. It's okay, you saved me,” Elora's voice was soothing and cut through the noise of the rampant emotion that was running through my entire body. I turned to face her and nearly sobbed at the sight.

 

Her face was battered and bruised, she looked like she was having trouble breathing. I could see open wounds all over her body, weeping bright blood, inflicted by a sharp blade. She was dying. She was dying and it was my fault. Despite that, she smiled at me, trying to put me at ease which only made me feel worse. How had I let this happen, I had sworn to protect her, sworn to keep her safe.

 

Tessa!

 

I spun in place and raised my sword to put the wretched thing out of her fucking misery, ignoring the shouts of protest from Boldrin and the others.

 

“Orin!” The Princess' voice was sharper now, harsher, and managed to stop me in my tracks. I stood there, unmoving, my sword still raised, my whole body trembling like a leaf. “I'm fine, Tessa made a mistake, but she is no threat to me, no threat to us. Please, come back to yourself.” Her voice cracked as she spoke the last words and, as she did, the Bond's hold over me lessened. As my rational mind came to the fore once again, I wrestled back control. The effort required was akin to pulling teeth from my own mouth, but I managed, pushing down the instinctive need to protect the Princess and destroy all those perceived to be a threat.

 

I took in a large breath and stumbled backwards, my body fully my own. I immediately pushed the tip of my sword into the earth and leaned against it. Now aware of the sweat that coated my body. I felt like I had just been in battle for hours, the Bond had kicked my ass and I shook with exhaustion. But there was still work to be done.

 

“I'm fine... I'm fine,” I muttered as I looked down at Tessa who stared back up at me with wide eyes. She looked to be on the verge of tears and, even as I watched, she hid her face from me, curling up into a ball and staying there, arms wrapped around her legs. I wanted to comfort her, I just didn't know how. This wasn't the Tessa I normally dealt with, it was like she was a different person.

 

I left my sword where it was and turned to get Elora. Tessa had never acted like this before. To attack Elora like this was beyond the pale, even for someone as wild as her. Her reaction just now was another thing I had never seen from someone like Tess. She despised weakness more than anyone. She thought to show such a thing was worse than dying. What had gotten into her?

 

“Are you back?” Boldrin asked, his grip on his weapons still not easing an inch.

 

I nodded at the band leader and walked over to Elora, falling to my knees beside her and brushing some of her blonde hair away from her face so I could better assess her condition. The right side of her jaw was already turning yellow, so I would assume that she would be healed up by nightfall, our extra perk of fast healing in action. But there were no open wounds, no real damage to be seen. I had thought it much worse earlier, when the Bond had a hold on me. Was that the reason? Was this connection between Elora and I taking liberties in what I sensed? What I saw? It was insidious and terrifying in it's manipulations. A few seconds longer and I would have killed Tessa, only because the Bond had been pushing me to do so.

 

She shouldn't have done what she did, but had it been aimed towards any other member of the band besides Elora I would have merely brushed it off. That wasn't a fair comparison, considering what the Princess meant to me now, but even for Elora I wouldn't want to kill a friend because they had a mere scuffle.

 

“You alright?” I asked, gently touching her arm and checking for her reactions, noting she winced when I touched her right.

 

“I'm fine,” The Princess smiled, “We just had a disagreement, that's all. Nothing worth mentioning.”

 

I smirked at her as I continued my examination and touched her left leg, which caused her to nearly shout in pain. “Nothing worth mentioning, huh?”

 

Elora glared at me firmly. “None, Orin. I'm fine.”

 

“If you say so, Princess,” I'd weakly at her and touched her cheek before jumping to my feet, “Wait here a moment, I'll check on Tessa.”

 

Elora nodded with a thin smile and pushed herself to a sitting position as I turned and walked towards my friend, who was still curled up into a ball. Boldrin, Dumas, Padma and Tacitus surrounded her, trying to coax her into getting up but to no avail. I noticed that Tacitus had been carrying bandages and alcohol in his hand, not a weapon like I had initially thought. Another effect of the Bond?

 

“How is she?” I asked, causing the three fools to jump and Boldrin to turn and look at me with narrowed eyes.

 

“Like you care, Orin. You almost fucking killed her over a fist fight!” Dumas growled at me and laid his hand on the sword at his hip.

 

“Before you draw that sword, Dumas, know that I am about three feet away from my Smith and that fight, my friend, is no fight at all,” I stared the large man down. “And that wasn't me, at least not fully. Elora and I Bonded in strange circumstances, sometimes it causes us to come to the other's defence when we sense a threat, even if it is relatively minor. Just now, to me it looked Tessa had stabbed Elora, cut her to ribbons. Elora once almost killed a palace maid for touching my arm. It's not easy to control.”

 

“That seems obvious, now.” Boldrin said in a surprisingly subdued tone of voice. “These three came and got me after you took off towards Tessa and the Princess. I'm just glad she was able to talk you down.”

 

“So am I,” I whispered, which caused Tessa to tense, “Give me the bandages, Tacitus,”

 

The would be bard looked to the leader of the band with doubt shining in his eyes. “Orin, I don't think that's a good idea.”

 

“Do it,” Boldrin said, nodding to the man, “He's the only one she'd let near her right now anyway.”

 

I was confused as to why that was the case but didn't push further and took the proffered bandages and alcohol from the hesitant Tacitus. I took a knee next to Tessa and looked at my four friends pointedly, telling them to step aside while I worked. Before they left, Padma grabbed my arm and held it there firmly.

 

“Gently does it, Orin. You are family, but so is she.” Padma said sternly and released me before I could respond.

 

I waited for a moment until they had moved to stand near Elora, who looked on with a strange expression on her face. I nudged Tessa's side and she hissed at me, curling up further, if that was even possible. I must be the last person she wanted to see, despite what Boldrin said.

 

“I'm sorry, Tess. I lost control. To be fair, you shouldn't have tried to beat the Princess of the realm. But hey, I probably should have seen that coming,” I frowned when my attempt at a joke didn't land and touched her head, hoping that she wouldn't suddenly try to stab me. Thankfully, she didn't. At least, not this time. “Will you please sit up? I got you pretty good and I don't want to lose you because of this stupid, fucking Bond. Please?” I begged the girl who twitched slightly at my voice.

 

Tessa sat up immediately, not looking at me or the Princess, but staring stubbornly into the trees, her side showing the cut, which was in fact deeper than I had initially thought, though she probably wouldn't need stitches.

 

Guilt ate at my gut as I began to work, pouring alcohol on it first to clean what dirt had gotten inside and prevent infection. A remarkably painful thing to have to do, but Tessa didn't even flinch. Then I had her raise her arms as I wrapped her, lifting her shirt so I had easy access. Only her stomach was on display, but it appeared that even that amount of nakedness was too much for Elora, who looked away pointedly. I was more used to things like this, and more. There was no time for modesty when you were bleeding out during battle.

 

“Are... are you mad?” Tessa whispered, her hands still raised as I carefully and firmly wrapped the large wound.

 

“Of course I'm mad, Tessa,” I replied, causing her to stiffen, “But it was a stupid fight, Elora said so. If anyone should apologise, it's me. The Bond... it had me, fully and completely. If I had been in complete control of myself I would have handled things differently.” My hand shook slightly. Even thinking about it taking over me again filled me with well-founded fear.

 

“You were... so angry. Was that the Bond?”

 

I nodded, “Yes. I'm sorry, Tess. It was like I wasn't fully myself. Everything was twisted and distorted. Doesn't excuse the fact that you attacked Elora. What the fuck were you thinking?”

 

“It was stupid. She makes me so angry. She sits around moping for days and avoiding you. I thought her weak.” Tessa said, wincing slightly as I finally finished tying up her wound.

 

“And now?” I asked, examining my work with a practiced eye.

 

“I still think her weak. However,” Tessa looked over at Elora who was still looking away, “Perhaps she has some fight in her,”

 

I grinned in triumph and raised an eyebrow at my friend, “See? Told you so. Now, you gonna tell me what's going on with you?”

 

Tessa looked at me intensely, “What do you mean?”

 

“Come on, Tess. You've been a lot more chatty with me since we left the capital. In fact, we've talked more in the last few days than we did in near three years in the band together. Are you going to tell me what's really bothering you? Or are you going to keep avoiding it?”

 

Tessa looked like she wanted to say something, she opened her mouth, her face flushed, but nothing came out and she hung her head instead.

 

I sighed, “I didn't expect an answer. I just thought it was worth a shot.”

 

“I want to, Orin. I just can't. Maybe someday.” Tessa replied softly.

 

I nodded and smiled, “Someday.”

 

“When that day comes. I fear you will hate me,” Tessa whispered, her eyes still aimed at the ground, her body shaking.

 

I had never seen Tess like this. In my mind she was always strong, always sure in her actions. Now she looked hesitant. A single wrong word from me here would topple her more effectively than a sword ever could. I was not Elora's match in reading emotions, but growing up as I had gave me my own method of reading people. I wanted to desperately know what was going on with her, but if having a dozen younger siblings had taught me anything then it was that they had to come to you. Yanking out whatever they wanted to say would just make things worse. I needed to give Tessa time.

 

“Tess. I can honestly say I can never hate you. Like you said: We're family,” I grinned at the sharp-eyed mercenary and winked at her before jumping to my feet, “Get that wound seen to before nightfall, you might need stitches. You know how bad I am at field medicine. Oh, and I told you I hadn't lost my edge.”

 

“How can you know? How can you know you won't?” Tessa called after me as I walked back towards Elora.

 

“I just do. Isn't that enough?” I shouted over my shoulder, reaching Elora in a few steps. “Ready to go, Princess?”

 

“Yes,” Elora winced, “But I don't think I can walk.”

 

I would offer to let her Bond with me, but what I said about giving people time applied to Elora just as much as to Tessa. “Luckily for you, I am very strong.”

 

Elora rolled her eyes, “I don't weigh that much, Orin.”

 

“How do you know?” I made a show of it being a large effort to lift her off the ground. False, of course. Elora might as well be a feather. I think my sword weighed more than her, if that was even possible. Boldrin, Dumas, Tacitus and Padma didn't say a word to us, merely going to check on Tessa. I realised I would have to speak with them later, better explain how the Bond affected Elora and I.

 

“You are an idiot, my Knight,” Elora chuckled and leaned her head against my chest as I carried her back towards our wagon. “Is Tessa alright?”

 

“Concern, Princess? I was expecting to have to try and convince you that she's not as bad as she lets on.”

 

“No, I already know that. She helped me realise how foolish I've been over the last few days. I could have done without the more physical aspects of that lesson, but the point still stands. She's just protective.”

 

“Of the band? I know, she loves the Brigade.” I replied.

 

“Not of the band, Orin. She's protective of you.” Elora whispered.

 

“What are you talking about?” I asked, brow furrowed.

 

“She thinks I'm going to get you killed. She tried to convince me to turn back, to return to Myrin, tail between my legs.”

 

“But why?” I asked no one in particular. “Why is she acting this way now? Before I got back to Myrin, we didn't spend any time alone together. In fact, I don't think she talked with anyone really, outside of Boldrin and even that was only short conversations. What has gotten her so angry?”

 

“Me,” Elora stated firmly, “She doesn't think I'm worthy of you.”

 

“Now whose being an idiot,” I snorted, “You're a Princess and I'm a commoner, I think she might have things mixed up.”

 

“Doesn't change the fact that's how she feels,” Elora said quietly, “I wonder if this is what it felt like for you with Cellus, having someone who openly doesn't approve of you.”

 

“Cellus and Tessa couldn't be more different. For one, Tessa has never let her emotions rule her like Cellus' did. If she's saying and doing these things, then it must be for an important reason.”

 

“Did you ask her about it?”

 

“Of course, I did. But she didn't answer. I think it best if you two just stay away from each other for a while. I know you two can get on, just need some time. We should wait until after Dunwellen. I think the coming battle has got everyone on edge.”

 

“Maybe you're right,” Elora yawned, “I'm exhausted. Is it normal to feel this worn out after a fight?”

 

I grinned. “I'm afraid so, Princess. Look at you, today you had your first ever fight without me! I'm actually quite proud of you right now.”

 

Elora smiled at me, “I would hardly call it a fight. More like a one-sided beating, Lady Tessa is extremely fast. I tried to hit her but it was like attacking the air.”

 

“Still, you managed to give her a bloody nose. Not everyone could get away with doing something like that.”

 

Elora snorted, “I got lucky.”

 

“Hey, I'll take a healthy dose of luck over skill any day of the week.”

 

We walked in silence for a few moments. It was still relatively early in the morning and already so much had happened. I found myself dwelling once again on the Bond, how it had presented itself this time. It hadn't been all-consuming, like it had been before with Elora. For some reason, it had let off and allowed me to think rationally during my fight with Tessa, while at the same time fuelling my anger and changing my perceptions of those around me. For instance, why did I think that Tacitus was holding a weapon, instead of healing supplies? This scared me more than the Forge, or the voice or even Elora seeing my memories. How could I know what was real and what wasn't? Would the effects become stronger? Would I eventually be unable to tell friend from foe because the Bond demanded it of me? It merely solidified the need to compress my soul. Elora had said that once my flames were behind the core, then the Bond would have no hold over us. That was something that needed to be addressed. If I was unable to trust my own instincts then what kind of warrior would I be? I had almost killed Tessa. The guilt I felt threatened to consume me. I had acted strong in front of her because I didn't want her to think me weak, but I had never felt weaker in that moment. My body was the one thing I had always been able to trust. I couldn't lose it every time Elora got into a fight, assuming she would be getting into more in the days to come. What if she wanted training in combat? Would I be able to stop the Bond from making me kill her instructor? I suppose that I could try to teach her myself, but could I do so effectively without crippling her foundations? If I couldn't even make her uncomfortable then I would make a poor teacher.

 

We arrived back at the wagon in short order, our thoughts keeping us from speaking as I placed Elora in the wagon and grabbed my shirt before throwing it on.

 

“I'm sorry, Orin,” Elora said, her eyes looking at my back, seemingly beneath the fabric to where my scars lay. “I'm sorry I saw something that you didn't want to share.”

 

I smiled sadly at my Smith and jumped up into the wagon, taking a seat on the other side with one leg hanging over the lip. “You have no need to be sorry. I have more than a few bad memories, Elora. The one's you saw were by no means the worst of them. But I believe that to be the case with everyone. I see no point in living in the past, dwelling on the mistakes I've made. I focus on the ones I'll be making in the future,” I smiled at her, which caused her to grin and break her grave demeanour.

 

“I'm trying to be serious!” Elora cried out, exasperated, “Can you not just listen for once without making me laugh?”

 

“You love it,”

 

“I do, and you know I do which is why you keep doing it,” Elora snapped. “I just... I realised that I'm not alone in this. That I don't have to face the Forge, the voice or the throne by myself. I have you. You are half of what I am, now. I don't need to be afraid.”

 

I listened carefully and nodded along. I didn't try to break through her brevity with humour. She needed to be heard right now.

 

“What Tessa said: that I wasn't a Smith at all, because what kind of Smith would ignore their Knight,” Elora smiled sadly, “she was right. I was scared by what I saw, scared by the things I don't understand taking place inside your soul. But just because I'm afraid doesn't mean I should give up. I'm not alone. I have you.”

 

“Yes, you do,” I nodded.

 

Elora rolled her eyes, “Orin, I said not to-”

 

“-and I'm not,” I interrupted, leaning over and taking her hand, “I know you were afraid, but I also knew that pushing you to talk about this would only end in disaster. I'll help you through this. When you go back in there, I'll be with you every step of the way and ready to come and get you out if you need it. You have to trust me, Elora.”

 

“I do,” Elora replied intensely, her eyes finding mine, “I do trust you. In fact, I think I trust you more than anyone I've ever met. That scares me, as well. I think about what happens after we save mother and father. I think of losing you, of losing the Bond we have. Orin, I don't know if I... I don't know...” Elora began to cry, tears pouring down her face as she clenched her fists.

 

I pulled her over and into my arms as she wrapped herself around me, shaking and crying. I can't say that I hadn't thought about it as well. The very idea of losing Elora, of losing the Bond, despite how negatively it affects me, caused my thoughts to devolve into chaos. She had become something important to me in the short weeks we had together. The thought of her not being in my life, or Bound to another, was almost too much for me to take.

 

“I managed to hide the scars from the Sister. For a while at least,” I said quietly, feeling Elora stiffen in my arms, as though the slightest movement might stop me from talking. “It was a bad winter. Two of the kids in the home had already died to the cold, both of them under five. The Sister was all over the place, trying to scrounge together enough food and warmth for us to get by, but the donations had dried up and we were all suffering. Shit, even the church wouldn't give us anything.”

 

I remembered it all so clearly. All of us slept in the one room, huddled together under thin blankets, feasting upon scraps of bread that had gone past the point of being called mouldy. We wouldn't make it through the winter. Not without help.

 

“Did I ever tell you about Leila?” Elora shook her head. “She was the third oldest, after Pater and I. She was fun, energetic, seemed to always to be doing something, helping out the Sister,”

 

I shifted uncomfortably, bad memories moving to the surface. “She came to me and Pater with a plan to earn money. She had heard that there was this house on the east side of the city that paid kids for work. Paid them in copper, money in hand. Pater didn't want to go, he was still working on becoming the best pickpocket in Myrin and by the Spirit, I think he was. So that left Leila and I to try and get some coin together. So we went,”

 

I took in a hard breath. I still remembered that disgusting place, half-rotted and a second from falling apart.

 

“Anyway, we get there and Leila and I are separated. I was given to a man whose name I never learned. He enjoyed hurting people. Children, especially. He liked to make them scream,” I grinned ferociously, “I didn't scream. He fucking hated that.”

 

“Oh, Orin,” Elora wept, her head burying back into my chest as she listened.

 

“Leila was given to someone else. Someone worse,” I clenched my teeth, my hands shaking on Elora. “We found her body about two weeks later. She was lying in an alley off the Old Road. She was eight years old.”

 

“Orin, I don't know what to say,”

 

I smiled shakily, “No need to say anything, Princess. It was just the way of things, back then. The copper I got managed to keep us going through winter, along with what Pater managed to get together. It wasn't by much, but we made it. The Sister said that the watch would find the man who hurt Leila. That was enough for Pater. It wasn't enough for me. I knew the men in the city guard. I knew that they wouldn't give two shits about finding the murderer of one more orphan”

 

Elora nodded firmly at my words but remained silent.

 

“I found out the man's name, the one who had taken Leila. He lived in a small house about twenty minutes from the orphanage. Turns out he was quite the family man, wife with two daughters, both only a little older than Leila. I waited patiently until he was alone at home one night, then I paid him a visit.”

 

“How did he die?” Elora asked softly. She knew me better than I expected.

 

I grimaced, “Not well.”

 

His screams had filled the night as he tried to crawl away, his intestines trailing behind him as he tried to reach the door. He nearly made it, but I didn't let him get away. He called out for his wife, for his daughters, no one came to help him.

 

“And the other? The man who hurt you?” Elora demanded, her body a calming weight against mine.

 

“I never did find out his name. But a man was found a few weeks later in an alley just inside the city limits. He had been stabbed to death by someone who was around child size. I managed to get a look at him as they were carting the body away. It looked like another of his victims had gotten to him before I could.”

 

“How old were you?”

 

I shrugged, “Eight, I think.”

 

Elora turned around so she was facing me, her eyes tight and tired, red from crying. But she wasn't crying any more.

 

“Thank you for telling me, Orin.”

 

I didn't know what to say in response to that and looked away. I had never told anyone this before, not even Pater. It had been a part of myself that I had wanted to stay buried, along with the memory of bright Leila and good times we had together as children. I think that was when my childhood ended. That was when it became about money, everything was to further that goal. To make sure the Sister and the younger kids would never be put in the position of Pater, Leila or I. They deserved better, so I worked to make sure that was the case.

 

“You don't think I'm a monster? I just told you that I killed a man when I was eight years old.” I felt vulnerable, exposed, like an open vein. I felt like my scars were on display for the entire world to see.

 

Elora took my face in her hands. “You could never be a monster, Orin. You love too much. You care too much. All of the pain you felt then was born from a desire to save those you loved. Does that sound like a monster to you?”

 

“I... I don't know,” I muttered, feeling tears stabbing at my eyes. How long has it been since I cried? Probably since Leila.

 

“You are, without a doubt, the bravest man I've ever met. Fate is strange, throwing you in my path. Or maybe I was thrown in yours?” Elora said as she leaned back against my chest. “If you can be that brave, that selfless in the face of so much pain, how can I do any less for you? We need to start training.”

 

My eyes widened, surprised. “What, right now?”

 

Elora nodded firmly. “Yes. We have four days to become as strong as we can. If you compress as much as possible during that time, and we Bond as often as we can, then we'll be a force to be reckoned with against any Knight.”

 

“You think so, Princess? You're still injured, I don't want to push you.”

 

“I think that's been the problem,” Elora said as she jumped out of the wagon, looks like her leg healed faster than I thought. “You've been pushing yourself to get stronger since I told you how. I need to start pulling my weight.”

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