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Muer'Khista Ch. 3

by Kimberlain O'Driscoll, MBA, M.Ed 5 months ago in Short Story
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New visitors arrive. Bad news takes the village by surprise

Ch. 3 Training

Weeks became months, and the months grew into years. Each season Tre’Leigh managed to pass her testing and remain in training. Although her spell skill with kuja was barely existent beyond a small flame suitable for lighting a candle, or light to read by as she got better, her gift of seeing auras in plants was something that had was rarely seen in recent times. It was obviously linked to her shared senses with her Muer’Khista. It was believed by Mistress P’lara to be the manner in which the great phantom cat viewed its surroundings, thus Tre’Leigh saw the world in the same way. Her other instructors were very impressed with this ability and hoped it would expand to include more of the world around her such as weather or people. They encouraged her to explore what she learn about animals, which she did in a way. The scent of prey animals such as deer and rabbit gave her hunger cravings.

The phantasmal still cat appeared nightly, and on occasion during the day when she was awake. It didn’t frighten Tre’Leigh anymore. She began to live for the shared experience of hunt. Hunts thrilled her in ways she was never able to explain. The cat’s preferred way of eating the flesh of a still living creature however, was enough to turn Tre’Leigh off of meat. She at best tolerated those moments. She still liked fish. She was frequently seen taking her pole to her favorite spot on the river. Aside from fish though, she decided to stick with vegetables and fruit.

Whenever Tre’Leigh, Yari, and Shannon went off on their many trips into the woods, it was Tre’Leigh who gathered the food. She introduced her friends to new and delicious roots, berries, herbs, and stalks that they never knew were even edible, never mind having truly amazing flavors. Even though all of these plants grew in abundance throughout the valley, they were overlooked. For Tre’Leigh, colors were brighter, sounds purer and smells more intense. The wind had a scent that told her so much about her world. Based on subtle aromas she knew when plants were in their prime for harvesting. She knew when the fish were spawning and even when bee hives were overflowing with honey. She tried to teach the others what to look for but without the ability to see the auras, or inhale the aromatic signals, Shannon and Yari were hopelessly dependent on her when it came to food gathering.

Magic was natural to Shannon and Yari. Tre’Leigh was proud of herself for being able to at last form a flame hot enough to start a small campfire. Shannon would make the flames rise up to resemble people and animals that would dance to the songs they sang. Yari even learned to form a magical dome to keep them dry when it rained. They were never supposed to practice battle magic by themselves, but they were known to break the rules from time to time. Well, actually more often than not. Yari and Shannon liked to go out into an open field where they used levitation to build a mountainous pile rocks. Then they would step back and take turns casting various attack spells until there was nothing left of that pile but dust and small shattered pebbles. The stronger they got, the less time it took. Tre’Leigh’s skill was not up to this task, so she sat back and cheered them on. At times she felt a sense of envy because they could do things that she couldn’t, but she reminded herself that everyone had different gifts and they were at times jealous of her nature skills, and especially her Muer’Khista.

Shannon had an affinity for fire. It seemed as if everything she did was based on that element. All of her battle magic spells used heat or flame in some form. Tre’Leigh remembered the first time they decided to practice on their own. They were too close to the woods. Shannon started a huge fire in the tree tops. It took every trick they could summon to put out the flames. They laugh about it now, but at the time they were worried they’d be found out and face some form of punishment.

Now Yari favored lightning and other energy strikes. She could produce a perfect kandenspaar which resembled lightning but didn’t branch off with fingers of energy as natural lightening does. Her focused single blue bolt would light up the night sky, which ruined your night vision for several long minutes. All Kujatai spells appeared blue. Shannon’s flames were blue, Yari’s lighting was blue, and Tre’Leigh’s phantasmal cat appeared as a glowing blue, cat shaped mass of formed energy. This is one of the most telling features of Kujatai magic versus the magic of humans which tend to produce spells in the more natural hues. Human fire spells for example, were the color of normal flames. Their lightning was like the kind you get in a storm, shards, and all. Human Kujatai spells were blue. Mistress P’lara explained that magic is like the colors of the rainbow. Although each color is a part of that rainbow and is similar, what creates the different colors has to do with the type of energy used to produce the spell. She also added that their way, the Kujatai way was not the only method. It wasn’t specifically stronger or better, it just was.

The real danger in magic lie in taking too much energy into yourself to produce the spell. It was explained to them that magic itself was everywhere. It came in many forms and each one was in a sense a living entity. To cast magic one had to build a relationship with the forces of energy that surrounded them. One was never to draw more than what was needed because if they did, the magic would consume them. All of that they were, or thought they were would be replaced by something else because nature did not allow a void. Taking in too much kuja was loosely referred to as Kujatai induced madness. Tre’Leigh had never seen this happen, but Mistress P’lara spoke of it often. This was the reason students weren’t allowed to cast magic on their own. It wasn’t about the possibility of starting a fire. Fires can be extinguished. It was about the possibility of losing your very soul to the magic force that would take your place in the world. Unfocused and uncontrolled magic was seen as chaos. Nature created a balance but elves who were themselves inherently magical, and in rare cases magic casting humans had to respect their limitations.

One morning, a surprise waited for the girls when they reported for training. Mistress P’lara arrived with three men. These men were human. Tre’Leigh didn't have very much experience with human men, and these three appeared taller than what she remembered. There was a savagery about them. It wasn’t that they were overly muscled. In fact, with one exception, they appeared rather lean, yet strong. One, a man with hair the color of wheat, was heavily tattooed over a tree trunk of a body with thick arms and solid thighs. His skin was very pale, like that of many elves. The man next to him was bronzed. He spent a lot of time in the sun. He had red hair and sported a large beard. His beard was dark though, not red, and braided the way a young girl wears her hair. Tre’Leigh found it fascinating. The third man was taller than the other two with very dark skinned. In fact he was even darker than Tre’Leigh. She never knew men would be colored so. His tight curly hair was short on top, with long tails on the sides and back that were woven into braids with beads. He was lean which was all the more apparent due to his towering height. All of them bore multiple scars.

“I would like to introduce you to some friends of mine.” Mistress P’lara said. “They are Kujatai from some of the human houses. In the non-Kujatai, human world they are often known as battle mages. It is most likely that any opponent that you will face will be a man with fighting skills very much like these men have mastered. Human men are obviously larger than you, and as such they are much physically stronger. Despite their larger size, they can be surprisingly quick and agile. If you fight a human male and try to use strength against strength, brute force against muscle, you will lose almost every time. You are about to be taught how to overcome strength with cunning. You will match physical power with finesse. You will learn to use their larger size against them. They are here to teach you how to do this.”

Very few male Kujatai came to elven lands. Tre’Leigh had often wondered if she’d get to see one, and now there were three. Mistress P’lara motioned to the man on the far right. He was the tallest of the men, the one who was dark skinned.

“This Kujatai is from House Oerua. His name is Bendala Munindi.”

Bendala was a giant compared to much shorter elves. He was lean, yet he looked strong. Silver beads woven into his long black, tightly braided hair made a metallic clicking sound when his head turned. Mistress P’lara motioned to the next man who stepped forward.

“Please allow me to introduce Devon Souvet from House Fae’.”

Devon was a little shorter than Bendala. He was the one with light skin like an elf, blonde hair, and very sharp, angular facial features and that massive body of muscle. He reminded her of a bull. Finally, she introduced the only bearded man. His name was Johnher Poul from House Akilon. Once the students shared their own names, Mistress P’lara formed them into three groups. Those in front stepped forward to begin their lesson.

Each took a position in front of their assigned opponent. The men would take a defensive stance, sometimes high guard, sometimes low guard, sometimes something unusual. Mistress P’lara then nodded to signal the start of each sparring. The matches never lasted long. Even those whom Tre’Leigh thought had really good sword skills, fell without even coming close to striking any of the men. Sa’Laan was even knocked unconscious, her head bleeding just above her left ear. She was carried off to the healer. This training was raw and brutal.

It was now Tre’Leigh’s turn. She stepped forward from the group. She was terrified. Her opponent Devon had already shown that he didn’t hold back. Although they were using wooden practice swords, the welts, bruises, and even broken bones that were inflicted were real. As she stood before Devon, Tre’Leigh’s head barely reached his lower chest. It was an unfair match. She readied her practice sword. He did the same. He took a low side guard stance. They had explained earlier that a high guard was better. He probably didn’t think very much of her ability if he lowered his weapon in the way that he did. She didn’t think very much of her ability either. Tre’Leigh didn’t expect this to last very long. She imagined that in a few moments she would be knocked to the ground with a nasty gash like many of the others in her group.

She decided to get it over with. Tre’Leigh chose the high guard. When Mistress P’lara nodded for the spar to begin, Tre’Leigh immediately spun in a circle and struck at what she thought was Devon’s unprotected midsection. He sidestepped, swung his sword between them, deflected her blade with ease. She stepped back a moment to try again when she suddenly felt really dizzy. She stumbled and fell backward. It wasn’t from Devon. He hadn’t touched her. No, her dizziness came from something else. Before he struck, she saw a blur. The blur was an image of him, but he hadn’t moved yet. She could feel the spirit walker within her. Although the Muer’Khista didn’t physically appear, it was always there deep within her, in that place where we embrace who we truly are. This must be part of how the creature hunts. She believed she was seeing her opponents intent before his body carried it through.

The feeling of disorientation ended quickly. It was time to test her theory. Now that she knew what to expect, she’d be ready. Tre’Leigh readied her sword again, holding it straight before her. There were better stances, but she wanted to appear a weak and easy target to make him underestimate her. Her opponent resumed the low side guard as before. When Mistress P’lara nodded again, Tre’Leigh spun her blade in a rising arc, once again aiming at Devon’s midsection. The blur that she had noticed before happened again almost before she moved a muscle. He was good. He was fast. She however could see what he planned to do before he acted. She pulled back from her strike rapidly, and reversed her swing, pausing just enough to allow her opponent to commit himself to his block. Then with speed that seemed unnatural, she changed the direction of her attack, leapt straight up causing his sword to pass harmlessly beneath her feet. As she came back down again, she swung her practice sword hard in a downward arc, into his right shoulder where the large muscle lay.

He cried out when her wooden sword struck. His arm went limp, causing him to drop his practice sword. She landed, and rolled backward with casual Elven grace, ending in a low crouched position. Tre’Leigh slid her blade in a slow, intentional, and methodical way, hiding it from view behind her back. She held a defensive posture and bared her teeth. A low growl could be heard from her as she stared at her now injured opponent. She could feel the great cat’s presence within her. It was still there.

Devon’s eyes widened. His face took on a grimaced look as he dropped to his knees holding his left hand against the place on his shoulder where she had struck. His right arm tightened into a contracture from the pain. Everyone who saw this stared in awe. The other two men, Bendala and Johnher stopped in mid spar with their opponents Kiersti and Meihah. Some of the students who were not rendered speechless cheered, including among them Shannon and Yari. Mistress P’lara’s mouth hung open in shocked disbelief. It looked as if she was trying to say something, but the words wouldn’t form. Devon composed himself and peered deeply into Tre’Leigh’s eyes, Tears rolled down his cheeks from the agony. He forced himself to stand. It took effort. Devon gave her an approving nod and even managed to smile.

“Now that’s how you do it!” He announced in a voice that sounded distressed. “You read your opponent, predict their move, and hit them where it hurts.” The lessons in combat continued through that day with Devon coaching, rather than sparring. The lessons were repeated regularly throughout the course of their training with new weapons introduced from time to time. Tre’Leigh never lost a match. Mistress P’lara realized that Tre’Leigh’s ability to see a pattern in the aura and plants also extended hunting, or in her case mock combat. It gave her an unfair one-sided advantage when sparring. The kuja mistresses encouraged her to use it. Aside from Yari and Shannon, Tre’Leigh never let the others know it was her Muer’Khista bond that made this happen. When anyone complained that she was cheating, they got a harsh “Get over it and figure a way to beat her.” From Mistress P’lara. No one ever did.

Tre’Leigh continued to progress with great promise toward her goal of becoming Kujatai. Her sister Liandrin eventually became saanti’d. The saanti was a spiritual ritual that all who complete their training undergo. During the saanti they merge with entities who are the living bodies of kuja itself, known as siin fae’, or spirit fire. It was said that any would be Kujatai found not worthy by the siin fae’ would be consumed in blue flame and reduced to nothingness. Occasionally someone would decide to not risk it. Although everyone was told there was no shame in declining a saanti ritual, in reality that person would find themselves shunned by their friends and neighbors. Everyone would wonder what they were hiding, and what they feared would be exposed. Humans who were not Kujatai and didn’t know their ways, viewed the saanti’d as holy warriors. In many ways this could be deemed true as the power of the Kujatai was enhanced by the merger of siin fae’, and only granted to the worthy.

After her saanti, Liandrin was assigned as a young lieutenant with the 3rd Brigade of Silen Lancers. On the day she was raised, their father gave Liandrin a sword he made for the occasion. He worked on it for months when the girls were asleep. It was a two-handed weapon that if stood on its tip, nearly came to Liandrin’s shoulder. It had a weight and balance so perfect; it could also be swung easily with one-hand if needed. The sword had an elegant cross guard made of silver filigree that their mother crafted with skill and love. The grip was black leather with silver wire and a silver pommel that bore the Esha family crest.

The long, curved blade was slender. It was made from blackened glass steel. Glass steel was difficult to make. Her father was a master craftsman with this material. It had the smooth and polished look of glass but was strong like steel. Not only would it not shatter, but it kept an edge far better than any metal blade, and it would never rust. Most weapons made from glass steel were clear. Sometimes you’d find a colored blade and purple, red, or blue. This was the first time her father Rennith made one that was black. It was his finest work to date.

Liandrin left with her brigade. From time to time a letter would make its way home from some far-off land with exotic gifts wrapped within. There were coins with odd mintage, amulets, or figurines. On occasion they’d open one of her packages to find wondrous dried fruit or some amazing, sweet confection she’d found in her travels. Tre’Leigh kept every letter and read them over and over every night. She longed to see the places her sister wrote about. In a few more years, she would be saanti’d as well and have her own adventures. She couldn’t wait. In one letter, Liandrin announced she had been chosen to join the high guard which escorted Gran Maez Anastasia, the ruler of all Kujatai herself. It was a high honor and gave their father Rennith a great deal of boasting rights.

It was a warm mid-summer day when the news came. Gran Maez Anastasia, the leader of all Kujatai and their people had been attacked and murdered. The Kujatai were at war. It started abrupt and violent. A list of those who already died was posted in the village square. Tre’Leigh tried to push her way through the gathering of townsfolk who pressed and pushed tightly, each trying to learn of a loved one whose name might appear. She could see people hugging each other. Some because the news was good. The wails of anguish told of the ones whose worst fear was realized. Tre’Leigh was wracked with panic. She forced her way close enough to read the notice. The list showed individual names and their brigades. Her eyes worked furiously down the rows. There were dozens of Silen Kujatai listed in addition to those from the other houses.

There it was on the second sheet, fourth row, twelfth down. Liandrin Esha, 1st Akiloni Guard. Her sister was dead. Tre’Leigh dropped to her knees, shaking her head no and cried.

Tre’Leigh’s mother became hysterical when she read it. Her mom’s dearest friends wrapped their arms around her and held close as the tears ran down their faces. It was Tre’Leigh’s father who found her curled up in the dirt. He looked numb. He scooped Tre’Leigh up in his right arm, placed his other arm around Mirah. The three of them slowly walked home.

They remained shut in for several days. Friends came by to offer condolences, but there was no answer at the door. Neighbors left food. It was untouched. A community funeral was held for Liandrin. It was a small community, and everyone was affected. Those who weren’t related by blood, were sometimes closer than family. As days grew short and mornings brought a chill, more news of lost loved ones led to more funerals. A coldness began to develop. With it came resentment as those who lost someone became bitter toward a neighbor who didn’t. Tre’Leigh’s romantic view of war as a way to seek glory vanished, leaving the dark reality of death and trauma. The loss of her sister had another toll on Tre’Leigh. Her limited ability to use kuja vanished. It was believed that in her mourning, she simply lost the desire. She saw no more auras, and never even tried to defend herself when sparring. She just stood and allowed her opponent to pommel her senseless. Just before Tanden Fest, the autumn harvest festival, she was released from training. Mistress P’lara simply said that Tre’Leigh’s spirit had withdrawn from the world. She was done.

Short Story

About the author

Kimberlain O'Driscoll, MBA, M.Ed

My stories come in the form of vivid dreams. The challenge is putting them to words. I'm medically a retired navy veteran and nurse, world traveler, artist, lecturer, and past journal reviewer with 5 ferrets who keep me very entertained

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