“Why didn’t you bring me here before?” Jaera asked.
Toar looked at her, sitting on the stone bench beside him. She leaned forward, elbows on knees, without looking at him. Sweat glued her shirt to her back. Her dark, curly hair had been in a knot on the back of her head to begin with, but now it was slumping toward her neck, tangled and wet around her face. She pushed her bangs out of her face, glancing around the large stone room. The air felt laced with mint, still heavy with the energy they’d been tossing between the walls. A low, steady breeze threaded between the archways to either side of them, dragging the leftover energy outside, scrubbing it off their skin. Toar rubbed at his hands, massaging away the work ache.
The question surprised him enough to keep him from giving an immediate answer. Jaera hadn’t looked impressed when she first entered the building. It was a rough walk from the city to here, up a hill with the coast wind pressing into their faces. She didn’t complain, but she didn’t exactly skip along beside him, or lose her breath when she saw the tangle of stone rooms at the top of the hill. He’d always liked them – the old white walls, the archways that never housed a door, the ingenious architecture that filled each room with a breeze – but she had looked at it like it was a sandstone ambush.
Maybe it had been. He hadn’t thought to warn her that there would be dozens of other people there, sectioned off into the different rooms to practice, each of their energies clinging to the air as she passed through. He hadn’t thought to prepare her for an order to give it everything she had. But she had stood in the middle of the empty room, hearing the echoes from the neighboring walls and stared at him.
“It’s safe,” he had told her, almost laughing. “You can do anything you want in here. It’s built to hold it.” He spread his hands, dragged blue-white energy out of his palms faster than he really should have, and let it mushroom recklessly around him. It crackled and hissed, turning the air around him to steam and tumbling around itself. Then he snapped his hands shut and took a deep breath while the breeze pushed it away from his body, cleanly out through a side arch. “And then it takes care of it. I don’t think even you can hurt anything here.”
He didn’t think she believed him. She just followed his instructions in her hesitant, quiet way, always one beat behind where he would have liked her to be.
They had practiced for hours, until they were both breathless and sweating and he called a halt. Still silent, she sat on the bench beside him. Then she looked around the room, as if she was inspecting it for structural damage.
“Why didn’t you bring me here before?” she asked.
Toar straightened on the bench, stretching out the muscles in his back and shoulders. “You didn’t really need it.”
She turned, just her head, and looked at him in disbelief. She had her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, the scars on her forearms clearly visible. They rolled across the surface of her skin, all arcs and bends like burns someone had tattooed smoothly into her. She only looked at them once, but it dragged his glance down as well. The scars were old, some of them so light that they might have been invisible except for her ocean-sun tan. They called him a liar as firmly as her look.
“It would have been odd,” he amended. “Children don’t come here.”
“Is that a rule?” Jaera asked. She was looking away again, tracing a long burn in the wall with her eyes. It was black with ash, loud, but it would wash away if someone threw a bucket of water over it. The pink streaks beside it were the real burns, the fire that had sunk into the rock and changed it.
“It’s…” Toar stumbled in the explanation. “Most keimon don’t show until they’re at least ten, Jaera. They won’t have enough strength to need this place until they’re…” he nodded at her to indicate her age.
“So it’s not a rule,” Jaera said.
“No,” Toar said. “But you would have attracted a lot of attention. You wouldn’t have liked it.”
Jaera crossed her arms over each other, like she’d finally sunk into a chill from the sweat. She traced the newer, pinker scars on her skin, pressed hard against them, like they hurt and she could rub them away. “Probably not,” she murmured. She looked around the room like it was an ambush again, a surprise that might throw her to the ground.
Then she dragged in a full breath and straightened up beside him. “Are we leaving now?”
My friend, Amy is a thief! She stole the first line of this piece yesterday for a piece of fiction her own blog. Check it out here.