Uprise 1.06

Shadows Rise

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[Abandoned Outpost | Lunaris 7th | Early Morning]

Four days had passed since the meeting. To the twins, that time passed in a blur. Sebastian spent most of it in the office, raiding the bookshelves and trying not to be unnerved by Gabrielle when the woman was present. Kyle, on the other hand, had taken to exploring the area around the Outpost, careful not to stray too far, but following some of the paths leading out of the main clearing. The remainder of their time and energy was spent caught up in arguments; weighing their options, but reaching no consensus.

It was in the aftermath of one such argument, during a silent and tension-filled breakfast, that they heard the familiar sound of footsteps climbing up the wooden stairs. They immediately turned to face the door, under the assumption that it was Gerald—their suspicions confirmed when he appeared at the threshold.

“I have to say,” Gerald called as he entered the room. “This is not what I expected when you wrote down ‘swords’ on that list, boy.”  The twins immediately recognized the two sheathed weapons slung across Gerald’s back. He untangled the sheaths from his shoulder and placed the swords on Sebastian’s bed. “I’m no expert, but even I can tell these are quality blades. You could live like princes if you found a good buyer for them.”

“What would be the fun in that?” Kyle quipped, turning his attention back to his bowl of oatmeal and scooping the last spoonful with a shrug.

Sebastian shook his head as he moved from his chair to sit on the edge of the bed, pulling one of the swords onto his lap. “When we were born, our father took a trip to his homeland to have these made for us,” he told Gerald. “It was important to him that we never part with them.”

“Like we said,” Kyle added, “important enough not to sell for food.”

Gerald pondered Kyle’s statement for a silent moment, then muttered, “I see.”

Sebastian pulled the sword from the sheath just enough to inspect a symbol engraved onto the base of the blade. He traced his index finger along the lines perfectly etched into the dark metal. His eyes softened as they followed the movement—as though there was some unwritten tale only he could read in the carved symbol—but his expression dulled as he pushed the weapon back into the scabbard.

“Yours,” he declared, holding the sword out towards Kyle.

Kyle stood from the table and took the weapon from his brother’s hands with care, pulling it halfway from its scabbard and inspecting it himself.

Gerald waited for both boys to breathe out in relief that the weapons hadn’t been lost—however fleeting the response was—before confronting them with the subject of all of their arguments the past few days. “Have you decided whether you’re staying with us or not?”

The twins exchanged concerned glances and after a beat of silence, Sebastian answered: “Not yet.”

“I see,” the man repeated. “Well, in any case, I’ll have you two know that I brought these up here for you to see, but I’m not allowing you to keep them.” Kyle was immediately ready to protest, but before he had the chance, Gerald continued. “You don’t know how to use a sword. For what I’ve seen in Blackpond you can barely swing your fists properly. You don’t get access to deadly weapons you’re unfit to carry while in our base; personal items included.” He nodded towards the door, beckoning the boys to follow. “Come with me. And bring those with you.”

Sebastian and Kyle gave each other a confused glance but did as they were told without protest, following Gerald across the bridge into the office. The Hunter walked past the desk and moved the bookcase Sebastian had seen Gabrielle emerge from on his first night. Behind it was a small space with a latch on the ground. Gerald opened the door and climbed down into a dark room below. The boys could see a faint glow of torchlight from the opening and Gerald once again commanded them to follow. The twins paused in front of the open hatch. Sebastian, as usual, was the one to take initiative and climb down after Gerald, Kyle following close behind.

The place they found themselves in was a room about the size of the office above, bare of any furniture and lit up by wall sconces that Gerald took the time to light one by one. In it were stored all sorts of weapons, either mounted on stands made of iron and wood or affixed to the wall in decorative displays. An armory, stock-full of swords, maces, pole-arms, daggers, throwing knives. If it could be used to take a life, odds are it was in this room.

Gerald finished lighting the room and stood facing a particular wall. On it, a large shield was mounted on display. Made entirely of metal, it had a white-silvery surface framed in gold and adorned with a red and gold sun; the sigil of the White Knights of Newhaven. A sword made of the same silvery metal and a golden grip lay static on a stand directly beneath it.

Gerald placed his hand on the shield with a smile. His eyes warmed more than the boys had ever seen, and for once he looked more his age than he did a grumpy old man. “This shield and this sword were the only things of value I had with me when I joined the Hunters,” he told them.

Kyle looked from the shield to the man with an expression of shock and awe. “You were a White Knight!?”

Gerald released an airy laugh. “I was in the Guard, I never made it as far as becoming a Knight. These belonged to my mother.”

Sebastian stepped closer so that he was standing right beside Gerald. “Your mother was a Knight.”

Gerald nodded. “That she was.” He lowered his hand from the shield, his smile turning melancholic as his fingers brushed the sun emblem painted onto the shimmering surface.

“Wolves?” Sebastian asked.

Gerald’s expression relaxed and a soft sigh escaped his lips. “If only it was that simple,”

Sebastian’s focus shifted to another display. Mounted right beside the shimmering silver and gold of a White Knight’s weapons, were a pair of swords. The weapons were made of dark steel, blemished by time and wear, their hilts wrapped in faded red leather. They were a stark contrast to the smooth untarnished metal wielded by a Newhaven elite.

Gerald followed Sebastian’s gaze to the weapons. “Johanna’s,” he stated. ‘If you want that story you’ll have to ask her directly, but… I would advise against it.”

Sebastian turned to look at Gerald, the man shrugged and said no more, his green eyes lingering on the weapons.

“What about all these other weapons?” Kyle asked, pacing amongst the weapon racks, mindful not to bump into anything.

“We all have our hobbies. This is Porter’s.” Gerald pulled a heavy battle axe from one of the mounts and held it in his hand. The head was a crescent-shaped steel blade, engraved with a pattern of flames, its smooth surface reflected the light flickering from the walls and created the illusion the metal itself was giving off an orange light. “Most of these are commissioned weapons, They sit here for a while until they’re delivered to buyers,” he explained. “Some, though, she makes either to try something different or perfect a technique, and they become a permanent part of the collection.”

The twins looked around at the number of weapons stashed in the room. “How long have you been living in this Outpost?” Sebastian asked.

“Three years.” Gerald gently placed the axe back on the weapon rack. “It took me a while to find this place. Secure it. Make it habitable. Then make it comfortable…” Gerald moved past the boys and found an empty weapon’s stand. “Alright. This is where we’re going to keep those until you’re either Hunters or you decide to leave; whichever one you choose.”

The boys surrendered the swords to Gerald and he placed them on the stand. “There we go. Now, if you want to come down here again and have a look at these, you’ll have to ask Porter to unlock it for you. Just be warned; you run the risk of getting lectured about every weapon in this room.”

“That sounds pretty interesting, actually.” Sebastian smiled. “And we don’t get to put ours on the wall?”

“Famous last words, trust me.” Gerald snorted. “And no. Not yet.”

A thick silence followed those words, the unspoken truth of their undefined status weighing on the boys’ shoulders. but Gerald was right in saying this wasn’t a choice they could make lightly.

“If we don’t decide to join you, then…” Kyle spoke up but only halfway, letting the question trail off, unsure where he was even going with it.

“How long are we allowed to stay here?” Sebastian finished his brother’s thought. “I mean, you’re not going to shelter us forever, I assume.”

Gerald snorted. “Remember what I said? You don’t choose to stay just because you have nowhere else to go. This is not a choice you make lightly.” He turned around to face Seb and Kyle, scrutinizing the boys. “You’re allowed to stay until I deem you fit for travel. Which is unlikely to happen until the end of Winter.”

Sebastian was unable to mask the surprise in his expression. Yes, they were a little worn out from living on the streets and eating scraps, but it wouldn’t take them that long to get in a decent state. Kyle had almost fully recovered from his drunken antics already. “That’s… Generous.”

“If you say so,” Gerald responded with a shrug, starting to lead the boys towards the open hatch. “Come on, I’m sure you had plenty of downtime while I was away. Time to earn your keep.”

[Abandoned Outpost | Lunaris 7th | Late morning]

“She’s still watching,” Sebastian muttered.

Kyle shrugged. “So? Let her watch, we’re not doing anything suspicious for you to be worried,” he replied, piling up cut firewood in his arms in an attempt to carry it all inside at once. “Why are you so bothered by Porter? I mean, I get that she’s intimidating, but she hasn’t done anything hostile.”

Sebastian sighed. “I know. You’re right. I don’t know. I just feel like I’m being evaluated every time she looks at me. It puts me on edge.” He stopped mid-swing, slowly lowered woodcutting axe, and lifted his head to look up at the figure standing atop the Western tower. The woman caught his eye and tipped her hat towards him, as she’d often do. It was beyond him why such a harmless gesture made him so ill-at-ease, but it did.

Kyle watched the exchange and snorted. “I think she’s doing it to mess with you.”

Sebastian shook his head. “You’re probably right.” He lifted the axe and brought it down hard on the log, observing as the wood parted almost clean in half. He was surprised Gerald had allowed him to do this again after last time, but the man had thankfully continued to act as though his act of tree murder had never happened in the first place.

“Why do you want to stay, then?” Kyle questioned. “I mean, if Porter makes you so uncomfortable and you were so angered at me for trying to get at the Wolves in Blackpond, why are you even considering this?”

Sebastian gave the log another hit of the axe to crack it completely and once again put the instrument down, turning to look at his brother. “What you did is different from what these guys do, Kyle. What I said is that we can’t hurt the Wolves. And we can’t. But these guys sure can.”

Kyle ran his fingers through his hair. They’d been over this a thousand times in the past days and at this point, the conversation felt like an endless loop. “We’ve been over the fact these guys are capable of killing Wolves. They’re alive, that’s enough proof of that. What I’m questioning is the part where there’s no turning back from this. A week ago you wanted to go to the Crimson or the White Shadows and now you want to spend whatever’s left of our lives antagonizing a clan of trained killers.”

Sebastian ran one hand over his eyes and a tired groan sounded from behind his fingers. “Porter asked us if it’s over. Is it? Will it ever be, really?” He stared Kyle straight in the eyes, trying to read his brother’s emotions to no avail. “We don’t have to do this together.”

Kyle frowned. “That’s not an option.”

Sebastian shook his head. “Yes, it is. It has to be. You said it yourself; there’s no turning back from this. I think if there’s ever a point where parting ways is an option, it’s here.”

“You don’t think it’ll be over for you.”

Sebastian shrugged, poking the dead stump chopping block with the tip of his boot. “I don’t know. I don’t know what any of this means for me. And I’m not gonna lie, the thought of finding out scares me. Being a Hunter means killing people. Inevitably. I’m not sure if I can do that, but some part of me feels that I can. That I want to. That worries me.” Sebastian looked down at the axe, now laying innocent at his feet, “I worry that I can. That it won’t mean anything if I do.”

Kyle remained silent at first. His twin’s admission had caught him off guard. Sebastian had always been the reasonable one. The one who wanted to put everything behind and move on. It never crossed Kyle’s mind that he would be the one thinking about staying. “I understand. I do. I… I know that what I did at the Inn was… Inexcusable. I realize that. I’m not sure what Kat would think of me for that, but… I’m also not sure that I’m sorry. Part of me feels like burning the whole place down would have been worth killing just one of them. And that… Isn’t right.”

“It’s also not wrong,” Sebastian added, leaning down to pick up the axe. “What value do the Wolves give to human life, really?” He split another log with two forceful strikes and piled the halves on top of his brother. “What value did they place on her life?”

“We’re not them,” Kyle retorted, his form wobbling under the added weight of two more pieces of wood to his already comically large pile. “I don’t know if I want to be them. Or worse than them for that matter.”

Sebastian flinched. That was the issue right there. He could imagine what Kat would say to this. He could picture the hurt on her face if he told her he wanted to hurt these people. He wanted to kill them. For her. “I don’t know what to do,” he admitted. “I do know we need to decide and we’ve been running in circles.”

Kyle attempted to shrug, but that only caused the pile of split logs in his arms to sway dangerously. He struggled for a few moments to catch his balance and started to walk into the first floor of the Eastern tower with them. There Johanna was splitting the pile of logs in three. One to heat the tub in the bathroom, one for the stove and the third presumably for the fireplace.

“Can I ask you something?” Kyle called.

Jo turned to look at him with a smile and nodded her agreement.

“You’ve killed people, right? Is it… How do you…?” He trailed off, unsure how to finish voicing the question.

Johanna’s expression changed from calm and cheerful to a pained grimace for a moment. She stopped what she was doing—letting the cut log she was holding fall to the floor—and walked over to the confused boy, wrapping him in a tight hug.

Kyle tensed at the unexpected display of affection, but stopped himself from pushing the woman away and allowed it. It didn’t answer his question and he was just as confused as before, but in some small way it helped. 

Johanna held the boy in her arms for almost a full minute before letting go. Kyle waited even after she resumed her task without giving him a straight answer. When he resigned himself to the response he’d gotten and finally turned to leave, a soft mumble stopped him in his tracks.

“It’s easier than you think.”

Kyle turned and walked back into the kitchen. “It shouldn’t be.”

“A lot of things shouldn’t be,” she shrugged.

A loud clap sounded behind Kyle’s back and disrupted his next thought before he had a chance to voice it. “That’s enough wood, I think,” Gerald declared as he entered the kitchen. “Morning,” he added, offering Jo a smile.

“Mhm,” she hummed.

“Mhm,” he repeated, agreeing with some unspoken statement. The grin on his face was almost goofy as he turned his attention from her to Kyle. “The knapsack I salvaged from your little hideout is in your room. I didn’t go through it but seeing as the swords were still there, I’ll assume nothing is missing.”

“That’s good,” Kyle responded, his eyes on Jo. The woman had an annoyed expression on her face now. He looked back to Gerald and based on how the man’s smile hadn’t faltered, it was safe to say her reaction was exactly what he’d wanted.

Gerald sat at the small table in the center of the kitchen. Besides that, only a tin for washing up and a stove furnished the room. The rest of the space was filled with sacks of flour and grain, some of them carelessly dropped in the corner as if waiting for proper storage. The table was mostly used for preparing meals. No one seemed to actually sit together and eat as far as Kyle could tell, but nonetheless, there were two round stools for sitting at both sides. Kyle silently sat across from Gerald. He wanted to see what was going on with those two and took full advantage of how neither seemed to mind him still being there.

“So,” Gerald started. “Is there any breakfast left or am I going to have to wait for lunch? I haven’t eaten since last night.”

Johanna opened one of the small sacks of grains neatly piled on one of the corners, filled a cup with raw oats and set it on the table in front of Gerald.

The man openly laughed at this. “Oh, wow, really? What do you take me for, a horse?” He waited for a response, but since Jo gave him none, he continued in a matter-of-fact tone. “Hm. Well, I was going to let you have this, but since there’s nothing else for me, I’ll have to eat it myself…” He placed something on the table. It was a rectangular object, about the size of a small book, wrapped in some sort of leaf, or straw.

Johanna perked up at his words and turned to look. Her eyes lit with excitement when she spotted the package. She unleashed a tiny squeal of delight and pounced on Gerald, wrapping her arms so tight around the man he was visibly struggling to breathe.

“Whoa… Easy…” Gerald wheezed, gently untangling his friend’s arms from around his neck, careful not to push her off his lap in the process. He drew a deep breath once Jo had released him and breathed out a chuckle. “Seriously now, did you think I’d just forget your birthday?”

Kyle’s eyes widened. She thought Gerald forgot her birthday. It was Jo’s birthday.

Johanna took the object from the tabletop and unwrapped it. It was a sizable, and solid-looking bar of chocolate. The woman excitedly broke a piece off of it and stuffed it in her mouth with a huge grin of satisfaction. Her eyes then fell on the cup of oats and she winced in a moment of guilt, extending the chocolate bar towards Gerald.

“Nah-ah. No,” the man argued. “It’s your birthday present. That means I don’t get a piece, Porter doesn’t get a piece, you do not share this with these kids… It’s for you. Are we clear on that?”

Jo withdrew the offer and her smile softened. She carefully wrapped up the rest of the chocolate for later and proceeded to wrap Gerald in yet another hug. This time with less force. “Thanks, Gerry,” she whispered.

Gerald returned the embrace with a smile. “Happy twenty-fourth,” he replied, his eyes landed on Kyle and hardened in playful warning. “Boy, you heard what I said, right? No begging for chocolate. I know where you sleep.”

Jo let out a small giggle at Gerald’s threat and slapped him in the arm, breaking their hug. She then stood from the man’s lap, her cheeks suddenly gaining a few shades of pink. “Are you hungry?” She asked.

“No, I was just provoking you. Don’t worry. I had travel provisions on me,” Gerald reassured.

“Mhm,” she hummed, idly running a hand through his hair before removing the cup of oats from the table, returning the grain to its respective sack. “Good. I don’t like it when you don’t eat.”

“Yes, I know.” Gerald shook his head behind her back, but the man still had a wide grin on his face; clearly basking in the success of his little birthday surprise. Kyle couldn’t deny that it was heartwarming how those two interacted with each other—killers or not.

[Abandoned Outpost | Lunaris 7th | Midday]

Sebastian had gone upstairs as soon as Gerald relieved him of his woodcutting duties, having been told that’s where the rest of their belongings would be. The knapsack Gerald left on the table was worn, dirty, and riddled with poorly stitched holes. A miracle it hadn’t spilled its contents all over the forest while making the trip. Not that there was much in it to begin with. Most of it was junk; crumpled sheets of paper, broken quills, and some junk they picked up from the streets. There were only two things Sebastian would have crawled his way back to Blackpond for. The first was a small framed portrait of a smiling couple and a little girl. It wasn’t anything fancy, it wasn’t even colored— something a friend of the family had drawn in charcoal—but it was still a fairly detailed picture of their parents and an eight-year-old Kat. Sebastian set the portrait down on the table with a wistful smile and then rummaged through the bag for the other object; a leather-bound book.

“Seb, you’re not going to believe th-…” Kyle burst into the room filled with excitement over something, but the sight of the framed portrait stopped him dead in his tracks. He frowned and averted his eyes as he moved to sit on his bed.

“What am I not going to believe?” Sebastian asked.

“Hm? Oh, it’s actually Jo’s birthday today!” Kyle exclaimed. “Can you believe that?”

“Yes. I mean, people have birthdays. It’s not that unbelievable.” Sebastian couldn’t help a twinge of amusement.

“Yes, I know. I just mean, she made us muffins for our birthday. Even though it was a little late. We should do something for her.”

“Hm.” Sebastian shrugged. “Like what? I mean, I understand the sentiment, but we’re not particularly skilled at crafts and we don’t have the money or the means to buy presents right now.”

Kyle’s eyes landed on the crumpled paper and broken quills. “How about a card?”

Sebastian pondered this. They made cards for their sister’s birthday all the time. They were never anything more than a written birthday wish. They never even drew any pictures on them, but Kat seemed to enjoy them for the sentiment. “Can’t hurt, I guess.” Sebastian agreed, examining the book he salvaged from the knapsack, its pages still empty except for the very first one, where his sister had written her own little note. His fingers traced the neatly penned words.

“That still empty?” Kyle asked.

“For now,” Seb answered. “I’ll write on it when I’m ready.”

“It’s just a journal, Seb. It’s not some magical tome of destiny or something like that.”

Sebastian laughed. “Have you been raiding the bookshelves too? Magical tome of destiny.”

“I may have looked at an adventure book or two.” Kyle shrugged. “My point stands.”

Sebastian shook his head, still chuckling at his brother’s words. “It’s my journal. And I’ll use it when I feel like it. What’s it to you?”

“Nothing, I guess,” Kyle threw his hands up in defeat, “I’ll shut up about it.” 

Sebastian snorted through the last remnants of his laughter, flipping the book pages to the very last, a dried flower falling from the book. A blood-stained white rose. The boy’s expression shut down at the sight of the flower. He picked it up from where it’d fallen on the bed, tucking it away amongst the book’s pages once more. “Kyle.”

“Yeah?”

“I want to be a Hunter.”

[Abandoned Outpost | Lunaris 8th | Sunrise]

Gerald woke up before sunrise, and helped himself to a few pieces of fruit and some tea while he waited for its arrival. When the sun’s rays began to creep in from the north side of the clearing, he exited the kitchen, climbed the stairs, and pulled Kyle and Sebastian out of bed by their feet. The boys crashed to the stone ground with a chorus of pained groans and muttered obscenities before they even had the chance to open their eyes..

“I warned you. Be downstairs by sunrise or I’ll come get you.” Gerald barked at the sleepy boys. “Get dressed, get food in the kitchen and have your asses out front as fast as possible. Don’t make me come for you again.”

Gerald left and the twins hurried to follow his orders. Sebastian forced his food down—too disoriented from the sudden awakening to even register hunger. Once they were fed and ready, they left the kitchen and joined Gerald out front. The man silently guided them through one of the paths leading out of the clearing. A short walk lead them to a smaller area, just far enough that the towers were no longer visible. There were straw dummies set up there, as well as punching bags hanging from the trees. “Okay,” Gerald started. “You two are, as is, utterly useless in a fight. We need to change that.”

The twins exchanged a glance and shifted nervously in place, but remained silent and listened as Gerald continued.

“In the next few days, I’m going to instill a routine. I’m going to drill it into you until it becomes natural to wake up and do it without me having to tell you. Every day. Rain or snow. If the Twins themselves decide to come down from the Divine Plane and tear apart the fabric of creation, I want you still in this training area at this time. Every day. That is not negotiable. Are we understood?”

Kyle and Seb nodded. “Yes,” they answered in unison.

“Good,” Gerald nodded in approval. “Tomorrow I’ll give you proper exercises, but today I just want to see what, if anything, you’re capable of. So, one of you, go on and punch one of the bags.”

After a few moments of hesitation from both boys, Kyle gave his brother a small shove and nodded towards the sandbags. Sebastian shrugged and walked up to the punching bag, slamming his right fist into it. It was awkward and the force of impact traveled from his knuckles to his wrist, causing a wince of pain.

Gerald snorted a small trace of laughter. “I thought so.”

Sebastian shook the pain away from his wrist and glared at Kyle, his brother openly laughing at his failure. “Why don’t you do it, smartass?” He challenged.

Kyle glared at him, but stepped up to another one of the bags and punched it. It wasn’t very powerful, but it was visibly better.

Gerald sighed. “Alright.” He stepped in front of one of the bags, “Pay attention.” He showed the boys his closed fists, and stood in front of one of the punching bags, with feet slightly parted and one hand ahead of the other in front of his face. Gerald punched the bag a couple of times and then repeated the act slowly, showing how he twisted his body along with the punches. He relaxed his stance and turned to the boys. “One thing you need to understand about fighting is that it hurts. Slamming your fist into someone’s face hurts. Getting punched; no matter where the punch lands, hurts.” He swung his fist towards Kyle and watched the boy duck and cover his head with his hands. “Pain doesn’t kill you, but fearing pain might.” He warned, lowering his hands. “Your reaction time is precious. It doesn’t matter if you know the proper way to make a fist so you don’t break your thumbs, or what stance to take so you can dodge more quickly. If you have to take the time to think about it, you’re putting yourself in a disadvantage. That’s why training is vital. The right gut instincts can and will save your life.” He pointed at the punching bags. “Now, try again.”

For what felt like hours, Kyle and Sebastian slammed their fists against the sandbags, trying to imitate Gerald as best as they could. The man occasionally corrected their stances and offered them advice. After a while, everything went silent except for the soft ‘thuds’ of fists hitting soft leather mixed with increasingly heavy breathing. Both boys felt the strain of activity but dutifully continued until commanded to stop.

“For a start, I will say, that was actually promising,” Gerald declared. “You’re far from doing any real fighting, but you’ve made progress.” The man indicated the center of the small training area and sat on the ground with his legs crossed, motioning for the boys to sit in front of him.

Sebastian and Kyle sat in front of the Hunter with their legs crossed as well—both still feeling their heartbeats pounding in their chests and trying to breathe it into submission.

Gerald looked from Kyle to Sebastian in silence, letting the boys catch their breath. Once it seemed like they had rested enough, he spoke. “How long ago have you Awakened?”

Both boys immediately tensed at the question. Of course, Gerald knew. He had seen Kyle almost set fire to the Inn. There was no point in hiding it. “I’ve awakened nine months ago,” Kyle answered.

Gerald nodded his approval but turned to Sebastian. “And you?” When Sebastian seemed surprised the man smiled. “Boy, you’re identical twins. If your brother is Enlightened, then as sure as the Sun sets in the South, you are as well.”

Sebastian was hesitant, but knew it was pointless to try and contest Gerald’s logic. “I am. I’ve… Awakened a bit sooner. Before… All of this.”

“You’re not pyrokinetic are you?” Gerald questioned.

“No. I…” Sebastian cut himself off. “I’m still making sense of it. It’s like an intuition sometimes.”

“Oh?” Gerald’s tone was interested. “Stand up.”

Sebastian stood up and Gerald did as well. They stood in front of each other in silence for a long moment. and then Gerald aimed a very forceful punch straight at Sebastian’s face.

The boy yelped in surprise, but moved out of the way just in time, Gerald’s fist stirring the air next to his ear. “What the hell!?”

“I was wondering how you escaped Porter’s arrow the other night. I was sure it would have at least grazed your arm, but you didn’t have a scratch on you.”

“It doesn’t always work!” Sebastian shouted, glaring daggers at the man.

“Boy, what did I tell you about fighting? You are going to get hurt. Learning to fight involves fighting. Get used to the idea,” Gerald scolded. He motioned for Kyle to get up as well and had the boys face each other. “Okay, time for both of you to learn how to dodge.”

Gerald instructed the boys on how to defend themselves and how to better dodge out of the way of punches. They sparred with each other after that. Kyle was particularly unhappy with this because Sebastian had an unfair advantage dodging him. He even managed to counter a few times on instinct, which seemed to impress Gerald to some small degree. One counter landed with more force than intended, though. Kyle was hit straight in the face, stumbled back a few steps with the impact and doubled over.

Sebastian lowered his fists immediately, concern plastered on his face. “Crap, are you okay?”

Kyle shook his head, unable to speak. His whole body felt warm and his hands were tingling uncomfortably. He could feel fire rising in his veins, coating the inside of his lungs with every breath, trying to get out. His fists clenched at his sides and he forced himself to focus on nails digging into his palms, on his toes curled on the insides of his boots, any sensation that was tangible; any feeling that wasn’t panic. He forced himself to breathe even if it hurt. Fast and furious at first, and gradually slower, deeper, until it started to feel normal again. The whole ordeal only lasted a few moments—though it felt like hours—and once it was over Kyle straightened himself up with a weary groan; his sight blurry and his body swaying from the strain.

“Okay,” Gerald stated. “I think it’s time we stop.” The man had been watching Kyle closely while he reined in the surge of magic, his expression almost as unreadable as Gabrielle’s. Much like Sebastian’s little mishap with the wood axe, Gerald made no mention of what had just happened and commanded them to bathe and rest. “Tomorrow I want you both up and ready before the crack of dawn. We’re running and exercising before breakfast. Don’t make me go get you,” he warned.

The boys agreed and started heading back to the towers. Kyle walked ahead, muttering a little under his breath. Sebastian fell behind, staring down at his bruised knuckles with a thoughtful frown.

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