This story was written by Karinith
Kane had called her the Fae of Terrasylvae and it was fitting. Karinith would disappear for months at a time, only to pop into existence at a feast or some other celebration. Then she’d vanish again. It wasn’t that she left Terrasylvae, but she certainly didn’t put her whole heart into being there among the Order of the Rose.
As it was, Karinith seemed content to observe from afar, and she’d taken to exploring the realm (though only in the daylight hours. Shay’s terrifying tale of Haute nearly pulling her into his den had cured Karinith of nighttime wanderings) and putting those to parchment. Perhaps, that was her role, to find and expand the world they so dearly loved.
But it pained so many to see her not live up to the potential. They all saw it, a heart longing to hold the blade, a hint of a blazing fire lurked behind the figure she made herself to be. But too much of the world beyond Terrasylvae had sunk into her. Too many expectations that weighed her down, kept her away from the training field and off wandering the woods.
At least, that normally was the case.
For whatever reason, on this particular day, Karinith couldn’t go more than a few steps outside the village before she suddenly found herself right back where she left. At first, Karinith thought it nothing more than choosing the wrong path. But when all the paths into the woods were closed to her, her annoyance grew into frustration. It was far from done with her…
Kane sat at a desk, eyeing the stack of parchment and paperwork with heavy disdain. Sometimes the mundane was a more formidable opponent than whatever Blackoven could send his way. The door to the training yard opened, Veron walking towards him, looking sheepish and very un-Veron-like.
“Kane, I think something is going on,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Something is always going on, Veron,” Kane said. “What is it?”
“Did Karinith come in here?”
“No, I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“Well, she came in through the door to that leads from the training field to the woods, and then she bolted back the other way like Haute himself was there!”
Now that was interesting. “Maybe she was embarrassed she got caught watching again.”
“That’s not it.” Veron shook his head. “When the door shut, the garrison tower door opened and she appeared up there! Seemed totally lost. Then she went in that door…and I didn’t see her come down.”
This was going to be an interesting day. “Keep an eye out for her and maybe Haute.” He rubbed his temples, a headache already coming on. “Between this and Blackoven…”
“Don’t worry about Blackoven! We’ll send him running.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
The two exchanged a wordless glance and Veron departed. As the door to the training yard shut, the garrison’s back entrance opened. Karinith stumbled forward, glancing around in utter confusion. She strode forward to the main entrance.
“Hello, Karinith,” Kane said as she passed, pretending to be heavily involved in paperwork.
She gave a squeak of alarm. “Hi, Kane.” Ever since they’d first met, she always had an air of apprehension around him. He had no idea why. After all, he was only being a gentleman when he’d picked her up off the dance floor. Her bug-eyed expression still made him smile. It was one of the few times he knew her to be perfectly still.
“Off to collect more stories?”
Karinith gave a small wave as thanks and hurried out the garrison door.
He set the quill down and though she had left the building, stared at the door as if she lingered, trying to piece together what exactly had her so scared. Still, paperwork had to be done, so he rolled his eyes and his sleeves and set to work.
Kane had made good progress when Shay walked in. Probably more trouble, if the look on her face was anything to go by. First came the Blackoven report. It wasn’t looking good for the Order. True, they’d had their victories, but Blackoven was relentless. He was amassing more troops to his side, rallying people. They needed to keep him out of Terrasyvae, especially if Haute was up to new tricks.
Then came the thing Shay actually wanted to talk about. “Something is going on with Karinith,” she said the moment Kane finished jotting down her reports.
“What’s she done now?”
“I saw her five times on the way back from scouting. Five times! But she seemed lost and confused each time.”
“You and Veron both.”
“Veron saw her?”
At that moment, the side closet door burst open, sending out brooms, mops, the occasional broken sword, and Karinith tumbling out. “Are you kidding me?!” she cried, pushing herself up, sending the various objects to the floor as she brushed them off.
Shay shot the world’s most confused glance to Kane, who only shrugged in response. He had just as much of an idea of what was happening as she did. Karinith froze in picking up the mess she made, realizing Kane and Shay both stared back at her. No one said anything, just stared in mute comprehension. Karinith dropped everything she was holding, straightened upright, turned on her heel and marched back into the closet.
“Rin, what are you doing?” Shay went after her, opening the door to find that it was barren. “Where did she go?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.” Kane turned to go back to paperwork.
“Shut the door on me.”
“I want to see something. Shut the door.”
Kane did so, waiting for a few seconds before opening it again. Shay peered back from the closet, scowling at the brick wall as if it hid the answer.
A door on the gallery of the garrison opened, Karinith’s voice carrying down below. It was mostly mutterings and mumblings.
“Rin! Did you do something with Haute?” Shay called up. “Are you in trouble? Do we need to be on the lookout for him?”
“No, it’s not Haute,” Karinith said, coming over to the railing and resting against it. Thank goodness for that. Blackkoven was trouble enough. They didn’t need an attack from within Terrasylvae as well as an outside one. “It’s Terrasylvae.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know, it’s not like it can turn into a person and talk to me!” Her voice echoed, heavy with the expectation that something would happen. But nothing did. She groaned and took another door.
Kane put a hand on Shay’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about her. I think I can figure this out. Go get some rest. We’ll need you if Blackoven attacks again.”
“He’s got something planned,” Shay said as she turned to leave. “Something big, Kane.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me at all.” Kane went back to his paperwork. Or it looked that way. In his mind, he had to think like an ancient, semi-sentient forest would. What was it about Karinith that the woods needed her to know? What was it that she needed?
Maybe it wasn’t what she needed, but what she’d been denying herself. She’d been in and out of the garrison and training yard all day. Terrasylvae was pushing her towards it, refusing to let Karinith go anywhere else.
Speaking of Karinith, she entered from the front entrance of the garrison, stalking past Kane and out the back door, only to reappear in the entrance a second later.
It wanted her here in the garrison. But why? Why was it so adamant that Karinith be here? Karinith didn’t have to fight if she didn’t want to, there were plenty of ladies of Terrasylvae who didn’t fight. Admittedly, it was a small number, but they still existed. What was it that kept Karinith here when she didn’t want to be?
Fed up with the whole day’s shenanigans, Karinith stopped at the back door of the garrison and yelled, “Haute take your soul!” She slammed the door shut and stomped towards Kane.
“Careful,” Kane said, turning back to the paperwork. “He might be listening.”
“I don’t care.” Karinith took a stool on the opposite side of the desk in a huff, folding into herself.
Kane continued to read through the missives and letters, glancing up at Karinith occasionally. He wouldn’t have to say much. His experiences with women taught him that if you remained in silence long enough, they’d fill it for you. So he waited.
He didn’t have to wait long. “Paperwork going well?” Karinith said, sighing a little as she regarded the stacks of parchment and paper.
“As well as it can.”
It was coming, the thing Karinith needed to talk about. Kane watched her hesitate, glancing around the room, licking her lips, playing with her nails. He got the feeling she worried someone would walk in. If Terrasylvae could make her fall out of a storage room, it could keep people away while they talked.
“Kane, I’m sorry,” Karinith said at last, placing her elbows on the desk and resting her head in her hands. “I’m sorry I’m not a fencer.”
“You don’t have to be one.” Kane pushed the paper aside.
“But I want to be one! It’s just…” She bit her lip.
“It’s just I feel like I’m watching through the windows. Like I’m always on the outside looking in. There’s a part of me that wants to do this, to learn to fight. But I’m not ready. I need to be more.”
“More of what?”
“I don’t know! More of everything! More sure of myself, more practiced in the basics, more skilled.”
Kane wanted to ask who had told her she needed to be more of something to be a part of Terrasylvae, and the Order of the Rose, but she pressed on, the words flowing out of her like spring runoff.
“I know I can’t get better if I don’t practice, but I don’t want to be bad at fencing! I want to be good at it so you’ll be impressed and proud of me! But I’m never going to have what the rest of you have. It’s too late for me.”
“What is it we have that you don’t?”
“All the hours of fighting and training together. You’re more like family. And…and I’m the doorstep baby no one wants to take in.” Karinith looked away, ducking her head, pulling the hood of her cloak up to hide in.
“You and I both know that’s not true.” Kane stared at her until she met his gaze. He wanted her to know how important she was. How her skill with a blade did not reflect her worth as a person. “Terrasylvae chose you as much as it did me. Fencing came after. It’s the people that make Terrasylvae, not the fencers. We may have a closeness, but it’s not an exclusive thing. You can have it too. Maybe the reason you feel like you’re watching from the windows is because you are.”
Karinith looked up, but not at him. She pulled out the stack of missives from Blackoven, along with the reports. Her eyes flicked over the words, reading them with surprising speed. “Kane, what’s going on?”
“It’s just someone who thinks we’re on his ancestral land. We’ll fight him off, don’t worry.” He reached over to pull them out of her hands. But she did not ease her grip.
“No. Kane, if something is going on, I need to know about it. I know I can’t fight, but Terrasylvae is my home and I want to protect it. I…You were there the day bandits attacked my village. Until that day, I didn’t know how useless everything I’d learned was. What good are decorum lessons when bandits don’t play by those rules? That’s why I want to fight. I want to be able to defend myself and the people I love.”
For a moment, he saw it, the fire and passion, the things that would give her a great fencing ability if she just honed it. But as quickly as it came, it left her eyes, and she released the papers. Kane glanced down at the growing stack. How many more would be added to the pile before this was over?
“If you want to learn to fight, there are plenty of people to teach you. But don’t learn unless you’re certain you want to do it.” Kane held up a hand to keep Karinith from protesting. “Don’t pick up the blade out of fear. Learn to fight because it is something you want for yourself. Nothing else matters. You can learn to fence, Karinith. But you have to choose to do it.”
Karinith nodded a few times, letting it all sink in. “Okay, but who is Blackkoven and what does he want?”
“You don’t have to worry about him—”
“Yes. I. Do. If he’s threatening Terrasyvae, I need to know what’s going on. He’s just like Haute. You can’t not warn people about him. So what’s going on?”
He filled her in, watching as her expressions shifted from confused to horrified and a wide span in between. When he finished, Karinith stood, gave a nod as a farewell, and left. This time, she didn’t reappear.
Whatever choice Karinith would make, Kane was certain it would be the right path for her. She might even don a proper bit of armor one day. Yes, even if she couldn’t see it, the walls she’d built got a crack.
And a crack was all it took.
A crack was all it would take for Blackkoven, too.