Going Back

By Tom Foster

 

March 1998

 

 

 

You shouldn’t be here.  The tiny voice inside her mind would not be silent as a smile crept along her full lips, the gesture a remnant of a time long ago when she’d allowed herself to feel, to enjoy her life.  It was hard to comprehend that such a life had ever ended, that she was so far from what had been so long ago.  Yet she knew it was true, she could not reach out and grasp the memory that had in effect brought her to this place.  It was a fragment of her fantasies, a fading wisp that once glimpsed began to fade, retreating once more into the past where it belonged.

This was not her place, not anymore.  Or perhaps not for the time being at least.  As her lips stretched into another smile the woman couldn’t help but wonder at the workings of fate. Surely it had been fate that had brought her to this place, not dumb luck or some trick of the almighty one.  She’d began to doubt His existence long ago and for good reason, at least in her way of thinking.  Why worship a god whose followers had done their best to send her to His judgment as a bundle of cinders?  That was not the path she chose to tread, no matter how forgiving He might be.

Looking out upon the glass-like surface of the lake that was stretched out before her the woman couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of peace wash over her body.  It always happened when she came to this place, that sensation of calm, as though not a single trouble within the world could intrude upon this serenity.  The small dock she sat upon had been here for a number of years, its age showing in the rotted and slime-coated pilings that still supported the foundation of the structure.  Slender stalks of green and yellow spartina brushed against the underside of the dock, set into their gentle motions by the constant lapping of waves that broke softly upon the shallows beneath and surrounding the dock.

Closing her eyes the woman listened intently to the small sounds that dotted the lakeside.  There were few to be had this time of year, though the gentle smile remained upon her face as she picked out several distinctive voices of the surrounding woods.  Spring was still on its way, arriving just after the silence of winter, breaking softly through the veneer of silence that was so haunting in this part of the world.  The lakeside homes that ringed the area known as Loomis Lake were mostly empty and would remain so until mid-spring to summer.  The renters and owners of the homes often relocated to warmer climates during this time of year, returning only when the weather began to warm up.

The Longbeach Peninsula was not a winter getaway.  If not for the popularity it had come to enjoy as a tourist location it might never have grown to be more than a cluster of old, moldering shops meant to store memories rather than sell them at ridiculous prices.  She’d enjoyed the peninsula a great deal more when it was still a wild place, back in the days when the famed explorers Lewis and Clark had yet to cut their damned trail.

Back then this place had been a haven of sorts, a place that she had been tempted to call home.  The Lady hadn’t let her though.  For the longest time she hadn’t been able to figure out why, especially since they’d seemed to get along so well.  Only later on she had found out the reason.  Its simplicity had shocked her even as the Lady had spoken her peace, stating that in no uncertain terms that this would not be her home until the time was right.  That cryptic statement had confused her, though strangely enough on some level she had understood.  It hadn’t been her home then and it still wasn’t.  At least not yet.

Keeping her eyes closed she could still hear the dull sound of steel as it met wood.   The unsatisfying knock caused her to smile even as memory took hold, leading her gently down the misty hallways that would remain hidden until she desired otherwise.

*                      *                      *

 

Fall 1316

 

 

 

Another strike came before she could even cry out in pain, striking the knuckles of her left hand just hard enough to make them sting.  Again she had no time to protest as she was struck again, this time right on the crown of her head where she knew from experience the sting would not fade anytime soon.  Her assailant was a blur of motion, moving around like a damned hummingbird as Caylin tried desperately just to keep track of her.  Hitting her with the heavy two-handed blade in her hands seemed impossible.  What was worse was the fact that the woman attacking her was using only a stick.

Well, to be a little more accurate she was using a staff, almost like those Caylin had seen used in certain parts of China and even Japan but still different.  For one thing this woman’s staff was far less flexible, though it hurt like hell when she was struck.  Worse than that, Caylin had a sinking feeling that if the woman decided to stop playing around and actually strike her it would more than just sting.  She had an idea that if the woman put even her slight weight into a blow it would prove disastrous.  Caylin was already hurting in too many areas from the damned staff, she didn’t need to hurt any more.

Caylin hadn’t come here to fight, she’d come looking for someone, though it was obvious that this woman was not the one.  She had a way of knowing things about people, though this woman was so far a total blank, an aggressor and little else.  Surprisingly the woman was smaller than Caylin and yet she was so much more ferocious when it came to fighting.  Caylin had only stopped near the lake to rest as she’d been making her way back to the south after finding that this stretch of land ended not far to the north.  She’d been able to see the bay that separated this spit of land from the larger mass it was connected to, though she’d not thought to find a boat that would take her across.  Aside from this she had come to this lake not only to rest, but to hide.

The natives of this land didn’t seem to take well to her for some reason, though perhaps she could guess why.  Her appearance was not like theirs, she was much more fair of skin despite the tanned appearance she now held thanks to a life spent traveling from one land to the next.  Since she’d turned sixteen Caylin had been on the go, never staying in one spot for too long lest the inhabitants discover the secret she tried so hard to hide.  Caylin was not a normal human being, though in truth not even she knew what she was.  For some time she had secretly believed the accusations and insults that had been hurled at her within her small village back in Ireland.  She’d been called a witch, a demons spawn, something unfit to live.  Her mother and father, lord bless them, had tried their best to cope with her abnormalities but in the end they had kept her at a distance as well in order to keep their relative good standing in the village.  She had become their cross to bear, though many times they had told her that she was still their daughter.  Caylin hadn’t believed them, though she had waited until she was old enough and strong enough to leave.

She’d said not a single goodbye, taking only what she needed to survive until she found her own path.  After a bout of plague had wiped out most within her village, she had left and never looked back.  Caylin had made her way within the wider world outside of the island where she’d been born, experiencing things she never would have known had she stayed in her parents’ mud shack back in Ireland.  She had come to know many wonders and make many acquaintances that had been able to look past the odd points of her character as well as the physical strangeness she exhibited.  Caylin had taken to wearing a cloth version of a bolero to hide her features, minus the gaudy feather that she’d seen worn by others.

The overly large hat had served to hide the only physical trait that set her aside from other humans.  Her eyes were a solid black, without iris, pupil or any hint of white within their forms.  This alone had caused the villagers where she’d lived to believe that her parents had made some deal with the devil and had therefore cursed their youngest daughter.  Caylin had been forced to undergo trials, ancient pagan rites that were used to expel the demon in her soul, everything that the village elders could think of to free her from the evil taint that had stolen away her eyes.  What they hadn’t realized was that Caylin was not a demon seed, she was merely a young girl that had been born with a very strange and unknown stigma, one that not a single one of the villagers had ever heard of.

A solid knock against her left elbow brought Caylin back to the present, causing her bones to vibrate briefly as she backed away, feeling the soft mulch beneath her boots as she worked on not slipping.  She had no idea if the woman would be merciful with such a mistake, though she wasn’t about to gamble on it.  As she raised her blade to deflect a swipe towards her head she realized too late that the move was a feint, feeling as the air left her body in the next second as the dark-haired woman poked her hard in the breastbone.  Caylin fell back another step, barely able to breath as she glared openly at the woman.

“You aren’t as strong as I would have believed.  You haven’t come to realize just who you are yet, have you?”  The woman’s voice was just as delicate as she looked, though Caylin knew now that such a look was deceptive.  The aches and pains throughout her body could attest to the woman’s strength.  Her words were strange though, there was a hint of an accent that Caylin could just barely pick up, something she’d not heard before but yet was so achingly familiar.

“Who are ye?”  Caylin managed to croak out, keeping her blade raised as she struggled just to stay upright.  She wasn’t about to quit, though she could feel that a few solid knocks with that staff would put her out in no time.  As she watched though the smaller woman, she couldn’t have been any older than a teenager, set one end of her staff firmly upon the soft ground beneath her, a slow smile coming to her perfectly formed lips as Caylin watched. Amazingly enough the younger woman seemed not to have broken a sweat, though the two of them must have been fighting for quite some time by Caylin’s reckoning.  For all that effort though the girl looked as though she might have been taking a leisurely stroll through the woods.  Her simple garb, a pair of worn brown pants and a ragged tunic, spoke of either piety or poverty, though the girl didn’t look underfed.  It was the appearance of her youth that bothered Caylin most since she didn’t look any older than an adolescent.  Yet she fought not unlike a master, patient and inherently deadly with each strike.

“I’m what you’ve been looking for so long.”  Caylin narrowed her eyes at the young woman, not understanding her words or their vague meaning.  This was not the person she’d been seeking, she could sense that much.  Though at the same time she could sense somehow that the woman did not speak a falsehood.  Caylin was very good at discovering a lie, though this woman was telling the truth, or at least she believed she was.  Caylin grinned slightly as she lowered her blade only a little, not fully trusting the woman or what she said.

“How do ye know what I’m searchin’ for?”  Caylin did not try to dampen her rich accent for the strange woman, figuring that if the lass knew so much she could infer enough for her words without them being repeated.  Far too many people in her travels had asked her to repeat herself thanks to the Irish lilt that was so prevalent in her speech.  She had come from Ireland, there was nothing to be done for how she spoke.

“It is the same thing all our kind search for Caylin.  Most don’t even know they’re looking until they find it.”  Caylin’s eyes widened as she came on guard again, her blade rising as she backed away a step.  She was immediately leery of the woman once more, pressing her lips tightly together as she spoke.

“How d’ye know my name?”  The woman responded with a grin as she stood where she was, one hand holding her staff and the other rising slowly to beckon towards Caylin. For some odd reason she felt like stepping forward, though her natural stubbornness allowed her to resist.  At least that’s what she thought it was.

“Your human side is quite adamant when it comes to trust, isn’t it?  You have nothing to fear from me Caylin Mcullough, on that you can trust.”  Hearing her full name pronounced in such delicate tones did nothing to assuage Caylin’s already mounting suspicions or the brand of anger that had began to burn in her chest.  Who was this woman? How did she know her name?

“Get thee behind me devil.”  Caylin spat the words at the woman, almost snarling as the beatific features of the stranger widened noticeably in surprise for a moment.  The look was soon replaced by a warm smile as the young woman laughed pleasantly, her voice ringing out across the lake as she threw her head back.  Caylin bristled slightly as she thought of attacking, though something held her back, staying her hand as she heard the pleasant tones of the woman’s laughter deep within her heart.  The effect of the laughter was that she felt her anger slowly subsiding, almost extinguishing altogether as she stubbornly refused to drop her blade.

*                      *                      *

 

 

 

 

 

1998

 

 

She hadn’t been the devil, though at the time Taegan, once Caylin Mcullough, had known so little that she’d had no idea just who she had crossed paths with.  The first blow thrown had been hers, though the last that had ended the fight finally had belonged to the Lady, to Aliyana, one of the last true-blooded Shapers in existence.  The Lady had not introduced herself until later, when Taegan had been taken proper care of.  Aliyana had gone so far as to feed and even shelter her for the first night, saying little but making sure that she was well cared for.  Unused to such generosity from strangers, Taegan had remained suspicious of the woman until Aliyana had finally deigned to speak her own name, introducing herself politely as Taegan had remained cautious.

That had all been so long ago, though in her mind it may as well have happened just yesterday.  This area had been nothing back then but wilds, home only to the natives that had later on come to this place in greater numbers.  The Indians that had inhabited the peninsula had stuck mostly to the north, where game and other food sources had always been plentiful.  Back in the time she had met the Lady they had still been few in number, though great enough that she had kept her distance from them once she’d eluded them.  They hadn’t taken kindly to her appearance, nor had they responded well to her black eyes when she had doffed her hat for a moment.

She had been chased throughout the forests of the peninsula for hours until she had finally come to the lake, hiding herself near the still waters in the hopes that her pursuers would pass by her.  She’d heard not a single sound that had indicated she was still being chased, which had unnerved her after a short while.  The dark-skinned natives had given up on her apparently, perhaps thinking that they had done well in chasing her away.  It was then that she had attempted to leave, stopping only when she had seen the dark-haired beauty standing in her path.

Taegan grinned as she remembered thinking how odd it was to see such a young lass out here all on her own.  She had at first thought to ask where the lass was from, though the Lady had simply smiled, offering nothing as Taegan had quickly changed her mind, thinking the girl to be a dullard of some sort.  It was not uncommon for even beautiful folk to be dull of mind, she had been thought to be so more than once when she had not deigned to speak to men who wished her more amorous company.  Of course, when the men had found out just how feisty she really was Taegan had been treated far differently, at least until she had shown just how unwilling she was to share her company.  Her blade had made many a philosophical point for her in the past.

When she had attempted to go on her way the girl had continued to stand in front of her, that strange white staff held to her side as though it carried an importance that Taegan couldn’t fathom.  Each time she had tried to move past the Lady thought she had been blocked.  It had been when she had tried to push the woman out of her way that she had been soundly struck in the chest.  To be fair she had tried to bull her way past the Lady as rudely as possible, but it had gotten her nowhere of course.  The strength of the girl to push her back had been amazing, she’d thrust Taegan nearly three strides back as she’d struggled to keep her balance.

Raising her face into a gentle breeze that wafted across the lake Taegan allowed herself to dive once more into the wellspring of memories this place brought back to her, inhaling the sweet scents brought forth by the wind’s passage through the boughs and branches of the plant life that ringed the small body of water.  Time seemed to roll back in that moment as she enjoyed the scents of the forest, feeling an ache for home she’d not known in some time.

*                      *                      *

 

1316

 

 

 

Six months passed as the seasons turned gently from spring to summer to early fall, the surrounding lands swapping one set of colors for the next as they progressed along with the shifting of the world.  Caylin had never in her life endured such harsh training as she had at the hands of the Lady, finding that no matter how toned she was, no matter how far she could run or how limber she was, her conditioning had been far behind Aliyana’s.  The woman was capable of feats she’d only ever dreamt of, amazing bouts of strength and stamina that Caylin still couldn’t quite match.  Whether it was a sparring match or a run along the beach, Caylin found herself hard pressed to even keep up with Aliyana.

She’d come to view the woman as a benefactor but little else, she still hadn’t learned much from the woman aside from the fact that she was not a normal human as she had once thought.  Caylin had staunchly denied this of course, claiming that her eyes were a birth defect of some sort, one that she had no control over.  Aliyana had laughed at this, though the sound had been anything but mocking.  Something about this woman had kept Taegan from leaving, some quality that the strange woman possessed that she could not define.  She was normally so good at reading people, but Aliyana, for all her friendly smiles, was almost impossible to figure out.

“You are distracted far too easily, even after so many months have passed.”  Taegan hissed in pain as Aliyana’s staff cracked against her knuckles, forcing her to step back with a follow up swing that came just barely clipped her right shoulder.  Caylin moved away quickly as she swung her blade to intercept a blow that was aimed at her midsection, reversing her grip as she saw the feint coming this time, shifting her weight to her left leg as she dropped down just a bit, raising the edge of her blade to catch the true blow, the one that Aliyana aimed at her head.

The staff rebounded from her blade without a nick to show for the effort, a quality that Caylin still did not understand to this day. No piece of wood, no matter how tough, should have been able to stand up to the hits that the staff had taken from her blade over the past several months.  The stout piece of wood was marked, though the runes that were inscribed along its length were unknown to her.  Not a single chip had been taken from its length no matter how hard she had hit it, showing not a single bit of effort that she had taken to defeat the Lady.

“Good, you are learning.”  Caylin almost smiled as she quickly checked herself, not wanting to give the woman the satisfaction of seeing her pleasure.  She still didn’t fully trust the woman after all this time, no matter how much she had taught her.  Caylin’s mistrust of anyone had often ostracized her from many a gathering, no matter if she was a guard for a caravan or if she were part of a sailing crew as she had been in the past.  She knew how to be companionable, though often she kept to herself out of habit, not willing to let anyone inside her guard too far.  Few people had ever opened her enough to see past the stony façade that she affected towards the world in general.

As she defended against several more swift and lethal blows Caylin felt a bead of sweat running down her forehead, trickling close to her right eye as she felt the lid twitch just a bit.  She didn’t want to reach up to wipe it away, though she could tell that it would not stop until it reached the delicate tissue of her eye, offering a distraction that she could ill afford.  The Lady smiled as Caylin trembled just slightly enough to be noticed, her blade still moving to intercept each blow as she just barely managed to defend herself again and again.

Aliyana surprised her in the next second by stepping away quickly, settling her staff in the crook of her right arm as she held her left palm towards Caylin.  She knew what this meant by now, though as always the Lady had strange timing when it came to halting the sparring session.  Caylin still couldn’t believe that the woman did not sweat during such matches, nor did she seem even a slight bit winded.  Planting her blade point first into the sand she leaned over, placing her hands upon her knees as she sucked wind for a moment, realizing quickly that she had been far closer to fatigue than she’d realized.

“You’ve come quite a ways in six months young lady.  Perhaps it is now time to finally give you the answers you’ve been seeking.”  Caylin couldn’t help but look up, the sweat stinging her eyes as she quickly wiped them clear, hissing as she discovered her hand was partially covered in sand.  Shaking her head she used the relatively clean palm of her left hand to wipe the sweat and grit away, blowing out a long breath as she straightened up.

“And how would ye know the answers I’m seekin’?  Ye’ve done little more than run me up and down this spit o’ land fer the last six months now!”  There was frustration in her voice as she wisely left her blade in the sand. She’d learned in the first two months the folly of attacking the Lady in anger.  It had taken her days to heal properly after the thrashings that Aliyana had given her.

“You’ve been free to leave at any time Caylin.  Yet you’ve stayed.”  Caylin had no ready answer for this, though truth of it caused her cheeks to flush a bright red as he turned to her right, facing the ocean instead of the Lady.  The cool winds that blew constantly along the beachfront eased the burning in her cheeks just a bit, though not enough.

“So what is it ye have t’tell me?”  She turned her gaze towards the Lady just enough to see as Aliyana smiled, motioning for Caylin to follow her.  Frowning in confusion Caylin grabbed her blade, shaking it free of the clinging sand particles as she walked after Aliyana.

The Lady took a seat upon one of the massive pieces of sea-scoured wood that had washed up upon the beach not long ago.  Its root system had been torn apart during its underwater travels, leaving only jagged ends that were still connected to the smooth, gray trunk.  The trunk was perfect for sitting upon, as though the ocean had smoothed the large hunk of wood for just such a purpose.  Seating herself upon the bench-like space of the trunk Aliyana patted the spot next to her, still smiling warmly at Caylin.  She almost bristled, thinking that the Lady meant to treat her as a child, though at that moment Caylin wisely reigned in her sharp tongue and quick temper.  The Lady had said she was going to give her answers, she didn’t want to ruin that chance.

Settling herself beside the smaller woman Caylin still couldn’t help but find that Aliyana was almost possible to read.  She offered nothing and yet she hid nothing either.  Caylin could sense that as much mystery as there was to the woman she was as open as an old book.  It was a mystery she would have loved to discover an answer to, though something had thus far warned her away from such a perilous expedition.

“You were born in Ireland, correct?”  Caylin knew that the woman might be able to deduce such a thing from her accent alone, though of course this would only be possible if Aliyana was at least half as traveled as she was.  Caylin decided to give her the benefit of the doubt this time.

“Aye, in the south o’ Munster.  I’ve not been back in many years though.”

“May I ask why not?”  Caylin thought over her response to this question for a moment, wondering just what she should reveal.  In the end she decided the truth might be best.

“I wasn’t accepted there, on account o’ me eyes an’ somethin’ else.”

“What was that?”  Damn and lords if this woman wasn’t nosy!

“The village had an outbreak o’ plague when I was just a wee one.  It killed off nearly every child and several o’ the elders, though I was left alone.  The disease didn’t even touch me.”  Aliyana nodded her head in response, as though she could understand just what Caylin was speaking of.  That was rubbish of course, no one aside from those within the village would have ever understood the horror of watching those around them die.  The plague that had hit her village had been terrible, they’d been forced to burn the bodies so that it wouldn’t spread.  The black spots that had claimed the lives of so many had not once appeared upon her flesh, though even her parents had been afflicted for a time.

“Ye can imagine that seein’ I wasn’t affected didn’t settle well on top o’ the appearance o’ my eyes.”  Caylin pointed to her black orbs as she spoke, feeling a familiar clenching within her chest as she expounded upon her past.  She’d only ever spoken to a few people in her life about this, though Aliyana seemed to pay strict attention as she continued.

“After that my parents looked at me like the rest o’ the village did, like an outsider, a freak o’ nature as some put it.”  Aliyana’s smile widened just a bit as she reached over to pat Caylin’s right knee tenderly before moving away again. She didn’t feel the need to push the woman’s hand away, though a part of her still tensed as she felt the delicate touch.

“You’re no freak Caylin.  You can trust in that.”

“Yeah, well I ain’t a normal person either.  Other people have normal eyes, not like mine.”  She turned towards Aliyana then, glaring pointedly at the woman’s dark brown eyes as she twisted her lips slightly to make her point.  Aliyana merely chuckled as she closed her eyes, lowering her chin before she opened them again, looking to Caylin once more.  What she saw forced her to jump slightly as Aliyana’s smile didn’t wane a single bit.

“You, you’re-“

“Just like you Caylin, in a way at least.  Would you like to hear of what I am?  Of what you are?”  Caylin could not respond for the moment, feeling oddly breathless as she found that she couldn’t take her eyes from Aliyana at that second.  The woman’s eyes had gone from the lovely shade of brown she’d seen at first to the same blank field of black that she’d seen in her own reflection for so many years.

“You are not a freak Caylin, you are a descendant of a race that has not existed in great numbers upon this world for many millennia now.  Our race were known as Shapers, masters of the world in a sense that we could control the very elements with but a thought.  Ours was the first race upon this world, before the immortals, the titans, the gods themselves.  Even the angels came after us, products of our benefactor, the Creator.”

“Ye, ye mean we’re, I mean you’re, immortal?”

“In a sense yes.  I can still be killed as any being of flesh and blood may be, though time has no hold upon me, as it does not upon you.  Have you not wondered why you still appear youthful, when all your years heaped upon another would bow their back with age, or line their face with wrinkles and loose skin?”  Of course Caylin had wondered that, in fact she had kept on the move for that same reason more than once, traveling from place to place lest anyone get too attached to her.  She did not age as others did, though she could not understand why.  She had been born in the year of our lord 1248, well over sixty years ago.  By anyone’s reckoning she should have been an old crone by now, though she was as fit and supple as she’d been when she had first left her village.  She didn’t even have lines around her eyes or mouth to show the passage of her years.

“So I’m an immortal?” Aliyana smiled again as she patted her knee once more.

“You are a half-breed, one who is half-human and half-Shaper.  It is a rare thing to be really, since our people have all but vanished from the face of this world.  Yet you are a wonder as well, someone who is a part of both our world and that of the humans.  You are a miracle of sorts Caylin, one who can threaten the balance or aid it.  Not many like you have ever been born.  There have been half-breeds in the past who have found themselves subjected to tortures of the worst sort for who they were.  Human kind cannot suffer an immortal to live it seems, they tend to despise anything that is different than themselves. Yet they offer fealty to beings such as angels and even at times demons, vying for power from a being they would otherwise spurn.  It is a hypocrisy I have witnessed far too often.”  Caylin shook her head briskly. This was all too much, too soon for her to accept at once.  Aliyana offered her a slightly pained look then, as though realizing the storm she had just unleashed within Caylin’s mind.

“I realize this is a great deal to take in now Caylin, though you must be made to learn this part of your heritage.  The human aspect will become known to you soon enough.  What I am here to teach you though is of your other half, that of the Shapers.”  Caylin turned her gaze over to Aliyana then, letting out a long breath as she then spoke.

“How long would that be takin’ do ye think?”  Aliyana’s only response was a wide smile as Caylin could swear that she saw a twinkle in the woman’s dark eyes.

*                      *                      *

 

1998

 

 

 

It had taken a little over two years for Taegan to finally learn of her unknown heritage, during which she had learned a great deal more of how to fight, how to survive and how to utilize the power that lay within her being.  According to Aliyana, the power to shape and mold the world around them had been genetically fixed into the mind and soul of each Shaper ever born.  They were masters of the world in the sense that they could control nearly every aspect of the elements that surrounded them.  A Shaper could build mountains or destroy them, cause a river to flow or to halt its forward motion.  They could shift entire continents if gathered into groups, though there was only one force upon the world that even their gathered numbers could not hope to overcome.  The vast oceans that covered so much of the world would not bend to a Shaper or any other save for the Creator as Aliyana had told her.  Taegan had no trouble understanding how something so vast and unknown could be beyond any living being to affect.  Strangely enough though humans had affected the world’s oceans and seas quite readily, poisoning them slowly, methodically and even worse, unknowingly.

The world had changed a great deal since she had last seen her mentor, though not always for the better.  She could believe at times that back in those days everything had been far better than it was now, far more clean, more unsullied.  Taegan knew that hopes for the world’s health had not waned to the point of no return, though humanity had done a rather poor job of taking care of the precious jewel they had been given so long ago.  Not a one of them seemed to truly realize how delicate their world was, not even those who advocated programs, rallies and other such inane drivel to increase global awareness.  They did what they thought was their part, though in reality they did very little.

As a half-breed Aliyana had told Taegan that the power so prevalent in the Shaper race had not been as strong within her as it would have been in a pureblood.  This was not an impediment however since Aliyana had explained to her that the loss of such awesome power was really not a loss at all, but a boon.  Taegan would never have to know the terrible responsibility of the balance, of keeping to a practice that had been ancient when the race of mankind had still been young.  Taegan possessed power, it flowed within her veins just as it did Aliyana’s, though instead of being able to affect the elements around her, Taegan could alter her body instead, shaping herself as was needed to conform to what she desired.

Very rarely had she ever used this amazing ability, though it had come in handy a few times in the past.  Taegan smiled as she could remember a few moments in the past when it had been the only thing that had saved her skin.  She had learned a great deal from Aliyana, though at the end she had felt as though she still had much to explore.  Gazing towards the center of the lake she couldn’t help but think that for all she had been through, all she had experienced, there were still, as always, new things to discover.  It was a lesson of her mentor, one of the most important.  No one, not even an immortal, will ever know everything.  Life will always move forward, it will always present new challenges and wonders to be enjoyed or met.  Nothing ever stays the same indefinitely.

*                      *                      *

 

1316

 

 

 

Two years passed, time in which Caylin learned a great deal of her heritage and even more about how to fight and survive.  Aliyana was a veritable wellspring of knowledge as well as power, her wisdom such that Caylin could no longer help but bend her will to this enigmatic woman.  She had come to care about Aliyana enough to call her a friend as well as her mentor, though still a part of her remained guarded.  Her outlook towards the woman had changed greatly in the last two years, enough that she could smile back when Aliyana offered up a warm grin.  She was no longer the stone-faced lass she’d been when she had first come to this place.

Seated upon the same piece of driftwood where Aliyana had first told her of her heritage, Caylin looked out upon the rolling waves, deep in thought.  She’d come to this spot many times, enjoying the wide vista that was spread out in front of her. There was a spirit to the ocean that she couldn’t bring herself to describe, a force that was as indefinable as it was majestic.  She knew of its power, it was a treacherous mistress that would take to its depths all those who were unwary of its danger, no matter their beliefs or loyalties.  The sea would always have its due.

“Thinking of home?”  Caylin smiled at the light ribbing from her mentor as Aliyana walked around from behind the stump, her staff, as always, held at her side as she smiled up at her student.

“I feel as though I am home.”  Caylin responded, earning another smile from Aliyana as she beckoned for her student to stand.

“That will be true someday my student, though not now.” Caylin couldn’t help but frown as she hefted her blade, she never went anywhere without it, standing upon her feet in front of her mentor.

“What do you mean?”  Aliyana cast her gaze out towards the ocean, closing her eyes as a gust of wind blew her long black locks back, caressing her frame as she grinned.

“Look at the waves Caylin.  Do you see?”  Caylin looked out to the breaking surf, to the waves that had yet to break and beyond.  She shook her head as she failed to see her mentor’s meaning.  “They each roll ever onward towards the shore, seeking a home.”

“But they crash on the beach, they find their home.”  Caylin could understand at least a little of what Aliyana was saying, though at the moment she did not like the direction the conversation was going.

“Indeed, they crash upon the shore.  Though if you look closely they are pulled out, leaving only a remnant of themselves before they venture towards yet another shore.  Each wave has seen many homes in their time Caylin, they have left many pieces of themselves upon far, distant lands.”

“I don’t understand.  You want me to leave?”  Aliyana turned towards her, the smile upon her face pained as she looked serenely at her student.

“I do not my friend, though it is necessary.  You can grow upon these shores no longer, you must make your way into the world once more.  I can show you no more, you must discover what it is that calls to you now in this time.  You have found what you sought here.”

“But this is home.  I’ve seen the outside world.  I’ve done so much.  Why can I not stay here?”  Caylin felt a welling within her heart that she tried to tamp down immediately, though it would not be stayed.  Aliyana merely shook her head, closing her eyes briefly before looking to her student once more.

“This will be home for you my student, in time.  But for now you must depart.  I came to bid you farewell, for I must leave as well.”  Caylin shook her head lightly, not wanting this to be real.  She couldn’t just be leaving!

“But, but I’ve so much more to learn.”  Aliyana smiled gently as she reached out to clasp her student’s shoulder.

“Yes you do my student, and I’m sure that when next we meet you will be much wiser and much more learned.  For now though our ways must part.  I will miss you greatly Caylin, though this must be done.”  With that said Aliyana began to walk away towards the south without another word.  Caylin thought to call after her, to demand a straight answer for what she could not understand, though at that moment she somehow knew that Aliyana spoke a truth that was went beyond words.  She could no longer remain here, she would have to go back into the world.  It was time to move once more.

*                      *                      *

 

1998

 

 

Leaving had been hard upon Taegan, though looking back upon such a time she couldn’t help but realize as she had many years ago that Aliyana had been right.  There had been no more growth to be had upon the peninsula, it had been time to move on.  She’d packed her few belongings, namely her sword and a few meager rations that had sustained her for the first part of her journey, before making her way south, along a different route than her mentor.  She had never seen Aliyana again, though for some reason she felt stronger for this, as though the absence of her mentor was a boon that had made her that much stronger, that much more reliant upon herself.

In the last several hundred years Taegan had experienced life in much the same way she had done since leaving her village, doing what seemed right to her, surviving when necessary and walking lands that she’d only heard rumors of in taverns.  Never once had she settled down, always keeping herself moving across country and even open water, earning her keep doing a number of odd jobs that kept her on the fringes of civilization.

A small gust of wind blew across the water once more, touching her gently as she smiled again, sensing a presence within the woods that she’d not felt in too long.  Taegan would not seek the figure out, she knew better. She knew that she wasn’t even supposed to be here now.  It would take time, but eventually she knew this would be home, the haven she had always desired so badly.  It had changed a great deal since she had last been here, though it was still essentially the same land, the same home she had left so long ago.  Somehow Taegan knew that when it came time, going back to the past she had enjoyed so thoroughly would be a venue that was finally opened to her, a path she would gladly walk upon, one that she would feel was so richly deserved.

“Thank you teacher, ye opened my eyes long ago and I’ve not forgotten.  I’ll be comin’ around again, though not yet.”  Taegan offered another grin to the surrounding woods, bowing her chin in respect to the figure she knew was watching.  Their paths would hopefully cross once more, though if not, she had been grateful for the short time  she had been allowed to spend with the woman.  Rising slowly to her feet Taegan kissed the pads of her fingers before placing them softly upon the dock.  The small ritual was something she’d learned abroad and it seemed rather fitting.  Turning to go she kept the smile upon her face, never once letting it slacken as she could feel the light pressure upon her mind as the unseen figure reached out to her in farewell.

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