She swung her sword, slicing into a high arc, her arms shaking as the blade hit her target. Not hard to do, considering it was a dummy. But the amount of frustration—and fear, if she were being honest—coursing through her made her motions jerky, wobbly. She hit the shoulder, slicing through the coarse material with ease, leaving a thin slice into the wool.
She’d been aiming for the chest.
Quaria paused, letting the sword hang loose by her side. Why did she let Maní talk her into this? It was one thing to be the village’s Relic—an immortal who speaks with, and for, the gods to the rest of the tribe. Her role was known, of course, but like every job, it came with its drawbacks. Some treated her differently because she’d seen the gods. Others made assumptions that she believed herself better than the rest of the mere mortals—time made her so, true, but that didn’t mean she walked around flaunting it. Few worshipped her, making her a false idol in their eyes. And more still loathed her for her gift, never understanding the sacrifices attached. Most of those sacrifices were personal, to never be understood by those who didn’t share the same role.
She wiped her sweaty palms against her pants, balancing the sword against her leg.
It was one thing to be a Relic.
It was another thing entirely to add love into that role.
Like everything else, she’d been there, she’d experienced that.
She’d experienced heartbreak, too.
Every possible kind you could.
She had no interest to repeat that emotion, even if loneliness was the trade off.
She swung again, slicing wildly across the dummy’s torso.
Of course, Maní didn’t listen to her. Maní never listened to her. So what did she do, against Quaria’s wishes? Set her up on a date; a blind date, no less. Quaria, being foolish—and refusing to acknowledge the presence of alcohol at the time—had even agreed to go.
She sliced down the thigh, blinking sweat away from her eyes.
Quaria wasn’t sure what was worse: that she’d agreed to go in the first place, letting Maní set everything up. Or that the date had started thirty minutes ago and she’d failed to show up. She could remember the excitement on Maní’s face, which didn’t mask her disbelief at Quaria’s agreement.
She wasn’t looking forward to seeing the disappointment.
Yelling this time, Quaria hacked, and the dummy lost a limb.
“Eh. I’ve seen cleaner.”
Quaria whipped around, her sword pointed directly at the new voice. No one else occupied the training grounds that afternoon. Correction—the training grounds had been swamped when she arrived, two hours earlier. By the time she finished stretching, it was clear.
With her emotions going all over the place and her embarrassing display with the dummy, she was thankful she had that side effect. She hadn’t expected someone to join her, much less interact with her.
Most definitely not insult her.
And though the sword was barely inches from his nose, the newcomer didn’t seemed phased at all.
Quaria lowered it. She didn’t recognize the man, but she wasn’t surprised. She was more the village hermit than Relic, with how she kept to herself. And their village was the largest this side of the coast, a massive trading port. New faces were just as common as the old ones. And it wasn’t like the grounds were off limits to visitors.
She quickly assessed him. Dark hair, cropped short, with a thick beard? He could have been from any of the nearby villages. Paired with his loose pants and tight shirt—not to mention his own training sword wrapped around his waist—he bore no markings to distinguish himself. Rather unremarkable, really. She wasn’t surprised she didn’t recognize his face, if he indeed was one of her tribe.
“I don’t believe I asked for your critique, haska.”
He showed no outwardly response to her labeling him a stranger in their native tongue—but not hers, for that was a language lost to time, alongside so many other things time had robbed from her.
“You could use it, though. Even when your emotions run high, you cannot let that affect your sword arm.” He unsheathed his own weapon. “Do you mind?”
Quaria swallowed her retort. If he was unaware of her status as a Relic, then he had no idea her prowess in battle was unmatched, thanks to an endless amount of time to hone it. Yet she couldn’t deny he was right. It’d been a long time since her emotions were so unbalanced, it affected her performance so obviously.
Instead, she shook her head, gesturing to a dummy over on the opposite side of the grounds. “Please.”
He walked over and crouched to the dummy adjacent to her, raising his weapon. She smirked at his back. He wasn’t going to intimidate her to change locations, even if she obviously wanted to be alone. She moved beside him, raising her weapon as well. The man had already begun his warm ups and she couldn’t help glancing out of her peripherals. He had a grace with the blade she hadn’t seen in…well, a long time, for certain. Warriors of that skill were rare.
She didn’t bother with finesse or trying to impress him, however. She came here to release steam. So she continued to hack and jab and tear, looking absolutely untrained and undisciplined next to his fluid, practiced movements. Minutes passed before both of them paused, Quaria drenched in sweat, dislodged pieces of her dummy scattered around her feet.
The stranger didn’t sweat at all and stared that the broken dummy with obvious amusement.
“May I ask you something?”
She knew he’d ask even without her permission. “Go ahead.”
“What bothers you so much that you lose the skills you’re renowned for?”
She sighed, inwardly. So he did know who she was. Occasionally, it was nice to meet someone who had no idea she was a Relic or of her immortality. Everyone found out eventually, but it was always curious to see how others treated her when they were ignorant. Normally, she wouldn’t answer such a personal question. But she was in a rare form. Might as well humor him with the truth.
“Foolish mistakes and false hopes,” she said.
Just because she decide to tell him the truth, didn’t mean she was going to say it plainly.
He nodded, as if he understood. “I can’t say I blame you. She said you wouldn’t show up, anyhow.”
The stranger sheathed his blade once more.
Quaria calculated quickly, reading between the lines. “Unbelievable. I purposely ditch my blind date and Matí sends him after me. That woman, I swear—”
The man smiled. “I never said it was Matí.”
That got her eyebrow to raise.
“Still, I hope you might change your mind. I’ll be where we said we’d meet for the next hour. I’d like to get to know the woman behind the stories. I’ve always wondered how closely they resemble the truth.”
With that, he turned and began walking away from her, back across the training grounds. She stared after him, dumbfounded. Only Matí knew about her date—her friend might be brave enough to force her to go on one, but she wasn’t foolish enough to tell others about it. Not with how varied the reactions of the rest of the tribe were towards her. So if it wasn’t Matí, who else would have told the man she wasn’t going to show up?
As he reached the stairs and began climbing, she called out, “Who are you?”
Over his shoulder, he responded, “Come find out, sahala.”
Her heart froze.
That was a language she was certain no one else alive knew. She could barely recall the last time someone spoke it. But it couldn’t be true. The rules forbade another—
In her head, she heard Ano’s, the goddess she was closest to, voice. You’re welcome.
Dropping her sword, Quaria ran after him.
About Nicole Evans
Nicole Evans is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. She is currently unpublished and is working fervently to get the “un” removed from that statement. With eight completed drafts in various states of revision under her belt, she has no plans of stopping. And she really can’t wait for you to read these stories.
Considering she has run out of space for putting rejections letters up on her wall, Nicole now uses her spare time doing the typical things that nerds do: blogging, dying repeatedly during video games (which she believes is retribution for the characters’ she’s killed), wishing she was the character she is currently reading about and trying to fight off the real world by living in her own head, with varying degrees of success. Nicole has a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Film and Media Studies, and works as an evening librarian assistant. You can find her personal blog here and her book review blog here. You can read all of her Muses stories here.