Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: The Stormlords part 15

            Rowen had his new room set up quickly, despite the fact that Elise came in partway through and watched as he unpacked. She stayed quiet up until he pushed the last drawer of his new dresser shut. 

            “Are you all done?” Elise finally piped up, taking one step further into the room. He nodded, but she didn't seem to notice. “I like it. You didn't leave anything out of anything. It's really neat.” 

            He shrugged and watched as she circled the room once. “Can I show Volkes and Sharon the room when they get back?” 

            What an odd request. Rowen nodded anyway. 

            “Cool. So, do you know what your powers are yet?” Elise leaned against the wall by the door. When he shook his head, she smiled. 

            “Neither do I. I just started being able to sense things, but I can't summon storms yet. I've been training since I was eight, though, which is later than some.” 

            Rowen put a kind smile on his face. He hoped she kept talking. 

            “So, uh, how far southwest...Er, did your town border the desert?” she asked. 

            Rowen blinked. His town had been in the desert, but he didn't know to say that. He gave a half nod. 

            “Ooh, here, come downstairs! I know how to figure it out.” She raced off down the hall, and Rowen followed. 

            Bookcases ringed the cozy living room, and a wooden table stretched across the room. Rowen sat down on a couch that sank underneath his weight, the cushions plush and soft. 

Elise grabbed a book off the shelf and plopped it down, making the uneven table wobble. “Here!” She pointed to a picture in the book, and Rowen leaned in to see. It was very detailed, and for a moment Rowen wasn't concerned at all with what it actually showed, only that it was beautiful. He had never seen detailed drawings like this before. The paper was yellowed with age, but the drawing—of blocks of land, some lush green, other yellow, some white, and the blue of ocean all around it—fascinated him. 

            “Where on the map are you from?” Elise asked. 

            Rowen frowned. He had no idea. All he had ever seen was his village, the island with Kristoff, and now this place...He shrugged helplessly. 

            “Ok, look here.” She pointed to a spot on the map near the middle of the blue. “That's us.” It was a tiny green speck, between three enormous landmasses, two of which were connected by a strip of land that ran beneath the speck. 

            “Down there is the southwestern region. It's really mysterious, no one knows much about it. People assumed it was all desert, although some northerners from the tribes sometimes claim to have traveled down there and found people. People from Linland never go, though.” All the detail made Rowen's head swim. He wished he knew more about the world. Maybe this was too much for him. 

            The door banging open made Elise jump, and Rowen look up from the map. And then his heart skipped a beat or two, and his body went cold. 

            The tall blond boy striding through the door looked almost exactly like Lucas. 

            “Who's home?” the blonde called out roughly, his deep voice carrying through the house. 

            “In here, Volkes!” Elise called and waved. Rowen's heart beat faster. He tried to tell himself it was only the resemblance to his dead friend that did it, not instant attraction. The two were too closely entwined. His mind blanked as Volkes approached, and he just stared. There were differences between the two.Volkes' eyes were much lighter, almost gray, while Lucas's had been sky blue. Volkes was taller, his face more angular, and less muscled than the blacksmith's apprentice had been, more taut. Almost more attractive, and Rowen swallowed hard.

            “This is Rowen,” Elise began, oblivious to his discomfiture. “He's a new student.”

            “What's with all the bandages?” Volkes tilted his head, a smirk on his face. He had a familiar accent that Rowen couldn't quite place. 

            “Um...” Elise bit her lip, and Rowen tried to think. Kristoff hadn't mentioned his injuries, and Elise hadn't asked. 

            Rowen tilted his head up and patted his throat, trying to make Volkes understand. Elise jumped in. “He can't speak, so I don't know what happened. It doesn't still hurt, does it?” She turned worried eyes on him. 

            “You can't talk?” The blond raised his eyebrows, incredulous. “Why not? Your throat looks fine to me.”

            His words gave Rowen pause. He couldn't explain, even if he had been somehow able to. He felt a familiar wash of blankness come over him, of a dark need to escape. 

            “He'll learn to write soon, and then he can tell us, right?” Elise turned hopeful eyes to him. Rowen managed to shrug. 

            “You can't write, either?” Volkes crowed. “Where are you from?!” 

            His words cut, more so because of his appearance and Rowen's quickly dawning realization at how far behind he was here. But wasn't that part of the reason he had decided to come? All the work ahead of him would help him to carve out his new life, erasing his old. He met Volke's cocky glare with one of his own, and was rewarded with a careful smile that edged on a sneer. The blond sat down next to him on the couch, peering at the map.

             “I'm from up here—the Kituan tribe.” Volkes pointed to the top of the map, where the colors bled from green to white. “Our tribe used to skirmish with the Pearlens all the time.” He gave a wolfish smile, as though remembering the taste of a particularly delicious food. 

            “Point on the map to where you're from.” Volkes turned gray eyes on him, demanding.

            Rowen finally placed his accent. “Where I come from, we give up the people who do not deserve resources.” He stared at Volkes, not really seeing him, but seeing the faces of the villagers as they stripped him and tied him up.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: The Stormlords part 14

            The sky was darkening as Kristoff left. The walk to his old mentor's was not far. Storm Lord residences were clustered in one quarter, for easy access if someone was needed for a quick assignment. Kristoff realized he probably should have told Rowen where he lived, in case the boy needed something. Another worry about his role as a mentor that only made him more eager to talk to Talia. 

            Her husband answered his knock, and gave him a guarded smile. Kristoff had always sensed an undercurrent of animosity from the other man, probably owing to the fact that Talia had spent more time training him than married to Ben. 

            “Looking for my wife?” he asked. 

            “Yes sir.” Ben wasn’t a storm lord, instead carrying in shipments of resources gleaned from nearby, uninhabited islands. But he was still Talia's husband and older than Kristoff, so the Storm Lord saw every reason to give him respect. 

            “Oh, Kristoff!” Talia came up behind her husband, and smiled brightly. “What brings you here?” 

            “I...I was hoping I could talk to you. I have questions about, well, mentoring. I found a student.” 

            “That's wonderful.” Kristoff could see her thinking hard about the possibilities for his visit. “Why don't you come in and we can talk about it. Ben, put on some tea, won't you?” 

            Her husband vanished, and soon enough the two were seated in her living room, the evening light shining pink through the glass window. Kristoff looked around the room, noting all the familiar things from his childhood—the blown glass sculptures, the paintings. 

            “You're nervous,” Talia finally began, smiling. Kristoff looked down with a sigh. She knew him too well.

            “I never expected this. I should have, but not this early. I mean, some people haven't even completed their training at my age, and now I have a student.” 

            “Tell me about them,” Talia said. “What's he or she like? I'm going to assume you've already taken care of the necessities-where they're staying, all that?” 

            “Yes...His name is Rowen.” Kristoff explained all he knew, and wished to know, about his new protege. Talia kept her expression neutral throughout the tale, even as Ben brought them their tea. 

            “I just don't know if I chose correctly. I had the option to let him stay with me, right? Should I have? That's what you did.” 

            “You were three,” Talia pointed out. “You could barely talk and were summoning rainstorms. I had to watch you. Rowen is much older, probably desires independence despite his handicap, and it sounds like his powers have barely begun to manifest.” 

            “I guess so...but...” It was strange to think of himself that young. He didn't remember his family, or anything about his early childhood, save for a few images of a window and white curtains. The only thing he knew was that he came from Pearlen, a militaristic country flanked by the northern tribes and the coastal Linlanders. 

            “But?” Talia pressed. “Is there something that makes you think he can't function on his own?” 

            “It's just all that I don't know,” Kristoff exclaimed. “There are all these things...shouldn't his miss his parents? His hometown? Shouldn't he care? He's too...” He was going to say quiet, but wisely changed his mind. “Too calm. It's like he doesn't feel anything. When I told him about the choice he would have to make, he didn't even think about it before agreeing.”

            “You did mention he was left to die. Obviously he has nothing to go back to.” 

            “And that should matter too! How could he feel nothing about that?” 

            “What assumptions are you making, Kristoff?” Talia raised a dark eyebrow. “It sounds to me like he had a very bad time of it in his old home. It's possible that he was selected as a sacrifice, similar to what the northerners do.” 

            “But even so...why isn't he upset?” 

            “Would you like him to be?” 

            “I just want him to act...I want him to do something I understand.” Kristoff shook his head. “I just get this feeling that he's hiding something important.” 

            “If that's the case, the best you can do is encourage him to...” She paused. “Open up. Perhaps it is his handicap that makes him feel as though there's no point in expressing himself. Focus on teaching him to write, and then ask him.” 

            “I know.” When she said it, it sounded so simple. “I guess I you think he'll be okay, with the others his age?” 

            “What are you afraid will happen? I know little of the others, though I've heard that Volkes used to be a handful when he was younger.” 

            “I don't know.” Kristoff thought back to his own time as a trainee. He had shared a home with two others, both young men. He had developed a lust for both of them, and finding out that it was not reciprocated hurt. Kristoff had thrown himself into his training, seeking to get away from that house and the two other boys who avoided him once they found out about his inclinations. While Rowen probably wouldn't have that particular problem, he would have something similar.

            He was worried about the loneliness that might accompany being the new, untrained, uneducated peer. Rowen would throw himself into his work too, by necessity, and isolate himself. It would be worse if he couldn't speak. He didn't want that for him. Despite everything, he thought Rowen was a good person. 

            “I guess I'm just afraid he won't be happy,” Kristoff said finally. 

            “That's an honorable feeling,” Talia said with a sad smile. “But there's only so much you can do. If it does turn out that this boy had a bad start, some sort of upsetting past...” She shrugged. “Time will erase it, not you.” 

            Kristoff felt himself nod, but inside, he didn't agree. Tomorrow when he met with Rowen and began his lessons, he would pay special attention. 

            He knew something was wrong, and he wanted to know what.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: StormLords part 13

“This is it. Your home for the next few years. Nice, isn't it?”

            Rowen wondered if Kristoff really believed that. He certaintly didn't sound very convinced. But to Rowen, the wooden house nestled against a rock face and surrounded by trees looked like heaven. The place was enormous, spanning two entire floors, something he had never seen before. The roof was steeply sloped, as well, lending the house an air of sophistication. People here didn't need to drink the water collected on their flat roofs, it seemed. Combined with all of the belongings and fancy clothes Rowen had been given—hand me downs and other extras kept for occurrences like his, Kristoff had explained—Rowen felt rich.

            “Shall we go in?” Kristoff asked, and headed toward the door. He looked to Rowen and back before knocking, the sound brisk in the silent forest air.

            A very short girl answered, tilting her head in confusion upon seeing Kristoff. “Yes?”

            “Elise, you have a 4th housemate,” he announced, standing tall as though he were the chief of Rowen’s old village. “This is Rowen.” Rowen waved. “He is 18 and will be beginning his studies soon.”

            “Oh!” Elise smiled brightly, turning to Rowen. “It's so nice to meet you!”

            Rowen inclined his head a little in greeting. He knew why Kristoff had to be present for this, and he didn't know whether to feel hurt or grateful.

            “He is incapable of speech, unfortunately.” Kristoff sounded clipped, businesslike. “He will be learning to read and write shortly so that he can communicate, but for now I thought it best if you could show him around the house. Just until he gets used to things, of course.”

            Kristoff's change in tone baffled Rowen until he realized that this Elise was a student, like him. Kristoff was a Storm Lord, despite his youthfulness, and he outranked the girl. He didn't have to be nervous around her.

            “That's fine!” Elise's eyes shone. “He can take an empty room, and I can introduce him to Volkes and Sharon when they get back. C'mon inside, Rowen!”

            The girl's exuberance was infectious, her lack of any real reaction to his handicap bolstering his confidence, and Rowen hoisted his bags and stepped into the threshold. The ceiling towered above him, and a staircase wound around and up from the entrance.

 “The bedrooms are up there,” Elise said, following his gaze. “Let's drop your stuff off first.”

            Rowen's room was down a long hall, and Elise pointed out her as well as Volke's and Sharon's rooms as they passed. There were other empty rooms as well, and Rowen wondered why so many were uninhabited. Those thoughts vanished when he finally made it to his room.

            The room had a dresser and a writing desk, with ink and real paper. There was a bed, a bed with an actual feather mattress, like the elderly earned after years of supporting the village. The pillow was stuffed with feathers too. Rowen spent some time holding it up, fluffing it in his hands in wonder.

            “Where are you from, Rowen?” Elise's voice brought him back to reality, and he realized that here such things were probably commonplace. His ears burned in embarrassment.

            Kristoff answered for him. “A small village in the southwest.”

            “Wow, you're the first from that area I've heard of.” Rowen got the sense that while energetic and probably kind, Elise was not one to withhold her thoughts.

            That was illustrated further as she showed him the rest of the house, her chatter filling up the silence. She shared things about her housemates with Rowen and Kristoff that the new trainee wasn't sure they would appreciate being shared, like the fact that Sharon slept mostly naked or that Volkes hid alcohol in his room. After touring the home, though, Rowen decided he liked the girl. He had never had a chance to talk much with anyone after what had happened, and he appreciated that she apparently did not find his necessitated silence awkward.

            Finally they returned to the room, and Elise left them while she went to study for some exam. Kristoff smiled as she left, sighing audibly. “She was always...enthusiastic.”

            Rowen smiled and nodded. Kristoff cleared his throat, some of his nervousness apparently returning.

            “So...are you content here, Rowen? I know it's a lot for you to take in...Things here are probably very different from what you're used to-” Rowen glanced to the bed and back, hoping Kristoff understood- “But I'm here to help. If you have any problems with anything, let me know.”

            Rowen nodded once.

 “Good. Now, I'm going to leave you here until tomorrow morning, when I'll escort you to the school for your first lessons. Elise will take good care of you, I'm sure.” Rowen smiled at that. “Are you alright with being left alone? You're in no pain from the burns? You'll remember to take the medicine the doctors left with you?”

            Rowen raised an eyebrow. He didn't think Kristoff thought him stupid, but his new mentor seemed uncertain about leaving him alone. He nodded, mouthing as clearly as he could, “I'll be fine.” He wasn't at all annoyed, though. Kristoff's concern warmed him, in a way. But he also did not want, at all, to feel like Kristoff was a parent to him, to have him the man worry. Rowen wanted to forget his past, as best he could. Leave it buried.

            “Alright. I will see you tomorrow.” Rowen waved, giving him a small smile as he left, before turning back and beginning to unpack his belongings.

 Rowen was a bit anxious about it all, he had to admit, but more than that he looked forward to losing himself in meaningful work.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: Storm Lords part 12

By the time Kristoff came back inside the infirmary, flanked by the doctor and an older woman, Rowen had shoved his feelings back down, not thinking of his parents and his old village. He forced a smile on his face when he saw Kristoff, and it became easier to do when the attractive man smiled back.

            “Lorence says you're doing better,” Kristoff spoke up. “Are you—”

The woman with him stepped forward, speaking over whatever Kristoff had been about to say. “I know you can't speak, but you are fully capable of understanding your future task, aren't you?” she said.

 Rowen raised his eyebrows, and nodded hurriedly. Whoever this was, he didn’t want to anger her.

            “I am named Lorana, and I am the governor of this island and the final authority on the training of future Storm Lords.” She spoke quickly, and Rowen was hard pressed to keep up with her words. “Currently you are potential number twenty-three. Your quarters will be in the southern complex within the forest, shared with three others near your age who have not yet completed their training.” Kristoff frowned at that, but said nothing, even when Rowen looked to him. “Your first lessons will consist of learning to read and write, and your teacher will be Marcus Karrul, who typically instructs the younger students. Kristoff will mentor you and instruct you on the planet's geography, and you will see him about any problems you encounter with anything about your life here. Did you understand all that?”

            Rowen paused, blinking, and then nodded. Even if he hadn't, he felt sure Kristoff would remind him of anything he had missed. At least, he hoped.

            “I understand that your background is a little...strange. Once you are better able to communicate we can perhaps discuss it, but for now I anticipate no trouble from you.” She phrased the last with more force than Rowen thought necessary, and he winced inwardly. Had he done something wrong already? Violated some unspoken rule? Things here were so different from the village, where he had known his standing and his role, as low as they were.

            “In time we expect you to support the planet as best as you can.” It sounded rote, without feeling. “I wish you luck with your studies.” She reached out and he stared stupidly at the offered hand.        

“Shake it, Rowen,” Kristoff said with a kind smile. “She's accepting you as a student.”

            Rowen shook the governor's hand, the woman’s grip firm. She nodded at him once before leaving, her strides long and full of purpose.

Rowen had no idea what to make of her. Tough, obviously, but less to be abrasive and get things done. He hoped he would be able to help with whatever goal she may have in mind.

            Kristoff sighed in obvious relief as she left. “Stress inducing woman,” he said with a laugh. “I hope she didn't intimidate you.”

            Rowen shook his head.

             “Good for you, then.” Kristoff smiled. “Because she does me.” Rowen gave a small smile at that statement.

            “So when are you getting out of here?” Kristoff addressed him and the doctor, who had made himself unobtrusive as Kristoff and Lorana had talked.

            “He can leave as soon as he feels ready. I have some medicines that he must take with him, and of course if he experiences any pain or further blistering he must return. The bandages can be removed as you feel you are ready.”

            “Do you want to leave now?” Kristoff’s blue eyes bore into his, as if the man was trying to read his mind.

Rowen nodded even before Kristoff could finish his sentence. He could put his past, and his pain, behind him, or at least try. It was time for his life as a Storm Lord trainee to begin.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: The Stormlords part 11

            Rowen woke to a stone gray ceiling, lighter than the dark stone of the cave, and definitely not the brown wood of his home. Only the slightest fleeting tingle let him know that he even existed, his body numb. 

            Memories came back slowly. The cave, and Kristoff, and the flight here, with the pain of blisters bursting, and finally the doctor. He was on the Storm Lord island that Kristoff had spoke of, where they would train him. They had made him drink something, and then he remembered nothing else.

            He moved his hand over his shoulders and abdomen, finding tight cloth bandages in places, and a cold creme on others. 

            Rowen had liked the mud Kristoff had used better. The numbness bothered him, made him feel less than corporeal. The buzzing in his head from the medicine they had made him drink did not help.

            Movement out of the corner of his eye turned into a woman wearing white and gold. “You're awake?” she asked. He nodded, and she smiled brightly, an obvious fake designed to mollify a potentially anxious patient. “Your mentor is waiting to meet with you, but first Doctor Lorence would like to examine you. Is that alright?” 

            He nodded again. She walked off down a row of empty beds, exiting through a door to the left of the room. 

            Kristoff hadn't told him that his medical treatment would be so involved. He had been in pain, but had not realized that the burns were so serious. Was there a risk of them turning into that same splotchy illness that had killed Steveren? 

            Dr. Lorence stared down in concern as he walked into the room, flanked by the woman from before. “Are you in any pain?” the doctor asked. The bed next to Rowen creaked when the doctor sat on it.  

            Rowen shook his head. 

            “Excellent. Now that the primary injuries are taken care of, I want to examine your throat. If possible, I want to figure out why you can't speak. Were you born that way?” 

            Rowen froze for a moment. Why? Why did this matter? Why couldn't they leave that alone?

            Rowen had heard the angry mutters of the people in his village. He had deserved what he had gotten, they said, for stealing from his parents. The pit seeds paralyzed the throat, one woman had said, and Folar, the village's doctor, had told him that something important in his throat was cut from his brain from the effect of the seeds. It was incurable. He had put it behind him then, as much as he could. Why did he have to deal with it all again? Why didn't they just start teaching him to write? 

            “Rowen, were you born unable to speak?” the doctor repeated. Rowen shook his head, hiding the memories from his expression. He would have to put up with it, like he had everything else. At least they weren't blaming him. 

            “Was your throat injured in some way, physically?” He shook his head again, trying not to think too hard about it. Dull pain twinged in his gut.

            “Did it occur after an illness?” No. 

            “Were you poisoned?” Rowen paused. Pit seeds weren't poison, but it was a food he had eaten...perhaps too much was poison? He gave a cautious nod. 

            “I have been told you cannot write, but I  would like for you to draw me a picture of what you may have consumed that caused this.” Lorence gave the woman a pointed look, and she left and returned quickly with a sheet of vellum and some ink. Rowen's heart sank into his stomach at the thought of drawing it. It shouldn't be a big deal, but somehow it was. It reminded him of that day, the last time he had seen pit seeds, taking them from the box above the kitchen table as his parents bodies rotted in the heat in the other room, sweat blinding him as he put them all in his mouth and swallowed without chewing. 

            He looked away from the doctor and his assistant, staring at the covers and the tiny drops of moisture that had fallen onto the blanket. His eyes burned, and shame filled him. 

            “I'm sorry, Rowen.” When he looked up again, the assistant had gone, the paper and ink with her. “Perhaps another time would be better for this.” Sympathy was there, but ill focused. Lorence didn't know what Rowen was upset about, could only assume. “Do you want to see Kristoff now?” 

            No. He would not let Kristoff see him upset. Rowen blinked hard to erase the tears. Put it away, focus on something else—becoming a Storm Lord, learning to write, the future...the past didn't matter. It would recede and fade away, if only people around him would let it. 

            Finally he nodded. Lorence left him without a word, and Rowen wondered if he felt guilty. He shouldn't. It wasn't his fault.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The StormLords part 10

Kristoff hadn’t been in the medical facility since the incident ten years before, and the long hallways and pale white marble walls would have thoroughly confused him if not for Lorence. The doctor snapped his fingers at passing white and gold clad students on the way, ordering for things like aloe, bandages, and a lancet. Rowen’s eyes were wide, but he followed.

            Lorence led them to a room with a cot, and instructed Rown to lay on his back. Kristoff remembered a similar arrangement when they had set his arm back in place. Before Kristoff could ask what was going on, Lorence was ushering him out of the room while simultaneously directing two younger boys in gold and white who carried bandages, pots of liquid, and a needle. Kristoff swallowed hard.

            “This will be unpleasant, but we will take care of him. You need not worry; go take care of your report.” With that the door slammed shut.

            “Wait!” Kristoff shouted, but no one answered. He considered banging on the door, but then thought better of it. The last thing he wanted was to startle whoever was wielding the needle.

            Guilt set in at the thought of leaving Rowen. He was supposed to be his mentor, and Rowen was hurt and more than likely confused. On top of that he couldn't speak, so any questions the doctor asked wouldn't be answered.

            Then again, there was nothing he could do at this point. Lorence could help Rowen more than Kristoff could.

            But somehow it still felt wrong to turn and leave the room.


            His next stop was to make his report. Typically it was an easy affair, merely commenting on the location of the heat spell he had dispelled and how much effort it had taken to do so. All of the records were kept in the Storm Building, where the governor and her aides worked to maintain affairs concerning managing heat spells and the training of apprentices.  Every Storm Lord was expected to report directly to her as soon as they arrived back.

            Now, though, tension weighed him down, worry about how he would explain what had happened and how Rowen was faring.

            “Kristoff!” He jumped at Lissa's tone, normal for the excitable young woman, and her footsteps rang loud on the stone floor as she ran over to him from the desk she had been working at. “You were gone for ages! Was everything alright?”

            “Everything is fine...I'm going to make my report to Lorana. I, uh, found an apprentice.”

            “Really?” Her voice echoed. “Where is it?”

            “His name is Rowen, and I left him at the medical center.”

Lissa's face fell. “Was he hurt in the storm? What happened?”

            “I...I'm not sure,” he managed to say, and a woman's voice rang out from a room at the end of the hall.

            “Kristoff!” Lorana was nearly sixty, but her commanding tone cracked like a whip. “Is that you, finally? Where on Earth have you been?”

            “You'd better go.”

            “I...I will.” He waved goodbye and hurried over to the governor's office. He wished he could talk to Talia first, and then berated himself for acting like a child. He could do this!

            Lorana was seated at her desk, her writing quill dripping ink onto a blank page. “Report, Kristoff. And I expect to hear why it took you several days to return. Your mission was to dispel the heat over a portion of land in the southwest.”

            “Yes...destroying the heat went off without a hitch. I centered a hurricane and it did not take much effort to dispel it. The center was focused on a village, a small one with what looked to have residents numbering in the hundreds.”

            “The center was focused on a village? That is unusual.” Lorana shook her head. “The spells are getting worse.”

            “Dispelling the heat took no longer than usual. But I found an apprentice in the village, and took him with me.”

            Lorana's eyebrows hit her hairline. “Where is he?”

            “I found him outside, tied up and left to die in the heat spell. He was badly burnt and suffering from heat exhaustion. I took him to an island farther north to recover a bit; he is recuperating in the medical center now.”

            Lorana narrowed her eyes. “Why was he tied up?”

            Kristoff sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “He...can't speak. I don't know why he was tied up, or anything about his family or upbringing. He is 18 and his name is Rowen. That's...really all I know.”

            Lorana went quiet for a few moments, which felt like hours to Kristoff. His heart pounded.

            “Do you feel qualified to train him?” she finally asked.

            The young Storm Lord froze. He didn't know he had a choice. “What if...I don't?”

            “Then he will be mentored by someone else, someone older. Typically it is the responsibility of the one who finds the potential, but they are never forced.”

            “Has...anyone ever refused before?” Kristoff asked.

            “It is rare, but yes, a few times. Do you wish to refuse?”

            Did he want to refuse? Rowen was incredibly old to start training, and could be a criminal for all Kristoff knew. He obviously had experienced hardships, and would experience far more. A student who couldn't even speak would be a nearly impossible challenge, especially for one who had never mentored before. It would be logical to leave Rowen's training up to someone else, someone more qualified.

            And yet...Kristoff realized that while it might be logical to refuse, while it would make his life easier...he didn't want someone else to train him. What little interaction he had with the young man, while nerve wracking, had instilled a sort of responsibility. Rowen was hurt, possibly afraid, and would be beginning his training at an enormous disadvantage. Kristoff was all he knew. It would be cruel to leave him now.

            “No. I will train him.” With those words, much of Kristoff's anxiety vanished.