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The gentle rain that had been steady, reliable company grew in intensity. Niv and her traveling companions, with the exception of Farius, pulled their cloaks up and endured the damp weather. Niv wondered why Farius didn’t pull his cloak over him, but then noticed that his cloak wasn’t made with a hood. He sat in the rain and continued to look around at the scenery, gazing into the sky without an effort to keep dry.
Niv was concerned about the fever the proctor seemed to be developing. Her healing magic wasn’t having any appreciable effect. She remembered enough from the times that Cherin had tended to their scrapes and bruises to keep the wound clean and apply a poultice to it. Despite her best efforts, she feared the fever would soon become a serious problem. She slept most of the afternoon in ever-growing fits of restlessness.
Niv caught herself thinking of her mother, or more precisely, the mother she had grown up with. The distinction was becoming blurred, and she didn’t know quite how to deal with it. She loved her adopted mother quite dearly, but she was growing to love her birth mother just as much. She knew both well enough to know that they would tell her that loving them both wasn’t betrayal.
As she watched Farius in the rain, she wondered if he had the ability to heal. She sensed that he was a bit less approachable than Mae, but wasn’t sure exactly why. She had a good relationship with Ren, but she more often than not took problems to Cherin. She wondered if this wasn’t a continuation of that pattern, and decided to try to break it.
“Why do you not cover your head from the rain?” Niv asked.
Farius turned to Niv and replied, “It is simply water. What is there to seek shelter from?”
“Do you not care about getting wet?”
Farius’ expression went from slight confusion to a thin smile. “We have more water within us than is falling on both of us combined. It seems of little benefit for me to avoid it.”
Niv tried to come up with a reasonable response to his answer, but couldn’t immediately do so.
Frasie turned towards the back of the wagon and said, in a matter of fact tone, “It will get in your ears.”
“I think my hair is long enough to prevent that,” Farius replied with a small smile.
Farius looked over at the proctor, ensuring that she was asleep. She didn’t have a cloak, so Niv covered her with a blanket they had in the back of the wagon.
“Where are you from, Aiden?” Farius asked in a voice loud enough to project over the rain, but soft enough not to awaken the proctor.
“Ashmar,” Aiden replied.
“And what do you do in Ashmar?”
“I worked for my father. He is a blacksmith, but if you ask him, he’s an inventor.”
“I see,” Farius replied. His tone indicated he was going to ask another question, but he didn’t.
“We met him in Ashmar,” Niv said. “He has become a good friend. We would have been lost without his assistance.”
“I appreciate the assistance you have given to my daughter, so please do not infer anything that is not there in the question I will ask. Why did you choose to come along with her on this journey?”
Aiden thought a brief moment, and then replied, “I am lucky to have a wonderful father and home life, but I wandered from job to job in Ashmar, looking for a sense of purpose, to find where I truly belonged. I thoroughly enjoy working with metals and blacksmithing, but I longed for a sense of adventure that would be missing in a profession like that. When your daughter came through town, I befriended her and her companions. From there, I suppose got swept up along with it. I’ve grown to care very deeply about them and consider them part of my family. I simply can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Farius nodded. “Again, I am grateful beyond words. I simply cannot express that enough. I hope you did not mind me asking such a direct question.”
Aiden said, “I understand. I would be very protective of my daughter, as well.”
Niv was touched at Aiden’s response. She watched Farius’ face for a sign of approval. She hadn’t known him a full day and yet cared a great deal about what he thought. She noted the irony in how long it had taken her to warm to Mae’s company. Perhaps, she thought, she had time to become accustomed to having a different father, unlike her experience with learning about Mae.
Along the trail, they crossed over a creek that came from the mountains. The bridge that went over it was able to handle its swollen volume, unlike previous ones that they had encountered. The rush of the water as it tumbled down from higher elevations reminded Niv of the flooded stream near her house, and ultimately of the terrible injury Jarris suffered.
“We should setup camp soon. The night will soon be approaching and the proctor needs her rest,” Farius said.
“You know what she did, right?” Niv asked.
“I am aware,” Farius admitted.
“Sometimes I feel guilty for helping her, knowing what she has done,” said Niv with a hint of disgust.
“You do not have to feel guilty. Anyone can be good; doing so when it is not convenient is what makes them extraordinary.”
“I don’t think any of us are her best friends,” Aiden said, “but we couldn’t just leave her to die.”
“I’ll try to heal her after we eat. Perhaps I can make a bit more headway,” Niv said.
“You will not heal that wound with your magic,” Farius explained. “She must resolve the issue herself. We can only support her.”
Niv didn’t quite understand what Farius meant, but their conversation died down as the rain intensified. It was so cold that she thought it had to be freezing, but none of it seemed to be accumulating. Aiden pulled the wagon over to the side of the road after they had found a good spot, nestled in the evergreens that continued past the road up into the mountains.
The travelers set up camp, this time more quickly with an extra pair of hands to help. They collected enough branches to form a reasonably small but suitable shelter. Niv and Aiden moved the proctor inside and bundled her up in blankets to help keep her warm. She didn’t stir too much while they moved her, which concerned them.
“You just have to see this, Farius,” Frasie said in her usually excited tone. She pulled him away by the arm from sorting through the remaining provisions in the wagon.
Niv spotted this and smiled and spoke to Farius in her mind, “She loves to watch me start the fire. I think she’d love it even more if you did it this time.”
“My powers are slightly different than yours, Niv’leana. They are closely tied to the ground beneath our feet and the elements within it. Fire is not amongst those, right now, but I can still be of assistance. Create a small ember and I will do the rest.”
Niv closed her eyes and began to summon a small ember on the kindling. As she did, Frasie tugged on Farius’ robe again and reminded him to watch closely.
Frasie saw the glowing ember in the fire and bent over slightly to inspect it.
“Come on, Niv, I know you can do better than that!” Frasie exclaimed.
Farius motioned for them to move back a bit. As they did, Farius motioned with his hands towards the ground, and then slowly raised them up to the sky. As he did, a few leaves that were around the campfire began to twist, as though being commanded to dance. Dust began to spin, gently at first, and then building into a swirling tornado. As it continued to build, sparks from the ember flew up into it, connecting with each other as they formed into a solid burst of fire.
As the flame continued to grow, its structure became more organized. Individual sparks and embers merged into larger balls of fire. The few leaves and dust that was caught in their wake ignited, as well. Farius brought his arms down gently, and then the wind decreased until his hands were at his side again. In the tornado’s wake, a steady warm fire remained.
Frasie looked at Farius in amazement, and then turned back to Niv, then back again at Farius. She started to form words from her mouth, but seemed unable to string together anything coherent.
“You have made her speechless,” Niv said, grinning towards Frasie. “It took me years to learn how to do that.”
Farius threw his head back and laughed. Frasie gave a playful, scolding look to Niv and continued in helping to set up camp. They leaned the proctor up against part of a tree stump where she could keep her arm elevated. She woke up briefly to drink some of the soup that Niv made, but after finishing it, drifted back to sleep. Niv felt Shareis’s forehead, fearing for the fever she had, hoping it would not get any higher.
After dinner, they closely gathered around the fire and talked with lowered voices, so as to not to disturb the proctor. Frasie kept looking at Shareis, only tearing away her attention when her name was mentioned in conversation.
“I’m starting to feel sorry for Shareis,” Frasie said. “Perhaps, even a bit guilty.”
“I am as well, and I don’t know what to make of that,” Niv added.
“There’s nothing different we could have done. I think we can settle any doubts to the contrary by how well we’ve cared for her,” Aiden said.
“I didn’t plan on nearly killing her,” Frasie said, in a somewhat exacerbated tone.
“I did,” Niv added. Farius looked at her a moment, in surprise. He waited for her to add more, but sensed she didn’t want to.
Farius asked, “Niv, will you walk with me awhile?”
Niv nodded, and got up to go with Farius.
As they walked, he said, “The proctor’s magic is difficult to understand. The balance they wield is delicate. Proctors do not respond to healing like we do.”
“Why not?” Niv asked.
“It is like trying to balance something on the tip of your finger. Each subtle correction you make sends it reeling in the other direction, and you only try that much harder to keep it steady. Our method of healing upsets this balance, and her magic works against it.”
“I thought everything strives for balance naturally,” Niv said.
“The universe tends to balance on the whole, and it seeks that balance at every opportunity, but that does not mean that individuals naturally do. The world would be a very dull place, indeed, if balance was the ultimate goal of everyone. We chose to be here to grow, to experience what this life has to offer us, not to muddle in the boredom of an uneventful existence.”
“Chose to be here?” Niv asked, raising her eyebrow.
“I’m surprised your mother did not discuss this with you, though I suspect she had to focus on your abilities, first and foremost. You see, we are simply a physical manifestation of our higher self, our soul, if you will.”
“She did explain that the soul, mind, and body were all separate,” Niv said. “I can easily see how the soul and body are separate, but I still struggle with the distinction between the mind and the soul.”
“That’s perfectly understandable. It is difficult, at first, to see the distinction. Your body moves around this world and observes it, using its senses to tell your mind what it sees. Your mind uses this information, learns from it, and makes decisions accordingly. Your mind, however, is not your soul. For many, direct interaction with the soul rarely happens.”
“How does one interact with their soul?”
“Your soul is the overseer of you, for lack of a better term. Your body is controlled by your mind, and both are just a representation of you in this life. Your spirit, or soul, guides your mind. It lays out your path and gives you strength and inspiration, sometimes seemingly from nowhere.”
“How exactly does it lay out your path?”
Farius explained, “Before you were born, your soul chose to be here, at this time. You have a specific purpose, even if that is not entirely clear to you right now.”
Niv thought about his words a moment. The idea that she had chosen to be here was reasonable, but she would not have chosen some of the events in her life. Nevertheless, she was experiencing the same feeling that she had when Mae explained things to her. Farius’s words resonated with her easily, and she eagerly absorbed the information as though she had a thirst for it she wasn’t aware of.
“If we get to choose our own paths, then why is the world filled with such pain and loss? Why would anyone choose that voluntarily?” Niv asked.
Farius smiled a bit and replied, “Only the bravest of souls choose to be here. The ones who have the most courage pick the most difficult paths. You do not learn by being comfortable. You learn by enduring and overcoming a challenge.”
Niv tilted her head a bit, and then Farius added, “You are not the same person you were before your mother came, and you will not be the same when you have completed your task. The destination is important, but what you learn along the way and the lives you touch are more so. That is why it is vital, above all else, to follow your instincts and choose your own path.”
Niv smiled as Farius spoke, realizing the wisdom in his words. She did, however, have a nagging question, “If I’m supposed to follow my own path, why did my mother come and change mine?”
“Given your amazing abilities, it is unlikely that you were meant to live out your life in the Jeweled Woods without using them to help others.”
“But there’s no way to be sure, is there?” Niv asked.
“Not entirely, no. There are many things that come along and influence us, sometimes changing our lives dramatically. You have to accept what feels right and resist what does not. But I doubt you could have denied the urge to leave the woods and see the world.”
Niv replied, “I had always been drawn to leave. I just couldn’t have how it would come to be until my mother arrived, asking me to come with her.”
“You see, sometimes our journeys involve cues from others,” Farius replied.
Farius put his arm around her shoulder. Niv leaned against him, drawing comfort from his strength and confidence.
“If you believe in yourself and have faith in your intuition, it is difficult to fail,” Farius said. “That is not to say you will not have challenging times ahead, but know that it is simply part of your journey. When you are faced with a difficulty that you think is insurmountable, know that you chose it before you were born into this world, and you have the courage within you to see it through.”
Niv felt reassured and comforted by Farius’s words. They walked a bit more and then she asked, “Why did Vorea choose the proctor to interrogate Mae?”
“I am not certain. Perhaps Vorea promised her some reward.”
“I know I couldn’t have helped her, but I still feel guilty about it. I would have given anything to have been able to stop the horrible pain she was enduring,” Niv said, in a somber tone.
“Place any blame you have for what happened to your mother on Vorea, not on yourself,” Farius said in a comforting tone. “Proctors are known for their skills in sensing the truth. For this reason they are usually considered excellent interrogators. They can be quite ruthless.”
“Do you think she will recover?”
“Proctors are remarkably resilient.”
“Is there nothing we can do to help her?” Niv asked with a desperate expression on her face.
Farius thought a moment and said, “I might be able to help the fever somewhat with herbs, but the magical battle within must be won by her, and her alone.”
Niv stopped and looked at him. “I’m so glad that you joined us. I felt so alone after Mae was taken from us.”
Farius gave a reassuring smile and hugged Niv. “I know, Niv’leana. I understand if you resent me not being a part of your life.”
Niv shook her head, “I resented Mae for it, and it accomplished nothing, other than wasting what little time we had. Once I understood the gravity of the sacrifice that she made, it became clear that she did what she thought was best. Aiden also pointed out that I should be grateful to have two mothers. He has spent the majority of his life without his mother.”
Farius replied, “I appreciate how you are handling this, though I am not completely sure I deserve it.”
“I felt a deep connection with the owl I saw in the woods, and when I look into your eyes, I see the same caring soul that risked everything to check in on me, who desperately wanted to be a part of my life. Farius, you are the only one that can possibly help me understand who I am, what is going on inside me, and how I can control and work with this power I have. Mae taught me so much, in the short time we had, and I had almost given up on the hope of having a guide again. I have the advantage of having my father with me on the most frightening journey I’ve been on in my life. Many are not so fortunate.”
Farius replied, “I cannot find the words to describe how I feel about what you have told me, other than to say what I have already said. I am grateful, and delighted to be in the presence of my beautiful daughter, and you can count on me to help you through the trials to come.”
Niv smiled at Farius’s reply. As they walked a bit further, she asked, “The friends of yours we are to find in Lahara, will they be able to help us?”
“I believe so, yes. They have extensive influence in the Laharan province, and that will give us more power against Vorea.”
“It’s nice to know we aren’t alone,” Niv said.
Farius nodded. “Let us go get some sleep. We must make haste to Lahara.”
Farius and Niv walked back to camp, joining Aiden and Frasie who were still sitting and talking by the campfire. As they prepared for bed, Niv noticed that Aiden’s bedroll was not as close to hers as it had been. She suspected that the presence of Farius might affect their relationship. While she understood Aiden’s reluctance to display affection towards her in front of her father, she didn’t like it. She had grown to be accustomed to his arms around her, as she slept. He told her goodnight in her mind, and she returned the same. She turned away from him, holding her blanket close as she drifted off to sleep, comforted only by the sound of the cold rain hitting the shelter.
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