The water was pleasantly warm, almost hot, when Thrista entered the large bathing pool in which Zani had already taken place, he sat on the edge in front of the temple elder. He closed his eyes and focused on the relaxing feeling that the warmth of the water procured to his sore muscles, it was almost as if his body was melting in the bath. He swore he could feel the pain lessen significantly after only a few seconds.
“Do you want the water a bit warmer?” Suddenly asked Zani as he sat up on the edge of the pool.
Thrista opened his eyes to see the elder slowly stretching his arms and massaging his sides. He thought about the last time he had been through a good exercise like that, it had been before he had left the Simeriah, and he was just realizing how much his body had been aching to fight since then.
“Yes, I’d like that.” He replied with a nod.
“Very well. I find it a bit cold too.” Said Zani with a smile.
The priest of the temple of Sha’ana closed his eyes and whispered a few words before putting his hand under the water. A wave of heat emanated from him and filled the whole room as the temperature of the water slowly rose to a comfortable heat. He opened his eyes again and looked towards Thrista. The young man nodded.
“Thank you, it is much more enjoyable like this!” The teenager exclaimed.
“You are welcome my young friend. As you can see fire magic has its advantages, this is one of them…” Replied the old man with a smile. “So you are preparing for the Tournament?” He then asked.
“Yes I am, I’ve been dreaming of participating in it since I was a small child.” Replied Thrista.
“Well you do have the potential needed, you have great power in you Thrista, I can tell you that.” Started Zani. “But are you sure you are ready? And I don’t only mean your abilities in the noble art of Empirium, many have come back changed from such a challenge, and not always for the best…” He continued, his face was still lit up by his smile but seemed strangely seemed slightly more worn out than before.
“No, to tell you the truth, I don’t feel ready yet.” Repleid Thrista after a few seconds of silence. “My motivation is a great as ever, that I cannot deny, but I feel like I still have ways to go before I can even dream of participating… That said, I plan on training as hard as I can until the time comes, I trust myself to get even better during the next months. Also it’s probably my only chance to participate so I have to be ready, I can’t back down no matter what…”
“Well you seem resolute and I don’t see any reason why I should try to change that. You seem to have what it takes Thrista, you just have to make the best of this potential. I trust you on that!” Exclaimed the elder with a wink as he leaned back and closed his eyes once more.
They kept talking as they enjoyed the warmth of the bath and used that opportunity to wash the sweat and dust off of themselves. Thrista told the old man about his journey on the other side of the central ocean on the continent of Simeriah and that he now planned to journey across Ore itself and the countries of the Alliance. He also told him that he was trying to look for companions but that he had no idea where he would go next so it was a bit complicated. Zani told the teenager his own story, how he had become a priest of Sha’ana around his twentieth birthday and how he had devoted himself to the goddess’s cult since then. During his years in the temple he had learned the way of Sha’ana’s martial arts and emporium based on the forces of nature.
After a few years he had become a master and had been assigned students to whom he had taught what he knew. In his youth he had participated himself in the Sages’ tournament and had been one of the witnesses to one of the bloodiest matches in its history, Grennwick against Almeneister, during which around a hundred of the spectators as well as Grennwick himself lost their lives. That dreadful incident had pushed the elder of the temple to renounce completely to using empirium as it had scarred him as a tool of death. It had taken him a few years to finally accept the events he had witnessed and to use it once again. Since then he had dedicated his life to training young apprentices in the art of empirium and to teach them its dangers as well as its possibilities by showing them the passive ways of the martial arts of Sha’ana. He had still kept training, unable to abandon it but only in the purpose of defending himself and never to attack.
“I am truly impressed that you still have so much energy and power despite your age, no offence.” Commented the teenager as he finally got out of the bath.
“I may be old but I am not completely rusty yet!” Exclaimed Zani with a playful smile. “And I do hope to stay that way for some time…” He added with a melancholic gleam in his eyes as he too got out of the still warm water. As the old man got out and took a towel Thrista caught a glimpse of his still muscular back and felt energy radiating from the elder.
“So, what is your plan for the rest of the day?” Asked Zani as he got dressed. “Will you go and walk around the city and do a bit of sightseeing?” Thrista put on his shirt before answering.
“Perhaps, I plan to go in the market district to buy a new bag, some equipment and some food for my journey. My old one is getting worn out.”
“And you plan to stay until the wedding is that right?” Asked Zani. Thrista nodded in approval. “Well in that case perhaps we shall see each other during the parade on the day after tomorrow. As an elder of the temple of Sha’ana I will be part of the procession.”
“That would be very enjoyable, if we don’t meet then I shall come back here before I leave!” Exclaimed Thrista with a large smile as he finished putting on his cape and his shoulder bag.
The two of them walked out of the baths and took the path towards the garden, leaving behind the rows of large wooden building. They kept talking as they approached two columns, one white and one black, that marked the entry of sacred grounds of the temple. Thrista took a moment to admire the handiwork that it had surely required to build such fine sculptures, indeed he noticed the two pillars had been sculpted from a single piece of rock each. They started walking again and soon reached the gates of the temple grounds, as they stopped to say goodbye the elder took Thrista into a strong embrace.
“I hope we will see each other again at the parade and I shall pray to Sha’ana to give you the strength to reach your goal my boy. Thank you again for this fine duel you granted me, it had been quite a long time…” Said Zani as his eyes got slightly humid. “You have revived in me a flame that had been dimed for quite some time and for this I cannot thank you enough Thrista!”
“That was my pleasure.” Replied Thrista with a smile. “And it was an honor to have been able to meet you Master Zani. I also hope we will meet again one day, when I have progressed even more.”
“I am sure we will.” Nodded the elder as he took out something from one of his pockets. “Until our next duel.” He added as he extended his arm towards Thrista and opened his hand.
“What-” Started the teenager but he was unable to finish his question as the elder raised his hand to silence him.
“This is a gift for you. You will know what it is when the moment comes, until then you will have to search for the answer by yourself. It will prove very useful to you one day, I am sure of it. Also, if you were ever in need of my assistance, I would be more than happy to give it to you.” Explained the old man with a small wink towards his ex-opponent.
“Well, thank you very much master Zani.” Replied Thrista, looking at the strange sphere before putting it away in his bag. “I wish you a good day then, may Sha’ana be with you.”
“Sha’ana o naiga.” Replied Zani in the olden language, slightly bowing to the side with his arm against his torso in a diagonal line from his hip to his shoulder, before repeating the words in their official translation. “May Sha’ana be with you.”
Thrista crossed the wooden arch surrounding the metal gates of the temple and started walking towards the northern parts of the city. The sun was already beginning its descent in the sky as he did so. He looked back and saw the elder’s diminishing silhouette walking back towards the central courtyard of the temple. The teenager then turned around and headed for the market district, crossing the path of dozens of people all around him who were preparing themselves for the celebration to come.
The teenager walked for a good half hour towards the northern district of the city before finally reaching the markets. He realized he hadn’t eaten in almost four hours as his stomach rumbled and decided to stop for some pancakes and meat balls that a couple was selling at their stall. The fight and the walk had whetted his appetite more than he had thought, he was surprised at how good he felt as he devoured the food and quickly ended up with no more than crumbs. He had kept walking as he was eating and he found himself in an adjacent street packed with people, tourists and locals blended into one dense crowd strolling along the stalls. Thrista immediately knew he was in the right place, he slowed down and started to wander among the stall full of food, clothes, animals and diverse objects, magical or not that were exposed along the streets.
People were moving all around him, some walking quickly as if they were in a hurry to tend to urgent matters, others took their time to observe the contents of each stall before sometimes buying two or three products, but all were conscious of the menace of the small hands that discreetly relieved careless wanderers of their money and goods. There were always a few aghast cries when someone discovered he had been robbed, soon followed by short chases that almost always ended abruptly as the small thieves got away swiftly. The presence of the guards patrolling the streets of the city had greatly helped in diminishing the rate of thefts but the criminals were smart and always found a way to outsmart them, jumping in at the right moment and leaving without a sound in a single instant. Thrista knew of their exploits and had therefore put up a magical protection around himself, warning him if anyone tried to relieve him of his things. As he calmly walked down the street he noticed a merchant selling clothes and especially shoulder bags that seemed to be of good quality, he decided to stop by to take a look.
“Good’day mister! What may I do for you?” Greeted the storekeeper as he saw the teenager approach. He was tall and thin, almost skinny, with short brown hair and a small goatee, he seemed to be in his mid-thirties. Thrista smiled to him and asked about the bags.
“Well my boy, you are in luck! I have just received two new bags of a similar type to yours this morning! Take a look, here they are!” He announced as he motioned towards his stock of shoulder bags lying on the counter in front of him. He pointed towards two which were very similar to the one Thrista had with him. One was made of the same leather but of a darker shade and the other was made of tightly weaved fabric and had a pouch that could be refold over the zip. The second one was the one that seemed to be the best choice to the teenager as he took a moment to compare both to his own.
“The lighter one huh? I also think it would be the best choice for you, it would both be more useful and suit you better I believe…” Commented the merchant as he saw Thrista’s gaze focus on the fabric bag. “Plus it has been woven with dexterity and experience, it is a high quality material!”
“How much would I owe you for it?” Asked the teenager as he took out his pouch containing the small amount of money he had taken before leaving the tavern.
“It would be twelve dimes my boy.” Replied the tall man with a smile.
Thrista had been expecting this, the merchant was selling his bags to a high price. He had to admit the quality seemed very good but a hundred and twenty coins for a bag was much more than he had planned to pay. He was about to try to negotiate when he was cut short.
“But, if you are ready to dispose of your old bag I will give it to you for only half the price!” Said the merchant as Thrista saw that the man had understood what he had been thinking. “You know, even if it is worn out it is still a good piece and I am sure I could make some profit out of it, it I as you wish…”
“I’ll take it then!” Replied Thrista with a nod after taking a moment to think about it.
The dark-haired teen wouldn’t tell if the merchant was swindling him or if it was an honest proposal but the bag was secondary after all and it didn’t matter if the man could make a huge profit out of his old one, he just wanted to close the deal and get on his way. He took out the six silver coins he owed the man and, after carefully transferring the content of his old bag in the new one, gave it to the owner of the stall and wished him a good day. He put the new bag around his shoulder and started walking again. That was when someone bumped into him. He fell backwards and it took him a few seconds to understand what had happened.
In front of him a young woman with long blonde hair and darker skin, dressed in a simple tunic hidden under a cape and a hood, was already getting up to run again. During the moment where his eyes locked with hers he felt as if he had already seen the azure blue orbs somewhere but he wasn’t to remember where. As she quickly left he heard shouts ordering her to stop and running coming in his direction. A young man with short blond hair rushed past him, running as fast as the wind, and disappeared in the crowd following the trail of the woman. Thrista thought about using emporium to cast a spell and stop the young woman that he could still see getting farther away, but he was stopped by a hand grabbing his arm as he was about to open his mouth. The mana he had started to focus in his hand dissipated immediately.
“Don’t even think about it!” Another young woman, this time with middle length jet black hair, exclaimed as she looked directly at him, her green eyes dark with anger. He did not have time to reply as she resumed her pursuit almost immediately.
As he watched the trio quickly get away he couldn’t help but scoff and let a small smile spread on his face, taken by surprise twice in the same day and each time by a gorgeous woman. He was slipping, he had to focus more… He started walking again, putting his hands in his pockets as he tried to get what had just happened out of his mind and ignoring the surprised looks the passersby game him. That’s when he finally noticed the small object he was holding in his right hand, something he didn’t remember having put in his right pocket. He took it out and looked at it closely, it was a round piece of bronze marked with an orca jumping out of the water and topped by a crown of leaves. He turned it around and noticed the portrait of a young woman, she looked strangely like… That’s when he understood, the young woman on the coin and the one he had bumped into were the same person. A memory resurfaced as he was thinking that, a young girl, much younger than the one he had bumped into, with long golden hair going all the way down to her hips and dark skin, wearing a light blue dress. He remembered her thin hands and the diadem decorated with diamonds resting on her head. He saw the man with the already graying bear and the thin but majestic crown… Her father was smiling, the hall was huge, the young girl looked at him. He couldn’t believe what he was about to say when the name he hadn’t heard in so many years came back to him. Silena.