“Theonis?” Lias asked from outside the tent.
Theonis pulled on his shirt for the day and replied, “Yes?”
“I have to map out one of the further districts of the settlement today. I’d appreciate having someone to help me carry supplies.”
“Sure, if Kosgoris doesn’t need me for anything,” Theonis replied automatically.
After breakfast, Theonis and Lias filled their packs with supplies and headed into the settlement. They passed by the big pointed pillar that Lias had explained was an obelisk and kept walking. Lias kept talking, but Theonis was caught up in absorbing the unfamiliar architecture to pay much attention. Every building was, in some way, a little unique and he wanted to see each and every one.
“Is every city in the world like this?” he asked.
“No, Apositan architecture largely died out when the civilization fell to the Miravian Empire. Miravia had its own rules on architecture that influenced a lot of modern cities. Have you really never been off of that island before?”
“I haven’t,” Theonis confirmed. “I hope I get to see a modern city before I have to go back home.”
“You will when we stop to drop off our findings. You might not get a lot of time to explore, though.”
“I can’t wait.”
Theonis was practically shaking with anticipation.
“Your hair grows pretty quick, doesn’t it?” Lias asked.
“Your hair. It’s grown just in the time since we’ve met you.”
Theonis grabbed at his hair. It did feel longer, just a bit. He’d always kept it as short as possible. Everyone who worked on pirate ships had hair short enough that someone couldn’t grab it in a fight. It should not be this long already.
This wasn’t the first strange thing he’d noticed about his body. Theonis rubbed the skin on his arms. Still soft. Were they connected? He didn’t want to think about this.
“Hey,” he said suddenly. “Do you know anything about magical artifacts?”
“No, I don’t, actually. You’d have to ask Myrova about that.”
“Do you know anything about magic at all?”
“Um… I know that the Academy of Magic was built a long time ago to study magic and that all mages learn their magic there. They’ve got a tense relationship with the capital, since both need each other to survive, but the mages don’t want to be controlled and the capital doesn’t want magic-users roaming free without any oversight. Myrova could probably tell you more. I don’t actually know much about her. She keeps to herself most of the time.”
When they arrived, Lias and Theonis took off their packs and set them down. Lias took out a fresh sheet of paper as well as a pen and inkwell. Theonis handed him his drawing board and he got to work sketching out a new map.
“What do you know about everyone else on the team?” Theonis asked. “I’m curious.”
“Hmm… Kateni is from the north. She was a mercenary for a while before becoming a private guard. I believe she impressed Dimileios while working for him and he invited her to join the team when it was first forming. Satiria worked at a university, studying the Ancient Apositans, and jumped at the chance to search for actual ruins. Kosgoris actually grew up in a developing settlement where they had to fend for themselves most of the time and wanted to put those skills to use once the island was properly connected to trade routes. And Dimileios came from a wealthy family of merchants, but took his inheritance and invested in this venture.”
Theonis nodded, but was taken aback by Lias’ next question.
“You’re really not planning on staying? At least for a while?”
“I… can’t,” Theonis said, frowning. “I need to go back to Stemini. It’s where I belong. I can’t just uproot my life to go adventuring.”
“You don’t need to go back there,” Lias insisted. “You can go wherever you want. It doesn’t matter where you are as long as you’re taking care of yourself.”
Theonis shook his head and replied, “I don’t think that’s true. I think everybody has a place in this world and you have to commit to it. I belong where I grew up.”
He thought for a moment that he saw Lias roll his eyes, but Lias didn’t say anything further. Occasionally he and Theonis would talk briefly, but Lias was pretty caught up in his work. After a few hours, he rolled up the maps he’d finished and handed them over to Theonis.
“Go ahead and take these back to camp. I’m going to keep working.”
Theonis nodded and started the trek back, paying attention to the architecture but never losing sight of the plume of smoke in the distance.
Theonis made it back in time to help Kosgoris prepare lunch. It was just a small stew, nothing fancy. Lias was staying in the field to continue working, having taken some rations with him when he left. Lunch itself was comfortable and relaxed. Myrova was talking to Kosgoris about some of the artifacts that she’d found while Dimileios talked to Satiria about her own work.
Kateni had sat down next to Theonis. She was the only person not talking to anyone. Occasionally, Theonis glanced over at her, and she at him, but neither one said anything. Theonis couldn’t help but notice that she was even now carrying her sword at her hip.
For a while, Theonis let his focus slip while he ate. He noticed Kosgoris scratched his chin, drawing attention to the stubble that was growing there. Come to think of it, Lias had been growing stubble too. Theonis rubbed his own chin. It was a little rough, but clearly not growing as fast as everyone else’s. That was a little odd. He’d never been very smooth, even as a teenager.
After lunch, Satiria went back into the field, but Myrova stayed behind to catalog her recent findings. Theonis didn’t have anything else to do at the moment, and they didn’t need any more firewood, so he returned to his tent to lay down for a bit. On the way, he passed Myrova’s workstation to find her holding a small amulet in her gloved hands.
“Hey,” he said, slowly approaching the tent, “can I ask you a few more questions about how artifacts work?”
“You shouldn’t get too close. I can’t protect you if the artifacts start bleeding magic onto you. The effects would be unpredictable.”
Theonis’ hand was halfway to his pendant before he noticed what he was doing. He folded his arms and looked away.
“So what are you doing with them instead?” he asked.
“Wrapping them in enchanted bindings that will block the magic so I can safely turn them over to the capital when we arrive.”
“You’re not giving them to the Academy of Magic?”
“The Academy isn’t sponsoring our trip.”
“You studied there, right?”
“Like every mage,” Myrova replied dryly.
“What was that like?”
“Almost as exhausting as talking to you.”
Theonis flared his nostrils.
“You don’t have to be a bitch,” he told her.
“The wonderful thing is that I can be, though,” she replied with a smirk.
“I just wanted to ask a few questions!”
“I just wanted to be left alone!” Myrova cried, standing up and slamming her hands on the table. “Why can’t you understand that?”
“What is your problem with me?!”
Myrova grit her teeth and raised a closed hand. She was going to use magic on him. Theonis threw up his hands to protect his face and tried to back up, only to trip over his feet and fall on his ass. When he looked up, Myrova was standing there with a stunned look on her face.
Then she sighed and told him, “Just go. Please.”
Theonis got up and stormed away, heading in a random direction. He was pissed. What was her problem? He hadn’t done anything wrong and she hated him!
He stopped walking right next to the little stream they got their water from and sighed. At the very least, Theonis knew why he was so angry at her. Myrova’s reaction to him coming along had been Yoris’ reaction to him being on the Kikikleio. On some level, he was taking out his frustrations about Yoris on her, and that wasn’t fair.
At the very least, he could stop antagonizing her. Theonis didn’t like the way that Myrova was treating him, but he needed to stop reacting so harshly when she baited him like that. But he wasn’t going to apologize if she didn’t. Her treatment of Theonis was unacceptable.
“Well, I’m already by the water,” he mumbled. “I doubt anybody will interrupt.”
Theonis walked downstream for a while until the water got deeper and started taking off his clothes. He was awfully sweaty after today. The pendant stayed on while he got into the water, though.
There was no really denying it: the pendant was definitely having some effect on his body. He didn’t see what the pattern was, though. Theonis placed his hand on the pendant and started to take it off, but hesitated.
He had to hide it somewhere, right? If it was just lying out somewhere, someone might find it. The safest place was on his person. If nobody had seen it yet, they probably weren’t going to. Besides, the effects weren’t so bad, and probably wouldn’t get any worse. If he found that he disliked what it was doing to his body, he’d just take the pendant off.
Satisfied with his decision, Theonis sunk into the water to relax a bit and clean himself off. Some time alone to relax was exactly what he needed.
When he got back, Theonis got right to work collecting firewood. The pile was a little low. Every time that he got back with another armful of wood, Theonis noticed Kateni watching him intently. Was she going to yell at him next? What had he done to upset her?
Finally, Theonis felt like they had enough wood. He didn’t think that he had anything else to do before dinner. Maybe he’d take a nap.
Turning around, though, Theonis saw Kateni standing there with two wooden swords. She threw one at Theonis and he just barely caught it.
“Now that you’ve had time to settle in and things are running smoothly, I’m going to teach you how to fight.”
“We’re going to spar.”
“Hold on!” Thoenis cried. “I’ve never fought anyone before!”
“I’m going to teach you,” Kateni insisted. “It’s time that you learned how to fight.”
Despite Theonis’ protests, Kateni brought him to an open clearing and the two stood facing each other. Kateni had a very deliberate stance and Theonis just held his practice sword in shaky hands. What was she doing? Was this just Kateni’s way of sizing Theonis up in case he actually tried to turn against the group?
“Spread your legs shoulder width apart,” Kateni told him. “Face one foot toward me and the other at an angle like I’m doing.”
Theonis followed her instructions. Whatever was going on, he was going to give it his all. Kateni charged at him, raising her blade. Theonis tried to block, but she struck his sword with enough force to knock it out of his hand.
“Ah! Dammit!” he cried, rubbing his injured wrist.
“Pick it up and try again,” she told him.
Grumbling, Theonis picked up the wooden sword and took his stance again. Kateni didn’t wait for him, swinging at him before he could properly anchor himself. Theonis blocked the attack but the force of it knocked him back a few steps.
“Try and hit me!” Kateni instructed.
Theonis charged forward, swinging at her. She blocked it with ease. He swung again, but his blade bounced off of hers.
“You’re weak,” she said.
Theonis flared his nostrils.
“So what?!” he cried. “Why is that a problem?! Everyone judges me for being small and weak!”
“Physical strength is something everyone should aspire to,” Kateni insisted, taking another step forward to swing her sword.
Theonis felt like he was getting better. But he was also breathing heavily after just a few minutes. What was going on? He was supposed to be stronger than this.
“Make sure that your back is straight,” Kateni told him.
Once he’d done so, she took another swing at him. She was giving him easy blows to block. He got most of them, only occasionally getting hit in the shoulder or the side.
“Why are you doing this?” he finally asked.
“Keep going,” she replied, positioning herself to attack again.
“No!” Theonis cried, lowering his sword. “I’m not doing any more unless I get some answers!”
Kateni lowered her sword and relaxed her stance.
“You have a lot of potential,” she said.
Theonis blinked in surprise and cocked his head to the side.
Kateni sighed and continued, “I think that Myrova was wrong about you. You do have a lot to offer people. You’ll be able to help others quite a bit if you actually commit to it. Being able to use a weapon means that you can defend others when they’re in danger, and that might be an asset to the people you care about one day.”
Theonis didn’t know what to say.
“I… don’t know about that,” he muttered.
At the very least, he could see that he was wrong about Kateni. Apparently she didn’t see him as a threat after all. It certainly put the awkwardness between them in a new perspective. Kateni might just be that kind of person. Theonis had a lot of feelings about her to reconsider now.
“Alright,” he said, lifting his sword back up. “I’m ready to continue.”
The sparring went on until Kosgoris showed up. He asked Theonis to come help him prepare dinner. Theonis returned the practice sword to Kateni, thanking her for the training. Pretty soon he was sitting by the sweltering fire helping to heat up the dried pork they were making for dinner.
“You’ve been learning a lot lately,” Kosgoris noted.
“I really have,” Theonis agreed.
It was unbelievable. Less than a month ago he had been working in a small tavern, with no idea what to do with his life. Now he had skills in cooking, map-making, and even combat. Maybe Kateni was right; he’d be able to use these skills to help the people who mattered to him. Something about this trip was changing him, helping him to feel like a more complete person than he used to be.
Being thrown overboard had somehow managed to make his life better in the end.