The Clearing

The area that we had been allocated for our new home was a wide, spacious clearing that was located just outside the fence of Kirtvel. There were no paths leading to or from it, but for a resident of the forest, paths were largely unnecessary. It was about twenty minutes away from the western gate by foot, ten at a sprint. Close enough that it would not be terribly inconvenient for the appointed liaison, but also far enough that we would be able to rush to the city’s aid, in accordance with our agreement, should the need arise.

The clearing was one that had formed naturally – the elves and catkin that lived in Kirtvel shied away from deforestation in any form, unless absolutely necessary. The clearing had a pile of logs stacked neatly in the center, provided, as per our agreement, by Kirtvel, but these logs mainly came from old trees that had to be cut down to keep the forest healthy. They were sturdy enough, and I could feel the traces of magic from them – Dyros had been generous enough to have the lot enchanted. Somewhere to the North, I could hear the sound of gushing water. The rhythm of the sound suggested that there was a waterfall – and therefore a body of water – nearby. I turned to Ely, who was circling around the clearing.

“I’m going to start on getting these logs into a usable shape. Do you mind checking if the water source is clean? And maybe survey the surroundings for anything dangerous while you’re at it.”

Ely glanced at me, then at the logs, and then nodded while heading in the direction of the sound. I turned my attention to the pile of logs and began to visualise the type of house I wanted to build. I was about halfway through designing the second floor when I stopped myself. What I wanted wasn’t important here – I wanted to build a house that Ely would enjoy. I could feel comfortable anywhere that a weapon stand existed, but Ely was fully human, and so would have a greater need for such creature comforts as I could help provide. Scrapping my plans, I instead took a couple of logs and, my spear body in hand, began dressing the logs for use as foundation pillars.

“I thought you were supposed to use a hatchet for that kind of work.”

Ely’s voice interrupted me as I worked at making the pillars nice and uniform. I looked up at her, and saw that she had returned from her survey of the surroundings. She was also holding a dead boar, dragging it behind her, presumably intended for lunch.

“How far is the water source? Was it clean?”

“A clear lake, clean enough to bathe and swim in. The water funnels into several smaller streams, so it’s not a stagnant source. It’s about five minutes away by foot.”

“And what of the place around us? Any dangers to take note of?”

“None, other than the occasional wild animal, like Porky here.”

She raised the dead boar informatively as she spoke. The conversation having turned to it, I had no recourse but to ask the question which I already knew the answer to, but that I needed confirmation for anyway.

“…What did you use to kill that boar?”

She didn’t reply. Instead, she held up her free hand, which was dripping with fresh blood. She’d killed a boar with her bare hands. Of course she had. I’d heard stories from her subordinates about how she had done similar things while on a long march, but I’d always been rather hesitant when it came to believing these accounts, especially given soldiers’ shared penchant for exaggeration. Clearly, they hadn’t been exaggerating. I decided to put the absurdity out of my mind and answer her question.

“Ordinarily, yes, you would use a hatchet for this. Hatchets let you put more weight into your swing, and they’re also more durable, so you’re less likely to get a broken blade from hacking away at trees. But since I can cut through anything and my blade will never break, I can just use myself.”

My chest swelled a little with pride as I described my capabilities. It felt strange to feel pride about being a good weapon, but that was just the kind of being I had been reborn as. Ely raised an eyebrow, impressed.

“Your blade will never break? That’s heartening.”

A chill went down my spine. Brief recollections of Ely’s training sessions flashed through my mind, and I was overcome with an intense sense of dread. She was, at one point, known as the “Destroyer of Thousands”, a title given to her by blacksmiths in recognition of how many weapons she destroyed in the course of her daily training sessions. I felt a brief sense that I had just committed a grave mistake.

However, I wasn’t given the time to dwell on this sense of dread, as Ely quickly moved on to another subject.

“You look like you’ve done this before.”

“I have. Back when Kirtvel was still in the process of being built, Kyrin and I constructed many of its buildings with our own bare hands. Everyone helped, of course, but the scale of construction was large enough that we all got a decent share of the work.”

Sawing the logs methodically, I couldn’t help but recall doing the same, alongside my late friend, as we worked to build houses for all the refugees that had fled with us to this forest. I briefly wondered what he would think about my part in letting a human – just like the humans that had hunted his kind – enter the city. Knowing him, he’d probably have laughed and clapped my back to congratulate me about finding my Owner. He would’ve been okay with it, as long as it was something I wanted. He was kind like that – too kind, even. He had fallen victim to traps numerous times because of that kindness, and yet he never chose to forsake it. A good man.

My nostalgic reminiscence was abruptly cut short by a realisation that Ely was feeling clearly uncomfortable as she watched me work. I stopped cutting logs and turned to her.

“What’s wrong, Ely?”

She gave me a sheepish smile.

“Nothing much, really. It’s just that I don’t want you to do all the work, but at the same time, I don’t know the first thing about building a house.”

“Wait, you don’t know how to build a house? You? There’s actually something you don’t know how to do?”

Ely crossed her arms, slightly annoyed.

“You don’t have to sound that surprised. Building a house for peacetime living is pretty much the opposite of a war-relevant skill, so my gift doesn’t apply. Now, if we were talking siege engines, or temporary encampments, then yes, I do know something about that, but I never had anyone teach me how to build houses, or even fortresses.”

It surprised me. It had been a long time since I had seen Ely not knowing how to do something, to the point where I had forgotten that her gift had limitations – it was so versatile that those limitations often seemed nonexistent. I chuckled.

“Then let me teach you. I’ve never taught you anything before, it’ll be fun. Go wash your hands in the lake – we don’t want to soak the logs with blood. Then come back here and I’ll teach you what you need to know.”

“And the boar?”

“…I don’t know, hang it on a tree somewhere. Just make sure to do it somewhere that’s a distance from here, we don’t want it anywhere near this clearing when it starts to rot… actually, wait, no. How fast do you think you could make it to Kirtvel?”

“If I run? About 3 minutes.”

“Pass the boar to the guards at the gate, tell them it’s a thank-you gift for Dyros.”

“Ah, get rid of the problem entirely while also using it to improve political relations. An elegant solution, worthy of royalty.”

“Well, I was an Empress at one point, however long it lasted.”

“I’m still waiting to hear the story from you, Eury.”

“I know. I’ll tell you everything once the house is built, okay?”

“I’ll hold you to that.”