How long had she known Ayla? Longer than time itself, or at least it seemed that way. Kira drove the horses on, her eyes scanning the landscape while her mind drifted to thoughts of her passenger. The witch. The one who had always been there.
Immortality was not easy.
At first it had seemed like a blessing to stay strong while others grew weak and passed, but Kira now realized it was as much a curse. The world was a very lonely place when one faced the fact that all relationships were fleeting, ardent lovers turned to old women in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Only Ayla remained constant in an ever changing world.
Kira could not stop her mind from wandering along the curves of Ayla’s body. It had been a long time since the notion of intimacy between them had been a possibility. Ayla had first seen her as nothing more than a whelp to be whipped, and then a warrior to be healed, and then, well, the passing of centuries somehow did not afford an opportunity for any physical romance.
“Likely because she is not interested in you,” Kira lectured herself. “She is your friend, your mentor, your guide, not your lover.”
She had repeated that little mantra to herself on a great many nights, sometimes even when another warm body lay alongside hers, blissfully sated and asleep. Kira was not sure when it had started, this erotic infatuation. Perhaps it had been there in some form since the beginning. All she knew was the fact that the mere mention of the name Ayla now made her heart flutter. If she were to give way to the feelings she would be as tongue tied and stumble toed as a page on her first day of service.
Kira swore to herself silently, as she had many times before, not to let her feelings get in the way. Fate had drawn her and Ayla back to one another. There was a new summoner to train.
Perhaps that should have excited her, but she found herself rather flat. Somehow none of the summoners had ever compared much to the first one she had ever met, Atrocious. They were all pale imitations in some way, shape or form. Things could never be as they had been. She would never know the innocence she had known back in those days. Yes, even as a flesh trading warrior, she had been innocent. Innocent to what time could do, not just to mortals, but to goddesses alike.
Nobody spoke that name anymore. Generations had lived and died since the last of her worshippers had whispered prayers to the wind.
A great weight of sadness made Kira’s shoulders slump. She was so very old in heart, if not in flesh. Perhaps her longing for Ayla was merely her longing for things as they had been before the years had taken her sense of possibility.
“Kira!” Hope popped her head up from the hatch in the top of the carriage. “I’m all fixed up,” she said. “Ready for duty!”
The young woman’s enthusiasm struck a dark chord in Kira, a mirror of all she had once been and all she had lost. She did not answer Hope, instead she nodded curtly.
There was a clunky, clumsy clambering sound as Hope made her way back to the seat beside her. Kira felt Hope’s presence next to her, so bright, so excited, so adoring, like an eager puppy.
“When we get to Ayla’s lodgings, you will run twelve of your sword drills,” she said sternly.
There was an almost silent sigh. “Yes, ma’am,” Hope said miserably.
She thought she was being punished for being sloppy. She was, but to perhaps a greater extent she was being disciplined for being everything Kira no longer was. It was not entirely fair, but it would not harm her. It would teach her to be strong. It might even keep her alive. Kira did not feel at all guilty for being so strict with Hope. Guilt was certainly not the reason she avoided the eager young woman’s gaze as she cracked the reins sharply above the horses’ heads and sent the carriage hurtling ever faster down the trail.