Sheathing her sword and wiping away her sweat, she took a breath. It had already been over five years since Sylin’s sacrifice, yet she still thought of him whenever she finished a training session. The way that he’d often offer her a towel when she stopped to rest. The way they’d share a grin at each of her breakthroughs. The way he’d usually have food waiting for her, even if she’d lost track of time. The way that he’d occasionally fall asleep watching her. The way his arms guided hers while giving her pointers. All things from a distant past.
She startled, raising a hand, as an unexpected tear found its way down her face. Xev had made it clear, she wasn’t going to be seeing her childhood friend ever again. Her friend had made the ultimate sacrifice securing their escape that day. A day in a fateful summer that she would never forget. One that she couldn’t ever forget.
In that short summer, she’d learned that he wasn’t nearly as infallible as she had once assumed. Far from it. Despite always appearing so invulnerable, in all matters besides his strange insecurity and distrust toward strangers, especially with his unmatched skill in swordsmanship and constant tendency to evade wounds… In that short season, she’d learned that he was just as prone to injury as anyone else.
And now… he was gone. Gone, just as suddenly as he’d appeared in her life… Gone, without a trace. It was as though their entire encounter had been but a dream. A beautiful, albeit short dream.
She let out a sigh, before giving the sheathed blade a whirl as she slung it over her shoulder. Instantly, her mind flew back to Sylin. Without realizing it, she’d picked up on her best friend’s habit. A motion that was more attention-grabbing than practical. Eyes now teary again, she secured the straps that held the weapon behind her.
With another breath, she clenched her hand into a fist. She couldn’t let herself fall too deep into the past’s trap. Xev was right. She still had a life ahead of her. Sylin didn’t save them to see her waste herself away. Furthermore, she couldn’t afford to falter.
She couldn’t falter… Not with so many people watching her. Not with so many people still caring for her. Not with his memory resting on her shoulders. Not with so many things still depending on her success.
Most importantly, she couldn’t falter because the moment that she did, her brother would double down on her. The moment that she lost her ability to stand on her own, she’d lose everything else. Her freedom. Her position. Her ability to covertly search for anything Sylin left behind. Her only chance of finding him or whatever was left of him.
He was a hero. A man that willingly sacrificed himself for the sake of others. For the sake of their country. For her. But, he was also a friend. The least that she could do was find whatever remained of him and give him the funeral that he deserved. Had their situations been reversed, she had no doubt that Sylin would have done the same for her.
Throwing her previously abandoned coat over her shoulder, she looked up at the brick building before her. Her efforts over the past year hadn’t only been for herself. It was for him as well. Reluctantly, she shoved him out of her mind. Now wasn’t the time. She couldn’t let her brother become suspicious of her plans.
After a year of training under him, this was the first time Xev intended to loosen his iron grip. In a few days, she would be temporarily granted release from his direct mentorship, and the brief license to act on her own. A long awaited freedom from his watchful eyes. She sucked in a breath. A freedom that she had to make permanent. The destination was so close yet so far.
She looked up at the sky, where she imagined Sylin silently peering down from. She still remembered the way he used to emphasize the importance of patience. A virtue that she never thought she would one day have. Watching the passing clouds, she couldn’t help but wonder what he would’ve done if he was still here… Whether he would be proud to see her current progress.
Would he be happy to see how close she was to achieving what had once been her dream? Would he be proud of her progression up the ranks? Would he smile at the knowledge that she had decided to slowly work up from a lower rank position in the military, over stubbornly applying until they directly gave her a leadership role?
She sighed. Perhaps attaining these things would’ve once made her excited… Elated, even. Perhaps, at one point, they would’ve felt like a dream coming true. But she certainly wasn’t feeling any of those things now.
Everything just felt so off from what she’d originally envisioned. Never in her wildest thoughts had she ever imagined a day where she traded her best friend’s life for a chance toward achieving her own goals. Never once had she thought of him as a stepping stone, and never did she want him to become one.
Without realizing it, Sylin had walked in on her dreams and made himself a home there. Even if she was one day able to truly walk side by side with her brother, proudly joining him on the battlefield, there would still be an irreparable emptiness. A gap in her life. A permanent reminder of what had once existed. A shadow of what should have been there, but could never be again.
But what was life besides a series of regrets? Gazing up at the sky, she let out another sigh. Who didn’t have their lingering shadows? Straightening her shoulders, she pulled open the door before her and stepped inside. She wasn’t going to let herself devolve into something that even she would despise.