NaNoWriMo 2019 Chapter 13
Disclaimer: This is a NaNoWriMo attempt where quantity trumps quality. This will also be a long piece, so if you’re looking for a quick read, I recommend checking out a different category like Short Stories.
~Chapter 13 Hidden Ability~
They have a good laugh over her emph.
“We have a saying. ‘The emph only changes after you show that you don’t need it’,” Julia says.
But now that her emph is a shield, she can be a more effective rearguard. They continue their journey towards the tear, Corvus at the lead, Anastasia bringing up the rear, and Julia positioned protectively between them.
Neither Corvus nor Julia are familiar with using a shield, but her body is, even if it feels like her shield should be bigger than what it is now. The straps also dig in a way that suggests that she should be holding her shield differently. Julia assures her that the small shield is likely an intermediary form, and that, like the knife form her emph previously had, can always change.
She expects the tear to be a great gateway or a proper portal, but when they arrive at the tear, she finds exactly that. A tear in the air.
The first thing they saw of the elite monster was a giant hand that grabbed the edge of the tear. With a groan that sent tremors in a wave across the ground, the monster heaved itself through, and the smaller monsters scrambled out of the way least they be crushed beneath the pillar-thick feet.
“Get back,” someone yelled.
She turned. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw children on the hunting ground. She wasn’t the only one. They rushed over to place themselves between the children and the monsters.
The hunting ground is quietly empty. It’s just the three of them with a bunch of dead monsters.
She breathes long and slow and tries to make her frantic heartbeat slow to match her breathing.
Well, she suppose it’s confirmation that she did fight monsters before she lost her memory. Still, if even a normal monster is so hard to fight against, the elite monster must be a nightmare.
“It looks like we’re not the only ones to have come here recently,” Corvus says from where he is crouched near the base of the tear. He gives the area one long sweep of his gaze and rises to his feet.
They keep an eye out for more monsters on the way back to the car but find none. Still, they do not relax their guard until they enter the car and drive away.
On the journey back to Shatterstrike’s guild hall, she studies her emph’s new form.
Other than the crest and the cracks, the round shield bears no other markings. It has no protruding edges, no notches, no tassels or bells. even the straps behind the shield are simple, only there for her to have a grip on the shield.
Is that it?
Surely not. Nolan’s emph looks like an ordinary vest. Nothing about the vest itself shows any clue that it is anything special other than the guild crest, but it can fly.
Right now, her emph looks like a shield, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t do anything else. But what can it do?
She stares at the shield’s cracked face, but the shield stubbornly keeps its secrets.
She leans her head back against the car seat and sighs.
“That is quite a sigh. What’s wrong?” Julia asks form the front seat of the car.
“It’s nothing,” she says.
“Tell me. We still have time until we return,” Julia says, “Is it related to your emph?”
She stares at Julia. “How do you keep doing that?”
“Do what?” Julia says. Anastasia catches a ghost of a smile at the corner of Julia’s lips from where she sits.
“Keep reading my mind,” she says.
“I’m flattered, but I can’t read minds. I can only make educated guesses,” Julia says.
“You make very accurate guesses.” Scarily accurate.
“Thank you, but I’m quite certain you’ll be able to do the same in this case if not for your amnesia. Figuring out what your emph’s hidden ability is is one of the most unforgettably frustrating part of learning how to uncover the full potential of your emph. Just ask any of us.”
She runs her fingers over the face of her shield, carefully tracing the rough edges of the cracks.
“How did you figure out your hidden ability? What is your hidden ability?” she asks. All she knows is that Julia’s emph is related to the pouch she has on her side, which is even more non-indicative than her shield. Even if she doesn’t know what her emph does, at least she can still swing her shield around in a pinch. Julia’s pounch does not look like it has the same flexibility.
“My hidden ability is to pull potions out of my pouch. The potion only take effect when ingested, and there are a lot of potions that I can create, but also a lot of potions I can’t.
“How I figured out my hidden ability, well, my emph didn’t become a pouch straightaway. It became a war horn first. How I figured out what that did was to blow it. That’s how I learnt that my emph in horn form blasts a shock wave when I blow it.”
“You also knocked down a wall in the process,” Corvus chimes in.
“A mistake I will never make again because you never miss a chance to remind me about it,” Julia says with dangerous calm.
“That would be nice. I like our walls where they are,” Corvus says, deliberately obtuse.
“Back to the topic on hand. When my horn turned into a pouch, I went outside.” Julia sends Corvus a look.
“Which is now a requirement for everyone who is testing their emph for an unknown ability for the first time. Please take note, Anastasia,” Corvus says.
“Noted,” she says.
“I went outside,” Julia valiantly continues. “And I tested my new emph by sticking my hand inside and pulling out what I found, which was a bottle of unknown liquid. So I know that my pouch can produce bottles of liquid, but the hard part was finding out what the liquid does. As I mentioned earlier, my potions only work when they are ingested. As you can imagine, no one was keen to try drinking this suspicious liquid.”
Her brain helpfully supplies the image of Julia tracking everyone down and using every trick and tip she knows to trick, challenge, blackmail, and plead them into tasting the potion, not necessarily in that order. She hides her smile behind her shield. She hides her whole face behind her shield for good measure, since Julia is so good at reading her face.
“But a brave soul volunteered,” Julia says.
Corvus coughs. A few times. His eyes remain straight ahead on the road. As he should. Since he’s the driver, of course.
Anastasia presses a hand over her lips and tries very hard not to make a sound.
“And now we know that my potions have beneficial properties,” Julia says. “Most of the time.”
She assumes that the first potion the ‘volunteer’ ingested was one of the beneficial ones.
“When we return, feel free to experiment with your emph’s new form, but please do it outside in the backyard. If you want any help, you can ask any of us. Fletcher will be the best person to ask. He is familiar with a wide variety of emphs. Derek is also a good option, since he has been in a few guilds before ours. Both of them will have more ideas on what a hidden ability can possibly be,” Corvus says.
“I’ll try and ask them.”
But this is good. Her emph is now a shield, a form that feels more comfortable to her than a knife. Her body knows what to do, and surely the rest will follow?
* * *
This is bad. Her body knows how to move with a shield, going on the defensive feels comfortable in a way that she never was when she was practising with her emph while it was as knife, but she can’t tell which arm she is supposed to wield the shield with.
The obvious choice is her left arm. More than once, her body has moved as if she had a shield on her left side. For her body to remember even when her mind doesn’t, surely that means that she has defended with the shield on her left arm time and time again.
But the straps fit more comfortably for her right arm.
Not just more comfortably. It moulds perfectly to her right arm, so much so that it moves like a part of her arm when she swings it around. She doesn’t even need to grip the straps with her right hand to keep the shield in place.
That’s not to say that she can’t wield the shield with her left arm. She can, and it’s not unbearably uncomfortable, but it doesn’t fit the same way it does on her right arm.
“The other thing to keep in mind is that your emphatic weapon may change. Don’t assume you’ll end up with exactly what you had before it broke,” Beth said.
Well, she doesn’t remember what her emph used to be, but she is 99.99% sure that she used to wield a shield with her left arm.
She studies her shield under the morning sun.
If her shield is in her right arm now, then it’s on her right arm. She will learn how to wield it, just as she did when her emph was still a basic knife.
She swings the shield around. Horizontally, vertically, in an arc, getting a feel for how the shield moves and sits on her arm. She pretends that the monster from yesterday stands before her, and as the monster in her memory attacks, she blocks with the shield the way she would have if she could at the time. And then she imagines the fight again, and again, until she’s dancing from one form to the next as her shield slides smoothly in the air.
She stops when she feels her sweat steam gently off her skin. She cannot say that she knows how to wield her new shield in a real right, but she knows she can move more comfortably with it than when she first started. And after Fletcher returns, she’ll ask if he can help her create some real drills that she can practice with.
At Julia’s suggestion, she takes a long soak in the bath. The warm water loosens the muscles that had stiffened after all the moving she did while experimenting with her shield, and the crisp scent from Julia’s bath foam clears her mind.
She stays in the bath until the water cools and her fingers swell and wrinkle like walnuts.
As she drains the bathtub, she gathers her long her hair over her shoulder. Then, she heads over to her room, where she already prepared a stack of towels beforehand. She takes a seat at her table and begins the long process of towelling her hair dry.
As she does every day, she considers cutting her hair. One snip, and she will save herself hours of labour every week.
Then again, what will she do with the gained time? At least this help her pass her time in these days which sometimes feel too long.
It’s still very inconvenient.
Lucy usually tries something different every time. But she’s not Lucy, and the day is almost over, so she ties her hair back in a simple braid. She doesn’t braid her hair all the way to the tip, only around the length of a hand’s breadth, enough to keep her hair out of her face.
She studies herself in the mirror.
Is this the hairstyle her past self used? What kind of person was she? Why did she keep her hair long? Why did her emph break?
The familiar questions flow in, like a river filling a freshly dug hold. In the quiet of her room, the questions circle endlessly. This is likely the wrong hairstyle. Her reflection is not familiar to her, and it triggers no answer to satisfy her questions.
Downstairs, voices call out.
The weekend is drawing to a close, and the members of Shatterstrike are returning to the guild hall.
She rises to her feet, leaves the questions behind, and heads down to where the people are.
~End Chapter 13~
Continue in Chapter 14.
Chapter word count: 2071
Total word count: 21547