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Weaponizing Power of Love, and Similar Faff

Written by Daskalarch

Atia had drilled time and time again. She was surrounded by her battle sisters, the well-renowned and greatly-feared T'kra Kayi, each and all of whom could defend her if things went sour. As an apprentice, she received good commendations. As a member of the reserves, she'd seen and noted every move they made, and every action they took. Yet now, as she was about to move forward, all color drained from her face. Her legs were shaking, and the knife she bore felt made of lead.   She looked across the battlefield. There stood her brothers, the regulars, waiting patiently if not already fatigued from their armor and weapons. See, that was many times heavier than the knife she bore. If they could manage, she could. Take heart. Straighten yourself up. It will all be over soon.   A faint drum beat from the back of her corps sounded, and the day's work had begun. It was a simple but standard exercise: sway a little, exaggerate the movement by staggering back and forth. Be sure to bend your knees and roll with your back to create a particularly eerie effect. The commander to her right would gauge the enemy's level of fear and, at a reasonable time, sound the horn. The T'kra Kayi would scream and charge the enemy. If successful, the enemy routs. If not... the daggers they carried would be suitable defense. Hopefully.   Atia, however, was removed from the situation. An odd palpitation, something she couldn't quite put her finger on. Was it fear? Perish the thought, but it might have been. She couldn't move a muscle. She watched, head and shoulders above her crouched kin. The people to each side of her kept giving her strange looks but continued as normal. A little hiccup wouldn't derail their duty.   Atia was saved from further embarrassment by the trump's resound. Her instincts, as hardwired by her training, told her to scream. She shouted at the top of her lungs out of instinct but made no lunge forward, causing the veterans behind her to stumble and flow around her. Her conscious self regained control, and Atia brought up the rear. Beside her was her commander, safely behind her underlings. "If you survive, and if I survive, we will discuss this further."   A voice from within Atia, perhaps not quite Atia's, began to speak: "I will explain then." As if on cue, her feet began to move. Her conscious self regained control of the motor functions, doing its best to catch up with the others. She ran fast, but only as fast as the others, and even they couldn't reach most of the fleeing right flank of the enemy. By the time she reached there, the T'kra Kayi had finished their operation and had apparently started to take prisoners. A single prisoner? Odd; usually their dance works completely or not at all. Atia had neither time to muse nor time to stop and rest; the central force had dispatched a battalion to retake their flank, and the short weapons the Kayi carried were little match for the heavily-armored pikes marching their way. The commander gave two blurts of the horn, and her troop retreated safely out of distance. They had done their duty and had risen triumphant; nothing more could be asked of them.   The same could not be said about the main Keyrit force. The T'kra Kayi watched from their refuge on a distant hill as their brothers charged into an unfavorable position, to be handily flanked and routed. The commander, the singular prisoner under her restrain via rope, nodded, authority flowing from her voice. "This is as much our loss as it is theirs. One among us failed to join us. One among them stood to fight. Had we acted as one, the enemy may have fled the field today. Let this be a lesson, then. We move out in two minutes to rendezvous with our defeated brothers."   Atia approached her superior, her face low. "I apologize for my inaction. It will not happen again. I do not ask for your forgiveness, only that I may continue to serve."   The commander lifted her chin, while the prisoner shifted his attention between the two. "A standard apology, but lecturing you personally would be redundant. I'll think of proper discipline later. Mind that it never happens again, Atia. As I am transporting more unruly cargo," she stated, yanking the prisoner for better effect, "you will carry my baggage."   The journey back to the sea took a few hours, more than enough time for proper reflection. Atia didn't join in on the marching songs, a much more tolerable and understandable dis-junction from her peers. An hour into the march, the troop leader called for a short break. There weren't that many places for shade along the route, and a large rock provided ample respite. The commander and a translator took the prisoner away from curious and prying eyes for interrogation. Atia stood straight, as a small display of strength, hoping in vain to counter her blunder. A few of her comrades tried to cheer her up. "No worries, Atia, it was your first time. You'll do better!" "Why, I remember this one lass who did much worse... Well, she's dead now... not quite a good example, I guess..." "We didn't need that victory anyways!"   A roar of laughter erupted from behind the rock. The prisoner was shoved into view by the commander, the translator bringing up the rear. The bellow of the commander's voice filled the air. "Would you like to know the cause of this man's steadfastness?"   The prisoner looked at the commander, his eyes pleading for mercy. The T'kra Kayi drew closer, eager for gossip and apparently what passed as comedy for the commander. "By my honor, it was the, ahem, 'stunning beauty of the standing one!' How's that for a laugh, eh?"   The faces of the soldiers shifted to Atia. The air was silent, but the wide grins of the entire battalion suggested that a small giggle could ignite the troop into explosive laughter. the prisoner nodded at Atia, as sheepish as Atia was embarrassed. He mouthed the simple words "I'm sorry" in Traveler's Tongue. Traveler's Tongue. The band of merchants seemed too far north to speak the language, but Atia was grateful that the awkward walk home would at least not be silent. She made a hesitant smile and likewise mouthed "It's okay."   The commander guffawed a little more and took her belongings from their trustee. "I believe it would be more fitting if you take the rope. The prisoner gets an unorthodox kind of torture, and you get to think on your mistakes. That seems a fair sentence."   Atia paused before taking the rope. It was an order, but it would truly be an hour of promised punishment. The commander blew her horn and the legion grumpily rose to return to work. The traveler was the first to speak. "I'm sorry. It's true, but I didn't know of any other reason to give."   "No, no, it's fine. I've seen many armies flee before us; standing against us was no small task. Not that I'm glad I helped, but it's interesting."   "I... It didn't feel like it was me who stood up."   "How so?"   "Well, I have a reputation of being a coward. I think I'm just hesitant, but perhaps they're right. But then I saw your face rise out of the dance of those Death Lasses. It was captivating, and I don't even... It mustn't have been love. I... I felt this warmth, this strength grow inside me. I was no longer afraid. I'm sorry; I'm at a loss for words right now." He returned to sheepishness.   Atia nodded. She felt no attraction but yet a similar sort of strength welling up inside of her, considerably more disconcerting to her than it apparently was to her captor. She opened her mouth. "I-"   "Tripping rock!" "Tripping rock!" "Watch out for the tripping rock!" The vanguard announced to the rear of the pack, as they were wont to do.   Atia shook her head and continued. "Thank you for telling me. The commander has a sick sense of humor, so doubtless we'll be seeing mor-"   Atia had foolishly ignored the stone in the middle of the path. The bridge of her heel struck the flat wall of the stone perfectly. She let go of the rope and flung her hands into the air. Her body fell to the ground. As if on cue, the ground in front of her shook violently, and even the well-coordinated soldiers of the T'kra Kayi struggled to maintain their respective balances. The quake went on for several minutes, but Atia, her prisoner, and those behind her were not affected, exchanging several uneasy glances in the process. The commander was distraught. "The fault line is many days' journey away from here! We shouldn't be feeling something like this. Sisters, are you all well?"   The prisoner had decided not to flee, instead holding his end of the rope in one hand and the other on Atia's shoulder. "I felt strength like that. Please, stomp your foot."   "Wha-"   "Excuse me, please."   Atia shrugged and struck the ground with all the force her heel could provide. Again, the ground shook, even more violently. The resting rock behind them cracked into a dozen pieces, falling to the ground as rubble. Atia was stunned, more emotionally than physically.   The commander didn't waste a moment. She unsheathed her dagger and stormed towards the prisoner. "You will not endanger my troop again, fiend. Announce your last rites!" She telegraphed her movement for a large, quick thrusting motion.   "Wera, it was me," stated Atia abruptly, her hand holding the blade of the dagger as it was furthest out. "See? I'll explain." She tapped the ground purposely, sending shivers down the ground. Cracks sprung out of the hard terrain, all emanating from Atia's placement. The commander was perplexed. It took her a moment or two before a nod of primitive understanding. "Well, don't do that again." She pointed at the tripping rock. "And by the heavens, watch out for tripping rocks." She trounced off to the front of the line. "I'm going to have to report this..."   Atia glared at her prisoner and spoke in sharp whispers. "No, but seriously, what did you do to me?!"   The prisoner returned in kind. "I don't know! I've never seen that happen before!" He tapped his foot. He stomped his foot. Nothing. "I'm your prisoner! Do you honestly think that I'd give you that gift above me?"   "Well, it's never happened to me befor-"   "Tripping rock!" "Tripping rock!" "Hey, Atia, watch out for the tripping rock this time!" "TRIPPING ROOOOOOCK!"   Atia raised a finger. "Hold on, sir, I must concentrate. For the good of my team, it seems."   She deftly maneuvered around the basic protrusion but decided not to continue with the conversation. It had been a long day, and she needed time to think for herself. Her sisters merged with her more numerous brothers shortly thereafter. The general had apparently felt the tremors, as he traveled far ahead of his crowd to talk with Commander Wera. There was indiscernible yet energetic conversation at the front of the pack, followed by the general returning to attend to his flock. The prisoner tapped his captor's shoulder again. "Apologies; I should address you more properly. Your name is Atya?"   Atia nodded. "Atia, Line Unknown. And your name?"   "Olu, House of Arkyrik."   A fleet of ships and their accompaniment awaited the army at the beachfront. The army as instructed stood at attention just outside the boarding zone. Usually, the general would make a set of announcements and assignments, and the men and women of the Keyrit Army would shuffle onto whatever barge would be their home for the next week of sea travel. That call never came, or at least didn't come for perhaps an hour. Instead, a man dressed in what appeared to be a noble's garb, accompanied by two unassuming soldiers, shuffled his way across the boarding zone. He reached the Kayi and made a calculated turn towards Atia and Olu. He pointed at them and then to the soldier on his right. "You fit the description. Sir, you're going with my colleague. Madam, you are coming with me. We'll need some quiet, so the two of you will go in the far right boat. She and I will take the far left."   Atia didn't quite appreciate the eyes of all Keyrit focused on her, but at the very least she could share the spotlight with a few others. She and the noble walked aboard the vessel. The noble raised a hand to shield his eyes. "Close your eyes, and follow my lead. It will be much easier to adapt your vision as we go below deck."   Atia did as she was told. The noble lit a candle in the captain's chambers, and Atia reopened her eyes and mouth. "This is about the incident today."   "Yes, and I would advise you not to try it again. I have an arsenal of traps, instant kills, and banishing techniques that I can use on you, and I only need an excuse."   Atia nodded absentmindedly. She had heard stories of the noble's kin, but most were considered myths, somethings to keep the soldiers in line. "You are the Harmony Hunters, yes?"   The noble nodded. "Myself and the two soldiers are plants, but we have the full permission and authority of the Empire. Your knowledge of us will make my job a tad harder, but likely not by much." He took two sticks and lit them with the candle, filling the room with incense. "What is the nature of the Seven Truths?"   "Uh... um... I only know what my family believes... I can recite them to you, if you want."   "The First Truth. Your interpretation, or your family's, perhaps."   "Well, we just learn to work hard, understanding that the fruit of our labor will likely never return to us."   The inquisitor took note of the air around him. He pulled out a notepad and began to write. "Fine. What are you thinking right now?"   "I mean, I'm thinking so much right now."   "Then let's break it down. What do you think about me?"   Atia didn't know how to respond. "Well, you're a very important man, I think. I have respect for the people who make the Empire run."   The man took a deep inhalation and wriggled his nose. "Not quite the whole truth. Is there something you're omitting?"   Atia shuffled uncomfortably. "You scare me, sir. I don't know what to do, and I have a feeling that you could kill me at any moment."   The man nodded. "That's better. And true. Next. If I were to give you a year's wages immediately, no strings attached, what would you do with it?"   "I'd make sure my family has enough to eat. I'd probably build a new house for my cousins. They have five in their family. I don't know; I've never had that much money available before."   A patronizing nod and a brief scribble was the response. A soldier entered from the ship's deck. "Iorow is finished. The Arkyrik doesn't seem to have anything of note. He did manage to spill a lot, though. He seems to think very highly of the woman. Speaking of, do you think she's..."   The noble looked at Atia, then back at the soldier. "Certainly not Harmony. Just a bumbling fool with powers, it seems." He turned back to Atia. "Just in case something manifests itself, however, I have been assigned to your vessel. Come out into the light. The captain's coming aboard, and we're in his room."   Atia, blinded by the light, tripped on the stairs and hit the deck. Both inquisitors had held their breath for a ship-cracking cataclysm, but nothing had happened. The noble looked up to the sky in thought. He reached his hand out to Atia, who gratefully took it. "Come with me, madam. I'd like to try an experiment."   He took her off the ship and motioned to the general to sound the horn. It took an awkward but relatively brief twenty minutes for the fleet to be boarded, all of which time was spent moving away from the scene. The noble cleared his throat. "Alright, I want you to stomp the ground now."   Atia followed orders. Nothing. The noble resurfaced his notebook and made a few remarks. "My current hypothesis is that your powers are only activated when the Arkyrik is around. We will be putting you both on the same boat; your condition warrants further study." He saluted. "You may call me Retek."   The small party boarded the ship. There were shouts of disgruntlement as Olu's ship rowed humbly back to shore, offloaded him, and reembarked. Olu smiled upon seeing Atia. "A face I know! How did they question you?"   Atia nodded, still uncertain about the wisdom of the endeavor as the joint accompaniment began to embark. "It was short, but I lived. What did you tell them about me?"   "Well, they seemed very interested in you. I've heard stories that Harmony would surface disguised as a woman your age; I guess that's why. I just told them what I thought about you."   "Which is?"   "That you're nice, and friendly, and very forgiving. I think you would make a good friend."   They had successfully boarded. Retek put a hand on each of their shoulders, making sure not to startle them. "I would get some rest. It's been a long day of battle for all involved, and my experiments are too long to start now."   Atia bowed. "Thank you for the advice. I can try, but I don't feel quite sleepy."   The noble held his breath, took two more incense sticks, and snapped them. "You will now."     "...move! Don't move! Hey! HEY! Don't move!"   When Atia faded into consciousness, the first stimulation she felt was the feel of cool water all around her. The second was the above shouts, in a voice that seemed like Retek's. She took his advice; while mysterious and controlling, he laid all of his intentions upfront. He seemed trustworthy. She did, however, try to voice her concern. "What's happened to me?"   Olu appeared in the skies above her, his face panicking yet smiling. "Okay, so don't move! You became a giant last night. We don't know why. Your friends tried to take you off your ship last night, but you did end up taking out the back sail- Don't look! Don't look! Looking means moving... Anyways, you're now the length of the ship, roughly. But hey, I have the power to fly now!"   Atia now felt a very small piece of twine wrapped around her shoulders and under her armpits. So they're towing her. Interesting. "So what do I do now?" Atia was startled at the sound of her own voice, but worse things have befallen her in the past few hours.   "Stay there, and don't move," Olu stated, his hands providing dramatic effect. He chuckled. "And, might I say, you look quite beautiful this morning."   Atia reached out her hand to grab the pixie, but, foremost, the distraught noises of her comrades forced her to reconsider. Second, if he wasn't already well out of reach, he likely soon would be. Third, the voyage would be at least a few more hours, and that to just the nearest pit stop. Far better was it at this time to make friends than nemeses. So she smiled along with Olu's laughter; it was a funny enough troll to warrant that reward. "So, do you think it is just us two? We've never met. I don't think we're related. We're from two different sides of the world!"   "Who can tell? Perhaps Fate has a very twisted sense of humor- ah!"   Olu clutched his stomach and began falling to the ground. His path would have landed him on top of Atia, but he veered at the last moment to her starboard side. Atia, concerned, waved her right hand, bumping into what felt like a body. She quickly picked it up and, the boat in front of her still dependent on her stability, rested him on her stomach.   Olu was humbled and embarrassed. "I... I'm sorry, flying apparently takes a lot of work for me, and... and it hurt to stay up there. I didn't want to make you uncomfortable."   Atia's sigh nearly blew Olu from the sky. "I don't mind you resting here. Not at all. While you're recuperating, though, what would you like to do?"   And so the two of them spent the next few hours watching the skies above them, enjoying the large shapes of the cumulus clouds and pointing out their likenesses. It was a good time, and as quiet a time as Atia's booming vocal chords could afford. Before long, the ship arrived at its makeshift destination: a small island off the coast of Unterritory, little more than a large rock with dirt on it and an accompanying sandbar. In the distance, the large forests of the northern shore of the continent welcomed the escort to their strange lands. The T'kra Kayi disembarked first, grateful after the bizarre night to be back on dry ground. The water was shallow enough for Atia to stand, but a number of her fellow soldiers tried and failed to haul her to shore before she ascended. Atia felt the pain of a dozen pricks left behind by her transport's fishing rods, made all the more wounding by the saltwater now directly applied to them. Now, for the first time, she was able to truly see the extent of her new power. She peered deep into the mainland continent, then down at her cautious comrades below. The mere spectacle forced her and her audience to stagger backwards. Atia for her part fell into the ocean in a breathtaking display of mist, parting the waters, and soaking everyone involved.   Retek's half-dozen linens and furs had now come to collect on their true cost, weighing down on him like a sack of bricks. Even still, Retek was not phased as he approached the clumsy giant. He took a moment for her to regain her footing. "I would like to let you know that, even now, I still have many ways to kill you, should it be necessary. Please, follow me."   He took Atia, and by proxy Olu, to the small, non-sandy part of the island. "I'd like to know if your powers are cumulative. Please, step down upon the rock."   Atia and Olu looked at each other, and Atia smiled nervously. "Are you certain that's a good idea? I mean, if my powers increase with my size..."   "Then it's a good thing we didn't do it on the mainland. Besides, I chose this sandy beach for a reason. It absorbs the impact." Retek looked at the sun as if to tell time. "All right, then. My colleague should be here soon. If you'd please."   Atia took a deep breath and plunged her foot into the ground. There was a slight tremor, but the rock held firm. Atia, on the other hand, was taken aback by the shock, to repeat her misfortunes: staggering back, falling down, and covering all in a new layer of sand.   Retek's pen and notebook, kept under his furs, had miraculously stayed dry and unsullied. They bore even more secrets with this new encounter. "Good. Good. I think, with this new revelation, we can skip the next three experiments. Unfortunately, the fourth is necessary, and requires a few choice articles that my colleague plans to bring."   Atia shuffled, making large divots of sand. "So, Lord Retek... is there a cure for this?"   "Cure? Why would you want to cure this? Do you realize the enormous amount of power you have?"   "Would you like it if everyone stared at you this way?"   Retek smiled. "Then you can let me and my colleagues worry about the details. Like social obligations. Of which your only one will be with Olu."   "But where can I go? What can I even do?"   Retek scratched his head. "The way I see it, there isn't much of an application outside military. Being tall like you are would be good for construction, maybe reconnaissance, but your earthquake ability would ruin that benefit. Both of your abilities differ widely, but they lean on the side of entropy. There is no organization outside the military with ample work for powers like that."   Commander Wera, having little else to do on this godforsaken rock, had overheard the conversation from a distance and only now decided to get involved. "You will always have a place in our ranks, Atia, no matter what. And besides, the fear that they will have when they see a giant will be immeasurable! Think of the drills we can think up!"   Olu, while given permission, still was torn about resting on Atia's shoulder. Even now he flew with one arm resting on her for support. He remembered old creeds from his ancestors that he thought were applicable. "The side that employs you will be invincible. The balance of power will be cleft in twain."   Before Atia could react, a distant horn sounded. Atia and Olu could see the mast of a ship hanging on the horizon, while the women below her could only guess the newcomers. Retek already knew. "The water should be shallow enough for you to reach it. Could you drag the boat ashore for us?"   Atia had little better to do, and she didn't quite like the direction of the conversation, so she did as she was ordered. The water was cold, but the sand that had stuck to her washed right off. Olu tried to keep far enough to not get in the way but close enough to sustain Atia's height. Even still, the water had reached Atia's belly button by the time she arrived at the visitor. A bespectacled woman stood on the bow of the ship. "Ah, so you must be the Atia I was told about!"   "...How did you-"   "I have many ways to communicate, and travel, over long distances, and I have been doing so continuously since I first found out. My, have you taken your height?"   "No, not quite," Atia stated as she put her arms around the hull of the ship.   "Ah, well, what about your displacement?... Your speed?... Have you provided a clean blood sample?... Oh, there are so many ways to analyze your condition. I only hope I can do so before the day is over! Just a moment, I must tell my crew to lower their sails."   Atia moved to the back of the ship for a better grip and a stronger push. A measuring rope was thrown overboard with all haste, and the sails were lifted, forcing Atia to push all the more. The lady on board reappeared with a notebook, of the same make as Retek's but clearly much larger. "This ship weighs roughly... yes... and the conditions are roughly without friction... Captain, what is the reading?... that many knots... impressive." She looked over at the laboring Atia. "My, you are quite strong! What a boon you are!"   Atia nodded flippantly. In her distraction she had pushed the ship well onto the beach, such that only she could return it to the sea. She scratched her head and smiled. Retek had wasted no time reaching the newly-arrived, almost getting run over by the ship. "Ulera! It's so good to see you!"   Olu made landfall. "Wait- Ulera? What are you doing here?"   "Oh, right, I never told you. I'm a research head with the Harmony Hunters. Wait- what are you doing here? Are you Atia's other half?"   "Well, yes, but you're supposed to be abroad securing trade deals with other- oh. I get it now."   Atia finished catching her breath. "You know each other?"   Ulera looked up at the titan. "We are cousins, of the same house. I'm the correspondent from the Uko-yt region. That's beside the point; right now, we need to get you measured." She gave a murderous glare at the fur-clad southerner. "It's long past time, Retek."   "Hey, don't blame me. My cohorts bring the measuring equipment, and my specialty is about as far away from- whatever. Hey, Atia, could you submerge yourself in the ocean for a few seconds?"   Atia took a moment to process and, seeing no point in questions, moved into the ocean. She took a deep breath and sank like a rock to the ocean floor. She liked it there. She was alone to her thoughts, and she could pretend like she was a normal human being in a shallow pool. She thought about her friends' opinions of her now. Would Olu replace her comrades now? If so, could he be trusted? She wondered what would become of her. She pondered about her future, how terrifying it made her. For a brief moment, she questioned the merits of rising to the surface ever again. Her lack of oxygen and, by proxy, her survival instincts cut that musing short, and she ascended to the top in a massive breach.   Ulera had taken a fine-toothed measuring stick and lodged it straight into the water. As Atia surfaced, Ulera turned away, shielding her notebook from the mist with her back. "The ocean is ever variable, but I believe we have a good reading. All right, Atia, you can come back now!"   Atia returned and sat in the sand. In a display of truly desperate boredom, her cohort had begun drills to pass the time. Ulera stowed her notebook away. "All right. I believe the next thing to discuss, as a brief hiatus, is what to do with this hulking behemoth."   Retek jumped on the proposition, while Commander Wera, ever nosy, left her girls to drill on their own. Retek spoke in a commanding tone: "I already discussed it with them. Her powers all bend toward entropy. I'm sure her military would make better use of her than otherwise."   Olu tried to posit his own suggestion, but Ulera cut him off. "Bah! And destroy the balance of power? Putting aside the fact that my people will likely be her very first target, she'd do much better as part of a nonpartisan military organization, like AH enforcement, for example."   "You know that our enforcement branch is our weakest."   "That is neither an accurate nor a permanent statement, Retek. Or may I remind you the history of your Magic Division?"   "Oye!" chimed the commander. "I will have you know that Atia is one of our finest soldiers, and I will not part with her! For heaven's sake, have you even asked what she wants?"   Atia didn't want this power at all. If she had it her way, this power would have happened upon someone else. Yet, for a reason no one could understand, she was forced into a bond with someone she didn't know, treated like some sort of monster by even her friends, and helpless to affect any of it. The humiliation she faced in battle was enough. As it was, the stares from the midgets below her forced her to take two steps back. "I... I..." She burst into tears. It had been a long, long day. "I am sorry. I am not as brave as you, Wera, or as smart as you, Ulera, or as clever as you, Retek. I wish I never had these powers, but I don't want to let everyone down."   The commander nodded. "You need time to think. The water should be shallow enough to reach the mainland. Take some time to explore both the land and yourself. We have rations enough for an additional day; take what time you need."   Atia bowed graciously. "Thank you, Commander. I will do my best."   Olu casually slid up beside her. "I'm sorry. I want to let you be on your own, but we have no powers without each other. I've heard many rumors about Unterritory. There are horrors there that would kill most soldiers."   Atia tried to regain composure as she addressed Olu. "I understand... Thank you."   Ulera snapped her fingers. "My, and I was just about to start experiments on my cousin."     Wading into the waters between the landmasses felt nice, but Atia preferred the soft feeling of her toes sinking into the virgin soil of Unterritory. Her view was mostly trees ascending towards a mountain range, but she couldn't help but smile at the sight of it. When she was shorter, she'd have had to spend all her physical strength to get a view half this breathtaking.   Olu was equally grateful atop her shoulder, but he had more pressing concerns at the moment. "So, if we're... you're going to have some time alone, we'll need a clearing and a sufficient path to get there. I'll fly as much as I can, within range. You... well, I guess you can do whatever you want. No one's going to stop you!"   Whatever you want. She cherished the notion. It was not a phrase spoken to her often, and she wouldn't know what to do even if she didn't have any powers. She was always told to fetch this, to stand this way, to come, to go, to eat, sleep, and drill some more. What would she do now? Think of something and do it. The very first thought that came to her inexperienced mind was to grab a tree and throw it as far as she could. She knew full well the puerility of the thought, but it was hers. She would act on it.   The tree she picked was tall and evergreen. Its branches poked at her arms and torso as she tried to embrace the spire and feel around for its trunk. A sharp stab closer to her elbow forced her to withdraw. She took inventory. There were very clear scratches on herself. What would have been a spherical drop of blood coagulating around her pricked finger when she was small was now a thin pool of dark red liquid, as if viewing a rain puddle from a distance.   She bathed her arms in the ocean, grimacing at the pain of salted wounds yet again. She shook them off to dry and began to rethink her strategy. She got down on her knees and grasped her hands around the base of the trunk. She didn't have enough power in just her hands to snap the trunk at the root, nor did she have strength in total to uproot the tree entirely. She got back up again. Perhaps it was reassuring to know that her powers were finite. She wouldn't have to do everything for everyone. Still, there was one more attempt she wanted to try. With all of her might, she slammed into the tree with the side of her body. The tree cracked and fell, Atia tripping on its stump and quickly following after. Atia was a mess, but she got up and laughed. That was an accomplishment, one that she started, planned, and finished. No one told her what to do, and, well, breaking things was fun. It was the very first step to her controlling her powers: understanding their limits. At least, for the singular day that she had them. Who knows? Perhaps she'll have them again one day. Triumphant, she lifted the tree high and tossed it into the sea. It may have proven for good timber, but future lumberjacks will have plenty of alternatives.   Olu returned, a stump to greet him, and the meaning behind the forceful gesture lost on him. "I think I found a clearing, and a sizable path along a stream bed. It's covered by tree branches, so I'm going to need to guide you carefully on this one."   Step by careful step, Atia made her way through the thick forest, hoping that no step she took would crush the smaller woodland animals. "Are you always this nice to strangers?"   "I guess so? I don't talk with many people outside my family. It's refreshing to talk with new people, even though... well, I can't."   "Is that what made you want to be a soldier? To get out and see the world?"   "No, no... more obligation than anything."   The conversation missed a beat. "Do you want to keep talking?"   "Yes, yes! Sorry; I've never been good at conversation, and talking... well, talking to a giant is not a good start to learning."   "I guess, I guess..."   "...So what made you want to be a soldier?"   "I grew up an orphan. This life was one of very few paths for me to reach something more than begging for scraps."   "My family may not be as rich as the southern merchants, but we keep our own well fed. If you ever meet my family, we'll make sure you're well fed."   "Well, if I return to a smaller size, I would assume!"   The lack of branches at her feet heralded the clearing well before she saw it beneath her. The quaint but fair meadows did well to dispel her fears and replace them with comfort. A few rocks strew across the area, but there was ample room for Atia to sit or even to lie down and sunbathe. "Thank you kindly, Olu. I love it!" She fanned out a nice patch of grass and began to meditate. "So, you believe we're fated to be together?"   Olu chose a small patch at her side. "I don't know. Probably."   "Do you have a crush on me, then?"   "...I think you're pretty, and I think you're nice. If that constitutes a crush, then I guess so."   "I'm glad. It would have been a very tough rest of our lives if we hated the sight of each other."   "...Do you have a crush on me?"   "I never really thought about it. I don't feel my heart pounding, but I think you're a great human being. Maybe?"   Even in this remote corner of the world, they could still hear the shouts of humans in the distance. They were male; clearly not the soldiers on the sandbar. Olu sighed. "Do you think I should scout it out?"   "Just... let it go for a minute. The world doesn't need us right this moment."   And so the two laid on the grass, again watching the clouds go by. Whatever their heights, whatever their powers, the mighty clouds in the sky were a certainty. It gave them peace, if only for a moment. At long last, Atia got up and stretched. "I can find a way there myself, I think. Care to hop on?"   Olu hesitated for a second but gratefully and fully sat upon her shoulder. Slowly but surely, Atia squeezed her way through the dense forestry. The loud screams and shouts of the village people beneath her indicated that she had arrived at her destination. She parted the canopy to survey the scene and greet her newfound acquaintances. She saw beneath her the scene of a battle. Men of two distinct markings, one green and one blue, carrying spears and axes, were at the ford of a river. Directly to their right was a small series of huts; she had apparently stumbled into a raid. Out of fear, the warriors of both sides froze into still images, each of their faces looking up at the new problem they faced. Atia by her mere presence had earned herself thirty seconds to survey the scene. Those with green face paint seemed to be the aggressors. The single green warrior that made it past the enemy line was caught leaving one of the buildings, a spear in one hand and a very concerned young woman wrapped by the other.   Olu put his hand on Atia's neck as if to suggest something, something unclear, in a way that wouldn't upset the advantageous quiet. The giantess, knowing full well that the state of shock would wear off in mere moments, grabbed the green assailant, who quickly let go of the woman. She intended to toss him back onto his side of the battle and gently flicked her wrist to that effect. The unwitting strength of her hand flung the warrior into a tree. The warrior bounced off the trunk, lifeless on the ground. The scene began to melt, and the green army took flight, pursued by their blue opponents. Atia reached out for her victim, unable to do so by the branches to her left. "Wait! Oh, please, I never meant to hurt him..."   The much more maneuverable Olu flew between the branches to diagnose. He felt a pulse, then listened for a breath. He felt the man's ribs. "Cracked, in a very bad way. I believe he's dead, but if he isn't, he will be soon enough."   "I... I've never killed someone before."   "I have. Three people, who were much more deserving of life than this pervert."   "Yes, but he should have died like a warrior, not... like..." Atia retreated into silent self-reflection, just as the blue defense party returned from their counterattack. They whooped and hollered and danced around their apparent savior, who remained motionless. Upon one particular call, they returned to their huts, only to drag out crying, screaming women, one of whom Atia had tried to rescue. This... this wasn't right. That wasn't a raid; that was a rescue. Atia and Olu only figured it out far too late. Olu tried to intervene but was pushed back by a collective four stronger men. They turned to each other, and Atia spoke in nervous whispers. "What should I do?"   Olu returned in kind. "You think I know? You killed who you thought to be a aggressor the first time. I mean..."   Atia picked up as many of the women she could handle, which, due to their terror and consequent wriggling, were not many. She carried them aloft, above the canopies, Olu doing his best to reassure them that they were all right, in a language he couldn't understand, to people whose culture he didn't understand. He failed by the time Atia returned to the small green patch. The women gave no thanks; Atia expected none. They instead cowered in fear, as if wondering what their new giant master would do to them next. Atia sighed. "Was that the right thing to do?"   "We were wrong the last time, but I think so now. Regardless, they need some space."   Atia hesitantly waved to her victims, or rescuees, and started walking. To where, she didn't know. It was getting dark, regardless; she could feel herself shrinking. "If I couldn't handle something that seemingly obvious, what could I possibly hope to do in battle?"   Olu got off Atia's shoulder to relieve the burden. "Don't beat yourself up. I made the same mistake. Perhaps... I don't know. I don't think anyone would have judged you then. The way everyone there seemed to look at us back there... maybe we made a mistake. We shouldn't go back there."   "Then where should we go? What should we do?"   Olu felt himself dragging behind, the speed of his own powers fading away. "Back home. We'll figure things out along the way."   As Atia's vision sank from above the trees to the treeline, then to the midsection and the forest floor, she was quiet. She wasn't even thinking of a plan; she simply needed the time to take it all in. Starlight was in full effect as she parted a small wall of reeds to the sandbar. She waved over to her comrades, who quickly readied a small expeditionary vessel to meet her. She smiled. These were friends. These were the people she knew. And yet, she could no longer follow them, or even walk alongside them.   Her handlers had shown up promptly. Ulera had returned to shore only seconds and had already taken measurements with her tape. "Ah, I see. My, that would be, oh, a volume multiplier of, oh, give me a moment, I got this..."   Retek bowed as a sign of goodwill. "Did you find what you were looking for?"   Atia realized and internalized her thoughts as she spoke them; she hardly recognized her own voice. As she spoke, a blue aura began to form around her. "I... I believe I have found it. I have ventured into the wilderness to find the knowledge around my powers and the wisdom to use it. I don't know how you would use me, but I've seen what this power can do in the wrong hands. I must first hone my craft, in every aspect I can. I must seek out wisdom to better understand right and wrong. I will not be ready to help until then. And so, I will find out a quiet spot to settle along these northern shores. If you need my powers one day, you can find me there."   Atia had reached maximum brightness, and Olu, breathless, charged out of the reeds. Wera, who had stood to the back of the accompaniment, nodded at Olu. "And you're willing to accompany her on this mission?"   Olu didn't quite understand what was going on. His face was harried for a moment, then resolute. "Yes, whatever it takes."   Wera spoke up. "Then it is settled, on my authority. Atia, you have been a worthy soldier; I am honored to have had you in my ranks. Olu, you were a worthy foe; it was an honor to fight you. May we meet again in wiser times."   Retek shrugged. "I outrank her, but you have my permission. We have ways of finding things out; we'll contact you when we need you."   Ulera seemed to itch for more information, but she was outnumbered. She gave a brief nod and, defeated, wandered back to her vessel. Before long, the entire expedition had cast off and sailed beyond the horizon.   Atia's conscious self had returned, and she was awestruck. How would she... What if... she passed back behind the reeds and dropped to her knees. Olu parted them after her and put his hands where once he sat. "I'm just as worried as you are. We've been thrust into something we don't even know. We don't know each other, and we're forced to live together for the rest of our lives. It's not fair, I know."   He dropped to his knees beside Atia, his face lit up by her glow. "I will commit all my willpower into making this work. I will do my best to support you if things are rough, and..." He paused to collect his words. "I do not know if I love you. It's much too early for that. But I will try to love you, with as much of my heart as I can give."   "I... oh..."   "Please do not feel obligated to make the same commitment. It's much easier for me; you are the most beautiful woman I know."   "No, no, I am willing to do the same. Let's find out if we love each other. If we fail, then I know I can count on you as a friend."   Atia stood herself up, taking Olu by the hand. She had never tried something like this before. Her sisters had left her; she was defenseless, a lone enemy by her side. She was a freak of nature. There was no one she knew to hail as an example, to look to for guidance. She was cold and hungry. Yet now, as she ventured out into the wild blue yonder, she felt as alive as ever. Every inch of her backed her up and carried her forward in unison. She would no longer be afraid, because she had powers unimaginable, and someone to share them with.


Cover image: by Daskalarch

Comments

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22 Sep, 2019 21:36

I have read some wonderful stories submitted for this contest. I have read some astounding stories. I have read some horrible stories. I have read stories that show promise but aren't quite there. This story is none of the above. This is a beautiful story full of self-discovery and personal growth. The development of love and the thrusting together of disparate characters who are forced to rely on one another despite their being enemies. What I love about this story is that it didn't rely on magic or martial prowess to make the story. Instead, it relied on the humanity of the protagonist. Writing a story from that perspective is a very difficult endeavor, yet you have done so marvelously. Additionally, there were very few grammar and spelling errors which helped make the reading far smoother than others I have read. Your protagonist is a very likable character in her own right, yet her vulnerabilities only seem to endear her more to us. She is a deeply flawed and vulnerable character yet with strength and resolve of which she is completely unaware. Even if Olu never comes to love her, I can tell you that I already do.   I truly hope that you write more about their further adventures.

Daskalarch
Benjamin B
23 Sep, 2019 20:51

I doubt that I'm a contender in this competition, but your comment alone made this entry worth the weeks of free time. Thank you for your insight; it is much appreciated.

23 Sep, 2019 23:11

Whether or not you are a contender is obviously not for me to say, but I will say this: don't sell yourself short. This is a well-crafted work.