Aska watched her mother getting ready for work. She always loved the care her mother took with each and every article of her uniform. First were the shirt and pants so tightly woven with the latest technologically advanced fabric that it would stop not only a bullet or a knife but also any acid that might be thrown or spit. It was also blessed by four different Shamans and Clerics to stop any magical attacks. The amazing part of this fabric was how light weight and soft it was to the touch. If you didn’t know it was there for protection you would think it was just the latest fashion. Her mother would follow this with her vest that was adorned with hooks and clips and hidden pockets to place the various magical amulets and good luck charms she had been given over the years.
When Aska had been younger she had asked her mother why she bothered putting on charms from religions that she herself did not believe in. Aska’s mother had smiled at her and told her that just because she did not believe they had magical powers didn’t mean the person she was fighting didn’t. And the more she won, the more her reputation grew, the more magic those amulets would seem to possess. And as Aska’s mother was one of the most feared and respected Warriors in their region it must work. After lacing on her boots and strapping her weapons to her side, she would put on her last amulet. Her last good luck piece. And the only one that Aska knew she believed in.
There was a ritual for Aska’s mother for putting on this amulet. First she would take it from the hook on the wall, then she would open the locket and look at the picture. She would then close the locket, kiss it and place it around her neck. Once it was tucked under her shirt near her heart she would place a hand over the locket and close her eyes for a few seconds. Aska had never asked her mother what she was thinking during those seconds but she knew what the locket contained. It was a picture of Aska and her father, taken 11 years ago when she was born, 8 years before he died.
Aska’s father had been a Warrior as well. Once Aska was born her parents never patrolled or fought together which is why only he was lost the night his team was ambushed and not Aska’s mother as well. For almost two years after his death Aska’s mother did not go in to the field at all. She trained squad members who had just graduated from the academy. Teaching them real world lessons that their instructors in secondary would have never thought them ready for. Giving them the skills they would need to survive. The skills they would need to protect those that needed help from those that would use their power as an advantage.
For those two years Aska’s mother worked only during the week. She was there for every teacher’s meeting at school. There to see Aska off on the bus in the morning and pick her up in the afternoon. She even volunteered for a bake sale once and watching the young children from the primary school trying to get up the nerve to buy a cupcake from Aska’s mother was fun. For those two years she did everything she could to give Aska a normal safe life where she never had to worry about losing another parent. And for those two years they were both miserable.
Aska’s mother was a Warrior. It was her gift. Her calling. And Aska knew that teaching the other students was not fulfilling to her. All Warriors who lived long enough eventually became teachers, but to be a Warrior in your prime? Teaching instead of patrolling? It was unheard of. The school was grateful to have her. She was a fierce and driven instructor. Her students came out better trained and prepared than other classes. But Aska could see the restlessness in her mother as she would train on her own every day while Aska did her homework. Keeping herself in top shape and, Aska imagined, trying to workout out hard enough to exhaust her restless mind. Aska also felt guilty every time she would hear about a bad magic that got away. When someone would get hurt or worse, die, in her area. Because she knew in her bones if her mother had been there it would not have happened. Nothing got past her mother. So one day she sat her down and told her that she needed to go back to work. Real work. To leave the teaching to others for the time being.
And so for the past year she had done just that; leading her squad on patrol and in to battle when necessary. Aska’s aunt had come to live with them during this time. Not only to help around the house and to make sure that someone was there to take care of Aska when her mother had to work odd hours but also to help guide Aska with her own gift. Aska’s calling was not Warrior as her parents both had been, she was called to be a Prophet. Her gift had come to fruition the night her father died. She had witnessed the ambush and the attack. Watched the life being sucked out of her father by the Sorcerer Shakel. She had such a clear vision of the incident that she had helped find her father’s body and also helped in the arrest and trial of Shakel and his followers.
The problem was that she had the vision only a few minutes before the event actually happened. And as it was her first vision she wasn’t even sure it was a vision and not just a bad dream. The next day when she learned that her father had not come home from patrol she realized what she had seen was true and she also learned why the gift of prophecy was the only one of the four gifts that they also called a curse.
As she finished dressing for work Deidre turned and caught Aska’s eyes. Aska favored Deidre in many ways but her hazel eyes were all her father, from the shape, to the color, to the intelligence behind the gaze. The only difference was Cal’s eyes had been the eyes of a Warrior; there was a wariness and a hardness to his gaze that never fully softened. Aska’s eyes were her own; she had the watchfulness of a child born to two Warrior parents but not not the hard edge of one always ready for a fight. Deirdre knew that as she aged and her gift became more pronounced her eyes would then hold that touch of sorrow that Deidre’s sister Jocelyn’s always did. The cost of knowing too much.
Deidre walked over and kissed Aska on the top of her head, taking in the smell of her child. Deidre knew that she needed to enjoy every minute she had with Aska. Not only because life as a Warrior was sometimes shorter than it should be but because next year when Aska took her 12 year exams she would most likely place high enough to be admitted to Martindale Academy and once that happened her days would be filled with books and study and new friends. She was the top of her class in grades and with her gift manifesting itself at such a young age and so strongly she should be a lock. Prophets often didn’t get their gifts until their late teens or even in to their 20s. Jocelyn had said it was nature’s way of protecting the minds of those called. That the things you saw could be overwhelming to a young child so it made sense that for most the gift came later than the other gifts.
For most, but not for all. They had been watchful for an early development in Aska. There had been signs when she was a baby that her gift would be prophecy. Small things like seeming to know who was coming to visit before there was a knock on the door. Or announcing that Grandma was calling before the phone rang. The Keeper family had a history of early gifts. Jocelyn’s first vision came when she was almost two and she patted her mother’s belly and and said baby. They remained infrequent until she was 10 but there was no doubt that if Jocelyn told you that something was going to happen you should pay attention. Their Aunt Dot was a gifted Prophet herself and had been there to mentor Jocelyn. As far as Deidre was concerned their mother said she knew she would be a Warrior while she was still in the womb. After easy pregnancies with both Jocelyn and their older brother Aric, Deidre had made her presence known early and often. She was never still, always stretching and turning. Their mother had said Deidre had her first fights with bladder and lungs; and that Deidre always won.
Deidre and Jocelyn had both attended Martindale as teens and had loved their time there. Aric had gone to school at the local high school with The Others. His test scores had been high enough for entry in to the academy but as a teen he was fascinated with The Others and as this was life before the time of The Joining he felt that the only way to really understand them was to live with them. There were many among The Gifted who felt that allowing one of their children to live among The Others was a bad idea. The risks of discovery were too high. But after The Joining it was people like Aric who made living together possible. Aunt Dot had assured her sister and brother-in-law that Aric was making a wise choice and would be safe at the high school.
But for Jocelyn and Deidre it had been Martindale Academy. Jocelyn settling in first followed by Deidre the following year. Though the instructors that had smiled seeing another Keeper on their attendance sheet soon learned that having Jocelyn in class was one thing, having Deidre was something else entirely.