Lapse of Concentration

Gauwyn bit his lower lip, staring intently at the pot of water next to the small fire he had built just outside the fortress in Beithe. The water rippled, and he extended one of his small, pale hands over it, circling his fingers in a stirring motion. The water began to churn, and a small tendril of it slowly moved up from the surface toward his fingers, only to ease back down again.

He clenched his jaw and shifted in his crouch, trying again. He swirled his fingers a little slower this time, and the water inched up to meet him, wavered, and fell again. Cursing under his breath, his heart beating faster with the adrenaline of anger, he twirled his fingers quickly, willing the water to move to meet his fingers.

His entire arm was promptly splashed, the water instantly soaking through his tunic as he yelped his surprise. "Damn it!" he yelled, bolting to his feet and punching the chilly air angrily with his soaked fist, half expecting flames to shoot from it as they had before those damned Shadow Elves had shoved his dead spirit into this new body.

This Ice Elf body was too short, too slender, and too damned small for the spirit of a Fire Elf! Gauwyn felt like a prisoner more often than he ever wanted to admit. It was as if his mind and spirit were compressed into a tightly sealed bottle. There were times when he felt like his skin would split at the seams from the constant pressure, but it never did.

To be stuck in a body that made every movement vaguely uncomfortable was one thing, but to be denied the use of his magic while also being unable to work the innate magic in this new body just added insult to injury.

When deep, sonorous laughter barked out from the darkness of the trees behind him, he prayed that the gods would simply strike him dead rather than force him to bear the humiliation. He ground his teeth together, squeezing his eyes shut as he attempted to force himself back to his usual calm. "What do you want, King Terfel?" he snapped. So much for exuding calm.

"The trees whispered of your efforts. I thought I would amuse myself by watching."

Gauwyn turned to see Terfel enter the clearing, the firelight and shadows throwing the Wood Elf's tall, broad body into contrasts of black and gold. The only thing that Gauwyn didn't find attractive was the mocking amusement on Terfel's handsome face. "I prefer to practice in private."

"Thus your choice of a remote location," Terfel chuckled. "You can hide from the others, but not from me. This is my forest."

Gauwyn sighed. "I am perfectly aware of that. I was seeking privacy, not secrecy. Now that you know I wasn't trying to deceive you, please leave me to my work."

"You're dismissing me?" Terfel growled low in his throat, his eyes shifting from green to amber.

It sent a signal off in Gauwyn's mind to beware, but he couldn't take back what he had said, and he didn't particularly feel like standing down as he had so often since arriving in the House of Wood. Couldn't the king of this place find something more important to do than constantly taunt him?

"Unless you plan on helping, I see no reason for you to stay," he stated plainly, turning to kick a snow-dusted stone next to his small fire pit.

Terfel scoffed. "How could I possibly help some body-switched Fire Elf learn Ice Elf magic?"

"My point exactly."

He watched Terfel stiffen, and they stared at one another, neither willing to back down. In a roundabout way, it was a challenge. Terfel had the choice of proving he could help or walking away knowing he had, in some small way, failed. There was little reason for Terfel to care other than pride, but sometimes ego was as good a motivation as any, as far as Gauwyn was concerned.

Terfel crossed his arms over his chest as he approached, and Gauwyn fought not to smirk as the wolf-like eyes phased back to green and darted to his pot of water. "What exactly are you trying to do?"

"Pull an icicle out of the water," Gauwyn explained, and when that garnered a strange look from Terfel, he couldn't stop himself from blushing. "What?"

"Isn't that rather advanced?" Terfel questioned, and Gauwyn could see the hint of a smile tugging at the corners of Terfel's mouth.

"Maybe," Gauwyn said, his lips pursed unhappily. "I'm not sure. It was the first thing that came to mind after last night's snow. I can't control the water, though, and it's frustrating me. The more angry I get, the worse my control becomes, and I end up with this." Holds his arm up, the wet fabric a little stiff from the cold night air.

He could tell Terfel was about to laugh again and made a point to continue before he had the chance. "With Fire Elves, the emotion helps channel the fire, helps us to bend it to our will. It feels like willpower just isn't enough with ice. When I worked with the Ice Elves in the war, they were already trained warriors. I never had to ask how they worked their magic, only that they do things faster or in a specific way for a strategy."

Terfel didn't laugh, thank the gods, but fell silent instead. He was giving it some true consideration, and just the fact that Terfel was taking him seriously in that moment helped Gauwyn to relax a bit. He waited patiently for Terfel's input.

"Seeing as the opposite of fire is water, and ice is unyielding where fire flows with the air," Terfel began, pausing thoughtfully before continuing, "I would try the exact opposite of what you do for your fire magic."

It was sound advice, and Gauwyn had been so distracted by his own frustrations that he hadn't seen the obvious truth. They were opposite elements. Following that reasoning, of course his fire techniques wouldn't help his new magic. He needed to be the opposite of emotional, active, and passionate. The thought made him frown, and he caught a glimpse of Terfel's raised eyebrow. "Calm, still, and serene haven't exactly been easy states for me since my rebirth," he explained.

Terfel stepped closer and reached out with both arms. Though he saw the Elf coming, Gauwyn couldn't help but jerk away on instinct.

"I'm not going to hurt you. I'm just trying to turn you around," Terfel grumbled, and when he extended his hands again, Gauwyn allowed him to touch, though it still made him uneasy. Terfel seemed much larger from the perspective of his short body; he couldn't help how that intimidated him after all he'd been through with the Earth Elves, and then the Shadow Elves following his rebirth.

Terfel turned him away from the fire by the shoulders in a surprisingly gentle fashion, guiding him more than forcing him. "Close your eyes," Terfel instructed, and though it made Gauwyn tense, he did as told. Everything was plunged into darkness, and his other senses compensated with an ease trained over many years kept in dark caves, far from the light of the sun and moons. "Listen to the wind moving through the trees. Listen to the pulse of the earth, slow and steady beneath your feet. The forest rests. She rests and rejuvenates in preparation of the coming Spring. Listen to her rhythm and slow your own to match."

Terfel's voice had never sounded more soothing in all of their previous interactions, and Gauwyn felt himself lulled as he tried to listen. He breathed in the cold air and let it out in slow exhales, finding that quiet pulse of nature at rest beneath the soft rush of the wind and the blanket of snow. His own body beat at such a faster pace, constantly on edge with fear, distrust, and anger born of deep wounds that struggled to heal. Slowly, his body adjusted closer to that rhythm, still fast, but not frantic like before. The tension in his shoulders eased a bit, and he heard Terfel whisper near his ear.

"Better. Now start with something small."

He began to raise his hand over the pot of water behind him, but Terfel gently squeezed his shoulders. "Even smaller."

Gauwyn bit his lower lip in concentration, and when he felt the wind gently blow a couple snowflakes against his face, he smiled. Lifting his hands in front of him, he tried to do the opposite of what he had done before, remaining still and passive, trying to let the magic flow naturally instead of bending it to his own will.

The snow fell more steadily around them, and he tried to keep his chosen test small, stopping the flakes from passing his hands, letting them gather in mid-air. He could feel when it began working, and his heart started to race with excitement, but that brought another squeeze from Terfel's hands, and he concentrated once again on steadying himself and staying calm.

He opened his eyes after a couple more minutes of silence and stillness, and the sight of the snow floating thickly in a small swirling motion in front of both his palms made him gasp. "Oh, look!" he exclaimed, forgetting himself completely in his excitement and bringing both hands to grip Terfel's at his shoulders.

As soon as he moved, the snow followed, and before he could realize his error, his face was covered with a blast of snow. He gasped and stumbled forward out of Terfel's grasp, and when he turned around, his eyes widened with horror.

Terfel glared at Gauwyn, his face and chest covered in the same blast of snow, his features frosted white in an uneven splotch. It was as if someone had hit Terfel squarely with a large snowball, and Gauwyn couldn't help the way his shock was slowly replaced with humor. He laughed, breathlessly at first, and then with more force as Terfel wiped the snow from his face and golden hair. It was the first time he had truly laughed since he had been brought back to life in this new body, and once he started, it seemed nearly impossible to stop.

Unfortunately, Terfel didn't seem to share his amusement. A low growl lilted to his ears, and he opened his eyes to see Terfel stalking from the clearing.

"Wait!" He called after the Terfel's retreating figure through the snow. "I'm sorry! Won't you come back so I can thank you properly?"

"Don't bother!" Came the barked reply, and as Terfel ducked into the trees, Gauwyn heard him mumble something about getting what he deserved for aiding a helpless outsider.

Try as he might, Gauwyn couldn't share in Terfel's foul mood. He was only silent for a few more seconds before bursting into laughter anew. He laughed until he collapsed next to the fire, his gut sore from the unfamiliar activity.

He might have just ruined a possible reconciliation with the King of the Wood Elves, but damn if Terfel hadn't just lifted his spirits higher than the stars!

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