Jerica was surprised at how well-rested she was when she woke. As it turned out, a week of not fighting or training or tolerating Biryn’s nonsense was restorative. But a pang of guilt ran through her the instant that thought crossed her mind.
She was being selfish. Shirking her responsibilities. She shouldn’t be up here resting while the people she loved were locked down in the City. Besides, who knew what was happening in her absence? What if Biryn was tormenting Kieran? What if Levin had forced her attendants to do horrible jobs that they would hate? What if something had happened to Rek or Akeno or Derik?
Jerica needed to be there.
Not for her own sake. Sure, she missed Derik and the others – but she trusted him and was willing to stay here if he thought it was best. But she needed to be there for the others. Needed to be able to stand between Levin and Biryn and whoever they wanted to hurt now that she wasn’t there to keep their attention.
She decided she’d ask Aerik if she could send another letter. Derik had probably changed his mind, now that he’d had a week without her there. He’d want his General back. She was useful, even if she could be a pain at times.
He’ll see that I’m worth his love.
She hesitated. She’d never actually thought about it in those terms before. But it wasn’t wrong. Derik would probably love her even if she didn’t deserve it. That was just the kind of person that he was. But her absence had to have shown him that she also earned it.
Jerica shook her head.
She was going down a rabbit hole that didn’t even matter. All that mattered was getting back to the Palace and getting Biryn’s attention back on her. As terrible as it was. She was stronger than most people, so it was best that she took the brunt of it.
But for now, a letter.
And, with any luck, she’d be able to wring more information out of Aerik about the Guild while they were waiting for Derik’s response. She doubted it’d work, but it was worth a shot. Even though Aerik was tight-lipped to an infuriating degree.
Jerica stood up and cringed as she stretched. She was well-rested, but sore. The movement reminded her of the match the day before. It’d been intense. But satisfying. She cracked her back and walked down the hall.
Aerik was sitting at the kitchen table with his back to her.
She hesitated at the end of the hall. “Hey.”
“Princess!” Aerik turned towards her with a grin. “Good morning!”
She returned the smile. “How are you?”
“I’m well,” he answered brightly, then patted the seat to his right. “Come join me.”
Jerica stepped forward, trying to think of how to lead into her request without seeming too eager. She sat down and took a deep breath. ‘I’d like to send a letter to Derik to ask how the war is going and—’
“This apple.” Aerik planted a bright red apple on the table in front of her. “Is full of energy.”
Jerica blinked at him.
“The tree gathers energy from the sun and puts it in this apple.” Aerik scooted his chair a bit closer to hers. “Then that energy nourishes us when we eat it.”
“Okay…” She eyed the apple, then looked up to meet his gaze. Her attention was still on trying to lead into getting a letter to Derik, but now he split it. To an apple. She didn’t understand why he was bringing this up.
“You have to be able to feel it,” Aerik said. “At first, it will take the entirety of your focus to be able to sense it.”
It suddenly struck her. “You’re teaching me to use the R’hyk?”
“I thought I had to beat you?” Jerica didn’t know why she’d said it as soon as she did. Why was she arguing with him?
“I mean, if you don’t want—”
“I do!” Jerica interrupted. “I want to know. Please.”
Aerik smirked. “Then. The apple.”
Jerica eagerly looked back at the apple; all thoughts of the letter forgotten. This was almost too good to be true. She wanted to learn how to use the R’hyk more than anything. Needed to learn. Her desire felt compulsive at this point.
“When you can feel the energy, you can learn to channel it. To draw it closer.” Aerik crooked his finger and the apple lifted in the air and started floating towards him. Then he straightened his finger and it started floating back towards her. “Or you can send it away.”
Jerica stared at the apple, mesmerized.
“The bigger the item, the more energy it has. And, consequently, the harder it is to control,” Aerik explained. “So, an apple.”
“How do you feel the energy?” Jerica asked, catching the apple as Aerik dropped it over her lap. She couldn’t feel anything. Just the smooth, glossy peel.
“Here, hold it out to me. Hand open, on your palm,” he instructed. Jerica moved the apple to her right palm and reached toward him. Aerik brought his palm up to rest against the back of her hand. “Focus on the feeling.”
A jolt ran through Jerica’s hand.
She jumped, startled. It didn’t hurt. But she wasn’t expecting it. She looked back towards Aerik guiltily as she held out her hand again. “Sorry.”
“It’s alright,” he said patiently. “Just try to relax. It won’t hurt you.”
Jerica nodded. She took a deep breath and steeled her nerves, forcing herself to relax. The jolt ran through her hand again. The sensation was just short of pins-and-needles. Her entire hand was numb and tingled. But it seemed like there was a thin layer separating her hand and the apple that sat on top of it. As if her palm was water, and the apple was oil floating on top of it. Still touching, but unsteady.
The sensation got stronger.
And then the apple lifted a finger’s-width off her palm.
It was like air wrapped around the base of the apple like a cushion. The entire area over her palm felt charged and excited. As if the apple was eager to push itself away from her hand. She stared at it, mesmerized.
“This is what the R’hyk feels like,” Aerik said, voice gentle. “I’m using my hand to tap into its energy and pass it through your hand, to the apple. The forces repel each other. Push your energy away from yourself, and the apple will do the same.”
Now that he mentioned it, it did seem like a magnet. That force that refused to let the ends touch, no matter how much you tried to push them together. Something about her palm was pushing the apple away from her.
“Try to channel it by yourself,” Aerik instructed. “Focus on the tingle on your palm. Instruct it to press against the vibrations you feel from the apple.”
Jerica took a deep breath and tried to do as he instructed. The tingling feeling running through her hand began to subside. Instead, she was left with the anti-magnetic sensation between her palm and the apple. She focused the entirety of her attention on maintaining it as it got progressively harder and harder to do so.
The apple was getting heavier with each second that passed, bearing down even harder on the magnetic shield. Hovering ever closer to her palm. She gritted her teeth, trying to maintain the repulsion. The apple teetered. Then landed on her palm.
She huffed in frustration.
“You did good!” Aerik cheered. “Well done!”
“It fell.” She tightened her grasp around the apple as she looked up at him.
“Of course, it did,” Aerik answered. “You’re not going to be good at this anytime soon. But to be honest, you did better than I expected. You had a solid two seconds of maintaining it without my help. That’s impressive for a first try.”
Jerica hesitated. She supposed that made sense. She hadn’t even known what the R’hyk felt like five minutes ago – much less how to channel it. Pride bubbled up in her that she didit. Without help. Maybe for just a second or two, but she did it.
“Here, try again,” Aerik said, holding out his hand.
She placed her hand in his, holding the apple in her palm. They repeated the process of him making the apple levitate, then bit by bit taking his help away. Her endurance began to build. She still couldn’t hold it for more than a few seconds, but it was getting easier.
“It’s time for a break.” Aerik pulled his hand away from hers and stood up. He patted her shoulder as he stepped further into the kitchen. “And for breakfast.”
Jerica set the apple down on the table. She stared at it, still so intrigued by the sensation. Even now, residual tingling clung to her fingertips. She curled her hand around the apple, careful not to touch it. It was faint now, but she could still feel the pulses of the apple trying to push itself away from her hand.
“Take a break.” Aerik sat back down and pushed a bowl filled with various berries across the table towards her. “The R’hyk is exhausting. It doesn’t matter how high your endurance is with fighting or anything else. This is a special kind of tiring. And you need to work yourself up to it.”
Jerica nodded, pulling her hand away from the apple. Now that he mentioned it, she was fatigued. All semblances of being well-rested were already gone. But it was, without question, worth it. And she was excited to continue with her training.
She picked up a blackberry and noticed a faint humming radiating from it. As if it, too, wanted to be free of her hand. The faded magnetic shield sensation tried to push itself between her fingertips and the berry.
She stared at it in wonder.
“It’s easier to sense, once you know what you’re feeling for,” Aerik said.
Jerica looked up, distracted from her fascination.
“There’s a dull tingle to everything around us,” Aerik went on, plopping a strawberry into his own mouth. He gestured in a vague arc. “You, me, the table, the walls. Everything.”
“You keep feeling it?” Jerica looked down at the berry in her hand.
“Yes, but it’s faint,” Aerik answered. “You still have to focus on it when you want to tap into the R’hyk to use it. But you’ll feel the vague vibration in everything.”
“Eat,” Aerik said, gesturing towards the berry. “It’ll help with your strength.”
“Right.” Jerica cleared her throat and then plopped the berry in her mouth. She contemplated the experience as she ate the next few berries. “So, you just, at all times, can feel the energy around you?”
“Yes.” Aerik smiled at her. “But, again, it’s not a strong sensation… and you get used to it. I rarely notice it these days. It’s just a little odd at first.”
“Oh.” Jerica ate a few more berries. Her mind wasn’t forming any proper questions to ask. She was still reveling in how it felt. “And you can use it to heal?”
“Healing takes a lot,” Aerik warned. “You have to be fully focused. You have to identify what the injury is and what you need to do to fix it. And, most importantly, it takes a lot of energy. Your energy. It’s easy to pass out if you try it before you’re ready. And it’s not unheard of for a new R’hyk user to overexert themselves to the point of death.”
Jerica considered him for a moment. She wondered what healing her had been like for him. It seemed that it’d taken more out of him than he’d pretended. Who knew how much energy it’d taken him to heal wounds as bad as hers?
“Don’t try it.” Aerik all but pleaded. “I promise you that when you’re ready, I’ll teach you how. But promise me you won’t try it on your own before that.”
He was graver than she’d seen him before this point. His eyes were serious. His brow worried. His lips pursed as he looked at her. She still didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. Which meant she shouldn’t push her luck. She nodded. “I promise.”
“Good!” Aerik nodded once, then pushed his bowl to the side. He picked up a single blueberry that was left in his bowl. “Then shall we continue?”
“With a blueberry?” Jerica asked, shoving her own bowl to the side.
“The apple is good to teach you how to feel it,” Aerik said, holding the berry out to her. “But even it is heavy, as I’m sure you noticed. We’re going to practice with you tapping into it without my help. So, a berry is easier for that.”
“That makes sense.” Jerica nodded, holding the berry between two fingers. A sense of gratitude washed across her. She was so fortunate to have this opportunity. To get one-on-one tutoring in something as interesting as the R’hyk. She looked up at Aerik. “Thank you for teaching me.”
He seemed surprised, eyebrows raising a bit. But then he smiled and inclined his head. “You’re welcome… Let’s get started.”