So it was then, atop a snowy mountain, when the gods decided to make it cold, too cold for a young fellow like him. The chill slipped into his bones and had seemingly built frost over his skin. His eyes were left unfocused as all he could see was a mile of snow, stretching the further he tried to look. His still fingers fought weakly against his cloak, pulling it tighter over his body for a warmth that was so greedily coveted, but was sought for in vain.
Terith idly bit at the chapping skin on his lips, an action that prompted the chattering of his teeth to stop, albeit for a little while. For a moment, he wondered how far his footsteps have traced and how his legs weren't falling off from hypothermia. Both of them were quiet, somber thoughts at the back of his skull.
Honestly, if he even had a future past a snowy grave then he wouldn't mind appealing to whatever the Priestess wanted of him.
His breath came out in white puffs as he muttered, a weak whiteness flying towards the sky. Through his hood, he watched the snow fall down on him curiously and after a heavy breath silenced him, all he wanted was rest. He didn't want anymore of the cold. He had nothing more to do with the journey ahead and all he wanted was-....
Terith could feel himself falling. That was it, though, he could only barely make out a soft slush as his body hit a pile of snow and the snowflakes oddly reminding him of what a cold shower felt like after a long day.
'It's not cold anymore', he thought. But everything was even whiter than before. All the snow seemed to melt into a blinding white in his vision, and as it blurred a bit more, everything faded into a quiet blackness that silenced his thoughts.
Of course, Terith believed he'd finally see what heaven meant for mortals. But even the gods were not exempted from irony. They weaved fate into a curiously meticulous thing. And for the dying boy, there was more to heaven than what he originally thought.
And they made it so, atop the snowy mountain, that a small farmer's cart would pass by the chilly road and find a mixture of color buried under a dash of snow.
A young man panicked at the sight. His horses yielded next to the collapsed figure, and, with the gods smiling softly upon them, he deftly carried Terith into his cart, carefully situating his shivering body beside the warm pile of winter blankets stuffed into the far back. The farmer boy wiped his brow and smiled to himself as he edged Terith's head into his knitted ski cap.
The younger male visibly curled up into the blankets. With a nod, he quietly shut the rear-end of his cart before climbing into the driver's seat. He huffed his horses into a brisk run, aiming for the half-done cottage at the end of the wintry road.
He didn't expect heaven to have a faint smell of musk and wood, and the gritty noises of a hammer and wood saw both acting on unison.
In fact, he didn't expect this to be heaven at all. Save him the shock, he actually thought he was in hell. When he woke with a fright to find himself in a small tent and nearly drowning in blankets, he merely concluded that he was right, he was back in his personal hell.
Why, however, was the real unvoiced question. And with unvoiced reason, he crawled out of the tent and realized that the ungodly cold was still existent. Terith pulled on one of the blankets and hauled it over his body in a frenzied fashion, mulling over the fact if he should go out or remain inside.
Then he heard the sound of wood falling coupled with a manly shriek, and that was all it took for him to react irrationally.
He dashed out of the tent with a branded sword, but there was no monster to maim or man to fight, there was just lots of wood and an old man crumpling in pain. A younger man had knelt beside him, rubbing circles on his back with a bothered frown on his face.
Terith sighed out of humiliation for getting worked up for nothing, and had carefully sheathed his blade back into its scabbard, patting it idly as a form of reassurance for the old spirit within. He approached the two quietly and as if on cue, the younger man noticed him, his face none the brighter, but evidently looking better than when the old man collapsed.
"Had a good sleep?" he asked, now patting the old man's back as he groaned in response. Terith squatted down to help him in his idle task and offered gramps a very strong massage.
"Apply more pressure here."
The young man proceeded to apply more pressure and no sooner did gramps slump down on his chest, snoring in a pleasant-unpleasant manner, the other man only chuckled, scooping him out of the snow. Terith raised an eyebrow at the display.
"My dad does that when his back pains have settled. Just enduring the pain tires him out so he eventually falls asleep." he said.
The black haired male offered Terith a smile, "They call me Ninko, by the way, and this old man is my father, Bartre."
Tertih, almost impulsively, smiled back, "Te-...Torian. Torian Pace."
Back at the tent, they made sure that old man Bartre was tucked deeply into a layer of blankets before they headed out to leave him to his rest. Ninko entertained his guest with a small fire by the eves and a cup of hot..something. Oddly enough, it tasted pleasant, though Terith wasn't sure if it was either coffee or chocolate, tasted like both, but it was as white as milk.
Deprived from a meal this whole time, Terith seemed more than glad to accept four more cups of this over the course of their merry time. Eventually, Ninko's mouth had broken a shouldered dam as he started gushing out stories of several moods.
One of how Ninko found him almost frozen to death on the way here, and how he did his best to warm him up by burying him in blankets. One of his sister, Nino, and her wedding to be due in a week. One of his brother-in-law, Jude, and his rare coffee plantation. One of his father's predicament. And finally, one of about building a cottage as a present for his sister, and how they seemed to be running out of time.
Terith then noticed the almost-there cottage standing on the other side of the road. It's roof was probably the ensembles of wood that was squashed together on its western side. There were no doors or windows yet, either.
A wash of pity had stilled him for a moment, until he saw Ninko's face that was beaming in an almost nirvana-like revelation. Terith looked at him, confused, and oddly bothered by his change of mood.
"You...you're good with your hands...right?"
"Of course, of course!"
Terith watched as Ninko ran towards the tent in a hurry, tilting his head to the side to think, only to old man Bartre walking out of the tent in broken steps. Much to Terith's surprise, he looked as if he were frustrated and...grumpy.
Bartre had a frown that caused creases to form on his cheeks. And in the way he looked at Terith made the young swordsman believe he was in for it.
"My son told me he rescued you from dying in the snow."
"Yes, sir." he answered, almost tactically, like he was answering to a general.
"That means....you owe us."
"I...suppose so, sir."
Bartre settled himself unto a log and muttered sourly to himself. Ninko, on the other hand, rushed out of the tent with a butt-ton of coats, scarves, and hats falling down his arms. He immediately wrapped his father in the ensemble and he too, began muttering under his breath.
"Father...please...don't go out without anything to warm you up...you know the cold makes it-"
Barte raised a hand in dismissal, "Enough of it, Ninko."
His son sat down dejectedly beside the old man, and from then on, a silence thicker than fog began to grow on them. Until gramps nodded to his own words, his whispers ceasing as he stood up and gave Terith a very serious stare.
"How's about it, kid? Do you have what it takes to finish this house in a day 'er two?" he grumbled.
Terith held back a hesitant reply, surely the old man wasn't the gentle one to take no for an answer. After all, he didn't seem very pleased with his suggestion either. Terith gripped unto the handle of his blade tightly, and with a small voice, he nodded, daring to face Barte in the eyes.
"I didn't hear you!"
He could see Ninko gleaming in happiness from his peripheral vision, cheering on him happily with an arm raised to sky. Honestly, this didn't too bad of a circumstance he found himself in.
Well. Not until he realized how stingy Bartre was with magic.
At first he had no problem with the suggestion, thinking he could breeze through the heavy lifting with the power generated from his blade, sure, he'd be asking too much from Souji-san, but a little blood no longer scared him, unlike the first time.
Just as he drew his sword, the old man had his hand atop his back, patting nonchalantly. "Sunny boy, I didn't hire you to use magic." and then proceeded to confiscate Yamanbagiri. With a little sense of persuasion, however, Terith managed to keep Bartre close to him (something the old man considered weird, but complied nonetheless), knowing he'd drop like a stick without the blade being in a relative short distance.
Pssh, this was why he didn't like the Priestess.
In any case, however, Terith had to finish this without magic. Ah. Now he gets it.
The world just wants to watch him burn sometimes.
Burn calories, that is.
"Alright. Now get to work!"
There was sun now. Tiny pinpricks of light scattered the clouds a bit, ultimately shattering some of the snowy atmosphere a few hours ago. To a man who felt the damned cold, he'd be glad. But Terith was not that man now. He was before, but oh no, not now.
Instead, his body felt like it was on fire. He'd been lifting wood for a while, and as much as he wishes to see an improvement in his overall muscle content, he couldn't be bothered to think of anything else apart from how hot it was and how sweaty his body was under his clothes.
He really needed a shower. A long one.
Terith groaned as a ray of light shone on him. As much as sun was very appreciated in a snowy mountain, he just wanted it to go away for the time being. Ultimately powerless, however, Terith would only mutter as he hammered the floorboards together.
Ninko watched him in amusement as he managed to settle the door into the frame. Bartre was sitting on a small wooden chair by the doorway, and in a matter of chuckles, Ninko assumed a light conversation with his father.
"So...what's with this no magic law, oh great one?"
Bartre raised an eyebrow and merely sunk himself further into his chair. "If I managed to do half of this house without using magic, he should too. Besides, boy needs a few tenders under those bones."
Ninko lazily shrugged as he hammered the door hinges, "Maybe. That, or you want it to feel like you were the one who hammered those floor boards in, am I right?"
His father didn't utter a word. Not even a whisper.
"Nino would appreciate that, sure, but even Nino knows you're not in any condition to do work, much less build a cottage."
His son placed his finishing touches on the hinges and slowly gave his old man a pat on the back, one that Bartre didn't recoil from.
"Give yourself a break, pops, a little help isn't dangerous. But too much work is."
It was five in the afternoon and with the steady pace of Terith's hand and Ninko's experience with lifting things, they were just about to complete the tiring process of piecing together a roof, complete with a cemented chimney. At this point, the swordsman had shed his blue blazer and was working in a week's worth of sweat.
He wouldn't be surprised if he came out of this smelling like a hobo.
As he punched in the final nails, Ninko raised his voice with a cheer, "Oi! Torian! We're pretty much done here!"
Terith inhaled sharply, and released it in a steady white puff. "Alright!"
Bartre greeted them with a half-smile, something that had honestly confused Terith more than anything else.
"Good work...sunny boy." he said, his hand outstretched as he proceeded to return Yamanbagiri to him. At first he hesitated, but with the careful urging of Bartre's frown marks, he brought his blade back to his hip. An unknown void in his chest suddenly felt like it was filled up, swatting away the restlessness in the air around him quite naturally.
The old man bore an entire smile now, and it took every ounce of Terith's might to not say 'HAAAA?' out loud. Bartre beckoned him over to his side as he walked towards the sunset that had started to melt the sky away with an orange tequila party.
"Let me see your hand, boy."
"Do you want a reward or not?"
Though a little skeptic, Terith obliged. His hand shacked a little from all the non-stop work, but it was less than what he had ultimately gone through with Hyouga-senpai. Bartre nodded slowly, tracing the dips in his hands and outlining the scars and callouses with his eyes.
This made Tertih sweat profusely.
Eventually, after an awkwardly intimate hand baring was shared, the old man dug into his pockets and produced a noisy bag. It clinked and tinkered whenever Bartre moved his fingers. Gramps fit it snugly into Terith's palm and closed his fingers over it.
"Just enough for the road ahead."
Terith held unto it tightly, feeling the weight of a currency so foreign to him. "Thank you."
Bartre shook his head, shoving his nose towards the sunset. "Ninko should be a few meters ahead, he'll give you a ride to the nearest train. I'm not sure where you're heading or what you're up to, but I wish you the best of luck."
He scoffed at that, the image of a certain miko worming into his mind. He managed to blurt it out, though, "I...just want to find my way home."
Gramps chuckled lightly. "If it's a way, you're better off finding folks in one of them big cities. All sorts of people who're willing to help in them big guilds."
"An alliance of mages, young grasshopper."
Terith raised an eyebrow, but didn't question any further as he tucked his reward into his pocket. He watched Bartre stare at the sunset for a moment.
"Your daughter is sure to love it, sir."
That caught him off-guard. Bartre huffed a breath of solemn agreement. "You know, I'm not the type to ask others for help. I'm a one-man show, I keep to myself. But because of these back pains...I've been held back."
The old man threw a glance at the snowy cottage, ready to meet the newly-weds anytime soon. "This house was supposed to be my way of showing to my kids that I was still their pa, the one they could depend on. They were growing up so fast that I...might have been scared I'd be abandoned."
Gramps drew a shaky exhale, "It's why...I didn't make you use magic. I thought...it would at least feel like I was the one doing work. I still wanted my kids to believe I was strong enough...especially Nino...she always worries about me too much. I'm sorry, kid. Put you through that much and only gave you that much."
Terith could feel his unease, so he spoke, and when he did, he looked at the house too, imagining a couple sitting on the veranda.
"I don't know Nino or this Jude person, but I know that..if she worries, why would you ever think she'd leave you?"
Terith clipped on his cloak and threw his hood over his head, a lingering smile on his face. Bartre was earnestly searching him for answers with the way he looked at him. It was a little creepy but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
"Listen, Bartre, Ninko looks like he'd break if he ever saw you in pain again, and if Nino worries, don't you think it's because they don't want to lose their father?"
With the way the old man stilled, Terith knew he hit a nail on his head. So he kept talking. "You're way too contradicting. You have to learn to love yourself as much as you love others, otherwise, well...this happens."
He made a gesture that noted his goodbye, and Bartre sent him off with a bittersweet smile, tears threatening to fall from his hard-iron eye sockets.
"Thanks...kid. I owe you one."
Terith huffed a laugh. "Hey, whether or not you tell your daughter about me helping is your choice. But I'm sure you wouldn't want to lie to her now. I'm sure you know what to do."
"Heh." was the only thing the old man managed to say.
Terith traced the wintry road for one last time, his face caught up in the blurry burning sky. He could see Ninko waving at him with his cart...along with his duffel bag. Ah. That's where it went.
As he walked, Bartre stared at his form that slowly melted into the sunlight.
"See you soon, sunny boy." he whispered.