The next day was the repetition of the same. The Mord-Sith training regime was harsh, sleeping, serving, studying, practicing, with certain ceremonies and rites. Cara participated in them but something resisted and she was not wholeheartedly in. Perhaps the others felt the same and nobody showed it to the others, she didn't know. She saw Dahlia a couple of times, bowed as she was forced to, but didn't say anything.
It was a studying day and during the afternoon break Cara walked in the garden of the temple. This was a place to have a short disconnect from the other trainees. She needed it and this practice was somewhat accepted and even encouraged. The point of their training was not to make them brainless followers but to have their imagination free to the extent defined by their Lord. Freedom, as limited as it was, was creative and Mord-Siths needed creativity too, as long as it was limited and controlled.
Cara saw Dahlia walk along the nearby path.
"Dahlia. I need to talk to you."
"It's Mistress Dahlia." Dahlia looked irritated. "Yes Cara."
"Can you stop walking."
"Say fast what you want to say."
Cara made something that was not acceptable. She stepped in front of Dahlia so that the latter couldn't continue walking.
"Now what is it? You know you are not allowed to act like this?"
"Are you going to inform to your superiors about me?"
Cara's arrogant words stopped Dahlia.
"What? What are you doing?" Dahlia moved her hand on her agiel but hesitated.
"I'm not gonna take it any more from you. Yes, I know exactly the rules, how I should behave and what is your role. I know what are the consequences for breaking the rules if somebody gets to know about it."
"But I'm going to break them. I'm not going to take any more your behavior. I don't play that game with you."
Dahlia was in a way expecting the outbreak sooner or later from Cara. She knew Cara was a strong character, and if anybody, she would question the situation. The trainees were not stupid, everybody sensed that there were certain cracks in the Mord-Sith group, if not in their ideology, in their practice. The problem was the relationship between the people, between the trainees, between the superiors and the trainees. Things happen despite strong repression and strict rules. Alliances and friendships form, it's like that even with maximum amount of pain one cannot take away everything that is inside and wants to get out.
"Okay. Let's walk to the far end of this garden. The others won't see us and the garden is denser there."
"I'm just saying I'm not going to act like this with you, Dahlia, especially when nobody is watching. I really want us be friends again", Cara said while they walked.
"But it's not possible, the rules…"
"I don't care about the rules!" Cara grabbed Dahlia's arm.
"I have to report your offense."
"You know what it means, Dahlia."
"Yes", Dahlia said. She turned away but let Cara hold her arm.
Cara looked at Dahlia and saw her still hesitate. Dahlia was different from her and she could understand it. There was no easy way out in a place like this. Rising in the Mord-Sith ranks was important to Dahlia, apparently more than to herself. But Cara couldn't accept the behaviour which was imposed on Dahlia and on her.
"What can I do to change it?" Cara said in a more demanding tone. Dahlia shivered but didn't turn her head.
Cara felt Dahlia was oscillating between two worlds. She knew that she bent seriously the rules and forced Dahlia into a difficult situation if anybody of their superiors would know. But the call from inside Cara was too strong and she knew she couldn't turn back, even the danger of getting caught was real. Cara anticipated that whatever happened, Dahlia would eventually turn to Darken Rahl, either telling him or not about her. Would Dahlia then become her worst possible enemy? Or would she still be her dragon? It was no way to tell. Cara saw Dahlia's uneasiness.
"Okay. Okay Cara. Stop it. I listen to you."
"You are an important person to me. I can't let you move so far from me what I feel is now happening." Cara didn't stop holding her arm.
Dahlia's expression on her face changed but not too much.
"You remember our times together? Cries and laughter? The dragon and the knight?"
She felt that feeling again, the touch of Cara, the touch of a friend. How could she forget.
"Of course I remember."
"Hey...Dahlia, this doesn't need to be so serious. Look at you... you are gorgeous!"
"Okay Cara okay…" The tension eased a little. "Don't stop Cara, keep talking."
"I like it, I like how you are. My fine dragon girl grown up", Cara said now smiling and the feelings of their former friendship overwhelmed her.
The time of their long friendship surged back to Dahlia's mind for this short moment, the long years of their time together, the mutual time without concerns. The dragon girl and the knight, fighting together through the pain with their stories and imagination as weapons. Oh, she loved how Cara let her play the dragon girl, the dragon in the shape of a young girl fighting side by side with her. The dragon with her own knight, the knight who came to understand her so well, who tamed her and learned to play with the fire. How Cara had taken care to keep her happy, how they had helped each other, consoled and understood each other from just half a word.
"Yes, really. You are not like what you are becoming, I just cannot watch it. Dahlia."
"Have you ever had thoughts of escaping? Like those who we know. Those who have disappeared from here have not necessarily been killed, even this is what is said. What if the Deviants really exist as the rumor says? We could do it together."
"You don't understand Cara." Dahlia's eyes turned sad. "This is now my family. I'm not going to think of escaping. If you want to get me back, you need to try harder."
There was no drama or arrogance in Dahlia's words, she just spoke how she felt. Cara realized Dahlia's change started to be irrevocable.
"I hope one day you will understand, Cara. Maybe on that one day you can still have me back, your dragon girl. When all this is over. If the day comes."
Dahlia's face was serene. Cara understood that the hope what Mord-Sith training promised to Dahlia was different than what it promised to her. Cara felt powerless, there seemed to be very little to say or do.
"Do you realize what this means Dahlia?"
"Yes Cara. You will compete me, you want to become better than me. I know you. You can't let me win."
Cara saw a hint of arrogance appear on Dahlia's face. She didn't expect these words. Dahlia had really thought it through, thought through their relationship, whether it was conscious or not. Their relationship, as she knew it, was about to transform and a brief feeling of emptiness touched Cara.
"So what now Cara?"
Dahlia didn't need to stay longer. But she didn't move either.
"So you say it's over Dahlia?"
Dahlia just looked at Cara and didn't answer. It was like a final look from within their common past, condensed in Dahlia's words 'what now'. The new Dahlia wouldn't use these words any more. Both of them recognized it and it stirred up a smile on their faces.
"I'm gonna beat you so hard Dahlia", Cara said laughing and put her arms around her dragon.
"You can try."
Okay, so be it then. Cara had to accept the new challenge that was now forced between them. It was inevitable and it meant she would need to become the best Mord-Sith, definitely. Nothing would stop her, she would become the best Mord-Sith ever, the best knight. Both girls still indulged in deferring the inevitable separation. Cara saw Dahlia's waiting eyes at a close distance.
During these bittersweet moments at the far end of the temple's garden, Dahlia felt her masks drop. The Dragon Valley appeared again so real in her mind, a time and place beyond this time and the known world, in their common imagination, with so real images and true emotions. This place could always be reached wherever they were, whenever they wanted and nobody could force it to any other form that what they liked. The place of the dragon and the knight, a kiss on the dragon's neck, the knight having to keep the dragon close to her, sweet secret things, transformations, searching, enlacement, just secret things which only they would know for now and forever.
"You are not gonna burn me with your dragon fire, Dahlia?" Cara asked in a soft voice.
"I will, knight Cara", Dahlia answered smiling, closed her eyes and caressed Cara's hair. "But I grant you this last safe day."