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Student and Teacher

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"See? So all you need to do is swing it, like this..."

Ico swung the stick in a horizontal slash, imitating what he did to often delay the shadow-creatures that came after them. Yorda stared at the stick in her hand, confused. Ico didn't blame her; it was hard to understand what he wanted her to do.

He swung again, the same way, and then pointed to her. Yorda shook her head. "Ne coprée," she replied, and Ico sighed.

"We've already been separated a few times," Ico said, trying to explain. "And I know you're not very strong in the physical sense, and you can make all those shadow-creatures disappear if you're near an idol statue. But there may come a time when they appear next to you while I'm too far to help you right away, and there's no idol statues nearby, and I need you to be able to fend them off just for a little bit — to give me time."

Yorda held out the stick, as if offering it to him. She still didn't get it. Ico stroke again, hitting the air, and pointed to her. "Do what I do," he said. "Come on. Swing!"

Ico watched her, and finally, she did it; her swing was weak and she almost fell forward, but she did it. Ico grinned and tried not to laugh in joy.

Success, he thought. Sweet, sweet success. "You'll still need to practice," he decided. "We need to get moving again, but keep the stick. You know, just in case."

Yorda held it out to him again; he shook his head and pointed to her. "Yorda," he said. "Keep stick. Keep. Yours."

She recognized her name, at least, and he was glad that the Queen had said it during her confrontation, or else he'd have had no idea what to call her. She nodded once and lowered her arm; he smiled.

"Let's get going before they show up," he said, then turned and began to exit the chamber. She hesitated; he glanced over his shoulder. "Come on."

The words seemed to joust her out of her state, and she hurried after him, grabbing his hand as she caught up to him. Her power flowed through him as he could feel it every time they touched — a magic that soothed his body and mind in ways he couldn't express.

There was something very wrong about this, Ico thought — something that he knew was wrong. It wasn't fair. He was teaching her, but he wasn't giving her the chance to teach him. He wanted this to be a trade, in a way. While he didn't want her to become too dependent on him, he wanted to rely on her just as much. Equality was important to a functioning relationship.

Granted, it had never been something to which he was privy. In the village, he'd always been inferior, he'd always been the one to suffer. They'd all turned their backs on him in the smallest ways that hurt the most. Maybe that was why he'd never been able to make friends there — whereas here, in this temple of sorts with infinite wisdom but limited knowledge, Yorda and the Queen weren't aware of the prejudice he'd faced. They were his second chance.

(They seemed to be the only two in the temple, which Ico thought was strange; so perhaps the fact that half of its human inhabitants disliked him was enough to shake that revelation.)

He had to make this second chance with Yorda work. If it wasn't equal — if he became superior, always teaching to and never learning from — he was going to hurt her one day, just as they had hurt him.

That statement was, of course, assuming they would make it out of here alive and whole. Ico liked to be optimistic about that outcome, as implausible as it might seem.

While they walked, treading with caution as they maneuvered the fallen palace, Ico would feel small tugs on his arm. When he turned, he saw that Yorda was not doing it with a purpose; she would just be practicing, slicing the air just as he'd instructed her, and with each small tug, he could feel her confidence growing.

As they came to their next stop, having made several close calls in regards to the shadow-creatures, Yorda was almost bouncing on the balls of her feet. She was excited, and that made Ico happy; she was proud of the progress she'd made, as she no longer fell over, and that was quite an accomplishment. Ico could still remember the first time they'd met, when she could barely walk straight. Maybe this exercise was helping her constitution—even if she couldn't quite defend herself yet.

When she prepared to make a show of her new move, Ico held up a hand to stop her. "Teach me something," he said. Yorda tilted her head, confused; again, their language barrier was difficult to overcome. Ico sighed and drummed his fingers on his arm. How was he supposed to tell her why he wanted to learn from her—or even that he did?

Ico motioned to her free hand. When she held it up, her brows furrowed, he took it, entwining his fingers in hers. Again that healing power filled him, making him feel both peaceful and invincible. "Teach me," he said again, gesturing to their interlocked hands with his eyes. Yorda followed his gaze, her own lingering on that connection, and then she smiled.

She pulled away, taking a step back. "Guerisse d'eis fassee," she said, and clasped her hands together. "Regri."

And so Ico watched, with wide eyes, as a white light appeared. It stayed connected to her fingertips, bristling with energy. Ico saw her take a deep breath, in and out, large and noticeable. Relax, she seemed to be saying. He imitated her position, standing with his ankles together but toes apart, his elbows bent and his hands hugging each other just below his sternum.

Relax, he told himself—relax. A deep breath in, a deep breath out.

"Pan d'anxiéte," she said, and he looked up at her. She had never talked much before, but now she was trying, struggling to communicate with him as he had with her. "Piaisable. Seuel."

He didn't understand—for once it was he who could not, and he all at once became aware that this was what she must have felt every time when he tried to talk to her, this echoing panic that one might not understand the message intended for them, and Ico took a deep breath—relax. He couldn't.

Ico didn't notice when Yorda stepped forward, leaving the stance she set for him, and pressed her palm against his shoulder. He only realized she was so close when he felt that energy flowing through him, calming his mind and easing his worries. It relaxed him.

"T'inseite," she said, and he glanced to her. When she became aware that he still, despite her efforts, could not fathom what she was trying to say, she raised the stick and tapped it lightly against her own head. "T'inseite," she repeated, and after a moment, added, "caer jy sue belessée."

Ico found an image was coming to him: the way she pointed that weapon at her head reminded him all too clearly of the shadow-creatures' threat, of her own possible demise. "Belessée," he echoed, and she nodded.

The image sparked something in him, and without warning he felt a sudden heat in his hands. When he glanced to them, the heat vanished, and Yorda removed her palm from his shoulder, a smile upon her face.

Ico took that to mean that he'd succeeded. He'd have to practice, he knew—and practice a lot, seeing as he wasn't quite sure he'd be able to have even minor success without Yorda's help—but in his heart of hearts, he thought that this was equal. This was fair.

No more talking, he decided. He wasn't going to be able to learn her language, and she wasn't going to be able to learn his. He smiled at Yorda, wrapped his hand around hers once more—and her power was not needed at the moment, but well-appreciated nonetheless—and led the way again.

Girl and boy was all they were; but in this temple, this palace, this Castle of the Mist, student and teacher were they both.

That was what would cause them to pull through this nightmare consisting of ghastly shadows, demons that bore the mark of the Queen. With a bond so strong and minds so sharp, they would escape, once and for all.

There was not a thing known to man able to hold them back.