Chapter 34 - The Prince of Esterpine

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Jeanine froze as the sharp edge of cold steel fell upon her neck. By now she was familiar with the blade's edge, especially the feel of it against her neck. But she had felt it other places too, against her arm, her waist, her legs—

"Again. And this time, quicker."

Holding back a snort of annoyance, she wiped the beads of sweat from her brow before nodding. Be quicker. That was always Lykan's advice. She was beginning to loathe it. How could she move faster? She was no Sprite. The Sprites had inhuman speed, but she was not so fortunate. With that as the case, how could she ever hope to best Lykan?

As she stepped away from Lykan and back into position, she glanced to her right. Jahl fared no better. She was forced to suppress laughter as she watched her dear friend land flat on his back. Master Orin's blade point rested against Jahl's throat. Red-faced and panting, Jahl batted it away with the swat of his hand and jumped to his feet to begin again. Their morning had been much the same as they tried over and again to best their assigned opponents.

Schooling her features, she crouched low and then lunged, attempting another surprise attack against Lykan who stood several arm lengths away from her. His blade met hers and he parried the blow she had hoped to deal him. The two danced around, light on their feet, for some minutes until it was obvious that Lykan could have bested her several times in that short span. He did at last, sticking his foot out in a brief flash which sent her flying head first for the ground. She landed with a thud in the soft dirt and flipped onto her back with her sword at the ready just as Lykan's blade met hers.

"Very good," he said. "I almost thought I was going to have you there."

She offered him a brief smile and said nothing about her suspicions—that he could have had her good several times already. They both knew he had gone easy on her, but she was grateful for the fighting chance he offered.

As he helped her to her feet, she glanced around the clearing. A sudden feeling of being watched crept over her. She had felt it often since arriving in Esterpine, especially during the frequent explorations she conducted alone into the fringes of the city. Perhaps those moments of suspicion—when she looked curiously around her—were mere products of the forest itself for even now as she took in the sparring grounds, she could see no source of watchfulness.

She took up her stance once more, holding her father's sword gripped in both hands. It was heavier than the practice swords she was used to, like the ones she had used in Kaljah. This was a king's sword, a sword of the kingdom. It came from a time when her father fought in King Talon's ranks during the Gobelin Wars. Inscribed upon the steel's flat blade were the words "Fight with honor" on one side and "Strive for glory" on the other.

Lykan came at her, rushing forward with sprightly ease as he had done a hundred times before, swinging his long, Spriten blade above him. She raised her sword to block his—there was no time for anything else. Lykan never left her a moment for creativity. All she could do was focus on staying alive. She could count on a single hand the number of offensive blows she had successfully dealt him, and such successes were mere allowances, for Lykan would never allow her through his barriers if she were a true enemy.

As Lykan's blade came around again, she danced backwards, moving her feat gently in the way he taught her. "Do not blunder about," he once said in a huff as he watched with disgust the way she thudded around. It had been their first practice, and a tough practice it had been. "Move quietly," he had said. "Move quickly but with ease. Know each footstep before it is made." It had taken quite some time to learn the movements Sprites preferred. Even still she performed such tricks poorly, but better than the common man, or so she hoped.

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