Chapter 34 - The Prince of Esterpine

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Lykan's blade came down on her hard, pulling her from her thoughts as it emitted a soft, pleased purr. Over and again she was forced to block as the sword sang its eagerness. That was how all Spriten blades worked. She did not fully understand it, and they refused to share their secrets, but she was certain that some form of magic was woven into the metal itself, for she had never heard such sounds before coming to the forest.

With each blow rent, she felt her frustrations growing. The more she thought about her progress, the more she became disgruntled with her slow improvement. As her annoyance increased, her breathing heightened to match it. She was left huffing and puffing.

"Do not let your frustrations overcome your skill." Lykan stopped suddenly to scold her. She slid to a halt beside him.

At his words, she sighed, allowing her shoulders to sag. The tension in her arms left her muscles screaming.

"Emotions should never get in the way. When you fight, you must clear your mind. Remember what I have told you?"

"Yes," she scoffed, blowing a chunk of hair from her face. Although she was covered in perspiration, and already exhausted, Lykan looked fresh as morning.

"I think that is enough swordplay for today. Go and retrieve your bow, we shall see if you have been practicing."

"Thank the gods!" she muttered. Despite her eagerness to improve her sword skills, such practice quickly became a chore and like all chores, need outweighed desire. She was not forced to practice, but she knew she needed to if she was ever to be a true swordsman. And if she ever lost sight of the need, she called up the many faces of Kaljah villagers she had failed to protect when Gobelins swarmed into their midst.

There was a large clearing on the outskirts of Esterpine popular for bow practice. This was where she and Lykan often practiced her archery. Standing targets were no longer challenging enough, so Lykan insisted on moving targets. Today he carried a large sack of apples.

"Once sky born, these might be hard for you to see. Our eyes are easily matched for tiny objects but I daresay...Well...let us see how you do." Lykan frequently pointed out human shortcomings (her shortcomings). If there was one thing she had learned since coming to the Sprite's forest, it was that the Sprites were a proud race. They enjoyed their superiority, though it was never a mean-spirited superiority. They simply knew they were more equipped at most tasks, and to argue otherwise was fruitless in their eyes.

In Lykan's case, it was clear that he enjoyed being a better swordsman than she. She enjoyed being better at things too. As far as she knew, everyone was guilty of such feelings. And where Lykan was concerned, his statements of superiority were both obvious and truthful.

For the remainder of the afternoon, she worked with her bow. Lykan spent his efforts throwing multiple apples into the air, sometimes all at once, other times one followed by another. In each instance, she attempted to shoot them from the sky, or the trees, or wherever they flew.

At first, she missed her targets. Lykan was correct in that the moving apples were damned near impossible to see. But after some practice, her eyes grew better attuned to spotting the moving orbs, and from there, she let her instincts with her bow take over.

"That was quite nicely done," Likan said after she hit three apples in one go. Granted, he did not release them all at the same time, but his movements and his throw were quick, so he might as well have. She smiled and nodded, turning back to her bow. His praise was rare, but when it came, she appreciated it all the more.

Despite the intensity of her training, she had come to enjoy her time spent in the Gable Forest. More and more she found the idea of returning to her small village of Kaljah displeasing, not simply because there was nothing to return to, but mostly because she no longer wanted a simple life. The Sprites of the forest were complex and full of depth, ancient as they were. There was never a dull moment, and always something to offer up amusement.

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