The gentle aroma of warm butter.
A faint rumbling. Dull pain in midsection.
A baked potato comes into semi-focus.
A dull sensation on the right as the potato bites back.
Jaws nibbling on forearm, a wicked grin spreads across the jaws of the potato.
Right leg frozen.
Giant boar trap. Lacerated foot. Dread.
Laughter. Growing louder.
A rough man in a gold helm, a smug look of disapproval on his face.
“YOU FELL FOR A POTATO”
The boar trap stays put, and I with it.
The potato chomps on my right shoulder. I’m going to die.
“YOU FELL TO A POTATO”
A giant boar joins in the heckling, a weird snorting noise masquerading as laughter.
No it cannot end like this,notlikethisnotlikethisnotlikethis!
The man swings his war-hammer at my face, clearly enjoying the ridicule.
“SILLY GIRL, FALL FOR ONCE AND FOR ALL”
Numbness and pain assault me. Stupid potato. I lift my head off the ground, doesn’t help that my nose hurts where I landed face-first. I wipe the sleep out of my eyes as I get into a sitting position against the wagon. Stupid potato. My right shoulder feels numb from all the training yesterday. My head rests against the side of the cart as I clear my head. Stupid Nika. I’ll blast that dwarf to smithereens the moment I see her. I must have fallen off during my sleep, or whatever that was. I place weight on my right foot, only for a dull pain to radiate from it. Stupid Anslem. I’ll bludgeon him to death with a potato. I lift myself up onto the wagon and pluck strands of grass out of my hair. Stupid injury. It’s been 5 days, and my right ankle still feels weird. Anslem bailed me out, but refused to heal it, calling it a lesson. Stupid paladin. Nika calls it an incentive to practice my herbology. That hurt. Maybe I could wish for it to go away. Why did I not think of that earlier?
I take a swig of water, washing the multitude of stupid thoughts from my head. I take a deep breath. The in-breath fills my lungs with cold air, waking the rest of my body up. The out-breath lightens my solar plexus, and I feel more alive already. I look up at the sky. Too many white dots to count, a glorious masquerade of stars paraded the night sky, interrupted by a luminescent streak of prismatic cyan-blue-green, translucent and soft on the eye, an arrangement worthy of song, art, and all things beautiful. A gentle streak of maroon-pink-purple lines the far right horizon as the march of sunrise dawned upon the night sky party.
“You can spend years looking at that and never get tired of it,” rang a pleasantly smooth, deep voice.
I turn around and fish an antique lamp from the depths of my backpack. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?” I reply. A poignant moment passed. I direct my whisper to the lamp, “was the night sky as beautiful as this back in your day, uncle William?” The voice rings from the lamp “Always has been. Though if I recall correctly, some of these stars may have changed their position from last time.” Surprised, I blurt out, “there’re so many of them, how do you even know that?”
“When you’ve lived as long as I have, you learn a lot of things. And the more you learn, the more you realize that you don’t know,” replied the lamp. “Isn’t having answers to everything supposed to be your schtick?” I cheekily ask. Maybe he’d grant me a wish this time. A brief moment passes as the quiet of the night gives way to the first rays of morning light. “Each and every star out there is just like our sun. Each one of them with their own worlds and people who call it home. They look up at the sky at us and ask the same question. Who knows what kind of magic they use, the lives they live, and the things they can teach us. Who knows if they live in lamps and have wonderful road trips with their wonderful nieces?”
“Aww, that’s so sweet of you, Uncle William,” I say as I flash my sweetest smile at the lamp, caressing it gently. “So… you wanna help me heal my right ankle, or you know, grant me a wish?”
“Nika has a point, dear. It’s almost healed.”
“So… it’s a yes?”
“No.” I can practically feel his amusement oozing out of the lamp.
He doesn’t reply, he never does unless he wants to. Deep down, I know that what he said was true, not just because he’s smart. But it was worth a shot anyway.
“Still scared of potatoes?”
“Of course not!”
I shake my head and get up on my wonky feet, a half-smile on my face. He chuckles, and the lamp falls silent for the rest of the day as I stow it back in my pack.
“Bring it, princess!”
Droplets of sweat glisten in midair, complimenting the scent of sweat and lightly-singed clothing under the blazing heat of a midday sun. The 20 different shades of green in the grass underneath vivid and alive, the rush of a trillion heart beats as my body fights to keep up the constant mana output.
“Oh you’re on, pointy ears!” I cheekily grinned as I backflip over her arcane bolt.
Heat. Even at an arm’s length from me, I feel the heat. Ripping through space at the speed of thought, searing the air around it, the missile gives off a bright orange-yellow glow only outshone by the heart of the arcane bolt itself. Crackling in both sound and power as its energy barely dissipating into the environment, or pray not, upon impact. Packed with more than enough mana to punch a hole in a wall (I think), it disappears into nothingness as it strikes the invisible barrier 14 feet behind me. I know exactly what Nika would say, regardless whether I got hit or not.
Sloppy. The question was a matter of who it was for.
My ball of my left foot barely scrapes the ground as my right hand reaches out towards Aerin, as if to grab her hand from a distance of 60 feet. That’s right. As if I’d lose to you today. She moves her right arm with the grace of a panther, and in a heartbeat between her previous stance and now she sends another flying towards me. At the speed of thought, mana surges through my right hand as I return the favor with an aqua-tinged blast just as my left leg simultaneously capitalizes on my momentum, bouncing me off the ground into a mid-air pirouette. The next orange bolt doesn’t even come close to grazing me as I land on both my feet, sending a dull ache shooting up from my right ankle.
“Getting old, Aerin?! I thought you were faster!”
“Speak for yourself, princess! Right foot can’t keep up?!”
I grit my teeth. Sweat and pounding heart. Dull ache in the right foot. Ugh. Can’t let her get to me. We fire another volley at each other, our duel a whirlwind of acrobatics and arcane bolts.
“Aww sweetie, I don’t need both legs to beat you.”
She cartwheels out of one of my shots and goes into a crouch.
“We both know that’s a lie, princess,” Aerin retorts, leaping towards me.
She wasn’t lying. No thanks to my right foot, I have lost ground, and she’s closing in on me. I sidestep an orange projectile and flow into a quick barrage of three bolts, putting in barely enough mana to slap her face, hoping the distraction would create an opening for me. I cannot let her get close enough to man-, no, elf-handle me. I always lose the grapple. Stupid elves an their superior size. She tanks my bolts and staggers, as if I had slapped her hard. Seizing my chance, I dived rightwards into a roll and back into the open, readying another shot. And that’s when I spot him from the corner of my eye.
He walks up to Nika and salutes, then drops down and gives her a hug. Laughter rings through the air as old friends reunite and burst into conversation.
Eyes the color of amber with honey-oak accents, complimented by short, well-kept jet black hair adorned a set of handsomely-chiseled mid-land features. Covered in tailored leather armor and a dress shirt with a pair of trousers, he looked as if he could waltz into any place and not be out of place. Rapier hanging on the left hip, combat knives in his boots and vest, a jacket slung over his right shoulder and an extremely stuffed backpack over the left, his height and muscular build oozed nothing but a relaxed boyish-charm. Yep, just looking at him reminded me of the boy I grew up with, just stuffed into the body of a handsome, oh-so-juicy man. If a year and half was what it took for him to become that…
Warm on the inside, I gawk at him. Just as Aerin lances a nasty arcane bolt right into my stomach, knocking the wind out of me as I am sent flying.
Thank god for Nika’s antimagic-null-field that we were fighting in. Even with the bulk of our arcane attacks being nullified, it still hurt.
“Princess, I have no idea what you even see in that man.” said a bemused Aerin.
“That’s because you never grew up with him!” I whispered harshly. She extends a hand and I accept it, yanking with all my body weight. She relents, playfully joining me on the grass.
“Now we’re even,” I said cheekily. “Puh-lease, Sasha. That wasn’t even close and you know it” Aerin sings. I turn toward her, roll my eyes and blow a raspberry, and she repeats my gesture right back at me. We share a laugh just as Nika and Aldor approach us. “Arrrrr-rite ladies, Aldor’s baaackkk!! And boy do I have some exciting news for you!” The warmth in the dwarf’s voice clearly palpable, her indomitable presence all the more powerful for it.
“Sup, Aerin. Enthalanor-an-thanulin,” he touched his right fist to his left breast and bowed his head in the traditional elven salute. “I’ve got some fae spice with me, southern brew. That’s thanks for the cooking last time.”
“Valanor-an-thanulin, Aldor. It is good to see you too. These will definitely liven up dinner tonight.” They exchange fist bumps just as Nika disperses the null-field and continues, “rest up ladies, and be back here in 2 hours for feedback!”
“Yes, ma’am!” we chime before dispersing.
Aldor turns towards me, a roguish grin on his face.
“Well miss, have you seen a red-headed lass? Pretty, just this* short of gorgeous. About your height, but with a shorter temper.”
“Not sure I have, but go on.”
“Silver-tongued, sharper than a razor, hidden behind a smile that kills men?”
“I’m afraid not, sir, but what’d she got to do with handsome devil like yourself?”
He places his hands on my shoulders.
“See, she stole something from me, that she did. And that’s a hefty crime, stealing from a Marshall of Ravenfall.” He inches closer. My heart pounds. Wait…
“What kind of punishment are we talking about, Marshall?” This is new, and I’m enjoying it.
“Why don’t you come with me, and find out.” His face inches closer.
A flash of panic stirs up within me. I don’t know if it was a second or ten, a moment or an eternity, but I feel my face blush as blood rushes to fill my cheeks. I hesitate. I look down.
I don’t know if he sees it. And Aldor warmly embraces me instead, and I snuggle there, right where I belong. It feels so warm, so comfortable, like I could stay there forever. For a moment, my soreness fades away, I forget that I’m extremely tired and just belonged here, in his arms-
Wait, what? I-I-I want it, but at the same time I don’t know… , and then it hit me.
DAMMIT SASHA, YOU IDIOT, DAMMIT, DAMMIT, DAMMIT–
I force as sincere a grin as I could in the heat of the moment. I cannot let him see this. I try my best to hide my frustration at having missed the moment, regret welling up within me, and exclaim cheekily: “How are you not dead, huh you bloody scoundrel?!”
“Maybe it’s because I’m not half as bad as you are, Red.”