Twang! She swung too hard again.
The sword had flown out of her grasp and lodged itself in the trunk of a nearby tree. Aster sighed, flexing her fingers. As she retrieved her weapon from the hard bark of the tree, she apologized quietly to the tree. Tightening her grip on the sword’s crimson hilt, Aster inhaled deeply, then exhaled slowly.
With fiery determination in her obsidian eyes, she struck the air with quick swings. Her feet stepped awkwardly as she did so, she nearly stumbled forward when the momentum of her swing was too much and, once again, the sword flew right out of her hands, piercing another defenseless tree. After a while, she stopped to catch her breath.
“Gotta…keep at it,” she panted out, wiping the sweat from her chin. “I think I’m getting the hang of it-”
“Oi! You with the sword!”
The sudden voice made Aster freeze. She looked around frantically for a moment, trying to locate the source of the unfamiliar voice.
“Over here, you blind girl!”
Flustered, Aster looked up.
There was a steep hill connected to the path that led back to her village. On that path, she saw two men staring down at her. The first was dressed much like a lavish businessman with a partially unbuttoned collared shirt and an ankle-long black trench coat. He held a large, long case in one hand and stared down at her with such great intensity that it made her sweat a bit.
His companion standing beside him was dressed in black and midnight blue robes patterned with a flowery print, his sleeves covered both of his hands, and the hem pooled on the ground around his feet. He had a much gentler expression, a thin smile splayed on his face as he lightly hit his partner.
“Really now Vyjan, that is not how you address a lady.”
“Like I care. Hey, girl.” Aster stiffened when the scowling man addressed her. “Try relaxing a bit.”
She blinked in confusion. “Huh?”
“Relax.” he repeated, visibly annoyed. “You’re concentrating way too hard. The sword is meant to be an extension of your body. Keep treating it wildly, and you’ll end up slicing off your own head.”
With that piece of knowledge given, he turned away from a bewildered Aster and continued down the path. His companion gave her an encouraging smile then followed after his irritable comrade, the two of them disappearing down the road. Aster stood there, staring at the place where they had stood then turned her gaze to her sword. The thin blade gleamed under the sunlight, blindingly beautiful. She frowned a bit.
“An extension of my body…?” A realization suddenly hit her. “Wait, how long have I been out here?! Ah, mom and dad are gonna kill me!”
She picked up the sheath laying absentmindedly on the grass and slipped the sword into it, hurriedly making her way back to town.
The Golden Peg was what her ancestors had christened their inn, their pride and joy. Generations later, the inn still stood and thrived in their bustling town. Unfortunately for Aster, it was expected of her as the only child to take over it one day. With a strong husband on her arm, her mother adored adding that part. It was infuriating for the young woman. The things that she wanted and desired were dismissed immediately by her parents. Even just mentioning her dream of becoming a swordsman was enough to put her mother in a tizzy.
Dammit, I want to practice more, Aster thought with dismay, wiping off the glasses behind the bar counter. Her mind wandered back to the rude stranger’s words, her expression becoming thoughtful. I wonder if relaxing will really help me.
She straightened her body, chin up high, her fist behind her back with her other arm extended out. In her mind, the glass in her hand was her sword. Her arm moved smoothly as if it were cutting through water. She envisioned herself slicing through her opponents, knocking them down with each swing.
Relax, she said to herself. Relax. Relax and-
Startled, Aster felt the glass fly out of her grasp. Hearing it shatter made her flinch. Her mother looked at her with disdain while the customers looked on with slight interest. Aster reddened with embarrassment. She heard her mother sigh in exasperation.
“I’ll clean this up. You focus on those young gentlemen there.”
With an embarrassed sigh of her own, she turned around and nearly exploded from the heat that rushed to her head. Standing on the other side of the counter were the same men she'd encountered in the forest. Both of them were snickering after witnessing her accident.
“I apologize that you had to see that…” she said sheepishly.
“Don't be,” the kind man said, laughing into his sleeve. “It was hilarious.”
She groaned. “Oh god...”
“Now I hope that you’re relaxed and flexible when you pick up your sword,” his companion stated with a slight grin. “Just don’t drop it like you dropped that glass. You have talent, you just need some more practice.”
Before she could respond, her mother interjected with her nose scrunched up, peering at her daughter with a sharp look. “Aster, you were out playing with that sword again? Honestly, how many times must I tell you? You are a young woman, a blossoming lady. It isn’t proper for you to handle such dangerous weapons.”
“I'm learning how to use it, Mama,” Aster protested.
“I don’t want to hear! There’s absolutely no reason why a young lady should pick up a sword?”
“Why not?” All eyes turned to the gentle eyed guest whose head was cocked to the side, his gaze fixated on Aster’s mother. “I see no issue with your daughter wanting to learn a useful skill.”
Aster’s mother gave a forced laugh, dismissing his words with the wave of her hand. “Oh, I’m sorry but this is a family issue. There’s no need for you guests to get yourselves involved. If you’ll excuse me.”
Without another word to the pair, her mother strolled off, muttering under her breath. Behind her, the tension in the air was quite overwhelming. Aster laughed nervously, attempting to ease the heavy atmosphere.
“Um, how long will you two be staying?” she asked.
“Just for the night.” A small burlap sack was procured and several shining gold coins were dropped into Aster’s palms. “This should be enough, right?”
“Yes, this is just enough. Would you two like separate rooms?”
“No, one room will be fine.”
Aster paused. “Are you sure? Our only vacant rooms have single beds.”
The kind gentleman gave her a reassuring smile. “We’ll manage.”
He glanced at his companion who looked away, his lips curled into a small frown. Aster was puzzled but decided not to question it. She led the pair upstairs to their room, leaving them to their own devices while she busied herself with other matters throughout the inn.
Soon, night had fallen. Dinner had been served, many of the inn’s guests had retired to their rooms. After finishing her own chores, Aster managed to slip out from under her parents leering gazes and snuck out the back entrance. She wasn’t crazy enough to go back to the forest, no matter how badly she wanted to practice her sword skills. Instead, she decided to go on a short walk, allowing her mind to get lost in thought.
Nobody spared her anything more than a passing glance as she wandered through the streets, hands grasping at one another with a thoughtful expression evident on her face. She strode onto the stone bridge built over the stream that ran through the town, she spotted a familiar face leaned against the stone parapet. He raised his head and their eyes met.
“Oh, it’s you,” he stated bluntly.
“My name is Aster, not ‘you’,” she told him with a frown.
He gave her a small, teasing grin. “My mistake. I’m Vyjan.”
“Okay Vyjan, what are you doing out here?”
“Mihito was feeling a bit restless so we decided to go out for a walk since it’s a nice night.”
“Mihito…? Oh, your friend,” Aster nodded, smiling. “You two are close, huh?”
“Yeah, we are.” He stared at her with an observant look that made her shift a bit. “What about you? Where are you off to this late?”
“Oh, well since it’s too dark and unsafe to practice my swordsmanship in the forest, I was just walking around to clear my head. I’ll probably go back soon, my mother and father are such worrywarts.”
Vyjan didn’t respond and instead looked up to the starry sky overhead. He gave a nod then stood upright, shedding his cloak and turning to face Aster.
“Do you know about hand to hand combat?” he asked suddenly.
She looked at him, bewildered. “Um, not really. I mean, I do but I focus more on my sword than my hands.”
“All good warriors should be ambidextrous when it comes to fighting. Besides, when you’re thinking about some heavy stuff, a good brawl never fails to loosen you up and help you think.” He raised his fists and took a defensive stance, eyes glittering with amusement. “Come at me, Astris.”
A sudden feeling pounded in Aster’s heart like Vyjan had unlocked a deep hidden secret inside of her that even she didn’t know about. A bold grin broke out on her face, excitement starting to bubble in her chest.
“My name is Aster, you jerk!”
She charged at him with a punch aimed right for his face. He blocked it in one swift motion, her fist pressed hard against his forearm. In that moment, Aster felt something emerge from deep inside her. A sensational rush of exhilaration washed over her that only escalated as they continued to brawl. She wasn’t landing many hits and was taking way more damage than Vyjan, yet she continued to smile and laugh the whole way through.
Onlookers passing on either end of the bridge gave them disgusted looks, hurrying away from the barbaric scene. For a brief moment, Aster feared that the gossip would reach her parents’ ears but she could hardly bring herself to stop. Blow after blow, she accepted the man’s punches and reciprocated as best she could until he pulled a fast move, knocking her legs out from under her. She fell onto her back with an audible ‘oof!’ that was immediately followed by a bout of laughter. Vyjan straightened up, smirking.
“You look like you’re having fun,” he told her.
“Really? Can you tell?” she giggled, breathing heavily and rising to her feet. “I hope you’re not finished yet cause I can keep going!”
“I like your spirit.”
“Well now, this is an interesting turn of events.” Vyjan’s companion Mihito was making his way over to the pair, a soft smile on his face. “I leave you for just a moment and return to find you engaged in a fight.”
Vyjan looked at him. “Mihito, you-”
Aster was quick to move. The second Vyjan tore his gaze away from her, she dashed forward and planted her foot in his stomach, knocking him onto the ground. Mihito looked on, trying hard to stifle his laughter at what he just witnessed. An overwhelming sense of pride swept over Aster. She panted hard and broke out in a broad smile.
“Never let your guard down in a fight,” she said trying to catch her breath, hands on her hips. “Isn’t that the first rule of fighting?”
“Smart girl,” Mihito crooned, helping his partner up.
“I admit, she got me good but that’s still foul. Mihito is my one weakness,” Vyjan huffed with a slight frown. He rubbed his stomach, wincing then shot Aster a slight grin.
“Can’t deny, you’ve got potential, Astris. It’s a shame you’re stuck here in this village, otherwise you’d make an excellent bounty hunter.”
“With the right amount of training, she could even be a high level adventurer in a guild,” Mihito chimed in.
Aster felt her ears burn at their compliments. “Again, it’s ‘Aster’, and I am not stuck here. Well, I mean, in a way I am, I just…”
Her voice trailed away. With a soft sigh, Aster rubbed her sore arm with a despondent look now seated on her face. She kept her gaze averted from the two when she spoke again.
“It’s not like I can help it. I have a responsibility to my family, after all.”
“But it’s obvious you don’t want to stay here,” Mihito pointed out, cocking his head to the right. “I’m sure you would be much happier being allowed to do something you are so deeply passionate about.”
Aster forced herself to smile when she raised her head. “It’s fine, really. And it’s like my mother said, I'm a woman so there’s really no need for me to be involved in fights and brawls and…epic adventures with crazy monsters and awesome heroic stuff or things like that. So, it’s fine.”
“That’s such bullshit,” Vyjan blurted out. His amber colored eyes were burning with frustration that startled Aster. “Your parents don’t get to decide your future, you do. They should encourage you to do what you want and to follow your heart. Dammit, and who cares if you're a girl? I’ve met plenty of women that could kick my ass in a fight. And yeah, you’re still incompent in a lot of aspects, but you’ve got a good head on your shoulders.”
“Was that supposed to be a compliment, Vyja?” Mihito murmured questioningly.
“My point is, if you really want something then why are you hesitating to put your foot down and chase after it? The world has its ups and downs, but if you play your cards right, you’ll experience more good than bad.”
Aster brushed a hand through her lilac curls, her voice a tad soft. “I’m not sure…”
Vyjan sighed, his stern expression softening. “It’s natural to feel apprehensive, but I’d hate to see you live with such a heavy regret. If you want, why not accompany Mihito and I?”
Her heart did somersaults. “You–You want me to come with you two?”
Mihito cleared his throat, interjecting himself into the conversation. “Rather than venturing off into unknown lands by yourself, it would be best if you traveled with company. We might not know one another very well, but I can assure you you’ll be introduced to many incredible things.”
Vyjan flashed her a cocky grin. “And who knows? You might be able to become stronger than you are now.”
Amid her excitement and enthusiasm, Aster could hear parents’s voices berating her through each ear. A sudden wave of hesitance and worry settled over her head like a dark storm cloud. She pursed her lips and lowered her head, standing still despite the vehement desire in her chest.
“I’m not sure…”
Mihito came over and placed a hand on Aster’s shoulder, giving it a light squeeze. It was so gentle and warm. A comforting touch, something she hadn’t received from her parents ince she was young. His smile was kind and understanding when she looked up at him.
“You don’t have to answer right now,” he told her. “We can wait until morning.”
Vyjan nodded. “But we’ll be leaving early so don’t keep us waiting.”
“Sleep well, Miss Aster.”
The two men strolled off together, leaving Aster with her thoughts. She eventually made her way back to the inn, her parents scolding her of her whereabouts so late in the evening failing to faze her. In bed, she laid curled up under the blankets, eyes trained to the ceiling. Sleep slowly began to grab hold of her and, as she let herself be lulled away into the darkness, Aster made her decision.
Comments (5)See all