The After Effects

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Target Practice

The weight of the bow felt so familiar in my hands. The flex of the wood against my palm brought back old memories. Many of them bad, but a few good. I mused to myself as I released the string.

The arrow flew and hit the target with a thud.

Locke whistled as he looked at the target.

“When’s the last time you handled a bow?” He asked, picking an arrow up from the wooden table full of them.

“My last fight,” I said simply.

“It’s been three years, and you’re still hitting bullseyes.” My brother shook his head and replaced where I had been standing. I watched as he took a steadying breath, focused, and released the string.

His arrow struck centimeters from mine.

“Someone’s been practicing,” I muttered.

“Hmm, sorry? What’s that?” Locke cupped his ear for emphasis. “Did the great Acer just compliment me?”

I swiftly reached my brother and dug my right hand into his ribs, making him jump back and yell.

“Alright fine.” He backed up and rubbed his side. “Ouch. You know you can be really mean some days.”

“Call me that again and I’ll stab your kidneys.” I turned to the table and picked up a throwing ax.

Locke eyed the weapon I had picked up, figuring I meant I’d stab him with an ax. I made no move to correct him though.

I stepped up to the line and brought my arm over my head. Aiming the ax a few times, I lined up my throw. With a sharp intake of my breath, I threw the ax perfectly into the center of the target, splitting my arrow in half.

Locke scoffed, not believing it’d been three years since I’ve practiced most of my fighting skills. In the woods, I just needed my basic stab and decapitate. Nothing fancy.

It was refreshing to see that my skills hadn’t faded over the years.

“About the Prince,” Locke smirked at me as I made a noise of disgust. “I need to warn you-”

“The King already warned me.” I crossed my arms.

“No, he didn’t.” Locke shook his head. “He told me what he told you.”

“What are you two? Besties?” I asked.

“Not the point,” Locke said. “The Prince, he’s on a mission while he’s here.” I made to talk, but Locke cut me off. “He’s not just here for his coronation.” Why is he here then? “The Prince believes that to properly show the people that he deserves to be their King someday that he needs to fight the..” Locke roughly gestured, confusing me.

“Spit it out.” I glared.

“The Prince thinks he needs to defeat the Acer in the ring to show the people that he has what it takes to lead them in the future,” Locke said quickly.

Oh shoot, I’m the Acer. I realized.

“He wants to fight me?” I asked.

“Well, he doesn’t know who the Acer is. And much like many folks, he believes the Acer is a man.” Locke said while rubbing the back of his neck, awkwardly.

“I see.” I nodded. I can’t even count how many people who cockily claimed that they could defeat the Acer, only to never find them because they were looking for him.

Only the highest of nobles in the territories know the true identity of the Acer, mostly because they were invited to the fights and then sworn to secrecy to preserve the integrity of said fights. I wonder why the King has kept my identity from his son?

To win against the Acer is the ultimate boost, as to win you have to kill the Acer. Although the Acer doesn’t have to kill their opponent, accidents do happen in the ring. And since I’m the only Acer to ever exist, I’m talking from experience.

“I’ll take your warning under account,” I told my brother though I was deep into my own thoughts.

“Oh no.” My brother said while waving his finger in my face. “I know that look. You can’t be serious, you actually plan on fighting the Prince?”

“I don’t plan on fighting him, yet anyways. I want to fight him though.” I smirked.

Locke rolled his eyes and muttered to himself, knowing that there was no way he was winning this conversation.

“So how’s castle life been?” I asked my brother.

“Fantastic. King Samuel really is a good King.” Locke sighed. “I’ve never seen so many happy people, especially among his servants.”

I side-glared at my brother at that word.

He raised his hands. “Sorry. Helpers."

I nodded at this correction.

Locke went on talking. “I’ve got a great group of commanders that work with me.” I could tell Locke wanted to say under him, but had caught himself. “The housing and food is good.”

“No kidding.” I scoffed.

“I actually get days off. I spend most of my days' training. And the pay’s great.” Locke said, shrugging. “It’s a little better here.”

“I’m proud of you.” I gestured to him. “You’ve actually made something of yourself. Mom would be proud of you.”

Locke’s face took on a distant smile as he thought of her before his eyes snapped to me. “She’d be proud of you too.”

I scoffed again and crossed my arms. “For what? I’m as bad as the Vikings for the things I do outside those walls.”

Jade green eyes narrowed at me. “Don’t do that. You know that’s not true.”

“Don’t do what? I kill and scavenge for my own good.”

Locke rolled his eyes. “The King told me about what you did for that family, burying them and offering them peace finally. The Vikings wouldn’t do that and you know that.” Locke talked as he nocked an arrow and stepped up to the target. When he finished talking, he released the arrow, which struck directly into the handle of my ax.

“You’re not a bad person-”

“My past would beg to differ.”

“Screw the past. The past is the past. Everything you had to do, was not by your own choice. He made you do it, don’t ever try to make it seem like your fault.” Locke spit he like it was a curse.

“Locke-” I sighed.

“No.” Locke caught me off. “You may have been the one holding the weapons, but he’s the one that forced you to pick them up. You’re a good person, who was stuck in a horrible situation.”

I realized that there was no way I was winning this conversation. Apparently Locke has spent time preparing his argument. I instead just said, “thank you.” Locke seemed pleased by that.

“Now go clean the target,” I told Locke.

“Bossy heifer.” He sighed, though he still did as I said, making me smirk.

He may be older, but I’m the boss.

The door that leads to the training field opened, and out stepped no other than the broody prince.

I rolled my eyes as he met mine, before turning back to the table of goodies.

“You’ve got to be fu-”

Locke cut off the Prince. “Your Highness.” He said as he jogged back from retrieving the arrows and my ax, though he made no move to bow, which pleased me for some reason.

Soren looked to Locke, who was smiling at the fight surely about to surface. “You’re my father’s Captain of The Guard?” He asked Locke.

Locke nodded as he nocked another arrow and fired. Hitting close to the center of the target.

“How do our forces look?” Soren asked him, admittedly surprising me. He leaned back against the wall as he talked to Locke, his arms crossed and legs outstretched.

“We train every day but one and we march after training. New recruits spend their day off in briefing ensuring they know everything needed. We’re as prepared as we’ll ever be.” Locke said, his commanding voice making him straighten as he spoke. He went on to rattle off more reasons as to why they were ready, I didn’t listen though as I focused on the array of throwing weapons.

The daggers set out were boring, but I still picked up three of them.

Locke and Soren kept talking, though I couldn’t help but feel two sets of eyes watch me as I stepped up to the throwing line. Deciding that I wanted to show off just a bit I backed up five steps. Putting a good forty feet between me and the target.

As I ensured my footing, I heard a snicker of laughter that was clearly not Lockes.

A smirk pulled at my lips as I brought my arm back with the first dagger in hand.

With perfect form, I released the dagger and watched as it flew straight to the center of the target.

Locke laughed at something though I didn’t turn to see what, as I quickly readied myself and threw another dagger. Landing sideways above the first dagger, I wasted no time in grabbing the last dagger and throwing it. It landed sideways below the first dagger, completing what looked to be an ‘I’ shape.

“What the-”

I cut the Prince off as I grabbed my dagger from the back of my pants that I had stored there this morning and threw it right next to his head.

The dagger embedded in the wall to the right of his head, my right-his left.

Locke busted out laughing at the complete rage that crossed the Prince’s face.

I plastered an innocent smile on my face and batted my eyelashes.

“Whoops, my aim is horrible.” The innocent smile grew into an evil smirk as I sauntered up to him. Swaying my hips with each step.

He was frozen in his spot as he watched my every move. Slowly, I reached up and dragged my hand across his perfect cheek... Then pulled my dagger out of its spot in the wall from beside his head.

“It’s been fun Prince, but please next time, don’t judge a book by its cover,” I told him before making a quick exit.

A growl followed as the door shut behind me. Making me smirk as I threw the dagger in the air and caught it.

If this man wanted a fight, He was going to get a fight.

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