Hidden Affinity (Book 1)

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Chapter 2: Sparing

Aspens POV

We could have been seen! It was the fifth time Nash has grumbled about how I lack a sense of self-preservation. All I could do was try and ignore him at this point. It was best when he got like this. Letting him air out his grievances would calm him down. He did it because he cared, and I loved him for it. On the other hand, he knew like all the other times I would agree to disagree.

Something within me always pushed me to act on those scenes and follow my gut. It’s like the feeling of rightness would flood through my system. Telling me that this was the correct path to take.

Just like the feeling I was having at this very moment. It was more than my curiosity that pulled me towards those voices. There was something about those men or what they would lead me to that felt right. In the back of my mind, I was already devising a plan to sneak away later tonight.

Aspen……..Aspen are you listening…... ASPEN! His voice beat into my head.

“Owah!” I rubbed at my temples to relieve the pressure, “Geese Nash you know it gives me headaches when you yell like that.”

Then pay attention and don’t even think about sneaking off tonight. My fingers froze on my temple. Distracted my foot caught on a rock, causing me to stumble. Quick reflexes allowed me to right myself without stopping my run.

“I don’t know what your…”

Don’t even finish that sentence I can feel the wheels turning in your mind. He chided me.

Dang, what was I to say to that? Sometimes this link could be quite a hindrance to my scheming.

Sensing my attempts to block him. He grunts, We aren’t done discussing this.

Humming to neither confirming nor denying my plans for later, I focused back on getting to our hut of a home.

After a few more rants from Nash and me blatantly blocking them out we close in on our clearing. The realization hits, I’m coming back empty-handed with no food. What am I going to tell father? Seeing that the clearing was only getting closer. My mind scrambled for a believable answer.

Crossing into the clearing my father imposing figure came into view. His dark thick facial hair may hide it but I had no doubt his mouth was set into a scowl. Honey brown eyes zero in on me. Making my heart sink in my chest. He may be in his seventies, but his body was in peak condition, curtius of being a halfling. Technically he hasn’t aged at all since I was young but his new rugged appearance adds a few years. As well as the intimidation presence he always put off.

Not fun may I add.

Reluctantly I wade my way through the long grass and wildflowers. They rub against my bare skin on my legs. The scent of the flowers helps calm me. With a deep breath, I clear my face of any telltale signs I’m about to bluff my ass off.

Here goes nothing.

Movement to my right catches my eye. Stalking through the grass is Nash, coming up behind my unsuspecting sis. Who’s about to get the life scared out of her. He’s crouched low behind her. If I had to guess it’s payback for the prank Terra pulled on him the other day. That involved rotten fish.

In one swift movement, Nash dashes up behind her and lets out an ear-piercing rawr. Causing Terra to let out her own high pitch yelp as she jumps three feet into the air. The look on her face is priceless when she turns around. She looks about ready to throttle him. Their little antics always manage to pull a chuckle from me, but with my father waiting I hold it in.

Terra’s complaining gets blocked out by Father’s stern voice, “What took you so long?” Gassing up at him I’m about to answer when he once again cuts in, “And why don’t I see any fresh meat?”

Slumping my shoulders I close the rest of the distance between us.

“Sorry Father, Nothing seemed to be awake this morning. I’ll go back out if you want me to,” I tried to sound as convincing as possible. After all, it was a half truth, the animals were quiet this morning, but not for the reason I was implying. His brown eyes narrowed down on me making me want to fidget.

After a few seconds of holding my breath, he nodes turns and with a hand, waves me to follow. Exhaling, I fall into step behind him.

“You to Terra, stop playing with Nash, it’s time to train,” he commands.

Lifting her head from where she has it barred in Nash’s fur side. Her light blue eyes make contact with me as a grin spreads across her face. I let my own challenging grin spread across my lips. Despite how hard our father pushes us. Training has always been one of our favorite past times. The adrenalin that fills my veins is like nothing else. It also allows us to test our growing abilities.

Once we reach the cleared patch we use for training he starts dishing out orders, “Alright girls you know what comes first. Once you’re done with centering yourself I want each of you to complete the warm-ups with a lap around the clearing between each exercise. Then meet me back here. Now off you go.” He waves us away.

Heading to the center of the opening we both turn and face one another and sit down. Reaching behind me I grab my bow and arrows and set them on the ground next to me. Along with the knife, I kept strapped to my chest.

Closing my eyes I begin to slow my breathing. In through my nose, and exhaling through my mouth. My limbs begin to relax but the feeling of eyes drilling into me. My sister is making it hard to relax. Cracking my right eye open I can see her sitting there staring at me.

She mouths, “What’s the real reason for being late?”

Ooo great, I was hoping she wasn’t paying attention earlier. That’s my sister for you, the ever so observant one. She may be younger than me by four years but I could never sneak anything by her. She knows me too well.

Peeking over her shoulder I can see Father sitting by the fire pit sharpening his sword. Even with him distracted I didn’t want to chance him hearing us. I mouth back, “later.” Hoping she wouldn’t push for more.

She nods and closes her eyes. Following her lead, I close my eyes once more.

It doesn’t take me long to find my energy’s core. The power swirls within me, electrifying me with its spark. Using my mind I grasp onto the energy harnessing and connecting with it and everything around me. My hearing intensifies and my smells become sharper. It feels as if my body is one with my surroundings. Filling me with its energy yet centering and focusing my mind. With one last deep breath, I open my eyes. Everything in sight has become vibrant. From The lush reds, deep purples, and vibrant yellows of the wildflowers. My eyes can make out each and every blade of grass as the wind swirls through the clearing.

Standing I dust off the dirt. Terra seems intensely focused, her brown eyebrows are pinched together. She’s been struggling recently with centering herself. Which is most likely due to a growth in her magic. It’s always a struggle to acclimate your body to growth and change in your magic. I was thirteen like her when I went through a big power shift. Man, was it a pain, talk about sensory overload. Waking up to the increased sense of smell, hearing, and sight ten times better than it used to be. Not the most pleasurable moment of my life. Especially when Terra’s smelly feet were shoved in my face. I can still feel the phantom headaches I had for a week until I got it under control. Now it’s like second nature to mute or enhance my senses when needed.

A few minutes later Terra finally starts to stir. When her eyes opened gold flakes swirl around her icy blues. Unlike mine that shifted purple whenever I had an energy surge hers were gold and stayed gold. Mine changed nine years ago when I overused the little power I had back then. leaving a few permanent changes. One being my eyes, before that they used to be just like Terra’s with gold flakes, but that’s a story for another time.

“You ready to go kid?” I ask her.

She scratches the back of her head, “ya, just feeling a little out of it this morning.”

You and me both.

Already feeling limber from the run this morning and with the energy surge, I’m ready to go. I dive right into our first set of squat jumps. After counting out twenty we began our first lap around the clearing. Next up was twenty arm rotations in both directions, then lunges with more laps in-between. We repeat it three more times.

On our fourth lap, Terra pipes up, “so, what happened this morning?” I should have known she wouldn’t wait till later. Patience was one of the things my little sister tended to be short on.

With our father on the other side of the clearing and hopefully out of range. The events of this morning spew from my mouth.

Like me, Terra also struggled with our separation from society. We may understand the reason for it, but it’s still hard on us. Which is why I didn’t have to worry about her telling our dear father. Moving was on neither of our to-do list.

Shock quickly replaced her earlier curiosity.

“What could they be doing way out here?” she inquires. With the same question running through my mind, I shrugged my shoulders. In the back of my mind, the need to find out only intensifies.

The rest of the warm-ups went by with Terra asking occasional questions and me pondering how I was going to escape tonight.

By the end of the warm-up, the temperature had risen. Having not a single cloud in the sky made the sun’s intensity that much worse. Causing a good layer of sweat to coat my skin and Terra’s porcelain white skin.

You would think with all the sun we would be burned to a crisp but no. No matter how long we stayed out in the sun we neither tanned nor burned. Courteous once again to our mixed heritage. Which I was completely grateful for. With how long we spent in direct sunlight, we would most likely resemble that of a well-smoked boar. After it’s been roasting on a fire for a day.

Once our father saw that we were done, he wasted no time in calling us over, “Alright girls, today you are going to be working separately for the first half and then sparing the second.” Stopping in front of Terra, he met her gaze. She may be tall for her age but compared to his 6”2’ frame, she looked tiny. “Terra, I want you to work with the short blade today. That means close encounter fighting and throwing. Head over to the logs and start practicing, I’ll be over shortly.” With a yes father, she turns and makes her way over to the logs that were designed to look like dummies while others were targets.

Turning from Terra he makes his way to me, “Aspen you’re to work on hand to hand combat. Ready yourself while I go instruct Terra.”

When he flipped his persona into his general mode it always made me want to salute him, but instead, a “Yes, Father,” passed through my lips.

Without a simple nod, he headed over to Terra. Who was already hacking away at the logs, making smooth and quick slashes. She’s been working with the short blade a lot recently. From the way she so naturally took to it, it won’t be long before she perfected the skill.

Shuffling back to the center of the open space I begin re-centering myself. Doing a few shoulder rolls and leg stretches. Limbering up for the work out I was about to put my body through. I may love learning all these skills but sparing with my father always left me sore. He always had some kind of trick up his sleeves to throw me off. Just when you thought you had him you would be flat on your back with the wind knocked out of you. It’s happened more times than I could count.

He stood across from me releasing his sword from his belt. Bending over he rested it on a nearby tree stump. As he moved to stand before me he stretched out his arms.

“Let’s start with the normal strikes and blocking sequence. Once we get going I will add in a few new moves, so be prepared.”

“Sounds good,” I replied.

All stretched out he readied himself. Bringing up his hands and widening his stance. Mirroring him I lowered into my own fighting stance. Taking one last step I closed the distance between us.

“Right hook, left hook, left uppercut, block!” he called out. His right arm shot out with his own hook. Leaning slightly to my right, while bringing my left arm forward to block and pivoting my hips, I smoothly blocked his precision throne punch. Using the time while his arm was still out I threw a right cross. Right before my fist would have connected, he pivoted. His left leg shoots out. Tapping into my well of energy I enhanced my speed. Turning my body I strike out with my right leg executing a roundhouse kick to his back. His upper body turns, while his left-hand shoots out grabbing my oncoming leg. Using the momentum he pulls my leg forward trying to break my balance. While his right-hand shoots out to strike me in the face. Using my flexibility I throw my weight backward while shooting my left leg forward shoving his body back causing his hold to brake. Flipping I land in a crouch position with my hands up and waiting. Instead of coming at me, I find him standing there with his arms down.

A sense of pride runs through me at seeing the small smile that has appeared on his face. Before I can blink twice it’s gone. My father was worse than me when it came to smiling. So when they graced me with their presents a warmth touched my heart.

“Very good, I can see you’ve been practicing.” He congratulates me.

Trying to hide how much his words have affected me I straighten up, “Thank you.”

For the next thirty minutes, he goes over the maneuver he used as well as a few other blocks. By the end, sweat is dripping down my back and strands of my hair have come loose. Sticking to the side of my face. Thirsty I walk over and grab one of the water pouches that he had set out while we were warming up. I take a few big gulps of water before dumping some on my face to cool my skin.

“Save some for the rest of us.” My sister calls out as she runs over to me. Just to tease her I take one big gulp.

“HEY!” She snatches the pouch from my hands and guzzles down the rest of its contents.

“So much for sharing,” I whisper, knowing she can hear me.

She smirks back, “I’m gonna need it. Today is the day I’m taking you down!”

Just to rile her up I cross my arms over my chest while narrowing my eyes. “I guess that means I shouldn’t hold back this time.” I couldn’t help but chuckle when she glared back. Reaching out with my hand I pat her on the head, messing up her light brown hair.

“Stop that!” she swats my hand away.

Retracting my hand I turn and wave for her to follow, “Come on, before dad gets inpatients and makes us unstack and restack the logs on the side of the hut.” The threat works as she is practical on my heels.

Looking at our father I notice him drawing a large circle in the dirt with a stick. A mixture of dread and anticipation rush through me, a weird combination. This can’t be good I think to myself. By the look Terra is giving, she must be thinking the same thing. Her eyebrows have pinched together in contemplation.

Without even looking up he starts to explain the sparring session. By the end he has Terra and I standing opposite of one another within the circle. Today he has decided to make this sparring session a bit more interesting than the norm. Applying what we just learned Terra will use her short sword while I have to fight hand to hand, but in this case, it’s more like a hand to metal. The rules were the standard. The first person to get the other to step outside of the ring or get the other to yield wins a point. There will be three rounds. The best two out of three wins.

In a close encounter fighting like these, things often became dicy. Our father was a big believer in learning from our mistakes.

From experience, taking a hit that sends you to sleep with the fairies. Will make sure you never repeat the same mistake twice. Thankfully being part Elf gives us the ability to heal fast. Injuries that would have taken weeks to heal took only a day or less. Depending on the severity.

“Alright girls, ready yourselves. On the count of three.” Relaxing into my stance with my feet staggered, knees bent, and hands up. For extra measures, I send out my scenes to detect the slightest shifts in the air. Terra crouches into her own stance. With her right hand, she draws out her short sword holding it in front of herself.

Seeing that we were both ready he starts the countdown, “one…...two…….THREE!”

….

“Dang it Aspen, can’t you let me win one round.” Terra half winded half panted in exhaustion.

Looking down at her from where I had her pinned with her blade pressed into the back of her neck. I could have taken it easier on her but I also wanted her to do her best. Me holding back would only get her killed in a real fight.

Releasing my hold I pushed up to my feet. Extending my hand in offering to help her up. For a moment, she just sits there staring at my offered hand. Giving in she clasped her hand with mine allowing me to pull her up.

Once she was steady I handed her back her sword. “You did good kid, If I don’t watch it, you’ll be the one taking me out with that blade of yours.” The comment caused her eyes to soften and a slight smile tugs at her lips. “If it isn’t your blade that gets me the smell coming off of you right now definitely will,” waving my hand in front of my nose.

The fire was lit once again in her eyes, “you’re not much better, you look like Nash after he’s gone for a run in the rain and ran through a few bushes.” The crafty little devil said it loud enough for Nash’s to hear. From the corner of my eye, I noted his ears twitching in agitation.

Nash’s voice rang with displeasure in my mind. Tell the little girrrrl to watch herrr back.

Relaying the message, “Nash would like me to tell you on behalf of us both, to watch your back. He also called you a little girl.”

Before she could retaliate our father cut in, “Why don’t you two go to the springs and clean up.” Nodding we start walking but before we make it to the edge he shouts out, “Don’t take too long and bring Nash!” and there goes his overprotective side. Once Nash reaches us we continue on our way.

Not wanting to be caught nude and bathing by some soldiers, I head for the springs further north.

Standing at the edge of the pools I think better of stripping completely. The thought of having to defend against someone while naked sounds unpleasant in more ways than one. Taking the hint Terra leaves on her top.

With the cuts on my leg and arm already healing, the water didn’t sting too bad as I dipped beneath its cool surface. I must have failed to hide the slight sting. One look at Terra’s face and regret was already reflecting in her eyes.

Since she was young Terra has always been one to reach out and help anyone or thing in need. I may have gotten our mother’s looks and adventurous side, but Terra got her compassionate side. It’s the reason she now wore our mother’s jewel necklace. I had originally had it but once she got old enough I knew she would take better care of it than I ever would. Plus I had a necklace of my own. My hand clasps the cool stone around my neck. It was gifted to me by my brother on my last birthday together. Memories had me almost swept away into the past once again but a splash in the water drew my eye back to Terra. Who still has the guilty look on her face.

Trying to relieve her gilt I raise my arm out of the water showing off the small cut, “Look no big deal, they will be all gone by tonight.”

Sighing she nods and goes back to scrubbing the dirt from her arms.

It took longer than expected to get all the grime from our hair and bodies. Nash reminds us to hurry. Rushing to dress we rebrand our hair as we walk. Braiding our hair was the only way to keep our hair from becoming a bee’s nest. Chopping my hair short also helped, but Terra liked keeping hers long. As her two braids reach just above her butt. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her cut her hair. She wouldn’t even let me cut it when she got sap stuck in it. Instead, she spent hours scrubbing at it.

Back at the clearing, we both grab some dried venison to eat before heading off to start our daily chores.

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