Another knife whipped past Ashelia’s face, and she had to tackled Aislin and Dominick to the ground for them to dodge another one. Ashelia stood up as a bandit ran towards her, but all she could hear were the screams of the towns people, their feet running in panic.
“Hey, little girl,” said the bandit, a smirk crossing his face. “Are you a fighter, also?” he asked, eyeing the sword on her side.
Ashelia stood up, telling Aislin to stay there with Dominick, who still had no idea what was going on.
She stepped closer towards the bandit, raising her sword.
The bandit laughed. “So I’ll take that as a yes.” He ran forward, and Ashelia did the same. Their swords came into contact, and Ashelia caught the bandit’s eyes with hers, and all she saw was murder.
The training with Lucas was difficult; enough to have nearly killed her at times, but it taught her how to fight.
Strength is what you’re lacking, he had said before, but your speed is immeasurable, so use that to your advantage.
Ashelia thrust her sword forward one more time, and he blocked it, but in nearly the same moment, she pushed her sword’s hilt forward, hitting him in the gut and causing him to take steps back for gasps. Ashelia continued forward, lunging her sword towards him, the bandit regained is footing and blocked the lunge, also pushing forward with his sword and knocking Ashelia down. The bandit brought his sword down, but she rolled over to the side quickly, and the kicked his legs from under him, causing him to fall also. Ashelia quickly stood up and raised her sword, then started bringing it down.
Hesitation froze her, and her sword stopped just above the bandit’s chest, his eyes wide.
“Ashelia!” she heard Aislin’s voice scream.
As if everything turned a thousand times slower, Ashelia started to turn to look behind her; she caught a glimpse of a sword, and instantly started forward, away from it. She caught the bandit’s leader’s eyes, his smile seeming acidic.
If she hadn’t moved, the sword would have split her body in tow, but she couldn’t have dodged the whole sword. Its piercing tip cut through deep into her back, slashing down. She could feel it cut through deep into the skin of her back, the feeling cold, but all she felt was numb. She felt herself fall to the ground, her hand falling in front of her to help with the fall. Her back didn’t feel any pain at first, just cold air, and then the burning pain hit her at once, sending her in so much agony she couldn’t even scream. She fell to the ground, her vision becoming foggy.
Lucas, Stephen, and Matthias ran as fast as they could towards where the others had been. They had finally finished off the six others, but they weren’t sure if they had done so fast enough.
Lucas nearly stopped when they came into view. Aislin was holding the unconscious Dominick in her arms, her eyes completely wide and frightened as the two bandits stepped towards them.
Lucas’ eyes fell to Ashelia’s limp body on the ground, and everything turned suddenly unreal. They all started running fast, but they knew they’d never get there in time.
Then, as if from a miracle, they watched as Ashelia slightly moved as she reached for her sword, her clothing already drenched in her own blood, She stood up, already visibly struggling, but then she ran forward, her sword flashing, and quickly stabbed the bandit leader as he had raised his sword up in the air towards Aislin.
Ashelia pushed her sword forward as much as she could, the sword already protruding from the other side of the bandit. Even from their distance, they could see Ashelia shaking.
The other bandit stared in horror for awhile, but then started forward. They finally made it and Lucas drove his sword into him before he could move.
“Get those two, and get to the horses, now,” Lucas growled, heading straight towards Ashelia as Stephen and Matthias headed for the other two.
Ashelia looked up towards Lucas as he came, and he couldn’t believe how much she was bleeding.
Lucas kneeled down beside her as the dead bandit and she fell, and all he could see was the frightened expression on her face. “It’s okay, right?” she murmured. “They’ve killed so many people, so it’s okay that I killed them, right?”
Lucas nodded, trying desperately to reassure her. “Let’s get you out of here,” he said, helping her up and towards the forest, rushing to help save Ashelia’s life before she lost too much blood.
Everything seemed to rush forward in time. Ashelia rode behind Lucas as they all rushed back towards the house, but soon Lucas felt her arms that were wrapped around him loosen, and she fell unconscious.
When they got there, Lucas told the others to stay in the living room to keep a watch on Dominick and told them to tell him what happened once he woke up. Lucas and Aislin took Ashelia up to one of the rooms, setting her down on the bed with her back facing up. Aislin got a knife and started cutting the clothes off her back, revealing the bloody cut that ran almost an inch deep and all the down her back. Lucas brought a bucket of water, cloths, and some medical alcohol to Aislin.
“It’s a really good thing I had to take of others growing up,” Aislin said absently as she started cleaning the wound.
Lucas was silent. He had seen so many soldiers die of loss of blood.
Ashelia fell conscious occasionally, but always passed out again, over and over. Her eyes were unfocused, and her words came out in mumbles that they couldn’t even understand.
Aislin got the cloth and poured medical alcohol all over it, and she looked hesitantly at Lucas, her brown eyes worried.
“You might want to leave for this, Lucas,” she murmured.
He shook his head, instead walking to Ashelia’s eyes. He looked down at her, at the sweat beading down her face, her breathing was heavy, and even unconscious he knew she was in serious pain.
His eyes settled on an older scar to the side of her back, it had already turned white from time’s healing, but he still knew what it was.
It was from the time she had saved him.
He wiped her forehead with a wet cloth, causing some of her hair to turn back to silver. He took a chair and set it down beside her, taking her hand into his.
“I’m not leaving,” Lucas said.
Aislin froze for a moment as she saw the silver hair, everything starting to click into place. Lucas knew Dominick told her everything he knew, including how Ashelia used to be an enemy soldier.
Aislin caught Lucas’ eyes, and saw the pleading in them. She nodded and continued to look at him, reaching over for more cloths that were doused in alcohol.
“Make sure to hold her down if she starts thrashing around,” she said quietly.
Lucas nodded, holding Ashelia’s hand tighter and bracing himself for everything.
Dominick sat there in utter disbelief at all the things he had missed.
I am an idiot, he thought to himself.
It was then that there was sudden, horrible scream of agony that seemed to pierce right through your eyes all the way to the inside of you, sending chills throughout our body. Stephen abruptly stood up, walking out of the door, wanting to get some fresh air.
“It’s my entire fault,” Dominick murmured. “If I hadn’t had more than one drink, I might have been able to protect Aislin and Ash both. Ash wouldn’t be in this much pain.”
“I wouldn’t say anything if I were you,” murmured Matthias. Dominick could barely hear him over the screams. “Lucas would start blaming himself, saying he shouldn’t have insisted on giving you a drink in the first place.”
Dominick shook his head. “Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that Ash got hurt,” he said, standing up. “I have to go apologize.”
He started up the stairs, relieved the screaming had finally stopped and found Lucas waiting outside a door.
Lucas looked up. “You okay?” he asked.
Dominick nodded. “I have to go apologize,” he said, reaching towards the door handle, “It’s my entire fault.”
Before Dominick could fully open the door, Lucas stopped him, pulling his hand away. “You can’t go in there!” he said, almost frantic.
Dominick frowned, and quickly turned the knob before Lucas could do anything and kicked open the door. It swung open, but Lucas tackled him to the floor as he stepped inside.
“What the hell, Lucas?!” Dominick shouted, pushing him off. “Why are you—“
As Dominick looked up, he first noticed the bucket of bloody clothes on the floor, the torn clothing on the ground. Then he Aislin standing in front of Ash, and then he saw.
At first he noticed that Ash wasn’t wearing any clothes, only holding up a sheet above her body, trying to hide it. But even from there, he knew that she was a girl.
Ash was a girl.
This whole, entire time, Ash was a girl.
His head was spinning as he stood up after Lucas let go of him. Dominick’s eyes continued to stare, this time at Ashelia’s hair. Her hair had traces of silver, and everything started to click.
No. Not Aeson.
“The reasons,” Dominick started, his voice barely a murmur. “Why you’ve been acting so strangely… why you decided to go after Spiridon, instead of Aeson… Why you were so insistent on us giving up on chasing after him… How Stephen and Ash are so close…”
“Dominick…” Lucas started, his blue eyes desperate. “I—”
“Lied,” Dominick finished for him, his voice becoming tinged with a poisoned anger. “You lied,” he said, starting to shout at Lucas. Then he turned to Aislin. “You knew, too, didn’t you?!”
Before she could even finish, Dominick stomped over to the table, grabbing a bucket of water and dumping it over Ashelia’s hair, soaking her.
“Dominick!” Lucas growled, pulling the bucket away from him as Aislin got a towel. Dominick kept his eyes on Ashelia’s hair as the rest of it turned silver. Her hazel eyes stayed on his the whole time Lucas dragged him out of the room.
“You are my best friend, Lucas,” Dominick growled at him as they reached the hallway and Lucas closed the door.“How could lie to me like this?!”
“What was I supposed to do?” Lucas asked. “You’re right, you are my best friend. And as your best friend, I knew how you were going to react. You would have killed her!”
“What other choice would there have been?” Dominick asked. “She is the enemy!”
“Aeson was our target, and even he wasn’t an enemy!”
“And how do you know that?!”
“Because I let her live!” Lucas exclaimed, his breath heavy from shouting too intensely.
Dominick’s eyes narrow in thought. “What is wrong with you, Lucas? I know you get carried away sometimes, spontaneously doing things that even you know would get you in major trouble, but letting the enemy country’s princess live? That’s treason!”
Lucas sighed in frustration. “I know. I already know. At first I was just having fun... But soon Ash became my friend,” Lucas looked up towards his best friend. “Ash even became you’re friend, Dominick.”
Dominick faced away from him, his body already filled with adrenaline.
“And then I found out she was Ashelia…I was going to kill her,” Lucas murmured softly, and Dominick glanced over at him, seeing the anguish in his eyes. “I was, I promise…but I couldn’t. I just…couldn’t.”
Dominick turned around towards him again, even with all the lies Lucas had told him, they had grown up together, and they were best friends. Dominick had never seen Lucas this torn up.
“Before I knew it, Ashelia became someone special to me.”
Dominick pulled Lucas into a hard embrace, knowing Lucas wouldn’t want him to see his expression.
“She’s still the enemy, Lucas,” Dominick murmured.
Lucas took in a long, rasped breath, almost shaking. “Could you kill Aislin?”
A sudden pain crossed Dominick from just the thought. “Never!”
“Then I can’t kill Ashelia either,” he said, his voice only a little more than a whisper.
Dominick pulled away, staring into Lucas’ eyes. A sudden foreboding feeling started rising in his mind, but his denial settled in.
“I’m in love with Aislin,” Dominick said. “It’s different.”
Lucas looked his best friend in the eye, all uncertainty gone.
“No, Dominick,” he said, “It’s not.”
Everything was silent in the house. Ashelia went back to being Ash, not bothering to ‘pretend’ being a girl anymore. She had gotten the wig back out.
Matthias had left last night, and Ashelia was relieved he didn’t know. Dominick finding out was already chaotic, and she was certain that Matthias would have killed her on the spot. Instead, he had left late last night on horseback, quickly riding towards the capital to give word to King Evander personally.
“Promise you’ll come and visit, Ashelia?” Aislin asked as she held her hands.
Ashelia hesitated, but nodded anyway. “I’ll try.”
Aislin nodded and gave her one more big hug, and Ashelia walked over to join Stephen who was tending to the horse Matthias had gotten them the first day there at Castello.
The white stallion rubbed its face against Ashelia as she ran her fingers through his soft mane, but her eyes were on Dominick and Aislin as they said their goodbyes to each other.
It was true Lucas lied to him, but it was because of her that he did.
Everything is always my fault, Ashelia thought to herself. Dominick doesn’t deserve this. Lucas definitely doesn’t either. And I dragged Stephen here.
“You better not be blaming yourself for everything,” Stephen said as he watched her.
Ashelia remained silent, looking away from him.
“It’s not your fault, Ashelia,” Stephen said.
“It is,” she murmured. “Don’t lie, even you think so. Without me doing everything, you wouldn’t be stuck in this mess with me.”
“If it wasn’t for you I’d be dead,” Stephen stated.
“No,” Ashelia murmured. “If it wasn’t for Lucas, you’d be dead.”
“You’re the one made him,” Stephen pointed out.
“But he’s the one who took the offer.”
Stephen sighed, frustrated, then he smiled to himself. “You never could lose in making valid points,” he said. “You had a way in the how you thought, and spoke the words out loud flawlessly.”
“Aeson’s the one who always knew the right thing to do,” Ashelia murmured.
Stephen laughed again, reminiscing of the past. “Yeah. You’re right. Though the ‘right thing’ seemed to get him in trouble most of the time.”
Ashelia couldn’t help but smile.
They both looked up as Lucas went over to them, and his eyes caught Ashelia’s.
“Are two ready?” he asked.
They both nodded.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Lucas asked, referring to the wound Ashelia still had on her back. Aislin had done her best wrapping it with the bandages they had, but Ashelia’s back still ached every time she moved.
But she knew she had to ignore it.
“I’m fine,” Ashelia said, trying desperately to put a brave face on.
Lucas nodded and both he and Stephen went to their own horses, getting ready.
Dominick started forward, but Ashelia caught him.
“Can I speak with you for a moment?” Ashelia asked.
Dominick instantly became uncomfortable.
“I just want to say I’m sorry,” Ashelia said. “So sorry. Don’t blame Lucas; it was my entire fault,”
Dominick sighed, shaking his head. “It’s not,” he said. “I should have seen it coming. How he was acting, how you were acting, I should have known better,” he shook his head again and cursed under his breath, then looked up, giving her a nervous grin. “Stupid, huh? I take so much pride in my intelligence yet I am so stupid.”
Ashelia shook her head, realizing that was what torn Dominick apart the most. He thought he knew his friends, hoping that he knew the ones he loved. And having this happen to him completely tore that stability down.
In this world of uncertainty, stability is the only thing you can depend on.
“You’re not stupid,” she said softly. “You just have trust and faith in the people you love. That’s not stupid.”
Dominick grew silent, his eyes on hers. “I’m not sure if I can be your friend again,” he said softly. Ashelia nodded in acknowledgement. She already knew it.
“But,” he continued. “Lucas was right; this whole time you never gave me any reason to mistrust you. In fact, you’ve done the opposite. So, until you give me a reason, I will do what Lucas wishes, and help you, giving you my trust.”
Ashelia nodded, but then looked down at the ground. “Eventually, with these circumstances, that time will come, Dominick.”
He nodded. “I know. But until then, we’ll keep it this way.”
They gave each other a soft smile, and then walked to their own horses, content in the agreement. All four of them pulled themselves up onto their horses, ready to leave.
They had dropped Aislin off at the edge of Castello, but it was still hard to say goodbye, no matter how long they stalled the time, especially Dominick.
Lucas looked forward, towards the City of Marcel, still miles and miles away, but by horseback would only take until sunset that day.
“Let’s go,” Lucas said, and they all kicked their horses forward.
This is it, a voice in Ashelia’s head echoed.
This is it.