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By Heart [Short Story]


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“I hear you’re looking for lessons.”


Anstarra looked up, tail stilling in apprehension. Being addressed was not cause for concern in and of itself; the fact of it happening while she was sitting alone, in a little glade, off the beaten path in the middle of the eastern Shroud.. was somewhat more so. The additional fact of being armed with a lap harp, rather than spear or even bow, accounted for the rest of the journey towards and past apprehension, perhaps even unto consternation, if not outright distress. She kept this vocabular panoply from touching her face however, as she regarded the individual who had spoken.


“Yes, I am.” What she saw was somehow reassuring; a male hyur whose age she could not easily tell, due to the lovely wooden mask he bore, standing relaxed with a harp not terribly unlike her own held in the crook of his arm. There was something in his stance which bespoke a native of the Shroud, an ease of manner in the way he wore his woodman’s greens and browns. Rolanberry blonde hair stuck out from under the brim of his wide hat; a hat which bore a single long, colourful feather.


He could still have been a poacher. Or one of the void-touched. Or anything. And yet she was reassured.


It had to be the hat. Only a Bard would wear such a hat.


“Well, go on, play something.” He gestured impatiently with his free hand. His voice was slightly muffled by the mask. “That aire you were plucking at. It didn’t sound completely awful.”


She blinked, slightly put off, and her tail gave a little lash. She felt like objecting - he hadn’t even introduced himself! - and yet her search for eligible Bards had been coming up dry. She’d come to the woods to clear her head, seek inspiration, and who knew, maybe attract a moogle or two. But an actual Bard was even better.. she didn’t want to scare this one off.


So, with a deep breath, she began to play. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnYCW8eWqQo. It was a sweet, rolling melody, one she’d mastered back when she was taking lessons at the collegium. Only now, she couldn’t seem to concentrate. Not only was the Bard watching, but he had began to slowly pace around her. His leathers looked good on his legs, and his scent - a light sort of perfume, melded with something naggingly familiar - kept drawing her attention.


He made a scoffing sound when she missed her first note, and she only grew more tense, which led to a predictable spiral in quality. She took a breath. This was going terribly! Bracing herself, she relaxed, leaning back into her playing… at which point he yawned, loudly and obnoxiously. She twisted and glared, and he put his hand on his hip, his demeanor expectant.


“Do you mind?”

“What, giving up already?”



Tail lashing, she resumed. A full minute went by, though she became increasingly aware of him standing closer. Hovering over her. Leaning over, even! She herself had to lean away, fighting down the urge to turn and…


He flicked her ear.


She gasped, and whipped her harp around, and slammed it into his side to the tune of a truly distressing CRACK.


He staggered back several fulms and fell down, making choking sounds.


An glared at him. Then her ears lowered.




She leapt to her feet, tail lashing in chagrin. “Oh Twelve I’m sorry!” Rushing to kneel at his side, inwardly lamenting both the loss of harp and prospective teacher, she took a moment to realize that he was in fact laughing, if in a rather winded manner. She stared at the Bard, as he pushed himself back up into a seated position.


“There’s the Star I know…” he chuckled, wincing and touching his ribs. She blinked, and her eyes widened. His scent, that hair, light skin…




Shaking his head, he pulled off his mask, and her adoptive brother gave her a rueful smirk.

“Hey, Star. I, ah, think you really do need to learn a thing or two about harps.”


She recovered from her shock enough to scoff at him.

“Not from where I’m sitting!”


“You know that’s not really how you knock your audience off their feet.”


“Smartass. That’s what you get for distracting me!”


“That’s right, it is.”


She started to retort, then paused, frowning.

“What.. do you mean?”


Kian sighed. Then he plopped his hat back on his head and regarded her with a frown.

“What I mean is why are you of all people playing a harp?”


Her ears folded back. “Wh-what? Because I want to be a Bard, obviously.”


“Do Bards break their harp against people who annoy them?”




“You’re not a Bard, Star. I know you. All this-” he gestured at her outfit, an elaborate and airy garment which would not have been out of place on a performer’s stage “-this isn’t you.”


He pushed himself to his feet, dusting himself off. She found herself staring at his features, the features of her first lover, of the first outsider she’d known, the first unreservedly good person she’d ever met. He was older, now. It had been several years, years which looked good on him. There was hurt, too.. old hurt, when he looked at her, hurt she was responsible for. She swallowed, and stood up in turn. She wanted to touch him, to hug him, but she didn’t know how he’d react. So she stood, arms crossed, the silence growing awkward while he checked his ribs, and settled his outfit around him.


“You think you know me still, after all this time?” she finally muttered, sounding more sullen than she liked.


“I think you are who you are, Anstarra. And I think you need to stop hiding from it.”


She couldn’t hold his gaze. She looked away, tail curling around her legs.

“Anstarra isn’t even my real name.”


There was a moment of silence, and then he stepped over.


“I know.”


She could feel her heart beating, as he cupped her cheek, drawing her to look up at him. There was little of the boy he’d been.. he was a man, now, the kind of man to steal a maiden’s heart. When had that happened? She felt a pang, at having missed it. His lips quirked, as though he’d read her mind. His own gaze tracked over her features, thinking similar thoughts. They were both quiet for a long moment, the silence laden with so many things.


“Look, Star.” His voice was softer now, more like she remembered it. “Do you remember when we first met?”


“Yeah..” Her ears folded back, with a wince. “I almost killed you.”

“Uh huh. Hit me in the ribs with the butt of your spear. Pretty much the same spot where you just murdered your harp. For the record, spears are probably better at that kind of thing, I think.” An snorted, smiling despite herself, and he grinned in turn. “I’m not the expert on them that you are, but I can speak with authority about harps, and yeah, that’s definitely not the approved technique.”

“Dummy…” she punched him, on the other side, lightly. He laughed, and stepped back. His eyes twinkled, even as his expression took on a more serious cast.


“I’m not just talking about hitting though.”


She sobered, and frowned a little. He nodded.


“Being a Bard is about playing from the heart. I’m sure you’ve been told as much already. But how can you do that? When you’re denying your own heart?”


“Kian… I...”


“Not talking about romance.” There was a note of sadness in his voice, and he shook his head. “I’m talking about loving yourself. Embracing yourself. Look at you. A... beautiful woman where once you were a beautiful girl... but all I can see is what’s missing from back then. Your spear.” She fidgeted, crossing her arms, and he nodded. “Yeah. I don’t know what happened.. but I’m seeing someone who’s hidden away a part of herself. The one thing you took with you from your youth, the one thing you never were without. I don’t buy that you outgrew it. I think you’re hiding from it. From a part of you. And until you play to that part, until you play from that part, you won’t be a Bard.”


Anstarra remained quiet, not looking at him. Part of it was resentfulness; who was he to just appear after years, and pick her apart like this? But more galling was that she couldn’t deny what he said. Not entirely. At length, he sighed, and picked up his harp. Then, he set it down on the rock where she’d been sitting, and turned.


“Anyroad, consider that your first lesson.”


She blinked, and looked up at him.



“What can I say, it’s like I’ve got this soft spot for weird Seeker girls I find in the woods.” He smirked at her, dark brown eyes twinkling. “Especially ones who clobber me.” Anstarra shook her head, failing to fight back a smile. Kian turned, and began to walk off, slipping his mask back in place. “Mom and dad miss you, you know. You should come visit. It’s almost Starlight, after all. Bring your fiancée!”


An blinked. Her lips quirked. “How’d you know about her? Are you stalking me, jerk?”


He laughed, waving over his shoulder as he sauntered off into the woods. Leaving her alone again, smiling. She looked at the harp, and sat next to it, running her fingers over the strings.


My heart…


Slowly, her fingers began to move. It didn’t sound like before. It was perky, sometimes jostling.. she didn’t know what she was playing. And she liked it. She smiled, as the little song rose into the evening air, letting it fly free...


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