I braced myself, flipping one of my knives out of my pocket like I had been waiting for. All I wanted was a little bit of blood. I didn’t need much, just a little bit. She’d been asking for it, after all.
I held it out and braced my arm for impact, but she ducked under my arm, trying to knock the blade out of my grasp.
“Let go!” Marlee shrieked, clawing at my fingers. I felt her nails digging into my skin, but I’d felt worse. Until you have your ribs cracked by getting hugged by your own brother, you haven’t felt pain. Though half of that might’ve been because he was too scared to hug me after that.
“How about no?” I grinned, suddenly yanking my arm down and bringing Marlee with me. In a whirlwind of arms and legs, we fell to the forest floor, each clawing to end up on the top.
In the end, I prevailed, pinning her to the ground despite the claw marks that I felt all the way up my arms and the few that had made it awfully close to my eyes. She had her own bloody cuts from my knife, but she had fended me off better than I’d have thought.
“Girls!” Kase called, but I paid him no heed. This was my fight and I needed it. He couldn’t take it from me.
“Get off of me!” Marlee struggled under me.
I laughed, still panting slightly. “Yeah, right.” I spat in her face. “Why would I do that? You’re a liar and a traitor. I thought that we were doing good and then you didn’t let me make one mistake.”
Marlee’s upper lip curled and she paused her struggle long enough to return her own volley of spiteful comments. “Oh, so you call that a mistake? How about a complete failure. Just because you’re good at lying doesn’t mean you can turn around and use some truths. You choose one or the other and you stick with it!” She kept struggling as though her words had given her new vigor.
Personally, I was just confused.
“Girls!” Kase called again, this time more urgently.
I still ignored him, pinning Marlee harder. When I thought it was safe to, I leaned close and hissed in her face. “The best lies are dipped in truth, haven’t you heard?” I pulled back. “Now, unless you want your pretty face to be marred by some blood and a nice scar afterwards, maybe you should acknowledge my superiority.”
Marlee kept staring at me, disgust filling every crevasse on her face. “I’d prefer the scar,” she said.
“Calypso!!” Kase screamed.
That one got me to look up, and when I did, I cursed.
I rolled off of Marlee and lurched to my feet, my hand falling to my second dagger. I was too focused on my next problem to realize that it was probably a good thing that Marlee hadn’t know that I had two.
“Let go of him,” I said carefully, making sure the words were weighted with threats.
Behind Kase was a sentry who held his arms behind him tightly. Tears were beginning to well in Kase’s eyes as he fought to stay calm. Judging by how he winced when the sentry moved his arms, his shoulders were already being pulled too much.
“Why should I?” the sentry sneered. “You’re both trespassing. You’re in no position to be bargaining with me.”
I kept watching the sentry, my eyes still narrowed. “No, I’m not,” I said, forcing my tone to be relaxed despite my whole body being on edge. Even though I wasn’t looking at Kase, he was all I saw. Tears shone in his eyes like water droplets shining in the sun and his lip had started trembling; the tears began dripping down his cheeks, but he didn’t make a sound.
My gut clenched, but I didn’t allow myself to show it anywhere else.
“However, you have to get all three of us out of here before you can really say that you’ve apprehended us,” I continued. “You might think that by grabbing him you’ve won us, but do we really care about him?”
Uncertainty flashed in the sentry’s eyes for a moment, but it disappeared quickly. “You stayed for him,” he said.
I raised an eyebrow, forcing a smirk to form on my lips. “Just because I stayed doesn’t mean that I stayed for him,” I said, rolling my eyes. I stepped forward, “however, I have been looking forward to testing out my fighting skills. What do you say? If I win, we get to walk away free and if you win, we walk with you to the castle.”
“Calypso!” Marlee hissed, panic flooding her eyes.
A growl rose in my throat. I needed her to step down and let me plan this thing out. I turned back for a brief moment and shot her a look, trying to convey my thoughts to her. I managed a short head shake before turning back to the sentry.
“You’re in no position to make bargains,” the sentry said again, pulling Kase tighter.
I tried not to see how that made more tears flow down Kase’s cheeks.
“Now, that’s where you’re wrong,” I told the sentry, creeping forward more. “You haven’t gotten us out of the woods yet and I highly doubt that you’ve called for backup—” I had seen his phone of sorts in his pocket, but even from here I could see that the no signal was flashing. “So, really, I think that I’m in the perfect position to make a bargain.”
Just because I wasn’t from here didn’t mean that I didn’t know how to navigate a phone.
“How about I give you her,” I jabbed my finger towards Marlee. “For him.”
The sentry glanced behind me, his eyes narrowing. “You’d really do that?” he asked in confusion.
Poor guy wasn’t going to know what was going to hit him.
“Of course I would,” I smirked at him. “You didn’t see me scrabbling with her a moment ago? She really is weak and useless. I mean, he is more so,” I nodded towards Kase, “but he’s a good errand runner.”
The sentry narrowed his eyes at me and for a moment I thought he had half a brain cell and would say no. “Fine,” he said curtly. “Bring me her and we’ll exchange.”
I grinned broader. “With pleasure.”
I spun around and started towards Marlee, who crouched lower and backed away from me. I couldn’t say anything because the sentry would overhead, but I could mouth something and my expressions weren’t completely reliant on my lying.
‘Trust me,’ I mouthed at her, trying to pull down my walls for a moment and let me see how much I needed her to help me with this. If this failed, I was going to have to come up with something else on the spot and the second idea never was as good as the first one.
Marlee nodded in such a small motion that I nearly didn’t see it. “Don’t you dare,” she pretended to say, her voice shaking in a way that I knew was fake.
“Sorry, not sorry,” I said, also acting. I lunged for her and managed to grab her, gently but not as gently as possible—I had to keep up my act, after all.
I pulled her towards the sentry and pushed her towards him, trying to angle myself and her just right. “Here she is,” I told him, watching him carefully for hints of what he was going to do.
“Good,” he said. He shoved Kase towards me and reached for Marlee. Unfortunately, I couldn’t catch Kase, but I trusted that he wouldn’t hurt himself too much. I shoved Marlee to the side so that the man couldn’t grab him, and I jumped onto the man, reaching for my knife.
We scrabbled for a moment and I was struck by a sense of déjà vu, but I shoved it aside. I was all too aware of the weight advantage the man had over me and how the hill was only a short way away. One misstep and we could both end up rolling down the hill. Whether I was good at talking or not, once I was out of under the cover of these trees, I was in big trouble.
I scraped my blade along his arm, and he yelled in pain before renewing his efforts on attacking me. Blood began making my clothes wet, but I had no way of knowing if it was his or mine. If I had been injured, I wasn’t going to feel it; I never did. When I fought something, I always focused on the one thing I was fighting.
I wasn’t the kind of girl who could just lose.
He gripped my arm tightly and restrained the knife, ripping it out of my hands and throwing it to the side. I reached with my other arm and clawed at his throat, knowing it was a sensitive spot. His other hand ripped my hand away from him. I lifted up my knee and hit him in the stomach as hard as I could. It was a reflexive move, which meant that I was starting to get sloppy out of desperation.
My shoulders were starting to hurt.
“Calypso! You have to keep fighting!” Kase called.
It was then that I realized that I had stilled for a moment.
I pulled all of my inner strength together and kept struggling against him, but his weight was against me. I couldn’t fight him; my struggling was resulting in nothing.
I was starting to give up.
The man above me yelled in pain and I only barely registered that it had been right in my face. All I knew was that I hadn’t moved. How was he injured?
All of a sudden, I had a dead weight on top of me. “Oof,” I managed as close to one hundred and fifty pounds of muscle landed on me, maybe more.
“Kase! Help me here!” Marlee called from somewhere around the body.
After a moment, some of the weight of the sentry was lifted off of me.
“Calypso, we really need you to help us push,” Marlee panted from above me as she kept pushing him.
I grunted and lifted my legs as much as I could. In the end, my knees ended up pushing the body off of me. I slid out from under him and laid there on the ground for a moment before remembering Kase.
“Kase,” I croaked in relief. Before I had even thought it through all the way, I was giving him a tight hug.
“Calypso…” Kase said in return. There was a slight tremor in his voice.
I pushed him back a little bit but kept holding him. “You’re okay, right?”
“My arms are sore,” Kase whispered back, something flashing in his eyes. Tears welled in his eyes again. “I was scared,” he whimpered a bit. “I was supposed to be brave, but I was scared.”
My heart nearly broke at the concession. “We all get scared sometimes, buddy,” I said.
Kase kept crying. “But you said that I was weak and useless and my shoulders hurt, and now you’re hurt, too.”
I pulled him back into my arms. “I didn’t mean it, Kase. Sometimes, I have to lie to keep people safe.”
Kase hugged me back really hard, but the pressure lessened after a moment. “My shoulders hurt a lot,” he said, starting to calm.
“Yeah, my cuts don’t feel to great either,” I replied, letting him pull back from me. I glanced at Marlee, but wasn’t quite ready for the conversation that needed to happen there.
Instead, I looked back to Kase. “You ready to leave?”
He nodded, seeming to come back to himself. “Russ will understand why we don’t have that much stuff.”
I shook my head at him, managing to smile slightly. “He’d better.” I thought for a moment. “So, what’re the odds you can keep your brother from inflicting any damage on me?”
Kase’s eyes widened. “Uh oh. Um… I’ll try not to tell him that my shoulders hurt, but if he finds out, I’ll say that you saved me and stuff.”
I closed my eyes briefly as a grimace crossed my face. “I can take a little more pain, right?”
A hand landed on my shoulder. “If he lays a finger on you, I’m going to K—” Marlee cut off, something dark and heavy passing across her face. “I’m going to hurt him,” she finished.
I smiled at her, deciding not to push. “Thanks.” I bumped Kase lightly. “Ready?”
Kase rolled his eyes, moving past me.
“You forget that I’m the one who knows the way.”