Winter Wars

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I already knew the answer. I already knew that Marcy wouldn’t be able to fight, but I hoped, just a little, that we could both make an escape.

Even though I’m terrified and every nerve in my body is insisting we run as far as possible, I know that I can’t. I know that at least three people are close by. Onyx fought for her life to make it this far. As much as I’m a coward and will even run away from someone I know won’t hurt me, I have to suck it up and fight. I have to do what I did at Westmoor: stop thinking and start reacting.

I told Ryner and Jayson that my still being alive was just luck, and it kinda was, but I had to remember what mom would do. Mom always said that if you don’t want to do something, stop overthinking and just do it. Sounds like a Nike commercial, but there it is.

Knives in hand I take off after Marcy keeping a safe distance behind her. I need to be brave but not stupid. Had I stayed where we were I’d have had to face all of her pursuers.

The first of three comes with a burst of speed and slams into my side. I silently thank Jayson for pushing me so hard on defense.

“Defense is sometimes the best offense,” he said. “If you have to pick sword or shield, unless you have absolute confidence, pick the shield. Since you don’t want to fight and something like a shield would weigh you down, perfect a defensive stance and whenever you go to fight, make sure your clothes are fit for it. Understand?”

At the time I thought it was a little weird to have a defensive maneuver when I could just run—yes, even at that point running seemed like a grand idea. But now I see the genius in always being prepared to defend.

Instead of falling on my ass or breaking a bone, I slide against the ground until I come to a stop. I’m not sure who’s more surprised, him or me. Since I know that I’m not going to get anywhere with the knives in this fight, I stick mostly to defense. He attacks, I dodge, redirect his attack, or sneak in a small hit. Ryner and Jayson hate when I do this. They say that when me and Marcy do nothing but dodge, it prolongs the fight and pisses people off. Sucks to be them, I said.

And right now, it really does suck to be him. No matter what he does, I move and just when his frustration is at its limit, I change patterns and go for an attack.

Being a nurse I had to study the human anatomy and physiology, but Ryner took it to a whole other length of dedication. While I know the basics, Ryner taught me how to incapacitate someone without hurting them and all I had to do was use what knowledge I have and remember what he taught me.

Putting all of my weight into an uppercut, I successfully hit his solar plexus. As he leans over in pain, I hit the back of his neck as hard as I can. He falls to the ground unconscious.

Before I can think too much on my actions, I start running again. My sense of smell still hasn’t kicked in all that much, but I’d know Marcy’s scent anywhere. She smells like honey and wildflowers. This forest smells more like animals and pollutions.

Taking a deep breath, I listen for more people. I can hear Marcy several yards ahead of me, Baddie Number One is breathing on the ground, and two more ahead of what sounds like fifteen or so footfalls almost a mile behind them.

“Focus on running,” I mutter. “One foot in front of the other.”

The second time I’m attacked, I’m prepared. With more strength than I think possible, I launch myself into trees and land gracefully on a branch. It trembles under my weight before coming still.

The knives I have now aren’t for throwing, but I haven’t taken off the daggers Jayson let me use in today’s training session. My knives shift back into a necklace that I put in my pocket as I reach for the daggers.

Baddie Number Two is sniffing for me. Was I so fast he doesn’t know where I am? I just hope he doesn’t spot me and if he does that his bulky frame doesn’t allow him to climb trees with ease. Taking the two daggers from the sheaths on my calves, I aim for his. They hit their mark and a roar erupts from him. Before he can turn, the two on my thighs hit their mark—kinda. I was aiming for his thighs and went up too high.

Oh, well. I jump from my perch and hit his back with my feet grateful that they made us switch from regular workout clothes to combat clothes which includes combat boots. How he failed to hear me is beyond yours truly, I’m only grateful I didn’t have to do anything drastic.

He doesn’t move and I step off of him ready to leave behind him and the daggers (we can always find more) when he moves. I yelp and kick out hitting his temple and I’m sure that he’s out for good this time. I go to leave but go back for the daggers. I feel bad yanking them from his body, but I know I can’t let anyone who’s not on my side to get them.

Wiping them off on his shirt I start to leave again, but he moans and I kick again before running. I pray to Jebus he isn’t dead.

When a few minutes pass from the time I’ve been running and when Baddie Number Two was knocked out I start to feel paranoid. I should be happy that no one has attacked, sidelined, or scared me, but there’s still one more person ahead of the militia.

The hairs on the back of my neck stand up straight and I get my knives just in time. Putting them in a defensive X, the sword is stopped from chopping my head off. This time my assailant is a woman. She’s taller than me by maybe an inch, her hair is pulled into an unforgiving bun and her eyes glow blood red.

“It was only you who took down my fighter?” she questions. “You’re nothing but a pup.” Quick as a thought, she kicks out. Nothing could ever prepare me for the pain that explodes in my chest when I fly back and slam against a tree.

“In all this time and this is all Victor has to offer?” She stalks towards me leisurely. “He must be ashamed of you.”

Breathing and standing are not two tasks I can manage at the same so I focus on breathing. One good scream and I may kill two birds with one stone: call for help and hinder Baddie Number Three unfocused for a moment. If she can’t hear anything past my scream, maybe she’ll be vulnerable even just a little.

“Just looking at you lets me know you’re weak,” she lifts my chin with the point of her sword. “You had every opportunity to kill them, and yet you only knocked them out. I had to finish the job; anyone who can be beaten by someone like you isn’t worthy of living.”

She pats my cheek with the blade. “You’re young, early twenties. Dressed for combat, a Winters girl. Katrina.” She sneers at the realization. “Wish you were the younger. I hear she fights.”

Fighting irritation and anger, I keep my breathing steady. I have no doubt in my mind that Marcy would be in a much different position than me. As I’ve said, she’s the fighter, not me. She’s the fighter…

I fight the smile that threatens to blow my composure. She doesn’t think I’m a fighter and she can’t be more right, but maybe I could surprise her. If I did that, maybe I could get them closer to Westmoor. Although, if you lead them here they will perish. Ethan’s words come back to me and I’m thankful for the overzealous older man.

Now, if only I could unbalance her in time for me to get up.

“Your daggers, throw them.” With two flicks of my hand, the four daggers are lined on a tree. “Not bad girl. Say something.”

“What would you like me to say?” I massage my ribs sure that one at least one of them is broken. “Hi, my name is Trina. Nice to meet you. Why are you trying to kill Onyx? Can I at least know the name of my killer? If I die, will you burry me in the ground or leave me to rot?”

Baddie Number Three gives me a sarcastic smile. “Now that you’ve asked, my name is Expiry Widow. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. To answer your other question, I will leave you here for to decay and rot until your body become nourishment for the ground.” She taps my chin and orders me to stand. “But I will give you a chance to fight. It’s not fun when all you do is lie there.”

Mentally steeling myself against the pain, I stand with barely a gasp. The only issues now are keeping my breath and getting the daggers. Speed has always been my strong suit and throwing is easy, so I can pin her down just for a few seconds. The daggers aren’t stuck into the tree, it only looks that way.

The most I can do is redirect her attacks. She’s too fast to dodge and I’m nowhere near skilled enough to fight her. I tuck and roll as she swipes over my head putting some of my hair. I take two and throw them with all my might. She jerks back as the daggers pierce her skin and pin her to a tree.

Taking a deep breath I scream, “RYNER!”

Expiry rips the daggers from her shoulders and throws them to the ground. “I will kill you.”

For a brief and unfortunate moment, my life flashes before my eyes as her sword sails towards me.

I won’t say that I’m thrilled with how I spent the first twenty-one years of my life, but I won’t say I’m upset. My life was kinda boring a simple. I happily lived day to day almost going through the motions on autopilot. Not a bad way to live my life all things considered.

No strength left in my body, I start to fall. And then a miracle happens.

Never in my life have I been swept off my feet and never have I been more grateful when the ground disappears.

At first I wonder where the ground went—it had been right beneath me just a few seconds ago. Then I wonder what in the forest can be so soft and then I realize nothing originally from the woods feels like this.

My cheek is pressed firmly against Ryner’s shirt as he hold me close while he runs. Behind us metal clashes.

Now, I don’t remember fainting, but I don’t suppose anyone does. I remember the trees blurring together and then I’m waking up in a bed. Dim lights are soft on the eyes and a faint smell of lemon wafts through the room. Beds lay in rows all neatly made and waiting for the next sick person to need them. An infirmary is one of those modifications Jayson told us about.

“You are awake,” Ryner says. He sits with his arms crossed glaring daggers at me like I’ve ruined his day. Maybe I have. Ethan did say we weren’t going to get any help and yet there he was.

“Yeah, and I feel like I’ve been trampled by a bull.” I want to sit up, but the look on Ryner’s face says if I make any sudden movements, he’ll make sure I can’t get up. “Why are you mad?”

“You are not a fighter and yet you fought against a woman you could not hope to defeat.” He narrows his eyes. “That is something I expect Marcy to do, but you are more logical than she.”

“I had to stay behind,” Not wanting to feel like a child being towered over and scolded, I sit up and ignore the throbbing of my ribs. “Marcy was in no condition to fight.”

“And you are not a fighter. You could have died.”

“But I didn’t.” I cross my arms. “There was always a possibility that someone I couldn’t beat was there. I knew that, but I went anyway. And if I died then-then at least I did something with my life.” A small smile comes to my face. “Even when we train I still run away when I know you wouldn’t hurt me, but this time I didn’t. This time, when it really mattered, I didn’t turn tail and flee.”

My dark eyes meet his and I ask what’s been on my mind since he first questioned me. “If Marcy had been the one to stay behind you wouldn’t have questioned her like this. She knows me better than anyone, but she had faith in me. Why can’t you?”

Ryner runs his hands through his hair and sighs. “The way I feel about you is much different from how I care for Marcy. It is not that I do not have faith in your skills, I only have a fierce need to protect you that I do not fully understand. Marcy will not allow me this privilege, but I would feel much at ease if you would.”

Before I can even think of what to say, I hear Marcy say, “You can’t go in there, Trina is still—”

“I care not for her rest.” Ethan says in reply. “I need to speak with my son.”

I look to Ryner. “You weren’t supposed to go out there, were you?”

“No,” he agrees. “I disobeyed.”

“Then that means…”

“Yes. I will be punished. But it is well worth it if you are safe.” Ethan burst through the doors with Marcy at his heels. She look decidedly better but tired all the same. Did she get some rest or is she putting on another front?

Ryner stands to face his father. Ethan sizes him up with a critical gaze, leans forward, and quietly says, “You will obey me when I give you an order.”

“Yes, sir.”

Before Ryner can walk away, I put my hand on his chest as I stand. I’m both thankful and disappointed to find that I’m only wearing a thin cotton dress. “I want Ryner to stay with me a little longer.”

“Excuse me?” Ethan turns back. Standing my ground I stay in front of Ryner.

“You heard me.”

“Little girl, I would move from my way.” Ethan says reaching out.

I pull my knives and hold a defensive. “Touch me and I swear to God that’ll be the last thing you ever do with your hand.” Ryner has spent his entire life protecting Marcy when I wasn’t able to. He’s saved me more times than I can even begin to imagine. Maybe now I can return the favor.

Groaning interrupts our standoff. A few beds over, Onyx Blacktail mutters something and opens her eyes. “Dear God, if I’m not dead I’m gonna kill Expiry if I ever see that bitch again.”

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