A long time ago, when I was five, I was put in my first martial arts class. Girls aren’t allowed to participate, but the teacher owed my father a favor, and he made an exception. My father’s hopes were that I would be a warrior, like him. And they came true. I was the best in my class after only three classes, and the boys had been there for at least one year, some two. Before the first test, I could beat my teacher, but not my father. I grew to be an amazing warrioress, which I still am.
2 months ago
My father looked at me cautiously, hands out and ready to defend or attack. We circled each other, sizing each other’s abilities, strengths, weaknesses. He darted forward but I dodged his punch and ducked under his fist, landing a tap on his underarm before he retracted it. I bent backward away from the kick and did a quick backflip, clashing his arm with my foot. Mr. Kizasli came into the room with my classmates but halted at the sight of us. In my momentary distraction, Father hit my chest with a powerful punch. I flew back but skidded my foot to keep from slamming into the wall. I tilted my head with a smile.
“I have one and you have three. Ryan, can you count us to ten?” Mr. Kizasli nodded and made the class sit down on the floor in a circle around us.
“Should I start over?” He asked and my father glanced at me.
“No, we’re good.”
“You mean I’m good, you’re still two behind,” I said with a laugh. He grinned and we circled again, my arms in a different position than his. He held his arms in the “X” and I carried the “Y”. I launched forward and kicked his leg which collapsed. I landed two chest punches before flipping over him and using his arm as a pivot point. I gave him a soft kick on his back and another punch to his arm. He sprang onto his feet before he tumbled to the floor but I was ready. I slid on the floor, kicking his legs from under him as he fell over me. I grunted and he lifted himself.
“That’s ten for Kenna!” Kizasli exclaimed, shocked.
“Did you go easy on me, Father?” I asked warily.
“No,” he replied with a smile. “And you did well, Kenna.” The boys lept to their feet and started clapping. I blushed and looked down at my shoes. “Be proud of yourself, kid. Lift your chin.” He left the room after patting me on the back.
“Kenna!” Austin barked, snapping me out of my memory.
“We have to move.”
“We just got here!” I protested. Milo glanced toward the sun, setting in the West.
“We need to get going, make a camp. The sun’s going down.” He said, just as the first shadow shaded across the pure white landscape. “The night’s coming too fast. Where do we make camp?” He mumbled several other words that were so close together, I couldn’t decipher them. I assumed he was cursing.
“We can do something with the snow…?” I suggested nervously.
“We don’t know what this challenge is, only that it is something big and…fiercely loud.”
“Tell me about it,” I muttered, rubbing my ears.
“Yeah, I guess we could make a snow mound but we’d have to wait a couple of hours to complete it. That’ll be well after dark.”
“It’s worth it,” Austin said, digging his hand into the snow. “Let’s get to work.”
Once the sun had gone down, it was pitch black. My brain swarmed with warnings, but I ignored them, sitting on the white fluffy substance and waiting for the snow to harden enough to dig.
Star after star twinkled into visibility as I waited. And waited. And waited more.
We were silent, no small talk between us. I started imagining my town, sleepily getting ready for bed and trudging through the streets. I thought of my father, of what he would be doing. He wouldn’t sleep, for sure. He’s probably in front of the fire, messing with it using the poking stick. Thinking of me, of if I’m dead or alive and worrying both ways. No doubt about that.
Milo patted the snow which crackled and interrupted my dreaming.
“It’s ready.” And he stuffed his hand into the snow, digging. Austin moved to join him, and they dug while I watched; there was no room for a third person. They soon disappeared into the mound while my eyes closed. I was unaware that I’d fallen asleep until I woke inside the mini snow cave. I sat up, parting my messy hair and slowly crawling around the sleeping boys. Sunlight made my eyes squeeze shut then blink several times before opening completely again. The blank landscape went on and on, the fluffy substance untouched. The wind whipped my hair and I shivered. I crawled back into the warm mound and curled into a small ball, listening to the howling wind.
Suddenly, another noise hit my ears. Cackling and howls of excitement. They almost sound like…
“GET UP!!” I yell-whispered, shaking the two. “Hyenas are coming!” They gaped for a second before launching into action and checking for their weapons. We all crawled out of the cave and sure enough, a large group of black forms in the distance were coming closer. We scrambled into a run but the snow was pulling us down.
“We need shelter!” Austin shouted above the wind and we all stopped gratefully. I scanned the land.
“There’s none for miles!” I responded.
“Are we going to fight?” Milo asked, twirling a dagger around his fingers with a hint of some foreign emotion. But then it disappeared under the layers of icy hatred he smoothed on his expression.
“We might have to,” Austin replied, turning toward the hyenas with his knives ready. I was about to free one of the staves from its spot in my belt before I noticed the way the hyenas were moving. They were in a pack formation and their paws raced over the snow easily.
“Uhhh, guys?” I yelled and they turned to me.
“What?” They said in unison, glancing at each other before looking away.
“Those aren’t hyenas.”
“They sound like it!” Austin answered, turning back to them.
“Look at how their formation and how they run. That is not a hyena clan. It looks like a wolf pack.”
“Hybrids?” Milo supplied and I nodded thoughtfully.
“They could be. If they are hyena-wolves, then we better not fight them. We don’t stand a chance.” Austin scanned the white fluff, turning in a circle.
“There!” He exclaimed, pointing. I whirled and saw a cave, just visible by the tiny gray outline because it was covered in snow.
“The entrance is blocked,” I pointed out.
“We’ll dig, then!”
I shrugged and we started running, Austin in front, plowing the way for us. Milo took the lead occasionally but we didn’t slow.
As I held the back and kept glancing behind us, the yelps and howls grew closer, but I buried my fear. Not the time, I thought. We were so, so close when the first hyena wolves closed in on our sides. One came too close and I hit its muzzle with my staff, making it fly backward. At the moment I hit the first, a second launched toward Milo. They fell in a rolling pile in the snow, and I rushed to help, smashing my staff against the hyena-dog’s side and whirling to whack another hyena-dog. Austin was digging in the snow, pushing snow into the hole so we can cover it later. I guarded the unmoving Milo while Austin dug, getting lost in the spinning and hitting hyena-dog upon hyena-dog. When I hit one, three others took its place.
“Austin!!” I shouted wearily, my moves slowing.
“Done! Get Milo! Come on!” Austin pushed through the hole and Milo groaned as I pulled his shirt to tug him to his feet. He stumbled along as I tried to defend us against the hyena-dogs. I shoved him in the hole and kicked a hyena dog before following him and shoving snow into the gaping hole. Austin helped and when we finished, we heard Milo shift. I turned in the dark and felt for him, the closest part of him I found being his chest. It felt wet and I lifted my hand and sniffed. I licked a finger and spat immediately.
“He’s bleeding, Austin.” I whispered, breaking the quietness.
“We need light.” He said and I heard a shuffling sound before a match was lit and he lit a tall candle. I gaped.
“Where’d you get that?”
“From Khann City.” He replied with a grin, moving forward.
“What else did you get?”
“A first aid kit.” He untucked and tugged up his shirt a little to reveal a small box labeled first aid.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” I inquired worriedly.
“I might if you would stop talking.” I blushed and held my tongue as Austin gently removed Milo’s shirt. He inched closer, moving the candle with him. A shallow but long scratch ran along Milo’s dark tan chest from below his right nipple to his left side. Blood oozed out of the wound every time he exhaled. I watched curiously after Austin cleaned the wound and began stitching; his concentration was remarkable in my opinion. He sighed when he finished, carefully applying white bandage over the cut. After several moments of eerie quiet he said softly, “Now we wait.”
I nodded, helping him repack the kit supplies. Then I asked quietly: “Where’d you learn that?”
“My father. Before he died he was an apothecary.” He hid the first aid under his shirt again and tucked it in.
“I see. You are full of surprises, Austin.” He chuckled and leaned against the cave wall.
“Wake me when you get tired.” And he went out like a light.
I was left in silence, save for Milo’s ragged breathing and Austin’s soft snores. I took Milo’s discarded shirt and washed it with snow as best as I could. As I attempted to pull it over his head he moaned in pain.
“Milo?” I whispered, frozen. His eyes fluttered open. “Good morning,” I murmured.
“What happened?” His voice was unusually rough, his eyes full of vulnerable pain and innocence. “How long was I out?”
“Not long. Do you remember anything?”
“I remember…you. You were defending me.” He lifted his arms one at a time and winced, lowering his left to feel Austin’s work. “Did you do this?” He asked hoarsely.
“Austin.” I released Milo’s shirt, letting it fall silently to the cave floor.
“Ah.” He gazed around the cave. “What do we do from here?”
“I don’t know,” I sighed.
“Have you investigated these…caves?”
“So basically we’re sitting ducks in here till what? Starvation?”
“No one said that!” I leaned against the cave wall wearily, watching the candle’s flame dancing. I yawned. “Just get some sleep,” I mumbled as my eyes closed.
Waking to a dragon’s roar is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever gone through. I was instantly on my feet, knees bent slightly and senses alert. Milo’s eyes were open, his breathing quiet; Austin was crouched, ready for anything with two knives in each hand.
My heartbeat stuttered in fear.
I pulled my metal staff up off the floor and into my hands.
It was closer now, too nearby for the slightest comfort.
I glanced at Austin, who nodded.
We pulled the frozen-in-place Milo from the floor and backed against the snow-covered entrance with him between us.
Two bright orange-red malevolent eyes appeared in the darkness, making me shudder in absolute terror.
THUD!Moving even nearer, the beastly dragon opened its huge jaws to reveal teeth as long as my shoulder to my elbow. I ducked, dragging Milo and Austin with me, as a sheet of flame flew toward us and melted the snow behind us. I swept Milo into my arms like he was a baby, and threw a look at Austin that said, let’s go! He nodded in understanding and just as the dragon closed its maw, we ran under the beast’s belly. I struggled to see in the blackness as we raced blindly down dark tunnels, running into several walls in our haste. I could feel my limbs tiring when the furious roar of a rage-filled dragon assailed our ears. Arms shaking, I kept running. And running. And running more. Finally, when my limbs were about to collapse, I saw light ahead and felt a steep rise under my feet. And then, suddenly, we broke into pre-dusk light. But what lay before us was as shocking as an ice water bucket being dumped on my head: a jungle.