Friday, January 7, 2011

Lady of the Ax (Part 3 of 3)

I can’t let her win. I grab the bow and I sight my target—right between wide eyes.

After all, I have no friends in the Mimic Ring.

I force myself to stop and count. It would be so easy to let the arrow loose on Macy – not to kill, just to wound – just enough to keep her from grabbing the ax. But Macy’s surprised eyes remind me of what we’re taught on the very first day at the Academy and from every day there on. Little Red didn’t fight the wolf for glory, she fought to keep those she loved safe. Shoot Macy just to steal the ax and I’ll be banned from ever becoming a Lady of the Fray.

Macy’s lips pull into a wide grin as she realizes I won’t do it. She reaches for the ax and the desire to shoot her goes beyond wanting the ax for myself. I want to shoot that smug look off her face.

Caryn lets loose a scream full of terror and I forget about Macy – for now. The big wolf in front of the pack has Caryn on the ground, an enormous paw on each side of her body. I don’t even think, I just shoot. The wolf falls sideways, disintegrating before he hits the ground. The rest of the pack goes still, uncertain about what happened.

A distant howl pierces the air and the wolves turn their heads as one. Sara must’ve found the knife. The wolves take off into the trees and Macy smirks at us as she sprints after them. If I leave now I could tackle her and take the ax. Caryn grabs my arm. “Thanks.”

I can’t look at her. Even though I’m glad she’s still here, glad she still has a chance to become a Lady of the Bow, I’m watching my own chance disappear into the forest. I want to count to ten but there’s no time. “Let’s go,” I say. “Before Macy and Sara get them all.” If we don’t kill a wolf during our trial, we’ll be forced to become Lady’s Aides instead of Apprentices. It could take years to become a full-fledged Lady of the Fray.

Caryn is covered in the stench of wolf, her breath is ragged as she attempts to stand. I hand her the bow and quiver of arrows and her hands shake as she takes them. Even though we all know the wolves won’t kill, it felt like she almost died. More so than it ever had in practice.

“Come on,” I give her arm a gentle tug. “We can still catch up.” We head in the direction Macy ran. I try to listen for the wolves or maybe catch a scent, but the odor on Caryn is so overwhelming I can’t smell anything else, and her usually graceful way of slipping through the trees has been replaced with loud tromping as she rustles every branch and steps on every twig. If she doesn’t calm down she’s going to draw the wolves right to us and I am weaponless.

I need to get away from her. This isn’t a team challenge. “I think we should split up.”

“NO!” Her shout is so loud it echoes. She clutches at my arm and before I can pull away, I hear the rumbling of massive paws heading straight for us. Caryn’s eyes are wild with fear. Her grip on the bow is so tight her knuckles are white. I don’t understand why she’s acting like this. Caryn gets skittish around the wolves, but never when she has a bow and arrow in her hand.

The rumbling becomes a ground shaking thunder and Caryn leans closer to me, her fingernails cut into me through my sleeve. I can smell her sweat, she’s practically oozing the big wolf’s scent, which is strange. We’re trained to use our sense of smell at the academy – a wolf can hide his body, but not his scent.

Use all your senses, they would tell us. Think what would’ve happened to Little Red if she’d only relied on her eyes.

We learn to recognize each other’s scents so we don’t wound each other in the dark woods. Caryn’s is soft, like lilac and peach, even when she’s afraid.

The wolves burst through the trees on our left in a blur of black fur and glistening white teeth.

“Get back!” Macy shouts at us from our right. She jumps between us and the wolves, ax at the ready. Caryn pulls me away from the fray and I’m too angry to be scared anymore. This is supposed to be my moment.

Macy starts showing off, like those ridiculous anime movies where Little Red is always some cross between a ninja and a samurai, twirling and leaping and kicking as she swings her sword and slays a dozen wolves.

Macy wields the ax like a pro and the wolves drop one by one. Caryn doesn’t even fire off a single arrow, just clutches the bow to her chest like a shield. Sara is nowhere to be found.

As the last wolf retreats, Macy takes aim and hurls. The ax lands perfectly between the wolf’s shoulder blades and as he disappears in a scented mist, it drops to the ground near me. Macy smiles triumphantly, her hood already red with synthetic blood, but the trumpets don’t sound to signify that the last mimic wolf has been killed. She frowns and looks to the sky for an answer.

Mimic wolves. Named for the program that can create anything. Not just wolves. Medical schools use them to make bodies for practice surgeries.

An idea so horrible it makes me shudder, forms in my mind. They wouldn’t. I inhale sharply, searching for the faintest hint of lilacs or peaches but I smell only wolf, and cinnamon, and the garish perfume that Macy wears.

We are trained to trust our gut, our instincts finely honed to sense a wolf in even the most unlikely places. I take a deep breath and count to five. There are no friends in the ring.

I grab the ax with both hands and before I can stop to think, I turn and swing for Caryn’s tiny neck. Time slows. My name, in Macy’s startled voice, floats at me from behind. Caryn’s terrified eyes open so wide they’re in danger of popping out. I watch, mesmerized, as the blade inches toward her. A crimson jet of blood spurts from her neck when the ax makes contact and for one horrible, endless second, I’m certain I made a mistake. And then Caryn vanishes in a cinnamon-scented cloud and the world comes rushing back into focus. Cheers erupt from the heavens as the sky melts into a thousand multi-colored hoods over smiling faces and clapping hands.

“Ladies of the Fray,” a voice echoes from speakers everywhere. “Please welcome your newest Lady of the Ax, Lochlin Cowle!”

Come back on Monday for an all new story started by Lacey!

Photo by ®DS via Flickr Creative Commons.

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