And with that encouragement, the little black door opens and we enter the Mimic Ring.
The second I step into the ring, a new smell hits me—the mimic wolves. They’re not in sight, which can only mean there are more of them than we’d ever imagined. Their fur is manufactured to smell just like the real thing—earthy, hot, and foul. It burns my throat and tickles my nose when I draw a deep breath and start to count. Thirty seconds before the four-note chord will tell us to begin.
I glance over at Caryn. Her eyes scan the clearing we’ve entered into. She’s looking for the bow. Temptation to help her find it tugs at my insides, but I have to get to the ax before Macy. Caryn will be fine.
The Mimic Ring is much like the Cutter Wood, enclosed in a high brick wall. The sky isn’t real, but it looks like a sunny spring morning. On the other side of those puffy white clouds sit our elders—the Ladies of the Fray.
I have no way of knowing how deep the wood goes or where the ax might be hidden. I pick out a spot on the far left where I will enter when we’re given the signal. Macy is to my right. The ax could very well be closer to her. She’s taller than I, and a fast runner. I’m nimble and light on my feet. We both have a good chance of getting the ax.
“Be safe, Lochlin,” Caryn whispers.
I nod and smile. The four notes play all at once and we charge the dark wolf-infested wood. I sprint through the trees, sticking close to the brick wall so not to lose my way and end up back-tracking. Footsteps fall behind me, too heavy to be Caryn and too slow to be Macy. Having Sara on my back is disconcerting—she’s loud and I’m not sure I trust her.
We aren’t friends in the ring. We’re not even classmates, we’re competitors. I push myself to run faster. Sara’s footsteps fade behind me, allowing me to breathe easier.
The wall curves, ushering me to the right. For a second, I lose my footing and slide down a small incline. The bottom is wet with mud and littered with wolf prints. The foul odor is stronger. I brace myself, scanning the trees for any sign of beast or Lady. It’s probably nothing, but I know they’re all watching and I have to be at my best.
Something shines to my right, the ax head I hope, but as I near it I realize it’s a dagger wedged into the trunk of an oak. Sara will find it if she’s still following, leaving the bow for Caryn.
A low rumble comes from deep in the shadows. I crouch down and grasp the dagger, just before a mimic wolf springs at me. One of the first things we learn at the academy is to never turn your back to a wolf. I dip, weave and thrust.
At about the size of a black bear, this wolf is smaller than most of the training wolves I’ve hunted in Cutter Wood, but no less determined to shred my hood and burry it’s teeth in my neck. One last thrust and the wolf falls dead at my feet, quickly disintegrating. Its ghastly scent is replaced by cinnamon and baked things, reminding me of Red’s famed basket. Another wolf howls, then another and another. I’ve got to get to the ax.
If I take the knife I’ll be able to defend myself, but I’ll leave Sara defenseless. If Sara can’t find the knife she’ll likely take Caryn’s bow. I jam the dagger back into the tree and leave it behind, hoping to outrun the other wolves.
The woods grow denser, leaving me no space to walk along the wall. The thick trunks and spindly branches push me farther into the wood where a new smell hangs on the breeze—coppery and sweet.
A wide pine gives me cover, a moment to catch my breath and strategize. Still no sign of the ax. I recognize the smell as blood, but I’m not sure if it’s real, or another illusion of the Mimic Ring.
The scream that rips through the forest is most definitely real. I sprint toward the sound of Caryn’s voice, then skid to a stop somewhere deep in the wood, far from the wall I’d planned to follow. Between me and Caryn stands a pack of twenty or so wolves, these as big as grizzlies.
“Lochlin! The bow!” Caryn shouts. She points to where the bow hangs from a tree branch. I could get to it and with Caryn’s help we could slaughter the wolf pack. I take a step toward it and something else catches my eye. Just beyond, my ax sticks out of a stump. If I go for the ax, I’ll be too late to help Caryn.
I glance once more at my friend and then back to the stump where my future lies wedged between splinters of rotten wood. I am destined to be a Lady of the Ax. I’ve dreamed of being cloaked in crimson, of hunting real wolves with the Ladies of my color.
A figure weaves gracefully through the wood toward the stump. I catch just a glimpse of Macy’s curled dark hair.
One of the wolves rushes at Caryn. The smell of cinnamon and sweets left behind by fallen wolves seems to call them in and make them ravenous. She fends them off with a thick branch, one that won’t hold out much longer.
The image of Macy’s frosted lips flashes through my mind, repeating her warning, “Stay away from the ax, if you know what’s good for you.”
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.
Come back on Friday for part 3 by Valerie!
Photo by ®DS via Flickr Creative Commons.