Willow by Nici Bueckert 2013
To read the story in order, please visit the Sinner Series Page.
Rayn had followed Willow to this secluded little clearing in the early predawn light. They were a little ways east of the camp. The air was cool, and the first rays of sunlight had not yet crested the towering mountain peaks. He wanted to talk to Willow alone about what he had planned. He needed her support with the villagers. It would go a long way toward convincing them. The villagers admired her greatly. She had, after all, saved their lives the night of the fire. He was not at all sure that she would support his idea, but he had to try. Actually, he feared that she would fight him tooth and nail; just one more reason to have this talk in private. He had observed Willow leaving the camp early every morning, but this was the first time he had followed her. He hadn’t known what she was up to till now.
Willow stood in the midst of the clearing, back straight, one hand lightly resting on the hilt of each of her longknives, one on each hip. She stood completely still for a moment. A light breeze gently tugged at the long silver braid, which hung down her back. Then she exploded in a flurry of movement. Both blades were out slashing and cutting in a mesmerizing dance. Back and forth the blades sang through the air.
They seemed to be an extension of Willow herself. She pressed forward in a series of complex forms and movements, never missing a step, never did the blades stop whirling. At the end of her attack, she spun and tumbled into forward roll. She came up blades first, pausing briefly to hold her form. Then she started again, only this time with an even more difficult set of attacks. She added an amazing array of punches, elbows and spinning kicks to the deadly spinning blades. The whole time she remained perfectly balanced, never faltering even for a moment.
Rayn sucked in a gulp of air. He hadn’t even realized he had been holding his breath. He had been so entranced by Willow’s skill. Never had he seen anyone handle blades with such speed and grace. Perhaps, Sinner could have matched the speed, but he wasn’t sure. Willow’s fighting style was something new to him. He realized that he had been carefully scrutinizing each movement and form. He thought that perhaps he could duplicate them with some effort. He would like to learn. Rayn realized that he had been spying on Willow and blushed. He hadn’t meant to do that. He had better get this over with.
He stepped into the clearing and found Willow standing before him with a blade reaching for his chest before he had time to think.
Surprising himself, he did react. The clang of clashing steel rang in his ears as he parried one of Willow’s blades. He hadn’t even realized that he had drawn his own longknife.
Surprise registered on Willow’s face, but Rayn’s triumph was short lived as he found her second blade pressed to his throat a moment later.
She grinned, looking at him with those dark penetrating eyes. “Not bad, Archer, It seems your senses are not the only thing affected by your bond with Wolf.”
She was right. He should never have been able to react to the speed of her attack. Not unless his reflexes were also affected by the bonding. He would have to explore his limits further, much in the same way he had already been developing his enhanced senses. His new abilities could mean the difference between life and death.
Willow lowered her blade and stepped back. “I know why you’re here.” She looked him up and down with a critical eye. “You’re not ready. I could have killed you just now. The enemies of the Light have been gathering on the other side. When they strike, they will show no mercy. The Shadow has many powerful servants like the High Lord you faced in Kara’s cabin. They are deadly and hard to kill.”
Rayn saw the stubborn set of her jaw. She would not be easy to convince. “Then teach me.”
“To fight.” Rayn locked eyes with her. “Like you.” He raised his knife point in what he hoped was a threatening gesture.
Willow smirked. “Very well, Archer.” She sheathed one of her blades. In response to his quizzical look she said, “I like you. I wouldn’t want your first lesson to be too humiliating.”
Rayn smiled wryly. He felt just a slight tingling of the battle-madness. This was, after all, just a lesson. He brought his blade forward in a flash and attacked Willow with a series of cuts, thrusts, and slashes.
She parried or dodged them all with apparent ease, all with that smug look on her face. But he had driven her back a number of paces with his attack.
Rayn circled to her left and attacked again with a similar series of moves.
Same result. Same smile. Good. She was getting overconfident.
Rayn didn’t know how, exactly, but his mind pulled apart and catalogued each move, a slight shift of the eyes here, a dip of the shoulder there, the exact pattern of each step. He observed it all, and learned at a pace he could never have dreamed possible.
By the time he circled the next time and attacked again, Willow’s smile had vanished.
Seeing his advantage, he pressed the attack hard, forcing her back ever further. She still managed to evade or deflect each attack, but sweat was starting to bead on her forehead with the effort. They locked blades and Rayn used his weight advantage to push her back a step. Deftly, he twisted his knife forcing her blade arm down.
Suddenly, she stopped pushing against him and pulled instead, throwing him off balance.
Their blades disengaged and Rayn tumbled to the ground. He rolled with the momentum and came up facing Willow, blade pointed out in a defensive posture.
She stood there, panting, with a startled look in her eyes.
“It’s not about whether I am ready or not, it’s about you,” Rayn said.
Willow’s eyes widened slightly.
Rayn continued. “You once told me that you were not supposed to be here. I think that you have broken some rule or code that is supposed to bind you against coming through the Great Divide. I think that you will have to answer for your actions when you bring all of us back through. I’m guessing that it will cost you dearly.” Willow’s face glowed scarlet, and Rayn knew that he had hit home.
“You’ve no idea what it would cost me, Ranger!” Willow spat out. She had a dangerous look in her eyes as she advanced. This time she attacked, and it was all Rayn could do to avoid being cut down by her fury. She came in with a hard thrust of her blade, which Rayn somehow managed to turn aside. But he never saw the elbow that suddenly cracked into the side of his head, or the spinning kick that knocked the breath out of his lungs a moment later as he collapsed to one knee. He gasped, trying to catch his breath, his head ringing.
When he was finally able to look up, Willow had sheathed her weapon. The anger had vanished, replaced by a look of resignation.
Rayn stood and sheathed his longknife as well. “Whatever code you have broken or whatever consequences you will face, I will stand with you.”
“I wish it were that simple, Rayn; I will take you through the Great Divide, but my actions are my own.”
To be continued on the other side…
©Peter Wiebe 2013