Prompt Short Story: Pushing Buttons (Of Wings & Fur 07)

CW: melee fighting with some blood & injury

Trina and Cherry awoke to the screaming of a klaxon on the outskirts of their camp.

Coming rapidly awake, Cherry dismissed the sound after noting which crystal it connected to, and joined Trina–already in wolf form–outside the tent.

The last embers of the fire flickered softly in the wind, making Trina’s eyes flash as they searched the darkness.

Everything was still and silent, and Cherry sighed.

“Obviously we know you’re there,” she called into the night. “Why don’t you come out where we can see you? Surely you’re not afraid of the two of us.”

There was silence for a long moment, then a barely heard hiss as a bolt left a crossbow.

Cherry casually leaned back, no more than an inch, and caught the crossbow bolt as it flew past her face.

“Look, I’m all for a fight. At this point I’m actually kind of hoping for one. There’s only me and Trina here. Surely you’re not afraid to go against us? Unless teachings have changed drastically since I left, aren’t you the greatest fighting force of all time?” Cherry’s voice dripped sarcasm as she finished 

Trina growled softly, nudging Cherry with her head. The taunting worried her.

Cherry buried a hand in Trina’s fur for a moment, reassuring her.

Then they waited.

After a few long moments, to a point where even Cherry was wondering if she’d overshot the mark, some of the shadows coalesced into pixie silhouettes. Not all of the army, Cherry knew. Some would have remained at the house, others would be scouting elsewhere, but this group of 8 were enough to be dealing with. She might know their moves, but they also knew hers. At least, they thought they did. She smiled at them and produced her blades of shimmering air.

“Finally. I thought you were going to make me wait all night.”

Trina, her eyes fixing on each in turn, growled their doom upon them.

The camp had been set up so there would be minimal room for a larger group to maneuver; the tent had been set up between a triad of trees, the fire taking space in a circle of stones just two large paces away. Their packs had been tied up into the trees, away from both scavengers and their own feet.

Trina and Cherry stood, each at one side of the fire, backs to their tent, and waited.

Cherry had imparted to Trina everything she knew about the Warrior class and their training. They had sparred, Trina learning the ways of Cherry’s blades–with a warning that others would bear different weapons.

The warriors closed first, as Cherry had known they would. Using what they perceived as their advantage, two raced into the firelight on each side, while two more hung back, one of each raising a crossbow.

Cherry and Trina hit the ground at the same moment, each triggering the trap they had moved to.

Two discs shot into the air, and there was a blinding flash as darts of blazing blue shot from every angle around them, seeking somewhere to latch onto.

They faded into nothing after 7 seconds, but it had been enough to take down three of those who had charged, and at least one of those still in the shadows.

The one who had ducked fast enough to avoid being hit by the magic darts looked at his colleagues, slowly being eaten away by blue magical fire. It was the last thing he saw before Trina casually swiped a paw, claws sharpened to an edge which could cut a falling leaf, through his neck. They grated on the bone of his spine, sticking, and for one grotesque second the pixie seemed to be dancing as blood fountained down his front.

Then he was discarded as Trina padded back over to Cherry.

The three remaining pixies entered the firelight.

One of them was Cobalt, her greatsword, almost bigger than she was, jutting from its scabbard behind her right shoulder.

“Enough of this. Cherry, you will return with me.”

“Never.”

Cobalt’s jaw clenched, “Then you will fight me. Or haven’t you gotten enough of your clan murdered?”

“Bitch, you aren’t my clan. My clan would never suck out my spirit, use me as a slave, leave me drooling and unable to see, let alone See. You are not my clan. You’re not anything except an enemy to me, and my actual clan.”

Cobalt sneered, “You ally yourselves with drooling beasts? Then fight me. Keep your dog away and fight me.”

Cherry knelt and turned away. She knew Cobalt, having issued a challenge, would stand by for an answer–at least for a while.

Cherry held Trina’s muzzle in both hands and kissed her nose, “This is what we wanted, remember? Cobalt will fight me expecting a clan warrior–better, a clan warrior that is not her equal. She will expect inferior warrior class fighting from me, but that’s not what she’s going to get. You still understand?”

Trina whined softly, but nodded. She had agreed to this in the light of day, but it looked much different to her now. Would Cherry’s different skills be enough? And could Trina be fast enough to rescue her if she needed it? Never mind the rules of combat–Trina cared nothing for rules made by those kinds of folk–she would step in if she chose and Cherry knew it. But the discussion was done, and against Cobalt in particular a strong and united front was required.

So Trina nodded her great, wolven head and nuzzled Cherry’s neck.

Cherry stood, “She will stand back. And yours?”

The remaining 2 shadows appeared, hands raised to show their weapons were gone.

“They will remain out of it. Choose your spot, then, child. Let’s see what you can do.”

Cherry built the fire, first, giving the area more light. Then she drew a large circle with a chunk of wood, and stepped inside.

“Here is the circle of combat. No other may enter. If one leaves, they can return if they wish–sometimes even warriors can fall over–but they may also signal surrender by exiting.”

Cherry smiled as she spoke the exact same words Cobalt had said to her and over a dozen others, on that first day learning about ritual combat.

Cobalt’s eyes narrowed, ever so slightly, as she took up a fighting stance. She pulled her greatsword from its scabbard, a conceit she affected rather than needed. They could all summon their weapons at will, but she liked the dramatic flourish it added, Cherry thought. And it worked. Until you thought about how ridiculous it was.

Cherry allowed a smirk to turn up one corner of her mouth as she readied herself. Ridiculous as the scabbard affectation was, that was still a greatsword, and Cobalt hadn’t been given the general’s mantle for her winning personality. That greatsword would crush her, if she allowed it to. Fortunately, Cobalt would be fighting a Cherry she remembered from long ago. The changes, the new skills…they had to be enough.

They both circled each other, each trying to entice the other to attempt the first blow. Cherry knew Cobalt’s hotheadedness would work for her, and so she waited.

With a snarl Cobalt did exactly what Cherry wanted her to do, swinging the greatsword in a low arc that would have cut her off at the knees, had they remained there.

Instead, Cherry spun to her left out of the way, coming around in a circle, right foot rising.

There was a crack as foot connected with jaw, and Cobalt staggered backwards, momentarily stunned.

Cherry recovered smoothly and fell back into her easy stance.

“Used to get you with that every time,” Cobalt spat, rubbing her jaw.

Cherry simply wore her condescending smirk, and said nothing.

Cobalt hefted her sword and lunged, bringing it down in a diagonal slash that would have broken any defense Cherry attempted.

Knowing this, she just took two careful paces backwards, stopping close enough to feel the wind as it rushed past her face, but just out of reach.

“Fight me you fucking coward!” Cobalt’s biggest flaw, her achilles heel, wasn’t her anger, or even her pride. It was her need, even when none were watching, to be utterly faultless. The way she had built, in her mind, others, in legends, to have been. Flawless. Strong. Immovable. Destined for great things. She pursued an impossible target, and knowing that was the key that would unlock the rest.

“I don’t know, Cobalt. I hate to fight on uneven ground, and you seem to have slowed down a bit since the days you so gleefully pummelled me in training. In front of everyone. Laughing. Strength through cruelty? Is that the code you brought with you to your position?”

Cobalt held her sword out, pointing it at Cherry’s throat.

“Seer, you have no idea of what you speak.”

“Probably not, I just speak as I find,” Cherry shrugged.

Cobalt brought the greatsword around again in an arc that surprised Cherry with its swiftness, striking her on the shoulder as she tried to step away.

Instead of a controlled movement, Cherry spun aside, landing painfully on the ground, bleeding from a deep cut. She was up again quickly, but not quickly enough. Cobalt’s foot connected heavily with her ribs and the air whooshed out of her lungs.

Grasping, more with hope than aim, she managed to grab hold of Cherry’s ankle and flip her around to the ground, buying her time to stand.

Cobalt was up almost as fast, that greatsword not even wavering, “You haven’t learned as much as you thought, then.”

Cherry smiled, painting a slight look of distraction on her face and purposely flicking her gaze over to Trina, standing anxiously outside of the circle, reflections of firelight dancing from her fur.

Cobalt took advantage, as Cherry knew she would. With a half-step to the right, a 180 turn, and a quick flash of her weapons, Cherry had not only disarmed her opponent, but winded her with a shoulder check as well.

Cobalt scrambled for her sword, and Cherry stood back to let her almost get it. Then, she placed a foot on Cobalt’s wrist.

“One chance, Cobalt. Leave now, and call off the hunt. Leave me in peace.”

“Leave you in peace?!” Cobalt wrenched her wrist free, sword forgotten. She flipped to her feet and started at Cherry, only to find her duel swords in the way.

“Never. You belong with your people! Your destiny! Your purpose!”

Cherry stood back and this time allowed Cobalt to pick up her sword. Everything was going nicely to plan. Mostly.

This time, Cobalt hung back, more wary than before. Cherry had shown a level of both aptitude and attitude that she hadn’t reckoned on. The influence of those mangy wolves, no doubt. But Cobalt was still better. Wasn’t that the whole point? She steeled herself for a move.

Cherry saw the moment Cobalt’s eyes refocused, and was on the attack, inside Cobalt’s swing before the greatsword could be used.

Both swords flickered out before Cobalt could alter her movement, leaving a line which started at her forehead, went down her cheeks and neck, and ended at her collarbone. The cuts were deep and clean, precise and exact, and Cobalt found herself covered in blood before the fiery pain set in, telling her what had happened.

Before Cherry could step back, Cobalt had dropped her weapon again and grabbed Cherry in a bearhug, which she deftly changed into a sleeper hold.

“You will never best me. You will never. And when I get you home whatever is left of you goes into the deepest, darkest, foulest cave I can find. And then. Once I’m satisfied you’re insane enough, I’ll present you back to the council for them to drain you into jerky. It normally takes place over years, as needed, but we’ve dealt with traitors before. We have ways to store what it is that you give. Do you get it yet, Cherry? Or are you suddenly too sleepy?”

Cobalt threw her head back and laughed.

With perfect timing, as Cobalt’s head came back down, Cherry simultaneously threw her own head back, and kicked her left foot back as hard as she could.

Cobalt’s nose burst, her teeth mashed against her lips and split, and her shin became a concentrated pain centre. She skipped back with a howl, as much rage as pain.

Cherry turned and grinned.

“How did you do that?!” Cobalt had been pushed far enough over on her equilibrium that, even with the blood loss and pain, she was still so amazed and appalled at being beaten (and by Cherry, no less–though she might have to change her thoughts about that) that the very first thing she wants is to know how it happened. She didn’t know how else to react. The quick reaction part of her brain had reached in and found nothing there, so she was reduced to simple training. And one of the tenets of training is: find out how the others fight. Then find ways to a) copy it and b) defend against it.

Cherry laughed. Out here in the world it was far from an unknown move. But sheltered as she’d been, Cobalt, collector of Fine Ways to Hurt People, was stumped entirely out of her poise by a simple human trick.

“You know, Cobalt–and to be fair this goes for most of our kind–maybe if you did a little less hiding and talking and shunning, and a little more watching and learning and making friends, you’d already have it figured out.”

Cobalt started to speak, shuddered to a halt, and glared at Cherry for a moment. The glare of hatred was somewhat tempered by the newly arranged face–still bleeding from both cuts, with some nice bruising already starting to show on her jaw and around her eyes–but it was there.

But she knew when she was beat.

“We’ll come in the morning for our people, after you move on,” she said quietly, face pointed at her boots. “Please let them alone until then.”

Cherry nodded, “Of course. Nothing and no one will touch them while we’re here. When we leave, I’ll fire up something magicky to let you know.”

Cobalt nodded and slunk away with the last two of her squad following in confused silence. They hadn’t grasped the importance of this yet. But they would. And no doubt they would become very important figures themselves, soon enough.

Cherry knew that Cobalt wouldn’t be so easy to bait next time. The squad had stumbled on them by surprise, Cherry managed to punch a few of the right buttons, and that was fine. But they wouldn’t stop, now.

Trina, human again, took Cherry into the tent with their shared bedding, and they lay together quietly for a while.

“I wonder how long Cobalt has left after tonight,” Trina murmured, not realising she was echoing Cherry’s own thoughts.

“Maybe there’ll be a mutiny. I kind of hope not though. At least I know Cobalt, someone else I don’t would be more challenging. Although, Cobalt herself will be a pretty deadly war machine when she finds us again.”

“Honestly, love?” Trina kissed the top of Cherry’s head, “I wasn’t very impressed by her.”

“She’s completely out of her element here. Not able to go home, searching endlessly, finding food and drink for everyone, it’s all exhausting, and it all falls to her. She should never have agreed to a duel. She should never have even shown us they were there. We should have been dead the moment we stepped out of the tent. And all it took was a few comments and a couple of injuries to take down the woman known as the Greatest Warrior of our Time™?”

Trina was nodding in agreement, but the final comment, appearing in her head with proper noun status and a little trademark, made her roar with laughter.

Then she thought of the dead, lying just outside their tent, “Hey, so, is Olson smart enough to ambush us by raising corpses? Cos that’d pretty much get us on the jump…”

Cherry wriggled, “Nooo. No creepy stuff. Just sleepy stuff.”

Trina hugged her tightly for a moment, before they both wandered into, if not peaceful dreams, at least forgettable ones.

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