Each month we hold a writing contest for our members, by our members. Writers are given parameters, such as a word count and/or a prompt. Entries are judged and discussed blindly. For April, submitters had up to 1,500 words to write a story with a descriptive action sequence.
Live to Fight Another Day
by J. H. Schiller
My body tells the tale of my battles.
A jagged scar along the bridge of my nose commemorates the day my brother tried to gouge out my eyes. A knot of scar tissue on my abdomen marks the night a lover turned would-be killer. The mutilation of my left ear memorializes my internment in an enemy prison camp.
Each scar, a story.
Each laceration, a legend.
The attack comes from above. Swift. Silent. Lethal.
A lithe body hits me with enough force to knock the air from my lungs. My assailant rolls aside with deadly grace. I gasp for breath, gather my strength, and leap to the very heights from which she just ambushed me, claiming the high ground.
I should’ve expected this.
I know the layout of my territory as well as the map of my scars. This valley of death is lined with sheer cliff faces. In my younger days, I would’ve been alert as I traversed such terrain. I would’ve remained vigilant. But I’ve grown soft. Age has dulled my instincts, and I might just pay in blood.
I risk a glance over the edge, and my stomach drops. She’s not alone. Another has joined her, and they’re both clad in ill-omened black.
I know these two.
We’ve tangled several times since the lords brought them to this place. I’ve tormented myself trying to understand. Have I not guarded these lands well? Have I not kept the lords’ domain safe, driven away the ravenous beasts who would destroy their holdings?
But the lords are mercurial, unknowable, and all-powerful. Such speculation is pointless. Especially now, when my life hangs in the balance.
The newcomer is smaller than I–they both are–but he carries himself with the bearing of a natural fighter. After a whispered conference, they separate. I inch warily from the edge, unnerved.
I know their kind. This isn’t over–not by a long shot.
The faintest whisper of sound draws my attention to the western edge of the plateau, where a black shadow now lurks. Apparently, I’m not the only one who can scale a towering precipice with a single bound. She bares her teeth in an expression that is decidedly not a smile. Another sound tugs my gaze to the eastern edge, where her companion now waits.
For a heartbeat, we are motionless. Three statues, captured in the frozen moment before blood is spilled.
The attack comes in eerie silence. She launches herself at me with an unnatural burst of speed, knocking me to the ground with a bone-jarring impact. She skitters aside, and her partner dances inside my defenses to take her place. He slashes at my face, wielding his wicked blades like an extension of himself. I jerk my head back, desperate to avoid those razored edges, but that leaves my chest and belly open. She lunges toward me, eager to slice me open from neck to groin.
I curl into a defensive ball, and they fall upon me, as vicious as rabid rats. My battle coat shields me from the worst of their blows, but I feel a hot sting of agony as a hooked barb penetrates it and catches in my skin.
I howl in outrage, unsheath my own blades, and explode into a frenzy of violence. I carve a bloody path along his left cheek, an ugly gash across her ribs. Driven by a berzerk rage, I sing the war song of my ancestors as I kick her wounded stomach again and again. Her companion skitters away, cowering at the force of my rage.
I have won this battle, but winning is not enough. When the bloodlust is on me, it’s never enough.
I hold her down, reveling in my superior strength. My mind’s eye fills with a vision of myself tearing out her throat with my teeth. I pause to rejoice in my unbridled savagery before I end her life.
And that’s when he strikes. A crescent of needles punctures the back of my neck. I thrash, desperate to escape. My former prisoner wriggles free and joins him. Together, they are too much for me–too fast, too strong, too young.
My life flashes before my eyes, an endless barrage of pain and blood and fear.
I whisper a prayer to the god of warriors as I prepare to die.
* * *
Jeremy pried the squirming kittens off his elderly tabby and handed them to Landon.
“Poor Mr. Meowgi.” He picked up the shivering mass of orange fur. “Why can’t they leave him alone?”
“They’re just babies,” Landon said, nuzzling the top of one fuzzy black head. “They’re trying to play with him.”
“You always take their side.” Jeremy hugged the tabby to his chest. “Mr. Meowgi was our only cat for eight years. This is hard for him! And those kittens are vicious.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Jeremy, he’s three times their size!”
* * *
Incomprehensible godspeak booms around me as one of the lords bears me away from the battlefield.
My face burns with humiliation. I have failed in my duties. I have shamed my ancestors. I drown in ignoble defeat.
The lord strokes my cheeks and smooths my fur, soothing my wounded spirit. He carries me to his innermost sanctum–a chamber I am only rarely permitted to enter–and deposits me on a bed as soft as a cloud.
I bathe myself and examine my injuries. As I lick my wounds, a flicker of determination feeds on my shame to grow into a roaring blaze of righteous fury.
I will recover. I will train. I will hone my killing instincts until they are as sharp as my blades.
And I will live to fight another day.