Archive for October, 2016

A girl and her sword

Little Wolf

Little Wolf forgot time. Time meant nothing. On the island gulag she had tracked its passage by the phases of the moon and the changes in the seasons. Inside this windowless prison, there was no such clues. She ate, she slept, she woke, she fought. Somewhere in the dead of a Russian winter, she turned fourteen. She began to track her passage through the darkness of this place by who she killed and how creative her jailers were in devising new and more cruel ways of tormenting her.

They brought in a group of prisoners and shoved them into her small cell. Americans. She could tell by their accents. Tourists, perhaps, or missionaries, by the way they stood trembling in terror. This was new, this putting the victims inside the same cell with her. If she knew nothing else about this place she knew these people were dead already. They just hadn’t stopped breathing yet.

Sitting on the only bunk, Little Wolf backed away from them until she was wedged into the corner, put her face to the wall, pressed her rag doll to her other cheek and closed her eyes. She had killed a group like this not long after they had brought her here. They had been handed blades they did not know how to wield. Given an untenable choice, she had killed them as quickly as was humanly possible. The whole affair had been void of honor and they had died weeping in confusion. She had tried to cut her throat afterward but they jolted her with their cattle prods until she passed out.

One of the Americans sat down on the end of the bed and tried to talk to her. He knew a little Russian. Little Wolf pressed her forehead against the wall and covered her ear with her dolly. Perhaps if she did not look into their eyes she would be able to kill them the same way she killed a rabbit for dinner.

Petar came, bringing food, laughing at nothing. This new game delighted him. The crueler the rules, the more Petar grinned. The closer it came to the time to die, the more Petar laughed. Little Wolf wondered if he had ever had a girlfriend. If he did, she would be dead because Little Wolf could not see Petar being able to control his lust for death.

“How do you like your new friends, Little Wolf?” he said slyly.

Little Wolf rose and grabbed an MRE and returned to her bunk. “Fuck you, Petar.”

Petar laughed, delighted that she had responded to his question. Silence was her usual habit.

Petar looked over at the man who spoke Russian. “This is Little Wolf. She is a cruel and cold blooded killer. Introduce yourselves. Become friends. Maybe she won’t kill you.”

“My name is Danny,” said the one who spoke Russian. “That is Molly, Anna and Will. We are English teachers in the bilingual school in Wakkanaishi. I am not sure why we have been kidnapped. We are just poor college students. Our families have no money for ransom.”

She did not want to know their names. Little Wolf glared at Petar. “Fuck you, Petar.”

Petar roared in delight. “Careful, American. If she likes you enough, she will kill you here to keep you out of the arena.”

Danny looked at her. “What did he mean?” he asked in Russian

Little Wolf glared at him and ate her MRE. Her jailers must have been feeling benevolent. It was spaghetti.

“Why does he call you Little Wolf?”

Little Wolf sighed. “You are a dead man. I don’t talk to dead men.”

Danny had been translating for his friends. This he did not repeat. Instead, he pulled his friends to the far corner of the cell and began to pray. Little Wolf snorted. Missionaries. She had guessed right.

The next morning the guards came and took them all to the armory. Little Wolf grew cold inside and settled into a state of deep relaxation and hyper-vigilance as was her habit before the fights.

Victor, bracketed by his two armed bodyguards, came in, disturbing her silence. He stared at her, a sly smile on his lips while his guards trained their P90’s on her, safetys off. Little Wolf held her hands out wide from her body, not wanting to get shot and glared at Victor. In the hierarchy of bad guys he was just about the baddest.

Victor’s translator stepped into the room behind the gun wielding guards. Little Wolf had dealt with him before. He was multilingual, a necessity in this place where the prisoners had been taken from so many different countries.

Little Wolf met Victor’s eyes, ignoring his obvious good humor. Things were ugly indeed if even Victor was smiling. Victor never smiled. She felt the chi of the universe gathering in her fingertips as she thought about strangling Victor until his eyes popped out of his skull. Victor saw her eyes and knew to keep his distance. She would kill him given even half a chance, no matter what the consequences.

“This is the new rule. A one time rule, to test your skills, Little Wolf.” Victor spoke his native Russian and the translator repeated everything in English for the benefit of the missionaries. “This is your team. If all of you are alive at the end while all of the other team is dead, then they will go free.”

Little Wolf studied him. “I do not believe you. You will kill them before you will let them go free.”

“No. In their ignorance they have told me many things that they should have kept to themselves. I know them, now. They will swear an oath before the God they worship that no word of this weekend will ever leave their lips otherwise I will kill them slowly and horribly and then I will hunt down their families and kill them down to the last child. Hell, I might even kill the family dogs. They will go back to Japan unscathed and wiser but still alive.”

“What if I just kill them here. You could not stop me.”

Victor sighed. “Come now, Little Wolf. Are you not in the least bit curious? It has been months since you have been tested to your limits. Are you not growing bored? Come play. Show these neanderthals what a true warrior is made of.”

Little Wolf looked at the translator. “Give me the interpreter. His life is not included in the deal. If he dies in the ring, they still go free.”

Victor grinned. “Deal,” he said, shoving the man towards her. The man stuttered a protest. Little Wolf put her arm around him and shoved him towards the missionaries. In Mandarin she said, “Stay in the center, translate everything I say and you will probably live though this.”

The man swore at her in Chinese. Little Wolf smiled.

Turning, she began tossing armor pieces at her team, rattling off instructions as she went around the room. Fifteen minutes later, they were all covered in primitive armor made of bamboo and steel, the product of some mad prisoner they kept in the basement, tied to a forge and forced to turn out chain mail, breast plates, gauntlets, cruisses, grieves, and helmets.

She kept it simple. Chain mail covered them from the top of their heads to mid thigh. A leather and steel brigandine. Cruisses and grieves for their legs, gauntlets for their arms. She tried to keep it monochromatic, picking black whenever possible. She found black face-paint and marked their faces with random bands of shadow. The cumulative effect was sinister.

“Stay together, back to back. Keep the translator in the center. Listen to what he tells you. Shout if you are about to die, otherwise stay silent.

As they suited up, she stripped down. A silver silk sheath tied with a long white ribbon to keep the sleeves away from her hands. A sword belt for her one sword. Silk trousers etched with scarlet dragons. Sheaths for knives on both calves and forearms. She pulled her hair into a tight warrior’s knot on the top of her head and tied a scarlet headband around her forehead to catch the sweat and blood. Scarlet silk wrapped around her wrists. She stayed barefoot, even though the temperature in the stone castle was frigid.

“Do we not get weapons?” one of the missionaries asked.

“Do you know how to use them?” she asked. None of them admitted to that. “No? Obey my rules and you may survive this day.

There were six hardened fighters ranged around the perimeter of the ring. At least two were Japanese, the others Chinese. Two different fighting styles. She would have to account for both. The sand on the floor was deep enough to absorb the blood without hindering movement. Someone had changed it recently so it no longer reeked like a butcher’s killing floor.

“No matter what, do not be tempted to pick up a dropped weapon,” Little Wolf insisted, as she led them to the center of the ring and arranged them in a circle. “The armor will protect you but it is not impervious to a sword blade. You will take hits but they will not be mortal. I will say this once. Do not fall down. No matter how grievously you are wounded you will stay on your feet. Do you understand me?”

The interpreter repeated it. One of the girl’s eyes grew wide. Little Wolf punched her in the chest armor. “What did I say?” Little Wolf shouted. The translator echoed her words.

“Do not fall down,” the girl stuttered.

“Do you think you can do that? Tell me now or I will kill you all myself and kill these other fools later.”

“Yes,” whimpered the girl. Molly or Anna. Little Wolf was not sure which.

“What? I can’t hear you.”

“Yes. Stay on my feet,” shouted the girl.

Little Wolf turned, pulled her sword from its sheath, and squinted past the floodlights, searching for Victor’s box among the audience. Victor laughed at her and raised his hand. He was holding a white scarf. Little Wolf watched his eyes and not the scarf. She was already moving before the silk left his hands and the horn sounded. The Japanese boy tried to parry her thrusts but she was quicker. He died, blood fountaining out of three precisely set strokes. The other practitioner of the double bladed kenjutsu style was her next target but he had set his sights on Danny. Little Wolf used Will’s armor like a ladder and then leaped over the team’s heads as she came down on the swordsman, knocking his blade down and taking the stroke of his other blade on her arm sheath. The steel of the knife stopped the razor sharp sword. Little Wolf rammed her blade up through his belly until its tip embedded itself in his skull. She let go of her weapon and snatched up the man’s katana and rolled away as a Chinese swordsman tried to decapitate her. She turned and decapitated him. Three against one. The odds were getting better.

One of the girls screamed. Little Wolf launched herself through the air, not at the attacking warrior but at the girl. She struck the girl in the side with her feet and the girl went flying while Little Wolf rolled over the top of her and came up under the sword of a fourth warrior. She parried, parried again, and then found an opening and gutted him, catching up his sword in her left hand as he fell. Turning, she decapitated the swordsman who was trying to wrest his sword from the armor of the mortally wounded translator. The group of missionaries moved as one and caught up the fallen girl, jerking her to her feet and reforming their circle away from the bodies of the fallen. Little Wolf was pleased. They were not total morons.

Little Wolf put herself between her team and the remaining warrior. She stalked him around the ring as she watched him assess the situation. It was like watching a man decide to die. His eyes change as he stepped in to confront her one last time. Little Wolf stepped under his swing and danced around his rush, her blade up. She turned to watch him as he clutched the fountain of blood from under his arm.

He had fought with honor. She stepped in and sliced open his throat so that he would die quickly.

One of the boys whooped with joy. Little Wolf turned and silenced him with a look. It was not done, this contest. The real threats stood in the balconies above their heads. Little Wolf turned and glared up at Victor. “I have given you the show you requested. Honor our bargain. Do as you said. Let these people go.”

“Ah, Little Wolf. You bleed. I had doubted that you could,” shouted Victor from on high. “For that blood, and that reason alone, they may go free.”

Little Wolf looked down at the blood dripping down the fingers of her left hand. The sword had gone deeper than just steel and sheath. The arm began to ache now that the energy of the battle waned.

Danny came. As did Will and the girls. They put their arms around her waist and helped her back to the armory. Petar came, a doctor in tow, who tisked over the deep wound and then stitched it up without anesthesia.

Anna or Molly brought over a clean tunic, this one stitched with pine branches, and helped her out of the bloody one. “Who is your family?” the girl asked softly in fluent Mandarin. “Who should we tell to come get you?”

Little Wolf shook her head. “I do not remember anything before this place and the gulag before that. All my teachers have been warriors. It is all I know. What would I do out in the real world?”

“There is more to life than killing,” the girl who might have been Anna said.

“Is there? I do not believe you.”

“Trust me. There are millions of people back home who have never killed so much as a spider.”

“Such a world would be strange to me and I fear I would not fit in. Go back to your lives. Hope and pray that Victor or people like Victor do not come to your peaceful land for I do not think you will be able to fight him. Death is the only language Victor knows. Will you listen to my advice?”

“Say it,” nodded the girl as she helped Little Wolf out of her blood-stained trousers.

“Victor knows too much about you. You will never be safe. Your families will never be safe. Go home. Gather up those you love and take them into hiding. Perhaps in ten years Victor will have forgotten you, having sated his blood-lust on other victims in the interim.

“But we can’t in good conscience leave you in his hands,” Anna protested softly.

Little Wolf smiled. “Worry about Victor. I shall not leave this place until he and all his band of death-lovers have finally gone to rest in the heart of that which they love. Hide. I will find you when my mission is complete.”

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