include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Heart of Fire Season One Episode Three by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Heart of Fire

Episode Three: City Slickers

Written by TheCrimsonDM





Heart of Fire

By TheCrimsonDM

Copyright 2019 Coriantumr Pace

Smashwords Edition

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard-work of this author.



Special Thanks

To all my friends and family who have given me the moral support to dive head first into my art.



Table of Contents

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twelve: Dark Discourse

Lunaria ran across the woods on all fours. Each one of her four paws were large enough to crush stones beneath them, her blue-black fur made her almost invisible in the darkness of the forest. Her sheer size was larger than most humans were tall. The smells of the nocturnal forest all around her were freeing, the feeling of being out in the wilderness was even greater. Her dark green eyes could see in picture perfect clarity through the darkness, each piece of bark missing from the trees, each stone she passed by, and each of the nocturnal animals which all stayed out of her path yet couldn't help but to watch her as she ran past.

Being an ascended came with the added perk of being able to transform into a beast of legend, and Lunaria's was that of the Shadow Wolf.

Despite how much she enjoyed her time in the forest she still couldn’t separate herself from the thoughts of the argument she had held with her sister earlier this evening. Sol was vigorously encouraging her to take on an apprentice. They had been alive for nearly two hundred years rebuilding this broken and shattered land in the wake of God War, and in all this time Lunaria had never once met a creature who could truly appreciate the dark like she did. All of Sol’s students were privileged and practiced, usually in the magics of light which only further set them apart from Lunaria’s goals. Lunaria did not need a solar mage for her student.

Traveling like this usually set her free, but for tonight it felt like she was still trapped in her human mind. Even in wolf form she couldn’t separate herself from the latest argument she'd had with her sister. The worst part was the fact that she couldn't even understand why her elder sister was so obsessed with this idea of apprenticeship. Was it because of the difficulty the Ascended had with breeding? Surely Solaria wasn't worried about such things for her sister. Lunaria wasn't worried about it after all, she'd come to peaceful terms with not having children a very long time ago.

The sound of someone screaming off in the distance took Lunaria away from her thoughts. For a moment she considered ignoring it as she was still contemplating, but then she recalled who's forest this was, it was hers and it was her responsibility to look after those who traveled it. Lunaria ran towards the direction of the scream. It didn't take long before she caught the scent of blood. The darkness of the woods quickly gave way to the flickering orange light of a campfire. Lunaria chose to hide silently in the woods, her fur merging into the shadows to make her truly invisible to any looking in her direction.

Around the campfire Lunaria saw a group of men, each wearing black and green armor and holding riffles. Two unicorns, also wearing similar armor were residing off to the side resting their heads on the grass. Two large wagons with massive cages on each stood out to Lunaria’s sight. One of the cages was empty, but the other one had a small boy curled up into a ball staring darkly out over the edge of the wagon at the men around the campfire. Next to him lay a dead woman, the blood spreading out from her throat was still fresh.

One of the men sounded pissed as he spoke harshly, “Why did you let the woman get a hold of your blade? We can’t have the slaves killing themselves before getting to the city.”

One of the unicorns neighed as if laughing before adding, “We still have the small one.”

The same human replied, “Yeah, fat lot of good that does us. Kids are hardly useful as slaves until their older.”

One of the human’s sneered. “Well… I wouldn’t say useless.” His dark eyes filtered over to the kid in the cart with the kind of malicious intent that made the frozen cold in Lunaria’s heart sharpen into icicle daggers. Lunaria had seen enough, she knew that these were slavers and that they were all bad for her kingdom.

Sneaking around to where the unicorns lay was a trivial task. One of them was soundly asleep on his side. The other was only barely awake. They were so tiny next to Lunaria, and merely reaching over with her mouth wide open to snatch the waking one by the neck was simple and quiet. With a quick bite of her teeth the long neck in her mouth snapped. Dark crimson leaked into her mouth tasting sweet as ever, but on principle Lunaria dropped the body and focused on the other unicorn snapping its neck with just as much ease.

With these two down she stalked out of the shadows and into the light of the campfire. She was imposing in size standing nearly as tall as the wagon itself. She was also quiet making nary a sound as she walked. The men would never have even known she was there if one of them hadn’t glanced over at her at the last second.

He lifted his riffle, intent to wound Lunaria, but Lunaria wasn't just quiet she was also fast. She jumped, half like a streaking shadow, over to the man slamming one of her paws into his chest knocking him onto the ground. With him held under her paw he couldn't move if he tried, and after a little pressure both him and his armor crumpled underneath her. The other two men took aim and fired, but she vanished into a poof of shadows and smoke. For a moment they stared at the empty space, their eyes widening as they looked around as if trying to spot a ghost.

They were however looking in the wrong direction. Lunaria reappeared behind them through another cloud of shadows and smoke. She lashed out with powerful fangs and claws. She tore the remainder of the slavers into bloody ribbons. They never stood a chance.

Once she was finished with that she reverted to her human form. Fully clothed in a dress of dark blue and green she wiped her scarlet drenched mouth on her arm. That was very refreshing after dealing with her pushy sister tonight. Looking over she saw the boy, still staring with dark eyes at her.

She walked over to the cage, grabbed the door and yanked it off its hinges with only mild effort. Inside the boy stood, he was bruised and cut, covered in dirt and blood, but he stood strong, defiant. Lunaria offered a hand toward him. “Do not be afraid child, I am Princess Lunaria, and I have come to rescue you.”

He stared her down with emotion she couldn’t quite read. “I’m not afraid.”

Oh? Then tell me dear boy, how are you feeling?”

Angry.”

She looked at the dead woman, slain by her own hand rather than joining the slavers. Her clothes were torn in such a fashion as to tell Lunaria that perhaps the woman had already experienced the slaver's malice. The boy however wasn’t lying. Lunaria could sense it ebbing off of him, anger and pain flowed freely from him.

There it was. A slight tint of darkness around the boy. He might have been a terran, but he still had a dark aura. If left uncultivated he would likely become a criminal, using the darkness in ways that would hurt others and end up destroying himself. Yet it was still small, the darkness yet untapped and unshaped. If used correctly, taught correctly, the boy could become strong and do much good.

Memories of her only father figure, the old Fade Master, and how he died flared through her mind. She knew what she needed to do, though she couldn't explain how she knew it would work. It was a gut feeling telling her that she was the only one who could take charge of the situation here.

Tell me boy,” Lunaria said around a wolfish smile. “Do you wish you were strong enough to change what happened here tonight?”

The boy glared at her with dark eyes. “Yes.”

The boy could be no older than eight, yet he had the kind of strength and determination in those eyes that Lunaria had only rarely seen before. Yes, he was a good choice. “Then allow me to offer you the chance to never be weak again, to never let anyone hurt someone you care about again, to make you strong, powerful, and free. Would you like to become my apprentice?”

The boy finally glanced down at his dead mother. His body began shaking, his eyes watering up, and he looked back at Lunaria with those determined eyes and even with her experience and strength she felt a slight shiver run down her spine as he replied, “Yes!”

What's your name boy?”

The kid stared long and hard at her. “Shadow.”

It looked like Lunaria was going to be making a detour on the way home tonight. The pool of darkness was going to receive its second visitor for the first time since before Lunaria discovered it. After that she could finally get her sister off her tail by showing her, her new apprentice, her Shadow.”

Morning washed over Rita’s face reminding her of all the pain her right arm had retained.

Rita grumbled. "Weird dreams and in pain, just great."

Opening her eyes revealed she was still in the infirmary. She had started bleeding again after the battle leaving her in no position to be able to do anything but lay in a bed and go to sleep. She'd been wearing the same clothes for about two days now and she'd certainly gone longer than that before changing in the past, but she hadn't spent the time running, fighting, and bleeding. This left her in a position where she could smell herself. She smelled awful.

Still before she could even think about taking care of that she needed desperately to speak to Fiona. Rita hadn’t ever thought about someone else becoming a Guardian Heart. In fact there was a lot about this new situation that had her confused, still she’d do her utmost to help Fiona through this new and surprising transition.

After throwing on a slightly used red t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans Rita made her way downstairs and into the Great Hall. Just outside the door she heard quite the commotion coming from within. The voices of both Lapis and Wonder filled the large hall with bright laughter.

Rita opened the door and walked through. At the lord’s table sat Lapis and Wonder, they had put Fiona in between them and were having a blast talking to her about the events of the night prior, including but not limited to poking at and exclaiming over the new heart on the back of her hand. Poor Fiona looked more out of place than ever before, with her cheeks burning bright red and her answers having devolved into one word sentences full of stuttering.

Rita walked up to the table and took a seat opposite of Fiona. “Good morning.”

Wonder however ignored her completely. “So was it scary seeing all those monsters last night?”

Fiona had her head hung low. “K-K-Kinda.”

Lapis joined in. “And was Rita super amazing awesome and cool?”

“Y-Y-yes.”

Wonder jumped back in. “Do you think you’ll get some really cool powers like us? The other member we had who was all orange had some cool-“

Rita could have let this go on, but she was low on the very virtue that Fiona represented. “I said, GOOD MORNING!”

The trio all looked up at Rita as if having noticed her for the first time. Fiona was the first to respond with, “G-g-g-g-good m-m-m-“

Rita shook her head but smiled gently. “No need to speak, Fiona. You can take your time to calm down. Lucy, Lapis you two have been pestering our friend here.”

Lapis flung herself across the table in order to throw her arms around Rita’s shoulders. “I’m so glad you're alive! You were so cool!” Lapis put her face right in front of Rita’s, their noses touched, and for a brief second Rita froze as Lapis’s lips drew dreadfully close. Instinct kicked in and Rita slid out of Lapis’s usual death grip and Rita moved to the side leaving Lapis hanging half off the table for a split second before falling face first to the floor. Lapis stuck her hand up in a thumbs up while saying, “I’m okay.”

Rita folded her arms. “Not in the head you're not.”

Wonder smiled. “I’m glad to see your okay. I… They cheated.”

Rita looked over at her. “They cheated?”

“Of course they did!” Wonder stood up. “How else could such simpletons defeat The Impossible Wonder!”

A little bit of pain shot through Rita’s heart. Rita had conversed with Fiona some before crashing on the infirmary bed last night, according to Fiona, Wonder had put up an amazing fight. However, Wonder still lost and that must have done some serious damage to her pride. Rita gave the warmest smile she could to Wonder as she said, “Lucy, I’m proud of you for doing such a good job last night. Without your help we would have lost the fight.”

Wonder’s eyes glossed over as she stood up from the table. “I… thank you.” She ran around the table and threw her arms around Rita embracing her. Tears spilled over onto Rita’s shoulder. “I did my best. I promise.”

It was always awkward being the recipient of hugs but Rita gently patted the back of Wonder’s head. “You’re my best friend. Of course I’ll always be proud of you. No matter what you do or don’t do. Last night you did something amazing and saved us. I should be thanking you.”

Wonder wiped her nose across Rita’s shoulder sending a shiver down Rita’s spine. “Thank you.”

From the floor behind Rita, Lapis groaned, “Oh come on! You can wipe your nose on her shoulder but I go in for a friendly, ‘I’m glad you're still alive and I secretly love you’ kiss and I get pushed away.”

Rita rolled her eyes. “Hey, you both did wonderful last night, no pun intended. Right now I’d like it if you two could find me something to eat while I get to know our new friend.”

Wonder pulled back just enough to look at Rita. “Okay, I-I...” Wonder sniffed at the air a few times and her face turned pale. She leapt back and threw a hand over her mouth complete with gagging sounds. “You positively reek!”

Lapis jumped up and spread her arms wide. “Aww I'm so sorry that she can't hug you anymore, Rita. But I don't care if you smell like the teachers lounge toilet after the time we dropped laxatives into their cake mix.”



Rita pointed toward the kitchen. “Go on, I'm hungry.”

They both nodded and raced for the kitchen for very different reasons. Rita felt the warmth flowing through her chest knowing how much she cared for those two. Last night almost cost Wonder’s life, and maybe almost Lapis’s as well. That was too close a call. If anything happened to those two it wouldn't be Dusk's fault this time, it would be solely hers. She had to find a way to keep them safe from harm.

With those two busy for the moment Rita was able to finally take some time to sit down across from Fiona in relative quiet. Of course hearing Lapis making noise in the kitchen disturbed the silence but it wasn’t much of a problem so long as the noise wasn't directed at her. Fiona seemed to be calming down as well.

“So you can simply nod or shake your head if you feel uncomfortable, but I have some questions if you don’t mind,” Rita said quietly.

Fiona nodded. “O-okay.”

Rita leaned back and looked up at the stained windows that allowed the golden light of early morning through. “Are you feeling healthy?”

Fiona nodded.

“Hmm okay… Is there anything bothering you about the mark on your hand?”

Fiona looked down at it with a furrowed brow as if studying the orange heart shaped mark on the back of her left hand. She turned her hand over revealing the fact that the mark went all the way through to her palm. It took a few long seconds but she finally asked, “Why is it on me?”

Rita beamed. “Now that’s a great question. In all honesty, I don’t think any of us have any real idea as to why we have them. All we know is what our virtues are. When you got it, what was it like?”

Fiona grabbed at the back of her hand. “I stood there watching you three fight. I knew that it was going bad, but I… didn’t think I’d be much help. Then I saw my chance. It was like time slowed down as I saw my opportunity to stop the creepy one from hurting you. Once I had stopped him I felt my hand burn a little, and… then this mark appeared with someone telling me I was the Guardian of Patience.”

Rita leaned back enough to kick her legs up on the table and balance the chair on its two rear legs. She could feel herself already grinding her teeth as she thought, she needed caffeine. “That voice, did it sound like a kind old man?”

“Mm-hmm,” Fiona replied.

“Yeah, that would be Grandfather Oak. I met him once in a dream. If I understand it right, he chose me and my old school friends to be Guardian Hearts so that we could defeat the forces of darkness. There are bad things out there, things much worse then what we saw last night. We call them the Black Hearts. Their kind of like our opposites. I met one once, but I get this odd feeling there's more of 'em out there.”

Fiona looked down at the table, her hands were fidgeting a little. “I don’t want to f-fight anything.”

Rita nodded, and her precarious balance was disturbed for a split second before she caught herself. Falling from this chair would suck. “I understand that. I don’t think any of us usually look forward to that part of the job. You don’t have to fight monsters if you don’t want to, but… well can I ask you to do something?”

Fiona looked up at her. “W-what d-do you need Miss Rita?”

Rita sat back up normally before jumping to her feet. “Please stop calling me Miss Rita. If we weren’t equals before, and we totally were by the way, we most certainly are now.” Rita stuck her right arm out across the table and in front of Fiona. “I want you to put your hands on my injured arm and think about sending good thoughts through your hands and into my arm.”

Fiona raised her eyebrows as if surprised, but she only paused for a moment before putting her hands ever so gently over Rita’s arm. Even still the slight touch ached a little, but Rita was very good at handling pain at this point, and didn’t show even the slightest amount of pain to Fiona. For a few seconds nothing happened, and then a few seconds more nothing still. After nearly a full minute Fiona finally looked up and asked, “S-so w-what am I t-trying to do?”

Rita frowned. “Well you’re a terrain like me so I was hoping that using some guiding thoughts would help you send your aether energy through your hand and into my arm. I know you're not exactly used to the concept of-“ Fiona was frowning at her catching Rita off guard. “Um… are you okay?”

Fiona shook her head. “I-it’s okay, I-I just… At the monastery we all learned how to move our internal store of aether energy through meditation. I-I don’t think it has anything to do with being a st-tarling.”

A sickly feeling covered Rita’s heart. “Oh… I’m sorry I… that was very rude of me.”

Fiona offered a smile. “It’s alright. I’m not upset. I promise.”

Fiona once again focused on her hands and a small orange glow surrounded Fiona’s hand. Fiona gasped and the glow vanished. For a few seconds Rita stood there patiently but her arm was starting to ache from holding it out so long. Fiona concentrated once more and the orange glow surrounded her hand before spreading all across Rita’s arm. A soothing warm sensation ran through her arm and the pain almost instantly vanished. It lasted all of ten seconds before Fiona pulled away and leaned back in the chair with her breathing being a bit harder than it was before.

Rita sat down and began pulling the bandages off of her right arm. There was a fine scar where she’d been cut from her wrist all the way to her elbow. Nice and pink. Yet the wound was healed. “You might not have much aether yet, but the more you practice, the stronger you’ll get. In fact I’m shocked that not only you have that much aether to begin with, but that it even worked in the first place.”

Fiona beamed at her. “W-what was that? W-was that magic?”

Rita grinned. “Yeppers. You see we Guardian Hearts each have a special power. For example the last bearer of Patience was able to heal as well and see the future... also he’s still alive so your newly acquired status is kind of strange. Another example would be Wonder, who can inspire a powerful sense of hope in others prompting them to do acts they might normally be terrified of... and sometimes become stronger because of the faith we have in her.”

Fiona nodded. “L-last night, I was so sc-scared, b-but Wonder’s sacrifice gave me strength.”

“That’s exactly what I mean. We all have special abilities to help us boost each other in one way or another.”

The kitchen door swung open and both Lapis and Wonder came out with plates of pancakes. Rita’s stomach grumbled for food, but her mouth could already taste the burnt flavor of their pancakes. These were certainly not going to be like her sister Marceline's pancakes. Still Rita was never going to put them down for their terrible pancake cooking skills… before eating them anyway.

After breakfast had concluded Rita retired from the great hall, abandoning Fiona to the ceaseless questioning from her friends. Fiona seemed a lot more capable this time around though so Rita felt it was okay. Something had bugged the back of her mind since last night, and now she was going to go find out what she could.

The first place that Rita went to was the dungeon where she once again went down those oddly familiar steps. Once downstairs she found the undercroft was as empty as before only this time she saw Saturn and Lamont sitting in chairs at the end of the room. She walked past them to the metal door directly.

Saturn had her hand on the grip of her blade and narrowed her eyes at Rita. “Rita, what are you doing?”

Rita ignored her, for once, and instead looked at Lamont. “Have you tried asking Nightmare what her goals are?”

Lamont shook his head. “She’s refused to speak to either of us.”

A scream sounded from inside the metal door, muffled by the steel between them. Saturn looked at Lamont. “That was new.”

Rita already had her hand on the sliding hatch before she could really think, she slid the little door open. She still couldn’t see through it yet she could hear the scream clearly now as it died down. Rita looked over to a spare chair and moved it over to the door, after climbing on it she could see through the little door and look upon the calm form of Nightmare sitting on the chair with one leg folded over the other. One of the cuff links on her ankle looked like it had been ripped out of the stone floor.

Nightmare offered a sickly sweet smile which was too large for her face before speaking, “Good morning, child.”

Lamont gasped. “She hasn’t spoken to anyone since arriving here.”

Rita stared down into those dark eyes. “How did you know it was morning?”

“Because I can feel the wraith of the sun’s power even from deep in here.”

Rita growled. “Did you hear what happened last night?”

“Oh my yes.” Nightmare licked her lips. “My dear loyal children came to rescue me. They almost succeeded too.”

“Children?” Rita inquired.

“They had all been hurt, abused, or left alone in this cruel world. That is, until I adopted them into my power.”

“How did they know you were here?”

Nightmare’s eyes flashed for a brief moment. “If you can’t tell then you're not ready for that answer yet.”

A brief moment of anger flew through Rita. Nightmare was keeping secrets from them, and likely very dangerous ones at that. “What do you want?”

Nightmare smiled. “A nice long walk on the beach, or maybe a pony?”

Rita slammed her open palm on the door. “I asked you a question. I could always throw another one of my light grenades in there to keep you company you know.”

Nightmare hissed. “You do and when I do break out, I won’t hesitate to return the favor!”

Rita smiled. “Your nothing but a trapped dog, you can’t do anything down here.”

Nightmare turned her head to the side. “A trapped wolf is a far different creature then a dog could ever be.”

A cold shiver ran down Rita’s spine. "A shadow wolf perhaps?"

Nightmare didn't respond.

Rita forced the fear away by renewing her anger. “Your friends can’t save you from us. And next time I’ll be prepared for them.”

Nightmare laughed coldly. “Oh good, and here I was thinking their second attempt would go without challenge too.”

“Too bad your dumb plan will never succeed.”

Nightmare laughed. “My plan will succeed no matter what you do. The gears are already turning. My vengeance will be absolute, and there will be nothing to stop me this time.”

Rita grinned. “Thank you for the information, darling.”

The look of confusion on Nightmare’s face was quickly replaced by that of pure rage. She ushered another howl, much like that of a wolf. Rita slammed the little door shut and hopped off the chair.

Rita glanced back at Saturn and said, “One of her cuff links broke, I think you should replace them with stronger metal if you can.”

Saturn nodded. “Will do.”

Rita walked away. She knew now that Nightmare was looking to get revenge, but the question was, against who or what?

Chapter Thirteen: Sparing Spree

Wonder was the first one to leave after questioning Fiona so much. She had to admit that the tall girl was quite attractive but that was far from the list of important things on Wonder’s mind at the moment. She had another goal but trying to find out more about it was going to be challenging.

Going out into the main entrance way Wonder chanced across the very person she was looking for. Lamont was walking, or limping rather, towards the staircase. There was a bit of a down look on his face as he approached the stairs and let out a sigh.

Wonder pulled up beside him. “Lamont!”

Lamont smiled down at her. “Why isn’t it our little Wonder. I don’t think I’ve seen you all morning. How are you doing?”

Wonder pouted her lower lip. “Well I was doing just fine until you called me little.”

He laughed. “Oh? My apologies oh Impossible Wonder.”

“That’s better!” Wonder huffed. She glanced toward the front door which had been closed but still needed repairs as it stood looking a little crooked. “I was wondering if it would be okay for us to go to town today?”

Lamont raised an eyebrow. “Us?”

Wonder scowled. “Not you and me, obviously. Ugh even if you were a girl, still gross. I meant me, Lapis, and Rita. Just us girls.”

Lamont scratched at his scruffy chin. “Hmmm it’s a little risky thanks to the possibility of being attacked again, but even if we were attacked so shortly we’d be more or less sitting ducks until reinforcements come. Queen Solaria herself will be arriving soon, she’s concluded her business down in New Haven and should be on the long journey home.”

Wonder groaned. “I just want to have some girl time. Buy some new clothes. Talk to some cute girls. Maybe force my mentor to set up our next training session on a solid date.”

Lamont laughed again. “Well if you three want to go then I won’t stop you. I don’t know if Rita will want to though, she’s likely busy working on some project.”

A devilish grin spread over Wonder’s lips. “Oh I think I can find a way to convince her to join us.”

After that conversation with Nightmare, Rita had to do one of the things she did best; research. So she had spent the last hour searching through the books in the library to no avail. There was no more information on Nightmare. Between being out of aether stones, strange dreams, and being attacked by three weirdos, Rita couldn’t possibly get her head around things.

The library proved useless after continuous searching. The only things she could find were a small handful of books with only folk lore mentions of the Lady of Shadows or Mistress of Nightmares. This endeavor had proven to be ultimately useless.

Saturn entered the room, she was wearing her armor and looked exhausted. “Rita, what are you doing in here?”

Rita groaned. “What does it look like?”

Saturn took a look around at the piles of books upon piles of books scattered about the floor and tables. The shelves had large patches of missing books. Notes covered the table in front of Rita placed next to one another in careful order to help sort through all the information she had. At length Saturn returned her look to Rita. “It looks like your making a mess.”

Rita growled and surprised herself. She took a moment to calm herself before saying, “I need to find out what Nightmare’s goal is, and how we can stop her.”

Saturn nodded. “And you stink.”

Rita growled again. “And?”

“And you're stressed.”

Rita threw her head and arms back. “OH MY GODS. YES!”

Lapis’s voice echoed through the hallway. “KINKY!”

Rita slammed her face into the table almost hard enough to do some damage. “Why did I open my dumb mouth?”

Saturn put a hand on one of her hips and a small smile grew over her lips. “I think I know how to cheer you up.”

Rita’s heart pounded for a half second. What could she have in mind?

“Come meet me in the courtyard,” Saturn said as she spun around on her heel and walked away. Her hips swayed as she left and Rita caught herself staring luckily before Saturn noticed.

Rita left her notes and books right where they were, since no one was likely to bother them, and quickly chased after the alluring woman and her promise of cheer. It didn’t take long to reach the courtyard alongside Saturn. They stood in front of a training circle with a couple of different weapon racks staying to the side with wooden weapons. Saturn removed her chest plate and stood in loose gambeson. She grabbed a wooden sword and a wooden shield before nodding toward the rack.

Rita stared dumbfounded for a moment as Saturn entered the circle with the shield in her left hand and the sword in her right. Usually Saturn was left handed in combat, so switching hands had left Rita confused a little. Once Saturn hit the sword against the shield Rita understood instantly what was going on.

“Oh no, not this,” Rita said already imagining the bruises that were going to appear.

Saturn gave her a dominating look that begged Rita to challenge her. “It’ll distract you, besides you could use the practice. I'd heard Fiona healed you, is this correct?”

“Yeah she did.” Feeling reluctant to actually argue with Saturn, Rita grabbed a shield and a sword in hopes that maybe she could quit with minimal injury this time. “I was hoping for something different.”

Once Rita was in the circle and facing Saturn, Saturn stared at her with defiant eyes. “What did you have in mind?”

“I don’t know? Maybe a walk through the flowers holding hands?” Rita suggested feeling a little timid.

Saturn narrowed her eyes. “Oh really? You think that would be better?”

Rita opened her mouth but stopped short as Saturn lunged forward swinging the wooden sword. It took all she had to merely readjust the shield to put it between her and her opponent. Saturn took another step forward, bracing her own shield against Rita and shoved. It was like getting hit by a bulldozer, and Rita was sent flying back off of her feet, onto her butt, and then her back.

“You're too small to face your target with your strength alone,” Saturn said as she swung the sword around before resting it on her shoulder blade.

The only part of Rita’s body that was still in the ring was her foot, meaning she lost and lost hard. Pulling herself up lit a small fire in Rita’s chest. “I’m not that small.”

“What was that? I couldn’t hear you from down there shorty.” Saturn retorted.

That did it. Flames raged in Rita’s chest and she jumped up to her feet and got back into the ring. If Saturn really wanted to do this then she was going down. Rita swung the stick at Saturn, though the thing was a lot heavier then she recalled and put awkward strain on her still sensitive arm. Saturn easily deflected the blow with her own stick and returned the favor with another swing of her own. This was far from the first time Rita had been in this situation, she threw her body to the side and missed the blow by mere inches.

Rita moved on her feet circling her opponent and hoping to make an opportunity, but Saturn did good to keep her front facing Rita's preventing any openings from appearing. With a shield in front of her Rita was hard target to hit directly. The shield easily covered most of Rita as she was tiny, but that also meant it was harder for her to carry it. Or maybe that was thanks to Rita not using wooden shields usually.

There was no way that Saturn was going to leave an opening for Rita so she would have to create one. Rita flung herself forward, forcing her shield against Saturn's. Rita threw her stick in towards Saturn's side, but Saturn moved more like a dancer than anything else spinning herself out of Rita’s shield bash and around to Rita’s side. Like lightning Saturn’s stick came flying down and slammed hard into Rita’s shoulder.

Rita dropped the shield as she yelped and jumped away. Her arm felt like lightning had struck her. Saturn stared her down, shield in front, sword in her right hand being held against the top of her shoulder.

“You got me!” Rita cried.

“No, you just lost an arm. You're not dead yet.”

“How about from bloodloss?”

“How about from back injury!” Saturn cried as she jumped forward once more.

Without the shield blocking most of Rita’s view she was able to see the attack coming in slower than she’d expected. Rita easily maneuvered underneath it and slid to a place behind Saturn. She jabbed out with the stick, but Saturn deflected the blow with her own blade. One of Saturn’s legs came up and hit Rita square in the chest sending the little girl flying back into a rolling ball through the dirt.

When Rita stopped rolling she was clear out of the ring once more, and her head was spinning like mad. “You cheater!”

“There is no cheating in a real fight.”

Rita glared at her. “That’s not fair, I thought this was a practice bout, you can’t use your leg to kick me!”

Saturn laughed. “But I just did.”

Rita growled as she rose once more. “Why should I stay here and fight you then!”

“Good question?” Saturn said. “Why are you still here fighting me?”

Rita forsook the idea of getting a new shield and instead went straight for another small sword. Once she had one she turned back towards Saturn and entered the ring. She didn’t know why she was still fighting, surely she could have said no and left before starting, or left after losing the first time, yet here she was, ready to challenge Saturn once more with no clear reward or reason.

A wide grin had spread over Saturn’s lips. “Now you're taking this seriously eh?”

Rita slowly circled her opponent, making sure to keep her feet squared. In a real fight footing, although important, easily got lost as magic was flung left and right. Yet in a small ring like this footing was absolutely everything. This time Rita waited for Saturn to make the first move.

Saturn swung forward, and Rita hit her stick with one of her own redirecting the course of it over her head. With her free hand Rita swung at Saturn’s shield. Saturn’s defense was strong as ever. Saturn moved in for a shield bash and Rita had no choice but to move around Saturn’s right side, keeping her sticks in between her and her opponent. Once on Saturn’s side Rita swung down at Saturn’s leg.

Just as the stick was about to make contact Saturn jumped up into the air. Her wings flapped once and she easily cleared some space between the two of them with a wing propelled jump landing with good space between them. “You forget that your opponent can fly!”

Rita growled and charged forward. “I didn’t forget, I was just going easy on you!”

Saturn readied her stance. “Don’t patronize me! Give me your all!”

When approaching Saturn once more, Rita took note of Saturn swinging her blade. Rita took advantage of how much taller Saturn was and hit the ground sliding forward and under Saturn. Rita’s sticks lashed out at Saturn’s legs but the woman jumped up just in time. Of course as she jumped into the air, her wings were spread out and Rita rolled onto her side trying to spin her body to give herself the momentum needed to put real weight behind it as she threw her sword into the air at Saturn’s left wing.

The stick flew true and slammed into Saturn’s wing with audible smack. Saturn landed in front of her and spun around taking another swing down at Rita. Rita rolled over and swung her stick up at the small opening at Saturn’s neck. Saturn jumped back and her feet landed right next to Rita’s discarded sword.

Saturn looked down at the spare sword and kicked it out of the ring. “Once you sacrifice one of your tools, you can’t generally get them back for a battle.”

Rita rose to her feet and tested the weight of her sword. It still hurt her arm to hold it a little but she was getting used to it again. “It’s been far too long since I last did any combat training like this.”

“I noticed you were out of practice. You're usually a lot faster, and quicker to think.”

Rita growled, feeling the flames in her heart rise ever higher. “If you think you're going to win, then you're wrong.”

Saturn’s grin grew even larger still. “Then let’s make this interesting! If you win, I’ll take you out to dinner! But if I win, you will have to practice with me six days a week for a month!”

Rita’s heart skipped a beat. “A date?”

Saturn raised an eyebrow. “What, are you too scared now to challenge me?”

Fire soared through Rita’s chest as she imagined getting to go on a date with Saturn. It was all she’d ever hoped of, but never thought possible. Now here she was giving her a chance to date her. So of course Rita was going to take it.

Rita charged forward, holding herself lower to the ground. If Saturn wanted to hit her again she’d have to work for it. Saturn charged forward with her shield out front and Rita rolled to the side and swung her stick in an upwards diagonally. Saturn had shifted her feet and moved her leg out of the way just in time to avoid being struck. Meanwhile she also was swinging her stick at Rita’s face.

Rita rolled backwards and stopped just next to the line. An inch farther and she would have rolled out of the ring. Saturn already had her footing regained and was charging forward. Rita didn’t have much in the way of movement options. So she charged forward as well.


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-19 show above.)