RONA VS. SKVADER
Rona wriggled her nose to dislodge frozen boogers as she hiked along the wolf-drawn sled tracks, catching up to the old druid. Days behind her was her village, her hunting ground and her people, who had abandoned their homes to escape the Churn. Her mother and father had expected her to follow, but she’d never see them again.
She had never disobeyed a direct order from the druid before. His kind had civilized the tundra generations before Rona’s people arrived. They kept the secrets of mathematics and letters and stars. If the old druid had told Rona to jump to the sun, she’d have died leaping. But this, she could not abide.
She was crouched down, checking the freshness of the tracks, when the horned skvader attacked.
The white-furred monsters flew up from the snowdrifts, at least a score of them, wings spread, horns spiraling up between long ears, eye level with Rona’s knee.
Rona cursed, dropped her pack, unleashed the axes from her belt with practiced thumb flicks. “Always skvader,” she groaned, eyes flicking from opponent to opponent as they circled her, shrill squeaking sounding from between their mean, nasty, pointed teeth. “…or bears…” The frenzy of battle built up a drumming beat within her ribs. Her left axe swung out, sliced a jagged opening in one of the demon hares’ throats. The beast fell with a bubbling sound in time for two more to jump up. “…or reindeer or stink oxen.” Her arms crossed. The axe blades clashed together and sparked as she let loose a barbaric yawp; the noise scattered the skvader, but they rounded back on their long thumpers, running horn first straight at her goodies. One sailed up to her jugular and lost its head for its trouble. Another dug its front claws into her belly; she whirled, spinning up snow, shook it loose and opened up a hole for the creature’s guts to spill out.
“Same beasts all the time,” she griped as the others came at her. “And the old man thinks he’s going to the other side of the world without me?” Front, back, side, she whirled, axes slashing, spinning, her vision washed red with her fury. The skvader jumped and flanked, shrieking out their madness; Rona shrugged off her cloak and her skin steamed in the freeze.
“He thinks I’ll run from danger!” she cried. “Hide with the children!” She carved the snow back with her rear foot, shifted her weight low, swung wide with her left axe, hooking up three hares by their horns on the blade. “I never run!” she roared, and jumped into the center of the herd, spinning, axes flying, flinging away hooked skvader, dropping dead hares one after another with soft foomph sounds into snowdrifts.
She whirled, hacking and slashing in wide arcs through the air, twisting too sharp at last so that she fell onto her butt in the midst of what had once been a herd of enraged skvader. Her breaths came fast and foggy; snow sizzled on her overheated skin. It took a good minute to realize the danger was over.
Groaning, she sheathed the axes and reviewed the damage. She’d taken a few scrapes. Some claw marks on her belly. New scars to join the old, and nothing needing stitches, so she drew on her cloak and pack and went about collecting bunny carcasses for the night’s dinner. Never a bad idea to bring a fresh, bloody present to a pack of wolves.
The tracks and spoor were fresh; she’d overtake the old druid within the hour.
To be continued…
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