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A mysterious young woman escapes from unjust imprisonment, only to find herself targetted by two sides fighting a war staged under society's mostly peaceful surface. Will she find freedom? Who will win?
Wet dribbled down her collar. Cold froze its way into her marrow. Icy droplets traced their way down the lines of misshapen muscle, tightly knotted within her back – souvenirs of an episode with scalpel and needle gone horribly wrong.
By now, the discomfort was familiar to the young woman who trudged doggedly down the gravel road. Her dark hair was not yet long enough to flatten to her scalp, but the faded set of clothing – cargos and a grey tee snatched from a hapless clothes line – did cling to her weary figure. Long, lean muscle contracted and relaxed under the sodden cloth and chilled skin as she struggled along. The boots, at least, kept her feet moderately dry.
The miserable rain increased its pace, even as the wind turned the airbound droplets into tiny shards of liquid glass. Her flesh stung at their attack, her eyes drooped with fatigue and her jaw clenched against the weakness brought on by such sustained strain – all signals that finding shelter would be a good idea.
Finding shelter soon is an even better one..
Despite these ponderings, one tired foot placed itself in front of the other, and the nightmare trance of exhaustion had her in its power. Soon enough, the driving precipitation had begun to numb her skin just as much as lack of food and sleep had numbed her consciousness.
The haze dragged on until a beast of steel and glass bellowed at her. For a second’s fraction, headlights reflected green off her corneas before she flung herself to the side – not in time to avoid the impact of the dented fender with slender hip, however. Her controlled dive degenerated into an uncoordinated tumble. Rock and flotsam hidden within the thick muck battered her falling body until brackish liquid within the ditch engulfed her in its freezing embrace.
Stunned, she lay half-submerged – pressed low into water and mud. Frightened, inhuman eyes watched the outline of the farmer while he struggled to see through the intensifying rain.
She couldn’t hear his shouts, but she thought desperately up at him, knowing there was no way he could hear the silent plea – Just some dumb animal…c’mon…just go home. It’s probably dead, anyway…
Lightening speared the night, followed instantly by the crack BOOM of thunder. They both jumped at this – he more so than she. Nature’s roar was convincing enough to get him back in the truck and back on to his way to his original destination.
Once the machine's rumble had vanished into the storm, she finally felt safe enough to emerge again into the open. Covered with filth and her own blood, she dragged herself out of the trench.
Cuts would heal, bruises would fade and pain would disappear, thus they were easily dismissed. Survival, first and foremost, was her primary concern.
Once clear of the water, she found herself on an open lawn. Freakish black eyes narrowed, and barely, just barely, the outlines of structures made themselves known. Three large, one small, they brought hope – foreign, but very welcome – into her heart.
This’s farmland… Foliage here is too controlled to be uninhabited property…but it’s not dense enough to be crop.
She glanced at two of the larger structures – both with peaked roofs, close together – one smaller than the other. A farmhouse and garage. The third dwarfing them both – the barn. The sudden pang of longing surprised her, but it was met equally by the caution.
Can’t risk it…
The mire sucked at her feet, but sheer will-power spurred their flight towards the smallest structure – a tool shed, likely converted from a pony-barn.
With hands threatening to cramp into uselessness, she picked the simple lock, driven by a single-minded determination to live – if only for a single night more.
That small victory achieved, she slipped in, closed the door enough to prevent anyone glancing that way from suspecting her entry. The fugitive curled up in a corner and pulled a dusty tarp up over her weary body for what little heat and protection it could provide. There, she went limp with exhaustion.
Despite the chill which clung to her as surely as the filth covering her body, she was warmer than she had been in the endless days of flight. Although there was no cushioning, it felt wonderful to be semi-horizontal for a change.
Only a few hours…until the rain passes…then I’ll be gone again…
Permission granted, her eyes fell closed, and sleep overcame her senses.
* * *
The clash of wood on wood pierced the otherwise still air of the brightly lit basement dojo. The walls had been scrubbed clean, painted a smooth white and mounted with mirrors alongside a rack for traditional sparring weaponry. The pale canvas flooring reflected the light from the hanging light fixtures mounted from the high ceiling.
Beneath bright white illumination, two figures thrust and parried with each other. The graceful gi-clad woman flickered with lively yang energy while the stoic man in sweatpants and simple t-shirt flowed with more passive yin. The stark contrast of movement would provide a feast for the eyes, had anyone been there to watch the martial dance in action.
A feral grin lit the Irish woman’s face as she looked up at her significantly larger adversary and old friend over their crossed weapons. “C’mon, Lee, is that really all you’ve got? Didn’t those clowns at the academy teach you anything?”
The shaggy haired man sighed as the smaller woman sprang back away from him and again readied his bokken. “Di, you know I’m not fond of sparring. I’ll never understand why you seem to thrive off of it.”
Brilliant green eyes sparkled wickedly up at piercing blues, “What, a girl’s not allowed an excuse every now and then to tussle with a sexy guy?” Her already rough voice dropped into a huskier tone, permanently damaged throat perfect for a sultry growl, “C’mon, Lee, lose the shirt already and show me that studly body of yours.” With an expert slide of footwork, she’d lunged in at him and sliced the wooden blade at his powerful midsection.
Just in time to block her startlingly powerful blow, yet another crack of wood on wood reverberated in their ears. “How did you come to outrank me again?” Inside his head, he cursed to himself. That ploy worked every time – she never failed to bring a bright blush to his face when she talked like that. Though they had never been lovers, they were both well aware of the mutual attraction. She was not above using it to her full advantage in these situations. “I swear, you’ve the mentality of a fifteen year old.”
“Oh, please,” she said as she stepped back, feinted to the right, then spun low to take his feet out from underneath him when he moved to counter the deception. Once he fell, she stood over him and held the tip of her weapon to his throat. “My mentality is at least seventeen years old. Maybe even eighteen on the good days!”
At six four and built like a brick wall, one would have expected the blond man to be the one standing over the scarred, willowy woman. They’d been training for close to an hour, and while they were both slick with perspiration, he was the only one already starting to show signs of bruising.
“There are times I wonder.” With a sigh, he took the offered hand and stood. The tail of the tattooed dragon comprising the partial sleeve coating her left arm writhed over the tensing muscle of her forearm. It wasn’t his fault he was a pacifist at heart. Ironic that he be born into the life he was.
“Someone’s gotta keep you on your toes, huh?” With a grin, Di swept a few rogue curls back from her face and reverently replaced her bokken on the rack hanging on the wall.
“You’re impossible,” he muttered as he followed suit.
Her rough laugh again sounded. “And you love every minute of it.”
Leland only rolled his eyes and began the careful process of cooling his muscles down. “Why did I recruit you again?”
She favored him with an amused grin. “Soft heart?”
Leland snorted as his hand lit up with a soft green glow, “Soft head is more like it.” Carefully, he moved the gently glowing appendage over the worst of the bruises. The big man relaxed as they faded under the cool energy. He was sure that she’d managed to bruise at least a few of his ribs during their impromptu training session.
Her snicker was cut off by the shrill ring of the cell phone sitting by the doorway. After bowing off of the mat, she stretched her arms over her head and headed over to grab the phone. A fair brow arched when she picked it up and took note of the number on the display
Questioningly, he watched as she held the device to her ear.
“Hey, boss, what’s up?” Her light-hearted expression suddenly dropped as she listened to the voice on the other end. “So the next phase has started already? What happened to the unit en-rou…oh. They did.” Another pause, “Crap.” A frown tugged the corners of her lips downwards. “So are we being deployed? What about Kage? We can’t just pull him out of his classes again…he’s still behind as it is.”
The big Englishman frowned as he ran a towel over his face and burly shoulders. He repressed a cringe at her glare. That can’t be good.
“Well, yeah, I’ve been training him, but isn’t this a bit much for a kid…no, no, I’m not questioning you, I’m just-” Irritated, she pulled the tie from the damp curls tumbling down her back in a long tail and tugged her fingers through the fiery length. “Yes. Yes, that may be the case, b-.” A pause, “Yes.” She visibly repressed a sigh, “Ok. Yes, I’ll be there.” With more force than necessary, she punched the button on the phone to end the call. “Crotchety old bat.”
Lee gently touched her shoulder. “Diana?” His deep voice was soft in the utterance.
She sighed and the unnaturally ridged pressure of her palm pressed to the weather-roughened skin of his hand. “Looks like our next potential recruit jumped the gun and set off few rather large explosions in the process.” With a sigh, she leaned lightly into his sturdy frame for a moment of support. “C’mon, let’s get cleaned up. I’ve gotta get to the consulate in an hour, so you’ll have to pick Kageyoshi up from the tutor’s.”
With a nod, he allowed her to pull away from him and stride for the stairs.
It really was a pity – he always savored the periods of peace between disasters. He wished that this one would have lasted a little longer.
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