Wham! A pained breath exploded out of Zhanna’s mouth as she slammed into the ground. Before she could even draw one more tortured breath, a boot against her side flipped her over to roll again and again until she crashed against a rock. Despite the pain in her side, the young woman erupted explosively from the ground, shoving off with one hand, while holding a small shield in the other. She was off balance, and out of position as she scrambled to her feet. Gasping for breath, she wrenched her body around to watch the man that was coming after her.
All that could be seen of him were his narrowed eyes over the top of his shield. The rest of his face was concealed behind the shield and his other hand steady on his sword. As he advanced, Zhanna was aware that he was staring at her intently, watching her eyes and aware of her shoulders. An expert swordsman watching for the indicators of potential movement. Feeling like a trapped mouse, Zhanna twitched her body to the left attempting to feint him into a misstep. It didn’t work.
She froze with indecision for a second. WHAM!
Her vision spangled with lights as she was caught from the rear by another assailant. Dammit! She had lost situational awareness. Now her shoulder hurt on top of everything else! << I’ve got to stop thinking in the middle of a battle,>> she thought just before another blow on her shield almost wrenched it out of her arm.
She was on the defensive, pinned between two opponents. What was she going to do!?
<<Move it, girl! >>
The urgency of the yell in her head caused Zhanna to make a dash for position. She chose in a split second and ran, not through the inviting opening between the two men but up the rocks and over. Coming just a split second too late behind her, the young witch heard the sword crashing down onto the rocks.
“Shit!” The roar of an outraged fighter split the air in a snarl of sound.
Zhanna managed a soft chortle as she gasped for air. She crawled and scrambled up the rest of the rocks, finding a position where her back was protected, and where her opponents could not come at her from all sides. Just for this one second, she had the freedom to take a deep breath. That respite was not destined to last for long.
The two men that were attacking her approached her from different directions. They were about 100° apart and the angle was just wide enough so that she couldn’t defend against, or even watch, both of them at the same time. A small quiet part of her, tucked far back in her mind, could appreciate the skill in which they were conducting the attack. The rest of her that was sweaty, aching, and would have bruises from head to toe tomorrow, didn’t find it impressive at all.
The two men seemed to glide across the loose rocks toward her. Surefooted, well-balanced, they made her feel like a gawky child. Telling herself to focus, the witch set her stance and waited.
Her opponents advanced to within 10 feet of her. Staring at her intently for a few seconds, the taller of the two men straightened up and pulled his helm off. It was Stefan, looking oddly pleased.
“Not bad at all,” he said. “Your footwork could use a lot of improvement, but you’re getting better at not thinking in the middle of the fight. We almost had you, but you recovered well and got yourself into a defensible position.”
The second man chimed in, “That roll and scramble actually were really good moves. I was waiting for you to take the opening, which would’ve left you open to attacks on both sides. You are definitely starting to develop instincts in a fight.”
“Thank you, Mikhail. I knew that if it were that easy looking you would’ve had something nasty waiting for me. I just couldn’t think clearly of what else to do so I thought I’d get out from the middle of the two of you.”
Stefan responded, “That’s exactly what battle instinct is, Zhanna. Operating on your training and feelings is far faster than trying to think your way through something in a life or death situation.”
“I know, but it still was very hard not to try to use magic in any of this.”
Mikhail gave a short laugh, and answered her, “The point of this was to teach you how to fight when your magic is worn out. Magic users are very susceptible to exhaustion. When that happens, you have to fall back on your other skills and if you don’t have strong skills in actual weapons use you will be at a significant disadvantage.”
“I understand that and appreciate you guys drilling me on this. The only thing that I would change is…”
“What? What would you change?”
“I wouldn’t have you enjoy beating me with your swords so much.”