Xena stood her ground before the fearful monster– eyes fixed, feet planted firmly, and head tilted back before letting out a challenging shriek. With a sudden movement, the warrior tore the sky in two and ravaged the trunk of the mossy beast. Her wooden sword tumbled backward and shards splintered the seam left in the air as she lost her footing and stumbled over sideways. A grunt escaped from her lips. She glared at the dirt pillowing at her cheek and rolled back over on her hands and knees. Catapulting forward, she leapt at her opponent– this time fists flying and tearing into the crusty, sharp flesh. The skin of her knuckles peeled backward, making way for rivers and smears of searing crimson yet she paid no heed and continued on without hesitation.
The snap of a twig caused the warrior’s gaze to wander outward, past the undergrowth and into the wood. She froze– tilting her chin slightly up and clenching her jaw before swallowing. The stale, uncooled, musk of a breeze was the only movement that dared disturb the moment except the sound of her fluttering heart as her lips curled gently upward in reverence.
The boy… no man… but still, somehow he seemed a boy– stood frozen, mirroring the wide eyes and statuesque pose of the wild deer that often passed through. Yet, this man looked not like a man… and not like a deer… and not like anything she had ever seen before this moment. His appendages dangled, awkwardly lanky and slightly askew. A thick coat of hair spread down from his chest like a matted and uncared for blanket and his skin revealed a mirage of cuts and twinkling scars as pale as his long, dreaded hair. The man’s eyes darted, searching for an exit but knowing they’d already been found.
“What are you doing?” asked the man, trying too late to hide the long claws extending from his hands. He let out a wince as one caught his side on the way behind him and added another crimson line to his tattered body. He looked down to meet her height and cocked his head as the girl procured a notebook and pen from the satchel on her back. She scribbled for a moment and then turned the paper around, holding it with outstretched arms.
Fighting monsters it said. Sweat dripped down the man’s face.
“I better get going then” he said as he tried to slip away. Xena interrupted his attempted escape, scribbling once again.
But you need me. It’s dangerous out there.
The man looked behind him both ways before meeting her firm, ice blue gaze once more. With a strange, crooked smile, he let out an awkward puff of breath.
“You must be confused… I am a monster” said the man. Xena smiled brightly before returning to her pad of paper.
It’s never the monsters who think that. It’s the warriors.
A long moment passed before the man processed the words, but when he did his face flushed a rosy red and eyes turned damp as tears rose to meet his eyes. Looking down, he tried to hide his vulnerability. Xena came closer to keep his gaze and stretched her hand toward the man– face sure and unafraid. The man looked at the girl for a long moment, searching for the reaction he expected but came up empty. Neither pair of eyes left the other as he inched his hand toward hers but as they grew ever closer he grimaced and halted at the sight of his sharp claws getting closer to her baby fair skin. Xena smiled at the hesitation and closed the distance.
Quivering, the man sank to his knees as years of emotions rushed out of their cage in a choked sob. Looking up at his tiny warrior, her eyes looked as steady as ever as she observed him without judgement. One final hesitation surfaced before he gave up the fight and went with the current. His massive arms swept her off her feet and into his warm, enveloping embrace… and with her he stayed.
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