The Snake and the Mirror

Spear of Conviction

 

Rosa stood perched on the balance beam, legs moving smoothly across the narrow beam as she went through her forms, spear in her hands as she moved this way and that, walking along the hand-width span like a cat as she maneuvered herself with almost inhuman grace and balance.

To move like this took more than focus and poise. Balance, Capi had always stressed, took more than just physical dexterity. A mental balance must be maintained as well, a level of harmony and calm even at the most taxing times.

Rosa kicked off the beam into a sudden backflip and landed, flawlessly, on the balls of her feet before dismounting back to the hard-packed ground of the training field. Her audience, consisting of Evangeline and Capitolina, watched with impressed expressions, Evangeline even going so far as to give her quiet applause.

“Impressive,” The tall blonde champion said, putting her hands back down to rest on her cane. “I can’t imagine the tumble if I tried that.”

“Well, I owe at least a bit of it to you,” Rosa said, flashing her a grin. “The new spear feels perfect. I could balance it on a dime.”

“Oh, it’s hardly new” Evangeline waved it off. “Just a little improved. I appreciate the compliment nonetheless.”

“You’re making good progress for a pup,” Capi said. “Maybe you’ll be able to beat me in a duel soon.”

“Maybe,” Rosa nodded. “But I’m focused on Nicomede right now.”

“Ah yes the young Champion of Zeus,” Evangeline nodded. “He stopped by my workshop yesterday.”

“Is that right?” Rosa asked, taking a drink from her water bottle “What’d he have to say?”

“He wanted an inspection of his equipment,” Evangeline said. “Much like you he was aware of my prowess and asked for improvements.”

“Mind giving me a few pointers?” Rosa asked. “I could do with more info on his shield.”

“Of course,” Evangeline said. “After all I told him everything about your spear and armor.”

“Evangeline!” Rosa scoffed. “Come on, I was trusting you here!”

“Duel aside, you are still teammates,” Evangeline maintained her serene smile. “I have no reason to keep secrets between you, in fact it would be foolish of me not to share the information.”

“I guess…” Rosa almost growled. “Fine, what can you give me on his gear?”

“His most impressive asset is his shield,” Evangeline said. “Not even Catarina’s sword could pierce it. It is a piece of Zeus’ will given form and a physical manifestation of order. Your spear won’t even leave a scratch.”

“Off to a great start,” Rosa sighed. “What else?”

“His spear is like a lightning rod for divine energy,” Evangeline continued. “I actually built a slightly cruder version a while back. Just by channeling spiritual power through it he can generate lightning bolts.”

“Better and better,” Rosa grumbled. “So I can’t afford to draw back to far or he’ll fry me.”

“Don’t underestimate your own resilience, Rosa,” Evangeline continued. “I’ve improved your armor significantly. I wouldn’t recommend seeing how many lightning bolts you can take to the face, but you’re far from defenseless. Your spear is much stronger as well. It’s heavier and a bit shorter, which should give you better maneuvering room.”

“Right,” Rosa nodded, trying to work out the best strategy. “Keeping him close will minimize his advantages, but I need to look out for that shield. Might be made for defense but that’s not all a shield can do.”

“Smart pup,” Capi’s tail was wagging slightly as she stepped forward. “You’re actually learning to think through a problem rather than just take it head on.”

“Well, I can’t afford to fall asleep on this one,” Rosa said. “Nico’s tough and I know he won’t be holding back.”

“Not likely,” Evangeline said. “He mentioned he would be training long hours just like you. I think he’s a little intimidated.”

“Works for me,” Rosa said. “Though I’d prefer he didn’t take me seriously so I could get him off-guard.”

“Unfortunately, I think he’s very on-guard when it comes to you,” Evangeline said. “He might even be a little attracted to you.”

Rosa snorted before taking another drink. “He’s not my type.”

“Could always try to use your feminine wiles to distract him,” Evangeline teased and Rosa rolled her eyes.

“Ya, do me up in a chainmail bikini, that’ll work out great.”

“Well if you insist.”

“Get off it,” Rosa prodded the blunt end of her spear towards her. “Come on, we’ll take a break from the physical exercise. Today is running scenarios, right Capi?”

“That’s right,” Capi said, leading her off the field towards the benches.

“Scenarios?” Evangeline asked.

“Yeah, sort of basic ‘what-if’ questions to try and test me under pressure,” Rosa said. “Good for thinking on the fly.

“Alright,” Capi said. “Hmmm…you’re team leader. Your team is in hostile territory two kilometers ahead of the safe lines. You are attacked by a pack of cacodaemons, Gisela is wounded and unable to walk, your objective is ahead of you but she will likely die if you don’t bring her back to the lines.”

“Gisela’s too useful to let die for one objective unless it’s Nidhoggr itself,” Rosa said. “Send Nicomede and Megame to escort her back to camp. Cat, Torleif, and I can push ahead and pull back if the objective is infeasible at half-strength.”

“Okay,” Capi nods. “You push ahead but you hear over the radio that Nicomede and the others are held up close to the Legion lines. Calling the legion forward can put a lot of men at risk.”

“I pull back then,” Rosa said. “Like I said, Gisela’s too valuable to lose.”

“Have you quantified that?” Evangeline said. “Would there be teammates you’re willing to lose?”

Rosa’s face gained a strained expression. “Well I don’t like to think about it but…I mean, obviously all of us are valuable and I’d do everything I can to make sure everyone makes it. But Cat is the lynchpin of this whole mission and Gisela has a lot of information on the Primordials. Our priority would be to make sure both of them make it, no matter what.”

“Being squad leader is a lot more than ordering people around,” Capi said. “These are the kinds of decisions a commander has to make.”

“I couldn’t do it,” Evangeline said. “I prefer my stresses to end with my machines.”

“Well, it’s not like I want to be in charge just to…be in charge,” Rosa said. “Like…just think about the others on the team. Torleif’s a kid, a super strong kid but she’s still just a kid. Megame is way too kind-hearted and caring. Could you imagine her trying to make a decision like that, or telling one person they need to die for the mission to succeed?”

“She does seem very kind,” Evangeline said. “I could see where that might make things more…difficult.”

“Then there’s Gisela who…well I mean I think she’s alright. A bit of a bitch but alright. I’d never trust her as a leader though, I’d think she was always going to sacrifice me to serve some hidden agenda. She’s smart and she might know more than any of us about Nidhoggr but…I don’t trust her that much.”

“And she was an enemy of the city,” Capi said. “The Legions wouldn’t follow her, if they didn’t just want her head outright.”

“And then there’s Cat,” Rosa said. “And she…has enough to worry about.”

“Ooh now there’s a what-if scenario,” Evangeline smiled.

“Hmm?”

“Alright, now bear with me…what would you do if Catarina turned traitor?”

“Wait, what!?”

“Well maybe not traitor…” Evangeline thought it over. “What if she refused to go on, and wanted to turn back, and was threatening desertion?”

“I…that’s just…” Rosa glanced at Capi, who kept her silence, waiting for Rosa to respond.

“That’s ridiculous!”

“It is only a what-if scenario. You should consider everything, no?”

“Well, I’m not about to consider being assaulted by an army of pink hippos, and I’m sure not about to consider something like Cat abandoning the mission.”

“Is it really that strange?” Evangeline asked. “It’s a terrifying prospect, and she is just a person.”

“Sure, with anyone else, I might be with you,” Rosa said. “But Cat…look, I know Cat. I work with her every day and we went on that mission to Syria together.”

“And?” Evangeline asked.

“And Cat’s…well she’s not the kind of person to back out of a process. Even if she’s scared and I know she’s scared, it’s stupidly obvious. But she won’t complain, she won’t try to back out. Cat’s going to see this through to the end and that’s the end of it.”

“But what if…?”

“Fine! If Cat gives up for some reason I’ll drag her there myself! Happy?”

“Mmmm, satisfied,” Evangeline smiled. “I will settle for satisfied.”

“Fine,” Rosa rolled her eyes. “I’m going to go hit the showers.”

Without another word she slung her spear over her shoulder and began to stalk towards the showers, only to notice Capi catching up to her.

“You shouldn’t let a scenario bother you that much.”

“It was a dumb question,” Rosa said.

“I found it quite interesting…well, your response at least.”

“How’s that?” Rosa asked, stopping at the entrance to the showers to talk.

“It reminded me of how short and aggressive you got when I used to talk to you,” Capi said. “When I asked you questions about who you were or what your past was like.”

“Because you were annoying too,” Rosa folded her arms. “You pestered me for days!”

“But this time you didn’t get protective of your secrets or your past, you were being protective of Catarina.”

“So what?” Rosa asked. “Doesn’t change that it was a dumb question.”

“Why it matters,” Capi said patiently. “Is because I’ve never seen you aggressively rush to defend someone else like that. You were defensive about your past because it mattered a lot to you.”

“I think you’re reading waaay too much into this,” Rosa rolled her eyes. “Maybe you should stick to the wolf stuff instead of psychoanalyzing me.”

“If I’d done that, you’d probably still be out in the mountains hunting manticores,” Capi smiled.

“Well what’s your point then? Or are you just going to tease around it all day.”

“I think the reason you’re so quick to defend Cat is because she’s an important part of your life now.”

“Of course, she’s important.” Rosa said. “We hang out every day, we train together, and we’re working together on this mission.”

“That could be said of Hildegard,” Capi said. “And me too, in a way.”

“And I’d react in the same way.”

“Would you?”

“Oh, come on,” Rosa rolled her eyes. “What do you want me to say, Capi? Why do you always need to give me the runaround like this?”

“I just think, from all I’ve heard and everything you’ve said,” Capi was still smiling. “That Cat is a bit more special to you than others. You certainly know her better than most.”

“I just know her well because she’s dumb like that,” Rosa said. “Hard to forget her biggest fault.”

“And that’s why? That’s the only reason?”

Rosa folded her arms, staring down Capi for a moment. “…seriously Capi, why are you bugging me about this?”

Capi smiled, her tail listing from side to side. “Because,” she said. “I want to make sure that you go off to war without regrets, and that if you have anything you want to say to Cat, you say it.”

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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