The Price of Victory

Here’s a short story I wrote for an assignment, that’s been graded, so I can now post online without worrying about it being considered plagiarism of myself… Makes no sense. I know… Enjoy!

~*~*~*~

The Price of Victory

Katania leant against her maul, her breathing heavy and undignified. She was battered and bruised, and practically painted in her own blood. The wounds had healed over her coal-black skin, but the exhaustion remained. She had reached her limits, and needed to rest.

Valerie didn’t care.

They stood on the outskirts of a forest on a hill overlooking a small village. Valerie had long since lost count of how many villages they had crossed, and quite frankly didn’t care as long as Katania produced results. The hours had turned to days, but Valerie was still not satisfied. Not when she looked at her sister and saw her nearly collapsing from such a light warm up. The real training had yet to begin.

“The village isn’t going to destroy itself. Go,” Valerie said.

Katania gave her second oldest sister a look so brief that mortal eyes would have missed. Childish defiance filled them, and Valerie held back her grin at the thought of beating that out of her. Her baby sister—somewhere around 250-years-old, but Valerie didn’t really know or care—had stopped talking back, so she wasn’t a completely lost cause. But her work ethic was terrible, and Valerie was doing her damned best to at least beat that into her. After all, not all the dried blood and bruises on her body was the work of their enemies.

Katania stood up straight, holding onto her hammer with both hands. Without needing Valerie to tell her twice, she ran down the hill towards the village. Valerie watched as it took Katania seconds to bring about the first of the screams. Valerie would have been done by now, but once the screams and madness did start, Valerie looked on with glee as huts collapsed one after another, under the swings of Katania’s hammer. Fast and efficient. Men and women and children; all crushed and broken as she brought her hammer down, sparing no one. Try as they might to run, they were all just so slow. Even in Katania’s pitiful state, she was able to easily catch up to mere humans. Smashing limbs, turning brains to mush, and sending bodies flying.

It didn’t take too long for Katania to finish up. Valerie would have had a few choice words with her, if it had. Katania stood in the square of the little village, by a fountain centreing what used to be a market, and she moved her mouth with silent incantations; a wave of hellish flames washed over the entire village, setting alight to everything and swiftly melting it all, indiscriminately. Buildings, people, the sandy terrain. And Katania stood in the centre of the molten ground, their next battleground, unaffected, choosing now to rest, using her maul as a crutch, again.

“What are you doing?” Valerie said, knowing she would hear, despite the distance between them.

Valerie didn’t get an answer and wouldn’t get one any time soon, as the centre of a large cloud parted, and white light shone down from above. Back when this little training exercise had started, Valerie thought it amusing how the “almighty” and “benevolent” God had kept sending his soldiers to them to be slaughtered. But after quickly losing count of how many villages they had razed, it had swiftly become a bore, as it was evident that these angels were the worst of the worst, even with Katania deteriorating every fight. Katania needed a challenge, a real life-threatening fight to really push her. At this point Valerie would have made a better opponent to train with.

“If you have time to laze around, you have time to fight.”

And this was no time to be lazing around. Descending from the blinding light in the clouds were five beings with wings of pure, feathery white. Golden halos crowned their heads, and Valerie had to fold her arms to resist the urge to draw her sword, and make those halos come crashing to the ground.

Besides, this was not her fight. This was not her training session, and if it were, five measly angels wouldn’t be able to make her break even a single bead of sweat. Valerie just couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps their superior was still underestimating the power of the demonic duo.

“Make this quick, sister,” Valerie called out. Katania stood in the centre of the molten pool that used to be a village, still using her hammer as a crutch, still panting as if she had no energy left, still not taking this seriously.

“Begone vile demon!” Wow… warnings. They apparently still hadn’t learned their lesson. The angels descended down in a V formation, and the one at the head of the group was the one who spoke, his deep voice piercing Valerie’s ears. They were all clad in full silver armour, armed with golden swords and shields. Valerie couldn’t help but wonder if they had ever held their weapons against someone else.

The angels remained a good distance in the air, keeping the aerial advantage, but Valerie guessed they just didn’t want to get to close to the ground, and burn their wings off. Either way, Katania finally lifted her head up, and took her maul in both hands, ready to deal with her new training dummies.

“Shut up and fight me,” she said, and her hammer began burning with its demonic purple flames. Katania was breathing heavily, but it still took some effort on Valerie’s part not to smile at her little sister’s confidence.

It happened in an instant, but Valerie still caught it all. The two angels at the two ends of the formation both charged forward, fast enough to leave no room for error on Katania’s part. Golden swords swinging at her from two sides, Katania jumped a few feet off the ground, and lashed out with her tail. It hit nothing, but she wasn’t aiming for any of them. At least Valerie hoped not. No, her tail sprayed venom into the air, that rained down, and their formation fell apart, as they frantically tried to escape the corroding venom of a demon princess.

In their panic, Katania flew at one of the separated angels, and swung her hammer overhead with such speed and ease, one would have thought it weighed less than a feather. But Katania was strong, and the hammer was heavy, so when the devastating blow of her impure weapon connected with the skull of the pure being, it was sent hurtling to the ground. Lava mist spurted up from where the angel crashed into the hellish pool, and it was safe to assume that was one angel down.

A shriek made Valerie wince slightly, and, watching from the safe distance upon the hill, she could see that one of the angels had been caught in the rain of venom, and was falling. Never mind what the venom touched, the hellfire-tainted ground consumed the angel, setting it alight.

Katania didn’t seem to pay any mind to it as she flew at the three remaining, now having regrouped, their new formation just a small wall. And as Katania readied her first swing as she approached, they flew at her, too. There was a flurry of blows, and ridiculous parrying from Katania and her maul, of all weapons. But she was putting on a clear and undeniable display of superiority, not letting a single slash or thrust hit her. Valerie expected nothing less from a demon princess. She would tolerate nothing less from her sister.

Valerie shut her eyes and sighed through her nose. This was pathetic. Seriously pathetic. It was harder on Katania when she faced off against a single angel. Now they were just sending the useless filth they must have wanted destroyed. They weren’t skilled. They weren’t experienced, and most importantly for Valerie, they weren’t stealthy. She could track their rancid stench a mile off.

She leant a little to the side, as an arrow came flying  past from behind her. She ducked as another came immediately after, shooting for her head. And she spun on her heel, drawing her sword and slashed at the third arrow aimed at  her heart.

Why must they draw her into a fight that was not her own?

Valerie spent little time pondering this as she raced back into the forest. She couldn’t see her attacker, and as arrows came seemingly from all directions, homing in on her, it was clear to her that it was trying to stay hidden. She was more focused on the fact that this poorly hidden annoyance was distracting her from watching her sister train, than paying any mind to the assault. She followed the scent, slashing at some of the arrows, and using the trees to intercept others. In little time, Valerie caught sight of a lone armoured angel with a bow, notching his next arrow. Slow. So slow. So painfully slow that this couldn’t have been considered training at all. Even for Katania.

Valerie was on the angel in an instant, clutching his throat in her claws and squeezing. Grunting and struggling in futility, the angel grabbed hold of Valerie’s hand, as she lifted him up off the ground. She hadn’t dealt with all of the arrows, but as they homed in on her, she used the angel as a makeshift shield, moving him about like a ragdoll, as she used it to intercept the last three arrows, all from different directions. To its credit, it didn’t cry out too loudly as it was pierced with its own arrows. Holding the angel in the air by the neck, the two blankly stared at one another. It knew its time was up. Valerie tightened her grip around its neck, sheathing her sword with her other hand, so she could clutch from under its chin and tear its head clean off.

“Cowardly,” Valerie muttered under her breath, as blood splattered on her face. “Useless.” She threw the head against the trunk of a tree, unable to mask the building irritation. “Pointless.” She drew her sword again, and swung at a nearby tree. It slowly fell to the ground, but the simple swing of her dark blade had rotted the trees around her, and it was spreading out, as far as she could see. “I dare you to keep underestimating us.” A quiet challenge to the angels’ master.

The fighting had stopped. Valerie could not hear the clashes of weapons, and she re-entered the clearing in time to see Katania bring her hammer down, with another overhead swing, upon the last remaining angel, sending him crashing to the molten earth mercilessly. She was getting better, despite the exhaustion, and the terrible opponents. That much was perfectly clear…

But Valerie had missed it. Katania turned to look down at Valerie, her eyes half open, her chest heaving, her inability to fly back down in a straight line speaking volumes. She landed, or rather fell in front of Valerie, face down on the ground.

“Sister,” Valerie warned.

No answer.

“Katania,” Valerie pushed.

Heavy panting.

One second was too much. Two was an insult. But to make her wait three…

Valerie’s left eye twitched, and her hand instinctively went for her sword, but she stopped herself. “You say you want to be a warrior, but you lie at my feet like a wounded hound?”

Katania clutched the dirt under her hands, and lifted her head some, but didn’t look up at her sister. “Just let me rest for—”

The kick Valerie delivered to her little sister’s ribs would have broken a lesser being easily. But if Katania wanted to fight, she wasn’t allowed to be weak.

The kick had launched the young demon into the air, and sent her flying in an arc, falling far across the other side of the burned village. Valerie definitely felt something break in Katania as she kicked her. Katania hit the ground with such a glorious thud. Along with the dust that kicked up around her there was no holding back the laughter Valerie burst into. Her little sister lay motionless on the ground, save for the very slight movements of her breathing, and it felt like the smile on Valerie’s face was never going to leave.

Valerie jumped in the air and swiftly closed much of the distance, in a single leap. On the other side of the destroyed village, she slowly walked over towards her baby sister, going over in her head how much more she thought Katania could take, and feeling content with herself when she figured far, far more.

“Get up, little sister,” Valerie said.

Truly, this time, there was no response.

“I thought you wanted to be a warrior, dear little sister.”

Valerie’s laughter intensified at the thought, more so when she recalled the determination in Katania’s eyes when she asked the favour of her. Naïve. Naïve and stupid. Gutsy, too. But just childish foolishness. But Valerie liked the idea of putting her to the test, if only because it gave her the opportunity to discipline her, and mold her into the perfect puppet. Her right hand girl. Second best to her, but better than the rest of their sisters. That was an opportunity too good to give up.

Standing over her still motionless sister, Valerie just stared. She was good. For a child, she was damn good, and as Valerie’s laughter died out, she was left just smiling as she imagined what would become of Katania in the future. It was… She was…

Valerie didn’t have a word for what she felt, but it was warm, yet sickening and came from deep within herself, putting a swift end to her reverie. She put on a sinister snarl, masking all traces of that unsettling feeling. She knelt down by Katania, and rolled her onto her back, so she could place her hands over her sister’s chest, mouthing silent incantations to herself. Once she finished, and stood up straight again, Katania slowly opened her maroon eyes, her’s finding Valerie’s.

“Get up,” Valerie said.

Katania slowly and shakily rose to her feet. Her balance was appalling, and Valerie was incredibly close to punching her back to the ground again, just so she could rise back up in a less disgraceful manner. But she was listening to her. Despite the earlier attitude, she really was doing as Valerie had told her, as best as she could. Or, at least as best as she believed she could. That warm feeling emerged again, and Valerie almost growled in an attempt to scare it away. Katania was doing as much as she believed she could, but what she believed meant nothing. She was underachieving. She could do better. Of this, Valerie was certain.

“We’re not done,” Valerie said, as she walked away towards the closest settlement of humans she could smell.

Without a word, Katania fell into step beside her big sister.

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