“Not like that,” Sylvie said. “You want to tighten your stance. You’ve got too many openings.”
“Can’t I just scratch wildly at the enemy until they get turned to shreds?” Lilac asked.
“Not if you want to survive,” Sylvie said. “You need focus, control. You need to learn to take the defensive. To wait for an opening or to force the enemy’s hand to create one. When the time comes, you need to strike quickly and accurately. Here, watch me.”
Sylvie took the hastily constructed wooden practice bagh nakh and took a defensive position. She carefully circled the training dummy, launched some quick jabs with her right arm, keeping the left in a protective position. She finished by rolling forward and giving the dummy a slashing uppercut.
“You think a defensive style is the way to go?” Inés asked.
Sylvie looked back at her. “The idea is to keep Echidna’s children at bay, correct? A defence focused style will allow Miss Ristin to do that with less risk to herself.” She handed the training bagh nakh back to Lilac. “Try it like that.”
“All right,” Lilac said. She looked down at her feet. “So, I put them like this? Then I bring the weapons like this…”
“That’s better,” Sylvie encouraged. She looked at Inés and Serena. “So, what do you two need?”
“Athena dropped off some weapons for Lilac and Wilfred to choose from,” Inés reported. “She also mentioned something about a ‘frenzied queen.’ Ring any bells?”
“Frenzied Queen?” Sylvie muttered. “I think I read a poem that mentioned her once.”
“Did you?” Inés asked. “So, what did it say about her?”
“Not much,” Sylvie said. “It was listing great warriors. Her verses went something like ‘and from a distant land she set sail. All the people for her to hail. Came the frenzied queen in daylight. Her foes to be buried by night.’ That was all there was about her.”
“Doesn’t really help,” Serena said.
“Why did Athena mention her any way?” Sylvie asked.
“I guess she’s my sister,” Inés said. “Athena warned me to stay away from her.”
“And you’re curious about why,” Sylvie observed.
“Wouldn’t you be?” Inés asked.
“I suppose I would at that,” Sylvie said. “You will heed her warning?”
“Of course,” Inés said. “I am still her priestess. But I would still like to know why.”
“Maybe Jenna knows,” Serena suggested. “She did say that she had spent over a century walking among mortals.”
“Good thinking!” Inés said. “Let’s go find her and Wilfred.”
“You really have no experience fighting,” Jenna said. “How do you live nearly a hundred years without ever learning how to fight?”
“Madame,” Wilfred said. “I have always viewed violence as the preferred problem solving method of the immature and unintelligent.”
“Really hard to believe you’re a son of Ares,” Jenna said. She shrugged. “Well, you’re strong. So you should stand a good chance of getting through this. If you’ll work with the rest of us and put some effort into training.” She turned around. “Hello, Cousin. What can I do for you?”
“Athena brought some weapons for Lilac and Wilfred to use,” Inés reported. “I also wanted to see if you knew anything about the ‘frenzied queen?'”
“I know of her,” Jenna answered. “She was a bit before my time. Supposedly, she ruled the Empire of Ocanila with an iron fist. Under her rule, they conquered and expanded at an alarming rate. Those kingdoms that resisted were razed. Stories say that she fought on the front lines personally but was never even injured. Until she went to bathe ion the ocean and was dragged under by a freak wave. After that Ocanila went into decline. They lost territory and, eventually, got absorbed by a larger kingdom.”
“A conqueror, huh,” Inés muttered.
“More than that,” Wilfred said. “Sorry, but I have studied the rise and fall of Ocanila. the frenzied queen was said to be a brutal, depraved woman. Any who opposed her were tortured in public displays for her amusement. Some accounts even claim that those tortured didn’t have to oppose her and that some of the victims were servants who hadn’t done their duties according to her standards. She had a large harem. Every time she took a new city, kingdom or village she’d line up the citizens and take any man, woman or child who pleased her as a part of it. All surviving accounts from those within her harem agree that, while they were treated relatively well, they lived in fear. Any one of them who was unfaithful to her would be tortured to death. Any she grew tired of would either be sent to one of the outlying parts of the kingdom or killed. Depending on how long she’d enjoyed their company.”
“That actually reminds me of something,” Jenna said. “There was a story about one of her relatives being a part of her harem, wasn’t there?”
“Her mother,” Wilfred answered. “The first person who she took into her harem. At least by a couple accounts.”
“She put her own mother and children in her harem?” Serena asked. “But… that’s…”
“Despicable,” Inés finished.
“Why do you want to know about the frenzied queen any way?” Jenna asked.
“Oh, I heard she was in another group,” Inés said. “Guess she’s a daughter of the Gods too.”
“I’d hate to be in her group,” Jenna said.
“I’m torn,” Wilfred said. “While it seems unlikely that she’s anything approaching pleasant, it would be interesting to speak with one of history’s great villains.”
“Well, head to the outpost and pick out your weapon when you finish training,” Inés said. “Let’s go, Serena.”
Serena looked back, waiting for Jenna and Wilfred to be out of sight. “Are you okay?” she asked.
Inés shrugged. “Well, I know why Athena warned me away from her. It is kind of hard to imagine myself related to someone like that, though.”
“I know,” Serena agreed. “You’re so kind and noble. She’s so… not.”
Inés laughed. “Hey, you don’t have to flatter me. Whatever she is, she’s got nothing to do with me. I didn’t even know she existed until just a couple hours ago. Her crimes were centuries before I was born. I’ll just listen to Athena and keep away from her.”
“Right,” Serena nodded. “But if you need to talk, I’ll be right here for you.” She reached forward and gently clasped Inés’ hand. They continued on their way. Hand in hand.