Sweat stung her eyes as Nya swung the sword around, just in time to block Rok’s steel blade. The reverberation shook all the way up her arm, but she didn’t have time to let the ache distract her as Rok was bringing the sword around again, this time from the other direction. The tip of the blade almost caught her underneath the chin, but she managed to jump back, raising her arms and shoulders to make herself smaller in the middle. The blade flew up into the air, missing her, but it wasn’t headed away from her for long. Rok was relentless, swiveling around in a full circle and bringing his sword along, ready to cut her in the middle. She was wearing a metal chest plate, but most of her body was exposed, and if Rok were to catch her in the arm, leg, or head, she would be sorry. She had enough scars from the last eight months of training with him that she knew that would be the case.

“Concentrate!” Rok barked at her as he almost caught her again and she had to dodge back out of the way again. She was on the defense, and she needed to get herself back into position to attack him again.

She wasn’t concentrating; he was right. When she was focused, she could see all of the movements before Rok, or any other opponent she may face, made them. She could anticipate the swing of the sword, the kick of a leg, a step in her direction. But today, her focus was off, and she knew why.

It was a Dragon Moon--just not for their kingdom. Rather, the kingdom directly to their north, Hightower, would be forced to make the sacrifice that night. Every time a Dragon Moon rolled around, Nya found it difficult to concentrate, even when it wasn’t her kingdom who would choose someone to be taken by the dragon. Just the idea that the bastard would be flying through the sky, filling the air with shrieks and fire, claiming another innocent life. Even if it wasn’t a citizen from Frindom, it was a person who would be dead soon enough, someone who was blameless, and that wasn’t right. 

The only one who should be dead was the dragon himself.

And if Nya had anything to do about it, he would be.

But not that night. She wasn’t strong enough yet. In the months that Rok had been training her, she’d gotten better with a sword. He’d brought in several soldiers for her to train against, and she had done well against them, even when they’d come at her in pairs or threes, but Rok was the strongest opponent she would ever face, and on a day like today, when she wasn’t focused, it was even harder than usual to keep up with him. On days like today, she thought there was a good chance he would end up killing her.

He couldn’t do that, though, as much as she thought he wanted to sometimes. Because, then her father would find out he’d been training her, and Rok would be in trouble, something he didn’t like at all. He was doing all of this behind the king’s back. Why, she had no idea, but she appreciated it just the same.

At first, she’d thought it was because he liked a challenge, and he thought she wouldn’t be able to do it. Maybe he thought he might kill her, and then he could cover it up and call it an accident. But the more he trained her, the more he began to see that she was good, that she was strong, and that he could make a warrior out of her. When she told him that she could sometimes sense his movements before they were made, he had raised his eyebrows at her, but he hadn’t tried to tell her that was impossible. Instead, he’d encouraged her to use that power to her advantage.

It wasn’t just when she was fighting Rok that she could catch glimpses of the future, though. Several times during the day, she’d see a flicker of a picture in her mind right before something happened. It was never too far into the future, usually just a minute or two, but it was often clear, and it never changed.

She’d often wondered if there was a way she could change the future if she saw something in time. For example, if she saw a servant about to spill a glass, and she moved the glass, would she avoid the accident to begin with, or would it happen anyway?

At the moment, she didn’t have time to think about it because Rok was closing in on giving her another scar, and she didn’t need that. She blocked another blow and then moved all other thoughts from her mind and tried to visualize only Rok’s sword.

She saw it then, a second before he moved, she saw what he was going to do, moving her weapon in front of his to block every blow. Then, once she had him moving backward, she was able to get him off balance. He stumbled a few times, catching himself before he fell, but Nya knew she had him now. With one more commanding blow, she hit his sword near the handle. He lost his grip, and the blade flew up into the air. Seeing its trajectory before it fell, Nya stepped over to where it would land, and snatched it out of the air, crossing both blades and holding them near Rok’s throat.

She glared at him for a moment and then relaxed, lowering the weapons. There was a time when she might’ve actually considered slashing the man’s throat, she hated him so much. But now, since he had been training her for so long, she had a new respect for him. She wouldn’t say she liked him, but she did understand him more.

“Well done, Nya,” Rok said. “You are getting close to being strong enough to move to the next level of training.”

“Next level of training?” she repeated, her brow furrowed. “What do you mean?” She thought she was almost ready to go after the dragon, but the way he said it, she thought he meant there would be a lot more training before she was ready to face the dragon.

“Yes, of course. You didn’t think you were ready to face him did you? Nya, I am a man. He is a fire breathing dragon. There’s no way in the world that you’re going to survive more than a few seconds in front of that creature unless you learn to be much faster. You will also have to learn to use a shield.”

Everything he said made perfect sense to her, but the last thing she wanted to do was admit she wasn’t ready, that she needed to put off her attack on the dragon to complete more training.

Feeling defeated, her emotions overcame her, but Nya was determined not to cry, not in front of Rok, not at all if she could push it down inside. She hadn’t cried in so long… not since Gavin was taken from her. She wasn’t about to start now--was she?

As her face fell, and tears formed in her eyes, Rok’s firm hand came down on her shoulder. “I will not let you do this yet, Princess. Before you can go, you must be ready. It is for your own good. And the good of the kingdom.”

She nodded, knowing he was right. If she went out there now, or any time soon, the dragon would fry her, and then, Gavin would never be avenged. No, she would need to do more training, the kind Rok had described. And that would take time. Time she didn’t want to invest, time she didn’t want to spend with nothing else to think about except for facing that dragon, but time she would need to let pass if she was going to defeat him.

And she would defeat him--one way or another.

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