Chapter 17

Kendahl was still looking frantically for a way inside the temple. He had given up the idea of trying to get his blast pistol back from the natives, as he was certain they would just apprehend him again. Instead, he was painstakingly checking every crevice for a lever or device that would let him get inside. He had made two complete passes and could not find any other entrance besides the one that had swallowed Traci. But there had to be another way in. He was sure of it.

He almost lost his balance and fell from the causeway when he saw Traci walk out from around a corner, headed for the ramp.

“Traci!” he called. But the wind was picking up, and she might not be able to hear him. He called out again and ran to where Rutherford was still examining the mural. “Come on,” he said. “We’ve got to find out what happened to her.”

As Traci marched carefully but steadily down the causeway, Kendahl saw one of the young Iranahar warriors step forward with a spear in his hands. Fearing for Traci’s safety, he quickened his run but slipped on a patch of ice, nearly spilling over the side of the causeway.

Traci watched the warrior come. The young man was simply playing his part in the drama of the prophecy. Now that Traci had been inside the temple, they were expecting her to have been “magically” healed. In a way, they were right. If they had seen the inside of the temple, they would have sworn it was occupied by the spirits of dead men and women.

Aside from her physical injuries, Traci had suffered a severe emotional decay that she hadn’t even recognized. For years it had been steadily eating away at her from inside. She was still able to function and give command decisions--barely, since they were often erratic, dangerous, and faulty. She knew she was better than that, and now she would be back in her element. There was an enemy to defeat, and she was equal to the task.

The young man slowed as he approached and began to circle her, looking for an opening. She rotated the katana sheath slightly to make it readily available to her right hand. But she did not reach for the sword yet.

He saw what he believed was a point of attack and thrust his spear at her. In one smooth motion, Traci slid back her left foot and pivoted, arcing the sword out of its sheath with one smooth movement. The end of the spear struck air and was cleanly cut from the shaft, but Traci did not wait for his reaction. In one fluid motion, she dropped the sword and, lunging forward, threw her weight into him, sending him stumbling backward across the leg left unbalanced by his thrust. That feeling of falling is unmistakable, and his body’s reflexes took over. He could no more control what happened next than summon the moon from the sky.

Traci pivoted on her right foot and swept him in an arc around her body to land him face-first in the snow. She kept his arm locked using her right knee while she rested her weight on his back with her left knee. His spear arm was now uselessly pinned beneath him. Casually, she reached back and took the sword from the snow and laid it across his neck.

For a moment, she thought he might try to struggle, but he merely cried out. By now, Rutherford and Kendahl were near enough to hear what he said.

“It is done. You are the warrior princess once more,” Rutherford quietly translated for him.

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