14.0 War Never Changes…

by Matt P.


Walter was almost prepared for how fast Ninja Grandpa was. Having his hands on iron helped, and having seen more Faeries fighting helped—especially Morgan and Tania, who blew the Ninja Grandpa away with their skill and speed. Of course he wasn’t anywhere in their league either, but the experience at least helped him prepare.

The fact that the young man attacked very predictably didn’t hurt either. He lunged right for Walter with rage on his face, far beyond simply indignation. He had been called out in front of people whose support he desperately wanted, possibly even needed, and he was prepared to grind the person who had done it in to dust.

Hooray, I got him to want to kill me, Walter thought, but now he’s trying to kill me! Walter swept his one of his knives in the way to deflect the white-haired man’s attack, and quickly stepped forward. Ninja Grandpa’s momentum kept him from stopping immediately, which left Walter on his exposed flank. Walter lashed out with his blade as fast as he could, trying to end the fight quickly by driving it between the Faerie’s ribs; unfortunately the other man turned too quickly. The kid had apparently been practicing some, or was just that angry, because Walter was pretty sure that would have been a killing blow the first time they met.

Still the slice opened up a long line of red in the other man’s side, and he cried out in pain. Walter tried to step in to press his advantage, but Ninja Grandpa stepped back too quick away and out of range. He hissed, holding his hand to his side as if it burned while he considered Walter with rage in his eyes.

“You’re young,” Walter said to him, echoing their earlier conversation as the other man held a hand to his side that came away with blood. “This is your first war, isn’t it?” Walter watched the flicker in the man’s—the young man’s—eyes. “You’ve got what…centuries to look forward to, a thousand years to live? Morgan—Mab, whatever—is seven hundred.” Walter’s eyes flicked down to the blood on his knife, and then back up to the man’s. “I’ve been a young man at war, son. You look at me and see a mortal, but you should see an old man in a game where lot’s of men die young. You choose to walk away and you can see all those centuries; you fight me and I will find some way to end you, I promise.” His voice wasn’t angry or raging, just quietly serious. He tried to give it the weight of authority of someone who had seen more blood and death even in a human lifespan than this young man could imagine, and from the hesitation he saw it looked like it had landed. In the moment when there was softness and fear in the man’s eyes, Walter couldn’t help but shake the image of a lost teenager in over their head; of Antigone or Siobhan without someone to guide or help them.

That cracked something in Walter’s heart, that terrifying moment of comparison. Who knew why the man had signed up. Maybe it was knowing, maybe it wasn’t—but no one really knew what they were signing up for in a war until they had fought it. He had done terrible things, murders if he was a part of the Three Stripes killings, and maybe worse; but that look in his eyes was lost and alone. They said that war never changed, and he had seen enough to know it was true; it was always lost men and boys in the fields of mud and sand with guns and terror and death. And Walter couldn’t bring himself to kill another confused child in a man’s body lost in war, clinging to any raft of sanity or explanation in the churning and blood soaked tides.

Shit, Walter thought. Now I have to beat him without killing him.

Then the look in the other man’s eyes hardened, and he put on what to Walter was very teenage liking sneer. “Oh I’ll see centuries, old man, don’t you worry.” He came forward again this time, but now he was more cautious—he’d seen what happened when he charged in recklessly. He did have training, it just wasn’t as extensive as it could be. He moved smoothly in for a moment, but then he jerked suddenly to one side as if second guessing his own movements. Walter recognized it as the young man’s brain getting in his own way, and watched for it as he backed away. They danced across the main courtyard of the school and on to the grass while the full on Faerie battle ranged on behind them, not crossing blades as they gauged one another.

Don’t watch the head, the grizzled Sergeant who had taught Walter advanced knife-fighting had said, ‘cause you lie with your mouth and your mouth’s in your head. And shoulders can lie because they’re tricky. But a man doesn’t lie with his hips. Of course, when Walter had questioned what was so tricky about shoulders, he had gotten thumped—the peril of unofficial, extra-curricular training was slightly older methods of discipline.

Walter saw Ninja Grandpa’s hips move, and then the man was a blur of motion. His knife came for Walter’s throat, and only the fact that he had known exactly when the attack was beginning saved his life, as the knife ended up raking across his shoulder. Burning pain spread from the site of the wound, but he was already moving for his own improvised plan of attack. He was dropping down, almost falling to the ground really, and dropping the extra knife he had picked up. He put his hand on to the back of his now solo knife as he fell, to drive it home deep in to the grass.

But not before it pierced the leather of Ninja Grandpa’s shoe, and straight through his foot. It sunk in until the hilt was pushing down the top of the leather boot, and the blade was deep in to the dirt like a tent stake. The young man howled in absolute agony, shock driven from his face by pain. But Walter wasn’t done.

All of his momentum had been spent driving the knife down in to the other man’s foot, so there was nothing to put in to a spin or pivot to gain momentum. But he was significantly lower, kneeling where Ninja Grandpa was standing at his six foot full height. So Walter went up instead of around, getting both of his legs fully underneath him and pushing up as hard as possible. As his body pulled up he brought his arm into a loose curl, and pivoted his hips. The uppercut plowed into Ninja Grandpa’s chin like a run-away train, every ounce of power and every minute of training Walter had ever received going in to that one blow. He felt bone crack and shatter, and he was certain that at least some of it was in his own hand as well as the other man’s jaw. The sound of splitting bones filled the air of the courtyard, followed by two separate screams of pain.

Ninja Grandpa fell to the ground still screaming in agony, until Walter reached out and grabbed his other knife, and whipped him across the face with the flat of the blade. Two times did the trick, and the other man slumped against the soft grass unconscious, his red blood making a pattern like macabre Christmas decorations against dying grass. But he was breathing.

Walter looked up at the men who had come with Ninja Grandpa, who stared in shock. “I win; who wants to be next?” He asked, advancing on them slowly. They stared at him, splattered with blood and with grim determination etched in to his face. Whatever spell it was his visage cast on them lasted long enough.

The Border, P.D. crashed into the courtyard in vehicles with sirens blaring, and hit one of them with their car.