Beneficial to all, as long as both come back

If she injured Saoirse then there would be one less hunter to bring in food at this critical juncture. That didn’t make Toiréasa hesitate. If she was better, than that would be her job.

Her feint was read. Saoirse followed up with her own, which didn’t fool Toiréasa for a second. They continued their exchange of feints and parries for thirty seconds before they were both satisfied.

“Be back by nightfall with as many kerit as you can carry,” Toiréasa proclaimed. “I will have brought more.”

There was something about Saoirse’s smirk, the hint of teeth there, that caused a new rush of energy inside Toiréasa not caused by their bout.

“I’d like to see you try.”

Toiréasa signaled for the beast to stay. The Gévaudan wasn’t happy about that, but left her to her own devices. As one, both women turned to prepare.

Who could possibly lose in this?

“Mom! Look at me!”

She did, then looked back at her phone. Still no response. “Bet you can’t go higher.”

“Bet I can!”

She put her phone back in her pocket. “Not higher than me, little runt! Race you!”

He had a head start, but he was also a child with short limbs and she had been climbing all over things since she was his age. And she had never stopped. Being an adult had never stopped her.

She passed the treehouse about the time he reached it and pulled herself up to the branches above it. Finding a good place, the only place, to perch her butt, she waited for him to catch up with her. Panting, he tried to find a good place too, but without one she pulled him into her lap.

“Beat ya.”

He shook his head and stood up. She rearranged her legs, balancing perfectly. He reached up into the air. “Higher than you.”

She laughed. “What? Imagine that. Brat.” She nuzzled the side of his face. He laughed, unable to keep his hands up above her head for very long. Not that it mattered. Who had really lost?


The growl escaped him unintentionally, but he knew the instant it happened. As did his fellow gamer, who looked thrilled about his loss of temper, as they always did.

“Not in control now, are you?”

He didn’t deign to respond, because it was true. If just for the sound, not for the game. But saying otherwise would be a rapid loss of control and that was what they were waiting for. He focused on the screen, wondering when their co-op mode had turned into some sort of competition. Not that he was surprised, he just wished he had been more on point for when it had. Losing wasn’t an option for him. At least, not one he wanted to accept.

The occasional chuckle from them was his only clue as to how well they were doing. He could glance over, but he knew they were waiting for that, if just to pick up all of the loot and run off ahead. With gritted teeth, he kept his focus on his character and moved onward.


“You wish.”

When he won, it was by a few points as their scores tallied up in front of the both of them. He felt the tension melt from him as he glanced over at them.

They grinned back at him. “Not too shabby. It’s almost as though you didn’t lose your temper for a moment then.”

It took little effort to fight back a similar retort, instead smiling back smoothly with a very pleasant expression. “What temper?”

They still laughed, but he didn’t mind.

At least now he was in control.

On this day

“This is it,” she began, addressing her rivals. “In a few moments, the competition will begin. We’ll be focused on only our own progress and you’ll stop thinking, hey, she doesn’t have the stomach for this. Because I’ll be done and you’ll still be slogging through the rest of the tin. I have trained for this. Victory will be mine this day.”

Then the starting bell sounded and she smashed her face into her pie.