Claudia jumps up on the bank and takes off running. Jasper runs as fast he can, following her same path. Out of fear, he crouches his head down as he barrels through the snow. Stealing a look behind him he catches sight of at least one man.
OK, one man. I can take one man out, no problem.
Claudia is much farther ahead of Jasper and she looks back to see what’s happening behind her. She starts zigzagging her running a bit, prompting Jasper to do the same. They run deeper into the thicker part of the forest, using the trees to protect their backs from flying blades, or bullets.
Almost as soon as the idea of using the trees for protection enters Jasper’s mind, gunshots are being fired. Bullets hit the ground behind Jasper, the trees around him. He flinches with each fire and pushes himself to run faster. He looks up to spot Claudia, but cannot see her.
Oh my god. Where is she? Did she get hit?
Jasper continues running, hoping he will find Claudia behind each tree he comes up on. The panic rises in his chest. The uncertainty of what his next move should be takes over his body.
Stay focused. You can use the trees.
Shots are still being fired, but Jasper is now in tunnel vision focus. He sees ahead a clump of three of four trees standing side by side. Jasper knows this will be the advantage he takes in this chase. As he runs to the left of the patch of trees, he grabs his knives out of their sheaths resting on either side of his hips. Once he is behind the group of trees, he swivels his body around to face the direction in which he came, waiting for his pursuers to arrive.
Please, no more than three. No more than three.
Jasper can hear his first pursuer approaching; his labored breathing and heavy footsteps. A couple more seconds and he will run past the tree, right in line for Jasper to attack.
One. Two. Three. Jasper counts down to his attack.
The man must not have seen Jasper hide behind the clump, so as he runs past the tree he is taken by surprise. Jasper throws his first knife.
“OH!” The taller of the two men cries out.
The knife lands in the man’s shoulder. As he grabs at the knife, he swivels to look at Jasper, his face shown with bewilderment. Jasper leaps towards him and places a hand over the man’s mouth and pulls him down into the snowy ground, behind the trees. The man struggles and grunts at Jasper, trying to break free. When he bites Jasper’s hand, Jasper socks the man in the side of his skull, knocking him out.
Right as he pulls his bitten, bloody hand back, the shorter of the two men runs past the tree. The man passes them, but catches sight of them out of the corner of his eye. The man jumps behind another tree, taking cover and grabbing his gun out.
Jasper’s good throwing hand is now mangled, so he jumps up, moves backwards to find another tree to hide behind.
“Ahh!” The shorter of the two men yells out.
What? Oh no. Claudia...
Gunfire goes off. Three or four shots are fired before Jasper runs towards where the man went hiding.
As he turns the corner, knife held tightly in his left hand, he sees the man fall forward, head straight into the snow; a knife handle protruding from the top of his head.
Oh my god.
Jasper looks up into the tree and sees a small retreating girl, huddled on a branch.
“Claudia. Are you ok?” He asks.
She shakes her head slightly up and down.
“Why don’t you climb down, so we can get out of here.”
She doesn’t answer, instead, she makes her slow obeisant descent.
While she climbs down, Jasper is swift to pull both blades out of the two men, wiping them clean on the men’s trousers. He sheaths his own knife and holds onto Claudia’s till she’s ready to take it back. He checks the pulse on each man. The man he punched in the side of the head has a pulse, but the other man he could not find one.
Claudia climbs down on the opposite side of the tree from where the man lies, face down in the snow. She does not want to look at Jasper in the eyes and her shoulders are slumped forward. Her overall demeanor speaks of distraught unsettlement. Jasper feels bad about how poorly she is reacting to what passed but grateful for her action.
“We’ve got to keep moving, OK? There could be more of them coming this way, and we cannot take the chance of a larger group attacking,” Jasper tells her.
Claudia just nods her head slightly up and down while staring into the snow. Jasper rests a hand on her shoulder, which she flinches under, but doesn’t remove his hand.
“Thank you. You helped save my life with what you did,” he says.
She raises her eyes to meet his. They look at each other for a few seconds before continuing their journey. Claudia’s eyes hold a deep sadness and numbness to them, Jasper reflects.
Now, we need to gain distance between us and them if we want a chance at surviving this.