I move through the shadows cast by the leaves. Sunlight rarely catches me and I instinctively move into deeper darkness for the concealment it offers. I know the attack is coming swiftly. I know I will be beset on all sides as I fight all four at once.
April is ahead, her head cocked to one side as she listens to the sound of the trees around us. They give so much information if you know what to listen for. The slight tread of our pursuers, the shivers in the breeze as I sense Leo suddenly, close.
He's gotten ahead of me, I don't know how.
I move to the right at once, sensing Mikey from that direction but his skills are not as refined as Leo's. I'll take Mikey over Leo any day in a fight. Raph is closing in from behind me and Don from the other side, all moving as one towards me.
I sense movement and a fight from in front of me. Splinter and April are locked in a furious combat, both armed with Chokuto. It is a bloody, bruising battle between Master and Student and I don't envy her opponent one bit. I'd take all four turtles over Splinter every day of the week.
The outcome of her battle determines whether she will become a Master Kunoichi. It is designed to test everything she has learned from both Master Raphael and Master Splinter.
Out of all the turtles, Mikey was the last to become a Master. He only gained the recognition three years ago which made him and April on similar territory in regard to skill and ability. He is the easiest to fight and I'll get him out of the way first.
As I come across Mikey I fight with everything I have learned. The other turtles close in and come at me as a unit and I am quickly subdued. It is over in the blink of an eye, I am disarmed and the battle is over for me.
I haven't done badly. I am proud of the fight I gave them. Leo has one arm casually draped around my shoulders and pulls me into his reassuring muscular frame.
We watch the battle rage between Master and Student. The blows are furious and calculated and I watch them with new eyes. Not as a woman but as a ninja. April is holding her ground and I see Master Splinter make a mistake. Only a small one, but it is enough for April to take control of the battle. It is over within seconds. Splinter is laying on the ground and April stands over him, her face shining with fierce pride.
"That's ma girl." Raph says with a beaming grin.
Leo and Don help Master Splinter to his feet and the venerable rat turns to face April with shining eyes.
"The battle has concluded. April… you have been through so much in your young life. You have suffered loss and heartache and the promises of a new beginning with my own son. You have always fought with honour and I am proud of the Kunoichi you have become."
April looked at each of us in turn and then burst into tears. "Casey would be so proud of me."
"Yeah, knucklehead would be very proud." Raph says and walks towards her with a purposeful stride. He wraps her gently in his huge, muscular frame and plants the gentlest kiss I have ever seen on her lips. He treats her like a princess and she has finally accepted Raphael as her lover. Years of pain and they both lean on each other, accepting all their flaws and all the promise of a future together."
"We need to get you back to the farmhouse and get some zinc and folic acid into you." Don shepherds me away from the group and I grumble as I am led back to the farmhouse. Ten years of ownership has turned my old little crumbled vacant house into a home. There has been much renovation and the place is so homely and organised.
"I'm not sure if this will work, you understand? The chances are quite low, Leo being a mutant slashes the odds." Don said cautiously.
"We've beaten impossible odds before, Don." I say confidently. "We'll do it again."
Don hands me the pills and I take them without any reservation.
"We have names for them. If we have a boy his middle name will be Casey." I say with a dreamy smile.
"Hold on. Remember I said to take it easy. We don't know if this will work. Probably best not to think about names until we know you are pregnant."
I smile at Don. He makes such a wonderful brother, his heart is so pure and strong. I often wonder if Mikey and Don will get their happy-ever-after ending. They both deserve such a strong and fierce love and I hope they find someone with whom they can share a lifetime.
Life has not been a bed of roses for any of us. We've each suffered and risen from disaster. Time and time again forces try to divide us but they never win.
We hold on to April's hope of a better future for all those we love. Her words spark the warrior inside each of us to carry on each day and work towards our shared goals.
Life is good.
And life goes on.
(To everyone who has followed and reviewed this story: Thank you for your dedication and your support over the years. I have laughed and cried along the way with each of you through these chapters I had the privilege of writing. I hope you all experience a fierce love and your futures are filled with happiness.)