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I’d finally run down Osret and in the moment of triumph, hesitated. He wasn’t ready to fight me. It would be murder. He couldn’t breathe, even in the thick, seashore air. He was probably one of those guys who did five minutes of sprinting spread over an hour fairly regularly because it got him cut. Good for him, but it didn’t help him outrun a murderer.
And it would be murder. But he deserved it.
Self, you’re not here for him. You’re here for the saber. Osret is secondary.
Get the saber.
This was a good thought, I judged.
“Osret, where is my sword?” I asked and some other voice interrupted.
Oh, biscuits. Who was that?
I turned around, and some fop in silk and boots came up the road behind me.
The birds overhead were going nuts. They’d never really shut up, even for the night, but now they were raising a din.
He wore a designer sword with emerald fabric woven through the belt and scabbard. It looked mid-length and straight, long enough to fence with but possibly edged. He looked proud of it. He ran up and drew while outside my range before stepping in. The blade fell into line with my neck.
“Mortal, you are guilty of crimes against Mallens, Honor Him,” he said.
“Which ones?” I demanded.
“Could you be more specific?”
“He tried to kill me!” interrupted Osret, but the interruption of his panic-breathing set him coughing.
“Not you,” said the fop. “Worse. Treason.”
Oh, sickness and death, everything was ruined. They found out about the killing, they had traced an assassin, I was going to Hell until they could stretch my life out no longer in pain and all I could say was, “Could you be more specific?”
The fop could. “You have eaten honeydew and nectar, and it is treason for a mortal to take the sustenance of the gods,” and he looked so pleased with himself.
I went slack jawed. I had to deliberately shut my mouth.
“But I caught you,” he continued. “I will–”
I took off my belt and wrapped it around my off-hand forearm.
“Mortal, are you high?”
My left opened the gate, catching his blade on the belt and shoving forward and down. His sword cut through leather like butter. My right shot past the fop’s head. He juked to the side, swung the sword wide and around, but my left, no longer blocking, got him dead in the guts. I got inside his counterstroke and threw the boxing cross.
I didn’t catch him cleanly in the jaw. I got him at an angle, but up close like that, I had the hip action double dirty. He hit a wall and bounced.
I threw the left again, a wide, stupid shot that’s worthless if they see it coming. But the fop was having a religious experience, an epiphany, and seeing nothing but himself. He wasn’t fated to win. He was other people, and I hit him so hard he fell out from under the sword.
He hit the ground, rolled, and the idiot had great reflexes. He came up with a knife. He jabbed, I pulled back, and we circled.
Then everything changed. Hands up near the face, palms back, pushing straight shots with the quickest recoil I could, I moved back and let him come. He slashed with the knife. The knife was everything. He might eat a dozen, three dozen punches and win if he got one clean cut.
I feinted, feinted, he leaned back and came forward. He slashed overhead, and I kicked him in the inside of the thigh, right in the meaty part of the muscle. He tried to stab my leg but aborted when I threw that jab again. He blitzed, I faded back, he swung twice and I dodged everything to kick him in the same leg, this time the outside.
He pressured. I retreated and fell back, giving up a dozen good chances to deny him any. Now he chased. My belt was in half, one end flapping, and not long enough to block. I kept a grip on the tail of it in my left. I could block one or two with the off hand, but he’d lay the arm open for sure.
Sickness, I wish I’d taken the sword instead of closing.
He lunged, I retreated, we circled, I went for the fallen blade but he blocked me, I got another good leg shot, and fell back. He stepped forward, almost over the sword.
He was going to try to kick it up into his hands. He wanted it. I could taste his hunger for it. As soon as he did, as soon as all his weight landed on one leg, I was going to blitz so hard I’d knock his tastebuds out his back door.
And he knew.
He dropped onto both feet, even stance, right in front of the sword.
I rose up onto my toes.
We both knew.
He tried to body fake me. I didn’t fall for it.
He moved his off-hand out behind him, ready.
He body faked again.
He stomped one side of the handguard, the sword pivoted up, and he hooked a toe under the handle.
From outside range, I went. My right fist shot forward; my left followed. He swung the knife, I swung my left palm out and open with the folded up belt, smacked the blade, and he only cut the heel of my hand. I cleared his knife-hand sideways.
He caught his sword.
I got him in the throat.
His whole body went rigid, he dropped the sword, and I followed-up to his head. The bells of his temple rang, and the gods left. He dropped.
I looked back.
Osret was staring at me like I was the devil.
I picked up the sword, and the moment my hand touched its handle, I knew its name and lineage. This was the Drowning Breath of Ogden, made by Thorophus the Weapon Maker in his Eighth Testament. It had been forged of eight lesser blades that killed Ogden. His son, Aelon, had ordered this one of their steel and used it to avenge his father. I heard the words Thorophus whispered as he made it, and the dire hatred Aelon had spoken when he used it. It had been made for revenge, it hungered for revenge, and when I held it, the sword yearned.
I knew of this sword. I had had filed paperwork on it. It was a blade of Fate.
The fop was from Fate.
“He was from Fate,” I said out loud.
“Is from Fate. The Bureau of Sanction,” said a new voice, and a woman stepped from shadow to the ground. “You have not slain him yet.”
I looked at her and held the Drowning Breath.
She was tall and beautiful, hard but curved. She’d pulled chestnut hair back, wore white armor of moonsilk, and her boots were tall, laced things that reached the midpoint of her shins. Her jacket and pants were tight enough to move, but with moonsilk that meant nothing. It flowed like liquid silver. I could see the creases where her hips met her pelvis, the tightness of fabric across her chest, and the tiny dimples of muscles flexing on her rump. She had bright red eyes.
Around her shoulders flew a red and gold dragon, long as a python. It had no wings, but flames danced on its hide. It and she shared an eye color, red, but the dragon had scales too. Tiny flames seemed to escape from its lips as it slithered through the air, climbing on invisible things like a serpent might climb the roots of a great tree.
I didn’t know her. We’d never met. I would have remembered a hot dragon lady.
Well, hot because fire is hot…but no, sexy-fire-dragon-lady was definitely a thing. I had not known sexy-fire-draon-lady was a thing, nor that I was into it. I was. I would have known if we’d met.
We stared at each other, and the red of her eyes leaked out like tears. But her tears burned, and they leaped for the sky like candle-flames freed of their wicks.
“You may take him and leave,” I said.
She considered a moment. “No.”
I held the Drowning Breath of Ogden, and she wore a fire dragon like a scarf.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked.
She didn’t move her feet but pulled her head back as if my words splattered crazy in her direction. “You’re asking me that?”
“Yes. If you run, I won’t chase you.”
“No,” she said again.
I raised the sword point until the blade stood between us.
Her dragon spiraled in and out, and she reached for it from one hand. The serpent turned to liquid fire from which she drew a long, single edged sword that danced in her hand. The flames of the dragon vanished, or perhaps its essence was merely made steel.
She had a dragon blade. If I did not know her, I knew of her kind. She was from the Bureau of Sanction.
I said something which had been said to me. “You think you’ll win, and you might, but this will not go well for you if you do.”
She smiled like I had in the House of Hemlin, where Zenjin had said that to me. Things had not gone well for me, but they’d gone much worse for him.