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The gulls of the rookery screamed. The stone of the building rose quietly and placidly, while the shadows on its roof climbed and hopped. Under the cloudy sky, I could not see the Sun or stars, but the vague, directionless light told me that somewhere above, the Sun had risen.
My arm bled where the Drowning Breath of Ogden had cut through the belt. The red line ran shallowly from wrist to elbow and seemed to have missed all my really important piping. Still, it was a long, nasty cut. I’d picked up half a dozen others too. Little cuts, perhaps from leaping out the window, breaking down doors, stood out in red dots and scrapes on my arms and legs.
Without taking her eyes of me, the lady with the dragon blade turned her head suddenly. I didn’t take my eyes off her either.
“Sit down,” she said.
“Why? I’m leaving!” said Osret.
“No, you’re staying. You’re under arrest.”
“Why?” He sounded offended.
“Illegal left turn. Two weeks ago, corner of Markish and Seventh.”
“Are you serious?” he yelled.
There was a sort of thumping noise.
I thought of something and turned the blade slightly so I could see Osret’s reflection while keeping an eye on her. He’d sat down.
She waited. She was waiting for me.
Self, maybe she’s as scared of you as you are of her. They say that about dangerous animals.
Ha! No, self, she has a dragon sword. She’s just waiting for me to make a mistake.
Was the punishment for taking honey dew and nectar really death for a mortal?
Yes, as I thought about it. It was treason. Again.
I initiated on her.
My lunge passed right through where she had been, for she swiveled her hips and let them pull her sideways. Her feet seemed to slide across the ground. My thrust shifted to a backhand, she parried, and her sword rippled as it moved. The air about it wavered like a heat mirage over the desert. When she stopped my swing, that ripple kept going, a wave that flowed through the air until it hit one of the rookery’s long, forward walls. The wall burst into flame.
As did the ground for she had struck again. I blocked and dodged, and the dragon sword sent waves of flame after me again.
She looked surprised. Not baffled and filled with wonder, but she frowned, mildly startled, like her coffee place had raised their prices overnight. I tried to capitalize, so I blitzed again.
I went for a head-cut, she blocked up, I slashed at her legs, she parried low, I threw lunges for her head, and she faded backwards between them, her sword deflecting mine outward. Then she swung forward, the blade moving in a circle described by a beautiful wrist-flick, and behind the flashing edge of the sword, she drew a red smear. It looked like the after-image fireworks leave on your eyes if you’re close enough to see them shooting upward or against a black sky when they burst. I did not try to parry, merely dodged, and her sword cut furrows in ground it did not touch. She feinted, but the feint cut open a wall behind my head. She lunged and blew the wall down. She blocked my riposte, launched her own, we came close enough to lock blades, and I kicked her in the knee.
We separated. She sniffed. I shrugged.
“Northshore?” she asked.
I shrugged again.
“I know their champions, but you aren’t one,” she added.
“Yeah, I know,” I said in a rush without thinking. “I keep blowing my oral exams.”
She said, “Huh,” in a way I couldn’t interpret.
I really should not have said anything. Two seconds late, self. Two seconds late.
Maybe it sounded like a quip. Yeah. I was so witty.
I closed again, we exchanged a murderously fast series attacks where both of us tried to force the issue into a winning pattern, but neither allowed ourselves to be taken. She tore up the ground. The Drowning Breath whispered to me of the wave-cutting stroke, something I didn’t know, but when I attacked again, the sword began to flow. It wanted to get her. The sword wanted to win.
Suddenly the lady in white had to retreat again. My blade went for her head, I tried to rake her shins, and she jumped, weapon clearing my overhand swing as she flew backwards. The shin strike ended with a stomp, leaving me unable to pursue, and once she was safe outside my range, she swung in a wide open cut at waist level. A plane of fire swept out in all directions. It beat against the rookery, sending the still crying birds to the air, and burning the short hairs on my legs and arms as I jumped over it.
I landed at the ready. She frowned and mouthed something. I think it was ‘the audacity.’
She cut the air between us and sent a wave of flame I had to dodge. Her next strike blew a canyon in the ground. She thrust, and at full extension, the images of dragons appeared over her shoulders, breathing fire. Gouts of it passed overhead while I dove into the canyon. She’d cut the ground so deeply she’d opened up one of the storm-drain pipes.
I jumped down.
This place must get a ton of rainfall, because this storm runoff was huge. I could run down here. I did.
Something crackled behind me, and echoes transformed the sound into meaningless noise.
Not far ahead, I found a drainage opening. The opening formed a wide square in the side of a road, and I shimmied up. It had a grate of silver steel, but I could look around by pushing my face against the bars.
A lightning bolt had fallen and landed by the woman in white. Now it slithered in place as she hoisted the fallen swordsman onto the lightning bolt’s back. It was so bright I could barely look at it, but I registered an impression of length, a long head, and curving tail. Memory suggested the shape of a dragon.
Of course. She was from Fate.
Once the swordsman was tied on the lightning dragon’s back, she spoke to someone out of sight. Osret walked into view and climbed onto the dragon. He hung his head and sat slumped over. His gym abs didn’t do him any good while he slouched.
She looked away and pursed her lips. She glanced back at the unconscious swordsman and reluctant Osret. She hesitated, looking out over the industrial part of the city. Few parks stood by the roads, those that did needed tending, and roses grew out of the gutters. Finally, she climbed onto the dragon. It shot skyward in a zig-zagging path as thunder echoed off the clouds.
I ran as quietly as I could in the opposite direction.