“You won’t be leaving this town alive.”
Finishing her next step, Jennika came to a slow stop, and made an even slower turn back to look down at the man. As far as threats went, it wasn’t very articulate. It wasn’t at all clever, cutting, or funny. And it sounded especially unreliable. It was difficult to be impressed.
The sun was coming down, painting the tangle of sandstone rooms at the top of the hill in deep orange. The shadows beside the open archways lost their sharp lines, fading to a dull gray in preparation to sink into the clear coming darkness. Then they disappeared onto clean white stone at the next flash of fire off Toar’s hands.
The air was thick and warm with energy. It dragged across his skin as the breeze threaded through the practice hall and dropped into the open air over the cliff outside. Waves hissed at the bottom, and the air hissed in echo inside the room every time Toar spread his hands. On the other side of the room, Jaera stood calmly, dark hair knotted up in the heat. Her hand hung open at her sides, and she rubbed her thumb and middle finger around each other as if there was something more between them than skin.
Shaking his hands slightly, Toar rolled his shoulders back, and spilled another layer of thin energy into the air. The sheet of ice under the skin of his shoulders and arms grew thicker, and heat whispered through his fingers. He bare felt it leave his palms, and there was barely a sheen in the air. He took on breath, then a second, letting it build up around him. Then he shoved heat out of his hand. It crackled, snapped out brilliant blue light that curled like smoke. The entire wall of energy in front of him exploded into light. Pushing his hands in front of him, he shoved the energy forward, tumbling down the length of the room.
It roared, rolled, ran, and slid smoothly off a slanted invisible wall in front of Jaera.
A long time ago, Caled thought it would be the joy of a lifetime to watch the two best swordsmen in the world clash together. There was beauty in a blade. There was grace in the way it flowed into an arm that knew how to carry it, one limb that spun faster than bone should, fell sharper than flesh ought to. It was the perfect weave of power and skill and elegance. It was a dance that he couldn’t look away from, caught on the knowledge that the ending might literally steal a breath away.
Caled had touched enough blades in his life, spun them through fingers that understood the metal as firmly as a child understood his imaginary friend. He fought enough times to know the feel of a cut, the rush of the run to give one faster than he received it. He knew what it should look like.
And then he saw it.
It wasn’t a dance. It was an instant. It was a moment, spun together not in a braid, but a single, tiny knot. If he’d blinked at the wrong moment, he would have missed it. It was only three steps forward, one long stride to meet it, and one man bowing over a blade that had already been pulled out again. His fall to his knees took longer than the fight did.