The Sand and The Blade
Of all people, why her?
“Ready,” Kayne said, and I pulled my knives as she pulled her daggers.
I barely had time to bring my left knife up before she was on me, and the world sharpened into focus. I blocked a backhanded swing and knocked aside a feint, feeling the touch of her breath on my cheek as I ducked into a kick to her knee.
But she was quicker than I anticipated, moving easily out of the way and under my guard, her dagger rising toward my throat and barely being avoided by my yank to the side, feeling the tip slice past an inch from my jaw, her other coming hilt first toward my side.
I pressed forward, tipping my shoulder into hers to knock her back and swinging my leg around to catch the back of her leg. She went down, the breath huffing from her lungs, but was back on her feet and coming toward me in seconds.
Our blades screamed as they met, her strokes collected and furious, and I knew that I was going to lose.
She had years of practice, I could feel it in the way she moved, and I. . . I had a few months.
But I couldn’t lose, not in front of the king, who’s champion would I be?
I stepped back, then back again, her swings getting faster and sharper, my reflexes all that kept my blood from being spilled as her daggers glinted and sliced.
I tried to advance, but she swept her right dagger at my side, and I forted with my left knife, retreating when she flipped to a reverse grip and lunged in a sweeping thrust.
I forted her knife and blocked her second cut, barely able to keep up with her whip fast strikes.
Then she moved too fast for me to follow, the hilt of her dagger snapping against my wrist and sending my left blade flying.
Her left dagger landed against the throat, slicing a trail before it stopped.
Blood dripped down my neck.
The pit was silent, her golden eyes glinting in the light as she held me at checkmate.
Then Kayne was there, hardly a foot away, snarling in my face with fury, “Stop going easy on her, fool!”
I threw my other knife aside to free my hands, grabbing her wrist with my right hand and twisting her arm off my throat and out of the way to punch her in the sternum.
She choked, her knees buckling, but I was already twisting the dagger out of her hand and bringing the hilt down on her opposite wrist, barely tempering myself in time to keep from breaking the delicate bones, and she dropped the blade into my waiting hand.
I retreated, and she glared at me with focused intensity, struggling back to her feet.
I glanced down at the beautiful daggers, the golden hilts smooth in my palms from years of use, the blades nicked and sharpened, little threads of fabric caught between the blade and the guard from the wrapping used for sparring.
They were beautiful, light and balanced and true.
I tossed them aside.
In a way, Kayne had been right; I’d been going easy on her, not wanting to embarrass a beautiful girl if she lost and not wanting to hurt her.
But beautiful or not, she would hurt me just the same, kill me if she could, all because I was a human that dared to stand against the highest of species.
This time, I moved before she could, knocking aside her weak barrier, unpracticed as she was at unarmed combat and elbowing her in the rib, feeling her breath rush from her lungs for the third time as I slid around behind her, pulling her against my body and curling my leg around her ankle.
She fell, and I flipped us so I landed on my back, arms encircling her neck, her body flush against mine as I pinned her there.
“Yield,” I snapped in her ear.
She grunted, trying to elbow me, but I freed one hand to slam hers against the sand, feeling the bones bend and cringing at her cry of pain.
“Yield!” Please, I wanted to say, I don’t like hurting you.
I didn’t like hurting anyone.
“I yield,” she choked, bucking her hips against my hold, and I released her.
She rolled off and to all fours, coughing and choking the air back into her lungs.
I felt a rush of panic as I heard the breath rattle in and out of her chest, suddenly terrified that I’d really, truly hurt her, and when she clutched at the rib I’d elbowed, I knew I had.