I might have expected Ryan to take it slow to start with, when the fight started for real. Neither of us really wanted this fight, after all. This was a thing we did because things had developed in a way that made it necessary, not because either of us wanted it to happen. Between that and the fact that he knew damned well how capable I was in a fight, I might reasonably have expected him to hesitate.
If so, I would have been wrong. He attacked before I’d moved more than a few inches, and he wasn’t shy about it. He dumped the full magazine from the submachine gun at me in a couple seconds, then threw the gun itself at my head. He was right behind it, bringing that knife up in a short, tight jab at my guts.
I was slow to dodge. It didn’t particularly matter. Most of the bullets ricocheted harmlessly off my armor; the few that slipped through the cracks didn’t really do anything meaningful. Nine millimeter rounds just weren’t enough to do much to me. The gun was barely even a distraction, and I reacted quickly enough to block the knife.
Tyrfing didn’t cut through it. Not terribly surprising. The champions of the Courts seemed, as a rule, to have high-quality weapons; I hadn’t been able to cut through Carraig’s either. I’d probably have gotten one myself, but I had Tyrfing, and that was enough sword for anyone.
Ryan didn’t seem too bothered by his failure to kill me in the first few seconds of the fight, though. He just stepped in and slammed his shoulder into my chest instead.
I was probably as strong as he was, but I wasn’t braced against it, and my body wasn’t terribly heavy. I flew backwards, hit the ground, and rolled along the pavement for a ways.
It was nothing like watching Pier and Carraig fight. I was very aware of that. Ryan and I had, in principle, the same powers available to us. Possibly more, given that Ryan was a werewolf, and I was…me.
But we didn’t have the experience, the instinctive grasp on what we could do. Compared to them we were like children playing with tools that we didn’t understand. We weren’t using the power of our respective roles to anything remotely resembling their full potential.
What we were using was enough for me to push myself to my feet and, in one fluid motion, into a leap that carried me well over him and back to where I’d been, more or less. I landed on my feet and turned to face him, on even footing once again.
“I’m sorry it had to go like this,” I said to no one in particular. “I’d like to think that if I’d done something differently, been better, this wouldn’t have happened. But I guess not. You were probably always doomed to take that bargain, or something just as bad.”
He didn’t say anything, just charged at me, knife first. I circled around, forcing him to turn and sacrifice most of his momentum. It left me in position to slash at him.
I had to shuffle my feet a bit to avoid stepping on Kyi’s face, though, and I hadn’t planned on that. It was a tiny delay in my footwork, barely even enough to throw me off my stride. In most fights it wouldn’t have mattered at all.
Against Ryan, it was nearly disastrous. It slowed my slash just enough that he could block it with his spare hand, and his knife ducked around to hit me in the back, just under the ribs. On a human, it would have been solidly in the kidney, a fairly decisive stroke. He probably thought he’d won, just like that.
Given that I didn’t even have kidneys anymore, that thought was incorrect. I didn’t even hesitate as I grabbed his knife hand and turned to face him, the force of the movement turning it into a clumsy throw. He came off his feet entirely, and slammed down hard onto the ground. He just barely pulled away before I took his head off, and I did cut fairly deeply into his left shoulder.
As we both backed away from each other, I thought that we’d come away fairly even from the first round. We’d both wounded each other–I could smell him bleeding, and while I wasn’t crippled, he’d done some structural damage in my back that I couldn’t take the time to fix right now. He still had his knife, and obviously I couldn’t really be disarmed in any meaningful way.
I thought about taking advantage of that brief lull to say something else, but I didn’t. What else was there to say? We both knew where we stood. Talking wouldn’t change a thing.
I saw something else, though, in that moment. I saw Kyi looking at me, not half as dead as she looked. Her one good eye was bright against the bloody mask of her face, and I met that eye for just a moment before she closed it again, pretending to be dead.
It would take incredible discipline to keep up that act, with the obvious and serious injuries she’d taken. It was hard not to show a reaction to that kind of pain. But then, that was Kyi.
In that moment, I knew how this fight would end. I could see the whole thing in my head, and I was guessing she could too. It was a cruel, vicious, underhanded trick, and it would work. Of course it would.
I didn’t want to drag it out any longer. So I circled into position. And when Ryan thrust at me next, I left my sword slightly out of position on the parry. It wasn’t a huge flaw, just a few degrees too far to the side, my hand turned slightly wrong. Against a knife fighter of his skill, though, it was too much.
That trench knife caught me in the side of the head, and slammed straight through the armor. My body collapsed to the ground in a heap of snow and armor.
Ryan stared down at it for a moment, knife in hand.
He never turned around. He never saw Kyi draw a single straight line in her own blood, lips moving in a single syllable as she drew the rune. He never saw the ice that formed in the wake of her hand as she did.
He never saw me extend a crude shell of a body from that ice slick and lunge forward. Tyrfing stabbed in under his helmet, at the base of the spine. The blade went in and up, into his brain.
It was as close to a painless, instant death as anything could really be. I owed Ryan that much, at least.
He collapsed to the ground, blood already pooling around him. Tyrfing drank it up, leaving the blade as bright as it was before the battle. Tyrfing was clean. Tyrfing was always clean.
I was the one that was stained.
I dropped the sword to the ground and walked away.