The Great Duel, which was to decide the fate of the war, and the ages, took place one night after the full moon in the Psyopalace, as the Blood Lords had rechristened the remains of the Anilomes fortress.
King Setov ar Inesa of the Kingdom, wielder of the Sword of the Stone and therefore Prime Minister of Aisorbma, represented all that had been, and all that was Light.
Blood King Fyendodas, wielder of the Khada Sword, also named Dark Shadow, represented all change to come, and all that was Dark.
A battle between kings.
Episode Thirty-Two – Riposte and Parry
Fyendodas watched as Setov entered the arena, positioned himself at one end, drew the Sword of the Stone from under his belt and held it with the point almost touching the floor. Fyendodas mirrored his stance. Neither lifted their blades yet; there would be no point until they were closer.
He allowed Setov a few minutes more to get a feel for the geography of the building. As an Aisorbmii Minister Setovarinesa would no doubt have been here before, but that was before it was changed. The arena was stark and simple, and calming in Fyendodas' mind. That was important: the new King had every right to be very emotional at the moment – he'd just been accepted back into his family, coronated, and orphaned.
That had not been intentional. The darkness which had veiled the Psyopalace naturally deflected Kingdom or Aisorbmian magic; the Beasts created from the representatives of those nations had focused that magic here, and the shield had been designed to keep the more explosive effects of that suddenly uncontained magic from, well, exploding. The destructive effect on nearby users of those magic types was a by-product, a side-effect. And of course, it hadn't been anticipated that anyone would be there, much less a teleporting Queen.
Giving Setov some time wasn't just compassion, it was right, and fair, and inspired the notion of honour. Dremgadona had been most displeased with the notion, she preferred opulence and orgy behind closed doors, but from now on the right impression had to be made.
The Blood Lords would now be operating in the open.
Well, as soon as this duel was over, and Setov was dead, anyway.
Setov ar Inesa lifted the Sword. His entourage kept back, probably under the assumption they would then be out of harm's way. Fyendodas didn't have time to consider happily the idea that they were wrong; he lifted his own Sword.
He had to fight to suppress all thoughts of fear, too. The young King was a fearsome fighter; he'd survived every day on Rene Ponit and had slain two Beasts – no mean feat, even with magical swords. Fyendodas hadn't anticipated fighting a young and capable swordsman in this crucial, inevitable duel. That had been the entire point of the War – wear down the two nations, encourage the deaths of the best warriors through subterfuge, traitors, assassins, poisons, famines, battles and Beasts, and leave very weary warriors to represent their nations in this final fight. From the careful gathering of information the Conspirators had gathered, Fyendodas had expected to fight Saromeritova and Arit fre Togr tonight.
No! No! Suppress all nervous thoughts. Setov ar Inesa would die tonight, and the new nation would be forged. Victory must be mine! Thought Fyendodas.
Setov ar Inesa strode forwards, the point of his blade high, and smoothly lunged forward. Fyendodas parried easily and riposted, to which Setov parried away.
The two Swords, one light and one dark, held against each other, neither relenting against the force of the other – but then, why would they? They were magical blades, irresistible, but also antitheses. Therefore they held their own, but could not be superior. It was another equaliser of the duel: only skill could win.
The duellists remained locked for some moments longer before Setov twisted, beat away the Khada Sword and swung around. Fyendodas lunged for Setov's back, but Setov was swift and parried with added momentum. The beat attack gave the King an opening and he lunged again, but Fyendodas side-stepped and then parried.
Fyendodas was impressed. A ball of sweat trickled down the side of his face and he felt a pang of shame for sweating first, but he masked it. Setov, predictably, grinned; a standard tactic to make oneself appear more confident, usually causing the opponent to reconsider their technique. Anything to inspire doubt of fear, for these are deadly opponents in a duel. But Fyendodas knew the technique, and allowed Setov his grin. No advantage won there.
They were in stand-off again, so Fyendodas backed off. Setov kept his blade high, and shifted his weight back to en garde. Fyendodas moved around, circling Setov, forcing him to shift position.
Fyendodas leapt back and slashed with the Dark Shadow, aiming first for Setov's sword arm then for across the chest. He was predictably parried, so he circled his hand around, bringing his blade under Setov's, then over and resumed his move before Setov could catch up. Setov stepped back, but Fyendodas advanced in time, and Setov had to keep moving back until he could parry.
The blades held each other again, but Fyendodas tried to press on his advantage and swung his blade again, this time swinging himself under Setov's sword arm and attacking the back. Setov responded by advancing out of range, and turned again into the en garde position, this time in quart, possibly hoping Fyendodas wasn't familiar with left-handers.
Fyendodas palmed the Khada Sword to his left hand effortlessly. Following the rise in his kind of magical power, he'd become ambidextrous. Now Fyendodas grinned, and dared Setov not to sweat.
Setov made the next attack, and Fyendodas parried again, and riposted. Setov parried, counter-riposted, was parried and counter-riposted in turn, and the two clashed blades, angling around to put the other off-balance. Setov paused a moment between a parry and a riposte and made a lunge for Fyendodas' head, but Fyendodas parried en cinq and then worked to thrust. Setov parried, swung back and disengaged.
Fyendodas was pleased to see that Setov was sweating now. He twirled his blade, loosening the muscles in his left arm, and readied himself again.
Setov lunged, but not to hit: he danced his sword around swiftly, keeping it ahead of Fyendodas's sword, so the two didn't meet. Fyendodas grew bored of the game within a few seconds, but continued it patiently, blocking all obvious avenues of attack and searching out his own opportunity. Setov, already weary from the long day, tired quickly and backed away again, but Fyendodas launched in then, clashing the Dark Shadow furiously against the Sword of the Stone, trying to beat it from Setov's grasp, or at least make an opening. But the Swords continued to make their own defences, and Setov could not be touched.
Fyendodas backed away for a moment, giving Setov a brief respite, and then began a sudden ballestra, roaring deeply like a lion. He charged and Setov moved aside, but Fyendodas twirled quickly and they clashed blades again. The two swords clattered and clanged again and again as Fyendodas circled Setov, forcing him to keep up or meet a quick end, continuing to tire himself out. A quick lance to the shoulder was deflected by the Sword, and Fyendodas continued to infer that the Sword was magically protecting its owner.
The Blood Lord gave the King another few moments to rally before launching in again, this time managing a few attempts at attacking the legs, but Setov parried them all, and gained strength by breathing deeply during the pauses. The strength was always short-lived, and Fyendodas was not yet tired. He took a scarf from a pocket and tied it over his glistening brow, and took up a ready stance at one side of the arena, the point of his sword near the ground as they had been at the beginning.
Setov stood to his full height and mirrored the stance, and they shared a look which suggested this was endgame. Fyendodas assessed his capabilities and Setov's, quickly: Setov had been stronger against the right-handed attacks, and could read him well enough to defend his lower half. Some radically instinctive movements had saved him several times now, and Fyendodas also judged that he'd tired beyond more momentum-building agile manoeuvres. Setov would probably still be capable of withstanding a few more barrages of parries, ripostes and counter-ripostes, but making the first lunge a death-blow would still be his best tactic.
Fyendodas walked forward calmly, the Khada Sword in his left hand, still pointed at the floor. Setov continued to mirror, the Sword of the Stone in his right hand. They raised their blades to vertical and saluted in time, and then touched the points together. A tiny chink radiated around the room.
Setov twirled his blade and resumed position, but Fyendodas attacked and was parried swiftly. They scraped their blades back together to points touching, and then Setov lowered his blade to horizontal. Setov attacked this time, and was parried, and they resumed the motion back to points, but suddenly Setov lunged again. Fyendodas caught it, swung his Sword down to septeme, and lunged back.
The blow was parried, but Fyendodas made swift use of momentum and twirled himself clockwise, smoothly palming the sword back to his right hand and thrusting.
Pain lanced through his body, and he saw with sick horror Setov's Sword mirroring his own, transferred to left hand and thrust through the heart.
Fyendodas fell back, collapsed sideways at the knee, and hit the floor. The Sword of the Stone shook through him as it impacted on the stone ground first.
Is that it yet?
No? How many more?
Just two, then. Oh good. The end of the war. What happened after. Right.
The last episode of Next to the Custard.
The Restoration of Peace.
TO BE CONCLUDED.