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~ Previous Chapter ~
LYRAI HAD ALWAYS loved sword fighting. As a young boy in Nimbys, he’d chased his brother around the Stratys’ palace and darted through the gardens, battling with sticks. Even before he’d wanted to be a Rift Rider, he’d dreamed of the day he would be given his own sword. It had seemed to take forever to turn ten and be allowed to pick up a practice sword for the first time. He’d worked hard at those lessons, driven by the desire to catch up with his older brother and surpass him in skills and form.
He had spent years of his life training and practising, until the Rider dream had taken over and he’d turned to miryhls instead. But he’d never forgotten his first love, never forgotten to keep practising and training. Part of him would forever be that young boy thrusting sticks at shadows and chasing after his brother. When he’d graduated from Aquila and been accepted into captain training, earning his first shoulder stripes as a lieutenant, his mother had given him the Eagle’s Blade and the passions of Lyrai’s life had been moulded into one.
Almost every day throughout his Rider career he’d kept up with his training, constantly honing his skills, exercising his body to remain limber and strong enough to fight. Combat from miryhl-back was a short and brutal affair, but Lyrai had been raised to duel.
Still, as he circled watchfully opposite Yullik ses-Khennik, his sword held at the ready, Lyrai had to ask himself what in the Overworld did he think he was doing? Fifteen odd years of swordplay were nothing against a man who had lived for more than two centuries, who glowed gold, could produce swords made out of magical fire and was far stronger than he looked.
At the same time, what other choice did he have? Kaz-naghkt filled the cavern from almost one side to the other, entangling his friends in a fight for their lives. His miryhl lay wounded and helpless, with two more of his friends. Yullik ses-Khennik was a dangerous, unpredictable opponent who couldn’t be left free to act however he willed. He might collapse the floor or bring down the ceiling at any moment. Unless he was occupied.
So Lyrai would occupy him for as long as he could, because he was the best swordsman they had – excepting Dhori, since he’d taught Lyrai a trick or two during their long journeys – and his sword was the only thing capable of doing lasting harm to their enemy.
Even now the slash Lyrai had given Yullik continued to bleed. All his other injuries, including the claw marks on both shoulders, had sealed up and were starting to fade. Except where the Eagle’s Blade had hit him.
And Lyrai would hit him again, given half a chance.
Yullik lunged. Lyrai skipped back, deflecting the strike, and they fell to circling again.
His sword was strong, but Lyrai wasn’t. Yullik’s strength was far superior and that blade of his was hot enough to burn if Lyrai was foolish enough to let him close. Best not.
He danced away again, trying to keep light on his feet, even though the soles of his flying boots were less than secure on the slick cavern floor.
“Very pretty,” Yullik taunted, lunging and forcing Lyrai to parry properly this time. “But you cannot dance forever, little prince. I will outlast you.”
More than likely. Lyrai wasn’t fighting to win. He just had to survive long enough for his friends to beat back the kaz-naghkt. Then they would either come to help him or finish where he’d left off.
He lunged, taking Yullik off guard and managing to open a shallow slice across the man’s shoulder. Blood and man hissed, then it was Lyrai’s turn to clench his teeth as Yullik’s follow up strike slapped against his upper left arm.
Maegla, the man was fast when he wanted to be. Which meant he was only playing.
Lyrai adjusted his grip and swallowed back the pain as the burn on his sword arm began to throb. Gods all bless Gedanon Armsmaster who insisted all Riders learn to fight with both hands. Lyrai was far better with his left, but at least he could always use his right if he had to. He stepped warily back, keeping on his toes as Yullik paused to look down at himself.
Great black bruises marked his golden skin beneath each collar bone, but a brighter line now ran through the one on the left. Black blood dripped down Yullik’s chest and he tore his tattered shirt off with a snarl. Swiping the ruined material across his shoulder and his bleeding forearm, he threw it to one side and raised his sword again.
“Lucky strike,” he sneered. “Let’s see how long your luck holds.” He flicked out his left hand, forming a second flaming blade. Both were shorter than Lyrai’s, but he doubted that would save him.
Yullik attacked in a whirling mass of fire, landing stinging, burning slaps to the outside of Lyrai’s hips and thighs, laying one long, throbbing line right across the centre of his back.
Panting, Lyrai slashed out blindly, getting in a few nicks and cuts here and there, but nothing significant as his enemy burned him up piece by steady piece.
And Yullik was still only playing, since he had yet to draw a drop of Lyrai’s blood.
He danced away as best he could, and stumbled, crying out, as Yullik slapped a flaming blade across his face. Dropping to his knees, Lyrai watched through blurred eyes as the golden man stopped in front of him, merging his swords into one single glowing blade.
“Thank you, lieutenant,” Yullik said, breathing a little harder than usual, his torso smeared with lines of blood, his black hair flattened with sweat, “for the invigorating exercise. But you were right – it is time to end this.”
He placed a hand on Lyrai’s head, fingers tightening in his hair as he pulled his head back, exposing his neck. “Farewell, lieutenant,” he whispered, pressing the burning tip of his blade against the base of Lyrai’s throat. “Tell your gods I said hello.” Lyrai closed his blurring eyes – and everything turned to screams.
~ Next Chapter ~
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